Dehra Dun to London in 30 Hours

We are now back in London after a 30 hour trip from Dehra Dun to London. We weren’t sure what we were going to do on our last day in India but the airlines decided for us.
We left our Hotel in Dehra Dun at about 10A yesterday to head for the Jolly Grant airport outside of Dehradun. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”
We no more than got out of our car when someone at the airport told us to hold the car because the flight had been cancelled. Apparently, if there’s no traveller from Delhi to Dehra Dun on a given day, the flights both way simply don’t happen. Our driver, as with just about everyone we met in India, was extremely helpful in helping us find a taxi back to Delhi.
If I thought the Road to Agra was an adventure, I should have driven to Dehra Dun first. You know it is quite an experience when the customs agent here in London talks about how much of an “on the edge of your seat” ride she had on the same trip five years ago.
I suppose it was really nothing new but rather just the intensity of the traffic, animals, people and perhaps the most aggressive driver we had to date in India that made things interesting.
We ended up at the airport at about 8P for a flight that left at 3:30A. The Delhi airport isn’t exactly the most exciting place to kill time. That said all went well with our flight and in the end that’s what matters. London is 5.5 hours behind Delhi and we arrived here about 7:30A. Customs, backage and travel to our hotel took a bit. You know you are back in the west when you are schlepping your bags down the street after getting off the tube. No drivers here. We made it to the hotel about 11A.
More on India, the wedding and some general thoughts after we get a bite to eat and some rest. I will say that while it feels nice to be back in the west (it is a comfort zone of sorts) I know that there are things about India that will be missed and I’m richer for the experience of the last two weeks.

The Road to Agra

Travel books often speak of the “road” to this or that destination as if the road itself is part of the journey. Most of my travel has been in the U.S. where there’s really not much difference, aside from where you end up, between I-5, I-15 or the many other highways one can take. What you experience along the way is largely the same erector set-experience no matter the road. You’ll find a motel, gas station, fastfood joint and the rest that’s become U.S. freeway standard.
On Saturday 12/3 we took the road to Agra and experience highway travel Indian style. Let me tell you it is a vastly different experience. You share the road with horse and ox carts, camel caravans, auto rickshaws, pedestrians, motorcycles, trucks and more. And of course cattle always have the right of way and make frequent appearances on the road. And in typical fashion, if the vehicle has a horn you can be certain you’ll hear it almost endlessly.
Scenery along the way included people gathering cow dung for fuel, slums where people live in little more than dirt, individuals toileting themselves in full view, and fields where crops such as mustard and potatoes are grown.
One minute you can be moving at 55 MPH and the next in a virtual stall as you wait for a cow to leave the road. The amount of dust is really unbelieveable. By the end of a four hour trip, you are coated in a thin layer of it.
So too the quality of roads varies greatly. The main highway is paved and as smooth as anything you’d find in the U.S. But we also ended up driving on roads that were barely gravel through the middle of small Indian villages.
Agra is home to the Taj Mahul and this was the main reason we went to the city. Some experiences are really visual in nature. Words simply can not describe them and I think the Taj is one such experience. Aside from being able to say I’ve been there, I personally didn’t find the Taj Mahul interesting in the least. True there were many carvings in the stone and the Amervilas hotel where we stayed was first class by any standard.
Yet Aimee found the Taj experience more than worth the hastle of getting there. She used words like ethereal, magestic and breath taking.
I think had there not been thousands of tourists streaming up and down the steps to the monument I would have gained more of a sense of the Taj. As it was, my experience was more like being in a current of people just going with the flow.
As an interesting side note, our trip also included our first experience with what I’d term low level corruption here in India. We were heading back to Delhi when our driver Sudama pulled over and got out of the car without an explanation. Shortly after he got back in moved the car off the main road and got out and started having heated words with a police official.
The net result according to Sudama was that the police official demanded 100 Rupees (about $2.25) or else he, Sudama, would have been ticketed for a manufactured traffic violation that would have cost about 700 rupees. Sudama indicated this sort of thing was a regular happening in his travels.
India is a very different place from the U.S.–some parts better, some worse but all colorful and interesting.

Audio of A Saturday Walk in Dublin

On 11/26 we were in Dublin. Here’s some audio from the day. Things start out with us walking around the outside of Trinity college. The two quiet sections are inside the college in a room with the Book of Kells and another large library room known as the Long Room that has hundreds of rare books. You then hear us walk through the college gates, part of a Dublin city tour and more stops on various streets of Dublin.
Unfortunately audio is in Windows Media format only while we are on the road. When we return I’ll convert to MP3 and put more audio online.

The Indian Taste Adventure

Imagine me sitting down to write about food. I mean honestly I’d not win any awards of the diversity of food that I find
interesting. Still the food here has been a tantalizing mixture of spices and flavors.
We’ve eaten six dinners thus far and five of mine have been Indian cuisine. Admitedly, largely variations on chicken and rice
with some naan bread tossed in for good measure.
On Saturday night in Agra we dined at a restaurant called Espahan in the Amarvilas hotel. The food there was simply put some of
the best I’ve ever eaten, no matter what nationality. The name of the dish I ate escapes me but the menu called it a chicken with
onion and tomato gravy. The picky part of me is thinking, “hey, I can probably eat this, it sounds relatively safe.”
Clearly the Indian definition of gravy is different from what I’m used to. This was not a thick liquid slathered all over the
meat but rather a delicate accent that was a fine accompanyment to the basic dish. Further the “onion and tomato” was both more
and less than what was described. More because there were at least six or seven spices mixed in and less because to say that the
dish had inion that you could actually taste was certainly not accurate. All this is to say that the dish was a uniue and
enjoyable taste.
Aimee often tells me that food for her is aadventure. For the first time I have an understanding of what she means by this as the
dinner we had on Saturday was like taking a trip to an exotic combination of tastes.
Oh and of course there was also an Indian twist on tomato soup. Ours had ginger and coriander mixed in. The result was like a
spicy , zesty and again unique taste experience that I’d not previously had.
I’m not going off the deep end here and suspect I’ll remain Finicky Ford when it comes to food. Yet this trip has opened my
palate to many new tastes that I’ve enjoyed. The variation of spices is simple incredible.

More From Delhi

With three days of Delhi exploration under our belts, the differences and similarities between here and the U.S. are interesting. To be sure the
similarities are from our experiences thus far few.
Walking to breakfast this morning in our hotel it was quirksome to say the least to hear Bing Crosby’s White Christmas in a place where I suspect it never
snows and there’s nary a pine or spruce tree to be found. I guess such is the nature of hotels that attempt to serve the international traveler.
Humans seem to be able to quickly acclimate to surroundings. The air I mentioned previously as having a taste of smoke seems almost natural now. So too is
the fact that I barely notice the citrus scent piped throughout our hotel.
We’ve been exploring Delhi with the assistance of a driver. This is really a must for the India visitor as driving for anyone not familiar to traffic here
would be a near impossibility.
The curious part of me wonders about these folks that work as drivers. Ours, a friendly chap by the name of Mr. Sudama, has been a driver for more than 23
years. Unlike taxi drivers in the U.S., where the meter would be running every minute of the day, Mr. Sudama waits contentedly with the car as we visit the
sites. Aimee tells me she sees him chatting with other drivers and I suspect this is an entire subculture.
The sites have been plenty. We’ve strolled the paths of Lodhi Garden, explored India’s history at the National Museum, saw huts from many Indian villages at
a place known as the Craft Museum, wandered the courtyard of the Jama Masjid, India’s largest Mosque, visited Raj Ghat, cremation place of Gandhi as well as
Nehru and Indira Gandhi and her sons, drove through the Chandni Chowk or Moon Market, and visited Humayun’s Tomb, a monument to the second Mughal emperor and
much more.
Our visits were much more than checking off items on a shopping list of “must see? tourist destinations. The contrasts that are India were brought home to
me for example by seeing groups of school children on an obvious field trip to Raj Ghat teasing each other, playing tag and generally being kids away from
the classroom–carefree and having fun. Yet in the same day many kids of the same age came up to the car windows begging. “Two Rupees, two rupees, Hello
Sir, Hello Madam.” What fate of fortunate puts some of these kids in polished shoes, clean school uniforms with the opportunity to frolic in the sun while
others beg for survival?

Greetings From Delhi

In Delhi for less than 12 hours and the pizza count is already at 1. Did you expect anything else? This is Finicky Ford when it comes to food after all. And I resisted the urge to stop at any pizza joints in Ireland or England, holding that in reserve for India. So of course our first lunch had to be at a Pizza Hut just down the road from our hotel.
Seriously we arrived in Delhi early this morning India time and all has been going well on the trip thus far. Our biggest problem has been the Heathrow Express turning into what we’ve called the Heathrow Crawl. A signaling issue caused a 15 minute train trip to take just under two hours.
The British penchant for politeness was on display with multiple apologies. I always wonder about such because what can they really do. A fellow on the train from New York summed it it up best after about apology number 10 which came just as the scheduled departure time for his flight by saying, “Oh well at least I got an apology. If this was New York they’d have told me to be happy I arrived in the first place.”
Delhi exploration has been limited thus far to a walk outside near our hotel. That said I have now experienced a living definition of the word Cacophony. Friends and coworkers from India warned about crowding but words do not do the experience justice.
One step off the hotel grounds and we had offers for cab rides coming from all directions and that’s literally what was happening. You’d no more than dismiss the person on your left then someone else was starting a pitch from your right.
Walking down the street was like moving through a maze of people. Chess boards, Backgammon, postcards, tours, rickshaw rides and more being offered from every direction. I’ve been in big cities before but can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything like what I did on the streets of Delhi. Under pinning all of this are a constant din of car horns and air where you can taste the smog. the initial impression is a bit overwhelming.
This is not to say it is bad. Far from it. It is a new experience and one that is proving interesting.

A Summer Storm

We are back in the midwest for the holiday weekend. This time it is Minneapolis to visit a long time friend.
Even though it has been 11 years since I’ve called the midwest home, a summer thunderstorm reminds me just how much a part of me this weather and climate are.
In 11 years of living in California, Oregon and Washington, I don’t think I’ve experienced a true thunderstorm once. My definition isn’t the few claps of thunder that seems to qualify in Seattle. It is the hour-plus sort of storm where the thunder rattles the windows and rolls from one side of the sky to the other. It is the sort of storm where a clap of thunder can set off a car alarm. It is the sort of storm where the rain falls at a rate to justify the expression “raining buckets” and where you sense the awesome power of nature with every gust of the wind.
As a very small child I remember how much these sorts of storms used to frighten me. The “beep beep beep” of the television weather alert to be followed by the forecaster of the day reading a national weather service alert used to send me to the center of the house Mickey Mouse radio in hand to listen for every detail, just hoping the storm would go away.
Today a summer trip back to the midwest is a disappointment for me if I don’t get at least one good thunderstorm. This morning’s was at least two hours long. Windows rattled, rain pounded the windows and the wind was a constant. Strange how much all that just feels like home to me.