When I came back to work after three weeks of winter holiday, we were bombarded with busyness. January is often characterized by high school exams, but in this particular case, our school was preparing for government observations as part of an annual rating system which determines school merit. Restful weekends, which I cherish, were non-existent; instead, these were replaced by any preparation for the upcoming observation that we had not been able to fit in earlier in the week.
I paused here, and laugh to myself, as I was about to blame my lack of blogging throughout this past academic year on this month alone. It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to write, or let alone, be inspired to write on this blog. Dubai carries a familiarity of Kuwait that has not resulted in any profound cultural musings on my end. What it also carries, in addition to Middle Eastern familiarity, is energy. It is fast-paced. Hectic. Exhausting, even. Which resulted in me hitting the ground running during the the first four months of the school year, and did not seem to stop until winter break arrived.
This post is an attempt to connect to the original intention of this blog, a space to collect my thoughts as I adventure out into the world. So to stay true to this purpose, I’ve decided to write about my winter holiday to India, Myanmar, and Thailand. But, as these three countries seem to have been their own individual mini trips, I will begin with India in this post, and (hopefully) venture towards the other two countries in separate posts eventually.
I went to India on a four day trip, with the sole purpose to see the Taj Mahal. I booked a three day tour through G Adventures, which would begin in New Delhi, move to Agra the next morning, and a return to New Delhi the following day.
Before traveling to India, my understanding of this sub-continent was characterized by a few things:
- The Cheetah Girls: One World
- a Canadian travel television show called Departures
- this song
- the lone book I read that was set in India, titled Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
And other than word of mouth from friends who had traveled there, clearly, I had varied expectations. Above all else, I was bracing myself. The common thread amongst all descriptors I had heard of India was that it would be sensory overload. India was busy. India was loud. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t preemptively overwhelmed. And as a I reflect on this trip in hindsight, I’d say it was everything I imagined it to be, and so much more. It was also, to a large extent, like being on reality tv. So here’s a breakdown of this adventure, day by day:
Kelsey and I booked a red-eye flight into Delhi, which was set to arrive for 4:45am. We managed to secure seats in the emergency exit row, which was nice, as we scored a bit more leg room than the rest of our flights on the trip. I settled into my seat, and started listening to some music in the hopes that I would zone out and quickly go to sleep.
I noticed a flight attendant move in front of my row, so I took the headphones out of my ears to listen to their routine emergency exit aisle speech. As I looked up to listen to the flight attendant, I was confused by what I observed. The flight attendant, who was in fact giving the emergency exit speech, was not giving it to me. Instead, he was addressing the man next to me about the precautions he should take in case of emergency. I glanced at Kelsey to see if she had noticed this as well. Kelsey, who was seated in the window seat of this row, arguably the most important person to address this information to, was not being informed of the safety precautions either. The only person this information was directed to was to the only man in the seat. What the?????????
When this lovely debacle was finished, Kelsey and I turned to each other. Did that really just happen? We laughed it off – what else can anyone really do in the face of pure misogyny, and move on. We buckled our seatbelts (both literally and metaphorically) for the adventure that was about to unfold.
We arrived in Delhi a few hours later and made it through customs and baggage claim with relative ease. When we arrived at our hotel, there was a bit of a hiccup with checking in. The short version of this story is that, while we had pre-booked a room ahead of time, the hotel had no rooms to accommodate us. Kelsey and I, now running on very little sleep and very little food, were exhausted, and now we felt stranded. We felt like we were on an episode of Naked and Afraid, except with clothes on.
When this was finally sorted, we were escorted to our room. We were elated.
I reached the room, moving the key card to the door pad. Green light – success. As I pushed open the door, Kelsey and I paused. There was a man in the room, sitting at the table. “Hello?” we said, confused. “It’s been such a long night, and I had to get work done,” he replied. “I’m just so tired.” “Did you take a nap?” Kelsey responded. He did look exhausted, but why was he in our room? “No, no, I did not nap. I will leave now. ” And with that, he was gone. If I didn’t already think we were on Naked & Afraid, I was certain we were now on MTV’s Punk’d. Ashton Kutcher was welcome to come out any time now.
Kelsey and I finally got some long overdue sleep, and woke up hours later feeling much better than when we arrived earlier that morning. We had the afternoon to ourselves to explore Delhi, as our tour began officially the next morning. We decided to check out a local market and eat at a restaurant that came recommended by our tour.
Delhi is a city in India that is home to 19 million people. To put this in perspective, Canada is home to 36 million. Kelsey and I had learned this fact before our trip, and for this reason, we were bracing ourselves for our trip to the night market, anticipating that it would be hectic, crowded, and busy. Kelsey summed this up in one sentence, within a few minutes of us walking in the market: “Mahboula prepared us for this.” Our neighbourhood in Kuwait, home to many Indian immigrants, made a lot more sense now.
We eventually reached the restaurant, Kitchen with a Cause, and had the opportunity to try some local Indian cuisine. I will admit, I was never a huge fan of Indian food before this trip. I have little tolerance for spicy food, and so I never really considered trying Indian food because of this. However, being in the heart of Delhi at that moment, there was no better time than the present to indulge in Indian classics. I ordered the butter chicken – I know, the most Westernized type of Indian food I could get, but hey – you gotta start somewhere!
Kelsey ordered a vegetable dish, which was delicious, and also, spicy. After dinner, we took a taxi back to our hotel, and went to bed.
On our second day in India, we woke up early as we had a long day ahead of us. We ventured upstairs to the top floor for breakfast. It was still garnished with wedding decorations from the wedding that booked out all of the hotel rooms the previous night. I don’t know what I ate for breakfast, but I took a picture of it for reference.
Our first adventure of the morning was a youth-led tour from the G Adventures supported City Walk project. The tours are conducted by former at-risk youth from Delhi. This was a really insightful tour that shed light on the programs and advocacy groups that exist in Delhi to help get children off the street. I didn’t take any pictures while on this tour, as it did not seem appropriate, with the exception of this picture of a cow in the street. Everyone who talks about India mentions how there are cows in the street, and so here you have it, a cow:
We concluded this tour and hopped in the car to go to Agra.
Once we were out of Delhi, I was able to observe a more pastoral version of India that I had not yet seen. The traffic subsided and the landscape moved from city skylines to wide spaces, green fields, and a heavier presence of animal life.
We arrived to Agra that evening, and met our tour guide for this portion of the trip. He took us to see the Baby Taj, a mausoleum build before the Taj Mahal, by Queen Nur Jahan for her father.
We wrapped up this part of the tour as the sun set, and went back to our hotel for dinner.
When we checked into our hotel, we breathed a sigh of relief. It did not have the same Naked and Afraid qualities of the hotel in Delhi, and for that we were grateful. Hungry from the drive, we went to the hotel restaurant to grab dinner.
The restaurant was empty, aside from a table of three men sitting across the room. Kelsey and I placed our drink order, and started to look at dinner options on the menu. We chatted about our adventures of that day, unpacking what we learned on the city walk and at Baby Taj. As we were perusing our dinner options, this silence was interrupted a man at the other table. In the midst of their dinner, one of the men quite literally, lifted up his leg and let out a HUGE FART.
Kelsey and I looked at each other, stunned. “Did that actually just happen?” I asked Kelsey. “I can’t.” Kelsey responded. I started to laugh. And then Kelsey started to laugh. And then I continued to laugh until I was crying. “I can’t believe he farted at the table!” I said, wiping the tears from my eyes. “Where is Ashton Kutcher?” Kelsey replied.
I was able to compose myself after a few minutes, until good old Flatulence Fred struck again, with another loud release. Cue the tears. I still don’t know what to make of this. His friends weren’t even phased. Our laughter didn’t even draw attention. I felt as if I was in an alternate universe.
Today was the day that we would see the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj is located in Agra, a smaller city with a population of 1.5 million people. Here are some pictures I captured on this day:
We spent a few hours at the Taj Mahal, soaking up the history, and exploring the grounds. We finished our day at the Agra Fort. This was really cool, and quite massive.
Once we finished the Agra Fort, we hopped in the car and headed back to the Delhi.
We got the opportunity in this car ride to bond with the driver we had been with throughout the past day and a half. He told us about his life and family in Delhi. I had to laugh, however, upon his response when he asked us what we did for a living, to which he stated: “Teaching. That’s a nice job for a woman!” Again, what can ya do (*shrug*).
This brought us to the end of our tour with G Adventures. We had one more night at the hotel in Delhi, and then most of the next day to spend in Delhi before our flight to Bangkok later the next evening.
On our final day in Delhi, we decided to site see some spots around the city that had come up a lot on Google searches of the area. This included the Ghandi museum, the Lotus Temple, and the Delhi Gate. At the front desk we arranged for a taxi that would take us to these locations, and then drop us off at the airport. We agreed on a price and went from there.
What the front desk failed to tell us, was that the President of India would be traveling around the city of Delhi on this day, and that all of these locations we were hoping to see would be closed. Our driver, who spoke no English, also was not able to communicate this to us, and so for the large part of the afternoon, we really left our day up to fate and our driver, who still attempted to drive us by these locations, if only for a look. This happens sometimes in travel, what can ya really do.
On our way between one location to another, we found ourselves at a complete standstill in traffic with hundreds of other vehicles. I opened my Kindle to pass the time more quickly, but something still felt off.
This traffic went beyond a typical bumper to bumper madness. What we soon realized is that in this stretch of hundreds of cars, each car had their engine turned off. For the first time on our trip, it was quiet.
Across the median, there were no cars. We learned that the road had been blocked off for the President of India to pass through. And lo and behold, shortly after we were all paused, looking to the other side of the road, a large stretch of cars drove by to accompany the President of India. What power one must have to bring the traffic in a city of millions to a complete halt.
After this, Kelsey and I decided to cut our losses, and head to the airport early. We weren’t going to be able to see anymore sites, and we preferred to be in a place of relative comfort rather than the back of a cab. We arrived at the Delhi airport hours early, got some Costa Coffee, and dove into our books to pass the time before we could check in to our next flight.
India was an adventure. It was definitely the most challenging place I have traveled to date. It has the unique power to humble those who travel it. I am grateful for the experience, as only a place like India, could warrant so many funny stories to share afterwards, within the span of a four day trip.