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After our visit to Agra, we set out on a five-hour journey to Jaipur to see the second of three cities in the Golden Triangle. I was very excited to go to Agra ever since I read a book about it a few years ago.

[The book is called “Dreaming in Hindi” and it is about a lady, Katherine Russell Rich, who moves to Jaipur to do a Hindi language immersion program.]

The book described many of the architectural details of the city which I was very curious to see in person. Most notably, I wanted to see the Palace of Wind because of the intricately carved lattice windows overlooking the bazaar in the center of town. The purpose of the windows was to allow the ladies of the house to see outside and watch what was going on without anyone seeing them. I was pretty intrigued by this idea. Luckily, we arrived in Jaipur right before sunset and had just enough time to see the Palace of Wind and City Palace. The light was particularly good for photographing the Palace of Wind!

Bright and early the next morning we set out to see two other noteworthy Jaipur sites, Lake Palace and the Amber Fort. Lake Palace was my favorite in Jaipur because it looked so serene in the early morning light. It is kind of rare to have a quiet, peaceful moment in public, at a tourist site no less, in India.

Our next stop was the Amber Fort, which, in stark contrast to Lake Palace, was bustling with people even before it opened in the morning. The hawkers were out in full force selling everything from hats, to parasols, to wooden figurines. Somehow, despite my protests, I ended up with a glittery white parasol. Chris said that I needed it to ride an elephant up to the fort. I’m not sure if I needed it or not, but it was kind of fun goofing around with it as we rode to the top of the hill.

Our visit to the Amber Fort was going swimmingly well, until suddenly the camera battery died. Notice a theme? At this point, we did have a charger and had even charged the spare battery, but it was in the camera case…in the car. On the bright side, I felt like we had a chance to really take in the fort rather than be distracted by photographing it.

In fact, we even had an interesting discussion about it as we roamed around. After visiting many forts, palaces, castles, churches, temples, and whatnot around the world it is interesting to compare the architecture from different places during the same era. Take the Amber Fort (1592), the Blue Mosque (Istanbul – 1609), Versailles (1624), and Himeji Castle (Japan, latest reconstruction – 1609). Completely different levels of sophistication. [Not trying to take anything away from the Amber Fort, just an observation.]

After we got our fill of the fort, we hoofed it back down the hill, got in the car, and made a beeline for Delhi, the last stop on our Golden Triangle whirlwind tour.

The Taj Mahal is one of those places that I have been aware of for as long as I can remember and I have always dreamed of visiting. When Chris started traveling to India frequently for work, I had a secret fear that he would visit the Taj Mahal without me and that it would suddenly be demoted to the bottom of our joint list of vacation plans. Lucky for me, Chris never made it there without me and we finally set things in motion to go.

We set out from Delhi before dawn on a trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. The driver told us that it would take about five hours for us to get there, but in reality we made it to Agra in just over three hours.

After buying tickets and transferring the last kilometer to the Taj by bicycle rickshaw, we passed through a short line at the security check and were on our way to see one of the Wonders of the World. Amazingly, it was fairly uncrowded considering where we were. We were able to make it through the entire complex in about ninety minutes.

Our first mission was to make an attempt at getting that classic photograph with the Taj in the background. Chris quickly spotted a British couple who had a camera similar to ours. “I’ll take your picture if you take ours.”

Done. Excellent choice. As soon as I saw the man focusing the camera on us before shifting it to capture the whole scene, I felt like we might get at least one decent shot. Hopefully that couple is as happy with Chris’ photography.

Next, we headed to the shoe drop, which in retrospect I am kind of bummed about. I hate walking places barefoot. In and around my own home, sure. Public places barefoot creep me out though. Almost immediately after giving up my shoes I noticed that all of the smart tourists were wearing clean room booties over their shoes. How did I miss that memo?

Finally we were close enough to the Taj Mahal to really see the detail. Almost every surface was embellished with some kind of flourish whether it was intricate stone inlays, delicate carvings, or cut patterns reminiscent of Waterford crystal. I am always awestruck when I see such old and massive structures built with this degree of attention to detail, especially considering the tools that were available at the time.

Just as I had always imagined it, the Taj Mahal looked almost like a giant size version of a beautifully made jewelry box. I am so thankful that I finally had the opportunity to see it as it has been on my life ‘to-do’ list for a long time.

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I did not really consider covering this topic until I read this headline over someone’s shoulder in the airport last night. Funny how some things translate so much differently depending on where you are. Fortunately the man with the newspaper was gracious enough to let Chris photograph it, but I am quite sure that he had no idea why we would want a picture of it.

I probably should have been combing newspaper headlines since we arrived here because there is no doubt that this was not the only gem. Too late. My bad.

So, if you didn’t gather this from the headline, India hosted its first Formula One race yesterday in the capital city of New Delhi. For non-racing fans, I’m not sure if this was big news everywhere, but it sure was big news in India, getting plenty of media coverage both in the major newspapers and on television.

Lucky for us, as we played tourist in New Delhi yesterday afternoon, the big event did not seem to have much of an impact on either road traffic or air travel. Good thing, because we were on a mission to cram as much sightseeing as possible into our weekend by squeezing most major sites in the “Golden Triangle” into our busy weekend schedule. It was grueling, but probably for the best. We decided to use our last few days of vacation for the year outside of India, but we did not want to leave India for good (or, as Chris pointed out, more likely for now) in December without seeing some of the major sites.

Chris and I caught the last few laps of the race on TV last night as we were getting ready to head back to Chennai and I couldn’t help but think about what a big deal it was. While I don’t feel like it is all that popular in the US, F1 Racing is fairly popular on a global scale and bringing a big race to India plays a large part in creating positive buzz from the press and perhaps bringing in additional tourist dollars. Within India, I noticed a fair amount of negative coverage about the event, mostly citing concerns about the amount of money that was spent to hold one event for one sport, but I think those complaints are short-sighted. Just as the Rugby World Cup brought a lot of attention to New Zealand, this F1 race should produce a net positive impact for India.

Did anyone watch the race? It would have been super early morning US time, so probably not unless you are a die-hard F1 fan. I surely would have sat that one out.

More on our Golden Triangle Trip coming soon!

Yesterday marked the beginning of Diwali, the festival of lights!

It is one of the most important Hindu festivals and reminds me of Christmas in many ways. One of the original Diwali traditions was to light many tiny oil lamps, which is where the word Diwali comes from. Today, we can certainly see many oil lamps, but, more frequently, we have been seeing many strands of tiny lights, which I would tend to refer to as Christmas lights.

The light display that I am standing by below happens to be oil lamps, but I think that you can still imagine how they would conjure images of Christmas for me. In addition to displays like this one, there are lights strung all over many homes, buildings, streets, and almost anywhere one can imagine.

This light phenomenon extends to fireworks as well, which are certainly not in short supply. As early as Tuesday night, Diwali celebrations were well underway and it was almost impossible for me to conduct phone calls from my apartment because of the volume and frequency of the explosions.

When Chris arrived home, late Tuesday night, I should not have been surprised that he was armed with fireworks of his own. I think he had  pretty good time buying them because in addition to being  significantly less expensive than at home, the selection was far superior. India seems to be a big proponent of Darwinism. Fireworks are no exception to that policy.

I didn’t get to see Chris’ pyrotechnic display, he set them off with Sentil, our driver, but his recap of the event made it sound quite spectacular. Something to the effect of “Brit, you know when you go to a fireworks show? Like big fireworks? Yeah, that’s what I bought.”

Fortunately, Sentil is always looking out for Chris and, other than a minor burn, Chris returned unharmed.

Another parallel that my mind draws between Christmas and Diwali is that it seems to be a big shopping season. All of the stores have Diwali sales and specials and, right in line with Christmas, there is a tradition of exchanging sweets and gifts for Diwali. Chris brought me a box of sweets, but I didn’t end up eating any. We both agreed that I would be happier to share them with our driver and the building security guard.

My other Diwali gift was a beautiful sari. You can see it folded up in its box in the lower left corner of the picture above. It is two toned, so from one angle you see the color shown and from the other angle it is a light green. Pretty cool stuff. I haven’t had a chance to try it on, or, let’s be realistic, figure out how to put it on, but I will be sure to post some pictures when I do. I will need to get the shirt that goes underneath it tailored first, which may or may not be possible given that I am pregnant right now.

I didn’t go shopping for Diwali, as I did not realize that we were celebrating, so Chris took the liberty to select his own Diwali gift, a traditional Indian mens’s outfit consisting of a dhoti and a Mandarin collared shirt. It makes perfect sense that Chris would like a dhoti, because it has a very similar wrap around style to his ie lavalavas. I will also be sure to post pictures of Chris in his new clothes when he gets around to trying them on.

I am so thankful that we have had the chance to witness so many Hindu holidays because while I can draw some parallels between Diwali and Christmas, many of the traditions are so far different from anything I have ever experienced, like Ganesh Chaturthi for example, that there is no way that I could ever understand without actually seeing them.

Last night when Chris finally left work around 8:30 PM, I expected that he would be home within an hour or so. I headed to bed by 9:00 because I live a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and stay up super late like that. When I woke up at 10:00 and still hadn’t seen Chris, I began to worry. Where was he anyway?

It turns out that it was raining, a fact which I was blissfully oblivious to, and that rain slows down his commute considerably. This morning I woke up to find out that it took him over 2.5 hours to drive each way due to semi-flooded roads. Keep in mind that his commute is only 15 kilometers, about 9.3 miles.

Absolutely crazy. I could run there significantly faster than that.

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Unfortunately, I don’t think things are going to get much better for Chris in the foreseeable future. According to his co-workers, “The monsoon has settled over Chennai.” I’m not quite sure what to make of that statement, but it doesn’t sound like a particularly good thing for Chris and his commute. Lucky for me, I only have about 16 days that I will actually be in Chennai before heading back to the US in December. Chris, unfortunately, has many more than 16 days of work remaining here in Chennai.

In other exciting weather news, you might notice that the daily high temperature has become much more reasonable. Don’t let it fool you, the humidity is a staggering 94% creating a heat index of between 100 and 120 degrees!

I still can’t believe that I brought three different pairs of running shoes here thinking that I might find a nice park to run outside in. Haha. Not this heat/humidity wimp. In more exciting running news, we are headed to Kathmandu in the morning where I am expecting far more reasonable temperatures and am contemplating getting in a run or two. Um, assuming that the altitude doesn’t make me wimp out.

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Off to charge my Garmin!

This morning I was all set to write a post about our trip to Singapore over the weekend. I had a blast. I loved Singapore and it is a place that I would be thrilled to visit again. Unfortunately, I have another topic that is at the front of my mind, so Singapore will have to wait.

I think that our cleaning dude has been coming into our apartment uninvited. I considered not writing this post because I don’t want anyone to worry about me **seriously don’t worry about me**, but it is one of those topics that just makes my blood boil and I need to talk about it if nothing else, just for the therapeutic value of doing so.

When we first moved in here and filled out our rental paperwork, I was sure to indicate on the form that I did not want Cleaning Dude to have a key. Sounded straightforward enough.

Since then, I have been somewhat aware of the fact that in spite of this rule he had been coming in to clean when we were gone. Not a huge deal, right? He seemed innocent enough and it probably was not worth the hassle of explaining to him that he should only clean while I am here. After all, with his English language ability, this would be a long and confusing conversation. In fact, it would probably be more than one long, confusing conversation.

In the beginning, I purposely left a few rupees lying around here and there to see if they walked. Not one rupee missing. I’m an untrusting jerk. I know.

Fast forward to last week. Chris was off in Japan doing that work thing and I was here in Chennai on a conference call, also trying to do that work thing.

There was a knock on the door. I didn’t answer, after all, I was talking on a call for work and I knew who it was. Cleaning Dude is the only person who comes to our door unless we order pizza.

[I should add that Cleaning Dude does not understand that I have a job and that when I have a headset glued to my head that it is probably because I am working and that he should not speak to me. In the past I have had trouble with him trying to interrupt me while I was on calls.]

I hear another knock on the door. I am even more entrenched in the discussion that I am having on the phone and I am certainly not going to jeopardize this opportunity that I have to work remotely by being distracted by details such as Cleaning Dude knocking on the door.

[Did I mention that it was evening? Cleaning Dude cleans at noon each day, so our apartment had been clean for hours.]

He knocks yet again. I almost gave in and answered, but it was a really inconvenient time for me to interrupt my call.

Silence for several minutes. Suddenly Cleaning Dude is face to face with me in my living room loudly yammering something in broken English. I had no choice but to interrupt my meeting and firmly explain to him that a) he was not to enter my apartment unless I let him in and that b) he needed to vacate immediately.

Cleaning Dude left. I resumed my call feeling annoyed, shaken, and somewhat unable to concentrate.

The following day I was somewhat cold to Cleaning Dude. I purposely didn’t answer the door right away when he arrived at noon to clean. I wanted to test him. I’m a jerk like that. He knocked and knocked and finally, ten minutes later, I answered the door.

Chris and I spent the weekend in Singapore, far away from Cleaning Dude. After I had a few days to chill out and step away from the Cleaning Dude situation, we talked about how we need to discontinue his services. Today, that became even more apparent than ever before.

As I sat on the sofa this morning drinking tea and catching up on some news, I thought “Man, I smell horrible.” I was surprised that I smelled quite that bad, but I decided that it was plausible. After all, I slept on a plane for half of the night before tumbling into bed at home to catch the rest of my Z’s and I was wearing a sweatshirt that I may or may not have worn a few times already since its last washing.

I decided to open the blinds on our front and back balconies to let some light in. There was a red and white checkered apron wadded up on the floor of the back balcony. It didn’t look particularly clean, but for some reason I thought: “That is exactly why I don’t hang my clothes outside to dry.” I looked all around to see where it might have come from, but I couldn’t see any reasonable apron source.

After showering and putting on clean clothes, that smell still seemed to linger, but only when I was seated on the sofa. “Chris, come smell the sofa. Is it just me or does it reek of BO?” Chris confirmed my suspicions. It wasn’t me. Whew. I didn’t think that I could smell that bad. Ever.

[At the last minute, the Indian government declared a day off from work today because of elections.]

Suddenly things started to add up. Extra garments on our back balcony, the smelly sofa, Cleaning Dude knocking a billion times before randomly entering. I think that he is hanging out in our apartment when we are not home.

Chris confronted him today in a way that nobody except for Chris can, but I don’t think it made a difference. Cleaning Dude just kept telling Chris that he would clean the sofa cushions. Chris not so politely explained, repeatedly, that he did not care one bit about the sofa, he cared that someone was in here on our sofa when we were not here.

[I tried to retrieve the checkered apron from the balcony as evidence, but it was miraculously gone.]

Cleaning Dude either didn’t get it or was playing dumb. I’m guessing the latter. We have had a message in with the apartment management since early last week, but they seem to be responding to us on India time.

For now, I am doing my best to cope with the situation and not get too fired up about it. Tough to do as it makes me feel incredibly violated to have pretty good reason to think that Cleaning Dude is living in our apartment when we are gone. I sure hope he is not sleeping in my bed. I might break out my sleep sack until I know that he is gone for good.

Once again, please, nobody worry about us. Cleaning Dude is not a harmful guy. He is not going to bother me (or Chris, haha) or even steal our stuff. I am pretty sure that his offenses are limited to partying in our apartment when we are gone and that is only if our suspicions are true. Which I think they are.

When we first moved into our apartment here, I was stunned to discover that we had no oven. I was even more surprised to learn that many Indian kitchens do not have ovens. This caught me off guard big time. After all, I am the girl who brought yeast over here in bulk thinking that I would bake my own bread.

Yeah, not so much. This whole no oven thing led to a complete overhaul of my cooking repertoire.

For several months I walked past the cake mix aisle of the grocery store without giving it a second thought, then, a few days ago, it suddenly struck me as odd.

Wait a minute. How are those cakes being baked anyway?

Upon further examination:

They are not being baked at all.

The microwave cake sounds horrible in my opinion, like something I might have experimented with in my dorm room in college. The cooker cake, on the other hand, has some potential. I bet it ends up being a fairly moist cake. If I had a pressure cooker, I would probably give that one a try. Maybe I’ll see a rice cooker cake mix that I can try. Well, as long as it is eggless, I can’t bring myself to buy or eat the room temperature eggs that are sold here.

An aside: Notice the green dots at the upper right hand corner of each box. All food in India is clearly labeled as either vegetarian or not using a red or green dot. This type of notation is fairly common on restaurant menus as well. Pretty handy in a country where such a high percentage of the population is vegetarian!