Day 74 of 111. Mumbai, India
After lunch in Jaipur, we traveled to the airport for our flight to Mumbai (formerly known by the British name, Bombay). Our travels took us through city streets where we saw camels (totally domesticated) and street shops with all kinds of items. The spiced noodles really caught my eye. Our flight to Mumbai was good and we boarded another bus to the ship. On route, we passed a beautifully lit building, the Victoria and Albert train depot. Even though we were traveling through the city at around 10:00 p.m., the streets were bustling because it was Saturday night and everyone was out with their friends. Our guide called Mumbai the city that never sleeps (like New York or Las Vegas). We had to wait for our passports to be processed, so we spent a couple of hours sitting around in the bus and then took a “comfort visit” to the Taj Hotel before continuing to the pier. It was nearly midnight when we boarded the ship.
The following morning, we had signed up for an excursion to the Elephanta Caves. Even though we were tired and a little sleep-deprived, we got up boarded another bus. The Elephanta Caves is a Hindu temple completely carved out of rock. It lies on an island that we can see from the ship, but must be reached by a ferry. Where the ship was docked is actually a military installation, so the ferry boats were not allowed in. We took a bus to the Gateway to India, a huge archway building built to commemorate the arrival of “Their Imperial Majesties King George V and Queen Mary” on December 1911. We boarded a two-decker ferry boat and took a gentle one hour ride out to the island. We disembarked at the end of a long pier. There was a cute little railway that carried visitors to the main portion of the island (or you could walk). To reach the caves, you had to climb 120 steps (more steps!). In this case, however, there were men who were willing ($30 US) to carry you up the steps. I saw several chairs at the base of the mountain, but cleverly, there were more opportunities to ride about a third and halfway up the steps. One of our party took advantage of the chair and she said she really had to hang on because the four men did not take it slowly.
The caves themselves were very interesting. My understanding of the Hindu religion is that there is only one God. In the northern part of India, Vishnu is the one and in the southern portion of India (such as Mumbai) Shiva is the one God. There are various manifestations of Shiva, however, and that is what the different sculptures represented inside the cave. At the back center of the cave was a large trinity of faces showing the Protector, the Destroyer (of evil), and the Creator. A very interesting point of these sculptures is that they exhibit scientific concepts that were way ahead of their time if you look at art in other parts of the world. Perspective, three-dimensionality, foreshortening, etc., are demonstrated in these sculptures at the same time that in other art, depictions of gods and people are flat. India has an ancient civilization that goes back six thousand years. I found this to be a great source of pride from our various guides.
Day 73 Of 111. Jaipur, India
Amer Fort is one of several forts in the city of Jaipur. This is way up on a hill and there are three ways to reach the top, by jeep, by elephant, or by foot. Unfortunately, we had hired nine jeeps. The elephants looked like a lot of fun, but the line to get on an elephant was very long and would not fit in our tight time schedule. There is a tall terrace in the fort where the people who rode up on the elephants could get off. The jeep ride up the very narrow streets was actually exciting enough.
The fort itself was also associated with a wall reminiscent of the Great Wall in Beijing. The fort also housed the royal family, so much of the inside was decorated with inlay and deeply pigmented paints. One of the high spots was a hall decorated by thousands of convex mirrors. The mirrors were set into the plaster and the candle light at night was reflected all over the room. It must have been an impressive sight. We visited the woman’s quarters where all of the royal wives lived. This is a Hindu kingdom, so the wives thought of themselves as sisters and helped to take care of each other’s children. This is in stark contrast to the Mogul kingdoms we visited where each wife was constantly scheming and working to move her child closer to the throne. No royal wife in the Mogul empire would allow her child to be “taken care of” by a competing wife.
Our guide, Ashok, is standing near a huge storage pot for grain. This would be opened for feasts or celebrations and huge pots were used to cook the rice or grain. There were small windows near the top of the entrance way where the wives would wait and watch for the king so they could throw flower petals down as he entered. This was similar to the flower petals we were pelted with as we entered our hotel, the Oberoi Rajvilas, in Jaipur.
After leaving Amer Fort we traveled to the City Palace. On the way, we passed quite a few elephants without riders. It turns out that the elephants only work until 11:00 a.m. As the temperatures rise, the elephants can get aggressive, so we were watching them go home for the day. The City Palace is still where the royal family stays when in town. Part of the palace (the yellow buildings) are off-limits to visitors. The rest of the palace is a series of museums, cafes, museum shops, and open areas that can be used for celebrations. There were preparations being made for a wedding the next day. Someone also said that this site has been used at various times for Bollywood productions. The textile museum was especially interesting because of the intricately embroidered robes and shawls on display. There was one dress that was mostly gold wire and weighed about 30 pounds. Some of the building walls were richly decorated with inlay work. Jaipur is known for its hand-cut and polished stones.
The highlight for me was a visit to the giant observatory and sundials at Jantar Mantar designed and built by Jai Singh. The sundial will tell the local time to within two seconds! There were several sundials of various designs to tell the local time and in which constellation we were currently in. These measurements were used for astrological forecasts. Maharajah Jai Singh built five different observatories, but this one is the only working one remaining because it has been maintained. The triangular wall is 90 feet tall and 147 feet at the base.
Day 72 of 111. Agra to Jaipur, India
The trip from Agra to Jaipur was pretty long and tiring. We will do some traveling tomorrow in Jaipur and then fly to Mumbai to meet our ship. This trip through India has been surprising and interesting and impressive. However, we have stayed in some of the most luxurious hotels (The Oberoi Hotels) that I have ever seen. This last hotel is located on 32 acres of manicured lawns and gardens. In the center of the grounds is a Hindu temple and the peacocks, peahens, parrots and other birds inhabit the beautiful grounds. When we arrived, we were showered with flower petals and given a dot on our foreheads for prosperity and good health. We were escorted to our room and when we arrived found the word “Welcome” written in marigold petals! The bathtub and shower open up to a small private garden. We spent the evening walking the grounds and marveling at the buildings and wildlife. It will be great to get back to the ship, but I am reluctant to leave these beautiful hotels. The website for the hotel has a video showing a visit by a young couple. Everything they show happened to all of us who visited (except the native costumes worn by the couple).
Day 72 of 111. Agra, India
Not very far from the Taj Mahal is the Agra Fort, the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty until 1638. We heard of the Fort at Agra in the Sherlock Holmes story, The Sign of Four. This fort (better described as a walled city) is where the Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal was imprisoned by his third son after the son took over the throne. The father spent the last eight years of his life in the Fort. I was surprised that his imprisonment was in a marble palace inside the fort. He had a view that allowed him to see the Taj Mahal, the burial place of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It was very interesting visiting the Agra Fort. It was much more extensive that I thought it would be, especially since it housed the royal wives and concubines. As with several other places we have visited, there were monkeys. Again, I enjoyed the carvings and inlaid designs in the walls. Much of the structure is from red sandstone, but Shah Jahan loved building in marble. India is the source of very strong marble.
Day 71 of 111. Agra, India
Our guide says that there are two groups of people, those who have seen the Taj Mahal and those who have not. We are now part of the group who have seen and been impressed by this monument to love. This is one of those surreal events. Our group members were literally pinching each other to know that we are actually here seeing this iconic building. Even with all of the people and the monkeys and the funny little booties we wore to protect the marble, it was an exciting visit and one that I will not soon forget.
Day 71 of 111. Delhi, India
We had a wonderful breakfast at the Oberoi Hotel near Delhi (Gurgaon) and then boarded the buses for the four hour trip to Agra. I really enjoyed the exotic uniforms of the staff at the hotel. The first part of the trip was again through Delhi and we had a second chance to see many of the same sights as yesterday. Again, the traffic was very slow through parts of the city. Once we passed Delhi, we saw a lot of agriculture. We saw ox carts and cows, goats, and even some antelope. There is a lot of wheat grown as well as potatoes. Surprising sights included the smoke stacks which are used by the locals to make bricks. The stalks from the wheat is used with mud to strengthen the bricks. Besides the smoke stacks, we saw stacks of bricks drying in the sun. Also drying in the sun were the stacks of cow patties. Our guide told us that the cow dung can be used as cooking fuel when dried. Also, it can be used as fertilizer and as one of the ingredients in making bricks.
We arrived in Agra, the city where the Taj Mahal is located. At one point, Agra was the capital city rather than Delhi. Our hotel is the Oberoi Amarvilas (Amarvilas means Luxury!) You can see from Ron’s pictures that the name matches the surroundings. We got checked in, had another wonderful lunch (I love Indian food) and then took off to see the Taj Mahal. We were able to see the Taj Mahal from our hotel room window. How amazing is THAT?!
Day 70 of 111. Colombo, Sri Lanka to Delhi, India
Because of construction at the Sri Lanka Airport, all flights had to leave before 8:00 a.m. For us, this translated into breakfast at 1:30 a.m. We left the ship at 2:30 a.m. We really did not see much of Sri Lanka because it was very dark. I was struck by the number of shrines along the roads in Colombo. These were easy to spot because the Buddah’s had LED designs behind their heads. The flashing lights and changing designs were surprising. There were also shrines to various saints, such as St. Anthony. The trip through the airport turned out to be rather long and tedious. We had our passports checked at least five times before we finally got on the plane. The trip itself was pleasant, however. We boarded buses at the Delhi airport and took off to our hotel, The Oberoi Hotel. This hotel was very elegant and comfortable and a welcomed relief after a day of travel.
After lunch, we had a tour of Delhi (New Delhi) and saw the government houses, many of the embassies, and the sandstone arch called the “India Gate” which is a memorial to the 90,000 Indian troops who fought for the British in WWI. The women wore the traditional Sari in town. We saw a lot of the ever-present “Tuk-Tuks,” a two-seater cab that will take you anywhere around the city for a small fee.
There were quite a few bronze statues around the city. One of the interesting statues was a commemoration of Ghandi’s protest march to make salt at the seaside. Our guide told us that India had made amazing progress in the past 25 years and by what we saw he is correct. The traffic, however, is amazing. It all keeps moving and everyone seems to get where they need to get, but I don’t know how they do it.
Day 68 of 111. Sea Day in the Bengal Sea
After so many ports of call and amazing adventures, a few sea days came as a welcomed change. The water is deep so the ocean is a calm ultramarine blue. The air temperature is warm, but the breeze keeps the air comfortable. We have been resting, organizing pictures, catching up on the blog information, and continuing our art and cooking classes. Paul finished a watercolor based on a photo taken in Malaysia. Ron and I took another hands-on cooking class on Indian Cuisine. The menu included Cumin-Scented Carrot Raita which was served with Puff Pastry Samosas filled with green peas and green chutney and tamarind chutney. The main dish was Butter Chicken and the dessert was a delicious Rice Kheer. The class was fun, but eating each of the dishes afterwards was the best part.
Day 66 of 111. Port Kelang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur with no concept of what to expect. Turns out that Kuala Lumpur is a very modern and vibrant city. The country is officially a Muslim nation but takes great care to accept other religions.
Our first stop, was the Batu Caves, a Hindu holy site. They are guarded by Lord Murugan, Hindu God of War. Besides the caves, there are temples to Ganesha and the Monkey God. It was an extremely hot and humid day but both Ron and I managed to climb the 272 stairs to the top. We managed to avoid the tribe of monkeys surrounding the steps which steal anything they can get their hands on from the devotees/tourists. The caves were high and not as dark as we expected as they are open to the sky. Each cave contained multiple temples.
Our next stop was at Independence Square where Malaysian Independence was announced in 1963. The square is the location of the original Colonial government buildings with the clock recently added as a gift from Queen Elizabeth II. In addition their is a small Anglican cathedral which was built in 1894 and is still in use today. Also located here is the Selangor Club. An exclusive club which used to enforce the “no dogs or women allowed” rule.
The last stop was to the K L Tower which is 481 meters tall where you have a 360 degree view of Kuala Lumpur including the Petronas Towers. The West Tower was built by Japan; the East Tower by South Korea. They are still listed as the tallest twin towers in the world.
Day 65 of 111. Singapore, Singapore
Luckily, our excursion for the second day in Singapore did not begin early. Ron slept well after the heat of Cambodia and we had a nice breakfast before we left for some views of Singapore. The first stop was to a Taoist Temple built in 1821. It was built by several wealthy Chinese merchants and was the first spot that newly arrived Chinese visited to give thanks for the safe voyage. I enjoyed the dragons and wonderful patterns. One interesting feature is the flaming ring on the first building of the temple. When you stand in just the correct spot, you can see a pearl on the second building encircled by the flames. The flaming pearl (the Dragon’s Pearl) is a symbol of good luck, prosperity, wisdom and truth for the Chinese.
The second part of the excursion was to take the same river boat ride that I took the night before. The scenery looked completely different during the day than during the night when the bridges, buildings and waterfront shops were lit up. We drove by the Merlin Fountain, the iconic symbol of Singapore. My favorite stop was the refreshing stop at the Raffles Long Bar where the fruity drink, the Singapore Sling, was first invented. The Raffles Hotel is a very fancy spot, but you are encouraged to throw your peanut shells on the floor. This is the one place in Singapore where you are allowed to litter without getting a fine.