Tag Archives: sightseeing

Country Mouse in the Big Apple……

This weekend, Number One Hubby and I snuck away to NYC. We scrunched a lot of  stuff into a little bit of time but it was awesome.

Of course, I started out by making some new friends. New York City’s finest really are the finest. The police presence is everywhere and they are delightful.

We walked several blocks and then decided to hop on the subway (when we realized we had about 6 miles to go). The stations are a bit grimy but I was surprised that the trains weren’t super crowded. Hubby didn’t really want me taking pictures on the train and drawing attention to us for being tourists, but I don’t always listen so well. 😉

And, besides, I am not exactly sure what it is about this look that screams, “tourist”.

I don’t like to fly and I am not a fan of crowded spaces, so the idea of a helicopter ride wasn’t exactly appealing to me. Hubby really wanted to do it, so I put on my big girl life vest and climbed in.

What I learned about helicopters right away is that they tilt forward when they take off. It kind of feels like you are going to slide off your seat right in to the deep, cold, dark water below. Not fabulous.

But our sweet pilot straightened us out quickly and we flew past the Statue of Liberty first. She is just beautiful. In all her welcoming glory.

Amazing. Really. Amazing.

And then we flew over Ground Zero (which I will write more about in a later post) and over the skyline of the city. We saw the new building that will tower over the terror that struck two buildings down on 9/11. We saw the Yankees Stadium and Times Square and Central Park and Rikers Island and the Brooklyn Bridge.

I can’t believe I am saying this but I highly recommend the helicopter tour if you have time.

When we were leaving the heliport, we saw these guys dancing. Welcome to New York, baby. They were lots of fun.

We ended the night with dinner at The View restaurant – a rotating restaurant atop the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square – and a show at Caroline’s Comedy Club.

Did I take a picture with the headliner John Witherspoon? Now, that is a silly question.

And please notice I am wearing cute tops the entire trip. I spared my poor hubby the sweat pants/white t-shirt fashion mishap I usually don. 😎

I have lots more to share and will write more tomorrow.

Old Delhi – part 3, the people

People, people everywhere! Delhi is crowded and Old Delhi is more crowded. The alleys are narrow and the streets are full. But that gives you a chance to slow.down.and.look.around…

Indians are some hard-working people for sure. There is hardly a street anywhere in Delhi that doesn’t have a man pushing or pulling a bike or wagon with some heavy-arse stuff on it. Old Delhi is clearly no exception. And, yep, these guys are maneuvering between cars, trucks, buses, scooters, people, and cows. And they just never seem to have the right shoes. Can you imagine?

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I mentioned before that Old Delhi has a lot of men roaming around.
There are certainly women too, but really, it’s mostly men.

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The children on the streets of Delhi always take my breath away. This little girl was with
some of the vendors. I am guessing they are her parents or at least a relative. At least, I really, really hope so.
She is a little bitty thing and she was just in the middle of the hustle and the bustle. Right in the middle of it all.
And she seemed totally unfazed. She looked at home on the streets.
I am not really sure how I feel about that. Not that it matters. It is not changing. At least not for her. At least not right now.

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And I think this was her brother. This is how India is changing me. I wonder how I can walk away from this country
without taking a child in need home with me. And how could you possibly pick just one. Which one?
Then I come home to my own family and I am exhausted by their own energy. I wonder how I could even consider taking on more.
Living in your own bubble in the midst of such great need is overwhelming – it is nearly impossible to find a practical way to help –
to find a way to make a difference without trying to change the way India works.
To walk away from this as simply a tourist who just wants to “see” Old Delhi. Not absorb it – not really even embrace it,
but maybe just understand it a little bit better. But then what?
(p.s. I do not remember this boy being handicapped, as least not physically – certainly financially, but I think I just got his eyes closed.)

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This guy has absolutely the right idea. I left Old Delhi very much in need of a nap.

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I rode on my first bicycle rickshaw. My only advice – hold on! They actually go at a decent pace,
but mostly the roads are really bumpy and, because it’s crowded, they swerve a lot!

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Tell me how many women you count in the next photo. And no fair counting the one taking the picture….

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These three young chaps from London were amazing. They were breathing in the city and wanted to share it.
They sought us out as we were waiting in line for a table for dinner. Two in our group followed them up on a random
roof top to see Old Delhi in a different light. Yep, one of the two was me. I have not decided if that was very adventurous or very stupid.
(Shhhhh, that was a rhetorical question. I made it out alive – so I am guessing adventurous. No need for further debate.)
They had an absolute childlike amazement about Delhi and especially the kites.
They saw the beauty in the dirt and felt the soul of the people walking the streets. They were poets walking thru their own poem.
And, yes, in my pessimistic mood, I asked if they were going to have us mugged. They weren’t even insulted by the question.
Ah, to be young and unencumbered once again. Or to at least live vicariously thru them.

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I “met” this guy across the roof. We stared at each other with the same bewilderment.
And we soaked in the same scenes with the same amazement, the same appreciation.
We looked at each other and wondered together, “who in the heck is that”.
Across a roof and across cultures, we melted into the same world of amusement over kites.
And held the same respect for men bowing in prayer.
(Okay, admittedly you have to work with me on this one – he looks very uninvolved in sharing much with anyone in this moment,
but trust me, he was swept across oceans and we laughed at the same sky. I just didn’t want
him to know I was taking his picture, so I did it when he wasn’t looking at me. Please just suspend your reality and go with that, ‘kay?)

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This could be any street anywhere – in Tokyo or New York or anyone’s Chinatown.
Sometimes life is universal.

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These men joined together to break their Ramadan fast.

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All in all it was an amazing night. Exhausting and exhilirating – just like Old Delhi itself.

Old Delhi in three parts – part one, the food…………..

Old Delhi is an fascinating place. A lot of expats are nervous about going there. At first glance, it is crowded and dirty and filled mostly with men. At a second glance, it is simply more crowded and dirtier than I am used to and still filled mostly with men. But, it’s unnecessary to be nervous. You just take the same precautions you would in any crowded area. And be prepared to shake your comfort zone up a bit. However, you will certainly walk away with great stories of interesting people.

Old Delhi is jam packed with not only people but also Indian history and culture. Please feel free to correct anything I get wrong – but from what I understand – it is mostly a Muslim community. Old Delhi was the capital of the Mughals until the end of the Mughal dynasty. It is called Shajahanabad and is home to the Red Fort. Shajahan is the man who had the Taj Mahal built.

We were in Old Delhi during the Muslim holiday called Ramadan. Many times during our visit, there were calls to prayer. Hubby got some of that on video on his phone, but I cannot seem to upload it. I will work on that as it was really amazing. The wailing and peaceful movement to the temple.

Everywhere you go in Delhi, there is food available on the street. Honestly, I have not tried true “street food” but I love the way it looks. Anyone who knows what any of this is, please feel free to tell us!

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I believe these are like vermicelli noodles.

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These I would definitely eat. They looked so yummy!

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This one looks like coconut and all kinds of nuts – what it tastes like, I don’t know.

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I was told this is an “acquired” taste.

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This one also looked appealing – it was corn on the cob.

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I have more pictures that I will share tomorrow. Have a great day/night!

Humuyan’s Tomb………

If you are visiting Delhi, please make plans to visit Humuyan’s Tomb. I think it is fabulous, especially if you will not have time to go see the Taj Mahal in Agra.

It costs about $10 to get in – yes Indians are (much) cheaper – but kids 15 and under are free.

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This is a smaller tomb – not the big one – not yet.

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And then there are some cool doorways and doors…

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There are a lot of really fabulous walls too.

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And finally, Humuyan’s tomb…….

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Yes, that’s what I’m talking about! Magnificent!

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So it’s worth the trip.

old delhi………

I have heard a lot about Old Delhi – and I finally got to go. It is not the place you want to venture out on your own for your very first visit. I never, ever felt in danger – in fact I got some of the most beautiful smiles I have seen since I have been here – but it is narrow and dusty and fast moving. It is not laid out neatly – you can easily get turned around. So, it’s just better not to go at it alone the first time. It was a super quick trip and I plan to go again – and soon. But for now, here is a little taste of what I saw.

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We rode the Delhi metro – it was loverly. Really clean and very easy to navigate. This is the way to go!

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There were lots of vendors selling food. It is beautiful but, no, I did not eat any of it.

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I loved this water pump – it seemed so out of place and so in place all at the same time. This man is washing off his broom.

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You could buy veggies. Very fresh veggies.

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And tassles. Yummy tassles.

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And you can see people working really hard.

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And animals working really hard.

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And more wires than you could ever count – in the land of technical assistance call centers – this irony is not lost.

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This guy was a great big smile just waiting to happen.

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A great big smile.

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The streets are narrow and crowded – but it is a fascinating place.

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I was offered medical books here. Too bad I don’t need medical books. There was quite a selection.

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And you know I loved the kick arse doors in this place. They rock!

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This visit was too short. I plan to go back and see the wedding district, the spice market, and the nut market. Plus whatever else the day has to offer.

The India Gate…………..

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http://india.gov.in/knowindia/indiagate.php – this is the website where I got the following details about the India Gate. I quoted the site directly.

“India Gate, an important monument of the city, is a memorial built in commemoration of more than 80,000 Indian soldiers who were killed during World War I. The monument is an imposing 42 meters high arch and was designed by the famous architect Edwin Lutyens. India gate was earlier named All India War Memorial. The design of India gate is almost similar to its French counterpart war memorial, the Arc-de-Triomphe.

The building is made of red stone that rises in stages into a huge molding. On top of the arch, INDIA is written on both sides. Names of over 70,000 Indian soldiers are inscribed on the walls of the monument in whose memory it is built. There is a shallow domed bowl at the top, which was intended to be filled with burning oil at special occasions.

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At the base of the India gate there is another memorial, the Amar Jawan Jyoti that was added after independence. This eternal flame was lighted in commemoration of the unknown soldiers who laid their lives to serve this nation.

The lush green lawns, Children Park and the famous boat club around the place make it a perfect picnic spot. Cool evening breeze near the fountains of India gate attract hundreds of visitors daily. In the evenings, India gate is illuminated with number of lights around it that gives it a magnificent appeal. Standing near the base of the monument one can have a good view of the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The beautifully lit up monument provides a memorable background against the darkening sky. Even in daylight, the stretch between India Gate and the Rashtrapati Bhavan offers a splendid view.

Every year on 26th January India gate stands witness to the Republic Day parade where latest advancements of defence technology is displayed. The parade is also a good platform to have a glimpse at the colourful and diverse cultural heritage of India as artists from all over the country perform on the occasion.”

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Another question for my Indian readers – where are the t-shirt vendors at all these monuments. Seriously, someone needs to get busy screen printing. I would have bought a t-shirt with the Taj Mahal on it for my kids, one with the Amber Fort, and one of the India Gate. Throw in some tie-dye shirts and I would get some for the whole family. Someone could make a boatload of money – and yes, I will gladly accept a kickback on the profits for sharing the idea. Or free t-shirts. Or, both.

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Odd (wo)man out……

I have debated with myself whether or not to honestly share my experiences today. Partly because today was the first day that India has totally overwhelmed me and partly because I do not want to insult my Indian readers. But, it was my day and my experience and my blog, after all. I want to capture the feelings I had – so here goes – no insults intended.

Hubby had to work today. Please remember our flat is little (compared to the living space we are used to). I have 3 children who love to watch t.v. but eventually they actually do get bored by electronics. It is spring break – no school. There is a lot to see in Delhi that we have not yet seen. I needed some blog material.

I also need to remember to be careful what I ask for.

I gave the kids 3 options – the craft museum, the Red Fort, or the zoo. It was unanimous. The zoo.

Our regular driver was not working today – so we had Zaffar. He is a nice man with limited English skills. I asked to go to the zoo. He said, yes ma’am. I showed him the map that had our neighborhood and the zoo on it. Both of them were circled. We want to go from here to there. Yes. Ma’am.

Then he pulls into a gas station. That is fine. Really. I would rather him ask than just drive us around all day. But I can tell he still really is not sure. He asked me for the address. Well, the book does not list the address. There is a map, remember. But not the physical address. So, I called hubby’s assistant. She is so helpful to us. Really, I am very lucky. She explained where we wanted to go.

Ohhhhhh, the zoo? Zarraf just happens to know exactly where that is. Hmmmm. She got back on the phone with me and explained that in India they call it “the zoo”. So he did not know what I meant. Funny thing – in America we call it the “zoo” also. It must be my accent.

Anyzoo, we got there without too much trouble and I took a look around. This is what I saw.

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This picture is not worth a thousand words – because it really does not give the sense of how many people were milling about. There were hundreds of people. There were 3 lines – cubbies to store your bags, tickets, and security.

I saw women in the security line with purses, so we went straight for tickets. I was not sure if you were allowed bags or if the cubbies were just for convenience. I guessed convenience. That line was (ridiculously) long. So we moved on to tickets. There were only men in the ticket line. In the ticket line we get.

Men cut in front of us in line. They cut in line behind us too. I am not a big fan of people cutting in front of me in line. But I quickly decided to let. it. go. The line was crowded. I was (ever so slightly) outnumbered by men. I was manless (for the day). I don’t do the damsel in distress well, but I also do not invite trouble.

The man behind me explained that my children could wait out of the line for me. You know, over there. My kids looked at me and then they looked at him with their best “good luck with that dude” look. Our mom isn’t going to have us wait away from her. Even if it is over there. You’ll just have to deal for a few more minutes.

He was actually very helpful and explained where to get in. But he does not know me. The kids stayed in line with me. They were happy to do that.

So here is the sign that explains ticket prices. Once again we are paying a skin tax. Fine – it’s a whole dollar. We’ll (happily) pay it.

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My dad might laugh that I should have gotten in free – but alas, I am too smart for free admission. (Yes, I miss my dad terribly.) I think it is very nice that India gives its citizens a break on admission prices. America could never do this – it would be a paperwork nightmare. Americans are far too diverse to be able to tell who is from where just by looking. Too bad – I love a discount.

On to security.

Bear was (more than) a little concerned that he might have to go in a separate line. The lines were very long and frankly, I was a little concerned too. Many of our sightseeing adventures have had our family in separate lines – men on one side, women on the other. It is just a matter of logistics – women checking women, men checking men. But I was not going to put Bear in a very long line by himself. Whew. I did not have to.

One of the guards asked if we had any food. I said no.

Well it turns out I did have granola bars. The second security guard spotted them and asked me to take them out. Absolutely no food allowed in the zoo. Even if you promise not to eat it. Water bottles seem to be okay. I think. We did not bring water bottles – so don’t quote me on that. But I highly recommend water bottles. There are several watering holes with free water – but if you are not used to the local water – well, let’s just say there are better souvenirs than montazuma’s revenge.

Oh yes, back to the snacks. Enter language barriers and cultural differences.

We are now holding up the line. This does not make the 100 plus people behind us fans of Americans.

The guard tried to get me to open the granola bars so my children can eat them really fast. Or, I can take them back over to the line of 200 plus people and put them in a cubbie for one rupee. Yes, that is two cents. Well here is my two cents worth. This is where Americans should be embarrassed because we can be (very) wasteful. But seriously, it is just not worth the hassle. My kids don’t happen to be hungry right now. I don’t want to get in the super long line, just to get back in this super long line – just so I don’t have to lose 4 granola bars.

Please just take the granola bars to your family and enjoy them. I will buy more. Can we please just be done here?

Apparently not. Please ma’am, open them and eat them now. Sigh. No thank you. You keep them. Do with them what you will. But ma’am, I might have to throw them away. Yeah, I am good with that. Can we go in now?

Now Angel decided to bring a purse with her also. They did not look inside her purse. But she heard the rule. No food. So, bless her heart, she pulls out a granola bar and gives it to the guard.  Yes, I am proud of her for being honest. But seriously, where are the animals – can we just go now? Do we have to be the main attraction? Then she remembered she actually had two granola bars. You’re killing me sweetie – enough already. Are you sure there isn’t a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe that you want to turn in?

We finally get in the gate. The zoo is lovely – lots of space – plenty of room for all the people who are there. It does not feel as smooshed inside.

Bear gets out the map. Now, this is interesting. Normally the hubby is in charge of navigation. But here is a chance for Bear to direct traffic. I have failed him in all things Boy Scout, so bring it Bear. Get us where we want to go.

He did a great job.

We saw the giraffes and the sloth bear.

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He did a great job, that is, until he took us behind the exhibit for the sloth bear. It was a path. But it was an empty path. No one else was on it. I did say that I was concerned that no one else was there. Well, except for the two men walking out of the woods. (Yeah. That’s what I thought too. Maybe we should not be here.)

So, I am balancing encouraging Bear to navigate our way through the zoo with the fact that my scare-dar is flashing “danger, will roger, danger”. I decided to let him guide us.

Until…

Until the two men approached another man and started to harass him. I told the kids we needed to turn around and go. NOW.

I realized that we were in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time. The two men started to slap the other man. There was a woman standing by with her hands cupped over her mouth.

We exited stage left. Immediately.

Angel said, I don’t think I want to go back there.

Don’t worry, Angel. You won’t be. going. back. there.

So I let Bear keep the map. And I fought every instinct I had to just go home. But I don’t want my kids to be afraid of being in India. There is safety in numbers. We’ll just stay with the crowds.

We continued on to see more animals. Lots and lots of people were watching us. I felt it more today than I ever have.

We saw this rhino trying to get out of the enclosure. I could honestly feel his pain.

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We also saw three white tigers. (Yes, you can still count – there are only two in the picture.)

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And if you know how to use your camera, you can get a great picture of the leopards.

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If you don’t know how to use your camera so well, you might get a great picture of the fence, with some cool (very blurry) leopards in the background. Isn’t this the coolest fence you have ever seen?

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Along the way, many people asked to take pictures of my girls. This is not a new thing. It happens at every tourist spot we go to. Usually they walk away disappointed when I say no. But they seem to understand.

Well today was different. A lot of people clicked pictures with cell phones. There was even one woman who seemed to follow us. It was bizarre. She would bump in to me and laugh. I did not join her in laughing. It got old quick.

Bear was still navigating and we were looking for the hippos. Bear looked at the map and looked at the path. It seemed somewhat empty. He said maybe we can see the hippos next time. Lesson learned.

We head on to see the elephants. They are amazing.

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I did not know this….

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As Flower and Angel are looking at the elephants, Bear notices that a man on the bench is taking a picture with his cell phone of my girls. Bear takes his map and blocks the phone. Honestly, I cannot believe he did it. Two things – one, great job Bear – this is exactly why I wanted any girls I had to have a big brother. Two – holy sh*t,  Bear. Be careful here.

Bear and I had a chat about how extremely proud I was that he was observant and protective of his sisters. And how he is to never. do. that. again. Unless they are in danger,we’ll let some things go.

We all agreed it was time to go home. This is what everyone said as we were leaving.

Bear: I guess we won’t come back here.
(I told him we would – at 9am when the zoo opens and it is less crowded and when Dad can come with us.)

Flower: I like the zoo in the U.S. better because you can drink the water there and nobody stares at us.
(Next time we will bring water bottles and when we are home in the U.S. we will visit the zoo. Maybe we’ll wear crazy clothes so we get stared at there too. Maybe not. We’ll just have to see.)

Angel: I like the zoo in the U.S. better. When can we go home.
(Sweetie, we are home – at least for now.)

So all in all, it turned out to be a good day. Bear got a chance to be in charge. I remembered that instincts kick arse. We got to see some cool animals.

But it was also overwhelming. Frankly, it was very overwhelming. I have not really felt that since I have been here. I was disappointed but it was a reality check that we are not in the U.S. and we have to remember that.

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.

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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