Thursday, 28 October 2010

What Happens If Your Vehicle Breaks Down in Rajasthan? Pushkar! Oh God...

Hello blog fans! We’re in Pushkar now, the last leg of our India tour. We’ve got a few days here, six or seven in total, I think. I’ve lost track and I don’t care! We arrived here at 3:30am, bleary-eyed and slightly confused. It’s never a great idea to arrive somewhere at night, but the night bus was the most attractive of two not very attractive ways of getting here from Bikaner! I’m pleased to tell you that the owner of our hotel came and met us in the middle of the night (maximum points to him) and made sure we got there safely. Needless to say we crashed out on the bed almost instantly! Thanks to the Hotel Everest, which is really good by the way.

Pushkar is a religious pilgrimage town for Hindus and a hippy/backpacker hotspot for Westerners, so it’s quite a mix here. It’s probably the most touristy place we’ve been, but in a good way! The town has quite strict rules including no eggs, no meat and couples are told not to be affectionate in public. This last one is a rule we’ve observed in India generally, along with dressing quite conservatively and covering up. It still amazes me to see some tourists having a serious snogging session in public (saw this in Jaisalmer). Ania and I have just been marveling at a girl wearing leggings and a strappy top in Pushkar. You could see everything! Unbelievable!

I’m pleased to tell you that we haven’t done a great deal here! It’s been nice to relax and we’ve even found a cafĂ© that has quite a good library of films, all knock-offs of course! We’ve just watched The Men Who Stare At Goats with George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan ‘Have You Seen My Willy?’ McGregor and Kevin Spacey, which I really enjoyed!

Pushkar has also seen us achieve a small ambition for our Indian trip, which we talked about right from the start when we were planning it back home! Back in Udaipur we were constantly offered cooking classes and turned them down, thinking they were very expensive and maybe not exactly what we wanted. A few days ago we were kicking ourselves for missing the chance and wondering if we’d blown a good opportunity. Then in Bikaner (our last stop), we picked a hotel that offered free cooking classes, only to discover that you were simply allowed to observe the non-English speaking chef through a serving hatch. Not what we’d envisaged!

With that in mind I became determined to remedy the situation and after a quick spot of googling we found Fiona, who runs Our Pukka Place. Fi’s an Aussie who’s married to an Indian man, Praveen. They have a couple of hotels and also run various tours. Yesterday Fi came and met us at our hotel and took us shopping in one of the local markets for fruit and vegetables. We then drove back to her home in the countryside and cooked an enormous dinner from scratch! We made dhal (lentils), potatoes in coconut milk, sweet-and-sour aubergine (Indian style sweet-and-sour, not Chinese-takeaway gloop), an okra dish, tandoori cauliflower, a melon-and-mint salad dish, chai (tea) and a bucket load of chapattis! It cost us 500 rupees each, about 7 pounds. That included the cost of all the ingredients, some emailed recipe cards and of course we ate what we cooked (or attempted to, I nearly exploded!)! For any fellow travellers who happen to be reading, I highly recommend contacting Fiona and Praveen for cooking lessons. They were friendly and informative and great hosts! You can find their website here.

Here’s some photos and videos of us having fun cooking with Fiona and Praveen.

Ania chopping some okra:

Stirring up some delicious food (I was actually straining some fresh tamarind into a sweet-and-sour aubergine dish, so there!):

Praveen making chapattis (shhhh! Don't tell anyone from India, this is not men's work, apparently!):

Trying my hand at cooking chapattis. Praveen was kneading the dough and Ania was rolling it. We did several of these where the bread puffed-up beautifully on the naked flame, but didn't get those ones on video! Honest! Still fun though, we made loads:

That’s all for now, folks. We’ve got a train to Delhi booked in a few days’ time, then we’re off to Sydney! We’ll write again soon x

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Holy rodents!

Well, I have to say that I really loved Jaisalmer. There was something really magical about the setting, the golden colour of the sandstone and the living fort. Plus we made some really nice friends. So it was with a little sadness that we said goodbye and moved on to Bikaner.

Now, I must admit I kind of forced us to go there because I wanted to see the Karni Mata temple in Deshnok. Stu was not so keen. In short, the Karni Mata temple is full of rats, which are believed to be the reincarnated relatives of the goddess Karni Mata (an incarnation of Durga). So the rats run free around the temple, worshipped by pilgrims, and fed sweets by visitors. The temple has lots of holes in the bottoms of walls to allow the little guys free access to the whole place, and there is netting across the open ceiling to prevent birds of prey from swooping down on the blessed ones.

Here are some of the little fellas, drinking from one of the big bowls of milk left out for them.

We dutifully bought some ladoos to crumble on the floor for the rats, and we spent a while looking out for a white rat (if you spot one it is meant to be very good luck). We didn't see one, unfortunately. Actually, the rats weren't too bad at all, and we coolly maintained our composure; neither of us got an attack of the screaming heebie jeebies, which I'm pretty sure would be frowned upon in a place of worship! I have a video but it won't upload at the moment - I'll try again later.

That afternoon we stopped at a roaside 'daba' for lunch - it looked very low-key, and was one of the best meals we've had! Then we went to check out the Camel Research Centre, which was well worth a visit. There was a good museum with info about the four different kinds of camels, and a pen with young and baby camels (really sweet). Finally, we had a kulfi (ice cream) made with camel milk! It definitely tasted different from ice cream made with cow's milk - creamier, and a slightly odd consistency, but delicious!

Here's Stu enjoying helping the young camels reach some flowers they wanted to munch:

Eating camel kulfi!:
A burst of enthusiasm:

We had a quick look around Bikaner old city too, but didn't bother with the fort and palace museum, etc, as we've seen an awful lot of those already! Unfortunately, the guest house we were staying in had a really weird, unfriendly vibe, so we decided to move on quickly to Pushkar. More on Pushkar later! x

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Jaisalmer, Home To Shit Internet

You may have seen the following post without any text, just the photos and videos. While those are nice, it makes a lot more sense with the pretty words in place. Thanks Jaisalmer, for stressing me out with possibly the worst computer I've ever used! It really was a great town though! Enjoy the following! Take 2:

Since Ania wrote to you all in Jodhpur we’ve travelled to another desert town, Jaisalmer. Like lots of the places we’ve visited, Jaisalmer has a fort. But this one is different in that it’s a lived-in fort, and it’s not some fancy politician or Maharaja that calls it home, but the ordinary people of Jaisalmer. Inside the walls there are dozens of cafes, shops and other businesses; and we’ve made the ‘Pink Floyd’ restaurant our second home. It was here that we met Deepak, whose family runs the place. Deepak is my age and has been our unofficial guide to the place. We’ve had dinner with him a couple of times and he also helped us post a package back home. This is not as easy as it sounds! In India your parcel is boxed up in cardboard, then you have to find a shop that will sell you some cloth. Oh – and you’ll need a tailor too. He sews it up and wax is then used to seal it, all to discourage people from opening it as it makes its way to its destination! God knows what happens if customs want to open it and then reseal it! Then there’s the small matter of negotiating the Indian postal system. As you can appreciate, doing all of that without Deepak’s help would have been a massive arse, so we are very grateful to him! It was hilarious watching him go behind the counter in the post office (bringing me with him at one point!) because his friend works there. You could see the people on the other side of the glass thinking ‘Why is that white guy behind the counter?!’. Deepak helped us buy the things we sent home (I’m not telling – there are presents in there for my family, so you guys will have to wait until September 2011!) and got us a good deal too. We did all these errands on his motorbike (no helmets of course!). Here’s a short clip to give you a taste, taken by Ania from the Pink Floyd rooftop:

Jaisalmer is really beautiful. The fort really does look like a giant sandcastle!

Here’s a 3D map of the fort inside the museum. This is what it would look like if Jaisalmer was attacked by Aniazilla!

The fort is in danger of slowly crumbling away because it can’t cope with the amount of water flowing through its network of pipes. Several groups are working to save it and keep asking the question, ‘What happens when you pour water over a sandcastle?’ to raise awareness.

We’ve also spent some time with Deepak’s sister, Bobby here in Jaisalmer. She runs a shop called Belissima, selling textiles made by local women. Profits go towards helping widows and other women in the desert who get a bit of a raw deal, to understate things somewhat. Bobby told us that widowed women are often not allowed to leave their own homes for a year or two after their husbands die. They can only eat simple food like rice and dhal during this time, not to mention that they are then forbidden from wearing nose piercings or happy colours like saffron and red for the rest of their lives! We happily spent some money in her shop, including getting some henna done.

I also feel compelled to mention an excellent meal we had last night in Jaisalmer at a place called Kabab Corner (or something like that). Meat dishes in India are often found under the sub-heading of ‘Non-Veg’, which is completely at odds with how things are at home! It’s because meat is often not on the menu and a huge number of people are vegetarian or vegan. So last night I had the Non-Veg Thali (a selection of dishes served with rice and bread), which included Butter Chicken and Mutton curry. Mutton here is goat, not sheep! It was delicious!

This is also a good time to mention some hilarious Indian signs we’ve seen – no photos, sorry! Last night we saw one inviting us to ‘Rant A Motorbike’, before we found another place that offered a duvet cover: ‘No Viagra Needed: Magic Bedspread!’ and the brilliant ‘Make Your Boyfriend Less Ugly!’. What a lukewarm boast! Several of our favourites have come from food menus, including ‘All Sandwiches Served With Chops’ (man, I wish that were true!) and our personal favourite, ‘Ice Crime’, which I think sounds like a street term for diamond smuggling. We also found a dessert called ‘Hello To The Queen’, although this may actually be a move from the Kama Sutra.

Finally, here’s a picture of me trying on some clothes in Jaisalmer:

I will be appearing as Aladdin at the Royal Pavilion Theatre in Blackpool from 22nd November, right through until 17th May. Performances at 3:45, 7:45 and 9:30 every day. Also starring Joe Pasquale as Joe Pasquale. And on that note, click here for a funny.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Jodhpur and the Thar Desert

Hello friends and families! We are relaxing in our Jodhpur haveli today, taking some time to chill out after a couple of days in the desert. More about that soon.

Jodhpur has loads of character: blue houses everywhere and lots of narrow winding alleys in the old town, enclosed by a fort wall. It has a very medieval feel to it, and in any other country this old part of the city would be pedestrianised. But this is India, so even though the streets are too narrow for cars (and certainly too narrow for two lanes of traffic), nevertheless the alleys are thronged with rickshaws and motorbikes travelling in both directions with no discernable system, competing for space with cows and walkers. We got a rickshaw through town during rush hour the other day, and it was Utterly Mental. On foot (which we attempted the night before) it is even more bonkers.

There's an imposing fort in the centre, on a hill, which we visited the other day. It was really interesting - they have a very good audio guide which is the first of its kind in Rajasthan. The fort has great views, and various ornate rooms and displays of royal pallanquins and weaponry.

Yesterday we went on an overnight trip into the Thar desert about 65 miles outside Jodhpur. A very nice man called Shiva drove us out and we stayed at his family home. First thing we did, of course, was jump on the back of a couple of camels for a safari round the area (mine was called Lucky and Stu rode Happy). It is very rural; wonderfully quiet after the hustle and bustle of Jodhpur's streets. There are great expanses of desert punctuated by small village huts and farmland, and we often saw wild gazelles. There has been a good monsoon this year, and throughout the sand dunes there are a lot of scrubby plants so the landscape was still quite green. Everywhere on the ground were hardy plants sprouting watermelons and a kind of cucumber (we stopped for a break in the shade at one point and cracked open a couple of watermelons). Despite often feeling like we were in the middle of nowhere, children kept running out to wave at us, shouting 'Tata!' (meaning 'bye!') and 'Thank you!' Camels, by the way, are really big - much bigger than I imagined for some reason. And riding a camel for 2.5 hours leaves you with a very sore bum indeed.

Taking a break in the shade (false perspective here makes Lucky look smaller than he actually is). Lucky is also doing a goofy smile for the camera here:

Stu mounting his camel:

Back at Shiva's home, we were immediately surrounded by kids who were really friendly and inquisitive. They were totally astonished by my tongue piercing (which kept them entertained for the next 36 hours), and also by our camera (we kept taking photos and videos for them to see). We started to get a sense of village life over the two days we spent there, although the slower pace of life took some getting used to. There's an awful lot of sitting around, but once we got used to it it was quite relaxing. And some things are the same everywhere: the kids all showed off their best armpit fart noises with enthusiasm!

Next door to Shiva's home there was some building work going on, and he explained that theirs was a co-operative community - he didn't have to pay any of the men working there, he just provided food for them and in turn when one of them needed some help to build something they would know that the other guys from the village would just turn up. If someone was widowed or disabled, they were supported by the co-operative, and there was a communal emergency fund in case anyone needed to go to hospital. Also, the money we paid him for our stay in the desert was shared with the whole community. He said that pretty much everyone in the village was related by blood or marriage, so they are all really close.

Millet chapatis being cooked in one of the thatched huts:

Surrounded by kids:

Stu and Arjun pretending to be camels pulling the cart:

Shiva, his niece Jammu, and his youngest daughter wearing his turban:

After some delicious home-cooked curry, we went out to some sand dunes by jeep to watch the sunset. It was really beautiful, and of course we once again attracted a group of kids. We stayed up chatting with Shiva for a while that evening, while his niece Jammu drew henna designs on my hand. We slept out under the stars on the roof of his house, which was amazing, although we needed earplugs because there was festival music being played loudly somewhere, even out in the desert (sound really carries out there)! It also got surprisingly cold at night, so we needed warm blankets.

The next day we hung out at the house some more, snacking with the kids on cucumbers picked from the surrounding fields and crunchy lentils that had been dried in the sun. We did a final camel trip to a different bit of the desert, this time by camel cart (to save our poor sore bums), before heading back for a meal and then returning to Jodhpur. The sun really wiped us out and we fell asleep almost immediately after getting back to our haveli - we both felt like we were radiating desert heat for ages afterwards!

Sunset out on the dunes:

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Adventures in Jodhpur!

Hello everyone! We’re in Jodhpur now, having had yet another interesting bus journey from Mount Abu. When you’re doing a trip like this, it’s really hard to know what to make of a city, town or village before you arrive. If you haven’t been somewhere, the two ways you have of judging a place – pre-judging a place (!) - are guidebooks and the advice and experience of other travellers. The advice from other travellers on Jodhpur was pretty much 50/50 that it was either boring and scuzzy; or beautiful and brilliant! Well I’m happy to report that we think it’s the latter and we’re having a great time!

We arrived yesterday at our hotel, set in a beautiful haveli in a quiet part of the city near the fort (there’s always a frakking fort!), at about 3:30pm and stayed there for the rest of the day. The building is incredible. There are murals and paintings everywhere, on the actual walls rather than just hung up. They show local scenes, traditions and history. Like the haveli we stayed at in Bundi, there are nooks and crannies everywhere. Jodhpur is known for being blue, a colour chosen to reflect the caste (kind of like our class system, but much stricter and still very relevant and often, unfair) of the people that lived here; but it’s also believed to keep bugs at bay! There were fewer bugs last night, so maybe it works! We have several rooftops at different levels where you can enjoy a beer and watch the sun set over the blue houses and you can see the fort. There are lots of other tourists staying in the hotel too (surprise, surprise), mainly German and Swiss, including our friends Cat and Marius who we met in Mount Abu.

Today we went on a tour organised by our hotel to go and see some traditional Bishnoi villages in the countryside surrounding Jodhpur. We watched a man make pots out of clay and even had a go ourselves!

Me having a go at making a plate or bowl of some kind:

Ania with her finished pot:

Our finished (but unbaked) efforts! Mine is the shallow bowl or plate in the foreground, while Ania's pot or vase is behind it!

Then we visited a man’s home just to see village life. He had a spectacular turban, a great tash and he offered us delicious chai tea too. Ania tried on some traditional clothes and took a puff of the tobacco chillum (clay pipe) which the man lit for us (I didn’t have any – it smelt like ten cigars at once!). We were also shown the length of his turban (oo-er), which he then tied back around his head with incredible speed.

In traditional clothes. That's me on the left.

Badass in a turban. Need I say more?!

Our native man lights up his chillum:

And here he is tying up his turban:

Next stop was to see a man who makes his living weaving rugs and carpets on a hand loom. He was very well read and spoke many languages. He’s also into green power and has installed solar panels at his village home!

We also saw a textile factory where they made patchwork quilts and blankets out of old clothing; and stopped at the tour guide’s home for a light lunch. We also met the man’s family, here’s his wife and son:


This is a picture of some barfi we bought in Mount Abu. I really love this photo with the Hindi newspaper-wrapping and Ania's tattooed foot in the background! If you're interested, click here to find out what barfi is! These ones were delicious!

Making Tea on Mount Abu

Here's a video of Charles, our guide for our Mount Abu trek, making some Masala Chai (spiced tea) from scratch, on top of a mountain. Yum!

We really enjoyed our trek with Charles, you can view his blog by clicking here. Click the 'About Me' section to get in touch with him!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Trekking in the Aravalli Hills

We've just got back from trekking with Charles in around Mount Abu, which was fantastic! It was a great trek, really off the beaten track, through the undergrowth and across rocky outcrops. It's much cooler up in the hills which was really pleasant. Charles pointed out really interesting things along the way: ancient shrines on the hillsides, peacock feathers, porcupine quills, bear droppings, praying mantis, bitter red berries called 'falsa' which we ate, and a kind of cactrus called 'punsia' (the sap from this is used in an ayurvedic remedy for arthritis). When we got to the top of the bit we were climbing the view was incredible - we were so high up it was like looking down from an aeroplane! We gathered tinder and Charles then made a fire and cooked up some masala chai, and we rested sipping tea and admiring the view - bliss! On the way back down he took us via a small camp by a cave where a nomadic woman was churning butter while her husband was away with the cows. It was really interesting to hear about the nomadic way they live.

Stu and Charles:
Looking out at the view (Ania in the foreground, Charles silhouetted on the left):

The trip lasted about three hours, and then on the drive back into town Charles took us by his favourite 'chaat' (snacks) stall, where we all ate fresh samosas, bhel puri (puffed rice, salad and spicy sauce) and pani puri (small puffs of thin pastry with a watery bean sauce) - totally delicious! The whole afternoon was really enjoyable and the trekking was the main reason we came to Mount Abu so I'm very pleased to say it has made the visit here worthwhile.

Chaat stall:

If Bognor Regis was in India...

The Rajasthani dance and music evening in Udaipur was brilliant. It took place in an open-air courtyard inside an old haveli, and featured a puppet show with traditional Rasjasthani marionettes, plus several dances by women with pots of fire on their heads, or covered in bells, and all accompanied by musicians singing and playing drums. The final number was a woman who danced balancing pots on her head - each time she went to get another pot we thought she couldn't possibly balance any more, but she ended up dancing with a collosal stack of 10 pots on her head!

On our final day in Udaipur, we took a boat ride around the lake, which was very picturesque and a lovely way to spend an afternoon. On the way back we saw the Maharani's palace guard doing some exercises, all in a very impressive uniform (with the senior guard sporting a really incredible moustache). In the evening we wacthed fireworks from the rooftop of our hotel as it is the beginning of a 10-day Durga festival. We both really enjoyed Udaipur - it was much friendlier and cleaner (relatively speaking) than other places we've been. There's a really green movement to keep the city clean and a lot of the guesthouses have solar panels on the rooftops. We also had one of the best meals we've eaten here - an amazing cheap thali in a place across town where all the locals go and eat - not touristy at all, and people keep coming round to heap more rice, curries and chapatis on your place until you can't eat any more. And all for R70 (about 99p)!

View from the boat across the lake in Udaipur. In the distance is the monsoon palace on the hilltop, and in the foreground is a posh hotel on an island in the middle of the lake (both locations feature in Octopussy, of course):

The palace guard in Udaipur:

We've now moved on to Mount Abu, which sounded really nice but has left us both quite disappointed. It's Rajasthan's only hill station, and a lot of Indian holidaymakers come up here to escape the heat. The views from the bus as it slowly wound its way up into the hills were incredible, and the town itself is on the shore of a pretty lake surrounded by lovely hills. However, the atmosphere isn't great. It's like a crap British seaside town, with loads of tacky shops selling tat and bb guns (for some reason). We've had more hassle here than anywhere else - we get stared at 24/7 and people keep taking photos of us on their camera phones which is getting really infuriating (sometimes people ask first, sometimes they don't - we've taken to saying no when given the option, otherwise it would take forever to get anywhere).

On the plus side, we've met some really nice backpackers, and Charles, the son of the owner of our guesthouse, is really nice. He took a group of us out to see the Durga festival in action a couple of nights ago - we watched live music as one by one the children and a few of the women started dancing in a big circle until they were all in unison, clapping and twirling and doing a dance that involved tapping two sticks together. Yesterday we went to visit the Dilwara temples, which is a Jain temple a short walk outside town. The temples were really crowded with tourists, but they were really beautiful - the most intricate marble carvings I've ever seen. Photography isn't allowed inside the temples so I can't show you what I mean, but they really were exquisite. Apparently the marble-carvers were paid according to the amount of dust they collected from the carvings, in order to encourage them to carve ever more intricate designs.

Today we may do a trek with Charles in the hills around Mount Abu, which I hope will leave us both feeling better about the place! Tomorrow we're moving on from here, which we're both glad about. The weekend holidaymakers have gone back to the cities today so it's not quite as mental here as when we arrived.

The Durga festival celebrations in Mount Abu:

Sunset at Nakki Lake in Mount Abu. The lake is full of people on pedalos:

Thursday, 7 October 2010


As I mentioned briefly in my last post, we’re in Udaipur now and it’s probably my favourite place in India so far! But I’ve got to get us here from Bundi first, so hang on a second…

We checked out of the Lake View hotel in Bundi at about 9:30am on the 5th, with over twelve hours to kill until we caught our sleeper bus to Udaipur. We went down to the lake to read and sip some of Tony the Cook’s chai (spiced tea), which is still maybe the best we’ve had! There we met Londoners Toby and Max, who had just moved into the room we’d vacated. Guys, thanks for your help in killing those twelve hours, they whizzed by!

So anyway we caught our ‘luxury’ sleeper bus just after 10:30pm. These private sleeper buses rule! You get a berth (double in our case) with a sliding glass door and curtain for privacy, then you crawl in with your luggage and go to sleep! I woke up once or twice during the bumpy, eight-hour journey, but I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly it went and how comfortable it was.

As I write this, it’s the afternoon of our second day in Udaipur. We’re staying at the Panorama and we love it! Our room is a very reasonable R300 a night; and the hotel has a rooftop restaurant with great views of Udaipur’s lake. They also have two pet tortoises here who hang out near our room (one adult, one baby). The grown-up one is called Dollar and she’s over 45 years old, while her baby, Euro, is about a year old. Dollar likes me a lot because I keep feeding her leaves.

Udaipur features heavily in the Bond-film Octopussy and consequently dozens of hotels and cafes in the town show the movie EVERY NIGHT. Brilliant. We watched it last night whilst I enjoyed my first meat curry in India (Butter Chicken, it was delicious AND I wasn’t ill: yay!). We also put away a massive bottle of Kingfisher beer each. And why not?!

Before that we spent the afternoon in Udaipur, visiting the Bagore Ki Haveli, home to an amazing collection of Rajasthani puppets and a museum. We also saw the Jagdish temple, which is beautiful. Ania bought a small picture of an elephant, painted by hand on silk, from an artists’ school. In Rajasthan the elephant signifies luck and the city of Jaipur; the horse represents power and Udaipur; while the camel stands for love and Jaisalmer. So we have luck, but no love or power. Which sums up our experiences in India’s hotels! Ha!

Today we visited Udaipur’s palace, which you can see from our hotel. We are right on the waterfront here, but as recently as July the lake was completely dry. One guide told us people were playing cricket on the bed of the lake! The water is now sixteen feet deep in places!

Tonight we’re going back to the Bagore Ki Haveli to watch those Rajasthani puppets in action. There’s a live show which also features traditional dancing. Tomorrow is our last full day here as we’ve booked our bus on to Mount Abu for the 9th.

I’m enjoying India much more in the quieter places than I was in the crazy city of Delhi and I’m getting into the swing of it: booking our hotels by phone (difficult with the language barrier), haggling with shop owners and rickshaw drivers and returning friendly greetings in the street in my broken and very limited Hindi.

All in all, we’re having masses of fun. Udaipur is making that especially easy! Tomorrow, maybe a boat trip and a film starring Sir Roger Moore. I just can’t decide which one, though…

And now for the photos!

The view over the lake from the Haveli. Our hotel is out of shot, but on the side of the land you can see. The floating island on the left (in front of the hills) features in Octopussy. It's where Bond embarrasses baddie Kamal Khan in a game of Backgammon!:

One of the many impressive rooms in Udaipur Palace:

The outside of the Jagdish Temple:

The puppet room inside the Bagore Ki Haveli. Somehow less scary because there's lots of them!:

Me with my new pal, Dollar!:

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A Message from Bundi

We've been trying to add this video for a few days now, but it was pretty huge, so I've just reduced the size. I hope it works and that you enjoy it! We're in Udaipur now (just arrived via a night-bus) and will post properly about that soon!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Chilling out in Bundi

Bundi is a really lovely town. There's a relaxed atmosphere here, the people are really friendly and we've been getting less hassle from touts than in other places we've visited. Last night on the way home we got mobbed by a group of kids playing in an alleyway - they were all smiling and screaming and cheering, and they completely surrounded us asking for us to take a photo of them (Stu: they also pinched me!)! Here they are:

Bundi is overlooked by an old ruined palace and a fort on a steep hillside. We went to visit the palace yesterday and you can explore a long way inside it, up through lots of little alleyways and stone staircases that open on to big open rooms decorated with murals and mirrorwork dating back to the 1600s. The whole place is full of bats and you can look out of the palace up to the fort battlements which are covered in monkeys.

Views from the ruined palace:

A parakeet in the palace (we see these parakeets everywhere; they're very pretty):

17th-century murals:

Yesterday we took a long ride in an autorickshaw to a huge waterfall in the countryside near Bundi. We drove through lots of villages (with children waving to us as we went by) and also through great expanses of empty land. At one point we drove around a big snake in the road, and later a huge sambar deer leapt across the road in front of our rickshaw and bounded off into the scrubland. The waterfall was beautiful and we climbed down to the bottom, past a busy Shiva temple, to have a swim in the pool at the bottom - so nice to have a cool swim after all the heat and the dust!

View from the top of the waterfall:

Swimming in the pool:

We're going to relax for a couple more days here in our gorgeous haveli room before heading on to Udaipur. Our room looks out over a small lake, and it's a lovely place to just sit and read.

And one more thing. This is what Boris Johnson would look like if he was reincarnated as a buffalo (Stu - this is possibly my favourite picture ever, well it's certainly up there with the best):

Friday, 1 October 2010

Bharatpur, Ranthambhore and Bundi

Since we last wrote we've met a lot more travellers and from all over the world. During our time at Mrs Singh's in Bharatpur, we met a couple of couples, one American/Dutch and one Columbian who were very nice; a fellow Englishman called James who we spent
a few happy hours chatting to at our hotel; and a German couple who we shared our train seats with when it was rammed going from Bharatpur to Ranthambhore. It's really nice to meet fellow travellers and everyone seems to identify with one another! It's a bit like Freshers' Week at uni, you bond quickly because of the shared experience.

We spent a couple of hours in Bharatpur itself last week and it didn't really blow either of us away, I wouldn't recommend it. Deeg on the other hand is great! It's about one hour away from Bharatpur and well worth the journey for the palace alone, which is relatively modern and was used by the Maharajas up until the 1950s. There were fountains everywhere, only used two days each year because of water shortages; and a lake on either side of the palace, which runs underneath to keep it cool. We went inside the building itself with a guide and saw the main room, used for dining and lounging. We also saw the Maharaja's bedroom which as you would expect was grand. On the ceiling of the main room they have enormous fans, which are operated from outside (so the poor servants wouldn't even feel the benefit of the cool air). They also had a stuffed female tiger in a glass box, complete with scary face (why?); and two stuffed elephant feet, one designed for use as an ashtray and one as a perfume holder. Isn't that how we all want to be remembered?!

I must make some room now to say how much we enjoyed our stay in Bharatpur at the Falcon Hotel, near Keoladeo Ghana National Park. Mrs Singh and her daughter Tina were really welcoming and the hotel was super-comfortable. We spent several lovely evenings chatting to them and ate the best food we've had in India, freshly prepared in their own kitchen. A new discovery of mine is Malai Kofta, if you can find it back home, get it!

From Bharatpur we moved on to Ranthambhore National Park, home to tigers! Sadly we didn't see any, though. The village nearby is completely geared to safari-goers and closes for three months of the year. We arrived on the 30th September, ready for the first day on the 1st October and the town had a distinct feel of not being ready yet! Painters, builders and cleaners were working hard everywhere to get things ready; and several items on our restaurant menu were available yet, though we did eat well. So no tigers, but we did see lots of monkeys, peacocks, parakeets and two kinds of deer (sambar and spotted) in the beautiful surroundings of the Park. The nearest we came was a reasonably fresh tiger print on the track, which you can see below. It was exciting just to know they were nearby! We were amongst the first to try tiger spotting this season, starting our day at 6am!

At 2pm yesterday we got on a bus at nearby Sawai Madhopur to come to Bundi, where we are now. Guidebook says the bus journey is: 3.5 hours. Reality: 5 hours, 45 minutes. We didn't find this out until about 3 and a half hours in and this was our lowest point of the trip so far. It was crowded, hot and noisy; and Ania and I have now agreed on no bus journeys over an hour long! But we survived (just) and last night arrived in Bundi in the dark at about 8pm. We are staying in the gorgeous Lake View hotel, set in the Meghwahanji Haveli. Havelis are extravagantly decorated Rajasthani houses. There's lots of nooks and crannies in ours and a staircase to a flat roof where we have a great view. The building is 200 years old and is a little shabby, but we love it! The area is very 'buggy', I had to brush a few off our bed and kill dozens of ants in our room, but that one negative aside it's perfect.

Our photos for this post:

Us two, pictured with Mrs Singh and Tina (yes we are using forced perspective here, I'm not really a giant):

A couple of shots of Deeg Palace:

Me being a Maharaja with our guide paying his respects (!), also at Deeg:

The Ranthambhore tiger footprint, those elusive bastards:

Two more shots from Ranthambhore, inside the Park:

Ania reading inside our room at the Haveli in Bundi:

The view from the roof above!: