India Trip Description

Most travelers want to go to India during the Northern Hemisphere winter months to avoid the crushing summer heat. Though temperatures in northern India are relatively mild at that time, 70-80’s in the daytime and 60’s at night, there is a downside. That is also the time of maximum fog and inversions trapping pollutants generated by coal-fired generating stations and rapidly expanding numbers of vehicles. We observed little infrastructure for trash removal and expect it can be found almost everywhere in all seasons. Additional hurdles for the traveler are land mines (sacred cow pies) and reportedly over 60% of the population not having access to bathrooms, so you can imagine how that works out. Putting all that aside there is the culture and that is what we came to experience.

We arrived several days before the OAT trip was to start so we could sightsee in Delhi on our own. As usual this got us off the beaten path navigating city streets and subways, and utilizing Pedi cabs (called tuktuks in some Asian countries). Highlights of our daily walking tours were the National Rail Museum and an old Fort located near the National Zoo, the latter unfortunately was closed due to bird flu. The Delhi hotels booked by us and OAT were upscale by our standards with the Suryaa being our favorite, partially because of its proximity to local shopping. The luxury hotels close to the airport in Aero City (we stayed at both Holiday Inn and Pride Plaza) were sterile with no proximate shopping or services. However these hotels and the airport were connected to downtown Delhi by an excellent, low-cost subway.

The OAT portion of our trip started with several days in Delhi where our guide Mandeep added a number of interesting sojourns to our itinerary. Our tour of a Sikh temple kitchen where 15,000-20,000 people are fed daily was truly amazing. We visited Gandhi Smriti, (now a museum) where Gandhi spent the last months of his life and Raj Ghat, his cremation site. We also visited India’s largest mosque and the colossal India Gate (a memorial to Indian soldiers who served in World War I). Another highlight was a bicycle rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk Bazaar in Old Delhi, where we took the time to walk the narrow, vendor-filled alleys. Next we traveled overland to Jaipur, the pink city, where we visited the Amber Fort and the astronomical observatory, additionally attending a ceremony at a Hindu temple. Our next stop was a beautiful, palatial hotel just outside of Ranthambore National Park, a sanctuary for the endangered Bengal Tigers. We spent two nights there, hiked to an ancient fort, and took two safaris into the Park with hopes of seeing tigers. It was not to be but we did see myriad bird life, wild boar, two varieties of deer, mongoose, antelope, crocodiles and Langur monkeys.

No OAT trip is complete without a “day in the life” visit to a school and the surrounding village where Grand Circle Foundation has made a difference. We had lunch at a ladies’ cooperative, where they make and sell finely crafted needle work and clothing. Continuing along, we spent a delightful evening at OAT’s jungle camp where we enjoyed a cooking lesson with their Nepalese chef. A local group of musicians and dancers entertained us and drew most of us in to the dancing. We could hear wedding season festivities throughout the night. After breakfast, we hitched a short ride on a homemade vehicle called a “jugad” – translates “makeshift” before boarding our bus. We made a quick stop in the village to see a 9th century step well that rivaled the building expertise of the Egyptians. No visit to India is complete without a stop at the world reknown Taj Mahal in Agra. We arrived there late in the afternoon and as expected, it was crowded. We wandered for a few hours and viewed it again from across the river the next morning.

Leaving for Khajarabo by train was a trial because of fog (smog) in Delhi. Our train was hours late, putting us on the bus ride after dinner instead of after lunch. We arrived around midnight and were up early the next day to visit erotic temples before flying out to Varanasi, along the Ganges. The group took tuktuks from the hotel to a riverside ghat for a colorful Aarti celebration. Crowds thronged the steps to the river and boat loads of people floated butter lamps near the shoreline. We boarded one such boat and watched a couple of cremations from a respectful distance. This cremation place, active 24/7, services about 200 per day. Up at sunrise, we returned to the ghats and boarded a boat to view cremations, people dipping themselves in the river, and laundry happening. People were also practicing yoga and priests were performing individual ceremonies. This area boasts 900-950 narrow alleys and our local guide Krishna took us walking through some of them. On the outskirts of town, we visited Sarnath Stupa (Deer Park), where Buddha preached his first sermon. Our last morning in Varanasi was highlighted by an early morning yoga class and a traditional Indian music concert. We said many goodbyes at the airport as five from our group were continuing on to Kathmandu. Several more had upcoming flights out of Delhi, while seven of us gathered for our last dinner together before returning to the US.