Friday, January 27, 2012

Week One . . .

Here we are just over a week into our trip - but it feels as if we've been here much longer.
We landed in Delhi and were graciously hosted at the home of Ashok Parmer, who helped us plan our trip and put together the details of the itinerary. We were met at the airport by his driver, Prem, and a friend, who despite lack of English made us feel very welome and comfortable. The first morning after preparing breakfast for us Prem took us on a long walk through nearby Kamla Nehru Park and the University of Delhi campus. As we set off, we asked why he was carrying a big white stick. "Monkey" he replied in halting English. Sure enough, as we got close to the park, we noticed street carts loaded with bananas. Once we entered the park, the pathways were lined with clusters of monkeys, busily finishing off the last of the morning's "breakfast." Fortunately the monkeys seemed quite satisfied and the stick was not needed.

On Day 2 we toured a of remnants from the Moghul empire - Jama Masjid, Humaya Tomb and Qutab Minor.

The next day we drove to Agra. We arrived mid-afternoon and set off to visit the Taj Mahal. Despite all the pictures we've seen, northing can compare with the experience of passing through the walled gates and suddenly coming upon the splendor of the whit marble structure standing majestically against the blue sky. Absolutely breathtaking.

After leaving Agra we headed towards Rajasthan where we spent the next six days. We travelled both by plane and car. The drivers were outstanding - which is fortunate considering all they have to negotiate - pedestrians, motorized carts, cows,scooters, transport trucks, more cows, and even the occasional donkey and camel. In the city of Jodpur, which has a population of about 1 1/2 million, the guide boasted that the city only had one stop light!

We became very attached to our first driver, Pawan, who sort of adopted us - he explained in halting English that Amal reminded him of his mother. His stock response to any request we made was, "You are happy, I am happy." When the time came for him to leave us at the Jaipur airport he gave us a big hug, and insisted on lending us a cell phone for the remainder of our trip, telling us to call him if we got into any difficulty. He then called to check up on us.

In Rajasthan we visited more forts and palaces from the Moghul empire. During the Moghul period many of the chief military were from the Hindu Radjut class and their local leaders (maharajahs) were able to amass fortunes and build magnificent palaces in cities such as Jaipur, Jodpur and Udaipur. Nowadays the maharajahs only have ceremonial status but it seems they still have great fortunes. In several of the palaces, part of the palace is still a residence for the maharajah's family, but part has been turned into a museum and is open to the public, and a third section has been converted into a luxury hotel.

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