A Travellerspoint blog

December 2011

The best day of the trip!

Dec 31 – On to Agra

We caught an early morning train to Agra getting there about 11:30am. The train ride was uneventful but we did meet a young girl who engaged us in conversation for quite a while. It started out with the typical peak around the corner from her berth, ducking back, giggle, pause then another peak again. We expected the usual, "Where are you from?" line of questioning. Only she started with 'where have you been' so I started telling her where we had been in India, which puzzled her so she ducked back away. We heard murmuring and then she poked her head out again and asked ‘where are you from?’ and, the conversation went on from there. At one point she asked if we had an American Dollar. This was immediately stopped by someone sitting with her. A pause…then, ‘how many rupees for an American dollar?’ We answered 50; more discussion, then, she produced 100Rs so we exchanged $1 US and 50 RS. She was very happy. We also answered all the typical questions, do you have children etc. and after a while, we were taking photos and exchanging emails. Her name is Visala and her older brother was coaching her. Her younger brother was curious but very shy. She is in the 6th grade. It will be fun if she will communicate via email or Facebook. Her older brother was very keen on seeing us on FB.

Arriving in Agra: We had arranged with our home stay to have a taxi there for us and they were ready and waiting. We headed to the Garden Villa Home Stay and were warmly greeted by Mr. R and his brother. We discussed the itinerary for the day and headed out with another taxi driver. We called him ‘Raj’ – not sure why as he never introduced himself – at least that we were aware of. He is an elderly gentleman with a big white mustache and beard and wears a saffron turban.

We visited Agra Fort, where we got our first view of the Taj Mahal from the apartments/prison of Shah Jehan; the ‘baby Taj’ and a park across the river from the Taj Mahal where we sat until sunset watching the glimmering structure from a distance.

Agra Fort is another impressive structure. Less fort-like and more like a group of palaces surrounded by a stout wall. It was, in fact, the home of at least a couple of Mogul kings, including Shah Jahan who had the Tal Mahal built for his 3rd and most beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to his 14th child.

He and his family lived in the fort and when his son Aurangzeb overthrew him, he imprisoned his father in his apartments which overlook the Taj Mahal. History is a little sketchy on whether this was after it was completed or while it was still being built. No matter, he was a very old, ill man by this time and had lost all power to his nasty son, who toppled the Mogul empire with is greed and ambition for greater power.

The ‘baby’ Taj is the monument to Mizra Ghiyas Beg, the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, and is almost an exact replica of the real thing, only much smaller, thus the 'baby'. It is a quick visit but well worth it.

We then went to Mehtab Bagh park which was originally meant to be the home of Shah Jahan’s black ‘Mahal’ – his own mausoleum. The plan was for it to be an exact replica of the Taj Mahal only made of all black marble and it would face the tomb he built for his beloved wife. Aurangzeb decided it was a waste of money and stopped the whole thing but the park remains and it is quite lovely. You walk along pathways through rows of shrubs and flowers towards the river and there is a lovely view of the back of the TM.

We had lunch and dinner at Dasaprakash a south Indian vegetarian restaurant that Mr. R recommended. It is also in the LP guide. He had suggested we eat lunch there and dinner at a new restaurant called Pinch of Spice but when we arrived they were having a ‘small problem’, which to us looked like a broken sewer line – not the kind of ‘problem’ you want at any restaurant, anywhere! So we went back to Dashraprakash and were perfectly happy. The food is delicious. Lots of things made with lentils, rice and of course, vegetables. With every meal comes a piping hot ewer of Sambar – hot and spicy.

Jan 1, 2012! Happy New Year!

We had heard it raining overnight and it was still overcast and rainy when we got up. We were to head out a 7:30a but we left an hour later since there would be no real sunrise in this weather. We headed to the Taj Mahal. ‘Raj’ was once again our driver. The entry to the Taj Mahal is quite a big deal. Cars cannot go directly to it anymore in an effort to keep exhaust pollution to a minimum so we were dropped off and we walked to the ticket window. We hired a guide and then queued up to go in. Women and men enter in different lines. Apparently this is for security as women tend to carry more ‘stuff’ so the check point is slower. There is a long list of things that are not allowed into the TM area – any kind of food item, gum, crayons, knives etc. They thoroughly check bags and pockets for these things.

Once inside, you walk through the main gate (west gate). Before walking through the gate you can see the Taj Mahal and it is lovely even on a rainy day. I was not prepared for the impression/impact of seeing it once I stepped through the gate. I have seen a lot of awesome, ancient structures but when you walk through that gate and the Taj Mahal comes into full view with the gardens laid out in front of it, it just got me. I got quite emotional. It is, without question, the most beautiful, man-made thing I have ever seen. It really does shimmer and, because of the way it is positioned on a marble platform, there is nothing in the background but sky so it also seems to float. The white marble looks like it has been freshly polished. The rain helped because it cleared the air and at one point while we were there, the sun came out for a few minutes and there was a rainbow – unbelievable!!! Our guide was very good and we took our time gazing and wandering around this amazing spectacle. He also took ‘Lady Di’ photos which are a hoot! We will have to see how they compare to the real thing!!

We then headed out to Fatehpur Sikri. This is another ancient fort/group of palaces. Home of Akbar and his 3 wives – one Hindu (from Rajasthan), one Muslim (from Turkey), one Catholic (from Goa/Portuguese). Each wife had her own palace built to replicate important aspects of her religion. Importantly, Akbar, was quite enlightened and believed all religions had their place in the world and, ideally wanted everyone to observe one religion which was a combination of all. This is represented in all the architecture he directed in his time. The fort is quite large and also includes a Buddhist temple which is white marble among all the red sandstone. It was a very busy place today being Jan 1st and there were long lines of people waiting to be blessed and to pray for good wishes. Our guide was a bit pushy and did not want to wait in line. It wasn’t super important to us to ‘be blessed’ but it would have been interesting so we were a bit annoyed with him. He kind of rushed us through the entire complex.

We then headed to Akbar’s tomb. Another amazing structure. He designed it for himself and his family members. There are many instances of perfect symmetry here as well as all the other ancient architecture we have seen here. There are open chambers throughout this building that if you stand in opposite corners, facing the corner, you can talk to one another in practically a whisper. Makes me wonder if the architects who built Union Terminal in Cincinnati ever visited here….

Another meal at Dasaprakash and then to the railway terminal where I am sitting on my backpack, writing this part of the blog. Lots of activity around us and lots of ‘over the shoulder lookers’. Our train leaves at 9:20pm and we get into Varanasi at 6:15a tomorrow.

First view through the west gate

First view through the west gate


Princess Di and Prince Phillip pose

Princess Di and Prince Phillip pose


It glimmers in the sunshine

It glimmers in the sunshine


Spectacular even in the rain

Spectacular even in the rain

Posted by CWalts 17:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

Jaipur - Exciting, loud, frantic - Love it!

Dec 29 – Jaipur

After stopping at the hospital to have my finger checked and re-dressed we headed to Jaipur. The road was 'good' which means it didn’t have a lot of pot holes etc. but it was still rough going dodging around construction and just navigating the weird, crazy traffic. Supposedly, Indians drive on the left side of the road but at any given time there could be a car, motorcycle, bus or transport truck heading ‘head-on’ at us. Anand, our driver was very good but sitting in the front seat, because I get car sick in the back seat, was often scary.

We arrived in Jaipur right around 1pm and checked into the Pearl Palace which was highly recommended by several guide books, Christy Dobbs, and Trip Advisor. I figured we couldn’t go wrong and we are not disappointed. The Peacock Restaurant on the roof top looks like it was decorated by Gaudi. We had lunch before heading out to see the City Palace and the Observatory. Both well worth seeing.

Dec 30

Today we headed out early for Amber Fort which is a bit outside Jaipur. We had arranged for our rickshaw driver from yesterday to pick us up and he was right on time. The drive up to the fort was chilly but well worth the effort. This is a huge fort with a long walk up to the main entrance. It was very busy today with people lined up to ride elephants up the ramp. We preferred to walk which was an adventure dodging the elephant poop and the elephants themselves. I got swiped by an elephant’s tail – a bit messy and it had some power to it! We wandered around the fort without a guide this time. We have seen enough of them now to know the basic layout and what the various areas are for. This one has a spectacular mirrored courtyard which is absolutely stunning. It is being carefully restored and much of the work is done. We met up with our driver and headed into the old city where he let us off and we wandered the various bazaars for a couple of hours. Jaipur is loud, hectic, and frenetic even but there is something about it we like. It would actually like to have had another day here but, who knew!

Met up with our driver again and stopped at Lassiwala – the oldest and most famous lassi maker in Jaipur. I had my first ‘official’ lassi and it was very good.

We are now back at the ‘Pearl’ catching up on things before dinner and packing for out trip tomorrow to Agra and the Taj Mahal!!

Kites

Kites


As high as we can go

As high as we can go


Cold ride up to Amber Fort

Cold ride up to Amber Fort


Sweeping the grass

Sweeping the grass


Amber Fort

Amber Fort


Elephant rides up to the fort

Elephant rides up to the fort


The main courtyard at Amber Fort

The main courtyard at Amber Fort


The mirrored courtyard

The mirrored courtyard


More of the mirrored courtyard

More of the mirrored courtyard


Ceiling of mirrored courtyard

Ceiling of mirrored courtyard


Behind the screen

Behind the screen


Snake charmer

Snake charmer


Marble carving in the bazaar

Marble carving in the bazaar


Old City

Old City


One of the 'seasons' gates at City Palace

One of the 'seasons' gates at City Palace


City Palace

City Palace


Observatory

Observatory


Amber Fort - Morning music

Amber Fort - Morning music


Trying a hand at the drum

Trying a hand at the drum


Another view

Another view


The 'thinking' monkey

The 'thinking' monkey


Our rickshaw driver for the day

Our rickshaw driver for the day


Lassi's at Lassiwala

Lassi's at Lassiwala

Posted by CWalts 17:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

A holy city, very touristy

Dec 27 Bundi – Pushkar

Day of travel….and HAND!!!

Greetings from Richard,

The B team is writing, Carole has an infected finger, lingering from a Mesa cactus thorn she picked up at the end of October. It seemingly was better, but had flair up here in India. We made a trip to the local hospital, Mittel located in Ajmer, about an 11 kilometer drive from Pushkar. Annan, our car driver for this section of out travels, suggested this location. With a bit of trepidation, we agreed to give it a try.

Everything at the hospital went smoothly. Carole had a doctor consultation, followed by a thorough lancing and draining of the infected finger, wound care and a prescription for pain and antibiotic, grand total of 1,250 rupees, the outrageous sum of $22!!

Carole is sitting next to me as I write, closely supervising me.

Dec 28 – Pushkar- Destination for Indian tourists too.

Another B team entry. Carole is feeling fine, but when you see the photo of her bandaged hand you'll understand why she is presently typing impaired. We wandered the streets of the most quiet city we’ve visited to date, the most holy city of Pushkar. Less pollution, quieter and a nice change for us.

Pushkar is a most holy city for Hindu’s, and a site visited by many of India’s citizenry. It’s also vacation time for Indians, so we are definitely out numbered here. Kind of the Gatlinburg of India, only spiritual. Also a lot of former and present western 'flower children’ in this area.

Water colors

Water colors


The hand!

The hand!


Eating pokara

Eating pokara


The cook

The cook


Red powder for hair part

Red powder for hair part


Ladies in the market

Ladies in the market


Men in the market

Men in the market


Lady - 'stealth' shot

Lady - 'stealth' shot


More stealth photos

More stealth photos


Papaya and Fig Lassi - Yum!

Papaya and Fig Lassi - Yum!


More yummy food

More yummy food


Cool shave

Cool shave

Posted by CWalts 17:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

Interesting but hard to get to...

Our driver picked us up at 9am sharp and we headed to Bundi by way of Chittagargh. The road is very rough so the travel is very slow going. Now that we have been to Bundi, not sure we would recommend doing this. It is interesting but not so different from other places to spend the time and money to get here.

The fort (gargh) at Chittor is considered the greatest in Rajasthan and while we like Menagargh better (Jodhpur), it is well worth a visit if you are in this part of India. The fort is an odd mixture of walls and watch or battle towers and peaceful temples along with the Tower of Victory which has 147 steps to the top. The fort dates back to the 8th century and in 1303 it was besieged by the Pathan King of Delhi who captured the beautiful Padmini – wife of the Rani king. When defeat was inevitable, the men rode out to die in battle and the Rajput women including Padmini committed jauhaur – ritual suicide. In 1535 it was the sultan of Gajarat who besieged the fort and history repeated itself. Reported, 13,000 Rajput women and 32,000 Rajput warriors died following the declaration of jauhaur. This happened a 3rd time in 1568 – bad karma in this place for sure!!

We then headed on to Bundi and are staying at the Dev Niwas. This is a newly renovated heritage hotel and is quite lovely. The rooms are large and roomy. Ours had a sitting area with a desk and the bathroom is also quite large. The owner is the cousin of the owners of Jagat Niwas so we were initially a bit wary of staying here but it has turned out to be great. It is well located, the roof top restaurant has a fabulous view of the palace and the food is quite good.

Dec 26

We first took a tour of the palace which was built over a period of years starting in the 15th century and was lived in by the ruling maharani family until 1967. It is odd to think of these families living in these ancient palaces which must not have had much in the way of modern comforts because it doesn't appear to be modern electricity or facilities etc. Makes you wonder why they stayed when they had money at the time and could likely have lived in some luxury elsewhere. I am guessing it was pride of their position etc. There are some very good paintings still in fairly good condition and one room is kept locked and only opened for viewing under careful watch because the paintings are in very bad shape and UNESCO has asked that no photos be allowed – flash or no flash. Our guide was very informative and we heard lots of stories about the Hindu gods. There is one high level of the palace with a lovely garden and views of the city and the fort above.

It is very hard to get to the fort – scrambling up a very steep hill through scrub overgrowth and apparently challenged by the macaques. We decided not to do this. We saw some of the macaques (monkeys) earlier in the day and they are quite large and did not look friendly.

We had lunch at Hadee Rani Guest House. We just wandered in and the people were very pleasant and welcoming. After we had sat down, the owner turned out to be a man we met last night at our hotel. He is somehow related – we knew he also owned a guest house but didn’t know this was his. He was very welcoming and the food was terrific.

We wandered around Bundi – the bangle market, vegetable market and everything else market. Always interesting for us.

Later in the afternoon, Annan, our driver took us out to Jait Sagar, a lovely lake with a small palace, Suhk Mahal where Rudyard Kipling spent a few days and wrote part of Kim. We then went over to a tent resort on the other side of the lake which is also a bird sanctuary and we sat in a tree house, had a beer and watched the birds settle in for the evening. We saw parrots, kingfishers, egrets and a couple other species we couldn’t identify. It was lovely.

Back in town we checked out a couple options for dinner – Tome & Jerry’s because the sign said 'best food in Bundi’ according to Trip Advisor – the menu was uninspiring and the place was poorly lit. We also looked at the rooftop restaurant at Taragahr Fort Inn – also uninspiring and actually looked quite dirty. So, we went back to our hotel. The roof top restaurant had a fabulous view of the palace which is lit up beautifully at night and the food is quite good.

Inside the palace courtyard

Inside the palace courtyard


Fancy horses

Fancy horses


Inside the Victory Tower

Inside the Victory Tower


Jain temple

Jain temple


Water reservoir inside Chittigargh fort

Water reservoir inside Chittigargh fort


Busy Sunday

Busy Sunday


In the gardens of Padmini's palace

In the gardens of Padmini's palace


Traditional skirts for sale

Traditional skirts for sale


Jain temple entry way

Jain temple entry way


Bundi palace

Bundi palace


Lots of monkeys

Lots of monkeys


Inside Bundi City Palace

Inside Bundi City Palace


Roof top garden

Roof top garden


View ofthe old fort from rooftop garden

View ofthe old fort from rooftop garden


Interesting painting

Interesting painting


Kite making

Kite making

Posted by CWalts 17:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

Udaipur is a delight!

Dec 22 – Jodhpur to Udaipur

Today we spent a leisurely day at the Devi Bhawan catching up on email and the blog. We leave for Udaipur by bus at 2pm. We are waiting for the electricity to come back on so I can get back online to add more to the blog.

Left Jodhpur on a tourist bus – not very 'touristy', but what can you expect for $4.00 for 2 people. The ride was about 7 hours. We got to our hotel Jagat Niwas Palace about 9:30p. I had booked a deluxe room with a view because we are here for my birthday and I wanted something a bit more special. While we did have a view, the room was not deluxe by our definition – it was very small, barely enough room to walk around the bed and it was on a sub-lower level with low ceilings. Felt a bit like we had been sent to the dungeon. We asked if we could change and they were fully booked so we decided we would try to find something else in the morning. We had a light dinner and hit the sack.

December 23 - Udaipur Got up and headed out to see if we could find other accommodations. We found a lovely, huge room right around the corner. It has a large bed, a very nice sitting area, a big bathroom and we have our own private balcony with a 'big' view of the lake and lake palaces. THIS is deluxe. Oh, it is also spotless. The cleanliness of the interiors of hotels, shops, restaurants is in sharp contrast to the complete lack of cleanliness on the streets. It is an odd disparity. The streets of Udaipur are the cleanest so far. It is obvious that the city is making an effort to tidy up – streets are swept and there is much less litter and cow dung.

We wandered around today exploring. Found the spice market which is my favorite place to explore. Out time here is relaxed because we have a full extra day so it is nice to be able to amble about with no particular agenda. We did visit the City Palace, which is the second largest palace in all of India. The largest is somewhere in the south. We had a very well versed young guide.Construction of this palace was started by Maharana Udai Singh II, the cities founder and was started in around `1600. It has been added on to by various Maharajas' over the centuries but they have managed to maintain a uniformity of style and design so it doesn’t look like a bunch of different residences attached to each other. The main entrance way is freshly repainted to its early glory because the current Maharana’s daughter was married in the palace this past March. Throughout the palace there are intricate paintings and incredibly detailed mosaics with thousands of pieces of hand cut glass. The rooms on view are stunning in their colors and use of glass and gems (although these are replaced with glass now).

Color is incredibly important in Rajasthani life and often the use of color tells a lot about the person wearing it. From Lonely Planet Guide: Often color is tied up with the strictures of society. Turban color may signify caste, religion and occasion. Rajputs traditionally wear saffron, signifying chivalry. Brahmins, the highest caste, wear pink, Dalits brown and nomads black. Jubilantly multicolored turbans are for festivals, white, grey black or blue turbans are worn by Hindus to signify sadness, but these colors are also worn by Muslims. The way a turban is tied also indicated the wearer’s social class and origins.

As Hindus believe some shades of blue, green and white to be mournful colors, they tend to be worn by widows, while wives and single women wear more cherry pinks, reds and yellows. They embody more signs: one red and yellow combination may be worn by women who’ve borne a son. Hindu married women are carefully marked 'off limits’ by chudas (arm bangles), bichyas (toe rings) and a dash of vermillion in the part of their hair.

Comment from Carole: I am ever watchful and concerned about the way women are held in societies around the world. It is interesting in India to see that, while women, do have ‘their place’, they are treated kindly and lovingly by everyone. Very different from Ethiopia where women are less valuable than donkeys and treated much more poorly. Also, with the fast paced modernization of India and the higher education levels for girls, there is much more evidence of more independence and control over their own decisions about their lives. There is still a lot of tradition here that holds for both males and females but it is linked to a sense of family bonding that is not entirely bad.

Ok, enough of that. We went out for dinner to one of the many roof top restaurants and then wandered around a bit more. We went into an art shop and there were Anthony and Caroline (met on camel safari in Jaisalmer)! They had just arrived in Udaipur a few hours earlier. We chatted for a bit and then they went on their way. We bought a small painting of Ganesh to place by our front door and the shop owner gave me a small painting as a gift for my birthday. These paintings are very intricate and done on silk – lovely. They use brushes made of squirrel tail hair, in some cases, just or 2 hairs. This is the same style of art that we saw in Jodhpur and throughout the palace today.

Dec 24 – 60 Years old!!!!

We spent a leisurely day wandering around Udaipur. We walked across one of the foot bridges to the ‘other side’ of the lake. We looked at Ambrai for a possible dinner locale for my birthday dinner. They wanted 250 Rs per person cover charge because it was Christmas Eve. It’s not about the money – it’s the principal of it – this is an unnecessary charge. Especially given the fact that there are many fewer tourists because of the European economy. Anyway, we looked at a couple other places and decided instead to have drinks on the rooftop of Jagat Niwas, which is lovely and then we ate dinner at the same roof top restaurant we ate at last night. The food is very good and it is lovely up there.

Evening from our balcony

Evening from our balcony


The Lake Palace

The Lake Palace


Raj Niwas

Raj Niwas


City Palace entry gate

City Palace entry gate


Elephant tie-up

Elephant tie-up


Main entry gate to the palace complete with spikes

Main entry gate to the palace complete with spikes


The main gate - freshly refurbished

The main gate - freshly refurbished


Carrier pigeon cages

Carrier pigeon cages


Elephant tug of war competition

Elephant tug of war competition


Inner garden courtyard

Inner garden courtyard


The mirror room

The mirror room


Ceiling of room of mirrors

Ceiling of room of mirrors


Mosaics are everywhere throughout the palace

Mosaics are everywhere throughout the palace


Peek a boo

Peek a boo


An old ivory carved door

An old ivory carved door


The relaxing room of the Maharani and his wife

The relaxing room of the Maharani and his wife


The queen's quarters

The queen's quarters


Beautiful

Beautiful


A peacock mosaic

A peacock mosaic


Detail of the peacock mosaics

Detail of the peacock mosaics


The Kings bedroom

The Kings bedroom


Sugar

Sugar


Mounds of spices

Mounds of spices


Traffic jam

Traffic jam

Posted by CWalts 17:00 Archived in India Comments (0)