Monday, September 27, 2010

दैव योग (Translation: Luck)

We reluctantly left the beautiful city of Udaipur (see below post) to continue our exploration of northern India.

Recipe for a Long Day:
  1. Have a train cancelled on the first leg of your tediously planned trip, then hastily book bus ticket
  2. Select the back seats of the bus for the 10 hour bus ride (Note: not a problem if you like rollercoasters or earthquakes--or both simultaneously)
  3. Miss your bus stop
  4. Visit Surat (period).

So, at the mercy of bad luck we stumbled into Surat: voted the Filthiest City in the 90's due to, among other reasons, a break out of the plague (...THE PLAGUE). We decided to skiddadle out of the rough city ASAP, but not before buying a hot-pink, sleeveless shirt that bares a flexing wrestler and reads "Dr. of Thuganomics". I really couldn't turn it down: it's just too versatile! (Got a new church outfit, mom!)

The train ride was great. Tons of people. Who knew luggage racks could serve as a whole new row of seats? Everyone in India, that's who! We were entertained by musical drums, singing, and snacks by local people throughout the ride. Also, cross-dressers on the train threatened to curse men unless they forked over some rupees. Indian revere people of the cross-dressing culture as auspicious and with magical powers. Thus, it is common for people to give gifts to cross-dressers to avoid being cursed.

 It is, in case you've ever wondered, a little amusing to watch women with five o'clock shadows bullying people while wearing sequined, belly-baring saris. Luckily, they left me alone....but, not before nicknaming me "गुलाघ" (Rose). Apparently my pink skin is amusing here, too. Reaaaaal mature, India. Real mature.

 Erik and I enjoyed a brief stay in Nashik, and then headed back to Pune so as not to miss Monday classes (Yes, yes. I do attend classes).
Enjoying Nashik early in the morning!

Returning home just in time for a hot dinner at the Joshi house put the icing on the cake for this fantastic week. Overall, the journey was a great success! It opened my eyes to realize all that I still have to see in this mystical, beautiful country.

I hope you're doing well! Take care.

रिज्य (Translation: Kingdom)

Erik and I had a fabulous time in Udaipur-“India’s Venice”- this past week. Beautiful palaces studded the entire city: including the second largest palace in India, and two palaces floating in the middle of the lake. Our hotel (Rooms for 5 dollars a night? Yes please!) was lovely and even had a rooftop restaurant!
Tromping around the City Palace!

We took a boat tour to scope out the lake palaces, where I had a brief stint playing with an Indian rock band. And by rock band, I obviously mean two old men playing traditional Hindi instruments (one of the instruments being bowls filled with water that you hit with sticks. Rock on, grandpa.).

Me playing the water bowls! Jammin' out with my boyz!

Erik and I also scoped out the most eclectic museum I have ever been to: from hookahs to puppets to styrofoam models of architecture from across the world. The real gem there, though, was the world's largest turban! A little impractical, sure, but very cool.

After boosting the local economy by purchasing our fair share of poofy pants and scarves, we were off on our next adventure! Stay posted for part 2: The Ride Home

Hope all is well, and I'm excited to hear of your adventures where ever you are! Take care!

Monday, September 20, 2010

बचाना (Translation: To Escape)

This past weekend, Erik organized a trip to the Elora and Ajunta caves a mere five hour drive away. Six of us scampered over and explored over 64 caves! These "caves" were carefully carved out of the cliff sides and used for Buddhist and Hindu temples. Phenomenal! These huge, intricate structures must have been created with hands more patient than my own.

A glimpse inside the massive caves
We were also able to squeeze in a glance at the Taj Ma-small: a smaller version of the Taj on Saturday. Little pranksters only made the bottom four feet out of marble...the rest is painted plaster. I'm on to you, India.

The Mini-Taj at sunset.
On the way back on Sunday, we were able to take a quick tromp around a MONKEY INFESTED FORT.  Three dream words for everyone's inner Indiana Jones and impossible to turn down! Monkeys were, as promised, infesting the entirety of the massive fort. One monkey even managed to bully a nearby tourist out of his bag chips (1. Stupid for bringing chips. 2. Where did he get those delicious looking chips?). Needless to say, I wrestled the ferocious monkey, then launched him into the atmosphere by his tail. [Read: A security guard threw rocks at the monkeys while I hid behind a small child.]

Right before the scoundrel stole chips from the tourist behind me.
It turns out that although the fort was pretty cool looking, it was rather inefficient considering it got conquered on five separate occasions (not counting the sixth take-over, and continuous reign, by the monkeys). 

Hope you're doing well! Take care! I'll put up more pictures on the Picasa link next week.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

ज़िन्दगी (Translation: Life)

"Koran burning talk kills 14 in Kashmir: Valley's prestigious Tyndale School, over a dozen buildings torched; police blame separatists for inciting violence..."

This, along with other similar news stories, is what plagued my morning tea and daily reading today. It's amazing the what Mr. Terry Jones was able to spark with a few words bred from ignorance.

India, however, continues to impress me. The food has won me over completely. One dollar can buy a limitless amount of food for lunch: chipates, dahl, paneer, dolsa masala... and I can even order from menus written in Hindi sanscrit now!

Steps to ordering food:
1. Waiter will bring one, and only one, menu to table.
2. Read desired food item from menu.
3. Wait patiently as the waiter corrects your pronunciation, and makes you repeat the item until you say it to his liking.
4. Recieve food.
5. Eat only with right hand, and eat EVERYTHING.
6. Waiter will bring bowl of water. This is for RINSING HANDS. Not drinking, as the lemon floating in the water implies. (As I learned the hard embarrassing way. Also, it is important to note that the water is scalding hot.)

I've put up a couple of photos at this website:
I plan to add captions and add more photos soon.

I hope all is well where you are! Take care!

Look closer: it's not Indians in this picture! It's me and Erik. Along with the delicious food, we're also embracing the clothes. I know what you're thinking: we look like locals now!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

आलिंगन (Translation: Hug)

If you want a taste of typical India marketing:

Please watch. It'll make your day.

Also, some of you have asked me for my mailing address here. Sorry for the delay, but you can send me letters (very appreciated!) to:

Hannah Whitehurst
The Alliance for Global Education
Bungalow No. 3, Fergusson College
Ladies Hostel Gate, FC Road
Pune, India
411 004

Saturday, September 11, 2010

आनंद (Translation: Enjoy)

Ganesh: The main attraction of the week

Due to my good fortune, I happened to select the study-abroad-term during festival season here in India. And oh man.


So far I have been here for three festivals. Doing some quick math, that's almost one for every week I've been here. The best part is: this is just the preseason. India's just getting started.

The first one was Rachsha Bandhan Rakhi, which is an excellent deal for girls. All girls buy a fifty-cent bracelet for their brothers, or any brother-like-figure in their life, and in exchange the brother provides life-long protection and a fancy gift. (Jackpot! Zach: I think we should start recognizing this holiday. I’ll get the bracelet! Have my gift ready!) Plus it’s a way of putting any unwanted pursuers in the “friend-zone”--just slap a bracelet on them and call 'em bro!

The second festival was a little bit more dangerous. India celebrates the birth of Vishnu, a Hindu deity. What better way to celebrate the birth of a deity than a human pyramid? Trick question: in India, there is no better way. Pots are hung up in the air 30-40 feet, and people make ridiculously tall pyramids to break the pots for cash prizes. I don’t know how important the US media considers this whole deal, but everyone here knows that the tallest human pyramid record was broken last week in Mumbai with a whopping TEN HUMAN-LEVELS.  Yikes.

Getting the Gold: medium-sized human pyramid about to break the pot

The third event, my favorite so far, started today. It’s one fantastic, ten-day celebration for Ganesh. Drums lead processions everywhere in the city, leaving the roads in a grid-lock. Truly a phenomenal sight. Temporary shrines 40-feet high have been made everywhere in the streets and given absolute priority over traffic. All the statues of Ganesh are adorned in flowers, with coconuts by the hundreds piled at his feet. Not to mention, all of these idols in and of themselves are stunning.  The fascinating part is that the first day doesn’t even compare to the last day- this is all just a warm up for the finale...

Hope all is well where you are! I'll have more pictures up soon.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

भक्ति (Translation: Love, Devotion)

Figure 1: The extent of romance in India. Polite staring.

Erik and I were lucky enough to be able to go to a wedding the weekend before last- my first traditional Indian wedding! If you've ever thought any American wedding ceremony was long, India takes it to a whole new level: there were ceremonies and celebrations lasting for days. Fortunately, there were plenty of pleasant intermissions for meals with unlimited food. 

The bride and groom looked wonderful as they were adorned in flowers and in traditional Indian garments. It was a little difficult to understand exactly what was going on due to my continuing incompetence in the Marathi language. Lots of rice was thrown, songs were sung...but no wedding kiss to seal the deal. What else would I expect, though, from a country that threatened to throw anyone in jail who kissed or held hands in public on Valentine's Day? Granted, to my knowledge, it wasn't actually enforced. But, it's easy to pick up on the general sentiment of public display of affection here in India. 

Anyways, if you ever get the chance to attend an Indian wedding: please don't hesitate. I am continually floored by the kindness and hospitality that everyone here has shown me. Perhaps affection is more abundant here than I recognize: just displayed through acts kindness rather than interlocked hands.

Figure 2: The happy couple

Hope you all are doing well. I'll try to be more diligent with putting up new posts. It's a struggle to find reliable (cheap) internet, but I think I've almost got it figured out. Take care!