A sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal and our return to New Delhi

We were up at 5:30 AM Thursday morning to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. I love photos at dawn and dusk – it’s magic time for good lighting. However, at 5:30 AM, I was feeling maybe it was a little too early. I stepped out of the room to talk to Nums, and watched 4 people leave their rooms and head out, all dressed up.

Wait, other people are also doing this sunrise thing too? Oh man, we gotta get a move on! We quickly dressed up and met our tour guide in the hotel lobby. We took the van to the Taj Majal West Gate entrance, and walked the long walk to the ticket booth / entrance area. There is high security at the Taj Mahal, and no bags, tripods, banners, drones, advertisements, etc, are allowed. You bring a cell phone, wallet, camera in hand, purse, etc.

The walk was pretty gross — manure from cows, dogs, and monkeys was everywhere. Lily called it a minefield. Once we got there, there were lots of people there. I can only imagine how crowded it is like during the day. It was a beautiful sight in the morning light.

We came back to the hotel, had breakfast, then gathered our belongings in order to check out of the hotel. The drive back to New Delhi was uneventful with some traffic around the outskirts of New Delhi. We arrived back at Aerocity and the Pride Plaza hotel. We grabbed a very late lunch around 3 PM at a hotel cafe nearby. In the evening, I took the kids to the pool one last time for an hour.

For our last dinner in New Delhi, we walked over to Plum Cafe. It’s an interesting spot that serves small plate meals — kinda like tapas? The restaurant is filled with eclectic furniture and home decor that is also for sale. That’s right — if you like the chair, couch, table, or other art piece, you can buy it. How unique. The food was good too.

Friday would be our last day in India. We planned to check out of the hotel in the morning after breakfast, have full day of sightseeing in Old Delhi planned, then we head straight to the Indira Gandhi airport around 5 PM.

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Our road trip (and first day) in Agra

The Ipes (and two Chackos) are ready to leave for our road trip to Agra!

The next portion of our India 2019 trip was a four hour road trip and overnight stay in Agra. We planned to pack light for Agra (backpacks only), and would leave our suitcases with the Pride Plaza hotel bellman, as we would be back Thursday evening. Why bring all of our stuff for an overnight, then back again?

After Wednesday morning breakfast, we checked out of the hotel, and jumped onto our travel van for the four hour ride. Not much to see except farmland, so everyone chilled out. We arrived at the Crystal Sarovar Premiere hotel in Agra in about four hours as expected (no traffic!) around 1 PM. After we checked in, we dropped our stuff off in the rooms, then ran downstairs for a buffet lunch in the hotel.

We met our Agra tour guide, Imran, in the hotel lobby at about 2 PM. Due to the short window before sunset, our itinerary for the afternoon was the Agra Fort and Itmad-ud Daula. We would have the evening to ourselves to relax, then get up at sunrise Thursday morning to visit the Taj Mahal site. We would not be able to enter the Red Fort in New Delhi this week, as it was closed to visitors on account of Aug 15 India Independence Day celebrations. That’s right — we’d be in India for India Independence Day.

Agra Fort was something else, folks. It’s huge. This monster 94 acre site was the main residence of the Mughal emperors from 1565-1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi.

Our final site was the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah. Nicknamed “Baby Taj”, the structure was built in the 1620s, and contains the final remains of the family of one of the Mughal emperors. Our tour guide mentioned that it demonstrates a transition in architectural style during the Mughal Empire — from red sandstone (as seen at the Agra Fort) to white marble (as seen at the later Taj Mahal).

The site is on the Yamuna River, and it’s not a large facility by any means. It’s a good size, and I was intrigued by the view of the location at sunset. If you look at the pictures below, I tried to capture the spirit of this ancient site, of people and an empire long gone, “abandoned”.

It was a long day of driving and walking in the heat, and everyone was happy to get back to freshen up and cool off. Lily and I hit up the rooftop pool for 30 minutes. The six of us ended up not wanting to walk around Agra looking for dinner, and we opted to eat upstairs on the roof at the Sky Grill restaurant.

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Our first full day of sightseeing in New Delhi

After a good night of sleep and breakfast at the hotel, we met our New Delhi tour guide Naveen for our first day of sightseeing in New Delhi. We had an air conditioned 10 seat van to drive us around New Delhi, Old Delhi, and Agra this week.

Our first stop was Qutab Minar. The entire Qutab Minar complext is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire site was started (but not finished) by the first Sultan of Delhi at the beginning of the 13th century. The Mamluk Dynasty was the first of the five dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate to rule India before the Mughals invaded and later ruled India in 1526,

I visited this site before in 2004, but it was self-guided walking around without context or information. It was much more enjoyable to learn the history of the site.

Next stop on the tour – the Lotus Temple. This is a house of worship in the Bahai faith built in 1986. It’s interesting. We went inside and meditated during one of the services. By this time, it was nearly 107 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and it was really hot. We got the kids some Limca (India soda) to cool down in the van, and then we were off to see Humayun’s Tomb.

Humayun’s Tomb is the tomb of Mughal Emperor Humayun, who died in 1556. The tomb itself was built in 1571. We saw a number of buildings on the site. It’s impressive to find 400 year old structures from long-ago empires around New Delhi.

Afterwards, the tour bus took us to a very nice Indian restaurant for lunch.

It started raining during lunch, so our next stops on the tour were drive-bys of the Indian government buildings and a Sikh temple. The rain stopped briefly, so we stopped near India Gate. By the end of the day, no one else besides me wanted to get out and walk to see the India Gate, so I walked with the tour guide out to see it. The India Gate is near a large park where it seemed like thousands of people were out boating and hanging out and selling food and items.

While I didn’t find the India Gate all that interesting, I thought at this moment it was ironic that people travel to India, hire tour companies to shuttle themselves around to see old sites of long-gone empires. Yes, that’s interesting, but look at the crowd of people below. Look at the vendors. Look out the windows and you’ll see poor people camping out under tents around a fire. Or selling wares on a pushcart. Or one woman in pink standing amidst 30 men in grey, all waiting at a bus stop.

I wised at that moment that I had an opportunity to walk around a city like Delhi for 5 days. The real pictures were on the street where real life was happening.

Once we got back to the hotel, we freshened up, and went out to dinner at the Hong Kong Club to celebrate Anju’s birthday.

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Goodbye Bangalore! On the way to New Delhi and Agra

We were up bright and early morning 5 AM Monday morning to catch our flight to New Delhi. We packed up 95% of our stuff Sunday night after dinner with Reshmi and Lee, and tried to catch a few winks before rude wake-up time. After some goodbyes, we were on the road a little after 6 AM.

The drive to the airport was uneventful, and our driver was not chatty. Check-in and security was a bit hectic, but we made it through with our belongings. We had some time to hang out before the flight, and grabbed a South Asian breakfast at Tiffin Centre. It was surprisingly good for airport food.

The flight was uneventful, and we met our travel rep from the New Delhi tour company after baggage claim. We got necklaces, and then we drove to our hotel (Pride Plaza) in nearby Aerocity. Now that was interesting. Aerocity appears to be a walled off high security area near the airport. It features hotels, restaurants, and corporate offices. I assume that if you’re visiting a particular company there, you have safe and secure hotel room a short walk away.

We checked into our three rooms near each other on the same floor. We got the kids their own room to share for our 1st part of staying in New Delhi. Since it was already the late afternoon, we kept our day easy and chilled out a bit. People grabbed lunch, took naps, and I took the kids to the pool before dinner.

In the evening, we walked to this nearby Bella Italia restaurant at the Holiday Inn.

I got a ridiculously sized calzone that was too large for any one man to eat.

I ate the entire thing.

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Our new “last day” in Bangalore

Sunday was our last day in Bangalore. It was originally going to include a morning of packing, but with the revised itinerary, we had a full day here. What to do? We had options — drive into the city, drive out an hour or so to a nature preserve, etc. With some phone calls and also during the cousins together Saturday night, we made plans to meet with my Kezia (the daughter of one of my cousins working here in Bangalore), and Lee & Reshmi for dinner.

We took a drive into the Koramangala section of Bangalore to meet my relative for lunch. She works here in Bangalore and was supposed catch a train to Kerala on Friday night for the three day weekend, but the trains were cancelled due to the monsoon weather. We made plans to meet at Truffles for lunch, and Koramangala is supposedly a nice area known for restaurants.

It was nice to catch up with Kezia over lunch was nice, but she was feeling ill and probably should have cancelled lunch. We cut lunch short, and let her go home. Man, nothing about Kerala is working out well. We had some time, so we took a walk to the nearby Forum mall to check it out. We hit up a strange ‘everything’ store that sold everything except groceries. While there, we picked up some new Sony Bluetooth earphones for Josh.

We drove back to the flat for a quick afternoon nap, then drove out northeast to have dinner with Reshmi and Lee and family. We spent some time at their flat catching up, eating snacks, and drinking. Lee brought out a 30 (or was it 50) year old Scotch Whiskey that his father had laying around. The cork was very old and we didn’t have a bottle opener. We used many tools at our disposal to retrieve the whiskey, and we somewhat of a dent in it.

Afterwards, we went to a cool open air brewery nearby called Byg Brewski. Huge, open area. Food and drinks were decent, but I think you’re paying for the ambiance.

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It seems monsoon season has thrown a wrench into our travel plans – the Kerala portion of our trip is officially canceled

On Friday morning, we were stunned to go downstairs for breakfast and watch news reports about massive flooding in the state of Kerala. It was so bad, the Cochin airport was closed. The roads around the state were likely to be in bad shape, and the Kumarakom resort area couldn’t be in good shape either. Yikes.

By Sunday, we learned that while the airport would likely reopen by sometime Sunday evening, the entire Kumarakom resort area was underwater. Talk about crazy. Even if we took a rescheduled flight Sunday evening or Monday, what kind of condition would the resort be? Or the roads leading to the resort? Would the roads be passable enough for us to visit my family, or vice versa?

We had a family meeting to discuss, and we decided that it wouldn’t be safe or worth it. I felt terrible that we wouldn’t be able to see my cousins – I’ve been trying to plan this visit out with my cousins for a few months now. I contemplated trying to stay with a relative instead, but I was very worried that we would be stuck somewhere in a taxi on a washed out dirt road. Or hit by more monsoon severe weather delaying our already-paid-for Delhi & Agra tour.

It wasn’t worth the risk. So we canceled the Kerala portion of our trip, and I contacted my relatives. We looked at available options with our extra 3.5 days. We decided in the end that we would spend an extra day in Bangalore, then head up to New Delhi for an extra day of sightseeing. We worked with the tour travel agency to arrange new Bangalore -> New Delhi flights, and to add a full Delhi tour day, and an extra hotel night. Instead of flying to Cochin on Sunday afternoon, we are now flying to New Delhi early Monday morning.

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The big David – Philip – Martin – Bunyan Family Reunion

The big event of the weekend was a grand family reunion for members of the David, Martin, and Philip families. I’ve never attended a formal family reunion so this was an interesting experience. Not everyone made it from around the globe, but many people did fly and drive to get to Bangalore this weekend.

The family members organizing the big event rented a hall at The Shack nearby for the lunch. We got there first, and that gave us an opportunity to meet the family members when they arrived and chat it up.

The event began with some introductions, then four speakers took turns coming up to present on the various family trees, using onscreen visuals and family photographs. It was soon time for lunch and large family photos.

We all got kicked out of the hall at 3 PM, and then a number of us regrouped at Dipu and Meena’s flat for snacks and drinks.

Big day. Interesting day. Nice job by everyone who helped plan and organize an event like this.

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Lunch and dinner with the Phillips cousins

On Friday, we drove into a section of Bangalore to meet with a bunch of my wife’s cousins from her mother’s side for lunch at Hotel Imperial. It supposedly has amazing food, and is well know for their red chicken. The owners are Muslim so we had to tool around the neighborhood for an hour until they opened at 12:45 PM.

Lunch was pretty good. After lunch, we all drove over to another cousin’s place for drinks, snacks, meeting more family, dinner, and lots of conversation.

At the end of the night, we ordered an Uber that drove us 45 minutes back to the flat…. for only 236 rupees. With tip, it worked out to $4m Gosh, that’s cheap.

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India 2019 – Our 1st day in Bangalore, and dinner with the David clan

Our friendly 3 AM airport pickup

My wife’s uncle Dipu picked us up from the Bangalore International Airport after we exit Immigration and Customs after 3 AM. A hired driver drove us all to their flat in about 45 minutes, and we met up with my in-laws and my Dipu’s wife Meena. Reunion time! We had a late snack (early breakfast?) at 4 AM, then we retired to an upstairs flat that we would be using for the next few days.In a few short hours, we were up and about puttering around. It was an easy first day and getting acclimated. My sister-in-law and her family showed up (they had been in Bangalore since Saturday) and would be sharing the same flat with us until Sunday. More reunions!

Nums is trapped in the backseat with some crazy kids

In the evening, nine of us (including my in-laws) drove about an hour to a relative’s place on my father-in-law’s side. We experienced some of the infamous Bangalore traffic firsthand, and it was rush hour too. Crazy, man.

Once we got there, it was more family reunion time. I had last met everyone 15 years ago when I was last here in 2014, so I needed a bit of a refresher. The kids had never met anyone so Namita introduced them to her relatives. It was nice to meet and chat with everyone – all were so nice and friendly, with plenty of smiles, laughter, and good conversation to go around. The kids all played card games with each other, and you could hear the laughter from a room or two away.

At the end, Namita’s cousin Sunil rented a large van and driver, and took us on a short tour the surrounding neighborhood. That was nice.

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Passing the time at Frankfurt Airport until our flight to Bangalore

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