Older Women, Cheap Travel in India!

imageIf you missed this trip to India, you might want to be sure to go on another Older Women, Travel trip to India in the future for this ONE great reason! You will never get such awesome personal shots of yourself anywhere else because Indian clothing for women will make you look fabulous! If you notice, when you look at our other trip photos, I am mysteriously quite absent; that is because I hate almost all photos of me!  But, in India, woo hoo! Check out these photos of a slightly overweight sixty-year-old female!

Not bad, eh?

Anyway, on to the trip. As always, when I first advertise Older Women, Cheap Travel trips, the posted itinerary is the basic plan for the trip. As the time nears and I have to book hotels and accommodate the number of women we have in total and certain problems or opportunities arise, the itinerary may change slightly. Also, when we are on the road, stuff happens and things change! So, I always like to post the original plan for each day and then show you what actually happened. This way you can see how our trips turn out and if they are the right kind of trips for you!

Day One – “We arrive in New Delhi, India. Getting to India is usually a long flight or two…so after meeting you at the airport and bringing you to the hotel, we will spend the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday, relaxing and recovering! On Wednesday, we will either go to the tailor in the morning to get our Indian clothing made (salwar kameezes – a really comfortable Indian pantsuit with a long scarf) or buying them at the local market. We will explore the local area, get comfortable in “our new country” and get ready for our travels. We will be returning to New Delhi at the end of our trip and do our big sightseeing of the city on our last two days in India.”

Turns out we had to make haste out of Delhi because the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays! So, I got the ladies from the airport and they got a quick crash course in culture shock! You know you are in India when the signage is so different, there are animals looking in your car window, your hotel bath is in a bucket, and when you look down from your breakfast and dinner from the roof (it was delicious and the hotel staff carried tables and chairs to the roof so we could eat outside!) and you see an amazing world that you are not very familiar with!

So, we got up in the morning of Day Two and I got a really good offer for a personal car and driver for the whole trip, so I said what the heck! We went off shopping for Indian clothing and then hit the road to Vrindavan. In Vrindavan, we got to experience doing puja (Hindu worship) with the locals…quite a fabulous experience! First, we had to pick up some items for the puja  – like milk and flowers – and then we covered our heads and joined the townsfolk

 

Day Three and Four –”We are off to Vrindavan and Mathura, cities of many temples where Krishna (the beloved blue avatar of the God Vishnu) was born and spent his childhood. We will take a pilgrims’ walk on the path around Vrindavan and visit the best of the temples and then take a rickshaw to Mathura where we will go to the beautiful Vishram Ghat on the Yamuna river, take a boat out to where the priests are doing puja (worship) in the evening and join the other families in the ceremony….beautiful lights all around us on the shore and water.”

So, we are a day ahead of this schedule. We have seen Vrindavan and enjoyed puja. In the morning we got up and had the best breakfast in India…something called Upama. We had it in a number of other places, but this young teen chef really made the best version of it! Then, as we were leaving, we got to observe the same young man (he did just about everything in this small hotel) do puja in the lobby, blessing the hotel including the clock on the wall and the guest sign-in book. Quite a very good way to start the day and be thankful for all that you are given for survival.

From Vrindavan, we drove to Mathura where we got bicycle rickshaws which took us through town to the ghat (where stairs go down to the river). We enjoyed a boat ride and then, afterwards, we visited a temple and experienced another puja there. We also visit a walled garden of trees which come to life at night in the form of gopis (the cowherd ladies who danced to the flute of Krishna). If any human, animal or bird is inside the enclosure after dark when the trees become dancing women, they die. We didn’t try to sneak in to find out.

 

On the way to Agra, we stopped at a stunning tomb built by the great Emperor Akbar. We would have missed this fantastic complex and tour if we had not had the freedom to decide we would like to stop and see it. Then, we went and visited a monument that is called the Baby Taj and also got to see the backside of the Taj Mahal at sunset.

That night we arrived in Agra and stay in an $8 hotel which was just charming! In the rooftop cafe that you could see the Taj Mahal from, a young boy (I swear he was just a kid) cooked us the best Indian food I have ever had in my life.

The next day  we saw the Taj Mahal at sunrise (well, early morning) and the Red Fort after lunch.

 

Day Five – March 12 – We will spend our day in Agra visiting the stunning Taj Mahal and then the gorgeous Red Fort.

We are actually heading for Jaipur today. We stop at the World Heritage site of Fatehpur Sikri and spend a couple of hours soaking up its history. Then, we stop for a nice lunch at McDonald’s where we have a Maharaja burger! You guessed it; vegetarian, not beef. When we arrive in Jaipur we have just enough time to visit with the elephants before dark. So much fun! We paint designs on two elephants and then feed them. Afterwards, we get to take a very relaxing ride. My elephant only had a blanket and a rope and I thought I would feel like I was falling off. But, that ride was so smooth and comfortable; compared to a camel or a horse, the elephant is like being in a Rolls Royce.  We end our day by checking into a gorgeous palace hotel…what a stunning place! A dinner out on the roof and we snuggle into our, oh so plush beds!

 

Day Six – “We will take a five hour train ride to Jaipur during the daytime so that we can observe the scenery and interact with the Indians traveling with us. We will spend the day visiting the Hawa Mahal, the spectacular palace and, the Amber Fort, one of the finest forts in India. In the evening, we will visit Choki Dhani – a totally fake Indian village specifically for tourists – but, hey, even Indian tourists love going here because it is a lot of fun, the food is great, there are dancing shows, and lots of stuff to see and buy.”

You will note that since we now have a car and driver, we didn’t take the train. But, because we missed that experience, I have planned a train ride back to Delhi later in the trip. Today, we go see the main sites of Jaipur – the Hawa Mahal and the Amber Fort and, instead of going to Choki Dhani, we decide to go to see a Bollywood movie at the famous Raj Mandir theatre, a true Jaipur city experience.

 

Oh, I almost forgot! We also got to eat delicious street food! The most famous one is a fried shell filled with potato and a spicy water (something you aren’t supposed to eat from a street stall if you are an American, but you see me putting it straight into my mouth! So yummy! And, no, I didn’t get sick). After our snacks, we went to the Monkey Temple, so-named not because there are monkeys in it, but that they wait to be fed outside of it.

 

Day Seven – “Totally animal day (with fabulous forts, palaces, or museums in the middle of our animal visitations). In the morning, we will go to Elefriend where we will wash, feed, and ride elephants! In the evening, we will go to the monkey temple where there are…yeah, hundreds of monkeys!”

Yep, we did that yesterday since we are a day ahead of schedule as far as cities go. Now we are on our way to Ranthambore National Wildlife Park to see animals, birds, and especially tigers. We stay at Tiger Machan which is a beautiful fancy tent hotel; very luxurious rooms, good dining, and a nice swimming pool. We take a jeep tour of the park where we see deer, monkeys, birds, and, darn, no tigers! (This is the second time I have tried to see a tiger in India with no luck; they tend to hide, so it is always just good fortune if you see one).

Day Eight – “We are off to the jungle to, hopefully, see a tiger or two and many other animals and birds at the Ranthambore National Wildlife Park.”

So, having already seen the wildlife but no tigers, we head in the direction of Udaipur. I have found two very unique places to visit along the way, Bundi and Chittorgarh (Kota has been axed). Bundi turned out to be a favorite town of ours! Congested and very busy, this town of blue buildings has something to see on every block. Our driver found this great guide who not only spoke English but was an archeologist as was his father (whom we also met) who has appeared on the Discovery Channel. He took us to shops and had the shopkeepers show and explain their wares, we tested every sort of delicious snack and drink on the street, I bought a bunch of bright colored glass bangles, we visited a lovely ancient stepwell (complete with bats), and we ended the day with a homecooked Rajasthani meal by the lake.

Day Nine – “Bundi and Kota – Two smaller cities in India to give you a feel of nontourist India. Along with all sorts of fascinating things to see in these two places, we will be sure to take the Chambal River Safari (and see wildlife on the water) and visit a stepwell,, a crazy well structure that looks like an Escher drawing!”

Having replace Kota with Chittorgarh, we are off to this fort city. After checking into our lovely bed and breakfast haveli (old mansion) we visit the fort and interact with a number of Indian tourists who want to take photos with us (there are few foreigners here, so we are very popular!).

Then, we are invited to a birthday party of the young son of the haveli manager and, afterwards, we take a pleasant stroll around the tiny town and many folks sitting or sleeping on their stoops greet us with “Namaste!” As we walk by. It is a sweet little place and I wouldn’t mind living there for a little bit one day.

Day Ten – “We take the bus to Udaipur during the day, so you can see the fantastic scenery between Kota and Udaipur and also experience real bus travel in India!”

We ARE going to Udaipur today, but by car (bummer..I do love Indian buses). But, it works out well because we will arrive earlier and we are only now staying one night and we needs to see the sights. We go to a very popular local thali restaurant (little cups of food served on a silver plate) and we were the only tourists lunching there so you know it was authentic! Our hotel room has a great view and, after dropping our packs, we head down to the palace which turns out to be quite a fancy fortress. Then we go for a boat ride on the lake, see a Rajasthani dance and puppet show, and then have pizza (not so good) in a restaurant looking out on the temple.

Day Eleven –”Considered one of the most beautiful cities in India with the spectacular palace in the middle of the lake, we will simply enjoy this lovely city at our leisure. Then we will take the night train to Delhi and sleep in our berths while we travel!”

Due to the time we were there, the train tickets from Udaipur to Delhi sold out very early which is one of the reasons I had to change the travel plan. But, as seems to usually happen, it turned out for the better! So today, instead of heading back to Delhi, we go to Pushkar where we have a cheap hotel to rest in and leave our stuff and then we ride camels into the desert where we stay overnight. It was quite an experience!

Day Twelve and Thirteen – “We will tour New Delhi, a huge city with so many things to see from India Gate to Humayan’s tomb to the markets of Chandni Chowk where you can shop to your heart’s content because we can store your goodies at the hotel and take them straight to your plane! We will have to catch a movie while in town so you can experience how families go out for the evening!”

We wake up in the desert and hoof our way back to town. I have our driver drop us at the train station in Ajmer so we can experience a train ride in India and he takes off. The plan is to arrive back in Delhi in the evening and then spend the next day touring the city. Well, of all the trains that day, ours was the only late one! By ten hours! So, I rented a hotel room a couple streets away so we could get out of the heat and rest. Then, we went back to the station and had a 30 cent dinner (which was really good!) and then, because it was now a night train, we had three bunks to sleep in all the way back to Delhi. It was so nice! Nothing like being able to lie down and watch the towns go by out the window – all for $10 (just see how much Amtrak costs you if you want to have a bed to sleep in).

Back in Delhi, we have a last chance to see the city. We go to the zoo, see India Gate, check out a bird hospital run by Jains, and shop in Chandni Chowk where they have a wonderful spice market.

Day Fourteen – “We catch our planes home from Delhi! Just wait until you get home…you will experience culture shock all over again! My son, after living a year in India, was stunned by the lack of people on the streets when he got back to the US….he felt like he was living in a ghost town!”

Yes, back to the airport for the long flight home.

India is a land of where all your five senses are constantly being barraged! It is hard to capture it all in one blog, but I have tried to give you an essence of what it is like to travel in India, at least the Older Women, Cheap Travel way! I leave you with a few more photos….India is a photographer’s dream.

 

 

 

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