India 2012

Marilyn’s Rajasthan Adventure   Click to follow my progress on the map heading east from Delhi to Shekhawati

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February 7, 2012                     Serving up Rajasthan

Neha, Michael, Marilyn, Mary Kay, Diane, Chip

For a bunch of food junkies what could be better than a cooking class.  The Spice Box is a small spice shop that was just up the street from our hotel.  Shakti Singh, the owner, has a small a classroom just across the street where he shares his secrets to making great Indian dishes.  Check out this UTube video I found of the class


First, the spice box — fresh spices are essential to good Indian cooking.  Of course, I had to buy a box!  Shakti’s box had brown cumin, fennel seeds, brown mustard seeds, tumeric powder, coriander powder, red chili powder and fenugreek seeds.

Shakti cautioned that his recipes are for 3 servings, and when cooking for say six you add only one-quarter more because 6 people do not eat that much more.  No wonder I always make way too much food! 

We started with Masala Chai.  It was Chip’s turn to cook.  Here Chip is boiling the milk 7 times.  Since you start with whole spices and Assam tea, it is important to strain the tea before serving.







Next, was the Khadai Paneer, green peppers and onions with homemade cheese.  Mary Kay, Micky and Diane cooked it to perfection better than we had eaten at any restaurant.  Shakti cautioned, “Do not overcook the spices and vegetables, cook only until the oil separates to the top.”  

Michael and I were up for the Malai Kofta, tasty mashed potato dumplings with paneer inside and a wonderful creamy sauce.  This had become a favorite on the trip, and now I knew how to make it at home.







Chapati is served at every Indian meal.  It seemed easy to make (we’ll see how I do at home).  The dough is rolled out with a little rolling pin and cooked on a hot metal plate on a gas stove.  Don’t think you could do this with electric.  It is important to gently push the air out of the bread as it cooks, taking care not to break it.

Taming the Chapati

Finally, we ate.  Fantastic! unfortunately the site is still under construction.




Stomach full, I retired to the rooftop for some R&R and blogging.  Can’t get enough of the view!  Final fittings at Lord and Tailor, a last trip to painting school, and buying a few more bangles to complete the collection finished out my day.

We were all a little apprehensive about the night train to Jaipur.  How crowded would it be, how cold, would it be possible to sleep?  We arrived early and found a waiting room.  Neha ran into her mother’s sister and her family who were on their way to a wedding.  It’s a small world!  As the departure time approached, Neha warned us that the train would not stop for long and we must board quickly.  We were in two different cars and the first trick was locating the car, next to quickly load all our luggage which by then had expanded.  We soon got the technique of lifting it up to someone on board.  We took care not to knock anyone over as we made our way to our seats that were clear at the other end of the car.  The bunks were three high.  The middle on strapped against the wall to enable folks to sit on the bottom bunk as a seat until bedtime.  We were each delivered a set of nicely pressed white sheets, a blanket and a pillow.  Everyone jockeyed for a bunk.  The youngest among us, Micky and I, took the top bunks.  We had a 5:15 a.m. wake up to ensure that we would be prepared for the 5:45 a.m. arrival in Jaipur, another quick stop.  I think I have said it before, but I really mean it this time, I will take less baggage and make fewer purchases on my next trip!

February 6, 2012                                 A City of Palaces

The City Palace is Rajasthan’s largest palace.  Built in 1559 on the banks of Lake Pichola, the palace has been added to over time.  You enter through the Badi Pol or great gate which has three archways, the middle reserved for the royal family.  

Micky and Mary Kay


Beautiful triangular arches to the left of the gate commemorate the rulers who were weighed on their birthdays and then donated the weight equivalent in gold and silver to the poor.

The Mughals loved their elephants!  The inner courtyard has areas for elephant to lie down in hollows between concrete “pillows.”




The Mewars who built the palace claim direct descent from Rama the sun god, and their crest is placed just above the entryway to the palace, the symbol of the sun always shining.




Part of the armor collection is this fake elephant trunk for a horse — this was enough to fool the elephant not to attack because it thought that it was another elephant.  Really ??

Bari Mahal is the beautiful inner garden high up in the palace and includes the trees that were growing on the original hilltop.  Our guide described the games that the royal family would play in this beautiful courtyard, including coloring the water in the fountain and sprinkling it on others.  From the garden there are beautiful views out over the lake.



The beautiful turret of glass in the Palace of Joy is  incredible.

Beautiful minatures of the gods decorate the ceiling.


Peacock courtyard is decorated with intricate glass mosaic peacocks.

Speaking of peacocks, we were offered a minature painting lesson and I had the idea that we should learn to draw peacocks.  Really hard even with the paint by numbers approach and a little help from the instruction to “fix” the drawing.  

hard at work

instructor's drawing








It was back to Lord & Tailor in the late afternoon for a fitting of our outfits.  

Micky's new outfit - oh la la






A boat ride is the perfect way to see Pichola Lake.  

City Palace


beautiful sunset

Lake Palace







Our budget buster dinner for the trip was at the floating palace — Jagmandir Island Palace.  Dressed in our new outfits we arrived on their private boat, and entered another world.  The views across the lake were incredible as was the dinner. 

(left) Mary Kay, Michael, Chip, Micky, Marilyn, Diane

February 5, 2012                    Udaipur— Meeting the Family         

Our group split up for the trip from Ranakpur toUdaipur, with Martha, Micky, Neha and I opting for the local bus while the others hired a jeep.  With suitcases in tow, we met at 8:15 am on the side of the mountain road to wait for our bus due at 8:30. 8:30 came and went with no bus, then 9:00.  By 9:30, we were wondering if the bus would come today.  It was a cool morning and the wide spot in the road, the “bus stop,” was in the shade, and we were thankful when our friendly hotel owner offered us some hot chai.  Finally, at 10:00 our bus pulled up.  Loading our suitcases, which seemed to become heavier with each day, we were off.  

stop along the way

snacks for sale

Once in Udaipurwe took a tuk-tuk to the hotel, maneuvering the narrow streets weaving in and out of the motorcycles, cars, bicycles, pedestians and cows going in both directions. 

Udaipur is set against the Aravalli Hills at the edge of PicholaLake.  The setting and beautiful palaces makeUdaipuran incredibly romantic spot.  Our hotel had a rooftop restaurant with a great view of the lake.  We were all looking forward to lunch and meeting more of Neja’s family.  Her grandfather, father and youngest brother joined us.  

After lunch, we did a little exploring and then met at Lord & Tailor, a local tailoring shop to have some Indian-style clothing made.  The shop was just up the street from our hotel, very convenient!  The staff was friendly and there was a steady stream of customers.  They showed us samples of what styles they made and patiently helped us look through the hundreds of bolts of fabric.  We were like kids in a candy shop — what flavor did we want?  Our measurements taken and orders placed, we were told everything would be ready tomorrow afternoon. 

We took a walk through the old city, down back alleys, past the entrance to the City Palace. 

We climbed the many steps to the Hindu temple Jagdish Mandir dedicated to Vishnu.  It is covered with beautiful friezes of elephants fighting, horsemen and beautiful dancing women.


Next we stopped at a painting school where we learned a bit about painting minatures and its history.  We were each offered a minature which was painted on our thumbnail with a very fine brush that has only a few squirrel hairs. Incredible.

From there it was on to a fantastic cultural show with music, dancing and puppets.  Amazing was the women’s ability to dance while balancing pots of fire on their head, another with pots placed progressively higher until eight high!  Their colorful skirts and graceful gestures were a delight for the eyes.

As night came, the lake shimmered with lights along the edge, reflecting blue, pink, silver and gold.  The island palaces appeared to float on the water.   The City Palace glowed golden.  We had dinner at the park-like Ambrai, set at the end of a peninsula jutting out into the lake with great views in every direction.  It doesn’t get much better than this!


View to City Palace

February 4, 2012                     The Largest Jain Temple in India

We arrived in Ranakpur to see the 15th century Jain Adinatha Temple, the largest and most complex in all India.  It is one of the five holy places for Jain.

The temple is a popular pilgrimage destination and there is a large restaurant that serves a fixed lunch for 10 rupees, the equivalent 20 cents.  We filed in and were seated at long tables with benches on one side.  Men came around with tin pots of dal, cabbage, rice, soup, and lots of chapatti.  We had all been a bit unsure about what this meal would be like, but the food was plentiful and tasty.  We were glad that we had taken a chance. 

the cooks

The temple was built by a wealthy merchant.  According to legend, he saw the design in a dream, and invited architects from all over India to see if one could create the temple of his dream, only one could.  The central design is unusual as it is not built around a long rectangular center as it typical, rather it is laid out like a cross.  The center is enclosed by four walls lined with galleries of small chapels holding images of each of the 24 Tirthankara

There are four entrances, but the main entrance is into a huge domed hall held up by exquisitely carved arches. 

There are 1400 pillars each with a different pattern.  Lots of natural light makes the light stone glow.  The top is accented with domes and spires.   Very unique and beautiful.

Back on the road, we wound our way up the mountain along a deep gorge on a very narrow road.  We all cringed when a large bus met us on a curve.  We were thankful that we were on the inside of the hill.

We arrived at Aranyawas, a rustic mountain lodge, located above a river with nice stone cottages and even a pool (though too cold to use it).  It was very peaceful until sunset when the battle of the bands began — Bollywood hits and dancing versus local musicians playing traditional Rajasthani music with harmonium (like an accordion), drums and singing around a bonfire near the river.  Something for everyone.

February 3, 2012                                 Rubbing Elbows with the Royals

Martha flirting with warrior

Moving on from Jodpur to Nimaj.  In Nimaj we stayed at the Rawla Bagh, the 125 year old summer house of the Thakur (ruler) of Nimaj.  It was aa short ways off the main road.  Old warriors welcomed us at the gate.

view from my room

Nimaj is a small town, with a busy main street lined with small shops, carts of fruit and vegetables, cows, men hanging out, and women in beautiful saris shopping.  We explored the back streets, stopped at the palace, most of which has been converted to a hotel — very luxe. 

In contrast is the family’s private temple which looks like it has swallowed by a banyan tree and is a bit surreal.  Legend has it that the temple was floating by in the clouds and the banyan tree captured it.  That works too. 

We visited the home of a local artist, a small, crippled woman of around 50.  She proudly displayed her interesting collection of her work in various mediums in her bedroom, hallway and parlor.  She was very appreciative of our interest in her work, and explained how she had created the various pieces.  As we left, school let out. We were inundated with friendly children who wanted to practice their English and have their pictures taken.


Historically, the rulers of Nimaj are related to the royalty of Jodpur.  While technically the royals inIndiahave no official power, they retain some lands and are admired by the people in their region.  Steeped in tradition, the royalty still celebrates marriages and holidays with extravagant festivities.  Our hostess told us that when their grandson was born, the presumptive heir to their lands, they held a celebration for all the nearby towns, serving dinner for 50,000!   She explained the complicated alliances that consolidated power in her husband’s family.  There is even an agreement about which family a son will be adopted from if the royal family has no sons.

We took an excursion to see village life in the nearby town of Kheda.  In the center of town is the water pump where the women were gathered doing their laundry. 

Women were also collecting water, and left carrying a full water jug on their head.  How do they do that? 

We parked beside a large spreading tree with a concrete platform surrounding it where men were gathered chatting.  Our local guide told us this is where they hold an informal court — five men, one of whom is an elder, listen and decide. 

Further on, we walked through an area of mud huts.  We were invited into one — it was only one room with dung floors, warm in winter and cool in summer, surprisingly with no smell. 

We visited another family where a man spun camel thread by hand on a spindle and made blankets.  In the background we saw a traditional cloth bag for distilling opium into a liquid, which he explained that they smoke during traditional ceremonies.

Mandana, traditional floor and wall decoration

We continued with a drive into the countryside and a visit to the 9th century temple Magarmandi Mata.  The Mughals destroyed the outer structure of the temple, and a huge pile of rubble lay nearby.  Many of the images were defaced by the Muslim Mughals who do not believe in images of living things.  Despite this some beautiful carvings remain, just faceless.

temple interior

pillar detail

Protection from Evil EyeFor sunset it was on to their private lake 'Chhatra Sagar.' The lake is a contrast with the dry and brushy landscape. Back at the palace, we gathered around a blazing fire for cocktails followed by a delicious home-cooked meal. We has red carrots, diced and lightly seasoned, shredded cabbage lightly spiced and delicious, chicken, special rice from Bundi (Neha’s town), and chapatti hot from the grill. For dessert there was semolina pudding. February 2, 2012 Jodhpur Guest blogger Micky Ryan It was a beautiful morning at our retreat at the outskirts of Jodhpur and we were off early by tuk-tuk to the heart of the city. Not much traffic at 9 a.m. so we quickly reached the main street of the city. We walked up the street where most shops were still closed andsoon reached the gate of the old city.Micky

There were more of the markets opening up around the clock tower, and there was even an elephant for us to pet.

We arrived at the M. V. Spice Shop for a spice demonstration but it wasn’t open yet so we walked around. Marilyn and I posed in front of a law office. Then back to learn about spices. The young woman who owns the shop (with her mother and sister) told us the history of the shop that was started by her father. There are now three shops in the city and the women of the family have carried on the business since her father’s death.

We were offered (and accepted) both chai tea and Kashmiri tea. The Kashmiri tea was a spice tea but served without milk. We learned about (and smelled and tasted) many varieties of spices and teas. And of course bought a few items to take home. Our hostess was generous with recipes and samples.

Mary Kay shopping

We climbed back in to tuk-tuks for the steep climb to Mehrangarh Fort. Some amazing traffic jams through the streets of the old city but as always, everyone remained calm. This fort is the most imposing we have seen- set upon a high plateau of solid rock. I can’t imagine how it was built almost 600 years ago. We received audio guides- with the voice of Richard Burton no less- and they were excellent. We climbed and climbed up amongst the walls and through the numerous gates to reach the palace. 


The palace had many beautiful rooms filled with exhibits of art, baby cradles, arms and seats for riding on an elephant (howdahs). 


There was a demonstration offered on how to tie a turban. There were lots of other visitors- including a group of 50 women in colorful saris. (I have been pleasantly surprised that the majority of women in India wear saris- and wonderfully colored ones). 
After the palace, we returned to the tuk-tuks for our ride to lunch.  We went back to the intersection where we were dropped off first thing in the morning, but we hardly recognized the city.  It was packed with every kind of mobile vehicle, lots of people, and various cows and dogs. The dust and exhaust were visible.

We ate at a popular local restaurant, Priya. The food was great and we had our fill for only a few dollars each. They had one of our favorites here, dosa.  Dosa is primarily a dish from Southern India so we don’t always find it on the menu. Dosa is usually a platter sized pancake made of chickpea flour, rolled and filled with various cooked vegetable. We had a different kind of dosa here- rawtha (semolina). Still not sure what it was but it was excellent and a big hit with everyone.   

poori plate

Most went back to the hotel but Marilyn and I set off for some shopping. We only stopped at a few stores before the heat and dust got to us and we grabbed a tuk-tuk for our hotel. We sat around the pool, reading and relaxing before going into the city for a rooftop dinner at sunset.

We arrived back in the city well before sunset so Mary Kay and Martha had time to do a bit of shopping, while the rest of us started drinking on the roof of the Indique restaurant. Beautiful view of the fort, the clock tower and the old city. 

Chip and Marilyn

We spent four hours enjoying food, drink and the view.  

February 1, 2012                     Travel Day Jaisalmer to Jodpur

Long day in the van.  Settled into the hotel and enjoyed sitting by the pool reading and sipping beer.

January 31, 2012                     Tombs and Temples

We were off for an early morning visit to Bata Bagh, the royal cenotaphs, on a hill just beyond the city.  Cenotaphs are above-ground tombs for visiting ancestors.  There are three distinct designs of the cenotaphs from different eras. 

The oldest from 1400-1600  are of Hindu design known as “step” temples with square roof. 

Newer from 1600-1800 is the Mughal design with large domes richly carved inside the dome. 

It is the duty of the king’s grandson to build a cenotaph for his grandfather.  More recent additions are even larger and more intricately carved.  The Bata Bagh is still in use. 

In the center of the cenotaph is a large carved headstone in memory of the king.  His wife or wives have their own section each with their own headstone.  I was intrigued to see how varied the headstones were even though the kings are usually outfitted in mughal warrior garb.

Back in Jaisalmer we continued our exploration of the fort.  There is a city of people still living within the walls of the fort.  There are many hotels, although issues of water supply and sewage lines are threatening to crumble the huge sand walls, an ecological and historic disaster in the making.   There are shops everywhere with housing above or between.  Our destination, the Jain Temples.  

Jainism dates from the 6th century, contemporary with Buddism.  Follows advocate and practice non-violence against all living things. They are strict vegetarians and shun root veggies as well I think on the theory that it could harm an insect. At the extreme, some Jain sweat masks over their mouths to avoid inadvertently inhaling an insect.  One sect carries their simple belongings live as aesthetics without worldly possessions.  There have been 24 Jain thirthankar (saints) each succeeding the other.  

The marble temples have beautifully carved ceilings, arches and pillars with a central temple to one thirthankar

The walls around the central temple are decorated with spectacular Hindu stone carvings of voluptuous women as a tribute to female beauty and carnal desire, the men have large swords and other phallic symbols hanging pendulously between their legs. 

Then there is an open air area that lets in sunlight.  Finally, is a gallery set against the outer wall with enclosed displays of each of the 24 thirthankar.  The statues are nearly identical, each shown without clothing sitting cross-legged with a lotus in the center of their chest.  Most are white marble, but a few are black marble or gold. 

The roof has conical carved towers often with a small flag.

After lunch I took advantage of a full body massage including my head, next she shaped my eyebrows using a thread (looking good), and then I went for decoration and got my hand painted with henna. 

Totally relaxed, I navigated the gauntlet of shopkeepers down out of the fort, through the bazaar and back to our hotel.  

Jaisalmer was on the caravan route between the east and west to Egypt.  The rich merchants built huge havelis here.  They follow the same design we have seen before built around a central courtyard.  These were notably for their richly carved interiors and exteriors.

It was Mary Kay and Michael’s turn for the throw down at the collective.  More lavish bedspreads and wall hangings, and of course chai.  Shopped out, it was time for a cocktail!

January 30, 2012         The Streets of Jaisalmer

We woke at first light to a clear desert sky. The air was cold and we were in the shadow of the dune.  I was visualizing our roaring fire from last night, but all that remained were ashes. I was resisted getting up until the camel boys arrived with hot chai.  Fortified, it was time to trek off across the dunes to do my morning ablulions.  Luckily, I had slept in all my clothes so there would be a minimum of unrobing.  No dawdling allowed, we were back in the saddle for our return to civilization. 

Our hotel in Jaisalmer, Hotel Narchana Haveli, was the most luxurious of the trip.  Over 280 years old, the rooms are clustered around several courtyards.  The main courtyard has a fountain while the others have climbing flowers and tables with chairs for relaxing. 

There is a nice restaurant on the roof with 360 degree views of the city.  I watched what must have been a wedding parade as I sat sipping another chai.

My room was made of solid sandstone with a high, arched ceiling.  It was sumptuously decorated with a touch of romance.  Really wished I had a sweetie here to share it with me.  

Heading out to explore the city we were met with a cacophony of sounds, sweet and sour smells, and vibrant colors everywhere.  We went through the busy bazaar where sari-clad women haggled with shop owners, men congregated in front of shops, and we were hounded by the shopkeepers as usual to “come look”… “best price.”




Lord Krishna prophesized the settlement of Jaisalmer and legend has it he also created the lake when he smote a stone with his discuss.  On the strength of this prophecy, Rao Jaisal built the Jaisalmer Fort in 1156 and moved his capital dispite the prediction that the town would be sacked two and one-half times. We walked across town, circumnavigating the old Jaisalmer Fort that looks like a sandcastle sitting on a hill in the center of town. 

Just beyond the fort is Gadsiar Lake. There are lovely temples and cenatophs (shrines to ancestors) along the edge of the lake, and a few large centatophs in the lake. The ornate gateway was built by a courtesan of the maharaja.  He had denied her permission to build the gate, but she cleverly built it while he was away and placed a small Krishna temple on the top to ensure that the maharajah would not tear it down. 

Heading back to the hotel we went on a hunt for an ATM.  Generally, finding an ATM is not so hard, but getting it to take your card can be challenging at times and require multiple attempts.  We were always careful to look for a machine where you only swiped your card versus those where your card is swallowed by the machine perhaps never to be seen again.  With our funds were replenished, Micky, Chip and I headed to the Handicrafts Cooperative that supports village women.  First it was the wall hanging and bedding room.  As usual, we were often a cup of chai.  Next was the throw down … out came hundreds of bedspreads, curtains, wall hangings.  Chip was looking for a curtain and found a beautiful blue cutwork piece made of two layers of fabric – one solid and the other with designs cut out that was striking when the light shone through it.  I had spotted a small wall hanging made of pieces of old bedded wedding saris.  I found one in beautiful gold tones.  Then we moved to the clothing room.  Micky and I found reversible wrap skirts made of old saris in gorgeous colors and design. 

We went to the Fort in the evening, entering through the large gate, and up through an interior gate to a large courtyard dominated by the palace on one side.  We continue winding our way past Jain temples, to a hotel with a rooftop restaurant to watch the sunset.  We were serenaded with Rahjastani folk music as we ate.  I had malia kofta for the first time, dumplings made of potato, cilantro and other spices with paneer cheese in the center with a creamy sauce with cashews and a little spice- delicious.  Later, this was one of the dishes we made at our cooking class so I have the recipe! 

January 29, 2012                     Camel Safari

Continuing west, we arrived in Jaisalmer in the Thar Desert.  From there we went by jeep out into the desert.  This was our grand adventure, traveling by camel out into the desert to spend the night under the stars. 

Our jeep took us out to a cross roads, and before too long we saw a line of camels coming over the ridge.  Five of us opted to go by camel while the others chose the camel cart.  The cart was just a wood box with no seat that looked very uncomfortable as it bumped along the trail.  I was happy with my choice to ride the camel. Mounting the camel wasn’t hard — the camels kneeled and then you just swung your leg over the saddle.  As they rose first with the back legs we leaned back, and then leaned forward as they rose up with their front legs with our feet in the stirrups for extra balance.  The seats were well-padded with luxurious printed silks.  Several camels were tethered together, led by our camel boys.


My camel, Laalu, stepped softly with his broad feet, so much smoother than a horse! We rode for a little over an hour and I wasn’t even sore.

The landscape was rolling with a little scrub, a few cows, but mostly nothing.  Eventually, we reached sand dunes.  In the dunes it felt like we were transported to another time, far removed from civilization. It was wonderful to be out in the desert away from the city’s constant sound of horns and traffic. The sand dunes had wonderful undulating ridges from the wind.

We cast beautiful shadows on the sand as we crossed the sand dunes.   

Our camp was just a few cots on the sand with a windbreak of broken branches to keep out the blowing sand.  The camel boys offered us beer and other drinks, and we settled in to watch the sunset.  There is something entrancing about watching the setting sun as it becomes brilliant orange and hoping and waiting for the sky to turn pink, yellow and orange. We weren’t disappointed.

 Once the sun set, the temperature began dropping quickly.  We had brought lots of warm clothes and it was time to dig them out.  It was really dark without any ambient light from the city.  We had a nice fire which was warm and created a soft light. 

We had read about the Kalbeliyas, local gypsy musicians and dancers from the Khurri area where we were camping. The gypsies of Europe are believed to have traveled from India some one thousand years ago, and the music is often compared to the gypsy music of Spain.  Martha had the great idea to see if it was possible for them to come play for us, and they did- two musicians and two dancers. One man played a horn, like what you see snake charmers use.  With his cheeks puffed up full of air the horn danced up and down while he blew it and his fingers danced over the holes.  The other man played a drum making a nice rhythm.  He also played a morchang or jew’s harp – the tiniest I have ever seen.  I couldn’t believe the range of sounds he could make. 


There were to beautiful young women dancers dressed in voluminous skirts with ankle bangles that tinkled as the swirled and stamped their feet.  Their hands moved gracefully like through water. They urged us to join them, and we did.  Not only do we love to dance, but it warmed us up!

The moon came up, a small sliver.  The stars were brilliant and got better during the night. Our cots were piled with blankets, but still it was cold.  The cots were a bit short which made it even harder to stay covered with the blankets. We were all a bit tired in the morning, some of having slept little. Small price for such a wonderful adventure.

January 28, 2012             Rats —- Karni Mata Temple 

The 17th century Karni Mata Temple is dedicated to Karniji, an incarnation of Durga.  When her son died, she ordered Yama, the god of death to bring him back to life, but he told here her son had already been reincarnated. Angry, she decreed that her ancestors would be reincarnated as kabas (rats).

There were busloads of Indians visiting the temple. There were many shops where people could buy prasad (offerings) like this.

We had to remove our shoes before we went in.  We were thankful for the foot covers they handled out!  The rats have free run of the temple, but they say they don’t leave the grounds, and normal rats do not enter.  Grain is laid at the base of walls and large bowls of sweetened milk are left to feed the rats.  There were many rats inside the temple, but not nearly so not as bad as we had been told. We were hoping to see a white rat which is considered good luck, but not today.

Back in Bikaner we visited a cracker factory. It had rooms full of floor and spices.

Men worked in a large dimly lit room with men working over large cauldrons of hot boiling oil.  This man was pressing dough through a sieve into the oil with the palm of his hand, the boiling oil licking at his skin. The owner pointed out the air conditioning positioned above him.  I was more worried about the boiling oil burning his skin. Can’t imagine what it would be like in this room in summer!

In another room boys filled the packages by hand and weighed them.  They seemed young, but we were assured that no one was under age 16 the legal working age in India.

Women finished the packaging.  Very young children sat the their mothers probably because they had no daycare.

Back at the hotel we had a chance to unwind before our dinner at the palace of the maharajah part of which has been converted to a hotel.  Built and decorated in a style reminiscent of British Empire India.  We sipped colorful cocktails and ate like maharajis.

Check out the trophy room.

Our tut-tuts arrived to take us back to the hotel.  They had to park in the parking lot rather than wait at the covered entrance to the hotel.  I think we were one of the few guests to arrive in local style.  As we neared our hotel, the street was alive with music and fireworks — it was an Indian wedding procession.  We trailed after them, joining in the dancing.  Hard to beat the local color!

January 27, 2012                     Dressing Up

Waiting for the Bus

We were up early to catch the local bus to Bikaner.  When you buy a ticket you can either pay a little extra to get an assigned seat or less and just take your chances.

The bus was decorated with the usual good luck symbol – a Ganesh plaque – and colorful tassels.  It made a lot of quick, rolling stops for people to leap off or jump on.  We chatted with an Indian school teacher who was curious about our travels inIndia.  There were beautiful women in colorful saris, some traveling with small children.  When we made a quick rest, one mother jumped off while her children sat quietly on the bus.  As it came time to leave, one of the young boys (maybe 5), who had been entrusted with guarding his mother’s purse, looked very worried and almost jumped from the bus before his mother appeared.  A group of four or five men crowded into front with the driver where the group was engaged in lively conversation.  We all arrived none the worse for wear.

The bus stop in Bikanerwas at a crossroads.  Standing with our impressive mountain of luggage we summoned several tut-tuts to take us to the hotel.  It’s amazing that those little auto-rickshaws had room for us and our luggage.  We received a cheery greeting with golden orange marigold leis at the Hotel Harasar Haveli.  We had a nice lunch on its peaceful rooftop terrace basking in the sunshine.

It was only a short walk to the Junagarh Fort. After passing through the main gate, there are satis blazed into the wall, handprints of soldier’s wives who threw themselves on their husband’s funeral pyres.

The fort was built in the late 1500’s, with additional wings and added by subsequent maharajas. You pass through connected courtyards ultimately arriving at the family’s private quarters.  The exterior is carved sandstone with beautiful balconies and pavilions.

The interiors are mostly marble that are lavishly painted. The sumptuous Anup Mahal, the private audience hall has beautifully painted marble columns.  Behind the curtain on one side are balconies with lattice jaalis so the women could listen while remaining out of sight.

Badal Mahal, the cloud palace, has beautiful painted clouds accented with red lighting and rain at the bottom of the walls.  The maharajah built the palace so that the children would not be frightened when rain finally came to this dry desert kingdom.

The summer bedroom is decorated with mirrors and intricate painted designs that look like inlaid stone with gold.

The walls of the huge 19th centuryGanga Durbar Hall are sandstone with intricately carved reliefs.

This evening we had a “farm dinner” in the countryside.

Besides being a family retreat, they raise horses.  The Rajasthaan horses are tall with distinctive ears that stand very straight with long tips that are slightly twisted to the inside.

We gathered on a large lawn dotted with trees that had colorful strands of rope lights twisting up the trunk, a huge iron pot in the center held a dancing fire to keep us warm against the chill of the night. We were seated facing two men and one woman who were playing traditional Rajasthani.  One man played a harmonium which is similar to an accordion while the other played drums.  He also played an instrument like a Jew’s harp that produced an incredible variety of tones.

The big surprise was when we were asked to go into a small building nearby — men in one and women in the other.  We were led by the Rajasthani woman carrying a large tightly wrapped bundle.  She laid it on a bed, and opened it — it was full of colorful saris for us to wear.  We each selected our favorite combination of skirt, shirt and scarf.  She helped us position the scarf tucking it into the waist of the skirt, then around over the shoulder, up over the head pinning it to our hair, then over the other shoulder and gracefully draping down the arm.  Now, we were ready for the evening!

Neha, our guide and Marilyn

Chip and Michael

The men were outfitted in traditional wear too complete with turbans.

Micky and Diane

After dinner we were urged to join in dancing.

Then it was back to t shirts and jeans for the jeep ride back to our hotel.

January 26, 2012           Beautiful Havelis — it’s all about the Murals

We began the morning with a walking tour led by our local guide, Mr. Taj.  First was the old Harlalka Well in the middle of a large raised platform.  Unfortunately, the 90 feet deep well is dry due to 10 years of drought. Four high pillars surround the well, there are separate areas for men and women including domed areas for bathing and washing, and swimming pools.

Today is Indian Independence Day.  India became independent in 1947.  It is not a big holiday like in the US. We visited a middle school to watch their celebration.  The children were sitting outside  in the courtyard on a big blanket.  The boys sat all together in the back and girls in front.  Absolutely no mixing.  School children inIndia wear uniforms, accented with colorful jackets and sweaters.

Students came up to the stage to sing a folksong or perform a skit or dance.  One skit was about an Indian girl meeting an American girl complete with an outfit of jeans, t-shirt and cap.  The kids sat very politely as their classmates performed.

Our Guide, Neha dancing

We were invited to say and a few words, we elected Micky who told them how happy were to be inIndia.  They presented us with a little sweet which is traditional for visitors.

Micky Thanking Students

The Marwari were very successsful traders.  To show their wealth they built sumptuously decorated havelis for their residences.  Entry is through a huge main gate into a large, enclosed courtyard.  Private rooms open off the courtyard, and there is often an inner courtyard for the women.  The biggest ones have three or four courtyards and are two to three stories high.

Haveli Courtyard

Built between 1750 and 1930, about 50 havelis remain.  Some have been converted to hotels and restaurants, some are open for visits, while others are padlocked because the family had relocated to Calcutta where trading is more lucrative.

Artists were commissioned to decorate the buildings with elaborate frescoes depicting Hindu mythology, scenes from everyday Mughal life and some whimsical European scenes like Krishna in an airplane.

My favorite was the Chakhaw Double Haveli – two wings built by two brothers.  This mural shows a husband smoking opium and his wife looking very disgusted.

The murals aren’t just found on the interior of the havelis.  You can see them on the walls of older buildings as you stroll through the town.  The murals give Mandawa a unique character.

For lunch we went to the old fort that has been converted to a luxury hotel … very British Empire in its feel.  You enter through huge elephant gates with nasty spikes to deter attack by elephant.  Today, the gate is guarded by turbaned doorman.

Martha with Guards at the Fort

There are several painting schools in Mandawa, each with its own shop.  The paintings are in the Indian minature style in a variety of motifs, including romantic Mughal scenes, elephants and other animals, and fruits.  Some are painted on old book pages and postcards.  After several of us bought a painting, the owner slipped Micky a freebie as a commission for bringing us all.

Dinner was on the rooftop of our haveli with small fires for warmth.  The thinnest crescent moon shone brightly on the horizon.  The crescent was at the bottom of the moon like a small smile.  The end of another amazing day!

January 25, 2012                     The Road to Mandawa

Fields of Mustard

It was an early morning start for trip to Mandawa.  Once out of Delhi, the towns got smaller and further apart.  As we got close to a town there were more dwellings, many nontraditional such as tent cities, houses made of straw, small stone structures. The few sumptuous residences seemed out of place.  The towns are bustling with fruit and vegetable carts and food vendors right on the street. People walk along the roadway taking care to stay out of the way of tuk-tuks (motorcycles rickshaws), heavy trucks full of rocks, buses, cars, motorcycles, and camel carts —  horns blaring nonstop.

The roads aren’t too bad except for those stretches where the width of the pavement varied from one to two lanes and everyone dodging to stay in the center.  Cars pass trucks in an endless game of chicken, edging up to about 6 inches of the bumper of the next vehicle, then passing and edging back into their lane just a few feet from oncoming traffic.

There are kilometers of open space, and beautiful fields of vibrant, golden yellow mustard.

After 6 hours, we arrive in Mandawa.  Mandawa is well-known for multi-storied old havelis decorated with gorgeous frescos.  Our hotel, the Hotel Mandawa Haveli, is a glorious restored 19th century haveli with rooms around a painted courtyard.  We enjoyed juice and fresh roasted peanuts.

After settling in to our hotel, we set off to check out the town.  Outside our hotel, we were greeted by friendly young men and boys.  They asked where we were from, how did we like India, what tour company, and then offered to “help” us with whatever we were looking for.  These touts assured us that their shop had the best — insert here anything you could possibly be looking for.  “Tomorrow, tomorrow,” we promised.  Pretty soon the word got around about the Americans and several of the touts even knew some of our names.

I was intrigued by the small bangle shops along the street.  We saw women making the bangles over a small brassier.   They are made of colored resin that comes in large chunks that is then cut into smaller pieces to melt and shape over a metal wire.  From there decorations are set into the bangles.  We were told that you wear bangles in sets of six.  Of course, we bought six!   The touts were waiting in the shadows while we completed our purchases.  Manana, manana.

On our way to dinner, we stopped at a Hindu temple.  Taking off our shoes, we climbed the steps and entered the inner sanctum.  A bell hangs just inside the door and is rung on entering and leaving. Each temple is devoted to the worship of a particular god.  This one was dedicated to Krishna and Radha, his wife, whose colorfully costumed images are in a small chamber.  Devotees bring offerings of flowers and fruits.  The priest gave us a prayer and applied a tikka (the red mark made with sandalwood paste) to the chakra between our eyes. For good luck, we made a circle around the god in a clockwise direction. It is bad luck to make a counterclockwise circle.

Hindus have more than 330 million gods.  The three main Hindu gods are Brahma, the god of creation, Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, and Shiva, the destroyer.

Krishna is a popular incarnation of           Shiva and is often blue.

Probably the most popular god is Ganesh with an elephant head and big pot belly.  He is the god of good fortune and prosperity.  She created him while bathing, and sent him to guard her and not to let anyone enter.  Shiva tried to enter, and confronted Ganesh who refused.  Ganesh told him he was Pavarti’s son – impossible said Shiva!  Ganesh said you will have to fight me to the death. Shiva cut off his head.  On learning who Ganesh was, the stricken Shiva went out into the jungle to find a new head.  The first animal he came across was an elephant.  He cut off the head and mounted it on Ganesh and brought him back to life.

Ganesh Shrine on Street

Each Hindu has one god to whom they are devoted.  They may have a shrine or their home or a doll of the god that they wash and dress and that follows their daily life.  Hindus also worship their ancestors as gods and may consult them about important decisions such as marriage matches. Hindu life is ruled by karma which determines each person’s current and future lives.  We all want good karma, but it’s really important in a religion that believes in reincarnation.  I’ll be looking for some good deeds to build my karma.  I sure don’t want to come back as dung beetle.

January 24, 2012                     Old Delhi

We crossed Delhi by metro to begin our tour of old Delhi.  The metro was itself an experience.  The tickets are actually tokens that you hold in front of a scanner and then deposit in a machine to exit the metro.  All passengers pass through a security check point and all hand baggage is put through a scanner, like at the airport.  We rushed to get our train, men to the men cars and women following the pink arrows to the women’s cars.   Women can ride in the men’s car but not vice-versa.  We managed to change trains halfway through without losing anyone. Pretty much like any other metro, but I appreciated that we were being guided by Neha.

First stop on our walk was Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque inIndia, built in 1656.  After climbing the stairs, we stopped outside the large entry gate to leave our shoes and for us girls to put on coverups.

The courtyard of the mosque is very large and open.  It has open galleries around three of its sides.  The western side, facing Mecca, is a long prayer hall with seven beautifully carved mihrabs (niches indicating the direction of Mecca).  It has three huge onion domes.  The mosque is flanked by two slender minarets. 

Prayer Hall

There is no interior to this mosque which seems to be a part of the Indian design, quite different than the ornately decorated interiors of mosques of the Middle East.

Western Gate

We walked through narrow streets past blocks and blocks of wedding shops anything and everything one would need for a proper Indian wedding — elaborately decorated envelopes to add money to, decorations galore, men’s costumes and women’s saris.  Our destination was the Sikh Temple.  Again, we were parted from our shoes.  There was a water crossing to enter the temple where we washed our feet.  The inside had a roped off area for worship much like in a mosque, but otherwise it was quite different.  There was a priest in the front under a golden canopy and three bearded men playing music and chanting.  Many of the male worshipers sported beards and turbans and wore traditional long tunics and loose.  Sikhism is a mystical form of Hinduism.

The Sikhs also have a large soup kitchen they run for the community.   Micky helped out the women making chapati.

We took the metro back to Karol Bagh, and had a little time to organize our luggage and to buy some warmer clothes to supplement what we had (or didn’t have).  Neha had told us to expect -5 degrees Celsius on our night of camping with the camels.

Having waited anxiously all day for the arrival of my suitcase, I called our old hotel for news.  No suitcase.  I called KLM again to see if there was any more news and to verify that it had in fact arrived inDelhi.  Yes, was the good news, but where was it.  I figured it was still at the airport.  After much effort I was able to get phone number for Air France at the airport.  Yes, I could pick it up.  We agreed on a meeting place at 9:00 p.m.  Everyone else went to dinner, I headed to the airport.  The taxi driver was really nice and showed me the entry where I was to meet the Air France staff.  Entering the terminal without a ticket requires convincing several policeman at various points that you have legitimate business, and then you can only go so far as the vestibule.  At visitor reception I asked them to call AirFrance, but they didn’t seem to be able to find the number.  I offered the number I had but they said they couldn’t call it since it was not an airport extension.  So my nice taxi driver called on his cell phone.  Someone promised to come help me in a few minutes.  An hour later no one had appeared, so we called again.  After multiple calls someone finally answered and promised to be there in 5 minutes.  We waited another hour.  Finally, a woman appeared, with no apology for the wait, asked for my claim form and passport to copy, and promised to return with 30 minutes.  Still my taxi driver waited.  Then, we were taken outside the airport and around to a side door where they processed a special permit for me to enter the airport.  Once inside, I was shown to the huge tomb for lost luggage.  Amazingly, they located my suitcase!  Then it had to be x-rayed and searched before I was able to leave.  Happy, but exhausted we let the airport more than three hours after we arrived.

January 24, 2012                     Nizamuddin Basti

The Welcome Committee

The highlight of the day, and probably of Delhi, was our walking tour through the Nizamuddin Basti (neighborhood), an 800 year old community. The tour was led by two young men from the Hope Project.  Our guide Shiariq, in his early 20’s, has a history degree and spoke very good English.  A young guide, who appeared to be in training, accompanied him.   They were fabulous.  It was fun getting to know them after the tour over lunch at a typical restaurant in the neighborhood.

The Hope Project was founded by the Sufi teacher Khan in 1975.  Its goal is to provide opportunities and resources to the poor and vulnerable, especially by empowering women.  Today the project runs a health center including a new project for women’s gynecological health, it has a preschool program (crèche) and basic literacy program for girls, helps women learn to be financially self dependent and lead self sustainable lives, and vocational programs like baking and other specialized skills like using a computer.  Through the baking and catering program, the Project sells its goods to the German Embassy among others.  The guiding program us another of its projects.  We saw first hand the great work the Project is doing for this poor community.  To donate send your check to “The Hope Project”,PO Box 657, New Lebanon, NY 12125.

Our walking tour began at the tranquil shrine to the Sufi teacher Kahn.  Entering into the basti you feel like you have been transported back hundreds of years as you walk the narrow streets, pass through the small arched passageways, and see mosques, shrines, and tombs over 500 years old.  The men and women are dressed in traditional clothing that is the same as hundreds of years ago.  The streets are lively with small shops, street sellers, and stalls where all variety of goods are cooked over an open fire in large iron pots.

Below is the tomb of a relative of the family of a royal courtier.  The tombs of women are flat to represent that a woman is like an open book, while the tomb of a men have a bar running vertically to represent a pen.

As we descended into the maze-like medina, we took off our shoes because it is the entry to the mosque in the center.  We girls were outfitted with coverings.  There are many vendors selling leis of golden yellow marigolds and roses which are a traditional offering by pilgrims in India.  Several shops had TVs that had the Sufi version of the “700 Club” blaring.  It was clear that not many tourists venture to this basti as we received curious stares.  Staring inIndia is not regarded as impolite as in US, so we were quite thoroughly checked out.

After lunch we visited the tomb of Humayun, the second Mughal ruler, built in 1565.  It is said to be a first draft of the Taj Mahal, and you can see the similarity. It is absolutely stunning.  At the foot of the tomb, the garden is divided into four quarters by water channels, the classic representation of Islamic gardens of paradise like I saw in the Moorish palaces in Andalusia.   We climbed up to see the tomb, the entry arch was framed with beautifully carved sandstone jaalis, latticework screens.  The tomb was simple unadorned marble under a huge dome.

That morning I made another call to my buddies at KLM Customer Service.  They had good news.  My suitcase had arrived fromParislast night and was out for delivery.  When we got back to the Colonel’s Retreat I asked if my suitcase had arrive, unfortunately NO.

This evening was the official start of our Intrepid tour, so we left the wonderful Colonel’s Retreat in the upscale Defence Colony for the budget Pooja Palace (no palace) in the middle-class Karol Bagh.  Our Intrepid guide, Neha is a lively young woman.  She went over our itinerary and Intrepid’s responsible travel policies.  Most of us chose beer as our “welcome beverage,” which seemed to loosen everyone up, although that is seldom a problem.  Neha went over the plan for tomorrow, and proposed we all go out for dinner.

January 23, 2012                     Mahatman Gandi

I started my day with a hearty Indian style breakfast of Potato Paranthas.  Indian coffee is mostly Nescafe, which as a Northwest coffee snob will only do in an emergency, so for the time being I am a tea drinker!

We had researched various tours for our free days inDelhi.  Some chose the temple tour and others the Gandhi tour.  As Martha said, “We are going to see a lot of temples in our 4 weeks in Rajasthan” …. so, I opted for Gandhi!

Our Intrepid Gandhi tour was led by Depu accompanied by our driver Singh (without a turban).  We started at Gandhi Smriti (the old Birla House), the national memorial, and where he spent the last 144 days of his life.   Gandhi is considered the father of India, and is known as Mahatma which means “great soul.”

The ground floor of the memorial is a 1950’s style black and white photo history of Gandhi’s life embellished with his quotations.  His room along with personal possessions is preserved, and you can follow the footprints of Gandhi’s last steps to the prayer ground where he held mass congregations every evening.  He was assassinated during one of these congregations in 1948.

Gandhi, trained in the law inEngland, was the first “black” lawyer inSouth Africa.  While he practiced commercial law, it was in South Africa that he became an advocate for workers’ rights and experienced discrimination first-hand, setting a direction for his life.  During a train trip, a white passenger challenged Gandhi’s right to sit in the first-class carriage.  Despite his first-class ticket, Gandhi was ordered to a lower-class carriage. When Gandhi refused, a policeman threw him off the train.

Gandhi’s used civil disobedience to fight for the rights of all people, regardless of race, caste, religion, to make social and political changes in India. He used passive resistance to fight against the British whose practices led to Indian dependence on foreign goods and minimized the opportunities for Indians.  He started a “buy local” movement. He instigated the burning of foreign fabrics on which people had become dependent, and reintroduced the spinning wheel so people could spin their own fabrics to replace British goods.  Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see.”  Gandhi exemplified his words, leading a simple life including wearing a khadi a traditional white drape.  He strongly believed in the equality of all regardless of race, religion or caste.  He said, “For my material needs the village is my world, but for my spiritual needs the whole world is my village.”

Reminiscent of the Tea Tax that helped ignite the American Revolution, Gandhi led a march to protest the British tax on salt law.  The British also mandated the import of British salt despiteIndia’s own salt resources.  Gandhi’s efforts were instrumental in India’s nonviolent fight for independence.  In 1947, as India prepared for independence, tensions developed between the majority Hindus and minority Muslims ultimately leading to the partition of Indiain to Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.  Gandhi strongly opposed partition, and said it was one of the saddest times of his life.  It was this opposition that sparked a fanatic to assassinate him.

The exhibit was very inspiring and a lesson in what civil disobedience can accomplish and the strength people.

The upstairs of the memorial is an incredible collection of interactive, multimedia tributes to Gandhi.  One is a board surrounded by wooden dolls that represent world leaders, like Martin Luther King, that you move to the center of the board to hear a quote of Gandhi’s contributions.  Another is train that allows you to follow Gandhi’s journey to rediscover India when he returned from South Africa.  A timeline on the wall has a roller that tells of significant events for Gandhi some with video clips, and much, much more.  This must be really great for school children!

Next, we visited Rajghat, a large park where the funeral rights forIndia’s important leaders are held.  The cremation ground of Mahatma Gandhi is commemorated by a simple square black marble block with an eternal flame.  This is not his burial site because as a Hindu, his ashes were spread in the Ganges.  This is a very peaceful spot even though hundreds if not thousands of Indians visit this spot every day.

We said goodbye to our guide and went off to find lunch at a typical Indian restaurant.  We ordered the Veg Thali plate which is puffy Pakora bread with a variety of small pots of dip including dal, yoghurt, curried potatoes (aaloo jera), curd (yoghurt) and several other tasty concoctions.

Continuing my quest for my lost suitcase, I checked the status on the internet in a sort of “Where’s Waldo.”  It said it was due intoBarcelonatoday.  So, how to get it to Delhi before I leave?  I decided to call the airline.  Since cell phone calls are prohibitively expensive, about $4 per minute, buying a phone card seemed like a good idea.  I scoured the nearby shopping area, and was offered any number of cell phones, but was told that phone cards no longer exist.  Really?  At the hotel I asked about calling the US and was politely told, “Sorry we can only make local calls from this phone.”  Again, the staff was at a loss of how I would call the US except by cell phone.  Desperate, I used my cell phone.  After some run around between Delta and KLM, I finally reached someone who promised to help me.  I used my most polite, persuasive and pathetic approach to beg KLM customer service to expedite shipping my suitcase to India emphasizing my need for my malaria medication.  She promised to enter a rush into the system.  Hopefully, soon my suitcase would be on the move again!

Local Transportation

January 21, 2012                    Delhi

After a full day of flying, Barcelona to Frankfurt to Delhi, I arrived at 1:30 a.m.  I was happy to find my carryon suitcase at baggage claim and the taxi driver out front holding the sign with my name. Life is good. The Delhi airport is a symbol of the “new” Delhi, very modern and clean.  It was foggy and cold, and the street lights had golden halos around them.  It was a 40 minute ride into town through a maze of streets made more confusing by the fact that Indians drive on the left side of the road.  The roads were busy with lots of big trucks full of loads of rock and other materials chugging along slowly down the center of the road.  No one pays any attention to the lane striping, even when the road is nearly empty.  Is it rebellion against authority, is there is something empowering that comes from taking up 2 lanes, or what ?

My hotel is in the Defence Colony a suburb of Delhi. The taxi driver unloaded me and my suitcase and left.  The fellows at the gate kept asking me who I was and where the taxi driver had gone.  Only then did I learn that this was not the hotel I was staying at …. mine was “nearby” and they called another cab.  After 30 minutes someone arrived to take me to the hotel.  I was exhausted from the flight, and by now it was nearly 3 a.m.  I didn’t know where my friends were and no one really spoke English.  My room was nice, and after a hot bath I crashed.  Tomorrow I’ll figure out where I am, I thought.  Oh, it was tomorrow!

In the morning, I asked for my friends’ rooms only to learn that they were not staying in the same hotel, but one a little ways away.  I dressed and organized and one of the staff offered to walk me over to the other hotel maybe 10 blocks away.  The others were out adventuring, but, luckily, Martha was in her room reading up on Rajasthan.  After I ate breakfast, we set out to explore the hood.  I got some rupees, had ice cream for lunch and enjoyed a little sunshine in the park.

Martha had planned to go see the new movie Coriolanus playing at a shopping mall, so I tagged along.  I needed a few things due to still missing suitcase, so we hit the mall first.  To get into the mall we had to pass a security check — men to one side and women to the other.  The security woman haphazardly ran a wand over my torso, glanced at Martha’s bag, and passed us through.  Was we walked though the doors it was like we had been transported to another India or was it Los Angeles?  Except for the red and yellow dancing bags of Tangles chips, all appeared as it would in any shopping mall.  Lots of people, shops selling the same things you see everywhere, even the same name brand stores.  At Marks & Spencer, I found all the items I needed to survive until my suitcase arrives and even on sale.  Must say Delhi prices aren’t exactly theIndia travel bargain, but it was easy.

Even though, the movie theater was inside the mall, we had to pass another, more intense search before we could enter the theater.  My chewing gum and camera were confiscated and I was given a locker.  We did notice during the film that there was no effort to confiscate cell phones.  Many patrons took advantage of the movie to receive calls, send and receive texts, and maybe to take a photo or two.  Coriolanus is an interesting adaption of the Shakespeare play set in modern Rome.  Fiennes is excellent as Coriolanus (and director), and Vanessa Redgrave portrays his ambitious mother with nerves of steel. Rome has a dark pallor, a little post-apocalypse, as the battles rage with lots of fire-power.  Not exactly what I had been expecting to do on my first day inIndia!  But, an interesting movie.

This experience was juxtaposed against what I saw as we walked in our neighborhood — the sari clad woman moving bricks from a large pile to a nearby construction project; the two soldiers sitting on a bench in the park eating lunch and having an animated conversation; the young men driving motor rickshaws; the little boy with his big brown eyes looking at us in our taxi asking for money; several men huddled over a fire set on a street corner warming tea.

Fruit VendorStreet Housing

Salvage work

January 20, 2012            Lost Luggage

Feeling hopeful, I arrived at the airport a little early to retrieve my suitcase which was not inBarcelona, but apparently was at JFK  inNew York.  Another friendly claims person assured me that it would get to Delhi in a day or two.  Suddenly, I was not feeling so confident.  There were important things in my suitcase that I really needed … like my malaria medication that I was to start today!!  At Lufthansa, the lady looked at me suspiciously when I said I had no luggage to check.  She eyed my carry one suitcase and said I would have to show her that it would fit in their metal tester.  It failed!  I have never been required to check that bag.  I begged her to let me carry it on as I already had one lost bag, but she was unrelenting in the “NO.”  I was so flustered that it wasn’t until after I had checked it and it descended into the abyss of the baggage system that I remembered my camera was inside.  Now, I am completely at the mercy of the baggage gods.

January 18 – 19, 2012             One Day Becomes Two

Packing is never my favorite thing: what do I really need to take?  I have lots of packing lists I have downloaded over the years, but I don’t have a “the List” for me.  Luckily, I have the space to lay things out a week or so before I leave to begin the process of choosing what I need from what I want.  Not so easy for me.  Despite my preparations for packing, never get to the final selections and getting it in the suitcase until the night before I leave. I organize it all into packing cubes so that I can actually find what I want in my suitcase.  Love those packing cubes!  When I traveled to Nepal with only a backpack it made unpacking and repacking each day a breeze.  Packing late has its advantages … if you are really tired (from packing all night) then you will sleep well on the plane.

Flying in and out of Eugeneis a breeze, unless of course it is winter and your flight is routed throughSeattlewhere it has been snowing!  I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, to learn that our flight would be late leaving due to snow inSeattlewhere our plane was coming from.  I was assured that the over 2 hours I originally had to connect with my flight to Amsterdam, now estimated to be 1 hour, then to less ….. would be no problem.   Arriving in Seattle, the airport was shrouded with snow, the runways crusty and slushy with icy. Nothing was moving quickly.  I had checked one suitcase and carried on a smaller one which I retrieved when I debarked.  The workers unloaded the carry-on baggage to a cart which took 4 or 5 workers to push through the over 6 inches of slushy snow.  Small planes, like mine fromEugene, typically arrive sans jet way, so I trundled through the blowing sleety snow, up the outside stairs and finally into the warmth of the terminal.

The flight attendant had shown me the quick route to cross from one terminal to another,  then to hop the tram to my departure terminal.  So far, so good!  I was the last person to board the plane although we still had nearly 30 minutes before take off.  They asked about checked luggage — “yes, 1.”  The plane was only one-half full so I had an extra seat to spread out.  Unfortunately, it was next to several women traveling with their infants and small children — I say unfortunately because one child or the other cried for the duration of the 10 hour flight.  Thanks to a friend’s gift of noise canceling headphones, I tuned in some soothing classical music which drowned out most of the crying and I got a little sleep.

On arriving inAmsterdam, I found a self-serve kiosk and checked in for my Barcelona flight, then lucked out with no line at passport control, and got to the gate with time to refuel with a cup of coffee.  Then on to sunny Barcelona.  I went directly to baggage claim, and waited for my suitcase scanning each one as it dropped onto the belt until there was no one else waiting but me.  No suitcase …. apparently it was still in Seattle!  “But, I am flying to India tomorrow morning,” I explained at the lost luggage claim.  “No problem, it is due in on 7:45 a.m. flight tomorrow,” said the helpful claims agent who gave me all the information I would need “just in case” I needed to make a claim.  Thinking positive, I enjoyed a stroll through my favorite neighborhoods of Barcelona, a little browsing, wine and pinxtos at a bar I like on the Ramblas, and an early night to prepare for another time change to India.


6 Responses to “India 2012”

  1. Debra Ehrman Says:

    Hello from itty bitty Eugene although the sun has been out for at least 20 mins so I could walk Louie. Needless to say, your trip so far sounds very stressful, hope tomorrow finds you with your missing suitcase. Love Deb

  2. Christine Lorenz Says:

    if you come across a small blue Bhudda (glass or plastic) would you nab it? Cathy my vet, who has been so helpful with Lucy lately who won’t take her pills, is looking for one.
    did you get your bag yet? how was Taj Mahal?

  3. Martha Says:

    You’ve given a nice sense of our happy chaotic wandering through this wonderful countryside. Thanks for all the detail and the pix.

  4. Christine Lorenz Says:

    Reading about the camels adventure reminded me of my trip to Egypt where we rode them into the desert past the pyramids and watched night fall. We came back to sleep in the hotel whic sounds like it may have been the wise choice but I had wanted to spend the whole night out there at the time!

  5. Caroline Moore Says:

    I’m so enjoying your descriptions of the trip. You write well and I almost feel like I’m there. Wondering if you are still in India or back in France?

  6. Diane Nowicki Says:

    Thanks, Marilyn, for keeping such a good record of our Rajasthan Adventure. Diane

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