My friends and readers (and I hope you’re all both!) may reasonably think: what is Linda doing running around the world when she’s supposedly working on another book? Where is book news among the travel adventures?

Well, travel is broadening (believe me, as my lifelong struggle with weight persists!) not just in body but in mind and now in mine as a relatively nouveau fiction writer. While the month+ in India might have looked like all fun and games, it made a huge impact on me as I AM trying to finish The Lost Torah of Shanghai, the next book. Really! Not only have I become personally even more invested in issues that have engaged me for years, but my writer’s voice will reflect that as the new story unfolds.

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When I asked a cab driver whether to call his city Mumbai or Bombay, he replied, “Bombay! Some crazy Indians made it Mumbai, but it’s Bombay.”    

The Gateway to India, a landmark on Bombay’s waterfront built by the British.

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After our nice three-day jaunt to Kochi and Munnar and New Year’s Eve and Day relaxing back in Trivandrum, January 2, wedding day for Kellyand Sharat, dawned. And I do mean dawn! The time of the wedding was determined astrologically. It was to start about 8 am. So, we left the hotel in our wedding regalia at 7:15, before sunrise. The Christmas tree in the hotel lobby gave us an interesting backdrop for a photo en route to the Hindu temple. Talk about diversity.

Hotel lobby at 7:30 am. Talk about diversity: Indian wedding garb, Christmas tree, Jewish guests! 

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Varanasi was the last stop on our OAT tour. From there we flew to Delhi and on to Trivandrum, the English spelling of Thiruvananthapuram (try saying that three times or once), its name in the local language, Malayalam. Trivandrum is the capital city of the Indian southern state of Kerala. It’s almost on the southernmost tip of India, on the portion of the Indian Ocean called the Arabian Sea in India.

On this leg it was just us and our friends, Grace and Francis (Pete) Peters, who live in Morgan Hill, CA, about 70 south of us. We met Grace and Pete on our African safari trip in 2011 and became fast friends. Believe it or not, they travel more than we do. Grace and Pete are why we came to India now—the reason for the whole trip.  

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Visiting Varanasi takes the traveler to the spiritual heart of India. This city along the Ganges is considered the country’s holiest spot for both Hindus and Buddhists. We landed there on December 24 in the midst of a three-day church festival for Christmas. As if that wasn’t enough, we ate our festive hotel dinner that night (Indian menu, Christmas décor and Santa Claus hats for the men) to the accompaniment of youthful carolers. When they took a break, rousing renditions of “To Life, To Life, l’Chaim,” (from “Fiddler on the Roof”) and then “Have Negilah” rang out from three large tables of Israeli travelers. No horah dancing, but a lively and ironic interlude. “Of all the gin joints,” who would have expected this crowd?

This was close to the end of the official tour part of our trip through Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which led us through Bhutan and northern India. We were a group of seven in Bhutan and ten in India, a very manageable size. Our veteran group leader, Krish, keeps a selection of silk saris in OAT’s customary Varanasi hotel, and a woman who works there came in to drape the four women in the group for Christmas Eve dinner. The Israelis were amused. My weekly Hebrew conversation class at home enabled me to talk to them almost as well as most spoke English (including a few raised in the United States). They were intrigued that we were going to Israel after India.

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Amber Fort, Jaipur

View from top of Amber Fort (we did walk up!)

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A scenic flight over the Himalayas from Bhutan took us back to Delhi, where we spent three packed days.

Mt. Everest, as seen from Bhutan to Delhi flight

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Bhutan is a small Himalayan country one associates with Shangri-la. Physically it is beautiful, and its people and culture are enlightened by Buddhist values and practices. All around, in cities and villages, even the lowliest home or store is decorated with painted patterns found also in temples and dzongs (fortresses).

Bhutan has been a hereditary kingdom for the past 100 years, previously having been ruled by landowning governors. The current king, 32 years old, is the Fifth King; he succeeded his father, the still living Fourth King, who decided to retire a few years ago and abdicated. Prince Charles should be so lucky. The current king and queen were married last year, and their photo is everywhere. The William and Kate of Asia.

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After a one-night stopover in Delhi, we moved on to Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, where we spent a couple of days. Among the highlight sights is Mother Theresa’s home, with a significant museum exhibit on her life (including her Nobel Prize certificate, but only interior photos allowed were of her tomb). Her sector of the city is, of course, vastly different from the clean and majestic park where the Victoria Memorial sits.

There’s a relatively new bridge over the River Ganges. Our guide was eager to take us over, but it was close to the end of the day’s touring, so a quick ride. To save time the driver made a U-turn around the toll booth we’d just gone through, stopping traffic two ways. To say the least, it was a red flag to the police (we could just imagine doing this on the Bay Bridge or Golden Gate), and the bus was detained for a while, with a policeman escorting us back to our hotel to stay close to the driver. The same driver turned up the next morning for our trip to the airport, so our tips must have come in handy for him!

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No, not “Alfie.”          

Monday morning (December 3, 2012) at Hong Kong airport. We lost Sunday to the International Dateline.

My website has an “About” page that’s about me from the standpoint of my writing, how I got to be where I am today as an author of a novel. But that’s not all there is about me, and even what I am about is not all about me. Got that? Let me try to explain.

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