Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bourne Equivalency

On the left is Ganesh. He's a great guy. On the right is the owner of the restaurant. 97 and still cookin! Behind them is an American tourist...or is it!

Jason is that you!? You survived that huge fall into the river? Tell me its you!


The amount of hours our road trip took. It was a whirlwind tour of Jaipur, India, the Pink City. But so worth it!

Drive there.
We left Work around 11:30pm, made a couple stops, and were on the road by midnight. Next stop 200km later was Jaipur. This 200km consisted of laughing, joking around, Bollywood sing alongs, and frequent tea/smoke breaks. All of which were had by my 5 perky co-workers througout the night! Intense! The Americans, my friend Jessie and I, were awkwardly nestled in the 3 row of Ganesh's new SUV. We tried to sleep. Marginal results. It was pretty entertaining seeing my friends just go go go all night!

5 hours from Delhi we rolled in to Jaipur and found ourselves a little 2 star hotel. A far cry from my cozy 5 star room 329 at the Taj! We slept until 10 then got up and at 'em. The day started with a turkey sandwich at Subway and a bottle of Coke. Mmm...breakfast... Then out to see the sights.

Hawa Mahal.
This was a palace built by the King for his queen and her lady friends. Behind this crown-resembling facade are many outdoor corridors and social areas. This way the Queen could be "out-and-about" hearing the sounds of the city, without being seen. Which apparently wasn't allowed.
The front.

The back. (Being repainted)

View from the top.
Busy streets, busy markets.

Jaigarh Fort
Me, Farid, Jessie, Prableen, Ganesh, Ruchika.

Big ol cannon.

Camel, check!

Inside the fort.

The outer walls of the Fort.

Amber Palace.
You can see it in the top right of the last pic from the fort. this place was amazing. So many gardens, courts, and beautiful look outs!
Palace from the fort.


Inner court.



Dinner was a quick pit stop at Mickey D's... Bad idea. Note to self, don't each McDonald's anywhere, ever.

This was the hot new Bollywood flick. It was awesome! There was mystery, love, adventure, suspense, and most of all STYLE! (Thats what Tashan means in Hindi)

Drive back.
I was pretty much delerious.

I know I did a poor job of illustrating how cool it was to see Jaipur. It really was great. I learned a ton. Everything from the time in the car to the top of the fort was educational on this fascinating place and it's people. It was a great way to spend my last weekend in India!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Turns out...

...I ended up riding an elephant tonight!

Yeah, super random. Some co-workers came over to the hotel for dinner tonight. I walked out with one of them while he waited for his car and there they were, two big ol' elephants! While taking the touristy photo-opp the elephant guy said "ride?" I said sure! I handed my camera to the parking guy and had him snap a couple pics! One of them even turned out!
Then the guy held out his hand and said "money." No question mark this time. So I guess he's only 2 words into his English studies so far.

There happened to be a wedding at the hotel tonight... So of course there were elephants. Seriously, these Indian weddings are everything you've heard!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A day in Old Delhi... all I need.

I experienced India in a whole to way today. My explorations took me into Old Delhi. The location of the most history as well as the most despair.

My friend from work, Ganesh, took me into Old Delhi. Our first experience was trying to park his car. We pulled down the street where the supposed parking lots were. It was nothing but a collage of cars, trucks, buses, rickshaws, motorcycles, pedestrians, and little wheeled sales stands. There was absolutely no order to it at all. About 40 minutes later we were able to make a U turn and get out. We were able to pay some security guards at the Red Fort to let us park the car behind their gate. Somethings are impossible in India, others just take about 50 Rupees.

We walked over to Jama Masjid Mosque, the largest mosque in India. It took some guts and timing to cross the street from where we parked. You then walk through and entry about 30 feet wide and proceed down a long walkway that leads up to the mosque. At the time it was all a little too much to handle, but now it is all sinking in. It's almost 2 am and I am overwhelmed just thinking about it. On the right was a stand selling Biryani, a rice dish. Look straight ahead and the first man you see is blind, the second almost completely crippled. Both begging. There is a little break to let it set in. Then you start to see it all. Beggars of all kinds. Cripples, children, elderly, blind, strung-out, amputee's, dwarfs, widows, etc, etc, etc. A pile of feces, most likely human, sets right before the next food stand. Just after that another man relieving himself. On the right there is vendor after vendor peddling their goods. Ganesh was a great help in keeping a quick pace and putting himself between me and those who would approach. Being white is like strapping a huge magnet to your body and walking through Home Depot.
Looking back at the long walk from the street up to the mosque.

After about 200 yards later there is the gate of the mosque. There is about a 25 foot set of stone steps leading up to the entrance itself. These steps are also cluttered with beggars. This whole procession was the definition of sensory overload.
The steps leading up to the mosque.

Get to the gate, remove your shoes, pay 200 Rupees to bring in your camera, and you are ready to see the mosque itself. It really is another one of the amazing architectural sites in Delhi. But the process to get there has greatly blurred my memory of it. It was fascinating to see the men praying in this wide open courtyard. At times it is filled with hundreds, if not thousands. The towers have speakers to project the call to prayer.

After you have seen the mosque there is only one way out... The way you came in. Again, it's hard to put into words. I feel like I saw the dregs of a society. After we left I almost felt unaffected and uncaring. In hindsight I realize that my subconscious muted my thoughts and emotions during that walk. It was my defense mechanism. Witnessing this degenerate attempt to subsist was one of the saddest things I have ever seen. It felt intense, corrupt, and sad. History and faith being swallowed up by desperation and corruption.
Pickup cricket.

After that we took an auto rickshaw to the entrance of the Red Fort. It is an impressive structure. All out of red stone. Built by one of the old kings to stand as protection, a capitol for his kingdom, and also a mark of strength. We walked in to see a light and sound show but the mosquito's were too bad. The show was underwhelming, and all in Hindi, so we bailed. We took a cycle rickshaw back to the car and grabbed some dinner.
Red Fort w/Moon.

The cycle rickshaw. This guy pedaled hard!

There were rays of light through the cloudiness of what I saw today. Ganesh was a great host, guide, and friend. I really felt like I was seeing India, and not just the nice hotel, office, or shopping. I also felt like I was hanging out with a friend. A good feeling when you feel very far away from everything. I'm really grateful for the people I have met and the friends I have made. They have absolutely made my trip!

It was an intense day. All in all I am so glad I saw what I did. You can't put a price on perspective. You also can't write or photograph it. Hope this post did a decent job of telling the story of how I spent this April 19.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The flame burns on.

The Olympic torch came through India today. And being so close to Tibet, it was a very cool experience. A lot of people have a lot of views on China's occupation of Tibet, and India is no exception. I'm not sure if it was on the news in the US, but there was an "alternative" torch relay held by Tibetan exiles today. Yesterday I saw this on the commute to work.
It was really fascinating to see this global issue come right though my line of sight while on the other side of the world. It really showed me that the world can unite for something. I don't have a lot of knowledge of, or strong feelings about what's going on in Tibet. But I do think it's pretty amazing to see masses around the world rally for the freedom of others. As we all know, that effort can really backfire sometimes.

Before I end this post I want to give a shout out to my hero and my Dad. A former torchbearer himself... Michael Joseph Olsen. Love you Dad.
Running the torch in Orlando, Fl for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Updations and Up-gradations.

Update 1:
The previously mentioned "little green/yellow people mover things" are in fact called rickshaws here.

Update 2:
They do actually encourage "lane driving" here, among other helpful tips. (I have laughed a lot on this little voyage.)

Update 3:
You may notice my blog has been both updated and upgraded. Just an FYI in Indian English both of the words used in the title of this post are real words. So put the red pen away and don't correct them. I also heard "illustratement" today.

Interesting fact:
Did you know that, per capita, New Delhi has the highest rate of amputation in the world? Yeah, it's such an issue that instead of having handicapped bathrooms they actually just have "amputee only" restrooms. It's ok, I laughed at first too. Then I saw a guy try to wash his hand in a normal bathroom. Think about you couldn't do it. Seriously, put one hand behind your back and try to wash the other solo. Not as funny now, is it?
Just kidding. But the sign did make me laugh.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My Dehli weekend.

Episode 1: I like the night life. I like to boogie...

Last night I finally got out and took in some of the Delhi night life! The Centre Stage Mall is about 10 minutes from my office. Within those walls lies the hottest disco in India, and one of the top five in Asia. A little place we call Elevate. This was one of the most fascinating things I have ever experienced.

What I didn't see:

What I wanted to see:

You may have recognized this as a scene from my favorite (and the only one I've seen) Bollywood movie, Jab We Met. Jab means 'when.' More Hindi lessons to come.

What I did see:

Elevate is crazy and funny. The club was a ton of fun and my co-workers, and now friends, are a blast! The club was such a melting pot, there were people from everywhere. My favorite person was the Asian girl with her ratty teased hair, cig hangin from her lips, and black and white striped skirt with a hot pink frilly bloomer thing underneath. Simply captivating. She kinda just rocked back and forth like a strung-out Gwen Stefani back-up girl.

Another interesting observation was that no one touched. It was the cleanest dance party I've been to since EFY. It really really blew my mind. Any other time I've been to a club (which isn't too any times), or even a Provo dance party, I've been pretty much disgusted. This was a pleasant surprise. The DJ was some dude from Brittan...underwhelming. My other favorite thing was this, no one in India can dance! At least not the sample population I saw on Friday. The best part, no one cares! So to all you awkward whitey's and Elaine's out there, have no shame! Come to India and let loose! Seriously, everyone kind of dances awkward and uncoordianted. Which makes the no touching thing even funnier. Not even couples touch. I've come to understand that's because there is a cultural norm for couples not to touch/be affectionate in public. I recommend Elevate next time you're in Delhi. Fortunately, no one was really as bad as Elaine.
The crew: Gautam, Swati, Ganesh, Rakhee, Parul, Amy, Matt.
Not pictured: Farid and Shivani.

Episode 2: Chillin at India Gate.

Met up with Gautam and Rakhee. Got some Pizza Hut and McDonald's french fries and hung out at India Gate. The world is flat. It was fun to hang here. It's kind of like Sugarhouse, Kiwanis, or your local outdoor hangout. Except there are a lot more cheap goods bought and sold.
Episode 3: Services, shopping, and sights.

The day started by attending church in Delhi. They were actually broadcasting General Conference this weekend, as it all happens overnight the weekend of. It was really neat to meet with the Saints of India. My favorite part was hearing them sing the hymns with accents. It was really really cool to hear. It was a beautiful glimpse into how the Church is growing outside of my comfy little paradigm in Provo. It also made me appreciate, again, how blessed I am to live in Utah, have gone to BYU, and have so many opportunities accessible.

That afternoon our driver took us around to see some sights pictures below. We then went shopping at Dilli Haat and Central Market. Lesson learned, never shop without a local! There is definitely a white persons price here. With my friends present we were able to get them down to about half of the original prices they quoted me. Shopping was fun though. It was cool to finally get the real tourist experience this weekend.

Some of the sights we saw were:
Qutub Minar
Humayun's Tomb

Sagar South Indian Restaurant.
Very tasty. Ganesh, guy in the middle, wanted to treat us to his home cookin.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Road trip.

When I told a friend I was going to the Taj Mahal this weekend she told me about the picture she had seen of her parents there. She said it looked like one of those posed shots where you pull down the backdrop of where you want people to think you are... Kind of like in Wayne's World when they use the blue screen to visit exotic locations. Like Delaware. Really glad I was at the Taj instead of Delaware, no offense.

Our morning started at 5am when we hopped in a little silver Corolla and hit the open road. Well, hardly open (pics later). It was a cool and rainy morning. I was praying that it would break by the time we got to Agra, locale of the Taj. About halfway there, circa 7:30am, the rain broke and we stopped at a little motel off the side of the road for breakfast. I had some French Toast that made me nervous. It looked a little too batter-dipped and fried for my taste. Regardless, it ended up being okay, but I'm still curious what the clear stuff they gave me for syrup was. It was sweet, so I chose not to ask any questions. The drive continues through an area that, due to the tourism, has pretty much moved all activity to the road-front. This was sad since it was very common to see crumbling living quarters, animals everywhere, men reliving themselves wherever they saw fit, and many a pants-less child wading through makeshift landfills. Tourism has become their livelihood. Which I don't know what it would have been otherwise if tourism weren't there. From there you see a lot of open farm fields and agriculture. A lot of which has been purchased and will be developed into corporate complexes, housing, and hotels. The drive takes your through Mathura which is the home of Lord Krisha, incarnate of Vishnu, considered to be Supreme God by some schools of Hinduism. As we traveled through that area and on our driver commented that in this state, Uttar Pradesh, the people are very happy. Hard to tell since women are rarely expressive and men seem somewhat stoic. I'll take his word for it. Along the highway there are also many colleges of various trades, from medicine to business and everything in between. Our driver, Vikas, told us that there is a huge investment on the governments part to grow the educational opportunities for India. It must be working since we also saw a lot of schools being built too. This country really is all about growth. The caste system is leveling and the infrastructure is growing.

We pulled into Agra at about quarter to ten and met up with our guide, Ali (kinda like the boxer, sans the floating and stinging). Before we got to him though you have to navigate the crowded and twisty streets of Agra. At one point there is a railroad crossing where you get an onslaught of window tappers. They put the beggars at the Tijuana border crossing to shame. They are persistent and direct. You really do have to ignore them because if they see your window crack they'll all come a-runnin. Back to Ali. He has been giving tours for 30 years and he really knew his stuff. You first park your car and take a little 3-wheeled people mover thing (pictured later, green/yellow) to a road block where you get out and walk. There are little stands on both sides trying to pedal cheap goods. More than anything they are trying to distract you so they can pick your pocket. I kept my hands in mine and kept walking. You then go through a makeshift security check with a metal detector and a quick frisk. Nothing in my back pockets...good thing he checked. After you get to know security, or rather they get to know you, you are on the same parcel of land designed for the Taj Mahal. We entered through the east gate and proceeded west. After about 100 yards you are in a courtyard with the south gate on your left, west gate straight ahead, and the north or Love gate to your right. Through the Love gate is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, aka the Taj Mahal.
Looking east at the east gate.

Love gate.

The early 17th century, time of the Muhgals in India, had a prince named Sahah Jahan, who loved his wife, Mumtaz, greatly. She died an early death during the birth of their 14th (I think) child. To honor her and to show his deep love for her he built her a tomb, the Taj Mahal. It is said to have taken 22 years all-in-all to complete at the employ of 22,000 laborers.

As you walk through Love gate the Taj comes into view, and it's absolutely magnificent! Surreal, breathtaking, and beautiful. Way better than any backdrop...
View after passing through Love gate.

You just kind of stand there for a minute and think, "Really!?" So you double take, and when you look back its still there, just as beautiful!

Ali took us around the grounds telling us about the gardens, the aqueducts, and other tidbits about the construction. They really thought of everything when they built this thing.

On either side of the Taj is a Mosque. The one on the east is not used since it doesn't face Mecca, but does offer a cool perspective of the Taj. When you look through this archway and back up slowly, its as if the Taj is growing and getting larger as it fills your view through the archway. I tried to capture it on video mode on my camera but it didn't work out. Sorry.
View from the non-mosque mosque.

After a tour around the exterior we went inside (cameras prohibited) to see the tombs and decoration. It is incredible that this was all done at the time that it was. The Price spared no expense and it shows. All of the decoration is hand carved stone inlay using precious/semi-precious stones from all over Asia.

I don't really need to say again how amazing this beautiful this building is. The pictures don't nearly do it justice. You'll just have to come and see for yourself.

Ali then took us to some places around Agra where we could get a closer look at its and the Taj's history. Translation, store owners he knows that probably give him a cut of what ever we buy.
Stop 1: The progeny of the real artisans to did all of the stone inlay by hand. Really just some people trying to pedal marble. It was impressive work.
Stop 2: A jeweler who has the same authentic precious and semi-precious stones used in the Taj Mahal. Really just some guy pedaling rocks. They were pretty though.
Stop 3: Real rugs being made by hand. The history, the process, and the finished product. Really a guy selling rugs. These guys almost got me. I managed to only leave with a business card.

A piece of advice for your visit: Either don't let your guide show you around Agra or just be ready to hear some great stories and politely decline the product. Otherwise, the magnificense of what you have just seen at the Taj will be overgrown by sales pitches from the perifery.

The drive back to Delhi was hot and long. But hey, we're in India after all. The whole road trip was fascinating to me. Everything was worth writing about, yet impossible capture in words or pictures. Ill list a few. So read each one then close your eyes and imagine it in your mind.

Monkey on a rope:
Outside our breakfast stop there was a man with a couple monkey dressed up like women, make-up and all, that he would cue to jump when people walked by. Poor monkeys...

Pass on the right:
Nope, its not just Utah drivers. Even when the flow of traffic is reversed people just don't get the fast lane. Speaking of the flow of traffic... Cows, being holy and all, get the right of way. Even on a major highway, against the flow of traffic. Seriously though...cows everywhere! Since they are holy they really do just roam the streets, neighborhoods, and anywhere else at their leisure.
Holy = right of way.

The Indian Straddle:
Previously mentioned as the driving style here, I found it very annoying on the open highway. Cars, buggy's, and semi's just chill on the line until someone comes by and honks or flashes their dipper to pass. Cultural note: Dipper = high beams or brights. The straddle is also very annoying in a traffic jam. By the time we rolled into Delhi it was rush hour. With no mind for lanes it makes maneuvering very difficult, and a little scary.

The Burqa biker:
You will see fully-saree'ed women with just an eye-slit in their burqa doin 50 on a motorcycle. It is a fascinating sight.

Just not the same:
No fast, friendly service. No fresh ingredients. And actually no beef in sight. Except what we just passed on the road (see above).

The infamous:
I've seen a lot of pictures of the musty Indian sunset. Here is last nights. You just missed it...that SUV was just straddling. They moved over to pass the little green/yellow thing (also just straddling).

Well, my friends, there you have it. My trip to the Taj was wonderful. It was eye opening in so many ways. I am really glad that I was able to get out of the hotel and office to go see what is really happening here.

Cue the blue Taj Mahal back drop...

To see all of the pictures from Matt's trip to India, visit:

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The usual.

12 days here at the Taj, and going strong! It's kinda fun now because most the staff recognize me. Mostly because I rarely to much to combat my bed head when I go down for breakfast. They are even trying to predict what I'm going to order. I've always wanted to be the guy who could say, "the usual" and have them just know what I want... The bad news is that my appetite is so random out here I have yet to find something that I always want. However, the pasta con pollo is making a strong case! Mainly because its the only thing that smells and tastes somewhat normal, and also doesn't sound sick at midnight when I get back from work. Indian office cafateria food? No thanks.

There is a lot of hospitality here. There is always someone in a turban ready to help... The tourists love that kind a stuff. They always want a tacky pic. These two always get my car door for me. I'm not quite sure what their qualifications are. Although they rock the salute, I doubt military experience is a prereq. My guess? They just happen to be tall Indians. Little more of a presence.

This is the view from 329. Always pleasant in the mornings to see the hazy blue skies and the even bluer water. The 3rd chair left of center is my favorite spot to lounge, read, and get a Norwegian tan. This tan is a pinker version of a normal tan, that is really the most anyone blessed with my bloodline can aspire to. But I'm working on it.

329 and all its spacious glory! Real comfy bed, nice view, more furniture than my room in Provo? Not too shabby, right?