A Travellerspoint blog

7.31.10: Goodbye India

A day for reflection...

Today we woke up in Delhi. Instead of exploring more of Delhi and soaking up the last of India, we decided to rest. We had been in India for a long three weeks of constantly running around, train after train, town after town. Our funds were as exhausted as we were and we used the drab rainy day to relax and reflect on our weeks in India...

Three weeks, eight cities.
Eight train rides, one bus, a million rickshaw.
India chewed us up and spit us out.
It is true what they say: you don't visit India, you survive India! It was a beating.

It was definitely an experience and overall, a good one, despite the bad in between.
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To make sure I end on a positive note, I'm going to start with the negative.

Negative:

-The over population: up every tree, in every bush, under every table; there are people everywhere. It takes away all hope of serenity when there are hoards of people swarming around.
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-The traffic: due to the over population, there is constant bumper to bumper congestion. Literal bumper to bumper.
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-Their driving etiquette: The beeping. The awful unnecessary beeping. I will forever have nightmares about the beeping.

Also the playing chicken on the road. It's like an unspoken rule to avoid staying in your lane as much as possible. I wonder why they waste money painting the lines in the first place. Pedestrians Do NOT have the right away. The bigger you are determines your precedence over the road. The cows always win.
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-The salesmen: because we were white we had a permanent targets on our backs and no matter when or where, someone was trying to sell us something. What's worse is the lack of respect they exude when trying to get you to buy something, they don't take no for an answer. You are forced to be rude: because of the former, you are constantly on guard ready to say "no" to anything. Because the sales people push you so hard, you finally have to be outright rude to them. This was perhaps my biggest problem with India. I was on vacation, trying to enjoy myself and learn about the culture but I was often in a bad mood because I had to be a bitch all the time. It's hard to have to yell at someone to stop bothering you and then be able to plaster a smile back on your face. After a while it really gets to you and brings you down. One time I was walking down an alley way and I heard someone trying to get my attention, I was sure that, like everyone else, the man was trying to sell me something and I walked on ignoring him, a practice I had gotten very good at. When he finally did catch up to me and tapped me on the shoulder, I turned around and snapped at him, "I don't want anything". I felt like an asshole when I realized that I had sat down my drink and forgotten about it and he was just bringing it back to me. I was pissed at myself. But I was also pissed because I realized that this is what India had turned me into. I'm never act like that and I don't treat people with that kind of attitude but after being harassed day after day, hour after hour, I automatically had my guard up. I was in constant fight mode and it made me sad to think that because of this, I felt like I was missing out.
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-The lack of sanitation: Feces, garbage and flies.need I say more?
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  • I am a chronic nail-biter and I have been munching my nails down to ugly little stubs since I had teeth, that is until I came to India. It is so blatantly filthy I have completely stopped my nasty nail biting habit and I am pleased to say that I now have pretty girly fingers! Thank you India for being so nasty, you broke my 24 year old habit!

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-The bathrooms: Most of the time there is no toilet paper. 9 times out of 10 there are no toilets. Sometimes there are stalls, sometimes they have a door. All the time you walk out feeling dirtier than when you went in.
The power outages: All around India their are random power outages, rain or shine, city or country, it is unpredictable and unexpected. In Varanasi our hotel held the record of 17 power outages in one day. You never know how long they will last but they are always inconvenient.
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The humidity: dripping sweat, pit stains, body odor, frizzy hair, and stinging eyes. You do no come to India to win a beauty pageant.IMG_0940.jpgh20_Buf_is_chill.jpg

Digestive issues: I thought I had a strong stomach. I thought wrong. American stomachs are no match for the spices of India. No amount of Imodium can mend the stomach lining torn apart by the claws of curry.
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The dogs: I am 100% a dog person. Nothing can brighten my day like a tail wagging furry friend smiling up at me. So it killed me to look at the mangy canine carcasses scattered on every street corner. Dogs with patches of hair missing or no hair at all, three legs or less, horrible body scars, and the most dejected look in their eyes. They needed love, bad. I actually felt worse for them than I did for the street beggars and if they could have asked me for a dollar I would have given it to them.
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Looking back on my blog entries, it may seem like I didn't have a great experience in India, but I did. I'm not going to lie, There are a lot of negatives about India but that just makes finding the positives that much sweeter.

The positives:

The prices: the conversion rate of rupees to dollars is about 50 to one. Thats the kind of math i like to do. A lavish, five-course meal cost roughly around $10. I ate a lot.
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The railway system:
India has a wonderful railway system! It is so easy to travel from point a to point b and relatively comfortable also (very comfortable if you don't get a seat next to children or families with children or people who talk on their phones, or people who snore, or people with vocal chords at all.) Deaf Mutes are the only acceptable bunk buddies.
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Off the beaten path:
Every place that we went to, outside of the city, was beautiful. Goa, Khajuraho, Dharamsala were all amazing, peaceful and refreshing. India excelled in their diversity of terrain. From breaches, to jungles, mountains and plains, it was all beautiful and every train stop brought new geographical diversity.
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The architecture: I really enjoyed the Hindu, Islamic, and Persian influences in all of the architecture. Probably because it is so alien to anything I see back in the states, but I thought a lot of the monuments we visited were some of the most beautiful in the world.
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The sauces: I love sauces! I hate dry food. I will put sauce or dressing on anything I can. One of the things I was disappointed about in South America was the dryness of every meal. It was a completely different story in India. Every dish was saucy, savory, and scrumptious!
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Free room service: almost every hotel we stayed in had a restaurant in it and every one had free room service! This is a great commodity when the humidity is hellish and all you want is to enjoy your food in some cool air conditioning.
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The monkeys:
besides the demon monkey who made me his bitch, I loved watching all the monkeys. There are monkeys everywhere and they are fun frolicking free entertainment.
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India was definitely and eye-opening experience. I learned a lot about the world and the people in it. Big or small, poor or rich, light or dark, we are all the same. We are all people with hopes, dreams and desires. there is always more to a book than it's cover, the best parts are the inside, but you have to invest some of yourself to reap the benefits of the message or else it's just words on paper. A smile echoes a smile. :)
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I am very lucky to be who I am, born in a developed country with a mother who always put me before herself and gave me the best life I could have asked for. I am also lucky to have experienced India, it has given me a whole new appreciation for my life and life in general and I will definitely be back.
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From Executive Producer Andy Streitfeld and AMS Pictures, comes Ma's Roadhouse a new reality show on TrueTV!
Rick Fairless is the owner of Strokers Dallas, a Texas motorcycle shop, tattoo parlor and biker bar. His greatest asset is his 71-year-old mother, who's also his best, but most outspoken, employee. Can Rick keep his business afloat? And can Ma keep her hands off the bartender?
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I wish I could be there to watch it with all the hardworking people at AMS :( but at least I will be back in the states by then and watching intently from my TV at home :) You guys rock!

Posted by emichele 06:23 Archived in India Comments (1)

7.30.2010: Last day in Dharamsala

Refugees, Sushi Rolls, and another long bus ride...

We woke up to our last day in Dharamsala and headed out to the Tibet Museum.

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One of the main reasons that we handpicked Dharamsala as a stop on our trip was because it is home to Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. He chose Dharamsala as the capital in exile of the Tibetan people, after fleeing Chinese tyranny in 1959 and ever since his move, Dharamsala has drawn people in search of divine enlightenment from all around the world.
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McLeod Ganj harbors several organizations committed to raising funds for the Tibetan people and promoting and preserving Buddhist culture.
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The Tibet Museum is a great educational facility to learn about the struggle of the Tibetan people and we were dying to immerse ourselves in it.
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"A long look homeward" is the main exhibition inside of the Museum. It highlights the brutalities that have been carried out against millions of Tibetans during the Chinese domination as well as focuses on the whole History of Tibet. It is an emotionally taxing but educational exhibit and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
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Life in McLeod Ganj revolves around the Buddhist temple, Thekchen Choling Temple Complex, located next to the Tibet Museum. This temple is linked to the exclusive private residence of the Dalai Lama.
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Although there were many robe clad monks roaming the complex, chatting and joking, his holiness, the Dalai Lama was not among them.
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We walked around the temple, prayed alongside the monks, and took turns spinning the many prayer wheels.
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After getting in touch with our spiritual side, we decided that it was time to eat. We decided on a Japanese sushi spot that was recommended by one of the girls in my cooking class.
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We ordered a set lunch of vegetable sushi rolls, Miso soup, boiled potatoes with carrots, and pickled green beans with fresh lemon iced tea.
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It was healthy, delicious, and filling.
We headed back to our hotel, packed up our bags and reluctantly said goodbye to Dharamsala. We had such an amazing time, it was hard to leave. Dharamsala was, hands-down, my favorite place in India, and it’s no wonder the Dalai Lama chose it for his home. It is peaceful and gorgeous, the people are respectful, helpful, and friendly and I would recommend it to anyone who visits India. It will definitely not be my last visit.
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The day we arrived, we traded our sleeper train tickets for bus tickets in order to spend more time in Dharamsala. Although we were told that we were getting a state of the art tourist bus where the seats reclined, we were wary as to the extent of the comfort. The ticket salesman assured us that, although the bus was not air-conditioned, we would not need it traveling down the cool mountain roads. We crossed our fingers as we waved good-bye to Dharamsala and headed to the bus station.
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With no organizational structure whatsoever, the bus station was no more than a dimly-lit, unmarked parking garage. Armed with a ticket that only stated the name of the bus company, we asked several random people where we should be headed. They pointed us over to two parked busses sitting side by side. As we walked by the first one, we noticed that one of the windows was busted out and in its place sat a piece of cardboard that was, barely hang on for dear life. Noticing the duct tape flapping around, we joked that with our luck, it must be our bus. It was.
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Luckily the seat with the taped-up window was not ours, however, we got the next best option, the one directly behind it. As we pulled away from the station my biggest concern was being too cold. Having brought only a thin fleece, I could just picture myself shivering the whole way to Delhi. I was way off. It was smoldering hot. The open windows did not do much to help and the overhead fans were broken, as were the lights. I sat in clammy shadows in a seat that barely reclined as we made our way down the twisty mountainside.
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It was a harsh night of slumber.

I wish I could be there to watch it with all the hardworking people at AMS :( but at least I will be back in the states by then and watching intently from my TV at home :) You guys rock!
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Posted by emichele 20:23 Archived in India Comments (0)

7.29.10: Dharamsala, Day 3

Mist, Momo's, and Massage

Today I woke up and set off on a solo mission. On a cooking kick from the day before, I had signed up for yet another class. This time it would be a Tibetan cooking class that I found just down the street from the other class.

Max was all cooked out with one class and decided to get some ink done at a small tattoo studio we found tucked into the mountainside.
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I woke up early and walked alone down the twisty narrow roads. I soaked in the silence, listening to nature and nothing else. The birds were singing as I sat on the side of the road and stared as the mist rolled in.
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The fresh morning dew trickled down the tree leaves and plopped on the gravel ground. It was quite the scene. When I strolled into McLeod Ganj, I found a restaurant with a rooftop terrace and sat down to enjoy the view along with breakfast. My masala omelet and hot tea paired wonderfully with the Himalayan highlights. I was content.
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It was 10am and time for my Tibetan cooking class. I walked into Sangye's Kitchen and was greeted by Sangye himself. A native Tibetan, Sangye escaped 14 years ago and, like many Tibetan refugees, now lives and works in Dharamsala. He was a happy man, always smiling, full of warmth and instantly likeable. Besides myself, there were three other women in the class with me, all with different stories scattered across the globe. One woman was on holiday from Ireland. The only American was a poly-sci major from BYU who was taking a semester of classes in Dharmsala while living with a Tibetan family. The last woman was from Moscow and, coincidentally, worked as a video editor back in Russia. It was a fun mix of ladies.

The dish of the day was momo's. A momo is a traditional Tibetan snack similar to wontons. These dumplings can be steamed or fried and they can have a multitude of different stuffing. Whether your momo’s are savory or sweet, the same dough is used however the shape of the dough is what they use to differentiate between them.
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We made five different types of momo’s and learned five different ways to shape the dough, which is harder than it looks.
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Our five different stuffing’s were shredded chicken, potato, mixed veggie, spinach and cheese, and chocolate momo’s. First things first, we had to learn how to make the dough. Although I enjoyed the variety of the food we made in the Indian cooking class the day before, I enjoyed this class because it was much more hands-on. He would demonstrate once or twice and then throw us each a ball of dough to try it ourselves.
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We kneaded the dough and formed it into very thin circles, no bigger than a quarter. We stuffed our dough circles with each set of ingredients (precooked and chopped for our convenience) and then we shaped them. Shaping them was the tricky part. From small Hershey kiss shaped momo’s, to the traditional wonton shape, each was fun and challenging.

No matter how dilapidated the momo’s turned out, Sangye was encouraging and told each one of us that we did a good job.
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After we were done stuffing and shaping the momo’s, it was time for the steaming.
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This required no effort on our part and we took this 15 minute interlude to get to know each other. The timer dinged and we were all salivating for momo’s. Each one turned out delicious, but my favorite was the spinach and cheese. This was definitely a dish I will be cooking at home.
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I walked around McLeod Ganj for a while, peering into different shops and snatching up souvenirs when I decided to sign up for a yoga class.
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The Rishi Yoga and Meditation Center had a 2 hour class and I was right on time.
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As I did some pre-yoga stretching, the instructor and I waited to see if any more people showed up. At five after four, he decided to get started with just the two of us. It was a relaxing class and the mats were set up facing a giant window that overlooked the mystic mountains. As I contorted my body into downward dog and cobra poses, I watched as the mist turned to rain. The second hour of the class was focused on meditation and I listened to the pitter-patter of the rain drops as I reflected in silence. It was not a very strenuous class but I enjoyed myself and the peaceful energy I walked away with.

As I was on my way back to the hotel, my eye kept drifting to the different massage offers lining the mountain roads. I wanted to give India another shot at massage even though the groping in Goa left a bad taste in my mouth. I had a nagging knot that had been aching since Peru and so far, rubbing it against the edge of the wall was the closest I came to any relief. I decided to spend the money and find someone who specialized in deep tissue massage to get this knot loose.

I walked into Himalaya Body & Soul Rejuvenation Zone and spoke with Jitt, the male instructor and masseur. Although, after my last experience, I was looking for a female masseuse, I instantly got a good vibe from him. The massage studio was set up very professionally and had a large curtain that separated the massage table from the rest of the room. I inquired about a deep tissue massage and told him that I was only interested in my back, not a whole body. To save money, I told him that I only wanted a half an hour, assuming that would be enough time to relieve my throbbing muscle. He agreed and excused himself to let me get situated on the table, a luxury of privacy not provided by the Goan masseur. He started my massage and I was in ecstasy. It was one of the best massages I have ever had! He was skilled and professional and, never once did I feel uncomfortable. As the 30 minute session came to an end, I asked him if he had time for the full hour. I was enjoying it too much to have it come to an end so quickly. I walked out feeling fantastic!

After I was done with my magical massage, I met back up with Max and his new ink. He played it safe and only got some touch-up work done and although he wasn't thrilled with the quality, he was stoked to walk away with a permanent reminder of Dharamsala forever stamped into his skin.

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Posted by emichele 00:47 Archived in India Comments (2)

7.28.10:Dharamsala, Day 2

Time to Explore!

I rolled over in a sleepy daze, my eyes gradually adjusting to the morning light. I slowly pried my lids free and fixed my gaze out the window extended before me. Was I dreaming? I sat up and focused my eyes as the green blurs morphed into the beautiful Himalayan mountain range sitting right in front of me. A smile stretched across my bed sheet imprinted face. I was not dreaming. I was in Dharamsala!
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Waking up to the mountain side view was a whole different feeling. Yesterday, the steamy clouds and the scattered rains made it a perfect day for relaxation, something I desperately needed after running the gamut of India. Today was different. Today was a day for exploration!
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I took no time at all getting ready and rushed out to see the sights. We opted to bypass the taxi and make the hour-long walk down to McLeod Ganj. It was well worth it. The views were amazing and stretched far as your eyes could see.
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The trees engulfed the mountainside leaving no room for anything but green. My pace slowed to a crawl as I took in the beauty around me. The air was clean, crisp, and fresh.
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I took long deep breaths as I gazed down the mountain, through the trees. My eye focus racked from one tree to the next and so on. I was stuck.
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I had started a love affair with Jimmy’s Restaurant the previous night, and the lust was still bubbling hot. As I was ordering dinner last night, my eyes caught the breakfast section of the menu. They had waffles! Just a day ago I said that I would give anything for a big gooey Belgium waffle. I hadn't seen a waffle in months and Jimmy’s had a whole waffle section on the menu! I ordered a waffle with bananas, chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. For breakfast? Yes and boy did it hit the spot!

I walked around for a while just observing life around me. The vibe was different here. It was peaceful. No one was hassling you to buy anything, the streets weren't crowded, it was a completely different India. The debris and beggars had been replaced with robed Buddhist monks sporting Doc Martin boots. The energy was good and the people were as warm as fresh baked cookies.

We walked along the wavy mountain roads, between souvenir shops, yoga classes, tea houses and massage studios. Max decided it was time for a haircut and ducked into a local barber shop for a trim. I peeked into a beauty parlor and treated myself to some eyebrow threading. The beautician did a great job and I needed it. After almost two months without any beauty pampering, I was starting to look like a woolly mammoth, uni-brow and all!

As I was waiting for Max to finish primping, I wandered past a sign advertising an Indian cooking class. I ventured inside to inquire about times and prices and ended up signing us up for a class that afternoon.

After Max's makeover we headed into the class. Having no idea what to expect, I imagined a classroom with personal cooking stations and ingredients laid out for use. I was a little surprised when I walked into a small yellow room lined with a semi-circle of people facing a single rectangular table.
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Atop of the table sat a small double burner stove similar to Coleman camping cookware. Behind the table, a world map hung on the wall and on the adjacent wall was a poster board list of ingredients written in big bold letters. I felt like I was walking into my first day of kindergarten. Armed with a pen, paper, and a hearty appetite, I was ready for some cooking.

Our instructor, Nisha, introduced herself along with several key ingredients we would be using in today's lesson.
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She passed around a container with fenugreek, green and black cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander seeds.
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I am an avid chef at home and proud to say that I've excelled beyond mac and cheese with hotdogs but fenugreek and cardamom were new to my vocabulary.

The first dish we started with was rice pudding, a dish I am a fan of, but wasn't as exotic as I was expecting. As the rice was cooking, we moved onto dish number two, Choley Masala. Choley is the Hindu word for chick peas and Masala means mixed spices. This dish, which may seem bland, as you would expect from chick peas, is actually rather flavorful.
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We made vegetable pulao, which is basically white rice with small chunks of boiled vegetables. This dish is just as unglamorous as it sounds.
We made raita, which is a cousin to tzatziki sauce and a favorite of mine. This yogurt dish contains cucumbers and onions along with a handful of spices and was surprisingly easy to make. Unlike the Greeks who use tzatziki sauce as a garnish, Indians serve raita in large bowls and will mix it with other foods or enjoy spoonfuls by itself.
The next yummy we made was stuffed parantha, another favorite of mine. Parantha is tortilla-like bread that is on every Indian menu. It can be served plain or stuffed with potatoes, cheese, or meat. Today we learned how to make potato stuffed parantha, which is definitely something I will whip up in my kitchen back home.
The last thing we made, and the highlight of the class, was samosas. Samosas are triangle shapes dough stuffed with a variety of ingredients and deep fried. They can be eaten alone but most of the time they are dipped in a sauce, in this case a green chutney sauce. These are the perfect snack food and they will most definitely be featured at my future football Sundays. Samosas can be stuffed with a wide array of goodies; ours included potatoes, peas and spices. This was the highlight because we actually got to help make them.
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The rest of the class was spent taking notes as she explained and demonstrated each dish, but this part we got hands-on. She demonstrated the first two, showing us how to roll and cut the dough, fold it into a cone shape, stuff, seal, and fry it.
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Then it was our turn. I wet the edges of the dough so it would seal.
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Then was the hard part, forming it into a cone without it caving in on itself.
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Then it was time for the stuffing, the triangle seal, and viola!
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You have yourself a samosa ready to be fried. I really enjoyed the class. She was a very articulate Indian woman and there was no language barrier at all.
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She clearly explained the processes and would walk around and show us each dish through the different preparation stages. At the end of the class we feasted!
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The class fell silent as we devoured the food we spent three hours smelling.
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Everything was delicious. As I was leaving, I thanked her for a great class and told her that I'd give her a plug; you can find more information and recipes at indiancookingcourse.com. A+

We had planned to be in Dharamsala for three days, return to Delhi for two days and then fly out to Nepal, however after only a day in Dharamsala, it was clear that this plan was flawed. We were enjoying ourselves way to much in this chill mountain town and Delhi was the last place we wanted to be. Although we enjoyed what we'd seen of Delhi, and it was one of the nicest big cities in India, we had had enough. We needed this crisp air, this laid-back atmosphere and the thought of leaving this diamond in the ruff to go back to searing, sweaty Delhi, was the last thing I wanted to do. We went to the closest travel company and cancelled our train ticket, giving us an extra day in Dharamsala. Score!

Posted by emichele 08:04 Archived in India Comments (0)

7.27.10: Dharamsala

Misty Mountains of Peace...

Our train pulled into the station just as I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes. We were in Dharamsala!

Well, not quite. We still had a two hour car ride up the mountains until we our Himalayan hotel. As we went through the same routine of negotiating with cab drivers, we finally found a guy who would drive us for a realistic price. We showed him the name and address of our hotel and he ushered us into the back of his cab. As we climbed higher and higher in elevation, through sporadic trickling rain and sharp mountain curves, I stared out the window smiling. Ever since Khajuraho, I had been fiending for a laid-back rural setting. I wanted to chill in a place that was not flooded with people or reeking of trash. I knew Dharamsala would give me what I wanted; peace, tranquility, and natural beauty.
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Not even the taxi driver’s horrendous display of mountain maneuvering could bring me down. As we skid around on the wet road without even a brake pump, I maintained positive thoughts and a cheesy grin.

When we were about 20 minutes away, the driver pulled over and asked to see the hotel address once more. As he looked over the paper he told us that our hotel was farther up the mountain and demanded 250 more rupees to take us to our destination. After three weeks in India, I am used to this kind of money-grubbing mistreatment and instead of starting an argument in the car I simply said, "Please take us to our hotel”.

As we pulled into The Snow Crest Inn, I prepared myself for the forthcoming battle. I was determined not to let this conniving cabbie rob me for any more money than I agreed to in the beginning, but I also didn't want our verbal sparring to turn me into a Debbie downer.

I calmly told him that I had the receipt which stated the price and the location, and I was not paying him a dime more than that. He started arguing, quickly raising his voice from angry to irate, waving his arms around like a crazed Chimpanzee. I handed him the agreed upon amount and said, "Sir, I'm going inside now, where I will no longer be needing your services. If you have a problem, please feel free to call the police and I'd be happy to sort this out with them."
"I call police!" he yelled back as I skipped inside. "I bring police!"
I never saw that man again.

Satisfied with my verbal sparring knockout, I headed into my mountain paradise, The Snow Crest Inn.
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After a short check-in process with some of the most competent people in India, two teenage boys helped me upstairs with my luggage. I opened the door to a giant room with a balcony that looked out into the gorgeous Himalayan mountain range.
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I was in heaven. Besides an occasional "mooo" there was silence. No people, no horns, just the serene hum of nature.

Today was a day of leisure; no museums, no monuments, no shopping. I chilled in the room most of the day. I sat on the balcony and gazed out into the beauty. I watched the mist roll in from miles away, until it completely engulfed the hotel and I could see nothing.
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This blinding fog was like nothing I had ever seen before. I couldn't see three feet in front of me and the damp air had a dreamlike quality that made me feel like I was living in a cloud.

I pried myself out of mountain meditation just in time for dinner. We headed out of our secluded hotel and took a five minute taxi down to an area called McLeod Ganj. Although it was dusk and I didn't have much time to explore before dinner, I could already tell that I was going to enjoy this place. I could walk down the streets without being harassed, I wasn't surrounded by salesmen, I was happy!

I wandered into the first restaurant I saw. It was called Jimmy’s and advertised “The Best Italian Food In Town". After a month of eating a steady stream of Indian food, Italian sounded great. Also, I am always curious to find out how other cultures interpret ate different genres of cuisine. For instance, the South American interpretation of fettuccini alfredo is cooked spaghetti with a bland milk sauce. Not a favorite of mine. Varanasi had aced my test on pizza, so I was hoping that Jimmy’s would come through with the Italian.
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The restaurant was funky and fun. Framed movie posters lined the walls and the contemporary lights hanging from the ceiling gave it a relaxed, modern feel. The wait staff was prompt and polite and I jammed along to the sweet sound of The Doors as I waited for my meal.

The first to arrive was my peach iced tea. I was floored when I looked in my glass and saw small blocks floating in my cup. Is that was I think it is?! Ice! Hurray for ice! After you haven't seen an ice cube in two months, this is how you react! It's the little things life that make you jump for joy, and ice is one of them!

The next thing to arrive was my tuna salad. So far every time I order a salad, it's a gamble. I could receive the most delicious blend of veggies and dressing in the world or I could get a plate of 2 radishes and a slice of cucumber with no dressing. I was pleasantly surprised when a stunning platter of neatly arranged vegetables arrived in front of me. It was a delicious dish of carrots, green beans, olives, tuna, and egg drizzled with creamy vinaigrette delight. Success.
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For the main course I ordered a four-cheese Fettuccini Alfredo with garlic bread. I wanted something rich, creamy, and fattening and that's exactly what I got! It was one of the best Fettuccini Alfredos I've ever had. I left the restaurant stuffed and stoked! A+ for Jimmy's Italian Restaurant!

Posted by emichele 03:25 Archived in India Comments (0)

7.26.10: Delhi, India

Exploring Delhi

I was up until 3:30 in the morning thinking about all sorts of fun things I could do to make this managers life a living hell. You know what I came up with? Squat. We had already paid, they had our credit card on file, along with copies of our passports, and we were S.O.L. The manager’s attitude was clear and customer service was not his forte. So, I decided that the best thing to do was to checkout without a word. Seeing as how we had already paid for the room and I was not paying a dime for my lubricated egg rolls, we had nothing to do but leave the key and walk out. I sat the key down and walked out. I walked down the street and into a travel agency to arrange a car for us for the day. I sat down in the welcoming air conditioned room, glad to be rid of the filthy hotel. As we were discussing our options for the day, the door swung open. "Madam you no pay!" it was the manager from the hotel.

Excuse me?
You no pay! You must pay bill!
We already paid for the hotel.
You no pay for food!
That's right! I didn't pay for the food and I'm not going to!

We essentially had the same argument as the night before. I told him how dangerous and unhygienic it was to serve food like that. I told him that, not only is it unprofessional for a hotel manager to treat his guests like this, it is a health hazard and he's lucky I don't report him for investigation (even though I doubt there is such a way to do that in India). He accused me of being cheap and prissy and told me that if I expected better service I should have paid more. He told me, "This is India, food is served in all different bags. You want different, you go somewhere else!" As it was about to come to blows, I grabbed the package (which I strategically saved) and shoved it in his face. Since he refused to come to the room last night, this was the first chance had to review the evidence. I watched him read the packaging. I, once again, explained that a catheter is a surgical instrument that goes up a man’s penis, using awkward hand motions and giving special emphasis on the words "up" and "penis". I watched his eyes widen. I think this was the first time he understood the severity of the situation. Quickly the conversation was over. He acknowledged his fault without so much as an apology and walked sheepishly out the door.

Feeling satisfied but slightly embarrassed for having a confrontation inside of this travel agency, I apologized to the man sitting at the desk across from me. With a smile on his face he said, "No problem miss, this has happened before with that hotel." Come to find out, two other tourists were chased in there because they had not paid for something. Apparently their rooms were disgustingly dirty and the staff had refused to clean it so they left without paying. He assured me that the Ivory Palace Hotel does not have a good reputation and didn't blame me for the situation. I felt much better.

We booked a car for the day through Discover India Tours and Travel, one of the most professionally run companies we have encountered in India. The car was well kept, the air-conditioning worked great and the driver was informative and polite.

We breathed a sigh of relief and set off for our first day in the capital of India. Delhi. Is divided up into three main areas; Old Delhi, New Delhi, and South Delhi. It is crammed with over 14 million people packed into less than 600 miles and is increasing by the day.
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Although it is said to have the highest levels of pollution and poverty, New Delhi is, surprisingly, one of the nicest areas we've seen in India. So we decided to start our tour at a Temple, right in the heart of New Delhi.
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The Lakshmi Narayan Mandir Hindu temple is said to be one of the finest temples in Delhi and it certainly was not a disappointment.
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It's open, contemporary style was unlike the other Hindu temples we'd been to. Inside was dressed with white marble floors, gleaming crystal chandeliers, and intricate carvings. Large vats perched on octagon-shaped stone pillars adorned shrines encasing golden statues of different deities.
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We walked around the temple exterior through a jumble of pathways connecting the temple with a huge backyard garden area.
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It was certainly bigger than we had expected.

Our next stop was the India Gate.
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This colossal memorial was built to commemorate the people who gave their lives in World War I. The names of those deceased in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war are inscribed in the memorial, towering high in the sky for tribute. It was a nice monument however the construction didn't add to its allure.

Next on our New Delhi tour was the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the President of India.
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As you drive up to the mansion, placed at the end of a cul-de-sac, you pass two, almost identical Secretariat Buildings before you come to a giant gate fencing the perimeter.
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Although there are armed guards stationed in front of the house, I was able to poke my head through the gate and take pictures without so much as a second glance. It is a beautiful home with a slightly colonial feel. It's not white house, but he's certainly not slumming it! After only five minutes of observation, it was clear who was running this operation, not the guards clad with automatic ruffles, it was the monkeys.
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Wild monkeys ran across the grass one after another after another.
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A parade of monkeys danced across the lawn out numbering the guards 4 to one.
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I clicked my camera at the photogenic primates until it was clear that I did not have a big enough memory card for all of them.

It was time to cruise out of New Delhi and head for south Delhi, a mission I was happy to make considering the blasting AC that was waiting for me on the drive. After a refreshing drive we arrived at the Qutb Complex.
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The main feature of this complex is the centrally located Qutb Minar, a 234 foot sandstone tower that took almost 200 years to complete.
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It was named a World Heritage Monument which maintains its preservation and protection for the good of humanity. The pictures really do not do it justice.
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The steep scale of the tower is dwarfing and the meticulous carvings are noteworthy as well.
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We took a sightseeing timeout as the day drew to an end. We had a 12 hour, overnight train to catch which would drop us in Dharamsala, but we still had 5 hours to kill before we had to board. The only thing worse than wandering around a city like a vagabond, waiting for a train, is waiting at the train station. The train stations in India are nauseating cesspools of unwanted cat calls, swarming flies, and steaming piles of human waste waiting to be hosed off the train tracks. It's not a place you want to be in for five minutes, let alone five hours.

We stalled for an hour or two, inside a nice restaurant our driver recommended. I grubbed on a helping of Galub Jamun and a bowl of strawberry ice cream which I combined for the perfect mixture of mouthwatering awesomeness.

With a few hours left we headed into Old Delhi. There is definitely a distinct difference between the modern style and general upkeep of New Delhi and the drab deterioration of Old Delhi. Old Delhi was similar to every other big city in India; a dirty mixture of beggars, hustlers, trash and traffic. I had just finished an enlightening book on Indian Deeksha blessings and I needed another good read. After perusing two or three street stalls I found a bookstore with just what I was looking for.

We took a rickshaw ride a few blocks to Khari Baoli, a street side spice market that was said to be one of the biggest around. Maybe we came on the wrong day because it didn't seem to be such a grand affair. Although the size of the market didn’t live up to the type, the lingering aromas that spilled into the street made it worth my while. You could smell the spices from a mile away teasing your senses to get a closer look. Colorful vats of turmeric, cardamom, and masala spices lined the street and we enjoyed just moseying around the free smells. I ended up buying a few packets of spices I knew I wouldn't be about to get my hands on back home and headed out of the congested marketplace.

Since we still had a little over an hour left to kill before our train, we decided to head back to the India Gate. At night, this monument is much more of a spectacle than during the daytime hours.
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It can be seen from miles away illuminating the sky with gleaming gold as people sit underneath and enjoy it's beauty. We picked a nice spot in the surrounding park and kicked back in its shadow until it was time for our train.

Posted by emichele 22:40 Archived in India Comments (0)

7.25.10: Agra, India

Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Starvation, and Lube...

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I woke up in a panic as our train was pulling into the Agra train station. My alarm had failed me and I had ten minutes to load up all my crap, change clothes, and make myself somewhat presentable for the day ahead of me. I barely made it and jumped off the train as it was pulling out of the station. I breathed a sigh of relief and headed out into Agra!

We only planned for one day in Agra and we had yet another train to catch at ten that night. We hired a car for the day to show us all that Agra had to offer. I geared up for the excitement to come with a healthy breakfast of chai tea and fruit muesli. I started my muesli craze with a random pick off the menu and it has become one of my favorite breakfasts in India. A granola mixture topped with mixed fruit, milk and honey, muesli never disappoints.
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After a satisfying meal it was time for the highlight of the day, and the sole purpose of our stop in Agra, the Taj Mahal!
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As we walked up to the entrance gate we were greeted by curious monkeys chasing each other from branch to branch.
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Camel rides were the new substitutes for rickshaw drivers and there were a line of people waiting to feast their eyes on the white gleaming glory of the Taj Mahal. We bought our tickets and entered into a long security line. I've never been searched so hardcore in my life; not at the airport, not at a rap concert, not even at the Mexican border, nowhere. After they were finished with the unnecessary groping of my lady lumps, they told me to open my bag. For the next ten minutes they pawed through the deep abyss, scouring every nook and cranny. They confiscated two of my well-hidden lighters, an individually wrapped breath mint (no food allowed) and a pack of playing cards that I had carried with me since Peru. The playing cards were hard to let go, first because I couldn't figure out why I wasn't allowed to bring them in. Did they think I was going to start an underground gambling ring in the basement of the Taj Mahal? Secondly, I had been carrying these cards with me for two months. They were my pals in times of boredom and I didn't want to let them go. It was either jettison the cards or have to go back to the beginning, buy a locker for the day, and volunteer for another round of boob grabs and purse prodding. The cards were no more.
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The Taj Mahal is not visible outside of the park area and once you pass under a beautiful introductory archway, it sort of smacks you in the face.
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I wasn't completely sure what to expect. As with a lot of world renowned places, I half expected it never to live up to its hype. I also expected that it would be so overrun with tourists it would be disenchanting. This was definitely not the case.
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It is brilliantly breathtaking. The Taj Mahal took 20,000 laborers 22 years to build this beauty and it is a Masterpiece.
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This architectural brilliance was built by Shah Jahan as an eternal symbol of love for his favorite wife. Can you believe that? He built her the Taj Mahal. I'm lucky if a boyfriend gives me a high-five and this chick got herself a palace! I must be doing something wrong.
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This woman must have cooked a mean meatloaf to deserve such an exquisite jewel.
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Its symmetry is perfectly proportioned, the delicate luminance glistens in the sunlight and the utter mass is jaw-dropping, however, it is the elaborate detailing adorning the white marble that is truly outstanding. The Taj features stunning carved floral bouquets inlaid with every precious stone known to man, symbolizing paradise on earth.
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Graceful calligraphy inlaid with black marble carefully increases in size the higher it is, creating an optical illusion of perfectly balanced print.
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Two mosques sit on each side of the Taj however only one was built for purpose, the second was built purely for symmetry.
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We spent a lot of time walking all around the Taj, sporting the booties they gave us to wrap around our shoes.
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Although they had a short lifespan, I will take a bootie any day over walking around barefoot.
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After circumnavigating the Taj a handful of times, we strolled the surrounding gardens.
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Handsome trees with plentiful shade, fresh cut grass and neatly paved walkways only added to the pleasant experience and it was a nice escape from the unforgiving sun.
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We decided to wander outside the gates and we set off in search of a secluded shady spot to smoke a cig. We ventured down a small hill and found the perfect rock to sit on. It wasn't until we got comfy that we noticed the entertainment in front of us.
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The monkey circus was in town and we had front row seats. They played tag through fresh puddles, pushed each other off tree branches and played Peek-a-boo through bulky bushes.
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I was highly amused at their playful antics and they didn't seem to mind our close proximity.
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I sat and smiled and watched them frolic around completely oblivious to our peering eyes.

We hopped back into the wonderfully air-conditioned ride and set off on our next sight-seeing exploration.
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The Agra Fort was built in the mid fifteenth century.
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The soaring red sandstone fort sits on the banks of the Yamuna River and has an excellent view of the Taj Mahal.
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The building is an interesting mix of Islamic, Hindu, and Persian elements which gives it an distinctive style all its own.
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We explored for a while until he heat became too much to bare. We found a nice shady overhang with a balcony that overlooked the river where we sat, rested, and gazed at the Taj Mahal on the horizon.
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Our next stop was Itmad-ud-Daulah's Tomb also known as the mini-Taj.
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This buildings translucent white marble and meticulous symmetry inspired the architecture of the Taj Mahal.
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It features geometric patterns, ornamental mosaics and looks like a dazzling jewelry box.
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It is surrounded by a nice garden and the lack of tourist traffic we encountered made for a enjoyable visit.
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After a long day of exploring Agra, it was time to get out of the heat and onto a train for our next destination, Delhi. Luckily the train ride was only a three hour trip so we decided to bypass dinner and wait until we got settled into our hotel.
That was a bad call. The train ended up taking five hours instead of three leaving me anxious and starving. After running around Agra in the blazing heat all day without the relief of a hotel room to rest at, I was in dire need of a long shower and a good meal.

We checked into the Ivory Palace Hotel and were pleasantly surprised by the initial luxury of the lobby. We have checked into so many different hotels and hostels, it’s a gamble each time. We've made a game of it and take bets on what's to be expected. No electricity? Ants? Bloody bed sheets? What surprise do we have in store for us this time!? At first glance, this hotel looked pretty swanky. They had a spacious, modern lobby, and an attentive staff who carried our bags up to the room. The first thing I did after we checked in, was order dinner. They said that their kitchen would only be open a little while longer so I hurriedly ordered a bowl of tomato egg drop soup, veggie egg rolls and garlic naan. I enjoyed a wonderful shower and laid down on the bed, thrilled to veg out, watch some TV, and feast on the food to come. I clicked the remote control. Nothing. I pushed the power button on the TV. Static. The TV was not working and the staff said there was nothing they could do.

Finally there was a knock at the door. The food had arrived! On one platter sat the bowl of tomato soup, garlic naan wrapped in a paper bag, and the eggrolls wrapped inside of, what looked like, a microwavable bag. I started on the soup, thinking how tacky it was that they left the eggrolls wrapped up like that. Had they simply placed them on the plate, I would have never known that they had been micro waved. Then I took a closer look at the bag. What jumped out at me were the bold words "Lubricating Jelly", two words I don't like to see on anything I'm about to eat. I read on. "For lubrication before insertion of catheters, endoscopes, and surgical instruments." I choked up the tomato soup that was in my mouth as my jaw dropped to the floor.
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I was dumbfounded. Was I just served food in a medical bag containing lube? I kept reading. "Directions: tear package at top and squeeze lubricating jelly out as needed." Yes, indeed I was correct. I didn't even know what to do. I was shocked, revolted, and speechless.. But not for long. My vocabulary came back to me just in time to give the manager a verbal lashing of a lifetime. I didn't think anything could have shaken me more than the lubed up food package, but the manager’s response threw me for a loop. At first I tried to be nice. Ok that's a lie. When you serve me food out of a medical bag, I don't play nice, but I tried to be civil. I explained the situation and read him what was on the package, verbatim.

"You no want food"
"No I don't want this food. I'm not paying for this food and -"
"You order food, you pay for food"
"Like hell I am! Do you even understand how disgusting and unsanitary this is?"
"Ok you don't want, you set outside your room."
"Can you please come up here so I can show you exactly what I am talking about? I need to speak with you in person please."
"You no want to pay, I no come there."

This is when Emily got a little crazy.

You serve me food out of a medical bag filled with lube for catheters and you’re talking about payment? Payment isn't the issue! This is unsanitary! Do you even know what a catheters is!?
Ma'am
It's a surgical instrument that is used to internally drain fluid from the human body. It is inserted inside of a man’s penis. You served me food in a lube bag used for an instrument that goes inside a man’s penis! Might as well have just stuffed the egg rolls inside a condom and served them to me with a steaming bowl of aids!
You book through Hostel World?
Yes.
You see the rating?
(For those of you who have never booked a hotel or hostel online, a lot of sites allow you to rate and leave comments on the places you've stayed. This particular hotel had a rating of 66%. I'm not a princess and I was raised with the mentality that money doesn’t grow on trees, so I don't need 5 star hotels or a mint on my pillow. I've stayed in places rated far worse than 66% and made it out just fine.)

Did I see your rating?
Yes, did you see our rating?
Yes, you were rated 66%, why?
You see our rating and you book with us, what you expect?
What!? Are you trying to defend serving me medically contaminated food based on an above average rating? You are seriously justifying this service!?
You order you pay.
I hope you have more lube bags lying around because you're gonna need a big helping after I'm done shoving my foot up your ass!
Fine you no eat.

I was livid. Had it not been 11:30pm and had I not already paid for the room, I would have packed my stuff, checked out and made sure every guest in the hotel knew why. Instead I took a passive approach and sat quietly in my hotel room, stewing in my rage, trying to divert my attention from my rumbling tummy.

Posted by emichele 00:25 Archived in India Comments (1)

7.24.10:Last Day in Varanasi, India

Hit & Run with a side of Nirvana...

Today I woke up early and walked along the Ghats, hoping to get a glimpse of a freshly cremated carcass. I had no luck, but I did enjoy a nice morning stroll to start the day.

Our first stop of another eventful day was Sarnath.
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After gaining enlightenment, this is the place where Buddha gave his first sermon. 2,500 years ago, he revealed his eightfold path to Nirvana, making Sarnath a notorious Buddhist center of wisdom.
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The most notable sight is Dhamekh Stupa. This colossal tower stands 102ft tall and is said to mark the spot where Buddha revealed his path to Nirvana.
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We ventured around the area for a while, visited several Jain temples, walked through Deer Park, and moseyed through ancient ruins at the archeological survey of India.
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After a while, the killer heat was getting to us so we decided to pack it in.
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We went back to the hostel, packed up our stuff for a long overnight train ride to Agra. We flagged down a rickshaw, hurled our packs in the pack and set off on another electrifying rickshaw escapade.
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Every cab or rickshaw we ride in should be considered an adventure. If you've been following the blog (as you should be) you've heard my tirades about Indian drivers. One thing that amazes me is that, while I'm living these daily near-death experiences, I wonder how there are not more traffic tickets or more accidents. I've seen people drive for miles on the wrong side of the road, or suddenly stop in the middle of traffic to get out and ask for directions. I have yet to see anyone get a ticket. I scarcely ever see any police cars on the road, and despite the absence of actual lanes, turn signals, or driving etiquette, I have yet to see any accidents... Until today.
Today I was lucky enough to witness an accident from the backseat of the vehicle at fault. As we were coming to a stop in heavy traffic, our rickshaw driver tried to do some bone-head maneuver around a parked rickshaw. It did not work. He scraped the back and the side of the other vehicle and didn't even blink. As he rolled forward, he casually glanced back to see if there was a driver in the parked car. There was. The driver stared him down, they exchanged a few heated words (I don't know what they said but it didn't sound like an invitation to dinner) and then we were gone. No exchange of information, no insurance, just an 'F you' and we were on our way. I guess hit and run is just the way they do it here in India.

Posted by emichele 19:34 Archived in India Comments (0)

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