The End of India

It is 9 in the morning March 27th! AND I AM IN THE UNITED STATES!!! I time traveled yet again, but this time it was saturated with plane delays and not so nice China Southern representatives. 
We left Saturday morning for the Delhi airport. The first flight was a four-hour connection to Guangzhou, China. Then a plane to Los Angeles and my final stop in Atlanta! 

We were running about thirty minutes late from Delhi and we had to go through a mini-check with Chinese customs. We were going to have to haul through the airport to make the connection. Fourteen hours later, we left Guangzhou for Los Angeles! That’s right 1-4, 14 hours of delays in a cold airport. We slept there, were served bean soup and crackers, and made friends with other passengers. I am not trying to sugarcoat it, but it was miserable.

The level of frustration left me crying to my mom on FaceTime. We had limited wifi, no contact to a landline phone, and no communication from the airlines has driven me to make the ultimatum that I will NEVER fly with China Southern airlines again! 

Although my trip ended on a bad trip home, I am thankful to Ana from American Airlines who kindly placed me on the standby list for my return flight home. It is now 10:34, still Sunday. I am sitting in the cushiony seat to ATLANTA! I can not let two traveling days of insanity diminish my phenomenal pilgrimage to India.

A pilgrimage is defined as a spiritual or religious journey from great distances to see a place or person that is important to a person’s beliefs. I do not qualify myself as religious, but more spiritual. And I don’t often voice my beliefs in such a public forum, but I do believe in destiny…a pre-determined path where forks in the road extend to different ends. Where people and places are set in your path to experience and embrace. Sometimes they stay a great deal of time and others are temporary, but they are woven into your life to gain perspective, laugh, love, and enrich life. My travel companions, the staff of the different hotels, our driver, and passengers on the various planes were all apart of my India journey. 

My pilgrimage was a total distance of 18,986 miles. The flying was physically demanding on my derrière, as I mentioned in my earlier post. I am not sure what my expectations were heading into my pilgrimage. Many friends voiced concern that I would not return from the mythical India. Possibly running away like in the movie Eat, Pray, Love. As glorious as that would be, remember people I am a teacher! We don’t make enough money to run away from reality for forever. I could only expense 7 days of escape! 

Now I have been home for two full days and I am not sure I have had any great insights or revelations. The moments of quiet in India, the awe of beautiful architecture, and the kindness when there was a language barrier are all moments that changed my perception of the world. 

I don’t know what is next for me. In the face of poverty, there was happiness and love in India. I am fortunate to have a home, a car that transports me safety, and a means to make money, but I am not certain it is enough. 

Here are the things I love whole-heartedly: my family, my dog, and my friends. Traveling has exposed that the things I once found important are dwindling to fringe. The unsettled limbo stage of life is currently unanswered. But my next journey to Europe with my mom as I explore the roots and homeland of the Erickson family will hopefully lead me to answer “what is next for me?”

  

Last Adventure in India

On our last day, we started at the India Gate monument, also called the All Indian War Memorial. On either column are the names of soldiers who have lost their lives in World Wars. There is an eternal flame that has been burning since 1971. 

  

After a few picture opps, we divided into two groups: group A shopping and group B museum tour. I bet you can guess which group I was in. My friend Diego’s dad, Ramon, and I adventured across the park to the National Gallery of Modern Art. 

On our walk, I asked a group of police officers where the entrance of the museum was. He asked me my name, my country of origin, and pointed me in the direction. I had a weird feeling and what do you know his laughter told the truth. He gave me the wrong directions. We trekked around the block and arrived at the destination. I really wanted to go back and kindly thank the cop for the great directions, but I figure sarcasm would be lost.

The museum was an odd layout of four independent buildings. The collection we viewed was in the back. It was a chronically view of the Indian culture from British colonization in the 17th century through the development of art schools in Calcutta and Mumbai. The finale was a collection of contemporary Indian artist. Ramon speaks a little English and I speak a little Spanish. I did my best at answering art questions and discussing my feelings about works that I found interesting. 

Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed in the museum. I was able to locate several images on the museums online virtual gallery. 

Here are my top four picks:  

 A) Jamini Roy Bengali Woman (1926-2011) He started studying art at age 16. His goal was to capture the essence of simplicity embodied by the folk people of India. Roy also wanted to make art accessible to everyone and to give Indian art its own identity.

B) Amrita Sher-Gil Self-Portrait (1913-941) Her mother was a Hungarian Jew and her dad was an Indian aristocrat and scholar. She is known India’s Frida Kahlo and is the most expensive woman painter! 

C) Biren De April, 1973 (1926-2011) His used strong geometric shapes giving a sense of vibration and meditation. 

D) PT Reddy Portrait of Indira Gandhi (1915-1996) She was the Prime Minister of India and assassinated near the end of her term. His use of bold patterns creates a flat depth to the portrait of India’s female icon.

We wrapped the day with frozen yogurt and a little shopping. Looking forward to my return home! 

Passenger Side

Today we made the three hour drive from Agra to Delhi. My tunes of choice and the inspiration of my blog title was Wilco’s Passenger Side. I desperately wanted to sleep in the car, but it was a challenge with uneven paving and the occasional pot hole. On a gasoline stop, I was able to capture some images of tracker trailers. They know how to pimp out their trucks in Agra!   
Before we entered the city, we snuck in a modern temple built in 2005. Swaminarayan Akshardham (pronounced similar to Amsterdam, like in Holland) Is a 100-acre property that showcases Indian art, wisdom, heritage, and values. Unfortunately, we were unable to take anything inside with us, so no cameras and no Polaroids. But pictured below are some of the images from the guide book. It’s retail value was 5r (.07 USD)!!! 

  
On the exterior walls of the temple were twelve paneled paintings that told the story of the boy yogi, Neelkanth Varni. It was a cool moment to make the connection to the movie Mystic India, I viewed pervious to coming here! It was a great “ah ha” moment. 

After visiting the temple, we finished making our way to our next resting stop. A very uneventful day, but looking forward to my last full day of fun tomorrow. Fingers crossed, I sneak in a museum! 

Final Day in Agra

Today was a very busy day. We had a 6 a.m. wake up call. I actually was awake at three. I am not certain if jet lag is hitting me several days delayed or the fact that there was a power outage around that same time. This is pretty common in India to have power surges where energy is lost anywhere from two to six hours. The instability of the infrastructure creates gaps in conductivity. After breakfast, the electricity was restored. It was a very self-reflecting moment and makes you think about the luxuries of home. I simple walk in my front door and don’t second guess the fact my lights will turn on. Not always the case for the people of India.

Our tourist adventures for the day included the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, the Palace, and some shopping. We had a big to do list on our last day in the city of Agra. 

The Taj Mahal didn’t disappoint, once we got inside. In true Indian fashion, we were being hustled from the moment our feet touched the half a kilometer red driveway to the entrance of the tomb. When we approached the counter, we were divided by foreigners and Indians, and then secondly by woman and men. The total cost was 750r, approximately $11 USD. I am not going to lie it was very chaotic and majorly confusing. In the security check point, I lost my extra watermelon bubble gum, Diego lost a Cliff bar and a package of nuts, and Jason was the biggest loser. He lost his cigarettes, lighter, Altiods, and several snacks. I was wanting to pack my watercolor supplies to sketch, I am so glad I left them in the hotel room. The continuous chatter from the guide was overwhelming. We eventually had to tell him no thank you more aggressively, but all was calm when we stepped into the garden space. 

It was a pure delight to experience one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s perfectly symmetrical balance facade was stunning from all directions. The morning light made the Taj glow a soft pink. I took two Polaroids, one from the morning and the second when we left around noon. You can totally see a different in the color of the marble as it reflects the sun’s light.  

The Taj Mahal is the ultimate symbol of love. It was build by an emperor after the death of his third wife. He was to erect the most perfect tomb for her to sleep eternally. If a man built me a correrra marble bathroom, I would be happy! 😁

  

As we left the Taj Mahal, a looming question was answered. Do Indian woman wear undergarments under their saris? As we left the large white sweeping marble stair case of the Taj Mahal, India national relic, a woman was hovering over a drain, sari hiked up to her hips, using the restroom. Less than 100 feet away were proper facilities. It was a shocking moment. The answer to my question: no people fly-free under their saris. 

This has been a very common scene in our tour seeing people using the bathroom, where ever and when ever. Jason and I started to play a game, like the Volkswagen game, punch buggy. It is comical, but again supports the notation of the lack of infrastructure with plumbing and running water to support the needs of an ever-growing population. 

Our tickets from the Taj Mahal also allowed us entrance to Agra Fort. A massive thriving community in 1500 AD. It would have been a cool spot to live, but as a female I would have been a member of large one hundred women harem. From hydroponic farming to private outdoor baths, the Fort was a modern marvel. From the back view in the Yamuna River, you could see the Taj Mahal. Sadly the river was polluted with trash and debris. You could also across the river some locals sunbathers. I would assume they were also collecting water and washing laundry. 

  
We came back from our morning tours to our hotel for breakfast. I made a small change to my diet, a hot green tea, but would suffer the consequences later in the evening. I haven’t talked to my travel buddies if they have incurred the same sickness, but “Delhi Belly” is a thing that can happen. Precious to leaving, I visited a travel doctor at Emory. She prescribed me some stomach medicine. So hopefully this will reduce the symptoms and get my stomach back on track. 

After breakfast and the fatal green tea, we were back out hitting the sights and shopping. I was able to secure some small gifts, while adventure to the Palace. It was a hike to get their. Having visited several masque this week, it was pretty basic. Our trip planner said, “it is the biggest door in Asian”. Not sure that was true, but we witnessed some cool religious music and goats scaling the steps of the temple. It was a long day with exhaustion playing a major role in our apathy. 

  
With an hour ride back to our hotel, driving the streets of India at dusk was a trail of headlights and horn honking.

Tomorrow, we will adventure back to Delhi to “play Holi”, the major Hindu holiday that started Wednesday with the color powders and ceremonies to Krishna. Also, I am hoping to sneak in a museum. 

Happy Holi

We checked out of our hotel and commissioned a driving service from the company Discover Su Mundo. The owner Sandeep Nath met with us yesterday to explain the outline of our two-day excursion. Three cities, a major Hindi celebration, and the Taj Mahal, all wrapped into a road trip! 

Today is the celebration of the god Krishna. He was quite the trouble maker as a boy. Multiple girlfriends, teased people by throwing water on them, silly dancing, and many more tricks. On Holi day, Hindus are in happy moods, sprinkle colored water on each other, and throw colored powder! Holi is known as the festival of color. He is the character in blue in the picture collage. 

The first stop was the city of Mathura to the Krishna Balaram temple. It was massive! We were able to observe chanting and praying by Hindis as they walked into the temple. Again, no photo documentation, but I was very moving. On the perimeter of the temple, were cast iron figures of Krishna telling the stories is his boyhood fun. 

Again, I was solicited for photos with the tall pale white girl. Rebecca, Diego’s little sister, captured the moment on her camera. Once we share the SD cards and pictures, I am sure the documentation will be hysterical! The towered green-eyed gaint among the colorful powder pigment teenagers. 

  
The next town away, maybe five minutes, was Vrindavan. The Hare Krishna community temple was full of drumming, dancing, and ceremonial chants in the name of Krishna the God! Everyone was covered with color pigment. We still had another two hours in the car, so we didn’t participate in the color fun. However, I did purchase four packets of color. I am going to try and paint with powder and maybe give some to my niece and nephew for a color war! 

Tomorrow is a big day! Up early to be at the Taj Mahal by 6:30 in the morning! Can’t wait to share!!! 

Gandhi, Tombs, and a Mosque, Oh My!

Day two was action packed! We were off to an early start with an Uber ride. Yes, the Uber app works in India! We traveled to the memorial park of Rajiv Gandhi. The park has deep roots from the British rule and aristocrats that once inhabited the area. When India became independence in 1947, they converted it to a public space. It is peaceful, beautifully manicured, and FREE. When entering the park, they require you to enter a metal detector and x-Ray your bags. I was pulled aside about my bag. I have a small allergy to insect stings. Being in a foreign country, my EpiPen is riding shotgun in my purse. The guard didn’t like the looks of them, but he let me keep them! I am sure he was thinking crazy white girl!
Gandhi’s ashes are buried at the center of the park. While visiting the grave of Gandhi, I witnessed an Indian woman place marigolds in a circular pattern on top of the tomb. Another woman took a quiet moment of prayer. She was repeating a chant very quietly. I wanted record both, but I also wanted to respect their privacy. 

  
After the park, we walked to Jama Masjid, a Muslim masque. As we approached the masque, a man was giving us tickets and wanting 300r. We complied, but I think it was a scam. The hustle is real. While walking inside the temple, an Indian family approached me. I thought they wanted me take a picture of the family, but they wanted their picture with me. Again, an awkward moment. Like I am this unseen creature, let’s pose with her. I allowed two pictures and then excused myself. Needless to say that has NEVER happened to me EVER. I am however feeling like a rockstar with all the attention. 

  
Before our last stop, we traveled the markets of Old Delhi. The shops were filled with sari fabric, lace, trim, beads, and various foods. Our last stop was the tomb of Isa Khan. It was once a fort, but now acts as a sanctuary and prayer spot for Muslims. Approximately 138 million Indians are Muslim, which is about 13% of the population. The tomb stop was at noon, so the heat was kicking. We retired early and called in for take-out from a local Indian spot. The top dish was Dal Makhani, a spicy soup/stew mix served over rice. 

Tomorrow, we are driving to Agra to see the Taj Mahal! During our stay in Agra, the Hindu festival Holi is being celebrated! It is known as the festival of colors…can’t wait to throw some powdered dyes! 

We Have Touchdown

We landed in India at 11:30 Sunday morning. The last flight was a tightly packed plane with one bathroom, not so great lunch, and the United Nations of passengers. We again took China South airlines. With the first stop in China, I would estimate 80 percent were Chinese and they were connecting to other larger metropolitan in China. Our six hour connection to Delhi the passengers were Australians, a family from Mexico, a lady from Peru, a man from Delhi, some college students from Southern California, and me…at least those were the people immediately around me. Many were staying and traveling around India. I was fascinated with the Mexican family. The traveling family was Grandpa, Grandma, three siblings and their spouse, with five grandkids, all teenager age. They were headed to Nepal! I didn’t ask too many questions, but they were bubbling in my brain. My friend and traveling buddy, Jason, always gets mad when I ask questions. He says its like an assault rifle, rapid fire one after the other, and sometimes you can’t recover before the next one is aimed at you. What can I say, I am curious by default.
Anyway the never ending plane ride was horrible for my rear end again! I am not sure how to physically prepare for sitting, but I needed something and extra pillow? Some memory foam? Something! We again were traveling against the time zone, so what felt like an hour was like two! But we made it!!! 

The Delhi airport looks like the CNN center with glass windows and offices spaces everywhere looking into the rotunda where flight information can be located. At least what I could observe as we were flying through the corridors because Jason wanted to be first at immigration. We were first but Jason and Rebecca choose the wrong officer’s line. I was in and out, finger prints, mug shot, and signature in about five minutes. I waited in the post passport stamp area for a solid fifteen minutes. No worries, I stood trying to connect to WiFi and also sales people were already haggling me to purchase alcohol, duty-free! I have no earthly idea what that means, I am assuming duty-free is no tax. I guess I looked like a Johnny Walker red girl. At least the sales person thought so, I politely said no thank you at least four times. They hustle hard in India to make a sale. 

Diego met us at baggage claim. We exchanged money. I exchanged $300 USD for $18000 rupees (not rubies, right mom?!) Inside story, still in adulthood my learning disability surfaces. Seeing and saying rupees was not matching. My mom set me straight!

After money we headed to a pre-paid taxi service. For four people and our luggage, it was 500 rupees which is about $8 USD. Of course you risk your life with the crazy traffic. Many of the doors of this old volkwagen style van were dented and difficult to open. Being Sunday traffic was light, says Diego. A thirty minute ride and we arrived at our hotel, HOME@F37. Not sure why it is name that, but it will suffice. It is clean, has private bathroom, and breakfast service. 

After settling in, we adventured just down the block to Storm Bar and Grill. When you walked into the space it was like the movie Night at the Roxbury with Will Ferrel and his sidekick where they dance with just head bobs. Black and grey velvet upholstery everywhere, metallic mosaic tiles on the columns, ceiling, and floors, a wall with backlighting and shelves with colorful bottles. It appeared to be a confused night club. With sports posters in random places, flags of India and other countries, and hooka pipes on each table. The menu was loaded down with Mexican classics like nachos and fajitas, and American style wings, but the reviews Diego saw on TripAdvisor was that “it was weird, but great Indian food”. The review was correct. The weird atmosphere was worth the delicious garlic naan (thin crust bread), spicy pesto chicken, curry chicken, and some other pork dishes that everyone was raving about, but don’t eat pigs! It was SOOOOO good! Per person the cost was 800r (rupees), converted to about $11 USD! The quality and quality of that food in America would have been nearly $25. And some of the boys drank a beer or two. That’s included in the price! Insanity how inexpensive everything is! 

  
After dinner we took a tuk-tuk ride to the Lotus Temple. Small kids outside the gates were hustling brackets, snacks, and toys. I am the easiest target in India: tall, light brown hair, fair skin, and green eyes. It’s like the simplist Where’s Waldo game ever! 

The temple is free. They only allow about 100 people in at a time. There is a series of reflection pools. You have to take you shoes off and they can’t be visible must be placed in a bag covered up, no outside food, and no photos inside the temple. I have a link to some information on the temple don’t want to spend too much of your time. http://www.bahaihouseofworship.in

And I have to go to sleep for another full day of exploring. Tomorrow is dedicated to Gandhi and Old Delhi. 

  

Stuck between Saturday and Sunday…

Not a bad place to be! I have not a clue what time zone I am in. All I know is we are soaring above the Pacific Ocean at an incredibly fast pace. In Atlanta, it is 11:05 Saturday morning and having left LA about eight hours ago it is 8:05 there.
This is an undertaking of a plane ride. Pictured below is an Airbus 380! It’s pure engineering ingenuity. The two-story plane can seat up to 850 passengers and crew members. The full size restroom allows my 5’11” frame to extend completely upright. It has both hot and cold water. And provides lotions and refreshing mist. Being on a plane for nearly 20 hours, I think it is going to get pretty steamy in here! 

Having purchased our tickets in October at a reduced rate of $690 with South China Airline, a company of Delta. It is a round trip from LA to New Diehl, I must say the seat is a little rough on the rear. We are in the economy class, fairly roomy, but absolutely no cushion to spare. The life jacket under my seat I think would be more pleasant. I also don’t think it helps that I broke my tailbone. Not recently, but when I was a young tenacious basketball player. I was attending the University of Georgia’s team basketball game. I was playing four to six games a day and loving every minute, until the fatal fall. I was extending to get an aggressive defensive rebound. It was slow motion and my feet were quickly above my head. I fell into a perfect V formation, that would have rivaled cheerleading pike perfection. Consequently, I broke my coccyx bone and given an inflatable doughnut to ease the pain. Doctors can’t make a cast around your rear. 
What I would give to have my blue butt pillow back! It was two hours into our journey East when that all too familiar tingling started. I have walked. I have stretched. I slept, restlessly. I am sure my cabin mate is hating all my moving, but he snores. Not even half way through the flight, but I am still super excited to visit and explore a destination I was only reading and watching movies about just last week!
  

Traveling Without Big Al!

Back in October my best friend and his partner invited me to travel with them to India. I was uncertain I would be able to get the time off from school. I had just completed my graduate schoolwork. I was working with a new principal. Many obstacles! With some negotiations and some serious planning, I was able to secure my airfare in late October. Jason and I would be departing on March 18th, a day after his birthday. And his partner, Diego, would be arriving four days before us for an educational conference.

It seemed like ages ago when we planned the excursion, but March 18th is THIS FRIDAY! My bag (that right singular, I am only taking ONE bag) is pre-packed with some small details to add, like a shirt my mom is mending and bug spray. It is hard to believe that many years ago Jason and I sat on his back porch drinking coffee fantasizing about traveling to foreign countries, India being our top pick, and I am less than three days from making the dream a reality.

I am looking at this adventure to India as a preview of my backpacking trip with my mom this summer, so no Big Al to India. My mom’s name is Alice and she is maybe 5 feet two inches tall, if she stretches, so my brothers and I call her Big Al! We invested in a suitcase style book bags from eBags. I researcher a variety of bags, read several blogs, and watched reviews on YouTube. The eBags Mother Load TLS Weekend, seems durable, was reasonably priced, and perfect for our trip. India will be the first time traveling with my bag, so I can’t wait to see how it holds halfway across the globe. My mom traveled with her’s on a school related trip for three days, so our European haul this summer will really test the Mother Load!

I wanted to share some of my preparation materials for my India trip. A dear friend supplied me with a copy of Lonely Planet’s India travel book. It is great resources with fast facts and easy colored access to subdivisions of India’s vast country. My friends and I are traveling mainly in the North central areas near New Delhi, but the Lonely Planet provides great tips and scheduled itineraries for various days of travel.

My grandmother has a home library beyond impressive, so over the holidays I raided her books and found two must-reads for any trip to India. The first is “A Passage to India” by E.M. Forster . The book is a tale of friendship between a British woman and Indian man during the Indian independence movement in the 1920’s. The second book is “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri. The book is a collection of nine short stories that highlight the culture of Indians in various life situations.

In addition to books, I have watched a handful of movies and documentaries. PBS has several series focused about India now and its history. My grandmother also encouraged me to watch The Jewel in the Crown. Not only does my grandma have an impressive library, but her weekly strolls to Barnes and Noble keeps her DVD collection growing, too! Another tale about British colonization in India and the racial tensions of the 1920’s. I binge watched the 14-episode series in a weekend. Amazing stories of heartache, love, family, and friendship.

Just last night for my final Indian fusion, I watch Mystic India. A short feature film, only 45-minutes long about the journey of India’s youngest Yogi, Neelkanth. Beautiful imagery, narrated by Peter O’Toole, and cool story about finding unity amount the diversity of a country.

Can’t wait to share more tales from my India travels. I have no clue if my accommodations will have Wifi, but I will post as much as possible!

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