INDIA : SOUTH & NORTH TOUR January 2017

Thank you for following our blog about our epic journey through India. It is such an amazing country and one of my favorite destinations. I have attached a map so you can see all the places we will travel to. Our journey will begin in Hong Kong & finish in Delhi. My postings about this tour will begin when I arrive in Hong Kong on January 9

Julie Bruce ( tour leader)
Royal Heights Tours

DAY 1; January 9

We arrive into Hong Kong after a 14 hour flight delayed by almost three hours...There are 7 of us altogether and it is remarkable that Cathay lost has "temporarily misplaced" one piece of our luggage! It is close to 10:30pm when we are finally able to leave the airport and we ride to our hotel in a 7 seater minivan with a Mercedes engine! The quiet and comfortable ride is welcome.After we arrive at our hotel on Nathan Road in Kowloon we head out for a walk around the neighbourhood just to see what's going on. Hong Kong-even close to midnight- the streets are still busy!


DAY 2; January 10

None of us were able to sleep-in this morning so we head out to take the "hop on-hop off"bus of Hong Kong Island. This is our little band of travellers on the Star Ferry crossing from the mainland/ Kowloon side to Hong Kong Island. We took the bus out to "Stanley Market" and had a 'crazy expensive' lunch. The drive along the edge of the Island was breath-taking as the bus drove beside some of Hong Kong's most expensive real estate and had unobstructed vistas of the South China Sea. Stanley Market is a beautiful place to visit with a promenade down by the water, many small cafes and a vibrant shopping arcade. During the Second World War Stanley Market was the site of a ferocious battle between the vastly outnumbered British and the advancing Japanese army. It was here that the British eventually surrendered and Hong Kong came under Japanese rule.

Day 3; January 11

Honk Kong is such a beautiful and bustling city. Today we explored the Kowloon side, Kowloon is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
Restaurants and eating good food is a major interest in Hong Kong. Here we are enjoying a superb meal- the restaurant is on the 11 floor of the building across the street from our hotel. Eating this style is fast and the food was terrific.

Day 4; January 14

Nice relaxing morning wandering the back alleys of Hong Kong. A few of the group explored the jade and pearl market in Kowloon then exploring Reclamation street where vegetables are imported from all over the world for distribution to the restaurants and homes of Hong Kong.
Our city tour this afternoon began with a Buddhist Nunnery- a beautiful and quiet place to explore. The gardens are tended by master bonsai specialists brought in from China and their unusual rock formations imported from the pearl river in China. Next we explored the bird and flower markets. The flower market is especially colourful for celebrating the upcoming new year. Every flower imaginable including beautiful orchids, chrysanthemums, peach and quince blossoms as well as miniature mandarin trees heavy with fruit. In the bird market Chinese men walk and encourage their tiny song birds to sing. Some of the cages though small are little works of art. This is a popular pastime.....but sad to see beautiful grey macaws, parrots, and love birds in cages or chained to a perch.
We were off on the bus to a park that gave us panoramic views of the two bridges Tsing Tao and the Lantau. One bridge was build by the British just before Hong Kong was ceded back to China. Nice gift! Back to the bus and to the airport for our flight to Chennai....exciting to think we will all wake up in India. Hong Kong has been so interesting; we have all found our way around and maximized our time here. Our next post will be from India. Everyone is looking forward to warm weather.

Day 5; January 15

CHENNAI
We arrived in the middle of the night (closer to 2:00am) and were greeted with welcome leis made of tuber rose and drive the short distance to our hotel.
Today was supposed to be a free day but we have arrived during the Pongal festival which will run from January 14-17, This festival is a thanksgiving for the harvest and is a regional 4 day holiday in Southern India.
The first day of the Pongal festival is dedicated to the worship of the rain God Indra. On this day people rise early, clean their homes well and decorate it with Kollam and flowers. They then get dressed in new clothes and offer flowers to the Lord Vinayaka made from cow dung or turmeric and light traditional lamps.
The second day of the festival is is devoted to Surya, the Sun God. The special Pongal dish is prepared in all homes. This is essentially a sweet rice dish cooked in milk and is offered to Lord Ganesha and then to cows and then it is distributed as prasad.
The third day is a day dedicated to cattle and other animals. The day is marked by the worship of the Goddess Parvati and her son, the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha. This is also the day when cattle- an indispensable part of life in all villages- are bathed and decorated, then paraded through the villages.
The fourth and the final day of the Pongal festival is the day when the families relax, visit each other and have lunch with friends and family.
We have had to modify our site-seeing to accommodate road closures during day two of this festival. Today after a relaxing morning, we drive 1.5 hour south to began our exploration of the UNESCO world heritage site of Mahabalipuram a collection of monuments that date back to 800AD
Mahabalipuram is PACKED with people out enjoying a holiday. We are unable to take our bus close to any of the sites and walk among the throngs of people. Our first stop is ARJUNA'S PENANCE . The carving shows Arjuna who did severe penance to obtain Shiva's help in bringing the Ganges to earth.

Next we visit the SHORE TEMPLE so named because it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century. At the time of its creation, the village here was a busy trading port

THE FIVE RATHAS. These five monolithic temples are called " Ratha "(Chariot) as they resemble the processional chariots of a temple
Due to the throngs of people, cars, scooters and general chaos our 5 hour tour has turned into a 9 hour amazing journey that has given us an in- depth look at live in rural India during a Regional festival.


The streets are packed with people out enjoying the holiday

Day 6; January 16

CHENNAI city.
Our tour thIs morning focused on the British legacy in this region. Fort Saint George was completed in 1640 coinciding with St George's Day, celebrated in honour of the patron saint of England. The fort faced the sea and some fishing villages, and it soon became the hub of merchant activity. It gave birth to a new settlement area called George Town (historically referred to as Black Town), which grew to envelop the villages and led to the formation of the city of Madras.
WE had free time in the Fort Museum which contains many relics of the British Raj era. These relics are reminders of British rule in India. The objects on display in the museum are the weapons, coins, medals, uniforms and other artefacts from England, Scotland, France and India dating back to the colonial period.

St Mary's Church is also inside the fort and is the oldest Anglican church in India. It was built between 1678 and 1680. The tombstones in its graveyard are the oldest English or British tombstones in India.
Our next stop was the Church of St Thomas. The National Shrine of St.Thomas is built over the tomb of Saint Thomas the Apostle, who came to India in the year 52 AD. After preaching on the West Coast, he came to Chennai(formerly Madras), and suffered martyrdom on a hill at the outskirts of the city, today known as "St. Thomas Mount." His body was buried on the spot over which the present Basilica stands.
Returning to our hotel, we drive along the shoreline and witness the last day of the Pongal festival as the beaches are teeming with families out enjoying the holiday. This afternoon we have free time.

Day 7; January 17

Chennai to Madurai
Our flight to Madurai is scheduled to depart at 9:30 and will take 1.5 hours. No problems!!

Our hotel in Madurai was a private residence in 1890, it is beautifully positioned on a hillside overlooking the town.
We begin our sightseeing at the Palace of Thirumalai built in the 1700s, this empty palace must have been very impressive during the reign of the Nayak dynasty. Leaving this palace we travel by rickshaw to the spectacular main temple complex that has been used as a temple for over 2000 years. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and his wife Parvati and every night is a ceremony preformed by the temple priests that puts Shiva to bed. The temple is a centre of family life in Madurai. Families visit the temple to pay homage to Shiva, ask the gods for help or favours. Any time you visit this temple it is also packed with groups of devotees wearing brown or white colours.

rickshaw ride

Gateway Pasumalai Madurai

Day 8; January 18

Periyar

Leaving Madurai we travel by coach over the Declan Plateau to the spice growing region of Kerala. We spend time with our guide wondering through the spice garden learning about all the spices that are grown on this hillside including pepper, cardimon,cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, coca, jackfruit...
Our amazing hotel has only been open for two years and every room has an amazing view of the valley. This evening we are entertained by traditional Southern Indian dancing

spice garden

Day 9; January 19

Leaving the spice hills of Periyar we travel south west towards the coast of the Arabian Sea past rolling hills of compact tea plantations and rows of teak trees.The narrow serpentine road demonstrated the incredible skills of our driver. WE saw many small shops that hugged the side of the valleys. Further along our journey we witnessed rubber plantations and noted that the community and houses began to look more prosperous. THis afternoon we boarded our house boats, these former rice barges had been used commercially to transport rice and other goods along the inland waterways of Kerala. WE were greeted with a wonderful lunch prepared in the galley kitchen of local fish and fresh salads.Cruising along the waterways we have time to relax and enjoy the rural scenery.


Day 10; January 20

Cochin, Kerala

We departed our houseboats after a relaxing breakfast floating along the inland waterways. "Kerala" means land of coconut and boasts the most educated people in India, 48 percent of Keralians work abroad. Communist (Marxist) government is in power. Pictures of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and the red sickle flutter along the street. There are no cows wandering freely as in other parts of India: the cow is not considered sacred. Fifty one percent of the people are Christian; Buddhism is also practised. In an interesting reflection on India's historic diversity, Cochin boasts two synagogues that now serves a total population of only 5 white Jews and 25 black Jews. Unfortunately this small historic synagogue and palace were closed today. We wandered along the shops of Jewtown Street, visiting a women's cooperative that supports 36 workers in the store and a number of local families. Here we learned the unique way that women of Southern India wrap their saris.Eighty percent of the population eats meat. Rice is eaten three times a day. The rice grain produced in Kerala (which we ate on the houseboats) is a larger grain than the rice grown in other parts of India. Kerala port was dredged by the British to make a deeper port. We visited the unique aerial fishing nets that are used during monsoon season to catch fish from the shore when it is too dangerous for the fish boats to go out in the open sea. The nets are actually Chinese technology brought by the Portuguese from Macau to Cochin. This evening we witnessed Kathakali dancing. This type of art which included both male and female characters was performed in temples by men only. The story would last for hours. The costumes are very elaborate, and we arrived early to watch the dancers apply the complicated make-up. The performance was mesmerizing as it is very colourful; the movements are exaggerated and dramatic. A single drummer provided a hypnotic beat.

Cochin fishing nets

Applying make up

Kathakali dancing

Day 11; January 21

Cochin to Goa
We begin our day with a 4:30 wake up call and take two flights; from Cochin Mumbai then Mumbai to Goa. Interestingly, the second flight from Mumbai to Goa boards 20 minutes early. The folks at Indigo air decide that since everyone has arrived early-they can depart early! However this is not the case and we depart a few minutes late.
When we arrive in Goa it is late afternoon and our hotel is on the beach. The white sand is very fine and soft, the beach runs undisturbed for miles. As we watch the sunset it looks like the sun descends gracefully into the water. Our Taj hotel is beautiful and they pay attention to every detail.


The grounds of our hotel

Day 12; January 22

GOA
The beachside resort was a knock out. Many among us enjoyed golf, swimming, lounging under palapas and walking the water's edge at sunrise. The hotel also offered fantastic auyervetic "spa treatments". Our dinner and breakfast was "al fresco", and the service and food were memorable.
For our morning tour of Goa, we drove 45 minutes north towards Panjim which is the capital of Goa since 1843. Goa was colonized by the Portuguese and has its own language known as "Konkani." Hippies made Goa famous in the 70's. The hippies brought so many drugs that the government of Goa asked the hippies to leave. The hippies had to create a flea market to sell their stuff to raise money to travel. That flea market survives to this day.
October to May is the tourist season. Russians tourists comprise 60% of the visitors.
Population of Goa is 1.6 million; 60 percent are Hindu. Goa is divided into north and south Goa. North Goa is busier, as this is where the commerce and capital Panjim is located. South is more relaxed, and there are more beaches. There are 29 beaches in Goa: 17 beaches in the south that are shallow with white sand that are easy to walk and 12 beaches in the north with brown sand and rougher water.
The climate in Goa supports the growth of cashew trees. The Goans make an alcoholic drink called "Feni". This drink is considered to have "medicinal " properties, curing everything from headaches, joint pains to stomache aches. Sadly, as it is Sunday, there are no liquor stores open, so we cannot buy any to try.
Education is a priority in Goa. In order to get a well paying job in the tourist industry people must graduate from high school. The literacy rate is 81 % . Nobody wants to be a farmer or fisherman anymore as tourism is now the backbone of Goa. People go oversees to work for a two year period, or they go to Bombay to work on a cruise ship.
The Portuguese ruled Goa from 1510 to 1961. Those people who were born before 1961 can get a Portuguese passport. A passport will cost 3000 pound sterling and many Goan will emigrate to Swindon in England which is known as "Little Goa". Interestingly, the demand for passports has dropped dramatically now that Britain has voted to withdraw from the EU
Rice is grown during monsoon season, and the rice is small and brown in colour. There is no basmati rice grown in Goa. Radish, pumpkin and okra are grown in the other seasons, and you can see them growing along the sides of the road. Coconut is eaten everyday, and fish curry rice for lunch is a daily staple.
On our tour through Panjim, we walked through the Latin quarter with houses that date back to the 1600s. These houses are one or two stores high, many with wrought iron balconies. In the 1700's they made windows from oyster shells. Many of these houses are now being renovated.
Then we walked through the local flower, fish and produce markets.
For our last stop we visited the UNESCO world heritage site of churches that were built in the 1500. They are not just the places of worship; they are significant icons of Goan culture and architecture.

Latin Quarter, Panjim, Goa

Fruit market, Panjim

Basilica of Bom Jesus Goa

Church in Panjim, Goa

Day 13; January 23

Goa to Aurangabad
We wrung the final drops of pleasure from the resort with a leisurely morning and enjoyed a wide selection of fruits and local dishes for breakfast. The arrival of our bus that would transfer us to the airport was heralded by the sound of loud squeaky brakes. We arrived on time for our two flights. Sadly our first plane did not. During the two hour delay, we entertained ourselves with eating, shopping and napping.
The delay of our first plane caused a few problems for the delay of the second plane. Air Indigo held the plane with all the passengers on board on the tarmac for over an hour, waiting for our arrival. When our flight finally arrived , there was a bus waiting for our group that immediately drove us to our waiting plane. It was remarkable that for this short flight, there were no lineups or security checks- we just walked off one plane and onto another!!

Day 14; January 24

Aurengabad: Ajanta caves UNESCO World Heritage site
This town has a very different feel than what we have witnessed in Southern India. It is dryer, with more dust. As we drive 2.5 hours to the Ajanta caves this morning, we note the cotton, sugar cane, wheat, sunflower and corn growing in the fields.
We also note that there is a lot of garbage blowing around the fields. For many years this agriculture- based society would throw their refuse back to nature as the organic material would decay over time. Now with the advent of plastic, when the plastic bags and wrappers are thrown on the ground, they do not decay. Old habits die hard. Apparently there is a real thrust from commercials done by famous Bollywood actors to encourage everyone to put their refuse into the appropriate containers and clean up the countryside.
There are more than 1200 man-made caves dating back to 1000 BC in the area around Aurengabad. The rock is very hard and workers used primitive chisels. The sharpness of the blade would last only 2 hrs before it would need to be re-sharpened. It took up to 35 years to excavate a cave.
The Ajanta caves are a series of 30 caves that were built in the hillside around a bend in the river. The earliest cave is over 2500 years old. These caves were all abandoned until they were accidentally discovered by a British tiger- hunting party in 1819. John Smith looked down the embankment across the river and noted the top of cave number 10. HIstorians believe that cave 10 is the first cave built, and the subsequent caves were carved adjacent to this one.
On the way back to our hotel we visited a 5th generation weaving shop where families have taught their children the methods of "himroo" weaving. This ancient weaving technique produces beautiful soft intricately woven silk scarves and saris that is only found in Auregabad.

Ajanta caves

Day 15; January 25

Ellora Caves.
These caves are younger than the Ajanta caves and were never lost or abandoned. These caves were mostly used as monasteries. In the later centuries, during the monsoons, the caves were used by the villagers and during this time many of the wall and ceiling paintings were lost. The Ellora caves date from the 6th century and include "caves" carved by Jain, Buddhist and Hindu workmen.
We began our tour with Jain temple no. 32 that was carved in the 9th century. The Jain workmen added 5 more at the north end of this range of caves. Jain temples have always four motifs including a Buddha. There is the god of wealth on one side and the goddess of generosity on the other. Two ascetics are on either side of the Buddha.
Next we visited cave no 10, a Buddhist cave with an amazing carved vaulted ceiling. The rock was carved to look like thick pieces of timber. A serene 15-foot tall Buddha sat "European style" in the centre of the floor. While we were there, many Buddhists came to pay homage to the statue and draped it with scarves and garlands.
The final cave we visited was the spectacular Hindu cave no 16. This is the largest monolith monument in the world. The temple is 90 feet tall, took two hundred years to complete and employed more than 6000 workers. There would have been at least 7 generations of families who worked consecutively on this temple. Designed to look like a chariot, the temple was dedicated to Shiva.
This evening we board our flight to Mumbai.


Ellora: Buddhist cave

Ellora: Hindu cave


Day 16;Thursday January 26

Mumbai
There are approximately 23 million people in Mumbai. It is home to a city of skyscrapers and one of the largest slums in India. Our lovely hotel is located at the south end of a waterfront promenade know as "the queen's necklace". The promenade is busy tonight as it is the national Republic Day holiday. Large groups of families are out strolling and enjoying the evening breeze.
We begin our city tour with a short cruise to Elephanta Island. This small 'elephant shaped' Island is a 30-minute boat ride from the Gateway of India monument. Beside this monument is the exceptional Taj Hotel built by Mr Tata after he was denied entrance into a British hotel in the early 1900s because he was Indian. The Taj hotel is truly beautiful and attention was paid to every detail.
On arrival at Elephanta Island, we take a short 4-minute train ride and are deposited at the base of a hill to walk up 120 steps to the cave. This cave is dedicated to Shiva and Parvati; inside are 8 beautifully carved panels that depict various stages in the life of these two gods. The guide provides an interpretation of the panels, and the timeless stories are as relevant now as they were 1500 years ago.
Returning to the mainland, we drive through the commercial area of Mumbai noting the influence Victorian architecture had on a number of beautiful buildings including the Mumbai University, the law courts and the stock exchange building.
We stop at the Dobi Ghats to view the largest outdoor laundry in the world. Laundry is delivered here from all over Mumbai. Although the site of this laundry is huge, filled with many washing cubicles and drying lines, they never lose a single piece of laundry!
We then visit the Hanging Gardens. The park began as a water reservoir that was located next to the Parsi Tower of Silence, which is a burial site for Parsi followers. The reservoir was covered over and a park was developed on top. It is lovely to see families out enjoying the park.
Our last stop is the famous Victorian railway station. This train station was a major starting point for trade goods that arrived in Bombay at the turn of the century. The products were distributed all over India from this station.

Elephanta caves, Mumbai

Dobi Ghats. The largest outdoor laundry in the world

Victoria railway station, Mumbai


Day 17; January 27

fly to Udaipur
Today we fly further north to the Province of Rajasthan's city; Udaipur. The flight is uneventful-even though most of us have started to exceed the 15kg baggage restriction! We arrive into Udaipur in the mid afternoon and enjoy the beautiful grounds of our hotel.


Day 18; January 28

Udaipur
The name Udaipur roughly translates to "city of lakes". In this very arid area the rain is collected by a series of man made lakes joined together by a system of canals. There are 5 lakes located inside the city and two lakes outside the city perimeter. The canal system prevents flooding during the rainy season. The feel of Udaipur is so different from anything we have encountered in the south. Mining is the main industry here: particularly zinc, silver and marble. Udaipur supplied the marble that was used to build the Taj Mahal. You can also find a rare green marble.
The population of Udaipur is around 600,000, and 80 percent are Hindu. It is the fourth largest city of Rajasthan. The main language spoken in Udaipur is the local language Mewari; Hindi and English also can be heard.
In Udaipur we visited the 400 year old palace, took a boat ride on Lake Piccola , and explored the royal gardens where the fountains in the gardens are controlled by the pressure in the lakes. We learned about the art of miniature painting that is famous in this region.


Udaipur city palace

City Palace seen from Lake Piccola

Learning about miniature painting

Day 19; January 29

Udaipur to Jaipur
This morning we leave Udaipur to travel 400km to Jaipur. We depart our hotel at 8:30 and arrive into Jaipur close to 5:00pm.
As we drive out of the area of Udaipur we witness 100's of marble quarries with large slabs of marble stacked up like dominoes. The road is dry and dusty but well paved. The bus travels quickly, threading its way around numerous trucks and other buses.

Day 20; January 30

Jaipur.

Our hotel becomes an oasis in a large and bustling city. We begin our sightseeing today with a visit to the immense Amber Fort.The Amber Fort is named after Amberish who was the sage who did penance in this area.
Construction of the Amber Fort began in the 9th century and was completed in 1639. Jaipur was ruled by Hindu kings, not mogul emperors, and these rulers were known as "sun gods." The main entrance of the Amber Fort faces east to welcome the rising of the sun.
This fort is built high up on the top of a steep hill and contains an extensive palace complex built from yellow and pink sandstone, white marble and is divided into four main sections, each with its own courtyard.
We ride our elephants to the top of the hill and enter through the Suraj Pol (Sun Gate), which leads to the Jaleb Chowk(Main Courtyard). Armies would return here to display their war booty to the populace – women could view this area from the latticed windows of the palace overlooking the courtyard.
Later this afternoon we visit Jantar Mantar, an observatory begun by Jai Singh II in 1728. He built a total of 5 observatories. This is the last one built, and it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. The observatory instruments were used to calculate the position of the stars and to tell time. There are 16 instruments that still work in this complex.
Interestingly, the time zones in India were not synchronized until 1911 when the British wanted to develop a railway schedule.
Next door to the observatory is the City Palace where the current maharaja lives. Flags on the roof indicate if the maharaja is currently in residence. Composed of a complex of courtyards, gardens and buildings, the City Palace is the centre of the Old City. The outer wall was built by Jai Singh II, but the palace has been enlarged and adapted over the centuries. There are palace buildings from different eras, some dating from the early 20th century.
After a rickshaw ride through the teeming streets of Jaipur, we will visit one of the most famous attractions in Jaipur: a jewellery store. The hills around Jaipur are the oldest in the world, and many gemstones are found here. Jewellery making has been passed down through the generations, and we are fortunate to be able to view some of the amazing jewellery created centuries ago.

Elephant ride up the Amber Fort

Amber Fort elephant ride

Observatory in Jaipur

Rickshaw ride in Jaipur

Jewellery of the Maharajas


Day 21; January 31

Jaipur to Fatepur Sikri
Our bus ride this morning continues along the same highway we have travelled since Udaipur.
In the afternoon we arrive at the Moghul ruler Akbar the Great's abandoned red sandstone city of Fatepur Sikri. Only 25 percent of the buildings remain. Sandstone has a limited lifespan, but marble can last much longer, which is the reason why the Taj Mahal was built using marble.
Akbar created his capital here in gratitude after a fortune teller told him that he would have a son. This city became the capital of the Moghul empire in 1571. However, it lasted for only 14 years, and the site was eventually abandoned. Some say it was because the city ran out of water, while others say the change was due to political intrigue.


Day 22; February 1

Agra. Taj Mahal day!!!!
We redesign our day to visit the Taj on the morning as our guide has told us that there will be fewer visitors and the air will clearer for pictures. As we walk through the red sandstone gates, the Taj appears- it looks like it is floating in the distance. The light on the Taj is beautiful.
Interesting points about theTaj:
- the 4 minarets actually lean 2 degrees outwards. In the event of an earthquake, the minarets will fall away from the actual building.
- there was a dirt ramp that was used to move the marble slabs up to the dome. This ramp was 1.5 kilometres long.
- it took 20 years to build.
-the Taj is dedicated to the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan's favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during giving birth to her 14th child.
In the afternoon we visit the Red Fort where Aragzab, Shah Jahan's son, imprisoned his father for bankrupting the country building the Taj Mahal. The Red Fort is composed of five separate palaces, and it is here that Shah Jahan was able to gaze at his beautiful monument to his wife. The Shah two oldest daughters, who never married, lived with him along with 132 servants until he died.

TAj Mahal !!!!


The Red Fort, Agra

Day 23; Feburary 2

Agra to Kharjuraho

This morning we sample the railways of India and board our train that will take 3.5 hours to reach Jahnsi. Our bus meets us at Jhansi, and we travel through beautiful rural countryside for 5 hours and arrive in Kharjuraho. Along the way we see fields of wheat with yellow flowers of mustard poking through the wheat shafts. By planting in this way, the farmers are able to harvest two crops.


Train station at Agra

Day 24; February 3

Khajuraho
These remote temples were built by the Chandela dynasty in 900 to 1000 AD. Archeologists believe that there were over 85 temples in this region, but today only 25 remain. One of these beautiful temples could take 25 years to build with a workforce of 16,000 people who all worked under the guidance of one master builder. The large pieces of blocks are held together like a jigsaw puzzle. There is no mortar to bind the pieces together, and the very top piece is the integral piece that provides the "lock". The Chandela dynasty was wiped out by Muslim invaders in the 1300's, and the temples were abandoned for over 700 years. They were rediscovered in 1838 by TS Burt of the Bengal engineers. There was no written record left behind that explains the art form. There are over 800 carvings on the exterior depicting gods and goddesses, warriors, dancers , musicians and soldiers. These carvings are exquisite, and the details of facial expressions and clothing give a history to the way of life of these peaceful people.
Khajuraho temples are famous for the graphic, almost pornographic sculptures that leave little to the imagination. Although these types of carvings are famous, less than 2% of the total exterior surface are made up of these erotic sculptures.
Later this afternoon we board our 1 hour flight for Varanasi. On arrival we are greeted with a surprise rickshaw ride through the packed streets to the Ganges. From our boat, we witness the nightly ceremony performed by priests to "put mother Ganga to bed."


Temples of Kharjuraho

Varanasi rickshaw ride..

Day 25; February 4

Varanasi
We begin our day with a 5:30 wakeup call so we can depart by 6:00am to watch the sunrise on the Ganges. The streets are quieter than last night, however the cows still wander freely and there are a number of people sleeping on the streets. Varanasi is one of the oldest inhabited cities in India. Hindus believe that scattering the ashes of their dead relatives in the Ganges river at Varanasi will allow their relatives to enter the gates to heaven. As we board our boat we see many people bathing in the Ganges as well as holy men (Sadhus) watching the sunrise and chanting.
The banks of the Ganges are lined with steps that lead to the river, Hindu temples and small hotels. There are many old Palaces of the Maharajas who would come here to pay homage to the Ganges and cremate their dead then sprinkle the ashes in the Ganges.
The boat rides on the Ganges were amazing, humbling and spiritual experiences.
After breakfast at our hotel with continue our journey to explore the Buddhist site of Sarnath. This is where Buddha is said to have given his first sermon after achieving enlightenment.
Later today we board our flight for our 1 hour flight to Delhi. This evening we are treated to a wonderful meal in a modern traditional restaurant.

Varanasi at sunrise.

Varanasi at sunrise, this is the view of the eastern side.

Day 26; February 5

Delhi.
Hard to believe that this is the last day of our amazing journey through India!! We begin our sightseeing with a visit to one of the largest Mosques in Delhi. Next we explore one of the most famous sites in Delhi; the Gahndi Memorial that marks the place where Gandhi was assassinated, this is also where his body was cremate. Later his ashes were spread on the Ganges. The site is wide open and peaceful, a flame burns 24 hours a day.
WE then travel to the National museum where we use an audio guide to learn about the highlights of the museum. I don' t think we will ever spend enough time here as the museum is so huge with so many interesting artifacts; you could spend days here. We have managed to see all these places before lunch! For lunch we visit a popular Indian restaurant and order a la carte- a number of people order pizza, we have been enjoying Indian curry and sandwiches for days and it is nice to have a change of pace.
OUr plan this afternoon is to visit the Lotus Temple of the Baha'i faith, but it is so incredibly crowded that we are not able to walk through the complex or the vast meditation hall. Our bus spends some time trying to make a u turn on the crowded streets and we continue on our way. We drive through the embassy area and see the famous India Gate a war memorial. Our last stop of sight seeing is the Quintab Mineer a 73 meter tall minaret built in the late 12 century in the ancient capital of Delhi Known as Lal Kot
Later this evening we board our flight home.


PS
IT has been my very great pleasure to travel with all of you. Thank you all for your openness to try new things and flexibility when things went a little sideways. I hope you have enjoyed our amazing journey through this remarkable country.
I look forward to travelling with you again
Kind Regards
Julie Bruce B.Sc
Royal Heights Tours
February 7 2017
Corbett National Park, India.