Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Taj Mahl "Museum of Love"

Dani and I woke up at 5:30 AM to get ready for the Taj. Unfortunately, the night before after dinner I was getting up and I felt a weird sensation in my hip all the sudden my knee began to swell and a became a bit worried. I iced my knee the night before, however, it was still very painful and swollen. I tried not to make a big deal of it. Dani told me it would be OK if we did not see the Taj. I was determined to go see it no matter how my knee was, so we did. I am very happy we did cause the Taj is gorgeous.
The Taj was built in 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal empire's period of greatest prosperity, was griefstricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their fourteenth child, Gauhara Begum. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, one year after her death. The court chronicles of Shah Jahan's grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal. The principal mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later. Emperor Shah Jahan himself described the Taj in these words:
Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator's glory.
The central focus of the complex is the tomb. This large, white marble structure stands on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building with an iwan (an arch-shaped doorway) topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs, the basic elements are Persian in origin. The complex is set around a large (980 ft) square charbagh or Mughal garden. The garden uses raised pathways that divide each of the four quarters of the garden into 16 sunken parterres or flowerbeds. A raised marble water tank at the center of the garden, halfway between the tomb and gateway with a reflecting pool on a north-south axis, reflects the image of the mausoleum. The raised marble water tank is called al Hawd al-Kawthar, in reference to the "Tank of Abundance" promised to Muhammad. Elsewhere, the garden is laid out with avenues of trees and fountains. The charbagh garden, a design inspired by Persian gardens, was introduced to India by the first Mughal emperor, Babur. It symbolizes the four flowing rivers of Jannah (Paradise) and reflects the Paradise garden derived from the Persian paridaeza, meaning 'walled garden'. In mystic Islamic texts of Mughal period, Paradise is described as an ideal garden of abundance with four rivers flowing from a central spring or mountain, separating the garden into north, west, south and east.
Most Mughal charbaghs are rectangular with a tomb or pavilion in the center. The Taj Mahal garden is unusual in that the main element, the tomb, is located at the end of the garden. With the discovery of Mahtab Bagh or "Moonlight Garden" on the other side of the Yamuna, the interpretation of the Archaeological Survey of India is that the Yamuna river itself was incorporated into the garden's design and was meant to be seen as one of the rivers of Paradise. The similarity in layout of the garden and its architectural features with the Shalimar Gardens suggest that they may have been designed by the same architect, Ali Mardan. Early accounts of the garden describe its profusion of vegetation, including abundant roses, daffodils, and fruit trees. As the Mughal Empire declined, the tending of the garden also declined, and when the British took over the management of Taj Mahal during the time of the British Empire, they changed the landscaping to resemble that of lawns of London.

Soon after the Taj Mahal's completion, Shah Jahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. Upon Shah Jahan's death, Aurangzeb buried him in the mausoluem next to his wife.
By the late 19th century, parts of the buildings had fallen badly into disrepair. During the time of the Indian rebellion of 1857, the Taj Mahal was defaced by British soldiers and government officials, who chiseled out precious stones and lapis lazuli from its walls. At the end of the 19th century, British viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a massive restoration project, which was completed in 1908. He also commissioned the large lamp in the interior chamber, modeled after one in a Cairo mosque. During this time the garden was remodeled with British-style lawns that are still in place today.

The Taj was a true symbol of love and fidelity. It is one of the seven wonders of the world and I was so lucky to be able to see it. After Taj, Dani and I went and had breakfast at the hotel, check out and headed back to New Delhi so Dani could meet up with Tide to go to the bus station and I could go to the airport back to the US. I ended up relaxing before my flight at a five star hotel and making more friends with people in the shops. The people I met wanted me to stay and were willing to take me around New Delhi but my flight leaving that day. My driver came back for me and picked me up to take me to the airport. While at the airport I have never been asked so many questions and checked so many times. Security asked me questions about my passport to who packed my bag. Before my flight took off I met a nice lady who is a teacher at the Indian English Acedmay. She has been travelling around the world for the last 20 years and has been teaching English. It was great to talk to her about India and get her perspective on living in New Delhi. She was excited to get to Indiana to see her sister and family. I don't blame her with the crazy heat Delhi has been having. I had a nice flight home and met up in New Jersey with Lynne for our flight back to SD. Even though it was 6 AM EST Lynne and I missed salad and raw vegetables so much in India that we purchased salads for our trip home. I also got a great photo of the sun coming up over New Jersey's downtown area. Coming into SD it felt so good to be home. India will be missed, however, there is nothing like a nice hot shower, seeing friends, the SD sun and my nice comfortable bed :)

Agra, New Delhi

Dani and I woke up at 4 AM to take a taxi to the airport. We had a flight scheduled for 6 AM headed for New Delhi. In New Delhi our tour guide and transportation picked us up to drive us to Agra where the magnificent Taj Mahl lies. It took us a good 5 hours to get to Agra, due to some traffic along the way and a stop for lunch. We arrived in Agra and headed to our hotel. As soon as Dani and I got out of the car we felt the heat. New Delhi hit record highs of 110 degrees. We put our backpacks in our room and headed out to an internet cafe first so Dani could update her friend on tomorrows bus ride situation. Dani was going near the Himalayas after Taj. After the internet our guide came and picked us up to take us to Fort Agra. The fort is also known as Lal Qila, Fort Rouge and Red Fort of Agra. It is about 2.5 km northwest of its much more famous sister monument, the Taj Mahal. The fort can be more accurately described as a walled palatial city. It is the most important fort in India. The great Mugals, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb lived here, and the country was governed from here. It contained the largest state treasury and mint. It was visited by foreign ambassadors, travelers and the highest dignitaries who participated in the making of history in India. The fort was gorgeous! Dani and I were trying to acclimate to the weather since it was a more dry heat then humid heat. After the fort we were pretty beat and decided to go back to the hotel, shower and rest to wake up early in order to see the Taj Mahl.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dharavi Slum, Day 14

In the morning we all woke up at 8:30 AM had some room service and got ready for our adventure to the slum that Heather had setup for us. Reality Kids tour company came and picked us up. Our guide was Thomas, such a wonderful man. Reality kids is owned by a British man and has been open for 5 years. I learned so much while on the tour and made sure to take lots of notes. Here are the stats on Mumbai and the slum we toured:
--> Reality kids are one o the only agencies allowed in the slums. No photos can be taken of the slum. But I did get a post card of the slum and posted it. they are a non-profit agency that teaches children English in the slums. Here is their website: www.realitygives.org. To volunteer: www.atma.org

First we drove through the streets learning about some famous spots.
--> Did you know that there are 60,000 prostitutes in the red light district... In Mumbai?? Prostitution is illegal. However, due to "trafficking" women looking for work (not prostitution) are taken to the red light district, put into cages and used for prostitution. They are sold off for as little as 500 rupee (around $10) Most of the girls are 9-years old, taken from their families, drugged, caged and worked to death. Many of them get STDs and HIV/AIDS. So sad and unbelievable. How could a government let this continue?
--> 30 people a day fall off trains and die.
--> over 6-7 million people a day use the central or church line trains for transportation.
--> 90 million people live in Mumbai
--> Over 10,000 people a day do laundry in Dhoby... basically a giant laundry mate. Not to mention they do laundry in unsanitary conditions, many get malaria, typhoid and other illness'.

There are two types of slums
1) Pavement dwellers: those that have shacks by the road. Indian government does not provid water or sewage lines. However, if they have been living as dwellers before 1995 and were issued an ID then Indian government provides them with water and sewage. So weird.
2) Dharavi Slum: largest slum in the world and has a population density 20 times that of mumbai making it the most densely populated 'city' in the world.
*When we arrive to Dharavi we were not allowed to take photos. If caught taking photos its a 7000 rupee fine. This is due privacy issues.

More stats on the slum:
* 55% of Mumbai people live in the slums
* There are over 2,000 slums including Dharavi in Mumbai
* 1 million people live in 432 acres... what!? That gnarly...
* 50% of the people are Hindu, 40% muslim, and 10% Christian.
* Very few people speak English and there are many Indian dialects
* The first slum was made in 1840. It was used as a marsh, then a contractor started trowing trash in it and people started making houses to work closer to the city. Basically, one slum house turned into many slum houses, forming a town, then a city within a city. Slums are made illegally by the people, but the government cannot take them away. Why? Because there are too many people living in the slums and where will all those slumdogs go?
* Employment in the slums are 90%
* Slum annual income is 655 million

What do people do in the slums... WORK!
They work hard. Jobs Entail:
* Bakers: what most people don't know in India is that most baked goods like cookies, biscuits and other baked goods are made right in the Dharavi Slum... Gross right?--- 4 tons of food is produced a day. The government doesn't want people to know it is mede in the slums so they write "made in Mumbai" on it. Currently, the government is looking into building apartments where the bottom floor would be only for slum people and the rest of the floors would be used for other people to rent.

The slum also contains:
* 2 hospitals: according to Thomas most people live until they are 50 years old, due to chemicals they inhale while working and safety issues.
* 1 mosque and 1 church
* numerous shops
* jobs entail: textile workers, plastic dweller (note: all PC monitors from the USA go to India to be crushed and recycled... weird), leather industry (made from goats, sheep and buffalo... talk about disease and grossness, yuck... It smelled racid as we passed by. I tried not to vomit in my mouth). Papads making: a type of Indian tortilla. Women were using a PCP pipe and river water. Note: not HACCP approved, probably full of bacteria and grossness. But delicious. Another note to self... NEVER ordering PAPADS in the Indian restaurants again. Clay pot making: 1200 families live in this community and make pots (10.5 acres).

Housing: there is water for 3-hours a day... Only in the morning. The slum has free, yes free wi-fi and most people have TVs.
* 40 people share one bathroom
* homes have 2 levels and there are about 12 people living in 900 square feet
* There is not clean air, no lights in the narrow ally ways. There are lights only inside the homes and lots of electricity lines that hang above. You must be careful of the lines so you don't get electrocuted.

The Indian women take care of the kids. Due to lack of education the people throw their trash in their yards. This causes water contamination and diseases such a typhoid and malaria. The river that we passed by was nasty. Normally rivers are blue or clear. This one was pure black... Yes, black with animal and human poo and trash floating on top... Oh not to mention there were people SWIMMING in the black poopie water. So refreshing. The smells were so memorizing. It smelt at times like raw eggs, sulfur, vomit and urine, yummy.

Religion: In 1993 there was a riot between the Hindus' and muslims. The two religions separated after the Hindus' burnt down the muslim mosque. Employers started to duscriminate. Now, after 7-years the two religions live more in harmony.

Marriage: Dowery is a law. All marriage is paid by the women. However, the women owns the man, hahaha.

Schooling: private schools cost 200 rupee a month. More then 80 people a day learn English in the non-profit reality kids!
* Male literacy rate in India is 73%
* Female literacy rate in India is 48%
* 9 million children do not attend school

Overall, the slum was such an adventure and eye-opener of how lucky and fortunate we are to live where we do. They people seem really happy and they're such hard workers. After the slum tour we drove back, ate some bananas and did some yoga. After yoga we went and got some lunch as an AC restaurant since Mumbai weather was well into the 90s with humidity. I went and got my last acupuncture treatment from Neveen. We got a note under the door from the others letting us know that they were going for a walk. Naveen and I went for a walk as well to explore the city. It was getting dark but we managed to walk an hour to a beautiful spot and a 7-star hotel that was all lite up. We decided to to get some prom portrait for $1.40. Neveen's phone needed more money on it so he could call Heather to see where the group walked to. He decided to use the STD phone. Heather and everyone were back at the hotel. We decided to walk back and grab dinner with them. It was our last dinner together as a group, cause Dani and I were headed to New Delhi to see the Taj Mahl in the morning.

When Naveen and I were walking earlier he asked me if I was still enjoying India. I told him that the people are so nice but the place is truly dirty and I wished the Indian people would take better care of their beautiful city. Mumbai has such beautiful museums and architecture. However, Indians live in a dirty world... A world that is familiar to them. They don't understand the concept of cleanliness because its the way their environment is now and has been for a long time.

Naveen said "thank you for your honesty, finally." Then asked why I wanted to come to India in the first place. I tried to explain to him that India has always been a place that I wanted to travel to because it gets me out of my routine and control. India has true and pure culture. It is a place of non-materialism. A place where I am completely out of my element. Western culture thrives on an 8-5 job, then gym time, multi-tasking, happy hour and friend time. Its about what you're doing in the future. A great quote that Tom pointed out: "You can't do anything about the past... but you can ruin the present by worrying about the future." In India none of our USA world matters. Seating and being dirty are in. Not the latest technology and materialistic gear. I think in the end Neveen understood a bit more of why I came to India... But was possibly still a bit confused.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Train ride from Kerela to Mumbai

Monday, May 24th
Ok, I actually slept on the train. Like I stated on my last post. Thank you I-pod and Melatonin for relaxing me and ear-plugs later for silencing the noise. I said to myself a quote that Tom told me earlier that Sunday morning: "Adapt, Improvise, Overcome." So what do you do on a 24 hour train ride. Here are some tid bits:

"keeping India beautiful, one train ride at a time" = a slogan born out of the lack of trash cans on the train. even well-educated Indians just throw their trash, biodegradable, plastic, aluminum, whatever - it all gets chucked out the door on to the tracks, whether it's a city or previously unspoiled countryside.

"squatting in style" - one has the choice of an 'Indian style toilet' or a 'western style toilet'. either way, you can't miss the fragrance of Indian eau de toilette.

Many chai-wallahs were there...the men who carry big canteens of chai and announce their arrival in a distinctive voice: 'chai, chai, chai, chai....

My favorite part was watching the scenery pass by from the seat between the trains. just a trip to watch the scapes pass by with the wind in your face. I have fabulous photos of the scenery above.

Julia and Dani were on cell phones at the same time - Julia to change her ticket to an earlier departure date, and Dani to extend. Julia's back (and throat among other ailments) have been giving her trouble, and india's not the kindest land at times. so last night she left around midnight, and hopefully by now or very soon she'll be in her comfy home with no more backpacking for a little while. dani, on the other hand, after hearing about how many things there are to do in dharamsala in the north (home of the dalai lama and tibetan refugees, and many chilled out travellers), decided to stay in the motherland for another week.

we landed in mumbai after a 1.5 local train from panvel to the city (after a 24-hour train ride from kerala to panvel), and found our hotel without relative incident, always a blessing. Went to the Dharavi Slum today. Slum stats to come in next post!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cochin is rockin Days 9-11

We are in another amazing home stay. A/C, fan and all. We are still dong 1-2 hours of yoga a day. Heather and Naveen woke up at 4:50 AM on Friday to go to the train station to wait for tickets for Mumbai. Luckily they got us all tickets so we can stay a few extra days in Cochin and relax a bit. The night we arrived we did some yoga and went to dinner. We found our German and Irish friends who joined us for dinner. Today (Friday, May 21th) we all got Indian massages, went shopping and explored the town. We will be doing yoga tonight and then taking a Indian cooking class. India is still amazing. Dirty, friendly, adventurous, chaotic at time and beautiful... What more could I ask for!

After yoga last night we all found out that Naveen's Uncle passed after an accident.He made an emergency trip back to Banglore, but will hopefully be meeting back with us for our train ride to Mumbi. We all feel so sorry for him and his family :(... However, the cooking class was fun and we ate more amazing food.

Saturday, May 22
We all at breakfast at the art cafe = amazing and we are going to see a Indian village! Looking forward to it. We will be taking an overnight train ride to Mumbai as of tomorrow night. The heat is not as intense do to rain and cyclones. It hasn't been raining which has been nice. The power in India goes out a lot. We are all pretty used to it now. Good thing I have a book lamp to see where I am going!

Sunday, May 23rd
We did some yoga then got all our gear into one room in order to check out. We went to Lynne, Tom and my favorite breakfast spot. Naveen got back after a long bus ride from Bangalore to do acupuncture treatments on us. Each of us scheduled an appointment. My treatment went really well since I have been having some back pain from caring my backpack. After our treatments we made our way to the ferry building, however, since it was Sunday there was a major crowd of people. Heather felt we should take rickshaws to the railroad station and have dinner before hand. We ended up taking the rickshaws and eating a fabulous dinner at an Indian restaurant. It was good to have eaten a good dinner before our 24 hour, over night train ride experience. Aboard the train we were treated with air conditioning and some chai tea. Lets just say the train ride worked my abs for a good 24 hours. No train sickness. Luckily I had the top bunk on the train. Thank the lord for ear plugs and serotonin or else I don't think I would have slept a wink. Our bunk was positioned right next to the door that open probably every 10 minutes. There were six people sleeping in our section. Bunk bed 1 was on the bottom, then went bed two on top of the bottom, then my bed on the very top and the other side was the same. I will post photos when I get home.

Alleppey aka Backwaters..Days 6-9

After we all did our last yoga session we made our way to Alleppey by rickshaw then a three hour train ride. It was my first real train experience... Towards the end of the ride Lynne, Neveen and I went to look off the train... We were taking photos and pretending like we were going to jump off when all the sudden the train came to a hult and the indian people began to yell that we must all get off in two minutes or else we stay on... Let me just say that I hulled ass back to get my bag when a rush of Indian people... Again, lack of personal space... came on. I was thinking "oh my god how am I ever going to get off?"... I had my huge backpack and a bag of bananas. Neveen was yelling at my "hurry carly." I decided to use my football skills an tackled the Indian people... Such a site to have been seen. I made it just in time, off the train, but without banannas. We were all laughing at that point.

We took rickshaws to our guest stay... But wait I forgot to mention that our guest stay was across the river. How did we get across? A canoe of course!! I thought we were going under a few times but we managed to make it to Thomas' amazing house. Backwaters are beautiful. Think rice fields submerged in water, surrounded by islands. Thomas' family knows how to take care of people on holiday. We had more orgasmic food. My favorites... Coconut rice, chicken, water buffalo and coconut cabbage... unreal! One of the days we relaxed and rested. Naveen who grow up in Bangelor, India told us stories about Indian life. I have learned so much from Neveen let me tell you...
I learned about the caste system.. 1) Bhramins 2) Priest 3) Warriors (Naveens family, he is also Hindu) 4) buisnessmen 5) Slaves. All must marry within their classes. Naveens family doesn't follow marriage within the caste system. He can marry whomever he pleases. Naveen also stated when he moved to London it was complete culture shock. Indian's lack the following:
1) personal space/mannerism
2) hygiene... oh yes
3) time

Our last day we all woke up early. We had chai tea, biscuits and bananas and then made our way with our incredible guide bento for a three hour hike around backwaters island. He showed us native fruits (there uses), buildings, and churches. We ended our tour of the island at someone elses home. They made us a feast of a breakfast! We then got back to Thomas'home rested and made our way back by canoe to the other side to travel to Cochin. We took a ferry to the bus station. Cyclones are starting to arise. On our ferry ride we encountered one, a major down pour. I made sure to wear my pancho but still managed to get soak.

We walked in the rain to the bus stop and did the usual get on the bus as fast as possible before your smacked by an Indian haha. We transferred buses and finally arrive in lovely Cochin... Buses are always such an adventure!

Just to let you all know we all washed our clothes in the river water. I never knew how much work it is to wash clothing by hand. At least I smell delicious now!! River washing is pretty awesome... Yet another adventure, right!?

Yoga Ashram Days 3-6

You're probably all wondering what an Ashram is right? Bascially a place where people who are trying to find their passion, a place of self-discovery, a place to learn more about yoga or relax from their choatic world. They want you to come to the Ashram strong because Ashram life is rigorous. Not just physically, with days beginning at 5:20AM and ending at 10:30 PM, but also psychologically. You're spending hours and hours a day silent meditation and contemplation, with little distraction or relief from the apparatus of your own mind. Plus, your living in close quarters with people from all around the world. Here was the schedule that each of us followed from Saturday to Tuesday:
5:20AM wake-up bell
6AM Satsang (group meditation, chanting...sing, talk)
7:30AM tea time! chai tea is amazing
8:00AM Asana class yoga (beginners and intermediate... 2 hours)
10AM Vegetarian meal... Eat in silence with right hand
11AM Karma yoga (each person gets a task/daily chore to do).
12:30PM coaching class (optional)
1:30 PM tea-time with snack
2PM lecture
3:30 Asana class yoga again... 2 hours
6PM Vegetarian meal
8PM Satsang (group meditation, chanting, talk).
10:30PM lights out

We were busy for four days straight... No cell phones and 1 hour of internet. The outside world was basically turned-off, thats why no one really heard from me, haha. What did I think about the Ashram? I was a bit critical at first. It is a different world. We do chanting (sing), mediating, cross legged with your back perfectly straight. For me the last eight months have been filled with being a dietetic intern. My world was normally filled with waking up early, materialism, multitaking, routine distractions, school assignments, stress, and technology. Whereas Ashram world... is one of no stress, mindful eating, sing, ego, no technology (limited), positivity, reincarnation, mind, body and spirit to finding ones self. The set-up seem crazy but that is because we are used to our routines and lifestyles... As much as I complatined at first I truely did enjoy the Ashram way of life to relax my mind and soul. Ashram = refreshing only for a few days! Mediation and breathing in general were the hardest things for me to do. I can't seem to get my mind to hold still. I always seem to be in a dream world of some sort. Meditation is the act of listening. However, when I ask my mind to rest in stillness, it quickly turns to boredom, emotions or anxious thoughts. You are after all what you think right? Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions. I quickly really had to focus and try to not get bored. I tried many times to go out of body like I did when I was getting chemotherapy needles in me years ago, but thoughts kept arising... Like... should I travel more after India?... Do I really have to get a job when I get back?... Aw, more studying for the RD exam, bummer... etc... I think if I continue to mediate and have a focus point of words it will hopefully get easier... We will see...
A few memories:
--> Feeling like I am in a sauna 24/7
--> The group I came with are awesome... So many different, unique personalities... I love them dearly :)
--> Watching Lynne eat her food with her right hand = hiliarious
--> Practicing my breathing skills and learning how to do yoga the right way.
--> Lectures were one of my favorite parts.
--> My pants falling off during intermediate yoga and the teacher later telling me that he noticed that I was having issues with my form and that it would be best to go back to the beginners class... haha
--> Laughing until my abs hurt
--> Bus-ride and rickshaw... I have the best videos EVER!!!
--> Doing mediation and trying to relax my mind.
--> Taking photos with random Indian boys
--> Hiking to the lake and not being able to go in due to not having the correct clothing... Lame but whatever...
"India is India... what can I say"