The ship stopped twice in India with a day at sea between the ports of Cochin and Mumbai. There was an excursion I took that had us disembark in Cochin, travel to Dehli via air, travel to Agra the second day by train with return to Delhi, and travel by air from Dehli to Mumbai to rejoin the ship. Of course, while in Agra we visited the Taj Mahal; the main sight to see during the three days.
The trip was a an interesting logistical puzzle at every level. Some 66 people went on the excursion so we had two buses during the bus travel times and trying to keep 66 independent people in line while our host guide helped the wheelchair passenger and an elderly couple (he’s 98) was a little like herding cats. But we all survived and the trip taught me a good deal about India. I can’t describe it here nor can my photos fully do justice to the country. India is more of an experience. If you have not been there you can’t really understand the country; and, with only three days, I’m not certain I got a full experience. But I learned a lot.
We left the ship in a bus and did a drive around tour of Cochin before going to the airport to fly to Delhi. That’s where the first and most lasting experience came into being. Driving in India is just plain nuts. Traffic is horrible at most any time of the day and worse at what we could consider rush hour. They drive with their horns and if I never hear another car horn in my life I will be a happy camper. Basically, you start to come up alongside another vehicle and honk your horn so they know you are there. Then you advance and if you’re lucky you pass them. If you are not lucky or have not timed things properly then you get squeezed out of your place and have to slow down and fall back until the next opportunity arises. Lane markings are irrelevant. Unless there is a policeman present at the intersection sometimes even signals are irrelevant. Vehicles range from bicycles to bicycle rickshaws to motorized tuk-tuks to motorcycles and scooters, to cars and buses. All are trying to fit into the same space. I sat by a window in the bus for each part of the journey and can’t tell you how many times I winced as someone tried to beat the bus to the next free space ahead of us.
It used to be worse. In the past cows, considered holy, had complete right-of-way anywhere they are. The larger cities have stopped this by making it illegal for cows to be on the road. But, in smaller cities, the practice continues. In Agra cows were seen walking down the middle of the road with cars and other vehicles passing around them as if they had some sort of invisible shield protecting them.
At the airport in Cochin we went through security (individual lines for males and females which made some of our group angry — but when in another country you need to bend to their rules. Thankfully, those folks just grumbled and did not try to change India. The plane ride Cochin to Dehli was about four hours with with one short stop on the way. We got a small lunch (sandwich) along the way. The plane was late so we got to Delhi late. The guide wanted to take the Dehli tour and rickshaw ride in the dark but we outvoted him and we went to the hotel for a buffet supper and our first night in India. We ate at about 8:30pm and the guide said by Indian standards that was early. They usually eat supper around 9:30 to 10:00pm and go to bed on a full stomach. Different strokes for different folks.
The second day we met for cookies and tea/coffee at 6:00am and then, at 6:15am we picked up some boxed breakfasts (apple, banana, and some pastries) and left for the train to Agra. We had seats on the express train which left at about 8:00am and stopped in Agra at 10:00am. The car was three across seating on each side of the aisle and air-conditioned. On the way we passed through a mix of high-rise buildings, slums, and agricultural fields. The toilet on the train was an Asian toilet; just a hole in the floor with foot locations on each side for aim while squatting. On arrival buses awaited us at the station and we boarded for the drive over the the Taj Mahal complex. When there we had to transfer to smaller electric vehicles as gas powered vehicles are not allowed near the Taj Mahal. We were told security was tight there and it would be best to leave everything on the bus except our camera, water, and money. The guide was right; the screening was very thorough. But, we got through and entered the initial courtyard where people would have gathered waiting for permission to enter the main area where the Taj Mahal was. At the end was a massive gate we went through and as we emerged on the other side we got our first view of what we had all come this distance to see. The Taj Mahal is a magnificent and very large structure. Most photos of it show the building with no people in them for size. You can see by the photo attached to this entry that it dwarfs the people right next to it. And, we got lucky. While they are going through a maintenance cycle now on the building they were working on the plaza to the right when we were there so there was no scaffolding or anything else to spoil the view. (Two photos attached, one to prove I was there. 🙂 )
After some history and a group photo we had an hour to wander the grounds as we wanted. I walked around looking for good viewpoints and finally went up on the plaza (our guide had given us shoe covers that are needed to keep the marble floors fresh) and, after walking around the building, got in the line to go inside. For those who do not know, the Taj Mahal is not a palace as its name implies (mahal means palace and taj means grand or best) but a mausoleum where the building and his wife are entombed. The line to the inside moved quickly as guards keep shooing us along. Photos inside are not allowed and guards with whistles chided any who tried. As my hour was about up I then made my way back to the meeting spot and rejoined the rest of the tour group.
Back on the bus we then went to a local high-end hotel for a lunch buffet and, after, went to visit the Agra Fort which stands across the river from the Taj Mahal. By then the day had turned hot and a bit humid and we were given the choice of visiting the fort and walking a mile or more on varied terrain or staying with the bus which would remain idling so the air conditioner kept running. I had been told by others on the whip who visited the area previously that the fort held little of interest so my decision was easy and I stayed with the bus. Was told by people returning from the fort that I did not miss much so the intelligence I got ahead of time was valuable.
The bus then stopped at a high-end store for shopping but nothing there was of interest to me as I walked around. Finally, we got back on the bus and left Agra for an approximately six hour drive back to our hotel in Delhi. Another late (8:30pm) buffet supper and then to bed.
The last day of the excursion we again got up for a this time full breakfast at 6:00am. Then, at 6:30am we left to do the tour of Delhi the guide wanted to give us the first night. Drove around the old city sights and then stopped for a half hour bicycle rickshaw ride around a couple of tourist mosques and other buildings. Given the size of the Indian cyclists and the size of their American customers we gave them a good workout. While they had been paid, tips were expected and given. Everything in India runs on tips even for salaried people. (Rickshaw photo attached.)
Back on the bus then for a ride through New Delhi and the government buildings and monuments that England had constructed along with a drive down Embassy Row. Finally, we headed for the airport and our flight from Delhi to Mumbai. That was about a two hour flight and we got a full lunch on the plane. Aside from the chicken wraps I have no idea what I ate but it was good.
In Mumbai, another bus ride that was supposed to go straight back to the ship but the guide wanted to show us some of the important sights in Mumbai so we drove around in the horrible traffic. It was fascinating to see the Indian concept of time management. We would constantly hear “It’s about 10 more minutes to…” and then the same thing about a half hour later for the same location. Time is flexible in India. We were supposed to have a 15 minute photo stop at the India Gate in Mumbai but when we finally got there the guide had to tell us to run across the street to the fence, shoot a photo, and then get back on the bus. We were already late for our time back at the ship. The photo I took is attached.
Fortunately, the port was close to the India Gate and we made it back about a half hour after the scheduled sailing time. Fortunately, as it was a Princess excursion the ship would not sail without us; it’s part of their guarantee for excursions they sell.
Bottom line: I’m glad I did the excursion as the Taj Mahal is something not to be missed if you are anywhere in the area but won’t do it again as with the horrible living conditions, traffic and air pollution (everywhere reminded me of Los Angeles in the 1950s and 60s smog) I’ve crossed the Taj Mahal off my bucket list and also India. I’m simply not interested in going back.
Postscript: I’m writing this while under “house arrest” on the ship. The second night out of India I had some gastrointestinal problems and since the doctor on the ship did not know if it was from Indian food, some Indian bug, or a Norovirus attack I’m to stay in my cabin until at least tomorrow morning when she will evaluate further. This is not good as tomorrow we land for two days in Dubai and the first day there I had an excursion to the Burj Khalifa the world’s tallest building. That excursion for me has been cancelled. I was hoping to get to the observation deck on the top level of the building. At least with the cancellation being medical I will get my money back for the cancellation. Would not have if I had decided this late to cancel on my own. I am feeling better today and spent the day editing the India photos and hope that I get a clean bill of health tomorrow as I have a paid-for seaplane ride around Dubai on our second day there. That will show me the whole area and I can get photos from the air. I’m told that I even get the co-pilot’s seat in the plane so visibility should be good. Keep fingers crossed and look for further entries.