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Adventure Apprentice Logo

Follow in the footsteps of our 'Adventure Apprentice' Christine Griffiths. Earlier this year we ran a competition among travel agents for one lucky agent to win the chance of leading their very own Explore group on our Moghul Highlights tour. After enduring a gruelling showdown in the Explore boardroom against Maxine,(watch the video) followed by trips to the Explore office for full briefings and instruction, Christine has now flown out to Delhi to lead an unsuspecting group! She will be sending daily blogs of her time there. Here are her first 4. Blog 1 Hello Compatriots !!   Well here we are after months of careful planning and deliberation, Explores 1st Adventure Apprentice is on her way to India !!   After what has been a horrendous Journey around the M25 on a Friday night, I am finally checked in and ready to go. Now I need to introduce my travelling companion who arrived in a box to me at work yesterday .... who could that be... other than Huxley Hippo..(explore Mascot)who will be just as prolific on this journey of Discovery and adventure as I.   Huxley will be appearing in all sorts of places and I am going to hand over some of the resposibilities to him also ...No not really hes a stuffed toy but he definately will get into some mischief.

Explore mascot Huxley

  Ok not much more to say at this juncture other than I am now quietly nervous but am up for the challenge, if not only to prove that I am capable of being the 1st Adventure Apprentice and that they chose the right candidate when I was HIRED !!!!   Speak to you all soon, from the Exoticness of Delhi   Love to you all   Christine Hello to you all,  

Blog 2 Lots seem to have happened since yesterday ...... let me start by telling you that we nearly had an incident in the Departure Lounge, Huxley was almost Hippo Snatched !!!!!   We had decided to do a short departure lounge photo shoot ... with huxley looking cool when a little girl decided that actually Huxly was to cool and picked him up and ran off with him .... dont worry the ransom was minimal and was soon negotiated with a handful of Gummy bears and half a milky way !!!!! Huxley is fine and currently recovering from his Trauma in a darkend Hotel room ..   Ok so flight 9w 121 landed this morning at 0920 ..let me say Jett Airways what an excellent service we were airbourne for only 7.5hrs in total with a seat pitch that would have seen the cast of Strictly doing a tango behind it ...top food and excellent service .   It's been 7 yrs since my last visit to Delhi, and how its changed !! the Airport with its new T3 which opened in July is huge and airy and very welcoming, but once you walk through those doors you cant forget that your just adding to the 20 million who already live here . Its good to know that the chaotic and vibrant nature of this extrodinary city still lives on . It just magical to be back here in India, my passion for this extrodinary country knows no bounds and it going to be an incredibl experience to have 16 others to enjoy this opportunity .   After a quick rest stop, Raj who met me form the airport took me to the Groundagents for a meeting with my fellow guide for the tour . Let me introduce you to Rafeeq. Rafeeq and I have cogitated our plans(through much hilarity ) for the next 10 days and I now get the full drift of what is being expected !!! Ok now I get it ..if anyone here thinks im on the back seat of a bus with my feet up on some kind of jolly then  really ...think again !!   We have all eaten the most delightful meal crossed legged on the floor of the office which I am told happens everyday ... singularly the most amazing Indian food I have ever eaten and now feel like part of the family .. after which Rafeeq and I went in search for a restaurant for the group who arrive tomorrow at around 0930 - with me their first introduction to the Tour ...yes reality has just sunk in and its all going to kick off with the arrival of 16 unsuspecting passengers !!   Anyhow I must go I need to check on Huxley to see how he's coping ...    

Love to you all Christine Hello Everyone  


Blog 3 So last night... after sending the last missive, I thought that perhaps an early night would be the best option seeing as though it was all going to kick off in the morning. I wanted to be prepared and ready for action ..so I packed my Explore ! rucksack, procured my Explore T shirt from my case then I unpacked the rucksack and then repacked it ...this went on for 20 or so minutes !!  I would prefer to believe this wasnt nerves ..this was me ensuring that I had all the correct documentation and necessary bits !   Ok my Room here at the rather nice Hans Plaza Hotel is on the 20th Floor, it wasnt until last night when i got back to my room that I noticed  the view I have from the Window is breath taking. I have the whole Delhi Skyline,India Gate illuminated just for me or so it seems Stunning indeed.   Delhi is very British in its design and infrastructure, wide boulevards with 3/4 lanes of grid designed roads. Even the parliament buildings although Indian in Architecture were indeed built by the British,It looks very neat and orderly Therefore the whole inner working of New Delhi around the Connaught Place area where we are staying feel strangely familiar. That is all except the heat (around 35c)  and the madness of the Indian traffic donkeys the infamous Tuk-Tuks and the yellow and  black cabs, the continuous honking of the car Horn, not to mention the rikshaw carts with "only just " on wheels- Motor bikes with a whole family on the back ...youve got to love it.  

Speak soon   Christine


Sunday 17th October   Hello All   I'm oficially A Chachi. Hindi for tour Guide . I came down for breakfast this morning donning my Explore Tshirt and kit ...the waiters in the Breakfast room wouldnt let me do or get anything I had it all brought to my table ..no amount of saying different got a result so in the end i just accepted and enjoyed their attention.   So the group are due to arrive today at around 0945 landing time . Rafeeq and I met in the hotel lobby at 0900 jumped in a metered cab (the famous black and yellow ones) and headed off to the airport where we met with Raj who has the airport permit and the bus.   Airports are fascinating places arent they ? An Emirates flight had arrived bringing Indian workers back from the Gulf whilst we waited for the Jett Air to come in , now if you have ever come through customs or checked in behind Indian travellers you will have noticed that they dont travel with Suitcases, they travel with everything wrapped in either quilts, bed sheets or even towels in all the colours and then Meticulously tied in a complex rope knotting usually in a flourescent nylon . If they do have suit cases then these too are wrapped and tied in the same manner. I asked Rafeeq why dont Indian Travellers carry their Luggage in the usual fashion .....his reply was simple ....Christine didnt you know .....Indians Love Bundles !! We then laughed solidy for around an hour watching these amazing parcels pushed around on airport trollies by their owners. in all the colours and sizes ..the best being leopard print !  

The group finally made it through the complex workings of the Indian Customs at around 11am with everyone together we joined the bus and headed back into Delhi to check in, we also had 2 people on land only arrangement meeting us back at the Hotel . Pleased to inform you that my first taste of Airport transfer went well as did the Group Hotel check in ...phew ! I am the official checker inner ive got all the Vouchers in my command ..Rafeeq oversaw it for the first time just to make sure it was ok and gave his seal of approval !   We gave the group 40mins to refresh quick Lunch if desired then arranged for them to meet us back in the lobby ready for the full day tour takinig in the Q'tab Minar, Humyans Tomb and then finally the Parliment Buildings and India Gate. The Indian traffic gave the group the most amusement today ..much hilarity ..   I have to say it went well, the group are delightful if not a bit jaded by the end of the tour which you can understand, and they seem to have accepted me too and think that the competition etc was a really good idea. Thats a huge relief. Even after day 1 its really tiring, constantly watching and checking that the group are where they should be and back in one piece at all times, Ive got to remember that I am not one of them I am part of their structure .  

So after what seemed like a really long day we all headed out in the evening to the Restaurant that Rafeeq and I had chosen the day before. The food was excellent and everyone had the best Curry ever, a couple of beers later and we were all ready to head back to the Hotel for some well earned rest. I have to say that after the initial nerves have now subsided and I am in a Zone ... afer all I am for the next 9 Days I am  a Chachi.....    

Love Christine

Monday 18th Oct    

Hello Everyone   

I havent introduced you to the rest of the Explore ! Team....Rafeeq you all know as head Tour leader .. we also have Irshad the Driver of our much needed bus, Suman who is our conductor his job is to take care of all the behind the scenes things like keeping us in fresh cold water etc. Also each town we arrive in we have a Guide and since yesterday we have with us for our time in Delhi Prashanto who is genning us all up on the sights and sounds of both Old and New Delhi. Hes been a really fantastic guide and genuinely a lovely guy.  

So today is the tour of old Delhi, in order to get there we have today used the Delhi Metro...oh what a challenge, if you think that the London Underground is busy then x 10 for Delhi..the best thing about the Metro here is the lady only carriages, so picture the scene. The carriages are filled with these beautiful elegant Sari clad Indian Ladies enter 9 rather bewildered Brits with their backpacks on the front in case of pickpockets...the carriages are already absolutely crammed in order to board the train and not get seperated from the rest of the group ie the men we have to literally launch ourselves into the throng of rather Bemused Ladies !!!  Then into that mix a couple of Indian men seeing that the Lady only carriages are no where near as full as the male carriages follow suit much to the distaste of one particular Indian Lady who very gently and with a wobble of the head (indian style) advised that they were not welcome !  

2 stops down and we arrive in the indescribable old Delhi... Now I cannot for the life of me begin to even put this into words that will give you you even one tenth of what is really like there. Imagine a bustling open air Souk type environment over head are the electric cables that literally in places make the Sky go black with their density and thickness Lord alone knows what happens in the Monsoon....its a miracle that no one gets electrocuted....So in order to have the true experience we all jump on the back of Pedal Rickshaws with drivers and head off into the throng of alley-ways and mayhem. I have managed to video record the whole experience which I will show you on return ..you have to remember that we are not alone in these alley ways there are also motor cycles, people rickshaws going the opposite direction & lots of shops and traders  ...etc and at points its only wide enough for 1 rickshaw..its  an experience of a life time ..the smells,colours and the noise its all going on !   We finally emerge from the Alleys and end up at the Great Mosque which will accommodate 20,000 worshippers (in other word its HUGE) where we ladies have to donn what can only be described as Hospital Gowns..glamorous moment !!  From The great Mosque we then need to embark on a bit of a road trip to take us to Agra where tomorrow we get to the Taj Mahal.

The Road between Delhi and Agra is 240km but Indian roads and chaotic traffic this will take us approx 5hrs, the plan is to stop midway for food and comfort break to get us to Agra for no later than 18.30ish 19.00 top line. Where we can check in to a nice Hotel get a good meal, and an early night as we need to up at 0500 for the Taj tomorrow Sunrise .  

Best Laid plans .....  

Ok so we get Half way no problem other than we are held up a little as the Delhi Traffic is horrendous coming through the South, we make the rest stop get drinks and food and a chance to strech our legs, the road speed here is no more than 50 and also the infrastructure isnt marvellous so all in all its ok . At around 16.15, we are driving through the bustling if not slightly industrial town  of Kosi ..where all of a sudden our precious bus coughs slightly billows out a whole heap of smoke and grinds to a halt.   Now the tourist buses here especially the 20 seater type like ours see the driver and front passenger in only what can be described as a seperate compartment ..there is a panel of glass so you can see through the windscreen and then a glass door behind the front seat , we all sat and watched speechless as this compartment filled with smoke as our bus decided that Agra wasnt on its agenda.  

18 passengers going to Agra whilst our bus went to pieces.  

TBC.....     Christine

Hello again everyone  

OK so there we were, our bus pulled alongside this bedlamic Indian Road. People, Buses ,Lorries, donkeys, cows ,tuk-tuks,rickshaws  you name it they were there. Rafeeq and I looked at each other his words were, 'ok partner lets go .....'   We asked the group just to stay in their seats for a couple of mins whilst we came up with an instant plan, Rafeeq advised he would do the logistics.  This was sense as he had all the numbers and my Hindi comprises of 2 words neither of which would have got us very far !!!, and I was to take care of the group.   I address the group and explained that Rafeeq was calling Delhi, as we weren't sure if it was a quick fix..we had broken down right ouside a roadside repair workshop which was lucky. This workshop compised of a lot of canvas stretched over wooden poles with a lot of engine parts spreadout on the groud and a couple of upsidedown Tuk-tuks, and tractors. There seemed to be a lot of grease and hammering involved. Meanwhile Suman and Irshard were busy trying to establish what had happened.  

All the group were enjoying this temporary delay ...people watching and enjoying the interaction of the local folk, who, I dearsay are still talking about the day the bus of tourists came to stop !!! Rafeeq had arranged for alternative transport ..it was now past 1700 and we had to get the group to Agra..the sun would be going down and it would be getting dark very soon. It was arranged for 3 vehicles 1 x for all our luggage ..1 x 12 seater and 1 x 6 but they were in Agra the opposite direction and would be 2hrs in the now rush hour traffic.  

I organised the water and made sure that the cold stocks were distributed asap, I sprayed the bus with Mossi repellent and encouraged the group to stretch their legs. The environment outside wasnt hostile we were of much fascination with the beautiful children who by know had finished school and word had spread about the stranded tourists...not to mention the 15 or so Indian Motor repair guy's who with much head wobbling,loud voices and gesticulation were trying to repair our bus.   Suman stayed with me and we kept an eye on the group, this wasnt hard work as most members were experienced Explore travellers and were thoroughly enjoying the goings on. We had local indian cardamon chai offered by the locals in clay cups the children queued to have their picture taken in raptures that we could show them what they looked like on the digital screens.  

The cars arrived we all stood in a line and in a chain emptied the back of the bus and loaded the luggage vehicle (teamwork), at around 1945 all the vehicles were with us, I organised the groups I took the 12 seater the 6 were going to follow us and Rafeeq went with the luggage. Jaded, but still with humour we all finally made our way to Agra.   We arrived at 2200. Rafeeq had already organised the meal for tonight. The group had 10 mins to wash their hands whilst I sorted the check in and gave them their keys, we were all very tired but jubilant that we had made it and the drama all seemed to have become another part of our experience...making it to the restaurant we drank beer and discussed the events ..knowing that we would be getting wake up calls for 0500 the following day to get to the Taj.     Beer has never tasted so good.    

The question was would our bus ever get to Agra.. would we ever see the forever smiling Suman and our excellent driver Irshad again ??   TBC    

All the best Christine

Hello Everyone


Its a 6hr drive from Bharatpur to Karauli. Suman has prepared the bus brilliantly and we have lots of cold bottled water and a clean bus ready for the road less travelled. The view from the windows has changed dramatically as we are now in the deepest rural parts of the majestic Rajasthan. What was continual road chaos is now a lot quieter, the methods of transport have changed too as we are one of a very few motorised vehicles in preference to the Camel and bullock trucks towing just about every commodity known …… however let me just say one thing and remind everyone that this isn’t the M1  … after about an hour in to the journey, tarmac becomes a rare sight and if it is then its in really bad repair ..our expert Driver  Irshad navigates the best he can but the roads are tough going and arduous for the Bus… we as ever are too busy enjoying the view and each others company to care…busy pointing and commentating on the forever changing canvas around us.

We take a rest stop and continue until Rafeeq pulls the bus over at an approaching village. When I say village in mean a small enclave area with 3/4 families all living together, in mud & brick huts, bullocks, goats and water buffalo tethered to trees, Wide eyed children in barefoot wonderment at the approaching strangers . Rafeeq has a quick and elaborate conversation with the Elder member of the village and it is approved for us to enter and look around …. this is just an amazing experience the families are all smiles and full of grace, the children shy at first but curious none the less intrigued by everything about us…. our clothes ..our cameras… our voices… our skin… wow what an opportunity this is .

So it’s back on the Road and we eventually arrive in the incredible Town of Karauli. This is different from anything we have been to before and dates back to the 13thC .. Tonight we are staying in a heritage property . A heritage property is a an old palace or lodge that has been transferred into a Hotel or guest house . This Hotel was once an old Maharajah hunting Lodge and has all the furniture and fixtures and fittings to match. Huge stuffed Tigers adorn the antique style lobby and ornate black and white Photographs of Old India with Eyes of times past staring back at you … doing the check in here is slightly different as each room is entirely different and offers a unique stay …to make it fair we have decided to register everyone in the usual way but instead of allocating the rooms I will put all of the keys in a bowl and get the team to pull out their own key …it would be unfair to allocate in such a unique environment….. with all keys distributed and the group on their way to their rooms it was time for Rafeeq and I to sit down, catch up on our game plan and sip some ice lime water, in, lets describe it as the Maharajahs’ Snooker room !!

It was arranged that the group were to meet at 4pm for the afternoon’s guided tour of the Palaces and forts of Karauli, with a twist. We weren’t going to be doing this with a normal method of transport… but on the back of camel carts no less. 1 camel with like a flat wooden plank attached to wheels on top of the plank was a blanket where 4 people plus the camel driver could sit, so again in convoy 5 individual camel carts pulling our delighted group up through the narrow streets and markets of Karauli …from the minute we set off we were surrounded by children running after us …shouting ‘Hello Hello’ and waving furiously …the local people bemused to say the least at this spectacle as we climbed camel speed through the hilly town . It felt like the whole town stopped and came and watched like a long awaited carnival was finally arriving into town totally enthralled with us and enjoying our ever so bumpy but memorable journey…again we were surrounded with cars, rickshaws, motorbikes ,cows goats…also were enjoying our long slow busy colourful path to the top .


All my Love
Christine

Village Elders & Camel carts......

Hello Everyone   Its a 6hr drive from Bharatpur to Karauli. Suman has prepared the bus brilliantly and we have lots of cold bottled water and a clean bus ready for the road less travelled. The view from the windows has changed dramatically as we are now in the deepest rural parts of the majestic Rajasthan. What was continual road chaos is now a lot quieter, the methods of transport have changed too as we are one of a very few motorised vehicles in preference to the Camel and bullock trucks towing just about every commodity known ...... however let me just say one thing and remind everyone that this isn't the M1  ... after about an hour in to the journey, tarmac becomes a rare sight and if it is then its in really bad repair ..our expert Driver  Irshad navigates the best he can but the roads are tough going and arduous for the Bus... we as ever are too busy enjoying the view and each others company to care...busy pointing and commentating on the forever changing canvas around us.  

We take a rest stop and continue until Rafeeq pulls the bus over at an approaching village. When I say village in mean a small enclave area with 3/4 families all living together, in mud & brick huts, bullocks, goats and water buffalo tethered to trees, Wide eyed children in barefoot wonderment at the approaching strangers . Rafeeq has a quick and elaborate conversation with the Elder member of the village and it is approved for us to enter and look around .... this is just an amazing experience the families are all smiles and full of grace, the children shy at first but curious none the less intrigued by everything about us.... our clothes ..our cameras... our voices... our skin... wow what an opportunity this is .  

So it's back on the Road and we eventually arrive in the incredible Town of Karauli. This is different from anything we have been to before and dates back to the 13thC .. Tonight we are staying in a heritage property . A heritage property is a an old palace or lodge that has been transferred into a Hotel or guest house . This Hotel was once an old Maharajah hunting Lodge and has all the furniture and fixtures and fittings to match. Huge stuffed Tigers adorn the antique style lobby and ornate black and white Photographs of Old India with Eyes of times past staring back at you ... doing the check in here is slightly different as each room is entirely different and offers a unique stay ...to make it fair we have decided to register everyone in the usual way but instead of allocating the rooms I will put all of the keys in a bowl and get the team to pull out their own key ...it would be unfair to allocate in such a unique environment..... with all keys distributed and the group on their way to their rooms it was time for Rafeeq and I to sit down, catch up on our game plan and sip some ice lime water, in, lets describe it as the Maharajahs' Snooker room !!  

It was arranged that the group were to meet at 4pm for the afternoon's guided tour of the Palaces and forts of Karauli, with a twist. We weren't going to be doing this with a normal method of transport... but on the back of camel carts no less. 1 camel with like a flat wooden plank attached to wheels on top of the plank was a blanket where 4 people plus the camel driver could sit, so again in convoy 5 individual camel carts pulling our delighted group up through the narrow streets and markets of Karauli ...from the minute we set off we were surrounded by children running after us ...shouting 'Hello Hello' and waving furiously ...the local people bemused to say the least at this spectacle as we climbed camel speed through the hilly town . It felt like the whole town stopped and came and watched like a long awaited carnival was finally arriving into town totally enthralled with us and enjoying our ever so bumpy but memorable journey...again we were surrounded with cars, rickshaws, motorbikes ,cows goats...also were enjoying our long slow busy colourful path to the top .    

All my Love Christine

Elephants and Magic shows

Hello everyone,  

Today is our last full day In the colourful chaotic city of Jaipur.   We are going to visit the beautiful and overwhelming Amber Palace, the journey to  get up to the palace is made on the back of Elephants, which is quite a highlight for many on this tour. We alighted from the bus and stood for a couple of minutes just staring up at the stunning backdrop before us. I took this as a photo opportunity and started to snap away ....I heard the strange music of a wind instrument but really didn't take any notice as India throws a lot of unusual sounds at you which you do find yourself switching off to, it wasn't until I caught the movement out of the corner of my eye that I realised I was being targeted by a snake Charmer....and the Cobra was starting to sprout swaying to the tune from the basket .......now we don't get many Snake charming Cobra's In King's Lynn.....I don't think I've moved so fast in all my life  !     

The palace is set up on the top of what can only be described as a steep cliff , which it lines the top of and spreads down to streets below with its many terraces. The entrance however is right up the top of a steep twisting slope wide enough for 2 Elephants to pass, this slope is scalloped walled either side well over 6ft, which when you standing next to it is fine but once atop the back of a swaying Elephant is a slightly different matter. So there we were in pairs , sitting precariously on the wooden framed seat with a pull down metal bar for protection on top of a seemingly rather grumpy Elephant, which swayed and plodded, and sneezed its way to the top . The Elephant's Name as we were reliably informed by his Mahout is Chumba, Chumba didn't want to walk in the middle of the path up to the gates of the Palace ...Chumba wanted to walk as near to the scalloped edged wall as possible and dangled us over the edge, which found us clutching on for dear life, I am sure the views were wonderful as we neared the top but I cant tell you as my eyes were slammed shut as I am terrified of Heights..much to the delight of my Elephant ride partner Michael who found this journey highly amusing as was his commentary .  

We spent a good few hours at the Amber Palace, it is really beautiful I think we must have picked the hottest day of the year ( or it felt like it) and It was relief to meet the cool air-conditioning of the Bus finally as we made our descent in the back of jeeps with joy riding hawkers clutched onto the back trying to sell us their wares at break neck speed. The plan after this was to make a photo stop of the River Palace  Jawal Mahal, this is exactly as it sounds the Palace in the middle of the Lake, this has been the first year in many that there has finally been enough rainfall to fill the lake. I Know every time I have seen it its been the Palace in the middle of a dry lake bed....so it was a good opportunity to actually witness it in the surroundings it was meant for.  

It was here, that Rafeeq advised the group that once we were on the bus, we were going to get a short Magic show..... Now this is hard to describe but there were a small group of street boys 3/4 in number no more who instead of begging could and would perform magic tricks for food money ..trust me if you could have seen these kids then it makes it hard to resist giving them anything.... Rafeeq asked the group if would be ok we all agreed instantly and Low and behold 1 of the group (this barefoot lad was no more than 7 or 8 yrs) came aboard our bus to present his magic show. He was brilliant ...his makeshift implements which had clearly been handmade and  had seen better days made no hardship for this young mans ability to use his well worn contraption to turn blank paper into Rupees...or for a coin to appear in someone's ear....He was given much applause and a mitfull of Rupees for his efforts on the promise that he buy food and share it with his little group of fellow barefoot magicians whose age ranged from about 4yrs to 9yrs. With many smiles and enthusiastic waving and promises of food he disappeared back to the streets.   So, our last night in Jaipur and the last full night for the group as it stood. Tomorrow we would lose 4 members as they were going on to another tour which started in Jaipur and it was at this juncture I realised that Rafeeq, my trusty sidekick was staying with them and that I was going to have take the group on the 6hr train journey back To Delhi !!! with only a caretaker to assist me .... !!  

Step up to the plate Chachi...could or would  Explore ! 1st adventure Apprentice make it with all remaining members of the group and their luggage in one piece using the most Chaotic Rail service in the world to Delhi ... now that is the question !  

All my Love Christine Christine is currently on the Moghul Highlights tour after winning the ‘Adventure Apprentice’ challenge.

Build something to remember me by....

Hi Everyone,     After the meal, we had a bit of a celebration not only because we had made it in one piece to Agra, but it was one of the group members birthday Rafeeq had already ordered the cake so it was just a case of tucking in to the delicious choclate offering..   So the word on everybodies lips was what are we gonna do without the bus.....Rafeeq had already advised me that the bus had been fixed and was already on its way and that by the time we had finished the meal the bus would be outside but not to tell the group as he wanted it to be a surprise ... It's amazing how quickly things are fixed in India and what with !!! so true enough, we all left the restaurant and sure enough to everyone's suprise there was our precious bus ... with Suman and Irshad. I dont think that anyone truly believed that it was fixable with such a short turn around but hey TI I (this is India right!)   

Taj Mahal  

Next Morning sure enough, there was the dreaded 0500 wake up call,up and out by 0530 to get to the Taj for Sunrise ... the challenge is to get there early enough to be the first in the queue so that you get to be the first in the gate and and snap away at the most photographed structure in the world without the blemish of another Human being in the shot !!! now what you dont know is that the queue should you miss the 1st place is massive and much jostling takes place to see who can be the 1st tour group to establish pole position. Well needless to say because we have the marvellous Rafeeq we were indeed head of the queue he jollied us up on the march down as there were a German group hot on our heels !!   I got the lead of the ladies queue and the other girls of our group fell in behind me ...Michael, created the men's queue and there we stood waiting to be frisked and the opportunity to run like the wind once inside to be the 1st in....Michael and I got chatting to the doorman .... who with a nod and a wink (not to mention a mit full of Rupees) got the chance to be the only people inside for a couple of minutes to get those all important photo's.  

  The Taj is simply beautiful. This is my 3rd visit and it never ever fails to render me speechless . It's tranquility and beauty seem to take over and a rush of melancholy engulfs your soul, build something to remember me by ... the dying wish of Mumtaz Mahal wife of Shah Jahan so he did and what an accomplishment and dedication in the honour of Love.   Back from the Taj to the Raj (our hotel the Raj Mahal) to feast on a much needed breakfast and a short rest, then out in the afternoon for the Red fort and some optional extra excursions the opportunity to tackle the ever crazy traffic of Agra to visit the Baby Taj and the view form the opposite bank of the Yamuna River overlooking the The Taj for sunset...ahhh !!   Love to everyone   Christine

Taj_Mahal tour

Insomniac Chickens

Hello Everyone

Our time in Karauli is nearing an end and after a really interesting evening at the Palace and a fascinating insight at a Hindu Temple of Krishna at worship time (dodging the Cows Urine throwing spectacle) we headed back down to our Hotel again on the back of the camel carts..slightly more interesting in the dark as you couldn't see the bumps coming ...but the town this time at its busiest still came out to wonder what the heck are these white folk on.

We were followed in earnest by a Tuk-Tuk with neon lights and loud thumping music pouring from it ..not quite sure maybe you paid more for the entertainment !

Back at the Hotel/Lodge in our very swish and colonial surroundings we took to a few G&T's and settled down to a good meal, put the world to rights under the stars. I know I was looking forward to what promised to be a good nights sleep, my room was delightful not as ornate as some of the other group members but it was stunning. I didn't have the room with the Library in the bathroom or the extra lounge suite addition or the secret passage to the Snooker room, but non the less I was more than satisfied . So content with my world, I laid back to settle myself down.. then I awoke I thought I had heard what sounded like a Cockerel crowing its head off in the grounds below my window. With a slight panic I leapt out of bed in fear I had overslept and missed my alarm..I turned on my torch looked at my watch 2am...no way !

What I hadn't realised was that my beautiful room that offered all the decadent promise of a decent nights sleep was directly over the Chicken coup...something or someone had disturbed the chickens woken them up and that was the end of my much needed sleep and also that of the chickens.... they, in blissful ignorance to my plight clucked and crowed away loudly all night long, whilst I laid there in sleepless desperation and wished the property still was a hunting lodge. It was going to be an early start again ..... (not a problem for me after the Chickens had seen to it) and we were going embark on our 5hr Journey to the Pink City Of Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan.

All my Love Christine

At last! The final installment of Christine's 'Adventure Apprentice' blog.

So, the last blog saw Christine about to board the train with her tour group to make the final journey back to Delhi - but did she manage to get all of them on the train and back to the end point??? "Hi Everyone   I am sorry about the late delivery of this ... the final chapter of Explore ! 1st Adventure apprentice journey to India..... so at last without further a do ...here it is .  

So the morning of the final full day ... I am now in charge of 14 passengers and we are about to board a train from Jaipur to Delhi..with Fayaaz our caretaker. Fayaaz is pleasant enough but doesn't have much to say... and I ve had it on good authority from Rafeeq that he is a train journey expert so with this in mind the group and I are dropped off at the station with a lot of big hugs and fond farewells to our unforgettable friends Rafeeq, Irshad, and the forever smiling suman, not to mention the other guests who are lucky enough to be going on to new adventures...we are now in unchartered territory!   Its quite early and the platform is seemingly empty for the 0815 Delhi express...we are able to purchase some snacks from the ever grateful man in the Kiosk ..who seems to find 14 English folk all trying to buy biscuits and crisps in various flavours and indefinable packets quite amusing !! so with our various unexplained flavours clutched we head off back to the platform, to wait for the unexpected.   At 0800 a train, pulls onto our platform ....... ok we all look at each other...it cant be ours our train is 0815 we are standing right under the sign that tells us the exact carriage that should pull up in front of us is B1 ..we are B1 but B1 doesn't pull up beside us and I cant see Fayaaz for people ..he is lost in the massive throng of colour who have leapt off the train and onto the station it is pandemonium.   I spot Fayaaz and sure enough he is waving at me from a carriage (not B1) to get on ...i call the group tell them to grab their luggage and just get on the train !!! with a few bewildered looks everyone rallies and tries to climb aboard....I am using the term try as this was virtually impossible hundreds of people and their luggage....(Indians love Bundles remember)..in all different colours shapes and sizes were trying to get off at the same time as we were trying to get on .....we were crushed up against everything and everyone ..and we still had to try and navigate our way on the train to find carriage B1 where we would hopefully find our seats for the 6hr journey !!  

I couldn't find Fayaaz ....he was last seen beckoning me from the train door whilst we were still on the platform...in the rush and the crush of trying to board the train I had lost sight of him, I did however have the entire group in a line behind me with all their luggage. I advised them to follow me we would walk down the train through all the people and their bundles of life which they all seem to be travelling with,to try and find B1. Now trains in India are not the same as trains anywhere else. This particular train was a sleeper..so getting through the carriages was even more tricky ..people everywhere in triple decks seemingly dangling in blankets & sheets with naked children, food and general chaos everywhere with indescribable smells and sounds and there we were 15 brits trying to barge our way through .... with suitcases and a few polite excuses me's .  

It was about 2 carriages down and the train starts to move.... we still haven't found B1 or Fayaaz...!! It was at this point a rather kind Indian man in perfect English asked me if I need some help...he gently advises me that B1 is 3 carriages behind us ...i thank him profusely and about turn the group and advise them to go back 3 carriages....where we find Fayaaz  sitting in our reserved seats waiting for us rather bemused as to where we had been .. I point out to him that this carriage isn't B1 as the number on the wall indicates something totally different...in true Indian style !

A conductor sees my confusion and advises calmly that this is B1 but cant explin why the carriage says something different ... t i i everyone !   So at last I am able to allocate the group into their seats a group of 6 in one compartment a group of 4 and 2 sets of 2s ..we are all near each other and we are surrounded by indian families on the bunks above and around us, all sitting crossed legged children grandparents having breakfast having just woken up sheets and blankets dangling at all angles whilst others snored.  

In true british style, as soon as the call of the Chai seller arrives from down the carriage up goes our hands, out come our rupees and our biscuits are opened in a flash ..sitting there enjoying the moment with a cup of sweet Indian chai discussing the events that saw us all nearly miss the train over the Indian equivalent of a digestive !!   You certainly see life whilst sat on Indian trains and you certainly smell it too... if its not walking down a platform then its walking through your carriage.....absolutely fascinating...you can buy anything from a Sari to Jaffa cakes...most of the carriages have seen better days too,as the majority of the windows are barely see through ...if they aren't broken (shattered)then they are just to plain dirty to get any glimpse of the outside world from. Just dont go to the toilet unless your eyes are shut and your stomache is strong .....  

The 6hrs go by quite quickly, we are all to busy talking reading going through our photographs...to notice that Fayaaz is indicating that ours is the next stop and that the train only gives us 2 mins to get off... so here we go again ..everyone in a line all our luggage ..we have decided that the girls should just make a run for it leaving the guy's with the luggage as this will mean less people in the way of the doors...it works like clockwork as planned al the girls get off the men then left behind passing the luggage from the train door into a group heap, the girls then distributing it ..with everyone off and our luggage allocated its back to a bus to navigate our way through the Delhi traffic back to the Hans Plaza for our final night.  

We all arrived safe and sound at the Hans Plaza where I check everybody in as usual. I ask the group if they had any thought on how or what they would like to do for their final afternoon ...shopping is the overriding agenda..I advise that I know just the place, there is an amazing fair-trade fix priced emporium in the heart of Delhi, this is 7 floors of souvenir heaven, and its round the corner form the Hotel we could all walk as a group do some shopping and come back in time for a final meal. Its agreed so with everyone back to their rooms for a quick re fresh ...In true Chachi style a group expedition to the shopping emporium, a huge success as we were all finally separated from our remaining rupees.  

The last supper was had in the same restaurant where we had all started ...more curry and beer and much reflection from the last 9 days, tomorrow was the long journey home back to the reality that had sent us there.   The End    

I would just like to take this moment to say a couple of things to several people....    

Firstly to Explore ! who saw qualities in me that I never knew I had ... I would like to say a massive thank you for all you have done and for the once in a lifetime opportunity you have given me ..I will never ever forget any of this from the Boardroom to the Departure Lounge..it has been one of the most amazing things I have ever done..  

Secondly ..to all in the group who embraced the concept and Me personally into their world ...for the best trip ..I only hope that I had the same positive impact on you as you did to me ... Thank you one and all ..I havent laughed for that long in my life.  

Last but not least...to Rafeeq, Irshad, and Suman ..and all those at Sea & Sky who allowed this to happen ...and who supported me throughout ..I am only as good as those I follow....Rafeeq you are a gentleman and a professional I feel honoured to have worked with you !! Suman may your water bottles never run empty and Irshad may your tyres remain forever round.  

All my love   Christine" Christine took part in our 'Adventure Apprentice' competition for which the prize was to be an Explore tour leader for a one-off Explore tour in India 'Moghul Highights'.

Party Bus...

Hello Everyone,     We are saying farewell to Agra today, and heading out west via Fatehpur Sikri The abandoned city of Akbar The Great, to Bharatpur Keoladeo Ghana National Park where we will spend the night .   The lost city of Fatehpur Sikri is immaculate. It was deserted only 16 years after completion in 1569ad due to fresh water complications but its spectacular court and palaces leave an outstanding legacy to this great emperor. It is said that dancing girls were used as human chess pieces on its checkered inner court floor whilst musicians played on the sandstone island surrounded with fountains......our Guide here is the Iman who I have to say was amazing. Iman is from the villages which now surround this once great City, his knowledge and command of our language is extraordinary as he takes us back in time ...close your eyes and you can hear the giggle of the dancing girls, the musicians master their song , whilst the sun beats down in its non forgiving way.  

After the palaces comes the Great mosque, once again we are thrown into the throng of Hawkers and beggars. We have had to remove our shoes here, and the sandstones is red hot under our toes....as we try and navigate our way on the patchwork areas of shade that surround the area, whilst bemused Indians look on wondering what is the new dance we are all trying to perform !  very funny indeed   Again we bid farewell to Iman and embark on what is again comparatively short journey to Bharatpur Ghana National Park, but TII (this is India) so will take several hours along what is now the Rural (bumpy) roads of Rajasthan.

Bharatpur is the ornithologists dream land with over 300 different species of birds, this once Duck shooting reserve is now a tranquil world heritage site protecting the very many species that were hunted here. The most spotted species were the Cranes as they perched like giant pink winged balloons from the trees before taking off and swooping down into the lake beneath to catch the odd meal.   Cycle rickshaws are used to navigate the peaceful paths, our turban clad rickshaw driver who sported a wonderful Rajasthani styled moustache left in convoy along with the rest of the group pointing out the various different birds along the way until sunset where we headed off back to our resort styled hotel for the small drinks party that Rafeeq and I had organised on the Bus for us this evening . This was huge fun and we were able to have a good laugh and get to know Suman and Irshad  as they played host to this short but much enjoyed merriments.   Early Start in the morning for our continuing westerly road trip towards the Forts and palaces of Karauli...  

Love to everyone Christine

Pink walls & Hammers

Hello Everyone

So the journey to Jaipur proved to be less eventful than that of the journey to Agra.

We eventually arrived In the Pink City at around 1300 after a couple of rest stops. Like Karauli, our hotel in Jaipur was a classified Heritage property but this time we would allocate the rooms as they were all pretty similar apart from the configuration.   A short wash and brush up and its time to head on out into the the heat and mayhem of the City for a visit to the observatory of Maharajah Jai singh dating back to 18C where the sundial there is accurate no less than 11 seconds ..I have been here several times and it fascinates me that someone could have been so advanced with the astronomy, astrologically so long ago..I always like to stand under the Astrological Dial of Capricorn (my Sign) and have a cheesy photo ..Huxley was able to come in on this one and he too had his photo taken ..!  

After the observatory came the Maharajah's Palace . Jaipur Still has a Maharajah, and is the only state in India that does. his nickname is Bubbles due to the consumption and use of Champagne used to celebrate his birth. Jaipur is a very regal city, the reason its called the Pink City is because of the scalloped walls which enclosed it are literally painted in a bright salmon pink, the centre is accessed through 4 gates (N,S,E,W)and once within the traffic and life is nothing more than total chaos. Its like one massive confined market with a remarkable level of traffic in all the usual Indian Methods, It is also heavily polluted with exhaust fumes combine that with the stifling heat makes for an interesting time. However, the shopping here is fantastic and I reckon you could buy absolutely anything. Its also a very vibrant city loads of colour mostly from the beautiful Sari clad ladies going about their duties of shopping and haggling in loud gesticulative ways, whilst cows and goats command the respect in the walkways .  

I've always Liked Jaipur. Its not the broad organised (loosely talking) boulevards of Delhi, its a cultural mish mash of vibrancies. The gents with their Moustaches & Turbans Rajasthan style, the ladies with their bright coloured Sari's and henna'd hands. It has the Majesty of a once great Royal ruled domain which has slightly lost its gloss. I like the unintentional shabbiness, the way that they hang their washing through the holes in the pink walls, whilst curious Children stare and wave through tiny broken shuttered window frames.  

So after another very full day,its back to the Hotel ..i've checked ....there aren't any Chickens outside !! but my air con isn't working so i've asked reception if there is anything they can do .... 10 mins later a man arrives at my door with a hammer with a swift kick and a wobble of the head my Air con is now working !!  After all ..this is India.   Thank The Gods for Indians bearing hammers.  

All my Love   Christine Christine is currently on the Moghul Highlights tour after winning the 'Adventure Apprentice' challenge.

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