Charmed by elephants and snakes

by Eliza Myers 15. June 2011 01:12

I think elephant might be my new favorite mode of travel. You get to enjoy the scenic view while being gently rocked as if in a boat on calm waters. Plus, elephants are extremely cute, which beats out many other modes of transportation.

On my last full day of touring India, I rode one particularly cute elephant up to the Amber Fort, just outside Jaipur. The red sandstone fort protected the Rajput Maharajas, who choose the area because of the surrounding steep hills. Cobblestone paths, tall ramparts and a series of gates protected them from invaders from 1592 to 1727.

The ancient citadel blends both Hindu and Mughal elements, since the Hindu Rajputs managed to stay in power with the help of many Mughal treaties. Although several centuries old, the fort retains many of its luxurious stone and glass details.

On my way out of the fort, I passed a snake charmer who encouraged me to have no fear while petting a cobra and allowing a python to curl around my shoulders. Trusting the power of the snake charmer’s music, I enjoyed getting close to creatures I would have run from in the wild.

That evening I thought all my adventures on Globus’ India trip were over until I heard the joyful music of a wedding procession going past my hotel window. I hurried outside to see a band, dancing wedding guests, bright decorative lights and a soon-to-be groom on a white horse. The groom and his family typically walk/dance in parade-like fashion to the wedding reception where the bride and her family are waiting.

As I was snapping some pictures, one of the girls ran over to me to ask if I would like to dance. I said yes and was ushered into a sea of ornately dressed ladies jubilantly dancing to the music. Everyone welcomed me with a gleeful hello as we danced about. Sometimes it is the unplanned moments that can say so much about a culture.

The gorgeous Amber palace

The sweepers at Amber Fort take a break

Happily petting the cobra

A groom on the way to his wedding

A teardrop for all time

by Eliza Myers 14. June 2011 23:53

Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once called the Taj Mahal a teardrop that glistened “spotlessly bright on the cheek of time.” I felt these romantic sentiments accurately captured the delicate beauty of the great Taj Mahal.

It all began with a love story, which I listened to in front of the Taj Mahal at daybreak. As my guide related the story of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s wish to memorialize his love for his wife in white marble, the sun’s rays illuminated more and more of the glowing mausoleum.

No matter how many pictures are splashed over tour guides, this is a place you have to see face to face to truly appreciate. The details of the 1653 monument became more apparent the closer I came to the Taj Mahal. Eventually, I could see the colored designs all over the walls were semi-precious and precious stones cut into the white marble. These stones sparkled in the sunlight with a dazzling effect.

The chamber for Shah Jahan’s wife’s tomb is kept quiet with little light except an overhead lamp. Echoes from visitors’ voices reverberated musically overhead as I paused to think about the royal couple that inspired the Taj Mahal’s construction.

After journeying through some of India’s crazy traffic to get to Jaipur, I watched a demonstration of clothes and carpet making at the Shree Carpet and Textile Mahal. People here use the same methods they have used for centuries to produce handmade clothes and carpets. Inside the main shop, I saw the brightly colored finished products of shirts, scarves, dresses, tablecloths and rugs for sale.

One of the many strange sights I saw on the way to Jaipur

A rug making demonstration

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Experiencing India

Destination “new” Detroit

by Bob Hoelscher 14. June 2011 00:40

Recently a British music magazine to which I subscribe contained an “opinion” piece by an erstwhile “expert” that was not only just plain nasty, but also showed its author to be poorly informed about a great American city that, yes, has significant challenges, but is also striving tirelessly to reclaim its former glory. The occasion for the editorial was an extended strike by the musicians of the outstanding Detroit Symphony Orchestra, resulting from the financial predicament of the orchestra which left no alternative to wage and contract concessions, to one extent or another. 

Due to the current recession, which has hit Michigan particularly hard, and its arts organizations reliant upon donor contributions even more so, the good people of Detroit had to do without most of the DSO’s 2010-11 season. However, this vitriolic Brit apparently couldn’t refrain from attacking the city itself, which was too much for this “fan” of both the “Motor City” as well as the many, many hard-working, conscientious Detroiters who are doing their level best to put their home town back on track.

It must be easy, or more likely profitable these days for pompous, self-important media types to take cheap shots at people or places that apparently don’t qualify for their personal stamps of approval. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it right. I’ve always been an advocate of the philosophy that holds that if one is not part of the solution, then he or she is part of the problem. As a result, I’m going to ask those of you responsible for planning group travel to be part of the “solution” in helping give Detroit a “helping hand” and a brighter future. If you accept my challenge, you are going to accomplish two major goals.

First, by showing the positive economic impact of group travel, you are going to help your fellow Americans in the Wolverine State to emerge stronger from tough economic times. But second, your travelers are going to discover a city rich in history, rich in fascinating places to visit and fun things to do, and a city filled with friendly, welcoming people. Rather that just a place to drive around on the way to Frankenmuth or Mackinac Island, consider Detroit as a “new” destination for a long weekend trip, or at least plan on spending a day or two before heading north to other Michigan attractions. 

Bob Hoelscher, CTC, CTP, MCC, CTIE, is a longtime travel industry executive who has sold his tour company, bought a motorhome and is traveling the highways and byways of America.  He is a former chairman of NTA, and was a founding member of Travel Alliance Partners (TAP).

Well-known in the industry as both a baseball and symphony aficionado, Bob is also one of the country’s biggest fans of our national parks, both large and small.  He has already visited more than 325 NPS sites and has several dozen yet to see.  He is currently traveling the country to visit as many of those parks as possible.  His blog, “Travels with Bob,” appears periodically on The Group Travel Leader’s blogsite, “Are We There Yet”.

Bob is available for contractual work in the industry and may be reached at or by calling (435) 590-1553.

Original television "Howdy Doody" at the Detroit Institute of Arts

Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry Murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts

Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, home of the Detroit Symphony


Don’t just drive past the “Motor City”

The Motor City

by Bob Hoelscher 14. June 2011 00:38

Yes, I am going to show you why the “Motor City” should rightfully be on your group’s list of cities to see. First are several “can’t miss,” world class attractions all closely connected to the automobile industry that made the teeming metropolis what it was in the first place. Also, the recent reversal of fortunes and profitability of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler augurs well for the area’s future. 

You’ll likely want to begin at The Henry Ford, which features the fascinating Henry Ford Museum, filled with an incredible collection of American memorabilia, transportation vehicles of all types, mechanical and decorative arts, as well as the adjacent Greenfield Village. Here you’ll stroll through the pages of our nation’s history as you visit the original homes, stores, and facilities of H.J. Heinz, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, and many more famed Americans. These sites connected with famous U.S. citizens, including the court house where Abraham Lincoln practiced law, were all moved to the museum and preserved for posterity by Henry Ford. 

You’ll also be fascinated by the sprawling Ford Rouge Plant, now completely re-engineered with state-of the-art vehicle production technology and a showcase for environmentally-sensitive “green” practices and facilities. Next to it are the palatial mansion of the “auto barons.” These mansions include Fairlane, the home of Henry Ford, the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, and my favorite, Meadow Brook Hall, the Tudor-style estate of Alfred and Matilda Dodge Wilson, on the campus of Oakland University in the city’s northern suburbs. Nearby, you’ll also find the excellent Walter P. Chrysler Museum.

Presidential Limousine in the Henry Ford Museum, Detroit (Dearborn)

Historic "Rosa Parks" bus in the Henry Ford Museum, Detroit (Dearborn)

Oscar Mayer "Wienermobile" in the Henry Ford Museum, Detroit (Dearborn)


Don’t just drive past the “Motor City”

Downtown Detroit renaissance

by Bob Hoelscher 14. June 2011 00:31

Downtown Detroit has been undergoing a major renaissance during recent years. Visitors who haven’t ventured into the heart of the city for many years are sure to be surprised and pleased. 

Of course, General Motors’ towering Renaissance Center on the banks of the Detroit River is still the area’s most prominent landmark. Elsewhere in the city, once-shuttered luxury hotels have renovated and reopened, shopping and fine dining have reappeared, and a spirit of renewal can be sensed everywhere.

Sports are big here. The NHL’s Red Wings sell out the Joe Louis Arena, and both the baseball Tigers (Comerica Park) and football Lions (Ford Field) have sparkling new downtown homes. Three downtown casino resort hotels (Motor City Casino, M.G.M. Grand Casino and Greektown Casino) all offer visitors exciting, Las Vegas-style gaming. 

Greektown itself, with its numerous shops, restaurants and nightspots, is a genuine tourist mecca. The fabulous Fox Theatre is home to all types of popular music concerts and Broadway theatre productions. And right up Woodward Avenue is the Cultural Center, where you’ll find such attractions as the New Detroit Science Center and the outstanding Detroit Institute of Arts, home to one of America’s most incredible collections of art treasures.

Here also is the elegant Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, where you even might find me at a performance of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, again presenting a full schedule of classical and pops programs. With the settlement of the labor issues, the orchestra’s management and musicians have embarked on a series of innovative new community outreach efforts, so your group will now find ticket prices for a world-class orchestra to be far lower here than you will find anywhere else in the country. And fans of the famed “Motown sound” are sure to enjoy a visit to the popular Motown Historical Museum, also nearby!

Renaissance Center, Detroit

Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers

Fox Theatre, Detroit


Don’t just drive past the “Motor City”

A day of Mughals and monkeys

by Eliza Myers 9. June 2011 21:22

How can a building stay snow white for centuries? By using some of India’s stain-free white marble. This is how the Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah in Agra still looks new after almost 400 years. The use of white marble, carved stone screens and colorful wall designs illustrate how this Mughal mausoleum was the precursor to the Taj Mahal. Sometimes compared to an elaborate wedding cake, the decadent building was constructed by one of the few females in charge of the Mughal empire: Nur Jahan for her father after his death.

Walking around the tomb’s sandstone gate, I noticed a monkey crawling along the top of the gate in a hurry. I hustled after to try and get a picture and found not one but about 15 monkeys taking advantage of the shade of a stone canopy. I couldn’t get over my good fortune as I watched the monkeys regard me with little concern as I snapped photos.

Nearby, the Agra Fort goes all the way back to Akbar the Great in 1565. It was different from any fort I had seen before, since it was not only for defensive purposes, but also the residence of the emperors. After our guide described the history and daily life at the fort, I wandered through room after room of elaborately designed red sandstone before realizing that if I wasn’t careful, I would soon be lost.

Part of the fun of touring these ancient structures is also the people watching, since Indians have keep their local style of dress for centuries. The local women embrace vibrantly colored saris that jumped out at me, making me wondering what magic detergent they were using.

Fortunately, many of the locals are as curious of you as you are of them. Several came up to me asking to take a picture with me, since some of the Indian tourists to these sites are from rural India where Westerners are scarce. My face will now be captured forever in several Indian tourists' photo albumns.

The Agra Fort

Some Indian tourists resting at the Agra Fort

Rickshaw mayhem

by Eliza Myers 7. June 2011 22:18

“If you want to experience the sights, the sounds and the smells of “real” India all at once, the best way is a rickshaw ride through Old Delhi,” said Anil Bahal, my India tour director.

So on my first day of touring India with Globus Tours, I climbed into a tiny rickshaw to let all of India come rushing at me all at once. The rickshaw driver must have legs of steel to be able to bike two people and their covered seats into the mass of people in the Old Delhi markets without ever showing signs of weariness.

There was barely enough room for the rickshaw and the amount of people walking past the market's mostly pedestrian streets. But for such a narrow street, I felt like my senses couldn’t soak everything in fast enough. Everywhere I looked were bright colors from bejeweled fabrics, fresh fruit and store signs. Incense hung in the air, as well as excitement from the bustling activity of people buying, selling and honking to get through. Then of course there is always the occasional man pushing a cart of bricks or woman carrying a large bag of clothes on her head.

The rickshaw turned out to be a perfect way to safely watch the madness of the market without the headache of trying to navigate the labyrinth of streets. People would even take the time to wave a friendly hello as we passed by.

My first day also included a quieter side of India at Delhi’s Jama Masjid and Tomb of Humayun. These magnificent buildings made me realize that the country has managed to preserve a vast quantity of ancient structures. Built in the 16th and 17th centuries, these two historic sites provided a glimpse into the time of India’s affluent Mughal Empire.

One colorful scene on the rickshaw ride

At the Tomb of Humayun

At the Jama Masjid

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