Monday, December 1, 2008

Last Day in India

Out last day in Delhi. Went shopping. Had a massage.
Leave at 3am in the morning for Germany then LA.
We LOVE India!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dancing in The Streets at a Wedding

Click arrow to Play the Movie with Sound!

Here Comes the Groom!

We started out from the hotel and ask the concierge to arrange a car and driver for us for the day, so that we could get around town easily. It was Sunday and the stores are closed but the museums are open.

The concierge said he would get a car for us, that we if anything happened they could trace us. Not exactly reassuring, but as the man said: “Worry is not a Solution”. He drove us to near the Red Fort. For security concerns he couldn’t leave us right at the front of this massive structure. The driver then arranged for a pedal rickshaw to drive us to the entrance to the Red Fort where he would wait for us to then drive us back to the waiter driver and car. We felt weird having hired two separate drivers at the same time (the car driver for the day and the rickshaw driver for the 1 ½ we were in the Red Fort but that is they way they do it in India. You can live large for about 2 dollars an hour!

The Red Fort as you can probably guess is made of red sandstone. Its walls appear to stretch on forever. We are very familiar with the history of the fort from our readings. It brought it alive to see it in person. It was built by the same emperor who built the Taj Mahal (among other things). He was a busy builder. The Mughal emperors ruled from this fort until the British overthrew then in 1857. We hired a great guide in the Fort and he was able to explain lots of things that we would have missed.

From there we went to the Craft Museum. It is a project of the Indian Government to preserve Native crafts. There is an absolutely huge display of textiles, the largest that we have ever seen. There were rooms full of huge wooden carvings, outside there was a craft market. It was well worth the visit. Unfortunately they don’t appear to have a catalog.

From there we returned to the hotel. After a light snack and a drink I had a massage and Cathy had a facial. We then went out to dinner. We thought we would go to a high end restaurant but the concierge convinced us to go to a restaurant in Old Delhi that served Kashmiri food. It was very good and not expensive. It was definitely a good tip. We had a different driver for the night and he waited for us while we ate.

We then asked him to take us back to the Taj. We had only gone a few blocks and I saw a man on white horse being preceded by two rows of 10 men each carrying lit electric candelabras on their head. Each row of men was followed by an electric generator on wheels to give the candelabras electricity. They were preceded by a large band dressed like a high school marching band. People were dancing in the streets! Fireworks were being set off. It meant only one thing: Indian Wedding!

I told the driver to stop the car, Cathy was reluctant but we both got out and started taking some pictures. Then we started to dance! Then we were pulled along and asked to join the procession. Then we were invited into the wedding. Then we were being photographed with the groom. Then Cathy was dancing with 20 men. Then I joined and she was dancing with 21 men. Then they were hugging us, asking where we were from, asking if we had ever been to an Indian wedding, insisting we drink, we eat, we dance. We were exhausted and soaked from dancing. It was amazing. You would have thought we were long lost cousins. Everyone was hugging us, shaking our hands, etc. There must have been 150 guests (of all ages from kids to oldsters). Bhangra (Indian dance music) was playing loudly and everyone was pulsating to the music. About an hour and half later our driver came in, and we thought it was best to go! The one thing (other than the Bhang Lossi) that I was determined to do on this trip was go to an Indian Wedding! It was all that we could have imagined and more!

Feeding Thousands and Back to the Taj

Fortress Taj

We awoke and had a minimal breakfast at our hotel in Amritsar. We then headed out. Our guide said for an extra 250 rupees he would take us to a Hindu Cave Temple named Ujya Mata Lal Devi. We said sure (remember a rupee is worth about 2 cents). The Hindu Temple was a fun marvel. It was made of Plaster of Paris. There were all kinds of water features. You had to craw through a tunnel with water running in it. You had to stoop low and go through entrances that couldn’t have been more than 2 feet high. At any rate once you were inside it was all shrines and mirrored walls ceilings and paintings. It was a trip. We really liked it. This is one of those experiences in India that you have to just let happen, no description does justice to it. It is very devout Hindu meets the ultimate East LA kitsch. We all felt this Hindu Temple was well worth the detour.

From there we went back to the Golden Temple to experience it in the daytime. No one in Amritsar goes hungry. They feed anyone one who is hungry for free at the Golden Temple. All of the kitchen staff are volunteers. They must serve thousands of people a day there. We went all through the giant kitchens and watched the Rube Goldberg devises that make thousands of Chapattis and Naan. It smelled great from the onions, spices and garlic. We don’t know much about Sikh’s but they seem real cool to us! We saw men bathing in the Holy Pool. Sikh’s always must carry a dagger. They are even allowed to carry them on Indian Airlines!

From there we went to the airport and flew back to Delhi. We said goodbye to Ferris and Courtney. We were picked up by a chauffeured driver and a Mercedes for our ride to the Taj Hotel. It was Election Day in Delhi. All of the shops were closed. There was very little traffic. The Taj is set on large grounds and is a relatively new hotel. It is now protected like a fortress. The security was much more evident then at the other Taj Ambassador that we checked out of 2 days ago.

We have never seen such security. We were very happy to see it – although we feel no fear in Delhi. The car, a Taj Mercedes, was searched for bombs. The driver who the guards must know was identified. They have a luggage scanner like at an airport at the entrance to the hotel and all our luggage and hand carries had to go through it. They made me turn on my camera so they could check it. We were then frisked and wanded. Finally we were admitted to the hotel. The hotel is exceptional. We were taken directly to our room where a butler, checked us in. Anything we wanted was available. I purchased a CD of Sikh music and we didn’t have a way to play it in the room. I contacted the butler and soon a man arrived who installed a CD player in the room. They are all solicitous and especially touched when we said we had stayed at the Taj Mumbai, 10 days ago.

We had drinks and prepared for dinner.

We asked for a recommendation for dinner and they suggested a great restaurant in downtown Delhi (not that far from the hotel). It is named Veda. They arranged for a convey of vehicles for us to go there. We were driven in a different chauffeured Mercedes and followed by a taxi. The Taxi would wait for us until we were finished with dinner and were ready to return to the hotel. Nice touch! The dinner was exceptional. Next to us was an Indian couple that was currently living in the US. We spent most of the dinner talking to them. They shared their views in a very open way about India and America. We really enjoyed it.

We left the restaurant and our Taxi was waiting for us. We then returned to the Taj and after going through security prepared for bed. It was a great day.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

From The Ridiculous to the Sublime

We checked out of the Taj in Delhi and headed to the airport to fly to Amritsar. The Terrorism in Mumbai surprisingly was still continuing. We had a guide whose only job was to navigate us thru the airport or train station. We talked about what was happening, and he said in a very sincere way: “Worry is not a solution”. We liked his attitude. We boarded our propjet and flew to Amritsar which is located 28 Kilometers from the Pakistan Border. The security was very evident to us. We were repeatedly frisked at the airport.

We arrived at Amritsar about 1:30 pm and went to our hotel. We prepared for our visit to the Border. The border is fixed exactly half way between Lahore Pakistan and Amritsar India. We drove the 28 Kilometers to the border. One of the distinctive aspects of Amritsar is the water tanks on the top of houses. These tanks provide for water storage and pressure. The people here create decorative water tanks. Very strange! We saw huge water tanks that look like a soccer ball, others like giant birds, another like a jet plane, all sitting on the roof of the house.

There were armed soldiers and checkpoints along the way. We eventually arrived at the border. We parked our jeep and started to walk with the hoards towards the gate.

Trucks were backed up for kilometers, parked by the side of the road. Each truck will be completely emptied and searched for contraband then reloaded. When we arrived at the border, we ushered towards VIP seats. Think of bleachers at a football stadium. They are quite steep, with thousands of places to sit. One set of these bleachers are in India, a similar set of bleachers are in Pakistan. The bleachers face each other, with the border between them.

Four wars have been fought between the two countries since 1947. They are still firing at each other in Kashmir. The Pakistanis are considered to be behind the Mumbai terrorism. These people hate each other. The Indians incidentally are resentful of the US because of our backing of Pakistan. So what happens every night at this border crossing?

On both sides of the border loud Bollywood and Bhangra dance music are playing. The Indians are dancing in the street in front of the border gate. They are pulsating to the music. Indian flags are being waved by the crowd. On the Pakistan side, Pakistani music is playing and they are dancing and running around waving Pakistan flags. The Indian Border Guards are wearing funny hats and strutting around. They are very high kickers – they kick up higher then their heads. The dancers are eventually cleared from the area between the two countries.

Alternatively high kicking Indian Border Guards march up to the border and strut their stuff. Cheers come up from the Indian, bleachers. But wait. The Pakistanis are booing. The loud speaker starts with pro-India chants. The Pakistanis are drowned out. Oh no. A high kicking Pakistani comes to the border and outdoes the Indian. The Pakistani is more Macho than the Indian. What to do? Two high stepping Border Guards march towards the gate and show them. The crowd cheers louder. Indians have more testosterone then the Pakistanis. Here comes the Pakistanis back with a double kick – take that Indian. Boy can they kick. It is like the musical Chorus Line combined with Busby Berkley but played with guns as props. Maybe it is like half time at a high school football game in Texas if all of the cheer leaders were men in uniform wearing fan-like hats. At any rate, by mutual agreement it must have been declared a draw, the flags are lowered. The Pakistan and Indian Solders salute each other. The gate is slammed shut and locked for the night, and these high kickers can go back to their barracks and then start killing each other. The very happy crowds head back home. It is surrealistic. If they can do this every night, why can’t they get along?

From this ridiculous but entertaining ceremony, we headed back to Amritsar from the border, driving through many small villages. We drove into the Old City of Amritsar (narrow lanes, stalls, vendors, etc.) and arrived at our destination: The Golden Temple. It was dark by now. The Golden Temple is set in the middle of the old city and from the street looks nothing special. We had to remove our shoes and sox to enter. Everyone including me had to cover their heads with scarves. No hair could show. The Golden Temple is the spiritual home of the Sikhs. We then had to wash our hands and walk through water to cleanse our feet. Finally you walk thru an entry and into the complex.

It is overwhelming. I would guess it is the size of two football fields, placed next to each other. It is completely filled with water and surrounded by a marble walkway. You can walk around the water. In the center of the water sits the Golden Temple. 3 stores high it is entirely covered in gold. It is reflected in the water. The Golden Temple is connected to the walkway by a narrow causeway. We really don’t know much about the Sikh religion but they are welcoming to all of us. The Gold is reflected everywhere. Sacred music is played by a group and is broadcast in high-fidelity. The music is all live and the performers play and sing 20 hours a day. Unlike many temples and religions where only the priest class is allowed into the inner sanctum, anyone can go. So we walked down the causeway in the middle of the water into the Golden Temple, it is the heart of the Sikh religion. We are instructed to hold our hands in prayerful contemplation. On the first floor the singers and musicians are playing. On the second floor there is a continuous reading of the sacred texts. On the 3rd floor roof there is another continuous reading and vistas across the water. The sound of the music is transforming. It is very soothing. We walked back across causeway, and sat down by the water gazing at The Golden Temple. We were then ready to leave, but expect to return tomorrow morning.

We then went to a Punjabi restaurant. Our only request of the guide was it must serve real Punjabi food and it must serve wine. We arrived and ordered a large dinner. We then requested wine from our waiter. We were told they only serve Vodka or Beer. I called the manager over and asked about wine. He said “no problem”. Do we want Red or White, Indian or French. We said both a Bottle of Red and a bottle of White, French. He said he would send someone out to procure them. Soon they arrived on our table. The food was excellent, as was the wine. We then returned to our hotel wondering what tomorrow morning will bring. We have a 1:30pm flight to Delhi tomorrow.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Walking in Gandhi's Foot Steps

We had been up late watching the news from Mumbai. It was very freaky to us as we had just left staying at the Taj about 10 days ago. The security there was lax. They had closed and locked the main entrance to the Heritage wing and we had to enter via the new tower wing. We kept saying to ourselves: “Why the increase in security”? To enter the Taj you had to go through a metal detector and hand your backpack or any packages to a screener. We all thought it was kind of a joke. They really didn’t screen us very well. None of the security personnel was armed. The terrorists entered the Harbor Bar, and started shooting the patrons. We had a drink there with Elizabeth on our last trip.

At any rate we needed to decide whether we would feel comfortable traveling to the border of Pakistan to visit the Golden Temple and see the Evening Ceremony. We decided to go. Hopefully you will get a further blog describing the events in the State of Punjab, enshalla.

In Delhi, we went first to the Tomb of Humayun’s. He was the 2nd Mughal Emperor. Cathy and I were very keen to see this site. We had read and enjoyed “The Last Mughal” by William Darwymple. It is the history of the how the Mughal Empire came to an end in 1857, when after the revolt by the Indians against the Empire was ruthlessly destroyed by the British. The Emperor escaped from his palace at the Red Fort where thousands were killed and hid out with his two sons at Humayun’s Tomb where he was captured by the British. His sons were eventually killed, and he was exiled to Burma where 5 years later he died.

I don’t know what we were expecting, but we were very pleasantly surprised. The Tomb is designed very much like the Taj Mahal. It is supposed to be a replica of Heaven on Earth. You go through several huge decorative gates, each followed by a large garden. As you walk through these gardens, you do not see the tomb until you pass through the final gate. When I use the word gate I am talking about a gigantic decorated structure, not a simple garden gate. Passing through the gate you reach the Tomb which is magnificent but unlike the Taj Mahal. In the center of the building is the Marble Tomb, aligned North to South as all Muslim Graves, with his face turned towards the East to Mecca.

There was increased security, throughout Delhi, we felt quite safe. Many buildings have police or soldiers with guns at their entrance. We really like Delhi and will return. Capital cities always seem to be able to get a lot of money to spend from the government.

We then went to Gandhi Smriti. This is the house and garden where Gandhi was assassinated. If only Gandhi’s non-violent ideas had prevailed! The house and gardens are a pilgrimage site. Gandhi was against the partition of India by the British. He wanted one nation. He was against the creation of Pakistan, where so many of our woes come from. Partition caused great dislocations of people when the Hindus went south to India and the Muslims went North or East to either East Pakistan or West Pakistan. Millions died on route or were murdered. Delhi was especially bad, with rioting and killings between Hindus and Muslims. Calling for peace, Gandhi returned to Delhi to try to reconcile the groups. When he realized that he could not stop the creation of Pakistan he called for giving Pakistan large amounts of money to assist the country. That is what caused right wing Hindus to assassinate him at this place. They have created a very effective and moving memorial. You start at the small house he was living in. You then follow is actual footsteps towards the spot where he was going for his evening prayer. Along the walk there are quotations from Gandhi. When you read these quotations they seem Biblical in their truthfulness and universality. Eventually the footsteps end at the spot he was killed and there is a simple stone. If only the footsteps had continued. It was very moving to be there, especially as the terrorism continued. We talked to several people along the way. One Indian, said like almost all Indians we have met: Why does America back Pakistan? They can’t understand our favoring Pakistan over India. They all feel Pakistan is a completely failed, dangerous country. By the way, since partition, not one Pakistan President has completed their term in office. They have all been either killed or overthrown.

We then went to President House. This huge governmental complex looks like it was plucked out of London and set down in Delhi with a few Muslim / Hindu architectural domes and flourishes added. There was lots of security.

From there we were ready to shop. We went to a very chic shopping area: Santushti. It is built on an Air Force Base in the middle of Delhi, so we felt quite safe! We had lunch, and I could tell there would be some serious shopping. Across the road, past the sandbags with soldiers with machine guns, was a large hotel. I went for a massage while shopping progressed.

We planned to meet for a drink after the massage and shopping, but we found out to our dismay that there was an election coming up the next day, and no alcohol could be bought in Delhi. The bars were closed. We returned in panic to our hotel. The bar there was also closed. We all went to our suite, where Cathy had the great idea of calling room service. We were saved. Four bottles of wine arrived. We switched on the TV to watch the continuing drama in Mumbai, and drank. We then decided to stay in the hotel and ordered a great meal from room service as we had to pack that night to leave in the morning for the Punjab. With all the wine we had no problem falling to sleep. In the morning our guide whose only responsibility was to get us through the airport to our plane said with great wisdom, when we questioned him about our safety: “Worry is not the Solution”.

"You Are Crazy Man"

I wrote this late at night. When I finished writing this about 1:30am Delhi time, I brought up my browser and first heard about the terror in Mumbai. We stayed up till 3:00am and watched the terror live. We didn’t know what we would be able to do in Delhi today. I am writing this at 7pm, Thanksgiving Day in Delhi. We were able to spend a full day site seeing and shopping. I will blog about it later. Our hotel, The Taj Ambassador is located in the Diplomatic area of Delhi near all of the Foreign Embassies. There is additional security everywhere. We leave tomorrow AM for the Amritsar at the Pakistan border. We checked with The US Embassy and they said there will be no problem. If I don’t blog, it is only because there is a problem with Internet. In a future blog I will discuss the conversations we have had with Indians about this attach. We loved the Taj and Mumbai and feel terrible for everyone.

This was our first real day in Delhi. We were picked up by our guide and we went to the India Gate. This monumental structure was made to honor the Indian War dead in the First World War. As you get close to it you can see that the names of all of the war dead are inscribed on the bricks. It is a very touching memorial.

From there we drove to the Old City of Delhi. This area is densely packed with people, mostly Muslims. The area is dominated by two structures. The gigantic Red Fort, which was the home of the Mughal Emperors until the revolt of 1857, and the famous Jama Masjid Mosque, the largest Mosque in India. We were amazed at the size of the Red Fort, and it was especially touching to Cathy and I because of the book, The Last Mughal, which is the story of the revolt of 1857 and the ending of the Mughal Empire by the British. Also one of our favorite Bollywood movies, Rang De Basante has scenes filmed at the Red Fort. We plan to return there later while we are Delhi to see it in depth.

We then walked through the Mosque. It is old and huge. It is where the Mugal Emperors prayed. It is still in use. Surrounding the Mosque are the narrow alleys of an area called: Chandni Chowk, filled with thousands of merchant stalls that comprise Old Delhi. Over 2 million people live in Old Delhi. It is unbelievably packed, and exciting. The alleys of merchants are grouped by what they sell; you might go down an alley that has store after store selling only calendars, or street after street selling only ribbons or buttons. You can’t drive down the alleys. You can only walk or take a rickshaw which is peddled by drivers that must have the most powerful legs in the world. I had always thought that rickshaws were a tourist kind of thing, but by a ratio of probably 50 to 1 the rickshaws were filled with Indians of all types, women, families, deliveries, etc. These ARE the preferred method of transportation on these narrow alleys. The alleys are so jammed and so narrow that there is no way you can get off a rickshaw and go into a store to buy something. The rickshaw couldn’t possibly park in front of the store while you shopped. So we never got off our rickshaw as he peddled through the market. We plan to return to the market before we return to the USA. What you have to do is leave a rickshaw and pay the driver and then get another rickshaw. I rickshaw driver (peddler) charges 2 rupees per kilometer (a rupee is worth approximately 2 cents) do the math!

From there we drove from Old Delhi through New Delhi to the other side of the city. Delhi has 14 million people or so. New Delhi and Old Delhi are right next to each other, but they are as different as day and night. You simple go through the gate of the Old Delhi and you are in New Delhi designed by Edwin Lutyens - and it feels like you are in London! It was designed in the 1910’s with wide streets, roundabouts everywhere, and lots and lots of parks. The Government Center has all of the Embassy’s and lots of rich people. They live in Art Deco Homes that are called bungalows; we would call them large mansions! We really like Delhi and we know we will return.

We then had lunch and went to visit an area I knew little about. Delhi has a long history of multiple empires ruling it and the area called Qutub Minar is the oldest. It reminds you of ancient Rome. At he site there are lots of old structures from the 11th century, celebrating the Muslim capture of Hindu Delhi where the Muslims destroyed the Hindu Temples and built Mosques. It is dominated by incredible very large and tall minaret. The entire site was a revelation to us.

From there we went shopping and then returned to the Hotel. I had a massage and then drinks and then we went to the most famous restaurant in Delhi: Bukhara.

Our taxi was driven by a Sikh (you can tell by his turban). We told them that in a few days we are flying up to Amritsar to visit the Golden Temple (the most holy place for Sikhs). He was most impressed. I then took out by Iphone and played a song from the soundtrack of Rang De Basante which I knew was a Sikh Hymn. I put the earpiece in his ear, he listened and then he looked at me and said “You Crazy Man!”. I knew we had bounded!

Apparently President Clinton had eaten at Bukhara and they have a sampler dish named after him. We ordered it (and 2 bottles of wine) and it was huge. The restaurant is in a very Los Vegas like Sheraton Hotel. The hotel was very glitzy. They served cloth bibs with the dinner that we thought were strange, but eventually we put them on. They forgot to give us silverware, when we requested it from our waiter we were informed, no silverware, you eat with your fingers in Indian Style (right hand only). We had a new appreciation for our bibs.

We got in a Taxi to return to our hotel, I was in the front seat with the driver, Cathy, Courtney and Ferris were in the backseat. Somehow, in the course of the drive, the cab driver became convinced that I was married to all three women, had 12 children between them and I was vey rich. He became my best friend and complimented me on my choice of wives. He then proceeded to drive up and down the same broad streets going in circles as he ran the meter up. My three wives (for the duration of the ride) were laughing hysterically and we all had fun. The driver of course by the end of the ride wanted me to pay for the education of his three children.

There was a wedding going on next to our Hotel and I always wanted to attend an Indian Wedding. They are over the top. You can tell a Indian Wedding because they are outdoors, go on all night, and have lots of bright lights and noise. Cathy and Courtney (wives 1 and 3) decided to pack it in for the night, Ferris (wife no 2) and I decided to crash the wedding. We walked over to the bright lights and discovered there was no wedding but rather a brightly lit gas station and Metro construction going on. Dejected we walked back to the hotel.
As we were walking back, two elephants came down the road, one with no rider just ambling along, the other with a sleepy rider sitting on top. Ah Delhi!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Taj Mahal

We got up at 4:45am to go to the train station to take the train to the City of Agra. The train ride is a little over 2 hours long. When we arrived at the Delhi train station it was like a trip back to the time of Rudyard Kipling. There was a mass of humanity, sleeping on the floor or sitting in all kinds of small groups. I don’t think we ever would have found our train with out the aid of our guides. The guides are very specialized. At every train station or airport we are met by a guide whose only job is to make sure we and our luggage get on or off the train/plane and walks us to our car. Then his job with us is over and he turns us over to another guide to show us around.

Agra is home to the Taj Mahal. NOTHING can prepare you for the Taj. No picture, no description, no viewing in movie, no reading about it in a book (and we have done all 4!). There is lots of security. No vehicle can come with in 1 kilometer of it. You are dropped off and get into little electric cars that drive you to the entrance of the grounds. There is no view of the Taj as you approach. After being dropped off by the electric cars you walk into the grounds. Eventually there is a gate and when you pass through you see the Taj in the distance. The Indian Government has restored the Taj to a pristine state. It is huge and majestic. It is gleaming white. There is no graffiti anywhere. There is no litter anywhere. It is a magical building. It is set on the banks of a river and there are no other buildings in your view to spoil the setting. There are some hawkers and beggars before you enter the grounds, but not an overwhelming number.

We were all simply blown away by the building, the grounds and of course the tragic love story that accounted for the Taj. For those of you that don’t know, the Mugal King Shaw Jahan fell deeply in love with a princess Mumtaz Mahal. They were married and they had 14 children. He was obsessed with her, and when she eventually died he built this monument to their love. Before it was completed his son overthrew him and he was kept prisoner in the mammoth Agra fort where he could watch the construction of the Taj. They are both entombed there. The walls of the Taj are inlayed with precious stones. It was a wonderful experience and it far exceeded anything that we expected.

We then were driven to a studio where they make marble tables and other inlayed marble objects in a similar fashion to the Taj. As I we walked in and I saw dollar signs in our guides eyes (I am sure he gets a commission) I said to myself “No way are we buying anything”. I was wrong!

After a good Indian lunch we went to visit the Agra Fort. It is a giant castle like fortress. Several times we have seen the famous Indian movie Mugal-E-Azim set in the time of the ruler Akbar at the fort. There is a famous scene in the movie where there is a dance in a mirrored room. We had assumed the room was created from the directors imagination (“Great place for a dance number”). The room really exists! We got to see it! We had also read a great (and erotic) book simply called “Taj” about the King and Queen and there relationship (think Burton and Taylor). In the book the imprisoned King Shaw Jahan looks out across the river and watches the construction of the Taj as a memorial to his late wife. It was amazing to be in the real Fort, in his room, and see these views, that were so vividly described in the book. He wasn’t restricted to a cell. It was more like he was under house arrest, and couldn’t leave the fort, and he had no authority.

We then drove through typical Indian dirty congested streets (that we find fascinating) to the Baby Taj. I had never heard of this place before. As the name implies it is much smaller than the Taj but built in a similar fashion. It was built before the Taj, and you can see how the architecture evolved.

We then drove to a spot across the river, where we could see the Taj reflected in the river at sunset. Nearby a cremation was taking place, and we could smell the funeral pyre and hear the chants.

We then drove across the most narrow congested bridge I have ever been on (it seemed to take forever – but it was amazing to see the traffic, to a very posh hotel for lots of drinks. Our train was scheduled to leave a little after 8pm. As we awaited the train, I noticed a family of rats on the train platform, that would appear and eat some crumbs on the floor of the train station that scoot away only to reappear. Unbelievably we were sort of fascinated by the rats and watched them. Only in India! From the Taj Mahal to rats and we loved it all. We arrived back at our hotel at 11:30 and skipped dinner and fell fast asleep. It was a fabulous day!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jaipur to Delhi

We got up and checked out of the hotel in Jaipur. We had a 8PM flight to Delhi, so we had a jammed packed day until we had to go to the airport. We first went to a large antique market. I had a very typical Indian shopping experience. Cathy and I wanted to buy a temple hanging. These are large scale paintings that were hung in Hindu Temples that told stories to the people that couldn’t read. They just had to look at the paintings to know what the legends were. I saw one that appealed to me and asked the owner about the painting. He explained it was over 300 years old. It was expensive. I liked it. I called Cathy over to take a look and she asked why the painting a steam locomotive on it, if it 300 years old. The owner shrugged. I obviously lost all confidence in the place at that time, so we didn’t buy it. We told our guide (who I am sure would get a commission if we bought it) and he immediately said “They must have had a premonition when they painted the painting”.

We first went shopping at a jewelry store. I had lots of fun bargaining for people.
I walked over to the milk market. If you went to this market, you would only drink your milk black in India, if you ever visit the country. Farmer’s bring the cows milk in standard milk containers. Because no one knows when the cow was milked, you don’t know how fresh the milk in the containers is. So there are dozens of milk containers scattered about on the dusty street. Restaurant people, or just housewives, go to a container, open it stick there hand into the milk, lick their hand to taste the milk and decide if they want to buy it or not – depending upon how it tastes to them. So the milk you get at that restaurant could have had any number of hands in it! So drink your coffee black, or make sure you get boiled milk!

We then went to the Amber Fort. This is another Fortress built upon a mountain top. It was impregnable. Never conquered by anyone! We took our buses as close as we could, then hired jeeps to take us up the mountain to the fort. The Fort is surrounded by walls that creep over the hills as far as the eye could see. It reminded us all of the Great Wall of China. We went through the fortress and in Cathy and my mind, were relating it to the many books and movies we have read of this period of time.

We did a little more shopping after the fort, and went to an interesting Indian Theme restaurant that was like eating in a train car. We then went to the Taj Hotel, which is another converted Palace, for a drink. This Palace was a guest palace, for use if someone arrived after the Amber Forts gates were closed. Once they were closed for the night, they wouldn’t open for anyone, including the king. So this palace is where he could crash for the night. It is very posh. There were two men who had large white flags. All they did was walk around and
hit the flag causing a loud noise. We couldn’t figure out what it was, and when I asked I was told they are pigeon chasers, whose only job is to scare away any pigeons that land at the Taj.
Interesting fact, you see men peeing against walls everywhere. We have no ideas what women do, if they have to go. One wag suggested they are squatting on the other side of the walls. Who knows?

We then drove to the airport and flew to Delhi. After navigating the airport and arriving at our hotel, about 10pm, we quickly checked into our room. Woops, they gave us keys to someone else’s room, or at least there bags and clothing were in the room. The management profusely apologized and upgraded us to a suite. All’s well that ends well, as they say. We finally got to bed about Midnight, and have a 4:45 wakeup call. We are catching the train tomorrow early am to Agra, to finally visit the Taj Mahal.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jodhpur to Jaipur

We left the blue city of Jodhpur and headed for the pink city of Jaipur. It is a long drive! We stopped on the way for lunch (it was quite good – at a truck stop kind of place). We then went to a village where we saw block printing of fabric. The smell of the inks was overpowering. Once again we saw, kites be flown from rooftops, lots of children wanting to have their picture taken, and all sorts of animals. What happens to old cows (they are holy after all)? The answer is India has old cow homes for those cows that quite make it on the streets. India does not have old people’s homes for the poor and downtrodden that you see everywhere. They worship and take care of cows.

We arrived in Jaipur and checked into our hotel after an arduous drive around the walled old city. There are lots of elephants, camels and cows everywhere. It appeared to us that Jaipur is the wedding capital of India. Indians take weddings as very big events. They last multiple days, are very elaborate, extremely expensive and over the top. The groom traditionally goes to the bride’s house mounted on a white horse, surrounded by family members and friends to “capture” her and take her to the wedding ceremony. We saw lots of weddings parties.

In the morning we went to the Jaipur Observatory. It is a large area, bigger than a football field and has enormous stone instruments. There are probably 20 of them. They give all sorts of accurate readings of times, and stars. It is amazing to see. This was all constructed in the late 1700’s. Everyone loved seeing these very primitive yet exceedingly accurate instruments.

We then went on a tour of the Maharaja’s City Palace. He still lives there. The Maharaja still live large! It was quite a palace! I finally got to see a snake charmer!

From there we shopped, jewelry, clothes, etc. Jaipur has a lot of shopping opportunities. It also has a lot of beggars and hawkers. For dinner we went to an old Mansion that had been converted to a restaurant and Turban museum. They need to specialize. Tomorrow we visit the famous fort in Jaipur do more shopping then fly to Delhi.