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India

Reverse Oreo 2017


View 8 Month Adventure on elliehirch's travel map.

And here's the final post of the amazing time that was Reverse Oreo 2017! Our last big adventure in India was a tour in the south. It began with a 35 hour train ride! My longest overland journey to date.. which really wasn't that bad. Turns out the time goes fast when you sleep a lot!
Our overall experience with the tour was a positive one, but there were some bumps along the way. The first one was disembarking hot and sweaty from the train to find that our companions for the next 12 days were just a weeee bit older than us. But we grew to love those old farts after awhile.. they were friendly, quirky and fun, always taking care of us, and giving us entertainment with the drama they created. Our first few days we visited quite a few temples in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu...

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One temple in Rameswaran had an amazing view of the countryside..

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While the temples were all beautiful.. they were also another struggle on the tour. There were just sooo many and multiple places would not let foreigners or non-Hindus inside. It was the first time in my life that I have been prohibited from entering a place based largely on the color of my skin. It was frustrating and also eye-opening.

Other parts of the tour were absolutely beautiful and being able to spend the time sightseeing with such good friends more than made up for issues along the way. Part of the beauty of traveling is that things often don't turn out how you expect and you learn a lot about yourself in your ability to handle difficult situations.

We took a backwater ride in Kerala...

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And the boat drove us to the beautiful Golden Sand beach, where Hannah and I finally had our first beer in India!!..

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Our next stop was the southern most tip of India, the meeting point of the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, and Arabian Sea..

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It is also the location of a couple islands that are the Swami Vivekananda Memorial, a devout Hindu monk largely credited for the introduction of yoga to the western world...

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We headed further inland to the town of Thekkady where we saw a traditional Kathakali dance, involving an interesting display of eye and face movements through expressive dance.. Weird and interesting!

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We also took a jeep ride in the mountainous countryside near Thekkady..

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The viewpoints were amazing and the ride was winding, bumpy, and exhilarating!

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We took in a couple amazing sunsets...

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And then continued to Munnar to visit the tea fields..

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Rose Garden..

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And Mattupatty Dam and Lake for a motorboat ride..

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Staying in a beautiful spice jungle hotel..

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Our last outing was another boat ride, this time in the famous house boating backwaters of Alleppey..

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After our busy tour, it was nice to take our last few days to relax with Unnati's family back in Baroda, get to enjoy some more of Mama Rani's cooking, and cross the last few things off our India 'to-do' list. A veggie Big Mac (or Maharaja Mac) at McDonald's. So much yes. Last shopping at the market and grocery stores. Unnati brought back a whole suitcase full of food! And our final activities included a birthday dinner and visits with Unnatis friends (who have obviously become our friends too!)...

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And a visit to the Sarangur temples a few hours away...

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... Where we attempted to attend a communal temple meal and were whisked into a 'VIP' room (due to being foreigners) that Unnati didn't even know existed. Talk about opposite experience to our earlier temple visits. This is India baby! You never know what is going to happen and I love that feeling of adventure!

When I sat down to write my final India notes, I realized that this may be my favourite country visited to date. It is so unique, so full of culture and 100% certain to be a place I will return (Unnati just needs to give me a couple years to save up before her wedding!). I can definitely say it was the best food experiences I've had anywhere, the people couldn't have been more amazing (causing copious tears at the airport), and the things we saw from north to south were gorgeous. I feel so lucky to have had such a beautiful opportunity!

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Posted by elliehirch 03:56 Archived in India Comments (0)

This is India baby!


View 8 Month Adventure on elliehirch's travel map.

Throughout our time in this country, we've repeated a few things wherever we go. One has been reverse Oreo 2017... see picture below for explanation...

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And the second has been 'because this is India, baby!' For any noteworthy cultural or unique experience, whenever we are shoved around or find ourselves in a huge crowd, when we are stared at for our white skin, or have an amazing view that also includes garbage.. We look at each other and shrug, this is India! We've found ourselves in just as many strangers photos as ones we've taken of each other. Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn't come up to Hannah and I: "one photo, please?, one selfie?" I'm a celebrity in India! People have even asked to hand me their children for photos! I wish my looks got me this much attention in Canada! But we've also learned that these features get us a much higher price for anything negotiable (rickshaws, taxis, food, souvenirs). Anytime we want to buy something, Unnati says "you foreigners just stand here and I'll go find out the price!" This is definitely working in our favour. Besides which I don't know how we would have managed the trip without her. She's been the most amazing and patient translator. We also had a wonderful time with her cousins and family in the rest of our stay in Agra...
We spent a day out with cousins Abishek, Sourabh, Harsh and Anjali and their son Namesh in Mathura and surrounding areas...

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Our day was a bit of a temple tour. We started out at the birthplace of Krishna...

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Then Vrindavan Temple, the most crowded place I've ever been inside (hence why the only photo is from outside)..

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And finally the love temple, Prem Mandir, lit up like a Disney castle and full of the most intricate marble designs of which I am also only able to show outside shots...

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Despite the beautiful temples, the noteworthy event of the day happened while I was sitting in the street, minding my own business, reaching out to take a cup of lassi and finding myself clobbered over the head by a crazy animal. Turns out I had just been dive bombed by a glasses snatching red-faced monkey. When I finally came to my senses to comprehend what was happening, Unnati, her cousins and the street vendors had run after it to throw bananas in exchange for my spectacles, thankfully resulting in their return in one piece, only slightly chewed on one arm. Talk about monkey business!

We had a couple more days in Agra spent visiting family before another sad goodbye. Unnati's family was amazing. Every single person, friend or family member, that we met would be so welcoming and generous, making us feel at home and wishing us the best. I fell in love with the people even more than any place we saw..

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Our next destination was Jaipur where we stayed with another cousin, Shivali, and her family, and had a couple days to explore the cities palaces and temples. We started with the amazing Amber Fort and Palace..

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Our favourite part of Amber was definitely the mirror room...

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The area surrounding Jaipur is full of barrier walls and forts, described to us by one guide as the 'mini Great Wall'. We journeyed up to the great viewpoint from the Jaigarh Fort...

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We stopped by Jal Mahal water palace, the unfortunate location of a palace built in a valley that later flooded..

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As well as Hawa Mahal, a building full of windows...

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And the big and beautiful Govind Debji temple...

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A visit to Jaipur's City Palace was also amazing.. beautiful doors and gates...

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And a pink central building..

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We also experienced a lot of Rajasthan culture (the state Jaipur is in) at a cultural center and dinner. Local buildings/architecture..

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And food!!!

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Tried fire pan.. a mouth freshener lit on fire that they basically jam into your mouth.. delicious and weird.. Indians love mouth fresheners after every meal. Some of them taste like delicious candy and then some are more reminiscent of chewing on soap or chunks of perfume..

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After Jaipur we had a couple more days back in Baroda. Reunited with Unnati's friends and visited the city's large park..

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Then completed a pilgrimage of 1000 steps up to the temple of Champaner Pavagadh. The view from the top was wonderful and the nearby ruins were also worth a visit...

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We were spoiled with two days of our surrogate Mom/Rani's cooking before packing up for our next adventure.. a tour of Southern India!!

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Posted by elliehirch 09:15 Archived in India Comments (0)

India calling...


View 8 Month Adventure on elliehirch's travel map.

After almost a year and a half dreaming and talking about it, Unnati and I finally stepped on a plane to journey to India together. Joined by another of her friends, Hannah (who I would soon bond with over mutual razzing of our best brown friend), we made the 27 hour trek to Unnati's hometown Baroda (or Vadodara as it is officially named) to be greeted by her parents. Manoj and Rani have been the most wonderful Indian parents to us in our time here, organizing and planning everything we need, and making sure we do not spend a minute of our time hungry... Literally. Rani likes to wake us up by either providing chai tea (the sweet nectar we haven't gone a day without!), food (I'm pretty sure she's the best cook in this country), or asking one of her few but favourite English words.. "Hungry?". On the topic of food.. Our first night we went out for traditional Gujarati food with Unnati's friends..

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We also spent some of our initial time in Baroda immersed in the pace of life in India.. Scooter and car rides down the craziest streets I've ever seen in my life, where there are absolutely no rules, the streets are packed with cars, rickshaws and bikes, honking is constant (and honestly confusing.. Are you angry? Turning? Getting out of our way? Asking us to get out of your way? All of the above? Who knows!), and dodging street cows, dogs, and sometimes donkeys is extremely common. This country is busy, fast-paced and often dirty.. And I love it!

We drove to Jalaram temple near Unnati's family's house..

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Then to the market in Baroda for our first amazing street food experience, fried pockets of goodness called kachori..

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So far Indian food is totally and completely blowing my mind. Personal favourites include samosas, deep fried sugar rings called jalebi, sweet dough balls soaked in syrup called galub jamun, stuffed crepes called chila, and basically any curry or chutney that Rani makes! This country is making up for some of my cuisine disappointments in countries earlier in the trip. It's also making me gain back all the weight that earlier illnesses depleted. No regrets!

Our next stop on the trip was the journey to Rani's family home in Agra. After a struggle of an overnight train for our first exposure to India Rail, we were picked up in Bharatpur to make a few stops on the way. We started out at Keoladeo bird sanctuary which was beautiful and big. And also cold (weird right, being cold in India?!). This made it hard for us to cover a huge amount of ground. Enough to see the wetlands and some beautiful birds before leaving..

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After this we visited Rani's sister's family in Bharatpur and had our first real exposure to traditional Indian home life. After marriage, daughters move to their in-laws homes and sons will stay to live with their parents, making for potentially full and busy homes. As we were told by basically every family member we visited.. Guests are like gods, receiving royal treatment wherever they go, first offered water, then chai and snacks, usually by the daughter-in-law, as soon as they sit down. We had lunch with the family in Bharatpur before continuing on..

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For the final stop of the day... Fatepur Sikri, a palace built by Akbar with buildings for his three wives (one Hindu, one Christian, and one Muslim), mosques, courtyards, gardens and more. It is a huge, beautiful place whose construction started in 1569 and took 20,000 workers 15 years to complete...

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We had a great time exploring all the buildings..

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Now, going to end this post off with the highlight of our first week... Taj Mahal. We started our Agra stay off with a bang, heading right for the city's wonder of the world. And despite the crowds and one tower under scaffolding, it did not disappoint...

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We endured the heat of the day to explore all around India's greatest love story, into the mausoleum itself where the king's remains later joined those of his wife (who he built the Taj for), and the adjacent buildings.

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We also got up close to see the intricate designs of the workers who devoted themselves to the construction, their hands later cut off so that the beauty would never be replicated.

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Our India stay has continued to be busy.. Stay tuned for more updates filled with temples, palaces, family and food!

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Posted by elliehirch 08:33 Archived in India Comments (0)

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