Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Cochi!

There is a giant stuffed doll of possibly some type of father time on the beach, christmas lights everywhere, santa hats, fireworks, ice cream, kids running, people selling noisemakers, dancing, music, it is amazing!!

Best wishes to all of you in the new year!!!

Allapuzha

Allapuzha, pronounced All - a - poo -rlrlzhzlrl - a. Apparently there is no sound in english for how to pronounce it! But it is beautiful! We went on a trip on a houseboat in the backwaters in Kerala. It was so nice. Two deluxe bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen and seats on the patio to watch the palm trees go by. The crew pointed out the sights, fed us, cleaned up after us and generally waited on us. It was so beautiful, and calm, and such a change from the big cities! I would definately recommend Kerala to anyone planning on doing a trip to India anytime soon!!

Chennai

Ok, Chennai is not a tourist city. Staying in the "tourist area", we were surrounded by hotels and freeways .. um ... My cousin must think we are rich, he booked us in another super swanky hotel. But unfortuately, L and R got sick, probably from some food. My dad ended up calling the doctor to the hotel. They were worried about health insurance until we realized the whole episode (including drugs) cost less than 12$. Whew.

L was sick on her birthday. However, the hotel brought in a delicious banana cake for her , we ate it the next day.

Chennai highlights were the beach (huge!) and the music/dance festival going on (we saw a few shows). Other than that, it was pretty dull, dirty, scary and overpriced. No rickshaw drivers used the meter and they were super aggressive, follow you around all the time. The coolies at the train station tried to charge us 500 rupees (12$) for carrying our luggage. We tried to take it back and they kept grabbing it out of our hands and then still charged us 500. We gave them 100 and then R yelled at them until they left!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Thanks to everyone who posted comments, its nice to hear from home!

Christmas here is not celebrated, however it is recognized by draping sheets of xmas lights over buildings, and having really creepy santas with full plastic face masks walking about. Scary, actually! Since there is no snow I keep thinking it is July, so it is very weird. I hope you are all having a great holiday and I am thinking of you all and missing the holiday cheer!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Bangalore / Mysore

Well, after a 25 hour train ride that included lots and lots of indian kids, numerous cups of chai, train biryani, vinyl seats/bunks, indian style train toilets and a whole lot of cockroaches, we arrived in Bangalore, 1200 kms away from Mumbai. It is SO much nicer here. Much cleaner, cooler (perfect temps of about 30 during the day but dropping to about 18 at night), more modern, organized, socially concious and LESS PEOPLE! Whew. I met my cousins wife and 2-year old daughter, who is infinitely cute, like all indian kids!! Unfortunately it is hard to communiciate with her since she only speaks tamil baby talk. We spent the day shopping at the high end stores ... fabindia!

The following day, we drove out to Mysore with my cousin and his family, a tourist destination. It is 139 km away, but takes about 4 hours to get there. It boggles my mind that we were in a newer model toyota vehicle, but there was no seatbelts, no airbags, no safety features whatever! After holding on for dear life for 4 hours, passing herds of sheep on the highway, goats, people walking, cows sleeping, bikes, a fmaily of 6 on a motorbike, 20 kids crammed in a rickshaw .... i could go on ... we arrived in Mysore. We saw the Maharaja's palace, which is huge and probably the best kept sight in south india. Although that is not saying much, because nothing here is very well maintained. There were probably 100,000 people there. My cousin had a talk with the security guard and we skipped the line. Ah, the disparity here. We spent the night in the swankyest hotel I could imagine (Sandesh the Prince in Mysore, look it up for me, RN!) The next day, we went to a temple, but the line to get in was 3 hours long so we just took pictuers from outside and went to the zoo! The zoo was almost nice, but just not well maintained, so the cages were out of date, and yes, the elephants looked sad. We then endured anohter 4 hour ride down the highway of death. However, the food is still delicious!!

We leave tomorrow to go Chennai, on the east coast. We will spend a few days there relaxing, recovering from all the constant car travel, and see some of the sights! I'm finding the non-touristy stuff is almost more interesting that the tourist destinations, since all you do there is stand in line with a million other people then cram into a room and try not to lose all your family members, then get pushed out again! I've been shopping a lot but I can't wait to do more! It's so cheap and EVERYTHING is pretty. I'm getting pretty good at bartering too!

"Facts" about india

1. I am terribly allergic to india. Whether it is the pollution or all the exotic plants, I have never been this bad before ... my eyes are so itchy!!

2. I am also apparently allergic to the sun. What the F!!

3. 1.2 billion people is a LOT of people.

4. If everyone did everything in an organized and systematic fashion, things would happen a lot quicker here, but about 40% of the population would lose their jobs.

5. What india lacks in quality, they make up for in service.

6. My mom is famous in india. People come up to her and ask to shake her hand. Then they say "hellohowareyouiamfine". Yup, just practicing their english with a white person!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mumbai!

We arrived in Mumbai after taking off in a snowstorm, stopping in Milan, and eating lots of veggie meals (you get served first on a plane if you order a special meal, haha!) Had to circle the airport in mumbai for half hour, traffic jam on the runway. got off and waited for an hour for our luggage, didn't come. THen we spent another hour in the mad crush of 100 other people who also had no luggage. good introduction to india, hot, loud, chaos and no guarantee that we'll ever see our luggage again. SOmehow even though we were 3 hours late and there were a billion people at that airport, we found our parents!

We are staying in chembur, a suburb of mumbai where my uncle lives. at first i thought the hotel was pretty bad (1300 rupees or 40$ a night) but after seeing some other places, its pretty good. Clean, locked and a western style bathroom!! Plus, room service. service is so good here, there is always 25 people just waiting to serve you. At first it was very unnerving you feel bad if you don't want anything, but you get used to it.

I am loving the food and LOVING the chai. mmmm they know exactly how much sugar to put in. We have seen the suburbs, local markets and shops, and gone downtown to the touristy area. Went to elephanta caves, colaba causeway, victoria terminal (we take the train downtwon every day) gate of india, etc. I have to say with traffic, pollution, poverty, etc i don't really like the city. i had a bad pollution cough for 3 days. i like the suburbs better.

tomorrow we are off to bangalore on the 24 and A HALF HOUR train. phew. this country requires a lot of travel time. we have traveld by rickshaw, taxi, rented car, hired van, train, boat ... oh, and we finally got our luggage 3 days after we landed, all shrink wrapped for us. At least it allowed me to buy a couple of bengali shirts (which are much more appropriate for the heat than the clothes i bought) and learn how to barter (for toothbrushes and underwear no less!)

can't wait to see more relaxed areas of the country. M, I understand your pain about the bathrooms and general uncleanliness. I am washing my feet and hands frequently. But other than that it has been a very interesting and eye opening experience so far! Looking forward to seeing the beach.

ps. it is 35 degrees here. SO hot!! For some reason my sisters refuse to use the ac so my hotel room is less than comfortable, but not so bad with the fan. but im learning to be used to it. drink lots of water and no makeup!!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Off to the Fatherland!

I'm heading to India for three weeks!