Sunday, April 27, 2014

Planes, trains and automobiles.

It is time to head home. We have really enjoyed another trip of a life time! Our journey home begins with a flight from Jaipur to Delhi where our Indian adventure began a little over a week ago.

Once we arrived at the airport in Delhi we had a 6 hour wait until our flight home began. Our first flight, Delhi to Frankfurt was delayed about 45 minutes so it didn't take off until approximately 3:20am Sunday morning. It didn't really matter because we have a 10 hour layover in Germany. Flying to Germany took us over some of the hot spots in the world. The pilot said we would not be able to make up time from the late departure because we had to take a slower route around Afghanistan. Our flight also passed over Iran, Crimea and the Ukraine. When we touched down in Germany we were greeted by our dearest friend Hans Georg!

It was now time for trains! We took the S-bahn into the city of Frankfurt. It was a typical spring day in Germany, rainy and cool, but really nothing could dampen our spirits. 

We walked through the city and enjoyed each others company. Frankfurt, the financial capital of the Euro-zone is generally deserted on Sundays so it was a quiet day. I remembered where to find my favorite Doner stand and enjoyed 2 lahmacun mit fleisch! Sehr lecker! We headed back to the train station to head back to the airport after stopping for ice cream and coffee. 

We boarded our flight home to Chicago and got in our mini-van to drive home to our waiting children. Enough thank yous cannot be expressed to Auntie and Tammie and Louie for caring for our children while we explored India. It will be a trip forever in our memories. India changes you!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Can anyone find me a Cricket Jersey?

So it is our final day in India. For the past few days we've been on a mission to find a cricket jersey for Harry with no luck. At the hotel, and I'm not exaggerating, there are 6 channels with cricket on. Yet it is impossible to find a jersey! We've had every guide on the look out. They've been calling around, calling ahead and no luck.  We even had our driver pull over at the Adidas store to take a look. Still nothing. Ugh. If you want to be rich, start selling cricket jerseys in India!

Back to touring.

We woke up at 5am to watch the sunrise over the palace in the lake. It was an absolutely stunning view with the crescent moon and Venus in view.

We began our tour of Jaipur by going to the Amber Fort. As we got out of our car we were greeted by a snake charmer.

Next up we went to the Amber Fort. We road elephants up to the top! 

The Amber Fort is a palace above the city of Jaipur where the Maharaja lived. The entire village around the fort is surrounded by the fortified wall. The intricate control of water was to both supply the fort against siege but also to assist in cooling the palace in the summer. The design of the fort is beautiful.

As in many places the entrance to the palace is topped by Ganesh. Of the many places we've seen the Amber Fort might be the best preserved, particularly with the paintings inside the palace. The paintings were done as frescos with natural organic paints with the colors derived from plants and other organic compounds. The most impressive area though would be the mirrored palace chamber.

  After the Amber Fort we stopped at a carpet co-operative. The families that carry on this hundreds year old tradition are true artisans. As they were in the past they still are illiterate, unable to read and write, yet they can memorize the entire pattern of the carpet with the help of a song. Each person has their task in the carpet co-op; men weaving and women knotting the fringes.

 Next up was lunch with an awesome sitar player!

After lunch we went to the Jantar Mantar, our 8th UNESCO World Heritage site of our trip if your counting. The Jantar Mantar is an astronomical observatory built to precisely measure the time and seasons. 

We finished off our touring of India with a tour of the City Palace where past kings and the current royal family still live. Jammie got her hand decorated with henna in the courtyard.

While touring the city palace we saw the museum of royal outfits. Among the royal outfits was the polo kits the King wore. In 1957 the Maharaja (King) of Jaipur led his team to victory in the World Cup of Polo. While we were unable to find a Cricket jersey the gift shop did have an awesome replica jersey from the 1957 World Cup. We'll take it!

Friday, April 25, 2014

On the Jaipur

It is a few days removed as I write these next few posts, but I'll try to capture the essence of the days as they happened. We woke up at 5am to go to the Mehtab Bagh to see the Taj Mahal during the morning sunrise. The Mehtab Bagh is the Moon Garden across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal. The garden itself is in relative disrepair, but still contains planted rows of ornamental trees and flowers that are beautiful. Looking across the river at the Taj Mahal is the real treasure though.

The sign posted at the gate says it all for India. The monuments throughout the country are spectacular!

After our monring visit to the Taj Mahal we returned to our hotel for breakfast and packed up for the six hour drive to Jaipur. Driving in India, and thank Ganesh I wasn't driving, is always an adventure. There is so much to see and absorb that it never gets dull or boring and along the way we had a planned stop at Fatehpur Sikri, the capital built by Akbar the Great and used for only 12 short years. Today it is abandoned with a nearby town, the town our guide AK was born in, along side which is thirsty for water. The lack of reliable water is probably one of the reasons this city was abandoned, the other, as always was politics. You know water is in short supply when you start seeing camels on the road!

After Fatehpur Sikri we continued on our way to Jaipur the capital city of Rajastan. 

Our hotel in Jaipur is across the street from a lake that contains a palace in the middle of it. The view was amazing. There is a public rampart along the lake where people gather and stroll and feed the fish. Feeding of the animals like pigeons or fish is considered a good deed that will be rewarded, almost as an act of prayer. Next to our hotel there was an area were several camels were tied up and available for rent. I'm not sure I could keep my balance on the back of a camel so we didn't go for a ride. Also along the road elephants were coming home from working up at the Amber fort that we will be visiting tomorrow. Dinner in Jaipur was arranged for us by our tour company (Easy Tours of India) and included a cultural show of dance and song. Many of the other guests at the dinner were fuddy-duddies and wouldn't participate. Jammie and I tried out our best Bollywood moves!

I guess this kind of counts as our last night in India, even though we have one more night to go in airports. Tomorrow we tour the city of Jaipur.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I Vote for the Taj Mahal!

We went to bed last night looking out our hotel window into a black abyss. This morning when we woke up we could see the Taj Mahal out our window. It is really closer than pictures can show and rather impressive.
So we had breakfast and went for our morning quickly we settle into a routine. We met our guide AK and began our tour of Agra. It is a strangely calm day, most shops are closed because it is election day. Our guides voted before they picked us up and showed us their marked fingers as did some of the few shop keepers that were open for business today. They also decorated the street outside of our hotel because election observers are located here.

So we headed to the tomb of Itmad-Ud-Daulah or what our guide AK referred to as the mini Taj. It truly is an under appreciated monument in Agra. Next up was the Agra Fort which is still used as barracks for the Indian military. It was built by Akbar the Great. It was also used to imprison Shahjahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, by his son Aurangzeb.

After we got back from our morning tour we decided to take a ride in a tuk-tuk! The drivers are forced to take you to the shops that their bosses own so we stopped in at a very expensive jewelry shop where we bought nothing. We ended up at a shop right next door to our hotel where the female shop keeper pictures above sold me a traditional Indian shirt.

After the tuk-tuk adventure we went back to our hotel to have lunch and take another dip in the pool, and then off to the Taj Mahal!

While we took our time exploring the area near the Taj Mahal our guide asked to be briefly excused so he could participate in the evening prayers at the Mosque at the Taj Mahal complex. While he prayed I took the photosphere picture above while Jammie got chased by a monkey! In India there is always more to do! On our way back to our car we went down from the Taj Mahal in what our guide AK called a "chariot". While heading down we saw our first camel on the street, which I'm sure we'll see many more of tomorrow when we had into the desert of Rajasthan and the Pink City of Jaipur!

Once we reached our car we stopped at an artisan shop that is actively involved in restoration work on the Taj Mahal. These artists and their ancestors have done stone inlay work since the time of Shahjahan. We were shown the process in which the stone inlay that exists both inside and outside the Taj Mahal was created. It is a truly amazing talent and skill.

Tomorrow brings another day. India is truly extraordinary!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A day of travel: A day of Surprises

Today we traveled from Varanasi to Agra with a stop in Orcha. It doesn't seem like it would be very exciting to drive in a car for 5 hours, but nothing in India is uninteresting! Our driver picked us up after breakfast and a morning swim to start our journey. I knew of a lot of things that were on my India bucket list but Orcha wasn't one of them. As we left, the festival for the senses began. Driving in the big city is chaotic to say the least, but the countryside has its own uncontrolled charm. Along the way we encountered water buffalo, cows, pigs, goats and dogs and that is only in the lanes of traffic.

Additionally, along the roadside villagers are gathering these strange berries they use to make a sort of Indian moonshine.

The condition of the actual road was quite good. And then, all of a sudden the road would be almost nonexistent. Beautifully decorated trucks also ply these roads and the honking to signal what you are going to do is almost constant, but again, like everything else here somehow it all works!

The driver pulled over to show us the Maharaja's palace on a lake. (The picture below is a Google photosphere so if it doesn't work I'll fix it when I get back)

We drove through the village where most if the homes are made from mud. Kids were out playing cricket. Others were at the well drawing water. It was brightly colored and full of life!

As we approached Orcha (sometimes spelled Orchha) I honestly was overwhelmed. I don't know how many times I simply said "Wow!" Orcha is home to 2 palaces; one of Jahangir the Mughal emperor, the other is the palace of the local Maharaja. They were both built by the local Maharaja so they contain both Hindu and Muslim styles. One is a better combination, the other is mostly Muslim in style but painted on the interior with Hindu motifs. Nearby is a still active temple to Lord Rama and several cenotaphs commemorating the past Maharajas. Most of these buildings date to the 16th Century. We ate our lunch in a hotel in the shadows of these amazing monuments.

After touring the palace we headed to lunch. On the way we saw a monkey jump in a tuk-tuk to steal food. They had to throw some food to get them to leave them alone. After lunch we headed to Jansi to catch a train to Agra. Against most advice I ate the food and drank the tea served on the train. 

 The food service on the train was prepared by "Meals on Wheels". When we got to Agra we were greeted by Shiva and were helped to the car by a porter who took our luggage.

Tomorrow we see the Taj Mahal!