Did I complain about getting up early yesterday? What was I thinking? I had to set my alarm for 3 AM for today!
We had to meet for our trip at 3:45 AM. I made it, barely. It was suggested by a tablemate that I take some food with me just in case so I threw some fruit and candy into my bag. Then I met the group and we started through the terminal toward the buses (5 of them for 150 people). To everyone's surprise there in the terminal to see us off (and give us a bag with food in it ... just in case) were all our cruise director staff! They were all dressed in pajamas and several had teddy bears. The ladies had creme on their faces. It made all of us smile. The crew and passengers on the ship are in many ways a family. This was a lovely way for the staff to show that they felt our pain at having to get started so early. (That was required by the airline flight density from our airport.) So off we went with lots of food and smiles (at least in our hearts) thanks to a dedicated caring staff. The streets had way more people in them at 4 AM than I expected. People going to work already. The airport was not too crowded but it was busy. They separate people by gender for security checks here. All went smoothly until we got on the plane. It was somewhat delayed but we finally got off the ground. After my experience yesterday afternoon I didn't hold much hope for luxury today but was again surprised by India. The flight was a charter and that may have been part of the explanation but our plane was new. A 737-800. It had video screens in all seat backs. We were treated very nicely including cold moist towels and a choice of omelets or pancakes for breakfast!!! (Yes Virginia, there are still meals on airplane flights somewhere in the world!)
The flight took less than two hours. We landed at a military airport in Agra. The nearest commercial airport is in Delhi (or New Delhi...I forget) and would have meant a long bus ride to Agra. Things were looking better despite the early start.
We were met at the airport by busses and travelled a few miles where we switched to electric busses for the final mile or so to the Taj Mahal. They have realized that the air pollution was damaging the Taj and are taking steps to help preserve it. Very impressive but also smart. Tourist money can really help even an economy of a billion or so people. We saw an elephant (there for tourist pictures I believe, but an elephant is an elephant right?) a camel and numerous livestock walking the streets. The Taj is worth the trip (even at the price to come from Mumbai - about $2000 per person in case you are wondering). It is bigger than I thought and the workmanship of 400 years ago still holds up very well. All the decoration on the walls is inlay work. No painting. The colors are all semi-precious stone such as onyx, jasper, malachite, coral and jade. Just goes to show that buying quality pays off. They had 22,000 workers working for 22 years I'm told. Amazing!! The Taj was constructed as a tomb for the ruler's favorite wife when she died in childbirth (14th child according to our guide - our lecturer the other day said 13...not sure which is correct.). Now that is a memorial. The ruler was later imprisoned by his third son who took the throne. He was able to do this because he had killed his two older brothers! And I thought we had sibling rivalry problems in the US!
We went to a very nice local hotel for a lunch buffet. I tried many things and liked all but one. Had a Kingfisher beer. Not bad.
Then we went to the Agra Fort. This is the most important fort in India. It was the headquarters for the rulers of India and therefore its capitol for many years. It is quite near the Taj. The ruler who was imprisoned by his son lived here and when the son took over he was imprisoned in a lovely part of the fort which had a view of the Taj. Nice. So the old man got to sit there and look at where his favorite wife was buried for 8 years until he died. Then the dutiful son was nice enough to have dad buried with his wife in the Taj. Family loyalty is wonderful isn't it?
We met back at the hotel at 4 (we were in 5 groups for the tours) for the busses to the airport and the return flight to Mumbai. They fed us on the plane of course. We had a choice of a chicken meal or a vegetarian meal. I had the veggie and it was quite good. One of our group told the flight attendant that we were not taken care of nearly as well on US airlines. Her response was, "I know." I forgot to mention earlier, the Lido deck restaurant was going to serve food for us after we returned. Advice to travelers: Cruise ships may be hazardous to your health!
The ride from the Mumbai airport to the ship was interesting. I had not been out at night the previous night. Apparently Mumbai comes alive after 9 PM. I guess the cooler night air (oh yes, it was hot in India!) encourages everyone to enjoy the evenings. The traffic was thick! People were walking everywhere. Amazing seems to be the word for India! 'Nuf said.
Oh, a couple more things. We were gone 18 hours or so. On our return there were the members of the cruise director staff again to welcome us "home". I just love these guys! They had clothes on rather than pajamas.
Finally, we gain a half hour tonight. Back to being whole hours ahead of your time zones. Still not sure what that was about.
Cheers! On to Oman tomorrow - 2 sea days to recover from India. (I'm actually writing this on the second sea day but will stop here to make sure I get it sent before we hit Oman tomorrow.)