Thursday, March 1, 2012

Landing in India

The flight to New Delhi was actually not too bad. I slept a lot, and watched movies. The seat I was in in business class was a lay-flat seat. It was pretty comfortable and the flight did not feel like 13 hours.
When we got off the plane and headed towards Passport control, the airport decor was really cool.
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I got my bags and breezed through customs without stopping. As we walked out of the airport, there is a distinct smell that makes you think somewhere there are a bunch of buildings on fire. The air is hazy as well. The hotel sent a car to pick us up and about 10 minutes later, we were ushered into the Raddison Blu hotel lobby. Rick and I checked in and Rob and Joy came out to meet us. I dumped my luggage off in the hotel room which was really nice.
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We all went to the bar and had a drink and finally called it a night just around 12:30 am or so.
It was nice to decompress a little, but it was important to get some sleep because we were going to leave the hotel around 6:00 am to head to the train station in Delhi for our trip to Agra.
I slept off and on for a few hours and finally woke up wide awake around 4:30 am. I got up and got ready to head out.
We grabbed a couple of muffins and a few bottles of water and jumped in a taxi and headed out into the city around 6:00 am to find the train station.

I am going to leave out many details in the next part of the story, because a lot of the things we saw next were really nasty. Someday, buy me a drink and I will tell you about them, but for print... suffice it to say, that there was a lot of humanity out here, being human and doing human things that most of us do behind closed doors in what we take for granted called a bathroom. Watch your step is a very important thing to remember here.

We landed at the train station and found our train track. We were there about 30 minutes before the train left. Standing on the train platform, you looked around and realized very clearly that this was not touristy. You were in the thick of it now.

The smells... pretty rough...
Our train finally pulled in and we all started pushing our way through the crowd to get to our car.
We had reserved seats in the chair car and finally made it there.
The train was pretty dirty, and had an interesting smell. It took off, and as we started to roll out of the station, I saw some movement by my feet and caught a glimpse of a mouse scurrying around.
Kinda freaked me out, but I had to just put it out of my mind.
I remember reading a book as a kid about a mouse that had a tiny motorcycle and how interesting this cute little mouse was in the book. Seeing the mouse on the train was not like that. I just kept thinking that I hoped there was not enough space between my shoes and jeans so that he could have a chance to run up there. Cuz that would be bad.
Looking out the window of the train was very depressing. The poverty and masses of people living in huts made of branches and whatever they could find to shelter themselves was really overwhelming.
I thought to myself, "Once we get outside the city, it will get better"
I was wrong... it didn't.
For the next 3 hours, it was about the same. The area's along the railway looked like what you would expect to see in a movie about navy seals on a mission through a war torn city.
Only this was no movie, and the places weren't war torn.
We finally got to Agra, and got off the train. I had eaten a granola bar that I swiped from the hotel in Delhi, and was feeling pretty hungry, but also scared to eat anything. Rick went to the Pre-paid Taxi stand and fought his way through about 20 people towards the booth. I went up behind him to see if he needed any help and there were about 10-15 men shouting at each other. I assume they were all fighting to try and get the fare. Rick finally emerged and had successfully wrangled two taxis for us and we were off to the hotel.
This was our taxi driver, Mr Bomb. Yup... that's right.. Mr Bomb.
Mr Bomb

Mr Bomb spoke great english, and was very endearing. He jumped right into his tour guide shpeal and by the time we got to the hotel, we agreed to pay him to take us on a 4 hour tour around the city.
First we needed food... Desperately.
I was starving. I had eaten on the plane, but nothing else except for a tiny muffin at the hotel. It had been about 18 hours or so since I had eaten anything. We went to the restaurant at the hotel and I got a club sandwich. It was good... I could have eaten about 3 of them... but at least I finally had something in my stomach.

Mr Bomb took us to the Taj Mahal and one of his employees walked us through the ticket process.. the lines at the gate and then started to give us the guided tour.  Honestly... I could barely understand his English, and more than the history of it all.. I just wanted to shoot photos.
As we came around the corner of the building and looked through the archway, You could see the Taj Mahal and it was pretty breathtaking. I feel like I kept a good balance of taking pictures and yet stopping to actually look at it. In the past I have been to famous / incredible things and spent the entire time looking through the viewfinder of the camera, rather than actually seeing what I was there to see in real life.

The Taj Mahal is really amazing. The craftsmanship is overwhelming when you think about the fact that they didn't have computers to build it.
Taj Mahal 2

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Taj Mahal 1

After we had spent a couple of hours there, I was tired and really ready to be done. Mr Bomb was going to make sure we got our money's worth however, and we went to Agra Fort next. It was pretty cool, but honestly mostly lost on me because I was beat.

We finally made it back to the hotel and after a bite to eat in the bar... which for me was literally about 2 bites of some unknown thing that Rick, Rob, and Joy ordered, I called it a night and crashed.
I think I slept for around 3 or 4 hours and then started waking up every 45 minutes or so.
We all had agreed to meet at 6:30 in the lobby to go back to the Taj Mahal and shoot photos at sunrise.
As we walked out of the hotel looking for a taxi, we went by the homes of some of the locals. When I say homes, what I really mean is four to six sheets of plywood, and brush covering a couple of cots. People squatting on the ground under these shelters, cooking their morning breakfast and whatever else they were doing. I did however see one of these places that actually had a little television set inside it.
It was very bizarre.
A Tuk Tuk pulled up and we all jumped on and told him to take us to the Taj I think the 10 minute ride was about 50 Rupees ($1.02 USD)
Rick and a Tuk Tuk
After a hell raising ride through the morning sights, he dumped us off at a street and pointed his filthy finger down the road and said "TajMahal"
We looked at each other and wondered if this was going to get us there or not.
As we walked down the street, there were dogs all over the place. Let me re-state that... There are dogs all over the place everywhere here. It is a bit unsettling, because you really don't want to get bit by one of these dogs. While in America, they would all make nice pets.... here, they are everywhere and it is frightening.
We got through the gates at the Taj and rushed in to catch some photos before all the crowds arrived.
The morning sunrise cast some really pretty light on it. It was very peaceful.
After shooting for a while, we decided that we had captured everything we were going to capture. We went back to the hotel after another fun Tuk Tuk ride and went to the restaurant to get some breakfast.
I had some beans and rice and a small omelet. It was good, but not a huge meal. It was time to grab our goods and head to the lobby to catch our ride back to Delhi. The train ride was 3 hours, and Mr Bomb had told us it was going to take about 4 hours in the car.
I assumed that once we got out of Agra, there would be a freeway or two back to Delhi.
I was wrong.
For the next four hours, we drove like mad through village after village, dodging cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, bicycles, men, women, children, dogs, sheep, goats, camels, an occasional monkey or two, and even an elephant.
Driving in India, I realized one thing....
When there are no rules... there is only one rule... don't hit anything.
Our driver was very good. We drove using the whole road. For four hours, he basically, passed everything that was in front of us, and he passed them where ever there was a hole. There were many times when we were literally on the other side of the road in oncoming traffic, with cars and motorcycles flying by us, head-on... on both sides.
Mr Bomb had said it best. When driving in India, you need three things. A good horn, good brakes, and good luck.

We arrived in Delhi, almost 5 hours later, and basically grabbed our luggage and headed to the airport.
Our plane was delayed about 30 minutes, and just like that, we said good bye to Delhi, and landed in Mumbai.
It is much warmer here in Mumbai, and we got to the hotel, I took a quick shower and met Rob, Joy and Priti at the hotel Bar. Priti is Indian, and has been to India quite a bit. She has a friend here who's name is Renna. Rick joined us and we ended up going to the hotel restaurant for dinner. By the time we ordered our food it was midnight. I had a good Italian meal, and then thankfully went to bed. The food was very good, and not having eaten anything but a granola bar, a sandwich, and an omelet since I landed in India, it was good to finally have a meal.
Sleep was good till about 4:00 am, and then the jet lag kicked in and I was wide awake. I ended up dozing for another hour and a half or so, but that was all I was going to get today.
Breakfast at about 8:30 am and then we headed to the meeting rooms to start our job at about 9:00 am.

Heading to India

The sky is getting dark outside the plane and the sun is setting with a deep orange glow on the horizon. Wow… I should have said that in a James Earl Jones voice….

It is 7:00 am in Phoenix, and I have been traveling for 24 hours now. I got home from the LA Hilton Show around 11:00 pm Saturday night. I unpacked my small suitcase, re-packed a larger one, and then finally got to sleep around 1:00 am. 
The alarm went off around 6:00 am and I was out the door by 7:00 am.
The flight from Phoenix to Newark was un-eventful, and I landed in New Jersey around 4:00 pm. I hadn't eaten really all day, so a couple of slices of east coast pizza were in order.
I exchanged some US dollars for Indian Rupees and now have a wallet stuffed full of 500 Rupee bills.
Around 6:00 pm Rick showed up at the airport and we went to a little tapas/wine place and got some more food. 

After that we headed to the gate and got on the plane. Rick was supposed to fly in economy, and boarded that way to his seat. However, eventually, he got the upgrade and was moved to Business Class before we took off. 

It is 12.5 hours ahead of Phoenix time when I land in New Delhi. So, the plan is to get some sleep and then tomorrow morning we have a 7:00 am train down to Agra. 
I think the train ride is about 2-3 hours, and we will sight see around Agra, and maybe see the TaJ Mahal at sunset. Hopefully, I will get some internet access, and be able to upload some photos.