The following excerpts are from the blogs and journals from a few of our travellers - Doug Woodbury's (February 2012) journal is listed at the bottom of the page and Lynnie Bruce's (February 2015) blog is listed immediately below. Enjoy!
Lynnie Bruce recently travelled with us on a BODA trip (February 2015). She and her husband Max are travelling around the world on their sail boat JUANONA and Lynnie has been blogging about their travels. Lucky for us, she has captured their experiences on the BODA trip beautifully with brief narratives and amazing pictures. Here is an excerpt:
Max and I had quickly jotted down India as one of our ‘must-see’ countries when we became engaged back in December 2000. Fast forward fourteen years later and we had signed onto Noel’s small-group travel thanks to the recommendation of Judy and Doug who had experienced a Boda India adventure with friends Roger and Stephanie Greenwood a few years ago. Because of a visa-on-arrival program becoming operational just in time for our joining the group of four others, Max and I found ourselves part of a magical mystery tour led by our host Noel.
Being based in England, versus Maine, like the rest of our fellow Boda-ists, our travel time was relatively easy: left London for the airport at 4:30 a.m. and arrived less than 20 hours later in Hyderabad. We set our clocks five-and-a-half hours ahead. (Why the half hour? The eastern and western extremes of India are approximately one-and-a-half hours apart, so a compromise was made to create one all-inclusive time zone. This eliminated confusion which is what had occurred when the railway company decided to use one time zone and the government based its clocks on two different zones.)
All seven of us arrived at the Mumbai International Airport within 30 minutes of one another, and Noel placed spell-binding garlands of jasmine around our necks. The enchantment had begun.
Are we REALLY here? Which is the question I asked myself early Friday morning on February 13 as my bare feet felt the cool marble floor of Birla Mandir, a Hindu temple in Hyderabad, India. Constructed in 1976 by a wealthy, industrial family (the Birlas), this white stone temple serves as a sanctuary for all people, whether Hindi or not, with its companion planetarium just down the hill. The Birlas have been constructing combination sites of the spiritual with the scientific over the past 50 years. Thanks to Noel Bonam of Portland’s Boda Travel, this site was our introduction into the complex and contradictory world of India and into the world of where bare feet rule.
Noel’s experience of not letting any of us nod off until 8 pm on the first night(to help get over jetlag) translated into an ongoing assault of our senses as the day flowed from one eye-popping sight, smell, touch to the next. This rapid-fire introduction also created an instant bond among all of us as tiredness turned to giddiness turned to deer-in-the-headlight looks.
What soon became apparent was not only would this tour under Noel’s guidance be an immersion into the non-touristy side of India but also the meeting of acquaintances who would become friends. As the day unfolded I experienced the sensory explosion to which other India travellers had alerted me.
Leaving the temple we ventured back to the hotel for desired showers and caffeine intake. Two hours later found us on our way to Pochampally, a weaving village an hour or so outside of Hyderabad. A bonus was having a young Iraqi friend of Noel’s, Ahmed, join us, who was soon treated as a long-lost nephew.
Speeding along the road to the village we saw some red blobs on the side of the road only to discover they were tomatoes, and, even more interesting, they were tomatoes with monkeys. Thankfully we didn’t disturb or distract them from their feast for I don’t think upset monkey with throwing arms would be a good combo.Photo courtsey of Lynnie Bruce
Click here to read more of her blog.
Doug Woodbury, wrote to friends and family back home while on BODA trip to India in 2012. He had his family and friends around the world and the rest of us (his fellow travelers) waiting eagerly each day for his next update. He started writing this blog on the fourth day of the trip and soon realized that he was having a blast writing these daily updates and he also got a lot of encouragement from his fellow travelers who thoroughly enjoyed reading these daily summaries of things they were experiencing in India.
With Doug's permission we are posting the following excerpts. Enjoy!
Good shopping. Went to a spectacular temple yesterday (services in process), got the red dot on forehead and prayed to a deity with an elephant head - hope that makes me a better something. Food continues to be excellent. Also went to local fruit and vegetable market - we were celebrities - as we certainly stood out. Some beggars but not bad.
Today was a trip to a small weaving village - silk weaving. The whole town was engaged in the weaving effort. Visited weaver homes and small shops - saw the process from dyeing to weaving to marketing and sales.
We made siege of a shop keeper's store with our catapult filled with Rupees - an attack of the first order. We joyfully bought a number Saris for whatever reason - will figure that out later. I think we own a good portion of the village with our investment strategy.
Stopped in at a school and met with a class of students. They all stood up and introduced themselves then they sang us a song. We cried behind our Ray Bans. We totally disrupted the school - teachers sighed politely.
Weather still hot - we got to drink an Indian beer for good behavior at the village. Judy and Stephanie scandalized the local population by shamelessly swigging some beer in public. Village men were appalled - women secretly envious of the liberated "in your face" behavior. Roger and I - once again - were not appreciated for our support of women rights in this rural setting.
We are sightseeing during the day and flying to next city at night - we leave Hyderabad at 8:00 pm arrive Jaipur at 11:00 pm. Food is radically different each part of the country.
Traffic is wild - a minute by minute promise of soiled pants. Everyone here drives nonchalantly with supreme confidence. I would have to carry a large inflatable Hindu deity as an air bag if I was staying longer.
No one with the slightest hint of stomach problems - thanks to our culinary control protocols - but fresh fruit and vegetables are a limited option.
Well, I didn't start out to write a travel journal but the encouragement of my traveling partners has made it impossible to refuse - so like it or not I am proceeding with my limited skills to pass on some information.
We flew over night from Hyderabad to Jaipur. The flight was comfortable and seemed to go fast. After we took off into the air, an extremely heated dispute erupted in rows 21 through 24 around the constitutional right to put the seat in the full back position. There were those that were for and those who were vehemently against. Emotions ran high - loud shouting in various dialects, some threatening, standing up and other such activities occurred. I am not sure if there was a religious basis for the dispute but it does permeate all aspects of life - so maybe.
Judge Stewardess lost complete control of the situation for a time but tempers calmed and order was finally restored with the introduction of the snack cart - whew!
Our hotel in Jaipur is excellent. Roof top pool and bar with a panoramic view of the city. On the hills in the distance is a huge fort - you can ride an elephant to the top and down - after careful consideration it was agreed that the elephant ride in front of hundreds of locals was just not touristy enough - so we passed on the activity.
Jaipur is a relatively modern city (established circa 1700's). It is a marvel of urban planning by Indian standards - laid out in a grid with wide streets. It is packed with lively activity, colorful buildings (pink), and animals of all sorts. The other cities we visited so far would be characterized as "disorganized chaos" (if there is such a thing) - this was "organized chaos" - very calming.
Highlights included a palace facade built on the main drag with teeny windows. This palace was used at procession time so the women related to the Maharaja could watch the procession passing in the street below without being seen (by the way we could not think of one palace from our various travels that was built by women so that the men wouldn't be seen - so there).
The Maharaja's city palace was next. It is still the home of the current Maharaja who is 14 years old. One of the past Maharajas was 7 foot tall and 600 lbs. People even today question if he was worth his weight in gold.
The palace was a fabulous structure - inside - great exhibits, a real honest to goodness snake charmer with a flute and a rupee vacuum, and a demonstration of Indian miniature painting.
A very handsome Indian artist wowed us with his skill with a one hair brush and sold us a million examples of his work. Somebody back home is getting a picture of an elephant very soon.
In Jaipur we counted over 21 modes of transportation on the roads: on foot, bicycles, tricycles, bicycle rickshaws, Tuk Tuk's (mini taxi's built around a motor scooter), regular taxi's, small, medium and large buses, motor scooters, motorcycles, camel drawn carts, horse drawn carts, small, medium and large trucks, push carts, and small, medium and large cars. These various modes of transportation are intertwined in a symphony of movement - stopping and going, cutting across, flowing in every way you can imagine.
The visual spectacle bombards the eyes: Turbans, Sari's, cows, fruit, bright colored cloth and goods for sale are everywhere.
Off today to Pushkar, a small holy village with over 500 temples. We have a driver to take us on the two and one half hour journey who we believe has an important deity watching over him and who has assured us in writing that he also has something to live for.
Leaving the city, we are romanced with the idea of a religious pilgrimage of the first order and the profound inspiration we all seek in our lives.
Along the way we crossed dry arid landscapes with rocky hills in the distance. It is hard to imagine how the rural population makes ends meet -somehow they manage. Cows wander everywhere searching for nothing to eat.
The dessert scenery is dotted with proud women in bright colored sari's carrying heavy bundles atop their heads and noble looking men in colorful turbans and magnificent white handlebar mustaches attached securely to a dark ruddy complexion. Add a camel driven cart, and, well you get the picture.
Approaching Pushkar we are a twitter with anticipation - imaginary tiny cymbals, pungent incense and memories of the Beatles and Ravi Shankar are swirling in our brains.
Pushkar is a traditional village with hundreds of tiny temples centered around a small lake. Picturesque temples ring a small holy lake with continuous stairways (imagine stadium bleachers) from the temple level to the water. On the land side behind the ring of temples is the an amazing market complex with hundreds of shops, stands, and eateries. The search for the serenity and peace of a spiritual, the life and the realities of economic activity in this small village create a stark contrast when side by side in this small village - it is a duel of potent forces.
Little did some of us realize that there are really two clear paths to spiritual enlightenment - the path through prayer, thoughtful reflection and being one with nature or the path through shopping. Some of our group have understood this all along and occasionally they set out to convert non-believers to a new way of thinking - that is spiritual enlightenment through shopping.
Turns out Pushkar, affectionately renamed by the non-believers as "Pushcart," has an intoxicating central market area. The market is a world of its own - shopkeepers, holy men, women selling fruit and vegetables, meandering cows (and more cows) in an urban setting, stray dogs and puppies, pick pockets, monkeys, camels, technically proficient beggars, and of course, tourists. The smells are as varied as the occupants (I will refrain from a description as this email might fall on delicate ears). Tightly encapsulating this menagerie is the unique Indian architecture which is truly exotic but in a state of general disrepair and benign neglect.
There are actually 10 steps to spiritual enlightenment through shopping:
- Step 1 - the awakening which comes from an abundance buying opportunities
- Step 2 - the joy which comes from viewing potential purchases
- Step 3 - personnel growth and learning through close item examination
- Step 4 - the self assurance which comes from item selection
- Step 5 - the revelation of reality which occurs when hearing the shopkeepers initial asking price
- Step 6 - the inner strength and determination when presenting a counter offer
- Step 7 - the mystical properties of feigning a departure to another shop
- Step 8 - the inspiration of a shopkeeper counter offer
- Step 9 - the nirvana when settling on a price
- Step 10 - the complete spiritual oneness from the exchange of money
This shopping path is said to be excruciatingly cosmic (or is that orgasmic - I get those confused) for the true believer and always perplexing to non-believers. As with chanting a prayer when following the spiritual path these 10 steps must be performed ritualistically over and over for true enlightenment to occur.
India tends to misspell English words on signs and menus - pie can be pai and yesterday we saw a "brash" band not "brass" band leading the twice daily processional of the village woman going to open and close the temples. They say that massed women in colorful Sari's walking behind brash bands are hard to find in other places.
The real highlight of the day was a performance of traditional Indian music. The group consisted of two local male musicians (using instruments found only in this part of the country) and a young woman on vocals. Sitting by the lake and listening to this simple but piercing music - with a view of the ring of exotic temples - was magical.
Tomorrow - off to the Taj Mahal-Mall for more spiritual enlightenment.
Today off by car to Agra - 287 km from Jaipur.
On the way, flat greener countryside. Along the road the scenes are pastoral with numerous small dwellings. The houses are very primitive, often in the process of being built. Roofs and four complete walls are hard to come by.
Cow dung is used for fuel and is piled in creative shapes in every yard. Communal water tanks appear every so often (but not very often), cows graze, and camels plod. There are men bathing by the road - one is bathing, one nearly naked washing his only set of clothes, one nearly naked hanging his only set of clothes to dry.
For many rural folks it is a day to day existence on the margin - it is the most they can hope for in their whole life.
Passed an area where bricks are made by hand - cutting and stacking the clay in endless rows as far as the eye can see. Kilns with tall chimneys are dotted across the landscape identifying a particular brick making business. The sun is hot.
Arrived in Agra. The main two way access road into the city is a narrow two lane wide path with pot holes - businesses and vendor-stands encroach on each side. Everyone moves along in a reactive fashion. Three wheeled rickshaws are everywhere.
There is an outdoor wedding reception at the hotel in Agra where we are staying tonight. Indian weddings occur any day in fine fashion provided the date has been designated as auspicious. There is a formal wedding procession which takes the groom to the brides home. The ones we saw had an elephant in the front, two camels next, a band, the groom on a white horse, and the grooms family bringing up the rear. Very colorful and oh so different. The collecting of the bride symbolizes the bride leaving her parents home. There are other traditions which occur to complete the ceremony but in the end they all end up at special open air wedding reception facilities. At night they are colorfully lit and the entrances can be seen next to the road as you drive along. There are many processions and receptions going on each night.
The Taj Mahal -
A Moghul Emperor built this sprawling complex in the 1600's in memory of his wife. She bore him 14 children and died during child birth with the 14th. Both Roger and I agreed that the Taj Mahal wasn't really big enough to express our unending affection for our wives should they pass away.
The complex of buildings and gardens are spectacular - even more impressive than the pictures you see or documentaries you view on TV. The total complex was designed and engineered to be symmetrical to within 1 millimeter. An amazing accomplishment for the 1600's.
The Taj is made of white marble which is exquisitely decorated with carvings in the marble and other sections of the marble inlaid with semi-precious stones - the small pieces of stone are cut and polished in beautiful designs and colors. 20,000 people working for 22 years completed the project for a price of 40,000,000 silver and gold coins. At the end of the construction, the Emperor had the hands cut off the most skilled artisans - he wanted to make sure no building as beautiful as the Taj could ever be built again.
The Taj - India's national treasure - is a beautiful and awesome sight to behold and a memory that will stay with us forever.
Off to Delhi on an Indian train.
With the magnificent Taj Mahal behind us, we raced to the train station to catch a 5:45 train. Arriving we weren't sure how we were going to manage to get our ever growing collection of luggage into the station and over to our platform and standing location. Noël, our tour host, spied two porters and began a lengthy price negotiation around the carrying of a total of 8 bags. To my eye one porter was the shortest (except for the charming little person dressed as a sultan who greeted us at the department store in Hyderabad) Indian man I had seen so far and the other the thinnest I had seen so far.
Negotiations completed, the men took red scarves and wound them into a resting coil as a cushion on top of their heads. Up went the first bag on top of their heads, then up went a second bag on top of the other - a quick swing and a third was around the shoulder that would ultimately hold up the two bags on top of the head and then, in the hand (not balancing the two bags aloft) a fourth bag was picked up. We made a move to help but both porters were quick to fend us off insisting they could manage. So off we went trying to keep up with two speedy porters and our 8 bags - in a very crowded station - it wasn't easy.
Little did we know that our platform was on the other side of the tracks. When we hit the huge stairway up to the crossover bridge, the porters were increasing the distance between us. We could not keep up with the two porters and our 8 heavy bags. Across the station tracks and down again we were on the platform where we would get our train with another long walk to our appointed standing spot ahead. A conservative estimate was a total of 400 yards we walked and that the porters carried the bags.
The porters staged our mass of luggage to be loaded on the train. They insisted that they load the bags on the train and then, before being paid, they disappeared into thin air.
The train was 45 minutes late (typical in India) so we passed the time watching the various station sights: rats foraging on the tracks, dogs foraging on the rats, people crossing the tracks to get to the other side (no stairs needed for them), a steady flow of beggars, a man jumping down on the tracks to pee, various venders selling items, and lots of travelers separated by the class of ticket they purchased and the designated standing area on the platform.
When our train finally started to pull in the station, our porters re-appeared magically out of thin air (who knows how many bags they hauled at warp speed while they were away). We took their pictures and when the train stopped they proceeded to efficiently load all our bags on the train and right to our seat. Cost - 9.00 US dollars total for two porters. Like most Indians we had interactions with, these porters were relentless workers who despite the hardship of their lives - take a great deal of care and pride in even the simplest tasks.
A train ride on an Indian train in the first class section:
The first class seats on the train are basic bench style with tiered fold down bunks above for sleeping. The first class title should not be confused with fancy or luxurious. There was not much privacy but our area was roomy enough. A ceiling fan clattered noisily overhead - no air conditioning. The 2nd and 3rd class sections have their own style and unique features. A series of vendors selling all types of food that foreigners don't dare to eat move through the car at continuous intervals. After a while a transit assistant came to our section (we had so much luggage that we had to move all the blankets and sheets off the bunks and place them on a single bunk) and when he saw the massive pile of sheets and blankets and started complaining in Hindi about us. Something to the affect: "these foreigners are so strange - look they pulled all the blankets and sheets off the bunks and piled them up like the Himalayas - strange foreigners - strange foreigners". Us strange?
Everyone was generally friendly and courteous and our ride seemed to go quickly.
Train ride to Dehli complete. We got off the train and reversed the porter process (amazingly similar) to go from train to cabs. Nothing is simple in India. Exiting the railroad station we were barraged by cab drivers fighting for the lucrative two cab -17 bag transport. Every cab driver (all 50 stationed outside) promised superior efficient service regardless of the ability to deliver. If you are a cab driver you worry about your promise of superior and efficient service after you have the people and bags in your cab.
Negotiations completed off we went in caravan - two cabs - 10 humans (each driver had an assistant/co-pilot) and 17 bags. They were supposed to follow each other - supposed to. About 50 feet from the railway station exit we were separated - immediately. The lead cab was off like it was trying to set a land speed record. The second cab, barely more than a metal box on wheels, fell behind. No problem right?
It somehow miraculously dawned on the driver of the first cab - after 15 minutes - that cab two was nowhere to found. The solution - easy - drive at 2 miles an hour in the fast lane - until cab two caught up. Horns honking and vehicles whizzing to and fro, the driver was steadfast in this strategy for about 3 miles. Finally, the metal box appear alongside cab one - much to our relief - and so all was well - or was it?
Zoom, zoom, zoom cab one was off again like a shot. Cab two disappeared like a mirage in the Indian dessert behind us. After another 15 minutes guess what - cab one's driver very perceptively realized that cab two was not in his rear view mirror - perhaps not even in the same section of Delhi I was thinking.
The creative juices were flowing for the driver and co-pilot in cab one - solution 2 was a variation of solution 1. On a road equivalent to I-295 in Maine, we came to a dead stop and the driver put the flashers on - how quaint! The drivers of the vehicles coming behind us must have known our driver and co-pilot by reputation - they all seem to just avoid disaster and always adjusted.
I had to lay down after re-telling the details of the first part of the story in the previous email.
So there we were stopped dead in the road. Having said our final goodbyes to each other we waited and waited and waited for the metal box we hoped would be the key to our salvation. It finally came and stopped in the lane next to us on the highway - the drivers exchanged glad tidings and best wishes for a long life in a short conversation. Then off we went - this time the metal box went first.
Eventually we located the hotel on the other side of the highway - no problem - both drivers had "u-turn on the superhighway" certificates. However, apparently, they did not have the "stop when you get to the hotel entrance" certificates - as we scooted by the entrance by a mere 100 yards or so. After some driver/copilot discussion - the two cabs began backing up into the oncoming traffic with the goal of positioning the cabs for a smooth turn into the missed hotel entrance.
During the whole ride, Noel, normally a kind and gentle person, was shouting at his driver in what appeared to be at least three languages/dialects - it seemed like he was invoking deity after deity to curse the driver's entire family including any and all dead relatives. The driver sincerely responded "shanthi, shanthi" ("be at peace, be at peace") - he had no clue of what the concern might be!
When we finally made to the main entrance of the hotel, Noel made a management decision not to tip the drivers (they actually asked for a tip) without our input.Throughout India, driving related activities were stressful for us - drivers, vehicles, and passengers are caught up in the push and pull of India's densely populated daily life and the desire to gain some small advantage in the process of bettering themselves. You get the sense that to Indians driving is related to personal status, pride, self expression and mastery of a skill rather than just a means of getting from here to there.
Last day in India - Delhi sightseeing.
We saw the Qutub Minar a circa1200 to 1300ish series of structures that are an unusual melding of Hindu, Islam and Buddhism architecture - this unusual mix of architectural styles is actually symbolic of the blend of India's various cultures through the ages. A beautiful tall stone tower is the centerpiece of this complex and a national symbol of India.
Off next to the magnificent government building area. Built by the British in colonial times it rivals the national mall in Washington D.C. Gorgeous buildings in an Indian motif. The president's palace is at one end of the mall and a national war memorial to the fallen at the other. The war memorial is called the India Gate and is a favorite destination of Indians on their day off.
Early dinner at Veda's - Noel's favorite restaurant in India. After dinner we are off to the airport - flying from Delhi to Mumbai to London to Boston - over 24 hours of travel ahead.