Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is 5 weeks not enough time to undo everything that is done to a body when it can't walk much less exercise for 10 months...all while drinking and eating whatever it wants?

Apparently the answer is a big fat (pun intended) NO.

I have been working out like a mad fiend since arriving in India. I work out 5 times a week for 2 hours each session. I do cardio for an hour and then work with a trainer from the hotel for weight lifting and strength training. So far I've only managed to lose 5 kilos...I chalk at least 4 to maybe 4 1/2 of those to the water weight I was carrying from the booze-fests that were our goodbye parties.

So technically I believe I have lost only 1 kilo...which is only 2lbs. Why the kilo talk? Well, I'm drowning in conversions and after the other American on the team kept referring to kilometers and degrees in Celsius I realized I better go ahead and give in too.

On any given day I am too sore to move this appendage or day I sneezed and felt I had been shot directly in the abs. I wake up feeling as if a ton of rocks is piled on top of me because I am so achy and exhausted. You'd think maybe I'd be seeing some results but so far I've got all the pain and none of the gain.

I do, however, adore my trainer. I suppose he is kind of my bff here in India or at least the person I talk to the most outside of Jules. I have learned a ton from him about India and Indian culture...he's given me lessons on everything from the basics of Cricket to the details of Hinduism. And hey, I think it is only fair that I get to drill him for information while he is attempting to make me puke.

I also believe him to be in my debt since I save his life every single day by not killing him. Never did I think a person would survive literally poking a finger into my stomach and telling me I ate too much yesterday...or pointing out each and every area in which I need to lose fat from...or calling me lazy...or asking me to get myself weighed in public.

Anil's candor used to shock/embarrass/appall me, but now I find it endearing and know it will be one of the only things I miss about India.

He asks about going to America all the time and I am quick to point out that although I think he's a great trainer he'll need some lessons from me before trying to find a girlfriend. I don't think he'd get far at the bars poking girls in the stomach...a black eye maybe.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


This past weekend we visited India’s holiest city, Varanasi. It is the home of Lord Shiva and one of the world’s oldest living cities. It is here that Hindu pilgrims come to bath in the Ganges, perform religious ceremonies and even come here to die in hopes of receiving “moksha”, the Hindu liberation from birth and rebirth.

The more we told locals we were going to Varanasi the more warnings we received about our trip…everything from “wear bug repellant each time you step outside” to “don’t eat anywhere outside your hotel” to “don’t talk to anyone who is dressed in religious garb because they are tricking you into giving them money”…needless to say the more I heard the less excited I became about going.

After a very bumpy flight we arrived in Varanasi to find there were no guides available to escort us the next day. We went ahead and booked our driver for a full day of sights and I tried hard to ignore the feeling of uneasiness in my stomach.

Our driver picked us up before 6am and we headed down to the Ganges River to take the sunrise boat ride. As we walked from the van to the river I have to say I was happy for the lack of light…it wasn’t a far walk but it was straight through a little market whose “stores” were nothing more than wooden shacks with dirt floors. Cows, goats, dogs and who knows what else were all milling around and the smell was not the most pleasant. When we reached the Ghats (steps that lead to the Ganges River) we were swarmed by children selling flower lights. These small candles surrounded by flowers are used as an offering to the Ganges River, which in a city full of temples is considered the most sacred place.
It wasn’t until we had gotten into our little wooden boat and out onto the Ganges that I finally felt a little more at ease. The river was quiet and calm and immediately we began to see people bathing and performing rituals in its waters…truly sights to behold. We also saw the Ghats where bodies are cremated in the same way and with the same flame that has been burning for hundreds of years.

After the boat ride we headed back to the hotel for breakfast and then headed out again around 9am to Sarnath. It was in this city that Buddha sat under a Bhodi tree and became enlightened and where he gave his first speech to his disciples. There was a very nice temple and we even got to see the tree, albeit a tree made from a graft of the original tree because I guess it died. Nonetheless it was pretty cool to see the birthplace of a religion.

We then headed back to the hotel for some much needed siestas before our next boat ride to witness the evening rituals. Little did I know that I would need that nap for survival…without it I don’t think I my motor skills would have been up to the challenge of getting to the Ghats.

In the evening they do not allow motor vehicles into old Varanasi…I’m assuming to keep the noise from disturbing the ceremonies. I wish I had some pictures to show you the insanity that we waded through in the 10 minutes it took to get to our destination…but I refused even to take a picture for someone else. I needed to keep one eye on the ground to avoid feces and urine (hopefully just of the cow and dog variety-probably wishful thinking again) and the other eye darting from one direction to the next to avoid being run over by a rickshaw, bicycle, motorcycle or cow. It was a nightmare.

When we finally made it back to the Ghats we found it still filled with the children still selling their flower lights as well as hoards of people making their way down to the Ganges. Again, the uneasiness only subsided when we were back on the boat.

This ease was short-lived as our boatman decided we should take another trip down to the crematory. This time he promised many more bodies as if this would make us want to see it even more. I guess for most of the tourists he meets it is a plus but my heart was heavy as I watched these shrouded bodies dipped into the water by their relatives before being put on the pyre. I won’t say that from a distance it wasn’t fascinating to think how sacred and unchanged this ritual is but I had no interest in intruding on these families at such a private time and when the boatman pulled us up almost to the bank I pleaded that we go back to the other Ghats.

Bearing witness to the evening aarti (prayer ritual) was really astonishing. We have some pretty great video but until we get a replacement cable for the one I left behind in Atlanta (one that I had deemed unimportant) you’ll just have to look at the photos.

There was no way I was walking back through that lunacy so when our boatman suggested a motorized rickshaw I hopped on in. It was a crazy ride but at least I was sure my feet would stay feces/urine free and both my eyes were free to really take it all in.

It is so difficult to explain what it was like to be there and see all that we saw. Unchanged by time, it was like we were watching the living and breathing past.

Through all the crap (both figuratively and literally) we all felt we were really privileged to have observed something this unique and truly special to India.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Described in our books as a “fairytale city” built around 7 lakes surrounded by hills and filled with palaces, I had high expectations for my b-day weekend in Udaipur. I was sure to keep these expectations in check because after being in India for three weeks I know that although there is great beauty to be seen it is usually amid a lot of unpleasantness.

To my delight Udaipur did not disappoint and even exceeded my expectations. We arrived Friday evening and quickly set off to have dinner at a recommended restaurant. We had our meal on the water’s edge with great views of both the City Place and Lake Palace which has been converted to a luxury hotel. Our hotel in Delhi had even given me a b-day cake to take with us to Udaipur and thanks to the wedding season being in full swing we even had fireworks. Not bad for a birthday dinner miles away from home and friends.

Our guide the next day was my favorite yet…his English was close to perfect and he was very open to my incessant questions about Indian culture. He, himself, was to be married in 4 days and he gave me a lot of insight into the actual ceremony and even more into the pressure put on these young people to be wed. His marriage, like most in India, was arranged and he had only twice met his bride-to-be…each time for no more than 15 minutes. Can you imagine?

My favorite part of the day and maybe of my time in India was our trip out to these 11th century Hindu temples. He had asked us if we were interested because it was about 30 minutes outside of Udaipur but promised us they were something really special…and they certainly were worth the drive.

Not only were the temples themselves beautiful works of art but the setting couldn’t have been more serene…surrounded by green wheat fields in the valley of hills. I’m afraid none of the pictures we took of the temples themselves do them justice. Each was made of marble but one had every square inch of its interior filled with intricate carvings depicting the stories of the Hindu gods. It was truly exquisite. However, it was the tranquility we all found just sitting outside these temples that was the true treasure. I believe it was the first time outside of our hotel that I really felt at peace since being in India. I could have sat there for hours enjoying the gentle breeze and quiet calmness that enveloped us…it was a perfect end to our day.

Thanks to a later flight, Sunday was spent by the pool and enjoying a leisurely late lunch. We had originally been annoyed at our travel agent for being unable to secure tickets for the earlier flight with everyone else. However, it seemed we were the lucky ones because the poor group had their flight “preponed”. I’d still like to know if that is even a word (Beth?). Either way, apparently the airline chose to move their flight from 1pm to 9am without any notice. Missing their flight they were forced to take a later flight to Mumbai, have a layover there and not arrive in Delhi until about 10 minutes before us and we had a 6:50pm flight out of Udaipur. Ouch.

Next weekend we are supposed to go to Varanasi which is a religious center for Hindus…the rituals are supposed to be amazing to witness. A team member mentioned that most rituals forbid photography so we’re toying with staying in Delhi. After the horrible travel day they all experienced we may be the only ones actually going anyway.

Friday, February 13, 2009

29 (+2)

I dreaded my 30th year like the plague and it turned out to be a fairly trying year. Delays in our plans and health hurtle after health hurtle left me yearning for my 20’s even more than I had expected.

I’m now looking 31 in the face and am just as horrified about getting another year older as I am every year. I am, however, looking forward to putting “30” behind me and moving forward with what is sure to be an incredible year.

I’m usually a stickler for making (not keeping) New Year’s resolutions but with all hubbub of getting ready to leave I neglected to set any for ’09. Sure, it’s a bit cliché but I think it is good to give yourself a good eval every so often. You know, take a little inventory and see where it is you are and the distance between that and where it is you want to be.

I’ve decided that I’m going to start measuring my own years instead of the calendar's and my resolutions should begin with each birthday.

Resolutions for my 31st Year…

o Use this opportunity to give back to my fellow man-worldwide. Meaning I need to volunteer in every country that it is possible for me to do so.
o Undo all the unhealthiness from my 30th year.
o Be more patient and lengthen my fuse.
o Focus on my books…really focus and really get this idea off the ground.
o Get my foot healthy enough to get back into heels! I will even settle for wedges.
o Write in my journal again…even when I feel like I’ve said I all have to say in cyberspace.
o Do my best to see people and places through eyes deeper than that of a tourist.
o Actually complete my Rosetta Stone lessons…whether or not any of theSpanish sinks in is out of my hands.
o Figure out a way to be the same friend from a million miles away.

Maybe I’ll be more inclined to keep these resolutions since I’m posting for all to see…maybe not...guess we'll see in 361 days.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Pink City

Our weekend in Jaipur was filled with some great sights and even better shopping.

By India standards, Jaipur is a far more serene city than Delhi or Agra. We saw some really cool sights and learned a lot about the history of the city.

But, in all honesty most of our time was spent taking advantage of what Jaipur is really famous for…beautiful handmade clothes, vegetable dyed fabrics, gorgeous handcrafted home goods and rugs, traditional artistry and awesome jewelry. It was an “all girls” weekend and each of us came back with lighter wallets and much heavier luggage.

I would say outside of the inappropriate massages we received at the Sheraton on Sunday (story for another day) it truly was a great weekend.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Head spinning

Back from our first weekend in India and my thoughts are racing with all we’ve seen. The more I try to make sense of it all, the more perplexed I become.

On the 10 hour drive round trip drive to and from Agra I saw some of the worst living conditions I could ever imagine. People living in tattered tents made from scraps of fabric or tiny huts made of dried mud patties (we originally thought these were dung patties but we decided on mud, possibly wishful thinking)…women and children digging through piles of garbage…pitiful animals everywhere you turned milling through the hoards of people that crowded the sidewalks and streets…cows grazing on garbage or eating directly out of the dumpsters…men and children relieving themselves everywhere…girls piled into the backs of trucks like sardines, actually every vehicle whether it be an ox drawn cart, a van or a rickshaw were piled with people…children in rags so filthy you could barely make out their features…and these are just a few of the dreadful things I saw.

But in the same drive I also saw incredible beauty….women dressed in colors so vibrant and stunning they seemed unreal like birds of paradise rising out from the dust and dirt that surrounded them…children laughing and playing truly without a care in the world…men playing intense games of cricket with their friends in dirt fields…brilliantly hued fresh fruits and vegetables in each town market…idols draped in flowers and glowing in candlelight overlooking their devout followers… faces, remarkably striking faces everywhere I turned…and these are just a few of the wonderful things I saw.

India is captivating and undesirable, detestable and enchanting, repulsive and fascinating…all of these and more in the same breath.

I have no hope of ever really understanding it all…which I suppose is the true beauty of India.

Delhi-Take 1

We traveled into Delhi on Sunday upon our return from Agra. We were without a guide and our driver and his assistant didn’t speak much English so it was a bit of a strained situation from the get-go.

We attempted to see a mosque but decided against the wait because when we arrived it was closed to non-Muslims for prayer.

We also attempted to go to Kinari Bazaar, but after a harrowing 5 minute walk into the back streets of Old Delhi we were told it is closed on Sundays.

After many hours of traveling in the van, most of these spent in horrific Delhi traffic, these two setbacks put us all in the mood to just go back to the serenity of our hotel.

Luckily, one team member asked if we could see India Gate on the way back. We did and found this monument (built to commemorate the Indian and British soldiers who died in WWI) to be surrounded by a beautifully landscaped park filled with pleasant families out enjoying the gorgeous weather.

We also found a bit of celebrity as we were all asked to be in photo after photo with Indian men and women in front of the gate.

I think he was as uncomfortable as I was!

Taj Mahal

Our visit to the Taj Mahal began at sunrise and ended at sunset. I can truly say that it is something that I will remember always. It is a beauty you cannot truly appreciate until face to face with it. And even then it is almost more than you can process.

Believe me when I say that no picture or description could ever truly do it justice. If you are ever presented the opportunity to go to India you should take it just to see this if nothing else.

And when your guide takes you across the river to watch the Taj at sunset be sure to get a ride from Anan and his brother on their camel, Roger. Give them a few extra hundred rupees and tell them I said hello.