Lessons Learned in Jaipur, India

Lesson 1: Time and money are always inverse. In other words, to save money, it costs you time and to save time, it costs you money. It took me five flights and almost two days to get from home to Jaipur but it was my cheapest option at $400. I could have spent more and probably flown directly from New York to New Delhi but it would have at least doubled the cost. And this applies to pretty much everything in this world, not just travel. 

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Lesson 2: Teaching is hard. I already respected teachers and still think they are highly undervalued in the West. But this experience showed me first hand how hard it is to teach, especially with additional cultural and language barriers. I felt like I was finally getting into my own personal, educational groove of course when my teaching time was up. I'm definitely going to be better prepared the next time I attempt to teach.

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Lesson 3: India is not as scary as many In the West think it is. Not only did I stay with a wonderful, welcoming Indian family, but all the children and staff at the school were amazing as well. Kat, a new friend from Australia, and I even walked from the house to and around the city unaccompanied. And we felt safe and confident the entire time. In fact, I even felt like a celebrity because lots of people wanted to take pictures with me. It's a shame we only ever hear about appalling crimes like rape and theft on the news. For every one of those, I bet there are a thousand more stories of sharing and kindness.

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Lesson 4: Staying at a home beats staying in hotels any day. I had the most genuinely enjoyable experience staying with a lovely family in rural Jaipur. Their house was modest with only two bedrooms yet they gave up one for me - later to be shared with fellow volunteer Kat - and they all four slept in one big bed in the larger bedroom. I had to use a squat toilet and take cold showers and the power went out a few times but I also got to eat incredible homemade Indian meals and wear a sparkly, pink saree. We celebrated two birthdays and I did yoga on the roof while the sun rose and we shared countless stories and laughs. I'm also pretty sure I drank my weight in Chai.

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Lesson 5: Pink city is so pretty. I got a personal, private tour of Jaipur and its famous pink architecture. India is full of vibrant colors and culture and this place was nonstop rainbow madness. In a good way. But I still don't think I could ever drive on these chaotic streets.

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Lesson 6: How to talk trash. I've travelled to many Asian countries where rubbish is just a constant part of the landscape. At first it made me angry thinking how people can be so apathetic and just toss their trash on the ground and into waterways without a care. But then Kat helped change my perspective. We Westerners consume just as much if not more garbage than they do in places like India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. We just have the luxury of waste management that comes around to whisk away our rubbish to designated, well-hidden areas. Out of sight, out of mind, right? These countries have neither the education not the infrastructure to discreetly dispose of garbage even if it was stored properly in bins. I'm not justifying it, just realizing how it happens. But we need to treat the disease, not just treat the symptoms. In other words, more effort should go into reducing the amount of trash - especially plastic - that is consumed in the first place; instead of just improving waste management.

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Kerala, India

Our last day off was spent in the neighboring district of Kerala, India. We left the ashram at 5 AM and got to see the sun rise on the road. We drove through the famous Kerala forest where it's rumored you can see elephants and leopards but we only saw deer and birds. The greenery surrounding us for several miles on each side was lush and lovely. 

We arrived at Lincy's beautiful home for a special breakfast that included her famous curried eggs. (She helped prepare the Onam meal for us at the Ashram the previous week.) After some food and some hospitality, we headed off to the Banasura Sagar Dam. Surrounded by the water and the mountains, we practiced some yoga poses and discovered a family swing park in the nearby woods. We could fit two at a time on the swings and at one point a guy plopped his kid on my and Amanda's laps for photos. It was so cute/awkward because the kid clearly was not as excited about this encounter as his dad. 

Then we had perfect timing when arriving at a tea plantation as the ladies who pick the tea were coming in to process their bags full of leaves. They were so friendly and most of them balanced the loads on their heads. Its a great reminder of how much work in a land far, far away goes into your morning cup of tea. 

After that we stopped at stupid lake, which paled in comparison to the dam, and I was starting to get 'hangry' so our next mission was lunch. We stopped at a local restaurant and had a bit spicier food than we were used to at the ashram. All six of us were stuffed for about $20 USD. Then I indulged in Cardamom flavored ice cream that came served in a little clay pot. 

The day lingered on as we visited a dilapidated old Jain temple and did a bit of shopping before finally returning to the ashram around 7 PM. So went our 14-hour day off. 

Mysore, India & Namdroling Monastery/Golden Temple

I spent two Mondays off in Mysore city and they were both fantastic. Compared to what I've seen on TV and other peoples' own tales of India Travel, it seems like Diet India - cleaner, less crowded and slightly less chaotic, than your typical tourist city like Mumbai or Delhi. 

I enjoyed some relaxing massages at a spa called Windflower and visited some local sites like the temples, the cow and the palace. We also had an interesting experience traipsing through a traditional Indian market, complete with seller-stalkers that followed us all the way to our cab, trying to sell us trinkets. 

Mysore is a famous spot for all the Ashtanga yogis, so there were tons of cute yoga-themed shops and other ahsrams/teacher training facilities. We stocked up on snacks, essential oils and supplements at Dhatu, a mini, Mysore version of Whole Foods Market. 

I could go on, but I think the pictures can say more than I can type. 

During our second trip, we drove to the Namdroling [Tibetan Buddhist] Monastery aka the Golden Temple in Bylakuppe. The sights and sounds here were incredible - one of the most inspiring places I've ever been. We arrived during one of their prayer times, so we heard the chanting of hundreds of monks ranging from like 8 - 80 years old. The deep voices were accompanies by deep gongs and the sound traveled through your ears and straight to your soul. It was almost mesmerizing. Not to mention the temples were ornately decorated with ginormous, golden Buddha statues, a rainbow of colors & murals and intricate carvings. I am officially adding Tibet to my travel list! 

Bentota and/or Aluthgama, Sri Lanka

Since we only work in the morning on Fridays, three other girls and I decided to spend the afternoon in another town called Bentota. We piled into a tuk tuk and headed north. We weren’t 100% sure where the town was or what it looked like but our driver dropped us off on the side of the road between the beach and some buildings a few kilometers after we passed a sign that said Bentota on it. Some locals directed us west toward the ‘city center’ so we walked in that direction, and soon realized we were being followed. An older gentleman in a sarong, button down shirt and flip-flops offered to take us to the temple, which he said was just down the road. 

We were very cautious and hesitant. I thought about it as we walked and decided he was either going to murder us in the woods, or actually take us to the temple and ask for a tip afterwards. We gambled on the latter, and after walking about 30 minutes through the jungle, we did, indeed arrive at a temple, which may or may not be the Galapatha Raja Maha Vihare Buddhist temple. (I couldn’t find anything identifying it in English at the site so I Googled it later.) I could tell the structure was very old but the interior was immaculately maintained and boasted beautiful tile, several colorful murals from floor to ceiling and a ginormous Sleeping Buddha statue with intricately patterned & painted feet. Of course at the end of our tour, we were asked to leave a donation for the temple so we each put 100 rupees through the slot in the wooden box that is intended for that purpose. 

Jungle Temple Entrance

Jungle Temple Entrance

Inside the Temple

Inside the Temple

After that, our guide (who never actually shared his name) led us to the lagoon, where we boarded a traditional flat canoe-type boat which he and one other man rowed for us with long, thin, wooden paddles. We asked the cost up front and he quoted us $1,000 rupees each (about $7.50 USD) which seemed a little steep, but we were kind of a captive audience because we didn’t know how else to get to the city. It ended up being a pretty nice ride that lasted close to an hour. We paddled around mangroves and along the shore of the lagoon, where I noticed the nicest houses I’ve seen yet in Sri Lanka. Our guide told us that many Europeans live here, so that explains the more lavish residences. We saw some snakes and some monitor lizards along the way before being dropped off at a vacant marketplace, which comes alive on Mondays only. 

Simple boats

Simple boats

We paid for the lagoon cruise and walked into what we assumed to be the city center since the street was lined with shops and the streets were full of people and various vehicles. This is where we and our guide parted ways, after he asked for a tip as I had expected. We gave him close to $1,000 rupees total, confident that he also got a cut of fee for the ‘cruise’ for which he had recruited us. He thanked us and claimed to have three children, for which he was going buy for for with said compensation. Who knows if this was true or not, but even though we got a bit taken advantage of as somewhat naive tourists, I think both parties benefitted from the "impromptour." We got see some sights that we had no idea were there and he made some money. Plus, it was super sustainable since we walked the whole time and the boat was people-powered. 

Row, row, row your boat

Row, row, row your boat

We were the only tourists around so everyone was hollering at us to come into their shops. We browsed a few before starting a new mission to find food. Another, younger local that looked to be around our age approached us and promised to take us to the best restaurant in town. We figured ‘what the heck’ and made sure to check the menu before deciding to actually eat at the restaurant, which had a pretty nice view overlooking the river. One girl has seafood and the rest of us reveled in the simple yet satisfying familiarity of our sandwiches and fries. 

The closest thing to a sunset I've been able to capture because clouds!!! 

The closest thing to a sunset I've been able to capture because clouds!!! 

We decided to save some money and take a train back to the beach house but had some trouble finding the station. It was getting dark and we gave up on hoofing it finally just found a tuk tuk to take us to the station for about 100 rupee. Turns out, we had missed our turn and walked too far. The train ticket was only $50 rupees each and I am very impressed with their thick, letterpress-style tickets! We were a bit confused, though, because we were at the Aluthgama station, when we were supposed to be in Bentota. When the train finally arrived about half an hour later, the first station we passed was Bentota, so we hypothesized that our driver had intentionally driven us too far in order to benefit his buddy that took us on our tour - but we can’t confirm this theory. 

Letterpress-ish train ticket 

Letterpress-ish train ticket 

We got back to the house in time for dinner then went out for ice cream downtown before calling it a night. 

Cairns: Day 1

After sorting out my room for the next week and a half, I talked with Front Desk Dave about recommendations for my to be determined Australian Adventure. He spent at least 30 minutes answering all my questions and giving me great advice. 

After that I paid my $2 for unlimited toast and made two toasted PB&J sandwiches. I started talking with a kid from Germany who has been living and working in Australia for four months. He worked in Sydney as a furniture mover for two months to fund two more months of travel. Everywhere I travel I meet at least one German. Germans here, Germans there, Germans are freaking everywhere.

Anyways, the German (never got his name) convinced me to give the infamous vegemite a try. Apparently Hugh Jackman was on Jimmy Fallon's show and taught him how to properly eat Vegemite which is a thin layer spread on top of already buttered toast. Which is how I tried it. Still can't say I'm a fan though. And I don't know how they get away with the Vege prefix: it's basically just concentrated yeast extract and salt - there are no vegetables to be found in the ingredients. 

I extended my single room for two more nights through Sunday and then switched over to a four share room for the rest of next week. Then I went back to my room with full intentions to start sorting through all the marketing materials I had discussed with Front Desk Dave, and promptly fell asleep. I slept for the better part of 3 hours until noon when I was abruptly awoken by a knock on my door. I shot up out of bed and the door opened and closed in a flash - I’m guessing it was a custodian coming around to empty the trash because my bin is right next to the door. 

It was dark and rainy for most of the day - the perfect time to spend planning what to do for the next few weeks and make the most of the 24 hours of internet that I bought for $6 AUD. At first, I get really excited and want to do everything and go everywhere and completely blow my budget. Front Desk Dave got me all excited about a trip to the Whitsunday Islands but that would entail a long overnight bus ride each way and at least one night in a hostel in addition to the 3 day/2 night Eco Sailing Safari that I was lusting over because OMG I’d get to live on a boat in the Great Barrier Reef for a few days! Not to mention it would put me $600 over budget and it’s not very eco-friendly to travel so far from my home base. Nope. If I wanted to do the Whitsunday Islands, I should have stayed in the Airie Beach area. 

So I crunched some numbers and picked a variety of activities including a local pub crawl, white water rafting, a hot air balloon tour, a day trip to the waterfalls and rainforest in the Tablelands/Yungbarra and a weekend trip to Cape Tribulation. Then I’ll come back to Cairns and stay at another hostel because there are about a bazillion in the area and then book a reef sailing/snorkeling day trip next week. 

It’s so great starting out with my own room and being able to spread out and not worry about anything being stolen. But honestly I’d imagine most backpackers are like myself and are lugging a bunch of their own crap and don’t have the room or desire to take on any more. 

Hearing the rain beating down on the roof makes it really hard to motivate myself to get dressed and go out to find food for dinner but I’m really hungry as I’ve locked myself in my single room all day and only had a granola bar since breakfast. I assembled a quick-dry outfit including my vibrams and my raincoat. The sun was down before 6 PM so it was already dark by the time I made it outside. I ended up with a falafel kebab wrap and a Ginger Beer at a nearby walk-up joint, but they did have a few plastic tables and chairs outside. By the time I finished eating, the rain had stopped so I headed back to the hostel. I used the last bit of my energy to do a quick yoga practice then showered in the communal bathroom before bed. (Feels like being in college again.)