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Published: February 15th 2018
Notice the cars in the background just driving around wherever they want. To be fair, this was a very light traffic time so you can't really get the full effect, and also - the lines on the road ARE pretty faded...
The past two days have been very busy. Tuesday, at my good friend (one of the grooms) Ishan's recommendation, I went to Akshardham
. I spent about five hours there, and still probably didn't see everything. The whole thing was quite an experience, from the security to get in (after attempting to check in my whole purse, but being told I only needed to turn in my phone and battery bank, then getting my purse rifled through and dumped out, and yelled at and groped by officers who reprimanded me for having mace on my hip and told to come back to get it later) to the amazing sandstone and marble carved structures including the most exquisite hand-crafted temple where shoes are not allowed and which houses the statues of the deities and sacred relics, to my exit of the 100 acre grounds and my frustrating attempts at organizing an Uber during rush hour.
Because phones and cameras are not allowed inside the grounds, I have no pictures to share, and I'm sure they wouldn't do the place justice anyway. But the whole day was very peaceful. Not only because I had nobody to talk to, but because it
Gandhi and his followers - Dandi March
Snapped this in a roundabout on my way to Akshardham.
really forced me to be in the moment, and truly observe my surroundings. I noticed that everyone around me was also engaged, and I realized as I was sitting on a bench after lunch while people-watching, that this was the first time in years that I was in a place where nobody had a cell phone and nobody was plugged in with their heads down texting or posting their whereabouts on social media.
After spending time in the temple and reading some plaques which began to explain the story of Bhagwan Swaminarayan
, I went to the first exhibit and was luckily pointed to the English line. I was pleased to see a family in line with me, even though the mom didn't appear to speak English herself (she was with her three sons), and found myself running into them throughout the day and confirming I was doing all the right things (does this event happen over there or is it in that direction) since the signage was lacking. There were three exhibits including the Hall of Values, which had creepily lifelike robot people, a boat ride similar to the It's a Small World ride at Disney's Magic Kingdom,
Car pics are the worst, but with a strict no-phones no-cameras policy, this is the best I could get.
and a 40 minute film, all which told the story of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in a slightly different way.
On my way out, before I'd picked up my stuff from security, a girl of about 12 ran up to me with a huge smile and says "Where are you from?" I told her I was from the U.S. and she asked my name, and I asked hers, and she properly held out her hand as she proudly announced her name and I told her it was nice to meet her as we shook. Then she scurried back to her family and I went on my way. Let's call this #celebritymoment number one.
After I picked up my belongings from security and was walking out, two women were laughing and carrying on behind me and one of them said quite loudly Photo Gora. Thanks to one of my Indian girl friends back home, I knew gora meant "white person," so I turned around and gave them a big smile with a pose. They froze, and the looks on their faces were hilarious. They just assumed I couldn't understand them, and were probably quite shocked when I
So many ladies on scooters sit sideways. I wonder what they'd do if they'd have to drive it themselves...
"caught" them. Anyway, I didn't give them long enough to take a picture (unless they took one of me walking away) and I just went back to the metro station to meet my Uber. The first one cancelled on me, the second one arrived but according to my (not so trustworthy thanks to my crappy signal) map, was on the wrong side of the freeway. Luckily my two BFFs keep tabs on me through WhatsApp and jumped right in to help and called my driver, but his phone was off, so I had to cancel him. As I was waiting to be picked up, an English-speaking auto driver approached me with the offer to charge the same price as Uber. I shooed him away as I'd been taught by my friends - there was no way in hell I was ever getting in one of those death-traps, and after several no's, waives of my hand and an announcement that I was meeting a friend (a lie), he left me alone. The third uber attempt was a charm, and I was picked up and whisked away to my hotel – a 24 mile journey which took a neck-stiffening hour and 45
This was my receipt for the 5 rupees I paid to use the public toilet at the metro station. I had no idea I was supposed to pay until the guy sitting outside (who I assumed was either doing some sort of petition or selling something but I didn't realize it was tickets for the toilet...) started yelling at me as I was walking away. I tried waiving him off like you do when someone approaches you to buy something, but he seemed different somehow, so I walked back to him to find out. This is totally a thing I experienced in Europe, but it was always clearly posted and also electronic and not managed by a human, so I was just completely ignorant about it this time.
The crazy driving is no joke. By the end of that ride, my neck was aching from all the stop and go. I was also straining because the car didn't have seatbelts. Which brings me to the topic that it appears that none of the cars here have seat belts in the back seat. What's up with that? Some actually have the belt, but nothing to click it into, others have the belt and the part to click into, but they don't actually stay clicked together, and others yet have no belt at all. I'm told this is normal, but coming from a family and culture of Everyone Wears A Seat Belt At All Times, it's an interesting adjustment.
While we're on the topic of cars, none of my uber drivers have been English speakers so far. I'm also told this is common, and fortunately, the hotel staff has been more than helpful with that when I leave in the mornings, and my BFFs and my new friend (Manoj's nephew for my colleagues reading this) have also been awesome about helping with my language barrier.
Other notes from Tuesday: You know that stereotype that claims Indians will cram way more people into/onto a vehicle than what should be allowed? Verdict: busted. While I did witness a family of 4 on a scooter with the mom sitting sideways, and a bus in the evening which looked plumb full (and I admit I did a double take to check to see if anyone was hanging on the outside), other than those two instances, I've not seen this. Speaking of women sitting sideways on scooters, apparently that's because of their clothes. I saw this very frequently, and It freaks me out thinking of riding like that, but I guess that's just how it is.
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