Q:are you still in hyderabad?
Hi Anonymous! No, I am not in Hyderabad any longer. I was in Hyderabad from July to late November of 2012. Thus, the photos I post are from that period. The recently posted travel entries are written about that time from memory. Now I am in the US. I do update this blog still, mostly when my heart is hurting because I miss Hyderabad and India a lot.
While studying abroad in India, I gained so many new experiences, good and bad. Some examples: being sexual harassed really sucked, but Ganesh Chaturthi was awesome. No matter what, I remember my time there fondly and I long to one day return. (Until that day, I can at least continue to reminisce on this blog…) I feel fortunate to have studied in India cause a) studying abroad is awesome b) for various reasons not everyone is able to study abroad and c) South Asia was not really related to my Sociology major or Japanese minor yet I managed to fit the experience into my undergraduate studies and learn a lot about this area of the world.
Many people have asked why I studied in a country I knew very little about. To me, that was my goal: avoiding the familiar to embrace the unknown. And while India isn’t in part of my itinerary in the near future, it is very likely I’ll soon be heading to another country that I don’t know too much about… and so my adventure will continue. :)
Sorry Anonymous for blabbing on about other things unrelated to your question. I haven’t had a proper wrap-up post about studying abroad, which perhaps explains why you asked this question in the first place. Maybe this long-winded response is an attempt to do that. But really, I don’t think its possible summarize in a straight-forward manner how 5 months in Hyderabad have impacted me.
Initially, I walked by this thinking it was just another ad painted on a dusty wall, but after a closer look, I realized this is street art. The Hindi script reads “Videshi Baba-ji”, which I’ve been told means something along the lines of “foreign holy man”. Perhaps this is a reference to those foreigners who come to India seeking some sort of spiritual enlightenment.
Found in Koti, Hyderabad. October 2012.
Guru-ji will help you. You don’t have to tell him much. He already knows. That’s why you come to him...
The sun had set. Jaipur was dark and cold now, but our long day of site-seeing stretched onward. Talis and I, still seated in the back of the same bumpy rickshaw, were on our way to Guru-ji, whom our driver insisted we visit. Earlier that day, Talis had told me about how she had visited the Guru-ji a few days before. Guru-ji owns a jewelry shop. He helps people through their problems by locating an imbalance in their life. Then, he suggests a remedy in the form of a gem.
His advice is free. The gem is tiny and expensive.
Still, our driver was convinced of his powers.
Guru-ji changed my life, he said. He told me how to solve my problems, and I am better now because I wear the stone he gave me. See? It is around my neck right now! I am eternally grateful, for I am better thanks to him.
Our driver also assured us he did not grant this privilege to any old tourist, that he was taking us to Guru-ji because we were special.
I was not interested in our driver’s story. Guru-ji was probably financially compensating him for bringing customers. What led me to become interested in paying a visit was Talis’s personal experience with the Guru-ji. During her visit to Guru-ji, she did not reveal much about herself. Yet somehow, Guru-ji delved into the very intimate details of her life. Astonished that this man knew so much about her, she bought his recommended gem. However, upon leaving the shop, she began doubt the expensive purchase. She realized she had been caught up with the moment, and would not have bought the stone had Guru-ji not been so convincing. Had she been emotionally manipulated into purchasing an overpriced rock, or had Guru-ji truly helped her?
While I smelled the rancid stench of a scam coming from Guru-ji, another part of me was perplexed by his powers. How could he have worked through the personal details of Talis’s life? In spite of my doubts, curiosity won me over. I wanted to visit Guru-ji.
Still, I was terrified. A visit to Guru-ji still means confronting the source of your problems. There are parts of my past and my being I keep tucked away in a locked cabinet in my brain because I really don’t want to confront them. I wondered, was it worth revealing the vulnerable parts of myself to someone I don’t even know in the face of a scam?
In the end, I went through with it because Talis assured me this really was a rare chance that not everyone got, as the driver had insisted. Over many days she spent site-seeing in Jaipur, this offer had only occurred once, now twice. I would be in Jaipur for a few more days, and the chance to visit Guru-ji again was not guaranteed. It was now or never. Despite my doubts and fears, I was going to talk to Gujru-ji.
As the driver pulled up in front of a dusty jewelry shop at the edge of town, I asked Talis, “Is this the same Guru-ji you visited?”
How many Guru-jis could there be in Jaipur? Quite a few, apparently.
She whispered to me, “No, this is a different jewelry shop.”
November 29th: Food poisoning can’t stop me!
On my first morning in Jaipur, I experienced an undesirable wake-up call. A most unpleasant commotion, creeping up from the pit of my stomach up into the back of my throat. I was roused from sleep by nausea, from food poisoning. The delicious street meal I had devoured the night before had made me ill. I was going to hurl. Hurling was good. It would get the bad stuff out of my system and I would feel better again. Still, I felt more inclined to remain in my comfy bunk, so I rolled over and pulled the covers over my head, hoping the nausea would subside. No such luck. Within minutes, I was at the toilet bowl, emptying out the contents of my stomach.
I was right, though. I did feel much better afterwards.
In fact, I felt so good that I spent the whole day site-seeing with fellow traveler, Talis. She was also a guest at the hostel where I was staying. It was her last full day in Jaipur, my first.
We booked a rickshaw for a day to see the sites of Jaipur. I didn’t really know what I wanted to see, so I let Talis decide most of the places. It was her last day anyways. Our driver was talkative and sassy. He spurted out the cheesiest, sometimes nonsensical phrases. No worry, chicken curry! Old is Gold! Maybe is baby! Instead of addressing Talis and me using our names, he said “Left” or “Right”, a reference to the sides of the rickshaw we were seated in.
Talis and I visited the great Amber Fort first, a huge old fort situated in the mountains outside Jaipur. There was an enormous wall built into the mountains, stretching for miles and miles in the area surrounding Amber, reminding me of the Great Wall of China.
The fort itself was vast, with so many different rooms and staircases to explore and spectacular views of the world below from some of the windows. But under the hot Jaipur sun, I was starting to feel a bit woozy. We ate lunch and rested in Cafe Coffee Day, which is like the Starbucks of India only cheaper and not as nice.
After Amber Fort, we stopped by the nearby Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing. We had great difficulty getting there, and had to convince our rickshaw driver that the museum did in fact exist, not that we had ever been there before. Still, the museum was splendid!
The Anokhi Museum situated in a beautiful old reconstructed building, and showcases the traditional craft of hand printed fabric, an art which has dying out due to the advent of technology and mass production in factories. I enjoyed looking at the various styles and patterns of fabric printing, and I wanted to stuff most of the clothing on display into my daypack. But that’s stealing, which is no good. I at least allowed myself to drool as I thoroughly admired everything. The best part of the museum was the top floor, where men were showcasing their skills. One man was carving woodblocks used as stamps to print the fabric, while the other was printing bolts and bolts of fabric by hand using these woodblocks! It was amazing.
Our final site of the day was the famous Galtaji, also known as “Monkey temple”. A local boy offered to help us walk over a mountain to the temple to protect us against the fierce population of monkeys. The monkeys were very bold, but before we had reached the top of the mountain, I realized that the boy’s assistance was unnecessary. The monkeys weren’t as vicious or sneaky as monkeys in other parts of India. Still, he was good company, and impressed us with his vast knowledge of phrases in a variety of languages that he picked up from leading tourists around the area. He showed us how to feed the monkeys peanuts.
I wasn’t very fond of the monkeys, to be honest. The babies were cute because they were small and not threatening, but the adults were a completely different story. Imagine a huge male monkey bounding towards you to grab a peanut out of your hand. Terrifying!
Upon reflection, I realize we did not actually visit Galtaji. We only saw it from afar. I cannot recall why this happened, since both Talis and I were pretty excited about it. Perhaps it was closed for the day.
However, we did visit Surya Mandir, a temple for the sun deity Surya, at the top of the hill. From here, we watched the sunset. The city of Jaipur stretched ahead of me, a flat expanse nestled between some mountains. Below, I spotted a wedding procession marching through the tiny streets. To the right was Amber Fort, in the mountains where we had been earlier that day. I reflected and felt ever site I had visited so far in Jaipur, and wondered what more was to come.
When Talis and I returned to our rickshaw driver at the bottom of the hill, we were exhausted and ready to go home. But the sassy man had one last little excursion in store for us: a visit to the mysterious and all-knowing Guru-ji.
As of today, it’s been two weeks since my return to the United States, and almost two months since I left India. Everyone has been asking what it’s like being back, and honestly… everything feels exactly the same. I mean, there are a few more new restaurants and cafés open, but more or less, the atmosphere of Berkeley isn’t any different. There are still crazies on Telegraph Ave. and around Berkeley BART. Riding my bike uphill remains thoroughly exhausting. Don’t get me started on hipsters. Somehow, even I feel the same despite having gone to so many places in the past 6 months.
Overall, I’ve been avoiding talking excessively about being abroad with my friends and family. I don’t want to tire people out the people around me with my stories. Instead, I’m going to finish writing about my time in India and post my photos here. I’m also volunteering as a Study Abroad Ambassador on campus to promote study abroad. It’s been good but I’m moving on.
I loved being abroad, but I can’t say that I miss studying abroad. Through this experience, I realized that I am just sick and tired of school, and not even being in a new country could reinvigorate my interest in academics. Now, I just want to finish my last semester, graduate, and proceed to the next stage of life, whatever that may be.
Of course, I do miss India. I’ll certainly be seeking opportunities and excuses to return in the hopefully near future… :)
November 28th: Arrival in Jaipur
The downside of trying to be “tuff stuff”.
My train pulled into Jaipur around 7 pm. The hostel I booked had arranged for cab to pick me up from the train station for free. That meant I didn’t have to worry about being hassled by the one million and one rickshaw and cab drivers outside the station, all hungry for customers, especially foreign travelers who would be easier to overcharge. I would be able to walk past them all, saying, Sorry dudes, I’m not interested in being ripped off in order to get to my hostel, cuz I already got a ride!
All I had to worry about was finding my cab outside the station. It wouldn’t be complicated. My hostel had given me clear directions: the cab would be outside the main exit, next to the Refresh restaurant. They even told me the registration number of the cab. Simple!
Of course, the minute I hopped out my train when it arrived in Jaipur, already a cab driver was waiting for on the platform, asking me if I needed a cab.
"Miss! Do you need a cab? I have a cab for you, miss!" the young man with an excellent grin said to me.
"No thanks. I don’t need a cab. I have a ride arranged already," I replied with a polite smile. Not quite the words I had imagined in my head, but my intentions were crystal clear.
I hurried up the stairs of the train platform, heading towards the exit of the train station, hoping the man would go away now that he knew I wasn’t interested in his offer. Instead, he kept following me.
"My friend will give you a ride, miss. Follow me!" he said, his grin resilient.
They never give up, do they?I thought. At times like this, being firm is key, so I replied with a fairly gruff, “No thanks”, then proceed to speed ahead.
He was jogging now to keep up with me.
"He’s waiting for you!" the man shouted, with a grin of course.
Now I was running very fast. I was almost outside the train station, heading towards the parking lot where my cab would be waiting.
"You’re Lisa, aren’t you?" the man asked, still very close behind me.
I was not yet outside the train station, but I had to stop dead in my tracks. How did he know my name?
"My brother, Samir, is your driver," he said. "He will take you to your hostel. He is a good man!"
And sure enough, just a few more steps in front of me, a man was holding a sign with my full name on it. He was standing where my hostel told me he would be, outside the railways station, next to the Refresh restaurant. This man Samir, who was holding a sign with my name, was the cab driver my hostel had arranged for me. The man who had been “hassling” me had actually been trying to lead me to my driver.
Samir waved to the man who had been hassling/helping me. Though the two men looked nothing alike, in the way they greeted each other I could tell they were in fact “brothers”. (That’s how Indian men refer to their good friends who are men.) The man walked up to Samir, and they put their arms over each others’ shoulders like best friends.
By then, I felt like an incredible idiot. At the same time, I was terribly relieved. It wasn’t a creepy cab driver who had been following me, but someone who was just trying to help me.
Like his brother had said, Samir was a good man. Before taking me to my hostel, he took me to a local street restaurant, where I ate the best chutney with chapatti ever. Not fancy by any means, but tasty and very filling. I hadn’t been in Jaipur for even an hour, but already I knew it was the right place to be.
November 27th-28th: Departing Delhi
I’m leaving this darn town, even if it kills me!
When I woke up on the 27th, I felt ready to leave Delhi. I had not done any site-seeing whatsoever, but my friends had left me and my luggage issue had been mostly solved. There was no reason for me to stay in Delhi any longer. I had no idea where to go! There were no real plans until December 2nd, when I was to meet a friend in Agra, and the 5th, when my flight for Thailand departed. I didn’t want to stray too far from Agra, but at the same time, I wanted to go somewhere new.
After flipping through my Lonely Planet book, I decided my next stop would be Jaipur. To be honest, I would have gone somewhere further, but I had so little time. More than anything, I just wanted to be somewhere new and as soon as possible! Unfortunately, I was only able to acquire a train tickets for the next day. That gave me two half days to aimlessly site-see in Delhi before I left. Honestly, I did not feel like site-seeing, but what else did I have to do?
That afternoon, I visited Qutub Minar. I wandered around the old ruins aimlessly and took my time, taking in the old sites. I had not realized I could see Qutub Minar from the main road my hostel was located off of. I thought it was a factory chimney stack off in the distance. But no! I was wrong. :) It was much better than that.
After Qutub Minar, I decided to go to the Garden of Five Senses. My hostel had described it as a relaxing place to unwind and escape the bustling city. What I found instead was the hottest hook-up spot for Delhi’s middle and upper class couples. Literally every corner of the park was occupied by smooching couples. Erlack! I felt horribly lonely as I stumbled around the park alone, trying to avoid intruding upon some couple’s intimate moments (but doing so anyways.) Of course, I was unable to relax in that environment. I left not even after 15 minutes of being in the park.
The next morning, I woke up early and packed my bags. My train for Jaipur was to leave from the Dehli Train Station at 3:30 PM, so I had a bit of time to kill in the morning.
First, I decided to walk around the neighborhood around my hostel to take pictures. It was such a pleasant walk! I ran into a boy pulling a cart of vegetables on his bicycle. Inside the cart sat his little brother. I held up my camera, a way of asking if I could take their photo, and they poses and smiled! The boy even hopped onto a parked motorbike and motioned for me to take his photo. He was not afraid of the camera at all, and wanted me to take his photo!
About ten minutes later, I experienced the polar opposite. I saw a group of men playing cards, and I asked if I could take their photo. One man very gruffly replied, “Who are you? A journalist? Why do you want to take our photo? Is it going to be published?” I assured him I was just a student who was traveling in India, and that the photos would only be seen by me, my family, and my friends. After assuring him of this, he allowed me to take one photo. And like I promised, only friends and family will get to see that one.
It was curious experience for me, having the experience of photographing someone so eager and encountering people who are more cautious about having their photo taken by a complete stranger. All semester long in India I’ve had qualms over taking pictures of people I see in India. Other people in my program did it all the time, and no trouble has ever come of it. But I can’t help but wonder, isn’t it down right rude? When I think about how I would feel if I were in the place of the people whose photos we take, I know I would feel thoroughly annoyed and intruded upon. I would not appreciate it if foreign strangers were to come up to me, shove their camera into my face, and snap a commemorative photo. But then again, that’s just me. Maybe many of these people who have their photos taken by foreigners don’t mind.
After my brief walk around the neighborhood, I still had a bit of free time so I decided to head to Sarojini Nagar Bazaar to find a gift for my uncle. Upon arriving at the market, I was overwhelmed! So many beautiful clothes, but alas, I could not allow myself to buy anything but the gift for my uncle. I already had enough kurtas and churidars, so many that I had already mailed back to the US to make my luggage lighter. I certainly did not need any more. I found my uncle’s gift quickly, but I still spent a lot of time looking around. So much time, that I ended up leaving the bazaar a half hour later than I had planned.
Since I was running a little later, when I get out of the metro, I thought I would take a rickshaw back to my hostel. But the rickshaw driver brought me to the wrong building, in a neighborhood I did not recognize. I was incredibly angry.
"This is not the hostel I was," I told him. "I will not pay you until you take me to the hostel I want to go to."
"Hostel! It is hostel!" he said. "You pay me 20 rupees!"
He didn’t really speak English so arguing was fruitless. I paid him and got off. Then I flagged down a different rickshaw driver who knew where my hostel was located and took me there. I rushed into the hostel, grabbed my luggage, hopped back into the rickshaw, and got dropped off at the metro station. From the metro station, I headed to New Delhi Railway Station, where my train would be leaving from. Or so I thought.
I got to the railway station around 2:40 PM. Safe, I thought. My train was going to leave at 3:30 PM. I was still quite early, despite all the trouble I ran into in the morning. I looked at my train ticket number, and then at the signboard with all the trains listed. I waited for the signboard to change and list other trains, but I did not see my train listed at all. I looked at my ticket again. My train would be departing from “Delhi Station”, not “New Dehli Station”. One word made all the different. I checked with a worker at the train station before I panicked. My suspicion was confirmed: I had come to the wrong train station!
As it turned out, Delhi Railway Station is only one or two metro stations way from New Delhi Railway Station. But to get there that meant I had to run back down the million steps I had just ran up from the metro station, stand in the crowded metro train, and run up a million more steps and down the longest walkway of my life to reach Delhi Railway Station
While on the metro, I asked a woman if she knew where Dehli Railway Station, or “Old” Delhi Railway Station, was, just to confirm I was headed in the right direction. She looked at me, confused, and said, “I don’t think an Old Dehli Railway Station exists. There is only one railway station, and that is New Dehli Railway Station.” I thanked her, though she was obviously mistaken. Sometimes even locals don’t know a thing about the city they live in.
When I got to the right railway station (at last!), I was hungry. I had 20 minutes to spare before my train left, so I grabbed a bite. Then I sat in the crowded bunk of the sleeper section and waited for the train to depart. I had made, yes yes yes! I was headed for Jaipur! It felt as though every force in the city had been trying to prevent me from leaving the city, but somehow, I overcame it all.