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Enchanting India - New Delhi and Agra


New Delhi and Agra, India

An enchanting land....



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 .... the people



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..... the colors



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.... the culture



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New Delhi

This trip was different from most of our trips as we were with a conference and every minute of the week was planned out for us.  D started work at 2:00 on Sunday (we arrived very late Saturday night).  We were able to squeeze in a local market Sunday morning.


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New Delhi is the capital city of India and is part of metropolitan complex of Delhi.  Delhi has close to 15 million people living there.



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The ladies of the market...



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Isn't she precious?


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Colorful kurtis - very popular outfits for women, along with saris.



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A mid-morning nap - I wonder if all this color made him have good dreams?



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Old Delhi is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a history dating back 5000 years.  The British developed New Delhi in 1911 - it is only a hundred years old.  In 1931, during British rule, India was forced to shift its capital from Calcutta to New Delhi. 



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New Delhi is one of the fastest growing cities in both India and the world. It is the government, commercial, and financial center of India.



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We saw very young men, really boys, working in the streets.  Notice this sewing machine is working with a foot petal, not with electricity.


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They are making a sweet donut-like treat.


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This was the only street food D managed to get!  I passed on tasting it.  It was our first day and I had heard that most everyone gets sick in India.  I am happy to report that no one got sick, including the three that tasted the street food!


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A temple on wheels.  Close to 80% of India is of Hindu Religion and the vast majority belong to Vaishnavite and Shaivite denominations.


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People put money in the temple and then wave their hands over the incense to direct the smoke to their face. 


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A camel walking on the main road.  Now that would be a fun way to get to work each day!


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A refreshing lemon drink - no we did not try it.  You really should not drink anything that is not bottled commercially.


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Sights we visited:


Part of the conference was a trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra.  It took us four hours each way but it was oh so worth it!  The view as we approached the Taj.  Did you know that the Taj Mahal was a labor of love?



The photo below is actually a reflection of the Taj in a pool in the front garden.  I did NOT alter this photo!  This is one of my favorite photos of the trip.  The Taj Mahal is UNESCO World Heritage site.  


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It took 22 years to build the Taj Mahal  (1631-1653).  The story behind it is one of the greatest love stories of all times.  The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built it for his third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  Their marriage was a "love" marriage, not an arranged one.


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Because  Mumtaz Mahal was his favorite wife, she traveled everywhere with him.  Even though she was in the ninth month of pregnancy, she traveled with Shah Jahan when he set out for Burhanpur with his armies to subdue a rebellion.  



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While on this journey, the queen gave birth to their fourteenth child.  She suffered complications and did not survive.  According to legend, on her dying bed, Shah Jahan promised her that he would never remarry and would build the most beautiful mausoleum over her grave, more beautiful than any the world had ever seen before.  


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The queen is buried in the exact center of the Taj and the Shah is buried by her side.   


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The mosque and the guesthouse in the complex are built of red sandstone in contrast to the marble mausoleum.  It is also a beautiful structure.


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For twenty-two years, twenty thousand men and women labored day and night to create the emperor shah Jahan’s promise to his beloved.  It is primarily made of marble with inlay work of precious/semi precious stones. It truly is a breathtaking sight!




The road to Agra and the Taj Mahal...


Most of the following photos were taken from a bus window while the bus was moving.  A rarity for us, as we never take bus tours, but this was part of the day's events.  We had a great time despite not being able to walk among the locals.


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India is a poor country and not many people own cars.   It is common to see people jumping on and off the back of trucks to get to where they are going.


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There were also motorcycles on the road, but nothing like some of the Asian countries we have traveled to.


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The countryside side was quite beautiful, with many people working the fields.


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Agra is a very touristy town, yet they were quite intrigued to see our caravan of buses coming into town.  A brand new toll road just opened up, but there was hardly any traffic on it and the police stopped us frequently.  Eventually, the police gave up and escorted our five buses to the Taj with their siren lights on.  We also had armed guards on our bus.


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 This truck has seen better days.



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The people were very friendly and waved at our bus as we went by.


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Love this photo - look closely, the woman is carrying milk and the cow is trailing behind her.


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So colorful!



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Looks like this one is getting in a quick nap before he goes to school.



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As always - safety first!


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There were many women with children begging for food and money.



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The Agra Red Fort



Less than a mile from the Taj Mahal sits the Agra Fort.  Like the Taj, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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The Agra Fort (often called the Red Fort) was designed and built by the great Mughal ruler, Akbar, around 1565 A.D.  It derives its name from the extensive use of red sandstone on the massive walls that surround the fort.


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It was initially built as a military establishment, and later it was converted into a magnificent palace.


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Shah Jahan was imprisioned in the Fort by his own son for the last eight years of his life. 

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Diwan-I-Am or Hall of Public Audience, constructed between 1631-40, was the place where the emperor addressed the general public as well as the nobility. 



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The town of Agra was very busy in the evening as we departed.  It made for some challenging maneuvering for our bus driver.



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We got to see many other sights during the week including:


The Lotus Temple


The Bahá'í House of Worship, also known as the Lotus Temple because of its flowerlike shape, is a fairly new structure, completed in 1986.  Like all Bahá'í Houses of Worship, the Lotus Temple is open to all, regardless of religion.  Inside is a giant empty room with chairs.  You must be completely silent when you enter.  This was a challenge for a few of us girls  :  )


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India Gate

India Gate is a national monument in India. Situated in the heart of New Delhi, it was inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.  Originally known as the All India War Memorial, the India Gate was constructed in 1931 as a memorial to honor 90,00 soldiers who laid down their lives during World War I.


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We also did a lot of shopping and we got to see a real fashion show, stop by my art blog to see more photos of the show.

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Evening Events


Each evening we had dinner and a performance.  They were a bit touristy but I really enjoyed each and every one of them!  Below I am getting a "bindi" as I enter the show.  



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Bindi is derived from the sanskrut word ‘bindu’, which means dot.  It is an ornamental mark placed on the forehead between the two eyebrows. 


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A common assumption is that a bindi is a mark of the married women, but all women can wear one.  In India, a 'bindi' on a woman's forehead or a 'tilak' on a man's forehead signifies the individual's spiritual eye, also called the 'third eye.'  The third eye is a mystical symbol of higher consciousness, and is thought to be the center of the base of creation.  It is also said to protect against demons.



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Notice what I am wearing... I purchased a beautiful kurti.


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There were colorful characters at the entrance of the show.  The show was a bollywood performance and it was awesome.  We were not allowed to take photos.


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 The next evening we were entertained with fire.  Women dancing with pots of fire on their heads and ...


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A fire-breathing man!



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While balancing all the pots on her head, she managed to stand on two swords.


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Guess who was pulled from the audience to dance with the performers?? Love that look on my face.


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The next evening we saw traditional dances from different regions of India.


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And I leave you with the fun little three-wheeled contraptions called “autos”, a common mode of transportation in India.


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 How many people can they squeeze into one auto?  Obviously many!


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Safety first!


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The girls did end up using them one day.  But we got two of them for four of us.  That was probably considered a luxury!



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Farewell India!  For a country that was not high on our "to see" list we really enjoyed our trip and hope to go back and explore more of this interesting country.  Good news.... it's looking like a trip to Bangalore in the spring!


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Saigon Vietnam


The sights, sounds, and colors of Saigon 


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Now known as Ho Chi Minh City, it is the largest city in Vietnam with more than 7 million people living there.  Many still call it Saigon, which I prefer - it sounds so exotic.   This was a quick trip, only two and a half days, so I did not take as many photos as I normally do.    


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It was a more modern city then we expected, and more people spoke English then we anticipated.  When walking through local streets, people went out of their way to say hello.  They especially liked to have their small children practice English with us.  They would bring them up to us in stores, outside their homes, on the sidewalks, etc to have them say a few words.  And, the teenagers would wave to us, smile, then take photos of us with their cell phones.   It was very sweet and fun.



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HCM City was originally known as Prey Nokor, and was part of Cambodia.  In the 17th century, the Vietnamese conquered the city and named it Saigon.  After the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City, named after the Communist leader who led Vietnam's independence from France.  The official name is Thanh pho Ho Chi Minh.

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Despite the fact that modern high-rise buildings have begun to dominate the skyline, there are still many examples of French colonial architecture such as the Notre Dame Cathedral.  French colonists built the Cathedral  between 1863 and 1880.



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Neighborhoods and apartments



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In Cho Lon, HCM City’s Chinatown, almost every building has a shop or workshop on the ground floor and the shop owner has their house on top. 



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There was a very large park close to our hotel.  One morning we took a walk through it and were surprised to see hundreds of kids having school lessons outside.  Some were exercising, some were being lectured to, and some were reading.  I asked at our hotel and they said that as long as the weather is nice, they hold classes outside.



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We also saw a group of children having an exercise class outside on the sidewalk.  They were having so much fun.



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Donald with the little street gypsy... her mother had her ask us to buy little bracelets.  M, who was with us, couldn't resist her sweet smile and bought a few. 


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Street Food

Like most of the Asian countries we have visited, street food is very popular in HCM City.  This is efficient, selling homemade noodles off the back of a scooter.



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Now that is a bowl of soup!  I would struggle cooking a bowl this big on a regular stove, how she is managing this on the street is impressive!  


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Love this one, he is cooking away in the middle of the road, traffic whizzing by.


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A pack of cigarettes with your lunch?



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We love Bánh mì, a Vietnamese sandwich you can buy on the streets.  Bánh mì really is a term for all kinds of bread - more specifically, the baguette, introduced to Saigon by the French during its colonial period. 


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The sandwiches are made with meat such as roasted pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, or grilled chicken.  They usually start by spreading a layer of pork liver pâté and a layer mayonnaise.  Then a few vegetables like fresh cucumber slices, cilantro leaves, and pickled carrots.  Common condiments include spicy chili sauce and sliced chili.


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How much did the beer cost?  Most bottles were 10,000 Dong (50 cents USD).  In Singapore, they average $10 (USD) a bottle!  




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Traffic and Scooters


Like Hanoi, there were thousands of scooters.  I took this photo from our taxi.


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Check out this confused lady going the wrong way on the road... note that she is not wearing shoes.



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Rush hour.



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How about a flower delivery on a scooter?  A very large flower delivery!





Fun to see how he is actually carrying the arrangement.  How on earth can he see?  As always, safety first!


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The coffee


We LOVE Vietnamese coffee.... hot or cold.  The taste is very different from regular beans.  One reason is they add chicory to the bean.  Another reason, once brewed, they add sweetened condensed milk.  Our favorite brand is Trung Nguyen - Gourmet Brew and Creative 5. 





You can buy Creative 1 - 5, but we like 5 the best.  It is fragrant, smooth, and has a distinct taste from the pea berries.  It is also the most expensive.  We bought 5 boxes and 4 bags to carry home.  We can only get it at one store here in Singapore and it is 3x the cost.



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We were in a sweet little cafe, "iCafe" (25 Trinh Va Can Q.1), and decided to try the siphon coffee.  We have read about it and were curious.   Most places it is fairly expensive, but in Vietnam it was only $2 a cup.  Deal.  What’s so special about it?  It's supposed to provide a much gentler, less bitter, flavor to consumers.


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They brought it to our table for us to watch it being brewed.  To make coffee using this method you fill the lower carafe of the siphon with water and the top with your ground coffee and a filter.  


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The burner heats the water and it "magically" travels into the top chamber.  She then let it sit 5 minutes and before adding condensed milk and ice, and she shook it hard in a silver martini mixer.  


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I have to say - this was THE BEST cup of iced coffee we had ever drank.  Seriously!  If you are in Saigon and are a coffee fan - it is worth going out of your way to have a cup.  Did I mention it was only $2 USD? 


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The Hotel


We were there during the rainy season, which lasts May through October, but lucked out with beautiful weather.  Our hotel said it had been raining for 4 days straight before we arrived.  We loved our hotel.  A sweet B&B, Ma Maison, a French Colonial home in a very local neighborhood.  We highly recommend it if you are visiting Saigon.


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We really enjoyed Saigon.  The people were very friendly.  We were told by one of the expats living there that south Vietnamese like Americans, as we fought alongside them in the war.  You could really feel the friendliness when going off the beaten path and walking through the local neighborhoods.



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