The first thing anyone should know before planning a trip to India is that the Indian government does not want you to go there. This was blatantly obvious to me by how difficult it was to obtain a visa. If you think I’m kidding or exaggerating (and you’re bored and/or want to kill yourself), then go online and try filling out the forms. Five hours later when you’re crying and the website has crashed ten times, ask yourself this question: “Is it really worth it?” Since I had already paid for the trip I had to trudge on. Once you’ve filled everything out correctly you must then shlep those forms to the third party agency (NOT the Indian embassy) that handles the visas. After you find out where that is, you stand in line there for three hours (bring a book because you can’t use your cell phone, which is dead anyway from standing in line for so long) only to find out you’re missing information. Then ask yourself this question: “Is it really worth it?” I think the visa requirement is a conspiracy designed purely to test your determination to actually get to India. My mother cried and had to take a Xanax. #truth
When I told people I was going to India the reactions were mixed. One person asked me if I was going to wrap myself in plastic before I left. Another person said, “If you text me it will probably take a couple of days to get because the Indian who has to manually type in your text on a donkeys ass, which then has to travel via smoke signal to the Indian text processing center, will be busy cooking a goat.”
But the most common response I received when I told people I was going to India was: “Why?”
As unsettling as that was to hear the answer was obvious: “Because I already got the visa. I won.”
I went to India with my mother. You won’t see any pictures of her here because she’s in the witness protection program. I won’t bore you with the details of the 14 hour flight, the three hour layover, then the next three hour flight, which brought us to Delhi at 3 am. I took 2.5 Xanax and a Malaria pill and was unconscious the entire time.
Before I begin I feel it is my duty to explain how to properly “translate” a foreign itinerary. My translation is in the parenthesis.
You will meet your tour guide in the lobby at 12:30 PM and today you explore the bustling and lively Old City.
In complete contrast to the new city, the Old City is a labyrinth maze (claustrophobic harrowing nightmare) of lanes overhung by a tangled mass of electric wires. Within this chaos lies a semblance of order (NONE)– each lane in this area is dedicated to a particular item, rather like a department store. (???) There are lanes selling bangles, (cheap crap) grocers, (dirty vegetables with flies on them) items used in weddings, silverware, clothes, spices and shoes. Sharing the same space are vendors with carts selling a variety of items, street side dentists (beyond your imagination) natural healers (witch doctors) and cobblers. The Old city has space for all professions. (Not an inch of space to breathe) You will also visit the Jama Masjid, (can’t pronounce and don’t care) which is believed to be the largest mosque in India, accommodating 20,000 worshippers at any given time. (Pass)
Old Delhi is a dirty, chaotic, surreal nightmare of insanely narrow streets with too many people/taxis/scooters/bikes/stuff. Everything is crumbling, there’s rubble and garbage everywhere. That actually describes all the cities we went to, except Udaipur which was a tad cleaner. I felt like I was on an old dilapidated movie set that was about to collapse. The town is one earthquake away from being nonexistent. You can’t say the words “Oh my God” enough, and every time you blink is a missed photo op. In a word: harrowing. In two words: filthy and harrowing.
OH, and I finally figured out why it’s so hard to get the visa when the wiring looks like this:
I made friends everywhere we went in Delhi. I told everyone I was famous in the U.S. No one asked for what. I guess it was obvious. Here are some of my new friends:
One of the most irritating things about getting around in India is the incessant honking. They honk as a form of defensive driving. They honk every single fucking second. It’s like a kid playing a video game, holding his finger down on the button that fires the missiles the entire time. It’s maddening and it never ends. It made NYC seem quiet.
There are stray dogs all over the streets of Delhi. I asked the guide why there were no cats and five minutes later we ran one over. In lieu of not having a cat shot, I will throw this in just for the sheer irrelevance and confusion.
One thing I couldn’t help noticing was how the local people really looked after their kids . . .
But in all fairness, they are obviously very busy doing more important things . . .
The town of Pushkar which is famous for its temple dedicated to Brahma, (famous to whom??) the creator in the trilogy of Indian Gods, is a fascinating (extremely dirty) place to visit. The narrow (claustrophobic) alleys are crowded (can’t move) with shops selling clothes (that you’d never wear), café serving an eclectic (food we can’t and won’t eat) and international cuisines, and stalls selling religious icons (junk), groceries and utensils. (all filthy) Jostling for space are cows and holy men (and scooters and bikes and rickshaws and dogs and pigs)
You will spend the day exploring the fair and the town. (one hour tops) One of the nicest times to be at the fairgrounds is at sunset on camel back. (will never make it til sunset)
I’m sure most people haven’t ever heard of Pushkar, but it happens to host a very famous annual camel fair. I mean very famous if you live in India and own a camel. Or maybe not. But anyway, if you’ve never heard of it don’t feel like you’re out of the loop, it’s not like they talk about it on The View or at Soul Cycle.
The camel fair is actually the reason we went to India when we did. I love animals and thought this would be a fun and unusual once in a lifetime experience. I saw pictures online and became obsessed. How often do you get a chance to hang out in an Indian desert with thousands of camels wearing jewelry?! My ex-boyfriend told me that I would hate every second of it and that I would complain the entire time. Turns out he was wrong. I loved every second of it. But I would never go back. It was like a crazy one night stand, never to be repeated.
Someone told me to be careful because camels spit. Not sure how one prepares for camel spit but it was good to know. And speaking of spitting the Indian people spit a lot. They sell these things all over the place that look like condoms but they’re really chewing tobacco. We learned this on the first day, yet on the fifth day my mother asked if they were lottery tickets. I was mortified.
We stayed in a tented camp in Pushkar, and not the high end Ralph Lauren kind. I think the pictures do it justice.
While the tent disappointed, the camels didn’t.
I bought this guy. I desperately need someone with a private jet to pick him up. If not I’ll be forced to start a Go Fund Me campaign titled: “BRING MY SEXY CAMEL HOME!” Either way, he only eats once a week so he’s low maintenance.
I love camels and enjoy being surrounded by hundreds of them at once. But only in a desert, in the middle of nowhere, in India. At the end of the day my mother looked at me and said: “So this is your dream, how do u feel about it?” I looked at her and said, “I can’t.”
The next morning at breakfast my mom showed me this:
Basically two foreign tourists who took a hot air balloon ride from the camel fair landed in a prison yard by accident. I immediately emailed it to my brother and said “Don’t tell Dad, but it was us.”
P.S. I am famous in India.
My mother asked me if I wanted to read the rest of the paper but I told her I was only interested in local camel news.
You will visit the extraordinary (most boring place on earth) Jantar Mantar”, the astronomical observatory built by Raja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1827. Roughly translated the name means “The Formula of Instruments”. (who cares, already not listening) This is one of five observatories he built in northern India (kill yourself before you see the other four) The instruments resembling massive futuristic structures are actually highly sophisticated instruments which are accurate even today. You will visit at 8:30 AM, before the observatory has opened to the public. Your guide will be Mukesh Kumar Sharma holds a doctorate in Astronomy from Rajasthan University. (he will bore you to death with painful details that you don’t want to know while standing in the blaring sun)
Later you will visit the sprawling City Palace which is painted pink (used to be pink but pollution ruined that) in keeping with the color theme of the old city, (nothing is actually pink, more like faded to a shade of salmon) is a blend of predominately Rajput and Mughal styles of architecture. Within the palace complex are several museums (snore) including an interesting textile gallery exhibiting a fine selection of textiles (fell asleep on my feet) and costumes from the royal collection. You will have a private tour of the residential rooms of the palace. (old, depressing and not kept up)
In the afternoon you will depart for a specially curated tour of the old city. (hell) The walk takes you past 200 year old temples, shrines, (cow shit, flies and garbage) and highlights the many professions that exist within the walled city. You will stop at an Akhara, a traditional gymnasium where the young go to learn Indian wrestling, and stick and sword fighting. (what??) The elderly gather for a more sedate game of chess or the 4th century game of Chaupati. (fascinating) You are welcome to join in any of these activities if you wish. (never) From here you continue along the narrow alleys (where you will almost get run over every other second) passing bangle makers, bamboo weavers, gem cutters, sculptors and artists (loosely defined) It is an excellent way to mingle and meet the ordinary people of the city (get Ebola)
Jaipur was basically another dirty city that had more cows and pigs, and a lot of jewelry. I took more pictures of the cows and pigs than the jewelry because it was cheaper and more eye opening. Our guide asked if we have cows on the street in the U.S. “Not in New York,” I said. “Maybe in Texas, but i’ve never been there.”
I can sum up our day by sharing an email I sent to my father.
Today went something like this:
We took a stroll through the filthy, intensely polluted “downtown” alleyways of Jaipur. We saw a cow chewing on a motorcycle seat. I took a pic. We saw another cow scratching his face with the handle of a moped. I took a pic. We went to the City Palace and I almost died of boredom.
Besides all that we did some jewelry shopping. I found a pair of diamond initial earrings. The initials were “A” and “S”. I tried them on and my mother said, “those aren’t your initials.” I told her I’d change my name. “Why are you so literal?” I asked, staring in the mirror. “They don’t have to be my initials. They could stand for anything. They could be my Indian initials. No one knows what the hell goes on here.”
We wound up in one of the million handicraft/rug/pashmina stores. The only things to buy in India are Pashminas, rugs, jewelry and camels. If India has 1.2 billion people then it probably has 4.2 billion pashminas. I really wanted to see a Kashmir goat but they live in Kashmir which is in the north and borders Pakistan, plus it’s freezing there.
I am definitely obsessed with goats. One of the things on my bucket list is to see the goats in trees in Morocco.
I know it looks ridiculous and fake, but I don’t care if it’s staged. I don’t care if they glue them on. It’s a must see.
Anyway, the owner of the handicraft/rug/pashmina stores name was Raj. I told him my name was Pam. “Like Palm Tree?” he asked. I fell in love.
We hung out with Raj for a while even though we had no intention of buying any of his stuff. We let him show us around his entire warehouse. “This has been fun,” I said.
“Not for me,” he said.
He sees me typing in my phone every other minute. “You taking notes?” he asked.
I looked him in the eyes. “Do u know any kings for me?”
“You are cool. You want a massage?”
“I don’t do massages.” I looked around the room at the tons and tons of pashminas. “This country doesn’t have enough scarves,” I said.
Raj showed us a lot of antique pictures. One in particular looked intriguing. “Who’s that guy?” I asked, pointing to the painting.
“He’s the king who built the Taj Mahal.”
“Is he single?” I asked.
We kept moving. A few feet further Raj saw me looking at something. “That’s an opium case,” he said.
“Do u have any opium?” He didn’t respond. I didn’t even know if opium still existed. I spotted an old wood goat that was the size of a small dog. “How much is this?” I asked.
$1900. Do you want it?”
“It’s too expensive. But my birthday’s in January if u want to send it to me.” I turned to my mother and said, “A $1900 wood goat. I can find this in Home Goods for $29.”
Sadly, Raj wouldn’t let me take a picture of the goat. However, I found this one on google so wtf.
A couple of days later someone said to me, “How’s Raj?”
I said, “Raj who? That was so two days ago.”
Forgot the name of this place . . .
This evening you will time your visit to the river with sunset (along with 10,000 other people) In contrast to the early mornings when the Ghats are a mass of people performing a wide variety of rituals, at sunset the main sounds are the temple bells (incessant scooter honking) as the priests start their preparations for the evening “aarti” ceremony. In the distance you will see the fires of the crematorium (creepy as hell) as the last of the cremations are performed before the sun goes down, and there are a few pilgrims taking a final dip in the river. (dirtiest body of water on earth) Whilst the city is still busy, crowded and noisy, sunset slows and quietens life along the river.
Varanasi is located on the banks of the Ganges and is one of the holiest cities in India. I got married there. It was arranged by a goat. The goat was then cooked for the ceremony. #itscomplicated
*I’m registered at the International terminal at Mumbai airport.
Like I said Varanasi is a very spiritual place. People are bathing in the river and in various states of prayer. At one point my mother turned to me and said, “What does it mean when people say they meditate?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Just ignore them.”
People actually clean their laundry in the water as well. Note the man working in the middle below, adjacent to some garbage. Hope this isn’t where they clean the sheets from our hotel.
People “bathing” in the garbage. I mean Ganges.
You take a walk in the old city with your guide. (Been there done that) Sharing space with cows, elephants, people, and the walk through the winding lanes (catch Malaria) is an interesting insight (traumatizing) into lifestyles in what is referred to as “small town India.” (This is what your doctor warned you about). Shops selling a variety of items (same crap as all the other towns), unexpected folk art decorating the walls of houses and small architectural gems like a latticed work Haveli window.
Later you meet Minakshi Singh, a teacher and a housewife who is known in for her simple, delicious home cooked meals (wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole). With her you will visit Udaipur market, you will shop at her favorite vendors (dead frogs and curry) and return and cook with her at her home preparing a meal for her family whom you join for dinner today. (Cancel)
As soon as we got to Udaipur I saw this:
I had no idea what it said but I’m pretty sure they were talking about me.
Then I saw this!
I asked the guide why the donkey had spots all over him and he said it was so they could identify him. I was like, “Interesting. In America we put name tags on our pets to identify them.” However since they just roam the streets I guess they’re easier to spot (no pun intended) from far away? Oy.
Udaipor was noticeably a much cleaner city. We did some obligatory sight seeing, although all the palaces and forts paled in comparison to the sights on the streets. Plus when any tour guide starts out with: “In 1724 . . .” my blood pressure drops and I want to slit my wrists.
I took some notes:
New Sightseeing Rules:
No monuments, forts, ruins, museums, “palaces” that aren’t, government buildings. #No exceptions.
We also shopped in Udaipur. Below is Raj, a store owner. He is pointing to a 25 year old beaten up newspaper article that is supposedly raving about his store, except he’s curiously covering most of it up. He was very nice. His favorite expression was “We make happy price for you.” I bought a pair of pants from him which will cost four times more to dry clean then the pants themselves.
Raj needs to work on his #inventory control. #poorRaj
You visit the historic Kala Ghoda Area, the heart of the Fort Mumbai area. A feast of architecture ranging from Gothic to art deco, the area is a lively area (understatement of the century) to explore on foot (great idea if you want to get run over), Street vendors, cafes, galleries, local cricket matches and food stalls all find place to exist in this area. The tour will end at the soaring Victoria Station (attacked by terrorists in 2008), a land mark of the area. A UNESCO world heritage site, it is a busy station for both local commuter and national rail services. (whatever you do don’t go there)
By the time we got to Mumbai we had been in India for ten days and I was convinced that I had lung cancer. Everyone in India has a suspicous cough. All of the smog/smoke/pollution could have something to do with it. I probably should have waited until after I got back from India to get a physical, but hindsight is 20/20. Note to self: make appointment for a lung scan.
Mumbai is a dirty, filthy noise polluted nightmare. There was some nice architecture (very little) but most it just looked like crap. It occurred to me that everything in India must have been nice at one point – about 400 to 700 years ago. If you want to imagine what it feels like to be in Mumbai just hold your hand down on your car horn for an hour straight while staring at a dirty wall in 900 degree heat with flies swarming around you. Disgusting hell.
The only humane way to get around Mumbai is in an air conditioned car. This also creates a safe barrier between you and the rest of city/noise/pollution. The traffic is so bad that you might as well cross half the things off your itinerary before you start because it takes forever to get anywhere. I saw a man on the side of the road w a cage filled w rats. Everything was just gross.
As dilapadated as much of the city is, here’s a fun fact: the most expensive home in the world is located in the center of Mumbai. It’s 27 stories high and cost a billion dollars. If you can afford a billion dollar home I don’t know why the fuck you’d wanna live there.
Our hotel was one of the nicest and most popular in the city. An hour after we checked in I found out that it was attacked by terrorists in 2008. Would have been nice if that was mentioned to us beforehand. #toolatenow #getnewtravelagent
Did I mention that the famous yet disgusting train station that we went to see was also attacked by terrorists in 2008? Didn’t realize we were on the terrorist target tour of Mumbai.
It was hot as fuck in Mumbai with humidity to match. Our tour guide was the Indian version of my annoying, lazy housekeeper. She was very attentive to us . . .
She took us to this great “antique” area . . .
Then, suddenly this happened . . .
You walk down the street and people either beg you for money or try to sell you stuff. We mostly ignored them. One girl came up to us but I didn’t hear what she said. “What did she say?” I asked my mother.
“Let me translate: ‘Do u wanna buy a peacock fan?'”
“Oh. Let me translate: ‘no'”
I checked my email and my friend sent me this link: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/6102804. When I saw the “us/entry” part I was alarmed that something had happened and we might have a hard time getting back into the U.S. Then I clicked on the link only to find out it was an article about anal sex. #defriend.
We did some shopping in Mumbai and met a depressed, hot mannequin . . .
Bought some traditional Indian things . . .
Had a traditional Indian lunch . . .
Went to a place called Elephant Island which strangely had no elephants . . .
Then finally ended our day, and our trip.
My motto is what you wear in India should stay in India, except for this awesome shirt. #namaste #india #theend
I’d like to give a big shout out to everyone who made this trip memorable: Raj for all the laughs, Qatar Airways for getting us there and back in one piece, all the Oberei hotels for their way too nice (to the point of annoying) staff, and The Times of India for their undying love and support. #Indiaforever
P.S Don’t try this at home . . .