Agra, Jaipur, Bundi & Holi!

My time in India was absolutely incredible. I cannot say enough positive things about this portion of my RTW trip. I was on a Wandering Earl tour and I simply cannot imagine exploring India any other way. Earl really knows how to lead a small group tour and I will not hesitate to sign up for another! Our group (12 people total) quickly became like a family – I could not possibly ask for a better group to travel with. Here’s a quick recap of my time in India after leaving Varanasi:

On our last day in Varanasi, we left at 3:00 to catch our 2nd overnight train – this time to Agra!

The train was a bit better this time. On this train ride, I was laying in my bottom bunk, listening to my iPod. I smiled to myself and I just knew in that moment I have never been happier in my life (with the exception of my time in Ireland, of course). Surrounded by good friends and traveling in an amazing country that I never thought I would get to see. I had many “pinch me” moments and moments where I felt like I was living someone else’s life.

We arrived in Agra very early morning and checked into our hotel, showered and went on the rooftop for breakfast with a view of the Taj Mahal. Monique (she and I quickly became best friends before the tour even started) and I went to drop off some laundry to be done at our hotel. Monique had a bad feeling about doing our laundry at this hotel. The old man took my laundry bag and laid each piece out in full public view and named and counted each item. A bunch of Indian men crowded around to see. Monique and I just about lost it – absolutely mortifying! We then went to see a Bollywood movie in a shopping center which felt apocalyptic. Disappointing movie because there was only one small dance scene! but it was a great experience. We then went to the Taj Mahal at around 3:00 and stayed until sunset. It was a continuous “pinch me” moment. Inside of the Taj is very very small. We had many people line up to take photos with Monique and I – it’s such a crazy feeling to be a tourist attraction. I thought the Taj would be filled with Westerners but the majority of the people were Indian tourists. That night we went to an amazingggg restaurant next to our hotel for dinner and ate on the rooftop. Monique and I got the Navratan Korma which immediately became our absolute favorite Indian dish!! We also got our laundry back and it was WET (yes, after dry cleaning) and 2 of my shirts were stained. Sweet.

We only spent one night in Agra. The next morning, Monique went down to breakfast to get ready to go to the Agra Fort with some of the group and I was going to take a shower. I told her to lock the door and take the key because I would not need to get out of the room (you cannot unlock the door without a key and we only get one key). As soon as she left, I went to shower and I could NOT get the knob to turn to make the water come out of the shower head. REALLY. So I had to put my clothes back on and I paced back and forth to figure out what to do. I didn’t call reception until like 10 mins later. I called reception and asked them to bring a spare key because my roommate had our key. Of course the man who came to my room hardly spoke any English and he was knocking on my door asking me to open. I had to yell through the door. He left and went to find someone in our tour group and then he knocked on my window asking me to open it (didn’t even realize I had a window). I explained to JM what happened – I’m just there hanging out my window with no bra on – hello everyone!! Someone went next door to get my key from Monique – how embarrassing, the whole group quickly knew that Monique “locked her roommate in the room”! We set off for a 5 hour drive (in 3 private vehicles) to Jaipur. It was actually a really nice drive. We saw a bunch of naked men walking down the side of the road – that was an interesting experience!!

The Amber Fort & Palace in Jaipur is pretty incredible. Absolutely gorgeous – I can’t wait to post photos!

Our drive to Bundi was supposed to be a crappy road but it was a breeze – perfectly new, re-done road! We went straight to lunch after checking in to our hotel and the lunch spot (Rainbow Café) immediately became our hangout. While walking to Rainbow, I got headbutted by a cow. Thank goodness only with his head and not his horns. Could have been a disaster. I wasn’t even in his way, he charged me from across the road! I really loved Bundi. Small town. The only negative was it was very hot (desert) and lots of mosquitoes!! Especially at our hotel. Bundi was the only place there is NO begging and shopkeepers don’t bother you – everyone just genuinely wants to say hello. I felt like a local immediately. Children come up and ask for “one pen” instead of money – a pen is a sign of literacy and therefore education, and if they are seen with an American pen – even better!! We “light hiked” up to Bundi Palace and Bundi Fort – “don’t worry it will level off up there” – HA! Quite a steep hike. Well worth it but I got heat exhaustion and quite dehydrated. We then went to buy clothes for Holi Festival.

Holi Festival was absolutely crazy but a LOT of fun! I was so happy that we celebrated in Bundi because it’s small and even IT was crazy – I simply cannot imagine it in Delhi or even Jaipur. Monique and I lasted from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30. “Happy Holi!” Lots of colored powder throwing and smearing. The worst was the buckets of wet color – my chest and stomach was still stained hot pink 7 days later!! We were all invited upstairs to a family’s home. She fed us and we danced – it was so nice. I fell in love with cheese & tomato piranthas and Israeli salad in Bundi!!

Next up: Udaipur, Pushkar & the end of my time in India!

The craziest shower experience I’ve ever had

Hi all – I haven’t written in awhile. I was without wifi for almost a week. I promise I will be catching up very soon – I’ve been super busy and loving every second in India!

It’s pretty common knowledge that you can’t always have hot water in a country like India. Until now, I did not realize it was possible to not be able to get cold water. I just had the craziest shower experience of my life…

First of all, let me start with the fact that when I shower every night in India, each time I say that I have never wanted to shower so badly in my life. The hours of sweat combined with the dirt is a special mix that somehow just makes one want to shower. So, tonight I go to have my shower quite late – right before I was going to go to bed. Yes, I was SO excited. I get in and the water is nice and warm – perfect temperature. I put shampoo in my hair and just before I went to rinse it out, the water suddenly turned scalding hot. I fiddled with the knobs every which way for a good ten minutes before I realized the only temperature option at that time was scalding. Oh, India… you never fail to amaze me and make me laugh. So, I’m standing there with my hair all sudsed up, trying to rinse it while dodging the water at the same time, doing the “hot potato” dance. It was so hot, no one would be able to tolerate it. While trying to rinse my hair, I had tears in my eyes it was burning me that badly. Let’s just say, I am going to bed with shampoo in my hair and I will never complain about a cold shower again. I’ve been lying in bed laughing about this for over an hour now.

I am currently in Udaipur and it is so beautiful. I love everything about this city. My time in India is quickly coming to an end and I’m quite sad about that! Who would have thought.

Varanasi – the holiest city in India

India has been truly amazing so far. Unfortunately, I am unable to upload photos while I am in India because the wifi is too weak (WHEN it works!). Plus, I do not have very much free time and when I do, the last thing I really want to do is spend time on the computer. I will try to catch up when I arrive at my next destination later this month.

We took an overnight train ride to Varanasi (the holiest city in India) on Thursday – I unfortunately did not sleep at all. However, Varanasi was worth the traveling – it is an absolutely incredible city. I fell in love with it immediately. We attended the puja ceremony on our first evening in Varanasi and it was so much fun. We sat on the steps and eventually a cow wandered behind us – it peed everywhere so we had to move. It felt great to be sprayed with cow pee after a nice hot shower, let me tell you. It ended up becoming extremely overcrowded – but it was worth attending if only to interact with the Indian women and girls. They do not see very many Westerners in Varanasi so we got lots of attention and definitely got to practice our head bobble! Many Indian women asked to take a photo with us and the attention was great – something I will never forget. Indians are such gentle, genuinely kind people and I respect that greatly.

I got to see the burning ghat (Manikarnika Ghat – place of cremation) during both the day and night time and I have to say, I didn’t think that is something I would ever experience in my lifetime. It was a difficult but amazing thing to see, especially at night because it is so primitive – they don’t use any electricity in any way.

We went on a sunrise and a sunset boat ride on the Ganges River. The sunrise ride was beautiful and it was neat to watch the evening ceremony on the water during the sunset ride. I have a cold and lost my voice yesterday – the pollution has finally really gotten to me! I also have not been able to sleep at all for a few days. I think it’s a combination of delayed jet lag and overstimulation of all senses.

I spent a total of 3 ½ days in Varanasi which was very nice. I had a sweet lassi (traditional Indian yogurt drink – blend of yogurt, water, sugar and fruit) each day I was here at the Blue Lassi (Papaya Pomegranate Coconut is the way to go!!) because as they say: a lassi a day keeps the Delhi belly away!

Exploring Delhi

My first full day exploring Delhi!! Honestly, I was expecting to not like Delhi at all – but I absolutely love it. It’s an exhausting city but very thrilling at the same time. I met most of my group today (2 more are arriving tomorrow) and they are all lovely. We all met in the early afternoon and went for lunch, then we wandered around old Delhi and I did some shopping. My first time haggling in India!! I was quite scared to haggle but did very well – even with the first shop owner I haggled with – she was very intimidating. I bought 3 pairs of pants – I absolutely adore Indian fashion. I am fully embracing it and would be happy to dress like this every day for the rest of my life!! All of the pants are a bit too short for me, though – since I am so tall. Most people in India are so very kind and I love interacting with just about anyone here. We had the most precious experience with 3 Indian children – they came up to us with the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen and excitedly shouted “hello!” multiple times.

After shopping, we went for more of a wander and explored New Delhi a bit – including an underground market. By this point, I was bursting to pee so badly that my bladder hurt and I simply could not wait anymore. This is a horrible situation to be in in India. We found a “public convenience” toilet and I went in fully expecting it to be as gross as it was. Unfortunately, my low-crotch pants dunked in the lovely ish on the ground at one point. It was horrible but I felt much better afterwards (those pants have already been dropped off to be washed tomorrow morning!). We then took a cycle rickshaw to dinner – it was so much fun but quite scary in the dark areas without lights!!

I was the first to order my meal and as soon as I ordered, the power went out. First power outage in India – we were officially welcomed! Luckily, the restaurant had a generator so we were only in darkness for about 2 minutes. I have not taken any photos yet – I am so disappointed in myself, but Delhi is just so busy! I’m afraid if I concentrate on taking photos, I’ll get hit by a scooter, auto rickshaw or car. The pollution is really starting to get to me – I can definitely feel it in my chest. It will be good to get out of Delhi, but for now – I am thoroughly enjoying it. Tomorrow, we will explore some more and have a rooftop dinner with live music.

My journey to India

I have arrived in India!!!

Dearest family & friends: many of you have asked what my journey getting here was like, so this is for you. My first flight left Tampa around 12 noon on Saturday, March 1st. I landed in Detroit at 2:45 p.m. I had a very quick layover and left Detroit a little past 4:00 p.m. I landed in Amsterdam ahead of schedule at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 2nd. I then had an 8 hour layover, so I rented a hotel that charges by the hour in the Schiphol airport called Yotel. I’m serious when I say Yotel is the Best. Invention. Ever. I can never sleep on planes – not even for a few minutes, so I was beyond exhausted when I got off the plane in Amsterdam. Yotel pretty much saved my life because without it, I truly don’t think I could have made it through this long journey. I was only able to sleep for less than a half hour in the Yotel even though I was very comfortable – my heart wouldn’t stop racing so it made it difficult to fall asleep. Regardless, it was nice to be able to rest in a comfortable bed and shower in between two long flights.

This was my first time in the Schiphol airport. The girl at the reservation desk at Yotel told me I would not have to go through security (I was already through) before boarding my plane to Delhi. The lady at the information desk in the airport told me that yes, I would have to go through security. So, I checked in to my Yotel room at 6:00 a.m. and checked out at 10:30 a.m. and headed to my gate. I was feeling extremely nauseous (I get nauseous when I am over-tired) – so bad in fact, I actually had thoughts of intentionally missing my flight to Delhi. I simply could not imagine getting on another flight, never mind another long flight. I know I would be feeling much worse if I hadn’t gotten a hotel room, so I sucked it up and put on my Seabands (wristbands that use acupressure to help relieve motion sickness and nauseousness). It did not appear that I would have to go through security so I wandered around knowing I had plenty of time. Wrong. I came back to my gate to find that Schiphol apparently does things differently for some flights – there was a security section just for my gate. I had time – I was not too rushed; however, I did not have time to use the restroom before boarding and didn’t have time to buy something to eat (other than fruit). I had not eaten since my early dinner on my flight to Amsterdam. I couldn’t imagine eating when I was feeling the way I was feeling.

Those Seabands I mentioned? Another absolute lifesaver on this trip. I felt fine by the time I boarded the plane and felt fine for the entire 8 hour flight to Delhi. Thank the Lord, because I don’t think I would have made it if I still felt awful. I sat next to a very nice Indian man who now lives in Canada – and his 13 year old son. I was so happy to be seated next to such kind people. My flight left at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 2nd and we arrived in Delhi at 1:00 a.m. on Monday, March 3rd.

The line for the immigration check was utterly insane. Once I made it through that line, I did not have to collect any bags since I did manage to travel carry-on only!!! Woohoo! I went through customs and my friend picked me up from the airport. The drive to my hotel was only about 25 minutes and I was so happy to have a bed and a hot shower. I showered and didn’t go to bed until 4:45 a.m. At this point, I had been awake for 35 hours straight (with only a few minutes of sleep at the Yotel). I was beyond exhausted but oddly enough, felt more than fine and was quite wired. I was grateful to have been given two lovely Indian meals on the plane so I didn’t have to worry about food for awhile. I took melatonin but really didn’t fall asleep until around 7:30 a.m. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I was freezing in my room (a shock because this is India after all!! – amazing air conditioning!) I woke up in a panic at 10:06 wondering if I had missed breakfast, so I went downstairs to see, and a young boy said I had not missed the free breakfast – it is served until 10:30 a.m. He led me to the rooftop where I enjoyed a nice breakfast. Beautiful Indian music was playing in the background. This is when it hit me – I am in India.

I am so excited to go shopping for beautiful Indian clothes later today. I have today, tomorrow and Wednesday to rest before the tour starts on Thursday.

FYI – the weather today is very nice. High temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, it is going to warm up to 80 by the end of the week.

Sorry I don’t have any photos yet. I can’t charge any of my electronic items because I still need to purchase an adapter – I realized right before I left that I didn’t have one for any of Asia.