India, March 13, 2017

Day 28, Darjeeling to Sikkim

This is the part of the trip where Suzanne and I separate for a couple days.  I really wanted to go to Sikkim and Suzanne wasn’t interested in any more terrible roads (safari roads are the worst), with breathtaking drop offs.  The featured photo is of Darjeeling with Kanchenjunga in the background on the way out of town towards Sikkim.  The little hillock of trees on the left hand side of the photo is where Suzanne is staying at the Windermere Hotel.


I pulled an entirely lame maneuver in Delhi while we were rushing to fill a new bag with purchases and items out of our checked bags, so we could make the domestic weight limit of 33 pounds. In the rush, I transferred my special Sikkim entry permit and photos to the bag that was to be left in Delhi and picked up before our international flights. After not being able to find the document and photos in Darjeeling, I came as close to losing it as I have the entire trip.  Sunil seemed pretty confident that it was no problem, took my photo with his cell phone, had it printed in a little town on the way to Sikkim and somehow obtained a permit, all in about 20 minutes.  Guess going to Sikkim isn’t the big deal it use to be…..thank goodness.


The ladies weeding the tea garden above haven’t been paid for 6 months according to a woman selling snacks from a little roadside shed.  She also worked in the tea garden, but it hasn’t been doing well. To get by and make some money, she started her little snack business. The women will get paid as soon as the tea is picked and sold.  It was just beginning to leaf out with the new growth, that is picked for market. I got a few snacks with Sunil’s help, explaining that I was too upset about my permit to eat breakfast.


We stopped at an overlook on the road out of Darjeeling, to view the Teesta river that divides Darjeeling, West Bengal (on the right) and Sikkim (on the left). Sunil surprised me with a teak leaf bowl of steamed dumplings with chopped, seasoned vegetables inside and another bowl with slices of cucumber for breakfast. Very, very yummy! I’m going to have to learn how to make them.


The trip was uneventful, roads greatly improved over the past several years and the views spectacular.  We drove through Teak and Pine forests with ferns and a bit of tropical looking vegetation. There were spots where the hairpin turns were continuous and one area where we were going around in a tight corkscrew for a number of rotations.


Loved this little narrow bridge. A tour bus was stuck unable to cross because of weight. They were frantically trying to figure out someway to get their passengers across and in taxis to complete the trip to Sikkim.


We stopped at the border, Sunil took my passport, photos and India Visa into an office and he walked out with my Sikkim permit.  It didn’t cost anything, so I paid Sunil back 100 rupees for the photos ($1.47) and we were on our way to the capital city of Gangtok. Sikkim was an independent country until 1975 when a referendum and the Indian military deposed the Sikkimese monarchy. The country was joined to India as it’s 22 state. Sikkim is valuable to India as it borders China, Bhutan, Nepal and West Bengal.  India was mostly interested in obtaining Sikkim to keep the Chinese from invading the country after China’s invasion of Tibet. Today the state has an certain amount of autonomy from India, with a lot less bureaucracy.  There is heavy military presence, because of the sensitive border relations with China. The hotel I’m staying in was a guest house for the last, 12th Chogyal (king) of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal and his American wife Hope Cooke. They were divorced in 1980 and the Chogyal died in 1982 in New York City.


March 13th is the Hindu Holi festival or ‘festival of colors’, sometimes known as the ‘festival of love’. This is a huge festival that is celebrated throughout the country. It’s the festival of new beginnings, the victory of good over evil, of the arrival of spring, of the end of winter and thanksgiving for a good harvest. It is a time to make amends, forgive and forget, and to repair relations. The festival lasts two days, and people were celebrating by covering themselves and each other with powdered colors of magenta, yellow, green and blue, as we drove through small villages. The celebration went well into the night with everyone having a good time.

India, March 12, 2017

Day 27-Darjeeling

It was supposed to be a super early morning with a 4:30 am pick up for a 45 minute drive up Tiger Hill to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas. We were somewhat  relieved that the rain and fog made visibility so bad it wasn’t worth making the journey. We have had a lot of early starts with not enough sleep, so enjoyed the leisurely pick up at 9 am.IMG_0720

Our first adventure today was taking the 2′ narrow gauge train from Darjeeling to Ghum (7407′ elevation) a 4 mile trip each way. The narrow gauge allows the trains to run through the tight, twisting mountains. The train runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal.  When the railway opened in 1881 it was the major means of transportation between the hill villages and towns. It now traverses 48 miles in the incredibly mountainous terrain with 4 diesel locomotives.  Our little vintage locomotive was a coal fired steam engine, built by the British, that spewed coal smoke and had a whistle that could raise the dead. All in all a fun experience, with great views of the little villages perched on mountains and in the valleys. The photo below is of a Monastery we passed on our way to Ghum.



These massive retaining walls are what’s holding up the mountainside roads, train tracks and structures in many places.


Back to the hotel for a quick lunch break, then we were off on a walking tour of Darjeeling Mountaineering Institute, Museum and Zoological Park.



The Mountaineering Museum was very interesting with all the Himalayan peaks shown along with equipment, letters, journals and photos from all the most famous expeditions. There were also displays of the evolution of climbing equipment. Unfortunately no photos are allowed in the museum. I did get one shot outdoors of the memorial to Tenzing Norgay (from Darjeeling) the first man to summit Everest with Edmund Hillary. The featured photo, courtesy of Suzanne, is of the third highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga (elevation of 28,169′). It lies partly in Nepal and partly in Sikkim in the central part of the Himalayan range. This shot was taken a short distance from our hotel.



As you can probably imagine from the photos, the Zoological Park is on the side of a hill, so you are looking down or up and the animal enclosures. I was thrilled to see a Snow leopard, Black bear and a Red Panda, plus a plethora of others animals. The park has a very successful breeding program for the endangered Snow leopards and Red pandas. The Red panda below was especially hard to get a picture of, because he never held still. I’m not sure if the photo below is mine or Suzanne’s, we were both taking multiple pictures trying to get a visible shot of him in focus.





We have been doing better than I expected with the Darjeeling elevation of 7000′. There is some puffing while we walk the steep streets and stairs of Darjeeling. My iPhone claims we walked about 3 miles today and did the equivalent of 22 flights of stairs. I’m amazed we managed with the thin air.


Thought you might like a see a bit of our mountain station room at night with the coal fire going. One thing I neglected to mention in the description of our abode in yesterday’s blog is that the toilet that is 14″ off the floor, an excellent exercise program using the loo….

India, March 10th & 11th, 2017

Days 25 & 26, Varanasi to Delhi to Darjeeling

Early run to the airport again….I know it’s faster to fly, but sometimes I wonder if that’s true with all the airport hoops that have to be cleared.  This trip definitely is my record for in country flights.  We will had have 8 flights within India by the time the trip is over.  The price to be paid for seeing all the different places we wanted to go.  After landing in Delhi we went back to the Pullman Hotel, pampered ourselves in the big soaking tub, ate a great dinner, hung out in the bar while I worked on the blog and generally did nothing of consequence, so much for March 10th….a day off.

The next day we were driven to the airport for our flight to Bagdogra, the closest airport to Darjeeling.  From there it is supposed to be about a 3 to 3 1/2 hour drive up into the Himalayan foothills to Darjeeling.


On our car drive we saw a lot of tea farms with large trees to provide shade for the tea bushes.  Here are women out picking the tender new tea leaves to be processed. We were greeted when we pulled off the road to watch the pickers, by a very friendly group of goodwill ambassadors.


When we left Portland the average temperatures in Darjeeling were suppose to be in the low 60’s, but it poured rain the night before we arrived and the temperatures dropped to the low to mid-40’s.  Guess we are getting acclimated to head home. Anyway a fairly heavy fog settled in and we ended up taking 4 hours to reach Darjeeling on a narrow, steep, hairpin road.  It was a nerve wracking trip. I had to close my eyes everytime a large truck or car would loom out of the fog and force us to the edge of the road.  By the time we reached Darjeeling, we had gained 7000′ in elevation and were frazzled beyond anything experienced on the trip.  We did get one brief clearing when I could take some pictures. The large flowering tree in the lower right corner of the featured photo is a Magnolia. Many of the houses are lined with pots of flowers along their balconies and patios.


We are staying at the Windermere Hotel, which is rated 4 1/2 stars on Trip Advisor.  The hotel was built in 1880 and is vintage according to the hotel description, which means original except for indoor plumbing and electricity; very quirky and funky.  The food is great, the wifi is great, the beds are very hard, we have a coal burning fireplace and a very large room.  This photo is of the reception area with Sunil, our guide.


India, March 9, 2017

Day 24

We are scrambling (we seem to do a lot of that) in the morning, so we can meet Dada for a 6 am Sunrise boat ride on the Ganges. We sat next to a British couple at dinner the previous evening. They had been on an evening boat ride and said the mosquitoes were in black, dense clouds and that they had to return early. Suzanne and I slathered ourselves in bug repellent for our morning boat ride. We went old school with a classic wooden boat and oarsman (featured photo), a quiet, serene way to see the city. The priests sit under the umbrellas (third photo down) and for a few rupees will watch people’s possessions while they take a dip in the holy river.




I had read about the public cremations in Varanasi. We saw one on our boat trip along the shoreline. There are two main cremation spots along our nearby stretch of bank. The cremation spot in the photo below was in use. The fuel is electrically fired wood, which is the least expensive cremation. It takes about 2 to 3 hours depending on body mass. The traditional cremation is all wood fired and takes 3 to 4 hours, although our British friend said it would be 5 hours for him. Turns out that the mosquitoes aren’t as fond of daytime on the river…. lucky us.


On the way back to our hotel, a gust of wind took my hat into the river.  The oarsman kindly retrieved it for me, so now I have a holy hat….

After a rest and breakfast at the hotel, we set out on a market/city walk, taking a small lane paralleling the Ganges that was lined with shops, ashrams and hostels. We enjoyed a very welcome breeze off the river that made the hot day bearable. The local sights along the way were varied and interesting.



Here are some urban monkeys sitting on a wall watching the world go by. Someone put a string of fried bread around this dogs neck, he was having a hard time eating them as the string was so long he kept getting tripped up.  It appeared that there were stray dogs everywhere, but Dada kept calling them by name, so I’m unsure that they’re completely homeless.


This photo above is of a Betel nut shop where people can buy the nut to chew. This to touted as a health practice, but in reality is extremely harmful with habitual chewers having a greatly increased risk of developing a broad range of serious diseases.


We stopped for a break at a small cafe. Suzanne ordered a lemon ginger honey tea that was delicious and soothing. I ordered a chocolate brownie that was cooked to perfection in a wood fired oven. The portion was so generous that we gave about half away.

Back to the hotel for another rest up before attending the evening Aarati ceremony on the Ganges. The Aarati (Aa..meaning ‘complete’ & rati…meaning ‘love’) ceremony involves singing and waving lighted wicks before sacred images, in this case the Ganges, to infuse the flames with the deities love, energy and blessings.*


A long day and we are off to bed for an 8 am pickup to the airport for Delhi and on to Darjeeling.

*from BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha London website

India, March 8, 2017

Day 23

We arrived in Varanasi, and met our guide who goes by Dada, because most foreigners can’t pronounce his name. Dada is a nickname for someone of the Brahmin caste. There are four main castes; Brahmin, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras, which are further divided about 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes. It is generally believed that the caste system is 3000 years old and originated in the Hindu religion based on karma (work) and dharma (duty)*. Independent India has banned discrimination based on caste. There has also been an effort to right past inequalities by providing job and education quotas for the lower castes. In certain Southern states and in the northern state of Bihar, many people began using just one name after social reform movements. Despite the changes, caste identities remain strong, and last names are almost always indicative of which caste a person belongs to*. On our way into town we let our guide know that we wanted to change the tour itinerary for the next day.  More people, less monuments….he was very agreeable regarding the changes in what we wanted to see and immediately suggested we go to a shop. We’ve given up on trying to get out of these shopping excursions; we smile, occasionally drink the beverages offered and occasionally buy things….OK, maybe more than occasionally, which is the whole purpose, right? Most of these shops have demonstrations of whatever craft they are selling. The store we visited this day creates and sells, woven silk tapestries.



As you can see from the featured photo Varanasi is congested beyond belief; people, rickshaws, cars, tractors, trucks, handcarts, cows, dogs and bikes all trying to navigate the highways.  Plus it’s election time in the state of Uttar Pradesh and the city is filled with military that have arrived in large buses that are contributing to the traffic snarls. When we reached old town the roads got even narrower, with little more than narrow alleys in many areas. The taxi from the airport dropped us off on a narrow alley, where we walked a little over a 1/4 mile to our hotel which is accessible only by motorcycle or foot. The hotel employees met us a the street entrance to take our bags. I wouldn’t want their job of dodging motorcycles, dogs and cows while carrying luggage. Suzanne and I were concentrating on cobbles, cow pies, people, bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws and cow blockages on our way. Good practice for our market walk the next day. Some of the sights along the way….


This is a Ashram was along our walk. Most the the Ashrams in this area are for students, widows and anyone else that will follow the tenets of that particular religious sect of Hinduism. Housing, food and care are provided for followers. We also saw a couple interesting temples on the way that are different from any other’s we have seen so far. The temple on the right is in the style of temples in southern India. The temple on the left is dedicated to Shiva.

The hotel is an old renovated palace that sits right above the Ganges. It is a very simple and pleasant place to stay. The food is all vegetarian with no alcohol as it is next to the holy river.



Here I am futility trying to blog in Varanasi. Hopelessly weak wifi and no cellular service. Oh well, there is always tomorrow to try…..

Suzanne and I have enjoyed sitting out on the balcony or roof to watch the water buffalo and people bathing in the river.

*from BBC news, February 25, 2016

India, March 7th & 8th

Day 22 & 23
On our last night at Samode Safari Lodge the staff went all out to create a special dinner experience.  Every night we dined in a different part of the property, sometimes with others and sometimes by ourselves. This evening we shared our dinner spot with the couple from Finland.

The next morning we were up and in the car by 8:15 am for what turned out to be a bone jarring 6 hour drive to Khajuraho over very rough roads. Khajuraho is a small town of around 19,000 people that is know for it’s famous Jain and Hindu erotically carved temples, although the erotic carvings are only 10% of the total temple carvings.

The evening we arrived was highlighted by a show of Indian folk dancing and music. The dancers were young and enthusiastic. The show was professional without being slick and was throughly enjoyable (featured photo).



Out early the next morning to see the temples. I’m not sure how two venerable ladies traveling through India managed to get this racy World Heritage Site on the itinerary, but it turned out to be well worth the trip. Here are a couple bird sightings while wandering around the Jain temples.


There is much debate as to why the carvings were created showing different Tantric and Kamasutra sexual positions.  According to our guide, Tantric sex was the one of three ways of attaining nirvana and was considered a short cut. The carvings with more than two people are Tantric and the couples only are Kamasutra (strictly pleasure). The Tantric carvings include a Tantric teacher that can be identified by his short hair cut. His consort would be to the other side and the couple having Tantric sex would be in the middle. In other carvings, kings are depicted by facial hair and large eyes, gods are depicted with multiple arms (see below, right). Teacher’s and priests could also have facial hair and can be identified by what’s going on around them. The smaller people in the carvings are not children, but people of lesser status. There were many carvings of women reading, fixing their hair and dancing. The woman in the carving below is an excellent example of the fine carving in these figures. Even the delicate fabric she is wearing has been rendered perfectly.  The temples were built in the 9th to 11th centuries with hand tools. It’s hard to imagine the time it must have taken to create each piece. There were 85 temples by the 12th century with 25 temples surviving today.



What is that elephant looking at?  Tsk…tsk….



A very quick trip to Khajuraho, then we are off to the airport for a 2:05 pm flight to Varanasi to spend some time enjoying the holy river Ganges.

India, March 4th, 5th & 6th


Days 20, 21 & 22
March 4th-a travel day, up at 5 am for a 2.5 hour, 8:05 am flight from Delhi to Jabalpur. Our last trip with Paramjeet. Suzanne and I both had tears in our eyes as we thanked him profusely when saying goodbye. After arriving in Jabalpur we hopped in a car with a new driver for a 5 hour drive to Bandhavgarh a National Park and Tiger Reserve consisting of 111,691 acres located in the state of Madhya Pradesh. This jungle is much more dense with vegetation than Ranthambhore. We arrived late in the afternoon and rested up from our early start. The lodge is off a single lane paved road, 5 kilometers over rutted, dirt road. As you can see Samode is a classic Safari Lodge. We have enjoyed the welcoming staff and remote location. The setting is lovely, but the wifi is sporadic, so that’s why there haven’t been any posts to the blog the past few days. Back to the single lane road…it is used as a two lane highway, which means driving off road when a big truck goes by.




March 5th-Suzanne has a bit of a cold and she was concerned about the effects of all the dust on her sore throat and coughing, so I went out on Safari as the only guest with the naturalist and driver. The safaris are from 6 am to 11 am in the mornings and 2:30 pm to 7 pm in the evenings. In the afternoon a couple showed up from Finland and they rode with me.  Very nice people that are fun to ride with in the park. The morning and afternoon safari’s both had good Tiger sightings, along with Indian Boar, Gazelle, Langur monkeys, Sambar and Spotted deer.  The Tiger warning sound that I added to a prior blog was a Sambar deer. The Gray Langur monkey below has a brand new baby. And the last photo in the group below is of a Changable Hawk Eagle, note the very long legs as he stands on his kill of a jungle fowl.





The park is surrounded by a buffer zone where the local people are allowed to graze their animals and cut deadwood. At 6 am when we were on our way to safari, we’ve noticed a steady stream of wild herbivores all migrating back to the safety of the park. They have spent the night out raiding the farmer’s fields of wheat, mustard and hay. In self defense the farmer’s spend the night protecting their crops while keeping watch from these little elevated huts.  This guy has evidently had a hard night. If it gets cold, the lookout builds a little fire on the ground underneath the sleeping platform to stay warm.


March 6th-Suzanne is feeling better and we are driving into a different zone of the park later today with less dust and smoother roads, so she will able to come along.  I am jealous the she was able to visit the local tribal village today while I was out of the morning safari.  No tigers today!  But lots of beautiful birds, wild boar, Gaur and even a Small Indian Civet.


These are two little 7″ green bee-eaters.

A Coppersmith Barbet and a White-throated Kingfisher. The featured photo is an Indian Roller scratching his ear.


The Gaur was jaw droppingly massive, weighing in at about 3300 pounds. This guy had muscles on muscles.

The morning safari always has a snack stop, because we leave the lodge before breakfast.  Everyone drives to ‘the center’ and stops for a potty break and food.  The local people have set up small kiosks with hot Chai tea, potato chips and other items for sale.



India, March 2 & 3, 2017

Days 18 & 19, Agra to Delhi

Day 18 was a travel day with Paramjeet taking us from Agra to Delhi.  We drove on the expressway through very fertile farmland where harvest was in full swing.  Unfortunately for the farmers it started raining about 2 hours into a 4.5 hour trip. This is the first rain we’ve encountered on our trip.  There was serious rain with a brief lightening display.  It started clearing up about and hour out of Delhi, which was a good thing because we had to stop for a low tire. There was a pole with an old tire hanging on top and Paramjeet pulled to the side of the road.  Turns out that hanging tire was a sign for a tire repair shop. Note the generator run compressor with the air hose that is running up to the highway about 100 feet away. Amazing ingenuity….and they seem to be busy.




We arrived in Delhi and got settled in our room to rest up for a the next day of seeing the sites.  Since we had a free afternoon Suzanne and I scheduled a little pampering with the hotel salon.  What a fascinating experience that was.  Several of the Indian ladies were absolute divas, carrying on about any tiny or imagined slight or problem. The assistants in the salon were men, so strange in a male dominated society. They held the hair dryer, while a woman stylist arranged hair and I was astounded that the person doing my pedicure was a man.

Having a bit of travel under our belts we decided we needed more people and fewer monuments, palaces and forts. When we met with the guide we told him we wanted to go to the old spice market and a bazaar.  We did agree to see the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, and drive by the India Gate. Plus we did a quick viewing of one of Delhi’s precursor cities. Delhi was originally made up of seven Muslim cities (pre-Mughal), they were built 1300-1700, ruins still exist.



One of the things we haven’t done is to visit a Sikh temple. Today was our opportunity.  The Sikh’s were founded in 1500, an offshoot of the Hindu religion. They wear turbans, don’t cut their hair, feed their adherents in communal kitchens, reject idolatry and the caste system. We removed our shoes and bathed our feet and hands, covered our heads with special scarves before we entered the temple.  The men seated to the left are musicians and the people standing in front are praying to the holy book under the golden canopy.

On our way to the spice market, we passed this bakery that has been in business since 1901.


Khari Baoli the spice market is location in Old Dehli, with it’s crowded narrow streets and random looking nests of electrical wires. These are a few shops in the retail portion of the spice market that has existed since before Delhi was a city.

The hanging items are tubes of various nuts that look like a strange lei that are placed around the neck.  They are for the festival of colors that takes place later this month.  The spice market has been operating since the 17th century with retail and wholesale portions of the market. Delhi was on a portion of the ancient Spice Road. This market is reputed to be the largest spice market in Asia.


Our guide, Ram, led us to the interior of the spice market where the wholesale spice trade takes place. There was dried ginger, coriander, turmeric, coconut, anise, chili’s, mulberries, prunes, figs, dates, rice, nuts, grains, salts and more we couldn’t identify. The air was thick with airborne spices and dust kicked up by the sweepers. Everyone was coughing and sneezing. Men carrying huge burlap bags of spices piled on their heads were passing in a steady stream and we were dodging to get out of the way. Up several staircases, we reached the roof of the market to take in the whole scene of chaotic commerce (see above and featured photo).


The memorial to Mahatma Gandhi who was assasinated by a Hindu extremist. In some quarters Gandhi was blamed for the loss of the area that is now Pakistan. The inscription on the front of the memorial says ‘Oh God’, Mahatma Gandhi’s last words.




India, March 1, 2017

Day 17, Agra

We awoke feeling fine after our champagne birthday celebration, showered and ran down to breakfast to fuel up for a big day.  First up was the Taj Mahal, one of the 7 wonders of the world, of which I’m sure you’ve seen a multitude of photos. Hope you don’t mind suffering through a few more.  There are 3 gates into the complex, with the river on the 4th side.  The east gate is for public entry.


The fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Japan (grandson of Akbar the Great) started building the Taj Mahal in 1632 as a final resting place for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. They met at the courts annual Market bazaar, with the court women selling jewelry, textiles, etc. and the men doing the buying.  Shah Japan was interested in a necklace Mumtaz Mahal was selling.  She knew he was a prince, so she asked an astronomical amount of money, which he promptly paid.  He was 15 years old and she was 13 years old when they fell in love and arranged to marry. They had to wait until they were adults and then Mumtaz had to go back to Persia to her family, they ended up marrying at 19 and 17. Mumtaz Mahal, daughter of the finance minister, was the only wife to live with the emperor.  They had 14 children, 6 of which survived to adulthood.  The birth of the last child, a girl, was the cause of Mumtaz Mahal’s death at the age of 35.





The Taj Mahal is in the process of being cleaned, they are working on the last minaret and body of the building. You can see that the left white marble columns are much whiter than the body of the mausoleum. It took 22 years to build the structure, using 20,000 artisans and 1,000 elephants. The architecture has a combination of Persian and Mughal elements.


No chemicals are used in the cleaning.  A special mud is rubbed on the stone, allowed to dry, then is washed away with cloths and water.


There is a mosque in the complex that is still in use today.  Each of the design squares on the floor are for a man to kneel in prayer.

Then we were off to the Agra Fort….what another fort!!  This may be our last one, if there’s anyway to wiggle out of the rest.  We would much rather see the bazaar and spice market in Delhi.  Anyway this fort is unique with a moat and drawbridge and another beautiful palace.

Suzanne and I were flagging by the time we got to the Baby Taj.  The name is a misnomer.  The only elements they have in common are the white marble and the fact they are both mausoleums.


The Baby Taj was built in 1622 and is a jewel box of paintings, whereas the Taj Mahal is all inlaid semi-precious stones. Also the architectural styles are different, with the Baby Taj strictly Mughal. The mausoleum was built as the resting place of Mirza Ghiyas Beg (grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal) by his daughter.



The little figures in the sky portion of the paintings look like a representation of wind or birds, but in fact they are spirits.


Here is a photo of our most excellent driver and friend, Paramjeet (left) with our guide for the last two days, Zeesahn.


India, February 28, 2017

Day 16, Ranthambhore to Agra

An early 5:15 am morning because of a 6:15 am pick up to the train station. The hotel was very accommodating, fixing us an early breakfast box to go. Fortunately our guide to Ranthambhore met us to shepherd us through a very confusing train station to the correct platform and carriage. Our car was 1st class (not kidding) as you can see below.



We had a 2.5 hour trip through the countryside. We munched on our breakfast and marveled at some early morning chatterboxes. Suzanne and I do well together in the mornings, without too much talk before coffee and tea.


Off the train in Bharatpur, Paramjeet was standing on the platform to greet us.
We are stopping here to Fatehpur Sikri, a beautiful, deserted city, built in 1571 by the third Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great.



Akbar was the first Mughal born in India and he felt himself to be Indian. The people also felt he was their Emperor rather than an invader like his forefathers. They gave him the title ‘the Great’. He instituted many changes for the good, such as banning Suttee, the practice of widow immolation. It took until 1988 for Suttee to start disappearing, due to criminalization of the practice. Akbar had 3 wives, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Portuguese Catholic wife. He felt there was one god and all his wives were able to practice their own religion. The three religions of his wives were incorporated into the architecture of Fatehpur Sikri. In the column below, there are church windows and doors towards the top of the photo, then Islamic arches, followed by lotus flowers of the Hindus.


Unable to father a son to continue his dynasty, Akbar was given a prophecy by a Sufi saint when he stopped to rest in this small village. The Sufi told him not to worry, he would have sons and within 2 years the Hindu wife had gave birth to a son. She ended up giving birth to 3 sons. Akbar moved the capital of India from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri to be near the Sufi saint with his wives.  They resided there for 14 years, until the small lake that supplied water to the city dried up.  At that point the royal court moved back to Agra.  The emperor sat in the elevated dias of this room with his advisors on the balconies and the people below following the proceedings.




On to Agra to celebrate Suzanne’s birthday and get ready for the Taj Mahal tomorrow.  Paramjeet took me to a wine shop for champagne, Mr. Deepak with Indo Asia Tours arranged cake, Paramjeet bought flowers and I took Suzanne for a Chinese dinner. Everyone in the hotel seemed to know it was her birthday, so birthday wishes were expressed by reception, housekeeping, waiters and Mr. Deepak himself.  I think it was a success.  Here is Suzanne’s birthday shrine.