Monday, February 27, 2012

!ncredible !ndia

India is:

Beautiful
Serene
Chaotic
Colorful
Crowded
Forgiving
Spiritual
Dirty
Delicious
Fragrant
Rural
and so much more

India is a marvel and cannot be described sufficiantly in words.  Experiencing India is the only way to grasp a bit of what is India.

If you've enjoyed this blog, give me a call and I will help you plan the land trip of your dreams.  Goodbye from Delhi.

February 27 Udaipur to Delhi

We had a free morning to relax and then boarded our bus at 3PM for the short ride to Udaipur airport.  Our Jet Airways flight arrived in Delhi at 6PM.  At the luggage claim area we all said our farewells; all of us are flying home late this evening or early tomorrow morning.  Lyn and I are staying in Delhi for two days at the Aman New Delhi.

We all agreed that this trip far exceeded our lofty expectations.  We are returning home with many indelible memories, lovely gifts and things for ourselves as well as overweight suitcases!  Thanks to all of the terrific folks who joined us; we will always cherish this trip with you.  Safe travels home.

February 26 Udaipur

The group had a morning walk through the streets of Udaipur.  It was a terrific way to get close to the local tummult that is the streets of Udaipur.  Our afternoon was free and many of us did some significant shopping; stuffing our suitcases full of goodies and gifts.  At about 4:45PM we boarded the Oberoi's small boat for a sunset cruise on Lake Pichola.  It gave us an hour to view the lakeside buildings from the lake.  It is quite special (see attached photo.)

This evening we had a magical Farewell Dinner at Bada Mahal (an old temple which was here on the hotel grounds long before there was a hotel.)  We had drinks and delicious appetizers served to us as we sat at round tables on the top of the building.  The hotel grounds glittered below and around us.  Conversation was warm and we all found it hard to believe that our 14-night special trip was coming to an end.  The hotel had prepared a fabulous buffet dinner of biryani, lamb, chicken vegetables and wines.  There was quiet Indian music playing as we dined.

At about 10PM we all headed for our rooms and our last night at this magical hotel.

February 25 Udaipur

We went to the glorious City Palace.  Our first stop was the Crystal Gallery which displays an amazing array of crystal objects including crystal beds, hookahs and every possible household (for a palace) item.  The crystal was ordered by the last reigning Maharajah of Udaipur but when the huge amount of goods were delivered, the maharajah died. It was determined that the crystal was a bad omen so the large array of goods was kept in the wooden boxes and stored in the palace.  During the following 175 years, the goods were forgotten.  (The palace is that big!)  About 15 years ago, the boxes were opened and everyone was astonished as the contents had been completely forgotten.  They are now on display for everyone to enjoy.

We tour the rest of the palace which was built over three centuries and is a series of four interconnecting palaces. 

We enjoyed the afternoon at leisure.

February 24 Jaipur to Udaipur


Well, the best laid plans....We were to drive back to Jaipur and fly from there to Udaipur.  Unfortunately, the only airline that flies between the two cities has declared bankruptcy so we had to drive.  It was an eight-hour ride but when you share the road with elephants, camels, goats, cows and bulls (oh and cars) it is a very interesting drive.  At about 6PM we arrived at our last desitination: the Oberoi Udaivilas.  It is a spectacular hotel with just 87 rooms.  I have attached two photos of the lovely hotel.  Several of us had dinner outside with a view of glittering Lake Pichola.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ajabgarh

February 23 – We sat outside enjoying the tranquility around the pool as we had breakfast.  After breakfast, most of us went to visit the local fort.  One of the great advantages here is that there are very few tourists, so the fort is devoid of people.  Those that didn’t take today’s morning tour, stayed at Amanbagh to enjoy the spa, the pool and/or the solitude.  When you sit outside, all you hear is the chattering of birds and monkeys.

Although the evenings are cool, during the day it’s in the mid-80s.  Several of us thought it too bad that we didn’t stay here for an extra day or two.  This quiet place is a stark contrast to the chaos and dust that is India’s cities.

At 3:30PM we left for our “cow dust” tour.  This tour allowed us to drive through some very rural towns at the traditional evening preparation time.  (When the cows go home and create dust as the move.)  We saw smiling faces everywhere even though the life here is not great.  This is the dry season and everyone is working the land.  The monsoon starts in late June and ends at the beginning of October. These farmers are far more successful than the extremely poor people we’ve seen in the cities.  Everyone waved at us as our little three-jeep caravan moved very slowly through their tiny villages.  (See photo below.)

We got back to the Amanbagh at about 5:15PM and all of us went off to our rooms to prepare for cocktail hour and dinner.  Because Kingfisher Airlines has declared bankruptcy, our flight tomorrow to Udaipur is in jeopardy.  Therefore, Peirce and Leslie have decided to drive us.  It is an 8-hour drive and although we all understand the reasons for driving, none of us is thrilled with such a lengthy drive.  We will be in cars instead of the bus, so that is a great help.

Jaipur to Ajabgarh

February 22 – We left the hotel in Jaipur at about 10:15AM for the two-hour ride to Ajabgarh. The drive through rural India was really terrific.  We saw very few people and many of them waived to us as we slowly passed them.  We arrived a Amanbagh (a 39-room ultra-luxury hotel) at about 12:15PM.  We were given a short welcome chant while strings were tied around our wrists (right for men and left for women.)

We were escorted to our palatial rooms.  One of our group said they could rent out half the room and still have plenty of space!

Our lunch was a buffet and our table was set in the shade outside overlooking the huge pool and gardens.  Since we have the afternoon free, we all went in different directions.  For our dinner tonight we are guests of Amanbagh and since the restaurant is open 24/7, we decided to each go to dinner when we felt like it and tonight not be a group.

We all met at about 7:30PM and had drinks together.  The dinner we had (as guests of Aman) was nothing short of wonderful.  This unique resort has 39 rooms and today there are just 10 occupied!  It makes an already intimate resort even more so.  After dinner we all went to our rooms for bed.  At night this is an even more serene setting.

Jaipur day two

February 21 – After breakfast we drove to the center of Jaipur to photograph the stunning Hawa Mahal (the Palace of the Winds; see my photo below.)  This unique five-story building was built to the ladies of the court could view the festivals and street action from behind lattice-worked windows without being seen from the street.  It is only eight feet deep and looks as if it would topple over!

Our next stop was the Amber (pronounced “Am-er”) Fort on the top of a mountain.  It is beautiful mainly due to its location in the mountains.  (See the photo below that I took from one of the terraces of the fort.)  It’s hard to describe the number of men hawking goods.  They are extraordinarily persistent and are really in your face trying to persuade you to purchase something.  Some of us were unable to resist.

We returned to the hotel for lunch and then at 4PM we headed out for what was to be a glorious evening!  First we stopped at a famous pashmina shop where the rich and famous shop.  Several of us joined that cadre and acquired stunning pieces.

We drove on into the countryside for an evening’s entertainment.  When we arrived after driving several miles down a bumpy dirt road, we arrive at what look like a cross between a ranch and an old southern plantation.  We disembarked our bus and we offered bananas.  They were not for us to eat; they were for us to feed the elephants!  (After all, we were here to witness a game of elephant polo!)  As we walked to the main house we were serenaded by a Scottish band including bagpipes.  The “plantation house” had a beautiful open air bar with comfortable sofas and chairs.  We ordered drinks and the servers brought delicious appetizers (chicken tikka, amazing potato balls and cheese toast.)  Then the game of elephant polo began (see picture.)  It was slow and elegant; the elephants seemed graceful despite their size.  After the first game, we were invited to join in and ride the elephants and play polo!  Most of us did so.  (See photo.)

When the games were over, we watched a lovely local dance.  The women were in colorful costumes and it was great fun.

Next was the dinner in the outdoor dining pavilion.  Everyone enjoyed their meal, and we re-boarded our bus to head back to the hotel; sated and tired but thoroughly happy to recount the day’s events.






Internet lapse

We had no internet for the last two and one-half days; but have it now.  Here are my last three days which I will post in order.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Jaipur

February 20 – We started our day at about 9AM.  Our first stop was at the Astrological Park.  The park has many structures that tell time, reflect the position of Jaipur and show just how clever they were when these pieces were built.  Many of them, including the large sundial, were built almost 300 years ago!  The large sundial is accurate within two minutes in telling the time.  Pretty amazing considering how long they have stood.

Next we visited the Jaipur City Palace.  It is a huge “campus” and takes up about half of the entire old city of Jaipur.  We tour many rooms and buildings; the attention to detail is reflected in the beauty of each column and arch.  (See the photo I have embedded.)

Luckily for our group, we were also able to tour the private rooms of the Palace which are closed to the general public.  Everyone used to sit on the floor, but when the Maharajah of Jaipur sent a representative to London, it was noted that the British don’t sit on the floor.  Hence the Maharajah ordered chairs to be place everywhere and now they ate at tables while sitting on chairs!  We had tea and coffee while sitting on a balcony of the Palace.  As we sat, several dozen monkeys walked along the rooftops.  As they walked over our heads we could hear their clatter and chatter.

Today, our included lunch was at the Rambaugh Palace.  It is a sprawling building and was original built for the Maharajah’s wet nurse!  The lunch was good and then we were back on the bus.

Our last stop of the day was the Gem Palace (a world-renowned jewelry shop.)  Most of our party made some significant acquisitions!  The pieces are very special indeed.

We were back at the hotel by 5PM and everyone went their separate ways to relax a little bit.  Lyn, Mary and I had dinner together in the Indian restaurant called Rajmahal.  The four-course set meal was wonderful and we also got to witness how naan bread is made.  (We went up to the kitchen area and watched the chef work.)  He invited us to try our hand at making naan, but we declined.

The property is so large that there are electric carts (like golf carts) which shuttle you around.  We were driven back to our room and as we approached our front door, there were flower petals on the door step spelling “good night.”  On our bed was a butterfly made of towels and flowers.  After admiring our bed decoration, we went to sleep with a smile.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Agra to Jaipur

February 19  – Many of the group decided to go to the Taj Mahal for sunrise.  Those that went thought it magical indeed.  We had a full-day tour/bus ride to travel the 250 kilometers from Agra to Jaipur.  After leaving the hotel at about 9:30AM we drove for about an hour to visit Fatehpur Sikri (another terrific palace constructed centuries ago.)  We then spent another hour on the bus and stopped for a lovely lunch at The Bagh.  The restaurant is in the middle of nowhere but served excellent food.

The next part of our ride was about 3 ½ hours with a rest stop in the middle.  It’s amazing to see camels, cows, water buffalo and goats running loose everywhere along the road, on the road and all places in between.  We arrived at the the Oberoi Rajvilas at 6PM and were escorted to our rooms.  This hotel on 32 acres has just 71 rooms.  It is very spread out and totally tranquil.  There are about 100 peacocks living on the property and every now and then you can hear them seem to screech loudly.  It is very disconcerting if you don’t know what it is.

We had a quiet dinner (10 of us) outside at the courtyard.  It was lit by wire baskets of burning wood with sparks shooting out occasionally.  It is a romantic spot and the food was also good.  We particularly enjoyed the bread called vegetable kulcha.  The walks have soft lights along the walkways and this adds to the calm and the magic of the place.  I have uploaded a picture of the entryway to our hotel.

Agra (the Taj Mahal)

February 18 Agra – After breakfast we all went to the Taj Mahal and walked all around this incredible site.  No matter what you’ve heard and/or read, nothing prepares you for the majesty and soft elegance of this world-famous iconic building.  We explored it for about two hours and then went back to the hotel to board our bus and explored Agra Fort.  It is a huge place which is almost red due to the use of clay in construction.  We were all exhausted.  Tonight we all went to the Indian restaurant for a Thali dinner.  It give us samples of many things (see photo) and everyone enjoyed it immensely.

Varanasi to Agra

February 17 - We flew from Varanasi to Delhi and then we had a bus ride to Agra.  It was to be about 5-6 hours and ended up being almost 8 hours.  The traffic as we approached Agra was almost incomprehensible.  It was stupendously awful and made our trip longer by 2 hours.  We arrived at our hotel (the Oberoi Amarvilas) where each room has a view of the Taj Mahal!  Since we arrived at 10PM and the Taj Mahal is not lit at night, we didn’t see it this evening.  Everyone was exhausted so we all went to our rooms and went to sleep.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Amazing Varanasi

February 16 - Varanasi - I don't even know what words can describe this place!  Even our hotel (Nedesar Palace) is mind-boggling.  It is a 10-room palace; each room is unique and has 200-year-old antiques within it.  We arrived in time for lunch.  A table for 15 was set on the patio in front of the swimming pool and large gardens.  We felt like royalty!  After lunch, we went to Sarnath to see the spot where Buddha gave his first speech.  We also toured the museum which houses many stunning artifacts uncovered here.

After this we went back to the most revered part of Varanasi (Kashi) and walked through the streets which are teeming with humanity.  It makes Times Square look rural.  After this amazing walk through tiny alleyways we got to the Ganges.  After descending about 40 stone steps, we walked a short distance along the shore to our row boat (easily seating all of us.)  We rowed to the cremation area and witnessed living breathing history.  There are about 200 cremations a day along the Ganges at this ghat.  The bodies are placed in the river for a moment and then laid out to have the water drain.  When the time is right, they are brushed with clarified butter and then taken to their specific funeral pyre.  The flame is lit and they are cremated for about 2 1/2 hours.  Then a relative throws water over his head on the pyre and walks home without looking back. The process is over!  The funerals are going on 24/7 365 days a year.

Next we rowed to where a ceremony was being held along the riverbank and disembarked.  We watched the monks for quite some time (along with the throngs of enthusiastic pilgrims) as they rang bells, swirled incense and said prayers. 

We went back to our hotel at about 8PM for a wonderful dinner outside (where we had lunch) and there were lotus-shaped candles lit all around the pool.  We went to bed after dinner; exausted but glowing internally with what we have been privileged to see.

Delhi February 15

Greetings from Agra. We've had no Internet for over two days so I will attempt to catch up. Delhi - February 15 Today was our first group tour day. After breakfast we met in the lobby at 9AM. We boarded our 27 seat bus and drove to the Jami Masjid Mosque (the largest in India) and prepared for entry. Everyone had to remove their shoes and the women also had to wear gowns to cover up their bodies. Luckily, instead of wearing the unwashed used gowns provided at the door the women were given clean gowns provided by our tour company. Walking in socks throughout the mosque we deftly tried to avoid (sometimes unsuccessfully) stepping where birds had attempted to fertilize the ground. The mosque was very plain; not anything like the Blue Mosque in Turkey. Next was a cycle rickshaw tour through the densely packed streets and tiny alleys of Chandi Chowk. The cyclist drove us for about a half hour and if you didn't have a bad back before, you had one now! The controlled chaos was mystifying to someone unfamiliar with life here in these crowded streets. The electric wires attached to the buildings looked like snakes and surely were a fire hazard. There were ten or twenty cables running along buildings just out of reach to pedestrians. The ride ended back where we started and next we rode to Humayan's Tomb. Set in a beautiful huge green space (really surprising in the center of a city of twenty million) it's a really photogenic setting. The tomb was built in 1572 and has been lovingly restored. Our last stop of the day exceeded all of our expectations. We went to a retrospective on a well-known Indian artist and We were treated to a private gallery tour and description by an amazingly articulate art critic who writes for the Financial Times of India under the heading of "the business of art." Our appreciation of the art was really enhanced by him. He seemed to really enjoy walking through the gallery with us while giving his opinions and answering our questions.. It was a full and busy day and we arrived back at about 5:45PM tired but smiling.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

February 14 - Delhi

Yesterday was to be a free day but eight of us decided to take a tour and see some things that were not scheduled since we weren’t that jet-lagged.  So, after a fabulous breakfast at The Imperial, we headed out.  The first place we visited was Mehrauli Archaeological Park.  The main site is the Qutb Complex; which has a minaret built in 1331.  It is beautiful in all of its detail.  After wandering through the area being given so much good information by our guide, we re-boarded our van and went to the part of the park rarely visited.  The eight of us were the only tourists there and we saw amazing Jamili-Kamali Mosque and Tomb.  The walls and ceiling were covered with the original 16th century mosaics and glowed; the colors still vibrant after 500 years!

We also saw the amazing stepped well (picture below) which is being restored.  Our final stop of the day was the Ghandi Memorial.  It housed many important things and has the bedroom where he spent the last 144 days of his life.  We saw the spot where he was assassinated on January 30, 1948.

In the evening we had our first “official” gathering: a dinner in The Spice Route restaurant.  It has Thai food and we had a delicious tasting menu along with wines.  This restaurant was recently called one of the top ten restaurants in Asia by the New York Times.

This was a great start to what promises to be a wondrous tour!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ready, set, go

All of us have arrived and everyone is jet-lagged at least a bit.  Yesterday, new friends Parth and Mona took us to the incredible Indian Handicrafts Emporium.  It was very special and has gifts, carpets and jewels of top quality.  We saw emeralds that were beyond fabulous!  Then, the took us out for a lunch at the Great Kabob Factory.  It prides itself in 450 kinds of kabobs; delicious and boy did we leave full!  Today we're going on a tour with Wendy & Richard and Chris & Kelley.  The tour officially begins with dinner tonight and the world-famous restaurant: The Spice Route.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

We're here!

Greetings from Delhi! We flew from Las Vegas to Newark (4 1/2 hours) spent four hours between flights and then our flight from Newark to Delhi was scheduled for a long 14 1/2 hours.  Luckily we must have had tail winds as it "only" took just under 13 hours.  We easily found our luggage and then met our guide, Jai.  He will be with our entire group for the 15 day tour.

Checked into the stunning Imperial Hotel and since it was almost 11PM, we didn't even unpack; just went to bed.  We slept until 6AM and now we're ready to start our first day in India.  Some of our clients are already here and all the rest arrive during the day.

We are meeting friends later this morning (they live here) and will be seeing Delhi for the first time with them.  We're excited!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Packing

Well, packing is in high gear!  We are leaving tomorrow morning for a five-hour flight to Newark and then the 14-hour flight to Delhi.  It's a long way to go, but we anticipate a joyous and enlightening experience.  Delhi time is 13 1/2 hours ahead of the West Coast; I wonder how that will effect our jet lag.  (It can't be good.)  More from India.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Getting ready to depart

I chatted with almost all of our India-bound travelers today and everyone is very excited!  The long-range forecast for our time in Northern India is "mostly sunny with highs in the low 80s and lows in the 50s."  Sounds perfect to me!  Let's hope that is exactly the way it turns out.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Next week: India

This is the last weekend before we leave so it's time to go to the pharmacy for last minute supplies.  We will be a "traveling drugstore" with various medications "just in case."  My doctor recommended we take Cipro so we'll have that along with all the over-the-counter medications/salves/drops we could need.  I'm sure that by taking them with us, we won't need them!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Anticipation

There are 15 of us who will meet in New Delhi on February 13th for a trip-of-a-lifetime visiting not only Delhi, but Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur, Ajabgarh and Udaipur.  I hope to keep you all involved in the sites, sounds and tastes of Northern India.  If you have a question, let me know and I will try to answer it!

Let me introduce myself



For those of you who have not yet met me, here is a photo taken last year in Cappadocia.