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Trip Report India, What Can I Say!

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This is a copy of our travel blog for India. Everyone was so helpful in helping me plan our trip, I want to share how it was......wonderful! Maybe our experiences will help another reluctant India traveler go for it. My husband is glad I talked him into the trip!

Travel day
The long awaited day has arrived....we begin our trip to India. Our friend is to come get us and our car at 11:30AM to drive us to Houston Bush Airport to catch our 4:10PM flight on Lufthansa to Frankfurt, Germany. We hurry to finish our last minute packing and house preparations. A cold front is blowing in, rain begins about 10:30AM and the temperature begins to drop.

JW is right on time and we leave in a steady rain with the temperature in the upper 40s. By the time we get to Hempstead, we drive through the front and into warm, moist air. The temperature difference is some 30 degrees!

We arrive at the airport, check in, get our boarding passes, go through security and find the Lufthansa Business Class lounge with a minimum of bother, especially when compared with some other flights we have taken. Unfortunately, the front has reached us, it is raining with some severe weather in the area and the plane is delayed an hour.

We finally board shortly after 4PM and take our seats, 12A & C, in Business Class of an Airbus A380. This is a relatively new, double-decker, monster with 500 plus passengers. At first look, the seats and area around them for our use are quite nice. There is a ledge under the window that Jack, our furry little traveling companion, claims as his own for his bed. The seats are roomy and comfortable with various positions for reading and TV, but unfortunately though they are lie-flat, they the angled kind and it is difficult to find a comfortable position once we are ready to get some rest. Everything else about the flight is quite nice with good food and excellent service.

Another travel day
After an uneventful flight we arrive in Frankfurt, Germany an hour late due to the late departure, now half way through our seemingly endless flight to India. We have plenty of time between planes but mess up and manage to get outside of the secured area when trying to find our connecting flight and have to go through security again. This team wants to strip search our computer bag but all is well and after another bobble as to best location, we find the right Lufthansa Business Class lounge in which to wait for our 1:45PM flight to New Delhi. We did have a nice hiking tour of Terminal B from Gate 28 where we arrived to Gate 48 and back to Gate 23 where we took off from.

After drinking a lot of water and eating a little food, we board a Boeing 747 and take our seats, 6A & C. This passenger area is not as nice as the Airbus but the seats are much more comfortable. The staff is attentive but the food menu is Indian in deference to our destination and the make up of the passenger list. We verify that Indian cuisine, so far, is not to our liking and we eat and drink sparingly on this flight.

Our flight takes us in a East South East line between Frankfurt and New Delhi. We fly over the Black and Caspian Seas, Kabul, Afghanistan, Pakistan various desert areas and bald snow capped mountains, and into New Delhi a few minutes late at 12:45AM, Friday, April 12.

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    Indira Ghandi International is fairly new and seems quite nice and well run. At “O-dark-thirty” we get our checked bag, move through immigration and customs with no fuss and the hotel representative and driver are waiting for us as we exit the controlled area. We note that we are in the car with refreshing cool cloths and cold bottled water heading for the hotel less than 45 minutes after landing.

    Of course, by now it is pushing 2AM, the streets are relatively clear of traffic and we are at The Oberoi, New Delhi after a 30 minute drive. Our driver tells us that big trucks are banned from the streets during the day but they are sure out at night. Also, we go through several police check points where the car has to navigate an obstacle course that slows it to a crawl. Our driver is never stopped or questioned by the police manning these posts but we do see one car pulled out of line just ahead of us. Also, all but the main boulevards seem to have “axle-breaking” speed bumps for which our driver slows to a dead stop before easing across them.

    We don’t see much in the dark but the gate to our hotel is guarded by 6-8 uniformed men and they let us through without stopping as we are in a hotel car. We are met by hot and cold running hotel staff and whisked into the lobby. We change some large rupee bills for small ones, get the red dot on our forehead and are escorted to our two room suite on the second floor. It is similar to an Embassy Suites room, but much nicer, more formal in design and very comfortable.

    We are both wired and it is after 3AM before we have had a hot shower and go to bed. DH sleeps poorly and is up at 6:30AM working on this blog. There is a coffee making set up in the room but the coffee choice is instant Nescafe so he opts for Twinings English Breakfast Tea and goes for a short exploration of the hotel after his first cup.

    By the time he gets back and brews a second cup, IU am stirring and as soon as I'm ready we head down for our included breakfast. We are greeted royally and seated by the window. While the waiter is preparing mint tea and a cup of very strong, freshly brewed coffee we head for the buffet. It is quite extensive and includes eggs and omelets cooked to order. DH enjoys a fruit and yogurt smoothie poured from a pitcher into a tall glass, smoked salmon, fried eggs, hash browns, sausage and croissants. I have similar fare including crisp English style bacon. The hotel has a great selection of breads and pastries and both Indian and Chinese foods also. The breakfast hostess ask if we would like a snack box from the buffet for later. Sounds like a good idea and we get a box of cheeses, fruits and various rolls as we leave, nice touch.

    Our car and driver, Rishi, from India by Car and Driver picks us up at 10:45AM and we head out for our first day in Delhi. Traffic...what can I say...three lane one way streets become seven, three of cars and trucks and four more lanes of motorcycles, tuk-tuks and small cars sandwiched between the three main lanes. Some how with the frequent use of horns, this traffic seems to move rather smoothly. Our first stop is the Red Fort, a World Heritage Site, for an hour long bicycle rickshaw ride down Chandni Chowk the famous Mughal thoroughfare of Shah Jahan’s walled 17th century city, Shahjahanabad or Old Delhi.

    After negotiating the teaming through a fare, we take off through the warren of small crowded market streets. We are now in love with India. Hope our of pictures do this experience justice. The negotiated price between our driver and the rickshaw boss man for the ride is 300 rupees or $6US for an hour ride. The rickshaw driver assigned to us works hard with our two plus sized bodies crammed in behind him and he does a good job of telling us what we are seeing. He seems very proud of his city and we enjoy the commentary.

    The first sites are Lal Mandir with its red towers, the Jains soldiers temple built of red stone by Shah Jahanand and Gauri Shankar Mandir the lovely white Hindu temple. We then pass by Sunehri Masjid with its three gilded domes, the Mughal mosque built in 1721. After a peak at the town hall, we turn into the narrow streets each with a different market. We end up at the western gate of Jama Masjid the largest mosque in India, built in 1656, in time to see the local school bus turn the corner in front of us.

    It is a great ride leaving us wishing we had time to walk around on foot and explore some of the wonderful little “hole in the wall” shops!! DH slips the driver a 500 Rupees bill while we are heading back to our car and then the agreed 300 Rupees plus a 100 Rupee tip when we get back to our car. The 900 rupees or $18 was worth every penny. What a great introduction to India!!

    Shopping is high on my list so our second stop is Cottage Industries Exposition where I buy a beautiful, colorful heavy silk saree for the fabric, a neat tie-dyed silk scarf for DD and a beautiful ready made silk caftan style top for myself for $260US. I manages to resist a pair of antique gold earrings for $1,850US and refuses to let DH spend $7,650US on a Kashmir silk-on-silk rug in the “Tree of Life” pattern! It has 900 knots to the square inch and is stunningly beautiful but we probably can do without it. Bummer!!

    We next spend some time looking for Nizamuddin East Market for Anokhi Discount outlet that I has heard about on-line. We finally find it on a back street in a mostly residential area but they do not have what I'm looking for so we move on for a walk through Lodi Gardens, the 15th and 16th century burial grounds for the pre Mughal Delhi Sayyid and Lodi rulers and a garden oasis in the city. There are several tombs, parts of a mosque and the interesting Athpula Bridge. We are both some what underwhelmed with the buildings, but watching the Indian families relaxing on spread blankets and children playing is a pleasure. Another highlight of the stop is watching the antics of a small animal that looks like a cross between a chipmunk and a squirrel.

    We end our day our first day in India paying 500 rupees to enter Humayun’‘s Tomb. This is another World Heritage Site, the tomb of the first Mughal Emperor, Humayun who ruled from 1530 to 1556. It is after three when we get there and it has become quite hot in the direct sun. the site is about a mile walk, round trip from the car. The tomb with its gardens and massive walls is very impressive. However, I pass on climbing the steps up into the tomb and tells DH he will have to go it alone to take photos. It is worth the effort but the steps are very steep and each step is about a step and a half high. DH has some trouble doing it and declares himself ready for a cold shower upon his return to me, who has been people watching from a shady bench. It has been a delightful show with many Indian families enjoying the site, the women in their beautiful colorful sarees. We return to the car and during our walk back take photos of a crew of women planting grass by hand and men unloading a truck of mud to make bricks by hand. Labor is cheap and everybody appears to be working. Beggars, including children, on the street corners testify to the lack of a social safety net.

    Back at the hotel we get cleaned up and head down for a light supper. The several days of travel and lack of sleep have caught up with us. It is very early for dinner but the menu has some good sounding lite items including a club sandwich that comes with fries and a salad. The salad and fries are fresh and good but neither of us eats all of our club sandwich. We split three cans of coke and even manage two glasses full of ice! Knowing we will be hungry later and refusing to waste the remains of $54 worth of sandwiches, salads and drinks, we take the rest of the sandwiches back to the room in case we wake up in the middle of the night hungry, plug in our electronics, including the cell phone our driver has provided and head for bed about 7PM. Hopefully by morning, we will have adjusted our body clocks to an acceptable level.

    We really are half way around the world as we are 11 hours ahead of home on the clock. Sure enough some time after midnight we both wake up hungry! DH makes some hot tea for us and we eat the rest of our sandwiches...our body thinks it is lunch time! Fortunately with the hunger pains fed we go back to sleep, waking a few minutes ahead of our 7:30AM alarm. We are meeting Rishi at 9AM for our second day exploring New Delhi.

    After another excellent breakfast and a box of snacks from the buffet, we are out the door a few minutes after 9AM and off for the World Heritage Site, Lal Kot, the first of the seven cities of Delhi and the oldest part of Delhi established by the Tomar Rajput ruler, Anang Pai in 1060. It is Saturday but the traffic is still very heavy and we find that India has a six day work week except for government employees. It takes about 40 minutes to get to the site. Rishi drops us at the parking area and we buy our 250 rupee each ticket. Once again, this is the price for foreigners as the Indians only pay 10 rupees. They even have a line for foreigners so, at least we don’t have to wait in the long line of the locals.

    Inside we find a beautiful well kept uncrowded park area, much more inpressive than Lodi. The Qutb complex consisting of the Quwwatu’l-Islam mosque built 1192-98 from demolished remains of Hindu temples seems to be the main feature of the park and we spend a good bit of time exploring the ruins. The main point of interest is the Qutub Minar started in 1202. It is 72.5 m tall and ranges from a diameter of 14.32m at the base to 2.75m at the top and is made of red and buff sandstone. Another interesting site is the Iron Pilar, though not part of the original site it was moved from elsewhere in India and set in the courtyard of the mosque. Bearing a 4 th century inscription of the exploits of a ruler named Chandra, it is built of hundreds of small wrought-iron blooms welded together by hammering. We enjoy wandering through this interesting park and spend some time just sitting and people watching as there are large numbers of Indian families gathering at the park. Many of the women are in beautiful sarees and the young girls are in fancy party like dresses....a very colorful scene. DH has fun playing peek-a-boo with a little girl in a frilly pink dress. Her parents tell us she is 2.

    Next we head for Haus Kaus, an upscale shopping and eating area built around the ruins of the second city of Dehli and an old lake that was built as a water supply in the 1400s. This proves to be less than wonderful as a shopping area but the old madras school and tomb located there are worth a picture or two.

    Finally, we head for a craft area know as Dilli Haat. It cost 20 rupees ($0.42) each to get in but it has the best shopping of this type we have found so far. I find my obligatory Christmas ornaments, 1,150 rupees ($23.80), for a dozen fancy little cloth elephants and some paper-mache hearts that will go on our Christmas tree and the kids gifts and then begins looking for other items. Meanwhile DH has struck up a conversation with a man from Kashmir who is part of group selling scarves and other cloth craft items. When I do not find the shirts and tops I seeks, we go back to his stall. We are seated under the fan and given cold bottled water to drink while we are shown all qualities of silk and pashina scarves...both large and small. I ask specifically to see the ones with bright reds and purples. After about 45 minutes I has culled the offerings to four large scarves...more like a shawl, including one we think another DD will like. Probably the high light of the whole shopping experience is paying for the scarves.

    We owe 10,000 rupees or $207 and DH does not have this much in his pocket. They will take a credit card but the machine is in another stall some distance across the market. DH walks there with the man he first visited with and, once there, the fun begins! The card reader is in a suitcase under a table. Once retrieved, it must be plugged into an electrical outlet. The only one visible is attached to a hanging light bulb fixture. One of the minions in the stall climbs up on a table, plugs in the cord to the card reader and then sticks the bare wire ends of two wires into some socket that DH cannot quite see. Anyway, the bare ends of the wires make contact and the light comes on and the card reader chirps. The readers is attached to an old style telephone modem where you lay the phone handset in the cradle and dial your number. Surprisingly, all this works and in short order, after triple verifying the amount with DH, the little machine spits out a receipt for DH to sign and one for him to keep. As a matter of interest, the charge hits our credit card the next day as a payment to Khushboo Embroideries at $183.28US.

    Returning to the stall where I'm waiting, we spend another 15 minutes declining to look at or buy additional goods. Everyone understands this is a game and we finally part amidst smiles and good cheer. They made a decent sized sale and we had a good time bargaining and shopping.

    We go back to the hotel for a rest in the heat of the day. Rishi picks us up at 5PM for further adventures. He drives us over to the Indian Parliament building area and we drive the long beautiful boulevard from there to the India Gate. From the hill on which Parliament and the President’s house sits, the view down toward India Gate is quite impressive, a testament to the days of the British Empire building. Again the whole area is full of Indian families dressed to the nines enjoying the afternoon. Next we stop at the Imperial Hotel to have a drink in its bar. This bar is very old English from the days of the Raj and very clubby. I have a Mojito and DH has a Manhattan on the rocks. They are good but certainly not worth the 2,000 rupees ($41.40) they cost. India’s equivalent to a sales tax is roughly 25% and the drinks were high to start. Oh well, we had the experience and that was the point of the exercise.

    We now head back to India Gate to take some sunset pictures. India Gate is a memorial to all the Indian soldiers who died fighting with the British in the First World War. When we get there, it is closed and cordoned off. Police are at all the entrances to the large circular park area and they have evacuated the area. All we can do is drive around the outside road and take photos from a distance. We never do find out what has caused this shut down.

    We return to the hotel and order a very good pizza from room service, pack for our trip to Agra tomorrow and head for bed.

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    To Agra
    Today we move on to Agra for our visit to the Taj Mahal, the driving force for the whole trip! We are at the dining room when it opens at 7AM and enjoy another good breakfast buffet. This morning we are offered a boxed lunch from the buffett. These have all been complimentary...a very nice service! We are loaded and on our way with Rishi by 8:15AM. Being Sunday, the traffic is noticeably reduced and we pick up the new freeway quality road with very light traffic heading South.

    The first thing of interest is a huge sports complex being built by private money. This thing has multiple stadiums to include soccer, track and field, horse racing, auto racing and more. This complex runs for miles down either side of the highway.

    The poor of India work constantly and we pass many miles of wheat fields being harvested by hand in the biblical way. Both men and women, most dressed in colorful sarees, squat with a hand sickle cutting the grain stalks and tying them into bundles or sheaves. These sheaves are left in orderly rows behind the workers as they progress slowly into standing grain. The only other place we have seen this done is along the Nile in Egypt. In fact the farming and the building style remind us of Egypt.

    Interspersed among the wheat fields are smoke stacks that mark brick making kilns. The wheat straw is used along with dirt that is carefully removed from the land in geometric patterns. They then plant the bottom of these dirt excavations with more wheat as they don’t just dig out a pit but scrape off the land and leave a flat bottom.

    The drive to Agra is an interesting and uneventful 2 plus hour, 200 plus kilometers with only one stop for a bathroom break. Dick uses the facilities and they are no better or worse than similar rest stops along US highways. Once off the main highway, we make our way toward Agra and, perhaps, the true India begins to emerge.

    “Chaos Thy Name Is India.”

    We drop off the new highway into a traffic nightmare consisting of every known land conveyance used during the last 5,000 years; camels, bullocks, animal drawn carts, human push carts, bicycles, motorbikes of all descriptions, tuk-tuks, cars, trucks, tractors, feet, etc. This would not be so bad, but there are, literally, no rules of the road!

    Agra is an ancient city and the roads, streets and alleys follow paths set down over 1,000 years ago; i.e., no rhyme nor reason for modern traffic. Trash and garbage burns in the streets or blows about in the hot wind. Animals wander on and off the roadways and little children seem to dart everywhere. To top off the confusion one side of the main road into the city is closed and beginning rebuilt.

    Our first stop is the Itimad-ud-Daula or “Baby Taj,” the tomb Mirza Ghiyath Beg that predates the Taj Mahal. It is a bejeweled marble box on the Yamuna River, but much less grand than the Taj. Dick pays for tickets and gets back some small change bills that are filthy. He carefully segregates them in his pocket and, for the first time, hopes for a beggar to appear.

    We walk into the complex and view the city from the wall above the river. Across lies old Agra. Children are playing below the wall in the filthy water and heaven only knows what is floating by in the stream. Shoes must come off to go into the tomb. I elect to watch DH’s shoes, his only pair on the trip, while he climbs the steep stairs and goes inside. A self appointed guide immediately begins pointing out the best photo spots and does a good job. DH tips him 100 rupees ($2), and receives blessings on his house and family forever. DH gives the filthy rupees he received earlier to a little girl of nine or ten and receives a beautiful smile and bow in return. Money well given and it is no longer infecting his pocket.

    Next we stop at the Agra Fort another World Heritage Site and wade into the throng, after paying 400 rupees for the privilege, to see this seat of power during the middle ages. The fort was built originally of brick and is mentioned in history for the first time in 1080 when it was captured by a Ghaznavide force. In the 15th century Lodhi governed the country from Agra fort. When in the 16th century the Mughal’s assumed power, Agra and its fort came into its heyday

    Once inside it is not as crowded as at the entrance area but it is very hot, 102o or so, and a hot wind is blowing. Surprisingly, it is not bad in the shade. DH observes that being Mughal was good but you were still hot! We explore this massive complex and enjoy our first real view of the Taj Mahal. Again there are many Indian families out today and the grounds are a riot of is worth it to just people watch for a few minutes from shaded park bench.

    Rishi picks us up at the gate and we head for our hotel. We finally make it to the Oberoi Hotel AmerVilas and enter an oasis of calm and green in the middle of the brown dirt and chaos. As in Delhi, we are met in high style by liveried doormen, a lady in native costume, who is the services manager, and the hotel chef complete with toque. The hotel and grounds are outstanding. As promised, our room is lovely, without a balcony, and looks out over the hotel pool and gardens to the Taj Mahal in the middle distance; about a miles or so. To the left beyond the hotel grounds and trees are the hovels of Agra, but the view from our room is as promised and worth the price.

    After a restful afternoon, our driver, along with a Taj Mahal guide we requested, picks us up for the drive back across the river to view the Taj at sunset from a public garden area. This is a holy day holiday and the road to the gardens goes through a small village that is gearing up for an evening of partying..the road is packed with revelers and we creep along to the gardens. Once there, the guide does a good job of explaining the history but we make a note to cut off the genealogy lesson if it starts again tomorrow morning. There is a thundershower in the area and the wind kicks up as we are looking across the river at the Taj and at the place where Hindus are cremating their dead. As we watch, the cremation flames begin to grow and climb as another soul is sent on to the great beyond. Between the music for the festival, the cremation smoke, dusty wind and just what is actually going on in the distance, it makes for an ethereal scene and experience.

    We return to the hotel right at good dark and head for our room where we scrub some of Agra off our bodies. The hotel bar is closed tonight due to the holy day holiday and there is no bourbon or rum in the mini bar so we have a light dinner of a good pasta dish and cocktails of coke over ice in the room! We are to meet our guide at 5:45AM to head for the Taj Mahal at sunrise.

    Taj Mahal - on to Jaipur
    We walk out the door right on time, 5:45AM, and are met by our guide. We climb into a hotel provided golf cart/club car along with another couple and head for the World Heritage Site, theTaj Mahal... the unbelievable white marble tomb built by Emporer Saah Jahn for his third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Our guide has already purchased our tickets, 1,500 rupees or $30, and we are among the first through the gate when it opens at 6AM. Security is tight with scanners and a hand body search. Ladies are segregated and examined behind a bamboo screen.

    From here on our visit to the Taj Mahal at sunrise is every thing we have ever dream it would be. The changing colors and shadows, the reflection, the marble has all been said over and over, you just have to see it for yourself. The one thing that must be told is that before the British came and took over, the ceilings inside the Taj’s rooms were covered in gold leaf and semi-precious stones. We are told that the British set fires inside the various rooms to melt the gold leaf and then pried out the stones. Those ceiling are now just white plaster.

    The visit is everything I hoped for. We spend some time just sitting at the back (river side) of the Taj Mahal on the balcony over looking the Yamuna River watching the egerts fishing from the sand bars and enjoying the view of the Agra Fort in the distance, listening to our guide talk about various things about India. Was the effort to get here worth it....that would be a YES!.

    By 8AM we are back at the hotel and head for breakfast. We have agreed to a 9:15AM pickup time and, once loaded, we are off on the day long drive to Jaipur. It is a good thing we do not know just what a beating this 288km drive will be.

    We thread our way out of town on this Monday morning with the streets teaming with people and all the various conveyance previously described. We cannot begin to adequately describe the chaos and filth of this place.

    No more than 10-15km out of town, we come to a road intersection shaped like a # sign. We are heading north on the right hand down stroke. The left hand down stroke is a 1/4 mile to our left and is a train track with, when we arrive, a stopped train blocking both east-west roads. The roads are all two, “ha-ha”, lanes wide with bar ditches on both sides. Traffic, consisting mostly of large brightly decorated trucks, has come to a complete halt where the north-south bound road and the two east-west bound roads meet. It is grid lock with everyone jostling for position and with many vehicles facing the wrong way for their lane. The concept of a lane of traffic is foreign to India. It takes 45 minutes to work our way through this mess and we are not really sure what broke the log jam and got us moving but once free we move right along and pick up a four lane divided toll highway after another five kilometers.

    Now here is another adventure in driving. This is a toll road but is not limited access so the locals use it as they see fit. The opposing lanes are divided by an impassable median with concrete curbs and wire fencing. There are very few breaks in this median and those that do exist are several kilometers or more apart and mostly formed from the barrier having been destroyed by the locals. So, human nature being what it is, we are constantly meeting traffic coming our way on the wrong side of the road. Oh, they are nice enough to continually flash their lights but the oncoming cars clearly expect to be given room in which to drive on the wrong side of the road; none of this driving down and finding the next break in the median for them!

    Our next Indian traffic adventure comes at a toll plaza. Traffic is heavy, mostly trucks, and is backed up 10 -15 units deep at all toll booths. Now, one must understand that you don’t just get in line as you approach and wait your turn. No, everyone jams up as tight as possible, like sand in an hour glass, and then tries to squeeze into a booth as they creep forward. This is bad enough, but the booth Rishi is heading for is suddenly closed with 5-6 trucks and cars already committed to use it. They just shut it down and walk away!! After much backing and filling, laying on of the horns, hand gestures, and conversations in multiple languages this mess also gets sorted out and we make it through after paying our toll. This took another 45 minutes.

    By now, it is late morning and we stop at the beautiful hill top city of Fatehpur Sikri, a World Heritage Site, started in 1571 by Emperor Akbar. He built this city on the site where his future son was predicted to be born. Entrance to the site is a very organized with a car park and a bus stop with buses running continuously. Rishi has arranged a guide for us who joins us at the car park and with a minimum of fuss we board the CNG powered shuttle bus for the ride from the parking area up to the entrance gate. It is midday and out of the shade, the sun is bright and hot. We get the usual genealogy of the ruler who built this city and learn that it was only occupied for 14 years as the lake that had been the water supply dried up. We visit the grand audience hall, the small palaces of two of the wives, one Muslim, one Catholic and the main palace of the emperor and the third wife who was Hindu and provided the only son. Again we find a shady spot to people watch. As usual there are many Indian families dressed to the nines exploring their heritage and it is quite a show. It is all interesting and the city is beautifully restored, but to DH these forts of red sandstone are beginning to all look the same. This also happens with the temples in Southeast Asia and castles and churches in Europe, but I’m happy!

    Fortunately, the downhill bus is waiting at the entrance to the mosque where our interest and desire give out. After a few pictures of the mosque area, we climb on and find a seat. A miracle! The bus is now full and we wonder why we do not start. It is a matter of definition. The seats are full so to us the bus is full. We have the 36 people the bus is designed to carry. We are FULL. NOT!!! As we sit there, more and more people climb on. Whole families including kids and grandma climb on. We take it in stride and Dick befriends a small child sitting across from him along with its father, mother and three siblings. Smiles and finger shakes illicit a grin and then a smile. Standing by DH, in the aisle, is a beautiful girl of around 16 who speaks English. Her father tolerates a little small talk about where we are from before we arrive back at the parking area. We both attempt to count the people as they get off and agree that there were about 60 people crammed on the bus. At least we only had a five minute ride once we got started!!

    Returning to the parking area, DH pays our guide a 500 rupees ($10) tip and we head out down the road toward Jaipur. The highway quality varies from four lane divided with the berm median, as described earlier, to a two lane, very rough and worn blacktop. It switches back and forth as we go and is usually roughest going through the small towns where the traffic increases from heavy to chaotic with pedestrians, animals, carts, bicycles and motorbikes fighting for space on the road.

    Around 2PM Rishi pulls into a roadside restaurant for his lunch. He has previously asked us if we want to eat but we have brought lunch from the hotel. He indicates we should go in and sit down and that he will not be long. Drivers, in our experience, always head somewhere other than where we are directed for food, toilets and other services. We go in and find an open air, completely empty restaurant area that reminds us of a large Mexican restaurant. A man comes out from the back and invites us to sit. He brings us menus but we tell him we just want something to drink. I order a coke and DH orders a beer. The beer turns out to be a large Kingfisher, the local Indian brew, and quite good. We break out our sandwiches and the man brings us two plates which is certainly not necessary but very nice. The bill for the drinks is 375 rupees and we pay him 500 ($10). Rishi is waiting as we walk out and we load up and head out.

    Mid afternoon we turn of the main road and head to the small village of Abhaneri. Here we visit the Chand Baorior, the 9th century step well. It is 100 feet deep and 35 meters on each side. There are 3500 steps scaling 13 stories...the perfect symmetry is a delight to behold. We are escorted around the well by a local who in broken English explains points of interest around the site. DH gives him a small tip for his effort and we head to the Harshat Mata Temple across the street. This 10th century temple is still an active place of worship for the locals and though it is mostly in ruins we can still see the detail of the stone work. The little village is very sleepy this afternoon, but it is definitely worth the side trip.

    The rest of the trip to our hotel in Jaipur is uneventful if constantly cheating accident and death can be called uneventful. We continue to experience cars and trucks on the wrong side of the road, aggressive drivers and the constant honking of horns. Evidently, you can’t pass a car without blowing your horn from 50 yards back to some point in front of them. This is just for the normal, uncontested passing situation. For one where you are asking them to move over or are defending your own space the honking is virtually constant. The funny thing is that the horns are high pitched and tinny sounding. We would love to have a deeply noted, 18-wheeler air horn and see what that would do to our driver’s opponents. The many villages we pass through are a trip in themselves. The main street is lined with many stalls/stands loaded with fresh bright colored produce both fruits and vegetables. There are also small stalls of every other commerce needed to make a village work. The stalls are all crowded with people shopping and talking. It is really quite a show! Between that and the traffic dance we are enthralled!

    Our hotel is on the east side of Jaipur, before driving through the tunnel into Jaipur proper. We turn left and then left again through the usual chaotic congestion of an Indian town. Trash is everywhere and the buildings are in semi-ruin. This is the location where we see a camel pulling a dump truck along the street. We can only hope that it is the local tow service taking the truck in for repair!

    While driving through this mess, we suddenly turn left into the Oberoi Rajvillas Hotel, rated one of the best in the world. As with all the other hotels, we are stopped by uniformed guards, the hood is opened, the back of the vehicle and its contents, our luggage, inspected and a mirrored roller run under the car from all sides and ends. Satisfied that we are not carrying and IED or car bomb, they check our names off of an expected arrivals guest list and the gate is opened.

    We proceed up a beautifully landscaped drive into a 32 acre oasis of luxury and calm. As usual we are met by a liveried doorman dressed in the costume of the area. This is usually white pants, tight in the leg, a white or black jacket, red cummerbund with sash and turban. Invariably, the man has a magnificent mustache and, usually, a gloriously trimmed and formed beard. We are greeted by name as our doors are opened, checked off a list and escorted into the hotel. By now we are confident that our luggage will appear in our room within a very short time. Check-in here as elsewhere is conducted in our room. We are escorted to club car golf cart and driven to our room, #130. The rooms that we see are all built as four to a unit opening off of a courtyard with a flowing fountain. Our room is large and comfortable with king bed, desk, comfortable window seat and large bath and dressing area. The bath has a waterfall shower and glass walls with a locked door opening onto a beautiful, colorful enclosed garden area. It feels like you are showering outdoors.

    It has been a long day and we are very tired. We get cleaned up, mix a rum and coke from the room bar and relax. The dining room is al fresco and it is too warm for us to enjoy eating in the open air. The daily temperatures are running in the low 100s with almost no humidity and by dinner time it is still in the mid-90s. For the natives, a fan makes this comfortable and perhaps we could learn also, “but not today.” We finally order club sandwiches, a wonderful homemade tomato basil soup and a delicious cream camel from room service, mix a second cocktail, eat and go to bed.

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    Our body clocks are still suffering jet lag and DH is up by 6AM. This is not so early for him as he is a morning person and enjoys the early morning most of all parts of the day. He works on this blog; as usual we are behind. We are to meet Rishi at 9AM so we head for breakfast about 8AM. This buffet is nothing like the one in Delhi but they have a full menu. We order a hot breakfast and enjoy glasses of watermelon and orange juice along with fresh breads and fruit from the buffet.

    Rishi is waiting for us and we head out for our day of exploring Jaipur. Rishi grew up about 20km outside Jaipur and lives here along with his wife, daughter (17) and son (15). Our first stop of the day is the Amber Fort. This was the seat of military and court power for the Maharaja of Jaipur from 1592 to 1728. It is an imposing sight as we approach it reminding us of some parts of the Great Wall of China as ramparts ascend and descend the hillsides around it. We see the elephants taking the visitors up to the fort as we approach and Rishi says he will try to drive us as close as possible to the entrance but how close will depend on the guards. We are stopped by a barricade that is manned by the usual soldier/police types sitting in the shade. Rishi rolls the window down speaks to them and shows my walking sticks. He thinks he has a deal to drive us to the next level but the guy on the gate refuses to lift it. We don’t speak the language but we understand him to say that the other guy said it was OK. The guard says so what. Back and forth a few times and the gate guard reluctantly raises the bar. We ascend a very steep, stone-paved switch back to a level area. Rishi has to shift into 4-wheel drive about half way up.

    Here we must get out for another steep climb of some 30 yards into the main courtyard of the fort in front of the Palace. The courtyard is, perhaps 150 yards on a side and some sort of festival is just cranking up. There are tents set up and blaring Indian music flooding forth from an over cranked amplifier. There is an active Hindu temple within the complex and a steady stream of worshipers is heading for its entrance in the corner. The entrance there is well guarded and people are having to pass through metal detectors before entering. Terrorism must be a constant and real threat here in India.

    The heat is building as we climb some steep, stone stairs to the palace level of the complex. Here waits the ticket seller and 400 rupees ($8) later we are in an area used by the Maharaja for public functions. Once again, the architecture and the view down to Maota Lake, the formal garden and town we came through are impressive though Amber Fort is not as nicely restored as Fatehpur Sikri or Agra Fort. The highlight of the fort is the detailed mirror work, carvings and mosaics of the various chambers and hallways.

    We head back down and call Rishi on the cell phone he has provided. He meets us where he let us out and we head back down the hill, a different way. I am so glad Rishi was able to drive us up almost to the entrance, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to make the climb.

    Our next stop is inside the gates of the small village of Amber at another step well that is located near the Anokhi Museum of Block Printing. There is no one at the well and we get some good photos of the light and shadow play on the well’s walls. From the raised area around the well we also get a view of the formed cow dung patties commonly used for fuel that we have seen piled next to many of the homes. These piles can be quite an work of art in themselves!

    The terrace of the step well is a wonderful vantage point from where we are able to watch the women around the nearby village well doing laundry and gossiping while in another corner a young man strips, soaps up and rinses himself with buckets of water from the well. There is also an old Meera temple across the alley way. This is delightful quiet area with people going about their daily routine with out another tourist in site. It is probably one of the most memorable stops of the trip just for the feel we get for the life of the average person in India.

    A few yards beyond the well, we come to the Anokhi Museum of Block Printing. Hand block printing on fabric is a very difficult and time consuming process that is traditional to India. It nearly died out as an art form in the 20th century but the government and the Anokhi organization have managed to revive it as an art form and as a viable source of revenue to the craftsmen.

    The museum is in a restored 16th century haviel, a merchant’s home and place of business and part of the city wall when built. It sits in what was a place of honor at the time, by one of the old city wall gates. We take photos of photos of the building prior to restoration and it was in a deplorable state. Talk about a handyman’s dream! Anokhi found and used traditional craftsmen to do the work. They worked without plans and used there traditional understanding of building techniques to determine what went where and how to proceed. Now, restored to its near original condition, it is a home to the museum.

    We pay 120 rupees ($2.40) to enter plus 60 rupees as a camera fee. The museum displays various regional costumes made from block printed fabric in glass display cases along with displays showing how the process is done. A local, familiar with the local traditions of a particular village or area, can tell the age and marital status of a woman by her dress. This is shown in photos. Fortunately, all signs and explanations are offered in English so we understand what we are seeing. In addition, the man selling tickets joins us and walks us through. His English is understandable and he adds to the quality of our visit. DH gives him 100 rupees ($2) as we leave and he is most appreciative. A little, by our standards, goes a long way in India. We can hear the block printing going on on the third floor, but the stairs are the original ones and are much too steep for me so we pass on seeing that part.

    Prior to leaving, I purchase a block printed double bed spread to be used as yard goods for recovering two rockers in our home. I also buy two hand-carved printing blocks. These purchases total 3,180 rupees ($65.83) and are capped off by the free, block printed, cloth carrying bag into which her purchases are placed. The side trip into old Amber has definitely been worth it!

    I now want to go to Fab India so we proceed there for some shopping. Purchasing two large silk shawls like the Indian women wear, one a beautiful green silk, the other red both having a multi tone woven pattern makes for a good stop! Next we stop at the Gem Palace jewelry store but it is way too crowded and they are intent on showing off their letters from old English royalty. We are politely ignored, do not see anything we need and soon leave. Though DH does get to see the old car collection out back.

    From here, we head for the office of India by Car and Driver to settle our bill. The office is on the 5th or 6th floor of an office building that is virtually unoccupied. Across the street, two more high-rise buildings are going up. It is lunch time and we can see workers on several floors of the construction site sitting around eating and brewing tea. In the open area around the new buildings, an area covered in debris and rubble, the families of the workers have erected make-shift cloth shelters in which their families are living/existing. Rishi says this is common as there is no work in the countryside where these people actually live, so they set up temporary shelter where ever the work is and the workers and their families will stay as long as the job is there. How sad!

    The office of India By Car and Driver is cooled, somewhat, by a laboring window type AC unit and in the outer area several men are sitting around talking. Ramesh, the owner greets us and we pay him the 50% balance due for his service. It has cost us $387US for a new very comfortable car and driver for six days and two guides. We will drive roughly 1,000km and all tolls and fuel costs are paid by the company plus we were given a cell phone and Rishi always had cold water for us. We have been very satisfied with Rishi and India By Car and Driver.

    We now ask Rishi to take us back to the hotel and we turn him loose for the rest of the day. He is obviously pleased as he lives in Jaipur and we will enjoy a quiet afternoon enjoying Oberoi Rajvillas. It is truly world class hotel property. The grounds are stunning, built around a temple with a beautiful pool area and beautiful flowers at every turn.

    At sunset, we dress up a little and walk over to the main building. During our stroll we take photos of the property and explore a bit. I hit the hotel shop and buy some camel bone drink coasters and a pair of earrings from the hotels branch of the Gem Palace. It is now dark and we walk back to the room while taking photos of the beautifully lit property.

    Tonight we order room service spaghetti boulognese and caramel custard for dinner. Tomorrow is our drive back to Delhi and the bed calls.

    Jaipur - back to New Delhi
    Breakfast is the same as yesterday. We check out and are picked up, along with our luggage by a delightful young lady named Jyoti. She had driven us in the cart last evening and she says we make her laugh and remind us of her parents. She is from Luknow and moved to Jaipur as part of her Oberoi training one year ago. We make a point of commending her in our hotel evaluation and speak to the hotel manager about her qualities.

    Rishi loads the car and we head to our first stop of the day, the City Palace where the current Maharanee lives. Part of it is open to the public and we take our usual self-guided tour after the usual 400 rupee admission.

    Leaving City Palace we do a driving tour seeing some of the other high lights of Jaipur like the Hawa Mahal which is covered in bamboo scaffolding, the interesting pink architecture of the main streets of the old city, several of the city gates and the Albert and Victoria Hall on our way to the Rambagh Palace Hotel where we plan to get a noon time libation. The Rambagh Palace was built as a hunting lodge, but now has been beautifully restored as a luxury hotel. Once again we get a taste of the opulence in India’s history. We are directed to the dining room as it is just before noon. We do not want to order the one price for all meal and talk the waiter into two strawberry milk shakes for, ultimately, 1,050 rupees ($21). Very expensive milkshakes; but so good!!

    Rishi has offered to take us to a textile store he knows of and, since he has been such a good driver, we let him do so. This is a case where he will get some commission on anything we happen to buy. Here we see the block printing technique demonstrated in a rough form and I ultimately purchase some hand painted silk for $30US.

    We now head out for our 200+km drive back to Delhi. At first the road is fairly good and the terrain reminds DH of some areas in the Hill Country of Texas. We make good time as long as the road quality holds out. At one point on our drive, we are in an area of divided highway with a fairly high berm that has been planted so it is difficult to see the traffic heading the opposite direction. All of a sudden, as we are in the lane nearest the berm, a donkey leaps into the road in front of us from the median. Rishi brakes hard and swerves to the left missing the suicidal animal by a foot or so. He just laughs and says it is not uncommon and one reason he never takes his eyes off the road.

    Further along, as we transit a small town, we note dozens of trucks alongside the road with wheels off, hoods open, etc. We ask what is going on and Rishi points out the rude shacks and small buildings back from the road. He tells us this is a repair and parts center and the trucks are undergoing repairs or maintenance. Let us point out that most of the trucks are simply stopped in the left most lane of the highway, effectively reducing it to one useable lane heading our way.

    As we stop and go through one town, with highway construction making everything all the worse, we are forced to a stop by a procession of the town’s men, some carrying bundles of sticks or brush, as they pass across the road and up into the highway construction area. Rishi says this is a funeral procession escorting the deceased to the traditional cremation area for this community. It is men only as women are not allowed to participate. We wonder what the rules are if the deceased is a woman but do not ask.

    Another time, we come upon a WIDE LOAD of heavy machinery on a laboring truck. The road is already narrow and this truck is taking it all. We follow him for some distance before we can get around. We try to explain wide load permits and escort vehicles to Rishi but the concept does not take and we move on down the road.

    After the longest drive of the least it seemed that way as the road was very rough and there was constant stop and go, we arrive at the Oberoi Gurgaon, a beautiful modern oasis near the Delhi airport. Once again we enter through guarded gates and are treated like royalty as we enter the hotel. We find we have been upgraded to a fabulous three room suite. It is beautiful...too bad we will only have one night to enjoy it.

    We are tired of traveling, so we get cleaned up and go to the bar for a cocktail and enjoy a small band playing. Then we walk around the hotel’s nice up scale shopping mall. I find a small enameled sterling silver box to add to our collection from around the world and we head back to the room.

    Once again we order a room service dinner of club sandwiches, salad and fries...the ones we have enjoyed so much of the trip. Well, these are huge served on big slices of focacia bread. We can’t do them justice, but enjoy the nice bottle of red wine that was a gift of the hotel and eat what we can.

    We are flying FinAir back to Amsterdam tomorrow. DH checked in on line and found that the carry on weight limit is much less than what we are used to in Business Class. Not knowing how strict the check in will be, I spend time repacking so we hopefully will not have any surprises in the morning at check in. Satisfied that the luggage is ready to go we fall into bed.

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    Travel Day, New Delhi to Helsinki to Amsterdam
    We wake up before the 6:30 wake up call, get dressed and packed before heading to breakfast. The Oberoi package has been a wonderful experience well worth every penny and much cheaper than the hotels including combinations with the Marriott and the ITC offered by several other operators I got tour bids from. Actually Ramesh offered the same Oberoi package for several hundred dollars less, but I felt more comfortable dealing with the hotel direct, plus I could pay with a credit card which offers the best conversion it was probably a wash in cost. Each hotel’s staff has been wonderful, truly a luxury experience at every property. It is amazing that four different hotels would all have such consistent excellent service. We will try to visit more of the Oberoi properties in India and Asia in the future...they are a destination in themselves!

    India is absolutely fascinating...the people very welcoming!! I have wanted to visit for many years, but DH has never wanted to because of the stories one hears. But now DH feels we should have had a little longer trip. If we were to do this trip over we would add a day to Delhi and a day to Jaipur...that hotel deserved some time just for the hotel. Also DH wishes we had included Shimla like I wanted too, but he was only willing to do the seven days for our first time so my itinerary was really good. Now there will be a next time!

    Much of what we have read and heard about India is true, though we did not experience bad smells or the filth running in the street. Yes. the streets are dirty, and daily life can be a bit public, but no more so than what we have experienced in some other countries. We had a good time and now hope we can explore more of the country. For us this was a good time to visit weather wise. It was hot in the direct sun, but there seemed to always be a breeze and it was very dry so it was easy to cool off in a shaded area when needed. The private car and driver, going on our own at most sites and then staying in the wonderful oasis of the hotels was the right way for us to see and experience India and want to come back. If we were younger and fitter, it might be different, but we are pushing 70 mighty hard and have some mobility issues.

    Sadly the trip to India is over...the hotel car takes us to airport at 8 as the final part of our Oberoi package. It takes about 30 minutes in moderate traffic. We see a lot more of the airport this time and think it is probably one of the nicest we have been in. We like the idea of only allowing people with tickets in.

    After all the worry about the carry on limit there is absolutely no issue at check in except that everything has to have a carry on tag including our canes and my passport pouch! Since I’m using my cane, they call for a wheelchair which makes things simpler and we are off on our all day of flying!

    Security is no problem, no line and very fast then we are taken to a nice BC lounge where we wait for about an hour before being taken to the plane. The BC section on the FinAir is nice and the seats are the lay flat type. About half the BC seats are empty. We can’t see the back of the plane though there didn’t seem to be many people waiting to board. The flight is smooth and uneventful, the service is good though the food choices are not to our liking.

    We arrive in Helsinki a little early and are met with a wheelchair thankfully because it is a long walk across the airport to our departure gate. We have to go through immigration since this is our entrance point to the EU and even thought we do not ever leave the secure area we have to go through security again. They do the strip search routine and take the hand luggage apart checking all liquids in the little bagies and all the electronics. This sends DH in orbit since we have just gotten off a 7 hour Finair flight, where do they think we could have gotten a bomb!! Oh well, the joys of travel!

    There connection time is 55 minutes which is a legal connection, but it is really tight. They are doing the final boarding call for our flight when we get there. The young man pushing the wheelchair is not concerned and keeps telling us all is well, but we are a bit stressed. This is a commuter flight on a A318 and is the 3-3 configuration with BC having the middle seat free. Fortunately it is only a little over two hours. We could have flown on KLM direct for $2000 more each, but it really wasn’t worth it in my mind since the flight left at 1AM and the total travel time was only 90 minutes less.

    When we get to Amsterdam about 6 PM, it is cool and very windy. We are really tired and ready to get settled so we head direct to the taxi stand instead of using the much cheaper shuttle that we used last time. There has been to major pile up in two different places on the major ring around Amsterdam so traffic is a mess. The driver winds up giving us a tour of the harbor area before getting us to our hotel, 75euro later. We get checked in to the Estherea and are taken to our room on the 4th floor, it is next door to the one we had in the Fall, but is a double not the twin I requested. Back down to the front desk, the lady checks and there are no twins with a canal view open tonight (the drawback of a late arrival), but she can change us tomorrow. For tonight if we want they will make up the day bed in our room. I agree to this as there is no way we will get any sleep on a old fashioned double bed.

    We have had a very long day and are very hungry, so we clean up and head to Noock, the Asian restaurant we discovered last fall. We have really been looking forward to eating here again. It is about three blocks from the hotel and has table available when we arrive. We order a bottle of rose wine, a bowl of Pho Bo and to dim sum sample platters that have the wonderful shrimp spring rolls on them. Heaven!! The wine is cold and the food is fresh and hot! We have a delightful dinner. It is good to be back in Amsterdam!

    A bracing walk back to the hotel in the cold night air and we fall into bed and sleep the sleep of the well traveled!

    We spend the next two days in Amsterdam them board the riverboat AMAVerde for a week long tulip cruise through Holland and Belgium. After that we pick up a rental car and drive to Potsdam, Germany for five days to visit the Berlin area before flying home from Frankfurt.

    Thanks for reading the report....I know it is long but that is the way we write our blogs. Maybe the detail will help someone else take the plunge to go to is truly a wonderful experience!

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    You are right....we talked about eating at a couple of the famous places before we went and they were on my to do list. But after we got there, we liked the food and service at our hotels so much that we ate dinner there or had room service. The Oberoi hotels were so service oriented, we enjoyed being pampered and not having to "go out at night". Plus we really do not care for the spices used in most Indian foods though the breads and spreads were wonderful.

    We did visit the Imperial for cocktails and happened to meet the food services manager, who gave us a lovely tour of the wonderful public rooms at the hotel and told us some great stories. Then we visited the Rambagh Palace and had the best strawberry milkshake (by special order) that I have ever had in their dinning room which is absolutely beautiful! Maybe the shakes were so good because they were served on a silver tray by a waiter in full dress livery under crystal chandeliers!

    Going in, I knew we wouldn't be able to do everything, while we do enjoy nice dinning experiences that was not what we ever really after on this trip. We did have a small taste of many things and have agreed we would like to return for a more relaxed trip.

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    Nice report. I discovered the Oberoi chain on my first trip to India, and usually like to sneak in at least a few nights whenever I'm there!

    Glad it all worked out so well for you.

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    Thanks for reading my report and the nice comments.

    Yes, we are talking about maybe going back next year...after all we have the visas! It is a toss up between India and Africa.

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    thanks, cwn.

    we are hoping to visit India soon, having enjoyed our trip to Sri Lanka so much.

    somehow I think that you might enjoy Sri Lanka too!

    could you post the contact details for the company through which you hired your driver?

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    Glad to share the information with you. We were delighted with the wonderful service and the reasonable price provided by Ramesh and India by Car and Driver...a nearly new, clean, comfortable SUV, a cooler with water on ice every day, a local cell phone and charger so we could call the driver if we changed plans while out of the car, help getting tickets etc where we needed it, good guides at no extra cost, no extra shopping stops when I wanted one and no hidden extra expenses. All this for less than $400 total for the 6 days.
    We did use the phone to change the pick up place a couple if times so I didn't have to walk so far back to the car. That was a real plus.

    The owner is Resmash. I contacted him by email and he was very prompted in replying. <[email protected]>

    We liked that we could pay the deposit with a credit card through Paypal and then the balance was due near the end of the trip.

    I booked our hotel package, but he gave me prices on several different hotels and also for the same Oberoi package that I arranged for through Amex.

    For what it is worth, I priced the trip with several companies used by others on Fodors, but no one could touch Ramesh's price. Our driver, Richi, was wonderful, very knowledgeable about locations in all three cities we visited and a careful driver even in what at times was mind boggling traffic conditions!

    Hope this helps.

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    cwn - it helps a lot. We're not thinking about doing it this year [Australia calls] but possibly next.

    by the looks of it April/May would be a good time, especially if we wanted to link it with the himalayas too.

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    Love Australia...another place we want to visit again. We spent a wonderful 4 1/2 weeks there a few years ago.

    In India from mid April it is getting hotter each day, at least around the Golden Triangle was in the high 90s to 102 during the day and high 70s to 80s at night while we were there. But humidity was very low so the heat wasn't much of a problem for us...unlike at home where the days get in the high 90s to 100+ with humidity around 85%, now that is a killer to be outside in. We had been watching the weather. The first two weeks of April were cooler, but summer arrived with us!

    Do try to go to the Himalayas...that was the one thing we wished we had done.

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    Dear Guest

    Thanks you very much for your kind feedback

    We appreciate of taking out the time to write this trip report. its very help full

    We will keep on putting our best efforts to keep all travelers happy.

    Thank your very much

    Ramesh Meena

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