chopping and peeling vegetables. It was quite a unique experience to see a real community at work. Then it was on to Humayun’s Tomb which is an impressive 16th century structure set in beautiful gardens. This tomb, and many others including the Taj Mahal, were built by Moghul emperors who ruled India from 1500s-1800s, coming down from Persia (now Iran).
Today we drove for about 4 hours to reach Agra. We checked into the Trident Hotel, which is a modern 4 star hotel. The hotel was very nice, but not particularly Indian. It did have a nice big lawn area around the pool.
In the afternoon, we toured the Agra Fort, built in 1565. It was later the home of Emperor Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal. He was also imprisoned here by his son later in life. We also visited a marble inlay workshop to see the techniques used to decorate the Taj Mahal. Seeing this technique close up made us appreciate the Taj’s beauty the next day.
Our dinner was hosted by the ITC Mughal Hotel. This is a stunning 5 star hotel with a foyer reminiscent of the Taj Mahal. Their restaurant, The Peshwari, is famous for its northwestern Indian cuisine. The dinner was wonderful.
The next morning we rose extra early for a dawn visit to the Taj Mahal, The Taj Mahal was commenced in 1631 and finished in 1653 by Emperor Shah Jahan. It was built in memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth and is buried beneath. The building surpasses all expectations with its beauty and the rising sun changes its hue. Of course, there are lots of tourists here, but we found everyone to be very courteous with respect to moving on for photos and allowing others their turn, particularly at the, now famous, Princess Diana seat. There are also many hawkers outside selling souvenirs. Any interaction with the hawkers is seen as encouragement and whilst they were not rude, to sometimes felt invasive. Our guide, Niki, was fantastic is helping us with our transactions when we wanted to buy something.
After a late breakfast, we started our 4 hour drive to Samode, a small town in Rajasthan. Enroute, we made a stop at a step-well dating back to 800AD. This was an amazing structure of steps graduating down to a water supply. The engineering is incredible for the time.
Samode is a small village north of Jaipur. In the early evening we arrived at the Samode Palace Hotel. The palace is 475 years old and is a celebration of the combination of Indian and Muslim architecture. Each room is individual and magnificently decorated and they surround one of two courtyards and look out at the mountains on the other side. There are two swimming pools.
In the evening we were all dressed in a sari and treated to a wonderful show of local folk dancers. Then it was dinner in a private dining room. The whole evening was sensory overload and ended with a great sleep in our 4-poster beds.
The next morning we took a Jeep Safari around the village and farms of Samode. We visited a small working farm and saw how the farm is run by the family. Most of the field work is done by the women, I am not sure what the men do.
In the afternoon, we inspected a sister property, Samode Bagh. This property was built 250 years ago and was the country retreat for the Samode family. The vast gardens are surrounded by individual bungalows. It is a great spot for a family holiday as they run lots of activities for children.The accommodations and dining room had a real country feel with dark wood, rustic furniture.