Thursday, 2 April 2015


We are still in India, the country that gave chess and polo to the world. Polo was so big in days gone by that Maharajahs would tell the team captain: “Win the match and I will give you my daughter!”

We have now arrived in Sawai Madhopur, home to Ranthambore National Park. This was originally the hunting reserve for the Maharajah of Jaipur. In 1955, it was declared a game sanctuary. This reserve is best known for its tigers whose population is increasing ... a good sign. The park is 60 square kilometres in size. 

We leave at 6 am in our quest to spot a tiger. Many groups to whom we have been chatting say that they have not seen a tiger so we are not optimistic. We travel in open jeeps and off we go with a driver and a naturalist.

We see monkeys and suddenly, almost at the entrance gates, a tiger is spotted. These tigers are Royal Bengal tigers. This one is a tigress with her cub and she is on top of a clump of rocks at the top of a hill. How the naturalist spotted her is a total mystery as they are blended in with the rocks. We sit there for two hours watching their every move. We are spell bound…Quiet cries of “Her head’s up!” can be heard as many jeeps share binoculars and snap photos non-stop.

And now here she is in better view from another spot. You can see the cub on her right. 

This tigress had a male and female cub a year ago but a male tiger from another zone came over a few days ago and killed the male cub. It is rare that a tiger will leave their zone and their territories are carefully marked by them with their urine. This is all very sad but it is rare to spot a tigress and her cub so it is our lucky day. The naturalist and driver are also thrilled because their tips will be more substantial.

Later in the day, on the afternoon safari, we see Blue Bull antelopes and spotted deer, some gazelles and a number of lovely and colourful birds, including parakeets. They are all magnificent but alas no leopards (usually much later in the day) and no more tigers.

The next day, off we go to the railway station to take the train. We are told we will have two minutes to board so we are all at the ready to jump. Luggage has gone ahead with our bus, thank goodness. We get off in Bharatpur to see Fatehpur Sikri or “The City of Victory”. This is a deserted red sandstone city, built by the Great Mughal Emperor, Akbar (Akbar the Great) as his capital and palace in the late 16th century. It was the capital for 10 years.

As we travel through India, we find that Emperors, Kings and Maharajahs frequently changed the capital of the country. Blazing new trails, making their mark, leaving their legacy. Imagine the cost as new palaces and forts had to be built everywhere.

Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned soon after it was built when the local wells went dry but it remains the same today as it was 300 years ago. Palaces and mosques complete the “city”.

Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned soon after it was built when the local wells went dry but it remains the same today as it was 300 years ago. Palaces and mosques complete the “city”. Akbar was Muslim and one of his wives (Jodha) was Hindu. He allowed her to have her own vegetarian kitchen here.

In the world of Islam, man is not allowed to reproduce anything that Allah has created. Thus, there should be no pictures of animals or people or even flowers. Hence there is a lot of art with geometrical patterns. In this deserted city, we actually find marble carvings where heads of people have been removed so that the Islam rules will be adhered to. Later on, at an art gallery, we see plenty of Muslim art work with pictures of people and gardens. Artists seem to bend the rules.

We see here a REAL King size bed, Akbar the Great’s bed. Maybe this is where the term came from. Akbar only slept three hours a night, it is said and began each day at sunrise listening to complaints of his subjects. For his more worldly pleasures, he had a harem of over 5000 women. No woman (except for Jodha) entered the King’s bedroom twice, it is said.

Above is Akbar's King Size bed!!

If sentenced to death, you were trampled by an elephant. Akbar’s temper was so great, however, that he ordered that no sentence was to be carried out unless he had given the order three times.

And now away we go to Agra, the capital of the Mughals in 16th and 17th century and the next morning we are off to see the Taj Mahal. It is everything that has been said about it and more.

The Taj was built by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jehan, in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died at the age of 39 giving birth to her fourteenth child and he went into mourning for two years, turning away from the business of running an empire and becoming more involved with his other great love: Architecture. The exquisite intricate marble inlay work is truly magnificent.

We arrive at dawn and are the first group to arrive, half hour before the gates opened. It is wonderful to see the Taj before the crowds arrive and we are the first ones into the Mausoleum. There is an ethereal quality about the  look, unless you see it in doctored pictures. 

and now another view of the Taj...up close and personal...

The main entrance is below:

We now return to Delhi, visit Qutab Minar, a world heritage site . This is the first Mosque in India and also has Hindu pillars. There is a metal pillar that was erected in AD 370 and is a metallurgical marvel as it has never ever rusted. 

The next day, we say goodbye to the group of eight others that have been part of our group for two weeks now. Leslie and I are off to see more of India, now on our own. 

We fly to Cochin in South West India and tour the city. Cochin is in the state of Kerala, one of the smallest states in India. Cochin has a rich and colourful history. 47% of the population here is Hindu while 35% is Christian, making this the largest Christian area in India. St. Thomas came here in 1st Century in AD 52 from Syria to spread the word of Christianity. 

We see the graceful Chinese fishing nets. These cantilever over the harbour and operate by a system of levers and weights. The nets are raised often to check the catch and are operated by up to six fishermen. In the lowlands, at sea level, seafood, shrimp, crab and scampi abound.

This is one of the fishermen, who felt sure we would never guess that he was 75! The people are lovely.

Speaking of people, our guide in the North, Nitin, told us that God has an oven when he bakes us humans. Caucasians are underbaked, Africans are overbaked and Indians are just right. (Some might say that we are half-baked!)

We see many Banyan Trees here. These are of special significance because our school programme in Cambodia is named Banyan Learning Tree...but also, when the Portuguese first landed in Barbados in early 1600's, they saw all these Bearded Fig trees all over the island (same tree) ...Barbadoes is the name in Portuguese for Bearded Fig Tree; hence the name of the island where I was born and raised and where my father's family moved to in 1652.

The state of Kerala has always been popular because of the spice trade. They grow many spices in the mountains which are at 7500 feet. The highest tea plantation in the world is here. The Romans, the Greeks, The Jewish all came 2000 or more years ago, all for the spices. 

This picture is of a typical shop owner, wearing a Dhoti, just as Gandhi wore. 

The Arabs arrived in the 7th Century, the Chinese in the 13th Century. in 15th Centrury, the Portuguese invaded. In the 17th century: The Dutch. In the 19th Century, the British took over. Our guide points out that India never invaded anyone! Kerala was known as the Battleground of the Europeans, because of the spices. 

It is thought that the first Jewish settlers arrived in the days of King Solomon, 11th Century BC. The earliest concrete evidence of their presence is a copper inscription dated AD 388. They were a huge community and highly respected members of the Kerala community. The oldest functioning Jewish synagogue in the Commonwealth, Pardesi Synagogue, built in 1568, still has weekly services, although most Jewish people left in 1948 when Israel was created. 

We see the Synagogue and then see the Dutch palace, so named because the Royal Palace was destroyed earlier and was rebuilt by the Dutch. 

Our next adventure is in Alleppey, home to the Kerala backwaters. Here we board our houseboat for our overnight cruise.  

It's a rough life on the boat. The food is fabulous. Our chef is a delightful young man and I want to take him home! 

The foliage, the people and the scenery are all beautiful as we sail by. 

We enjoy sunset, enjoy a few hands of bidding at bridge and call it an early night. The next morning, we breakfast at the extraordinary Kumarakom Lake Resort (owners of the houseboat) and I pledge to return to Kerala and Cochin, next time with my Alex. 

Off to the airport we go to fly to Mumbai. we visit Mani Bhavan which was Gandhi's Bombay base from 1917-1934. It is now a museum and a memorial to the Mahatma, as he is known. The  artifacts and quotations are displayed and his life is told with a series of wonderful "dioramas" (mini statues of the powerful history)...Here is the room in which he resided...

Gandhi even wrote to Hitler in 1939 and pleaded with him to prevent the imminent war. His words were so carefully chosen. I now have Gandhi's autobiography and all his brilliant quotations. Gandhi wore his dhoti to visit the  King of England at one point and the King was not at all impressed. Gandhi replied: " I am wearing enough clothes for both of us." 

Mumbai is called the City of Dreams and is the Business Capital of Mumbai. I adore this city; this is my second visit. we see the dhobi ghats. Even if you are not interested in other people's dirty laundry, this is fascinating. The dhobi is a laundryman who collects your dirty linen which is then soaped, boiled, beaten and thrashed. The next day, after being dried, it is pressed, folded and neatly returned in bundles from whence it came. 

We see the Gateway of India, built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. Lord Mountbatten led the last British troops through these gates in 1948. 

This is close to the Taj Hotel where the bombing took place in Mumbai in 2008. Terrorist activities took place at the Taj and also at the Trident and Oberoi hotels in Nariman Point. We are staying at that Trident where there is a memorial to those who lost their lives at that time. Leslie and I also have dinner at Leopold's cafe, which was also attacked at that time and there are bullet holes in the walls. 

We visit the Hanging Gardens, beautiful gardens built in 1881 to cover an enormous water reservoir. Next door to this is the Towers of Silence. Zoroastrians cannot cremate their dead as they worship fire. Since their bodies are impure, they cannot give their impure bodies to the pure fire, so the deceased bodies are placed in this area and vultures scavenge. I spoke to a Zoroastrian and found it most interesting. In this specific location, however, since vultures do not like the city and its noise, solar mirrors have been installed and these gradually, naturally and gently cremate the bodies. 

We also learn about the Tiffin Walla. This exists only in Mumbai. 200,000 hot lunches are picked up by 5000 men daily from each individual home and delivered from home to office every day. A walla is a man. Tiffin is the lunch box. it is a courier system that works by relay...they are passed from one to another, by bicycles, push cars and trains. And NO mistakes are ever made. One mistake in 16 million. There is no paper work; it is done by a coding system. It is a team project and all revenue gets distributed between the workers evenly. Cost is 700 Rupees per month for the service for each family (which is $14.00 Canadian). After the lunch has been consumed, the lunch box then gets picked up and taken back from whence it came!

We see the Victoria Station in all its glory. 

We also learn that the India constitution was written based largely on the Canadian constitution. Dr. Ambedkar finalized this for India and they say it is the longest constitution in the world with 395 articles. 

After touring, Leslie and I go off to Crawford Market to purchase all the supplies for the school in Burkina Faso in West Africa our next stop. Our expedition to the market is fantastic. We are told to head to Jaitin Enterprises in hopes of obtaining 300 erasers, 300 pencils, 300 pens, 300 sharpeners, 300 rulers and notebooks for all. We searched and searched and cannot find such a place. One man then tells us he can help us. He is a very real gem and after we wait quite a spell, we do manage to acquire all these treasures. It is a huge and very heavy pile.  I tell him I will need someone to get us a taxi and to take us out to the street. Meanwhile, you have never in  your life seen such a street. I am hoping you can view the above video. Try to click on this. This was an experiment so I don't know if it will work. 

Our man walks us to the end of one street, then grabs a man who places a turban type thing on his head. He places the two enormous bags on his head (55 kg worth!) and off we go some more as I have begged this man to take me to a suitcase store! Only in India could this be done. He does just that and proceeds to pack the suitcase with all the loot I have purchased. It is so perfect, I cannot tell you. He refuses the tip but I insist and now he gets us a cab and off we go. I have NEVER had such incredible service at such a bargain price!

That evening, we go to see The Second Most Exotic Marigold Hotel, across the street from our hotel. It is playing in English. What fun and what better place to see it but in India. If you have not seen # 1 movie, make a point of it. This one was good also. One good line that I loved was: " There's no present like the time". 

And now off to Burkina Faso in West Africa to see our foster child. All too exciting. 

Stay tuned!

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