Tag Archives: camel

Zip it…………

Many expats will tell you that they key to surviving Delhi is occasionally leaving Delhi. And one of the first places they will tell you about is Neemrana Fort. It is about a 2-hour drive from Delhi (of course, that is depending on traffic, so that is a give or take 5 hours guesstimate.). The Fort was built in 1464 AD and it still feels pretty authentic. That sounded kind of silly, huh? How would I know if it was authentic, right? So, maybe I should say it seems like it feels like a fort might have felt a trillion years ago.

The fort boasts 10 levels of the best hide-and-go-seek land in India and is really just a lot of fun. But just so you know, ten levels means lots and lots of stairs! Comfy shoes ladies! Neemrana claims to have all the accommodations of a 5-star hotel – I am not completely sure about that. It has a absolutely different feel than a Ritz or Oberoi – but it is magnificent in its own right. It is certainly clean enough and the food is safe to eat – but it’s not really what I would call fancy schmancy. Of course, to be fair, it’s no Motel 6 either.

The rooms have a nostalgic air about them – with the added benefit of a/c and lights. But the windows are not sealed perfectly. Windows are surely not part of the authentic atmosphere of the fort – but if you are going to claim 5-star status, you might want to add a window here and there. Because the windows are not super air tight, mosquitoes do sneak in – so bring bug spray.

The rooms all have names rather than room numbers and padlocks instead of key cards. Super, super charming. Most of the rooms have patios or balconies with spectacular views of quaint “downtown” Neemrana.

There are also a few activities you can enjoy during your stay.

Every afternoon at 5p, there is a tea/biscuits serving on one of the rooftops. Immediately following the tea, they open a cash bar and this guy performs with his wife. At least, I think it was his wife, she kept her face covered the whole time so I don’t really know for sure who was under there.

You can also ride a camel down to a 9-story step well. This is a pretty cool thing to do. It takes about an hour. If it’s hot, I would recommend not doing this in the middle of the day. Two people can ride each camel and I believe they can get up to 3 camels at a time. So, if this is something you are interested in doing, definitely make reservations at the hotel office. And if remember correctly, the cost of this was 200 rupees per person. Seriously, how can you pass that up?

This guy hangs out near the camels. While he might be their BFF, you can absolutely take my word for it that he is not on the welcoming committee. He apparently had not had his cup of coffee yet and was none too happy to see us. So, if you see him near the camels – steer clear – tee hee – get it? Steer clear! Isn’t he charming? I couldn’t swear to it, but I think this guy was giving me the horn. 😉

This step well is where they dug and dug and dug some more for water. It goes down deep – nine stories – hence the very clever name – 9-story step well. And if you go down, just remember, what goes down must come up. Have a good breakfast first! You are gonna burn some calories!

Coming back up the 9 stories of steps.

You will pass by these villagers on your way to the fort. Some of the children called out for candy. If I did this again, I would definitely put a few lollipops in my pocket.

And then there is the flying fox zip line. This is uber fun and you won’t want to miss it. Kids have to be 10 years old to do it (unless your parents are willing to fib a little). And think twice about doing this if you are pregnant or really, really out of shape. I did it – so that sets the physical fitness bar pretty way down low but it is a good 20 minutes of hiking up a (very) steep hill. You get a resting break every 10 minutes or whenever you need it. But the reward is well worth the trek! And the early morning suggestion absolutely applies here too. This is not something you want to do in the middle of the day heat. They do give you (safe) drinking water to take with you.

This is me bringing up the rear making sure my kids safely make it up ahead of me and that no child gets left behind.

First you get a little training session. How to start, stop, and not fall off the zip line – all the things you’ll want to know before you jump off the side of a very big hill attached to a wire and absolutely nothing else.

And then you zip through the air like a flying fox. And you get to do it 5 times on 5 different lines. And if you anything like me, you are now thinking – “holy zip, batman, does that mean I have to hike up that hill 5 times?” Luckily, one climb up one big arse hill does equal 5 zips. You go up once and zig zag back down.

And the view is great from the top.

And, as with everywhere I go, there were gorgeous flowers every time I turned around.

And this guy jogging his donkeys round and round and round made me feel like I was walking through a National Geographic movie.

If you have been following this blog for awhile, you might remember that sometimes I add a “girlfriend’s guide” to the places we visit. Well here are some tips that might prove helpful…..

All of the meals are served as buffets (kind of expensive especially if your kids prefer plain pasta). Ask for the menu. They do not offer it to you and do not advertise the fact that there is one. But I have heard the french fries are yummy.

The rooms do not have tv, which is absolutely wonderful – unless you your kids are expecting a tv. Bring a deck of cards or a few board games. You won’t miss the tv a bit.

Bring a bathing suit – there is a pool and it’s likely to be hot.

Bring bug spray.

Bring some candles so you can experience what it would have been like at night in the rooms of the fort. Just remember to blow them out before you go to bed. If you actually want to light the candles, bring matches.

When you check out, check your bill carefully. We had a couple of charges that were not ours – that could have totally been an accidental one-time thing – but just in case.

When you check out and leave the entrance with suitcases, they will ask to see your receipt that you have paid the bill. Just have it handy.

Don’t miss the gift shop on the way out. It’s got lots of fun and different stuff in it that isn’t outrageously overpriced.

The literature tells you that you are not allowed to bring your own wine/alcohol into the property. This is where my philosophy of asking forgiveness rather than permission works very well. I didn’t find the wine list to be fantastic or reasonably priced at all – if I remember correctly, your only option is to buy the entire bottle of expensive, not yummy wine. So, do with that info what you will.

Wear comfortable shoes – there is a lot of walking up and down narrow stair cases – which is very fun – but not exactly conducive to high heeled shoes.

Have fun!

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye…….

My dear friend from college put out a request on Facebook to see who might be interested in taking her daughter’s Flat Elizabeth on an adventure.

If you have never been entrusted with a Flat Stanley and do not have any idea what I am talking about, you should really consider what kind of friend you have been. For those of us who are trustworthy and creative and just spectacular in general, sometimes our friends will send us a Flat Stanley (or other cutout doll named after their child).  There is a children’s book about a boy named Stanley who gets smushed by a blackboard and accidentally sealed in an envelope and he ends up on a grand adventure. And some teachers think it is a great idea for kids in their class to create their own cutout doll and send him/her on his/her own grand adventure.

It is a really fun way for the kids to learn about the world.

Being so competitive willing to help another mother out, I raised my hand immediately. And, no I did not knock three other mothers down in the process – remember it was a virtual competition – I behaved myself quite nicely. After all, I am a civilized competitor – but I might have shouted “me, me, me” into the web-o-sphere once or twice. Maybe. And maybe not. But maybe.

In fact, lots of people offered (to no avail) to play tour guide to Flat Elizabeth. My friend is a delightful person and so it makes sense that a lot of friends would offer to help her. And I am not at all suggesting that they are losers in the Flat Elizabeth campaign – but you can see where she ended up. 😉

On a slow train to Ranthambore – the tiger preserve in India. Oh, yes, in case you have forgotten, India is where “I” live. Flat Elizabeth came to visit me! Yahoo! Not the other losers friends who offered to help out. I’m just sayin – I won, I won. tee hee.

She was a delightful travel companion. She didn’t each much and never had to stop for potty breaks. She didn’t even fight with her siblings – of course, that might have something to do with the fact that she does not have any siblings – but she did not fight once. And, yes, she is absolutely adorable. My friend friend’s daughter  is no slacker. She would never send a ragtag Flat Elizabeth to visit.

So Elizabeth went on a tiger safari and saw real tigers.

She went to an Indian classroom and found her initial on the board.

She saw forts and monkeys and learned a lot about the emperors of India.

She also rode a camel and an elephant.

She played in a band.

The only snafu that we hit was that security was tight at the Taj Mahal and they would not let dolls in. Yes, I know you would think the real threat would be guns, knives, or other expl*sives. But apparently, dolls are also on the no-go list. I tried as hard as I could to get them to change their minds. I explained it was for a school project – that Flat Elizabeth is really not a terr*rist and meant no harm to the Indian people. But it seems to have more to do with advertising – they do not want people taking pictures of the Taj with dolls and using them for advertisements. And, yes, I did my best to explain that in the west, we do not consider a piece of paper a doll. No offense intended to Flat Elizabeth – as I mentioned, she is the bestest Flat Elizabeth e.v.e.r –  but she hasn’t actually been offered a modeling career and her intentions were purely academic.

But we did not let that stop us. We found a picture of the Taj and took her picture in front of it and checked the Taj Mahal off our list.

She also had her picture taken with a member of the royal family.

Okay, now you are just being picky. He was a member of the royal family and he is sadly no longer with us – but once we stretched our imagination with the Taj Mahal, anything went. So, yes, that is a picture of her with a king. Truth be told, I think he was actually flirting with her. Don’t laugh – they have a lot in common you know – being made of paper is just one of the fine qualities they shared. Although I think she is from better stock than he is – or was.

She even wore a makeshift sari.

She also got all the diet coke she wanted. Shhhhh. Don’t tell my friend that part. But we loaded her up on caffeine.

Flat Elizabeth also got to stay in a palace. And enjoyed every second of the royal treatment.

And her bath at the end of the day was nothing short of divine.

Somewhere along the line, poor Flat Elizabeth lost an eye. I have sworn myself to secrecy on this one – mostly because I have no idea how it happened. But my dear friend understands that traveling in India can be dangerous. She has assured me that she knows of a very reputable eye surgeon in the U.S. who will keep it all on the down low.

Unfortunately I did not take a picture of her with only one eye because I did not want any evidence of the mishap should I be asked to testify later simply forgot. But I assure you, she was the cutest dang one-eyed “doll” e.v.e.r.

All the votes are in and it is o.f.f.i.c.i.a.l. – I am the best Flat Elizabeth hostess ever. Me, Me, Me.

My friend was so grateful that she sent this note…

Dear Queen of all things Flat Elizabeth,

Thank you so much for opening your heart and home to Flat Elizabeth. Your adventures with her far exceeded our highest expectations. You are just amazing. Our project will be so much better than anyone else’s. You are a rock star. It is as simple as that. We are hereby nominating you to the highest order of Flat Elizabethness and crown you supreme hostess and tour guide. It is with humble hearts and grateful friendship that we thank you for all that you have done for us. Even Mother Teresa herself could not have done such justice to this project.

Okay – what it really said was …

Dear A Reason 2 Write

Flat Elizabeth had a great time. Thanks.

Oh sure, the real version was more toned down than what I imagined it might be. But I know in my heart the Academy will be calling soon. Don’t doubt me. 😉

Guess who’s coming to dinner…………..

Sometimes it is so hard to put words to this Indian adventure. Yesterday was one of those days.

Flower’s birthday was last week and so, of course, she got chicken pox. We had to postpone the party and she was so sad because she had a really fun time planned for her friends. I joked that we had a whole week to make it better and make it unforgettable. Well, unforgettable it was. We hired a camel and an elephant and a guy to fill up 1,300 water balloons. Unforgettable indeed.

Just in case you are wondering – 1,300 water balloons last for about 2 and a half minutes in a full-on water balloon fight. But those knuckleheads didn’t miss a beat – they started a mud fight when the water balloons ran out. Yes, there are some parents who probably aren’t exactly happy, happy with me.


What made me smile the most was seeing our guard and our driver on the camel. Let’s just hope they don’t ask for hazardous duty pay.

Just another chapter in this crazy, crazy adventure.

Where to even begin………

My friends left this morning to go back to the United States. It is impossible to believe that two weeks can actually go by in the blink of an eye – but it did. It was amazing to have them here – we laughed, we cried, we shopped, and we ate our way through a good bit of India. It was fun to rediscover what I had begun to take for granted. We rode the night train and we zip-lined and we even stayed in a palace. I have so much to share – it will probably take weeks to tell you all of it – brace yourself!

But here is how I spent the morning of my birthday with two dear friends and a face that only a mother could love…

I can’t thank them enough for coming and they say they can’t thank me enough for “letting” them come. I begged them to come almost every day for a year – so if they call that “letting” them come, so be it. It was definitely a win-win!

When Pages Come Alive……..

Right before we left the United States, I read an amazing story about the family who built the Taj Mahal. It was Beneath A Marble Sky by John Shors. It’s historical fiction. So he took the facts and filled in the blanks. If you ever think you will visit the Taj Mahal, please read that book first. The pages will come alive.

So, we jumped right in and visited the Taj Mahal this weekend. This will probably be a long one – so go ahead and get yourself a cup of coffee. Or a beer – or whatever.

First – the drive. The Taj Mahal is about a 3-hour drive from Delhi. That is if there is no fog and no traffic. We got both. The fog was so thick that it was like driving through pudding. Vanilla pudding, but pudding none-the-less. Fog should only be an issue in the winter months. In the summer months, it’s the heat. So, pick your poison.

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It took a little much, much longer than expected. But we made it in one piece.

The Taj Mahal is located in a town named Agra. Forget everything you know about towns. Agra is congested and narrow and dirty and, did I mention congested? There are monkeys and cows and goats and people and cars and bikes and buses everywhere.

We hired a guide to take us through the Taj Mahal and its sister monument the Agra Fort. I highly recommend this. He was 500 rupees for the day – which is about $10 – we paid him more than that. It was worth every penny.

For example. He knew that you cannot park near the Taj Mahal. It used to be that you could park right in front of the monument grounds – but they are now worried about pollution. So, you have to park in a lot and either walk, ride a bus, ride an auto-rickshaw, ride a horse drawn carriage, or ride a camel drawn carriage. Which one did we pick? You got it – bring on the camel.

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This was probably the slowest (and smelliest) way to go. But I thought it would be the most authentic. Yes, my son loves me very much for that. Apparently, India has taught him that he is acutely aware of smells. Especially bad ones. This cost 300 rupees – about $6. We paid for both sides of the cart. You do not pay them until the return trip to the car. That way they will wait for you.

I did not take pictures of all the vendors who were literally on top of us as we walked down the street. Our guide told us not to look at them, not to buy anything, and not to talk to them. I guessed pictures might not be the best idea. See that college degree did pay off. I am thinking! I did learn a new word. Nay – I am not sure how you spell it – but you say it like this – Nay, Nay, Nay, NAY, NAAAAAYYYYY. And you walk quickly. And hold your kids hands. It’s not dangerous but you want them to know that no is, in fact, no.

And yes, your kids will probably want most of what they see. So it is helpful to tell them before hand not to even bother asking. Because, it turns out that it is not so helpful to have them asking you for things when you are trying to shoo the vendors away. It’s a little bit of a mixed message and the vendors can smell the want in the kids eyes.

This is the entrance to the Taj Mahal. It cost 750 rupees (about $15) to get in per adult. Children under 15 are free. You have to go through security. Yes, they pat you down. The only electronics allowed are cell phones and cameras. No ipods, MP3, or game boys. Cell phones and cameras. That’s it.

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There are 22 small domes on the entrance representing the 22 years it took to build the Taj Mahal. Another reason for a guide is that he will know just where to take all the good pictures and can shoo away the professional photographers who will charge you money for photos. You are allowed to take your own – you do not have to pay for them.

The Taj Mahal cost 32 million rupees to build. Twenty thousand people worked on it everyday that it was being built. This is what you see when you walk through the entrance. The Taj Mahal was meant to seem like it was floating in air. Job Well Done Shah Jahan. Floating it seems.

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It is very hard to describe how it feels to see the Taj Mahal for the first time. It is overwhelmingly majestic. It looks so soft and when you know the story of the love behind it – well, you can almost melt into its beauty.

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The grounds surrounding the Taj Mahal are beautiful as well.

This might have worked out better with a professional photographer. But it was fun trying. If you do it right, it looks like you are touching the tip of the Taj Mahal.

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The Taj Mahal and its surrounding monuments and temples are all symmetrical. The only thing that is not symmetrical is Shah Jahan’s tomb inside the Taj. His daughter buried him next to her mother after her brother stopped the building of Shah Jahan’s own mausoleum and imprisoned him. She understood their love and knew that they should spend eternity together. Awwww.

The pillars on the Taj Mahal look like they are perpendicular to the ground. They are not – they are bowing out at a 93 degree angle. This is so that from a distance it looks like they are straight up and down. Our guide also laughed that this was so that if the pillars fell, they would not fall on the monument. I am guessing that could be true. How they knew to do that so long ago and how they measured that angle? Maybe there is something to this whole math thing.

This picture was taken on the bench that was built for Princess Diana’s visit. So, I have now sat on the throne of a Princess in the Mausoleum of a King and Queen. Okay, maybe not, but a girl can dream, can’t she? Bring me my crown.

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The decorative flowers in the walls of the Taj Mahal are all semi-precious stones (like lapis lazuli, jade, crystal, turquoise, and amethyst) that that have been laid into the marble. The carvings are in one big slab of marble. So if they made one mistake, they had to start all over. I was amazed that you had to cover your shoes when you walk in the building (or take them off) but you are allowed to touch any part of the walls you want. Shoes not okay – oily, dirty human hands – bring them on. Okay. It was shocking how smoothly the stones fit into the marble.

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The rules said you are not allowed to take pictures inside the Taj Mahal. So I did not. I wish I had. But, rules are rules.

Follow me on to the next post – I am going to continue this so that there aren’t so many pictures for you to load in one post.