Overwhelmed and overstimulated. There’s no way to effectively present our travel to India. Too much to process. Too many photos to show. Too many questions to answer. My solution – highlights of our India Adventure from A to Z. Elsewhere you can read about classic India experiences, but here are mine…
A – Ashok. My purpose for telling this tale is the fact that this was a galvanizing day for our group. Not every tour group bonds, but an accident or injury takes a village. Ashok was our bus boy, the one who ran errands, kept us with bottled water, made sure the bus was clean. So… we ran over him. The bus rolled over both his feet. A freak accident, a split second, he turned this way when the bus turned that way. The good news: our fellow travelers included two MDs and two RNs. We pooled first aid stuff; after two hours on India’s worst roads with Ashok bleeding, bandaged and prone, Dr. E and levelheaded tour leader Bindu scored a ferocious painkiller at a tiny village pharmacy. Another hour’s ride to hospital, Bindu excellent phone-work. Dislocated toe on one foot, broken toe on the other, puncture wound. He stayed in hospital, his brother-in-law retrieved him two days later. Ashok is probably still high from all the stuff we shoved into him. Lesson learned (per one of our docs): “you can now plan for THIS accident and never experience it again.”
B – Bollywood. Bindu delivered the ultimate Indian experience – a Bollywood movie. She bought us a round of tickets and off we went. The theater was stunning. The audience was loud. The story, corny and dancing and singing great. Loved it.
C – Colors, Cows and Camels. In India, pink is the new black. Women and things are hyper-colorful. Cows (you know this) are sacred and walk and park anywhere, such as inside a store or middle of the road. Stay your distance, Larry’s butt narrowly escaped tremendous harm when a pissy cow gave my hub’s ass the what-for and only succeeded in tearing his pants. Regarding camels… pack animals as well as “ride a camel” adventure for our group.
D – Delhi Belly. Just about everyone asks when you tell them you went to India, “Did you get sick from the food?” No.
E – Eating and Eyebrows. Food was bullet-sweating spicy to mild. More vegetarian than not. We skipped raw produce and stayed with hot cooked foods, a tad tiring toward the end but I never went hungry. And eyebrows, you ask? Bollywood actors EMOTE with their brows. This is a country of phenomenal female eyebrows, crisp and black, precisely plucked.
F – Forts: Amber, Agra, just look up on hillsides here and there… forts everywhere!
G – Gandhi and the Ganges, two huge driving forces to the India of today. Your own visit to India will fill you in. And now I will watch the Gandhi movie again and “get it” this time.
H – Hot Air Ballooning. Larry knows that if a trip offers ballooning, Patti wants in. Floating over Jaipur, locals waved from the ground. We were our own Rose Parade! By the time we landed in a remote field, hundreds had followed us to that spot, climbing over walls and thru meadows. The crowd was quiet, gentle and mind-blowing. I shook one child’s hand and suddenly, 200 wanted a handshake. I was Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.
I – India “Day in the Life” started with a stroll through a rural village. Ended with dinners in homes chatting with the family about anything and everything. We had two such dinners and at one, shared our table with the family’s 12-year-old. She gave us her very strong opinion of Miley Cirus – Indian tweens are agog over her but our gal thinks she’s a train wreck. She said Miley’s parents are not disciplining her properly. Whoa, this was one adult 12-year-old. We also visited a grammar school. Following a crisp assembly, we were allowed to wander the classrooms to chat with kids. My main photo above of the two eight graders in orange is my favorite shot. This day also included a co-op where women craft. Very empowering for them, and good shopping for us.
J – Jaipur and Jewels. Apparently 95% of the world’s gems are cut in Jaipur. Whether that is accurate or not, I need to forgive myself for not buying the “pillow cut” Lemon Topaz drop earrings in 18K gold I was negotiating. Dammit, Cheapskate Me walked away. DAMMMM-IT.
K – Kitchens. Travelers to developing countries see a lot of cooking — on the streets, in storefronts, down alleys, on farms. Kitchens are where you light a fire and go from there. Our last day, following a dawn boat ride on the Ganges, a man stirred a humongous pot of soup on a fire in front of a shrine. Homeless people in Varanasi can have something free to eat daily from such a spot.
L – Love. The Taj Mahal is the world’s biggest valentine, a tomb built for an empress by her heartsick emperor. Our day was bitterly cold and quite foggy, so here (right) is a stock pix of Princess Diana at the Taj. MY PHOTO, below, is a tiny detail, the intricacies of marble carving. See the largest arch behind Diana? This flower is on the wall to the right of the door. I ran my fingers over it’s silky smoothness. Visualize this level of artistic talent a million times over that giant property.
M – Masala, the “proper gravy.” Bindu performed an enlightening cooking demo, and proclaimed that practically every Indian knows how to prepare it. Now I do, too. And once I cook it (it may be a while before Larry is game for Indian food), I will post it.
N – Naan and Roti. Gorgeous fresh flatbreads with every meal. Hot from the griddle. Addictive. I said “yes” to practically ever offer.
O – Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) was our tour company. Bindu Lall Nair was our guide. A thousand thumbs-up for both. This was the company we used for last summer’s Southern African Safari trip, too.
P – Palace of Winds. India is dotted with palaces, but this one was intriguing in that it was simply a façade built for women to invisibly watch the world. Windows with intricate carved screens allowed royal women to party like animals (yup, drinking and smoking and gossiping) unseen while enjoying the view of busy Jaipur. Next time you see photos of Indian palaces, note the windows. Then pretend you are a woman whose face is always covered to the outside world.
Q – Quiet? Not on your life. Horns, traffic, yelling, music, kids, animals. All part of the overload. Quiet hotels, yes, with exception of our tent camp’s howling jackals and 24/7 music from somewhere in the distance.
R – Rickshaws. When traffic was too dense, streets too narrow, or crowds too thick, rickshaws. The wild rides of our lives. Full visibility. Mine even ran over a woman’s foot. No injuries, unlike Ashok’s mishap.
S – Safaris and Saris. We hunted the elusive tiger (with cameras). But with only 40-some cats in a reserve of 400 square kilometers, we saw none. Aussies at the bar one eve reported seeing TWO and a leopard. We toasted their good luck. Then, the last day of our trip, Bindu taught us gals how to wrap a Sari, resulting in my newfound appreciation for the figure-flattering ensemble (no matter my two-week-stinky clothes, clunky Nikes and travel weary hair/face). I should have bought one.
T – Temples. I was losing Temple interest until our Hindu spot. I may have been the only one who shot the “wardrobe malfunction.” Since Hindus don’t worship statues (they worship gods; statues are just there to represent the gods), I don’t think I will be punished in the forever-after for this sexy shot.
U – Unions. I wanted to write about weddings, and needed a “U” for this list, so forgive me here. Bindu was phenomenal in her info about the ultimate Indian union: marriage – arranged and/or love ones. On long rides through rural countrysides, she gave us numerous insights into the many facets and experiences. She even brought us the Matrimony classifieds and helped us grasp how culture works for them.
V – Varanasi, the holiest Hindu city in the world. Spiritual. Sacred. The place where people go to die. Because that is where they are cremated – right there on the river bank, ashes put into the Ganges. We took boats twice, once at night for crowds and aarti ceremony (along with cremations) and again at the crack of dawn to witness individuals starting their days with morning blessing rituals. Unforgetable.
W – Water. This Baoli step well is an engineering masterpiece. The water table is waaaay down there, so some centuries ago, someone said “let’s make it AWESOME to go get the water.” Thirteen stories down a stadium’s worth of square-cut stone steps, this is in a remote village, one where locals never noticed what an incredible find this is. No ticket booth. No lines. Just go in. Our day was fog-shrouded and alone here.
X – X-ray in the airport. I was packin’ needlepoint this trip – sharp scissors and needles. Six flights, none of the TSAs cared except this one guy who could see something was in that carry-on. Dig, dig, dig as I stood mum, all he found were several hotel sewing kits. That satisfied him and he took ‘em. And I did needlepoint on 45+ hours of flights round-trip.
Y – Yoga Class. What a necessity after more than two weeks of travel. Being in the Land O’ Yoga, I REALLY wanted the experience. I’ve practiced yoga for more than 10 years. Larry had his first. Good times.
Z – Zoo. Plenty of animals: cows, goats, dogs, sheep, monkeys, cobras, buffalo, rats, cats (but saw no tigers), raptors, parakeets, snakes, crocodiles, elephants, jackals, peacocks, king fisher birds. Goats were a particular source of laughs for fellow travelers Miriam, Esther and me. I am LAUGHING STILL as I type this… as we left bags of clothes to donate to charity with Bindu, I said to Miriam, “In a few years when we return to India, we’ll see our clothes on goats and dogs, not people.” This was a VERY COLD WINTER, animals had sweaters! OK, if you are not laughing, this is for Miriam and Esther. And for my travel buddy Larry who cries with laughs when we go over this one.