Chit Chat India: Udaipur: 21 – 25.08.2013

Our first day in Udaipur was fantastic; relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable, and already we’re in love with this place.

We woke late and spent the morning on the roof top balcony overlooking the city and lake, sipping lassi and doing nothing much else.

We put away our guide book and maps for the day and instead, wandered into town without plans or restrictions to simply get lost amongst the tiny lane ways and streets.

We wandered through art galleries and little shops, chatting for a while with each artist and shop owner. We browsed through book stores and purchased some Hindi language and books about Indian culture, and ended up at an awesome little street side juice bar, where the owner proudly presented me with his best juice. We stopped for frequent cups of chai and chatted with the vendors as they pulled our tea, dodged sleepy cows wandering the streets, and met camera-happy children who were desperate to be photographed so they could see themselves on the digital screen.
We passed over the Pichola Lake by bridge, and wandered through little laneways and past very friendly faces and more lazy cows.
Our day was filled up by simply looking and chatting with the locals – everywhere we went we found ourselves being told to “sit, sit,” while we were asked the standards “From you where?”, “She your wife?,” “Children?”, “What you age?”, “What job you?”…

Udaipur Old Town is SO touristic, filled with shop after shop selling camel leather bags and journals, hippie pants and pashmina scarves, perfumes in strange bottles, books, handicrafts, and miniature paintings. A chorus of “yes come look my shop”, “Come yes please sir, only looking is free” and “hello where from?” rings out from the touters that line the street, and it never ceases to amaze me the odd words and phrases that spill out of their mouths when we refuse to go into their shops. One man asked me in an odd ‘Australian accent’, after I refused his offer for “free looking” – “Okay…you going get some tuk-kah!?” (“tucker”: Australian slang for food – where he picked up that phrase, I have no idea… seriously, who even uses the word tucker!?…) I blame Crocodile Dundee for atrocities such as this.

The traffic here is heavy and the streets are narrow – foot paths are hard to find – it gets difficult to stick together and usually we end up walking single file. At one point, Jake walked ahead and I got stuck between a tuk tuk, a motorbike, a car and a group of school students, which must’ve seemed like the perfect opportunity for an Indian boy to strike up a conversation, grab my hand and propose to me. Yep. First marriage proposal of the trip. The conversation continued – very briefly – whilst I tried to escape between the wheels of various moving vehicles, hobbling street dogs and a group of school boys fighting with each other.
Miss, what name you?” Shiiiiiiit…. Jake! Jake!
“Miss, you so very beautiful, can I kiss you?” Absolutely not.
“Miss, leave that man, he too old for you, I nineteen, right age for you.” Please leave me alone.
“Miss, you leave him and I show you all of Udaipur.” Tempting, but no.
“Miss, you perfect for me, leave him.” Goodbye.
“Miss!… Miss!… Leave him, come with me!” Jaaaaaakkkkkkkeeeeeee!!!

Safely away from the nineteen year old Indian Fabio, we had lunch at an organic vegan restaurant, sitting bare footed on cushions overlooking the surrounding buildings that were covered in peeling paint and complete with beautifully carved windows.

We found a musical instrument shop where I finally bought myself a ukulele, and strummed away in the shop with the talkative owner, whilst Jake took it upon himself to destroy one (accidentally, of course).

Our afternoon involved more chit-chatting to locals, avoiding stray dogs with serious health concerns, more chai, a lake side walk and exploring the lane ways. We were invited to dinner at the local chai vendors home for the following evening, Jake was offered free Hindi lessons by the vendor’s son, and I booked myself into an art class with a local artist.

The evening was spent strumming my ukulele on the roof top balcony whilst Jake jotted down new Hindi phrases from his book.

Oh India, how we absolutely adore you….

Udaipur quickly became one of these places we feel very at home in; as though we’d been here for ages.
We spent more time here than we intended, not doing all too much other than simply wandering, observing and chatting with people. The days spent here have become a bit of a blur – we’ve been wandering about, eating healthily, drinking lassis and chai, exploring, meeting new people, learning bits and pieces of Hindi, getting a feel for the place, and I’ve been painting. Yes, painting.

We spend our days waving hello to locals as though they’re old friends and stopping for frequent chai at our usual chai guy’s stall. He and his sons invited us to dinne and treated us as though the king and queen had just walked into their humble home. They served us dinner and we enjoyed their company and generosity; it was a real joy.

The local musician who sold me my shiny new ukulele checked each day to see how we were doing, and told us about a fantastic evening concert featuring famous Goan musicians playing the tabla, drum and sitar, complete with incredible singing and traditional dancing, down by the lake. We spent a happy evening listening to beautiful Indian music and watching colourful, glittered women dance with incredible precision and grace.

We ate at our local breakfast joint – Pap’s Juices – every morning for delicious freshly made muesli, yoghurt, fruits and honey; one of the healthiest thing we’ve probably eaten since arriving in India. He teaches us one new phrase in Hindi each morning.

Lunch was spent at the Indian vegetarian and vegan health restaurant, where we filled our stomachs with millets, fresh vegetables and delicious healthy oil-free foods.

A couple of local artists invited us into their shops each day for a chai and a chit chat, and we’ve been learning Hindi – especially Jacob – from every local, at every possible opportunity. I joined a painting class, and each day for three days attended ‘art class’ for four or five hours with a talented local artist named Rakesh, who was especially excited by the word “cool” and had an entire head worth of hair sprouting from each of his ears.
I thoroughly enjoyed spending my afternoons and evenings sitting out side the front of Rakesh’s little shop front, painting in the sun watching the hectic traffic and many cows negotiate the tiny road. I did not enjoy, however, being sprayed with shit when a passing cow let loose, flicking his tail – and poo – all over me. Yes, that was me that you could hear screaming.

 No matter where we went, people were keen to talk and were very friendly, and the feel of the town was really lovely. Evenings were cool and the town became quiet, and from our roof top balcony we looked over the city to see an ocean of colourful lights dancing on the lake. One evening, several travelers congregated on the rooftop and together we spent hours laughing and singing and chatting.
The guest house we stayed in – Kesar Palace Hotel – was fantastic, and probably contributed to our decision for a “lengthy” stay.

We decided not to visit the main attraction of Udaipur – the Grand Palace – instead, we enjoyed its exterior beauty from afar, and just spent our time getting a feel for the place. On our last day we spent a few hours in the New Town area – looking through the markets and stalls and getting drenched during a downpour of rain. The muddy ground and muck and waste everywhere made walking around a little more challenging (and disgusting) but we enjoyed chai, thali and the pure joy of something new; away from hippie pants, camel leather bags and fancy coffee shops.

Although the main streets often got clogged with traffic , cows and an orchestra of horns and petrol fumes, and the touters were always keen to sell us something we didn’t want, we found Udaipur relaxing and rejuvenating. We absolutely loved this place, and didn’t really want to leave. Reluctantly, we packed our backpacks and spent our last evening on the rooftop overlooking the lights.

We know this is a place we’ll come back to some day; for now we head to Pushkar at the lovely hour of 6am.

Generous India – 01.08.2013

We can now mark our second dot on the Indian map – we’re in Puducherry (Pondicherry), but I’m just going to do as the locals do and call it Pondy. It’s easier and it sounds cuter.

We planned to take the bus early this morning from Chennai to Pondy, in order to spend all afternoon exploring, stay just one night here, and then move on to our next destination late tomorrow afternoon… But like I said, that was simply the plan, and travel is no fun if you stick to a plan.

Waking late, we fluffed about, re-packed our backpacks – which we had managed to sprawl over the entire of our tiny room in the three days we were there in Chennai, and filled our canister with chai.
Checking out, the guest house staff told us how we could save a whole hour of travel if we most simply walked 5 minutes to the train station near by, took a train 15 minutes South, and then got down and got a bus to Pondy…So most simple, so quick, cheaper, and so much more convenient sounding…

Firstly, the walk was not 5 minutes and was not most simple either; it was like 30 minutes of walking in the relentless heat and pollution with 20kg on our backs through hectic traffic and hoards of people, past touters galore, and over the bodies of the sleeping homeless.
We finally then arrived at an empty – I repeat – EMPTY – train station… EMPTY! In Chennai! It was scary. We bought a ticket to a train station we didn’t know how to pronounce, with no idea where the platform was, where to go from the station, or how to get to Pondy…Things weren’t feeling that most simple any more…

And then a young man (whose name is Sreeram) walked by us, and was kind enough to show us how to get to the platform, which was ‘hiding’ upstairs. We chatted a bit, and it ended up we were both getting down at the same station, so thankfully he said he’d show us where to go; turns out, knowing which station the train was currently in was really difficult, as the large signs were only in either Hindi or Tamil, with tiny English translations underneath. We spent the duration of the train trip talking, and when we got to the station that we needed to be at, he explained that it was a 20 or so minute walk from the station to the bus stand to catch a bus to Pondy – a walk we soon realised would’ve been very hard for us to navigate on our own. “Get down from train and catch bus to Pondy” wern’t exactly detailed, accurate or most simple directions, Mr. Guest House man!

Sreeram was so generous, he hailed a ‘Rick’ (a rickshaw) – as he called them – and tried to barter with the driver to give us the local price (which should’ve been around 25 rupees). The driver refused anything less than 50 – because of our bags apparently – but it didn’t matter. Sreeram hopped in the seat next to the driver and the drivers friend, so there was three in the front, Jake and I in the back, along with our two bulging backpacks. Sreeram told us “Now you’re getting a real ride in India.” He said the tuk tuk driver would drop us where we needed to go, and that he was going to go a little further to a restaurant he loves here; turns out the food there was the whole reason he was travelling to this area on the outskirts of Chennai. Since it was lunch time, we asked if we could join and he was delighted.

He paid for the tuk tuk, much to our protests and explained we are his guests. At the restaurant, he ordered for us both the local specialty, and we had a wonderful time talking and learning a little more about India, and him and his family.
At the end of the meal, he refused to let us pay, again saying we were his guests – he was really so very generous, we felt really humbled.
Finally, he walked us to the ‘bus stop’ (just a stretch of road much like every other stretch of road) and hailed a bus for us when one quickly drove by.
Our goodbye was quick, but we hope Sreeram knows how appreciative we were of everything he did for us today; without his assistance, we would’ve been very, very lost.

The bus to Pondy was really very civilized! It was full, but not packed, the chairs were comfortable and they reclined, there was no blaring music, the driver drove at a very comfortable speed, and we even had a rest stop break! Very different from what we’d expected!

We arrived in to Pondy late afternoon, around 5pm, and managed to find a decent guest house in the old French Quarter. We booked for two nights here instead of the one we had planned – we got caught up today with other such fun.

The sky blackened quickly and it rained heavily for a little while, so we didn’t venture out until late evening, but it didn’t matter – like Chennai, this place doesn’t sleep early.
The shops and streets were buzzing, and certain areas were blocked off to three and four wheelers (although those vehicles didn’t seem to want to obey the laws and crammed the streets anyway). People were selling, buying, shopping, eating, drinking – it was as hectic as Chennai had been, but it doesn’t really phase us now; already we’ve adjusted to the madness of every day life here in India.

Walking the French influenced, but very hectic Indian streets, we looked through shops and market stalls before heading back late, preparing for a day of exploring tomorrow. It’s been a great, inspiring day; one we will absolutely remember for the rest of our trip, thanks to one very generous stranger.

Bad Drivers, Strangers, Couch Surfing and a Little Bit of Trust

You’ve just got to have a little bit of trust in them.

Trust. It’s a beautiful and daunting concept. Hard to gain, easy to lose – isn’t that how it goes?
But, what about when you travel? Does it become a whole new concept? I think so.
Sometimes, you don’t get a choice… And sometimes, that can work out to be better than you ever imagined.

When it comes to travel, I am constantly reminded to think “You’ve just got to have a little bit of trust in them.”

And it’s true, for the most part. I don’t believe you can travel, if you are not open to trusting others.
Travelling, [especially backpacking], and trusting people work together.

I’m not suggesting you walk blindly into any situation and just hope for the best. Sometimes common sense kicks in, or maybe it’s your gut feeling that guides you, and you can tell wether it’s a situation you’re comfortable in, or if you want to get the fuck out. Sometimes you can just ‘know’ when you don’t need/want to trust, but other times… you just have to.

Like when you get into the back of a taxi, and spend the entire time with your heart beating wildly in your mouth. You don’t have a choice – if you want to cover a distance to get somewhere, then – at some point you’ll have to take transport, and trust someone to get you there safely.

Or when you check yourself into a backpacker dorm, pack your belongings into your locker and your important doccuments into your day pack… You need to be able to trust that as you sleep/shower/eat, your basic belongings  will still all be there when you come back to your room.

What about when you order a meal? Your common sense and gut instinct can help you here to an extent, but other than that – you have to trust what you eat is safe enough to not have you spending the next 4 days with your head in a toilet. As travellers – we all know this is really difficult and not always possible.

And what about people? People can be so hard to trust! How do you trust that overly-smiling tuk tuk driver when he says “yes, yes, very good, very cheap, the cheapest, yes, yes, follow me, come come, I give you so cheap.?
How do you trust that weird guy in your dorm when he asks if he can borrow your lap-top for a little while?
How do you trust a stranger in a foreign country when they say “Of course, I can help, I can guide you…”
How do you trust someone who you’ve never met before, and known only for a few short minutes, with your life?
I’ve been in all of those situations, and sometimes, you just have to trust.

Sad but true, I’ve found that occasionally when people offer me something generously in a foreign country – somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder why they would be so generous. It’s terrible to admit, but sometimes that little part of my brain telling me to be cautious starts buzzing, alerting me to the idea that “it’s too good to be true”. Is it the same for you? Sometimes, because of this, I am reminded to trust – becuase not every person is trying to take advantage of me in some way.

What about Couchsurfing? Have you ever tried that?…
Jake and I plan to couch surf in every country we visit during our trip – we’d like to do a lot of it. Not for the “saving money” side of it at all – our reason for couch surfing is to meet locals, and see a country as a traveller, rather than a tourist. Couchsurfing can help us to do that…

But, how do you trust someone you’ve never met, and agree to stay in their home, travel with them, eat with them…? There are no lockers there for your pack, no locks on your bedroom door, and you have no idea who these people are…
Yet, you click a few buttons and type a few lines, swap a few e-mails and there you go – you’ve got somewhere to stay and the possibility of a great new friendship. What a foreign concept to me, what a great one at that! You push aside all those “stranger danger” and “online safety” alarm bells ringing in your head, after years of being taught that in school, from your parents, and through the media.

Couch surfing is built on trust. Trusting your instincts, and trusting others… Thinking of strangers as friends you just haven’t met yet… And I like the concept. A lot.
There are some not so nice people in the world, true, but I think there are a lot more, a LOT more good people out there. And I want to meet some of them.
We’ve already got some couch surfing opportunities lined up, and we hope they work out for the best…

I like how travel pushes people to trust, more so than they might usually. It’s a hard concept to get my head around, but I appreciate it.
We can’t wait to travel; we can’t wait for those dingy hostels and bumpy bus rides. We can’t wait for those people we are going to meet – where ever you are. We can’t wait for our new friends, and those couches we are going to sleep on.
We’re excited to experience travel, and life, and trust is simply part of it all.

So we’re going travelling with open hearts and big smiles, and we look forward to meeting you somewhere Asia!