Miss part 1 of our trip to India? Catch up here.
After two nights in Ranthambhore we headed to Agra, stopping at Fatehpur Sikri on the way. Fatehpur was intended to be the capital city of the Mughal Empire, but was abandoned after 14 years due to lack of available water. It’s quite well preserved and isn’t crowded, a nice place to break up the drive. Our guide did mention sticking to the single site and not exploring the ruins around town.
After that it was on to the hotel, with the Taj up early the next day. Unfortunately, our drive was stopped by protesting, and the situation was quite alarming and hairy. Let’s just say it will be a long time before I’d like to drive on that road again. 10 people lost their lives in the uprising and quite a bit of damage was done to vehicles and property. I found it interesting that the caste system was still a large part of Indian culture (this protest was the Dalits, the lowest caste, protesting the loss of their job and educational quotas, think affirmative action) and that some regarded it in a positive light. It was mentioned that with the true caste system, everyone was guaranteed a job (whether menial labor or army service or whatever) and now many are unemployed. As an American, this inability to achieve the dream or reach higher is so contradictory to what we feel is right, so it was fascinating to hear other perspectives. Thankfully the children were focused on their iPads and missed seeing all that was occurring out the window. We made it safely to the hotel several hours late, ordered room service and called it a night!
The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort were on the agenda for day 4, and man, the Taj Mahal really does live up to the hype. It is pristine and stunning. Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal to honor his favorite wife after she died during the birth of their 14th child. He had taken her with him to the jungle for a battle, and things didn’t go as planned. She was actually buried there, but soil was taken from the burial site to put in her Taj tomb once is what completed 19 years later. The Emperor is also buried there, although his tomb was not planned, so is not symmetrical, after being imprisoned in Agra Fort at the end of his life.
I highly recommend going as early as possible in the morning before the day trippers arrive from the larger cities. Don’t be afraid to push your way in for pictures. Having a guide will help with this process also, as you won’t feel the need to pay a photographer or trust a random person with your camera. The site is closed on Friday, and you’ll need to remove your shoes to go into the building itself (although, honestly, the interior is very meh, and you can skip that if you are short on time).
Agra Fort was a nice visit (make sure you driver has plenty of cold water in the vehicle, you’ll want it). You can see the different styles of architecture as well as the place where the Emperor spent his last days, looking down the river at the Taj.
Like in Thailand, our kids were quite the attraction. They took pictures with so many people- kids and adults! I wonder where the pictures will end up. Social Media? Or are they framable for people’s houses? It was hysterical.
Our final 3 nights were spent in Jaipur (thankfully with an uneventful drive to the city!). The hotel we stayed at here was INCREDIBLE and I’d highly recommend the JW Marriott Jaipur Resort and Spa to anyone.
First up was the Amber Fort. We opted to not do the elephant ride as they don’t appear to be treated well, so our driver took us up and then our guide helped us navigate through the sellers and inside. (Our Jaipur guide was Mr. Singh, and he was fantastic. I have his contact information if anyone is looking.) See the small window in the center? The queen would wait there for her husband to arrive, veiled by the screens, and throw down rose petals to welcome him. She would be wheeled up there in a special pull cart due to the weight of her jewels and gown.
The City Palace houses a lovely museum where you can see artifacts (including clothing from a VERY LARGE emperor) and portraits detailing the history of the dynasty. The royal family still has an extensive residence there to this day. Although they have no official political power, they do have wealth and status.
After lunch we went to the Water Palace for a photo stop, but going inside is not possible. It was built as a picnic location for the royal family. We had one more place on our list but decided to skip it as the kids seem maxed out on touring. That’s the great benefit of having your own driver and guide- flexibility!
Our final stop (the next day) was Dera Amer elephant reserve. My husband skipped this trip as he wasn’t feeling well, but it was very manageable by myself. Dera Amer has two retired elephants that now live in a beautiful location with plenty of space. The children were able to paint the elephant, which helped them seem less intimidating, and then give them a good scrub. They also fed them bananas and gave them some sweet pets. There are also two camels, with “Neck” being the friendlier of the two. He’s happy to give rides (camels are better suited for this than elephants) and eat snacks. The kids like him even more than the elephants. Lunch is served buffet style on the property and is delicious. The staff was great and very animal conscious, which can be hard to find.
Overall, it was a great trip. I’d highly recommend it to anyone that’s interested in seeing some place new. India is affordable and interesting. Accurately described as an “assault on the senses” it can be loud (so any horns) and colorful and full of interesting smells- but to me that’s all part of the appeal. While most people head to Europe for easy travel with young kids, I truly feel like Asia is much more accommodating and welcoming to families. The people of India were kind and lovely, and we feel lucky to have been able to visit.