May 9, 2009

We landed in Delhi, on April 16th, 24 hours after we left Buenos Aires, Argentina. We took a taxi to Taks’ place (a Warm-Showers member), arriving after midnight. A short introduction, a quick conversation, Dana was already a sleep, and we went to bed.
We woke up, ready to attack our first project: taking mom to India (Our second project was cycling the Indian Himalayas).
We had 3 days to organize everything, before Tamar, Gals’ mother, lands in Delhi and travels with us for 3 weeks.
She rides a 700cc wheel.

Preparations 17/04/09
Preparing the trip, while in Argentina, was extremely difficult. Currently, we only had flight tickets to Varanasi & back and a general itinerary; for a 72 year old mom, first time in India, it’s not enough!
It all started in Jujuy, north-west Argentina, when we started seriously thinking of cycling in north India. Gal asked her mother if she would like to visit us in India.
Last time we were in India, Tamar was afraid of visiting us in this undeveloped country, and instead, we met her in Thailand.
This time she immediately agreed; finally, an opportunity to see her daughter.
Later, when Ramis’ knee recovered and we had flight tickets to India, we contacted Rachel (Ramis’ mom) and Ziva (our fantastic travel agent) and asked them to start working on the logistics (visa, flight tickets and tranquilizers). Choosing the dates for both flights (Tamar’s and ours), was also complicated, speculating our arrival to Bs.As, how many days after our arrival shall she arrive? And the coming Passover (flight problems), but, we’ll not bore you with the details.
Meanwhile, we had to plan the actual trip (the itinerary). We were very nostalgic about our previous visit to India, so we had a general picture. Finding ANY book, in English, is impossible in north-west Argentina, let alone a travel book of India. Our only source of information was a forum that Tak recommended: India Mike, which turned out to be excellent. We registered and published our first post: “Taking mom to India”.
Cycling in the deserts of north-west Argentina (with us camping every night and slow internet, when we encountered an internet café) made gathering information slow.
We asked Tamar if she prefers culture – the lowlands, or scenery – the Himalayas (passing the season in Parvati).
Despite the expected unbearable heat of April-May, she preferred culture. We chose to concentrate in Rajasthan and only taste a bit of the mountains in Manali and Dharamshala, but first – a visit in downtown Varanasi.
After a long debate we decided to take a car + driver for the trip, giving us flexibility; our own vehicle, while traveling, has become a necessity. Despite the recommendations to book a tour though an agency (everything organized in advance), ♪ we did it our way ♪♬. How can we forgive the agency, if Tamar’s room has no balcony facing the Gangas?

Our visa issue destabilized the project, but ended up OK.

Back to India
So, we were in Delhi, excited, with 3 days left.
We took a bus to the Main Bazaar of old Delhi, in Paharganj, the center of backpackers. After a thorough search we found a suitable hotel… almost. (Not the Hari Rama ;-)
We finally found a travel book and a good map – basics, and went through some travel agencies.
The only interesting incident was 2 friendly locals, taking us on their auto-rickshaws to their uncle’s travel agency, instead of the government tourist agency. We love auto-rickshaw rides!
The following 2 days were designated to other chores.

Time for a shave?

The local look?

With Tak & Dana, in Delhi.

The eagle has landed 20/04/09
01:00 – the taxi driver called; he’s waiting downstairs. We let him wait. Earlier, when Tak & Dana ordered the taxi for us, they warned us that it’ll arrive an hour earlier and try to persuade us to leave earlier… we ordered the taxi for 02:00!

02:30 – We left our stuff at the hotel in Main Bazaar and walked around, between the sleeping cows, dogs and people. We enjoyed the night breeze, a contrast to the unbearable heat during the day.
It took us a while till we realized we’re walking comfortably in the middle of the night, in the middle of this huge city, feeling totally safe. We just arrived from Latin-America…

04:45 – We reached the airport. Our shitty, hobbling taxi waited in the parking lot. We didn’t even notice that Tamar’s first taste of India will be this taxi. How come we didn’t think of arriving with an ambassador?

05:30 – The eagle has landed! Hugs and kisses and we were on our way back to Main Bazaar, with a bicycle wheel brought from Israel.

First morning in India
06:00 - We threw our stuff in the hotel rooms and attacked the waking Main Bazaar market. We wanted Tamar to experience it. We were all wide awake, still excited; we can rest later, when the heat is unbearable.
The sun wasn’t up yet and the cows were waking up, when Tamar stepped on her first cow shit… Welcome to India!
She frantically tried to clean her sandals; we just smiled. Slowly, slowly more people appeared, opening doors and windows. The market was filling with life.

First steps, first cow shit...
Crowded in the auto-rickshaw.
Sight seeing.
Street food.
Cycle-rickshaw (rickshaw).

The mess of the market from our balcony.

Varanasi 21/04/09
Most of Tamar’s visit in Varanasi whirled around her diarrhea… Welcome to India!
Was it the cold lassi from the street corner? Or the first restaurant we ate at, on the noisy main street?
The old quarter of Varanasi is one of the worst places to be sick at. The heat was devastating, even worse than in Delhi, especially near the burning ghat. Millions of steps everywhere, designed for tall people, not for the Elhalel clan.
It was impossible to rest properly because of the power cuts; the air conditioner wasn’t working, only the fans (backup batteries), which was only moving the heat from one place to another. We even checked a $115 hotel, which had the same problem and the same heat. At least we had the best balconies overlooking the Gangas.
Due to the circumstances, Tamar missed the first morning boat ride on the Gangas, but bravely joined us on the following morning.
Despite the difficulties, we managed to enjoy the labyrinth of the old city and the powerful ghats.

Entering the labyrinth. Can you find Rami's new wheel?
The ghats.

Our beautiful, shitty hotel.
Sunrise on the Gangas.

Laundry time.


Life in Varanasi.
Magical Varanasi.
A sinking temple.
Crowded alleys.
Ironing in modern India...
Another sunrise on the Gangas.

Never a dull moment.
Tamar, tasting her first Beedi.
"וגרה פרה עם כלב"

A typical (wild) auto-rickshaw drive.

Leaving Varanasi.

Raj 24/04/09
We exited the domestic airport and spotted the sign: “Elhalel-Rosenbaum”. Raj, our smiling driver, was waiting for us.
After a long debate (including India Mike), we decided to take a car + driver for the rest of the trip – Rajasthan and the mountains. It will save us the hassle of the long distance, crazy driving on the Indian roads (we’ll have more than enough of it while cycling). Already on the first drive, the 4 hour journey from Delhi to Jaipur, the Delhi rush hour (millions of trucks, camels, cows, carts and pedestrians, anything but private cars…) we understood how wise our choice was.

Jaipur 25/04/09
Thanks to the strong ‘Cipro’ antibiotics, Tamar was feeling good and ready to attack Jaipur (which we haven’t seen on our last trip). We had a beautiful day, visited the Amber Fort and the City Palace.

Our beautiful Haveli hotel.
With the Cobra and the palace.

Check out the sunglasses of the woman in black.

The wall surrounding the palace.

Women's peeking window.

More Cobras.

We planned on finishing the day at Surya Mandir (Sun Temple), to enjoy the sunset.
Tamar and Gal went for a cigarette break, outside the temple. Tamar set on a rock, near the road, and put the water bottle on the ground, next to her. A second later, a monkey was holding the bottle, happily jumping up & down, while another monkey was hanging on Tamar’s back. Both Gal and Tamar shouted till the monkeys left. Smoking is bad for your health!
The female care-taker of the temple cleaned Tamar’s wounds with antiseptic cream and we tried to relax and enjoy the sunset. We then went to search for Rabies vaccination; we were already experienced. Worried Raj took us to a private hospital, explaining that the government hospital (“SMS”) is not good. After going through 3 private hospitals, which didn’t have the vaccination, we went to SMS, which looked like what you can imagine of a public hospital, in a big city, in one of the poorest states of India. They said Tamar can get the vaccination only tomorrow morning, when the ‘vaccination clinic’ is open. Our persistence didn’t help; Tamar was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Raj suggested one more hospital (he lives in a small village nearby, thus knows the city), where Tamar finally got the first of 5 shots… Welcome to India!

At Surya Mandir.
Trying to relax. Sunset over Jaipur.
At SMS hospital.
The first smile, after the first shot.
Our Haveli, Jaipur.
An elephant in the main road.
More monkeys...

Jaigarh Fort.

Pushkar 26/04/09
We remembered Pushkar as a relaxed village, built around a beautiful holy lake.
To our surprise (why weren’t we told?) to see that the lake was being ‘cleaned’ – the lake shrunk to a quarter of its size, and in the empty part tractors and trucks were moving sand from one place to another.
But, Pushkar was still nice (touristy as it is), and Tamar had a corrective experience, looking at monkeys playing on the roofs.
Just before leaving Pushkar, Tamar got vaccination #2; this time it was quick, easy and rather clean.

The first rooftop experience.
Colorful Rajasthan.
What is left of the lake.
Monkey jumping.
Cow shit...
Too many steps.


Vaccination #2.

Jodhpur 28/04/09
Taking Tamar to Meherangarh Fort was a ‘must’, much more than the Taj Mahal (for us). It was magnificent, even for the second time.

Meherangarh Fort, from our hotel balcony.

The blue city.

The old quarter, from the fort.

But the heat was too much; we decided to skip Udaipur. We agreed we tasted enough of Rajasthan and the boiling planes of India; it is time to head to the mountains and escape from the heat.

Company 30/04/09
Raj, our driver, was fantastic in every aspect. He still disappeared when we stopped to eat at simple (but tasty) road-side dhabas, what made us feel awkward; we are not used to the cast system and are against it. When he gently suggested that his wife will join us for the rest of the trip, we thought it will not disturb our $60 a day car too much and for them it'll be a nice opportunity.
We stopped for lunch at Raj's house, in a tiny village near Jaipur, and when we left, we were surprised when his 8 year old son entered the car with his mom. We had second thoughts - it might turn out uncomfortable (not being able to lean the chairs back during the long, monotonous drives), but, it was too late, we couldn't break their hearts.

Lunch, at Raj's house.
Showing off with their baby buffalo.
Raj's wife.
Saying hi to Raj's neighbors.

The Taj
Tamar wanted to see the Taj Mahal. We skipped it on our last trip, and didn't mind skipping it again, especially with the high entrance fee for foreigners, but, if Tamar is paying... ;-)
after a long, tiring journey, we arrived late to Agra. It was Thursday, and we were told the Taj is closed on Friday - D'OH! What do we do? We burn a whole day in the worst city in India, or continue north? We decided to stay.
We found an almost suitable hotel and hoped that there will be MORE electricity than LESS!
On Friday we (and all the other tourists who didn't know the Taj is closed on Friday) visited the Red Fort and the Baby Taj. Luckily, the air-conditioner in the hotel room worked during the extreme hot hours. At sunset we crossed the river, to see the Taj - a truly impressive sight.

The Red Fort.
Looking at the Taj.

The Taj, from across the Yamuna river.

The next morning we visited the Taj Mahal.

Shoe covers.

Rabies injection #3.

No more company 02/05/09
We left Agra and headed north a long 2-day journey, to Manali.
A bit before Delhi Raj's son threw up in a bag, but Rami spotted a bit hit the chair). Rami, who is sensitive to other people's vomit, read the signs and told Raj that it will not work out; we were still on flat, straight roads - what will be in the mountains? So, in Delhi, he put them on a bus back to Jaipur.
We felt very uncomfortable, especially when Raj mentioned it's dangerous for a woman & child to travel alone on a bus in Rajasthan, and knowing they will reach Jaipur only at night time.
A few days later, after another tough journey in the winding mountain roads, Raj told Rami that it was wise to send them back.

That night we slept in the best hotel of a tiny town. Nothing worked, not the water (let alone the hot water), not the air-conditioner, the sheets filled with stains. Oops…

Manali 03/05/09
We left the shitty hotel early and the road immediately started climbing. The temperature dropped and we could finally turn off the air-conditioner and open the windows, to breathe the fumes of the many trucks.
After a long beautiful drive we reached Manali. It was cold and raining – a refreshing change!
It took some time, but we finally found a hotel in Old Manali, satisfying all our demands: fantastic views, from the rooms and the balcony, hot water, clean sheets and towels and cable TV. It wasn’t yet the season, so Old Manali was still a relaxed place.
The plan was to rest, 100% quality time, except for one detour to Rothang La (Rothatng pass).
The following 2 days were cold and rainy. Tamar bought a warm shawl and wore Rami’s warm shirt and socks. We even made an attempt to Rothatng, but the rain scared us away.
Old Manali is called “Little Tel-Aviv”, with an average of over 80% of its tourists Israelis. We were surprised by the amount of Russian tourists. Rami joked that soon the keyboards in the internet cafés will not be in Hebrew.
A nice Russian couple we befriended acknowledged it, explaining that India is a good, easy escape from the Russian winter; Goa has become a Russian village.
Our last day was perfect! The sky was clear, the sun out, warming us, and all the mountains surrounding us had fresh snow on them.
We drove towards Rothang pass; 35 of the 52 Km were open (the first part :-), but the famous traffic jams started 5 Km before. Manali is the number 1 Indian honeymoon destination...
We left our driver to fight the traffic, as we walked down.
We finished the day with Tanduri Chicken at “Frontiers”, our favorite Indian restaurant, down in New Manali, in the center of the market, with its famous Chicken Butter Masala (since 1979).

On our rooftop.
Cold, in a chai shop.
Walks in Old Manali.
A crumbling old house.
Fresh snow, on the way to Rothatng pass.

Perfect weather.

Chai, on the rooftop.

Dharamshala 07/05/09
Rami recommended on staying the last few days in our comfortable corner in Manali, but Tamar wanted a taste of the Buddhist world, so we headed to McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamshala. We find the Buddhist community there out of its natural environment, but the Tibetan plateau was not an option at this time.
Finding an adequate hotel in McLeod was difficult, so we headed to Dharamkot.
Dharamkot, (one of the Israeli suburbs of McLeod), was, 7 years ago, a tiny, traditional village, surrounded by mountainous thick forest. Now it became another concrete tourist village and most of the forest was cut down for the growing population (mainly tourists). The 2 Chabad (חב"ד) houses, in Dharamkot & Bhagsu, are competing on the Israeli masses. Our old guesthouse a traditional house was rebuilt, with a new, modern door, etc. At least the old firewood boiler was still there…
The next morning we returned to Mcleod, not before the Rabbi caught Rami and put Tefillin on him.
While Gal and Tamar went to the monastery and to get another Rabies vaccination, Rami went to a local dentist (recommended by the rabbi), to fill 3 cavities. The dentist didn’t want to anaesthetize both sides of Rami’s mouth (a known theory/myth). The treatment ended with no anaesthesia at all – Indian style! At least it wasn’t done on a street cornet ;-)

The monastery.
Many stairs in India.

Goodbye 09/05/09
We had a very long day in the car, on the chaotic highway to Delhi. We spent the last day doing nothing… drinking chai & lassi around Main Bazaar.
This time Rami remembered to order an Ambassador taxi.
So quickly 3 weeks have passed, and Tamar was on her way back to Israel.

Back in Delhi, muddy, after the rain.
The Ambassador.

We were ready to attack our next project: cycling the Indian Himalayas.

הטיול להודו היה המעניין והמרגש ביותר שערכתי עד כה.
בדלהי נתגלה לי העולם השלישי, שעד כה ידעתי עליו רק מקריאה: אנשים חיים ברחובות, בתוך ביוב זורם, בין פרות המסתובבות בהם חופשי ועושות את צרכיהן.
במשך חמש הדקות הראשונות במהלך הסיור ברחובות השוק דרכתי פעמיים, פשוטו כמשמעו, בתוך ה"חרא".
רחובות אלה הם "בתיהם" של מיליוני אנשים: ילדים חסרי בית המקבצים נדבות, זקנים חסרי כל, מלוכלכים, רעבים והייאוש זועק מעיניהם הכבויות, מרפאות מזוהמות בהם חולים, ומנגד, נופים מדהימים, קרי הרי ההימלאיה הירוקים והמושלגים, הטאג' מאהל, המבצרים, הגנגס...
מאד התרגשתי לטייל עם גלי ורמי ולשהות בחברתם, אחרי כשנתיים וחצי שלא התראינו. הם השקיעו המון מאמץ בארגון הטיול, ועל כך אין לי מילים להודות להם.
איפה עוד היה מזדמן לי להינשך על-ידי קוף?