September 25, 26 and 27
We left the ship in Mumbai at 6:30 AM for our flight to Delhi. Security is very tight. You go through a scanner before you even enter the airport, show your documents to two separate people, then men and women go in different lines where EVERYONE is patted down, the women in a curtained area. We started wondering if all of the people that seem to be needed for all this is to keep people employed.
Our guide is Sunil Gupta and he is a wealth of information. 87 people came on this trip, and there were four buses, so there was lots of room to spread out. We heard some of the info in Mumbai, but some other information:
India is the largest democracy in the world. It is a secular country with 4 major religions,and 76% of the population is Hindu. There are, however, 300,000 mosques in India. There ae 23 official languages but over 300 languages are actually spoken here.
Average income in India is 1600-1800 American dollars a year.
Castes are officially no longer recognized but unofficially some still believe in that system. There is “reservation” system for the former untouchables to get educations, sort of like what we know as affirmative action but many don’t believe in it because many who get into medical school, etc, are not able to do the work and don’t complete.
We enjoyed the drive through Delhi and the countryside, so very different from Mumbai – lots of green spaces and they have built an expressway from Delhi to Agra, so we were on it a lot of the way. Initially we were scheduled to fly into Agra, but that flight was cancelled a while ago, so we went by bus from Delhi.
We arrived at the ITC Mughal hotel just after 6:15, checked in and had time to freshen up before our 7 PM dinner.
The hotel is beautiful! We had a wonderful dinner with entertainment – Classical Kathak Dance performance, which is the fusion of Hindu and Muslim cultures during the Mughal era, and is characterized by rhythmic footwork, spectacular spins, mime and gestures that dramatically trpresent themes from Persian poetry and Hindu mythology. . Then went to bed pretty soon after as we leave the hotel at 5:15 in the morning to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise.
We arrived at the Taj Mahal in time for sunrise. They start letting people in at 6:05, and we were among the first. Again, much security and you could really only take a camera and water with you.
The first sight was just spectacular!
What we never realized is that the marble structure you see in all the photos is just a part of the Taj Mahal complex. It is, of course, a mauseleum, not a temple, There is a red sandstone enclosure, a mosque and a “fake mosque” that matches the other one, never used but everything has to be symmetrical! It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favorite wife of three, Mumtaz MahalIt. You get to view the replicas of the tombs but not the real ones anymore – since the terrorist attacks in India, many things are restricted.
After the visit which was everything we anticipated and more, we returned to the hotel for breakfast, then went to the Agra Fort, which is behind the Taj and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It really was a city within a city back in the day but now it is mostly used as housing for the army. We can only visit the non military parts. It is made of red sandstone, the same as the walls surrounding the Taj Mahal.
At the end of his life, Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal) was deposed and restrained by his son, Aurangzeb, in the fort. It is rumored that Shah Jahan died in Muasamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony with a view of the Taj Mahal. We did get to see the room he was imprisoned in. His son also killed his three brothers because he wanted to be the ruler. Sounds like a lovely guy.
We returned to the hotel for lunch and to check out, then headed back to Delhi for our flight to Mangalore in the morning. They had an astrologer outside of the ballroom who was amazingly accurate in telling me about my life and what may be ahead (not sure if that part will be accurate, but if it is, that’s good!) Fun, anyway.
Agrra has 4 million people and I think we saw most of them on our trip out of town. Here there are cows, donkeys, goats, dogs, camels, and yes, even an elephant (Sunil said it was a “personal elephant” belonging to someone.) They are in the streets competing with the motorccycles, trucks, bicycles, cars, tuk-tuks, etc – and it is an impossibly hectic atmosphere. The cows can lie down in the middle of the road and because they are sacred here, no one can move them. They do this because the exhaust from the cars keeps the flies off of them!
We stopped at this rest stop ( they were making fruit drinks) and to follow up on the employement comment – the rest rooms have no toilet paper in them, there is a woman who hands you some as you enter ( for a tip of course!)
The hotel in Delhi was one of the most spectacular we have seen anywhere – it is part of the Oberoi group of hotels. You can see by the kind of shops they have there what kind of a hotel it is! We were greeted with mango juice and these leis of real flowers. Dinner was delicious again, and an early night as we need to have breakfast at 4:45.Flight back from Delhi stopped in Mumbai before going to Mangalore where we had a guide on our way back to the ship.
In Mangalore, there are many religions, 5 million population but it is very green and quite pretty. They are the largest exporter of cashews. Many religions are represented here, but they were influenced by the Jesuits early – and the educational system is largely Jesuit. There are 258 churches here.
Many lovely beaches draw people to Mangalore.
OK, enough for now – I will post about Cochin (where we toured today) in tomorrow’s blog post.