Travelling in India


Leaving Delhi Airport at about 10pm, we were about to leave the experience  of international jet travel to spend 8 days travelling by a variety of transport modes, ancient and modern. Here a bus, shot through the windscreen of our bus, is about to tackle Delhi in the 1 hour trip to our hotel .

Speaking of buses, here’s a transport, a small bus, air-conditioned and with a driver and bus boy. We are about to leave a modern hotel and drive through the streets of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. A different world for 10 tourists from Australia.

India has more motorbikes than any other country (37,000,000) and most of them are produced locally. They are mostly low engine capacity but that does not reduce the passenger load. We regularly saw 4 passengers, 2 parents and 2 children.Helmets were rare.

Julie asked our guide “why are Red Lights optional?” as we watched streams of traffic cross intersections against the lights, clogging up intersections. Arvind took the microphone, informing the bus that “Unfortunately in this country there is a lower value placed on human life than in yours. While we have laws they are rarely enforced”.

Who says trucks are for industrial use when you can use them for passengers as well.

Our rickshaw ride through the back streets and lanes of Delhi was exciting.

Bikes are used for carrying for carrying large loads. Heavy loads of building materials require help from pushers to get up the steeper streets.

Horses and carriages are mostly used for the tourist trade, in this case to the central Mosque in Delhi 
Labour is cheap in India, so deliveries on foot, with loads carried on the head are still seen in the biggest cities.

That means plenty of shoes for sale in the street markets

There is a lot of homelessness amongst the 25,000,000 population of Delhi with entire families sleeping on the roadsides

Yes Julie and I had an elephant ride up the very steep slope to the Red Fort in Jaipur. For my friends concerned about animal abuse – there were several hundred elephants, who would otherwise be put down, several hundred drivers earning foreign currency and the elephants work a maximum of four hours a day with a rest break after 2 hours. Our guide told us we were in India to support their economy!

Traffic is chaotic in Old Delhi. Narrow roads, too much traffic, no one follows the rules. It took us an hour to travel half a km through this.

After the Festival of Holi (colours), these four up on a motor scooter were keen to show off the hues they had been pelted with in the morning.

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The Taj Mahal

“The world believes it was built by love, but reading Shah Jahan’s own words on the Taj, one could say it was grief that built the Taj Mahal and it was sorrow that saw it through sixteen years till completion.” 

Aysha Taryam


 

Arriving at our hotel in Agra the young porter said he had a surprise, dramatically throwing wide the curtains to reveal a recognisable spot on the smoggy horizon  – the Taj Mahal.

 

Taj Mahal & Pool

5:30 am wakeup,  6am in the bus and at 6:30 the warmth of the sunrise rims the building Aldous Huxley described as  ‘perhaps the most beautiful building in the world.’  It is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The Entrance gates facing down towards the tomb. In the right corner, is the bench where everyone gets photographed, to prove they have been here.

Bill Clinton once said, `There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who have seen the Taj Mahal and love it and those who have not seen the Taj and love it.’  I hope with my photos and words I can help you agree with a President of the USA on a least one thing.  This place is all about symmetry –  laid out in a rectangular grid, 42 acres with water fountains and gardens and reflecting pools along the Yamuna River, including  a mosque, a guest house, an enormous entrance gate, four minaret towers and the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan’s wife.  It has been described as “the soul of Iran incarnate in the body of India” because a Mughal (Muslim) despot, ruling a Hindu nation, used a Persian architect and local materials, to construct an edifice designed to last forever.

“The most impressive in the Taj Mahal complex next to the tomb, is the main gate which stands majestically in the centre of the southern wall of the forecourt. The gate is flanked on the north front by double arcade galleries. The garden in front of the galleries is subdivided into four quarters by two main walk-ways and each quarters in turn subdivided by the narrower cross-axial walkways, on the scheme of the walled in garden”.   UNESCO

 

The Tomb is three stories on a raised plinth so it is visible from everywhere in Agra. This is the second floor entry to the crypt which required a full security search, because of threats made by terrorists to blow up the monument. The only lighting inside comes from the high windows on the four facing walls. They are covered by ornately decorated, carved marble screens.

Photography is forbidden within the tomb for practical rather than religious reasons. Taking photos slows things down and the single file of tourists has to be kept moving. The lack of light means that amateurs will let off flashes (horrible!) and professionals will want to use a tripod! I set the camera on 3200 ISO Automatic exposure, lens wide open and put it down on any solid surface, taking a time exposure. Nobody noticed I took 8 images, 4 of which were usable . The pictures are much brighter than reality-the equivalent of a bright moonlit night.

In the centre of the crypt is the casket of Mumtaz Mahal, the Empress Consort of Shah Jahan, Mogul Emperor. Her remains are not in the casket but in the crypt underneath.  She married at the age of 19 in 1612  the Prince who 11 years later became. Shah Jahan.. She was his second wife.  Mumtaz and her husband had fourteen children. Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631  during the birth of her fourteenth child, a daughter who survived and lived to 75. Mumtaz was a talented and cultured lady, well-versed in Arabic and Persian and a poet, She was reputed to have a combination of modesty and candour, a woman warmly straightforward yet bemusedly self-possessed. Their’s was a passionate marriage. His other two marriages, in contrast were politically motivated and each only produced one child.

In the dark the security guard  uses his torch to demonstrate the translucent marble of the screen and the luminance of the semi precious stones used for the decorations.

The Taj has been described as having been “designed by giants and finished by jewellers”.

The Mosque. On the other side of the Taj is an identical building. It is not a mosque though. It was believed to be used as a guest house, but it purpose was to make the Taj Complex perfectly symetrical.

The outer porch of the mosque, magnificent arches, towering ceilings with jewel decorated panels.

Ceiling of the porch to the mosque

Fine detail of the ceiling of the mosque

View of the Taj Mahal through the archway of the mosque

When the British conquered India and first saw the Taj Mahal these gardens were wooded with groves of many kinds of trees, especially fruits.

They were cleared on orders of the British  to give an unimpeded view of the magnificent buildings.

 

The Taj Mahal is a building built after tragedy and completed in conflict. The tradition amongst the Mughal Rajah’s was for the sons to fight amongst themselves for the throne. Mumtaz Mahal’s third son, Aurangzeb, ultimately succeeded his father as the sixth Mughal Emperor in 1658, having defeated (and executed) his three brothers. He then imprisoned his father Shah Jahan for eight years in the Agra Fort on the opposite side of river from the building where his wife lay. This was the view from his prison quarters. On his death he was buried beside her.


A Traveller’s Gallery

You’ll be the same year after year except for the people you meet, the books you read, the films you watch, the places you travel, and the new things you do. ~Lomin L Lee


This  post is a portrait Gallery of the people who went on the trip, our leader and support staff and some on of the locals we met. Text will be confined to the captions under the images, which will tell you something of our trip.

Arvind smallThe crucial person on any tour is the Manager/Guide. In India we were fortunate in this being Arvind Sharma. His 30 years experience gave him a wealth of knowledge. Living in Jaipur made him a local. His passionate Indian nationalism made him an interesting leader for us all. His desire to learn about Australia was a bonus.

Driver

We really appreciated the services of an excellent driver who deserved a medal for bravery who also helped out feeding the sacred cows.

Bus Boy

Our young Busboy, on his first trip, helped with luggage, handed out the water bottles regularly and even tried his hand out taking group photos.

Denise Angela Taj Maha 1 smallDenise and Angela at the Taj Mahal at Dawn

Gary & Julie Taj MahalJulie and Gary at the Taj Mahal at Dawn

Sally Judy horse ride smallJudy and Sally going for a horse and carriage ride in Delhi

4 housies Taj Mahal 2 smallPeter, Sam, Phil  and Danish at the Taj Mahal at Dawn

Danish & Iman 2 smallDanish spoke the local Hindi language having migrated to Australia 25 years ago so the Iman of the Mosque engaged him in animated conversation.

Phil & Sam with Turban smallAfter demonstrating how to tie a turban this soldier was happy to stand guard with Phil and Peter

Happy boys on the streetIndians seem to be generally happy – smiles were common and wide.

stair sarisStairs full of Saris in a Selfie

Street MarketersIn the centre of the city this marker extended for nearly a km with opportunity to buy all kinds of clothing, textiles, shoes. watches and trinkets

Rickshaw riderOur Rickshaw driver was leading the other four vehicles and proud of his pedal prowess. He was calling on his mates to catch up.

Wedding serversWhen we “gatecrashed by invitation” a Hindu wedding, we did  enjoy meeting the bride and groom but passed on the entrees.

Train stationThe new “Metro” is French designed  but travels above ground level. Patrons are generally middle class with the poor living alongside the tracks.

Sam barters for the shirt small

Sam is bartering for two custom made shirts to be made and delivered to our hotel that night while Peter and three shop assistants watched the bargaining process. While I took the photo, Julie bought a tablecloth.

 

Why India?

 “Travel – the Worlds most powerful learning Tool”

― Keith Bellows

Many people asked us, before and after the trip “Why go to India?” and it’s a good question. People think of the massive population, overcrowding, poverty, noises and smells. Several people however told us that visiting India, more than any other single country, is a life changing experience. We agree.

Julie and I travelled to India in March 2019 on Cathay Pacific and spent 8 days/6 Nights well looked after by SNA Tours.

Heavy TravelTraffic is chaotic. At one stage our bus took an hour to travel 100 metres. This photo was taken from our rickshaw, just before we turned into a lane not much wider than our vehicle, and just as crowded.

Happy in Traffic

We were all stuck together but those in the next vehicle were happy to see us. Road rage we never saw in India and, when I tried to explain the reaction that such situation provokes in Australia to our Tour Director, he just couldn’t believe it. Patience is important here.

Bride & groom

Arrival at a Hindu temple coincided with a wedding with hundreds of guests – the ceremony over and the feasting about to start. The mother of the groom invited us in, insisting on Danish being photographed with the bride and groom. Hospitality is important here.

Holi colours shared with Tourists

In Jaipur it was the Holi festival, which is all about spreading colour on everybody and everything in the morning, with quieter gatherings with family and friends to show off the colours later. They were keen to share the joy with our group.

The population of India is 1.35 billion. In an area half the size of Australia. The capitol Delhi’s population is over 25 million and it is only the third biggest city. Everything in this country comes down to the people. What they have done in the past, are doing now and will do in the future is going to have a massive impact on our world in the future.

This is the first in a series of posts I will make that illustrates my view that we learn when travelling is that ‘”People Make Places”.

My current plan is to write about and share my images in no particular order on the subjects:

  • Why India?
  • Travelling in India
  • Taj Mahal
  • Forts and Temples from Hindus to the British
  • Sacred Cows and lots of Religions
  • Legacy of Maharajas
  • Bequests of the British
  • Politics and India
  • Colours of India

Please subscribe to see further posts and I love to see comments and sharing with others.

Tamaki Wharenui within the Clan Marae

Maori 3 small

Of all the Pacifica Islanders of Polynesian descent, the Maori have been most successful in maintaining their pre European cultural traditions. Within New Zealand, particularly in the North Island and areas like Rotorua Their clan structures remain strong, each with their Marae (communal or sacred place that serves religious and social purposes) and often including a Wharenui (Big House, Meeting House, Carved House) where we were greeted.

Maori 12 small

Our bus driver/entertainer Cairo (not sure of the spelling but that was his pronunciation) appointed Ian as our Chief for the evening to represent us at the welcoming instructed him on the correct response to a peaceful welcome and then taught us all  how to respond to our hosts with an enthusiastic Haere mai !Maori 4 small

Anyone who has watched a NZ sporting team have seen the Haka performed. It is a traditional war cry/challenge very useful for preparing a team for competition, but is also commonly used for welcoming distinguished guests or for ceremonial occasions. A very significant Haka was performed in 2012  by the 2nd and 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment performing a haka for fallen comrades who were recently killed in action in Afghanistan.  Maori 5 small Maori 6 small

When visitors arrive at a Marae they are met by armed warriors who, with fierce facial expressions and grimaces, poking out of the tongue, eye bulging, grunts and cries, and the waving of weapons, impress on the visitors the strength of the clanMaori 11 small

They then make a peace offering of a leafy branch. If the branch is picked up, the Clan Chieftain then greets the visiting Chiefs.Maori 7 small

There were three busloads in our visiting party so He had three Chiefs to greet. Ian is very tall so was instructed to squat a little so he and the Chief met nose to nose. After the greetings we followed our Chiefs through elaborately carved gate into a thickly forested area, with traditional huts to see displays of female and male crafts like:

Maori 13 small

 Poi, a performing art involving swinging weights in rhythmical, geometric patterns, with and accompaniment of singing and dancing. 

Maori Ladies small

Weaving with flax produced garments like cloaks and kilts, shelter and useful things like mats. The woven patterns were used to pass on culture and stories.

Young men small

These young men explained the significance of carving and tattooing in their culture.

Chiefly welcome small

The clan Chief invited us to a concert featuring both traditional and contemporary songs and dance.Maori 8-Poster small

The tattoo “Family Comes First” seems incongruous on this amazingly ferocious expression!Our Haka

Our Chiefs did their best against some pretty fierce competition. The fact that all three Chiefs came from the Northern Hemisphere (two from England and one from the USA) probably put us at a disadvantage. Our Maori brethren were pretty good at putting down any Aussies present, by the way!Maori 9 small

Cairo, our Bus driver was an amazing, passionate singer and gave us the ride of our life on the way home. We were encouraged to sing all the way and on the final round about did six circuits before he delivered us to our hotel. He explained it was a shift change time for the local police but it is my belief they are all his cousins.

A Permanent Memorial and a Temporary Cathedral

 

 

Christchurch 1 small

Some friends were asking about my New Zealand trip and what I had written earlier about the Christchurch earthquake. When I mentioned the “Cardboard Cathedral”, they wanted to know more. This temporary Cathedral building is on the site of Christchurch’s oldest Anglican Church, demolished after the earthquake. It replaced the original Christchurch Cathedral, still standing a few blocks away but awaiting demolition, too damaged by a whole series of earthquakes since 1864. Here is a link to more information. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardboard_Cathedra

CTV2.small

Just across the road however, is a permanent open space where before Tuesday, 22 February 2011 stood the 7 story Canterbury TV building. In the less than 30 seconds nothing was standing except the wall with the lift shaft and 115 people, half the casualties of the city on the earthquake. Unlike most Christchurch building which were damages, like the 2 Cathedrals, t was relatively modern (1986) but an enquiry found it’s design deficient, it’s engineer inexperienced and under supervised and it should never have been approved causing it to collapse like pack of cards and catch fire. Amongst the dead were 70 foreign ESL students

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The NZ Government have acquired the site and set it aside as a permanent memorial to all the earthquake victims .

Christchurch 9 small

Now to the temporary Cathedral. The renowned “catastrophe architect” Shuzeru Ban offered his services pro bono to plan and produce this as the first significant building erected after the earthquake – opened on 6 Aug 2013

Christchurch 10 small

This A Frame Structure is made of 86 Cardboard tubes each weighing 500 kg, all supported on 8 six metre containers, which make up the walls

Christchurch 6 small

This inside view shows the exposed ceiling structure of tubes. The Building is designed to be a performance space as well as church.

Christchurch 4 small

The cardboard tube theme continues in the furnishings

Christchurch 2 small

 

From Wikipedia “It rises 21 metres (69 ft) above the altar. Materials used include 60-centimetre (24 in)-diameter cardboard tubes, timber and steel.[16] The roof is of polycarbon,[11] with eight shipping containers forming the walls. The foundation is concrete slab. The architect wanted the cardboard tubes to be the structural elements, but local manufacturers could not produce tubes thick enough and importing the cardboard was rejected.[12] The 96 tubes, reinforced with laminated wood beams, are “coated with waterproof polyurethane and flame retardants” with two-inch gaps between them so that light can filter inside. Instead of a replacement rose window, the building has triangular pieces of stained glass.[17] The building serves as a conference venue as well as a cathedral.[4]“”

There has been a lot of controversy over this building. Partly the cost of about NZ$6,000,000 for a building with an expiry date of 35 years – the estimated time before the cardboard loses strength through water absorption. The other complication regards the question of whether to repair or replace Christchurch’s original Cathedral as the permanent city Anglican cathedral. The original dates from 1864 so has tremendous heritage value but is believed to be damaged beyond safe, economical limits to repair. This kind of question is still being asked about many buildings in the city of Christchurch, yet to be demolished in the hope that they can be restored.

Touring with a commercial bus company

One essential for a good bus trip is a great driver – not just competent behind the wheel but also calm, friendly and with a sense of humour. I nominate Alan!  He was standing in the car park near the Franz Josef Glacier walk indicating the way to the bus for the returning walkers. This was his response to my comment that he was the most animated road sign I had seen for a while.

Julie and I qualify as seasoned travellers – not in the number of trips or places we have been but in our forms of travel. In this order we have camped, caravaned, river cruised, railed and bused in Australia and overseas.

I’d like to consider what goes into making a good bus trip. When we have been travelling around Australia we have found short bus trips ideal ways to get places you can’t manage without 4 wheel drive car and driving experience. Examples of great 1 day trips were into the Bungle Bungles and from Broome to Cape Levique. Overseas we found bus tours, either the hop on/off kind with a recorded commentary or those led by a real guide are great introductions to a city. I prefer the second sort even though they are more expensive because you get the chance to interact with a real person.

We are now entering the 3rd week of a New Zealand Coach Tour with AAT Kings. We chose this because of the fabulous experience we had with a 11 day tour of Italy with Trafalgar had convinced us this was the least stressful,  most time efficient way to see a country in a short time, although certainly not the cheapest.



Another essential is a good Tour Director. Those who followed my blog through Europe might remember Barbara who was excellent. So is Vaille, here demonstrating one of his prime responsibilities – that of keeping us awake on the bus! An interesting commentary is essential, as is answering crazy questions in a credible manner, sorting out the schedule, being always polite to the passengers, staying calm when others aren’t and most importantly NOT LOSING LUGGAGE OR PASSENGERS.

Aside from the Driver and Director who are essential, these are some things that help make a tour successful.

  • Bus not too crowded – a few spare seats make a big difference.
  • A variety of travel companions who are friendly, flexible and prepared to help each other out.
  • A range of nationalities makes things more interesting.
  • So does a range of backgrounds such as work. A bus full of all school teachers (or whatever) would be bad!
  • Understanding the different needs of single people travelling as part of the group.
  • Some space in the schedule to separate and chill out.
  • Regular stops, not just for food and toilet but to do something and move.
  • This might seem inconsistent but Age differences do count. I have seen adult children travelling very successfully with a parent but most of my two coach tourists have been 50+ and I suspect that travellers younger that 40 would probably struggle to fit in.there are coach companies that specialise in young groups
  • Good weather helps.