11/6: Our adventures in India certainly started out with some excitement.
We stood in line at customs in Bombay at 11:00pm. When our turn came, the guy asked us where our visas were.
We told him we did not have visas. This is apparently a bad situation.
He says we cannot enter and must return to wherever we came from.
Yikes!! We just flew 9 hours from South Africa. The guy takes us to his supervisor.
It seems from everyone's actions that this scenario does not come up much.
They keep asking us why we do not have a visa. Our answer is not a good one.
When we booked the flights, United told us to get a visa for Australia. The tour company for the Kili climb told us to get one for Tanzania.
Nobody mentioned India, and we never looked it up apparently. Guess our planning broke down in some places.
They directed us to sit for 5-10 minutes. After 45 minutes, and after everyone else had cleared through, we were called over.
They said they were going to help us. We filled out some forms for arrival without a visa. Then we
stood in line for 15 minutes to convert currency to pay visa fees of $30 each.
The fees are in US dollars, but we must pay in
rupees. We paid the money, got some stamps, and made our way to the 2:40am flight to Delhi.
Things were better from there. We were pretty nervous for a while. We did find out later that they would have sent us to the nearest country that would take us, not back to South Africa.
11/7: We arrived at a dive hotel around 5:00am. After some rest, we headed out into the city.
Our first stop was at a United office. We changed our departure from 11/15 to 11/13.
We had decided along the way that we wanted to go to Phuket in Thailand in addition to Bangkok.
So we made that change. We then ate and headed for the train station.
Several people gave us advice (go to such-and-such instead, the office is closed, etc.), all of which was wrong.
People try to
steer you towards businesses that give them a kick-back. We bought tickets to Agra and from Jaipur to New Delhi.
We were told to take a bus from Agra to Jaipur. We then went to the Red
Fort. By the time we got there, it was getting too late to see. Gets dark pretty early (~ 6:00).
We walked through the market for a while. By the time we returned to our hotel, we
were tired of New Delhi.
The air is thick with smog. There's dirt everywhere. People constantly badger us to buy things or for taxis.
This badgering is common on our travels, but these people do not let up. Like in Egypt, you have to get rude before people will leave you alone.
That's not a good feeling. The crowds and traffic are overwhelming. Riding in a taxi or "auto-rickshaw" is quite the experience.
People beep their horns constantly to get others to move over for them. The idea of lanes is non-existent.
The beeping just adds to all the noise. The air is heavy with exhaust fumes.
We cannot go more than 5 minutes in a taxi without seeing someone urinating on the side of the street.
We expected much of this, but we're still pretty surprised. Back at the hotel, we start to contemplate leaving earlier than planned.
11/8: We find a new hotel in the morning. Not much nicer, but a better rate.
We then go to where the India Gate is. We see some government buildings at Vijay Chowk, and walk through the middle of one to a courtyard.
After some photos, we try to go back where we had come from. They will not let us in, and suddenly nobody speaks English.
We're stuck and have to walk several blocks out of our way to get around the complex of buildings.
We are not happy and it is very hot. We then go to the national museum.
It was pretty nice, and we saw lots of Indian
artifacts. Then we return to the Red Fort. That was also pretty nice.
We did not get a "guide", but we should have. You miss the stories of the place without a guide.
The guide we turned away was such a pain though, we did not want him. We
enjoyed the fort anyway. We went to a large mosque after that. We were swarmed with kids and others begging for money.
As every travel book recommends, we do our best to ignore them and do not give them money.
The books recommend to give money to organizations instead of people, since giving it to people encourages further begging.
11/9: We take a 6:00am train to Agra. The train is not fancy, but it is comfortable.
Prior to departing, the guy next to Dawn decides to tuck in his shirt. To do this, he unzips his pants and drops his drawers to around his knees.
We try not to look at the guy's backside. We are in shock. He does not care.
Lovely start to the morning!
In Agra, we get to a hotel and catch a few winks. We decide to pay a tour company for some help.
We pay for a car and driver for the rest of the day, the next morning in Agra, a drive to a game park 6 hours away, and then a trip to Jaipur on 11/11.
The driver is nice and takes us to the Agra fort first. They ask if we have a Taj ticket because we will not have to pay some extra tourist charge if we already paid it there.
We pay it and figure we will not have to pay it at the Taj Mahal. It's a really nice fort, with lots to see.
We can see the Taj Mahal from here. In some ways 'fort' is not an accurate name as there are actually royal apartments, mosques, and other beautiful building such as baths inside.
The fort at Agra is much more impressive and beautiful than the fort in Delhi as it sits high on a river bank and has many temples/apartments built by and for rulers such as Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal.
Jahan and his
harem lived in the fort during his reign.
We then go across the river to the East Bank to view the "Baby Taj", a temple created by a woman for her parents.
It's quite nice, with white marble and inlaid stones. On the way out, we are hit hard by a few children for money or Pepsi.
One of them has disfiguration on her face, and it is hard to ignore them at the car window.
Crossing the river, we see women and children cleaning clothes. They clean them by smacking the clothes against some boards and rocks in the water.
On to the Taj we go. We've chosen to get to the Taj Mahal in the evening to see sunset and we'll then return the next morning to see sunrise as Friday's are free entrance to most places in India.
Although full of both tourists and local people, the Taj Mahal is a very impressive sight and certainly deserves to be the symbol most used to represent India.
The main white marble building is the burial site for Shah Jahan and his favorite wife.
The ground and buildings are all built in perfect
symmetry. Upon entering through a massive red sandstone gateway we see the famous view across the pools with lotus-flower-shaped fountains up to the Taj Mahal itself surrounded on 4 corners by white marble spires 40 meters each.
On each side of the main building sit red sandstone and white marble temples which would be beautiful by themselves.
As with every mosque, we take off our shoes and walk through the building admiring the work that took approximately 22 years with 20,000 artisans working non-stop to build.
After taking in the sunset we returned to our hotel for the night. We had splurged a bit and stayed at a better hotel this night to make up for the not-so-great places in Delhi.
11/10: We got up early Friday to be at the Taj Mahal by its opening at 6am.
When the gates opened the few people gathered walked through the main gates and sat on the steps together waiting for sunrise.
People were talking mainly in a whisper which added to the special feeling of anticipation for the sunrise.
After watching the sunrise turn the marble from night-blue to yellow-gold, we again walked through the grounds to take in the views.
By the time we left at 7:30am the grounds were once again full of local and foreign visitors as they had been the night before.
We found our driver and left Agra for our drive to Ranthambhore which is a national park 112 miles south of Jaipur known for tiger watching.
When we had hired the car and driver, we had been told that the drive to Ranthambhore
would take approximately 6 hours from Agra and that by leaving at 8am we could make it by 3pm for an evening game drive.
Once on the road we realized that this was not the case. The roads in India are fairly bad (we were on a "good" road!) and our car could only do a top speed of about 60km/hr between slowing and sometimes just stopping for camels, cows, people, or other trucks that might happen to be blocking the road.
It soon became obvious that we were going to be lucky to make the park by 7 or 8pm which would only give us time for a morning game drive on Saturday before a long drive to Jaipur.
At lunch we made the decision to scrap the national park and just go straight to Jaipur.
We could then have our driver take us around Jaipur in lieu of the park. We were somewhat disappointed in not being able to see a tiger in the wild, but knew our nerves would be shot if we continued.
As it is...driving along the highway you soon accept the fact that you have about a 50% chance of making it to your destination in one piece and ignore the road...if you don't, you'll go crazy watching all the near misses!
On the road to Jaipur we passed from the state of Utter Pradesh into Rajastahn...the land of the maharajahs!
It was like a fairy-tale to see all of the ruined palaces and forts sitting on top of the hills as we passed.
Upon reaching Jaipur about 2pm our driver took us to a town not far away called Amber to visit the Amber Fort.
The Amber Fort was home to the great Rajah Akbar along with several others.
The Amber Fort was beautiful and situated high on top of a hill. We chose to hike up rather than take an elephant ride as the poor elephants just looked too down-cast.
The Amber Fort is different in that most of the fort is open to tourists and it was great fun to explore the staircases and balconies...the ultimate location for hide and seek!
We had a few laughs and met a few nice local people as well. Although all through India Don and I stuck out like sore thumbs, Don was the hit of the Amber Fort.
With his hair shaved short and our long green pants on folks must have thought that he was either a Marine or a huge football player.
Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with him and he was even holding babies at one point while the parents took pictures!!
Very funny! On the way out of the fort we met a local school teacher and walked down with her elementary school class in single-file...the kids thought that was just great!
Next our driver took us to the City Palace in town which is now a museum. We saw many pictures and household elements of the Maharajah's life (1700's up to the 1920's) including necessities like golden chariots, 50 foot rugs, etc.
Jaipur is actually the nicest town that we visited in India and had some beautiful scenery and very little smog.
After our long day the driver took us to a hotel he recommended and we got to take in a local wedding reception being held at the hotel...full brass band in uniform was playing and eventually marched the wedding party right down the road!
Quite a sight. After settling in we decided that we needed pizza and found an auto-rickshaw to take us into town.
After dinner we couldn't find a taxi that knew where our hotel was located (and oops we didn't write down the address)!
We took a taxi and basically just had him drive us around where we thought we should go...he thought we were absolutely nuts and kept stopping the taxi to ask us if we knew the name of the hotel.
Luckily we had
paid some attention to our drive into town and made it back after just a couple of wrong turns...big lesson there :)
11/11: After waking up we headed for the train station and changed our ticket to the express train for that evening as we had seen most of the sites in Jaipur.
After getting our tickets changed we had lunch at the Rambough Palace Hotel (very nice 5 star) then had a taxi drive us back to the hotel to get our things.
We then caught a ride to some rug factories that we had seen the day before.
We had decided that our 'big trip purchase' should probably be a rug so thought we'd have a look.
We had been looking along the way a bit and even back in CA so didn't walk in completely blind.
Right away we were treated as guests and brought more soda than we could drink!
We had at least 5 people bringing out different rugs in a huge room and spent a couple of hours making our choices.
We ended up with a beautiful 6x9 foot silk rug for the living room with a smaller 3x5 for the bedroom and shipping costs thrown in.
Happy birthday to both of us!! We don't know if we got the best bargain that we could have in India, but it's so much cheaper than in the U.S. that we were pretty excited.
After filling out purchase and shipping paper-work (you also mark the back of the rugs yourself so that there can be no question of a switch-out along the way), the rug guys gave us a ride to the train station just in time to catch our 5pm back to Delhi.
We grabbed a taxi form the train
station and heading directly for the airport. Our flight to Thailand is
still not for 2 more days. We're ready to go though. We got there in
time, but the flight was delayed. Lots of people were on the wait list
apparently. Luckily, we got called up after 15 minutes or so. We
were quite relieved to be on our way to the next adventure in Thailand.