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Trip Report 10-day India family adventure - overwhelming on so many levels

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Finally got around to following up my real-time teaser reports (see "leery husband" thread) with a proper trip report of our northern India swing. Like war and other painful experiences, the bad memories tend to recede with time; it would not have been a fair report to post within hours of returning home and violently emptying my stomach repeatedly in the wrong direction. There were some aspects of the trip that were enjoyable - a few, at least.

As another poster accurately noted, you tend to come back saying "never again," but then you review your photos later and it all seems to have been not so bad. Still, I can safely say I'll never go again! My opinions, however, are my own - the wife and kids enjoyed pretty much all of it, being considerably less jaded and impatient than me. But India is a place for people who really want to see it and don't mind the considerable hassles, unbelievable squalor, and very low ratio of interesting sights to long, uncomfortable journeys.

After some hiccups and dropped balls in the planning phase, we ended up with a well-meaning and seemingly attentive small tour company based outside of the major cities. But this turned out not to be a brilliant choice, as we had a few relatively minor but annoying planning issues to deal with, including an itinerary lacking in logistical details, one really crap hotel, a plethora of very long drives without adequate lunch stops, and guides of varying quality. Having said that, the owner was open to our constructive criticisms, and we gave him honest feedback rather than slamming him on this forum, and I think he will use it to improve the service. We sort of thought he was used to sending Indian families around India and therefore was not as familiar with western tourist expectations, but he claimed most of his customers were from the US and Europe, so maybe we were victims of trying to squeeze too much into a relatively short trip (although it seemed never-ending to me!)

Delhi-Kanha Park

We landed in Delhi just after Christmas and got a break with the notorious December fog in that part of the country, landing on time and breezing through the modern Indira Gandhi airport (quite a bit nicer than the dump that passes for an international gateway in Mumbai). Our agent was there to meet us on time and convey us to a generic Hilton halfway between the airport and city center. The next day we toured Delhi, which I found mostly unremarkable excepts for a few things. It was fun, and a good initiation into the chaos of India, to take a bicycle rickshaw ride through the narrow alleys of Old Delhi, dodging pedestrians and motorbikes going about their daily shopping activities in colorful stalls underneath a spaghetti of electrical wires and cavorting monkeys. Humayun's Tomb, a model for the Taj Mahal, was nicely laid out in a park-like setting. The Jama Masjid (old modque), and Mughal temple ruins at Qtub Minar were OK, the latter notable for its 12th-century brick tower. But the Gandhi Ghat memorial was rather nondescript, and a quick drive-by of India Gate and the government square didn't allow much of a chance to see it in the frenetic Delhi traffic.

And oh what traffic it was. I would have thought that growing up in LA would have inured me to the stress and annoyance of big-city gridlock, but India takes it to a whole new level - terrible roads, choking dust and truck emissions, incessant horn-honking, hair-raising near-misses, and destitute children in rags approaching at every red light, walking between the cars in six-lane roads, carrying infants and tapping on windows for a handout. Not a relaxing or enjoyable experience, but I suppose useful for the kids to see how privileged they are.

My highlight in Delhi occurred that night - after a long day in the car, I surprised myself by asking the concierge for a dinner recommendation outside the hotel. He suggested a restaurant near Connaught Place called "Veda" (I've since been told it is a chain with international locations, but I have not verified that). We hopped in one of those toy cars they call taxis - it would make a Soviet Lada look luxurious -- and about $8 later we were dropped off on another dusty, torn-up street corner, dodging potholes, mudholes, sewer holes, construction holes, and just plain holes, and made our way to the restaurant door.. Once inside we were treated to, without a doubt, the best Indian meal I have ever had in my life. And I've lived in London for many years and had a lot. Try the Manchurian cauliflower. A spectacular and reasonably priced meal that we talked about for the rest of the trip.

And in the interest of a fair and balanced report, I have to say the food just about everywhere was quite good. Even with the Indian diaspora in London, you don't get anywhere near the variety of dishes we found in India, particularly the vegetarian kind. We had a bit of both, but tended toward veggie in the hopes of minimizing any stomach problems. By some miracle and careful attention, none of us got sick the entire trip, even the kids. At least, until I got home, when India wreaked its revenge on me, probably because I saw the light at the end of the tunnel at the airport Radisson in Delhi on the last night, and let down my guard.

Next come the tigers and the start of our version of the Amazing Race, without the amazing parts...

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