Interrupting Our Regularly Scheduled Program…

Moving out of chronological order for a moment, I had to write about my unfortunate experience leaving Jodhpur (a place I absolutely loved and will post about soon enough.)

I had a late morning flight to Delhi and with an extra couple hours to fill before departure, I decided to take a final walk around my picturesque neighborhood. The dogs in Jodhpur (more so than other places, it seems) create quite a ruckus every night, where from my hotel I could hear what sounded like territorial attacks upon one another… long episodes of loud, angry barks followed by the inevitable heart-wrenching yelps, whimpers and cries of defeat. Caution is always warranted with animals in this (or any foreign) country, and as much as the sweet ones tugged at my heart-strings to give affection, I have always steered very clear, even of them.

This morning, however, the unexpected happened and unprovoked, I got bit by an aggressive dog. I turned the corner onto a vacant lot-type of area, where a couple of dogs immediately perked up and started growling. This was clearly their territory and I was clearly intruding. I’ve actually been growled at before and, heeding their warning, have avoided any conflict… but today that was not the case. I immediately turned around and started walking away when I heard one of the dogs approach behind me and before I knew what happened, he bit me on the back of the calf/ankle area.

I turned and yelled at them and they briefly backed off, allowing me to quickly walk away, and it wasn’t until I got far enough away that I could stop and assess the damage. With adrenaline running high masking any pain, I wasn’t sure he had really injured me, until I looked down and saw all the blood… at which point I knew I was in trouble.

I doused the wound then and there with the hand sanitizer I had in my bag and then high-tailed it back to my hotel, where I promptly rinsed and cleaned it as best I could. The lovely people at he hotel offered to take me to the hospital but I had very little time before my flight and figured I had better deal with this in Delhi, which was my last stop and where I was flying home from.

The next 36 hours were a bit of a physical, emotional and logistical nightmare. I have to admit that after a month in India, I was a little worn out and dealing with a serious dog bite at this juncture has been scary, stressful and exhausting. The biggest concern is of course rabies, and it’s a safe assumption that the dog who bit me has it. The street dogs here are all sick looking, uncared for, eating and living in filth, and they carry all sorts of diseases, rabies included.

Upon landing in Delhi, I have a taxi take me and all my bags to the nearest private hospital, where I am able to get both a rabies and tetanus booster shot, and while the care there was adequate, as is the case no matter where you are or what you are doing in India, information is not forthcoming, even when you are specifically asking for it. Being alone, in a lot of pain and very rattled at the idea of contracting rabies, I do my best to get questions answered, but I end up back at my hotel realizing there were a few factors not addressed.

The biggest issue at hand was whether or not I’d had a rabies shot in the past, as that alters the course of treatment. With all the traveling I do, I assumed I had one before my travels last year, but I was able to get my immunization records emailed to me and there was no record of having it done. So… while I was able to get booster shots appropriate for having been previously immunized, I understood now that what I really needed was a shot of rabies-immunoglobulin, which is a targeted antibody for unvaccinated persons that will help the immune system fight the deadly virus while waiting for the booster shots to take effect.

The private hospital I went to yesterday did mention the possibility of needing this, but at the time it wasn’t deemed imperative since I thought I’d had the full immunizations prior. Regardless, they didn’t have that shot available because it’s very expensive, and since thousands of people die every year from dog bites, they only stock the antibody at the Government Hospital, which is where they referred me if I wanted it. And of course it’s hit or miss as to whether that hospital will actually have the antibody in stock because of all the bites they treat.

Despite the 12 hour time difference I was able to consult with my brother (who happens to be an infectious disease doctor) via online messenger, and we discern that because I don’t seem to have been previously immunized, it’s absolutely imperative I get the immunoglobulin shot… so at 6am, despite my reservations about public healthcare in India, I make my way to the Government Hospital.

I last about 15 minutes inside… making my way through tiny, filthy rooms filled with literally hundreds of bleeding, sick and injured people laying on the floor, on dirty stretchers etc, being ignored by virtually everyone despite my repeated attempts at trying to figure out the system. I even find and enter a room with a hand-scribbled sign on the door that says “dog bites” but despite my plea for help, they shoo me out and point to another room… a place, I assume, to somehow get in line (there is no “line” in a room packed to the gills,) but at this juncture I decide I have better chances of staying healthy with rabies than getting treatment here. The reality of this place was nothing short of tragic and frankly, pretty frightening.

Discouraged, I leave and decide to attempt another private hospital nearby, since I really need this shot… but unfortunately I get the same story as yesterday… they don’t keep immunoglobulin in stock, and they tell me to go to the place I just came from.

I have become a very strong woman and can roll with a lot of poor circumstance, but at this point, exhausted and in pain, knowing I wasn’t going to get the shot I needed, I pretty much lost all composure. Luckily, I was able to reach my brother via phone and he reassured me that as long as I seek medical attention the moment I get home, the treatment should be effective and I should be fine.

Meanwhile, no one at the initial hospital had mentioned antibiotics for the wound itself, which at this point wasn’t looking so good and had been lightly but steadily bleeding for the last 24 hours. My brother advised me to try and get some antibiotics right away, and at least that part was easy… pharmacies are everywhere, no prescription is needed and I was able to get a course of doxycycline for about $2, making me extremely grateful for small wins.

Travel in general, but my trip to an Indian public hospital in particular, makes me see with great clarity the abundant privilege I have now and have had for my entire life. While I have (understandably) complained about the sad state of our public healthcare system at home, this experience and subsequent shift in perspective suddenly fills me with extreme gratitude. Yes, I am upset and a little worried for my own health, but my heart aches deeply for the sick and infirm in countries like this. I will eventually get the treatment I need, but it’s safe to say that most of these people cannot say the same… and that fills me with deep sadness.

I had a busy 36 hours of things to see in Delhi as my final leg of the trip, but unfortunately I had to abandon all plans in lieu of seeking medical care and resting my painful leg. This has been a tragic end to an incredible month-long journey, but despite my exhaustion and the decline in my morale, I know this will in no way quell my overall adventurous spirit.

I leave for home very early tomorrow morning, and all I really want right now is to just get there safely and get the medical care I need. I am doing my best to remain positive though, and I am extremely grateful for all the people who have given me moral support across the wires. I know one day the pain and emotion will dissipate, and this will make a really great story.

Meanwhile, I do still have one final post on Jodhpur coming up, which despite how my time there ended, makes me very happy, as I loved that city very much. Stay tuned..

A Road Less Traveled: Delhi to Jaipur

January 30, 2017

After a quick one-day, jet-lagged visit to Delhi, (which I will summarize after my return visit on the way home) we set off for Jaipur, taking a long detour to the small village of Abhaneri in order to visit one of the oldest baoris (step-wells) in India: Chand baori.

Step wells are old structures unique unto India. A perimeter of long criss-crossing staircases were built around vast, deep holes in the ground that either occurred naturally or were excavated. During monsoon season these vast wells would collect water that would be used long after the rains stopped. The lower the water levels got, the deeper they could descend via the stairs to retrieve it.

 

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Although I had only ever visited one other step-well before on my last trip (in Delhi) I became slightly obsessed with these ancient structures. Their aesthetic and functionality from days long gone have a sort of mystical effect, and their appeal led me to explore options for visiting more whenever the opportunity arose.

As per my usual method of operation, part of the appeal to visit Chand baori was it’s somewhat remote location (read: very few tourists) and I had visions of climbing down into this well like you can in the Delhi locale, but unfortunately the steps here have been partitioned off, safety and preservation both being clear concerns. Still, the gorgeous symmetry and artistry remains alluring from our vantage point above. This particular baori was built for a King in the 8th Century and the structures surrounding the well show it’s regal purpose.

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Adjacent to the well was the King’s temple and we spent time photo-documenting the site (as we love to do!) when some delightful local children joined our fun.

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From here we linger in the village for a cup of chai, but this was no ordinary chai. The tea itself was delicious as always (fueling my chai obsession from the last trip) but the gift here was in the cups. Traditionally you see chai being served on the streets in tiny plastic glasses, but here the earthy, clay pots they used gave the tea an entirely different taste and texture. In general, old world traditions still have immense value in India, but in the countryside that is particularly so. These little clay cups were being made right around the corner and after we finished drinking, we paid the artisans a visit and were privy to their process.

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Annabell, having dabbled in pottery, jumped in and got her hands in the clay.
Annabell, having dabbled in pottery, jumped in and got her hands in the clay.

Overall, this was an intimate, authentic experience, and exactly why I prioritize getting off the beaten tourist track.

Yoga in an ancient temple is my favorite yoga.

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Headed now toward Jaipur, we stop just outside the city at Galtaji, an old temple affectionately known as “The Monkey Temple”. Nestled between rocky cliffs, this place is still in use for daily prayers but is in quite a state of disrepair, which only adds to its charm. It is dusk when we arrive, and the man giving us our very informal ‘tour’ is a humble man who has dedicated his life to feeding the wild monkeys here. Many forgotten years ago I had seen a documentary talking about people in India who are committed to caring for and feeding animals and as we approached the temple the familiarity of it triggered my memory of seeing this place on television.

This man began feeding the monkeys as a child and his relationship with these wild creatures many decades later is clear. I have been to other places where monkeys integrate with the public, and caution is always warranted with these somewhat aggressive and wiley creatures. Here, most of what we saw were docile (but hungry!) animals, save for the occasional screeching outburst when some young monkey didn’t respect the pecking order.

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Most of these little guys obeyed his commands to back off if their behavior got too wild near us, but when left to their own devices they simply wanted more peanuts. Clearly, they have become less wild here at the temple, but it’s no free-for-all. You are asked to stick to the peanuts they provide and not to provoke them in anyway. We watch as hundreds of them descend from the surrounding cliffs down onto the temple grounds or go back up to their homes. It is absolutely delightful.

As darkness descends upon us, exhausted by the excitement, lingering jet lag and long hours in the car we head toward our home for the next three days, Jaipur.

Two Days in Delhi

October 22-24, 2015

My very first impression of this Capitol city is – it’s so clean! And green! And there are road signs! Yes, there are still a ton of people and the traffic is still insane by US standards, but it’s notably less chaotic than Mumbai… and thank god for that.

Quick peek at the Lotus Temple from afar.
Quick peek at the Lotus Temple from afar.
Proud mothers and beautiful babies are universal.
Proud mothers and beautiful babies are universal.

I arrived in the afternoon but drove straight away to stay overnight in  Agra for my visit to the Taj Mahal first thing in the morning. Getting back up to Delhi took much longer than normal due to the traffic-stopping, street celebrations of the festival Dussehra so my evening consisted of strolling around the beautiful neighborhood where I stayed, Niazamuddin East, and stumbling across some crumbling ruins.

Dussehra festivities in front of The Agra Fort.
Dussehra festivities in front of The Agra Fort.
Crumbling Khan-I-Khanan's Tomb. I don't think anyone comes here.
Crumbling Khan-I-Khanan’s Tomb. I don’t think anyone comes here.

I hired a driver for my entire time in Delhi, which was a wise investment and considerably decreased a lot of difficult logistics… but getting around on foot is still a tricky and fairly inhibiting affair. Alas, that is, as I’m learning, just India.

My time in Delhi consisted mostly of sight seeing with just a bit of local culture. First stop, Qutub Minar.

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Closer up of the astounding detail on this tower.
Closer up. Astounding detail on this tower.

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Built in the late 1100’s (these timelines never cease to amaze me) and decorated with verses from the Qur’an, the detail here is unbelievably beautiful.

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Strangely (and I had read about this before arriving) everyone, particularly at tourist places like this, wants to take a photo of themselves with you. I declined the countless requests from groups of boys and men, but obliged a couple of families. A husband asked me to pose with his wife, so I figured when in Rome (or Delhi, as it were…) and handed him my phone for a photo of my own. 🙂

Me, and a complete stranger.
Me, and a complete stranger.

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Bored. One day he'll appreciate it.
Bored. One day he’ll appreciate it.
Exquisite detail underneath one of the domes.
Exquisite detail underneath one of the domes.

Next stop, Hauz Khas village… a quaint and trendy sort of neighborhood built around the Hauz Khas ruins. The ruins are engaging enough, but the interesting thing here is that they are more of a hang out spot for young people and not much of a tourist attraction.

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Inside one of the domes.
Inside one of the domes.

The village itself encroaches right up to the borders of the old complex and walking through the neighborhood was not only cute, but very easy to navigate (that is the first time I’ve uttered those words here in India!).

The streets are narrow so virtually no cars come through, only scooters, adding to the easy appeal.

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I sought out a relaxing lunch spot overlooking the ruins and Deer Lake… as finding these pockets of calm have become an imperative necessity for me on this trip.

Afternoon food and relaxation at Mia Bella, overlooking the lake and adjoining ruins.
Afternoon food and relaxation at Mia Bella, overlooking the lake and adjoining ruins.

I also got to enjoy some company for a couple of hours, when Raman, my friend Lochan’s cousin, took some time to meet up with me.

We hung out at the Baoli step-well, which is a very cool, antiquated structure (in case you haven’t picked up on this yet, you don’t have travel very far before stumbling upon some building or ruin that is several centuries old) that originally served as a water storage well.

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I had wanted to come to this place anyway, so it was ironic that it was here I also got to see some of Raman’s artwork along the surrounding street walls… he is a commissioned graffiti artist who has worked all over the world.

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The day ended with evening drinks at a bar in central Connaught Place, overlooking the city.

A little view of the city from above.
A little view of the city from above.

Day 2
Really, this was only a half day, but I crammed in a fair amount, starting with breakfast and some chai from a local street vendor. Brave, I know.

Making chai.
Making chai.
The food cart. I opted for the potato (I think) filled flakey-crust thing.
The food cart. I opted for the potato (I think) filled flakey-crust thing.

Then off to Jantar Mantar, a group of vast astronomy structures built in the 1700’s by scientist Jai Singh.

The grounds at Jantar Mantar.
The grounds at Jantar Mantar. This big structure is the observatory.
These two pillars... casting no shadow whatsoever at summer solstice, and perfect alignment of long shadows at winter solstice. Cool.
These two pillars… casting no shadow whatsoever at summer solstice, and perfect alignment of long shadows at winter solstice. Cool.

The structures are apparently very precise and although I didn’t understand a lot of what I saw, for a few rupees a self-appointed ‘guide’ gave me some helpful tidbits of information.

When the shadow falls across one of these lines it depicts the hour of the day.
When the shadow falls across one of these lines it depicts the hour of the day… up to the minute.
28 windows on one side across the top row and something to do with the cycle of the moon.
28 windows on one side across the top row and something to do with the cycle of the moon.

From here I went to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the stunning Sikh Temple, where I spent quite a bit of time.

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Outside the front of the temple.
Washing the feet before entering.
Washing the feet before entering.
Inside this majestic place of worship.
Inside this majestic place of worship.
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The main ‘alter’ is open on all four sides where people sit and listen to the music/chanting/prayers.
The large pool area, behind the temple.
The large pool area, behind the temple.

Coincidently and luckily for me, my driver is Sikh and wanted to join me, so I was able gain a little more insight from him than if I had just wandered in here on my own.

Karma, my faithful driver.
Karma, my faithful driver.

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Listening to the beautiful music/chanting/prayers.
Listening to the beautiful music/chanting/prayers.

After this I went to a gorgeous Hindu temple where understandably but much to my chagrin, I had to check my camera… my least favorite sign hanging above the entrance: No Photography Allowed.

From the outside.
From the outside.

Inside, the ornate, brightly adorned statues of Hindu gods were everywhere, each with its own alter where offerings have been placed… piles of marigolds and other brightly colored flower petals, intermingled with rice and money.

The walls are adorned in carved out drawings and accompanying scripture… written in both Hindi and English, much of it from the Gita texts which I am familiar with from my yoga studies. I wandered from room to room for some time just trying to take it all in, loving the ornamentation and inherent festive feeling that is the aesthetic of the Hindu worship.

Just to give you an idea, these are the kinds of statues that are prevelent in the Hindu religion. This photo was taken elsewhere, outside of the temple.
Just to give you an idea, these are the kinds of statues that are prevelent in the Hindu religion. This photo was taken elsewhere, outside of the temple.

Waiting for my driver to come pick me up, I decided to courageously try one more street snack before heading to the airport, and it was particularly good! It is several hours later as I’m writing this on my way to my next destination, and so far my tummy seems just fine… so a big thank you, to the powers that be (and also, to the Chinese herbs I brought with me, specifically to help prevent any unwanted belly bugs.)

The ingredients...
The ingredients…
Mixin it up...
Mixin it up…
Voila! Deliciousness!
Voila! Deliciousness!

 

Delhi, India
Delhi, India