|First Posted: Feb 13, 2008|
Apr 7, 2012
Travel India and Nepalby Debora Johnson
India--not a vacation but rather an experience. Crowds, poverty, spirituality, mysticism, filth--India is not for the frail. All the National Geographic Specials cannot begin to give insight into India. It is only a visual depiction of temples, etc. I can only describe India as an assault on all of my senses, 24 hours a day. It is a spiritual and magical land on the one hand, and at the same time a filthy and poverty sticken place. Expect to get sick if you go. Prior research on the internet told us that up to 70% of visitors get sick. Our group was 32 and all but four were sick before we left the country. I would suggest that you take antibiotics, imodium, upper respiratory drugs, cough drops and a filtering mask with you. Carry hand wipes and antibacterial hand cleaning agents. Try not to rub your eyes or lick your lips! I am not kidding. There are many parasites, bacteria, and viruses for which our bodies have no built up immunity. Take some nutritious granola bars or power bars in your suitcase. India is a spiritual and religous land, approximately 80% Hindu and 20% Islamic--although all religions are represented here. The cast system is alive and well in India. Basically there are 4 casts: the priestly and educated cast, the warriors, the merchants, and the grunts who do all the work. There are also the untouchables. You live your life in your cast of birth. If you are good when you die you are reincarnated into a higher place in the next life. If you are bad you could come back as an insect or worse. Marriages are arranged between families. There are some "love" marriages but they are frowned upon or totally rejected. The cities are horribly polluted. Cow dung is burned at night for fuel to keep warm. You breathe that smokey air--your eyes and lungs burn. The dung is also used to boil the water and cook the food. Electricity is off 8 hours a day in many cities in Northern India. There is a shortage of water in the North of India and it is rationed. Several days a week for two to three hours the people can get water. Of course, you cannot drink the water as a tourist. If you do you will probably get really ill. Do not eat the vegetables or fruit unless they are cooked or peeled. Do not drink fruit drinks unless they are bottled as unpurified water may be used to prepare them, and never add ice to your drinks for the same reason. Don't drink milk or any other dairy products. Drink only bottled liquids. I did not even use the glasses. I always asked for a straw. Our trip to India has changed my attitude toward life. I take away from India a much greater appreciation for the United States and all that we have. Our freedoms, our cleanliness, our water and other natural resources, our comfortable daily existance, our roads, our personal space, our individual belief systems and so much more. Any person who wishes to complain about the US should be sent to India with a one way ticket. They will beg to return if they survive. The temples are beautiful and the art treasures endure. There is much beauty in India if you can disassociate yourself from the poverty. I had difficulty with the disease and wide spread poverty. Even the children are taught to beg. When away from the group Bill and I had some wonderful personal experiences and adventures. We visited a wonderful art gallery, Shankar's Art Gallery, and spent about 3 hours with the owner and his wife. It was a real treat--good karma. We purchased 5 silk paintings there. Two are horse drawings on silk for my dear friend, Frank. It was his birthday while we are away. The Shankars also invited us to attend a family wedding. We would have loved to do this but on the two days of the wedding we were in Katmandu. It was not possible. The people were warm and friendly. I never felt threatened or in any danger while we were in India. I might add that Bill and I were out at night together away from our touring cacoon.If you decide to take a journey to India I strongly recommend that you do not drive. To a Westerner the roads are total chaos. There is basically one road in Norther India. It is
a two lane road full of every conceivable conveyance you could imagine. There are rickshaws, bikes, ox and horse drawn carts, tractors, buses, cars, jeeps, cows, goats, oxen, chickens, pigs, tuktuks, home made vehicles, motor cycles, camel caravans--all on the street at the same time. There is a saying in India, "You have to have three things to drive--a working horn, good brakes, and lots of luck." To an outsider there seems to be no order. Police are paid off to look the other way. We actually witnessed this while we were there. The same goes for the busses passing through check stations. Often we were told the papers were not in order. After some hand gestures and talking money changed hands and the road block went up. We were on our way. Most importantly, do not hit a cow! They are sacred. One other note. Time in India is referred to as IFT or Indian Flexible Time. In other words, do not expect anything to be on time. That may include a wide range of one hour to several days.
Try not to judge the Indian culture by your Western standards. Keep an open mind and let the magic happen.
One last comment. Thank you to some of the individuals on the trip. John, Will, Carol and Jim, Patty and Dennis, Burt and Karen, Gina and Charles--what a joy. Many of my fellow travelers I did not get a chance to know. To others of my fellow travelers I can only hope that you gained some insight into how good you have it in your everyday lives. However, I must say, your constant complaining and bickering about everything makes me think that you still only think of yourselves and there is no hope. Oh well, my condolences to our guide, Bonnie, who had to endure these individuals in the group. It is my hope that your behavior improves for your next guides and fellow travelers! I would also like to say to you, remember that your aberrant behavior reflects on all Americans. A dose of humility and appreciation for the life you live would be welcomed!
Day 1: Depart USA. Our exotic journey to India and Nepal began in the evening as we departed New York for Delhi.
Day 2: Arrive Delhi. Evening arrival in India's capital. We were escorted to a deluxe hotel. Crowne Plaza Hotel. As soon as we deboarded the plane the pollution was so strong from burning cow dung that it was difficult to breathe. Our eyes were tearing profusely and it was the beginning of upper respiratory problems that lasted throughout the trip in varying degrees. I would suggest that you take several medical masks and use them!
Day 3: This morning, see New Delhi's highlights: The 12th century hand carved Kutab Minar, the Birla Temple and the India Gate. Later, a tour of Old Delhi took us to the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi and to the Jamma Masjid, India's largest mosque. We saw the magnificent Red Fort built in 1648 as a symbol of Mughal's power.
Day 4: Delhi/Jaipur. We hit the Delhi's exciting bazaars. Later Bill and I were off to Jaipur, the "Pink City," famous for its exquisite buildings of rose-colored terra cotta. We stayed in the Country Inn & Suites Hotel.
Day 5: Today we enjoyed a walking tour as well as a rickshaw ride in Jaipur's old city where we explored the colorful local bazaar. Along the way we visited the Palace of Winds, the landmark of Jaipur. In the afternoon we ventured out of the city to Amber Fort, ancient capital of Rajasthan. We saw the Temple of Kali, the Hall of Victory, and rode an elephant to the hill where the Amber Fort is situated. Later, we attended a unique prayer ritual at a hindu temple.
Day 6: Jaipur/Agra. En route to Agra, we visited Fatehpur Sikri, once a glittering capital and later abandoned due to scarcity of water. It is a marvel with well-preserved buildings and red sandstone palaces. We proceeded to Agra, home of the legendary shrine built and dedicated to love, the Taj Mahal. Jaypee Palace Hotel.
Day 7: The highlight of this morning was a visit to the fabled, perfectly proportioned Taj Mahal. This 17th century, white marble mausoleum was built by Emperor Shah Jehan to enshrine the mortal remains of his Queen Mumtaz Mahal. Tired, but still ambulatory, we set off to see Agra Fort, a cluster of mosques and palaces on the banks of the river. Here there is also a bustling spice market. We're bushed! We had a lovely dinner and swam pool-side.
Day 8: Agra/Khajuraho. Today we traveled aboard the famous Shatabdi Express train to Jhansi and continued by coach to Orchha, a medieval city on the River Betwa. We proceeded to Khajuraho, renowned for its splendid temples. Jass Radisson Hotel
Day 9: Off to tour the spectacular temples of Khajuraho, built by the Chandela kings between the 9th and 13th centuries. The temples are exquisitely carved with graceful statues and frieze of Gods and Goddesses. We rested this afternoon.
Day 10: Khajuraho/Varanasi. Today we were supposed to fly to Varanasi, Hinduism's holiest city, situated on the sacred Ganges River. However, the fog was so thick that the plane was unable to fly. We had to deboard. Two busses were provided and we set out for a 12 hour trip, in the fog, at night, on a road that was so narrow two cars were unable to pass at the same time. The roads are treacherous in India. Chaos does not even begin to describe driving in India. Several middle of the night pit stops were made by the side of the road to accommodate our bladders. It was the trip from hell! Radisson Hotel
Day 11: Varanasi/Kathmandu (Nepal). We were unable to take a boat ride on the Ganges River where pilgrims converge for the ritual of immersion and prayer. Instead we just made our flight to Katmandu. Those international flights fly every other day so to miss that flight would have caused a mess. Indian time is referred to as IFT which stands for Indian Flexible Time. Nothing goes on time. If you are a hyper type person who runs your life on time India is not for you! Kathmandu is the Capital of the ancient Kingdom of Nepal. This is a deeply spiritual land, isolated by the high Himalayas. Our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Hotel, is a five star gem. It was the perfect place to be to ride out our sickness!
Day 12: This morning we visited the major temple towns in the Kathmandu Valley at the foot of the Himalayan mountains. The gilded copper gate in Bhadgeon was an astounding masterpiece. We proceeded to the Hindu Temple of Shiva and the Buddhist shrine at Bodhnath. We rested this afternoon. It is hot in India even in prime time. Our hotel was conveniently located for independent exploring and shopping. It is a magnificent five star hotel and I would highly recommend it if you go to Katmandu.
Day 13: This morning Bill and I went to the Tiger Reserve. There were lots of wild animals and birds to see. The tigers were hiding, but is was fun anyway. We could see the breathtaking snow capped Himalayas. This afternoon we drive through the captivating countryside to the "City of Artists," Patan to see beautiful art and architecture. On our way back, we stopped at the fascinating Tibetan Refugee Craft Center and visited the temples, pagodas, and palaces in Durbar. We were able to visit a tributary of the sacred Ganges, the Bagmati River in Pashupathinath, where the burial rituals take place. Hindu Burial Traditions We saw the preparation of the dead bodies, the families, the pyres, the rituals from beginning to end. We saw the bathing in the river and the remains being placed in the river. A human body takes approximately 4 hours to burn in this ritualistic way. With India being the second most populated country in the world (China first) it seems to me to be a realistic way to deal with death. However, the Ganges River does present health problems.
Day 14: Kathmandu/Delhi. Winding down, Bill and I did some more shopping. This is a mecca for shopping but there is a lot of junk so you have to be careful. By now almost everyone on the trip has been sick or is getting sick. Our hotel was the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Day 15: Delhi/USA. Early this morning we bid farewell to India, none too soon I might add. Our journey was beyond memorable. We arrived in New York in the evening, had a three hour layover and then continued on to Washington, DC. The trip may be over, but this place will be forever in my mind. In fact, experiencing India has actually changed me for the better. I am so grateful to be a citizen of the USA and live the wonderful life that I do.
This is a picture of a traditional white wedding horse all decked out in finery. It is Indian tradition that the groom come to the wedding riding a white Marwari Horse of India. We were lucky enough to see five of these weddings because while we were in India it was astrologically a good time for marriage. The weddings are large and gay, full of lights, sounds, drums beating, people dancing in the streets, fireworks, spinning lanterns, beautiful dress, lots of food. Bill and I were invited to a two day wedding, while we were there. We purchased some art at the Shankar's Art Gallery, and the owner and his wife invited us to a family wedding. We would have loved to attend but we would be in Katmandu during the festivities. With flights like they are it was not possible.
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