Well, we made it; seven days and nights seeing the northern Indian countryside by rail in an old-fashioned royal train. Every night we moved to a new city, and every morning we boarded tour buses and saw more forts, temples and palaces of the Mogul Empire than you could shake Ghandi's walking stick at (too soon?). In fact, one day we boycotted the hectic schedule and stayed on board all day as it was just too much for the kids day-after-day. They did great, though, and we were very proud of them - and consistently received praise as to how well behaved they were (especially from the Brits on board, and I think that says a lot). The days were long, the tour-guides droned on endlessly with national pride, and the street hawkers had to be beat-back at every small village (I think they wait all week for this same train to stop right on schedule and make their week's income in 4-hours). We were chased and mobbed, but our kids learned how to manage and cope.
The structures we toured were quite large and amazing (see pictures below), but the historical facts were overly detailed and stretched over more than a 1,000 years (starting between 400 and 600 AD), with a focus on the seven major Maharaja's who ruled northern India between 1430's and early 1800's. Their history is every bit as twisted with murder, deceit, overblown love stories and side-changes as the Roman's, Greek's, Turk's, etc. of that same era - but they are just not ones that we learn about in the states. They keep you interested by saving the Taj Mahal for the last day, and that was worth it in my opinion as it did not disappoint (more later).
For more on the history of the Rajasthan region (the "land of kings"), read this and I dare you to try to follow along: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajasthan.
Several of the locations were well-preserved national monuments, but a few were "living forts" where up to several thousand people still lived and worked inside. For me that was more interesting as you could see how a fortress was a viable small city with it's own internal economy, and how the average family lived (and lives), rather than just what 20,000 laborers could build for one king and queen over 80 years.
We were able to ride elephants at one fort and take a 30-minute camel ride in the desert at another, and those were amazing experiences. Plus, we had an outdoor dinner in the desert (after the camel rides) that I do not believe can be topped. We even saw a lake district that looked very European or American and took a little boat ride out to a hotel in the middle.
Life on the train was very pleasant (I kept thinking of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig crossing the country by rail to play baseball in the 30's and 40's), and our car-captains slathered over us and 'Prince' and the two 'Princesses' to embarrassing excess, but watching the poor watch us board and un-board was like being in a human zoo. We were literally spectacles to behold to them. :( Suzanne and I shared a room while the kids had a fold-down third-bunk on the wall in the suite next door. But as in the usual Wychocki-style, beds were frequently swapped mid-slumber to correct one childhood issue or another, and sometimes I felt like the Marx Brothers in the train and steamer scene in 'Night at the Opera': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8kaFi3_PWI.
One of the best parts was meeting all of the true "world traveler's" on the trip with varied backgrounds, ethnicities and religions - the conversations at breakfast and dinner were precious as many were approaching close to 100 countries visited. And the British tourists were always ready for a cocktail when we returned, so I real liked talking to them best.
All-in-all, a very good trip if you're an Indian antiquity or rail buff over 60-years old with no children! Wait, what? ;)
Oh, and the promise of internet service while traveling was a joke - so sorry we have not posted in over a week. The signal was re-distributed 3G over-loaded by 100 devices at any given time, so were were lucky if we could see 3-day old emails.
Yes, we finally made it. What seemed like a 'working vacation' in the middle of our journey left us with a more saturated view of the major cities in northern India. I will fully admit to not researching the details of this Week in Wonderland so I was not aware of the tour buses and matching pins that everyone had to wear to remind them they were in the Pink Group. I have chuckled at groups like this in the airport and have never aspired to being part of one, at least not at my young age;) I'll have to compare notes with my parents to see how this stacks up to the trips they have taken in Europe.
As Mike said, the extent of Indian history was more than we could absorb in one week. From talking with the Indian Nationals on the train it sounded like what we were hearing was a retelling of what was taught in schools. Like me taking a tour of Ford's Theater, Mt. Vernon & the Capital. The sheer size of these forts and the years that it took to create each one is staggering and hard to grasp coming from a country as 'new' as the US. I think
I learned a little more about myself too during these seven days abroad the train. I really like my privacy and coming and going as I please without an audience. Sounds pretty basic but every time I left my room to check on the kids a very attentive car-captain rose from his seat to see if anything was needed and if everything was alright. The impeccable service was welcome at first but then it started to make me feel bad.
I also do not like elephant rides. This too made me feel very bad. The concept sounded exciting especially for the kids and would probably be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but in reality the elephants and the elephant handlers seemed over-worked and tired. The animal rights advocate in me was on high alert and felt helpless. Needless to say I skipped the camel rides. Again, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I hope.
Overall, there would have been no way for Mike and I too plan such an elaborate and expansive tour of India in the seven days we spent on the train. Even the kids will admit that they have a good feeling of what India is all about and can hold their own with other international travelers twice, three times their own age;)