Picking up and moving

After much irritation and a little badgering I’m moving to wordpress.  It will probably take me a little while to get all this figured out and hopefully move posts over from blogger.

Thanks right now to my blogmom Pam who will be pestered and will no doubt hold my hand through the process.  Just managed my first link over here by myself Pam.

When I started my blogger page my D1 had to do all the download stuff for me.  I did it my myself this time, D1!

More to figure out, but I’ve other things to do right now.

>Blogger meltdown

>Well, the blogger comment disease appears to have spread to my little place here.  I am aware that the comment box has completely disappeared – erg.  Apparently Blogger is also aware they have problems and claim to be working on it.  I am a total technotard, as anyone who knows me is aware, so all those other commenting options out there are more than my feeble mind can wrap around.

I’ll keep posting my trip anyway and maybe one day comments will reappear and in the mean time  most of you have my email if you really want to say something about one of the posts – I, like all bloggers, love comments.

>Exotic is as exotic does


Our next destination, following the mosque complex, was a shop that sells Kashmeri hand knotted silk rugs, as well as other very fine Kashmeri items – beautiful clothing, true pashmina/kashmer scarves & wraps, fantastic traditional men’s robes and other lovely things.  Kashmir is pretty well cut off from the rest of India due to the mountains between the state and the main body of India – basically you can’t get there from anywhere – all travel into Kashmir from India must be done by plane, there are no roads.  Add to their physical isolation the conflict between Pakistan and India for the possession of the state – Kashmiri families struggle to make a living for themselves.  They are most known for these rugs and India’s government goes to great pains to help the communities be able to get their products out for trade.  Karni explained the history of the dispute and as always happens in these sorts of situations, it is the people who are caught in the middle and suffer.
We were served a very lovely Kashmeri chai  and a few cookies as this gentleman explained the traditional hand knotting process.
As you might expect, it can take months to complete a rug.  Each family has their own designs, kept within that family from generation to generation for hundreds of years.  These rugs are silk, the mouth waters from the beauty! All the silk is dyed using natural vegetable dyes.  
The internet is a wonderful thing.  I actually found this video of the very man in the very shop we visited.  You can hear some of his demonstration for yourself!
He explains how long it can take and how the families teach their children starting from an early age.  One thing that is not on the video here but that he told us is that people do not sit at the looms for hours and hours each day – it is generally limited to two hours per day.  That is a little more understandable – I can’t imagine how much knees and legs must ache if they sat any longer.  Keep in mind they sit on the floor to work at the looms, not chairs.
After his little lecture on the process and history of the hand dying, hand knotting of the rugs, several young men laid out beautiful rug after beautiful rug.  It is all part of the hard sell process that these places engage in.  They are all charm and generosity – until you make it clear you are not going to buy a rug.  Then they dismiss you, usually trying to make you feel ungrateful and discourteous for not purchasing. I always enjoy the explanations and seeing the beautiful items, but I resent the hard sell and sometimes nastiness that follows.  I’m always amazed when anyone buys one of these rugs (and one lovely lady in our group did indeed purchase one) and pretty much feel if the shop makes a single sell they’ve covered their tea and cookie cost hundreds of times over so I wish they’d continue their friendliness right up to our taking our leave.  Yes, we are Americans, and yes, we were able to pay for the trip – but that does not mean we have thousands of dollars waiting in our bank accounts to buy a rug or piece of jewelry every single time we stop at one of these shops.  There are always several stops of this sort and of course we are given the option of just waiting on the bus – but why would anyone sit on a hot bus instead of seeing hand made items and being served drinks and snacks?
A sampling of some of the other products sold in the shop.
After the rug shop we went to lunch in an Indian influenced Chinese  restaurant – Karni dubbed it Chindian food…  Besides the three of us, only two others in our group used chop sticks.  We always use chop sticks when eating Chinese food, makes it more fun. — ok, now I’m hungry!
Once we are on the bus and on our way, be sure that each of us is watching closely as we make our way to the next adventure.  In fact, the bus ride itself never fails to be an adventure.  Karni was always watching as well and if he saw something that would be interesting to us, both buildings and behavior of the people we passed, he’d explain.  The bus was a moving lecture hall – or sometimes comedy show.

This shot gives you some idea of the packed traffic and what a typical crossing looked like.  Don’t think for a minute that traffic actually stops for pedestrians – see the rules of the road at the end of the post linked there.  It is a matter of survival of the fittest when it is time to get to the other side of the road.  See all the little green and yellow vehicles?  Those are called tuk-tuks (we saw them in Thailand as well), they are little three wheeled taxis of a sort. Tuk-tuks are not green and yellow to indicate they are taxis though.  The color is an indication that they run on compressed natural gas – the tank for which is situated directly under the seat of the passengers.
Now – do you know that splenda causes gas in many people?  Guess what color packets of splenda are in India….

A vegetable market.

The Lotus Temple, a Baha’i temple – I think it looks like the Sydney Opera House turned inside-out.

On every bus ride the hub sat on one side of the bus and I sat on the other so that we could get pictures of whatever presented itself on both sides of the road as we went along.  Pictures through the window certainly are not of the best quality – are often a little tilted or have the top of a car or someone’s head in them or the reflection of ourselves on the glass – but sometimes it was the only way to catch the wealth of India we were passing.  Usually we were past something before we could snap a shot – but sometimes we got some great shots.
A small bit of the wall surrounding The Red Fort.
At the end of the ride we arrived at a crafts “museum” housed inside yet another ancient complex.  The museum part of the complex was closed this particular day, but several of the artists were still there to show us their craft and sell whatever we were prepared to buy.  The museum is owned by the government and what the government does, in order to both encourage craftsmen and to be fair, is allow artists to use space in the courtyard of the museum and every so often rotate who can use a space.  I wish we could have seen what was inside, but you can’t have everything and of course our itinerary would have us there on the one day a week they are closed.
The first art we were greeted by were these terra cotta horses.  I loved them.  Unfortunately there was absolutely no way to safely transport these beauties home so I must be content with pictures.  Fortunately, considering how many things I DID buy, I was content with pictures more than once.

This gentleman made panels by engraving on strips of palm fronds – sometimes painting them, sometimes not.
He demonstrated the process for us.  One of his pieces is now hanging in my collection of international art.

The ubiquitous Ganesh…

We bought two tiny, brightly painted, wooden pieces from this artist.  One a little Ganesh and one a tiny Shiva, each about an inch high.  When we paid he didn’t have quite enough change so he gave the boy a pencil with a carved parakeet topper as a “gift”.  That was ok with us.  We thought it was kind of funny, the amount of change owed us was minuscule (maybe a quarter), and the boy wanted one of the pencils anyway.

The artists sat amongst their own pieces and you dealt directly with the man who had made the items.  When we travel, as much as we possibly can, we do try to buy our souvenirs from the craftsman who made them.  No middleman to make money off the artist – and we almost always enjoy the exchange.

In addition to what I’ve shown here there were seamstresses making clothing, quilts, pillows and such, embroiderers, and a men working in metals.

The man with the little wooden toys really wanted us to take the boy’s picture in this spot – drug the boy over and positioned him for us.  The boy was a good sport about it – the man was so sweet and absolutely adorable.

The result.  I’m afraid that the vast majority of the pictures of us we are wearing sunglasses and our faces are shaded by hats.  But I can tell you that in the three weeks we were there we didn’t get a single sunburn.  The sunglasses were a must, we would have had endless headaches without them.  Plus, mine are prescription (as are the hub’s) so without them we’d have been blind.

When we’d finished at the museum it was necessary for us to cross the busy street to get to our bus.  As I said earlier, the traffic does not stop for pedestrians so we learned to cross Indian style – Karni says “look left – look right, close your eyes and run for your life!”  With his help, we made it.  We’ll be good at it by the end of the trip.

There you go, the next installment and massive picture dump.  There will be one more post to finish this, the second day.  Do you begin to get an idea of how packed our days always are with OAT?  They do a great job of not only hitting the tourist spots but showing us some of the more off the beaten path treasures and do an outstanding job of immersing their travelers in the culture (at least as much as they can with groups of up to sixteen traveling together).

>Up the down staircase? or not…


Ready for day 2?  Another yummy breakfast if Indian choices – though today instead of trying a little of everything I stuck to my four or five favorites from the day before and about half a gallon of tea.  One must be fortified for the day to come. We are still in Delhi.
Our first destination of the day was the Qtub Complex. – a beautiful park like area full of ancient (1190’s) ruins of Muslim mosques, minarets, and tombs.  These were built by the first Muslim invaders to conquer the area.  For building materials the victorious Muslims used the local red/pink sandstone and bits and pieces from the ruined Hindu temples of the area.

These women are carefully cleaning and restoring some of the old stones – in some places the powers that be are trying to reconstruct the buildings – though with the jigsaw of some old Hindu and some old Muslim it proves a bit more than just challenging.  The complex is quite large and there are extensive efforts being made to preserve and restore.

This shot is of the tallest minaret in India.

This is a closer shot which shows the beautifully engraved bricks used to face the minaret.  Before we left the bus at the complex, Karni said he could get from the bottom of the minaret to the top in less than five minutes and did anyone wish to race him?  Several of us, being the sort who normally exercise, said sure, we’d see him at the top.  Now, when each of us tried to find a way in we discovered the door was locked and fenced off.  So, knowing we’d been had, we simply all agreed next time we saw him we’d let him know we’d made it to the top in less than three minutes and were was he?

He just laughed and pointed to this little pagoda –

This is the top piece of the minaret that has been removed and set off to the side of the park – just a couple leisurely minutes walk from the bottom of the minaret – ha ha Karni, very funny.

Karni was full of jokes and entertaining stories.  We learned to think twice about pretty much anything he had to say…

A later ruler wanted to out-do the builder of the first and tallest minaret so he began the minaret shown here – determined that it would be twice as tall as the first.  This ruin shows that often pride goeth before the fall.  The attempt failed because the technology and building practices of the time would not support the planned tower and it collapsed under its own weight before barely getting off the ground (comparatively speaking)

Here is Karni explaining the history of the area and that the builders of these mosques used bits and pieces from previous Hindu temples – which can be seen in the pillars which were formed by stacking disparate bits.  Did I mention that I love the OAT method of having a knowledgeable  native guide who speaks excellent English for each of their tours?  I’ve only done two OAT tours myself (the hub also did China with OAT) but so far they are perfect for first quality guides.  Love it, love it, love it!

This photo shows two pillars, one that has been cleaned of the centuries old dirt and sand build up and one that has not yet been cleaned and restored.  It is a daunting and delicate job.

Here you can see the bamboo scaffolding being used in the restoration effort and it shows the stacked bits of different columns the Muslim builders used to build the new. It was very interesting to see the mix of the bits with Islamic geometric and script design combined with the Hindu bits with depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses as well as animals and flowers all stacked together into a single piece of architecture. Beautiful and fascinating. I loved the bamboo scaffolding, especially when it was being used to build modern steel and glass skyscrapers….

Another thing Karni explained was that the Indian builders of the time did not yet have the knowledge necessary to build arches as we know them,  the idea of a keystone.  So, the way  the look of these arches was achieved was through the use of post and lintel construction.  After forming the post and lintel frame, the builders would fill in underneath then carve out the arch that was desired.  I love the way the sandstone brick formed the colorful ombre effect and the way the craftsmen carved beautiful geometric patterns and script into the brick faces.  It was simply stunning.

A closer look at some of the carved brick.

I just liked this shot.

There were so many intriguing and beguiling angles, vistas, and ways to frame pictures – part of the reason we ended up with nearly 4,500 photos…

Color was added to the complex by these parakeets – this guy was the first time we saw, but by the end of the trip we’d seen hundreds.  The parkeets had fantastic long tails and a distinctive screech as they flew, we learned to look more by the sound than by seeing them first.  Tending to be rather shy, it was difficult to get a good picture of them before they would fly off.

More color was added to the scene by our fellow tourists.  The women of India, ah color.

I thought this is tomb was in a gorgeous setting.  Not exactly the Taj (oh yes, that is some sight but comes much later in the trip), but still very lovely.

Only the beginning of this day, but already sixteen pictures up so I’ll continue the day with the next post.  It is proving to be very difficult to chose a reasonable number of photos to show and share…

I can see by looking through our pictures that this second day is going to take at least two more posts to complete.  You guys up for it?

>And the morning and the evening were the first day, or there abouts…

>Finally, back to the trip.  So far we’ve covered the mosque and the rickshaw drive, as well as our first little walk and the orientation meeting.

As we dismounted our little bike chariots we re-boarded our bus and experienced our first Bus Bazaar.  Karni, our guide, had suggested that rather than stopping to haggle with various street vendors all along our way we could assemble a short bus bazaar after each stop.  The fact is the vendors know where the buses with tourists will be so as soon as the doors open the vendors descend and the hawking commences.  When you first step off the bus the prices are at their highest, as you walk along looking at whatever you are there to see the vendors will stay right at your elbow showing the same shiney something over and over, cajoling you to buy pretty lady – good price, good quality, better than all the rest, and on and on.  As you finish your tour and begin to walk back toward the bus the prices suddenly drop – and as you have entered the bus to leave at last the prices are approaching reasonable.  Karni would then chose several vendors with different items and allow them to barter with him.  Once he was satisfied that he had a price that was fair both to the vendor and to us he would take a few samples to show us (as we sat safely on our bus) and let us tell him yes or no.  This bus bazaar was a blessing.  We were still chased, and sometimes even purchased items before remounting the stairs to the bus – but many of the items I dub happy trash (post cards, necklaces and bangles, bindi, wooden toys – any number of small items) we were able to purchase in the relative comfort of our bus’s air-conditioning.

Following our first purchasing frenzy we headed off to the Raj Gaht which is the site of the cremation of Gandhi.

This black marble slab commemorates the site.  It is meticulously maintained and there were many there paying their respects to the great soul.  It is held as a particularly sacred spot and once again we were to remove our shoes and wear our “temple socks”

We encountered our first Indian squirrels

This gentleman actually called the squirrels to him to be fed.  As you can see they had the markings of chipmunks but had long tails – not as bushy as our grey squirrels and their bodies were a bit smaller than our squirrels as well.

Saw this guy too.

From there we boarded the bus for one last sight seeing stop – Vijay Chawk to see the governmental buildings of New Delhi.  By this point I was exhausted and governmental buildings hold no real interest for me so I gave my camera to the boy and stayed on the bus to close my eyes for a bit.  The pictures from here are taken either by the boy or the hub.

The boy took both of those for me 🙂 can you tell?

All the governmental buildings were built of pink sandstone. Very large and very grand,they certainly were designed with a certain exotic flare, even for governmental buildings.

The India gate – surrounded by people enjoying their Sunday of freedom – many many games of cricket (it is India’s second religion) going on all around.  The boy spent every evening in our room winding down for sleep by watching cricket on TV.  He was determined to figure out the rules by the end of our trip.  For the most part he did just that.

Then it was time for dinner which included several different dishes.  All good – but I was so exhausted and befuddled by this point I didn’t record many details and now I can’t remember which meal this was.  Just that it was good and we left full.  That was to be the theme when it came to eating – full…

And thus, finally, ended our first full day.  Pictures get better after this first day.

As ever – clicking on the pictures will enlarge for a better look see.

>Who put the bump in the bumpty bumpty bump? Updated – in a small way

>Update – it was 4,200 pictures taken – not 3,000…

Rickshaw ride!

 By the end of the trip we’d done it several times, but this was to be the first for India – We are still in the first full day here.  It was a little uncomfortable for me, not the bumps, but the idea that I (and the boy, two to a rickshaw) were going to sit there while someone else – a fellow human being, equal in every way – would serve as the engine to pull us about.  Having ridden one of these contraptions in Thailand as well, I’d already experienced the queasiness in the pit of my stomach.  Heck, I feel guilty when I plop my big butt on Rosalie’s back.  It didn’t help that this guy might have weighed 105 soaking wet.

Our driver was a nut – he wanted to share his English and tried to point out as many sights as he could.  I might have understood every tenth word… He spent a great deal of the ride racing two of his buddies, also pulling rickshaws, and if he got close enough to one particular other young driver, they would try to slug each other or get the other in a headlock, all in good fun.  As a cultural aside, Indian men show a great deal of affection to each other.  It is quite common to see men and boys walking hand in hand or with their arms around each other’s shoulders – or sometimes their affection is manifested in taking silly swings at each other.  This is all very heterosexual behavior but not something we are accustomed to seeing.

Almost immediately we dove into narrow alleyways with the well known and disconcerting jumble of power-lines overhead.  This is just one of many photos we took of the power lines, some of the photos show the lines even better – but this shows the narrow alley and our line of rickshaws the best.  I’m going to be showing a lot of photos as it is and I don’t want to over do it.  Between us, the hub and I took more than 3,000 pictures.

I believe this counts as our first truly perilous encounter as at one point the power-lines hung so low they actually scraped the canopy of the rickshaw in which the boy and I rode.

We passed many examples of daily Indian life:

Men managing impossibly heavy loads by ancient methods.

Or perhaps women carrying impossibly large and heavy loads on their heads!

 Food vendors cooking on the street – for the most part various types of fried breads.  Most everything brown.  Smelled good, but we never bought food from a street vendor.  One of our goals was to get through the whole trip without Delhi belly.  More on that at a later time.

Or selling fresh fruits and vegetables from their carts.  Always bright and beautiful.

Fabric vendors with their mountains of bright cotton, silk, brocade – how does one choose?  I have a weakness for brightly colored fabric.  We did not have the opportunity to get down and buy anything on this ride.  I’d have had some of those pieces for sure if I could have.

Bangle vendors – ooo, shiny.  Wish we could have bought items at the local price, I’d have come home with many more bangles than I did.  But none of the vendors had prices on any of their wares because they know that Westerners will pay more than locals.  From research I’ve done I believe we tourists tend to pay five times or more the going rate for pretty much anything from a piece of bread to a length of sari fabric.  I’m ok with this for the most part.  Don’t mind helping the Indian economy.  But I’d have come home with much more sparkle if it had not been necessary to haggle the price of every single thing.

Livestock free in city streets – yes Laura, a goat just for you : )

A family of Sikhs.  The little boy and the man in the orange shirt have their turbans tied differently from the man in the blue turban.  The style of wrap in the blue turban indicates this man’s father is dead.  The style of the young boy and the man in orange (tight around the head with the big knob in front) show that their fathers are still alive.

Monkeys (Karni says there is a “monkey menace” in Delhi) – we saw monkeys in every city we visited, and quite a few in the national park we visit later in the trip as well.  Not to mention the dozens and dozens that lived in and around the resort we stayed in during the Nepal portion of the trip.  Details to follow.

Tiny packed shop, after tiny packed shop.  I could have spent hours and hours looking through these little shops.  Except that the shop keepers would drive you nuts trying to force you to buy one or two particular items rather than just letting you absorb the whole thing.  This shop was full of items for religious offerings.  The flower leis hanging in front, sparkly fabrics, beautiful boxes, gorgeous strings of beads…

Families of four on one motorcycle – later I’ll show you a picture of five on a motorcycle. The women all ride side-saddle. If anyone wore a helmet at all, it was the male driver only.  The whole time we were in India I only saw women driving a scooter or cycle twice – never once saw a woman driving a car.  Karni told us his personal record was seven young skinny Indian males on a motorcycle, but that was in his younger foolish days.

And so very much more – this is but a sampling.

This ride is the point at which I fell head over heels in love with India.  So many bright colors, so many bright smiles.

The power lines defy description.  Even pictures don’t quite capture the insanity.

 Another thing the pictures cannot even hint at is the noise.  Car horns, motorcycle horns, scooter horns, heck – Even some of the goats and cows had horns – and they all use them….non-stop.  It seems to be something of a second language.  The horn might mean “move over, I’m bigger than you” or it might be “watch out! I’m here, don’t hit me” or just “hello”.   I had heard that horn honking was a bit to the extreme.  But like so much of India, you simply cannot understand until you have experienced it.

One of the informative items given us at the orientation meeting was a copy of the Highway Code of India.  I’ll share it with you because it is all 100% true

Article I: The assumption of immortality is required of all road users.

Article II: Indian traffic, like Indian society, is structured on a strict caste system.  The following precedence must be accorded at all times.  In descending order, give way to: cows, elephants, camels, buffalo, pigs, goats, dogs, heavy trucks, buses, official cars, pedal rickshaws, private cars, motorcycles, scooters, auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks), handcarts, and last – and least – pedestrians.

Article III: All wheeled vehicles shall be driven in accordance with the maxim:to slow be to falter, to brake is to fail, to stop is defeat.  This is the Indian drivers’ mantra.

Article IV: Use of horn (also known as the sonic fender or the language of the road)

Cars: Short blasts (urgent) indicate supremacy. I.e. in clearing dogs, rickshaws and pedestrians from path. Long blasts (desperate) denote supplication, i.e. to oncoming trucks, “I am going too fast to stop, so unless you sow down we shall both die.”  In extreme cases this may be accompanied by flashing of headlights (frantic).

Single blast (casual) means, “I have seen someone out of India’s 1 billion whom I recognize”,  “There is a gird in the road which at this speed could go through my windscreen”, or “I have not blown my horn for several minutes.”

Trucks and Buses:  All horn signals have the same meaning, “I have an all-up weight of approximately 12.5 tons and have no intention of stopping, even if I could”  This signal may be emphasized by the use of headlamps.

Article V: All maneuvers, use of horn and evasive action shall be left until the last possible moment. (personal aside – no kidding, it is a non-stop game of chicken)

Article VI: In the absence of seat belts (which there is) car occupants shall wear garlands of marigolds.  These should be kept fastened at all times.

Article VII: Rights of way: Traffic entering a road from the left has priority.  So has traffic from the right, and also traffic in the middle.

Lane Discipline:  All Indian traffic at all times and irrespective of direction of travel (pa – for reals!) shall occupy the center of the road.

Article VIII: Traffic Management:  It is a jungle out there. Apparent traffic islands in the middle of crossroads have no traffic management function.  Any other impression should be ignored.

Article IX:  Overtaking (passing for those of you who have never driven outside the US) is mandatory.  Every moving vehicle is required to overtake every other moving vehicle, irrespective of whether it has just overtaken you. Overtaking should only be undertaken in suitable conditions, such as in the face of oncoming traffic, on blind bends, at junctions, and in the middle of villages/city centers.  No more than two inches should be allowed between your vehicle and the one you are passing – one inch in the case of bicycles or pedestrians.

Article X: Nirvana may be obtained through the head-on crash.

Article XI: Reversing: What’s this? Not many drivers in India like to use this gear.  It is against their driver’s mantra.

Article XII:  The 10th incarnation of God was an articulated tanker.

And we are still not done with the first day.  More to come.

>Stepping out into the Indian sunshine – or, in which we are wrapped in bright fabric and our shoes removed…


Our first full day in India (keeping in mind that we landed almost exactly at midnight and it was 2 am before we were able to fall asleep) began by waking up at 5:30 am.  Not much sleep, but plenty of excitement and that pesky internal clock which is not so easily reset.  By 7 am the three of us were down in the dining room exploring our first Indian breakfast.  When traveling with OAT the hotels are carefully chosen with Western sensibilities in mind.  Beginning with clean rooms, flushing toilets, A/C where possible, and a breakfast buffet that includes both dishes authentic to the country and familiar to the Western palate – or at least that country’s best interpretation of Western dishes.  I believe the idea is that as soon as breakfast is over we will be immersed in the local culture and many westerners find it easier to face the very full day if they have at least that one meal of familiar food.  But we, beig an adventurous family shunned the western choices and tried a little of each of the many local breakfast items.
Asian breakfasts are pretty much the same fare that is eaten at the other two meals of the day – which is to say savory vegetable dishes, a variety of fried breads, and rice. In the case of India this list included a delicious potato stew, baked beans, and lintels.  Each dish was labeled and sometimes even a few of the main ingredients listed but of course when the labels are Poori, Idli, Cambur, Aloo Parantha, Raita, Uthappam, Dosa, Chapati, and Pongal –  well, the labels are not really much help.  I didn’t have the camera to photograph any of these, usually just too bleary eyed to think of bringing it, but the internet is a wonderful thing and not only can you find good pictures of each, but recipes as well.  For the first week we were game and enjoyed much of it, my favorite being Aloo Parantha which is basically a savory stuffed pancake which I spread with a spicy sweet jelly of some sort.  Yummy. This first morning, after we were all three stuffed like ticks, our waiter asked if he could have the chef prepare his own personal favorite breakfast dish just for us.  Sure, why not.  So a short while later he brought us what was essentially a large crepe stuffed with spicy lumpy mashed potato and onion. Very good, but we were already stuffed to the gills so it was all we could do to get it down.
  After the first week we really couldn’t face the spicy heavy food first thing in the morning.  Keep in mind my normal breakfast is about a cup of plain Greek yogurt and a cup of fresh berries.
Following breakfast, which each of our group ate at their leisure, we all met for the first time for our orientation session.  This is where we each introduced ourselves, gave a brief idea of who we were, and explained why we had decided to take this trip.  I must say, this was the most seasoned group of travelers with which I’d ever shared a room.  For the first time there were several who had been as many places as we have.  Some to the same places, some to some different places – but all had traveled a lot.  Several were looking for “spiritual growth” (more on that idea at a later time) – several were admirers of Gandhi and wanted to understand his country better, and then us.  This was to be our last chance for a big, highly educational trip with the boy that could be undertaken during the traditional school year.  Tours to India are suspended in the summer due to the heat so if we didn’t go now, we’d never be able to take the boy.  He will be attending public school for high school beginning in August.
Our tour leader, Karni, also introduced himself in a bit more detail than late the night before.  He is quite young for leading a bunch of older Americans about (I learned later that he is 32) – keeping in mind that keeping up with a group of American women (female to male ratio 3-1  in the group) on the hunt for chotchkies can be a bit like herding cats – while dodging between cows, goats, running children, and persistent hawkers… Karni has a master’s degree in tourism and during the hot summer months, when there are no tours to lead, he does on line marketing for his friend’s backpacker hotel.  Karni also told us that if any of us had a Dell computer and had called tech support in 2007 to be helped by “Joshua”, it was him ( It was allowed as how we had now found Peggy in the flesh – but Karni is much better looking than Peggy, smarter too).  He began to fill us in on several local customs and norms that would be important for us to know in order to survive relatively unscathed.  Things like how to avoid being mobbed by children and beggars demanding money (basically, don’t start – if you want to help them then please donate to the foundations that are helping), avoid being mobbed by street vendors (basically don’t speak to them – “maybe” means “yes” – “no” means “maybe”, and don’t look them in the eye whatever you do), we’ll have to take off our shoes at any active mosque or temple or place seen as particularly holy (i.e. Gandhi’s cremation site), and expect to be stared at from a very close range.  Of course several of us ignored the warnings as pertained to the vendors so we were chased pretty much the whole trip.
Shortly after the meeting we all gathered for a quick walking tour of the area immediately around our hotel in order to show everyone where the ATM was, where McD’s could be found (they have a different sort of menu in India where beef is not consumed), and basically to dip our toes into the busy life that is India. We were to have lunch on our own this first day, but our own breakfast was so large, we elected to skip lunch and tried to rest a little and regain some degree of brain function.

This photo above was taken from the bus window as we made our way through Old Delhi to our sight seeing destinations for the day. It was Sunday and a big market day, this is sort of an Indian flea market. Though Sunday is not a holy day, it is not a work day either – unless of course you are selling at the markets.

Our first destination was the Jami Masjid mosque – I am not in this picture.  Not only did we have to remove our shoes to enter the mosque (our first use of “temple socks”) but all of us Western women were required to put on huge – brightly colored – one size fits an elephant – caftans.  

This shot shows several of our group – I am in bright pink sans hat and that young man in the bright green shirt is the boy.  The mosque is huge but mostly made up of an open courtyard with galleries around the outer walls.  Worshipers for the most part gather out in this courtyard we are walking across.  There are metal supports across the courtyard for spreading huge lengths of canvas across when the sun is intense and the pavement too hot for kneeling.  Luckily for us, the temp was only in the upper 80s low 90s while we were there – plus it was overcast.  A blessing really.
Though the large majority of Indians are Hindu, there is a healthy Muslim population as well.  I will say, there was only one time on the trip when I felt any level of hostility or animosity amongst a group of Muslims – but that is much later in the tour.  There were more Hindu tourists in the mosque with us than there were Muslims, though I understand that during prayer time that would not be the case and the courtyard is often filled with worshipers.
Those engaged in prayer at this mosque actually face west – as we are on the far side of Mecca. The area shown below is a large pool used for the ritual ablutions before prayer.
This mosque was also where we got our first taste of the curiosity of Indians, as Karni had warned.  I think our group was probably doubly interesting to them as we had non-Caucasian Americans amongst us (the three Jamaican and the Cuban ladies).  This curiosity manifests itself by way of locals standing right up against and even in between us, staring at us from about three inches away. No exaggeration.  Mostly I thought it was funny.  Particularly found it amusing that for the first time in our travels – we were being surreptitiously photographed with cell phones.  Lord knows we’ve sneakily snapped our fair share of photos – more than our share on this trip.  Turn about is fair play and it really didn’t bother me.  Probably would have freaked me out to have people getting that close to stare if Karni had not warned us though.  They had no idea we might have felt it rude or might have been made uncomfortable by their behavior.
From the foot of the stairs up to the mosque we climbed into our first rickshaws.
 Karni, our fearless leader, is there in the ball cap giving directions to our drivers.  I’ll save the rickshaw adventure for the next post.

>Far flung lands, a personal account


I have promised several of you that as life got back on an even keel I would post my travel journal – with pictures.  Some time ago I came to the conclusion that life never gets back on an even keel.  In order to get back to equilibrium it would, of necessity, had to have been level at some point in the past.  Therefore, it seems the best course of action is to simply hold my nose and jump.  So, here goes.
Back on April 8 Himself, the boy, and I departed the western hemisphere for yet another sojourn to the orient – this time India.  As you know, we travel, and indeed I know how lucky we are to be in a position to do so.  I worry a good bit that we maybe shouldn’t do so much – with kids in college, a wedding in the planing, a horse with expensive veterinary needs, etc. but the money that comes into this home is the hub’s and the travel is what he loves the very most, so who am I to say – but, but, but the cost?
That said – Love India! Loved Thailand more but still, India was fantastic.  What I am going to do for the next month or so is share my travel journal with you.  I don’t normally journal as we travel, though the man always does – but I figured since the boy was being made to keep one, I should set a good example and keep one as well.  Of course there is the added benefit that a journal would make decent blog fodder for a while. 
Understand that most days on this adventure began before 6 am and ended somewhere around 10 pm so time to write was not always easily found and as I have read back through the journal, I know I left out an awful lot.  I’ll try to fill in a bit as I go here.  Everyday was packed from beginning to end.  Even the hours spent on the exercise equipment/ torture device otherwise called a bus on Indian roads were packed with amazing sights and a constant education in Indian culture. Our guide was always full of explanations and stories.  Aside from the fact that while riding the bus it was a challenge just to blow your nose without breaking it in the effort  – writing while riding would have been completely impossible.  Did, however, try to take pictures while bouncing…
It is written, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (or – watch out, camels spit, or something like that) and a trip to India is no different.  The first couple days spent getting to India I did not journal, so I am simply recounting from memory here.  We began by driving an hour or so to the small airport, located in upstate South Carolina, that was the take off point for our first flight.  From there it was a relatively short two hour flight, give or take, to Dallas/Fort Worth.  After a three hour or so lay-over, the next flight was about nine hours to London – got to watch several of the movies I’ve wanted to see but had not yet done so, among them Red, the latest Narnia movie, and True Grit – tried to watch Black Swan but it was just too painful.  The transfer in London to the next flight was a matter of disembarking, working our way across the airport, then straight onto the next 747 for another nine-hour flight to Delhi.  Do not pass go, do not collect $100.  Every flight was reasonably smooth – no real problems, all the luggage present and accounted for at our final destination.  The sort of flight experiences that would make a first timer think world travel is a breeze.  Except for passport control in Delhi that is.  Not that it was super painful, we have certainly experienced worse – but after about a day and a half of travel since leaving our home, dealing with the extra slow pace of the Indian life style took a gargantuan effort and constant repeating of the mantra “I will be patient and keep my sense of humor.”   We just wanted to find the man in front of the airport with the OAT (our travel tour group) sign and be taken to our hotel – waiting for the painfully slow man – Mohammad no less – with the thinning hennaed hair to work his way through our three passports and visas was excruciatingly frustrating. 
We had arrived at about midnight and were met by our tour leader, Karni, who sheparded the lot of us to the bus that would be our chariot for the next two weeks.  Our group of travel companions was comprised of sixteen people: the three in our family – two teachers from California who were traveling together (one an art teacher, the other a Spanish teacher) – two other older women from California traveling together (one a retired middle school science teacher, the other a retired nurse) – an older couple from Arizona (though they were older, they were newlyweds – very cute) – another older couple from Texas ( well, she is from Texas, he is a Brit) – four women from the Bronx ( actually, three are from Jamaica and the other is from Cuba – but they all live in the Bronx now and they were all fun to travel with) – and a lady from Cary, NC (near Raleigh).
The ride across Delhi began our emersion in Indian culture.  We had arrived during some festival (there are always festivals going on – with thousands of gods and goddesses there is always something to celebrate…) for some goddess or other and every night it was pulling  in thousands and thousands of people from the surrounding countryside  to Q up for a blessing by some holy man in a temple just off the highway.  Never saw the temple but saw the thousands of people – women brightly dressed in their most sparkly saris, children in their frilly best.  Karni told us they would be in line all night to finally get their blessing and head home just in time to begin a busy day of work.  It is impossible to explain how thickly the people were packed in the lines that stretched miles in every direction.  No pictures were taken at this point.  We were all brain numbed, bordering on catatonic – plus it was night and we were bouncing on the bus for the first time.  Did not even occur to me that I should try to dig out the camera.
We finally arrived at our hotel around 1 am and were greeted with our first taste of hotel security – magnetometers, bags through scanners, yadda yadda – then our first yellow dot between the eyes and a lei of marigolds draped around each of our necks, our first welcome drink served to us by a turbaned young man from a silver tray.  This first hotel was very nice, beautiful really – but most importantly to us at that time, it had nice clean beds ready and waiting. 
Stay tuned for our first Indian breakfast and the beginning of our action packed days of hilarity and peril – have you ever heard about the way they drive in India? OMG!  just sayin’


>From Laura at Fetch My Flying Monkeys.

At the moment I’m missing Ireland and all my many Irish friends – been a few years now.

>’Bout damn time…


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