The Highlands of South India

We followed the Coonoor stay with a long drive to Munnar, another highlands area growing tea, coffee and cardamom south of Coimbatore. Though only about 200 kilometers from Coonoor, the drive took nearly 5 hours; getting from here to there in India is always interesting, and takes longer than you’d think due to roads winding their way through the tiniest of villages, up and down the hills, and through traffic and traffic accidents, and around many many cows…

Tea Puckers at Day's End

Tea Puckers at Day’s End

Rocky Munnar Tea Garden

Rocky Munnar Tea Garden

Bustling Munnar was lit for Sunday evening shoppers and diners, and after checking into “Tea County,” (http://www.teacountymunnar.com/) a large resort not far from town, we drove back downtown to find Saravana Bhavan (www.tripadvisor.in/Restaurant_Review-g303881-d1986714-Reviews-Saravana_Bhavan_Munnar-Munnar_Kerala.html) (Sorry for the long link – another fix I have to figure out.), where we found a mix of locals, and international and Indian tourists eating dinner. This is as close as we’ve come to finding a “banana leaf” restaurant such as we used to enjoy so much when we lived in Singapore. Here, the plates are plantain leaves instead, but the waiters still come round with tiffin pails of various “gravies.” In India, a gravy is what we might call a curry – a wet sauce of various flavors mixed with a variety or a single type of “veg.”

After eating dinner we had fun poking into the tiny local shops after dinner – each merchant seems to specialize in something, and yet there’s always a competitor just across the lane!

Munnar Vegetable Seller

Munnar Vegetable Seller

We’ve been looking at buckets and bathing pots and ladles – having become used to the sit down on a stool (or not) bath system in many of the places we’ve stayed. Most hotels and guest houses have separate hot water heaters in the bathrooms so you need to turn the switch on a half hour before bathing, and then fill a large bucket with the water which you can then sluice over your body/hair with the provided large ladle or cup. In better hotels there are overhead shower heads too, but I’m getting proficient at washing my hair and at least essential body parts the bucket and ladle way – and do appreciate how much more water efficient it is than just letting a shower run.

Munnar is where we had our first ayurvedic massage and medicinal steam bath. One word – FANTASTIC! At Swatic Ayur Centre (find reviews at TripAdvisor), I was gently managed by Saranya, who led me to a simple, very warm room with a wooden platform on which she had me lay down. She poured warm oil over my back and commenced with a series of stroking massage movements – up and down, in a u-shape, s-shape, figure 8; she pulled and stroked the muscle groups from the tips of my toes to the tips of my fingers…it wasn’t like any other massage I’ve had, and was completely relaxing. Then I sat in an old-fashioned steam bath with a towel over my head – it was HOT and 15 minutes was a few too long for me, but I emerged red as a tomato and thoroughly steam-cleaned. We just made it back to the hotel before crashing for a pre-dinner nap.

Smiling in the Tea Garden

Smiling in the Tea Garden

The highlands are a completely different geographic region of India, and reinforce my understanding that the country is so immense and complex that assumptions are useless, and accepting anything and everything that comes along is a good strategy for peace of mind. We go next to the Periyar Tiger Reserve…stay tuned.

Road to Periyar via Lockhart Tea Valley

Road to Periyar via Lockhart Tea Valley

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Monkey in the Breakfast Room

After two plus weeks in North India and covering over 2000 km overland, it was time to turn our sights South – and so we reluctantly left lovely Udaipur and flew first north to Delhi and then to Bangalore – a total of about 3 hours of flying. The Udaipur airport was new, large, and empty. We counted a total of only 5 flights out scheduled for the day. Apparently some political kerfluffle has limited flights between Jaipur and Udaipur, and squelched a lot of the tourist traffic (or so we were told…politics is proving an endlessly interesting and multi-sided subject here.)

South India Itinerary

South India Itinerary

Following our alphabetical route map for South India, we go:
A: Bangalore
B: Hosagunda
C: Chickmaglur
D: Kollegal
E: Coonoor
F: (this is really on the map as G) Munnar
G: Periyar
H: Allepy Backwaters
I: Cochin
J/K/L: fly to Chennai, car to Mahalibalipuram, Pondicherry

India Makes My Heart Go...

India Makes My Heart Go…

By late afternoon of our Udaipur departure, we were delivered to the Villa Pottapatti, (http://villa-pottipati.neemranahotels.com/) a Neemrana Hotels property in Bangalore. Neemrana is buying or leasing wonderful old homes and other properties throughout India, and with minimal changes converting them into a version of a homestay, albeit with professional staffing and branded amenities. We were delighted at Villa Pottapatti to meet its owner, Mrs. Reddy, whose husband’s family had built the house in the late 19th century. She was sitting in the garden dining area when we came out for breakfast, and we spent an hour learning all about the house, the family, the neighborhood…and, how very different everything is from when she arrived as a bride over 50 years ago. It felt like we were guests in a lovely old home with a hostess who sent us out into the neighborhood on a treasure hunt.

Villa Pottapatti

Villa Pottapatti

Pottapatti Neighborhood Rose Seller

Pottapatti Neighborhood Rose Seller

Selling Apples by Bike

Selling Apples by Bike

Our first week in the South would test our energy – we’d be in six different beds each of six nights, including one spent on the local overnight train to Hosagunda (definitely not the lux train for tourists, we each had a bottom berth of three stacked, and were separated from the narrow aisle by a non-working curtain.) For most of the first week in the south we were guests of former business relations when I worked with Honest Tea. The first few days were with the Phalada Agro team (http://www.phaladaagro.com/). Phalada is an award-winning supplier of organic and Fair Trade ingredients, ranging from turmeric and coconut to spearmint and tulsi and I’ll write at much more length about this wonderful, motivated company of change-makers after getting back home.

We visited the Bangalore processing plant and test garden, visited Mr. CMN Shastry’s organic farm and excavation/reconstruction of an 800 year old temple in Hosagunda, and travelled by car to Chickmaglur where we visited an organic coffee grower and learned how cardamom is grown! Whew.

Phalada Nursery

Fascinating temple visits along the way included Halebad and Belur – where the craftsmanship of the stonework was breathtaking – the incisions were deep, crisp and incredibly intricate, after hundreds of years. The temples themselves were more geometric than anything we’d seen so far, and I was awed by it all…the detail, the age, the clear devotion of those who conceived of and built the temples. And – the sculptures of the elephants that surrounded the base of both temples…hundreds and hundreds of roughly 12” long by 8” high elephants marching around, in and out of the undulating base.

Belur Temple Elephants

Belur Temple Elephants

Belur Temple Base Carvings

Belur Temple Base Carvings

Gorgeous Goddess Anklets

Gorgeous Goddess Anklets

In Kollegal, I was truly honored to meet the small scale farmers who are growing organic vegetables, herbs, and spices, under the auspices of the Phalada Agro group. At a Natural Products Food Show in 2013, it was thrilling to hear from Mr. Shastry about the ways in which the farmers and their families are benefiting from selling organic ingredients to Honest Tea http://www.honesttea.com, (and of course, other manufacturers as well.)

Organic Coconut Water, as Fresh as it Gets!

Organic Coconut Water, as Fresh as it Gets!

Beautiful Organic Krishna Tulsi

Beautiful Organic Krishna Tulsi

Every part of the visit with Phalada was inspiring – my work with organic and Fair Trade products has always been motivating, but travelling with the Phalada team was amazing. They are working directly with very small farmers in the Karnataka region who are at the forefront of organic farming in India. These families have 1-3 acre plots that are planted with organic tulsi, corn, watermelon, sugar cane, turmeric…and sell their product to Phalada. Their Fair Trade tulsi sales bring them an additional premium that is changing their lives. The farmland was lush, the sounds of birds and insects filled the air, and the farmers and farm workers seemed delighted to have a visitor from away. I had brought a bottle of Honest Tea’s Heavenly Lemon Tulsi with me to share – it’s not often that the farmers get to see the end result of their labors, and they were excited to see, and taste, the beverage. My few words of Hindi and Kannada (different local languages are spoken all over India) and a whole lot of smiling (I hope) helped them understand how excited I was to actually stand in the organic fields and say “thank you,” for all the work they do.

Kollegal Certified Organic Farm!

Kollegal Certified Organic Farm!

From Kollegal we headed to the highlands of tea country – first to Nilgiri, where our hosts were the team from the Chamraj Tea Estates (http://www.chamrajchai.com/), which also owns Korakundah, a large organic and Fair Trade tea garden. Chamraj’ tea bushes are grown at 6-8000’ elevation, the highest in India. It is an incredible landscape, with the labyrinth-like tea bushes growing on impossibly steep hillsides; hovering above them are the silverwood trees which are “pollarded” or pruned at various times to either shade or allow more sun depending on the need of the plants.

Chamraj runs a 60-bed hospital, school for 1200 students, and an orphanage, all on its property, and partly funded by company and Fair Trade funds. Our host, Mr. Hendrickson, seems to have 10 different full-time jobs, and is passionate about not only the tea he helps to sell, but the company’s responsibility for the community it is part of – anyone in the area is welcome to use the hospital facilities, and the school is also open to the community, not just the children of the estate staff and workers.

Chamraj Guest Bungalow

Chamraj Guest Bungalow

A visit to the Chamraj processing plant reinforced the intricacies of creating fine tea, and a tasting afterwards introduced us to “Frost Tea,” from plants grown at the highest elevations in the Nilgiri.

Tea Tasting at Chamraj

Tea Tasting at Chamraj

Chamraj Tea Hillside

Chamraj Tea Hillside

This second week is a slower paced travel time, as we catch up on sleep and energy after the hectic travelling in the north. And, it’s giving me some time to fully recover from my cold. So, after Chamraj we drove 30 minutes to the highlands town of Coonoor, a former summertime colony for the British as they escaped from the heat of Bangalore. We stayed at the “Wallwood,” an old bungalow and another Neemrana property. Enjoying the crackling fire in the living room, and reading one of the left-behind paperbacks while enjoying a cup of tea was like being transported back to the time of the British Raj. Strolling through Sim’s Park with its hundreds of specimen trees from around the world, and having a coffee at tiny “Cheri Brewing” completed a simple, relaxed day. With that, more to come next time!

By the way, the monkey joined me in the Wallwood breakfast room as I was sitting enjoying a cup of tea and making some notes. The monkey was about the size of a 2 year old child, and sneaked in so quietly that he was about two feet from the table when I spotted him. I calmly(!) and quickly called out “monkey in the breakfast room,” at which time one of the staff came in and shooed it away. Just another thrilling animal encounter in India!

Wallwood Bungalow - Coonoor

Wallwood Bungalow – Coonoor

Please let me know via a “comment” if you have any questions – I’m just scraping the very surface of the notes I’ve made. Food questions? Lodging? Culture? Travel? Let me know and I’ll try to respond with how we’ve become a bit more “JourneyWise” on this trip!

Rajasthan Reprise

CW proposed “Ra Ra Rajasthan” for the title of this blog and I laughed… though we did, indeed, enjoy our two weeks exploring!

I’m eager to share so much of our journey but the details, surprises, small awakenings, commonplace beauty and poverty are almost overwhelming for the nature of a blog – so instead of well-constructed prose, here are transcribed thoughts from the difficult to read notes I’ve kept in a tiny and now well-mangled spiral-bound notebook; a stream of conscious remembrance as we’ve now arrived in the southern state of Karnataka, through its gateway city, Bangalore and events are overtaking the northern part of the trip.

Jaipur to Jodphur: “across from stepwell is 700 year old temple destroyed by muslim (musselman) invaders, later the tumbled blocks are piled up on each other to recreate the original Hindu temple…broken bits so beautiful, flowers, animals, gods carved with precise detail. Then Raj (our driver) says “Madam Madam come come” with great urgency. He’d seen a cobra nestled in one of the broken bits…and I missed it!”

Remnants with Cobra Nest

Remnants with Cobra Nest

“had lassi at very rustic stall – served in clay cups that are thrown away after one use…appalled me but the clay at least dissolves back into the earth, unlike the plastic cups that are more often used these days…”

Disposable Lassi Cups

Disposable Lassi Cups

Jodphur “early morning start at Amer Fort with elephant ride – quite touristic, long line, but how could we not! A rolling ride up to the height of the fort and astounding views over Great Wall-like wall built around Jodphur eons ago.”

Elephant Back...

Elephant Back…

“Visit to Jantar Matar observatory so much more than expected – it looks like a combination mad scientist, skateboard park, sculpture garden and was built to plot the stars, time and horoscopes in about 1730.”

JantarMantar

JantarMantar

“Another visit to lassi-wallah. Thick yogurt/cream like, made in a large iron wok-like pan, heated, skin is skimmed off. A sweet “butter” (really cream) is spooned onto the top of the cup after the lassi poured in…thick, sweet, creamy, excellent! Spoiled now forever….” Note: food and drinks are a recurring theme!

Delicious Lassi

Delicious Lassi

“another superfast road where the vehicle sounds are amusing and constant. Traffic ballet, keep moving ahead but gracefully – horns are blown and drivers shout, but with an air of tolerance rather than anger – lots of swerving back and forth and a “let’s get on with it, together” spirit.” Note: this does not mean to imply that it’s not sometimes simply FRIGHTENING to be a passenger.

“walked in Jodphur’s Clock Tower Square, discovered M.V. Spice Company. Run by 5 sisters, and were subject of british documentary in 2013 – The Spice Sisters of India. Must look for it!

MV Spice in Jodphur

MV Spice in Jodphur

Streetwise Samosas

Streetwise Samosas

Jodphur to Jaisalmer:
“increasing desert on the drive through sandstone quarries (13,000 of them!), past resting herd of 100+ camels and increasing military presence due to proximity to Pakistan.”

“Walked into Jaisalmer Fort – a living fort with over 3000 residents – tiny winding lanes, lovely 15-16th century homes…some crumbling apart. Incredible yellow sandstone that glows in the sunset and looks like amber where polished by ages of feet passing over the stone.”

Ahhh...

Ahhh…

Beautiful doorway...

Beautiful doorway…

“We spent two days enjoying Jaisalmer, including the complete surprise of seeing the start of the camel festival…early morning arrival at fort gates to see 50-60 teenage girls dressed in their finest sarees carrying urns, very posh border camel guard of the military in dashing white uniforms, splendid moustaches…”

Jaisalmer Fort View

Jaisalmer Fort View


Border Security Camel Guard

Border Security Camel Guard


Desert Festival Beauty

Desert Festival Beauty

“Manwar Desert Resort and Camp – arrived in time for lunch which was buffet style and had good spinach soup. then took open jeep to the desert camp. Lovely setting in the sand with rolling hills with some vegetation, including sangri (desert bean) trees.”

Manwar Desert Camp

Manwar Desert Camp


Lovely Tent Interior

Lovely Tent Interior

From Manwar we drove to Udaipur, where I was down for a day with a fever and painful cough – the jeep ride in the desert complicated the cold by introducing sand dust into my chest, and I’ve been coughing for days since then. So I missed a bit of Udaipur, though it was lovely anyway. Dinner at a rooftop restaurant let me enjoy the view over Lake Pichola as the sun set.

I’m almost finished with “India in Mind,” a collection of essays about India written over the past 100 years. They’re all wonderful writers – so here’s a brief quote from an essay by Jan Morris:
“Of all the world’s countries, India is the most truly prodigious, and this quality of astonishment displays itself afresh every day as the sun comes up…the colossal corpus of India, invests, sprawls around, infuses, elevates, inspires and very nearly overwhelms….” From “Mrs. Gupta Never Rang”, Jan Morris.

India's Smile

India’s Smile


Next, the South!

On the Road and off to Agra

If you’re still with me on this journey – thank you. The combination of poor internet access and my having caught a whooper of a cold in the Thar Desert delayed this post. Enjoy – and I’m on the mend!

On Wednesday (Day 2) we were up early and off to Agra with a new driver “Raj”, who will be with us until Udaipur. We didn’t have any say in who our driver would be, but are so glad we are in his hands. Raj is our driver, not a certified guide, as are the city guides provided by Journey Sutra, but clearly loves what he does, and enjoys sharing his knowledge about Delhi, and Jaipur where he is from. On the way to Agra we stopped at a rest area on the“super fast” road (according to Raj) for coffee and masala chai. After all we’d heard about toilet facilities, it turned out that this public toilet wasn’t bad at all, though it did look like someone had climbed on the seat to squat as in a traditional toilet in India. The other note here is that despite all the advice to carry tissues for toilet use, there’s been either a roll or an attendant pretty much everywhere – though the tissues have come in handy for frequent nose-blowing due to dust.

The transport trucks, of which we’re seeing plenty, are painted in bright colors and have large black tassels (against the evil eye) and multi-colored streamers hanging from the antenna wires and mirror frames. We passed a roadside stall selling these truck decorations, and I’m tempted to bring one home to help identify our car in a large parking lot!

After arriving in Agra and checking into the Taj Resort, a purpose-built small hotel with a view of the Taj Mahal in the distance, we met our new guide “Kalpana,” our “lady guide.” Journey Sutra has had a local rep at each new city to review our plans and discuss any changes. We dropped our bags off, and then Kalpana took charge and off we went to the market for a tonga ride (horse-drawn cart); CW in front, me in back with Kalpana where it was very hard to see from under the canopy – but the market was still interesting and different from the congested and chaotic Chandi Chowk in Delhi.

Then, to visit a place that is probably recognizable the world over – the Taj Mahal. At first, it truly seemed like a backdrop, it was so perfectly proportioned and so familiar from the many photos and films in which we’ve seen it. It took more than a few minutes to simply absorb and then settle in to a quiet frame of mind. The crowds weren’t terrible. We were there for the sunset, which didn’t really change the color of the tomb – but it was peaceful to sit on a wall and watch the people and the nuanced changes in the white marble. We walked out through the south gate as it was closing, emerging into a narrow village lane, to get lassi (a yogurt based drink about which more later) at “Johny’s” – a real hole in the wall. Kalpana organized a tuk tuk lift back to the car – after the 2 men in the back moved to the front, there were 6 of us in the tuk tuk – a small 3-wheeled vehicle that we’ve seen versions of now from Vietnam and Thailand, to India. The ride cost 30 rupees – about 60 cents.

We’re sure to get more adventurous as the weeks go by, but for dinner, we took Kalpana’s advice and went to dinner at “Pinch of Spice,” where she and her family like to eat. It was good Indian food, upscale but popular with locals as well. Portions were huge. Dinner was followed by a mouth-freshening chaser – a “paan shot,” made of betelnut juice – very refreshing but a little medicinal.

A little more about Agra, and then how about some pictures instead of words? The next morning we got up before sunrise to go and see the Taj Mahal from the “backside” – it was very misty, trash seemed to be swept into piles to make it easy for the cows, dogs and goats to rummage through, and people are living in tents of plastic along the roadside. Barbed wire keeps you from going near the river – but we saw a pale Taj Mahal floating above the river bank. The rising sun turned the sky soft pink lifting to blue, and altogether peaceful. At a small stall at the corner of path towards the river we had masala chai (we watched the stall keeper grind the spices and then boil up the delicious spiced tea…)and channa masala (a breakfast dish made with black chick peas). Kalpana was so cheerful, and laughingly issued orders to people she wanted to get things done with – it felt like she knew everyone in Agra.

Agra’s Red Fort is stunningly beautiful – and I’ll have to stop commenting on how old everything is! I accept that India is like a river – it flows and renews itself and has been doing so for thousands of years.

After a “real” breakfast at the hotel, Kalpana took us to Nevi Ram, a famous Agra sweet shop where we bought gajar kA (carrot) halwa, a Punjabi dessert – delicious in small portions!

An incredible stop on the way to Jaipur was Chand Baori – a stepwell built in about 800 AD. An early and successful piece of water conservation engineering. By early evening we arrived in Jaipur and checked into the General’s Retreat, where the bed was “Maharajah” sized – big enough for three! Marble everywhere, and so far, no tubs. Here are a few photos of highlights so far.

Agra Hotel: Taj Resort http://www.hoteltajresorts.com
Agra Restaurant: Pinch of Spice http://www.pinchofspice.in/about.php

Taj at Sunrise

Taj at Sunrise

Taj Mahal Detail

Taj Mahal Detail

Chai Walla

Chai Walla

Chand Baori Stepwell

Chand Baori Stepwell

Stepwell Detail

Stepwell Detail

Carrot Dessert

Carrot Dessert

Waking Up to Delhi

If you’re visiting the blog just to take a peek at the photos, skip right to the bottom!

After the slightly nerve-wracking wait at Indira Gandhi International Airport for our luggage (our lonely bags seemed to be the last off the plane), we were met in the jam-packed (at 2am) airport arrivals area by our driver, who drove us to the “Colonel’s Retreat” in an area of Delhi called the Defence Colony, which had first been created for housing the British military. It was about 3am and the night watchman escorted us right to our room, where to our disappointment, once we’d collapsed onto the large, low bed, it turned out that the bed frame creaked like mad – every time we turned over it was like the bed was going to fall down…making for a fitful couple of hours rest before dawn. But, the lovely floors were marble, nice and cool on our feet, the ceilings high and the bathroom simple, with a large shower. Most of the places we’re staying in India are not 5 star hotels – and so far we’ve really enjoyed them, in their own special ways!

We were a little tired the first day, but that probably made us all the more relaxed as we faced the pollution, heat, crowds and rather amazing traffic. We pulled ourselves out of bed for a nice breakfast of omelette (including a tasty masala omelette), banana bread, oranges (very sweet and easy to peel), bananas, great coffee (choices included a Malabar, peaberry, Viennese roast), toast and delicious housemade jams – fig, marmalade and mixed fruits. After breakfast we met Shishir, our Journey Sutra representative who went over the schedule with us. (Once we’d determined our general plans, Journey Sutra assisted with internal travel, hotel reservations and booked entrance for us at most monuments. They provided local guides who a number of times was able to facilitate visits, show us their personal eating places, and sometimes helped deal with the very persistent children asking for money or chocolate.) We’d decided before leaving for India that we would make a donation to a specific organization (most likely Fair Trade related) or to people who were engaged in a craft or work of some kind, and not give money to individuals – it’s tough to say no (in fact, better to simply not acknowledge the taps on the car window) but this makes our daily interactions easier.

We spent the first day a bit tired, but it probably made us all the more relaxed as we faced the pollution, crowds, and rather amazing traffic. We were grateful for our guide, “Dynamo” and driver, “Geerish”, who made the 1½ days in Delhi a perfect introduction to India. (Note: I’m using phonetic spelling for person/place names that I never saw written down.) We left the hotel and the schedule as planned changed immediately – and has pretty much every day – we have seen everything we wanted, but not in the order/time we thought. We went to the Qutub Minar first – a complex featuring the “minar” or victory tower, dating from 1199. Then, on to Chandi Chowk, the Old Delhi market, where we visited the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and built by Shah Jahan, who also built the Taj Mahal. We engaged a cycle rickshaw to ride through the old market. It was incredible in so many ways – very very crowded; the rickshaw would crunch against the wheels of other rickshaws and the drivers would hop off to quickly untangle them; we clipped against the shops which lined the barely 8’ (or so) wide lane and I was terrified that we’d end up running over some one’s feet – but everyone was keenly aware of the movement of the marketplace – it was amazing. The colors of the spices, jewelry, fabrics; the sound of the rickshaw drivers calling out, the shop keepers bargaining, mothers calling their children; and the aromas, some fantastically enticing (spices, bread cooking, chai being made) others not so great (no need to describe.)

We ended the day with a visit to lovely, pink, Humayun’s Tomb – a precursor to the architecture of the Taj Mahal. There weren’t crowds of people, and it’s a peaceful site, so a nice way to end our first day of exploring.

Our travel learnings from the first day included “just buy water.” Drinking bottled water and using it for things like brushing teeth has made me a lot more aware of just how much water we use every day. We’ve put a case of it in the car so we don’t run out on the long drives we’re now doing.

On day two, we got a bit earlier start (it seems to take us about 3 days for the jet lag adjustment to a 6 hour time change). We visited a beautiful Sikh temple – made of white marble with lots of gold leaf in the interior. Musicians were seated cross-legged on cushions, playing to one side of the center canopy and many people were just sitting and listening, so we joined for a few minutes, partly needing to simply have a few moments of respite, and to listen to the music. Also on the busy agenda were India Gate, the President’s Palace (designed by Luytens and originally the home of the British Viceroy), part of a very regal government complex now with a combination of British and Hindu architectural elements, including elephant sculptures.

Lesson Two from Delhi: Know a little history! I’m so glad to have read books ranging from William Dalrymple’s, “The City of Djinns, to Monica Pradhan’s “The Hindi Bindi Club,” among many others. India’s not only enormous in size, but a country with ancient history, a variety of religions, cultures and languages, adding up to a complex place and people to try and understand – knowing even a little about both the ancient and modern country helps appreciate the places we are seeing – especially when the forts, palaces, temples, mosques, tombs and city gates start to blur in my mind a little! It’s fantastic, in every sense of the word.

Delhi hotel: http://colonelsretreat.com/
Travel Organizer: http://www.journeysutra.com/

Old Delhi Chandi Chowk

Old Delhi Chandi Chowk

Humayun's Tomb detail

Humayun’s Tomb detail

Sagar Ranta dinner - Delhi

Sagar Ranta dinner – Delhi

The JourneyWise India Adventure

Enough about London, fun though it was! We’ve been in India for five days, jet lag is over, and it’s time to share! What an incredible sensory overload it’s been so far. Here’s a map (thank you, Google maps)that represents the northern, 12 day part of the journey. We used our trusty old Times Atlas of the World and Google maps simultaneously to plan the trip, appreciating how old tech (paper) and new tech worked so well together.

We’re leaving beautiful Jaipur tomorrow for a long drive to Jodphur, and will catch up on what’s happened before that in the next blog or two. In the meantime, here’s the plan:

JourneyWise through Rajasthan

JourneyWise through Rajasthan

My nice placemarkers didn’t move over with the map (still working on my blogging knowledge!) so, starting with “A” we’re going from Delhi to Agra to Jaipur to Jodphur to Jaisalmer to Manvar to Udaipur, then fly to Bangalore for the second part of the journey. Our funny, smart and extremely good driver, Raj, has introduced us to the concept of the “Indian 1/2 hour” – think, “one hour,” so we’re sincerely hoping that the planned 8 hour drive tomorrow doesn’t get adjusted too much, and by too many hours!

London Reprise

Let’s go back to London just once before focusing on its former “jewel in the crown,” and recap some of the highlights of this trip.

We revisited the National Portrait Gallery, trying to put faces to the many kings and queens, went again to the Tate Modern, which is always a wonderful extravaganza of contemporary and sometimes challenging art, and briefly visited the Seven Dials area, mostly to walk in to tiny Neal’s Yard Dairy, featuring fantastic cheeses from all around the British Isles – and to purchase tastes of various blues, and a sliver of Stinking Bishop…enjoyed after making dinner at our friend’s flat, while watching live womens’ rugby – what a treat!

New explorations took us for a walk over the Millenium Bridge; for a city boat commute from London Bridge Pier to Greenwich, where we admired the gorgeous tea clipper Cutty Sark, which hauled tea from China to England in the late 1800’s; and the National Maritime Museum, which had a wonderful exhibit of JW Turner maritime paintings and a collection of his sketch books. Borough Market was another treat, with stalls of vegetables, cheeses, breads, prepared foods and craft soaps (of course!)

Travelling around London is easy – buy an Oyster Pass which you scan entering and leaving the underground or bus. Topping up is easy too and maps are on the trains and in the stations, including magnified street maps as you depart the station. Stand in front for a few minutes to orient yourself and you’’ll be more at ease when you get above ground. Time to write about India…but enjoy these few photos, and I’ll upload a gallery of London pics when I’ve figured out how to do that!

Neal's Yard Dairy "Blues"

Neal’s Yard Dairy “Blues”

Tea Clipper Cutty Sark

Tea Clipper Cutty Sark

Double Decker Bike Rack

Double Decker Bike Rack

Delhi Days and Delays…

We had a bit of a wait at London immigration and at arrival in Delhi and I’m thinking:

If you’re the right frame of mind, you can make travelling easier and more enjoyable. What I’ve gleaned from over 40 years of travel and am reminded of as we travel in India is this: Relax.
Yup, relax. If something can go wrong, it will. If getting from here to there can be longer rather than shorter, it will be. But, if you’ve made some simple preparations, you can mitigate many of the less desired outcomes. There are plenty of formal travel guides out there with lots more information, but here are a couple of things that work for me:

1. Always put a copy of your passport elsewhere in your belongings, and send yourself a digital copy.
2. Send yourself a copy of all travel arrangements, or even better, a complete itinerary. I started a simple itinerary for our India trip when we first started talking about it, and expanded it as details started being filled in. By the time we left the U.S., we had a multipage personal travel guide, filled with travel logistics and reservations, but also notes on the places we were going including the special things we wanted to remember to see, history we might not get in depth from a guide, and suggestions from friends for things off the beaten track.
3. Put something to read in whatever bag you carry around with you – I’ve usually got a few pages of a magazine article or a small paperback book with me. I’m digital, but prefer reading on paper, especially if I don’t want to advertise my phone or tablet, or am in a moving vehicle.
4. Buy postcards right away and keep them and a pen handy. When you’re stuck in traffic, waiting in line, or just whiling away time in a coffee or tea shop, write a postcard and surprise someone! Buying stamps is a good adventure in a new country too, right up there with grocery shopping…it’s fun, lets you mingle with the residents, and gives you a very personal look at daily life. I know, I know – postcards. But truly, what a quick and memorable way to communicate and let someone know you were thinking about them in the midst of your adventure!

So far the U.S. to London to India trip has been remarkably stress-free though, partly because of what I’m sharing here! When the immigration line at London Heathrow was slow, the Artemis Cooper biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor kept me company…when we thought we might have a lost luggage situation at Delhi International, William Dalrymple’s “City of Djinns” was a fascinating companion. (Our bags were among the last ones off the plane, but they did arrive!)

Now in Delhi, soon to depart by car for Agra. Next time, perhaps a little about what we’ve actually experienced! In the meantime, photos from the spectacular Qutub Minar – a beautiful Islamic minaret in a complex of buildings dating from the 12th century.

Qutub Columns

Gallery Columns with beautiful detail…

Qutub Minaret and Column
Qutub Minaret and Column

Terminal 5 Heathrow

…ok, that was about the most painless check-in and security check point ever. In about 8 or so hours, we’ll see what it’s like on the other side when we land in Delhi. Terminal 5, the BA terminal, has automated boarding pass scans, a nicely set up and informative area to sort your belongings and put them into recycling or trash bins, as well as the proper plastic bags for your carry on liquids. I didn’t have to take my shoes off, yay!

London was a busy, rainy, occasional peeps of sunshine between clouds kind of place. It’s lovely being somewhere familiar and not feeling the pressure to see everything. On this visit we went back to familiar haunts like the National Portrait Gallery and Neal’s Yard Dairy at Seven Dials, and discovered new treats, like the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and the John Soane Museum. More on these next time… we’re boarding!

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