I can't believe I'm going to India

So excited, so excited, so excited!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

So, how does the story end?

Hi everyone. Sorry it's been so long, but I have excellent excuses. We didn't have Internet access at any of our hotels after Mumbai (and that was the least of our worries), then we had a 21-hour overnight flight back home, and then I got deathly ill (I think Marcelo did too) with some kind of flu and was bedridden for 3 days. On the third day, I had to haul my ass out of bed, order Darcy around to pack our stuff, and get on a flight to Halifax to spend Christmas at home -- I barely made it. I'm so glad I did it though because I am loving being here with our families, fresh air, and yummy food.

So, I haven't forgotten that I need to tell you all about our crazy last days in India. Thank you to Sonia for organizing the trip for us. The weekend had both incredible highs and devastating lows (I'm being overly dramatic). We saw some amazing things, but it almost killed us. Let me tell you about it. Let me also warn you that this entry is loooong -- book off a couple of hours.

Saturday, December 16: Jaipur
After spending a very comfortable evening in rooms of comparable quality at the Orchid Hotel in M
umbai, Marcelo and I woke at 3AM to get ready to catch a 5:30AM flight to Jaipur. Similar to the Pride Hotel, checkout was a challenge. Their computers seemed to be down, so the guy had to look up information on a bunch of dot-matrix printed sheets and do everything by hand. I made sure that I didn't touch the mini bar in order to expedite the process, but it was still pretty slow and another guest who thought he was more important kept butting in and saying that he had a 4AM pickup to go to the airport (so did we). All 3 of us piled into a mini bus and made it to the very modern domestic airport in plenty of time.

The flight was a piece o' cake ( 1-1/2 hours) and we got to Jaipur right on time at 7. We hooked up with the driver easily and made our way to the Raj Mahal Palace -- a 'heritage' hotel. Before I say anything else, let me stress to you all that if a travel agent ever tries to get you to stay in a 'heritage' hotel, say NO. 'Heritage' means that the place is old enough for them to think that the history makes up for things like cleanliness and safety. The Raj Mahal Palace was an absolute disaster. My room looked like the cheap hostel where I stayed in Rome in 1996. The bed linen was dirty, there wasn't any hot water, there was a mosquito coil in the room, and the windows (which faced the train tracks) didn't lock. There weren't any peepholes and you couldn't call from room to room, so I freaked out every time someone knocked on the door. There were all these construction workers on the grounds staring at me going into my room alone, so it was pretty unsettling. When I slept that night, I put drinking glasses on the window sills in case anyone tried to get in.

Marcelo's room had its own problems. Although it was much sunnier and pleasant in general with no visible dirt on the linen, he had what looked like actual sewage coming out of his shower. On the first day, he thought it was just dirt so he let it run forever and it finally went clear. The next morning, it looked not only brown but lumpy so he took a sponge bath with bottled water instead. We really hope he doesn't have dysentery.

Our rooms (#120, 121) were in a sort of outbuilding, which was separate from the main 'palace' (maybe they were the servants' quarters?). Perhaps the rooms in the main building were half decent, but this was DEFINITELY not a 5-star hotel like advertised to us by the travel agent. At one point, we went into the main lobby and saw a picture of Princess Diana who had stayed there about 20 years back and looked so like she was trying to pretend to have a good time. After the dirty linen and sewage coming out of the tap, the look on her face struck us as so hilariously funny and we made a bit of a scene staggering around the hallway laughing our asses off. They must have thought that we were really enjoying the hotel.

Okay, so aside from the hotel, Jaipur was a beautiful city. At 8:45AM after settling into the Raj Mahal Ass hotel, we met up with our guide (I think her name was Annapurna) and set off to explore the city. She really was an excellent guide. She knew a lot about the city and its sites and she kept up a continuous stream of commentary at breakneck speed.

So, they call Jaipur the pink city because most of the buildings and walls are made with coral-coloured sandstone. I had originally thought that the colouring was for practical reasons, but actually it was deliberately done to welcome Prince Albert of England to the city. Today, Japiur is home to 3 million residents, but originally it was built for 25,000 people. It's one of the few Indian cities that is planned on a grid system so it was relatively easy to navigate. She said that Jaipur was and continues to be a city with an economy based on arts such as sculpture, metalwork, jewelry, carpet-weaving, block printing, and pottery. The city is divided into areas according to these arts (textile district, etc.).

The first site we stopped to see was a beautiful place called the Hawa Mahal, which is an extension of the city palace. It is a facade with ramps behind it that was built so that the ladies of the maharaja's harem could look at life going on in the city without being seen themselves (the ladies were not allowed outside the palace walls). We didn't actually go inside (not sure why), but we took some pictures from across the street.

Next we went to the Amber Fort, which is an enormous palace complex and was the seat of rule before Jaipur. The palace grounds are located at the top of a steep hill, which we traversed via elephant. There were tonnes of howaito-san in line waiting for elephant rides. In my mind, I had pictured Marcelo and I each riding our own elephant with the infinite silence of the desert all around, which was very naive because it turned out to be such a touristy 'half-dead-pony-trail-ride' kind of thing. Marcelo and I both sat on the same elephant in a kind of painted metal cage like a carnival ride. The driver sat on its head and kicked it around to make it do stuff (like lean way in against the stone wall to let us on). We were told that our elephant was very young (30 years old), which explained why we passed tonnes of other elephants and made it up the hill in record time. It was such a bumpy ride that we both had death grips on the metal cage and when we got off our hands were full of paint chips. Marcelo says that he doesn't think he needs to ride an elephant again. :) Nevertheless, it was a great experience.

The first building we went into was a small temple devoted to the Hindu goddess of war (I can't remember her name). We had to take our shoes and socks off before entering and it was all white marble inside. Annapurna kissed each of the steps leading into the temple, rang the bell, and prayed along with several other worshippers. Since I didn't grow up with any religion, I always feel a little awkward in churches, temples, and shrines and I'm a bit envious of how engrossed and serious the worshippers are while performing their rituals. Annapurna said that the goddess of war doesn't represent conflict; she signifies victory in any sense and gives you strength to succeed.

In addition to the temple, there are countless other buildings/areas within the palace walls including the mirror palace (winter palace), summer palace, rooftop party area (I'm paraphrasing here), children's area, wives' apartments, and gardens.

The mirror palace (aka the winter palace) was the most amazing and beautiful place. It is a domed building that is completely covered on the inside with convex mirrors, gold, and both semi-precious and precious stones. When candles were lit inside the rooms, the flames reflected off the mirrors and created lots of light and heat. While the winters were short, they were cold (around 0 C, I think) so without any kind of central heating, this was how they made themselves comfortable. It was so pretty.

The summer palace was located high up in the complex to take advantage of the breeze. Water was piped onto the rooftop and it trickled down through straw mats, which created an air conditioning effect when the wind blew through. The rooftop party area was adjacent to the summer palace and had a large dance floor and bandstand. Parties took place on the rooftop because they didn't have any electricity so their gatherings had to be lit by the starry sky. Isn't that cool? The children's area was also in the same vicinity and had gazebos with hooks for swings and curtains.

There were 12 apartments -- one for each of the maharaja's 12 wives. Each apartment had direct private access to his quarters so that the ladies would not know who was being sent for and would not be jealous. Annapurna said that way back, Hindu women and men had equal status in society and the same access to education and employment. But, when the Muslims invaded, they abducted the most attractive women and forcibly married them, so after that Hindus kept their women inside where no one could see them. In the palace, in addition to the apartments and rooftop areas, there were lots of screened balconies set up where women could see out, but no one could see in. At the front of the palace was a lovely lattice screened walkway where the ladies would shower the maharaja with flowers upon his return from war.

There were a lot of other cool and practical architectural features of the palace. Believe it or not, the entire complex was wheelchair accessible. They had these kind of rolling chaises for old and disabled people, so there were ramps everywhere. The passageways inside the palace were coated with a mixture of plaster, seashells, eggshells, and other minerals so that the walls reflected light and made navigating easier at night. I think she said that dead ends had a different, more matte coating so you'd know when it was time to stop or turn around. The palace had underground tanks that could filter enough water for the the whole city.

After the Amber Fort, Annapurna said she'd take us somewhere where we could see these storied Jaipur craftspeople at work. What we were too naive to realize was that she was taking us shopping to a place where she would get commission on anything we bought. I, at least, was completely oblivious so we went to a place called Rajasthan Textile Development Corporation (see, even the name is a decoy). Upon entering, we saw a small demonstration on carpet weaving and block printing. The block printing was kind of cool. He dipped a wooden stamp in vegetable dye (green from spinach and yellow from turmeric), made an elephant impression on the cloth, then dunked the entire piece in lemon juice. He made another liquid mixture of minerals and salts, which reacted with the lemon juice on the cloth and turned the parts that weren't dyed already bright red. Cool.

After the demo we were whisked upstairs to look at carpets. Marcelo and I are not carpet people, but we had a look anyways and they rolled out at least 20 for us. They were made of all different fibres, including camel hair, silk, and wool. All of these carpets are made by hand (dyeing, weaving, edging, tasseling, washing) and it can take up to 8 months to make one. Prices ranged from $650-$3800 depending on the size and complexity. A little tip for you all: if you have a mild stain on a carpet, use lemon juice; for a tougher stain, use vinegar. The guy was very gracious even after we declined to buy one.

Then we went back downstairs and looked at block printed bedspreads. On each, the front side was made of silk and the back side was made of cotton. Most designs included elephants because they are said to be good luck (Marcelo's family thinks the exact opposite though so it made buying gifts here very difficult for him). I'm a sucker for textiles, so I ended up buying 3. They had a really dramatic way of unfurling the bedpreads and flipping them over to reveal the other side. At one point, I had a shortlist of 7 or so and the guy recruited everyone in the store to hold them up for me while I picked and chose like some kind of socialite. The same guy showed me some pashminas and even though I had already bought 11 in Pune, I got one more because it was this amazing periwinkle colour.

We were almost out of the store when the guy who sold carvings and paintings upstairs accosted us, grabbed my pashmina, and dragged us up to see his stuff. We spent most of our time up there looking at his handpainted cards and drawings of elephants, peacocks, camels, and other Indian symbols. I bought some cards for Christmas and Marcelo bought a bunch of larger pieces. At one point, I wandered away from the counter and the guy asked Marcelo if he wanted to see his 'very special' paintings. In case his leer wasn't suggestive enough, he said, 'erotic paintings'. I was only gone for a second so I have no idea what he would have done if Marcelo had said yes. Was there a little room at the back with a black curtain and an '18 and over' sign? Ew.

At this point we had been shopping for something like 2 hours. We realized later that this was really bitchy of her because she wasted most of our day shopping and she rushed us through the rest of the sites. She had actually also wanted to take us to a jewelry place, but we said no. If we had we might have not seen anything else at all.

After shopping we went to lunch at a pretty decent place, but it was full of white tourists. All of these tour guides are getting kickbacks from these stores and restaurants so they aren't the best places. It's too bad. I don't know if you could pay enough money to get a tour guide who actually showed you what was best in the city. Anyways, we were fed and didn't get food poisoning.

After lunch she rushed us through Jantar Mantar, an ancient outdoor observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh II that has, among other things, the world's largest sundial that can tell time up to the second. She went through how everything worked so fast that I didn't really understand. But, the structures were impressive.

After the observatory, we tore through the City Palace museum at a crazy speed. Among the notable things that she dragged us by was one of the maharaja's wedding gowns that had 3-1/2 kg of gold thread weaved in. Along the same lines, there was a blanket that had 9-1/2 kg of gold in it. Crazy. There were men dressed as ceremonial guards at the gates between buildings and they kept leaping in front of things so that you'd take their picture. I thought it was really sweet, so I took one, but then they both wanted money. I pretended to be really clueless and just thanked them profusely. Upon exiting the grounds, a pigeon pooped on my head. That had never happened to me before, but I knew exactly what it was without looking. Marcelo cleaned it out for me. We've reached a new level of intimacy.

Promptly at 5PM she took her leave and instructed the driver to take us to a place called Indiana for dinner that evening. After spending a couple of hours relaxing at the ass hotel, we went. Just like at lunch, the place was full of white tourists, but this time the food was AWFUL. The paneer tasted like a pencil eraser. To make things worse, there was 'entertainment' in the form of dancers, one of which was either a drag queen or a really ugly woman. All of them were haggling for tips. I was wondering, are you supposed to stuff a bill in her sari like a stripper? In any case, the place was a terrible tourist trap. Totally McIndia. The waiter tried to keep my change and when I asked for it he hovered over me so that no one else could get the tip. We HATED this place. Although, just like at the hotel, at one point it all seemed hysterically funny and we made another scene by laughing until we cried.

On the bright side, it was pretty late by this time and we had to get up at 4AM in order to catch a train to Agra, so we had only a handful of hours left to go at the ass hotel. I put all my booby traps in place and had a fitful few hours of sleep before I naturally woke up at 3:30AM, took a cold shower, and got ready to start another day.

For more pictures from Jaipur, click here.

Sunday, December 17: Agra

Marcelo didn't have an alarm clock and the TV didn't work, so I knocked on his door at 4AM to get him up. Little did I know that a few minutes later he would be witnessing sewage coming from his tap. Poor Marcelo. We checked out at 4:45AM and waited for our driver to take us to catch the 6AM train. By 5:15, he still hadn't shown up and he was supposed to be there at 5. I called the guy who was taking care of us in Agra and he said he'd handle it. 20 minutes later, the driver arrived looking like he just woke up. He sped, dodged, and wove the car to the train station at a reckless speed -- we thought we were going to die. Once there, he began arguing with a couple of porters who were trying to take our bags out of the car. More than once he forcibly grabbed them away from them. Then, he did a complete 180 and told us that they would take us to the train and keep us 'safe'. We basically said f**k off, grabbed our own bags, and went to find our seats. Thankfully, the car was really easy to find. The only problem was that my bag was about 75 lbs and I could barely get it on the train let alone up on the luggage racks. A very very sweet and strong guy from South Africa, Rene (see picture), was sitting behind me and he very very sweetly hoisted it up there for me. I love him.

One thing to keep in mind when travelling on any train in India is that even if your seats are numbered consecutively, that doesn't mean that they are together. Marcelo and I had seats 34 and 35, but I was sitting two rows behind him and on the opposite side of the train. Thankfully, someone wanted to switch with me, so we ended up sitting together after all. Across from us was a big extended Mennonite family from Southern Ontario (small world). Two of the parents had just started a 3-year teaching contract in Northern India and they had dragged their 3 kids with them. When I was a kid, I remember I didn't even want to change schools and have to meet all new people. They seem to be taking it well.

The train ride was perfectly fine once we were settled in. Vendors came around selling breakfast, chai, etc., but we were too worried about our GI tracts to partake. We zoned out and listened to our iPods and thought that everything looks better with a soundtrack running in the background. By about 11AM, we had arrived in Agra.

The very nice rep from the travel agency came right onto the train to find us. He already had a porter in tow who floored me by carrying both of our suitcases ON HIS HEAD. He looked like he weighed about 100lbs tops and our suitcases weighed at least 125lbs together. He carried them up a huge flight of stairs, down another, and had to crouch down to clear an overhang. I'd never seen anything like it in my life. We were driven to a hotel where we used the bathroom and had a little something to eat before meeting the Agra guide and heading to the Taj Mahal.

The new guide was very knowledgeable, polite, and well-spoken just like the one in Jaipur (I'm sorry to say that I don't remember his name). He knew lots of interesting things about the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort and he took everything at a leisurely pace, which was refreshing after getting bulldozed through Jaipur.

There are no factories/industry in Agra because the exhaust would make the Taj Mahal dirty. As extra precautions, you have to travel the last km to the Taj in a battery-operated car and once there you must wear surgical-type booties on your feet. You are not allowed to bring anything into the grounds except for a camera (no cellphones, iPods, video cameras, sharp objects) and before you enter the gates you are frisked by security personnel.

Immediately upon entering the gates, there is a long, low building that used to serve as an inn. Past this there is a central courtyard with four gates (north, south, east, and west). The south gates lead to a colony where the descendants of the marble workers who built that Taj live. During the years while it was being built, there were something like 20,000 workers living there. The north gates are the ones that lead to the Taj.

The north gates have 22 domes at the top signifying the 22 years that it took to build the Taj Mahal. On the gate are excerpts from the Koran. The letters range in size from 10-100 feet and are designed so that from a distance they all look the same size. The gate is made from sandstone and marble with stone inlay. The sandstone errodes and is repaired every 200 years, but the marble is the original because it never gets scratched or chipped. Most of the inlay is black onyx. In 1905, they tried to repair some inlay by using grey stone, but it faded while the black onyx kept its colour.

The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emperor Shāh Jahān as a memorial for his wife. She was 20 years old when they married and bore 14 children and had 2 miscarriages by the time she died at age 39. Before her death, she made the emperor promise that he would never marry again and that he would build her a memorial. No one has ever lived in the Taj Mahal.

All the pictures of the Taj on the Internet and in books are usually from the front, so you can't see that the structure is actually perfectly symmetrical on all four sides. If you look at it from any of its sides (north, south, east, and west), it looks exactly the same. The main dome has a false smaller dome on the inside, so it is really bigger on the outside than in. The reason for this is that while the dome looks impressive from the outside, if the inside was the same size, it would be too overwhelming. Inside are the tombs housing the actual bodies of the emperor and his wife.

Something that really surprised us was that the emperor was not supposed to be buried in the Taj Mahal. Upon his death, he wanted an identical black Taj Mahal built across the river in black marble. This didn't happen because his third son imprisioned him for the last 8 years of his life (he was jealous because he would never inherit the throne) and when he died his son was too cheap to carry out his wishes. So he buried him in the Taj, which was meant only for the empress, and the emperor's tomb is the only non-symmetrical element in the entire structure. Can you imagine how amazing it would have been to have a black Taj across the river?

Seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time really was a spine-tingling moment. It's so immense, white, graceful, and perfect. It was by far the most amazing thing I've ever seen.

After leaving the Taj Mahal we went to lunch at another tour guide-endorsed joint. The food was half decent, but there were more hawkers outside trying to get cash from us. This really creepy little kid was dressed in blue satin with gold earrings and was singing Frere Jacques and winking at us. To this day, I can't get that image out of my head. There was also a snake charmer that had two cobras and a python. He wanted us to take a picture of him and give him money.

After lunch we went to the Red Fort. Among other things, this is where the emperor was imprisioned by his son in the years before his death. 'Imprisioned' is slightly misleading because he had very comfortable quarters and an excellent view of the Taj.

Back in the day, the fort had both a wet moat filled with dangerous reptiles and a dry moat with tigers and lions. You need to go through several sets of gates before you can get past the palace walls. The gates are set at different angles because invaders used to use elephants to charge gates and they can only run in straight lines. The ramp leading up to the gates was sloped downwards so that big stones could be rolled down to impede intruders.

Inside, there is an area where the king's throne (the peacock throne) sat and used to house the world's biggest diamond, which is now one of the British crown jewels. This is where people could come to tell the king their problems and seek advice (I'm not sure if just anyone off the street could come).

The 3rd Mughul emperor had a harem of approximately 300 ladies housed in this fort. He had 4 wives and the rest were either concubines or other women he had taken into his care and was not sleeping with (widows of soldiers, daughters, sisters, etc.). It was an honour for a woman to be in the emperor's harem. All children of the harem were cared for by the emperor financially, but only the children of his wives could inherit the throne. Like at the Amber Fort, there were rooftop facilities where the ladies could dance and play without being seen.

The last thing we saw on the grounds was the king's portable bathtub -- a huge, stone tub with stairs on both the inside and out. Even though the thing must have weighed a tonne, it was taken with him when he travelled.

Unlike the Jaipur guide, this one showed us the sites very thoroughly before trying to loop us into shopping. Since we had a little time, we indulged him and looked at some jewelry. Marcelo looked at a lot of stuff, but didn't end up buying anything despite all the begging and pleading from the shopkeepers. I ended up buying some loose stones for my sister because she makes jewelry. I bought a Star of India, which is a black semi-precious stone that reveals a four-pointed white star when you shine a light on it. I also bought a star ruby, which is an actual precious ruby that shows a six-point star. I think I got a pretty good deal.

That evening, we had to get on another train to Delhi. Our wonderful friend from the travel agency (I have his name on a card somewhere) met up with us and took the same train. He organized the porters so it all went much smoother than in the morning. Again, the porters carried our suitcases on their heads up and down huge flights of stairs. Again, even though we were seated in seats 4 and 5, we were in different rows. Can't win.

For more pictures from Agra, please click here.

Monday, December 18: Delhi

By the time we got to Delhi 2-1/2 hours later, we were tired as death and all we wanted was a non-heritage hotel with clean linen, clean towels, and no sewage coming out of the taps. Our excellent driver took us to the Claremont hotel, which had all three things and we almost wept. However, no hot water to be had here either so we took cold showers and called it a day. Soon after crawling into bed, the phone rang (at 12:40AM) and some idiot said, "Good morning, ma'am. Breakfast is served between 6-10AM and you'll have to come down for it." All I could muster was a really sarcastic "okaa-ay" before he hung up on me. Ugh.

We had told the driver that we didn't want to go anywhere before 2PM because we had two consecutive days of getting up at 3. We sort of slept in, got ready for the long ass flight, read the paper, and had a leisurely lunch. In the light of day, we realized that for a 'business hotel and convention centre' it had very few amenities. For instance, you couldn't call long distance from your room. You had to go to the 'business centre' which was a backroom with two 100-year old computers and a couple of phones. There was no Internet access to be had in the rooms either. The safe didn't work and neither did the TV (all channels had static). Again, this is not a 5-star hotel. But, at that point, anything was better than the Raj Mahal Ass hotel.

At 2PM we checked out and met our Delhi guide. Let me just say that I can't even begin to tell you how much we HATED this guy. He was so not anywhere in the same league as the other two guides we had. He was unkempt, greasy, touchy-feely, and he didn't know anything. I instantly was in the bitchiest mood that Marcelo had witnessed so far on the trip. I was practically hissing. Since all the sites closed at 5PM, we figured we only had to spend a few hours with him and how bad could that be? Ew.

We started at Humayan's Tomb, which took a very long time to get to from the hotel. On the way, he told us a few facts about Delhi, including that the population is 16 million and that 13% of the population is homeless. Also, helmets are mandatory for men riding motorcycles, but not for women. There is 93 km of subway constructed, which will hopefully aid in congestion in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Let me just say that I can't imagine all of those people getting processed through the Delhi airport in time to actually participate in the games. Anyways, all the rickshaws, buses, and taxis run on CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) and Delhi University is the biggest university in India. OK fine, so the guy did know some things.

Humayan's Tomb was built for the emperor Humayan by his widow. The architecture is a mix of different cultural symbols, including Jewish (star of David) and Turkish ones (certain flowers). While we were inside the tomb, an American woman said really loudly that the tombs were off centre, but that geometry probably hadn't been invented yet. I'm totally serious. I couldn't make that up.

After that we went to India Gate, which was built by the British in 1921 after the First World War to thank the Indian soliders who fought for Britain. The arch lists all the names of the soldiers who died. After that we turned around and drove up the street to the Presidential Palace. By this point, the guide was really on our last nerve, so I stopped taking notes and Marcelo stopped taking pictures. For the whole afternoon, I was playing 'keep away' and trying to keep Marcelo in between the guide and me, but poor Marcelo didn't want to get close to him either. He kept on touching both of us, which is so weird since we just met and he is basically working for us. When we got back in the car (surprise, surprise), he wanted to take us to watch people make 'handicrafts'. I said flat out no and he protested, but the driver was on my side (he didn't like the guide either). I asked the driver to take us to Le Meridien and to pick us up when we had to go to the airport. Once we arrived we both said a hasty goodbye and hightailed it inside. That was the longest 3 hours of my life.

Le Meridien was such an oasis after being on the tourist circuit for 3 days. India, and especially the tourist racket, had kicked our asses. We used the most palatial bathrooms ever, lounged in the lobby, and had a lovely last dinner at the cafe. The only discordant note was the live entertainment where a guy was singing Phil Collins crap.

At 8PM, we headed to the airport for our 1:45AM flight home. The Delhi airport was chaos -- hot and dirty. In the lineup for screening our bags, I met a guy from Bedford, Nova Scotia who went to the same high school as Darcy. I asked him when he graduated and he said 4 years ago. So, while we're not exactly old enough to be his parents, Darcy could have babysat him or I may have taught him swimming lessons. He had been backpacking in India for 2 months -- what a guy. For more pictures from Delhi, please click here.

By the time we boarded the plane, we were all India-ed out. Everyone I know who has travelled to India told me that I'd both love it and hate it and I have to say that is exactly right. I'm so glad we got to stay in Pune and meet real people, eat real food, and work. Being a full-time tourist is so much more taxing and you get pushed around while everyone is trying to get your money. We saw some great things though, so I'm happy we did all this sightseeing. Thank you again, Sonia, for arranging it for us. Please do not be offended by all my complaining.

Thank you to everyone who made our stay in India fun and safe. And this is it for the India blog. I'm starting a new blog for adventures in and around Toronto (and perhaps Montreal, Halifax, and Boston), which will not be as interesting for everyone here, but might be for you guys in India. I'll add the link to the Links section of this blog in the next couple of days.

Happy Holidays, everyone.