S: India 2012
FC: India 2012
1: Welcome to India 2012! This is the belated college graduation present for Morgan. She wanted to experience a 'Traveling Geezer' trip with her father. After much deliberation, discussion, and drama they chose India. I'm not sure India will ever be the same!
3: The Journey Begins Good afternoon from Indira Ghandi Airport, Delhi, India where we are waiting to catch a plane to Udaipur. The airport has a brand new terminal that is very modern and very large. From what I’ve been able to gather, the old terminal was filthy and filled with pickpockets and hawkers of all stripes. First, the mundane. It is always challenging to know exactly where to begin, but perhaps the flight over would be a good place to start. It was long; 12-1/2 hours, non-stop. I was fortunate to use points/miles to upgrade to Business Class which has seats that become beds. On a long flight, at my age and size, it’s become mandatory. The plane was packed with numerous Indian and Indian/American families (lots of small crying children) so only Morgan had to deal with the noise. (Least you think I am bad father, I did attempt to upgrade Morgan, but she lost out at the last moment.) Our first impression of Delhi is a very large, overcrowded metropolis with terrible air where you can actually see the particulate matter. Our eyes burned. There are armed troops everywhere, including many at the airport and some at barricades with machine guns. At the hotels, troops search cars and look under the cars with a mirror device for bombs. What we did expect and saw were some unbelievable slums with everything out in the open on piles of garbage. It’s colorful, noisy and chaotic and the people are incredibly friendly on the street.
4: Hangin' Out...
5: Truckin' Along...
7: THE Taj
11: Udaipur, Rajasthan, City of Lakes This is a beautiful mountain city of some 800,000. This city has become very prosperous over the past decade due to both its open marble mines and the tourist trade. The prosperity can be seen in the large number of cars that in many instances have taken the place of tuk-tuk like 3 wheelers. The air is much clearer than Delhi. The city is the Mewari Maharawana’s capitol. (Note the last 4 letters. This designates a warrior and has to do with the unwillingness of the Maharwana to give in to Moguls of Delhi). This dynasty, which still exists today, goes back to the 7th century and is the oldest dynasty in the world. The city is filled with parks, built originally for the court ladies, and has a HUGE palace that stretches almost a mile. The palace sits on Lake Pichola. There are 400 lakes here, most of them man-made. However, the most obvious thing here, at least to us, is the grinding poverty. Moragn's comments: “So, let's see. I stood in an 11th Hindu century temple, I went barefoot into a practicing Hindu temple in a 180 temple complex, I toured the Maharwana's palace and saw the largest crystal collection in the world, I took a boat ride with a hotel in the middle of the lake, and I went shopping, haggled and bought a top!”
18: Udaipur to Jodpur (The Blue City) When driving in India "you need good horn, good brakes, and good luck" --Mr. Vigrahm As great as all of the sights like forts, temples, palaces, museums, etc. are, the best thing about travel is the ability to see how others live; to be in their culture if possible and if not, to at least witness it. In the past 4 days, we have taken in excess of 1,000 photographs, most of them on the streets and roadways. (You will note many pictures of saris -- and trucks). That’s a Morgan thing. She finds them beautiful and they are. There are saris for each season and each occasion dictated by tradition.) The later due to a long 5 hour drive between Udaipur and Jodpur. India has certainly been as fascinating as any place I have been. With over 1 billion people, India is slowly making its way into the modern world and has all the successes and deficiencies that go with that struggle. But, it is trying and it is trying hard. Everywhere we go and talk to the younger people, they are all studying to be somebody. Many of them have more than a single degree. Yet, the villages remain as they were hundreds of years ago other than some having electricity. Almost everything that these people need they can produce or trade for. They live a very simple life.
19: We left early on Saturday morning with our guide from the day before. He was an interesting and very intelligent man that was unfailingly polite. He spoke perfect English. He spent Friday with us as we toured Udaipur and met us Saturday morning to take us over an hour away, out of the mountains and on to the plains, to a very famous Jain temple in the middle of nowhere. It was a beautiful building and we were bless by a priest. Now I know what the colored string wristbands are for. He left us there and we continued for another 3 hours to Jodpur. Let me interrupt the narrative here and give you a brief lesson on driving, if you can call it that, in India. Most of the highways, and some do not deserve that name, are 2 lane affairs. However, the Indians make 3 lanes out of the two. The third lane can be on either side of the road, but is usually in the middle. They get right behind a vehicle, and I mean right behind, honk their horns and pass. Of course, even if they look, there are huge numbers of near misses. However, after getting somewhat used to this, Morgan and I have decided that our driver, Mr. Vikram is definitely among the best of them. He has been driving HIS tourists around for 18 years and takes great pride in his safety record. (He’s also a gem of a man and loves to chat when there are no guides with us.) We count on him for all of our needs while in his care.
26: A day in the life—Sunday in Jodpur I’m starting backwards here. We had a great day and evening. The last thing we did was have Tahli which is a vegetarian Indian dim sum. They give you an 18 inch round platter with 8 individual small bowls. Each bowl is filled with a different food. It was fabulous and spicy and that from someone who doesn’t eat Indian food and is not a vegetarian. I think that the total price was $12. Half the Indian population is vegetarian! Prior to that, we went by jeep into a village complex about 30 minutes outside the city. The best way I can describe this area is a very dry plain. The villages live very simply with no running water, but they do have electricity. They have goats and some cattle for milking. In one of the village was a potter who specializes in huge water jugs and small containers. In another village was a man who belongs to a rather strange Hindu sect. They drink opium. They grind the opium and mix it with water and sugar and drink it. They do this several times a day and eventually, by 35 or so, become addicts. Last was a weaving co-op. In the afternoon we spent some hours walking around the old market. We bought spices and oils. The market’s main point is a clock tower and there were masses of people shopping. This was after seeing the famous Red Fort and crematorium.
27: On the road again -- Jodpur to Jaipur We left for Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan and spent 6 hours on the road. There are endless small towns and villages on the way. In one of them there was a religious ceremony. Being me, I got out of the car and became one of the perhaps 500 people attending. Everywhere we go, naturally we stand out; big white guy and western woman. People continually want to talk to us and always give us a big smile. Jaipur – The Pink City Jaipur, The Pink City, one of the oldest planned cities in the world, is the capital of Rajisthan. We had a great time there with a city walk and seeing the magnificent Amber Fort. We rode a long way up to the fort on an elephant which our guide told us has been the manner of travel there for hundreds of years.
33: Agra and the Taj Agra is not only famous for the Taj. It has a number of UNESCO World heritage sights including the Agra Fort which was wonderful. In fact, after seeing all of the buildings that we saw with the fabulous architecture and inlay work of precious and semi-precious stones, it is remarkable that while the Europeans were living in the Middle Ages, these people were building these incredible edifices with cooling systems, observatories, etc. Agra, like all of the other places we have been to has this incredible mix of village and modern life. Indeed, when you enter the outskirts of the city you think you are in one of the villages you have just passed. It's the same crazy mix of people, animals, and vehicles coming at you in every direction that is seen everywhere else. Only when you get closer to the Taj does this change and the buildings become more modern. Finally, what can I really say about the Taj (and about having a room with a balcony that faced it and the Oberoi hotel) that hasn't been said already and with much more grace? It is remarkable and breathtaking. Seeing it for the first time as you come through the arch is something neither Morgan or I will ever forget. Photos can't really capture it and this magnificent building alone was worth the long journey here.
50: Agra to Delhi The journey from Agra to Delhi that, well, to say the least, was unbelievable. It is 120 kilometers or 72 miles and took us, ready, 5 hours! That's a 5! First, the fog was so thick that you couldn't see more than a few feet in front of you. That lasted on and off for an hour or so. Then, there is the road, a national highway of between 4 and 6 lanes. Good right? Like the US right? No, not right! On each side of most of the highway are towns and villages and the people and their animals walk, trot, and run back and forth between the sides. So, how about camels in the middle of the road or a spare elephant or two? Add to this the cars, motorcycles, and trucks that do the same and you get mass confusion and extreme danger. As if all of this was not enough, we have cars and HUGE trucks going the wrong way in our lanes. Not just one or two of them, many of them. The very fact that we became used to this tells you something about life here and no doubt about us. (Mr. Vikrahm, our wonderful driver, tells us that "no obey rules in countryside" and people "give money to police and get license" and "can't do in Delhi, very strict, big fines.)
52: Delhi Delhi is huge (18 million) and divided into Old Delhi and New Delhi. As you would expect, ND is a very cosmopolitan, world class city. The streets are broad, with animals, rickshaws and the like absent by law and the parks, especially Lodi Gardens (built in the 15th century) are beautiful, lush and well kept. All of the high end shops are here as are the high end hotels. Old Delhi, on the other hand, is exactly what the rest of India looks like; a complete madhouse of animals, people, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, cars, trucks and masses of people. (The oldest mosque in India is located here as well.) The market is huge and is divided, as an example, into auto streets that are further divided into sections for wheels, bearings, tires, etc. Anything you need, you can buy here. We traveled through the market in a rickshaw which was quite the experience. As an aside, the weather here has been very cold at between 33 and 40 at night and the 60's in the day. The poorer Indians, most of the country, are not at all prepared for this and we see them with blankets and scarves wrapped around their bodies. There are no winter cloths, no coats, gloves, etc. They make small fires, on the sides of the roads, in the villages and cities, etc. in attempt to get warm.
60: The end of the roadfor now Needless to say, this has been a fascinating experience. India is a vast country of which we visited only the North (the states of Rajhasthan, Utter Pradish, and Haryana). The cities, towns, and villages of India are by far the loudest of any country that I have ever been to, particularly at the roundabouts and markets. There are huge crowds of people mixed in with every description of vehicle and animal including, most especially in Rajhasthan, camels and elephants! The sounds of everyday life; people bargaining for goods or chatting with their friends in the markets, mothers trying to sooth crying children, animals braying, temple drums and bells playing, and the ever constant ear splitting horns of every description blowing, make for a cacophony that is remarkable and deafening. Add to this the engines of the buses, trucks (with their musical horns), motorbikes, and tuk-tuks and you can barely think much less get out of the way in time. Crossing the street is a challenge that makes the same maneuver in New York City look like child's play. You literally take your life in your hands. Nothing stops for you; not cars, buses, motor cycles, tuktuks, bicycles, horses with their carts, camels, nothing! They are so close that you are touching. And the human crush is equally mind blowing. The smells and colors defy description. Think of every spice you have ever smelled or tasted and that's what you get along with all of the other exotics. Curry, cardamom, red pepper, chili, saffron and all the other food assault you in both color and smell. Combine these with the incredibly colored clothing worn by both men and women. The turbans, shawls, blankets, goods in the market stalls, different colored camels, colorfully painted trucks, large and small, make you dizzy. And the saris? The incredible saris! A vibrant rainbow of every color imaginable from the brightest orange to the deepest purple. Finally, add to the mix Indians of every dark color from light tan to black.
61: The food has been very unusual, very good and extremely cheap (as is everything else here). Our tahli, the India all-you-can-eat dim sum, was a grand total of $8 for both of us! It can be very spicy or not. The main meats are chicken and mutton (goat, which is delicious). There is every vegetable and fruit you can imagine and some you can't. The papayas are the size of water melons, literally. Needless to say we had a great time eating. The people, almost 1.2 billion of them in 25 cities are extraordinarily poor and extraordinarily friendly. Morgan, who works in international education policy, (with hopefully a Master’s soon), tells me that half of the population is illiterate. As is the case in every place I have been, people are people and especially, children are children. Being friendly, to me, is a must when you travel. People love to speak with you and in general, interact with you. People react to your attitude; give a smile, get a smile. Certainly one of our most pleasant experiences was spending so much time with our driver, Mr. Vikrahm, who I have mentioned previously. He really has an incredible sense of humor and loves to chat, but only when the guides are not in the vehicle. He is from the Hymalayas (pronounced “him al yas”). His quips are wonderful. "So, Mr. Vikrahm is this a short cut? No, just cut". Every hotel has an iron gate and security officers. Beginning when he picked us up and we got to the first hotel, I saw the guard searching for a bomb with mirrors and opening the trunk and hood. Mr. Vikrahm turns to me and says "You have bomb? I say, "I don't have bomb." This continues throughout the entire trip until 4 or 5 days ago when we pull up to our hotel and I say, "Mr. Vikrahm, you have bomb?" He says, "I no have bomb, but they no believe me." Morgan and I were hysterical. He is a treasure trove of information about everything.
65: This has been a great trip and having Morgan with me has been like no other traveling experience, and most all of you know there have been many, I have ever had. She is really a wonderful young woman; intelligent, vibrant, energetic, and up for it all. And has a great sense of humor.