Home Again

For the last 3 weeks, David and I have been in India and Nepal.  What a great trip and everyone should visit there one time.  I mean ONLY one time.  We returned on Tuesday night but are just now finding ourselves ready to join the human race, getting over afflictions brought on by poor air, long flights and questionable airplane food.

We had heard from several sources that traveling through India is not for the timid.  So we decided to use a tour group, Smartours.  We are NOT tour group people but we have used this agency before to travel to China, another country that is not easy to navigate independently.  Our tour director, Arvind, was awesome.  He recognized immediately that we were not going to sit on a bus six hours a day and look at buildings.P1000686

Our first stop was Delhi.  That meant a 15 hour flight from JFK.  Normally, this is not a big deal.  International airlines give you more leg room, pretty fair food and a lot of entertainment to keep you occupied.  Unfortunately, we flew Air India.  Air India continues to run at a loss every year because they provide free travel for government officials and their families – not because they are a good airline.  First, the cushioning had been taken out of the seats so the seat covers were directly on the seat frame.  Second, the “entertainment” was not entertaining.  Their movies included Casablanca, Home Alone II, Yuma 3:10, Batman, Juno and other really old films.  The games portion did not work.  The interactive maps did not work.  The TV selections only had Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin – that’s all folks!  Third, the flight crew were unpleasant and surly.  Did I mention that this transportation treat lasted 15 hours?

We arrived at our hotel about 4 PM.  And awesome luck!  A Metro station was right across the street.  We dropped our bags and went downtown.  We found out that none of the others in our tour ventured out of the hotel and ate dinner at the hotel.  Boring.  The next morning we left the group and took the subway once again.

The Delhi Metro has preferential seating for the elderly, handicapped and for women

The Delhi Metro has preferential seating for the elderly, handicapped and for women

We ended up seeing the major sites but we got there in minutes because we weren’t on the bus fighting unbelievable traffic.  Plus we got to see things at ground level and explore alleyways that you can’t do from a bus.  If you need a shave in India, you can get one on the street.

Shave and a Haircut = 10 rupees.  Open seating.

Shave and a Haircut = 10 rupees. Open seating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We saw temples, monkeys, talked to children, had wonderful food in city after city – and then we got to the Taj Mahal.  It is really awe inspiring.  Our guide explained how it was constructed and how they made the marble even more beautiful by inserting semi-precious stones to make it glitter in the sunlight.

Varanasi was the most different and our favorite city.  It is on the Ganges River and located where the river turns north.  From the west side of the river, the sun is seen coming up from the east.  It is the holiest city in the Hindu religion. Varanasi It is where bodies are brought for cremation.  The tour included a trip by motorized boat to the ghats where the cremations take place.  I wanted to get our own boat so we broke from the group again and took a tuk tuk into town.  We did some major shopping before making our way to the river to negotiate for a row boat.  David was annoyed that we did not go with the group – that was until I got us our own private row boat.  It was very peaceful and serene as we made our way north to the cremations.  We did not find the ceremony creepy or disgusting.  It is part of a life cycle, as believed by all Hindus.  I thought it was fascinating.  Once the sun went down, we went down river for a ceremony that gives thanks to the river.

Ganges AMThe next morning, we went by row boat along all the ghats and watched people bathe, wash clothes, use the toilet, and everything else the Ganges is known for.

Side note:  Every tour has at least 1 person who is a problem.  We had two.  Both questioned the “ignorance” of the Indian people, their religion, and openly denigrated their entire culture.  It was very embarrassing.  As we were getting off the boat after our morning ride, one of these women jerked her arm away from the boy who was trying to help her disembark, lost her balance and fell into the Ganges.  Completely in, over her head and sputtering as she got up.  It was too disgusting to laugh then, but we have done so many times since.  Karma on the Ganges!

We were lucky to be in delhi holinorthern India during Holi.  It’s a holiday for all Indians where colored powder is thrown at people and animals.  It’s suppose to be good luck and many people live it on themselves for the full 10 days.  We played Holi only one day and it was showered off that evening.  The teenagers love it, especially hitting some unsuspecting tourist.  Of course, many in our group were appalled.  We loved it!

Last stop, Kathmandu, Nepal.  Only a quick 30 minute flight – again on the terrible Air India where nothing worked and the flight attendants snarled.  But we couldn’t believe the difference in cleanliness of Nepal.

All over India I had witnessed literally hundreds of men urinating in the streets.  Towards the street, outside windows, street corners, wherever they happened to be when the urge took hold.  No thought to privacy, just unzip and go.  It was disgusting.  They also have hundreds of cattle, pigs, goats and dogs who go all over the streets.  I heard that 70% of Indians do not have indoor plumbing.  So it all goes everywhere.  Totally disgusting.  But not in Nepal.  The streets were fairly maintained, very few animals on the streets, and no urinating men.  A very pleasant surprise.

Not surprising, we left the group again.  We visited the Monkey Temple, high above the polluted city.  We saw Buddhist temples and a medieval town.  We spent an evening in Thamel, the preparation point for people hiking Mt. Everest and other mountains.  We learned that just to get to base camp for Mt. Everest – it’s a SIX DAY hike.  Six days just to get to Start.  Makes attempting to climb it much more impressive.

The problem was air quality.  Many Indian towns, as well as Kathmandu, are in valleys.  All exhaust and smoke stays in the town.  By the time we got to Varanasi, our lungs were beginning to protest.  Kathmandu did us in.  The inversion layer was thick with exhaust.

Then it was time to go home.  Back on the same 15 hour Air India flight to JFK.  Again, no cushions, no entertainment, no explanation for the 3+ hours of bad turbulence from the cockpit, no smiles from the flight attendants.  It took 23 hours of flight time to make it back to Boquete.  But worth it all.

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3 thoughts on “Home Again

  1. Excellent description of your experience, Cindy and Dave! Cruising the sou!then Caribbean should prove more user friendly…let’s go!

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