In Other News...
Our driver, Raja Vinny, gave us some great one liners:
'No worry, no hurry, chicken curry'
'Full power, 24 hour'
'India is great, just a little bit late’
But nothing beats the guy who, in the most stereotypical Indian accent, quoted the Indian tourism board as we fought our way off the metro
‘Welcome to India, Incredible India’.
Road rules? What road rules? Supposedly they exist but no one follows them. This ranged from straddling multiples lanes right through to full on massive wagons driving the wrong way down the highway! Oh and of course, there is the compulsory incessant horn beeping!
The seasons are backwards here! There isn't really spring or autumn but it wouldn't really matter anyway. There's just summer (hot and dry) and winter (hot and wet) but what makes it different is that every thing dies in the summer and the flowers blossom and trees leaf in the winter! We've been here in the summer so everything is bare but it's easy to picture the landscape being lush and green.
The city of Amer adjacent to Jaipur was once the main city of the area until Raja Jai decided to build Jaipur (Jai's city) in order to improve trade routes due to its position at sea level rather than in the mountains. Safe to say it worked as before long the city of Amer was abandoned and Jaipur flourished! Doh.
In Amer is the old Amber Palace which sits high up in the hills and is surrounded by high walls making it very defensible. There were two ways to the top - walking or by elephant! We chose the former as we aren't really pro elephant riding and it was actually great fun watching all the people who had clearly regretted taking the elephant option as they bounced up and down and slid around on the chair!
नमस्ते Namaste (Hindi)
ਸਤ ਸ੍ਰੀ ਅਕਾਲ Sata srī akāla (Punjabi)
One end of the spectrum or the other really, they either were really friendly or they looked like your presence was causing them great inconvenience!
State of WCs:
1/10 - by far the worst of the trip as you can probably guess!
32*c - 42*c
Vegetable curry, rice and naan. Repeat.
No. Of bites:
Maryam 37, Andy 3, Ranj 7
Bouts of Delhi Belly:
Maryam 3 v 5 Andy
Endless amounts of heritage which is all wonderfully preserved. The smell of sewage
Hire the Chapati Express! Vinny knows all the tricks, tips and places to visit you would never have thought of. He is also possibly the nicest guy in India!
You don’t need to go to the zoo to see animals in India, you just see them on the streets: Cows, camels, elephants, monkeys, goats, pigs, boars, lizards, deer, chickens, ducks, parrots, peacocks, donkeys, horses, dogs, cats, squirrels, fox, sheep, cobras, crocodiles, rats…
All tourist attractions cost, so if you can pass as an Indian do try, your ticket will be 50p instead of £5
Curry, heritage, cows
4.5 hours ahead of GMT
Cows on every road, monkeys in every temple, peacocks on the roof, all you can eat curry and an abundance of heritage. Welcome to India, Incredible India! Here's some tips to help you through this post: 'pur' means city, 'sthan' means land, 'Raja' means King and Rani means Queen!
We splashed out and lived like a Raja and Rani by hiring our own driver to take us around Rajasthan in the 'Chapati Express'. His name was Vinny and he was epic!
The city of Jodhpur is awash with blue buildings. The colour blue was used as it is believed that it cools the buildings as well as deters mosquitos and flies.
One of the most famous sites in Jodhpur is Mehrangarh Fort which sits on a hill above the city and is surrounded by a huge wall, up to which the city presses. The fort was never breached in its time of occupation due to the high walls, cliff face and cleverly designed entrance which turned a sharp 90 degrees before the gate to prevent elephants being able to gather momentum to ram the gate.
There was a lot of emphasis on the women at this fort with their own private courtyards away from the prying eyes of men, veiled facades to allow them to watch the activities below and secret balconies where they could listen in on important conversations between the King and his associates. It wasn't all fun and games though, if the King were to fall during battle that too would spell the end for them. The wives would be expected to sit next to the king's body whilst it is burned and so to be burned as well! They weren't even allowed to scream...
Ranakpur wasn't on our original itinerary but we are glad Vinny took us. We drove through lots of small villages en route and saw how people in the country lived. Most places didn't have running water and so the women had to go to the well to get it wearing their beautiful bright coloured sahris.
On top of this, he also takes us to places that are a bit more off the beaten track and we would never have even known about let alone visited if we had been travelling solo. Ranakpur temple, of the Jenism religion, was one example of this and without doubt is one of the most amazing temples we have ever seen.
The drive from Ranukpur to Udaipur was also spectacular as it took us through the mountains and some beautiful scenery, stopping at a 'surprise destination' called Kumbalgarth Fort which Vinny called the Great Wall of India!
Nagda (en route to Pushkar) was one of the original capital cities
One more stop - Dubai!
Another wonder of the world visited!
Little did we know (or Vinny for that matter) that the Ganguar/Mewar festival would be happening in Udaipur upon our arrival. We found out when we met the blockade as the streets were closed to vehicles! From what we deduced, this festival has been going on for as long as the city had been around because there are paintings depicting it in the old city palace. There was dancing, music and other performance but the main event was women parading the streets with doll statues on their heads! All amazingly vibrant with so much excitement and energy.
Udaipur is a very beautiful town set upon a lake and could easily be mistaken as Venice. There is a floating palace in the middle of it which is now a hotel (very expensive) and was used as a set in the James Bond film Octopussy. The main city palace sits on a plateau in the centre of the city and is humongous! We were lost inside for hours.
We stuck out like sore thumbs in Pushkar, not because we were tourists, because we weren't hippy tourists! Honestly, there were checkpoints on the roads into the city and we must have somehow snuck through! Even more so than this, we were specifically asked if we were Israeli at one point and after asking our driver why Israeli was so specific we found out that they have quite a reputation around here for being extremely free and easy!
Pushkar itself was a bit of a strange town. Considered extremely holy and a destination for pilgrims, its streets were lined with souvenir and tourist shops selling tat. Whilst seeming to want to take advantage of foreigner visitors it didn't feel very welcoming to them with strict rules about where they can go and what they can do.
Dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, Batman! Chand Baori was super cool, cascading steps down into a well pool dug 20 metres below the ground. The reason for the batman reference is the prison scenes from The Dark Knight Rises was filmed here.
Fathayer Sikri was our first real taste of 'tourist' India as well as Mughal India! There were beggars, touts, fake guides, sellers, you name it, all trying to get money from us. The mosque was pretty impressive, centred round a huge central courtyard having a very grand scale.
The Taj Mahal is so HUGE! All that building for the tomb of somebody’s wife. Yes, I know, there's actually two tombs in there but it wasn't planned that way and it's obvious it wasn't when you see the second tomb just plonked next to the first one! The story goes that Mughal king Shah Jahan was in love with Mumtaz Mahal since the age of 14 and he named her ‘jewel of the palace’. She sadly died giving birth to their 14th(!) child and upon her last breath he promised to build her the most beautiful mausoleum. It took 22 years to complete and to make sure that no one ever designed such a beautiful monument Shah Jahan had the architect killed! He later died himself before a mausoleum was built for him so they buried him next to his dearly beloved wife.
The Kings of this palace were quite the players. One King, he had only 7 wives. We say only because his successor went on to have 31! That is a lot of wives! We're not sure if he's lucky or unlucky to be honest. We also visited another palace called Nargarh Fort where the King there had 9 wives and in order to keep them happy he built them all identical living quarters, needless to say it was very disorientating walking round this palace. Looks like it wasn’t just the Kings of Amer who loved the ladies!
Back in Jaipur we went to the Jantar Mantar observatory which was the first to be built in India and was very advanced for its time. One of the sundials, built around 1730 could tell the time to an accuracy of 2 seconds! Incredible!
'The Great Wall of India' according to our driver Vinny!
13 people. 7 beds. The maths don't work but that's the situation we had on our sleeper train to Varanasi! On top of this, there was another couple with the same tickets (bed numbers, everything) as us. We're not sure what happened but we were told our tickets were the real ones (result) and got our own beds for the journey. As for everyone else, 2 people slept on the floor, 2 people shared a bed, another guy sat on the floor and waited until we got off and then took Maryam's bed and the last 2 - who knows where they went!
Once we got to Varanasi it was one of the highlights of the trip. It is one of the most sacred cities in India where Hindus bring their dead to be cremated beside the holy river Ganges, so that the dead reach the state of Nirvana/Moksha. To see the ceremonies we took a boat ride at sunrise and sunset. At sunrise hundreds of pilgrims come to bath in the sacred waters of the Ganges, as well as people doing laundry, shepherds washing their cattle and ashes of the deceased, but there is more than this in the water!!
A chatty Varanasian who walked us to the the high temple (where we could observe the burnings from) gave us a detailed account of proceedings.
there are three houses surrounding the sacred area where the old and sick go and wait to die
between 100-120kg of wood is required per body, depending on weight
only men are allowed to the ceremonies and they build the bed of timber themselves (workers tend to the fire)
it takes around 3 hours to burn the dead however, men's chests and women's hips generally are still left
people sieve the ashes in the river for remains and jewellery (jewellery isn’t removed before burning)
3500 years ago when the first ceremony took place the river did not run by the site (and supposedly the original fire still burns but we doubt that fact very much)
and the most shocking piece of info - 6 types of people are not burned when they die as they are deemed pure. These are children under 12, people killed by an animal, pregnant women, people with small pox or leprosy and Sadhus (holy people) and therefore their bodies are tied to a rock and sunk to the bottom of the river!
Ranj is here! Our favourite not so Indian Indian has joined us in India for the final 2 weeks to explore Delhi and the north. Ranj being here has saved us a lot of money. No, not because he is paying for everything (we wish) but because him and Maryam are able to pose as the perfect Indian couple meaning they only have to pay local prices for the attractions! 50 rupees instead of 500 is a big saving!
So the story goes that Qutub-ud-Din Aibak's daughter liked to look out over the Yamuna river whilst having her breakfast. This meant a 40km round trip from the palace to the river every day which put the princess in grave danger. The solution, build a tower 75.1m high (making it the tallest brick minaret in the world) in the Qtub Minar palace grounds from which she could see the river!
Something hilarious happened at India Gate - we were told off for jay walking! After spending two weeks dodging traffic in attempts to cross the road we were now in the one place in the whole of India where waiting for traffic signals was compulsory. Mental.
India gate was designed by Edward Lutyens and is at the far end of his Delhi masterplan for the government district. Designed based on a circular pattern the area houses a number of key government buildings and is heavily guarded by security. Stopping your car outside is a fine-able offence so Vinny had to drive in circles whilst we wandered around!
'Only black'. That was the waiter's response when we asked whether he had any Sprite. When asking what black was he pointed at a bottle of coke on the table next to us! That situation could have been a lot more awkward!
It was our final night with Vinny and he invited us round to his apartment for dinner which was very sweet of him. We got to meet Maha Rani (his wife - the home minister) as well as his two sons (they looked just like him) and his one month old daughter Pria who was sleeping in her princess dress! There was only one problem with the whole evening, the guy didn't tell his wife we were coming! The poor woman had to run around like crazy making us food and clearing space at the table. Despite this the food was amazing!
Our pilgrimage to the mecca of architecture was complete! We had reached Chandigarh and all the Le Corbusier designed concrete beauty you could wish for within it. We spent two days racing around the city visiting all the major buildings and we also managed to blag our way into one of the houses by chatting to a friendly structural engineer who lived there. The art gallery and assembly building were particular highlights despite the somewhat restricted access around the capital complex.
An interesting part of Chandigarh though was the rock garden, a world built secretly for 18 years within a forest by a Punjabi named Nek Chand who was deeply effected by the separation of Punjab/Pakistan. A complete antithesis to the clean modernism of Le Corbusier’s masterplan, Chand’s rock garden was built in a maze like fashion out of recycled materials including hand wash basins and light fixings all by Chand himself.
Oo-oo-oo! I wanna be like you-oo-oo! We went to see the Jungle Book at the cinema in Chandigarh, it was in 3D and English and cost us £2.30! It's a shame the film was terrible though. The best part of the whole film was the fact they had an intermission! The film is only about 1.5 hours long and in true Indian style they cut the film mid sentence as Baloo was banishing Mowgli!
In order to enter the Golden Temple, men and women must cover their heads as a sign of respect. The act, although not compulsory, is also appreciated throughout the whole town. This could be done by wearing a rumal but Andy went a step further by wearing a full turban! Assisted by our friend Ashwar who tied the turban, Andy was transformed into a punjabi warrior (or so he wishes). Ashwar also acted as our tour guide at the Golden Temple, helping us sneak in through the back door to see the final ceremony of the day before the Temple closes for cleaning. Guess what they clean the gold with? Yoghurt! No kidding.
We went to watch the cricket but, unfortunately Delhi lost by 1 run!
We went to the Wahga checkpoint to watch the closing of the India/Pakistan border ceremony. The event has become staged more than an actual reality of relations between the two countries as both collaborate to perform an identical and in time display. The show involved lots of stomping around, slamming of the gates and guards kicking themselves in the turban which was all very amusing! Sadly though, it is not just a show to a large proportion of the spectators who, encouraged by the stage master (a guy bizarrely dressed in cricket whites) chant 'Hindustan' and 'long live the motherland' whilst cheering every action.
We got to experience corrupt Punjabi police first hand in Chandigarh. Driving down the main street in the city, making sure to stay in the specially designated tourist lane (where we had to drive at a reduced speed), our car was pulled over by the police. The reason given was that we had sun screens in the windows and these were supposedly illegal! Our driver's papers were taken and we were told we would have to pay a fine of 1000 rupees. Our driver managed to get this down to 500 but did tell us that the real reason we were pulled over is because Andy is white! He can afford to pay a fine apparently and therefore he should. Ranj and Maryam told Andy not to argue it much to his frustrations!
We stopped in Anandpur to visit the Khalsa Heritage Centre by Moshe Safdie
Can you spot the ring leader in his cricket whites?
Yes, that really is a turban on his head! #heavy