Tuesday, May 21, 2019

When in India--PAY ATTENTION!

No, really. You need to be on your game and alert.  If you aren't, you will die (worst case) or at least suffer some other unfortunate consequence. Our month or so traveling through Northern India (while Perry sat at the boat yard) was vastly different from our 6-plus years of cruising, which is typically pretty laid back when it comes to visiting new places. As a visitor to India, it was a challenge to just exist. Every time we left our hotel room, my senses were on overload.

Drivers are encouraged to blow their horns...and they do with
gleeful abandon. It's how they let each other know they're there.
Our visit to India was broken up by our 2-week visit to Nepal and trek to Everest Base Camp, which I will write about in a separate post.

While the men all seem to be dressed in business-casual
attire (even the guys cleaning the street), the women
almost all wear beautifully colored saris. Qutub Minar.
Space, quiet, and the absence of poop on the street were luxuries that I didn't think of as luxuries until they were gone.

Khari Baoli, Old Delhi. The biggest spice market in
the world is nearby.
Every blank space seems to get filled in. Traffic is a chaotic mishmash with no one staying in lanes or even driving in the correct direction (even on the 'highways'). Miraculously, none of us got hit by anything as we walked along those crazy roads. However, we were in one tuk-tuk that hit a motorcycle (no one was hurt) and a train that hit an  Army truck.

Just some of the menagerie filling the streets
Just because you have assigned seats on a train does not mean a family of four will not come squeeze in with you. Everyone else seems used to it. Traffic and behavior that would cause meltdowns back home just don't get a second thought in India.  People seem to take things in stride and rarely show anger or frustration.

Cows are everywhere. Agra.
People and animals coexist and the cities are minefields of various types of poop. Within minutes of arriving in New Delhi, we saw a man taking a dump next to the side of a busy road.

Train station on our trip to Varanasi
This was somewhat unusual, as the typical place to do this type of business seems to be right along the train tracks in full view of passing trains (we saw many 'moons'). It is perfectly acceptable (if you're a man) to stop at the side of a busy city road in New Delhi and pee. The sidewalks smell accordingly. In a moment of inattention, I stepped in a wet cow pie (why didn't someone warn me beforehand not to wear flip flops).

I can't make this stuff up...

Okay, this one was for a festival, but still.
India is filled with such rich history that every place we visited seemed to be filled with significant monuments (of course, we chose cities that were well-known tourist destinations). By the end of the trip, the children were done with forts and monuments. We would threaten punishment by saying we were going to visit a fort or tomb. To be honest, Matt and I had our fill as well.

Humayun's Tomb
We enjoyed trying different foods, although Matt had to take a break from Indian food when he got a bad bout of food poisoning in Varanasi. The kids loved the naan, dal, and jalebi. I couldn't get enough paneer. We ate mostly vegetarian meals because that was what was available in many places and probably safer. Plus, ya' know, beef--it's not what's for dinner (or any other meal).

Matt getting a straight-edge razor shave on the street.
What could go wrong?
We met many friendly and helpful people. Our first ever experience with AirBNB was superb. But we also experienced the 'tourist tax'. Basically, many tuk-tuk drivers, vendors and restaurant owners would try to get as much money as they could.  It was a bit tiring to always be on your guard against being swindled, but that's what you sign up for when you head to India.

Amber Fort - Jaipur.

Jaigarh Fort - Jaipur

This gentleman enthusiastically volunteered for
a picture--and then asked for baksheesh (a tip) <sigh>

When we got off our red-eye flight to New Delhi, our first stop was a SIM card at the airport Airtel desk. We were tired from the flight and Matt put 2000 rupees on the desk to pay for the SIM card. It 'disappeared' at some point during the transaction (almost certainly into the pocket of the guy working there). In hindsight, it was a mistake borne of tiredness and having spent years in less blatantly dog-eat-dog countries. It did leave us a bit wary.

Random musical gathering for Ganguar

Ganguar Festival Parade

In most cases, we probably didn't even know we were being gouged. One jalebi vendor yelled at his crew for overcharging us the previous day (something in Hindi about the impression people get when they visit India). A couple of rickshaw drivers tried to charge us double the agreed-upon fare at the end of the ride.

Chandbori (step well). And we thought it was
challenging to get water on the boat sometimes.
One vendor didn't give Matt the appropriate change for some bottles of water until Matt made it clear that he knew the price (through a subtle stare and raising of the eye-brows, Indian-style). We hired a driver (we were supposed to take a bus but Matt's food poisoning waylaid that plan) to take us from Varanasi to the Nepal Border at Sonauli. He took a bizarre, very indirect route that stretched the trip out from 7 to 10 hours and then badgered Matt for a 'tip' at the end.

Fatehpur Sikri
The cherry on top was the Ola driver that tried to charge us 1000 rupees to go from airport Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 when we scheduled the ride for the wrong terminal (a ride that should have cost less than 200 rupees). All at 4 a.m. as we tried to catch the red-eye back to Kuala Lumpur.

Matt did a great job organizing the trip, including scheduling train rides. The traffic in northern India was horrendous almost everywhere we went and the trains were the best alternative. However, every train we rode managed to be late--sometimes by a lot.

This one might look familiar (Taj Mahal - Agra)
Our last train from Siliguri to New Delhi was scheduled to take 24-hours. We woke up in the morning to find that the train had gotten 4.5 hours behind schedule overnight and it just got worse as the ride progressed. When we finally arrived in New Delhi, the train was over 8 hours late. Our 24-hour train ride took over 32 hours. Everyone seemed to take it in stride and at least it was air-conditioned. Don't ask me about the condition the toilets were in though. Yes, it always comes back to the poop.

After our trek to Everest Base Camp, all the kids wanted to do was to sit in the air-conditioned hotel room and watch the Discovery channel. We did a little more than that, including a trip to Darjeeling. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of pictures from Darjeeling because we were in fog almost the whole time, but it was a charming city.

All in all, it was an epic adventure--exhilarating, frustrating, and fascinating. We were privileged to experience it and relieved to be finished.

Now we have returned to the boat yard, adjusting to the humidity (India was hot but dry) and lack of air-conditioning. We were fortunate to get to spend some time with our friends on Field Trip before they headed off. It's back to the daily grind of boat yard life and annoying projects. I'll leave you with some pictures from our travels in India. Also, our major costs for the trip are listed at the end of the post.

Peacock at Akbar's Tomb

Buffalo and people swimming in the
Ganges River (holy but filthy). Varanasi.

We didn't film any of the cremations that take place
on the ghats along the river but here is some of the wood used.

Sunrise boat ride on the Ganges. Probably
more impressive if you don't already live on a boat.

One of the Ganges ghats around sunrise.

Conrad with a drawing at one of the ghats along the Ganges.

Leopard 'spotted' on our Bengal Safari Tour. Siliguri.

Tiger on the Safari Tour.

Mark standing on the small-gauge railroad track for
the Himalayan Railroad train to Darjeeling

Also nicknamed the 'Toy Train'.

The trip was fun but slow. It took 8 hours. It was 
scheduled to take 7 hours and left a couple hours late. 
A car ride to Darjeeling only takes about 2-3 hours, which
is what we did on the way back.

This was before the train hit the Army truck. 
The tracks wind through (and literally on and across) mountain roads,
very close to traffic (sometimes too close).

Rock wall at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
in Darjeeling. Conrad almost made it to the top.
Work that dyno, boy!


For the Indian portion of our journey, we visited New Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, and Varanasi. When we got back from Nepal, we headed to Siliguri, Darjeeling, and then back to New Delhi, spanning 24 days. Here are the major costs from our trip in U.S. dollars. We were in tourist-y areas, didn't scrimp on food and had four mouths to feed, but it is possible to eat very cheaply in India.

  • Hotel $420 (we stayed 3 nights free at our friend Sujay's New Delhi flat)
  • Food $839
  • Transportation $1335 (including the $676 airfare for 4 from Kuala Lumpur to New Delhi and $100 to get to the India-Nepal border)
  • Indian Visas $307
  • Internet $12 (a great deal for 60 days of data; doesn't include the $30 that went missing at the Airtel counter)
  • Entertainment $282 (mostly entrance fees to monuments)
  • Total: $3195 (2936 km/1820 miles of overland travel within India)

Random thoughts: Almost without exception, the beds in India are really hard. It may explain why everyone seems to have great posture. 

Expect to be searched when entering any government monument, movie theater, or mall. They have separate lines for men and women for this purpose. 

There is so much garbage everywhere. We thought a lot of Asia was polluted and dirty, but the parts of India we were in were on a whole different level. New Delhi and other areas have banned free plastic bags and people spend time each morning sweeping the streets, but there are few garbage cans and so many people.


  1. I never particularly had any desire to go to India and now I know why.

  2. Ha! 'We go to India so you don't have to.' I don't think you would have enjoyed the food very much.


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