Coast to Coast – Ganges in Tow

One of the cities we journeyed to was the city of Jiapur – the capital of Rajasthan. It was founded on November 18th 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber, after whom the city has been named. Jaipur is known as the Pink City of India because of the color used exclusively in the walled city. The city is gorgeous and is rich in stories and sites, yet one story has stuck with me since, being the story of the Maharajah Sawai Madho Singh ll (ruled form 1880 to 1922). He was born under the name Kaim Singh and was exiled when his father passed away, resulting in him and his brother having a dispute over the succession. Kaim was later adopted by the then ruling Maharajah on his death bed and became the heir to the throne, and was crowned under the name Madho.

As ruler of the large and prosperous state of Jaipur, Madho Singh embraced modern ideas on education and sanitation. He built schools, colleges, hospitals and a museum. When famine struck in 1896–1897 and 1899–1900, he used state funds to feed the population. At the time all the Maharaja’s were invited to London to pay homage to the king – however, Madho did not want to go because he thought by leaving his motherland, he would become impure. He was later convinced to take the trip, on one condition. That he would bring huge metal containers (picture below) full of water from the holy Ganges – in order to wash off all the impurities and remain pure himself. Every time he would shake a foreigner’s hand he would instantly wash his hands. I found this story fascinating and the fact that his advisor was so quick to say – “Yea, we can just bring the river with us.”

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The Seen and Unseen – Dalit

Throughout our time traveling across India, we had the opportunities to see some of the World’s most prolific historic sites. In our time spent shuttling from one site to another or from university to university – we were often passing monuments and buildings that were significant to the state or country, but we just didn’t have the time to see it all. Due to the deep rooted history and plethora of cultures and religions, there are thousands upon thousands of sites that would be worth a visit – but all these could not simply be visited on our 10 day horizon line. One of these passerby monuments that has stuck out in my mind is the Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal and Green Garden.

As seen in the pictures below, Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal and Green Garden is also known as Mayawati Park named after the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati. The park is spread over 33 acres of land just inside the Noida (the state adjacent to New Delhi), and includes idols consecrated for the people who devoted their life for humanity, equality and social justice, including Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati herself (whose statues are in the building). The monument is dedicated to the Dalit people and has been constructed to honor the “unparalleled struggle of these stalwarts towards the struggle for social transformation”. And contains 24 8-ft sandstone statues of elephants, the symbol of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

As this memorial park is dedicated to the Dalit caste of the Indian Caste System, I was intrigued to do a little more research on them, and their current status. For a brief overview, India’s caste system is said to be thousands of years old and contain 4 castes – starting from the top – the Brahmins are the priests and academics, the Kshatriyas are the warriors and kings, the Vaishyas consists of the business community, and the Kshudras are the servants. Finally – outside of the four-fold Varna system are the Dalits meaning “oppressed” or “untouchable”. This group encompasses tribes and other historically disadvantaged communities who were traditionally excluded from society. This provides a little insight to the social significance of this park, where Mayawati was born into the Dalit caste, yet has risen to political power – to show in essence a paradigm shift of tectonic magnitude within the deep rooted social structure of India.building

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Trip memories

After Dr. Khan’s memories about everyone last weekend, I figured my last blog entry should be on how I’ll remember everyone on this trip.

Patrice:

Best trip roommate ever. We were unrelenting in our search for wifi at every hotel, and discovered in Bharatpur that we were the only people who were able to get any signal in our room.

Brandon:

Got to do all sorts of cool stuff because he was just. that. friendly. Here he is joining in on a cricket game, and then when we got out to Dubai he got to ride on the back of a guy’s 4-wheeler during dune bashing.

Nick:

I HAVE NO IDEA WHEN THIS MAN SLEPT. He was always doing something. Hats off for getting so much homework done on top of EVERYTHING ELSE that he did on this trip.

Steve:

Rickshaw buddy (obviously)! Did not stare at me like I was nuts when I told him the wiring in Chandni Chawk looked like my dad’s attempts at DIY.

Chloe:

Bought the coolest hat out of anyone in Jaipur.  Then wanted to buy a keffiyeh in Dubai – guess she was trying to start a hat collection? I totally would have given her my hat for the cause – “Ugliest hat in the world”…

John:

Tried to convince the guide to find him a place to rent and drive his own tuktuk in Hyderabad. Did not happen, to the great disappointment of many. And probably the relief of many more, now that I think about it.

Chaimaa:

Best bargainer ever. I feel like I learned a great deal following her around in the Charminar Bazaar. Currently wearing the bangles she helped me get for 200 rupees (and of course by “helped” I mean “did all the work”).

Rachel:

Yoga enthusiast extraordinaire. Asked at every hotel if about yoga, and finally got to go to a class in Hyderabad. Actually, a bunch of people went, but Rachel was the one who’d been asking about it.

Natalie:

Kept everyone healthy and happy with a neverending supply of pepto and meds. Our grades and tummies salute you!

Justin:

Poor guy is my level of pale and suffered from a similar level of sunburn. Could have probably used my ugly hat of ugliness at several points on the trip.

Dr. Khan:

The picture ruiner. Frequently would have his eyes closed in every picture in a series. So many ruined photos!!

Travelling abroad with a chronic condition

A month and a half before we left for India, I was in the hospital for ten days. Afterwards I spent another ten days at my parents’ house because no one trusted me to take care of myself.

I’m not telling you this to make you feel bad for me. I’m telling you so that you understand that it really is possible to travel with a serious condition, as long as you’re smart about it. Some of the steps I mention will probably apply more to autoimmune disorders than to other chronic conditions, but with proper planning and diligence, you should still have a safe and fun study abroad.

  1. Talk to your doctor. This actually worked in my favor. I didn’t think I’d be able to go on a study abroad given what had just happened (and thought I was out the $2k I’d already paid!). I sent my doctor a long email pleading my case and promising that if I got to go I’d be super good the whole time and not eat anything that might cause a problem. The email I got back was much more positive than what I’d been expecting – he said that as long as I continued improving he saw absolutely nothing wrong with me going on the trip. I used that as justification to everyone who looked at me askance when I told them I was going up until the day we left.
  2. Make sure you have your medications.  Very important! If you have medications you have to take to stay healthy, make sure you take them with you. Bring along a note from your doctor saying you’re allowed to have them, just in case.
  3. If you need to rest, do it. No point in making yourself sick halfway through the trip because you wanted to keep up with everyone. Talk to your professor in advance so they know you might have to take it easy at some point. You might be surprised about how much you’re able to accomplish before you need to rest!
  4. Don’t stress. I know, easier said than done. Stressing makes everything worse, though. You (and your body) will be much happier if you can relax a bit.
  5. Don’t do anything stupid. A bit unspecific, I know, but everyone’s “stupid” is different. Mine, for example, included not eating anything that might possibly make me sick, either because it’s a trigger food or because it might be contaminated. I’m technically supposed to avoid antibiotics as much as possible, so avoiding the latter was especially important. I got very good at asking Dr. Khan whether or not he thought a particular food would be safe if I wasn’t sure. I also got very good at staring wistfully at food carts on the street and not running after them.
  6. Enjoy it! This sort of goes along with not stressing, but I think it deserves its own spot anyway. Study abroad is a super amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and can be super fun, if you let it be.

Like I said, everything worked out great for me. I gained 3 pounds on the trip, which was a pretty big victory. I also stayed healthier than most of the people on the trip, but that might have been related to the fact that two of my “don’t be stupid” directives were staying away from alcohol and getting enough sleep. All in all, it was an amazing experience and if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m graduating in December, I’d totally do it again.

Bargaining 101!

On the first day of Dr. Khan’s negotiation’s course this semester, I labeled myself as the “compromiser” that avoids conflict and will settle very quickly. To many who know me well, know that this is very true when it comes to everyday negotiations; I’ll much rather reach a compromise and move on. Well I quickly learned while in India that this wasn’t very true at all when it came to bargaining at the bazaar shops.

On our very fi25164214093_0e302012ef_orst shopping experience, we all were excited to get the opportunity to finally get some souvenirs, scarves, bangles, etc. While Dr. Khan warned us to always shoot for a 50% discount as we were all getting smacked with the “foreigner tourist” prices, sometimes we found that to be very tough. It was definitely a learning experience, and it took a lot of back and forth with the merchants to even get to that 50% price so we could at least feel that we had some bargaining skills to be proud of. While we were very pleased with our purchases, we later learned that we indeed were still ripped off to a certain extent.
We got the chance to visit one of the most recognized structures in Hyderabad, a mosque that has bec25160355094_0a20cca599_oome a global icon for this city, also known as the Charminar. Surrounding this mosque were streets filled with bazaar shopping, and this was our last chance to get any souvenirs from India as we were getting ready to head out to Dubai soon after. I told myself this is the chance to try and be as aggressive as possible and ultimately have fun
shopping and waste no time. We started with bangle shopping, I fell in love with a set of 6 bangles per color and of course all of the colors were beautiful. This is how the conversation went:

Me: What’s the price for these bangles?

Seller: Madam for you, 1200 rupees perset

Me: Whoahh, that’s a lot don’t you think?

Seller: That’s the best price I’m giving you…

Me: Well I want other colors too, so 4 sets total, so you have to give me a better price

Seller: If you buy 4 than I give you 4,200 rupees all together (600 rupees discount).

Me: That’s way too expensive, I can’t do that…

Seller: Well how much do you want to pay Madam? (He hands me the calculator to write my price)

Me: I respond 1000 rupees FOR ALL 4 SETS!

Seller: No way madam, that’s a loss for me, no no that’s too much

Me: (As this was the first shop we stopped at) That’s my final price, this is the first place I stopped at so if you agree than we have a deal, if not, then there are many more to see.

Seller: You can have all 4 for 3000 rupees (we’re now at 1800 rupees discount)

Me: 1000 rupees is my final price

Seller: No madam, I can’t do that…

Me: Okay then, have a great day (started walking out of the shop)

Seller: Okay okay madam, all 4 for 2000 rupees

Me: 1000 is still my final price.

Seller: okay 1500 rupees…

Me: 1000 and we have a deal, or have a good day

Seller: Okay Okay 1000 rupees for all 4 sets. (that’s 3800 rupees less than asking price, talk about winning!!)

Me: Perfect (meanwhile jumping up with joy in the inside as I hand him the cash)

 

I couldn’t believe it, I was seriously in shock that he even agreed and it wasn’t even that hard considering our very first bargaining experience. I thought maybe I was just lucky, and decided to give it another try. I was successful every single time, it was insane! One of my other favorites was helping my colleague Rachi as we were leaving get similar bangles to the ones some of us got earlier on. We were short on time as the bus was on its way to pick us up, so we had to hurry. Here is how it went:

 

Rachi (Nickname for Rachel): How much are these bangles?

Seller: 400-600 rupees each set (I can’t recall exactly…)

Me: We will give you 200 rupees for two sets

Seller: No No madam, I will take a loss like that

Me: We just bought the same ones down the street for the same price

Seller: No I don’t believe it

Me: Well that’s our final price, otherwise we will go back to the other shop

Rachi: I’ll give you 220 rupees (As she takes out cash from her bag)

Seller: (Begins wrapping the bangles while still trying to keep the price much higher) No madam, 800 rupees for both…

Me: (I grab the money from Rachi and put them on the table as I grab the bangles) That’s all we have, thank you so much. (Then Rachi and I walked out without adding another word.. clearly as winners).

The rest of the team was so shocked, they said to me but you can’t do that, isn’t that like stealing? I said if I was stealing he would have followed me out of the door, yet he took the money and accepted the deal and just stood in place. Dr. Khan says to me: I think you have mastered bargaining better than the Indians… haha!25164219423_571f39ff1e_o

Moral of the story is be as aggressive as you possibly can, and if you insist you will definitely get at least the 50% that Dr. Khan taught us, if not better. You may not be lucky with some as I wasn’t either, some of them just looked at me like I was crazy, but I just went somewhere else and didn’t settle. At the end of the day I realized it wasn’t so hard,  I got really great deals and helped my friends get good bargains also, all while having a great time. (Hoping this serves as an underlying reason towards that A in negotiations class, haha).

Can’t believe it’s over!

During our last days in Dubai, we took an elevator up to the 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa, had a meeting with du- Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, went dune bashing in the desert (popping a tire in the process), got a tour of the “7 star hotel”- Burj al Arab, did some gold souk shopping, and finally escaped the commercialized world of Dubai for a little nap time on the beach before our 15 flight home (of which I slept the entire time).

I can’t believe our trip has come to an end already!  It flew by, but at the same time I felt like we were gone for a month with everything we squeezed in each day.  Dr. Khan did a phenomenal job planning this trip… thank you VT for an unforgettable learning experience!

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Burj Al Arab in Gold and Blue

20160312_100110We visited Burj Al Arab in Dubai on March 13. Burj Al Arab is often called “the world’s only seven-star hotel” for its exceptionally attentive service, or “the sailboat hotel” for its shape of a boat sailing the ocean. There’s no “room” in Burj Al Arab – it only has 2-story suites, each with personal butler. From distance, you can see a suspended helipad where VIP guests arrive in helicopters.

Our host, dressed in distinctive gold and blue uniform, took us from lobby to restaurants, spa, and other luxurious amenities Burj Al Arab had to offer, but of all, the suite was the most impressive part of the tour.
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One night in the smallest suite would cost us over $3,000 so we could not stay at Burj Al Arab but we were able to tour one of the suites during our visit. As the elevator doors open, the floor concierge greeted us. Yes, each floor has a floor concierge. The suite our host showed around had one master bedroom with a walk-in closet that had floor to ceiling glass windows facing the Arabian Gulf. Two additional bedrooms were in the same suite, each with its own bathroom. There was separate living and dining area as well as an office area equipped with a computer (Mac) and fax/copier. The entire suite was beautifully furnished and decorated in gold and blue.20160312_10155820160312_101158

Taj Mahal and Sheikh Zayed Mosque

20160302_15561320160302_170705I originally signed up for this trip to see Taj Mahal (Agra, India). I am glad I also had a chance to see Sheikh Zayed Mosque (Abu Dhabi, UAE) along the way. I understand very little about architectural beauty but I have to say these are the two most exquisite structures I have seen in my life. The two white marble structures look somewhat similar, both having four towers and onion domes.

20160302_173529 20160302_165224Presented as the greatest monument to love in the world, Taj Mahal was built in 1643 in the memory of Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to Emperor Shah Jahan’s 14th child. It is perfectly symmetrical in all aspects except for the cenotaph of Shah Jahan, which sits next to the cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal located perfectly at the centre of the chamber in Taj Mahal. I was surprised by the small space inside the chamber because Taj Mahal looked like a big palace from outside. While Taj Mahal itself is well preserved over 350 years, Yamuna’s river-bed behind Taj Mahal is shrinking every year due to climate change.

20160312_145448 20160312_150912Built in 2007, Sheikh Zayed Mosque is called Taj Mahal of today. It is UAE’s grand mosque where Friday gathering and Eid prayers are held. Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who commissioned the construction of the mosque, is buried in the courtyard. As required for female visitors, Patrice and I covered hair with scarf and entered.

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Mosque squad
Mosque squad

Excluding the surrounding structures and garden, the mosque is much bigger than Taj Mahal, and it can accommodate over 40,000 worshipers. Fully air conditioned inside, the prayer hall is furnished with hand-woven carpet and chandeliers made of Swarovski crystals. After the complete tour of the mosque, we sat in the inner court yard and spent the afternoon admiring beautiful architectural features of the mosque. It was the most relaxing day I’ve had in a while.

 

When in Dubai…

 

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I remember when Dr. Khan sent us the first initial itinerary for our trip and it listed Dubai for only 4 days. I immediately sent him an email asking why that was the case, because I had remembered being told the trip would be one week in India and one week in Dubai. Well after visiting India and arriving to Dubai, I regretted even asking that question. Dubai was extremely superficial in comparison to India, although beautiful and unique in its own way, it lacked that rich culture and history that India had on every building and every monument. So what is there to do for fun in Dubai aside from visiting the tallest building and largest mall in the world, the underwater zoo and the penguins inside the mall, the 7-star hotel, and many more artificial things that Dubai offers as part of their tourism campaign? Easy response: Take a trip out to the Desert!

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I didn’t know what Dune bashing meant at first, I thought it was getting on quads and running wild in the sand like I’ve done before in my hometown of Morocco. However, to our surprise, it was getting in the back of a Toyota truck and having the driver go crazy on the sand dunes. Honestly the experience was exhilarating, and I’m so glad we were warned about keeping our lunch to the minimum or it could have gotten quite ugly. My group and I asked our driver to give us the extreme experience, to which resulted in getting a tire popped off… LOL! So much for wanting that extra adrenaline rush…After the Dune Bashing, we had dinner out in the desert while being entertained by a few musical performances. There were so many activities going on at the same time, from riding camels, playing with birds, to getting a henna tattoo on your hand. It was a gorgeous night, and the weather was simply amazing.25160159924_0a4d452cb7_o

Best Thing to Do in Dubai – Dune Bashing

So I had no idea this was a thing before I came to Dubai – it seems like it’s super popular here though. I assumed at first maybe it was just something for tourists, but I watched a really, really large number of people participating when we were out, so it seems like it’s an everyone thing.

Dune bashing, for those not in the know, involves getting in an SUV or on an ATV (heck, I’m sure you could get a mini cooper out there if you were stubborn enough), driving it out into the middle of nowhere, and going at high speeds over tall sand dunes, spraying sand everywhere and risking rolling your vehicle regularly.

The Land Rover we were travelling in had a very reassuring roll cage for that very situation.

Really really tall
I wasn’t joking when I said they were large dunes
Out in the middle of nowhere where no one can hear you screeeeam
Out in the middle of nowhere where no one can hear you screeeeam

 

It’s the most fun roller coaster I’ve ever been on. It helped that there appeared to be an element of actual danger at some points – for example, at one point we crested a tall dune and were starting to descend (at what appeared to be supersonic speeds as a passenger in the last row) when I noticed there appeared to be a piece of someone’s car sticking out of the sand at the bottom of the dune. At another point, the other car in our group managed to completely destroy their tire (probably why they went out in a group of two – makes it much easier to get help in this situation). As the guides were digging the sand away from the bottom of the wheel, we noticed the tire had pretty much come off completely and flipped around.

Guides were completely blase about it – I guess that’s just a thing that happens sometimes. They were really fast about changing that tire.

Anyway, totally do dune bashing in Dubai if you get a chance. Totally worth it.

Wasn't kidding when I said those dunes were high
Wasn’t kidding when I said those dunes were high