A Day in Delhi

 Might one of those peaks be Mount Everest?   Your guess is as good as mine.  One thing I know for certain, those babies ARE the Himalayas and the view from the left side of the plane, even from my middle seat over the wing, was majestic.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  This post is supposed to be about Delhi, so I need to back up a little.  Truth is,  I just wanted to use the photo.

On my flight to Delhi, my intention was to get to sleep as fast as possible.  That quickly changed when I realized my seat mate was quite fascinating.   He was starting a speaking speaking tour in several cities throughout Asia about the “soft side” of medical care.  If that weren’t interesting enough,  his son, Ashok Rajamani, wrote “The Day My Brain Exploded”  a memoir about his stroke at age 25 and his come back when he emerged from a coma.   The end result?  I got so engrossed in our conversation, it became too late to take a sleeping pill, so I landed in Delhi a bit more jet lagged than I’d hoped.

For those of you that view me as being organized, I have a confession to make.  I forgot to bring my hotel confirmation with me, so I didn’t have its exact address.  I figured that would be no big deal, given that the Pride Plaza Hotel was right at the airport.  Wrong.  The cab driver had no idea where it was, so he stopped periodically to ask random people for directions.  You might suspect it was a ploy to run up the meter, but the fare was prepaid.  What’s going through my jet lagged, brain while we are driving aimlessly around, chatting up strangers?   I’m thinking it’s a good thing I’m not in The Amazing Race.  For sure, I’d be hearing Phil say, “you are team #10, and I’m sorry to tell you, you have just ‘bean’ (yes, that’s how he pronounces it) eliminated.”

When we finally made it to the hotel, I was pleased to discover that it was quite lovely, and I congratulated myself on my decision to arrive in Delhi a day before the start of the OAT tour, to allow myself time to acclimate.  I am very aware that a well rested me is a happier me, and an overtired me, well, let’s just say it isn’t pretty.

Delhi is chock full of amazing temples, tombs, museums, bazaars, historical and cultural sites.  One could easily spend a day visiting  Humayun’s Tomb, the India Gate, the Lotus Temple, the Red Fort –the list goes on.

I did none of that.

One huge benefit of retirement is I finally figured out I don’t have to cram everything into one day.  No,  I have EARNED the right to be selective and to do fewer things, but to choose the things that put a smile on my face.

So, what did I choose?  Well, I toddled over to the Delhi Dance Academy’s Gurgaon location to shake, shake, shake in my best Bollywood fashion with my charming dance instructor, Vishnu.  Marcus, Pride Plaza’s very knowledgeable concierge, arranged for a hotel driver to take me to Gurgaon, wait the 2 hours I was there, and bring me back–all for about $25.  After the night before’s taxi experience,  I figured it was the best, nay, the ONLY way to travel.

Next question– how’d it go?  Well, although I had thought I would be joining a class, I discovered that the Delhi Dance Academy had arranged for a private lesson.  For about $30, I got a welcome ceremony, refreshments, instruction in three different dances, and lots and lots of laughs.  I’m supposed to get a video of my endeavors within the next couple of weeks.   I’ll be sure to post it so everyone can share in the fun.

And now some lessons learned,  for future OAT travelers taking the Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet trip.

  1. Prepay for your taxi inside the terminal.  It is a whole lot easier if, unlike me, you have the actual address with you.
  2. i wasn’t the only one with a clueless cabbie.  Even WITH the hotel address,  one of the other travelers had a similar experience, stopping several times to ask for directions to a hotel that was in the bloody airport area.  Don’t panic if it happens to you.
  3. The ATMS in the terminal are not as user friendly as they are in other countries.  At least they weren’t for me.  After having difficulty with two different ATMs, I ended up using the currency exchange at the airport.  Not the most cost effective choice.
  4. I probably COULD have paid for the taxi with dollars.  The guy at the terminal’s taxi desk told me he would have given me a much better exchange rate.  Who knows?
  5. Our flight to Bhutan was scheduled for a 5 AM departure.  We had to be in the hotel lobby at 2 AM to be sure we’d get through passport control and security in time.
  6. if you CAN go a day early, it is well worth the additional cost of the hotel room.  And the hotel can help you do whatever puts a smile on YOUR face.

 

The Ultimate Packing Challenge

Ultimate packing challenge???  Well, at least it is for me.  I’ll be gone for a month, visiting countries that have temperatures ranging from Lhasa’s average low of 31 F  to an average high of 105 F in both Delhi, India and Chitwan National Park.  Fortunately, I “met” a new virtual friend via OAT’s Forum.  She gave me lots of helpful hints, and most importantly, clued me into the existence of laundry facilities that are plentiful and cheap.  Thanks to her advice, I am able to be safely under the airlines’ 44 pound checked luggage maximum.

In the spirit of giving back, this post is all about what I’m packing.  Maybe a future OAT traveler to Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet will find my information as helpful as I found Janet’s.

There’s nothing like a visual, right?  P1140314

Being your obsessive compulsive kind of gal, I start packing many days before departure, loading articles on the bed in our spare room.  I use a paper list and check off as I go.

One of the many nice things about OAT trips is no one cares what you look like.  No one dresses to impress–it is all about comfort and adventure, so you will notice a total absence of makeup, jewelry, fancy clothes and dress up shoes.  But then, my family would tell you that’s how I normally roll.

Checked luggage:

Toiletries:  toothbrush, paste, floss, shampoo, conditioner, brush, comb, moisturizer, deodorant, soap, face cloth.  

I’m not bothering with a hair dryer because some of the places we will be visiting won’t have electricity.   I let my hair grow just for this trip, so I can pull it back and forget about it.

Miscellaneous: binoculars, sunscreen, Insect repellant, anti itch gel, lip balm, lotion, Ibuprofen, Pepto bismol, gasex, Imodium, Hydrocortisone, Bandaids, bonine, moleskins, z-pak, granola bars, small duffel (supplied by OAT).

I’m hoping I won’t need any of the medications.  Whatever I don’t use on the trip, I’ll give to the trip leader.  Might as well have someone make use of it before the expiration dates.

Clothes:  Rain jacket, down jacket,  Sun hat, Sweater, Underwear  (14 days),
socks (10 ), long underwear (2), Pajamas (2), Shorts (2), Short sleeve tops (7), long sleeve tops (5), Long pants  (4), capris (1), Sneakers, flip flops, keens, bathing suit, buff, chill band.

For the colder parts of the trip, I figure  I can wear long underwear beneath my lightweight pants.  No need for corduroys.  I’m counting on layers to keep me warm.

My goal is to get by for at least a week, maybe two, without having to do laundry.  I may have packed more  than I need; I will report back after the trip is over, identifying anything I took that I didn’t need, and anything that I didn’t take, but wished I had.

As with other OAT trips, we will be visiting a local family, so I packed gifts.  Our guide told me that warm socks are always appreciated for the cold winter months, something I never would have thought to bring.  Of course, I had to include toys for the kids, plus an inflatable globe.

IMG_2380

On our OAT trip to Africa, we discovered that a duffel holds more than we ever imagined  possible.  We also learned there is no need for those fancy packing cubes.  My jumbo zip lock bags work just fine, allowing me to pull out only what is needed.   Take a look.

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Shoes in the bottom, along with items I expect to need at the end of the trip.    P1140320

Yep. It all fit and I even have a tiny amount of extra room.

I know you’re wondering, so yes, that white decoration on my teal LL Bean duffle was my very own creation.  Nobody is walking off with MY bag and claiming it was a mistake!

Because I have a direct flight to Delhi, I don’t need to pack a change of clothes into my carry on.  Here’s what’s going inside.

Backpack:  Money, credit card, passport, etickets, travel info,  camera, batteries, charger, iPad connector, iPad, ipod, Bose headset, sleeping aid, Wipes, hand sanitizer, Glasses  & case, water bottle, cell phone, pens, pencils, notepad, gum, cough drops, copy of passport.

P1140319

 That little black bag with the white decoration?  That’s my “comfort case”, which holds the small items –cough drops, pens, gum, etc. so that I don’t have to rummage through the many pockets of my back pack.

The good news?  I did indeed score the first class upgrade I requested back in November, so I probably won’t need to be digging into that comfort case the way I would have if I were back in economy.  United, you have been forgiven.

The sad news?   Because of some late breaking events, Mike and Greg won’t be able to come on this trip.  Thank heavens for trip insurance!

Follow The Yellow Brick Road, Part One

I’ve been traveling all my life.  I can’t remember whether my first trip was to Neverland or to Oz, but I DO know that I returned to both places countless times.

For many, many years all my travel took place solely between my ears.  Although school did its best to smother any interest in geography by forcing us to memorize products, capitals, and other bone crushingly boring trivia, I never lost my enthusiasm for the exotic places I discovered through our local library.  Books were my magic carpet, whisking me to wondrous places a small town girl like me never dreamed she’d ever be able to actually visit.

Maybe that’s why today, before I set foot in another country, I try to read as much as I can about its culture, religion, politics, history and yes, even geography.  I want to experience in it my head first.  It sounds crazy, even to me,  but a place seems more REAL if I have read about it.

Our next trip will be to the Himalayan countries of Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet.  Here’s a map courtesy of Overseas Adventure Travel, roughly showing where we will be easin’ on down the road. Notice the red line stops at the Seti River?  That’s where the rafting starts, because there ain’t no road to get where we are going, yellow brick or otherwise.

Overseas Adventure Travel Itinerary
Overseas Adventure Travel Itinerary

 

So about those books I’ve been reading– lets start with Bhutan.

My interest in that country began several years ago when I stumbled across The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner.  It introduced me to Bhutan’s concept of Gross National Happiness.   Also around that time, we’d had the good fortune to meet and travel with Dr. Peter Steele.  In 1967, at a time when it was closed to most of the western world, he and his wife were invited to visit Bhutan by the royal family.  After reading his account of the trip, Two and Two Halves in Bhutan, I became even more interested in visiting that fascinating country.

OAT provides a list of “additional resources” for each country on the tour.  That list was my starting point, supplemented by what I could find on Overdrive, an online resource available through our library and of course, by random internet searches.

What follows is nothing even close to a book report, mainly I am somewhat lazy, but also because you will get better summaries by clicking on the blue words in this post.  The Amazon and Good Reads reviewers will do a much better job filling you in than I would have done.

I had no idea that in addition to Peter Steele, Shirley Maclaine also visited Bhutan in the ’60s.  In her 1970 autobiography, Don’t Fall Off the Mountain,  she explains that she had gone to India to learn to meditate, and while there met the new Prime Minister, Lhendup Dorji.  He had assumed that position after the prior Prime Minister (his brother) was assassinated  by a member of the military.   She accepted Dorji’s invitation to visit Bhutan, but unfortunately there was still political unrest in the country, so her visit was cut short.  Still, she was there long enough to give me a feel for what Bhutan was like during that period.  Plus, she DID make it to the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Paro.  And so will I.

Jamie Zeppa’s book, Beyond the Sky and Earth is a wonderful description of life in Bhutan during the late ’80s.  She spent two years as a teacher, first with elementary students in a remote village, then teaching college students at Sherubtse College near Trashigang. Yeah, I’d never heard of those places either.

Jamie married one of her students,Tshewang Dendup. Why did I feel compelled to tell you his name?  Well there is a reason.  In 2003,  he had a starring role in the lovely Bhutanese movie, Travellers and Magicians.  I got the DVD from my library; it’s a great way to  sneak a peek at the beautiful Bhutanese scenery (and to check out Jamie’s ex- husband, if you are so inclined.)

Lisa Napoli”s book, Radio Shangri-La  is about her volunteer work at Kuzoo FM, Bhutan’s “youth based” radio station.  Established in 2006 as one of the king’s projects, Kuzoo broadcasts in both Dzongkha and English.  Lisa’s several years with NPR made her a valuable resource for this young radio station.

Those 4 books gave me glimpses of Bhutan’s evolution from a closed Himalayan kingdom of the ’60s up to around 2009.  What did I learn from my reading?

Ten Fun Facts About Bhutan (Not in order of importance, or any other kind of order, for that matter)

  1. Bhutan is also known as Druk Yul, the Land of the Thunder Dragon
  2. Marijuana grows wild in Bhutan, and is fed to the pigs because (surprise, surprise) it increases their appetite.
  3. Ara is the local moonshine; its a clear wine made from rice. ( Now that we’ve gotten the local stimulants out of the way, let’s move on)
  4. All doctors visits and health care is free
  5. Drukpa Kinley, a Tibetan monk who lived in the late 1400’s,  made his way to Bhutan.  He was also known as the Divine Madman who used his “flaming thunderbolt” to bless women and to bestow “enlightenment”.   He was so successful in his endeavors, he became the patron saint of fertility.
  6. Thanks to the Divine Madman, many Bhutanese houses sport paintings and sculptures of phalluses.  Who knows, photos of the artwork may be a coming attraction of this blog.
  7. Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the 4th king of Bhutan, voluntarily gave up absolute power in 1998.  (When does THAT ever happen??)  He guided the nation from a hereditary monarchy (which had been established in 1907) to its current status as a parliamentary democracy.
  8. Okay, so now the”People Magazine” type information: The 4th king had 4 wives, all of them sisters.
  9. His son, the 5th king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, was crowned in November of 2008.  That king has only ONE wife, who he met at a picnic when he was 17 and she was 7.  According to legend, he said  ‘When you grow up, if I am not married and if you are not married, I would like you to be my wife, provided we still feel the same.’
  10. Men wear the Gho, and women wear the Kira; these two articles comprise Bhutan’s national dress.  Jamie’s book mentions that all Bhutanese were required to wear the national dress.  This dress code was an issue for the Nepalese immigrants living in the southern part of the country.  I don’t know whether the requirement still exists today, but it will be pretty apparent once we get there whether it does or not.

I actually learned a whole lot more, but I have to save SOMETHING for when we get there, right?

Next stop on our book tour – Nepal.