We know, we shouldn’t get be getting holidays this year because we are already travelling… Let us explain why we chose this title 😉 Since Simon had a lot of loyalty points for Marriott hotels, we decided to use them in India to get a break from the hustling and bustling. We stayed for a week in two Marriott Hotels in Agra and Jaipur. WOW! It was a good timing, because Kolya got sick for a day in Jaipur and then Karine the next day and Simon closed off the week… by miracle Hugo survived! It is a strange contrast to be living in a luxury hotel and to think of all the poverty we constantly see around us. It is very unsettling to look out the window of the hotel and see 15 shelters in the fields nearby. The financial contrasts are huge in India, wealth is poorly distributed. We have nevertheless enjoyed greatly the comfort of the hotel. The children got to enjoy a game room in Agra which included a pool table, a ping pong table, babyfoot and a PS4. They had a blast! We also attended a puppet show with Indian flavours which was very fun. We spent some time in the pool and relaxed away from the noise, the pollution and the harassment of the tuk-tuk drivers and souvenir sellers.
We couldn’t travel to India without seeing the Taj Mahal. As we had already mentioned in a previous article, the boys had studied India in their third grade social science classes. They were very excited to see with their own eyes this monument. The Taj Mahal is actually a memorial erected by emperor Shah Jahan for his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is considered one of the most beautiful building in the world and we were stunned by its beauty. The marble of different colors, the semi-precious stones which draw beautiful floral pattern and symmetry of the buildings is very pleasant to the eye. The Taj stands out in the grey sky of Agra and the view is probably striking when the sky is blue (we had misty grey sky). It is so bug that it took twenty years to complete the whole complex of the Taj Mahal.
Given that the best time to visit this tourist attraction is at dawn, we had to leave our hotel room at 5:20 am to get to the Taj Mahal to buy our tickets. We weren’t the only ones who had this idea and it was already busy at this early hour. In order to access the Taj, we had to cross the gardens and walk in a square quartered by watercourses in which is reflected the quiet image of the Taj. Inside the Memorial, the public has only access to mock-up graves of the Emperor and his wife, but the real ones are still on the site.
We finished our trip to the Taj Mahal by the visit of the quite small Taj Mahal Museum. The children loved the collection of swords while the parents were impressed with their collection of paintings and drawings. We all loved our tour of the Taj Mahal and Hugo mentioned he was surprised by how small the inside the Memorial seemed, but that the complex is greater than he imagined.
The Fort of Agra
After having a breakfast consisting of French Toasts, we headed toward the magnificent Fort of Agra, the largest fort of India. Its construction began in 1565 from red sandstone, which gives a particular aspect. There are also marble buildings that have been added by Shah Jahan (him again…) The impressive complex had initially a military vocation before being converted into a Palace by the Emperor Shan Jahan, who ended his days between these walls that had been transformed into his prison.
The walk around the Pink City
Our visit to Jaipur has unfortunately been limited to a single day, when Simon and the children got out of the room to let Karine rest. We had decided to keep the main attraction of Jaipur, the Amber Fort for the next day, when Karine could join us, but unfortunately it was Simon’s turn to be sick. The Pink City is actually a district of the old town which is surrounded by pink walls and gates. The walls were painted in pink on the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1876 and remained like that ever since by royal decree. Inside the walls, a multitude of bazaars were awaiting us, all separated into different sections that offer products of similar categories. Dozens of shops offering similar products competed aggressively for customers. If you want to buy anything, the game of negotiation is inevitable and the goal is simple: to minimize the amount of extra money that they will try to squeeze out of you. The kids really wanted to buy scarves, and after a quick caucus, we started a negotiation with a dealer. After having been asked a derisory high price, Simon offered a ridiculous low price in turn. After several arguments, threats to leave without buying and to go to another store, we were able to pay the scarves 10 x cheaper than the asking price, but probably also 10 x more than what a seasoned negotiator would have obtained. The bazaar market is intense, solicitation by merchants, scooters who ride on sidewalks, “friends” who want to chat and lead you in the shop of their friends who have the best products in the city, a real jungle. We were very happy to arrive at the City Palace.
The City Palace
The City Palace of Jaipur is the complex surrounding the residence of the Maharaja. We were able to visit a few different pavilions, which have been converted into museums and the Royal courtroom that we unfortunately cannot show you since the photos were prohibited. The tour was interesting, we saw among other things the thrones in the courtroom surrounded by dozens of fabric paintings of the previous Maharajas. We also observed the Pitram Niwas Chonk, a courtyard which includes four engraved gates representing the seasons. Kolya and Hugo especially liked the armory, where they could admire swords, spears, rifles and armors of the past.
Despite stomach problems who nailed us to our beds at Jaipur, we took the opportunity to advance in the schoolbooks, to swim in the hotel pool and to order room service. At least Fate had it that we were in a hotel with a clean and comfortable room. Now that we are well rested, or almost, it’s time to attack the last part of our stay in India, the desert…