"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The India Journals, Ch. 23, Boats, Planes, and Long Coach Rides

Ch.  23, Boats, Planes, and Long Coach Rides

Indian road rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where you do your best and leave the results to your insurance company. —Coen Jukens

Oh, my, but this is going to be a long day.  Bags out in the passageway at 5:30, onto the country boat at 8 o’clock for a short ride to the pier where two passenger boats are tied up.   That forces the country boat to tie up on the outside of them.

Captain Biplap comes to see us off.
Where I come from, the norm is for people to cross over the tied-up boats to the pier without trouble.   In India, with us, this involves a kerfuffle with the inside boat.   One of our guides gets into a long discussion with a man waving his toothbrush in the air.  The discussion heats up and the gestures get wilder.  As a result, we are slightly delayed in leaving the safety of the country boat.

Turns out, toothbrush man wanted money for permission to cross his boat.   He got none.

GUIDE SPEAK:  I was completely confused as to who our guides would be for the rest of the trip.  I turned to one of the guides, who shall remain nameless and asked.   Not seeing the man he wanted at the moment, he raised his hand to his neck as if holding a very full chin and said, “He is a little bit fatty.”

 Ah, now I knew.   The Grumpy Guide, I called him.   I had yet to see the man smile, but admittedly have had little interaction with him.   He is always around, but I have no idea what he does.

Sunrise in Kolkata

Waiting my turn to debark the RV Ganges Voyager and climb down to the country boat, this boat caught my eye.

It appears to be a sand harvester, but it's the bamboo rudder that I was interested in.

Aboard the country boat.

Our hand carries are stacked all over.   Here, they take up the bow of the country boat.

On the river voyage, the 38 of us had been divided into three groups, the Siva, Dolphins, and Ganeshe.   In preparation for the land part of the trip, we are divided into Orange and Green groups, and tie a colored ribbon to our bags.   We board the coaches with the appropriately colored sign in the windshield and blast off through the early morning Kolkata traffic.

Taxis being washed.

Dishes being washed.

Electrical wiring.

Open for business.   I wish I could have gotten a photo of the street dogs that usually slept in the gutters at the corners.

Early bathers.

Sweeping up in front of his potato stand.

There is an effort made to clean up the mounds of garbage.  Note the cart to the left, with no rubber on the wheels.   I saw dozens of these bicycle-pulled carts with men scooping garbage into them.   I have no idea where they went to empty them, but the few dumpsters I saw were overflowing.

Probably selling tea of chai tea at the airport.

On arrival at the Kolkata airport, we have to show our passports to armed security personnel to get into the terminal.   After that, I lose track of how many security people check us before we finally get to our gate, where our flight is delayed from 10 A.M. to 11.  

Outside the terminal.

Inside.   We waited here a LOOOOONG time as the guides checked us in as a group. 

And guys like these were all over.

I'm sitting inside our gate.  We had to wait on the other side of the glass wall until a short time before our flight was schedules.   Then they set up another security check before we could pass through.

Once we arrive in New Delhi, we are supposed to go to lunch nearby.    Some want to bypass the lunch because Air India had fed us on the two-hour flight.  A vote is taken.  Lunch it is.  I’m glad, because, having run a restaurant, I know what it’s like to have a group cancel at the last minute.

Right outside the New Delhi airport complex.

And so we walk into the splendiferous five star Radisson Blu Hotel for a phenomenal lunch buffet.

Fruit tart in a pastry case.

I took this photo not only to show the dining room, but also the columns around the room.   Radisson went to some effort to make the decor blend in with the brick buildings and terra cotta of this area.
Mural in terra cotta.

My lunch.   Creamed spinach and corn on the left (delicious), potato wedge, Paneer Labrador (tofu in sauce) Waldorf salad.

A couple breads I had to try.   There was raspberry cheesecake for dessert.

The cooks.

The doorman.

The doorman and a tourist.

It was so kind of the Radisson to build this pigeon bath.   It's actually a fountain.   The pigeons are opportunistic guests.

It’s 4 o’clock by the time lunch is over and we have a long five hour drive to Agra ahead of us.   But first, we inch our way through endless New Delhi traffic, watch buses duel to be the first bus to a designated stop, and listen to Grumpy Guide.

Dueling buses.  Whichever one gets to the stop first gets the most passengers and hence more money.

Nice housing,

Tire shop.

 And, boy, am I ever wrong about him.   He rarely smiled, indeed, but he possessed a wry, sly wit and was filled with humorous anecdotes and substantial information about India.   He also spoke clear English and I rarely failed to understand him.   No wonder he’s been a tour guide for 25 years.

Dinesh, our not-so-grumpy guide after all.   He isn't asleep.   I just caught him blinking as he speaks into a microphone.


            Many toys come from China made of durable plastic.   The toys don’t work long, but they last forever.
            The cabs here run on natural gas.   If you get on one and the driver says the meter doesn’t work, get out.   You might see more of India than you wanted.

            In India, there are 175 registered political parties.   You don’t cast your vote; you vote your caste.   People tend to stay with their own caste because they know they will be helped by them if they need it.

             All Sikhs are Singhs, but not all Singhs are Sikhs.  (His name is Dinesh Kanyal Singh.  He is not a Sikh.)

            After the USA, India is the largest democratic country in the world, and also the largest English-speaking country.

            Almost all vehicles, including buses and coaches are standard transmission.   An automatic transmission in a car  costs $5000 more.   (This boggled my mind in this stop-and-go traffic.)

Finally, we leave the traffic behind.   It’s dark now and we’re rolling along on a two-lane highway in the country.  I see signs on the side of the road:  “No urinating.   Facility ahead.”   I also see what look like small tombstones partially buried in the sand just off the pavement.  They are markers for a buried gas line.   Hit one, and the tombstone is appropriate, I think.

We pull into a rest stop and I look around the convenience store for a snack.  I decide on a small can of Pringles.   Then we’re back into the black Indian night, rolling along, seeing few lights.

All of a sudden we are barreling through darkness at the speed of sound through ox carts, donkeys, cows, dogs, vendor stalls just a couple feet away, and all manner of conveyances (lighted and not), all beeping horns in numerous octaves.   The coach makes several U-turns, seemingly doubling back on the roads, before pulling into the hotel grounds.

So it is a wide-eyed bunch of tired tourists that gets off the coach, put our hand-carries on a scanner belt, go through separate lines for men and women to be wanded, and enter the fabulous lobby of the ITC Mughal, a five star hotel.

We are now in Agra  where I will get the two biggest surprises of the trip, one good and one bad.

 Photos of the fabulous hotel in Agra:

The security entrance to the ITC  Mughal in Agra.   Everyone has to go through here.   Most of the big hotels in India have installed security checkpoints after terrorists attacked several places in Mumbai Bombay), including the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel.   Ten terrorists and 164 people died in those attacks.

Security belt for x-raying hand carries.   Note the mongoose under it.

From security checkpoint to the front doors.

Our meeting place in the lobby.


Another view of the lobby.

One of the gardens on a foggy morning.

A selfie of my bindi, the red mark on my forehead, that a nice lady at the door gave to all of us.   It has religious and other meanings traditionally.   Here it is meant as a greeting for good wishes..

My room at the ITC Mughal.

A rose petal on the vanity.

The newspaper every morning.


The  pastry, cereal, and fruit part of the breakfast buffet.

More buffet.  Cereals and other stuff.

The Western dishes hot buffet.

That's Mary sitting next to me.  The sausage, pancake, and pastry dish is my breakfast.   Don't remember the last time I had pancakes, so this was a treat.

The Western dishes.

And the Indian dishes on this end.

One of my meals.  Fish, peas, baby corn, roasted pineapple, and chicken stroganoff over pasta.

A piece of birthday cake for one in the group.

Our group in one section of the dining room.

On our last night at this Agra hotel, we had our choice of items for a special dinner.  

My chicken "thighs."   They were dry.   I think they were breasts.   I have a difficult time eating dry chicken, and breasts are usually dry and mealy.   Remember this.   You will see me comment on dry chicken right up to the final day of this trip.

The doorman.

The doorman and a tourist.

This lovely arrangement was in a restroom off the lobby.

You think this was a long post?   I told you at the beginning it was going to be a long day.

We flew from Kolkata on the eastern coast to Delhi in the north, to the left of the Nepal sign.   Then drove southeast to Agra.


  1. What can I say ... your posts enchant me. The red sunrise in Calcutta reminded me of the sunrises and sunsets I used to see in Southern California when it was a smoggy day. The overhead electrical wiring in the street made me laugh right out loud! It's a wonder that jumble is able to transmit electricity! The early morning bathing, dishwashing, sidewalk sweeping were all so familiar. All the security at the airport does not surprise me after Mumbai's terror attack. And then you got in to Delhi and the Delhi traffic, an experience in and of itself. Surprised that you took a bus to Agra...thought it would be the train, but the bus being able to take you right to the hotel makes sense. And, security checks to get into the hotel ... looks like the mongoose was by-passing security. Surely there will be some pictures of the Taj yet??? Thanks for another great trip with you on your post. Patti and Cap

  2. No trains .. you have indeed missed a part of India with NO trains on your trip .. or were there and I missed them? Your photos of your exit from Calcutta are SO INDIA. The hassle over the crossing of the toothbrush man's boat was too India. Odd he did not prevail for money. I go to airports in India HOURS early .. YES you have to show your passport before you can even enter the terminal. In this day of computer checking in from home now they try to get a boarding pass from you to see also .. always a hassle .. in all ways.

    What a hotel in Agra .. What a food assortment .. Oh My! Well .. let the peasants outside eat cake .. didn't Marie Antoinette say some such .. What can I say .. you sure are getting a taste of it all. I assume THE TAJ awaits us all ..

    Your Rooting Sections in Anchorage and Hong Kong .. Much Joy .. Patti and Cap ..

    1. Hold onto your britches, Cap! I just got off the boat and I have almost two weeks left in India. Sheesh! ;)

  3. Goodness how the two of us are absolutely LOVING YOUR INDIA TRIP !! Patti and Cap .. ahh-h-h-h .. well NOT so much that I am in any immediate rush to leave Hong Kong .. giggle ..

  4. A city of resplendent doormen!