India – Part 1- November 19- 27, 2016
Bevan, trying to prove that I booked our drive to the airport an hour early, looked up our flight only to find that the Flight to San Fran was cancelled! We spent the next hour and a half trying to find alternate routing that would get us to our First Class seats from San direct to Delhi ( thank u Aeroplan) After exhausting all options, we found alternate flights through Toronto. We stayed 5 hours at the airport and had a beautiful meal at the new Marriott- food and service was amazing. Our host, of Indian decent, was excited for us and said that people love or hate India. Nothing in between. This turned out to be a great hiccough bc after a red eye flight to TO we surprised Claire and Davis at 7 am! We spent a really wonderful day with the kids – visiting, playing basketball and a compliment game. Yves made us a beautiful dinner and then took us back to TO. It was a perfect day other than we miss Shanda who was getting a much needed vacation herself.
Another bonus was now we were on the exact flight as Kim and Dave- our travel partners.
After 14 hours we arrived to an orderly, quiet airport in Delhi. We were transferred to a very modern and beautiful hotel close by. We had to go through security to enter – something we have learned is quite common in India.
I was still waiting for the much anticipated culture shock and the swarm of humanity but the airport in Varanasi was relatively quiet as well. Our transportation was a modern bus/van that seats approximately 12. I looked out the front window and at first thought it was a movie screen playing the bus scene from Best Marigold Hotel. There was a large bus heading straight for us and with the 2 road lanes and 40 lanes of buses,cars, cattle, pedestrians, and tuck-tucks a head on collision was certain and imminent. When I realized we weren’t dead, I realized our driver was magical so I have not been worried since.
Varanasi,to Hindus, is like Bethlehem to Christians. It is one of the oldest cities in the world. It looks like it hadn’t been cleaned since shortly after it was developed.
Our guide, quite a religious man, escorted us that evening down to the Ganges, or as Bevan has renamed, the River of Liquid People. Among Hindus, it is ‘the’ place to have your ashes thrown into. Bathing in this magical river is said to erase one of all their sins. Our trip down to the Ganges was by rickshaw and then by foot. There were thousands of people making this pilgrimage and for every person there was a sound of a horn blasting. I had difficulty crossing the street and experience mild – super mild culture shock- mainly due to some people walking barefoot. Keep in mind that holly cows wander freely. At the waterfront their were many priests ringing bells and burning incense.
There are crematoriums along the river banks that have been burning for thousands of years without stopping. Only males attend the cremation, the main griever wears white. After the burn, the main griever throws the remaining large bones ( ie pelvis or femur) into the Ganges. We felt awkward observing from our little boat but we’re assured that the locals did not mind and found it an honour for others to be interested in their culture.
In the morning we witnessed the bathing rituals and were surprised that there were so few people. Perhaps, like many world religions, the number of followers is on the decline?
AGRA- home of the Taj Mahal
(View from our terrace)
Our new guide, whom Kim aptly renamed Billy Crystal, due to his looks and sense of humour, guided us to the Taj to watch the sunset. We were to get there n the morning again an hour before the gates opened so we could have a quiet viewing. After yet another security pat down and a literal RUN to the Taj – we entered a tourist free Taj! We could hear the wind circling in the dome and our whispers circle the room. We got an up close view of the very detailed marble inlays. Incredible! Then the masses descended! I must admit that I could easily have skipped seeing the Taj Mahal but we all agree that it far exceeded our expectations.
The 4 of us thought that we could not travel in India without trying the train. Dave had told our agent that we would take the train if we had assistance with our bags. Well, they delivered – literally and figuratively!!! We took the ‘first class train’ and our luggage took a private air conditioned van!
It was dark when we arrived to our next hotel. We walked through a beautiful carved door into a courtyard with fountain and musicians greeting us. All of a sudden I was flapping my arms and swatting at a swarm of moths… which actually turned out to be a rose petal shower. It was lost on me but the other 3 were alert enough to enjoy.
Kim and I enjoyed a ‘spice talk’ with a young and enthusiastic chef. One spice, we could not figure out. We had never heard the word. Kim politely asked if the was an English name, to which he answered, ‘mam, that is the English word’. We had a great discussion about spice and food. I asked what his favourite dish was – it was something cooked in cow ‘dung’. Of course I couldn’t let that go as I thought I was not hearing correctly. After being told ” yes mam, cow dung” and me asking cow “tongue” and being told ” no mam, cow dung” , I finally clarified by asking ” cow poo?”
To be answered ” yes mam!” He then went on to suggest a Indian tasting platter for my meal that evening. He was so enthusiastic that I agreed. He then told me the price and I agreed having no idea what he had said or what the exchange was. Kim and I were fairly certain it was either $90 or $900!!!
The following morning we saw a tiger in the distance almost immediately. Later we saw a female tiger lying at the side of the path. She was calling to her cubs. After 15 minutes her 3 cubs arrived and we followed them around and watched them have a brief nap on the path. We were extremely lucky as it is rare to see a cub and even more rare to see 3 as it is uncommon for a tiger to have that many “tigletts”- as Dave calls them.
We arrived back to our hotel to be met by the 30 year old Director of Client Relations- who is 1000 pounds overweight.
On safari a branch gave me a few scratches on my neck. The staff who were surprised and happy to hear that we had a cub sighting didn’t know to believe me or not when I told them that they were from a tiger cub.
Things I have learned
– people in India pronounce Frizzell correctly more often than Canadians.
-chaotic streets seem to work as nobody owns the lane or road ( like we do in N America)
-the most important part of any rickshaw or vehicle of any type is a horn
-Indian security frisks are probably more thorough than a mammogram
-Indians, like most other people on the planet, do not get my sense of humour.
-some of the highways here are almost as bumpy as the Trans Canada between Regina and Winnipeg
Next up – Judaipur – where Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was filmed
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