I Lost My Chapstick in Pakistan

Pakistan Border – 35 kilometers outside Amritsar

The four of us wanted to go to the Wagah Border Closing Ceremony which was 35 km away from Amritsar.

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This border closing ceremony has been going on since 1959. The lowering of the flags is a military service performed by India and Pakistan every day just before sunset.

There are grandstands, and they are completely packed. At least on the Indian side.

The crowds on each side of the border shout Hindustan and Pakistan back and forth in the same manner the Cougs and Huskies shout back and forth during Apple Cup.

The “main event” kicked off at 5 p.m. The Indian side played awesomely loud, good Indian Bollywood hits from some quality loudspeakers. People ran Indian flags back and forth between the Pakistan gate and the safety of the Indian crowd.

Locals were invited to dance unapologetically for the half an hour preceding the gate closing.

Kelly, being the spunky fun chick that she is, insisted we go dance.

So we danced our butts off and it was the most fun I’ve had in awhile.

My chapstick escaped from my skirt pocket and is now lost somewhere in Pakistan.

By 5:30p.m. there were some very large, fully outfitted guards with tall peacock hats throwing out high school cheer squad kicks, shaking fists, waving guns, and just exaggerating everything you think would be inappropriate toward the Pakistani side just a foot away.

It was crazy and pretty accurately sums up the country.

Heh. Why should we take national security seriously? Dude, lets throw some high kicks at the current poverty crisis, flash some fancy outfits around at the waste disposal situation and make a joke of the caste system. Sure, let’s just dance and everything will be okay.

This is the part where you hate and love India. You hate it because they take serious stuff not so seriously, but at the same time you have to ask, what else are they supposed to do? Find themselves in a great depression because they are swimming in sewage, poverty and trash? Good for them for dancing like hell and playing music so loudly you can’t hear your own rationale thoughts even if they could be created here.

It was fun. It worked. A pep rally at the border between opposing countries. Sure, why not?

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Sorry if that critique is offensive to anyone, but if this country doesn’t take itself or its issues seriously, why should I take the country seriously in a travel blog. (Writing this while incredibly ill thanks to India’s collective lack of understanding of food, health and safety). Cheers. 

Darkness set in and the four of us went to the Grand Hotel to get food and drinks. Yes we passed an elephant on the highway on the drive back…

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A good night went really really bad when I became suddenly violently ill while at dinner.

Ahhhhhhh. I thought we won, and James and I would leave still standing when we boarded a plane out of here.

Pretty close, but unfortunately that would not be a dream come true for me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I wish I were kidding, but we had a nine hour train journey and I was not really feeling the whole train thing on this particular day. I was feeling like I would rather board a direct flight home, but was at least grateful that there wasn’t much I was missing by sleeping the day away.

We arrived in Delhi at 3 p.m. and it was hot as hell. Maybe it was a fever, but I swear the city was 20C hotter than when we had left it back in February.

Not feeling well, the night in Delhi was pretty short. Having given up faith on Indian cuisine, James opted for Pizza Hut and I had the laziest day on this trip yet.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My time is Delhi was pretty crap. I spent three days doing absolutely nothing except being sick and cursing my brains out at this country.

James took charge and got our Vietnam visas sorted and we excitedly watched time fly by, preparing for our departure from this country.

Yeah sure, there are a million lessons to be learnt from this place, these people, their systems or lack thereof. But right now, I feel like crap. I want to leave India. I never want to smell decaying bodies, fermenting sewage, body odor, thali, fried dal, see the word ghee, see a head wobble or a holy cow again. Certainly not now. Not in the near future.

Thank you, and peace out India. You’ve been nuts.

Holi Festival

Sunday, March 16, 2014

To watch the preparation for the biggest celebration in India, we headed to the streets to get a feel for just how crazy the city of Jaipur was going to be.

Colors were sold in every single shop on even the dodgiest of side streets. Everyone was purchasing bags of neon powder, water guns, spray cans and white clothes.

The entire city looked like Party City and the anticipation was immaturely exciting!

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We walked around the streets at dusk taking part in the Holika bonfires that transformed intersections into a blazing fire lit stages ready for anxious participants to dance, sing and prematurely throw colors.

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Holi Day

The festival of colors, the festival of love. 

The entire day was spent playing Holi.

We were told we played Holi quite well. I’m not sure if that means we are exceptionally tolerant of the hundreds of hands suffocating our faces with neon powders or what, but we had fun.

We were warned things would get out of hand, and of course just around noon they quickly turned gritty.

One older gentleman punched a man in the face on my behalf, a woman policeofficer beat a group of boys attacking me with a wooden pole. Later a male officer stood between us and the out of control crowds and ordered we leave the streets.

At the end of the day, we had a blast and ended up making it back to the hotel without getting into too much trouble.

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Video footage coming soon!

Jaipur

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

We arrived in Jaipur at 4:50 a.m. A rickshaw took us from the train station to Krishna Palace in Bani Park where we would stay the next six nights.

We postponed booking a train several nights onward from Jaipur so we could enjoy Holi Festival in the bustling capital city of Rajasthan. I figured we would make the most of it and take a few days to be hermits, indulge in reading, writing, shopping and handicraft workshops.

We temporarily resided in an empty room and around 10 a.m. we were called downstairs and settled in to a much smaller (cheaper) room then quickly set out to explore.

Despite the thousands of rickshaws offering relatively cheap rides, we opted to walk, thinking that the little inch on the LP map didn’t look that daunting.

About an hour and a half later we arrived at the Old City walls.

Wait, this can’t be right I said aloud clumsily opening the oversized free city map. I thought this was supposed to be the “Pink City?” I imagined protected within those pretty pink walls would be a quiet, but thrilling maze of market lined streets selling brightly colored produce, silks, fragrant spices, leather sandals, drawer knobs and brilliantly colored bangles.

Um. Not so much.

It’s basically a ghetto Home Depot and Dollar Store stretched over miles and miles.

We took a few laps up and down the streets hopeful we would find the pretty stretch I imagined. That pretty stretch doesn’t exist.

Having skipped the last three meals we decided to find the Indian Coffee House, the only coffee joint that had a reputation for having real coffee in Jaipur.

After an hour of circles and zig-zags and misguided directions we eventually found the place. The interior was sea-foam green with worn once-brown leather chairs. Conversations bounce excitedly off the aged concrete walls that are adorned with non-distracting prints. Dishes clatter loudly in the kitchen tucked to the right immediately inside the creaking screen front door. Servers are dressed in their British-India styled freshly pressed white outfits and their hats remind me of a proud male peacock showing off his feathers.

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I liked the place. It made you feel like you time-traveled to 1930’s, and although I have no idea what that would look like, it reminds you that life can be simple.

We ordered coffee for 15 rupees each and then tried out an idly – a baby fluffy pancake made from rice flour. I could get used to this.

Refreshed, we revisited the streets and further pursued my dream of workshops and courses during our extended stay in Jaipur. We found the Astrology Center I had researched. I inquired about courses and walked out buckled over laughing that the only accurate reading that palm reader would give me is that I would be flat broke after the completion of their scammy $300 USD “course.”

Trying to salvage the afternoon, we went to the City Palace, the most visited attraction in Jaipur. For 300 rupees and with unimpressed visitors exiting the palace, we just could not be bothered to pretend to be interested in another ancient royal home. So we happily opted out of that site.

Still slightly hooked up on my astrology course failure, I convinced James to go to the Jantar Mantar. We managed to get a Composite Entry Ticket at the foreign student price, making entry to five of the most popular sights in Jaipur only 175 rupees total, which is an incredible price.

Bouncing around all excited about our discount, we headed into the Jantar Mantar. The Jantar Mantar is a World Heritage Monument (UNESCO) and although the instruments are more complicated than getting bubble gum cleanly off the bottom of your shoe, it was completely worth it and extremely interesting.

Five observatories were built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in the early 18th century after he convinced royalty that India needed to have an accurate map of the stars.

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Although visually appealing, the marble and stone grand instruments made absolutely no sense to me without an explanation. We pathetically purchased the audio guide at 150 rupees and in our attempt to save $2, decided to share it. The cheap audio guide outsmarted us and only let us listen to each point a single time, so James and I had a lovely little listen-and-teach session, doubling the amount of time most visitors donate inside the observatory.

We enjoyed it.

At closing time we were ushered out of the observatory and back into the streets. Again, thinking it would be nice to stretch our legs we made the walk back, two hours later we arrived at Krishna Palace, pretty hungry, thirsty and pooped.

Not caring to venture for food, we found ourselves hanging at the hotel rooftop restaurant for dinner.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

We were up and out of Krishna Palace at 9 a.m. as we had booked a rickshaw for the entire day to take us to the major sites. Jaipur city is overwhelmingly sprawling and walking from site-to-site is not a great option.

Our driver took us first to our new favorite joint, the Indian Coffee House. We got coffees and masala dosas, a gram flour crepe-style thin pancake stuffed with spinach, potatoes and kicking-hot masala spices.

Fired up we then were taken 10km north of the city center to Amber Fort and Palace. Rulers Man Singh I, Mirza Raja Jai Singh and Sawai Jai Singh built this impressive fort and palace, and it took us several hours to explore.

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We then headed to Jal Mahal, the water palace floating on top of Man Sagar Lake, for a quick photo stop.

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Our driver then took us to a textile and block printing shop, per our request.

We ended up wandering through some of their factory and showrooms.

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Somehow they won, because we ended up purchasing pillow covers. Let the nesting period in Seattle begin in full swing I suppose…

Our driver then brough us to Nahargarh Fort. The 30 minute hike up to the fort deters 90 percent of visitors, so we basically had the entire site to ourselves.

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Pretty pumped about our exceptionally productive and toursity day, our driver then took us to the Old City where we went into the Hawamahal.

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The Hawamahal was built by a poet and king, Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799 A.D. The pink sandstone building is quite impressive from the front, ironically when paying to visit you enter through the rear.

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It is nicknamed the palace of the winds due to the 953 windows (jharokhas) that open out to the bazaars below, allowing women of the royal household to watch the busy world below them without sacrificing their own privacy.

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I’d say this building is completely appropriate for this country! I loved it!

After touring the palace, we spent some time perusing the busy streets, overpopulated with shops before deciding to head back to the Indian Coffee House to see our favorite waiter, get some excellent vegetable pakora and then head back home.