Namaste!     Welcome!

We are off on an exotic trip to the far side of the world.

This is a 9-nt tour of Northern India, with visits to Jaipur, Agra and New Delhi.
(and a 1-night layover in London each side of this trip).

In a gentle way, you can shake the world
~Mahatma Gandhi

Ft. Lauderdale  (Day 1)
Sunday, December 23, 2018

We disembarked Celebrity Edge this morning at about 07.20, and made our way to the airport, arriving at about 7.45.  This trip, since it was an add-on to an existing vacation (Cruise ending today was booked Mar 2017, this was added June 2018), the tickets were separate.  Back in June, I modified the original SAN-FLL-SAN tickets to have the last leg (ATL-SAN) extended 2 weeks.  Then, separate tickets were purchased for this trip.  The relevance of this is that while Tier 2 partners, Delta were not compelled to check our bags any farther than ATL.  They did, though, and so we were able to check our bags in FLL and not have to handle them until LHR tomorrow.  No claim/recheck (like undesirable LAX) was needed, about which we are quite happy.

Our flight to Atlanta was very quick, less than 90 mins.  Service was efficient and friendly.  We went straight to the International Terminal (F) in ATL, and settled in for about a 4.5 hr layover.  As of this writing (14.00 EST), we are in the Delta Sky Lounge working/relaxing, and just anticipating the next leg in our journey.

We boarded ‘Dancing Queen’ again for the ATL-LHR segment at 17.00. She was our ride from LHR-SEA in Nov 2017 – it is good to be aboard her again (she took us to see awesome friends). Wheels up tonight on Virgin Atlantic scheduled for 17.50.

Tomorrow, we are in London.

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London  (Day 2)
Monday, December 24, 2018

We arrived at Heathrow about 6.30, and after grabbing our luggage, went to refresh at Virgin Atlantic’s Revivals Lounge. We’ve only used this lounge twice, but the showers and breakfast were very welcome.

Our car picked us up at 9.30, and by 11.00, we were inside our hotel, London Paddington Hilton. I didn’t take still pictures of the station, just video, but trust me, it was very eerie as this station does not have any operating trains today due to track improvements.

We went out in the very early afternoon to stop by my very favorite coffee shop in the city, Caffe Nero (specifically, the store at London Euston Station). This was slightly out of the way, as we were headed SE into the city for the afternoon, but what the heck, we love the Tube, and it was very easy getting around.

We stopped by Fortnum & Mason for Holly to pick up a few goodies, then on to the main event – Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. We’ve been here once, in Dec 2013 with our friends Angie & Maggie from Luton. Understandable family schedules (um, it is Christmas Eve) kept us from a reunion with them, as it did with our friends Paul & Gail who are in Leeds. However, whilst in Caffe Nero, we did FaceTime Paul & Gail for a good chat. It was good to see them again, especially as we are at present in the same country 😊

We had a nice time at Winter Wonderland (No, Angie & Maggie, I did not get stuck on the ice slide tonight, as I didn’t go on it 😝), and while the Brats & Mulled Wine to which we had been looking forward were excellent, there seemed to be much more carnival-type rides than that night 5 years earlier, when we both feel there were more crafts offered.

Tomorrow, we are in London.

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London  (Day 3)
Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Happy Christmas!

We accomplished the two things really important to us for today – Feeding Ducks (and other animals) in St. James Park, and making it to Heathrow without a glitch.

After a year-in-review programe on BBC 1’s Morning Show and, we left for St. James Park near Buckingham Palace. We would have looked in on the Queen for her Christmas Speech but for a few issues, namely a misplaced personal invitation and the hour HM held it (as we were already at the airport). Another time, perhaps.

St. James Park is my favorite place in the entire planet to be (except for the arrival queue of any cruise). We bought a loaf of bread at the Paddington Station Sainsbury’s in order to ensure we had some today for our friends. It was a brief visit – we stayed perhaps only 20 mins. It seems that the word got out to the area pigeons that Holly was back. They climbed all over her as with last time (Nov 2017) we were here.

We watched a Christmas product making show on BBC 2 upon our return, then had Afternoon Tea in our hotel (A lovely old hotel, though the service has slipped since we last stayed here. Just a bit too long for service (yes, its Christmas, but there were plenty of staff about). Great location ordinarily, but we were reminded why we like renting flats – the service in them is awesome, as the two people taking care of us there are always the same, reliable people we’ve know all our lives).

We arrived at London Heathrow about 16.00 (got to use VA’s Departure Wing) and settled in to the Virgin Clubhouse for our appx. 6 hrs before our flight.

Tomorrow, we are in Jaipur, Rajasthan, via New Delhi.

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Jaipur, India  (Day 4)
Wednesday, December 26, 2018

‘Place is a madhouse, help, I’m steppin’ into the twilight zone’
~Golden Earring, 1982

We knew this would be different than any other destination. Nothing though, can quite prepare one for the friendly, organized chaos that is part of the constantly moving people machine called India.

After a flight of just under 8.5 hours from London, we arrived in New Delhi to an airport that is run very efficiently. Our experience with Customs was an easy one – the eVisa is the way to go. Get approved before arrival, and it’s a breeze. Get a regular paper Visa stamped into your Passport ahead of time, (note: an eVisa is something that is done online, as the name suggests), and you go into a different line.

Don’t know why – it is just the way things are here. If you go for a traditional Visa and aren’t in First or Business for arrival, you can wait in a very long line in a different side of the Customs building. An eVisa, on the side opposite, has no different line based on ticket type, and it’s just not needed – as it is a very easy process.

I like sandwiches. The purposeful metaphor that follows this sentence is used to illustrate how our day went. If bread were good, then what came in the middle was a bit of shite, you’ve a grasp on our partial shite sandwich day.

As stated about DEL (New Delhi Airport), it went very well. Today’s blog entry will close with things having gone very well. The middle began when we left the airport, and lasted until our arrival at our hotel.

Our driver was dispatched from Delhi. Isn’t that wonderful (if you’re not getting sarcasm, reread until you do)? –  He knows his way around Delhi.  My darling Emma knows more about navigating Jaipur than this guy. Once we got about 30mi away, he pulled over to ask someone directions on the phone. Yup. He then proceeded about 2 miles opposite until accessing a ‘highway’ when he had been on a more of a motorway. The only thing I can possible allow for is .. oh never mind.. he didn’t know shit about the city destination. T-Mobile did, though.

The relevance? I REALLY needed unlimited international data today. I.. yours truly, looked up where tf we were when the driver made his phone call, and knew I (along with Emma’s help) could tell the driver where HE needed to go. You know what is next…. I did precisely that. For the last 30 miles or so of our trip, I told this guy turn-by-turn where he needed to go. WTF, over. It took about 6 hours to make the 5 hour trip, but that was also somewhat to do with traffic. We should have been able to avoid it had we made a different turn on the N side of the city. Breathing, and Holly ensuring I was nice (Though I was firm about sh_t with this driver), I got us to the hotel through a foreign city, thanks to my iPhone 10 battery and not choking this driver.

When we arrived at the hotel, and checked in, I reported to the transportation duty manager what had happened. He knew I was pissed, but this drama was over. Time for the last slice of bread now.

ITC Rajputanta is beautiful. We were greeted very warmly (and through a decent amount of security outside). Several members of staff eased our way through the check in process, including a young lady who placed a Yellow Bindi (Dot) on our foreheads.

Dinner was awesome. Through we are meeting friends for dinner tomorrow night elsewhere in Jaipur, we will likely return to the Peshawri restaurant on our final night here. I certainly hope I remember that the little ‘Green Bean’ on our appetizer dish is a hot-ass holy shit green pepper, and not pop it into my mouth without nearby yogurt or water.

Tomorrow, we are in Jaipur.

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Jaipur, India  (Day 5)
Thursday, December 27, 2018

Prior to heading out into town, Manish, our Butler (about that….) who has been great – made sure we had everything we needed at breakfast and put together a little basket of goodies for us to take on our day out. He’s been very present and very friendly, though he’s doing far more than we ever expected. When I booked the room in June, I forgot this was a suite that came with a butler. We are not accustomed to having one, and maybe on 3 cruises ever have had one, but here, in a city totally foreign to us – he’s been very valuable assistance with a car agency, hotel restaurant and laundry. It still feels a bit strange, but most assuredly, we don’t demand very much – we will take care of him before our departure.

This was a day of fort touring. Our guide Hanuman and driver Vinod were very good. Vinod can work a sedan out of any traffic jam with skill. Hanuman gave a great tour, and kept us interested until the very end of the day. Amer Fort, our first visit, was built in the late 16th Century. The sheer detail in her architecture is fantastic. Marble and plasterwork is amazing, especially the latter, as a form of porous plaster is so solid and polished, it feels like marble.

We go to elephant sanctuaries and bathe them – we don’t ride them. Many here still do. Prepared to walk the hill rather than add to their hard day, our guide drove us up instead. We had almost 2 hours here before moving on to our next fort – Jaigarh Fort, built in the early 18th Century.

Jaigarh Fort has a massive wall that overlooks Amer Fort and the surrounding area. The view is just stunning. Of note, it also has a massive cannon built in the 18th century. The cannon was never fired in battle, but only test fired…. It launched a cannon ball nearly 17 miles. Of the 3 forts voted today near this Pink City of Jaipur, Jaigarh was most like-colored. Even the loo, which we used with caution – was pink.

Our final stop for the day was at ⁨Nahargarh Fort, also built in the early 18th Century. ⁨Nahargarh Fort is much closer to the city of Jaipur, and, like the other two, sits on the North side of the city. ⁨Nahargarh has a very cool water storage system, no longer in use, that was built so that while it could trap water, its steps permitted people to descend into it to retrieve water.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world….
We returned to our hotel for a few hours, then met our friends Christine and her friend Teresa in town for drinks. It’s just not that large a world.

We met Christine in May 2011 aboard a Scandinavia cruise aboard Celebrity Eclipse. 4 years later, we saw her again in Vancouver the day before departing for another cruise. A month ago, I became aware that Christine was even planning a trip to India. We began to talk, and it turned out that our Vancouver, B.C. friend was going to be in two of the same cities in India AT THE SAME TIME! From the are-you-#$%-kidding-me file…. This was pure awesomeness. Naturally, we got together for drinks and dinner – 3.5 years since we last saw each other – and got to know her friend Teresa., who seems very nice.

Tomorrow, we are in Jaipur.

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Jaipur, India  (Day 6)
Friday, December 28, 2018

We left at 7.00 for a short drive to hills on the East side of the city. There, our first stop, was Galta Ji (Monkey Temple), an early 15th Century temple.

Galta Ji is built up a hillside and has several interesting pools at different levels including one that unfortunately, had recently been drained for cleaning. Replenished by natural waterfall, it’ll be 2-3 months until the one in which we are pictured is full again.

Galta Ji also has a few interesting occupants, including monkeys and a few priests, though we are unsure if the latter we met today actually lives there overnight. When we went into a side temple (read: through a building on the right, then this passageway to another, then have it open up into a hidden tiny elevator-sized room), where we were given a blessing and tour (at 2m2, the tour does not take long), both of which were very interesting. Part of the blessing consists of being tapped (Holly colorfully said ‘bonked’) on the head repeatedly with peacock feathers, while making a wish.

The monkeys are both cute and in some cases – little shits, as several tried (one successfully) to take the bags of peanuts from which we were feeding them.

Our next stop was Jantar Mantar, a fascinating early 18th Century observatory aligned with the North Star which is surprisingly accurate. The natural time is measurable to within 20 seconds via tiny markings on several of the sun dials. It is quite a neat place.

Our next stop was City Palace, the last residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur until India gained independence in 1947. It was nice, though Holly found it a bit more interesting, as there were silks and paintings, etc. to browse…. and buy.

On the way back to our hotel, we explored a bit of street food. Thanks to tips from a couple (Chopstick Travel) who produce street food videos we found on You Tube, we had a great head start, and replicated two of their exact stops, including one for Chai (served in clay pots) and another making Kachori and Samosa (yummy fried things with chick pea and spice fillings, served with a chilled curd).

Tonight, we chilled with a bit of happy hour, and then another bit….then watched a cultural dance, poolside. The Fratelli -Sangiovese (Indian Red) and Chardonnay varieties were TOO good. Our friend, Manish, took Holly shopping in the hotel while I tested the wine and kept our seats for the show. There was a very good traditional dance that was put on from 19.00-19.45, which we were able to watch from our happy hour seats (um, beds).

Duty is important – I get it. That aside, I tried to release Manish to go home from a long day – he would not leave until we retired for the night.  He is awesome.

Jaipur, especially the hotel staff, have wonderful, kind people. City officials, though, need to enforce traffic laws, should they actually be in possession of any 😏.

Tomorrow, we are in Agra.

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Agra, India  (Day 7)
Saturday, December 29, 2018

We were sorry to say goodbye to Manish and ITC Rajputana, but it was time to move on to our next destination. So, this morning, we left at 7.00 for the short drive to the Jaipur main Train Station, and then onward to Agra.

We were pleased to have the same driver we’ve had for the last few days, Vinod who not only drove us, but assisted with the luggage and most importantly – waited with us to see us off on the right train. Again, this is something that Manish arranged. He is fantastic, as were all the staff.

Our trip went smoothy, though our first experience with a train trip in India was certainly memorable. Outside the departure station. There was a huge LED board with departure times and train names. It was idiot proof. Then, we went inside the station.

The very active-with-people platforms were inconsistent in signage. Several screens had arriving trains with previous and following stations, but that word was ‘several’, not ‘all’. Not all trains were listed, but when a train arrived, the tiny monitors specifically on a platform overhang edge did not only accurately show that train arriving, but was very helpful by alternating that train number with the specific coach that was stopping at that point along the platform. With a known coach assigned, one could (we did) wait on the platform exactly where your part of the train was going to be.

Boarding was a bit like Jaipur traffic – a jam to see who fit though an opening first. A fun prospect without luggage, but even more of an experience (not the Christmas gift my buddy Jim would give his family) with suitcases. Vinod and I both took one, and literally pushed our way in to the train and down the coach. This coach was CC Class, which means in Indian Rail parlance, reserved seating and air conditioned. There are many different seating classes (no chickens were noticed, Kathleen), and this was among the best for this train.

I am glad I am not a girl. They are fine people but rather at a disadvantage when it comes to use of the loo aboard. I don’t want to think about having to.. just that’s it. Even a guy not going #1, nope, not great.

We got to chat with a family that were on a holiday from Bombay (Mumbai officially, but the Dad is old school), and learned that their Aunt, after this vacation, was moving to Seattle. Well, heck, there is a lot of that going around.

Upon our arrival to Agra Fort Station, we were met by a member of the hotel who collected our luggage and drove us to our home for the next 3 nights – ITC Mughal. It is a beautiful hotel, and the largest blowout part of this blowout vacation.

When I made the reservation this summer, I went a tad overboard and splurged on a Grand Presidential Suite here. The room is stunning (we have our own plunge pool, spa room and steam room), as is the hotel, with a minor pause. This room has several power outlets – one is not in short supply of them- but the living room (I know, what a problem) wallpaper is fading, and in a a few spots – slightly buckling.  I expected much more for this cost. ITC Rajputana room and hotel is in perfect condition. ITC Mughal is only about 97% there.

We had a tour of the expansive grounds, which include an ATV course (yep) and putting green, then returned to our room to relax before dinner (Peshawri tonight here, too).

Tomorrow, we are in Agra.

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Agra, India  (Day 8)
Sunday, December 30, 2018

At o’dark early, we went to get in line for the Taj Mahal, arriving about 6.10 for a 6.45 opening. While we waited (separate lines for men & women are due to privacy wrt possible personal searches) in line, our guide went to get the tickets. At 46°F, it wasn’t a warm morning by any means.

We had an expected fog (more smog than fog can be found in Delhi and Jaipur) that partially burned off. A few hundred people were all juggling for photo position for that perfect sunrise shot. Perfection while remaining out of an Indian jail – fugedaboutit. This would have been a good time to have a high quality/speed DSLR set to RAW (Dear Santa….).

Though the pictures came out a bit hazy, I was pleased with their results, and await post of the film, most of which was taken at 100Mbps, the max my camera can capture.

The Taj Mahal was completed in the mid 17th century after 17 years’ work, and had been commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to house his late wife, Mumtaz.  The Emperor would later be buried here alongside her.  It is built of huge, largely single slabs of white marble. Many of the pieces are inlaid with gems that shine when light is passed through them. It is an amazing site (The Indian government does not allow for picture taking or video in the mausoleum – the interior shots you see are from an Internet search). It still has only barely sunk in that we two world traveller wannabes actually were in the Taj Mahal today.

After our visit, we decided to return to our hotel to just relax, and get ready for a daily long day tomorrow (a tour and NYE party).

Tomorrow, we are in Agra.

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Agra, India  (Day 9)
Monday, December 31, 2018

Today was a day to sleep in. We didn’t have to be anywhere until 8.40, so we were lazy and didn’t get up until 6.45. We had breakfast in the Taj Bano restaurant – ever nearby was our butler, Raj.

We have lost control.  We had often heard of India’s exceptional customer service, but until you experience it first hand, it is hard to describe.  In Agra, the service level seems to be on overdrive. It started with the Manager of the hotel and the Concierge taking us personally to our room (where check in was done) directly from the lobby entrance. That was just an appetizer. The bathroom attendants off the lobby WCs insist on squeezing the liquid soap into our hands, and then handing us a washcloth with which to dry.

Raj can not do enough for us. It has nearly gotten to the point where if he suggests something, we just let him do it. After an early morning visit to the Taj Mahal yesterday, we came back to the hotel and decided to just take the rest of the afternoon off to hang out in our awesome room. Since we decided to skip lunch, he offered to bring some cut fruit by in the afternoon, to which we said it would be nice.  He brought two huge plates of fruit…we could barely finish one. He also nearly sprints across the lobby if he sees us coming, in order to take us wherever we need to go. To clarify, he is rather energetic.

It’s not just him. Somehow, the tour manager found us during breakfast yesterday to discuss a slight issue we had during our morning tour. The same thing happened during dinner when the catering manager for the New Years celebration dinner we would be attending came by our table to let us know the start time. We had never met either of these two gentlemen, but somehow they were able to track us down. Even our room attendant got into the act when he came to do the turn down service – neither of us were wearing shoes or socks – he ran and got slippers and basically made us put them on. These are just a few examples. There is just no saying “no” to any of the service staff if they feel you need something…as said before, we just give in now and have basically lost control (if you are assuming subtext, it should be an exceptionally high degree of service, not pushiness).

Our first experience was in Jaipur, which started out as any other check-in at a hotel…the bellman took our bags, we received our keys at the desk, and we made our way to the room.  A few minutes later, our bags came to the room along with our butler, Manish (He is mentioned again within this Agra stay as a matter of comparison). It was already fairly late, so he showed us to the restaurant for dinner. The next time we saw him, he came to our table at breakfast and ensured everything was in order, then proceeded to make up a box of pastries, juice and water for us to take on our tour that day. From then on, he took care of everything…laundry, room service, stocking the refrigerator with soda, providing a twice daily bucket of ice, continually bringing us snacks and refilling our wine glasses during happy hour (to the point that we ended up skipping dinner) and escorted us anywhere we needed to go on the hotel grounds. Manish was a complete professional, taking superlative good care of us, with never a sense of overbearing – he knew where and when to be to perfection.

A few other comparison notes between Jaipur and Agra. Overall, the traffic is crazy – there are all manner of cars, trucks, tractors, tuk-tuks, cows, pedestrians, push carts, dogs (not living together with cats – we haven’t seen the latter), scooters, and bicycles sharing the road – but it seemed much crazier in Jaipur.  There were a couple of occasions when we seemed to be in a hopelessly gridlocked traffic circle, but the next thing we knew, we were out of it.

While I have taken plenty of video, today (on our way out of the city) was the day to concentrate on photographic documentation of the more impoverished parts of town a reader may assume of India. I have concentrated on the positive, but regrettably, there is no shortage of its opposite.

Overall, Agra seems a little less hectic. The vehicles seem to be in better shape, which is a good thing, since our driver (Ajeet) for our stay here told us that to drive in India, ‘you need a good horn, good brakes and good luck’.

I don’t doubt it.

After breakfast, we went to the Agra Bear Care Facility run by Wildlife SOS, a non-profit organization founded in 1995, whose mission is rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife. As with elephants, tigers, snakes, monkeys, etc. in other parts of India, sloth bear rehabilitation is the major focus of care here.

The Agra Bear Care Facility, about 28km NW of Agra, is a wooden area comprised of about 35 acres, and located on land donated to the organization. Care, feeding and treatment, though, are done through private sourcing. They rely on donations far more than on tourism of the facility. That’s part of the problem – the caregivers and doctors here spend very nearly all of their energy caring for the animals, to the extent that sitting around a computer engendering publicity isn’t something for which they seem to have discretionary free time. I feel they need someone dedicated to raising awareness of this facility, because so many people tend to patronize elephant sanctuaries instead (the greater draw is inevitably because one can get very physically close to elephants), if they do anything to care for wildlife at all.

Rishik, one of the caretakers with whom I’ve been communicating to arrange this trip, was on hand to personally lead us on our 2-hour tour. Except for a 10-minute period where another family were there, we had the facility to ourselves. We got to see several bears, including a few that were at least partially blind, and a few that were recently rescued and still a little fragile. One of the methods bears have for reducing stress is to swing their heads from one side to the other. When this is done standing up, it is assumed to be a sign of a flashback to having been groomed for dancing (none of those observed today were seen doing so while standing).

Our tour also included an observation from the top of a set of the bear pens, access to which was a bit of an adventure up and down a ladder of dubious handrail safety. We also toured a very nice medical facility here. Thankfully, a doctor is always here if needed.

An early culture within a part of India, the Kalandar tribes, found it normal to raise bears for dancing, a horrific practice. In general, a cub bear is taken from its mother shortly after birth. The mother is killed if it cannot be otherwise separated from its cub, with the result that the cub is now made dependent on someone else, a human. Next, a poker is jammed through a nostril of the bear to create a sizable hole, though which a rope or metal ring is then passed, and another rope attached.

4 feet = the universe.

The bear, if not rescued, spends the rest of its life led around by a 4-foot rope (there is no sense of freedom beyond this distance), made to dance and entertain mf#$%$ers who patronize the practice.

Only as of 1973 was this made illegal in India. It has largely been eradicated, and much of WOS’ current efforts are for continued care of the animals. Still, it is Rishik’s opinion, and that of many in the rescue community here, that rather than focus on criminal prosecution alone, the Kalandar people who lose their source of income and major way of life should also be a focus of rehabilitation, to give them life skills so they don’t return to this offensive practice.

Due to intolerance of animal abuse, I’m not in that camp. I’m just not.

I realize that like here in the the U.S. – really, anywhere – people who break laws should be rehabilitated if at all practical. Just locking people up may not serve a long-term solution. Of course this can vary depending on one’s crime, and save for something really terrible, can often include rehabilitation.

That said, I cannot abide any culture, whose practice, even if historically long-standing to address their own poverty, thinks said practice is justification for animal abuse.

We thanked Rishik for the very extensive tour, and returned to the hotel to pack, relax, and get ready for the last major event of our stay in Agra – New Years Eve.

We attended a very nice NYE dinner here in the hotel. Lord have mercy, it was loud. It officially opened at 19.00. Holly and I got there about 19.30, escorted, naturally – by Raj, who, as has been the norm for most meals – collected us at our room to escort us to the venue.

It was due to last until midnight. With a 5.45 trip to the train station, we opted to leave the party at 22.00. Though we did not stay to watch the proverbial ball drop, we had a good time. We could not get 2 min’s conversation in without someone passing by to offer an appetizer. By 20.15 or so, the room was 90% full. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, though one detractor was too MUCH noise. The music was really a bit loud, what my brother would call thump-thump music. That aside, it was a very fun time. It seems that we were given rather preferential seating placement, but it was a bit uncomfortable being so central to the event.

Tomorrow, we are in New Delhi.

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New Delhi, India  (Day 10)
Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Albeit a short evening, last night’s party is still resonating – it was a nice way, though loud – to spend our last evening in Agra. Raj, ever present, was back in the lobby at 5.30 to take us to the Agra Cantt Train Station for our trip to New Delhi.

The train was 20 minutes late, with our departure now at 7.05. Spending an extra 20 minutes in a train station here is humbling. There are many people who use the station as shelter until crowds gather – at which time some of them packed up and left. I suspect they return nightly, where they have a reasonable opportunity to sleep, albeit with others publicly – under a roof and out of most wind.

Raj put us on the train (we were very glad to have him with us to navigate the station), then we said our goodbyes. He has been awesome.

This train was the Karnataka Express, taking just 3h 45m to reach New Delhi. It had a cafe car, actually sit-down toilets (still, heck no), and most importantly- different carriage configurations, including the availability of 2-person sleeper compartments (this train goes between New Delhi – Bangalore, and takes 39 hours over its entire run). I booked the best the train had to offer, sole for the ability to have a bit more privacy. The whopping cost: INR 1150 (USD $16.57) each.

We were met at the New Delhi train station on the platform by a representative of our hotel, The Imperial, who took us through another crazy station filled with people and out into the parking lot in a manner consistent with the 1980s video game Frogger. There is simply no getting around traffic here without some sense of adventure and near peril.

The Imperial is a colonial hotel built in 1936, themed with a unique blend of Victorian and Art Deco style, and celebrates the colonial period in Indian-British history. There is an appropriately heavy focus on the Indian history here. Gandhi, Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Lord Mountbatten met at this hotel in the late 1930s to discuss the partition of India and creation of Pakistan.

While the lobby and overall decor of this hotel is fantastic, the best example of capturing the theme of that era is the 1911 Bar, replete with pictures of Indian Colonial soldiers, and their medals – especially awesome is the Victoria Cross (a real one, not a replica) mounted in this bar – and pictures of the two soldiers, Subadar Khan (10th Baluch Regiment, 1935), and Kramjit Judge (15th Punjab Regiment, Burma) who earned it.

You are here. Rather, we are. For the last 2 years, we have been collecting Starbucks’ ‘You are Here’ series mugs from our travels from any store that carries them (we go in for the international ones mostly). This will be a nice memory, and one of a few that is made special because of the journey to acquire it. To date, the most memorable acquisition was Nov 2017, when we hiked up 14 miles (or, about 2, really) of hills in Mykonos, Greece to a Starbucks store.

We returned to our hotel to have Afternoon Tea, then after a wee nap, headed to one of several restaurants here at the Imperial – The Spice Route. This is a really excellent restaurant. We may eat here again before departure.

Tomorrow, we are in New Delhi.

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New Delhi, India  (Day 11)
Wednesday, January 2, 2019

After breakfast, we decided to begin our touring by trying the Metro. Walking out of our hotel, it was only about 2 blocks to the nearest station – time enough to meet a few locals.

In the time it took to cover the ground to the Metro underground access point, we were greeted individually by 4 folks who offered to be of assistance with our touring today, including one persistent chap who, despite our being on the same block as the station entrance, offered a tuk-tuk ride the rest of the way for INR 20 (USD $.28). We declined.

Along with the very very gosh-so-very helpful folks, we also began our journey with air quality so consistent with dog excrement that it masked the photosphere to the point where, while we knew where the sun was, we could look right at it with no harm.

The air quality for New Delhi this morning was 404. San Diego today…. 33.

The ride on the Metro was fun, very clean, and cheap. It cost INR 30 (USD $.42) to get from the center of town to the North side of the city to our first stop – the Red Fort.

As the above paragraph indicates to even the most casual reader, the name of our first destination was the Red Fort. From outside, at less than 150 yards, one would have called it the Gray Fort – the air was that bad. The degraded air took on a hazy gray hue that completely masked the rich brick red that gave the compound its name.

The Red Fort was the main house of the Mughal Empire from the mid 17th Century until the middle of the 19th Century, until being destroyed by the British in 1857. I’m not sure why HM Queen Victoria’s folks felt justified in occupying India, but that is the sort of thing they did back then. Here, they would continue to hold onto this area for another 90 years, with British control ending in 1947.

Walking around the Red Fort, it became clear that this place needs (and in some cases is receiving) major renovation. Several buildings were actively being repaired, including one with children playing adjacent, in what can only be described as a field of rubble, while their parents were working on the building.

Holly is blonde. Well, duh. While we were taking pictures, a group of women nearby were also taking pictures. As we both moved towards the next building, a few of them would occasionally glance back until finally, one worked up the courage to approach us and ask for an all-girls group photo with Holly (I got out of their way). It may have been because Holly and I were the only two Caucasians there, but I suspect it was more because Holly’s blonde hair (and her super cuteness) stood out. None of the women spoke English, so an attempt at conversation went nowhere, but it wasn’t necessary – the intent at strangers getting together in friendship was clear enough. We could all use a bit more of that.

We left to head to our next stop, Chandi Chowk, a shopping district immediately outside of the Red Fort main entrance. Sweet Baby Jesus, what a zoo.

In contrast to our trip to the Metro station this morning, we had 9-10 people offer help or try to sell something. Some persistence was expected, but this was truly intense. No one took no the first time. They kept walking with us for 10-40’ at least until they drifted away. Combined with more-than-expected shite air, we were getting a bit frustrated.

Oh…. I forgot to mention – we had not made it across the street yet. What the above paragraph describes happened in the space of less than 200 yards from the Red Fort exit to the street bordering the fort.

Chandi Chowk, however, had its own set of issues. What was expected to be a semi-crowded Foodie/Shopping district was unfortunately a sea of people crammed together beyond the expected norm, due to street repair. The only silver lining in this situation was that one could walk down the middle of the street without cars whizzing by, but the counter to that was more people and mopeds were thrust together along what passes as sidewalks. Again, subtext….. don’t really assume sidewalk. More, a side-wtf-is-this-mess.

We decided not to take any side streets in search of whatever, but just popped into one off the main drag for another Kachori, then got the heck out of there to return to our hotel.

We relaxed in our room for a while, a/c full blast, then went to dinner at about 18.30. Daniell’s Tavern, perhaps a curious name for an Indian food restaurant, is named after landscape artists Thomas and William Daniel, who, for King and country, set out from England in 1786 to come to India and expand the British Empire. This restaurant here in The Imperial is on the site of one of their landscapes, Delhi’s Jantar Mantar (the reader saw the Jaipur version), which in those days, could be seen from here. The food was outstanding.

Tomorrow, we are in New Delhi, and have plans to reunite with our Canadians friends, Christine and Teresa.

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New Delhi, India  (Day 12)
Thursday, January 3, 2019

We left on a tour (self-arranged, but we hired a driver), that ended about an hour early. Surprisingly, time which was allowed for traffic was not needed. We elected not to use our 4th hour as having seen what we wanted to see, we were 100% ok with getting out of another day filled with fairly hazardous air (Air Quality Index today: 477).

Lodi Garden was our sort stop. It is a massive place, though, again, due to just plain crap air, we stayed only about 45 mins of the 60 we had allowed. A few Geese were about, but we would much rather visit our feathered friends in St. James Park, London, rather than here – the environmental conditions were just that bad.

Our next stop was the Agrasen ki Baoli, an early 14th Century Step Well. It is an amazing place. At the bottom of its 108 steps is a small chamber that is essentially at the bottom of a 20’ diameter silo – the well fresh water collection point is at street level.

We made a brief stop by the India Gate, a veterans memorial established in 1933 for soldiers of the British Indian Army who died in the World War One (1914-1918) and through 1921.

We next went to Gandhi Smriti, the home- and now includes an excellent museum – where Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life (he was assassinated on this site on January 30, 1948). Several of his possessions (bear in mind, he didn’t keep much to begin with), such as his bed, walking cane, and glasses are on display. There are several interactive sections of the museum, including a friendship-type wooden carving wiled with lights; when two people place their hands on small pads on the floor, then join their other the hands, the circuit is made and the display lights. One would have a fairly dull sense of humanity not to appreciate the significance of joining together to make something work.

We retired to our hotel to pack (er, I worked on media and this blog – Holly packed), then we met our friends in our lobby.

Way back last year (a week ago tonight), we met our British Colombia friends Christine and her girlfriend Teresa for dinner in Jaipur. They were on holiday in India as were we, and we both happened to be halfway around the world in the same place at the same time. Just neat, actually. Tonight, as the trips of all 4 of us come to a close, our plans just happened to find us all in the same place – though different city – together again.

We met for Afternoon Tea here in The Imperial Hotel, shared a few stories about each others’ adventures, then said our goodbyes until the next time, which, due to a change of employment location, will put me much closer to the Pacific Northwest and both of them, along a few other awesome Canadian B.C.ers and Seattle-area friends.

Tomorrow, we are in London.

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New Delhi/London  (Day 13)
Friday, January 4, 2019

After our last breakfast in The Imperial, we checked out about 9.00, and made our way to the airport, escorted by a member of staff from the hotel.

From what we learned from our friends Christine and Teresa, it is the norm for certain hotels to provide an escort to help wade through the initial arrival/security process until reaching one’s airline ticket counter. It was comforting to have this service, but not definably necessary. I’d just say that this smoothed the process.

Virgin Atlantic opened their check-in counters 4 hours before the scheduled flight of 14.00. As we reached the counter at 9.50, we only had 10 mins to wait.  We were the first ones there (shush, Holly & Jim) – arriving very early at an airport or seaport is something with which I’m 100% ok.

Security was easy, after which, it was a waltz though the Duty Free hall (and Holly playfully blocking my shot) before reaching a lounge in which to settle before our flight. Virgin Atlantic, along with a few other airlines, have a reciprocal agreement with Plaza Premium Lounges, which, at least here in Terminal 3, is fairly nice. It includes a young man who was caught on camera waving to his Dad, but as I’d prefer to remember it, was rendering me a salute before I passed him.

We boarded Penny Lane at about 13.15, and settled in for our flight to London-Heathrow.

The flight was good, save for the crying toddler in Business Class (grrrr)and after arriving at about 18.00, we made it to our overnight flat for the evening, otherwise known as the Holiday Inn Ariel, located right at LHR, and a neat view of the airport. We’ve a quick turnaround, and are off towards home tomorrow, scheduled first flight at 09.30. A good friend told me a few minutes ago I needed a haircut. She’s right.

Tomorrow, we are in San Diego (via a 7-hr layover in ATL, thank you DL !#$% schedule change).

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This was a very interesting holiday. While we almost always cruise, really – nearly always for vacations, this land tour was a clean (though is an interesting choice word for me to have used) break from that norm.

Perhaps, not so much actually clean, as it was very interesting.

Our experience in London for Christmas Eve was excellent. Who can’t find fun in a Christmas Market actually on Christmas Eve has problems 😉

Now then – India.

I’ve wanted to come here for a rather long time. India, until this trip’s conclusion, was at the top of my want-to-do-but-haven’t-yet-been-there list, and, a destination I’ve been thinking about since watching several series set here. My earliest recollection of being interested in India is not unsurprisingly tried to a Bond film – in this case – 1983’s Octopussy. The color, sounds, and culture provided by media exposure made it very interesting to me.

So, we came….

Our hotels we really nice. The people working in them made it special. There are zero appreciable complaints in this area.

ITC Rajputana was fantastic (my favorite by a narrow margin), thanks in no small way to Manish, whom we saw quite often, as well as our tour guide for two days, Hanuman. Both of these gentlemen really made our experience great. My favorite visit was easily Amer Palace.  Fratelli Sangiovese is devine, and tricky.

ITC Mughal was very good, most especially, thanks to a very energetic Raj.
The Taj Mahal.… just awesome/fantastic/brilliant. The manager of the traveldesk was prompt to address an issue by one of his guides, finding us in a restaurant when we had not either met him or sought him out.  Fratelli Sangiovese is devine, and tricky.

The Imperial (Holly’s favorite) had very polite service, as did those in the other two cities, and overall, the best decor, with a PERFECT blend of Victorian and Art Deco theming. In this regard, it was flawless.  Fratelli Sangiovese is devine, and, well, you get the idea.  India makes this, and I had this red rather often.

When in Rome, or India, it appears that it is prudent to not only trust, but verify – that one’s transfers go smoothly.… at least that, to the extent controllable, they are confirmed as being as much set up for success as one can hope for. Upon arrival in Delhi on 12/26, as the reader will already be aware, this did not occur.

The traveldesk subsidiary (there exists a separate travel/tour company inside each ITC hotel it seems) of/at ITC Rajputana did not ensure our car transfer from DEL to the hotel was conducted by a driver who actually was competent. This is as generous as I can be here.

Even a navigable zoo is still a zoo. Traffic downtown here sucks. Give me L.A. at rush hour.

Perhaps relying on one’s own self-assessed reputation far too much was our tour guide for the Taj Mahal. He has been doing this for 25 years, and never stopped chatting. He also had a huge proximity issue, staying within about 18” to talk. Oh-hell-no. Back up, already.

If I moved away to film while he was talking to both of us, he’d slide over to in front of me to make sure I could hear and SEE him. After a few occurrence of this, I quickly fixed his misconception. He also insisted we should go back to the hotel for breakfast then come back out with him. He got a bit pushy, and I directed him to return us to the hotel where we left him. Surprised at the ‘thank you’, we’re done’ (‘What’, you don’t want more tour?) at hotel’s arrival, we were ready to just see the end of this guy. He just did not get it – that the guests could actually make decisions for themselves.

Air quality was horrid. Really really bad. That’s it.

How bloody difficult is it to have efficient trash collection and the occasional journey to Lowe’s for paint? Also, give all folks proper cooking infrastructure, such as environmentally friendly gas or electricity.

Honestly, the people are fantastically warm and friendly, everything positive I expected (but for pushy vendors) – they deserve far better living conditions.

I continue to be interested in travel to India, but only to an oceanfront city, such as Mumbai/Cochin, as a jumping off point (not an arrival one) for a cruise.

See you around on the next adventure (May 2018)

Bob & Holly

54 Replies to “Northern India”

  1. Loved this! Thanks Bob (and Holly) for all of the wonderful details and photos. Great writing (as others have stated), but the photos really help to capture your descriptions and fuel my wanderlust.
    Take care!

  2. Just wow, again I say, wow. This has been a very enlightening trip for all of us to share with you. I feel like I’ve seen India through your experiences. Thank you for all you do to share your travels with us. And now, I am intrigued by your “change of employment location…” Please travel safely over the days ahead.

  3. Sorry Bob, but I’m with the others on this one. I know from others who have been to India that it is a fascinating country, but one I’ve never wanted to visit and thanks to your excellent blog, you’ve convinced me that it’s definately off my bucket list. Plus, as you know, Gail and I really don’t like Indian food.
    Your blog has been really interesting and inciteful and I’m glad you’ve enjoyed your Indian experience.

    1. It’s likely a 2-off. Only other visit I’d think probably is Mumbai as a jumping off point for a cruise.

  4. I agree 100% with Jim. This has been your best blog that I have read. It is appreciated, especially since I won’t get to see it personally. That should make your video even more enjoyable when completed. Enjoy your last hours in India.

  5. Like Gail and K said, I think you have confirmed why most of us have no interest in going to India. Although the first cities did appear most interesting, we will never go there.

  6. Fascinating – I have been catching up on your last few days in India. I still do not think you have sold India to me I don’t think I could cope with the smells/ pollution/ sanitory conditions and crowds – even though I’m sure it is quite fascinating. I will satisfy myself seeing India through your eyes 😉.

    1. It is indeed fascinating. Outweighed though by the trash. Next time- if ever, a coastal city much farther south.

  7. Finally had an opportunity to catch you up on your travels. Awesome to say the least. But I am seriously in the Jame B camp….the closest I’m getting to India is here on your pages. Carry ON. Travel safe. Happy New Year.
    *Remembering the old song….. “Skip to my Loo” (optional spelling)

    1. As it happens, I do remember that song. It was one of the first songs I learned to play on my guitar back in the dark ages in 1976.

  8. 440! OMG, the worst we have experienced was 330 in Beijing and we thought we were going to die. That combined with the stink and the trash would be way too much for us.

  9. Your rail station experience reminds me of the exceptional book, Lion, where in early scenes five-year-old Saroo is lost in the streets of Calcutta. It must be such an awakening to our western world of privilege to be there, to see that. Your blog is once again the brightest spot in my days. I look forward to the latest instalment every day. You and Holly should find a way to monetize this, and just keep on travelling. 🙂

  10. The comment about driving in India is spot on. We have ‘followed’ Ice Road Truckers when they did a stint in India – I would be cowering in the back with my eyes closed tight.

    1. Vietnam traffic was bad; but Cairo was the worst we have experienced. I assume that it is similar to India’s.

  11. The red building at the Taj is rather beautiful too. Most unfortunate that you couldn’t take inside shots; but your exterior ones were very nice. I continue to be impressed with what you are showing us of India.

    1. Thank you. There are, as Jim suggested, far more poverty areas than depicted. I have video, but so far, haven’t stopped in questionable areas long enough to take snaps.

  12. The city streets downtown have indeed been crowded, though to mitigate it, we’ve been staring quite early to be getting done early ish- as said crowds begin to form.

    Drive or walk downtown Jaipur afternoon/evening, you will find crowds.

  13. Really enjoying the tales of your trip. The samosas looked good. Those and onion bargies are about the only Indian food I’d eat, but let’s not start that one again!

  14. You are making Northern India look very nice. I am surprised that there aren’t any crowds around and it does look much cleaner than I would expect.

  15. Lovely hotel Bob. I love Indian food; but Carol not so much, so we rarely have it. Your food looked quite delicious. Looking forward to more of your adventure.

  16. What a day you experienced, but it ended so well with that gorgeous hotel and restaurant. As Jim has said, you are indeed brave ones. Journey on and thank you for a great daily read.

  17. Umm, I think my DH would have lost his cool and we would have been stranded at the side of the road. Don’t think there is a Canadian Cellular provider that has the awesomeness your plan with T-Mobile is. Looking forward to more of the journey.

  18. It was good chatting to you and Holly on FT – enjoy London today before flying off for your next adventures. xx

  19. I am a delicately green shade of envious here. This first day in London looks like something I’d dream about. That market! Oh my goodness.

  20. I’m also looking forward to reading about Part II of your adventures. Since we will have access to the Sky Club lounge in May, thank you for posting pictures from there. Enjoy the journey.

    1. No Ma’am. Edge is. On the departure morning from Edge, we are headed to Northern India for 9-nts on land.

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