Our first “up close and personal” Tiger experience. Photos tell it all….
Leaving our lovely Rachawedee residence at the Four Seasons Resort in Chaing Mai.
Flying pretty much straight south we fly over Bangkok, the Gulf of Thailand and landed in Maylaysia and staying at the Four Seasons which is on the Strait of Malacca in the Andaman Sea. Relaxing and enjoying the ocean side villa on the Malaysian archipelagos.
The Four Seasons Resort affords us a wonderfully tranquil existence. It sits on 20 breathtaking acres of tropical gardens and rice paddies in the Mae Rim Valley. It is hard to drag yourself away from your polished teak floors, double vanity, oversized bathtub and spacious veranda….save for a meal or the ultimate spa experence (therapeutic massage).
Second day in Chiang Mai, we departed the hotel for the Chiang Dao Young Elephants Training Camp, 56 km/35 miles from Chiang Mai. The elephants took their morning bath in the running stream before we enjoyed the amazing presentation on the Elephant skills. We experienced a 1½ hour elephant ride into the thick forest surrounding the camp. In the midst of the cude buildings, under a roof “restaurant”, we enjoyed our delisious picnic lunch (catered by the Four Seasons).
Another exposure to the wild: rafting down the Mae Ping River on the simple bamboo raft. Beautiful!
Located just five minutes from the hotel, we visited the Taj Mahal – probably the most extravagant monument ever built for love. Constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, this striking mausoleum has become the de facto tourist emblem of India. Photos tell the story.
Many of the stones have been robbed and yet the majority remain in place.
Later we visited a Marble Factory which gave us a deepened appreciation of the marble carving, the shaping of the semi-precious stones and inlay work done by the articians who decorated the Taj. This factory replicated the artwork of Taj Mahal into various beautiful and useful pieces of art. The glue used as adhesive for the stones is a secret formula and hoped to be as durable as that used 400 years ago. Sorry, no photos in show room! But you might see my 18″ marble inlay tray one day.
Memories of last night trip through the streets of Agra (the happy partying in the streets amide the chaotic and difficult movement of vehicles) faded slightly while we rested from our hectic aviation adventure the day before. Relaxing in the beautiful hotel, Oberoi Amarvilas, with every person passing onto us a peaceful sense of being. The grounds are exquisite: the pool’s delightful outdoor and shaded space, the poolside lunch was the perfect scenario while recovering from our long and late flying day. Topping it off we enjoyed our private view of the Taj Mahal right from our window!
Hoping for less intensity of heat our directors gathered us at 4 pm to tour Fort Agra. This fort is 70% occupied by India military. It is so massive that we had an ample amount to appreciate the architural design and structure. It is constructed of bricks on the inner core with red sand stone on the outer and took five years to complete: 1565-1573. Positioned just by the River Jamuna Agra Fort is the most important of India, it is a brick port built by the Great Mughals who governed from here.
Agra was the capital 1558. It contained the highest dignitaries who participated in the making of medieval history of India. This location has a lengthy history including the Saga of Sieges and plunder. The Brittish captured ot frp, tje Marathas in 1803 and converted it into an arsenal. The Agra Fort is conserved by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The huge court yard’s interior circumferance has purposeful booth-like petitions designed for merchants to be comfortable and wait for their audience with the governor.
And then there were the “street monkeys”…driving through Agra to get to and from our Fort tour was itself an eye opening event. At first it seem so cute to see the little monkeys in the street, gutters, on top of roofs—EVERYWHERE! Soon it seems as they are rats living in the gutters, scrounging for food. The people feed them regularly because, much like the cow, monkeys are revered animals. The bus driver opened the door (thinking we wanted totake more photos) and the stench was aweful!! Sorry I sat in the first row seat!!
Today was a long travel day, the first flight took us across the Gulf of Oman into Pakistani airspace and then onto Ahmedabad, India, where we cleared customs and re-fueled. This was the India method: slow, multiple paper forms (remember carbon paper?), repetitive (scanned luggage in and out), and ended up a 3 hour stop.
One highlight of this first flight came when the jet in our group had a moment of concern with Pakistan ATC. Pakistan ATC: “Sir, we have no clearance for you to enter India. Please turn around and go to Oman.” Jet Pilot: “Um, say again?” Pakistan ATC: “Sir, turn around and return to Muscat, Oman.” After a long pause…..Jet Pilot: “We cannot turn around. If we do, we will not have enought fuel to make it back to Oman. We will land in the ocean.” Of course our director solved this dilemma: thanks to the use of his satellite phone, awakening his colleague in USA and managing the conflict with logistics by obtaining the proper permit number. Once Pakistan ATC was given the permit number, he cleared them to enter India.
Next: Agra (planned 1 1/2 hour flight 380 NM) became a two hour flight at about 500 + NM. The thrill of darkness approaching, dodging storm clouds that exhibited electrical activity and the difficulty of getting ATC (air-traffic control) to acknowledge and clear us to decend morphed into a STRESSFUL experience. Tom’s aviator skills and decision making brought us through landing in darkness. Once our fourth airplane landed: Praise God and “It’s Miller Time!!” Or in India, Kingfisher time!
Our transfer to The Hotel Oberoi Amarvilas was an experience not to be believed! About 9 PM we were transferred via white Audi SUV and introduced to India’s night life. Following extreme daytime heat of 106 degrees the locals were ready to socialize after sundown in cooler 100 degrees. This wedding season in India: we passed four wedding processions including marching bands, 8-12 men carrying large decorated lanterns and multiple cheering, dancing participants. Tiny cars (“Tuk-Tuks) or auto-rikshaw, bicycles of all kinds (some with flatbed cargo capacity) and motor bikes filled the streets. Every moblilty was loaded with twice as many people or items than it was designed. Navigating the streets requires experience, our driver says three things are needed: good horn, good brakes and good luck! Animals everywhere: cows and monkeys (held as sacred); goats, dogs and even a random pig or two!
Our hotel: The Oberoi Amarvilas was a welcomed oasis from the hustle and bustle of the day. All of the Indian hosts were the most gracious and welcoming with bows and peaceful calm.
First day in Dubai was our resting and adjusting to the 108 degree weather.
Second day in Dubai: most expensive hair experience for Diann and skiing on Dubai’s man-made mountain for Tom. The ski moutain is built within the HUGE shopping mall. Tom clearly was the best skier there! It was amazing to see some of the”locals” dressed in long ski coats and others who just got a thrill out of riding the ski lift up AND down! Snow clearly fascinates them.
Later we boarded a Toyota 4 wheel drive SUV, drove about 45 minutes to “enjoy” a thrilling ride: Sand Dune Bashing! Tom & I selected the trailing car (mildest ride). Diann was definitely queasy by the time we reached the “camp” for drinks and snacks. Coca Cola worked wonders to settle the stomach. Diann was ready to ride a camel.
Flight to Oman cancelled due to weather (cyclone Ashobaa in the Arabian Sea changed our plans). Decided to skip Oman and head to India one day early. Our Air Journey group stayed an additional night in Dubai at Kempinski Hotel, adjacent to the Emeritus Mall. Not interested in making purchases—Tom and I kept a good pace for a walking work-out. We planned for reaching our destination: Agara, India the next day.
Dubai: IFR approach to final…last minute visual of RAIL lights (at 400 ft.). No photos of final approach, but it was a perfect landing! Following taxi directions to parking is another challenge — great system of green lights to direct us.
Originally a small fishing village, Dubai created the busiest souks on the Persian Gulf coast.
The Hotel: Burj Al Arab Designed to resemble a billowing sail, the hotel soars to a height of 321 meters, dominating the Dubai coastline. At night, it offers an unforgettable sight, surrounded by choreographed color sculptures of water and fire (it would be better without the current dust storm-like intense haze).
Early morning we continued our exploration of Luxor. We crossed the Nile by motor boat as we began a visit to the West Bank to see the Valley of the Kings and Queens and Tombs of the Nobles. We were able to go inside four of these amazing feats of excavation! There are 44 of the 46 tombs discovered and explored. Many of the tombs had previously been robbed of the treasures buried with the kings.
We crossed back over to the East Bank for a visit to the Luxor Museum. This elegant modern museum boasts a fabulous collection of artifacts from ancient Thebes. The collection includes pottery, jewelry, furniture and other artifacts from the ancient city, as well as a group of magnificent New Kingdom statues found in 1989 buried beneath Luxor Temple. We stopped for lunch in the village of Karnak at a modern Hilton hotel on the Nile. Then a few hours to cool down and rest.
After dinner we were transported by horse and carriage to the Karnak Temple. Where we experienced the Sound and Light Show at Karnak Temple, a fascinating walking tour through the history of the world’s largest-ever temple complex. No photos were allowed.
A very long day — we are ready for pilot briefing and to repack for our next flight to Dubai.
On our flight to Luxor we were over the Mediterranean, the stark desert landscape and the green pathway of the Nile. In hazy conditions and at 31,000 feet we were unable to see the pyramids near Cairo on our way to Luxor.
We soon were at the Winter Palace overlooking the Nile River. In the hot 108 degree weather, a slight breeze helped slightly and drinking plenty of water was critical. A relaxing one hour sail on a felucca, the traditional sail boat in Egypt, we drifted towards Banana Island and Crocodile Island a few miles upriver. Sailing on the Nile gave an interesting view of the city. Our tour guide, Bahaa was most informative as we learned of ancient history. As an Egyptologist, Bahaa, was the director for the Tutankhamun Exhibit for the Pacific Science Center, in Seattle, WA. 2012-13.
Security is important here…as we sailed we first noticed our tourist armed security who actually accompanited us everywhere since our arrival. Plus, two 2-manned military zodiac boats trailed our sailboat on the Nile. Sa’id, our security man, was wearing a vest which nearly concealed his MP4-submachine pistol. (For added measure he carries a 30 round spare clip in his left rear pocket).
The first evening we experienced the Luxor Temple with its rows of multiple sphynx, the columns, the obelisk (the matching obelisk is at Place de la Concorde in Paris) and statues to name a few. This ancient Egyptian construction is a continuing archeological reconstruction project. Luxor is a depressed area after the failure of the Arab Spring, 2011. Agriculture and tourism are their main source of economy. Currently, tourism is only 10-15% from what it was pre-2011. Most cruise boats are out of commission and slowly deteriorating. It was eye opening to see the poverty of these people and we left with a inner saddness for them. Whatever help we might have contributed to their economy–it will take them many decades to recover. When late evening temperatures drop to 90 there were many people out in creative ways–many small motor cycles (we witnessed a few single motor bikes that carried a family of 4-5)!!