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Trip Report whirlwind family trip through India with kids ages 17 and 2I

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Initial prep

India had always interested me and I had wanted to go for a long time but wanted to take the family when the kids were old enough to appreciate it and not be overwhelmed . I didn’t know where I wanted to go and a few friends had traveled in the golden triangle only but no friends with families ,so , I started by reading the Lonely Planet guide to India ,which I can recommend. Since I still couldn’t visualize “ the pink city” or the “blue city”, I then looked on youtube for people’s travel footage , quite helpful . Once I had a sense of where we might want to go to get a range of experiences, I started to look at the travel blogs. I looked on the lonely planet thorn tree blog, but mainly got my information from the Fodors.

We have traveled a great deal and always take just carry on.
I thought I would include some of the items we pack if folks are interested. Some of these items have been included after we learned from painful experience.


India Packing
Passports!
Passport holders
Extra credit cards – international phone numbers to cancel them should they get stolen
Tickets
2nd wallet
Name and phone number of our travel agent/locations
Copy of our itinerary
Copies of vouchers
Carry-on back pack
Smaller day pack
Small compressible bag- the bag we would keep the snacks in
Compressible duffel- in case we bought too many souvenirs to fit in our bags
Liquids in quart bag and spare quart bag
1-2 additional zip locks
clothing
1 rain coat-brought it, didn’t use it
polar fleece- used it constantly the last week
Keens- looked funny but I walked all over in them and they were comfortable
Flip flops
Long pants , for both men and women, no shorts
money belts
silk long wraparound skirt.,made of old saris. Worked great, cool, dried quickly.
mittens or gloves,
winter hat
hat for sun
Scarf,the men needed one for Amristsar as well.
Sarong to wear over swim suit in the water, needed it in Kerala, would recommend quick dry
Swim suit
medical kit:Afrin: Stool softener( you are sitting around and constipation can happen)
Rubbing alcohol to dry ears , Vasoline,Tums ,zantac
Ibuprofen ,Benadryls ,Dramamine, Imodium
malarone for malaria prophylaxis,
had meds for infectious diarrhea ,which we didn’t use
scopolamine patches for some of us who get car sick.
ambien is very helpful for jet lag
Hand cream- north was very dry and with the constant hand washing, it was very helpful to have
Hair conditioner- wish I had had it.
head lamp-episodic loss of power in the hotels, dark areas at the sites ,keep at hand
sewing kit
silk Sleeping sack
laundry stuff- wash line ,stain remover packets, woolite packets
Duct tape-wrapped around a pencil (kept my husband’s hiking shoes together during one trip)
Pens and pencils
Earplugs
Eye shields
Kleenex packets
Purell
Hand wipes
Journal
Sun glasses and spare
Glasses and spare
Cashmere travel throw
Neck pillow if needed
Adapter
Camera x 2,Charger,batteries ,photo discs Very painful lesson when the 1 camera you bring on a trip dies the 2nd day!
Padlock and length of chain for locking luggage to luggage rack
Husband took his blackberry to stay connected with work, but Castle and King gave us phones to be used in country. It was helpful to connect with our drivers . We had requested 2 phones thinking we would frequently be separated but just used the one.



We made the international plane reservations on our own, and set a couple of hotel reservations up at the beginning and end of the trip, then realized that there were lots of moving parts and we would need to take a number of flights to make it workable. At that point, I got the Castle and King travel agency recommendation. I had contacted several agencies , but found C and K prompt and mid range and decided to go with them. Arvind the manager, was very helpful in booking the route ,the flights and remaining hotels in the northern part of our trip. He would suggest hotels and I also had ideas of places we wanted to stay. He was able to get bookings when I was not, perhaps because of cancellations ,I don’t know.
The drivers were all extremely safe and I felt very comfortable on the crazy roads with them. Most of them didn’t speak much English, which generally wasn’t an issue since we had guides with us in every city in the northern part. One notable exception was Krishna, a driver for Castle and King,who was an amazing driver, and could also speak some English. We had gotten his name from this blog and we were very happy with him. The guides were all pretty good ,and some were amazing.
For Kerala, We chose to use a different agency, which specialized in Kerala only. That didn’t go as well, in part perhaps because of expectations we had, but also because it was a different pace ,with more scenery and less historic sites to see. The driver picked us up at the airport but didn’t speak much English. He was a very safe driver , but there were many things we passed by ,which we had questions about, but he couldn’t answer. The only bookings we had were the hotels and the car and driver but we didn’t realize this until we read the small print. For example ,the brochure would say, do a wildlife safari in Wayanad, but this had not been booked and was only a suggestion for us. Once we realized what was going on, we went into gear and started planning. I had brought the India book (the tome) with me and we also had internet at times , so we quickly planned a few interesting things.
This was actually one of the easiest trips we have ever taken . Having a travel agent in India was tremendously helpful and Castle and King did a great job! It was so nice having a car and driver, and a knowledgeable English guide.
We were in country 18 days and we saw a lot. It was a whirlwind tour but most of the time, it didn’t feel crazy at all. We relaxed in the car, on the planes and in the trains. We had brought an ipad mini on the trip and had loaded a number of books on it. It was a very popular item, for reading, email, skyping as we often had wi fi in the better hotels, and loading and viewing our photos Everyone brought paperbacks as well. We all read prodigiously .
Some things I learned along the way.
35 km can take 2 hours to drive. In other words, the traffic was very bad ,and the roads often didn’t permit efficient travel.
There is no ( well hardly any) fast food in India and a dinner on the road will take about 45-60 min.
If you express any interest in an item to a tour guide, you will quickly find yourself in a back store room with often nice things, but at high prices with a hard sell. One can find out about silk weaving, pietra dura, block printing, gem work, etc., but the price paid is the time spent extricating oneself without buying .
New Year’s Eve is celebrated in India and it did change our touring plans for that day.
Christmas was not an issue, which is what I expected.

Health issues
We had some sinus issues for the first week since the air quality was so poor, until we got to Udaipur. No one had any gut distress except me and I had 1 bout of diarrhea on the tarmac going back to Amsterdam.We got bolder and bolder with our food choices. My son stayed strict vegetarian and lost 15 lbs (which he didn’t have to lose), I ate meat 3 times and lost 5 lbs. In the end I was eating cucumbers and carrots that someone else had pealed because I missed the fresh veggies so much. My husband and daughter basically ate what they wanted and didn’t lose any weight. We were very careful about the water ;drank and brushed our teeth with bottled water, which was available in all the hotel rooms and from the driver of our car. Purell was used frequently

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    Our trip was from 12/14/12 to 1/3/13. I will try to give you thumb nail sketches that might be helpful when planning your own trip.
    Friday 14-Dec.
    BA 2407 departing 10:45Arriving Dallas 16:40
    BA 1505 departing 17:30
    Saturday 15-Dec. arriving Heathrow, London 8:40
    Saturday 15-Dec. BA 0143 departing Heathrow 11:40
    We had very tight connections which kept me up a few nights prior to the trip ,but the planes ran on time, we did make the tight connections and it wasn’t a problem. I wouldn’t recommend it though.


    Sunday, 16-Dec
    New Delhi
    Arrived Indira Gandhi New Delhi 1:25am. We were met by the Castle and King Representative ,who came with the driver and took us to the hotel.
    ,Stayed briefly at Airport Residence, a hotel close to the Airport, with a hot breakfast in the morning. nothing special
    Air quality was terrible, very smoggy, temperature mid 60’s
    SpiceJet SG116 Scheduled to depart New Delhi9:35, Arrive Varanasi 11:00 am. We actually waited about 2.5 hrs in the airport due to fog (smog) in Varanasi.

    Varanasi
    Actually arrived Varanasi at about 1:30pm ,met by a very nice and knowledgeable guide and excellent driver, drove 35 km or 1 hour in to the old town.
    Varanasi Lodging: Rashmi Guest House- lovely location right on the Ghats, very convenient. We had 2 rooms, one with a great view of the Ganges, tea making equipment and some fruit in a bowl.
    In the evening we went to the Aarti ceremony ,which was at the Ghat next to ours. Lovely. Varanasi was smoggy, smelly, with lots of poor folks, mangy dogs, cows and goats. We had prepared ourselves so well; it didn’t seem as bad as we thought it might be. Although this was the height of the tourist season, it didn’t seem all that crowded and the guide confirmed that there weren’t as many people as in years past.

    Monday, 17-Dec
    Varanasi
    We met our guide at 6 am and walked out into a mild windy morning about 62F. We met a boat with boatman and had it to ourselves. We rowed up and down the Ganges as the sun came up. We went by the burning ghat. There was nothing happening at the southern one at the time and I took a photo, but apparently this is not ok, even when no bodies are being cremated. After the boat ride, we got out at the northern most burning ghat, where there were cremations taking place. The workers would have welcomed us to take photos close up of the burning bodies but would have demanded payment. This felt very irreverent and we didn’t do it but many of the western tourists were.
    Breakfast, after the boat ride,was included in the room rate but we are big eaters and had to order extra. We found the rooftop restaurant a beautiful spot with amazing views of the Ganges, tasty but pricey.
    Tour of Golden Temple
    Driving tour around Varanasi: Benares university, The Durga temple to Parvati followed and lastly, the Hindu temple Bhartmata, which has a carving of India 3 d and to scale, in marble on its floor.
    My daughter thought she might like to have a sari or some scarves. We were taken to a silk factory. We were told it was a village cooperative but I must say it did look like a set up for the tourists. They showed some men at work and we found it fascinating .We bought a few small wall hangings and scarves. The silks were expensive and only able to get 15% off.
    Tour of Sarnath and museum
    Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple. Monks were chanting in the temple at the time, great ambience!
    10 km drive, 1 hr by car

    Tuesday, 18-Dec
    Agra
    Fly to Delhi SpiceJet SG233 departs Varanasi 11:30 arrive Delhi12: 50
    Drove to Agra from Delhi about 4 hours.
    Ate at a roadside diner. Tasty and other Indians were eating there also.
    Agra Lodging Hotel Howard Plaza. My least favorite place. Unfriendly business class hotel. One of the room lights didn’t work. The man who came to fix it didn’t, but expected a tip to leave. We tried to buy some food for breakfast and were told they would bring it up .1 loaf of bread and 4 bananas: 7 dollars. I was mad but we were leaving at dawn so chalked it up to cost of being a tourist in Agra.

    Wednesday, 19-dec
    Went to Taj Mahal at dawn. It was chilly, probably mid 50’s and windy. We wore hats and gloves. I must say that it was worth it. Beautiful! There were not many people and the lines for men and women were next to one another. Our guide, Islam, was very knowledgeable and also a photo hobbyist so took many photos of our family. The kids’ eyes were rolling but I loved the shots! I understand that it gets very crowded around mid day when the day trip folks come from Delhi.
    Traveled to Agra fort –very impressive and well worth seeing.
    Then on to Fatepur Sikri –also worth seeing.
    Had hoped to see the Step well in Abhenari, but we drove by too late. The tourist sites close at 5 pm and the step wells are apparently 10 km down a side road.
    Arrived at Shahapura house in Jaipur after dark. The hotel is an old haveli and beautifully appointed. It was one of my favorites. It had a lovely rooftop restaurant with excellent food. The restaurant had a tent over the top since it was quite cold outside. Rajasthani dancers and drummers entertained us.


    Thursday,20-Dec
    Jaipur
    Met Dav, an excellent guide, and drove to the Amber fort. It was recently renovated and very well maintained. We took an elephant ride up to the fort then toured the extensive ruins.
    We ate lunch on the grounds in the sunshine at the Pink Palace. It was a nice tourist estaurant. Food was pretty tasty,
    Went to look at gems and how they were cut, but didn’t buy
    Jantar Mantar, the old observatory- very cool. We all enjoyed it
    City Palace Museum- small and interesting with armory
    I had hoped to go to the Gantar Monkey palace but it was sundown and the temple was an hour drive away so we contented ourselves with walk up hill to area outside of town where we fed bananas to the monkeys. I hadn’t planned to do it, well aware of the risks, but these guys were pretty polite so we felt comfortable doing it. It was entertaining.
    Dinner at the rooftop restaurant again

    Friday,21-Dec
    Drove 270 km from Jaipur to Udaipur. It took about 8 hrs, which included 1 hr lunch. Good road
    Udaipur
    Udaipur Hotel Jagat Niwas Palace- another Amazing haveli. It reminded me of an Escher print, the one with the stairs and the balconies. This was my son’s favorite city because it was smaller, and clean with clearer air. The haveli was set in the middle of the old town so I found it a bit touristy and they really milk the Octopussy experience. For example, you could get your hair cut and watch Octopussy and have a German pastry and watch Octopussy. Every other tourist shop was showing the movie.
    We were able to take the evening boat ride on the lake and it was very relaxing .The breeze was so lovely and warm. Everyone enjoyed it very much.
    We ate on the rooftop restaurant, overlooking the lake with all the lit hotels in the background. The food was tasty and the prices were better than we had seen so far on our trip

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    So glad it all worked out. We missed the whole Octopussy mania in Udaipur. Can't believe such a cool city feels the need to hang on to a 1966 film, with the least P.C. title ever.

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    Very interesting report. So glad you included packing list. Frankly had not thought of stool softner but after long flights, just sitting and often eating...good idea.
    Did not think of other things to see in Varanasi beyond the river. Will do.
    So glad your whole family got to do this together.

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    Yes, I agree with you crosscheck.
    kmkmn, I know that is sounds like a lot butI like to be prepared. We have used everything on various trips in the past.Besides it takes up very little room and all fits in to a carryon. Much of the stuff could be purchased while traveling but that takes time.
    Elainee, we were so happy that the kids could join us. It might be the last trip for a while. It was very encouraging to see the kids so engaged. Traveling as a twosome when the empty nest is upon us will be a whole new experience!

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    Saturday, 22-Dec
    Udaipur
    We picked up our guide, a 71yr old gentleman, who was quite spry and old fashioned. He was a Brahmin and had much to say about arranged marriages. Toured the old town including the Sabeliyon Ki Bari Gardens, lush, well kept up and not too crowded.
    City Palace, also very interesting, as was the Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu. We ate at 1559, an old converted mansion, which had been turned into a restaurant. There were very few other people .We ate on a porch, which had lovely ambience and good food.
    We drove to the Airport, 1 hr away, and had a few hours to kill with people watching, journals, and reading.
    Flight Udaipur to Mumbai 5:45pm arrive Mumbai 7:05pm
    Mumbai hotel Hotel Fariyas Mumbai was not a good choice since we had to leave again at 4 am to make a flight to Aurangabad. It was an hour drive at 8 pm. We drove by one of the hotels that had been bombed in 2008 on the way to our hotel. This was the first time we saw any Christmas decorations, a bit incongruous!

    Sunday, 23 Dec
    The hotel was nice and they kindly made us box breakfast, white bread, butter, cucumber and tomato slices, boiled egg and fruit- a meal we ate too often and didn’t love, but was better than nothing, that is for sure.
    The 4 am drive took 20 min. on the empty streets. Our driver was a maniac, running red lights and aggressively honking the horn in areas where they weren’t supposed to be used. We made it in plenty of time but the Mumbai airport was very chaotic. A large line had formed at the first door in, so we went to a different line. Tickets and passports were checked at the door.
    Flight Mumbai- Aurangabad 6:25 am arriving Aurangabad 8:20 am.
    We were picked up by our driver and our guide, Sanjay, who I think was one of the best guides we had. We left directly to the Aganta caves, about 2.5 hrs away, to try to beat the crowds. Aganta caves are Buddhist caves, 30 of them, carved into the cliffs. The Ajanta caves would be closed on Monday ( Ellora on Tuesday) so the cave touring crowd would all be there today. The day initially was fresh, but turned hot, about high 70’s, by noon. We drove to a more remote entrance and were able to walk down to the caves. It reminded me of Mesa Verde. Sanjay made the caves come alive with his knowledge of the history and his vivid stories. There were no other western tourists at the time we were touring the caves. There were large school groups from the government schools, which tour historical sites during their winter break. They were very interested in our kids and frequently requested photos with us.
    We ate at the restaurant on site, quite spicy, seemed good quality and inexpensive, with all the Indians who had toured the area.
    Aurangabad Hotel -Lemon Tree -Lovely modern hotel with a large pool and an award winning Pan Asian poolside restaurant. The walls were covered with funny and raunchy jokes. We were all well entertained by them. We checked in and went swimming. The pan-Asian cuisine served poolside was delicious!

    Monday, 24-Dec
    We toured the Ellora caves today. They were a grouping of caves, Buddhist, Hindu and Jain, which were even more impressive than the Ajanta caves and were only about 1 hour away from Aurangabad. The cave crowd would be here today. If you can only visit one set of caves, I would recommend the Ellora caves. It is possible to see both sets on one long day and that might be a good solution as well.
    On the way back into town, we passed Doulatabad ,an old fortification, which looked interesting and apparently has a long tunnel going into the castle but we didn’t tour it.
    I really liked Aurangabad. There weren’t very many tourists and people seemed friendly. There were far fewer cows, dogs, beggars .It was very dry and the air quality was good.

    Tuesday, 25-Dec
    Another lovely box breakfast and we were on our way to the airport < 30 min away.
    Fly Aurangabad – Mumbai flight S2-3224 7:50 arrival Mumbai 8:40
    Mumbai -Calicut Flight S2-4423 11:40 arriving Calicut 13:25
    Our planes left and landed on time. We were surprised to hear that not only had 40 flights been delayed or cancelled due to the winter smog, a number of trains had also been affected.
    The weather in Kerala reminded me of the Deep South in the summer time, 85 and very muggy. We were picked up by our driver and were transported to Hotel Hyson Heritage, about 1 hour away, where we would spend a night. It was a business hotel in the business district, with AC but no pool. It was OK, folks there were friendly, but it was a bit dirty. It had a good breakfast bar with omelet options.
    We drove the 20 km (> 1 hr away) to Kappad beach, the bathing beach in the area, but there weren’t any people swimming. The beach was surprisingly clean but the water churned an opaque slate grey. Since this was a vacation day, there were lots of people out. We saw very few Western tourists. We saw some sort of festival but since Ajil,our driver, didn’t speak much English, we weren’t sure what was going on. There also appeared to be some communist rallies, which piqued our curiosity, but we couldn’t find out anything more.
    I don’t think that Calicut was really worth seeing and wouldn’t recommend it, but we used it as an overnight to get to Wayanad, our next destination.
    Our impressions of Kerala was that the people seemed better off, the major industry is commerce, not tourism, and it was a more relaxed atmosphere and there were not nearly as many horns blowing. It was very tropical with banana trees, palms of several kinds, rubber, tea and coffee plantations.Very few Westerners.

    Wednesday 26-Dec.
    Wayanad is in the Western Ghat area and it took about 3 hour to reach. It was a lovely resort I had found on line, 7 years old and trying to be a destination resort with spa treatments, 3 meals a day, live music at the restaurant at night. It was a mix of western tourists and Indians. We rented the tree houses there for 1 night, which was a hoot. They are built between 45-75 feet off the ground in old Banyan trees. There was so much wildlife up there! Only 2 people could be in the tree house at one time. They were remote from the rest of the resort and had their own guard at night. One was supposed to use the jeep shuttle service after dark to get to the resort.
    The buffet table was amazing and I confess we ate the fresh fruits and veggies there, even the ice cream with no ill effects. The guests were very friendly and we laughed when we met some folks from Seattle. Small world!
    They had a little pool and it was mid 70’s so I went swimming. There were a group of Saudis sheiks there so I was also wearing my sarong to swim. What a pain. No one else was swimming.

    Thursday 27-Dec.
    We had decided to get up to go on a wildlife safari at Wayanad. They allow 40 jeeps in the morning between 7-10 am and 20 in the afternoon. We were 50 km from the entrance so we left at 5:15 to make it there on time. We were there at 6:30 but there was much confusion with people milling around, busloads of Indians and 2 other westerners, one from Seattle. The line was long. At one point, my husband, who was waiting in line, had someone cut in front of him. We tried to ask Ajil, who was in line farther back, to help us but the guy who cut in line kept telling Ajil, he couldn’t cut in line!! Anyway, that guy got the last jeep. We were steamed because in the heat of the moment, we couldn’t explain well enough to Ajil to get our points across and have him advocate for us. The tour agency had tried to get us tickets as well, but it is a government run operation and is first come, first served.
    So, we regrouped and decided we would go to the Eddakal caves, old caves that are unusual due to the engraved petro glyphs. We were a little early and were waiting with more groups of teenagers and Indian families. They seemed friendly and the teens tried out their English on us. The path up is not a problem at all but the climb into the cave was narrow and steep. Essentially one had to clamber over some rocks. It was interesting to see the heavier ladies in the high-healed sandals and saris, getting pulled from the front and pushed from behind to make it up the trail. There were no signs, unfortunately and no one spoke English well enough to help us to really understand the petro glyphs but I did get a little booklet in English at the entrance when the shop opened, that had photos and gave an excellent explanation.
    We then hiked to a waterfall and watched local people playing in the spray. We got back in time for lunch, and then moved to our new rooms. These were also really nice and backed on to a stream. We relaxed in the afternoon, took a “trek” for 20 min up a hillside to watch the sun go down over the tea plantations. This was probably the day that I got the most exercise on our India trip, which wasn’t much at all. I am accustomed to exercising daily, and missed it.

    Friday 28-Dec.
    We were bound and determined to get into that wildlife sanctuary so rousted Ajil at the even more ungodly hour of 4:30 and were checked out and on our way by 5 am, in possession of some more of those fine boxed breakfasts. We arrived in the pitch dark at 5:50 and were 2nd in line. We had explained to Ajil that we needed his help and he seemed to understand and was standing by. Within 10 min., there were about 20 men running pell mell to get in line behind us, effectively utilizing the jeeps for that day!
    It turned out that the jeep tour was about 1 hour long and went in a line with all the other jeeps on a circular road. The jeeps were noisy and enclosed so my son, who is tall, had to sit on the floor of the back to see out. It was interesting seeing the thin second growth trees with the shoulder high grasses. We did see 2 peacocks, termite mounds, tree ant nests, some spotted deer and an Asian elephant in the distance. I don’t think I would recommend it. If people have done game drives in Africa, I think it would be very disappointing and not worth it, particularly since we did so much driving and waiting around.
    We spent the rest of the day driving to Kochi. We had to retrace our steps to Calicut then take the highway along the coast. It took 7.5 hrs to drive the 270 km. We stopped at KTDC in Kochi that evening to make arrangements for the ½ day backwater tour the next morning.
    We checked into our hotel the Travancore court, a lovely hotel in the business district. It had a very nice pool but it closed at 7 pm, about the time we checked in.

    Saturday 29-Dec.
    The breakfast was delicious at the buffet and we got dropped off at the KTDC office at 8 am. The launch area for the canoes was 35 km away, 1 hour by bus. The tour was full and we were the only Westerners. We toured the village and saw many spice plants. They showed us rope and mat weaving. We were taken by punted canoe for about 45 min up a narrow canal with side canals and houses seen from the water. It was very interesting. We also watched the village women placing mats down to try to prevent erosion. I think a full day tour in the canoe would have been even better but since this was the time we had, it was fine and gave us an idea of village life. The trip back was an arduous 2 hrs due to tremendous amounts of traffic.
    We ate at the Grand hotel, which had wonderful food but was near the end of the lunch service so the service was terrible. We dashed back to the hotel and freshened up for the Kathakali dance performance. Luckily our hotel was close to the Kerala Culture Center where we would attend the dance. The kids were a bit dismissive of watching men put on make up and dance but it was very interesting. The makeup seemed similar to Kabuki. And the control they had over their facial muscles was amazing.

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    Sunday, 30-Dec
    Air India Flight A1466 at 7:30 am to Delhi, arriving 10:25
    Everything went according to plan. Castle and King picked up my son’s girlfriend then us and transported us all to the Master Paying Guest house. We were to have gone to Raj Path and India Gate but they were blocked due to protestors so we were able to get a guide to go to Qutab Minar and Humayan’s tomb. They were very interesting sites, both well worth seeing.
    We went to the Khan Market because I wanted to shop at Anokhi. My daughter found some stuff, and I loved some of the cotton prints but nothing that really spoke to me. Pieces were 20-80 dollars. We ate at Kareems: excellent kabobs!
    Master Paying Guest House was such a nice place to stay. The proprietor and his wife welcomed us.The Proprietor was very well spoken, knew much of the history and sites of Delhi and sometimes did his own tours. We really enjoyed talking with him and he gave us good advice about some Restaurants and shops. Many of the guests were return customers and were so interesting! The kitchen served fresh and healthy snacks and meals on request and we ate there several times.

    Monday, 31-Dec
    Depart Delhi 7:20 am train to Amritsar arrive 13:25;
    The train was efficient, spacious, and very relaxing. We were served a tasty breakfast and tea. On arrival, we were picked up by our guide, a young woman this time, and the driver. She suggested that we go first to the Golden Temple. It was high 30’s and our bare feet soon felt quite numb as we toured the grounds ot the temple. Both men and women needed to have their heads covered with scarves. We weren’t able to go inside the Golden temple because the line to get in was about 2 hours long but we toured the outer courtyard, and the kitchens, which were particularly interesting. There were so many volunteers helping to cook, a chapatti maker which cranked out 600 in an hour and large cauldrons of rice and lentils.
    The streets were particularly crowded due to the New Year’s Eve holiday. We did make it to the border closing ceremony in time, passing the 6 km of parked trucks waiting at the border to cross; it would take them 3-4 days to work their way across the border due to intense searches for contraband. It was interesting to see the ceremony, felt like we were attending a large sporting event with the cheering and noise. We were in the foreigner section but still didn’t really have a great view, but it was adequate to see the uniforms and the strutting of the guards. Our guide was not able to join us in this section.
    We drove back into town, ate at the Crystal Restaurant recommended by our host in Delhi. The food was excellent, especially the chicken Frontier.
    Amritsar hotel Ranjit Svaasa was a lovely old Haveli. I would have enjoyed a breakfast in its atmospheric breakfast room!

    Tuesday, 1-Jan
    We got up and left the guarded compound of our hotel at 4:15 am and started looking for our driver. No driver! We went back to the hotel, but they shook their heads, not knowing where to get a taxi at 4 am on New Years Day. Meanwhile, my husband son and daughter were out at the street when a Good Samaritan came by with 2 female passengers asking why we were there. When we explained, he said that he would be happy to give us a lift after depositing his quests. True to his word, he helped us out, took us to the train station and refused payment, saying only “Happy New Year and good luck!”
    We actually hadn’t been too stressed, figuring we would have tried for a later train. There were several that day but they all took 2+ hours longer travel time to arrive in Delhi.
    5am train Amritsar - Delhi; arrive in Delhi 11:15
    We made the train with 15 min to spare. Again it left on time, fed us tasty Indian cuisine and was such an enjoyable ride. There was lots of time for reflection as we looked out the windows. The train was full. We recognized many of our fellow passengers, who had ridden up with us and likely had partied the night away. They were all sleeping
    When we arrived in Delhi, we met our guide with whom we toured the Jama Masgid, very different from the Mosques in turkey as it was totally open inside. We had to wear flowered burkas, but no head coverings were required. We then toured the bird hospital, the Jain temple associated with it (very ornate), walked through the Chandri Chouk and had our rickshaw ride. We finished at the Red Fort and walked by the outside gates to our waiting car. We had chosen not to tour it since we had seen 2 other forts in our trip and had been told it was the least impressive of the 3.

    Wednesday, 2-Jan
    Our proprietor at the Master Paying guesthouse had said that he would like to take us to the Lodi gardens the next morning if we had no other plans and we were open to a relaxing walk and a short meditation. It was quite cold, maybe high 40’s and foggy. The Lodi gardens were very beautiful and spare with several ruins. We dropped by C Lai and sons, where I had hoped to purchase Christmas ornaments from India, but even though it was past opening time, with several other folks waiting including a deliveryman, the shop remained closed.
    We had some time to kill prior to our planned tea at the Imperial so went to Dilli Haat to shop. Many of the ceramics looked South American. We bought a few scarves, didn’t see any screaming deals. High Tea at the Imperial was very filling and enjoyable. We did look presentable as long as you didn’t look at the Keens on our feet.
    We went to the airport a bit early and were actually offered an earlier flight through KLM since the one we were booked on was over booked.
    The flights left on time and we arrived back at 1 pm. home sweet home!

    Things I might have done differently

    Jaipur was very interesting and I could have spent an additional day there.

    Amritsar- New Years Eve not the best time to tour, but additional time in the morning to actually go into the Golden Temple would have been nice. I know why we didn’t do it at the time since if the trains are delayed for fog this late in our trip, it could be a problem. The town itself was smoggy, cold and not attractive.

    Kerala
    Would have used a different travel agent. Castle and King plans trips throughout India and I think we might have been better served with them
    No Calicut
    Kochi- would have stayed in the Fort Cochin area. It looked so close on the map but due to bad traffic was 45 min drive from our hotel and we never made it to those historic sites. I would have preferred a place closer to the beach. A fellow traveler in Delhi, mentioned that during the Christmas time, there were many activities on the beach.
    Would have preferred full day in the backwater area, since it took so long to get there.

    Hopefully this has been helpful. We loved our trip, stayed healthy and still like each other. Many wonderful memories were made. I will check back from time to time to see if anyone has questions I can answer.
    Happy trip planning!
    Evelyn

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