Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Catching up!

I apologize in advance for this lengthly post. :)

So to catch up, my last day in NY my flight was scheduled to leave around 7pm. I figured I had enough time to goto Statue of Liberty. Had to see atleast one main tourist spot before I left. Woke up, cleansed myself, and did my post of the previous day. Then it was time to call the airlines, make sure my flight was still at 7pm. Good thing I called, it got pushed back 2 hours and now was at 5pm. My time is very limited. Keep in mind, Citibank is sending my card to NY so I have to pick that up at some point. All of this was not possible in one day. Statue of liberty, pickup card and get to airlines earlier. Sightseeing can wait, I need to stay local for my card. Well it gets closer and closer to me having to be at the airport. Abbey did not meet me, so I had to allow for extra travel time because I have no idea (even reading the metro maps) how to get around. Bank still hasnt recieved card, screw it, they are going to have to send it to my hotel in India I cannot wait and miss flight. Very stressful.

So I leave hostel, grab breakfast, a tasty bagel and some delicious fruit, then headed for the metro. After reading the metro map and still having no idea where to go, I ask people how to get to the airport. No help. Finally I ask an old Brazilian lady no bigger than a New York minute, and she says "Come, I show you." "No just tell me, I can write it down and go myself." "No, I show you. Come." Fearing that I am going to get scammed, I act like I am following here. She turns the corner I bolt the other direction and am going to go the way I think I know. Shit I am on the wrong side, so I hurry down stairs and there she is. "Where you go? I show you. Come." Ok ok ok...I follow here and realize this is the kind of expieriences I yearned to have. Not knowing what is going to happen. Yes, she might scam me, or she might try to rob me, but I will handle all that when it comes. God has set me up perfectly with my intentions, and I trust it will continue to do the same here. So we walk a few blocks, get on a bus, drive a few more blocks, get on a metro, get off, walk a few more blocks, get on different metro, walk more, get on another metro where she goes to a couple who has luggage asks them "You go to aiport" "Yes" "Ok here you go. Bye." This kind old Brazilian lady went out of her way to ensure I got to where I needed to go. Her generosity and compassion were gratefully appreciated. I pray for her happiness.

The couple I was introduced was from Holand. Very nice couple. The man reminded me of my german friend Lief. Looked very similar. They were in NY for a week on vacation. We talked the whole way about Holand, America, India, Europe, Germany. Very nice people. Together we found the airport, said goodbye and went our seperate ways.

Travelling has shown me that when I meet people, I sincerely appreciate the time I have with them because I know at any minute it could be gone. They get off the metro. They get on a plane. You go your seperate ways.

I found the place to check in for Air India. It is about 2 oclock and about 10 people in line. The very last person is an American, stoked! I get someone to talk to :) Her name was Susan. Probably mid 40's. Married with two kids. Going to Dharhamsala to volunteer at a detox clinic teaching yoga. Amazing! Shes travelled to Japan, Africa, and Italy. First time to India as well. Very nice lady. Check in luggage, then its time for me to call Citibank and deal with Murphys Law.

Let me update you on that crazy mess of a bank.

I opened my account with them about 5 days before I left. I got my ATM card the day I left. Before we goto Airport I had to run a few last errands one of them being make sure the card works. "The card cannot be recognized, please call CitiPhone" You have got to be joking...I am supposed to leave for the airport in 30 mins...I see there are two bankers inside, it is after hours so I knock on the door. One gentleman which looked like the supervisor, taps his watch and shrugs saying to come back tomarrow. Then goes back to carry on conversation. I knock on the window again in desperation "This is an emergency, please!" The other employee walks over and talks to me to me through the glass. I tell him, I leave for India in 30 mins and my card isnt working. Please help me." He does. He is on the phone with some customer support for 45 mins after trial and error with different solutions. End result? Nothing. He cant tell me why it isnt working, hes tried everything. So he suggests sending me new card to NY. I have no other choice. Thats the update with Citibank. Horrible expierience.

So I talk to the banker, he says they can send it to India, I give address he advises it could take til next week because today is Friday, it might not get submitted til tomarrow and it will be sent out on Monday where it could take up to 4 days. Not the service I was sold on, where he said if you loose your card it will be overnighted to you (because thats what happened to him in Italy). Now I realize its bullshit. But, I have no other option, send it to hotel. I am not happy about it because I booked a nice hotel in Delhi for 2 nights just to stay somewhere nice. This is costing me about $80 us dollars. EXPENSIVE. If I have to stay until thurs of next week thats like $560 just in lodging! Typically hotels should cost about $10-15, granted these are shit holes but its a bed and a toilet. Thats all I need. Fine it is what is it is, Ill deal with it I just want to get my card, then I can go to Northern India and begin the trekking.

So we board the plane and it is a beautiful plane. Susan said it was a brand new plane. I could tell. Every seat had headrest t.v's carpet looked new everything very nice. I was impressed because I thought it was going to be a shitty airline. Complete opposite. I sat next to a man who looked like an Indian Albert Einstein. Crazy old gray hair and very very soft spoken. We ended up talking about Quantum Physics, Spirituality, Buddhism, he even helped me plan a route to take when I trek. Very good. The airline food was so good oh man. I love Indian food. Such a great change from American greasy fattening food. On the plane I slept most of the time, talked to Einstein or watched a movie. I watched Juno. Good times.

Plane lands, meet Susan, we go get luggage (very happy mine didnt get lost) say our goodbyes then I am off to currency transfer. Now that I have lost of money I go into restroom, put the large bills in my safe spot, little bills in wallet, now its time to get a cab. As soon as I step outside I am swarmed with people, all wanting to take me wherever I want. I bargain with a man to take me to my hotel and we are off. My first driving experience, how crazy people drive here! Horns blare every second, you come within CENTIMETERS of hitting stray cows, stray dogs, people, cars and more honking. I have heard more horns honk in my time in India so far, than I have heard in my lifetime in America. People are not offended by this. You come 2 centimeters away from hitting them or their car, its normal. In america people would be flipping out. Anyhow, I was having the time of my life in his car. Indias ar pollution is so heavy. The smog here makes L.A's smog look like campfire smoke. The best way I can describe the smell is a mixture of bodily waste, dirt, exhaust, and sewage. You get used to it. He tries taking me to different spot than what we agreed on (notorious indian scam) I tell him I have to goto Jukaso Inn, I have reservation. I dunno if he will take me there or not, we will see. Sure enough he did, paid him, now on to hotel. I got hounded by 15 people atleast within a 100 foot walk about being sold something. Indians hustle you my God. I check in, and settle myself in the room. I go downstairs order some food and while I ate, I felt very very dizzy. Almost intoxicated. I did not know what was the cause, maybe the food, maybe the lack of sleep for many days, maybe the vicious assualt on the senses india has or the combination of all of this. I hurry up eating, then goto room and passout within 30 seconds.

I wake up at 3am in the morning, ready to go. I do my morning prayers, then I go on the hotel balcony to read. It was light enough out strangely. So quite at night, it was lovely. Slowly as the sun came up, so did the noise. I went down for breafast, it was a buffet. No like american buffet, only 3 dishes. I had cereal, some sort of soup that tasted like spicy sausage with potatoes, and Noddles (spelled Nudal) with carrots and jalapenos with a sweet sauce. All very tasty. Then it was time to goto temples I had planned. I walk outside and got hustled by drivers but one stood out, he was actually nice. I went with him. He told me his name but I have no idea what he said. Just told him mine and wiggled my head. (Lots of head wiggles with indians like Kris said) So we went to Lotus Temple, huge building to resemble a Lotus flower. Absolutely stunning. I wait in line with 100's of hindus, jains, sikhs, muslims, and me. This is where I first noticed Indians dont understand the concept of personal space. In America, we have space. Its just common courtesy. Not here. Waiting in line people were so close to me, I thought I should charging money for cuddle time. Go inside temple, pray/meditate then leave. Most people this process is about 1 minute. We wait about 45 mins to get inside for people to send 1 minute in here? I offer my prayers and leave when I feel comfortable. Then driver takes me to Tour agency trying to solicite business to them because he will get money if I buy package there, they wanted way too much money so I left. Major scam. Ill plan it myself and save like $250. We then get lunch at a whole in the wall places where we had to walk up 10 flights of stairs. Good food. We shared the entree Palak Paneer, and he kept dishing the food on my plate overflowing it with food. After that we went to pay homage to the Ghandi Smirti. This is where Ghandi spent his last days to where he was assassinated (1/30/1948). It reinacts his last actual footprints outside. Inside it shows his room with his glasses, walking stick and other items on display. Then throughout the hosue there is plaques giving information about Ghandi. I liked the quote "If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling. There msut be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips." And so it was, his last words were Hey Ram. (Oh God) Beautiful site, it was even free :)

"You have girlfriend?"
"No!?! You like girls??"
"How much you pay for Boom-Boom in America??"
"Hopefully nothing."
"How much if you pay?"
"I dont know...$1000 if it is good?"
"whaaa?!?! In Delhi pay $100 for boom-boom. Why no girlfriend?"
"Because its not the right time in my life"
"Whaa? Why?!"
"Id rather not talk about it, please just take me to Temple"
"yes sir"

Then he took me to a Jain temple in Old Delhi. We had to walk through many Bazaars (street markets) where the scents of urine and shit were overwhelming. People selling flowers, statues and food. We finally get to temple, and there are hosues that he said were over 2,000 years old. Walk in temple, take off shoes, wash hands, then go upstairs into the temple grounds. Stunning. Many beautiful paintings, and statues. I see an old man performing puja so I sit and watch. He notices me and stops immediately, walks over to me looks at me and gives me the most sincere happiest smile I have ever seen. He grabs my hand and shows me around his temple. I can understand anything he is saying but just seeing how happy he is to tell me whatever it is he is telling me made it worth it. I could listen to him for hours. He puts sandalwood on my third eye, splashes holy water on my head, then demands money. I give him money then go downstairs. They ask for money. I told them I gave to preist, they point to sign that says "Only donate here, not in temple" so I let out a huge chuckle, gave them moneya s well and left.

Then my friend take me to another travel agency to book Agra tour to see Taj Mahal. Reasonable price, I make deal. I tell him, now I want to go back to Jukaso. "You look very tired sir" he says. I was. It was 3pm, I crashed instantly until 3am the next morning. So once again I do morning prayer/meditation/reading and must be ready by 6am for Agra tour. I was told it would be a bus picking me up, but to my suprise it was a man on a scooter to take mt to the bus. STOKED! This was a blast! Riding around with no one on the road on the back of the scooter was the most fun I have had in a while. All I had to hold on to was a bar on the back no thicker than a coathanger. It did the job. The picture I took of my face riding the scooter is priceless. We get to bus, I am sat down at a window seat, then kicked out to be put in the back where I share very limited space with 5 other indian people. Picture me in the middle of it all, crammed, with nowhere to move. I was like this for the whole drive. 5 1/2 hour drive. The ride was more chaotic than the taxi drivers. Our bus driver was a lunatic, there were times I would try to sleep and would be woken up by me and the fellow next to me lunging out of our seats. It was like we were offroading in a bus. Stuff falls from the ceiling because of how sharp his turns are. There are two couples on the tour, that are not indian. They dont look american, turns out 1 couple from Holand other couple from Germany. The Holand couple reminded me of Marcella from high school, and the blonde haired comedian guy from A Knights Tale. The german couple reminded me of Sisters boyfriend David and Demi Moore. The german man reminded me alot of david, he acted jsut like him and all he kept talking about was haggling people, boasting about how cheap he can get things. Were talking about fractions of a dollar, but to him its like he is saving thousands. Demi did not speak too much. Mercella very kind woman. Holand man, very nice good sense of humor, he is also a doctor back in Holand.

So I thought the tour was just Taj Mahal. Nope. Before Taj we went to Agra Fort. A huge fort from medieval times, still standing to show. Very impressive. Then we went to the drivers friends shop, to try to get us to buy shit (the notorious scam), I went searching for a bathroom or "toilet" as they are noted here. There are just random structures in betwen shops, on the side of the roads, etc. for people to do their business. I found on inbetween the shop and the overwhelming stench made me gag. I hurried and got out of there ASAP. Then we went and got food, then to Taj. The Taj Mahal was even more beautfiful than the pictures I have seen. It is a monument of love. It was made in memory of the rulers dead wife. The tombs are actually inside the Taj. Glorious sunset to take pictures. Then on way home we stop at Krishna Temple, where I buy a mala (prayer beads) and a beautiful picture of Krishna. I had my first cup of Chai here. Indians national drink. Amazing. Drinking the Chai outside watching a Bollywood movie on a 5inch tv monitor, Ive never felt so relaxed. We go into the temple they talkin in Hindu, we just sit and watch, then we are excused. On our way out, a priest pulls me to the side to one of the altars, I place my forehead n the altar bowing and he hits me on the back with a stick three times telling me its a blessing! I give money to the altar and leave. Then its bus ride home. I am exhauseted Ive been up for over 24 hours, and cant sleep on this bus. My whole body aches so badly from being couped up like this, but at the same time I am overwhelmed with joy. Granted I dont particularly enhoy the experience, but where else can a crazy bus expierience like this happen? This is the kind of expierience I hoped to have in India.

So now we are on current day ( I am so sorry for the length), I woke up, did morning prayer/meditation, checked out, saw my friend told him the tour was bullshit overly priced for what I was given. He apologized said I would be refunded, but I needed to get around so I asked him to take me to buy cell phone. We goto 10 different spots. I haggle I haggle to finally get one in the price range I want. Then we goto Pahar Ganj, an area by Delhi much cheaper, much more crowded, but much more cheaper. That is very good, and it is by the train station where when I need to go up north. We find a good budget hotel, an atm that accepted by temp citibank card (which I am stoked it worked) and this internet cafe. Now that I know my card will work for ATM's other than Citibank I emailed my banker telling him to send it to my home address because I found out it wasnt even sent yet...Great service huh?...Been a nightmare...

Anyhow, right now I am going to grab some food then see about buying train ticket. I am going to a town called Amritsar. Its in Northern India.

I will keep you all updated whenever I can, its not as easy as I thought it would be. Dont be alarmed if you dont hear from me within a week at a time.

Hope all is well with all of you and much love to you all.
Many blessings and peace.