Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

I emerged from the warren of Old Delhi backstreets, bloated and exhausted. Bloated because my guide had insisted I sample all the best street food in Old Delhi. Exhausted because every few seconds, motorbikes roaring through the crowds willy-nilly had sent me scrambling for safety. Five hours after we’d first set foot in the crazy maze, I was more than ready to head back to the comfort and serenity of my bed and breakfast.

Men make paratha in an open oven on the streets of Old Delhi, India

Men make paratha in an open oven on the streets of Old Delhi, India

The sun hovered above the horizon, prolonging the hazy half-light of late afternoon. Workers poured out of offices and onto the main street. But no one was headed home just yet. It was just two days before Diwali, one of the most important Hindu holidays of the year, and there was shopping to do. Within minutes, a sea of pedestrians choked the sidewalks. I forced my way against the tidal wave, desperately trying to keep my guide in sight.

“Sagar,” I yelled. “I have to get out of this crowd. My bad hip can’t take all the jostling and pushing.”

He turned around and pointed to the opposite side of the street, which was remarkably clear of traffic. “No problem, we can take a rickshaw.” Read More


One of the most efficient, and cheapest ways to get around India is to hire a cycle rickshaw. I did just that in Delhi when I was too exhausted to walk any more. Twenty minutes later, I hopped out at the entrance to the Metro and handed the driver the equivalent of $1.50 USD.

Author’s note: This was just one of many fascinating experiences during my stay in Delhi, India, courtesy of my wonderful hosts, Prakash Kutir B&B.

Boys at Assi Ghat in Varanasi, India, prepare to sell food and drinks to visitors who come to the ghat for the evening Fire Purifying Ceremony

Click on title to view photo in large format. Many of India’s nearly nearly three billion residents struggle on a daily basis to eek out an existence. Poverty is endemic and there are not enough jobs to go around. The government has increased social services to the most at-risk members of society, but the amount spent on social safety nets is still less than one percent of the country’s GDP, according to the Word Bank. Creativity and ingenuity, along with a willingness to work hard, are required in this type of environment. These young men have all three. Read More

Mother and child take a break from walking under a blistering sun at the Red Fort of Agra in Agra, India

Click on title to view photo in large format. I’d spent the morning walking around the Red Fort of Agra, one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Agra, India. The sun beat down mercilessly, but I soldiered on, driven by astonishment over the staggering architecture of the Fort. My jaw dropped open at the entrance, a towering red sandstone arch covered in magnificent carvings. It was just a tiny taste of what lay within the soaring walls of the 16th century fortress. Read More

The bus braked suddenly, jolting me awake. I blinked rapidly, trying to reconcile the scene outside my window. Somewhere between Agra and Delhi, India, hundreds of sheep crossing the highway had brought us to a dead stop. Slender women draped from head to toe in black gauze walked gracefully among the animals, prodding them with wooden staffs. Ever so slowly, the bleating flock meandered to the opposite side and we resumed our journey.

Woman in a village near Delhi India makes patties from cow and buffalo dung and sells them for use as fertilizer and fuel

Woman in a village near Delhi, India makes patties from cow and buffalo dung and sells them for use as fertilizer and fuel

I was amused but not surprised. After eight days in Delhi, nothing shocked me. Raw sewage ran down the center of dirt lanes where houses had no access to water or proper sanitation. Women sat by the roadside pounding cow and buffalo dung into patties for use as fuel and fertilizer. Men urinated against walls in public places. Carry-wallahs toted enormous loads on their backs from one end of the city to another. And everywhere, every moment, men hawked food and merchandise from Lilliputian storefronts that lined the roads. Read More

Dignified elderly man poses for me at Fatehpur Sikri Palace in Agra, India

Click on title to view photo in large format. I turned a corner during my visit to the Fatehpur Sikri Complex and found this stately gentleman. He sat up straight, smoothed out his tunic, and motioned for me to take a photo. He seemed the perfect ambassador for the two-mile square site, where red sandstone buildings were adorned with some of the most exquisite, elaborate carvings I have ever seen.

Fatehpur Sikri was built by Emperor Akbar and served as capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585. Akbar abandoned the site in 1585 when Read More