Incredible Days…Incredible India!

amy at taj
(Taj Mahal)

I can’t believe that it’s almost been two months since my last blog update! Where has all the time gone? So much to catch up on…


For starters, my dog walker felt so guilty over Jumble’s death that she showed up three days later holding a new Chihuahua puppy, Chico! He’s absolutely precious, but naughty as can be! He’s quite devious, but brimming with personality. Aside from the fact that he’s impossible to train, he’s still quite lovable.

David and Amy
(David and Amy at Marine Ball)

And in celebration of the United States Marine Corps 235th Birthday, I attended my very first Marine Ball. Interestingly enough, the Marine Corps is actually older than the United States!

(Amy and David at Ba Vi)

(Juanita and Keith at Ba Vi)

I watched with fascination as the marines conducted their traditional cake cutting ceremony, followed by speeches from the Ambassador and other dignitaries. But for me, it was an excellent excuse to get all gussied up. A lovely evening to say the least.

(Friends out on the town – including a dear friend from Austin, Carey, who came for a visit)

Weekends have been spent exploring Hanoi’s surrounding environs, including a motorbike trip to Ba Vi National Park. I’ve become quite cynical of finding true natural beauty within a 50-mile radius of Hanoi, but I was pleasantly pleased as we ascended Ba Vi Mountain, winding our way through the tropical cloud forest. The mist and dense fog was eerily atmospheric as we climbed the 1229 steps to the temple dedicated to Uncle Ho.

(My colleague, Trung, at Qutb Minar)

(Trung and Rebecca at Qutb Minar Complex)

More recently, I attended Programming Foreign Assistance (PFA) training in Delhi, India! This one week course provides an overview of the rules, policies and specific procedures that govern programming of foreign assistance; from strategic planning, activity and pre-obligation planning, to full and open competition to performance management and evaluation. A little dry, but incredibly useful! Anyone that has worked for the US Government knows all too well the acronyms that are used ubiquitously…and often, I’m too embarrassed to ask ‘what does that mean’.


So now I can joyfully contribute to conversations referring to ADS (Automated Directives System), OMB Circular A-11 (budget guidance), QDDR (Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review), OCI (Organizational Conflict of Interest), etc., etc., etc.

(India Gate)

(Amy and Rebecca at India Gate)

The course also reviewed the budgetary process, a mini civics refresher course. Given the complexities of the budget cycle as well as the interdependencies between the numerous agencies (i.e., Operating Unit, USAID, Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance (State/F), OMB and Congress), I’m surprised that any money actually gets to its final destination.

(Ball Vendor at India Gate)

(More vendors at India Gate)

But the best part of the training was its location, Delhi, India. This happened to be my first time to India, a life-long dream finally fulfilled! And it surpassed my wildest expectations…and I only saw a small glimpse of what India has to offer!

(Waiting for traffic to clear on the way to Agra)

I happened to stay at the ITC Maurya Hotel, a luxurious five-star hotel in New Delhi within the Embassy Enclave, definitely a cosmic bubble from the rest of Delhi. Granted, the food was simply divine!

(Taj Mahal)

(Grandeur of the Taj Mahal)

Indian food, in general, is one of my favorites! But the food in Northern India was beyond delicious. Each meal was a culinary delight as I filled my plate with dal makhani, biryani, chole bhature, kofta, chapati’s, palak paneer, masala dosa, tandoori chicken, samosas, etc., with the majority of dishes having names I’ve never heard of.

(Hemraj – my Nepalese friend)

Breakfast proved to be an experimental smorgasbord. The staff took a special interest in my desire to try new things and loaded me up with a variety of traditional Indian food. I laughed as the waiter delivered plate, after plate, after plate to my table. It bordered ridiculous when I had to move to a bigger table in order to fit the six bowls and two plates full of food, along with the plethora of chutney varieties…but I managed to hold my head high as I eagerly tasted everything that they insisted I try ☺

(Insane crowds)

Evenings were spent exploring the local shopping centers, from the colorful craft-market stalls at Dilli Haat, to the more upscale boutiques at Khan Market. My favorite shopping locale was the government-run Central Cottage Industries Emporium, a multi-level wonder of India-wide handicrafts: woodcarvings, silverware, jewelry, pottery, paper mache, brassware, textiles, and much, much, more.

(Sunset at the Taj)

However, it wasn’t until after the training that I was truly able to explore Delhi!

(Red Fort in Agra)

That Friday afternoon, my Vietnamese colleague and friend from the Philippines joined me on a mini-excursion of the city. Our first stop, the beautiful religious buildings of the Qutb Minar complex; which date back to the onset of Islamic rule in India. The Muslim sultan, Qutb-ud-bin began its construction in 1193, yet his successor completed it.

(Rickshaw driver at Red Fort)

Next stop, India Gate, the national monument of India. Originally, India Gate commemorated the 90,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who lost their lives while fighting for the British Indian Empire. However, following India’s independence, India Gate became the site of the Indian Army’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

(Humayun’s Tomb)

(Amy at Humayun’s Tomb)

While soaking in the history and the significance of both of these sites, I felt like a rock star! Endless strangers approached me to ask if they could take my picture. I must’ve posed for 200 shots! Very strange, but somewhat flattering…

(Feeling like a rock star – this was probably the 200th photo that I had posed for…)

(Humayun’s Tomb)

On Saturday, we set out at the crack of dawn to etch our way towards Agra. No trip to India would be complete without experiencing the grandeur of the Taj Mahal!

(Red Fort in Delhi)

Unfortunately, Delhi’s horrendous traffic reared its ugly head, turning the four hour journey into six. At one stage, drivers literally just gave up, turned off their engines, and walked out into the streets to assess the wait.

(shoes for sale)

(Street scenes in Old Delhi)


And after the six hour journey, we were mortified to see the crowds lining up to enter this sacred place. December happens to be peak travel season, and going on a Saturday only adds to the local family outings.



Alas, we waited two hours just to enter the West Gate, followed by another 1.5 hours to step up onto its platform. But it’s from there that one truly realizes how glorious and magnificent the Taj Mahal really is.


Despite the hundreds of thousands of people, the Taj Mahal remains a true vision of beauty.

(beautiful eyes)

The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631! Construction began in that same year, yet the complex as a whole wasn’t completed until 1653.



Not long after it was completed, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his own son and imprisoned in Agra Fort (what an ungrateful child!). For the rest of his days, he could only admire his creation through a small window.


In total, over 20,000 people from India and Central Asia worked on the building, including specialists from as far away as Europe to produce the marble screens.


All in all, our trip to the Taj Mahal ended up being an 18-hour journey…well worth the lifetime of memories. Definitely a long, yet fabulous day!


Sunday remained low key in order to check out some of the sites of Old Delhi. I absolutely loved the hustle and bustle of the old part of town – exactly what I envisioned when conjuring up India. Monkeys were swinging from the power lines, vendors lined the streets, rickshaw drivers jockeyed for space on the roads, and the variety of people was mesmerizing.


After hours of meandering through the labyrinth of streets, we explored Delhi’s Red Fort, whose walls jut 33 meters into the air. The main entrance into the fort forces one to walk through the vaulted covered bazaar, Chatta Chowk. Even though it’s a bit of a tourist trap, I loved looking at all the wonderful crafts.


Humayun’s Tomb, built in the mid-16th century, was our next stop. Another magnificent site! And the Mughal gardens were a perfect place to watch the sunset.

(Jaswant’s mother – my personal guide throughout Fatehbad Village)

(Jaswant and his wife)

(Jaswant’s father and friend)

But my last day in India proved to be my favorite. My boss’ wife happens to be from Delhi. As such, she hooked me up with her driver, Jaswant – who offered to take me to his village approximately four hours outside of Delhi and close to Alwar in Rajasthan.

(Not so sure what to make of me)

Alwar itself wasn’t too impressive, yet it does have a hilltop fort and a sprawling city palace complex. But the highlight was going to Jaswant’s home, Fatehbad Village.


As Jaswant introduced me to his entire family, including his parents, his brothers, his wife, his children…and ALL of his neighbors, I was humbled by everyone’s friendliness and hospitality! They exuded a warmth and kindness that made me feel right at home.




No one spoke a word of English, yet communication didn’t appear to be a problem as we seemed to connect on a deeper level. In fact, Jaswant’s mother beamed with pride as she escorted me through the village, peeking over walls, going inside homes, and even entering into the school grounds.




I live for these moments of humanity and cross-cultural exchange! These encounters bring me sheer joy and make me truly feel alive!




I now have an innate fondness for India and hope to return time and time again! What an incredible country to explore…


I’m now back in Hanoi waiting for my friend, Alisha to arrive. She and Mina, two friends of mine from Malawi, are going to spend the holidays with me in Vietnam.



Wishing everyone Happy Holidays and a Happy, Healthy New Year!

Much love,

3 comments to Incredible Days…Incredible India!

  • Jose Carlos Cavazos

    But you ARE a rock star, mate! Fab photos as always – my baby sister was there at the Taj Mahal during Thanksgiving week; she was attending a wedding in New Delhi. Cheers!

  • Sam Truong

    Wow, thanks for sharing Amy. You are so luck to have a great job to travel and see places. I would love to do it. Beautiful and amazing pictures. You should be an artist 🙂

  • Carl Kunath


    I’ll be going to India in a few weeks and was looking around to learn about the experiences of other travelers. Your BLOG is wonderful and the photography is exceptional! You have a great eye for photography — especially for people.

    Thanks so much for making this available to the rest of us.

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