We’ve made it to Lordsburg, New Mexico, which is about 30 miles from the Arizona border. We should be able to get to Jaelene’s by late afternoon tomorrow (Saturday, January 31, 2015). Texas is a big state! We pretty much drove the whole Interstate 20 from Georgia to where it ended as it merged into I-10 just west of Pecos, Texas. Today was chilly, cloudy, windy, rainy day. It was a good day to just be in the motor home and driving. We’re now in a very wet KOA campground listening to the wind blow and the trains go by. There are a LOT of trains going by!
The last day we were in Mumbai I took some pictures of some articles in the newspaper that I thought were very interesting. So, the photo gallery below are these articles with a bit of commentary.
This morning we packed up the motor home, said our goodbyes to Marsha and Billy, and drove away from Belle Rive Drive in Ninety Six, South Carolina. Right now we’re driving south on I-85 about an hour north of Atlanta. With any luck we’ll make it to a KOA campground in Meridian, Mississippi later this afternoon where we’ll spend the night.
I think we’ve both turned the corner on jet lag. We both slept well last night and pretty much through the entire night. We did some shopping yesterday to stock up for the drive west. We’re both happy to be on the way west. Not necessarily looking forward to the long drive across Texas, but I’ve decided that’s some kind of psychological thing. We also don’t look forward to the long drives across Nevada or Wyoming or Kansas! Where are the flying cars?
I’ve been thinking about the flights from Atlanta to Mumbai and back. I’ve decided that the airlines have figured out how to profit from misery. Their standard price is for the most miserable experience possible: crammed into seats that are too narrow and too close together, stuck between people that you have to climb over to get to the toilet. We’re given food that is barely edible and in portions so small that it’s almost not worth the time and effort. There is no way to get comfortable for any length of time.
However, for a price, you can reduce (but never eliminate) the misery! For an extra $120 I can get two inches more legroom. For another fee I can get a special meal. Double (or more) the price and I can move into Business Class and significantly reduce the misery. Another double and First Class is available. It’s just a question of how much misery I can endure and how much I’m willing to pay to reduce the misery.
So, I did some checking on going by sea from New York to London. It’s a six-day trip for about the same cost as an economy airline ticket. The lowest fare is for an indoor room below decks. But that room is a very nice room! Full sized bed, nice bathroom, and access to every amenity on board. Further, meals are included and the food is excellent.
It turns out that I could have gone by boat from New York to London and then from London to Goa, India. An inside stateroom for the entire trip was less than the price for Business Class on Delta. So, if I’m willing to be absolutely miserable for 24 hours, I can be in India in 24 hours. For about the same price, I can completely avoid the miserable experience as well as completely avoid the jet lag, It would take fifteen days, though. But, I’m retired. Fifteen days there on a cruise ship sounds like a great adventure! I think if I ever go back to India again, I’ll seriously consider doing it on a ship and leave misery behind.
Meanwhile, we’re driving westward in our shoebox on wheels. A somewhat broken shoebox. I apparently didn’t get it completely winterized before we left for India as there’s a broken water line somewhere around the water heater (which means it’s pretty unaccessible). I’ll look to see what I can do about it, but I expect it’ll stay that way until we get to Arizona and I can have a repair shop fix it.
We flew on Indigo Airlines from Mumbai to Delhi on Monday, January 19, 2015 (more about the Delhi portion of the trip in a later blog entry), and took the express train from Delhi to Agra early Tuesday morning. The train was scheduled to leave at 6am and actually got underway about 6:10am. By the time we got to Agra the train was a half-hour behind schedule. We were booked on a return train to leave Agra at 9 pm, but by the time we got to Agra at 8:30 am, the forecast was that the 9pm train would be at least one and a half hours behind schedule. That would make for a very long day….
Our guide and the driver met us at the train station and off we went. The first stop was the Agra Fort … which will be in a future blog post. Then we went to the Taj Mahal.
It’s only been in the last twenty years or so that India has taken the care and preservation of the Taj Mahal seriously. It had already been plundered a couple of times, most recently by the British. Today the grounds are beautiful and immaculate. The building has been thoroughly cleaned. The cleaning process involves a special kind of clay that is sprayed on the building and then washed off with water after it dries out, according to our guide. No other chemicals are used. The marble used in the building is Makrana Marble, which is a very hard, non-porous material actually harder than most metals. It also has a translucent quality to it which means that the marble takes on the color of the light shining on it. During the time we were there, the building changed from a kind of a white ivory to a much more of a cream-colored hue as the clouds departed and the sun emerged.
Vehicles with internal combustion engines are now prohibited within about a mile around the monument’s grounds. We drove to a transfer station, left our driver and car, and boarded an electric bus to go the rest of the way.
The grounds are massive. The building is on the banks of the Yamuna River (the second most revered river in India after the Ganges) and includes a garden on the other side of the river.
The whole experience was amazing and delightful. The Taj Mahal was better in every way than I had even hoped it would be. Our visit there was definitely the sightseeing highlight of the trip.
Here’s a small gallery of pictures from our visit to the Taj Mahal:
The routing was from Mumbai to London Heathrow, change planes, then from London Heathrow to Atlanta, Georgia. Each leg was scheduled to be about nine and a half hours long. The flight from Mumbai was scheduled to leave at 2:35 am. That meant arriving at the airport not later than midnight. It turned out to be the right amount of time. By the time we cleared both sets of security, checked our luggage, went through immigration, and walked to the gate we had about ten minutes before boarding. Flights from Mumbai are always delayed, apparently; we were fortunate that the delay was only about twenty minutes.
All of the formalities were completely uneventful. The only issue that came up was our chosen seats. I had booked us into exit row seats, which on this Airbus A-330 airplane were seats 50H and 50K. Two seats next to each other on the right side of the airplane. However, it turns out that Indian regulations prohibit anyone over the age of 50 sitting in an emergency row. We were relocated to 55A and 55C (there was no 55B). Those seats, while they had the extra leg room I had paid for, were still very cramped. In the end the flight took just over 10 hours from takeoff to landing in London. According to the flight attendant, the airplane was completely full.
The flight itself was mostly uneventful, except for my nasal CPAP machine. Without that machine, I can’t sleep. I had called Delta about the machine and they assured me that there was not problem using the machine and that they would inform Virgin Atlantic. Well, they didn’t inform Virgin Atlantic. The flight attendants were quite upset when I put the mask on and drifted off to sleep. It took over an hour for them to inspect the machine, verify with someone(s) that it was OK, that the battery wasn’t dangerous, etc., etc. Eventually I did get a couple of hours of rather restless sleep, with the machine.
When we got to London, I was met at the door of the airplane by a Virgin Atlantic person who had me wait to go with her to the checkin place so they could note my CPAP machine in the records so I could use it on the next flight.
I had booked the same seats on the flight from London to Atlanta. This time our age didn’t matter. However, my seat (50H) had an issue: the entertainment unit was broken. In the end, Nina sat in an aisle seat in the center section and I sat in the window seat. This flight had 191 passengers and 14 crew members. It took right at 10 hours. There wasn’t any sleep on the flight, try as I might. We were quite exhausted when we got to Atlanta!
I had booked a room at the Comfort Suites hotel at the airport. That worked out just OK. The facility turned out to be under new ownership and had been converted into a Comfort Suites. It was an old facility, very worn. The TV didn’t work. The remote was missing. Light bulbs were missing. But the bed was nice and we both slept (after ordering in Chinese food) about nine hours.
On Saturday morning we picked up the rental car and drove back to Ninety Six, South Carolina where Nina’s sister lives and where our motor home was waiting for us. We were back in the US, back to our “home”, and it’s almost like the trip never happened.
Except, it did. We had a great time. I’ve got great memories (and a couple hundred photographs to back them up). Over the next few days I’ll write about some of our experiences, starting with the Taj Mahal.
We’re busy packing suitcases and gathering stuff and trying to find stuff… In other words, it’s a bit of a zoo around here at the moment. We have to be at the airport about midnight tonight (January 22nd … about 11:30 am on Thursday, January 22nd Salt Lake time). Our flight is scheduled to leave at 3:25 am. I’m sure I’ll be more than a little sleepy when we actually get on the Virgin Atlantic flight from Mumbai to London Heathrow. We’ll have a short layover there before leaving for Atlanta, Georgia where we’re scheduled to land at 2:10 pm on Friday, January 23rd. I’ve reserved a hotel room at the airport where we’ll probably crash, and wake up about 2am wondering why we can’t sleep.
This has been an amazing trip. We’ve just scratched the surface of what it’s like to be in India. We’ve been (literally) run over while walking down the narrow shopping streets, cringed as our driver navigated through traffic (and being absolutely sure that we’ll die in the process), marveled at the traffic and traffic noise, and been pleasantly surprised at the friendliness and helpfulness of the Indian people. We’ve experienced smells that range from “wow” to “oh dear” and experienced close-up the lack of personal space while being out and about. We’ve seen Hindu and Jain temples, Muslim mosques, Catholic churches, a Zoroastrian Thread Ceremony celebration, and most delightfully, visited the Taj Mahal. It’s actually been rather overwhelming. Our daughter has gone above and beyond cramming as much as possible into our short time here.
And, suddenly, it’s time to leave. Just like that, the two weeks are over and we’re leaving. We’ll most likely never be back. But I don’t think we’ve left anything undone that we needed to do, nothing unseen that we needed to see, and nothing unheard that we wanted to hear. I’ve got several hundred pictures to sort through and post in future blog entries. It’ll be fun to relive some of these memories.
But, I’m also looking forward to some good old American fast food….
As readers know, Nina and I are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called The Mormons. Wherever we travel when Sunday comes around it’s Church day (unless, like last week, I was in the hospital undergoing angioplasty). Nothing got in the way today as we attended the Mumbai Branch of the New Delhi District of the India New Delhi Mission. The Branch meets in a newly constructed space configured for their needs. There is a main area with a rostrum at the front and space for about 100 chairs. The main area divides into three smaller areas by glass sliding partitions. In addition there are four classrooms.
Yesterday as we were driving back from Lonavala, Ty texted Heather from Branch Presidency Meeting (which is held via Skype since travel time is an important consideration) that they didn’t have speakers set up for Sunday and would Nina and I be willing to take ten minutes to bear our testimonies and talk about whatever? We agreed. We both spent quite a while last evening getting thoughts and scriptures together.
While many of the Branch members understand some English, even to those the Church vocabulary is new and difficult. There are others in the Branch that speak or understand no English. As a result, the standard practice at the Branch is after someone gives a speech in English, someone conversant in English and Hindi stands up and gives a summary of what was said. At the moment one of the missionaries has been given that summarization task.
Thinking of him, I wrote out an outline for my talk and printed a copy of the outline for him. That worked very well. Nina talked for just over eight minutes (ten minutes by the time the summary was delivered) and gave a lovely sermon on how the Lord loves his children all across the world, in every clime and nation. I talked about how the Church is the Lord’s Church, he knows what is needed to save his children, and that it is applicable around the world. Our talks seemed to be well received.
The Sunday School class was presented very well. The teacher conducted a lively and well-balanced discussion on the birth of our Savior. Priesthood was also well done. The instructor was well prepared and the discussion was very interesting. This was one of the better Church block of meetings we’ve attended in a while.
The Mumbai Branch baptized 23 people last year and hopes to baptize 40 people in 2015. The first one was baptized last Sunday and seems to be well received by the members of the Branch. There was one other American visiting (a student in a Masters program at MIT in Boston) and a French person from Strausborg, Germany (attending a conference in Mumbai).
This afternoon we went to the Sanjay Ghandi National Park and spent some time climbing up and around a few of the 109 caves where Buddhist acharyas lived and worked. The Kanheri caves were constructed between the 1st century B.C. and the 11th century A.D. They are indeed at the top of a mountain! The monks would carve out a small cave for themselves where they would live and work and then expand one or more of them to be used for worship, study, or meditation. While it is possible to visit all 109 caves, I was quite satisfied (and very winded) after visiting about 10 of them. It was quite a climb on a relatively cool and nicely breezy Saturday afternoon.
However, the smog in and around central India is just horrendous. It has been getting worse day by day and blowing my nose is now a “don’t look at the result” experience. I’ve no idea when this situation will clear out, but it doesn’t look to be happening while we are here.
Yesterday we drove a couple of hours east of Mumbai into the mountains to Lonavala. Unfortunately, the smog took away most of the views which, on a fairly clear day, must be quite spectacular. We spent the night in a resort hotel in Lonavala before coming back to Mumbai this morning.
I have hundreds of pictures. Now I just need to decide how and what to do with them.
Tomorrow is a quiet day. We’ll go to Church in the morning and be here at the apartment the rest of the day. On Monday we fly to New Delhi where we’ll stay two nights. On Tuesday we’ll take the train to Agra and back to see the Taj Mahal. Wednesday afternoon we fly back to Mumbai. Thursday evening late we board a Delta flight to London and then on to Atlanta and our India adventure will finish. Way too soon!