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Dear Brig Lidder (Sindi!),

Hello! Hope your Seminar was very successful, and you are back full of your usual beans (honestly, I don't know how you cope!) for the next China trip. Am sending you my travelogue. You do not have to read it immediately, but do take a deeko whenever you are free(after august, maybe?) Regards, Bulbul Goswami
PS Don't forget to get for me a Jimmy Chu of your choice!

CHINA TRAVELOGUE

05Mar 2013, Pune

Strange things happen at times when one is least expecting them. This trip of ours materialised out of the blue, so to say. I had called up Brig Lidder to give him a feedback on the houseboat holiday on the Malwan Coast which he had arranged for us. He mentioned that he was preparing to take a group of Services tourists to China in May. Since we had been on an enjoyable cruise on the Baltic with him before, we were tempted to venture out with him again. I spoke the same day to a few friends of ours. As luck would have it, after we had sent the proposed itinerary and tour cost to them, they all wanted to accompany us on the tour. In a few hours, from a single couple we had graduated to a group of nine friends, all raring to go! As I said before, strange things do happen....

Today we have presented the relevant documents to Brig Lidder. Our friends have done so too. We have doctors Sunil and Pushpa Otiv who are our neighbours in our Housing Society, we have Dr Ashok Marathe and his wife Pratibha. Pratibha has been my very close friend since our college days. Neeta Gandhi who is a friend of Ashok and Pratibha will also be accompanying us with her mother. Ina Roy, with whom we have been hoping to travel for long, is happy to join us too. Our little group is part of a larger group. Many of us, chaperoned by Brig Lidder, will be boarding the aircraft in Pune itself. Ina and the rest will meet us at Delhi. We have a month and a half to go- it certainly is exciting to know that so many friends are travelling together. The Otivs, Marathes and the Gandhis will be subjected to the discipline of the services....but they are looking forward to it!

31Mar 2013, Pune

Just a month and nineteen days to go now, and excitement is mounting. Brig Lidder’s communiqués on China have started arriving on e-mail. Our crowd has swelled in numbers to 48 members, who have started introducing themselves on the net and exchanging notes already. Ranjan and our friends have joined the netizens too...it is good fun. Two new people who have enlisted are the Dugals (Tiny and Indu). Wg Cdr (Retd) Tiny Dugal is Ranjan’s friend and coursemate of NDA days and has joined the trip with Indu mainly because we are going. The more the merrier!

Tonight Sunil and Pushpa are coming over to our place to discuss the trip. I am proceeding now to prepare a snack dinner for all of us followed by a nice Bengali followed by a nice Bengali sweet dish guaranteed to satisfy a gourmet’s palate. Pushpa cooks very well. I do not want to disappoint her!

28 Apr 2013, Pune

Today I opened my email and found a long, detailed list of travel instructions from Brig Lidder. It made interesting reading and all my doubts regarding the trip were resolved. Our friends too found the list illuminating and many including ourselves have complimented Brig Lidder for being so thorough. Now we have to make a calculated inventory of what to carry because the weight allowance for baggage is very limited! Groups of friends are busy debating on what to discard from their extensive lists. Brig Lidder is getting inundated with mail and calls. During our last trip with him, he had his wife Amarjit by his side. Between the two of them, they handled fifty of us beautifully. This time Amarjit is away and Sindi Lidder is alone...I do not envy his plight!

08 may 2013, Pune

Only twelve more days to go....Pure vegetarians have been advised to carry a supply of eats with them because the Chinese do not understand the concept of pure vegetarianism. They will cook their fried rice and noodles in chicken or mutton stock and subtly pass it off as vegetarian. I am worried that Ranjan may be unpleasantly shocked to find an occasional prawn peeping out from among the vegetables in his fried rice! We are therefore taking along a variety of nuts, chocolates, biscuits..... Today’s hot news is that Air India, by which we are travelling from Pune to Delhi, has reduced its upper limit of check-in baggage from 20Kg to 15Kg only! I am laughing along with Pushpa and Pratibha who are pure vegetarians....do we carry our food or do we carry our clothes? The suitcase itself has its own weight...I think we had better take just the eatables which will be gradually consumed, creating space for the clothes and other souvenirs which we shall buy there!

Ah, well...we are all in the same boat, or rather, flight. It certainly helps to laugh at the snags and hitches together!

20 May 2013, Pune, morning

Last minute preparations are on at present. We have chosen to weigh our suitcases with the weighing machine in our gym so that they do not exceed the specified 15Kg. I am yet to pack the dinner that we shall consume at Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi. Tickets have to be checked and cash, too. Sunil Otiv has booked a taxi that will report at his door at 4pm for our ride to the Pune Airport. The day is fine and warm and we are happy to travel in good company right from our doorstep, so to speak. CHINA, HERE WE COME!

21May 2013, IG Airport,Delhi, 12.15 am

The AI flight from Pune was smooth and uneventful, except that the aircraft was delayed by an hour, and the snack that was scheduled had to be substituted by dinner, which was quite tasteful! Pratibha, Ashok, Neeta, her mother and the two of us got to sit in the same row, which was nice. In Delhi, we met up with Ina, Tiny and Indu. The long, tedious process of checking in at midnight on an international flight, followed by the immigration check, becomes bearable when one has company. The Otivs were delighted with the glittering display in the duty free shopping area and pushed off to reconnoitre while Ina, Ranjan and self relaxed in the lounge.

21May, Hotel Feitian, Beijing, 8.10pm

The China Eastern flight took off from IGI, Delhi, at 0315 in the wee hours. A horde of drowsy travellers trooped into the plane and were ushered to our seats by smooth, fair skinned and slim Chinese beauties. Oriental instrumental music playing on the amplifier threatened to dispel our sleepiness. Finally we settled down in our seats to sleep, only to be awakened at 3.45am by the clatter of the food trolley which arrived with trays packed with rice, lentils, spiced vegetables, salad and beverages. We were not hungry, but realised that we may not be served anything when we actually felt hunger pangs. Hence we consumed the meal to the best of our ability and tried to get some sleep again, with little success. It was a journey of five and a half hours to Shanghai where we reached at 8.45 am , which was 11.15am by China’s time.

The rigmarole of hand-baggage screening and passport scanning was repeated here. The young, good-looking boys and girls who manned the counters at the airport were very brusque and quite rude at times, directing in loud, raucous voices of authority. Dealing with them was not a pleasant experience. It appeared as if they held a very low opinion of Indians! We shifted into a domestic flight to Beijing here. It was a much smaller aircraft, but they did cater for an Indian meal for us on board the two- hour flight that brought us to Beijing at 3pm.

All of us alighted and collected our baggage. There was a smart young Chinese lady standing at the exit door, waving a banner that said “Holiday Bash”. We made a beeline for her. She introduced herself as Nicole, our guide for Beijing City. She said that she has a Chinese name that is difficult to pronounce, so it is common practice here for all Chinese guides to adopt English names. We were herded to a waiting bus and drove through the teeming right-handed traffic in this city of 25 million people. At first glance Beijing appeared to be quite similar to Delhi. The trees looked as dusty as those in Delhi in summer. There was a dust haze in the air and the temperature outside was 27 degrees Celsius. Then I noticed the large number of high-rise buildings, reaching for the sky. The billboards are all in Mandarin, which is their language. Most of our hoardings in Delhi are in English!

We were driven to an Indian restaurant called “Ganges”. It was only 5pm, but Nicole explained that the Chinese finish dinner by 6.30pm and all eateries close down early. We made a good meal of dal, curried veggies, curd, papad, pickles, rice, naans and icecream. The bus then brought us to a big, beautifully lit up hotel called Feitian where Brig Lidder and Nicole checked us in. We had to hand in our passports, something which we have never done before while checking into hotels abroad. We were told that this is prevalent in all hotels in China for international travellers. Brig Lidder gave us each a bottle of drinking water, since the tap water in China is not potable. He told us that he would be handing each of us a bottle of water daily till the end of our trip. Pleasantly tired, we retired to our rooms, which we found are extremely comfortable, with all amenities. We bade each other good night and prepared to doze off immediately.

22May, Hotel Feitian, Beijing, 10pm.

Last night was pleasant with the temp dipping to a minimum of 16 degrees Celsius. I rose at 5.30am and made hot mugs of tea for the two of us, which we had with biscuits brought from home. After a hurried bath and freshening up, we were ready for breakfast in the beautiful Hotel Restaurant. What a lovely spread awaited us there....a variety of cakes, large succulent fruits, yogurts, cereals, eggs, meats, juices, beverages, breads, even noodles and fried rice with Chinese pickles and salads! We ate heartily and boarded the bus at 8am. The bus left for the Temple of Heaven, and Nicole began her speech which became our introduction to the culture of China.

China has a population of 1.4 billion (said Nicole), of which Beijing, their capital city since the Ming Dynasty, houses 25 million. In a massive effort at birth control, the Government of China has decreed that each married couple is to have only one child. Should they want a second baby, they have to pay their Government a sum of 2,70,000 Yuan. Each Yuan is now equivalent to almost ten Indian rupees! A third baby would cost the parents a million Yuan. Since only very rich people can afford more than one child, in the next few years the population will come down most effectively.

Nearly fifty percent of the population consists of senior citizens. A man becomes a senior citizen when he turns fifty and retires from his job, while a woman does so at forty five! Being comparatively young, these senior citizens have to find ways and means to keep busy. We saw them practising fencing stances and doing mass physical exercise in the lush green lawns of the compound of the Temple of Heaven, while some retired women were trying to sell us their exquisite hand- made laces and knitted bags and toy animals.

The Temple of Heaven is where the Emperor of China would come thrice a year to ask the Almighty for a good harvest for his subjects. It is a beautifully constructed circular building, richly carved and painted predominantly in shades of blue, abounding in Chinese figures of dragons and gargoyles. From this holy place we were taken to Beijing’s famous Tianan Men Square. We stopped to take photographs of the Emperor’s special entry gate to the square, the Mausoleum of Mao Tse Tung and the National Museum of China. The Tianan Men Square is bounded on three sides by important buildings while the fourth side is bound by the street on which the square stands. The front wall of the Forbidden City forms one side of the square. A larger than life photograph of Chairman Mao adorns this wall. Tianan Men means “gate of Heavenly peace” according to Nicole.

Walking through this square with the majestic buildings around it, we entered the Forbidden City with Nicole leading us. She warned us to stay close behind her if we wanted to avoid getting lost in the Forbidden City. Once inside the massive complex, we realised the truth of her words. Entry into this city was “forbidden” in the olden days to the townsfolk of Beijing. Only the king, his wife, his concubines and courtiers had the right to live within its walls. The Ming Emperors liked to make themselves inaccessible to their subjects, I guess! What a large number of beautiful tile-roofed buildings were inside, built around great big cobblestoned courtyards....The rooftops were painted yellow which is the Imperial colour, while the walls were all a bright red. Red is a colour which stands for all good things in China and is supposed to generate good vibrations.

Our group had three ladies in wheelchairs this morning. Hats off to their husbands who gamely pushed them along! Brig Lidder very sweetly assisted the husbands to push their lady wives once in a while. We walked for three km within the Forbidden City, for that is the distance from the front to the rear gate. When we finally emerged through the Imperial garden into the road, we found beggars sitting on the wayside, many without limbs, asking for alms. It reminded us of our own country. Here, too, just as in India, there is great disparity between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”.

From the Forbidden City we were driven to the summer palace which was built by the emperor of Qin (pronounced Ching) Dynasty which followed the Ming dynasty. The Qin Emperor found the confines of the Forbidden City stifling in summer and hence constructed a beautiful palace on a man-made hill by a man-made lake. It was a pretty sight. Lots of the local tourists had come to visit, wearing their best colourful clothes. We clicked snaps. In a gazebo by the lake side, we saw some seated senior citizens quietly flying beautifully designed kites which soared high over the lake. Their equipment for flying was more sophisticated than what we use for our Indian kites. Their kites too were superior, shaped like birds and animals and very bright against the blue sky. We clicked photographs and then drove off for lunch to another branch of the Ganges Restaurant in another part of the city.

Post lunch we were taken to a Government silk showroom where we were given a presentation on how silk is made from the cocoon of the silkworm. We were then left to wander in the showroom where we admired the wonderfully soft white silk quilts along with their intricately woven coloured silk quilt covers .Since Chinese winters are severe, quilts are an essential part of a girl’s dowry. A large pot of tea with teacups was arranged on a table in a corner for anyone who wanted to drink. Indu, Pushpa and some others bought the quilts with covers, which folded into a very small package. My, they were expensive! There were well tailored gowns, night suits and silk tops and yards and yards of beautiful silk material. Truly a feast for the eyes!

We were next taken to a Tea House. Beautiful, slim Chinese girls in bright silk traditional dresses (called Cheong Sam) plied with dainty little china cups of tea of different flavours, all the while explaining the benefits of each type of tea. In China tea drinking is a daily ritual and people generally rely on herbal teas and massage oils rather than Allopathic medicine to cure their many ailments. Even while going to work they carry small flasks with their choice of tea leaves in them. Hot scalding water is readily available at all places and they can brew their tea in the flask itself and drink from it. They do not add sugar or milk. The same leaves remain in the flask and can be reused to brew tea two or three more times, we were told. The tins of tea shown to us were again frightfully expensive, but some of us did buy them too.

The last destination before dinner was a famous acrobatic show that we went to see in a theatre. Young men and women with the lithest of bodies did the most agile tricks with them- it was an amazing exhibition of the talent that is honed to perfection with rigorous discipline and split- second timing. We were spellbound.

Dinner was at Taj Restaurant. Archana Sindhu of our group happens to have her birthday today, and Brig Lidder surprised us pleasantly after dinner by presenting her with a delicious sponge cake with icing and treating all of us to it! Thus ended a long but eventful day. Looking forward to more activities tomorrow!

23May, Hotel Feitian, Beijing, 10.30pm

Another early morning wakeup call! After tea and biscuits in our room and a rapid freshening- up, we were down for breakfast at 7.45am. There was the usual lavish spread laid out before us and we did justice to it.

Today we were to go to the Great Wall of China, which is a drive of about four hours from here. After about an hour’s driving, we stopped at a Government showroom of jade, which is one of China’s precious commodities. At the entrance ,there was a craftsman quietly sitting in a glass enclosure and carving the precious stone on his machine, by way of a demonstration for all visitors who want to know how jade is fashioned into artefacts. There were two floors in the building full of jade jewellery and artefacts, a beautiful sight to behold. I did not know that jade exists in other shades than green. Here I saw amulets, bangles, carvings of animals and jewellery in various shades of orange, green, brown, yellow and white jade, each one of them a treasure. Needless to say, the ladies made many purchases while the husbands looked on tolerantly! The beneficial qualities of jade are many, according to the Chinese, who are very superstitious and believe absolutely in their folklore handed down through the generations. Nearly every person wears a jade amulet to attract good luck to himself. A jade bracelet or bangle worn on the left wrist will bring good health. High quality jade bangles are very expensive and are presented to girls by their parents and in-laws on the occasion of their marriage or engagement. The Chinese believe in the magical powers of the mythical animal Puxi (pronounced Peeshee-yu). This animal is said to eat money. Wherever it is placed, money gets attracted to it. A jade or a wooden Puxi is kept in every house with its wide open mouth facing the entrance door. The Puxi has a large bottom but no anus so that the money it has eaten remains inside and does not go out! Many people wear little jade Puxis as charms around their necks to attract money to themselves. The salesman at the museum said that every Puxi must be patted thrice on the head to be woken up every morning so that it may begin attracting money. Each person’s Puxi should be touched only by the owner and by nobody else, to avoid things going wrong! The salesman tried his best to sell us jade Puxis and I do believe some of us bought them too! Here’s to happy money spinning..... :-)

Soon we were back in the bus and speeding to the Great Wall. On the way, Nicole got us acquainted with some relevant Chinese History. It appears that many thousands of years ago, China was divided into five small countries. The ruler of each country built a sturdy wall along its Northern boundary for protection against invasion. When the Ming dynasty took over to rule a unified China, the Ming Emperor undertook to join all the walls and renovate them to form a great wall 6000km long in a process that carried on for 200 years, into the Qin Dynasty as well! This great Wall protects 16 states of China from invasion and extends over the hills in the North. Thousands of poor workmen braved the fierce winds, the storms and the snows to build it. So many of them perished there too and were buried there itself, along the wall. This wall is referred to as “The longest cemetery in the world” for obvious reasons! It is indeed a structural marvel and one of the great wonders of the world.

We arrived at the Badaling Pass in the Great Wall, from where a cable car carried us to the place where the wall rose steeply up the mountainside in an impossibly slanting angle. Lots of enthusiasts including Ranjan and Ina went up the wall and climbed up to the top at one end. I felt the ground reeling beneath me, and chose to sit it out with many other ladies of our group. We sat in a row on some steps built for sitting purposes, and waited for the return of the prodigals. Soon all of them came back feeling quite exhilarated, some still walking straight and some weaving slightly. We went down together by the cable car back to our bus.

By this time it was past two and we were hungry! A half hour’s drive brought us to a beautiful building of Chinese design, which was Government Emporium selling Chinese enamelware. It has a restaurant on the first floor where lunch had been ordered for us. It was a Chinese buffet lunch which we had sitting around a circular table of eight, after serving ourselves from the buffet. There was a great big cake kept on a side table for dessert as a concession to foreign tourists; normally the Chinese eat fruit at the end of a meal. Nicole and Brig Lidder gave us an extra half- hour to browse in the great shop below. Some of us including self bought some exquisite enamelware, while other ladies bought the lovely hand – embroidered linen which is so typical of Chinese culture. We were back in the bus by 4pm and then proceeded to a large massage parlour run by the Government. This was a mandatory stop. The guides of large tourist groups have been told that they have to bring their charges to certain Government museums, parlours and tea houses. This enforcement brings in revenue to the Government. We were ushered into a massive hall which had heavily cushioned sofas for this unusual experience. As we made ourselves comfortable in the sofas after peeling off our shoes and socks, a group of young boys and girls entered carrying basins of hot water with added herbal concoctions. Each of us was made to soak the feet in the warm herbal water after which we were given a foot massage by the young persons for half an hour. From time to time they kept pressing us to buy certain oils, herbs and creams for the benefit of our knees, feet and skin. Well, it certainly was something new.

The next point in the itinerary was a visit to the Olympic Stadium where the Beijing Olympics had been held in 2008. The vast complex, the bird’s nest stadium and the water cube are wonderful instances of architectural brilliance. All of us walked around the area for half an hour and returned to the bus. We then drove for dinner to yet another branch of the Ganges Restaurant which is in a mall called The Place. At the entrance of this mall is a gigantic LED screen which covers the entire ceiling of the huge patio....a marvel of Science such as we had never seen before. China has advanced in leaps and bounds, quietly building a super infrastructure which is evident in its stately sky scrapers, its efficiently functioning hotels and malls, its generally clean public toilets despite the large population, and the colourfully blooming healthy flowers on every road divider.

We had a good dinner and returned to our rooms at ten o’clock, quite happy after a long day well spent.

24 May, Hotel Sheng Hua, Chengde, 10pm

China is a country of great versatility and adaptability. The climate varies from the hilly areas to the plains, and the people have altered their style of living accordingly. The cities in the plains are humming with industry and the people are very busy manufacturing and building. There are little towns tucked away in the hills too, where life is slower. Chengde is one such place.

This morning we checked out at 9.30 after breakfast from the hotel. It is a three and a half hour drive to Chengde and Nicole was to accompany us there. The cottage industry of china attracts all tourists, especially ladies, towards shopping. Hence on checking out of our hotel we were first taken to the busy Free Market for a last spree in Beijing. There is a colossal shopping centre of five floors called “Silk Street” which sells all that china produces, be it real or imitation. Silks, handbags, pearls, shoes, toys, watches, umbrellas/parasols, pottery, lace articles, jade jewellery, clothes of all kinds for men, women and children ,bed linen, suitcases, electronic items, suitcases, cosmetics and sundry other articles are all available there. It is a “Free” market because one has to haggle “freely” to get the price down to a tenth of its quoted value for any item there! We were allowed two hours for shopping. It was simply not possible to explore all floors thoroughly in that time, but we managed to get a jacket and T shirts for Ranjan and our sons- in- law. Having bought things of his choice, Ranjan went and sat in the bus parked outside while Ina and I did some selective shopping. It is a shoppers’ paradise, China being the workshop for the whole world..... but the heavy bargaining for each article actually tired us out and took up time, both of us being bad bargainers!

The other ladies enjoyed themselves and were herded into the bus at 12.30, laden with shopping bags and complaining that they had not been given enough time for shopping. We drove to a Chinese restaurant for a sit-down Chinese-Thai lunch. These restaurants have round eight-seater tables, with a revolving circular central platform on each table where the food is placed and can be circulated. Only chopsticks were there to eat with, so I was glad I carried those disposable forks and spoons! It was quite a tasty lunch with a variety of curried and stir- fried vegetables, accompanied by a bland clear soup and a sticky type of boiled rice. No water was served; instead, there was sugarless herbal tea in a large pot. Dessert was sliced watermelon. After lunch our bus took off for Chengde. Some of us dozed off during the drive. The highway was smooth, broad and comparable to those in Europe or America. As the bus climbed into the mountains we saw how green the hills were with freshly planted young trees on the slopes. There was a system of watering them too. In places where landslides are likely to occur, we were impressed to see that the hillsides had been bolstered with high stone embankments. Creepers were grown along the steep roadside slopes at calculated distances to prevent erosion of the soil. It is apparent that the government is taking good steps to improve their environment. We stopped for a toilet break in a rest area and carried on to Chengde which we reached by five in the evening.

Though I called it a little town in the hills, we found that even small towns are well planned and have neatly arranged high- rise buildings in them. Chengde had quite a few! It is a beautiful place with a broad river running through it. Our hotel, the Sheng-Hua, is the best hotel in this town, built right by the river which runs through the valley, with serene green hills around. Our bus stopped at the hotel to pick up our guide Fred, who then took us to the Mini Potala temple, which is one of the twelve temples built for the Emperor three hundred years ago. In a massive cultural revolution some sixty years later, six of those temples were destroyed. Two of the remaining temples are maintained for tourists and visitors now. The Mini Potala is a Buddhist temple built on terraces in the hill, so that we had to climb from one terrace to the other to see each portion of the temple. It was very peaceful and quiet, and the surroundings were very soothing in the evening dusk. One point struck us quite forcibly here. We found a number of trees on the hill growing at a crooked angle, as is the way with weak saplings on a slope when they cannot resist the gravitational pull. Each such tree had two strong iron poles welded to it at a strategic point, preventing it from tilting towards the ground and helping it to grow skywards! It was a pleasure to see how this race cares for its trees. Even on the sides of the highway, the newly planted young trees had scaffoldings to prevent them from bending in the wind. Nicole says the temperature in these hills falls in the winter to minus 20 degrees Celsius or even lower, with accompanying winds.

We were taken to a local restaurant in the market place for a sit- down Chinese dinner, similar to what we had in the afternoon. A pungent smell of mixed herbs assailed our nostrils as soon as we entered. I realised that the odour was coming from a variety of herbs and grains laid out in the lobby by way of decor. It was not so bad when we moved inside to dine. All of us were thirsty from the walk and climb, so we drank a lot of the herbal tea. Soon after, we were taken to our hotel where we checked in.

This hotel has very comfortable rooms as well. From our window on the tenth floor we can see the river and the night lights of Chengde. We shall take Ina and go out for a walk as soon as I finish penning down the day’s activities.

25 May, Hotel Sheng Hua, 5am

The walk in the crisp, nippy night air was bracing. Ina’s roommate, Veena Chaturvedi too came along with us. It was close on 10pm, but the town was fully awake. All the buildings we passed were lit up in reds and blues, the lights being reflected in the waters of the river. The bridge too was beautifully lit up...the whole area was looking festive.

This morning we are to check out at 7.40 and drive to the Mountain Resort Park. This is a widespread area in the hills with a pretty stone boundary wall (like a miniature Great Wall) surrounding it. This used to be the holiday home of the Qin Emperor who, to escape from the hot dusty Beijing summer, would come here with his Empress and complete entourage, staying from April to October. The concubines came too. I do not envy the Empress....if I was one, I would never want the concubines around my husband at all! Much less during a holiday.....

According to our guide Fred, It took the Emperor’s party a month to negotiate the hills and arrive on horseback from Beijing to Chengde. There were no buses or broad highways at that time.... Royalty certainly knew how to enjoy themselves. I wonder who ran the Government when the Emperor was travelling?

25 May, In the bus, Chengde, 10 am

We have had a long, invigorating walk through the grassy woodlands of the mountain Resort Park and are now in the bus, breakfast well digested, awaiting the stragglers. The Qin Emperor had built a mini Forbidden City inside this park. The main house where the Emperor stayed is made of sandalwood in the same style as that in Beijing. There were some beautiful artefacts in the building- enamelled vases and urns, tiny bejewelled fruit trees and caskets which we admired and photographed. The woodland is flanked on one side by a man-made lake in the middle of which there is a pretty rest house which was used for the Emperor and his family. There is a nine -floored pagoda near the rear entrance which has nine Buddha statues enshrined in it. To bring in revenue, the government has built some tourist huts just within this entrance, set apart from the rest of the park by a fence. Hence it is called Mountain Resort Park. The whole park complex is enclosed by a beautiful stone wall, again on the lines of the Great Wall. While we were walking through the parkland, we saw some senior citizens sitting together in a gazebo. Some were playing melodious music in harmony on their different instruments, while others were practising yoga and aerobics in time to the music!

We had a Chinese breakfast this morning before checking out. There were many exotic items to eat, some of which looked a little dubious to me, but there were fried eggs, bread and cakes, so we managed to have something. Our friends, the Otivs chose not to take a chance and ate whatever they had brought along from India before they left their room.

Inside the bus, same day, 11.50 am

We have returned now from a visit to the Pun Ying Temple, which a Buddhist temple like the Potala, dedicated to the Panchen Lama and other religious teachers.

There are the usual pretty pagodas in the courtyards, but the main Sanctum Sanctorum has a great copper coloured wooden Mahayana statue of the thousand handed Buddha Goddess of Mercy. She is 28 metres high and has 21pairs of arms (thousand hands are difficult to portray!)Each protruding hand holds a lotus or some other article of worship. Truly a majestic statue, which the local people claim is the tallest in the world. We stared in awe at the beautifully carved gigantic deity. I had wondered whether or not to climb the steep flight of stairs leading to the main chamber. When I saw the Buddha I was very glad that I had made the effort.

25 May, Inside the Beijing-Xian Train, 6.45 pm

Lunch was in the same restaurant where we had dinner yesterday- the same concoction of parboiled vegetables in some bland sauce, accompanied by sticky boiled rice, cups of herbal tea and melon slices. We have got so used to the Chinese food produced by Indian restaurants, that we found this spread slightly insipid, though healthy. It happened to be Ashok Marathe’s birthday, according to his passport. His actual birthday had already gone by a month earlier, so he had completely forgotten his official birthday! Well, Sindi Lidder remembered.... consequently, a great sponge cake with pineapple cream icing appeared after lunch. Ashok was the most surprised of all when his name was called and the tour members started wishing him! It was the best part of the meal and we demolished the cake in a jiffy.

Post lunch, the bus sped off with us towards Beijing. We reached there in three hours flat with a short toilet break. Nicole had told us to expect traffic jams on the roads, today being a Saturday. On weekdays in Beijing there is a restriction on the number of cars plying on the roads by a government order. However on weekends, all of Beijing’s five million and more cars are let loose on the roads, creating these jams. Sure enough, we did find many cars, but Mr Sun being a good driver, managed to bring us to Beijing by 5pm.

Our train was supposed to start for Xian at 8.43pm, so we had two hours at our disposal. On popular demand, Nicole dropped us again for shopping at a different free market while she went off in the bus to collect our packed dinner of Subway sandwiches and juice. All of us, despite having bought so much in the previous spree, still managed to buy some more by the time Nicole returned. There was still some time left to shop, and ladies were still in the market. We sat in the parked bus and waited for them. Slowly they returned to the bus, in twos and threes; Nicole however, had disappeared. Just when the bus was about to start, she came in running, completely out of breath, clutching Narendra Rawat’s I-phone. He had misplaced this expensive phone when we were last in Beijing .He thought that he had left it in the bus that took us around every day. He reported his loss to Brig Lidder and Nicole. Nicole managed to contact the driver of the previous bus, who confirmed that he had found the phone and kept it with him. On our return to Beijing, Nicole asked him to meet her at a convenient point for handing over the phone to her, which he did! She barely managed to collect it before our bus started for the station. Narendra Rawat was really grateful and thanked her profusely!

Beijing has four railway stations. Our train was to depart from Beijing West. We reached there and then began a long walk to our platform and train, wheeling our luggage. Brig Lidder found porters with trolleys for the heavier pieces of luggage, and we walked down to our train in a long queue carrying our tickets in hand.

Now we are sitting in our four-berth compartments, the dinner happily consumed. These compartments are a little cramped compared to ours in India. Other aspects are all positive. The toilets are the vacuum flushing kind, and there are three wash basins in a separate cubicle. There is scalding hot water available for making tea at all times. We are sharing our compartment with Sunil and Pushpa Otiv, and have made ourselves as comfortable as possible. Ina is in the next cabin with three other single ladies from our group. The berths are upholstered in cream coloured self-designed silk, with matching table and back- rest covers, pillows and silk quilts! Four pairs of disposable paper slippers are kept under the berths for our use, to go to the toilets, and so on. Toilet paper is provided in the toilets. Except for the washing areas, the entire bogie is carpeted with a pretty green printed carpeting material. Silk curtains, one sheer and white, the other dark and heavy, are hanging neatly fastened over the large glass picture window. Television screens and reading lights are there too, one per berth. Hangers for clothes and handbags, shelves for books are all put up in convenient places on the wall, one for each berth. The air conditioner has an adjustable thermostat inside our cabin. There is a clean steel dustbin within each cabin with a black plastic bag inside which can be removed at stations. The corridor outside has a railing along the wall so that passengers moving in the fast train can hold on for balance. There are window seats in the corridor too, small ones, for people who want to see the view outside. So very well- planned, yet meant for a race of slim, short people....All the while, we were doing our best to avoid bumping into each other. As Pushpa puts it, we were playing “Footsie” in our compartment....both she and Sunil are tall, well built people!

26 May, Tainyu Gloria Grand hotel, Xi’an, 10 pm

We reached Xi’an at 8pm. Our guide Eric was there to meet us at the station with trolleys, porters and the ever present flag of identification. He took charge of the heavy luggage and immediately sent it off to the Tainyu Gloria grand Hotel, where our rooms are booked. We walked out of the station wheeling/carrying our hand luggage. There had been a shower earlier, so the streets were wet, but the morning was pleasantly cold. We walked to the bus which was parked in a by- lane. Though Eric says that this is a medium sized city, the buildings are very tall, the streets clean and broad, and flowers are blooming everywhere. The famous Bell Tower was pointed out to us as we drove to the lovely Xi’an hotel for our breakfast, which was laid out on the second floor. It was a hotchpotch of Chinese and Continental dishes, and we ate rather heavily, because last night’s lone Subway sandwich had long since been digested. Thereafter we drove to the Gloria grand and checked in there. Oh, what a relief it was to have a bath and freshen ourselves! Our room is on the 18th floor. By the time all of us had washed yesterday’s grit off ourselves it was 12.15pm and time for lunch! An Indian restaurant called Delhi Durbar served us an excellent meal. This eatery is very close to the Wild Goose pagoda, which has a musical fountain. We walked there after lunch and saw the sprays of water shooting out in different directions while the music played. I dare say it would have been a splendid sight at night, but where is the time? There are too many things to see and feel here...

Xi’an is one of the few cities with an unbroken city wall 13.74 km long, again on the lines of the Great Wall, with turrets et al, about 260 years old. It is 28 metres high and 12 metres broad. People like to cycle on the ramparts or drive an electric car around. The Qin Emperor repaired parts of the wall which were broken and made it whole.

Xi’an used to be the capital city of the Qin and Tang Dynasties. The Tang Dynasty was known for its flamboyant, colourful costumes.

From the Wild goose Pagoda we were taken to the Shaanxi history Museum. This was opened in June, 1991 and is an official storehouse of Chinese relics, namely, pottery, paintings and jewellery of the Shang, Zhou and Tang dynasties, dating back to many years before Christ. This is on the educational agenda for all schools and colleges here, because it acquaints the youth with their cultural heritage. Alongside the museum is a government shop selling the most exquisite handcrafted articles at exorbitant prices....a gorgeous sight but a definite no- no for the pocket!

From the Museum we went for a stroll through the Muslim market. Of the 8million people in Xi’an, 70,000 are Muslims. They run the shops in this market, selling dry and candied fruit, kababs, jade jewellery, pottery, clothes, watches and many other odds and ends. It reminded me of a Turkish Bazaar. Some of our ladies indulged in some frantic buying and haggling, for we had just one hour to spend here. Haggling seems to be the only way to buy things in China and I am quite inept at it. We walked back to the bus and waited for everyone else to return.

Next we were taken to the Sunshine Lidu Theatre where we were to witness the famed Tang Dynasty Show. Dinner was to be served to us before the show began. We were ushered into a big hall with a long central table laid out on both sides of its length with a variety of salads, mixed and sautéed vegetables, meats, sauces and desserts. We served ourselves, took our plates and sat on the traditional round tables. The dinner was superb. Soon after, the doors of the theatre opened and we moved in and sat down in a maze of tables and chairs in front of the stage. Meals would be served here too, to guests who preferred to eat while watching the show, choosing from an expensive menu.

The show began exactly at 8pm. It highlighted all the customs and dances of the Tang Dynasty in a number of performances by young men and beautiful, lithe girls. They were scintillating in their agility, grace and brilliance of costumes depicting the pomp and splendour of that era. The Chinese and English commentaries were made before each item, describing it. One hour passed by swiftly and before we knew it, the show was over and we were being herded into the bus by Eric, waving his blue flag.

Tomorrow the wake- up call is at 6am. We have to check out by 8.30 and then shall be heading for the Government Terra Cotta Factory.

27May, Inside the Xi’an – Shanghai Train, 6pm

The sight of a clean, inviting bed at the end of a long day is the best sight in the world! That is what I felt last night on entering our room. Thanks to Sindi (everybody calls him Sindi so I thought I too would dispense with formalities!) the hotels we are brought to are extremely clean, tastefully done up and comfortable. Breakfast this morning was the most sumptuous we have had so far, with an abundance of fruit tinned and fresh, cereals, breads, Continental and Chinese dishes, juices and beverages. We have generally been sharing the breakfast table almost daily with Tiny and Indu. All of us stuffed ourselves before we checked out of the hotel.

Our first stop was the Lacquer Factory, a government concern and again a mandatory stop. On the way there, Eric narrated to us the interesting saga of the Terracotta Warriors.

The first Qin Emperor, Yang Chung, inherited the throne when he was 13 years old. He was too young to rule the kingdom, hence his mother held court in his stead, taking on a large number of lovers to ease her stress. This must have been traumatic for the young king, for when he came of age, he killed all his mother’s lovers and kept his mother under house arrest. He then had some more morbid thoughts and started building a mausoleum for himself. He employed 7,00,000 workers who toiled for 38 years, rarely being praised for their hard work, and punished if they were caught resting. He believed he would be protected in his after- life if he buried all his soldiers with him. Now, burying his whole army alive would increase his sins for which he would have to pay in his after- life. Hence he decided to make terracotta models of his soldiers and bury them instead! Thousands of lifelike soldiers, horses and chariots were made. The soldiers were slightly larger than human size and all had different expressions on their faces. When the crazy emperor died at the age of fifty, his entire army was buried with him!

Many, many years later, in March 1974, there was a big draught and a farmer in quest of water in the suburb of Xi’an started digging a well. His surprise knew no bounds when he accidentally unearthed a terracotta figure! He notified his government and they slowly dug up the army in batches...the excavation is still continuing! The farmer is still alive and working for the government. He sits in the excavation site and sells books of History with his autograph on the flyleaf.

The Lacquer factory was where they showed us how terracotta soldiers were made from wet clay by putting it in a mould and then roasting it in a kiln. Needless to say there was the inevitable exit through the government shop alongside, where we photographed the numerous beautiful works of art.

Next, we were taken to the excavation site where the warriors were discovered. It is a vast area which is now walled and covered for protection. The huge excavated pits are now within sturdy stone buildings, with replicas of soldiers standing in the positions they were originally discovered in. A truly mind boggling sight. The Qin Emperor could never have imagined that his mania would bring in tourist revenue for his government in the later years!

At 1pm we reassembled at the gate of the site and walked back one and a half km to our bus. There were oh, so many shops by the wayside selling tiny terracotta warriors, jade jewellery, handcrafted bags and other articles. The ladies got distracted once more and we got slightly delayed. Then we had to take rather a long detour back to Xi’an because one of the roads had got blocked due to an accident. Hence Sindi decided to save time and skip the restaurant lunch. The lunch was packed for us and collected along with the Subway sandwiches which were supposed to have for dinner. We moved directly to the station. We were carrying only hand baggage, as the large pieces were left in the hotel from where they would be sent to the station.

The bus stopped in a lane a little way away from the station. Sindi and Eric brought out the packed lunch and dinner and started distributing them to us from a raised platform near a store. Juice and water bottles and paper plates were given out too. And surprise! It is Pratap Mehta’s birthday, so the huge cake had surfaced here too! Pratap was crowned with a paper crown while his wife Shail cut up and put the delicious sponge cake on the plates that we held out to her. That was a merry birthday celebration on the footpath! Cake consumed, we walked about a thousand yards to the station with our hand baggage. It was 4pm, and the train for Shanghai was to depart at five. Eric led us to a great big waiting room with rows of seats and a capacity to seat at least 200 people. There was a playpen in a corner for toddlers. There were wash basins and scalding water machines against the wall. I saw people carrying small flasks which they filled with hot water. The flasks already have the day’s quota of tea leaves in them. The same leaves can be used to make tea thrice if not four times. All they have to do is fill their flasks, let the tea brew, and then drink it! Chinese simply love their herbal tea and fermented food, their fungi and mushrooms. I guess that is the secret of their perennially youthful skins!

It was late for lunch, so we decided to have the Subway sandwich instead of the packed Indian meal there in the waiting room. At 4.30 the departure gates opened and we all trooped to Platform 5 where our train was waiting. We located our bogies and cabins and moved in with our hand baggage. In the meanwhile the large pieces of baggage had arrived from the hotel and Sunil Otiv and Ranjan went out and brought them in. The four of us are sharing our cabin again and Ina is next door with the same three ladies. The Marathes and Gandhis are also in our bogie. We have used the scalding water from the train and made ourselves some tea in the plastic glasses we are carrying. The packed dinner shall be eaten in due course. It is a long journey, and we are all well acquainted by now. Poor Sindi has settled us all in and only now gone to have his extremely late lunch!

28 May, Hotel Rendezvous Merry, Shanghai, 10pm

Shanghai is a large, beautiful city on the shore of the East China Sea, with the broad river Huang Pu running through it. It has two airports and three train terminals, with skyscrapers galore and beautiful flowers arranged in colour contrast in neat beds beside all the roads. The streets are broad and full of traffic. There was no trace of dirt or muck anywhere.

We were received at the railway station by the efficient and pretty Grace Wu, our guide for Shanghai. She took us to the Starbucks Coffee building for breakfast. They have the Atlantic Restaurant on the 4th floor where we were served a mixture of Continental and Chinese fare. The staple food of the Chinese is rice and noodles, and we found them everywhere at all hours.

Breakfast over, we were driven to our hotel, the Rendezvous Merry where we checked in. The rooms are again very comfortable and ours on the 20th floor has a good view. After freshening up we boarded the bus for the next part of our agenda which was lunch in a Chinese restaurant, because it was already 12.30 pm!

This was one of those round table lunches, but with a difference. While we were eating, local men and girls in their traditional garb performed to melodious music on a low stage in front of us. One of the boys danced with hands folded in a “Namaskar” to a Hindi film song! Though the gestures in the dance did not match the words of the song at all, I thought it was very sweet of the Chinese to make such an effort for us.

Later we were driven to the Jade Buddha Temple which is a beautiful edifice in the heart of the city and houses two Buddha statues made of pure jade which were brought from Myanmar. One of them is of a young, serene, bejewelled Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree in meditation. The other is a tranquil reclining Buddha. There are other beautiful statues there as well and many shops in chambers within the temple selling Feng Shui articles, jade jewellery and statues. There are many well- tended Bonzai trees too in the temple complex, each prettier than the other. The whole precinct has the look of a colourful Oriental Bazaar, with a tea house as well where we were taken and made to sample different bitter- tasting herbal teas which were said to cure a large number of health problems. More than the teas, I appreciated the tiny beautiful china cups they were served in, the Eastern decor and the Oriental maidens who served them!

From the temple we went to the Liuli China Museum. Liuli in Chinese means glass art. The crystal clear Liuli glass is formed when Silica is exposed to extreme heat of 1400 degrees Celsius. This museum exhibits and sells the glass works of Loretta H. Yang, who used to be a famous movie star. However, she found the creation of perfect crystal figures more aesthetically rewarding than acting in movies. Her pieces are perfect in creativity, balance and colour and are a pleasure for the Art connoisseur’s eye. We photographed as many pieces of glass art as we could; animals, flowers, jewellery etc, knowing that these snaps will remind us in later years of the beauty we closely admired today.

Thence our grace took us to the French Village. Shanghai is a mix of extremely modern high-rise buildings and old world stone houses. After the Opium War the Chinese Govt divided Shanghai into sections and created a separate British Quarter and a French Quarter. The old French Quarter has been converted into a pretty little village with a central street and by- lanes where there are cosy eateries and art shops between the old French houses. The night life here is very active, we hear, but we had no time to be part of that. We roamed around the crowded little place for half an hour and returned to the bus, which then took us to Nanjing Road East, which is a walking Plaza with glittering shops all along it. It is the busiest shopping area in Shanghai, Grace told us. She warned us against buying articles from street vendors, many of whom are con men and petty thieves who hand out fake bank notes as change. It was nice of her to warn us about her own countrymen. It is so easy to get “Shanghaied” in Shanghai! We admired the beautifully decorated shops and their wares. Some of us bought clothes. The Otivs bought a suitcase! At the end of half an hour, with night approaching, everybody was happy with their purchases.

For dinner we were taken to a place called “The Indian Kitchen” where we had an excellent dinner. The food was very well cooked and the dessert “Halwa” was delicious. We drove back to our hotel through the beautifully lit- up city, gazing through the bus windows at the glittering neon signs and the softer, twinkling lights illuminating the windows of the skyscrapers we passed. Both of us realised that this city is as beautiful and modern, or probably even more so, than Manhattan in New York. This is where a nation gets to when the Governance is strict and wields its power wisely.

I am now ready for bed after a long and pleasantly tiring day. Tomorrow we shall be leaving the hotel at 9.30 for a change. All of us are happy that there is no early morning deadline to meet!

29 May, Hotel Rendezvous, Shanghai, 10.30 pm

A cosy bed, a good night’s sleep, a late wake- up call, two large mugs of hot tea and biscuits....all this makes a very good start to the day. I was a little concerned about how our friends the Marathes, the Gandhis, the Otivs, the Dugals are reacting to the hectic pace of this tour. They all seem to be enjoying themselves, including Ina. I am glad.

After a stupendous breakfast we left the hotel for a mandatory stop at the Government Pearl Emporium. While driving to that place, Grace explained the difference between the fresh water pearl and the sea pearl. The fresh water oyster is very big and contains half a dozen or more large pearls within it, whereas the sea oyster is small and houses but a single pearl. Suddenly changing the topic, she said that a boy from Shanghai is very good husband material, as compared to boys from other parts of China. The Shanghai boy is generous and loads his lady wife with presents. He helps in the housework too! When his wife goes shopping, he waits at the cash counter with his credit card. I am sure our husbands got the general drift of her speech, because when the bus stopped at the Emporium, they all turned into excellent Shanghai boys and waited patiently for us while we bought pearls!

In the foyer, a worker opened there was a tank of water in which were resting a number of live oysters. A worker there fished out a fresh water oyster and a sea oyster and prised them open with a knife to reveal the shining pearls inside. The sea oyster had a single, perfectly round pearl. I felt so sorry for the dead oysters. They give up their lives to produce such beautiful pearls for us! Those pearls that are imperfect are crushed and sold as pearl powder which is good for the skin when used as a face pack.

Our next stop was the Shanghai Museum. It is a world famous museum of ancient Chinese Art and was established in1952. There are over a million items of interest in the huge building of many floors, many of them National Treasures. They cover 21 categories such as bronzes, ceramics, seals, calligraphy, paintings, jade and ivory carvings, bamboo and lacquer works, coins, national costumes, traditional dresses, to name a few! There was too much to absorb in the short time we spent there, but every minute was worthwhile because we got to set eyes on a collection of the most beautiful and precious articles in one go!

It was 12.30 by the time we emerged from there, so we drove straight to lunch. Once again a sit- down Chinese lunch, but a very tasty one. Every dish was well cooked. The soup was very tasty. Kuldip Sindhu was sitting at our table, eating using chopsticks, quite contentedly. I tried imitating him but couldn’t. It seemed an easy enough feat, but it wasn’t so at all! Ranjan has discovered the pleasing fact that Kuldip’s wife Archana and he are schoolmates. Ranjan’s cousin in Delhi is Archana’s friend too, by happy coincidence!

After lunch we went to the Stone Garden. There is a small market around this garden and most of our crowd opted to shop here while nine of us followed Grace into this exquisite little old garden. It was built by one Mr Pan for his parents some 450 years ago. Since the odd stone structures and the huge deadly- looking dragons on top of the walls had to be carved, along with the statues and stone furniture in the pretty little wooden gazebos by the lake, it took Mr Pan 28 years to build this little Eden in the heart of the city. The lake is full of shoals of large well fed goldfish. It still remains a very pretty garden indeed, a tribute to parents from a man who loved them.

We came out of the garden to find our friends milling about outside in the numerous shops, small and big, in the market. Grace collected all of us , did a head- count, and led us to the bus. While walking back, Ramu Budhwar shared his recent amazing experience with me. He said he was sitting in the Market Square all by himself while others of his group were shopping. He found an old Sikh gentleman with a flowing white beard standing near him. This gentleman was posing for a photograph. The lady who was behind the camera looked very familiar to Ramu. In a sudden flashback of memory he realised that she resembled his girl friend and classmate of 45 years past! With some trepidation he approached her and asked her if she bore the same name that he had in mind. She nodded and stared at him wonderingly. Then the penny dropped. “Ramu!” she shrieked and they hugged each other right there in the crowded melee. It transpired that she stays in New Zealand and has come to visit China. Thus came a warm hug to breach the gap of 45 long years! The world is small indeed....

Soon we were back in the bus and headed for Fake Market. During the drive Sindi went to each person in the bus and presented us with a fridge magnet- cum- bottle opener as a joint memento from him and the Chinese tourist agency. It was a very nice gesture indeed and appreciated by all.

Fake Market is so named because the branded goods sold in it are imitations. One can buy anything from Louis Vuitton handbags to I- phones at nominal prices, after the usual bargaining of course! The products are so well- finished that it is well- nigh impossible to tell the fake from the original. This is an air conditioned underground market like our Palika Bazaar of Delhi, only it is much cleaner and the lanes are broader. We had two and a half hours here and everyone literally shopped till they dropped. I think a few of us had to buy extra suitcases to get their purchases home! Yet the ladies said that the market in Beijing is much better in comparison. I guess ladies are very difficult to please...

After the shopping spree we were taken to the wharf on the bund beside the Huang Pu River. This bund was built by the British and has old pretty buildings by the riverside. On the opposite bank is modern Shanghai, with its beautiful tall skyscrapers. It is a marvel how the hard- working Chinese could build the new Shanghai in just 23 years....the great reforms began in 1990!

To approach the wharf, our bus went through a tunnel, which dipped low and then rose again. It was well- lit and very long indeed. Grace told us that we were under the Huang Pu River! In fact, there are about six such tunnels going under the river and connecting both banks. There are a number of bridges too – yet another proof of the nation’s capacity for hard work.

Darkness was setting in as we boarded the well – lit craft that was anchored on the river. It had three floors for people to sit or stand and enjoy the beauty of the two banks. Lights came on in the buildings by the river side. The old British buildings on the bund had golden lights whereas the new Shanghai on the opposite bank was glittering in red, blue and green lights, - a breath taking sight in the velvety darkness with the river softly lapping around us.

All good things must come to an end and so did our cruise, after 25 minutes. All of us walked back to the parked bus. Grace took us to dine in the Greta Indian Taj Restaurant, where we again had a filling and delicious dinner. For dessert, we had Halwa as well as strawberry ice cream! Tired and laden with shopping,we were finally dropped back to our hotel at 10 pm.

30 May, Merry Rendezvous Shanghai, 10 pm

We awoke to a grey morning with a slight drizzle. We were told to take our umbrellas along in the bus, as rain was predicted in the Garden City of Hangzhou, where we were headed after breakfast.

Hangzhou is also called the Paradise City. Its beauty is man made and comprises alot of greenery, flowers and the 10 feet deep West Lake, where one can see lotuses bloom in August. The roads are lined with Magnolia and Maple trees. The large white Magnolia flowers are just beginning to bloom now. This city is a three hour drive from Shanghai. It is known for its pretty ladies too!

We reached the highway to Hangzhou soon after 9 am. We could see groves of Cypress and Poplar by the roadside, for miles. Railway track ran along our right flank and occasionally, a pointy – nosed white bullet train would fly by us at a dizzying speed. There was a toilet break after an hour and a half, and we reached the outskirts of Hangzhou at a quarter to twelve. We crossed a broad canal, which, according to Grace, connects the West Lake of Beijing to the West Lake of Hangzhou. It was built by the emperor of the Sui Dynasty and took 10 years to build. It made communication between Beijing and Hangzhou easier; yet the Emperor took more than a month to reach Hangzhou from Beijing, by boat!

Since there was time for lunch, we were taken first to the West Lake, which is a wide expanse of water, 10 feet deep, with a man made tree lined causeway diving the lake in two parts. The rain was coming down hard now. So we unfurled our umbrellas and followed Grace from the parking lot to the jetty, where the pretty motor boats were moored. All of us got into one boat. It had at least 50 seats and glass windows through which we could look out; also a roof to protect us from rain. There was a fine hazy mist on the grey water of the lake and visibility was poor. We could dimly see the pagoda on the shore and the causeway at a distance. It was rainy and chilly and I was glad to be inside. The boat rode smoothly over the waves and took us over the circuit, bringing us back to the starting point in 30 minutes. Had the day been sunny, we would have admired the beauty of Hangzhou better. As such, we trooped back to our bus in the rain and then drove to Omar’s Cafe, which is the only Indian restaurant in the city. We had a good lunch there. In all the Indian meals we have had here so far, pakoras have figured, along with papad and salad, unlike the menus in India. Pakoras a
 
Date of Posting: 17 February 2015
Posted By: Mrs Bulbul Goswami
Went on Tour to China - May 2013, Pune
For you all from me.. once again thank you for that memorable trip to China and Tibet...
Explorers..
We call them senior, with a few 60 plus,
It’s the defense services, an officers' bus,
Hearty laughter, with a zest for life,
Chatter chatter, not just the husband but even the wife.
Eager to learn, culture and style,
So many queries answered with a smile,
Our guides so patient, so much to tell,
Making each day go so well!
Some good food, beer to sip,
Plenty of jokes and ready to flip,
So much to walk, miles to go,
The Holiday Bash troop goes with the flow.
Fashion fusion, this charming group,
Experiments food, be it main course or soup,
Logged in and ready to connect in a mall,
This new age senior knows it all.
Moments of clash, moments of gloom,
Passing in a jiffy, now a happy room,
A little gossip, an easy talk,
The common background paces the walk.
Little misses are often pointed,
The missing coffee, butter, milk, water counted,
Easily pleased they appreciate more,
Loving this trip they forget the sore.
Little history, naughty stories are told,
They love the fun in being bold,
Shopping bargains, let’s begin at 10,
Be it shirts, bags, hats, umbrellas or a pen.
The train rides always so scenic
The snacks and cards made a fun picnic
Each journey so different from the other one
The iconic Lhasa journey was the most fun.
Did we love it, of course we did,
Sweet memories for all, seniors and kid,
A long trip to China and Tibet, but worth each day,
All planning for the next and how much to pay!
Lidder the leader, they call this man,
Our holiday expert, making our plan,
A calm smile, undeterred he stands,
Our Raju guide, for you we clap our hands!

Deepti Beliappa Ganapathy
https://www.facebook.com/Deepti.Belliappa.Ganapathy/timeline
 
Date of Posting: 17 February 2015
Posted By: Deepti Beliappa Ganapathy
Travelled on the Tour to China & Tibet - May 2014, Bangalore

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