18. INDIA & SINGAPORE

INDIA – A COUNTRY TO STIR THE SENSES

The Palace of the Winds Jaipur the Pink city
The Palace of the Winds Jaipur the Pink city

 

Qutab Minar Tower
Qutab Minar Tower

I have always wanted to go to India.  Ever since as a child I read Rudyard Kipling’s ‘THE JUNGLE BOOK’ and KIM’, never dreaming I would go there when I got the books from the local library.

And so we designed a tailor-made itinerary with ‘On the Go Tours’ in Australia to include the Golden Triangle 3 cities of New Delhi, Jaipur capital of Rajasthan, and Agra in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Michelle and me at the Taj Mahal
Michelle and me at the Taj Mahal

Of course to see the Taj Mahal which certainly was sheer magic and has to be seen to take in its intrinsic beauty, photos do not do it justice and is very special and a real privilege to actually be there.

It was unbelievable that I and my travelling companion Michelle visited first New Delhi on an adventure to seek out many, many facets of India’s way or life, of India’s history, of interesting people along the way, and taste the spices and foods India has to offer.

I had to pinch myself on day one, sitting in the breakfast room and watching the early morning sun shine through the Eastern window of The Imperial Hotel New Delhi, just as it had done for glorious years before on many tourists to India, heralding a new dawn on a new day, our first in this magic country India.

Our booking was done by an Australian company ‘On the Go Tours’ who put together a tailor made itinerary to see the best of India in 8 days, as it was necessary that we could only, this time, do a short trip. It would have been nice to go to see places like Jodhpur and Udaipur but alas all could not have been included.

FIRST WE HAD A SINGAPORE STOPOVER ON THE WAY

It was our first flight on a Singapore airlines A380-800 series which was great and we can thoroughly recommend sitting upstairs economy on the window side two seats as you have ample storage room for your bags in an enclosed locker at the side of your seat saves getting things out of an overhead locker. It is virtually as good as business class as the seats are quite a lot bigger.

Ritz Carlton Singapore bathroom with a view
Ritz Carlton Singapore bathroom with a view

 

Ritz Carlton Singapore twin room with a view
Ritz Carlton Singapore twin room with a view

Our Singapore Stopover holiday deal gave us a great rate to stop at the RITZ CARLTON SINGAPORE one of the nicest hotels I have had the privilege of staying at anywhere in the world.

Ritz Carlton Singapore foyer
Ritz Carlton Singapore foyer

 

Ritz Carlton Singapore buffet
Ritz Carlton Singapore buffet

Service was second to none.  Views great. Excellent position, and of course we took advantage of the HOP ON, HOP OFF bus to do the full circuit of Singapore CBD

Our room Singapore Ritz Carlton 8th floor city view
Our room Singapore Ritz Carlton 8th floor city view

 

View from Ritz Carlton 8th floor
View from Ritz Carlton 8th floor

On arrival the first evening we dined in the delightful restaurant on ground floor with our mandatory glass of red.Then a soak in the bath with the best view in the world!  We had an early night as next day caught the Hop on Hop off bus right around the loop from Raffles Hotel first stop of course.

Raffles hotel on the red carpet for Michelle and me
Raffles hotel on the red carpet for Michelle and me

 

Singapore Raffles hotel in front foyer
Singapore Raffles hotel in front foyer

We then went past Little India, China town, Marina, Clark Quay, Botanical Gardens and Singapore Zoo (which we did not visit as we were zooed and gardened out after Cairns) we saw the famous mythical Merlion head of a lion, body of a fish

Merlion from quayside
Merlion from quayside

 

Marina Bay Sands hotel very unusual architecture from quayside, I decided I would make sure to go to the top and have a swim
Marina Bay Sands hotel very unusual architecture from quayside, I decided I would make sure to go to the top and have a swim

We did full circle back to Raffles Hotel for a pizza lunch, and as was very hot decided only to try the non alcoholic version of the famous Singapore Sling called a ‘Virgin Sling’

Michelle having a virgin Singapore sling at Raffles Hotel for lunch
Michelle having a virgin Singapore sling at Raffles Hotel for lunch

 

The birds enjoying leftovers at Raffles out doors restaurant
The birds enjoying leftovers at Raffles out doors restaurant

Then off by cab down beautiful Orchard Road, my favourite for shopping to Harbour front to catch the scenic cable car to Sentosa Island. Michelle is not that fond of heights so I think she held her breath the whole journey!

From Sentosa Island cable car the Star Virgo coming in
From Sentosa Island cable car the Star Virgo coming in

 

Sentosa Island cable car from Harbourside
Sentosa Island cable car from Harbourside

Whilst on Sentosa Island we visited Underwater World which was quite amazing.  Unfortunately the World War II Museum at Fort Siloso was closed which I had seen before and was hoping to revisit.

Sentosa Island theme parkt toward ships in harbour
Sentosa Island theme parkt toward ships in harbour

 

Michelle surrounded by sharks in Underwater World Sentosa Island
Michelle surrounded by sharks in Underwater World Sentosa Island
Tony Bennett live Singapore concert 11 Sep
Tony Bennett live Singapore concert 11 Sep

When we got back to the hotel, I noticed a large black limo pull up and who should get out but none other than singer Tony Bennett.  Of course ‘you know who’ had to shake his hand and say hello and what are you doing in Singapore?  To which he replied a concert (of course) and when I asked him the venue, he did not know and had to ask and it was Star Vista concert hall.  He picked my Ozzie accent, fancy that! I inquired about tickets but concert did not finish till 10.30pm and by that time we had to be heading back to the airport.  So I did not get to hear Tony Bennett sing live. But at least I met him and “Left my heart in San Francisco”.

I then caught a taxi and ventured off to Marina Bay Sands Hotel, up the lift to the 56th floor. Mission to swim in the swimming pool at the top. And it was so worth the effort.

Marina Bay Sands pool from the board walk
Marina Bay Sands pool from the board walk

 

Colleen in the swim at Marina Bay Sands Hotel
Colleen in the swim at Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Who would stay napping in their hotel when you can swim on top of the world? This has to be in my top 10 things to do along with Great Wall of China and camel ride at Giza pyramids

Making waves in the Marina Bay Sands pool
Making waves in the Marina Bay Sands pool

 

Looking over the edge Marina Bay Sands
Looking over the edge Marina Bay Sands

Are you seasick yet?  Just a few more photos for living proof!

In the pool Marina Bay Sands
In the pool Marina Bay Sands

 

The pool is huge
The pool is huge

That evening we had dinner in room – brought in on a huge covered tray mobile, we ordered ‘Kids meals’ just for fun as all we wanted was a burger and chips so we made like the kids were in the bathroom getting ready for their burgers! But we could not stop giggling when we tipped the lady, she probably thought we were nutty!

Then off to the airport for our exciting and memorable visit to India.

INDIA – A TALE OF THREE CITIES

Parmod Singh our special driver from Travel Inn At New Delhi airport on our tailor made tour
Parmod Singh our special driver from Travel Inn at New Delhi airport on our tailor made tour

We flew into New Delhi with Singapore Airlines just before dawn on Thursday 12 September and were delighted to see such a beautiful, modern, clean terminal. On arrival the ‘On the Go Tours’ representative Raj was awaiting us with a broad smile and a placard with our name, always very comforting to see at any airport in the world on arriving. We met our personal driver for the next 8 days Parmod Singh, a delightful young man from a small Himalayan village in northern India.

My biggest surprise on the way from our airport to the Hotel just as the sun was rising on a new day, was how wide and clean the streets were and then what a huge green belt of very well manicured parks and gardens all throughout the city of New Delhi.  I loved the Neem trees (to clean your teeth) and Ashoka trees (like bushy poplar trees now popular in Australia sometimes called a Mast tree, or Sorrowless Tree.

Neem tree to clean teeth along New Delhi roadside
Neem tree to clean teeth along New Delhi roadside

 

NEW DELHI

New Delhi is quite a city.  It really packs a punch right from the first moment you arrive.

It’s welcoming wide streets, and miles and miles of manicured parks and gardens with the most beautiful trees is just simply overwhelming, and belie all the tales you hear from people when you say you are going to India like the smells and crowds and rubbish, this is a complete untruth about this beautiful city.  So to all those pundits who said  “you are very brave”,” put a peg on your nose”, and all the other derogatory things, like you will get Delhi Belly,  all I can say is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Quite the opposite indeed, the air is fine, washed by a sudden monsoonal flush of rain. There is just a minor pollution haze not overwhelming or unsimilar to most other big cities, this one with a population of 18 million people.

THE IMPERIAL HOTEL NEW DELHI – 5 STAR IN EVERY WAY

You are treated like royalty from the moment you drive into the reception area of The Imperial Hotel New Delhi.  Right from the first Namaste you feel at home and there must be three staff to each hotel guest as you are so well taken care of.

I had to pinch myself on day one, sitting in the breakfast room and watching the early morning sun shine through the Eastern window of The Imperial Hotel New Delhi, just as it had done for glorious years before on many happy tourists to India, heralding a new dawn on a new day, our first in this magic country India.

There were historical photographs and memorabilia along the ornate corridors with polished marble floors mirroring the splendor of times gone by.

Imperial Hotel New Delhi hallway
Imperial Hotel New Delhi hallway

 

Imperial Hotel nightclub entrance
Imperial Hotel nightclub entrance

We were briefed by Anurag Anand from Travel Inn representing ‘On the Go Tours’ very adequately about what we were to experience in New Delhi and the hotel. We were staying at the very lovely THE IMPERIAL HOTEL NEW DELHI one of the top hotels of the world with such magnificent ambiance you feel like a Maharani.

Lobby lounge at THE IMPERIAL HOTEL NEW DELHI
Lobby lounge at THE IMPERIAL HOTEL NEW DELHI

 

Coffee time at The Imperial Hotel atrium
Coffee time at The Imperial Hotel atrium

Or around its tranquil garden setting. The huge swimming pool is very inviting on a hot day especially after a full day sightseeing

The Imperial Hotel New Delhi pool
The Imperial Hotel New Delhi pool
The Imperial New Delhi dining al fresco
The Imperial New Delhi dining al fresco

Breakfasts were just so abundant with delights for this sweet tooth, such as cinnamon rolls, chocolate croissants, pancakes by the stack, donuts, walnut bread (to die for, melted in the mouth) banana bread, muffins galore, all the naughtiness this young lady could get up to. Along with the omelettes and pancake stacks that Chef Joseph cheerfully made.

Breakfast chef Joseph making omelettes and pancakes
Breakfast chef Joseph making omelettes and pancakes

 

The Imperial New Delhi dining room
The Imperial New Delhi dining room

 

NEW DELHI SIGHTSEEING WITH VIKAS

We met our New Delhi guide for the next two days Vikas who was an extremely informative local guide representing ‘On the Go Tours’ from Travel India company He was extremely informative telling us there are 29 states in India and 7 union cities. The population of 1,237 billion people made up of 80% Hindus, 12% Muslim, 3% Sikhs, 3% Christian, 2% rest.

He told us about Pancha Mahabhutas, that in Hinduism’s sacred literature the great or gross elements are air, fire, earth, water, and five fold space or ether. First there was earth, and then sky for air needed for fire and water to put out fire. Or from space came into being, air; from air, fire; from fire, the waters, from the waters, the earth.

The actual names of these five elements are Akasha (ether), Vayu(aeriality), Agni(fire), Apas(liquidity) and Prithvi(compaction).  The descriptions of these five constituents are quite similar across also Sankhya, Tantra and Buddhist philosophy and even Greek literature.

Monsoonal downpour in minutes streets flooded
Monsoonal downpour in minutes streets flooded

It was very hot sightseeing around 33 degrees, but a dry heat, so was quite a surprise to get a sudden downpour, a late monsoonal flush to turn the gutters and lane ways to rivers in a matter of minute. Everyone was drenched to the skin.

Michelle Demetra (my travelling companion and friend has comments also on her Facebook group page and soon to be on her website as Michelle has researched in depth the particulars of places of interest visited. See on www.michelstravelsandxstitchplace.com

NEW DELHI SIGHTSEEING WITH VIKAS

One of the most impressive sites we visited was the Red Fort at New Delhi. But our first place of visit on our day of arrival was to the spectacular UNESCO  World Heritage Site Qutab Minar, which covers a huge area

World Heritage site
World Heritage site

 

Cloisters at Qutab Minar
Cloisters at Qutab Minar

The buildings in the complex 15km south of Delhi dates back to Muslim rule in India. Qutb-ud-din began the original  tower in 1209 and completed after his death The tower is 73m high and tapers to the top.

Ashoka trees in front of old tower Qutub Minar
Ashoka trees in front of old tower Qutub Minar

In days gone by cloisters linked the mosques to the tower. We were taken to the Ethiopian Consulate compound for a lovely Indian luncheon including Tandoori chicken, and Chicken with Fenugreek and Roti bread. We did enjoy the after dinner treat of sugar cubes and aniseed to cleanse the pallet.

MICHELLE AND ME DINING AT ETHIOPIAN CONSULATE COMPOUND NEW DELHI
MICHELLE AND ME DINING AT ETHIOPIAN CONSULATE COMPOUND NEW DELHI

 

Michelle and me in Ethiopian C C New Delhi with our driver PARMOD
Michelle and me in Ethiopian C New Delhi with our driver PARMOD

Next day our first place of visitation was the Red Fort (also known as Lal Qila) complex built of red sandstone, and constructed by Shah Jehan It covers a huge area and is still housing the Indian Army.

Colleen and Michelle at entrance to Red Fort
Colleen and Michelle at entrance to Red Fort

We entered the Red Fort through the Lahore gate through security.  It faces Lahore now in Pakistan.

Red Fort Drum Hall
Red Fort Drum Hall

 

Red fort drum house
Red fort drum house

We then walked through a covered bazaar where Michelle bought a purse for her camera. This was originally built so the concubines and wives could go shopping. From the bazaar to the Naubat Khana or Drum House, beautifully decorated with frescoes. This building sitting in a garden surrounded by vast lawns and gardens with hedges.

Summer Palace at Red Fort
Summer Palace at Red Fort

Then through the Hall of Public Audience Diwan-i-Khas  built of white marble where the emperor would sit in on disputes.This looked toward the Summer Palace residence, quite small in relation to the rest of The Red Fort. There are still army barracks functioning here.

 

 

I climbed up the steps of JAMA MASJID the great Mosque of Old Delhi the largest in India also built by Emperor Shar Jahan the (fifth Mughal emperor of India,) who built the Red Fort and commissioned the mosque in 1644, it remains the largest mosque in India. – he must have been a very busy man.

There was a group of Aussie tourists there with Wendy Wu travel.

Jama Masjid the great Mosque of Old Delhi
Jama Masjid the great Mosque of Old Delhi

 

Gowned to enter the Great Mosque
Gowned to enter the Great Mosque

The mosque is built in the middle of some of the narrowest and busiest dirt streets of New Delhi, thronging with merchants and shoppers selling everything from fireworks to gas to milk

 

Busy street leading to the Mosque Jama Masjid
Busy street leading to the Mosque Jama Masjid

 

On way to great Mosque
On way to great Mosque

Now I knew New Delhi was the political capital of India but I did not realize there were so many huge beautiful buildings attached to the Presidential Palace and  Government buildings

Secretariat building New Delhi
Secretariat building New Delhi

 

Presidential Palace New Delhi
Presidential Palace New Delhi

Along with the House of Parliament a circular building, then drive on down through Impressive INDIA GATE, through which was seen King George V Memorial without his statue which is somewhere else.

Splendid house of parliament New Delhi
Splendid house of parliament New Delhi

 

India Gate
India Gate

Oh my goodness me, I nearly forgot our very important visit to the Mahatma Gandhi memorial….. how could I, I nearly flaked it in the heat there and Michelle had to just about  push me up the steep incline to see the very stirring peaceful sight of this country’s most important memorial.  So glad she did as would have been sorry to have missed it. I thought at one stage I might have ended up there with him! Thanks Mish.

The pathway to Mahatma Gandhi's memorial New Delhi
The pathway to Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial New Delhi

The very stirring monument  with beautiful yellow marigold flowers floating on the water dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi who was cremated after his assassination in 1948 so is just a memorial.  A commemorative ceremony takes place each Friday on the day he was killed.

Mahatma Ghandi's memorial
Mahatma Ghandi’s memorial

 

Incline to view the memorial to Mahatma Ghandi.
Incline to view the memorial to Mahatma Ghandi.

JAIPUR – THE PINK CITY IN RAJESTHAN

Dilip Singh our very good guide in Jaipur
Dilip Singh our very good guide in Jaipur

 

Dilip Singh our knowledgeable guide at the ancient observatory Jantar Mantar
Dilip Singh our knowledgeable guide at the ancient observatory Jantar Mantar

We were met on arrival at the beautiful Rambagh Palace Hotel in splendid fashion by a sprinkling of rose petals as we walked up the steps, making us feel like royalty.

On the steps of the Taj Rambagh Palace a rose petal greeting
On the steps of the Taj Rambagh Palace a rose petal greeting

We met our fabulous local tour guide for our sightseeing in Jaipur DILIP SINGH a very informative and knowledgeable young man.  He was very helpful assisting the two of us everywhere  up steps and down hills, and an excellent photographer as well. See some  of Dilip’s fancy camera work below.

Pink city temples among shops
Pink city temples among shops

 

One of the gates into the Pink City and City Palace
One of the gates into the Pink City and City Palace

I loved the Pink City, it really had atmosphere, and I think was one of my favorite places.

The Palace of the Winds Jaipur the Pink city
The Palace of the Winds Jaipur the Pink city

Jaipur is called the Pink citry because when Edward Prince of Wales visited the city in 1876 all the buildings were ordered to be painted pink in his honour. This is a very atmospheric place to visit with many vendors in the area and also houses the famous five storied Palace of the Winds, or Hawa Mahal is found  built in 1798 by the Maharaja Sawai. It was designed like the crown of Krishna the Hindu God. It had 953 small latticed windows where the Royal ladies sat behind watching the people in the street without being seen themselves. It was part of the city palace.

Palace of the winds Michelle and Colleen
Palace of the winds Michelle and Colleen

Our guide Dilip then took us to see the  Amer Fort pronounced Amber Fort just a short distance, 10 minutes from Jaipur, the Amber Fort complex stands high in the hills overlooking the Delhi-Jaipur highway, with its forbidding ramparts reflected in the still waters of the Maota Lake below. Right at the top is Amber Palace where power was later shifted to City Palace

The view from the Elephant ride over the lake with saffron garden island
The view from the Elephant ride over the lake with saffron garden island

Now for one of the highlights of the whole trip, the Elephant ride at the Amber Fort. The best and funniest part was boarding the elephant with its red turbaned driver up to the top to the Palace.

Michelle could not stop laughing going up to the Fort on the elelphant
Michelle could not stop laughing going up to the Fort on the elephant

 Has to be equal in enjoyment and achievement to climbing the Great Wall of China.  The driver kept telling us to sit in the middle of the elephant or risk falling off by slipping down the side of it.  Can you imagine.

 

Michelle and Colleen on hilarious elephant ride to top of Amber Fort
Michelle and Colleen on hilarious elephant ride to top of Amber Fort

 

Michelle and Colleen on the fabulous elephant ride at Amber fort
Michelle and Colleen on the fabulous elephant ride at Amber fort

AMBER PALACE AT TOP OF AMBER FORT

Amber (pronounced Amer) is situated about 11 kilometres from Jaipur and was the ancient citadel of the ruling Kachwahas of Amber, before the capital was shifted to the plains, the present day Jaipur. The Amber Fort set in picturesque and rugged hills is a fascinating blend of Hindu and Mughal architecture. Constructed by Raja Man Singh I in 1592 and completed by Mirja Raja Jai Singh the fort was made in red sand stone and white marble.  It is very beautiful and well worth the walk to the top.

 Within the palace are the Diwan-e-Aam or the “Hall of Public Audience”.

Hall of Private Audience at Amber Fort
Hall of Private Audience at Amber Fort

 

Hall of Public Audience between Winter and Summer Palace
Hall of Public Audience between Winter and Summer Palace

the Diwan-e-Khas or the “Hall of Private Audience” and the Sukh Niws where a cool breeze blows across channels of water for the purpose of air-conditioning.

Colleen at the main gate of the Palace at top of Amber Fort
Colleen at the main gate of the Palace at top of Amber Fort

 

In the Summer Palace, the Treasury
In the Summer Palace, the Treasury

The structure has four different parts, each with a separate entrance. The main entry to the fort is through the ‘Suraj Pol’ or Sun Gate which opens up into the main courtyard. This east-facing gate is also the main entrance to the palace and its position with respect to the rising sun is the source of its name.

City Palace Summer Palace Dilip's clever photography
City Palace Summer Palace Dilip’s clever photography

 

Dilip's tricky photography again in Summer Palace
Dilip’s tricky photography again in Summer Palace

The ‘Jaleb Chowk’ is one of the four courtyards of the Amer Palace. The ‘Sila Devi’ Temple is right at the entrance to the main palace grounds. The second courtyard is famous for its ‘Diwan-i-Aam’ (Public Audience Hall), the ‘Sheesh Mahal’ and the ‘Sukh Mahal’.

Then out past Jal Mahal the Lake Palace sitting serenely mystical in the water, below

Jal Mahal (lake Palace) ethereal
Jal Mahal (lake Palace) ethereal

 

Before going to visit one of the most amazingly historical places in terms of the measuring of time and study of the moon, sun and stars Jantar mantar.  It is unbelievable in as much the brilliance of invention and put there by Maharaja Jai Singh II during the 1720’s There are plenty of observatories all over the world, but the Jantar Mantar is considered to be one of the largest observatories ever built. Combining religion, science and art, the Jantar Mantar is the name given to a series of five, magnificent structures built in Jaipur.

Jantar mantar Jaipur measuring time to the minute
Jantar mantar Jaipur measuring time to the minute
Dilip shows us how accurate these can be
Dilip shows us how accurate these can be

 

Maharaja Jai Singh II, an amazing man, the founder of the ‘Pink city’, was a great scholar and an avid Astrologer. He studied philosophy, astrology, architecture and religion in various schools, and was also well versed with universal mathematical concepts such as Euclid’s Clements, Ptolemy’s Syntaxes (try teaching that to our kids today)  and the Master works of Aryabhatta. In the year 1718, he wanted to construct an observatory of renown. For this, he studied the subject of astronomy and then built five different observatories around North India. At these places, he would sit with other scholarly astronomers, such as Pt. Kedarnath, for astronomical observations.

The Libran at Jantar martar observatory
The Libran at Jantar martar observatory

 

Virgo Michelle at Jantar mantar
Virgo Michelle at Jantar mantar

The ‘Jantar Mantar’ at Jaipur, being the biggest conservatory in the country, was renovated time and again and houses various instruments that offer precise measurements of time, the azimuth, declination of the sun and the positions of constellations, along with several other astronomical phenomena. The Jaipur observatory was functional for seven years only, as the Maharaja was not very successful in deriving accurate, astronomical observations.

CITY PALACE NEXT VISIT

City Palace Jaiupur inside gate
City Palace Jaiupur inside gate

Located in the heart of the walled city, the City Palace Complex gives you an idea about the farsightedness of the founder of Jaipur Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. He left behind a legacy of some of the most imposing and magnificent architecture in the city. It has a real feeling of living royalty in India.

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh built many buildings but some of the structures were also built by later rulers. The palace is a blend of Mughal and Rajput architecture and the ex-royal family still lives in a part of the palace.

City Palace Jaipur with Textile museum
City Palace Jaipur with Textile museum

We toured the very extensive museum textile collection dating back hundreds of years, the royal robes were extremely impressive and grand, gold embroidery was lavish and not spared on any garments.

Then we had a delightful Indian cuisine lunch at the City Palace Cafe which the Royal Family opened on request from tour guides.

Whilst we were there the young Royal Prince was chauffered past us from Chandra Mahal – (His Highness Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh was born on 2nd July1998 as son of Princess Diya Kumari and Maharaj Narendra Singh. His Late Highness Maharaja Sawai Bhawani Singhji adopted him as his crown prince on 22nd November 2002 and enthroned on Jaipur Gaddi on 27th April 2011.  At that time, he was studying at Mayo College, Ajmer.)   

Facade of Hawa Mahal from behind the City Palace gates
Facade of Hawa Mahal from behind the City Palace gates

THE RAMBAGH PALACE HOTEL JAIPUR- WHERE WE STAYED

I never thought I would get to sleep in a real Palace, but we did. We spent two nights in extreme luxury at the Taj Rambagh Palace Jaipur the home of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II and his beautiful wife Rajmata Gayatri Devi.

When you drive in the front entrance you know you are somewhere different when you are offered a lift in an old Pontiac with a turbaned driver. We chose to stay with our Parmod driver extraordinaire from On the Go Tours in our own Toyota.

Rambagh Palace from front towards pool
Rambagh Palace from front towards pool

 

Rambagh Palace courtyard lovely gardens with pigeon chasing man
Rambagh Palace courtyard lovely gardens with pigeon chasing man

The jewel of Jaipur has been a royal guest house and hunting lodge to the Maharaja of Jaipur reflecting the finest marbled corridors and majestic gardens. It featured in Peter Coats “Most beautiful Gardens of the World’.

 

RAmbagh Palace gardens
RAmbagh Palace gardens

 

Rambagh Palace Spa entrance
Rambagh Palace Spa entrance

Sir Swinton Jacob the British Engineer who built the Albert Hall Museum Jaipur designed the vast open hall, and two rooms and courtyards with traditional Rajput architecture.  This is when the estate was renamed Rambagh the garden on Ram Singh

In 1933 the Maharaja returned to India from England with his family and took up residence with his wife Gayatri Devi where they graciously entertained royalty and the cream of society, Viceroys, including the Mountbattens, Lords and Ladies, polo players at their own polo field and it had an international reputation of elegant entertainment.

Rambagh Palace open restaurant
Rambagh Palace open restaurant

 

Michelle G & T time at outdoor restaurant watching traditional dance
Michelle G & T time at outdoor restaurant watching traditional dance

In1947 India declared independence and the princely states were merged with the Union of India and Maharaja of Jaipur was appointed the Rajpramukh of the state of Rajasthan. Rambagh Palace became the Raj Bhavan or Governor’s House.

In 1956 the family decided that the city needed a luxury hotel and hence Rambagh Palace was converted to a world class one run by the family itself until in 1972 Taj Hotels and Resorts took over the management maintaining it as the epitome of glorious Rajput hospitality.

 The swmming pool areas and gardens were very relaxing after a long hot day of touring.

Rambagh Palace outdoor pool
Rambagh Palace outdoor pool

 

Outdoor pool
Outdoor pool

And it was a sheer delight to take a relaxing swim in the indoor pool and take an hour long massage in the spa tents at the bottom of the garden near the steam train.

Rambagh Palace indoor pool the height of luxury
Rambagh Palace indoor pool the height of luxury

 

Marbled walkway on way to our room
Marbled walkway on way to our room

The total elegance is rejuvenating to the soul and there is such a calming, relaxing air to the place as you stroll through its shiny marble floored hallways.

Rambagh Palace fine Dining and Breakfast room
Rambagh Palace fine Dining and Breakfast room

 

Rambagh Palace dining room foyer
Rambagh Palace dining room foyer

You can take me back to stay at this Palace any day.

AND ADDING THE BEST IS YET TO COME – AGRA AND THE TAJ MAHAL

THE UNBELIEVABLE TAJ MAHAL

TAJ MAHAL our first glimpse from our 5th floor room brought tears to our eyes
TAJ MAHAL our first glimpse from our 5th floor room brought tears to our eyes
One of the greatest love stories is of Shah Jahan’s love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The emperor erected the Taj Mahal in the memory of his dead wife who died giving birth to her 14th baby, while grieving for her. They say there were about 20,000 workers toiling day and night to create this masterpiece, which is today one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The daughter of Shah Jahan’s father’s Prime Minister, Arjumand Banu Begum became Mumtaz Mahal when she was christened as the ‘jewel of the palace’ by Shah Jahan after their marriage. His inseparable companion till she died loved by the people for all her charitable work and just decisions. The King was never the same without her and was eventually captured and imprisoned by his own son Aurangzeb. He spent his last days looking at the monument he erected in her loving memory from across the river at Agra Fort where he was confined for six years prior to his death.
Gateway Hotel Agra, nice grounds and view of Taj Mahal
Gateway Hotel Agra, nice grounds and view of Taj Mahal

 

Michelle setting up reporter's desk at our fifth floor room Gateway Hotel see Taj in background
Michelle setting up reporter’s desk at our fifth floor room Gateway Hotel see Taj in background
We stayed at the Gateway Hotel with a fabulous view of the Taj Mahal from our executive room on the fifth floor.  On entering the room and opening the curtains to take our first glimpse of the Taj was simply breathtaking.  We both had tears in our eyes to see such a glorious sight.
Michelle and Colleen at entrance to Taj Mahal
Michelle and Colleen at entrance to Taj Mahal

 

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal

You have to see it to believe it!  It is a subliminal moment in your life to see this apparition in front of you.

Colleen (bit of a poser) at Taj Mahal
Colleen (bit of a poser) at Taj Mahal

 

Michelle at Taj Mahal
Michelle at Taj Mahal

It is just so much more magic than any picture can do justice to.

Taj Mahal bathed pure white in early morning light
Taj Mahal bathed pure white in early morning light

From every angle it is pure magic

The girls at side view Taj
The girls at side view Taj

There are so many different angles to photograph

Taj side view from river side
Taj side view from river side

 

Taj Mahal looking up
Taj Mahal looking up

You simply cannot withdraw your eyes from it when you are there, and even as you leave you keep turning back for another last look

Taj Mahal on way out, one last peak
Taj Mahal on way out, one last peak

 

Taj from between the Casuarina and Neem trees
Taj from between the Casuarina and Neem trees

We played peek-aboo in the cloisters as we left the Taj Mahal

Taj peek-a-boo in the cloisters Michelle and Colleen
Taj peek-a-boo in the cloisters Michelle and Colleen

The Yamuna river bathed in ethereal light which adds to its mystique  runs at the rear of the Taj Mahal and across from it the Moon gardens

Yamuna river bathed in ethereal light adding mystery to the Taj Mahal
Yamuna river bathed in ethereal light adding mystery to the Taj Mahal

 

Taj last day I awoke at 5.00am to watch the Taj come alive in the morning mist
Taj last day I awoke at 5.00am to watch the Taj come alive in the morning mist

ON THE ROAD – TO AND FROM JAIPUR – AGRA

We sat enthralled in our chauffeur driven vehicle by Parmod the driver as we went from New Delhi to Jaipur, about a 5 hour journey with one pit stop on the way at a nice clean restaurant-cum-souvenir salesroom where we both wanted to buy the one copy of the book “A Princess Remembers” hence both dived at it from 10 paces, to end up in a giggling heap!

The livestock we saw along the way and their tenders were an eye opener.

Cattle along the road
Cattle along the road

 

Road from Agra, loaded up
Road from Agra, loaded up

I was particularly interested to see so many Massey Ferguson tractors on the road as my father was a Massey Ferguson salesman, he could have made his fortune selling MF65’s in India!

Road to Agra Massey Ferguson tractor
Road to Agra Massey Ferguson tractor

 

Road to Agra haystacks along way
Road to Agra haystacks along way

I was enthralled by the hay stacks because as a child my Grandfather had the Kapunda Chaff Mill and I earned money sewing up chaff bags with ears made from hay.

More hay stooks reminiscent of Monet's 'Haystacks'
More hay stooks reminiscent of Monet’s ‘Haystacks’

 

More haystacks!
More haystacks!

These haystacks reminded me very much of Monet’s famous painting ‘Haystacks’

Road to Agra happy goat vendors at goat sales
Road to Agra happy goat vendors at goat sales

 

Goat sales along the Road to Agra
Goat sales along the Road to Agra

The sales along the way were fascinating for goats especially.  There were interesting things to see all along the way

On the road from Agra to New Delhi near Krishna
On the road from Agra to New Delhi near Krishna

KOHINOOR JEWELLERS SHOWROOM AGRA – NOT TO BE MISSED

A place not to be missed on an itinerary to India is after being to the Taj Mahal visit the KOHINOOR JEWELERS FOR THE BEST DISPLAY OF FINE JEWELRY AND FANTASTIC EXHIBITION OF 3 DIMENSIONAL EMBROIDERY BY AMAZING PADMASHRI SHAMS – really and eighth wonder of the modern world.

Michelle and I were offered the chance to try on some of Mumtaz Mahal’s priceless jewelry, we just felt too insignificant and daunted by the prospect of such an occurrence but could just look upon them with awe.

AGRA FORT VERY IMPRESSIVE

A visit to Agra would not be complete without a visit to the very lovely Agra Fort built by Emperor Akbar in 1565.  The red sandstone Fort was renovated and converted into a Palace during Shar Jahan’s time and redone completely with marble and pietra dura inlay.

Agra Fort entrance
Agra Fort entrance Jaharingi Mahal

 

Khaas Mahal Agra fort
Khaas Mahal Agra fort

Mugal Emperor Shah Jihan spent his last 6 years here confined in Khaas Mahal where he could see the Taj Mahal in the distance he had built for his wife

Beautiful workmanship on the buildings in Agra Fort
Beautiful workmanship on the buildings in Agra Fort

 

Transluscent Marble in one of the rooms facing the Taj Mahal
Transluscent Marble in one of the rooms facing the Taj Mahal

Shah Jahin was kept under house arrest by his son Aurangzeb for six years.

Diwan-e-am at Agra Fort
Diwan-e-am at Agra Fort

 

British barracks and behind the Pearl Mosque
British barracks and behind the Pearl Mosque

see and marvel at the AMAZING WEBSITE OF KOHINOOR JEWELLERS ON

www.kohinoorjewellers.com

I recommend a visit to their showroom just to see “The Good Shepherd’ embroidery by Padmashri Shams, it brought tears to our eyes and goose bumps as the curtain was raised on this magnificent piece of work.

We could not believe the extravagance of these embroideries and the amount of work that must go into them

The craftsmanship is undeniable

 

 After this we had one more evening at our Gateway Hotel overlooking the Taj.  From a distance it looks like a dream and when I woke up on our last morning before dawn I sat in the chaise lounge strategically placed for tourists by the Hotel, and we had the best room on the top floor facing the Taj and watched ‘her’ appear out of a ghostly emptiness into an ethereal vision of loveliness and beauty like no other, and no, it wasn’t my room-mate!  I was speechless watching (for a change.)  A perfect dawning to our last day in India.

I did time our visit to the Taj at nearly full moon for optimum photography as you see some moonlit shots over the Taj are something to behold, but you have to buy tickets two days prior to your visit to go to the Taj for moonlight rising shots, which I was not aware of.

The drive from Agra back to New Delhi takes a good 5 hours with one stop on the way. I think next time I would maybe fly out of the last city of visit in our case Agra back to New Delhi to fly home, although the scenery was interesting on the way I must say.

Our last night we stayed near the airport as had a very early departure, like 4.45am but the Radisson Plaza Blu was very recommendable, one of the best business/airport hotels I have ever stayed in around the world.  The lounges and eateries were quite luxurious as were the rooms, interestingly for a business hotel to have glass walled partition between the bathroom and the bedroom. Could make business people and board room meetings interesting.  Don;t panic there is a drop down push button blind!

End of our fabulous trip to India, huge thanks to my travelling companion Michelle

and thanks to ON THE GO TOURS

ON THE GO TOURS LOGO
ON THE GO TOURS LOGO

 

OGT TAJ IMAGE
OGT TAJ IMAGE

ON THE GO TOURS WEBSITE LISTED Wonders of the World (quote from their www)

There have been many Wonders of the World lists that have been compiled over the years, since the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, of which there is only one sole survivor, the legendary Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

 New lists include the Seven Natural Wonders of the World which features Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain and the thundering Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe and Zambia border. The Underwater Wonders of the World features the wildlife rich Galapagos Islands, the world’s deepest lake, Baikal in Siberia and the Northern Red Sea. The natural phenomenon of the Serengeti Wildebeest Migration and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, Turkey’s beautiful Cappadocia and the mighty Amazon Rainforest in South America all made the shortlist for the Travel Wonders of the World and in 2007 an official New Seven Wonders of the World list was compiled in an attempt to revive the concept of the Ancient Wonders. Jordan’s incredible Rose City of Petra, the white marble Taj Mahal in India, The Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu Inca ruins in Peru, all deservedly made the grade.

Unquote…

And author’s footnote….

I think Abu Simbel, and Glacier Bay Alaska, and Niagara and  Iguazu Falls should be on this list too, and I give heartfelt thanks to God that I have been so lucky to have seen and marveled at all these God made and man made wonders of the World now that I too, have seen the magnificent Taj Mahal perhaps the most beautiful of all, thanks to On the Go Tours.

 

4 thoughts on “18. INDIA & SINGAPORE”

  1. Thank you Emma I am glad you also enjoyed your trip to India with On the Go Tours, it was memorable wasn’t it.

  2. I just returned yesterday from my On The Go India tour, almost the same itinerary as your trip, but over 8 days and a stop in a desert village at the end. It was fabulous. We were on a group tour, and whilst it was only 3 – 4 star rated and our properties were not as elaborate as yours seem to be, the places (some small palaces too) we fabulous, intimate, with great service, lovely rooms, some original furniture. Our guide – Yusuf khan really made it all like a dream come true – his stories and explanations made a wonderful country, a really incredible and unforgettable one! I love the picture of you both on the elephant ride – what a time that was!

  3. Thank you Anurag and Raj and Vikas and Parmod for looking after Michelle and I so well in New Delhi for OTG
    Our best regards to your team
    Colleen and Michelle

  4. Hi Collen
    Greetings from India!!!!
    Good to see your website where you have mentioned about recent India tour. It gives me immense pleasure to know that you liked trip to India with OTG.

    Thanks
    Anurag Anand
    OTG (Met you at Imperial for Document delivery )

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Colleen Woodward's travel tales