A Travellerspoint blog

Udaipur and Jodhpur, Rajasthan

by gabrielle

sunny 97 °F

The trouble makin’ trio reunites! We met Melanie Sunday night in the beautiful city of Udaipur. Monday we toured around a bit to see the largest palace in Rajasthan which is filled with artifacts from past royal families such as the fancy carriages they sit in atop elephants as well as lots and lots of detailed painting depicting battles, festivals and everyday life way back when. There was even a photo of the last elephant fight in 1951 of two elephants on opposite sides of a wall with interlocked trunks… ouch! Gorgeous, sparkly mosaics covered many of the walls and ceilings and gave us tons of inspiration for all kinds of projects we can try in our future homes!
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Since Udaipur is centered around the Pichola Lake, most of the restaurants were situated on top of the buildings with a phenomenal view and a perfect spot to watch the sunset. I should also mention that the lake is personally owned by a man in Udaipur but the water is owned by the government. So currently the only boats allowed on the water are a select few tour boats and the owner’s hot shot son.
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After dinner we went on a hunt for sweets on some back streets and came across a large group of women socializing. This was a neat scene first of all because of the vibrant colored saris but also because you never see groups of women out and just enjoying each others’ company especially not in the late evening. I found out from a friend later that most females are required by their families to be inside by 8 or 9 pm and only socialize on weekends.
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Day two in Udaipur was fantastic! We wandered off the main streets and found a clothing store with fixed prices! Shopping without bargaining is such a treat! After shopping we had plans to meet some guys that Melanie had befriended for a motorcycle ride. Our new friends, Shakir and Sayid zipped us out of town a bit to see Tiger Lake (no tigers are hanging around these days). We hung out there in this gazebo type structure and introduced the boys to powerkicks. We spent a while perfecting our form, taking pictures and attempting to learn some standard Indian dance moves. Since there was no traffic for part of the way back to town, Sayid let me drive his motorcycle! I must say, shifting in Mello (my car) is much easier.
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The boys dropped us off at the cooking class we signed up for where we met our classmates for the night, three friendly Aussies. Our teacher, Shashi started by telling us her incredible life story. She is a Brahmin woman which is the highest caste in the Hindu faith and the strictest. Her husband was murdered by his best friend over a matter of 40,000 RS or about $880 dollars nine years ago when her sons were only 7 and 9 years old. The man only spent one year in jail after he paid the police off in order to be set free. She commented how much better our legal system is, how infuriating and scary! When a Brahmin woman is widowed she is not allowed to remarry and is confined to her home for an entire year after her husband dies. For the first 45 days she cannot eat and must sit in the corner and mourn with the women who come to cry with her from sunrise to sunset. After her husband passed away, neither his nor her side of the family helped out financially or otherwise. She had to hire out her young son to do laundry for people in secret because Brahmins are not allowed to do low level house work. Once she could leave her home she also worked as a cleaning lady in secret to make ends meet. The building they lived in rented rooms to travelers and one couple who stayed there was so impressed with her cooking that they suggested she teach a class to foreigners. Since then her class has become a rocketing success and she proudly said she’s so successful and busy she hires people to do her laundry and clean for her now. Various travelers have helped her translate her recipes into other languages and she has learned enough English to teach the five hour class with sassy confidence. She ran a tight ship with the six of us eager pupils directing us to “flip now” “more flour” “you stir” We had a wonderful time learning to cook all the curries, chapathis, tea and even cheese we have been enjoying for the past month. When we asked her where we could buy all the spices, she said it would be better to buy from her for a fair price instead of trying our luck at the market because of our “skin color problem.”
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Shashi told us one other crazy story about how her father-in-law used to sit in the kitchen while she cooked and she had to wear a scarf to keep her face and eyes covered out of respect and therefore couldn’t see her ingredients very well. He then complained to his son/her husband that she was a bad cook. She can’t catch a break!
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Even after all she’s been through Shashi is an incredible woman and seems to be truly happy. I am so grateful and pleased we got to spend time with her. What a humbling experience. Melanie was talking to a girl in who had to get married when she was sixteen because her dad fell off a ladder and couldn’t work anymore so they needed to marry her off quickly. She seemed in awe of our travels and seemingly restrictionless lifestyle and told Melanie, “you have a beautiful life.” Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up and forget but these women remind me that I am pretty darn lucky!
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We left Udaipur for Jodphur (without Meli Baba :() on a sleeper bus Wednesday night and arrived around 5am. Even at such an obscure hour we were surrounded by rickshaw drivers arguing for our business. Honestly I’m becoming a bit numb to the harassment these days so it’s not so bad.
After sleeping a bit more at our toasty hot hotel we went to visit Jodhpur’s main feature, the impressive Mehrangarh Fort set atop a hill in the Old City. Since we’re not just ordinary tourists, we chose to zip line around the Fort instead of just touring the palace inside!
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Jodhpur is the second zip line in India operated by Flying Fox, a British company that boasts of their safety and highly maintained French equipment. We were harnessed and spieled by two young energetic Indian guys who would be our guides. The course consisted of six different zip lines of varying lengths between 70 and 300 meters over small waterways and structures in the fort and with a killer view of the city. What an amazing location! We were like secret agents sneaking into enemy territory to save the day! We got along so well with our chatty guides that they tried some powerkicks and invited us out that evening. We asked them what would be appropriate to wear and they simply suggested we wear something “mesmerizing.” We gave the mesmerizing thing our best effort and enjoyed the local tour around town and getting to know more about life in Jodhpur.
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The next day we met up with Prateek and Sam (our zip line guides) again to see some sites and go to a movie. I must say I am borderline obsessed with Bollywood at this point. It’s a perfect mix of a musical and your classic romantic comedy and just so fun to watch! Even though we don’t understand Hindi, we follow the story lines pretty well aside from the occasional “one line zinger” that Prateek didn’t translate. This was the second Bollywood movie I have seen in a week and it’s quite the event for everyone else watching too. When the hot shot lead struts onto the screen flexing his muscles the theatre went absolutely nuts, with hoots, hollers and cheers from males and females! A similar frenzy ensues when the stunning leading lady seductively looks over her shoulder or kicks up a bare leg changing her clothes. It was crazy!
I had a really good chat with Prateek about various questions I had about India and Indians. I found out that babies wear all that eyeliner to make their eyes stand out but also to protect from disease. Prateek also shared some similar frustrations with issues/topics we’ve wondered about like the crazy driving, drinking taboos and population control. He thinks the hang up on development is that the people in office right now are very stuck on tradition and people are unwilling to try to do things different ways but progress is still being made. It’s nice to know these things are troublesome for Indians too because I don’t like feeling like a know-it-all westerner when I complain about the disorganization of things. He added that zip lining is safer than driving in India and I’m not surprised!
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Next up, Jaisalmer and our hottest desert stop yet!

Posted by 3ifBySEA 07:04 Archived in India Comments (0)

More photos!!

We've added about 200 new pics to the gallery! Unfortunately they are not in order but the new photos seem to be on pages 1-4. Enjoy! [[http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/3ifbysea/]]

Posted by 3ifBySEA 23:11 Comments (0)

Jaipur and Pushkar

by Sarah

sunny 90 °F

After our relaxing week in Kerala we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Delhi. We left ourselves plenty of time to get some food and wait for our flight. We were at the gate when a flight to Bangalore suddenly appeared on the screen instead of ours. We checked the board and it said that our flight was cancelled. So after a mini panic we asked around and it turned out that it was only delayed a few hours. This then messed up our plans to head north (to either Menali or Amritsar) because we would be arriving in Delhi too late. So we got to Delhi and found our way to the nastiest hostel yet. It was one of the most expensive we've stayed in, but by far the grossest. Our lock was so old that we couldn't lock the door for fear of being trapped in the room for ever. Luckily we only had to sleep there and leave the next morning to catch our bus north. However, once we got to the station we found out that all trains and busses going north were either cancelled or booked for the next five to ten days because of the Monsoons. Knowing that there was no way we wanted to stay in Delhi for any longer than necessary, we decided to get a private car to Jaipur. It was so frustrating knowing that we blatantly got ripped off on the price, but it was our only option out so we went for it.

The four hour car ride turned into a six and a half hour stop-and-go trip. The roads were ridiculously bad and full of huge trucks. Our driver even rear ended someone, but no one seemed phased. By the time we got to Jaipur we were rewarded with the most amazing (and cheap!) hotel yet. It was peacock themed and decorated to the tee. It also had a roof top restaurant that was so good that we ate all our meals there.
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The next day we decided to hire a rickshaw for the day to see all the sights. Our driver, Yosem, turned out to be Danny Glover's twin (at least profile twin) and was the sweetest guy ever. IMG_8973.jpgAmber Fort, Jaipur's biggest attraction, was amazing. It would have been the coolest place for a game of hide and seek, since no room was off limits.
At the end of the day Yosem took us to his friends' shops to see the behind the scenes of how things are made in Rajasthan. We went to a textile factory and saw some of the coolest throws and things that were all handmade. We also saw a guy working on an intricate rug that usually takes about 3 months to make. It is amazing to see everything still being done by hand.
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From Jaipur we took the short trip to Pushkar. Apparently 14,000 people live there, but we have no idea where because it was the tiniest town ever! It didn't seem over-populated either so maybe our facts are wrong...Either way it was a cute little village that was fun to wander around. There are over 300 Sikh and Hindu temples in Pushkar, but after seeing about two, Gabrielle and I were ready to move on. There was a pilgrimage sight though that we did make the trip to. It was a 1.5 km hike straight up to this old rickety shack, but the view was amazing. It overlooked the entire city and was a perfect spot to try out some more power kicks. (I don’t think it has been mentioned yet, but we met an American guy named Mike when we were in Cochi. He is starting a teaching job in Thailand in a few weeks but traveling around India first, and we’re planning on meeting up with him again at some point. But he has started a website called powerkickinc.com and is trying to get pictures of people doing power kicks all over the world, and we’ve gotten pretty in to it!) We even got two French guys to do some at the top of this hike, but I’m not sure if they really understood what a power kick was.
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In Pushkar we found a neat little café that had amazing western breakfasts and after the first day we knew we had to go back. Gabrielle told our waiter (who was also the owner and chef) how much she liked her meal and how she was going to try and make it when she got home. He then invited us to the kitchen to teach us how to make it, so we got our own little private cooking lesson which was really fun.
Our next destination was Udiapur. We were told it was about a five hour train ride, and were a little confused since it was meant to be so close, but went for it. While waiting for the train we were a big hit and getting waves from everyone and people taking pictures of us on their phones (which has happened pretty much everywhere we've been). But we had a new experience where a young couple wanted us to hold their baby and take pictures. We're still not entirely sure what people do with these pictures of random people with their babies, but it's still entertaining.
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The train itself was ridiculously packed when we tried to get on it. Luckily we had reserved seats, but anyone who didn't had to move out of their seat and shuffle like sardines through the aisles. We had a couple of admirers on the train who just stared for about twenty minutes before getting out their phone and so blatantly taking pictures of us for another 40 minutes. They then proceeded to get off the train at one stop and take pictures of us before getting back on the train. It's pretty crazy having your picture taken by a bunch of random people all the time, and makes me so glad I'm not a celebrity!

We also found out why the train takes so long for such a short distance. We travelled south for just under four hours, had a prolonged stop where you could get out and get food, and then the train took off back north, in the opposite direction. We assumed that we just had to back track a little and wait for a train to pass or get on a different track or something reasonable like that, but continued in the wrong direction all the way back to Udiapur. It was the most round-about way to get there....but as many people have told us, and we've experienced ourselves, anything goes in India.

Our rickshaw from the train station to our hotel was by far the best yet. It was the first manual we've been in, and the driver was about as good at shifting as I am, which for those of you who don't know, is pretty bad. There was no head light so he just relied on other drivers to light the way. He also turned the engine off when we were going down hills and just glided to our destination. He pulled up to the hotel, turned off the engine and hopped out quick to grab a rock, because the brakes don't work and we were still rolling towards the car in front of us. But we made it here and we've met up with Melanie so the three-pack is reunited. Udiapur is meant to be a beautiful city and the most romantic in India, so hopefully it will live up to its title.

Posted by 3ifBySEA 23:04 Archived in India Comments (1)

unpacking and airing out the laundry

by Melanie

On Monday I moved out of Rushir's house and in with Mandy (Rushir's last couch surfer) an American here in Ahmedabad for 10 months on a Fulbright Fellowship. She had an extra room (furnished) and was ready for company. Mandy has been fabulous! She's relaxed, super helpful, and very interesting. My volunteering was thrown off this week, so it's been awesome to hang out with her.

At Saath on Monday I finished up the last of my visits to their urban program sites. They have a network of initiatives spread around the city that work together to address a range of issues for Ahmedabad's poor (job training and placement, day care, safe spaces for dropout kids, youth leadership development, and assistance obtaining legal documents). I was particularly interested in the Community Video Unit. Since the Indian media is far more fascinated by Bollywood glitz and melodrama than broadcasting the grim realities of life in the slums, the CVU was created to give voice and education to slum-dwellers. Movies of 25-30 minutes are produced by slum residents on issues relevant to them (water and electricity, domestic violence, addiction) and then screened about 80 times throughout the city. Each video depicts the problem at hand, and also explains government resources that slum-dwellers likely don't know are available to them. Screenings are followed by discussion and (hopefully) mobilization.
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Though it was fascinating to visit all of these programs, to understand the issues and Saath's novel approaches at addressing them, I was eager to get going with my project. To make a long story shorter, the MFI department was double booked. They had consultants here all week, and didn't have the resources to spare to assist me. As I am here to help THEM, I didn't want to add to the stress (that was evident on Divyang's face) and suggested that I check back in a few days to see how things stand. I went back Thursday and we agreed that intead of re-writing the job descriptions for the entire MFI, I'll focus on the branch level. I'll look at branch structure, but more importantly write up the socio-demographic distinctions of 4 of the branch offices.
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To be entirely honest, I don't know anything about socio-demographic distinctions. Diving into such unknown territory could be a highly educational and gratifying experience, if I had months to do it. I was feeling unprepared and overwhelmed, and at a severe disadvantage because of the language issue - particularly because none of my assigned "translators" seemed to be pleased with the task. I made a commitment, though, and I decided to at least TRY. Yesterday I went on my first site visit to Fatiwade. The address I had was "Opposite Fatewadi Tower, near Nasim Parlour, Sarkej Road, Fatewadi". Notice the lack of numerical indicators? There really aren't street numbers here (or often street names, for that matter). Luckily the rickshaw driver I found was able to decipher the instructions, and Mandy lent me her phone so when I got close I could call and be fetched from the bustling corner I was standing on.
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I had a great day! The women in the branch were excited to be interviewed, and all crowded around although the Branch Manager was doing most of the talking. I shared the packed lunches the staff split between themselves everyday, and was invited to a MFI member's home for the afternoon (where I had ice cream, pepsi, and tried on an Indian wedding dress. Gorgeous! and SO HEAVY with mirrors and beads.) I plan on writing up my branch description to see if it's what Saath is looking for. I'm not trained in this sort of thing, so what I find interesting or relevant for inclusion might be entirely off base. I figure I'll submit it, see how they respond, and go from there.
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I have been thinking about my last post and want to make some amendments. Obviously, there is stunning architecture (temples everywhere - impressive whether they were built last year, or thousands of years ago) and there are festivals all the time here, therefore likely dancing in the streets. In fact I drove past a parade and crowd of dancing men on my way to the Fatiwade branch yesterday. It's just easy to be so distracted by ceaseless crowding and dirt that I forget to appreciate everything else.

The other day Mandy commented, "Being in India is just so fun! You're walking down the street and there's randomly a camel." India is constant non sequitur. From bursts of colorful fabric that enliven the monotonous cityscape, to men giving rides in "Indian Helicopters" (wheelbarrows with cushions), to a Sea World in the middle of the mountains, to cows lounging on traffic medians. There's something to smile about nearly everywhere, it's just a matter of keeping your eyes and spirits open to it.
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Posted by 3ifBySEA 02:20 Archived in India Comments (1)

India's Honeymoon Capital (& present reflections on India)

Mount Abu, Rajasthan & Ahmedabad, Gujurat - by Melanie

sunny 87 °F

The typical Indian work week is 6 days, 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. The day off depends on which district of the city your business is located in, because for the power grid's sake, the day of rest is different across all of Ahmedabad. You might get Sundays off, but your friends may have Tuesdays or Fridays. (Off course this schedule is just for established businesses. Hawkers and vendors work everyday. With their wares and services usually on carts and wagons, they are positioned along the roads by early morning and out until well after dark.)

Saath's day off is Sunday, and Rushir suggested that I go for the weekend to Mount Abu, the prime honeymoon destination for Indian newlyweds who can't afford to go overseas. Rushir decribed beautiful lakes to paddle around in, and intricate marble chandeliers in a thousand year old Jain temple. The plan was to take an overnight bus there Saturday, catch a few hours sleep in a hotel, spend the day navigating Mt Abu, and take bus back Sunday night.

This was my first solo sightseeing excursion and I was entirely unsure about what to expect. As it turned out I was alone for a mere couple of hours. At 2:45am we rolled into the muddy parking lot of a resaurant that already had 3 other buses portruding from it at awkward angles with their passengers teeming around the premises. I stumbled off the bus to stretch and observe, and was invited for tea within a couple of minutes. I found myself at a table surrounded by exhuberant twentysomethings (10 gents and 1 lady). I had heard them on the bus, they'd been chanting and cheering, group photo taking and singing along to the Shakira that blasted out of a surprisingly loud phone speaker right behind me. I gathered that they were all in hospitality, and would be heading back to Ahmedabad the same time I was. They invited me to spend the day with them and I gladly accepted.

We arrived in Mt Abu at 6:30 am (two hours behind schedule). The group arranged to join a bus that would drive us to all of Mt Abu's sights, scheduled to leave at 10am. We went to public bathrooms to freshen up (brush teeth, change shirts) and hung around the lake to to watch the light change on the water and town begin to wake up. After while we moved to an intersection where several chai carts were set up, with plastic stools scattered about. A round of teas was ordered, and the group began to unpack their "homemade" breakfast: chowpatty (thick, flakey tortillas) wrapped in tin foil and a tiffin of chutney (onion and tomato salsa). For dessert there were little packages of a peanut brittle-like candy.
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With one exception, everyone in the group (I'm guessing age range of 20 - 28) was from a small town far away, and had to come to Ahmedabad to find better work and money. They lived in dorms and ate in a cafeteria provided by the hotel where they all worked in housekeeping. I think I understood that some did 4 year degrees, while others 1 year diploma programs in Hotel Management. One told proudly told me that he makes 6700 rupees per month ($150). Some are hoping to be sent abroad, as it's a foreign hotel chain. Their English was decent, some better than others, but as a whole I wasn't able to talk as freely as I normally do because they weren't catching chunks of what I said. As a result I spent much of the day not saying much, but I did smile plenty. I was content.

The tour turned out to be entirely in Hindi, so I caught very little of the historical significance of the places we visited. Honestly, the town was not what I expected of a honeymoon capital. It seemed very similar to Hampi, the one other small town I've been to in India. The most significant difference between Hampi and Mt Abu and the other cities is that the buildings are only a story or 2, instead of 4-6 or more. The buildings are covered with jostling shop signs and billboards, streets are dirty and crowded. Mt Abu's claim the fame, the lakes, had an unappetizing algae glaze that spread across the surface and collected on the banks.
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All in all, INDIA is not what I expected. For me, there isn't anything particularly charming or enchanting about India as a whole. The buildings don't have history and character like Europe. The people aren't laughing out loud and dancing in the streets like in Latin America. I knew that traveling in India was going to be different than everywhere else, but I was really hoping to find that I would be one of the people who find India fascinating and intriguing and addicting. I was disappointed when, after two weeks here I thought that I'd never feel the need to come back to India. It just wasn't clicking with me. This last week, however, has begun to change my perspective.

Walking around cities usually gives me an exhilirated high. I love strolling for hours around big cities, especially their historic downtowns. They usually have an energy and pulse that has never lost its novelty for me. India has yet to have that effect. Yesterday I walked around for about 3 hours in the blazing sun. I wiped the sweat off my collarbone and my hand came away coated in the dark grime of dusty diesel exhaust. Block after block looked almost exactly the same. Within a 10 minute span I walked past traffic police interviewing reluctant witnesses to an auto collison, a bus stalled in the middle of the road, the decaying carcas of a stray dog, and two men in business attire trying to string a measuring tape across the entire 4 lanes of rush hour traffic. I was only a block from home when I had to jump out of the way of a scooter speeding up the sidewalk. The scooter had 3 passengers crammed on, the last of whom was a woman whose face lit up into the most fantastic smile when she saw me. I'm guessing she was amused that the pedestrian they nearly took out happened to be a white girl failing miserably in her attempts at Indian clothing. Whatever the cause, her smile totally made my day.

I met a French woman yesterday who said she comes back to India every year. When I asked why she said "I guess it's the people." I can absolutely see her point.

Back to Mt Abu...
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One of the hospitality kids had taken a fancy to me, and by the end of the day I was getting tired of turning to find him constantly by my side. With only a half hour before it was time to climb back on the bus, I decided to peel off from the group to follow the parade of floats for the last day of Ganesha (ten day festival for the elephant-headed god). Each of the floats (mounted on farm carts or tractors) was elaborately decored with yellow and orange flowers surrounding enshrined god statues. The floats were lit up by circles of women, each carrying a fluorescent tube light attached to a generator beign hauled up and down the hills of Mt Abu on a wagon. The parade came to a standstill when the road narrowed and martial arts/fire breathing demonstrations started up.
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The bus was not where I expected it to be and I had to run to find it before the 9pm departure. I was panting as I climbed on the bus (which, of course, left 20 minutes late anyway) and a bit leery to see who my random seat assignment would be next to this time. When I looked down to see an adorable little boy I said outloud, "awesome!" His sister turned out to be across the way, and she also wanted to sit with me. Cute kids and parents who were excited to chat with me. I was so pleased! (The 9 year old boy had already spent a year perfecting his English in Canada. I asked him if liked it there, "yes", and why "because it's clean.") I ended up with the family's contact info and a dinner invitation. When the bus arrived back in Ahmedabad at 3 in the morning, the parents were trying to help me figure out how to get back to my neighborhood when another couple overheard and volunteered to share a rickshaw since they were headed in the same direction. They were also happy to be chatting with me and scribbled their names and number into my notebook.
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Between my introduction to Saath's programs (and 5 site visits), and my conversations with the people that I've met so far in Ahmedabad, my understanding of India has already widened significantly. It would be very easy to be turned off by the dirt and the crowding, and entirely miss this country's unique pulse and energy. In 7 weeks I'm not going to "unerstand" India, but am starting to appreciate it, and to sincerely respect what the country and these people are up against. I'll save those thoughts for later, as this post is probably far longer than most of you will make it through already.
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Posted by 3ifBySEA 12:15 Archived in India Comments (3)

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