Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Orchaa - day 14

From the not so trilling Agra experience we headed to Orchaa and even the road started to look promising - green fields, rivers, trees - mmm this was looking interesting. We also passed through some small villages which appeared to be on the poorer side of what we have experienced up till now. Well seems that's the norm here but it's impressive that these people are more curious then just looking at you as a walking ATM.

We arrived in Orcha and found our hotel - well this was huge and comfy although again packed with nagging French groups - so we just dropped our bags and out we went.

We walked down to the river along with quite a large amount of people and when we got to the bridge we were told ( by some curious but nice locals ) that it was the Rama festival so a holi day as they say and the place was buzzing with pilgrims. That was cool with us so after some chill time near the river we went up towards the Rama temple. Here there was a local Market selling a lot of spiritual ornaments and items like flowers and sweets that are meant to be used as temple offerings!

After a stroll round the temple square and avoiding the babas and sadus who can become very pushy we went in the city centre and had drink. I was contemplating to get a shave from one of the barbers and Mishal barber shop actually seemed a good place so I did it the indian way and just went for it! Yes not only a shave but full head shave, face massage and head massage! I never felt so refreshed in my life - it's worth the trip down to India just get that treatment!!!

After this we went around the small village again and although I was getting a lot of attention due to my shiny White head we really enjoyed it in this small place pity we were staying for just one night!

The next day we got up early and went for chai in the square. Was a relaxed morning but it's highlight was when we saw a cow which had just given birth. The calf all wet and frail calling his mother and the farmer getting fresh hay to the tired new mum! It was an amazing sight and even the locals were showing their happiness and saying it's goodluck to see and the over smiling face of the farmer was simply uttering "baby baby" and that's what India is about - the simple things!

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Agra - day 13

Agra the city of the Taj Mahal - and nothing much more about it!

We arrived in Agra after the protest ordeal I wrote about in the previous blog post and headed straight to the Taj. Here we were advised to either get a bike rickshaw from outside or just walk it as it's only 10 minutes on foot to the entrance. Don't let anyone fool you to take you to the best gate etc they just are tuk tuk drivers wanting easy rupee!

So we arrived at the Taj and went to the ticket boot and in a flash somone saying that is "special guide" appeared and told us he will be guide - don't fall for it wait in the queue with the locals. One thing that is normal here is that a ticket for Indians is 5 or 10 rupees - tourist ticket is always some 250 or 300 - for the Taj it's 750 but at least they include camera fee.

We got in the queue (female and male separate) and walked slowly until we reached the security officers. On checking my waist bag he started getting stuff out;

Cigarettes
Lighter
Biris
Flashlight

And said "No" - I replied ok why and he kept saying "no go locker" I said that obviously I won't smoke but he kept showing me away. Finally another police with some vague english knowledge told me to go to locker - I requested to know why this is not advised before and he showed me a sign which was completely covered by the people of the queue no wonder I didn't see it!

We went to the locker which was about a ten minute walk from the entrance and was met by a man half asleep that yet again had no idea of speaking English but knew how to say "20 rupee charge" - oh great so my locker costs double the entrance fee of an Indian guy to see the Taj - great!!!

Anyways we went back through security ( was stopped again since I had a pen and was advised not to scribble on the marble - to that I replied rudely that I'm educated and will never do that) and finally got in the entrance pathway to get to the Taj.

The amount of people (Indians mostly) was incredible and after getting through a swarm of photographers wanting to take our picture ( they didn't notice my camera I guess ) we kept moving towards the White monument. Seeing it from far it simply looks like a photo - nothing much - but the real feeling is when you get closer and under it and realise the shear size of it - it's huge!!! Yes that's the best part of the Taj it's size. It's decorations are very plain and simple and if it wasn't for the size and the amazing minarets I doubt it would have reached the world wonder status.

Any way - the fun started when we slowly went around this huge monument. In one of the fountains we saw a group of 6 people washing their feet, teeth, hands and having a drink from one of the fountains - inspiring (I have the photos will add later!). After all fuss made about the fact that I cannot even take my cigarettes in the place was dotted with red chewing Tobacco spit - educational. On entering the main mosuleum which is the burial place and is kept in darkness due to the red flower paintings and where photos are strictly prohibited we were blinded by flashes and cell phone torches! The place looked like a U2 concert for god sake and the idiot at the door sent me 3km to the lockers to lock my flash light - it's enlightening!!!!

Well my opinion about the Taj is that it's over rated, oversized, takes too much credited for nothing and even the late Lady Diana looked bored in her picture in front of the wonder. From what I have seen, India has so much to offer apart from the "should see monuments".

Oh by the way - rest of Agra - nothing much we went to hotel and prepared for a long trip to Orchaa.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

On the way to Agra

We left Jaipur at 8am since it's quite a long way to Agra and also a good thing to exit the city before the mass traffic starts. It was raining so was an even better thing to do!

After exiting the usual hassle an unrelenting horns of the city The way was clear and we drove easily on the good highway joining the two cities until we saw a van coming high speed wrong way. Well for us it's something to worry about but now we got used to it that in India this can happen quite normally so we just took it with a pinch of salt until the second and third car came by wrong way making signs to turn around as the road was closed! Thinking there was an accident on the road our driver turned the car and we drove back (wrong way as there was no other way) and followed the other cars which had already turned on the opposite side of the road thus going towards Agra on the wrong way lane against traffic. After a minute of driving we saw a large amount of trucks parked on both sides and we kept on driving until other tourist drivers waved our driver to stop. Our driver went to investigate what had happened and on coming back we learnt that it was a protest. People were sitting on the road closing traffic! The shocking thing was that this was not for any political reason or national aspect but it was locals getting themselves heard! A small girl from the village 4 or 5 years old had been run over by a truck and the truck driver kept on driving. So the people managed to stop a truck from the same company so that something is done. In the process they closed a main traffic artery and surely caused some disruption in the transport system.

Well honestly they caused a bit of disruption in our plans but we tried to take it calmly. We spoke to some kids who were off to school and with other fellow travellers and all was fine until the older kids of the village started to break bits from the road railings just for fun and hassling mainly the tourists! It wasn't fun and this lasted for 4 hours until finally some negotiation ( not from police as they were simply standing there and not acting on it ) moved the blockade and we were free to proceed on our way.

Well I am not qualified to comment much on this situation only that I can understand the protest and the objective but cannot tolerate that in these situations people who just don't have anything use these situations to just destroy stuff like these kids were doing! It's a shame even-more when I think of the many bad roads I have seen here in India and then a new road like this is being vandalised by idiots. On the other hand I hope that the protest worked and that justice was made.




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Jaipur - day 11 & 12

After quite a long drive we reached Jaipur. This is the capital of Rajasthan and boasts over 3 million population. Our arrival was on a Sunday afternoon and we had no clue that a lot of shops were actually closed and there wasn't much to do! Eventually we went to eat something with our driver who to calm my nerves (since I felt this city was just a waste of time) took us to this great place (please note veg only) from were we tasted great parantas.

Nothing much happening we visited some shops and went to rest.



The next day we went to the Amber fort which seems to be the most important tourist attraction here since the queue was huge! Now here I had a dilemma - we had our own free elephant ride but I was sceptic of going since I love animals and I am against the use of such beautiful beasts for us stupid tourists. Anyways Daphne wanted to go so I accepted but half way through the ride she was of my same opinion. The large queue of elephants going up and down the fort was sickening and the state of some of the animals was alarming. Here I was doing something I will always regret! I am sorry and I apologise for being part of this thing! Honestly will never do it again ever and in my opinion the Amber fort is not even worth the visit ( that's why there are the elephants they are the attraction) but don't be fooled as we were! Don't use the elephants if there is no demand they will stop abusing these creatures!!

As already said we went up in the fort and on arrival the elephant driver was screaming for a tip (please note he had already kept 100 rupees for him self on the main charge). Not to start any argument and due to the large police presence we just got off the tired animal and tried to get our bearings in the fort. Well as said before not much to see!! The fort in Jodpur is by far more charming and amazing so we just decided to go for a stroll around the place and back down to our car.

From here we headed to the nearby village and we went to a government run shopping place with crafts and stuff. Here we decided to buy a carpet - too big to carry so this had to be delivered - well the biggest question is if it will ever arrive!! Let's wait and see!

After we went to the monkey temple which sits on a small hill. In the car park you will meet kids wanting to be your guides and peanut vendors screaming to get your attention. My suggestion would be - no need for guide as there is only one road up and you won't get lost plus all info about the sun temple is written on entrance to it - don't buy peanuts unless you want to get mugged by the monkeys!!


The temple is very simple and peaceful and it free - just leave a donation and don't mind the girl we found at the door ( if she is still there) who was asking us leave a minimum of x amount of rupees and then asking for "gift from your country". I understand its normal but please in a temple too!! Also on the way down you will meet some sadus that live on the hill - be reminded that taking photos of these people comes with a rupee request immediately after.



The day started to get cloudy and was getting quite late so we went eat and back
for early nite - next day Agra.



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Pushkar - day 10

The holy city. Here I don't want to offend anyone but unfortunately the impression this small city gives is of not holy at all! The city revolves around the holy lake which is the main attraction only that you can only walk around it barefoot (which is ok)

On arrival we went to the centre and there the fake priests started to appear with flower petals for us to throw in the lake. Obviously we didn't accept any since on acceptance you will be asked for money for blessing so we avoided these unholy beings.

The roads around the lake have been transformed into a Market place with fabric vendors, clothes vendors, incense and perfume whallas etc - this ain't a bad thing at all if you are there for just the souvenir shopping but we must say the place is filthy! Also the strangest looking people there are not the sadus or babas ( which you can't say who is true and who is fake!) but it was the tourists - the place seemed like the revival of the hippy movement gone 21st century.

After a drink we headed Back to our hotel and on the way saw a strange scene of a baby monkey adopted by a pig! It's a must see so we will upload the video later!

Our hotel (heritage Pushkar) was great with clean rooms and a great garden. That eve we met Alex, a german fellow traveller and made plans to meet at the mountain temple early the next day.

At 6am we were out and our driver took us to the foot of the mountain. Alex's driver told us the climb was of about 300 steps but for us seemed more than 3000 but after a 20 min or more climb we reached the temple to be greeted by our german friend who was already relaxing awaiting sunrise.

Some chai made the experience of watching the sun appear from behind the mountains an unforgettable one and I must say from up there Pushkar looks nice and the temple there, although very simple and not highly decorated for me was one of the most peaceful places I have been to so far and yes that place is holy no doubt about it!

Udaipur - days 8 & 9

The lake city and romantic city. Well as lake city it lives up to it's name immediately as when you arrive in the centre you will immediately realise the city circles a vast lake with ghats and monuments and palaces all around. Our hotel was just out of the centre (hill lake hotel) only ten minutes away but it was neatly tucked in the local houses. One thing to be said was the great view of the lake from the hotel room and from the roof!



The first evening we ventured in the centre which is very touristy with lots of people asking you to buy pashmina, tops, Tshirts etc and the occasional tuk tuk driver offering "want small joint?" - we kept on walking around until a made to measure tailor shop owner (just next to Edelvise cafe) managed to lure us in his shop. Daphne was intrigued to order a nice coat and (although I was sceptic that the owner's promise to have it done by the next day at 6pm) measures were taken and appointment was done for fitting.

The eve was dinner at whistling teal restaurant at the Raj Palace hotel. Service and food was great and the old waiter was superbly exquisite with his old British style manners and sparkling smile. On the way back to the hotel we encountered two dangers which are common in India - dogs and cows! Well in total darkness I nearly stepped on a dog which from the sound of his consent growl seemed either being rabid or else extremely pissed off. Just two seconds later we turn a corner and find a cow charging straight towards us, I escaped but a sudden change in direction of the cow hit Daphne and although not injured wasn't happy as she was quite scared with the experience.

The next day after breakfast we noticed a monkey on a nearby roof - the neighbour came out and left some chapati on her roof and in seconds monkeys started springing out from everywhere. Was actually cool to watch as they explored the roofs and obviously mess somebody's laundry.

We then went out and decided to avoid the obvious tourist places and ventured in the tiny roads of the city - great we found the locals' market!! This was a relief no tourists and no one bugging you to buy stuff, only locals smiling at us and willing to help when we ask about some strange thing we saw in a shop or one of the stalls. We met a young guy at a spice shop who was so eager to teach us about spices and we spent an hour learning all about the 6 varieties of Masala.

From there we lingered on going round the market, eating some yummy street food, drinking chai and avoiding cow dung and touts until time came for our tailor appointment. Just as I thought when we arrived at 6pm he told us to go back in 45min as they had to finalise the piece, then when we went back again a whole story that they had no electricity etc etc was invented - conclusion the coat wasn't ready! Saying no to the offer of having the coat sent to the next hotel at least made the guy change attitude and he gave us our deposit back.

That evening we enjoyed dinner at a lakeside restaurant and I must say the view of the water palace and main palace lit up at nite is spectacular.

Udaipur was a nice city to visit but would suggest to avoid the touristy bits and enjoy more the locals!


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Monday, February 14, 2011

Jodpur - days 6 & 7

Arriving in Jodpur's centre feels like you arrived in a mega Market place. The two gates that enclose the clock tower in the middle encircle a bustle Market in which you can find anything - literally anything!! From veg to clothes, to incense and spices, jewellery to welders and instrument fixers. At first it can be a bit too much to handle but after a while you settle in and absorb the colours, sounds and scents (which in some corners can be awful) and you start to enjoy it.

We popped by to a known spice shop (MV Spices - be careful of the many imitations of their brand) but unfortunately a group of about 30 French tourists flocked in the tiny shop like sheep and we had no other option then to leave and plan to go back the next day since the constant hum of "c'e Bon" was a bit too much to handle for me.

That evening we enjoyed dinner with our spanish friends we had met on the trip who were also at our hotel and enjoyed the view of the lit up fort (note at 915pm sharp they switch the lights off so take your photos earlier!) After dinner then headed to bed only to be greeted by some bugs lurking in the room.



The next day we complained and the hotel staff was very apologetic about the incident and promised to changed our room whilst We went to visit the fort.

You can reach the fort on foot from the centre so no need for tuk tuk or car but be prepared for a steep hill - well the view is great so stop on the way and enjoy the view of try a chat with the locals (or the goats that are a common sight)

The fort itself is nice to visit and the audio guide included with the entrance fee is great with an amazing array of information. One interesting thing was the flying fox experience you can do at the fort - we got interested but when the helpful staff showed us the actual rope sites we backed off - too scared of heights to do it!!

After the fort we walked down to the centre again and went back to MV spices - this time we enjoyed a nice masala chai with the owner and after testing some of her fab mixes bought a selection and headed off to the Market. Here we tasted a lassi to die for next to the south gate of the Market and walked over 3km and risked life and limb to reach Agra sweets for some local delicacies which unfortunately we didn't like so much. On way back hunger took it best and although I was sceptic we tried an omelette sandwich at the omelette man - well he has 36 years experience making omelettes and this shows they are amazing and we ordered another before finishing our first! It's a must be place!

The hotel did change our room and yes they gave us a fantastic room and it shows it was a genuine mistake so we happily thanked them and transferred our stuff to our new (snazzy) room!



Luckily in front of our hotel we had Gucci Internet cafe and thus we checked emails (the wifi here is super fast!) and then headed to dinner preparing for an early eve to be ready for Udaipur on the next day.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Jaisalmer - days 4, 5 & 6

Coming close to Jaisalmer one notices a heavy military presence - tanks, trucks and you can even hear the occasional gun practise shots - but nothing to be afraid of although the long convoys do make you a bit late.

When you get close enough you will see the fort - an imposing structure on the main hill of the city. An amazing sight in the scorching afternoon sun (imagine at night when beautifully lit up!!).



Just time to deposit our backpacks in the room and we ventured out up to the fort city which is a max ten minute walk up hill (if staying in a hotel outside of the fort which we strongly suggest you do! Check out the lonely planet and you find all the reasons why to make this choice!). Tuk tuks will be calling at you to hitch a ride - don't it's nice on foot and not far plus usually they will want to take you to shops to get commission. The fort is littered with these small shops but a smile and a no thank you will do.

The next day we got a guide to show us around the fort - there is no fixed payment to these guides but it's good to get familiar with this desert city. Again remember shops entered with guides equals to higher prices due to commission!!

That afternoon we left to the desert resort in the desert for our camel safari and that's when the fun started. On arrival they just showed us to our camels (mine was Rajja) and with the help of Patan the owner we were on our way deep in the desert to experience sunset - an unforgettable experience only matched by sunrise in the desert which when given the option to experience we immediately grasped.



Honestly at first it was a bit scary having to sleep in the desert on a makeshift bed and some blankets practically in the middle of nowhere - but we did it and so glad we did. I never saw so many stars in my life and shooting stars were just one common occurrence! Trying to sleep wasn't so easy as unfortunately we had some wind but when you drift into a nice nap you have the feeling of not being on your own. The early morning light actually reveals that we weren't alone as the sand around us was totally littered with footsteps - goats, rats, dogs, beetles just to name the ones I managed to recognise.



But all this is then totally engulfed by the beauty of sunrise - these people might look different or missing comforts, but I felt they are so rich, they are surrounded by nature and each morning they are blessed by all this immense beauty.



After returning to Jaisalmer and still haven't showered as yet, we wondered in the Market and also tasted some great samosas & sweets Ladoo small yellow milk balls. Yes you have to be careful from where to eat street food in India, but if the place is packed with locals then it's a good chance all will be fine.

The eve was a nice dinner with some Spanish friends we met on the way. After dinner we investigated why they were letting off fireworks in the street and from where ultra loud Punjabi music was coming. It was a wedding! Yes they invited us to join the frenetic dancing and after half an hour of jumping around and feeling knackered we decided to call it a night. This was one incredible thing about India - hospitality!



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Bikaner - day 3

Before arriving in Bikaner a must see is the rat temple! Yes there are rats here but it's totally safe and for a tip the shoe minder actually provides you with fabric feet covers (leather not allowed in Hindu temples so mind your belts!!) which are good to avoid the rat poo.

The temple is small and very much frequented by devotees. Obviously the weird attraction are the milk bowls from which hundreds of rats congregate to drink from.

When we arrived in Bikaner we went straight to the fort which is the main attraction of this city. The red fort is impressive architecture wise, but not something I wouldn't live without.

After the temple we popped by a local artist specialising in miniature art with fab details and who (to show off his skill) even painted a small scene on Daphne's finger nail! Well we got ourselves a small elephant painting on camel bone (camel bone is derived from camels after their natural death).

Hunger took over and our driver suggested a street shop from where we took great Samosas and jeelebis - ultra yummy!!

The eve was then quite with a dinner in a local haveli and early bed to be ready for the trip ahead to Jaisalmer.



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Mandawa - day 1 & 2

After a long car ride from Delhi, passing through small farming villages, trucking stops and fields, we reached our first destination - Mandawa.

The first impression was of a small village engulfed in a Market style life and we weren't expecting much, until we parked in the hotel yard - a charming Haveli nicely decorated and a porter with a huge smile. Our room was fabulous and later found that they gave us the honeymoon suite which was a relief after our disaster of a hotel in Delhi.




The next day we went for a short trip to a neighbouring village which is jam packed with Havelis and to be honest after visiting one we decided not to go in any other anymore - well at 200r a pop it starts adding up no? ;)




Returning to Mandawa we actually visited a Haveli in which a family (caretakers of the Haveli itself) still lived. After the real adventure for us started for us - venturing in the old Market in the city. Here we met a great guy making camel leather shoes and after trying about a hundred pairs of different styles we made our purchase....which was shown appreciation with masala chai and a small camel leather gift! Rajasthan was already living up to it's name!




That eve we stayed at the hotel and we had dinner there and had a blast chatting with the staff namely Lallu, Prahland and some other three of whom names escape me now! These guys were adorable and I guess we made friends that I hope will stay forever. Will surely be back to this place as it took a part of me and gave me so much back.




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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

No wifi no blog

Finally found some wifi to use and update a bit the blog!! We have left Delhi 7 days ago and we visited Mandawa, Bikaner, Jaisalmer and now Jodpur! I am adding some pics here but more detailed explanations will be on soon and some great stories too!!















More to come as long as I have wifi!!!!

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Location:gucci internet cafe,Jodhpur,India

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

3rd day - Delhi old and new!

This third day went quite well - we started off by visiting a great temple Lakshmi Narayan - great architecture, amazing statues of Lord Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh and lots more. Was a wonderful peaceful 40min and the people there were great! Even the security - they treated us great and even for a donation they gave us a spiritual guide which is amazing.

Then it way old Delhi time - the red fort with it's vast area and red brick buildings quite impressive but nothing special (when compared to other places). After visiting the fort we went on a cycle rickshaw for a tour of chandi chowk. When we upload the videos of this ride I will place the link here as it's simply unexplainable in words!!

After that we went to Gandhi Smitri the cremation sight of Gandhi. This is a simple but great place - I feel it's a great memorial for a great person like Gandhi - the world needs more people like this little great man!!

Then hunger took the better and following loads of locals (who were visiting the memorial) we ventured to a simple Indian veg restaurant in the car park - great talhi and just 166 rupees with extra roti and large water ;) yummy!



Bellies full we made our way to the lotus temple as we heard so much about this place. Well obviously we had to remove our shoes but we requested to take them in with us - the guard said yes but a totally freaked out young idiot (obviously over happy to be given a badge) told us that we cannot go in with our shoes in a sac - I asked him if he was ready to pay if the shoes got stolen (which is pretty common in places like this) and the idiot simply laughed - all the people who were supposed to help simply laughed - so seems that when you get a place and try to make it a hub for religions together you simply get idiots - so we simply moved off and screw the lotus!


With hatred towards the lotus still brewing in me (love how that sounds!) we went to Qutab Minar - here the first thing that greets you is the huge minaret which at first seems a simple tower, but on closer inspection one can see so much engravings and reliefs it's breathtaking! The ruins and other buildings around the place are great too and at least was a great way to relax - although nothing beats the end of day chai tea to put the actual fullstop to your day!






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Location:Maharana Pratap Rd,New Delhi,India

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - 8 - Summit Night

On the 6th Day (if you are doing the Machame Route), you will arrive to Barufu Camp , which is the last Camp site before reaching Kilimanja...