I want to see Dancing Bears before I die, cruel I know, probably not something the RSPCA would approve of, but these are the experiences that sooner or later will no longer be possible.
Along comes a trip to India, hmmm.
Well as you are probably all aware, 1 week after the India bombings at a Delhi market we decided it would be a good idea to head over and check out the sub continent for ourselves. (interestingly enough it was only a week after i left England that the London bombings took place).
We landed at Delhi international airport after a two hour delay in Dubai waiting for the plane to arrive, three hours of flying and we arrived at around 8 in the morning. We were then lucky enough to enjoy an hour waiting for the bags to arrive.
Can I interject at this point to say that the flight into Delhi was an experience in itself. Besides the most turbulence I have ever experienced (and I have a little flying time in my log book), Cattle class on india air is most interesting. As soon as the rear wheels of the plane hit the tarmac, the first passengers started to stand up. One guy grabbed his bags, marched down the isle and deposited them near business class. A few seconds later every one in the back of the plane stood up and proceeded to take down their carry on luggage. The poor hostess was screaming at them to sit down, calling them illiterate bastards but no one listened. It was madness and this was followed by what can only be described as a stampede as soon as the plane finally stopped. 5 people (us) just sat there and laughed
Back to the trip.
After arriving in India we grabbed a quick cup of coffee in a near by hotel, then preceded to take the two hour drive to Agra, a near by city and home to the Taj Mahal.
6 hours later we arrived at the hotel. the two hour drive took a little longer than expected and the accompanying photos of the road do no justice at all to the madness that is, india roads. I can quite comfortably say there is absolutely no way i could drive on those roads. A single lane road can easily be divided into 4 lanes to hold cars, bicycles, motor bikes, tractors, scooters (5 people per bike), horses and carts, donkeys and pedestrians. (India has a population of 1.2 BILLION people and I think they all decided to head out on our few days there
I had a shortlist of things I wanted to see while in india. My mate (Shank) was amused by the list and had told me that there was little to no chance of seeing anything on the list. However being an ignorant australian I basically wanted to see all things that were typically indian, regardless of what was politically correct. Well, I can happily say that on the drive down to agra, I managed to see everything on the list including dancing bears on the side of the road, monkeys (actually this happened in one hit, the bear had a monkey dancing on his head) (please note: Donna made an official protest about cruelty to animals but its important to see these things before they die out). Then at a rest stop on the way we saw a snake charmer with 4 cobra’s and a big boa. Awesome stuff.
Note: I wanted also to see elephants and tigers but these are based in south India, nowhere near where we were going.
Now is probably an appropriate time for me to talk about the cows. You may be aware that cows are sacred in India. On our trip to mcdonalds they only serve chicken and fish. Anyway, in India, cows are everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Everywhere you go there are cows on the side of the road and standing in the middle of the road. you can be cruising along the main highway and a herd of cattle will just walk across the road stopping everyone. In fact it was a regular occurrence to be driving along the road and see a cow sleeping in the middle of the road, to the point where by the end of the trip you barely notice them.
We had planned on relaxing for that afternoon then heading out to the Taj mahal the next day but at the last moment we found out that it would be closed, so we piled back into our vehicle (One of Shank’s friends from Delhi just bought a new 4×4 and was keen to do the trip with us, hence we had a car for the whole trip). When we arrived at the Taj, which was not far from our hotel, Shank organised for one of the guides to accompany us on our tour. This was perfect because he new all the best places to get photos, and in the end was able to sneak us into the actual building. The queue to get in was thousands long, after he passed Donna and Girls through, he took Shank and myself in through the back door :) I am probably one of the few people that can say they snuck into the Taj through the back door.
Like everything in India, the Taj was cut from a single piece of Marble
The Taj Mahal is a Tomb, not a mosque, that the Mogul Emperor at the time built to honor is wife. Its made from White Marble. He was going to build a similar tomb from black marble on the other side of river but only managed to build the foundations before his son imprisoned him and took over power. Instead of killing the emperor, the son imprisoned him in a fort down the river a bit with a window overlooking the tomb. The Taj was covered in Jewels and gold, but these have now been mostly removed from the outside. The inside still contains jewel inlayed panels.
The next day we got back on the road and drove to Fatipur Sikhri, an abandoned city. Essentially an emperor built the palace and city, then for some unknown reason abandoned it and moved to Agra. It was an impressive palace complex where he keep his three wives. There was also a religious festival going on around the tomb of a holy man. we all made wishes by tying string to the inside of the tomb ( a white marble building in the middle of a red sand stone compound.
That night we went for dinner at the Oberoi hotel. A five star hotel in Agra. One thing to note at this point is Agra is an absolute Shit Hole Slum, containing the Taj mahal and bucket loads of people. Everywhere you go there is filth, and people. Yet once you get inside the walls of your hotel compound, its a five star paradise. The Oberoi was a class above anything I have ever seen, amazing architecture, awesome pool area, excellent service. we just went for dinner.
The next day, we drove back at Delhi, checked into the Shangri La, once again, amid the slums and dirt, these amazing hotels exist where money is no object. After a cool drink we hit the streets of Delhi which was actually quite nice. We were staying in New Delhi and in the British sector which was very much like Melbourne in a lot of respects. After we wound through some back streets, we hit the street markets where the girls went crazy for a few hours. That night we went for some classic indian cuisine at what i am told is one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. I managed ok with the spice, donna ate bread :) The night ended in an indian night club and a long, long sleep.
History Lesson 2
Delhi is actually made of 7 cities, and every conquering nation that has built a new city in delhi, has not lasted. Hence the current leaders, when they took power, moved into new delhi (built by the british)
After a relaxing morning, Donna and had breakfast in the garden watching the garden staff mow the lawn by hand with a push mower, then sweep up the grass using a grass switch (the third world is great). We then decided to hit the markets one last time and went to Dilli Haart, the market next to where the bombs went off. This was nice and we managed to pick up a few keep sakes from the trip. We then went and checked out, followed by a last minute dash to the airport.
All together an excellent trip that I would recommend to anyone. The highlight for me was definitely the roads of india where I saw some of the most amazing things. Not only the cows, buffalo, bears, snakes, donkeys, camels, horses and cows, but people doing the most amazing things. At one point we were cruising along the main highway (something similar to the princes highway) which was a 2 lane divided road at probably 100km per hour, when coming straight towards us, in our fast lane was a horse pulling a cart. Another incident was when we were heading back into Delhi, again on the main road a tuk tuk just pulled out in front of us, we collided at speed, then we just kept on going like nothing had happened.
Cheers from Sunny Dubai (it rained today)
Beer of choice: Kingfisher