Messy Jessy

enjoying the beautiful mess that is life

Oh the Places You Will Go! January 30, 2012

Filed under: India,reflections,Travel — Jess @ 9:50 pm
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A year ago this week, I took a trip that would shape and change me in several expected, but many unexpected ways. It’s hard to believe I was there a year ago because in so many way it feels like ages have passed, but in my heart it feels like just a few weeks ago.

I’ve always believed traveling  helps give you perspective and insight into not only another culture, but your own culture and life. This could be no more truer for me and my two journeys to India. I can truly say I’m a different and better person for my almost 6 weeks spent in the land of beauty and mystery.

When I miss my friends and time spent in India, all I have to do is close my eyes. Then suddenly all of the tastes, smells, sights, sounds come rushing back and are all strangely familiar.

If you want to catch up on my experience while in India, you can click here to read my blog posts from last year.  Namaste!

P.S. If you ever have the chance to go to India – GO!!! I am dying to go back some day and take JT with me.

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Missing India May 6, 2011

Filed under: India,reflections — Jess @ 10:59 pm
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I’ll admit I was less than thrilled about making my second trip back to India. When I left I was a mess. I was working about 50-60 hours a week and felt like at the end of the day it still wasn’t enough to get the job done. I felt like a failure as wife and friend – having very little time to spend with and invest in those that I love because of work demands and life was completely out of balance. I reluctantly went. I wasn’t looking forward to the crazy work schedule, eating the same limited “after hours” room service menu, missing episodes of Modern Family, only being able to see my husband in pixellated Skype form, the list goes on. I threw my stuff in a couple of suitcases and off I went after a really emotional airport good-bye. There wasn’t really any changing anything, but I did contemplate paying for a cab home from the airport. The one and maybe quite only thing I was looking forward to was being reunited with old friends.

I don’t think the reality of being back in India really hit me until I walked out of the airport after collecting my bags. The sights, sounds, and smells were eerily familiar. When I arrived at the hotel, the staff remembered me, greeted me by name, and I got to take advantage of my Platinum Rewards status (I guess it does  pay to spend 30+ nights in the same hotel within a three-month period!)

It’s been almost two weeks since my plane touched down back home and sometimes it feels surreal. I honestly miss India in ways that I didn’t expect. I knew last time when I left, I’d be back in just a few short weeks/month. This time, I left not knowing if I’d ever see again people whom I’ve come call friends. It’s weird and little things I miss. This week as I was getting ready to go to work, I caught myself searching for my bottled water so I could brush my teeth. After a few seconds, I realized I was home and tap water would be just fine! My five-minute commute to work here is MUCH different than my ride into work in India and a whole lot less interesting. I miss the vibrant colors of ladies’ saris and road-side flower stands. There’s even a few Indian food dishes I really miss too – I’ll have to check out a local Indian restaurant here to see if they have my favorites.  I let a huge scream the other day driving to the grocery store and heard one of my favorite songs from India on the radio here. I immediately felt like I riding in Shaurya’s car weaving in and out of traffic in the streets of Delhi. I was so excited to tell my friend the next day at work only to find it the artist wasn’t Indian [and for the record Shaurya he’s not Italian – he’s Romanian – I googled it : )]

Now let’s be clear, there are definitely some things that I don’t miss. Mosquitoes feasting on me nightly, public bathrooms that took on a whole new meaning,  eating room service sandwiches, sleeping during the day time, gray smog-filled skies, but that is really is about it. There were so many more things that I liked and loved than disliked.

Note to Self: Do NOT scratch your mosquito bites as much as you are dying to!

What I miss most are the people. Hands down. My first trip, I spent a lot of time sightseeing and visiting so many different places. This past trip, I spent most of my time hanging out with people and seeing the “real” India. I’m grateful for both trips and the different experiences. I had one of the best nights of my life hanging out with co-workers/friends dancing until the wee hours of the morning, visiting India Gate at 3 am and going to an all-night restaurant by the train station to eat “street food”.

My Indian history teacher : ) Shaurya, Beth my travel buddy, and me

I feel like I came back a different person. I refused to be the same completely stressed out girl who left for India when I got back home. Seeing poverty on the street corner on your way to work really helps put your own life into perspective.  I think traveling and getting to see the world changes our own personal world.  I’m thankful for getting to experience India not just once-in-a-life trip but twice-in-a-life trips and for making my world much smaller and bigger all at the same time.

Jintendra, Jess, Shaurya, and Sachin

 

Rewind: The Red Fort April 15, 2011

Filed under: India — Jess @ 10:06 pm
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Last Sunday I spent most of the morning/afternoon in Delhi sightseeing. The Red Fort is a historic 17th century fort/complex in Old Delhi. Mughal Emperor Shahjahan built this fort after leaving Agra Fort in Agra where the Taj Mahal is. You’ll notice there is very similar family architecture as the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.  In the mid-19th century, the British army overtook India and occupied the Fort. Once India gained her Independence in 1947, the fort was turned back over to the Indian army. In 2003, the Indian army left and this became a very popular tourist attraction and historic sight.

Kristy and I walked around for a few minutes just taking everything in. Very quickly a very friendly older gentlemen “from California” decided that he would be our tour guide. He repeatedly told us that “we are very lucky to have him as a tour guide”, he loved us,  we were very beautiful,  and Americans are very nice. He also told us at the beginning of the tour the price was $200 rupees (about$5 USD) and then when the tour was over the fee was $500 because of his tip : ) He was funny and did share a lot of good info, so I guess it was all a good day and we were quite entertained.

Here’s a few of one of the many pavilions.

Semi-precious stone embedded into the white marble – look familiar?

These stones were removed during the British occupation of the Fort.

Barracks built by the British to house their troops that occupied the Fort. There are several buildings of barracks.

The queen’s bathhouse is undergoing renovation. There is a sunken “bathtub” in the middle so no one could see the Queen when she bathed.

The Emperor could sit in the middle of the “Garden of Love” and overlook all of his palace. During the days of the Emperour, empire would have filled up the “pond”. Our friendly tour guide told us this is where the Emperor would also take one of his (many) wives for some “hanky panky”.

One of the fort’s exterior walls. My pictures don’t do the enormity of this Fort justice.

A Bodhi tree inside the Fort, like the one where Buddha became enlightened. Really beautiful!

 

This weekend’s agenda

My travel buddy and co-worker Kristy left tonight to fly back home to the US and my new travel buddy/co-worker Beth got into town late last night. Last Sunday (my first day in India), we did a little sightseeing, but Kristy wasn’t feeling all that well. We went to the Red Fort in Delhi, Lotus Temple and had a short-lived shopping trip at Dilli Haat. I didn’t take a ton of pics, actually I had more pictures taken of us by locals. (That’s a whole other story)

Up on this weekend’s agenda:

Saturday – Kingdom of Dreams

Looks exciting, huh? My thought is this will be like Vegas meets India, highlighting some of India’s culture, arts and crafts, food, and entertainment. Beth and I will see a Bollywood-inspired musical and explore all the “Kingdom” has to offer.  I’m sure I’ll take a lot of pictures.

Sunday –

We’re taking a trip back to Dilli Haat, the open air ethnic market featuring goods from all of the states within India. This is your last call for any souvenir requests from India – scarves, trinkets, purses – let me know! Confession this will be my fourth trip to Dilli Haat and I’m feeling like a bargaining pro.

Our co-workers and friends from the office have arranged an evening out for us at a local “club” – Suburbia. Dinner, unlimited drinks, music, and dancing for only 650 rupees (about $14 USD) – yes please! The only thing good about working this crazy schedule is being able to fully enjoy Sunday, because I don’t have to be at work until 5 pm on Monday night.

Sorry I’ve been behind on the blogging. Not really a lot to report except that I’ve been working. I’m sure I’ll have much more to blog/talk about after these weekend. I can hardly believe this is my first and last full weekend here in India. This week has gone by so quick!

 

My India Food Survival Kit April 10, 2011

Filed under: India — Jess @ 3:43 pm
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I obviously didn’t starve the last time I was in India, but this time I brought  a few extras with my luggage.

  1. Trader Joe’s instant oatmeal. So great when you don’t want to eat a heavy meal at 3:30 am (this is usually when I make it back to the hotel after work) and want something light to go to bed on.
  2. Campbell’s Tomato Soup – a great and easy option.
  3. Dove dark chocolate – do I really need a reason to justify this?
  4. Healthy Choice Steamers – A few times last trip I waited too late to order “dinner” for delivery. This trip, I brought a few of these to have “just in case”.
  5. Lots of “Crystal Light” water bottle packets. I get a little tired of water, so I brought some drink packets to add some flavor.
  6. Peanut Butter and Cheese crackers – these make a great “breakfast” (4 pm) before heading in to the office.  I’ve found I can easily tolerate the myriad of smells during the day if I have a little something on my stomach.
  7. Light Ranch!!! JT thinks I’m crazy for bringing a little bottle of Ranch. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of curry, so I figured some Ranch will hopefully drown the taste of my not-so-favorite tastes from the hotel dishes or help make a chicken panini a little more appetizing.
  8. Last but not least, Clif bars – these make a great, protein-filled afternoon (really early morning) snack.
 

The Rest of the Story (My Trip to the Taj Mahal Part II) March 8, 2011

Filed under: India — Jess @ 10:00 pm
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This post is long overdue. I’ve been suffering for a major case of jet lag and have been INCREDIBLY swamped at work. I thought about blogging around 4 am (apparently this is my new wake up time), but my post would probably be pretty incoherent. Here’s the first part of my journey of getting to the Taj Mahal – just in case you missed it.

I’ll let the photos do most of the talking, because the Taj Mahal is really breath-taking  beautiful. I’ve seen pictures for years of this Modern Seven Wonder of the World, but nothing can prepare you for seeing it in person. Words are hard to describe the feelings and thoughts you have when standing in front of this stunning example of architecture that was built out of one man’s love for his wife. Now granted he was incredibly rich and had the resources of an entire empire at his disposal, but it is a moving to hear the love story of  Shah Jahan and his wife Mum Taj Mahal.

Standing outside the East Gate

Looking at the Taj Mahal down the reflection pool.

Here’s a few “details” pictures, up close and personal

All of these are semi-precious stones that are inlaid into the white marble all throughout the Taj.

Hand-carved designs outside the building. It’s amazing the detail and symmetry of the building. The only thing that isn’t exactly perfect symmetry is the size of the burial tombs. Shah Jahan’s casket/vault is bigger than Mum Taj’s.

The “script” or design around the door is actually a Muslim prayer. It translates “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.”

A view of one of the four spires. They each lean out away from the Taj Mahal.

Overlooking the Yumuna river – second holiest river for Hindus next to the Ganges.

Here’s more pics from my trip to the Taj Mahal on my Flickr account.

 

February 15, 2011

Filed under: family,India — Jess @ 9:11 pm

I miss JT’s cute little pixelated face.

Can’t wait to trade in my virtual husband for a real life, in person husband.

3 days, 8 hours!

 

Getting There is Half the Battle (My trip to the Taj Mahal: Part I) February 13, 2011

Filed under: India — Jess @ 12:28 pm
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I’ve decided to break my stories and pics about our journey this past weekend to the Agra into a few posts! Check back soon for “the rest of the story”.

Each week at work, I’m usually counting down to the weekend and this week was no exception. I was particularly thrilled because I knew we’d be making the trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. I arrived back to the hotel around 2 am on Saturday morning (that’s my Friday afternoon) and we’d arranged for our cab to pick us at 6 am.

We’d ordered a Toyota Innova for the day to take us to Agra and back. This is the standard “tourist” car and is what we ride to and from the office in everyday.

This is what showed up at 6:30 am

I.Was.Not.Happy.

8 hour in one in this? I called the cab service (the driver spoke very little English). Apparently our Innova had gotten a flat tire and this was the only car they had available. Stephanie and I figured we can tough it out and decide to go. We didn’t want to waste any more time.  And so the journey begins …

I made the mistake of watching Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads (the India version) a few months ago. On the ride to Agra, I was seriously having some flashbacks.
Here’s a clip of the show if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Oh Good Lord! Now I’m a southern girl who can handle a dirt road or two, but I’m not even sure you can call these “roads”. Some stretches were paved, most weren’t, “lanes” without lines would suddenly end, potholes the size of an actual car, passing cars, tanks, camels, rickshaws in the oncoming traffic “lane”, the “white line” was a bag of sacrete: all of this was just too much for me. After 15 minutes into the ride and lots of deep breaths, I asked the driver if the whole ride was going to be like this. If so, I was seriously contemplating him just taking us back to the hotel. Our driver had decided to take a by-pass around Delhi in the pre-dawn hours. After about an hour of butt jarring and back aching driving, we finally reached a real road.

On the way to Agra (the city where the Taj Mahal is), you have to cross from the state of Harayana (where Gurgaon is) into the state of Uttar Predesh. On the border of the state, you have to stop and pay a tax. This isn’t like your traditional toll booth. Our driver stops on the side of the road, turns off the car, and tell us not to get out while he goes and pays the tax. Soon all of the “hecklers” show up. One guy is tapping on the window and begging me to buy a necklace his family made. The next guy is trying to sell me a photo book of the Taj Mahal. A guy walks up to Stephanie’s window with a monkey chained up on a stick. We have our sunglasses on and are trying to do our best to ignore them so they’ll go away. The next thing I know Stephanie screams and the monkey is now on the window. We quickly realize that the driver has left the passenger window (Stephanie’s side) cracked. The panic begins to set in a little. Is this monkey going to reach in and unlock the door? I jump up into the front of the car and lock the doors and realize the front window are electric and aren’t going up. Then two boys with a basket approach the car. There is a freakin’ COBRA snake inside of the basket. I am freaking out at this point. They tell us “no poison, no poison” and are wanting us to pay them to take a picture. I thought Stephanie was going to lose it. They finally went away after a little yelling. The guy was still there trying to sell me that damn necklace and more folks were coming. I think part of their sales strategy is to beg you so much that you’re willing to pay them to just go away, because they continue to beg even if you ignore them or say no. Where in the world is our driver? It has been at least 5 minutes and feels like 50 when you have people surrounding your car! Finally he comes back and we continue our journey.

We finally reach Agra after a long, bumpy, and adventurous four-hour drive! We picked up our “complimentary” tour guide, who asks we call him “Su”. (That’s especially for you Johnny Cash fans – our tour guide was “A boy named Sue”) ha! But why let the adventure stop there, we opted for the horse ride to the gate of the Taj Mahal. I took one for the team and climbed up and into the front seat. I’m glad there isn’t a photo of that process (and you probably are too). And Steph, Sue and me were off to see the Taj Mahal!

Here’s a preview of Part Two. What’s that in my sunglasses – oh that would be the Taj!!

 

Favorite Things (India Version) February 9, 2011

Filed under: India — Jess @ 9:41 pm
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I feel like I’m running out of words to say about India and my time here, but in the same breath I feel like I’ve only begun to put words to my experience.

Here’s a few things I’ve fallen in love with:

  • The beauty of color. Such vibrant colors surround me. Women’s sarees, pieces of jewelry, rich shades of flowers, exotic fruits – they’re all beautiful. Tonight as I came back to the hotel, the wedding party was gathering to leave. The full spectrum of colors on display in each woman’s traditional Indian clothing and level of detail were incredible!

  • The warmth and friendliness of the people. I’m a southern girl who fully believes in good ol’ hometown-style hospitality. Now while I haven’t been invited over for southern fried chicken or homemade sweet tea, the graciousness of the people around me is almost overwhelming at times. The hotel staff is incredible. Everyone speaks to you – not just because they’re 5 star or your paying a small fortune. You can sense when a person has to acknowledge you because its their job or truly wants to make you feel comfortable and at home. Yesterday afternoon I was getting on the elevator to go to work and the head of housekeeping knew what “room number”  I was and asked if there was anything she could do to make my stay more comfortable.
    My co-workers are just the same! They are working crazy and long hours, but  took time out of their weekend away from their family to take us around town, arrange taxis, and make sure we enjoyed our time.

  • The rich history that surrounds me. There are definitely some beautiful places in the US, but none that compare to depth of history here. I’ve been to Saint Augustine, the US’ oldest “living” city, but it is just a babe when compared to Delhi which has been continuously inhabited since 6th century BC.

  • The respect and appreciation for what makes us different is really what makes us the same. There a numerous temples and houses of worship around the city representing a multitude of faiths and India is really a melting pot of religions. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Baha’i and many others all seem to somehow not only peacefully co-exist together, but have  a respect  for each other.
 

Weekend Re-cap: Sightseeing and Shopping (Part II) February 8, 2011

Filed under: India — Jess @ 10:07 pm
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Sunday morning we got up pretty early to go to Akshardham Temple. This place is nothing short of breath-taking. We spent over five hours here and I barely felt like I could take it all in.

Getting up at 7 am on Sunday sounds like heresy to me, but once we got to Akshardham it was all worth it. Well getting inside was a little bit of an ordeal. The grounds open at 9 am and we were there at 9:15. Our driver on Saturday recommended getting there really early in the morning to avoid the crowds. It is a popular place on Sundays for families to visit, followers to come and worship, and school children to come and visit.  School children – lots of them giggling and holding hands in matching uniforms! We walked right through the lines and made it to security quickly. The lines were amusement park style and you could tell they were used to accommodating quite large crowds. Separate lines for women and men. You can only take a small wallet into the park and no leather because leather wallets made from cows are kinda frowned upon in a Hindu temple. No cell phones, no cameras, no candy, (they confiscated my gum), no nothing well except money to buy souvenirs. So in my small wristlet I had my lip gloss, Driver’s License, and rupees – you know, the essentials. One thing I did however forget was my travel kleenex. They only had one “western” stall with a toilet – but no toilet paper. So we finally make it through the medal detectors. bag searches, and pat downs (more secure than the airport!) and were on our way!

When first looking at the Mandir, it is hard to take in all of the beauty and detail of the craftsmanship.The bottom of the temple is made up of 148 life-sized, hand carved elephants. The building is made of marble and pink sandstone without the support of any steel or concrete! Pretty fascinating!

Inside the madnir, there’s a huge shrine in middle and huge icon-like paintings to tell the story of Neelkanth Varni

There are so many other things to see in addition to the Mandir. We paid money to do two of the exhibitions. One was a boat ride through the Vedic history of India with life-sized figures.


We also watched a 40 minute IMAX video that retold the story of Neelkanth Varni.

We walked around the gardens and just took in all of the beauty and amazingly intricate architecture. To find out more, you can visit the temple’s website and here’s a video for a visual tour.

Note: Since cameras are not allowed inside Akshardham, the photos I’ve posted are from the Akshardam website.

After spending several hours at Akshardham we decided to make another trip back to Dilli to do just a little bit more shopping. The weather was much cooler and enjoyable on Sunday. There was a major difference this trip. We didn’t have our co-worker and friend, Disha. The same vendors we saw the day before were now trying to charge us twice as much because we were “rich Americans”. We quickly reminded them that we’d bought from them the day before and wanted the same prices sans our local friend. Some vendors honored this and some only honored it after we’d walked away and then finally caved in. This was pretty eye-opening for me. This is the first time I’ve felt that I’ve personally been judged/discriminated against because of my color/race.  Still processing my thoughts and feeling on this, maybe more to come later.

I was pretty oblivious to it the day before in the market at Dilli Haat of strangers staring as we walked by and shopped. But I definitely noticed it on Sunday while at Akshardham. Being 5’8″ and with really fair skin, I stood out – obviously! While we were walking around the school girls would just stare and a little kid even grabbed on to my pants leg and held on as we were walking by. It kinda creeped me out to be sitting/standing in line for the exhibits and have people gawk at you. I told Stephanie people weren’t used to seeing Ebony and Ivory walking around : ) ha! But it something I guess you just have to tolerate when you obviously aren’t a local and stick out like a sore thumb.

All in all – this past weekend was incredible. I’ve seen sights and visited places I’ll hopefully remember for the rest of my life. This next weekend will probably take the cake, because we’re going to the Taj Mahal. We’ll get home (to the hotel) around 3:30 am on Saturday morning from work and will leave around 6:45 to make the 3-4 hour drive to Agra. Can’t wait to see this and take pics! Will keep you updated!

 

 
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