Do you remember the childhood game where we pretended the floor was lava? Of course you do; it was the best! Jumping from the coffee table to the couch, trying your best not to fall into the “fiery pit” below. Have today’s kids even heard of this game? Probably not. In our digitally dominated world, this game may be obsolete. Nonetheless, it was the inspiration for the following photos. Because in the Kīlauea Caldera, the ground is actually lava!
But in order to get down to the Kīlauea Caldera, we first had to hike the Halema‘uma‘u Trail. The trail is about 0.8 miles downhill through lush rainforest. (Keep in mind the return hike will be all uphill!)
When the trail ends and you enter the caldera, it’s otherworldly. Nothing but a vast expanse of black lava rock and you are actually standing in the caldera of a very active volcano. So active in fact, Kīlauearanksamong the world’s most active volcanoes and may even top the list. Since 1952, Kīlauea has erupted 34 times. Coincidentally, when we first visited Hawai’i in 2018, Kīlauea was actively erupting and the national park was closed to visitors.
If you don’t have time for the hike, you can also view the caldera from above. Crater Rim Drive offers observation points right off the road where you can view the volcano’s broad, shallow depression measuring nearly 3 miles long and 2 miles wide.
Note: Before you visit, make sure to check the NPS website for updates on current closures. Several parts of the park were still closed during our most recent visit.
After Goa, we only had one full day left in Delhi. There were many things in Delhi that I still wanted to see, but unfortunately, we just didn’t have enough time to see them all. At that point, everything we had seen in Delhi had all been in New Delhi. Therefore, I knew we had to take this final opportunity to explore Old Delhi. We decided this would be an adults-only adventure so we paid our friends’ nanny, Beena, to watch Ella for the day so we could have a bit more freedom exploring. And Ella was having so much fun with Anya and Elia that she didn’t even realize we were gone.
Old Delhi is exactly how I had imagined India would be. Crowded and chaotic, but alive and captivating.
Since it was our last day, we dove right into the heart of Old Delhi. Chandni Chowk is the main street of Old Delhi and it is the best place to immerse yourself in the “real India.” The area is home to one of the oldest and busiest markets in India, leaving the streets congested with cars, rickshaws, motorcycles, and pedestrians. The best way to tour Old Delhi is to hire a rickshaw driver to navigate you through the narrow streets. Tip: When hiring a rickshaw, ask up front what the fee will be and select the driver that responds, “as you like.” This is the driver that lets you pay what you think is deserved. I only saw this practice in Old Delhi; the rest of India quadrupled their rates for tourists.
We found a driver who gave the proper response and we began our rickshaw tour through the busy streets. The market is huge! And it isn’t a tourist trap market like, let’s say, The Grand Bazaar in Turkey. This market is where the locals go for everything from spices to shoes, and jewelry to electronics. Each alley is dedicated to a particular product, so if you are looking for bangles…there’s an alley for that. If you are looking for wedding saris…there’s an alley for that.
Mad props to our driver who was able to navigate through a sea of people and rickshaws.
No visit to Old Delhi is complete without checking out the spice market. Our driver led us up several flights of stairs above the market streets to where the wholesalers bring their huge burlap sacks of spices to be sorted and sold at the market below.
As we were making our way to the top, everyone was coughing…I mean, really hacking away. I thought, “Great, now I’m going to get sick too.” And then it happened…I started coughing. How is that even possible? I can’t be sick already! Of course I wasn’t sick, but my throat was burning, I couldn’t stop coughing, and I almost felt like I was choking. It was then that our driver pointed out the overflowing bags of chili peppers everywhere you looked. They all seemed to be intact, yet my nose and throat were burning as if they had been placed in a giant food processor and then pumped through the AC unit. Well that sounds ludicrous because of course, there was no AC unit!
We spent the entire day in the market with our rickshaw driver. We basically shopped all day. And even Rob, who generally hates a day full of shopping, thoroughly enjoyed himself. Maybe that is because he got to pose for this sweet rickshaw pic?
But I think he was jealous he didn’t get to pose for the upgraded tuk tuk pic.
There is much more to see and do in Old Delhi than just shopping. For example, you can visit the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. Or you can tour Red Fort. Unfortunately, my shopping spree didn’t leave us enough time for more than a couple snapshots. But we were very happy with how we chose to spend our final day in Delhi. And our rickshaw driver was even happier because we willingly and happily (way) overpaid him for his services.
The first half of our vacation in India had us hustling and bustling to see and do so many things. I’m glad we seized the opportunity to see so many new things, but quite frankly, it was exhausting. Luckily, I had the foresight to factor in some relaxation time as well. We left the crowded streets of Delhi behind and flew south to spend 5 glorious nights in Goa. It was like we were transported into another country! Goa was so different from the India we had grown accustomed to. We took a taxi from the airport to Candolim Beach and for the first time since we had arrived in India, the incessant horn honking had finally ceased! The air pollution was no longer hovering around us and we began to remember what fresh air tasted like! We knew immediately that we were going to enjoy our time in Goa!
What made our stay in Goa even more enjoyable was that our friends, Brie and Raj, were able to join us for 3 of those nights. We shared a fabulous villa in North Goa that was walking distance to the beach and we all enjoyed our first experience of the Arabian Sea. The adults sipped on cocktails before noon and the kids loved playing in the sand.
If cocktails before noon aren’t relaxing enough for you, how about a 20 minute beach-side massage for $5? And…if you are really lucky, your toddler might work your lower body at no extra cost!
Goa was the perfect destination for the adults to relax and for the kids to be kids. The food was delicious and the sunsets were perfect.
And most importantly, Ella’s love for Anya & Elia grew even stronger…
Taj Mahal means Crown Palace, but it is actually not a palace at all, nor was it ever intended to be a palace. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum; built to honor Emperor Shah Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. (I’m no expert in polygamous relationships, but I imagine the other wives might have been a tad bitter or a bit jealous.)
The Taj Mahal lies adjacent to the Yamuna River, and as I mentioned in my previous post, you can see the Taj Mahal from the north on the opposite side of the river. But the Taj Mahal complex was actually designed to shield it’s beauty. There are three large gates (east, west & south) from which to enter the complex. But even once you have entered the complex, you still cannot capture a full picture of her beauty. The Royal Gate is an interior gate with adjacent walls that guard the Taj Mahal from full view. The Royal Gate is made of red sandstone and the calligraphy is Koran scripture made of stone, inlaid into white marble. While standing directly in front of the Royal Gate, you can only see two windows of the Taj Mahal. Our tour guide told us it was specifically designed this way so that the gate would act as a burka, revealing only the eyes, and covering the rest of her beauty.
The view as you walk through the Royal Gate is spectacular!
The white marble is somewhat translucent which means the color of the Taj Mahal alters in the changing light of the day. For this reason, I originally wanted to get up extra early to see the Taj at sunrise. Luckily, our driver Raj discouraged me from doing so because he warned there would likely be a lot of “fog.” I’m glad I heeded his advice because we enjoyed beautiful, clear blue skies by postponing our visit just a couple of hours. (Refer to the bottom of this post to see the sunrise view that wasn’t.) Typically the complex is only open until 7 p.m., however if you time your visit just right, there are full moon tours available at night 5 days a month. Tourists can see the Taj Mahal aglow by the full moon light on the night of the full moon, as well as two days before and two days after. Sadly, our visit did not coincide with the lunar calendar, but believe me, I checked.
The white marble building took 20,000 workers 22 years to complete! But that is no surprise given the intricate craftsmanship. Just like the Royal Gate, the Koran scripture is not painted onto the marble. It is all made out of stone and inlaid into the marble. The size of the text gradually gets larger from bottom to top so that it can be read without appearing skewed when reading from ground level. The floral designs are also inlaid into the marble, made of semi-precious stones. And the intricate lattice work is all hand-carved out of the marble.
You are allowed to go inside the Taj Mahal, but photos are not allowed. Inside are replicas of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan’s tombs. The real tombs are in a lower level of the building. Emperor Shah Jahan never intended to rest inside the Taj Mahal. It was meant to honor only his beloved wife. But when his plans to build a twin Taj Mahal for himself were derailed because he was imprisoned by his son…well I guess they had to improvise.There are two identical buildings on either side of the Taj Mahal. The building to the west is a mosque and the building to the east is a guest house. These buildings are not open to the public. However, the mosque is open to descendants of the Muslim builders of the Taj Mahal. For this reason, the Taj Mahal is not open to tourists on Fridays, as this is when those descendants go to the mosque for prayer.
Tip for Tourists: Air pollution is VERY bad in India during the winter. The smog is so bad that you will literally choke on it. With cooler temps and lower air pressure, the smog settles closer to the ground. As the day gets warmer and the air pressure rises, the smog is lifted. It seemed to us that most of the Indian population was ignorant to this air pollution and they referred to it merely as “fog.” I can assure you it is not fog. Have you ever choked on fog? Of course not. Had we visited the Taj Mahal at sunrise as I initially intended, this would have been our view.
One of the reasons we left Fatehpur Sikri in such a hurry was because I wanted to get to Agra before sunset for our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. We went to Mehtab Bagh (The Moonlight Garden) which lies directly opposite the Taj Mahal, on the other side of the Yamuna River. Mehtab Bagh is perfectly aligned with the Taj Mahal, making it an ideal place to take pictures. Emperor Shah Jahan realized this was a great viewing location, so the Moonlight Garden was created. Additionally, Mehtab Bagh was supposed to be the location of a twin Taj Mahal. Emperor Shah Jahan intended for this location to be a mausoleum for himself, made entirely of black marble. Unfortunately, his vision never came to fruition because he was imprisoned by his son. (I don’t understand why men care so much about having a male heir? A daddy’s girl never would have done that!)
Tip for tourists: There is a small entrance fee to enter Mehtab Bagh (only 100 rupees). However, you can get (almost) the same view for free without entering the garden complex. Our driver, Raj, tipped us off that we could walk down to the river on the public street adjacent Mehtab Bagh and still have an awesome view. So we decided not to enter the garden and took a free peek at one of the 7 Wonders of the World! I’m not suggesting you skip the actual tour of the Taj Mahal, but it was nice to see the Taj from a different vantage point, away from the massive crowds of tourists.
A popular tourist attraction within India’s Golden Triangle is Fatehpur Sikri, which is located along the route from Jaipur to Agra. Built in the 16th century, Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal Empire for about 15 years, before it was abandoned due to insufficient water supply. We had a very full itinerary, so we weren’t sure if we were going to take the detour to tour the palace grounds. But at the last minute, we decided we would stop just to take a quick peek. Once we arrived, we were followed by a very persistent tour guide who insisted we should hire him to show us around. We were adamant that we didn’t have time for the tour, as we were just breezing through. Worn down by his persistence, we agreed to pay him a fraction of the regular tour fee, in exchange for the short, short version of the tour.
The information I retained from the short, short version is that Emperor Akbar had 3 wives. A Muslim wife, a Christian wife, and a Hindu wife, all walk into a bar, but only the Hindu wife succeeded in bearing a male heir. As a result, the Muslim wife’s quarters were about as big as a modern-day walk-in closet. The Christian wife’s quarters were a bit more respectable, but paled in comparison to the Hindu wife’s palace. The Hindu wife’s digs were actually larger than those of the Emperor himself! Men and their ridiculous need for a son…am I right?
We didn’t even have time to complete the short, short version of the tour. Ella was tired (read: fussy) and we were trying to get to Agra before sunset. So we said goodbye to our tour guide feeling content with what we had time to see.
Tip for tourists: Of all the places we visited in India, Fatehpur Sikri had the most thieves and scammers by far! We observed very elaborate schemes to swindle tourists out of their money and Rob even had to step in to assist a woman that was being harassed. If you are not a savvy traveler, or lack situational awareness, I would advise skipping this tourist spot. If you are unsure if you fit into either of those categories…that probably means you do.
After Jaipur, our next stop was Ranthambore National Park, where we had high hopes of catching a glimpse of the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger. The national park is open from October-June and it is the largest reserve where healthy populations of tigers exist. We checked into our hotel the evening before our safaris and after chatting up a few other hotel guests that had gone on tiger safaris, I was even more hopeful after hearing them all report that they got to see a tiger earlier that day! There are two tiger safaris offered every day the park is open. The morning safari begins around 6:30 and the afternoon safari begins around 2:30 (depending on the time of year). You can opt for the jeep (which they call a gypsy) safari, which seats 6 tourists, or the cantor safari, which seats 20. I highly recommend the jeep safari because it is a more comfortable ride and the jeeps can go into smaller areas of the park that the cantor is too big to manuaver in. There is a set number of vehicles that are allowed into the park each day, so you definitely need to reserve your spot in advance. The park is divided into 10 zones, with each zone being the home of several different tigers. Tourists are assigned a particular zone for their safari and they must stay within that zone for the duration of the tour. Tigers prefer a solitary existence and they are feircely territorial, so they tend to remain within the boundaries of their zone. Because there are tigers that reside within each zone, you technically have a chance to see a tiger no matter which zone you are assigned. However, many people believe that you definitely have a greater chance of seeing a tiger in specific zones and practically no chance of seeing a tiger in other zones. No matter which zone you are assigned, you still need to rely on a whole lot of luck because the Royal Bengal Tiger is well-known to be skillfully evasive.
We had booked both a morning and an afternoon safari. In the morning, we were in Zone 8, but we had a horrible tour guide that I am pretty certain was asleep in the front seat of the jeep, rather than actively looking for any tigers. I was pretty bummed because I had heard that the best zones to spot a tiger were Zones 2-5. Alas, we did not see a tiger that morning, but I had not given up hope. I was confident we would prevail on our afternoon safari! And as luck would have it, we landed Zone 5 in the afternoon. And we scored a really proactive tour guide! He let Rob and Ella sit shotgun, so that he could stand up in the back of the jeep to find us a tiger. And even sweeter…the people that had the morning safari in Zone 5 saw not just one, but two tigers! OMG, I couldn’t contain my excitement!! Spoiler alert: We did not see a tiger.
Instead, we saw lots of tiger food. The park has several different species of deer and they are a tasty favorite of the tigers.
We also saw plenty of monkeys. The monkeys and the deer have a symbiotic relationship and they can be seen together throughout the park. The deer are the eyes on the ground, and the monkeys are the eyes above; warning each other when a tiger is nearby. We were all exhilerated when we heard a deer grunting loudly to warn the others that a tiger was nearby. We were in the same spot that two tigers were seen earlier in the day. There was definitely a tiger very nearby, but he was too distant in the brush for us to get a glimpse.
We also saw plenty of crocodiles, as well as lots of different species of birds.
But I have seen plenty of crocodiles in the wild before. And certainly my fair share of monkeys and deer in the wild. But never a tiger… Note to tourists: You can book your tiger safari online here and it will cost you a fraction of the cost of booking through a travel agency. However, I found it virtually impossible to book on my own. I tried every different credit card I own. I tried to use a friend’s debit card linked to a bank account in India. I elicited help from my friend living in India, and she was also unable to book online. In the end, I ended up booking with a travel agency and paying triple the cost because I couldn’t waste any more time as the safari slots were almost sold out.
As our city tour of Jaipur was nearing an end, our tour guide asked if we wanted to visit any shops for textiles or gemstones (Jaipur is well known for its gems). I think our guide probably would have received some kind of commission for bringing us into some local shops if we spent money, but we weren’t in the market for any shopping. Instead, I wanted to visit Galtaji, an ancient Hindu pilgrimage site. Galta Temple is sometimes referred to as the Monkey Temple because of the large tribe of monkeys that live there. While planning our India itinerary, I came across pictures of this temple and decided I had to see it.
Galtaji is not part of the typical Jaipur city tour as it is located in the hills about 10 kilometers away. But since we had a driver, I decided to tack this site onto our timeline. Our tour guide was not really on board at first. He was ready for less touring and more shopping so he could earn a few extra rupees (at least that was my assumption anyway). So he tried to sway me from wanting to see the temple. You see, it was a Sunday, and he told me that the pilgrims only visit the temple to feed the monkeys on Tuesdays and Saturdays, therefore, there likely wouldn’t be any monkeys there that day. Well, that was disappointing because the monkeys certainly were a big draw. But I was not deterred because the pictures I had seen online were enough to still warrant a visit.
The temple is built within a mountain pass and set around a natural spring that flows into two tiered pools. Thousands of pilgrims visit each year to swim in these pools because it is believed to bring forth good luck and success. The upper pool is for men and the lower pool is for women. There were quite a few men swimming in the upper pool which didn’t seem too unusual since the water appeared to be fresh and fairly clean. The lower pool on the other hand, was pretty disgusting! Only a true Hindu pilgrim would believe that swimming in that murky water would bring about success. I’m fairly confident a dip in that pool would only bring about infection and/or disease. There were a few brave desperate women, ankle-deep in the lower pool trying to fish out coins. Not quite the spiritual pilgrimage you may have envisioned.
Oh, let’s not forget about the monkeys that probably wouldn’t be there. There were monkeys everywhere! They live in these hills and I am sure they are there every day of the week. Not just on Tuesdays and Saturdays when pilgrims supposedly come to feed them.
I felt partly redeemed after my Hawa Mahal misstep earlier in the day. Tour Guide: 1 – Dayna: 1
After our tour of the Amber Fort, we made a quick stop to see the Jal Mahal (Water Palace). The palace is located in the middle of Man Sagar Lake and is not open to visitors. So we enjoyed the view from land and then went about our day.
Next, we moved on to the center of Jaipur, the City Palace. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II moved his throne from the Amber Palace (actually located in Amer, 11 km outside of Jaipur) to continue his rule in the heart of Jaipur. The royal flag can still be seen flying above the Chandra Mahal. This seven story building was the royal residence within the palace grounds.
According to Wikipedia, the maharaja made the switch from Amer to Jaipur because of an increasing population and increasing water shortage. However, according to our tour guide, the maharaja was compelled to build a new palace because his new wife didn’t want to live in the palace of his former wife. Both valid reasons, if you ask me.
Most of Old Jaipur was constructed of red and pink sandstone, hence its’ name, The Pink City. However, a subsequent ruler actually painted Jaipur pink to welcome Prince Edward VII and Queen Victoria. I don’t really see the connection there, but regardless, Jaipur will forever be known as the Pink City.
One of the most recognized buildings in Jaipur is the Hawa Mahal. This five story, honeycomb-like façade has 953 small windows decorated with intricate latticework. The purpose of the lattice was to act as a screen so royal ladies could observe the street below without being seen. The lattice also allowed cool air to flow into the building, giving it its’ name, Palace of the Winds.
I thought we were going to be able to go inside the Hawa Mahal, but our tour guide told us there is actually nothing to see inside. He told us the Hawa Mahal is just a bunch of government offices at present. But I think he pulled one over on us in an attempt to end our tour sooner, rather than later. I later learned that tourists can enter the Hawa Mahal from the rear of the building for a fee of 50 rupees (<$1). It might be true that it is now just office space, but apparently visitors can go to the top of the palace for a panoramic view of the city.
Tip for future tourists in India: If you want to see something during your tour, don’t let your tour guide sway you or talk you out of it. Do your research! Tour Guide: 1 – Dayna: 0.
There are many forts all over India that tourists can visit. We had the opportunity to visit several of them, but we passed over most of them in order to do other things. If you are like us and you don’t have time to see every fort, make sure you at least visit the Amber Fort in Jaipur. It is Jaipur’s main tourist attraction, rightfully so. The fort and inner palace are made of red sandstone and marble. The Amber Fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.
The main entrance to the fort is through the Sun Gate (pictured above: top right) which leads to Jaleb Chowk, the first main courtyard. This courtyard is where armies would hold their victory parades upon return from battle. The stairway of Jaleb Chowk (pictured above: top left) leads to the main palace grounds. The Ganesh Gate is the entry to the private palaces of the Maharajas (pictured above: bottom left). Ganesh is the Hindu God who removes all obstacles in life (pictured above: bottom right). Above Ganesh Gate are latticed windows where women of the royal family could watch functions below without being seen.
The Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) is covered with mirror mosaics that light up the entire palace with a single candle. And the carved marble panel is known as the Magic Flower because there are seven different designs within the flower that are revealed when parts of the flower are hidden by your hand. Depending on where you place your hand, the following are revealed; fish tail, lotus, hooded cobra, elephant trunk, lion’s tail, cob of corn, and scorpion.
The Palace of Man Singh is the oldest part of the palace fort. The Baradhari Pavillion lies in the center of the palace courtyard and it was a meeting place for the maharanis. The maharanis were not allowed to meet privately with each other, only publicly in this pavilion to prevent jealousy and drama among the harem.
Oh…and there were monkeys. Let’s not forget about the monkeys!