We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.

Jawaharal Nehru


Day 10 – Varanasi

Jesse and I woke up and had our last breakfast at the military hotel before heading out once again to the airport – destination Varanasi. Varanasi is an ancient town, one of the oldest in the world, and about 45 kilometers outside the city is a girl’s school that partners with SeeYourImpact. We were generously invited to stay at the home of the founder of the school for three nights. Back at the Delhi airport, we sat at a sports bar to regroup and get ready for our flight. Jesse tried to order a beer at 9:30AM and the waitress laughed at him. He settled for Red Bull.

The trip over to Varanasi was quick, but I finally caught the Indian flu (from what is still a mystery) and spent a good portion of the plane ride quite literally on the floor in the back of the plane. I had felt faint and the flight attendant tried to shove fennel seed down my throat which made me feel even sicker. I finally regrouped enough to get back to my seat and finish out the flight.

Outside the small airport, a well-dressed slender man held a sign that was colored in bright pink letters. It said, “Miss Jemie from Seattle.” We knew we found the right guy. He called his friend who pulled around in a nice large SUV to pick us up and drive us the 45 kilometers to the house and school. The ride took nearly an hour and a half down a tiny road with unbelievable traffic. Oncoming trucks, cars, rickshaws, bikes, bulls, buffalo, goats, children, mothers with babies on motorcycles, etc. filled all sides of the small and bumpy road. My stomach was not exactly loving it.

We arrived to the large home in a field right in a tiny, poverty stricken village. The school building, in the same style, was right behind the house. Jesse and I were greeted by Kamala, the kind Indian lady who had invited us to stay. We were presented with flowers around our neck and a ceremonial red dot on between our eyebrows. Members of the staff folded their hands at their chest and offered us a respectful “Namaste.” After a short conversation, Jesse and I retired to our bedrooms to have a nap.

When we woke, we were served a homemade Indian lunch of beans, yogurt, fried bread and zucchini. While it was delicious, my stomach wasn’t quite ready to take on any food. After lunch, Kamala took us out for a walk around the village to see how the people lived. Her father-in-law had built this house and her and her husband had remodeled it and also built the school in his honor. They live there a few months out of the year.  Right around the corner, people lived in small huts with very few resources. They stared at us with curiosity and they showed their respect to Kamala by touching each of her feet.

When we returned, we went back to read and rest some more. The house had electricity, only because Kamala and her husband had installed it, but it had no Internet access and no television. It was interested how challenging it was for us to sit still and not be distracted by all of the normal ways we are accustomed to. We returned downstairs for dinner a while later – another lovely meal of bread stuffed with smashed peas, potatoes, yogurt with cucumber, cabbage and rice pudding. 

Day 9 – Agra

I arrived to the Delhi airport around 10PM on Sunday night and waited about an hour for my cousin Jesse to arrive in the same terminal from Amsterdam. When he walked up, it was rather surreal to see him in a place so unlike our own. The ride from the hotel had been waiting for us, and so we grabbed our stuff and got in. It was funny to watch Jesse’s initial reactions to the small yet significant differences around him. I couldn’t help but think he has no idea what he will see in the next few days.

We got to sleep around 1AM and were awoken by the ring of the hotel phone around 6AM. I don’t think either of us slept much. We had asked for our car to take us to Agra around 7AM, but they were early, an hour at that. We finally got up and went downstairs to find our driver waiting for us. He was an older man of short stature and didn’t speak any English.

It took over 3 hours to arrive in Agra, even with using the new expressway that avoids many of the bumpy and busy local roads. The town of Agra itself was congested, and Jesse could hardly believe his surroundings. We got into a mini accident when our car jammed into a cart carrying a large load of PCP pipes right into the side of my door. The noise was loud and startling, but the damage wasn’t as bad as we thought. Jesse and I both were amazed at the lack of accidents considering the chaos on the road.

Our driver decided to drop us off about a mile from the Taj Mahal and feed us to the hungry tour guides. I figured this out pretty quick, and through a mix of NO’s and other attempts at communication, finally convinced our driver (who we were paying to help us) to drop us off closer and within walking distance to one of the entrances. Of course, as soon as we got out of the car, we were swarmed with people selling every type of Taj Mahal souvenir you can imagine. Pushing our way to through, we finally got on track to reach the ticket window and eventually the entrance to the Taj.

We walked through the West Gate entrance and into a large courtyard surrounded by 4 incredible archway entrances. The craziness outside of the gates subsided and as we turned towards the main archway, the Taj was finally in clear view. It looked a bit like a mirage, so large and looming, the sky full of think smog blending in with the impressive white marble structure. It took my breath away.

Jesse and I enjoyed a leisurely walk around the grounds, checking out the gardens and fountains and impressive architecture of the surrounding buildings and Mosques.  We entered the Taj Mahal to see the resting site of Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, and the woman for which this structure was built. The interior designs were simple and elegant.

We sat and enjoyed some peace and quiet before exiting back out into the chaos that surrounded this oasis. Jesse was a real trooper on his first day in India. He must have been approached 20 different times to buy a Taj Mahal snow globe key chain and I know it was testing his patience. We finally found our driver and the car, and a little boy wouldn’t let Jesse shut the door as he made one final attempt to sell his snow globes. Overwhelmed and unable to communicate with our driver, we decided to head back to Delhi to eat so that Jesse could see the city a bit before we left the next morning. I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before and Jesse was all out of sorts from his long trip over. We both fell sound asleep in the car despite the constant breaking, honking and uncertainty of our surroundings.

Back in Delhi we returned to the hotel and immediately went straight to the only restaurant I knew – the same one I went to with Natasha the week before. We both ordered a Kingfisher beer and a Thali plate. After satisfying our hunger, we walked back through Hauz Khas Village and then back to the car. We asked the driver to stop somewhere that we could buy cold beer. He stopped outside a small market area and led us down some stairs where we bought two beers each to take back to the hotel. As soon as we finally made it to our room, neither of us could actually drink it out of pure exhaustion. We fell asleep by 7:30PM. 

Day 6 (cont.), 7 and 8!

After my incredible visit with Pratham on Friday, I spent a few hours working at my hotel before heading off to the airport again – destination Jaipur. The flight was very short, and before I know it I’m collecting my bag and heading out into a new city. I immediately spot my ride holding a sign with my name. I can tell instantly he’s a kind man and I can relax knowing I am once again in good hands.

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, and the ride to the hotel takes about 30 minutes in traffic on this hot Friday evening. I arrive at the Meghniwas hotel, run by the aunt and uncle of SeeYourImpact CEO Digvijay, and these two wonderful people greet me warmly. For the first time on my trip, I feel at ease in my surroundings and I enjoy a lovely late dinner in their company.  A good night’s sleep is more than necessary at this point, and I happily retired to my room for some peace and quiet after a long day.

I wake up Saturday morning and get ready to head out once again. This time for some sightseeing around the capital city and then a longer three-hour car ride to the rural town of Pushkar. The drive through the old city of Jaipur is stunning – the buildings are all red in color and the streets are bustling with activity and craftsmanship. Somehow, this country is starting to make sense. A small old man sits on a flatbed cart, his skin darkened by years in the sun is contrasted sharply by his white beard. He’s holding the reins of an enormous camel that easily pulls him down the road – his chin held high; stride slow and consistent.

We make our way up the windy hill to the Amber Fort. I’m completely overwhelmed by it’s size and beauty, I had no idea it was such an incredible monument. I spend some time walking through the fort and thinking about all the history that has taken place here. Afterwards, I also stop to see the city palace and conservatory – both very impressive sights!

While I thoroughly enjoyed this short tour of Jaipur, sightseeing the tourist spots is really not my favorite thing to do. I was excited for the next journey of the day – the trip to Pushkar and the hotel/farm of Digvijay’s cousin, Uday.

The three-hour drive to Pushkar was not always smooth, but it certainly provided a new look at rural India. We finally pulled up to Pushkar, a slightly larger town built around a holy lake. I got out of the car to take a walk through the streets before heading to the hotel. I was led by a group of men down to the holy lake to repeat some prayers for my family to the God Brahma – a clear tourist trap but I went along for the ride and found the whole escapade fascinating. The town was bustling, charming and full of shops and people at work.

We finally pulled up to the farm/hotel under construction and was greeted with a big hug from Uday. He was kind, welcoming and full of interesting topics of conversation. Before it got dark, he showed me around his farm, introduced me to the horses, and talked to me about how all of the food is grown and cooked on the farm. This is my kind of place!

My room is a “tent” – a fancy one at that. It has a foundation built into it with a nice bathroom and lovely little bed. I feel right at home in the countryside. Right outside the tents is a pool and little sitting area where we join together for dinner. Two other women are also here – one who is friends with Uday and another who just happens to be here for the evening. Both are wonderful and full of energy, and we sit to converse over delicious homemade Indian food and wine until late in the evening.

Up at dawn, I meet with Uday and Gabby and the four dogs to go for a hike up the nearby mountain to the Brahma temple. The dogs are amazing: Lucky the German Shepard, Angel the Yellow Lab, Dobie the Doberman and the Black Lab puppy. All are the most intelligent, kind, healthy and well-behaved dogs I’ve ever been around. They bound up the mountain ahead of us to chase monkeys, while we make our way up the steep stairs. It’s a beautiful morning and being up above all else makes everything seem so peaceful.

Back on the farm, we jump in the pool to clean off and are served an incredible breakfast. An egg fresh from the farm is fried on top of a piece of bread toasted over an open fire with homemade butter and chutney on top. This might be the single most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. More food keeps coming – homemade yogurt with some type of grain, fresh bananas, fresh juice, more toast, jam and chai tea. I’m so full, but the food is so fresh that I feel good.

We sit around chatting and playing with the dogs nearly until it’s time to eat again. It feels very good to relax and be in good company. I pack up and enjoy one more meal with these wonderful people, and then take off back to Jaipur, back to the airport and back to Delhi.