Saturday, March 26, 2011

Friday - Saturday: Varanassi!


Friday, March 25, 2011 – Kanha Morning/Transport to Jabapur/Overnight Train to Varanassi

Since the last entry we got went to the train station and got on the train. It was one of those feelings I will definitely not forget. It was like something straight out of a movie. So dirty, and cramped, and filled with flies, and people sleeping on floors, and climbing through windows into the trains. The trains would come through and smell so bad and we couldn’t figure out why… then we looked down. The trains “bathrooms” are holes in the ground and the poop and pee just falls through and hits whatever is under it. So, the whole station is just filled with human fecal matter on the groudJ how appetizing, eh?
We were the only lighter skinned people in the station and then a group of five backpackers ran up to us and asked for help. I felt bad for them but at the same time it was so funny. They spotted us and relief flooded their faces, like “Oh, white people! They can help us!” It made me appreciated being here with our professors and guides and not just backpacking here for sport… I think I’ll stick to Europe or the West for that.
The train is quite the experience. Thankfully, ours is a nicer one that is more for middle to upper class people to ride. This ride is a 12 hour one, so we are going to sleep in shifts so that we can watch each other and our stuff. None of us want to split up so w crammed eight people into four seats and have been playing cards all night. We just ate our boxed dinners from the hotel but nobody really ate. I think we are all just sick of Indian food. It isn’t even that it is bad or too spicy, I really loved it at first. I was actually surprised by how much I liked it and adapted to it (for the most part). But, it is just all the same after a while, lots of carbs and spice. All we do is plan the order of things we are going to do when we get back Tuesday… shower, eat, workout, shower, eat, shower, sleep. You get the idea.
Anyways, we are entertaining each other for now until we get to the cities. Everyone is so excited, (with the exception of a few Debbie’s… but everyone ignores them anyways J) which helps keep the momentum going for us who have been here all month and are exhausted.
Okay, so now it's bed time.. we were supposed to spread out and go find each of our bunks. That lasted all of five minutes and we came running back to each other! It's not fun being alone with your luggage (okay, we weren't alone, just not right next to each other). So we all crammed into one "compartment". We have the funniest pictures of all of us in little twin beds and scrunched under suitcases and floors. We look like we are in a concentration camp or something. Anyways, no sleep for us due to the uncomfortable circumstances and creepy Indian men next to us that we are convinced will steal our stuff!

The rest of this will be very short since I didn't pretype it.
Saturday: we get to our beautiful hotel and set out (without showering) to go see Buddhism world heritage sites. They were very cool and serene? I guess that's the best word for it. We got to see monks doing all sorts of celebrations there which made it even more moving. Religion is such a powerful tool and one can learn from every religion on earth. I think that may be one lesson I have learned the most while being here. Takako, a japanese Clemson allumi, is with us right now on the trip. She actually founded Tigers for Tigers in SC. She has been here trying to pass a tiger conservation law since February 27th, so she has watched her country, family, and friends suffer via television. Anyways, she is Buddhist, and today was her first time at these sites that are so viral to her beliefs. It was amazing to see her strength and belief in her spirituality as she prayed on the stupa and broke down in the most graceful and strong way a person could. It's inspiring what she has done for all of us and made me realize how lucky we are to have her to learn from. I wish I could put this into words better, I guess it's a "had to be there" moment?
Anyways, after Buddha time it was spa time.. sorry whoever's gift money that was.. my pedicure was more important than your Indian goods:)
Next, we went to the Ganges River to experience one of the coolest religious ceremonies I think on the planet. Every night 70,000 people come to the river to watch a group of priests dance and pray while they let candles and flowers out towards the water. We got to watch from a boat, which made the whole scene even more awesome. My pictures and video will help explain the situation, but it was nuts that literally EVERY NIGHT all those people come out and do this. 

4:45am wakeup call tomorrow to go back to the river and watch a funeral... should be interesting. :)
LOVE YOU

here are a few pics from the past week, i don't have much from today cause i haven't uploaded all of them!

holi pre-fest

holi mid-fest, we thought it was the end.. HA!

the almost finished holi:)

just for you daddy, a white-breasted kingfisher

our beautiful momma:)

oh you know, just some tribal dancing

Georgia, Dr. Tonkyn, and I?

Me letting my candle in the Ganges River

Friday, March 25, 2011

UPDATE!!!! Saturday through Friday


I found random interent at the train station! We have 15 minutes so no pictures but I will try to type as much as possible. I have kept up with my paper journal but not my internet one so this is a short short version after saturday's entry. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011 – Transporting & Arrival to Bandhavgarh

            Today started out with a 3:30am wake up call and a new roomie, Carmony. We got along pretty well for the five hours we were together but she has turned out today to surprise me and be a really awesome friend/person. The flight to Jabapur was very smooth and sleepy for me, considering Carmony and I were running on two hours of sleep. After we arrived, we got in SUV’s to start a four hour drive to the National Park of Bandhavgarh. In my car was my Indian driver, Sean, and Georgia. We actually had a really great time and it was beautiful scenery of the desert. Three hours into the trip we got stopped by a band of drunk men. We were the first car in the line of SUV’s that our group of now twenty had taken and we were cruising windows down and arms out… bad idea. They jumped up on our car, very wasted and some even bleeding. They demanded money and were reaching in to grab us. Luckily Sean and and the driver were together in the front seat and fought them off while we locked the doors and put the windows up. Our car got away free but the ones behind us didn’t get so lucky and had to bribe with money. But, after that it was smooth sailing!
            Once we got to the park we got our new room assignments and Jennifer (the grad student) joined Carmony and I. This entire park is a huge five star resort. It is so beautiful, a mix of the Sanibel houses and the Tuscan country sides of Italy with a splash of jungle flora. That’s the best way to describe it. Holi Festival is tomorrow too, so everything is ten times more colorful. It is so nice to have a room and bathroom big enough to prance around in after we come back from jungle safaris, even if there is no air conditioning. That’s another thing, it is so much hotter here than in Nepal. It is 90ish degrees and so dry, my backside is constantly sweating (lovely right?) and I am not the only one! Everyone is always sweaty and hot, but it doesn’t even bother us because we are so excited to be here it doesn’t even matter.
            Anyways, we went on a four hour jeep safari and it was really nice and full of wildlife. We saw a tiger from VERY far away but it is much more touristy here so there 50 jeeps crowding it and I think it was scared. So, no good looks. Hopefully tomorrow! The jeeps here are much more uncomfortable but I still managed to fall asleep in them and so did about five others. I know I should be way too excited to sleep but I could barely function. It was kind of funny. One of the girls was just holding on to me cause apparently I kept falling out and so did the other girl on the other side. Woops! After our ride we had dinner and now we are going to bed.
            Tomorrow is holi fesival so a bunch of us are getting up to run the hiking trails before it starts and then it is color time! The parks and all businesses are closed to honor the festival so it’s a relaxing day for us… which is great because after the festival and lunch I am hitting the hammocks and all the terrace swings that overlook the desert/jungle and getting some journaling done!
LOVE YOU!
Maria

Sunday, March 20, 2011 – Holi Festival in Bandhavgarh
SO FREAKING AWESOME! My pictures are so amazing (mom, i put a plastic baggy over my precious camera/life savings. I couldn't miss this pic op). We got up and did some yoga in the garden and then got dressed in all white and had all kinds of fun. The natives really got into it and we have a really great video of them teaching me how to dance! So much fun. They showed us all their fun rituals and we looked like crazy monsters by the end. Later that night we had tribal dances and a "barbeque" jungle style. It was really a cool experience to see the culture and bond with the natives over some brews. 

Monday, March 21, 2011 – Bandhavgarh
Full day of game drives per jeep.. great pics. I got super sick in the afternoon and remained sick for about 36 hours. It was super scary but one of the adults that joined the indian portion is a nurse and he cared for me. I was in bed all afternoon and night and through the next  morning until Kahna. I was the first one sick and I only missed one game drive (where they saw no new wildlife :)) so i was lucky. Six people have gotten the virus since I had it and missed out on the tigers :(. Don't worry dad, Simon the nurse got me on my antibiotics and some other stuff he brought. I feel 100% now. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 – Bandhavgarh Morning/Transport & Arrival to Kanha
rough drive.. seven hours or being sick in a hot 95 degree car

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 – Kanha Jungle Lodge
Kahna jungle is amazing. It is so beautiful, a mix between Chitwan and Bandhavgarh. I SAW MY FIRST TIGER. She was so beautiful and majestic. She just made a kill so we watched her bathe herself and drink and tear off some meet from the Samba Deer. It's the only tiger I saw all trip but man she was amazing. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011 – Kanha Jungle Lodge
More game drives and the lodge's wife took us sari shopping:) 

Friday, March 25, 2011 – Kanha Morning/Transport to Jabapur/Overnight Train to Varanassi
Travel day (today) and overnight train which I am about to board. I will post this and then try to do pics with what time I have left. 
I LOVE YOU!
Maria

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 7 - Pokhara to Kathmandu to Delhi

Hello,
There isn't too much news today because we spent the whole day traveling. The weather in the Himalayas was not very good though, so we spent lots of time waiting for the airports to open. It was nice because it gave us time to go to one last sight... the largest Buddhist monastery in Nepal! It was so freaking cool. The way they painted and decorated it so intricately was mesmerizing. This trip has definitely opened my eyes to other religions and shown me how much the human race depends on spiritual thinking. I got to witness a monk doing puja, the meditation, and I got to do a little meditating of my own. I will try to upload pictures of it!
The flights were very interesting. We were on small, rickety planes and the turbulence was horrible. At one point there were many people crying and we thought we were goners. It was so scary, but I guess these pilots are used to it? Or that's at least what I told myself. The second plane ride was cancelled too so we waited for a long time in Kathmandu's airport. Georgia and I tried to teach some girls how to play euchre.. it wasn't too successful. The security was super strict and we had to go through five times. They told us after we landed that the plane had been previously highjacked and that was why... gee, how comforting.
So now I am in Delhi and it is midnight, we have a 3:30am wakeup call with our last plane ride for a while! I am excited to get back to the jungle though, it's more of my place verses the sight seeing. I won't have internet for about six days in the two lodges we are staying at, do don't worry when you don't hear from me!
Sunday is also Holi Festival.. if you have time, look it up on google. It's going to probably be the highlight of my non-nature part of the trip. The rest of our group joined us tonight too, so we went from 11 to 20. It's a little chaotic, so we will see how it goes! Here are some more pictures of random things, Enjoy!
LOVE YOU xoxoxoxoxoxoxo
Maria





picture perfect

this little guy is just for you bundie

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Days 3-6: Chitwan & Pokara


I finally have internet:).... and hot water and electricity woooo! This is going to be a short summary of the days because if i typed all 50 pages in my journal, you would hate me!

Day 3: we woke up at 5:00 to get started on our 7 hour drive to Chitwan. The drive was actually really fun and scenic.. a lot like doing the tour of Italy. It was amazing to see how people lived in the mountains, literally in clay and straw shacks in the mountain. This country is so diverse in the way it's money is distributed. There is definitely no "middle class". You are either filthy rich or dirt poor. The majority of this day was watching people that are dirt poor. We made many stops to stretch our legs and snack (and go to the bathroom which consisted of a hole in the dirt.. good thing I packed those tissues mom;) ). One of our stops we found this old rickety bridge that connected to mountain tops. I wanted to pee my pants when everyone said we should walk across it, but I figured "When in Nepal..."
When we arrive at Chitwan we are greeted by little dugout canoes, a torn down welcome sign, and a large river. I am not going to lie, I got a little scared at what I had gotten myself into. But, we got into the boats and took a 30 minute ride to the other side. We were greeted with more welcome necklaces, cold towels for our faces (you are always covered in dirt), and juice and tikas! Tikas are the red dots on your forehead that you receive with a blessing for good luck. 
We took a jeep ride to the lodge and on the way we spotted our first rhinos! They are SO FREAKING HUGE. These mammals are literally prehistoric, 3 ton monsters. And we saw a lot of them. We got to our lodge which looked like something out of a movie, dropped our stuff, and met our elephants. 
We took an hour long elephant safari into the sunset and found even more rhinos to observe. They were so cool. They are not really afraid of humans, which is kind of scary, so we got super close. 
After our safari we had dinner and settled in for the upcoming days.

Day 4: Chitwan
I will try to keep this short, but basically we did a 5:00am two hour elephant safari. Then we had a jeep and boat safari. Then lunch. Then an elephant briefing where we learned about each of our elephants and got to feed and bathe them. Then a nature walk. Then dinner and nature talks, then bed:)
Here are some highlights:
-Elephant safari: we saw lots of new birds, a green pit viper snake (very poisonous), and we got to be up close and personal to the rhinos while they were mating, which was super cool.
-Boat safari: we saw seven crocodiles! They were kind of boring though, no movement. They are much bigger in person than you would expect though.
-Nature Walk: We saw leopard and tiger footprints.. then we heard the tiger!! Apparently, we were really close (on foot mind you, no protection) because he was so loud. It vibrated the whole jungle. Chitwan isn't a great place for tiger viewing I guess because the jungle only has a few left and India is much better. But it was still so awesome. The roar we have in Death Valley is dead on, that's how loud and distinct it is. CRAZY and super scary. We were definitely close though cause we found prints, heard bird alarm calls, and even found urine!!

Day 5: Chitwan
We did a boat and jeep safari in the morning and then had a 3 hour elephant safari at sunset. We didn't see any new wildlife today but the lodge is so beautiful and the wildlife never gets old. It's so relaxing and I definitely have fallen in love with this park. 

Day 6: Chitwan to Pokara
We left Chitwan and had another 5 hour drive to Pokara. Again, it was very scenic and nice to drive through the country side (or mountain side). 
Pokara is a very touristy town and our hotel is amazing. It is by far one of the nicest places I have ever seen. We took a city tour to see the Tibetan refugee camps which was a great experience. We also visited Devil's Falls and took a boat ride to a sacred Hindi Temple. While I was there I was blessed with another Tika and had a chance to pray in front of their gods and ring their prayer bells. I was with another Hindi Indian Woman and it was a very moving experience to be with her there. 
Afterwards we just enjoyed the nightlife and shopped and ate around at the bakeries. It's Patricks 80th birthday so we got him a cake and present. I think he was a little homesick because his son, daughter, grandson, and him share birthdays very close to one another and he is missing family time. He was so surprised and happy to see how much we had grown on him and care for him. 
Now we fly back to Kathmandu and then to Delhi!












Here are a few of my 800 pictures.. It takes a while to upload so I don't have many up yet. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day 2? Not sure.. Kathmandu!

03/13/2011  --- 11:50am

We had a 3:45 am wake up call, which wasn't too bad until we got to the airport. I was exhausted but I did my best to stay up and going. We had a 4:00am "breakfast in a box" which consisted of an apple, croissant, muffin, and tomato/cucumber sandwich. At the time all I had was a croissant. The airport was good, although I got stopped in customs and was pulled into a room by myself and patted down. I was very scared but it turned out to be quick and painless.
The flight was amazing, the Himalayas were breathtaking and so clear in the horizon. When we got closer to Nepal it looked like we were crashing into them several times. I couldn't enjoy their beauty cause I was peeing down my leg...
The Nepal airport looked like a prison crossed with a temple, it was so weird! They told us absolutely no pictures, which I thought was really odd. We got our visas and exchanged our money and it turned out one girl got scammed out of 100 dollars... she didn't even think to count it and didn't notice until we got in the city. I felt so bad. The exchange rate is 72 rupees to 1.00$. I am not comfortable with doing that exchange in my head yet so I didn't do any shopping, unlike the other girls.
Outside the airport we had people take our bags from us and demand a tip for taking them 10 feet. I thought Dr. Tonkyn was going to get into a fist fight with them. Luckily, I got out of it without giving them money, two girls lost 1,000 rupees.
The drive through Kathmandu was very interesting and shocking. There would be beautiful houses like Italy and then complete dumps. So many poor people and beggers. At one point, there was literally a baby in the street, by itself. A BABY. It couldn't even sit up on its own. Why do people think that is okay!? There are also so many American stores... KFC, Victorias Secret, CONVERSE (woooo!) We were greeted again by our tour group and they had purple and orange flower necklaces again, so much prettier then the ones in India.
We went sight seeing in the city after getting settled in the hotel. We went to Durbar Square where there were lots of temples and vendors.. and smells. So smelly. Not all bad though, but definitely strong. The temples with red trim are the Karma Sutras. This is where the first "books" were painted on the walls. Then we went to see the Kumari-ghar. This is a temple where the child goddess resides. The lamai handpicks children that the Nepal population must find when necessary. This chosen girl is the one who all the people pray to and visit. She represents the goddess Taleju. She lives alone in the middle of the city in a "temple", which looks like a prison, and must stay there until her first menstruation. At this time, her term is cancelled and she is thrown into the real world. Here, she cannot marry or really do much of anything. It doesn't sound like a very fun life.. and she is only 10 years old.
Next, we rode to the highest stupa in the country (maybe the world). The drive up the mountain was similar to Italy too, made me nauseous. It was so pretty and the view was absolutely nuts. Kathmandu is so freaking big. I listened to some monks sing and then ran my hands through the sacred bells. These bells mean a lot to Buddhist culture and the prayers are very special. I prayed for all my friends and family, so hopefully those Buddha gods are helping you out!
Finally, at 4:00pm we went to get lunch. We stopped at Pleasure Gardens, a local favorite. I ordered veggie chowmein and veggie pakodas. Which is two meals that I got for 140rupees.. less than two dollars! We all got two meals and shared everything. It was all SO delicious. The pakodas looked a lot like crab cakes.. yummy lindz!
Now I am back at the hotel (6:00pm) and ready for bed! Here a FEW of the 300 pictures I took today. Tomorrow We leave at 7:00am for a drive to Chitwan! It should take around 7 hours but I am so excited to go white water rafting and on my rhino quest!
LOVE YOU,
Maria

nepal
the view from the plane
just some street cattle and pigeons..
pakodas!
chow mein
betty and i at the kamuri entrance
the view from the stupa
praying and ringing the chimes
buddhist chimes
temples
the front of our hotel
streets of nepal

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 1 - Traveling & New Delhi!

It's currently 11:40pm on Saturday, March 12th

Hello Everyone!
I am currently in my beautiful hotel room in New Delhi, we just got here and we leave at 4:00am for a flight to Kathmandu! So, we decided to hook up to the internet and stay up all night.

I already have 8 pages in my journal so I am going to write it here and post pictures. We are required to write down everything we experience and think during the trip and luckily my plane ride was quite the experience.. for the 2/14 hours I was awake, woops!

-8:30pm, 03/11/2011
I am on the plane in my very little seat.. little is really an understatement. My next international flight I am giving myself a first class ticket, they live better up there than I do in Clemson. Definitely not fair. I am in the middle seat currently waiting for my two aisle-mates, I hope they are skinny.
They turn out to be a beautiful, mid-20's Indian woman and either her mom or grandmother. She is the epitome of what I think of when I think of a tribal, ancient Indian woman. I am not going to lie, I am very intimidated. I can tell she is having trouble getting around so I tell the young woman that I am willing to move to he window for her to sit next to the older woman, she agrees that would be best. We sit down and I realize that Americans are truly huge. I look like Hagrid next to this woman... yikes. Her wrist may be the size of Natalie's, maybe.
She turns to me and strikes up a conversation asking me where I am going and why. I explained our situation the best I could but it made me very nervous to pronounce the cities in front of her because I didn't want to butcher the names and offend her. She would then translate everything I said to Grandma who would respond, and then be translated again back to me. Grandma's words were, "be careful, it is obvious because of your looks that you are a tourist. and they will know, and they will pick on you." Hmmm, what a great first conversation!
Anyways, I can tell they have a very close relationship and I continue to observe them. I want to ask them questions but I am not sure what the proper coding for conversation in the Indian Culture is. I definitely do not want to be too forward and offend them when we are about to be together for 14 hours. For now, I continue to soak up this feeling that I am leaving the States for a huge adventure for three weeks. It's kind of cool to know that I don't know when I'll be in contact with anyone I am familiar with
or what I am going to experience in each passing day. (I will journal everyday in my written book and on my computer and send each entry when I can... internet will mostly be found in hotels in cities, not in the jungle lodges).
As I look around, I realize there are many more Americans on this flight than Indians. It makes me wonder why they're going to India, surely not all of them are hunting tigers like me? That cannot be a normal trip. I wonder why I was originally so drawn to this trip in the first place? I thought it was normal place to go when I heard about the trip.. you know, another vacation. My poor parents, sorry! I wonder what YOU were thinking when I called and told you I was going to India. Hmm, time for me to sleep, the plane is creeping out to the runway now...
-4 hours later...
I've talked to the young girl again, she told me a little bit of her story. She lives in America now with her husband, they got married one year ago (BIGGEST ROCK I'VE EVER SEEN). This is her first time back to India since her wedding. She is from Jaipur but her parents have been in Delhi for 22 years now. I wanted to ask what nationality her husband was and where he is now, but she got quiet. She translated more to her grandma and I asked her which language she spoke. She said that was Hindi (it was beautiful) and that most Indians speak Hindi and English, if they don't speak English then they still try their best haha. In India, she said, the language changes every 15 km. They have literally thousands of languages.
She then proceeded to teach me how to bargain shop, pay attention LoLo! She said they will be very flexible, even though they walk away from you at first, but they want to sell to Americans. She said to use this scale: "They offer something for 500 rupees, you say 50". Seems, good to me!
She said the food in India is WAY better than American. She said no matter what I eat or how much I like it, I will get sick just because it is so different. It's all very rich and all natural though, so I will feel cleansed when I leave. Her advice was to start with dry chickens and then go to curry. She then rested a little and grandma turned to me..
She wanted to practice some english so she asked me a few questions even though I had answered them before, she was pretty good at it but all she could really say was "Are you alone or are there more?" and "How long will be here?" She was so cute, I wanted to steal her.
She wanted to tell me about the weather so we translated through the younger one. They told me I am going at a good time because it is way too hot in the summer (105 degrees) and the winters are miserable. I ask how cold and they just laugh, apparently is doesn't even snow. They just say ht is better than cold.
We got our airplane dinner and I can tell they are not happy. She turns to me and says, there is an old indian saying "Leave with a full stomach and food will always find you, leave on empty and you will never find it!" She said they definitely left on empty because this food was unacceptable. She also said it is a myth that most Indians are vegetarian. She doesn't eat red meat by choice but that's because she finds it dirty and unclean. It has nothing to do with Hinduism. She warned me to stay away from plain, uncooked dairy, it is unclean and will make me sick too! She said if I really want it, buy it in a can... it's Nestle. I thought that was hilarious.
We had Rasmalai, which they told me was ricotta cheese backed in sweet milk and frozen. They said I would love or hate it.. I didn't feel etiher towards it.. it was just odd.
So we get through customs to the beautiful, brand new airport in New Delhi. My bag was obviously the last one to come up, wooo! I was very nervous. Then, we met up with Ashnu, our tour guide. He was so energetic and helpful. He gave us bright orange welcome necklaces made of flowers. They smell so fresh and good! We ride a bus to our hotel, which is beautiful. On the streets on the way to the hotel you see everything, rich hotels, camels, people in shacks, people in beds with no covers.. India is very diverse. Oh, and smelly. It's a mix between church incense and manure. I am already pretty used to it.

That's all for now, I don't know when I will have internet next but when I get it there will be journals from every day! I am so excited for tomorrow and cannot wait to see India in the day time. Here are pictures from the airport, streets, and hotel. I didn't post a lot cause it takes a while to upload!

LOVE YOU ALL!
Maria
wooo new delhi airport!

outside, first glimpse of india
my necklace, first rupee, and STAMPED passport.. jealous mom?
this is the name of our hotel
one of the lobbies! we have a bar, pool, and ball room!
our room for the first 4 hours haha!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Day 1 - Traveling

Hello!
I have made it to the Newark airport. We have an eight hour layover so I am trying to finish as much homework as possible while I still have definite internet. Some of us debated going into the city for the day but now everyone is pretty much glued to the news. Glad I picked southern Asia...
I'll update soon!
LOVE YOU,
Maria