I am back from India and I had a wonderful three week vacation. It was truly an amazing vacation. In this update, I am going to talk a bit less about Kazakhstan and more about my recent trip to India.
Arriving in India:
I arrived in New Delhi, India on January 22 and arrived at the Imperial Hotel in the early morning (around 5AM). Let me say that the Imperial Hotel is incredible and it is a great choice for a stay in New Delhi. As you can imagine Delhi is full of hustle and bustle but I found it to be a nice place. It is filled with people, cars, tourists, and merchants. In general, India touches and ignites all of your senses - the smell of the spices and pollution, the noise in the streets, the fast moving and traffic ridden streets, and the constant bumping into your neighbor (on foot and by car). Our tour was filled with visits to many of the local attractions including several Mosques, Mughal palaces and architecture from different maharajas.
On day two we had a two hour train ride to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and several sites around the city. The Taj Mahal is amazing with intricate detail and workmanship. The maharaja was definitely a man in love to build a tomb that amazing. The Taj Mahal was well worth the trip however it was fairly cold (around 40 degrees).
Trivandrum, Poovar, Ayurvedic and the Backwaters:
After Delhi and Agra, we flew to the South of India and landed in Trivandum. Our resort was in a small village called Poovar. It is located about 1 hour outside of Trivandum on the backwaters. It is a 45 minute car ride from Trivandrum, then 15 minutes by boat on the backwaters. Our floating cottage was located on the backwaters and had the view of the beach/Indian Ocean (across the backwaters). This resort was only a few hundred miles from the recent Tsunami disaster.
Well, I guess I will first tell you about the ayurvedic experience. First of all, I really had no idea about the history of ayurvedic. I thought it was mostly a special form of Indian massage but really it is ancient Indian medicine. Ayurvedic was born in Kerala (the region where Poovar is located) and it takes 4 years to become an Ayurvedic Doctor. The doctor provides a daily consultation in order to determine your body type. Based on your body type, you are provided a specific diet and series of treatments. It is an amazing alternative to traditional Western Medicine. It works like Chinese Medicine.
A few final reflections on India
Ayurvedic - better than I expected. It is not about massage but finding a balance in your diet and life. If you are having serious health problems and Western medicine hasn't found the cure then this is definitely worth exploring.
Food - Indian food is excellent and I love the spices. However per my Ayurvedic doctor my dosha is Pitha (fire) and I should avoid large quantities of hot and spicey. It is not good to mix fire with fire.
Intensity - I think this is the best way to describe India. It is an intense place to visit. I would not recommend it as your first destination outside of the US.
Taj Mahal - from a distance not what I expected but up close more than I imagined. The detail and intricacy of the Taj Mahal is remarkable. It is a must see destination.
Yoga - I like Yoga but they practice the heavy spiritual yoga which isn't my speed. I bought the Yoga DVD and I think I will fast forward through the prayer to Vyshnu.
Hinduism, Jainism, Seeks, Christianity and Islam - I was amazed by the diversity of religion in India. In some parts of Kerala nearly half of the population is Christian. In India, religion plays a major role in molding the culture which is in sharp contract to Kazakhstan where religion plays a minor role. I actually read a book on the Introduction to Hinduism. I found the book interesting and it helped me better understand what I was experiencing in India.
Wood Shop - A real highlight of the trip was a visit to a small wood shop near
Trivandum. Virginia and I befriended a waiter at Poovar and he took us to his cousins' wood shop to see some of the wood carving. I left with a carving of Ganesha (the god that removes obstacles) and Virgina left with Krishna. It was fascinating watching the workers make the pieces.
Backwaters Cruise - We took a sunset cruise on the backwaters and enjoyed every minute of it. The backwaters are amazing. Many people rent houseboats and journey from Cochin to Trivandum via houseboat. The houseboat comes fully equipped with staff and all of your modern conveniences. Everyone that did it said it was amazing.
Next Visit to India
I want to visit -
Ganges, Benares and other holy cities
Where to next?
Well as much as I liked India, I don't think I will make it my next travel destination. I am considering a cruise down the Nile to experience another wonder of world. We shall see. First however or in combination, I plan to return to the US to visit my friends and family.
The Polar Plunge on January 19 in KZ:
On January 19, I experienced the Russian Orthodox Polar Plunge - a famous holiday in Uralsk. Together with three locals and 4 volunteers we made the journey to the Chagan River where people had gathered to "cleanse their sins". A hole was cut in the ice and ladders placed on each side of the hole. Each person put on their bathing suits, walked to the hole and submerged themselves in the water. It is mandatory to plunge your entire body (head included) under the water three times, then rise from the water to quickly enjoy a salty pickle. I watched kids, grandmothers and people from every age group participate in the festivity. After dunking my body the first time, my skin felt like it had hundreds of pins sticking in it. It was fantastic! I jumped out of water and headed for my towel. It only took a few minutes for my hair to begin to freeze but oddly after 30 seconds out of the water, I wasn't really cold. It was a great experience.
I remember when I was kid, my mom ask me to go to confession to cleanse my sins and I resisted every step of the way. If I had only known that I could dunk my head in ice cold water, eat a pickle and still cleanse my sins then I would have confessed on a regular basis.
I invite everyone to Uralsk, KZ January 19, 2006 for the great, fabulous, sin cleaning polar plunge. By far, it was the most fun I ever had purging my sins.
On March 1, I will celebrate my one year anniversary in Kazakhstan. Wow, I have almost been here for one year. I have learned many things and so far I have had an amazing experience. I hope you enjoyed my India and Polar Plunge update and I will write again soon.