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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together


INDIA | Thursday, 29 November 2007 | Views [1597] | Comments [1]

Sun 18th Nov - first day of the tour and off around Delhi. Started in old Delhi at the enormous 'Lal Qila' Red Fort. With a perimeter of 3.5km this would take a whole day just to see it. Not much time so only a quick look at the outside. Built by the mugham emperor Shah Jahan in 1648. He was going to move the capital from Agra to Delhi or Shajahanasbad as it was to be called, but he was deposed by his son who then imprisoned him in the red fort in Agra. What a swine of a son eh!

Next off to the 'Jama Masjid' mosque by cycle richshaw. This is the largest mosque in India, completed in 1658. Large enough to hold 25,000 pilgrims, it is enormous, although I have to say, not very impressive architecturally.

Next the 'Raj Ghat', on the banks of the Yamuna river, is where Mahatma Ghandi was cremated following his assassination in 1948. A black marble slab with a flame burning in a large lantern marks the spot with nice gardens surrounding it.

Off into New Delhi now and the large open spaces away from the enclosed bustling old delhi. The 'Raj Path' or literally translated 'Kingsway', terminates in the grand archway of 'India gate'. This 42m high arch is a memorial to the 90,000 indian army soldiers who died in world war 1, the northwest frontier operations and the 1919 Afghan war.

The area is also home to the official residence of the president of India at the palacial 'Rashtrapati Bhavan'. The area is full of majestic buildings worthy of some time, such as the 'Sansad Bhavan' parliament house which is built like a modern day coloseum, surrounded by pillars.

A big highlight was the trip to the 'Bahia Lotus temple'. Shaped like an unfolding lotus flower, it is a beautifully simple piece of architecture, one of seven Bahia temples throughout the world (each unique, but all with 9 sides). This one has 27 petals, surrounded by 9 turquoise pools. We were given special treatment here and a private lecture on the history of the Bahian organisation, which originated in Iran (then known as Persia) in 1844, and believe in an open worshiping system, where all faiths are welcome. There are no priests, so anyone can come and worship whoever they believe in. Basic principles are.....The oneness of mankind....independent investigation of truth....the harmony of science and religion....equality of men and women....elimination of all kinds of prejudice....universal peace. Seem like fairly reasonable goals!

Onto the bus for the long journey to Agra. Short stop at the Sikandra palace on the way there as it is lit up at night and makes for a nice photo. Home of the sultan Sikander who based his capital here. Tiring day and up early tomorrow to see the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, so bite to eat then bed.

Mon 19th Nov - Major highlight approaching! The infamous 'Taj Mahal'. The ultimate dedication of one man's love for his wife. Built by the emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his second wife , Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. His hair apparently turned grey overnight! He started construction of the Taj the same year and it was completed in 1653. The shame was, as mentioned earlier, that shortly after its completion he was overthrown by his son and spent the rest of his days imprisoned in Agra fort, where he stayed for the rest of his life. Bloody kids eh! He could see his creation through the window of his cell, just to rub it in! He died in 1666 and was buried next to his wife Mumtaz.

Up at 5:30am to leave for 6am to see the sun rise over the Taj Mahal. Buses stop short of the Taj and free government electric buses take you the last stretch to the main entrance. 750 rupee entrance fee, but well worth it. For one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal sure does live upto expectations. It is stunning and beyond superlatives! A misty start to the day, but as the sun rises, the monument continues to take on a different colour. Many people trying to jostle for the perfect position to get that magic shot, but everyone is patient and in awe of this place. Inside the Taj is the mausoleum where Mumtaz and the shah are interned. No photos allowed inside and fairly dark due to the lack of lighting other than a small suspended light. The Taj sits on the bank of the river, so looking towards it is completely clear with nothing in the background. This has to be one of the places that everyone should visit at least once in their life.

Back to the hotel for breakfast and then off to the Agra Fort, on the bank of the Yamuna river. Begun by emperor Akbar in 1565 as a military structure, but further extended over the years by shah Jahan who turned it into a palace, with its 2.5km perimeter. It is a maze like city, with many styles of architecture. Well worth seeing whilst in Agra, even after being blown away by seeing the Taj Mahal earlier!

After lunch a visit to 'Itimad-ud-Daulah' tomb, also known as 'The Baby Taj'. Built by the daughter of a persian nobleman and completed In 1628, this was the first Mughal structure totally built from white marble, and the first to use the pietra dura technique of inlaying as used in the Taj Mahal.

A long day and knackered again, but what a day....firmly ticked off one of the seven wonders of the world. A major highlight that I have been looking forward to for many years.

Tue 20th Nov - Time to leave Uttar Pradesh and enter Rajasthan. But first a visit to the famous fortified ghost city of 'Fatehpur Sikri', 40km to the west of Agra. This used to be the capital of the Mughal empire until 1585 ruled by emperor Akbar. Due to various factors plus water shortage in the area, it was abandoned after Akbar's death. The Fatehpur city is enormous and is currently being renovated as with most of India's archaelogical sites. Locally quarried red sandstone is still being used and carved to the same detailed mughal design. To reduce pollution, normal transport is stopped short of the site and government provided CNG (compressed Natural Gas) buses used for the final trip to the site.

A long drive afterwards to Jaipur, crossing the border into Rajasthan. There was a wedding procession en-route, so we stoped to watch for a while. Brightly coloured saris flooded the street and a fancy truck in from blurting out music.

Our accommodation for the next two nights is a lovely Rajasthan 'Haveli' in Jaipur. An Haveli is a very ornate traditional residence. Lots of sculpted archways and courtyards. 

Wed 21st Nov - Jaipur is known as the 'Pink city' although it is more terracotta colour. There has been an edict given to all shopkeepers to paint their shops pink by next year. First stop was the stunning 'Palace of the winds' or Hawa Mahal. This 5-storey building was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawaj 0ratap Singh so that the ladies could sit and watch the world go by and processions.

On to the 'Amber fort' 11km north of Jaipur and once the state capital. There is an option to get there on an elephant but there has been cause for concern about how these majestic animals are being treated so we decided to go by jeep. The architecture is superb with carved detail being used throughout. Of the many aspects to the building, I was taken by the 'hall of mirrors'. Beautiful detailed mosaic design with massas of mirrors incorporated plus area of coloured glass. Definitely a must visit.

A trip to an indian carpet workshop, where the average large carpet could take over 6mths to make. Every carpet was trimmed and washed 3 times to achieve the final hardwearing finish. Either wool, kashmir or silk versions were available in different qualities judged in knots per inch. The level of setail in the highest quality was incredible. But, at a pricetag of over 4,000 pounds for a rug, a bit beyond most budgets.

Next the Jantar Mantar 'Observatory' begun by Jai Singh in 1728. This is a fascinating collection of mammoth time and astrological pieces, all in stone and marble. It has the largest sundial in the world at 27m high and its shadow travels at 4m per hour. The Hindu religion places very high importance on peoples horoscope as part of the marriage system. The astrologer requires a detailed system to work out the suitability of two people who are proposing to marry. This site houses many structures that can accurately tell the time of day to 2 seconds and a lot of information about constellations.

The final sight of the day was the amazing ' City palace'. This stunning complex has had many additions over the years;and is a mix of rajasthani and mughal design. Sawai Madho Singh the 1st was a portly gent at 1.2m wide and weighed 250kg! The architecture is crisp in detail and the maharajah's current residence stands above the the main buildings in bright golden yellow to create a stunning appearance. A cycle rickshaw ride around the bazaars as it started to get dark, as this is when it starts to get interesting. I like to dig into sampling the wide array of street food snacks on offer, and usually the stallholders are happy to let you try stuff without buying, so you can eat for free if you try enough stalls! On the way back to the Haveli there were numerous wedding ceremonies in flow. Most happen at night and the atmosphere is electric. One procession after another where the groom, dressed in ornamented traditional outfit and turben, was riding either a decorated horse or elephant, surrounded by marching band and brightly lit fancy lighting (powered by mobile generator). Destination, a brightly lit venue all bedecked in dazzling detail ready for the procession. In one night they may have upto 850 marriages like this. Apparently, in Delhi a record figure of 20,000 marriages in one evening! Why you may ask? After Dewali, the hindus believe the gods are awake and it brings good luck to marry soon afterwards. The months of november and december are very busy months! Back at the Haveli and later on, the conclusion of many wedding ceremonies was visible across the night sky with a wonderful display of fireworks. A really magic time to have been here, with the haveli illuninated in decorative lighting itself.

Indian marriages :- the matrimonials section of the local newspaper gives details of men and women available for marriage. Details of caste, looks, occupation, horoscope and allsorts of other info are given. The parents organise a meeting with a prospective bride's parents and if it looks possible to go ahead then the boy/girl are allowed to meet to see if they like each other. A horoscope check is done and must meet a high proportion of the 26 factors on which the compatibility check is made. If it looks set to go ahead then the girl's parents pay an agreed dowry to the boys parents. The atrologer sets the date of the marriage! They are allowed to go on a date before the marriage. On the wedding day, there is an exchange of garlands followed by a dinner for the invited family/guests, after which many leave and the immediate close people stay for the final ceremony of the 7 circles around the holy fire. Part of the role the girl accepts is to look after the husband's parents! The principles of belief are all sound and divorce rate is less than 10%, so it has a lot in its favour. Here speaks a voice of experience! United we stand, divided we fall....Trust is a must! Legal age for marriage is 18 for the girl and 21 for the boy.

Off to see another bollywood movie in the evening called 'Om Shanti Om'. Usual hyperacive mix of dancing and fun storyline but with a twist that wasn't hard to work out, even though couldn't understand a word. I had treated myself to a set of 'Kurti pyjamas' today, so dressed up indian style for the movie. This is a 2-piece outfit of long smock style top with embroidered design and very baggy fitting trousers. Very smart and cool. It's been an exhausting day with information overload, but very interesting.

Thu 22nd Nov - Bye to the superb Haveli we have been staying in, and off to the 'Kuchaman fort' today, which is where we are spending the night. After a manic day like yesterday, it's a pleasure to spend a few hours travelling to catch up on stuff. On the way, went through one of India's largest marble producing areas so stopped at a factory to see the large blocks being cut into slabs. The range of colours available is vast and prices are cheap at around $25 per sq mtr. Blocks first go through a facing machine to establish the first face, and are cut into 20 or so like a loaf of bread. One surface of each slab is then polished.

Typical hospitality reigns here, so first stop on the approach to Kuchaman fort was at a beautifully ornate building to be presented with marigold garlands plus the red mark on the forehead and a drink. To get up to the fort means changing over to jeeps in the town as the ascent is too steep for normal transport. In fact, the hairpin bends are so tight, the jeep had to go up in reverse in parts. Wow! This place was awesome. Normal cost 5,000 rupees a night! It isn't in the guidebooks so doesn't attract many tourists, hence a bit more exclusive. The fort, which used to be the maharaja's residence, covers a vast area and commands a superb view over the area. The usual presence of monkeys (black faced Langurs), adorning the perimeter walls posing for photos. The fort has a few noteable features. There is an incredibly opulent 'Hall of mirrors'. Ceiling, archways, walls, ornately inlaid with mirror and goldware. Dazzling is an understatement. One of the rooms looks very inconspicuous from the ouside, but houses the most detailed paintings from the Karma Sutra. No natural or artificial lighting in the room which was surprising, so you have to get really close to study them....honestly! The images.....very interesting indeed!

Went for a dip in the indoor swimming pool, which has the most interesting décor....women in various states of nudity all over the ceilings and walls. I like this place!

Almost bought a turban today but thought that a step too far...close one!

Dinner was on an open balcony area with a commanding view of the area and clear view for miles. Served by rajasthani waiters in very gracious style and superb food. Entertainment provided by rajasthani live band playing a variety of traditional instruments. Got dragged up to dance a couple of times. I must admit that this music is a bit erratic and not that musical. A bit of a din really. Sat out on the balcony watching the tiny bats. The range and quality of the accommodation provided on this tour has so far been superb. This is the balance of going independent or on a tour. There is no way I would be in this fort if I was travelling independent, as I wouldn't even know about it. The downside is that being chauffeured around in a minibus isn't my idea of seeing the 'real' india. On the other hand, I have been doing some independent travel and will be doing plenty more, so this is a break from having to think about how to get around and see Rajasthan in a bit of style. Rajasthan should be done in some style to get the most from it.

Fri 23rd Nov - Today promises to be one of those milestones I had been really looking forward to. Every year around late November or to be precise - in the month of Kartika, the 8th month of the hindu lunar calendar, Pushkar hosts a camel traders fair timed for Kartik Purnima (full moon). Upto 200,000 people and 50,000 camels converge here! The main trading commences about a week before the fair, so by the time we get there the more bizarre aspects of the fair should be in flow. This promises to be a really unique experience and is the main reason why so many travellers come to Rajasthan at this time of year, so it will be chaos. That should add to the atmosphere hopefully. Early start to make the 3hr or so journey by road. Just to make the occasion a bit more special, we are staying in tents at a campsite about 700m from the centre of Pushkar. These were no ordinary tents either....complete with showers, proper beds, electric lighting and gold clothed chairs for sitting out and admiring the view. An awesome vegetarian lunch in a grand tent and then off to the fair! It's a hot one today, in the 30's.

Well, the fair lived up to expectations...chaotic...sensory overload....sellers of every kind.....thousands of camels and horses decoratively adorned for the occasion. Plenty of rides on offer either on camel back or in various types of cart. There was going to be a camel race at 3pm but it hadn't materialised by 5pm despite the printed programme and tannoy announcements. Typical India! We did get a parachute display though and helicopter flypast. This is one of those places you just stand and take it all in as there is so much going on it's an amazing atmosphere. There was also a funfair on site with ferris wheels. The indians do everything at fast pace and full volume, so deafening.

The sunset over the site was stunning....masses of camels by sunset is a surreal sight. Off to the Brahman temple along with what seemed the whole of India. This is the only temple in India dedicated to Brahma. Shoehorned in and then go with the flow until it naturally spits you out the other end. Next In the sensory chain was a visit to the 'Pichola lake' ghats. Devout hindus believe it is essential to visit Pushkar at least once in their lifetime. This is stunning at night, with candles floating on the lake as pilgrims carry out Pooja and bathe in the lake from the many ghats around the perimeter. I was approached by a brahman so did pooja too. Presented with a platter containing red, yellow, white dyes and rice. Annointed on the forehead as part of the process. Very symbolic process involving the wishing of good karma on your family, children and friends (note for the record...i'm not religious, but for a moment wished my children a happy future and good karma....boy do I miss them man), followed by scattering the remainders on the lake. They do try to push you into making a substantial finantial contribution to the brahmans and get a bit stroppy when you plead poverty! They tell you of course that it is bad karma if you don't part with the cash. Ended up with him giving me free karma. Tried the poor traveller routine, so think that might have done the trick?

Pushkar during the festival is incredible, full of activity everywhere, so great time to have come. Back to the Vivré camp site for dinner. Entertainment first with a superb dance troupe showing off traditional rajasthani dance. The young girl dancers are so fit, fealt like coverting to hinduism on the spot! Got up to boogie along with them! The local rhum was flowing too freely and was nissed as a pute before long. Great meal befitting of the excellent standard of the site and the group were in flow, so fun had by all. What an amazing day....again! The past week has been awesome, with one amazing experience after another. Too much to take in to be honest, so need to slow down but no sign of a let up.

Sat 24th Nov - Up early again to see Pichola lake in daylight and the pilgrims going through their washing and pilgrimage rituals. There are 52 ghats around the lake so you can imagine the sight of thousands of indian people in multi-coloured dress is an incredible sight. Today is the main day of the festival being full moon tonight. The only downside of being here has been the terrible dust that hangs in the air, churned up by the high volume of people and four-legged/wheeled transport. It is actually quite choking and my throat was suffering as a result.

Time to move on as a day or so is enough here before my health really starts to suffer. Off to Khejarala where we stayed at another fort. This one was built in 1705 and is in the process of being renovated. The town has the feel of having never seen a tourist, as we were mobbed as we walked around the town....well, both streets and they are small ones. The quiet was welcome after the noise and bustle of Pushkar. There was a give away that some tourists must have passed this way, as the little english the kids knew were such endearing phrases as....you give me two dollar....can I have your watch! The americans have a lot to answer for!

In the evening, dinner on the terrace of the fort.

I know that it is almost impossible with independent travel to get these kinds of experience, but the cost is way above my normal budget, so I wouldn't choose them anyway on my own. For 1 night's accommodation in this kind of place at 5,000 rupees or so, I can survive for nearly a week inclusive of travel costs!

Sun 25th Nov - Moving on to walled city of  Jodhpur on the edge of the Thar desert for a brief visit. There isn't much to see in Jodhpur itself apart from the Sardar market with its main feature of a nice clocktower at its centre. The market's speciality is spices and sellers fall over themselves for your business as you pass. Jodhpur is known as the 'Blue city'. The old part has a high percentages of its houses painted a nice pastel blue, which is more noticeable from a distance than close up.

Overlooking the city is the awesome 15th century  'Mehrengarh Fort', which is still run by the maharajah. This is built atop a 125m high hill and is quite imposing from the city. They have thought of the tourist here and provide a lift to the top and an audio guide for each of the areas of interest. A really good museum with sections on all aspects of the raj era. A nice section showed the many designs of 'Palanquins' used by the Raj's. These are the carriages in which they were carried from place to place by their 'punka-wallahs'. Also many versions of 'Howdahs', which are the seats for carrying people on elephants. One great aspect of the fort is it offers a superb view of the area and it is easy to see why Jodhpur is called the Blue city from this height.

A quick stop at the 'Umaid Bhawan Singh palace, sometimes also called the 'Chittar' palace, which was designed by the president of the British Royal Institute of Architects for the maharajah. Begun in 1929 and took 15yrs to complete and took 3000 workers to do it. Apparently, it was a job creation exercise at a time of severe drought. His maharajah successor still lives in part of it, but the rest has now also been opened as an exclusive hotel. To book a room you have to apply a year or so in advance! The nightly room tariff - a cool $375 for a basic, upto $3,500 for the best suite!

Tonight is another one of those slummin it nights! Stayed at the Jhalamand palace hotel. Tucked away in a great little village without mass tourism. Walkabout in the village is like being a celebrity, getting mobbed for photographs, everyone wanting to get into contact. Really friendly people and lovely experience.

Mon 26th Nov - About 4hrs to drive to Ranakpur and the white marble Jain temple, that contains 29 halls supported by 1444 pillars with no two the same! The main temple is the 'Chaumukha Mandir' or four-faced temple built in 1439. This tour has been a succession of wow factors. This site has been another one. The detail is stunning and I never cease to be amazed by the detailed craftmanship that goes into the construction of some of the temples. The last Jain temple I went to was in Ernakulam near Cochin and that was a fairly plain design. This one is the other extreme.

Stayed at the Ranakpur hill resport in the Aravalli hills, which is normally just a stop for tourist buses on their way to Udaipur, but is also convenient for the local temple.

In the evening we had a party to signify nearing the end of this tour. The group has been great and the tour leader Raj, a superb example of how a tour leader should be. A gracious character who cannot do enough for you. Even supplied the 'cocktail' which was the rum and coke mix that blows your head apart. Went to bed with a bit of a bad head....second time in a week....need to go into detox shortly to recover!

Tue 27th Nov - On the way to Udaipur a visit to Kumbhalgarh fort, built in the 15th century, with walls 33km long and 25m wide in parts. This is apparently the 2nd longest wall in the world after the great wall of China. That need checking? The fort is a marvel of construction and occupies an incredible location with superb views. There is an odd story that we were told about the maharajah's method of destroying the opposition. There was a desparate food shortage and he had control over what was available. He fed them mangos which apparently, if taken in excess, cause cholera in the gut, which they all died from. Strange method but apparently true!

The journey here and also onwards to Udaipur goes through some really rugged and scenic countryside. Stopped briefly at what they call a 'passion wheel'. What it is, is a means of dragging the water up from a well by cow. The cows walk around in circles all day turning a gear which operates a pulley system that have small buckets attached. These raise the water into a trough at the top for subsequent distribution. The same method can be found in other countries. Not sure about the name?

Stopped not far from the main 'Lal Ghat' area of Udaipur, opposite the Swaroop lake.

Wed 28th Nov - Tour of the city in the morning. The city palace is massive and the highlight of Udaipur. Sat next to lake 'Pichola' it occupies a great position. Unfortunately, a charge is levvied on taking photos so didn't botther. Anyway, seen that many palaces lately, whilst superb, I wasn't too bothered by collecting more piccy's. A quick visit to a temple in town then onto the Sahelion-ki-bari gardens, which are really nice.

The rest of the day was sorting out travel plans for forthcoming weeks and getting trains booked. I messed up on one plan I had....booked a train to a national park to then find that I couldn't get out of there for ages as all transport out was fully booked. So many ways to get tripped up. Anyway, if the new plan works then should be in for a nice time over the next few weeks. Watch this space....

Thu 29th Nov - Did a boat trip around lake Pichola which stopped off for a look around Jagmandir island. This is more an exclusive hotel, most of which you cannot look around, but it was worth going there.

Boarded train 2964 at 18:30 to Delhi with the rest of the group, but I'm getting off at an earlier station at Mathura junction to catch a train to Jhansi. This is goodbye to another group of folks and off on my own for a while.

Tags: Sightseeing




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