We were driven in the open-air vehicle to the train station in Ranthambore and arrived with some time to spare. Our train came into the station at 7:10 am and Vikas, our guide, warned us the train stopped for three minutes so we needed to move it! Frank from Portland is 92 and moves slowly and two others have walking issues as well. We waited on the platform and when the train stopped we quickly boarded assisting those in need of some help. We had assigned seats in our car and were still in the aisle when the train departed 3 minutes later. Every seat was full in our car by the time we settled in. It was a comfortable and smooth trip. We all were very impressed. We went through a very fertile area. Camels were in the fields with carts to haul the stacks of wheat. We had a 2 1/2 hour ride to Bharatpur.
We arrived before 10 am and it was already 104 according to John's thermometer. We really are dramatic - it's all mental because we sat silently in the jungle waiting for Machali to appear without a complaint. We went to the Maharaja's hunting lodge for lunch. In the late 60s under Indira Gandhi's rule the official titles of Maharaja and Maharana were abolished. This hunting lodge was in the migratory path of birds from China, Siberia, and Iran. A hunting party including the Viceroy of the British Empire bragged of shooting 5000 birds in one day. The same area is now a bird sanctuary where birders from around the world come to spot some rare birds, one of them being the Siberian Crane. Driving to lunch we noticed trucks had in big letters on the back "Blow Horn" so guess a good horn is another thing you need to drive here. Many are stacked high and can not see if you are attempting to pass. Traffic flows every which way and it is very unsettling to look down the road and see all lanes filled with various modes of transportation all coming at you. Somehow it all works out. I don't look anymore.
Bharatpur was started by the Maharaja Bharat Singh. Pur means village. All Singhs are not Sikhs but all Sikhs are Singhs. After lunch we continued on to Fatehpur Sikri, the hottest area in India. We were there to visit the abandoned palace of Akbar the Great. He was the third Mughal Emperor in the late 16th century and the most successful. He came into power at 16 and ruled for 49 years. His palace in Fatehpur Sikri did not have enough drinking water so the huge red sandstone palace was deserted and the capital moved to Agra. The Mughal rulers had more than one wife and in the women's section of the palace Eunuchs were employed. Eunuchs are still part of the Indian culture. There is a superstition that they can curse or bless the newborn. Several days after the birth of a baby a Eunuch often arrives at the door and demands the equivalent of 2 or 300 dollars so the baby can be blessed. Their demands are usually met because no one wants their newborn cursed. They dress in saris and wear heavy makeup. They have a mafia-style organization and bribery is their specialty.
After seeing the palace we started towards Agra on our bus. We tend to chat along the way. Vikas talked about the 4 per cent divorce rate and said India is now becoming "in" for marriage tourism because it is a huge celebration here. Many Indian marriages are still semi-arranged. India is also #2 in the world for medical tourism. Thailand is #1. You can get a heart transplant at a clinic near Delhi that has a production line approach to the operation with a large team of doctors doing the operation with a better success rate than the US. The Indian doctor that started the clinic is world renowned. The operation costs 10,000 - 20,000 dollars. We arrived in Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal. Tonight we saw a live Bollywood-style show about the love story behind the building of the Taj Mahal. Great fun and talk about bling!! We get our wakeup at 5:30 am tomorrow. It just keeps getting earlier... sigh. Then we are off to finally see this marvelous structure.