Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Taj Mahal

Words cannot describe the wonder we saw today!  Our guide has his degree in Indian history (referred by local friends) and debunked many myths we had previously been told:
1. There was never any plan for a black Taj
2. The King (Maharaja) did not chop off the arms/hands of the workers

Please enjoy the unedited photos time to straighten and crop anything (same as all of the other blog photos...will have to wait until I am back in Denver)

After the Taj we went to the hotel for our breakfast and were on the road back to Delhi by noon.  Tomorrow is Varanasi to see the Ganges river (and meet up with Anneliese, Rafal and Kazu).
You have to wear shoe covers on the marble

Resident vulture (endangered)

The Pink City

We arrived in Jaipur known as the pink city at around 2pm, after a less than perfect lunch of greasy Indian fare we met up with our tour guide to the City Palace, part of which is still occupied by the Jaipur Royal family!
We then walked a little bit through the busy streets of the city before going to a gem stone cutting factory
On our way to our amazing hotel, Pear Palace Heritage we ran into Rafal, Anneliese, Kazu and Lukas... I was yelling out the car window as I unexpectedly spotted them walking down the street ( yes creating a spectacle!) we made plans to meet up for dinner at Niros.
Our hotel was fab and I want to post video, but blogger is not being nice!

Tuesday morning we rode elephants up to the Amer fort...I have decided that is how I would always like to travel!

After all of the touring we hit the (5 hour) road to Agra as Wednesday is the Taj Mahal! We ended the evening with a massage, steam and jacuzzi (thank you ITC Moghul hotel for such an amazing spa and staff!) and a nice glass of wine over dinner.

I know the term 'Holy Cow' was coined in India.

Friday through early Saturday morning we said our tearful goodbyes to the friends headed back to their home countries. I woke up early Saturday morning with the noise of India waking up, which includes horns, dogs barking, birds, monkeys, chai and samosa sellers, the train, etc etc...  But, I had something pleasant to look fwd to... Rick is coming!!  Before ricks arrival I met up with an old friend, Deepan Gupta who used to work with IBM when I was in New York.  Deepan, Dimitri and his friend Vu explored India Gate, Parliament etc... It was a beautiful day.  Rick arrived late that night (flight was an hour late), but it was so nice to see him.

Sunday we spent exploring Delhi together; Humayun's Tomb, Red Fort, pedi cab through Chandni Chok to see the old spice market and the filming of a Bollywood Movie, a Jain temple! a mosque! etc..

I have a lot of photos and videos, but hard to manage them all using my iPad vs my laptop as I don't have as much memory...but will see what I can do.

We then left for Jaipur on Monday morning.  

India gate from the actual park
India gate from the presidents house/Parliament

The presidents house
The Jantar Mantar (Astronomy)
One of the many spice merchants surrounded by bags and bags of dried chili's
@ Chandni Chowk (old spice/everything market)
From the roof top of an old spice house we could view baked goods drying in the morning sun, to be sold that afternoon as well as the set up for the Bollywood movie.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Our last day in Ludhiana

After a quick face time with Rick and the Reed’s (I got to see Mary’s belly!) I finished my packing.  Yikes! I have a lot of stuff already and I still have 2.5 weeks left….  On the way to Varanasi I will be leaving my big luggage at the storage area in the airport so that I won’t have to pay the airline fees for the extra and heavy baggage!
In the morning, I ran over to get Mary and Helen what they asked me for….thankfully it fit in my luggage and hopefully they fit! Then we went to the famous candy store for a last present for our clients to include with our framed photos and other miscellaneous gifts.  There were so many delicious looking candies, one of my favorites is the Kaju Kulfi (cashews crushed with sugar, ghee and milk) and so we did half a box of those and half of another that had almonds.  I was a little nervous at first because when they were showing me the different sized boxes there was a nice little live baby cockroach that came with one….mmmmm. 
We went off to our lunch that was scheduled for noon, and due to traffic and getting a little lost, we arrived at Colonel Cabin at 12:10.  Mr. Vijay arrived at around 12:45 and Kumar just after 1pm...I think noon is 1pm India Stretchable time ;)  We ate a delicious veg lunch of chapatti, dhal, masala paneer (amazing!) and Chana (spicy chickpeas) and for the breath freshener they had a treat called paan.  Paan is a mixture of masala, beetle nut, sugar, etc, etc… wrapped in a beetle leaf.  The taste was quite a shock and I wasn’t too sure, but once I popped it totally in my mouth and chewed it up at once it wasn’t so bad!  The concoction has a numbing sensation on your mouth and later I actually felt the cold numbing sensation in my chest…pretty wild.  Anyway, it is supposed to be good for digestion and the flavor is quite enjoyed by the locals.  I unfortunately did not take a picture, but I will order another with Rick and this time we will take pictures.
It was sad to say goodbye, but we had to head back to the hotel to have our tip ceremony with the hotel staff and get to the train station.  Kumar actually met us at the train station with a parting gift, (he had already been such an amazing host!) that I couldn’t believe there was something else!  Thank you Kumar, Kanika, Anubhav, Aashn, Aryan, Rupah and Tej, Rosie, Ixxx and Axxxx for everything, I will miss you!

Fun menu                                                                                  

We took the cycle rickshaws back from morning shopping in order to get to the taxi on time!
Saying goodbye for the 2nd time :(

Govind Godham

On Wednesday evening outside of the candy store, while waiting for me to finish at the print shop, poor Eduardo fell again and twisted his ankle even worse than before so he needed to stay in the hotel with his leg elevated.  Kazu and I were picked up by Jasminder (the driver and computer dealer) at 10am to pick up Mr. Kumar Maheshwari (our client) and Rupah (a young woman that works at Kumar’s house) and headed to the Hindu temple that we visited on our first day with our client (Tuesday February 11th) Govind Godham.  We arrived at 11:55, just in time for our blessing before they were closing and doing the final prayer.  Our client was very excited as he had never made experienced this final prayer ceremony so we stayed and experienced it with him.  For the blessing, you walk up to the priest (part of the Brahman caste) and he puts this bell shaped metal instrument over your head and speaks some words and then hands you a flower and puts a cloth around your neck and then you circle the shrine.   You don’t have to be quiet or demure as you would in a typical western style church, people walk in and out laugh, etc…while worshipping in a Hindu temple – much more relaxed (I liked that as you didn’t feel as nervous!).
I took a few videos to try to give you an idea of the closing prayer ceremony, but it was definitely different than any other prayer I have ever experienced.  First one of the priests blew on a conch shell and then proceeded to light gee filled lantern, added some marigolds and (maybe) some holy water and then waved that towards the two gods in the shrine(I believe they were Hari Krishna and…?) and ring a bell, he used multiple items and at two different occasions he handed off his lantern to the other priest who waved that over two other gods that were photos on the wall and then he brought it to us and we waved our hand over the flame and touched our faces and our heads.  The very end was to be sprinkled with water and a last blowing of the conch shell.
The god Krishna and his consort Radha -------- the gods behind the curtain

Miniatures of the gods

The priests chair                                                                      The pigeons also come to pray

We then went to say hello and feed the sweet cows and get covered with cow slobber, like I probably mentioned before the cows have much longer tongues than I would have thought!  While there a young woman who is studying engineering asked to have a photo with me and for my facebook name…later that evening she even Facebook messaged me! 


My new facebook friend
We then went to the Swami Vivikenand School that we have been working with and said a quick good bye to the children.  When we arrived there were more of the NGO members at the school and they asked if we would like to visit another of the schools that is run more directly by this amazing 70 year old woman.  This woman (I feel terrible, but I cannot remember her name.  The names here are very long and with the accent, I can never seem to get them right without seeing the spelling first.) is a retired medical doctor and professor – she started a school in the slums and she also runs a clinic there for the children and their families.  The school was very nice and the children there also seemed to be happy and proud to be there; it’s amazing that this group of individuals is spending so much of their time to make these schools and facilities a success.  You can give all of the money in the world to these causes, but without proper management (all of the time that needs to be invested) the money won’t be used wisely and this group is doing an amazing job – they are changing a generation one child at a time.  This spry 70 year old woman is also trying to start an old age home for the poor as well, I am sure she will do it!
For your every catering need

Wild marijuana

The street outside the school

The founder

Look for the middle left advertisement...Turban training center.....
 Our last stop of the day before getting back to the hotel to prepare for our final presentation at 4pm was Anubhav (Kumar’s son) university – Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College, 3rd best in the state of Punjab.  It was a beautiful campus, grass and trees – there were chipmunks running everywhere and parrots!  We met Anubhav’s Dean, Dr. K.S. Mann and he actually asked to have IBM contact him to see what they can do together at the school (I think they want IBM to come in and help plan curriculum in order to teach the students skills that would enable IBM to hire them in the future.
Kumar then dropped Kazu and I off at the hotel in order to allow us some time to freshen up before our final presentation to his NGO, as I was saying my farewell he said, see you at 4:30 and I said, no the meeting is at 4 and he said, I will see you at 4:30…so the meeting time changed to 4:30pm J  At about 4:20 a pigeon flew into our room!  We called the hotel staff and as they were working on removing the pigeon, Kazu and I went down to meet our guests, but the majority did not arrive until almost 5:30pm…so our meeting started close to 5:45pm…I think that is 4:30pm IST J
I believe that our presentations went really well, the information was well received by our audience of 10 in the team room 711 over chai and cookies. The quality of the packages that we provided not onely looked good (thanks to Gargan printers – the largest print shop in Ludhiana), but the information we provided is key to help Swabhimaan NGO achieve its goals and grow and teach India’s underprivileged children.  

We ended the meeting with photos in the lobby and then our team had our final dinner together and close-out discussions. 

What a great time this has been, I can’t believe that we leave Ludhiana tomorrow – it’s bittersweet as I have had a great time and love the new friends I have made, but I also miss my hubby, animals and friends back in Colorado!  Looking forward to Saturday night when I pick Rick up from the New Delhi airport.