I arrived in Agra by train on March 10. It was only a four trip in the middle of the day, from Sawai Madhopur (Ranthambore), but it was a long haul sleeper so everyone around was still lying around to pass time. Felt like I had joined the wrong party!
The next morning I was up at 5 to get in line for Taj Mahal tickets and the sunrise. With 40,000 visitors a day, early is best!
Built from 1632-1640 by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his third wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Main gate and first view
The next day I booked a taxi for Fatehpur Sikri, an hour drive away. It is an ancient city that the capital of the Mughal empire from 1572 and 1585. It was eventually abandoned due to lack of a water supply.
Diwan-I-Khas (Hall of Public Audiences) with beautifully carved central column
The creator of the city was Emperor Akbar. There are three palaces, one for each of his favourite wives (Muslim, Hindu and Christian).
Punch Mahal (Five Level Palace)
Anoop Talab pool
There is still a functioning mosque though, in a huge courtyard
That was March 12, the day things started to go sideways.
When I left Canada December 30, the Coronavirus had not been known outside China. It was January 7 before China announced they had isolated the virus spreading in Wuhan.
Over the next two months I followed the news. But on March 12, on the way back from Fatehpur Sikri, I read that India was suspending tourist visas.
I had less than three weeks left on my trip, but that last part was flying to Nepal, and back to Delhi for my flight home. No visa meant no admission back into India.
So I spent the next day cancelling hotels and flights in Nepal, and moving my flight home from March 31 to March 20. That would still give me one last stop in Varanasi.
Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India. The Ganges River (or Ganga as they call it) is very sacred in Hinduism.
There are 84 ghats (places with steps down). An early morning boat ride gave a good perspective. People were out bathing, doing laundry and chanting.
Open air cremation is considered the most auspicious way to release the soul from the body. About 80 bodies are cremated per day at two of the ghats.
Families are also gathered along the ghats for the funeral ceremonies that involve drumming.
Chai tea served in ‘disposable’ clay cups
Love the red carrots here. So sweet too!
But things started spinning faster and faster in the next few days, there was talk of airports closing, and I thought ‘this isn’t fun anymore’. So I moved my flight ahead ahead to March 17.
As soon as I had the flight, I headed to the airport and flew Varanasi-Delhi-Hong Kong-Vancouver-Victoria. It was a 44 hour trip but I felt relieved to reach each step.
Hong Kong airport – 530 gates but no people….
And just in case, I brought the roll of toilet paper I’d been carrying around for 2.5 months…
Now it’s 14 days of self-isolation. Good chance to catch up on the jet lag, which for a 12 hour time change means my days and nights are reversed!
But then what?? I’ve spent seven months/year for the last four years traveling. But planning the next trip seems premature in these uncertain times.
I hope everyone is staying healthy, and I look forward to adding to this blog in the future.