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Nearly a week has passed since I was actually in the Punjab region of India. I miss it dearly. So I’m going to reminisce… and please don’t be offended if you’re from Surrey when you read this (hey, my mama’s originally from Surrey)!

Darryn and I parted ways in Delhi, after an exhausting evening filled with disorder. Our train was late coming in from Jaipur, it was nearly 1 am, and our hotel room had been given away. No matter, we thought. We were in a strip FILLED with hotels – we searched around for quite sometime discovering nearly all of them were full. Crap. We finally found an over-priced shit hole (I’m not being dramatic here) and bunkered down.

We were travelling with Cassie, an American clarinet teacher now living in Bangkok. She went to hop in the shower and we started to settle. Then the hotel porter waltzes into our hotel room demanding our passports (the usual for India – the passport request, not the waltzing into hotel rooms). No knock. Then he proceeds to laugh as I tell him in a ‘stern’ voice that it is not acceptable to walk into a hotel room unannounced.

Anger ensued. We left. So, we were found in the same position – wandering the streets of Delhi in search of a place to lay our heads (which we eventually found, after our standards simply dropped to ‘no bed bugs please’).

And that my friends, is how I ended up with Darryn’s passport in hand as I attempted to check into my hotel in Amritsar with Cassie. And I will freely admit that I held my shit together until I received confirmation that Darryn had in fact gotten onto her Dharamsala (northern India) plane.

After that news, I panicked. I cried silently in the internet cafe, imagining my plans to head back to Nepal and complete a trek drift out the window. I tallied up the dollars I had already spent on plane tickets and my trek deposit and envisioned my broke ass stuck on a bus for over 10 hours simply to swap documents.

Okay, now I was being dramatic. Really it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I was forced to abandon plan A and explore/trek in the Himalayan range in Northern India rather than Nepal. But looking back, I think I was secretly really missing Nepal and its people/culture and truly was eager to return.

Anyways, it all worked out – Darryn’s yogi (I still giggle every time I hear that title) coordinated an excellent plan; one of his employees would ride the bus down to Amristar and back and we would swap the goods. It all worked perfectly. My heart goes out to that kind boy who spent most of his day on the bus for us.

After the fiscal was all settled, Cassie and I got to enjoy Amristar fully. We wandered through an intricate Hindu temple full of low ceilings and cave-like rooms.

Cassie crawling through one of the cave rooms - we skipped the one with water, since it looked pretty dirty!

We got our palms read (good news, I should live well past 90!) And,we spent hours encircling the gorgeous and jaw-dropping Golden Temple (basically Mecca for Sikhs).

The stark white marble walkways surrounding the holy pond (that the temple is perched on), are perfect for casual strolls, bare feet and all. Once in a while our head scarves would slip and a guard would gently remind us to cover our hair again. We didn’t mind, we were entranced with the soft chanting that carries on 24/7. This is the ultimate place to zen out and contemplate life, spirituality..the list could go on forever.  Cassie and I both agreed that we loved the temple even more than the infamous Taj. It’s just more of an overall e x p e r i e n c e. I’m still little sad that we missed eating a free meal with 60,00-80,000 pilgrams (volunteers serve meals daily to all that visit, if one desires). Ah well, next time.  

Beautiful people to match the beautiful surroundings.

We visited the place several times to see the breathtaking structure in different light.

At night, hordes of young boys would gather around us if we stopped for a moment. Questions would fire at us from all angles and they would giggle endlessly as they took turns posing with us for pictures. It was adorable and loads of fun!

Cassie and crew.

We ended our time in the Punjab region with a visit to the Pakistan/India border to watch the border closing ceremony – which was a celebration of monumental size!

Punjabi music blasts over the speakers, Indians take turns running down the short walkway with a massive Indian flag in tow, women and children dance festively. It’s a site to see! I couldn’t believe how many people come to take part in the spectacle. And then there are the actual guards – they high kick and fast walk like no other!

Needless to say my stomach hurt from laughing so hard by the end of the show.

Now, the ceremony is all fun and games, and it ends with the border gate opening, the guards from both the Pakistan and Indian sides shaking hands and flailing about and the gate slamming shut for the evening.

What I couldn’t figure out was how two countries that despise each other so much have such a fantastic event to share their border. It’s bizarre!

It was also quite surreal to stare across the gate and see the Pakistani people on the other side. They were cheering and chanting ‘Pakistan Forever’ (as were the Indians with ‘India Forever’).

I kept staring up at the Pakistan flag flapping in the hot breeze,  a reminder of how many times I’d seen that flag, but attached to horrific news stories of terrorist attacks and state chaos. I didn’t feel much inclined to venture past the gate (even if I did, it would supposedly take up to 3 months to get a visa).

After the ceremony we made our way back to the truck, joking about how we couldn’t find our driver and wouldn’t that be a great call to make to someone back home. “Hi dear, I’m stuck at the Pakistan border.” Eep.

The following morning I headed back to Delhi, sharing my berth with a unbelievably kind family from southern Punjab. We immediately made a connection since the mother’s brother lived in Surrey. This was SUCH a common conversation I can’t even begin to describe how many times I met someone who had a brother, sister, daughter, uncle, son etc. living in Surrey. Everyone wanted to visit there!

Back to the family though. They told me complicated stories of the Sikh history for several hours. Informing me why they always carry mini daggers (usually plastic, often tucked into their turbans or attached at their hip). “It’s simply for protection and not attack”, the father explained to me. The Sikh’s have a rough past – most of it involving being attacked by Muslims and Hindu’s and mostly because of the location of the majority community. Google it, it’s interesting stuff. 

They shared their lunch with me and insisted I spend the night with them in their quaint village. I had to sadly decline since I had an early flight the following morning. But they bring a smile to my face every time I think back to that particular train ride. And you know what? I think I have a new-found respect for – get ready for it – Surrey.

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It’s been far too long since my last post, so I offer sincere apologies to you all. I even got some great news from WordPress.com that my blog had made it to the WordPress homepage for a day (woohoo!) and what did I do? Stopped writing on it – oops.

 It became very difficult to find time to hop onto a computer and write about the days events. Even summarizing some of the days in my journal became daunting – so much going on, so many stories and sights!

Well, I’ve got time to kill now. I’m back in Nepal (in Pokhara actually) and there is a two-day strike happening – all stores and roads are closed so it’s an opportune time to catch up!

I spent a total of 10 days in India – it sounds short but it felt quite long! After being delayed in Kathmandu by nearly 6 hours, I finally arrived in Delhi. As I exited the plane, an intense blast of hot air welcomed me – it was a bit shocking to feel such heat! Darryn was patiently waiting in the airport and it was SO awesome to see her gorgeous smile once again (it had been well over a year).

Delhi. Delhi. Delhi. It’s chaotic, dirty, busy, over-populated, and overwhelming. But it’s home to 12 million people and they seem quite proud of their city. I found the people of Delhi much more interesting than the sights – people watching at the train station was unreal. The streets of Delhi are basically all under construction due to the Commonwealth Games coming up in October 2010. Hopefully they are ready, but I somehow doubt it.

classic street scene in Old Delhi.

We had a decent hotel in the seedy tourist district located close to the train station and (thank GOD) we had air conditioning. We left Delhi after only 1.5 days and within that time we sorted out what appeared to be an epic train schedule, visited the Red Fort, a brilliant spice bazaar, and the Hyman Tomb (nicknamed the mini Taj, it’s of Persian decent).

Spice Bazaar, Old Delhi

Most importantly, Darryn and I caught up on life while feasting on Thali dinners and lunches. We giggled away at recent stories, lamented about missing our boyfriends (hers is currently doing a 6 month stint in Borneo finishing research for his M.A.), and got pretty darn excited for what we were about to embark on.

And embark we did. We toured around three other Indian cities together – Jaipur, Agra, and Varansi. We crammed ourselves into teeny compartments on trains with villagers and their massive bags of wheat, grains, rice etc. (in fact, I slept on a berth covered in curry powder and rice – how much more Indian can one get?!) We endured 47 degree weather in Varansi as we dodged funeral processions and idly boated on the Ganga, one of the dirtiest rivers in the world.

We experienced the majestic Taj Mahal in all its glory. We explored several forts and temples – learning slowly about Hinduism and India’s horrific and lengthy history. We saw devastating scenes of poverty and slum living and several shouting/fist fighting matches. We saw children stop playing in the street, amused and in awe by our female Western presence. We shopped in bazaars as the chanting of Muslim prayers lingered in the air….

We fell in love with India.

And the people. OMG the people! So endearing and friendly. Nearly every train ride we took ended with our brains bursting with Indian knowledge. Everyone is so eager to share their culture and learn more about ours.

I encountered this one woman who asked me very personal questions – how much I make, how long my mother was in labour with me, if my boyfriend ‘touches’ me (insert awkward blushing right about here). I answered all of them truthfully, hoping that if anything, she would learn a bit about cultural differences and accept that we do not all practice the same religions and rules.

I will admit, the touts, hotel owners, and rickshaw drivers can get under your skin – it’s exhausting always bartering and they always have an answer for everything. But, they are trying to make a living in a tough country – I get it.

I could also do without the mouth-wide-open, no blinking, full-on staring from most men (and women) – but again, I just kept telling myself they are curious about our white skin and foreign ways. It’s nothing personal…but okay, I’m pretty sure some of the male stares were sexual in nature, and downright creepy.

So there you have it. A teeny snippet of my short stint in Incredible India! I wish I could share more, but internet is pricey in this small mountain town.

I’ll post again on my final 3 days in India (which were spent in Punjab and I must admit, I think they were some of my fav days – minus the whole passport swapping situation with Dharamsala bound Darryn, which turned out a-okay). Here’s a few pictures to sum up the experience… they aren’t necessarily my favorites, just decent ones I can make out from the thumbnail previews!

Sunrise boating on the holy Ganga (Ganges) river.

Varansi

My favorite shopkeeper. So many shirts, pants, pashmina's..such fun!

the 'honeycomb' palace in Jaipur. The windows were for the kings wives to watch the street activity.

cute little guy, at the Gata (monkey man) temple, outside of Jaipur.

A typical train station site. This man would wake the daughter up every few minutes to go beg. It was awful to watch.

there she be - the taj!

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