Feb 22-26: Jaipur (and back to Delhi)

The train to Jaipur was overnight again, significantly shorter – 8 hours instead of 12, and we were in 2AC class this time. The sheets and pillows were useful, although the blanket got used as more pillow instead! Unfortunately it was actually not that comfortable a night even though the digs were better – it was kind of hot and stuffy (despite the “AC”) and even though it was nice and dark it was really difficult to get a good sleep. Also, since this time we weren’t getting off at the end of the line, we had to just set and alarm (5:45 am) and hope we got off at the right station!

2AC

This time our assigned berths were stupid, I think they were one upper berth and one lower side berth? Didn’t make much sense. We ended up just looking at the passenger list and camping out in some that weren’t assigned – when the ticket checker came along we seem to have convinced him that it would be okay, so we ended up upper berths again. It’s lower and much easier to get into in 2AC because it’s only 2 tier.

2AC

We actually arrived in Jaipur more on less on time at 6am, and were picked up by a nice auto driver hired again by the hotel, Madhuban – they let us check in early too, which was awesome. Another nap and shower – and this place actually had a shower space, with a lip a couple inches high at the bottom and a shower curtain! In case you’re wondering, “what does that mean about the other places?”, there were shower heads in the other hotels we stayed in, but they were just in the side of the bathroom wall – no actually shower space, the water just got all over the place and it was a pain. Anyway, Madhuban was really nice! Great bed.

After a rest we had a great breakfast in the garden, then got an auto (who turned out to be the previous guy’s dad!) to the City Palace. I’m pretty sure every town has one!

another city palace

This one wasn’t as big or impressive as the one in Udaipur, but it was worth a look – they had some really great textile exhibits, although photography wasn’t allowed (sadly).

green

We walked down to the wall that surrounds the old city to go to a restaurant recommended in the guidebook called Ganesh – it’s actually on the top of the wall, and super tiny, but good food! And you can watch the cooks do their thing, too. Mmm, naan.

naan making

Then it was back up to the City Palace again to see Jantar Mantar, the more famous and touristy one.

look familiar?

This observatory was super similar to the one we visited in Delhi (obviously!) but with lots more instruments, and more upkeep.

Jantar Mantar, part II

Last stop of the day was Hawa Mahal, which is actually an extension of the City Palace (but you have to pay separately to go in). Fun to climb up inside, because it’s all ramps and not stairs! We got there pretty close to closing time, but the security guard was nice enough to let the people inside stay until about 5 (it closes at 4:30).

Hawa Mahal

With no photographic evidence of the following, we got an auto driver to take us to a hotel with a recommended restaurant to check it out (the rooftop restaurant at Hotel Pearl Palace), and decided to take a walk to Anokhi, which was fairly close by, but it was kind of a crazy walk and in the dark! They had super cute clothing, and in the limited amount of time I had there (they were closing in like 20 minutes) I managed to pick up a nice skirt and top. They do a lot of handprinting, so I picked up a few of their books on printing as well! We walked back to the restaurant, which was really busy by then, and ended up eating our meals in rocking chairs – service was a little slow, but the food was good and really inexpensive! On the auto ride home I wasn’t paying enough attention and managed to conk my head pretty massively on a rod in the top of the auto when we went over a bump. Ow.

The next day we hired the dad-auto-driver to take us around a bit – to Amber Fort, which is a few clicks outside Jaipur, as well as a tomb that he told us wasn’t in the guidebooks. I’m not sure what it’s called, but it was lovely! And very peaceful – we were the only ones there.

fancy tomb

All white marble, tons of really intricate carvings.

fancy carvings

some tomb?

Then it was on to Amber Fort.

amber fort

It’s a bit of a climb to get up – you can take an elephant ride but I wouldn’t want to. It’s slower than walking, and I feel really bad that the elephants aren’t treated very well despite efforts to improve their living conditions. Somehow we ended up going into the fort from some back entrance (we still had to buy a ticket though) and walked through opposite to the usual route! It was really fun, because there were few people at the end (where we came in) and there were all sorts of hallways and little rooms and things to explore.

amber fort

inside Amber Fort

The sections near the normal entrance are much grander and more fully restored!

209.365 - peekaboo

Since we took the route backwards we ended up going out the front entrance, which was kind of a mistake – probably should’ve just gone back the way we came in! Instead we exited on the total other side of the fort and had to walk all the way around through the town (which was interesting, but I was tired) to get back to the car park where the auto was. Since we spent so much time at the fort we didn’t have time to go to the last place he wanted to take us, the Monkey Temple – monkeys scare me a bit so I’m actually rather glad! Instead we went for some lunch at a really good and super cheap ($4 for two curries, rice, naan), then we went to a really nice textiles store.

satguru exports

It was pretty overwhelming (they also sold readymade home textiles and things) but I picked out some fabric that they handprint in the warehouse, before we headed back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, and to the train station, again. This time we were much closer to Delhi, so we were just taking a chair car for about five hours. They don’t rotate the seats or anything though…and we were travelling backwards :( Luckily it was dark outside so it was okay after a little while of getting used to it!

The next day in Delhi (Wednesday the 25th) was really the last day I had for sightseeing, since I was leaving on Friday morning and would need to pack on Thursday. We hopped on the metro and went walking on Chandni Chowk, a big market area. There’s all sorts of shops selling everything – spices, paneer, souvenir stuff, whatever you need.

Chandni Chowk

spices

paneer store

And then there’s Jalabiwala!

jalebiwala

Jalebis (juh-lay-bees) are one of India’s many sweet snacks – a sweet batter is extruded from a piping-type bag into hot oil in curlicues, is fried up and then given a dunking in a sugar syrup bath. They’re oily, sugary, and actually surprisingly light in texture! I wouldn’t fill up on it though. We just bought a few pieces.

Jalebis!

Popped into the Red Fort briefly mainly just to say we went and looked at it – nothing really special and we were pretty palace-d/fort-ed out. On Thursday we hung around the house, me trying desperately to fit everything in my suitcase, and went to see Slumdog Millionaire at a big cinema in a mall nearby. It was a pretty cool experience to see it while in India, although the security to get into the cinema is crazy! It’s in a mall, so first you go through a metal detector with possible bag search and frisking to get into the mall, then again to get into the movie theatre! It’s a little overzealous really.

I did manage to get everything in and the bag closed, and under the weight limit at that – I wasn’t terribly excited to fly again, although I did like the idea of going somewhere else! I was also sad that I was going to be travelling on my own – Vig is still currently in India, and won’t be home until May (with a few other stops along the way). It’s no fun travelling by yourself! At least, not for me.

Luckily I had a good friend to stay with (mooch off of) on my next stop!

Feb 20-22: a trip to Udaipur

Rajasthan is a state that’s southwest of Delhi – while we were in Chennai we decided to head out from Delhi and visit Udaipur and Jaipur. We really needed to book the trains and decide on hotels, which was all done from Chennai. Unfortunately we were a little late on booking the train from Delhi to Udaipur, and we ended up in sleeper class – not my first choice!

sleeper class car

Friday the 20th we spent the day packing up and getting ready for the trip, then left for the train station in an auto around 4:30pm – our train wasn’t until 7pm but Nizamuddin station is quite far from Shalimar Bagh and then there’s the legendary Delhi traffic. Had we left any later, I’m sure we would’ve gotten caught in rush hour, but as it was we got there pretty early, around 5:30.

sleeper class

There are three levels of overnight sleeper – 1AC, 2AC, and sleeper (and then there’s second class, which is a pretty nasty free-for-all and just seats). The AC classes are climate-controlled, meaning you can’t open the windows – in sleeper class there’s bars, then a sliding glass pane and a shutter. Since we were travelling through the desert though, open windows = coldness. No bedding is provided in sleeper class, which is three tier…and we were in the upper berths!

sleeper class upper berth

It’s really high. And the ladder dealie to climb up was really not great either. Being the upper berth is actually good, because you get more headroom, and more privacy since people aren’t climbing over you to go to the toilet or something. I still wasn’t too into it though. And even though we brought blankets it was cold!

205.365 - upper berth

(The shawl is Seraphim by Miriam Felton, the sweater is B-Side. And I look like crap because it was like 11pm and I was on a train!)

Anyway, we finally got to Udaipur an hour behind schedule at 8am. A driver was waiting for us from the hotel, the Tiger (highly recommended; rooms were really clean and new, the staff was super helpful) – nice guy to wait an hour for the train to arrive! We went straight to the hotel, checked in, and took a nap and shower before heading out to explore. It turns out Udaipur is a pretty small town that’s really easy to explore on foot – it’s hilly, but everything is super close together. It is an extremely tourist-based town, so there are just tons of hotels, restaurants, and various handicraft shops.

winding, hilly streets

The lake that the touristy part of town is situated on is low because of crappy monsoons, but it’s still cool to look out over – the Lake Palace (now Hotel) is right in the middle. I think what makes it look so odd is that there’s no land around it, like an island, it’s just plunked right down in the water!

Lake Palace Hotel

Octopussy was filmed here and they’ll never forget it – there are nightly viewings at several different hotel/restaurants. We never did get around to seeing it, we were only there 1 night anyway!

octopussy

The lakeside-ness of the town really is beautiful.

lakeside

We ended up at the City Palace, which has a HUGE museum. Following the route inside, it seemed like it would never end. There were lots of interesting things inside, but after awhile we just wanted to get out and get something to eat! We ended up going to a restaurant owned by the same people as the hotel for lunch, Savage Garden – they had pasta and stuff, and it was kind of nice to eat non-Indian food for a change.

City Palace -3

mmmmm

The City Palace from the other side of the lake – we went to a fancy hotel for a drink and actually ended up going back to the same place the next day for dinner.

city palace

Capping off the evening we went to see a dance show which was in the guidebook, and so the audience was entirely composed of foreigners. It was an interesting show, there were women dancing with pots of fire on their heads, a cool marionette guy, and this awesome lady – who started out with one and ended with ten pots on her head!

whoa

We only stayed the one night at the Tiger, but we had the whole next day to explore as well – our next train didn’t leave until the evening, so we stowed our luggage at the hotel and went to see the temple and do a little shopping.

temple carvings

We ended up at the cafe across from our hotel for a big chunk of the afternoon, chatting with an Irish woman who was leaving India the next day after a two month trip (hi if you’re out there!). It was really nice to just talk with someone who spoke English at the same pace! We went back to the City Palace later in the afternoon to try and catch the last boat ride out on the lake, but we were a little too late. I wasn’t that into the idea of going up to the Monsoon Palace, which is on a hill/mini mountain above the city, but we let an auto driver talk us into it (for an inflated price, we should’ve maybe haggled harder).

It turned out to be a really lovely excursion. The palace is about 8 km from town, and the roads up the mountain are pretty crazy! An auto-rickshaw doesn’t have a lot of power at the best of times, and climbing? It was a little scary.

road up to monsoon palace

There was a lovely view of Udaipur (can you see the Lake Palace Hotel?) and the palace was a really nice place to play with the cameras – we were there just before sunset, magic light hour! The palace itself has been quite neglected, although restoration is underway (a bit, anyway) – it’s really interesting this way though.

looking down on Udaipur

monsoon palace

monsoon palace

more windows

We went back to the fancy hotel restaurant (Ambrai) and had a really awesome meal beside the lake before picking up our luggage and heading to the train station.

Ambrai

Wow, this has gotten really long! We had a really nice time in Udaipur – it was a little quieter, smaller, and really interesting despite its touristy character. I think I’ll save our next stop for my next post – Jaipur.

Amber Fort

Feb 16-19: Delhi and Agra

We flew up to Delhi on the 16th by Jet Airways (pretty good – and cheap! at 1500 INR base fare per ticket, or about $25) and were really relieved about the weather. It was actually cool enough to put on a sweater in the evenings! We stayed with Vig’s aunts and uncle in Shalimar Bagh, a neighbourhood in north Delhi. Aunt J took us along to check out another night market, this one was pretty huge and took up an entire street! There were stalls selling clothing and housewares, souvenir-type stuff, and of course produce and food as well.

street food

Andrea: the produce being a night market thing is definitely because of the heat during the day, but otherwise? I think people just like to do their shopping at night!

more veggie stands

Upon hearing a ruckus outside…we found a groom’s wedding party in full force, taking up the left lane of traffic! The buses weren’t too happy about that, I tell ya.

left lane, wedding

After a day of complete rest at home quietly, we were picked up bright and early by a car to go to Agra – by leaving at 6am we managed to get there in about three hours (it’s 200km from Delhi) and avoided a lot of Delhi traffic. First stop was Akbar’s Tomb, and since it was about 9:30 in the morning it was pretty empty. The driver didn’t speak a lot of English, just kind of parked and indicated that we should go and check it out! It was worth a bit of a poke around.

Akbar's tomb

The entrance to the tomb was pretty creepy.

creepy entrance to the tomb

Pretty creepy inside, too – a big empty room with a marble tomb in the middle.

Akbar's tomb

Next up was Agra Fort, where we did have a guide – it’s kind of a convoluted story but basically, the driver was hired through a pretty trusty travel agency. When we got to the fort, he said we should take this dude as our guide – he was hanging out with the travel agency’s bus so we figured he’d already been hired by them. The guide was pretty good, we definitely learned lots more stuff, but awhile later (after taking us to a ‘handicrafts shop’…note that this is a bad sign; and also accompanying us to a restaurant for lunch but not actually coming inside?!) wanted to get paid. Vig asked the driver if we were supposed to pay him, or if he’d been paid by the travel agency – the driver said we didn’t have to pay the guide. But the guide was pretty insistent, so rather than argue we just him paid the equivalent of $4 and sent him on his way. Whew.

red sandstone

Anyway, Agra Fort. Big place, lots of red sandstone and white marble, and a pretty awesome view of the Taj.

view of the Taj from Agra Fort

Apparently you can tell real white marble from painted stone because light will shine through marble! It was pretty neat.

real marble

There was also lots of beautiful inlay work – there was one room in particular that was really pretty. All the coloured bits are precious or semi-precious.

beautiful inlay

After some lunch at a restaurant called Only (which was pretty good, but with highly inflated tourist prices) we headed to the Taj Mahal!

a little bit closer

We sat around, walked around and took tons of photos. It was getting to be the late afternoon and the light was really good – and it wasn’t very hot either, so it was really pleasant! The Taj is really beautiful, and nothing really captures being there!

on more of the Taj

the Taj Mahal!

The epilogue to our day in Agra? It took five hours to get back to Shalimar Bagh – we left Agra at 5:30 and for some reason the driver went to an auto shop on the side of the highway around 6 and had something done to a spare tire (it was in the trunk?). That took half an hour. Then it was pretty uneventful for awhile until we hit Delhi, then there was the traffic. That wasn’t too much of a big deal on its own (pretty expected really) but the driver was getting sort of increasingly agitated and crazy in his driving. It was scary, yo. Did I mention we got into a collision on the way to Agra? Not the driver’s fault, someone else cut in and our car demolished his driver’s side mirror. No tip for him!

Anyway. Back in Delhi we set out to explore a bit the next day and took the Metro to Connaught Place. The Delhi metro’s really quite impressive and clean, better than the TTC I’d say at least in terms of looks! They also have displays of when the next train will come, which is always nice. And I really do like elevated rail systems because of the light! Downside? Security’s really tight, even moreso than in Beijing – metal detector and bag search, every time. Actually, security’s really tight a lot of the time India, there’s metal detectors to get into the mall and bag searches and frisking all over the place!

Connaught Place

Connaught Place is mainly a shopping centre, built by the British and consisting of a couple of concentric ring roads. We wandered around a bit, bought a Lonely Planet for our Rajasthan trip, and had a fantastic lunch at Veda. Definitely one of the best meals of the trip! They have a veggie tandoori platter that’s really just veggies, pineapple, and paneer, all roasted in the tandoor, as opposed to the usual super cooked, stewed-type curries we’d been eating. It was nice to bite into a recognizable pepper or mushroom!

veda

A short walk south and we ended up at a place that was in the guidebook, but seemed pretty low-key – Jantar Mantar observatory. It’s an astronomical observatory that mostly looks like a bunch of crazy sculptures or something! It was really nice and quiet, few tourists, and pretty much a free for all – you could climb anything! We stayed there quite awhile taking fun photos and climbing up and down.

Jantar Mantar -5

Jantar Mantar -2

Jantar Mantar -4

I thought it was very M.C. Escher!

We definitely had fun there.

204.365 - jump!

Hang tight – just a few more posts left about my trip. A train adventure to Rajasthan, one last sightseeing day in Delhi, and my visit with Ysolda!