Well, India truly felt like another world!
Immediately upon arriving in India, I could tell it was more chaotic than anywhere else I’ve visited. It didn’t help that we were hustling to find our driver that would take us to the train station as we were continuing on to Agra. We didn’t leave much wiggle room to get there and traffic in New Delhi is like no other! Luckily, a porter carried our bags (hard case suitcase on his head and carrying our bag with booster seats in it) and guided us to the train. Whew, we made it! Cory reserved a first class sleeper room for us. Bea and Teddy were so excited! We changed them into pjs, fixed their bed and put them to sleep. It’s only a few hours ride but the train left at 10:30pm so it was already way past their bedtime. We made it to Agra at 1:30am and our driver, Ajit was waiting on us. He drove us to the ITC Mughal where they checked our car for bombs at the gate. We had a nice size room with a couch for each kid to sleep on.
The next morning came quickly and we ate breakfast at the hotel as fast as we could to maximize our full day in Agra. Side note, I had forgotten that namaste came from here where they bow with their hands together when they say it. Ajit was our driver again and we also had a guide, Kumlesh. My first view of India in the daylight was when we drove out of the hotel gates and boy was it eye opening. I’m also glad I wasn’t driving as there are no rules to the road. People just go as they please. We saw macaques, cows/ox and dogs all just roaming before we got going good. Our first stop of the day was to the Agra Fort, an unexpected really cool place to see! It is where the king, queen, concubines and military lived until 1638 when the capitol of the Mughal Dynasty moved to Delhi. Teddy’s favorite part was hearing that the first mote held crocodiles and the second mote held tigers, leopards and hyenas for protection. There were four gates in total to help ward off enemies. Beautiful Roman brick (much smaller than what we have today) were on the walkways, especially going up the inclines as it helped the elephants keep their grip. The area in which the king held court and addressed the crowds had hooks above; these were for large fans that were manually waved by men holding the rope. An early version of air conditioning! Our guide was all about taking our picture for us but so were the Indians with us. Some asked and some just took pictures. By the time we got to our next stop, we just said no to everyone and it had gotten out of hand at the Fort. Back to the fort, the king built two houses for his daughters beside the vineyard in the middle of the concubine quarters. The fort was built by Akbar (grandfather of King Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal but more on that to come); construction began in 1565-1573. It still had beautiful carvings in the columns, in-lay designs in the sandstone and colorful paintings on the walls and ceilings. The queen had two elaborate bathing places…one for summer and one for winter. They really did live like kings and queens even back then!
On to the Taj Mahal, we toured the area around the Taj building as it was originally like a motel for travelers. You can see rooms cut out where you would have put your bed roll down for the night. Walking through the north gate to see the Taj Mahal was a magical moment! I still cannot believe I have now seen something so beautiful and yet so old! It was completed in 1648 after 22 years of construction. Our sweet tour guide took a family picture, adult picture and kids picture from every single angle of the Taj! Whew, the kids were done with pictures well before they needed to be based on the volume. Shoe covers were required to walk inside the Taj Mahal to see the burial of Shah Jahan and his wife. If you’re unfamiliar, the Taj Mahal was built for Nur Jahan (his 3rd wife) after she died giving birth to their 14th child (of only 7 survived). She asked three things of him before she died: to always remember her, never marry again and take care of their children. Well, he didn’t leave any space plain; every inch of the mausoleum was beautifully designed with in-lay in the marble…floor to ceiling.
Teddy’s highlight of the Taj Mahal was seeing all the macaques in the gardens. They were everywhere! We also walked right by an ox (and did so with cows too) on the street just exiting the Taj Mahal! Even though we did not see any tigers on our visit to India, I think Teddy got his animal fix.
We were taken to New Riao Restaurant for lunch where we sat in the garden eating delicious Afghani and Tikka chicken listening to a sitar player, watching two little boys dancing (I’m not sure why they weren’t in school) and another little boy playing the drums for our entertainment.
Our final stop of the day was to the Itmad-ud-Daulah or “Baby” Taj as it’s called…even though it was built before the Taj Mahal. It is another mausoleum built for Nur Jahan’s grandparents. Like the Taj, it is another marble building with beautiful in-lay designs and paintings everywhere. We watched a lovely sunset here until the kids got restless! They had had enough culture for one day!
We all slept in after such a packed day of touring the previous day. It was a leisure morning as we were heading back to New Delhi via the train. We requested a porter again which is almost necessary as they not only help with your luggage but make sure you get to the right place navigating the crowded train station (by the way, none of this is inside and they only have stairs). Like the streets of Agra, the train station is also a very sad place filled with such poverty. It’s a different world when you leave the confines of your hotel! I’m not sure many non-Indian people take the train based on the spectacle that we were at the station. To us, it’s all about the experience and we did it! We’ve seen cows (even one on the train platform and I have no idea how he got up there!), pigs, dogs, lots of trash, people living in their tent houses and people just sitting everywhere. I’m so glad we took the train but it wasn’t for the faint of heart. Definitely an experience to remember but not necessary to replicate.
Porters hopped on the train when we arrived in New Delhi and our guy proceeded to carry our Pelican suitcase and boosters bag on his head…in the rain. Our driver was waiting to take us to the ITC Maurya. After seeing our hotel, I bet it’s rare they pick up guests from the train station. We later learned this is the ‘dignitaries’ hotel where even a couple of our presidents have stayed here. It took a while as traffic was nuts! We made it and again we had to be checked for bombs as well as our bags go through security screening and us through scanners like the airport.
While in India, we planned two packed days and this Friday was another one of them. Again, we had a driver and a guide, Greesh to show us New Delhi. The first comical thing he said, which we had also heard in Agra, was driving in India you need three things: a good horn, good brakes and good luck! I believe it; it’s doesn’t even seem like controlled chaos but somehow it works. We drove by a number of places to see from the outside as our guide took into consideration we had two small children, places we had seen in Agra and the crazy traffic due to the Republic Day Parade happening the next day. We saw the Red Fort, the streets of Old Delhi (similar to what we saw in Agra) which were very narrow with one building actually touching another they were so close and Jama Masjid (one of the largest mosques in India). Our first stop was to Gandhi Smriti, the site where Ghandi lived the last 144 days of his life before he was shot during prayer service. It was a hard place to describe to small children but we did our best to reiterate his passion for his country and non-violence. The garden here was very tranquil but my son’s favorite part was again seeing macaques just hanging out at the entrance. My favorite part of the day was going into a small Hindu Temple; it wasn’t a tourist destination so they requested no photos. We took off our shoes (our kids’ favorite part), saw the colorful designs and were given a blessing by our guide. He is Hindu and had purchased two aum necklaces that he touched to the alter, bowed his head and gave to for peace and prosperity for our family. It was so neat that he shared that with us! Cory’s favorite stop of the day was Qutub Minar, a tower built in 1199 after the victory over Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom of power as well as an iron pillar built in the 4th century. How are these things still standing after all these years? India really does have amazing history!
Our daughter is currently in kindergarten so the school requested we withdraw her from school while we were away and just reenroll her when we return. In the meantime, her sweet, thoughtful teacher suggested we video chat at some point during the trip. Tonight was the night! She got to talk to each classmate and her teacher. When it was all done, she said “it was epic!” That evening we also had a late dinner reservation. When traveling to new places, my husband always wants to try the local food. We enjoyed Kahwa Tea (origin from Kashmir) earlier that day and tonight we were heading to Bukhara. Their menu was the spitting image of a restaurant in Bangalore he had eaten in a few years ago and hadn’t stopping raving about it since. The only issue is that they only allow children under ten after 9:30pm. So, after great naps (they’re few and far between these days), we enjoyed unbelievably, delicious Indian cuisine. Cory even talked his way into the kitchen to see their tandoor (aka ovens) and talk to the head chef; he was stoked! It was a late night but totally worth it!
Saturday, January 26 was India’s 70th Republic Day Parade and we had tickets to go! The concierge from the hotel had sent staff to stand in line to get us seated tickets and we couldn’t have been more pumped! We had a driver get us as close as he could to the parade. Funny enough, if the kids waved and smiled from the back seat, then the police let us go through barriers that we shouldn’t have gotten through! After we started walking, we went through four different security scanners, each separating us men and women so we had to split up. Whew, it was wild getting to our “seats” which was a section with seats being first come first serve. Luckily we found a couple seats and the kids sat in our laps; it was packed! The president and prime minister of India both were in the parade along with the president of South Africa. Because of him, the parade was also commentated in English which was a huge bonus for us! The parade was quite different than any other parade I’ve ever seen consisting of lots of military and their bands marching, tanks, missiles, helicopters (tossing out flower pedals as they flew by), airplane fly overs and lots of floats with Gandhi on them. Bea said her favorite was the float with Gandhi on the front where the people of India were fighting for their freedom; Teddy, of course, liked a float with an animal on it. We also saw military riding camels; that for sure is a first for us!
Today, we were also scheduled to fly back to Dubai so we left the parade a little early for that reason and to not get stuck in the mass exodus of people when it was officially over. There were a lot of people at this parade! We packed up our bags, had a lovely lunch on the rooftop of our hotel where we watched two eagles soaring over us and soaked in the beautiful sunshine. India is definitely the most different place I’ve ever been (China was in the lead until now)!
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Dubai, here we come again!
First Class on the Train
Ox outside the Taj Mahal
Republic Day Parade