Tag Archives: fort

Zip it…………

Many expats will tell you that they key to surviving Delhi is occasionally leaving Delhi. And one of the first places they will tell you about is Neemrana Fort. It is about a 2-hour drive from Delhi (of course, that is depending on traffic, so that is a give or take 5 hours guesstimate.). The Fort was built in 1464 AD and it still feels pretty authentic. That sounded kind of silly, huh? How would I know if it was authentic, right? So, maybe I should say it seems like it feels like a fort might have felt a trillion years ago.

The fort boasts 10 levels of the best hide-and-go-seek land in India and is really just a lot of fun. But just so you know, ten levels means lots and lots of stairs! Comfy shoes ladies! Neemrana claims to have all the accommodations of a 5-star hotel – I am not completely sure about that. It has a absolutely different feel than a Ritz or Oberoi – but it is magnificent in its own right. It is certainly clean enough and the food is safe to eat – but it’s not really what I would call fancy schmancy. Of course, to be fair, it’s no Motel 6 either.

The rooms have a nostalgic air about them – with the added benefit of a/c and lights. But the windows are not sealed perfectly. Windows are surely not part of the authentic atmosphere of the fort – but if you are going to claim 5-star status, you might want to add a window here and there. Because the windows are not super air tight, mosquitoes do sneak in – so bring bug spray.

The rooms all have names rather than room numbers and padlocks instead of key cards. Super, super charming. Most of the rooms have patios or balconies with spectacular views of quaint “downtown” Neemrana.

There are also a few activities you can enjoy during your stay.

Every afternoon at 5p, there is a tea/biscuits serving on one of the rooftops. Immediately following the tea, they open a cash bar and this guy performs with his wife. At least, I think it was his wife, she kept her face covered the whole time so I don’t really know for sure who was under there.

You can also ride a camel down to a 9-story step well. This is a pretty cool thing to do. It takes about an hour. If it’s hot, I would recommend not doing this in the middle of the day. Two people can ride each camel and I believe they can get up to 3 camels at a time. So, if this is something you are interested in doing, definitely make reservations at the hotel office. And if remember correctly, the cost of this was 200 rupees per person. Seriously, how can you pass that up?

This guy hangs out near the camels. While he might be their BFF, you can absolutely take my word for it that he is not on the welcoming committee. He apparently had not had his cup of coffee yet and was none too happy to see us. So, if you see him near the camels – steer clear – tee hee – get it? Steer clear! Isn’t he charming? I couldn’t swear to it, but I think this guy was giving me the horn. 😉

This step well is where they dug and dug and dug some more for water. It goes down deep – nine stories – hence the very clever name – 9-story step well. And if you go down, just remember, what goes down must come up. Have a good breakfast first! You are gonna burn some calories!

Coming back up the 9 stories of steps.

You will pass by these villagers on your way to the fort. Some of the children called out for candy. If I did this again, I would definitely put a few lollipops in my pocket.

And then there is the flying fox zip line. This is uber fun and you won’t want to miss it. Kids have to be 10 years old to do it (unless your parents are willing to fib a little). And think twice about doing this if you are pregnant or really, really out of shape. I did it – so that sets the physical fitness bar pretty way down low but it is a good 20 minutes of hiking up a (very) steep hill. You get a resting break every 10 minutes or whenever you need it. But the reward is well worth the trek! And the early morning suggestion absolutely applies here too. This is not something you want to do in the middle of the day heat. They do give you (safe) drinking water to take with you.

This is me bringing up the rear making sure my kids safely make it up ahead of me and that no child gets left behind.

First you get a little training session. How to start, stop, and not fall off the zip line – all the things you’ll want to know before you jump off the side of a very big hill attached to a wire and absolutely nothing else.

And then you zip through the air like a flying fox. And you get to do it 5 times on 5 different lines. And if you anything like me, you are now thinking – “holy zip, batman, does that mean I have to hike up that hill 5 times?” Luckily, one climb up one big arse hill does equal 5 zips. You go up once and zig zag back down.

And the view is great from the top.

And, as with everywhere I go, there were gorgeous flowers every time I turned around.

And this guy jogging his donkeys round and round and round made me feel like I was walking through a National Geographic movie.

If you have been following this blog for awhile, you might remember that sometimes I add a “girlfriend’s guide” to the places we visit. Well here are some tips that might prove helpful…..

All of the meals are served as buffets (kind of expensive especially if your kids prefer plain pasta). Ask for the menu. They do not offer it to you and do not advertise the fact that there is one. But I have heard the french fries are yummy.

The rooms do not have tv, which is absolutely wonderful – unless you your kids are expecting a tv. Bring a deck of cards or a few board games. You won’t miss the tv a bit.

Bring a bathing suit – there is a pool and it’s likely to be hot.

Bring bug spray.

Bring some candles so you can experience what it would have been like at night in the rooms of the fort. Just remember to blow them out before you go to bed. If you actually want to light the candles, bring matches.

When you check out, check your bill carefully. We had a couple of charges that were not ours – that could have totally been an accidental one-time thing – but just in case.

When you check out and leave the entrance with suitcases, they will ask to see your receipt that you have paid the bill. Just have it handy.

Don’t miss the gift shop on the way out. It’s got lots of fun and different stuff in it that isn’t outrageously overpriced.

The literature tells you that you are not allowed to bring your own wine/alcohol into the property. This is where my philosophy of asking forgiveness rather than permission works very well. I didn’t find the wine list to be fantastic or reasonably priced at all – if I remember correctly, your only option is to buy the entire bottle of expensive, not yummy wine. So, do with that info what you will.

Wear comfortable shoes – there is a lot of walking up and down narrow stair cases – which is very fun – but not exactly conducive to high heeled shoes.

Have fun!

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye…….

My dear friend from college put out a request on Facebook to see who might be interested in taking her daughter’s Flat Elizabeth on an adventure.

If you have never been entrusted with a Flat Stanley and do not have any idea what I am talking about, you should really consider what kind of friend you have been. For those of us who are trustworthy and creative and just spectacular in general, sometimes our friends will send us a Flat Stanley (or other cutout doll named after their child).  There is a children’s book about a boy named Stanley who gets smushed by a blackboard and accidentally sealed in an envelope and he ends up on a grand adventure. And some teachers think it is a great idea for kids in their class to create their own cutout doll and send him/her on his/her own grand adventure.

It is a really fun way for the kids to learn about the world.

Being so competitive willing to help another mother out, I raised my hand immediately. And, no I did not knock three other mothers down in the process – remember it was a virtual competition – I behaved myself quite nicely. After all, I am a civilized competitor – but I might have shouted “me, me, me” into the web-o-sphere once or twice. Maybe. And maybe not. But maybe.

In fact, lots of people offered (to no avail) to play tour guide to Flat Elizabeth. My friend is a delightful person and so it makes sense that a lot of friends would offer to help her. And I am not at all suggesting that they are losers in the Flat Elizabeth campaign – but you can see where she ended up. 😉

On a slow train to Ranthambore – the tiger preserve in India. Oh, yes, in case you have forgotten, India is where “I” live. Flat Elizabeth came to visit me! Yahoo! Not the other losers friends who offered to help out. I’m just sayin – I won, I won. tee hee.

She was a delightful travel companion. She didn’t each much and never had to stop for potty breaks. She didn’t even fight with her siblings – of course, that might have something to do with the fact that she does not have any siblings – but she did not fight once. And, yes, she is absolutely adorable. My friend friend’s daughter  is no slacker. She would never send a ragtag Flat Elizabeth to visit.

So Elizabeth went on a tiger safari and saw real tigers.

She went to an Indian classroom and found her initial on the board.

She saw forts and monkeys and learned a lot about the emperors of India.

She also rode a camel and an elephant.

She played in a band.

The only snafu that we hit was that security was tight at the Taj Mahal and they would not let dolls in. Yes, I know you would think the real threat would be guns, knives, or other expl*sives. But apparently, dolls are also on the no-go list. I tried as hard as I could to get them to change their minds. I explained it was for a school project – that Flat Elizabeth is really not a terr*rist and meant no harm to the Indian people. But it seems to have more to do with advertising – they do not want people taking pictures of the Taj with dolls and using them for advertisements. And, yes, I did my best to explain that in the west, we do not consider a piece of paper a doll. No offense intended to Flat Elizabeth – as I mentioned, she is the bestest Flat Elizabeth e.v.e.r –  but she hasn’t actually been offered a modeling career and her intentions were purely academic.

But we did not let that stop us. We found a picture of the Taj and took her picture in front of it and checked the Taj Mahal off our list.

She also had her picture taken with a member of the royal family.

Okay, now you are just being picky. He was a member of the royal family and he is sadly no longer with us – but once we stretched our imagination with the Taj Mahal, anything went. So, yes, that is a picture of her with a king. Truth be told, I think he was actually flirting with her. Don’t laugh – they have a lot in common you know – being made of paper is just one of the fine qualities they shared. Although I think she is from better stock than he is – or was.

She even wore a makeshift sari.

She also got all the diet coke she wanted. Shhhhh. Don’t tell my friend that part. But we loaded her up on caffeine.

Flat Elizabeth also got to stay in a palace. And enjoyed every second of the royal treatment.

And her bath at the end of the day was nothing short of divine.

Somewhere along the line, poor Flat Elizabeth lost an eye. I have sworn myself to secrecy on this one – mostly because I have no idea how it happened. But my dear friend understands that traveling in India can be dangerous. She has assured me that she knows of a very reputable eye surgeon in the U.S. who will keep it all on the down low.

Unfortunately I did not take a picture of her with only one eye because I did not want any evidence of the mishap should I be asked to testify later simply forgot. But I assure you, she was the cutest dang one-eyed “doll” e.v.e.r.

All the votes are in and it is o.f.f.i.c.i.a.l. – I am the best Flat Elizabeth hostess ever. Me, Me, Me.

My friend was so grateful that she sent this note…

Dear Queen of all things Flat Elizabeth,

Thank you so much for opening your heart and home to Flat Elizabeth. Your adventures with her far exceeded our highest expectations. You are just amazing. Our project will be so much better than anyone else’s. You are a rock star. It is as simple as that. We are hereby nominating you to the highest order of Flat Elizabethness and crown you supreme hostess and tour guide. It is with humble hearts and grateful friendship that we thank you for all that you have done for us. Even Mother Teresa herself could not have done such justice to this project.

Okay – what it really said was …

Dear A Reason 2 Write

Flat Elizabeth had a great time. Thanks.

Oh sure, the real version was more toned down than what I imagined it might be. But I know in my heart the Academy will be calling soon. Don’t doubt me. 😉

Where to even begin………

My friends left this morning to go back to the United States. It is impossible to believe that two weeks can actually go by in the blink of an eye – but it did. It was amazing to have them here – we laughed, we cried, we shopped, and we ate our way through a good bit of India. It was fun to rediscover what I had begun to take for granted. We rode the night train and we zip-lined and we even stayed in a palace. I have so much to share – it will probably take weeks to tell you all of it – brace yourself!

But here is how I spent the morning of my birthday with two dear friends and a face that only a mother could love…

I can’t thank them enough for coming and they say they can’t thank me enough for “letting” them come. I begged them to come almost every day for a year – so if they call that “letting” them come, so be it. It was definitely a win-win!

Everywhere you look, there is a story…………….

In the U.S. things are cleaner and more organized and, in many ways, less interesting. One thing I will say about India is that it is NEVER, EVER boring. India is rich with history and stories. These pictures were taken in Lodhi Gardens in Delhi. Right there among the jogging paths and homeless dogs and gorgeous flowers are these historic buildings.

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Sometimes things in India are a tad more complicated than they need be – this sign basically says – don’t mess with the monument.

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And you can clearly see why India does not want its monuments messed with. They are stunning.

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Now you know what this tomb is.

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This seems to be part of a very cool fort – complete with towers and nooks and crannies.

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Girlfriend’s Guide to Jaipur……………

I wrote a Girlfriend’s Guide to the Taj Mahal and you seemed to like it – so I will do the same for Jaipur. If you would just like to read about our trip, you will find day one here and day two here.

The Essentials:

You will want toilet paper, diaper wipes, Purell, comfortable walking shoes, and capri pants for your journeys. And Dramamine – plus an empty bowl for the car (that is just in case the Dramamine does not work and you are stuck in traffic). I stick by that. And I am going to add bottled water and many,  many recognizable snacks. You can buy soda pretty much anywhere – not always the diet variety – but a regular Coke won’t kill you every now and then. And caffeine is caffeine. To be fair, you can buy water just about anywhere too – but just be sure you hear that familiar click when YOU unscrew the bottle. And just say no to ice.

Peppermints or other hard candies are great to have in the car, too. Peppermints are especially good because they can sooth an upset tummy. That’s called a two-fer. When your children claim that, yes, in fact, they just might actually die from thirst unless they get a drink at this very moment – and you are not sure where the next European bathroom might be – you can give them a candy. Peace ensues and all will be right with the world of thirst. You’ll want to pace yourself – the European bathrooms are few and far between. Unless you have boys, then they can just go anywhere – yep, pretty much anywhere.

Eating out:

Think “you say tomato, I say tomahto” on the experience of eating out – pizza in the hotel restaurant may not be the pizza you (and your kids expect). There will a lot of things that are not recognizable. Which is really great if you have adventurous eaters – enter Bear, Flower, and Angel – quite possibly the most unadventurous eaters on the planet. They are still very confused as to why the McDonalds in India do not serve chicken nuggets – just sandwiches. Rome wasn’t built in a day – be thankful for the fries and move on.

We ordered Pizza Hut (yes real Pizza Hut) for dinner – I know you can shake your head in shame – go ahead, I’ll wait – but hungry children are not happy children. Happy children make traveling much more enjoyable. Sign me up for more enjoyable travels. Two large pizzas and four 7-ups cost about $12. They were delivered to the room and I got to stay in my pjs- priceless.

Buffets seem to be a good way for my family to experience eating out in unchartered waters. There are many options and some are recognizable. Sometimes you might pay $10 for your daughter to eat a plate of rice – but it is a plateful of rice she will recognize – and therefore, probably, eat. YEAH! With a buffet, you can at least see what will be on your plate before you order it. Brillant. We had the breakfast buffet at the hotel and they had pancakes, fruit, made to order omelets (be careful here – green chilis can look like green peppers if they are sliced thin enough), toast, and some cereals. Of course, they had some things that were very different than what we are used to – steamed broccoli, green beans, baked beans, cooked tomatoes – but a lot of good choices. I had broccoli for breakfast for the first time in my life.

Change/Small Bills:

Whenever you travel in India, make sure you have small bills with you. Some of the people you will pay for things are not thrilled with coins – not that they won’t take them – they will – but better to see smiles than frowns. They seem to  prefer paper. For example, if you want to take a picture of someone, you might give them 10 rupees for their smile. It’s a nice gesture and doesn’t cost you much. I suggested to my dear sweet husband that perhaps we should ask the hotel for some smaller bills (the ATM machines we have visited give you 500 rupees at a time). He did not agree – but I won’t go there – suffice it to say that you will want some bills with 100, 50, 20, and 10 rupees on the face of them. Then everyone can smile.

Snake Charmer:

When he was done, we paid the snake charmer 20 rupees (see you do need smaller bills – sorry, I wasn’t going to go there). He asked for 200 rupees. Our guide laughed, number one hubby laughed, the man sitting on the bench watching it all transpire laughed. I reminded them all that the snake charmer had cobras – real live cobras. Walk away slowly and backwards. I personally think that if you choose snake charming as your profession, being alive at the end of the day is its own reward. But, who am I to say. We left him with 20 rupees and his life. We paid after the performance. That seems to be the way to go here – for the most part, pay when they are done. He did not send the snakes after us.

They do milk the snakes each day so that their poison is used up for the day. I still do not have a picture of myself charming the snake. I will save my charms for adventures that are not life threatening. But, yes, I did let my children do it – okay, logic does not always prevail here.

Elephant Ride:

570 rupees per elephant (about $11) to ride to the Amber Fort – for this you pay for the ride when you get on the elephant – but save the tip until the end of the ride. We were told that in the city of Jaipur we could ride an elephant for 50 rupees – away from the main tourist attractions – yes that is a big difference – but we chose to ride one to the Amber Fort. I would actually recommend riding the elephants to the fort. The route that cars take is a road that is narrow and small and harrowing. You will get to experience the narrow, harrowing road on the way down from the fort because you can only ride the elephants up to the fort. This will make perfect sense when you see how steep the ride down is – it would be hard to remain balanced on the elephants when they are walking down it.

Two people can fit on each elephant (three if two of the people are little people) and the driver will expect a tip. We gave him 100 rupees. He asked for his money before he let us off the elephant. I had it ready – but it might not be good to let it be visible to the driver before you are ready to get off the elephant. Our driver talked about money the whole way up. His English was hard for me to understand. I have know idea what I did or did not agree to. But he let us off the elephant without too much argument. You can take bananas with you and feed the elephant when your ride is over. Yes, I wish I had known that. When will my kids get another chance to feed an elephant? Prepare your children (and yourself) for the fact that the drivers will  hit the elephants hard – very hard – with sticks – big sticks. Many of the elephants have raw spots on their ears.

Restrooms:

First, use the restroom in your hotel before you leave the hotel. Don’t have high expectations for soft toilet paper.

But, there is a lovely restroom at the Amber fort – it costs 5 rupees per person. (Yes, you did the math correctly – that is about 10 cents). It is clean – very clean – and there is a European style toilet (that means you can sit on it or over it whichever you choose) and toilet paper and running water and even soap. Whoa Nellie. I might just move in here. It is the heaven of all things bathroom. It is the nicest bathroom I have seen in India. Pay the 10 cents – even if you don’t need to go – you’ll just want to visit. There is a girl who will give you a paper towel when you are done drying your hands. I gave her 10 rupees. I know – big spender – that was about 20 cents. Very generous I am.

This bathroom is so great you could wear a skirt or long pants here. Although I still would not recommend them for the rest of your journey. Capris really are the way for women to go.

Shopping After Sight-seeing:

Okay, I have figured something out – I might be a little slow on the uptake – but I have got it now. The guide that we paid to show us the city was well worth the 500 rupees per day that we paid him. But he must get commission to take us to certain shops. Souvenir shops. I do not want to bring home souvenirs to my friends and family – I want authentic Indian items that I can buy in the markets – not in an air conditioned store with wide aisles and 5,000 salesmen. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating – it might have only been 3,000 salesmen – but it was way too many.  These shops are honestly fine if you do not have a lot of time. There are a lot of different things, they are clean, you can and should bargain, and blah, blah, blah. But we had time. I wanted to really shop – in markets. I have not seen a lot of clothing items in these types of markets either – so if you are looking for clothing be very specific with your guide that you want clothing – if he says “textiles”, repeat yourself. Clothing. Textiles seems to mean carpets and linens.

I am rethinking my earlier statement that you should not buy from the vendors at the various sites. The motivation of the guide was not, I think, to keep us unbothered but to protect his commission. I saw lovely things for sale at the Amber fort – specifically puppets. There was a puppet store that I asked our guide to take us back to – he did not take us there – but to a tourist market. We were so angry that we let him go for the day.

Peddlers at the Amber Fort

The peddlers we saw at the Amber Fort were the most “in your face” we have seen. As I think back on the day, I do not remember going through a security check point – so maybe this is why. Anyone can enter the courtyard area without a ticket. But we just continued to say nay. Twelve or so times. And then they pretty much left us alone.

Pictures:

My children were asked many times if they would take a picture with someone. I always said no. It made my children uncomfortable – and me too. So, no it is. Our guide handled most of this for us. However, this does present quite a double standard. I think the Indian people are beautiful and want to take pictures of them. So call me a hypocrite. I am fine with that. If it is a poor person, I give them a little bit to thank them for their troubles.

Guides:

I have said this before and I will say it again – the guides speak English very well but is often heavily accented. So, it really does pay to do a little research before you go somewhere – then you will recognize names and places they are saying – this is very helpful! Our experience with guides was very different in Jaipur than it was in Agra. We were very happy with our guide in Agra – not so much with either guide in Jaipur. Although the first day was much better than the second. We are partly to blame for this. We did not do enough research about exactly what it was we wanted to see and we did not insist on seeing the one thing we really wanted to see – the Monkey Temple – we let ourselves get too easily talked out of it. Shame on us – lesson learned.

The guide each day was 500 rupees ($10). We tipped the guide the first day well – the second day, we did not tip so well. As I said earlier, it seems that the guides make their real money on the commission they get from the shops they take you to. So make it clear whether or not you want to shop in those stores and if not, consider giving the guide a little bit more of a tip – if you are happy with the service you received.

Temples:

We have not been to a temple yet – but we hope to do that soon. One thing I have learned about visiting temples is that women should always be prepared to cover their heads. It is also a good idea to carry a bag with you large enough to carry your shoes in. This is probably obvious to most – but just in case – photography might not be allowed either. If you are fortunate enough to be able to participate in any kind of ceremony at a temple, remember to receive items in your right hand with your left hand underneath your right.

Overall Jaipur is definitely worth a visit. It is a exquisite city with rich with history and culture. We will absolutely go back.

The Girlfriend’s Guide to the Taj Mahal…..

There is a book called the Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy – it is supposed to fill you in on all the little details that people might forget or be unwilling to tell you while you are pregnant. Consider this your girlfriend’s guide to the Taj Mahal.

Before you go to visit the Taj Mahal, read a little about its history. Our guide was fantastic but he had a heavy accent. It was very helpful that I knew some of the names and places he was saying. I had to listen very carefully to him to understand everything.

Whenever you are in India, you will want these things in your purse. Diaper wipes and/or tissue paper – enough for an entire day, some kind of lipstick or chapstick, and hand sanitizer. Aspirin or tylenol. And a bottle of water.

The car ride from Delhi is long. If you normally get car sick, this will be especially long. Bring Dramamine. And a pillow is not a bad idea either. I had our driver keep the car pretty cold. That helped with the car sickness. So, a sweater too.

Pack your own snacks and drinks. But, do not drink too much in the morning. When I say there aren’t many places to stop and go to the bathroom, I mean, there aren’t any places to stop and go to the bathroom. Unless you are a man. Then you can truly stop wherever you want and go. Yep, on the side of the road, wherever. No matter how many people are around. Feel free.

There is a McDonalds about an hour away from the town of Agra. It has fries, chicken sandwiches, veggie sandwiches, chicken rollups, ice cream, and, thankfully, an indoor toilet. There was no toilet paper though. It seemed that they normally have toilet paper – but this time they were out. Stop here. Go to the bathroom. And then go again. You’ll want to be sure that you are as empty as possible.

And just fyi, the idea of time relative to traffic is always at best a guestamite. About an hour from Agra really means – it could be half an hour or it could be two hours. Traffic is very unpredictable. So just know that it could take longer than you expect and be thrilled if it doesn’t.

When we drove through Agra, we stopped at a corner to meet our guide. There were a lot of men standing around and one came walking over to the car. Then he got in the front sit after talking to the driver – yes, in Hindi. It turns out he was our guide for the day and a very good guide. But it seemed sort of random at first. And more than a little unsettling.

He took us to the parking lot and arranged for our “shuttle” to the Taj. I actually would recommend the camel ride. It was inexpensive – plenty of room – rent both sides of the cart – and placed you higher than the other modes of transport. This meant that the “vendors” could not reach you as well to show their bright shiny trinkets.

Tell your children that they will not be getting souvenirs at the Taj Mahal. The vendors will follow you closely. They will push shiny objects in front of your kids – your kids will probably want some of them. If they hear your kids asking for something, they become relentless. Number One Hubby would often walk in between me and them. They got the hint. I would also say “nay” firmly – without yelling – think of disciplining your kids in front of the minister. You would not yell, but you can certainly get your point across. And try not to look at them. That is seen as an invitation. It is my understanding that if you buy from one, others (many others) will come out of everywhere to vie for your attention.

Security – well that is a fun little experience all on its own. You will get felt up by a woman. She’ll pat down your boobs and your butt and your front pockets. You are allowed a smallish purse. Cameras and cell phones. No other electronics – at all. None. This was fine by me and luckily we knew it ahead of time. Kids don’t need their ipods when looking at the Taj Mahal.

You will also not be allowed to take in any food or drinks or candy or gum – water is allowed. Take that – especially if it is hot. Now that I think of it, we bought our water at the gate – maybe you have to buy it there to take it in – I don’t think so, but I really am not sure.

There are lots of great places to take pictures. You will only be allowed to take a video camera right inside the main entrance building. You will pay a fee to use it – I don’t remember what that was – maybe 100 rupees ($2). Then you will be required to put it in a locker. Our guide did that for us – it was cheaper that way. Don’t lose the key. You get your camera back on the way out. Our guide helped us remember that we put a video camera in the locker. Yes, that was very helpful. You can take your regular camera (still pictures) every where on the grounds. You will not be allowed to take pictures inside the Taj Mahal.

There will be quite a few photographers who offer to take pictures for you. If you have your own camera, you really don’t need them to do it for you. Just watch for people taking funny pictures and follow along.

When you buy your ticket to get in, you can also get booties to wear over your shoes. Recommended. Otherwise, you have to walk barefoot with 3 million of your closest friends. Not recommended. There is a lovely little man who will help you put your booties on. Let him. They rip easily. We tipped him 20 rupees (40 cents).  A small price to pay to be able to wear your shoes.

If you have light skin and light hair, be prepared to be asked to have your picture taken. Many people visiting the Taj Mahal have never seen light skinned people before. They travel from very remote villages to be there. They will want your picture. You can say no. We did. Mostly they asked our guide. He said if you let one do it, bring on the masses. It’s just not a good idea. Plus – who knows where the pictures would end up. I’ve always wanted to be a rock star but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.

If you have a small flash light, take it with you – like one the size of a writing pen. It is very cool to see how it illuminates the stones in the marble. You put the light right on top of the brown stones (I think they might be jasper) and it makes them seem clear.

I would recommend wearing capri pants to your visit of the Taj Mahal. Not a skirt and not long pants. This is why…

There is the matter of the “restroom”. Okay – it is apparently called a turkish toilet. It smells beyond horrible and the floor is VERY wet. It is a toilet room (translation – basically a tiled hole in the ground) that you squat over. However, it did flush. I found that extremely ironic. You are in your own stall behind a closed door. Use the handle of the door to your advantage – it can help you not fall in. (I now know where the inspiration for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came from – I doubt Harrison Ford could masterfully maneuver his way around this pit.)

Indians must pay to use the restroom – all others pay for toilet paper. Unless you bring your own. I gave 20 rupees (40 cents) for me and the girls to get toilet paper. Number One Hubby said I over paid – I think not. The girl let me take as much as I wanted. Enough said. There is a sink with running water to wash your hands afterwards.

You will also want to wear comfortable shoes – throw fashion to the wind. This is especially true if you plan to visit the fort. The entrance way is uneven so that water could not build up and make it slippery for the horses. It is not hard to walk on in flat shoes – but horses did not wear heels and neither should you.

There are two hotels for lunch – one is the Mughal (Sheraton) hotel and the other is the Oberoi. I think you need reservations for the Oberoi – it’s on the path to the Taj Mahal. The Mughal was lovely and very clean. But you drive there. Not a problem really. And indoor plumbing with toilets you could actually sit on. Bonus. And free (soft) toilet paper. Bonus. Bonus.

The Agra fort is definitely worth seeing. I think you get a discount if you show your Taj Mahal tickets. We saw beggars (just a couple) at the fort. None at the Taj Mahal.  And more vendors. They are pretty aggressive but not dangerous – just remember “nay”.

The monkeys at the fort are very comfortable being around humans. You should not feel the same. They are cool – from a distance. They will take glasses and other unattached things.

After you visit the Taj Mahal and the fort, your guide will most likely offer to take you to see an exhibit of how they laid the stones in the marble and an embroidery exhibit. This means that you will be invited to see craftsmen toiling away at their craft. You can ask questions and touch the pieces (at least of marble). Then you will be invited into a show room were you will be allowed to purchase items. They are not free. 😎 If you do not think  you want to shop at the show room, you can say no to the exhibit. We only went to the marble exhibit. I bought a beautiful vase. As far as I could tell, the demonstration was free. The vase was definitely not. No samples here.

On the way back to Delhi, stop at the McDonalds again and take your last drink. Traffic can be very unpredictable. It took us longer to get home then it took to get there. Don’t forget to refresh on the Dramamine if you tend to get car sick and turn the air conditioner on. It really does help.

When Pages Come Alive (part 2)………….

If you haven’t read When Pages Come Alive (part 1), you might want to start there.

Across this river is where Shah Jahan had intended to have his own mausoleum built. It was barely started. You can still see the outline of bricks – but not much more than that. He had intended to build it with all black stones. He wanted to connect the two buildings with a bridge. But it was not to be. (And, yes, Angel was tired of having her picture taken.)

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This next picture has nothing to do with the Taj Mahal – but there is a very nice man there who will help you feed the chipmunks. We gave him a little tip to say thank you. Yes, this is just like going to Disney and spending a day at the hotel pool – it is one of the things my kids will remember most about being in Agra.

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There are two identical buildings on either side of the Taj Mahal. They both look like this. If I remember right, one is for prayer and the other for ceremony. Don’t quote me on that.

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On to the Agra Fort. Only 20% of the fort is open to visitors. The remaining 80% is used by the military. The fort was built during the lives of 4 different rulers. One king had a grape garden for wine making. Yummy. Another king was married to three different women – a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Christian. Very open minded for a king from so long ago – well, minus the having three wives part.

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This is the chamber where Shah Jahan was imprisoned and the view of the Taj Mahal he was given.

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The ceiling in this room used to all be outlined in gold and looters took care of that . Sadly, this little section is all that is left.

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One last thing, this is how they clean the fort and the Taj Mahal. They spread mud on it and then clean off the mud. That makes perfect sense. And shhhh, don’t my kids that cleaning something by smearing it with mud first is an effective process. They can be literal thinkers, remember?

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Well that is our visit of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. There are surely a few little tidbits here and there that I have forgotten. So, I’ll probably write more later. If you have any quesitons, just ask me.

Oh yes, and the Agra fort has a lot of monkeys. Don’t get too close. Hell hath no fury like a monkey scorned.

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