So much has happened in our world since our epic trip to India over December 2019 and January 2020. After we returned, I was waiting to mentally process all that we had seen and done and I wasn’t quite ready to blog about it but then Covid abruptly consumed all of our thoughts and energy levels for the last several months. I do want my kids to remember this trip we made especially for them (and us, of course!) and I hope it will be something they will appreciate for their lifetime. It was theirs and their dad’s first time to the continent of Asia! Our trip to India began the planning stages in the winter of 2018. We told my parents that we were finally ready to make the long and arduous trek across the ocean with our kids and they were giddy with excitement. I take zero credit for how well-planned the trip was, my husband took it upon himself to get all the necessary ducks in a row and to save money for our journey. He initiated all the work that was necessary to get the appropriate visas and passports to enter the country; this process itself took a full year to complete and was the hardest pre-trip part to plan for. Thanks to him, we are all now Overseas Citizens of India, meaning all five of us can enter the country whenever we want for our entire lifetimes, in a post-global pandemic world of course.
We began our trip on December 17, with a flight out of DIA to spend the night in San Francisco. We went west to go east because it saved us several hundred dollars. 😉 We had a layover in Germany and then our flight took us to New Delhi, the first part of our three leg journey. We arrived in New Delhi around 2 a.m. local time and sweet Lucy felt sick upon the descent into Delhi airport. We chalked it up to 30 + hours in the air and general international travel blahs but she was never quite able to shake it off even after arrival. New Delhi was the first leg of our journey because we wanted to see our friends who live and work there and New Delhi is also the closest largest city to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located. We arrived very close to Christmas time and our friends very graciously let us stay in their beautiful haveli home. They absorbed us in, sickness and all and were the most welcoming and hospitable hosts! While Lucy and I stayed home the first day to recuperate from her GI troubles, David took the older two on a tour to see Qutub Minar, a victory tower that was begun in construction in 1139. Our friends own a travel business in Delhi and we were lucky enough to get several local tours within the neighborhood of where they live.
One of the days while we were in Delhi, we had dinner with a local travel guide who invited us into his home and served us a traditional Muslim meal. I’ll be honest, I was really nervous about going only because we felt like Lucy was finally getting her GI troubles under control and having a meal at someone’s home made me feel like we might be taking a few steps back! We prayerfully got into an auto rickshaw and went to our host, Ajaz’s home. Ajaz lives with his immediate family and about 40 other family members! The house was small and very unlike western standards but was filled with warmth and hospitality. Ajaz’s mother fixed us rotis (a traditional flatbread), biriyani (a spice-filled rice and chicken dish), tomato and cucumber salad and hot chai tea. We all sat on top of a bed where the food was served in a room which Ajaz shares with his parents and siblings for sleeping. The food was delicious and even Lucy said she felt better after she ate so we took that as a small miracle.
One of the main reasons we wanted to start our trip in Delhi is because our friends own a travel business and one of their travel destinations is the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. We wanted to see the Taj and we were the closest in distance to it from Delhi. The Taj is in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, about 135 miles away from Delhi. Our friends arranged for us to visit Agra in an overnight trip. We had a driver who picked us up from Delhi and drove us the 3+ hours to Agra. Traffic in India is beyond one’s imagination, a picture can only do it justice. You are constantly lurching back and forth as you weave through “lanes” of traffic. It gave all of us a weak constitution. We arrived in Agra in the middle of the afternoon and we did a short walk through Mehtab Bagh, a garden with views that face the Taj Mahal. Our plan was to get a full day tour of the Taj the next day with an English-speaking tour guide.
While in Agra, we stayed at a homestay that our friends have used for their clients. The homestay was owned by a a very gracious Muslim family and they provide you a room and breakfast in their home. The next day, our English-speaking tour guide picked us up and took us to the Taj Mahal. He was so knowledgeable and gave us so many details that I now wish I remembered to record or write down. The short story is that this beautiful white mausoleum (tomb) was commissioned by the Mughal (not to be confused with Muggle! 😉 ) emperor, Shah Jahan to house his favorite wife who bore him 14 children. Shah Jahan and his wife are both entombed side by side in the Taj Mahal, a love story unlike any other! The Taj took over 20 years to construct and was finished in the year 1652. It is breathtaking to view in person and is visited by approximately 3 million people every year. I found this short video to be a really helpful synopsis of its construction and history.
We spent almost 4 hours at the Taj Mahal, no pictures are allowed once inside the mausoleum. After a quick lunch, we also toured the Agra Fort, a historical fort that housed the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty. The fort is just 2.5 km away from the Taj Mahal and is built from beautiful red sandstone brought from the state of Rajasthan. Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal for his wife was ironically placed under house arrest until his death in the Agra Fort as his own son was trying to overthrow his father’s throne. #familyties
After a very anxiety-ridden travel back to Delhi in over 3 hours of additional traffic, we finally came back to Delhi just in time for Christmas! We spent Christmas Day with our friends and had a yummy brunch and then we all headed to a favorite pastime of Indians, the mall! We took a couple of Ubers and made it to a local mall in Delhi. The mall was decorated for Christmas and had an outdoor play area where our kids enjoyed playing. We then ate a yummy Indian meal at a restaurant, so unlike what we usually would do in the West but just as sweet as we got to spend it with friends that are across the globe.
After our mall excursion, we came home and a friend of our host’s came over to apply mehndi designs on our hands. She applied it free hand and did such a fabulous job! It was also very relaxing as the recipient! Mehndi is traditionally done for an Indian bride before her wedding.
The day after Christmas, we said goodbye to our friends and traveled on a plane for Pune, Maharashtra, our next stop on our epic journey.