India (भारत)

Indian Gate
Indian Gate in New Delhi

NAMASTE“,  and a very warm welcome to my stories of beautiful INDIA!

There has never been a country that has touched me as deeply as this one.  If you are planning a trip to this fascinating country, go prepared.  It is like entering a different world and requires an open mind to its unique and beautiful culture.  

Expect to see some unpaved roads as cows, dogs, monkeys, goats, and other wildlife roam freely among the busy streets.  Unless you are used to Indian foods, it might be best to avoid street food venders and instead eat at your hotel or in many of the beautiful Indian restaurants. Drink lots of and bottled water to remain hydrated in the heat if you plan to be out touring during the day.

More on the food: The normal bacteria levels in India (as in other countries) are not the same for those of us who do not live there. As a tourist, it is best to stick to foods you are familiar with and drink only bottled water to avoid getting sick.  The same is true for tourists who visit America, of course.  And, if you are an American visiting India, and you are like my husband and me, you might even lose some weight after visiting India.  This was a fabulous bonus because we had great fun sampling different Indian dishes without actually eating large quantities of food.

 In many of the villages and cities there are no strict traffic regulations, therefore you’ll want to use extreme caution when crossing street.  Pedestrians do not have the right of way. Rickshaws, tuktuk’s, motorbikes, and other vehicles are not required to stop if you are blocking the way. Stay close to your travel companions and keep your wits about you as you roam Varanasi and other cities in India, and all will be fine. 

The smells and sights of India will remain in your memories forever once you have visited this fabulous place. Spices, earthy-aromas, and even enormous amounts of smoke will fill your lung in many of the regions of India. Cities located along the Ganges river host religious ceremonies and public cremations daily and at night.  You might see deceased people on stretchers placed outside of homes in preparation for evening cremation ceremonies.  This is a normal custom and is not meant to be upsetting. If you attend a sacred cremation ceremony during the day or at night, the atmosphere may come across as more of a celebration-of-life, with feasting, socializing and laughter. Or, you might see other families mourning.

But, remember this: It is a great honor to die in Varanasi, and very desirable to be cremated in the holy Ganges river, as all sins are washed away and forgotten. 

The climate in India can be extremely hot and humid. Unless you have always lived in India, it might seem unbearable at times. To prevent sunburn, use a medical grade UV zinc-based sunscreen and wear protective UV sunglasses along with a quality UV wide-brimmed hat (Australia Hat Company) Another trick that I learned from observing the local Indian women: Wear genuine silk scarves. Indian woman actually wrap their faces in a “mummy-style” in these scarves leaving only a tiny space for their eyes. The silk material feels great and protects the skin while offering a much-welcomed “cooling effect”. Silk scarves are also great for covering your head, neck, and shoulders when entering religious sites. Both men and women should carry a handkerchief to blot facial sweat, and be sure to carry a bottle of water with you to stay well hydrated. Long sleeves and pants will protect the skin from sunburn as well. 

Actual weather: In New Delhi, May is the hottest month with temperature of 33°C (91°F) while January is the coldest month at 13°C (55°F). The wettest month is July with an average of 180mm of rain. For a more accurate Indian forecast and planning purposes on how to prepare, visit: http://www.holiday-weather.com/new_delhi/averages/

A little more on attire: When it comes to dressing appropriately in India, you will discover that most of the locals wear traditional, modest Indian wear, donning long sleeves and trousers to protect the skin from the harmful rays of the sun.  Personally, I found the women’s clothing and long scarves to be comfortable and beautiful.  Many of the fabrics used are made from silk and linen and breathe so well in the humid climates.  Clothing is very reasonably priced so it is a good idea to buy your travel clothes after you arrive in India and dress as much like the locals as possible.

NOTE: A VISA MUST BE OBTAINED PRIOR TO ENTERING INDIA. WE USED A COMPANY CALLED GENVISA TO OBTAIN OURS. FOR TWO VISA’s WITH EXPEDITED SERVICE, YOU’LL BE LOOKING AT A COST OF ABOUT $519.00. THIS WILL BUY YOU A TEN-YEAR VISA TO INDIA. THE  ENTIRE PROCESS TAKES ABOUT 6-8 WEEKS, EVEN WHEN EXPEDITED.

VARANASI, INDIA 

We stayed at the Radisson Hotel Varanasi which provided very comfortable accommodations. In addition to daily breakfast, we enjoyed a unique shish-kabob dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. I would recommend this hotel to other travelers.

Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the entire world! It is the holiest cities found in India, and is best known for its Hindu-based religious ceremonies that are held in the mornings and evenings on the Ganges River. Don’t be surprised if a few “floating market” boats connect to your vessel to expose you to a unique water-shopping experience. The Ganges boat experience was one of my favorite activities while in India!

Located in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the primary religion in Varanasi is Hinduism. Manikarnika Ghat is among one of the oldest and holiest riverfront and it is believed that the souls of the dead will find salvation through public cremation ceremonies. Ghats are the stair-steps sections that lead down into a large river area. Watching the locals bathing or washing laundry in the river is a common sight. Any kind of contact with the water of the Ganges is considered to be cleansing and very spiritual.

In addition to attending the sunrise ceremony, we participated in the evening sacred prayer ceremony at Dasaswamedh Ghat, lit with oil lamps and candles which gave the river an eerie glow. As we remained in our boat, the “Aarti” Ceremony illustrated the blessings and purifications of the holy water of the Ganges while the sounds and smells of burning sandalwood filled the air. While we were on our boat, other neighboring boats “connected” to us.  Locals came onto our boat, offering a spiritual forehead Bindi, a cup of tea, or an opportunity to purchase religious-prayer candles and other handmade wares. Although it’s been reported that the Ganges River is one of the most polluted rivers on Earth, most tourists who travel all the way to Varanasi touch the water with their hand at least once before leaving.

For more on the unique history of Varanasi, visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varanasi

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KHAJURAHO, INDIA

We stayed at the Radisson Hotel Jass Khajuraho which provided very comfortable accommodations as well as a nice Indian dinner and daily breakfast. I would recommend this hotel to other travelers.

This first place we visited here were the Khajuraho Temples, dating back to between 950 CE – 1050 CE. Originally, there were over 1,050 temples created. However, only 20 of the temples remain in the area today.

In the first temple we entered, we removed our shoes before entering. Much of the art was sexually erotic, even described as Kamasutra from our guide.  Some of the art depicts controversial forms of sexuality but there are also carvings of women adorning themselves with make-up.  From a distance, these temples just look very ornate and it is amazing how well-preserved the structures have remained. An interesting place, the Khajuraho temples should be on your tourist list if you happen to be in the Madhya Pradesh area of India.

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ORCHHA, INDIA

Orchha is a medieval City we stopped to visit on our way to the Shatbdi Express Train from Jhansi.  Orchha rests on the River Betwa and boasts some of the most sophisticated Hindu architecture in India. Hours can be spent exploring the Orchha Fort with its multi-level stairs and many primitive rooms.  Be watchful of monkeys who have taken over the grounds and are quite possessive of their territory. Keep a good distance from them and they probably won’t bother you too much. If you get too close to take a photo of a monkey, you risk getting bitten or attacked. Walk a bit further to see the Orchha Palace, just outside the gates of the Raja Mahal, which will require an additional ticket. While in Orchha, take a walk past the Chhatris Cenotaphs. Observe the vultures that live in the square near the Kanchana Ghat. It’s a gorgeous place! Take a break for lunch and rest from the heat at the Seesh Mahal Hotel before heading to the railway station.

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Shatbdi Express Train is an experience I recommend if you truly want to see what it is like to travel as a local.  You will see sights that would otherwise be missed if you don’t ride the train.  The tracks attract large rats which are thrilling to tourists, and the occasional cow that will stand on the tracks, sometimes causing schedule delays. Take caution when entering and exiting the train, as it is easy to get shoved off once you think you are securely inside of the car. Most stops are busy places and people are naturally in a hurry to get to their destination quickly. Meals are served at mosts stops, but can be a little spicy if you are not accustomed to Indian cuisine.

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AGRA, INDIA

When traveling to Agra, you will find sophisticated shopping centers, five-star hotels, familiar chain restaurants, many paved roads.  Monkeys and cows will still scurry and walk along-side you.  And, you are in the city of the very famous Taj Mahal!

As you make your way to Agra, which is located in the state of Rajasthan, be sure to make a side trip to Chand Baori which is one of the largest step wells in India. This unique water reservoir was constructed between 800 AD-900AD and has become a popular spot for shooting both Bollywood and Hollywood films alike.  It is a VERY cool place to visit! The 2006 The Fall movie as well as the 2012 The Dark Night Rises are examples of movies featured here.  Adjacent to the wells is the temple dedicated to Harshat Mata, the goddess of joy and happiness.  The Chand Baori is definitely worth the photo stop. But to me, it’s more beautiful seeing it in person than in a photo.

Chand-Baori-Well-India[1]

Once we arrived in Agra, we checked into our lovely hotel:  Jaypee Palace. The hotel has beautiful grounds, a delicious daily breakfast buffet, and comfortable accommodations.

Try to get an early start the following morning to avoid the crowds and head first to the world-famous Taj Mahal. Constructed by the Emperor Shah Jahan, the mausoleum was built for his beloved Queen. The structure almost looks as if it is made from lace: It’s beyond BEAUTIFUL! Made from white marble and precious stones (not lace), this monument is the finest Mughal architecture in the world. Be sure to sit on the famous “Diana bench”, made famous when the late Princess Diana sat for her solo photo shoot in front of the Taj Mahal in 1992.  Prince William and his Duchess Catherine posed on that very bench when they visited the Taj Mahal too. For more information on this remarkable wonder, visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal

Next, travel to the red sandstone Agra Fort with its maze of walled courtyards, mosques, and stunning chambers that reflect the grand Mughal Empire.  After visiting the fort, don’t miss the Tomb of Itmad-Ud-Daulah, built of the very finest Indian marble that is embellished with mosaics, complete with semi precious stones.

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JAIPUR, INDIA

Still in the state of Rajasthan, travel to what I considered the most beautiful place in India: Jaipur!  This city is truly a magical place and will make you feel as if you have entered into a land of Indian Royalty.  On the way to Jaipur, take photos of the Sandstone Qutab Minar Victory tower, the world’s tallest brick minaret.

While in Jaipur, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Jaipur City Center where shopping malls can be found nearby.  The area is walkable and I recommend eating outside of the hotel at either a local restaurant or even a fast food place in the mall next door to get a different flavor of what an Indian mall as to offer. The hotel is in a fun part of town.

Once you arrive in Jaipur you will see gorgeous pink stucco buildings.  The city is called the “Pink City” when it was painted pink in 1876 for the Prince of Wales visit. An elephant ride up to Amber Fort is an absolute MUST-DO! Spend the day in this incredible city and take in the beauty of the “Indian Great Wall” and fascinating architecture seen at every angle.  Before leaving Jaipur, check out the Jantar Mantar Observatory. Try an Indian dinner with Traditional Folk Dancing to get a true flavor of this remarkable and very beautiful city.

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NEARBY SCHOOLS NOT TO BE MISSED:

On the way into Jaipur, try to visit a local school for a fabulous look at India’s education system.  The children will be delighted to see you and to show you what they are learning. Although many of the children’s English is limited in smaller villages, the kids will love it if you toss them your cell phone to ease the language gap.  All of the children are very familiar with how to use a cell phone! Soon they will be taking selfies, even including you in their photos, and giggling with so much laughter and amusement. Their school work is pretty impressive and it’s very evident that these very hard-working children are eager to learn and make their teachers and parents proud.

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NEW DELHI, INDIA

We stayed at the FABULOUS Eros Hotel and were treated like royalty by Ekta who was an hospitality hostess there. She immediately invited us to join her for tea, had her best friend bless us with a bindi on our foreheads, and introduced us to her friends, co-workers and boyfriend, Divanshu.  Needless to say, we became fast friends! We continue to keep in close contact with this lovely young lady via e-mail and texting now that we are back in America.  It is so much fun getting updates from Ekta and seeing her dates and outings with Divanshu.  Please see photos of this beautiful couple at the right side of this page.

At Eros Hotel with Ekta
Frienship Symbol Ekta and I became fast friends.

The Eros Hotel is five stars all the way with great accommodations, a breakfast buffet fit for a king, dinners that are out of this world, and gardens like a palace!  I highly recommend this luxurious hotel when staying in New Delhi!

From the treacherous rickshaw rides down the narrow streets of Old Delhi to sights of Mahatma Gandhi’s shrine to the Indian Gate in New Delhi, our sensory-overload from the Indian experience had us both enthralled and speechless. I only wish we could have spent more time in this fun and lively city.

Towards the end of our New Delhi journey, we visited a Muslim mosque called the Sikh Temple, that at first I found to be a bit intimidating.  Barefooted and donned in head covers and scarves, we entered the temple and found the worshipers to be welcoming and quiet hospitable. We were invited into their holiest chambers and we listened to the “Loh Langer Tapde Rahin” repetitive prayer as we were guided towards the kitchen hall. Our gracious hosts allowed us to observe the activity in the large kitchen or Gurudwara Bangka Sahib, and demonstrating meal preparations while cooking in copper vats large enough to fit a family of four.  About 10,000 free meals are served daily and  are not only intended for nourishment, but are also a form of worship. From what I could gather, the meal consisted of flat bread (roti), steamed rice, cooked lentils (dal), stewed vegetables (sabji), cumin-spiced potatoes (jeera aloo), pickled okra, and mango.  The meal is served on immaculate stainless steel trays utensils. In the kitchen there is a roti assembly line.  As I watched men and woman forming the flatbread, one of the woman worshipers smiled at me and held out her hand for me to join the work on the assembly.  I was taught how to form the dough into a ball and roll it out with a rolling-pin with flour in order to prepare the roti for the baking oven.  As I work, my new friend smile wide at me and said, “Dear Lady. We are not making pizza.  Begin again and make the roti less flat.”  Her lovely English and direct humor delighted me and put my unrest of being in an unfamiliar culture at ease. After our kitchen tour, we roamed the grounds of this beautiful place and was offered a karah parshad from a temple priest, which is small gift made from glee, four, and sugar that is to be eaten and enjoyed.  We then strolled to the sarovar, a ghat-like pool of cool clean water. We put our feet into the pure water and watched as our toes were tickled by hundreds of nibbling minnows. Listening to peaceful songs of prayers and watching pilgrims and worshipers alike bow low on their lovely canopied carpets is also a fun way to pass the time.  What an amazing cultural experience!

Before leaving India, we flew to Kathmandu, Nepal. That adventure will be featured under the Himalayans Blog, so please be sure to visit that page to learn about the culture and life of the Nepalese people.

There is a wealth of information that can be found on New Delhi, so be sure to visit:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Delhi. 

In the meantime, a picture is worth a thousand words, so  I hope you will sit back, relax, and enjoy some of my latest photos.

India is a country that I think of everyday.  There has never been another place on Earth where I learned so much and experienced so many new traditions and experiences. India lives in my heart and I do hope to return to this wonderful place someday.

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…………….”ALVIDA” and “Phir Milenge” for now, and Safe and Happy Travels!

Recommended books to read either before, during, or after your India experience:

book 3         book2 (1)Ghandi                       Kite Runner

UPDATE:  EKTA’S WEDDING!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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