April 6, 2011
We Are Cunard
It was great to read all your comments from Peter Shanks’ blog on Monday, about the meeting of the Queen Elizabeths. I have to tell you it was a real moment in history, and I defy anyone not to be moved as Queen Elizabeth said goodbye to her predecessor, with another exchange of whistles as she sailed away.
In this blog we are actually going back to a few days before Queen Elizabeth arrived in Dubai, and her maiden call to Mumbai, which is always one of the most exciting ports on a World Voyage. Mumbai, formerly Bombay, has an estimated population of thirteen million making it the most populous city in India. The city is known for The Gateway of India built to commemorate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary on 2 December 1911, (though it was not completed until 4 December, 1924). Since our visit last year the restoration on the monument has been completed and now looks superb.
Opposite The Gateway of India is the famous Taj Hotel, a magnificent building which was recently completely renovated and is still one of Mumbai’s most prestigious hotels.
Mumbai is a city of extreme contrasts, and across the city this is really evident when you visit the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat which is a massive open-air laundry. This is where thousands of Dhobi Wallahs clean clothes and linen. There are row upon row of open-air concrete wash pens, each fitted with its own flogging stone. The clothes are soaked in soapy water, thrashed on the flogging stones, then tossed into huge vats of boiling starch and hung out to dry.
Almost two hundred Dhobis and their families work together in what has always been a hereditary occupation where they collect your dirty linen from your doorstep, wash it, and return it neatly pressed back to your home. All this for a very low price and here are all the vans delivering and picking up laundry.
All the clothes are ironed and piled into neat bundles.
Despite how it may look, this is how the people across Mumbai get their laundry done, as well as many garments that will eventually be sold around the world, which are dyed, pre-washed and prepared here.
Dubbed the Queen’s Necklace as it lights up at night with its street lights resembling a string of pearls, the Marine Drive Boulevard in South Mumbai is 3-kilometre-long ‘C’ shaped road along the coast, which is a natural bay. It features a row of art deco buildings, which despite being apparently continually worked on, have some of the highest real estate prices in the world!
The day after we left Mumbai we held our traditional Night at the Raj Ball where we invited guests to dress up for the evening. Of course this is always a big night but for the ladies, buying a Sari is the easy part, learning how to put one on is something else! But fortunately our World Voyage Concierge, Sangeeta Nagar held a couple of classes in advance of the event ,and was on hand to help on the night, much to the relief of Heather Kempf, from Greenway, Australia;
And the guests weren’t the only ones to dress up; here, in their finery are Social Hostess, Freda Singleton with Amanda May, a guest from Exeter in Devon, along with Thomas Quinones of the Entertainment Staff.
It was wonderful to see so many people dressed up and the ladies all looked stunning in their Saris. Here joining Helen Eatough of the Entertainment Staff and Sangeeta are, from left to right, Josephine, Glenys, Margaret, Heather and Sue.
Meanwhile there were some guests who had chosen to take a trip of a lifetime on one of Cunard’s overland tours and I’ll let Amy McBay from the Tour Staff take up the story:
On 28 March, whilst Queen Elizabeth was alongside Mumbai, I joined 28 guests on our journey overland to the Taj Mahal. We enjoyed a panoramic tour of the fast moving international city of Mumbai en route to the airport for our short flight to New Delhi. Once we arrived, we started our 4 ½ hour coach journey to Agra, in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
New Delhi is India’s capital and second largest city, with over 15 million people. The city is in central – northern India and it is it’s own region called the National Capital Territory of Delhi, sharing its borders with Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Haryana. Delhi is broken down into nine districts, 59 towns, 165 villages and many other small areas. Later that evening we were greeted at The Oberoi Amarvilas, a luxurious hotel, which overlooks the Taj Mahal.
After a 5.00am wake up call the next morning, we travelled five minutes from the door of the hotel to the gates of the Taj Mahal. Although it was early you could sense the excitement and anticipation within the group and I couldn’t help myself as I too got caught up in the buzz.
It is hard to describe the feeling as we witnessed the effect of the rising sun on this magnificent monument.
Emperor Shah Jehan was devoted to his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. He resolved to build his wife a memorial surpassing anything the world had ever seen. Twenty thousand labourers and craftsman from Persia, Turkey, France and Italy constructed this unrivalled masterpiece.
Later in the day the group and I travelled to the Agra fort, built by Emperor Akbar between 1565 and 1573. This incredible fort, with its imposing gates and walls of red sandstone, dominates the city.
We stood in the room where Emperor Shah Jehan was imprisoned by his own son, and looked out to the final resting place of his wife through the windows. Emperor Shah Jehan spent the last eight years of his life with this view of his dedication and admiration of his wife. It was hard not to feel saddened by his story; you can only imagine his heartache and loneliness.
As evening approached, we travelled back to the Taj Mahal to watch the sun set upon her. The most unusual story about the Taj is that there might have been two of them. The emperor had intended to build a second tomb in black marble, a negative image of the white Taj. This was before he was tragically imprisoned by his son.
As I sat around the dinner table that evening I soaked up the atmosphere of my surroundings. It gave me great pleasure to see that the group’s smiles had broadened and their laughter had got considerably louder since the beginning of our tour. It was clear to see how much they were enjoying the experience and the friendships that had just begun.
The following day we headed back to New Delhi, taking in the culture of India as we drove through the local communities.
New Delhi was built as an administrative district of the city during the British rule and was declared the capital after India gained independence from the British in 1947. New Delhi houses important offices of the federal government, including the Parliament of India. It has been capital of several Indian empires plus the Mughals who built the section of the city now known as Old city or Old Delhi.
After a buffet Lunch at The Oberoi New Delhi we headed to Emperor Humayun’s Tomb. It is built in red sandstone by Haji Begum, Humayun’s first wife who designed and supervised the entire construction.
On our third and last day, we flew to Dubai to join Queen Elizabeth, after a short panoramic tour of the city.
Not only was this trip an unforgettable experience for all of us, I have to say it was my immense pleasure to escort such a fantastic group of guests on this great tour. I know they will be telling their families about this for years; the time they travelled to one of the Seven Wonders of the World. So a huge thank you to them and also to you for reading about our adventure.
Thank you Amy for a fantastic guest blog; what an amazing journey you all had. I’ll be back on tomorrow with some news from all three of our Queens and on Monday a special interview with Entertainment Director Amanda Reid. Cheers for now, Alastair