Sunday, February 28, 2010

From Agra to Paradise in Rishikesh.

Agra and Delhi were more fun the we expected considering we heard only negative things about both places, we weren't expecting much. And maybe that is the secret, because we had a pretty good time, (though now that we are in Rishikesh the time there pales in comparison, but maybe that is the other secret...go to Delhi and Agra first, lol.) We spent lots of times sitting and dining on rooftops over looking the cities and just enjoying the madness from above. In Agra is was awesome to have the Taj Mahal as a back drop.

To think that we considered missing coming here because of the negativity!! The Taj Mahal was far more impressive that I could have imagined!! It is so photogenic. One of the best decisions we made on this trip was waking up at sunrise to head there. There was a fraction of the tourists that are there during the day. A lot of the tour groups show up around 9am so getting there ahead of time was so good and spacious. And the Taj looks so beautiful in the early morning light...almost pearly instead of milky.

After an afternoon of shopping and resting we visited the Agra Fort. This place was awesome. We got there near the end of the day and stayed until in closed...well until we got kicked out, lol. But thank god for that because I was able to capture a photo with NO people in it and that it hard to do anywhere in India, lol.

One of our days in Agra we spent visiting this Sloth bear rehabilitation center and that was really sad and wonderful. I have no photos understandably (as the bears could be triggered since stupid tourists used to pay to watch and photograph them dancing) but we spent the day interviewing Geeta Seshamani, a Co-Founder of Wildlife SOS. In my last post, John's comment had a link for a video from the Wildlife SOS which are responsible for saving these creatures from a life of torture. As of December 18 they got the last dancing bear off the streets! Please watch this short video that was recorded in November 2009.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/kartick_satyanarayan_how_we_rescued_the_dancing_bears.html

And here's a 2 part documentary you should watch too on the rehabilitation center we visited.

Part 1:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTUy_g4JHWs
Part 2:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhV4rAkB_6Y&NR=1

Obviously these bears will never be able to go back to the wild, but the centre they live in provides them with healthy food, care and love. In fact, Geeta knows every one of the bears names and there are over 275 bears there!!! I was happy to see that this place wasn't set up like a zoo. It is under a lot of security and if you choose to visit you SHOULD make a generous donation. But if you can't visit and want to donate money to an organization that has animals best interests at heart, this is the organization to donate to! They don't ONLY have animals interests at heart, they educate the people who are responsible for abusing them too!

http://www.wildlifesos.org/

By the way...if you EVER see a wild animal on a leash that you can pay to watch perform acts or feed or take pictures of, don't fall for it. You are just supporting a cycle of abuse and you don't want to be responsible for that do you?

Surrounding the rehabilitation is a bird sanctuary that wasn't set up that well. If you want to photograph birds it's quite difficult with a constant stream of traffic scaring them off. But we managed to get quite close to a peacock that turned on us when we tried to walk the other way...the bloody thing attacked me!

Clearly he's used to people feeding him, but I didn't want to be one of those people...feeding wild animals is NOT okay, so stop doing it! Animals become aggressive when you hand feed them crappy food that isn't part of their diets and then they come to expect it...hence it attacking me...and that is exactly why all the monkeys in the cities will attack you for your food or water and sometimes camera!

Anyway. After Agra and Delhi we headed for a relaxing time in Rishikesh. We have been here for 5 days now and we'll be here for another 3 days which honestly isn't enough! This place is like paradise.




The food is delicious, the scenery is gorgeous, the weather is wonderful and the classes are endless. We are staying at the High Bank Peasant Cottage with a balcony overlooking the foothills of the Himalayas...which I would call mountains, lol.

Oh and there is a WONDERFUL Great Dane that lives here that I can't get enough of! Her name is Dolly!

The Ganges is just below us as well.


We are surrounded by monkeys too! I love monkeys, they are such shits! You have to be careful because they will mug you at any chance they get!!

We just eat so much good fresh foods all day on patios along the river. Our favourite salad is this veggie fruit salad which has like, bananas, papaya, apple, pineapple, cabbage, tomato, cucumber, pomegranate, carrot, green pepper, red pepper, fresh cilantro all covered in olive oil!!! It's so refreshing!

Our favourite hot drink right now is hot ginger lemon honey, it's so healthy and boosts that immune system!

And our favourite cold drink at the moment is freshly squeezed lemon juice with fresh ground mint! Mmmmmm mmmmmm!


Yesterday evening we went for a Swedish massage and it was awesome and weird, lol. There was no room for shyness there ha ha ha. It was a full body massage for like 75 minutes and she rubbed me down EVERYWHERE except directly between my legs, lol. She used her hands and her feet and twisted my body in so many ways and I was so oiled, lol. She dumped oil on my head and I was just one lubricated girl. But I have such soft skin and hair now. We woke up at 8am this morning and did a 90 minute yoga class. That was refreshing too.
Tomorrow is Holi Festival which is a celebration of the spring ahead. It's just a festival of colours. People dance in the street and people throw water balloons full of dyed water and boy are we prepared! We have 100 water balloons!

These kids think they are so good, but they don't realize the practice we have had throwing things like snowballs our whole life! These kids are going down! Mwa ha ha ha ha!! I can't wait! We are heading to the temple with a bunch of the balloons tonight. This will be fun!

Monday, February 22, 2010

From Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh.

Okay, so since I last wrote, which was too long ago, we have done and seen quite a bit. Good internet connection can be very difficult to find, not to mention finding a decent computer that has a USB or dvd drive so I can put my photos on here. I can't believe that almost everyone here has a cell phone, even people on remote islands with only 3 hours of electricity a day, but finding a good internet connection to update the blog is difficult.
Anyway. We went to Sasan Gir by train. It was a romantic Valentines day! My wonderful husband surprised me with chocolates and flowers, so the train ride was extra awesome. Not to mention I got to listen to Tammy and Marvin on my Ipod so it was just a wicked Valentines Day. I heart Tammy and Marvin, lol...and I heart my husband! Here is some photos of us on the train riding is 2AC, which is our favourite class. It's the most comfortable for the cost, sometimes a little chilly, but that's what the sleeping bag is for.



In Sasan we stayed at a resorty type place which was expensive (for us) and over rated, so the next night we stayed with a man named Nittan and his family. It was much cheaper and a much better experience (except the bed was very uncomfortable and the room was a little dodgy.) He invited us to a huge religious Hindi celebration that the village had for a boy, it was some sort of Right a Passage thing that we don't quite understand, but it was AWESOME!! The music was really loud, the Saris were soooo colourful and the people were sooooo welcoming! They had us dancing with them. The photos that I took are going to be amazing. Just lots of colours and movement. The children were too adorable for words.
In Sasan Gir we also spent two days searching for Lions and we were lucky enough to see a lioness!! She was beautiful! I was able to snap a photo and Julian was able to get the video footage and then she ran off into the jungle. The government claims that there are over 500 lions lefts here, but apparently the truth is more like 100-200. But the government also tries to claim that there are over 5000 tigers left in India when the truth is more like 1400. And with China opening up their borders again for buying tigers, there will be more illegal poaching going on which will make it harder to protect and increase the population. Anyway, here is a video of the beautiful cat we saw!

video

Aside from the countless spotted dear, wild boars, monkeys and samburs we also saw some crocodiles! They are way uglier and bigger then alligators. I actually can't believe HOW close I got to some of these things, maybe 2 meters. Sometimes with a lens in front of your eye you can get carried away, lol. But I got some really excellent photos. Of course all the ones here on the blog are from our point and shoot because I shoot in RAW, so I will have to wait to get home so I can process them through Photoshop.


On our way back to Ahmedabad we took Sleeper class, which was maybe too much for me. The space was extremely limited and the smells were something else! I suppose it's 'cuz the windows are open and all over the train tracks is human waste 'cuz you go to the toilet in a hole on the train and it literally just falls out on to the tracks. And with over 1.1 million people riding the train a day, you can imagine what it's like! On Sleeper class there is no air conditioning, which I usually prefer, but the heat really adds to the stench!


When we got back to Ahmedabad we visited the incredible Dada Hari Wav step well. It was so big and very impressive. It is no longer functioning as a well, but it was all hand carved in 1499. The tombs of the Muslim architects that were commissioned to build it lay atop it, and they were killed after the well was finished so that they wouldn't be able to make a replica. They did a very beautiful job, but how fair was that?!




As for the food, it's INCREDIBLE!! I know I have said that before, but I can't get enough of it. It saddens me that after we leave India we'll never have food like this again 'cuz you just can't get it in Canada or London. We just don't have the proper spices and FRESH food available to us.

Here is Julian with my favourite dish called Chana Puri!! MMMMMMMMMMM!!!!

Here's a dish called Thalis. I am unsure what most of it is, but whatever, it's delicious and nutritious!!

And here I am with freshly squeezed pineapple juice! Don't like Pineapple? Where there is so much to choose from but the fruit has to be in season otherwise it's not fresh. There is sweet lime, mango, papaya, orange and apple and squeezed right in front of your eyes!

We have learned so much about nutrition and now I know even MORE about why the western world is soooo unhealthy and why we are all medicated. Here in Ahmedabad we were with a family made up of doctors and pharmacists and they were shocked when I told them that homeopathy wasn't covered by our medical care. They said that they feel that the natural way is best. Not only is it cheaper, but it fixes the root of the problem instead of masking problems and then causing future problems. He also talked a lot about how important diet is and I know we all know that, but in Canada there are so many "health nuts" and they eat diet foods, exercise like crazy, don't eat past 6pm or 8pm and mean while most people still struggle with their weight and health. People don't even eat dinner out here until at least 9pm and finding an overweight person is far and few between. Julian and I haven't even seen a gym, though there is lots of yoga and meditation available. The farmers fields are much much smaller and still family run. They don't use chemicals or steroids or antibiotics to mass produce their food. The food is hand planted and hand picked. In the last entry I showed you a place where people take their milk for selling. It's unpasteurized milk that they're drinking. In Canada there was a man who was drinking and selling unpasteurized milk to those who WANTED it and the government put a stop to that claiming that there are health risks...okay what? But pumping your cows with chemicals and filling your milk with chemicals is healthy? It just doesn't make sense! Food here is fresh and fruits and veggies are picked when their ripe. I know that in Canada we live in a place where the climate is too cold for growing foods all year round, but that just means that the fruit and the veg are all prematurely picked which means that it's lacking many vitamins and essential sugars that are cancer preventing. Not to mention the size of our fruits and veg are much much bigger thanks to the shit they grow it in. It's no wonder that so many people in the western world have health problems. Just think of all the people you know that are medicated because of hyper activity, depression, digestion problems, back problems, heart problems...the list goes on and on. Good luck finding a child out here on Ritalin. And Alzheimers and Dementia aren't nearly as common as they are at home. Neither is digestion problems which are on the rise at home. Certain spices and foods can prevent all these problems, not a prescription from the doctor. Almost every meal I eat here is full of ginger and chilis and other spices. When you eat fresh spicy foods it gets the stomach ready for digesting, sorta like when people take digestive enzymes, but this is a natural way and a better way for your body. I have a very serious case of acid reflux which the doctor wanted to put me on this drug that would cost me $60 a month and I would have to be on it possibly my whole life. Of course I refused. Though I have problems at home with food regularly, I have not had a single problem since I have been here. Not one. And for me, this is a miracle. Eating is not a chore right now, it is a pleasant and wonderful experience with a constant party in my mouth!!
I could go on and on about this topic, but I think I will stop here. I just wish that India and Canada could combine their efforts (not just in the medical world, but everywhere) and if they did, it would be the perfect place to live. But for now, the idea will remain a utopia.

On that note, we are in Delhi right now, we just got back from Agra and I will update you next time I write (which won't be long from now) on the sloth bear rehabilitation centre we visited for the dancing bears that once filled the streets of Agra for stupid tourists to pay and watch dance. The abuse these animals took was disgusting!! I will also post photos of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. We have just been so busy enjoying the last week sitting on roof tops drinking Indian chai or lassis. So I will leave you with a photo of the streets of Delhi that I took from one of the roof tops.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gujarat.

We have arrived in Ahmedabad and it's a little less busy then Mumbai, but when you're downtown you wouldn't know it. Though the streets are wider, they are just as crazy with a few added things sharing the road. You have cars, motorbikes, rickshaws, bicycles, pedestrians, cows, camels, dogs, monkeys and elephants!! It's pretty much a gong show. I love it and hate it. We have met a friend of a friend and he has been kind enough to drive us around and show us the place! We went to the Ashram where Ghandi spent many years. Here is a photo of me trying to spin wool as he did.

He was the most disciplined man to ever walk to this earth and I don't know how he did it?!
We had the best day ever yesterday when he took us to a small town named Sarsa where there is a friends farm and they grow mangoes, potatoes, tobacco, wheat and bananas. It was beautiful and a WONDERFUL change of pace from the city. I actually don't understand why anyone would live in the chaos when you could live in a village away from it all. Our friend from home has a family that runs the farm out there and they were kind enough to show us around.


They took us to a small village of 1000 people where they were preparing for a wedding celebration which would be happening today! The children were so incredible! Here is a photo below of Julian and I with some of the children who were just as interested in us as we were of them.

Aren't they CUTE!? They showed us around their houses, showed us how they cook and what they cook and how they are preparing for the huge wedding celebration. Everyone from the village helps prepare and it was such a wonderful thing to see! They also showed us how they milk the cows. We drank some chai tea and then they took us to the place they bring their milk and get cash in hand for it, the photo is just below.

We are now back in the city and patiently waiting to see the last of the Asian Lions on Monday. Oh I can't wait!! We are hoping to see the last of the wild asses this weekend too. After seeing the country, I would like to spend as little time in the cities as possible. No matter where we go we seem to be an attraction all on our own. People constantly gawking and pointing and blowing kisses. People even come up all the time and ask if they can have a photo with us, lol. Check out Julian's photo below.

Though the cities are exhausting, the restaurants are well worth the business. It's always a mystery when it comes to ordering, but we have yet to be disappointed. Here's Julian below with some kind of HUGE dosa, lol.

If only the garbage and pollution wasn't SUCH a problem. It breaks my heart. All the animals in the street live off garbage, so I suppose India has a system, but it's a terrible one. The cows literally eat the plastic. The amount of plastic we've created being here its sickening and it's out of our control.
We have been reading the newspaper daily and yesterday we read that since the end of 2008, the amount of people living in poverty has grown 34 million!!! Crazy! Working class Indians encourage you not to give beggers candy or money as it encourages begging...but what else are they to do? Instead, you can donate money to an organization, but do your research and make sure it's all going to the right place. Like, 'Kids with Cameras'!! If you haven't seen the documentary 'Born into Brothels', you SHOULD! It's amazing, and not only because I am a photographer.

Below are some videos we have taken. There is one of a monkey trying to open a plastic bottle of water so he can drink it and one of the potato farm. The others wouldn't upload, sorry.

video video

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mumbai.

After spending a week in London we have arrived in Mumbai. We have been here for 2 days now and all I can say is WHOA! I can't believe I survived the taxi ride to the hotel, lol. Lanes and traffic lights mean nothing here. There are far more people then cars and they all mix together down streets just trying to get to their destinations.
The garbage here is pretty crazy, it really makes me feel like no matter how much I try to recycle and stay away from plastic at home, it makes no difference. We took a boat from The Gateway of India to Elephant Island today, and the garbage in the water was unbelievable. I watched parents teach their children to throw their chip wrappers and plastic bottles in the water! I wonder where the closest Gyre is to here and how big it is?!
Anyway...Elephant Island was wonderful! Tons of monkeys!! They are super aggressive though. I watched a monkey attack a women for her water bottle, and then he took the water bottle, twisted off the cap and drank it! I also saw one do that with Coke! Any food that was available was for either a stray dog or a wild monkey, and they would fight over it. There were also cave temples, and Elephanta Caves, that have been carved out of rock, they were magnificent!
So far may favourite things about India are the children, the animals, and the food. The young boys feel the need to blow kisses at me, lol. Julian and I also seem to be an attraction on our own. People running up to photograph us and to have pictures taken with us as if we're some kind of movie stars, lol.
Tomorrow we leave this very stinky over-populated place for Gujarat, where Ghandi lived! Hopefully I can post photos soon. By the way...apparently Mumbai is supposed to double in population by 2050!! Where will everyone go!? lol.