i can't claim to be a prolific traveller but i like alternative holidays, lying on a sunbed is boring. i want to be seeing amazing things, experience the culture, meet interesting people, be a bit outside my normal comfort zone, do things i've never done before, and if there's a story to tell i want to remember it, so the notes and observations i make on each trip can now be read here by anyone who has the patience.

Delhi and Rajasthan

Delhi, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Agra
November 12th, 2012
Adventuring in India with a backpack, a rough plan and an open mind
Day 1 - Delhi

If I said our first day in India included homeless street children, queuing for train tickets, dodging fireworks in the street, getting lost, hassle from touts and beggars and surviving on 3 hours sleep then you'd probably reply "I thought you were on holiday?!",  well I missed out the worst parts, they were the highlights. Three hours sleep was all we had time for when we arrived in the early hours of the morning at the strangely named 'Hotel Cottage Yes Please' but Delhi has a gift for keeping you awake and we don't want to begin our trip by spending all day in bed.....

Started things off with an alternative city tour led by ex street children.  The Salaam Baalak Trust is a shelter for homeless street children.  We walked the backstreets of New Delhi, heard the stories of children's struggles living on the streets and met the children staying at the shelter.  The children jump around wanting to play and have their photo taken with bursts of laughter when they see there picture on the camera screen.  We stay around for a while, play with the children, make a donation to the charity and then go and get some dinner with a German couple we met on the walk.  The trust is really doing great things, protecting and educating the children, giving them prospects and direction in life. It's an unusual but very grounding and inspiring way to start our trip.
children at Salaam Baalak Trust
Afternoon we went to the train station to try and book tickets on a sleeper train to Udaipur on Wednesday night, fast forwarding several odd and confusing hours and yes we eventually got that sorted.  As the day goes on the frequency of firecrackers exploding in the streets increases rapidly due to the Diwali festival starting tomorrow, the streets, houses and shops are being decorated with coloured lights and chains of marigolds.

We grab a tuk tuk at night to Connaught Place and spend most of the night getting lost looking for a restaurant who's location is only known by our smart arse guide book and made much more difficult to find by having closed down.  After eating somewhere else that hadn't closed down we got back to Parahganj for a beer in a place called 'my bar', some weird goings on in there but unfortunately I'm too exhausted to elaborate and must get some sleep ready for a full day tomorrow.

Things I noticed today;
- If the roads aren't too busy then it's absolutely fine to jump red lights at speed as long as you toot your horn a bit (as per our taxi from the airport)
- India has massive ants

Tues 13th Nov
Old Delhi, Diwali, rickshaws and fireworks

Several times yesterday we asked people "where's the best place to go for Diwali?", the answer we got every time was along the lines of "it's everywhere, its happening all around", an answer that seemed unhelpful at the time but now it makes sense.  Everywhere we've been tonight there's no particular meeting place but the streets are full of people and ablaze with fireworks absolutely everywhere.  Children are throwing fire crackers around, rockets are whizzing up inbetween the traffic and showers of sparks fizzing on every street corner, the noise is incredible! Its like a happy war zone on acid.  The local children are loving it, everywhere you look children are crouched over fireworks in the road with traffic hurtling towards them, but it must be safe because their parents are making them do it!

Rewinding to this morning we started the day getting the metro to Old Town Delhi.  The metro is modern, clean and organised but then the moment we step out of the station its instantly back to noisy, dusty, chaotic streets.  Went to the Red Fort, a huge red stone fort with massive unpassable walls stretching into the distance.  We took an audio headphone guide, pretty good actually even if we do look geeky using it.  From the fort got a rickshaw to the Jama Masjid mosque, the biggest mosque in India, its free to enter but 300 rupees to take a camera in which roughly translated means locals-free, tourists-300.  The mosque is impressive and amazing views across Delhi from climbing to the top of one of the sky scraping towers.  Bec has to have a blanket wrapped around her to hide her shoulders and arms and I'm made to wear a lovely sarong to cover my legs.  The rickshaw driver has waited for us and is very keen to take us to the spice markets, we go along with it and the rickshaw ride now evolves into a guided tour on foot which turns out to be quite useful as we would definitely have got lost otherwise.  We perhaps rather stupidly let him lead us up to a quiet 5 storey rooftop which looked perfect for getting mugged, kidknapped or murdered but luckily he just wanted to show us a bird's eye view of the busy markets as part of his little tour.  As anticipated the agreed 50 rupee fare has now inflated significantly and I had to argue rather than haggle my way down from however many hundred rupees he was demanding.
Red Fort, Old Delhi
Later on via metro and tuk tuk we reached an ancient site called Qutb Minar, eerie ruins surrounding an imposing 73 metre high tower, its all the more spooky as its now going dark and the place it subtly lit with atmospheric spot lights.  We stopped somewhere in South Delhi for food only to find everywhere was closed for Diwali and random firework displays on the go everywhere.  The fireworks here seemed crazy but turned out to be tame compared to the wild party when we got back to Paharganj near our guesthouse. The firework frenzy I tried to describe before kept pace all through the night with no sign of anyone running out of fire crackers anytime soon.  Stood in the street watching one elaborate mid traffic display a stray rocket fired right at us and nearly gave me a permanent centre parting, you may think I exaggerate but the same rocket smashed a car windscreen parked 2 metres behind us! close one!

Things I noticed today;
- Contrary to what I was always told at home its absolutely fine to go back and pick up fireworks that haven't gone off or even better to set them off in your hands.
-Several times today Indian people have asked to pose for a photo with me, don't know why, do I look famous?
-I need to haggle better, think we're probably paying double for everything
- On the metro there are women only carriages

Nov 14th 2012
Lotus Temple, Hari Krishnas and a sleeper train
Delhi then sleeper train to Udaipur

Somehow managed a solid 8 hours sleep despite the streets sounding like war torn Beruit with all the Diwali fireworks.  Went out in the morning to the Bahai Lotus Temple, the temple welcomes people of all religions on the principle that "humanity is one race".  The enormous temple is built from white marble in the shape of a lotus flower and surrounded by water pools and vast pristine gardens. Inside the temple it's completely calm and silent even when it's full with hundreds of people, we make a fairly lacklustre attempt at meditating before we move on.
Bahá'í House of Worship

We could see a weird looking temple on a hill not too far away and decided we had time to go and investigate.  We had a nice little walk through some parks and discovered some kind of Hari Krishna themed world, as well as the temple there's shops, shows and films providing fun for all the family!  Inside the temple we are reminded that Hari Krishnas know how to party! they don't need to throw firecrackers about like the Hindus, they're more interested in throwing themselves into a deep cymbal bashing trance and dancing like they're wired up to the electrical mains.

Back at Paharganj in the afternoon to fill ourselves with curry and get ready to go and catch a sleeper train to Udaipur.  Got onto the Chetak Express in good time, its nothing flash but perfectly comfortable, reasonably clean and doesn't appear to be infested with bugs like a sleeper train we travelled on in Vietnam a couple of years ago.  Its a very long train with loads of carriages stretching into the distance some of which do look grim with no lighting and crammed full of people.  Definitely feel glad I didn't go for the cheaper tickets, we paid about £12 and have an air conditioned berth, a bed, clean sheets, pillow and blanket for a 12 hour journey.  relative luxury!

things I noticed today;
-at the busiest metro stations orderly queues await the next train, when one arrives and the doors open and things descend to a mad rugby scrum charging onto the already crowded train defeating the object of the polite queuing before.
- not sure that Delhi belly exists, I think people just say it because it rhymes.  I've tried lots of different food and lots of curry but everything seems fine!

November 15th
A temple, a palace, a lake and a mouse

Jumped off the train after reasonable although quite broken sleep, Bec says she hardly slept at all.  From the station got a tuk tuk to the Dream Heaven Guesthouse, sounded good in one of our guidebooks.  Unfortunately the guesthouse was full but we stayed to have breakfast and waited in hope that someone would check out of their room, which luckily they did.  It was worth waiting for, the room is nice, the open air restaurant looks down over the river and the palace across the lake.  Its really hot and sunny here, it was warm in Delhi but the sun hid behind the smog, by comparison the air here is like pure oxygen.
Got out in the morning and visited the Jagdish Temple which is an old Hindu temple adorned with amazingly detailed carvings set in all around its stone walls.  As with most places like this there's always a few people trying to make a few rupees from passing tourists, there's the weird looking Sadhus sitting on the steps who want paying if you point a camera within a 180 degree radius of them, there's the people who want paying to look after your shoes whilst you walk barefoot around the temple, then there was the fella who followed us around feeding us friendly information about the temple motivated only by his own enthusiasm and goodwill but also it turns out just happened to have an art gallery across the road that he insists we must visit.  After leaving the temple the man tried to usher us into his gallery but knowing we were set for a hard sell when the gallery became a shop we walked on by much to his annoyance.

We went over to the City Palace next, a big hilltop palace alongside the lake.  The huge palace and its grounds look impressive and imposing from outside but once inside its all a bit faded and consists mainly of a repetitive drawn out museum display that after a while eveyone is walking straight past following the route to the exit.  I have to admit my enthusiasm was dwindling partly due to the hordes of school trips packing every room and blocking all the narrow doorways.
One thing that is still amusing me is all the photo requests from Indian people.  Becci always declines but I'm always up for it, I posed today with a whole family who seemed quite excited to have a real genuine Englishman in their photo!
We took a boat trip around the lake and then headed back in the afternoon as I had started to feel quite unwell.  Looks like my previous comments abouts 'Delhi belly' being a myth were somewhat premature!
We went to a nearby restaurant for tea where we discovered they had a bit of a mouse problem, by the end of the night everyone else knew too due to Bec's cartoon style Shrieks.  What Bec thought was a mouse was actually several mice but I thought best not to say or else Bec might still be there now stood on a chair screaming.

16th November
out of action

Been really sick today and have spent most of the day in bed.  Tried to ignore it this morning and hired bikes to go cycling around a nearby lake, this culminated in me spewing up pancakes at the side of the lake and returning to the guesthouse to spend the day sleeping inbetween dashes to the toilet.  Bec had to keep herself amused for the day and went for a massage, had henna on her hands and dined solo.

17th November 2012
incredible fort, astounding temple and onwards to Jodhpur
Udaipaur to Jodhpur

Arranged a private car and driver for the 250km trip to Jodhpur to enable us to stop off at some interesting places en route and also because I still feel ill and thought it would be more comfortable.  About 80km north of Udaipur we stopped at Kumbhalargh Fort, a huge fort up in the hills who's walls stretch 32km around its perimeter! As well as the main fort complex there's hundreds of temples inside the walls.  To build something this vast on this terrain must had either taken a very very long time or whoever was in charge had very very big whips.
inside the Jain Temple at Ranakpur
Next stop was a village called Ranakpur to see a 600 year old Jain temple which I can only describe as astounding!  In fact I can't describe it as anything, been trying to think but there are no words in my vocabulary that do it justice and I'm sure my photos won't either.  The large temple is built from marble with many domes and turrets all carved in intricate detail, inside there's something like 1500 marble pillars all with different, unique and insanely detailed carvings that leave you wondering, well I'm not going to bother carrying on, just go and see for yourself otherwise you won't understand.
The rest of the journey is about 170km to Jodhpur, its dark when we get there but we still get a feel of the place with its quaint narrow streets and blue buildings.  Reached a guesthouse called Singhvi's Haveli who I'd phoned ahead to book a room yesterday, they only have a room available for one night but it's a really nice place so we'll keep our fingers crossed that someone cancels or checks out tomorrow.

Things I've noticed today;
- Latest news on the Delhi belly is I think things have thickened up a tiny bit..... if you know what I mean.
- The Jain temple in Ranakpur was incredible and astounding, I've not seen the Taj Mahal yet but considering its renowned as a wonder I suspect it will look like a garden shed in comparison after seeing a real wonder such as this, however, lets keep it a secret, it's better that way.

Sunday 18th November

Had to check out of our room as they are booked up for tonight but we got them to arrange another place for us called Juna Mahal which is also nice and very clean but a bit more expensive.  We decided to travel to Pushkar tomorrow and booked a ticket for a long distance bus and phoned ahead to book a room for a couple of nights at the Milkman Guesthouse mostly because it has a quirky name (which is a bit like the way women choose horses to bet on at the races).
For today though we set off to Mehrangarh Fort, another huge fort, this one looking very imposing on a rocky hilltop right beside the city looking down to the vast expanse of blue flat roofed buildings.  A regular occurrance again today were the photo requests with Indian people, that's them asking me, not the oher way round, I'm getting confused, I thought I was the tourist!  Bec got her palm read by Mr Sharma, the fort's resident astrologer and palmist who was surprisingly accurate considering he was making it all up on the spot.  The fort was really interesting and kept us occupied for several hours, amazing views over the city too.
photo by John Brand
In the afternoon we grabbed a tuk tuk to the clock tower in Old Town where all the markets are, there's lots of food stalls stacked with fruit and veg, spice stalls with heaped dishes of every spice imaginable and more, and then stalls selling embroided materials and the like.  There are cows wandering through the markets one of which I inadverently got too close to and headbutted forcefully out of the way, not long after another one took a little run at Becci but luckily didn't quite hit her

Things I noticed today;
- An elephant ambling amongst the traffic on a busy, narrow street.
- A nearby mosque has big warbling chanting sessions loud enough to hear all around but just to make sure we can hear it they blast it out over loudspeakers at around 10pm and then again at 4am just to remind you they're still there.

November 19th
Jodhpur to Pushkar - please remove your shoes!

Time to leave Jodhpur, its been a brief visit and maybe we should have stayed longer because it's a really likeable place that exudes character, but there's other places to see so on we go to Pushkar.....
Early morning we get to what we're told is the bus stand although it doesn't particularly look like one and show our ticket to the guys on the bus who hardly speak any English, and then sit down without having really cleared up whether the bus is going to the right place.  After travelling half an hour or so Bec was panicking that we were going to end up in an obscure town in the middle of nowhere and I was desperately trying to self teach Hindi so I could read the road signs.  I got up to try and confirm we were going where we wanted and got what seemed to be a yes but I certainly wasn't 100% sure we were..... maybe 70% sure.  I sat back down and told Bec "Yes we're definitely on the right bus, yes I'm 100% sure" and 5 hours later uncrossed my fingers and exclaimed "See I told you!, you should trust me more!".  We jumped off the bus at a place called Ajmer and got a tuk tuk the remaining 30km to Pushkar.  There was a line of tuk tuks waiting for the buses and one of the drivers ushered us to his and eagerly bundled our bags into the back, a drawn out argument ensued on the price of the fare, he was asking for 2000 rupees and all the other drivers were insisting it was the usual price, I haggling for ages to get a price of 1500 which although it was 30km along a hilly road I was annoyed that I'd let us get ripped off and not gone in search of a local bus.
Pushkar is a fairly small quirky town, feels more remote and rural, and is sat next to a lake surrounded by hills.  Down by the river there are steps leading down to the water from various temples to bathing ghats where people bath in the holy waters of the lake.  We soon discover that it is hugely insulting to wear shoes near the water's edge after several people shout at us, "this is a holy place! you must take off your shoes!", I promptly remove mine but Bec has some cuts on one of her feet and tried to get away with keeping her shoes on much to the disgust of most people we walked past so she eventually had to relent.
bathing ghats
Later in the afternoon we wandered the markets, arranged a camel safari for tomorrow, ate Tibetan and arranged bus tickets for our next leg of the trip on to Agra.  Pushkar is relatively quite laid back, not much traffic and the place seems to belong as much to he animals as the people, there's plenty of cows, camels, goats, monkeys and pigs wandering about freely as well as the usual stray dogs of course.  Seems a cool place, good vibe and mostly no getting hassled apart from a couple of specific areas.  There's also a ban on meat, fish and eggs here due to the 'holiness' of the area so being a vegetarian here couldn't be easier for us.

Tuesday 20th Nov.
camel fair, camel riding and a creepy guesthouse

Up in the morning to go camel riding.  Bear in mind this is the one thing Becci wanted to do most on our whole trip when I say as soon as she mounted her camel and it stood up she was shouting hysterically "I don't like it! I want to get off!".  Our guide took the reigns of Bec's camel and walked ahead reassuring her, I was given the reigns to mine and expected to know how to ride it,  I sat between it's humps flapping about cluelessly whilst Bec and the guide disappeared down the track.  This wouldn't be so bad but Pushkar camel fair is currently in full swing which means we're surrounded by thousands of camels and hundreds of camel owners and festival goers many of whom are shouting out advice in Hindi to the dumb Englishman who can't get his camel to budge.  Eventually someone gave my camel a good shunt from behind, right then it's moving, so now what do I do?  Tried to think what horsey type people do, kick its sides and guide left and right with the ropes I think..... didn't really ever get the hang of it.  Toured around through the camel fair and across the desert tracks for a few hours, there's a real old world feel to this place, feels like we've travelled back in time.
Once dismounted from our trusty camels we wander around the camel fair, thousands of camels cover the hilly desert landscape with owners, buyers and festival goers buzzing about the place and many bizarre sideshows such as dancing horses and snake charmers.
Spent the afternoon eating, exploring and shopping in the markets.  Bec has suddenly become brilliant at haggling, her banter always gets about half the price they ask for so think I'll leave her to it from now on.
This morning we checked out of the guesthouse as we are getting an overnight bus to Agra tonight.  The lady at the guesthouse was offended that we didn't want to stay another night and claimed she had turned people away for our room tonight, I said I'd pay for two nights to keep the peace but she kept nagging on and on and on.  The Milkman Guesthouse is a faded and run down version of what probably used to be a pleasant guesthouse, the photos they have there show a freshly decorated, nicely furnished guesthouse with well kept gardens but it now has dirty walls, tatty furniture and dried up gardens.  Bec describes the place as 'creepy' and the strange family that run it certainly contribute to its weirdness.  There's the nagging women I already mentioned, the fella who looks slightly zombified and talks in an almost indecipherable gravely voice, the silent old women in the colourful sari  who potters about near the front door and the young lad who mimics all the guests behind their back.  I would liken the setting to a cheap horror movie, best to leave before things start to get sinister!

21st November 2012

Got to Agra ok on the overnight bus despite having nearly missed it last night.  Arriving in Agra we're instantly back to smoggy polluted streets just like many parts of Delhi but it seems worse here.
We've decided to go to the Taj Mahal early tomorrow morning after sunrise to beat the crowds and the day trippers.  So for today we get a tuk tuk and arrange to be driven around for the day starting at Agra fort.  Wandered around the fort for an hour or so, its not as impressive as the forts in Delhi or Jodhpur but there's enough to keep us occupied for a while.  Our driver is waiting for us and takes us to the Itimad-ud-Daulah tomb which is more conveniently nicknamed 'the baby Taj',  Bec says she likes it better than the actual real Taj Mahal.  Next went to Mehtab Bagh Park, some gardens across the river directly behind the Taj Mahal.  Its 100 rupees to enter but from what we can see inside looks not much different from the rest of the area so we take a free walk around and down a path to the river bank where there's some good views.
We ask the driver to take us to a restaurant but as he's driving he keeps slowing down and asking "shall I take you to the marble factory now?" and "I'll take you to the markets and the shopping bazaars now, yes?", we have to keep insisting "NO! we are hungry!" and eventually he takes us where we want.  We decide we've had enough of the tour and pay the driver.  Bit of food and meandering fills the rest of the day.

Thursday, November 21st
Taj Mahal was okay I suppose

At the Taj Mahal by about 7am to beat the crowds.  It's okay I suppose but I wouldn't say its a wonder of the world, I'll give it a 7/10.  Seen more impressive things here such as the Jain temple at Ranakpur or the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur but the Taj has its iconic status for whatever reason, probably because its made very photogenic due to its elevated base meaning it looks defined having only sky as background and also helped by a partly made up love story of a man who built it in tribute to his dead wife.  Very cynical today aren't I?
A funny sideshow its watching the habits of the photo taking tourists. Here's a few of my favourites;
- The 'Hoggers' who lay claim to the prime posing areas until they've got another perfect profile pic, anyone who dares trespass into this posing area risks shouts of "excuse me! we're taking a photo!", Bec tells me off when I start replying "look around, so is everyone else!".
- The 'Happy Clickers" who's mission is to snap anything and everything in sight with minimum thought and maximum speed just incase when they turn around everything has disintegrated including the Taj Mahal.
- 'Madam CUCO' decribes the middle aged women who are trying to look elegant and regal with this wonderful monument in the background.  Stand poised at 45 degree angle, swish of hair and then chin up, chest out (CUCO) and click.  Repeat several times at each good viewing point.
Later on went to Sadaar Bazaar, an area reputed to have more up market good quality restaurants and found a place called 'Vedic' which is certainly a nicer place than we've been used to maybe at the sacrifice of a bit of local charm but the food is good and well presented.
Went to buy some gifts and souveniers.  There's a row of shops all selling the same kind of stuff so we set each other a challenge of both going off to buy the same item and seeing who bargains the best price.  The item - a little carved marble tea light holder.  I went for the tactic of asking the price in several different places then going back to haggle in the ones with the best starting price, meanwhile Bec got charmed into a shop by a cheeky young boy then went for the tactic of getting a discount because we are friends.  The results are in and the scores are Becci 105 rupees, Jonny 70 rupees!
Just chilled out for the rest of the day, back to Delhi tomorrow.

23rd November
Back to Delhi

Finally boarded the Ujjaini Express from Agra to Delhi after it arrived 40 minutes late and then there was still no hurry.  The train staff get off onto the platforms at every stop, have a good chin wag, a smoke and a potter about and get the train moving when they're ready.  4 hour journey takes 6 hours.
Back in Delhi feels weird like we're back home but only one more day today then it's airport tomorrow morning and back to proper home.  As always just as we're about to leave I feel like I'm just getting into the way of life.  That's the thing with only travelling for two weeks, just get up to speed with money, getting about, do's and don'ts and favourite foods then all of a sudden its time to go.
We got the metro and set off for Humayan's Tomb, very impressive and without much debate we both agree its more impressive than the infinitely more famous Taj Mahal.  Anyway I won't start Taj bashing again, I mean its not that bad, I just have a problem with its wonder of the world status.  The tomb is built partly in white marble and partly in red sandstone giving it a distinctive appearance and is surrounded by neat gardens and water fountains whose pools are interlinked by water channels.
Later on we wander the main bazaar in Paharganj doing some gift shopping then go for a meal in a place called 'Club India' which is some of the best food we've had in weeks.  Met a Finnish girl in there and chatted over our meal.  Later we went for a last night drink in 'My Bar', there's definitely some kind of protection racket going on in there.  The place seems to be bossed by a gang of coked up bully boy meat heads and beneath the cool tunes and buzzy atmosphere there's a seedy undercurrent which feels uneasy but quite fascinating at the same time.  A couple of giant bottles of Kingfisher and we head back to pack our bags ready for the morning.

Sat 24th Nov.
entrepreneurial little beggars

Flying home today.
Only one thing to mention about today and that was in the taxi to the airport.  Since we've been here I've not given money to beggars and children because it encourages them to rely on begging as a way of life and also you don't know for sure if the money is spent on food or drugs or whatever else, so better to give food if you feel you want to give something.  Anyway during the taxi ride whilst we're stopped in traffic at a junction two children grab our attention, a little boy playing bongos with a little girl dancing and doing cartwheels, I had a pocket full of change which I wasn't going to be able to spend now anyway so I wound the window down and tipped it all into their hands much to their delight.  That's entrepreneurial I thought, bit of creative effort, not like the beggars who follow you around in the city just holding a hand out.  Okay by giving them money maybe I'm encouraging them to continue dancing in the middle of busy traffic but I thought they were cool.


Anonymous said...

enjoyed reading, very good work from crewes michael palin!

sam said...

this is great really enjoyed reading it, bringing back alot of memories

sprinch said...

thanks Sam and whoever anonymous is

R.O.B said...

To build something this vast on this terrain must had either taken a very very long time or whoever was in charge had very very big tits!

R.O.B said...

18th Nov: "There are cows wandering through the markets one of which I inadverently got too close to and headbutted forcefully out of the way"

Not sure I can condone a vegetarian going to India and headbutting cows (forcefully).

R.O.B said...

My conclusion- I would go to India as long as I didn't get ill, didn't have to haggle for things, didn't get pestered at all, didn't have to arrange my own travel and didn't have to sleep there... but the sightseeing and cultural stuff sounds pretty mint (apart from the Plain Jane Taj Mahal obviously).
R.O.B. (strummer)

Jonny Brand said...

think i may have been misquoted a bit there but yes go to India, things to do before you die.....get Delhi belly. you haven't lived unless you've had Delhi belly, it's great!

si said...

not sure about the delhi belly but a fascinating trip you had!

Anonymous said...

Great read & sounds like you both had a memorable trip. We are off on ours tomorrow & you have inspired me to keep a journal as well!