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India Recap

India Recap

It is impossible for me to convey all of my thoughts on our time in India in this post. It is the first place where I feel that pictures don’t capture the true essence of this country or our experience here. In our 17 days through India we were only able to get to know such a small part of this country – even if we had more time I am not sure if I could ever fully grasp the vastness of this place. IMG_1576

There are 1.3 billion people that live in India – in a space 1/3 of the size of the US. The terrains vary from mountainous in the Himalayas to deserts and plains. There is no common language spoken throughout the country, but instead there are over 22 official languages. In addition to these official languages, there are 1,652 recognized languages spoken in India (only 150 of these languages have a sizable speaking population). India is a spiritual place with many religions being practiced across the country such as Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and Jainism. The food, culture, and languages vary as well. India is comprised of 29 states and it is overwhelming to try to understand all the differences.IMG_1388

Our time in India can be looked at as two separate parts: our time in Delhi and our time in Kerala. We spent 6 days in Delhi before heading south to Kerala to meet up with Scott’s sister, Jennifer, and her fiancé, Karoon. We had been looking forward to seeing them in India our entire trip and it was amazing to be able to travel with them and Karoon’s family (which is now our family too – marriage has a pretty cool way of joining families). Our experience in India would have been completely different if we had not met up with the Mackencherys and we are so grateful they welcomed us into the family as one of their own. 

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India tested our patience. It could be exhilarating and terrifying all at once. India can be raw, intense, overwhelming and chaotic – it is also beautiful, full of kindness, eye-opening, and oh so colorful. I cannot un-see some of the things I saw, but I’m not sure I would ever want to. My perspective of the world has been changed forever and India holds a special place in my heart. We both really loved our time in India. It was possibly one of the hardest places we have traveled so far, but the positives far outweighed the negatives. We really loved our time in this incredible country.

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Places Visited

Delhi, Agra, Cochin, Ballussery, Ottapalam, Calicut, Vayittiri, Alleppey

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Things We Liked

Traveling with family, food, not having to plan accommodations or logistics for a while, head wobbling, Kerala and the South, houseboats, New Years Eve, being with locals/people who knew the language (!), hospitality, and the Delhi Holiday Inn (it was like no other Holiday Inn I have ever seen).

The food was one of the best cuisines we have experienced. I never got tired of Indian food and I can’t wait to find all the good places back in Denver when we get home! 

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Things We Disliked

Trash, dirtiness, trash fires, pollution, serious fog, Delhi, con-artists all over Delhi, constantly being on our toes, hard beds, worrying about getting sick, moving around a lot, Christmas away from home, getting sick (a virus not Delhi belly – miraculously we avoided stomach problems in India), and less than ideal showers.

Many of the things that we disliked about India are specific to our time in Delhi – we just really had a hard time liking that place.

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It just looks like a bad photo, but the fog was really so bad you could not see 5 feet in front of the car.

Highlights

1. Family 

As mentioned above we traveled with Jennifer (my sister-in-law), Karoon (my soon to be brother-in-law), and Karoon’s family (the Mackencherys). Traveling with them around India was by far one of the most genuine and authentic experiences we have had to date. Their family opened up their homes, fed us, and shared their lives with us. We were blown away with the generosity we were shown and we are so appreciative! Special thanks to Shermi and Suresh for being so amazing to us.

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2. Taj Mahal

Our main objective in traveling to Delhi was to make our way to the famed Taj Mahal. We aborted our plans to take the train and opted for a private driver to take us to Agra and back. Unfortunately the dense Delhi fog that happens this time of year made an appearance the day we drove to Agra and it was terrifying. You could not see more than 5 feet in any direction. I wrote about our experience in detail at the Taj Mahal in another post found here.IMG_1569

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3. Houseboat

The Mackencherys rented a houseboat in Allepey and we cruised through the Kerala backwaters. It was one of the first days we spent in Kerala and it was a great introduction into such a beautiful place and a stark contrast to our chaotic city experience in Delhi. We had so much fun this day enjoying the scenery, playing games, eating/drinking well, and watching the boats cruise past. This day was very long with nearly 8 hours (9 hours? Who knows!) spent in a mini-bus with little air conditioning, but the boat was so fun I have forgotten all about that! It was a highlight of our time in India.

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Lowlights

1. Delhi

Delhi was our first stop in India. At this point, we have been a lot of places – many with high levels of poverty – and maybe we underestimated the culture shock we would experience. Obviously we are on a budget and our trip to India was no exception (although maybe it should have been the exception). We were dropped off at our hotel in the middle of the city centre and in the midst of chaos at 1 am. If we had not been so tired we might have put up a fight about this place…dirty/stained sheets on the bed and excessive noise waking us up every 30 minutes (it sounded like a construction site existed one floor above our room).

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Walking was near impossible in the city and I felt infinitely safer in an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) than on my own two feet. It felt as everyone was trying to scam us and we have never felt so on edge. It was uncomfortable, unpleasant and I will never return to Delhi again. It did not help that I had a virus and was sick our entire time in Delhi. After several days in the budget hotel we checked into the Holiday Inn as a Christmas present to ourselves. We spent two days at the hotel recovering from sickness, getting past culture shock, and celebrating Christmas away from home.

I am incredibly grateful this was not my entire experience in India. India is so much more than our experience in Delhi (and I wish we could redo Delhi because it is probably unfair to view Delhi the way we do). India is such a big and diverse country I can hardly wrap my head around it. We headed south and our experience could not have been any more different. I do not regret our time in Delhi as it was one of the most eye-opening and humbling experiences from our trip, but I am certainly glad I do not have to go back either!

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2. Trash

There have been a lot of countries that we have complained about the amount of trash everywhere. India took this to an entirely new level. Trash littered every street/open space you saw and every few steps there was another trash fire.

In the US we are able to put our trash on the street and then it disappears to places most of us don’t like to think too hard about. Burning trash in India is a common practice. This causes a wide range of problems including the introduction of dangerous particulates and toxins in the air and causes many health issues. It was hard to see trash and trash fires everywhere you went.

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Other Happenings

Partying with the Indians

There was a small party at Karoon’s grandparents house (a housewarming of sorts – renovations on the house had recently been completed) and we were invited! Jen and I were outfitted in Salwar Khameez and the guys in lungis. Apparently Scott looked as if he had been born to wear a lungi as he was complimented on his appearance so many times — unfortunately as he was learning to tie his longer version of the lungi into the short version Scott’s Iphone fell out of his shirt pocket and shattered upon hitting the ground. The driveway was covered with huge, beautiful colored tents and they were really stunning. A traditional lunch was served on banana leaves, people sat down in shifts to eat, and of course the proper way was to eat with our hands (we were well practiced at this point). The party was over as quickly as it started and it was wonderful to be included in the fun.

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NYE 2017

We rang in the New Year in India and it was one of my favorite NYE nights I have ever had. Usually I feel like NYE is so overrated because there is so much pressure to find the best event, dress up and have the greatest night. It ends up costing a ton of money and isn’t my favorite. This year was so low key and it tuned our perfect. It started with the guys heading to the “liquor store” — the state of Kerala is dry so alcohol is not easy to come by. I wasn’t there so I can’t talk about the liquor store too much, but I am sure Scott could write an entire blog post about what that was like. They had to wait in a line to get up to a fenced off area where they keep the hooch. Upon arrival home everyone changed and showered before they felt clean again. I hear it was very memorable.AFE90D86-194E-4EC5-9D4D-018BCB0D9CFE

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We sat on the porch for hours drinking, talking, and trying to find a countdown to use. We finally ate some dinner just after 12:30 am and then went to bed. It was the most low key night and it was perfect in my mind. Cheers to a great 2016 and we are looking forward to what next year brings as well!  

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Family Photos

A professional photographer was brought in to do family photos. We were in them and we were welcomed into open arms into the photo session — we even have a nice prom style photo to keep forever! The pictures are our favorites and hopefully one day I get the digital copies (I have a few pictures of a pictures that are not terrible). After we were in the family photo we were sure they would take one without the random, not so random white kids (at least Scott and I), but we are in them and I love them. Thanks for welcoming us into the family — we are forever thankful.

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The Stats

Total Number of Nights: 17

Languages: Malayalam, Hindi, and English

Currency: $1 USD = 67.8 Indian Rupee (INR)

Number of Miles Traveled:  8,200 (including our flight Melbourne and Malaysia)

Number of Miles Walked:  83.8 miles (average of 6 miles per day)

Steps Taken:  180,246 steps (average of about 12,875 per day)

Transportation Used: Car, houseboat, tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw), taxi, Uber, van

Type of Accommodations: Hotel (5), house (2 places—4 beds), plane — overnight flight (1)

Number of Beds: 10 (!) – the most beds in one country to date

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Scott got a job at an Indian hotel for a day
Scott got tired of unemployment
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Yoga in Vythiri Village

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Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

We arrived in Delhi with one goal in mind – to make it to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is the famous ivory-white masoleum completed in 1653. Before arriving in India we did some research, consulted a lot of travel blogs, and crafted a plan for seeing the Taj Mahal. We would take the train to Agra in the morning (location of the Taj), see the Taj Mahal, stay the night in Agra, and take the train back to Delhi the next morning. Other travelers have had a good experience with trains in India and they are relatively safe when compared to driving the same route since the roads are not great in India (this news story a month before we arrived did not totally make us comfortable (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38041755), but we were ready for the adventure nonetheless! Side note: All of the good photos in this blog were taken by Scott and all the rest were taken by my phone 🙂

Photo credit: Scott

To Train or Not to Train and the Great Delhi Fog

The Indian train system is really confusing and tickets tend to sell out in advance…naturally even with this knowledge we did not plan ahead. The online ticketing system is the most frustrating thing we have ever used (props to Scott for trying so hard) and we ended up needing to make a visit to the Delhi Train Station either way. We ended up with round-trip tickets to Agra 3rd class for the next day. We would have liked to go 1st or 2nd class, but we are no divas! We started to do some thinking and more research…maybe we aren’t as adventurous as some of these travel bloggers. We aren’t total divas, but we also value our space, safety, and relative comfort. Maybe we made a mistake. As we started to backtrack, I also started to feel sicker by the minute. It was really terrible timing to come down with a virus. Our train tickets ended up going unused and we hired a driver to take us to Agra to see the sites and then drive us back to Delhi. I had read that this time of year there could be VERY dense fog and it can delay trains, planes, and cars. Of course I assumed that it would not be a problem for us.

Our driver picked us up at 6 am sharp. He told us the drive should take 2.5-4 hours depending on the fog. This was the first red flag, but I continued to think that the journey would be like any other. Around 30 minutes into our trip we experienced the dense, thick Delhi fog that occurs this time of year. It was terrifying. You could not see anything. All the cars put on their flashers to drive through, but you could only see about 5 feet in any direction. The fog was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I was ready to ask the driver to pull over and wait it out the next few hours, but he insisted that he did this all the time and reassured us that he knew was he was doing (our driver was awesome!). After 4 hours of intense anxiety (maybe I was the only one panicking, but that is besides the point) we had arrived in Agra and were at the Taj Mahal!

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The Taj

As we walked up to the Taj Mahal, it looked like a backdrop to a movie and it hardly looked real. Even with the hoards of people when we arrived it was really incredible. Entering the Taj Mahal was overwhelming so we were very thankful we had a guide to help us get tickets and navigate the security lines. There is a line for Indians and a line for foreigners — the foreigners line was much shorter than the line for Indians, but the tickets cost about 25 times more. This causes a bit of frustration among backpackers in India, but it is what it is. We did get to skip the line to get into the Taj Mahal that all of the Indians had to wait in, were given free shoe covers, and a free water bottle. The Indian tourists did not have any of these luxuries. It did make us feel a bit bad skipping the lines, but we did pay an outrageous amount in comparison to the Indian tourists.

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Our guide told us that it was unusually crowded the day we went and there was people everywhere. If this trip has taught me anything it would be some serious patience. Also, our guide turned out to be a very enthusiastic Iphone photographer who would not let us leave without taking all of the perfect shots. At times he even told others to move out of the way so he could get the shot…it was a bit embarrassing, but I glad that we don’t have only a selfie (they just aren’t as good as a real photo).

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This is embarrassing…

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We put on our shoe coverings to be able to actually walk into the Taj Mahal since no shoes are allowed. It was unexpected that for a building that looks so big from the outside that it is surprisingly small inside — it is basically just two tombs inside. That is all. Although it was not big it was awesome to walk inside and be able to look at all the details such as carvings and all of the white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.IMG_1543

Agra Fort

In addition to the Taj Mahal, we also made it to the Agra Fort (which admittedly I had never heard of until we went). It is an amazing red sandstone fort built in 1573 and it is beautiful in an entirely different way. I am glad we made the stop here, but I was equally glad to be getting back on the road for Delhi. We arrived back at our hotel around 9 pm – it was a really long day.

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The Taj Mahal was stunning. I am so grateful we had the opportunity to see it in person. I am also grateful we did not have to brave the Indian train system, especially while I was sick. Will I ever go back? Probably not. Some things should just be left at once in a lifetime and for me this is one of those things.

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