Reading into India.

Joanie and Thornton Cooke and four friends had had their sights set on India for quite some time. Kiran Chand, R. Crusoe’s India tour specialist, worked closely with them to plan a journey that met the group’s exact specifications.

    Then a bum knee got in the way of the Cookes’ plans, and the other four went ahead to India with R. Crusoe.

    When they returned, Joanie and Thornton heard what they thought they would. “Our friends said it was absolutely the best trip they’d ever taken.”

    Knees heal, but the ache for India doesn’t go away.

    This year, the Cookes revisited the idea of an India journey, this time with seven members of their reading group. Everyone was excited. Kiran got the call to prepare the journey for the nine travelers.

    Bingo. India at last.

    In preparation for the journey, Joanie asked the group to read Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. (It describes the Indian independence movement of 1947-48.) All obliged.

    The 16-day journey took them to Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, the Hindu temple complex at Eklingji and the sacred 10th-century remains at Nagda, Ranakpur, Jodhpur, and the holy city of Varanasi.

    The Cookes’ friends were right on the money. India, says Joanie, was an incredible trip, thanks in large part to meticulous planning by Kiran and R. Crusoe’s partners in India.

    “Kiran moved mountains,” says Joanie. “Our trip was a terrific success. Kiran was lovely to work with, a delight.

   “Varanasi was unbelievable,” she adds. “For every one of us, it was the high point. We rode in rickshaws down to the ghats [along the Ganges] at night and again in the morning. We took a boat along the river.

   “Krishna, our guide, was spectacular. Super. His explanations of what we were seeing made all the difference.Like most people we met in Varanasi, he was very spiritual. And I am not. So when I saw others so devoted—their lives so filled with religion, the rituals, the ablutions, and all—Krishna’s guidance really helped us to understand what we were seeing. He gave us great insight into the life there.”

    In Agra, “The Taj Mahal was beautiful,” says Joanie. “But I especially liked watching the crowds gathered around it. We all had a view from our rooms. It was gorgeous. The Indian women in their saris—the colors were just invigorating.”

    The Cookes and their fellow travelers adored the accommodations Kiran arranged. “Every hotel we stayed in,” says Joanie, “was extraordinary.”

    The Cookes were particularly fond of Neelam, their guide in Old Delhi. “She was very, very knowledgeable. And she was up-front about what she felt was and wasn’t right in India.

    “Sometimes, guides gloss over so much, but our guides—all around the country—did not. Which we appreciated.”

    Joanie and Thornton say they’d like to return to India in a year, next time to the country’s south. Kiran is ready.

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