Last week, a lifelong dream of mine was realized; I visited the Taj Mahal. This week, we continue with this incredible trip to India and head to the central part of the country for a safari. I didn’t even know that India had safaris but getting there was an adventure in itself.
L.A. TIMES TRAVEL & ADVENTURE SHOW
If you live in Southern California, come on down to the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 14th and 15th to attend the L.A. Times Travel & Adventure Show. It’s a great place to find all kinds of travel inspiration, advice and deals. Yours truly will be speaking on two panels. Other featured speakers include: Rick Steves, Arthur Frommer, Pauline Frommer, Samantha Brown, Rolf Potts and more. Click here for further details.
One more bit of housekeeping: Last week I had two speaking gigs in Central Florida. I spoke at two schools; UCF and Rosen School of Hospitality Management. I’ve been on countless panels before, spoken at many schools and was even a keynote speaker for Hawaii’s Big Island Visitors Bureau conference. But this was the first time I got booked through my agent. The hour-long presentation went really well and because of all the positive feedback from the students, I’m all pumped up to continue to teach and inspire people to get out there and see the world. I now have two presentations available: One on how to travel the world on a budget but live like a rock star and another on how to woo a travel writer and tell if they are legitimate. If you would like me speak at your conference, office or college, please contact Wolfman Productions.
It turns out that Weill Public Relations, the company that helped arrange this Jet Airways around-the-world-trip, also represents andBEYOND. andBEYOND is Africa’s leading luxury safari company with more than 45 world-renowned African safari camps across 16 destinations (South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana). They recently brought their brilliant hospitality to India’s tiger country as they teamed up with India Safaris. They now operate four unique lodges in India.
THE JUNGLE BOOK
When Geoffrey Weill’s team asked if I wanted to spend a few more days in India and go on a luxurious tiger safari, of course, I jumped at the chance! To be honest, I didn’t even know India had safaris and when I discovered that the area I’d be visiting was the same area Rudyard Kipling wrote about in The Jungle Book, I beamed with joy. I loved The Jungle Book and was thrilled to be able to visit the place that inspired the story. I asked what it was like and learned that every guest has a butler (score!) who escorts you to and from your room at night because you’re situated right outside an unfenced national park that’s teeming with wildlife, including, get this … cobras. Snakes?! I despise snakes and especially cobras! For the next few weeks, every time I thought about the upcoming trip, my hands began to sweat.
DELHI TO AIRPORT
The journey began when Natalie and I left New Delhi’s Shangri-La hotel in an old-school taxi that took 40 minutes to get to Delhi’s domestic terminal. Can you believe the ride cost just 350INR ($7USD)? The friendly driver dropped us off in front and to enter the building, you need to show either your ticket or confirmation. Then, everyone puts their checked baggage through the explosive x-ray machine, where plastic ties are put on the zippers. Then, you check-in with the airline. The line moves quickly and there’s no charge to check a bag.
At security, there’s a separate line for women, which is much shorter than the one for men and is behind a curtain; no sneaking any perverted peaks here during the pat down. The male line is where the insanity begins. I don’t know what is up with male Indians but why is there no sense of order? Instead, it’s just a mad rush to the metal detector. On top of that the security belt, which works similarly as in the U.S. (you have to take your laptop out, no bottled water is allowed through but shoes can stay on), is not right next to the checkpoint. Instead, it’s a good 20 feet away, which makes it difficult to keep an eye on your stuff. Savvy travelers know that the security line is the easiest place for someone to steal something so I kept an eagle eye on my bag the whole time, to the point that I was so focused on it, I must have looked like a terrorist myself.
Once through the checkpoint, everyone is thoroughly frisked, even if you don’t beep. Then your ticket is stamped so you can board the plane. I had no idea what it was going to be like to fly an inter-India flight on a domestic airline. I have to admit: I had images of a packed, dirty little plane with chickens running loose or something. My fears became increasingly worse when I found out that Natalie and were booked on one of India’s low-fare carriers: IndiGo.
IndiGo’s tagline is India’s Coolest Airline and I was very pleasantly surprised walking up the plane ramp. The A320 plane was similar to jetBlue, except for the safety instruction card and there were no entertainment systems. The one-class plane was bright, inviting and clean and they were playing classical music over the PA system, which was nice and calming … and possibly just for insane Americans like me. The flight attendants were all young, impeccably dressed and sported beautiful smiles. I almost fainted when one of them opened the bathroom door for me midflight. The bathroom was spotless, too.
DELHI TO NAGPUR
Flight time to Nagpur, which is India’s thirteenth largest city (population: 2.4 million), was just an hour and twenty minutes. The flight attendants (who wouldn’t let me take a picture of them) came around with the drink cart shortly after takeoff. They charge for everything (drinks, sandwiches and snacks) but it was only 25 rupees ($0.51USD) for a bottle of water. Why can’t the U.S. sell water for that cheap so people don’t get dehydrated? They don’t offer hot beverages and if you want to work on your laptop, try to score either a bulkhead seat or an exit row since the seats are tight.
NAGPUR TO SAFARI LODGE
When we got our bags (they took a good 20 minutes to come out), the resort’s driver was waiting for us outside with a sign. We were the only westerners around and Natalie was getting a lot of stares as usual. We hopped in the vehicle, which was stocked with water, soft drinks, potato chips and cookies. The driver didn’t say much or speak much English and drove like he was a villain in a video game. I’d heard that driving in India was crazy but never could I have imagined this kind of insanity. Up until this trip, the craziest drive I’d ever had was in Naples, with some crazed Italian taxi driver who thought he was Mario Andretti. To put it into perspective for you, this driver in India made thatpaesan look like my 10th grade driving instructor.
For most of the 90-kilometer (55-mile), two and a half hour drive (it’s normally two hours), Natalie kept her head down, too scared to watch and I just shook my head in disbelief. I should have told him to slow down but I didn’t want to take his attention off the road and besides, he wasn’t the only one driving like that so it’s sometimes better to be on the offensive than the defensive. And of course, he’s a local and has done this drive countless times. We had to trust that he knew what he was doing.
BLOW THE HORN
In India, horns are constantly (and I mean every two to 10 seconds) beeping. It’s actually encouraged. Even trucks have Blow The Horn spray-painted on their backs. Everyone is passing one another, even on blind turns, and you can’t take your eyes off the road for a second. It’s nonstop dodging of huge overloaded trucks, packed buses, tuk tuks, scooters with entire families on them, cyclists, free-roaming livestock, dogs, monkeys, street hawkers, beggars and pedestrians. Technically, there are lanes, but no one seems to stay in them. It’s a free for all, where road rules are merely a suggestion. It’s complete madness. To make matters worse for an American, they drive on the left-hand side.
U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT WARNING
Foolishly, I didn’t read until after the trip that the U.S. State Department warns U.S. citizens that travel by road in India is dangerous and that a number of U.S. citizens have been involved in fatal traffic accidents in recent years. Some of their other warnings: Travel at night is particularly hazardous. Buses are usually driven fast, recklessly, and without consideration for the rules of the road. If a driver hits a person or a cow, he most likely won’t stop since he would probably be beaten to death and possibly the passenger, too. WHAT TO DO: Always wear seatbelts and ask the driver before you get in the car to take it slow. Trains are safer than automobiles. Click here for more information from the U.S. State Department.
Don’t get me wrong. Parts of the ride were very enjoyable and I would do it again tomorrow but I would insist that the driver go a bit slower. At times the scenery was amazing and the most memorable part was riding right alongside a packed train that was traveling from Mumbai to Calcutta; the journey takes three days. There was always something colorful or foreign to see and when we got closer to the lodge, the roads became less crowded, occasionally deserted and instantly peaceful. A few miles from the lodge there was a border check to enter the state of Madhya Pradesh. Who knew that India has border crossings for states? I’m not sure if all of India’s 28 states (and seven union territories) have border checks but how lucky are we to be able to travel freely around the U.S.A.?
Next week we will finish look for tigers while staying at a plush Indian safari lodge.
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.