India and the Taj Mahal

April 18- Irene and I were met by the representative of Zutshi at 6AM as we disembarked the Regent Seven Seas Voyager. We had to pass through immigration again and unload all our baggage, which was then put through an x-ray machine. After everything cleared, we had to reload the car and were on our way to the airport. Arriving at the Mumbai domestic airport, our Zutshi representative helped us check in for our flight (and saved us a great deal of money, as our luggage was over the weight limits, but he worked it out with the Air India rep.)
Rambagh Palace

Rambagh Palace

It was a short 1 ½ hour flight to Jaipur and again we were met by a Zutshi rep and driver. We were whisked to our hotel, the Rambagh Palace. And what a palace it was! We were greeted by at least six people -- one threw rose petals, another held a large umbrella over Irene (to keep out the sun, of course, as we walked the 10-ft. to the lobby.) Drinks and exchanges were done in the lobby and then up to our room. But this was not a room -- it was a magnificent suite! I have attached some photos to show you the size and beauty. The furniture alone was worth the night’s rate. (And of course Irene was thrilled that there were two full baths and we didn’t have to share.) After a quick lunch, our guide met us in the lobby and we were off sightseeing in Jaipur. It is very difficult to describe the chaos of driving in the streets of India, and Jaipur was no exception. The story goes that you need three good things to drive in India: a good horn, good brakes, and good luck. The cars are share the road with cows, camels, donkeys, Tuk Tuks, wagons, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, vendors and assorted other animals and humans. There are no lines separating lanes in the road; nobody would follow them anyway. While we did see a few accidents, we were amazed we did not see many more.
Amber Fort

Amber Fort

Jaipur is called the Pink City, as much of the city center is filled with palaces and forts that are made of pink sandstone. We passed the Hawa Mahal, the most recognizable monument in Jaipur with five stories and 152 windows, with hanging latticed balconies. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a memorable picture because the building was covered with bamboo latticework as it was being renovated and reinforced. Our next stop was an outdoor astronomical observatory, with many instruments that are in use today, even though it was built in 1728. The City Palace is magnificent and we explored it.
snake charmer

snake charmer

The craziness of India is everywhere. As we were walking in a square, a snake charmer approached us, pulled out a canvas bag, then a basket and a flute, and plopped down. A huge cobra came out of the basket under the influence (hopefully) of the charmer. Irene was horrified and pulled back quickly. I stood by realizing the man expected money. I was not going to walk away without giving him something, because I was afraid of what might have happened if, after watching his act, I walked away without paying. The street markets were colorful and lively in every sense of the word. Clothing, magnificent flowers, housewares, and everything you could imagine were on sale. The most interesting were the stalls we saw where brides and their mothers were shopping for wedding dresses. After a long day, we went back to the Rambagh Palace to rest before dinner. I forgot to mention that while we were having lunch that afternoon at the hotel, the sous chef of the Indian restaurant approached us. He found out we had a reservation in his restaurant for dinner that night, and wanted to know what he could make for us. We told him we did not like very spicy food. He asked us if we like chicken beef, fish and other dishes. When we sat down for dinner that evening in a spectacularly beautiful restaurant, we never saw a menu. The dishes just kept coming out. The food was wonderful and the service beyond belief. The sous chef kept coming out of the kitchen to see how we were enjoying the meal. The following morning after breakfast, we were met by our guide and driver, Dev, and off we went to see one of the highlights of Jaipur, the Amber Fort. It was quite interesting and the views were extraordinary. From Jaipur we set out on a 5-hour journey by car to Agra. On the way we stopped to visit Fatehpur Sikri, the imperial city of the Mughal dynasty between 1571 and 1584. The architectural grandeur of this deserted city cannot be described in words. I hope my photographs do it justice. Late that afternoon we arrived in Agra and our hotel, The Oberoi Amarvilas. Another palace! First and foremost, every room overlooks the Taj Mahal. Of course, we did not have a room, but another magnificent suite (all due to Zutshi). The grounds, gardens and swimming pool were stunning. We showered and met friends from the cruise for dinner at the hotel and early to bed, as we wanted to get to the Taj Mahal by dawn.
Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

One can’t drive to the Taj in a car as the city wants to keep pollution to an absolute minimum. Our alternative transportation -- a golf cart. The Taj Mahal is sheer poetry in marble. This monumental labor of love of a great ruler for his beloved queen took 22 years and 20,000 people to build. We were fortunate to arrive so early in the morning, as the crowds were not bad. We had several hours of leisurely walking, resting, looking, sitting, contemplating the awesome wonder of the world. We returned to the hotel for breakfast and then packed up the car for the drive to our last stop in India -- Delhi. On the way we visited the fabulous Agra Fort and stopped at a factory where all sorts of tables and other items are made using semi-precious inlaid stone in marble. We saw artists at work, and did buy a table for our home. Our friend, Akshay, one of two brothers who own Zutshi, suggested we stay at the Oberoi in Gurgaon, only 15 minutes from the Delhi Airport. Believe me, this is no “airport hotel”. It was gorgeous. We had a real treat in store for us that evening as Akshay and his brother Ajay, invited us for dinner at his house in Delhi. It was very special! First of all, it was not a house but a farm on 2 ½ acres with magnificent gardens, a swimming pool and tennis court. But the beauty of the home is not what made the evening so special. Both families were there, including Ajay’s 17-year-old daughter and Akshay’s 1-year-old son. Both wives were there as well. They were so hospitable, we felt like part of the family. The food and drinks were wonderful. We hated to leave, but we had an early day the next day, our last day in India before returning home. After breakfast we met our guide for a whirlwind day of sightseeing in old and New Delhi. One of the highlights was visiting Rajghat, the last resting place of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandi. On to the Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India. Then to Qutab Minar, one of the finest stone towers in India. The India Gate and Humayun’s tomb both proved to be very interesting. Irene and I boarded a cycle-rickshaw for a ride in the crowded market of Chandini Chowk with tiny narrow streets and shops and stalls on both sides. We returned to the hotel to pack, have dinner and were on our way to the airport for our 12:30AM flight to Paris, and our return home. I can’t say enough about what a great job Zutshi did for us during our last days in India. Accommodations, guides, drivers, sightseeing — everything was exceptional and went off like clockwork -- just perfect. I heartily recommend this company for anyone interested in visiting India. Our agents at Alice Travel look forward to working with you to plan an extraordinary trip to one of the most interesting places on earth, India. This blog does not do justice to all the experiences and beauty we saw on our 28 days in Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India. Yes, it did turn out to be the “trip of a lifetime”!
Please view my gallery from this trip.
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