Monday, October 27, 2014

She got a lot of pretty pretty boys, that she calls friends

I have been asked by so many people about what it's like in India. Inevitably, the question comes up "What's the biggest difference that you notice between India and America?" My diplomatic answer is always "I like to take notice of the similarities between people, not the differences." But I am using this blog to share the starkest difference I noticed when I was in India as opposed to other places I've lived (San Diego and Romania): The men in India, on the whole, are the most respectful men I have encountered. I have made more friends with guys in India that I have anywhere else. Not to hate on the other places, but in general, here's how my interaction with men has been:
  • Southern California: Indifference
    • Seriously, like years of online dating, trying to get out as much as possible, and being born and raised in San Diego and I only have a couple guy friends to show for it. Men for the most part would just fade away after meeting a few times, not at all interested in becoming close friends.
  • Romania: Outright cruelty
    • Not to generalize, but men in Romania for the most part would flat out make fun of my size (having a good 5 inches and 20 lbs on the average Romanian is no excuse, because shorter Indian guys sure don't feel the need to mock me).
  • India: True Friendship
    • I was completely caught off guard at how men in India were genuinely interested in getting to know me as a person and offered genuine support to me by boosting my self esteem, going out of their way to arrange trips for me, and introducing me to their friends and family.
On of the first of these friendships came after going to the Delhi Tourism office to book a couple trips. If you ever go to India, I highly recommend the tours offered by this government run tourism office:

My first tour with Delhi Tourism was the Haridwar/ Rishikesh overnight tour. My tour guide, who I call Pandeyji which was initially at his insistence to the entire tour group, but as we got to know each other longer he keeps on cracking up when I call him that in front of his friends.

Our first stop was Haridwar to watch the evening aarti ceremony. I'm bummed because I missed the chance to bath in the Ganges :(
But I got to make a new friend

And at least take a dip in the Ganges. Pandeyji is of course the photog and still won't stop bragging about his photography skills (he's awesome btw).

Me on the banks of the Ganges

Huge Shiva statue behind me. I remember Pandey telling the tour group about something he'd heard. That G.O.D. stands for Generator, Operator, and Destroyer. In Hinduism, the three head gods are Brahma the creator...or generator, Vishnu the sustainer...or operator, and Shiva the destroyer. It was just really interesting to me and a great way to start me thinking religiously on this trip.

 The tour got to go up to Mansa Devi Temple, this was the street we walked up on the way to the temple.
You could purchase some offerings for up at the temple. We had to go up a telegondola to get up to the temple. It was my first experience at a temple, and unfortunately Pandeyji couldn't join the group, but the entire group kind of adopted me and they all made sure I made it through the temple crowd in one piece.

Once we headed down from the temple, we all headed to the banks of the ganges for aarti. What was hilarious is that I had to use the bathroom, I wondered off on my own to find on. I checked my phone and had a missed call and an sms (text) from Pandeyji asking where I was. I was the only westerner in our group and he was so worried about me having a safe and enjoyable trip. After playing phone tag and walking around unable to understand where the other was, we finally meet up and to my surprise Pandeyji gives me a huge a hug.
The guy is selling all those bottles so people can put water from the Ganges in it and take it home with them.

Pandeyji was so excited to show me aarti and he was explaining to me everything that was happening. These are some priests performing a ritual

You can see in the vid people placing offerings in the Ganges.
 The bank where aarti happens
The night fell and the aarti ceremony began...this happens EVERY night!

There's a beautiful song that they sing during aarti...but unfortunately I didn't record it :(

Next stop was Rishikesh. This is the place where the Beatles went to an ashram. On that is one of my fav movie scenes ever to lighten the mood:

It was so gorgeous to be up in the mountains.

My mind was completely blown that I was looking over the Ganges

This is me with Chotiwala...LEGIT Rishikesh food!
Krishna's deface billboards? At least they do it with positive messages

Gorgeous temple

Heading into an ashram compound

Gorgeous grounds
Shiva is never too far away
Me with Shiva and a woman from our tour who was super sweet.

There is an Ohm symbol hidden there if you look

And a little Ganesh!!!

Had to get a pic of Arjun because that's the name of my friend who got married in Chennai.

Me with Hannuman

The story of Hannuman ala frescoe
My foot walking into the Ganges yet again
Sign trying to get people to respect the Ganges


The bridge we had to cross to get to the ashrams

Me with the man himself, Pandeyji :)

Shiva waving goodbye to us on our drive back to Delhi

On the top of that mountain is the temple I had gone to the day before

Everyone on the tour thought it was hilarious how I would take pics of trucks, get excited at monkeys in the streets and elephants on the roads.

I had to take a pic of the truck with the Taj Mahal on the back, if only for my mom (who is a truck driver in the states).

 There's the bus we road in for the tour
Driving past the India gate
Next trip and next friend made, heading on the day trip to Agra. For those of you who don't know, Agra is where the Taj Mahal is. 

Outside the restaurant we stopped at for breakfast. Awesome Diwali sign. I felt so bad for the tour guide turned friend, Danish. The poor guy had to wake up my passed out ass to get to the restaurant

Here's Danish doing his job right out front of the gate to the Taj. That's the whole tour group around him getting their tickets.

There was a guy from England and a family from France on the tour, so I wasn't the only westerner. The funny thing is, the French family didn't speak any English, and it was amazing to see Danish display his patience miming to them what is and isn't allowed at the Taj. (*hold up cigarette* "no" *shake head back and forth*)
Me about to head into the Taj. I just remember two lines to get to that point, one for foreigners, and the other for Indians. Foreigners might have to pay exorbitantly more, but it was well worth having to go through virtually no line. Danish had to stay back with the Indians on tour, so me and English guy stuck together.

I walked in and the entire time I kept on saying "I am looking at the fucking Taj Mahal right now!" "I am walking toward the freaking Taj Mahal!!!" My mind was completely blown.

Tons of cheeky pics were taken

Mind blowing
Gorgeous pool corners
SOOO excited to be at the Taj!!

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Pool leading up to the Taj


God, even the tile is gorgeous!

Marble fence? Sure, why not?

Just the side of the building

Inside that little alcove

On either side of the Taj are two of these buildings. Once is a mosque (maybe both are?)

Imaging how LONG it took to put all this work into every detail of this mausoleum


The view of the Yamuna from the Taj
When we went inside we had to wear these cloth covers for our feet...just a random memory of walking in and around the Taj

Looking adorbs

The ceilings blew my mind

Archway realness
Looking at the Taj through an arch

Mind blowing

Archways within archways

How hard was it to make these fences?
Oh, and Danish got a kick out of my reaction when he said that the woman who the Taj Mahal was built for was ONE of the Emperor's favorite wives LOL "ONE of"?!?! And she died giving birth to their like 13th child!!!

Detail of the tower

Prayer hall...see, all those tiles are like mats facing Mecca

Stars of David errywurrr!!!

Me in front of Agra fort. Danish unfortunately couldn't come in...

...but I was able to make a little best photographer friend with someone from the group

Red fort blew my mind
Pretty little parrot on the fort

Another Star of David :)

Walking around the fort

The gardens

Look at those precious gems carved into the marble!

I want a patio like that


More Gardens

More arches

So here are the guys at the government store working on gems. I pissed off everyone on the tour because I seriously stayed at the store for like an hour...prolly for marble jewelry boxes and scarves. Danish even came in at one point trying to move things along. Then the drive back home we got back SUPER late, but I was able to sit with Danish and we talked the whole way back to Delhi. What's more, he asked me for my number, and asked me to add him on facebook. I have never been pursued by a guy before in any always seems like I'm taking the initiative to establish contact for later purposes. Then here is this guy making sure he will be able to talk with me later, it was a great feeling! He insisted on making sure I got on an honest taxi to my host family, even though that meant he might miss his metro. It was funny because I asked him "But what will you do if you miss your metro?" and he does "Then I will take a tuk-tuk" and made his hands look like he was revving an autorickshaw engine.
Before I left Delhi, I had the pleasure of meeting both Danish and Pandeyji for chai with one of their co-workers after they all got off work. Danish and Pandey are actually best friends, so it was hilarious to see them interact. The one state I knew about in India was UP (Uttar Pradesh) because I have a friend in So Cal who is from there. So I bonded over Pandey with my familiarity of that state because he is from UP...then I met Danish and found out he is from UP too and we bonded over that. Then, I meet their co-worker while we are all waiting for "the best tea in Delhi" according to my tour guides. I ask the co-worker if he is from UP, and he says no...and I say "Oh, I thought it was a requirement to work for Delhi Tourism to be from UP since these two both are" and I point to Pandey and Danish...the smile on Danish' face is inexplicable, and the two gave each other five, said something in Hindi...which the coworker assured me was something naughty, and we all had a HUGE laugh. Priceless moment of friendship
The next guy friend I made was my de facto volunteer supervisor at United Way Kolkata, Amit. I worked by his side for over two weeks and all of my friends back home felt so bad for him because he had to deal with me for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week :P That first weekend I was in Kolkata he invited me to his village, Telini Para. Of course I HAD to go! 
Ridin dirty!!! I rode side saddle through a bumpy road, and Amit and his friends got the biggest kick out of how I was holding on for dear life.

Me with the kids of the village and Amit's sister.

Me with Amit, his cousin, and the kids. His family opened up their home to me and gave me SUCH delicious food. It was hilarious because he forgot I was vegetarian and had to arrange for his mom to give me a different dish...but of course said "Why don't you just try maach (fish)?"

 The beauty of Telini Para BLEW MY MIND!
Next friend was another tour guide, from my Sunderbans trip. The Sunderbans trip in general falls under a different blog...but I just wanted to share that Sanjoy allowed me to teach everyone on the boat the Cha Cha slide...amazing! 
Next friend was actually the doctor who treated me at the Ayurvedic clinic I went to for a week in Goa. I am so used to having to pursue men, but the doctor asked me "what are you doing tonight?" When did a DOCTOR ever ask me out in San Diego!?! NEVER!
On the beach in Goa at night

Me with the doc

Goa beach, tons of bars and sand

Hanging out on my last night in Goa

The camera would not focus for the life of me, but those are those thai lamps being released. Perfect timing.
Then after tons more travelling around the country, I headed back to Delhi for my flight home. I was there a couple days, so I went to lunch with Danish to say good bye, and look where Pandeyji met me!
I literally flew out on Republic day :( But at least I got to enjoy some of the merriment with a good friend :)

Indians are no joke when decorating their malls.
So basically, this trip to India was exactly what I needed. It helped me realize that I could connect with men on a friendship level, that they aren't all bad people. This is by no means a comprehensive list of my guy friends everywhere...these are just the ones that left a huge impact on me my first trip to India. I have since been able to accrue so many more guy friends, have so much more confidence when interacting with men, and slowly been able to trust men and myself again. Thanks guys!