Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Paul's Country Review: India

At first I wasn't all that interested in going to India. We had heard all kinds of things about it's lack of cleanliness, crime and the very bad, but inevitable stomach ailment known as Delhi Belly. People made it sound as if we were going to get Delhi Belly as we got off of the plane. Thankfully we did decide to go and found India to be a wonderful place filled with very nice people and most importantly, amazing food.

It doesn't look appetizing...

...but it is delicious!

My go to meal when people didn't understand my allergies - chicken tikka

We arrived in Delhi and I was impressed by the clean and modern airport, clean taxis and clean streets. Where are the mountains of garbage people kept telling us about? All I saw were shady, tree-lined streets, small parks here and there and insane traffic. Our hotel set us up with a car and driver and we saw the main sights in one very long and tiring day.

The hotel also set us up with a car and driver for the next seven nights to take us to Agra (Taj Mahal) and through some of the more popular towns of the Rajasthan province. I imagine most hotels will do this as it's obviously more money for them and it is reasonably priced - especially when you factor in convenience and the amount of time wasted on public transport to reach the same areas. 

We really liked Rajasthan and the many forts, temples, museums and palaces scattered across the countryside. Each showcased architecture and use of colors unique to each city we visited. Jaipur is pink, Jodhpur is blue and Udaipur is white. Each city is also known for excelling in a specific craft, textile or trade whether it be inlaid marble sculpture, painting, clothing or spices and the quality is very easy to see and appreciate. My only complaint about Rajasthan is that Indian merchants are some of the best salespeople on the planet and Christine and I found it very hard not to buy things. We each got a couple of shirts and a pair of pants made to order and tailored to fit for about $20-25 a piece. You can't get a shirt off of the rack for that amount in the States and these guys made them in a couple of hours and delivered them to the hotel. That was a pretty cool experience because we were shown bolts of cloth of varying qualities and colors, picked what we liked, decided on a style, got measured up and paid. This is a big deal for a freak like me because clothing never fits. If the length of the shirt is right the sleeves are too short so I look like Frankenstein's monster or it isn't wide enough across the shoulders. In order for the sleeves to be long enough the rest of the shirt is 2-3x too big. This forces me to always tuck it in, but since it is so wide, the shirt gets billowy making me look like a pirate on those cheesy paperback romance novels Christine can't get enough of. Anyway - I like the shirts.

The only stain on our visit to India was our time in Mumbai - mainly because Mumbai is a stain on planet earth. Here it was dirty. Here the food was atrocious (somehow I didn't get sick - notice "I" not "we"). Here we felt like we would get mobbed and mugged at any moment (maybe it was the roaming groups of men just wandering the streets who all looked really pissed off at everything). The only thing to do was to go to the Starbucks and get a coffee - like everyone else. I have noticed that, generally speaking, anytime we are in a city or town with a Starbucks, there really isn't anything else to do. This forces people to go to the Starbucks as a form of entertainment so it is always crowded and noisy. Needless to say, we didn't do much except go to the post office to mail stuff home and we watched a guy box up our things and sew a piece of cloth around it. This had to be done because it is law that packages all adhere to a dress code? "You don't have to sew the boxes in your country?", the master packager asks incredulously. I simply made a comment that we have tape and our boxes can wear whatever they want.

"What, you don't sew your boxes?"

The end of our trip was spent on the beaches of Kovalam in Kerala, the very bottom of India. It is a very beautiful place and is referred to as "God's Own Country". We spent our time relaxing and stuffing our faces - the hotel had one of the best breakfasts we have had to date. The rest of the world doesn't revere breakfast the way people in the US do. Personally, I think the world hates breakfast. How else can you burn eggs? That's it, that's all you get - a burnt egg that I can't cut through. Anyway, this place had a pretty good breakfast. And lunch and dinner. It was very peaceful. We didn't go in the sea because of the double digit high waves crashing on the shore and rocks hidden beneath the water. We didn't see anyone go in. I just always assumed that if there was ocean people swim in it. I don't think we've been anywhere during this trip where people swam in the water. This is very strange to me having always swam in the ocean - a rare perk of growing up in New Jersey.

Doing what I do best

All-in-all a great time and we would definitely go back to see other parts of the country. One last thing before I go - Christine wanted to make sure everyone knows that she does NOT read those trashy pirate romance novels. She is more into the trashy Revolutionary War era romance novels.

Kovalam, Kerala

My friend Geeva is from Kerala and she recommended we visit this part of India for its tea plantations, beautiful sunrises, wild life sanctuaries, beach, and house boat trips down the river. We didn't want to be in a car or boat every day so we opted to stay at a retreat in Kovalam called Niraamaya Retreats - close to Thiruvananathapuram - for some R&R. 

Coconut drinks upon arrival

The property was very pretty and well kept


These were our chairs outside our bungalow

We had perfect weather

It was very relaxing

There was also a gym that we went to everyday - this was some art in the gym that I liked

Paul with Ganesha

Paul is mesmerized by the crashing waves

Looking up


Looking towards the mosque and lighthouse

Crazy crashing waves

This view just didn't get old for me

Some pretty greenery

At sunset



Just a forest of palm trees

The water looked amazing

My husband is amazing

I got a good shot of the stars! Paul was glad that I put the tripod we've been carrying for 10 months to use.

Another sunset

Going for dinner - Paul is wearing his custom tailored shirt!

Nice cactus

Mosque and lighthouse

Another day, another beautiful scene

This is what we basically did for 4 days

There were yoga sessions you could sign up for

More pretty colors during another sunset

A great end to our visit to India

Thanks Geeva for the recommendations - maybe next time we'll do all the other things you suggested!

Mumbai (Bombay), Maharashtra

From the day we arrived in India, we were honestly quite surprised and impressed. We really enjoyed each city we visited – each one more than the last; the cities weren’t dirty or smelly and the people were friendly. So by the time we got to Mumbai, we were a bit spoiled. Gulab driving us around for 7 days in an air conditioned car and recommending places to eat made things super easy for us. We should have known we were bound for disappointment.

Mumbai is everything we originally expected India to be like – dirty and smelly. We really didn’t do much here because we felt completely unmotivated. We did manage to go to the Gateway of India (via taxi) and then walked around for a short time before heading back to the hotel. We considered going to the Intercontinental hotel for a nice dinner but we decided to save the money instead. 

BMC Building (Bombay Municipal Corporation) built in 1884

Everyone was standing around waiting for filming to begin

This is as close to Bollywood as we got

I liked this red building. I did not like the pile of poo on the sidewalk though.

St. Thomas Cathedral

Looking for the post office to ship stuff!

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station (front)

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station (back)

I liked the look of the taxis - but not getting into one

We didn't know but we had to get our boxes wrapped

I didn't know what was going on when we followed a guy outside of the post office to get our stuff boxed/wrapped

Nice post office!

Walking around - look how much taller Paul is!

I liked the archways

Gateway of India 

Yay! We did something in Mumbai...

Other than go to Starbucks...

So, yeah, that was Mumbai...Paul will expand a little more in his country review - just a little.