Sunday, 31 July 2011

Marathon - Day 10

The last day of our Marathon started with our longest drive of the trip back to Delhi 264km (164miles) away. We stopped at a small road side cafe for a break and something to eat about halfway there. I was feeling better, but I’d completely lost my appetite, so I just had some dry papad (popadum) and watched everyone else eat.

It was so hot so the restaurant staff decided to turn on the air conditioning units that were in the wall right next to where we were sitting. However, they were quite ineffective and kept spitting out horrible mucky water from inside onto our food! It was all a bit gross and put everyone off the rest of their meal! Yuck!
We arrived back in Delhi late afternoon and were taken back to the same hotel that we had stayed in for the first leg of our trip, Star Rocks. As we were all so tired from the long journey, we took it easy and relaxed until dinner time, when we decided to walk to a local restaurant. Once again, I didn’t have much to eat, but I did manage to eat some potato wedges.

Mum outside the road side cafe

Monday, 25 July 2011

Marathon - Day 9

Our next day in Jaipur we had to be up and out of the hotel by 8am in order to ride an elephant at The Amber Fort. I was really excited about the elephant ride but I really wasn't well. Something I’d eaten had meant that I’d spent most of the night in the bathroom and I was feeling incredibly week and ill. However this was our only opportunity to ride an elephant and see the Fort, so I had to pull myself together and drag myself away from my room.

We drove a short way through the pink streets of Jaipur and picked up our guide outside the Hawa Mahal where we got out of the car, crossed the very busy street and looked at it from the other side of the road. The Hawa Mahal is a unique five-storey palace made of red sandstone, carved like honeycomb, with 953 small windows called Jharokhas that are decorated with intricate lattice work. It was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh and was originally designed so that the royal ladies could retain their modesty and be hidden whilst watching and enjoying processions and other activities on the street below.

Jawa Mahal

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Marathon - Day 8, Part 2

After visiting the Taj Mahal, it was still so early when we got back to the hotel we were able to catch the breakfast buffet before we set off on our long journey to Jaipur, 230kms away.

We checked out of the hotel around 10.30 ish and hit the road again. About an hour out of Agra, we stopped at our next sight Fatephur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri is a walled city (which is now deserted) that was built during the second half of the 16th century by the Emperor Akbar (Akbar the Great who also built Agra Fort and Sikandra). Popular legend has it that since Akbar was without an heir for a long time, he made a pilgrimage to the renowned Sufi saint, Sheik Salim Chisti, to seek his blessings and he was told that his Hindu wife would give him a son. When a son (Jahangir) was in fact born, Akbar built the new capital to mark his birth.

The city comprises of a series of palaces, public buildings including  Diwan-i-Am (the Hall of Public Audience) and one of the largest mosques in India, The Jama Masjid, as well as living areas for the court, the army, servants of the king and room for an entire population. The city remained his residence for about 15 years but it was later abandoned due to the lack of easy accessible water.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Marathon - Day 8, Part 1

The day of our visit we woke at 4.30am in order to be ready in time to arrive at The Taj Mahal entrance for when it opened at 5.30am. The drive there was short through the tight cramped streets of Agra, which were, at that time of the morning, deserted.

We arrived at the visitor centre where we bought our tickets for 750 rupees each (£10.40) and we were each given a small paper bag that contained a bottle of water and shoe covers. The entrance to the Taj was a 4 minute journey on an electric float/bus that carried about 20 people at a time. It was a bit like being at Disney World in America where you get picked up from the car parks and taken to the theme parks in groups.

Once through the gates, after we were searched by security we headed down a long walkway with red sandstone buildings and walls flagging either side that were covered in groups of monkeys. At the end of the walkway, it opened up into a large courtyard, with grassy areas and a large sandstone and marble gate which was The Great Gate or Darwaza-i rauza and it was the main entrance to the gardens and the Taj Mahal.

Our guide Ghopal walking down the entrance walkway

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Marathon - Day 7

The next day, we woke early and set off about 9.00am in our Toyota Innova Car for our 4 and a half hour journey south to Agra 205kms away.

Mum and dad’s luggage was tied to the roof of the car with some rope and we all were a bit worried that as we were driving, it might come lose and we’d see their underwear and clothes strewn across the road behind us. Every time we pulled up next to a reflective surface, e.g. the side of another car, building or bus, I had a quick look to make sure it was still there on the roof.
I was so glad to be getting out of the car and stretching my legs when we arrived at our first sight of the day at 1pm; but I was very quickly hit with the urge to dive back in as it was so unbelievably hot!

The sight was a place called Sikandara which is in the outskirts of Agra and on arrival we were greeted by Ghopal, who was to be our guide for our whole stay in Agra.  He spoke perfect English, was very knowledgeable and looked like a really tall Michael Jackson from his pre surgery ‘Rock With You’ era (minus the huge afro).

Sikandara Is the Tomb of Akbar the Great who started the build but it had to be completed after his death by his son Jahangir in 1613. The tomb is surrounded by large gardens which are enclosed by a large wall that has four grand entrances. The largest and grandest of the entrances is the south gate which has four marble minarets. All the buildings are constructed mainly from red sandstone, enriched with features in white marble, black slate and semi-precious stones in beautiful geometric, floral and calligraphic designs.

South Gate.