Tuesday, 17 January 2012

People of India

The turbans were all unique.

On her way to prayers.

A local musicians trying to drum up business.

Finished her prayers

Loved her haughty expression. 
Guarding the Taj Mahal
Sketching the Taj from a different angle

Praying at the Taj


A place to come together

Everyone loves to pose at the site
Two young boys that approached us so we took their photo

Representing UBC - Go Canada

I loved these old people  - so sweet.
This sweater vest was a mystery to us but it was everywhere in India.

A mixture of young and old

Such colourful people and stories in India

A beautiful young lady wanted to take our photo so we took hers.

Young and old drive the rickshaws to make rupees.

Indian women often cover their faces - not sure why.

A break from hustling the tourists.

A craftsman making finely detailed tile mosaics with glass pieces.

Lost in prayer.
Elephants at Fort Amber - didn't like the way they were treated.

Bathing in the street.

Millions of people live in poverty and filth on the streets.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Take-Take a Tuk-Tuk

Bengaluru, or the more commonly known Bangalore, is a traffic nightmare. The lines on the roads are painted  decorations and every two lanes are filled with four plus vehicles. You will find a bike, scooter, bus and a tuk-tuk all squeezed into a space meant for two, with only a millimetre of space separating the distance. You are so close you can reach over and light the guy's cigarette next to you.

I wanted to think like a local so I got up my courage and approached a tuk-tuk driver to begin the haggling dance. Tuk-tuk's originated in India but most people associate them with Thailand.  This vehicle looks like a 3-wheeled motorcycle with a covered frame.  Some artistic drivers "pimp" them out so they are decorative but most of them are so rickety, it is hard to image they can hold as many people as the Indians manage to cram into them. You will see them driving along with people hanging out the sides, oblivious to the oncoming traffic.

Of course, I was ripped off because I have a tattoo across my forehead that says, "Stupid, White, Woman," in bold script. Even with 25 official languages spoken in India, the drivers can read this with rupee signs in their eyes.

After a lot of hand signals, bartering, eye rolling and showing of numbers on my phone I managed to be swindled slightly. I jumped in and held on for dear life. I am not sure what was more frightening, the ongoing traffic, the non-stop beeping of horns to warn other drivers we were advancing, or dodging the cows that wander the streets in a lax manner. I won't even talk about the construction, smog, potholes and pedestrians we navigated. Once you reach your destination, you pay the driver, jump out and kiss the ground knowing you survived what could have been your first and last time driving through cow manure.

If you think this is the end of the tuk-tuk adventure, think again; you still have to return.  Now they have you at their mercy. The drivers know you want to go home and the "double" rip-off begins. I approached a group of five drivers and showed them the business card for the hotel, only to be surrounded, with them trying to out haggle me in several languages. I am not proud to say, but I caved like a tin trailer in an Oklahoma twister. I was to the point I would have given them my first-born - sorry Rikki - to return in one piece.

I vowed I had my one-time experience with the tuk-tuk and now I could graduate to a taxi.  Easier said than done.  The taxis refuse to take me places because it is interrupting their naps on the side of the road, or you will  take a taxi to a location, but can't find one to bring you back.  I even went as far as to sign up for a taxi service online, booked the car, and he never showed.  So now, I have taken a tuk-tuk so often that they know me by name - Dumbass.

I had one driver run out of fuel so I perched while he pushed us to the petro station.  While we waited our turn, I began to play a game on my phone. Soon I had six heads poking into the tuk-tuk wanting to watch. I don't think iPhones are big with these mostly rural, uneducated drivers. They kept saying, "game, game," to me.  I quickly stopped that activity.  This same driver had no idea where my hotel was and constantly pulled over to ask anyone for directions.  When we got close, he swindled me and asked for more money to cover his gas. I wasn't about to jump out in the dark so Dumbass gave him extra.

Yesterday I had a driver haggle with me and started to haggle his price down. "Hey, aren't I suppose to do that?" I thought.  Turns out he wanted to take me to a store for a discounted rate. "Ah, thanks, but I think I will pass."

After all this brouhaha, I decided to seek the haven of my serene pool, located beside a slum; but that is India.  A diverse mixture of privilege, poverty, beauty and ugliness all rolled into one.  Luckily for me, I can still hear the incessant tooting of the tuk-tuk, six flights up. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Airport Bootcamp - Where Only the Fittest Survive

R2 can’t remember why he booked me through Seattle but to the best of his knowledge it was to avoid the weather in Toronto.  Good call with 40 cm of snow falling as I left.
The flight to Vancouver was tearful, leaving my kids, family and friends, but otherwise uneventful. I had enough time to make my connection to Seattle so I took my time enjoying Canada's best airport. 
If you have flown to Regina from YVR, you depart from a lonely gate.  I will never complain again because the flight to the SEATAC is in no man’s land, Siberia, and the end of the earth all rolled into one. Grab a snack along the way; you are in the oldest section with nothing to see or do once you arrive at the gate.
I had to walk outside to board but imagine my surprise when I looked out the window to see Snoopy with his goggles and scarf coming aboard to shoot down the Red Baron; yes it was a prop plane with the a bone shaking rattle to keep you on your toes.
My trip to Korea the following day on Asiana Airlines was brilliant with fine dining, movies and champagne thrown in to keep the flight interesting. The only problem was the 45 minute delay that sent me into a fitness regime that would challenge Richard Simmons. How I managed to run with a twelve kilo knapsack, my overstuffed carryon, a purse and a coat, is beyond me. All this, and stopping to find someone, anyone, that spoke English to direct me to Singapore Airlines terminal.  I made it with minutes to spare. So much for being fresh when I saw R2 for the first time in 2 months. Sweat was rolling and my “Degree” flunked.
Changi airport in Singy is rated the best in the world with a gym, movie theaters, first class shopping and dining, a butterfly atrium and artwork at every turn. Unfortunately at 1:30 in the morning I had no time to view this world renowned facility.  We arrived home at 2:30 and were up at 5:30 a.m. to catch a flight to Chennai followed by a second flight to Bengaluru, India. 
We aren’t sure what made us laugh more; was it the man seated in front of us armpits that reeked of rotting onions, or when the flight attendant “disinfected” the plane with some sort of aerosol that brought tears to our eyes.  I was so jet-lagged, and we were so happy to be together that we found giddy humour everywhere.
Yes, it terrifies me
We had time between our connection so we went for a bite. I needed the toilet desperately but every one I found was the “squat and dip” variety. Finally in the restaurant I hit pay dirt and found one that even had paper for the Westerners. I vowed to use it before we boarded but when I went back for a second time, I met a huge cockroach daring me to enter. I will be plagued by my nemesis in every country, it seems.
I think it is safe to say that Chennai is the dirtiest, most run down airport I have seen in the 19 countries I have visited.  Even worse than the shabby, airless building was the intense, pointless security. I was separated from R2 so women can be frisked in private from the men; her machine blipped and beeped all over me but she let me go unfazed. We went through several X-rays, frisking, bag tagging, and in the end, I just walked on the plane with no one checking for proper documentation for the bags.  So much for the sub machine guns, and the strict, outdated security measure.

We have two more airports to visit in India before this trip is over and one train station; yes, I said train.  We are taking a 3 hour ride so we can see the country side from New Delhi to Agra. After a small taste of India, the thought of a train is intimidating but R2 assures me he booked First Class.  In India, that could mean we are bunking with a cow.