Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Delhi day 3 part 2 Red Fort

Walking to the metro from the zoo seemed like an exhausting undertaking after walking for 3 hours at the zoo. It felt as if we had been walking for days due to the tropical heat, and well... the walking. We decided to take a tuk-tuk from the zoo back to the station, and decided to take the metro up the yellow line to the chandni chowk station. We figured we would check out the shopping in chandni chowk and then go over to the red fort, which is where the emperors of India ruled many, many years ago.
Chandi chowk wasn't what I expected. As soon as we stepped off the metro we were surrounded on all sides by beggars. Nearby was a giant pile of trash, I suppose it was a dump... although, most dumps aren't in the middle of shopping areas. The shopping honestly was a little overwhelming to me because there was so much going on. I couldn't really focus on one stand because there were so many. We ended up not shopping at all, and instead just sort of glazy eyed stumbling around and looking dumb.
We found the red fort by looking for a mosque that we never found. We basically just picked one direction and kept walking until the red fort was just sort of in front of us. The entrance price was 5-10 times as much for us (as usual) but this time the security guard let us take both of our bags in, even though one was too big.  The red fort is ENORMOUS! There are multiple parts inside to go and look at, and right outside the front gate is a mob of touts and tourists. Most of the white people we saw in Delhi were at the red fort.
The pictures we took of the front of the red fort don't really do it justice. Its something you really have to see to realize how massive it is.

The walls around the red fort seem to sprawl forever, but inside is where the beauty is. Its easy to see from the outside why they call it the red fort.  After passing through security, you come to the main gate.
Inside of this gate is a row of souvenir shops that were woefully over priced. We were even warned by the tuk-tuk driver that took us to the metro not to shop inside of there.
After passing through the shops you empty out to the inner gate...
After passing through the inner gate, there are some statues of guys holding guns, without guns. I still scratch my head at this one.  I took two pictures, but one is blurry.  The blurry guy is holding a rifle, which maybe is invisible? This guy is holding a handgun, which I guess is invisible.
The center of the red fort houses a place where the emporer would make statements and hold court.  It had beautiful arches, and a pretty awesome marble thrown.

The pillars of the center of the red fort are very awesome, even with the obligatory heavily armed security guard milling about (they are EVERYWHERE in the red fort).

The main thing you do at the thrown apparently is to stunt like a boss.  Or in other words, to act super tough in front of the thrown. Mandy and I stood and watched as young Indian man after young Indian man filed up and made essentially the same pose while his friends took pictures. It was actually so crowded with people stunting hard that we didn't bother to get our picture taken in front of it.
As you can see there is also some sort of bird netting around the marble thrown, which Mandy asked, "What do you think that is there for?" and I said, "To keep birds out." and she then pointed out to me, "But there are birds in the net." and we had a laugh as she said, "I guess its to keep those birds in?"
One of the emperors build himself a private mosque on the grounds which was locked up.  I couldn't read the plaque that had the specifics on it because it was weather worn.  Here is the private mosque though...
Near the mosque was a beautiful palace like area called the Khas Mahal, with a sign explaining how the emperor would have elephant and lion fights. 
Elephant and Lion fights? Its good to be the king!
Anyways, here are some pictures of the beautiful and incredible marble of this palace...

And of course, the obligatory heavily armed guards...

While I'm clicking away like a camera happy idiot (pics related), a guard approaches us and flags me down. Do remember these are heavily armed guards, each holding some sort of semi-automatic machine gun.  The guard calls me closer, "Sir..." and Mandy and I look over at this serious guard with a very serious gun.  I meekly reply, "Yes?" He asks me, "What country are you from?" which is a very common question, as I'm sure you'd have guessed by now. I reply, "USA" The guard smiles at me, give me a thumbs up and says, "Looking good."
We walk away smiling, after giving the guard a thumbs up back, and head over to an area where people were sitting.  The red fort had a sort of water fountain design laid into its foundation to feed water to various places around the grounds.  Even though it was raining quite a lot around the time we were in India, all of these water drains were empty. 
As we follow this duct, all the Muslims sitting in the background of the picture get up and walk away.  This leaves plenty of seating, and as we have been walking for about three years at this point (it feels like at least) we take it upon ourselves to take their place and have a break. Shortly after sitting down an Indian man comes up and sits next to us and strikes up a conversation.  If you can call it a conversation that is, because the man speaks little English. I of course speak no Hindi, which doesn't help things. There is nothing quite like that awkward feeling when two people try to talk who don't know any of each others language. At some point in the conversation you inevitably just end up blurting out the words you do know, just to say something. "Toilet restaurant." he would say, or something similar.  Mandy and I would smile, "Toilet restaurant indeed." The man would smile back.
Eventually he had some friends join him that spoke English, and we all talked about where we were from, and who he was, and why he was practicing English and so on.  We spent some time with his friends, and eventually they asked us to pose for a picture with them for their camera, and we of course agreed. I tell you we are in more Indian pictures than you can even imagine.
The ducts of the water trails all lead towards this building, which is supposed to be surrounded by water, but is dry.
That is basically most of what we saw in the red fort, or at least the pictures I thought would be worth sharing. We walked out with the Indian guys we were hanging out with, I didn't write down their names so I don't remember any of their names.  I also didn't take their picture. At this point in the trip, I was still focused on places, not so much people.  Later some of the people we met I got their names and took pictures, but only when they would let me.
After getting outside the red fort, we decided we didn't want to hassle with the rush hour metro squash, so we took a tuk-tuk.  I decided to video tape this ride, and when I find a reasonable way to get video on here, I'll upload it. It will probably a post by itself, and I'll probably just create a youtube account and embed it on here (if I can figure that out).
This was our last full day in New Delhi, and we had to get an early night sleep because we had a train to catch at 8 A.M. in the morning to Agra.  So the next update (unless its a tuk-tuk ride) we will be in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.  I hope those of you interested in this journey are enjoying this.  I'm updating as I can, and will continue to do so.  Do take a second and realize the depth of this trip... if you have read all of these updates, realize you have read the first city, in the first country of a 4 country almost one month trip.  I promise the other countries won't be as long because they were not so action packed...
Thanks for reading.
Peace and Love,

Monday, October 4, 2010

Delhi day 3 part 1 the zoo

I awoke bright and early at 5 A.M. Indian time on the 3rd day in Delhi and decided to use the early start to use the internet and update day 1 and upload some picture to flickr.  Some Aussie girl came down and booted me off around 7:30, no worries though. Mandy wanted to sleep some more, so I ventured off on my own for a while to take some pictures. While walking and clicking a young Indian in his 20s named Raj joined me.
Seeing as we are practically the only white people in all of India, many young Indians have approached us to practice English. Raj told me as he approached that he only wanted to practice English, as i am sure he knows we have been harassed by touts to no end. Raj and I take a leisurely stroll and talk about Delhi and Kentucky, then when we reach the metro he waves, thanks me, and goes about his day.  Even though I took several pictures on that walk, I neglected to take one of Raj.
I head back to woodcastle to find Mandy awake, after a bit of discussion we decide to give the zoo another go. We head out to the metro and back to the same station as the day before. For some odd reason we decide to walk from the metro to the zoo, I think partly because we were tired of haggling with tuk-tuk drivers, and also because we thought it wouldn't be that far. Well it was far, and we also didn't actually know where we were going, so of course we got lost.
Poor advice from some random cop got us turned around. It seemed as though almost every adult we asked had no idea what "zoo" meant. We asked the cop "Is the zoo down this street?" and he nodded his head and said "Yes." but we later found out, he spoke no English. We wandered down the street he sent us down until a tuk-tuk driver pulled over to hassle us for a ride. We took the opportunity to try and get our bearings asking, "Do you know where the zoo is?" and he replied, "Zoo?" We then said, "Yes zoo." and he replied, "Zoo?" So then, thinking that he needed more, we say, "Zoological park?" He mumbles, "Zooso...." At that point we get out our map and point out the zoo to him.
"Ah..." The tuk-tuk driver pronounced, and Mandy and I smiled. Then he motions past us, which confused us both very much.  We look over to where he motions to find a young girl standing with a young man looking at a giant map.  The driver calls out in Hindi and the girl comes over saying "What?" in English. We ask her "Do you know where the zoo is?" which she interprets as meaning we are trying to get the tuk-tuk driver to take us to the zoo. Of course, this is not the case.  We are just trying to find out where the zoo is. The girl looks at the driver and says "Zoological park?" as she takes our map and points at the zoo. Mandy and I have a quick laugh, then more Hindi between the girl and the driver, while we begin to realize the tuk-tuk driver has no clue what, or where the zoo is.
After a bit of back and forth the girl turns to us as says, "I think you go up this street..." motioning back the way we just walked from the cop "take a left..." which is the direction we were walking before we asked for directions "then it should be on your left." In other words, we were going in the right direction BEFORE asking for directions. We smile and nod at the girl, and she smiles and nods back, then we part ways leaving a very confused tuk-tuk driver in our dust.
We continue our adventure, and it leads us directly by the grounds for the commonwealth games, which is surrounded by controversy and accusations of corruption. However, it seems the hype leading up to the games maybe unfounded, as recent reports show the games going off without a problem. Most of the heavy construction we saw while in New Delhi was commonwealth game related, which makes me wonder what the city is like without such a high profile event happening.  Guess I'll have to find out another time.
After walking for what felt like forever we discovered a giant building that we quickly discovered bordered the zoo.
As it turned out, this is the old fort in New Delhi, or Purana Qila. I didn't take many pictures of this fort because we were tired of walking and just desperately wanting to find the zoo.  There is a little lake in front of it that I got a picture of, mainly to show the juxtaposition of old world fort with new world paddle boats.  It just kind of made me laugh.
I don't have any pictures from inside the fort because when we tried to go in after the zoo, we decided it was too much money. In India everything has two prices, one for Indians, and one for foreigners. The zoo for example was 50 rupees for foreigners and 10 rupees for Indians.  The Purana Qila costs foreigners 250 rupees to get in, and Indians 20 rupees, which we thought was garbage, so we didn't go in at all. BTW, could you imagine the law suits if we tried to do that in America?
The zoo had its own issues as well as Purana Qila. It was cheap, however there were no bags allowed. We had all our cameras and everything in 2 different bags, only one of which was considered small enough to take in. So we had to jam all of our money, passports, and important papers into whatever pockets we could find and check our big bag for another 10 rupees. THEN we had 2 cameras, one of which was a camcorder and they charged us an additional 50 rupees to use it. Granted, all told it was still around 3 dollars US for the two of us to go into the zoo and take pictures and video.  It still stings a little to me that we had to pay so much more for EVERYTHING though.
The New Delhi zoo is unlike any zoo I have ever been in. Its very large and has a very large selection of animals.  The grounds are not well kept, and half the zoo was actually flooded while we were there. Indians also behave quite differently than Americans do while enjoying the zoo. Our first encounter at the zoo was with some beautiful storks and water foul...

Since I had to pay for my video camera, you can be damn sure I took video in the zoo, and right after this video ends a young Indian boy throws a half bottle of pepsi in at the birds, splashing the water, and generally disturbing the scene. They boy then went over to a trashcan and began to tip it over, but then Mandy and I gave him the ol' stink eye, and he decided not to tip any trash over. Here is the scene JUST before the carnage. (The horrible bottle throwing carnage...)
From my experiences so far, Indians don't give a crap about trash. They throw it where ever they want. There are not trash cans to be found anywhere. I didn't see one recycling bin during our entire time in India. The zoo wasn't trashy, they had people going around and cleaning up. The zoo also had trash cans. The cities we visited though were all piled high with trash, both natural (think cow poop) and man made.  When I say that India stinks, I don't mean only pleasant smells.
After the birds we saw some lion monkeys, which hid in the grass while we first were there...I got a video, but this other video is taking forever to upload, so I don't know if I'm gonna include it... I'll check how it looks, and may upload more videos later.

After the monkeys we found some rinos and wild roaming peacocks...

 After those wild peacocks we found a caged all white (albino?) peacock. It put on quite a show for us, shaking its tail feathers and hooting it up.  I have a video of it, but... apparently this thing hates videos.  I'll have to do some experimenting to figure it out.  Until then... still photos...
The most remarkable thing to me about the New Delhi zoo was how close we could get to the hippos.  I've never been this close to a live hippo before.  We stood about 3 feet from a hippo, which was exciting, and a little frightening. There was a stone barrier to keep us separate, but I get the feeling that if the hippo really wanted to, it could just jump right over that wall in a heartbeat.
We even got to see some baby hippos, which Mandy and I both thought looked like overgrown pigs. 
After the hippos we kind of wandered around the zoo for a while.  We got stuck at one point as the road/walkway we were following was totally flooded. We turned and tried to find another way, finding this alternate route totally flooded too.  Some other zoo goers were wading through the water, but we decided not to soak ourselves and find another route.  Eventually we backtracked our path far enough to find a dry path, and it led us directly to the howler monkeys.

What would a trip to the zoo in India be without seeing some tigers? We had a hard time finding the tigers, due to blocked paths caused by flooding, and a map that wasn't very clear and not to scale. It even said on the map, "Map not to scale" which I thought was very strange.  Basically the map says on it, "Map not accurate, good luck." We were determined to see tigers though, and after much searching... we found one.

This Indian zoo was very different than American zoos I have been to. For one, that was the only white bengal tiger we could find. It seems like the last time I went to the Cincinnati zoo, they had like 5 bengal tigers, and that zoo is in Ohio... not India. The zoo was giant, and had lots of animals, but it was flooded and in bad shape.  There was overgrown grasses and weeds everywhere. The animals seemed in good condition, and well taken care of, so that is very good. The way the zoo goers treated the animals wasn't always the best though.
There were clearly marked signs everywhere saying not to taunt the animals, some with a graphic of a person in a cage with animals taunting the person to try to force people to empathize with the animals.  These signs didn't work. At every large cat, groups of Indians would stand around and hiss and yell at the cage trying to get a response. At the howler monkeys this taunting took on a comical call and response with the monkeys shouting back at the people. Although I felt bad for the monkeys, I couldn't help but laugh.
We spent close to 3 hours walking around the zoo and enjoying the animals and the people.  Children are children no mater what culture or language, and its always a treat to watch children discover how incredible animals are. We shared many laughs, and many smiles with all sorts of people. The joy of interacting with animals transcends language, and I thought we were pretty lucky to be sharing this moment with these people.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

New Delhi day 2 part 3

After we enjoyed our lunch at the Lodi Garden restaurant, we debated on whether to go to the zoo (which may be closed) or heading to the India Gate and heading back to woodcastle afterwords. In the end India Gate won, and we headed out to argue with another tuk-tuk driver over the price of our ride. Whatever a tuk-tuk driver says first is always too much. Its your job to act offended and upset that he would insult you with such a price. You have to talk them down as much as possible, and even after talking them down to a fair price, we usually ended up with a much higher price than if it were metered.  I call this the "white tax".
Our driver drops us off directly in front of the tourist police, who are on hand to try in vein to dispel some of the touts in the area. "Tout" is the term westerners (Europeans) use to describe the hawkers and panhandlers that offer a service. A step above bums, because they offer to take your picture, or sell you some useless crap for a price. Any tourist area is filled with touts in India. They weep down on us like vultures to a rotting corpse, and even when the tout directly in front of the line selling the same exact item as everyone else behind him gets a negative response, the rest still pile up to ask if you want to buy theirs.
The main "service" at the India gate is to take your picture. Its very similar to walking into an amusement park like Kings Island. You walk in, and suddenly some caring worker comes up and offers a free picture that won't take but a second. Of course, a few minutes later someone has a print for you, then they hassle the shit out of you to buy the print. When we say no to one, another one comes up right behind asking, "Take your picture for free?"
Now I would like to take a second to explain "we." When I say "we" in reference to touts, tuk-tuks, ordering food, etc. understand that I mean me. Women are not given the same standing in India as men, so everything... EVERYTHING... goes through me. It reminds me of the episode of futurama when they go back in time to the Roswell New Mexico ufo crash. Leela and the Professor try to go and buy a microwave from a store (before microwaves were available for sale) and the salesman says to the professor "Sir, your wife is hysterical. So I will direct this to you."
So I spend a good half of the day saying "No." or my new mantra "No thank you." saying both while using negative body language, meanwhile Mandy follows behind smiling as if floating on a cloud. I think during the entire time in India, she was only hassled three times. I was hassled constantly.
After passing through the line of touts, we make it to the India gate.
Its very impressive.  Its size is pretty hard to determine, so I paid someone 10 rupees to climb up some scaffolding to show its size.
Just kidding, he did that for free. I'm not entirely sure what work they were doing, but they were doing some sort of work on the India Gate while we were there.  Probably in anticipation of the Commonwealth games. We took several pictures of the gate, so enjoy.

Here one of two fountains that flanked the gate, and as we took these pictures, people were taking pictures of us.
This was a smaller building behind the gate...

It wasn't tourist season in India while we were there, so we kept a running count of the other white people we saw, and the final count for New Delhi was approximately 12. That's 12 other white people in a city with a population around 18 million.  Yeah, we stood out. We were almost celebrity status, especially with Mandy's piercing and my long hair and goat-tee. Strangers would take our pictures constantly, and would also ask if they could pose with us in pictures.  We would gladly strike a pose, and they would walk away with a huge smile.  It has been fun! I wonder how many Indian scrap books we will end up in!
The India gate is impressive, but it is just a gate. After a few minutes there, you have pretty much done all you can there, so we left pretty quickly. We passed by the same touts who hassled us on the way in, and they hassled us again on the way out.  A teacher asked us for money for books, which wouldn't be the first in India we would later find out.  Men pulled back on rubber band helicopters and would let them fly and point them out as they drifted down to catch them, and  then try to sell them to us.  This wouldn't be the last time we would see that either.
One direction of the gate points towards the presidents house, which we wanted to see, but were far too tired to walk to.  As you can see, it isn't close...
Its the one in the middle off in the distance. The other direction from the presidents house, and practically in the shadow of the India Gate (one of the main tourist attractions to New Delhi) was a tent city.
Tent cities are incredibly common, as well as shanty towns and housing built from the most basic of supplies. There are far too many makeshift housing for it all to be made up of untouchables, and they are all over the city in good and bad areas.  All the construction sites I saw had shanty/tent housing surrounding the developments.  The workers live on the job site, work on the job site, and eat on the job site. I can only imagine that when they are done, they just move to another job site and build another temporary house.
We pass by the tent city and walk back to the metro.  Its only a hop, skip, and jump back to our station. Then our short walk back to woodcastle to rest in safety and solitude.  The internet? Taken, again.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Delhi day 2 part 2 (here comes pictures)

The Lodi Garden is a beautiful sprawling park nestled comfy into New Delhi's south side. We arived there after a 2 hour detour thanks to a dishonest tuk-tuk driver. We left him outside next to a police officer who was leaning up against the wall next to the gates we passed through. After the gates, we immediately pass over a bridge that leads us into the park. Somehow neither Mandy or myself bothered to look over the bridge, which we would discover later went over a pond that we spent a good portion of the afternoon looking for.
Mandy wanted to go see the Lodi garden because of the enormous lily pads, so large in fact that they can support the weight of a human.  Ok, well maybe a small child human. Like a one or two year old or something, certainly under 30 pounds.  We came to find those enormous lily pads, and so after crossing over the bridge (and not looking over the side of it) we began criss-crossing the park searching for them.
The first thing worth noting that we came across was some sort of brown building that workers were working on.
Now before I stick my foot in my mouth (in other words sit back and get comfortable while I go ahead and stick my foot in my mouth) let me clearly state that I do not understand the subtleties of the Indian caste system.  Any observations or statements I make about it are from an uneducated outsider looking in at a culture that I am sure is more complicated than its easily accessible veneer. Ok then, on with it. There were "untouchables", or lower caste, working on this brown building  as you can see in the photo.  These untouchables, like most others I saw on work sites had bedding to sleep on at the job site. I'm just making a note on this now, I may talk more about it later in length.
The brown building was next to a rose garden of sorts that was nice, but not nearly as built up as the rose garden in the arboretum in Lexington, so I didn't take a picture of it. There were 3 beautiful hawks in the garden, huge things, the size of vultures... could have been eagles I suppose; they flew away before I could get my camera ready. There are lots of exotic beautiful birds in India, most of them far faster than me and my camera.
We left the roses and to our great surprise there was a towering building just over the hill, tucked in behind some trees.
As we approached to take a clearer picture of it,
we noticed just to the left of this beautiful building was an even larger building!
These buildings date back to the 15th-16th century, and you can read all about them here:

I found lots of things interesting about these buildings, like the intricacy of the carvings on the arches.

And of course, the buildings themselves are quite impressive!
These buildings were the first few we found, but while searching for our giant lily pads, we would find other sights in this wonderful garden. We would walk down beautiful tree shaded paths...

We would even find giant cement "lily pads" (its what Mandy called them anyways)...
As we continued to explore the garden we kept noticing something quite unusual. Well, unusual for India, not for us. The park was filled with couples cuddling! In India public displays of affection are frowned upon, as they are sometimes interpreted as overtly sexual in nature. We discovered that the Lodi garden is a sort of "make out point" for young Indian couples.  No necking mind you, just gently caressing and boy girl and holding.  We would later have a tuk-tuk driver explain, "USA has secrets, they keep them in open. India secrets, they hush hush." It seems that we accidentally found the hush hush make out park, and somehow we felt right at home.
We continued our exploration, and passed an awe struck Indian girl mouth agape at the seen that was unfolding.  Couples caressing! My word! We found it rather cute. We discovered another strange little building, I'm still not sure what its for, but it looks old!
On the other side of this weird little building we found a path that led to a bonsai exhibit.  I liked the little jagged brick path to it, so I took a picture.
This little path led to the bonsai display, which was a very nice touch to a huge sprawling park.

After walking one relatively straight line through the park with no sign of water (hello, bridge?) we made a loop back to find yet another huge building.
 This building had a giant wall around it that we followed.

We followed the wall around to the front, but the gate was locked so we couldn't go inside of this massive fort like building.  When we looked away from the locked gate though we found water!
Precious water! The nectar of life! There also was a very nice stone bridge over it, just large enough for two people to wander over somehow miraculously oblivious to any water below!
Now that we have found the water, we follow it to find the man sized lily pads.  After searching and searching we find lily pads, sure, but not fit for a grown man. Hell these lily pads are barely fit for a newborn.

It certainly is a pretty scene, what with the ducks, and the lily pads floating all around, but not the giant lily pads we were promised by some guidebook. Stupid guidebook. Oh btw, here is the view from the bridge we walked over on our search for the pond...
After the crushing defeat of small lily pads, we decided to go and get some food at a nearby restaurant we found while inspecting the bonsai garden. The restaurant was called "The Lodi garden restaurant" and sat right next to one of the gates to get into the Lodi garden. The closer we got to the Lodi garden restaurant, the more the sky began turning dark.  By the time we reached the gate, a light sprinkle had started, and we could hear thunder in the distance.
The Lodi garden restaurant is less than 20 feet from the gate, which was pretty fortunate. At the reservation station outside the restaurant a man greeted us as a gentle rain began to fall down all around us. By the time we said "Two please." a torrential downpour began, not unlike the daily downpours in Floriday that creep out of no where.  Quite perfect timing on our part.
We ran to the restaurant and got seated quickly. The food was western, which was kind of a disappointment, and it was also more expensive than we would have hoped. They had the first (and only) wifi I found in India, and I took full advantage of the opportunity and updated the Amsterdam post (see below) that I had made on my iphone earlier.
I took a picture to show how 2-3 inches of rain fell while we sat and ate, but the picture didn't turn out very good, so I'm not going to share it.  The restaurant was a great halfway point for our day, and respite from the rain.  The restaurant was not a respite for everyone however. A worker stood out in the downpour squeegeeing the porch in an empty pursuit of dryness.  We watched him squeegee and felt kind of bad for him, but soon enough the rain slowed down. After the rain stopped, we made our way out to the road again, after taking a picture of our dry rest stop.
At this halfway point, I'm stopping.  I'll continue again tomorrow!

Peace and Love,