Thursday, February 23, 2012

The 286th good thing about Lagos: an R&R trip to India and Nepal that created some unforgettable memories

Well, it's February now, but I'll wish all my readers a Happy New Year!  I hope 2012 has gotten off to a good start with you.  I've taken an extended blog-cation (almost 4 months since my last post!) and I know it's time to get back to my blog.  I use this blog as a journal of my life and I've got quite a back log of posts to catch up on.  So forgive me as I go back to record some old news.  Part of my delay has been because of the subject of this post.  We took a fabulous trip to India and Nepal at the end of October into November and life has been so busy since then that I still haven't got through and edited, organized and labeled my over 3000 pictures from the trip.  But I decided that I can't wait to finish that job before I write this post. So I've picked through my pictures and pulled out some of them to give you an idea of our trip.  This trip was such an incredible range of different kinds of experiences that it's hard to choose what to show here.  I'll give you more than a few, but as our travels aren't a focus of this blog, but a side benefit to our living in a "hardship" location, I'll try to limit myself.

We considered India a more difficult destination to do on our own and decided that joining a group tour would be a good way to go.  We were a little worried about feeling limited by going around in a group, but found that "Fun for Less Tours" (kind of a dorky name, and definitely not a budget tour, but I do recommend the tour company) really did things right and we found it a very pleasant and comfortable way to travel.  We made good friends in our group and there were very few frustrations and a lot of ease.  We definitely would do it again that way.

We stayed in great hotels, like the modern and serene Trident Gurgaon, in a suburb of New Delhi,

the historic and sumpteous Samode Palace hotel, which really is a Maharaja's Palace, turned into a hotel, with some beautifully ornate halls and reception rooms.
This palace is in a village an hour drive in the mountains outside Jaipur.  Just to illustrate the kinds of experiences our tour company organized for us, I'll tell you of our arrival at this hotel.  Our bus stopped at dusk out the outskirts of the Samode village, where we were greeted with a brass band and a whole troop of costumed, torch bearing young men.  We were escorted onto cushioned camel carts which brought us through the village and up the mountain to the hotel grounds.  We stopped on the steps in front of the Palace till everyone was there, and then were treated to a show of fireworks, and at the end, the palace was suddenly lit up with twinkling white lights.  We went up the steps, which were lined with intricately decorated flower petals, serenated with music, greeted with a marigold garland and a bindi dot on our forehead.  After checking into our fabulous rooms, we had a reception in the mirrored reception rooms of the palace (our way to get there through halls again lined with flower petals in a beautiful design) and had a lovely buffet dinner with dance entertainment outside in a courtyard of the palace, where we also enjoyed more fireworks.  It was a magical evening and we felt like royalty!

 We also had less luxurious accomodation for a couple of nights as we stayed in a tented camp at the Pushkar Camel Fair, which was an experience unlike any other.
We traveled by tuk tuk (here to a market in Jodphur, though Brent stayed at the hotel to have a nap)
 by rickshaw, here in Kathmandu, though we also took rickshaws in India,
 By camel cart in Samode (here coming down the hill from the palace, through the gate to the village),
 and also in Pushkar, travelling from our camp to the camel fair.

 We rode on elephants to get up to the Amber Fort in Jaipur,
and in Nepal, we had an unforgettable ride on a 16 passenger Buddha air flight where we got up an close and personal view of the incredibly rugged Himalayas,

especially Mt. Everest, shown here on the left.

We visited the exquisite Taj Mahal in Agra, considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

It really IS that beautiful.

 And in Agra we also enjoyed seeing the "Baby Taj", the I'timad-Ud-Daulah, which is a tomb the Empress Nur Jahan built for her father.  It is a jewel box with beautifully intricate inlaid designs, more colorful than the Taj Mahal.

Another fabulous marble memorial building was the Jaswant Thada in Jodhpur, built entirely out of thin and intricately carved sheets of marble.

We visited some fabulous forts, like the Amber Fort in Jaipur,

 the Mehrangarh Fort, which rises high above the city of Jodhpur,

(you can see why Jodhpur is sometimes called "the Blue City")

and the "ghost city" of Fatehpur Sikri, with its intricately carved red sandstone buildings.

We saw lots of historic and sacred architecture:
here in Kathmandu

 where there were stupas

and Buddhist prayer wheels of all sizes.

 It was harvest time in the beautiful and historic village of Bhaktapur in Nepal and people had set aside their traditional pottery making and
were hard at work winnowing their grain.

 We got a different view of country life at the Pushkar Camel Fair in India, where horses and camels were traded,

 and all kinds of things were sold in the country fair.
 Pushkar has a lake where pilgrims come to bathe in the sacred water.

There was also sacred washing in the waters of the Bagmati river in Nepal,

 and we saw cremations along this river,

and also in Varanasi, India, on the banks of the sacred Ganges River.

 We had an unexpected treat of being in Varanasi during the Chhath festival, which is dedicated to the Hindu Sun God, Surya.  Worshippers wait through the night for the sunrise to give offerings of flowers and fruit to the river to pray for the safety and health of their fathers and sons.  (And I asked, but there is no comparable festival to pray for the wives and daughters.) Thousands of people waited before dawn on the steps leading to the river and we watched from a boat as they waited for the first sight of the sun, which they greeted with cheers and offerings.

This was an incredible morning!
In the capital we saw the chaos of the Old City,
 Beautiful monuments of ancient architecture,

 and a peaceful oasis where people filed past a monument to Mahatma Ghandi.

We loved seeing all the beautiful flowers,

 hearing the sounds,
 seeing the vibrant colors,
 eating some wonderful food,
 shopping (here at a spice shop in Jodphur)
 and seeing the beautiful country of India. 

 We recommend the trip and hope to return to see more of this amazing land.

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