Agra

A few days before we left Delhi we had an overnight jaunt to see the Taj Mahal in Agra. We opted for a car, driver and hotel package. A good trial run for the company taking us round Rajasthan.

Images of Indian life with which we are all familiar unfurled as we watched from the car window; familes of 4 or or 5 on a single motorbike, the babies wedged between adults for safe keeping, brightly coloured lorries blaring their horn; and traffic halting to let cows cross the road. We stopped at a touristy services and much to G’s delight encountered his first snake charmers and their Cobras.

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There were also a number of monkeys in chains, dressed as people and made to dance. This made me extremely uncomfortable so the less said about that the better.

We arrived into Agra and our hotel The Taj Villa (after a minor detour to The Taj Villas round the corner) with a couple of hours to spare before we were to the visit the Taj Mahal for sunset. After five hours cooped up in the car we were all eager to stretch our legs.

We wandered down a little side street to explore. There were many children around all wanting to meet the boys. We felt like the Pied Piper leading a merry procession down the backstreets of Agra.

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We grabbed a wonderful samosa from a street vendor to keep us going until dinner and headed back to the hotel to meet our driver Pal and our guide for the day. Stopping briefly so Nick could help two guys push start their car. Much to their amusement.

Walking towards the entrance I was amazed by how many people there were. Many foreign tourists and hundreds, maybe thousands of Indians. Half of whom sought photo opportunities with the kids.

Heaps of hawkers waving souvenirs in our faces. They were Auto drivers, camel carts and horse & trap rides. All hustling for our business. This was the kind of mele I had expected in Delhi. We declined a ride and walked the short distance to the entrance.

We got our tickets (I was glad of the separate window for foreigners as the main ticket window queue was epic) and queued to pass through security. Nick and the boys passing down the High Value Ticket Holders line whilst I was ushered into the line for women.

As we passed into the outer courtyard our guide Shespal told us lots of information which mainly went over my head as I chaperoned the boys whilst many families wanted to take their photos. Picking Tomas up and pinching his cheeks, much to his bemusement.

The Taj Mahal is such an iconic building I was worried that I’d be underwhelmed and yet it was utterly breath-taking to see it in person. It is easy to see why it is considered the most beautiful building in the world. We paused to take our own photo opportunity in front of the ‘Crown of Palaces’.

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The boys good humour at getting as much attention as the Taj itself eventually wained. They were tired, hungry and grumpy. And nerves were beginning to fray.

We joined the hordes to go inside the central dome of the marble mausoleum. If I’d have known what it was going to be like in there I wouldn’t have bothered. Whilst I pride myself on looking on the brightside this just felt like an ordeal.

There were so many people. It was hot, dark and noisy (the security guards constantly blowing whistles as they herded us through). We were corralled as they let people in and out in blocks. It felt like being kettled.

I was carrying Tomas in my arms and the crush of bodies had him scared. As we were released and carried along in the throng there were raised doorsteps adding a bonus hazard. No place for children, nevermind the newborn infant that was getting squashed next to Nick.

Serves us right for going on a Sunday during the Diwali holiday period.

We were very happy to escape into the comfort of our air conditioned car and be whisked away to a restaurant that had beer. Boy had we earned it.

Our room at Taj Villa was clean and comfortable (bar the serious need of curtains) but was in part still a building site with wires sticking out all over the place. Not ideal, particularly with the children, but excellent leverage for knocking down the price on our Rajasthan tour!

In the morning we visited Agra Fort on the opposite side of the river Yamuna. We missed getting there for sunrise, opting instead to let the children sleep. We enjoyed a wander round the fort in relative peace and the boys were delighted to spot some wildlife. Monkeys, Parrakeets and the friendly squirrels which ate out of their hands.

Emperor Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned by his son at Agra Fort. From here he could gaze across the water to his wife’s tomb. A monument so beautiful that he said it made ‘the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes’* and I’d have to agree with him.

*from Lonely Planet India 2013

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Delhi Download

Tomorrow we leave Delhi for the next leg of our trip; a whistle stop tour of Rajasthan.

We chose Delhi as the first stop of our round the world trip in order to throw ourselves in at the deep end and test out mettle but truth be told it has been really easy and chilled.

We haven’t felt especially culture shocked. New Delhi is a modern Metropolis (with some cows thrown in). There are Starbucks and people staring at their smartphones. The Metro is clean and efficient. Yes it is hot and dusty, yes the traffic is crazy and yes there’s is heart breaking poverty but not so much of the in-yer-face variety I had expected.

There are plenty of things to do with the children; Delhi Zoo, a vast number of parks and a number of museums. The Natural History Museum and the National Science Centre were big hits with the kids.

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We spent a day in Old Delhi and that was definitely a different story. It is an assault on all the senses. But even there we weren’t hassled by hawkers only people wanting to meet the boys (which happens everywhere we go).

Our first digs are a way out of town. It takes about 40 minutes on the Metro. Whilst this could be a disadvantage for someone wanting to visit all of Delhi’s temples and landmarks we have found it really positive.

Sushant Lok in Gurgaon is a really lovely area, way off the tourist trail. Our hosts are wonderful and bent over backwards to help us. There is a park nearby where the boys have played with the local kids. We have used the swimming pool a couple of times at a nearby hotel. And the food at the local market is delicious.

So we say goodbye to our ‘Delhi House’ I think we’ll miss it here.

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The First Post

Delhi

The process of packing up the house and moving into our 2.4 backpacks seemed to last forever. A week ago we finally departed Brighton (via Lewes and the hospitality of Poppy & Ben) and all those weeks of stress are now a distant memory.

Whilst the Indian summer we were enjoying in the UK during October had acclimatised us slightly to what was to come, the noise, sights and smells of India’s capital were an awakening!

We had planned our first stop to coincide with Diwali which has meant our first week in India went off with a bang, literally. Diwali night was spent with our generous hosts, Roop and Risal (Smiley BnB, Gurgaon), invited us to share their family meal, with gifts for the boys and festive fare fit for Lakshmi. Risal also invited Sam to watch her puja (prayers) to Lakshmi and Ganesha.

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After our feast it was a case of if you can’t beat them join them. So we headed out on to the streets to watch fireworks and firecrackers being thrown about, and if truth be known, in search of a hotel roof terrace and our first gin and tonic.

Hours of fun too on Delhi’s various forms of transport during our first week. From the leather clad seats of this AC’d car bound for Agra (and from which I am writing this post – first world problems, I know) to the four of

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us piled into a pedal rickshaw in Old Delhi, including the Red Fort and Spice Market. In truth, we prefer the latter. The Metro is also something to behold. It’s the friendliest scrum I have ever encountered however, with the boys providing some entertainment to our fellow passengers.

We have been really enjoying the food. From stuffed paratha at breakfast to mushroom shupna curry at dinner and all the delights in between. The boys are open to trying the delights of Indian cuisine although they are sticking mainly to plain rice and roti. On one occasion our efforts to get them eating curry were scuppered by a well meaning lady giving them a jam sandwich.

Our stomachs, thus far, are fine. I know you were wondering.

Lastly, highlights:

G – “the strange and interesting pig” that he saw outside our BnB. Diwali cookie and climbing at Emily’s house. Behind the scenes your of the reptile house at Delhi’s NZP although slightly to close to the angry cobra for our comfort.

T – gives us a typically incongruous answer, such as going to Nana’s house or something to do with poo (at two months shy of 3 T’s toilet humour is unique and relentless).

Sam – watching the boys take everything in their stride, all the wonderful food and finally having the time to think about what we will do with our year away.

Nick – seeing Emily and meeting baby Rohan, being in Delhi for Diwali and planning our next leg: Rajasthan, Punjab and Nepal here we come.