Yes that's right, believe it or not the Reidys just survived a 2 week adventure around India. I had a marvelous time, to put it mildly; and I think (hope) they did too. Just imagine my Mom riding an elephant in the middle of the jungle, or Emma squashing cockroaches in a dirty hotel room, or my Dad having endless conversations with cab drivers who spoke precious little English, and you'll have a slight idea of how extraordinary this trip was.
Mom, Dad, and Emma arrived in Bombay in the wee hours of the morning the day after Christmas, and were thus able to witness the most rare and astonishing phenomenon in all of India - the roads of Mumbai clear of traffic. We spent 10 days in and around Mumbai, taking in the sights and enjoying the food. After that we packed up and embarked on our odyssey.
First we flew to Nagpur, in eastern Maharashtra, which was our home for one night (and the site of the Emma - Cockroach battle). Early in the morning we rented a vehicle and headed to Kanha, a Tiger Reserve. We checked into our gorgeous retreat after a seven hour drive and enjoyed the scenery and crisp air before retiring early. We rose even earlier than the day before at 4:30am and boarded our open-air safari jeep in the freezing pre-dawn chill on a mission to spot a tiger.
We cruised the reserve until almost noon. The landscape was lush and alive with birds, deer, and monkeys. We also got the occasional glimpse of a bison or rare bird, such as the reclusive and massive eagle-owl which swooped over our jeep. It was almost time to go when we learned of a nearby "Tiger Show." The park rangers, riding around on elephants, had located one of the tigers sleeping under a bush in mid-morning warmth. We drove to the closest point we could, and then boarded our very own elephant for the final distance through the bush to spot the tiger. The elephant was equipped with a small wooden platform which seated four tourists and a driver, and the thrill of being perched atop a pondering pachyderm nearly matched that of seeing one of the world's most dangerous predators.
Over the next two days we twice more ventured into the reserve, and although we did not spot another tiger it was not disappointing. The thrill of waiting in a hushed jeep, straining your ears to hear the screeching warning calls of monkeys high in the trees and trying to guess the exact location is one I will not soon forget. I was even bitten by the ornithology bug, thanks to Uday, our excellent and informative naturalist.
It was with great regret that we departed Kanha, and hopped an overnight train to our next stop - Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. The ride was an entire adventure itself; from the danger of not getting tickets (oops, I didn't book ahead) to the disgust of cockroaches swarming the sleeping coach, and finally the relief of finally arriving safe and sound in Agra. They say that most monuments and wonders of the world disappoint in person, but the Taj, like the Great Wall, is just as magnificent as could possibly be imagined. I can still hardly believe how perfect it is. The design is flawless, and the craftsmanship is superb. It is made even more impressive by Dad's observation that at roughly the same time as the Taj was erected the Pilgrims were starving and freezing to death in poorly made huts in Plymouth. We also took in several other Moughal tombs and the massive Agra Fort, all dating to the 15th and 16th centuries.
After Agra we headed to the capital, Delhi. We took in the sights, such as the stunning Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque), enjoyed some of the best Indian food I have ever tasted, and did some shopping the bazaars. Then it was time for a sad goodbye, as Mom, Dad, and Emma boarded their flight back home (via Moscow and an 11 hour layover - YUCK!). It was a wonderful, beautiful, superb adventure and family reunion all over India, and so much fun that I even shed a few tears after dropping them at the airport (shhhhh - don't tell anyone!).