Friday, January 3, 2014
Entering into the coldest weekend this winter, it seemed like a good time for me to look back to my trip in India and think of warmer days
One of the highlights of my trip to India was our elephant adventure. One of my friends had found an elephant sanctuary online, Elefun, near Jaipur, and we decided it would be fun to go there for the day to meet and ride elephants.
Our adventure included feeding the elephants, interacting with the elephants, painting the elephants, riding the elephants and washing the elephants. If you get the chance, pay for the option that includes all of this, and also pay a bit extra for the traditional Indian dinner.
We arrived at the building where the elephants waited for us. Two elephants were there -- huge, massive, gentle giants. Their ears flapped in the breeze and tails waved, shifting weight from one foot to the other. They looked happy and relaxed, and they enjoyed all the attention! When we pet their trunks, they would look at us with their big eyes and just look content.
The team working there gave us elephants, sugarcane and bread to give to the elephants. The elephants grabbed the bundles of sugarcane with their trunk and rolled it into their trunk, and then stuck it into their large mouths. We fed them bananas- putting them right in their mouths, which were big enough to hold several mushy bananas and some sugarcane. A bag of bread could be gobbled in a couple mouthfuls.
The team gave us several cups of paint with special brushes that we could use to paint designs on the elephants, which is commonly done in India. We could paint whatever we liked. I painted some flowers and vines on one elephant and one of my friends helped me. One of my friends drew a haunted house scene on the side of another elephant (we were there around Halloween).
The guides for the elephants showed us how they climbed up an elephant’s trunk to sit on top of it. The elephant started lifting its trunk as the man grabbed the elephants' ears, placed his foot on the trunk, and then walked up the trunk and sat on the elephant.
Then the team wanted each of us to climb the elephant’s trunk to sit on top of it. One of my friends climbed right up. But then I tried, and kept falling and letting go of the elephants’ ears as the elephant moved her trunk, landing in the sand. So then I decided I’d rather climb on from the tall platform, which worked great.
Once we were all on the elephants, we rode around a neighborhood sitting bareback on the elephants. It was comfortable and smooth, and we just moved gently with the elephant as she shifted her weight as she moved along. Kids from the neighborhood ran out in the street and waved at us as we went along. Sitting bareback on the elephant wasn’t uncomfortable, and we felt safe, even though we were so high up, as the elephant moved slowly and gracefully.
Once we got back to the building, the staff led the elephants into large pools filled with water. We were prepared for this part and had worn our swimsuits. We followed the elephants in with brushes and helped the staff clean the elephants, washing off the paint.
Later the host brought us to his family’s home for an Indian dinner, which was included in the option we had picked for our elephant adventure. It was a cool experience to have traditional Indian food in a local Indian’s home, and to experience their kindness and hospitality.
It was an exciting day, and very fun! Except for some bouts of motion sickness on my part (a relatively normal part of my life when traveling), it was a memorable and exciting day with the elephants.
*Some photos courtesy of Jenny Anders and Marissa Fitzgibbons.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
After arriving in India, we thankfully saw the representative from the travel company holding a sign with our names at the airport. He led us to our car, and we met our driver who would be driving us around northern India during our trip.
Hiring a car and driver was one of the best decisions I made for the trip. I’d highly recommend that anyone who is traveling to India hire a driver and car for the duration of your trip.
It made our travels around so much easier, as we didn’t have to worry about how to get places, where places were located, where the trains or buses were located, etc. Our driver picked us up and dropped us off at all the sites and places we went, and we knew our car would always be waiting for us when we were finished visiting each place.
Our first day driving through Delhi, I noticed the hundreds of auto rickshaws in the road, yellow and orange vehicles just a bit bigger than a motorcycle, which I saw carry as many as four or five people.
Motorcyles darted in and out of traffic, often with families of three or four on a bike- a 3 or 4 year old in front, with the father driving, the mother sitting sideways behind him, sometimes holding a small child. Sometimes the motorcyclists carried huge bags or even animals! I saw very few people wearing helmets during my travels in India.
After we drove outside of modern Delhi, with the skyscrapers, IT buildings, call centers, and smooth paved highways, the countryside was very different. In the country, we drove on uneven washed out roads at times, with traffic that didn’t seem to follow any rules.
We drove through villages where we would see fruit and vegetable markets and people gathered. We drove past huts or shacks, and walking paths worn into the ground. In the villages, we would see pigs foraging in the piles of rubbish along the road, goats, cows sitting in the shade or sometime in the road, and stray dogs.
We drove through rice fields and other agriculture fields, and through the countryside, very different from the big, busy cities filled with people.
Along the way, we would stop at rest areas, similar to what we have in the U.S., with restaurants, vendors trying to sell European chocolate or cookies or soda, and more.
Some roads were better than others, but my motion sickness often would come back to me. Thankfully I often had medications to help with it, and I only got really sick once; I think one bumpy road was just too much for my motion sickness!
All in all, most of the roads were better than I thought they would be. And driving through the country and the cities gave me the opportunity to look about and see how people lived, to see what the countryside looked like, how the towns were organized and more.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
India. I’d heard before I went that it was the land of many smells, that people loved the country or hated it, that it wasn’t safe, that it was dirty, unsanitary and crowded. I sometimes had the feeling that people thought it was a little weird that I’d even consider going there.
And the smells, the many smells.
And then I went to India. It’s loud and busy, with lots of people, cars, motorcycles and auto rickshaws everywhere.
But, it’s also colorful—from the brightly colored saris the women wear, to the brightly painted trucks and tractors, and the strings of colorful flowers on some cars and tractors.
And there are many sounds—Indian music streaming from the radios in the tractors or trucks driving by, or the musical horns that played a tune as they whizzed by, or the birds chirping.
Animals are everywhere—from the cows in the road, to the pigs scavenging in the pile of garbage by the road, to the goats lining up and following their leader, to the monkeys hanging about on buildings, to the camels pulling carts alongside the cars and motorcycles in the road.
There were the not so pleasant smells when the windows were rolled down, going through villages and smelling the decomposing trash.
But then there were all the pleasant smells: of chicken or rice cooking; a whiff of saffron, cumin or other spices; freshly made naan or chapati; or masala (chai) tea.
India is a land where all of your senses are awakened, through seeing the bright colors, hearing the lively music and eating the flavorful food. It was an exciting, interesting and wonderful experience.
I spent two weeks in northern India recently. I'll be writing more about it soon!
*Some photos courtesy of Jenny Anders and Marissa Fitzgibbons.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
I remember when going out to eat was special. In my family growing up, going out to eat meant it was a birthday, an anniversary, a Mother’s Day, a good-grades celebration and other occasions. Other than those special occasions, we rarely went out to eat growing up.
For many special occasions, my family would often go to Michael’s, a classic fine-dining restaurant in downtown Rochester, with dark wood décor and thick carpets. Michael’s had the best steak in town (it still has good steak!), and fresh bread and salad before the meals. The hallway on the way to the restaurant was lined with framed photos of many celebrities who had eaten there over time.
Sometimes we would go to Perkin’s for breakfast, but usually only when my dad had medical appointments early in the morning. I’d have pancakes or French toast, with sausage on the side. I’d spread a big square of butter on the pancakes and drown them in maple syrup. Even the sausage tasted better with a bit of maple syrup! I’d have a glass of orange juice on the side. My parents would drink coffee with their breakfasts, but I didn’t like the taste of coffee until I was in high school.
After college, I started to go out to eat more, with family and friends in the Twin Cities. Still, for a long time, it was a special experience to me, getting to go to many new restaurants—like the Twin City Grill or the Cheesecake Factory or P.F. Chang’s—choosing a good entrée from the menu, and sometimes having a glass of wine or dessert with dinner.
But over time, I’ve realized that going out to eat has lost that special factor. It’s turned into something I just happen to do once in a while with friends and family, wherever it’s convenient to meet, or when I don’t have time to cook at home. It’s lost the feeling of being something special, of being a celebration.
I think I’ll go back to how I grew up—going out to eat to celebrate, to enjoy life, to spend time with family and friends, and to eat good food. When I go out to eat, I’ll remember to savor the experience and enjoy the entire meal. Next time I have something to celebrate, I’ll be going out to eat!
Sunday, August 4, 2013
I’m not always a solo traveler. But, earlier this summer, after a few friends I’d traveled with previously weren’t able to join me, I found myself without a travel buddy to set off on a trip through Canada with me. So I decided to travel alone to our neighboring country to the north, to explore Ontario and Quebec. After a bit of a travel mishap leaving Minnesota, I was on my way to my Canadian adventure!
Throughout the trip in Canada, I met many new people in restaurants, cafes, visitor centers, airports or walking about towns. Traveling alone, I think, doesn’t need to be lonely. Instead, it made me more aware and observant about the area and more purposeful about meeting new people. It also gave me time to reflect and write about my experiences.
To begin the trip, I drove from Toronto to Niagara Falls (read about my experiences!), where I’d arranged to meet good friends for a couple days.
Later on in the trip, I drove to Montreal, just me, my rental car, some Tim Horton’s donuts and coffee, and the open road.
Driving to Montreal was very pretty—it’s close to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River and has pretty views of the water along the way. I kept seeing signs for “Bridge to the United States” and thought about stopping over in New York, but I’ll save that for another trip.
Every so often, I followed signs for small towns off the highway, just to see what local towns were like. Brighton, for example, had a lovely waterfront, quaint churches and a classic old downtown area.
Being in the car alone can get to be a bit tiring and quiet. But sometimes I really appreciate the time to have some quietness and time to think, and just appreciate the scenery, noticing interesting town names and observing details of towns.
At the end of a long day of traveling in the car, I arrived on the outskirts of Montreal. After carefully following directions to my hotel downtown, and driving through busy traffic, I arrived at last. I’d planned to stay near Vieux Montreal (old Montreal), as I had read about the area and wanted to explore it. Find out more about Montreal here.
So after getting settled in my hotel, I walked outside to explore and find the old downtown area. After following some streets nearby, I found an area of cobblestone streets, old stately buildings and narrow pedestrian streets.
I followed the road until I walked into a large open pedestrian street, lined with restaurants with terraces.
I chose a restaurant with some great French cuisine. I had a crepe, a glass of wine, and finished it off with a cappuccino. I happily remembered enough French to understand some of the menu, but I was relieved it had English translations. My server also spoke both English and French, which I appreciated. My French had definitely faded from lack of use over the years, but I hope to relearn more French!
The next day, I explored more of Vieux Montreal, and learned about the history of the area. I also met a friend who lived near Montreal for an afternoon, and explored more of Vieux Montreal.