Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Bucket list -Taj Mahal - ticked.

The city of Agra is a crappy hole with a population of 2 million and sustained only by it's close proximity to one of the great wonders of the world.

We were fortunate to experience a beautiful clear sunrise over the Taj before the smoggy haze eventually enveloped the stunning 400 year old white marble tomb, dramatically reducing visibility for the remainder of the day.

A couple of cheesy grins as we get to tick off a "biggy" from our bucket list.

Rakesh took us to a less frequented location on the south side of the Yamuna river away from the bus loads of tourists to watch the setting sun and our final mesmerising gazes at the awesome spectacle.

We've had a wonderful 3 weeks touring Rajasthan with our friend and driver Rakesh.  But we've just about used up all our rupees so now it's time to return for a night in Delhi before we begin the gruelling 24 hours of airport check-ins, security checks, humourless officials, transit lounges and tiring flights before we can enjoy the comforts of home.  This concludes Chris & Robyn's 2012 Rajasthan adventure.
Hoo Roo

Monday, 12 November 2012


40 years of exposure to the high decibels of jet engines and noisy aircraft tarmacs doesn't prepare you for the continual honking of car horns, truck horns, bus horns, auto-rickshaw horns, squealing of brakes, revving engines and all the associated noises of being stuck in congested Indian city traffic.  Entering Rajasthans capital Jaipur during peak hour sends my tinnitus symptoms of ringing in ears to new levels of discomfort.  Numbering around 4 million, it seems most of the cities population has converged on the roads honking us a special noisy greeting.

Enjoying a quieter moment.

We are almost chockers with cultural experiences but we will find room for another couple of palaces and forts.

Amber fort is an intimidating sight situated on a craggy ridge line overlooking the city of Jaipur and during the early evening a really interesting sound & light show sets out the regions colourful history.

Not far from our hotel is the city lake, and as is the case in this part of the world when you have a body of water you must plonk a palace in the middle of it.

We couldn't come all the way to India and not do a Bollywood movie.  Jaipur has one of the finest old cinemas still remaining in India and we manage to secure box seats, at $3 they are the best seats in the house.  

The cinema is like a blast from the past with 1960's decor, usher to your seat, kapok filled hinged leather seats, pop corn etc.  The crowd participation is fantastic with wild cheers for the good guy, swooning for the pretty girl and vigorous booing for the baddy.

Typical complicated Bollywood movie plot ensues, beautiful boyfriend and girlfriend have their happy relationship threatened when a hunky new boy comes on the scene.   We all know what happens when 2 chest puffing, head wobbling sparing bucks with too much testosterone come head to head.  Yes you guessed it, we have a seriously choreographed, highly colourful and dramatic dance-off.  The audience response is overwhelming with Robyn and I also caught up in the hype and cheering for our favourite leading man.  Don't worry, I won't spoilt it and tell you the ending, the movie may come to a cinema near you soon.

"Palace of the winds" is a beautiful pink and red sandstone building that was built so the royal ladies could observe every day life whilst concealed behind intricate lattice windows without being seen by the public.

And so it's on to the Taj.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Udaipur and Pushkar

After weeks travelling through the Thar desert it's a pleasant change to arrive in a city that's not struggling for water.
For the James Bond tragics amongst us, todays stunning panorama puts us in Udaipur, Rajasthans lake city and the setting for the 1980's, 007 movie classic "Octopussy".
Like Roger Moore, this town doesn't sparkle quite like it once did but there is more than enough action to keep us busy for a few nights.

Lake Pichola, Udaipur.

Womens work.

Whump, Whump, Whump and we wake to the sound of washing ladies beating their laundry with wooden paddles as they also go about their morning ablutions in the lake at the front of our hotel. Muslim call to pray over the loud speakers and touts already doing noisy business outside our hotel room.  Definitely not the quietest part of town to be in, but certainly alive with activity and always a feast for the senses.

 The maze of steep narrow lanes and alleyways that radiate away from the central lake areas ensure regular work for the donkey transporters.

When the heat goes out of the day there are plenty of good rooftop bars to enjoy the sunset happy hour views overlooking the amazing lake palace and hilly surrounds.  We managed to catch up with some old travelling buddies that we'd shared drinks with from previous towns and again we share refreshments whilst updating each other with our recent adventures.

After a few days of fending off persistent shopkeepers and touts, lots of walking and too much eating, it's time to venture to the next town. 


Looking just like all the other desert town we've visited in recent weeks, Pushkar initially left us feeling a little underwhelmed.

With almost as much religious significance as the Ganges, this is a town that all Hindi people must make a pilgrimage to at some time in their life.   Along with the fair dinkum pilgrims there are plenty of european hippies and malingering deadbeats along for the cheap drugs and alternate lifestyle.

But we're not here for salvation.  Robyn's found another attractive beast to wander off into the desert with.

And Chris is more than content to cruise the countryside on his Royal Enfield avoiding the random wildlife incursions.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Ranakpur and Kumbhalgarh and a cut throat razor

After turning off the main Jodhpur to Udaipur road, we find ourselves on a road less travelled and heading for Ranakpur. 

Veggie street sellers.
Another dusty little village and another tasty chai break.  

With a slow train causing the traffic to back up through the narrow main street, we decide to walk and join the bustling mass of friendly people, chugging tractors, tooting buses and dignified camels, all pressing toward the closed boom gates.

Level crossing traffic congestion.

When the rail crossing reopened the cheery old man on the camel cart offered us a lift to the other side of town.

Climbing up through cooler mountain country we eventually arrive at Ranakpur.  We will stop here for the night to enjoy a break from the noise and chaos of the larger towns.
Our black face monkey neighbours at Ranakpur
Plonked in the middle of nowhere, Ranakpur is a tiny village of only a few hundred people, but it's home to a magnificent Jain temple.  Clearly I'm not familiar with the religious significant but the quality of the marble construction and detailed work, dating back several centuries is very impressive.

Life size elephant carving.  Too much carved marble is never enough.

Moving on we prepare ourselves for Kumbhalgarh fort, possibly India's answer to the great wall of China. 

Kumbhalgarh may not be as grand in respect to the intricate detail and carvings as other forts that we have visited but for the sheer size and the incredible 36 kilometre perimeter wall, this engineering masterpiece is awesome. 
KumbhalgarhKumbhalgarhKumbhalgarh. If, like me you're struggling with the pronunciation, try filling your mouth with marbles, now give it a go.  See much easier.

Time for some pampering

Whenever we travel to this part of the world I can't help that I feel I need a little spontaneous pampering.

 Would you trust your throat to this man

Rakesh stops in another scruffy little village and I go in search of a man with a cut throat razor.  In return for my  hard earned $3, this chap over the next hour will give me a head shave, a face double shave, some savage ear treatment, a back, neck, and head massage, knuckle cracking and shoulder popping.
The gathered crowd in his shop and out in the street encouraging my new trusted razor man on to extra extravagant treatments.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Another day in Rajasthan, another fort.

Leaving Jaisalmer the scenery changes from scrubby stony country to larger sandy dunes and we continue to regularly encounter  herds of goats and camels along the roadside.

Rakesh pulls off the main highway and we make a visit to a traditional desert family.   The widow, a mother of 5 children lives in a 5 metre diametre circular house constructed  of thatched roof and packed mud and cow dung walls.  Mum works at a local women's co-op making handicrafts and earns about Rs 2000 a month or about $40. Whilst the appearance may not look much to us, her humble home is surprisingly cool inside and spotlessly clean.

Oldest sister grinding grain.

We are quite shocked at the poverty and we wish Rakesh had forewarned us so that we could have bought some fresh food to help this struggling family. We offer up some old airline biscuits and peanuts that Robyn finds stashed in her handbag and a handful of rupee to help put dinner on the table.

For the next hour of so during our drive Robyn and I consider what we have just experienced and we sit in quiet contemplation and are thankful for our good health, family, friends and comfortable situation at home. 

Rakesh lifts the mood when he laughs and comments that we always wear our seatbelts, "take them off and be comfortable" he says.  "They're only necessary in the city and only in the front seats".  Whilst we are very comfortable with Rakeshs safe driving skills, somehow learning to relax on any Indian road will not be possible during only a 23 day trip.

Mehrangarh Fort Jodhpur.

Three things that we know about Jodhpur:

  1. Jodhpur is dominated by an imposing 14 century fort perched on a rocky escarpment,
  2. Jodhpur is known as the blue city, and
  3. Jodhpur is the origin of the highly fashionable Jodhpurs polo trousers.

Clearly I am a fashion aficionado, but I will be showing considerable restraint and resisting the temptation to acquire a tailored pair of these striking and trendsetting trousers.

We are staying in the narrow lanes of the old town at the KP Haveli Hotel in the shadows of the impressive Mehrangarh fort in the clocktower area.

C'mon Chris...... it's not brain surgery

With a full schedule planned we're straight into our first activity, Rekhas cooking class at a local family business, Spice Paradise.  In her family home/spice shop/business, we join Rekha and 3 others in her tiny kitchen (about the size of our laundry) and for the next 5 hours we laugh and joke and taste and also learn some of the finer point of simple Indian style cooking and the preparing of  masala tea, biryani, vegetable curry, naan bread, lassi and much more.

Rekha with her excited star pupil.

Right!  Enough of that girly cooking stuff it's time to get outdoors and see why they call this the Blue City. 

Robyn...you're his mothers age
What colour do they call this city?
A short but steep walk from our hotel is the jump off point for our next adventure.  Not satisfied with the regular stroll around yet another ancient and amazing piece of history, we decided to raise the adrenalin levels.

Not just a whizz in an Indian kitchen, also pretty flash on a zipline.
2 hours of great fun zipping around the fort perimeter walls during yet another stunning desert sunset.

Oh no, not the Delhi Belly!

A sleepless night, stomach cramps, headache and frequent trips to the toilet.  Like I said I'm no brain surgeon, but these symptoms sound very much like Delhi Belly.  Damn!!! 
Off to see Rekha's husband who just happens to be some sort of Ayurvedic medicine man and I'm promptly prescribed some herbal grainy brew mixed with buffalo yogurt.
I haven't got time to be sick there's more of Jodhpur to see and do.  So after a short rest, magic concoction consumed, an extra toilet roll in the backpack and a clenched sphincter muscle twitching, it's time to press on.

There's an old Indian saying that I just made up (complete with head wobble) that goes:
"The wery bad Delhi Belly will be finishing and you will be having the most glorious feeling knowing the flatulence you are passing will no longer be soiling your underpants."

And so the wery bad Delhi Belly did pass and I did in fact have the most glorious feeling.  So endith the wisdom.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert

Pay attention class.
Open your geography books and turn to north west India.
Today we are located in the harsh Thar Desert and the amazing fort town of Jaisalmer.
The focal point here is the imposing 11th century golden sandstone fort.  As you approach by road this incredible and ancient engineering masterpiece rising from the desert is something to behold.

Jaisalmers Golden Fort

This is a living fort and home to 4000 people.  The rabbit warren of narrow lanes that snake through the fort complex is incredible with people living on top of each other and multiple generations of family living in the same shoebox stone house.  Pedestrians and motorbikes compete for the limited space in the fort but the narrowness of the lanes ensures plenty of shade and only the direct overhead midday sun reaches the cobblestone below.

Life in the fort

The Royale hotel at the base of the fort is our home for the next 3 nights and offers us a perfect view point.

A few Kingfisher beers consumed at this location.

If we are not walking around the fort or through the fort we can be found sitting at our rooftop restaurant enjoying a Kingfisher beer mesmerised by the stunning view of this incredible structure in the ever changing desert light.

We are not usually big souvenir shoppers but Robyn has bought a couple of nice embroidered Muslim rugs that she thinks will go well in our home.

 International bargain hunter on the loose

Can't imagine why the Maharajahs and warriors of olden times would fight over this god forsaken country but the savage history and museum artifacts of ongoing battles between the warring clans is mind boggling.

A short walk to a nearby fetid lake gives us another good vantage point of the fort.

A night in the desert.

We venture further west and within 60 kms of the Pakistan border is the village of Khuri and our sunset camel ride through the dunes. 

We enjoy a 60 minute camel ride out into the desert to watch a beautiful sunset before returning to the local village for dinner and traditional dancing.

Romantic night out with a very attractive camel.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Road to Mandawa.....Bikaner and the Rat Temple

No extra charge for sitting on the roof

The long drive from Delhi comes to an end and we check in to the Mandawa Heritage Hotel. 

Mandawa Heritage Hotel. 

Mandawa's claim to fame these days is a few remaining old mansions, or known locally as Haveli's.  

Typical Mandawa street scenes.

Today it looks a scruffy little village, but look past the dust and grime and goats and donkeys and camels and rubbish and poop and decay and public urination, and it's obvious this was once a highly prosperous town on the historic silk route. 

One of many Haveli under restoration.

With their multiple wives and scores of children the successful merchants and entrepreneurs of this golden era built grand Haveli's to display their status and accommodate their continually growing families.  The elaborate interior and exterior artworks and fresco's on these impressive buildings are still clearly evident .

Frescoes adorn every surface.

After a tour of the Havelis and a comfortable night in our old mansion we hit the road for Bikaner.

Onward to Bikaner

Spending time with our private driver gives us the opportunity to discuss a wide and varied range of subjects.  Along the drive today Rakesh explains that "the Indian womans are very expensive and have too much dresses".  I suggest to him that we also have this big problem in Australia.  Rakesh gives the appropriate little Indian head wobble as if to acknowledge that the whole "womans and dresses" thing may be an international phenomena.  Glancing at Robyn, the body language suggests to me that this subject will be discussed further in the privacy of our hotel room later.

Laxmi Palace not far from our humble hotel.

Sagar Hotel in Bikaner is our home for the next 2 nights.  Large comfortable rooms with views to the stunning red sandstone Laxmi Palace. 

Robyn enjoying Bikaner streetlife.

Bikaner is the major Asian centre for camel research and development and camels are almost as common in the streets as buses.  Robyn is now a big fan of these proud looking beasts, impressed by their quiet dignity (until they open their mouths and bellow and growl).

Silly old codger reminiscing of bygone days, wind through the hair.....

I decide to treat Robyn to a trip to the nearby Rat Temple.

Robyns lack of visible enthusiasm is disappointing but we push on regardless.  Through the beautifully carved white marble entrance and heavy silver doors we are confronted by thousands of rats scurrying around living the good life.  Drinking from large bowls of milk and devouring offerings provided by the excited pilgrims.  

Now that's a wok. Preparing rat lunch

Rakesh explains the mob of people cramming into a small hot alcove are hopeful of sighting the lucky white rat that usually lives there.  Alas, we are not so lucky today.  

Eventually Robyns apprehension eases and confides she had visions of dog size rats bulldozing through the excited crowd but in reality the temple rats are quite small.

Our regular travel companions, Paul and Robyn Barrett will appreciate the significance of us visiting this holy rat place as we have shared some close encounters of the rodent kind during previous travels together.

The Rat Temple may not have lived up to Robyns high expectations but I'm sure this will be another valued experience she can tick off her bucket list.

 Janagarh Fort

From grand forts and palaces to camels and Rat Temples, Bikaner has it all for the discerning traveller.

Bikaner sunset