Thursday, August 16, 2012

Travelogue Finale

After 4 different security checkpoints at the airport, we made our flight into Mumbai.  And what a sight it was coming in!!! A sea of blue plastic tarp coverings that are commonly used in the slum areas.   It was stunning to see so much poverty right in the middle of a big city. 

We drove across this bridge on the way to our hotel (The  Trident) which was lovely.  We had rooms on the 33 floor overlooking the Arabian Sea. 

We had a chance to do some touring here as well and loved Mumbai.  We saw the Gandhi museum,Victoria Train Station, Gateway to India, Prince of Wales Museum, and then a bit of shopping at Fabindia.  We had lunch at the famous Leopold's and then back to hotel for a lazy rest of the day.  We went to Trishna's for dinner and we had one of the best meals of the trip there.

The next day after a brief shopping expedition we were off to Delhi again to catch our flight back to the states. We flew Air Indigo and it was such a pleasant change from the flight to Mumbai.  We were in Delhi for the better part of 2 days so we once again had a driver to take us around to see the sights.
We saw the Qutab complex, Minar ruins, where we had our pictures taken with some people we didn't know. ( Louise said it happened all the time to them. )  We went on to the Lotus Temple, India Gate, Presidential Palace, Cannought Shopping complex, Hindu Krishna temple, Embassy Row, and then back to hotel to catch a shower before we headed to the airport to catch a 2 a.m. flight back to Amsterdam.

What a grand introduction to two amazing countries!  We hope to return and go a level deeper next time. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kathmandu Travelogue Part 2

Nepal is a special place.  Even though we didn't get to see all the beautiful views of the mountains like we had hoped, it was still extraordinary. And we stayed at the Hyatt Regency.  ( The 5 star hotels in India and Nepal are absolutely stunning and much less expensive than comparable hotels here and in Europe.)

Our first day in Nepal we just hung out and enjoyed our surroundings. It was an adjustment day.  The next morning we caught a flight to Pokhara.

We loved the plane.  You could see into the cockpit the whole time.  And we saw the mountain peaks sticking out above the clouds.  Magical!

We took a TINY cab to our hotel. It's a good thing we travel "light".  Our suitcases had to sit on a rack on the top of our car.

Christine's friend Tim had introduced her to a friend of his who is from Nepal and lives in Pokhara.  Jagan was our guide while we were there and having him take us around to see the sights was definitely the highlight of our entire trip. Once again, it's the people, folks! We saw Devi's waterfall, the Temple Cave, Climber's (Everest) Museum,the Gurka Museum and the Sika River Gorge.

The Gurka Museum was one of Lefty's favorites.  As a kid, his dad had told him stories about the Gurkas. 

Our second day in Pokhara stole the show.  We had a driver take us out of town where we began our trek up the mountain to a village.  We stopped at the home of some of Jagan's friends and had coffee, we visited a preschool/daycare center, continued our hike to the Stupa on a hand built road.
We hiked about 7 K with about a 1500 foot vertical up and then back down.  Boy did we feel it! At the bottom of the mountain, we took a rowboat across the lake back into Pokhara.  What a day!  We had time for dip in the hotel pool before meeting Jagan for dinner.

Our last day in Pokhara, we walked to Jagan's bike shop ( he has a mountain biking/trekking business).  We went on to his home where we got to meet his sweet family.  It was a holiday that day, and we were given bracelets, flowers, silk scarves, and a red mark on our foreheads.  Then it was time to head back to the airport to catch our flight back to Kathmandu where we enjoyed a lazy afternoon back at the Hyatt.

The following morning we set off to tour all the sights and sounds of Kathmandu.  Really an interesting day.
We started at the Monkey Temple, and went on to see the courtyard palaces, the shopping district and throughout the city there were festival activities and parades with marching bands.

Darshan was our guide at the monkey temple.He spoke beautiful English and was a wealth of knowledge.
And then my battery went dead... On our way back down the 365 steps from the top of the temple, Louise did some serious bargaining for a hand stitched elephant embroidery piece that Christine wanted to buy.  From that moment on, every purchase we made involved Louise's honed skills of negotiating for the best possible price. 

Our last morning in Kathmandu, we walked to the Stupa behind our hotel. It is one of the most sacred sites in all of Buddhism. We are so glad we took the time to visit this place.  The girls got some great pictures here.

 Nepal was a very different experience than India.  It was cleaner and people seemed more relaxed and content. We are seriously considering a return trip to do a bike trip with Jagan. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Travelogue Part One

After 17 hours of flying, it was a treat to have a wonderful driver waiting for us at the airport.  Lefty opened the door on what to us, should have been the passenger door, only to be reminded that it was where the driver seat was.  We had a good laugh over that. The traffic at 11:00 at night was not bad, and we arrived at the lovely Hyatt.  The service at hotels and restaurants throughout the entire trip was OVER THE TOP!
It is hard to describe the amount of attention we received.  A tip is always appreciated, but at a much lesser amount than what we are used to tipping here in the states.

Louise was on hand to greet us when we arrived, and she came bearing lots of fun gifts!

The next morning we were to meet our driver at 6 a.m, so we grabbed some breakfast and some delicious coffee and we were off.

Satish drove us with great skill through some of the craziest traffic we had ever seen.  Crazier than Rome, crazier than anywhere we have been in Romania, and the funny part of honking horns in India is that it is more of a "Hey !  I am coming through" indicator. There certainly are no rules for driving here.

The drive through Delhi was only a snapshot of what we were about to see once we were out of the city.
You see slums and poverty everywhere, but nothing could have prepared us for what we saw that day on the roads between Delhi and Agra. (Taj Mahal)  In addition to the poverty and unbelievable living conditions and filth, there are more cows, pigs, dogs, goats, horse, water buffalo, chickens along the way than one can imagine.  Also, major traffic jams where you just stop and wait.  Beggars knock on your windows asking for money and persist until their feet are in jeopardy of being run over. Little children holding naked babies are the hardest thing to see outside the car windows.  People, mostly men, as I recall, "relieve themselves"  right by the side of the road.

We stopped one time on our way to Agra at a tourist area where there were decent bathrooms and of course some items to buy.  Satish arranged for a man with his monkey to pose for some pictures as well as a little boy with his two cobras.  I think the lack of sleep had lulled us into a "go with the flow" attitude because after the fact, we were all thinking..."What were we thinking letting that monkey climb all over us?"

Somehow I managed to change a setting on my camera, so all my pictures here look like a mix of color and black and white.

Once we got to Agra, we met our guide KK, who took us to see the sights.  After all the sights we had seen along the way, all of a sudden we pull into a 5 star hotel that was palatial to say the least.  From here we went to the Taj Mahal and were immediately taken with the beauty and cleanliness of the place.  But, oh my, was it HOT and humid.  We about melted as we made our way through the grounds.

Christine had reset my camera settings by this time.  Thanks Tine!

We stopped to eat at an authentic Indian restaurant that KK took us to.  I think we were all still worried about the safety of eating outside hotels, so we picked at the food, trying to get accustomed to new flavors.We shared a couple of Indian beers (Kingfishers) and Cokes.  No ice please!

From lunch we went to a marble factory to see how inlays are done some of the most beautiful marble table tops and art pieces.  We had a small piece shipped back to the U.S.

After the marble factory tour, we went to the Red Fort where we were immediately bombarded by people trying to get us to buy their wares.  Lefty called it "running the gauntlet".  The Red Fort was amazing as well. 

The drive back to Delhi took 5 and 1/2 hours.  After quick showers, we grabbed some dinner and hit the sack!

The next morning we found out about the huge power outages.  Thankfully the hotels we stayed at throughout the trip had generators and the outages never really affected us.  It was however, strange to look outside the hotel windows into the cities and see almost complete darkness around us.

Friday, August 10, 2012

India and Nepal

It will take me a few days to capture this amazing trip in words, but for now, have a look!

Lefty has a really inclusive trip recap that I plan to use to describe our grand adventure.  More to come!