Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thanks to the speedy computers of the west, all my photos are updated. Also, thought I would add a photo of me and my Mom at the airport yesterday.
(just some housekeeping tips: I have added new photos in the folders for Bodhgaya, Bundi, and then 2 new folders from the rest of Rajasthan and Delhi .).
Enjoy th pics.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

My last day in India was as unpredictable as every other day had been. The first surprise was that my stomach bug lay dormant for almost the entire day - my starvation technique was working and I was very happy!!
I intended doing some sightseeing but was sidetracked by a long conversation with a fellow Canuk whose last visit to India was in 1967. She had several incredible stories to tell, some of which included her time spent in Vietnam and Afghanistan during each country's war and also many stories about her life spent raising her children in Mexico and growing organic vegetables. She told me tales of hiding Mexicans in her house away from guerrilla's and also of visiting and helping raise thousands of dollars for aid to Guatemala after hurricane Katrina destroyed entire villages.
Very inspirational and I figure that the tourist sights of Delhi can wait for my return.
After comparing experiences for a few hours (her's being far more interesting then anything I have ever experienced - yet) I left to meet my friend Emily at her Kathak dance.
Kathak dance is a classical style of Indian dance and is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I spent s few hours watching Emily and her dance partners prepare for an upcoming performance in Bangalore, then I left to meet Silvia at her apartment.
unfortunately, Silvia wasn't home when I arrived and I needed to get some last minute shopping done before my flight later that night. So I left a quick note and a small gift of thanks at her doorstep and returned to Parhagang for some shopping.
Later that night, my pre arranged taxi ride to the airport came just 20 minutes late (early by Indian standards) and - not surprisingly, consisted of a small black car whose back windows didn't have any glass in them. After a cold, drive across Delhi at super-sonic speed we stopped for gas at and a much needed chat with the driver's buddy's (note sarcasm) before shooting off like a bullet to the airport. Half frozen and windblown, I stepped from the taxi to see an entirely different airport then the one I arrived in a few months earlier. I think Delhi definitely has changed my expectations for things. The first time I arrived in Delhi's airport it seemed overcrowded, rundown and chaotic. This time the airport seemed to have some order to it and (to my deflated standards) a modern sense of charm - there was even free toilet paper in the toilets. To be honest the departures area is much newer and cleaner then the arrivals area - which originally appeared to be one huge dirty, moving mass of screaming people amid hundreds of roaring taxis. Obviously India doesn't care as much about first impressions and more about last impressions.
Anyways, I made it to the airport, got checked in and went to the bar for a farewell drink to India. My last Kingfisher strong for a while (not entirely a bad thing, since Indian beer leaves a few things to be desired).
I left the bar just in time to board my flight.
On an aside, I do have to admit that security at this airport is the best I have seen anywhere. From the door entering the terminal to the line up before the ticket counter, the 3 security gates I past to the 4 people questioning me as I walked through my gate and onto the path leading to the plane - I was thoroughly screened. Maybe it's the whole 'Continental Airlines' touch - but it was s huge step-up from the security with other airlines. Being a bit of a nervous flyer, I was very grateful for the piece of mind it gave me. So claps for Continental!!!
Anyways, boarding the plane I quickly took my seat, got settled just as an elderly Indian couple approached me. After a few minutes of comparing tickets I realize I'm in the wrong seat and move ahead 1 row to my correct seat.
As fate (or it what you will) would have it I sit next to Anil, a sixty-something man who is returning to New York after his daughter's wedding at Udaipur's infamous Lake Palace. We exchange many stories, nervously joke about the fact that our airplane is flying over Afghanistan and Iraq, he buys us a few too many mini-bottles of wine (don't get me started on the fact that Continental doesn't offer free liquor on international flights- thanks Goddess for friends like Anil) and I sleep for the rest of the flight. Anil invites me to spend time with his family in New York my next trip and we exchange the usual emails.
I arrived into New York's Newark airport 30 minutes ahead of schedule and had plenty of time before my next flight to Toronto. I have to admit - I couldn't stop staring at all the white people!! And everything looks new and shiny - it was all very exciting to me and with in moments I was feeling like a kid in a candy store.
I purchased an orange juice and a small bottle of water for nearly $6USD. That's more then I would spend on food in 2 days while in India! Incredible!!
I sat in front of a large flat screen TV to watch CNN and sip my delicious tropicana...mmmm...just like I remembered.
My flight to Toronto took just 1 hour from New York and I arrived a few minutes ahead of my Mom and Bill. The airport was like a ghost town in comparison to Delhi. When I saw my Mom walk towards me I couldn't help myself to start crying.
It was a huge sense of relief to see my my Mom again and know that after so long I am finally home.
On the way from the airport, Mom and Bill surprised me and we stopped off at my sister's office to meet her for a few minutes. It was just as emotional to see her and see how much she's changed. I also got to meet some of my sister's coworkers who told me they have been following my blog for the last couple of years's funny how they knew all about me and seemed just as happy for my return to Canada as my own family but I haven't ever met them.
After 2 years in Asia, it was refreshing to get big hugs from everyone I met. Canadians love to hug...I figure it has something to do with the fact that it's pretty damn cold here most of the time and hugging is a good excuse to generate some extra heat. In contrast, Asians don't like to hug (I'm generalizing of course) and tend to opt for the traditional bow and sometimes a handshake. Even when I left Korea after a year of working with my Korean coworkers, I could feel them stiffen with awkwardness as I grabbed them for a goodbye hug.
So after an all to short reunion with my sister, we let her get back to work and we drove to my Mom's place in Peterborough. It is so wonderful to return home to the sights, smells and people you grew up with. I never want to leave for this long again.
After a hot bath and a long nap with my cat, I had some time to reunite with my Mom and begin telling her about my adventures.
With all the excitement I haven't had an opportunity to miss India yet. I am sure once the novelty of 'western conveniences' wears thin I will miss it more then I do now. But for now I plan on soaking up the comforts of home and enjoying the good life for a while.
India is still a huge part of me. I have seen and experienced things that have changed me and has confirmed to me that my direction in life right now if the right one. I feel at peace with myself and those around me , more then ever before.
I have a better sense of what I want for my future and what's important: family, friends , love and believing in yourself. I always thought I could do most things in my life, but now I am sure of it. Anything is possible for me and I sense big things for my future.
For the next few days I plan to sleep and visiting with my Mom. Her birthday is on Friday and my sister's will be here for the weekend. Then I will travel to Ottawa for a few weeks to spend time with my sister and friends there. I have decided to change my plans for my return to Korea at the end of December. I am not going to move to Busan as I originally planned and instead I am going to return to my old job at Boston Campus in Jukjeon. It makes sense for me to go back to a job that gave me so much happiness and security.
I will keep you updated on my time at home and will be my photos to the website as quickly as keep checking the links.

Monday, November 27, 2006

My original plan to leave Pushkar a few days ago by train was changed quickly when I awoke with what I will politely refer to as ‘ stomach issues’ accompanied by a 39 C fever (see Sue teacher, I told you my thermometer would come in handy).
As luck would have it, my guesthouse had already rented out my room but graciously let me stay in one of their daughters rooms for the day (free of charge) while I downed antibiotics , made all too frequent trips to the toilet and prayed I wasn’t going to die. By 5pm the same day I began to feel a little better and opted to take an overnight bus to Delhi (since all the trains were now booked solid for the next 3 days). Surprisingly, my sleeper bus was ‘comfortable’ and I slept the 9 hours to Delhi. However, this was likely made possible by the overdose of drugs I took before boarding and my fever which still raged).
I arrived to Delhi at 7:00am Saturday and made my way by cycle-rickshaw through the cold quiet streets. Already, Delhi felt different to me. In the last 2 months since I was here, the summer heat has finally left, taking with it the thick, choking smog and has been replaced by cool (dare I say, breathable) air.
I checked into my guesthouse and collapsed into bed. A few hours of feverish sleep later I awoke, showered and attempted to head out to see what Delhi had to offer me this time. With only 2 days left in India I was determined not to spend them in bed. But after a brief walk down Parahganj’s Main Bazaar and a quick trip to book a train ticket to Agra for the next day (home of the infamous Taj Mahal) I returned to the comforts of western toilets and my cozy sleeping bag.
Crazy stomach bug : 1
Colleen: 0
I did also manage to call my friend Silvia and make plans to meet later that night for dinner. Around 6pm, after popping a few more tablets and a death-defying rickshaw ride through the streets of Delhi, I met Silvia in Bengali Market. Silvia is from Spain and has been studying in Delhi for the past year. Her apartment is in a beautiful neighborhood, which, had I not known I was in Delhi, might be mistaken for somewhere much more civilized. The neighborhood is full of old, houses and large trees that line the wide streets. She rents her apartment from an eccentric 92 year old woman who was the first female Indian pilot. The apartment is large (for Indian standards) and has high ceilings, hardwood floors, a separate kitchen and a very large patio off the back. I felt at home immediately.
Silvia and her neighbor, Emily ( a French student here in India studying dance) prepared a delicious dinner and we spent the next few hours eating, drinking and talking about all the fun things that girls like to talk about. It was a fantastic evening and very refreshing from the routine of eating out and holding repetitive conversations that seem to plague travelers. Even my stomach remained calm throughout the night, and my fever kept to a low level for the first time in 24 hours. I had originally planned to stay at Silvia’s place, but felt it best to spare her the agony of having to deal with me and my stomach bug.
The next morning my stomach bug reared its ugly head (or ass shall I say…pardon my language). It seems that feeding it only serves to give it more strength. So armed with more medicine I boarded my train to Agra and spent the afternoon basking in the beauty of India’s self-proclaimed Wonder of the World.
The Taj Mahal is the pinnacle symbol of love. The story is simple yet incredible. It was built by the heartbroken Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his wife who died giving birth to their 14th child. It took 20,000 people 20 years to build and is encrusted with thousands of semi-precious stones. It is huge, romantic, beautiful and inspiring.
I returned to Delhi late at night on the only train I have ever taken in India that arrived on time (fittingly my last train in India).
Now I am preparing for my last day in India. This morning, my fever has gone and I am attempting to starve the ‘bug’ to death – purging myself only on hot lemon tea and the occasional coffee. There are a few sights left to see around the city and then I am scheduled to meet Emily this afternoon to sit-in on one of her Kathak dance classes. Later we will meet up with Silvia for a quick drink before I catch my flight home to Canada tonight.
I am not quite ready to say goodbye to India just yet. So that entry will have to wait until I actually leave. However, I feel ready to return to my home – Canada – it has been far too long. For everyone at home, I will see you very soon. For India - it's not quite over yet.
Love Colleen

Friday, November 24, 2006

As I predicted, my time in India continues to get more and more interesting - well maybe that's an exaggeration... at least it is maintaining a consistent level.
I have been splitting my time over the last two days between 2 families: Natty's family, (whom I already told you about) and Pappu's family whom I met through Natty.
This second family is a lot better off then Natty's and just as wonderful.
They first invited me to their small stone house to drink chai and look at their photos (seems pretty typical here). Pappu is a rickshaw driver and his wife Mamta works at home. They have 3 children: 1 daughter and 2 boys - all of whom go to school and speak some English. The children don't work, like Natty's brothers and sisters and seem to lead a pretty regular life.
Mamta has taught me how to cook some Indian food and we enjoyed many long conversations comparing our ways of life. Mamta is only 25 years old, and Pappu is 27 (like me).
It has all given me such a good idea of Indian life and life in villages. I feel very lucky to have met these families.
Tomorrow I am off to Delhi for the weekend. I plan to see the Taj Mahal and spend some time visiting with my friend Silvia that I met during my Vippassana meditation program.
My flight home is Monday ...I can't believe it!
Will update you before again before I leave India.
Love me

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The People of Pushkar

Ok- so I decided to skip Bikiner after a friend emailed me and told me it was crap and to go straight to Pushkar. It turns out (according to my reliable source - aka: cool Lex) that Bikiner is more of a hole then a haven and the rat temple isn't really that fascinating after all. Maybe next time.
Anyways, I made it to Pushkar around 5 am this morning after taking my second overnight bus in India. Yes I know..I vowed never to set foot on another overnight bus - but I rationalized my decision by the fact that I save on a hotel room and I had the option to book a seat rather then spend the bumpy ride lying horizontal in one of the bunks. It turned out to be a wise choice. Although it was still only possible to get brief moments of sleep, the 12 hours seemed to pass quickly.
Unfortunately, the bus driver refused to drop me off at the bus terminal and instead deposited me about 2 kms outside of the small town of Ajmer. I then had to negotiate a rickshaw ride to the bus station (they wanted 500 rupees - I paid 50, then watched as the Indians that shared my taxi paid 10 rupees.....ahhh India) After waiting at the bus station for 30 minutes, the local bus finally departed and I arrived in Pushkar and managed to find my guesthouse without too much more drama.
After a long nap and some coffee I decided to explore the city and see what it had to offer.
My conclusion after a short time was not much….although as usual in India – I would later change my mind completely.
I made my way down towards the small lake in the center of town and attempted to sit down for a quiet moment by one of the ghats.
Note: most days getting a quiet moment in India is generally not possible - and today proved to be just the same.
After no less then 10 seconds I had 3 people around me - each asking the usual questions they had memorized and thought suitable for any foreigner : "which country you from?" "what your name?" "How long you stay Pushkar?"....sigh.
After politely answering their questions, they decided I was not too interesting and slowly retreated.

It was not long after when a small girl approached me trying to sell me some silver bracelets. She said her name was Natty and that she lived with her older brother and his wife. She told me that both of her parents had died leaving 6 children (including her). Her brother and his wife had 3 more. That makes 11 in her family. Natty is one of the middle children and is 12 years old. Natty’s older brother is a musician and makes money performing and giving lessons to people. But he often finds himself with not enough work. Natty and her brothers sell bracelets and other souvenirs to tourists.
The sad thing is that Natty’s story is all too common.
After making some small talk and telling her several time I didn’t want to buy any bracelets, she decided to just sit back and relax. We began to talk a bit more and she told me how her family struggled to make enough money for food. It was soon after that her brother’s wife (carrying a baby) came over and joined our conversation. It was obvious from looking at Natty, her sister-in-law and the baby, that they were all quite sick. Each of them had large sores on their arms and legs. Also their eyes were full of yellow puss-like and it was clear that the young baby was doing far worse then the older girls.
They told me that they can’t afford to visit the doctor very often and didn’t have any medicine for the children or themselves. I offered to go with them to the doctor and help pay for some medicine for the family. Since I am a foreigner, the doctor would most likely charge me 3 or 4 times the amount he would charge Natty’s family – so I waited outside while they visited the doctor and received the medicine.
Since Natty’s sister-in-law needed to get home to give the other children some medicine, they invited me to join them for dinner. We walked outside of the town of Pushkar about 1 km to a small village, stopping only to buy a bag of flour to make chapatti for dinner. The families that live in Natty's village do not have the standard mud houses that I saw in the villages of Bihar or other areas of Rajasthan– they live in small tents that are built from sticks and tarps. Natty’s family has a small tent that doesn’t quite fit all of the 11 members of her family. She told me that her and her brothers sleep outside and when it rains they have no cover. Her sister-in-law and the small children sleep under the tent. The tent is ripped and doesn’t appear to have much time left before it falls apart completely. They also have 5 blankets to share between the 11 of them and only a small metal box that contains the entire personal belongings of the family (a couple sweaters and scarves, a worn shawl, a few pots, pans, 5 plates, a mirror, some lip gloss and a few old photos – most of these were given to them by other foreigners – and I am assuming the lip gloss (which looked to be an American brand ) – was also a gift.
Natty was very proud of the photos and took great pride in showing me them – although she expressed regret that she didn’t have an album to keep them safe in and was afraid that they were beginning to get too dirty.
After lunch, I took some photos on my camera of Natty and her family while we sat and talked about their life some more. I decided that I couldn’t leave knowing that this family doesn’t have a proper shelter to sleep under. Most nights I have found myself cold in my guesthouse – I can’t imagine how it must be for them to sleep outside without any protection from the wind. So after speaking some more with Natty’s sister-in-law I agreed to help them out.
We agreed that tomorrow Natty’s brother will go to the town of Ajmer and I will help him buy a new tent for the family. Although I usually don’t give money to the people I meet, I decided that this family is a little different and since I will be buying them the things they need and not just handing over cash, I can walk away knowing that the money was put to good use.
Anyways, that being said – Pushkar has already turned out to be so much more then just another touristy town.
Who knows what the last 6 days of my time in India hold – but I have a feeling that even I am going to be surprised right till the end.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A desert tale

Again I am struggling to find the words to describe what I am experiencing.
It is the sounds, the sights, the emotions, the people I have experienced in the last few days that have truly reminded me why I am here.
I am not sure that 'magical' is the best word - but it really feels close to it.
The four days that I spent in the desert were incredible.
Each day we spent 5 or more hours riding camels over sand dunes, through desert scrub and past countless small villages and farms. We rode in the mornings for a few hours and then would stop for lunch and a siesta under some trees before heading out again for a ride to some sand dunes a few hours away. At night we enjoyed traditional songs by campfire, slept under the stars and woke to incredible sunrises over the sand dunes. Each day was the same, but completely different. It was all desert, but never the same.
I was lucky enough to meet an incredible friend, Jon, while I was in Jodpur and we travelled through the desert together with 8 other people and 4 camel drivers.
On the first day, I admit I was a little nervous about having to 'drive' my own camel, but after a few minutes it was easy. The camels have been travelling the same routes for many years and need very little steering. It was funny to see the different personalities between the camels come out over the few days. Some were gentle and quiet, while others were loud and sometimes defiant to the orders of the camel drivers.
My camel was named Maria (which means Peacock , the bird of Rajasthan) but was a 7 year old male camel. He was very friendly and usually listened to me (but not always).
Riding the camels was generally quite easy, but after the 3rd day it became quite painful and by the end of day four I felt as if I had been hit by a truck. But even with the pain in my legs and butt, it was worth it.
I returned to Jaisalmer alone, since Jon had to get back to Delhi for his flight on Sunday.
Now I am just relaxing and plan to take in a few of the local sights before I head north to Bikiner to visit the infamous Karni Mata Temple (which holds hundreds of rats - all believed to be reincarnated story tellers). Then I am going to a small town called Pushkar for a day or two before heading to Agra and Delhi.
Anyways, I have a kazillion photos which I will share when I get back to Canada in 9 days.
I promise to update again in a few days,
Love you all

Monday, November 13, 2006

Just wanted to let you know I am safe and having a great time. I am finally in the real desert now - and it is beautiful. I arrived in the city of Jaisalmer this morning, after spending a day in another beautiful city called Jodpur. I have been visiting many old forts and temples, and I have made some good friends along the way.
Tomorrow morning I am going on a 3 night, 4 day camel safari through the Thar desert...ohh la la. There should be plenty of good photos and good stories to tell when I am back.
Hope everyone is good and having fun back home - just 2 weeks today until I return to Canada - wow!!!
See you all very soon,
with love Colleen

Thursday, November 09, 2006

My last day In Bundi was probably one of my favorite days in India so far.
I went to an amazing waterfall with the family I was staying with and spend the afternoon swimming and relaxing in the sun. It was the first time that the mother had ever been to this waterfall, even though it was only 35kms away from where she has lived her entire life. She was so excited when I asked her family to join me. She was literally skipping on our short hike to the falls. It was really fun. Later that night I went to visit an Indian friend that I made and she put henna on my hands and cooked me dinner. She is getting married soon and will be moving to a new city, so we talked a lot about how hard it will be for her to leave her family and what she expected her life would be like with her new husband. It was very interesting.
That same night I caught a sleeper bus from Bundi to the city of Udaipur. I use the term "sleeper" very loosely since it was impossible to sleep on this bus. Yes there was a bed, but the road was so bumpy my body was literally hitting the ceiling every few moments. Also, Indians drive like complete maniacs, and the bus seemed to be constantly seconds away from fatally crashing into the dozens of trucks that past us on the road last night. ...very scary.
But I made it to Udaipur in one piece and met up with 3 people I had met briefly in Bundi. We found a lovely guesthouse near the lake and have spent the last 2 days exploring the city together. Last night we rented boats to watch the sunset on the lake and then had dinner at a very expensive hotel by the lake called Udai Koti. It was really a completely different side of India. Our meal cost us well over 3000 rupees ( there were 7 of us...usually I pay less then 40 rupees for a meal) but the food and the atmosphere were incredible (but most likely a one time thing). They even had a rooftop pool.
The city of Udaipur is very beautiful, but very touristy so in a couple days I plan to move on to Jaisalmer which is where I am going to do a camel trek through the Thar desert for a few days.
Will keep you posted.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I have had an exciting 2 days in Bundi!!
On my first night in Bundi, I was invited to join Sashi (one of the daughters in the guesthouse where I am staying) for dinner at her soon-to-be husband's family's house. I felt a bit funny since I had nothing nice to wear, and Sashi was wearing a beautiful sari ...but she assured me that I was fine wearing my not-so-stylish western clothes.
We arrived at the house and were given a delicious meal, which was followed up by far too many sweets (Indians love sweets). After dinner, the girls showed me the saris that have been selected for one of the other daughters wedding. They are apparently a part of her dowry.
The saris were like nothing I have ever seen before. Each of them were embroidered with gold and gems (maybe not all real - but still very stunning). It was really amazing to see a more intimate side of Indian culture.
The next morning I went shopping with Sashi for some bangels, dresses and shoes...mostly for her - but I also bought some glass bangels, Bindi stickers and had a dress made for me at a local tailor shop...very cheap! Then last night, the family invited me to attend a wedding party with them...once again, I was assured that I didn't have to dress up. As soon as we arrived, I was ushered up to the front of the stage (yep - there was a stage) to meet the bride and groom and of course pose for photos and video with the new couple.
After my photo was taken countless times, I was invited to join them for dinner. We ate off of large leaves while sitting on the floor (very traditional) while watching other guests dance in true Bollywood fashion to Hindi pop music. They did have a small selection of English music (that's if Aqua qualifies as 'music') which I had to gracfully decline to dance to (several times).
After the dinner, the family I came with told me it was time to go and we all piled into a small car for the 2 minute drive home (Indian's don't tend to walk too much).
This morning, I went with the Sashi's finace (his name is Chotu) to the town of Kota to find an ATM that would accept my card. This took all of 30 minutes. I thought we would be returning to Bundi rigth away, but intead Chotu took me to his aunt's house where I was treated to a large meal, much conversation and even had my palm read. Thanks again to Chotu and his lovely family for treating me like one of their own.
Tomorrow night I am catching a sleeper bus to the town of Udipur....which will likely be another adventure in itself. But first before I leave Bundi, I am going to walk up to the top of the palace and fort. Also, Chotu has invited me to go swimming at a waterfall with him it should be another action-packed stay tuned.
An are taking foreva...and I think I am just going to wait until I get back to Canada to load more you'll have to wait to see 'em (but only 20 more days).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Relaxing in Rajasthan

I arrived today in Bundi after a 30hour cross-country journey. Very tired, so this will be very short. The town is gorgeous...a lake, mountais and a huge fort/palace which apparently has over a 100 monkeys and 2 wild tigers that roam throughout its grounds...I have been warned about going there alone...hmm. It is in the south of Rajasthan, so not really desert...but that will come soon.
I am staying at a lovely guesthouse that my friend Conny recommended called Havali Parihar which is near the palace and offers great views from it's rooftop. The family is really sweet. The mother is busy running around after everyone. One of their sons has offered to help me with my Hindi while their daughter is already planning to take me to a market tomorrow. It is the closest thing to home that I think I will feel here.
Anyways, I will likely spend the next 2 or 3 days here before I go onto Udaipur.
Will keep you updated - off to get some food and sleep now.