Friday, April 26, 2013

Delhi, and Farewell to India

We had flown from Bangalore to Delhi and took trains both to and from Agra.  The first train was a fairly nice first class car with large comfortable seats and breakfast, which featured a tasty omelette, as well as American cereal served with hot milk (makes it taste like oatmeal).  It was an express train that resulted in a very pleasant and scenic two hour ride.

On the way back though we were in a supposedly first class sleeper car.  In Europe, when it is daytime, berths on sleepers are converted to seats, but apparently in India that is not the case (even though they were clearly convertible).  The train was filthy, and we had quite the time locating our berths, which turned out mostly to be uppers.  Most of the trains occupants were either sleeping (common in the middle of the day in India) or lounging with the lights off and curtains closed.  The bathroom was squat style, and the only food available was offered by men walking by with buckets.  This was also not an express train, and so the same trip this time took almost four hours.  I should note however that both trains ran on time.
 Our fearless leader

My friend on the train

On this trip I had the most stressful event of the trip, wherein I discovered, after having to leave one upper berth for another in another car, that I didn't have my constant companion, my cross body purse, containing my passport, money and credit cards.  Upon discovering this approximately ten minutes later, I raced back to the other car, with Hindi speaking Omar from our group close behind.  At first it appeared that it wasn't where I had left it, at which time my panic began to peak, but Omar managed to locate both my purse and sunglasses in a pile of dirty sheets and blankets.  Everything was intact, and I was able to breath again.

You'll have to excuse the poor picture quality of some these photos as the windows through which they were taken were filthy, causing my camera to have difficulty focusing.

 Swimming water buffalo

 Volleyball anyone?

Our hotel was yet again over the top fabulous.  We are spoiled beyond belief, and can't help talking about the other members of our cohorts who opted for China or Belize :).

My suite in Delhi - sweet!

The final day of our trip, and the only one we had in Delhi, was spent talking to an HP executive in the morning and touring Old Delhi in the afternoon.  The Indian exec from HP told us about the challenges of doing business in India, about corruption and crazily complex tax laws, but also that the potential is so great that global companies are making a go of it.

In the afternoon we went first to the government center in Delhi.  It is a large and beautiful area, designed by the British, that would remind you of our mall in Washington.

Next we headed to Old Delhi where we took a rickshaw ride through the market.  This was one of the most harrowing things I've experienced that topped most everything we did on my family's entire nine month trip.  How to explain it?  It was a sea of humanity and vehicles of every kind seething through tiny alleyways, with us at the mercy of our alternately skilled and distracted bike pedaler.

We jolted and surged past stalls filled with silver and silk saris and trims, and occasionally men in conservative muslim dress who would give you the evil eye, or in one case when I made the mistake of smiling at him, curse you out.  Others, I am happy to report, smiled back.

After we disembarked from our rickshaw, sweaty and a little weak in the knee, we climbed the steps up to the largest mosque in India.

 Us sporting the very attractive covers we were required to don

Fetching, aren't I?

We continued to be the subject of lots of attention

I have to say in summary that this trip exceeded all of my expectations.  It was a detailed and up close look at the many sides of India, from the elite to the burgeoning middle class to the world of the majority of Indians still living in poverty.  Many of the countries we visited on our big trip are ones I will never see again, as there are just too many more still to see.  India however I would happily visit again.  I'd love to show my family some of what I experienced, and as India is so big and so diverse, I know a second trip could not possibly disappoint.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Agra & The Taj Mahal

Vikram Oberoi, Chairman of a chain of uber luxury hotel properties in India and parts of the Middle East is a graduate of Pepperdine's MBA program.  He generously hosts our program's stay in Agra every year, including, happily,  this one.  I hope my photos give you a bare idea of how lovely the property is.  The view out my window is of the Taj Mahal in the distance.  After an easy train ride from Delhi, we had a well deserved day off to enjoy the pool and grounds at the hotel.  Honestly, I just couldn't have been happier.

 My lovely room

The Pool from my Lounge Chair

That amazing day lounging poolside however paled when compared to the next morning when we woke early to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise.  It really is more beautiful than photos can show.  The Indian marble reflects light, and the detail of the carvings and intricate inlaid semi-precious stones is exquisite.

The Entrance Gate - an amazingly gorgeous building all by itself 

 The Taj seen as you walk through the Entrance Gate.
It takes your breath away.

A Mogul Emporer had the Taj Mahal built as a memorial to his wife who died while birthing their 14th child.  It is about 12 stories tall but doesn't look it as it is equally as wide.  We toured the Taj and wandered the grounds (there is also a mosque and matching "guest house") ogling and snapping photos for hours.  The entire complex is known for it's perfect symmetry and exceptional beauty.

A shot as the sun broke through the clouds

Finally we reluctantly left and headed to the Red Fort of Agra.  The fort is where the builder of the Taj actually lived as well as a couple generations before and after him.  The complex is huge, included a giant moat, and inside it was possible to imagine how those very rich rulers had lived.

Here part of the ceiling is restored so you can see how it would have looked.

The builder of the Taj could gaze across the river at the monument he built to the wife he loved.  That was before his son killed all his brothers and eventually him, only to take the throne and destroy the dynasty (no happy ending here).

The best part of the fort though, as far as I was concerned, was the people watching.  Indians come from all corners of the country to visit, and I especially enjoyed the range of their attire.

The Oberoi also arranged for us to have an exceptionally fabulous celebration dinner to mark the end of our time in Agra.  We were served 5 courses, each of which featured from four to six separate dishes, of specially prepared indian specialties.  It was beyond lovely.

The problem with this post is that I am fast running out of superlatives.  The two days in Agra called for every one I could muster.  If the Taj Mahal isn't already on your bucket list, then you should add it!

Next we head to Delhi.