India : Jaipur, Agra, Delhi
The 22hr train ride was a good decision. Not only was it cheaper than flying, it was comfortable, relaxing and much to see. There were scenes of poverty both urban and rural, of men and women working the fields and of children herding animals. There was also the simple aesthetics of the landscape. Though there were doors that were fully opened, most were seen through a dirty filmy window. I was grateful we experienced it.
Because we only had 4 days before going to Agra, we stayed only in the city of Jaipur. We will have to venture into the rich cultural west of Rajasthan another time.
Near the end of our stay, a few of us began to get sick... We suspected it may be from eating here. It's hard to know....
Jantar Mantar is one of the largest observatories built. There are 5 of them in the country but this is the latest built by then ruler Maharaja Jai Singh II nearly 300 yrs ago. It was very cool to tell time using the different instruments including the largest stone sundial in the world but for precision, you need to add x amount of minutes. The day we visited was March 21st, Spring Equinox, the day the sun crosses the equator. So when we looked at the time instrument at exactly noon, there were no shadows! Very cool.
We spent a day outside the city touring a few forts including the Amber Fort where the palace used to be before the capital was moved to Jaipur.
There was a constant flow of elephants that offered rides up to the palace entrance. With a helpful guide, we entered through the back way avoiding the crowd. He led us through the various quarters including ones with beautiful gem stone designs and a mirrored hall. Visiting palaces can be weary.
One day, while lingering outside the Jaipur palace (hesitant to go in because it was so costly), we were 'picked up' by James, a tuk tuk driver who gave us a reason to not go in and follow him elsewhere. He was a chameleon and yes, it's 'James. James Bond' complete with a British accent. He showed us books of praise and recommendations from 'tourist' friends he has made. His story was sad and interesting though i do not know what was true and what was woven but he was a talented and intelligent character making the most of his situation. The highlight was a textile warehouse he led us to - hand printed fabrics, hand knotted carpets - supposedly all ethically and sustainably made.
Time to leave for Agra. The infamous Taj Mahal. Highlight was surprisingly the 'semi-deluxe' bus ride. A dilapidated looking bus but the scenery! All through open windows :)
Even in the early morning, it was already quite crowded. I really did not mind. There were many places to rest and people watch.
We stayed one night. In - Sleep - Taj - Out. We boarded a bus to Delhi. Though it was not straight forward as we got lured into a travel agent's office that sold tickets more expensive than what we could buy online. But it worked out alright as the nonAC bus we bought did not show so we got upgraded to an AC bus that costed less than what we could buy online!
On the way into the city, we passed by many brick plants. A common setting known for modern slavery. So many of them and these are only what can be seen from the road. The great injustice of our realities.
On arrival to Delhi, it was terribly confusing. No uber would take us and we felt all others were overpriced. After a long time of searching and negotiating while avoiding and rejecting doubtful offers, we met Ashish. A humble tuk tuk driver who took us on. For the next 3 days of our stay, he became a friend especially with Alvin who sat up front with him while the rest of us squeezed in the back.
Our month's visa was nearly up. To leave India, we got tickets to Istanbul, Turkey via Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!