We are home. The Adventure is over, but WOW what a time we had!!
No news.. all looking forward to seeing family & friends!
Today was Iona’s 18th birthday which we celebrated with a cake, some singing and a Winnie the Pooh banner!
As it was our final day in India (this year) we had a busy day touring the delights of Old and New Delhi.
First on the agenda was a visit to a mosque where we, as westerners, were garbed in colourful robes before we could enter.
Our next activity was also very colourful as we were whisked through the back streets of Old Delhi on bicycle rickshaws! Some of the lanes were so narrow it was a wonder we managed to fit and Ev caused a traffic jam when she tried to buy two lemons from a lady at the side of the road (for her gin and tonic!).
Next we visited Raj Ghat, the place where Gandhi was cremated.
Here we encountered a gathering of people from various religions; Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and Muslims, who had joined together to try to diffuse any tension that may have arisen following the bombing of the temple where Buddha gained enlightenment.
After lunch and a spot of shopping in Delhi’s “Ambience Mall” we headed out again to see the last monument which was a beautifully decorated minaret with 379 steps!
Our last evening as the India 2013 team was full of laughter and only a few tears. Ev wrote a wonderful poem about our hectic adventures and the six young leaders recounted a fairytale about a lady named Princess Morag. The beautiful maiden travelled to far-off lands accompanied by her 21 best brownies and they all had fabulous adventures and then lived happily ever after.
India and Laura
Today we have parted company with our guide Ritu, and we are all very sad to leave her.
We thanked her for her company and hope that she is aware how much we appreciated her knowledge and easygoing nature.
So this is it! End of our trip approaches. Just time to celebrate Iona’s 18th birthday a little more…. (we will tell you more about that later!)
However the hotel has no free Wi-Fi so I will be brief!
The Baby Taj this morning was beautiful and had wee nooks and crannies for Laura to explore! (She is being watched like a hawk now…. no escaping us!)
We journeyed to Delhi by bus, passing mile after mile of rice fields. Women were working in the fields and walked along with huge bundles of crops wrapped in bright fabrics and balanced in their heads.
This afternoon Ritu managed to squeeze in another trip shopping in some more mainstream Indian shops, such as Fab India (which really is fab!).
Tonight we are chilling out ready for a busy day of sightseeing tomorrow.
Having eaten a delicious breakfast in our Agra hotel, we boarded the bus once again and headed out towards the Taj Mahal. As the most famous monument in India, this was a trip that we had been very much looking forward to.
The story of the Taj Mahal is romantic! The emperor Shah Jahan built the palace in the 17th century as a memorial to his queen (Mumtaz Mahal), who he loved very much, after she died in childbirth.
The Taj Mahal is made out of white marble full of crystals, which shimmer in the light. There are many inlaid panels and at the front gate an inscription from the Qur’an. It is absolutely spectacular.
In the main hall lie the tombs of the emperor and Queen. It has a high domed ceiling and a great acoustic. I’m not sure where the suggestion came from, but our County Commissioner took up the challenge to try out One Voice (our song) in the hall. It sounded beautiful so we quietly joined in for the verse “We are one voice and we are singing”… and were swiftly ejected from the building by the guards/curators. A beautiful moment for us – but not appreciated by all!
As you may expect, we have many photos of the Taj Mahal and of us at the Taj Mahal, us pinching the Taj Mahal, us on Diana’s Seat at the Taj Mahal…. but I can’t upload them from my phone right now.
After our visit we headed to another Government stop (our guide is required to stop there I think) which was a marble factory. It wasn’t as interesting to see as the other trips we have taken, thought the marble-work was absolutely beautiful. We did a bit of shopping (window-shopping for most) and then we moved on to our next location – Agra Fort / the Red Fort.
Agra Fort was the home of the Emperor Shah Jahan. It has a triple-fortification in the walls at the front. There would have been a moat full of crocodiles and it would have been quite impenetrable! The fort was a rabbit-warren but by this time the group were VERY hot and tired and so we hurried around the most interesting points, such as the Jade Tower where the Queen used to reside but the Emperor was imprisoned by his son after she died.
(Of course, Laura went a-wandering….)
The Taj Mahal was built so that Shah Jahan could see it from Agra Fort. The story of the rulers, which our guide Ritu told, at this time in history is quite bloody – very interesting!
Following the trip to Amer Fort we all retired to the hotel where we ate in the bar (pizzas and chips for some – spinach and corn burgers for others!). After some food we had free time so some people sunbathed and swam whilst others (me) took a trip to the nearby Mall. We skipped McDonald’s after our delicious meals in the hotel and headed for the ATM, the tea shop, the cinema (there wasn’t time to watch a 3hr Bollywood movie sadly) and the clothes shop. It was fun to get out and explore a bit on our own.
Finally today culminated in the Wimbledon Men’s Final! We started with a few drinks in the room, watching together then split into smaller groups to finish watching the match after dinner.
Andy Murray beat Djokovic in 3 straight sets! (I’m told this is very exciting… I was being educated again. Such an informative trip this is!) Room 138 resounded with joyful cheers – nobody has come to complain about the noise yet!
All in all another great memorable day.
This morning we were up bright and early in order to make our 235 km bus journey from Jaipur to Agra. Along the way we stopped at a roadside shop/restaurant where we had the opportunity to browse jewellery, clothing and small ornaments unique to India. The attempt at Western aspects of lunch was somewhat amusing but most of us enjoyed the classic Indian cuisine- the food has been AMAZING so far and most of us have managed to avoid Delhi belly. When we were around 37 km from Agra, we made a stop at the very beautiful and nostalgic Fatehpur Sikri which is a deserted red sandstone city including forts, palaces and temples. The city was founded in 1569 by the Mughal emperor Akbar, and served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585. Our tour guide told us all about the city which was very interesting- such as it being built as a tribute to the Sufi Saint, Sheikh Salim Christi, and it being abandoned due to a shortage of water. We also managed to abandon Laura as she wandered off while we all headed for the bus… the dafty!
On our way out, again we were hassled by many vendors trying to sell us bits and bobs that we really didn’t want or need but some of us gave in due to the prices that were being offered. We hopped on the bus and soon arrived at the beautiful Trident hotel, Agra with the promise that we would be visiting the Taj Mahal and Red Fort tomorrow I think its safe to say we can all sleep with ease.
After a lovely Trident hotel breakfast, we all boarded our fabulously air-conditioned bus. We were taken to Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar observatory where we were shown the instruments used to calculate the time, dates and star signs, including the World’s largest sun dial! The guide told us all about the origins of astronomy in Jaipur and that since Jaipur’s local time is at a different latitude, we need to add 32 minutes to the time to get India’s time zone.
Then we were taken to the City Palace in Jaipur, where we were given a tour of the inside, to see an extensive collection of the Maharajah’s art, carpets, textiles and weapons; all beautifully preserved. We learnt a lot about the history of Jaipur’s royalty, and were told that the current Maharajah was in the Palace because of the raised flags.
The tour continued to a jewellery shop where we were told about the precious stone polishing and were shown ancient jewels. Some of the ladies bargained for some fancy gems while the rest of us enjoyed the brief air-conditioning.
We had a relaxing afternoon by the pool, sunbathing and enjoying the luxury of pool-side chips!
We are all preparing ourselves for the eight hour journey to Agra tomorrow, but are very excited about the Taj Mahal!
Pippa, Georgie and Iona
Today we visited Jaipur’s Amer Palace. It is an amazing opulent palace built in the 16th century and we made our ascent to the gates by… ELEPHANT! One comment I overheard as we all met in the courtyard was “Oh my God, that was so much fun!”.
Amer Palace is in an area which historically has been occupied by Hindu and Moguls, and this mixture makes the architecture particularly beautiful. There are walls which were limewashed repeatedly until they look like polished marble. The decorations include gold painting and an incredible mirrored ceiling.
Women remained at the fort while the men went to battle. In one room there is an ingenious water cooling system, where the breezes would be directed over a flow of water, providing cool air indoors.
We learnt about Rajasthani customs such as Sati, where a woman who was widowed would sit on the funeral pyre and burn herself along with his remains. We also learnt that this was outlawed when the British came.
The weather today has been very very hot – and we have all found this very tiring. It is also somewhat of a culture shock to find so many people offering gifts and haggling at every possible opportunity. Despite this, in amongst the salesmen were still a few English-speakers who wanted to find out who we were, and what we were doing in India. One man I spoke to told me that he was learning English from his wife who speaks it very well.
After our trip to the fort we cooled down with a visit to a government textiles centre called Shree Carpet & Textile Mahal (India) Pvt Ltd. The textile designer showed us block printing, then carpet-making before taking us inside the building to enjoy a cool drink and a lunch of cheese sandwiches, bananas and biscuits. People here make such an effort to accommodate us!
Our return to the hotel was welcomed by all, and we separated to cool down either in our rooms or in the swimming pool.
This evening we took a trip into Jaipur and visited the Bazaar. Will anyone who knows them believe that Ev & our Alisons bought nothing??
At dinner we are able to select from European or Indian foods, which keeps everyone happy!
Tomorrow we will take a city tour of Jaipur – can’t wait to see what else tomorrow brings!