My India tour was scheduled with Advantage Travel & Tours, Poway, California to complete my visits to all the countries in Asia. The trip combined set tours by Advantage Travel to Western India with a pre-tour to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Islands and a post-tour to Bangladesh, Myanmar and Laos. The following is my journal of just the tour of India. It started by leaving a tour of Sri Lanka and the Maldives Islands with Lynn Bishop, Mary Warren and Steve Mathews. I had roomed with Lynn on many trips in the past and had traveled with Mary on the North Korea trip. On this trip I roomed with Steve Matthews from Orleans, Vermont. We were joined in India by Del and Linda McCuen, who I had just toured Cocos (Keeling) and Christmas Islands with; Bob and Cathy Prada, owners of Advantage Travel and Tours; Mike Bidwell, Bill Boyd, Edith Ann Pazmino and Marian Speno with who I have taken many trips.
The journal starts in Male, Maldives.
Thursday, April, 10, 2014: Fly to Bangalore, India via Thiruvananthapuram, India
I awoke to my alarm at 06:00, showered and finished packing. Steve and I went to breakfast at 07:00. I deviated from my daily egg and had their thin oatmeal. Just as I was finishing, Mary and Lynn arrived. I returned to my room, called Judy and finished packing.
Checkout time was scheduled for 08:45. I was the last to checkout and they socked me with a $101 bill. Our lunches were supposed to be included but the first day we didn’t have our room assignments when we had lunch so they billed us, all on my bill for the lunch and drinks. I was able to get them to straighten it out and my bill was only $10.
The boat ride to the airport was a quick three minutes in the hotel’s speed boat with twin 200hp outboard motors. We had a security check entering the check in area and another check entering the departure area. Our gate was not assigned and we waited in the Burger King area and watched for our Air India aircraft to arrive. The terminal was a busy place with wide body aircraft on the ramp from British Airways, Korea, Aeroflot, Malaysia, Lufthansa, Sri Lanka and several more. When the Air India, A-320 arrived it was about smallest aircraft on the ramp.
We walked to the aircraft. It was a one class configuration and we were assigned seats in rows 2 and 3. I had no one next to me. I was appalled at the rundown condition of the aircraft. The seat covers were tattered, there were furnishings missing or broken on the seats. The lavatory was rundown and there were no tissues or paper towels. I read in their Inflight magazine that their plan to join the Star Alliance. They certainly are not up to the standards of other Star Alliance airlines.
They served a lunch of spicy chicken and rice on the one hour leg to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum). We were on the ground for 55 minutes during which time Indian Security boarded the plane and checked that we were supposed to remain on the plane and that the bags in the overhead belonged to a passenger. Every seat was taken on the next leg to Bangalore. The cabin crew was new and they served a snack on the one hour flight.
The Bangalore airport was very large but our plane was the only one on the ramp. We used an air bridge to deplane and didn’t have to wait long at Immigration. Baggage claim was another story. My bag was one of the last to arrive and then it was selected to have a random x-ray at customs so I was the last one out of Baggage Claim. The Clarks Exotica Resort & Spa where we were booked (sounds like the British movie title “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) was less than 10 miles from the airport. On the way it started to rain but by the time we reached the hotel it had stopped. Our room was in a building across a parking area from Registration, next to a large pool. I checked out the grounds and attempted to contact Del and Linda McCuen who had arrived before us but they were not in their room.
Dinner was in a building on the other side of the pool from our building and at 19:00 when Steve and I left for dinner it was raining again but one of the resort staff showed us a covered pathway to the building. The dinner was a buffet and many of the dishes were spicy but I was able to pick some that were tolerable and took only a small amount of the real spicy dishes. We were glad that they served ice cream for dessert since it dampened the spicy taste.
After dinner I attempted to contact the McCuen’s again to no avail and then went to the Registration Desk to arrange for a mini bus to take us (9 by then) to the airport in the morning. Mike Bidwell was due to arrive around midnight and Bill Boyd and Edith Ann also during the night. I returned to my room and called Judy and then retired.
Friday, April, 11, 2014: Fly to Agatti (Lakshadweep) Island via Kochi, India
Our flight to Kochi was scheduled for 08:30 so we scheduled a bus to take us at 06:45. I arose at 05:30, showered and packed. I checked my email and called Judy knowing it might be the last time until Monday. I was the last one to leave our building to checkout. As I approached the Registration Building I saw two autos leaving full of what looked like members of our group. When I entered the registration lobby no one was there. The desk clerk told me the group had left but a car was coming for me. I rode to the airport alone while the others were crammed in the other cars, three people in the back and one in the front.
At the airport I caught up to the group. They were in the line to check in but I had the document authorizing our visit to Lakshadweep which they needed to get a boarding pass.
Lakshadweep is a Muslim dominated set of islands in the Arabian Sea west of mainland India. Travel to the island is controlled and which island non-Muslims can stay on is controlled so we had to get an authorization letter in advance to fly there.
I couldn’t convince the group to check in together. Mike had a copy of the authorization letter and was able to help Bill and Edith Ann who were being questioned by their agent. I trumped the line when Steve got to the counter and joined him. I had a little trouble getting Lynn and Mary to pass the people in front of them to check-in with us until our agent motioned them to come to the counter since the four of us were on the same reservation. We got our boarding passes without any trouble but Del and Linda had trouble until I showed their agent the authorization letter.
We didn’t have anything out of the ordinary passing through security at our gate. The plane was a small prop ATR-42 parked out on the edge of the large ramp so they bussed us to the plane. I had transferred items from my carry on to my back pack so I could fit the carry on in the overhead but when I got on board the flight attendant would not allow me to try, and stored my bag in the tail section. After I was seated Del and Linda came on and found they were assigned my seat. A flight attendant told them to sit in another row and then a family of three came on and they were assigned to the two seats Del and Linda were in and insisted they needed the seat because they had the adjacent seat across the aisle. I gave up my seat and move to the very back of the aircraft next to Bill. I thought it would be a good seat to take pictures from but the window was scratched and frosted over. The plane was not in very good condition.
The flight only took an hour to Kochi and all the passengers except our group departed. We sat in the plane for a about fifteen minutes while a Security Agent checked the overheads and had us identify that all the items left on the plane belonged to the passengers still on board. When she finished we were told to exit the plane and sit in a bus alongside because it would be cooler except the bus didn’t have its air conditioner on. Anyway, we sat in the bus and another bus arrived with the new passengers which included Cathy and Bob Prada, our tour agents, and Marion. They could wave to us through the window. Eventually they let us back on the plane for the one hour flight to Agatti Island, Lakshadweep Islands.
When we landed in Agatti we walked to a small terminal and told to sit along the wall. Cathy then collected our boarding passes and passports and with a representative from SPORTS, the Indian Tourist Authority, processed us in with the local authorities and recorded in a large ledger. Ah, the bureaucracy taught them by the British had not been replaced by Information Technology!
Once we were processed and our passports returned we walked to the next room and identified our luggage and it was loaded on mini buses, some on roof racks. We were then bussed to the island’s wharf about 5km from the airport. At the wharf we along with our luggage were loaded in a small boat and ferried to a larger “high speed” boat for the two to three hour ride to the island of Kadmat where we were to stay. We boarded the “high speed” boat and found 5 rows of airline type seats, two on each side of an aisle. The left side had a TV set playing an Indian music DVD, so I elected to sit on the right side in the second row at the window. Bill sat next to me. The boat then maneuvered alongside the wharf and picked up several more passengers. When we inquired why we had to be ferried to the boat we were told they thought the ocean swells were to high to safely dock but that by the time we had boarded the swells had diminished to the point they felt safe to dock at the wharf.
We departed around 13:00 and they served us a hot lunch of rice with things in it but no one in our group was willing to eat with their fingers we asked them to keep it until we arrived in Kadmat. It was an over two hour ride to Kadmat. There we were able to dock at the wharf and climb concrete steps up to the top where we were greeted by another representative of SPORT and loaded in a rusty bus. Our luggage took up the rear seat and several of us stood for the 5km ride to the resort. The island has a single width concrete road and we passed through the village and numerous concrete houses and tin covered or grass covered shacks. There were a lot of coconut trees and some banana trees. The resort had a gate and a number of buildings. We were asked to sit under a grass roofed area while they served us coconut milk and then cut open the coconut to enable us to eat the meat. The couples were each assigned to a cabin with a porch, sitting room, large bedroom with twin beds and a large bathroom, facing the west beach.
Steve and I were assigned the third cabin. I had to use an extension cord to get power to my power strip on the table between our beds. There was a bookcase with an outlet on the north wall (our beds were on the south wall) that was deep enough for me to setup my laptop. It was after 16:00 when we unpacked and walked around the resort. It was the very south end of the island and that provided beaches on both sides of the resort. The west side water was rougher than the east side because the east side had an outer reef that the waves broke on and just swells broke on the beach.
Tea was served in the Cafeteria at 16:30. We sat around talking with Bob and Cathy and then moved to the beach and sat in wicker chairs to continue our discussions with Edith Ann, Mary and Linda. Dinner was served at 19:30 in the Cafeteria. They served a salad of tomatoes, cucumber and onions, a vegetable mix and chicken pieces in a spicy sauce. It was dark when we walked back to our cabins. Steve attempted to take a shower and couldn’t get any water pressure. We also couldn’t get the hot water heater to turn on. I was still dressed and went out to get one of the staff to see about the water. A sort of night watchmen was sitting under the water tank at the end of the row of cabins and he came over to help. Of course when he got there the water flowed so we were so embarrassed we let him leave without getting the hot water tank turned on. As soon as he left Steve couldn’t get the shower to work so he gave up.
I wrote in my journal and retired about 21:00.
Saturday, April, 12, 2014: Tour Kadmat, Lakshadweep
We woke around 06:00 and decided to get up. I attempted to take a shower but there was no water pressure. I had filled a bucket the day before and I used water from the bucket to shave. Steve and I then went for a walk and when we were walking past the cafeteria kitchen the cook met us and he introduced himself. He told us that he would be setting out tea as soon as he finished his morning prayer. We walked some more and entered the cafeteria about 06:40 and Del and Linda were there patiently waiting for tea to be served. We told them that the cook was taking his morning prayer and would soon be serving. I reminded them that although the sign on the door said tea time would be at 06:30, prayer time varied with the sunrise so we hit a time of the year when the schedules conflicted.
Tea was soon served and a few more members of our group straggled in. Steve and I returned to our cabin and changed into swim suits and took a swim off the beach in front of our cabin Bob Prada soon joined us with his snorkeling mask and he waded and swam out to the coral. Steve and I didn’t go out that far since I didn’t have my googles (I had forgot to pack my snorkel mask) to be able to see any fishes. We returned to our cabin to change for the 08:30 breakfast.
Breakfast was an omelet toast and naan with a coconut sauce for the naan. The coconut sauce was delicious. Bob gave a schedule for the day. Lunch was scheduled for 13:00, a glass bottom boat tour at 14:00 and then a bus into the village at 17:00. After breakfast we walked around the area and then I took another swim wearing my googles but the tide was high and I didn’t see very many fish.
Steve was folding paper to construct a sphere to give to one of the cafeteria staff he had become friendly with. After my swim I washed out my suit and hung it over the porch railing to dry and read. At 12:15 the man from the cafeteria came by to inform us that lunch was ready.
We had salad (just sliced onion, tomatoes and cucumber) in a creamy dressing, naan, a diced vegetable mix with mild sauce, and pieces of fish (each piece with a bone) in a spicy sauce. Dessert was water melon. Seven of us boarded the small glass bottom boat at 14:00 for a one hour tour of the coral to view the fish. Most of the coral was dead but there were a lot of different fish in clumps of sea grass and the few large coral that was alive. At a point we attempted to pull alongside a turtle but he was faster than our 9.9hp motor would propel our boat to overtake him. We saw many different colorful fish but most were small.
The tide was out and I went in again with my googles and that time I saw a lot of small fish. The water was only up to my waist for a long distance from the shore. I swim back until it was so shallow my stroke would hit the bottom and then I waded ashore.
Steve had finished constructing a sphere for Rafik, the cafeteria worker, to give to his daughters. I took a shower and washed out my bathing suit and then read until 16:45. Steve and walked over to the bus that would take us to the village. It was parked next to the gymnasium which had two weight lifting machines, bicycles, a treadmill and a ping pong table. A group of boys exited the gym when we approached and asked our names. Only one was conversant in English and told us they were eighth and ninth graders. April and May were school vacation months so they were working out in the gym.
The rest of our group arrived and we left for the tour at 17:00. The resort we were staying at was at the very south end of the island, 5km south of the village. They have a single lane concrete road leading to the village with several concrete driveways or short side streets along the way. The driver honked his horn at every bicycle rider, motorcycle, tuk-tuk or person walking he saw. Several places were tight when a tuk-tuk passed going in the opposite direction.
When we reached the village we turned off the main road and rode down a side street to the Police Station. We were told we had to have our passports stamped to indicate we had been on the island. Cathy gave them a list of our group with the permission from the government to visit Lakshadweep. The police told us to continue our tour of the island and stop on the exit of the village to get our passports stamped.
We boarded the bus and rode north to the end of the paved road and then trough a coconut grove to the very tip of the island where we stopped for picture taking. The island has beautiful sandy beaches all away around, it is a shame it is not a bigger resort destination.
We rode back to the village and stopped at some stores to see if the sold diet colas (only regular Coke was available at the resort). No store sold them that our driver could find. We then stopped at the Internet Café. It was 18:10 and the proprietor told us he would not have a connection until 19:00. I discovered a Wi-Fi signal on my cell phone but it required a password and proprietor claimed he didn’t know it. We stopped near the island’s wharf and the driver told me I could get a signal there but it was a cell phone signal and not a Wi-Fi signal. It would have been 5am in California if I had been able to connect.
Back on the bus we returned to the Police Station. That time we had to have a face-to-face meeting with the official that stamped our passport. We were still confused as to why we needed the stamp since it was not an entry or exit stamp, just a stamp with the date stating: “POLICE STATION KADMAT”. It was a large stamp, twice the size of the India Arrival stamp. The bureaucracy the British taught them lives on!
Once we were all processed we boarded the bus and rode back to the resort, horn blowing all the way. Just short of the resort gate we passed a wedding party that was being held in a very colorfully decorated tent next to the road. We exited the bus around 18:40 and dinner was 19:30. I had salad (sliced tomatoes, cucumber and onion) with no dressing, coleslaw, naan, diced vegetables in a sauce, and chicken in a spicy sauce. Each piece of chicken contained a small bone. Dessert was a have a pear and a spoon of backed custard.
Bob announced a change in our tour. The fast boat to Agatti Island was not guaranteed for Monday so the Lakshadweep Tour management had arrange for us to leave Sunday for Kavaratti, an island closer to Agatti and the administrative capital of Lakshadweep. We would spend the night there and leave for Agatti at a reasonable time on Monday.
I returned to my room and did some packing and retired about 21:00 for a restful night’s sleep.
Sunday, April, 13, 2014: Travel from Kadmat Island to Kavaratti Island, Lakshadweep
I had the alarm set for 07:30 but woke up from a sound sleep at 06:30. The water pressure was up and was able to take a shower but I never was able to get hot water out of the shower head but was able to get it from the tap below. I filled one of the plastic scoops with hot water from a faucet below the shower faucet and then used that to shave in the sink which only has cold (tempt) water.
I informed Steve that the pressure was up and he tried to take a shower and the water only dribbled from the shower head but he had the faucets below running and I told him to turn those off and then tempt water came out of the shower head and he was able to take a shower.
We went to breakfast at 08:30 and had the egg omelet, a pancake, and toast. Bob and Cathy sat with Steve and me. Steve gave the cafeteria staff a demonstration on making origami birds while Bob and I talked about future trips he and Cathy were planning.
After breakfast I returned to my room and wrote in my journal until a little after 11:00 when a member of the resort staff arrived with a form we had to fill out. The bureaucracy continued!
We had lunch at 12:00 consisting of the sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions without dressing, mixed vegetables in a mild sauce and pieces of chicken in a sauce with watermelon for dessert. It was a fast lunch as we had to board the bus for the ride to the wharf. At the wharf we were loaded in a small boat that took us out to the “fast” boat. It was similar to the boat that had ferried us to the Kadmat but a few less seats and they were in better condition. I occupied the same seat I had sat in on the ferry to the island, second row, port side window. Bill Boyd sat next to me with Mike and Cathy in the row in back of us.
The ride took two and one half hours. I read several columns by George Will that I had stored on my smart phone and then engaged in conversation with Cathy and Mike about future trips. Cathy had a copy of their latest newsletter and she discussed the details of their new offerings.
When we arrived at Kavaratti our boat was able to dock at a pier so going ashore was easier. The Hotel was a short distance from the pier. We were greeted with coconut to drink and then split open to eat the meat. Our rooms were in a three story building with two suites of two bedrooms per floor. Steve and I were assigned to the second floor and I let Steve take the big room with two chairs and I took the smaller room closer to the bathroom with the refrigerator.
After getting our luggage to our room we had a scheduled meeting in the welcome area. Before the meeting started Bob and I took a quick ride into the town center where we saw the location of the Internet Café and Bob purchased cold drinks at a small hotel store that advertised wholesale and retail ice cream. The Internet Café was not scheduled to open until 18:00.
We returned to the group and had our meeting. Among the cold drinks was a lemonade tasting drink from 7up they called “Nimbooz”. Since alcohol was forbidden on the island we got a chuckle when Bob announced he had bought booze in the village. Bob then conducted the meeting informing us that dinner would be at 20:00 and breakfast at 07:00 and we would depart for the airport right after breakfast. During the boat ride Bob had sat next to a Lakshadweep Tourism Official and he told us what he had learned from the official. One thing interesting is they want to upgrade the runway to take larger jet aircraft and to setup facilities for cruise ships to stop at some of the islands. He told Bob that the locals are happy with their environment and not many leave for the mainland. Those that do go to school on the mainland return to the peaceful low key life on the island after experiencing the crowded “hustle-bustle” of mainland India. The central government tends to ignore the islands. We had a long discussion with Marion as the group’s expert on India since she had lived in the country at one time and follows news and events, adding to Bob’s comments.
At 18:00 I walked over to the Internet Café to see if it had Wi-Fi. I found that it did have Wi-Fi but the kid on duty didn’t know the password. Since I couldn’t call Judy on Voice over IP at 5am I didn’t peruse trying to figure out the password and returned to my room.
Back in my room I unpacked, setup my CPAP machine and laptop and wrote in my journal. Dinner was at 20:00 and we first sat in chairs on the beach as they served us a delicious soup. We then moved to tables on the beach with a light between the tables. It was a very romantic looking setting for the last supper with the Advantage Travel & Tours “family”. The only drawback was some us heavier peoples chairs sank into the sand so we almost had our chin in our food. The funny bit was that Bill Boyd, the lightest member of our group was the only one to have his chair fall over. The food was not spicy with chicken as the meat. After a lot of good conversation and rehash of past trips together we adjourned to our rooms for the night. I wrote for a while in my journal and turned off the lights before 22:00.
Monday, April, 14, 2014: Travel by boat from Kavaratti to Agatti and fly, to Kochi, India and tour Kochi
I woke to my alarm at 05:00 and attempted to shower. The water sprayed all over the bathroom without much force so I used the scoop from the bucket and filled it from the faucet and poured it over my head and body, this kept the water on the floor limited to the area were the water drained through the hole in the corner. (Great design!)
At 05:30 one of the hotel staff knocked on our door to wake us up. I was getting dressed by that time but it woke Steve. I packed and lugged my bags down to the bottom floor and then took a walk into town, hoping to bootleg a Wi-Fi connection. I got no signal outside the closed Internet Café so I returned to the room and waited for breakfast at 07:00. When I went down for breakfast it was not set up and Bob told us that the kitchen staff had not been notified that we needed to leave for the boat at 07:30.
They quickly set up and I had corn flakes cereal with what turned out to be hot milk. At 07:30 they loaded our bags in vans and Mike, Bob and Cathy and I walked to the wharf. There we were able to use stairs to get on the ship. It was the same ship that we had come to the island on the day before. I sat next to the window in the third row on the right side next to Bill. Steve was in the fourth row next to Marion. He was making her an Origami figure. Bill was fascinated and asked Marion to trade seats so he could have Steve teach him how to make some paper folded figures. Marion and I then engaged in a lengthy conversation about my love of travel since an early age. The time passed quickly that way and even though it took two hours to reach Agatti Island. This time we docked at the wharf. When we had left Agatti we had to take a small boat out to the “fast boat” because of high swells.
We piled into vans with luggage on the roof rack and rode up to the airport. This time I checked my carry on since I had read that Indian Security was tough on batteries. When I went through security they questioned the small flashlight I had in my backpack but let me keep it. They stamped our passports and to our surprise stamped the signature page on everyone’s passport. I guess he was too lazy to look for a vacant page. That was a new experience for most of us. I was using a two year passport that would expire in less than a year so it didn’t concern me very much.
We had the same plane and one of the same flight attendants on it that had flown us to the island. The flight took off five minutes early and only took an hour and fifteen minutes. They bused us to the airport. Bob, Cathy and Marion were flying on but Cathy got off to give each of us a good bye hug and wish us well. I will not be traveling with them again until March 2015.
The baggage arrival was a little different at the Cochin airport. They had two carousel type belts but they offloaded our bags on a straight conveyor belt which is usually used for oversize cargo. My two pieces were one of the first off and I was the first to exit the area and greeted by a representative from the tour agent in India. After several of the group exchanged money we were handed over to Afitith, our guide for the drive to the Zuri Resort in Kumarakom. We boarded a nine passenger Force Traveler, van for the two hour ride with Nazeer as the driver. Since it was after noon and we had not eaten lunch we asked Afitith to have the driver stop at a supermarket where we could purchase snacks, diet coke, beer and wine. We found that along the drive south through the city we didn’t pass any supermarkets. Finally we stopped at a Government run liquor store with a long line out front where Afitith lead Mike, Del, Linda and me through a bicycle parking garage to the loading dock where we purchased our liquor right out of boxes. I bought a four pack of beer for $5. Lynn and Mary bought some doughnuts at a stand next door. When we returned to the bus I ate one of the doughnuts which contained to everyone’s surprise pieces of green pepper. Edith Anne was unhappy that they didn’t have any diet soda.
We rode on out of the city through the country side. To our east side we could see the river and small lakes. The buildings between the road and the water were mostly shops with the homes on the west side of the road. There were a several nice houses and churches but mostly shacks, some with grass roofs. Near a Catholic School we passed a line of pilgrims dressed in brown with white hoods carrying a black cross. Afitith told us it was a religious day and they were walking to the cathedral we had previously passed. We were still pressing Afitith to stop at a supermarket but if they even exist in this part of India they certainly wouldn’t be in the small villages we were passing with many roadside fruit stands so we stopped at a roadside fruit stand were I purchased a bag of peanuts (very spicy) and a small bag of dates. Others bought cookies, chips which turned out to be spicy and bananas. Diet soda was not sold there. I couldn’t open my peanut bag and next door was a tailor stall and they lent me a scissors to cut it open while they laughed at effort.
Back on the bus we rode on to the hotel which was a beautiful resort on a lagoon with entry to the lake. There was a little island in the center of the lagoon that could be reached by a causeway. On the island was a white Buddha statue. The reception building had open sides but also contained the Lime Restaurant which had an enclosed, air conditioned area. They greeted us with cold wash cloths and a coconut. My coconut was dry which I hadn’t experienced before. While we waited for our room assignments I found they had Wi-Fi but it required a room number.
Our rooms were in two buildings from the reception building. It was large with a patio facing the lagoon. There were no open electrical outlets at the head of the beds but there were lamps. I had the room attendant get a power strip that enabled me to connect my power strip and the lamp. Steve,s CPAP plug wouldn’t work in the hotel power strip but did work in mine so I had the power strip under my pillow at the head of the bed.
The room was so humid that the tile floor was wet and in the bathroom condensation was dripping from the towel racks. They had a glass wall between the bathroom and the bedroom. When I tried to lower the blind I found it stuck and condensation dripping from the bottom of the blind. The room attendant had to lower it for us.
It took me hours to process my emails which had accumulated in three days. Sometimes when I miss three days it doesn’t take that long to catch up but that time I had several message to reply and several YouTube’s to watch.
Dinner was at 19:30. Steve and I ate with Lynn and Mary. It was a buffet and I don’t know what I ate but it wasn’t too spicy and the dessert bar included ice cream that was like tutti-frutti with nuts and fig pieces in it which I found very delicious.
After dinner I was able to call Judy for the first time since in several days. She had a rough Sunday when her insulin was getting pumped but not entering her system. Fortunately she realized that she had trouble and was able to change her pump line and get it working again. After my call I heard a lot of what sounded like gun shots or firecrackers close by the resort. The Security Guard told me it was the farmers celebrating the holy week. It reminded me too much of my last night in Lybia.
I returned to my room, washed clothes and wrote in my journal and retired at 22:00.
Tuesday, April, 15, 2014: Cruise the backwaters of Kerala, India
I awoke before my alarm, a little after 06:00 from a sound sleep. I had an unusual dream about selling a large slab of beef with competing bidders. (Weird!) The shower was great and my clothes had dried which surprised me.
Steve woke at 07:00 and we went to breakfast after 07:30. Everyone else had either finished or were just finishing so we sat alone. I had my usual one egg over and this time a pancake. After breakfast I was able to call Judy and found she had an uneventful day after her tutoring session. I returned to my room, processed email, and wrote in my journal until it was time to check out at 10:30.
I sat in the front seat next to Nazeer on our hour long drive to the houseboat departure point. Nazeer was very knowledgeable about the area and gave us a running commentary of what we were seeing along the route. He had been in the tourist business for over twenty years and was much better than Afitith was. We stopped to take pictures of cashew trees and the large fruit that contains the small nut. He told us that Kerala had the highest literacy rate of any state in India and that over 95% finish school. One very interesting fact he told us was the rice fields are below sea (and lake and river) level. To his knowledge the only places like that in the world. It makes it easy to flood the rice fields and I guess they eventually pump the water back out to the canals.
We rode through areas similar to the day before and didn’t see any beggars or really slum areas. Many of the homes were brightly colored or tan painted. We rode past many coconut trees, mango groves, banana groves and rice paddies. The road side markets had bananas, colorful displays of fruits and vegetables. Many hung samples of the soda thy sold on string from the awning over the fruit displays. We passed several churches.
We arrived at the “Lakes & Lagoons, Backwater Experiences, Tourist Boat Boarding Point” at noon. The bus parked under a bridge and we walked to the River Escapes office to process in. They had Wi-Fi and gave me the password while we waited to board our boat.
The houseboats in Kerala are unlike any I have seen before. They are two story constructed out of rattan with a tight grass weave. The top is round and the windows to the staterooms are mostly round on top. They look a little like a Quonset hut on a barge. The bow and stern have a large decorative point. One of the staff told us that there are over 1,000 houseboats on the backwater. Our group was assigned two houseboats: the Manimalayar, with two cabins and the Pallanayar, with three cabins plus a kitchen. Steve and I were initially assigned to the Manimalayar but when I inspected the cabins I found they had just one large bed so we switched with Mike and took the first cabin in the Pallanayar. All meals were served in the Pallanayar and only Mike traveled by himself in the Manimalaya but it would be tied up alongside whenever we stopped.
Once our processing was taken care of and our baggage loaded we departed at 13:00 for our afternoon and night on the Kerala backwaters. We initially were on a canal and it was interesting to see the water
They served lunch a little after 13:30. Again I was not sure what I ate except a delicious pan fried small fresh water fish. Unfortunately it was whole and tough to separate the meat from the bones. After lunch Mike stayed on the small boat and we slowly cruised along the wide canals between the rice fields and rows of houses. We saw women washing their clothes in the canal by slapping them on a flat rock. Every house had stair steps into the canal. At other houses we saw people washing themselves and kids dipping in the water. Boats of various sizes passed us in both directions.
At 16:00 we stopped and a small longboat came along side to take us on a cruise through the narrow canals. Only Del and I ventured forth. I sat in the bow with Del behind me. It was a fascinating cruise seeing the people and the houses up close. Several other longboats full of tourists from the other River Escapes fleet were also cruising the canal. In one boat there were a number of children sitting on the edge kicking their feet in the water waving at the people on the shore. Most of the people ignored us except the children. We saw several people fishing with a slender pole, very still in deep concentration as we passed by. It didn’t seem enjoyable to me and there was no indication they had caught any fish.
We passed some unusually decorated houses, one with a modern paint theme, another with a plaster relief of a dancing woman. Some of the houses were very elegant with decorated boats moored alongside, other houses were on the verge of collapse, but most were neatly kept. The water was cloudy and I was surprised to see old men washing their mouth out with it and one boy in water up to his neck filling his mouth with water and spitting it out like a figure in a Roman fountain.
Three quarters into our cruise our boat stopped. The propeller had gotten fouled in a long cloth and we had to pull up to the side of the canal while the boatman unwound it. It took him about five minutes to get us back to cruising. We returned to our houseboat at 17:00 and resumed the cruise.
Tea was served at 17:20 with a plate of baked banana. Delicious! We stopped cruising at 17:40 and tied up at the edge of the C Block Kayal rice field on the Kainakary North Canal. All the River Escapes’ houseboats tied up at the same place for the night.
I went to my cabin and wrote in my journal. They turned the air conditioning on at 19:00 and served dinner at 19:30. None of the dishes were spicy. Chicken was the main dish. As usual it was small pieces with bones in each piece. I did find one piece with a large chunk of breast meat. Dessert was sliced pineapple.
After dinner I returned to my air conditioned cabin to write in my journal and retire.
Wednesday, April, 16, 2014: Drive back to Kochi and tour Kochi
I awoke a little before 06:00, turned off my alarm and showered. There was no hot water because I needed to inform the staff five minutes in advance of the need so they could activate the hot water heater. The water was warm so I was able to comfortably shower and shave. After that I packed and wrote in my journal until breakfast at 07:30.
We were served an omelet, toast and pieces of fruit, including: pineapple, orange slices, watermelon, grapes and banana. We had pineapple smoothie and hot tea to drink. We started back to the boarding point when breakfast was served. As we cruised in the wide canal we saw many people going about their morning rituals: bathing, brushing their teeth, washing clothes and kitchen ware in the canal water. The canal had many houseboats cruising in both directions.
I returned to my air conditioned cabin and watched the activity from the window as I wrote in my journal. As we approached the scheduled 09:00 docking I packed up and took my bag to the common area deck. Many River Escape houseboats had beaten us to the boarding point and our boat could not squeeze in between them to touch the wall. After a few minutes of discussion between the pilots of the boats our boat backed out and then tied up in back of another boat. Just as this was happening I realized I didn’t have my floppy hat and opened my bag and found it there. I forgot to lock the bag when I zipped it close.
Once they tied us to the bow of another boat we passed through that boat to the wall. Our bus was waiting and we soon had all the bags transferred and were ready to go when I realized I didn’t have my sun glasses. I returned to the houseboat and searched the room without finding them and then returned to the bus and opened my bag to get my second pair. I discovered that my lock was gone and when I opened the bag there was my sunglasses. Fortunately I carry spare locks in my carry on.
We departed at 09:15 for our hotel in Cochin. It was basically the reverse of the route we had ridden from the airport the day before. I sat up front and took many pictures. As I described before, we passed many houses and businesses. The most common vehicles on the back roads were bicycles and motor bikes with some scooters. When we were on the state road more tuk tuks appeared and many Japanese and Korean compact cars. I saw a few small Fords, Chevrolets, VWs, and HM (Hindu Motors) Ambassador sedans. When we reached the main highway there were a lot of large trucks and busses: mostly Tata, Eicher, and Ashok Leyland brands. I continued to be surprised at the number of Catholic churches and schools we passed, even a Catholic College. There were a number of Hindu Temples which I expected and a Mosque and some other Christian churches along the way.
An hour out Nazeer stopped at a super market. Edith Ann was in hog heaven because it sold Diet Coke. I bought a couple bags of peanuts and a Ginger Beer. Nazeer had a van full of happy campers after the stop. We entered the outskirts of the city and the traffic bogged down but eventually we arrived at the Holiday Inn Hotel at 11:30. I was able to get on the Internet and call Judy before she went to bed. I hadn’t even checked my email and she told me that our Grandchildren were sick. Christine was home with a fever and Rex has been walking in his sleep.
Our room was very good but the only electrical outlet at the head of the beds was one for the clock. I unplugged the clock and plugged in my power strip and we were in business. There was a desk that I plugged in my laptop on and I started catching up on my email and then my journal. I skipped lunch and ate half a bag of peanuts and drank the Ginger Beer.
At 14:00 Nazeer arrived to drive us on our city tour. He picked up Naidu, a city guide, when he crossed the toll bridge to the main city of Kochi. Our first site to ride by was the St. Sebastian’s Church, a beautiful white structure dating back to 1833. Our first stop was at the Mattancherry palace. Next door was the Jewish cemetery and we could see the top of the Jewish Synagogue a few buildings away. When India gained its independence and Israel was formed, most of the Kochi Jews immigrated to Israel leaving just seven Jewish families in Kochi.
After our tour of the palace we went on a walking tour of the neighborhood, stopping at the Spice Market which included clothes and a weaving loom and jewelry store. We stopped at a Philatelic display, passed children in uniform marching very orderly along the street, saw the “Worlds’ Biggest Varpu” on our way back to our bus. In the bus parking lot was a large stone face just lying against the wall.
We then rode past the Dutch Cemetery and stopped at St. Francis Church.
St. Francis Church was the first European church to be built in India within the oldest European settlement of Fort Cochin. Presumably it owes its origin to the Franciscan Friars who accompanied the Portuguese expedition in 1500 AD. In 1516 it was rebuilt in stone with a tile roof and dedicated to St. Anthony. In 1663 it came under the control of the Dutch and converted into a Protestant Church in 1779. It was renovated in 1779 but remained the possession of the Dutch even after British control over Cochin in 1795. In 1804 it voluntarily surrendered to the Anglican Communion. After the British left India it came under the control of the Church of South India.
The original Vasco da Gama tomb was in the church but years after his death his remains were shipped back to Europe. We took a walking tour of the area and passed the house Vasco da Gama lived in when in Cochin. Soon we were in a park by the Fort. It had large trees providing shade over the park and some of the fallen trees were brightly painted to represent figures. A sign hung from one of the painted trees saying “Fort Kochi S.T.U Walking Sellers Presents The Art of Tree II”.
Along the parks edge was the famous Kochi Chinese Fishing Nets. Their sign describes the following:
Chinese fishing nets in use for the last 500 years and one of the tourist attractions in Kerala, are fast vanishing from the Kochi coastline as huge maintenance costs and poor catch is forcing fisherman to look for other alternatives.
‘Cheena vala’ in local parlance, the huge cantilevered fishing nets are believed to have been brought by Portuguese from Macau, once Cochin was a Portuguese colony.
While some accounts mention that the nets were set up between 1350 and 1450 AD by traders from the court of Kubla Khan, some others say Chinese explorer Zhang introduced the nets to Kochi shores
There were at least 30 Chinese nets on the Fort Kochi and Vypeen shorelines about 10 years ago which now have been reduced to 20 including 11 in Fort Kochi and 9 in Fort Vypeen.
Set up on bamboo and teak poles, the nets are fixed land installation for an unusual form of fishing – shore operated lift nets suspended horizontally over the sea, the nets give the appearance of a huge hammock.
Huge mechanical contrivances hold out horizontal nets of 20 meters or more across. Each structure is a least 10 meters high and comprises a cantilever with an outstretched net suspended over the sea and large stones suspended from ropes as counter weighing at the other end. Each net is operated by 5-6 fishermen.
Rocks each 30cm or so in diameter are suspended from ropes of different length as the net is raised, some of the rocks come one by one to rest on a platform thereby keeping everything in balance.
I took some pictures of the contraptions and walked along the sea wall where there was fresh fish for sale. We exited the park and toured the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica and its adjoining St. Joseph’s College.
Back in the bus we rode to the St. Sabastian Church complex and then let our guide depart and we continued over the bridge to our hotel.
We had dinner at 19:30 and retired early since we had an early departure from the hotel in the morning.
Thursday, April, 17, 2014: Fly Kochi to Goa, India via Mumbai/Bombay, India
We rose at 05:00 to shower and packed for an early transfer to the airport for our flight to Goa. The checkin at the airport was our first flight on Jet Airways which was a low cost airline and had strict baggage allowance of 20kg. My bag with the CPAP machine checks in at 26kg. Since we were on a group ticket and several members of the group were not checking any bags the desk agent waived my extra weight fee and checked the bag to Goa. Indian airport security was a little bit of a hassle for me. They were concerned over the “wires” I have in my carry on which include an extension cord, Internet coax cable, laptop security cable, smart phone charger and a smart phone battery charger. I had to dump the contents of the bag and show them they were normal harmless “wires”. They did look at my batteries and passed them.
The plane was a B-737-800 and was full. The flight took off on the scheduled time and arrived early in Mumbai. There we had to change planes and pass through the airport as a transit which meant we had to go through security again. I had the same hassle about the “wires” in my carry on and again no concern about my batteries.
The aircraft was a B-737-700 and was full. It took off 25 minutes late resulting in landing 15 minutes late in Goa. The arrival at Goa was strange. The tour guide met us outside Baggage Claim but our bus was not allowed to enter the Arrivals area and we had to wheel our luggage down a long driveway to an area full of parked buses, taxis and vans. Our van was boxed in by some buses and it took a while for it to finally reach a point where we could load our bags.
We set off to tour about 14:00. The highway into the city was very crowed. Indians do not stay in lanes and with the number of Tuk Tuks and motor bikes weaving in and out of traffic it was a challenge for our driver. At one point we encountered “road rage”. The driver of a car cut off another car and almost hit our van; he then drove erratically speeding up and hitting his brakes. At the next stop the driver that he almost hit jumped out of his car, opened his trunk and got out a baseball bat but before he could use it the erratic driver found a break in the traffic and raced off.
Our schedule called for a tour before checking into our hotel. Our first stop was the World Heritage Monuments in Old Goa. There we visited the Basilica of Bom Jesus, where the remains of St Francis Xavier lie in a silver casket with glass sides. Our guide told us that his body has never deteriorated since his death, but that is not quite true. He does look a little pale. But for someone who died that long ago, he looks remarkably well.
The description they provided for the Basilica is as follows:
THE BASILICA OF BOM JESUS
The construction of this church of “Bom Jesus meaning good or infant” Jesus was started in 1594 and consecrated in 1605 as inscribed in a choir the church cruciform on plan, has three storied façade having a main entrance flanked by two smaller entrances. The entire façade was molded basalt casing and the remaining part is exposed in laterite including the buttresses the façade has an IT at the top the letters “HIS” symbolizing the first three letters of Jesus in Greek as one enters the choir. To the right is an altar of St. Anthony and to the left is a wooden statue of St. Francis Xavier in the middle of the nave on the northern wall is the cenotaph of Dom Jeronimo Mascarnhas the benefactor of this church in the corresponding wall is profusely carved wooden pulpit with a canopy. The main alter is flanked by alters of Our Lady of Hope and St. Michael the richly gilded main alter has infant Jesus and above it is a large statue of St. Ignatius Loyola and an “HIS” medallion. Above the medallion, The Holy Trinity-The Father, The Son and The Holy Sprit are depicted. The chapel on left-hand side is of the Blessed Sacrament whereas that of right hand side has sacred relics of the body of St. Francis Xavier. The interior of this chapel is adorned with scenes from the life of the Saint. The adjoining corridor leads to an exquisitely carved wooden door of oblong sacristy of vaulted roof with an apse at the end.
In addition to the Basilica the other buildings we visited included the Chapel of St. Cajetan; Church and Convent of St. Francis of Assisi; Chapel of St. Catherine; Church of Our Lady Rosary; and Church of St. Augustine. There was an Archaeological Museum in the complex but I didn’t get a chance to visit it.
After visiting Old Goa we went to new Goa which is now the capital of the region. Goa is the smallest of the Indian provinces with 1.8 million people. 65% of the people are Hindu, 30% are Christian and only 5% are Muslim. Of the 30% Christians, all but 1.5% are Catholics. The largest non-Catholic group the guide said was Seventh Day Adventists. The streets of new Goa are narrow and winding with the houses painted very colorfully. The building materials are primarily cement, stone, or wood. Wood doesn't last well in this environment as it is so hot and humid. All seven rivers around Goa are navigable. Goa is noted for its many churches which are very beautiful. They were all built by the Portuguese who ruled here for some 450 years. In new Goa there is also are riverboat casino. Our guide pointed out some flowering cashew trees as they are getting ready to produce again later this year. I can now see why cashews are so expensive as each nut has to be liberated from its shell.
We arrived at our hotel the Zuri White Sands, Goa Resort and Casino around 16:30. The room was comfortable and dinner was a buffet at which I was able to make a salad similar to what I make at home. Good tomatoes, lettuce, red cabbage, cucumbers and olives.
I had to call Judy from the lobby and even then the bandwidth didn’t provide a strong connection and the call was further impacted by a waterfall in the lobby.
Friday, April, 18, 2014: Fly Goa, India to Mumbai/Bombay, India
We slept in and had a late breakfast because our transfer to the airport for our flight to Mumbai was not scheduled until 13:30. I spent the morning writing in my journal and trying to figure out the best configuration for my picture taking. Despite reformatting the 32GB memory card, my SONY camera was still getting strange errors and not behaving correctly. I installed the 8GB memory card from my back up camera in my primary camera and discovered that it would work as it is supposed to. All the camera fooling around limited the time I could spend on my journal.
At 13:30 we departed for the Dabolin/Goa airport and it didn’t take too long to get there. We were dropped off in front of the terminal and had to go through baggage screening at the door. My bags checked out alright and I proceeded to check in. My big bag was overweight but since it was a group check in the agent let it go through without charging me a fee. It was nice not to have to go through Immigration and the Security at the gate was not a hassle.
We arrived at the Mumbai Domestic Airport at 18:05 and since we didn’t have to clear Immigration and Customs we were on our way to the Hilton hotel in less than twenty minutes. The drive only took fifteen minutes to the hotel.
We checked in and went to dinner at 19:30. Edith Ann discovered they made Pizza as an option. I had a great salad with a plate of humus. I was able to call Judy and write a little in my journal before retiring at 21:30.
Saturday, April, 19, 2014: Tour Mumbai/Bombay, India
We were up at 06:00. I had a great shower with the strongest water pressure in days. Steve went to breakfast while I called Judy and then joined him. At breakfast I had Dannon’s Mango Yogurt. The first Dannon type yogurt I had seen on the trip. Most places had yogurt in a bowl that was very watery. Our group was the only ones eating breakfast when the restaurant opened at 07:30 since we had an 08:00 departure scheduled for a tour of the city.
Our tour bus driver, Gajendra, had arrived at 06:30 and was waiting for Shilpa, our guide, to arrive. She arrived right at 08:00. The bus was an SML Isuzu, which I had never seen before. It had 13 very comfortable seats and strong (almost too strong) air conditioning.
We rode for thirty minutes, past shops, apartments and slums, then over a new bridge for our first stop at Dhobi Ghat the open air Laundromat, called the world's largest outdoor laundry. The all-male washers, locally known as Dhobis, work in the open to wash the clothes from Mumbai's hotels and hospitals. There we got out of the bus and took pictures of rows of open-air concrete wash pens, each fitted with its own flogging stone, and with racks of clothesline nearby drying the clothes. Next to the area was a railroad station and we watched men with huge bundles of clothes in white bags carrying the laundry on their backs and heads.
We were on an overpass looking down on the scene and the roofs of the shacks next to wash pens were covered with trash like the slum dwellings we passed on the way to the bridge.
Thirty minutes later we arrived at the Gateway of India, a monument built by the British to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary, when they visited India in 1911. The monument was started in 1911 but was not completed until 1924. The structure is a basalt arch, 26 meters (85 feet) high and has been referred to as the Taj Mahal of Mumbai, and is the city's top tourist attraction. It was later the ceremonial entrance to India for Viceroys and the new Governors of Bombay and served to allow entry and access to India and was the final departure point for the British when India gained its independence.
We walked across a large plaza in front of the monument to the dock on the other side and down stone steps to a ferry. The ferry had two decks and Shilpa told me that there were 99 ferries in the harbor, 80 with two decks and 19 with just one deck. They were tied up next to each other in many cases I guess waiting their turn to dock aboard passengers to the islands in the bay.
It took us an hour to reach Elephanta Island. We passed an unusual island that was man made and covered with concrete towers and buildings. It once served as one of the control points for ships entering the harbor. To our north was the Indian Naval Base and north of it the Cruise ship terminal. Out in the bay were several fuel islands and the area was full of cargo vessels of all sizes.
We docked at the end of a long pier and took a small train to the main island. The tide was out and there were a number of boats on their sides in the mud flats. At the end of the train ride there were stalls along the path to the entrance to the 120 steps to the caves. They were selling hats, drinks and typical tourist items. A number of monkeys were climbing around waiting to pluck a water bottle or other item from people’s backpacks. It was fun to watch them drink sitting high on top of the lights what they had retrieved.
We started up the steps and the climb was a little strenuous because there was no railing but it didn’t take that long. Edith Ann and Mary turned back and Lynn took sometime but he made it to the top. It was a sight to see. The Elephanta Caves are two groups of caves that contain Hindu and Buddhist rock art architecture. The reliefs and sculptures in the caves have been dated to between the 5th or 6th and 8th centuries. The Hindu caves are dedicated to the god Shiva. These were regular Hindu places of worship, and during the festival of Shiva people still continue to worship. The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock and were painted in the past, but only traces remain.
Shilpa was very knowledgeable on the details of each carving. In the large room of the cave were columns and in the corners were carvings that Shilpa described in great detail. At the back of the Hindu cave was the three large faces of Shiva which represents the three aspects of Shiva - the creator, preserver and destroyer. To the left side was the Buddhist cave and to the right a water spring. Near the center was a large urn in a temple setting.
The Archaeological Survey of India describes the site as follows:
The island of Elephanta, originally known as Ghararpuri, derives its name from a massive stone image of [an] elephant now displayed in the “Veermata Jijabai Garden” (Victoria Garden) in Mumbai. The cave complex of Elephanta comprises a total of 7 caves. Of them five are in the lower western side, while two are at the eastern top of the hillock. Out of 5 caves at the lower side the cave No. I is exclusively carved with various manifestation of Lord Shiva. It consists of a pillared hall with a small shrine and four entrance doors flanked by the Guardians. While the massive but graceful figures of Divinities, Guardians, and certain architectural features such as square pillar with cushion capitals suggest Chalukyan influence. The depiction of mountains and clouds and the hairstyles of women are reminiscent of Gupta art.
Facing north, this main cave consists of a sanctum and massive hall divided into five bays. The excellent carved panels on the walls of this cave include the Yogeshvara (Lord of Yoga), Nataraja Shiva (Cosmic Dancer), Shivaparvati, Ardhanarishvara, Gangadhara, Andhakasuravadha, Ravananugraha Shiva, Kalyansunder Murti and Maheshmurti. The ceiling of the main cave is believed to have been originally painted with different colors. The Maheshmurti of Shiva is depicted on the south wall with three aspects of creation, protection, and destruction revelealing a masterpiece of Chalukyan Gupta art.
The circular pedestal in the open courtyard marks the seat of Nandi (Bull) the vehicle of Shiva. The side cave has a small shrine and a Pradakshinapatha (circumambulatory passage) with an interesting panel of Ashtamatrikas (eight Mother Goddesses) flanked by Kartikeya and Ganesha.
The other caves are plain and lesser embellished. The other Antiquqrian remains found in the Elephanta Caves are Stupa (3rd Century BC) at the top of the hillock, Kshatrapa coins of the 4th century AD and some sculptures including Mahishasurmardini, four headed image, Brahma, Vishnu and Garuda.
After Shilpa had finished describing each bay and answered our questions we walked back down the stairs. At the bottom we found Edith Ann and Mary sitting in a café and we joined them for a cold drink. On the way back to the ferry landing we walked instead of taking the little train. We laughed at the site of a sign that said “Please Keep Your Elephanta Clean” and in back was a beach littered with rubbish.
We boarded the 12:20 ferry for the hour ride back to the dock by the Gateway of India Monument. I persuaded the group to have a group picture taken with the Gateway of India Monument in the background. Local jerks kept trying to be in our picture. Shilpa tried to get them to move and in the picture without them Lynn was barely visible. I just don’t understand some people.
We boarded our van and rode to The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India; it was the main museum in Mumbai. Outside the museum was the following description of the building:
The museum design was heavily influenced by the architecture of Bijapur and is considered a fine example of the Indo – Saracenic style. It was designed by George Wittet, it reflects his early influances derived from the architecture of John Begg’s General Post Office building. Elements of traditional architecture include carved stone brackets, jaalis and Rajput jharokas, along with the dome resembling that of the Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur. The Foundation Stone was laid by the Prince of Wales on his visit to the city in 1905 and the building was constructed in 1914. During World War I, the building served as a military hospital and was finally inaugurated in 1922.
The museum building is surrounded by a garden of palm trees and formal flower beds. It houses approximately 50,000 exhibits of ancient Indian history as well as objects from foreign lands, categorized primarily into three sections: Art, Archaeology and Natural History. Among its collection are Indus Valley Civilization artefacts, and other relics from ancient India from the time of the Guptas, Mauryas, Chalukyas and Rashtrakuta. Cameras were not allowed as we toured the museum for an hour.
When we boarded the van again we rode through the city marveling at the architecture of the buildings. We also saw a McDonalds, Pizza Hut and other fine American influences. Our next stop was the market, a trashy row of stalls selling everything under the sun. We only spent thirty minutes in the market and then rode past the beautiful beach (off limits to foreigners because of the pollution in the water), and stopped at Mani Bhavan, the Gandhi museum in the mansion Gandhi stayed in during his visits to Mumbai between 1917 and 1934.
When we entered the place, there was a library with a statue of the Mahatma where people offer their tributes. Then a staircase dotted with Gandhi's pictures depicting his life that led to the first floor which had a big photo gallery where photographs of his childhood till his assassination were displayed along with press clippings. The room that Gandhi used during his stay was on the second floor - there was a glass partition and we could see through two of his spinning wheels, a book and floor bed still preserved. Right opposite the room there was a hall where photographs and paintings of his lifetime were on display. Following that was the terrace where he was arrested on Jan 4, 1932.
A description of the place read as follows:
It was from Mani Bhavan that Gandhi initiated the Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi and Khilafat movements. In 1955, the building was taken over by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi in order to maintain it as a memorial to Gandhi, to his frequent stays, and to the political activities he initiated from there. The two-storied structure standing on the Laburnum Road is the city's pride. The building, which is about 30 minutes’ drive from the Taj hotel, was Gandhi's Mumbai headquarters for about 17 years - from 1917-1934. Gandhi's association with the charkha (Hindi for Spinning Wheel) began in 1917, while he was staying at Mani Bhavan. Mani Bhavan is also closely associated with Gandhi's involvement in the Home Rule Movement, as well as his decision to abstain from drinking cow's milk in order to protest the cruel and inhuman practice of phookan meted out to milch cattle common during that period.
From the Mani Bhavan we rode up Malabar Hill to Kamala Nehru Park named after Kamala Nehru, the wife of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. There we saw the shoe structure inspired by the nursery rhyme “There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe”. It was four stories high and adults were not allowed in. Children were having a great time climbing inside and outside the structure.
From the park we had great views of the city. It was a fitting place to end our tour of Mumbai. We returned to the hotel, had a nice buffet dinner at 19:30 and retired at 21:30.
Sunday, April, 20, 2014: Fly Mumbai/Bombay, India to Vadodara, India
I don’t know what I was thinking the night before but I set my alarm for 04:00 for a 06:45 departure for the airport. That woke Steve and the crazy light writing in the room required that the master switch be turned on to get light in the bathroom and that turned a light on over a picture in the bedroom. I don’t think Conrad, Nicky Hilton or Elizabeth Taylor would have been pleased with the design of the hotel rooms.
I fretted over the 15kg limit on checked luggage and after my shower I opened a collapsible bag from UTS and off loaded as much as I could from my big bag. Even then with the CPAP machine it weighed 18kg. With then three bags to keep track of I wheeled them down to the lobby and went to breakfast at 06:00. At 06:30 Mike told me that a representative from the India travel agency was out front to take just me to the airport. When I got there and met the agent he explained that since the rest of the group was flying on Air India and I was flying on Jet Connect, we were going to different terminals. He had a special car just for me. My luggage had already been loaded in the other cars and I got my two bags to check into my car and rode off to the airport. When I unpacked at the airport I realized I should have three instead of two and we piled back in the car and drove over to the Air India Terminal which was a traffic mess. I ran up to the car that had Mike in it and he told me they realized they had my third bag and it was sent to the Jet Connect Terminal. I returned to my car and the agent was on the phone to a fellow agent that had my bag at the Jet Connect Terminal.
When we returned to the terminal the agent with my bag was already past security inside. He passed the bag to my agent before I could catch up to thank him. Now it got even more bazaar, my agent insisted that I could carry on two bags since the UTS bag was less than the 7kg limit and my normal carry-on was also less than 7kg. The only problem with that is the UTS bag contained sunscreen, a small knife and other items that would not pass security. I was able to check both my big bag and the UTS bag and pay a $40 over weight fee. In retrospect I should have packed as I always did and pay the overweight. Then there would not have been the hassle and I would have been checking for two bags when I left the hotel.
I finally got checked in and passed through security and waited at the gate area. I was one of the first in line for my flight and we were being bussed to the plane. After I was checked-in I had to wait for a bus and I was directed to board a bus with passengers from another gate. I looked back at the people exiting the building from my gate and they were being directed to another bus. Panic was setting in when I asked two men next to me to show me their boarding passes. They were both on my flight so I was relieved. My seat assignment was 21C so when the bus stopped at our plane I walked to the rear entry stairs and had no hassle getting to my seat. The flight departed right on the scheduled departure and took only fifty minutes to Vadodara. The people in back of me were not smart enough to exit to the rear stairs and I had to struggle to the front exit and by the time I reached the ramp the bus was full so I had to walk back to the rear door bus anyway.
My big bag was the last to come on the luggage carousel. When I exited there was a sign with my name on it. Rem, a Tour Guide from Indian Travel Agency was waiting with his driver, Lal. He told me he had just dropped off Mr. Robert at the airport. It didn’t dawn on me that he was referring to Bob and Cathy until he told me he had just guiding them on a three day tour.
The hotel was 10km from the airport and we were soon at the Royal Orchid Central. Along the way I saw the first large heard of cows wandering the streets of a busy city. Here to fore I had seen one or two in the city traffic but here there were a dozen or more mixing in with the heavy noon hour traffic. Check in at the hotel was easy but I found they had paid Wi-Fi and no Business Center. It 11:00 and I told Rem I didn’t need lunch so we agreed to start the local tour at 11:30. A bellman took my bags to my room and when I went to retrieve a tip from my money poach it was missing. I got the money from my wallet and then started a frantic search for the money pouch to no avail. I was sick when I when I went down to the lobby to meet Rem at 11:30. He was on his cell phone and told me the airline just contacted him and they had a package of mine they found on the plane.
We drove back to the airport and a Jet Connect Agent greeted us and handed me my pouch and a release form. There was $523 in it and best as I could tell nothing had been taken. I didn’t have an accurate account since I transfer money to and from my wallet to the pouch. On the plane I had in a zipped pocket of my vest and it has happened before if I forget to zip the pocket closed the pouch falls out when I bend over and it must have fallen out when I retrieved my backpack from under the seat on landing.
I then felt a lot better and was ready to tour the city of Vadodara, also known as Baroda. Rem told me it was the third largest city in the Indian State of Gujarat and is the administrative headquarters of the Vadodara District. It was located on the banks of the Vishwamitri River and both the railway line and national highway connecting Delhi and Mumbai pass through Vadodara. The city had a population of almost 4.1 million people. It’s considered to be a cultural and educational center, home of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, which is the largest university in Gujarat. I had noticed that several of young men on my flight were reading college text books.
Our first stop was the Laxmi Vilas Palace belonging to the royal Gaekwad dynasty of the Marathas. It was a huge structure. A picture of it was over the airport arrival hall entrance. Photos were not allowed inside and I was issued an audio headset with a description in English of the areas around the palace. The first stop was a huge round pool (then empty) in front of the palace and an 18 hole golf course beyond the pool. The dialog said the palace is reputed to have been the largest private dwelling built to date and was four times the size of Buckingham Palace. At the time of construction in 1890 it boasted the most modern amenities such as elevators, indoor plumbing, and electricity. The interior is reminiscent of a large European country house and it remains the residence of the Royal Gaekwad Family, who continue to be held in high esteem by the residents of Baroda ad live in one wing of the palace. It took 12 years to be constructed and the architect, Major Charles Mant, was so unsure of its long term survivability that he committed suicide after its construction was completed. The rooms are decorated with fine art and many famous sculptures. If the Gaekwad’s could not purchase a piece of art they liked they paid to have a reproduction made. It is nice to see some of the Greek and Roman sculptures with their full face and arms reproduced and on display.
After we left the palace we rode down the highway to another entrance to the palace grounds and along a gravel road between a cricket field and the golf course club houses to a the Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum building that displays the art that the Gaekwad’s do not display in the palace. The Museum building was constructed as a school for the Maharaja's children.
The most remarkable art on display is a collection of the paintings of the renown Indian artist, Raja Ravi Varma, who was specially commissioned by the then Maharaja of Baroda. In addition there was a collection of portraits of the Royal family in addition to the paintings based on Hindu mythology for which Raja Ravi Varma was famous.
Outside the entrance to the museum was a train engine in a display case. It was the engine for a train that circled the estate and took the Royal Family children back and forth to the school house from the palace.
Leaving the palace grounds we rode to the Baroda Museum & Picture Gallery. The museum was built in 1894 on the lines of Victoria & Albert and Science Museums of London. The architect was also Major Mant and has a similar look as the exterior of the palace.
Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III belonging to the Gaekwad dynasty of the Marathas founded the museum in 1887. Although the museum building was completed in 1894, the construction of the art gallery didn’t start until 1908, and was completed in 1914, but did not open until 1921 as the First World War delayed transfer of pieces from Europe intended for the gallery.
It has galleries of art displayed by English, Italian, French and Dutch schools. Other galleries feature: an Egyptian mummy and Egyptian art; Tibetan Art; Oriental art; bird ecology, animal ecology; and in the basement a huge blue whale that died on the coast in the 1940’s.
Leaving the museum we rode a short distance to my hotel. I washed some clothes, repacked some of the foolishly packed UTS bag, signed on to the internet for $7 for 24hrs, single connection, and wrote in my journal.
I went to dinner in the hotel restaurant at 19:30. They sat me at a small table next to a column with a speaker overhead blaring Indian music so loud I couldn’t hear the waiter’s questions. I gestured to the speaker and asked him if they could turn the music down. He nodded and went in the back and all the lights in the hotel went off. At first I thought they had over compensated in turning the music down and out the window I could I could see lights on across the street. The waiter returned to inform me that the power on the hotel’s side of the street would be down for five minutes. I used the light from my cell phone to read the drink menu and found the hotel didn’t offer alcohol. So, no beer for dinner.
Monday, April, 21, 2014: Tour Champaner (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
I was able to sleep until 06:00 because the schedule departure for the day’s tour was not until 09:00. The bathroom had only two small dim recessed lights but it did have glass walls to the bedroom and since I was alone I didn’t close the blind and I directed the bed’s reading light towards the bathroom. The water never got hot but was warm enough to take a comfortable shower.
At 07:00 I went down to breakfast and was the first one there. I ordered one egg over easy and got two eggs over hard. The toaster was not on and eventually they delivered two half toasted pieces of bread. The fruit, (watermelon, papaya, mango and pineapple) was cut in small pieces and I didn’t see any meat or cheese to go with my egg. Needless to say it was not one of the better breakfasts on the trip.
I returned to my room, packed and called Judy. I was not buying anything but my bags seemed to get bigger. I wheeled them down to the lobby and checked out a little before 09:00. Ram was there and we left right at 09:00. There were few cows wandering the road compared to the afternoon before. I guess they sleep in. We headed out of the city on a toll road.
I neglected to mention in previous day’s journal’s, the toll booths in India. They are not constructed to handle different size vehicles so at many of the toll plaza there is a man standing on cinder blocks that takes the money from the driver and hands it through a rather small window to the cashier and returns the ticket and any change back to the driver. A third person sits on the island between toll booths to monitor the activity; inefficiency to the extreme!
Along the road we passed pilgrims walking to the Meha Kacli Temple on top of the mountain at Pavagadh. It took us one hour on the toll road to reach the side road to Ek Minar Ki Masjid. Lal stopped and Ram and I walked down a gravel road to the five story high minaret which is all that remains of the ancient mosque. Four caretakers were at the grounds, three men taking naps and a women trimming around the bushes. Our arrival to walk close to the minaret to see the unusual combination of Hindu and Muslim design woke the men and they embarrassingly started to look busy doing nothing. The minaret has stood the test of time and was constructed without mortar using a locking design that holds and locks the column together by the weight of the levels above; very in-genius!
The walk down and back to the site we were serenaded by the sound of a cricket like bug. Ram told me the locals of the area catch the bug and make the red wax that was used to seal documents.
Five minutes after leaving Ek Minar Ki Masjid we entered the gate to Champaner, an ancient fortified city. It is a large complex and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Pavagadh Archaeological Park. The ancient town of Champaner had a rich historical culture and was a major trade center dealing in fine silk, woven and dyed textile, and sword manufacturing. The entire landscape of Champaner has many ruins of fort walls, tombs, gardens, arches, pillars and wells. We found the town a little rundown.
We entered the South Bhadra Gate and stopped at Saher Ki Masjid (Bohrani) for a tour. The site is described as:
This “Mosque of the City” was a private mosque built for royal family and nobles of the Gujarat Sultanate (15th – 16th Century). In a mixed Indian trabeate (pillar and beam) and Islamic arcuate (column and arch) style. Constructed on a rasied platform. The mosque (56 x 40m) has a large hall with five mihrabs, accessed through a central arched entranced flanked by two minarets on both sides. In addition, there are two arched entrances on either side of the central one fringed by jharokhas. Corresponding to each arch entrance is a large dome in a central row, each surrounded on four sides by cupolas. A battlement runs over the façade provided with a chhajja. To south-east of the mosque, close to citadel walls, are preserved remains of a small ablution tank.
We walked through the mosque and we were the only ones except for a woman sweeping the leaves off the floor. When we returned to the car we rode a short distance through the town to The Jami Masjid. It is described as follows:
The Jami Masjid is one [of] the most imposing monuments of Champaner – Pavagahdh Archaeological Park. Located outside the royal enclosure at Champaner this colossal mosque is architecturally classified as one of the finest mosque of Gujarat. It exemplifies a perfect blend of Indo-islamic architectural style.
The mosque (66 x 55m) is raised on a high plinth which can be accessed through three imposing porches on north, south and east. The last one is most remarkable for its intricate carving and perforated stone screen work. The open courtyard of the mosque is surrounded on three sides by covered cloisters of one aisle deep. The prayer hall has five pointed archways with the central one being the highest and flanked by two slender minarets. The prayer hall has additional smaller minarets at its four corners. [The] Central dome is elevated on clerestory allowing natural light and ventilation inside the mosque. Its intrados are filled by ribbed stone slabs of great beauty. There are seven mihrabs at the west wall of the main prayer hall. At the top of the central mihab was fixed an inscribed tablet now lost informing [the] date of completion of the mosque in 1508-09. The northern section of the prayer hall is separated by a perforated screen with separate entrance reserved for royal ladies. Balconied windows of typical Gujarat variety relive the plain look of the façade and side walls.
Approaching the main entrance we saw an enormous bee hive hanging from the archway. I guess there are Muslim bees that have to visit a mosque on a daily basis. Again we were the only ones walking through the mosque except for a young man sweeping the floor of the royal ladies area. It was an impressive building.
The next mosque to visit was about ten minutes away. It was the Kevda Masjid described as follows:
Kevda Masjid built during the regn of Mahmud Begda (1458-1511 A.D.) is rectangular on plan with a double storeyed main prayer hall. The two minarets on either side of the central arced enterance are beautifully carved and niches are filled with floral and geometrical designs. The windows provided with pillared balcony are beautiful and exquisitely decorated. Originally the mosque had three domes built above the prayer hall but the largest central dome collapsed. The complex of mosque also comprises of a well, tank for abluations and a few ruined brick structures.
The square cenotaph located in front of the mosque has fluted central dome and four corner domes.
We walked around the mosque and the large grounds in front of it and then got back in the car to ride up a very winding road to the base of the cable car that would take us to near the top of the mountain on which the Moha Kacli Temple resides.
At base of the cable car was a car park full of vehicles, mostly Force Toofan Classic which are built similar to Range Rovers. It looked like a Safari camp parking lot and was an indication of the mass of people we would encounter climbing the 300 steps to the temple. We were the only ones taking a cable car to the top at 11:45. At the top I was surprised, first by monkeys, second by the line of vendor booths on both sides of the stairway, third by the width of the stairway path and its long stretches of sloped plaza between two or three steps, and forth by the crowd of people of all ages.
We strolled up the stairway and stopped once for a limeade (choice of salt or sugar – I chose sugar) handmade and bottled on the spot, until we reached the steep stairway. It was covered and had rails on the sides and down the middle. There were stair step ledges which served as resting places. I trudged up at a slow steady rate stopping occasionally to let younger groups pass by. I found it less strenuous than the 120 steps up Elephanta Island. I think because of the railings which allowed me to pull myself along. It took us less than fifteen minutes to reach the temple. We had to remove our shoes for the walk through the temple past the Gods and then back to our shoe storage. We then started down a different set of stairs and encountered 12 donkeys with back packs being herded up the steps. They seemed to know what they were doing and except for occasionally stopping to eat or at least sniff the trash left on the steps. They also pooped which we had to watch for as we descended.
We arrived back at the cable car terminal at 13:00 to find that it was closed from 12:50 to 13:30 for lunch. I walked around the restaurants and shops near the terminal and Rem went shopping for a religious picture. At 13:15 they let us in the terminal but it turned out just to queue us up.
The room was hot because they were repairing the fans. After about ten minutes the fans were turned on and then five minutes later the cars started up again. When we reached the bottom and went looking for Lal and the car Ram found no cell service so he had me wait in the shade and he took off to find Lal. It wasn’t very long before the two showed up and were on our way down the mountain.
Our next stop was about thirty minutes later at the Jambughoda Palace down a dirt road off the highway. It was a resort that billed itself as “A Home For Nature Lovers”. The palace was set in the Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary and has 19 rooms for rent. I sat outside and ordered a beer. They had a permit to sell it in the state. The showed me the rooms and the grounds. It was a very pleasant place. I also ate some Mahuda fruit which the local tribes used to make a powerful whiskey. The fruit was the size of a grape and very sweet.
When I finished the beer we started out again to return to the highway for a little bit and then down a side road to the Narkot village where a wedding was being held. It is a Rathwas village and the chief’s granddaughter’s wedding was in progress but the chief took time to show us his lodge with its wall painting on three sides of a large room.
The highly ritualistic paintings are called pithoras and are done on the walls of tribal groups like the Rathwas. The pithora or pithoro painting is executed by the Lakahara group with the Badva officiating as the head priest for the associated rituals. This form of painting is done either to celebrate an auspicious occasion or to call upon Pithora Baba to solve problems like disease or drought.
The presence of Pithora Baba is considered as a solution to all the problems and the legends and events related to this revered tribal lord dominate the pithora (pithoro). The process begins with treating the walls with cow dung and white chalk powder, usually brought by unmarried girls. Powders, earth and vegetable colors are mixed with milk and mahuda flower liquor to prepare the dye for the pithora in colors like yellow, indigo, orange, green, vermillion, red and silver. The brushes are prepared from bamboo, neem and other twigs that are frayed by chewing, beating and other methods.
The painting begins after the offerings are made to the lord. The Badvo chanting the prayers and tales goes into a trance while the pithoras are being painted. The marriage of Pithora Baba and Pithori with processions of vibrant dancing people and animals dominates most pithoras, they also show life among the Rathwas like musicians, dancers, protecting, feasting, men climbing palm trees, milking of cows, livestock at pasture, women churning butter, bullock carts ploughing a field. Animistic figures of bulls, horses, birds and tigers are part of each pithoro and live sacrifices are offered near the tiger pictures. Raja Bhoj with an elephant procession is another distinctive feature of many pithoras.
After showing us the details of his pithora painting which was mind blowing in the detail and repeating of the figures, the chief played us tune on a flute and then gave us a cup of his home brewed mahuda flower liquor which was like a slightly sweet moonshine.
It was interesting to see the crowd for the wedding. In one open sided tent area little girls were sitting on the ground in neat rows with paths in between waiting for food to be served. In another tent the boys were standing around talking. I didn’t see the bride and groom. As we left many people were still arriving mostly on motor bikes.
What surprised me was the tribal village in the first place. I did not have in my mind that tribal villages and unique sects such as the Rathwas existed in India. I would expect to see them in Afghanistan, Bhutan, Napal or an African country. World travel certainly broadens one’s mind. I am thankful for the experience.
Back on the highway we stopped to get fuel and then turned down another long road to the Champaner Heritage Resort where we spent the night. The resort was several beautiful old buildings. It had a swimming pool but no Internet and no beer or wine. The rooms were fair size with high ceilings and heavy wood furniture. The bath was one tiled room with one drain in the corner and no shower curtain.
I was the only guest for dinner which was served in an air conditioned tent. The dinner consisted of rice, chicken in a red not too spicy sauce and beef chucks in a dark green not to spicy sauce. Salad was sliced carrots, onion, cucumber and tomatoes with no dressing. They served a tomato soup with a hint of lime. Dessert was mixed berry ice cream. To drink I had a bottle of Sprite. After dinner I returned to my room, wrote in my journal and retired at 22:00.
Tuesday, April, 22, 2014: Fly Vadodara, India to Delhi, India
I was awakened by call of peacocks around the early day break call to prayers. I showered and was surprised at the hot water and the containment of the water with no shower curtain. It was quite pleasant. Breakfast was delivered to my room at 06:15 and at 06:45 I set my bags out the door and they were wheeled to the car. We rolled out before 07:00 and arrived in Vadodara at 07:45. During the ride I asked Ram for more details on the Rathwas and other sects. He told me about one extreme sect that will not eat anything grown below ground because the act of pulling say a carrot is killing the plant. Some will not use a knife to cut open fruits and vegetables picked from above ground.
Ram dropped at the airport entrance where my bags were checked. The x-ray monitor was training staff and my bags were requested to be opened. In my large checked bag they were looking for my flashlight batteries and when they were found after digging through my stuff they said it was O.K. I think I fell victim to a training exercise. They then turned to my carry on and were concerned about cables which I have in several clear plastic pouches: one for Ethernet cable and a laptop lock cable; the other for cell phone and iPod chargers. In the course of re-checking my bag without the laptop and pouches they homed in on the carry on flashlight batteries and advised me to check the bag instead of carrying it on since I would be interrogated again at the gate. I took their advice and had to pay a baggage fee for two bags.
Once I got my boarding pass I headed to Security and when I got there they told me they were not processing my flight yet (it was the only flight leaving that morning). As I waited I saw a large sign that listed the 71 things you can’t carry on. I studied the list to see the reference to flashlight batteries and the closest I could find was number 70: “Spillable Batteries”. So I asked the Security agents waiting to start checking us about flashlight batteries. At first they didn’t understand what I was asking so I pulled the flashlight out of my vest and showed them the battery and asked if they were O.K. in carry-ons. They said sure they were. The finally opened the Security line and with no carry-on I breezed right through.
We were bussed to the aircraft. It was my first time flying on Indigo Airlines, one of the world’s fastest growing low cost airlines. They fly Airbus 320s and have ordered the most A 320s of any airline. They use a covered portable ramp to board the aircraft which is a lot more convenient than stairs. Boarding went fast and every seat was taken and we departed ten minutes early. It was a short fifty minute flight. My luggage was delivered rather quickly and I was met by Subba from Travelite as I exited the airport.
I was booked into the Radisson Blu Hotel at the International side of the Delhi airport. It took a little time to get there from the Indigo Terminal on the opposite side of the runway. The composition of the traffic was a little different than I had experienced in Mumbai and Cochin. The taxis were mainly HM (Hindu Motors) Ambassador Sedans which I rarely saw in the other cities.
The hotel is very modern and it had free Wi-Fi with strong connections in both the lobby and the room. I checked it before noon and Steve didn’t fly in until late afternoon so I had the room alone to try to catch up on my journal.
Steve finally arrived and gave me a rundown on the group’s ventures in Kashmir. We met for dinner at 19:00. It was the last meal with Edith Ann, Bill and Mike since they flew to the states that night. We returned to our rooms before 21:00. I called Judy, wrote in my journal and went to bed shortly after 21:00.
Wednesday, April, 23, 2014: Fly Delhi, India to Port Blair, Andaman Islands, India via Kolkata, India
We originally set our alarms for 04:00 but realized that the bus to the airport was scheduled for 06:45 so we reset the alarms to 05:00. I showered and shaved while Steve went down to the lobby to see what they had set up for us. While he was gone I called Judy and found that she was supposed have a new water dispenser delivered from Arrowhead that doesn’t make the gurgling sound when the water is being heated. The guy didn’t show so I encouraged her to call before they close their office. Steve returned a short time later to report that just outside the elevators was a table marked “grab-and-go” with a coffee machine, tea bags, muffins, power bars, apples and bananas. I went down and returned to the room with a cup of tea, and one of each of the items offered. I called Judy again and she reported that Arrowhead promised to deliver the new machine the next day. I then finished packing and wheeled my bags to the lobby and checked out.
We departed to the airport on schedule. I was the only one that had to check-in and get a boarding pass; the others had received them the day before. They checked their bags and proceeded to Security. I was over the 15kg limit and had to go over to the end of the terminal and stand in line at a cashier’s window to pay the excess baggage fee. When I finally got my boarding pass it was all the way to Port Blair while the others had two boarding passes with different seat assignments. One boarding pass for Delhi to Kolkata and the other from Kolkata to Port Blair.
There was no one at the Security station I was directed to. I removed my laptop, put my carry-on on the belt, my backpack on the belt and put my vest in a tray. They had me dump the contents of my carry-on because of electrical wires. During the dump they handled the packs of AA and AA batteries without comment and ran my carry-on through again without any problem. I asked why I had to dump the contents and they said their x-ray displays my cables and charger wires too blurry to determine what they are. At least I didn’t have to take off my shoes, belts and watch. I found that in India the Security agents wand everyone, even if you don’t set off an alarm. The men and woman got through separate queues.
After repacking my carry-on I walked to the gate. On the way I saw a store selling Lipton’s Ice Tea. The first I had seen it for sale on the trip so I bought a bottle. They boarded the plane on schedule in a strange way. The plane was parked with an “air bridge”, three floors below the gate. We had to walk down long ramps that switched back before we reached the air bridge. I was seated in row 30 on the aisle of a full plane. We took off fifteen minutes after scheduled departure. The man in from of me was traveling with a young lady sitting across the aisle. At one point he abruptly reclined his seat pushing my tray table into my stomach. It caught me by surprise and I yelped and in reaction pushed back. He turned around and I asked him to please not recline his seat. It wasn’t like he needed to sleep, he was mostly chatting up his girlfriend who hadn’t reclined her seat.
On the segment from Kolkata to Port Blair the couple had different seats and no one sat in front of me. I had a new set of seat mates who were going to the Islands on their honey moon. It turned out that he returned a year ago from a four year consulting assignment as a Business Analyst at Staples in Framingham, Mass. He impressed me as a bright young man, with good command of the English language and was probably an effective Analyst.
When we landed in Port Blair I exited the aircraft from the rear door. Inside the Arrivals Hall I was met by a man with a form and showed to a seat and handed a pen to obtain the island’s RAP (Restricted Area Permit). On the wall about the table was a list of the rules governing our visit to the islands.
It was a very courteous greeting compared to so many foreign airports where they have the forms on shelves and you have find one that hasn’t been partially filled in and then fight for space to write standing up trying to keep an eye on you carry on and being pestered by others to borrow your pen. The information entered on the form was already in the Indian Immigration database, but as my Systems Analyst seat mate told the bureaucratic procedures in so many of the processes in India are there give people employment. Three men processed my form before I got it back. The RAP went into great length listing where and when we could go during our visit.
Outside Lynn had been met by a Local Tour Agent and we loaded our bags into two vehicles and rode to the Fortune Resort Bay Island hotel, high on a hill overlooking the bay. It was an old building with crude furniture and was oddly laid out. The Reception and Bar was on one floor open on three sides. The pool (saltwater) was several floors below. We were assigned to rooms numbering 410, 411 and 412. To reach our room we descended down a level and then climbed up a level. The beds in Steve and my room were elevated on a platform three steps above the entry area. The other two had level floors.
We got to our rooms at 15:00 and had a scheduled tour set for 16:00. Wi-Fi was available in the Reception area for one free hour per day.
We assembled at 16:00 and Lynn told us the guide was not going to accompany us but the driver would take us to the scheduled places. At 16:10 the driver had not arrived so the McCuen’s left to try the hotel swimming pool.
The driver finally arrived in a 12 seat Tata van. He drove us to Carbyns Cove beach east of the airport. There we got off and walked to the beach. Lynn, Mary and Steve stopped at a WWII Bunker the Japanese had the island’s prisoner’s build. The area was crowded but only a few were in the water, but the water was full of fast boats and ski boats to hire. I walked over to a shack where there was a sign advertising Ski Boat rides for ₹350 ($6) and Fast Boat rides for ₹300 ($5). I watched the action. If you took a Ski Boat ride you would drive with man over your shoulder. The course would take you at high speed out to a buoy and return in about 3 minutes. The Fast Boat followed the same course and there were 4 to 6 people in the boat and it took about 5 minutes. The times were confirmed by the boat driver’s trying to get me to sign up.
The rest of our group was still standing at the beach entrance, so I returned and reported what I learned. They wanted to leave so we walked across the road to find our van. It wasn’t easy since it was parked beyond a large tour bus. When we found it our driver was not in it and nowhere in sight. We sat down in the shade on a wall around a large tree at the Parking Lot exit.
We were entertained when the bus filled and tried to leave. It was boxed in and first men tried to help by pushing a car as far forward to the posts that marked the area but that didn’t provide enough maneuvering room so they waited until the drivers of two cars that were blocking the bus arrived and moved their cars.
After an hour from when he delivered us to the beach our driver appeared and we rode on to the Water Sports Complex. A large pier and vendors sell rides in their boats. We told our drive to continue on to the hotel. The city was not very large but it had excellent sports fields and arenas. One large area we passed had several hundred kids assembled, some with flags, some in uniforms. The driver couldn’t explain what was going on.
We returned to the hotel, soaking wet with perspiration. Del and Linda had swam in the hotel’s pool. It was warm salt water.
At 19:30 we went to dinner. In was a buffet in an air conditioned room. I had a salad of my own making and some small sampling of Indian dishes. For dessert I had Chocolate ice cream with mixed fruit.
After dinner I tried to connect to the Wi-Fi on my cell phone and for some reason it would not connect. Several people that also had Samsung Galaxy S4 smart phones that were connected tried to clone their settings on my phone and it still would not find the Wi-Fi network. I turned the phone off and on and it still would not see the hotel’s network. Finally one of the businessmen told me he had stateside service through his company account and insisted that I call my wife on the cell network. I got through to Judy to give her an update and warn her that I might not be able to call for a few days. I thanked the businessman.
Steve had gone to the Business Center to use their desktop to get his email so I went down and used it after he did to clean up my email. Then I returned to my room and went to bed. I had come down with a cold and was coughing a lot.
Thursday, April, 24, 2014: Tour Port Blair, Andaman Islands, India
I had one of the worst nights I can remember. My throat was extremely sore and I coughed all night. Fortunately Steve removed his hearing aids and his CPAP machine makes enough noise to lull him into a deep sleep and he claims I didn’t wake him. I tossed and turned and my head stuffed up so I couldn’t use my CPAP machine. The pain in my throat was intense. I got up at 07:00 and took a shower and went to breakfast with the group at 07:30.
I had pulled the battery from my smartphone the night before and was happy to see it found the Wi-Fi network when I entered the lobby. I called Judy to inform her of my terrible night and the fact my smartphone was back in operation.
I had a bowl of Corn Flakes, toast and black tea for breakfast.
At 08:00 our bus driver arrived and drove us to ‘The Cellular Jail’. There we were met by a local guide.
The jail was built by Indian prisoners in 1893 to 1906, who the British had arrested as Revolutionaries. It had 693 cells each one the same 13’6” x7’6”. It was made a National Memorial after the British left India. We toured the facility. The first stop was the Administrative buildings with a pictorial history of the buildings and the prisoners. Certain prisoners were singled out and their story told.
One display described the term ‘Kala Pani’ which has become synonymous with transportation to penal settlements beyond the sea. In Sanskrit ‘Kal’ means ‘Time or Death’ and ‘Pani’ means water so the term meant the “water of death’. The British starting sending prisoners to the islands in 1858 and it wasn’t until 1893 that construction started on the Cellular Prison. We saw displays of prison management, of daily life, of punishment and the construction of the prison.
When we left the Administration Buildings we walked past several Memorial Monuments and seating for the Sound and Light show that is conducted several nights per week. We then visited the Gallows and the Condemned Cells and the building where men were treated like oxen moving in a circle to crush pineapple into oil. From there we visited the Gallery and climbed up to the Guard Post on the top of the cells. From that vantage point we had a good view of the area and the hospital next door that was still in operation.
Climbing down from the Guard Post we walked past the Solitary Cells and the names of the men incarcerated in the jail. Our guide pointed out his Great Grandfather’s Name.
Leaving the prison we rode down to the Water Park Complex. There we picked up a new guide named Charlie who owns the local tour agency and was the father of the young man that gave us the jail tour.
Inside the complex we stopped at the Tsunami Memorial in remembrance of the tsunami from the Indonesia earthquake that hit the islands on December 26, 2004.
We then walked to the end of a long pier and boarded a ferry to Ross Island. I sat next to the young married couple that I had sat next to on the flight to the islands. We had our pictures taken by Charlie. The ride took only about ten minutes.
Ross Island sits just east (800m) of Port Blair at the month of the harbor. It originally was known as Chong-Ekee-Bood. It was small, only .6 sq km in size. It was named by the British after Sir Daniel Ross a British marine surveyor. The island became the natural choice for settlers due to its commanding location. The settlers put so much effort into recreating a home away from home that it earned the epithet of “The Paris of the East”. It boasted an Anglican Church, homes for British and Indian Officers, store houses, shops, printing press, hospital, post office, tennis courts, mineral water plant, swimming pool, bakery, library and general stores. An entire bazaar and three separate clubs were also constructed. About 500 personnel, including officers, troops, Indian merchants and families lived on the island.
Charlie started to lead us on a tour of the island. The group wanted to visit the small Cafeteria to purchase cold water. Charlie then led us to a set of stairs up a hill to the water pond. Only Del and I followed. Charlie was disappointed but he kept to the script and showed Del and I all the sites on the island which included the pond where they stored rain water; the Presbyterian Church built of stone and Burma teak, with stain glass from Italy. Nearby was a spotted deer staring at us. A short distance away where the remains of the Subordinate’s Club for junior commissioned officers, non-commission officers and other British troops. It had a teak dance floor mounted on springs with the band on an elevated platform on the west wall.
We started back towards the pier when we came upon the honeymooners sitting on a bench in the shade in front of what was once the Commanding Officer’s Quarters. We stopped and chatted a bit and then moved on past a flat area that was once the tennis courts to a recently painted building that had been the bakery. “It is the best specimen of 19th century British architecture on the island.”.
The next set of buildings was the Power House which was in ruins. I was surprised that the Bakery was preserved and painted but the buildings around it were not. Another ruin was the Water Distilling Plant. A fine lattice work of roots from a Ficus tree had grown around the building and held the crumbling structure together. The huge boilers made of special steel can still be observed.
Continuing our walk we came upon the swimming pool. It was a long rectangle pool, rather deep and not very wide. It appeared to be able to use for laps. The pool used rain water but adjacent there was a salt water pool protected from sharks by netting.
From the pool Charlie led us back to the Cafeteria where the rest of the group was waiting for us. On the way we saw a couple of maintenance workers harvesting coconuts. One worker would climb the tall tree and attach a line to a pulley and a bunch of coconuts. He then cut the bunch from the tree and signaled the worker on the ground to start feeding more line and lower the bunch to the ground. A spotted dear roamed around the downed coconuts.
When we rejoined the group they were sitting outside the Cafeteria under the steady stares of a group of spotted deer. We returned to the dock to board the next ferry. The honeymooners returned on the same ferry. The tour had taken about ninety minutes.
We boarded our bus and drove to the center of town where Charlie left us and Kishore took over again as the tour guide. Kishore explained that his father (Charlie) really liked leading tours of Ross Island. He then led us through the town and across a bridge to Chatham Island where we stopped to tour the Saw Mill. The mill was still operational but has setup a tourist structure. The Forest Museum was our first stop. In one large room pictures and displays documented the forest industry on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They had pictures of Old Chatham and the damaged caused by bombs during WWII. They also displayed the 24 types of wood harvested and milled over the years, listed by classification and uses. On one side of the room they had things made from the different types of local wood. One item that was remarkable was a figure titled “Balancing Doll” that was fashioned from one tree with long limbs as the doll’s arms and one doll leg on a sphere with two legs below the sphere and the doll’s other leg bent behind balancing the whole figure. It was a very ingenious design, carving and polishing to maintain the balance and beauty.
Leaving the museum we walked past the beautiful Chatham Memorial, sculptured in wood, dedicated in 2008, to the mill. Inside the huge building we followed the process the logs go through to become finished lumber.
When we left the mill we rode by bus to the center of the city and stopped briefly at a Handicraft store which sold primarily sea shell artifacts and wood carvings. We didn’t stay long and we returned to the hotel for lunch and a leisure afternoon.
I had delicious fish and chips for lunch. The fish was not deep fried in batter like the British make it but rather was fried in pan creating a darker crust. The tartar sauce was a little strange but the catsup made up for it.
My cold was not improving so I retired to my room to write in my journal. At 15:00 I lugged my laptop to the lobby and connected to the Wi-Fi. I was researching some information on Google and I found the laptop could still connect from the bar so I set up at the “Nico Bar” and ordered a beer.
One of the emails I had received was from Bob Bonifas one of my World Traveling colleagues who is attempting to visit every destination on the Most Traveled People (MTP) list of 871 places to visit. I had seen in his MTP profile that he had visited Andaman, but not Nicobar Island. I wrote him a short note telling him I was writing him from the Nico Bar and asked him if that would count for visiting Nicobar Island.
When I went to dinner at 19:30 with the group I didn’t have much of an appetite and just had soup and ice cream for dessert. Both felt good for my sore throat.
I was able to call Judy and then retired early. I had chills and slept in my down “puffy” jacket.
Friday, April, 25, 2014: Tour Port Blair, Andaman Islands, India, outer islands
I had another rough night. Since my head was stuffed I couldn’t use my CPAP machine effectively. I tried to sleep sitting up in bed and at one point I sleep for two hours in a chair hoping to reduce post nasal drip that causes my sore throat and cough. When I woke at 08:30 Steve was not in the room. I was able to shower and shave and left for breakfast after he returned. I had a bowl of Corn Flakes, toast, pineapple juice and a cup of tea.
I was feeling better so I sat down at my laptop and started to fill in my journal for the days I had not completed. I was able to complete Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
At 12:30 I joined the group for lunch and had a very tasty baked fish with lemon butter sauce, rice and steamed vegetables. The other members of our group did not schedule any activities. The son of our local guide came by and gave us a little memento of our visit. Mine was a ball point pen and a small key fob.
I attempted to do some Wi-Fi work but the Internet was so slow I returned to the room and continued filling the holes in my journal. At one point I went back to the lobby to try to Google a site and I thought I would have a beer but it turned out that they were out of Kingfisher beer. The Internet was still too slow to get the information I was looking for so I returned to my room and kept writing.
We went to dinner at 19:30. Del and Linda skipped the dinner. I had a bowl of soup. It was clear hot water with a slight flavor of something but it felt good on my sore throat. I tried the chicken with marginal luck to get meat off the bones. They had crab in a sauce but I couldn’t figure out how one could get meat out of the shell. That was the last night in India.
I talked to Judy after dinner and the connection was bad and tried to see some email on my smart phone but again the Internet was too slow so I return to the room and retired at 21:00. My travels in India had come to an end. The next day I would start a tour of Bangladesh.