Reminds me of a movie I once watched with guests trapped in a hotel…Hotels closing in Mumbai…Are we next?

Last night’s sunset over the Arabian Sea from the hotel pool area.

It was a bad sign this morning when we went to breakfast that there was no buffet. Only five rooms in this 120 room hotel are occupied, and it made no sense for them to continue to offer a buffet. Besides, buffets are breeding grounds for germs. 

Is this the beginning stages of this hotel closing in the next several days?

The hotel is no longer allowed to accept new reservations. In a matter of days, we could be the only guests here. That’s freaky. It won’t be the first time we were the only guests in a hotel. On Christmas Eve and Christmas day in 2017, we were the only guests in a boutique hotel in Palermo, Buenos Aires. We ended up having a great time after all. See this link here.
But, those circumstances were entirely different. It was a fluke. There were no guests in the small hotel. In this case, as you all so well know, the circumstances are entirely different. The Covid-19 is the cause of many businesses, now including hotels worldwide, closing their doors.
Each night, to get out of our hotel room and enjoy the sunset.

Of course, I searched for holiday homes that may be available in Mumbai when this hotel closes. And, although we’d have been willing to wait here for as long as necessary, we are confident it will be closing in the next week.

If that is the case, they will assist us in relocating, hoping that at least one hotel will be allowed to stay open in Mumbai to facilitate others like us, who can’t leave the city with a population of 18,400,000.

But, we have to be realistic and prepare ourselves for the worst that no hotels will be open and we’ll have nowhere to go. It’s a frightening thought. Many of our readers still write to us asking us why we didn’t return to the US a week ago.

We sat comfortably at a table with an umbrella by the pool, sipping on a cold beer, attempting to make the best of the situation.

As we mentioned in an earlier post, for several reasons, one, we don’t have adequate health insurance in the US (but excellent coverage outside the US), and two, I am in the high-risk group: my age, cardiovascular disease, and asthma. 

Based on the number of fast-growing cases in the US. As of today’s news, there are 19,522 cases, most of which result from travel or being in contact with someone who has traveled internationally. Why would we want to go to any US airport?

As of today, there are a reported 271 cases in India. Sure, there may be many unreported cases here and in the US. But even if India’s situation is ten times, even 100 times worse, that’s still considerably less than in the US, relative to the US population of 331 million compared to India’s 1.3 billion.

The hotel pools are inviting, but the government has forbidden swimming in any public pools.

Our goal for our time here, regardless of how long this period lasts, is to stay in self-isolation in a hotel with as little contact with people as possible. The only people we contact are the restaurant servers and cleaning staff, and we stay as distant as possible. 

We’ve chatted with a few other hotel guests, at a distance, and it seems most of them are getting out today, mainly on the last few flights out of Mumbai before the Mumbai airport closes tomorrow, to fly back to the UK, which has almost 4,000 cases as of this morning. 

For this small of an area, that’s a lot of cases. A few weeks ago, we’d canceled a holiday home in England for this very reason. 

The pretty view of the evening sky.

As residents of South Africa, our friends Linda and Ken managed to make their flight from Australia to South Africa. Linda and I communicated via text messages in the middle of the night (I was wide awake) when they were about to board their flight. I’m sure we’ll hear from them later today.

What will we do when this is over, whenever that might be possible? Our goal is to get into South Africa. Moments ago, Tom read a new article to me that states no foreign nationals will be allowed into South Africa until after May 31st. Hmm, it looks as if we’ll be here in Mumbai for quite a while, after all.

Well, folks, we hope all of you are staying safe. Thanks for hanging in there with us as we work our way through this challenging time, with the same hopefulness and spirit that we strive to possess as each day passes.

Photo from one year ago today, March 21, 2019:

Such an adorable face. For more photos, please click here.

Sorry folks, no pig photo, no safari luck…Favorite photos continue…

Often, cows and bulls are depicted in Hindu temples.

I really don’t know where to begin. After all these years of travel and our share of trials and tribulations, these past days have presented a series of events unusual from anything we’ve ever experienced in the past.

First of all, we are safe. We were frustrated but safe. Currently, at noon on Friday, March 20, 2020, we are back from the Mumbai Airport at the hotel with a view of the Arabian Sea, from our modern and nicely appointed hotel room with great air-con, good WiFi (off and on at the moment) and excellent customer service.
“Kapaleeshwarar Temple: Dedicated to one of the forms of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati that is Arulmigu Kapleeswar and Karpagambal respectively, the temple should be on the top position of your list of temples to visit.

We’re safe, basically quarantined by choice. With few guests in the hotel and us, our infection risks are relatively low, especially now that India is banning all international flights, incoming and outgoing, beginning in the next 24 hours.

This morning South Africa refused to let us in when we were at check-in at the airport in Mumbai. The reps called South Africa’s immigration to verify if we could enter the country before we were allowed to board the flight. No one, not just us, who is traveling from any country with a single case of Covid-19, can enter South Africa today.
This hall at the temple site is used for weddings, arranged marriage meetings, relaxation, and prayer.

With most countries banning foreign nationals from crossing their borders, there was no country that we could escape to. They suggested we return “home.” That doesn’t work for us based on our circumstances… We don’t have a home. 

Nor did we want to travel to any airports in the US when there were over 13,900 cases in the US as of five hours ago, many of them as a result of travel. Based on my high-risk status, entering one of those airports made no sense to us.
A moonlit evening on the beach.

Within moments of hearing this final result, we stopped for a few minutes to discuss our options. They were few. Staying in Mumbai, for now, made the most sense when no countries would accept us, except for the US, where we didn’t want to go. We began to make our way, with the loaded trolley, a long distance to a taxi stand, and then, the worst part of the morning ensued. 

We had to prepay at a kiosk for a taxi, asking for a van. A small car doesn’t work for us. We took our prepaid ticket to door #1 to find a small van, and I mean miniature, that was somehow supposed to be able to fit our luggage.
A variety of trinkets for sale.

Miraculously, the determined driver loaded the heavy bags atop the vehicle onto a luggage rack. Now, we’d hope and pray nothing would fall off onto the roadway. The seat belts and air con didn’t work, and mosquitos were flying around our heads. I was bitten several times.

Then, in our exhausted state, due to little sleep from getting up at 2:00 am, the driver got lost and couldn’t find our hotel. He spoke no English, and when he stopped several times to ask his taxi cronies where the hotel was located, they shook their heads. They didn’t have a clue either.

St. Thomas Church in Chennai.

With the mosquito bites, our clothes sticking to us, being jerked around in the rickety vehicle, we had to focus on staying calm. I brought up “Maps” on my phone and attempted to teach the driver two words, “right” and “left.” After a highly stressful hour, we finally made it back to the hotel, hot, sweaty, bitten, and tired.

It was close to 6:00. When the hotel manager arrived, we made a “deal” with him on the room price (we moved to a pool/ocean view room), a discount on dinners, and of course, breakfast included.
It was a cloudy day, but we still enjoyed seeing the colorful sculptures.

But now, situated in this lovely hotel on the ocean in Mumbai, we’ve resigned ourselves to a self-imposed quarantine and have decided to make the best of it. Pools and bars aren’t allowed to be open in India right now, nor can one swim in the dangerous waters of the Arabian Sea.

Instead, we’ll make ourselves comfortable, doing what everyone else is doing; reading books on our phones, watching movies and tv series, and in our case, and on the cooler days, walking on the beach. It’s hot here now.

Although it wasn’t very crowded, there were always many visitors to the famous Chennai temples.

I called Louise and sadly explained we won’t be arriving tomorrow. But, when things change, and restrictions are removed, we hope to head to South Africa. Hopefully, we’ll have a pig photo to post at that time, and the dreaded virus will long have run its course.

No “final expenses” for India will be posted at this time. Expenses are not final yet and, based on current circumstances, will continue to accrue.

Photo from one year ago today, March 20, 2019:

The helmeted guinea-fowls have been gone a few months.  They returned with many chicks in tow yesterday, teaching them how to “steal” pellets from warthogs.  As annoying as they can be, it was delightful to see their offspring. Take care, my friends. For more photos, please click here.

We made it to Mumbai…13 hours until we return to the airport…Broken suitcase dilemma…

While traveling on the historic Toy Train through the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains, the train stopped for a food break at this quaint station.

It’s Thursday, March 19th. In 14 hours, at 3:00 am, we’ll be picked up by a driver to return to the Mumbai Airport, which we left only hours ago. We barely slept last night after the late arrival at our hotel, and tonight after dinner, we’ll try to get some sleep before the 2:15 am wake-up call.

When we’d originally arrived in Mumbai, security at the airport had broken the zipper on our third checked bag. With no way to repair it, we left it behind, crammed with “stuff” for the hotel to hold for us until we returned. 

We couldn’t purchase a new bag until we arrived in Mumbai since we’d have to pay excess baggage fees to bring it with us. We’ve had no choice but to go out today to purchase a new bag. 

The first palace we visited on tour from the Maharajas Express was the City Palace, also known as the Shiv Niwas Palace.

The hotel manager told us some luggage shops are still open in the area in light of the Covid-19 fears, and soon we’ll get a tuk-tuk to take us to a few nearby luggage shops.

But first, we’ll see if we can locate a bag and the cost. We’d make an effort to unload most of our rupees, but now, if they don’t accept a credit card, we’ll also have to go to an ATM to pay for the bag. We don’t want to be left with rupees when we soon depart.

What an unusual seat!

The two flights from Madurai to Mumbai (via Chennai) were packed with face-masked travelers. We both wore masks throughout the flights for the first time, although we realized it’s not a 100% guarantee of safety from the virus.

We wiped down the armrests, tray table, and seat belt buckles with the Clorox wipes I’ve been carrying in a plastic bag. They sure have come in handy. Every hour or so, we used hand sanitizer and a few times, went to the bathroom, and washed our hands with soap and water. What more could we have done?

View of the city from the palace in Udaipur.

Once we have the new bag, we’ll need to repack to distribute the weight properly to comply with Kenya Airways baggage restrictions. They allow two-23 kg (50 pounds) bags each which we can manage easily once we have the new pack.

I can’t wait to have this new bag thing over with to allow a little time to relax before tonight and tomorrow’s big travel challenge. We’re still uncertain if we’ll be able to get into South Africa, let alone change planes in Nairobi, before we even arrive in SA.

Gold was often used in creating artifacts in palaces.

Update:  It’s now almost 2:00 pm, and we recently returned from a 20-minute tuk-tuk ride through traffic to a Luggage World store (go figure). We easily found a “Swiss (army knife people) 26” bag in bright yellow for IDR 7000, US $93.25. We prefer unusual colors in bags, making them easier to spot on the carousel. They accepted a credit card, and we didn’t have to go to an ATM.

We took everything out of the old supply bag, threw several items, and packed the new one, which now meets baggage regulations. Our other bags are packed for leaving in the middle of the night tonight after leaving out comfortable clothes and shoes for the long journey. 

At the nightly closing of the border ceremony between India and Pakistan, the Border Security Force members were aligned and ready to perform.

Whew! That was labor-intensive after only a few hours of sleep! The rest of the day, we can chill, avoiding any naps so we’ll be able to fall asleep after dinner. I’d intended to do the final expenses for our time in India, but I think I’ll save it for the 12-hour layover in Kenya, during which I’ll prepare and upload tomorrow’s post. 
Well, folks, the next time you hear from us (tomorrow), hopefully, will be from the Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. And after that, may safari luck be with us, from Marloth Park, South Africa. If you first see a pig as the primary photo on March 22nd, you’ll know we’ve arrived!!!

The 108 foot Lord Hanuman at the Jakhoo Temple in Shimla.

Stay safe. Wash your hands. Don’t touch surfaces. Stay far away from others, if you can. And somehow, enjoy this quiet time doing things you may have wanted to do for a long time but never had the time.

Thanks again for all of the good wishes. We’ll be thinking of all of you.

Photo from one year ago today, March 19, 2019:

Mom and three babies.  The fourth baby who’d been missing for several days never reappeared. For more photos, please click here.

The challenge of getting out of India continues…More favorite photos, some never posted…

On the last night of the Maharajas Express, we were all assisted in dressing in traditional Indian attire. 

The single most important thing we can do right now is to stay calm by reminding ourselves that being safe is of the utmost importance and that being uncomfortable and inconvenienced is of little significance in the realm of things.

We’re bracing ourselves for the next several days. It won’t be easy. This we know for sure. This experience is not foddering an excellent story to post or adding interest to our 7½ year world journey. All of us are facing challenges during these difficult times.

We never imagined we’d see the Taj Mahal. And yet, that morning in the haze and pollution, it lay before our eyes in its entire splendor.

Whether it’s being cooped up in one’s home for weeks (or more) to come wondering how to get groceries when many market shelves are bare in the US and other countries or, wondering if there are “germs” on the snail mail, the newspaper, or even the paltry foodstuffs one has managed to acquire.
No, this isn’t easy for anyone. Nor is being confined to one’s home accessible in itself, even if all necessary supplies are on hand, sufficient for weeks to come. The news on TV is disheartening (we don’t watch), and the worldwide information on our devices is also frightening and worrisome.

Exquisite decor in ancient palaces and temples.

We know many who’ve lost their jobs. Many small businesses will fail in the weeks to come. Many are fast losing the value of their savings, their retirement funds, and other assets. 

Thus, as we share our tale over these next several days until hopefully we reach South Africa, never for one moment do we imply this dreadful scenario is any harder for us than for all of you. We are all in this together, although it may manifest differently based on one’s circumstances.

The locals are doing their laundry in Lake Pichola, but no laundry soaps are allowed. Nor are fishing and private boats permitted on the lake.

We’ve decided to share the details of the challenges we’re facing, moment by moment, day by day, as they occur. We may upload more than one post in a day or none if we have no access to WiFi somewhere along the journey, which easily could happen during these times. Please check back. 

Whether we attempted to return to the US or travel to any other country, we’d be facing these challenges. Many flights are being canceled and changed, as has been the case for us. Chaos at airports is rampant, and we’ll witness that first-hand today and again in two days when we can hopefully leave India for South Africa.

Several castles are located in or near the artificial lakes in Udaipur.

We’ve been cooped up in hotels for about a week, having suspended any more tours in India. It’s certainly not surprising we lost interest in sightseeing a week ago when our cruise from Mumbai was canceled in light of what was going on. We knew at that point that everything was about to change and, it has.

Taking the risk of visiting crowded temples and other sightseeing venues was foolhardy. We informed our driver Raj, who waits for us in the vehicle in the parking lot of a hotel, that the tours were done. 

A snake charmer, an expected site to see in India.

Imagine him sleeping in the van, wondering how his family is doing in Chennai, anxious to return home. Tonight after he drops us off at the Madurai airport, he can begin the long journey home.

Our flight from Madurai was scheduled to depart at 4:00 pm today. A short time ago, we received a call from the agency that the flight had been canceled, and we are re-booked on a flight leaving Madurai at 8:00 pm tonight.

There are numerous stunning places in Udaipur.

They arranged a 4:00 pm checkout at this hotel. They suggested we wait in the lobby to leave for the airport at 5:00 pm. The lobby isn’t air-conditioned, and it will be hot in with the temperature expected to be 99F (37C). 

We’ve decided to have Raj take us to the airport early. We’d rather wait there in air-conditioned comfort than sweat it out in the lobby. Plus, going early allows him to begin the 8-hour drive back to his home in Chennai.

We visited countless numbers of forts while in Rajasthan.

Last night, before going to dinner (we were the only guests in the restaurant), we received a text and email from Kenya Airways that the second leg of the three-leg journey to South Africa had been canceled. 

However, they moved us to a later flight requiring a 12-hour layover in Nairobi, which will result in a red-eye beginning at 12:30 am (to us). At that point, we’ll have been up for 21 hours. If all goes well, we should arrive in Nelspruit sometime in the morning. 

The fantastic chef on the train, John Stone, assured me all my meals would be perfect.

We canceled the overnight stay in Nelspruit while waiting for the rental car agencies to open in the morning. In the tiny airport, they don’t open until 7:00 am.

Where we’ll encounter the most challenging part of this long journey will most likely be in Johannesburg, South Africa, when we go through immigration. It’s there that our entry will be accepted or denied. So far, India is not on the “high-risk” list, which looks good for us, as long as that doesn’t change in the next 48 hours.

Dancers at the dunes in the desert as we lounged enjoying beverages, snacks, and the show on an outing from the Maharajas Express.

So far, India has 138 cases. Adding to South Africa’s high-risk category today (no entry allowed), France has over 1200 cases. We hold our breath to see how this rolls out in the next few days.

If the number of India cases increases exponentially while we’re traveling, we’ll be turned away at Johannesburg to fly somewhere else on our dime. We have no choice but to discuss some options.

We were situated on the comfy seating in the sand as we watched the entertainment at the dunes.

If we ever needed “safari luck,” it’s now. It takes on an entirely new meaning during this crisis. At this point, we’re uncertain as to where we’ll be a week from now. If we’re able to make it into Marloth Park, we’ll be very grateful. But, if we don’t… As always, we’ll figure it out from there.

Be well. Be safe. All of you, travel with us in heart and spirit! Thank you for all your well wishes.

Photo from one year ago today, March 18, 2019:

Wildebeest Willie often makes eye contact, often with only one eye, as indicated in this photo.  Wildebeest’s eyes are far apart on either side of his head.  He loves for me to talk to him. How do I know this?  He won’t begin eating a single pellet until I’ve finished talking to him.  For more photos, please click here.

The waiting game continues…Tomorrow, we fly out of Madurai to Mumbai…Three days and counting…

We took a detour to see this temple in Tanjore known as the “Big Temple” since the name is long and difficult for people to remember…”Kapaleeshwarar Temple: Dedicated to one of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati’s forms, Arulmigu Kapleeswar, and Karpagambal, respectively.

Tomorrow, at 1:30 pm, we check out the lovely Regency Hotel in Madurai to head to the airport for our 4:05 flight to Mumbai. It’s only a two-hour flight, and finally, after a one-hour drive from the airport, we’ll arrive at our last destination in India, again the beautiful beachside hotel, the Sun-N-Sand, where we’ll spend two nights.

Today, the hotel printed our tickets and visa waivers for South Africa, allowing us to re-enter the country after our previous overstay after I had surgery last February. But, the question remains, will they let us, US citizens, enter the country, even though we’re arriving from the extended stay in India?

This temple is over 1000 years old.

South Africa now has a ban prohibiting entry from the US along with other countries as follows:

  • China
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Iran
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

We’ll only know the answer to that once we arrive at the immigration station in Johannesburg as we await the next leg of our journey, the flight to Nelspruit, our final stop before driving to Marloth Park, the following day.

This pandemic is taking its toll on people worldwide, as evidenced by one awful news report after another. Sure, a portion may be highly sensationalized. But, the reality remains, this has an impact on people and economies throughout the world. 

No place, no one, is exempt from feeling the impact of the changes that will transpire in the days, weeks, and months to come. We ask ourselves how it will impact our continuing travels, and at this point, we aren’t sure. 

This view reminded us a little about entering the Lost City of Petra in 2013.

All we know at this point is that we’ll make every effort to stay safe, avoiding crowds and following strict sanitation protocols every day of our lives, not only now but in time to come.

In heading to one of our favorite places globally, with no cases of the virus in Marloth Park, we aren’t prepared to avoid seeing our friends in small groups. They are some of the most considerate people globally and wouldn’t go out if they felt unwell or exhibited any symptoms that could indicate Covid-19.
The beautiful beach scene at the Ideal Beach Resort in Mahabalipuram. We particularly enjoyed this resort.

After our arrival, we’ve already made some social plans and will continue to use good judgment for each social occasion. In any case, we won’t be attending any large functions, which all appear to have been canceled.

Our biggest outing will be grocery shopping, and we’re bringing along hand sanitizer to use for the grocery cart and making a point of staying at least 10 feet from any other shoppers if possible. This may require shopping at odd hours of the day and night, which we’ll do.
The colorful temples in Chennai were breathtaking to see. “Kapaleeshwarar Temple: Dedicated to one of the forms of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati that is Arulmigu Kapleeswar and Karpagambal respectively, the temple should be on the top position of your list of temples to visit.”

When driving from Nelspruit to Marloth Park on Saturday morning, we will have to stop in Malalane to purchase some grocery items from the local Spar Market. There’s no way we can avoid this step along the way.

The newly added pool area at Ravla Khempur is known as the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, where the popular movie was filmed. This was a favorite tour during our travels in India.

Also, it’s summer in Africa, and the most important purchase will be mosquito repellent to protect us from malaria. Last year, the wife of a lovely couple passed away from a rare type of malaria in Marloth Park. We will be especially cautious.

The nightly evening ceremony on the Ganges River (known as the Ganga to Hindus).

As winter begins, the temperatures will cool in a few months, and there will be fewer mosquitoes. However, we’ll continue to use repellent, especially since we’ll spend most of our days and nights outdoors on the veranda waiting for animal friends to stop by.

All of my fantasizing could be a moot point if we run into trouble entering South Africa in three days. We promise to update all of our readers as soon as we arrive in Nelspruit on Friday night with a short post. We’ll be exhausted from getting up at 3:00 am for our flight so indeed it won’t contain all the details until the next day.
The leading cremation site on the Ganges River, seen while on an old wood rowboat on the river during the early morning ceremonies.

Today, we continue with some new and favorite photos, and tomorrow’s post will only include favorite images. We’ll post the final expenses for our entire tour of India, including the Maharajas Express Train, in Thursday’s post.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. We pray for the recovery of those with the virus and their loved ones. For those who’ve lost the battle, we offer our heartfelt sympathy to their loved ones.

Photo from one year ago today, March 17, 2019:

Mom and Baby bushbuck searching for pellets Tom tossed into the garden. For more photos, please click here.

On pins and needles…Are we going to be able to get out of India and enter South Africa in 4 days?

  • This dinner and fireworks at Hanwant Mahal located in the Umaid Palace, also known as the Khaas Bagh, were extra special in Jodhpur while touring during the Maharajas Express.

    Over these past weeks, we’ve mentioned our concerns over Covid-19 and why a few days ago, we had to change our travel plans when the 29-night cruise from Mumbai, India to Greenwich, England, was canceled.

    Subsequently, we booked a flight to South Africa, where there are fewer cases (total of 51 so far as of today, with a population of 59 million) and 110 cases in India (with a population of 1.3 billion), as opposed to the almost 3000 cases in the US (with a population of 329 million). There’s a travel ban for anyone entering South Africa from the US, not from India.

    We spotted five tigers while on safari in two national parks, Bandvargarh and Kanha.

    Will that have an impact on us? We’ll have been in India for 11 days short of two months. So far, there’s no ban for travelers coming into South Africa from India. But, we don’t know what will happen when we get to immigration at the airport in Johannesburg on March 20th, only four days from today. 

    Will we be allowed entry into the country, be quarantined, or, worst-case scenario, be forced to leave? We are going on blind faith. As a result of the risk of this worst-case scenario, we’ve had to discuss some options as to where we could go to “wait it out” and yet continue to live our lives as usual as possible.

    A pair of “owlets” (as referred to by our safari guide) captured our hearts.

    There are several African countries with no virus cases, such as Namibia and Madagascar, and others, all countries we’d consider visiting, if necessary.

    As for waiting it out? Is that a possibility? Or is this pandemic going to continue for months to come? None of us know the answer.

    You may ask, why don’t we go back to the US? For a few reasons:

    1. We don’t have adequate US health insurance, but we do have excellent international insurance
    2. Risks are high if we have to travel through hectic US airports
    3. Cost of living is high in the US as opposed to African nations (two times higher based on our experience)
    4. I am at high risk due to having cardiovascular disease, asthma, and my age. For me, getting this virus could be fatal.
    5. Apparently, the US is the only country globally with all five strains of the virus.

    Spotted deer in India are as prevalent as impalas in Africa.

    Staying away from countries with vast numbers of cases makes the most sense to us both. Yes, it’s possible. Should we be able to land in South Africa, the virus will continue to spread in vast numbers, as in the US. In that case, we’d hightail out of there to yet another country. 

    I never imagined that if such a virus would manifest in the world that we’d have the flexibility to travel as much as we do, as much as we can. Most likely, we can’t outrun it, but if we can, we will.

    No doubt, this isn’t very comforting, for all of you, for us. None of us are exempt from the fear and concern for ourselves, our loved ones, and our friends.  The frenzy over food and paper products in the US baffles us. The frenzy, in general, provides no benefit for anyone. We don’t want to be around it if we can avoid it.

    Another favorite tiger photo.

    We’ll see how all of this rolls out in the next four days. A lot can happen in four days. In two days, we’ll leave Madurai to fly to Mumbai. We can only look at one step at a time as this process continues.

    In the interim, we are avoiding any future tours in India, preferring to avoid crowded areas. Driving around in the traffic attempting to take photos is fruitless as well, and honestly, we’ve lost our enthusiasm for sightseeing at this point. 

    A nighttime view of the restaurant where we dined in Udaipur on several occasions.

    We’re safely cooped up in the Regency Hotel in Madurai, where they checked our temperatures when we checked in. We appreciated it, but they need to check guests’ temperatures daily since they’ve been transmitting the virus for a day by the time one has a temperature.

    Thank you to our readers for such positive reinforcement, prayers, and well wishes. We offer the same to every one of you. Stay safe! Stay healthy!

    Photo from one year ago today, March 16, 2019:

    Little came up on the veranda looking for me, already positioned on his knees for some treats.
    For more photos, please click here. (It was one year ago, my legs were severely infected from the grafts taken for the bypass surgery. I hadn’t been outdoors much, and Little came looking for me once again).

Travel day…Holding our breath…Three days until we’re back in Mumbai..Today is the 8th anniversary of when we began posting…

This is the grass left from harvesting rice. Note the horns on these buffalos. Indian ricegrass is highly palatable to livestock and wildlife. It is a preferred feed for cattle, horses, and elk in all seasons. In spring, it is considered a preferred feed for sheep, deer, and antelope and a desirable feed for sheep, deer, and antelope in late fall and winter.

Today, we were on the move again, a three-hour drive from Trichy to Madurai, from which, in three days, we’ll fly back to Mumbai. From there, two nights in the same hotel where we first stayed when we arrived in India on January 31st while awaiting the Maharajas Express weeklong train journey.

With so many flight cancellations, there’s no doubt we are a little apprehensive about our flight taking off and that we’re able to get into South Africa, whereas yet, there are no travel bans. A lot can happen in the next five days.
Festival in the street. “Meena Sankranti is an important Hindu festival observed on the auspicious occasion of the sun’s transition from Pisces to Aries. Known as Meena Sankramanam in South India, the festival will be celebrated on March 14 (Saturday), 2020, all over India. Celebrating a Sankranti is often marked with the donation of various things. According to specific personal needs, they people celebrate the event at the onset of every month. Some Indian states like Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala observe the occasion during the beginning of each month. In contrast, states like West Bengal celebrate the festival during the latter half of the month.”

The news throughout the world is alarming as more and more cases crop up. Now the US is listed as a “travel ban country’ along with Italy, UK, and many European countries. This is one of those scenarios where you can “run, but you can’t hide.” Few countries are free of this plight.

As an avid enthusiast of science fiction and futuristic movies, I easily recall many movies I’ve watched about pandemics, horrified by the prospects and yet curious to see how it rolled out. And, here we are now, it feels as if we’re living in one of those movies, and we’re the crazy travelers trying to figure out what to do.

We’re confident heading back to Marloth Park is an intelligent choice. But, getting there might be dicey. Lots of people and cramped quarters on three flights with people around us coughing and sneezing makes us a little nervous. 
The festival continued along the road.

Yes, while in Arizona, we did purchase heavy-duty military-grade face masks, not for Covid-19 at the time, but for the pollution in India. Now that we already have them, despite any criticism we may experience, we’ll be wearing them on the flights. 

At this point, we can’t care what other people think when seeing us in the masks. We care about our safety in crowded, potentially dangerous situations. Airports and airplanes are the worst offenders at any time, let alone during this pandemic.

At this point, we’re anxious to get back to Mumbai, repack our bags, and prepare for the long travel day. Once again, we’ll have to get up at 3:00 am to make the 6:30 am to make the first leg from Mumbai to Nairobi. The drive to the airport is usually only about 30 minutes, with traffic lighter than early in the day.

There were dozens of participants.

Upon awakening, Tom reminded me that today is the 8th anniversary since we began our first post on March 15, 2012. If you didn’t have an opportunity to read that first post, please click here.

It’s hard to wrap our brains around the fact that we have done this for eight years. In the beginning, there was only a new story every two or three days. By 2013, we’ve been preparing a report with photos every day since except power outages, WiFi connection issues, and when I was hospitalized.

Today’s post is #2774! If someone had asked me to commit to writing a new story every day during this period, I would have stated it wasn’t possible to commit to such a task. 

A small band was leading the procession.

But, dear readers, as the years have passed, it’s become more accessible and easier. Tom always jokes about my lack of “writer’s block,” but I must admit I never have a problem with the content of the new day’s story. The words seem to flow from my fingers as opposed to my brain.  

And yes, many times, our stories are mundane and boring and, our photos are blurry and of little significance, but somehow we continue. Yes, I make typos, spelling, and spacing errors, although I use an app to help make corrections. And Also, Tom proofreads every day as he “fact checks” everything I write.

He tends to remember finite details where I am often distracted by searching for good photo ops of our surroundings, trying to imagine which photos would most appeal to our readers. Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes we’re wrong. It’s always a work in progress.

As I write here now, we’ve arrived at the lovely Regency Hotel in Madurai where we’ll stay for the next three days. At this point, we have little interest in sightseeing with all the crowds everywhere. 

Indian music is quite beautiful.

Most likely, we’ll spend our days at the hotel working online and our evenings relaxing with a glass of wine for me or a cocktail for Tom and then off for what we hope will be a nice dinner. We’ll report back.

Beginning tomorrow and over the next four days, until we depart for South Africa, we’ll be posting many photos we’ve yet to share, along with some favorite photos.
Once we arrived in Marloth Park on Saturday, we’ll begin to share the many wonders of this magical place. We won’t be in the Orange house until it’s available on May 1 (or sooner if other bookings cancel), but we have no doubt plenty of “visitors” will stop by to say hello, both the human and animal kind.
We can’t wait to be there, feeling safer, with groceries stocked, plenty of pellets on hand, our bags unpacked, and a camera in hand ready to capture the wonder. And then, our friends…

Be well. Be safe.

Photo from one year ago today, March 15, 2019:

We were thrilled to see the return of a mating pair of hornbills. For more photos, please click here.

Thanks for all the support and encouragement…A bronze factory in Tanjore spanning 9 generations…Over 600 years!!!

This kindly man, Mr. Ganapthay of Cholan Art Village, made the experience of visiting his nine-generation family’s bronzing business all the more special to both of us.

There are no words to express the gratitude we feel from all the caring and supportive messages we’ve received since posting yesterday’s story of cutting our time in India short by a few weeks to travel to South Africa, where we’ll wait out the coronavirus. Thanks to every one of you.

Mr. Ganapthay warm smile won our hearts. He showed us the items at varying stages in the production.

Staying in Marloth Park, where there have been no cases of the virus as yet, and spending time with our friends, both human and animal, provide us with a sense of comfort. If you missed yesterday’s post, please click here.

Wax and sand are used in making molds.

Amid all the planning and changes, complicated by a weak WiFi signal and frequent power outages at this hotel, we barely managed to book a flight and a place to stay at one of Louise’s holiday homes

His father has spent his entire life in the business.

But, the signal is too weak at this hotel to book a hotel for one night in Nelspruit since we can’t get a rental car until the following day when all the companies at the airport will be closed when we arrive after 7:00 pm.

Using wax is an integral part of the process.

Plus, the highway we’ll travel from Nelspruit to Marloth Park is not the safest road after dark on a Friday night. As a result, we’ll spend the night in Nelspruit and get a shuttle back to the airport in the morning to pick up a car. This requires plenty of planning, which we can’t do until we arrive at our following location.

Materials used in making the molds.

It’s hard to believe that in four days, we’ll be back in Mumbai, where this all began on January 31st. We’ll spend two nights in Mumbai and head out on the 20th, only six days from today. 

The wax mold for the bronze head of a God that his brother sculps, soon to be completed.

In the interim, yesterday we had an opportunity to see some sites in Tanjore, which included a fantastic visit to the most exciting bronze-making factory one can imagine. 

This facility, the Cholan Art Village, A House of Bronze Artware, manufacturers and exporters of Chola Bronzes, Tanjore paintings, and wood carvings are located in a quiet, unobtrusive neighborhood where one might not expect this creative family-owned business to be found. 

A finished product. To see large projects, scroll down to the photos below.

Raj, our driver, escorted us indoors to be warmly greeted by the owners Mr. Ganapthay and Mr. Sakthivel, his father and his brother. 

The brother, in the process of manufacturing an item.

They were all sitting on a dirt and stone floor performing their craft, a many-step process, some of which we’ve included in today’s photos. They encouraged us to sit in the chairs provided to watch them work, as Mr. Ganapthay explained, in excellent English, how the bronze-making process transpires.

They work while on their bare feet next to scorching items.

At first, we underestimated the magnitude of this ninth generation of family working this fine craft. When Mr. Ganapthay gave us the full tour of his fantastic facility, we were thoroughly expressed by the skill and artful craft of him, his father, his brother, along with his wife’s stunning creations, as shown in more of today’s photos.

Rows upon rows of shelves filled with bronze figures for sale.

To describe the detail in their works in words would be a disservice. Seeing these outstanding works of art in person left an indelible impression that will always stay with us.

Rows upon rows of shelves filled with bronze figures for sale.

If any of our readers consider visiting India, we highly recommend visiting this small but outstanding business with artworks like none other we’ve seen anywhere in the world.

There are rooms filled with artful pieces.

Their family has been in this business for over 650 years, and it’s evident over nine generations, the craft has been honed to perfection along with a powerful sense of artful design and execution.

They will ship any items large and small to anywhere in the world. (The purchaser pays shipping costs, of course).

To reach the hard-working people at this fine business:
Cholan Art Village
No. 46 Rajan Street
Srinivasapuram, Thanjavur. Tamil Nadu, India
Phone: + 91 86100 09448

The walls are lined with beautiful pieces.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to this family for hosting our visit, which proved to be one of our favorite experiences while touring India.

Each work of art has Hindu significance.

Today, with hopefully a better WiFi signal at our following location, yet another corporate-type hotel (for one night only), we’ll be able to get back to work on bookings and planning for the future.

The detail in these large masterpieces is breathtaking.

We continue with hope and prayers that this dreadful virus can soon be behind us, and we can all return to living our lives to the fullest.

Photo from one year ago today, March 14, 2019:

Little stopped by for breakfast this morning. Will we see him when we return? For more, please click here.

A huge update and change in plans!!!…

Locals were hitching a ride to the local festival.

If we had a home during the corona-virus crisis and had been touring India, most likely we’d have ended the lengthy tour early and headed back to the US, purchasing a fair amount of toilet paper to hunker down for a while.

As world travelers without a home, if we need to hunker down, where might that be? If we return to the USA, we have no health insurance other than Medicare Part A, and even if we signed up for Part B and a supplement, we’d be stuck with it once we were on the move again.

Plus, returning to live in the US is not an option for us at this time, even with this looming virus. We’re not about to “give up” this lifestyle we recently embraced with gusto after last year’s open-heart surgery and a long recovery.

But, now we have excellent, low co-pay health insurance through United Healthcare Global (Safe Trip) that we purchase every three months, good only outside of the US. This morning we bought more coverage until the end of July, when we’ll renew for another 90 days at that time.  

Crowds of people on their way to a festival.

Yesterday, when Viking Cruise Line informed us that the 29-day cruise we’d booked had been canceled long ago, we had to figure out what we’d do for the 29 days. So far, we only have one booking in Bath, England, and a cruise from Lisbon to Cape Town next November. 

With the number of virus cases rapidly escalating in the UK and Europe, we decided against keeping the UK booking. The house owner in Bath is arranging a full credit for us for the deposit that we paid only one week ago.

The cruise line is refunding the full fare we’d already paid, which easily covers a good portion of our costs for the next 12 months. 

Guess where we’d headed, folks?

Yep, back to South Africa… to Marloth Park… to all of our animal and human friends and a vibrant social life. We’ll arrive at Nelspruit/Mpumalanga/Kruger Airport next Friday night, spend the night in a hotel, and on Saturday morning, make the hour-long drive to Marloth Park, where dear friends Louise and Danie will have a house waiting for us.

“Buffaloes are believed to have domesticated around 5000 years ago in the Indus Valley and thrive best in the areas of moderate rainfall as they require plenty of water for their daily bath.   Indian buffaloes are considered to be an important source of milk today. They yield nearly three times milk like cows. Interestingly, 47.22 million milch buffaloes produce 55 percent of milk, which is more than half of the total milk produced in the country. Whereas, 57 million cows contribute only 45 percent of the total milk yield.”

Of course, we’d love to get back into the Orange house, but that’s booked until May 1. At that point, we’ll move around in. In the interim, Louise will ensure we have great houses to stay in as we hop from house to house as she deems necessary for the remainder of March and all of April. We can live with this plan without hesitancy.

There hasn’t been a single case of coronavirus in Marloth Park, but of course, we’ll continue with precautions as we have here in India; avoiding crowds, lots of handwashing, no handshaking, and extra careful touching any surfaces or possibly infected areas. 

Yes, we’re excited to be heading back. But, Marloth Park is remote, with fewer and fewer visitors coming to stay due to fears of travel right now. And no, there are no unrealistic expectations that South Africa will be safer than in any part of the world.,

No, we won’t bore our readers with endless photos of warthogs. We’ll strive to focus on the fascinating little things, exciting people stories, and wildlife special moments. It will be an all-new angle for our time in Africa once again.

Buffalo is movin’ on down the road. “Buffaloes, also called Bubalus bublis to belong to the family Bovidae, sub-family Bovinae, genus Bubalus, and species arni or the wild Indian buffalo. They are classified into river and swamp types. The present-day domesticated buffaloes are the descendants of Bos arni found in North-Eastern parts of India especially in Assam and surrounding areas.”

How long will we stay? As long as they’ll have us, which our regular readers know is a tricky proposition. We’ll do everything we can to last as long as possible, even if we have to fly to other countries, stay for a while and return.

As for the balance of our India tour? It’s ending about 16 days earlier than planned. We didn’t make this decision lightly. The tour company is giving us a partial refund, which we’re grateful for, but such cancellations such as this are happening all over India, all over the world. 

Temples are closing. Sporting events have been canceled, public celebrations are fast coming to a halt, schools are closing, as is the case in most countries worldwide. It’s a frightening time regarding contracting the virus and the awful impact on workers and economic conditions worldwide.

We carry on… All of us do, in an attempt to make the most of this dreadful time in history. We extend our love and prayers for every one of our family members, friends, and readers worldwide. 

Workers were loading sugar cane onto a truck.

May you and those you love be safe as you exercise every caution. Wash your hands! Use hot soapy water when possible. Don’t cough or sneeze in anyone’s face! Don’t shake hands! Wear a mask if you are sick or stay indoors at all times.

Don’t touch surfaces others have touched! Even an elevator or lift button, a grocery store trolley, or the bank counter can carry the virus. When going to the doctor, dentist, or office, don’t lean on the counter when checking in. If you need a handrail to walk up or downstairs, get someone you know to help you instead of touching the railing.

Make everything and everyone suspect, but in the interim, we somehow must do our best to find ways in which to enjoy life, enjoy people and cherish every moment we have of this precious life. God bless.

Photo from one year ago today, March 13, 2019:

With ample vegetation after many days and nights of soaking rain, the zebras still love pellets. For more photos, please click here.

Travel day…5½ hour road trip beginning at 10:00 am…Photos…Tomorrow, a huge update!!!…

No doubt, it was sad for us to see 32-year-old Lakshmi standing outside the temple, most likely day after day, waiting for treats from visitors who believe greeting her with offerings provides them with a blessing.

Note: To all of our readers visiting our site via a smartphone, please click the “View web version” tab under the word “Home” at the bottom of the page to access the web version enabling you to access all of our archives on the right side of the page. We’ll be updating our site in a few months, making these extra steps unnecessary. Thank you.

Arriving only minutes ago at the hotel in Tanjore with it already after 5:00 pm, I need to rush through the balance of this post I started yesterday to get ready for a relaxing evening after today’s harrowing long drive. 
Lakshmi was so sweet and welcoming. I patted her thick trunk and looked deep into her eye. More here: “This Ganesh Chaturthi, you can visit the extraordinary Manakula Vinayagar Temple situated approximately 400 metres away from the Bay of Bengal in White Town, Pondicherry. Read on to know why devotees, photo fanatics, and experience seekers flock to this amazing temple of Lord Ganesha.”

The narrow two-lane highway was congested with trucks, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and tuk-tuks with horns honking constantly, vehicles swerving in and out of traffic, and accidents waiting to happen. Another one of those Mr. Toad’s Wild Rides!

From this site about the significance of the elephant: “Symbol of wisdom, the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha is popularly known as ‘God Of New Beginnings’ and ‘Obstacle Remover.’ Such is the joyful sight one comes across during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. Markets are colorful with clay models of Lord Ganesha, artisans look delighted with their creations, people are shopping for sweets and decoration materials. Celebrations at places like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Goa are worth an experience.”

We’re glad to be settled at another Ideal Resort, but it’s not as lovely as the last Ideal Beach Resort in Mahabalipuram, which we left three days ago. We only stay here two nights, and then we’ll be on the move again.

Lakshmi entered the temple to participate in a ceremony.

As of yesterday afternoon, we have more photos we’ve yet to post than we possibly can add here. Finally, I figured out how to get the photos from the camera, using the new SD card reader into my Google Drive and moving them over to my Google photos. It was quite a learning curve with little supportive information online that was confusing and convoluted.

Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

More and more people are ceasing to use Windows-based computers due to the issues with Windows 10 updates, and many are moving over to Chromebooks. I suspect this will be a real turning point in the computer world.

The fact that my new HP Chromebook has a battery that lasts 12 hours, it’s a whole new world to me. Using Google Drive exclusively to save my files rather than files on my desktop has also been a significant change. I kept no less than 40 files on the desktop. 
“The church beautifully depicts the events from the life of Christ through its stunning glass panels. It also contains spectacular glass pictures of twenty-eight saints, the great devotees Jesus Christ.”

Now, I have none. With Chromebook, one cannot leave a folder on the desktop. Everything, other than apps on a taskbar called the “shelf,” along with the ability to scroll down to see and use more apps, there is nothing on the desktop. 

“The south boulevard at Subbayah Salai houses this famous church in Pondicherry, constructed by French missionaries during the 1700s. It’s a classic example of Gothic splendor, and one must visit this to experience its inner beauty and peace. 

At first, I tried to find a workaround enabling me to load icons on the desktop and finally gave up. Now, weeks later, I’m OK with this new (to me) operating system. Tom has a Samsung Chromebook, and he too has become acclimated to the new system. 

The old lighthouse is no longer in use after a new one was built.

As it turned out, I’ve had to ask him how to do a few things, and he happily complied, thrilled to be the one with tech knowledge for a change. Now I am passionate about learning every possible command that can make the system hum for me.

Giant Hindu God statue near the beach.

As a result of the abundance of good photos from yesterday’s tour in Pondicherry, it was challenging sorting through all of them to decide which of those we wanted to share in today’s post.

A beautiful dome in the church.

Yesterday, I began going through them, deleting duplicates and, and less preferable shots in an attempt to narrow it down. I could spend all day, every day, going through photos. 

The interior at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

With time at a premium based on our current schedule, I have no time to crop or edit any photos we post. They are exactly as we took them, which has generally been the case in most photos we’ve published in the past several years—no photoshopping here.

“The church is also known as Samba Kovil and is located on the mission street in Pondicherry. The church is 300 years old and one of the most senior tourist sites in Pondicherry. It was initially financed and built by Louis XIV, king of France, in 1698. Since then, the church has been rebuilt more than three times as it was demolished by the Dutch and British. “

Raj was ready for us yesterday morning, and after a short drive, we picked up the tour guide for the day and began the three-hour tour of the French, Hindu, and Muslim neighborhoods, referred to as “Quarters,” as in the case of the French Quarter in New Orleans in the US.

Classic French-designed property in the French Quarter in Pondicherry.

He spoke good English, as do most of the guides, but his accent was strong, and Tom had a little trouble understanding everything he said with his lousy hearing. But, he picked up most of the content, and we both enjoyed the history lessons about Pondicherry, aka Puducherry.

Beyond this gate is a statue of Joan of Arc.

From this site: “Puducherry formerly, Pondicherry is a Union Territory of India. It is a former French colony, consisting of four non-contiguous enclaves, or districts, and named for the largest, Pondicherry. In September 2006, the territory changed its official name from Pondicherry to Puducherry, which means “New village” in the Tamil language. The territory is called Pondichéry in French. It is also known as “The French Riviera of the East.” 

The powerful symbolism of the peacock 

Pondicherry consists of four small unconnected districts: Pondicherry, Karaikal, and Yanam on the Bay of Bengal and Mahé on the Arabian Sea. Pondicherry and Karaikal are by far the larger ones and are both enclaves of Tamil Nadu. Yanam and Mahé are enclaves of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, respectively. The territory has 492 km²: Pondicherry (city) 293 km², Karaikal 160 km², Mahé 9 km², and Yanam 30 km². It has approximately 1,200,000 inhabitants.”

More colorful figures atop a temple.

Of course, although sad to see, one of our favorite experiences on yesterday’s tour was seeing the elephant at the Ganesha temple up close. I even had a chance to stroke her truck. Here’s information from this site on this magnificent animal:

Another temple with beautiful colorful carvings.

“At the entrance of this temple, you will see locals as well as foreigners clicking pictures and taking videos of the elephant named Lakshmi. It is no less than a celebrity. When people offer money and food to her, she blesses them with her trunk. The sight is awe-inspiring, and crowds of people gather here to watch Lakshmi showering her blessings.”

There is a “police booth” near the Ashram, which we entered, but no photos were allowed. Locals and tourists visit from worldwide to take part in the quiet and spiritual Ashram, described as follows: “The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a spiritual community located in Pondicherry, in the Indian territory of Puducherry. The ashram grew out of a small community of disciples who had gathered around Sri Aurobindo after he retired from politics and settled in Pondicherry in 1910.”

As we were leaving the area after touring the temple, Lakshmi was directed into the temple to participate in a ceremony. Since we were only allowed to take photos in a tiny room, we didn’t follow her.

War memorial in Pondicherry.

I know, I could say all kinds of things about domesticating elephants or any wild animals for that matter. But, as a guest here in India, where culture dictates that elephants may be domesticated and often “work,” I should leave those opinions to myself.

This building was filmed in making the 2012 movie Life of Pi as described here: “Pi Patel finds a way to survive in a lifeboat that is adrift in the middle of nowhere. His fight against the odds is heightened by the company of a hyena and a male Bengal tiger.”

With little time for more details on today’s photos, please bear with us, knowing we’re doing everything we can time-wise to keep our worldwide readers updated on what we’re experiencing.

May your day be rich with experiences.

Photo from one year ago today, March 12, 2019:

It was beautiful to the male Nyala three out of four days. For more photos, please click here.