Archive for March, 2010

Mom and Pop Shop

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Traveling with your parents is different from traveling on your own. Didn’t you know?

They arrived in Delhi at three in the morning. I was still drunk when I awoke to them banging on the window next to my bed. Good thing our room was on the ground floor, otherwise they would have had trouble rousing me from my sedative induced slumber. The reunion was sweet, if blurry. I hadn’t seen them in almost seven months. Not a massively long time but my parents and I are quite close and we get along well. I’d missed them.

It’s great to spend time with them again, but it isn’t without sacrifice. Inevitably my travel style has been forced to change. They only have a month and obviously operate on a different budget from mine. Our hotel in Delhi cost ten times what I consider my maximum expenditure for a room. It was nice and, miraculously for the city, quiet. We ate at fancy rooftop restaurants with suited wait staff. Yum.

It hasn’t all been upscale tourism, however. We took the sparkling new metro around the capital, ate in some local restaurants, and booked our train tickets by going to the railway station ourselves, rather than through a travel agency. I’m fairly certain my parents wouldn’t have attempted some of these things if I wasn’t here to hold their hands. When a sleazy tout outside the station told us that the booking office was closed for Commonwealth Games renovations (office is closing for the painting), I sneered at him and went into the station anyway. My mom, having read the “scams” section in the Lonely Planet, knew he was bullshitting, but I could see the doubt in her eyes as he confidently asked us to accompany him to the ‘temporary booking office’. We’ve since heard from other tourists that, at these offices, the staff will apologetically explain that the three hundred rupee train you want has been canceled, but for only ten thousand rupees a taxi might be possible…

Now, though, they are doing fine without me. My dad went and had street-side chai with some neighbourhood men this morning before mom and I were even up. A few days ago my mom spent some time with local women looking through the photos in the guidebook. Upon finding a spread of women draped in a rainbow of saris, they discussed for some time the various fashion decisions – bangle arrangements; colour schemes; nose, ear, and toe rings. They had no English, my mom no Hindi, yet an amicable exchange was made. India is like that – the locals generally love everyone, making it easy to explore. I write this as my parents wander the fort and city of Jodhpur on their own. I decided a chill morning in the hotel was in order.

And that, perhaps, is the largest difference between travel now and travel pre-parents. We are always doing or seeing. Admittedly, Rajasthan (the state we’re moving through) is full of interesting cultural, geographical, and historical sights – forts, palaces, desert sand dunes, intricately painted village homes – but I still enjoy taking the time to relax. Indian streets are not relaxing.

I’m not accusing mom and dad of being ‘listers’, those with a set itinerary of must-sees and can’t-be-misseds. We plan each few days at a time, enjoying where we are and worrying about the next bridge when we get there. But still my mom does her homework on the internet, checking out hotel reviews and reading the LP thoroughly for advice, which is fine. But sometimes you need to get your nose out of the guidebook, not worry about what there is to see or do, and just enjoy the atmosphere, smell, and sound. Well, the smell and sound are often not so enjoyable, but they should still be absorbed.

We’ve been successful, nevertheless, with local buses and such. I say successful, which in India means only that we’ve arrived at the destination we intended within a general time frame we expected. Our bus here from Jaisalmer had perhaps twenty-five seats and fifteen sleeper berths, but approximately eighty people on board. When we arrived in town it took five minutes for our massive clown car to empty out. During the trip I had five teenage boys reading my (English) book over my shoulder, watching every selection I made on my iPod. They hadn’t heard of The Tragically Hip (which is, by the way, amazing desert road music).

And so things are fine. I couldn’t travel like this all the time, but for a month I should be okay. It’ll probably be difficult to get back into moldy, ghetto hotels once they leave, but I’ll be happy to be eating with locals most of the time (the food is generally amazing and ridiculously cheap). What I miss most is the complete freedom that solo travel on a motorcycle brings. I leave towns when I want, without having to arrange a driver or book a train. I stop where and when I want, rather than at restaurants the bus driver chooses, based on which ones pay him enough commission. I do things at my pace.

And, best of all, I get to ride my Tara. I miss her so.

Mother India

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

My mom wrote a guest post for the site. Enjoy.

I have been trying to blow the vegetable dyed powder off of Evan’s computer. Today is Holi, the Hindu celebration of spring, and all morning coloured powder has been thrown about. In anticipation Evan suggested we all buy cheap clothes that could be thrown out after, and right now he and his Dad are off to a family celebration of an all round entrepreneur named Jimmy that we met across the street from our hotel (don’t ask). I took down the license number of the auto rickshaw just in case.

By now you will know this is not  Evan, but his mom. We are on day 5 here in India, and it has been quite the time. Evan started us off with a gentle orientation to the madness of Delhi by taking us to that most Indian of institutions, the main railway station, not once but twice on our first day, hunting for his motorcycle which had been shipped from Chennai after he left by train to join us.

After scrambling to keep up with him through the masses, wandering through dark crumbling rooms along the platform, he was reunited with his precious bike, and then because it did not have any petrol and he forgot his keys, he abandoned us to find our way back to our lovely little hotel through one of the craziest of bazaars by ourselves. We passed, and it has been “bring it on” ever since.

You can approach India cautiously, or remotely, carefully or with disdain. We have decided to go for it, albeit at a slightly upgraded level than Evan is used to. We have ridden the Delhi metro (a dream compared to the TTC), taken many auto-rickshaw rides, which Ken compares to bumper car rides at the Ex and walked through slums and alleys where we greeted people and they greeted us. Evan has a smattering of Hindi and people love him for it, that and his playfulness result in singular street interactions.

Not that there are not issues. I have never felt fearful, but you have to kind of judge how much being ripped off you are prepared to take, and a certain tolerance level makes the money fueled interaction more enjoyable. Today I danced with some sari garbed women with drums, had my face layered with florescent pink powder and was expected to offer up some contribution, which I did happily (50 rupees, just over a dollar). They were laughing and giggling and so was I. Last night two boys with a drum asked politely if we would like to see their puppet show, and they sang us three songs, explained they were not yet fully trained puppet masters, so they would only make the puppets dance, not tell the ancient stories. When finished they looked up expectantly and Ken and Evan paid up a generous $5.00.

Rickshaw drivers expect you to bargain and you know that even when they have come down, you are paying three times what the local pays, but who cares? It is India.

Big excitement this morning. As Canada and the US were playing for Gold, India and Pakistan were playing at the World Cup of Field Hockey. When we booked this hotel in Jaipur, the state capital of Rajasthan, Evan asked carefully if the rooms had TV and ESPN. Assured they did, we booked and after arrival he spent most of the day harassing the staff about the fact he couldn’t find the essential channel on our TV, and once found, then about the quality of the picture. They even traded TVs at one point, and the hotel’s owner promised that if it was not acceptable he cold come to his home and watch it there.

The game started here at 1:45 am so this was quite a commitment! We have been all a bit sleep deprived, we arrived in India at 3 am and stayed up talking the first night, the second night, suffering from sensory overload, couldn’t sleep, the third night had to be up at 4am to catch the Dehli/Jaipur express, but none the less we set the alarm and watched (Ken and I vaguely) the game. India won their match too.

We have not worried about what we eat. Good food, mainly vegetarian,  though we did have a great Tandoori goat leg the other night. Street food is good too, though every thing is cooked in boiling oil.

Fruits are wonderful. The only concession we have made is bottled water, which we drink lots of. It’s hot here but bearable. Our two hotels have been great, the one in Delhi reasonably priced by Delhi standards at just over $100.00 and the one here, not quite as well appointed (no bar fridge), but clean and spacious at about $40.00 a night. We have already learned to look for hotels with courtyards and gardens. The calm is wonderful after the chaos outside and the birds are great.

So far so good. I think it will be a bit hard for Evan, this is a bit of an adjustment, traveling with your parents. While we are not listers, we do like to visit museums and tourist sites, and so we are slowly reaching some kind of  balance between “hanging out” and visiting the gorgeous forts built by the Mughals and the tombs and gardens they are justly famous for. Also its hard for Evan to be part of the backpacker scene while he has two 60 year-olds in tow. Occasionally we all need our own space and so that is why I am typing in the garden of our hotel while they are out at the Holi party. Ken and I visited the fabulous Humanyan Tomb and walked thru the Lodi gardens without Evan, bravely traveling round by ourselves.

I am trying hard not to be parent like, but its hard. I made him get up and wash his feet the other day before he put them on the bed, so I haven’t been too successful, but we are trying. Check in with us after another week or so and see how we are doing.