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"AROUND THE WORLD BY PRIVATE JET"

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INDIA (January 12-13, 2009)

The tour leader decided January 12 was going to be the most ambitious single day of our trip (apparently to prove that we qualified as intrepid explorers on an expedition!). The planned schedule called for us to go from Tibet to Chengdu (China) where we'd meet up again with our jet (we had to fly Air China to and from Tibet). From China we were supposed to continue to India, stopping first at the city of Agra to see the Taj Mahal and then continuing to the city of Jaipur, also known as the Rose-colored city. On that program, dinner would have been served about 10:45 p.m. (early for Argentinians, maybe, but impossible for us). Bed at midnight on a full stomach with an o'dark thirty wake up call? Ouch.

However, by way of blessing in disguise, Air China altered our plans by taking too long with the luggage in Chengdu. That totally jumbled the rest of the day's original schedule because 1) we were given special permission to land at a specific time at the Agra airport (which is the only airport in Agra and is controlled by the military-there's no commercial airport) and 2) the Taj Mahal closes at sunset and we couldn't have made that deadline either.

So, the next day was frantically fabulous but we didn't miss a beat (or any intended site). The new schedule had us visiting some of the famous sites in Jaipur; getting on the jet in the late morning for the half hour flight to Agra and a visit to the Taj Mahal; getting back on the jet in the late afternoon for the return flight to Jaipur; and that evening going to the country estate of a cousin of the King of Rahjastan for elephant polo (yes, that's right), and other delights of India. But that's getting ahead of the story.

India is a madhouse. The traffic is hideous. Stop signs (in fact, any road signs) are suggestions only. People drive on whatever side of the road suits them. And the squalor! The street populace is wretchedly poor and dirty. The streets are public toilets. A perpetual haze hangs in the air, a combination of diesel exhaust, general dust, and hundreds of thousands of cow-dung fires (the poor use cow dung as fuel for cooking). The Hindu religion does not allow the killing of milk cows (the white cows, that is; the white ones are sacred but the black ones have no such protection). When cows stop milk production they are set loose to roam the streets. Cows, including the white ones, can be seen eating from the piles of garbage strewn in a continuous ribbon along the roads. However, vendors also sell a semi-dried green plant that people will buy and feed to the white cows as an act of Hindu worship. Cows, bullocks, dogs, monkeys, pigs, etc. are everywhere. But amid all this chaos and haze, the colors, particularly in the dress of many of the women, is happy and exuberant. (Western dress, by comparison, seems chromatically challenged and completely drab.)

We began our rearranged January 13th day stopping to take a picture of the building fašade everyone associates with Jaipur. It's on a street with people hawking everything from shoes to vegetables. We even saw some snake charmers (we were assured that the cobras had been defanged). The next stop was the Jaipur City Palace. The Indian nobility, like the British but for different reasons, open part of their homes or grounds to ticket-paying tourists. Whatever. Everybody benefits from this arrangement.

The palace was extensive, with separate rooms for weapons, clothes, portraits, etc. The "audience hall" was a huge room where the long ago maharahjahs administered justice. It contained, among all the other customary trappings of royalty, two elaborately carved chairs covered in gold, and in the center of the room an immense crystal chandelier. In the weapons room, someone who assembled the artifacts (the collection included gold and jewel-encrusted scabbards, among other items) clearly had an odd sense of humor: over the entry doorway to the weapons area was the word "welcome" spelled out using dozens of different knives between six and ten inches long. Over the exit door was the word "goodbye" spelled out using dozens of small derringers! The irony was just delicious. Outside, wild monkeys ran at will along the palace and the out-building rooftops.

India January 12-13, 2009Attached to the palace was what was described as an Observatory. Built in the 1600's, it was extraordinary. The observatory grounds, which cover a good half city block, hold an incredible collection of large instruments used to determine the seasons and the time of day. These instruments are accurate within seconds with respect to Jaipur time (against Grenwich Mean Time). For example, the photo at right shows what our guide described as the largest sun dial in the world, over two stories high. But the astronomy was actually a tool for astrology. The Indians are into Astrology big time and the instruments were largely used for that purpose. Although built hundreds of years ago, the various instruments, both in the ground and above ground level, looked like a modern abstract sculpture garden.

In the late morning we reboarded our private jet to fly to Agra and the Taj India January 2009Mahal. This little four- hour jaunt was the trip segment that probably felt most like "travel by private jet: we took our 757 for an afternoon excursion to a city that is a real challenge to reach otherwise, avoiding untold chaos and frustration. As earlier explained, we landed by permission at a military airport (the only airport in Agra) and, because of unexpected (at least by us) military flight exercises, had to stay (awwwwwww!) at the Taj Mahal longer than originally planned. The Taj Mahal was a real high point of the trip. (CC side note: As magnificent as it was, I'm not ready to reach that same conclusion, although I may later.) Everyone has seen pictures of the edifice, which are dramatic enough, but the entire grounds including the integrated entry gate and side buildings are truly unbelievable!

In the evening, we drove for almost an hour to a private estate (a relative of the titular king of Rajahstan) for dinner. When we pulled off the highway into the estate, remarkably we started driving on an even worse road for two India January 2009unpaved and very dusty miles. At the end of that traverse, we were greeted by torch bearers in traditional regalia, followed by camels full of decorations, and, when we got off the buses, by elephants that were colorfully painted. They were one of the main activities of the evening, because they were going to be playing a very gentle game of "elephant polo." On the polo field when we came in was a group of musicians in tartans, including bagpipers, playing away. Then we were ushered into a room where we had cocktails and the women were given colorful Indian scarves and the men were wrapped with a turban. (CC side note: I took some great pictures of Peter in his turban; however, since he's in charge of picture selection, the turban shot will have to wait because I see he chose not to include it here.) After the match we had a delicious Indian meal in an outdoor pavilion. A tired group then went back to the hotel, arriving back around 11:30 p.m., to pack for the trip to Africa.

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So We Begin  |  Cusco  |  Machupicchu  |  Easter Island  |  Somoa  |  Port Douglas  |  Cambodia
China-Tibet  |  India  |   Serengeti  |  Egypt  |  Marrakech 2009  |  Impressions


HOME  |  AUSTRALIA 2003  |  ACROSS AMERICA  |  IMPRESSIONS OF CHINA  |  VIETNAM  |  AFRICA  |  AROUND THE WORLD 2009  |  SOUTH AMERICA 2009  |  LEGENDARY CULTURES 2011
  |  TURKEY AND GREECE  |  CIRCLE THE ARCTIC