It goes without saying that we have embarked on the trip of a lifetime. Period. End of story. In addition to our "usual" annual travels to SE Asia (which include Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore) we have included a 15-day trip to Northern India as well as a 16-day excursion to South Africa.
Our "Big Trip" will take us literally thousands of miles around the world over a timespan of six weeks and we invite you to join us along the way.
Quick note - for the sake of not wanting to bore you to death, I will not be going into great detail with our travels but rather giving an overview of what we did and where we went (essentially, only sharing the highlights - primarily of our travels in India and South Africa). If you are interested in knowing more information or details about a specific topic we will gladly share with you. Just ask.
Translated roughly, it means "I bow to the God within you", or
"The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you".
INDIA October 10 - 25, 2017
To be honest, India was never on our bucket list of places to travel. Please don't get me wrong, is isn't that we were against the idea of visiting India, we just never planned on making it a priority to go there for a visit.
Fast forward to the beginning of this year when we received an invitation from some dear friends to attend their 10th anniversary celebration in - you guessed it, India. It just so happened that the dates of their celebration coincided with the dates that we had planned for our SE Asia trip so we thought to ourselves - "why not?". And thus, we had officially added India to our itinerary. Smile.
A bit of background on how we organize our travels. Once a trip is on the calendar Carolyn goes to work on filling in the itinerary for us. She reads nearly every blog post, magazine article and TripAdvisor review that was ever written about the area that we will be visiting so that she can get suggestions about where we should stay, eat and travel. (She also takes careful note of where we should not stay, eat and travel.) She absolutely loves to research a trip and it is a marvel to watch her as she puts the pieces in place. I know that I am probably biased about this, but Carolyn is a travel planning savant. (She is also a miracle worker when it comes to maximizing airline and hotel points.) Lucky me.
Early in the planning process we had determined that we would like to see as much of India as possible during our time there so we selected to fly directly to New Delhi and travel by car to each of the cities that we wanted to visit. (As a point of reference, the average drive time between cities was roughly 6.5 hrs.)
A a side note, for those of you who have traveled to India you know that absolutely no one in their right mind would ever consider driving a car themselves. This is where Carolyn's infinite wisdom and research paid off for us. She discovered a car service that would not only provide a driver for us throughout our travels but would also arrange for local guides in each of the cities we wanted to visit. A definite win-win. (More about this later.)
New Delhi, India / October 10 - 12
Jaipur, India / October 12 - 16
The anniversary celebration took place over the course of four days in a beautiful 475 year old palace that is situated on a hillside and overlooking a small nearby village. Needless to say, the palace was absolutely stunning! In fact, the whole anniversary celebration was one stunning event followed by another. Throughout the four days we got to wear all of the "fancy" clothing that we purchased in New Delhi, saw spectacular fireworks, drank delicious champagne (a lot of delicious champagne!), ate incredible meals set in storybook settings, rode elephants, visited a local school where we all contributed to the funding for a paved playground and courtyard for the children, went sightseeing at a historic fort, marveled at a group of talented dancers who would rival Jennifer Lopez any day, watched the sunset over a field of merigolds while sitting atop a camel, danced our hearts out to an incredible band that was flown in from Indonesia and were gifted with the opportunity to meet 70 new friends from 23 countries spanning 3 different continents. Without a doubt this was an experience of a lifetime.
Udaipur, India / October 16 - 19
Known as the "City of Lakes" or the "Venice of the East" this was by far one of the most beautiful places that we visited. (This is also the city where the James Bond film "Octopussy" was made. A fact that was mentioned by nearly everyone we met during our time there.)
We were enchanted by the fact that we had to take a small boat to reach our hotel and along the way we floated pass stunning palaces and eyed huge temples sitting atop lush-green hillsides. The beautiful scenery combined with the rich culture and history made Udaipur a standout favorite for us.
During our stay we were paired with a local guide who walked us through the City Palace which is a massive series of palaces built at different times beginning in 1559. The palace now houses a museum with many antique articles, paintings, decorative furniture and utensils from the royal era. As it happens, the royal family still lives in a portion of the palace and during our visit we caught a glimpse of the young daughter of the Prince. (We learned that she is an only child and often times gets lonely for other children to play with. As a result of this we were told that she is prone to "escaping" the watchful eye of her nanny and oftentimes runs out into the public areas to find other kids to play with. We found this to be both sweet - and sad all at the same time.)
In addition to the City Palace we explored several temples, walked and shopped through the narrow cobblestone streets of the "Old Town" and witnessed a breathtaking sunset while floating around the lake in a small boat. There is much to explore in Udaipur and we did our best with the time that we had allowed to take in the sights and sounds of this beautiful, ancient city.
Diwali or Deepavali is the Hindu festival of lights celebrated every year in autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in southern hemisphere. (This year it was celebrated from October 19 - 22 which coincided with the time that we had planned to stay in Jodhpur.)
One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, it spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. Its celebration includes millions of lights shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, around temples and other buildings in the communities and countries where it is observed. In the week leading up to the Diwali Festival we saw first hand how the people in both rural and urban areas prepared for the holiday by painting their front porches with welcoming designs and adoring their houses or places of work with a strings of beautiful, bright marigolds. (These are only a few of the many ways that people prepare for the sacred holiday.)
Diwali is also celebrated with fireworks and various "explosions" on a nightly basis for the duration of the four-day festival. (We found this out first-hand as we struggled each night to keep the earplugs stuffed into our ears so that we could attempt to block out the sound of the never-ending explosions. To us, it felt as though we were sitting in the middle of a war zone. I am not exaggerating.) Needless to say, this was our least favorite form of "expression" to celebrate Diwali. In addition to not getting much sleep, we were continuously worried about what the effects this would have on all of the homeless dogs and various other "street" animals as well as the devastating environmental impact that it had on the city (the air pollution that was created as a result of the fireworks and explosions was horrendous).
Jodhpur, India / October 19 - 22, 2017
Sitting the stark landscape of the Thar Desert, Jodhpur (also known as the "Sun City" for the bright and sunny weather that appears year-round as well as is the the "Blue City" because of the blue colours that decorate many of the houses in the old city area). It is second largest city in the Indian state of Rajasthan (Jaipur being the largest) and it also happens to be the city where Carolyn discovered that she had "officially" contracted a mild case of "Delhi Belly" or what is commonly known as Traveler's diarrhea. All that I can say is thank heavens for modern day medications! (I won't go into the details but suffice it to say that for the next five days Carolyn abandoned any idea of eating anything that remotely resembled curry or dahl.)
While Carolyn spent the time recuperating in our hotel room, I ventured out with a local guide to see a few of the sites that make Jodhpur famous. The first stop was a visit to the Jaswant Thada which is a cenotaph (an empty tomb or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere). The Jaswant Thada serves as the cremation ground for the royal family of Marwar.
In addition to being an impressive building, the mausoleum is built out of intricately carved sheets of marble which are extremely thin and polished so that they emit a warm glow when illuminated by the sun. I never imagined that a mausoleum could be so beautiful.
Our next stop was to the Mehrangarh which is one of the largest forts in India and is situated high upon a hill overlooking the "old city" section of Jodhpur. Built around 1460 by Rao Jodha, the fort is situated 410 feet above the city and is enclosed by thick walls. Inside its boundaries there are several palaces known for their intricate carvings and expansive courtyards. Today the Mehrangarh fort serves as an impressive museum as well as the site for the filming of many movies including the 2012 "The Dark Knight Rises". (Coincidentally, there was an un-named American movie being filmed at the fort during my visit.)
Jaipur, India / October 22 - 23
The drive between Jodhpur and Agra (the next stop on our travels) is too long to make in one day so we made a quick overnight stay in Jaipur, which is more or less the half-way point between the two cities.
This time when we were back in Jaipur we stayed at the sister property of the palace where the anniversary party took place. It was a quaint, charming and beautiful small hotel that is situated in the heart of the city with a magical ability to create the impression that you are somewhere far away from the hustle and bustle of it all. We loved it!
Agra, India / October 23 - 25
Agra is the home city to the iconic Taj Mahal. During our brief stay, our main objective was to see as much of this historic landmark in as many ways as possible. Mission accomplished.