"From the pink city to pushy Pushkar and the home of pony club pants.."

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January 25th 2013
Published: February 4th 2013
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Blog 20-25 January. Rajasthan I - Jaipur, Pushkar & Jodhpur

"From the pink city to pushy Pushkar and the home of pony club pants.."

This last week has been our busiest yet as we ventured deep into the heart of Rajasthan. Following our fab and speedy train from Agra - where in 'chair class' we were treated to a complimentary samosa and a full flask of Chai, as close to perfect as you can get save for the loud and obnoxious American girls sitting opposite (so out of character - sorry Andrea if you're reading!) - We arrived safely into Jaipur, the Capital of Rajasthan and known throughout as the 'Pink City'. Along with Delhi and Agra, Jaipur makes up the third point on India's 'Golden Triangle'. With only two full days we headed out early on Sunday morning and got straight to it. Jaipur is a fairly major city but we chose to walk everywhere when possible - partly to save on tuk tuk hassle but perhaps more importantly we needed to work off the mammoth curries we're still having (turns out its not just the Green's that love their grub, Miss Zeevi is also holding up strong!).

First on our list was the City Palace, still home to current royal family and full of pomp and splendour. The Maharaja was in as his flag was flying from the top pavilion but sadly we didn't get a tea invite. From there we went to the Janta Mantar - a huge observatory built in the early 18th Century to house an array of stone astronomical measuring devices. Even today it has a fairly random and futuristic look. Built for the star crazy Jai Singh (founder of Jaipur), it was all a little too much for our tiny wee brains but we enjoyed an afternoon in the sun nevertheless. Finally we stopped by the Wind Palace, aka the pin up for most Jaipur postcards - here we got fantastic views of the city and surrounding hills, the highlight was seeing so many kites flying high from the rooftops. After bypassing the city's very own revolving restaurant (we did pop up but it smelt of oap's and cabbage) we had a cracking meal on a rooftop closer to home, with fires and blankets for warmth as the temperature plummeted. Jo even tried her first Kingfisher beer to my delight (a lot cheaper than G&T!) and although she described it as awful I think we are making progress.

The next day I woke with Monday morning dread - not because a week of work loomed, no.. even worse a morning of jewellery shopping as we headed to the silver district. Thankfully, my frown was quickly turned upside down as we arrived to find most shops closed (common on Mondays as we now know). Problem averted for today at least! We took our first local bus to the amazing Amber Fort about 10km north of the city. Though the journey took twice as long as it would have in a rickshaw, we had a great time bantering with the locals (i.e. laughing off their stares) and it was a fraction of the price (Rs. 12 vs 200). The palace was less impressive than others we've seen so far, but it's natural setting high up on a rocky ridge was fantastic, and topped off by amazing weather. Our early evening was spent strolling through the pink city's old bazaars. Jo bought a lovely red scarf after much deliberation and some excellent bartering. I kept my eye out for some cheap trousers but I had no idea what was around the corner. Not willing to succumb to a pair of hippie 'travelaar' pj bottoms (this was only week 2 after all) we were seriously struggling for choice. Somehow we ended up in a fabrics shop and Jo was enquiring about tailoring! Before I knew it I was being seriously violated as a chap got up close and very personal to take my measurements. For a bargain of £9 they whisked up a pair of linen trousers and delivered them to the hotel 4 hours later. Champion I thought... only to try them on and find they were two inches too short! Not ideal that the delivery chap didn't speak a word of English and there was no time for adjustments as we were leaving town at 6am the following morning.

Our next stop was the small and supposedly spiritual town of Pushkar, only 4hrs west of Jaipur by train and bus. As legend has it the town came into existence when the god creator, Brahma, dropped a lotus flower down from the heavens and a Great Lake emerged where it landed in Pushkar. He is then said to have popped down with a large pose for a spiritual gathering and a bath. The town holds a special place for Hindus as one of only a few places where Brahma is worshipped. Even though he was the creator, he tends to play third fiddle to the other major gods, namely Vishnu & Shiva, and this we learnt is all because he got on the wrong side of a woman. He was due to marry a great river goddess in Pushkar whilst also conducting a major sacrificial ritual. Unfortunately his bride was running late having been held up in hair and make up. Brahma desperately needed a quick replacement to keep on time and chose the only unmarried woman available, a shepherd's daughter from the underclass. When his original bride finally arrived she was understandably furious and cursed Brahma, exclaiming he would only ever be worshipped in Pushkar from now on. And that remains the way it is today. A lesson for all us men that it pays to wait for our lady if she is ever running behind schedule.

The reality of Pushkar however was far from spiritual. The small town has become a hive for western tourists, most notably sixty-something hippies and young Israelis passing through on the 'humous trail'. There was more Falafel (and bizarrely Italian too) on restaurant menus than curry. Unlike the ganges of Varanasi, our trip to the lake ghats to experience 'Pushkar Puja' was far from enriching. The priests appeared preoccupied with their sales pitch for a large donation rather than delivering prayers. Jo and I were separated for our prayers and her priest pressed her for a fixed donation of £50 just because she lived in London. Thankfully we didn't buckle under the pressure and provided them with a more suitable/token offering. We then received wristbands which acted like passports, freeing us from future hassle for the next two days.

There was no need for alarm clocks in Pushkar as we arrived at the height of wedding season. We were awoken at the crack of dawn by the loud drums of chanting processions as each wedding party danced across the town from temple to temple. It was great to see but as there are over 500 temples in Pushkar (and our hotel was based next to a larger one) it did get a little much after 10 hours straight.

From Pushkar we continued west to Jodhpur. Our initial bus journey proved to be great fun. Just as we were pulling out of Pushkar, a hoard of school boys jumped onto the bus at the last moment. With no seats left they plonked themselves on and around Jo and me. It turns out these 16 year olds had bunked off school nearby and travelled to Pushkar for the day. They were full of it all and seemed delighted to have some foreigners to play with - singing, shouting and laughing (mostly at us I'm sure). After several photos, some awkward yet funny conversations, and a million handshakes we said goodbye to the gang and hopped off for the train. The six hour train nearly went by without an incident until - 1) Whilst washing my hands after the loo a bloke appeared from nowhere, making no effort to warn or move me he threw up all over the sink and floor (missing me by inches). Whilst I have to award him for his projectile precision Its got to be the most disgusting thing I've experienced so far. 2) Having made us pay an additional fare for our tickets (turns out its not just the UK that racks prices up in January) the train then decided to terminate 5km short of our destination, creating a mad dash for a rickshaw and one of the scariest journeys into town.

We stayed in Jodhpur for no more than 24hrs, but it was worth it to see the amazing Meherangarh fort. We spent one night in a dirty yet dirt cheap hotel (no hot water so we bartered free wifi only to find the connection was also crap) before heading out early on Friday morning. Jodhpur, dubbed the 'blue city', is a fairly standard and uneventful big city but the fort is a real diamond in the rough. Its huge walls appear to grow directly out of the massive rocky cliffs Which shadow over the city. With fantastic views of the blue washed old town below we spent hours exploring the complex - I hope our pictures do it justice! We then milled around town waiting for our onward train, only to be swept up in a Muslim festival procession. In celebration of the prophet Mohammad there were marching bands, tractors, rickshaws and camels! - all very hectic and completely random.

Next stop another sleeper train - this time to Jaisalmer and the Thar desert for some Camel trekking!

Additional photos below
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4th February 2013

Wow -
Love reading your blogs and for a moment am whisked away from the cold, wind, rain and snow. Watched the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with daughter Lizzie and then made her read your blogs which she too loved and after seeing the film said it brought them to life - especially the hairy rides in the Tuk Tuk!
6th February 2013

Another wonderful episode!
Loving these - do keep them coming! In fact, the next one awaits me so I must get on and read it! xx

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