India December 2012


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December 10th 2012
Published: January 26th 2013
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Laxmi Narayan Temple, DelhiLaxmi Narayan Temple, DelhiLaxmi Narayan Temple, Delhi

Our first Hindu Ttemple of the trip. More photos of Delhi monuments and sights at the end of this blog
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India December 2012




NEW DELHI, CAPITAL OF INDIA and second largest city (after Mumbai, aka Bombay) Dec. 10 - 12, 2012.

We started our three weeks in India in the capital, Delhi. When flying to Asia it is a looooong trip - 24 hours in our case - so we arrived late at night and exhausted. The hotel we'd booked had a car and driver meet us and whisk us (1/2 hr.) to the hotel where we fell into bed and slept soundly through the night. We woke up fairly refreshed and headed out to tour. With a 12 &
Delhi Street SceneDelhi Street SceneDelhi Street Scene

Drivers use their horns often - you can just imagine the cacophony can't you?
1/2 hour time change, we expected the jet-lag to be horrible, but it was not a bad adjustment at all.

The first thing that hits you when you step out onto a street in Indian, yes, just about any street - urban or rural - is that it is teeming with people; buses; cars; motorcycles; cows; bullocks; camel, donkey and elephant drawn carts; tuk-tuk, rickshaw and auto-rickshaw drivers approaching dangerously close and trying to get you to ride with them; hawkers selling everything imaginable; touts coming out of their shops to entice you in. As you might expect, the cacophony of sound is overwhelming. We'd been warned against PDAs, but felt it necessary to hold hands for survival in such an strange and exotic environment.

We made it to the Historical Museum only find it closed. It was a Monday, but the hotel staff had assured us it was open. No worries, it took about two seconds for a tuk-tuk driver to spot us. We drove a short distance to what was supposed to be our second sight: Laxmi Narayan Temple, aka Birla. This was a relatively new temple having been completed in 1983 and depicting contemporary Indian
Akbar's Tomb, Sikandra (near Agra)Akbar's Tomb, Sikandra (near Agra)Akbar's Tomb, Sikandra (near Agra)

Before getting to Agra we stopped at another mughal's tomb in Sikandra
architecture. As in all the Hindu temples in India, no cameras were allowed inside.

We had one of the best meals of the whole trip that day. After touring the temple, our tuk-tuk driver drove us to a shop (where he would no doubt get a commission if we bought anything). We were not interested in shopping, so headed out on foot looking for a restaurant. A young man on the street saw us looking lost and directed us to a sidewalk, hole-in-the-wall restaurant, which was superb. He helped us order and then sat down with friends for his meal. After lunch we chatted for a bit and then headed in different directions. The next day at Humayun's Tomb we encountered the young man and his girlfriend. Now, Delhi has 16.3 million people and we ran into the ONLY person in Delhi that we knew. What are the chances of that happening? No, I mean it, really, what are the odds?

We had a map of the Delhi metro system (elevated) and decided to go back to our hotel using it. We'd been told it was an easy, efficient system and after a short but fun trip (3
Bernie & Kathy at the Taj MahalBernie & Kathy at the Taj MahalBernie & Kathy at the Taj Mahal

I'm sitting on "Diana's Bench," named after Princess Diana of England - she sat here; my butt is in the same place as Princess Di's!! More photos of the Taj Mahal at the end of this blog
stops, no changing lines), we totally agreed. Our neighborhood was a completely different matter. We got off at the proper stop, but then couldn't find our hotel in the rabbit warren of crowded streets and alleys. We ended up hailing a taxi and because the cabbie knew the area, we were at our hotel in under five minutes.

The following day we hired a car and driver and hit all the tourist spots: The Red Fort (built 1638-48 by Shah Jahan, the mughal who built the Taj Mahal), Jama Masjid (mosque, also built by Shah Jahan 1644-58), Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, India Gate, and Humayun's Tomb (built mid-16th century in Persian style) with a quick drive-by of the Bah'ai Lotus Temple.



AGRA VIA SIKANDRA, Dec. 12 - 14, 2012

We had arranged for a *car and driver for two weeks to tour in Rajasthan, but first we headed to Agra in the state of Uttar Pradesh to see the Taj Mahal. Just outside of Agra, home of the Taj, we stopped at Sikandra to see Akbar's Mausoleum. Again, spectacular gates leading to gardens and a fabulous tomb.

*Mohan, a nice young man, was our driver.
Agra FortAgra FortAgra Fort

As with the Red Fort in Delhi, the outer walls are of red stone, thick with many defenses. Inside are palaces, gardens, baths - many, many beautiful buildings. More photos of Agra Fort at the end of this blog
He was a great driver, friendly, kind, patient and accommodating. We hired him through an agency, Kalka Tours, which we would highly recommend. For two weeks it cost us approximately $650 and that included the car, driver, all the gas, tolls, and the driver took care of his own meals and nightly accommodations. In addition to getting us from one site/town to the next, he was available to us for daily touring and to drive us to and from dinner no matter how late. A photo of Mohan is at the end of this blog.



The Taj Mahal

We arrived at our hotel in Agra in the late afternoon. I'd choosen this hotel because it was within walking distance of the Taj Mahal, so we told Mohan we didn't need him until after lunch the next day. We arranged for a local tour guide at our hotel. At sunrise the next morning we and our guide walked through the east gate into the Taj Mahal grounds. The Taj was barely visible as mist shrouded the majestic tomb, the adjacent mosque and other buildings.

Shah Jahan built the tomb for his beloved wife who had died
Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, AgraTomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, AgraTomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, Agra

Another mughal's tomb - intricately cut marble screens and stone work give this tomb the nickname "the Baby Taj." Built 1622-28
in child birth. Jahan was a Mughal ruler - a Muslim.

In the year 1631, when Shah Jahan's wife, Mumtaz Mahal, was giving birth to their 14th child, she died due to complications. While Mumtaz was on her deathbed, Shah Jahan promised her that he would never remarry and would build a splendid mausoleum over her grave.

It is said that Shah Jahan was so heartbroken after Mumtaz's death that he ordered the court into mourning for two years. Sometime after her death, Shah Jahan undertook the task of erecting the world's most beautiful monument in the memory of his beloved. It took 22 years and the labor of 22,000 workers to construct the monument. When Shah Jahan died in 1666, his body was placed in a tomb next to the tomb of the love of his life, Mumtaz Mahal.

Before Shah Jahan died, he had been placed under arrest by his third son who had usurped power. Jahan was kept in Agra Fort where he had a view of the Taj Mahal.

Agra Fort

As with the Red Fort in Delhi, this was so much more than a "fort." Inside the thick, red stone
Fatephur SikriFatephur SikriFatephur Sikri

Built by Shah Akbar (between 1571-85) who was considered one of the most important mughals, this was the short-lived capital of the mughal empire
walls is a complex of beautiful buildings, gardens, baths, a mosque - really a small city. That isn't to say the fortifications weren't impressive - doors thick enough to withstand charging elephants, twists and turns to hinder the onslaught of soldiers, buildings for munitions, quarters for soldiers. But what remains today are the graceful white stone or marble buildings inlaid with semi-precious stones and held up by hundreds of soaring columns.

Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah

Because we'd gotten such an early start on the day, after Agra Fort we went to the tomb of another mughal ruler. We hadn't known the extent of ancient Muslim rule in this part of India, but looking at the number and grandeur of the tombs, forts and palaces that still remain, it is easy to see that they were rich, powerful and long-ruling.

Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh

We left early the morning of December 14 because we wanted to stop at Fatehpur Sikri, a fortified city/palace complex that was the short-lived capital (1571- 1585) of the mughal empire . Our destination this day would be our first stop in the state of Rajasthan at a bird preserve where we'd arranged a
Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary, BharatpurKeoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary, BharatpurKeoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary, Bharatpur

There were good rains in 2012 so this wetlands and refuge for migrating water birds was teeming with flocks of, among other species, painted storks
late afternoon outing.

Fatehpur Sikri was build by Mughal Akbar, a photo of his tomb is above. It is a compact complex - lovely buildings, great scenery and not too overrun with tourist because of its somewhat remote location, although it is only 40 miles from Agra and the Taj Mahal. Many tourists do the Taj Mahal as a day trip from Delhi, and this wouldn't be on their route.

KEOLADEO GHANA BIRD SANCTUARY/BHARATPUR, Dec. 14 - 15, 2012

After spending an entire day on the road teeming with every vehicle imaginable and which road, while a main one, wound through towns and villages where the average speed was probably 5 mph we arrived at our hotel just outside the bird preserve. What a wonderful oasis!! Spacious rooms set around beautiful gardens and a nice restaurant. We had a quick lunch and then met our birding guide for the quick ride to the sanctuary. No cars are allowed into the preserve, so we hired two rickshaws. We walked for hours and saw over 55 species of birds, most new to us. Our guide, Sham, had a spotting scope which was the envy of all the other birders
Girls, Mist & Rapeseed FieldsGirls, Mist & Rapeseed FieldsGirls, Mist & Rapeseed Fields

Between Bharatpur and Alwar we saw many idyllic scenes
and which we/he cheerfully shared. Our rickshaws followed us and as it started to get dark, we hopped onboard and they pedaled us back to the entrance. What a delightful day and of course we wish we'd scheduled more time here.

In the evening after a very nice dinner at our hotel they had a huge fire in the garden and we sat with other birders comparing sightings. This was the only hotel where wine was served (hard liquor is easy to find, but not wine), so a day of birding, a full stomach, a glass of wine in my hand sitting in front of a roaring fire, yep, I was in heaven.

SARISKA TIGER PRESERVE, NEAR ALWAR, Dec. 15 - 17

It was a long drive from Bharatpur to Alwar where we were staying, but one of the more delightful as it was through beautiful countryside where the rapeseed fields were in full bloom. We were headed to one of the nicest hotels of the trip, The Dadhikar Fort Hotel - converted from a 1100 year-old fort and set in the foothills of the Aravali Hills amidst dense forest. It was not easy to find, but
Sariska Tiger Preserve (near Alwar)Sariska Tiger Preserve (near Alwar)Sariska Tiger Preserve (near Alwar)

We didn't see a single tiger, but peahens and peacocks were abundant - and beautiful
when we did our jaws dropped - it was gorgeous!! The service was amazing also, first class all the way, and the food was perhaps the best of our trip - 100% vegetarian but so varied and delicious. I said "perhaps" because the food throughout our trip was fabulous - one meal better than the next. It was spicy, but overly - just the right amount. If I could remember (which I often did not) to tell them I didn't want cilantro, they were so good about accommodating me.

The only drawback to our hotel's location was that it was an hour's drive from the tiger preserve. This is important because we had booked an early morning safari. Through a series of miscommunications (our driver/the hotel manager/us), our driver didn't come for us until 6 a.m.; our safari was leaving at 6:30 a.m. Obviously we didn't make it in time to meet our jeep (4-person), but we did manage to find space on a larger vehicle (20 passengers, 3 of which were young children, one of which cried the whole time). Surprise, surprise, we didn't see any tigers. We did, however, see lots of antelope, deer, wild boar and
Ranthambhore Tiger PreserveRanthambhore Tiger PreserveRanthambhore Tiger Preserve

Spotted deer, male
birds.

RANTHAMBHORE TIGER PRESERVE, Dec. 17 - 19

We went on two safaris in Ranthambhore but didn't see any tigers at all. We did, however, have fun times on both. The first safari in the afternoon we were with a Canadian family who were just a hoot. They, like us, were disappointed not to see any tigers, but thrilled by all the antelope, deer, birds, wild boars and the beautiful country we drove through.

The next morning we got up early, put on every piece of clothing we had with us (it was sooooo cold) - including hats and gloves - and did another safari. This time our jeep companions were a young Indian couple and an Italian couple. Again, we had a most enjoyable experience, but alas, no tigers that time either. The closest we came were seeing tracks, and it was frustrating because we'd see tracks on parts of the road we were back-tracking on, so tigers were crossing the road behind us.

At our hotel that evening most of the other guests were grousing about not seeing any tigers when one couple popped up with photos of the 4 they'd seen that day(!!)
Jaipur, Amber FortJaipur, Amber FortJaipur, Amber Fort

Many of the elephants were beautifully painted
- a female and 3 of her almost grown cubs. Hard not to be envious. The Indian guests confided to us that they were really happy that folks had seen and photographed tigers in the preserve - proof that they were actually there. Awhile back in one of the preserves (Sariska I think) there were no tigers, but they kept booking safaris and taking tourists out "looking" for them.

JAIPUR, AKA THE PINK CITY, Dec. 19 - 21

Jaipur is known as the pink city because in 1876 Maharaja Ram Singh had the entire old city painted pink, a color associated with hospitality, to welcome the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and the tradition has been maintained.

Jaipur is a well-preserved city with stunning hilltop forts, glorious palaces and bustling, bargain-filled bazaars, with a wealth of accommodations and dining options. Jaipur is also a city under siege by its exploding population and maxed out infra-structure. There are water shortages, beggars, eye-watering pollution and rampaging rickshaw drivers. We loved it.

Jaipur's most distinctive landmark is the Hawa Mahal, a five-story, delicately honeycombed, pink sandstone construction. It was build by Maharaja Sawaj Pretap Singh in 1799
Jaipur, Amber fortJaipur, Amber fortJaipur, Amber fort

Cleaning women on break - notice the marble screen behind them
to enable ladies of the royal household to watch the life and processions of the city.

Also a must-see in Jaipur is the City Palace, which now houses a wonderful museum which contains a collection of royal costumes and superb shawls. One remarkable exhibit is of Sawai Madho Singh I's clothing. He was 2 meters (6'6") tall, 1.2 meters (4 ft.) wide and weighed 250 kg. (551 lbs.). He had 108 wives.

The Central Museum is housed in the renovated Albert Hall and displays a fine array of tribal-ware, decorative arts, costumes, drawings and musical instruments.

JODHPUR, AKA THE BLUE CITY, Dec. 21 - 24

We stayed at one of our favorite hotels in Jodhpur; a favorite because it had an unobstructed view of Fort Mehrangarh from the roof-top restaurant. The fort is lit up at night, so dinner was romantic and at breakfast with the rising sun illuminating it, it was a great way to start the day.

Fort Mehrangarh was our favorite fort mostly because it had the best museum in one of the inner palaces. Many of the palace rooms have been restored to their former glory (completed 1806), complete with a
Jaipur, Hawa MahalJaipur, Hawa MahalJaipur, Hawa Mahal

Hawa Mahal built so the royal women could stay hidden behind the screens and people watch on the street below
splendid collection of the trappings of Indian royalty. The fort is still run by the descendants of the Maharaja of Jodhpur.

Jaswant Thada is a milky white marble memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. It is a peaceful sport with wonderful views over the city and to the fort. Yes, a tomb with a view.

Umaid Bhawan Palace was called Chittar Palace during its construction due to its location on Chittar Hill, the highest point in Jodhpur. The Palace was built to provide employment to thousands of people during a time of famine. Ground for the foundations of the building was broken on 18 November 1929 by Maharaja Umaid Singh and the construction work was completed in 1943. It is now a hotel run by the Taj Hotel group, but the family of the Maharaja of Jodhpur still live in part of the palace.

Bishnoi Village Visit.

Our driver, Mohan, knew a family in one of the Bishnoi villages outside of Jodhpur. Bishnoi are known for their potters and rug weavers. They are a tribal sect who believe in the sanctity of the environment. Their desire to protect trees and animals dates from the 15th century.
Jodhpur, Mehrangarh FortJodhpur, Mehrangarh FortJodhpur, Mehrangarh Fort

View of the fort from Jaswant Thada mausoleum
Our host family told us the story of their ancestors being killed for trying to save the trees in the region (see story below); they are very proud of their activism.

We had a most enjoyable visit with the family: mom, dad, brother, sister and sister's daughter. They were open and welcoming and got a kick out of dressing us up for the opium ceremony brother insisted we needed to partake in. Bernie refused outright to taste and of the bitter opium, but I tried a little (much less than they wanted) and as promised by brother, all my ailments totally disappeared, as did all my inhibitions, common sense . . . just kidding, but I really did feel just fine, yep, just fine. We enjoyed the chai tea more - yum, those Indians know how to brew a cuppa.



From Wikipedia: The word Bishnoi is derived from Bis (twenty) + Nau (Nine), i.e., followers of 29 Principles given by Guru Jambheshawar. Bishnois are known as the first environment conservationists in the world. Guru Jambheshwar gave the message to protect trees and wildlife around 540 years ago when nobody could predict that harming the environment means
Jodhpur, Bishnoi Village VisitJodhpur, Bishnoi Village VisitJodhpur, Bishnoi Village Visit

Our driver knew a family who lived in a small village outside Jodhpur and got permission for us to visit them. These are our hosts, brother & sister
harming yourself. He formulated twenty nine tenets. The tenets were not only tailored to conserve bio-diversity of the area but also ensured a healthy eco-friendly social life for the community.

Out of the 29 tenets, 10 are directed towards personal hygiene and maintaining good basic health, seven for healthy social behavior, and five tenets to worship God. Eight tenets have been prescribed to preserve bio-diversity and encourage good animal husbandry. These include a ban on killing animals and felling green trees, and providing protection to all life forms. The community is also directed to see that the firewood they use is devoid of small insects. Wearing blue cloths is prohibited because the dye for coloring them is obtained by cutting a large quantity of shrubs.

In 1730 AD 363 Bishnoi men, women and children gave their lives to protect trees from cutting by the then King's men. This incident happened in Khejarli, which is a village in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan, India 26 km south east of the city of Jodhpur. In this incident 363 Bishnois sacrificed their lives while protecting trees, by hugging them.

Yes, the world's first tree huggers!!

BACK TO DELHI, Dec. 24
Jodhpur, Bishnoi Village VisitJodhpur, Bishnoi Village VisitJodhpur, Bishnoi Village Visit

Bernie & Kathy after the opium ceremony. Our host and her daughter dressed me, even letting me wear a beautiful, heavy, pure gold necklace
- 25

It was too long a drive from Jodhpur to Delhi in one day, so we over-nighted again in Jaipur. Early Christmas morning we headed back to Delhi. Christmas is a holiday in India (I know, go figure) and we wanted to get Mohan back to his family fairly early in the day, which we did.

We stayed again at the Wood Castle Hotel in Delhi - small, centrally located and fun. Upon arrival we were told that the hotel was throwing a Christmas party for all the guests. At 7 that evening we all (group of Germans, a Colombian couple, a family from Mauritius, staff and owners of the hotel) gathered in the reception/dining/living room area where they proceeded to serve us copious amounts of food and alcohol - all free. I thought the numerous and generous appetizers, beer and whisky (yep, again no wine and again making me wish I were a beer drinker) would be it, but they kept bringing food and then eventually main courses!! One of the servers was dressed like Santa Claus, albeit a scary Santa. As it turns out, the owners of the hotel are colleagues in a pharmaceutical firm
Back in DelhiBack in DelhiBack in Delhi

Mohan got us safely back to Delhi and we went to Chandigarh for the wedding from there.
who went in together on the hotel because they enjoy meeting westerners. Most nights after work at their day jobs, they go to the hotel to socialize with the guests. They enjoy people and it shows - what a nice celebration we had.

Next morning we were off the airport to fly (NOT - story for next blog) to Chandigarh in The Punjab for a wedding. That week in Chandigarh is the subject of another blog - it is too amazing not to have its own blog and I have so many wonderful photos to include - stay tuned for Bernie in yet another turban. (When my Polish friend Aneta saw Bernie in the white turban on the right, she wrote to ask if he had meringue on his head.)

DON'T FORGET TO LOOK AT THE PHOTOS BELOW (VERY BOTTOM, BELOW AD) AND GO TO THE OTHER PAGES, 6 TOTAL (CLICK ON 'NEXT' AT BOTTOM OF EACH PAGE) AS THERE ARE MORE PHOTOS (117 TOTAL) AT THE BOTTOMS OF THE PAGES. GO TO THE NEXT PAGE EVEN IF IT LOOKS LIKE THERE ARE NO MORE PHOTOS, AS THERE PROBABLY ARE.


Additional photos below
Photos: 117, Displayed: 36


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India Gate, DelhiIndia Gate, Delhi
India Gate, Delhi

Standing in the middle of Delhi and serving as a public gathering place, it is actually a military memorial. This is where demonstrations take place and there were many at this time. A young woman had been gang-raped and killed on a Delhi public bus, which understandably angered folks who took to the streets in protest
Jama Masjid (Mosque), DelhiJama Masjid (Mosque), Delhi
Jama Masjid (Mosque), Delhi

We did not go inside because they tried to charge us and we knew there was no fee. Some locals were very upset when we were turned away and offered to accompany us in. Angry at that point, we declined.
Humayun's Tomb, DelhiHumayun's Tomb, Delhi
Humayun's Tomb, Delhi

These elaborate building complexes are actually burial tombs, usually of an important person such as a ruler, aka mughal, who were Muslims


26th January 2013

Have always wanted to travel here, so I had a great keyboard trip through your wonderful pictures and narrative. What a fantatic trip you two had. Hooray Kathy for being adventurous and trying a little opium.
29th January 2013

Wow!
These were so great. I was disappointed when I realized I'd come to the end. Thanks for the tour.
29th January 2013

India
Thanks B and K for sharing ...Gene and I are off to India end of March so your blog has really gotten me in the mood for opium! marge
29th January 2013

Such great photos!
I very much enjoyed clicking through all 117! Thank you.
2nd August 2015
Taj Mahal from Agra Fort

Taj Mahal
seen many pics of this jewel...but not from this angle. Sensational.
9th February 2016
Taj Mahal from Agra Fort

Taj Mahal
Beautiful!!

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