India 2006

Verslag van onze tweede trip met de kinderen naar India, eind 2006 – begin 2007. Oorspronkelijk verschenen op Indiamike.com en daarom in het engels.

Back to India with the kids

All went well last year, so that was a good reason to go back to India with the kids. This time it was to be Delhi, Rajasthan and Agra. As Frank was no longer allowed to take off during school-time, we only had two weeks, but we put these to maximum use, leaving on Friday and coming back on a Sunday. This report describes our experiences during the Christmas Holiday 06-07. Our kids were 6 and 4 years old at the time of travelling.

Thursday December 21st, 2006.

The week before Christmas is a bit of a stressful week. We’ve booked flights on British Airways, but it’s one of these classical periods with fog over the channel; continent isolated. The TV reports and papers are full with thousands of stranded air travellers all over the UK and the weather reports for Friday are lousy; the fog will stay. I try to rebook via KLM or Air France, but BA’s solution is to rebook me to Gatwick on Brussels Airlines, where we will have to take the bus to Heathrow and then we will have our normal BA flight onto Delhi. Will this work?

Friday December 22nd, 2006.

The kids go to school in the morning so mum and dad can do the last packing. With the new regulations on fluids in hand luggage, we have all kind of small plastic containers with essentials as DEET, contact lens solutions etc. But we are even better organised than last year. Only two backpacks weighing 22 kilograms in total (including papers and magazines to read and loose on the way) and two daypacks to take on board, that probably weigh much the same (well 10 kg in total). The taxi driver picks us up at 1400 hours and we drive to Zaventem Airport in bright sunny weather. As the parents both have visions of spending Christmas on a sidewalk in front of Heathrow Airport, we’ve decided only to leave Brussels with the boarding passes for the flight to Delhi. Although there is a lot of administrative and computer mayhem, this is professionally and friendly handled by the ground staff of both British Airways and Brussels Airlines. Good work of them on such a busy day. The flight to Gatwick leaves with half an hour delay, but as the flight times to the UK are always exaggerated, we land almost on time on Gatwick. It’s an empty and almost spooky airport with almost all flights cancelled and just the occasional traveller. We don’t bother with the long lines at BA to get the free bus tickets to Heathrow we’re entitled to, but go straight to Gatwick express counter, where the bus leaves only a couple of minutes later. The traffic on the M25 is relatively light and 35 minutes later we reach terminal 4 at Heathrow. This is going (too?) smoothly. In the departure hall there are about 5000 people waiting for check in. As we’ve already checked in for the London-Delhi leg we are looking for the luggage drop off point, but as one of the abundant and friendly but not very helpful BA-staff states they’ve cancelled it. The alternative: just stand in line Sir….. Well, that’s not the alternative I’ve got in mind. As there are 10 to 20 families with small kids waiting in the area between the A- and B-part of the terminal we join them and follow them dropping of our bags once a counter is free. Security only takes another 20 minutes and more then two hours before the departure time we’ve reached the departure gate. We speak with an American couple who have lived on Heathrow for two days now, which is a lot on a one week holiday to India. The kids fall asleep but wake up again during boarding and as the flight leaves with a two hour delay. The kids have a great flight with “Cars” on the IFE and an excellent kid’s meal. The parents “enjoy” the usual economy meal, space and entertainment.

Saturday, December 23rd 2006

After a good English breakfast we arrive in Delhi. As we are allowed to use the diplomatic channel we’re fast trough immigration, after which the kids have to go to the bathroom. In true good fashion not at the same time, but that’s OK as daddy has to change money anyhow. A good hour later we are outside, where we are being met by the reps of hotel Sri Nanak. They try to fit us with two other guests in a three person car, but need little persuasion to find a taxi for the other two guests. You don’t fit four grown westerners and two kids in a mini minibus. It’s Saturday, so the traffic is light and less then an hour later we are in our hotel. We’ve booked a Maharaja suite at 3490 Rs including breakfast, but get a bigger Presidential Suite at the same price as the Maharaja is not available. While we wait for our room, the friendly staff is playing with the kids and Marit gets her first present of the trip from them: a wooden snake.

The room is huge with a separate bedroom (it would easily sleep six) and all the amenities including fruit and chocolates. Marit and dad go outside on a reconnaissance of the neighbourhood which turns out to be pretty dull. They do find the necessities though (Cola, water, potato chips etc.). Ma and Frank stay in the room. We find our favourite channels back on the telly (POGO!!) and rest away the jet-lag a bit. We order room service that’s excellent with the exception of the French fries. It’s early bedtime for the whole family….

Sunday, December 24th, 2006.

It’s an uneventful night for some of us. Frank sleeps 12 hours in a row and wakes up like a little ray of sunlight. Dad sleeps 10 hours and is reasonably fresh. Marit woke up every hour, but does OK. Mum was woken up every hour by Marit and is knackered.

Starting the family up takes some time, but after breakfast and a couple of hours we are ready to set of. As we’ve booked a night train to Jodhpur, we take a taxi to New Delhi Railway Station (NDLS) and put our luggage in the cloak room. Then the first Auto Rickshaw of the holiday to the Red Fort. There is a long row to enter the Fort, but there is a separate one for westerners although you pay for the privilege (100 rs each). Kids don’t have to pay, as is the case at almost all monuments in India.

There’s a clean washroom at the fort and as ma uses the facilities, Frank and Marit score a couple of small free gifts from the merchants at the entrance of the Fort. It’s a nice relaxed Sunday afternoon at the fort. Families are picnicking and we feed the squirrels in the park. The kids are obviously more at ease then during their first trip to India, as they do not cling to their parents, but run all over the place. After the fort it’s time for lunch and we end up at McDonalds. Sigh. Why they call the meals happy is a mystery to us. Maybe the presents are, because that’s the only thing they are interested in. We chat away with a mother and her grown-up daughters, amaze ourselves at the mobile phone loading dock (we don’t have these in the Netherlands) and while away a bit in the aircon. We take another Rickshaw to the station and have chai and sweets in the excellent station cafeteria (I forgot the name, but if you’re facing the station, it’s to the left, near the cloakroom). The kids take out their drawing books and start making drawings for the staff. Our train is supposed to leave at 18.30, so we pick up our luggage, buy samosas and apple pie for the train and set out to find it. Not very difficult if you hire a porter. We booked our tickets over the internet (www.irctc.co.in) on the first day that it was possible (2 months in advance). It was almost X-mas though so there was a heavy demand for tickets and we and got the last four side berths (2AC) on the train. Side berths are like coffins, but with less room. We will come back to that later.

The kids immediately take a liking to the train and the possibilities of changing the seats to beds. We transform two of the seats to one (lower) berth and the kids start climbing up and down to the upper berth. The train is a bit delayed, so there’s ample time to buy chai. When the train leaves we start socialising with our French neighbours. We find out that Bacardi (theirs) and cola (bought from the platform) form an excellent combination with samosas (ours). The kids have apple pie and Fanta and vitamin pills to compensate for the lack of veggies.

After a couple of hours and some more baco’s and samosa’s it’s time to put the children to sleep. They want to sleep upstairs which would be sensible given the room available. It is totally insensible if you look at the security as there is ample space to fall down. The kids get the lower berths and go to sleep after a reasonably short period of the normal stuff (hug, some water, another hug, I have to go to the loo, I’m too excited to sleep on a train, where’s my toy, I don’t want to sleep on a train, I want some more water etc.).

Mum and dad climb up to the upper berths and both get an acute attack of claustrophobia. There is not enough space in an upper side berth for an average Westerner (be forewarned, ye newbie Indiamikers). Mirjam does get some sleep. Hans none at all.

Monday December 25, 2006.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me. No that’s not where we were with our story.

Mirjam does get some sleep. Hans non at all. Which is good (?) because now he hears Frank falling out of bed at around 0200 hours. No damage done, but getting out of the upper berth is as dangerous as falling out of it with the chance of a hernia thrown in. All I want for Christmas is … Comfort (old backpacker memories; where are the days that we didn’t mind taking a 40 hour train ride from Varanasi to Chennai…but that was in normal berths.)

The next morning the family wakes up; the kids that is, the parents were already awake. We arrive in Jodhpur and hustle the family off the train. We are in for two surprises, a nice one and a not so nice one. The nice surprise is meeting Monica and Saulius, two Lithuanian colleagues from Brussels. We knew they were also going to India, but meeting someone without an appointment in that 10 minute timeframe where we arrive and their train leaves for Jaipur is one of these things that amazes you all the time. Only in India. They have been in India for just a week and Saulius has already lost 6 kilograms. Poor guy!

The station is full of sleeping people. We make a call to the Durag Niwas guesthouse, where we have reserved rooms for our next three nights. We are told that we will be picked up soon. We are waiting for another 10 minutes and a guy approaches us to bring us to the guesthouse. Not in a car as promised, but in a rickshaw, but hey this is India.

This really is India, because at the guesthouse we find out that the guy who took us there has no connection whatsoever with the guesthouse, but certainly does have a connection with the operator of the phone booth at the station. We are (were) being scammed, but it is a funny scam, because the only ones that are losing time and money are the scammers. Govind, the hotel owner isn’t going to pay commission for guests that already have a reservation (or pay commission anyhow) and I certainly am not going to pay for the rikshaw ride. Cut your losses I would say, but the incompetent entrepreneurs keep waiting in front of the guesthouse for a couple of hours with the vain hope that we eventually might come out to pay them anyhow.

We have breakfast at the guesthouse and relax for a couple of hours in the huge room cum annexe. The two interconnected rooms cost 650 Rs. The big one is very nice with an area with cushions to relax (or to play with). The small one is a bit gloomy. Govind is a nice guy, who does his best at making the guests feel at home. The guesthouse is in need some delayed maintenance, which we understand has been done a couple of weeks later.

We take an autorikshaw up to Mehrangarh fort for 45 rs. Entrance to the Fort is 250 Rs including an audio guide. The kids get in for free and naturally they claim the audioguides. This means listening to the guide in English and as they do not speak English then once again to daddy, who does a simultaneous translation in Dutch. It’s a good fort and a good audioguide, so we spent a nice couple of hours visiting. Highpoints are playing drums together with the band at the entrance and the big spikes that deterred enemy-elephants. The hands of the women that killed themselves rather than succumbing to the enemy also make a big impression. We have lunch at the restaurant in the fort; pizza for the kids and thali’s for mum and dad. Nice food for a reasonable price given the location.

We walk down from the fort through narrow streets and chat with the friendly inhabitants. We do some shopping at the market and take a rickshaw back to the guesthouse.

After some more rest and games at the guesthouse, we go for dinner at Bollywood Dreams, a restaurant in the fore court of Khas Bagh, a wedding extravaganza place that does Bollywood over the top.

The food is good tandoori fare and bland noodles (as requested) for the kids. The kids fall back in their routine and make drawings for the staff. Everybody is pretty tired, it’s an early night for everybody. The kids don’t like to sleep apart in the small room, so we all end up in the big bed in the big room. Quite cosy.

Tuesday, December 26th 2006

After a reasonably good nights sleep we wake up at seven and are ready for breakfast at ten. Yes sometimes these things take time as parents know.

We have a look the sambhali-trust, a small project at the premises of Durag Niwas set up to empower women. The girls the harijan community come here six days a week and get basic lessons on health, hygiene, personality development and other general activities. They are taught English and handicrafts, so they can provide an income of their own. Their products are sold in a small shop at very reasonable prices. It’s a small, but nice project, doing good a grass roots level.

We’ve rented a car from the guesthouse for the day to go to Osyan. It turns out to be a miniminiminivan (yep, it was that small), which is not the ambassador we’ve come accustomed to since last years trip. It costs 800 rs which is reasonable. We decide though that this is not the car we are going to rent for the rest of the trip.

We remember Osyan from our honeymoon as a friendly place and it still is. It’s main temple is on top of a hill (what’s new) and it’s fairly busy with people worshipping and presenting their kids to the temple for the first time. These kids get their heads shaven and the innocent bystanders get Prasad (holy food). Frank and Marit like the sweets. The attention for our kids is well meant and not too pushy. The temple itself is a bit difficult to appreciate from the start, but really nice if you take the time to get to know it.

We walk around the village, visit the Jaintemple that is still under construction (as 10 years before) and use the facilities of the Jain community that lives around it. The cleanliness connected with this specific religion is as always a nice surprise. The toilets are spotless. After banana’s, cookies and a soda, we head back for Jodhpur.

Next to the hotel is a fair ground where a home appliance fair is being held. Although the discounts offered are huge, we decide not to buy a solar water heater. BA wouldn’t allow it on the plane.

Some more time is spent hiring a car. The small minivan on offer doesn’t do it for us, so Hans gets some quotes from the travel agents further down the road. Prices quoted for an Ambassador are in the 2500 – 2800 Rs all included range. The market survey gets noticed at the guesthouse and Govind lo has something on offer. The first car he comes up with is huge, but without any real explanation unavailable after we’ve had dinner. He does have an alternative: MP Singh (better known as Papud) the cousin of a nephew (or whatever relation) works for a travel agency that normally only works for the Home market. His brand new big 4 wheel drive look-a-like Chevrolet is available for hire, so we rent it for 21000 Rs for ten days (around 35 Euros a day, everything included).

The dinner is again at Bollywood Dreams. One other lesson learned: if the food is good for the kids and the parents, don’t go looking for a better place. We are in luck, as there is a Bollywood(ish) wedding going on at the neighbours. As always, the band is amazingly loud and amazingly lousy and as always the groom looks thoroughly unhappy on his horse. The food is once again really nice, as is the beer. We develop a slight preference for Fosters as there seems to be less conserving agents in this beer than in other brands.

We don’t even bother to let the kids sleep in their own beds (sigh).

Wednesday December 27th 2006.

We have breakfast at the guesthouse with reasonable good pancakes and we take a look at the little shop that is run on the premises by the Sambhali trust. We buy clothing, tablecloths and some nice scarves, not only to help the project, but also because they sell nice stuff.
We leave around 10 and enjoy the great car we’ve rented this time. There’s lots of space (we could have stuffed in at least 4 more (Indian) people and MP / Papud is a good natured guy with not a lot of English or experience with foreign tourists, but willing to learn.

We drive though the arid Rajasthan desert. We make a stop in Fulna, where we visit a gold JAIN temple that is still in progress being gilded. The kids get the opportunity to help and both and put little pieces of gold leave on the temple. Under the temple is a hilarious tunnel totally fitted out in gold and mirrors. Better than a fairground! In totally three and a half hours we reach Ranakpur. We have an improvised banana and cookies lunch in front of the temple that is open for non-jains in the afternoons. The Jaintemple is truly amazing, but our visit is interrupted….

Intermezzo
Why is it that just when you’ve truly started something kids have to go to the bathroom. E.g. you’ve just removed all backpacks and shoes, handed over your ticket, passed the turnpike climbed to the top of the temple that kids have to go to the loo.

…..after a visit to the very clean toilet (thank you once again, Jainism) and a half hour later, we can have a good look at the amazing temple. Although you may turn a bit blasé after so many temples, this is one that should be on anybody’s itinerary when the visit Rajasthan. Perfectly carved and perfectly balanced Ranakpur is a place that is peaceful, relaxing and energizing at the same time.

We take a look at the lovely Fateh Bagh hotel, but it’s full so we end up at the Maharani Bagh. This hotel is also a lovely place with bungalow style rooms that are spotless and well fitted out. We get one of these rooms with two extra beds bargained down from 6500 to 3800 Rs, including breakfast.

The garden is great to relax, to play, to sip tea and a beer, to eat snacks, to explore, to pass a couple of nice hours. The birds are singing, the kids play in a swing chair; it’s a real real holiday-day!

In the evening it’s quite cold when we go for dinner at the hotel’s (indoor) restaurant. The food takes some time to prepare, but it’s fresh, really nice and the kids enjoy their pasta with tommatoos.

Thursday December 28th, 2006

Everybody has had a good night of sleep and we celebrate Hans’s birthday. We enjoy a full English breakfast in crisp morning in the hotel’s garden restaurant. We drive over a reasonable country road through small villages to Kumbalgarh. It takes about 1,5 hours and the trip is broken up by a couple of rounds on a bullock driven waterwheel. Who needs merry-go-rounds if there are bullocks?

Kumbalgarh is an immense fort. Not that beautiful, but it’s nice fresh weather so the walk up to the main living quarters is not that strenuous. After the visit we have lunch with samosas and french fries at one of the small restaurants at the entrance of the fort.

The drive onto Udaipur takes another two hours. It’s a bit difficult to find accommodation. All the hotels around the lake are full as there is a long weekend coming up. Hans steps into little phoneshop annex travel agency to call some hotels in the Survival kit. There are a few who have a room, but at high prizes and only for one night. When coming out of the phone booth there’s a young guy, who states the travel agency is actually a hotel and that they have two rooms left, as they had a reservation that did not show up. One level higher is the lobby of the cute Udai Niwas Hotel. We pay 1600 Rs total for two very clean and pleasant rooms. Nice decorations in the rooms and a pleasant staff that cheerfully runs up and down the stairs the whole day.

We walk around a bit, buy T-shirts for the kids and buy loads of textiles in the government run Rajasthali shop near the City Palace. The hotel has a cosy rooftop restaurant with good views of the city and the lake palace, good Indian Food and western pancakes. As an extra feature they show Octopussy on the video every night. Well every restaurant shows Octopussy every night, but it’s a good place to watch it. Frank loves it and want to see it again the next day. I’ve got a feeling that it is special to watch movies in their original location. We have to buy the DVD when we get home, because the film is to long to watch the end before bedtime. Marit and Mirjam are sharing one room at the back of the hotel and Frank and daddy have the one at the front. The temple on the other side of the road makes a lot of noise at 10 in the evening, but we have a good night’s sleep.

Friday December 29th, 2006

At five o’clock we are woken up by the temple on the other side of the road. It takes about ten minutes so we can go back to sleep. Breakfast is a bit chilly on top of the hotel, so we move inside one level below. With the open windows, you till have the feeling you’re outside, but it is a tad bit warmer. Around 10 we arrive at the city palace, which is a couple of 100 metres from the hotel. It’s full with French and Indian tourgroups, but not so full that we’re not able to appreciate the beauty of the palace. The visit takes us about two hours, which means there is a lot to be seen and be told (like I stated before, if you don’t know the story of a castle make one up, or delve into your vault of childhood stories and fairy tales. Rapunzel can live in any tower..).

MP picks us up to go for lunch which is not easy. the British ambassador is visiting Udaipur, so the authorities have decided to close the allready cramped streets of the inner city totally for half an hour or so.

Once outside the city we head for Shilpi village. Shilpi is an open air museum, and pretty busy, as the yearly festival is in full swing. Before we enter the grounds we have lunch at the Shilpi restaurant next door. It’s a very posh place with an great garden to dine in. The waiters are friendly and helpfull, the prices reasonable and the spaghetti great, so the kids decide that they want to eat here every day for the rest of the holiday. Indian food is also pretty good at this place.

After a leasurely luncheon we walk over to the fairground. There’s a special festival entrance fee, that’s higher than normal for Indians, but far less than the normal foreigners fee. So we get in for 15 rs and the kids get in for free. Once inside it’s not too crowded and there is a festive atmosphere all around. We visit the houses from all over Rajasthan and all over the place there are craftsman producing handicrafts. hey hae enough english to explain what they are doing, so this is not only fun, but also educational. A ride on a camel may seem a bit touristic but it rounds up the visit.
Dinner is at the hotel and pretty much the same as yesterday night, including James Bond and the pancakes.

Saturday December 30th, 2006.

We leave Udaipur at 07.45 and arrive at the ruined fort of Kumbalgarh at 09.45. The trip includes waiting for a closed railroad crossing for 25 minutes. Inside the Fort it’s mostly ruins, but there’s an interesting temple and an even more interesting tower. You can have your picture taken in Rajasthani folk costumes and whole families are doing this. Mirjam is asked by a nice lady to also dress up and it ends with both Mirjam and Hans dressed up as rich farmers. We try to persuade the kids to do the same, but they have more sense, so only the parents look totally ridiculous. The pictures won’t show up here, I promise.

We drive on to Bassi, that is being advertised as the place to buy kavads. These are multipanelled, brightly coloured chests with loads of panels each painted with a part of a story. storytellers would travel around with one of these on their back and tell stories for a fee. A carpenter takes us to his house and while drinking a cup of chai his son explains the various parts of the production process. Not a sales pitch, as he only produces big ones to order. There are some small shops geared to the occasional tourist, so we are able to buy a couple in a more sensible format.

The rest of the day is spent travelling to Bundi. This takes a bit to long and we have difficulties finding a good place to eat on the road. The lst 120 Kilometres take three hours and we arrive after 5 in Bundi. As Papud does not know Bundi at all, finding and reaching a hotel takes another hour, as there is a traffic free zone in the town. Most hotels are full, so we stay at haveli braj bhushanjee in a overpriced but pretty nice “suite” room at 5000 rs with 2 extra beds and (good) breakfast. The 5000 was discounted from 6200, but was still too much. Laws of supply and demand.

We eat dinner at the nearby Katkoun, that’s also a hotel. Good Indian food and al the childrens favourites (pasta!) at decent prices.

Sunday December 31st, 2006

It doesn’t feel like Newyears Eve, but it is. After last days long carjourney we spent a very relaxed day in Bundi. After a good, vegetarian breakfast we climb up to Bundi Castle. The kids like it, but have as much fun with the swingchair in the courtyard of the haveli.

We do a little siesta and find out that Marit suffers from tummy aches. She seems to have blocked intestines. Yes, everybody would expect the opposite in India, but Marit is not everybody. Allthough our travel medicine kit is pretty extensive, we did not expect this ailment, so dad goes out to find a pharmacy. Finding it is not that difficult, explaining what the problem is to three guys that don’t speak english is. It’s pretty funny to do a pantomine involving bowel movements. After 5 minutes the diagnosis is done and an enema-kit bought. We wil spare you the further details, but the remedy is fast and effective.

At the end of the afternoon we go out for some shopping. Bundi is a relaxed place and does not seem to be on the main Rajasthan circuit. The locals are very friendly for our kids, who get little presents from several shopkeepers. Dinner (as lunch) is again at Katkoun, where the atmosphere is hightened by newly placed coloured lights in the garden, the food is still good and the staff once very friendly. They bend backwards to make the children feel at home.

Monday January 1st, 2007 New year.

Stress in the morning. Frank has lost “Boomslingeraap” his toy monkey and the whole haveli is turned inside out to find it. Without a lot of success, so Franks is crying untill Papud turns up with the car and Boomslinger. We get into the car and drive 2,5 hours to Tonk. We visit the local mosque, after having battled through a pile of very obnoxious beggers. They probably don’t get a lot of westeners (or westeners with kids) here, because the mosque committee turns up for a friendly guided tour of the mosque. Outside the crowd isn’t that friendly, so it’s back to the car and on to Jaipur. On the basis of a good review in the Lonely Planet guide we go straight for the Jaipur Ashok (Jai Singh Circle, Nani Park, Jaipur – 302 016). Part of it seems to be under renovation, but we get one of their 60 square metre enormous suites at the back of the hotel including two extra beds and breakfast for 2600 Rs. Great deal. We have a late and very good lunch in the hotels restaurant. Marit and Mirjam are tired, so they stay in the room. Hans and Frank go out on a Toy Ambassador car hunt. It´s an interesting afternoon of shopping and strolling through Jaipur´s back streets. We are able to see numerous artisans at work, who are more than willing to show Frank everything. We do find the Ambassador cars and buy six cars for Frank and his friends. At night we go to Pizza Hut for ….eeeh pizza.

Tuesday, January 2nd 2007.

Early rise for a bright, crispy and excellent day. We drive up to the lovely Nahargarh fort, which is a pretty castle with a maze of interlocking rooms and stairs. The kids love it. Afterwards it’s on to Jaigarh Fort, where Marit has to go to the loo (and again, and again). It seems she has a serious attack of diarrhoea, so we decide to go back to the hotel. Marit has no fever, we give her some Imodium and she spends the rest of the day in the hotel room with daddy. Papud takes Mummy and Frank to a paper factory and they also go shopping. Best buy of the afternoon is “Delhi Taxi”. A very nice game, that teaches kids the landmarks of Delhi and driving a taxi through the city. Less realistic are the fixed prices that these virtual taxidrivers get.

Room service takes a very long time and this night the cook is obviously not the same guy that cooked us lunch yesterday. After two complaints the management turns up, decides that the food is indeed not so good, arranges something else and puts nothing on the bill.

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007.

Marit feels much better, we decide to give city palace a miss and drive straight to Agra. The drive to Fatehpur Sikri doesn’t take that long; 2,5 hours. Kilometres before the town guys start jumping in front of the car. Thy are really worried and probably afraid that we won’t be able to find the sights in Fatehpur. As the road is clearly signposted we ignore these guys. Which is quite difficult and Papud succeeds a couple of times in not killing one. He also succeeds in not getting lost, which isn’t that obvious, as we find out that he’s never driven to Agra. Whether he’s been there as a young boy may be possible, but still remains vague.

The touting goes on outside the mosque in FS. It’s not funny, but we ignore the guys and walk up to the mosque, that still has the enormous bee-hive (and the bees!) at the top of the entrance. Inside the mosque, it’s sunny and peacefull and the kids enjoy a bout of running around. They even pose for pictures with the crowd, so they really must feel relaxed.

Somewhere aloong the way we have lunch in an roadside “A1-restaurant”. The name is well chosen; great thali!

Papud is totally lost in Agra, but with the help of the Lonely planet map we reach the area south of the Taj. Hans goes hotel hunting on the mall, looks at 5 possibles and finds the Amar Yatri Niwas. It’s a nice 3 star hotel with friendly staff. We had a huge (Mugal) room and a standard room (with connecting door). They discounted the combination (with breakfast) from 5000 to 3700 Rs. With nighttemperatures around 5 degrees centigrade, the heating was also a nice touch.

At night we eat at Pizza Hut downstairs. It’s quite uneventfull untill the manager and staff decide that it is time for some entertainment. Namely: “dancing on the floor”. After announcing it to us (solely) 15 times, they start by turning up the music system to hurricane force and yelling “dancing on the floor”. Without a moment hesitation our whole family gets up as one and head for the door. As at that same time our pizzas arrive they choose wisely, turn the music down and apologize profoundly. Another interesting night out on the subcontinent.

Thursday January 4th, 2007.

The breakfastbuffet in the morning is reasonable, but the waiters are very slow (but friendly though). We use the time to chat to some other Dutch guests. It’s a fresh and crisp morning outside with brilliant sunshine as Papud drives us to the Taj Mahal. No need for a rikshaw for the last 500 metres, but Frank gets to sit up front on one for free, with Marit in the seat. The picture is well worth the tip.

The Taj is, well, the Taj is, well…

It’s one of the sole things in the world that’s better in reality than on a picture. It’s my third time here and I’m more than happy to return once again if I’m ever near. The kids are also impressed and we spend quite a while in and around the building.

After a banana and cookie lunch we visit the red fort for a couple of hours. Best feature for Frank and Marit is feeding the squirls cookie crumbles.

At night we have dinner at the Prakash restaurant. A great place where I ate in 1983, Mirjam and I ate in 1997 and now we’re back with the family. Food is still good.

Friday January 5th, 2007

It’s seems to be Frank’s turn to be a bit ill; he’s got a fever, but we decide to drive to Delhi anyhow, as we we’re leaving on sunday. We give him paracetamol and he rests a bit more as we pack. I carry him into the small elevator and on the way down he vomits (all over us). Back to the room, new clothes etc.. Vomiting seems to have helped.

The drive to Delhi takes 5 hours, including a lunch break and we check into hotel southern. A nice place, a bit far from the centre, but near a metro station. I booked the room by telephone from Agra and obviously sounded Indian (enough) to get the Indian rate in rs.. Foreigners are supposed to pay in rupees, but on the basis of a rate in dollars. I did not go for that and still got an executive suite with breakfast and an extra bed (marit slept on the couch) for 2790 rs. Good deal!

We say goodbye to Papud, who will drive back to Jodhpur straight away.

The rest of the day we spend at leasure in the room, with the exception of a shoppingtrip in the nearby gigantic market area by Hans. Roomservice is excellent and cheap with special thali, and pasta for the kids.

Saturday January 6th, 2007

Our last full day in India. After a nice breakfast with both Indian and western items (the cook even makes eggs to order for the kids). We rent a car and driver for the day and set of to the Indian Railway Museum in South Delhi. Admission is 10 rs and 3 for the kids) with another 5 rs for a train ride. It’s fun! Lunch is at a nearby Subway, where the children decide that they want the same sub for dinner. So it’s takeout for them.

We drive back to the city and shop a couple of hours in the State Government Emporiums on Baba Kharak Singh Marg. Amongst others we score little tables, bronze statues, lots of fabrics, papier mache dolls and a chest/cupboard that’s quite big but hopefully small enough to defy the airlines measurements and weights. The cupboard is sewn into fabric and looks really authentic on the roof of our taxi. After a quick look at Laxmi Narayan Temple it’s back to the hotel for evening room service, Subway subs and a couple of self bought beers (as it’s not available at the hotel). We sleep well.

Sunday january 7th, 2007

Our last day in India. Frank is again not feeling well, but we have to go back and give him some paracetamol. Not our favourite course of action, but staying behind in India is also not an option. After breakfast the packing goes well (with one extra bag). The hotel gives us a free transfer to the airport. At Delhi airport there is the usual scrum of people, a bit less than normal as it is a sunday. The packaged chest is frowned upon a bit at security, but the X-ray does not show anything special, so we don’t have to unpack it we even give it an extra layer of plastic. Checking in goes fast (we’re allowed to use the bussiness check in; it helps to have kids sometimes). Immigration also poses no problem and the departure lounge is relatively calm. There’s also a Subway, so we spend our last rupees on subs. Flying back takes 8 hours to the UK, where security even on a slack sunday night still takes an hour or so. The flight to Brussels is delayed, but we reach Zaventem around 10, where a friendly neighbour is taking us back home. After having filed a PIR because once again BA lost our luggage in Heathrow. We got it back one day later.

We loved the vacation but also have some mixed feelings about this trip. Marit only got ill one day, But Frank needed antibiotics back home. Lesson learned; don’t rush through India with kids. Two weeks is to short to overcome the jetlag and you don’t have time to stay longer in one place if necessary.

We’ll be back though

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