We have lots more to tell about our adventures in India. Here we have collected a few short stories that aren't quite long enough to have their own blog post.
1. I got to play with some puppies at Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi.
And oh, yeah, the actual historical sight was cool too.
2. We went to Jodhpur, the "Blue City" and went zip-lining over the fort.
Sorry, no photos of the zip line, but Tori and I did get henna done the next day. They were both beautiful but Tori's turned out best, both because the henna lady did cooler designs for her but also because I think my arms are harrier so the dye didn't stick as well.
3. I made up a new game to give pushy vendors a taste of their own medicine.
As I've discussed before, street vendors in northern India (not the south! it was lovely there!) were extremely aggressive, and would walk up to you, shove their wares in your face, and start talking at you even when you showed no interest in their shop. "No thank you" was almost never good enough, and many men would persist ("best price!" "just for you my friend" "exclusive item!") until you literally yelled at them or managed to out-walk them down the street. Having had enough, I started coming up with ruses to turn the tables.
“Hello madam! Come to my shop! Beautiful jewelry at best prices!”
“Ah, sir, you like jewelry?”
The vendor would be excited that I engaged him and move closer, not totally thinking through what I had just said to him but liking that the word “jewelry” was involved. At this point I’d take off my fake wedding ring, which is pure plastic and we bought in a Philippino mini mall for about $3. “Yes sir! Today is your very very lucky day,” I’d continue, wobbling my head with a saleswomanly grin. “Today I have for you best offer on emerald diamond ring. It was given to me by a Maharaja’s wife.” The vendor would look at me confused, but intrigued because he believes that as white foreigners we are very wealthy. “Best price for you my friend. Only for you. Five thousand rupees.” At this point, one or two of his neighboring vendors would be crowding around to look at the ring. “Five thousand rupees?” Finally, he’d recognize my ring (which I had removed for him to examine) was worth about 30 rupees and hand it back, smiling with concession that he’d been had. We’d continue down the road with a slight bounce in our step.
4. We saw this Malabar giant squirrel on a nature walk with our cooking homestay family.
Actually we saw like 8 of them. The species is native only to India and, though it's hard to tell scale from the picture since it's pretty zoomed in, the squirrel is about the size of a raccoon. If you catch them in the right light their tails are a sort of auburn color and remind of us the red pandas (which funnily enough aren't actually pandas) that we saw in China.
5. We took a scenic ride on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.
It's a one hour trip on old steam locomotives that run between Coonoor and Ooty up in the Nilgiri Hills. The train goes through hillsides and tea plantations, and since our hosts managed to score us ticket's around sunset, the lighting was beautiful for our late afternoon ride.
6. You could be forgiven for thinking that the Tata Group owns India, because it is clear they own a lot of it
The Tata Group is an international, Indian based mega conglomerate started several generations ago and now holds over 100 operating companies. Andrew first became familiar with Tata when HBS built a new building named after a member of the family.
You see Tata everywhere... You can wake up in the morning and have Tata tea or Tata Coffee with your breakfast of eggs with Tata Salt, watching the morning news on Tata Sky satellite television before getting into your Tata Motors car to go to work. Your office building could have been built with Tata Steel with Tata Construction Equipment and run on Tata Power today. From work you might go on that business trip, flying on AirAsia India (a Tata subsidiary) and staying in one of the luxury Taj Hotels (also owned by Tata). That's really just the surface of it. There are competitors, to be sure, but Tata is in almost any industry you can think of. They even have a joint venture with Starbucks called "Tata Starbucks".
The Tata Group is majority owned by various charitable trusts controlled by members of the Tata family. Several Indian people that we met talked about the charity work of the Tata family, although we admit we don't really know enough about the charity work they do to describe it.
7. I finally managed to catch Delhi Belly (a form of food poisoning Delhi is famous for) literally the same hour that Tori left for the airport.
After weeks of mercilessly scrutinizing every raw onion and salad, I got it from some bad chutney at a takeout place we should have known better about. We were tired, hungry, and didn't have great restaurant options near our hostel. It was a rough three days, but I was fortunate to have recovered relatively quickly. Plus, Andrew and I had built in three days in Delhi to recuperate from our fast-paced north India trip with Tori so timing was perfect. Luckily for you, no photos.
8. After I got better, Andrew and I took our last overnight train of the trip to visit Varanasi.
We scored first class train tickets, just to see what it was like. Varanasi is the holiest city in Hinduism because the Ganges River (called Ganga in India), which runs through it, is considered holy. According to Hindu belief, by being cremated along the Ganges and having your ashes dumped into the water, one escapes the cycle of reincarnation and reaches nirvana- for everyone else, it takes a few thousand years.
To make a long story short, we really didn't like Varanasi. After hearing other travelers, bloggers, and Indians moon about how mystical and beautiful the city and river were, we found the whole place filthy and relatively uninteresting compared to our visit to the backwaters of Alleppey, which still ranks among our most favorite activities of the trip. Our hotel room was cold, the water smelled bad (looked worse), and there was even more cow poo than normal clogging up the roads. I'll confess we spent most of our time grumping around expensive ex-pat oriented coffee shops and trying to use the internet. We did take a few photos, however.
I'll wrap up this post with a little video that Andrew made in Varanasi outside some sort of water treatment plant. :-)