17 March 2013

The Death Train: Udaipur to Jaipur

Without a doubt, the best part of my trip to India was sharing the experience with my best friend Jaime. Jimmy (as most people call him) and I grew up playing tennis together. Regardless of how long it has been, we always pick things up as if time stood still. Jimmy is like a brother to me. He is the wittiest person I know. And no matter what situations we face together, he always finds a way to make my stomach hurt from laughter.
India will test your patience, your humanity, and your comfort zone. And when we were unable to find a first-class reservation for an overnight train from Udaipur to Jaipur, I couldn’t think of a better person than Jimmy to tackle the challenge with me. I am by no means a fancy traveler, but second and third class overnight train travel in India is quite the experience. And experience we would.

The person at the ticket counter made a mistake and booked our ticket for March 19 as opposed to January 19. Who knew that one simple 3 (for March) as opposed to a 1 (for January) would have such deep implications?

Five minutes before the train departed we realized the mistake as we were kicked out of our seats by a group of guys who said we were taking their place.  They kindly pointed out that our tickets were for March 19th and said we would have to change it before the train departed, otherwise we’d have to pay a fine of 10 times the ticket.

I didn’t know if that statement was true, and I didn’t want to find out. We stepped off the train and purchased another ticket with literally minutes to spare.

I was given two general-class tickets with no seat assignment.  The train departed from Udaipur at 10:20 and would arrive in Jaipur at six in the morning.  Without assigned seats we kept bouncing from one place to another as more people boarded the train and kicked us out of our seats. 

Okay, you might be thinking “big deal, doesn’t sound bad” but I forgot to mention the temperatures had dropped to below freezing.  These trains had no heaters or any kind of insulation whatsoever.  To make matters worse, all the broken windows allowed the Siberian like wind to zip through from every direction. 

We had no sleeping bags, no blankets, no nothing. The best thing about the situation was that we couldn’t do anything about it. There was no body we could complain to, and no place we could stop. It was what it was, and that was that.

Jimmy and I pulled up our hoodies, tried in vain to use our bags as blankets, and just basically started at each other. Neither of us could sleep, and we didn’t have the energy to say much. We just looked at each other thinking “is this really happening?”

To make things even better, Jimmy and I were convinced that some of our fellow passengers were some sort of hybrid mammal.  I don’t think a wild pig could have been louder than the guy to our left. And there was another passenger sleeping directly above us with some serious bowel movement issues. At one point I looked at Jimmy and said “this is eltren de la muerte (the death train)” I wasn’t exactly sure if our deaths would come from the chemical particles in the air, or if we were going to start losing our toes to frostbite and then gradually our limbs.

After eight hours of listening to Eye of the Tiger on repeat and some intense imagery of Bear Grylls yelling at us for being such a “pair of pansies”, we arrived in Jaipur.

I felt like we had arrived at Everest’s summit, the end of an Iron man marathon, the last stage of the Paris Dakar. Whatever lay ahead didn’t matter. We were in Jaipur and we were rewarded with the best coffee in the world. A 20-cent cup of “Indian railways” coffee! I tell you…. Best coffee in the world!

First Class Accommodations. Life is good. Little did we know what lay ahead :-)

About to enter "the death train"
El Tren De La Muerte

Trying to keep our spirits high

We made it! V for Victory. V for my fingers are frozen and are permanently locked in this position

Never did a coffee tasted soooooo good!

10 March 2013

India: First Impressions

My trip to India came at a particular time. Tensions between India and neighboring Pakistan were at a boiling point,(Nothing new with that one) especially after some allegations surfaced of a Pakistani soldier being killed by Indian armed forces.
In addition to that incident, there was the rape case that plagued the news of the Indian medical student attacked and gang-raped by 4 guys while taking a bus in Delhi. Needless to say, I'd be lying if I said these troubling news were not in the back of my mind as I was purchasing my Dubai-Delhi ticket.

Whenever I’d tell people I was going to India, I loved hearing their reactions. They were either “why would you want to go there”? or “That is awesome, I’ve always wanted to go there”.
What I discovered with India, is that most people either love it or hate it. India is one of those countries that you either get or you don’t.  I was pretty sure I’d fall into the first group but had no idea what to expect.

If I were to describe India in one word it would be LOCO; in two, Muy Loco; in three, muy muy Loco. But I think to best describe the 7th largest country in the world, I need four words: shock to your senses

I have never been under the influence of any drugs, but immediately after stepping out of Indira's Ghandi international terminal, I felt like I was under the influence of something.
The smells, the colors, the noise, the chaos, the craziness, rickshaw drivers coming out from all different directions, buses, cars, bicycles, dogs, monkeys,  you name it.
India is a happening place.  It might not be the kind of happening place one might experience in say Rome, or Sao Paolo, and sure it looks a lot different, but believe me when I say it, this country is full of life.

I think from all the places I could have come from into India, Dubai was probably the most drastic contrast I could have experienced. I was coming from the land of the impossible. The land where money can almost buy it all. I loved that about the trip. I loved I was coming from the country of surplus and extravagant wealth to the country of "resourcefulness, scrappiness and survival". 

I plan on writing a lot more about this unique country, but for the time being I just want to cover my first impressions. For the most part I would say I am grateful we live in a time where information and news is almost instantaneous and infinite. My fear though, is that if we were to psych ourselves out with every single report that comes out of CNN or Fox or whatever, we might as well just lock ourselves up and never leave our houses.  I guess what I'm trying to say is I am so thankful I sticked to the plan and experience India. I'd say I covered maybe 10% of the country (if that) but it was enough to changed me, enough to make a lasting impression, enough to make it a place I'd like to come back to. For now and stealing the words from Alanis Morissete I'd just like to say "thank you India"

Colors of India
Udaipur. The "Venice" of India
Faces of India

Face painting India Style

Mosque in Delhi

King's cemetery. Udaipur

Market Place

One of the seven wonders

Agra Fort

So thankful we never got the infamous "Delhi belly"

Inside the city palace in Udaipur
Red fort. Delhi
Amber Fort. Jaipur
Inside the fort

Lotus Temple
India Gate. Delhi