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Feb 15th: Going Home

via Dubai

sunny 76 °F

I hope that my daily journals reflect the wondrous experience that I have been fortunate enough to enjoy over the past two weeks. I should probably go back and read my rambling, but even if I did – I wouldn’t change it. I have to agree with Janet, when I am asked how I liked my trip to India, I shall say that it was not long enough. I didn’t have enough of Udiapur and I would have happily taken another bus ride to another adventure in another India city. I was sad to leave the hotel knowing that the trip to the airport would be the last ride with the crew that we have come to know and depend upon. Parveen, of course – but there was also the expert driver (who was not hard on the eye, by the way) and his young side-kick who acted as a steward.

Yesterday’s airport adventure (Udiapur to Delhi to Dubai) was a tiring process but was exactly what one must expect when dealing with other countries’ security and immigration policies. Things are different. For instance, in India you cannot even enter the airport unless you can prove that you are a passenger, every single person is wanded, and you have to show your passport about three times, yet they let you bring in liquids. Whatever.

Rosemary and I landed in Dubai and checked in to the Hyatt Regency. Our room overlooks a panorama of cargo and cruise ships on the Arabian Sea and skyscrapers off in the distance. We I fell into bed and slept like the dead until about 7:00AM when the internal alarms went off, although we’d only had five hours of sleep.

First order of the new day – breakfast. Not wanting a hotel buffet, we took off down the street looking for food. Our hotel is located in a kind of older downtown area rather than where the big, unusually shaped commercial buildings are, so it wasn’t too long before we ran into restaurant row. In keeping with “when in Rome” we decided to dine in a locally owned café called . . . . . . . .KFC. That’s right. We had fried chicken for breakfast/lunch. Not sure Rosemary would want that information getting out.

Fortified by protein, fat and salt, we took off to find the gold souk. The Dubai Gold Souk is a market area containing ~300 jewelry retailers, mostly gold. It’s in an old section with winding narrow streets, but it’s been updated with lighting and benches and is very clean. Still, as they always have, the hawkers were out in droves, trying to herd you into their store. By the time we got there, cruise ship passengers had also descended upon the market. Believe me, there was enough room and enough gold for all. The prices are incredible so I found myself looking for jewelry that I would never wear. . . . . rings, bangles. . . . I stopped that silliness and I settled on a pendant. I can wear it constantly and I will always be reminded of this great trip. I don’t know why it is that for me the most recent journey is always the best one so far, and India is no exception.

Posted by Follow Carol 09:24 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (2)

Feb 13th: Last Stop, Udiapur

lakes and palaces

sunny 75 °F

This, the last day of my India adventure, has been pretty laid back by Rosemary (Journeys for Women) standards. We actually had the whole morning to ourselves and did not have to board a bus until 1:00. So Janet (roomie) and I slept in until 7:00 and managed to get down to breakfast by 9:30 or so. Then we walked around this beautiful hotel. This is the nicest one we’ve stayed in on this trip. The hotel is situated on 43 artfully landscaped acres on Lake Pichola. Pathways, fountains, bougainvillea, and a lake. . .what’s not to love?
View from our hotel room (The Trident)

View from our hotel room (The Trident)

Udiapur is the center of the artistic community in northern India. Think of it as India’s answer to Carmel. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see a lot of it, we really only visited the one major tourist attraction, which is the massive City Palace Museum. This is a complex of palaces built over 400 years by several kings. I understand that some of it is still a royal residence, some is a hotel, and some is a museum. The best part of the museum was going from room to room, exhibit to exhibit, through very narrow halls and up and down steep marble stairs as if you were actually sneaking about in hidden passageways in a medieval palace. . . .which is exactly what we were doing. We were each given audio guides so we were independently sneaking around, and the thought occurred to me more than once that it would be very easy to get lost and not be found until April. Now that I have reached the end of this trip, I can safely say that I have seen enough India palaces and forts to last a lifetime. . . .or until another travel opportunity arises.
The City Palace complex on Lake Pichola, Udaipur

The City Palace complex on Lake Pichola, Udaipur


View of part of Udaipur on Lake Pichola

View of part of Udaipur on Lake Pichola


Beautifully painted ceiling in the City Palace

Beautifully painted ceiling in the City Palace



After the palace, we took a boat ride on Lake Pichola which provided a wonderful view of the City Palace Museum, et al, and also the Lake Palace Hotel which is basically an island unto itself in the middle of the lake. We got out and wandered around for a bit and took pictures and then re-boarded for the ride back to the dock. That was kind of fun but the sun was on its way down and it was beginning to get too cool.

Our last dinner in India was at a lakeside restaurant, dining al fresco, overlooking the view of the lights of various hotels on the lake. Quite pretty. Thankfully, they had plenty of outdoor heaters and I had plenty of wine, so the cool evening was not uncomfortable.

Tomorrow is a long, arduous, travel day. We fly from here to Delhi, change planes and then from Delhi to Dubai. We land in Dubai at about midnight and it will feel like an hour later, so we’ll be tired. Rosemary and I are staying in Dubai and will spend the next full day nosing around some of the stuff that we missed on the last trip through (like the gold market, for instance). I don’t know what or when I’ll be blogging next. After all, tomorrow will be all about airports (boring). Perhaps my short Dubai visit will prove interesting.

Posted by Follow Carol 10:03 Archived in India Comments (0)

Feb 12th: Road to Udaipur

keeping amused while on the bus

sunny 80 °F

Before I departed on this adventure, I was asked by many what the weather in India is like at this time of year. I just realized that I haven’t really talked about the weather. It’s great. It’s getting warmer as we progress through the itinerary. It was in the mid 70’s in Delhi and is in the low 80’s in Jodhpur. It cools off quite a bit at night, down to high 40’s – low 50’s. I have not seen a drop of rain, but Jodhpur is called the Land of the Dead because of the frequent famines. I understand it did rain in Jaipur overnight, though. So FYI, this is the time to travel to northern India.

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned orange hair yet either. I’m not talkin’ strawberry blonde, I am talkin’ ORANGE. I remember seeing it the first time days ago (Varanasi maybe). This old guy had bright orange hair that had grown out to reveal three inches of white hair coming in. I just thought he looked like a tired old queen – not in the Maharani sense of the word, either. Then I started noticing it more and more and I knew that there is another explanation for why all these old dudes have orange hair that they don’t even keep up. It’s henna as it turns out, and some men henna their hair to signify that they made the pilgrimage to Mecca. (One can easily see how long ago they went!) Parveen says that for some, they think it keeps them cooler during the warm months. Huh?

Speaking of gay rights (was I?). It’s pretty dicey. Homosexuality has historically been a crime here but the courts are going back and forth on decriminalizing it. I understand that gay rights events and gay pride celebrations held in some cities are tolerated by the authorities. Of course that isn’t enough, but in a country with 25% illiteracy, it’s going to be a long time before the population is enlightened. To be honest, I am surprised that the courts are addressing the issue at all.

About an hour into our drive to Udaipur this morning, Parveen suddenly asked the driver to turn around because she wanted to stop at an elementary school so we can meet the students. In the USA, the teacher might find it very disruptive for a busload of foreigners to file into the classroom. Here, however we were very welcomed. Children study English from an early age and many of them ran up to us and asked, “What is your name?”, but that was about the extent of the conversation. We visited a classroom of older children (11-15) who were a bit more advance in English and we asked them more difficult questions like what is their favorite subject? and what are the colors on their national flag? Then they sang their national anthem to us, and we sang our national anthem to them. That was such a rewarding experience!
Parveen lectures to a small class of village school children

Parveen lectures to a small class of village school children

Village school children sing their national anthem to us

Village school children sing their national anthem to us

One of the other Carols and I have been playing a little road trip game as we ride along from town to town. (There are three Carols on this trip – that’s 25% of the population!) In India, men evidently have absolutely no bladder control. The poor things cannot ever wait until they can get to a more discrete location than the side of the highway. So every day, Carol and I have a counting game – you remember road trips when you were a kid? Count the VW Bugs? Well, Carol and I have a contest to see who can count the most men peeing in broad daylight, in full view of the cars and buses going by. We can be heard announcing “ONE!” “TWO THREE” “there’s number FOUR!” at each other back and forth through the bus. A couple of the ladies have caught on to what we’re doing but a few are still wondering, what the heck? It cracks us up, that’s all that counts.

Other interesting things that we saw on the road:
Cows relaxing in the middle of the highway

Cows relaxing in the middle of the highway

Young girl from a local village

Young girl from a local village

It’s hard to segue from stupid, classless bus antics to the next stop on our trip to Udaipur, but I will. We stopped to visit the Ranakpur Jain Temple, built by a devout Jain business man in the 15th century. This amazingly intricately detailed giant piece of marble art honors the founder of the Jain religion. We were there for an hour or so wandering around the carved columns and listening to a pre-recorded tour tell us what the carvings and art depict. Even with tourists in there, it was serene and, well. . . . .holy. Jainism is a 2500 year old philosophy, similar to Buddhism, but Jainism didn’t catch on like Buddhism did. Evidently Buddhism had more support from the wealthier classes.
Ranakpur Jain Temple

Ranakpur Jain Temple

Ranakpur Jain Temple - inside

Ranakpur Jain Temple - inside

We are finally in our hotel in Udaipur. I’m gonna finish this glass of wine and go to bed.

Posted by Follow Carol 08:41 Archived in India Comments (0)

Feb 11th: Jodhpur

Forts and Textiles and Dogs

sunny 80 °F

Those military jets must be Indian since I am still here to tell the story. They aren’t flying tonight, thank heaven. But the wedding party is still going on. These things go on for days, I guess. Thankfully my room is on the other end of the hotel so I can’t hear anything. Well, I spoke too soon. One just flew over.

Jodhpur is located in a rather arid area of India. It is nicknamed “Sun City” because they see the sun every day. It doesn’t look like desert but it is certainly not lush. Jodhpur is also called the “Blue City” because so many of the homes are painted blue. The legend is that the Brahmin caste (the highest, priestly class) painted their houses blue to set them apart and others followed suite. Who knows?
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Newsflash! I saw my first dog on a leash today!! The dogs in this country roam free and there are dozens of them on the streets wherever you go. But today was a first. I doubt that it will become a fad anytime soon.

I take back what I said about being tired of forts. We visited the most amazing fort today, Mehrangarh, “Citadel of the Sun”. Built around 1460, it is one of the largest forts in India and contains beautiful palaces and courtyards. We wandered around there for a couple of hours and thoroughly enjoyed that tour. Here is a picture of the outside of one of the palaces.
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From there we went shopping in the strangest, most disorganized, huge storeroom/showroom of textiles, curios, antiques, and jewelry you can imagine. Some of it appears to be almost “in its place” but the scarves, linens, woven goods, are just stacked everywhere. The owner knows where everything is and he showed us some beautiful things. The prices were very low. My luggage is getting very full.

After a very nice lunch in a courtyard café, we went on a “safari” to visit a religious group called the Bishnoi. We piled into three jeeps and headed off down poorly maintained roads that turned into dirt roads that finally led to the Bishnoi village. These people are devoted to animal and plant life and will not kill an animal or a tree. They lead simple primitive lives but are comparatively well off compared to other nearby villages. They make some crafts and sell them, so of course we were shown their wares. We also got to participate in a daily ritual usually reserved for only the elder men – the opium ceremony. Unfortunately, the potion we got to taste was very watered down.
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On the way home from the village we saw some wildlife, mostly antelopes but we did see peacocks. The peacock is the national bird of India and they are beautiful when they are in their rightful home. We also ran into a little family crossing the road.
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Dinner this evening was in a residence on the estate owned by the Maharaja of Jodhpur, who is one of those royals who no longer is really royal and who no longer gets a princely stipend from the Indian government. So, part of the actual royal palace is used for commercial purposes as is the small palace where we dined. It was rooftop dining with a view of the city and the royal palace at night. Lovely.

Posted by Follow Carol 10:22 Archived in India Comments (0)

Feb 10th: Road to Jodhpur

lunching at a palace

sunny 80 °F

Today was a long travel day, but I enjoyed watching the farms and villages go by. Unfortunately, one of the ladies in the group is sick today. I understand she was up all night with diarrhea and vomiting. It is probably “Delhi Belly” which is much like “Montezuma’s Revenge”, just on a different continent. (or incontinent, as the case may be). I am very fortunate that I only have the last dregs of a cold.

In an effort to show us the “real India”, Parveen had the driver stop at a truck stop along the highway. Anytime the bus stops and the guide says she wants to show you something, much like lemmings, we all exit the bus with cameras in hand – even though we have no idea what could be interesting about a truck stop. And since I have never been a trucker, I can only guess that Indian truck stops are similar to American truck stops with one exception: I didn’t see any hookers there. The most interesting thing about this stop was the curious looks we got as our small herd of women got off of a bus and walked up to where a group of men are sitting on cots, cross legged, drinking chai, meanwhile some others are doing laundry. They just stared as Parveen talked to us about them. We must have been a curiosity to them because in India it would be very unusual for a group of women to be travelling together without men in the group.
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Later, along the way we pulled off onto a narrow road that led to a village within which there is an old palace that is now a hotel restaurant. The bus dropped us off and we walked about ¼ mile down narrow alleyways only wide enough for a bull or a motorcycle, and the occasional American woman. It is a friendly, colorful, rather primitive village and it was really fun walking through it. Not so fun for a couple of the ladies who got rammed by an irritated bull. Fortunately for one of them, she was just bumped and pushed. But the other was lifted off her feet by the animal. They are both fine. It could have been much worse.
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We had a wonderful lunch at the slightly rustic but beautifully painted palace. This is the home of the royal family who used to own the land for miles around and the villagers worked it. When the institution of “royalty” ceased to exist in India, those who were royal kept their palaces and were granted a generous stipend by the government. That stipend was revoked later so the royals needed income to maintain their family home. Many of them turned their palaces into hotels, as is the case for this particular palace. We met the son of the owner. His father is descended from the royals and is the leader of the village. After enjoying the best meal I have had in India, one of the staff showed us around the hotel and let us see three of the rooms. They were simple, spacious and clean. It could easily be the Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I loved it.

Our hotel in Jodhpur is new, big, and very nice. It looks like what you might imagine an old colonial hotel would look like when the British were in charge. One drawback is that it is located right under a military flight pattern. Jodhpur has a huge military presence probably because it is only 150 miles from Pakistan. Every once in a while a very loud, very low military jet flies over. (I am hoping they are Indian.) We have been warned that there is a wedding ceremony here at the hotel this evening and that they can be loud with partying guests until late in the evening. I don’t think they can compete with the Indian Air Force.

Posted by Follow Carol 08:04 Archived in India Comments (0)

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