Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Last House Guest Part III: The "I am so ready to go home" Edition

Yes, the time has come. The Last House Guest, who had been in India for about a month now, flew home early last Tuesday morning. While here, he visited Shimla, Amritsar, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Agra, Varanasi, and, of course, Delhi. He even took a few days to fly down to Bangkok.  It was quite the whirlwind for him. He took all sorts of modes of transportation on his journey--taxi, rickshaw, metro, and bus. Very adventurous of him. Mr. ATK and I had never taken the metro until now and we've never taken a bus (and we have no intention of doing so before we leave). He walked around a lot more than we generally do (because walking around these streets is incredibly stressful with the honking and cars and the bikes and the motorcycles and the cows and get the picture.) However, he did so seemingly by choice. Or perhaps because he didn't want to pay for a taxi.

I think, though, in the end, one month in India was too much time in India for him. Why do I say this? The first clue was when I went to pick him up from the airport after he got back from his last intra-India trip to Varanasi, the first words out of his mouth were, "I am so ready to go home."

So after getting back from the airport and quizzing him about his Varanasi trip, I decided to dedicate this blog to The Last House Guest's thoughts on India, based on his experiences. I've even thrown in some direct quotes because I am an awesome interviewer. And because I can't resist adding my own opinions to everything, I have done that as well.  So without further ado....

Favorite city: Dehli.
Why? Overall he felt the number of sites was good and it had access to Cocoberry (a fro-yo chain nearby our house the he really enjoyed).
ATK's take: Personally, I'm a little surprised he didn't mention the metro here. He loved the metro.

Favorite excursion: Shimla
Why? It had the nicest weather and cleanest air. However, he had to take off his glasses at the monkey temple, because the monkeys would steal them, which was disappointing. "I was walking around squinting like Velma from Scooby Doo... I'd see something and think, Is that a monkey or a rock?"
ATK's take: Not surprised. The Last House Guest is like a human heater and is always hot. He was here for some of the nicest weather we have in Delhi, and was constantly hot. He kept his room in our house at a frigid 16 degrees.*  I needed to put on a winter coat just to go in there. It's like he's Mr. Snow Miser.  (And I suppose that makes India--except for the Himalaya parts--Mr. Heat Miser.)

Least favorite city: Jaipur.
Why? "[Jaipur] had good attractions, but the city itself... [makes yucky face].  It had the worst traffic, the worst pollution--both smoke/exhaust and littering. The quality of the roads was poor. There were long stretches of rocks and sand."
ATK's take: I guess I was only in Jaipur for a day, but I was surprised that he felt it was the dirtiest city. I think Amritsar is by far the filthiest city I've been to in India. I am always struck by the raw sewage puddles in Amritsar. Those things are foul.  He thought Amristar was relatively clean. Interesting.

Best attraction: Amer Fort (Jaipur)
Why? "You could die somewhere in that fort and probably not be found for a couple days...(pause) If that's what your going for." Apparently, it far exceeded his expectations.
ATK's take: Amer Fort is pretty awesome. My favorite part was riding the elephant to the fort, something The Last House Guest didn't get a chance to do. Still, even without the elephant, it's just massive and totally open. You can explore every nook and cranny. That thing about dying inside and not being found for days? That's not hyperbole.  There's always a sweeperwallah around who will show you some hidden rooms and hard to find places for a couple rupees tip, too. 

Most Overrated Attraction: Taj Mahal (Agra)
(Mr. ATK interjected here: "Well, does any other attraction in India even qualify as 'rated'?)
Why? No direct quotes for this one. It just didn't live up to the hype. Sounds like the night time trip to see the Taj during the full moon was a big pain in the ass and kind of a bust, so that may have affected his perception.
ATK's take: I could see this. It's interesting because when the Sarahs came the first thing we did was go to the Taj and then it seemed like they were underwhelmed by pretty much everything else. I'd ask them what they thought of different attractions and they'd be like, "Eh. It's not the Taj." What does this tell me? Sequencing is important!** 

Worst Attraction: "Red Fort, without a doubt" (New Delhi)
Why? "If you plan on skipping a fort, skip that one. If you are only going to see one, see it to see what it's all about. It's nothing compared to the fort in Jaipur or Jodhpur.  Or Agra. Agra Fort is really good, too."
ATK's take: Yeah. I don't get the appeal. I've seen it three times now. It's ok. It's clearly not kept up very well, restoration-wise, which makes the hype a little odd honestly.  Or maybe it's that it looks really cool from the outside, but once you get in, it's just...meh. Dilapidated. I haven't seen the Jodhpur Fort, but Agra and Amer forts are indeed better. 

Most interesting cultural experience: Pushkar camel fair ("though that Ganges ceremony in Varanasi...")
Why? I didn't really ask him to explain this one. If he had picked anything else I would have been like, "Seriously?"
ATK's take: Obviously, I agree with this one. It's a camel fair for pete's sake! I will say, he seemed rather non-plussed by the Wagah Border flag lowering ceremony on the India-Pakistani border. I think that whole show is crazy. I'm a bit surprised it didn't even get a mention.

Least interesting cultural experience: "I would have to say, overall the food."
Why? "Because I don't like the food.  The food texture, the food flavor. It's hard to distinguish what the food was made of. Like, is this a grain product? A potato product? I don't know! And very disappointing sweets."
ATK's take: I don't care for Indian desserts either. Except for jalebi. I really like jalebi.

Favorite food (if forced to choose): Vegetarian Snickers
Runners up? Lassi, the hot fudge sundae at McDonalds in Agra, Cocoberry fro yo.
Why? Well this sort of follows from the above. Notice there is nothing with Indian spices. In fact, except for lassi, there is no Indian food listed at all.  Well, the veg Snickers might be Indian. Something tells me it was made especially for the Indian market.  He thought the vegetarian Snickers was better than a non-veg Snickers. (For those who don't know, Snickers contains egg.)
ATK's take: I had no idea there was a vegetarian Snickers until the Last House Guest and I came across them in the Hudson News shop in a metro station. (I was equally surprised to find a Hudson News in some place that was not an airport.) But I'm not surprised by his list. The Last House Guest has quite the sweet tooth.  He spent a lot of time at our house working on a massive candy order from Germany he organizes yearly for family and co-workers.  He lived off those Snickers while he was here.  

Favorite non-dessert item: Butter chicken.
Why? "It was the most pleasing of the Indian food I had." Karim's dry rub meat (tandoori chicken, mutton) got high marks, too.
ATK's take: Butter chicken is delicious. I had to go through a lot of questions to get him to name a non-dessert Indian food, so keep that in perspective.

Most relaxing excursion: Ganges boat ride in Varanasi.
Why? "Just sitting on a boat watching the people. It was nice and cool." He said it was especially relaxing compared to trying to walk around the old city in Varanasi. He also thanked god for all the painted directions.
ATK's take: The Ganges boat ride is pretty peaceful. 

Other Last House Guest thoughts on India?
  • He really liked all the train rides. He regrets not stealing the flatware. He said the train stations themselves were a completely different experience.
  • Signage is poor both at tourist and non tourist sites.
  • Lack of "God bless yous." ("No one says bless you after I sneezed. Do Indians not have an equivalent to bless you? Is that not something they do?")
My thoughts on his thoughts?
Well, I'm not a huge "God bless you" person, so that was not something that really stood out to me. I mean, I say it when I'm near a friend or acquaintance, but I don't think I say it to strangers. I certainly won't shout it across a room or anything. But after he pointed that out, I noticed that, indeed, no one does say "bless you" or any equivalent. (I sneezed at work one day and was met by deafening silence.) And I've never been tempted to steal the flatware on the train, though I suppose it would be a unique and utilitarian souvenir. As for the signage... not sure if I'd say poor. It's definitely different and can be difficult to understand. Indian people seem to do okay with it, so maybe it's a cultural thing. Or maybe it's poor. I don't know.

But overall, you know, India is a chaotic place and I can see how that initial enthusiasm might diminish over the course of a month. None of our other guests have stayed that long.  One thing he said that I thought was very adroit was that India has so many excellent sites to see and visit, but sometimes it doesn't seem like they are worth all the hassle you have to go through to get to them.  Which, I admit I've felt that way a few times during our journeys around the country.  In fact our recent trip to the beautiful backwaters of Kerala reinforced that feeling.***

It's too bad he didn't get the opportunity to experience any of the non-city sites in India.  During our little interview, The Last House Guest turned the question around on me and was like, "What's your favorite city that you've been too?" And I believe my response was Siem Reap (Cambodia), followed by Sydney (Australia), Singapore, and Bangkok (Thailand). The Indian cities I've liked the most have been the smallest, least crowded. For me, a little bit of crowds and traffic goes a long way. My favorite parts of India have been to the rhino safari in Kaziranga, whitewater rafting on the Ganges near Rishikesh, the beaches in Goa, and our recent trip to the backwaters in Kerala. The cities are too exhausting. It's sensory overload sometimes.

Anyways, I hope when he looks back on his trip the good outweighs the bad. He certainly has plenty of stories to share as well as a brief and glorious love affair with vegetarian Snickers that I hope he remembers fondly.

*Celsius, people. 16 degrees Celsius!
*** Post on the Kerala trip is forthcoming.

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