Wednesday, May 30, 2012

India, March/April, 2012
Since my flight to Delhi left at 7 a.m., the www.shuttle2losangeles for $20 was a good deal for me!!!  I booked online and was picked up at home and delivered with time to spare at LAX.  I arrived late in Delhi and stayed at Megha Homestay (  for a couple nights which was very reasonable.  The following day, March 8, was Holi or festival of colors, a religious spring festival celebrated by the throwing of paint!!!  All museums and public transportation were closed so I visited the Jama Masjid mosque commissioned by Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal, in 1650 AD. It is the largest and best known mosque in India.   In the afternoon I visited Humanyun’s Tomb commissioned by his widow in 1565.  It was inspired by Persian architecture and placed in the center of the lovely, 30-acre Paradise Garden.  I walked over to a mosque nearby to watch some of the holi festivites, i.e. music, offerings, etc. but fortunately, no one threw paint my way!!!

Afterwards, I walked to Purana Qila, a massive fort founded in 1533.  Inside is the very well preserved Qila Kuhna Masjid with its unique horseshoe-shaped arches.  It was enjoyable to just wander around what remains of the old citadel.   Dinner at Veda restaurant with its more modern take on Indian food.

In the morning, I flew up to Leh in northern India.  Often called “little Tibet” because of its similarities to neighboring Tibet, Leh sits at 11,562 feet which takes some getting used to.  I had no problem with the high altitude so was able to set off for town after checking into the beautiful Silver Cloud Guesthouse highly recommended by Trip Advisor and a wonderful place to stay.  It was -5 degrees C and there was snow on the ground so, after putting on everything I brought along and borrowing a parka from the owner, I walked into town.  First I visited the mosque and then had delicious vegetable momas at Friends of Tibet restaurant.  Later in the afternoon I visited the Sankar Gompa inside of which is an impressive figure of Avalokitesvara with 1,000 arms and 1,000 heads.  Inside the temple is a special room reserved for the Dali Lama stays when he visits Leh.   In the morning breakfast was delivered to my room as it was too cold to venture downstairs, i.e. local flatbread, scrambled eggs, homemade jam, local white cheese and hot tea.  I walked through the snow up to Leh Palace passing stupas and prayer flags along the way – it was lovely.  Took a bus to Thikse Gompa which resembles the Portola Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.  It is located at 11,800 feet and is a 12-storey complex of buildings housing a 49 feet statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha.  Stopped by Shey monastery, built in 1655 and wandered around the ruins before returning to town.  Garlic spice chow mein lunch at WOK Tibetan Kitchen.

The next day a couple of us shared a taxi to Likir Monastery which houses 120 buddhist monks and a school and is quite grand.  Sitting on the roof is a 23 foot high gilded gold statue of Maitreya.  Stopped for a vegetable chow mein lunch on the way to Lamayuru monastery, one of the largest and oldest in Ladakh.  We wandered up around the hills, through the prayers flags, prayer wheels and stupas before returning to town.  In the morning after a leisurely walk with lovely views of the snow capped Himalayas I flew back to New Delhi.

Before Our Intrepid group met in the evening a few of us visited the Quib Minar, a brick and stone minaret, which stand 237.8 feet tall and is an important example of Indo-Islamic architecture.  There are five women in our group along with our Indian guide, Mahe. After the meeting we had dinner at a nearby restaurant and it was quite good – naan bread, palak paneer, cauliflower and potato curry.  In the morning Mahe took us out for our first Indian breakfast of dosa (crisp thin pancake) filled with potato masala – so yummy.  Afterwards we toured the spice market and an enormous Sikh temple.  We watched the service for a bit and then visited the “kitchen” where vats of lentils and vegetable curry were being prepared.  We all tried our hand at making chapati bread and then sat down on wooden benches to sample the fare.  Lentils, vegetarian curry, chapati and chutney were spooned onto our individual aluminum trays– soooo delicious.  Tuk Tuks to the Lotus Temple designed by architect Fariburz Sahba in 1986.  It has 27 white marble petals and is lovely.  We all went inside to hear a little program before heading to the India Gate, a stone memorial which pays tribute to the Indian army soldiers who died in WWI.  Another delicious dinner of vegetable curry with peppers, onions, etc., chicken with masala sauce, rice, potato korma, stuffed naan and paneer.  I do love this food!!!

In the morning we took the local train to Mandawa, stopping at the cremation “temples” where businessmen used to be cremated, before arriving at our hotel which was once a haveli (private mansion).  There was some wonderful dancing by men in turbans with bells tied on their ankles in the courtyard before dinner upstairs overlooking the city.  The following morning after Indian French toast stuffed with potatoes and onions we visited some traditional havelis ornately decorated and built as symbols of success.  We had a nice simple lunch of spicy potato stuffed peppers and naan bread at Haveli Monica and then a wander around town.  Dinner nearby where we shared some vegetarian korma, chickpea and potatoes and a vegetable/fruit dish which was unusual but good.

After parantha stuffed with potatoes for breakfast we took a local bus to Bikaner.  First lunch at the hotel, i.e. puri (deep fried bread) with Bhati (potatoes, tomatoes and onions) and then we walked to Janagarh Fort built in the 15th century.  A 986 meter long wall with 37 bastions, a moat and two entrances fortified this fort.  It contains a wonderful ensemble of courtyards, balconies, towers and windows.  Miniature paintings and floral designs are painted on the walls and ceilings and it is quite majestic.  On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a miniature painting shop and the painter demonstrated his skill by painting a little picture on my fingernail with all five of our names underneath!!!  Dinner on the roof top of our hotel was a feast, i.e. tandoori chicken, vegetable pakora, cilantro chutney, butter chicken masala, vegetable korma, dal, raita, paneer, biryani and all kinds of Indian bread compliments of Intrepid.  The Mughal emperors probably ate this way every night!

In the morning we drove out to the Karni Mata Temple (rat temple), an ornate, isolated Hindu temple constructed in the early 1900s as a tribute to the rat goddess.  There are thousands of rats running around and food and milk are set out for them as well.  After our samosa lunch Mahe had us each pick out an India sweet which we all shared.  Many sweets are made with chickpea flour but all of them seem very sweet.  Some of us took a taxi out to the camel breeding center where some camels are breed for riding and some for pulling carts.  The camels in India have only one hump.   Dinner near the fort at Gallops that night.  We ordered paneer with cashew sauce and an interesting potato tandoori dish – to try something different.

Caught the 7 a.m. train to Jaisalem, placed our luggage in one of the hotel rooms, had a quick lunch and then took jeeps out into the desert.  We all climbed onto camels and rode about 2 hours into the heart of the desert where we watched the sun set from the top of the sand dunes.  A fire was lit and some nomads came by to entertain us with their instruments and dance – so special.  Dinner was served, i.e. dal, cauliflower, yogurt raita, chapati, rice and hot tea which we ate outside on our cots.  Afterwards, we all nestled down beneath our blankets to sleep under the stars….Breakfast of puri and jam and then a camel ride back to the road and to our hotel, ually a 250 year old sandstone haveli!!!  After hot showers we took a nice walking tour of the city and into the fort filled with shops and restaurants.  Dinner later on a roof top overlooking the fort – delicious vegetables, potatoes w/mint and naan bread.

In the morning we all walked to Gadisar lake, south of the city walls.  It is a man made reservoir built in 1367 and surrounded by temples and small shrines.  After breakfast we visited the seven Jain temples inside the fort.  These yellow sandstone temples date back to the 12th and 15th centuries and are dedicated to various hermits.  On the walls are animal and human figures carved in the famous Dilwara style.  Dinner overlooking the Jain temples – potatoes with cashew nuts was yummy!

Took a bus to Jodhpur in the morning, checked into our hotel, had lunch and then took tuk tuks into the center.  There is a bustling open market around the clock tower where people sell spices, paper umbrellas, jewelry, etc.  Lunch was so good at the hotel we decided to have dinner there as well, i.e. chicken, mutton, selection of breads, potato/cauliflower, vegetables, spinach paneer and sweets that one of the gals brought for us all to share.

In the morning we visited the Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest forts in India, which you can visit with a very good audio guide.  Inside are several palaces known for their intricate carvings and expansive courtyards.  There is also a fabulous museum with howdahs (carriages perched on the top of elephants), miniature paintings and palanquins (a type of human-powered transport).  Stopped by the dazzling white Jawant Thado memorial built out of intricately carved sheets of marble.  We all had dosas (crisp crepes) filled with potatoes for lunch before wandering into the area where all the houses are painted blue!!!  Dinner was outside on the patio of “On the Rocks Restaurant” where we had one of our best meals, i.e. creamy chicken, potatoes stuffed with cheese and corn and roti.  Tried to get close to the king’s palace but it was guarded so ionly got a night shot from afar – still quite lovely.

On to Nimaj where we stayed  at Rawalabagh (  We took a little “evening safari” in a jeep, stopping in some villages where they make pottery and cloth door hangings and finally near a lake for a little tea and biscuit stop.  Dinner by candlelight on the rooftop prepared by the owner was outstanding, i.e. chicken, eggplant, lentils, potatoes, rice, coriander and roasted garlic chutneys, chapati bread – real village fare so fresh and tasty.

A wonderful breakfast of omelettes, toast, honey, chickpea patties and coffee before our 4 hour drive to Ranakpur.  Our guide is a real foodie so lunch is always wonderful as it was today, i.e. lentil soup, tamarind chutney, chickpeas, etc.  We visited the incredible Chaumubkke Mandir, one of the most beautiful Jain temples in India.  Built in the 15th century its detailed and intricate carving on the marble looks like lace work rather than stone carving.  Stayed in little chalets by the creek and once it cooled off we took a nice walk into the hills through some of the villages before dinner.

Off to Udaipur, arriving in time for a nice walking tour of the city, a simple fried paneer pakota for lunch and then some free time to wander the alleys filled with shops.  There was a lively festival going on in the afternoon with beautiful costumes, doll-size goddesses transported on people’s heads, turbaned men riding “horses” and lots of music.  In the evening we went to a nearby haveli where there were more festivities and fireworks going on.  Stayed for a bit and afterwards shared some of our favorite dishes for dinner. 

In the morning we visited the City Palace which is a palace complex built entirely in granite and marble.  The interior with its balconies, towers and cupolas showcases exquisite mirror work, wall paintings, inlay-work, etc.  I went up to a rooftop restaurant nearby overlooking the lake and had some tandoori roti and aloo masala for lunch and then visited the Bhartiya Lok Kala Mandel folk museum.   It has exhibits of all types of folk articles from Rajasthan, i.e. rural dresses, musical instruments, dolls, etc.  I watched a little puppet show where the puppeteers used some of the old folk puppets stored in the museum.  In the early evening, we took a nice boat ride around the lake before watching a traditional dance show in an old haveli which was excellent.  Tuk Tuks to Natraj ( where we had a thali dinner.  We sat at a large table and trays topped with several little cups filled with vegetable curry, chick peas, potatoes, lentils, yogurt, etc. were set before each of us.  “Waiters” came by and placed rice, chutneys and several types of breads in the empty sections of our trays and everything was sooo delicious.  Well worth the $3 we each paid for dinner!!!

In the morning I couldn’t resist visiting the marionette shop.  I love puppets and the owner demonstrated how some of them moved and danced.  I bought a camel one with a man and woman riding on top – really unusual.  I did a bit more shopping, picking up a few unique pieces and then walked across the bridge to have lunch at the lakeside restaurant called Ambrai (  It gets very hot from about 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. so it was a perfect time to relax.  I had a delicious vegetable curry and tandoori roti while I leisurely read the “Sea of Poppies” until it cooled off.  Later we all met for cooking class.  The chef was a bit arrogant so the experience wasn’t topnotch but it was fun, nonetheless.  We made vegetable paneer, potato balls filled with cashews and chapati before taking the overnight train to Jaipur which left at 10:30 p.m.

Breakfast at the hotel before heading out to the Amber Fort, an opulent palace complex built with red sandstone and marble.  The buildings house glass inlaid panels, multi-mirrored ceilings, a raised platform with 27 colonnades and the famous “magic flower” fresco with its seven unique designs.  Lunch at LMB restaurant of crispy samosas and potato patties stuffed with nuts.  One of the gals bought a box of Indian sweets which we all devoured.  We took a walking tour of the many bazaars before returning to the hotel.  Spicy vegetables and naan at the Copper Chimney for dinner.

In the morning we took taxis to Galtaji, an ancient Hindu pilgrimage site famous for its natural water springs.  One of the temples, Galwar Bagh, is know as the monkey temple and is dedicated to Hanuman.  Monkeys run around everywhere but are harmless. Afterwards I visited the Anokhi Museum of hand printing ( as I am very interested in the art of block printing.  I also visited the Central Museum to see the traditional musical instruments, block printed dresses, miniature paintings, etc. before meeting everyone at the Raj Movie Theatre.  We watched an Indian action movie with no sub titles so it was hard to follow the plot but fun to be there.  Late dinner wasn’t such a good idea as I didn’t really feel all that well afterwards and took it pretty easy the next day…

Bus to Bharatpur.  We are staying at Udai Vilas Palace ( and our room overlooks the gorgeous swimming pool below.  Once it cooled off we took rickshaws into the Keoladeo Ghana National Park, a man-made wetland and a famous avifauna sanctuary hosting thousands of birds.  We saw a wonderful selection i.e. herons, ergrets, cormoranats, etc.   In the morning I felt much better and enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the hotel before setting out.  We drove to Fatehpur Sakri, the short lived capital of the mughal empire constructed between 1571 - 1585 during the reign of Emperor Akbar.  It is one of the best preserved collections of Mughal architecture in India and this walled city is filled with royal palaces, harem, courts, a mosque, etc.  Akbar had three wives and they each had their own palace – a wonderous place.  Thali lunch at a tiny café nearby of lentils, kofta, spinach/potato curry, cilantro chutney, chapati and even rice pudding.

At 4 p.m. tuks tuks to the Taj Mahal, a white marble mausoleum built by Shah Jahan as a memorial to his second wife Mumtaz who died in childbirth in 1631.  Throughout the complex, passages from the Qur’an are used as decorative elements.  We had plenty of time to wander inside and out, marveling at the magnificence, until the sun set… Visited a carpet shop nearby where the carpets are made by hand by the nomads.  Dinner at Maya Restaurant nearby where we sat upstairs on the terrace.  When we returned to our hotel, I noticed an Indian wedding taking place next door.   I talked my way in and enjoyed watching the people, tasting some of the food, i.e. skewers of meat, platters of bread, piles of rice, etc. and even talking with some of the guests.  I didn’t stay long as it didn’t seem appropriate but it was fun!!!

In the morning we visited the Agra Fort, more accurately described as a walled city.  Soon after the completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan was deposed and restrained by his son, Aurangzeb, in the fort and cared for by his daughter Princess Jahanara during the last seven years of his life.  A spectacular creation.  We meandered through the Kinari Bazaar for a bit but it was pretty rough so we went our separate ways.  I went to the Oberoi as it was very hot and had a relaxing lunch of lentils, roti, vegetables with corn and vegetable with cauliflower and herbs and it was all very tasty.  Visited the Itimad-ud-daulah’s tomb or baby Taj which is often regarded as a draft of the Taj Mahal.  Its walls are white marble encrusted with semi-precious stones.  My last stop was to Mehtab Bagh, a park from where you can see the Taj from the Yamuna river side.  9 p.m. train back to Delhi, arriving around 10:30 p.m.  En route we were served a meal just like on the airplane.  A tray with covered dishes of dal, rice, paneer and chapati was brought to each of us and a bit later little boxes of ice cream!!! 

We all shared an Indian breakfast in the morning at the same restaurant where we had begun our trip – delicious dosa filled with aloo masala before saying good-bye.

I checked into the Red Mable B&B( and then walked through the Dilli Haat Market where the local craftsmen sell their wares.  Afterwards I took the metro to Hauz Khas village, a boutique area with lots of interesting shops and restaurants.  I enjoyed a delicious spicy rava dosa, a crisp semolina pancake filled with potatoes at Naivedyam before wandering through the little antique, jewelry and art shops.  I also walked around the nearby lake and visited the ruins of the old mosque and tombs.  Dinner that night was at Bukhara, one of the best restaurants in India, located in the ITC Maurya Hotel.  Their cuisine is cooked in a tandoor oven and was outstanding.  I spoke with the chef upon arrival and he prepared a wonderful selection of meats, breads, vegetables, long simmering lentils and desserts for me.  Afterwards he gave me a tour of the  kitchen where they prepared an enormous naan bread for me to see – it was such fun!!!

In the morning I fly to Kathmandu and on to still another adventure!!!!

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