India: trains, rickshaws, Taj Mahal, and many beautiful people…

TUESDAY 2/19 Entrance to India…

How can it already be 2/19, and i will be home in under a month!?  it is hard to believe i have been gone from the US for just about two months…  So many experiences, miles, people, moments, tastes, sounds, smells and emotions have happened since then!!!  This journey is amazing…and  I think the greatest of these is the experience of how much we all just want to be connected.  Whether on a ferry, in a restaurant, or walking down the street–I believe there is a mighty power and love conveyed within a smile or a warm nod, bow (in countries where appropriate), or other greeting.
Being in New Zealand had no specific outward ministry, but the joy of connecting to people in the moment often felt like eternal earthly moments (meaning that though they may only be here on earth, something is happening in a spiritual sense)…  Moments that stand out to me are the joy of the wine with a new friend from France, or the peace of worshipping with a small community that rarely gets drop-in visitors, the excitement of kayaking Fjordlands with poeple from all over the world, providing a ride for hitchhikers/backpackers in need and having political, religious, philosophical conversations with a wide variety of folks from Germany, France, NZ, Israel, and more….
ON TO INDIA…
I arrived in DELHI, INDIA on Monday 2/18 at 11:30pm.  It was a long trip from Sydney to Bangkok to Delhi, and I was exhausted by the time I  arrived.  Late on a Monday night, I got my taxi to the Hotel, and crashed into my bed quite promptly.  The hotel was not what I expected for the price, but alas all I really need is a flat and safe surface to sleep on…
I am a seasoned traveller, but India will give anyone a run for their money!  Within just three days I was taken for more money than a service was worth (aka-scammed) at least three times.  Granted, this didn’t amount to many greenbacks, so in the scheme of things, not a huge deal, but it leaves the ego a bit bruised.   I managed to let someone be my driver from the hotel, for the convenience.  He of course charged me much more than the subway would have been (and it would have brought me close to my chosen destinations).  The room was supposed to include breakfast, but I was in a rush leaving and was charged for the mail as well–didn’t have time to work it through.  Lastly, I paid more than I should have on my first Indian clothes…  And, these are all learning opportunities!   Remember to give myself enough time, and if I am really out to do something the cheapest way possible, don’t just give in to offers.   These experiences are part of my first impressions of India.   I feel the need in this country to keep my guard up all the time.  Of course as a traveler, some of this is just for security/safety sake, but here it is also to not be scammed.  In the movie I watched on the way to Delhi (Peace, love and misunderstanding) there was a great scene about how the main character as a lawyer is always interacting with her virtual fists up.  I am feeling that here in Delhi.  Of course not to fight, but rather to protect.  As my driver, Kasmeer admitted yesterday, everyone here is ‘out to get an opportunity.’
2/19 TUESDAY  Comparative driving summary
When people heard I was traveling to India, the universal phrase I heard from people was that the country would be ‘an assault on all your senses’.  I imagined that it would be stinky, noisy, crowded, busy, and just about overwhelming.  While there is plenty of different olfactory input, traffic and rukus im many places, and a different pattern of foot, wheeled, hoofed, and other traffic, to me it wasn’t an assault on the senses.  Interestingly, the driver who took me out was complaining about his own city.  As a visitor, I find these a part of the soundtrack, if you will.  They are the setting for the scenes that take place here.  The smells are different.  There’s the fires on the street, the smell of traffic (although most tuk tuks are now PNG, natural gas, so I imagine this used to be MUCH worse), animals and their by-products, food vendors, waste that is strewn about.  The traffic here is intense, but I sustain that Haiti is the worst I’ve experienced in all my travels to date.
Here’s my summary of driving conditions I have encountered in a variety of countries…

US -level 1 traffic rating.   Same as Israel, easy, law abiding, predictable,right side driving.

New Zealand, Ireland -2, same good law abiding drivers, utilizes left side
Italy – 3 same, but very narrow lanes
Singapore 2, same, but on left side, more pushy drivers
Thailand– 3, busy, left hand side, but lawful (follow lights, etc)
South Africa/Swaziland–4 left hand side, lawful, but watch out for cows, sheep and goats!
China 5, rules are abided, but some are flexible (don’t have to follow the lights.  Right side driving
Cambodia– 8  very little regard for the rules, speeding on uneven roads, playing chicken,
India– 9  cows, chickens, goats, bikes, rickshaws, tuktuks, LOTS of tuktuks, lights are obeyed though, few vehicles going the opposite way
Haiti–10 there is diesel everywhere, people hanging out of the vehicles, stopping wherever they want, different directions, chickens!  roads are in terrific disrepair!  lots of last minute swerving.  sewer waste in the road.
ON TUESDAY 2/19 Ode to transit drivers
Okay, so I’m not a poet, maybe someone (MK?) can help me here??  I would really like to write a poem extolling the value and indispensable nature of those taxi, tuk tuk, tsong tao, and bus drivers.  Before this trip, when I’ve seen names on placards at the airport or train station, I think those are for VIP folks, and really they are just organized ahead of time.  I have a whole newfound appreciation for the value and importance of taxi and bus drivers, for getting me places safely.  During the trip I have been on public and private buses, suwbays, boats, taxis, rickshaws, bike rickshaws, personal vehicles, motobikes, planes, and tsuang taos–thankful for the safety that has been around me!!  Stepping out and having someone there for you is such a comforting feeling!
Negotiating and figuring out one’s lodging, transportation, details and directions can be exhausting.  The best thing people have done for me in hosting is by far helping with transportation.  In Beijing Susan helped with this, Steph, Borey and Alli in Cambodia, Julie in Singapore, and my families in India all were such a gift in this.
Today, I enjoyed my time at the Red Fort, and watching the many families and couples just visiting, picnicking, and enjoying this national treasure.  I was able to visit Ghandi’s burial area, and was able to pay my respects there. This was one of many times that I had the pleasure of smaller than expected/normal crowds.   Just after I paid my respects and said a prayer for this nations future, three buses of children and asian tourists arrived!  After these sights, I went and had an amazing meal, and played with some of the kids outside, sharing some paper and making paper airplanes :)..  These moments are so precious…
WEDNESDAY 2/20 Adventures in train mis-travel
I had a train ticket to head to Agra at 6am, so I got up bright and early, but when I got to the station (with little time to spare), the electronic board which lists the trains and their assigned platforms was not working.  So, having my 19Kg back on my bag, and 7kg on my front  (roughly 50 pounds for those of you not used to metric), I was quickly and yet politely trying to find someone who speaks enough English to point me to the right platform. Two walking passes up and down the bridge to the 9 platforms do not reveal the name of the train overhead, and I was starting to worry a bit about my time.  This was one of the few moments when I really felt alone…  But I kept searching for someone to help.  Well, eventually I was directed twice (once by a railway staff) to the same place, so I was feeling confident, that this is the right direction.  So, I board the plane awkwardly with my big bags, and sat in my assigned seat just in time.  Well, turns out I was still in the wrong train!  After sitting down and sighing deeply, another passenger asks for my ticket (put placing his palm out and tapping it for the paper).  When he looked at it, he points out the window to another platform.  Uh-oh!!  Thankfully, I was in someone’s seat, so I didn’t discover this at the end of the journey (who knows where I would have ended up!) ;).
I quickly got off and ran to where (he said) my platform was, up the stairs over 30 yards, and then down again, and wouldn’t you know that this is a day the train ran on time…..  This was where I was hoping the the claim ‘nothing goes on time in India’ would have been accurate).  Sigh.  I guess I’m not on my way to Agra at this point!  So, in the dark and cold of the morning (roughly fifty degrees at this time of day) I proceed outside to look for the ticket counter and someone tells me the English speaking office is down the road.  I remembered reading this, so I was pretty sure it was not a scam, and I arrange a taxi for the short ride because of my nerves, the hour, and my luggage.  Once I arrive, though, I discover they could not re-issue my ticket for today.  So, while getting ready to stay at a hotel there, (after going on the subway and a bicycle rickshaw) I was able to make contact with the family at Asha house.  Actually, I had left messages for them the day before, and at JUST the right time they called and said they would send a driver up to get me.  What a beautiful feeling it was to know where I was headed, and that the people had my safety in mind!!
As we drove the forty-five minutes down to the house, I was talking with my driver about how he liked driving here.  He related it to a video game, and how you just have to take care of the next thing and always be alert.  It really is amazing how they navigate all of the different vehicles, animals and people on the street!!  Today there was a strike of the motorized tuktuk drivers, so the roads were a bit quieter than usual in Delhi, but suffice to say this is a country in which I would never attempt my own driving!
Arriving at the Asha House of Hope was beautiful, because I remember when Alli was just helping them get up and running, and contributing and praying for the staff and kids here.  Since she started the children’s home, an amazing Indian couple and their family has been called to lead and serve the children.   I quickly met all the younger kids who aren’t at school this time of day, and began to play with them, as the house mom is telling me the stories of how some of the children came to be here.  We sang songs, played games, drew a bit, it was wonderful.     One of the things that is beautiful to me about this place is how God brought the leaders together in vision and then in mission and actual project.  I was blessed by the hospitality here, and enjoyed the simplicity of everyday life here.
One of the things that is different in India is that most rooms have more than one or two people in them.  The rooms are not tiny, but there is such a closeness to the families here.  Children often stay in beds with adults, or share with another child. In the cool of Indian winter, this also serves to keep them warmer, but I believe it is fundamentally about just being close.  In the room I was staying, I think there were seven of us–two adults, one older girl, and 4 little ones.  I found the care joyful to watch and participate in..
THURSDAY 2/21 Life with 32 kids
I am impressed at the ease of the system and schedule at the house from feeding and prep to devotions, school study and play time.  The older ones help the younger ones, and the adults are there as needed, too :).  My favorite moment today was singing praise songs, and I started with Jesus Loves Me, they responded ‘Open the Eyes of my Heart God’…. Oh, Father, I see your eyes so much in this moment.  Little Aksa is like a burr on cotton, and constantly at my side.   I just flow today in the peace of the home.  I provide massages for 3 of the women serving there, none of whom have had massage before!   The house grandmamma says to me, ‘It is good what you do’ with a broad and thankful smile. Touching the world as I go…
I must mention that I really love Indian food!!  While I’m not the tidiest at eating with my right hand (and no fork), I enjoy the experience.  There’s a whole different sense when you are feeling your food before tasting it… If you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to try rice and deal without a fork or spoon :).  The team is willing to offer utensils, so I alternate at different mealtimes depending on the liquidity of the dishes being served.
FRIDAY 2/22   Trains, take #2
Today I have a ticket that the team helped me to obtain, so I am sure of where I am going, and this time I actually have him walk me to the train.  When we get to the platform we check on the paper outside the car (I like this feature, it CONFIRMS you are in the right space) and away I go.  Wow, I really like that confirmation part!!
I arrive in Agra, look around for someone else with a backpack, and quickly find someone.  I should share that in many of my cities, I don’t arrange housing ahead of time, but rather trust the info desks at airports or look for backpackers at the train stations–and it has been mostly successful!  In this city, they direct me to a splendid little hostel (Tourist Rest Hotel) where there are lots of foreigners.  We actually decide to share a tuktuk, and I connect with  a few of them and we make dinner plans.   I then go to explore Agra fort on my own, and I walk there and back.  As I walk in the heat of the day, I am seeing the kids come out of school, smiling and saying Namaste…  I am watching women go to and from market, and being stared at by the men or invited to shop by everyone on the street ;).   There are animals to dodge on the street (beware of the cows, one of my new acquaintances was tossed by one!), trash to walk around, and many vehicles to be aware of at every turn.  I realize that although I brought my iPod with me, I have listened to it very little outside of my quiet times each day, because I feel the need/desire to be aware and alert of my surroundings. If I were in the US, I most certainly would have my music in, and it I realize that these everyday observable aspects of life are not observed by us ‘at home’ because they are everyday.  We are ‘in it’.  I encourage you to someday treat your home streets and stores/markets like a new land, what do you notice differently?
After going through the Fort, I *almost* use a rickshaw to get back to the hostel–but just as I get in, and say ‘straight to Tourist Rest House’, the driver says ‘it is free, I get gas from the store owners.’  This is a tip-off that he is going to stop and try to make me shop at various places.  So I jump out and say ‘no thank you’.  Of course, he keeps trying to get me to come back into the vehicle, but I switch sides of the road (important tip to avoid being harassed!), and focus on the walk back… it is warm, but I just grab another water and enjoy the half hour walk back to the hostel.  Much nicer than being forced into commercial stops at various stores ;).
I get some good sleep and orient myself to the town… Evening dinner at Zorbas is great with a group of Brits that I met at the Rest House (Connor, Chloe, Maddie, and two others), and we are able to find an ATM so I can get some more Rupees out.   Ever since my experience in China, I always appreciate a smooth and successful ATM withdrawal so much more!  And having a few others around makes me feel safer in the midst of those transactions.  We walked by a wedding reception (with some really loud, not so ideal speakers!), lots of small fires on the streets, and saw the market setting up for the night.  Enjoying a city by foot is always a great way to really get the feel for it.
Diana at Taj Mahal

Diana at Taj Mahal

SATURDAY 2/23 Taj Mahal
Connor, Chloe, Maddie (my friends from the hostel) and I started the morning by waking up at 430am where we picked up a 5am rickshaw to the Taj.  Upon arrival at the Taj it was 515am and no one was around really what so ever so we kind stood there making sure that we would be first in the ticket Que! 15minutes later it started to rain… Not just lightly but a big storm with a huge roar of thunder and the lightning occasionally cutting out the street lights leaving us in split second darkness! Luckily we girls had waterproofs on but Connor made the rooky error of not bringing one trusting it wouldn’t rain! At 6 o’clock the que started to build up but we couldn’t buy our tickets until 630 and then had to join another que to actually enter the Taj which wouldn’t open until 652am (sunrise).   Meanwhile, I went to go put our electronics and water in the lockers, which also opened at 6:45am.
Finally we were inside, not only inside but one of the first few people inside so we headed straight to Diana’s chair where we took our photos without a crazy rush of people! And, behind us some people asked “is that Diana’s chair”–to which I replied, ‘yes, it is my chair’ –with a smile ;).   Then it started chucking it down so we heading into the actual monument itself, it really is a stunning place and words don’t quite describe how incredible it is… Pictures don’t do it justice either… You have to be there and see it through your own two eyes if you really want to experience it!!   The vastness of the intricate marble and mosaics is immense and makes you feel pretty small.  The sad thing is that when it was finished in 1653, the  emperor who had commissioned it for his wife, Mugal Shah Jahan, had been moved across the city and basically imprisoned by his own soo :(. The Taj Mahal is widely recognized as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage” (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/252.  That was the day I thought to myself, though–that it may not be a good idea to view too many world heritage sites back to back, because the grandness reduces a little if you compare Ankor Wat for example with Taj Mahal…  Still, the Taj is amazing!!
After exploring the whole area and taking far to many photos we left as it was absolutely heaving rain despite being 9am in the morning! Then we went and ventured through Agra to find somewhere for breakfast considering the time we’d been up! We went to a nice restaurant that lonely planet advisedewhich we never would have chosen in a million years.  It was fantastic food and very cheap! Getting back into a rickshaw where we headed back to the guesthouse, the horn was rubbish so Connor decided to make the horn noises and its crazy how you can just hang outside and it’s perfectly normal!
After a couple hours snooze we then reconnected and headed into the ‘Bizarre’ where there were markets and shops, just to do something rather than sit around really! We also headed into another restaurant recommended by lonely planet again, which did traditional southern Indian food which was absolutely gorgeous… Different but good!
(Credit, Connor Ordish: http://connorordish.weebly.com)
SUNDAY 2/24
5:10 am is not a human time to depart a train station, but I did it!  Woke at 4:15am, showered, and then had my rickshaw driver pickup at 4:30.  Arrived at the train station in the dark, with animals, people, and vehicles all around just before 5am.  The thing that I now know to look for on the side of the train is my name as a confirmation that I am at the right car, and then the seat numbers are right above my berth.  On this ride, I slept much of the time, as I was in a higher bunk and able to put my bag beneath me (The bigger bag was locked to the seat).  Rolling along the countryside as the sun started to rise was an enjoyable experience, and I am coming to like train travel–which is not something I have had much experience with before…
I arrived in Jaipur at 9:40am, and was being picked up by the family hosting me.  So, I call my host, and let her know I am coming out of the platform.  Following the masses, but when I get there, apparently I’m at the wrong exit.   I walk back up two flights of stairs with my two bags on, and then look out the other side of the tracks, that’s not it either.  I call her back, and she explains that the station is actually in the middle of the 10-15 tracks that are all gathered there.  Finally I come out in the right place, and Manoj greets me.  I have such a sense of joy when the drivers come up, and I can say ‘I am waiting for my friend’. 🙂
We drive out of the city, past a number of the settlement/slum areas, and eventually turn up into their home.  It is a two story concrete home, and they live on the first floor with their 5 children, grandfather, and Munoj.   I spend the afternoon visiting with the kids, getting to know the family, and having a little nap..  It is a sweet time of rest!
MONDAY 2/25 Jaipur touring, and colony visit
In the morning, I went to City palace (which takes up 1/7 of the city’s land!), the Bazaar, Hawa Mahal (the Palace of the wind/ women’s viewing area, 5 stories high, and with 953 small windows!!), and then I went to LMB for lunch.  The largest hand-made silver vessel is in the palace, as well as a variety of arms and art.  The Hawa Mahal was a great place to people watch, as many families come here and take pictures together.  I had a marvelous lunch at LMB and picked up some sweets for my host family.  As I was waiting and looking for my rickshaw driver, I was worried I wouldn’t find him, but thankfully his vehicle had shiny tassels, helping me to locate it–and my whiteness makes me an easy target ;).  Took a few minutes and an extra phone call, but we connected.
In the afternoon, I went with my host family to visit believers in a nearby colony of Puppeteers.   We brought the whole family, and packed into the small home we were in.  They of course brought us chai, and the children played as the adults visited and prayed.  It was a very touching time of connection.
TUESDAY 2/26 kid time, and more home visits
Today, I spent the morning in extended quiet time and study, as well as connecting with the kids.  They really enjoy teaching me how to play cricket, we enjoy badmitton together, and I share some of the games on my iPad with them as well.  The twins are hilarious, and though there are no paved roads, the driveway and hallways make for great biking areas!   In the afternoon, I go out with Jaideep, Munoj, and the grandfather.  We arrive at a home, and just wait for others to arrive.  Turns out the ladies want to pray for my–for my husband to come (its unheard of to be single at my age), and then ask for my prayers as well, for family and health issues.  One of the girls has an injured leg and I commit to following up in the states about possible resources.  On our way to the second home, one of the ladies takes my hand and calls me “mia didi”–or my sister.  One of the sweetest phrases and moments of my whole trip. When you are operating in foreign languages, gestures like this impact you monumentally more than they might in your same culture, I think.
WEDNESDAY 2/27 Amber Fort, package, lunch, babysit!
I spend the morning with Ashok, Manoj, and grandpa at the Amber Fort up on the hill overlooking a lake–this is a palace combined with a great wall!!  It is expansive, including underground passageways, images of flowers, elephants , a peacock, scorpio,butterfly.  We had a great time touring around, and climbing up and down admiring the traditional Hindi architecture and artwork all around.
After the Fort, we went to the market to purchase some more items for gifts, and Ashok was amazingly helpful!!  We then proceeded to the shipping store, and although I didn’t have my passport, I had it in an email, so that worked, and we got a package heading home to the USA!
In the evening, I watched the kids so the parents could go celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, and we enjoyed watching How to Train your Dragon together on my iPad, and I made popcorn.  🙂  Good times!!
THURSDAY 2/28-SATURDAY 3/2 YWAM
6am train to Delhi–this time I have homemade food to bring with me, as well as local snacks :).  Sadly, these trains aren’t ‘long enough’ for overnight timings, but I again am tired and want to rest.  On this particular train (Jaipur-Delhi), I am seated across from a mamma and her little one, and both are very curious about me. So, we play lots of hand games, and at the end take pictures with me holding her daughter.  I discovered where I needed to get off was not the stop I expected, but luckily tourists stick out, so people will shoo you off.  I left the train with some other travelers, and we all made our way to the subway together.  There’s an interesting comfort for me now in subways, because I generally know the information I need will be there… so I then take that out to the next group I am connecting with down in Noida, and as I am entering the blue van there, I think–this is crazy, just because I know someone who knows someone that I can trust this!?   What a wild adventure…  And as I start to converse with the two young people, I wish I had more time here.  As soon as I enter the home, they hook me up with wifi, and it turns out my flight has been moved back a day!!  HAHA.  God heard that prayer.  
 
Lots of ping pong, worship, prayer and visiting with the YWAM team there is sweet.  I have a chance to teach, and watch my chicken dinner be executed and skinned, go to the market, walk around a lot, visit with local kids, and love on the team here.
SUNDAY 3/3  ON to SOUTH AFRICA
LATE at night on Saturday, three of the amazing team pack up the van and drive me the 1.5 hours to the Delhi airport, way west from where we were.  They packed their tools, and I provided gas money, but it was such a blessing to not have to navigate public transit or even be with an unknown taxi driver at this time of the day.  This group of people was such a gift to me!!!  Love you guys…

SOUTH AFRICA…

A few comments on the journey though, if you will indulge me.   My flights were uneventful, but the layover in Ethiopia was remarkable.  The remark that I would make here is that relationships are developed, not demanded.  I have in the course of my travels exchanged many an email, phone number, and made quite a few new Facebook friends.  Each of these represent a connection.  Some new relationships were created in just an hour or two, others over an entire week.  In the Addis Ababa airport, I had an experience where a gentleman sat down, introduced himself, and immediately wanted my contact information (email/FB/phone).  Of course I refused, but I found it interesting how directly one can tap into human nature, because his response was ‘don’t you want to be my friend?’.  And what I shared with him was about how I have had people ask for things before they are my friends, and if he wants to sit down now and talk, that would help me to know if there is a reason I would want to stay in touch…
For those new to traveling (or a reminder for seasoned folks)–remember that you are not just an individual when you are abroad.  Though I am Diana, when I am abroad, I am also American, I am Women, I am Opportunity (by the nature that I can afford a flight, people’s rerception in the country that I am visiting is that I am rich).  Bear this in mind when approached and/or are tempted to reach out to a new person.  You always have a right to do this on your terms…  I sure have to remind myself of this at times!
The flights from India to South Africa started at 3:30am Sunday morning, stopping in Ethiopia for an hour and a half, and then continuing to Johannesburg.  When I arrived in Johannesburg, I didn’t know where I was staying, so I found some other backpackers, and headed where they were going ;).  Seems to usually work out just fine!!
Spent the afternoon down in the city botanic gardens, and met up with some other great travelers at the hostel–had a pizza dinner and searched out (but didn’t find) wifi…
LAST TRAVEL (ie–narrative) coming soon ;)…  I hope you’re enjoying the stories!!!
MAY 23rd (Sunday) at 3pm I will be showing heaps of pictures, and telling even more stories, if you are available to come to Englewood, CO–put the date and time in your calendar!!  Address to follow :).  Thanks again for ‘being with me’ on this amazing world journey….
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About dianar513

God-loving, world-exploring, musical, and adventuring gal :). Taking a year off from my school social work job to chase the things of God, try on some other experiences, and see what's next!
This entry was posted in RoundTheWorld, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to India: trains, rickshaws, Taj Mahal, and many beautiful people…

  1. anne rarich says:

    Your descriptions of your personal interactions is so revealing of the quality of your visits. Your appreciation for what might be viewed as “little things” in our world is something I am delighting in hearing about and savoring the aura of cooperation and respect you took everywhere with you. It came back to you, many fold.

    • dianar513 says:

      :)… thanks. I can’t fully put into words all the amazing people I had a chance to be with, and the ways God was present . Glad some of it is coming through!

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