Saturday, February 3, 2018

Like Nowhere Else We've Been......Exotic India

Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zone to embrace the full impact of an experience that will change us from the inside out. The exotic land of India had that effect on us like no where else we've visited.

Since India is a poor country with some of the worst air pollution in the world, horrendous driving conditions, food and water that could literally kill us, and less than sanitary hotels we opted for a tour. We asked our friends who had gone before us for suggestions and decided on a 9 day tour of the Golden Triangle, which covers the highlights that most tourists would want to see.

But even with the safety of a tour guide who would take us to five star hotels where overpriced, but safe meals were served still I was afraid. There was the fear of getting sick from the unsanitary conditions where food was prepared along with the water. Even bottled water is sometimes refilled with dangerous tap water and sold to unknowing tourists. Then there was the excessive spicy Indian foods that Clyde and I were not used to eating. Would our tummies be ok with all the new cuisine? And then there were the mosquitos that with one bite can bring a slew of diseases like dengue, malaria and other dreadful diseases. By the time we boarded the plane I was really wondering WHY I ever wanted to visit India in the first place? I had ten hours of flight time to prepare and worry even more about what the upcoming week would bring then I remembered something.

A few months back while visiting the fantasy village of Sintra, Portugal we chatted with the owner of the lovely guest house we stayed in. When I mentioned our house sitting adventures around the world and that we had planned an upcoming visit to India her face lit up with excitement. She then asked, "have you been to India before?" Of course my answer was, 'no.' She happily went onto to explain that on her first visit to India she absolutely hated it and cried to her husband. Her husband simply told her that she had two options. She could either stay in the hotel for the duration of the trip or get her butt on a plane and fly back to Portugal, but insisted that he was not going with her. She cried herself to sleep that night and woke the next day with a new attitude. She told us that she decided to go out and embrace India and ALL that it had to offer. She approached it with a new frame of mind and before the trip was over she fell in love with the Indian people, the cuisine, and the sights and sounds. Since that first trip she and her husband have returned to India with plans of returning again.
She looked me right in the eye and said, "your trip to India will be a life changing experience IF you embrace it," and she was right.

With that in mind the next morning we woke up ready to embrace India for the trip of a lifetime.  Soon after leaving the airport in New Delhi we began to see cows lying by the roadside while monkeys with red butts frolicked in parks nearby. The sky overhead was thick with dark gray smog that hung low over the chaotic crowded city below it. Never before have I seen a sky so heavy with pollution anywhere else in the world.

These Monkeys May Look Cute But We Were Warned To Keep Our Distance
As The Do Bite

Cows Could Be Seen Most Everywhere
 And Are NOT Eaten In India

With close to 20 million people, Delhi is a nightmare of traffic buzzing in all directions with no apparent road rules to the untrained eye. Compared to ALL the places we have been in the world thus far, Delhi has the absolute worst traffic we have ever seen. We learned that at the age of 18 Indians are allowed to apply for a learners permit. Over the next 30 days the learner IS SUPPOSED to have someone teach them to drive. Then they take a very short road test where they are asked to drive a car about 20 feet, next they pay some money and are issued a drivers license that is valid for the next 20 YEARS!

While New Delhi is nothing special our adventures in Old Delhi were really a trip. There we climbed aboard a bicycle rickshaw for a death defying tour of the old city.

This Was SO Much Fun!

They say in India they only put ONE coat of paint on the cars because
IF they put two, the cars would rub together!

Yes, the traffic IS that bad yet after a while it became normal. While riding on rickshaws, tuk tuk's or three wheeled electric taxi's we continually found ourselves moving our legs and arms to the inside to avoid getting bumped by passing vehicles. During those times we DID wear masks to cover our faces to protect us from the dangerous pollution around us. At one point I wore a mask and a scarf around my face to avoid breathing in the exhaust fumes that were so  terrible. Many of us on the tour bus felt sick with lightheadedness, headaches and a foggy head from the pollution and knew that it was time to put on masks.

The Smog In Delhi Is SO Bad

We soon noticed that Indians sit comfortably all day long is a squat position doing their normal chores. Perhaps this is because only 40% of India's population have toilets and the rest (60%) DO NOT. In crowded villages and cities there is not even any room for outhouses so they typically go squat outside to take care of their daily needs.
Men Squatting While Working With Stone

Up until the 1980's most house holds in India did NOT even have televisions or telephones. To have a landline phone installed it took up to 7 years, and that one phone became the neighborhood phone for all to use. But in the 1990's the Indian government installed cell phone towers and life drastically changed. Today even those too poor to have toilets DO have cell phones that are offered very cheaply.

One of the highlights of our tour included riding an elephant up to the Amber Fort (the b is silent) in Jaipur. This was the most fun experience we ever had and Clyde could not stop giggling all the way up. We were assured that these elephants are well cared for and only allowed to make two trips per day, carrying only two people at a time up to the fort. These elephants have been raised by humans their whole life and now could never survive in the wild.

Many Indians are practicing Hindu's who believe in doing good for people in order to receive good Karma. Hindu's never kill another species and revere animals like cows and monkeys as gods. Throughout the week we spotted plenty of cows and cow pies, monkeys, pigs, buffalo, dogs, chipmunks, goats and more. With such a huge cow population Indians make cow pies from dung and use it to make fires for cooking and heating. Everywhere we went these huge dung pies mixed with straw were drying in the sun.

Cow Pies Drying In The Sun Alongside The Highway

Most Indians are vegetarians and while they DO have US chains like McDonalds everywhere, they DO NOT serve beef. We stopped at one to use the toilets and some of our tour mates bought a type of veggie burger for breakfast that seemed to be made from potatoes. It was called something like a veggie McMuffin.

While we as tourists were fascinated with the Indians in their way of dress, their meals, lifestyle and more they too were just as fascinated with us WHITE folks. Everywhere we went we'd be stopped to pose for photos with Indians. They take great joy in bringing home photos of themselves posing with white people dressed in Western clothing.

Clyde Has Never Met A Stranger.....Anywhere In The World

While there were many highlights along the way that the photos will explain, the culmination of our week long adventure was a stop at the world famous Taj Mahal in Agra.

Our First Glimpse Of The Famous Taj Mahal As We Enter
Through The Huge Gate
WOW......The World Famous Taj Mahal
One Of The Seven Wonders Of The World!!!
Notice How Tiny The People Look In Front Of The Massive Structure


Commissioned in 1632 by Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan to house the remains of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is a symbol of their eternal love. It was in 1607 while strolling through a bazaar that Shah Jahan spotted his future wife and it was love at first sight. At the time he was just 14 years old and the Muslim Persian princess was just 15. The two married and had SO much love for each other they produced 19 children. It was during the birth of her last child that she had complications with excessive bleeding and knew the end was near. On her deathbed her husband promised her that he would never remarry and would build something for the world to remember her by.

He was so heartbroken from her death that he ordered the court to remain in mourning for TWO years. Eventually he commissioned a crew of 22,000 laborers to build the mausoleum out of the finest white marble that took over 22 years to complete. Today the Taj Mahal is One Of The Seven Wonders Of The World. It is considered to be the most perfect building ever made and stands as a symbol of Eternal Love. The story melted our hearts and brought tears to our eyes as we stood before it's magnificence!

Although our experience in India was amazing we are not ready to up and move to the famous, very best, exotic Marigold Hotel that we all came to know and love from the movies. By the way our tour guide Kapil mentioned the hotel that goes under another name IS owned by his THIRD cousin. Today it's an upscale hotel geared to fans of the movie that come from all over the world to see the famous Hollywood scene.

Here are some pictures of some of the places we got to visit.

The Foot Steps Show Where Ghaldi Walked To This Very
Spot Where He Was Assassinated

                                                         Gandhi's bedroom he lived in
the last months of his life

A Smoggy Sunset Over Delhi, India

Elephant Caravan Up To The Amber Fort

The Water Palace

Ancient Step Well

They have a saying in India that goes like this:
Everything will be ok in the end and if it's not, then it is not the end.

Surely this is NOT the end of our travels around the world since there are many places we still want to visit. We were so thankful to have had this experience, survived our journey without getting sick, and left India changed from the inside out. Amazing, exotic, adventures in India was just another stop for us......along the gringo trail.

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