I guess that after you tell people that you're going to go and traipse around India, it's a good idea to also inform them of your safe return... Well friends, i have returned to Thailand in one piece, and have more stories to tell than could ever fit in one blog post. I won't write a novel, but I will share some of the highlights if you want to grab a cup of Chai and sit with me as I reminisce.
If i'm going to reminisce, I might as well start at the beginning. That being said.... Almost as soon as Christmas break had begun, 3 other teachers from my school and I set out, not exactly sure what to expect, but ready for adventure. And adventure is what we found.
These are my travel companions. We're something along the lines of Next Top Model meets Amazing Race, if you ask me.Our first stop: Kolkata (Calcutta).
India, especially Kolkata, can be almost overwhelming, to be quite honest. New sights and sounds, vivid colors, strange smells, unfamiliar language... But in the midst of all of this unfamiliar, we were blessed with the familiar. We were picked up at the airport by an Indian man in a red SUV who was grinning from ear to ear and waving a sign that had my name on it. His name was Hassim, and he was the driver for some friends of mine from Virginia (Blair and James) who moved to Kolkata around the same time that I moved to Thailand. Hassim drove us to my friends' apartment where we were warmly welcomed. I cannot express how wonderful it was to spend time with friends from home who have been in a similar situation as I've been in. We spent much time talking about home, and of course sharing stories of living in foreign countries. We also spent Christmas day in their home, which was a blessing all of its own to be able to enjoy a good American Christmas dinner with fellow believers.
While in Kolkata we had the chance to see some of the local sights. We saw museums, and monuments, which were interesting, but we also went to the Missionaries of Charity Mother House, the mission started by Mother Theresa, which is also her burial place. We weren't able to volunteer as we had hoped to, but it was a powerful and humbling reminder of the need in our world.From Kolkata, we boarded a train that would take us on to our next stop. Darjeeling.
The train was an adventure all of it's own. To give you a mental picture... It kinda looked like a prison cell on wheels. But were able to make it much more fun than I can imagine any prison to be. It was an overnight train, and we were in "Sleeper Class", Which meant that our seats transformed into triple-decker bunk beds. In addition to my 3 traveling companions, we also had some very friendly bunk buddies.They found great amusement in watching me throughout the course of the night, as article by article i put on almost the entire contents of my bag, because it was so freezing cold. By the time we arrived I was wearing about 8 layers of clothing i think.
Our exciting train adventure was more than worth it, because Darjeeling was by far my favorite stop on our excursion. A small town at the top of a mountain, in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was s drastic change from Kolkata. It was vastly colder, much more quiet, and a million times more laid back.
We found a place to stay, bought some hats, scarves, gloves, etc., ate some dinner, went to bed early, and then the next thing we knew, we were waking up at 4am. We found a taxi and went up to Tiger Hills where we watched the sun rising over the Himalayas. It was breathtaking. As the sun began to rise, it reflected off of Mt. Kanchendzonga (the 3rd tallest peak in the world), in the most beautiful glowing shades of gold and peach.And then, as it began to get lighter, we could see another peak in the distance. It looked quite small... But that was only because it was very far away. In reality, if we could get closer, we would have seen that it is actually quite large. How large? The largest. Yes my friends, there in the distance we could see Mt. Everest.Seeing the world's tallest mountain almost made the trip worth it. But no matter how cool that is, no trip to Darjeeling is complete without drinking tea and going to tea gardens. A highlight for any good coffee shop nerd. From Darjeeling we boarded a second train, this one thankfully was a little nicer than our original one. We set off for the last leg of our trip: The Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur).
We arrived in Delhi just in time for New Year's Eve. I've decided that it doesn't matter what part of the world you're in, New Year's Eve is just one big party. We found a nice place for dinner, but the girls were a bit hesitant about being out late in a foreign place, especially since our hotel was in a slightly sketchy area. We headed back to the hotel early, but as it was nearing midnight, Sarah and I were curious about what would be going on. We decided to go out front of the hotel to see what we might find. But as we walked out our hotel door, we could hear music -- from upstairs. We followed the music up to the roof where the hotel staff was dancing and having a grand ol' time. We laughed, they laughed, and it was great. From the roof we could see fireworks going off in all directions at midnight, and one by one the guys shyly came up to us offering happy new year handshakes.
We spent a day touring the sights of Delhi -- India Gate, where I felt like a celebrity because people were taking more pictures of me than of the monument.We went to the Bahai temple, a huge temple for the Bahai faith, built to look like a giant lotus blossom. We also went to the Ghandi museum at the place where he was killed. You can follow his footsteps from the house up towards the place where he was shot, where there is now a memorial set up.After this, we headed towards Agra.
Story Time! Long long ago, an emperor named Shah Jahan had a wife whom he loved very much. She was actually one of his wives, but she was the favorite. When she died, he was devastated. He spent the next two decades building a monumental burial tomb for her -- The Taj Mahal. Rumor has it, there were plans for a second Taj Mahal to be built, only from black marble. It was to be built across the river, mirroring the original Taj Mahal, where Shah Jahan would be buried. This never happened though, instead he was buried next to his wife. His being buried next to her created the only asymmetrical part of the entire structure.
I believe i promised pictures. Well friend's here ya go.It was even more beautiful than pictures can show. I hope that each of you will get a chance to see it in person someday.
Well that's my trip. There are many many more stories I could share, and TONS more pictures I could show of all the other sights we saw, and the friends we made....
Okay, for real, I'm done now. I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of my adventures. Next time, you're coming with me.