Monday, November 9, 2009

Travel least one group's perspective

Half of us on travel break (Dianna, Susan, Bryan, and John) went on quite an adventure. We all met in Bangalore to visit with global and while they had class all day we spent the day exploring the city of Bangalore. It was an interestingly western side of India with shopping malls and a wonderful NASA themed bar (that only played Michael Jackson music). It was great to see some new faces and old friends before flying to Jaipur the next day. In Jaipur, we visited the largest sundial in the world and the Temple of the Sun God to watch the sunset over the city before we had a nice dinner and boarded the train to Jaisalmer.

Largest sundial in the world...accurate to 2 seconds (local time)
Sunset over Jaipur

When in Jaisalmer, we spent the first afternoon exploring the city and setting up our camel safari! We went through Mister Desert, who is by far one of the coolest Indians we have met. The night before our embarkment we stayed in a 400 year old haveli that used to be occupied by the master teachers of the town. It was inside the fort and yielded some of the best views from the roof. It was a beautiful place to stay and prepare for our adventure. Then, the camel safari was awesome: three days and two nights in the desert camping each night under the stars on some beautiful isolated sand dunes that were far from the main tourist camps. It was wonderful and peaceful and also caused for some sore legs from not being used to saddle riding. Sadly one of us had to leave us early on the second day due to illness, but on the bright side, made a full recovery in a hotel set up by Mister Desert. Our stay in the desert and Jaisalmer will be one to fill the memory bank, but alas, our train came to take us to Agra (and apparently the time table changed, so our train was 25 minutes early, right when we got to the station we got to jump on the moving train).

On our way to Jaipur, we came to realize the Taj Mahal would be closed on Friday so instead of spending Thursday at the Bird Sanctuary, we took a bus to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. Agra was one of the worst cities we had ever been to when it comes to taking tourists for all the money they possibly can. Rickshaw drivers get commission inj so many places and people are deceitful and cunning when trying to earn your business. There was one rickshaw driver who told us the truth about everything, and after talking with him for a while, we found out he came in from Jaipur and was just trying to earn a living for his family back there. It was one of the few rickshaw drivers we were happy to pay, and even add a little tip for being such an honest person and taking us only where we wanted to go. The restaurants were by far the most expensive we had eaten at in India and that includes the upscale restaurants in Kodai and Vellore. Some of the food was really good, like at Zorba the Buddhist restaurant. All in all, Agra seems overrated (at least in my perspective, I can't really speak for the whole group). Luckily our next day in Bharatpur was worth the trouble in Agra!

Bharatpur: the home of Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary. This was a beautiful place, and luckily John convinced us all to hire a naturalist for the day. Our naturalist, Deepak, was the best tour guide we have ever experienced! He wasn't about just showing us the different sites in a regular tour of the park, he absolutely loves his job and his favorite hobby is bird watching. He brought us around to various spots and would spot birds that we couldn't imagine ever seeing, he would point the telescope at them and it would be like we were inches from the birds. We saw a black-shouldered kite tear apart a mouse, multiple eagles and owls, and a number of other native birds. It was one of the most peaceful days (especially after Agra) being away from people who viewed us as bags of money and being around Deepak who truly wanted to share this place with us. He wanted us to have a tremendous experience for the day. Anyway, after the day was done, we went back to the hotel and got ready for our 36 hours of travel to Darjeeling: Agra to Delhi, and Delhi to Darjeeling!
What a train ride/ finally arrive at Darjeeling. We met an awesome group of Poles who shared a jeep with us from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling. They were fun to talk to and get to know on the three hour ride. Then, alas in Darjeeling, we have mostly been enjoying the atmosphere of coolness (almost cooler than Kodai), enjoying our three star homestay (very fancy from the guesthouses/apartments we are used to), enjoying the mountainous views (including sunrise at Tiger Hill) and finally enjoying the fine Tibetan culture mixed in with India. We are still here at Darjeeling, and we will take the toy train in the morning to New Jalpaiguri, and from there train to Kolkata and finally fly back to Chennai. Back to the reality of education. But until then, we plan on relaxing and enjoying the cold climate. It's the last we will see until Minnesota/Montana.

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