India is a country of paradoxes. You can be in a city of 20 million people with a craziness that is hard to even express in words then go back to your hotel and it is so serene, beautiful and quiet you can’t believe you are in the same country. And this is not unique to big cities because the next day you can be in a village of 5000 people and feel the same energy and vibrations. The people across the areas we visited were amazing. Here are some of the highlights that really could only happen in India. So what I have done because there is just so much to tell is I am doing a quick overview of the areas we went to, but I am ending with our own Top 10 list of weird, wonderful and over the top experiences during the trip….
We have spent the last three weeks of January in India – working the first week between Mumbai and Pune (although we did do an afternoon of touring). It was a crazy week due to the large tradeshow and meetings planned – but we then left for our trip right after the tradeshow since it was the start of the Chinese New Year Holiday. The trip took us to four cities – Agra (home to the Taj Mahal) and then into the state of Rajasthan to Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. In India during the 1500’s there were actually 54 “Princely States” each with their own Maharaja (today there are only about 16). These families were considered “royalty” in their particular states. Each of the cities we visited had their own Maharaja….it was their palaces, forts and histories that we learned about during this trip. When India became a democracy after British rule – each of the Maharaja’s had to give up their power and role. These families were exceptionally wealthy with land, businesses and jewelry (some of the biggest emeralds and diamonds in the world are from the mines that used to be active in India - today there are not very many precious stones left and no diamonds)…. During the time of the British the Maharaja’s often were autonomous and left alone or making lots of money from their business involvement with Britain. Today each of these cities still have their royal family (except Agra) and they are actively involved in the communities and still viewed as “royalty” within those cities but similar to Britain they have no real power.
Seeing the Taj Mahal in Agra was so cool. The white marble on the building is even more beautiful up close – and if you look at our pictures it might look like painting on the marble – but actually it is semi-precious stones which have been inlaid in the marble. The marble is from India and is not very porous consequently, it shows very little wear and tear – it is in remarkably good shape – it doesn’t appear to be almost 380 years old. The building took 22 years to build with 20,000 people working for that time period. Today the descendants of those families still work on the Taj doing the daily maintenance work and they do the craft the same way that was done back then. The building is perfectly symmetrical except for the fact that the monument now has 2 graves (both the King and his wife – even though it was built for her). If you want to read more about it you can go to: Taj Mahal
From Agra we went to Jaipur – the pink city. Now, as a point of information we hired a car and a driver for this trip. He started with us from Agra and then drove us to each of the cities in Rajasthan. The first drive was 288 kilometers (about 180 miles)…..it took us 5 hours to do this drive. To really get the whole experience of India -- driving into the small cities and on roads that you think are a highway and then all of the sudden it is a dirt road – is how you can really on begin to see the people, process (or lack there of) and challenges that they face.
Jaipur is a labyrinth of bazaars, palaces and historic sites. It is called the pink city because in the old city the buildings are washed in this pink color. It is not unrealistic to see on the streets – motorcycles, horses, cars and camels(I am not kidding they are everywhere here) trying to move as traffic. This was an amazing city to see. We went to Amber Fort which was built by the Maharaja. We rode an elephant to get to this fort because it is on the top of a mountain and difficult to get to (shocking)….now I was really excited to ride the elephant – but I want you all to know that it is not comfortable! There is a video but you may get sick watching it because the movement is so weird….More information on this fort can be found at: Amber Fort
. We also went to the city palace historical museum and an observatory which I thought was like a place to view the stars up close but actually it’s more for astrological purposes. It is one of the craziest things I have ever seen. Astrology is very important in India and prior to arranged marriages families will have a “reading done” to make sure their kids are a good fit – if the astrology tells them it won’t work they will walk away from a marriage. To see more about the observatory you can go to: Jantar Mantar
From Jaipur we went to Jodhpur – this was about 340 kilometers and took us 6 hours driving (please just shoot me….it was crazy but we loved seeing the countryside and all the small villages that we would go through). In Jodhpur we went to “the Mighty Mehrangarh Fort” which overlooks the whole city. The Thar desert is on the outskirts and we actually stayed in the youngest palace in the world (finished being built in 1943) and the royal family still lives there in one wing . The fort was amazing….these structures were built to withstand fighting with Elephants, horses, and camels. The doors were built with huge spikes on them to kill elephants if they tried to ram the doors….there is more information at: Mehrangarh Fort
(this is worth looking at – it is absolutely amazing!). The other big thing we did was go out to the desert and rode camels to watch the sun set over the sand dunes….there are pictures of us out there riding the camels and they were much easier and more comfortable then the elephants! Although we were not going to do a lot of shopping we did go to a store called Maharani Textiles – and ended up buying a couple of wall hangings for our cabin that are pieces of wedding dresses from Rajasthan in the 1800’s that have been put stitched together – they are beautiful. This store is written up all the time for the work they do – we spent 3 hours looking at all the textiles….
The last city we went to was Udaipur and this was another 244 kilometers and 5 hours – but this was the best drive of the whole trip. Besides the Taj Mahal one of the best monuments we saw was a Jain Temple called Ranakpur. This temple was built in the 15th century and is one of the 5 great holy places for the Jain Religion. Jain was started in the 6th century BC and is based on a non-violence doctrine towards all living things. When I went into the temple you can have no leather on, no shoes, etc. The 2,600th birth anniversary of this religion was celebrated in 2001. You could spot a very devote follower of the Jain religion because they often cover their mouth with a white band so they do not swallow a bug by mistake – because that would harming a living thing. There are pictures from this temple but I have never seen such workmanship on such a large scale. We ended up meeting the high priest who walked us around the temple and explained the many different parts – his family has been working at the temple for 600 years….crazy! There is a picture of Eric with him in the gallery. You can learn more about this at Ranakpur
. The drive from here to Udaipur was beautiful through mountains, and valleys of farming…It was fabulous.
Udaipur was probably the most relaxing of the cities we visited. We stayed at the Lake Palace which was featured in James Bond Octopussy Movie – now one night we wanted to see this movie so we could see what they did – and whatever you do – don’t rent or watch this movie – it is really stupid. However – it does highlight several good parts of Udaipur. The other thing was that across Rajasthan we stayed at Taj properties – and for some reason by the time we got here they ended up giving us the Royal Suite – which was awesome!!! We took a video of it because it was so fantastic! A little bit more about this property because it is very historical is at Lake Palace
We were the only room that had an outdoor seating area over the lake…and a private Jacuzzi….nice The monuments were not as well maintained here – but we loved relaxing by the pool.
OK I tried to be brief (and failed)….but here are the top 10 weird, wonderful, wacky things that we will remember about this trip starting with 10 and working our way to number 1:
10. Asking ourselves if it was just us or is everything in India finished to 60% (literally everywhere you look there are buildings where they just aren’t done…)
9. Across the region we would see these older men with orange hair and we thought it was for a religious purpose or something else – turns out its just henna that they put on their hair because they don’t like grey (I mean – do they really think orange is better?)
8. Realizing that the young man waiving a flag in front of your restaurant is to prevent birds from blocking your view or interrupting your breakfast, lunch or dinner (his whole job was to waive the flag if a bird landed….seriously I am not joking)
7. Having Eric tell our driver that answering his phone while passing a car – with another car coming at us – is not o.k. – and our driver wondering why we were nervous….then proceeding to get the car stuck in a sand dune and I almost missed my camel ride (I would have been devastated)
6. Seeing the sign that said don’t tip the drivers – then to have them look at you and ask “something for the effort” and feel guilty not giving them anything…
5. Asking the pool boy where the bathroom is – having him walk you to the bathroom then wait for you so he could open the doors for you and make sure you don’t get lost getting back to the pool.
4. Watching the sunset over the sand dunes while riding camels – and thinking to myself that of all the dreams I had of vacations – I don’t remember having this one - and it’s awesome!
3. Being the first “non-indians” into the Taj Mahal on our second day so we could take pictures with no one in the background – and realizing how peaceful and beautiful the monument is especially when no one else is there yet
2. Flying from Mumbai to Bangkok with the largest man ever in front of us – who made so much noise while sleeping (snoring, snorting, and other sounds) – then pushing on his seat to get comfortable and breaking the seat having it fall on Eric’s legs (Eric helped him fix it – but no more sleep for us)…
1. Driving to Jaipur and Eric asking Rajesh (our driver) to pull over so he could “make water” – and having Rajesh pull over, let Eric out of the car – then wait for him with water so Eric could wash his hands after “making water” before getting back in the car – seriously, you can’t even make that up…..
Much love to everyone – enjoy the pictures, site, etc….