2012 MYSTERIES OF INDIA & NEPAL EXTENSION


AKA the "Toxic Waste" trip

Collette


Collette lied. Their documentation (online itinerary I used to book the tour) says 5 days/4 nights on the Nepal extension in Kathmandu with the Varanasi-New Delhi-Kathmandu flights on the same day. Instead we waste a day in New Delhi and get shortchanged with only (net) 2 days and 3 nights in Kathmandu. It later turns out that the airline has deleted the afternoon flight from Delhi to Kathmandu, but why do they still show the out of date schedule on the web site. Now "Cheap-ette" has us waste almost two full days sitting around in Delhi:

a) Day 15 after our morning activities in Varanasi, we fly from Varanasi to Delhi then sit around the rest of the day with nothing scheduled to see or do. We do get a hotel room the rest of the day and night.

b) Day 19 on which we fly from Kathmandu to Delhi then have to sit around the airport all the rest of the day … until our flight home departing after midnight the next morning. Again nothing is scheduled and we don't get any meals or time in a hotel.

With the loss of those two days, the extension to Nepal definitely isn't worth it. If I had known about the lies on the web site, I wouldn't have booked the extension. I definitely won't take another "Cheap-ette" tour.

Then on February 6, only 3 days before I leave, "Cheap-ette" notified me that they will not be offering one of the optional excursions I particularly wanted to do (later reinstated - then deleted again due to airlines being very late) - as well as also not offering the Mt Everest flight-seeing that I particularly wanted to do.

Then on February 8, the day before departure, the next problem: "Air Froggy" (Air France) is on strike (for more frog-legs?) so the air schedule had to be totally changed. I'll be flying Emirates Air via Dubai. It's a longer set of flights, but an excellent airline. Luckily I DID manage to get aisle seats. I leave Houston about two hours later than originally scheduled, and get into Delhi at about 3AM Saturday morning (3:30 later than originally scheduled. I will have been up for 13 hours before I even leave Houston, then … a VERY LONG TIME with NO SLEEP. And the problems still aren't over.

The only high altitude place is Kathmandu - 4600' - which is less than Denver. We do get up to 6000' on one of our excursions. February expected temperatures: Delhi is a nice 48-75; Kathmandu is a "cool" 39-66 but only a few days. It was easier to get the India Visa locally rather than go through Collette. We purchase the Nepal Visa on arrival at the Kathmandu airport.

We have wierd time changes: New Delhi is 11:30 later and Kathmandu is 11:45 later than Houston. Just figure 12 hours later (Houston is 12 hours earlier) to keep things simple.

Day 1, Thursday, Feb 9 Depart for India
Only four days after getting back from Tucson, here I go again on yet another VERY LONG, MISERABLE, set of flights. The Collette price includes home <-> airport shuttle service. I scheduled the limo pickup at 1:00 PM but since we had to be re-scheduled since Air Froggy (Air France) is on strike, the pickup is reset at 3:15 PM. Oh-oh, MORE PROBLEMS coming. "Cheap-ette's" recommended shuttle doesn't show up at 3:15; it's not there until 3:58 - which puts us right into the evening rush hour. I AM supposed to be at the ticket counter 1:30 minimum before departure time - and am almost convinced all the way to the airport that I'll miss that so miss the flight and therefore miss the trip. I manage to get to the Emirates check-in counter in time … and wait and wait and wait and wait and … until I'm finally officially on the flight. THEN …

… after making a "mad dash" to the departure gate, getting there 8 minutes after boarding was to begin … I find that the flight is delayed. It seems that somewhere there is a dead battery and maintenance has to find out which one, how to get it out and replace it, and re-assemble everything. So much for all the rush. We do finally depart a bit over two hours late which would cut my Dubai layover time down to less than an hour, so more worries - 18 hours worth (counting the delay time).

Emirates EK 212Houston - Dubai6:25P - 7:05P14:403:05
actual8:35P - 9:15P14:402:15

Day 2, Friday, Feb 10 Dubai - Arrive Delhi (almost)
Due to the re-routing, I don't do anything "today" but sit on airplanes. There is a 10-hour time (turn forward) change from Houston to Dubai. Once I get there, still worried about that short layover time, I find that Emirates struck out again - there's no plane. Eventually one is located, prepped, and at the gate. So it's off to Delhi.

Emirates EK 512Dubai - Delhi10:10P - 2:40A3:0020:45
actual11:30P - 4:15A3:1520:10

The originally (way back then) scheduled arrival time in Delhi was to have been at about 10PM on Friday. With the switch to Emirates, it got set back to 2:40AM on Saturday very early morning, but that didn't hold up either.


Note the 4 nights in Kathmandu as shown on the map.

Day 3, Saturday, Feb 11 Arrive Delhi - New Delhi
There is another 1 ½ hour time (later) change from Dubai to Delhi. It still will be overall an 11:30 time change from Houston when I FINALLY get to Delhi.

Emirates EK 512Dubai - Delhi10:10P - 2:40A3:0020:45
actual11:30P - 4:15A3:1520:10

So far Emirates is going 0 for 3 on meal entrees - on each of the three included meals (2 on the first flight, 1 on the second), by the time they get to the back of the plane where the tour class sardines are packed, they are out of the one I chose so I get a meal service, but without the main dish. Grumble! With all the Emirates problems, I don't get to Delhi until after 4:15. Then there is a horrendously long wait to get through Immigration; then luggage and Customs goes fairly well. Will the tour representative (still) be there - YES. Whew! Of course there is still the drive to the hotel. After all is done, I don't get to the hotel until 5:35AM (36 hours awake at this point). So much for a first night in Delhi. If I were to dare to lie down, I would immediately go to sleep and miss not only breakfast, but also the Delhi tour. Conclusion: Just keep going another 14-15 hours. What a start to the trip.

Since I didn't get to the hotel until about 5:45, there is no time to rest before breakfast. I would skip the day, but this is the only time that we are scheduled to see anything in and around Delhi. After breakfast, meet our Tour Director, Vikas (Victor) Sharda for a one-hour orientation meeting. There are 27 of us victims (supposedly max of 18 but ...) on the trip - assuming everyone finally gets here. Nine of us will go on to Nepal.

India's capital and major gateway to the country, contemporary New Delhi, is a bustling metropolis which combines in its folds the ancient with the modern. Amidst the fast spiraling skyscrapers the remnants of a bygone time in the form of its many monuments stand as silent reminders to the region's ancient legacy. The first impressions for any visitor traveling in from the airport (which I couldn't see early this morning driving through a mostly un-lighted part of town on heavily pot-holed streets) are of a spacious, garden city, tree-lined with a number of beautiful parks.

It turns out that they don't have any traffic rules enforcement in Delhi (or anywhere else for that matter). In fact they don't have traffic as we know it. It's all an un-ending game of Chicken played by horn (constant), bumper (some), and (always) intimidation done in an overcrowded "parking lot." The narrow streets of old Delhi are truly dangerous. For that matter, I'll call today's transportation "Bad Bus #1: it sounds like the engine is going to tear itself to pieces any minute as it stutters and staggers along, and the brakes, oh those brakes - they "scream" anytime the driver brakes - which is often.

Behold (drive-by-shootings only) the India Gate war memorial, most of Embassy Row, the Parliament and the palatial Rastrapathi Bhawan - the President's residence. Enjoy a sightseeing tour of Old Delhi. Visit Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque (where they want you to pay both arms and a leg for a photo permit so no photos). Explore Old Delhi's narrow (rough, twisting, etc) streets by rickshaw, the traditional mode of transportation. Its too rough / start-and-stop / etc. for photos and due to an iron bar in the canopy, I have to keep my head WAY down; therefore I can see almost nothing. Continue our tour back in New Delhi, Visit Humayun's tomb - considered a precursor to the Taj Mahal for its Indo-Persian design; it was built by the widow of a great Mughal Emperor. Then we visit Qutub Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world, and adjacent to that, the remains of the very earliest Mosque in India.

After a nice buffet dinner (all included meals are buffet), it's time to go to bed - after being awake for "only" about 52 hours straight. Hotel: The Grand (2, er, 1 nights) (BD)

Day 4, Sunday, Feb 12 Delhi - Udaipur
We get to sleep late this morning - breakfast between 7 and 9; bags out at 10; depart at 10:30 going to the airport! Fly to Udaipur this morning, our gateway to Rajasthan. We have 6 infernal flights (changed later) and 2 infernal train trips on the tour. I'm going to get tired of getting on and off the various "vehicles" (including elephants - elephants?? who me???) but the distances and roads (such as they aren't) make it "the only way to go."

3) Infernal flight #1: Kingfisher Air IT 4301Delhi - Udaipur1:25 - 3:151:50

The plane is an older 60-passenger prop - not a jet. No meal or even snack service is supplied. We will take the continuation of this flight on to Jaipur in a couple of days so it will be a later afternoon flight. After airport luggage hassles (3 people don't get their luggage - thanks to Kingfisher, it's still back in Delhi), take "Bad Bus #2" in which some of the rows are so close together that it's impossible for me to sit facing forward; I have to turn sideways and put my feet out in the aisle. Unfortunately we will be stuck on BB#2 again tomorrow.

The roads here are more of the same - potholes, irregularities, and more of "that" traffic. I hate the motorcycles - their riders demand the right-of-way and don't mind knocking people out of the way - or down entirely. Late this afternoon/early evening, take a boat cruise along Lake Pichola taking in views of the Jag Mandir Palace and the City Palace. It's nice enough but with the setting sun, there are lots of missed pictures, and then we don't get back to the dock until after dark. Check into our hotel, a restored palace overlooking the lake and have a (very late) basic / limited but passable, buffet dinner. (BD) Hotel: Fateh Garh (2 nights)

Day 5, Monday, Feb 13 Udaipur
It's breakfast only today; we will have a recommended lunch stop in town, then back to the hotel later for ($$$) dinner. We have to get back on BB#2 today and suffer our way through "traffic" to visit the City Palace. Its main entrance, Tripolia, was built in 1725. Set off to see the largest temple in Udaipur - Jagdish Temple - dedicated to Lord Vishnu after its construction in the 16th century. After lunch, stop at Sahelion-ki-Bari, the beautiful "Garden of the Maids of Honor." Learn about the lifestyle of the royal ladies who once strolled through these gardens. We then have a fairly early return to the hotel which is necessary after all the bouncing and jouncing around town in BB#2 and when on foot, having to dodge those (#$&$#^ motorcycles. I'm getting so tired of those *#$^$*& things, I'm about ready to call it quits and head home.

When we finally get back almost to the hotel (on the long upward spiral) we have an additional wait. There is a larger bus ahead of us, and it has gotten stuck trying to get through the stone gates. Eventually they manage to back it out from where it was stuck and pull to one side and park there. The passengers will have to get the rest of the way (about a mile or so) by jeep. The bus is still there tomorrow noon when we leave. (B)

Day 6, Tuesday, Feb 14 Udaipur - Jaipur
After a boring morning with not much scheduled except breakfast and a chance to participate in a yoga class, learning basic exercises and breathing techniques from a local expert, we head back north. Bags out at 11:15 and depart at 11:45 (delayed until about 12:55 since we have been told that our flight is an hour late). Fly to the "Pink City," Jaipur. At least we're through with BB#2, but what do we get next? The flight is a late afternoon continuation of Sunday's flight down from Delhi. No special lunch stop today - we're stuck in the airport. The schedule has changed, again, and it is earlier allowing a chance for the Sound and Light Show - if the plane is on time. However it isn't on time. Not only is it that first hour late, but also a second hour. No chance at all now, or ever, for the Sound and Light Show.

4) Infernal flight #2: Kingfisher Air IT 4301Udaipur - Jaipur4:20 - 5:150:55

Arrive in Jaipur, owing its name, foundations and careful planning to the great warrior and astronomer, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. Drive past (drive-by-shootings) the Hawa Mahal, home to a former Maharaja, seeing its façade of 953 windows. Since we've totally missed out on the S&L show, we make a brief stop in the older part, aka the Pink City, and risk our lives to cross the street to stroll through a flower market for a glimpse into the art of making garlands used in traditional Indian welcome ceremonies. Due to our late arrival, even now it's too dark to take any pictures. (B) Hotel: Trident (2 nights)

Sound and Light Show Amber Fort $35.00 -- DELETED DUE TO THAT LOUSY AIRLINE (dis)SERVICE) Amber Fort and Palace Complex in Jaipur holds the history of a citadel, pulsating with a legendary past of 600 years and 28 kings of the Kachhwaha dynasty, before their capital moved to Jaipur. Witness a Sound & Light Show, a dramatic interplay of sound and light effects recreating the history of the Red Fort, a symbol of Mughal Power. Watch three hundred years of history come alive. This musical extravaganza has highlighted the local legends, folklore and a connoisseur of folk music that continues to give Rajasthan its unique identity. The show has been set in a very exotic location, with the giant panoramic view of the Amber Fort and Palace Complex in the front, raising Jaigarh on the left, the hills at the back and the gallery itself in the Kesar Kiyari Complex of Maota Lake. Transportation is included. Duration: approximately 1.5 hour(s).

Day 7, Wednesday, Feb 15 Jaipur
After a nice breakfast, it's off early to visit the Amber Fort. Ride an elephant (me? Hopefully they have a 4WD alternative) to the top of Amber Fort, India's former seat of power. We spend quite a while here - it's really a fantastic place. We all take the jeeps down - fighting impossible "traffic" the entire way. We make a stop at one of the best of the jewelry and crafts shops (no luck on something a friend wanted).

Next is a stop at a local Holiday Inn for lunch - good but not special. At least they have some "European" foods as well. This afternoon, visit Jantar Mantar, the largest of Jai Singh's remarkable observatories. Its complex instruments, whose setting and shapes are scientifically designed, represent the high points of medieval Indian astronomy. Then walk a few blocks to the City Palace, once the formal residence of the royal family, built in a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. This is actually just a visit to both a textiles museum and an arms & armament museum.

The rest of the group will sit down tonight for a home-hosted dinner, observing daily life inside the old city. However I skip it since I've already had major problems with some Indian food, and don't want to insult our host/hostess by not eating what they have prepared. I'm sorry to miss learning more about their life, though. (BLD)

Day 8, Thursday, Feb 16 Jaipur - Ranthambhore
We leave early and make a brief stop at the City Museum of Jaipur, and Pigeon Plaza where people come by early in the mornings to feed them. Then we travel on to Ranthambhore National Park. It is a five hour drive on India's version of so-called roads, learning along the way of Project Tiger's efforts at conservation in the country. After this long tedious, bumpy, jouncy drive, with about two dozen near-head-on collisions, check into the local hotel at which all of us traveling single don't get normal rooms; we get tent-cabins with locks on the doors that sometimes work, but usually don't work. I also had to get a table light replaced - the original didn't work and without it, there just isn't much of any light in the "cabin." After we have a very light lunch, we embark on a tigerless tiger viewing drive (during which we have to wear face masks due to the dust) by canter, an open air vehicle much like an overlong jeep (19 passengers) with no top. We do manage to see marsh crocodiles, deer, birds, monkeys and peacocks but no tigers. The closest we get is a tiger paw print in the dirt "roads" even though we stop in one promising area and sit there very quietly for about an hour. No luck - no sight of a tiger, not even warning sounds from monkeys, birds, etc. So much for our Tigerless Tiger drive.

On the way out we come up behind another cantor in which a lady has a large bird sitting contentedly on her head. The bird rides there for quite a while after that cantor starts moving - then switches to another head before finally flying off. On the other cantor, a monkey ran up behind it and stole one of the passenger's jackets. The monkey then ran up a tree and had fun (?) shredding the jacket - pieces falling back to the ground. It is a three-hour excursion and we get back well after 6 (already dark and cold). We have a late dinner and need to get to bed early since we have a 6:45 game drive tomorrow morning. (BLD) Hotel: Dev Vilas (2 nights)

Day 9, Friday, Feb 17 Ranthambhore
Rise and groan early for a game viewing drive departing at 6:45, even before breakfast. Oops, change of plans for me - I made the mistake of eating the toxic waste that was passed off as food last night so am not able to take this drive. (bad words omitted). At least nobody saw a tiger this morning so I didn't miss that.

<<<< What we didn't get to see.

The power went out at the hotel a couple of times during the morning but they have a backup generator so it came back on within about 5 minutes. The group gets back about 10:30 so that is when we have our breakfast.

After breakfast, visit the Ranthambhore School of Art which recruits students from neighboring villages and trains them to be self-sufficient artists. Next, visit the Dastkar Ranthambhore Project, founded in 1981 by six women united to protect India's traditional artisans. We get back to the hotel a bit after 2PM and have lunch then.

Since we are taking the train tomorrow which takes 2.5 hours rather than the road which takes at least 5 hours, the bus has to leave this afternoon with most of our luggage so we have to change our things around to have what we will need tonight and tomorrow morning all stuffed into our carry-on bag. The large bags have to be ready and out by 3:15 for the bus to leave by 3:30 or so. We have a short slide show tonight before dinner but although the guest speaker speaks English, his accent is so heavy that we can understand only about 1 word in 5. He had some very nice pictures, though.

I skipped dinner since it is exclusively more toxic waste. One of the few edible things they had at any meal was cold cereal at breakfast. Here they also had their version of "pancakes" which were more like overdone soft tortillas - and we needed a knife to cut them. Later tonight there was a wedding somewhere on the grounds - and the "music" sounded more like a branded pig's squeals accompanied by a herd of buffalo in a china shop. Although it was played through loudspeakers at high volume, at least it was only for a bit less than an hour. (BLD)

Day 10, Saturday, Feb 18 Ranthambhore - Bharatpur - Agra
We have to be up really early this morning - breakfast is at 6AM and we take the cantors (remember, the bus left yesterday) for a 10-minute very cold ride (make that 25 minutes) to head back to a near-by train station where an early morning train which takes us to Bharatpur. We have to be very quick in boarding here since it only stops for three minutes. If the train is on time, the ride will take about 2 ½ hours. Unfortunately (again) there is a ms-print on Victor's seat assignment sheet and most of us are sent to the wrong car. The resulting crush and seat conflict was worse even than the "roads." After we finally get that straightened out, we head out only about 10-15 minutes late.

5) Infernal transfer #3: Train 12059Ranthambhore - Bharatpur7:15 - 9:502:35

Our main luggage has already left last night and is here to meet us this morning when the train gets here (30 minutes late). At least it was very smooth ride in a first-class car - so very different from the "roads." While still in the station, we see one of the 5th (actually 2nd class but I would rate it 5th??) class trains which seem more like cattle cars with barred windows and crammed with herds of people. Horrors!! Enjoy brunch at what was once the hunting lodge of one of the Maharajahs. It's a beautiful setting. After lunch, we visit Fatehpur Sikri, a red sandstone city built by the Mughal Emperor Akbarin in the 16th century; boasting palaces and mosques, this city was larger than London when it was constructed. It's one of the best sites we've visited so far. Our day ends in Agra.

The rest of the day is at leisure unless we want to take half the optional (see below) excursion to see a "Bollywood" type show; the other half will be tomorrow evening. I can easily skip the show, and the other part isn't worth all the $$. (BL) Hotel: Trident (2 nights)

Day 11, Sunday, Feb 19 Agra
Due to some more "Toxic waste" that I had yesterday, this is turning into a "Toxic Waste / wasted" trip. The other travelers, but not me, get up early (5:30) to have an open-carriage ride to visit the Taj Mahal, built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan between 1631-52, as a tomb and memorial to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal (Jewel of the Palace). The architect guessed that the construction would be done in 22 years. So much for getting to visit the Taj Mahal.

<<<<<---- What I didn't get to see.

After that we have a late breakfast (9:30 AM) at the hotel, then our first stop is a craft shop where they make decorative pieces on some very high quality marble. I spluged on one. After spending all that money there, we visit the Agra Fort built by three of the greatest Mughal emperors. It's MUCH larger and far more intricate and ornate than the fort we visited yesterday. We could see the Taj Mahal in the distance and for a while I thought that this would be my only chance to see it since I had to skip the morning excursion. Continue to Mother Teresa's Charity Home, a residence for orphans. Here the Sisters provide children with clothing, food, affection and quality education. It's extremely depressing. They also house many mentally and physically dysfunctional adults. Finally we get back to the hotel for a late lunch (3:30PM).

The rest of the day, very short by now, is at leisure unless we are taking the second half of the optional excursion. It's too bad that it's the wrong season for nice sunrise and sunset viewing of the Taj Mahal. Since I was unable to go on the morning visit to the Taj, I did manage to go with the group for the evening (not-yet-sunset?) viewing from across the river and also from some gardens. At least I got to see the Taj Mahal even though I didn't get to visit it - and seeing it just from the side and a poor angle. After a brief stop to get some medicine for someone (open air stall) we finally get back to the hotel about 6:30. Dinner is on our own.

Late news: Kingfisher Air has cancelled the Khajuraho-Varanasi flight on Tuesday. So now it's not at all certain how we will get there: different airline, bus, hired cars or whatever. There is no express train. Also tonight, since our luggage has to be loaded on the train rather than going by bus, we have to have the bags packed and out for pickup by 9PM. (B)

Sunset at the Taj Mahal & Cultural Show $45.00 -- Climb aboard your tuk-tuk to Agra to behold the mysteriously beautiful Taj Mahal at sunset. Your auto rickshaw takes you right to Mahtab Bagh - the "Moonlight Garden" on the banks of Yamuna River opposite the Taj Mahal - for a not-so-picture-perfect view of the Taj Mahal, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. After the sun sets behind this architectural marvel, travel to Kalakriti Cultural Center to see a "Bollywood" presentation of "Mohabbat-the-Taj" - a series of plays depicting the saga of love surrounding its creation. The love of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal and the lifestyle of Mughal era artisans who worked for 22 years to create this marvel are depicted in this timeless masterpiece. Transportation is included. Duration: approximately 4 hour(s).

Day 12, Monday, Feb 20 Agra - Jhansi - Occhra - Khajuraho
After breakfast, board an express train to Jahnsi which turns out to be 25 minutes late (hints of things to come).

6) Infernal transfer #4: Train 12002Agra - Jhansi8:37A - 11:04A2:27

Drive over absolutely horrible roads to Orchha, once the capital of the formidable Bundela kings who ruled over a large tract between the Ganga Jee (Ganges) and Narmada rivers. We have a nice light lunch (included "jacked" (should have been "jacketed" / very small baked potatoes). Then waste about an hour wandering around in a market (mostly tourist trash) and see the outside of a couple of temples. The rest of the original description of activities is not done.

After lunch continue on what is supposed to be a 5-hour drive towards Khajuraho, India's unique gift to the world. Our tour director says that the roads are "very rough." For much of that, a better description would be "a random arrangement of potholes and larger potholes containing more potholes, all slightly connected by scattered bit of broken pavement." Many of the roads in Kenya were better. This particular road also serves as the border between two states, and each says that maintenance is the responsibility of the other state. Hence, zero maintenance. We get only about a third of the way before we have a tire blow out (large, loud bang). Fortunately it was one of the rear tires so the driver was able to keep control of the now-leaning bus. The estimated 10 minutes to change the tire turns out to be 45 minutes. This provides a special show for lots of the kids in the area who come to see what is happening. At least it gives us a chance to get pictures of them, and of some work being done in a nearby field. We eventually manage to make it to the next town were we have to wait for about 15 minutes while the driver negotiates for a new spare from a tented shop selling used tires. It's probably a very-low-budget subsidiary of "Joe's Rent-a-Wreck and Busted Bus Company" in Ireland.

Due to a) the late train; b) the wasted time in Occhra, and c) the blown tire, we are now very late, and spend quite a bit of time driving over those poor excuses for roads in total darkness (except for over-bright headlights of oncoming traffic). But not all the traffic has lights or even rear reflectors. We almost "collect" a few of them. Then of course there are the lightless farm vehicles, rickshaws, push carts, bicycles … and MORE bicycles all of which are impossible to see. Add to that the livestock: cattle, goats, donkeys, monkeys, pedestrians, pigs, dogs, and children - all of whom are walking, standing, or just lying down in the road. As for the motorized vehicles, we also many, many almost-head-on collisions along the way. We don't have to worry about speed limits - there aren't any speed limits. If they were, the speed wouldn't be measures in mph or km/h; it would probably be measured in ppm (potholes per minute).

Its well after 8PM by the time we get to the hotel and our rooms. The listed optional below is not offered, now or ever - there is no time for it. As for tomorrow, we will probably be taking the hired cars to Varanasi; the drive is estimated to take 7-8 hours. (BL) Hotel: Radisson Jass

Dances of India $35.00 -- Catch the Spirit of Indian folk dances at the Kandariya Art & Cultural Center. Enjoy a performance of different classical Indian style dances from Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, Punjabi and many more. The performance is very colorful and provides insight into the Hindu culture and tradition. Transportation is included. Duration: approximately 1.5 hour(s).

Day 13, Tuesday, Feb 21 Khajuraho - Varanasi
In the realm of architecture, Khajuraho holds a unique position. Of the original 85 temples, 22 survive, enthralling visitors from all over the world. Tour the principal Eastern Group of Temples to see the exquisitely carved sculpture. The temples here were built between 950 and 1050 A.D. by the Chandela dynasty, who claims descent from the Moon God and a mortal, Hemavati, with whom the god fell in love. Most of the temples of the north were destroyed by invaders, but Khajuraho escaped and stands today as an island of beauty. The Chandelas built 85 temples and some 22 survive today.

Architecturally the temples have some unique features. They stand on high platforms and do not have customary enclosures. Each temple has a large number of spires in ascending order representing man's aspirations towards spiritual goals. They are ornately carved, with each frieze and sculpture depicting the genius of the men who carved it and the king who inspired them. Although famous for their erotic depictions, these form only a small part of the wealth of the site. Taken in totality, the sculptures of Khajuraho depict the everyday life of the people and the court in the 10th and 11th centuries. Khajuraho is not something that can be described in words; it has to be experienced. Visit the Chandel Temple complex and behold some of the finest examples of temple architecture in northern India.

We are scheduled to leave for the temple area at 7:45 (uh, make that 8:15) and to be back at the hotel by 10:30 for more information about how to get to Varanasi. That means we have a total of 2:15 for everything. Taking out 40 minutes for travel to/from/within the area, plus 15 minutes for the mandatory stop at a local souvenir shop, that leaves only 1:20 to see the temples. Since the temples are known for showing lifestyles, and particularly the erotic (x-rated) activities, it's not surprising that our local guide spent so much time talking about each of the x-rated carvings in great, precise, detail. He spent at least half of the time talking about each aspect of each of the main carvings. We spend about 1 hour in the western complex (the far more interesting part) and about 15 minutes in the eastern complex. I could easily have been here for 3-4 hours but due to those travel difficulties and uncertainties, it was all cut very short.

Note: so many people are suffering Toxic-Waste Syndrome, that only 20 of the 27 tour members even tried to go around the grounds to the temples.

New break: the president of KingKong airlines was on tv this morning. He said that all the troubles and flight cancellations are not his fault; they are the fault of the government. It seems that the government unfairly required that he pay taxes on all his profits and that left no money to pay the workers so they went on strike. It's all definitely the fault of the so unfair government.

7) Infernal flight #5: Kingfisher AirKhajuraho - VaranasiCANCELLED
7) Infernal transfer #5:Hired cars caravanKhajuraho - Varanasi11:15A - 9:00P9:45

Don't Fly to Varanasi,; just get there somehow: Victor chooses that 9-hired-car caravan. That is supposed to take 7-8 hours over more of "those" roads. We are supposed to leave at 10:45; 15 minute break after the temples excursion to gather our small luggage. But as usual … make that 11:15. A full 8 hours would get us into Varanasi by 7:15, but … it's just before 9PM when we finally get there. It's those roads and the traffic. So much for it being a 7-8 hour trip. Getting in that late means we again had to suffer through NIGHTmare traffic and many more near-misses. Before we left the hotel this morning, at least we are given toxic-waste boxes (lunch) which we eat at our first rest stop - a small restaurant with virtually no business so they are glad to see us and sell us various drinks. A couple of hours later we have another "rest" stop - but the "facilities" are so awful, that the bushes would have been preferable.

Flights update. 1) even by 5PM, it's still not sure whether our flight to Varanasi would go or not; if it does go, it would be about 7:30 PM. 2) Collette "fired" KingKong Air - our Varanasi - Delhi flight will be on Spice Air.

Tonight, if we get there in time, which obviously we didn't, we were supposed to have some evening activities. So much for that, also. However it's all rescheduled at various times during the excursions tomorrow. (BL) Radisson Hotel (2 nights)

Day 14, Wednesday, Feb 22 Varanasi
Welcome to Varanasi, a simplistic and charming city with a universal mystique. Varanasi is a city that cannot be described but only experienced (if you dare). This religious city is crowded with temples, and its labyrinth of streets with their throngs of people is horrendous and almost terrifying. Our local tour guide says that there are several reasons to really like Varanasi. 1) If you like crowds, Varanasi is the most densely populated city in India. 2) If you like awful traffic, due to the population and the labyrinth of streets, Varanasi has the worst traffic jams in India. 3) If you like loud noises, you will hear lots of it, particularly vehicle horns in the traffic. 4) If you like dirt and dust, its everywhere. 5) If you like crowds of religious pilgrims, watch out or you will get trampled. He continues - if you don't like ALL of these, you really won't like Varanasi at all.

We start with a visit to Sarnath where Siddarth Gautama, later known as Buddha, gave his first sermon in a quiet grove in the 6th century BC. There are several groups of "pilgrims" there to worship - just don't get in the way of them. We, and another group, were crashed into by a large group of them. One member of the other group was knocked down and stepped on; I, and a couple of others, were just repeatedly "shoved out of the way" and almost fell. So much for peaceful Buddhism.

Then we cross the street and visit the museum containing relics found during the early excavations. Our final stop before returning to the hotel is the "Mother (of) India" temple with its relief map of India - incredible to see all the altitude changes as northern India gets into the Himalayas. Along the way, when stopped in traffic, we see 5 (?) small children digging through dumpsters with the ones down in the dumpsters throwing out anything of value (clothes, food, anything) which those children on the street are sorting through. Then we go back to the hotel. Those who wish can also take an optional side trip to a shop selling rich silks and brocades. Personal comment - I could have skipped the whole morning excursion; I didn't even try for some pictures.

We now get our missed activities from last night. At 4PM, a Hindu scholar discusses the philosophy of Hinduism with us. It's a nice informal presentation, not a heavy lecture. After that, we take a short (very long time) drive in cars (the bus can't get through) to take a sunset boat ride on the Ganges to visit the Ghats - the banks of the river - witnessing the illuminated Ganga Aarti Thanksgiving ceremony, the cremations area with 5 bodies currently being cremated, and also light candles, make a wish, then set the candles adrift on the river.

We were supposed to be back to the hotel by 8:15 but didn't get there until almost 9:15. So we have a very late, and very, very, very, poor farewell dinner (for the India part of the tour) this evening. The dinner was very much worse than usual for farewell dinners plus having extremely disorganized service. There is a McDonalds nearby which would have been FAR preferable. I gave up and went back to my room to eat an apple. I'm not the only one who gave up and left early. (BD)

Day 15, Thursday, Feb 23 Varanasi - Delhi - (Wasted)
It turns out that we DO have breakfast included this morning, and also have some leftover activities here in Varanasi. We have to get up at 5AM for a 5:30 departure for a second boat ride on the Ganges watching the sunrise and the people starting their daily routines. After that, we go back to the hotel briefly before flying back to Delhi. We leave the hotel at 9:30 with a noon flight and scheduled arrival in Delhi at 1:30.

8) Infernal transfer #6:Spice Jet SG 233Varanasi - Delhi11:50 - 1:151:25

We get in on time, and luggage is fairly quick, but it still is about an hour before we get to the hotel. Then instead of a quick check-in, it takes almost an hour and a half. The porterage is also poor - slow, and instead of knocking and bringing in the bag, they just leave it in the hallway. It is very poor service all around. They also supposedly have in-room wi-fi here, but it doesn't work.

So what else can happen - sinus problems. Starting this afternoon I'm coughing almost constantly and it continues *all* night so *no* sleep.

Instead of having the listed Varanasi-Delhi-Kathmandu flights all in one day AS SHOWN ON THE COLLETTE WEB PAGES, we have to waste the rest of the day just sitting around. They now claim that some KingKong airline deleted the afternoon flight from Delhi to Kathmandu so they have false information on the web. No lunch or dinner is included - we are totally on our own for those meals. Hotel: Grand Hotel (B) (1 night)


^^ Again what I don't get to see. ^^

Day 16, Friday, 24. Delhi - Kathmandu - (1/2 day)
After a fairly good breakfast, leave the hotel at 8:30 to fly to Kathmandu. I have a short term panic attack: while waiting in the airport terminal for the flight to Kathmandu, I hear the announcement of an Emirates flight from Delhi to Oman - at 10:30. For a moment I think that it might be my 4:30 flight after a 6 hours delay, which if it happens to me, would certainly make me miss my connection home. Then I realize that the flight number, while similar (2 digits off) it NOT my flight.

9) Infernal transfer #7:Jet Lite S2-501Delhi - Kathmandu12:37P - 2:31P1:39

It's a weird 15 minute time change to Kathmandu (15 minutes later). Purchase a Nepalese Visa on arrival - $25.. We get into Kathmandu in the early afternoon and it doesn't take too long to get my Nepalese Visa - waiting for the luggage takes much longer. It could have been very bad - Cheap-ette didn't tell us that we needed a passport photo when we applied for the Nepalese Visa. On most other occasions, it's just a stamp or sticker in the passport. Here we had to fill out a long form and supply the photo. It's pure luck that I had stuck a couple of them in my wallet. Otherwise I would have been "up a creek without a photo." So much for Cheap-ette.

There is time to enjoy a sightseeing tour of Patan city, the old Newar city. See the Patan Durban square, a combination of palace buildings, artistic courtyards and pagoda-style temples. Listed as a World Heritage site, the complex is the center of Patan's religious and social life.

First impressions of Kathmandu: a) it's noticeably cleaner than the Indian cities; b) although there are still many less desirable buildings, the standard / average is higher than in India; c) there is less traffic and it's much more "civilized"; d) we had dust and pollution in India, but it's more noticeable here - many more people wearing face masks. We also find out that the literacy rate here is much higher than in India and at least primary education is compulsory. It's the altitude that makes the real difference. At 4600' it's much higher than Delhi, etc., and for an old man used to living at sea level, I can really feel it. And tomorrow we go up to 7000'.

Our local guide, Denish (??) offers us a special option for tomorrow morning - since all the scheduled sightseeing is in town, how about a countryside excursion to see that and the mountains. No included dinner tonight. Having wasted most of a day in Delhi, we are shortchanged and only have 2 ½ days and 3 nights in Kathmandu!! This is definitely different from the advertised "5 days/4 nights" that I signed up for. (B) Hotel: Hyatt Regency Kathmandu (4, no just 3 nights)

Hotel comments: different architecture - very nice until you get to the individual rooms - the rooms are very *dark*; there are only two small lights in the main room - one on the desk and one on the wall by the bed. There is no place with enough light to read. This is more like a bear den (midwinter) - and we're stuck here for 3 nights. Grumble, grumble.

They have electricity problems here in Kathmandu - occasional 30second - 1minute blackouts until the hotel generators cut in. It even happened 3 times during breakfast tomorrow morning. A nuisance, but nothing important - until Sunday.

Day 17, Saturday, 25. Kathmandu - (1 day)
We start off our day at 8AM for the countryside tour. This involves a long drive into the countryside to the small town of Nagarkot. It's accessible only by narrow 1 1/3 lane road with over 100 switchbacks (each way) - at least half of which are "blind." When we finally survive the drive and arrive at the 7000' level, the scenery is excellent and we can (barely) see Mt. Everest in the far distance. Because of the distance, it looks like just another of many peaks with larger/higher ones, but they are closer. On the way down, we stop and walk through the village to see local sights. EXCELLENT excursion!!

Since it is Saturday, there is much less traffic so Denish "swaps" itineraries with tomorrow. There is no lunch stop included so our first stop for the afternoon is Bhaktapur and it's 17th century Durbar Complex of temples. Our next stop is Pashupatinath Temple, situated on the banks of the River Baghmati, and the most important Hindu temple in Nepal. There we see not only the temples, but many cremations being done. It is one of the most sacred sites so quite an honor to be cremated here. At our next stop, we see Boudnath, one of the largest stupas in the world and a sacred place to Buddhist pilgrims from Tibet. Embrace the bustle of the city when we see carpet manufacturers at work and prayers being held at the monasteries belonging to different sects of Tibetan Buddhism. One of the best known arts here is the Thanka Art - Mandala paintings.

Tonight enjoy an included Nepali dinner at a local restaurant. However Denish says that the food is all Nepalese (spicy!) so after all the toxic waste problems in India, I'll have to skip that. I chose to eat in the hotel restaurant and have a Tenderloinloin steak; bad choice, it was actually a "Tougherloin" steak which tasted very good but I really needed a much sharper knife (hacksaw?) to cut it. (BD)

OPTIONAL: Nepalese Countryside $30 In brief, so that we can see more than what is in the towns, we take a half-day excursion about 40km out into the countryside to see the land and the mountains. Duration: approximately 4 hours.

Day 18, Sunday, 26. Kathmandu - (and 1/2 more makes 2 days)
After another poor breakfast, tour Kathmandu city and Swoyambhuanth Stupa, a famous monkey temple boasting the famous painted eyes of Buddha watching all who ascend the steps. Visit Hanuman Dehoka, the temple of the living goddess. The living Goddess is chosen as a small child (3-4 years old) and serves until Puberty. We visit the house and she appears at an upper window for 3-4 minutes at irregular intervals, but several times a day. She is currently about 6 or 7 years old.

We see Kasthmandap - a wooden temple build from a single tree. See the Shiva Paravati temple, the Seto Bhairav and Kal Bhaira temples. We get back to the hotel at 12:45PM. It would have been sooner but while in town, we got caught on the "wrong side" of a long protest march - very peaceful, just a very long procession followed by all the backed up traffic. The rest of the day is free to try to cram everything back into our suitcases. (B)

Essentially the trip is now over and when we get back to the hotel at 12:45 (1:15 AM Sunday, Houston time) I still have a long stretch until I finally get to the Houston airport at 4PM, Tuesday: 62:45 hours. Or from the time I get up tomorrow morning at 5:30, that means at least 46:30 straight without sleep. Add a few more hours to get through the hassles and home, and it could easily be 50 sleepless hours.

Remember all those little power outages we've been having - about 2:30PM there is another, much longer one. The lights come back on, but the a/c doesn't. It's still off when I go for dinner, so after dinner I check with Reception. Eventually someone from "Engineering" comes, determines that yes, it doesn't work in my room, so goes and (?) resets some circuit breaker.

Day 19, Monday, Feb 27. Tour ends - do-nothing day
After a slightly toxic (oops) breakfast, despite the late afternoon departure, there is nothing scheduled for us to see or do this morning. Are we supposed to just sit around for 5 hours? We depart at 11AM for the international airport for the first of a very long set of flights, first back to Delhi where we get that weird 15 minute time change back - it's 15 minutes earlier in Delhi.

OPTIONAL, but doubtful: Early Morning Mt. Everest flight seeing tour - A one hour flight around Himalayas including Mt. Everest. Check with hotel staff; not available through Colette due to weather safety.Check with the hotel staff; it's not available through Colette due to "weather safety." First they cut the Nepal extension down by 25% and now they also take out this option. With the shortened number of days here, and our scheduled departure from the hotel set at 11AM, there just isn't time.

10) Infernal transfer #8:Jet Lite S2-502Kathmandu - Delhi3:10P - 4:25P1:30
ACTUALJet Lite S2-502Kathmandu - Delhi4:35P - 5:55P1:35

The flight is delayed well over an hour so we're quite late (7PM) getting into Delhi, but when we get back to the airport in Delhi, a representative picks us up and takes us back to the Grand Hotel. We don't get a room there, but at least we will (briefly) be out of the noise, crowds, and whatever at the airport. It's too late and we're too tired to get something to eat and there's no time to go out and see/do anything. Only a short time later (11:30PM) we are taken back to the airport for our flights. I still have several (4+) hours waiting for that just-before-dawn flight heading back home. (B)

Day 20, Tuesday, Feb 28. Fly Home
After a long wait, depart just before dawn for my long flights home. When the flight leaves, I will already have been awake for about 23 hours.

Emirates EK 513Delhi - Dubai4:23A - 6:45A3:522:45

With a three hour layover in Dubai, at least it should be a "safe" layover time unless Emirates fouls up something - AGAIN. I have that 10-hour time change (turn back - or two hours forward) on the way to Houston. Emirates does better on this pair of flights: a) I get the meal entrée I want although they all turn out less than what I expected; b) the first flight is only slightly delayed and the long monster is right on time. The bad bit - on the second flight, a) my seat won't recline any at all; b) the reading light for my seat is angled wrong so when the lights go down (almost all the time) it's too dark to read so all I can do is sit there and wiggle around trying unsuccessfully to get even slightly comfortable. Since that is on the long leg home, I'm really "dead."

Emirates EK 211Dubai - Houston9:30A - 4:00P16:3023:07

After a 24-hour trip (plus the 22 hours before departure = 46 hours), and a late afternoon arrival and Collette provided shuttle (ready and waiting), I'm home by 6PM - right at 50 hours straight.

I have only 9 full days at home until the Caribbean cruise. Then I don't have any more really long flights (and it will be the last of the really long trans-Pacific sets) until next February: South East Asia cruise with Voyages to Antiquity going to Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore.



Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

Delhi TombDelhi MinaretAmber FortJaipur
RanthambhoreRanthambhoreCamel PowerVillage
Agra FortAgraTaj MajalFirewood
KhajurahoPatanat 7k highVillage
Village LifeWash DishesDurban SquareCremation
StupaMonkey TempleBananaTemple Tree


UNREALIZED HIGHLIGHTS:
1) Agra, Taj Mahal - "Toxic Waste wipeout" - I don't get to actually visit it, at least see it - even though just from the side and a poor angle.
2) Ranthambhore - no tigers and thanks to the "Toxic Waste", I missed out on one of the two game drives. At least nobody saw any tigers.
3) Kathmandu - Mt Everest flight-seeing - no longer offered by Cheap-ette, and due to the shortened time in Kathmandu, there isn't time to do it on our own.
4) Khajuraho temples - not enough time there - just about 1 1/4 hours total for both sections.

Other "not-so-great" experiences:
1) Those long miserable flights from and to the US.
2) Getting short-changed a full day/night in Kathmandu by Cheap-ette
3) So much wasted time in Delhi to make flight connections
4) All that miserable traffic
5) Toxic Waste worries throughout the trip due to limited food choices.
6) Bad start to the trip with very late shuttle pickup causing many worries.
7) Really, really poor "Farewell Dinner." 8) Despite telling my bank about the trip - problems using the ATMs

All in all, even though I liked Nepal very much, this has been one of my worst trips. I definitely won't be back to India.. Essentially I made the whole, expensive, 20-day trip for 1 hour in the temples in Khajuraho and a brief look at the mountains of Nepal.

TIME ZONES:
So why is India an odd half hour offset? Originally half of India was to have been in one time zone and the other half in a different. But they wanted the whole nation to be in one zone, so they "split the difference." As for Nepal, they just "had to be earlier" than India hence the extra 15 minute change.

HOTELS: (nice - at least two nights almost everywhere)
Delhi: The Grand Hotel 1 night - Nice hotel, good meals, 4-star rating. No problems but not all THAT special.

Udaipur: Fateh Garh 2 nights - Interesting; redone original architecture - lots of old-style facilities, Doors more like cell doors; a real maze to find your way around; only so-so food

Jaipur: Hotel Trident 2 nights -
Another 4-star; I liked it better than the Grand. Very good food. The wi-fi even worked.

Ranthambhore: Dev Vilas 2 nights - I don't have anything against Tent cabins, in fact I enjoyed (most of) them in Africa - this one was nice once a) I found out which wall switches worked; b) had a lamp replaced, and c) how to run the a/c-heat. However the cabin was very dark; the door lock didn't work, and the food was, for me, toxic waste. As a tent cabin, it was nice, but with it's problems and the food, NOT my favorite on the trip.

Agra: Trident Hotel 2 nights - Another nice Trident though I liked the one in Jaipur a bit better. See above

Khajuraho: Radisson Jass Hotel 1 night. It's a Radisson so nice enough. We don't spend enough time here to say more.

Varansi: Radisson Hotel 2 nights. Another Radisson - very nice - better than the one last night. Very good breakfast. Free Wi-fi.

Delhi: The Grand Hotel 1 night - Back there again. Tried the wi-fi but it doesn't work.

Kathmandu: Hyatt Regency Kathmandu 3 nights - Very interesting, and different architecture, but bear cave dark rooms. NOT good. "Bad dog; Bad, Bad dog!" NOT recommended. And this is a Hyatt Regency!! Fancy but poor quality breakfasts to match the bad Tougherloin dinner.

Delhi: sit around the airport all day and most of the night

AIR/TRAIN SCHEDULE:

Emirates EK 212Houston - Dubai6:25P - 7:05P14:403:05
Emirates EK 512Dubai - Delhi10:10P - 2:40A3:0020:45
Kingfisher Air IT 4301Delhi - Udaipur1:25P - 3:15P1:50.
Kingfisher Air IT 4301Udaipur - Jaipur4:20P - 5:15P0:55.
Train 12059Ranthambhore - Bharatpur7:15A - 9:50A2:35.
Train 12002Agra - Jhansi8:37A - 11:04A2:27.
Kingfisher AirKhajuraho - VaranasiCANCELLED
Hired cars caravanKhajuraho - Varanasi11:15A - 9:00P9:45.
Spice Jet SG 233Varanasi - Delhi11:50A - 1:15P1:25.
Jet Lite S2-501Delhi - Kathmandu12:37P - 2:31P1:39.
Jet Lite S2-502Kathmandu - Delhi4:35P - 5:55P1:35.
Emirates EK 513Delhi - Dubai4:23A - 6:45A3:522:45
Emirates EK 211Dubai - Houston9:30A - 4:00P16:3023:07