India was on Tim’s list for years; the photographers’ paradise beckoned him.  I was hesitant to say the least.  India?  With 2 kids?  And I didn’t think I even wanted to go myself.  In fact, after I had been convinced to think about it, then book flights and start talking itineraries, apply for visas, all the way through until we boarded the flight to Delhi, I didn’t really believe we would go through with it.  Then we landed Deepavali Eve, and found ourselves in India.


We were met at the airport by a representative from the tour company.  Not our typical mode of travel, but I felt a lot more comfortable traveling through an agent who arranged everything – 5 star.  We had guides, a 24/7 driver, and nice hotels.  This worked out really well, and I would highly recommend Trinetra Tours if you are thinking of going to India (I suspect some of you speculative readers will get there by the end of this report!).

20131104-IMG_7337Where were we?  Delhi. Deepavali.  It was dark, polluted, and there were piles of rubble on the side of the road as we made our way to the Hilton.  Yet all of it was draped in twinkling Christmas lights and adorned in strands of marigolds.  People held the giddiness of Christmas, as the Festival of Lights is for the Indian people.  It’s a good time to go.  Quick stay, we had enough time to witness the Beijing-esque blanket of smog (not the last thing to remind us of China on this trip) and down a double-Dosai Masala breakfast before heading off to our next destination, Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.

Two hours into the four hour drive, the smog, or mist as they called it, had not let up and I was beginning to wonder if we would even be able to see the Taj.  We were assured it would clear in the evening, checked into the hotel and went for lunch.  To make it a massive day, we headed out for our tour immediately.  As he had with both the driver and the rep from the airport, Miles connected instantly with our guide Sanjay and took him by the hand for much of the next two days.  We saw the Agra Fort (the first of 4 forts this trip) and sat in a “peaceful” park to view the Taj Mahal from across the river at sunset.  Peaceful is in quotations because I am sure it is peaceful at times, non-Deepavali times when “crackers” are not going off every 30s and there is a lack of Bollywood DJ blaring over the park.


Still, the first view of the Taj was magnificent.  I settled with a snotty Hazel under a tree and took it in.  I honestly had no intention of being moved in this instance, I’d seen pictures and on TV (in much much clearer conditions), but being in the presence of one of the wonders of the world was breath taking.  A pivitol moment in the life of a traveler, to have been to the Taj Mahal (in INDIA!!).  The next day was Tim’s birthday, and we did our full tour then in the early morning light.  What a great way to commemorate your 36th year!


We headed out then, onto our next destination.  We had a 5-hour drive, but not until we toured Fatepur Sikri (which I probably could have skipped in the blistering noon sun).  We were starting to feel the drag of the tour.  We felt as if in a bubble, literally driven from one sight to the next, in and out of gates, not interacting with local people.  Tim had stepped out of the car a few times to take pictures of the gorgeously saffron-clad women in the towns we passed through and got a few Looks from our driver.  Also, Hazel was coming down with the respiratory infection Miles had packed in his carry on from Malaysia.  Late at night, we arrived in Jaipur and were in foul spirits, even more so when we found our hotel had no liquor license and we could not toast Tim’s birthday/drink off the travel.  Preposterous!


20131105-IMG_7689Jaipur: Another fort!  This one ascended by elephant.  While we found Agra to be temperate and comfortable, Jaipur’s weather was punishing and by 10am, we were feeling it.  Much to the disappointment of the guide (who felt rebuffed and spent the rest of the day with a not-so-nice attitude), we did not buy a $3k carpet from the factory he took us to and then called the touring off to take a break with a nap in the car for Miles and the snot factory and an hour of solo shopping for me!  Tim picked a restaurant out of the Lonely Planet (this did not make the guide any happier).  By the afternoon, we were refreshed and opted to leave the guide and let Tim wander the old town for a few hours while I took the kids back to the remote tent hotel to run naked in the grass.  This is really what they wanted to do.  They collected fallen flowers for 2 hours and I felt I had not seen them happier.  I got some Kindle time, Tim came back flush with photos, stories and chilled Kingfisher.  The day was not a loss!

20131107-IMG_8022On, On.  We had probably the best day possible for the 7-hour drive to Jodhpur.  Hazel had not slept much the night before and was feverish, so hours strapped into a seat were just with the doctor ordered.  Aside from a major construction work that caused a bumpy 2-hour detour, the road was gorgeous, and we loved watching arid Rajasthan roll by through the window.


In Jodhpur, we were back on track.  Our villa, the former residence of a famous cricketer, was charming and full of smiling staff.  The fort here was the best yet, well done and gladly seen on a breezy morning.  The view over the Blue City was indeed very blue and clear.  We visited the clock tower market and I realized this was the first time I walked around the streets, on day 5 of our trip.  A different way of travel indeed.  Our last hours in Jodhpur were spent walking through the back streets of the Old Town, peeking in doorways and getting shaven (Tim) and shorn (Miles) at a barber.  Seeing the people move around, go to school, sweep the streets, give a face massage after a shave, sleep in doorways and sip their chai…India was getting under our skin.  This was one place I would love to make it back to.

We’d had an excursion on our itinerary to Rohet during our time in Jodhpur.  Honestly, our expectations for it were very low.  We were rushed out, took a noontime one-hour drive into the desert and were dropped of for an included lunch, at which point we were told we had to wait 3 hours to start a jeep safari.  Lunch was not the lukewarm buffet we’d anticipated, but the best meal of our trip, full of paneer, eggplant and Rajasthani specialties.  The wait was not dull, but a few quiet hours in a gorgeous walled garden, outside of which a small old town that Tim described as a mini-Hollywood set for what India should look like (very photogenic).  The safari delivered on the animal front: donkeys, camels, pheasants, antelope and of course cows.  The village visits were not contrived, but offered a peek into minority life.


Feeling good about things, we went to board our 2-hour flight to Delhi on Friday afternoon to make our Saturday morning flight back to Malaysia.  Boarding passes in hand, we almost dismissed the rep who was waiting at the airport with us when they announced our flight canceled!  No more flights that day, trains all booked up, the fixer was on the phone and within 10 minutes we were back in our van, driving to Jaipur Airport.  Seven hours away.  Funny thing is, we were OK with this turn in events, had no anxiety that would have normally accompanied such a change in travel plans.  It was good to be taken care of.


We had a short night in Delhi at an airport hotel (with two treadmills!) and headed off.  I felt sad goingto the airport, not ready to leave, and planning to get back onto the subcontinent in the future.  I paged through the destinations in the inflight magazine.  Where next?  This complete attitude about-face can be attributed to the fantastic time we had, the colorful sights we saw and the hearts of the people we met.  And was helped a little by the fact that none of us experienced any Delhi-belly the entire time, and the kids are growing up and becoming good little travelers.  Where next, indeed.