Auspicious Tuesday! – May 26th

Auspicious Tuesday!

Today was the day we both hoped for and dreaded at the same time. In the sobering morning after breakfast, we were forced to say farewell to our trusted companion and dear friend, Manjeet. We are sincere when we tell him he is a part of our group, and he seems equally sincere in each of the handshakes and hugs he gives out. But he wouldn’t leave us in anything less than capable hands; Manjeet’s coworker, Harmeet, joined us for all of the day’s activities. He was equally friendly, open, and trustworthy, and many shared the sentiment that we wished we could have spend more time with him as well.

Our trip came full-circle today as we met another incredibly inspirational woman, Lalita, who spearheaded an NGO (non-governmental organization) in a redlight district of Delhi. She established the S.M.S. Center on G.B. Road in 1991, which has served over 500 children of women who worked in the 100 or so brothels in the area. As she spoke to us of her philosophy and outreach, many of the things she said echoed the situation and intervention we heard about from Priti in Mumbai. She recounted her struggles over the years. Initially, it took her 6 months to secure the small room that we were sitting in from the Indian government. It took another 10 years to get the adjacent room, as more children needed her services. Space is a hot commodity in Delhi, and so are caring hearts and dedications from people like Lalita.

After spending some time learning about the specifics of the plight of trafficked sex workers and their children in Delhi, Lalita introduced us to a classroom of children. They sang songs to us (in Hindi), we sang songs with them (“Itsy Bitsy Spider” & “The Hokey Pokey”), and we all spent time making crafts together. While the structure of the morning wasn’t extremely different from our time with the children in Mumbai, many of us felt this day with more intensity and emotion. Some attributed this to all they’ve learned over the past two weeks, the stark reality of these children’s circumstances finally sinking in. Others noticed more hesitancy from the children when we first arrived, making their smiles and kisses even more powerful as we were leaving. Whatever the cause, I don’t think anyone left those three small rooms today untouched.

It was not difficult to tell, however, that the end of our trip was drawing near. Stomach bugs and tiredness, cravings for food from home and weariness from intense heat, had many of us in some small part, ready for home. While some members of the group spent extra time at the hotel to recuperate and rest before our long travel journey home, others decided to continue with the day as planned and visit the Delhi Hwat, a flea market in south Delhi specifically known for hand-made crafts and fine quality goods. With Harmeet as our guide, each one of us found perfect, last minute gifts for the people still on our lists.

We appreciated having the chance to listen to Harmeet talk about his religion, as all of us know very little about Sikh beliefs and practices. We learned that Sikhism is the world’s youngest religion. It borrowed many elements from Hinduism, such as a belief in the Creator, the Destroyer and the Preserver. They believe in a living bible through the guidance of a guru. Thus far, there are a total of 11 gurus. There was relative peace prior to the 10th guru. At that time, India began to receive constant attacks from invaders. The 10th guru organized a group of Sikhs to defend the border, and that legacy is still prevalent in India’s national army, where over 80% of the military personnel are Sikhs. Other Sikhs in India found a niche in agricultural work mainly in the region of Punjab. India, as we found out, is a country full of diversity, and people who hold different religious believes and practices were able to co-exist throughout history.

As we returned to our hotel for the last time, the streets were relatively free of traffic. We wondered if it had anything to do with the coronation ceremony of the new prime minister. We have heard a great deal (and maybe you have too) about the unprecedented nature of his victory, the large voter-turnout in India (above 70%) and the clear message of a call for change from the Indian people. As the largest true democracy in the world, the people of India have a say, a voice, in their government in a way we as Americans understand. But as Dr. Dalla pointed out in a group discussion this evening, the simple ability of making choices in our lives, choosing to live a certain way in a certain place, is something trafficked women (and the majority of people in India) rarely get to exercise. Trafficked women are so trapped, with little hope for change in their lives. They have been torn from their families, lack social resources, and are forced to participate in this industry. Often their only request is that someone rescues their children from the world they were born into. Both Priti and Lalita spoke of this reality in a way that would drive most people to despair. The way the pimps and brothels use force or violence towards these women as a way of enslaving them is heartbreaking. Instead of despair, Priti and Lalita (and other NGO’s) have worked with perseverance and patience to give these women hope (forced into the commercial sex industry), not only in their lives, but for their children living in the red light districts. I don’t think it would be possible to walk away from these stories and having witnessed these lives, without a desire to make change in the world. So it only seems fitting to ask ourselves what impact this trip, will have on our lives, both personally and professionally. We hope you will ask us that same question, and maybe ask it of yourselves as well.

Thank you, everyone, for your support while we have been away. Knowing we have readers following our journey has been a motivation to continue writing, even when it made the nights a bit longer. We are so excited to see you again when we’re home.

Teagan & Anh

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Rickshaw Rides with a Touch of Spice – May 25th

Rickshaw Rides with a Touch of Spice…

This morning we were able to sleep in until 9:30 AM which was quite refreshing after the many early mornings we have had in India. We woke up to a nice breakfast at the Jaypee Siddarth Hotel complete with waffles, omelets and variety packs of yogurt (which we haven’t yet gotten to enjoy on this trip). We all devoured the food, as it reminded of us home, and gave us something familiar to eat.

After our breakfast we boarded the bus to see the largest Hindi temple in the world. The name of this temple is Swaminarayan Akshardhan, which showcases Indian art, wisdom, heritage, and values. Bhagwan Swaminarayan, whom the temple was built for, is the most recent Hindu God and a torchbearer of Indian culture (there are over 300 million Gods in India). This temple included thousands of intricate hand carvings and sculptures; that are almost impossible to describe. As we approached the entrance to the temple we were overwhelmed the craftsmanship of over 150 hand carvings of various Hindu gods and goddesses. The gate, while not a part of the temple, was incredible and left us wondering how majestic the temple must be. As with many of the caves we have seen here in India, the entire outside of the temple was hand carved.  However, while most temples in India have taken up to 150 years to build, this temple was built in just 5 years (from 2000-2005). We learned that over 11 thousand workers and craftsmen donated their time to building the temple; which was built entirely from red sandstone and imported marble (from Italy). Upon entering the temple we saw even more sculptures and carvings, along with a gold-plated room and very large gold-plated sculptures. The temple had a similar glow and aura to the Taj Mahal which continued to astound us. (P.S. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures on the temple ground (which covered over 100 acres). As a result, we don’t have any pictures to post.)

After wandering through the temple, we proceeded to watch an interactive show about the life of Swaminarayan Akshardham, and his journey to enlightenment. We ended our visit to the temple with a boat ride through India’s amazing history, culture and inventions. Fun fact: The intellectual game of Chess was invented in India!

After our lunch, we again boarded the bus and headed for a Muslim Mosque (the largest Mosque in all of India). We were not sure what to expect, and were anxious about what we would learn. Similar to other times when we visited Hindu temples, we were instructed to take off our shoes. However, with the intense Indian sun beating down on the red sandstone, we realized that it would be unbearable to walk on. As a result, we all needed to “rent” white slippers to protect our feet. Also, the women were required to cover themselves more fully, and were given floral sheet-like robes to cover our bodies. We felt quite silly walking into the Mosque, and particularly conspicuous given our outfits. Our presence resulted in a lot of attention. As we listened to our guide tell us about the Mosque first one, then two, then three, four, five, six, and more men gathered around us, until we were completely surrounded. This made an uncomfortable situation feel even more uncomfortable. When the guide finished telling us about the place, many of us wanted to return to the bus. This experience helped us recognize our role as a minority and how others experience us in their religious settings.

After leaving the Mosque, we were able to enjoy two bicycle rickshaw rides through the streets of Old Delhi. There were two people per rickshaw, and we all followed each other through the streets. If you can imagine 7 rickshaws filled with white American Women (plus Rich, Eric and Paul), you can begin to imagine the scene we probably created. We all felt sorry for the old men who seemed to have some trouble bicycling up the small hills (The Indian food has been good to some of us J). Some of us tried to help these drivers by attempting to shift our weight forward to increase their momentum (although it is debatable if that helped at all). Halfway through the ride, we stopped at an authentic spice and teashop. The storeowner explained in detail the many different spices and teas that they produce (all from India), including the medicinal qualities of many of them. Many of us had a lot of fun shopping here, so look out families for your possible tea and spice gifts! After we rode the rickshaws back to the bus, we commemorated our experience with a group picture with the rickshaw drivers!

For dinner, we were feeling the need for a taste of home, and so we convinced the professors to take us to McDonalds! This was a cultural experience in and of itself, as McDonalds in India do not sell hamburgers (with beef), rather they sell veggie and chicken burgers. Despite this, we each enjoyed having a taste of home, including McChicken sandwiches, Fries, Chicken Nuggets and Milkshakes! Some of us also branched out and tried the Maharajal Mac (the Indian version of the Big Mac, made with chicken), the spicey chicken wrap, as well as a cottage cheese sandwich. Mmm delicious!

After dinner, we left for a sound and light show at the Red Fort, in New Delhi. As we approached the show, a thunder and lightening storm started to brew above us. After waiting a half hour, we entered the show, only to find it was outside. Just as we sat down, the rain started to fall. We quickly decided to take shelter in a nearby stone pavilion, where the king greeted his subjects during the day. This large pavilion was roped off; however, due to the intensity of the storm, we ignored the ropes and ducked in for cover. We then sat there for an hour listening to the storm above us (natures version of the sound and light show). The thunder and lightening was amazing, and unlike anything we have experienced. The temperature was still warm, which provided a calming environment. While we sat under the pavilion (which was 1200 years old), we found ourselves sharing many laughs and reflecting on our past adventures over the last two weeks. After an hour or so, we finally decided to brave the rain in order to return to the bus. Needless to say, no one arrived to the bus dry…except for Eric, as he was the only one who brought his poncho.

Unfortunately, we only have one day left in India, however we are all excited to get home to share our experiences with friends and family!

See you all soon!

Julia and Haley

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The Early Birds are Busy Bees – May 24th

The Early Birds are Busy Bees

This morning our wake up calls for 5:00 am came very early for us, but our destination was well worth it! Our group was on the road by 5:30 am to go discover one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal! The Taj Mahal was built by Moghul King Shah Jahan in 1630 for his queen Mumtaz Mahal. As we got our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal, our tour guide was quick to point out that the king had perfectly planned for everything on the property to be symmetrical; left to right, front to back. There was a centerline that started at the front entrance of the property and ran all the way through to the back porch of the Taj Mahal. This symmetry even included the gardens, the towers, and the other buildings on the property. A mosque was built on the left and the king went as far as building a replica of the mosque on the right to keep the symmetry aligned. The Taj Mahal’s beauty comes from white marble with in-laid colored stone and gems (nothing is painted). The construction of the Taj Mahal was no easy feat; it took 20,000 craftsmen and 22 years to complete.

Although we had a very early morning, we were so glad when we noticed we were some of the first people to arrive at the Taj Mahal. This was very helpful when it came to the hundreds of pictures we were all so eager to take! As we were laughing at the shower caps we were required to put over our shoes, we walked up the large marble stairs to enter the tombs. The queen’s tomb was perfectly placed in the very center of the Taj Mahal. Now comes the one unplanned and non-symmetrical addition to the Taj Mahal. The King had plans to build his own black granite tomb across the river from the Taj Mahal. These plans came to a standstill when the king’s third son thought his father was wasting his fortune. This third son wanted to become king so he killed his two brothers and arrested and confined the king (his father) to the castle jail. After 8 years of confinement, the king’s last wish was to be buried next to his wife. His daughter respected his wish and the king’s tomb lays to the left of the queens. Since this was not in his original plans, this is the only non-symmetrical piece of the Taj Mahal. After viewing the tombs, we exited through the back porch of the Taj Mahal. From here we could see the foundation of where the king started to build his black granite tomb (an exact replica of the Taj Mahal). However, because of his son, it was never completed.

After parting ways with the magnificent Taj Mahal, we had the fun opportunity to take a camel carriage ride back to our bus! Teagan, Dr. Springer and Brielle actually got on the back of the camel and rode it back to the bus. We then did a quick stop back at the hotel for breakfast.

We couldn’t get enough of the Moghul King and his family, so our next stop was to visit Agra Fort, which was the king’s castle. Agra Fort was constructed in 8 years. It had double moats and a sloped, zig-zag entrance for extra protection. If enemies were able to make it past those two feats, guards would then pour hot oil down the slope to defend the king and the property. Unfortunately this tactic failed during the rule of the eighth Moghul King when the British were able to overtake India and claimed the castle as their own. The British then sadly stripped all of the gold from the walls, ceilings, and roof of Agra Fort and the roof of the Taj Mahal. They then randomly moved the king’s bathtub from his bathroom at Agra Fort to the outdoor garden.

We left feeling more knowledgeable about this Moghul King and his family and were astonished by the beauty within the castle and the Taj Mahal. We were then able to make a pit stop at a marble in-lay shop of the ancestors who constructed the marble and in-lay work on the Taj Mahal. They showed us how they carve the marble, shape the stones, and then in-lay them into the marble to create their masterpieces. The shop owner also showed us how the marble and stones glow in different lighting. We were amazed to learn that one simple piece could take as short as 2 weeks and more intricate work up to 8 months. After this visit we were then able to visit a jewelry store that showed us more of the colorful stones and the unique black “Star of India” that were used in the Taj Mahal. We also learned that the black stone is very rare as it is only found in India (it is quite beautiful).

After this morning full of adventure, we were amazed that it was only lunchtime! We had a delicious lunch and then set off for another 5-hour bus ride to begin the last leg of our adventure…New Delhi!

After arriving in Delhi, we were able to check into our hotel, freshen up. We decided to send Manjeet home for the night to so he could see his family and pregnant wife for the first time since our arrival in Mumbai! With that being said, we were now on our own. We didn’t realize how much we relied on Manjeet as he typically translated for us when ordering the local cuisines. Over the last few days, we have been ordering in small groups to let everyone try to build cultural confidence when ordering in foreign restaurants. Tonight’s ordering group was really put to the test, as we ordered from a menu entirely written in Hindi.   We have to give a lot of props to Sarah for stepping up and getting us a delicious South Indian meal. The quality of the food was phenomenal, but the quantity was somewhere lost in translation as we had enough food to feed an army! After stuffing ourselves, we had a great conversation about how we are going to process our experiences, about what we have learned from our opportunities, and what we are going to take away from this trip.

The Busy Bee’s are ready to catch some Zzz’s…

Shannon & Brielle

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‘Twas the Night Before Taj – May 23rd

‘Twas the night before Taj

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Good morning Tiger Den Resort! This beautiful property is where we woke up this morning at 5 AM and took our last stroll through the resort’s rose gardens.

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The first item on today’s agenda was our fourth and final trip to Ranthambore National Park for a safari ride. We ventured into zone five of the park in the large group jeep in hopes of seeing a tiger in the same place we had spotted one Wednesday afternoon. Unfortunately, we did not see one tiger during our last safari ride…but we did see three! About an hour into the safari ride these three tigers were laying all together about 200 yards away in the shade during early morning. It is important to note that this was Sarah’s first tiger spotting! These three majestic animals are 22 months old and have been surviving on their own for the past 20 months. Although the national park is securely guarded to protect the wildlife, it is assumed that their mother was poached. We had the opportunity to watch them lay in the shade for about 20 minutes…loving every minute of it! We were giddy the entire ride back to the resort.

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After getting back from the safari, packing our bags, and showering we hit the road (something we are getting quite familiar with!) headed for the Taj Mahal in Agra. Half way through our 7.5 hour drive we stopped at a roadside hotel for some authentic Indian cuisine.

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During our bus ride we had A LOT of time to gaze out the window. Unfortunately we did not get much sleep due to the constant rocking of the bus as it coasted over bumps in the road. While there were many interesting things to see, a few stood out. Primarily, we saw many men, women, and children working in the fields tending to their crops and animals. Keep in mind that we witnessed this during the hottest time of the afternoon, which was nearly 108 degrees. We also saw a location where bricks were being made in mass amounts. Multiple smoking chimneys evidenced this as they made the bricks.

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Another stop we made along the way to Agra was Desert City – Fatehpur Sikari. Akbar, a Mogal emperor, founded this city. Akbar ruled from 1571-1585. In addition to seeing this beautiful palace, another thing many of us noticed was how many young children were on the street begging and trying to sell goods for their families. This has really changed our conception of what defines childhood. In the United States, children are seen as innocent beings that should be protected at all costs. Here children are independent and expected to sell and do hard labor from an extremely young age.

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Finally, around 8 PM we arrived at Howard Plaza Hotel here in Agra. With room service, hot showers, and a beautiful chandelier hanging in the entrance, it is safe to say that we are enjoying our down time at the hotel. In fact, Ali and Sarah were greeted by a family of monkeys knocking on their window upon arrival. You don’t see that in Nebraska!

Tomorrow morning we are waking up at 5 AM for one of the many highlights of our trip – sunrise at the Taj Mahal. We can’t wait to share all of our pictures with you in tomorrow’s blog! Bye for now. We have to wake up bright and early to see the Taj Mahal.

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Xob (hugs, kisses, and backrubs) Ali and Alex

Leopards, Tigers, and Monkeys. Oh My! – May 22nd

Leopards, Tigers, and Monkeys. Oh My!

We woke up early this morning to begin our second day of the safari. Instead of us all riding together in one big safari jeep like we did yesterday, we divided up into three groups to go in smaller jeeps. We found that this enabled us to see animals closer, get to know our tour guides better, and feel the cool safari breeze. One safari guide informed us that there are 200 species of snakes in the forest. After many of us gasped and expressed our concern, he reassured us that the snakes are usually not visible unless it is monsoon season. Thank goodness we are missing monsoon season by a few weeks!

Even though no groups saw tigers this morning, the safari was still exciting. A couple of groups were able to put crackers in their hands and feed beautiful yellow and black birds. Another group was able to taste jungle fruit right off the tree.

After our morning adventure, we drove back to our resort for a break before going back out for the afternoon safari. Some people decided to take advantage of the resort pool, some chose to catch up on their sleep, and others hired a driver to take them into town.

For the people who went into town, they gained an idea of how the locals interact and shop. Stands full of fresh fruits and vegetables, tools, and textiles lined the streets, and the locals were scurrying around trying to find the foods and supplies they needed. The streets were so packed full that only motorcycles could fit through the streets. Many of the locals enjoyed posing for pictures and then seeing their faces on the camera. Their excited expressions made us realize that many of them may have had very few chances of seeing themselves in a photo. A few of us were asked by a man selling spices if we would pose behind his counter holding a bag of his spices. He found joy in sharing his business with us.

The most eventful part of our town visit was our experiences with the bulls. On three different occasions a bull charged at Dr. Dalla and Dr. Bischoff (we are thinking the bull didn’t like Dr. Bischoff’s shirt). The last time that the bull charged at Dr. Dalla, it actually picked her up off the ground. She even has a hole in her shirt from the bull-horn to prove it! Thankfully, she is fine and made the best of the experience.

Two students were reminded while in town how many of the Indians view whites as privileged and financially well-off. While standing on the side of the road, they were approached by a police officer. He fiercely snapped his fingers and pointed at a very nice, white car parked on the street (We rarely see cars this nice in villages in India). He clearly thought that the car was the students’ because he motioned to them that they needed to move the car. The locals started laughing, as they watched the students try to explain to the police officer that it wasn’t our car.

After we had relaxed for a while at the resort or had a very exciting experience in town, we took our last safari trip in the three separate jeeps again. Everyone had a blast! Coming from Nebraska, the safari was such a rush. The safari looked like a combination of Colorado and California with palm trees and mountains surrounding the entire area. One of the groups got the opportunity to see a leopard and snatch some awesome photo’s. Other groups saw beautiful birds, deer, and blue bulls.

One group had an especially thrilling trip that included racing up to the top of the mountain to see a tiger. The group soon realized that the tour guide’s persistence paid off when they sat and watched a tiger 30 yards away from their jeep! Parents, don’t worry the tiger was not threatened. One group member, Eric, even snatched a photo of the tiger yawning. The groups quickly raced back down the mountain because the park closed at sun down, which was quickly approaching.

All the groups sat down for dinner to share their wonderful experiences and reflect back on what a great day it was filled with adventure and laughter with people who have become close friends. We are all anticipating our tiger search again tomorrow.

Bre & Sarah

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A Bumpy Day – May 21st

 

In all of our adventuring, we’ve been using the term “bumps” to express some of the cultural differences we run up against. Today though, we trekked across India via some very literal bumps. We piled our suitcases in the lobby in Jaipur, finally getting used to letting go of what we’ve been taught to cling tightly to, so the men at the hotel can load up our bus once again. We’ve been on the move now at a rapid pace since Mumbai – two nights in each hotel – and a nomadic life is something that takes getting used to, I think. But once again, a piling of luggage, a cluster of students, and we’re off, amusing ourselves on a long bus ride. Some look from the windows, observing, comparing, soaking in as much as possible without actually getting to meet people. Others talk – current things, past things, bonds that will be unique because you were with me in India, you saw what I saw, colors, pineapples, brightly colored head scarves. Dust and cows and camels pulling carts. Turbans, mustaches, poverty, wealth, tour buses and motorcycles and trucks so packed with cotton it seems impossible an engine could propel them from here to anywhere. And as we bump along, we giggle with half-delight, half-amazement as bodies are lifted into flight, like we’re on a brightly colored carnival ride in our orange-orange bus.

A brief stop at what we endearingly term “The 100-Rupee Tree,” possibly an Indian sister-store to The Dollar Tree. Everything inside – “100 Rupees.” Cookies and potato chips make it feel a bit like a brightly colored truck stop from home. Off once more, the countryside getting dryer, the saris and scarves getting brighter. Red and yellow and pink make women stand out and sparkle against the heat.

A quick glimpse of wildlife from the road (their name is blue bowls. Or balls. Oh, I mean blue bulls. Some times the Hindi-influenced vowels take us a moment to catch on to) foreshadows the next few days to come. Manjeet shares stories of times he’s seen tigers: the son named Challenger because at a young age, he dared to take on his father for territory; how in 2008, all the tigers in a neighboring area were killed by poachers and more were air-lifted from Ranthambore to restock the supply; the time a pair of tigers stuck around for two and a half hours, and they stayed with them the whole time. Our bus ride takes five hours – we’ll be pros at this commute before the trip is over (two more 5+ hour bus rides to come), but I think I can speak for everyone and say it’s more than worth it.

When we arrive at Tiger Den Resort, the green lawn and blue pool and pink-red roses stand out in contrast against a blistering heat. It’s hotter than it was in Jaipur. So we rest for two hours – sleeping, showering, doing laundry, and peeling mangos. We’re in cottages in a circle around the perimeter of a surprisingly lush lawn, giving the impression that we’re British travelers on some posh safari holiday. In the morning, they’re giving us tea and biscuits. Soon our time is up and we douse ourselves in sunscreen and bug spray, pile into a 20-passenger “jeep,” and proceed to our next set of literal bumps. We drive through a landscape that looks as if someone planted a forest on top of a desert – banyan trees on tan-red dirt. We’re as close to off-roading as you can get while still driving on a path, the guide warning us of tree branches that whip into the passenger space. Unfortunately, Julia gets smacked in the face on a few occasions when he’s too busy scanning for tigers. The driver takes most of the rocky patches slow but still I think, “We thought the bus ride was bumpy, we didn’t know what was coming.”

Our hearts jump in our throats and fingers scramble for cameras when Paul points & shout-whispers “THERE’S A TIGER!” But it’s only a spotted deer *. The guide jokingly reminds us that spotted deer have white spots, but tigers are striped black. He has more legitimate tiger-facts while we drive and wait, wait and drive: how much they eat, when they’re active, the age of the oldest female still prowling around (19 years). I’m short on the details, but I’m confident Paul will have a few more to sprinkle in here:…”The oldest female tiger in Ranthambore has had14 tiger cubs, 11 of which have survived (which is unheard of). She was also seen killing several crocodile, and is the oldest tiger in the wild, at this time.”

While we drive, black-faced monkeys jump from branch to branch above our heads. Green parrots dart between trees, a baby alligator basks itself on a sunny set of rocks. Samba (a tiger’s favorite food – it’s slow-moving, can’t see well, and tastes like salt) graze on tree leaves, stare, and lick their nostrils while we rumble by. Male peacocks shimmer blue-green like gems on a tan-brown woman, standing out like nothing else we see. I have the thought “This is like a 3D movie!” the real so exotically different than my typical real that I almost have trouble believing its truth.

Then things pick up – we stop at a ranger station to check for tiger-news and our driver quick-steps back to the jeep, saying something in Hindi that can only mean one thing – we’ve got a lead on a tiger. As we speed back the way we had come, the bumps in the road become outrageous and I laugh, thinking “This is it! There is no way we could be on a bumpier ride.” But it’s thrilling, this chase. Driver and guide and Manjeet all with Hindi words tumbling from their mouths but we need no translation. We’re going to see a tiger.

We make a turn ahead of a handful of other jeeps and the nose of our vehicle is pointed towards a small trickle of a stream. Everyone is (once again literally) on the edge of their seats. We can tell people to the left of us are seeing something – shouts and cameras all pointed in the same direction. Then, on my right, Manjeet whispers “There! There he is!” and for a whirlwind of seconds a tiger appears from behind some brush, crosses a tiny clearing, and then is gone. Everyone is buzzing, who got pictures, who didn’t get to see, and while we continue to crane our necks around branches that’s all we’re going to get for this trip. The rest of the drive is again filled with a supporting cast of wildlife, incredible in their own right but overshadowed by the possibility of a tiger. Manjeet says we’re lucky, to have gotten a glimpse on our first day. And tonight I hope to dream of a tiger, peeking around a bush and purring in a mysterious voice, “Come and see me again tomorrow.”

We can see the stars here, for the first time.
They’ll carry our love to you, from our tonight to yours.

Teagan Dinslage

* Paul wanted me to make it clear that it was Bre who told him it was a Tiger…he just got a little excited.

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Pink City Adventures – May 20th

Hello Nebraska!

After an eventful day yesterday, Shannon and I retreated to our room only to find an uninvited guest. He was about 2 inches tall and 5 inches long. Shannon wanted to bring him home but the hotel manager informed us that he was of the dangerous variety. He called housekeeping, who came rushing in with a long broom made of elephant grass and swatted our guest from the vent. He scurried to the bathroom. We heard a loud thud, and that was the end of his short lizard’s life.

Operation Bengal Tiger was in full effect this morning, spearheaded by Papa Tiger (aka Dr. Paul Springer). We succeeded in mixing up the seating arrangements on the bus, but that only lasted for half the day. As we headed out on our tour, Jaipur greeted us with rows and rows of terra-cotta buildings giving the appearance of order in the chaos. It was a refreshing sight compared to the rugged concrete jungle of Mumbai, where high risers intermingled with tarped covered tents. According to our tour guide, Jaipur with its 2,000 central market (shops) was the first planned city in Asia. Jaipur sits on the third largest desert in the world, the Thar Desert.

Our first destination was the Wind Palace with 953 windows. We were told that the windows allowed the women of the palace (who were not allowed to go out during the day), an opportunity to see what was going on in the “outside world”. As our bus was getting ready to leave, a salesman made his last attempt to sell us his goods. His hand got caught in the door of the bus, which caused quite a scene. We then rode up toward Amber Fort surrounded by a 7km (over 4 miles) wall. The Fort was built during the 8th and 9th century, and was situated on the historic Spice Route. Because the conquering ruler was Mogul (Mongul), he had seen the construction of the Great Wall of China. As a result, the wall surrounding the city reminded Teagen, Paul and Rich of the Great Wall of China, and was an awe-inspiring site. The fort was equally majestic, and was built on the crest of a mountain, with a large lake below. One fun fact, was the fact that the king allowed his 5,000 elephants to bathe in the lake as a way to regulate the temperature in the water. There was a deep Islamic influence in the architecture, mainly from Iranian traders who frequently interacted with the local tribes. The first European visitor came to the city in 1494 and the Iranian traders slowly lost their influences.

From the air, Jaipur looks brown and barren; however, the Fortress was covered with beautiful tropical trees and flowers. Our guide told us that these plants were imported from Australia in 1970 mainly for tourists and special guests. The palace at Amber Fort was majestic with its beautiful and intricate marble construction and architecture. It is the second most famous building in India after the Taj Mahal, receiving 50,000 to 60,000 visitors per day. Archways were decorated with beautiful geometric designs that shimmered in the sun light. According to Islamic traditions, it is not kosher to paint human figures so all decorations were of geometric shapes.

The highlight of the trip was the elephant ride up to the palace. Elephants are animals of great reverence in Indian culture. They symbolized masculine energy and good luck. We divided up in pairs and hopped on top of the elephant carriage. The seat was slippery and was difficult to maintain balance as the elephant sauntered up the stairways, while photographers’ booming voices urged us to look at them for pictures. As soon as we got off the elephants, these photographers rushed in with freshly printed photos of our ride trying to get us to buy them. “Money” is the code word for tip in this tourist attraction, from the elephant trainer to the floor sweeper.

Leaving the hectic market area, we found solace in a sacred temple where Shiva has his 9 incarnations. We had to take off our shoes and all leather-ware. One of the priests blessed us with a dab of red paint on our forehead. We later learned that the dot on the forehead that so many Indians have symbolizes 2 things. First, women often wear a ‘bindi’ on their forehead to signify that they are married. These bindis come in many different colors to allow coordination with the perfect outfit. Secondly, it is also a customary practice to dab red paint on the forehead of guests as a way to welcome them. In the Hindu tradition, ‘a guest is a god’.

We toured the Summer Place, the Mirror Palace and the Mansingh Palace, where the king kept his 12 official wives, 38 sons and over 900 servants. We wondered about the fate of the king’s daughters and were told that they were simply not recorded so no one knows how many he actually has. After the tour, we had an ‘elephant-off’ at the exit gate between Teagan, Dr. Springer and Manjeet. Dr. Springer dominated the competition with his elephant calling ability.

We mixed it up during lunch today at the Hotel Glitz Jaipur. Teagan, Eric, Julia and myself got to choose four dishes from the menu for the whole group to try. Best vote goes to the Butter Chicken, selected by Julia. After lunch, we continued our tour of the main City Palace in the scorching heat, so hot you can ‘cooked an egg on your thigh’. We learned about the lineages of the maharajas or ruling class of India. We also saw the world’s largest sundial. Then we split up into small groups and visited the different shops in the market plaza outside the palace gate.

For dinner, we tasted South Indian cuisine at a restaurant called Sankalp. We had a special treat of ice scream that came in 3 yummy flavors, including strawberry, chocolate and VA-NIL-LAAA. It was a nice way to wind down from the torturous heat of the day. Thus far, we fell in love with the people of Mumbai, admired the buildings of Jaipur and looking forward with anticipation to Ranthambore, Agra and New Delhi.

Anh Do

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