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Oh they were so beautiful. And they were everywhere in Kyoto and Kanazawa and everyplace in between. We first noticed them in Kanazawa as we rounded a corner and there they were. DSC_0243We screamed with excitement for we just couldn’t believe our eyes seeing such natural awesome beauty.DSC_0070

Soon, we calmed down as we enjoyed the glory of those pink cherry blossoms in parks and gardens, alongside rivers and roads and many places in between in Japan. DSC_0935Those famous cherry blossoms provided us glorious beauty every minute for 8 days as we toured Kanazawa, Kyoto and Tokyo on the Tauck World Discovery tour.

Sharon and I just had to experience the blossoms up close and personal. DSC_0037So one day in Kyoto, the former imperial city, we enjoyed a rickshaw ride among the blossoms for 90 minutes dressed in a traditional kimono.DSC_0833 It was just outstanding and so much fun as we connected with people enjoying the blossoms everywhere we went.DSC_0696 While we were touring around Kyoto, we saw a geisha girl escorting her guest among the cherry blossoms. It was a famous Japanese icon touring a famous Japanese icon.DSC_0994

The experience began with getting dressed into a kimono. I never knew there were so many layers to a kimono. There was an under slip and another slip and then a garment that reduces the waist size. DSC_0984The two dressers pulled the strings so tight, I begged for relief and air because I had trouble breathing.

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A traditional Japanese wedding proceeding through the streets in the Geisha area.

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The cummerbund made my breathing problem continue but after adding an inch or two, I could breathe.

What relief it was when they loosened the strings a little. The kimono was wrapped last with the wide cummerbund added and pulled tight again.

 

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Our outstanding tour guide, Armin Geiger between us and Mickey-Son on the right, our Japanese national guide, were always laughing and happy which made for an even more fun trip.

Our hair was styled next and flowers and leaves were added to complete the total kimono look. Socks that worked with the sandals were donned and we were ready for our public debut.

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Our national Japanese Mickey introduced himself with a photo of Mickey Mouse so we could remember his name. Then we learned to show respect, the Japanese always add “son” to a person’s name. So from then on, we called him Mickey-son. He truly enjoyed  being our national guide, always happy, laughing, respectful, positive with a can-do attitude. He and our Tauck World Discovery Tour Director, Armin Geiger, made the trip A++ for all of us.

We first met our tour guide, Armin Geiger and our national Japanese guide, Mickey-son. They couldn’t believe our transformation and yes, we had to have our photo made with them. DSC_0032Waiting for us at the hotel entrance was our private rickshaws and the petite drivers. Now we were ready to tour Kyoto’s cherry blossoms and tour we did.

 

DSC_1057Every year those cherry blossoms pop open in late March or early April but no one knows exactly when.DSC_0202 So thousands of Japanese stage a vigil under the trees and wait for hours until just the moment the blooms pop open.

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Japan’s Mt. Fiji still had snow on it in April.

This sacred vigil tradition has been going on for thousands of years. We rode among the trees when the blooms were in full bloom and the pedals were beginning to fall.

 

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There were many Japanese families and children our to see the blossoms and get a beautiful photo.

It was like a light pink pedal rain adding to the ambience of the ride. It was the 9th of April.

DSC_0690They call it Sakura which means cherry blossom time. The moment the cherry blossom opens is a major festival in Japan that began in the Nara Period 710-794 A.D. Blooms happen February to May from south Okinawa to north Hokkaido, Japan.

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A precious little Japanese child. Children were everywhere and they were so cute.

It is a sacred time because it signals the beginning of rice planting. And thousands and thousands gather to eat and drink and be merry at this Hanami, blossom viewing because it is party time.

DSC_0807Climate conditions control the exact second the blossoms open. If it is a cold winter, the blossoms may not open until later. If it is a mild winter, the blossoms may open sooner. DSC_0826And if it is a rainy winter, the petals start to drop sooner. Because of these variables, the people watch the forecast and the blossoms by the minute. This year, the blossoms were later because it had been a colder winter.

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An ad from a Tokyo Hotel showing it and the cherry blossoms trees. The cherry trees do not produce cherries. They are only ornamental.

Everything is about cherry blossoms during this time. Special foods and drinks are made for Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing parties, for this most loved festival. There is Hanami beer, Kit Kat candy bars, dumplings, crisps, sweet alcoholic canned drinks and even Starbucks Latte.

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My soft serve ice cream cone cost $10 USD, the most expensive one I had ever eaten. But it was covered with gold leaf and Kanazawa, Japan was where they were sold. Kanazawa is known for it gold mines. It tasted great and I really couldn’t tell any difference from a gold or no-gold cone.

I ate an18-carat gold leaf ice cream cone in the Kenrokuen Gardens in Kanazawa. It was delicious and I didn’t get sick and I am still alive.DSC_1002

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Kenrokuen Gardens is the third most popular garden in Japan because it contains the 6 elements of a perfect Japanese Garden. They are spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water, and magnificent view from the garden.

DSC_0268At night, lighted lanterns under the trees shined their soft glow so the blossoms could be seen, making for a beautiful romantic and relaxing atmosphere for the night beneath the pink glow of those blossoms. And thousands came to view the beauty.DSC_1029

But there was more of this dreamy tour of Japan to come. DSC_0399And it was the onsen known as naked communion. Japanese have enjoyed hot spring onsens as an integral part of their culture forever because it breaks down barriers between others as they soak in the natural hot springs.

DSC_0402This Tauck tour included an onsen bath for every guest, But I was not certain I would enjoy one as I had been to Japan three times before and passed on one each time when I learned I had to do it NAKED. DSC_0409Swim suits were not allowed. I wasn’t sure I could take a bath nude along with other people in the nude. But this tour could be my last tour of Japan and if I was going to do one, I better do it now, I reasoned. DSC_0403So, I grieved and grieved over doing the onsen for days. But now the final chance had come to do it or not.

DSC_0675To check out one, I went to the onsen for a tour to see what it was like as we were staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. I learned that the Japanese have separate men and women onsens which helped my decision somewhat. DSC_0672And I learned I had to take a bath before I used the onsen.  Bathers could not get the spring water dirty and could not use a towel.

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Only a small cloth approximately 10×12 inches could be used to dry off and to cover any body parts getting in and out of the onsen. And when in the hot springs, the cloth was kept on the head so as not to dirty the water. That was it.

Now that I had seen the onsen, I decided to try it when everyone was at dinner. Then there would not be anyone using the onsen, I reasoned. After eating an early dinner, it was off to the onsen and there was no one there. DSC_0415

Hurriedly, I showered by the onsen and then made it into the hot spring. It was nice and not too hot. To my surprise, I floated and could not stay below the water but the water was warm and wonderful. After 10 minutes, it was time for my adventure to end. DSC_0689

After dressing, I made my way back to my room pleased that I had experienced a centuries old tradition of a Japanese onsen in cherry blossom time. And I was evenDSC_0671

more pleased and happy that we experienced so many more adventures and things. It was 2 weeks of heaven in Japan at cherry blossom time.DSC_0217

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Our bus driver was dressed professional at all times. And every taxi we took, the driver looked the same. Plus the seats were covered with white lace.

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This was the first sign I had seen like this in the world.

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Another precious little Japanese child and her Mother. Many people were wearing masks during this cherry blossom time. I learned that the blossoms produce pollen and some people are allergic to it.

And I was pleased that I had enjoyed Kyoto, Japan riding in a rickshaw dressed in a kimono while enjoying the people along the way who were also enjoying the enchanting and glorious cherry blossoms.

Photo Copy ©  2017 carolyntravels.com 

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Japanese ladies made the white Dove of Peace using Origami and gave each one of us this memento gift.

 

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Every dish we had of the Japanese food was delicious. But we did not know what we were eating even though Tauck provided the name of each dish. Still, each meal was a wonderful surprise.

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These 3 ladies rented their kimonos for the day and walked around and under the cherry blossoms all day. It added so much to the festivities for them and us.

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We had never seen a sign like this one either. I thought it was wonderful.

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Aren’t these 2 little dolls precious. They were with their grandfather who bought them an ice cream and he said I could take their photo.

 

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This dessert was light and delicious and my favorite. It was like a soft gelatin and I could have eaten many more of them..

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Inside our ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, where guests sleep on a futon on the floor.

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Sharon and I learned to make Japanese Ikebana flower arrangements. We also learned to make Sushi for one lunch and it was delicious.

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At our Farewell Dinner, we watched these Sumo wrestlers in a match.

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This little Japanese garden was our scenery as we ate a typical Japanese lunch. It was delicious.

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This wall of Japanese vending machines had every kind of food or item one might want.

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“How did you get up here?” I asked her. The lady replied, “They carried me.” As we continued our travels around Ethiopia, she was in the same places as we were, Lalibela, the Omo Valley and Addis Abba. 13-2I began speaking with her and learned this lady travels all over the world just like we do.pic7

But this lady travels in a wheelchair. Soon we became friends and I started asking how she makes it because I might need to know one day myself. And while we discussed all of her tips and ideas, I thought how many other people would like to know how she does it so successfully.

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Even the cattle were wondering how she made it to many countries around the world HANDICAPPED.

Following is her story and photos of her various trips around the world to Austria, Japan, Mongolia, Namibia, Norway, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, China, Myanmar, Antarctica, Trans Siberian Express, Argentina, Bermuda and more.pic6

By Cynthia Henry

“Physically handicapped,” “disabled,” “physically challenged,” “differently abled”….. I have yet to find any term that feels comfortable for a life-changing condition that no one expects.  But, I no longer need to!  Thanks to Journeys International and API Tours of Indonesia (JI’s overseas operator), Focus Tours and more, I now use “World Traveler!”  What a thrill to return from two and a half weeks in Indonesia and say, “What a grand trip—and it was do-able!”pic1

Were there challenges? Well, sure.  Did they work out?  Yes, with the help of my traveling companions, Molly and Carolynne, and the operators, drivers, guides, boatmen and local people of Journeys/API and Focus Tours.  Were the challenges overwhelming?  NO!  Could I do every single activity that Molly and Carolynne did?  I never planned to and did sit out some, but was thrilled and amazed at what everyone made possible!pic5

I had done much traveling over the years and planned to continue as I eased into retirement in 2003.  I got in four overseas trips until… March 2005.  Who was to know that I would then topple off an exercise ball and suffer a spinal cord injury? As I lay paralyzed in rehab, thoughts of going to such remote places flowed out of my head while I instead worked on feeding myself a cheese sandwich. 

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Does this look handicapped accessible? It is if you have several strong wonderful men helping you in every way.

Well, movement came back.  I eventually returned home, learned how to live from a wheelchair and soon “graduated” to a walker.  I continue to use the walker and always will; I take a wheelchair on trips, which I use as a walker when not being pushed.   I can go up and down steps, either with a railing or with support from two companions and someone hauling the wheelchair up.    I am slow, awkward and have a variety of physical issues, but…I can also travel around the world! 

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My wheelchair was welcomed in all countries I visited and so was I. We both were treated with a “can do” attitude and they figured out every way to make the trip an enjoyable experience.

After I began experimenting with shorter and then longer excursions and finding out I could fly (get down the aisle and use the bathroom), a major life goal, I began thinking of the possibility of travel outside the country.  Since then, I have been on several overseas trips!  Five of my trips have been with Journeys International, that company rep providing the warmest and most hopeful and helpful response to my tentative query of  “….uh….what do you think?  Here’s what I can do.”   Pat’s response, in essence, were six magic words, “Our guides will get you up.”  And, they did!

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Stairs were no problem. Several men just picked me up in my wheelchair and carried me right up the stairs perfectly. But many times I was able to climb a few stairs using handrails and a helper.

JI’s philosophy is that people with special needs have rights—the right to travel, the right to have “inaccessible” places made accessible, the freedom to go places they may have thought impossible… They then provide the support of so many staff to make this happen.  Each JI agent has been wonderful in working with me.  They assure me this will work and take every step necessary to see that it does.  Many thanks to them!

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My traveling companions and good friends, Molly and Carolynne are always willing to travel with me and assist me

So, how did the staff on the ground make all this possible? First, the spirit of Journey’s International/API/Focus Tours was there.  I felt only support and no apprehension or dismay at the extra responsibilities that my situation meant for so many people. Every guide, driver (van or boat), hotel staff member and all others were kind, patient and helpful.Pic26.png

Bali, Indonesia had long been a goal, and so we finally booked it.  But, then, Molly called and said, “Guess what!!!  They have extensions to see the orangutans on Borneo and the Komodo dragons on Komodo Island!”  My immediate thought, was “Oh, no, extensive sitting in a van or on a boat or alongside the trail while my two friends go traipsing off on marvelous adventures.”  But, I weakly responded, “Uh, sure…take lots of pictures for me.”pic36

I generally have a “rule” of no pictures of me in the wheelchair, but the ingenuity, the creativity, the physical strength, the dedication of everyone, the incongruousness of it all—well, no choice this time around!  And, thank goodness, we did document, so that when our final guide, Yansur, asked that I do a report as a traveler with a disability, we were ready to say, “You bet!”    He hoped it would inspire more people with special needs to venture to the far corners of the globe.  I hope that will be the case.pic37

Now to my report on this specific trip, especially the parts that I had no expectations of seeing–the orangutans and the Komodo dragons…. Bali was lovely, fairly routine sightseeing , and we enjoyed the ease of driving around and staying at marvelous hotels.  Budi was our outstanding guide.  I did have to stay in the van for a few off-the-road surprises, but, am used to that.pic24 The main help provided that made a huge difference was our wonderful driver coming up with a step to make my way into the van without such massive bottom boosts.  Some vans are easier than others, and our driver throughout Bali converted this one into the “easy” category.  He and all drivers were so kind to wrestle that wheelchair in and out of the back area so I could enjoy the monkey forest near Ubud and a Rhesus monkey on my head.pic33

We flew to Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo, for our orangutan experience  Again, I did not expect to see any, except possibly swinging through the jungle trees during the boat journeys or from the boat at the get-in site, both of which actually did happen.  Pic27.png

However, while still in Bali, my hopes were raised with a message from our wonderful companies that they were confident they had a plan to make it work!!! The word “palanquin” does not often come up in my vocabulary, but the written description brought it forth.  Sure enough…oh, my…  and my dream was accomplished well beyond anything I imagined.

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Momma and Baby at eating station in Camp Leakey. Photo by Carolyn

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With my usual awkwardness and trepidation (all this isn’t emotionally stress-free), and with many hands helping many body parts, I am loaded bit by bit onto the boat, get comfy in my chair—and ponder my latest wheelchair riding in first class… rigged up with a rope loop handle attached to each of the four corners.pic34

After two hours, with a couple of orangutans along the way, we reach delightful Rimba Lodge and enough adventures for us all!  First by my just getting there…!   We begin with a nice boardwalk and board-carrying me in my wheelchair. And, off we go—some bare feet, tree roots, bumps, streams, slippery slopes…hard work, indeed!pic35

Success!   It can be handy to bring your own ringside seat for watching orangutans at a feeding station or mother and baby right in front of you.

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Dr. Birute Galdikas is the number one orangutan expert in the world and the creator of Camp Leakey. Photo by Carolyn

I had long wanted to see where Birute Galdikas, one of the three Leakey women primate researchers, did her thing, along with Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall doing theirs in Africa.  And, here I am at Camp Leakey, thanks to my “four strong men” as Erwin reassured me!pic42

On to the Komodo dragons on Rinca Island, Indonesia…another “impossible” feat to get me to these remarkable creatures..pic41

My wheelchair and a vegetable cart are loaded onto the boat. The cart was unloaded, and then fitted with a lounge chair so that I could follow the path of this prehistoric reptile waddling ahead of me. We made it to the ranger station for some fun viewing while the others trekked through the wilderness, seeing six in the wild.pic44

The four men from API Tours who met with us in the lobby of our hotel in Santur, at the end of our Indonesia journey emphasized that dealing with my specials needs, and working along with staff on the ground to solve the issues required was not a burden, but an exhilarating challenge to be creative and to work out plans for me to see the animals.a-196

And then there was Harbin, China and the world famous Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival where my wheelchair was fitted with skis that I was told to bring with me so my helper could just push me on ice around the awesomely incredible illuminated sculptures in below freezing temperature.2017-wheelchair-skis-closeup

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And then there was Antarctica where I thought I would just see it. But, no. The ship crew saw to it that I would experience and stand on THE island and even enjoy a glass of champagne to celebrate making it.cynthia-on-cont

Our experience in Mongolia was another great experience. Several times, I left the wheelchair and one time I would be surprised when I returned to it, like the time a precious Mongolian boy taking a nap or working on a game. mongolia-2009

And in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, an iguana was resting on the chair’s arm and a chameleon sat on my arm.pic23

In Myanmar/Burma, we watched an ox harvest peanut oil while walking around and around. Afterwards, we could buy it and sample it. What an experience that was.burma-2013-3

Asaro Mudmen

And in Papua New Guinea, we were so fortunate to experience the Asaro Mudmen. Amazing! I am so grateful for all who made feasible these incredible experiences that I never imagined would happen.

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Watching the tango being danced in Buenos Aires, Argentina was one highlight of our trip there. Photo by Carolyn.

I encourage anyone to contact me should you have questions or need additional information. Perhaps by knowing as much as possible about my physical situation and adaptations, this will help you judge your ability to travel to “far away places with strange sounding names!” If anyone can get you there, Journeys International/API Tours, Focus Tours and others can if you ask!

Cynthia Henry     cynthiahenry819@gmail.com

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Here we are going into Camp Leakey to see those orangutans up close and personal.

 

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When I visited the wild mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, I learned they are equipped with a chair to carry handicapped persons up the mountain to be with the gorillas. So, I hired a crew of 8-12 men to carry me up the mountain for a one-hour trek. Four men rotated every 10 minutes. The experience was unbelievable and the scenery up and back was so beautiful and interesting. With those men carrying me, we crossed a creek like it wasn’t there in Uganda. Waiting for us was a family of gorillas going about their daily life for us to enjoy. It was worth every penny and a once in a lifetime experience I will treasure always. Emmy Maseruka (emmymaseruka@gmail.com) of Afrikan Wildlife Safaris, was our guide for the entire safari and visit to the gorillas. He did an A+ job for us. Emmy will take 2 persons or more to see the gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda for 10 days for $4851.00 per person, (plus government gorilla permits in Uganda and Rwanda are separate). Carolyn

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Here I am in Lhasa, Tibet enjoying my favorite chocolate ice cream while riding in a wheelchair the entire 3 days because of my broken foot. My 2 helpers took me all over the nearly 11,500 feet high city. It was a wonderful experience.

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While sitting in a wheelchair, this beautiful lady in Saudi Arabia put henna on my hands. It was at one of the booths at an entertainment park during a special festival for the families around Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. June Landrum, my adventurous travel companion and I were honored to attend this special festival. The people were as happy to meet us as we were to meet them and we took photos of each other on our cell phones! I was in a wheelchair for this event because I could not walk for 4 hours non-stop due to my chronic arthritic back pain.

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And yes, June Landrum and I had to have an ice cream like we do in every country we visit in the world. And everyone is delicious! Of, course, we are stared at everywhere we go and we become friends with them all. This Saudi Arabia tour with Spiekermann Tours (mideastrvl.com)  was a delightful, fun experience with the incredible country and we were welcomed everywhere we went.

 

Photo Copy ©  2017 carolyntravels.com

Photos taken for Cynthia’s story were by Molly.

 

 

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As we entered the Harishchandra Ghat in Varanasi, India, we noticed the heat and we were 20-25 feet away. Then, we saw a group of people watching from a step high above the sacred Ganges River.dsc_0124 And all along the river for several Ghats, thousands and thousands people were everywhere. It was then that we learned everything that was happening.india-jan-2008-1-886-2

What were we’re seeing, Ajay Pandey with Bestway Tours and Safaris told us, were Hindu ceremonies at the most sacred place in India that take place 24/7 each and every day. “No other place on Earth, Ajay said, “holds daily cremations at Varanasi like this right by the sacred Ganges River for the devout Hindu.” Over 80 cremations are performed daily on bodies brought by family members from everywhere any way they can to reach the cremation site because this Ghat and the Manikarnika Ghat are the main places where Hindu can reach Moksha. Cremation must occur within 24 hours of death.

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Ladies observing  Chhath Puja.

In addition, on this particular day, several Ghats( concrete steps on the bank down to the Ganges River) were packed with people observing Chhath Puja, a yearly 4-day observation where the faithful Hindu pay obedience to the Sun God. And this event was separate from the daily cremations. It just so happened that the 2 events shared the same area of the Ganges River. Married men and women observing the 36-hour fast prayed for the well being and prosperity of their families.dsc_0248

This age-old observance on the Ghats by the Ganges River was one of the many sites in eastern India where the festival was observed. The puja starts with the ritual of ‘Nahai-Khai’, in which devotees prepare traditional food after bathing. The second day is ‘Kharna’, during which devotees observe a 36-hour-long fast which starts from the second day evening onwards and continues till the fourth day sunrise.The third day, the devotees stand in water and offer ‘Arghya’ to the setting sun God.dsc_0255

On the fourth and final day of puja, devotees and their friends and relatives assembled at the Ghats on the river bank before sunrise and offer ‘Arghya’ to the rising sun God.dsc_0240

These devotees and others all watched the cremations and final day of the Chhath Puja, a once a year happening at Varanasi and all of East India. Several of the 87 Ghats along the Ganges River in Varanasi were full of people, and the river close to the cremation ceremonies was full of boats full of people observing it all.india-jan-2008-1-984

As cremations were on going 24/7, we saw only males watching their loved one being cremated on a pyre. Hindu accepts death as a positive event on the way to Moksha and peace. Hindus believe the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives -samsara- and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived -karma. Hinduism is not only a religion, it is a cultural way of life.

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This Rangoli is an Indian art form on the floor using petals, rice, flour, colored sand, and other materials. It is thought to bring good luck and reflect traditional folklore and practices unique to an area. A Rangoli can be done in flower shapes, deity impressions, or flower or petal shapes.

Before each cremation began, the male survivors took the body wrapped in a gold or white cloth topped with ribbons,  marigolds and other flowers to the sacred river for washing to relieve the body of its sins.india-jan-2008-1-861

Then the body was placed on a wooden pyre and the #1 male survivor, dressed in white, set the wood on fire. Prayers are said to Yarma, the god of death. The body is now an offering to Agni, the god of fire. Cremation takes 3-4 hours. When the skull explodes, it signifies that the soul had been released to heaven. The Dom keeps the fire going during the entire cremation and cows strolled around some of the pyres eating the marigolds and other flowers on the ground.dsc_0123-2

Many of these family members saved money for years to be able to buy the wood for their cremation. The most expensive wood is sandalwood and teak. Mango is the cheapest. The untouchables of society, called Dom, oversee each cremation and charge a fee to do so. They also charge for wood and weigh each log. Many of these Dom make a lot of money from the cremations.dsc_0121

The Dom stacks the wood into a pyre. Then the body is unwrapped and placed on the pyre. To keep it flat during cremation, more wood is placed on top of the body. The attending Dom then gives the #1 male survivor the flame with which he sets the pyre afire. Dry wood ignites immediately with flames leaping into the air and covering the body.dsc_0118

Should a person not have enough money to buy all the needed wood, the body is partially cremated with the amount of wood they can afford. Then the ashes and remaining body parts are put into the Ganges River where the soul is transported to heaven to escape the cycle of rebirth. The holier the place the better the chance the soul will achieve “Moksha” or cycle of rebirth and avoid returning to earth as an animal or insect.

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The red line into a woman’s hair indicates she is married.

Women are not allowed at the cremation because it is believed that their cries will interrupt the cremation and cause the soul to not make it to moksha. The transfer must be pure, and not sad or painful. We were allowed to pass through Harishchandra Ghat by keeping a respectable distance. And photographs are allowed only from a respectable distance.dsc_0288

Because of pollution concern, some cremations are performed in other locations and then the ashes are put into the Ganges River. But most Hindu choose the traditional cremation that has been carried out for thousands of years. After cremation, the ashes are searched for gold, and if any is found, it is given to the poor for purchasing wood.dsc_0206-2

After observing cremations from afar, we reached the Ganges River where a small wooden boat was waiting to take us to observe the “Prayer of the Ganges” to make the Ganges River happy to receive bodies into Moksha. This was at the Dashashwamegh Ghat. My first tour of India with Tauck.com included this Prayer of the Ganges ceremony and I was so impressed I decided to visit again on my private Bestway tour.

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dsc_0241Lasting for 1 hour each night, the Prayers are watched by scores of boats full of observers floating on the Ganges River. And we were one of them. The 9 Hindu priests perform the worship arti of the river Ganges to fire where a dedication is made to the Ganges River, Lord Shiva, the Sun, Fire and the whole universe.india-jan-2008-1-888

Under powerful lights that illuminate the Ghat, rhythmic chants and offerings are made by the nine priests to the river to accept the soul of the deceased on their journey to Moksha. We floated oil lamp candles in the river meaning light, happiness and knowledge. It was a most reverend ceremony.india-jan-2008-1-862

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One of the neon umbrellas under which a guru will celebrate the Prayer of the Ganges, which makes the River happy to receive the body into Moksha.

dsc_0210-2This one particular evening once a year, 2 events occurred at the same time, the daily cremation ceremony and Chhath Puja, the last day of the 36-hour fast that pays obedience to the Sun God. Hundreds of Hindu devotees packed the Ghats with baskets of food and flowers and family and friends to break that fast.dsc_0259

Watching the deceased take the journey to Moksha and the Hindu break the Chhath Puja fast was a total experience like no other in the world. Being able to observe both ceremonies in Varanasi, India, the holiest city in India, at the same time was a total honor.

Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com 

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The sacred Ganges River the morning after a night of cremations.

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Every morning the Hindu bath in the sacred Ganges River to wash away their sins.

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A man and his Cobra.

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At the ceremony was a Sadhus (Religious man) or Guru.

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This young man was selling marigolds and candles to put into the river to honor the dead.

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Cattle are everywhere all the time eating anything they can find, such as the flowers left over from the bodies while they were being cremated. All animals are sacred.

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All of their offices are on sidewalks. As we watched at one of them on Churchgate Street, each one arrived on foot or bicycle carrying priceless bags of spicy treats and specialties for their many clients.

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The Dhabbawallahs lift a tray full of heavy tiffins full of delicious food for their clients. And time is of the essence in delivering at a specific time.

 One after the other they arrived at about the same time and exchanged scores of tiffins with each other using a delivery system that is one-of-a-kind.

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A metal Tiffin. Photo by June Landrum

In those bags were tiffins full of fresh cooked hot food that family members prepared at home for their loved one to eat at work a few hours later. Each tiffin contained 3 or 4 bowls that connect together to make one container. How the tiffins get to the family member’s place of work in downtown Mumbai/Bombay, India, is a system and method only the Dhabawallah delivery men understand. The Dhabbawallahs put certain marks on the tiffins, such as a different color or group of symbols indicating the correct train or office.

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The coding system the Dhabbawallahs use to know where to deliver and pick up the tiffins. Photo by June Landrum

“Dhabba” in the Hindu language means food and “wallah” means person. So, the delivery men are called Dhabbawallahs and they have been delivering the home cooked meals since 1890 for clients who want only their home cooked specialties to eat because they think their food is best because of their religions or diets. As more and more clients requested delivered meals,  a delivery system had to be developed that worked for them because they have minimal education.

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A stack of tiffins to be delivered to a certain office building in Mumbai.

The delivery system was started in 1890 by Mahadeo Havai Bachche, a Parsi banker, who wanted his family’s home-cooked food. More and more friends and employees also wanted home cooked food so he hired 100 Dhabawallahs at first to deliver the food. Today, more than 5,000 Dhabbawallahs do it, delivering 60-70 tiffins each day to clients in downtown office buildings in Mumbai/Bombay, India.

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The Dhabbawallahs hang so many tiffins on their bicycles that they have little room left for themselves.

The Dhabbawallahs are men who pick up the tiffins each morning at 7:15 a.m. at client’s houses located about 60-70 kilometers from the office area and deliver them by train, bicycle and foot by 12:45 p.m. to the family member’s place of work using their unique coding system. Very few mistakes are made in deliveries considering that a tiffin can pass through up to 12 different Dhabbawallahs’ hands from the home to the office and back.

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Checking the delivery list to make sure all is correct before delivery.

Dressed in all white and wearing a Gandhi hat, the Dhabbawallahs meet every day Monday-Saturday at the same places in Mumbai and exchange bags containing tiffins. And they deliver the tiffins though all kinds of weather, conditions and holidays. They place the appropriate bag on the sidewalk to start a group of other tiffins that are to be delivered to that same building or street. As each Dhabbawallah arrived between 11:40 a.m.-12noon, they placed the tiffins in the appropriate office group on the sidewalk.DSC_0141

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And now all is in order to deliver, so the Dhabbawallahs take off as fast as they can through all the traffic and watching tourists to the correct offices. Our guide with this Bestway.com tour, took us to the Churchgate Street corner so we could watch the Dhabbawallahs do their work.

When all the bags had arrived from the clients, each Dhabbawallah took off with all of new bags attached to a bicycle or in a large wooden tray and delivered each one to the appropriate person’s place of work. In the tiffins, some family members placed notes, flowers, tickets, an all sorts of communications. Now, the clients enjoy their delicious lunch until 1:45 p.m. And the Dhabawallahs enjoy their lunch when all the tiffins are delivered.

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Now for a final check and lunch for the Dhabbawallahs. Photo by June Landrum

This custom service provided by the Dhabbawallahs cost $14 USD or 900 Rupees per person per month. Each Dhabbawallah earns 10,000 Rupees per month ($155 USD) and they all work for the common good as a team for the trust that oversees them.

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A tray full of tiffins ready for delivery, each one with a special code on the top directing the Dhabbawallah where to deliver them.

But this service did not end after all lunches were delivered because each Dhabbawallah then returned to all of his client’s offices and picked up the empty tiffins at 2:15 pm. With the empty tiffins in his hands, each Dhabbawallah then met back at the Churchgate corner where they reversed the process and exchanged empty tiffins.

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These Dhabbawallahs wait for a few more tiffins to arrive before they can take off for their destination.

By 2:45 pm the Dhabbawallahs were back on one of the three train routes where their clients live with all of their empty tiffins to deliver to the homes around 5pm. Family members then cleaned and washed the tiffins and had them ready for the next day’s spicy Indian food specialties such as lentils, rice, vegetables and chapattis, all home-style and delivered to the customer’s delight. And the Dhabbawallahs will be there at 7:15 a.m. the next morning to pick up the fresh cooked specialties.

And this has been going on for more than 125 years, by Dhabbawallahs using a delivery system that is one-of-a-kind, where they deliver home cooked lunches appreciated and enjoyed by all the customers.         Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com

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Photo by June Landrum

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They come by the thousands every day dressed in turbans, scarves, saris, kurtas and western clothing not only to pray but to sit in a row on the floor cross-legged and barefooted in a huge hall next to anyone regardless of race, color, sex, caste, religion, creed, age or social status. And they all get along and follow the procedures established by the kitchen.DSC_0626

 

This is every day at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, India where the Temple’s kitchen (called langar in Punjabi) serves up to 40,000 hungry people a vegetarian meal 24 hours a day every day of the year. And on Holy Days, weekends and holidays the crowd can reach 100,000+ at the Golden Gurudwara (Temple) for a free meal. And this has been going on since the Sikh religion began in 1469.

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Although all Sikh temples have a langar and serve free meals to pilgrims, the langar at the Golden Temple in Amritsar is like no other because it has the largest free kitchen in the world. “It has so many visitors it rivals the Taj Mahal as the most visited place in India, “our guide on this Bestway.com tour told us.DSC_0631

The Golden Temple is the home of the Sikh religion which has 3 aspects: sing and chant the name of God, sing religious hymns and volunteer. Plus, it considers all people equal in every way. And all Sikhs wear a turban to be equal with each other, to show respect to the Guru, and to protect the hair.DSC_0638

Serving the hungry pilgrims everyday is their volunteer mission all over the world. It was the founder, Guru Nanak, who began the concept of the langar. Volunteers do almost all of the work and show up every day to prepare the food. Ten percent of the volunteers, however, are paid staff to manage and coordinate the program but the other 90% is all done by volunteers and donations from the local community and the world. All of the food is donated or purchased with donations.DSC_0605DSC_0578DSC_0576

Thousands of volunteers chop, cut, boil, and mix organic onions, garlic, chilies, carrots, radishes, cabbage, spinach, fruit, rice kheer (pudding) rice, lentils for soup called dal, ghee (clarified butter) and roti (Indian flat bread). The food is cooked with wood and gas in huge cauldrons, and roti making machines, yielding a simple vegetarian meal for all to eat.DSC_0596DSC_0692

And the pilgrims do eat. But before they can eat, however, when they arrive at the Golden Temple, they must immediately put a provided triangular orange scarf on their head, then must check their shoes at one of the many windows where they are kept until claimed. Entering the Temple with head covered and barefooted shows respect to the Guru. DSC_0609Then, they get in line and receive their stainless steel food plate, spoon and water/tea/dessert/soup bowl before going to the big marble hall where new arrivals are being seated. Many times, a person takes a seat on a cloth in a row on the just cleaned floor next to someone s/he doesn’t even know. Receiving the food with both hands signifies blessed food.DSC_0606DSC_0602

And then volunteer servers arrive carrying buckets or tubs containing food to give to each person, one after the other. Rice, lentil soup (dal), roti, tea/water, ghee pudding or fruit awaits them.

DSC_0623 And each day’s meal is determined by the availability of foods in season, purchased or provided. And they never run out of food even when 100,000+ come to eat. After the people finish their meal and leave, the process begins all over again. But before new people arrive, each section is mopped clean and it is done many times a day.DSC_0570DSC_0565

Then it is time to wash the dishes for the new arrivals so each dish is washed several times. Volunteers stand and wash dishes in large vats full of soapy water and then pass them to another group of vats and finally to clean water vats. DSC_0671The stainless steel dishes even go through a cleaning that polishes and shines them. Then they are stacked in large steel trailer-like bins with large wheels and pulley so they can be positioned near the awaiting new arrivals. And huge steel boxes of clean utensils are also moved nearby.DSC_0584DSC_0634

It impressed us how orderly and clean everything was and how, with all the people, it was relatively quiet and respectful. And it impressed us how all pilgrims sit in a row on the floor cross-legged and barefooted in a huge hall with anyone and everyone regardless of race, color, sex, caste, religion, creed, social status, or age to eat. And they all get along and follow the rules of the langar and Temple. The Golden Temple langar is like no other.

Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com

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The Golden Temple complex is magnificent, huge and very clean. June and I covered our heads and removed our shoes to enter the complex.

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The Golden Temple model box receives many rupee donations for the Kitchen and Temple.

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As I stepped off the plane in Lhasa, Tibet, absolute joy came to me because I was still breathing at 12,000 feet. And I continued to breathe normally hour after hour, day after day, making the 4-day visit my dream come true.

Portala Palace, home of the former Dalai Lamas.

Portala Palace, home of the former Dalai Lamas, in Lhasa Tibet.

It was the surprise of a lifetime because my lungs caused me great concern about visiting one of the highest cities in the world. At around 12,000 feet high, it was my first time to experience a super high altitude. I even Googled precautions suggested to be taken in a high altitude.

Portala Place, another beautiful view.

Portala Place, another beautiful view.

After consulting my physician, I was assured the altitude would not cause any breathing problems for me in Lhasa. And he was correct. I didn’t even know I was high in altitude and experienced no difference in my breathing at 1200 feet or 12,000 feet.

Tibetan lady in her native attire passes 2 Tibetan monks in the park.

Tibetan lady in her native attire passes 2 Tibetan monks in the park.

To make sure there would be no breathing problems, I even consulted a Travel Clinic. There, the altitude sickness pill, Acetazolamide, was prescribed and recommended that I follow the directions exactly as written for the medicine. It worked perfectly for me.

The beautiful massive 999-room Portala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas.

The beautiful massive 999-room Portala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas.

The first afternoon after arrival in Lhasa, we rested as recommended by all advisors. But the next day, we went full time seeing Lhasa, truly a place of the Gods on that Himalayan plateau with many of the culturally significant Tibetan Buddhist sites.DSC_0012

Potala Palace, the home of Dalai Lamas, was the first place we visited and the most glorious of all with 999 rooms on top of a hill totally viewable from 360 degrees. It overlooked everything. Now a museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was a magnificent discovering adventure.DSC_0646

Tibetans were performing their daily clockwise sacred circumambulation, called Kora in Tibetan. Carrying their prayer beads, they walked around the palace while rotating a prayer wheel clockwise in their hand and praying to Buddha. DSC_0045

The faithful pray for good luck, protection, long life, good health, well being of others, wisdom, peace, and happiness, plus it is just good daily exercise. When we finished touring the Potala Palace, we joined the Tibetans in their circumambulation around it.DSC_0702

The most enlightening was the people and their faces and being allowed to experience a sliver of their lives on a particular day. And when the sun came out in the afternoon, we spent several hours in the large park full of beautiful landscapes, flowers, and people dressed in their native Tibetan clothing with apron. And I was still breathing just fine.DSC_0114DSC_0036DSC_0070DSC_0091

Our second UNESCO visit was the Dalai Lama’s Summer Palace, Norbulingka, with its very colorful décor and flowers everywhere.

UNESCO describes Norbulingka Palace, built in the 18th century, as a masterpiece of Tibetan art. And it truly is magnificent.

UNESCO describes Norbulingka Palace, built in the 18th century, as a masterpiece of Tibetan art. And it truly is magnificent.

DSC_0258DSC_0204 The palace was built by the 7th Dalai Lama in 1755 as the traditional summer palace and has the furnishings that the 14th Dalai Lama had until his exile in 1959 to India.

The grounds of Norbulingka Palace covers 89 acres (36 hectares) and is considered the largest manmade garden. It was covered with flowers when we visited and it was glorious.

The grounds of Norbulingka Palace covers 89 acres (36 hectares) and is considered the largest manmade garden. It was covered with flowers when we visited and it was glorious.

Serving as the administrative and religious centers, it is close to Portala Palace and has 1 of 3 parks adjoining it that remain of the 22 original parks in Lhasa. The highlight of this visit was the opportunity to dress like a Tibetan princess for a photo.DSC_0279

Our third UNESCO visit was to the most sacred and important Jokhang Temple, located in Bangkor Square in the old section of Lhasa that is the site of the most famous kora circumambulation ritual.DSC_0387 Here, pilgrims prostrate themselves daily continuously by lying stretched out face down on the ground.

Prostration is lying face down on the ground.

Prostration is lying face down on the ground. They have to keep their legs together so they tie them.

Prostration involves the full body above the knees touching the ground especially the hands. This Buddhist practice shows reverence for the Triple Gem (comprising the Buddha, his teachings and the spiritual community) and other objects of great reverence and respect. After the pilgrim is face down on the ground, he then gets up, walks 3 short steps forward and prostrates himself again all around the Jokhang Temple or any sacred site until 108 prostrations have been performed. And many pilgrims do this daily.DSC_0543DSC_0544DSC_0545DSC_0546DSC_0547

Buddhists believe prostration to be beneficial for practitioners because it is an experience of giving or veneration, an act to purify defilements especially conceit, a preparatory act before meditation, and an act that accumulates merit.DSC_0686

Each of the 108 prostration takes away defilement (greed, hate, delusion) and cleans a compartment in the mind. Sometimes a person has much anger, desire or a lazy mind and then must perform 300, 500 or 1000 prostrations. The person, then, is clean and is one with everything. Prostration purifies body, speech and mind.DSC_0850

Others circumambulate clockwise around Jokhang Temple and Bangor Square to shop in the colorful stores, formed as a bustling market for Tibetan and foreign goods. And I was still breathing just fine as I shopped.DSC_0894

DSC_0828Two huge prayer flag poles in front of Jokhang Temple were loaded with prayer flags. It is believed the energy of the prayers and sacred mantras on the flags flown in the wind will bring all good things to all who see them and their families, friends, and all people throughout the world. DSC_0387The red flags signify fire, blue for sky/space, green for water, yellow for earth and white for wind/air/clouds.DSC_0942DSC_0964

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The incense pots send smoke up to the Portala Palace and over the block long row of prayer wheels waiting for the faithful to rotate each one often.

Large incense pots smoked 24 hours a day non-stop as worshipers regularly prayed as they put offerings into the pots. The incense smoke is not considered smoke because it communicates with the Gods.DSC_0378

The wonderful visit to Lhasa ended at the Enlightened Blind Massage Center with a massage. Started by Kyila, a blind lady herself, who had a dream at age 12 to help blind people have an occupation, the center opened in 2014.

The blind lady who massaged my sore muscles at the Blind Massage Center.

The blind lady who massaged my sore muscles at the Blind Massage Center.

After studying massage in Beijing, the students then come to the center in Lhasa to gain work and experience and hopefully one day open their own massage center. Kyila also opened a kindergarten in 2011 for blind children and it is very successful.

This young lady, with her precious little baby on her back, sold items at the Jokhang Temple.

This young lady, with her precious little baby on her back, sold items at the Jokhang Temple.

Our wonderful enlightening adventure came to an end but the experience will remain with us always.DSC_0094DSC_0433DSC_0057DSC_0746DSC_0168 DSC_0166The beautiful and friendly Tibetan people, the sacred Jokhang Temple, the magnificent Portala Place, and the very colorful Norbulingka Palace were truly outstanding UNESCO treasurers. And I didn’t miss a breath of air the entire visit.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

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The branches on top of the original Tibetan apartment buildings signify good luck.

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  It followed us from the ancient temple city of Khajuraho to Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks, as part of our multi-vehicle convoy. And it was ready for our every need on the multi-hour rides into Central India which everyone enjoyed and appreciated.

Our custom Luxury Loo followed our convoy everywhere we went.

Our custom Luxury Loo followed our convoy everywhere we went.

It was the Luxury Loo that was invented by Tauck World Discovery because the need arose for their tour members traveling to their tiger safaris.  There are no toilets available along the vast expanse of open land and small villages to the parks.  So Tauck solved the challenge by providing a toilet in their convoy for their tiger adventures to operate smoothly, comfortably and conveniently. Necessity is the Mother of invention and the Luxury Loo was the answer.

The line up to use the Happy Van.

The line up to use the Happy Van.

Every two hours, next to rice fields, pastures or farms in the northern Central India area, the convoy would stop for a Luxury Loo break. Alongside the road in an unknown location, tour members exited their white SUVs headed straight for the “Happy Van.”DSC_0488 Two mini-motor home vans were modified to fit Tauck’s need for complete clean restroom facilities plus a comfortable waiting area from the weather.DSC_0493 And the Luxury Loo would be everywhere the Tauck tour was going because it always joined the convoy full of tour members ready for the next potty break.DSC_0496 Inside the big white van was a 3×3-foot room with toilet, sink, and amenities, just perfect for all Tauck tour members to use.DSC_0478 Plus, two comfortable couches with table were available where tour members could wait for their turn with the single unisex toilet.               DSC_0546 As guests used the Luxury Loo facilities one at a time, refreshments of snacks, fruits and soft drinks were available, making the tour even more consumer-friendly.  DSC_0545Some exercised, practiced Yoga and Tai Chi positions or walked around the convoy of cars to stretch their legs and bodies during each “Shangra Loo” break.DSC_0623 When it was time for lunch, the convoy stopped on the side of the road under a huge tree, set up a buffet table with white table cloth and all the trimmings. Rocks served as seats as all enjoyed the delicious food, scenery and Indian rural people going about their daily duties.DSC_0604 Two vans had to be modified to create 2 Luxury Loos so Tauck would have one available for their Northern India and Nepal tour which includes 7 total tiger safaris in Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks. When one tour has a Luxury Loo in use, another tour begins and uses the second Luxury Loo, and this rotation continued throughout Tauck’s Northern India and Nepal tour season.DSC_0739 The Luxury Loo comes complete with attendants who help open the door for the tour members, help them into and out of the van and provide needed supplies from hand sanitizer to towelettes for each one. Then the attendants clean the Luxury Loo and drive it at the end of the Tiger safari convoy, ready for the next Luxury Loo stop along the way to the national parks. DSC_0542 Along the way, the tour members enjoyed the everyday lives for the rural people, seeing how they are making it, ladies collecting water every morning for their home, men working their animals to thrash rice grain from the stalk, a Tuk Tuk stuffed with people for a ride into a village, children happy to see us and smiling and waving, people on the road stopping to speak with us and welcoming us to India, learning that cattle are sacred and have the right-of-way on every road not vehicles,  cattle pulling wagons full of hay, and ladies walking in their beautiful colorful saris carrying different products on their head.   DSC_0861                               DSC_0803DSC_0771DSC_0764DSC_0766DSC_0714DSC_0636DSC_0712DSC_0801DSC_0284 DSC_0816DSC_0592DSC_0544

The rural people in Central India paint their houses blue because dust does not stick to blue paint.

The rural people in Central India paint their houses blue because dust does not stick to blue paint.

All Tauck tour members were back on the road for their third and final convoy ride with the Luxury Loo and were happy and appreciative for Tauck’s relieving invention, and even happier because they saw their first Royal Bengal Tiger in the wild in India. It truly was Incredible India!

A Kanha National Park Photo

A Kanha National Park Photo

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