Region: Asia

Last Stop: Bangkok

Last Stop: Bangkok

Heading Back to New England

And hoping the snow is gone

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Sri Lankan "dagoba"

Our journey home did not start auspiciously. Maybe we should have “made merit” like the gentleman in the photo above.

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Back in ????, we’d booked an overnight sleeper train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. It’s very cheap (20% the cost of flying), reasonably comfortable, you spend almost the entire travel time asleep, and you don’t need to pay for a hotel room that night. We showed up at the station, to learn the training was running “at least” an hour late. Sounded ominous. The hot season starts on March 1, and it was at least in the high 80s, with humidity about the same. Clouds of mosquitos attacked hungrily — hey, the girls’ gotta eat sometime.. We waited & sweated. Kathy took a wander around the station; she happened to look at the train schedule listing. There were no sleepers on the 8:30 pm train, only seats! Apparently the station agent in Hua Hin had screwed up.This was a 12+ hour train. We would have to spend a long night sitting in upright train seats, after waiting in a hot, buggy train station for some indeterminate time. It took us about 5 minutes to decide this was no longer the desired course of action. A svelte, kindly young man was sitting opposite us and chatted us up — an ex-Vice-Principal from a school in New York City, continuing his journeys in Thailand. He’s meeting up with a friend who is starting a new aid organization. These spontaneous “cultural exchanges” make our travel infinitely more interesting — and in this case, help pass the time while we decide what to do with our dilemma.

Because we’d wanted an air-conditioned room during the day, we had paid for an extra day at our hotel. Worked out to about three bucks an hour, well worth it (particularly in retrospect). The guesthouse was certainly surprised to see us reclaim our room an hour after we had checked out and left! We all had a good laugh.

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First thing next morning, we started calling airlines for a flight. Shades of our first Chiang Mai exit back in January – no reservations because of a screw-up, and all the flights full. Veterans of this exact situation, we knew what to do – go to the airport, buy a ticket for a flight atsometime in the future, and standby for the flight we actually wanted. So that’s what we did. And, like our other two standby attempts this trip, we made it onto flight, no problem. Unlike where we waited from about 7pm until nearly midnight (then had to rush through Customs and Immigration) — we arrived at the airport, got our tickets in 10 minutes’ time, and 5 minutes after we got into the standby list, we got confirmed, seat assignments, went to Departure and got on the plane almost immediately. It almost never goes this well.

Bangkok is also pretty warm, but inexplicably, not as hot as Chiang Mai (even though its further south). Blue skies (Bangkok’s air has been improving over the years; Chiang Mai is getting worse). We don’t have many plans for Bangkok; it is our third time here in the past two months. We do the luggage shuffle — rid ourselves of anything we can that is now excess (worn out maps, for example), and re-pack the stuff we’ve been carrying through Thailand along with the bad we’d left behind in Bangkok. Sounds like a trivial exercise, but we travel pretty light, and all this stuff (including, for example, a small carpet we purchase in India) needs to fit into one duffle bag, two carry-on-sized bags, and a pair of rucksacks. It’s an art.

We’ve got a bottle of wine (turns out, a decent bottle of wine) — we score some bread, cheese. . . parma ham at a nearby supermarket — “room service” dining, on the cheap.

Bye Bye Dehli

Bye Bye Dehli

Bye Bye Delhi

Escaping Back to Thailand

The train from Agra left in the evening, and we weren’t back to our Delhi hotel till about 11pm. When we had arrived in India almost a month ago, we were very unimpressed with the hotel. Now, after three weeks on the road staying in some even more basic places, seems quite lovely. They remember us; we’re kind of “family” at the place. Feels nice.

The first thing we did was fill the tub (our first in 3 weeks) and scrub off all the accumulated dirt. It felt soooo good. Kathy was able to eat a small meal (her first in almost 3 days). Things were looking up. And our feet were clean!
We had planned for a couple of days in Delhi, to rest up after the trip, before heading Varanasi and the Ganges River, the spiritual center of India. Our friend Asha’s aunt lived there, and she had offered to let us stay with her, and to show us around the city. We were thrilled. We’d booked an overnight 1st class train (no more 3-tier sleepers for us!) – ready to travel in style!

But, the next day we didn’t feel very good (again). We didn’t do much. We both started worshiping the porcelain goddess again. The day after we were a bit better, but not by much. We didn’t think we could handle an overnight train ride, followed by two days in the very hot, very dirty, and very very crowded city of Varanasi. So, with sadness, we cancelled our trip to Varanasi, and fell back into bed.

The next day, we felt a bit better, but neither of us really had much interest in seeing more of Delhi – been there, done that. Our flight out wasn’t for another three days, but we could see no reason to stay, so we called to see if we could change our flight. They weren’t able to confirm a seat, but sounded quite hopeful. Like most flights from Delhi, this flight left at 12:30am (i.e. in the middle of the night). After being so sick,and after spending a month in downscale hotels, we decided to splurge, and get a room at the Radisson Hotel near the airport, until our midnight flight.

What a wondrous experience it was to have the door of the Radisson opened for us, and be swept into the lobby of a 5-star international hotel – no dirt anywhere, marble floors, big chandeliers, music softly playing – we had re-entered the first world! Heaven! Up to our room we went – soft white sheets! Water that flowed fast and hot from the tap! Big, soft, fluffy pillows! Air conditioning that really kept things cool! Carpeting! And, to top it off, wireless broadband access! We reveled in our first-world luxury room for a while, then had dinner at the Italian restaurant for some exorbitant (“1st world”) price, and return to the room to pack. But, when Scott called to see if they’d found us seats, they sounded pessimistic about our chances of getting on the flight that evening – very overbooked, the next day “looks much better”. We wondered whether they were working with an Astrologer: “signs are very bad, tomorrow will be better”. And there was our bed, so white and soft and tempting. It wasn’t a hard choice – we’d take our chances tomorrow, and sleep in the lap of luxury tonight.

The next day, the hotel wouldn’t let us extend our check-out time by even a minute, so we were kicked out of our room by noon, with 12 hours to kill until our flight. We sat here and there around the hotel, the wireless access still working for a while. Scott surfed, Kathy read. We called the airline again – ominously, the forecast had changed from “looking likely to get on the flight” to “overbooked — come to the airport and take your chances”. By 8pm we’d had our fill of the hotel lobby, and headed off to the airport so we’d be first on the waiting list. We hadn’t bothered eating, assuming we could get food at the airport. Yeah, right.

We were first in line when the ticket counter opened, but the agent couldn’t give us any idea as to whether we would make it – it was overbooked by 35 people. We were to just sit and wait by the gate until 11:30, when they would start calling stand-bys, if they had any free seats. Worryingly, a fellow traveler we talked to said that every flight for the last two weeks heading from Delhi to Asia had been sold out (no idea why). It was hot, there was nowhere comfortable to sit, nothing to eat, we nowhere to go if we couldn’t get on the flight, and we were still feeling poorly from the aftereffects of food poisoning. Not an especially positive airport experience.

There’s a lot of glamour to traveling around the world, but there are also a fair share of crappy times like this. Gotta take the bad with the good. So we sat glumly in our molded plastic, stomachs grumbling, until 11:30pm rolled around. They started calling names – we’d expected to be top of the list, because we both have elite status on United (we were flying Thai, a United partner) and we had arrived so early. But they called someone else. And someone else. And someone else. “the signs are not good“. Finally – they called us. We were jammed into tiny, uncomfortable seats, flying upright and cramped into the morning. But, we were on our way back to comfortable, familiar Thailand. Saved!

Ref: Travel/Asia/Thailand/ThaiIndia-0104/HuaHin.html”>Recovering from India

Taj Mahal — Even Better in Person

Taj Mahal — Even Better in Person


So, of course, the Taj is the “must see” sight in all of India — and we had both came down with food poisoning. It didn’t start out too bad — just a few stomach cramps. We weren’t too worried, and left the bird park by jeep, driving to (yet another) fort — this was in virtually pristine condition. It had been built by a maharaja in the 1500s, its location ordained by a priest. Well, he forgot one thing – there was no water anywhere near this palace in the desert. They stuck it out for 15 years, and its been abandoned ever since. Kathy felt increasingly unwell, and as we exited the fort for the drive to Agra, she realized her breakfast wasn’t going to stay down. Fortunately, as with just about everywhere in India, there was an open sewer running nearby, which she quickly moved to take advantage of.
We’ll spare you the details of the rest of the day – let’s just say we became well acquainted with the porcelain goddess in our room. Kathy was quite sure that she was going to have to miss visiting the Taj the next morning – but miraculously, she felt better enough to head out at dawn, to catch the Taj as the sun rose. Scott, who never seems to get as sick as Kathy, was feeling quite chipper.
Unlike any of the other palaces and historical sites we’d visited, there was impressive security at the Taj. You were allowed to bring nothing in except cameras, and had to twice go through metals detectors and body searches. (Apparently there had been terrorist threats against the Taj). There were probably a hundred or so people who arrived at dawn – it wasn’t crowded at all.
Entering the grounds, there was a light fog and the sun had yet to rise. The light was gray, the fog was gray, the Taj was gray. It was magical and unearthly. The pictures don’t come close to the reality — it is absolutely stunning. We spent a couple of hours, watching the the Taj turn pink as it reflected the rising sun. We were awestruck (and Scott has seen it before).
 We headed back to the hotel mid-morning. Kathy was exhausted (having not eaten for almost two days) and neither of were in top form. We slept through the afternoon, then headed off to catch the train back to Delhi. As we waited for the train to arrive, we were entertained by several urchins who apparently live at the train station. Keeping a close eye on our belongings, we blew up balloons for them to play with – they were enthralled.

Next: Change of Plans

Romantic Udaipur

Romantic Udaipur

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Udaipur was another favorite for all of us. It’s best known for its Lake Palace, a stunning palace that rises out of the center of a man-made lake in the center of thie city, which is now a (very expensive) hotel. The hotel was the site of the James Bond film “Octopussy”, which all the local guesthouses showed nightly. Our hotel was located right on the lake opposite the hotel (the picture above shows the view from our hotel.) The highlight of the visit to Udaipur for Kathy was getting luxuriant henna tattoos on both her hands and feet. These are a traditional ornament for women, and are made by free-hand painting of henna, which is allowed to dry, then re-wetted with a mixture of lemon sugar water and allowed to dry again. The result is a dye that lasts for many days – basically, until the skin wears off.

The city palace in Udaipur was one of the most stunning palaces we had visited to date – and that’s saying something! Every surface is intricately covered in artwork. The rooms were a combination of (rather garish) mirrored tiling and detailed paintings. (The mirrors helped reflect the lamp light in the evenings). Fabulously intricate murals
highlighted the most important function rooms. Most of the palaces were built over a period of several hundred years, with each new descendant trying to outdo his predecessors in grandeur. It is unimaginable how much these must have cost.

Kathy, along with several other trip members, took a couple of yoga classes in Udaipur. The classes were fun – and the instructor amazinging limber – they really can do all those unbelievable poses. But, the highlight turned out to be something that happened while walking the short distance to the class. On a sidestreet, out of nowhere, came a a procession of brightly-dressed women, each carrying a coconut in a pot on her head, led by drummers. The women were chanting and rolling their heads — it was some type of puja (religious ceremony). One of the wonderful things about India is that you never know what you’ll find when you turn the corner. It turns out that there were three weddings being held that evening. Since three is an inauspicious number of religious events to hold in one day, the women performed with additional ceremony, making the total four, which is auspicious.

Meanwhile, Scott headed off for a cooking class, where he learned the techniques for making all the tasty dishes we’d been sampling along the way. Mmmmm. Kathy headed off to get a henna tatoo on her hands and feet – elaborate designs that are painted on by hand with a thick henna paste and left to dry. When the dried paste falls off, the pattern remains on the skin, lasting for up to a couple of weeks.

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Mt. Abu Hill Station — Niagra Falls of the East

Mt. Abu Hill Station — Niagra Falls of the East

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India is sweltering hot in the summer – we’re talking 120 degrees plus – so anyone who can afford it flees to the higher elevations where it’s cooler. The entire British Colonial Government would decamp to Simla, another hill station, for the entire summer. Our next stop was Mt Abu, a hill station in southern Rajasthan at the edge of the state of Gujarat, reached by twisting and turning up a series of switchbacks on a steep mountain face. This would have been scary enough, but of course then there were the cows in the road. And did we mention the buses and trucks passing each other during blind curves (which pretty much describes the entire road). And, of course, our jeeps were doing the same. The fact that there were roadside temples with little offerings lining the road did nothing to assuage our fear – in Bali, these kind of temples are placed where people tend to get killed on the road.

To our surprise (and delight), we made it alive to the hilltop, and spent two days hanging around the honeymoon capital of northwest India. Being marriage season, it was full of honeymooners. We met one perplexed Indian-American groom who had come to India for an arranged marriage, only to find now on this honeymoon that his new bride wanted nothing to do with him presently (it takes a while for the parties in an arranged marriage to get to know each other, we think).

The town was full of souvenir sellers, but their target was the local market, and we were left relatively alone. Kathy decided to just hang out and take it easy, but Scott embarked on a death march hike up the side of the mountain with some younger, fitter travel companions. To his credit, he kept up with them – but it pretty much wiped him out for the next day and a half. It was handy having Jordan (the ER Doc) for backup and encouragement. deathmarch

There was only one real sight to see in Mt. Abu – some incredible Jain temples with intricate marble carvings of incredible delicacy. (Sorry, no pictues were allowed). Jainism is an Indian religion, one that split off from Hinduism many hundreds of years ago. A main tenent is not to take another’s life – whether it be a cow or a chicken egg, or an ant. Jain’s won’t eat onions or garlic, as pulling them up from the earth might kills insects. Observant Jains might sweep the path in front of them, to ensure any insects are brushed away so they won’t be stepped on. Jains choose careers that don’t put them in a position of having to kill things — so many of them are business people, rather than farmers or laborers.
The temples were built several hundred years ago, and are still in use today (we visited when there weren’t any services going on). Not only were the carvings magnificent, but it was astonishing how they had managed to get these massive marble slabs up the mountain in one piece.

After two days, it was time for yet another bus ride (arghhh..), this time to the romantic city of Udaipur.

Bhenswara — A Stop in the Middle of Nowhere

Bhenswara — A Stop in the Middle of Nowhere

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To get a taste of rural India (and to break up the long distance between Jodhpur & Mt. Abu), we stopped for the night in the little town of Bhenswara, and set out to visit some of the local villages. We visited two villages in the late afternoon, just as evening prepartions were beginning – fetching water, brings the herds in from the field, etc. The villagers were familiar with digital cameras, and everyone but everyone wanted to look at their picture on the digital screen. We soon had an entourage of a couple dozen kids following us, getting pushier than we would have liked. But, I guess there’s not a lot of excitement out here.

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Jodphur – The Blue City

Jodphur – The Blue City

Jodhpur

The Blue City

Another interminably-early morning bus ride took us Jodhpur, home of the pants of the same name, and famed for the blue walls of its hourses, and fantastic fort – Meherangarh, which was described by Kipling as “the creation of angles, fairies, and giants”. It sits formidable atop a 125 foot rock, glowering down on the town below. Like most such forts, it was added onto over hundreds of years by a succession of rulers. It has intricate carvings and decorated walls throughout. One of the most haunting displays is handprints of the 20+ wives of a particular ruler, made on their way out of the city to perform “seti” (throwing themselves onto a burning pyre) as their husband went to find a battle to the death as invaders overtooks the city. [below, center]

  

One of the last great palaces of India was built by the Mahraja of Jodhpur in the 1940s, just as they were relinquishing their royal privileges after independence. There was massive unemployment for the time, and this massive new project was seen as a way to create jobs. The palace still is home to the local majaraja in one wing; the rest of the palace is a very luxiurious and upscale hotel. We went to have a drink there, to experience briefly how the other half lives. The single drink cost about the same as two days worth of food at our budget restaurants- but one had to admit the setting was lovely. The real coup, though, was that Scott stole a big bar of sandalwood soap from the men’s room. Our budget hotels offer miniscule slivers of industrial-smelling soap, hardly enough to get through a single shower. We treasured the large, smooth, sweet-smelling palace soap throughout the rest of the trip.

This was a whistlestop tour for us – just an afternoon to look around the city, then off to our next destination — the middle of nowhere

Next: Bhenswara

Camel Safari

Camel Safari

Camels

“A horse, designed by a committee”?
Kathy Queen of the Desert
One of the most exotic items on our Rajasthan tour was to be an overnight camel safari through the Thar Desert. What uniqueness! What adventure! What a pain in the ass! (literally). Spending about 6 hours net on camelback: entertaining at first, then tedious, then painful. Similar to riding a horse, the inside of the thighs tend to get bruised; in Scott’s case the blanket over the saddle didn’t cover the back properly, so his upper butt kept slamming into the back of the saddle. Quite… memorable.
We rode a few hours in the sun, had a fried lunch cooked by the camel drivers, napped, back on board for several more hours in the saddle. Not a whole lot to see in the desert, but we did pass some isolated villages and women out gathering dung to use as fuel for the evening’s dinner.
The only real excitement came as we were nearing our camp for the evening.

It’s like… Falling off a Camel

Scott’s ill-fitting saddle had won out by the end of the day. “Sore” hardly covers it. So Scott took a break, walking alongside the caravan. Camels don’t move very fast, so this is no big deal. And it was nice to get off the this love-sick camel (see “camel lust” later in this tale) for a while.
The desert is pretty hot (it’s a desert, ok?) so Scott needs some more water and goes up to Kathy (on her mount, top right) gets it and continues walking, behind Kathy’s camel.
As we come to the very end of the trip (where we’ll spend the night), Kathy’s camel gets spooked over something and lurches. Now, Kathy is a trained Equestrienne, so she knows how to handle “emergency” situations — with horses. However, what’s happened, seeming in slow-motion while Scott watches… Kathy’s entire saddle, with Kathy on it, shifts almost 90 degrees to the right. In other words, Kathy, and Kathy’s saddle, are now parallel to the ground. Kathy is about to fall about 6′ from the side of a camel. It is at once (for Scott) terrifying and hilarious, watching this unfold from 30′ away and being unable to do anything at all about it. It was like slow motion action scenes in the movies.

Saved by the dune!

Unlike most of the day, the “trail” here is largely soft sand, and there are dunes to the side. Recall that Kathy is horizontal, clinging for her life on the side of a camel. No dummy, her feet were not locked in the stirrups like so many gringos’ (Scott for example) would be. So she’s prepared to fall, and that’s just what she does (she’s practiced this move more than once on horseback). This saga all continues to unfold in seeming “slow-mo”; seconds become tens; Kathy descends towards the earth.
But we’re right at the edge of a dune. Her fall is into soft, dry, sand. Couldn’t ask for a better cushion. She’s unscathed from the fall. Until…

Camel Feet: well designed

There are many things one does not want to be stepped on with (oops, bad grammer: “there are many things, to be stepped on with, unwanted”). Soccer cleats, horses hooves to name but two. But you could do worse than to be stepped on by a camel, an event which followed immediately after Kathy’s fall.
Camel’s feet are quite large, perhaps a foot (no pun intended) wide and essentially round, and more like a pad than the massive toe-nail which is a horse’s hoof. They’re optimized for walking in conditions like sand. So when Kathy hits the dune, and the camel basically steps on her chest. Jenny the trip leader has visions of a helicopter medi-vac. Kathy gets up, brushes off the sand, and pronounces herself fine. All those years of falling off horses have taurght her well. She’s got a bruise and a small scratch — but both are assuaged by doting and sympathy — and a quantity of beer. Jenny the trip leader seems much more traumatized by the whole affair than Kathy.
Kathy really lucked out on this… she could have been seriously hurt — but life entails a certain amount of risk.
We had a beautiful site to spend the night in the desert (this is where one of few group photos comes from). First came the beer (brought cold, in jeeps, to this “remote, isolated” desert location. The camel drivers now turned into chefs and cooked us a fabulous feast over the campfire (and a propane stove). This was inevitably followed by singing songs around the campfire. The chefs now morphed into folk singers, and sang some excellent Rajasthani desert ballads. Having forgotten all our camping trip songs, we countered with pop songs we could recall – Janis Joplin, Yellow Submarine, that sort of thing. Not exactly campfire material.
Being cloudless (it is a desert after all) and in the middle of nowhere, the stars were fabulous. Among the many talents (it turns out) of “John the Elder“, is a compelling knowledge of the legends of the night sky. Guy is really handy to have around!
Finally we piled in under the quilts provided (lots of them – it was still *cold* at night) and fell asleep around the waning campfire.

Next: Jaiselmer

Rajasthan Havelis

Rajasthan Havelis

2/4 – 2/7/04 Shekawati Region

We boarded a late evening sleeper train from Delhi, heading into small-town northern Rajasthan. We toasted the start of our journey with a bottle of India’s finest red wine (Australia and South Africa needn’t fear their wine markets), and had a pleasant overnite journey in our 2nd class, 2-tier compartment. trainwine We dashed off the train about 6am at a podunk station, the last of us having to jump off as the train was gathering speed out of the station. First stop was at an eco-resort just for an excellent breakfast and a few urgent calls of nature. It was the last time we would feel clean for the next 3 weeks.

After breakfast, we plunged into the back corners and alleys of our little town. This was our first taste of rural India, and it was an eye-opener for a lot of people on our tour: Sand paths instead of paved roads, an old central well that has been replaced by a community water supply; open sewers carry all nature of waste through canals in the streets. Watch your step. sandvillageroad

We’d toured here to see the havelis. Haveli is the Hindi word referring to palatial (both in size and opulence) buildings — complexes — of staggering size and remarkable beauty. These are remnants of the time when local traders made their fortunes, mainly during the 1700s and 1800s. They are especially noted for their elaborate paintings (cenotaphs) and/or carvings that adorn almost all available surfaces. Entire extended families lived in these buildings, and competition ensued between havelis for the most rooms, the most opulence. It is remarkable how elaborate (and expensive) these buildings must have been. Elaborate cenotaph murals adorn many of the haveli walls . The most entertaining of these were sort of “word of mouth” “news” of the west; a painting would be made based one a visitor’s description of something as yet-unseen in India — a motorcar for example. Typically, Western people would be represented in caricature — prominent noses; elongated or bloated bodies.

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Many of these havelis have fallen into disrepair, the families having lost their wealth and ability to maintain the structures. Others have been chosen as World Heritage Sites, and are being slowly restored to their previous grandeur. Several however, have opened their doors to Tourists (and their money), allowing us to  experience — sort of — the magnificence of these places, and imagine how they once would have held families and their complete entourages.Quite a number have been made into hotels, and Intrepid made a point of booking us into these whenever possible..

Later than day, we moved onto Mandawa, a larger town where we stayed in a semi-restored haveli hotel and got used to life in small town India. As fascinating as the havelis were, it was even more interesting to wander through streets that seldom saw tourists, visiting the local markets and observing day-to-day life in a place that’s very different from where you and I grew up. Being in the Thar Desert, the prefered form of local transport was the pack camel, which were ubiquitous (along with the cows). Tiny little shops lined the street, often with the craftsman performing his trade when not serving customers – tailors using foot-pedaled sewing machines, a cobbler cutting out camel-skin soles, a bangle-maker setting stones in a bracelet. There were colorful vegetables, spices, and grains for sale.

Intercity buses hurdled themselves through the town at high speed, scattering people and camels in their wake. Tribal women from the countryside, with their brightly colored and spangled saris, were about town, picking up staples and a few more bangles. We were far less harassed here than in Delhi, with the exception of the adorably cute street urchins, who followed us everywhere we went, and seemed to be looking for attention more than baksheesh (“share the wealth”). From Bikaner, we headed out for one of the most exotic parts of a tour, an overnite camel safari into the Thar Desert.

Fellow Travelers

Fellow Travelers

Tour Members

The group was a bit smaller than the max of 12, with a total of 10 passengers + our Guide/Facilitator (front, left). Interestingly, all of them were taking this tour as part of a longer, multi-month trek. I guess unless you’re a serious traveler, you don’t take three week bus trips through rural India. A very interesting group of people, meeting them was one of the best parts of the trip.


Jordan & Janice: 30 year olds who are taking a year off to backpack around the world.. Good for them! He’s an ER doc at a public hospital in the Bronx; when he returns he’ll have the same job at Cook County Hospital in Chicago (yes, same as the TV show “ER”). She’s a fashion designer, her last job was for Ann Taylor Inc. Both are compulsive world travelers, especially Jordan (who does volunteer doc work in interesting places around the world) Great stories of their travels and of life in the ER. You can read about their trip at www.travelpod.com, under traveler name “jmo”.


Ravi: a late-20s med school graduate who is taking some time off before doing his residency. Born & raised in the US, with Indian immigrant parents. This is his first time visiting India other than staying with family. To everyone’s amusement, locals assume he is our guide, and try to cut deals with him to win our business. Ravi doesn’t speak Hindi, but is game for the deal-making nonetheless (sharing the kickbacks). He’s spending a couple of months touring India, ending up visiting family in South India the last few weeks — where he will have “introductions” to possible brides – his family has been advertising.


John “the Elder”: An Irish Barrister (lawyer) turned Software Engineer in his mid-30s, bright and witty. Had a job offer in Australia from friends, so he quit his job, gave up his flat, and set out to reach Australia via India. The job offer in Australia has since disappeared, but he’s sticking to his guns, hopeful of finding a different position when he arrives. Another compulsive world traveller, you can read about this and previous adventures at www.heldencrow.com.. A wonderful story teller and entertainer (and an excellent writer!), and knows some facts even more arcane than some than even Scott can come up with.


John & Holly — 19 and 18 years old, respectively. Taking six or seven months off to see the world during their “gap year” (after high school, before college). India was the first leg of their trip. Unlike the other hardened travelers on the trip, I’m not sure if they knew what they were getting into, but they gamely figured it out as they went along, relying on familar junk food and chocolate when things got tough. I never would have been brave enough to do it at their age. I can’t think of a better life experience for someone of that age, then to get out and see the real world like this.


Andrea: An entirely likable late 30s single gal, she got fed up with the stressful corporate life in London and quit her job, moving back to her mom’s in Yorkshire before setting off on a round-the-world trip by herself. Not sure what she’ll do next, but it won’t be the rat race. A wonderful person, we’ve convinced her to stop by and stay with us when she gets to our part of the world in May.


Athena: An unlikely candidate for this trip, she’s been staying with our friend Asha in Delhi, and decided to come along when she heard about it from us. A long-time US State Dept employee in Paris, she moved back to the US a couple years ago, just in time to help in building the communications strategy for the explaining the Iraqi invasion. This was an extremely stressful job (especially since she didn’t agree with most of it) and she finally decided she had to quit or go crazy. They convinced her to take a sabbatical, and she’s spending six months in India, staying with Asha when not touring other parts of the country. The most experienced “India hand” among us travelers (being in India since November), she taught us how to bargain hard and how to check for quality.


Jenny: Our tour gude, 23, idealistic yet wise; has an unflappable, get-things-done attitude which makes her very effective. I have no idea how she can be so poised at her age. Has led trips throughout China and India for Intrepid.

 And then, there’s us. The Group Elders.

And so we set out on the first leg of our journey, the Shekawati region of Northern Rajasthan.