A Travellerspoint blog

Delhi (1)

Happy Holi!

sunny 28 °C

On all of our train journeys so far we've travelled 'sleeper class' which is the 5th best of the 7 classes available. At night you get an assigned bunk and in the day time you technically have one of three spaces on a squishy bench reserved. In reality people buy tickets for the cheapest classes then pay the charge to be bumped up to sleeper when they're on the train. Essentially it means that, even with a reserved seat, it can be a bit of a hassle to get your seat and all the space you've technically paid for until it's night time. The train from Jaipur to Delhi was a very full commuter train for the first 3 hours and we were squished 5 to a bench. When we got to Delhi we had the worst rickshaw wallah harassment we'd experienced to date - they encircle you shouting 'auto, tuk tuk, where you want go, come here' - but managed to fight our way to the pre paid auto booth and got safely to the correct hotel without having to pay any extra in commission.

The following day we explored our immediate surroundings - the area called Pahar Ganj which is a back packers' hot spot full of shops selling psychedelic hippy t-shirts and cushion covers. We then spent far too long organising our train ticket to Amristar. Most train stations have a 'fully computerised reservation centre' where there's a specific counter for foreign tourists. You have to fill in a form saying when and where you'd like to travel and include the name and number of your preferred train. In Delhi there's a whole office just for tourists with comfy seats which sounds great but most tourists arrive in Delhi so have no idea about how the trains work, how long they take or even where they'd like to go. The other problem is that some Indians have found out that the tourist office exists and that all foreigners are much more diligent at queuing than Indians are so, instead of waiting in the Indian queues downstairs, they simply queue jump at the tourist office. After an hour and a half getting equally frustrated at cocky Indians and clueless travellers we set off on our first trip on the Delhi Metro. After the chaos of trains, sleeper buses and rickshaws Patrick was particularly impressed with the clean, cheap, efficient and air conditioned metro system. We got out at Connaught place which is a large circular colonnade of shops set around a park. You could easily be on Oxford street or Knightsbridge in London and Patrick was, again, impressed with the large glass doors leading to sports clothes shops and air conditioned coffee shops. We stopped in one of the biggest chain cafes - Cafe Coffee Day - for lunch then went to look at a Hanuman (monkey god) temple. We noticed that lots of people were coming out with pink and green paint on their faces and clothes. We were expecting colours for Holi on the following day and had already set aside some clothes we were willing to throw away afterwards but, as these clothes were back at the hotel, we skipped the monkey temple and went straight on to the Jantar Mantar. This rather strange group of objects was built by Jai Singh (who you'll remember from the Jaipur post!) to chart the movement of the celestial objects. He had an obsession with astronomy and he built several Jantar Mantars around his kingdom. We looked at all of the objects / buildings and read the descriptions but it was pretty hard to figure out how they were supposed to work. One object looked like a mini Colosseum with a wooden wheel inside whilst another looked like a stairway to no where with two semi circles stuck to the side. We felt it was impressive without truly understanding why!

The following day was Holi. This is a Hindu festival which welcomes the coming of spring and it's celebrated by throwing perfumed coloured powder over people. It's also known as a festival to loose your inhibitions and we read several articles in the morning paper about how men should remember that, as it was also International Women's day, they should 'play safe' this Holi and not use it as an excuse to harass women. We managed to walk from our hotel to a nearby cafe without getting any colour on us and it was fun to watch tourists, children, shop owners and young Indians 'playing Holi' together on the street. On our return journey we were well and truly Holied and then decided that, as we were already covered in the stuff, we might as well buy some colour of our own and stay out to play. Everyone seemed in a very jovial mood and it was nice to be able to take part in this old tradition. The festivities died down by around lunch time and, as there were no tourist attractions open on this public holiday, we spent the rest of the day relaxing on rooftop restaurants and watching the women's day themed films on our hotel TV.

The following day we were up relatively early to pack, walk to the station and get our next train to Amritsar in the Punjab.

Posted by ffionandpatrick 04:39 Archived in India Comments (1)


The Blue City

sunny 30 °C

We were told that the journey from Udaipur to Jodhpur would take 6 hours and there would be 2 toilet / food breaks. In fact it took 8 hours and we only had one short break. From looking at the map it seemed that there was a large main road between these two cities, two of the largest places in Rajasthan. Unfortunately, in order to drop off and pick up more passengers, we took a rural route along a single track road with a sand track either side. On this kind of road any vehicle can use the central tarmacked road and, when another vehicle comes hurtling towards you, one or both vehicles have to veer off onto the sand track. We're sure there must be lots of accidents on roads like this and we felt lucky to arrive on the outskirts of Jodhpur in one piece! We shared an unusually large autorickshaw with an American named Ryan who we met in Udaipur to a hostel at the heart of the old city.

We spent two and a half days in Jodhpur but unfortunately the Delhi Belly came back with vengeance and we spent most of our time there being ill and recovering on the hostel's roof top restaurant. We did manage to get to the main tourist attraction in town - the Meheranga Fort. The huge fort is built on top of a cliff face in the centre of town and, from our rooftop, it looked like a very imposing structure. We took an auto up to the entrance and were guided around the fort and its museum by a very good audio guide. First we walked through several sets of gates and passageways from outside the fort to where the main palace, now housing the museum, stood in the centre of the battlements. The palace is still in a good state of repair, probably because it's a popular attraction and it costs a fair bit to get in! It was built with delicate screens over all of the windows so that the women of the court could look out and see what the men were discussing in the courtyards below without being seen. This was important because Rajput women were supposed to be kept in 'purdah' - the Hindu upper classes of the 15th century approved so much of the Muslim principle that women should only be seen by their male relatives that they adopted it for themselves and gave it a new name. You still see Hindu women in Rajasthani clothes with a veil covering her whole face walking around the town. Inside the museum were rooms of palanquins (hand held carriages), knives, guns, paintings of previous rulers and a mock up of the type of tents the rulers would have stayed in when they were between battles and away from their palaces. Within the fort's walls were two temples to the family's god but we also spotted a small shrine embedded the palace walls that looked Hindu but had a picture of Mecca where the representation of the deity should have been. On our way out of the fort we passed the place where a man had been buried alive when they were building the original walls. The ruling family had been told that a human sacrifice needed to be made to bless the fort and this man offered his services. His family apparently have a strong connection with the Maharaja's family to this day. We also got to see why Jodhpur is called 'the blue city' - most of the houses in a particular part of the city are coloured light blue. It started when Brahmins (Hindu priests) believed mixing blue with the whitewash on their houses would keep away insects. Now it's more a fashion thing and no doubt the local tourist board is keen to ensure it continues as the sight of a whole city painted blue definitely looks good on a post card.

Jodhpur was the second place Ffion has revisited on this trip and she's happy to report that virtually nothing seems to have changed! From Jodphur we moved on by train to Jaipur - another Rajasthani city with a coloured epithet.

Posted by ffionandpatrick 23:59 Archived in India Comments (2)


The White City

sunny 30 °C

We awoke from our second sleeper train and our longest journey so far to the dusty hills of Rajasthan. Our destination was Udaipur, called the white city by some because of its white washed buildings, a city newly built by the Maharaja of Mewar, Udai Singh, in the middle of the 17th century. The city mostly sits on the eastern edge of lake Pichola, though is now expanding outwards from the water. We took a rickshaw from the station to our hotel, which we were pleased to find was comfortable, spacious and had a rooftop restaurant overlooking the lake.

After breakfast and a bit of wander to get our bearings, we visited the large Jagdish temple. This had impressively intricate stone carvings and when we went inside we found a group of women singing songs to the god in his shrine. That afternoon we went to Udaipur's main attraction, the city palace. To call it a city palace is slightly misleading as the building is in fact a series of palaces, each added to by successive maharajas, each trying to outdo the last. The combined effect is imposingly large, towering over the lake and the parts of the city nearby. We entered by the main north gate and after surrendering our cameras (after a very thorough bag and person search) we made our way through the various palaces, passing large paintings of battle triumphs, plaques attesting to the greatness of valour and generosity by the rulers, and rooms decorated with coloured glass, tiles and textiles. At one of the highest points was a rooftop garden with a line of trees, remarkable as the area is over 30m above the courtyards below. That evening we decided to go to the Rajasthani dance and culture show hosted by museum down the street from our hotel. We were wary of how 'put on' a cultural experience this would be, but the displays of traditional music, dance and puppetry were entertaining and, for the most part, believably realistic. The show's finale was a dance by a large lady which she started with 2 water collection pots on hear head. After asking a blessing from a small shrine at the back of the performance area she showed her skill and flexibility by kneeling on the floor and doing a small dance, still with the pots on her head. She then went to the side of the stage and a helper put another pot on her head. She repeated the blessing, kneeling and dancing before returning for a fourth, fifth, sixth and even seventh water pot. It seemed an amazing achievement and the crowd congratulated her with lots of clapping and cheering.

The following day we decided to try our hand at some of the workshops on offer, starting with music at the shop across the street. Patrick spent an hour shredding his fingers on sitar scales while Ffion got to grips with the different noises and tabla can make. Our friendly teacher got through a good amount of technical instruction with us over the course of the 1 hour lesson, although we both felt that maybe learning some type of musical tune or piece would have been a welcome addition. After lunch we got out on the water on a boat tour around the lake, visiting the Jag Mandir on its own small island. Apparently one of the buildings in this palace gave Shah Jahan some inspiration for the Taj Mahal when he was sheltering on the island, though we couldn't really see any close resemblance. Maybe it will all become clear when we visit the Taj later in the trip! Later in the afternoon we had our second lesson of the day, taking one of the painting classes run by the art shop attached to the hotel. We selected our painting templates (you'll have to wait until we get home to see which we chose!) and under the close eye of the teacher we set about copying them onto our own silk pieces. The process was time consuming and quite fiddly at times, using a variety of thin brushes and paints made from the colours of local rocks, but we were both proud of our efforts when we completed them 3 hours later. Ffion had a chat with the teacher about the techniques involved in her own silk painting (www.sidansilks.blogspot.com) and he was amazed to hear how many rupees a hand painted silk tie could sell for back home. That evening we ticked off another one of Udaipur's 'attractions', watching the James Bond film 'Octopussy' which heavily features Udaipur's local scenery. It seems every hotel and restaurant shows the film everyday, and while initially wondering how there is the constant demand for it, we participated in what seems to be as necessary a part of a visit as a boat trip of palace tour!

We were sad to move on from Udaipur the following day, as it is a beautiful and relaxing place to spend a few days, especially after some of our experiences in Gujerat, but leave we did, setting out on our next bus trip to Jodphur.

Posted by ffionandpatrick 09:16 Archived in India Comments (1)


sunny 28 °C

After our rough over night journey from Ahmedabad we were very glad to reach Bhuj in one piece. Bhuj is the capital of the area of Gujerat called Kutch which is almost an island as it's separated from the rest of the state by something called the Rann of Kutch, a large, salty marshy area which floods every monsoon season. After having a nap and eating some brunch we set out to explore the town. Following on from the previous day our first visit was to a religious building - this time a huge temple which, judging by the size of the car park, gets very busy on certain days. The temple was closed to women until 4pm so only Patrick had the privilege of seeing the ornate carvings of dancing elephants and ladies playing the flute inside the main temple. Then we went to visit the unfortunately named 'Fok Art Museum' which had an interesting collection of textiles, knives, chess boards and parts of the fossil of a crocodile head which had been found in a good condition in the salt of the Rann of Kutch. In the afternoon we visited the Aina Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) which was built by the Maharana (ruler / king) in the 15th century. The Maharana was a man who obviously enjoyed excess. The whole of the living quarters were ornately decorated with mirrors, stained glass and pictures from India and Europe. His bed had solid gold feet and he had an amazing 'pleasure pool' built which was an island of cushions, musical instruments and dancing girls in the middle of a water pool with large fountains and lanterns around the edge. Next door to the Aina Mahal was the Prag Mahal, another palace, built by a 19th century Maharana. This ruler had a penchant for European architecture and had a massive extension built to the original palace which looked a bit like St Pancras station and had a huge, high roofed hall inside. In 2001 the whole of Gujerat suffered a massive earthquake which was centred in Kutch. Many of the buildings in Bhuj were destroyed including parts of both palaces. Unfortunately most of the Prag Mahal hasn't been fixed since then so dozens of birds are able to fly in an out of the large hall to peck at the paintings and stuffed animals inside. That evening we watched the sun set over the large and picturesque water tank at the edge of town.

The following day marked the beginning of our suffering from the obligatory Delhi Belly so we had a laid back day watching cricket and BBC world news. We also managed a visit to the Kutch Museum which had more textiles and knives on display as well as some cases showing the clothes and characteristics of the different 'tribes' that live in the rural areas of Kutch. It sounded as if the curator had allowed some of his own prejudices out when writing the texts as one group was described as 'strong and brave' whilst another was characterised as being 'lazy and big-nosed'! That evening was the first time we'd had the opportunity to meet some fellow travellers and found an interesting bunch of people in our guest house's court yard ranging from an American lady who was here to look at textiles and offer prayers to a specific temple to a middle aged French man who works in South Korea and regularly comes to India for short holidays. We also met two girls closer to our age who were in Gujerat doing PhD research and an oral history project about where Sindhi people (an ethnic group) moved to after partition.

On our final morning in Bhuj Ffion went shopping and bought a new shalwar kamize (long shirt and trousers) with a traditional Kutch pattern. We boarded the train back to Ahmedabad at mid day. From the train journey we surmised that a lot of Gujerat is sparsely populated but that the state probably produces more than its fair share of power (we passed several large wind farms and power stations) and salt. Crossing the Little Rann of Kutch and seeing groups of women piling up mounds of salt is something we're unlikely to see again. At Ahmedabad we passed another few hours in the waiting room before getting on an old rickety looking sleeper train to Rajasthan. Although Indians on trains have so far been either polite or nonplussed about our sharing their carriages we were very pleased to find that we were sharing our sleeping quarters with two nice girls from New Zealand.

Posted by ffionandpatrick 03:36 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)


sunny 30 °C

Our first stop out of Mumbai was the capital of Gujerat, Ahmedabad. The overnight train from Mumbai was due into Ahmedabad at 6.25am but it managed to get ahead of time and we arrived just after 6. The relative comfort of the beds in sleeper class was rather cancelled out by the shortage of time to get some sleep and so we left the train feeling somewhat bleary. We decided to try and book our onward travel straightaway, but as the advanced booking office didn't open until 8 we headed for the waiting room to wait and get a bit more shut eye. To our annoyance, when the reservation centre did open and we had fought our way to the front of the queue it turned out there were no tickets available for the train we wanted, so we set off to our hotel unsure of where and when our next stop would be.

The journey from the station was our first in an auto-rickshaw. Immediately we were hit by the amount of pollution and dust in the air, possibly Ahmedabad's worst feature, though the rickshaw trip itself was not too bad. Our hotel, the Volga, was a true haven on a quiet-ish backstreet in the city centre, and we went straight to bed for a couple of hours when we got there. When we were feeling a little more alive we set about trying to work out the onward travel again, the helpful men on the hotel desk getting us prices for buses and trains into western Gujerat. Unfortunately, the trains and day buses were all full so we ended up apprehensively booking an overnight sleeper bus to Bhuj for the following day.

We set out in search of breakfast and found a quiet (if expensive) cafe where we had some eggs and coffee. This experience taught Patrick that when an Indian menu claims to serve a variety of types of coffee, their approximation of a 'filter coffee' is not entirely correct! The rest of the day was spent exploring the dusty Old City area. Gujerat has a large Muslim population (although, as everywhere in India, Hindus are in the majority) so many of the attractions listed in the rough guide were mosques. The first was a very old one that apparently incorporated Jain designs in its pillars but our untrained eyes couldn't spot any. The second was closed and in the middle of a street full of road works. The third, the Jama Masjid, was difficult to find but huge and had a lovely, modern courtyard in the centre. Most of the mosques we've seen at home or in Eastern Europe have been round enclosed buildings that you enter by a door. All three of the Indian mosques, however, were buildings with only 3 walls with the 4th side opening out onto the courtyard or garden area. After ticking off these mosques and getting lost looking for a bank we had lunch and retired to our room to continue recovering from our train journey. After tea Patrick explored the channels available on Indian cable TV and was delighted to find several cricket channels and many more generic sports channels.

The next day we switched from Islam to Hinduism and went to look at a large temple in the middle of crowded backstreets. It was very busy and when we were standing in the brightly decorated courtyard around the main shrine there was a sudden commotion as someone in orange robes came out of a side room and walked along a route guarded by policemen to a car with black tinted windows. We weren't sure who he was but he was obviously very important and revered. The other attractions of the day somewhat paled in comparison with this lively, colourful temple. First we visited the shaking minarets - the only remaining example in the city of mosque minarets built on sandstone so that they shake but don't collapse during an earthquake - then attempted to visit the 'world famous' Calico textile museum. Gujerat is famous for textiles and Ahmedabad apparently has the nickname of 'Manchester of the East' but we weren't able to see this for ourselves as we found out, when we arrived at the gates, that you had to pre-book on a tour days in advance. We then wondered around the city and found another large temple that was closed for the afternoon and then stumbled across a huge Jain temple that wasn't even marked on the map but whose delicate stone carvings were very impressive. Our final religious building of the day - another mosque - had a lovely garden but was fairly plain and dull inside.

That evening we had a tasty India dinner before making our way nervously to our first sleeper bus. The bus was half way between a single and double decker with chairs on the lower level and beds above them. The mattress was soft and we even had pillows and a bottle of mineral water provided. We thought we were in the lap of luxury until the bus started and we were jolted around at every pothole and speed bump. It proved to be an uncomfortable night with very little sleep and left us both determined never to take an over night sleeper bus again!

Posted by ffionandpatrick 06:02 Archived in India Comments (1)

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