Sunday, August 10, 2008

I am home!

Just wanted to let everyone know that I have made it home. I am tired and pretty greasy because I haven't slept for about 2 days now.

Great trip!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Last Post in India

It is bittersweet for sure! 

We leave tonight at 2 am after our farewell dinner. We had a roast of each other last night, it was pretty fun.

I will be in London while you are all sleeping and then on the plane for the long haul! 

Can't wait to see everyone!!!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Last two days!

Well, I have free internet right now and therefore it I must post. We are at the USEFI (United States Education Foundation in India) office having lectures...again. We just had one about the philosophy and theory about whether electrons are particles or waves. Just like what happened when I learned this in physics, I shut off because..WHO CARES! Wow, aren't I a good science teacher? Deep philosophy irritates me and having someone rapid-fire lecture it at me (after he yelled at me because I wasn't making eye contact with him) immediately turned off my ears and brain.

Tonight I am going on my final shopping spree to this wonderful store called Fab India. It is so fab India, I swear! They have really cool Indian things there and fixed prices which lowers the stress of shopping by about a million times. We think we should hire a car because if we take a rickshaw, we may never get there because they will only take us to where they want to go and not to where WE want to go! Oh, India.

Then, tomorrow we are going to to a big Bahai temple here and then have to get all of our stuff together before the big farewell dinner. We head straight from the farewell dinner to the airport. My flight to London leaves at 2 am so I am going to start out exhausted before I get back. Then, we have a seven hour layover in London before our 12 hour flight. 

I have really appreciated everyone keeping up with this blog and it has made me really happy to know that you didn't forget my existence while I was on the other side of the world! 


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Here it is. Here I am. Can't believe it!

One night in Agra (Sung to the tune of “One Night in Bangkok)…

PS- I know the pictures look like I am photoshopped them, but I assure you, I am not!

Well, I saw it. It’s worth the hype. It was amazing. What, you ask? The TAJ MAHAL, of course!!! Or, the Taj Ma-HOLLA as I like to say! We arrived in Agra last night after a very long, very traffic-ridden, very bumpy and death-defying bus ride. This morning we left for the Taj Mahal at 6:00 am to beat the crowds and beat the heat. Plus, seeing the sunrise there is pretty spectacular. Even though I was standing there looking at it and saying to myself (aloud, so people probably thought I was an idiot!) “I am looking at the Taj Mahal,” it still didn’t seem real.

We had to wear foot covers like in surgery to walk close to it and the crowds weren’t too bad but it was very hot there, even that early in the morning. We were all sweating disgustingly and then trying to blot a lot for our pictures. Our guide was very interested in telling us every minute detail of the construction, history, etc. and we were all like kids waiting to open Christmas presents while we were chomping at the bit to be turned loose!

As you will see, I got plenty of pictures from a variety of angles but the really cool thing about the Taj Mahal is that it is constructed to look the same from every side. The detailed marble inlay work done with semi-precious stones is incredible and after our Taj Mahal visit we went to a marble workshop to see how it was done. Some of the same families who worked on the Taj Mahal are still in the business of marble inlay and interestingly, they do not train their girl children because they know they will get married and live with another family. That way, they won’t be able to spread the secrets and the family business is safe.

To purchase the marble work that these people had done, one must have a lot of money. I mean, a lot of money. There were coasters in the $300 range because the detail work is so intricate. I think they were pretty disappointed with us because nobody really showed any interest in buying anything until they took us into a room that wasn’t full of giant marble inlay tabletops but was full of tiny boxes and inexpensive coasters. Obviously their target audience was not a group of teachers who got a free trip to India because if someone could independently afford the trip we just took then I think they wouldn’t even flinch at spending $4000 on a marble end table!

We also visited the Agra Fort which is where the man Shah Jahan, who constructed the Taj Mahal for his dead wife (who by the way bore him 14 children and died during childbirth with the 15th so don’t you think she deserved something like the Taj Mahal after all that) was imprisoned after he was overthrown by his own son. It was also very beautiful and intricately decorated (I would say his imprisonment was more like a house arrest) but not as well preserved as the Taj Mahal.  

So now I am back in Delhi after another crazy bus ride and we have only two nights and two days here before I come home. It has gone so fast and has been such an absolutely amazing trip that I am sad to leave but excited to come home. I spent several hours on the bus chatting with another participant who is a science curriculum specialist from Seattle and we discussed all of the things I love about being a science teacher (inquiry, constructivism, Understanding By Design, literacy, etc.) and it got me really excited to get back to school and get working again. Remind me of that please when I am complaining about not having much free time when I get back from India. 

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Malti, my new elephant friend!

Pics on side link!

Today I rode an elephant. It was scary, funny, bouncy, and a whole smattering of other adjectives that I just can’t even think of. Today was one of the most fun days since I got here because we saw elephants all over town and were surrounded by absolutely beautiful scenery. We went to a mountainside palace where you had to ride an elephant to get up to the palace and then we took jeeps down. I have learned since getting here that apparently I am really afraid of large animals. Walking really close to the cows with big horns freaks me out, and being around the elephants was really frightening. They are HUGE!!!

The palace was built several hundred years ago and had separate quarters for the king and his twelve wives. Basically the wives had nothing to do because everything was done for them so they just sat around and plotted how to get their own son onto the throne. No men were allowed to see them except for the king and their guards even had to be eunuchs so that there was no risk of a “man” being around them. I read a book that took place during this time period before I went that had a story occurring in this type of palace so it was really cool to actually see one.

Jaipur is really beautiful and the whole city is painted terra cotta color but they call it the “pink city.” After the elephant ride we went to see a place that hand-makes blue pottery for which Jaipur is famous, who knew? I really had to restrain while we were at the “Blue Pottery Barn” as we were calling it because there is NO WAY I can get it in my bag to come home. I haven’t really blogged about the amount of shopping that we have done here, but just know that it has been copious! But, I have still only spent about $200 of my own money on this entire trip, which has mostly been for laundry and occasional room service. I sure do love Fulbright! Thanks, Uncle Sam!

Tomorrow we have a school visit (one of our last) and then early Wednesday morning we head to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I can’t believe I am going there, let me just say that. The whole time we were on the elephant today (it was like 15-20 minutes) I just kept saying, “I am on an elephant. Um, hi, we are on an elephant riding up the side of a palace in India.” It was CRAZY!!!!! I don’t think the magnitude of the trip will hit me until I am home, we have done a lot here!

P.S.- I also saw a snake charmer today. Keep in mind that I am in a very touristy area but come on, this guy had a cobra coming out of a basket! Who does that?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Leaving on a midnight train to Georgia...or Jaipur, you pick

There is still another layer below that you can't see! I was basically smashed into the ceiling on the top!
Some palace guards. Check out the mustaches!
Apparently some royal people still live here but they don't have power anymore because India is a democracy.

Midnight Train to Jaipur

 Last night we took a sleeper train from Ahmedabad to Jaipur. We got to the train station in a huge bus which caused a giant spectacle. There is huge security at the train station due to the bombings last week and so we were told to stay on the bus until the luggage porters were sorted out. Our travel guide, Azar, who has been with us the whole time, got off the bus and arranged about 8 skinny guys to haul our luggage. These men all wear turbans and they carry the bags on the tops of their heads. I was very impressed to see someone carrying my bag on top of their head because I can barely lift it. Since we are no longer traveling by air until the trip home I am not worrying about weight limits anymore.

We stood sweating profusely waiting on the platform for the train and as a local train pulled up, people were running, shoving each other, and smushing to get on the train as quickly as possible. Apparently it didn’t have assigned seats and so people rush on to get a seat. After witnessing that spectacle I was really nervous that we would be faced with the same thing. I was very relieved to find out that we had assigned seats.

So, after we were completely soaked in sweat, my pants were soaked through again which is really not that comfortable, our train arrived. Suddenly all the porters were there again and they picked up our bags and put them under the seats in the sleeper car. There are six bunks in each little area and until you are ready to go to sleep, the middle one is folded up so that you have two long bench seats.

The train was air-conditioned because Fulbright had paid for an AC car. Thank goodness they did because that would have been miserable. Basically, we just hung out, chatted, played cards, laughed absolutely hysterically, and ate food that you order at one station and they put it on the train at the next. It was really good Indian food and it was only $1 for enough to feed two people. CRAZY! At about 10pm we decided to put the bunks out and the train people provide you with blankets, pillows, and sheets. Since Lisa and I were the youngest, we had to go to the top bunks which was okay except mine had a huge open vent next to it and I had already seen a cockroach earlier and was really freaked about it.

I tried to sleep but was freezing cold because I was right next to the AC vents and the train was shaking so much that it was like trying to sleep through an earthquake. It was like a little slumber party except that we were bouncing all over the place. I think that maybe I slept for about two hours and then the alarm went off and we had to start organizing the luggage to get off the train because it only stopped for a few minutes. Azar, our guide, told us just to get off the train and follow him and he had arranged porters for our bags. We just got off the train with our carry-ons and headed through the station toward the bus. It was about 5 am and all over the train station there were people just sleeping on the platforms. Little pants-less toddlers curled up next to a sari-draped mom. Entire family groups were sprawled all over the floor and they just kept sleeping as people streamed by them getting off the train.

The bus took us to our hotel and, OMG (to use an expression of one of my students!) it is so beautiful. It used to be a royal palace and has been converted into a hotel. It has huge, manicured grounds with gazebos everywhere and the rooms are absolutely adorable. It has vaulted ceilings and a deep tub and also a stand-up glassed shower. We came in and slept for a few hours and then got up to go for our day.

We took a rickshaw to the main shopping area in the old part of the city just to see what was going on there. About a minute after we arrived, some guy started talking to Lisa and told her that he knows a place where the tourists do not go that is amazing silver jewelry and we could see it being made. Apparently, Jaipur is a big tourist area which I didn’t know but should have guessed by the amount of Westerners that we have seen. This city has the most we’ve seen on this whole trip and actually feels kind of touristy. I have learned that when people take tours from the U.S., they usually go to Delhi, Jaipur, Johdpur, and Agra, which is where the Taj Mahal is. So, there are a lot of foreign tourists staying at our hotel and walking around the city.

Anyway, Lisa was trying to believe this guy was telling the truth. We have been swindled so many times here that usually we are automatically wary of people. But, she wanted to believe him so we followed him all over the place down tight alley-ways where big cows with horns were munching trash. After about 5 turns off the main street I was getting pretty nervous because the consular office here said to avoid areas like that because of the bombings. Eventually we got to a building and what do you know, he was lying and wanted to sell us stuff! We immediately turned around and left and walked back to the main roadway.

We went into some stores and I had my first experience with real bargaining. I don’t think that I am very good at it and still probably paid too much for what I bought, but oh well. Most of the stores we have been visiting have been “fixed price” stores where you don’t have to bargain. I still paid 1500 rupees less than his original price which is about $30 less than he was trying to get me to pay. The rest of the day we were tourists too and went to some other palaces around Jaipur.

Jaipur is in the state of Rajasthan and many of the towns here were ruled by royal families before the British and it was partially still maintained during the British rule. So, there are many forts and palaces here. We also went to a place where they stamp patterns on saris, by hand, with colored ink and a tie-dye factory where it is also all done by hand. I learned some good new tie-dying techniques that I will have to try when I get home. Tomorrow we are going to a fort and there is a possibility that we might get to RIDE ELEPHANTS! I am so excited! So, stay tuned to see what happens with that!

I will be home a week from today and it feels kind of surreal especially when I think about the fact that I have to be on airplanes for SO long. I think my flight from London to Denver is like 12 hours, ouch!