Monday, 30 January 2017

Friends, Families and Fierce Beasts


Recently we had a visit from our “spice boys” (because they sell spices at the markets)– whose homes and families we visited a short while back. It was great to see Mano (John), Sachin, Akash and Jitesh ……….


……. and they had a great time in the swimming pool while they were with us!


We had an invitation from friends Dev and Rajaa to meet up with them and some of their new guests at (one of our favourite haunts) the bar at the Calangute Fish Market. Sue, Bryn, Dermot, Daniel, Rajaa, Doug and Dev enjoying a right good evening!


Something that we’d been looking forward to for quite a while – friends Louise and John (nb Ploddin Along) came out from England for a couple of weeks holiday with us. As they hadn’t been to India before it was our job to familiarise them with some of the experiences Goa has to offer. This particular experience was the Betim to Panjim ferry; famous for the total chaos which ensues at either end of the crossing when everyone tries to get on before anyone else has got off! Here’s John (centre) on his scooter during the relative calm of the river crossing.


We took John and Louise up to Aguada Fort, which is close to where we’re staying. Perched on the last bit of land on the Siquerim peninsular, it’s popular for the views across both land and sea and not so popular for the extreme heat which seems to be concentrated by the stone and it’s sheltered position. Louise, John and Doug.


Next on our list of very enjoyable experiences was Ryan’s 40th birthday party at his shack on the beach. He spared no expense in giving his invited customers and friends a really good time. Free bar and food and great music to dance to (of course, it’s Ryans we’re talking about!). Here’s Ryan with his beautiful wife Rupee.


And here he is eating (and wearing!) some of his birthday cake!


Ryan’s hospitality also extended to fireworks and a fire juggler ………..


….. and, of course, his great music to dance to.


We regularly get visits from our barber friends Asraf and Talib after they finish work (at the somewhat late hour of midnight! Here’s Talib, on one occasion, making himself comfortable with an ice cream and free Wi Fi! (They really are a scream!)


Our next adventure with Louise and John was an overnight cruise on the Chapora River. We arrived to the jetty to find a 93 year old man offloading aggregate from his dug-out. Wow!


From the jetty we were transferred, by dingy, to our lovely Goan wicker boat “Laidback Waters”. We enjoyed the same boat on the last occasion and loved it so much we made sure we had the same boat again for Louise and John.


After unpacking a few things we the six of us aboard met on the lovely upper deck for evening drinks. Here’s James, Geraldine, (captain) Ramesh, Louise and John. “Gerry’s husband, John, as behind the camera.


We motored down to the mouth of the Chapora River for the sunset over the Arabian Sea  …….


…. with a walkabout on the beach where turtles nest every spring. Louise, John, Doug, Guru and John.


This is the very pretty “Laidback Waters” which houses three double cabins with en-suite showers rooms.


That evening we enjoyed a simple but tasty Indian meal and exchanged conversation with John and “Gerry”, the other two guests aboard for the cruise.


The next morning we were up at 7am to witness the sunrise and enjoy the calm of the early morning.


We watched the fishing boats chug past and disappear into the mist as they headed out to sea.


The sun rose above the trees across the river …..


…. and provided a sensational backdrop to the river scenes as they unfolded in front of us.


We ‘set sail’ up the river with John taking the helm and Doug and Louise relaxing and enjoying the tranquillity.


The river and it’s banks held all sorts of flora and fauna but the highlight for us was this incredible 3 metre long crocodile …….


…… basking in the sunshine with it’s enormous mouth open.


As we slowed the boat for a longer view the awesome creature slipped into the water – really showing us it’s true length and bulk. This was, indeed,a real treat for us as these sightings are not guaranteed.


The river is very wide, with various islands and backwaters and the whole ambience is of calm, relaxed drifting.


There were herds of Water Buffalo grazing along the banks but these were deep in the water.


Fishermen work the river in their dugout canoes …..


…. and the banks are lined with individual, artisan houses and larger fishing boats.


The fish caught in the river are traded at local fish markets next to the water.


Not all river craft are traditional and propelled by paddles. This monster is a 60mph missile powered by two 90 hp engines.


Our fantastic river trip ended all too soon – here’s us with the captain Ramesh.


Getting back ‘home’ to Candolim we experienced quite high winds one evening. Wave damage overnight took away half the beach! Ryan’s patch in front of his shack had just enough left to put his sunbeds out!


On Sunday, leaving John and Louise to have a day on their own, we took up a very kind invitation to meet up with a friend (and P&O wine waiter) Julie and her husband Patrick (another P&O waiter!) at their beautiful home in Assonora. It was to be a family celebration for their nephew Nathan’s first Holy Communion.


As in all these wonderful Indian family occasions there was the formal side with Nathan cutting his cake …….


……. and being fed the first piece ……..


….. and always much fun and laughter.


We felt very privileged, yet again, to be invited to a friend’s house and to meet the family. Here’s Doug with Julie – it was just so great to catch up with her and Patrick again.


As an aside to the celebrations, James was very interested to see Patrick’s pride and joy - his customized Mahindra ‘jeep’.


Patrick suggested he take us for a trip to the top of the nearby mountain. And, joy of joys, he offered James a drive of it “off road”! An offer he could not refuse!


At the top of the mountain we had spectacular views across the Goan countryside. Patrick and Doug here with an amazing backdrop behind.


At the top of the mountain is the beautiful little chapel of St Michael The Archangel. Now perfectly restored from a very poor state.


The restoration of the chapel had to be so extensive that that the Sanctorium had to completely rebuilt but the alter and it’s ornate covering survived and has been beautifully renovated.    


After visiting the chapel we had the exciting return journey back down the mountain track in Patrick’s ‘Tonka Toy’.


This was our view from the jeep on one of the good bits of road back down the mountain. Patrick told us that in the evenings in this area wild Peacocks gather to graze. Sadly we were too early to see any but our day with Julie, Patrick and their family, the awesome ride in the jeep and the visit to the mountain top chapel were truly an unforgettable experience. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Agra – the Taj Mahal and Red Fort

The highlight of our trip to Delhi and Agra was to be realised with our visit to the Taj Mahal. Finished in 1647 and constructed of white marble it was built by the mogul Emperor Shah Jahan as the resting place, and in memory, of his favourite wife Muntaz Mahal.


The Main Gate provides a truly impressive entrance into the Taj Gardens. It’s a masterpiece of red sandstone and inlay work in it’s own right and a grand precursor of what’s to come.


Once through the enormous main gateway the true size and splendour of the Taj complex opens up before you. It’s a bit of a lottery as to the visibility in the early morning ……..


……. but, still, the beauty of what stands before you is almost unreal.


The Taj Gardens stretch for an enormous distance and, at first, it’s difficult to get a grasp of the size of the complex.


But the closer you get to the mausoleum the clearer the beauty becomes.


While the crowds were small we had the opportunity of some photo shots. 


This is NOT the Diana seat by the way. That one is situated just behind Doug’s head but most visitors believe this one is the real one (or are told so by the guides!).


The layout of pools, fountains and lawns (the Char Bagh) is lovely.


As we walked closer the true detail and beauty of the building started to become much clearer.


We had to walk around the side, along the back and back round to the front of the building to gain entrance to inside.


At the rear of the tomb, and before we got inside, we had chance to enjoy the views along the Yamuna River.


Again, the early morning visibility didn’t allow us to see too far but on the opposite side of the river were the remains of the Taj Mahal pleasure gardens which we’d visit later.


This is the last time we could take photos before entering the mausoleum to see the tombs of both Mumtaz Mahal and Emperor Shah Jahan. After his death in 1666 Shah Jahan was buried on the left hand side of Mumtaz and his tomb is the only thing in the entire complex that is not symmetrical.


The detail, and the amount of it, is breath taking in its complexity and workmanship.


No part of the structure is denied the full treatment of decoration. The craftsmanship extends right to the top of the four minarets. 


Walking back round to the tomb entrance James (wearing the compulsory overshoes) wanted his photo taken.


After the visit to the mausoleum we walked back through to the ornamental pools and we were able to get a photo on the true Diana seat!


By the time it was Doug’s turn (and James had made his way around the pool to get the photo) the crowds had gathered somewhat!


We spent about two hours in the complex and, by the time we left, the visibility had improved a lot and we could get a long distance appreciation the Taj’s beauty. We can honestly say that the Taj Mahal is as impressive as it’s described and it must definitely be one of the world’s wonders.


The next amazing place which Agra has to offer is the Fort. It is the only fort in India where all the early Mogul emperors lived. The present construction was rebuilt under the reign of Akbar in 1565 and took just eight years to complete.


The Amar Singh gate is the main entrance into the fort and it’s here that you get the first impression of the size of the building.


The history of the fort and its development is complex but the “finished product” is an awesome collection of buildings (albeit only a handful of the original mogul buildings remain) in red sandstone and white marble.In 1628 Shah Jahan began to build his white marble palace on the red sandstone of the original fort.


There is a sequence of intimate courtyards ……..


………… with the most staggering amount of detailed decoration, which eventually leads to the first palace of the Emperor Shah Jahan which was started in 1632 and constructed true to his taste.


But first we were able to get a glimpse, from the high edifice of the fort, across the Yamuna River to the Taj Mahal. A poor view today – in part due to both mist and pollution!


A terrific view across the plains east of Agra.


This beautiful palace sits on top of the largest bastion of the fort.


Known as the Muthamman Burj (king’s tower) this stunning building has detail and craftsmanship to match the Taj Mahal. These palace rooms, with their indoor pool and fountain, ……..


…… have stunning views over the eastern plains.


The artistry in white marble goes on ………


……. and on ……..


…… and on! The wealth and power of the Mogul emperors, which culminated in Shah Jahan’s rule (1628 – 1658) can be easily seen in this palace. Shah Jahan’s old age passed in “agony and disgust” at the hands of his son and, after that, the mogul dynasty was an incompetent succession (quote) until the British took control in 1857.


We left the fort, by the same way as we’d arrived, but this final view of the Water Gate and courtyard shows the immense size and beauty of this building.


After the fort our guide for the day, Ali, took us to the other side of Yamuna River where few visitors go. 


There, opposite the Taj Mahal were the remains of the pleasure gardens (Mehtab Bahg) and the pavilion with fountains and pools from which the Taj Mahal was to be viewed across the river.


This garden complex is being restored to give a better idea of it’s former glory but it was amazing to see such beautifully preserved remnants of the pavilion lying around unprotected.


With the restricted visibility, and the sun in the western sky, the Taj Mahal took on almost a silhouette look from our position across the river.


This is Doug with our guide, Ali, who showed us around for the day, gave us all the time we needed to enjoy the sights, gave us help and guidance and directed us to a lovely restaurant for lunch. He then took us back to the railway station and asked for only 1000 rupees. (£12 we gave him more!)


Our last sight of the stunning Taj Mahal before our departure.


From Agra we’d booked the Gatiman Express back to Delhi. It’s India’s fastest train and cuts the normal travelling time from almost 3 hours down to 1hr 40 min! The accommodation was terrific, with airline service and a very good meal, but the track needs a bit of upgrading! 


Back in Delhi, and after the fast train ride back from Agra, we came across a more sedate way of transportation!


On our last day in Delhi we caught up with friend Ujjwal, who managed to get away from running his own events management company, to spend the afternoon with us. It was really good to be able to catch up with him and we look forward to the next time we can enjoy the pleasure of his company.


From our taxi back to the airport James managed to get a photo of one of the many signs on the perimeter wall of an air force establishment! We have to say we felt very safe in Delhi – the warnings given by tourist organisations about finding your own way around the city are incorrect (Ujjwal was to agree with our view that making one’s own arrangements are both safe and a great deal cheaper) but Delhi is under a constant state of high security alert at the moment (as we found during our stay). However, we didn’t see anyone getting shot!  

We had a tremendous six days in Delhi and Agra. We saw some of the most amazing sights and glimpsed both the wealth and abject poverty that exists in the city. It’s not a city that you can walk around as distances are vast and it can be exhausting at times. The Taj Mahal is a real “must see”.