Monday 27th March Early morning train to Ahmedabad
The alarm went at 4.30 am, but I was already awake. At 5.30 we met the rest of the new group in the lobby. They were
John and Emily, a young couple from London who are off on a world tour
Eileen from Cork in Ireland, but living in Edinburgh
Shirley and her daughter Jennifer from Sydney
Favio and Mariela, a young couple from Argentina
We travelled by taxi to the railway station, where we soon got on to the train to Ahmedabad. There was some confusion over the seats, as the numbers were on the back of them. A porter had helped store our luggage, and we sat down to enjoy the 7 hour journey.
We travelled northwards out of Bombay, passing areas of slums and shanty towns and all kinds of other dwellings. It soon became light, but the tinted and dirty windows made it difficult to see out. Most of the time after that, we passed through rural countryside, stopping at several towns along the way.
We received very good service on the train - we were given a large bottle of water each, followed by tea/coffee and biscuits and a newspaper to read. This kept us occupied for much of the journey, as Indian papers are like British ones of the past, and are filled with interesting news. Music was played quietly over the speakers.
We were surprised to be given quite a large meal early on, which we didn’t need, as we had eaten the rest of the pizza and chapatti from last night. Later on, after we had just eaten bread (from the earlier meal) and banana, we were given soup and breadsticks, which was nice, but then a tray of curry, rice, chapattis and yogurt arrived!
A man had been sitting next to us for part of the journey, with his wife and small daughter Tamsin. We were working on the computer, and they were fascinated, and got talking. They said that they liked my blonde hair. We showed them the photos of Manolo on the computer. The husband was travelling to Leicester soon on business, his first trip to England.
We were now in the state of Gujarat, and arrived at Ahmedabad at 1.30.
We had a very smart bus to take us to our hotel, in the centre of the city. We had heard that Ahmedabad was a large, crowded city with much pollution and dreadful traffic problems, but certainly on our journey to the hotel it looked a pleasant, clean place. The station had been very clean. We filmed a couple of minarets, as they looked like ones that Adrian had postcards of, which his grandpa had sent Auntie Vi during the first world war.
After settling into our room, we took a tuk tuk with Mohamed the driver to visit the Ghandi museum. Gandhi had his Ashram (retreat) here. We drove through the chaotic traffic, photographing a camel pulling a cart as we sped along.
The ashram was very moving in its simplicity. Mohamed delighted in showing us around. Gandhi certainly lived a very frugal and simple life, and had only the bare necessities for survival.
Ghandi in his Ashram
There was a museum that seemed never ending, with captions written in about 10 different Indian languages and luckily English too. This told of different episodes in Gandhi’s life, but seemed to be rather haphazard. Nevertheless there were lots of his quotes which were good to read. Afterwards we bought a little book of them. Just after asking for it, I saw another, cheaper book, so I asked to swap it (I hadn’t paid for it). The woman was quite abrupt, and said no, she had written the receipt, so I had to have it!
Mohamed wanted to take us to see some temples on the way back, and we stopped first at a Jain temple called Hatheesingh. This had been carved from marble in 1848 and dedicated to Dharamanath, the 15th Jain tirthankar (great teacher). There were some beautiful carvings, and it was very attractive, but we could only photograph the outside. Here, and at the 2 mosques we visited afterwards, we had to remove our shoes before going in.
The first mosque was called Rani Rupmati’s Mosque, and had nice carvings outside. Men were lying about inside the mosque. To get to Sidi Saiyad’s Mosque we had to take our life in our hands, and brave dashing across the busy road. This mosque had beautifully intricate filigree carved ‘windows’.
The filigree ‘windows’ in Sidi Saiyad’s Mosque
Women were not allowed inside the mosque, but we managed some photos. This was lucky, as it was one which Adrian also had a postcard of. The mosque had once been part of the city walls, which still exist in places, but not just here.
We arrived back at our hotel at 5.30, it had been a great tour.
An hour later we met up with Vipul and the rest of the group to walk around the area. We returned to the last mosque we had visited - by now the sky was a pinky glow behind the beautiful screened windows. We walked on around the local area, through a Moslem back street, and ending at The House of Mangaldas Girdhardas - a heritage hotel which had once been a private dwelling, and later offices. We were able to see into a couple of the splendid rooms before enjoying a meal altogether in the restaurant downstairs (minus Vipul, who had gone to meet up with friends) of tasty local food. No drink though, as drink is banned in Ahmedabad (and the entire state of Gujarat) - a result of Gandhi’s influence!
We had managed to fight across the chaotic streets on our way, and now we all safely made our way back to our hotel.
Tuesday 28th March More mosques, a long bus trip, then fun in Udaipur
We were first down to breakfast, but still had to wait ages for our baked beans and scrambled egg! We weren’t leaving until 10.30, so set off by tuk tuk to visit some of the mosques that Adrian had photos of from his grandfather. We visited four - first was Ahmed Shah’s mosque, built in 1414, and with nice jalis (carved windows).
Next was Jama Masjid Mosque, built by Ahmed Shah in 1423. This was definitely one that Adrian had a postcard of. There was a central pool where the men bathed before and after praying. Women weren’t allowed here, but it was OK for me to visit.
We next stopped by what we think was called Sidi Bashir Mosque - one we had seen near the railway station yesterday. We thought that this was one of the postcards, but it only had one arch, not three. There were 2 minarets, looking just like the picture. I photographed some little children playing as we drove away.
Sidi Bashir Mosque
The last mosque we visited was Raj Babri Mosque, the shaking mosque. One of the minarets was missing from half way up, the result of an Englishman trying to find out how it worked! A man showed us around, and waited for his tip afterwards.
We haired back through the increasing traffic, and arrived back at the hotel at 10.20, where I had a rapid hair wash before leaving 10 minutes later!
We travelled by the posh bus to the place where we were catching the public bus from to Udaipur. We found a nice little supermarket nearby, where we bought lots of things, particularly snacks, before the bus left at 11.30.
The bus wasn’t air conditioned, but was better than we had expected. The windows were annoyingly high, but otherwise it was comfortable.
The road was good, as we travelled through flat, rural country. Often the road was lined with bougainvilleas at the sides or in the middle.
We stopped at about 2 o’clock for lunch at a local Indian restaurant, where we ate chapatti, potatoes and a veg dish which wasn’t spicy.
The countryside now became hilly and dry as we entered Rajasthan. We saw several camels pulling carts. The journey became rather tedious and hot, but we finally arrived at Udaipurat 4.45 and took tuk tuks to our hotel.
This was a lovely surprise, as besides being really attractive - rather Spanish or Mexican - there was a swimming pool! This is the first hotel on the whole trip which has had a pool. We soon all made our way there and enjoyed a cooling dip, followed by a beer, sitting on the grass.
The other thing of interest here was a French family - a young couple with 2 young children - who have been travelling the world in a motorhome for the past 4 years. (we had seen the motorhome outside and wondered about it) They have visited USA, South America, Australia, SE Asia, and are now on their way home. Adrian couldn’t wait to get chatting to them. They were a delightfully inspiring couple, and the boy and girl (aged about 8 or 9) played so happily together all the time. We came away with fresh ideas of places to try to visit.
Beside the pool there was a large tortoise/turtle, which added to the fun.
At 6.30 we set off once again, travelling by tuk tuks to the museum beside the lake. There was a display of Indian dancing here, which we had come to see, but first of all we enjoyed the beautiful situation, with lights enhancing the wonderful old buildings, and reflected in the water.
We sat on mats, or on benches, to watch the display of Indian dancing, which is put on for the tourists. The setting was quite magical, so we settled down to enjoy an hour of colourful costumes, as the ladies performed a variety of different dances, accompanied by drums and percussion. A man gave an impressive string puppet display, but the star of the show was the last performer - a lady of advancing years, who moved around balancing a large china pot on her head. A second pot was added, and then more, until she had 9 towering pots. She cavorted about, standing on a glass, then the side of a dish, followed by sword edges, and lastly on broken glass!
When the show was over, we all traipsed up many stairs to enjoy a meal on the rooftops, looking out over the lit-up lake. We even had fireworks! It was a magical evening - the food,tandoori chicken/chicken and cashew nuts with naan bread - was good, and the beer and conversation added to the fun. Afterwards we travelled back to the hotel by tuk tuks.
Wednesday 29th March Glorious palaces in Udaipur
We breakfasted in the lovely setting downstairs, overlooking a deep well, and looking through to the pool.
We all left at 9 o’clock with Vipul and a guide, to visit the City Palace. As we walked up the road to the palace, everywhere was so photogenic! We first visited the Jagdish Temple, an Indo-Aryan temple built by Maharaja Jagad Singh in 1651, which apart from having a black stone image of Vishnu, had tiers of delightfully intricate carvings.
Carvings on Jagdish Temple
We then spent a couple of hours touring the enormous and magnificent City Palace. I took dozens of photos outside, but declined the 200 rupee fee to photograph inside the palace. This was perhaps cutting off my nose to spite my face, but did mean that the number of photos I took remained in tens, not hundreds!
The palace was rich in treasures of many kinds. There were beautiful mosaics everywhere, stunning inlay glass work, intricate detailed paintings that you could study for hours (they reminded us of the ‘where’s Wally’ pictures in their minute detail). There were lovely carvings, portraits and other artefacts. It was beauty, wherever you looked, and all the time there were wonderful views over the countryside and Lake Pichola, through the many attractive arches in the pale yellow sandstone.
Udaipur City Palace
It was lunchtime when we finished our visit, so we all walked back down past the hotel to the restaurant by the Maharaja’s Vintage car collection. The restaurant served thali meals (for 75p), and we all tucked into these. Adrian managed a quick visit to the cars - each one was behind doors which were opened up so that he could see. He had to miss the last few of the 22 cars, as it was time to jump into tuk tuks to head for our afternoon boat trip on the lake. This was pleasant and restful, with glorious views all around. We stopped on JagmandirIsland, where we sat in the smart outdoor restaurant and I supped mango juice. We were especially enjoying this trip, as the lakes have been dry for 4 years, and only filled with water after heavy rain last July.
It was now gone 3 o’clock. We walked back to our hotel, stopping to look into a store, where we ended up buying far more than we intended.
While Adrian tried, and finally succeeded, in updating our website at an internet café, I had a swim in the pool and a pleasant lie in the sun. Adrian returned for his swim, before we set off on the evening’s activities.
At 7 o’clock we set off with Mariela & Favio and Eileen in tuk tuks to go back to the palace for the sound and light show. We sat in comfortable seats in front of the palace while the history of Mewar, a region of Rajasthan, was relayed, as various bits of the palace were lit up. We may not have grasped much of the story, and the situation was quite inducive to dozing, but the location and the lovely temperature made it a memorable experience. Bats flew overhead, pigeons stood on guard and stars shone above.
The performance lasted for an hour, and we then set off to find somewhere to eat. Our choice was a good one - the top floor of a hotel near the palace, where we sat cross legged (if we could) in a window recess. We had views down over the water and all the lights. We were the only people there, and enjoyed a pleasant meal, washed down with beer. It was great fun.
Enjoying a beer from our lofty position
When we decided to leave, Favio and Mariela were going to walk back, but suddenly the whole place was plunged into darkness. We had managed to locate a tuk tuk, and they joined us just as we were about to jump in. Our crazy driver got the 5 of us to squeeze in, as he madly manoeuvred the dark streets back to our hotel. It had been a great evening!
Thursday 30th March A Jain Temple on the way to Jodhpur
We enjoyed breakfast sitting outside, with Mariela and Favio. We said goodbye to the French people, who were also leaving today.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that we have a large ‘Imaginative Traveller’ bus as our transport until we get to Agra.
We drove out of Udaipur and then through neat farming country towards the mountains. There were stalls of beautifully arranged vegetables beside the road.
We saw wheat being gathered and collected, and lying in neat sheaves or gathered into stacks. It all looked lovely with the clear blue sky. At one point the road was blocked by a difference of opinion between a bus and a tractor. We didn’t find out what it was all about, but it seemed that Vipul sorted it out. We had to return to the last village anyway, as we had taken a wrong turn!
People on the local bus wondering what the fuss is about
The houses here were built of stone, and there were dry stone walls. Later we saw bricks being made, and there were houses of brick. Everywhere was really dry, and the bullocks were very skinny. Camels were pulling carts too.
There were trees - japonica coloured flowers blossomed from some bare, gnarled old trees, and there were palms and cholla type cacti.
We wound down and down until we reached the Jain temple at Ranakpur. This is one of the largest and most important Jain temples in India, but we were still surprised at the number of western visitors, considering the remoteness of it.
We arrived at 12.15, and had lunch first, as the canteen would soon be closing. We had a set lunch of tasty but frugal fare (20rupees each - 25p!) The Jains are strictly vegetarian, including eggs. They are extreme non-violent people, and have certain strange beliefs. They cover the water taps with muslin, in case bacteria are killed by drinking. They don’t eat after sundown, as small insects may inadvertently be eaten.
Before entering the temple, I was made to don a long ‘nightdress’, as my skirt was considered too short (I have worn it on many previous temple visits).
The large temple contained pillars with very intricate carvings, and there were several large stone elephants.
Intricate ceiling in Ranakpur Jain Temple
We looked into 2 smaller temples before leaving, and took more photos than we had intended, as the man was keen that we photographed everything!
Back in the bus, we almost immediately had to take a diversion along a wide stony river bed. The countryside was now flat, with isolated bumps of mountains. We made one stop on our long journey to Jodhpur - at a remote tourist hotel, where we could use the toilet and look at the overpriced gift shop.
The last part of the journey became tedious - it was nice to look out and see the bright orange and red saris of the ladies when we passed fields and through villages. We appreciated the number of trees in this area, as we finally drove into Jodhpur - a large town, where our driver had trouble in finding our hotel.
There seemed to be more smart bicycles and motorbikes than we have seen, and even the tuk tuks looked smart.
Jodhpurs of course were named after this city. The story goes that the Raj from here went to England and on the way lost his entire luggage. He explained to a local tailor in London, how he wanted some new trousers to be made, Jodhpur style, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. However the tailor rather overdid it, but the style suited clothes for horse riding, so Jodhpurs were born.
It was 6.30 when we pulled into our attractive heritage hotel, but we set off almost immediately by tuk tuk to visit the city market. This was centred around the fancy English style clock tower. We were straight away besieged by people trying to get us to visit their textile shops etc. and we found the street sellers more persistent than anywhere so far. Several people told us that Prince Charles had visited Jodhpur today, but this was probably just a story, although he and Camilla are visiting India at the moment. A young lad of about 10 fixed himself to us, and gave a continual running commentary, hoping that we would buy something, and give him rupees for his service ‘Here is fruit, nice fruit. This is spice, best spice. This is boss man. Here is clock, tells time’.
As we arrived back by the clock tower, a band was playing, and a group of brightly dressed women were forming a procession.
Little girl dressed up for the parade
The others of our group said that they saw a parade of vehicles, but we now took a tuk tuk back to our hotel, where we had the evening set meal. This we ate all together, sitting in the open courtyard and enjoying much animated conversation.
Friday 31st March Marvellous Mehrangarh Fort then off into the Thar Desert
We breakfasted in the courtyard then left to visit the fort, high above the city. First we stopped at Jaswant Thada, the temple where the royal family were cremated. As we arrived, a man started playing on his stringed instrument, and his 2 children began dancing. The little girl, of about 8 or 9, was a wonderful dancer, and her little brother of about 4 or 5 just melted our hearts.
We were the only people there, so I even got to have a go at playing the instrument. It was a lovely experience, as we looked down over the ‘blue’ city of Jodhpur in the early morning.
It was pleasant walking on the marble floor of the temple in our bare feet - it felt cool, despite the heat of the sun. The views were out of this world. Jodhpur houses are whitewashed with a tinge of indigo, which, apart from giving its blue glow, is supposed to repel insects. We were shown a Neem tree, which apparently is used as an insect repellent.
There was a pool of water where we saw swallows, pigeons and stilts.
We now headed for the actual fort, and were given our audio guides. The people were justifiably proud of these - a rarity in India. The man who gave them to us, with his handlebar moustache, could have had a career on the stage!
As we set of to enjoy the castle, a family greeted me, and wanted me to shake hands with the baby. We have loved this adulation, which we have come across a lot, where the local people just want us to greet them. Sometimes they are a bit embarrassed, but westerners, particularly fair coloured ones, are a rarity to them.
We spent the next hour and a half wandering around this vast fort above the blue city of Jodhpur. We saw a collection of Howdahs (elephant seats) and palanquins (hand carried carriages) as we wandered around the many rooms of the fort. There was a collection of royal baby cradles, miniature pictures, rooms with stained glass, and much more. All the time we had views down to the blue city below.
Inside the palace Looking down to the blue city of Jodhpur
It was 12.30 when we all gathered, and headed for a lunch stop, where we enjoyed dosas, in a local restaurant. Adrian found a metal bolt in his meal, but when he pointed it out to the waiter, it was not even commented on!
By 2 o’clock we were heading out of Jodhpur and heading for the Thar desert. It was a long journey, and we didn’t arrive at Jaisalmer until 7 o’clock, but we saw much of interest along the way.
Apart from goats, sheep and bullocks, we saw dozens of camels, desert deer (a rarity), a desert fox (even more rare), peacocks and a sand boa (snake).
We often passed villages with square block houses, but also saw lots of circular thatched huts. It was annoying not to be able to stop and photograph. We made one stop, where once again there were overpriced gifts to look at, but otherwise continued through the desert, where the sandy soil was home to many trees and some sparse undergrowth.
It had become cloudy, but we could see the sun descending as we reached Jaisalmer and stopped at our pleasant hotel, where we were welcomed with a cold drink and a colourful garland each.
We all enjoyed a meal and much chat at the rooftop restaurant.
Saturday 1st April Camel safari to a night under the desert stars
It was windy as we had our breakfast on the hotel roof top. We all wished Favio happy birthday.
We left at 10 o’clock to walk up into Jaisalmer with Vipul and a guide. This fortified town is a hive of activity, as it is a township within the fort walls. There were lots of beautifully carved houses - we had a group photograph outside one of them, standing with an old man and holding the ends of his enormously long moustache.
The town abounded with wonderful textiles and leather goods. As part of the tour, we were taken into a textile shop (with the essential roof top view, and offer of a drink). The textiles were certainly beautiful, but we restricted ourselves to just buying one.
We had visited yet more Jain temples, this time carved out of sandstone, and with some intricate carved ‘screens’. We were looking for some change to give the ‘priest’, when an Indian lady said ‘I have some’. After giving us the change, she asked where we were from, then said ‘we are from England too, we are from Coventry, we are on holiday’!
We had had a drink at an upstairs café called 8th July, and both lashed out on an unusual ice cream. Later we had lunch of soup and naan bread on another rooftop restaurant, and I tried ‘fried ice cream’, which I had been longing to sample. It was coated with a kind of coconut mixture.
It was a hot walk back to the hotel, and a young boy guided us for the last bit. We had seen lots of ladies in their beautiful best saris, as today is a ladies feast day.
Then the fun really started!
At 4 o’clock we set off in 2 jeeps to meet up with our camels in the desert. Each of us had a camel and a camel driver, who walked in front of us initially, but then rode up behind us. It was a strange feeling as we were jogged up high, in two stages, to sit aloft, grabbing on to a small metal knob. It felt a bit insecure, but gradually I managed to take some photos! I wished that we had bought one of the leather water bottle carriers that we had seen earlier, but my driver tied his scarf up to hold my bottle.
We stopped once by some nomad drink sellers - the bottles of pop hidden in their cloth bundles. It was a strange experience, in the remote desert!
We saw various animal tracks, and I did see a little desert mouse pop out of his hole. Several brave little birds flew about, and we saw some desert deer in the distance.
It was lovely to move silently towards the dunes, as the sun lowered in the sky. We stopped to watch it go down, as desert dung beetles crawled about our feet.
We now made our way to our overnight camping spot, and were offered small savoury Indian snacks, which we enjoyed with a beer. There was just our small row of tents, a flat sitting/eating area, and the shelter where the men prepared our food. We had said goodbye to the camel drivers, who were taking their camels back to their simple hut village.
It was wonderful to all sit around and chat, as our meal of soup, followed by several Indian dishes, was prepared for us, and served on our raised seat/table. As it was Favio’sbirthday, there was an enormous creamy cake. We sang happy birthday to him in English, Indian and Spanish and listened to Vipul, who was in one of his serious, intensive moods! He went off to join the ‘workers’, and we continued chatting until 10.30.
We could have slept in the tents, but opted to sleep out under the star-filled sky, which we all agreed was magic!
Sunday 2nd April Back to Jaisalmer and a boat on the lake at sundown
It had been fantastic to look up and see myriads of stars each time we woke. We had seen Orion and the Plough, and later in the night saw Cassiopeia too. The constellations were hard to make out, because of the number of stars. We saw shooting stars and satellites, and awoke to see the first light of morning. Adrian walked up to the top of the dunes to wait for the sunrise.
Where we slept under the stars
We were served breakfast of fruit, toast, omelette and tea/coffee, then it was time for our hour long jeep journey back to our hotel in Jaisalmer.
This was quite a hairy experience, as our 2 drivers had races with each other across the desert, until we reached the tarmacked road.
By 9.30 we were back in our hotel, and it wasn’t long before we could get back into our ‘old’ rooms once more. We had met Hanif last night, another Imaginative Traveller guide who we had heard about from Hilary and Robert. He was leading a tour group who were travelling our itinerary in reverse, so were visiting the desert today.
Towards lunch time we took a tuk tuk to Gandhi Chowk, where we first went into an internet café and read our many messages. After Adrian had bought yet another T shirt, and exchanged some rupees for English coins, which Indian people often ask for, we went to have lunch at Trio café. We sat high up, and ate excellent soup and chapattis, but the waiter was rather indifferent.
We wandered around the streets and back to the fort, buying some water bottle carriers - one of leather and 2 of fabric. It was hot as we walked around the streets of the fort, so we took advantage of a tuk tuk driver who had been following us for some time and hoping for custom, and went back to the hotel.
We had heard that you could go boating on a nearby artificial lake, and managed to find our way to Gadi Sagar in the early evening. We had thought of taking a rowing boat, or a pedalo, but were offered a shikara. This turned out to be a sort of gondola, which the young man poled along for us. It was delightful! We could look back to the interesting shoreline with several temples, and actually stopped by one, which we climbed up to. There were a lot of men looking very reverent, but no-one bothered much with us. As we got back into the boat, we looked up, and saw the most exquisite red sky as the sun had just gone down. Hundreds of birds were gathering on one of the islands, and flying off. It was a delightfully relaxing time.
We see the sun set from our relaxing boat trip
Half an hour for 100 rupees (£1.50) - very little to us, and such bliss! We took a tuk tuk back to the hotel, and enjoyed a pleasant meal on the roof top, with Shirley, Jennifer and Eileen.
Monday 3rd April A desert village on Vipul’s birthday
We had breakfast on the roof at 7.30 with Shirley and Jennifer as we were leaving at 8 o’clock. It was pleasantly cool, with misty views across the desert.
We had to travel back to Jodhpur across the Thar Desert again. This vast desert extends across Pakistan, and the desert town of Jaisalmer is the most westerly town in India.
As we travelled back, we saw a few desert deer, and lots of camels, which always look so evocative in their natural setting. We stopped at the same place as on the way out, and I had a coffee.
We had to drive through the vast outskirts of Jodhpur, passing many stone quarries, with the stone stacked up beside the road. We stopped by an upmarket bakery, where we bought cakes for tonight, as it is Vipul’s birthday. We also bought a bottle of rum for him from us all from the wine shop next door.
We continued for some way to our stopping place for tonight - Chandelao Garh. This is a princely home, set in a humble village. The owner lets Imaginative Traveller tours stay in his heritage home, and it is a very lovely place, looking a bit like an old French gite.
We were offered a late lunch, but unfortunately I hadn’t been feeling well, and later it was Adrian’s turn to be ill. We managed a walk around the scattered village with the ‘Raj’, being thronged by the children, who almost ripped the camera from my hand after I photographed them. We saw the women collecting water from the wells - there was a step well, where you walked down steps to the water, and a ground level well. We were told that despite the caste system now being illegal, it was still the upper castes which used the step well, and the lower castes the other well.
There was a small artificial lake, where we saw wild peacocks, camels, goats and buffalo.
We stopped by the school, where a new kitchen was being built. An underground well had already been built. Imaginative Traveller has adopted this village, and does voluntary work here. No other tour group comes here.
There were mud huts and adobe buildings, and some more traditional houses.
When we got back, I went to have an acupressure and head massage, with an Indian lady who spoke very little English. The others enjoyed a special meal on the roof top, but we had ‘retired hurt’. It didn’t help that children were banging and calling out by our back window, and then there was a power cut, so all the lights went out!
Tuesday 4th April A tour of desert villages, then on to Pushkar
Adrian finally stopped being sick some time after midnight, but woke up still feeling very weak. Everyone else in the group was, or had been unwell, so only a few of us were able to enjoy the nice breakfast prepared for us in this lovely setting. I had eaten virtually nothing yesterday, but luckily felt OK now.
We set off (John, Emily, Jennifer, Vipul and me) with the house owner, Thakar Praduman Singh Rathore driving a jeep, to visit the scattered area around Chandelao.
We stopped first at a simple adobe farm dwelling, and enjoyed seeing how neat and clean this little home was. The walls were made from dried camel dung, and painted with lime and indigo.
We drove across flat, wild country to another small village, where we stopped by a pottery. We saw the young chap making one of the large water carriers that we see everywhere, and another chap using the wheel to make a pot.
Making water pots
Everywhere we went, the children crowded round, wanting to say hello, or have their photo taken. I felt as the queen must, having shaken hands with a dozen or more children!
At another village we watched a woman embroidering so speedily that we wondered how she did it, and then we watched an elderly couple weaving on a large loom. Other people were spinning colourful threads which make up the base of their beds.
We were driven back to Chandelao, having seen several black bucks - an antelope only found in this region, a nilgai,(a very large antelope) and also a monitor lizard. It had been a good trip.
Those of us who were able had a snack lunch, prepared by the owner’s mother. We were just sorry that we weren’t able to enjoy this lovely, special place fully because of the sickness problem.
We said our goodbyes and set off on the trail to Pushkar, the four hour journey allowing some of the people to recover a bit. The land was mostly flat, but we did cross an attractive rocky outcrop, and there was often a bare mountain range in the distance. The road was often slow, particularly near towns, as there was a lot of heavy traffic.
We arrived at our hotel, on the outskirts of Pushkar, at about 5.30. I soon made a beeline for the pleasant pool. We enjoyed the attractive surroundings from our little balcony, as the sun went down behind the hills.
We both went up to the rooftop restaurant and had something to eat.
Wednesday 5th April Puzzling Pushkar
Pushkar is an intriguing place! It is known for its large camel fair in the autumn, but is also known as sacred town. Priests come to bathe in the waters of the natural lake, which is the centre of the town. Temples abound, the most important being the Brahma Temple, one of few of its kind in the world. There are 52 ‘bathing ghats’ around the lake, where pilgrims bathe in the holy waters. Fishing and bathing are otherwise banned, and one must not wear footwear near the lake.
The town also banns the consumption of alcohol, meat and eggs. Drugs, however, seem to be rife! One is told to be wary of false ‘priests’, touting for money for so-called blessings, and also for drinks which could be laced!
We were fortunate to have Vipul to take us into the town, with a priest to act as guide. Adrian stayed behind, but had managed to eat some cornflakes for breakfast. It is just the time that he would have loved eggs, which have been offered to us everywhere else we have been!
We walked the half mile or so into the town, Pushkar having no tuk tuks or other means of transport (a few men with ‘pushcarts’ - a wooden base and 4 wheels - did offer transportation).
We passed a Vishnu Temple, which non-Hindus were not allowed into, and made our way to the edge of the lake. Dozens of monkeys entertained us, and cows were everywhere too. On the edge of the lake, the priest performed a blessing on us, which I found very moving, with many similarities to Christian blessings. We were each given a plate containing rose petals, sugar, rice and yellow and red colouring. Each in turn was blessed, while we repeated the words of the blessing after the priest, in Hindi and English. The petals and other things were then scattered into the water, and we were given a coconut to offer as blessing. Each person was spoken to separately, and wished a peaceful life, for themselves and their family. Past ‘wrongdoings’ were also acknowledged, a bit like ‘forgive us our trespasses’.
People have their ashes scattered in Lake Pushkar, as in fact Gandhi did, and we saw a ceremony in progress. With the mountains surrounding the lake, it would be a nice place for this!
Monkeys play by Lake Pushkar as ashes are scattered in the distance
We proceeded to the brightly coloured Brahma Temple, which the priest took us into. People were giving offerings here too.
I then wandered back through the many street stalls to the hotel - it looked a good place for buying gifts.
We both went upstairs for lunch, but neither could finish our simple meal. We had a refreshing swim in the pool. At about 5 o’clock we walked back into Pushkar, buying one or two things. We walked on round the lake, taking our shoes off to walk over the bridge, as it was considered walking over the holy water. The sun was just setting, and it all looked very lovely.
We arrived at Sunset Point, where a lot of people had gathered, and were soon joined by Emily & John and Favio & Mariela. It was a beautiful situation to share a meal and chat, but I was only able to eat a little of the soup I ordered. We all walked back in the cool of the evening, and Adrian and I sat on our little balcony with a whisky/gin and lime soda. The ‘HareKrishnas’ from the temple on the nearby hill were in good (!) voice, as they have been for most of the time we have been here. The chanting continued until gone 10 o’clock, when we came in (and the electricity went off - but only briefly!)
Thursday 6th April On to the Pink City of Jaipur
Adrian was awake early (to the chanting of the ‘Hare Krishnas’ at 6.00), and feeling better although I was still finding it difficult to be enthusiastic about food! We ate breakfast on the roof top - Adrian had mushrooms and toast, and I had baked bananas with chocolate, which was just right! We put on the BBC world news, and were saddened to hear of the sudden death of Gene Pitney, at Cardiff, where he had been performing. He was only 65.
At 9 o’clock we left in the bus for the city of Jaipur. It was about a three hour drive, much of it on a six lane highway, but the driving techniques were far removed from western ones! At one point we crossed to the far side of the other carriageway, to stop at a restaurant. It was decided that we wouldn’t stop there after all, so the driver drove for several hundred yards against the traffic, in the fast lane, until we crossed back onto our carriageway!
When we did stop, at a so-called ‘state of the art’ restaurant, we were not impressed. There were only a few cold drinks and chocolate bars for sale, plus freshly cooked samosas. I ordered a black coffee, and when it came with sugar in it, another was ordered, and I was made to pay for both! I was not amused!
We arrived at Jaipur at 12.30, and were given rooms in a pleasant family run hotel. Unknown to us until then, it was run by Vipul’s extended family, and we met his mother, who was the kitchen manager.
Still feeling off my food, I ordered some chips, which would do credit to any chip shop in England! With fresh papaya juice to drink, it was a good pick-me-up. We met another ‘Imaginative’ tour leader, as they are also staying here. While Vipul was busy meeting up with various friends, in his home town, we were taken for a tour of the City Palace with our tour guide.
Jaipur is large, bustling, busy, and yes - pink! Almost everything is painted that colour. We drove into the walled old town, the streets lined with market stalls. The town seemed more affluent than others, but there is still the conglomeration of carts pulled by camels, horses, donkeys and all, and there were plenty of beggars and tradesmen to hassle us.
The pink city of Jaipur
It was extremely hot as we arrived at the palace (it was supposed to be 40ºC today), and enthusiasm wasn’t that great, after all the palaces we have visited. Adrian was confused by the 200 rupee video fee, so we settled for taking in just my camera.
There were certainly some pretty views, with the white painting on the pinky colour making me think of a different coloured Wedgwood.
Jaipur City Palace
There were beautifully painted archways and ceilings (we have had these in some of our hotels in Rajasthan). We looked at paintings, carpets, minute paper cutting, tiny Sanskrit books. Adrian particularly liked some photographs and photographic equipment used by a Raj in the 1850s.
We saw two enormous silver urns, each weighing 345 kg, and able to hold 900 litres of (Ganges) water. They were used when a Raj visited Britain in the 1800s, and took all his water (and carpets to walk on) with him! Apparently they are in the Guinness book of records as the largest silver urns in the world.
I wasn’t very interested in the weapons room, but the painted ceilings were nice. The most moving thing for me though was when we went into the area of local crafts, and I saw models of the Taj Mahal, like the one which Dad had bought in the 1920s, and we had enjoyed as children. He had put a little light inside it, as a special treat, when we were young. When the shopkeeper did the same thing, it was too much for me! Memories flooded back, and the tears fell. The man, being a good salesman, saw the relevance of the occasion. We ended up buying a model - much smaller than the original, (which would have cost the equivalent of £80), but more manageable. We hope that this one will arrive home more safely than Dad’s did, as the person that he entrusted to bring it home for him, had let it get broken, so he had had to patch it up.
We finished our visit with a tour of the Observatory, built as one of five in 1728 by Jai Singh. It was a strange looking place, looking a bit like a giant’s playground, with large concrete shapes which told both the time, and the movements of the stars. This Raj was an astronomer/astrologer, and apparently the readings are very accurate. We managed to climb up and down the very deep, steep stairs, despite our weariness because of the heat. The camera fee was high in here, so we will have to suffice with memories of this strange place.
We returned to our hotel, where we all had to change rooms, as someone had messed things up! We managed, with difficulty, to send and receive some emails.
We enjoyed a meal with all the others downstairs. Our plain meal of chips, pasta, salad and veg went down well!
Friday 7th April Amber Fort and more Pink City
It was a very hot night, so it was difficult to sleep. It would seem that it is much hotter than it should be here for this time of year.
We were able to get scrambled egg for breakfast, and were then ready for our 8.30 departure by bus to visit Amber Fort, a few miles away. We stopped to photograph the Palace of the Winds - the photogenic façade of a former palace, on the way.
The Palace of the Winds
We drove through Jaipur and out through the dry hills to the huge hilltop fort by the former capital town of Jaipur State, Amber. There were colourful elephants which could transport you up to the fort, but Imagintaive Traveller isn’t using them now, as they believe that the elephants are overworked, and there have been one or two serious accidents. The option was to walk, or to be taken by jeep. We made the easy choice of opting for the latter, considering the already high temperature!
We were shown around again by our guide - after first visiting a temple, where I received a blessing mark on my forehead, and was given a garland of flowers.
The fort dates from the 16th century, and bits of its history were explained to us as we walked around. The Maharaja had 12 wives and several concubines, ensuring that he had lots of sons, it would seem.
The idea of the wives being in purdah, and not leaving their quarters, and burning themselves alive if the husband was killed, made me pleased to be born into 20th century western civilisation!
The fort had been built with an impressive water supply to support it, and there was some eye-catching glass work on the walls and ceilings.
Glasswork in Amber Fort
However, many of the walls looked a blackish colour, and in need of a good scrub - perhaps we have seen enough forts and palaces for a while! Or perhaps we were fighting the heat!(37ºC).
What appealed to me was a refreshing formal green garden, with yellow flowers, in the centre of the cream coloured fort. There were good views out to the surrounding hills too.
Back at the bus, we were driven back to Jaipur, stopping by a carpet showroom (yet again) where we were shown a selection of expensive carpets, but declined from buying any!
We ate chips again for lunch, with stuffed aubergine/vegetables, chatting to Mariela and Favio.
Later we took a cycle rickshaw to the City Gate, and walked into the old ‘Pink City’ (often more terra cotta than pink). Even after 5 weeks in India, there were images to surprise and delight us! A little boy sitting amongst pots of grain; sack upon sack of dried chillies; pasta and corn of a myriad different kinds.
There were no touristy things, just stuff for the locals to buy - material for saris, a dozen different types of twig brooms, sugar cane drink. We took in the sights and the smells, and then got a cycle rickshaw back to the hotel, where we had a pot of tea and an ice-cream on the lawn, watching a little toddler playing with a ball, while his Japanese mother and black father looked on lovingly.
We took a tuk tuk to a restaurant called the Copper Chimney, where we enjoyed a pleasant, but a bit too spicy, Chinese meal. It was an upmarket, international type restaurant, but refreshingly cool. We could hear two men speaking German at the table next to us, so chatted to them before we left. They were Swiss - one had been travelling for 2½ years, mostly cycling, and his friend had come to join him for a week. We had an enjoyable conversation with them before coming back to the hotel by cycle rickshaw.
Saturday 8th April Fatehpur Sikri fort en route to Agra
The night was incredibly hot in our room, even with all the windows open - Adrian reckoned that it was 33ºC (90ºF) all night! The fan just blew the warm air over us, so we didn’t sleep too much!
At 9 o’clock we boarded the bus for the last time, heading for Agra. We crossed flat, agricultural country, with the occasional isolated hill. The road is being made into a four lane road. At times the surface was reasonable, but at other times it wasn’t! At one stage there was just a narrow, roughly tarmacked strip which both carriageways were using. The game seemed to be to approach the oncoming vehicle, and see which would pull over onto the dusty edge first to let the other scrape past! What with broken down vehicles, others shedding their too large loads, camel trucks crossing the road at one mph, and the usual scattering of animals and pedestrians, it was not a restful ride!
To our western eyes, the driving appeared very aggressive.
We crossed into Uttar Pradesh (Northern Province), the most populated state of India. We drove through a vast area with brickworks, and naturally the houses were built of (uncemented) bricks. The day was very hot, and the air which blew into the bus felt like a hot furnace. Fortunately the bus is air-conditioned, which we had thought was an unnecessary luxury at the start!
We stopped early for lunch at a ‘local’ restaurant, where we ate omelette/dosa.
At 2.30 we arrived at Fatehpur Sikri, the onetime short-lived capital of the Mughal empire, during the reign of Emporer Akbar (1500s). The city suffered from water shortages, so was soon abandoned. The palace took 10 years to build, but was only lived in for 4 years.
It is a world heritage site, and contains Hindu, Moslem and Christian architecture, after the ruler’s 3 wives. He also had 300 concubines, but was said to be a just and great ruler. The whole building is made of solid red sandstone. Adrian had a particular interest, as he had one of his grandfather’s postcards of it.
Another match for Adrian’s postcards - Fatehpur Sikri
The intense heat, however, made it a bit of an endurance test!
It was only 40 km from here to Agra, but it was slow going. We arrived at our hotel at 5.30.
We met at 7.30 for our ‘last supper’, and travelled by tuk tuk to a pleasant restaurant with good Indian food. We were all still feeling a bit wary of eating anything at all spicy, and Jennifer didn’t even come. The restaurant didn’t serve alcoholic drinks, so we returned to the smart hotel next door to ours, where we drank beer/whisky, and enjoyed our last evening together.
Sunday 9th April Early morning visit to the Taj Mahal, then a long train journey on our own.
We were up at 5.30 for our 6.15 departure to visit the Taj Mahal. It was relatively cool at this hour. We travelled by bus, but had to change to an ‘eco friendly’ vehicle, as normal vehicles aren’t allowed near to the Taj Mahal site, for fear of pollution.
Even at 7 o’clock, there were lots of people arriving. We had a guide with us, and all paid him our 750 rupee (£10) fee, so that he could get our tickets. We had to go through security - the ladies queue was much longer than the mens, which meant some hanging around.
It was a partly cloudy morning, so perhaps not quite as hot as it might have been. Everybody knows the stunning white marble Taj Mahal building, but not the three other red sandstone buildings surrounding it, which are beautiful in their own right, All have lovely inlay work.
The camera started working as soon as we arrived. I have long wanted to see the Taj Mahal, knowing of it from a young age, because of Dad’s model. It didn’t disappoint!
We took the obligatory photos in front of the palace, including some being taken by one of the photographers. We only bought one of these, but had plenty of our own too!
We wandered around the surrounding park area, and right up to and into the Taj Mahal palace, trying to savour the experience. As the sun rose and shone onto the marble, it glowed a beautiful pearly white.
There were nice views over the misty Yamuna River behind it.
The Taj was built by Emporer Shah Jahan as a memorial to his second wife, who died giving birth to her 14th child. The designer was Persian, and workers from many countries worked on the building of it, from 1631-53.
Having had our fill of viewing, and feeling that we could have stayed even longer, we returned to our hotel, where we all had a late breakfast.
There are other buildings of note in Agra, including some which Adrian had his grandfather’s postcards of. Despite the heat, we packed all our stuff up, then set off by tuk tuk to visit first Itimad-ud-Daulah, known as the ‘Baby Taj.’ We manoeuvred the chaotic conglomeration of traffic of all sorts, crossed over the river, and went on to visit this palace. It was smaller than the Taj Mahal, but the inlay work was even more intricate. Like the Taj, it had extra red sandstone buildings. All in all, it was very pretty, and worth the visit.
Itimad-ud-Daulah the ‘Baby Taj’
We crossed back over the river, to visit the Agra Fort, known as the Red Fort, which had been started by Emporer Akbar (grandfather of Shah Jahan) in 1565, and extended as a palace by Shah Jahan in white marble. Having paid our entrance fee, we set off to explore as much of this vast fort as we could in the short time we had left. There were good views from here down the river to the Taj Mahal, and we were also able to photograph images to match some of the postcards. Being Sunday, it was busy, and also by now it was incredibly hot.
View to the Taj Mahal from the Red Fort
We had agreed to meet the others at ‘Pizza Hut’, next to our hotel, for a last decadent lunch together, so dissuaded our persistent driver from taking us anywhere else, and made our way there.
We all enjoyed the plain and simple fare (and the cool of the air conditioning!)
The waiters were out to entertain, performing an amusing dance sequence, and trying out one or two card tricks, which resulted in us getting free cokes and ice cream!
We said our goodbyes to our ‘friends’, and had one quick trip with our tuk tuk driver - to visit a ‘Government craft centre’, where he would receive petrol vouchers for taking us there. The result was that we bought another Taj Mahal model, larger than the previous one, and reminding me more of Dad’s. We then returned to our hotel lounge, where we sat with Vipuluntil our pick up for the station. We had met up with Hanif once again, as he was with another tour which had just started out from Delhi.
We then met the Imaginative Traveller ‘India manager’ (an Englishman), and also met our contact man for the next part of our travels - Vipul actually knew him, as ImaginativeTraveller use him too. We had a last cup of tea with Vipul, whose excellent leadership and expertise we have enjoyed for the past 5 weeks.
Our driver took us to the railway station, and waited with us until the train arrived. We made a quick phone call to Emma, at Elm Gable, before boarding the 4.15 train to Umaria.
A porter helped us on with our baggage, and we settled down for the 14 hour journey. There were 3 Indian men in our small compartment, who were fascinated when we played a game of Yahtzee to pass the time! We had a couple of hours before it got dark, but you couldn’t see much through the windows because of the yellow, dirty glass.
After the men had left, we thought that we would have a ‘nightcap’. We had one bottle of beer, which we wrapped in a scrappy bit of brown paper. This was standing on the floor, when the ‘waiter’ came in, to distribute the suppers which had been ordered.
At this point, the bottle fell over. We hurriedly picked it up. Soon afterwards, two soldiers carrying long rifles looked into our compartment and asked if we had been drinking. We presume that it was an offence. Anyway, the man pointed to our several bottles of water on the table, and asked what they were (I had just had a nip of whisky in one). I showed him the tiny bottle, saying ‘water’, and he said OK, not even glancing at the beer bottle on the floor!
We ate a little of the Indian supper, and soon afterwards got ready for a night on the train.