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Monthly Archive: February 2018

Udaipur – a clean city!

Udaipur was a wonderful surprise!  The streets are amazingly clean – very little trash.  The mayor is adamant about having a clean city and it was very noticeable!

Every city comes with a tour guide and the guide in Udaipur was excellent.  The City Palace sits on top of a hill – surprise!  It was built by the kings and added on to by every king.  We gave up trying to keep all the rulers’ names straight – too many and names are way too long!

City palace balcony

City Palace Balcony

City Palace from lake

City Palace. We were in a boat in Lake Pichola.

city palace mirror room

One of the mirrored rooms in the City Palace

City Palace of Udaipur

City Palace of Udaipur

Two hotels use part of the palace. “Octopussy” was filmed partly at the City Palace and in the streets of Udaipur.  “Marigold Hotel” scenes were filmed here, too.

My favorite part was the window screens carved all from one piece of stone or marble. These allowed the women to see out but prevented anyone from seeing the women.

Carved screens

These carved screens were carved from one piece of stone.

The Queen’s Side of the palace can be rented for parties and weddings now – to the tune of millions of rupees for this site.

Mark and Susan on Palace Island. We needed one posed picture to prove we’d been together on the trip.

We had our own boat out to Palace Island.  The guy who built the Taj lived on this island when he hid from his Dad.

washing clothes illegally

Washing clothes and bathing in the river is technically illegal in Udaipur. They don’t want the soap in the water.

water garden lily pads

Garden of the Maids of Honor

We made a stop at the Water Gardens built for princess with lots of fountains that run naturally.

Mark and Susan with Indian ladies

These ladies wanted their picture taken with us.

monkeys and mom

A few of the many monkeys at the City Palace



Bundi was our least favorite stop In India. It’s a small town with fort and palace – surprise!  The tour guide was terrible – we fired him after about an hour.

Nighttime view of the fort

Nighttime view of the fort

Fort in daytime

Bundi Fort during the day

The best thing about Bundi was sitting on the roof of the hotel and watching the total lunar eclipse.

full lunar eclipse

The lunar eclipse occurred when we were in Bundi. We watched it rise over the fort and then go into eclipse.


Ranthambore National Park is home to tigers along with a variety of birds, monkeys, sambars, but the tigers are the big draw.  Tiger safaris leave in the morning or the afternoon. It was back on safari schedule – 6 AM wake up with coffee and tea, quick showers and off to the NP.  We knew we’d be in a 6-person vehicle but we had no idea with whom.  The first morning we ended up with 3 other people – a couple from the UK and Abeget, an Indian from Cupertino who works for EA Entertainment Arts.

The safari vehicles have no top; they are completely open air.  Khem Villas provided a wool blanket with hot water bottle, 2 bottles of water and 2 sandwiches. We laughed when we read this but, when we hit the road, the blanket with the hot water bottle came in mighty handy!

The driver drove fast, making our heads and faces even colder.  First stop was at the main gate of the National Park so the hawkers could try to sell hats and gloves and fleeces. For some reason, they didn’t bother Abaget!

The park is divided into zones and each vehicle is assigned a zone never to be violated by entering another zone! Zone 2 was ours with the road following along the bottom of the hill with the Ranthambore Fort which is high and VERY large.  Pictures can’t do it justice.

Ranthambore Fort

The walls of Ranthambore Fort

tiger paw print

A tiger paw print in the road.

Victory! We saw two tiger “cubs”. This guy is only about 18 months old.

The tigers blend into the background quite well.

Hawkeye spotting!  A lady in a passing vehicle in the National Park saw Mark’s shirt and said “GO Hawks!”

Sambar deer in the lake

This lake was full of birds and Sambar deer during the afternoon safari

female NP guide

Our afternoon National Park Guide. She is the ONLY female guide in the National Park.

Naturalists are freelance and work on a rotation basis.  She tried really hard to find a tiger for us in the afternoon but to no avail.

sambas having sex

These sambars had some afternoon delight.

The birds were spectacular even if the tigers are in hiding.

owl in tree

The guide spotted two owls nestled in the tree.

Fruit bats

Fruit bats hanging around in the trees!

An Indian train ride!

After the Agra tour, we hopped in the car with Sonu and headed off for our next adventure – riding a train to Ranthambore National Park.  Our train was 2 hours late (no surprise!) but even waiting for the train was an adventure.

selling chai on platform

This vendor sold chai to the train passengers.

selling food on platform

The vendors walked up and down the platform selling food through the train windows when the train stopped.

waiting on the rails to get on

These guys knew the next train would be crowded. Some of them jumped on the track to board the train through the other doors in hopes of getting a better spot.

The Audley rep met us at the train station and arranged porters to take our bags to the correct track, thank heavens!  The rep waited with us and another Audley couple to make sure we got on the right train and right car. While we waited, the rep wandered off every once in a while, talking to everyone he knew, giving the hawker and beggars the opportunity to swoop in and make us practice saying “no”.

When the train finally showed up, the Audley rep got the train guys to put our bags up above our seats and told us not to tip until they took the bags down at the other end.  That strategy worked, even though the porters grumbled, and it saved us from manhandling the bags up the steep train steps, through the crowds on the train, and then undoing everything at  the end.

The train was worn and old but the seats were comfortable and we all had a reserved seat.  Our car’s monitor didn’t announce stops, making it somewhat of a guessing game as to where we were at any point in time.  (It’s now dark so we can’t see the stop names as we come into the station.)  We had our eyes on the Western tour group with an Indian guide– when they got off, so were we!

Some Indian guy traveling with his family stared at the two of us for the whole 3 hour train ride! I didn’t dare take his picture!

Another Audley Rep met us at the station and took us to Khem Villas who’d been alerted to our late arrival. They greeted us with hot towels, lemonade, showed us to our room (outdoor shower and tub and candles) and then fed us dinner at 10 PM.

Agra and the Taj Mahal

This day did not start off well!  Susan woke up at 3 AM with nausea and suffered the effects of food poisoning for 5 hours while Mark slept through the whole thing.  He couldn’t have helped much, anyway.  The Costco version of Immodium and some Indian anti-nausea meds helped!

We had our own driver for this whole India adventure; this gave us the flexibility to put off leaving Delhi for Agra until 11:30 AM while Susan recovered a bit.

AQI hazardous

The smog was so bad it obscured some of the Taj Mahal. I wondered if Corel has a smog cleaning tool for photo editing?

The air quality was Hazardous as we drove to Agra on the freeway. After arriving in Agra and meeting our guide at the hotel, we told him we’d pass on any tours today and meet him at 8 tomorrow morning for the Taj.

The Taj Mahal was built as a love story – you can find the story here – and the building is beautiful in every way you’ve heard described.  We lucked out because the cleaning of the Taj has just been completed and the scaffolding was gone! They still have to clean the dome but that’s a project for another year.

Mark and Susan at the Taj Mahal. Our guide did well with the cameras, thank heavens! Our selfie skills are severely lacking.

No crowds at 8 AM so no lines for security. Speaking of security … every monument we went to had some sort of security.  Our bags were at least checked.  Regardless of the security, men and women go through separate lines all the time.  Since non-Indian visitors pay a much higher price for admission tickets, we also use separate admission lines.  The non-Indian visitors get the faster lines thanks to paying 10-20 times the price that an Indian citizen pays.

high value ticket signs

Different lines for “high value” ticket holders. Translation – foreigners who pay WAY higher admission prices!

 Taj reflecting

Taj reflected. If you look really carefully, the dome is a different color because it hasn’t been cleaned yet.

Taj reflected in the pools.

The fountains at the Taj don’t turn on until about 9. This made for a nice reflection in the pools. The crowds hadn’t descended on the Taj yet, either.

 Itimad uh Dualah Baby Taj

Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah is a Mughal mausoleum often regraded as a draft of the Taj Mahal.

The Itamad uh Dualah, also known as the Baby Taj , is a smaller, delicate building on the river with very few visitors and a lovely western toilet!  Somehow, an unwritten rule seemed to be that international visitors also were charged more for the toilets – 20 rupees versus 10 rupees.  If the toilet was clean and western, I was happy!

Driving/Riding in India

Camels, cows, elephants, goats, sheep, trash, shrines, dogs, motor scooters, motorcycles, cars, trucks, push carts, bicycles … you name it, you probably find it on the roads of India. Throw in a few – or not so few –  people along the way and the picture gets more complete.

DIsclaimer: Many of these pictures were taken from the car as we moved along.

street traffic

Bicycles, auto-Rickshaw, people, and motorcycles all share the road.

goats on road

A few goats along the way. I like the spotted one.

Autorickshaws on the strret

Autorickshaws in India are the same thing as tuk-tuks in Thailand. Bicycle powered ones are just called “rickshaws”.

This guy hung out at a busy intersection in Delhi.

cows in road

Where does a cow cross the road? Anywhere she wants!

Camel on road

Camels are used for hauling wagons in the countryside.

cow wants a coffee

She obviously needs her coffee in the morning. We saw this in Bundi, down the street from our hotel.

White Baby camel

Baby camels are pretty cute! This group was walking down the road.

Staying within the lines on any road is completely optional as is going in only one direction on a divided highway.  Want to turn across traffic? OK … just stick the nose of your car out and nudge your way across the road while blocking traffic.

Truck blow horn sign

Telling someone to “Blow Horn” seems pretty unnecessary! Blowing the horn must be a requirement on the driving test.

One day, we had a diversion (British for “detour”)  at some point that took us through little villages that we never would have seen. The road was very bumpy, holey, cracked with a large sample of trash, shrines, cows in the road.  The road took us through small villages where all the men seem to sit in groups outside of shops visiting and drinking coffee and tea, reading the newspapers, while the women do all the work.

Walking along road

Walking along the road and we have no idea where they were going.

This guy walked through the traffic lined up to pay tolls. He was selling snack food.

truck full of grass

Taking grass of some sort to the animals. We never saw one tipped over but it has to happen!

riding in back of truck

An Indian countryside version of a bus. They were all going to the market town near them.  Spelling was a problem!

Indian freeway. The trucks were taking gravel to a road works site. This is the clearest lane I ever saw!

This gives you some idea of the variety you see in the cities. This was Delhi.

Snake charmer

Throw in a snake charmer or two on the sidewalks. The snakes are de-fanged.

Two weeks in India!

We know so many people from India and have heard so much about the country that India made the final list of places to visit on this trip. The Chief Travel Planner (Susan) decided she didn’t really want to try to figure out how to get around India so we did a bit of research on tours. We scratched the group tour idea and decided to go with a driver/guide combo.

After finally deciding on Audley, we gave them the places we wanted to visit, and Bryn put together the itinerary, booked drivers, hotels, and guides.  We just showed up!  Audley did a great job from start – meeting us at the Delhi airport – to end when the rep helped us navigate the lines that are the Delhi airport at midnight.  Sonu, our driver, took care of us and didn’t freak us out on the roads at all. He knew the best places to stop for food and CLEAN bathrooms!

Sonu our driver

Sonu was our driver from arrival time in Delhi until we flew home. He’s from the Himalaya region of India and an amazingly good driver and nice person.

Along the way we saw Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Ranthambore National Park, Bundi, and Narlai.  It was an adventure!

The first 3 days were in Delhi. Because it was National Day (Public holiday) AND the ASEAN conference was going on with leaders from all the ASEAN countries, security was tight with closed roads and many buildings closed.  We saw many of the places from the outside that, normally, we could have visited.

jama masjid mosque

Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi

electric line chaos

This street was pretty normal with electric, phone, TV lines going in all directions.

approaching mosque in smog

The mosque was only about a block away and you can tell how smoggy the air was.

234 Unhealthy Air Quality Index

Air Quality Index – Unhealthy!

How to make a bed

No pictures with this – just a pet peeve!

Where have all the sheets gone??  For years, I thought only Germany and Austria used just a duvet on beds without a top sheet. I’ve been known to pack my own flat sheet to get around this problem.  This trip we’ve been in more hotels than not who use just the duvet and forego the top sheets.  These are way too hot for us to sleep but so far I haven’t resorted to one trick – take the duvet out of the cover and sleep with just the cover.

Pillows … way too hard! I was thrilled at the Intercontinental at the Johannesburg International Airport after 3 weeks in Africa to find soft, squishy bed pillows at 3 AM!  The Sheraton and Meridien hotels in Koh Samui have great pillows, too.  I’m enjoying the Aloft pillow in Bangkok, too, for a few days.

Electricity in Hotels

elecrtric outlet

Love this string of outlets – controls for the fan, on/off switch and one outlet that was a bit loose. If you jiggled the plug JUST right, you got a connection.

Many hotels around the world are trying to cut down on electricity use. That’s a great idea!  How do they do it?  The room’s electricity only stays on when the key card is placed in the slot by the front door.  Theoretically, this works great – EXCEPT when the key card controls ALL the power to the room and not just to the lights or TV or A/C.

In some hotels, the key cards also switch off power to the outlets which causes a major problem when trying to charge computers, Kindles, cameras, etc. while we’re out of the room!

Years ago, we figured out that there’s nothing magical about the HOTEL key card.  We would leave other cards in the slot when we left so the outlets stayed on and our computers charged. We’d laugh and say “Powered by Qdoba” or “Powered by Body Shop”.

This trip we discovered 2 hotels in Thailand where we really had to use the key card!  The key card had an RFID chip in to unlock the door and that same RFID chip turned on the electricity.  At one hotel, the Bangkok transportation card with a RFID chip worked as a substitute  but at another hotel, no substitute chipped card worked except for an ATM card.

Then there are the motion-sensored air-conditioners all over the world.  I hate them!  If no one moves, the A/C shuts off. Great!  When we sleep, we want it COLD -as in about 62F or 18C – so having A/C on all night is important.  We must not move enough in bed nor get out of bed often enough, because the A/C always shuts off and then I wake up and am very hot.

We have read a way around this – tie a balloon to a string and tape it near the A/C.  That should be enough motion to keep the A/C/ running. We haven’t tried that trick!

Hotel Bathroom Commentary

We’ve been traveling for 5 1/2 months so far and have stayed in hotels and apartments, as well as with friends.  You’d think bathrooms are pretty standard, right??

African bathroom artwork

Cool tub and artwork at Gibb’s Farm in Tanzania

mahe2 open shower

This property in the Seychelles has an open shower in the middle of the room. You’d better be comfortable with your roommate!

samui meridien pool and bath

We used Starwood points to book a room in Koh Samui with a private pool. Little did we know the toilet, shower, sink are all by the pool and separated from the bedroom by a door and a few steps/walkway next to the pool. Let’s just say it was interesting at night finding the toilet!

Let’s start with electricity … In the UK or any country with historical ties to the UK, light switches are OUTSIDE the bathroom – for safety’s sake, of course.  This is despite the rest of the world turning on light from switches INSIDE the bathroom and not dying.

Don’t even think of plugging in a hairdryer or a curling iron in the bathroom, either, in UK countries – too close to the water.  This makes for interesting times every morning trying to find an outlet for the curling iron and hair dryer in a location that I have some hope of looking in a mirror.  I’m pretty sure that GFI outlets would work in the UK bathrooms!

Then there’s the lighting … some have bright lights … some not so bright.  It’s always a toss up to see if makeup can be put on in the bathroom.

Oh, sink handles.  You’d think there is universal agreement on HOT and COLD – Hot on the left, Cold on the right.  Most of the time yes, but not always. Two sink handles in one sink should turn on and off the same direction, right?  They both turn water on clockwise and turn water off in the counter clockwise direction. Not so much!  I gave up counting all the various combinations of how sink handles turn.

Backwards faucets

These 2 faucets turned opposite directions for on and off..

Water pressure in showers??  Most of the time, the water pressure has been OK. Then we reached India and at least 2 showers had such low water pressure I wasn’t sure I could get the shampoo out of my hair.  Seriously, the camp showers in Africa had better pressure and it was just gravity fed.

Bundi bathroom no pressure

The tiles are old Victorian tiles. This is the shower that sort of dribbled our of the faucet.

Where do you, logically, place a toilet paper dispenser?  Close to the toilet, right?  Someone needs to reach the toilet paper when sitting on the toilet, right?  We’ve had TP holders to the rear about even with the tank.  My arms need to be longer to reach those!  Others have been placed down low or up high, relative to the toilet.  A few were in the front of the toilet requiring the user to stand up to reach the TP.  The current one in Bangkok is hung upside down so the roll of toilet paper slides off.

Relarive size of a roll of toilet paper

Rolls of toilet paper in India are not exactly large even if the paper is thin. I used a pen to show the relative thickness of a new roll of TP.

So far, every hotel/apartment has supplied a hair dryer which is good!  Of course, two of them didn’t work – one in Germany and one in India.  The India one was replaced right away; the German one wasn’t replaced before we left so I had wet hair at the airport!  Some dryers have very little power, one blew the air so hard it knotted my hair up, and others were just right!