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.
Day 64 of 111. Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia
Ron is on his last day of his overland excursion. They had a boat tour to the floating village at Tonle Sap Lake. During the rainy season, the water level can rise by 30 feet. The striped post is used to measure the water level. When the tour group visited the lake, the lake was only 1.5 meters deep. All of the trees and buildings they could see would be totally submerged in the rainy season. The buildings, therefore, are built as temporary structures.
The colorful buildings in the bottom two pictures make up a floating village. These buildings float independently of each other and as the water levels rise, move along with the currents in the lake to areas with good anchorage. The right-hand building in the bottom photo is probably the only floating Catholic Church in the world.
Day 64 of 111. Singapore, Singapore
In the meantime, Paul docked in Singapore. He had two tasks during the daytime. First was to find fast internet. On route, he saw some of the interesting skyline, the TriSands Hotel that looks like it has a huge boat on top of three hotel towers, the giant Ferris Wheel, the Flyer, that he would ride later in the evening, and the huge tree-like structures that are part of the Garden by the Bay. Singapore has made a conscious effort to provide green space all over the city. These metal trees support many plants and also catch rainwater. They also light up at night. I saw many gardens built into the architecture of the buildings as well as several vertical gardens on the sides of structures. I walked from the ship to the gardens and then took a taxi to the Milenial Walk, a shopping mall. After trying Starbucks and McDonalds, I ended up with good internet at a pizza place called Marco Marco. I spent a few hours catching up on several internet projects. My second task was to buy two new 32 GB thumb drives. We have taken enough pictures to completely fill the thumb drives we brought with us on the trip.
I had an excursion called Singapore at Night. We started the evening with a river cruise along the river and the bay. Singapore has only been an independent country since the late 1900’s. They have worked hard to build up a beautiful city based on the shipping trade as well as some manufacturing. The old piers and waterways were dirty and smelly, so the government decided to build a dam and replace the sea water with fresh water. The area called Clarke Quay is a vibrant night place and the water in the river and the bay is one of the city’s reservoirs. Next we rode the gigantic Flyer. From a distance, the wheel really does not appear all that large until you realize that each car on the wheel is the size of a bus. About a dozen of us comfortably fit in one car with a lot of room to walk around and view the city and harbor from the air. We ended the night with a visit to Bugis Village, a market with lots of great souvenirs, street food, and music. We boarded about 15 TriShaws (a cart for two attached to a bicycle) and took off for a fun tour of some of the downtown areas of Singapore. Our trishaw driver was friendly and loved country western music, so we were blasting line dance tunes as we drove through Little India (the smells were great) and through the buildings. We had a fun time, but were glad to make it back to the ship at around 10:30 p.m… just in time to meet the people back from the Angkor Wat excursion.