Holidays in India

Holidays in India:


We spent Thanksgiving in Jaipur (the Pink City) in Rajasthan. Decided to celebrate in a chic restaurant, with mirrored walls and ceiling, white-jacketed waiters, plush seats. Our first fancy restaurant since France. We tried goat brain, which was served with a ginger and garlic sauce (for only $3.25!). It was so tender that it melted in our mouths. The sauce was perfect! The whole meal was fabulous! I can’t believe we ate goat brain!! I’d do it again in a heartbeat!


We pulled into the Gujarati city of Godhra on Christmas Eve night, covered from head to toe in mud from the road construction and planning on biking again the next morning. But the family across the hall in our hotel changed all that. They were the nicest family you could want to meet. The mother was Christian, the father Hindu, and they offered to take us to church on Christmas Morning. We willingly agreed, and Sunil, the son, and Soni, his sister, accompanied us.

What an experience! As the Indians say, it was “Same, same, but different.” The manger scene outside the church had no Baby Jesus, but featured cheetahs, camels, giraffes, elephants, and Indians. There was no Jesus on the Cross inside the Church. Like all Indians, Christian Indians love to decorate. Colored tinsel garlands hung from the ceiling, a small artificial tree flashed colored bulbs up front, and “Happy Birthday” balloons hung from the ceiling. It looked like a circus or fair outside. Vendors sold balloons and groups of people sitting on plastic chairs gabbed away. People came and went a lot, moving around during the sermon. The congregation dressed very fancy and seemed well-to-do. About 95% of the women wore saris (typical Hindu dress), while a few young girls wore pants (very uncommon in India). Some wore flowers in their hair and many wore little white lace scarves over their hair. Several of the men wore suits or ties.

I was very happy because the choir sang Christmas carols – in the Gujarati language, but the instrumental music was still the same as in the English version. Three children then sang carols in English at the front of the church. Like everywhere else in India, it’s not a true Indian celebration unless it’s very loud. The choir sang into crackling microphones for added effect.

What a great day! Totally unexpected, and a lot of thanks go out to our wonderful family, Mahaindra, Himagni, Sunil, and Soni, who did everything possible to make it special for us. They made it so special, in fact, that we stayed on a couple of extra days with them!

New Year’s:

We biked against a fierce wind on New Year’s Eve day and arrived by nightfall at the city of Surat, near the Gujarati coast. This was the city that had been considered the most polluted of Indian cities in 1994; afterwards, it was deemed to be the cleanest. But that seems a bit of a stretch. Traffic fumes are horrendous, and by the time we reached our hotel, my arms and face were covered in black soot. So much so that Stephane just stood there staring and laughing at me. The sunblock really attracts all the road grime and air pollution. It sticks like glue!

We splurged on a nice hotel to ring in the new year, but stayed in to celebrate. All official New Year’s celebrations had been cancelled after the tsunami tragedy, and everything was low-key. Gujarat was a dry state, anyway – there are no pubs or bars, and if people celebrate, they celebrate at home or at friends’ houses.

We left Surat on New Year’s Day, but even after biking a distance, we found no hotels. It was dark, the road was under construction – we were forced to stop and ask at a small restaurant if we could put our tent up in the field behind their premises. The problem, as we afterwards realized, was that there was only one area where the ground was flat, and the rest was bumpy and covered by thorns. This area was by the restaurant’s public toilets. So we slept near the toilets – which gave off a smell as only public toilets can! It was a bit hard to take. “But look!” Stephane pointed out, “There’s a palm tree!” How romantic! That’s the thing with traveling by bike. Physically, you can only do a certain distance per day, and if you don’t find a hotel or a spot to camp, then you have to make do with what you find. You never know how the day will end. Start the morning in a fancy hotel and end the evening sleeping by the toilets!