India: Part 1
LEAVE // 01.02.2018 | 13:25 PM PST | PORTLAND, OREGON
ARRIVE // 01.04.2018 | 02:45 AM IST | HYDERABAD, INDIA
TRANSPORTATION // ALASKA AIRLINES | EMIRATES // VISA ON ARRIVAL
LAYOVER // SEATTLE, WA | 2 HOUR | DUBAI, EAU | 2 HOUR 50 MINUTE
(2 HOUR DELAY LEAVING SEATTLE, LEFT ONLY 50 MINUTE LAYOVER IN DUBAI)
ACCOMMODATIONS // LOCAL RESIDENCE
The adventure started before even landing in India. From a 2-hour late departure out of Seattle, leaving only 50 minutes to get through Dubai airport, and then my Apple watch turned up missing through security after I was greeted with a special screening in a private room. Besides all that, I wasn't going to let it ruin the start of what could be one of the best experiences I've encountered in my travels.
Hyderabad & Agra
Arrived, sleep deprived, no idea what day it was, and still upset I lost my Apple watch during my layover in Dubai. Hyderabad airport did not disappoint. What should have been a quick pass through to get my visa stamped took over an hour of standing in line and getting irritable over the constant impatience of others as they cut to the front. Finally getting through and greeted by my good friend Madhu (poor guy had been waiting for almost 4 hours for my arrival), I made it to India!
Regardless if I was visiting for work, pleasure, or how much I have traveled over the years, I found myself slightly culture shocked the first couple days. Maybe because I usually depend on Rehan to be there to guide me, the lack of sleep, trying to get my bearings on timezone, or possible that I was staying in an apartment with Madhu's sister and family and it threw off my psyche [the amount of hospitality I received is something I could never explain, or thank them enough for. It was too much and I am forever grateful]. Everything was very surreal.
After going into the office a few days, Saturday arrived and we were free to roam the city. Venturing out beyond the office, sightseeing, taking photos with my "fan club", and spending time with new friends. The city was way more chaotically beautiful and amazing than I had originally thought. Sightseeing with coworkers was like getting a private tour of Golkonda Fort, Charminar, Mecca Masjid, and Falaknuma palace. It made for a long day but worth fitting it all into a few hours. By evening, my sides started to ache from laughter while getting to know the guys from the office a little more. Not to mention the constant line of my fan club of school girls wanting to take photo's with me [I'm pretty sure I'm a famous face on Facebook/Instagram in India now. Red hair, fair skin, female roaming Hyderabad - like a Bigfoot sighting in the states].
Sunday was a little more laid back. Ramoji Film City is the largest studio complex in the world, filming many Bollywood/Tollywood favorites like Chennai Express, Diwali, Bahubali, Raees, and my first Bollywood movie 15-years ago... Devdas! Along with hundreds more that are also worth a mention, but for a much longer blog post. One theme in many that I did mention star the heart throb Shahrukh Kahn [heart skips beat] and maybe, just maybe, I stood in the same location as him.
Back to work on Monday. Getting used to the daily routine of staying in a local apartment. Waking up, greeted with freshly made coffee, breakfast (consisting of Dosa), music videos playing on the TV, and kids getting ready for school. Bathing/showering by use of a bucket was a little different, but had a charm to it. I'm used to standing in a shower at home, letting the hot water trickle down, not moving, wasting a ton. Here it was very precise. Use only as much water as needed and become resourceful as to not get your clothes wet as the entire floor is now soaked. Many questions were had the first couple times I attempted to shower; do I stand? squat? how does one wash their hair? why doesn't the soap make suds with the water? How do I keep my red hair (that bleeds when wet) from staining the floor? I eventually got the hang of it and started to appreciate the simplicity of all of it.
The days ahead were long. Going into the office, packed with training, then the evenings had their own full itineraries which helped to shed the day-to-day routine. From getting measurements taken for custom made sarees/blouses and shopping with Madhu's sister (never underestimate the bartering skills of a local). Wednesday evening was probably the most entertaining. Taking a fairy to/from the Buddha Statue of Hyderabad, their version of Statue of Liberty, while having locals start up conversation with me to practice their English. Then making it up to Birla Mandir Temple before they closed. Racing uphill, through a narrow street, passing by countless shops selling trinkets, bangles, and small souvenirs. Picking up the pace as we ascend the steps of the temple, barefoot, and leaving our cell phones with the "trusted" electronics check counter at the entrance. Attempting to look around as we were going up, the architecture was breathtaking. Intricately carved white marble, dedicated to Lord Venkateswara. With an 11-foot granite carved statue of the deity under a lotus canopy. I don't pretend I know the traditions, rituals, expectations one is supposed to follow when entering a temple. Instead, watching, following the same, and paying respect to a Hindu God that I admit I would have to research the history of, but follow the motions of those around. After exiting prepare to sit on the marble floor outside, to feel the downpour of energy on your head and hands as God is sending energy in form of a blessing (or, generally, Hindu temples are located in a place where earth's magnetic waves pass through and the idol is placed in the center with a copper plate underneath that absorbs the earth's magnetic waves and radiates to its surroundings. Aka. Positive energy).
Friday started as a normal day at the office and ended with taking an evening flight to New Delhi. The first step in the journey to see the Taj Mahal. Staying overnight, then catching an early AM train to Agra. Now, one may say to book your train tickets online except there's one major catch, you must have a local number in order to register for the site. Luckily I had one, but unfortunately even though I registered I was unable to book tickets due to the site crashing repeatedly. We took the chance and went to the train station that morning in hopes to find a train with availability. Risky since it was a festival weekend, but whats an adventure without a little added stress? Registration office is located upstairs to the left. Don't bother looking for signs, there are none. This is where you pay for a reservation for a train, any train, as long as you catch one within 3 hours. Then do not board the train, even though everyone else boarded, you must wait until you've been assigned a seat else you will be fined upon train departure from the station. Simple, right? Getting a seat in one of the sleeper cars, and me getting a lower bunk sleeper bed all to myself gave the ability to stretch my legs for the 3 1/2 hour journey. This was indeed the perfect way to go.
Arriving in Agra, with a car waiting to take us to the hotel, we decided to book our tickets to see the Taj Mahal for the same day. The anticipation of seeing that great beauty was killing me. I was finally going to check off another modern wonder of the world, with only three more to go. And of course, the mausoleum did not disappoint. Its magnificent beauty, where no picture does it justice, and it is breathtaking to see in person. Amazing! The remainder of the day was more of a waste. Trying to get our cab driver to take us back to the hotel, instead being driven from one location to the next attempting to get us to buy something. It's like the India version of a timeshare. Avoid if you possibly can! Sunday was no different. Attempting to visit as many sights as possible, but also trying to battle the cab driver from taking us on another shopping tour, where we still did not buy anything.
Approximately 30 miles outside of Agra is the city Mathura, believed to be birthplace of Krishna. We made multiple stops here on Sunday. One to walk through a labyrinth of streets, being closely watched, and that feeling if we took a wrong turn it may not end well for us, only for a quick walk through a small make-shift temple. Sitting on the floor in the back of the room, watching the "show". Next stop Kesava Deo Temple and the Shahi Eid Gah Mosque. And finally, before heading back to Agra was Shri Krishna-Balram Temple. One of the most eye pleasing temples we had seen all day. [Note: Remember to remove your shoes before entering these temples. It takes only a few seconds and its disrespectful not to. Why fight it?].
Driving back to Agra, and arguing with the cab driver to not stop at another detour, we arrive at Fatehpur Sikri. A large walled complex containing the Jama Masjid Mosque and Tomb of Salim Chishti. In order to enter the tomb, be prepared to lay a piece of cloth in the center and tie a string to the window and make three wishes... for a low cost of 1500 INR (and if you don't pay you will be hassled). That was all fascinating, but I couldn't shake an eerie feeling about this place. I know this was the location just a few months back where a couple was attacked for refusing to take a selfie with the locals, but just like any other Muslim landmark I'm always taken back at how rude they are. Its times like these that I have to put up my arms and prepare for the arm nudges, elbows, being shoved aside, and pinching of my arms as I pass. Frustrating to say the least. At least their architecture is beautiful, even though they are not.
Arriving back to Hyderabad Monday evening after a long weekend and settling back into work mode. I have to be honest, I missed the honking, chaos, and people in Hyderabad vs the last couple days in Agra. Taj Mahal was amazing, but I could have done without most everything else. It was an early evening in Hyderabad and after a long day of travel, but all the same, made the most of the time still available... I made plans for Tuesday. There was still one specific thing I wanted to attempt, but had yet the opportunity. I wanted to ride on the back of a motorcycle through the heavy traffic. Tuesday, most of the team were still on holiday after the long festival weekend. So one of the guys from work that had not gone back to his village shifted his hours to take me around. How, you may ask? On his motorcycle, of course! With last minute shopping to do and a couple sights still to see, we set off into the hot scolding sun, me wearing a scarf in an attempt to cover the red hair, and the feel of the wind on my face as we swerved and narrowly squeezed between cars and other motorists. With, surprisingly, only one close call and testing that the brakes were in full working order, this was one of the best decisions I made. For me who would typically over calculate the safety measure of everything, it was exciting!
We ventured out to Shilparamam, an arts and crafts village where you can find stalls and stalls of handicrafts, pedal boats, and huts depicting rural and tribal lifestyle and various artisans. Spending a good 3-4 hours then back on the bike headed to a different colony in search of kurta's for our coworker who was back at the hotel ill, then riding the metro to nowhere, and the city bus back to where the bike was parked. Only to stop for Egg Biryani on the return and teaching me how to properly eat with my hands [I've got to say, it actually makes the food taste way better. No metallic flavoring of the silverware. But still weird, like I'm playing with my food]. Back to hotel. Definitely the perfect ending to a three work journey. Many good laughs, good company, new founded appreciation for all things India, and most of all many I would gladly call a close friend. I'm going to miss Hyderabad.
Wednesday was bitter sweet. Really sad to be saying goodbye to such a great group of people. Yes, I will get to work with them remotely, but in person for three weeks has been an amazing experience that I wouldn't trade in one moment for another. Laughs, hospitality, and forever gratefulness that I will take with me always.
The Return Home
LEAVE // 01.18.2018 | 04:10 AM IST | HYDERABAD, INDIA
ARRIVE // 01.18.18 | 13:41 PM PST | PORTLAND, OREGON
TRANSPORTATION // ALASKA AIRLINES | EMIRATES
LAYOVER // SEATTLE, WA | 2 HOUR | DUBAI, EAU | 2 HOUR 50 MINUTE
(1 HOUR DELAY LEAVING HYDERABAD, LEFT ONLY 30 MINUTE LAYOVER IN DUBAI)
Saying goodbye, heading to the airport at Midnight, 45 minute cab ride, and arriving with at least 3-hours prior to flight in anticipation for known delays at the airport. Only to arrive and breeze through all lines, security, and have enough time to take a 2-hour power nap before my flight would be ready to board. Waking up, looking up at the monitor, and seeing the dreaded word "DELAYED" flashing at me. Crap! I have a short connection in Dubai, and I have one stop I need to make before boarding my next flight. Recover my watch from lost and found! Yes, that is right. Dubai airport found my watch and was holding it for me. But now with a delayed flight out of Hyderabad I don't know if I will be able to reunite with my beloved Apple watch. Feeling a sudden rush of emotion I went for a walk. I had to make this work.
Boarding the flight over an hour late, plane leaving the gate before everyone was seated, and taking off as the last person buckled in, we were finally on our way to Dubai. Looking at the estimated time, I would only have 30 minutes from the time of landing before the gate closed for my next flight. I got this... until realizing I would be landing in Terminal 1, Gate C7, and needed to go to Terminal 3, B36. Thats almost the entire length of the airport. Luckily lost and found was between Terminal 1 and 3, but now only having 20 minutes by the time the plane parked at the gate and me not planning to queue up with others who were catching the same flight and bypassing security lines, this was going to be a huge risk. I went for it anyways. Grabbed my backpack, synched it tight, and as soon as the plane door opened, I ran! Got through security without a hitch and to lost and found with 14 minutes left to spare. Unfortunately they took 10 minutes to locate the watch, leaving me 4 minutes to run 36 gates. Starting to feel the panic, I ignored the pain from running in sandals, 20+lbs on my back, a purse, and my jacket draped at my side, and many hours since I had last eaten... I was still running. My side started to ache, but I could see the gate and they were slowly closing the door. I was too late, I knew it, but to my amazement they saw me and waved me in, wished me a good flight, then told me to relax and get a drink on the plane. Door closed behind me. I can't believe I made it! And on top of that, I've been reunited with my Apple watch. I've missed my dear friend.
Lets Talk Food
In most cases Celiac Disease is always something I keep in mind when I travel, but this was not the case for India. The flours used are not made of wheat and other ingredients that I'm banned from having aren't used in Indian dishes (barley, rye, oats, etc). Most dishes I was expecting to have were curry based and could be served with rice. Now what I was not expecting was how many options there would actually be. Unlike in the states, there was no limit to my selection. It seemed no matter where we went it was not an issue. From many types of Dosa, soft pillows of Idly, a wide variety of Biryani, and many, many more. Happiness was definitely in my belly.
This is good! :)
Thanks Sowmya :)
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