Touring India

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer

 

There are bucket list items—skydiving, attending the Super Bowl, running a marathon—and then there are bucket list trips, like the one Sara Vance Waddell and her wife, Michelle Waddell took over the holidays to India and Nepal. The trip combined their love of Indian food with Michelle’s birthday and included a friend, Reeta Brendamour, whose parents were from India and who still has relatives there.

Before taking a trip half way around the world, there’s a lot of planning that goes into it. Sara and Michelle took the tour group option. Abercrombie & Kent was the group they chose to plan their trip. “We’ve used them before,” Sara said, “and they put together an itinerary that gave us access to places we’d never be able to see on our own.

“I think you need to do a tour in a place like India—it’s such a big country, you need someone who can give you your own tour guide who stays with you. And in every place, we also had a local tour guide as well who knew the city and the neighborhoods. Because of safety issues, language barriers and the like, it’s best to travel in a tour group.”

The group itself was small, about a dozen or so included in the tour, so getting around was fairly simple. This tour stayed in the northern part of India, which had its share of highlights. One of the most memorable, according to Sara, was Mumbai, and a stop at Mahatma Gandhi’s home. “And there, we met Gandhi’s grandson,” Sara said, “he lives in New York and comes once a year to India, and we met him and got our picture taken with him. It was really special.”

Some of the other highlights were Udaipur, India, with palaces, temples and a surprise, the Taj Lake Palace, a palace in the middle of a lake that’s now a hotel. “You take the boat shuttle to get there. It was just beautiful. That was another advantage of going on a tour like this—you have the chance to stay in places like the Lake Palace that we would have never known about.”

Of course, no trip to India would be complete without a stop to Agra and the Taj Mahal. “We were so excited to go to the Taj Mahal but the day we were in Agra the pollution was hazardous and we had to wear masks. The photos are hazy because of the pollution but we could see it and marvel at it, got to touch it. It was gorgeous.”

The India part of their visit was a little more than two weeks, then Sara, Michelle and Reeta split off to Nepal where the highlight was an up-close look at Mt. Everest. “Originally, we were going on a little plane and just flying around, but there were only three of us so our guide said, ‘why don’t we take a helicopter?’

“We left Katmandu at 6:30 a.m., flew to a little airport where everyone stops before they summit Mt. Everest. We fly to another point, and there our guide got out, because you could only have three people and the pilot on board because of the altitude and a weight limit on the helicopter. So we went 3,000 feet higher than base camp and landed—we could only stay five minutes—but we got amazing photos and a closer look than if we would have been in a bigger group. It truly was breathtaking.”

As for the hospitality in both countries, Sara said the people could not have been nicer. “I have a photo of a sign from one of the hotels explaining the greeting ‘Namaste’—they say it all the time—and this is, I feel, the way people should be living, in a place of ‘namaste.’

“We’ve never been treated with as much respect and service as we were with the Indian and Nepalese people,” she continued. “They were so service oriented, and grateful that we were putting money into their economy. It was such a welcoming place, it’s the best trip we’ve ever taken in our lives.”

Any surprises? “We had heard it was dirty and polluted, and I think it was the pollution that caused me to get sick on the trip,” Sara said. “The poverty there breaks your heart and, of course being animal lovers, we saw so many stray dogs and puppies there, it was hard for all of us to look at. In the evening we would go back to these nice hotels and after seeing how some of the people live there, it just breaks your heart.”

For others who want to make the trip and might not have three weeks to do it, Sara suggests hitting the highlights: “Nepal, you need to be there two or three days to see Mt. Everest. In India, go to Mumbai, because of Gandhi, Agra because of the Taj Mahal, Varanasi, because of the Ganges River. The place we liked least was Delhi—big city, there wasn’t a highlight there for us.”

So would Sara and Michelle go again? “Absolutely,” Sara said. “We’d like to go to the southern part the next time. We definitely want to go back to Nepal, Katmandu, to hike in Nepal.

“We just love the culture, and the people were so gracious. No one talked politics, no one judged anyone else. It’s the way we all should live.”

Alex ReillyTRAVEL