Nithya is a serial expat who has traveled and lived in Spain and India in the last year alone. Now, waiting to embark on her next adventure working for an NGO in São Paulo, Brazil, she has launched a new website that is aimed at the 20 something female traveler. She is passionate about travel stories and adventures and is collecting tales from all over the globe. You can read about her adventures and find out more at www.LifeOutofaSuitcase.com
1. How did you get involved in writing/blogging?
I started blogging when I was bored one day at work. I was wasting away, staring at excel and decided to start blogging about the movies I had seen and the music I had listened to. This changed when I took by first big trip in University to Turkey. I decided that I wanted a way to chronicle my stories and anecdotes and be able to share them with my family and friends. I became more dedicated to travel blogging when I spent a year in Madrid, Spain, working for an NGO there. It was while I was writing there that it became more than just writing stories for my mom to read but something that I used to reflect and process my experiences living in a different country. Writing, copy editing and finally publishing my experiences helped solidify these incredible memories in the land of flamenco, jamón and sangria.
2. Share your guilty travel secret.
I love following guidebooks (i.e. Lonely Planet) recommendations down to a tee. Even if I get this feeling that the tour/restaurant/area might not be excellent, I push that feeling of mediocrity to the back of my mind and just think, “well if LP said it was good, it must be!” Who needs to be a discerning traveller when you just shelled out $40 for a book?!
3. Rockstar blogger or bestselling author and why?
I would love to be a Rock star blogger so that I could always been changing my style, writing about different topics and subjects. Not to mention blog posts are usually way shorter than a book!
4. What is the best tip you have ever been given?
Just enjoy. Don’t worry about the stress, panic, stuff you need to do – just soak it all in.
5. Where would you be if you could be anywhere right now?
I would love to be in central Europe right now, visiting good friends in Budapest and Bucharest.
6. If you could travel with any three people, celebrity, fictional or historical who would be your companions?
Indiana Jones (in case we get into any whip-related trouble and he would be a great historical guide), Adele (she has a great voice that would entertain us and she seems so friendly!) and maybe a cast member from Jersey Shore (ok, maybe not).
7. What invention do you wish had been invented already?
The universal visa! You apply for it, get it stamped in gold in your passport and then you never have to apply for a visa again!
so then… a monkey licked the window (Agra)
On September 6th, we did a day trip to Agra to see arguably the most famous site in India travel – the Taj Mahal.
We hired a cab to take us there and back (since there was 5 of us, it was cost effective and more convenient than taking a train or bus). But we had to leave at like 5:30am to take advantage of the day trip. The drive is 4 hours (without traffic) so obviously more because it’s India and there is of course traffic.
I drifted in and out of sleep the entire drive there, but at one point we stopped because the driver had to use the bathroom and all I remember is a monkey licking the window. I couldn’t even get words out because of my sleepiness. I think I woke up my Singaporean friend and said, “window, monkey licking, what?” There was a guy with a monkey on a leash, trying to get money from us because we looked at his monkey. HIS monkey licked OUR window!
As soon as we stepped out of the car in Agra, we were ‘ambushed’ by people that wanted to sell us crap – everything from books to bangles to batteries. A tour guide took us to the place where tickets were sold. We were initially really uncomfortable in the place, but eventually trusted it for lack of a better option. It turns out that this haphazard location is just the tourist board office. I wastemptedtopurchase Indian ticket for Rs. 20 (vs. the foreigner ticket of Rs. 750) but chickened out at the last minute because the tour guide said they would start asking you about India and talking to you in Hindi and all trying to prove that you are Indian. Until we reached the entrance, we were hassled to buy useless junk, so going in we weren’t in the best of moods.
I was expecting the Taj Mahal to be over rated since you see so many pictures of it and hear so many things about it – its been around for hundreds of years!
When finding your way to the Taj Mahal through the Taj Ganj, you see just a glimpse of the Palace. I was blown away in that instant. I tried to capture it in my pictures, but I don’t think they do it justice. You just see the gleaming marble of the building contrasted against the brown of the Taj Ganj. Every preconception of this ‘wonder of the world” you had just evaporates and you begin to appreciate the beauty of the building.
While my Singaporean friend and I were taking pictures, a man came up to us and said that we were doing it all wrong. He promptly said, “I am the Gardener here, I know best.” He hijacked my camera, went into a little alcove under the platform and took great pictures of my friend and I in front of the iconic palace. Being eternally skeptical, we thought he would ask for money, but he didn’t. I think he just wanted to be a photographer, maybe in another lifetime old man?
The Taj Mahal is a wonder of architecture and a shrine to the love of a King for his wife; once inside another old man grabbed us and showed us the main points of interest about the mausoleum – the marble, the tombs, the echo of the dome. This time he did ask for money, our luck had run out.
We just hung around the Taj for a while and soaked it all in. It really is an incredible place but it was boiling hot and I was dying a little bit from the heat.
We wanted to grab some lunch and thought that leaving from the main gate would give us some luck in finding restaurants (there are around 2 million tourists that visit Agra every year). As soon as we left the main entrance of the Taj we were in this dingy alleyway full of shops that sold cheap souvenirs. At this point we just needed air conditioning because of the heat and we fully expected to find a decent place to eat. We were VERY VERY wrong. Every place we saw looked dirty, unsanitary and worst – no A/C! A man saw us wandering around and said he had a hotel above the restaurant. He said he would open up a hotel room for us with air conditioning at no extra charge and we could eat there!
So we ended up in this slightly dodgy looking hotel room with green felt on the walls and enjoyed a great lunch of garlic naan, koftha and parathas. We then went on a quest for an ATM, souvenirs and the red fort.
Considering the 2 million tourists visiting Agra every year, you would expect some level of development or infrastructure in the city. This is another wrong assumption, when you are in the compound of the Taj Mahal, its pristine but as soon as you leave the gate you are plunged into under development and poverty at its finest. There were countless homeless people, dirtier streets, people walking around without basic clothing or shoes – here the disparity of the splendor of Taj Mahal to abject poverty of the surrounding streets was the greatest I witnessed in India.
On the way back from the ATM to the taxi, we caught some “human” rickshaws. These are guys that cycle you to your destination. Man, were they struggling. The boys in our little group decided to try it out and cycled most of the way back to our taxi. Yes, we paid the boys to do all the work, but it was very entertaining.
My overall impression of Agra is quite simple: the Taj Mahal is amazing, but Agra itself leaves something to be desired.