With less than three hours available between flights from UAE to London and then to Vancouver, we had the opportunity to take in Westminster Bridge, Big Ben (perhaps London’s most famous icon) and the London Eye for a few minutes. Travelling on the tube from Heathrow Airport to Earl’s Court on the Piccadilly Line was very straightforward. From there we hopped onto the District line which took us right to Westminster (all in all about 60 minutes on the underground). Enjoying some temporary blue sky and sunshine, Big Ben stood proud as did the Houses of Parliament. Seeing the London Eye for the first time (up close and personal) was quite amazing.
Note: Big Ben is part of the Palace of Westminster originally started in 1020. The palace was burned down in 1834, so the Gothic architecture you see today is comparatively recent.
The palace houses both of the the UK’s ruling bodies — the Houses of Parliament and the House of Lords.
Hundreds of people eagerly gathered in the area representing dozens of nationalities; even one lonely piper merrily played a Scottish medley on Westminster Bridge. After snapping a few photos we could not resist taking in a quick lunch at the County Hall, the place to enjoy ‘Great British Fish & Chips’.
Whether it is the hotel staff, sales staff in the malls, or tour operators they all have one thing in common. They want to show you world class hospitality. Nothing is ever too much trouble. This vacation has taken us from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, from Delhi to Agra, India and from Dubai to Dibba, Oman.
It was already hot when we left our hotel in India first thing in the morning. Little did we know it would become 44 degrees… scratch that… little did we know it would become a VERY HUMID 44 degrees. Our driver Ashok, was early to greet us for the two and a half hour drive to Agra from New Delhi. Ashok is a family man, with a wife and three children.. one of which, a son, only 2 months old. It seems he works very hard and for not much money… although he didn’t complain, just smiled.
Along the stretch of highway that would take us to Agra, it was mostly desert… very, very dry empty desert. Every once in awhile there would be a cow or a horse… then camels! Then suddenly we’d spy a few small huts on a property that looked like it was segmented as a farm. Ashok said some of the farms were growing rice, hence the occasional flooding we saw as water in such a dry place as this hot hot desert was quickly noticed. I could only wonder how these people can work so physically hard in such heat. There were manmade chimney-like brick stacks that were built on properties to be used as kilns to bake more bricks. An ingenious idea to have the “factory” right on the property that needed it, rather than trying to haul the bricks back and forth from elsewhere.
We arrived in Agra and stopped to pick up our guide Deepak. He immediately began to tell us some history of Agra, asking what we knew of the Taj Mahal so far… admitting it wasn’t much, he launched into a very well rehearsed introduction of this iconic landmark that is dedicated to the third wife of Mughal emperor, Shan Jahan, to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She was the only wife that bore him children and he was also buried there. Visitors can see the replica tombs but the real ones are buried below the structure.
Whenever we have travelled and if we see some kind of ancient monument, it never ceases to amaze us that these are so perfectly symmetrical, so painstakingly, delicately crafted. All in a time when everything would have been done by hand, from the carving to the lifting of the enormous pieces of marble… all done without the modern conveniences at hand today. We sat upon the bench overlooking the Taj Mahal where Princess Diana sat many years ago, and strangely enough, the same spot that Will & Kate, the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, sat literally two days before.
We then once again braved the insane traffic of Agra to go on to see Red Fort. This is basically a walled city. Inside there are 100 palaces, although only about 20% are available for visitors to see. The other 80% is used by military and government. The first Sultan of Delhi governed from Red Fort. There is a massive moat surrounding the building but it is empty now. It is rumoured that the third son of Shan Jahan (yes, who built the Taj Mahal for his wife) imprisoned his father within the walls of Red Fort as he was jealous that his father was leaving his legacy to his eldest brother. This son supposedly kept his father imprisoned here until his death with Shan Jahan’s only solace being that he could see the Taj Mahal from his prison window. The craftsmanship in such an ancient time (the year 1638) is staggering. There were angled inner windows that were made specifically in the “Summer Palace” to allow airflow to cool the palace in the hot summer months. I stood below one and in that 44 degree heat could still feel a cool breeze swirling around me from that oddly shaped window.
After leaving Red Fort we went to a tiny “studio” where some of the carvings and inlaid semiprecious stones are crafted for the Taj Mahal. There are pieces available for purchase such as tables, trinket boxes and the like. Apparently there are quite a number of families that do this work “from home”, using the skills that have been passed down through generations from their ancestors. Many of the craftsman are descendants of those who originally built Red Fort all those thousands of years ago. We did try to do a little carving but as you can imagine, marble is extremely hard to work with. Most of the pieces are so tiny and there is no mortar used, only a sort of glue that comes from a secret recipe. The majority of the stones are no bigger than your fingernail.
Our guide then dropped us at a modern Indian restaurant where I had the best Butter Chicken & Naan I’ve ever eaten. We drank gallons of water to rehydrate for the long ride back… I feel terrible saying that we ate such a fine meal and were able to drink clear, cool water when we can see everywhere we look, the poorest conditions I have ever even imagined. How to describe the level of poverty in Agra… or even in New Delhi… Of course I understand there is poverty in the world… I knew full well that we would be going to a third world country… but to see it… heartbreaking and hard to fathom.
There were dogs, horses and cattle freely roaming the crowded crazy streets and you could see their ribs. There were crumbling buildings where people have set up businesses… in one particularly precarious looking spot, I noticed a tailor… he was working away in the half open, decrepit workspace with the thousands of vehicles and people passing all day long, mere feet from him. This is in the 44 degree heat at midday. There were people sleeping on the medians in the middle of the highways… no blanket, no protection from the heat and no belongings to be seen. I saw one very young child sleeping curled up on the cement of the sidewalk… he was naked from the waist down. We were stopped at a light in Delhi when a very young boy came up to the window of the car.
He couldn’t have been more than 3 himself and he was holding a small baby of about 6 months… both were filthy… both knocked at my window and called out to me… I didn’t know what they were saying but then the older child kept saying “Mama, Mama” to me… it broke my heart. We were told not to give them anything or encourage them as many times they are actually put out there by adults to beg…sometimes as a set up to pickpocket etc. It was so difficult to just drive away as we have 5 young grandsons ourselves and I could see my husband fighting back tears like me. I thanked God again that our children and grandsons do not have to live like this. I thanked God that we are in a country where children do not go naked or hungry or have to beg. I thanked God that we each have a roof over our heads and opportunities to work and earn money. I thanked God for our good health.
I think this is something, though, that everyone should see… we often think we are hard done by but once you see this… a 12 hour work day in an air-conditioned office, knowing you’ll get to stop for lunch (even if it’s eating at your desk) and that you’ll actually have food to eat… well, it just will seem so ridiculous to have complained. I’ve seen a lot of comments on TV, social media etc where it is said that the youth of today think they are owed something… they may not say it, but they act that way. If that is true, they need one day in Agra or New Delhi, India… just one day.
You’ll see some videos we have posted already, also many photos. You may notice there are many serious faces but there are also some smiling faces… I wondered how?! how can you smile when you face this every day?? The oppressive heat, the dirt, the poverty… this is what they know. This is what they have been born into and they just DEAL. This trip summed up in one word: HUMBLING.
According to the 2001 census, 35.5% of Indian households used banking services, 35.1% owned a radio or transistor, 31.6% a television, 9.1% a phone, 43.7% a bicycle, 11.7% a scooter, motorcycle or a moped, and 2.5% a car, jeep or van; 34.5% of the households had none of these assets. According to Department of Telecommunications of India the phone density reached 73.34% by December 2012 and as an annual growth decreased by −4.58%. This tallies with the fact that a family of four with an annual income of ₹137000 (US$2,000) could afford some of these luxury items.
We decided to take advantage of a Dhow cruise in Oman. The Musandam Dhow trip was advertised as a 5-7 hour excursion cruising along the easterly coast of Oman. The drive from Dubai to Dibba Al Bayah Fishing Port took about 2.5 hours and following a brief stop at the border (Canadians require no visa – just to show original passport) we hopped aboard a Dhow and set sail. We were invited to participate in various watersports including snorkelling. An incredible day and well worth the money.
Driving towards the Parliament Buildings in ‘New Delhi’, the sheer size echoed a position of power. In 1911 the foundation of the new city was laid and top architects Lutyen and Baker, set to work on designing what is today’s Parliament hill. This is one of, if not the largest democracy in the world.
Parliament House is one of the most magnificent buildings in New Delhi which has one of the brightest clusters of architectural gems possessed by any country in the world. Visitors to the capital invariably pay a visit to this building as the two Houses of Parliament—the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) are located within its walls. Map and location.
As we approached the Gandhi memorial, shoes were removed out of respect. Walking towards the central platform felt very spiritual. Hundreds of thousands pay respect every year. A square platform of black marble marks the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated following his assassination back in 30th January 1948. The only splash of colour comes from the garlands of orange marigolds. It is surrounded by a beautiful park with trees planted by Queen Elizabeth II, US President Eisenhower, Ho Chi Minh to name but a few. At Rajghat you will see his last words “Hey Ram” inscribed in the marble.(meaning – “Oh God”).All heads of state are usually taken here to place wreaths in memory of “the Father of the Nation”. This memorial to Mahatma Gandhi is located between the main Ring Road, in Delhi, and the banks of Yamuna River, towards the southeast of Red Fort. Opening Time: 6:00 AM – 6:00PM. Entrance Charges: Free. http://www.myreturnticket.org.
Opposite the memorial is the Gandhi National Museum. A framed plaque on the wall sets out Gandhi’s philosophy: “Non-violence is the pitting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant . . . it is then possible for a single individual to defy the might of an unjust empire”.
Like many inspirational national monuments India Gate is no exception. This iconic building pays homage to the (82,000+) soldiers who laid down their lives for the British Raj in the World War and also in the 3rd Anglo-Afghan War of 1919.Standing 42 meters and made of red sandstone and granite is without doubt a must see monument in Delhi.
In 1971, the Indian Army placed a marble cenotaph with a rifle placed on its barrel and crested by a soldier’s helmet – known as Amar Jawan Jyoti and bound by four eternal flames.
The monument is located in central Delhi and can be seen, in a direct path, to the Parliament Buildings. The War Memorial was designed by Edwin Lutyens, who was not only the main architect of New Delhi, but a leading designer of war memorials.
The top of the monument following the large word of INDIA reads;
TO THE DEAD OF THE INDIAN ARMIES WHO FELL HONOURED IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS MESOPOTAMIA AND PERSIA EAST AFRICA GALLIPOLI AND ELSEWHERE IN THE NEAR AND THE FAR-EAST AND IN SACRED MEMORY ALSO OF THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE RECORDED AND WHO FELL IN INDIA OR THE NORTH-WEST FRONTIER AND DURING THE THIRD AFGHAN WAR
_____________________________________________________________ by: http://www.myreturnticket.org.
Travelling to Agra:
We opted for a taxi ride from Delhi to Agra, with the main intention of visiting the Taj Mahal. The taxi ride was approximately 3 hours. This was a pre-booked excursion through a reputable company.
Fast facts about Agra: The city is situated on the banks of the Yamuna river.Previous emperors ruled from Agra included; Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Luxurious forts, palaces and mausoleums were all created in this city. The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort have been declared World Heritage Sites by Unesco.
Stunning… Opulent… Holy. The 3 words I would use that perfectly describe the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Somehow this unbelievable Muslim mosque was built in a mere 11 years. It contains the largest hand sewn Persian carpet in the world, weighing 45 tons, and up until recently also boasted the largest chandelier in the world. We’ve been here before but would highly recommend the tour as there is so much to know. The 5 most interesting points to me: 1) prayers are 5 times a day, the first is before sunrise at 4:35 am; 2) prayer is made along the raised lines in the carpet, standing shoulder to shoulder and toe to toe to symbolize brotherhood, unity and also to keep evil from getting past; 3) there are 100 names, qualities or attributes of Allah and 99 of these are featured on a wall called the Qibla wall in traditional Kufi calligraphy. Only 99 are known to man … the 100th will be discovered upon meeting him face to face after death; 4) 2.5% minimum of earnings are expected to be given charitably … to a brother, or cousin in debt or even a neighbour and 5) prayers are made while facing Mecca, the holy land. Very interesting to learn how beloved Sheikh Zayed ruled, as he provided free education and healthcare among other benefits to his fellow Arabs, as he embodied the Muslim belief that every person is equal. This mostly marble, Mother of Pearl and 24 karat gold structure boasts 82 domes and 1,000 pillars that are intricately inlaid with floral designed mosaics of agate, jasper and amethyst. As I walked barefoot on the cool marble hand-laid floors, a breeze rustled through the traditional Abaya robe I wore, and the beautifully nostalgic reciting of the Holy Koran flowed. Omar was our friendly, informative guide who spoke softly of the history of the majestic mosque itself and of the religion and daily observances of Muslims. Plan to spend a couple of hours here as the tour lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and the photo opportunities are plentiful. There are many places to sit and soak in its beauty. Visit my travel blog.
Views of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to fun on the Arabian Sea. The welcome team at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr are friendly and helpful upon arrival. http://www.myreturnticket.org
Immaculate, luxurious, spacious bathroom in a Fairmont Gold suite at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi, UAE – http://www.myreturnticket.org
Luxurious tub & rain shower room in a Fairmont Gold Suite at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi, UAE – http://www.myreturnticket.org
A well appointed beverage centre in a Fairmont Gold suite at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi, UAE – http://www.myreturnticket.org
Walking along the beach from the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr to the Shangri La Hotel in Abu Dhabi – http://www.myreturnticket.org
The beach on the Arabian Sea & the pool at the luxurious Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi – http://www.myreturnticket.org
The stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque as seen from the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr – http://www.myreturnticket.org
The Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi as seen from the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr – http://www.myreturnticket.org
The wonderful Fairmont Gold Lounge at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr & its view of the Arabian Sea & Abu Dhabi – http://www.myreturnticket.org
View of the Arabian Sea & the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque from the Fairmont Gold Lounge at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr – http://www.myreturnticket.org
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque from a Fairmont Gold suite at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr – http://www.myreturnticket.org