Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Buses, Nanis, and Simla...Oh My!

            Now before coming to India, a good JEP friend of mine, Rob, suggested that if I had the opportunity to travel in India that I should go to Simla, a supposedly charming town situated in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. Well it just so happens that one of my fellow CLS’ers–Ayushi–has grandparents who live just outside of Simla. Thus, without hesitation I took her up on the offer to travel north for a weekend.
            Now, planning a trip in India is quite the experience. From rickshaws, motor rickshaws, and busses, to trains, taxis, planes, and hitchhiking there is a plethora of transportation methods to utilize when traveling anywhere one wants to go. And so it was that Ayushi, Levi, and I set out on our journey to Simla by means of non-AC Sleeper class train to Delhi, non-AC bus from Delhi to Kalka, and toy-train from Kalka to Simla. When recalling the early moments of this adventure the mantra “The journey is the destination” comes to mind.  Despite the recommendations to take anything but a non-AC Sleeper class train, we college students took advantage of the cheapest travel method possible. This part of our journey was the perfect start to a great trip. The three of us had three seats–I can not attest to the accuracy of that ratio for the rest of the train–but stayed up into the early hours of the morning on the top seat playing different mental trivia games.
            Once we arrived in Delhi we ventured to find the Foreign Tourist Office within the train station. I honestly believe that the person who built this office wanted to make it the most difficult thing to find in all of India. But after an hour we did manage to find the office and were greeting by a very unpleasant, rude, and somewhat offensive desk clerk, who in the end refused to help us because our visas said “student” not “tourist”. This is were I learned the Indian saying “Not all five fingers are the same”, for we ended up talking to another clerk who was much more helpful.
            All in all, we made it to the Simla station safe and sound and were greeted by some of the most fun-loving, hilarious, stubborn grandparents that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Unlike the US where we refer to our grandparents uniformly as grandma and grandpa (perhaps with some particularities), in India everyone has a unique title. So it was in Simla that I met Ayushi’s ChoTi-Nani (younger sister of her grandmother on her mother’s side), her Bari-Nani (actual grandmother), and her Nana (the husband of ChoTi-Nani). Staying with Ayushi’s family was the best part of my experience in Simla. I learned that when one sees a giant spider (about the size of a baseball) crawling on the curtains behind the couch, to let it be… I learned that Indian grandmothers know how to cook just as well as those in the US.  I learned that anytime is teatime even if you have just had tea. I also learned how to play Rummy–which now has been a must with every Indian trip I have taken.
            As Rob foretold, Simla was a beautiful city. The cool breeze of the mountains was a welcome change to Lucknow, and the people were very friendly. We visited the local library and churches (even attended Hindi mass), climbed the path to a Hindu temple dedicated to Hanuman–the giant orange monkey god pictured below–, and visited the Viceregal Lodge from when Simla was the summer capitol of colonial India. At one point we crammed seventeen people into one taxi-we were quite proud.

            After saying our goodbyes we departed by night bus back to Delhi. Admittedly, we camped out at the McDonalds outside the bus station the next morning for breakfast, but to cap off the experience we took a fifteen-hour NON AC bus ride from Delhi to Nucklow (had to throw in a Kipling reference eventually :D). After that most trying leg of our journey, we arrived safely in time for an appreciated cold shower, a quick rest and another day of Urdu.
            The person of this post is of course Ayushi. A crazy, high-spirited, joking child, Ayushi and her fluency in Hindi were well appreciated on this trip.  She enjoys studying Sufi Shrines and is under the illusion that she is better than me in Rummy…

Useful Urdu phrases to learn: “MaiN Amriika say huN” = I am from America.  “Yai _______ khoobsooraat hai (N)” = This _________ is beautiful (if plural with the N). Also–an essential for the bargainers out there– “Kitnay?” = How much?

My next post shall be about my travels to Kashmir and Amritsar! Phir MilaiNge!

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Taj

So…I apologize for not writing in a few weeks. The internet access here remains limited and my computer has conveniently chosen this summer to not function. BUT! I have ventured out to an internet cafĂ© and will be updating you in rapid succession.  

Now…what do you get when you put ten Americans who have limited Urdu language ability and haven’t eaten dinner into two cars with drivers who have limited English language ability and the desire to complete an eight-hour car ride as soon as possible? That’s right! The beginning of my trip to Agra! A few weekends ago a group of us decided to venture to the..wait for it… Taj Mahal.  

Eight hours, no food, three hours of sleep, and a cold shower later, we were there. 5am. (But if you think about it in CST it was really like 7pm so it is as if we slept the entire day!) Anyway, the Taj Mahal is an extremely impressive structure. Shah Jahan built the mausoleum as a memorial for his favorite wife who died giving birth in 1631, and upon his death, Shah Jahan too was buried there. As you can see, we practiced our jumping skills and finally were able to capture a photo with everyone in the air. The ten of us explored and took many pictures for close to three hours, but there is something about seeing an iconic landmark that requires a few moments of absorption. It really was breathtaking.  Also, there were monkeys.
For lunch we went to “Joney’s”. Now Joney’s deserves mentioning because it was a beacon of light in a maze of food choices. The menu included omelets, pancakes, and best of all SANDWICHES! On top of that each sandwich was only 20-25 rupees. At 45 rupees to $1, it was a very welcome and delicious lunch. 
Later in the afternoon we went to the Agra Fort. A giant military-structure-turned-palace-turned-prison, the Agra Fort was massive. Overall the trip to Agra was a great success and my fellow travelers made the trip even better. That said the person of this post must be CJ or formally referred to as Cornelius Anthony Canton II. CJ is quite the character with a very narcissistic–but hilarious–sense of humor. In addition to Urdu, CJ speaks French, German, Hebrew, and Arabic. 

Words to learn: KahaN? = Where? ; Kaun? = Who? ; Kya? = What? ; Kub? = When? KyuN = Why?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Getting Lost in the Culture

While it is less than a week since my last post, so much has happened that I thought I would share the adventures of my Saturday. This last weekend I took the suggestion to “get lost in the culture” literally and took a Rickshaw to Shah Najaf Imambara. While my intention was to meet some friends at Bara Imambara (meaning large Imambara) I ended up at a smaller shrine dedicated to Shah Najaf, the 4th Caliph of Islam. I was the only white tourist in the vicinity and was welcomed with many “Hellos” and interested looks. Unlike Bara Imambara, which is a very large, well-known monument, Shah Najaf Imambara was practically deserted and provided a good opportunity for me to practice my beginner Urdu skills. Thus, I introduced myself to everyone that I met and in turn asked them their names and how they were doing. The only problem with being new to the language is that unless they were doing good ‘Aachcha’ I did not understand their response and could not further the conversation. But the people of the area were very friendly and did not seem to mind my limited responses. 

I eventually did end up making it to Bara Imambara and met two of my friends Joey and Kevin. Here it is important to note that as a white, blond haired male I generally provide quite the entertainment for some and have on multiple occasions posed for photos with families or even been intentionally placed in the background of photos. Bara Imambara was no exception. However, as it is monsoon season ominous clouds began to role in and we attempted to find cover. So naturally we walked to a nearby university and ended up meeting an administrator who invited us in to have tea.  The man was very friendly and was interested to learn why we were in Lucknow. After about forty-five minutes Kevin, Joey, and I left to find some good local Indian cuisine…but we ended up going to Pizza Hut instead. 

On the way to Pizza Hut we happened to run across a group of kids playing in a small park. Upon seeing the three of us taking pictures, they immediately ran up and started posing and fighting to be in front of each other in our pictures. The thing I love about kids is that language is never a barrier and it is amazing how much fun three white guys, ten children, and a camera can provide. The best part was when we actually showed the kids the pictures we had taken and their laughs and jeers at one another after seeing themselves. 
After a bit it again started to rain so we decided to take a rickshaw the rest of the way. Behold: three Americans, one rickshaw, monsoon rains, a tired driver, and lots of traffic. Epic. Long story short we all got wet and were crammed into the space of about three feet by one foot, but we made it. 

Pizza was great and then…I saw my first Bollywood movie ever: Always Kabhi Kabhi. For those of you have never seen a Bollywood film, this was basically a combination of High School Musical, a Spanish soap opera, and Star Wars all rolled into one with an intermission. Although it was in Hindi, I understood most of it and even heard some of the vocabulary that I have been learning. So, yeah, everyone should see a Bollywood movie. It is life changing. 

Well that was definitely the most adventurous day that I have had thus far, but school continues to go well. We have finished the script and are learning basic words and phrases. I never thought I would be this excited about having the language ability of a kindergartener, but I am. Tomorrow I start sentences. 

Phrases to learn for this post are: Sab Khairiyat hai? “Is everything alright?”; Aadaab “Hello”; and Phir MileNge “See you again”.

And for the Persons of the Post…drum role please…Kevin and Joey. Kevin and Joey are the two that went exploring with me in all of the aforementioned adventures. Kevin is also an IR major studying very similar things as I do but has a slightly inferior sense of humor. But he is also a true beginner to the Urdu language, so we accept him. Joey is a student of the Naval Academy and is an amazing photographer. In fact Joey took my current profile picture on Facebook. Joey is also the brother of the father of Ayushi, who I will introduce in my next post. Brace yourselves.

Well that is all for now. Stay tuned for pictures! I have to go and eat, study and eat some more. Kal MileNge!

Saturday, 18 June 2011


So to better keep in touch with everyone in the US, I have decided to write a blog about my travels in India. As many of you know I am the recipient of a Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Urdu in Lucknow, India. Because of my studies in international relations and my cultural anthropology minor with a focus in this region, I applied and am very excited to have been selected for this program.

Last Wednesday I flew to Washington D.C. where I first met all of the students–CLSers as we are called–who will be studying Indic languages this summer. One of the great things about this program is the sheer diversity of its participants. The students are from all over the US, at various stages in their academic careers and are studying a variety of majors from Art History to Electrical Engineering. I should also mention that during the D.C. orientation I saw two of my good friends from my study abroad experience last year in Geneva, Megan McAninch and Elliott Verreault. Awesome.

After two days in D.C. we all flew to Delhi where we had our first in-county orientation concerning the do's and don'ts of India. In Delhi we had our first few moments of free time, which of course I spent exploring. A small group of us went on the Metro to the Red Fort, which unfortunately was closed. However, it was a good introduction to the powerful smells, persistent car honking, and multitudes of people that we had been missing whilst at our hotel. We explored the nearby streets and I learned how to properly walk in a country where cars, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, cows, trucks, and bicycles cover every inch of the road.

On Tuesday we flew from Delhi to Lucknow. This was a great experience. We have been told countless times that in India having flexibility is a must: it is true. Multiple on and offs and in an outs at the airport, elevators, and the coach buses provided for an entertaining and fun journey to the correct airport check-in. Despite the confusion, we all made it safely to Lucknow and had a lot of fun in the process.

On Thursday our classes began. Because I am beginning Urdu I am of course in the beginning class, but after two days we have already learned the entire script and some vocabulary. On the first day we learned how to say Namaste, which means 'hello'; Aap ka naam kya hai?, which means 'what is your name?'; and Aap kaisay hai?, which means 'how are you?'.

Well if you made it this far in my blog I have only to say that in the future I will try to make my postings more story based to relay the more interesting experiences that occur. Additionally, I would like to share a few words or phrases as I learn them, as well as to introduce a person or a few people who are on this trip with me or who I encounter throughout my time here in India.

The first two people that I would like to introduce are my friend Levi and my host father Anub. Levi is a recent graduate from Washington State University. An electrical engineer, Levi literally taught me how computers work from transistors to binary number computations. I wanted to introduce Levi first because of his recent travels in Southeast Asia. Purchasing a two-way ticket from the US to Bangkok, Thailand, Levi backpacked throughout Asia by himself, with no guidebooks, no substantial contacts, and no set plans for two months. the stories that he has shared are some of the more hilarious and interesting travel stories that I have heard and make me even more excited to really get involved in the Indian culture.

The second person is my host father Anub. Anub is a single Indian who used to work in marketing in Mumbai but now lives in Lucknow. He is a writer and is extremely knowledgeable in a number of areas. Although I have only been here a short while, he has already explained to me the Indian caste system, the Great Uprising of 1857, the Indian government, aspects of Indian foreign policy, and different cultural, geographical, and cuisine aspects of the country.

Well that is all for my first post. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more pictures, stories, vocabulary, and interesting people. And let me know if you want to know anything in particular or have questions! :D