Category Archives: travel

A woman’s place is …

A little game I like to play with myself when I travel is “could I live here?”

To do this I observe other women and take note of how day to day life operates. Please remember I am not commenting on India in general, just Ellora and Khuldabad, which are predominantly Sunni Muslim communities, where women cover their faces and hair when they go out in public and men get to the mosque at least once a day to pray.

As a middle aged white woman traveling alone, I stand out like a sore thumb here, and generally speaking standing out while traveling alone is not the safest position in any place.

But I’m not exactly traveling alone. I have a host here who has lived in the community his whole life and seems to know absolutely everyone. By virtue of my association with him and his family, I’m treated differently from the average tourist. While last year I was approached and almost mobbed by what seemed like everyone who saw me, this year no one comes near me. People smile and nod, but they are more reserved. No one is running after me yelling at me to pay attention to them. No one is “in my face.”

But I’ve also imposed some restrictions on myself. I don’t walk around alone. I don’t leave my room until someone has come to get me. I don’t browse shops alone. I don’t go anywhere alone at all, ever. This is normal for women here. The men escort their women to the market or wherever it is they wish to go. It’s like a vast society of soccer moms where the moms are men.

As a small test I left my “handler ” and with permission walked around the Ellora Caves alone. Initially I was not exactly ignored but no one approached me. But after a while three guys showed up who are part of the regular hawker crowd and began low key congenial conversations with me. In America this would be nothing noteworthy, but here I’m not so sure. My host showed up within minutes and led me away. Back to safety? Had he been following me?

I’m left wondering what signals I’m sending here. My host has confirmed that women just don’t go it alone here, with the exception of teachers and students. Otherwise, we are to be escorted and guarded, guided and informed. People just feel more relaxed when they know who you belong to. And if you’re alone, then obviously you belong to no one and that makes you fair game for acquisition. Or, so it seems.

So could I live here? There are charms to being taken care of. To having everything done for you, transportation arranged, money changed, errands run. As someone who does it all in my normal life, I like or shall I say “love” being taken care of. But being told what to do and how to do it is wearing thin. Needing an escort to feel safe is too.

I also notice that while women are taken care of here, they also work really hard. They stay home all day. They don’t take a break mid day and go off to the community garden like the guys do. They do get an afternoon nap after the cooking, laundry, and cleaning are done.

Awesome clothes, errands run, great food, afternoon naps….are these tradeoffs worth making for personal security and freedom?

Friends of my host say I would be perfectly fine here, but I’m not buying it. I’m not sure I could live in a place were women are ushered off to the back of the restaurant “to the family room,” when male children sit in the front. Men here come right out and admit that there are different rules for women and men. While this is troubling, the honesty is refreshing.

So sadly, I don’t think I could live here. I think I said it before—Russia seemed less oppressive.

The kids here though are so sweet and engaging. Young women stare at me in amazement and smile so warmly. I know I don’t have things figured out and certainly without better language skills, I’ll never have a clue. I’m left relying on my gut feeling. And my gut has been telling me to run for about a year now. Stupid gut.


Friends and Acquaintances

Admittedly, I am an oddity here. Tall, white, American, woman traveling without any male relatives, I tend to stand out to the extent that people have been known to run across fields to get a photo of me. What brought me here? Why did I come back? Where is my husband?

I’ve gotten used to the men staring at me. I try not to let them catch my eye. And I try to cut them some slack. I am like an alien from outer space randomly dropped into their world. Yesterday I noticed a camera flashing in my direction. One of the kids somehow related to my host was photographing me, eating.

I want to show all these people to you but I hesitate as I have entered a world where the women veil before leaving their homes. It seems wrong to blast their photos across the internet, so I think I’ll just show the people I’ve met outside and some of the boys, since they aren’t concerned with hiding themselves.

And here I think I can show you my host’s wife, an elegant and beautiful woman, who melts the world with her smile.

What am I doing here, besides struggling with autocorrect? Looking for some answer to some vaguely defined question. Something about trust and humanity. Something about belonging and community. Something about love and honesty. Money and mortality. The question remains elusive and the answers mocking. Just what am I doing here?

And randomly I keep noticing people I feel sure Ive seen before. Their faces grab me. Don’t I know you? But I couldn’t know any of them. Our paths have never crossed before. It even happened with a water buffalo?—I think that’s what it was. I was walking down the street and the animal locked eyes with me and I stood there stunned. What was it about this creature? It seemed to implore me. It seemed to know me. A large animal has never held my gaze like this and then suddenly it occurred to me that this animal was very old. Then sadly I realized that in my country, our large animals (cows) aren’t allowed to get old.

Poor thing was terribly thin.

Conversations in the airport

The Portland leg of the trip was the most relaxed as I got to “relax” for six hours while I waited for the plane to show up. There was a major storm on the East coast so I assumed that was the hold up, but in fact the plane had been delayed because it had gotten beaten up during a previous flight through a lot of turbulence. I decided not to dwell on that.

As I waited I had the opportunity to meet a man from Liberia and one from Armenia. The Armenian and I hit it off quickly as we seemed to have the old Soviet Union in common. He had never heard of Dovlatov or DDT, so points off. But he did tell me how his family had been forced to move under the Soviet regime, a common practice that I had learned about in school but got to talk about with someone who actually experienced it as we killed some time waiting. I told him about my fear of Russian policemen when I was out walking alone, and the Liberian seemed to take offense to this and asked in a mocking tone if they had been mean to me. I tried to explain how I often had trouble getting away from people back then when they found out I was an American, a real oddity on the deserted streets of nighttime Vladimir.

Later the Liberian confided that he had been in the US for five years and still felt very isolated. He missed having friends and the welcoming nature of his countrymen. He almost started to cry and I felt compelled to get him to think about all the fun he was soon going to have at home. I told him how lonely and isolated I felt too and we speculated for a time about different cultures and degrees of welcoming.

I’m getting very far behind on my posting, but I wanted to share William’s story here. Now that I’ve been in India for several days and have witnessed how connected my host is, I come back again to the value of community, the necessity of belonging in some way. I told William that Americans’ comparative lack of hospitality comes from bad diet and a priority on work over friendships, but actually I’m still grappling with why we are how we are. Perhaps it has more to do with class differences and the miserliness that wealth tends to inspire. It’s the difference between being in this together and recognizing the need to help others when and how they need it and being in this on our own where another’s loss is potentially our gain.

I reminded my cab driver of Durga

Appropriately enough for the beginning of a trip to India, I had quite the existential conversation with my cab driver who drove me the hour an a half ride from my home to the airport, where I now sit.

Waking Life. It was like that for me. Lots of deep thoughts from the cabbie. Lots of listening from me. The guy loved Bill Moyers, The Mahabharata, Joseph Campbell, and many others whose names escape me at the moment.

He told me that life is all a game devised by a bored God. That’s why there is both good and bad in the world, and also why we need to embrace life fully.

I came away from it all feeling quite enlightened. When we got to the airport he said he had told me everything he was supposed to. Did I say it was very Waking Life?

Delayed until 12:45 a.m.

The Starbucks in the airport closes at 9:30 p.m. It’s now 9:54 p.m. Sigh.

I’m reminded of the movie The Out of Towners in which Jack Lemmon doesn’t eat and then loses his chance. Lots of whining ensues.

My story. So, let me begin this way. It has come to my attention that my tour guide/friend from India and I have hugely different ideas of what acceptable accommodations are, begging the question of just how well do I know this guy?

Still in PDX

Going to India requires commitment, I’m finding as I continue to sit in Portland. My flight was delayed due to a big storm in New York.

It’s 9:42 as I write this and passed my bedtime. Going to India isn’t for wimps.

I’m trying to ignore the possibility that I could miss my connection in New York and then what?

So anyway, I guess I have some time to begin my story. I hate typing with my thumbs, btw.

Sorry to leave this post on a cliff hanger, but my Word Press app isn’t cooperating.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai

I think that when you travel to Mumbai, this hotel is a must see. A landmark in its own right, the Taj was built in 1903 by a man who was not allowed in other hotels because of the color of his skin. He vowed to build the grandest hotel in Mumbai and surely he accomplished that goal.

People who have stayed here or graced these grounds are numerous and humbling. Duke Ellington, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Oprah, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Ghandhi were all here.

I suggest staying in the Tower wing. It is newer and cheaper but most important it gives you an excellent view of the older part of the hotel which is stunningly beautiful.

Visa for India

Right before my trip, I had some concerns about how to get a visa for India. I contacted the travel office where I work and was instructed to go through a third party as they didn’t recognize the website I had found. The third party was expensive and was going to take some time. This is their website: Sorry, I’m just going to say it. This was bad advice.

That might be a great website for getting a business visa to India, but for a simple tourist visa, there is a much faster and easier way. In fact, by following the instructions to the letter, I received my e-Visa to India (and it worked) in 24 hours. Here is the website for that:

One more tip. When you get your passport photos (I got mine done at a local FedEx office), get several copies. The other copies will do for your visa and then once you get to India and you want to get an Indian phone number, a passport photo comes in really handy because they will want a photo of you when you get your temporary Indian phone number. More on that in a later post.

The importance of knowing Hindi in India 

People will argue with me about this, but I’m going to say yes it is important. Knowing at least a little Hindi will set you apart from all the other foreigners. Just knowing please, thank you, hello, goodbye, etc really goes a long way to showing interest and respect.

And, in my experience here, the people I was most drawn to knew very little English. 

Yes, you can get by without knowing anything. Most educated people will speak English, but you have to remember that their education is a result of privilege. Privilege insulates you from the harsh realities of the world and can even breed entitlement. In my experience people who feel a strong sense of their own entitlement are not only ignorant of the world but down right dull.

To meet all the coolest people, learn some Hindi.

Ellora Caves: Best ways to see

Tips: People tell me the best time to go is in November. This is for lush greenery and nice temperatures. They also say the rainy season is good for the waterfalls that run right past the caves. So that means June on into November. Take shoes with good tread for the rainy season because these rocks can get slick, and I personally would take a walking stick for this weather.

The posh experience: For luxury in India, it is my bet that you can’t beat the Taj hotel and its affiliates. Just be aware that you get what you pay for. These hotels can be as expensive as nice hotels in Seattle and New York City. But their service is phenomenal.

Authentic and more affordable Ellora caves experience: For much lower prices but to still get a safe and enjoyable experience, I have a couple of people to recommend. These guys are “hometown” men and know the region better than anyone. I have full confidence in them and they are who I would contact if I ever decided to return to the region. They can get you an affordable hotel walking distance from the caves! If you want to support local people, this is a great way to do it.

Mr. Sadeek speaks fairly good English. He knows everyone who is anyone in town. People go to him to get their problems solved. In other words, he’s the man.

The other person I met I don’t have permission to share his name and contact number simply because I didn’t ask. This person took me on a wonderful tour of Khaldabad, the resting place of Aurangzeb himself, and he too knows everyone. Younger and less experienced than Sadeek, this man is highly honorable. If interested, contact me via this blog and I can ask him if I can share his contact info.

For the finest cloth I have ever seen, hand spun on looms, you must visit this place. It is fairly close to Ellora caves.

I will be shopping with them online and possibly via WhatsApp.

And for great, trustworthy, knowlegable cab drivers, my choice is:

Emirates Airlines

I really liked Emirites Airlines. First of all, I got here alive. That merits an automatic “B+” in my book. But Emirites has more than earned an “A.”

Second, they are classy. The stewards and stewardesses look amazing, and they are exceptionally helpful and friendly. My top favorite airline is still Lufthanza, but I would definitely fly Emitates again.

The food was pretty darn good, the best I’ve had on an airline ever, but that was probably attributable to the customers served—Indians flying back home to India, so incredible vegetarian dishes were available. Have I mentioned I want to buy a cookbook here?

While the planes themselves didn’t look new new new, the pilots were fabulous. One landing in particular was as smooth as silk. We were up and then down. No furious breaking at the end. It was all nice and easy.

The video entertainment was outstanding. Movies galore! Plus, great flying and map stats in real time about our flight. Images are captioned in both Arabic and English.

This what first class looks like.

But I found my economy fare to be exceptional. Both of my flights had empty seats, so I had my row all to myself.

Trains in Mumbai

There has been a lot of advice to NOT ride the trains in Mumbai. They are crowded. They aren’t designed with foreigners in mind. They can be dangerous. People die on the tracks every single day. Blah, blah, blah. I’m totally going to do it. (I think.)

Notes to Self on Trains

  • Mumbai has 3 major train lines that run north and south.
  • There is also a new metro line in the northern suburbs and a monorail in eastern Mumbai.
  • The “Western” line has the most points of interest for travelers. (It starts in the south from Churchgate Station.)
  • To get around not being able to read or understand Hindi,  note your stop, how many stops you’re traveling, the stop before your destination.
  • Avoid peak hours! (9 to 10:30 a.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.)
  • Avoid going South in the morning.
  • Avoid going North at night.
  • At the ticket window, there should be two lines, one for second class tickets (right) and first class (left)
  • Tell the ticket attendant: [destination station] + first class + return journey + head wobble?
  • First Class ticket costs between 10 and 50 Rupees
  • Female only cars are green
  • First class is denoted by red and  yellow strips on the columns nearby or red and white stripes on the actual rail car


From Reality Tours and Travel



  • Can I just get a monthly pass or something like that? Do I have to buy a ticket every time?
  • Where do I get a map in English?

Special thanks to: