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Trip to India

It amazes me how quickly the years have passed from the time I first met my friend Anita Varalakshmi. I met her in college and we became close friends with a few others, we had so much fun in college. Even after college, she called her parents every single day for over eight years. I even wrote a story about the time she went to get a US driver’s license. Since then, we talked about going to India, but the trip always got cancelled. I have kept in touch with Anita all these years.
Finally!!! My chance to visit my friend came and I took my mother with me in August of 2011 to visit my friend and meet her parents. It almost seems like a dream now, one year later, did we really go to India?
We asked Mary McRay with Travel Center of Hickory to help us plan the departure and return trip. Mary can be reached at marymcrary@ymail.com or at 828-345-5000. With our itinerary secured, we began to prepare the items we would need for the trip. When planning your trip to India, make sure your hotel is at least a 3 star or higher for comfort and safety. Most hotels have a required security check point to enter and to check into the hotel. Also, never exchange money out of your sight, the exchanger may slip in old torn bills, and then refuse to exchange them for rupees. Keep in mind that, India has a tremendous amount of poverty and a crumbling infrastructure among new modern buildings. It is best to hire a guide who can keep you from being charged too much money when buying items from vendors or street vendors. Also, be aware that traffic rules are virtually non-existence and make New York traffic seem like a drive in the country side. Basically, everyone tries to muscle their way ahead of everyone else. Drivers endure gridlock, camels, cows, people, and the occasional wrong way driver.
Our flight began with US Airways on August 2, 2011. We flew from Charlotte to Frankfurt in 8hrs. 35 min. After a one hour wait, we boarded Lufthansa on August 3, and flew from Frankfurt to Bengaluru in 8hrs. 40 min.
We arrived in India at midnight on August 4, exhausted and happy to out get off the plane. Once we cleared customs, we headed outside to the shock of seeing an entire crowd waiting for their person(s) to exit. I thought, “I’m never going to find her in this crowd”. Then to my relief, I heard her voice calling to me and I caught sight of her and ran so fast I almost knocked her over.
Anita had made reservation for mom and me. Her cousin, Dr. Prim Mutha and she, dropped us off at Ballal Residency hotel, at one in the morning. The driver had to drive thru a guarded gate to the main entrance. Once we checked in, I opened the door to the room and noticed bars around the small patio. I was worried about an escape route if a fire broke out in the hotel. Around nine in the morning we dragged ourselves down for breakfast. Sadly enough, milk and cereal was the only western breakfast on the buffet. I honestly do not recall or could identify what the other dishes were.
Anita and Dr. Mutha came around 10am to take us to 3rd Quarter Chinese Restaurant, and it was so wonderful. Afterwards, we went shopping on MG Road to Calivery Karnataka State Arts and Craft. You can see the website at www.cauverycrafts.com. This is where I did a lot of my shopping, it was a neat store. It was busy, crowded, loud, and many eyes were watching us. We went to a local grocery store, it was interesting. The store was small, cramped, items were stuff on the shelves, it was dirty, and there was a funky smell. This seems to be common among the smaller stores; there is nothing wrong with it or the products they sell. We bought food and water for our hotel room. We walked in the monsoon rain; it rained every day at three in the afternoon while we were there.
August the fifth came and Anita and Prim took us to BBQ Nation. The restaurant is on the second floor and it is an open air type restaurant with misters that spray water mixed with light cologne to suppress all the different smells. The waiter takes you to your table and gets your drink order. Then places a stop food sign face down and then food on skewers are brought to the table. You turn the food over a small grill on your table until it’s cooked. When you are finished eating, place the stop food sign face up, pay the bill and go shopping. I loved this restaurant, I wish we had one here, it was Super Yummy!!!!!!! Be sure to check out the website: www.barbeque-nation.com. After lunch, we went and met her parents. Then we proceeded to shop, going to a sari store. The store was packed from floor to ceiling with saris, being carefully pulled for customers to try on. Walking down the street, we stop and bought scarfs from a vendor located on the side of a building. Walking further down the street led to a McDonalds, and no, they did not serve anything with beef.
August sixth had us traveling to the Garuba Mall, and the realization that they have no air conditioner and that handicapped people stayed at home. I could image a shocked expression if they saw someone in a wheelchair. Now, strolling around the second level, we could hear singing coming from the first floor. Upon closer observation, Anita said that “The Voice of India” was taping at mall, and it seemed to be an audition. The singing is very different then our style, it was a constant high pitch. As the day wore on, we returned to the hotel room, mom stayed there, and Anita and I later returned with a KFC takeout. That evening we ordered Domino’s pizza, afterward Anita went home.
August seven came and Anita and I ate at 3rd quarter Chinese’s on Church Street and brought mom back some food. They have a delicious lime juice drink, and it is refreshing! Anita said that this recipe is the closest to the restaurant. Start by squeezing one or two limes into a bowl. Add enough water to the lime juice; say 3 glasses of water for 2 limes. When you taste it, it should still have a slight sourness to it. Then add a pinch of salt and sugar into it. You can add the low calorie sugar like equal. Add few mint sprigs or leaves if you can get it, and refrigerate it. Later, we discussed taking a trip to Agra to the Taj Mahal, Delhi, and to a coastal town in Goa.
August eight, we made plans for a trip to Goa, Delhi, and Agra with Kuoni Destination Management working with SITA who can be reached at www.sita.in, everything was arranged and we were ready to go. Anita said to leave our extra luggage and gifts at her house until we came back. Also, that it would also be best if she took our dirty clothes to wash and air dry for the trip.
August ninth, we checked out of Ballal Residency and went to the airport. When it was time to board the plane, we had to walk down a flight of stairs, board a bus to the plane, and finally walk up a flight of stairs into the plane. Once we arrived in Goa, we arrived at the Zuri White Sands, where the staff placed a red paste with small flower on the forehead to welcome guest. We walked around the grounds, and a family came and asked if I would have my picture taken with them. I did, and later Anita said that they may not see many foreigners in person. We went to the beach and later reviewed the hotel booklets. This hotel is beautiful here is the website: www.thezurihotels.com/goa/
August tenth started with a trip to the Basilica of Bom (holy) Jesus it’s a gorgeous church and worth a visit to it. A good place to gather information is www.incredibleindia.org. Goa provides a lot of places to sight see, the local restaurants are very delicious and there is plenty of places to shop.
August the eleventh we left Goa for Delhi by plane, and checked in at the Suryaa in New Delhi. It is a very nice hotel, and the Sampan – Roof Top Pan Asian restaurant on the top floor has a breathtaking view. The website is: www.thesuryaa.com. Mom and Anita went shopping and sightseeing and returned later that evening. August twelfth placed us on a 5 hour drive to Agra, where we checked into the Radisson hotel and spent the night.
August the thirteenth bustled with excitement as we packed the vehicle and went to the Taj Mahal! It was cloudy with intense heat that left sweat rolling down people’s faces. Once we arrived to the parking lot, we took an open air taxi to the ticket building, bought tickets and water. Then the taxi took us to the drop off site where we walked to the entrance. With our cameras ready we walked thru, and the other side opened to a huge elongated shallow pool surrounded by walkways and gardens, extending to a towering white monument hailed as one of Seven Wonders of the World. At the end of the pool you walk up the red brick steps to the base of the monument its doors decorated with inlaid marble flowers. Another set of steps waits to be climbed, and they are steep without handrail. Now you are inside the Taj Mahal and pass thru a short hallway to circle around a marble gate with a marble coffin inside it. Then you walk around and out the back door. You can see for a long distance on the baloney, and then taking another set of steep stairs you return to the base of the monument. Back down the red brick steps and back to the parking lot. We left immediately for a five hour drive to the Suryaa in Delhi for the night.
August fourteenth we left Delhi for Bengaluru and checked into the Vivanta Taj hotel on MG Road. Their website is: www.vivantabytaj.com. We rested in the hotel after Anita left; we decided that we would go shopping again on MG Road. So, August fifteenth, back to shopping.
August sixteenth, Happy Birthday Anita!!!!!! Dad sent money for Anita to buy new cell phone, she needed one. Mom gave her a new wallet which was very pretty, and I gave a spa treatment at the hotel.
August seventeenth we learned that Anita’s dad’s best friend died, we waited in the hotel all day. August eighteenth, we check out of the hotel and boarded Lufthansa from Bengaluru to Frankfurt 9 hours and 25minutes. Then we boarded US Airways on August 18 from Frankfurt to Charlotte 9 hours and 40 minutes. When we landed, we were happy to be off of the plane and back in the USA!
I am very happy to have met Anita’s parents, since I have always her here speak about them. Two months after we returned, her father passed away. I still keep in touch with Anita. She and her mother are doing well.

Laura Leedy

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