Category: India Trip 2020

India – Day Seven & Eight: Shahpura

Only two more places to visit on the first tour of my binary tours in India. Traveled from Udaipur to Shahpura on the bus – saw some wonderful things along the way…

One of the most amazing sights was The Statue of Belief. This newly erected statue is 351 feet tall and is the world’s tallest Lord Shiva. We didn’t have time to stop but it still was inspiring to see, even from a distance.

Here’s a very short video about it being constructed:

A fantastically colorful Ganesha by the side of the road. There are many statues and altars and religious iconography and art in general that you find in the most unexpected places.

If these chips were available at home I would be in big trouble. (Thankfully they aren’t – I checked the Indian grocery as soon as I got back…) DE-LICI-OUS!

Rohit told us this truck is carrying a load of CHICK PEAS! I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen chick peas except in a can (or dried.) To be honest, I didn’t actually know how they grew. Look at all the yumminess.

I LOVE this photo. I don’t think you can get more Indian. Dudes are riding in the back of an open truck, which is gorgeously decorated, all the while he’s waving and talking on his mobile. FABULOUS!

We arrived at Shahpura Bagh and couldn’t believe our eyes – it was so beautiful! Seriously, right out of a movie. And not just the way it looked either, the history of the place was filmworthy as well.

The owners of Shahpura Bagh are modern day Royals. They are the descendants of the Raja of Shahpura, dating back to the early 1600s. There are incredible family photos and paintings throughout the buildings – wonderful to look at. We got to hear many stories from our hosts.

Indian Royals, especially 20th/21st century ones, take their duties very seriously in terms of helping their subjects. In the case of Shahpura Bagh, back around 1900, there was a horrible famine and the Raja Nahar Singh (the Raja of Shahpura at that time) realized he had to do something to alleviate the suffering of his people. Legend has it that the Raja mortgaged his property and the family jewels to fund an incredibly ambitious project. Working with a British architect, Singh had an enormous tank constructed combined with several dams. The project took four years (and some assistance from the government toward the end) but when it was completed they were able to irrigate massive amounts of farmlands through a series of artificially created lakes which still exist today.

According to the current descendants of the Raja(s) of Shahpura, the lakes irrigate around 9000 acres of farmland. They were only intended to irrigate around 6000 acres but people have laid pipes illegally, which unfortunately can mean some lakes dry up sooner than they should.

Here’s a photo of a section of the veranda located on the main building. This is the building I was lucky enough to stay in.

The front entrance of the main building
Photo courtesy of Rohit Gehlot

Okay, the first photo below wasn’t my room but I had to take a photo of it because it was so gorgeous! It was Marianne and Daniele’s room. Magnifique! My room is the next photo, the very happy room – marigold (Marianne’s favorite color.)

A good part of Rajasthan is dry and sandy. The Thar Desert covers the northwest portion of the state. Because of this there is a lot of dust… everywhere. And no matter where we went, each and every morning you’d find people with small brooms made from grass or reeds sweeping up the grounds.

To me this seems like an incredibly tedious and thankless task and, like I said, it was not an uncommon sight. Our Indian tour guide Rohit said, if there is one thing that India does not have a shortage of it is man/people power. That is very true. And people in India are willing to do what we would call menial tasks. In the US you couldn’t even pay your kids to do this nowadays. #spoiled

This darling couple who helps maintain the grounds at Shahpura Bagh were delighted to have their photo taken. I showed it to them after I took it and they were very pleased.

My travel companions were thrilled to find out that there was someone who could lead a yoga class on site.

I know that a lot of people would have an issue with seeing a taxidermied tiger but not me. Here’s the thing – first, tigers are protected now. Second, when they used to kill tigers they were plentiful and they hunted for them in the same way that we, for example, have people go deer hunting. It was necessary for population control. And they would always made sure that there was a balance, never over hunting. Unfortunately people started coming from outside India to hunt them (along with elephants and other animals that are now endangered.) They wanted their skins and tusks and other parts – anything that was in demand and could be sold, much of it to the Chinese, who use these things for medicinal purposes.

Personally I thought it was fantastic to be able to see a tiger, well, at least half of a tiger. There is the historic aspect of looking at it – it’s over a hundred years old! And when would I actually ever be this close to a tiger? I remember seeing a stuffed tiger in the palace in Madras when I visited India back in 2001. I had the same sense of awe at seeing it. Actually more so because it was a full tiger so it seemed even more real.

This is the front room when you came into the building that housed the dining room, the salon, and more guest rooms. This was my view at every meal.

Like I said, right out of a movie. It was a little too cool to swim, though there were people sunbathing.

The architecture and art… sigh, so beautiful.

This is the exterior of the building that housed the dining room. If you entered the door in the middle you’d enter through the door that is open on the left in the interior photo above. We could have eaten outside if we wanted but I found it a little too cold in the morning.

The third best thing about being at Shahpura Bagh was the cooking (with the first best thing being the people and the second best thing being the estate itself). Because Shahpura Bagh has a farm, everything was incredibly fresh and they raised all the fruit and veg and produced all the dairy themselves. The yogurt was homemade, the muesli, fresh fruit. YUM. And of course I had to have as much masala chai as possible. Isn’t this tea cozy adorable. I loved all the linens here.

This is POHA. It’s a south Indian breakfast dish made from semolina and it’s delicious (as a person who doesn’t like sweet things in the morning I was all over this!)

Here’s a simple recipe for Poha if you want to try to make it yourself.

On our first full day in Shahpura there was a long excursion planned. Along with our new friends, a lovely couple from London whom we had met the evening before who were also staying on the estate, and one of the cohosts, we took three jeeps on a trip into the village.

I’m sure there’s a name for this but basically it’s a vehicle that is used to play music during an Indian wedding procession, where people are walking along the streets on their way to the wedding location.

My favorite photos are of the people just going about their day…

Again, taking their responsibility to their community seriously, the owners of Shahpura Bagh have set up a charitable trust which they contribute to and which they encourage their guests to contribute to as well. The money goes toward many social outreach programs, particularly in the areas of education and economic development. Below are some photos of the local government school that we visited that receives funding from the charitable trust. The kids were FANTASTIC! We arrived just as members of the class were reading sections of the day’s newspaper to the class and that was followed by a brief moment of medication before recess. (I believe the adorable girl in the grey hoodie is holding both nostrils closed. She couldn’t have been older than 4, maybe even 3 years-old.)

As usual, the girls flocked to the woman with the blonde hair!

Can you imagine having this location as a classroom? How could a person ever concentrate? I suppose if you’re there long enough eventually you’d get used to it.

Okay – here’s the poop (or should I say dung) on cows. Yes, they are sacred and yes they are everywhere. I can’t remember which of our Indian tour guides gave me this explanation. (Unfortunately the tours are starting to meld together, better get cracking on my blogging!) Anyway, whichever one it was, he explained it in the clearest way I’ve ever heard! He said that when we are babies we drink our mother’s milk but of course we can only do that for so long. Eventually we must move on to drinking the milk of cows, which essentially makes them like our second mothers. Cows also provide manure which is used for fuel. So, over the course of a cow’s life it will provide for it’s owner. All the cows seen on the street, each one has an owner. (Though according to this article from the Washington Post, there has been an increasing issue with abandoned and stray cows.) Cows live their lives being fed and protected by everyone around them. (Here’s an interesting article too about why cows have become so polarizing in India.)

Having said all that, this woman was NOT going to allow this cow into her home. No way, no how.

I am completely enamored with the Rajput street art.

Next we visited another school in one of the smaller villages. One of the kids was clearly not happy that there were strangers present – he cried (very loudly) the entire time he was there. His teacher tried diligently to calm him down but he finally ran off toward the main building. In the meantime the other children and the adults were very interested in us. The teacher wanted to show us the art projects the kids had been working on. We oooohed and aaaaaahed over their creations made out of clay. Then everyone started taking pictures of everyone else, including the teacher, who pulled out her own smartphone.

This is the mother and grandmother of the two girls in the photo below this one. The grandmother had the most magnificent silver jewelry. I was nearly drooling over it.

Aren’t these two of the most gorgeous children you’ve ever seen????

This guy clearly was used to having his photo taken. Very nice man.

This guy was also very obliging when it came to letting people take his photo. Rohit is a much better photographer than I am! Which is apparent in the two photos following this one, which he was shared with me.

Photo by Rohit Gehlot
Photo by Rohit Gehlot

After the school we visited one of the homes in the village. First is a short video of the interior of the house. As you can see, there’s not much too it. Basically you entire through the doors and there are three walls and a roof that house some of the storage and sleeping area. But there is no fourth wall, instead it is completely open to the rest of the living quarters that is one big open space. There you find the animal pens, the cooking area, and further back, more storage/sleeping areas. It’s truly indescribable to visit people living in such a place – all I could think about was how would they feel if they ever saw where I lived?

I think every house should have a “ghee niche”! (thanks for pointing this out Victoria.)

The one thing I was always surprised about is you could be in the most rural place, where people looked as though they had virtually nothing and then someone would pull out a smartphone. Here, the girl in the striped sweater had one. She was in her mid-teens and had dropped out of school because she didn’t like it. It broke my heart. She wasn’t doing anything with herself either, she’s just waiting to get married.

This family did have electricity.

These beds are popular not only because they are cheap and easy to make but because they are breathable. When it gets very hot the air still can go through them and it’s more comfortable.

A couple more girls waving and wanting to say hi! Aren’t they lovely?

This was exiting – another Banyan Tree! I don’t think I will ever be tired of see Banyan trees. This particular one is on the farm owned by the family who owns Shahpura Bagh. If I’m remembering correctly, I think it’s around 400 years old! (I think you can hear him say how old it is on the video below.)

This particular Banyan tree is also home to a zillion beehives which is AWESOME.

Here is Marianne to give a little perspective on how big the trunk is. Granted, Marianne is on the more petite side, but still, it’s massive.

Our wonderful co-host.

This is one of the many man-made lakes that was created by the Raja of Shahpura back in the beginning of the twentieth century.

And after a long day seeing so many fabulous things, and then a delicious dinner it was off to bed where I found the most delightful surprise! I’ve never used a hot water bottle before but I’ll tell you, they are DA BOMB and it was still a little warm even in the morning.

How would you like to rise and shine to this???

I got into having some of the home made yogurt over whatever cereal was on hand with the biggest pomegranate seeds I’ve ever seen. I also had to have a masala omelet whenever possible (which was most mornings…)

Okay, here’s the thing, there were peacocks everywhere! Now we were running around all excited about this but the first night we arrived we were talking with one of our hosts and she was explaining that they had so many peacock feathers just strewn around the grounds that they would collect them up, tie them up, and use them for dusting. Can you believe it?!? I was shocked! I told her that people would pay a pretty penny for peacock feathers in the states and she did know that but what were they to do, they just had so many of them. ARGH!

And, the same veranda that I took a photo of when I arrived, though from inside this time. I think that this was definitely one of my favorite places we went to – mostly because of the people and because it was sublimely relaxing.

India – Day Five & Six: Udaipur

Next, the City of Lakes, sometimes also called the White City (because of all the white marble palaces.)

I have always wanted to go to Udaipur for YEARS because there are many, MANY movies and miniseries which have been filmed here. I’m planning on making a list of my favorite films shot/about in India when I get home, but for now a few are Heat and Dust (1983), The Jewel in the Crown (1984), and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011.

Our guide, Rohit, lives in Udaipur so we had a special treat. He had been invited to a wedding on the first evening we arrived and arranged for us to attend with him. My first Indian wedding – so exciting!

And it turns out, as I mentioned previously, February is a very popular month to get married, and the 10th, the day we arrived, was an extremely auspicious date apparently (we think because it was a full moon) because we saw a LOT of wedding activity and at least two other weddings that we counted in addition to the one that we were attending.

As we drove into town we saw a horse being carted to one of the weddings.
This is the horse which a groom would be riding in on.

Then we had to stop for a bit on a bridge because there was a wedding party passing. I shot a video as best as I could. Fabulous!

I took a bunch of photos too but most of them were blurry because they were jumping up and down with the music. (Or was i the one moving up and down to the music?)

We arrived at our hotel when it was dark. Still, you could see how gorgeous it was. I took a ton of photos but I won’t post all of them. Even the key was a work of art.

My room, fit for a Queen!

This photo (the one right above) is the view out my WINDOW! If you look at the photo before that you can see the benches in front of the window – this is the view they look out onto. The only bad thing is that the windows were a bit low for me. If I had sat on that bench I would have needed a fork lift to get back up. And I am also a tallish person, so I had to hunch over a bit to look out. Still, at night I pulled the chair over from the desk and gazed out for a bit before drawing the curtains.

The only other thing that was not great about the room is that I had to go up three steps to get to the bathroom, and as usual there was no railing. Thankfully I didn’t have to make any middle of the night dash to the loo (I was worried I might break my neck!)

The wedding was S-P-E-C-T-A-C-U-L-A-R! It was everything you would expect. So colorful, lots of food. Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming.

This dashing man is the Father of the Groom (or was it the Bride?) He was a friend of Rohit’s. There were separate seating areas for men and for women and they sat us at the edge of the men’s section (because we are westerners I was told, not sure if that was true or not.) Our host came over and saw that we didn’t have drinks and immediately made sure we had a choice of beer, water, soda, or Indian rum.

I’ve been trying to stick to water and masala chai on this trip since Indian food already has so many spices that are anti-inflammatory. For a person who is on blood thinners you want to make sure you don’t come over here and eat a bunch of Indian food AND drink a bunch of alcohol. Or, if you are going to do that, eat a lot of cooked spinach.

This was the Father of the Bride (I think.) I couldn’t hear very well, I was on the other side of the group. Plus, I was completely enamored by his moustache! Isn’t it wonderful?!?
I felt like everyone looked like they stepped right out of a movie.

We stayed later than originally planned. We had thought we would only stay an hour but stayed well over two. I think we left around 11:00? And the Bride & Groom hadn’t even arrived yet! Rohit stayed until right before midnight and I think either they had just arrived or they were just about to arrive. Those Indians really know how to party!

The next day I stayed at the hotel for a few hours in the morning with Regine (our American guide) while the rest of the group went to tour the Fort. There have been a few places along the way where I have stayed behind because Regine felt it would be too difficult for me either because it had tons of stairs or might be too cramped or narrow, that sort of thing. Since I am here for three-and-a-half weeks I certainly don’t want to overdo it, so I am okay with staying back.

This is the lock on my door. You already saw how big the key was in my hand earlier, so the should give you an idea of how substantial this lock is. Took me a few tries to get it to work.
Believe it or not, this is the window of my bathroom! Course, it’s not this beautiful on the inside. In fact, they have curtains over it so you can’t even really enjoy the stained class.
This was across from the hotel office. I don’t know where it went but I wanted to go up these stairs and snoop.
My view at breakfast. I am hooked on masala omelettes and masala chai.

Regine and I took a TukTuk to meet up with the rest of the group for lunch. We dined at the Royal Repast.

You don’t often see women driving scooters.

The Royal Repast is a lovely restaurant which has been by the Bedla family, in their ancestral home, for over 85 years. They have had the honor of serving many famous people there including Queen Elizabeth, Jacqueline Kennedy, the Shah of Iran, Indira Gandhi, and Jawarlal Nehru.

The Royal Repast
Lovely art on the walls

After lunch we took another TukTuk to the City Palace where we were able to take a boat tour of the lake. If I understood Rohit correctly, there used to be tours from all over – in fact our hotel had a dock, but now there are only two places (I think it was only two) where people are allowed to launch boats. It’s a bummer, because it would have been so convenient to go from our hotel, but I’m sure that it must have been madness to have boats going from everywhere.

One of the women went back to the hotel in one of the TukTuks so four of them piled into this one, just like real Indians!
Another guide from Travel Scope (our Indian tour company.)
I wish men in America wore Nehru collared vests.
You may recognize this, it has been in several movies/miniseries –
this is the Lake Palace Hotel.
Scaffolding on a building being renovated
This is a 150-year-old Gangaur Boat (Gangaur is a Rajasthani festival.) If you have ever seen the movie ‘Octopussy’ you may recognize it.
I took pictures of this from a distance but the close up is much more impressive. This is another architectural accomplishment by Shah Jahan,
who you all know to be the man who was responsible for the Taj Mahal.
Street scenes are my favorite photos.
And the street art is a close second… (My friend Meta would go nuts here!)
I don’t have a clue what this is – there appears to be phone numbers, it could be an advertisement for a plumber, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.

We didn’t have a dinner planned with the group so I scheduled a massage and an oil-drip for when I returned to the hotel. They had an authentic Ayurvedic spa and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

I chose a one-hour massage and a one-hour oil drip. I really didn’t know what to expect.

I have weekly massages back home, have been having them for years, decades really, but the truth is, I have never had a massage from a man. And I didn’t actually think that my first one would be in India of all places.

I had brought a robe with me because I’ve been in enough spas in my lifetime where they haven’t had a robe that fit me. Turns out I didn’t need one because guess what, they don’t use them. Oh no, they don’t, just a towel. And a standard sized towel. NO SHEET! So not only was I worrying about side boob, but I was worrying about side thigh and side stomach and side everything!

If you’ve never had an Ayurvedic massage, they are a little more intense than a normal massage. I certainly wouldn’t want to have them on a regular basis but I just kept telling myself – this is good for me. As I heard my masseuse becoming quite winded while he kneaded away – this is good for you, this is good for you, this is good for you.

When he reached under the towel and started doing my stomach I realized I was truly in a different world and my anxiety level shot through the ceiling. I’m not sure how people are supposed to relax when getting a massage like this – maybe they aren’t supposed to.

I think there may actually have been a shift change about three-quarters of the way through my massage because all of a sudden the man said he had to go and the owner came in and finished. He was very nice, told me I needed to stop using Stevia (he warned me, even if it says it is pure Stevia, it isn’t.) There was a woman who kept coming in to check on me and every time she would see me she’d say in the most lovely, sing-songy voice, “Good morning!” (Even though it was after 7 in the evening.) She was very sweet.

After I finished with my massage they covered me up with a bunch of towels (where were these towels earlier?!?) and they removed a part of the top section of the massage table. There was a hole cut into the table where a bowl could be placed. And then there was a hole cut into the bottom of the bowl. That is where the oil ran out into a container on the floor. I placed my head over the bowl and then they set up this contraption over my head where they could pour a bunch of oil into a device that allowed them to release the oil in various streams. The oil was warm and it felt good but it was a very long hour. I thought it was going to be more steady and not so much at one time.

When I left they told me not to shower that night so the oil could soak in. I had several Indian friends in college, women with long, beautiful, thick hair. I know that they put oil on it at night so I thought I should try it. They also told me to only take a hot shower the next day and not to use soap. I followed that advice.

Next time I would not do the oil drip. It took me about three days of showering to get my hair to look normal again. I would definitely get another Ayurvedic massage but would want it done by a woman.

Little reading nook in the office of the hotel.
One last photo of the lake before we go…

Goodbye to Udaipur.

India – Day Three & Four: Jodhpur

I was sad to leave Delhi but at least I knew I’d be returning.

First one last Masala Dosa…

We departed Delhi on the day before Election Day.

Here’s a few interesting tidbits about Indian elections. First, liquor is not allowed to be sold for the two days before an election – so people will be clear-headed when they vote. It’s good in theory but I know for myself, I have a liquor cabinet full enough to inebriate most of my neighborhood. Second, elections are held on Saturdays, because guess what, they want to make it easier for people to vote, and as we know, most people don’t work on Saturdays.

Of course there are many reasons why the first Tuesday was originally chosen for Election Day in the U.S. but those reasons are no longer valid. It would be a no-brainer to move elections to Saturday but I tell you, it will never happen, at least not in my lifetime. There are two reasons why. Firstly, most of the people who are unable/unlikely to vote on a Tuesday (people who do not get paid-time-off) tend to vote Democratic. Secondly, municipalities are not going to want to spend even more money on elections than they already are. And since most municipalities are open Monday through Friday it would mean extra hours and possibly even overtime.

Last, and definitely not least, the results of the election are not known for THREE days, until Tuesday! I can’t imagine. In the U.S. it’s gotten so bad the media is predicting winners before the polls are even closed (which I hate SO much – it makes me absolutely CRAZY.) I certainly wouldn’t want to have to wait days to find out who the winners are in an election but it would be nice if the media weren’t allowed to discuss the election results on the air. I believe that is the law in the U.K. There is no way that it can’t be having some effect on results, either people don’t bother voting because they think it doesn’t matter or people vote for candidates who are furthest ahead. But I digress, again…

Departed from DEL – Indira Gandhi International Airport. Like so many airports, there was some amazing art pieces if you take the time to look.

Sun salutation

I flew business class, which is the only real option for a person of my size. The man in the row across from me must have been a famous actor or athlete because two guys came and asked if they could have their photos taken with him. He seemed resigned and obiged.

Jodhpur is located in Thar Desert in the northwest state of Rajasthan. It is called the ‘Blue City’ for the houses that are painted blue in the old area of the city and also ‘Sun City’ because it remains sunny year round (the houses are painted blue to keep cool.)

Upon arrival we were greeted by a huge procession and a band! Okay, it wasn’t for us, but it was spectacular to see nevertheless.

The streets were too narrow for us to get to the hotel on our bus. (Our bus driver Suki had driven the bus overnight from Delhi, I think Regine said it took him about 12 hours of driving, compared to our flight which only took an hour and a half!)

Time for the TUK TUKs! Tuk Tuks are auto-rickshaws, they are called other things in other countries, for example, when we saw them in Cuba they called them CoCoTaxis and in Thailand (and in some parts of India) they call them PuttPutts.

Not particularly easy for a big girl to get in and out of but I managed.

The hotel – RAAS – was incredible. It’s located in the heart of Jodhpur and has a breathtaking view of the Mehrangahr Fort.

Unfortunately the people staying in the room that I was supposed to have decided to stay on, and I ended up in a room that was a bit of a challenge for me to get to. One thing that I will say about India, they aren’t very concerned about accessibility. They really can’t be I suppose. BUT the people here are spectacularly accommodating and are always willing to help as much as possible (usually.)

This was the stairway to my room. It wouldn’t have been a problem if there had been ANYTHING to hold onto! The person across from me also has mobility issues so the two of us had to call the front desk for assistance every time we needed to go anywhere. They were always willing to come and get us though. Very nice staff.

We got to go to Maharani Textiles & Handcrafts, which is AMAZING! You make you’re way down beneath the streets of Jodhpur to find that there are about 40 enormous rooms filled with bolts of fabric to the ceiling.

This fabric house makes scarves, bed covers, shawls, etc. for some of the most famous fashion houses in the world – such as Miu Miu, Prada, Kenzo, and Armani. Absolutely gorgeous!
Padam Jain, 5th generation owner of Maharani Textiles & Handcrafts
Okay, I did feel badly that these guys had to fold all the scarves back up after we went through all of them but our tour guide reminded me about something we had discussed earlier – the one thing that India has plenty of is manpower and Indians do not mind doing work like this.

We returned to the hotel and dined al fresco with this view.

Fortunately, my tour guides pushed to get me moved to a different room the second evening. Which turned out to be was even bigger relief than I had realized. My original room had stairs leading to a rooftop gazebo, which sounds great, but I think it had an opening straight to the outdoors. I could hear dogs barking all night, and LOUDLY, even with the ear plugs in that were provided.

I know that it’s always smart to travel with ear plugs but I never do because I find them more uncomfortable than dealing with the noise. Usually if I have a noise issue, I’d rather put a pillow over my head but travel tip – GET A GOOD PAIR OF EAR PLUGS if you‘re going to India! You will need them.

In Jodhpur, being in the middle of the city, there was the traffic, there were the animals, but there was also the mosque that was right next door. The hotel left the following message for guests…

And let me tell you, the brief azan lasted way more than 50 seconds. And when they did the Friday azan (which also happened on Saturday evening,) it lasted closer to an hour and a half! I have an issue with this, an azan is only supposed to be a call to prayer, it’s not supposed to be full out proselytizing.

Quinoa porridge is one of my new favorite things. I need to learn to make it. Also, masala eggs.
Waiting by the pool while they prepare my new room.
Definitely my favorite room so far, comfort-wise.
I had my own private terrace.
And the best bathroom!!!

While everyone else went for a tour of the fort (which was going to entail a lot more step climbing) I stayed back. Frankly, I was tired and needed a little break. We had been going like gangbusters for days and I was not going to make it 3-1/2 weeks if I didn’t pace myself (there are only three of the seven of us who are going on both tours.)

Besides, this place was beautiful and it had a SPA! Time for a little pampering.

That evening we had another dinner with the same magnificent view. I slept like a log (or I heard someone say, slept like a bear today, I thought that was a good analogy.) It was much quieter in my ground floor room. I would give up a room with a view for a quiet room any day. Besides, the entire place is a view!

Then, once more, TukTuks to the bus. This time it was a blue TukTuk as we left the Blue City.

Here’s Rohit, our guide on the left. The young man next to him was so sweet, I am going to send in a review and tell them that he was extremely helpful and how much I appreciate all he did. I can’t remember who the third man is. The woman on the right is Regine, who arranged the entire tour, both tours.

Just a few photos on the way to the Jain Temple.

Sign at the rest stop – cracked me up.

The Jain Temple in Ranakpur was absolutely incredible. Built in the 15th century, it is one of the five most holy places of the Jain faith. I will add more here when I have time…

February is a very popular time to get married in India and we saw a few new brides at some of the places we visited. Newly married women are easy to spot, they are decked out in gorgeous saris with lots of jewelry.
The happy couple was kind enough to let us take photos.
This young boy really wanted his photo taken.

We stopped at Mountbatten Lodge for lunch. The food was amazing. I would really love the recipe for the soup. Yum!

And the mustard potatoes… out of this world.
Dining under a spectacular banyan tree

India – Day Two: Delhi

This morning we started the day with a hearty and delicious breakfast. Regine, tour guide extraordinaire, explained that over the years she‘s found that while traveling, having three full meals every day is too much. Travel tip: consider eating a substantial breakfast, a midday snack, and dinner OR a light breakfast and light dinner with a large midday meal (if for example, you have a fancy lunch planned.) It will make everyone feel better. I whole-heartedly agree.

Yesterday when I ate lunch (that delicious Mulligatawny soup that I keep raving about and that I ordered again for dinner) the chef, Abhinav Rustagi, was so flattered he agreed to share his recipe. He emailed it to me! Yippee. When I return home I am going to keep making it until I get it right.

The same ADORABLE server (Ahmed) was working who had been in the restaurant the day before so he had the chef come out to meet me.

[Side note: If any of you have ever seen ‘Last Holiday’ with Queen Latifah it was pretty much like that scene from the movie, only I wasn’t dressed in a gorgeous evening gown and I don’t look like Queen Latifah.]

The Chef asked me what I would like for breakfast and whether I would be interested in having some Indian food. I said I was open to anything and I would let him make whatever he liked for me.

He brought me out a Mysore Masala DOSA – pinch me! It was SO good. He served it with Sambar and two sauces to dip into – one was coconut based the other was tomato and mustard based. I adore coconut so I thought I’d prefer that but the tomato and mustard sauce was out of this world.

Sorry, couldn’t get a photo of the dosa uneaten – it was so good I plum forgot. But you can see the beautiful sauces, which are actually above the paratha on the right.

Next he brought me Aaloo Pyaaj Gobhi Parathas – a fried flat bread stuffed with potato (aaloo), onions (pyaaj), and cauliflower (gobhi.) Sigh, heaven.

We finished breakfast and headed to our first destination of the day – the India Gate. Our tour company in India, Travel Scope, coordinating with the American tour company, Mindful Journeys, and arranged for us to have a bus, even though there was only 7 women. This way we would all be comfortable. (I suspect it is primarily for me since all the women are slight in size.)

Meet (from left to right) Bupi, our “house mother” (he keeps us safe getting on and off the bus, we must always listen to Bupi,) Suki, our driver, and Rohit, our guide.

Now, here’s a secret, if you are a white person, particular a very white, white-haired, plus-sized woman with pink highlights in your white hair and you want to feel like a rock star – get your butt to India. I tell you, it’s amazing how many people will ask to take their photo with you, especially in tourist spots.

Our driver parked our tour bus in the same area that had many other buses, buses filled with the cutest middle-school and high school aged girls you’ve ever seen. At first we just waved at them and at one point we asked if we could take a photo of them but then their teacher let them go and they sort of swarmed around us. That is when the smartphones came out. I think I had my photo taken more times in 5 minutes than I’ve had my photo taken in 5 years.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Rohit Gehlot
Video courtesy of Mr. Rohit Gehlot
The girls loved having their photos taken

The India Gate is a war memorial built to honor the members of the British Indian Army who lost their lives in the First World War and also those who died in the third Anglo-Afghan War. Approximately 13,300 names are etched onto the gate, though the total number of lives lost is closer to 70,000.

Looking through the arch you can see a canopy that was built in 1936 as a tribute to King George V, who had just died. The canopy was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who also designed the Gate which was inaugurated in 1931. Lutyens was the main architect of the city of New Delhi. If you want to read about something fascinating look up Lutyens Delhi!
Amar Jawan Jyoti, or the flame of the immortal soldier
(India’s tomb of the unknown soldier.) It was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 26 January 1972, the twenty-third Indian Republic Day.
At one point automobiles were allowed through the gate but now traffic is no longer allowed through.
A very imposing looking SWAT officer keeps things safe.
All Women Police

Indian street food which I’ll admit I did not try – these are called pani puri or in English “water balls.” They are a fried dough that is puffed up so it’s hollow, I think similar to a mini-poori if you have ever had one of those, and then it’s filled with flavored water (tamarind chutney, chili, chaat masala, potato, onion or chickpeas.)

On to the Gurdwara!

Here we all are! When you enter a Sikh place of worship (a Gurdwara) you need to cover your head. Some of us did not have scarves along but for the tourists they sell these scarves that have the name of the Gurdwara printed on them – a nice memento from the visit. Sikh men already have their heads covered because many of them wear turbans, and the Sikh women wear beautiful decorative silk embroidered versions of these scarves.
Everyone who works in the Gurdwara is a volunteer. When you arrive you need to remove your shoes and socks and hand them over to the people who will take care of them during your visit. I think you can tell which foot is mine. Yes, the big puffy one. But Mary-Ann and I have the same silver polish. I love Marie-France’s red polish – my favorite!
It’s not allowed (and frankly rude) to take photos inside the Gurdwara but I did snap one picture before we entered. While inside I sat and prayed/meditated while listening to the music. It is a beautiful place and would be so easy to sit there for hours.
After prayer people are asked to join in a meal. We watched as volunteers prepared the food. They feed about 15,000 people a DAY at the Gurdwara Bangra Sahib and that is only one place! They invite anyone to eat – rich, poor, young, old, any religion, any caste, from anywhere. ALL people are welcome.
Just make sure you don’t leave anything on your tray. No wasting of food!
We got to go back into the kitchen, again, all volunteers.
Here this machine takes balls of dough and flattens them into pancakes so they can be fried or cooked.
These are GIGANTIC vats of dal makhani – yum!!!
And WOW!
I LOVED this person. Nothing more distinguished than an older Sikh gentleman. He and his family had donated a machine to help cook the bread more quickly. They were visiting to see how it worked.
Here’s how the bread is currently being cooked – cannot make chipathis (or are they roti?) fast enough.

After the Gurdwara we returned for a brief rest at the hotel. I found these things in my room. Isn’t this delightful? Who doesn’t love fresh flowers surrounding your Ganesha? And the guy who cleans my room (I met him) was so proud of his work. He straightened up all my things. I almost didn’t want to touch anything and mess it up!

Next we left to go see something that, if you are ever in Delhi, you must visit – Gandhi Smriti – the site of Mahatma Gandhi’s Martyrdom.

It is a place that is both serene and upsetting (which seems fitting, since I always describe India as a country of extremes.)

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January, 1948. He was 78 years-old. There is so much written about him I could spend weeks reading opinions on why he was assassinated and what he accomplished and whether or not he really was a saint, but for me, I choose to stick with the positive impression of this great man.

Gandhi spent the last part of his life at Birla House. Some might ask why a person who promoted a simple life would live in such a lavish and large home, but he did so because he wanted to have the space to have LOTS of visitors. If he had lived in a small hut it would have been impossible for hundreds of people to pray with him.

On his last day he walked from Birla House to go for his afternoon prayer. They have marked the exact path he took with cement footsteps.

Here is where the assassination took place.
They have constructed a canopy over the spot.

Above is a brief video explaining what happened. Here is another brief biography on Gandhiji.

This cheeky monkey walked right between me and our tour guide. We were standing about two feet apart! There were monkeys everywhere. One of my travel mates said that they eat the garbage, I saw one of the monkeys with a bag of chips. We saw them scaling the walls of one of the government buildings. She said that they eat the garbage (corruption) in government/politics too. We definitely need to get some monkeys in the US!
Can you see the monkeys in flight on the middle left?
We ended our day shopping at Khan Market. It was fabulous and of course I found the bookstore. Believe it or not I didn’t buy anything (at the bookstore) though! I am trying to pace myself AND I’m waiting to buy heavier things toward the second half of the trip.
When I returned to my room, there was a foot bath waiting!
You have got to love Taj Hotels!

India – Day One: Delhi

I haven’t mentioned this on my blog (though everyone I know has heard about this for months) but I decided to take a trip to India! And since so many people have asked me to keep them up-to-date on my trip, I thought the easiest thing to do would be to keep a diary via my blog.

Here we go….

I don’t ever remember traveling by plane where I left one one day and arrived two days later, but that’s what happened. I departed on February 3rd and arrived on the 5th! Course the 11-1/2 hour time difference and the fact that I took off from Chicago in the evening and landed in Delhi at 2:30 am also added to the appearance of a very long trip. Still, door-to-door it was about 26 hours…..

I flew on Emirates – Chicago to Dubai, Dubai to Delhi. I never thought I’d get the chance to fly on Emirates, which is supposed to be one of the best airlines in the world. I will say, the plane to Dubai was pretty fancy. The plane to Delhi was an older version and definitely not as nice. If I hadn’t flown business class I don’t know how I, a plus-sized woman, could have possibly handled the flight. Even in business class it wasn’t comfortable enough to sleep.

I read recently that the best way to get better service on planes is to bring your flight attendant(s) a treat so I brought a small package of Betty Jane’s Gremlins (the best candy in the world) and gave them to my lovely attendant. Honestly, I think she would have been as sweet and helpful even if I hadn’t given her a gift, but she seemed sincerely delighted that I brought them for her. She told me at the end of the trip that she had kept them all for herself and eaten the entire package over the course of the trip! And boy, she did dote on me. I tried to help the guy next to me and say that they were from him too but he was not the friendliest guy. Reap what you sow baby! And my flight attendant was French, she knew the best wines to recommend! Fantastique!

My favorite thing about the plane (to Dubai) was the stars on the ceiling while we were (supposed to be) sleeping…

I was met at the gate in Delhi by a very helpful woman from the tour company who got me through immigration. Since I was so tired (more accurately spacey, ) I can’t say enough how grateful I was to have her assistance.

Despite my haze, I noticed right away the amazing sculptures above the immigration area. You really can’t miss them as you come down the escalators. GORGEOUS They are called mudras and here is what they mean.

SO tired. By the time I checked in at my hotel (had a cup of tea) and got to sleep it was 5 am.

The tour company left me a couple gifts including a wonderful little dancing Ganesha.

I learned the story of Ganesha from reading this collection of myths and legends by Madhur Jeffrey (one of my favorite people in the whole world.) I’m so lucky to have a beautiful, large hardcover version of the book – sadly it’s out of print, at least in the US – but you can still get a small paperback version. Or you can always see what they have at the library!

For some strange reason I only slept for three hours. I made arrangements to have a wake-up call for 11 am the night before. I wanted to make sure I didn’t sleep the entire day away and to try to get onto this time zone. Guess I didn’t need it. BUT I forgot for a bit and was just finishing up in the shower when the front desk called. Apparently they were worried because at about 11:10 there was a knock on the door. As I scrambled to finish dressing another knock. I answered to find three very worried looking people standing there. They said that they were concerned when I didn’t answer my wake up call. I felt badly to have caused them trouble but at the same time, boy do I feel safe!

I went to the concierge to ask where I could get some postcards because for once I’m going to be gone long enough that maybe people will get them before I get home. Maybe. She said the hotel will provide them. I said – are you sure, I need about 15. They’ll be waiting in your room. Fancy schmancy. (And they were on the desk when I came back from lunch.)

A few photos of the interior of the hotel…

This is one part of the ceiling in the lobby.

Lunch was AMAZING. I had Mulligatawny Soup with rice (they are giving me the recipe!) and spiced paneer in egg paratha. Plus – chaaaaaaaiiiiiiiii! I’m in HEAVEN!

Now I’m back in my room writing postcards, reading “The City of Djinn” (it’s delightful!), looking at an incredible view, and thinking about a nap. Having dinner this evening with my first group of travel mates.

Hopefully I won’t fall asleep in my soup (wouldn’t be the first time…)