Friday, October 03, 2008

Last days in India

Let’s see – a lot has happened since I last wrote an entry – I’ve criss-crossed this country and then some. I’m writing this off-line so may repeat a few things as I can’t remember exactly where I left off.

I had an amazing ride down the mountains from Leh in Northern India (this is back on September 16th) – both the scenery was amazing (amazingly beautiful) and the ride itself was amazing (amazingly long and bumpy). Really though, the ride wasn’t all that bad and was far better than I’d anticipated – the views more than made up for the lack of comfort. We left Leh about 5am and drove through some great landscapes. The highest pass we drove over was actually higher than I wrote in my last post: it was over 17,500 feet! (5300+ meters) Wow. Talk about thin air. And I was just driving through, not having to walk more than a few feet from the bus – kudos to anyone who hikes up at these high altitudes! It took a full day of driving and we still only were able to descend down to 11,000 feet (Leh was almost 12,000). A nice rest at a guesthouse that even had running hot water and we were on our way again at 7am. We finally pulled into Manali around 3pm and I promptly got on another overnight bus to Delhi two hours later.

I took a couple good photos but all have that spec of dust on them so I’ll need a little Photoshop before I can be satisfied. In fact, I rushed my decent from Leh back to Delhi partly because I didn’t know how long it was going to take to get my camera cleaned (in addition to applying for my Chinese visa). Taking a full two days to handle those two simple tasks, I was on my way further south to Rajasthan and Jaipur.

First though, let me tell you how incredibly frustrating it was to get my Chinese visa! The extensive list of documents, letters, forms, copies, etc. was ridiculous: two page application, one passport photo, photo copies of my passport data and Indian visa pages, cover letter stating my purpose for visiting India (where I intended to stay, how I would financially support myself, etc.), confirmed hotel reservation for the duration of my stay (silly since who would believe I was going to stay in Beijing my entire trip), copies of my flight information with confirmed departure flight, invitation letter from a friend already residing in China, copies of her passport data, visa and residency permit pages, past three month’s history of my personal bank account (since that was insufficient I also needed a letter of financial support from a family member with copies of their past three months bank account transactions)!!! On top of that, since you need your passport to travel around India (to stay in hotels, buy train tickets, etc.) I also needed a letter from the Chinese Embassy stating they had my passport while I was applying for a visa, a letter from a travel agent explaining the same thing, extra copies of my passport data and visa pages, and the receipt from my visa application. Ahhh!!! It wouldn’t have been such a pain in the @#$ but they kept leaving things out that I needed or would then tell me that I needed to write something differently – I had keep going back all day waiting over an hour in line each time! So frustrating!

Ok for those of you from the US or Europe that just skimmed over that last paragraph – go back and read it. That experience is nothing new to many foreigners from pretty much any country other than Europe and the US who have applied for a visa to the “west”. In fact, for them it is even more complicated with marriage certificates, deeds for property, more letters, forms – the list goes on and on. Essentially, just know that is what they go through if they ever want to. I knew it was a hassle but it was a humbling experience for me in a way.

Ok, back to Jaipur. I found this great website called – something that I’ve actually been doing throughout most of my travels but now I can do it much more simply and be a little more content with going to sleep at a stranger’s house whom I’ve never met before… I stayed with a wonderful woman named Yogi up in Delhi and she connected me with numerous others since which have had great influences on my trip thus far.

In Jaipur, I ended up staying in what has become the Jaipur Aiesec (a student group I was in back in University that helps to organize internships abroad) trainee house where I got to meet a bunch of great people. I didn’t get to spend much time with my actual host but did get to chat a fair bit with the various trainees staying there – from Colombia, Turkey, Tunisia, England, Germany, Poland, etc. Arun and his family were gracious hosts and pointed me in the right direction for my brief visit to Jaipur. I skipped some major sites so will have to do a return trip and hope to see them on my way back through whenever that may be.

On my second day, after taking a few pictures my camera just totally died! I was devastated! If you know me at all, you’ll know that photography during my trips is a big deal to me and not even being able to take photos was really hard. It is one thing to have some dust on the sensor that can at least be photoshopped out later but an entirely different story when you can’t take anything at all. I must have sat at the bottom of the Amber Fort (which was quite impressive) for almost an hour trying to figure out what to do: my next destination – literally that day – was Agra and the Taj Mahal. I couldn’t go to the Taj and not take a photo! The nearest place that could fix my camera was back in Delhi… after Agra though I would just keep going in the other direction, so if I was going to get it fixed, it had to be now. I walked around the Amber Fort, admiring the place and recording it with my eyes. In a way, it was an interesting experience since I am so used to traveling with my camera. To go somewhere so beautiful and not take any – to just appreciate it for what it was. I still prefer having my camera.

By lunch time I was back on a bus north to Delhi so I could be at the Canon place the next morning when they opened at 8am. To do this, it meant staying in Gurgoan, the tech/business park and lucky enough for me I met a nice guy on the bus up that offered me a flat dry place to sleep for the night.

I’ll leave it there as I’m going out to meet some friends for dinner in Delhi

As always, stay tuned!! ;-D

(Oh and I have tons of photos – I just haven’t found a good place to upload them yet… don’t worry I’ll get some up eventually!)

Where I've Been...