India - A Journey in 84 days
davidx2
India > India Travel > Travel Photologues
#1
| Maha Guru Member

India - A Journey in 84 days

CHAPTER 1 - THE TRAVEL BUG

The Road Not Taken
BY ROBERT FROST

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


I’m a retired accountant. I speak far more comfortably in numbers than I can speak in words. And so I turn to the immortal poem of Robert Frost that was studied by every child in school back in the 1950s as I was growing up. It spoke to me at the time for I was raised in a small village in the flat prairies of southwestern Minnesota where corn and soybean fields stretched unbroken to the horizon and the air was permeated by the scent of the earth and the farm animals in the surrounding countryside.

Looking back now I remember it as a wonderful place to grow up. But as I moved from childhood into my teenage years it seemed the most incredibly boring place on earth. I daydreamed of being somewhere else. I studied maps by the hour, imagining myself as a debonair world-wise traveler. There was a treasure trove of National Geographic magazines dating back to the 1930’s in boxes in our attic. I looked through the pictures of exotic places and dreamed of being a swarthy Latino living in Caracas with the verdant tropical mountains rising above the city, or perhaps a desert nomad threading my way across the Sahara sands on the back of a camel. I wanted to see the world.

We did travel. My brothers are much older than I, so as a child I was like an only child. My parents would generally take a trip every year and I would be the navigator, even from a quite young age, sitting in the back seat with the maps and telling my father where to turn and how far it was to a good place to find a motel. We went to the east coast, the west coast, to Florida and the Rocky Mountains. We visited Disneyland the very first year it opened, and I now live only a mile from Santa Anita racetrack in suburban Los Angeles where I remember seeing the horses race in 1956 on a trip to California.

At the age of 17, I left the little Minnesota prairie village and went off to college. The years that followed did nothing to assuage the travel bug that had been planted in me at a very young age. I spent three years in the US Army and then started a career. This did not allow for much traveling, but by the time I was 40, I had been to all 50 states of the United States and a couple of provinces of Canada. Several trips to wonderful Mexico in later years gave me an even more intense craving to see more of the world.

Now I am thankfully retired and am fortunate to have enough money to travel (though not as much as I would like) and a wonderful partner to travel with.

Our first trip overseas was in 2007. It was the “trip of a lifetime”. Over five weeks, we visited Paris, Sicily, Florence, Rome, and Naples. Then in 2009 for our second “trip of a lifetime”, we flew to Barcelona, picked up a car, and spent 7 weeks driving around France. In 2012, on another “trip of a lifetime”, we flew to Zurich, picked up a car, and spent 9 weeks driving down through the Balkans to Turkey (as far as Cappadocia) and back to Zurich.

We absolutely loved Turkey! Perhaps it was the stark difference in cultures combined with the history that attracted us. In California we rarely see a building still standing that’s more than 80 years old and we love old things. So after that trip, our travel bug still infecting us, we contemplated where we should go next. Since we enjoyed the different culture of Turkey, where could we go for another experience of a different culture? One day we stopped at a book store. I enjoy reading travel books even for places that we’ll probably never see. I saw a Blue Guide book on South India and bought it. Thus the seed had been planted in my brain for another trip far more complex than anything we had previously attempted. The seed sprouted and grew and eventually came to flower when we boarded a plane on Christmas Day, 2013 for a flight to Delhi. In the coming weeks and months, I hope to chronicle our trip and share a few of the 20,000 photos that we took. India Mikers were a great help in planning the trip, so I want to give back to India Mike in return. It will also give me the opportunity to relive the journey as I write.

In some ways that little village from my childhood in Minnesota seems so far away now, a distance measured more in time than in miles. My parents are gone. My dear mother lived to the age of 97. When my brothers and I returned to clear out her belongings, we found memories of a life long and well-lived, including love letters that my father had written to her back in the 1920’s. There was never in my memory a harsh word between them. I remember them dancing in the kitchen to music on the radio as my mother prepared breakfast. How lucky I was to be raised in that small village in Minnesota by wonderful, loving parents.

The village is still there. The corn and soybean fields still stretch to the horizon. It’s still only one square mile. It still has around 1200 people. It still looks basically the same, houses with large lawns, neat as a pin. It’s still a good place for growing up. And I’m sure that some young child in that small village and many others like it around the world is still looking at National Geographics and maps and being bitten by the travel bug. Someday they will take the road less traveled by, and that will make all the difference.

Chapter 2

330 Replies

#2
| Maha Guru Member

A few photos of my home town

A small village on the Minnesota parairie
Attached Images
Fulda 1.jpg ,Fulda 2.jpg ,Fulda 3.jpg ,Fulda 4.jpg 
#3
| Maha Guru Member
Nicely written David. Reminded me of my little village in Uttar Pradesh, where I was borne. We used to spend lot of time there when my grandfather was alive. After his death farm and the house got sold but the memories are still alive. I have not been to my village for more then 40 years but still think a lot about the people who live there and the great times we had there. Thank you.
#4
| Clueless

David- Eagerly awaited report

#5
| Maha Guru Member
David....you have just wet the appetite......let it pour....while I ponder our rich childhood in a very poor district.

Brought up in the "DUMPED" apartheid era of the White South Africa in the 60's.
#6
| It's all Greek to me, but Benglish will do
Beautifully written, David. I am looking forward to the rest of this story.
#7
| Maha Guru Member

Originally posted by: SinghAlongSA View Post

David....you have just wet the appetite......let it pour....while I ponder our rich childhood in a very poor district.

Brought up in the "DUMPED" apartheid era of the White South Africa in the 60's.


I don't envy you for growing up under the despicable South African apartheid. But South Africa should be very proud that it produced two of the giants of the 20th century - Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. The glorious seeds of change can sprout even in the worst soil.
#8
| Maha Guru Member
CHAPTER 2 – PLANNING THE TRIP

A. The travelers
B. Where to go and what to see?
C. Putting it all together




A. THE TRAVELERS


We are both named David, so from here on out I’ll refer to myself as davidx2 and my partner as davidx1.

I, davidx2, am 67 and retired. Davidx2 is 57, retired, and looks after his 89-year-old father who lives in the house behind us here in suburban Los Angeles. We have spent the last 20 years together. These have been, quite simply, the happiest years of my life.

I’m glow-in-the-dark Scandinavian white (turning to lobster red if exposed to sun for more than five minutes), while his skin is a rich brown color. I am easily identified when traveling as an American or European tourist. For him, it’s more complicated. In his high school, another student was thrilled to find another Burmese student at the school. In Turkey, many thought him Turkish. In Mexico, it was correctly assumed that he was Mexican, but they must have thought him mentally challenged because he couldn’t converse with them in Spanish. He actually understands some Spanish and I speak a fair amount of Spanish, so he would listen and tell me what was being said – always too fast for me to comprehend - and then I would answer in Spanish. So he’s as American as apple pie. He just doesn’t look like what a typical foreigner thinks of as American. We decided it would be interesting if we actually made the trip to India what Indians would make of him.

Beyond the difference in skin colors, we share an amazing amount of interests. This makes planning a trip so much easier. We both love plants and nature. We both love art and architecture. We both enjoy museums. Both of us would not be able to tolerate a beach for more than five minutes without being bored to death (unless there were tide pools full of interesting creatures). Neither of us has much interest in food beyond filling our stomachs or drinking anything alcoholic (we just don’t like the taste). And neither of us could imagine traveling in a tour group. We like to linger over the details. On travel stops, we’ve seen many tour buses come and go while we’re slowly wandering about commenting on a balustrade or small stone carving or a small lizard or a plant that most rush by without even noticing.

We’re both quiet and are uncomfortable in social situations, though we’re both friendly and slow to anger. We are firm believers that everyone has the right to be treated with respect no matter what their sex, religion, culture, skin color, social standing, sexual orientation, etc. We’re both keen observers of our surroundings.

In summation, most people must find us excruciatingly boring.



B. WHERE TO GO AND WHAT TO SEE


I love reading travel books, and there is no better way to decide what you want to see than to read as much as you can about a place. I also love planning trips. I have a degree in geography which proved to be totally useless in my life up to retirement, but now I have an opportunity to get some good out if it. I started with the South India Blue Guide and initially formulated a plan to spend a month or so in South India and leave the north for a potential future trip. I then bought the Footprint Guide for India and started reading about places in North India that seemed too delicious to pass up, particularly once I realized that I’m not getting any younger, India is half-way around the world, our finances are limited, and thus we quite probably would never make another trip to India. Since we were in the general area, I also wanted to spend a bit of time in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and a few days in Bangkok and Angkor Wat.

I found more travel guides in the thrift shop. They were outdated, but places of interest that are hundreds of years old certainly haven’t changed in the last decade. I started to develop a list of things that were must-sees, and also a list of places that I would love to see if possible. Of course, seeing everything that I would want would mean a trip of a year or more, so hard decisions needed to be made.

Must sees:
Tamil Nadu temples
Sri Lanka cultural triangle
Mysore and surrounding area
Hampi/Bijapur/Badami/Pattadakal/Aihole
Tiger safari
Ajanta/Ellora
Khajuraho
Orchha
Agra
Rajasthan
Amritsar

Possibilities:
Kerala – Kochi (Cochin) sounded interesting and Kerala sounds beautiful. We decided to spend a day in Kochi only because while the boat trips might be nice, they also seemed to have the potential to be really boring and Kerala temples forbid entrance to non-Hindus. I would have loved to spend some time in the Western Ghats, but it barely missed the cut.

Mumbai/Delhi/Calcutta/Bangalore/Hyderabad – I decided to avoid the huge cities of India. They seem just too daunting. The only one of the above that held a great deal of appeal was Delhi, which we could hopefully see a bit of on our way through.

Odisha (Orissa) – Bhubaneswar, Puri, and Konark sound fascinating, but again temple entrance is forbidden to non-Hindus at Puri.

Varanasi – It sounds like THE place to go to get a big dose of Indian culture, but I decided that smaller doses would do just fine. Besides, the guide books say that the great old temples of Varanasi were destroyed in various invasions, so the architectural interest would not be great.

The Northeast – too much off the beaten track

Gujarat – So many wonderful things to see there, but just not enough time to add it.

Himalayas – I suppose if we didn’t live close to mountains, this would have been a must-see.


C. PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER


I plan trips in great detail. I set up a spread sheet in Excel with several lines for each day and list where we’ll be, flight numbers, train times, hotels, etc., along with estimated costs for each day. I posted an itinerary on India Mike and received comments on it, some of which precipitated changes.

The Internet is an invaluable resource when planning a trip. Here are some websites that I used regularly:

For flights:
www.ixigo.com
www.makemytrip.com
www.kayak.com (for flights to and from India, but doesn’t list the low-cost domestic carriers)

For hotels:
www.agoda.com
www.booking.com
www.stayzilla.com (can reserve government resorts through them)
www.holidayiq.com (for hotels in non-touristy places – not a reservation site, but has reviews from mostly Indian travelers)
In a few cases, direct booking through the hotel web site.

For trains:
www.makemytrip.com (went through the convoluted process of linking to the Indian railways system)

For car and driver:
Google is your friend. I always sent for at least three quotes for each segment with a car and driver.

Our departure date was yet to be determined (actually it wasn’t certain we would even actually make the trip) but we decided to start in the south and work our way north to avoid the January fog. I was amazed at how reasonable it was to hire a car and driver for certain segments of the trip. This would make navigating from place to place so much easier. I decided to fly whenever possible because it would be less time-consuming and internal Indian flights are quite cheap at least by American standards. The thought of an overnight journey on a train sounded absolutely miserable (we love privacy), so figuring out how to get into and out of Hampi was a particular challenge.

Because I’m retired and because the planning was fun for me, I spent an inordinate amount of time working on it. I checked airfares daily and plugged any price changes into my spreadsheet. The biggest single expense would be the flights to and from India. Because India is almost exactly half-way around the world from Los Angeles (the time difference is 12.5 hours), I had decided that if at all feasible I wanted to fly one direction over the Atlantic and the other direction over the Pacific, thus making a trip all the way around the world.

At this point, davidx1 was on board with a potential trip to India, but he has no interest in the planning phases. Because we have the same interests in traveling, he lets me do my thing. One day in July 2013 I was doing my usual check for fares for the flight to India, and suddenly there was a fare that seemed too good to be true. Austrian Airlines had a one-way fare from Los Angeles to Delhi via Toronto and Vienna for $542 available only for a Christmas Day departure (coincidentally also my 67th birthday). I rushed to tell davidx1 and briefed him on the plans and the length of the trip (he would have preferred a shorter trip) and within a half hour we made the decision to go ahead and buy the tickets.

We were now booked to go to India, but we were not booked to come home. I kept checking fares for the return flight, preferably over the Pacific with stops in Bangkok and Angkor Wat. Our plan was to visit Kathmandu, Nepal after finishing our stay in India, so I noticed that Malaysia Airlines had started flying out of Kathmandu. I went to their website and tried pricing a multi-city itinerary from Kathmandu to Siem Reap, Cambodia and then from Bangkok to Los Angeles. A fare came up in Nepalese rupees and when I converted it to dollars, it came out to $720 per person. This was certainly far cheaper than I had anticipated, so I booked the tickets and the trip planning was completed.

The next step was buying all the tickets for the internal flights and trains, booking the hotels, arranging for the cars and drivers.

This was all completed by the end of August and we weren’t leaving until Christmas Day. Now all we had to do was wait……and wait……and wait!

Chapter 3
#9
| Humble Genius
#10
| Maha Guru Member
CHAPTER 3 - WAITING…..AND WAITING…..AND MORE WAITING!

Procrastination is one of the guiding principles of my life. Davidx1 was warned by my dear mother on their first meeting that I was pokey, a fact that has been brought up far too often in the ensuing 20 years. But with a few notable important exceptions, it has stood me in good stead through the years of my existence. It seems that I work best under deadline pressure.

The planning of our Indian adventure was completed by September and we would not be leaving until Christmas Day. This was the time that we should have spent with preparations for our trip. We lead a fairly sedentary existence in our everyday lives so we discussed the need to get out and start walking to build up our leg muscles to get them in shape for the long walks that we planned through the byways of India. We also decided that this time we would start packing early to avoid the last minute rush of previous trip departures. We have thousands of plants in our garden and hundreds of plants in pots. We planned to get as many of the potted plants as possible planted in the ground so that they might have a chance for survival during our three-month absence since the soil in pots dries out more quickly than the soil in the garden.

Fortunately, for all of the above, procrastination won out. It was always too hot, or too sunny, or we were too tired to exercise. We did discuss what we would pack and even started a list, but it really makes no difference if one is completely packed a month, a week, or five minutes before departure as long as it’s finished in time to make one’s flight. As for the plants, winter is the rainy season in California and they would hopefully get watered by the rain naturally. Besides, we have too damn many plants anyway, so some culling of the herd would not be all that bad.

We could not be completely idle, of course. There were some additional details to tend to regarding the trip plans. I received a few emails notifying me of changes to the flights we had booked. Most made no difference, but a flight from Mumbai to Nagpur had been cancelled and we had been put on a flight that was leaving earlier than we would arrive in Mumbai, so I had to find a later flight. I decided to book a car and driver for the Indore-Mandu-Maheshwar-Indore segment because it seemed easier to arrange it in advance than to deal with it on arrival in Indore.

Train tickets for the three train trips we would take could not be purchased until 60 days prior to use, so this had to be completed, the last only a few days before departure.

We could get visas for Nepal on arrival at the airport, but we needed visas for India, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Sri Lanka was completed on-line and visas were received via email within an hour of application. We would not get to Cambodia until the end of the trip, so I couldn’t apply for the visas until a few days before our departure. This was done on-line and by the time we left, davidx1 had received his, but I hadn’t received mine. I would just need to check my emails later to make sure it was received. As for India, I completed the convoluted paperwork for our visas and took it all to the Fedex office. Fortunately, the woman at Fedex was experienced in the finer points of the packaging necessities for visa applications and helped me through the process. They were sent off to BLS International in San Francisco and despite the horror stories that I had read on India Mike, everything went smoothly and we had our passports returned with Indian visa attached in plenty of time before our departure.

Believe it or not, we don't own a cellphone. We're of the philosophy that nothing is so important that it can't wait until we get home and check the message machine. They are handy when traveling, however, so I bought a cheap cellphone and an international SIM card to use for the places that we would travel outside India and would get an Indian SIM card once we arrived in India.

I made an appointment with my doctor to get anti-malarial medication. We had decided that we didn’t want to take doxycycline because we didn’t like the thought of taking antibiotics both during the trip and for an extended period after our return. I decided to get a prescription for the generic equivalent of Malarone. Because davidx1 was not yet on Medicare and wonderful Obamacare had not started yet, his seeing a doctor was out of the question because his insurance policy that cost $444 per month had a $5,000 deductible. So the plan was that I would get a prescription for 90 pills which would be enough for both of us. Based on the map from the UK NHS we would only need to take the medication for a period in the middle of our trip – before arriving in Goa through departure from Orchha. So my prescription for 90 pills would be enough for both of us. We had no idea what the mosquito situation would be. I grew up in Minnesota where mosquitoes are found in huge swarms during the hot muggy summer months. Here in California, we see maybe 5 mosquitoes in a bad year.

I got the prescription for Malarone (and also an antibiotic for traveler’s diarrhea) and went off to the pharmacy. When it was time to pick up the pills, the pharmacy told me that my insurance had rejected the Malarone prescription. After sweating about this for a few days, I received a call saying that the prescription was ready. Apparently, the pharmacy didn’t stock the pills and had ordered only the amount needed to fill my prescription. The insurance company rejected it because the price was too high when ordered in the small quantity, so the pharmacy ordered a larger quantity and the insurance company OK’d it. Dealing with American health insurance puts any complaints about Indian bureaucracy in perspective.

I had booked three of our hotels directly and had already wired money in payment. The rest I had booked through booking.com, agoda.com, or stayzilla.com. Most were small hotels, so I imagined our reservations being stuck somewhere in the ether or a wire somewhere between Los Angeles and India, so I emailed them all to confirm our reservations. I received positive responses from about half, negative responses from none, and no response at all from the other half. I decided to just leave it up to luck on our arrival at each location.

The time flew by quickly, as it always seems to once one reaches a certain age. Before we knew it, it was only a few days until our departure. It was time to drag out the clothes that we planned to take and set them out for eventual packing. We joked about the designer shirts we were taking because the label means nothing to us and they were all bought at thrift shops for a few dollars each.

And then suddenly it was Christmas Eve. Davidx1’s brother came to pick up David’s father who would divide his time between davidx1’s brother and sister while we were gone. And then we dragged out the suitcases and started to pack. We finished this chore around midnight, a full five hours before the airport shuttle was to pick us up. We were amazed at our efficiency. We decided to take a nap for an hour or two and then got up, showered, got dressed and ready for departure. Our airport shuttle was due at 5:00 AM. We asked each other 26 times if we had our passports and billfolds, a continual mantra when we travel, hauled the suitcases out onto the front porch (two suitcases, two carry-ons, and my netbook computer) and waited for the shuttle in the pre-dawn hours of Christmas Day. WE WERE ON OUR WAY TO INDIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[Note: Now that the trip is actually starting, succeeding chapters will contain pictures.]

Chapter 4
#11
| Clueless

Originally posted by: davidx2 View Post

and waited for the shuttle in the pre-dawn hours of Christmas Day. WE WERE ON OUR WAY TO INDIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Wow, the excitement is building up. Christmas day departure reminds reminds me of TSAs on that nasty day.
#12
| Maha Guru Member
This is such a great read, David! I can't wait for the actual India bit to start :D
#13
| Maha Guru Member
Great so far and very readable with paragraphs, not the lump of text that some folk post.
#14
| opinionated liberal food fascist
Your opening post is beautiful, David. :) I look forward to reading your impressions of India.
#15
| Maha Guru Member

Originally posted by: BholeBaba View Post

You opening post is beautiful, David. :) I look forward to reading your impressions of India.


I know that my words could not possibly capture the beauty of the Indian people, monuments, or countryside. But try I will. ;)