My Own Bed

2:30 AM Stopped to sleep.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  No matter what level of travel (roughing it or in the lap of luxury, there is nothing as wonderful as coming home and sleeping in the comfort and familiarity of your own bed.  **sigh**

Until the next adventure, thanks for sharing in my experience.

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Home Sweet Home

On the way to New Jersey, I watched Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, (slept from 7:30 – 9:20) Up in the Air, Young Victoria, When in Rome and Slumdog Millionaire – missing the last 5 minutes because we landed.

Immigration line:  Another entry stamp in the passport book.

Baggage claim: Grudgingly paid $5 to the vending machine for a luggage cart because I knew my luggage was going to be very heavy.  There were fellow passengers new to America simply disgusted they’d have to pay for a luggage cart, normally free nearly every other country but America.  My large duffle’s top zipper was gaping open.  I checked the contents to be sure nothing fell out.  I could only find two of the three boxes of teas.  I spent more time than I should have trying to locate that missing box.  I pulled a wire twist tie from my earphones to hold the two top zipper pulls together, so they wouldn’t open during the flight to SFO.

Customs:  Handed my customs claim form to a guy sitting at a table just taking them and tossing them onto a messy pile in front of him.

Rechecked my bags:  The porter saw from my luggage tag that I was supposed to be on the next plane to SFO, which was leaving in less than 30 minutes.  He advised me to hurry: “Take the Airtrain to Terminal A.”  Good advice, if I knew where to catch the Airtrain.  “Up the stairs and to the left!”

Airtrain:  Up the stairs and to the left, just where the porter instructed, I boarded the Airtrain to Terminal A, running to the gate for my flight, which was scheduled to leave in 15 minutes.

Security line to gates:  Another?!  Seriously?!  I told the girl in front of me, “My plane leaves in 15 minutes.”  She replied, “No one would mind if you go ahead.”  I flagged down a line monitor and told her my situation.  She let me into the First/Business Class line.  My impatient fidgeting caught the eye of another line monitor, who led me to the x-ray conveyor belt after I told him that my connection from India had just come in after 5 pm, and needed to catch my 6:20 pm flight to SFO.  He said that there were some other people from my flight who just passed through, so the airline would probably hold the flight until I got there, but I’d have to hurry.  After my purse and carry on passed through the x-ray, I was stopped because I still had half a bottle of water from my last flight in my purse.  I told him, “I’m sorry, that was from my last flight.  No worries if you want to throw it away.”  He asked, “From where?”  “Delhi” “How was it” “Hot!  It was 48C, I was told that’s about 130F!” (I looked it up later, Gauri was wrong:  48C is only 118.4F.)

Approaching Gate 14 in a run, I saw no one in line — just two gate crew members standing idly.  I asked, “Am I too late?”  “No, go on through.”  Relieved and elated I didn’t miss my flight, I ran through the gangway to the plane, thinking, “Okay, after all the security check points, I’m obviously a safe passenger, but what if I were a terrorist, running out from some side door and you’re not going to check my boarding pass to make sure I belong on this flight?!”

6:15 AM:  Boarded my flight with room for my carry on in the overhead storage – though it took some searching for storage space.  There were a few more passengers to board after me, so I didn’t get dirty looks for making the flight leave late.  So glad I had an aisle seat. I shared the space with a young couple travelling with their approximately 9 month old son.  The son slept for the first few hours, but was quite active and whiney during the remainder of the flight.  I managed to watch Valentine’s Day and Alice in Wonderland in between getting up to let the tag-team parents take their kid up and down the aisle.  The dad was quite apologetic and offered to give me the window seat so I wouldn’t be bothered by them.  I replied that I didn’t mind getting up and I preferred the aisle seat.

9:41 AM Arrived at SFO followed by long taxiing on the tarmac before docking at a gate.  Doug was waiting for me by the baggage claim waiting area with a cup of caramel Peet’s coffee for me.  Oh yeah, it’s morning – breakfast time for California (10:15 PM late dinner time in India).  I purchased a luggage cart from the vending machine, much to Doug’s surprise.  He had no idea how heavy my luggage would be – until the duffle bag arrived.

While I used the ladies room, all the luggage had arrive – of course, sans my blue check-in bag.  When I returned to the baggage carousel, I couldn’t find Doug.  My phone rang.  Doug’s calling.  He was in the line for lost luggage claims and needed me to bring my baggage claim tag.  I handed my baggage claim tag to the crew member with whom Doug was conversing.  She scanned the barcode while we resumed our place in line.  Good news:  My baggage was found, Bad news:  It was on a different flight, scheduled to arrive approximately 11 am.  By this time, we were up to the claim counter, when the crew member delivered the news.  The clerk behind the desk handed me a form to fill out to describe the baggage and my address of where it should be delivered.

As soon as we arrived back in Doug’s place in Berkeley, I requested the use of his shower, having gone from the India tour in nearly 120F heat to the airport, travelling another 30 hours home.  After a refreshing shower and a change into clean clothes, we lunched at Roux in Berkeley, sitting outside in the sunshine splitting our orders of a ½ pound burger and skirt steak, fries and plenty of cool bottled water.

My car, thankfully, fired up, after sitting idle for so long.  I drove home – 55 miles to San Jose.

Upon entering the house, I was greeted by Marie and Anthony with hugs and kisses.  Michelle was at the local ballet studio assisting with creating the program for the studio’s upcoming showcase.

I assembled the marble table, while telling Marie and Anthony the story of how I came to purchase this piece of furniture.  I’m convinced the table legs and table ring were randomly picked out from a mass-produced lot, because the drilled holes for the screws between the legs and ring did not match up evenly.

As I unpacked and began laundry loads, Michelle came home.  She gave me a hug.  We went upstairs to my room so she can tell me the events of the last few weeks, while I continued to unpack.

Michelle had a Japanese class that night.  She should be home about 8:30 pm.  I offered that when she returned, we’d go to a nice restaurant to celebrate our being all together after so long.   I took a nap while she was gone.

The kids let me sleep a little longer, but when they woke me up, it was too late to go to any nice restaurants, so I went downstairs to make dinner.  It was so nice for us all to be seated at the dining table.  Marie made a lemon meringue pie for dessert in celebration of my homecoming.

10:25 PM:  The doorbell rang.  United Airlines delivered my luggage.

I distributed the souvenirs to the kids, telling them the story of the negotiations of the purses, dolls, Anthony’s shirt and cap riding on Lesley’s negotiations for 18 tees and the aprons.

Marie suggested we watch some comedy stand-up recordings because I missed some good episodes while I was away.  I fell asleep on the couch not long after the program began.

I went to bed, but had a new focus of downloading/copying photos from my camera’s xD card to my USB.  Having completed that, I began to organize the photos with the goal of printing the photos tomorrow.

Touring New Delhi

The next morning, I packed my luggage and readied my day pack.  Having not heard from the front desk that my driver had arrived, I proceeded to the registration desk, leaving my luggage in my room.

I asked the registration clerk if breakfast was included in the price of my room.  Yes, continental breakfast.  I sat down at the restaurant, informing the waiter that I’d like the continental breakfast:  Orange juice, butter/jam toast and a tiny day (or two)-old muffin.  While I sat eating I kept my eye on the door to see if my driver/guide had arrived.  There was a young man sitting on the couch in the lobby, looking very bored.  I wondered if he were my guide, but decided not, as the registration clerk or the man would have informed me when I inquired about the breakfast.  At the conclusion of breakfast, I asked the bored young man if he were waiting for “Judy Wong.”  He said, “Yes.”  I asked why hadn’t anyone informed me.  To which he replied it was because I was having breakfast.  He never made an introduction, so I will call him “Guy”.  He called me “Mam” even though I told him to call me “Judy”.

My luggage was retrieved from my room and placed in the trunk of Guy’s car.

Jamma Mosque

First stop:  Jama Masjid Mosque.  I knew I shouldn’t have thrown away the shoe covers this morning.  I had to remove my shoes at this mosque.  My socks saved me from the heat of the red sandstone, as well as a shoe cover fee.  I did, however, have to pay a 200 INR camera fee.  Women were required to wear a cotton robe.  It wasn’t as if I were exposing my shoulders or ankles, but I noticed that male tourists wearing shorts were required to wear the robe as well.  Guy walked around with me, telling me the history of the Jama Masjid Mosque, offering to take my picture and allowing me to take as many photos as I pleased.

The mosque is the largest and best known mosque in India.  It was commissioned by Shah Jahan and completed in 1656.

We did “drive by” sightings of Chandni Chwok, the central street of Old Delhi.  It had alleys of vendors.  I believe Guy said that each alley featured vendors of the same type of wares (one for clothes, one for food, one for house wares, etc.)

The Red Fort, which was negotiated as part of my tour, was also a “drive by”, because it was much like Agra Fort.  Guy said we didn’t need to see it, as it wasn’t as nice as Agra Fort, and again, only 30% was open to the public, it also being a working Fort.

Raj Ghat

Raj Ghat:  Place of cremation for India’s dignitaries, namely Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi.

President’s Residence

We drove by the government buildings area.  We were not allowed to stop, as there were armed servicemen guarding the entrances of each building.  We rounded a cul-de-sac to see the gated President’s residence.  Guy instructed the driver to stop in front of the gate to let me take a quick photo.  Guy stepped out with me to take my photo.  I stuck my camera lens through the gate to get a photo of the residence itself.  It was like a palace.

India Gate

We drove by India Gate in New Delhi.  A police blockade was up for some unknown reason.  Guy had our driver stop by the blockade for me to get out for a good photo of the gate.  Guy described it as war memorial similar to Paris’ Arch de Triumph.

Huyaman’s Tomb

Humayun’s Tomb:  Commissioned in 1562 by Hamida Banu, Mughal Emperor Humayun’s wife, 9 years after Emperor Humayun’s death.  The tomb cost 15 lakh rupees (1.5 M) at the time.

It was only Noon and the temperature was still rising.  During the tour, Guy commented repeatedly that “It’s so hot.”  I commented, “But you’re from around here, aren’t you used to this heat?”  Guy replied, “I’m still human.”  The ground’s sprinkler system was on.  I was very tempted to run through the sprinklers to cool off.  There were people sleeping under the shade of the trees on these grounds.

Bahai Temple aka The Lotus

Drive by of Bahai Temple.  The building is also called “The Lotus” because it is shaped like a lotus flower – almost like the Sydney Opera House.  Guy had the driver stop the car so I could take a photo.  We were unable to visit the temple, because we were not members.

We made a short stop at Café Rendezvous an air-conditioned restaurant with delicious, reasonably priced dishes.  Murg Tikka Butter Masala with plain naan, including 10% tip and VAT came to a mere 526 INR.   Guy picked me up an hour later.

Qutab Minar and Iron Pillar

Qutab Minar and the Iron Pillar:  72.5 meters (237.8 feet) world’s tallest brick minaret constructed in 1193 under orders of India’s first Muslim ruler Qutb-ud-din Aibak.  The topmost two sections were added and completed in 1386.

The iron pillar, which is found in the main square of this site, is the world’s foremost metallurgical curiosities.  Legend had it, if you could encircle your arms around the pillar with your back to the pillar your wish could be granted.  The Iron pillar never rusted through years of exposure to the elements.  However, it currently has a fence around it, because all the sweat and oils from people touching the pillar have compromised the iron so that it is beginning to deteriorate.

The rickshaw ride, noted in my itinerary as the “highlight of this tour”, did not happen.  It was not mentioned or offered by Guy.  It was so hot and the thought of making someone give me a rickshaw ride in this heat was plain cruel, so I didn’t remind anyone of the omission.

My itinerary also included a dinner with an Indian family, to experience real Indian food and hospitality with the tour owner’s family.  My tour owner went on vacation that day, so the dinner was off.  When I mentioned this in the review I gave upon my return, the owner emailed me to apologize and to say that the proper procedure was to take me to a very nice Indian restaurant instead.  Since some services were not provided, the owner offered me a partial refund.

As my itinerary was basically fulfilled and the time was not quite 5:00 pm, Guy suggested that he take me shopping.  I said to him only on the condition that I’m not placed in a position of hard sale merchants.  Guy assured me, there would be no hard sale.  We went to the Design Center, a version of a department store containing Cashmere rugs/carpets, jewelry, textiles of linens and accent accessories, gifts and tea, clothing and pashminas.

After a demonstration of the making of the hand knotted (950 knots to the square inch) by David, the owner of the store, I was shown carpets of various sizes and patterns of their wares.  The carpets are wear resistant, more valuable with use and age.  Each carpet pattern (very much like a recipe) is a family tradition that is a closely guarded secret.  The large carpets are made over several months by several craftsmen at a time.  The narrow runners are made by a single woman, because women have more patience with repetitive work and there is no room for additional craftsmen to work along side of the woman.   I liked a certain runner that I had in mind to use as a runner for my stairs.  David said he would add leather stays for the carpet to be tacked down on the stairs, as well as on the ends, should I decide to use it as a wall hanging.  After much negotiation, I ended up purchasing the runner in four monthly payments.  I sign the back of the carpet with a Sharpie to ensure that I would receive the exact carpet I purchased.  The carpet will arrive in September, after my last installment is received.  The carpet would also contain information regarding the women who made my carpet, complete with photo, as well as care and cleaning instructions.  In addition, the Indian government was allowing this carpet to be purchased without VAT/sales tax and allowing free shipping to any destination.  I was also given a special discount for using my Visa.  I had some buyer’s remorse, feeling I had made a purchase I shouldn’t have, but I may never come to India again and, when I look back, I just might feel good about this quality heirloom I’ve just purchased.

I was then escorted to the jewelry section, where I was with a woman showing me ruby pendants and a handsome male assistant, who would help me with placing the necklaces around my neck.  If I hadn’t bought the runner, I likely would have purchased a ruby pendant.  Despite, her hard-sale, I truly couldn’t justify spending more money on a tiny ruby pendant.

There was a young man who hovered while I was looking at jewelry.  Before I was escorted upstairs to check out the linens department, he approached me to offer to show me some pashminas.  I said I would stop at his counter on my way out.

I was escorted upstairs to look at the linens.  The clerk (Khurshid) spent a long time showing me what I thought were table runners.  He demonstrated they were for the top of sofas – much like lace protectors.  Though they were pretty, I had no use for them and I’d feel like a grandma.  I thanked him for his time and walked away.  He followed me to the bed linens, showing me the throw blankets.  None of them interested me.  David, the owner came upstairs to monitor the progress.  David told Khurshid to accept whatever I offered for the throws.  I wasn’t interested.  Khurshid followed me, picking up wood and stone carved elephants and trinket boxes.  No thank you.  In the corner was a lone shelf with small boxes of tea.  I purchased three boxes for my friends at work, using Indian Rupees.  Khurshid was so happy with the “sale”, he gave me his card asking that I tell all my friends to ask for him.

The hovering salesman appeared behind me as I was paying for my teas.  I followed him to his counter.  As he showed me the very expensive pure pashmina wraps, which could be pulled through his ring – a true mark of authenticity, he told me that he is from Kashmir, where the true pashmina originated.  Kashmir (cashmere) is made from the soft fur of a goat’s neck.  He also showed me the difference between the lesser grade wool vs. the second tier silk blended pashminas, followed by printed, two toned and sheers.  He showed me how to wrap the scarves and drape the wraps around me.  Finally, a bus of tourists arrived and I was no longer the only customer in the store.  I made my kind getaway as soon as I spotted my guide, who had returned for me.

On our way to the airport, the driver stopped along the way to let my guide off.  I quickly handed him 300 INRs tip and a baseball cap.  He grinned with happiness and thanks.  I glanced at my driver, who was smiling and had a look of happiness for my guide’s good fortune.

The driver made a second stop a few minutes later to pick up Rahul.  I returned Rahul’s SIM card to him, reminding him that he never did add minutes, so I was unable to use it, but thanks for the lending.  Upon arrival at the airport, I gave my driver 200 INRs and a cap and Rahul 200 INRs and 2 caps.  They liked their gifts.

In line to check in my two pieces of luggage, a young flight attendant, assisting with screening fliers, gave me the “third degree” all the way until I reached the counter.  Usually, I’m asked whose bags are these, who packed to bags, if at any time did I leave my bags alone, did anyone ask me to carry any objects for them.  She checked my passport, asked me for all the information on the passport: my name, nationality, birth date, when did I arrive in India (I showed her the entrance stamp in the passport).  When she ran out of questions regarding the passport, she asked me questions that could not be verified, but tried to trip me up by asking in a different manner:  e.g., birthplace, where was I from, my parent’s nationality, where do I live, where is San Jose, how far from San Francisco, how long does it take to get there, what was my itinerary, what was the reason for travel, where have I been, what was I doing in India, what did I do in Nepal, where did I go in Nepal, where did I go in India, why?  All the while she held on to my passport until I reached the check-in counter.

While checking in, I wanted to see how much my bags weighed hoping the weight of the marble table was below the weight limits so I wouldn’t be fined an overweight fee.  The person loaded on the two bags together and gave me a wink.  After I was issued my boarding passes and baggage claim stickers, he approached me asking for a tip.  I had a 2 INR left in my shirt pocket, which he took, but was clearly disappointed.  Although the bags were checked through to SFO, I would have to retrieve them in New Jersey to run through customs.

At the immigration counter, I was hailed by the First/Business Class clerk to get in his line.  When I asked if he were sure it was alright for an economy class person to use his line, he smiled at my humor.

One more security check through the Ladies line (metal scanning while in a private booth) before I was able to make my way to the gate.  I finished updating my journal just before it was time to board.  I started watching Avatar while the airplane was taxiing.

The plane was airborne about midnight.

Get me to the Taj Mahal…

5:15 AM:  Call from front desk:  “Cab here.” 

5:45 AM at the railroad station with Rahul.  Rahul remembered to bring a SIM card for me.  He changed out my SIM card for his SIM card while standing at the platform.  He dialed his number to make sure my phone rang.  He said he’d top off the minutes when he gets time later today.

Twenty minutes later, after an announcement in Hindi, Rahul told me to come with him because there was a platform change, from 1, where we were, to 5, upstairs.

The Shabadti Express, which is normally one of the few Indian trains with an on-time record, was late today, due to “technical difficulties.”  Rahul escorted me to my window seat with table.  He said he’d see me again tonight when I return to Delhi.

I shared my table with three sisters of an Indian family.  The eldest sister next to me told me they were on their way to a wedding, which typically lasts 3 days.  Daughter 2 sat across from 1 and the youngest daughter 3 sat across from me.  3 kept busy (to 2’s annoyance), with coloring books and paper punches of various shapes. 

Breakfast was served: 

  • Tea and biscuits (cookies) first.  3 tried to gather up all the biscuits from her family.  She began to cry when her sister and father wanted to keep their package of biscuits.  2 switched with mom, so mom could hug 3 to stop her from crying – after mom forced 2 and dad to give up their packages, which 3 didn’t eat; she just hoarded the cookies into her bag. 
  • Bag of cornflakes followed by a porter pouring hot milk
  • Jam and soft white bread
  • Non-vegetarian spicy egg – consistency of a crepe, probably from liquid egg substitute
  •  green beans
  • Jyoti breath refresher (made with candy coated licorice, anise seeds, sugar pearls, etc.)

9:02 AM:  Arrive Agra station.  I was met by Dilip, my local Trinity representative.  We drove to the office to pick up my local Agra guide, Gauri (pronounced “Goree”).  The heat of the day had already begun to rise.  It felt like 85°F. 

I was deeply disappointed with my Agra guide, Gauri; in particular, my experience at the Taj Mahal.  First, I followed her into the place where I purchased my shoe covers.  She said something non-English to the man selling the shoe covers and paper bags of bottled water.  He gave her an ice cold bottle of water.  She handed me the shoe covers, put the water in her purse and told me to pay the man.  I saw other tourists with the paper bag containing the bottled water and was upset that she kept the water for herself. 

At the gate, my bags and I were searched for contraband, namely food.  I was carrying two food bars in my purse, which I had forgotten about.  Gauri took the food bars from the searcher and walked them over to the gatekeeper while explaining that I had forgotten that I was carrying them.

After we entered the gates of the Taj Mahal, she said we should go in the shade while she told me something about the Taj Mahal.  She told me the story (same information I read on the Internet).  She also told me about the workmanship of the marble, what to look for and also to avoid getting in trouble, should someone offer to show me the marble lit by flashlight.  Then she told me to go follow the path to the Taj Mahal and take my time, she would wait for me in the shade.  I expected her to guide me while at the monument.  When I asked her, “Aren’t you coming with me?”  She replied, “What for?  I already told you all you needed to know.”  With much disappointment, I walked to the monument and looked around the monument by myself, having to shoo away the young men offering to be my friend and/or give me a tour.  I was surprised they were able to get inside and why didn’t security stop them if they weren’t escorting a paying tourist?

The story of the Taj Mahal:  Emperor Shah Jahan’s third wife Mumtaz Mahal died due to complications delivering their 14th child.  Before she died, she asked Shah Jahan to promise her two things:  build a monument in her memory and not beget children with any other wife after her death.  Mumtaz was Shah Jahan’s most beloved wife.  He kept his promises.  Gauri said there was a third promise that he not remarry, but I couldn’t find anything on the Internet to confirm this third promise.

It took 20,000 craftsmen 22 years (1631-1653) to construct the Taj Mahal.  Shah Jahan planned to build a mirror image of the Taj Mahal in black marble across the River Yamuna for his own tomb, but funds ran out and his son Aurangzeb, who assumed the Mogul throne, imprisoned Shah Jahan at Agra Fort.  Shah Jahan spent his last years viewing the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort.  Shah Jahan’s tomb is next to Mumtaz.  The addition of Shah Jahan’s tomb is the only part of the Taj Mahal that is not symmetrical.

The white marble wasn’t the only striking feature of the monument.  The inlay work (pietra dura) of semi-precious stones was so amazingly precise, that it is hard to believe that each piece was made by hand with a grinder to fit like a puzzle piece into a scraped out area in the marble.  To think that Shah Jahan had several of this type of building decorated in this manner created at the same time during his reign. 

When I returned to Gauri about an hour later, she took two photos of me from a place she said was a particularly good photo spot.  Upon return to the gates via an electric car, she told me to tip the driver.  When we walked out of the gates, she retrieved from the gatekeeper two food bars that were confiscated from my purse on the way in. 

Taj Mahal through archway

Gauri took me to a place where, purportedly, the descendents of the Taj Mahal marble craftsmen still prepared the marble in the same traditional method as of the days of the building of the Taj Mahal.  She sat at a separate table as I was hard-saled into purchasing a marble table top.  I’m sure she received a generous commission for bringing me in.

After I told her that I was not able to be in Agra in time to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise, she said that we should skip Fatehpur Sikri, because it’s not as nice as the Agra Fort and “You’ve seen one fort, you’ve seen them all.” AND it was about 1.5 hours away.  Fatehpur Sikri was specifically suggested to me by two of my Indian friends and I specifically negotiated it into my itinerary.  Gauri offered that, if I would skip seeing Fatehpur Sikri, she would take me back to the Taj Mahal at sunset so I could see the warm colors – similar to the sunrise – from another angle (the back of the Taj Mahal by the Moonlit Garden) with no additional entrance fees, and also take me to see the “Baby Taj”.  I agreed, because my goal was to get very good photos of the Taj Mahal for my next book.

It was almost noon and very hot.  Gauri asked if I were ready for lunch.  She took me to the Luxury Collection Hotel, recommending the Peshawri Restaurant that served traditional Indian food.  The restaurant didn’t open until 12:30.  Gauri told me to wait until 12:30 for the restaurant to open, have a relaxing lunch and she’d pick me up in the lobby at 3:30 pm.

I was the only person in the restaurant for the first and last hour.  Only two other tables were occupied during the second hour.  When you are the only person in a restaurant, the staff has nothing better to do but to check on you every 10 minutes to see if you’ve completed your meal.  I should also mention that the food was good, but the prices were exorbitant:  1875 INR (approx. $40 USD) for their lowest priced chicken kabob meal and a bottle of water. 

Agra Fort Pavilion

Gauri picked me up from the lobby at 3:30 pm.  We went to Agra Fort.  She gave me a quick tour, because the heat was very intense – she said the temperature was 48C ( = 118F).  Gauri said it was a working Fort and only 25% was open to the public. 

“Baby Taj”

Baby Taj”:  We were just about the only people touring this place.  Gauri took me to the shoe cover man and told me to pay for shoe covers.  Luckily, I kept my shoe covers from the Taj Mahal.  On the way out, she wanted me to tip the man, but I didn’t use his services, so I didn’t. 

When we went to the area next to the Moonlit Garden to view the back of the Taj Mahal, it was only 5:00 pm.  I asked her when sunset is expected.  Gauri looked up at the sky then replied, “Oh, there’s too much haze, you won’t get a good sunset.  Just take your pictures now.”  I took some pictures, but felt tricked into getting talked out of seeing Fatehpur Sikri. 

I asked if it were possible to go the Fatehpur Sikri after all.  She said with a smile, “No, it’s too far, you won’t be back in time for your train.”  My train leaves at 8:30 pm, I was supposed to be at the train station at 7:30 pm. 

When we returned to the car, Gauri said that I had seen everything on my itinerary – except Fatehpur Sikri – and I had 2.5 hours to kill.  Gauri offered to take me to a textile factory, but I knew I’d be set up again for another hard-sell where she’d be collecting another commission.  Gauri said there was nothing else to see in Agra. 

I was then dropped off at the Luxury Collection Hotel to wait for 2.5 hours until 7:30 pm, when the driver would take me back to the train station. 

Had I not let Gauri talk me out of Fatehpur Sikri, with the swiftness of my tours, I could have seen Fatehpur Sikri, gone back to see Baby Taj and the back of the Taj Mahal at sunset all before returning to the train station by 7:30 pm.  As my dad says, “Live and Learn.”

The train was late.  It arrived about 10:00 pm.  Dilip was great; staying with me to make sure I was safely on my way back to New Delhi.

While waiting at the hot, humid and musty train station, a young girl – maybe 16 – with a naked baby girl in arm came up to me begging.  Her hair was uncombed.  She was dirty, as if sleeping in the streets for some time.  She stood over me for a while with sad, begging eyes and a palm up.  I tried to ignore her.  Dilip looked up then shooed her away from me. 

Also while waiting, Dilip pointed out a man dressed in all white gauze khadi-styled suit, identifying that person as a member of parliament, “They’re all corrupt.  There’s a lot of corruption here.”  As it turned out, that same man (Number 1) and three other members were seated by me (two at my table across from me, Number 1 was at a table on the opposite side of the train and another (Number 4) was seated two seats behind Number 1.

Before the train departed, a security guard, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, came on board, checked the overhead luggage rack for a small carry-on, which he pulled out.  I thought that someone was going to get arrested.  The security guard brought the piece of luggage to Number 4.  Number 4 opened it, took out a piece of paper, locked the luggage, eyed the security guard, who proceeded to return the luggage to the overhead rack.  During the trip, the security guard brought the luggage to Number 4 again.  I guess Number 4 had his own personal security guard. 

Number 1 sat down with a bark to the wait-staff to bring him dinner, which the wait-staff complied immediately.  Number 1 sat devouring his dinner and extra water without gratitude.  I was asked by the wait-staff, “Dinner?”  I wasn’t sure if he asked if I’d had dinner or wanted dinner.  I replied, “I haven’t had any.” To which he must have decided I meant that I didn’t want any.  Not a problem, as I wasn’t really hungry, nor did I want a large meal after a hot day around midnight.  When the wait-staff placed on our table the tip tray with packets of breath refresher, the others at the table tossed in some money and gave me a look suggesting I should also tip.  I did not feel compelled to toss in any tip money, having had no services rendered to me. 

Upon arrival at midnight in New Delhi, Rahul was there to greet me.  What a relief.  So very worth having set up escorts while in India. 

The driver brought me back to The Comfort Inn.  I asked if I’d see them tomorrow, to which Rahul answered, “Yes, at 10 am. We’ll call for you from the lobby.”  I held off tipping, since I’d see them tomorrow.

Farewell to Nepal; Welcome to India

7:45 AM:  Phone alarm rings.  No more Sherpas knocking on my door with Sherpa tea and hot wash water…  Lily called to say she’s going down for breakfast.

8:15 – 9:00 AM:  Breakfast with Lily, Sharon and Tim:  tea, strawberry yogurt with granola, a Denver omelet (ham, cheese and diced green peppers) from the omelet bar, and Lyonnais potatoes.  Goodbye hugs to them.  Their departure for the airport is 10 AM.  So sad to see them go, but I know we’ll stay in touch.

Back to room intending to sleep, but read some news from the local newspaper that was dropped off by the hotel.  What’s happening in the world?  Any news of unrest, strikes or flight delays?  Nothing.  No news is good news – right?

10:00 – 11:30 AM:  Why waste my day in my room?  I sunned by the pool journaling.  Back to my room to shower off the sweat.

While settling up my hotel tab of 59 USD, I tried to use a gift debit Visa card, but it wouldn’t go through, so I had to use 60 USD and received 70 NPR change (includes 250 NPR for the Internet).

12:15 – 12:45 PM:  I used the hotel Internet to check my Gmail.  Marie wrote on May 25 that they’d gotten my emails, but not Trekker’s.  Doug wrote on May 26 with Mark R’s response and good wishes attached.  I replied to Marie and Doug.  Then my half hour was used.

12:50 PM:  My baggage from my room was brought down and loaded on Trekker’s bus to Kathmandu airport.  Songmee and Glen also had a flight out at about the same time.

At the airport, Kirin helped us unload our baggage and stayed with us up to the security checkpoint.  Kirin couldn’t go further from the security checkpoint, but gave us another blessed scarf for farewell luck.

We had to run all baggage through security x-ray machines and then proceed to check in our luggage and obtain our boarding pass to Delhi.  The porter taking my one checked bag winked at me when he weighed my bag.  I assumed he meant that my bags were within the weight limits, as no number registered on the digital scale.  After sending my bag down the conveyor belt, the porter came over to me asking for a tip.  I only had 2NPR in my pocket, which I gave him.  He was not too happy, but took it and walked back to his position.

We proceeded to immigration.  I forgot to fill out a slip, so I had to get out of line, fill out the form and get back in line with Songmee, Randy and Derek.  Glen didn’t wait.  He was already at the immigration counter.

During my turn, the immigration clerk read my passport aloud:  Judy Wong…USA?

Judy:   Yes

Clerk:  Where are you from?

Judy:   California, United States

Clerk:  Where are your parents from?

Judy:   China

Clerk:  You could pass for Nepalese.

Judy:   Teets-za.

His buddy asked: You speak Nepalese?

Judy:   Only a few words I learned from my Sherpa:  Panni, teets-za, teets-china…”

Buddy:  “Baba” is “brother” and “siso” is “sister”.

My passport stamped, I smiled and said goodbye to the two as I proceeded to the departure gates.

After obtaining my departure sticker, I saw Songmee and Glen bee-lining to the Executive Restaurant and Lounge.  I wandered the shops briefly and then went through the ladies’ security line.

The security woman checked through everything, opening all packages, which I had so carefully packed to avoid breakage – especially the dolls.

2:15 PM:  I proceeded to the common gate’s waiting area.  With a little time to rest, I sat down to eat the other half of my energy bar.

3:20 PM:  I lined up with the other passengers for a short bus ride on the tarmac to the departing plane.  An additional security bag inspection of all contents was conducted before boarding the plane.  While the plane was taxiing, a small bottled lime water was distributed to each passenger.

4:00 PM:  Take off.  Airborne for the next 1.5 hours to Delhi.

4:30 PM:  Meal service:  Small bottle of spring water, papaya slices, vegetable/tofu curry wrap and two spice potato patties.

5:35 PM:  Arrive in Delhi.

Immigration line:  I was busy talking to my new Minnesota friends when I was summoned to go to the official/diplomat desk.

Judy:  It’s okay, even though I’m not a diplomat?

Clerk:  Today you are a diplomat.

Judy:  Well, I’m a very happy diplomatic tourist.

Clerk:  (laughed)

Judy:  Do I get a special stamp?

Clerk:  (Laugh)  You get a stamp.

Judy:  Dhanyawad, Teets-za!

On to the baggage claim area:  I breezed past customs by just handing the very bored customs clerk sitting at the “Nothing to Declare” desk strewn with a pile of customs stubs.

As I rolled past the guides with signs on my right, I was looking lost when an officer asked if I needed help.

I replied:  I’m looking for my guide from Trinetra.

Officer:  Check the signs again.

Sure enough, I was supposed to look on my left for a guide with a yellow sign.  To my relief, I found Rahul, who escorted me to the car driven by Pal.  Delhi was very hot.  I welcomed entering into the air conditioned van.

We arrived at the Comfort Inn where Rahul explained to me the documents in the Trinetra messenger bag’s folder of vouchers, train tickets and other documentation.  I handed 21,400 INR per agreement.  After a cold cola, Room 105 key was handed to me.  The clerk asked me for payment or a credit card.  Usually when I use Priceline, the payment is made at booking.  Comfort Inn said the reservation was only guaranteed, but not charged, so I handed him my Visa card.  That squared away, I asked for a 4:00 AM wake up call because Rahul will pick me up for the 6:15 AM train at 5:15 AM.  Rahul then escorted me to my room, wanting to make sure it was satisfactory.  Rahul was impressed with the room.

After Rahul left, I was surprised to see the bellhop still lingering, awkwardly showing me the refrigerator and complimentary water.  I pulled out a 1 USD for him (= 40.40 INR).

After he left, I worked on a new cheat sheet based upon the currency exchange rates and calculated my spending money.

The room was really cold, so I dialed the fan down from 3 to 1 and the temperature from zero to 18C (approx. 68F).  I read the Trinetra documents before bathing off the sweat from the dusty, humid day of travel.

While I removed my contacts, I discovered a tear in the left contact.  Good thing I bring spares.

While plugging in my phone to the charger, I noticed it was 10:00 AM at home (9:30 PM local) and thought about my kids, sending them lots of love.

I updated my journal until 10:35 PM while tucked in bed.  G’Nite.

[India experience can be found in the India tab of this blog.]

City Tours

7:00 AM:  Woke up on my own.  That usually happens, when I’m anticipating a wake up call.

8:00 AM:  Wake up call.

8:30 AM:  Joined Lily, Sharon and Tim for the breakfast buffet at the hotel’s restaurant:  eggs, bacon, 2 chocolate croissants, mashed potato patties and 3 shot glasses of watermelon juice.

8:45 – 9:15 AM:  Waited in hotel lobby for the group to gather.

Our tour guide “Archie” took us on a tour of Patan/Lalitpur, meaning “City of Beauty”, known for metal working.  Our large tour bus was restricted from driving down the narrow streets to the palace, so we all had to disembark and walk about 10 minutes in the heat to the Palace (now a museum) site.  Much groaning was heard, to which Archie commented that we’ve recently walked more difficult paths than these streets.

On the way, I was walking next to David.  Looking around at the ancient sooty dilapidated buildings, David commented to me, “How’d they come up with ‘City of Beauty’?”

Judy:  Maybe it will be beautiful once we get to the palace – unless it’s like Iceland and Greenland…

David:  Maybe it was a marketing ploy to get people to move here.

Lalitpur: Yak intestines at palace entrance

We gathered in front of the Palace, which had yak intestines draped across the entrance, to hear Archie identify the different buildings of the city of Lalitpur.  Before stepping through the entrance to the center courtyard, we were given stickers to wear to show we paid our entrance fee.  By majority vote, our group decided to return to the museum on our way out, as it seemed there was great interest in the gift shop, which could prove heavy to carry throughout the heat of the day.

We stopped at a Thanka (pronounced “Tonka”) School, where the master explained the craft and showed us works of art by his students.  As with every end of the talk/cultural tour, sales ensued.  I almost purchased a “Life of Buddha” thanka, but a golden dragon with red background caught my eye.  I bought it for $25 USD (down from $30 USD).  I was told the dragon is the protector of earthquakes.  Perfect: I like gold dragons, the color red and I live in the Bay Area near the San Andreas Fault.

Lalitpur: Golden Temple

In my opinion, the highlight of the tour was the Golden Temple.  It is under perpetual repair/construction and is full of gold leaf work.  There are locals who volunteer their skills to construct it and those who have no skills, take turns cleaning the area.  I didn’t see anyone worshipping the plethora of deities found all around the temple, mainly tourists taking photos.  There were some beautiful works of art to be seen here.

We made our way back to the museum so that Songmee and Annie could check out the gift shop for posters.  While the rest of us were waiting in the shade of the heat, Chelli said to me he was feeling “quite peckish”.  I was getting a low blood sugar headache.  Some water helped a little.

Our hike back to our bus was highlighted by many of our group sticking their entrance ticket on Derek’s back.  A local elderly woman told Lily, “You’re a bad woman for putting your sticker on that old man!”

Back on the tour bus, Annie asked, “How many want to go to a carpet manufacturer?  It’ll be an hour stop before getting back.”  Lily hollered, “No!”  I voted “no” in solidarity to Lily.  I really didn’t care, because I ate a nutrition bar to tie me over and to settle my low blood sugar headache.

The carpet place was expensive, but had air conditioning and a clean flush toilet.  While I was in the jewelry section of this vast department warehouse, I stepped next to Bob at the diamond rings area. 

Bob dropped to one knee, and melodramatically asked, “Judy, will you marry me?”

I playfully replied, “Can I see the ring, first?”

Bob [standing up]:  “Oh, that’s how it is….”

Because the “Ceremony of the Parties” was today, it took extra long to get back to our hotel.  I drifted off to sleep in the dusty heat coming through the open window.

Approximately 2:00 PM:  Arrive at the Shangri-la Hotel.  I went straight to my room to wash the dust off my face and neck.

I stopped to knock on Lily’s door for lunch.  We joined Sharon and Tim on the restaurant patio for some lemon soda, chicken marsala with naan and shared half a bottle of pinot grigio with Sharon.

4:00 – 5:50 PM:  Lily and I went poolside for some cooling off in the cool water.  I settled into a lounge chaise on the grassy hill above the pool to read some more of my book and drifted off to sleep in the heat.

Lily called me to remind me it was almost time for dinner.  We headed back to our respective rooms.  I showered, put on some makeup and left my hair down.

6:30 PM:  Our group met in the Horizons Lounge.  Ted and Annie invited us upstairs to one of the hotel’s board rooms for a slideshow of our trip, which Ted put together with music.  It was well made.  I asked Ted for a dvd copy.  (Still waiting for it.)

7:00 – 9:30 PM:  Dinner.  We were supposed to go to separate tables, but we requested one long table like last night’s set up, so we could have one last dinner together.  Ted and Annie presented Sharon and Tim a bottle of 2007 Syrah, which they generously shared with me.  The buffet featured Chinese food:  fried rice, noodles, chicken, parsley potatoes and coconut ice cream.  We had a lovely night remembering the trek and making plans to see each other in the future.  Bob might join us, when I visit Toronto in the Fall.  Lily and I may converge on the Colorado friends when we visit Craig’ bed and breakfast in Colorado in the Spring.  What’s the next big trip?  Bob may attempt Mount Everest…

10:00 PM:  Back in my room packing for departure tomorrow.  How are the kids?

Shopping in Kathmandu: Dolls and Tee Shirts

1 and 5 AM:  Up for the restroom and water.

6:00 AM:  Wake up knock followed by Sherpa tea and hot wash water.  Duffels were collected and room keys were checked to make sure they were left on the table in each room.

7:00 AM:  Breakfast:  Cornflakes with apples, bananas and hot milk (actually, not bad), pancakes and egg salad.

8:10 AM:  Hung out with the group on the patio.

9:00 AM:  We gathered at the entrance, but were told by Ming that our plane was delayed because it made an extra stop, so we retreated back to the patio to shoot the breeze some more.

9:45 AM:  Boarding passes were issued and passed out and then each of us received a blessed scarf from the Sherpas.

We then left the lodge to the airport, next door.  After clearing security check, we proceeded to the VIP room, which was also Gates 1 and 2.  There wasn’t enough room on our plane for all, so Ming and Chelli were on the next flight.  Upon boarding our tiny plane, had we not used four of the seats for our backpacks, we could have had Ming and Chelli in our plane.

10:45 AM:  Lukla to Kathmandu via Tara Air.

Upon arrival at Kathmandu airport, we were greeted by Kirin.  We waited in the heat in a tarp covered baggage claim area outside of the airport building, next to the parking lot.  Some of our baggage arrived, but not mine.  Ming and Chelli arrived about a half hour later, along with the rest of our baggage, including mine.  We boarded our chartered bus to the Shangri-la Hotel.

12:15 PM:  Arrived at the Shangri-la Hotel.  While we waited for our baggage to be sorted and our rooms to be assigned, we lounged in the Lost Horizon Bar with tiny shots of cold lychee juice.

I was assigned Room 318.  Yea:  a long hot shower coupled with some laundry cleaning.

2:00 PM:  Went to the lobby to meet up with my fellow shoppers.  Lily and I shared a taxi with Bob and Chelli.  Lily negotiated the ride for 100 NPR to the Nirvana Garden Hotel in the shopping district of Thamel.

The Colorado guys’ taxi arrived before ours.

After a brief wait for Annie, Ted, Sharon and Tim’s taxi to arrive, we all proceeded to the silver shop, which was of particular interest to Sharon.  I spied two toy shops, so I announced to the group I would be looking for toys across the street.  Chelli went with me, having no interest in silver jewelry.

Bride and Groom Dolls: 

Traditionally, whenever I travel, I try to bring back a culturally/locally dressed doll for each of my girls.  The first toy shop carried only felt dolls on a keychain.

Two stores down looked the same, but in this store, the shopkeeper asked if I needed help.  I explained I was looking for dolls in traditional dress.  He pulled down from a dusty shelf a set of couples, one casually dressed and one in wedding attire.  I chose the wedding couple.

Judy:  How much for two?

Shopkeeper:  1500 each.  [He proceeded to transfer the couple out of the dusty cellophane bag into a new cellophane bag.]

Judy:  [I only had 822 NPR with me.]  I’ll give you 800 for two.

Shopkeeper:  1100 for two.

Judy:  [I gave a hesitated look with a step toward the door]

Shopkeeper:  950!

Judy:  [I looked at them and realized one bride was missing hands]  The bride in this one is missing her hands!

[The shopkeeper took a stunned look at the couple in the new bag.  The bride was missing her hands.  They must have fallen out of the bag during transfer.  He proceeded to walk behind his desk, crouch down to rummage through something then stood up producing a set of hands.  He also produced a jar of white paste glue and proceeded to repair the bride.]

Shopkeeper:    [Desperately gluing the hands onto the bride.] I fix.  950.

[About this time, Bob and Lily came into the shop.  Chelli filled them in.  Lily whispered, “Two for 800.  The hands are missing!”]

Judy:  I’ll keep looking around.  This was the first place I saw these dolls.  I’m sure there are other dolls on this street.  [I only wanted to pay 800 NPR for two.  Just as I was about to leave, the shopkeeper called out:  ]

Shopkeeper:  Okay!  800!

Chelli:  [Chelli tapped me on the shoulder, pointing at the shopkeeper with his other hand.]  He’s says “all right”.

Judy:  Deal!

The shopkeeper carefully wrapped the two couples in newspaper and into a plastic bag for me.

We stopped at Alchem Pizza for cold sodas.  I shared a small pizza with Bob.  Lily shared a pizza with anchovies with Chelli.

Tee Shirts all around: 

During lunch, I spied a “Hard Yak Café” tee shirt for Tony at a tee shirt shop across the street and pointed it out to the team, saying I’d like to stop to get that shirt for my son.  Lily eyed the tee shirt shop across the street, thinking she’d buy an Everest Beer tee for all the Trekker trekkers –just for fun.

After lunch, we walked over to the tee shirt shop.  Lily explained that she wanted to buy 18 tee shirts of various sizes and colors.  The shopkeeper didn’t have 18 of the Everest Beer tees initially, but offered to make a few more.  He also wanted 550 each.  Lily kept saying, “325 each for 18.”  The shopkeeper kept explaining the high quality and uniqueness of his wares.  In the end, we had mustered 18 tees of varying colors and sizes, and then started to walk away, because the price was still an issue.  Lily negotiated hard for 18 shirts bringing the price from 550 each to 325 each.  I was able to piggy back onto this deal by getting Tony’s shirt for 325 also.  I had to borrow 305 NPR from Bob to do so, though.

Maps and books: 

Down the street, I spied a bookstore that might have the poster Bob was eyeing at all the lodges.  It was a panoramic map of the Himalayan peaks with the names listed on the bottom.  The lodges wanted 400 – 450 NPR, but I saw them at Namche for 200, so Bob waited, but couldn’t find it in Namche.  As luck would have it, the bookstore priced it at 199!  I tried to negotiate it down to 150 if we bought two, but Lily and Chelli said it was so cheap, don’t bother.  We got two posters for 190 each.  I didn’t really want one.  I just wanted to negotiate.  Bob covered me for the poster.  I now owed Bob 495 NPR (approximately 6.88 USD).  I settled up with 7 USD.

We took another cab back for 150 NPR.  A begger boy kept following us and stood in the doorway of the taxi, not allowing Bob to close it, until the driver shooed the begger boy away.  The begger boy quickly appeared at the front passenger (Lily’s) open window.  Lily told him, “No!”  I repeatedly instructed Lily to roll up the window.  Too late, as the driver rolled the taxi away, the begger boy reached into the open window and slapped/hit Lily’s shoulder.

Back at the Shangri-la Hotel, we (Chelli, Bob and I) went to Lily’s room to choose our shirts and help her sort the sizes.  On my way out, Lily gave me her souvenir mask from our first dinner with the group.  Mine had been crushed to powder in the duffle.  She left hers at this hotel.  Lily also asked if I were dressing up for tonight’s farewell dinner.  I said I’d just put on some make-up.  Lily replied, “So… half hour?”  To which I replied, “Thanks a lot.” 

I met up with Lily in the lobby.  We sat with Bob, Chelli, Sharon and Tim for tea.  I ordered a bottle of 2006 pinot grigio (Italy) and shared it with Lily, Bob and Chelli.  Sharon and Tim didn’t want any, having already had three gin and tonics before Lily and I arrived.

Dinner:  From the vast buffet, I chose:  Mongolian barbecue and grilled chicken and pork.  For dessert:  chocolate mousse, trifle and assorted cakes… and another bottle of pinot grigio, but I think Bob stealthily put it on his room, because I only saw one bottle on my tab.

Annie and Ted made brief speeches and handed out more gifts:  We each received a Pashmina scarf.  Earlier, in Namche, Annie asked each of us for our favorite color.  When she came to me, she immediately said, “Red.”  I received a beautiful red Pashmina scarf that just happened to match my lipstick that night.

Ming passed out our boarding passes.

Lily announced she also had gifts, and, with the help of Bob, Chelli and me, passed out the tee shirts.  When I handed Ted his tee, he asked me if I were a part of this generosity.  I simply smiled and said it was all Lily’s idea.

I sat and talked with Dan till 11 PM.  Bob and Chelli had turned in for the night.  Lily and I accompanied Dan to check out the casino next door, where his sons and Songmee were hanging out.

We had to sign a book listing our name and nationality.  No cameras or photos were allowed.  There were children running around both levels of the casino.  The lower level contained slot machines.  The upper level contained gaming tables.  Only one table had any action:  the blackjack table with David, Frank, Craig and Songmee.  Songmee, with a drink in her hand, proclaimed the only thing good happening was free drinks.  Songmee was three sheets to the wind.  Craig commented that, “In other casinos, the dealer is good to you because they get tips if you win, but not here.  They [the dealers] take pleasure in winning.” 

We stayed about a half hour watching David play and lose all his chips before calling it a night.

We all walked back to our hotel – a walk across the parking lot.

From the reception desk, I requested an 8 AM wakeup call because we had to be ready for the tour bus by 8:45 AM.

Lily visited with me briefly.  We talked about the fun we had today and made plans to meet up again in a few months.

12:25 PM:  Quick Journal notes for later.

Last day of Trekking and Pigeon Removal

2:15 AM:  Awoke thirsty.

Approx. 5:00 AM:  Wake up knock.  Sherpa tea and hot wash water.  After washing with the hot water, I crawled back into bed to drink my tea.  My neck felt stiff, so I took a Tylenol with my usual vitamins.

6:00 AM:  Met the group for breakfast of ham and cheese omelet sandwich.

7:00 AM:  After the map talk, we headed out.  The trek was pretty challenging, especially with my left upper heel still tender.  I used my shoe pad in addition to the moleskin for cushioning.  It seemed to do the trick.

9:00 AM:  Stopped in Jorsalle Village for a Power Bar break.

9:30 AM:  Reached Jorsalle entrance gate to the park.  I took some time out to eat half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for more energy.

11:40 AM:  Reached Phak Ding to another round of applause.  I smiled and shouted “I missed you guys sooo much!”

Lunch in the familiar sunroom was:  chicken ramen soup, Tibetan bread, tuna salad and shell pasta with onions.

Just before map review, Ted announced that tomorrow’s agenda would be:

  • 6 AM wake up
  • 7 AM breakfast
  • 9 AM fly out of Lukla to Kathmandu, but be ready in case our flight is earlier, so be packed before breakfast.  Ted recalled that he was stuck in Lukla airport due to fog for hours, so we need to catch the flight, when conditions are right, not by the clock.

Approx. 12:30 PM:  We headed out for five hours of trekking to Lukla.  If you’ll recall, these two treks were made in two days going up to Everest Base Camp.

The trek back to Lukla was long and challenging because it’s full of up and down hills with lots of cobbled paths and steep, tall steps.  Although the altitude decreased, the terrain and the long trek made the trek just as tiring as the first day.

 

Yaks on a suspension bridge

At one little village, I asked Dakar, “Where’s Lukla?”  Dakar pointed to the top of the mountain where an airplane could be seen approaching.  It looked so far away – and all uphill.

After passing the next few villages later, I asked again.  Dakar gestured with a spread of his hands close to his sides, “Not far.”  Dakar held up five fingers on his left hand.  Was that 5 minutes or 50?  To avoid disappointment, I figured 50 minutes.

Approximately 4:00 PM:  We turned the corner of the path to view the gate of Lukla, where some familiar Sherpas were sitting to greet us.  Did they have a radio to let the Senior guides know we’d arrived?  Am I going to tell Annie I’m just passing the Starbucks?

Happy to have made it to Lukla, I still had to walk across town to the airport lodge.

4:15 PM:  Hugged Ming and Sherpas at the lodge entrance.  Some fellow trekkers spotted me at the doorway and applause ensued.  When I reached the patio, nearly every fellow trekker stood in line to offer congratulations with hugs, kisses and handshakes.  Once again, I announced a heartfelt, “I’m so glad to see you!  I missed you guys!”  We’ve got a really good group.  I couldn’t have asked for better mates – full of fun and encouragement.  Most of them were already on a second can of Everest Beer.  I opted for tea.  I passed around the packs of glucose biscuits Annie gave me a few days ago.

Our lodging consisted of a single story row of rooms that had the feel of an enclosed sunroom for our hallway.  Room 110 was assigned to me.  Lily was assigned Room 112.  Noni’s room was between us.  Hot wash water was soon delivered.

A pigeon made its way into the enclosed hallway through one of the open windows in the hallway.  The pigeon freaked Lily.  I tried to shoo the frantic pigeon away from Lily.  I also tried to coax the pigeon to leave through a closed window.  (Not on purpose, I thought it was open.)  The pigeon slammed against the window, hung briefly against the glass before falling to the floor stunned.  I then opened the window telling it to “Be free!”  This amused not only Lily, but Sherpas and fellow trekkers watching my efforts.  The pigeon perched on the window sill, looked at the open space and then giving me that “Oh no.  I’m not doing that again.” look.  Lily quickly made her way to the door.  I then shouted to her to get out of the doorway before I chased the pigeon out the door.  I think I impressed the Sherpas.  I certainly amused them.

Lily and I proceeded to the dining hall for tea:  Popcorn, cheddar cheese Pringles and hot ginger tea.

Somehow, the group got into cheering and applauding each person who arrived into the dining hall.  Everybody gets the royal treatment.

Ted and Annie entered the dining hall with gifts for Chelli’s 63rd birthday:  a yak bell wrapped in a map bandana and a tube with a rolled up map of our route.

Dinner:  Vegetable soup with papadum and shrimp chips, a giant sushi, mo-mos (chicken or veggie), rice, beef vindaloo with spicy tomato sauce, lentils.

 

There were two cakes for dessert:  One birthday cake with a candle.  We sang “Happy Birthday” upon presentation.  Chelli stood up to give a speech with a cleaver in one hand and a napkin hanging from the other hand.  The napkin caught fire from the lit birthday candle.  Frank let out a “Hey!” and then tried to snuff out the burning napkin.  When the excitement and laughter settled, Chelli thanked all with a smile and a brief bend of a bow then proceeded to slice the cake.

The second cake was decorated with “Congratulations EBC”.  Sharon began to slice it up, but no one had room to eat it, so it was saved for tomorrow.

After dinner, we sat around recapping some great moments on the trek.

Back in my room, I packed my duffel, I stopped at 10:00 PM to think about the kids, sending them love and well wishes.

Shopping as a Sport

? AM:  Woke up thirsty.  Still raining.  Bummer.

6:12 AM:  Can hear the Sherpas coming down the path with Sherpa tea and hot wash water.  Lily knocked on my door, camera in hand, all bright eyed and bushy tailed to greet me with morning well wishes.  I jumped back into my warm bed with my mug of hot tea and updated my journal.  The rain stopped.  I just hear this annoying “drip…drip…drip” off the tin roofs.  Good news:  my cell phone is now fully charged.

7:20 AM:  Met Lily knitting in the dining hall waiting for breakfast.  Breakfast:  Ginger tea, crepe with ham, stewed tomatoes and French toast.

8:30 AM:  The owner’s daughter handed me my laundry.  I went back to my room to pack.

9:30 AM:  Met up with Lily, Sharon and Tim to shop.  While at the bottom of the hill just before the shopping stalls, we met up with Chelli and Bob waiting for one of the exchange offices to open at 10:00 AM.  We found an open exchange office a few stalls down the main street.  At 72 NPR to 1 USD, I was able to change $40 USD to 2880 NPR.

Purses:  Lily and I went back to a certain stall that had purses I admired.  The last time we were there, another shopkeeper wanted 650 NPR for each purse.  Today’s shopkeeper wanted 800 NPR for each purse.  I looked in the shop for a black/white and black/gold purse for Michelle and Marie.  I found two smaller satchel purses that were of those colors.  I offered 700 NPR for both.  Shopkeeper said, “No.”  David, who was in the shop, said, “Frank’s real good at negotiating.”  David stepped outside then called Frank over to our shop.  I told Frank I could get these purses at home at Cost Plus for $7.50 each, but would buy them for $5 each here.  Frank offered the shopkeeper 700 NPR for both.  Shopkeeper said, “No.”  Frank replied, “Well 700’s all we’re willing to pay.”  Then Frank put the purses down and walked toward the door.  Shopkeeper ran after him saying, “Okay!”  After purchasing, I found Frank down the street and gave him a hug.

Compact audio discs:  Near the money exchange office, I heard lilting chant music coming from a stall.  I asked the shopkeeper which cd was playing.  He eagerly showed me the dusty cd.  I really liked the music and thought that my friend ERIC would like some local music, as well.  I asked the shopkeeper for two new cds.  He diligently looked through his inventory to find shrink wrapped copies, but couldn’t.  He then checked each cd for scratches and showed me the quality before placing each cd into his stereo to show me each was in excellent condition.  Two cds for $10 USD was, in my book, an excellent bargain for such salesmanship.

Aprons:  Last time we were here, Annie said she bought for her friends aprons, which they wear when they get together for cooking meals at her home.  About two stalls down the street from the purse shop, Lily stopped to look at aprons.  I wanted three aprons for my sisters; Lily wanted three aprons for her friends, giving us buying power for purchasing a quantity.  Shopkeeper wanted 450 NPR each.  The following negotiation ensued:

Lily:  We’re buying six:  325 each, plus the cap [for my son] for 300 instead of 350.

Shopkeeper:  No

Lily:  The aprons smell moldy.

Shopkeeper:  Moldy!?  Moldy!?  What “moldy”?

Judy:  That’s when things get wet and start to grow mold.

Shopkeeper:  No smell moldy.

Lily:  Smell it. [Placing an apron under the shopkeeper’s nose.]

Shopkeeper:  [Smelled an apron] Nothing.  You’re the first one to say “smells”.

Judy:  They’ve gotten wet and mold started.

Shopkeeper:  No.  All shop smells like this.

Lily:  325 each for 6, plus the cap for 300.

Shopkeeper:  No mamsey.

Judy:  Let’s go.  These aprons are all over.

Shopkeeper:  [To Lily walking out] No mamsey!  Come back!  Okay 325.

Judy:  We need the apron strings.

Shopkeeper:  Apron strings extra.

Lily:  You said you had them.

Shopkeeper:  You only pay 325.  Apron strings extra.

Judy:  That’s not right.  Of course these aprons have strings.  They’re not extra.  We don’t want them without apron strings.  They’re not aprons without them.  We’ll go to another shop that has them.

Shopkeeper:  Okay mamsey.  I give you apron strings. [opening a plastic bag of embellished strings]  These are special.  See?  I make special.  No one make like this.  [showing us the sparkle rickrack she adds to her strings.]  

The shopkeeper randomly pulled out 6 strings from the plastic bag.

Judy:  That’s not enough.  We bought six aprons.  We’ll need two per apron.

Shopkeeper:  One cut in half.  Sew it on sides.  See—like mine. [lifting her top to show us her apron strings]

Lily:  I don’t want to sew.

Judy:  Don’t we just pull it through a casing?

Shopkeeper:  No.  See?  [lifting her top to show us her apron waistband]  My strings like this.  All this way.

Judy:  Okay.

Map Bandanas:  We stopped to say hello to our shopkeeper friend with the trekking poles.  We ended up buying a quantity of bandanas imprinted with a map of our trek to Everest Base Camp.  He wanted 150 NPR each, but with the quantity sale and repeat customer going for us, he offered 100 NPR each (roughly $1.35 USD each).

12:30/12:45 PM:  Lily and I returned to the lodge.  The steps leading to Zamling Lodge was blocked by yaks.  Lily called out for help.  A local man walked up and we followed close behind him as he shooed the yaks to step aside as we passed.  I never went up those stairs so fast.  I had to catch my breath at the top.

Lunch:  Yak burgers (I guessed it a breakfast), honey carrot slices, egg salad with hot lemon water.

I went back to my room to pack my souvenirs.  Then I filled my spent energy drink bottles with the powdered glucose from the ziplock bag Annie had given to me.  I didn’t want the airport to confuse the white powder with cocaine – as was the running joke in our group.

After logging in my purchases and creating a cheat sheet for my NPRs, I checked my list of people I wanted to bring back souvenirs.  I want to bring back something for my dad and his wife, my co-workers and perhaps something for my nieces and nephew.

4:00 PM:  Knock on my door.  It was Dakar calling me/us for tea.  I drank ginger tea while hovering over Lily as she played Scrabble.  After I helped her, Songmee and David shot me a look of annoyance; so I read my book.

The news on from the television was regarding Nepal’s constitution still not close to completion by the May 30 deadline.  The consequences could bring about another strike/unrest in Nepal.  We’ll be flying out of Nepal on May 30th, so we should avoid any consequences resulting from non-completion of Nepal’s constitution.

I circulated a thank you card for Ming and the crew.  My fellow trekkers were happy to sign.

7:15 PM Dinner:  Cream of chicken soup, fried chicken, French fries, fried cauliflower and for dessert:  spiced peaches.

8:15 PM:  Back in my room, Lily visited.  She borrowed my nail clippers, a nail file, scissors and some moleskin.  We laughed about negotiating for the aprons.

After Lily left, I packed my duffle, refilled my camelback and planned my clothes for tomorrow.  The back of my heels were no longer sore, thanks to the use of the shoe inserts lifted to cushion the tender area just above my heel, where the boot crinkles.

Tucked under the fluffy covers, I updated my journal by the light of my headlamp.  I killed a flying bug attracted to the light.

10:05 PM:  I thought about my kids – no news is good news, right?  Love you kids.  Mom

* * *

Are We There, Yet?!!

 

Pheriche to Namche

12:12 AM:  Woke up thirsty.  I had a peaceful sleep.  My room smells like rosemary mint tea (did my shampoo leak?).  Since I have a corner room, I only have one neighbor to my right and there are no sounds of snoring next door.

3:00 AM:  Woke up thirsty again…

6:00 AM:  Knock at the door.  Sherpa tea and a bowl of hot wash water.

7:00 AM:  On my way to breakfast, Annie took me aside to ask about yesterday’s reaction to the change of plans.  I said that we all felt surprised because we were told the reward for yesterday’s push to get to Pheriche would be a short day today, only to find we’re having another long day.

During med check, Annie informed me that I was considered when she and Ted were making the decision for the long day.  Annie told Ted, “Judy’s not weak.  She’s just slow – and that’s okay.”  Annie continued, “Just go at your own pace; take in the view.  Ted may be four hours late himself.”  Ted has been under the weather for about a week.  I heard him coughing during most nights.

Annie asked me if I packed snacks.  I admitted I forgot to refill my daypack.  Annie instructed me to go outside, have the Sherpas find my duffel and get some out.  Then she handed me two packs of glucose biscuits (cookies).

I went outside to the Sherpas feeling silly asking for my duffel to retrieve day snacks when I already had two packs of cookies in my hand.  Ming asked, “What are you doing?”  I sheepishly replied, “Annie sent me to find my bag to get out some snacks.  Oh, never mind, she already gave me two packs of cookies.”  As I turned to walk away, I saw Annie looking out of her second floor room’s window, tapping the glass.  As she opened the window, Ted shouted in jest, “Aw quit whining!”  Annie shouted, “It’s not alright to starve yourself today to pig out tomorrow!”  Ming immediately ordered the Sherpas to find my duffel.  After opening several duffel bag covers, my duffel bag was located.  I pulled out three bars, waved them to Annie before I sat down for breakfast of toast with two poached eggs, and shared half a toast with chunky peanut butter from Lily.

8:00 AM:  Head out after Ming’s map review.  With Dakar’s assistance today, we trekked over two mountains with various rough terrain. I dressed for weather like yesterday, which I quickly found was too much.  I stopped twice to peel off a layer.

11:20 AM:  Arrived at the nunnery for lunch.  Lunch menu:  Cream of mushroom soup, Tibetan bread with a hot dog and potato salad.  The entire group stood up to leave as I was still eating my bread, so I wrapped my bread up and slipped it into my front pack.

Dakar made sure I drank water regularly.  At one point, I ran out of water.  We opened my backpack to check the Camelback insert.  Dakar said, “Nothing.”  I replied, “Nothing?! That never happens!”  We both laughed.

At a little town along the trek, we met up with Annie, Sharon and Tim.  Ted was behind me.  I asked if this town was the tea and biscuit place.  Annie replied, “Yes; two more hours.”  I told them of my finishing my water a little earlier (two liters is an accomplishment for me).  The Sherpa carrying extra water had already left.  Sharon helped me purchase a two liter bottle of water from the General store.  Dakar refilled my Camelback.

Pheriche to Namche Bazaar tea break

Dakar and I passed through another little village.  Having consumed so much water, I told Dakar I needed a toilet.  Dakar asked a local woman for a toilet.  The local woman pointed to a clump of trees on a nearby hill.  Climbing up the steep brush-covered hill, I made my way to the trees only to find a foot path behind it with workmen in the vicinity.  Well, I’d gone this far…My body must have gotten “stage fright”, because it refused to release, so I came out to patiently waiting Dakar, who was chatting with a local male.  I said, “Nothing.  Let’s go.”  The local male led me to an outhouse with “For hotel guests only” painted on the steel door.  Dakar checked it out then gestured I use it.  I did with success.

Approximately 3:00 PM:  Annie radioed Dakar to check on how I was coming along.  Dakar handed me the radio.  I informed Annie that we had reached the tea and biscuit place and saw Ted, Sharon, Tim and possibly Annie leaving.  When we reached the restaurant, a Sherpa began pouring tea.  I pointed to my wrist, shaking my head and saying, “We don’t have time.”  The Sherpa and Dakar said not to worry, pushing air down with both hands to tell me to sit down.  I insisted that Dakar have tea and biscuits (crackers, in this case) with me.  Two big black ravens hung out eyeing my crackers.  Not ten minutes later, it began to sprinkle.  We put on our rain gear and headed out.

When I drank water from the Camelback, Dakar taught me that “water” was “panni”.  I also learned “please” was “teets-cha”.  Dakar also taught me “good” was “teets-za” and “no good” was “teets-china”.  At one point, I looked down the path and, seeing yaks coming up, said, “Oh-oh.  Yaks.  Teets‑china.”  We had a good laugh as we scrambled up the side of the hill to give the yaks room to pass us.  I love the sound of the yak’s brass bells around their necks.  They sound like wind chimes stirred by a breeze.

Annie checked in with us a few more times, perhaps every half hour.  When I informed her we were passing the village stupa, Annie said, “You’re only 10 to 15 minutes away.”  After more than 15 minutes and several bends of the mountain, I wondered which stupa she thought I was passing.  Annie called again to say, “Welcome to Namche.”  I couldn’t see her, but we were behind some lodges, so I replied, “I think we’re behind the lodge.”  Dakar kept walking.  He stopped and pointed to a lodge in the distance saying, “We go there.”  [Whimper – we’re not there, yet – whimper.]

“We go there.”

Approximately 6:00 PM:  Approaching the back of the lodge, I spotted Frank, Craig and Annie clapping a welcome for me.  Annie took a few photos.  At the lodge’s entrance, Ming greeted me with a handshake and hug.  He’d assigned Room 11 to me.  The proprietor followed me into my room, turned on the sink faucet to let the hot water reach my room – for a hot shower!  Lily stopped by to congratulate me for reaching the lodge.  I announced to Lily, “Don’t expect me for tea.  I’m taking a hot shower!” 

After a lukewarm shower, out of habit, I applied face cream, remembering the pre-dinner hot washcloths too late.

7:15 PM:  I arrived (last) for dinner to another round of applause.  I gave a smile with an embarrassed wave off before sitting down next to Ted.  Another wonderful feast from our chef:  Cream of mushroom soup, yak meat pizza, roasted potatoes, garlic pasta shells, green beans and peppers.

Lily, Chelli, Bob and I hung out in the dining room until about 9:15 pm.

Lily visited with me in my room for a while, talking to me from under the covers of the spare bed – just like a slumber party.  After Lily left, I updated my journal.

At 10:45 PM/10:00 AM PST, I thought of the kids, who would be in school about now.  Curious they didn’t respond to my first email, especially Michelle, who gets Gmail message alerts on her phone and Marie’s on-line at all hours.

It began to rain about 10:40 PM.  I can hear raindrops on the tin roof.

11:35 PM now.  All caught up journaling.  Tomorrow we shop (weather permitting) and get some laundry done.  G’Nite.