Day 18: Delhi and Agra

I have a relatively short blog post today!

Thanks to an upset tummy, I don’t have much to write about other than rolling around in bed and, well…. I’ll leave it at that.

I’m feeling better now.

At the end of my last blog post, we were leaving Chandigarh and heading to Delhi. We arrived in Delhi and checked into The Madpackers Hostel in Delhi’s posh neighborhood, hauz khas.

This neighborhood was very fancy. Its commercial plazas contained high-end western brand names and glitzy hotels. There were Audis and BMWs on almost every street.

It was quite different from the Delhi I had seen during my previous stay in the city.

The Madpackers Hostel was a hip backpackers’ destination in the heart of this neighborhood. We arrived at the hostel’s main lounge to find its guests lying around, chatting, surfing the web, drawing, drinking chai and strumming acoustic guitars.

The guests were almost entirely white people.

The walls in the hallways were covered with hand-drawn art, signatures, and philosophical quotes from past guests. Some of the artwork was pretty incredible.

We dropped off our bags in our 10-bed dorm and went out to grab a bite to eat. After dinner, we picked up a few beers and a bottle of wine. It was Vini’s last night before her return to Canada, so we figured we’d have a bit of fun. It had been a dry trip up until this point.

The liquor store was on wheels. It was madness! People were doing everything short of trampling one another to be served. I managed to make my way to the front counter and order two 4-packs of King Fischer and one bottle of white wine for Avi.

Because our exact liquor store order is relevant information for this blog post.

We got back to the hostel and made our way to the rooftop patio. There was a crew of people having drinks around the table so we joined them.

There were tourists from England, Israel, and New Zealand at the table. We met some colorful characters, one of whom was a journalist from New Zealand who was responsible for writing that viral article about an octopuss escaping from an aquarium. Remember that news story?

Avi nearly asked for her autograph.

We finished up our drinks and went to bed. On the following day, Avi and I stayed in bed until about 4pm due to stomach sickness. Matt and Vini explored the city in the meantime.

We finally mustered the strength to leave the hostel at about 5pm. We did some shopping and I ordered some more Domino’s Pizza. A riveting outing.

We returned to the hostel and said goodbye to Vini, who was flying back to Canada. And now there are three of us.

We took the train from Delhi to Agra early this morning. We booked the air-conditioned, seated car and it was very comfortable. A group of Québecois travellers were seated behind us. Small world.

Now we’re relaxing in our hostel in Agra, a cool spot called the Backpacker Panda. We have our own 3-bed private room which is nice.

We’re about to go grab lunch at what is apparently the cheapest restaurant in all of India. It’s called Joney’s Place. I’ll update you with how cheap it ends up being and how stomach sick I subsequently become.

Tonight we’re going to see the Taj Mahal. And we’ll check it out again in the morning, likely at sunrise.

I’ll include photos of the Taj Mahal in my next blog post. We’ll be leaving Agra and heading to Jaipur tomorrow!

Thanks for stopping by.

Dylan

Day 15: Chandigarh, Shimla, and Amritsar

We departed from Leh and landed in Delhi on July 13th. Upon arrival in Delhi, we had an hour to kill before Avi and her mom were picking us up.

We ate samosas in the airport and milked our free 45 minutes of wi-fi. (The Delhi airport only authorizes 45 minutes of free wi-fi at a time.)

We left the airport to greet Avi and her mom. We waited for a few minutes at the car pick-up point when, to my delight, a smiling Avi came running toward us and gave me a big hug.

“I cannot believe we are greeting each other here,” said Avi’s mom.

It was a lovely reunion but cars were honking their horns at our driver so we hopped in the car and proceeded on our path.

Within no more than 10 minutes of driving, we were pulled over by some gentlemen in uniforms. The driver rolled down his window and exchanged a few words in Hindi with the officers, and eventually got out of the car to go talk with the uniformed men behind a tree. It was shady and weird and to this day we’re still not sure what it was all about, but we’re still alive so there’s that!

We were en route to Chandigarh and the drive ahead was 5 hours long. We stopped off at a highway-side restaurant called Haveli (a popular local franchise) at the recommendation of Avi’s mom. The food was cooked in classic Punjabi style, and it was downright delicious.

After about 5 hours of driving through agricultural landscapes peppered with Gurudwaras and turbaned men riding motorcycles, we finally arrived in Chandigarh.

Chandigarh:

Chandigarh was different than every other city I had seen so far in India.

It was very clean and very developed. The landscaping on the roundabouts was gorgeous. It felt richer than other cities. It was less chaotic.

It was modern. And it is, in fact, a very young city – Chandigarh was completed in 1960.

I had once heard someone say that Chandigarh is to India what Ottawa is to Canada, and I definitely agree with this comparison.

We had the luxury of being able to stay in Avi’s grandparents’ condo in Sahibzada Ajit Singh Nagar, a suburb just outside of Chandigarh. The condo building was called the Soul Space Mayfair, very chic.

We took an auto-rickshaw into one of Chandigarh’s markets. The market was different than other cities we had visited as it was contained indoors and there were no white tourists to be seen. I met a funny Punjabi guy who was trying to sell me a pair of knock-off Yeezy shoes for 2200 rupees ($44 CAD).

We ate street food on our way home. The food was called panipuri and it was essentially a crunchy ball of dough filled with spicy liquid. It instantly turned my stomach but Matt and Avi’s mom competed against each other to finish about 10 each. It was impressive!

Here’s a photo of us at the street food stand:

20170713_210357.jpg

The next day we visited the zoo. I won’t bore you with the details but we saw a bunch of animals including hippos, monkeys, zebras, jaguars, lions, and peacocks.

Here’s a photo of us on the lion safari:

20170714_152202

After the zoo, we went to a restaurant called Sindhi Sweets (another local Punjabi staple). It was so delicious that Avi, Vini and Avi’s mom literally cried after taking a bite of the dessert.

After dinner, I went to a custom-tailored suit shop and ordered a suit for $125 CAD. I hope it turns out okay, I’ll be going to pick it up later this evening. I also bought two Modi jackets.

Shimla:

We left for Shimla at 8:30am the following morning. It was a slow, beautiful drive up the mountainside. The towns along the hillsides resembled Cinque Terre, Italy.

Shimla was scenic and picturesque but unfortunately it was pretty foggy during our stay. At points I wondered whether we were in India or St. John’s, Newfoundland.

We shopped around in the market and fed the monkeys bananas (which we immediately learned that we should not be doing). It was a fairly uneventful evening but worthwhile nonetheless.

The next day, we took a “toy train” ride back to Chandigarh. The name is misleading – it was basically just a regular train. It took us down the mountain very slowly.

The train let us out in Kalka and we took a cab the remainder of the way to Chandigarh. The cabbie lied to us about having A/C in his van and, upon calling him out on it, he threatened to throw us out on the side of the highway if we mentioned it again. He would later bribe a cop who pulled him over in Chandigarh to verify his taxi licence.

We went to bed early as we were leaving for Amritsar the following morning.

Amritsar:

Amritsar was hands-down the highlight of my trip thus far.

Our plan was to leave Chandigarh and travel directly to the Wagah border ceremony, a daily tradition at the India-Pakistan border. We had to stop in at Lovely Professional University along the way as Avi’s mom had a meeting with some faculty members there. We had little expectation for this short detour, but it turned out to be a memorable experience in and of itself.

Lovely Professional University is a private university located in Jalandhar. We were escorted into the administrative building by a guard at the front gate. The campus was lush with green space and it contained every amenity a student could possibly ask for: a mall, restaurants, athletic facilities, housing accommodations, etc.

We were brought into the administrative building and led to Avi’s mom’s meeting room. Matt, Vini, Avi and I sat around twiddling our thumbs, not sure exactly how this meeting would unravel with us just sitting there.

Within moments, Avi’s mom’s colleagues entered the room and we were all immediately disarmed – as they started hugging each other and cracking jokes, it became clear that this meeting was going to be very casual.

We left the university and arrived at the Wagah border ceremony just in time. It was about 6:00pm and it felt like 50 degrees Celsius outside. And it was really humid. I had never experienced all-consuming heat like that ever before.

The ceremony was an impressive display of patriotism and culture. For context, this ceremony occurs on a daily basis and signifies the closure of the India-Pakistan border. Given the turbulent history between these two countries, this ceremony is intended to be a civilized expression of healthy competition. Each side of the border gets its chance to show off its pride and fortitude.

Each country’s army members performed what looked like a marching synchronized dance. It was nice to see that India’s ceremony was kicked off with two female officers marching strongly towards the border gate.

The crowds cheered hysterically and music blared from the loud speakers. Guards with sniper rifles monitored the venue from an elevated platform surrounding the India side of the border.

It was an incredible sight.

Following the ceremony, we made our way back to our hotel in Amritsar, just steps away from the Golden Temple.

Amritsar is a really cool city. It looked gritty and smoggy and urban. There was a certain vibe in the air, a spiritual frequency, brought upon by the presence of the Golden Temple.

We checked into a guesthouse for people who go on a pilgrimage to Harmandir Sahib, which turned out to be quite beautiful. After dropping off our bags, we went to see the Golden Temple at night.

I truly can’t describe how spectacular it was.

The first thing I saw was a vast, marble entranceway leading to a majestic, illuminated arch-shaped opening. Hundreds of people were scattered along the marble floor of the entrance, sleeping and meditating and resting from the heat. You could hear tablas and traditional Punjabi instruments droning from the other side of the archway, getting louder with every step towards the sacred establishment, gradually escalating the intensity of the experience.

We walked to the shoe station, where we handed over our shoes and washed our hands. Finally, we cleansed our feet in water as we stepped through the arch-shaped illuminated opening and into the view of the Golden Temple itself.

The temple emitted beautifully warm golden light into the air and surrounding holy water. It was such a peaceful sight. People were perched along the perimeter of the holy water, meditating and enjoying the view.

Here’s a photo:

20170717_215802.jpg

We arrived at the perfect time, as the volunteers were preparing to carry the holy scripture from the temple back into the adjacent building where it rests every night. The scripture gets carried on a golden carriage, decorated with flowers. The volunteers sang a chant while carrying the carriage into the temple and back.

Here’s another photo:

20170717_221427

We left the Golden Temple and finished off the night with the biggest treat of all: Domino’s Pizza. Large cheese pizza. Tasted identical to back home. It was amazing.

The next day, we went back to the Golden Temple to see it during daylight and, this time, we actually entered the temple itself. Every millimeter of the inner lining of the building was plated with highly-detailed, golden art. A group of men played music on the floor and community members threw cash donations in front of them. On the second floor balcony, people sat around and meditated along the walls.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t permitted to take photos on the inside so I have no photos to show you!

We proceeded to eat lunch at the langar hall. Serving the needy is a fundamental value in Sikhism so this meal provides food for anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or class, on a daily basis for free. The food was absolutely exquisite.

We sat on the floor in long rows and volunteers walked down the rows carrying vats of curries and rotis, dispersing portions on every plate with a spatula. If you wanted more roti, the convention was to hold out your hands so as to show a sign of humility.

Last but not least, just before leaving Amritsar we stopped into Jalian Wala Bagh. This monument recognizes the grizzly slaying of thousands of innocent Sikh people by the British soldiers upon their gathering for a peaceful cultural celebration when they were ordered not to gather in large groups.

In the following photo, the outlined holes in the brick wall were bullet holes from British guns.

20170718_144339.jpg

It was a heavy note on which to leave the city, but an important and disturbing historical reminder.

Now we are back in Chandigarh, laying low for a couple of days before heading to Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan. This trip continues to get more and more interesting. We’re all having fun, despite some minor tummy upsets…

Thanks for reading. Chat soon!

Dylan

Day 7: New Delhi and Ladakh

I regret not publishing a blog post every day up till now on my trip, but I failed to account for the lack of reliable Wi-Fi in certain regions of India so today’s post will have to capture about 7 days worth of adventuring!

I could write a novel about what I’ve seen and experienced so far but I’ll start from the top and keep it as brief as possible.

New Delhi:

I landed in Delhi on July 5th at about 10:30am. My plan was to commute to my hotel near Connaught Place where I was to meet my friend Vini and make plans from there.

I hopped on the metro at the airport and took it all the way to New Delhi station. I was impressed by how modern and clean was the metro system itself. The train glided along the tracks smoothly and the seats were very comfortable and spacious.

When I got out at New Delhi station, the culture shock kicked in instantly. And intensely.

This being my first time traveling outside of North America, my sheltered perspective amplified every small observation into overdrive.

The first thing I saw was a long row of homeless people lying on the ground in the blazing heat. There were children, adults, seniors and a number of them were missing limbs. I crossed the street and nearly got hit by about 10 vehicles.

I was immediately targeted and approached by auto-rickshaw drivers trying to solicit my business. Thankfully, Vini had forewarned me about this and suggested that a rickshaw from New Delhi station to our hotel shouldn’t cost more than about 50 rupees.

I was offered a ride for 350 rupees.

I managed to haggle the price down to 150 rupees. When the driver stepped on the accelerator, I instantly went into a state of simultaneous panic and amusement. I had heard about the driving in India but I could not comprehend how a flow of traffic could be that chaotic and yet so orderly. Every square inch of the roads were consumed by a vehicle, a cow, or a person jumping aside from a honking vehicle.

I loved the city immediately.

The driver took me for a bit of a ride and dropped me off somewhere that wasn’t my hotel. He said he couldn’t drop me straight at the hotel as the street was inaccessible by car. To make matters better, my phone was completely dead so I couldn’t navigate myself with a map. Here goes nothing, I thought.

I managed to make it to the hotel with the help of a few locals on the street. When I finally arrived to the hotel and saw Vini’s familiar face, it was like finding an oasis of water in a dessert! (In retrospect, I have no idea why I felt so overwhelmed on the way to the hotel… I guess it was a combination of thirst, culture shock and the persistent soliciting on the street.)

Vini and I went out for a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant called Krishna Café. It was a rooftop restaurant and provided a great view of the market area. The food was delicious and cheap. So, so cheap. About $3 CAD for a filling and homemade vegetarian feast. Here’s a photo I snapped from the restaurant:

 

20170705_153331.jpg

After lunch, we went on to explore New Delhi by foot. We only had 2 days in the city before we had to fly out to Leh, so we figured we’d hit up all of the main tourist attractions.

We visited Jantar Mantar, an 18th-century astronomy complex. It was pretty cool, take a look at the photo below:

20170705_162705.jpg

We walked around the markets and I pondered how businesses operate in this environment. There were countless merchants selling the exact same things, at the exact same price points, in virtually identical facilities.

How much does rent cost for a storefront in a New Delhi market? How much do these stores do in sales? What makes a competitor win in this marketplace?

We proceeded to check out India Gate. It was an impressive sight. Take a look at the photo below.

20170705_174955.jpg

Vini and I returned to the hotel and fell asleep early. Surprisingly I didn’t experience any jetlag whatsoever.

The next day, we visited Old Delhi. I had thought New Delhi, near our hotel, felt crowded…. well, Old Delhi made New Delhi feel like farmland in comparison.

We visited the Red Fort. It wasn’t just a clever name — the attraction was a vast, red-colored army fort. It was beautiful.

On our way into the fort, we stopped into an art shop where a friendly man was selling meticulously detailed original paintings. These paintings featured Indian imagery and they were painted on postcards and the backs of book pages, such that you could see the Hindi calligraphy on the backside of the piece.

The shop owner sat us down and told us that his family had been in business in this location for about 150 years.

“With art, it’s the expression that counts,” he repeatedly told us.

He was a good salesman. We were sold. We each bought a piece of art to bring back to our families.

After leaving Red Fort, we took a bicycle-rickshaw (not sure what the technical term is..?) around Old Delhi. We passed by a gorgeous Mosque but unfortunately I was wearing shorts and forgot to bring full-length pants and thus we couldn’t enter for a tour.

We decided to grab lunch at a nearby hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Karim’s. I ordered a chicken curry dish and it burned my mouth off but it was friggin’ delicious. The meat fell right off the bone.

After lunch, we hopped on a rickshaw back to the hotel. We passed by a street that was peppered with liquor stores and people drinking on the sidewalks.

By now it was probably around 7:00pm on July 6th and we had to be at the Delhi airport by 9:30pm to greet our friend, Matt, who was joining us for our 5:00am flight to Leh the following morning. Our plan was to meet him and take turns sleeping in the airport rather than renting a hotel room for a few hours of sleep.

Vini and I took a cab to the arrivals terminal and tried to enter the airport only to be met with a sobering “No” by the guards holding AK-47’s when we asked if we could enter the terminal to find our friend.

Luckily, Matt stepped outside just moments later so everything was okay.

We stepped to the information kiosk to ask how we should proceed to the departures terminal to check in and rest up. Naturally, the kiosk attendant promptly told us that this was not allowed and that he knew a really nice hotel just a few minutes away… and he had the hotel owner on speed dial…. and the hotel was quite expensive……

We sensed that we were about to get ripped off so we said “no thanks” and proceeded to take a shuttle bus to the domestic departures terminal.

We walked into the terminal with ease and saw numerous travelers sleeping on the lobby seats. We found a corner of the lobby and I passed out for an hour or two while Matt somehow stayed awake following a direct flight from Toronto to New Delhi (this is the trip of no jetlag, apparently…)

After a few hours, we boarded our flight to Leh. I had absolutely no idea what to expect as it was Vini’s initiative (thank you, Vini!!) to visit Leh before my girlfriend’s arrival in India.

Little did I know I was about to step into the most scenic and culturally interesting regionthat I could possibly imagine…

Leh, Ladakh:

On the airplane, I was seated next to a white German man who went on to tell me that he lives in Delhi and operates a coffee shop in Leh. I could have probed him on that for the full duration of the flight but I left it at that because I was still sleepy.

I asked Vini to wake me up when we could see mountains from the plane (this would be my first time ever seeing mountains in my memory) and dosed off for another hour or so.

Vini nudged me awake and I looked out the window.

“Ho-ly shit,” I muttered.

Words truly can’t describe the breathtaking sensation of seeing the Himalayas spanning as far as the eye can see. The snowy caps on the high mountains, the infinitely unique formations in the rock faces, the vegetation and rivers….

I was a big city brat before coming on this trip but I think I might be converted to an outdoorsy guy.

We landed and were greeted by a driver who was to take us to our home stay about 15 minutes from the airport. He grabbed our 3 backpacks, tossed them on the top of his van, didn’t strap them on, and we were off to the races.

We stayed at a quaint guest house called Tsetan Guest House (named after the place’s manager, Tsetan). This place had rave reviews on Hostel World and I can now see why.

The guest house consisted of a central dining room and kitchen area with traditional decor and padded floors along the inside perimeter of the dining room walls. There were a few guest rooms in this central building, and there were a few adjacent buildings containing more guest rooms.

Tying the whole complex together was a delightful courtyard area with seating and tables in front of the central building. In this courtyard we met people from South Africa, Israel, England, United States, New Zealand, and everywhere else you could think of.

Surrounding the guest house were mountainous landscapes and trees. This place was paradise.

But these romantic descriptions wouldn’t be felt on my arrival day in the city – I had to pay my dues by getting altitude sickness first!

Fast-forward 24 hours of tossing and turning and nausea and headaches and I woke up to this view out of our room’s window:

20170708_081931.jpg

 

The photo doesn’t do it justice.

On our second day in Leh, I was feeling much better so we decided to do a tour of 3 nearby Bhuddist monasteries.

I wish I had taken specific notes of each monastery’s distinct features because the day trip has already melded into a slightly vague blur.

Here are some of the key points to hopefully paint a picture of the experience:

  • In each of the temples, there were highly-detailed “prayer wheels” painted beautifully that were to be rotated clockwise as a spiritual practice
  • There were Bhuddist monks meditating and playing traditional percussion instruments inside the temples
  • Humongous statues of Bhudda had been constructed in each of the temples and these were multiple floor levels in height. These statues were immaculately crafted and maintained.
  • Local cars drove along the streets with bumper stickers along the lines of: “Alone but happy”.
  • In general, these establishments conveyed the fascinating influence of Tibetan culture on the northern Indian communities. I don’t know much about either of these cultures or histories but I am VERY eager to learn more after this trip.

We came home and fell asleep pretty early as our plan for the next day was to drive to Nubra Valley and Turtek to explore the culture and, equally as importantly, to ride camels in the sand dunes.

This drive turned out to be long. Like, really long. But it was absolutely incredible and a must-do for any tourists in this part of India. The drive was a total of about 9 hours or so from Leh to the northernmost village in India, Turtuk. It involved us passing the highest motorable road in the world, which was pretty neat!

We drove around winding, narrow mountain roads that could barely accommodate two cars’ width. The car’s horn was king on this mountain. Around every blind turn, cars were expected to honk their horns to let their presence be known.

Our driver was a humble man who turned on a variety of Bhuddist chants in the car. The music was terrific and featured traditional instrumentation and intriguingly long phrasings. Some of these traditional chants would drone on for what felt like a half an hour or more.

Within a 9 hour drive, we experienced a huge variety of landscapes. Forests, rivers, rocky versus sandy mountain faces, dark brown rivers, sand dunes…

And we saw a lot of wildlife. Mostly cows, stray dogs, and donkeys. We exhausted every “ass” pun you could possibly conceive of during that drive.

We stopped off at a village for lunch. The menu offered fried rice plates, chow mein, and “momo’s” (these are basically deep fried dumplings as far as I understand… they were tasty!)

We eventually made it to Nubra Valley where we stopped off to see the most amazing Bhudda statue I had seen to date:

20170708_111340.jpg

We continued driving for another few hours and eventually arrived in Turtek, at the northern tip of India. It was already pretty late, maybe around 8:00pm or so, so we had resigned to taking it easy near our home stay which we had stumbled across.

The owners of the home stay offered to take us for a brief tour around the area including a visit to the museum. They could speak very little English so we were lucky to have our newfound backpacker friend, Ani, along for the ride to help with translation.

We walked through the paths of the village and saw young Muslim children everywhere. Women were carrying heavy loads of grass and bagged products all over the place. Families were filling water buckets from streams and carrying them back to their homes.

This village, we were told, was firmly resistant to modernization and capitalism. Its residents valued sustainable living with a passion. Technological developments, such as Wi-Fi access, were met with suspicion and avoided.

We were brought to the museum which was hosted in a history-rich royal home. Our museum tour guide was a member of the royal family. He taught us all about the history and religious conflicts in the area with a heavily detailed family tree style diagram painted on the wall.

We returned back to our home stay, had a late dinner and went to bed. We had to be on the road again at 7:00am the next morning if we wanted to leave enough time to ride camels in the sand dunes!

The following day can be summarized with just that: we rode on camels in the sand dunes.

It was so fun. Camels are adorable creatures. We paid 200 rupees ($4 CAD) for a 15-minute ride on the camels. My camel tripped up slightly while I was riding it. Too much butter paneer, I guess.

Here’s a view of the sand dunes:

20170710_103015.jpg

 And a cute photo of the camels for good measure:

20170710_103915.jpg

We got home at a reasonable hour and spent the afternoon in the market. Matt and Vini splurged on pashmina scarves and their process of finding a trustworthy pashmina vendor was hilarious in itself.

Since 100% pashmina scarves are apparently only produced in the Ladakh region, the market was filled with pushy salesmen trying to hustle pashminas.

We stopped into a bunch of shops and each merchant would show off their unique gimmick for demonstrating their pashminas’ purity. Some merchants would perform a “water test” whereby they drop a bead of water on the scarf and state that if it doesn’t soak into the material, then it must be pure pashmina. Others would engage us with a “fire test” where they would quite literally light their garments on fire to show how quickly the flame stops burning…. which apparently means pure pashmina?

We eventually found this sweet, kind soul of a shop owner and proceeded to buy a bunch of products from him. Here we are with him in his shop:

20170712_170834.jpg

The next day was not too exciting. We went on a brief hike just outside of Leh and each did our own thing in the afternoon (catching up on emails, shopping, sightseeing, etc.)

It’s now midnight and we’re leaving for the Leh airport at 5:30am tomorrow morning to head back to Delhi to meet my girlfriend, Avi, and her mom. We’ll be congregating in Delhi airport and taking a drive up to Chandigarh to visit Avi’s mom’s hometown.

I have a feeling it’s going to be a very special experience to witness her family’s hometown first-hand. I can’t wait to continue this eye-opening journey!

But for now I should get some shut-eye.

Thanks for reading and I’ll make an effort to update this blog more regularly going forward!

Cheers,

Dylan

And the trip begins… My 10-hour layover in London, England

So Canada Day weekend came and went in what felt like an instant and now I’m sitting at a bar in London, England!

I had the pleasure of spending Canada 150 weekend with my friends as my sublet guest moved into my apartment on June 29th. My girlfriend and I crashed at our friend’s place for the weekend and they had a house party to celebrate the nation’s birthday. Overall it was a fun and busy weekend with last minute chores and client work before leaving the country.

I’m already slightly disoriented with my sense of time and date.

I hopped on my outgoing flight from Ottawa to London at about 11pm on July 3rd, and luckily I managed to sleep through most of the flight. When I arrived in London at ~10am local time on July 4th, I was more or less rested from a night of sleep on the plane.

I had a 10-hour layover ahead so I decided to take the tube downtown and explore a few of the low-hanging touristy sightseeing fruits. I took a tube to Westminster station.

I had a pretty quick glance at Buckingham Palace and flowed with a wave of people in an unknown direction. Spoiler alert: I didn’t do much in the way of activities so excuse my potentially unnecessary descriptive language to compensate for my lack of content.

I walked across the bridge and veered onto a side street as the mass of tourists taking selfies was overwhelming me. My immediate impression of London was: this place looks expensive.

Every retail sign looked so swanky and the architecture screamed class. Very nice looking city – it almost reminds me a bit of Old Montreal.

I needed a coffee so I stepped into a random coffee shop in a strip next to a bunch of restaurants and tourist souvenir shops. I asked the barista for a coffee, to which she responded:

“Black or white?”

I gave no response and probably looked like a deer caught in headlights.

She tried again: “With or without milk?”

“Oh, with milk, please…,” I scurried away with my tail between my legs and my face blushing maple-leaf red.

Cool slang though. I dig it!

Upon leaving the coffee shop, I continued walking in a mysterious direction.

I was on a quest for some intangible “London-esque” vibes and I just so happen to know nothing about London, which made that quest a bit tricky.

I stumbled upon a cool-looking street market with a ton of street food vendors, coffee shops and book stores. Given my time constraints and desire to write this blog post before heading back to the airport, I decided that this street market would be sufficiently “London” for my brief visit.

(To any London locals reading this: I can only imagine how much you’re cringing!)

I stepped into a second hand bookstore and overheard the cashier flirting with a Brazilian customer. I hope she comes back to the store and they fall in love and get married. Some lucky mutual friend deserves to hear that musical blend of accents for the rest of time.

I proceeded to check out all of the street food trucks outside. What a diverse selection! Unfortunately, none of the trucks accepted credit card so I couldn’t indulge (wow, did I just type that..?) I grabbed a Turkish sausage sandwich with fried egg, tomato and hummus at a nearby restaurant instead. It was delicious!

Fast-forward to now. I’m sitting in a bar and hostel called The Walrus. I’m sipping on a pint of Foster’s blond beer. I’m listening to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” album. I can certainly say that I’ve been more stressed than this in the past.

Quick observation: Is tipping for drinks not a thing in London? Or am I just being terribly rude? I ordered a pint and the bartender took my credit card and tapped it on the pin pad on my behalf, without giving me the option to tip… I vaguely recall having heard about this standard in the past, but had forgotten what was the proper etiquette.

I need to hop on the tube again within the next hour or so. My flight for Delhi departs at 9:31pm tonight. I’ll arrive in Delhi at about 10:30am local time on July 5th.

I’m too impressionable for all this: I left Ottawa at 11pm on July 3rd and I’m due to arrive in Delhi at 10am on July 5th. Or, as my brother so astutely joked: “I leave Canada this evening and get to India yesterday morning.”

I’m already feeling tickles of culture shock… I can’t imagine what’s in store for me in India.

I’m so excited.

Anyways, time to go navigate my way back to Heathrow. Wish me luck!

Cheers,

Dylan

Living a Transient Life: Packing Up My Apartment (Again)

I just finished packing up my belongings to move out of my apartment in Ottawa, Canada.

I feel like I repeat this same process every year…

Ever since I moved away from St. John’s, Newfoundland in 2010, I’ve been moving city-to-city on a regular basis. All within a fairly small radius of distance, mind you.

I moved to Montreal for college in 2010 and lived there for four years, with occasional summer stints in St. John’s. What a blur.

Upon graduation in 2014, I moved to Toronto for five months to be trained for my full-time job.

After five months had passed, my employer shipped me back to Montreal for an assignment.

Nine months later, just after I started feeling at home again in Montreal, work sent me to Ottawa to replace a colleague of mine who had been promoted.

And I’ve been living in Ottawa ever since that latter relocation in September 2015.

I’ve enjoyed my time here! Ottawa is a fantastic city for young (or old) professionals looking to live and work and relax and get some thinking done. People are nice and laid back here and it’s a very sensible city.

People care about things here – the political vibes are more apparent than I would have expected before moving here. I guess it makes perfect sense in retrospect.

Anyways, now I’m moving again.

Can you guess where to?

Berlin…? Hong Kong……? New York City………?

*Drum Roll*

Nope — Toronto!

Back to the center of the universe:

I’m actually quite excited.

My girlfriend got accepted into a prestigious Masters program in her field of Law. She’s waiting to hear back on a few interviews as well so it looks like she’s going to have options. I’m so proud of and excited for her.

Now that my office is my laptop, my mobility allows me to move freely with her to Toronto. We’ll be moving there together effective September 1st.

As for the next two months, we’ll be traveling to India and St. John’s, Newfoundland. I’m excited and mentally unprepared and unbelievably grateful at the same time.

Stay tuned here for regular updates on our travels to India!

The effects of frequently moving to a new city

As with many other lifestyle decisions, there are pros and cons to frequently moving to new cities.

Here are some of the potential pros:

  • You’re constantly meeting new people
  • You’re faced with regular “checkpoints” in your life – moving to a new city could be viewed as a fresh start or opportunity to reflect on what you’ve accomplished in a specific amount of time
  • You’re provided with a regular opportunity to assess what material belongings you own and what you should probably consider giving away. I’m biased on this point because I personally dislike hoarding and tend to believe that if I haven’t used an item in a year or more, then I’ll likely never need to use it. I like being forced to review my inventory of possessions every so often.
  • Depending on where you are moving, you might be able to experience a totally new culture. If you are moving from Chicago to Beijing, for example, the cultural learning curve will obviously be a huge pro in and of itself.
  • Your willingness to be mobile could accelerate your career progression.
  • And more…

On the other hand, here are some of the potential cons of moving to new cities too often:

  • Moving is invariably an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. Whether you opt for the cheapest of the IKEA lamps or not, that U-Haul is still costing you a pretty penny. And packing up your apartment or home is either going to cost you a significant amount of time or money.
  • You run the risk of potentially losing contact with good friends or family members in your former city.
  • You have to change addresses with all of your major services, such as banks, government revenue agencies, etc. (I’m lazy, I know)
  • Your fleeting presence might cause you to hold back on commitments or relationships in your current city due to the expectation of an upcoming relocation.
  • You might be stuck renting apartments or buying and selling houses in a less-than-financially-optimal way to accommodate your lifestyle.
  • And more…

At the end of the day, everyone has different priorities in their lifestyle. To some, moving cities every year sounds exciting and fun, and to others it sounds like a nightmare.

Personally, I was anxious to move around and live in various cities as recently as a couple of years ago. I’m finding myself increasingly attracted to the idea of settling down in a city for a little while at this point though.

(Has Ottawa changed me…?)

The idea of calling somewhere my home for more than 2 years is sounding great to me right about now.

Or maybe this is just my physical exhaustion from having packed up my apartment today speaking.

Who knows.

Anyways, I’m going to bed.

Thanks for reading. Night!

 

 

 

 

 

8 Days Away from Travelling to India… Hectic Week Ahead!

I can’t believe I’m travelling to India in 8 days.

I’m so excited but also a bit nervous and stressed about all of the details and logistics I need to take care of between now and then. I’ve been procrastinating a bit.

The time crunch just hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s time to get my s*%t together!

I’m cluing up all of my last minute employment details with my employer this week. This includes handing over my company car, which I’m pretty bummed about.

I also need to prepare my apartment for the sublet guests who will be moving in for the months of July and August (as I’ll be spending August in St. John’s, Newfoundland). I’m extremely thankful for these sublet guests as they’ll be offsetting my rent while I’m away.

Lots of tedious details to juggle carefully over the next week to ensure I’ve taken care of everything before skipping town!

First Week in India:

I still haven’t hammered down an exact plan for my first week in India.

I specify “first week” in India because I’ll be travelling there alone for a few days and will then be greeted by my friend, Matt. My girlfriend, Avi, and her mom will arrive on July 12th.

I want to leave the first portion of the trip somewhat unplanned and fluid because we will be following a fairly rigid schedule when Avi and her mom join us.

I’ll be landing in New Delhi on July 4th. I’ve never traveled alone. I’ve never left North America. I don’t speak Hindi (besides a few expressions I learned from an app).

It’s going to be interesting!

I honestly can’t wait for the culture shock. I love learning about and experiencing other cultures and traveling has been a desire of mine for a long time.

My girlfriend’s mother is from India so it will be awesome to gain a more thorough understanding of their culture and history.

I was supposed to plan out my first few days in New Delhi a bit today but I didn’t get around to it. I’m thinking I’ll just explore the city itself for a few days and then perhaps take a day trip or short overnight excursion to a nearby town when Matt joins me.

I definitely want to explore some of the spiritual aspects of Indian culture when I get there. The temples, meditation, music, etc.

And of course I can’t WAIT for the food. I adore Indian food and I’ve heard the cuisine in India is absolutely incredible. You can expect frequent updates on the food I eat during my travels. Don’t visit my blog on an empty stomach as of July 4th!

Anyways, I didn’t have much to say in this post today. I hope I gave you a riveting look into my mundane Sunday thoughts.

If any of you have traveled to India before, I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below! We’ll be hitting up a bunch of cities in the country, from Punjab all the way down to Goa.

Wishing everyone a happy and productive week ahead!

Cheers,

Dylan

One easy trick to reduce your fear of any scary decision

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I’m a fairly risk-averse person.

I’m scared of things. I get nervous when I think about stepping out of my comfort zone.

But, as of recently, I’ve thankfully realized with full emotional conviction that these statements don’t necessarily need to be true. In fact, you have the power to will them NOT to be true.

You have the potential to completely liberate yourself from fear.

That’s a scary thought in itself, eh?

Don’t be scared! The world is your oyster. You are completely limitless.

If your intention is to be the greatest painter on the planet, you can do it. If you want to be a millionaire, you can do it. If you want to be the best mother in the world, you can do it.

There’s only one (extremely fickle) obstacle standing between you and your wildest dreams: fear.

Fear of judgment. Fear of poverty. Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown. Fear of…….

But here’s the good news: you can overcome any of your fears easier than you might have thought.

Believe me – if I can do it, you can too.

An intimate look at one of my fears:

I’ve always been afraid of not being employed. Societal pressures, cookie-cutter middle-class schooling, ignorance to alternative options, etc. are a few root causes of this fear.

I’ve been told my entire life that my only option was to go to university, graduate and get a stable job that pays well, and squeeze in time for my hobbies and passions on the side. This was the ideal model of success.

And I believed it. For 24 years. And I went over and above to take every necessary action to ensure I was positioned for this model of success.

Until I realized that I wasn’t fulfilled doing so. This was not success to me. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t excited and I wasn’t a good fit.

And guess what: that’s totally fine! In fact, I would argue that it’s beautiful.

For what it’s worth, if you feel like a black sheep in whatever situation you’re currently in, I think you’re amazing and I’m confident that you will do incredible things in your life.

Embrace your uniqueness.

How I got over my fear quickly:

Okay, so you’re probably skimming this article to find the one easy trick that I so facetiously promised in the headline to bait you in to reading my blog (kidding, I love you for being here).

My apologies in advance if this easy trick is underwhelming. I wasn’t kidding when I used the qualifier “easy”.

Here’s the easy trick to reduce your fear of any scary decision: tell someone that you’re planning on choosing the scary option of your scary decision.

Just say it. Or text it. Or email it.

Just let it be known to another human being. And then listen to their response.

You’re going to be surprised with how they respond (depending on how objectively “scary” or drastic your decision actually is, of course.)

You’re likely going to be shocked at how casually they respond: “Yeah, go for it!”

Or how supportively they respond: “I think this is the best decision you’ve ever made in your life.”

The point is: your fear is probably less scary than you are making it out to be in your mind.

So ditch your fear and just go ahead. In fact, I’m inclined to say you should use your fear as a compass. If you’re scared of something, it probably means it’s worthwhile pursuing.

One of my mentors once told me that fear and excitement are opposite sides of the same coin. And I believe this wholeheartedly.

When I spoke with my former boss to formally announce my resignation, I was amazed at how little difference I felt before and after the conversation. It served as an interesting manifestation of how fickle is your perception of fear.

Conclusion:

I realize that this post is by no means an all-encompassing solution to everyone’s particular situation. I’m just scratching the surface of a very complex and universally-experienced emotion.

And I’m speaking from a position of privilege on a number of measures.

My goal with this post was simply to share a tip that helped me, and could hopefully help you too. I intend to elaborate on this theme in future blog posts.

Thanks for checking out The Millenial Merchant and, at the risk of sounding tacky and jeopardizing the integrity of this entire post, I think it’s only appropriate to end this article with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s infamous quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to The Millenial Merchant!

Hi there!

Thanks for stopping by. Please make yourself at home! I’d offer you a coffee or a drink if there wasn’t this computer screen between us.

My name is Dylan and this is my new blog The Millenial Merchant. I’m a 24-year old Newfoundlander currently living in Ottawa, Canada. I’ll try to keep my posts as interesting as possible for you. I hope you will be able to take something of value away from my content.

You can expect this blog to focus primarily on the following umbrella topics:

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Mindset
  • Self-improvement
  • Creativity
  • And whatever other inspiring subjects pop into my head

I’ll make an effort to be funny and casual. I’m going to try to post every day or every other day. If I miss a day or two though, please don’t abandon me – life gets busy sometimes and priorities can shift. I’m in this for the long haul and I’d be humbled if you bookmarked my blog to check in from time to time.

There are a number of reasons why I started this blog.

Before listing those reasons, maybe I should start by introducing myself to provide some context.

To make a long story short, I’m a chemical engineer by education, a musician and creative type at heart, and an entrepreneur as of late. I’m extremely passionate about entrepreneurship.

I’ve recently quit my full-time corporate job in retail marketing/business development to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams on a full-time basis. This was a huge step for me as I’d say I’m a fairly risk-averse, neurotic person. But I actively tweaked my mindset to use fear as a compass and step outside of my comfort zone.

I run a boutique digital marketing agency called ZenRevenue. We’re a new company and we specialize in social media marketing and content marketing for small businesses. We also create websites and e-commerce shops for companies.

So, back to why I decided to start this blog. Here are my reasons:

  • As I take the plunge into my full-time entrepreneurial journey, I want an outlet to candidly share updates and learnings publicly. This will keep me accountable and serve as a forcing mechanism to stay organized and disciplined in my business activities.
  • I’ll be travelling to India from July 3rd to August 8th. My posts during this time frame will serve to document my travels! It’s going to be an exciting and fun adventure with my girlfriend, Avi, and our friend, Matt. I’ll keep you posted on my culture shock and the wonderful foods and sights I come across!
  • To overcome a fear of mine: opening up to the people around me. As this blog is all about self-improvement and overcoming mental barriers, I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t walk the walk. I tend to avoid sharing my feelings and thoughts with others, and I view this as a self-imposed obstacle. So it’s time for me to get vulnerable and get over this fear of judgment. I will try to be as honest as possible while writing my posts, hopefully this will set the stage for me becoming a less neurotic, cagey person!
  • I want to become a better writer. I love writing and I write web content for companies as part of ZenRevenue’s service offering, but one can always improve! So this blog will force me to write every day.

In the long-term, I’m hoping you will be able to learn something from my successes or failures if you choose to follow this blog as an “entrepreneur ride-along”.

I’ll get into the nitty gritty of my operation, systems and tested strategies when I get back to Canada in August and hit the ground running with my business. For now, I’m dialing back on client acquisition as I want to be able to enjoy my India trip stress-free and return to Canada refreshed and ready for business!

Hopefully this intro post provides a clear overview on what you can expect from The Millenial Merchant. Please feel free to leave comments or reach out to me at anytime! I love hearing from my readers and connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs or people seeking fulfillment in their life.

Chat soon,

Dylan