Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hello all, this is a guest post by my husband. He recounts his recent visit to the Great Wall of China. Read on....

Changcheng (The Great Wall of China)

Visiting Changcheng or the ‘Long Wall’ as it is popularly known in China, built for over 6000 Kms, is an amazing experience. An awesome man-made structure built and rebuilt….and rebuilt…. Over thousands of years, by successive dynasties.

When I was in Beijing for my official visit, my colleague from the Beijing office suggested we visit some places. ‘What would you like to see?’ he asked. ‘Great Wall, of course!!’

I was a bit apprenhensive when my colleague offered to drive me to the Great Wall in his car. I was already having enough fun catching a cab from the hotel to my office and back. I would say traffic in Beijing is not as bad as it is in India, but it’s definitely stressful!!

My colleague Mr. Hao picked me up from the hotel at 8.30AM on Saturday morning. It was a two hour drive to reach Badaling section of the Great Wall. One could book any of the plethora of bus tours to the Great Wall from various points in the city. Since it was a Saturday morning, traffic wasn’t that bad and we made it in good time. After parking the car, we set off on foot to climb the tallest part of the Badaling Great Wall.

The climb was pretty steep and we were exhausted by the time we reached the peak. Of course, there were cable-car rides and train rides to reach the summit and I was tempted to take one of those rides; But after seeing some septuagenarians and octogenarians climbing the wall on foot, we decided to walk. And, what a walk it was!! I have been climbing the steps of Tirumala Hills since I was a kid and I thought I was very good in conserving my energy for long walks with steep climbs. But this was a totally different and amazing experience.

The scenery around the Great Wall is breath-taking. One can see the Great Wall disappearing into the horizon. Most of the Badaling section runs through mountains. One can imagine the hard-work put in by the people in those times, with no access to modern construction equipment whatsoever. There is a belief that some 2 million people died while building this wall.

After climbing down the wall, we reached Beijing city limits late in the afternoon. Since we skipped lunch (we were too tired to eat anything after climbing the Great Wall), we decided to eat an early dinner at one of the local restaurants. The food was amazing and I realized how spicy Chinese food could be!! Most of the Chinese restaurants offer a variety of choices for vegetarians like me.The only twist to this statement is to take a local person with you when you visit such restaurants. No matter how hard you try to explain your choice of vegetarian food, there will be some misunderstanding and you may end up with the famous Peking Duck cooked to perfection served steaming hot!! Your local friend can best explain your choice to the waitress.

Thank you Travelplaza for this space on your blog :-)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Vist to Agra...The Taj!!

On our recent trip to India, the one place we wanted to visit was Agra, to see the Taj Mahal. My kids had made us promise when we were still here that we would see it. So, we booked our tickets using the travel site makemytrip.com. We only just booked our flight tickets as our accomodation was taken care of by freinds of the family. The tickets were not too expensive and the customer service reps were professional and curteous.

We arrived in Delhi on a Monday afternoon and spent the day lazing around. The next day, Tuesday, we woke up bright and early to drive to Agra. Our driver was a nice young fellow, except he kept losing his way around a little bit! Of course once we were on the highway, he knew every inch of the road and made good time. He used his 'Haryanvi' accent to talk his way through various "informal check-posts" setup by local police. Haryanvi is a special flavor of Hindi spoken in the state of Haryana which is adjacent to state of Delhi. We stopped for breakfast at a nice restaurant on the Delhi-Agra highway, I can't remember the name, but they not only had great parathas, but also some fabulous souvenirs. The kids of course were thrilled by the snake charmer who sat at the gate to the restaurant.

After a good breakfast, we resumed our journey and reached Agra at about 10.00 am and went straight to the Taj Mahal. Motor vehicles are not permitted close to the monument and so we had to park our car little away and from there ride in a jatka...a horse driven cart. It was an iteresting 10 minutes with the bumps and clumps and the willfulness of the animal itself. At one point the cart driver gave the reigns to my older son and this thrilled him no end. We arrived at the entrance and bought our tickets to go in. There was a security check point but there was no problem. It was not too crowded and it was a pleasant morning. Although it did get very hot really soon..

There are no words to describe the unique beauty of the Taj!!It stood regal and grand near the Jamuna...I was sad to see though,that the Jamuna had shrunk to a mere stream. We walked along the path leading to the Taj and went inside. Footwear had to be left outside and we entered the monument. It was quite hot outside now, but the spectacular architecture of the monument allowed for the cool breeze to waft in. This gave the place a serene, calm and cool feel. Photography is not allowed inside the Taj. However, we took plenty of pictures outside. The kids read about its history and other interesting facts on our way out. My younger son's reaction after reading them was just one word, "awesome!". We again took the jatka back to the car park. The heat was intense now and we were hungry. We headed to a restaurant for some Daal-roti and sabji.

The best time to visit the Taj Mahal seemed to be on any week day except Friday. Visit to Taj on Fridays and weekends will only cause lot of heartache for Taj-lovers. It was around the last week of June and I think schools being in session in India, there was not too much crowd. It was peaceful and quiet and just perfect.

Soon after our trip, The Taj was voted to be one of the New Seven Wonders!!!Yeah..Taj!