A Travellerspoint blog

Agra

Spectacular Taj Mahal

overcast 20 °C

After another hideous 18 hours overnight bus journey we finally made it to Agra. We picked up a lovel rickshaw driver (is that really possible??) Who took us directly to the hotel we asked for, as it happened the rooms were not that great so he took us to another hotel and we have a room with a view of the Taj Mahal and at half the cost!! The toilet even has a view of the Taj - hee hee!! The room is a bit quirky and actually has a round bed also.

After a well needed cuppa and shower the rickshaw driver took us to some of the sights of Agra. We saw the baby Taj which was really lovely, made before the Taj apparently and much smaller but very intricate. It is made from white marbel and has beautiful flowers inlaid into it and is set in a lovely garden. We were then taken to the back view of the Taj across from the river to see the supposed sunset but unfortunately Agra is very polluted and the sun disappeared behind the smog, but it was a lovely site nevertheless. The rickshaw driver then took us to see "the very famous marble wall" but as it turned out was a marble emporioum with hugely overpriced marble tables, chess boards etc. We were shown how they were made, using the same techniques that were used for the taj and to be honest it is pretty impressive. The white marble is stained the henna so that the ingraving could be seen, a template of the flowers to be inlaid is made then using a tiny chisel held like a pencil the template is hollowed out, the tiny petals of the flower then inlaid and then the marble is polished to remove the red stain. Very beautiful and time consuming and was very interesting to see. We were then taken into the shop and very insistantly told that we could pay by credit card. After admiring the work we left empty handed - phew!! We then went into another emporium - just for fun, that sold everything from pashmina shawls, musical instruments and brass statues. We are actually interested in finding a brass Hanuman (Hindu monkey god representing devotion) and while we were waiting for them to gather the pieces we were treated to a private music sitting of the tablea and sitar. Of course they were trying to persuade us to buy but it was a fantastic experience all the same and Paul even had a go himself and a jamming session of sorts, which he loved. Again we thankfully left with our wallet in tact. Although the rickshaw driver said that there was no pressure we thanked him and asked him to take us back to the hotel. It put a dampner on our opinion of the rickshaw driver but as he rightly pointed out it is so hard to make money, I had to feel for the guy but he did well out of our rickshaw ride so it was all smiles in the end.

We woke this morning and poked our head out of the window to see if we could see the sun rise but again was too foggy however we got to the Taj about 8 this morning and paid the pricey fee of 750 rupees (indians 20 rupees) entrance fee. The anticipation of walking through the huge red sandstone north gate was pretty intense. The view through the arch of the gate gave us a little glimpse of the Taj and we started to get really excited. We were not to be disapointed the Taj is magnificent. The sun greeted us and we were able to take some wonderful photos. I was worried that we might have been disapointed as we have been really looking forward to seeing the Taj for the whole of our India trip. As we got closer we were able to see the amazing details of the carvings in the white marble. Inlaid are very intricate flowers made from green malakite, blue lapiz and brown Jasper as well as irridescent abalone. Around the central arches is the script of the Koran and beautiful fret work, each piece made from a single piece of marble. We spent about 3 hours admiring the beautiful work and to honest I could have spent all day there as it was a beautiful relief from the hectic city of Agra. The Taj Mahal is truely a sight worth visiting.

We are off to Delhi tomorrow and to be frank is not something that I am looking forward too but happy to know that we are only 2 days from flying back to the UK and really looking forward to seeing family and catching up with friends.

Posted by paulandjes 03:39 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Pushkar to Jaisalmer

Cows and Camels

sunny 25 °C

Paul:

For the past week we've travelled through more of Rajasthan. After Ajmer, we headed to Pushkar which is a short bus journey from Ajmer. Pushkar is a holy city with lots of temples. We arrived at lunchtime and found a reasonable, cheap hotel near the centre of the town. Once we'd settled in, we headed out. There are loads of cows wandering around the streets of Pushkar. This makes walking about quite an experience as you have to watch every step you make to avoid the horrific squelching problem (if you get my drift) and also the cows seem sometimes to head straight for you. Jess is convinced that they are after her as I think I mentioned before. We went to the Ghats. These are apparently very sacred places where the locals wash in the lake. As we arrived there we were acosted by two guys who put flower petals in our hands and invited us to pray for our families. We'd read about this and made it clear that we were not going to donate any money for this 'no problem sir, as you wish'. So there we were by the sidew of the lake getting red paint and rice applied to our faces as we repeated sanskrit blessings. As we finished, the inevitable question came 'how much are you going to donate? 5000, 10000 rupees?'. We managed to plead poverty and escaped back to the main street with our red foreheads. The centre of Pushkar is full of little stalls and shops (as is most of India it seems). It all gets a bit tiring at times, although we did manage to pick up some nice Indian music which a guy burnt to a cd for us. 12 albums of MP3s for about 4 pounds. Not bad.

The following day we headed for the Sikh temple which we'd noticed on the way in. This is a new building, just three years old but beautiful all the same. On the day we went there, it was a holy day where they were honoring the founding guru of the Sikh religion. They were providing food for all people who visited the temple. A really nice man took us around and asked us to sit and eat with them. We had some chai and pakoras and saw the women making chipatis. It was a really nice thing to see.

From Pushkar, we headed for Udaipur by train. The train arrived in Udaipur at about 10pm so we got a rickshaw to our hotel and headed for bed. Udaipur is a very nice city and probably the nicest large city we've seen in India although the people of Udaipur seem to be obsessed with the fact that some scenes from Octopussy were shot there and most hotels show the movie every night at 7pm! Wierd!

In the centre is a massive palace which overlooks a large lake. Jess was feeling very unwell with a stinking cold, headaches and flu. She had been quite unwell for a few days but today she felt really bad and stayed in bed to rest while I had a bit of a look around the city. In the afternoon, Jess got out of bed still very ill and we had a look around the city palace. The palace was really interesting and well worth the visit. It felt as if it was decorated as it would have been when the Maharasha lived there a couple of hundred years ago. This was one of the best things we've seen in India so far and we spent a couple of hours wandering around. On the way out, a vicious cow tried to gouge me with his horn. I felt it brush my arm as he swung his head. Close call! In the evening we went to see some traditional Rajasthani dancing which was quite interesting. The last dance had a woman dancing with ten water jugs balanced on her head! Next day we wandered around Udaipur a bit more (Jess was still quite unwell bless her) and booked our bus to Jaisalmer (another night bus...Groan!)

The night bus wasn't too bad for a change. Maybe we're just getting used to them. A guy on the bus persuaded us to come and look at his hotel which sounded good (and cheap too). The hotel seemed OK so we checked in and arranged a three day camel safari through the hotel which also sounded good too they also offered to book our bus to Jaipur with no commission charge as well. So far so good. There was no hot water for a shower so the hotel gave us some warm water in buckets for us to wash. Not too uncommon in India so we didn't worry as they promised us hot water later. We had a walk around Jaisalmer fort which was very nice. It is like a little town in itself which seems fairly untouched. I felt like I was walking around some biblical city and expected to see Moses around each corner. Great stuff. We headed back to the hotel to find that there was still no hot water and also no electricity. Hmmm, here we go. They managed to fix the electricity by poking a wire into the plug socket in our room so we had a dodgy electric cable hanging over our bed which was a bit of a worry. Oh well, there will be hot water in the morning we were promised.

Guess what. No hot water again in the morning. The guy overslept and didn't start the boiler (which was an iron tank on the side of the hotel with a fire underneath it). Then he left a tap running above our room and the water came gushing down the stairs and into our room. I just about managed to get our stuff off the floor before it got drenched. Fawlty towers has nothing on this place!

The camel safari was good fun. We were driven out to the desert about 50km from town and met our guides and camels. We had lunch cooked on a camp fire and loaded up the camels and headed off. My camel was the only female and was very grumpy groaning and blowing raspberrys all the time. Hilarious. Riding camels is good fun but it starts to really hurt after an hour or so as your legs just kind of dangle over the side and both me and Jess had aching hips. We sttopped in a couple of local villages where the kids follow you around asking your name and seemd to be obsessed with getting our water bottles. 'Bottle! Bottle!' was what we heard all the time. We had dinner under the stars in the dunes and settled down to sleep in the open air with a couple of blankets. It was freezing cold at night but we managed to wrap ourseles in our sleeping bag and slept fairly well. More camel riding and sore hips the next day and more kids obsessed with our bottles.

The safari was good fun and afterwards we headed back to Jaisalmer to get our bus to Agra.

Posted by paulandjes 03:39 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

Rajasthan, India - Jaipur to Ajmer

The real India?

sunny 25 °C

Paul:

Well, we finally made it to the north of India. Many people have said to us that you don't see the 'real India' until you head north. We flew to Jaipur on a long flight from Kerala. The plane stopped in Bangalore and Hyderbad on the way. A bit like being on a bus really...weird. We arrived at midnight in the end. The guest house picked us up at the airport so straight to bed. Ahhh.

We had good intentions for the next day. We were going to do a walk around the old city and see the sights. The old Palace, the Observatory and a few other things. Unfortunateyly, the centre of Jaipur consists of literally thousands of little shops and stalls selling clothes, jewellery, statues, bed covers etc etc. Hmmm. Guess what? We spent the entire day shopping shopping shopping. It was alright, (Jessica was in heaven once she got into her rhythm). Every stall will entice you with a cheap price. (only 40 rupees sir... Once you get into the shop, the guy will get out hundreds of sarees, cusion covers, bedspreads or whatever. Funnily enough, there never seems to be any at the price the guy first said outside. It was quite exhausting but we finally made it back to our guest house without spending too much. No really, we did!

Next day we headed into town again and actually managed to see the sights. The city palace was quite interesting. We weren't going to get a guide for it but were persuaded to by a guide inside. He spoke excellent English so off we went. Unfortunately, another guide saw this and came over to 'claim' us as his as it was his turn next. This guys English was a little harder to understand unfortunately. After 5 minutes of asking him to repeat everything he said, we parted company with him a little frustrated and continued on our own. The city palace is still used by the Maharasha of Jaipur who was at home but we wern't allowed into his part of the building. Accross the road from the palace is the observatory. This was interesting. It consists of different instruments for measuring the time and position of the sun for astrological purposes. There is a 27 metre tall sundial which is accurate to 2 seconds! Amazing stuff as it was all built about 250 years ago. Clever clogs here forgot to put the card with the hotel address in his wallet before we headed out so we couldn't get a rickshaw back and had to walk. D'oh!

We headed out of Jaipur by bus to a town called Ajmer. This is a smallish town, again with lots of shops. We stayed in a basic hotel in the centre. The town is interesting. Lots of cows walking around (mind where you're treading!). We saw a Jainan Temple which was fairly amazing. In the centre was a huge construction which represents 13 continents and oceans with this enormous palace made in wood and covered in gold leaf. It has thousands of figures of people, elephants, horses and cows all around and is incredibly detailed. We wandered around the town for the rest of the day and only got a little lost in the maze of bazaars. We felt a little like rock stars with people waving to us and wanting to take our pictures. I guess they don't get too many tourists in Ajmer.

Next stop is Puskar

Posted by paulandjes 05:49 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Sivananda Ashram - Kerala, India

Jaya Ganesha, Jaya Ganesha

sunny 25 °C

The night bus was of course horrific but we are becoming used to them or numb to them I think. We do however have a bit of a bad taste left over from the bus as our stuff was pinched from our bags that we CHAINED to the chairs. The cheeky monkeys took Pauls clothes out of his bag, took his electric razor, camera, mp3 player, solor charger and some presents that we had bought for family, then put the clothes back in the bag. All this while we slept (sporadically) on top of the chairs they were chained too!!! The electrical stuff we are not too worried about as it is just an inconvenience. We can replace them and thankfully Paul burnt a DVD of the photos to date whilst in Hampi so at least we have those. Just no music which is a bummer but the presents are irriplaceable. Hopefully we have learnt from the experience.

We spent a pleasant afternoon in Goa and Colin who we met in Anjuna met us for lunch which was really lovely. We then got onto a train and headed for Travandrum, which to my horror I discovered at the platform that the journey was 24 hours long. As it turned out the train ride is definately one of my highlights so far. We got on the train at nearly midnight so the priority was of course to get some sleep so we pulled out our trusty sleeping bags and settled down for the night. The train is pretty dirty and smelly but I had expected worse. No one really spoke to us during the whole 24 hourse but there were smiles and nods and definitely plenty of staring. During the journey men (chai wallers) paraded up and down the many carriages calling "Chai, chai, chai" occasionally we would hear "coffee, coffee, coffee" and although the train served food which was cooked fresh in the dinner carriage, we saved ourselves for the station food. The stops at the stations were wonderous. A bustiling of food and drink wallers calling out, people stuffing bottles of water through the bars of the window, hot food being wafted outside the windows. Mostly deep fried stuff like samosas and many other things that we didn't recognise but it was cheap and tasty and safe to eat.

Once we arrived in Trivandrum we needed to get the local bus to Neyyar Dam which is where the Ashram was and that was an experience. Indians are hilarious when it comes to giving information. If they dont know the answer they will give any information which I may have said before is a little frustrating when you have a 20kg backpack on and you are wandering from pillar to post. So we have come up with a method of asking a dozen people and taking the average and in this instance it worked out and we got on the right bus.

We arrived very late at the ashram and after filling in numerous forms and agreeing to the rules (veg diet, no smoking, alchohol, garlic, onions, kissing etc.) we were allowed to go to our rooms. No kissing!!! No cuddling either, when we got to the rooms the single beds were at opposite sides of the room with a bit concrete desk in the middle to keep them apart :0( They certainly do their best to keep the ashram occupants Satvic (pure).

The very loud bell woke us up at 5:20 ready for chanting at 6. Arriving at the hall we were greeted by everyone wearing yellow t shirts and white pants. Paul and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows and wondered what on earth we had gotten ourselves into. However with time and explanation it all became clear and we rather enjoyed ourselves and were very sad to leave. Although the schedule looks gruelling here it is:

5:20 Wake up bell (VERY loud and the worst part of the day)
6:00 Morning Satsang (Singing and chanting)
7:30 Chai (this was sweet milky tea and became a huge treat)
8:00 Morning Yoga
10:30 Breakfast (some days good, some bad but usually consisted of veg stew, dosa, rice,chutney, and popadoms - not spicy)
11:00 Lecture (What is yoga, the benefits of a veg diet etc)
12:30-1:00 Karma Yoga (when you do a chore to help out)
1:00-3:00 Free time (but if you were keen you could go to asana coaching)
3:30 Afternoon Yoga
6:00 Dinner (much like breakfast)
7:30 Evening Satsang
10:00 Lights out

Phew!!! Paul and I had a private room and for that I am thankful as I am not sure how I would have coped with lights out at 10:00. If you were not in a private room you were in a huge dorm, male and female seperate of course!! It really didn't take us long to get into the swing of things and we were able to wear our own clothes - the yellow t-shirt gang were teachers in training. I am very happy as I went to the coaching and picked up loads of good tips and was able to accomplish the headstand. Even Paul started to enjoy the asana (he especially enjoyed the chanting but dont tell him I told you).

When the time came to leave we were a little sad. It was nice at times to not have to think!! Everything was taken care of and now we had to go out into the real world. We had to get the local bus to Allepey.

We have been warned about public buses but I actually find them really interesting to travel on, great for people watching and seeing the local life. the only down side is of course that you do tend to fear for you life a few times. I tend to look out of the side window and not worry too much but Paul's right foot hurts by the end of the journey where he has been using his imaginery brake pedal. This particular journey was a bit of a worry as the drivers eyes were very heavy and he was popping stuff left right and centre. I just kept looking out the window and enjoying the sights (like elephants parading down the street!!) There is not much you can do when you are on the bus so you might as well enjoy yourself.

The bus to Allepey should have taken 3 hours but ended up taking 6 and a half hours. This usually wouldn't have been a problem but we had booked accommodation that was recommended to us that was on the backwaters and relied on us getting the local ferry which apparently stopped running at 6:30 and it was now nearly 9 and pitch black. We rang the place and there was an alternate route, rickshaw to the jetty, row boat across the river, then a 'short' walk to the hostel. After a few hiccups that I won't go into here, we got the boat and were walking along the river towards the hostel. The wind picked up and it looked like a storm was coming in. We got to a section of 'path' that was merely 12 inches of concrete bridge with a drop into the water below either side. You could probably do this no trouble during the day and with no backpacks on but we were going to struggle. Bugger!!! What were we going to do?? And to top it off it started to rain!!!

Well I think Paul and I must have worked up some good Karma being at the Ashram as a little voice came out of the blue from one of the houseboats tethered to the side of the river. "You guys OK? Are you lost" We explained the situation and this is how we met Lisa our good Samaritan. She invited us onto the boat and offered us a cup of tea while we worked things out. The heavens opened and it started to storm, thunder and lightening. By this time it was 11pm and so we accepted her offer of crashing on the floor somewhere. The staff on the houseboat were amazing and cooked us toast and omlettes for dinner and then gave up their bed for us which we tried to refuse but wow, what great guys. We were even treated to a wonderful breakfast and then dropped off at Bamboo Stix, which definatley was not a 'short' walk up the river. Thank you to Lisa and James and to the staff of the houseboat that really looked after us.

Bamboo Stix was amazing. It is these amazing bamboo structures on the waters edge and although a little pricier than we were used to, it was worth it even though it was dorms. Paul and I were lucky and had a 4 person dorm to ourselves. We spent a couple of days of the water, lazing about and reading. We did exert ourselves on the second afternoon and went for a canoe trip on the backwaters which was really beautiful watching women wash their clothes and men bathe and children playing along side the river banks, seeing the houses and how people of Allepy live. Wonderful, truely wonderful.

After Allepey was Kochin (where the huge cantilever fishing nets are). We met a guy at Bamboo Sticks who lives in Kochin so he thankfully gave us a lift there which was wonderful. We even met him the next day (after the most disgusting nights sleep we have had to date being eaten alive by mosquitoes and bed bugs - Eeeuck!!!!!) and he took us for a tour of the area which was great.

It is getting to the pointy end of things now and so we are only spending a night or two in each place. That is the end of South India and now to the north and Jaipur - the india we have been anticipating all this time....

Posted by paulandjes 04:57 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

India - Goa and Hampi

Night buses - Will we ever learn?

sunny 30 °C

Paul:

Well, we finally made it to India! We arrived at 2am in Delhi airport and had a great Indian welcome. We went through passport control and went to the baggage collection area and found our carosel. All good. half an hour later, no bags have appeared. Hmmm. Apparently, the belt outside was broken so they moved it to another carosel. Err, no they didn't, half an hour later we're back to the original carosel with no bags still coming out. It took two hours and several supposed changes of carosel before we finally got our bags and headed for the domestic terminal to catch our flight to Goa. A bit of hassle with taxi drivers trying to persuade us that 'you cannot take the free bus my friend' later and we're in the domestic terminal at 6am ready for our 11am flight. Time for a small amount of much needed sleep on the terminal seats.

We arrived in Goa in the early afternoon and, eventually, found a nice room called Peaceland in Anjuna. Very nice. Newly decorated and clean. We ran into an English guy called Colin who is travelling around India and Pakistan for 18 months and he gave us some tips. Nice one!

After dinner and a couple of beers and a 3 up scooter ride back to our hotel, we finally get to sleep after 46 hours on the go.

There is a massive craft market on Anjuna beach which we went to the next day. The stall holders are hilarious and full of phrases like 'Luvly Jubly', 'cheap as chips' and my personal favorite, 'come and look at my cheap crap'. Great fun. I bought a couple of Goa Trance CD's and Jess got a nice indian dress.

We then went to Mapusa on our scooter to see if we could find somewhere to get our camera fixed. Mapusa is a smallish market town and was very interesting to walk around. This was our first taste of 'Real India' as the Goa beaches are quite westernised. We need to get used to people staring at us and shouting 'hello' and wanting to talk to us. All good fun. The storm clouds were gathering though so we decided to make a break for home. We got about half way before the rain started and we dived into the nearest bar. The heavens opened and the thunder and lightning was awesome. Definately the biggest storm either of us has ever seen. The power was out in the bar as well so we sat trying to keep the candle alight whilst the lightning crackled around us. Amazing.

We spent a couple more days relaxing in Goa and had great fun before......

The Night Bus Episode 3.

You'd think we would learn after out experiences in China and Vietnam, but, it seems that sometimes there is no other way to get to where you need to go other than the dreded night bus. This time to Hampi. It seemed OK at first as we got on the bus, fairly comfortable with double beds. Unfortunately, this was the bus which was taking us to our real bus. We had fold back seats (one broken which didn't lock down in place) over the back wheels. 9 hours of bumpy roads and seats smacking up and down over the big bumps later we arrived in Hampi battered and tired but OK. We found a guest house which was quite nice for 200rupees a night (about 2 pound 50).

Hampi is a pretty nice place. It has a bazaar in the centre with loads of little stalls selling beads, clothes and stuff like that. There are lots of 500 year old temples and buildings scattered around which are pretty interesting to. I'd love to include some pictures for you to see, but, unfortunately, our camera is still not fixed. Oh well. Maybe next week. We're going back to Goa tonight on..... The Night Bus Eeeek! Don't make me!

Posted by paulandjes 23:04 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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