Category Archives: India

Back to The Claridges, Delhi

India tour over.

Early this morning, my India co-travelers left to go their own ways, home or to further adventure, their holiday shopping conveniently completed and bulging their suitcases. Our intrepid guide has headed home, to see family, run his restaurant, start a new glamping venture (if any reader wants to hire a guide or have someone arrange things in India, I can’t recommend him enough). Our merry group has disintegrated, and I’m back at the hotel I first stayed in over a month ago. All by myself.

I gave myself an extra two days before flying home, imaging I’d do a little exploring on my own, imaging myself experienced now in things and ways Indian. But within half an hour of marching out of the hotel this morning, I was defeated. Without the protective padding of a guide, and as a lone western woman assumed to be on a shopping trip, I was approached every few feet with offers from tuktuk drivers, promising to take me to the best shopping, the most beautiful sites, all for only one dollar. No matter how many times I expressed my desire to just walk, “Only one dollar, I don’t have a job” was the refrain. Some drove around the block and repeated their offers. My “No thanks, no thanks, I really just want to walk,” was not believed.

When I came to a police barricade on the sidewalk that would have forced me to walk on the road and contend with the traffic, I simply turned around, discovering an effective tuktuk-free remedy at last: walk contra to traffic! However, with the honking and crazy traffic, not to mention the gigantic monkeys also strolling the sidewalks, I decided it was best just to return to the hotel. “Maybe tomorrow,” called out one of my repeat-offer tuktuks.

We’ll see.

The first meal I had in India was here at the hotel, and it was fantastic. I have savored nearly every bite of delicious food in the various Indian states, with their unique signature specialties, and will truly, truly miss the cuisine. I had planned to have my final meal in the hotel’s excellent Indian restaurant, but when I walked up to it, it was full of boisterous Indian guests, the noise at high pitch, so I continued down the corridor to the Chinese/Japanese restaurant, which was nearly empty and oh-so-quiet, complete with gentle piped-in flutes and a bamboo/rock garden. It was a soft and gentle atmosphere, very un-India. I enjoyed it.

So, my last meal in the land of “spice, eat, repeat” was Chinese noodles – with tofu! – not baingan bharata.

So there you have it: my India in 30-something days. It’s time to head home now, time for my 40-something-hour trip back to Hawaii. Ugh. The flight, I mean, not Hawaii.

I’ve been on the lookout for a new ending phrase, and I’m going to try this new-to-me quote: “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection” – Anaïs Nin. Works for me.

Next stop: Seoul! And I’m leaving the airport for a free city tour, so I can add to my tally of visited counties.

P.S. The lead photo may be hard to make out: it’s part of a very long wall of mudras at Delhi airport.

Sarnath, Where The Buddha First Taught The Dharma

Before catching a flight back to Delhi (sad, sad), we stopped at two Buddhist sites. One featured a very tall Buddha, done up in the style of the statues destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. How reassuring. And then I got to visit one of the four major pilgrimage sites for Buddhists; only three to go now.

Here are some photos. Hope you enjoy them.

Varanasi, or Benares, or Kashi

Beloved city of our guide – who had been recounting its perfection and spiritual nature for weeks – I had something very different in mind than what I initially encountered: just another very noisy, commerce-obsessed, unbelievably crowded Indian city. It is only on the banks of the Ganges where things get interesting.

Those banks are studded with countless ghats where extravagant Hindu ceremonies take place; its streets full of sadhu – religious mendicants, who didn’t want their photos snapped. I was also requested not to photograph the burning pyres of corpses, and I didn’t; it turns out I don’t need to photograph things I’ll never forget.

Here are some photos I did take. Hope you enjoy them.

P.S. Last night’s overnight train was not grim like the first one; it certainly wasn’t pleasant, but it was tolerable, until the engine broke and we sat still for three extra hours.

All kinds of critters here, including monkeys, but they were too quick for my shutter in the dim light.

Into The Heart of Kolkata

So, I’d read ahead that a visit to a Calcutta flower market was part of today’s itinerary, but I was not prepared for a flower market such as this. I think “astonished” is a good word choice for how I felt while meandering its narrow and crowded throughways, but words nor photos can aptly describe this place.

We also visited a district famous for creating the three-dimensional figures for religious festivals; see the before and after shots below. We rode the oldest operating electric tram in Asia, which will not win any comfort awards; we had lunch at a famous coffee house known for its intellectual clientele; we rode a ferry on the River Hooghly, gliding under the Howrah Bridge, crossed by millions everyday, before catching another overnight train (yikes) for Varanasi.

Hope you enjoy the photos.

Enter8 g the potters’ street, with the figures are made.
Ta da!
Coffee house waiter, as in we sure waited.
Calcutta train station. It’s ginormous.

Welcome to Kolkata/Calcutta

Another big, noisy, and famous Indian city, but unique from the others, of course. For one thing, it’s close to Bangladesh and the Himalayas, which I think is pretty darn cool.

We visited the Victoria Memorial, with its entertaining history of Calcutta museum; also yet another church; had lunch at the Hope Cafe, part of a successful foundation that trains kids for careers in hospitality, beauty, and tech; and then entered Mother Teresa’s home/clinic/tomb site.

Calcutta seems much cleaner than Delhi to me, but when I mentioned this to my travel compatriots, they laughed at me and decided I was greatly mistaken. I’m not so sure, but whatever.

Here are some photos. Hope you enjoy them.

A chair someone sat in.

Coromandel Coast

Leaving Pondicherry, we headed north to Chennai along the Coromandel Coast and the shores of the Bay of Bengal, stopping at yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mahabalipuram and then the one remaining on-shore Shore Temple (the rest are under water). Quite a visual treat, and the work undertaken to manifest the art out of rock is difficult to comprehend. These photos do not do this place justice.

Hope you enjoy the photos.

Yes, come visit the amazing UNESCO site and take selfies.
Bay of Bengal

(For Real!) Pondicherry/Puducherry

(Oops, accidentally clicked ‘publish’ instead of ‘save’ earlier, and then the Internet has been dodgy ever since. Here is the finished product, finally.)

This is a city with a rather interesting and diverse past, a past that is partially reflected in its varied architecture, although I can’t prove that since my viewing of the city was done from the back of a bicycle-powered rickshaw over uneven roads: all my photos of buildings are blurry and/or askew, dang it.

Pondicherry also a beach town on the Indian Ocean and the site of the enormous Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Life of Pi is partially set and was partially filmed here. Elephants walk down the street, and people make donations in order to be “blessed” by one.

On the way there, there we visited a beautiful temple at Kumbakonam, with its bas-reliefs and stone carvings of ancient daily and fanciful lives. We had to wade through water to enter, courtesy of recent heavy rains.

During the drive, a crocodile was lurking in one of the many rivers we passed over. Not too far from it, humans (kids!) were also in the water. Yikes.

Yes, a very interesting place.

Tanjore Sightseeing

Today I’m sending two posts: one with the day’s explorations and then a separate one of a specific nature for anyone interested.

Before I forget, here is the name of a church I passed: Evan G. L. Cal.

First stop today was the Brihadeshwara Temple, which, I learned, is quite similar to Angor Wat, which dulls the pain somewhat of not having been there in person. I also learned that originally all the Indian temples were this same rust color; the colorful ones, as in Madurai, were only given their bright colors 350 years ago. I like ‘em both ways.

Also on today’s agenda was the Thanjavur Palace, which contained a lovely collection of Chola bronzes and over 30,000 fascinating manuscripts. (Chola: a long-ruling South Indian dynasty.) I’ve included one photo of the graceful bronzes below; if you’d like to see more, check out today’s other blog post.

Lastly was a visit to a family business creating beautiful art and lost wax statues. See the process below. So cool! Enjoy!

Filming a Bollywood movie! The street was choked with gawkers.
Optical illusion!
Forming the wax.
A wax arm!
Fashioning the fingers.
Ta da!
Finished form inside sandy mud.
Pouring molten metal inside.
Smashing the hardened covering.
Drop in bucket of water to cool the metal.
Et, voila!

Madurai to Tanjore/Thanjavur

Another long day of road-tripping. India certainly is a never-ending feast for the eyes. We got close to Sri Lanka, but no side trip included.

We did stop in a neighborhood that sells antiques and then visited a few giant old family homes that are open to paying tourists for tours and lunch.

Here are some photos from along the way. Hope you enjoy them!

This is still the main source for cooking in this house.