Monday, 27 September 2010

Birdwatching in Bharatpur

Well we've been having a very relaxing time in Bharatpur, staying with the friendly Mrs Singh. She makes fresh curds (yoghurt) at home every day which we've been having for breakfast with honey and bananas, and a big pot of Indian-style spiced chai (tea). She also makes amazing home-cooked curries for supper - yum! I've spent a lot of time sitting on our quiet balcony devouring novels and watching out for the red-vented bulbul which often
comes to sit in the tree next to us. (For those of you who don't know this about me, I am a closet bird-watcher. Only in places like India where there are exciting birds worth seeing, though - England only seems to have what my Mum used to call SBBs - Small Brown Birds.)

Yesterday we went to the nearby Keoladeo bird sanctuary. Mrs Singh made us a packed lunch, we hired bicycles and binoculars and went off for a few hours cycling through the wetlands and looking out for wildlife. It was thirsty work, boiling hot sun, but I really enjoyed it. I felt as though I was following in the footsteps of my Mum and Penny (I'm not sure if they went to Keoladeo, but they certainly did a lot of birdwatching in India), especially since the emblem of the park is a pair of Sarus Cranes (which my mum wrote a book on)! We saw: hundreds of egrets (several species), comorants, parakeets, roller birds, pea-hens, ibis, kingfishers, doves, treepies, monkeys, sambar (a kind of large deer), monitor lizards, rabbits, an otter and a turtle.
There were also huge clouds of bright yellow butterflies everywhere, which would rush up all around us as we cycled past. The best thing we saw were loads of enormous Painted Storks nesting and flying about looking like light aircraft. The one less pleasant experience was being followed around by a gang of teenage boys who kept taking pictures of us - what a pain! They wouldn't leave us alone despite us asking nicely and then more firmly, so eventually we got really annoyed and they only left when we threatened to call the police. Apart from that it was a really lovely day, though.

Here are some pics:

Some classic words of warning about protecting endangered birds:

Our next stop will be another wildlife reserve: Ranthambore, which is apparently the most likely place in India to see tigers in the wild. The park doesn't open until 1st October, though, so we're killing time here in Bharatpur for a few more days. It's actually been really nice to have some time to rest and re-group, so we're just settling in here, and enjoying the sunny balcony and delicious home-cooking.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

From Agra and on into Rajasthan!

So after seeing the Taj Mahal in Agra we've moved on to a hotel just outside Bharatpur, in Rajasthan. We are staying near the Keoladeo Ghana National Park, a bird sanctuary, which we plan to visit in the next few days.

In Ania's post below you can see our recently uploaded photos of the Taj Mahal. She's just reminded me to mention that while in Agra we also caught a parade going through the town, featuring blaring music, camels and people in colourful costume! At the same time we watched a huge monkey with a delightfully colourful bottom prowling along the rooftops! Nice.

After leaving Agra mid-morning yesterday we spent a few hours in Fatehpur Sikri, a small town down the road which is home to a huge mosque and a collection of Mughal palaces (photos below). Then we hopped onto our second bus of the day (my first bus trips in India actually: interesting! And not as bad as I thought they would be!) to come to Keoladeo.

We're staying in a hotel which is really good, especially by the budget standards we've been living by. The Falcon Inn is run by a woman called Mrs Singh who is very nice, so we're taking the opportunity to have some down time, use the internet at a cafe down the road and do some much-needed washing!

And now for some photos!

Fatehpur Sikri. Ania admiring the view of the gardens and the Panch Mahal. Bootiful. The building's not bad either...

The ornamental pool at Fatehpur Sikri. Actually took this photo just to test the light but it is actually really nice!

We've also found ourselves gathering small groups of fans: usually Indian children who are very sweet and keen to test out their English (which is superb) and see some Westerners! Below are two photos, the first is from Agra and the second is a family we met in Fatehpur Sikri:

Pictures of the Taj Mahal!

Below: the back of the Taj Mahal, seen from across the Yamuna river. Here you can see us being childish with one of the great wonders of the world!:

The Taj Mahal at sunset:

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Taj Mahal: pictures to follow!

Ania: Well, we made it out of Delhi successfully, and the train journey was fine (although trying to get the tickets yesterday was a pain). Chai wallahs and chaat wallahs were coming up and down the aisles selling tea and snacks, and it was shabby but comfy. We arrived in Agra this morning, and pootled about in an autorickshaw for most of the day, seeing the various sights and looking at local handicrafts. Then this afternoon we saw the Taj Mahal, which was every bit as awe-inspiring as you would expect. It's huge - bigger than I'd imagined - and intricately decorated. We're on a rubbish internet connection here so we can't upload photos right now, but we will as soon as we can!

Stu: Oh and thanks for all your comments guys! Keep 'em coming, it's really nice to hear from home!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A Bollywood film, a mosque and mughal fort

Well, Dabangg was brilliant fun - totally hilarious! It was kind of a spoof of itself, very tongue in cheek and over the top: big song and dance numbers, matrix-style combat scenes (in which the hero regularly wipes out huge gangs single handedly), and some extraordinary moustaches. No subtitles, but Raghu explained the crucial bits of dialogue so we could keep up. Here's a clip of one of the songs, to give you a flavour of the awesomeness of Bollywood!

On Tuesday we got up a bit earlier (slowly getting over the jetlag), and went with Raghu to visit the Jama Masjid, which is the largest mosque in India, built in 1644-1658. We walked there through the streets of the old city (an area which has apparently been designated a slum) - winding, mucky alleyways with electricity cables hanging tangled along them, full of people, shops, cycle rickshaws, dogs, and goats. The mosque has a lovely big courtyard where people come to hang out, and we climbed one of the 40m-high minaret towers, from which you can see amazing views of Delhi sprawling out below (the city is really colourful from above).

The Jama Masjid:

Views from the minaret:

After visiting the mosque, we hopped in a cycle rickshaw to the Red Fort, which is a grand, fortified area built by the Mughal empire. Inside there is a covered bazaar, gardens and several royal chambers built of sandstone or marble. We got caught in the monsoon while we were there, and again later that evening. The monsoon is usually finished by now, so everyone seems surprised that we're all getting so regularly drenched! It's so hot though that the rain is often something of a relief.

Caught in the monsoon at the Red Fort:We're both loving the food here too: we had an incredible South Indian thali for lunch yesterday, and also we've been eating loads of Indian sweets, which I seriously can't get enough of!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Our first day in Delhi

Hello, Stu here. So that was my first day in India, ever. Ania's been here before, so I think she's settled in a bit faster. I'd been warned what to expect from India, and Delhi especially feels very 'in at the deep end'. We went into Old Delhi today and had a great few hours including a delicious curry for lunch (of course!), a couple of rickshaw rides (one through rush hour traffic that was... interesting!) and visiting Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi that marks the place where he was cremated.

The city is huge and to my Western senses (and to my Stuart Duggan senses) feels extremely overcrowded. It's also hard to know who to trust. You read in every guidebook that there are scams everywhere and I'm sure they're right. The thing is it's hard not to get lost under a cloud of pessimism when some kind soul is genuinely offering to take your picture or help you find your way; and not secretly hoping to steal your wallet.

As I write this we're sitting in Raghu's flat. Raghu is a friend of Ania's from childhood who has kindly let us stay for a few days. Tonight we are going to the cinema with him and some others to watch 'Dabangg', which I'm assured is a massive Bollywood hit. It's 'the story of Chulbul Pandey (Salman Khan), a totally fearless but corrupt police officer with unorthodox working methods.' So either he's a tough cop who gets the job done, shoots first, asks questions later; or he solves crimes from his lighthouse hide-out, using his experience in professional magic to save the day.

So there's a little flavour of what we've been up to so far. Stay tuned and we'll post again soon. I'll let you know how Chulbul Pandey gets on with those unorthodox working methods.