The Sunday Guide – March

The Sunday Guide – March


“Traveling: it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” - Ibn Battuta

Here we are, back in the routine of life in snowy Sun Valley.

I would be lying if I did not express a sense of melancholy that Wayne and I both feel at the end of a wonderful journey. We cling madly to our photos and memories that filled our hearts and minds at every turn along the way
of our latest adventure. India left us with a glow of lust and wonderment that we are mindful to keep in our pocket and bring out on gloomy days or difficult times. It is why we travel – to be reminded how much is out there yet to be discovered. The people and places that leave a permanent stain on the imagination and fuel a wanderlust that never feels satisfied - It leaves us hungry for a next journey, and another after that. While we are often reminded to look in our own back yards for beauty and discovery, for me, nothing in this, my native land, has the exotic enchantment of Asia. Home always feels so ordinary and lacking in the glorious. Sure, we are surrounded by natural beauty that can take your breath away, but the youth of our nation lacks a substance of history and majesty found on the other continents. It is why we travel: to seek the extraordinary of the unknown.

I give credit to my beloved Aunt Ruth. Herself a mad traveler and adventure seeker, who came back from her
latest adventures with stories and trinkets from far away places. Postcards describing mystical places I could only imagine discovering for myself one day. I would pour through National Geographic magazines, fueling my
curiosity and dreams of places I would vow to visit once I grew up. I would plot, plan and save for the rest of my adult life to travel the world to the most exotic places, planted in my imagination from the pages of travel books, novels, movies, and the stories of Aunt Ruth.

Wayne and I have both filled several passports both together, and before our union. It was our mutual love of travel and adventure that sealed the deal to make sure we would not walk this earth alone.

While it’s typically my job, and my pleasure to write our Sunday Guide, this was one of those instances where Wayne had so much to say about our time in India, that he just got down to writing about it.

We hope you enjoy Wayne’s thoughts on India: “India, at Last.”

Oh Boy! Time to plan for the next…


"India, At Last” – Wayne Donnelly

In grade school we learned about how Christopher Columbus “discovered” America. We also learned how he thought somehow he had reached the Indian subcontinent, and famously named our Native Americans: Indians. Traveling from Seattle, I realized that one could travel equal distances, east or west, to reach India. It's only a few hours longer going east. My point is, it’s as far away from the west coast of the United States as you can get. Literally the very opposite side of the earth. Columbus also made a similar mistake in the Caribbean, where he also stumbled upon people with dark skin, as well as the fabled spices. This archipelago is now known as the West Indies. It is my conclusion that Columbus was the worst navigator in sailing history.

Our arrival in Chennai late at night revealed a familiar street scene in the developing world: High profile sidewalks, metal rolling shutters on doorways, entire families successfully fitting onto a small scooter, and roadside fires with small numbers of people around them. All the stray dogs looked the same size, and the females all had evidence of pups born at some point in their lives. Cows and goats do roam freely in much of the country, and they are unfazed by the traffic around them. These simple signs that we saw on arrival instantly made me feel back at home, on the road.

India is not exactly “the Road Less Traveled”. Colonialism, Imperialism, border wars, and a long history of tourism have allowed these routes to become very well traveled. Still for me, it took some 33-countries-later to reach. I won’t go on about my regrets of not seeing India sooner, but still, I can’t believe it took me so long to get here.

My experiences in Asia, specifically Southeast Asia have been similar in logistics: Things don’t always happen on time, or as expected. Time can be a bit of a variable, and the deeper you get into a country, the less likely things are to go as planned. I assumed India, with its breadth and massive population, would be a more intensified version of the same.

I was wrong.

India has a precision that rivals Switzerland. Drivers are on time, hotels are run clinically, and airport security and organization is as tight as our TSA was just after September 11. The domestic flight business is booming, and there are plenty of options to cover a lot of ground for good value. Long queues are often divided into male and female lines, and there is an amazing rhythm to the way the masses move along.

Vehicle traffic in cities is like nothing I’ve seen before. It is astounding that traffic moves at all, with the roads being shared by trucks of all sizes, scooters, tuk tuks, cycle rickshaws, and the occasional cow. To see how vehicles merge, give right-of-way, and yield to one another is an entirely new way of driving to this experienced motorist. The constant drone of the horn is not a form of aggression or correction, rather a simple “I’m here”. The reply to a beeping horn is to simply keep looking straight ahead, and allow enough space for the merging vehicle to
squeeze in on whatever side they’re adjacent to. As a pedestrian, simply crossing a busy street seems dangerously impossible. Through all the apparent chaos we saw no collisions, and no ill will between commuters. Not once.

We were prepared to see the cruelty and suffering that we had been warned about. The product of a country’s teeming population, bursting at the seams. We did see our share of people in poor conditions, but not in desperate situations. A common nuisance might come from a souvenir hawker, but this only happened in heavily touristed areas. India has a population of more than 1.3 billion. The perceived mess created by all of this humanity can be apparent in places simply because humans are the messiest animals on earth. Taking this into consideration, it was my observation that the country does a good job of managing their waste.

In regard to animal welfare, it’s true that some animals are relegated to a life of hard work. All the same, they are treated as an important commodity, and these tools of the trade must be cared for in order to continue performing. Hinduism practices tolerance and coexistence to animals, and in the end the animals exist side by side with the constantly moving population. In the end it was not the mistreatment of animals, nor human suffering that brought tears to my eyes, rather the beauty and grace that somehow exists among the madness. We saw so much
acceptance, and kindness in the day-to-day that it made me long for a better, lost time in our own country.

The Food! India’s culinary fragrances hit you well before you have chance to taste them. Familiar dishes that we know in the states are so different here, and there are regional variations well worth trying at each and every stop. Jill and I eat everything, and we did, but as a travel rule we stayed vegetarian unless a person in a home offered us something with meat. When our hosts ate with their right hand only, we followed suit. One meal was tastier than the last, and we learned all about curries. Curry powders, curry leaves, and the very dish: curry.

Curries are typically a side dish, but for us, the portions were so good that we often simply ordered a side curry with rice or naan as a meal. All so very satisfying and fresh. We never got sick, not even a little. Alcohol is heavily taxed, and a little out-of-place, but local lager beer is largely available in bottles big enough for two. For me, nearly every meal would be accompanied by my new favorite thirst quencher: a salty lime soda.

Our schedule began in Chennai (Madras). From here, we would see Mahabalipurham, and its ancient shore-front temples. We would later fly to Delhi, to witness the chaos and splendor of this grand old city. Satisfied with our urban-fix, we drove to the town of Agra to see the fabled
Taj Mahal. This stop is a bit out of the way, and at one point I tried to trim it from our itinerary as a time-saver. This would have been a big mistake, as the Taj is all that, and well worth the effort to get there. Absolutely fantastic.
We then traveled on to Rajasthan, with our first stop in Jaipur: the Pink City.

Here, we saw the Amber Fort, and the grand City Palace. Next stop was Udiapur: the City of Lakes. Udiapur may have been the most picturesque stop on our schedule, and we had no idea how beautiful it would be. Besides the grandeur and sights to see, here, we took a guided bike tour to some of the surrounding lakes and small villages.

Once we left Rajasthan, we flew south to the balmy capitol of Kerala: Cochin. Fort Cochin (The old town) was very interesting, and here we saw the history of Catholicism in India, as well as Judaism. We had an overnight on a houseboat that had been converted from a rice barge to a leisure craft, and got to see amazing wildlife from the deck. For the next part of the itinerary, we figured in a solid three days to sit at a beautiful beach on the Arabian Sea.

Marari Beach would be the spot, and although we spent the majority of our time lounging around, we still had some interesting visits to local fishing and craft villages. Still in the state of Kerala, we drove into the high-altitude tea country, which was another great surprise. Kerala may have been the most beautiful region we visited, all around.

Our journey continued overland, with a stop in Madurai. Here we saw the largest Hindu temple in South India, and got to witness an intense fertility ceremony at night. No phones allowed, and they meant it. By day, that area surrounding that temple turned into a bustling produce market unlike any market we’d seen before. Well worth the pre-dawn arrival.

Our first journeys abroad together were dependent on Lonely Planet Guidebooks. Delving a little deeper into South East Asia, and eventually into Bhutan, its not possible to travel without a guide. Hiring a guide had proven to be an excellent way to explore for us, especially when renting a car and trying your best at navigating isn’t an option.

In Morocco for example, I rented the car, drove the car, and paid for everything along the way. The guide we had hired would be our co-pilot, and made sure we never took a wrong turn. He would direct us right up the great hotels that always had vacancies for him. He turned our mapped-out vision into a real route, which was all the more efficient under the direction of a true local. Plus, the three of us had a most excellent journey together.

A couple decades later, Jill and I are more attracted to the hiring of a professional to make our precious days abroad as efficient as possible. As we approached travel in India, we knew that we had a lot to cover, and a relatively tight window to work with. We contacted a friend who had told us about a most thorough guide she used twice in India. We contacted Ajay Sharma, director of Holikurry Tours. Ajay has 35 years experience in all of India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan. We sent him a rough idea of what we
wanted to see and do, and he did the rest. We soon had a complete itinerary that included everything we wanted to see, plus some things we were advised to not miss along the way.

Ajay structured a route that included a lot of driving, as well as four domestic flights within the country. We had a comfortable car, an excellent driver, and a top-notch guide at each destination. The accommodations were a mix of design, boutique, and heritage hotels. Each one fantastic, and one more amazing than the last. Ajay’s taste level was right there with ours, and we never felt too opulent, even when the room may have had its own plunge pool, or might happen to be the penthouse suite.

On a few occasions we were invited into a family home to share in a meal. Although these were planned, there was a genuine welcome feeling, and we truly enjoyed one another’s company. Plus, the food was delicious, and it was fun to be surprised with what would be served next. Ajay was receptive to changes we wanted to make, before, and during the trip, and in the end every single aspect of the journey was perfect. He remained available 24/7, and we still communicate today on WhatsApp; exchanging photos, and answering my questions about our next journey.

Ajay Sharma
Instagram : @indiawithajay

It’s impossible to say what part I liked most. The trip was so complete, and there was so much to recall about it. We still want to see the areas bordering the Himalayas, as well as Kashmir. One thing for sure, we will return to the magic country of India, hopefully very soon.



We had so much wonderful food in India and have promised ourselves to try and reproduce a few of our favorites:

Aloo Gobi


Palak Paneer



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