Rajasthan, Part II


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Asia » India » Rajasthan
July 25th 2004
Published: August 17th 2005
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I left the town of Pushkar and headed to the city of Jodhpur, one of my fav destinations in Rajasthan. The bus ride was thru farm fields that slowly gave way to the desert. Jodhpur is famous for its impressive fort up a hill and the blue houses sorounding it down below. The blue dye comes from chemicals designed to fight off termites and mosquitos.

I arrived into town and ask the auto rickshaw driver to take me to Cozy G.H. (foremerly known a Joshi's Blue House). He takes me there and I ordered some lunch. It wasn't until after lunch that I realize i'm not in the right place. I'm in the "Blue House G.H.," located right in the middle of the bazar. At this point i'm boiling mad for they had told me this was Cozy's GH. Argh! I paid for my lunch and stormed out. Eventually, I reached the right place, located far from the bazar on a neighborhood filled with the imfamous blue-houses. This kind owner opened up her door and gave me a nice room with a window.

After settling in on my room, again, I took poff on a walk down to the city Bazar. This bazar wasn't touristy as that of Pushkar. It was for the locals and as such filled with produce, textiles, fabrics, clothes, ropes, hardware, and more. In the bazars layes the interesting Kunje Behari Temple, which is a hindu temple that pops up sharply out of nowhere.

Walking down the main bazar, I entered a city gate into the walled in Sardar Bazar, which has its own distinct feeling. It's devided into 4 sections: produce, spices, clothes and fabrics, and hardware. In the center lies the impressive Clock Tower. The lassi shop inside one of the gates makes delicious lassis. There is also two fruit juices stands with killer mango shakes.

On the way back to the hostel, I met Fernando, an American guy from Boston. It's quite a coincidence as we share a rather unusual name. We had dinner and a few beers as we chatted with some Canadian and British gals.

The next day was quite enjoyable as I ventured out to explore more of Jodhpur's sites. Walking across the streets of the bazar, I took in the aroma of the spices, vegetables, fruits, and food sold on the various shops. It felt as though I were walking in some distant century from a long long time ago. The ocassional motorized vehicle braught me back to the present.

I walked as far as the Clock Tower before I took an auto rickshaw up a step hill to Mekeragarh Fort. Originally built in 1569, most of the fort we see today comes from the massive remodeling done by Maharaya Jaswant Singh (1638-1678). Upon his death, Aurangzab (Mogul Emperor) took control of the fort until his own death. It changed back hand to the Maharayas and serves as their royal residence until construction of the modern Umaid Bhawan was completed in 1943.

The entrance to the fort costs $5 USD, including a well elaborated audio tour of the premises. It's highly worth it! A walk around the fort gives good views of the blue houses and town below. The complex itself has three parts: the Palace, a wide terrace next to the Palace, and the strongly fortified area to the south. You approach the fort from the east. As you climb the road to the Palace, you cross several impressive gates. Worth mentioning are the various 45 degree and 90 degree turns one has to take thru various gates. This was designed on purpose to halt the stampedes of War elephants. The Loha Gate has the handprints of 36 royal satis (31 on one side and 5 on the other side). The wives of the Maharayas performed this sacred act upon the death of their husbands. They will literally jump into the funeral pyre of their husbands and thus burn alive to their sacred death. This practice was quite acceptable in the past. It was done by royal and non-royal widows. Even to this day, one can still hear stories of modern day satis taking place on secluded villages. The India gov't doesn't endorse satis though so a major investigation usually follows.

Once you cross the Suraj Pol, you enter the old Royal Palace thru the Singar Choki Chowk. It was used on royal ceremonies such as the anointing of rajas. The various decorated Jali screens above made part of the Jhanki Mahal, an area of the Zenana where the royal wifes and concubines could listen to the proceedings below. The impressive coronation seat still stands in this courtyard. As you enter the museum gallery, you see a nice collecton of Palanquins used by the royal family. Moving on, you walk past Daulnt Khama and Sileh Khama (armoury). The superb collecton of Indian weapons heare is mesmerizing. You get to see interesting carved dagers, shields, and swords. The price exhibit though is Akbar's sword. Following the exhibit is a room full of tents used during the Imperial Moughal campaigns. The nearby Jewel House has an interesting collection of jewelery, royal cradles, palequins, and more.

The next exhibit houses beautiful miniature paintings depicting every day life as well as religious scenes. The beautiful Phul Mahal (Flower Palace) follows. It served as a hall of private audience. It has superb stone jali screens, potraits of former rulers, a lavishly decorated ceiling, and the Judhpur coat of arms. You then are given a peak into the Takhat Vilas, another lavishly decorated room with impressive murals. You then walk across the maginficant Moti Mahal and Moti Mahal Courtyard, whom some argued served as the hall of Public Audience. It is located close to the Zenana Deodi (quarters). These Zenana deodi served as the living aread for the royal wives and concubines of the Maharaya. It wasn't uncommon for a ruler to have dozens of wives and concubines. Guarding his precoius lovers where the Eunochs, whom lacked sexual organs and thus made the perfect soldieers to overlook this part of the palace. The audio tour ends here, but you are allowerd to go up the road to the top. You can climb atop the wall and see the impressive view of the city below. Notice the imfamous blue houses down below! There are dozens of cannons strategically placed to defend the fort. Now they have all ornamental purposes of course. Their is a hindu temple at the other side of the fort.

Walking out of the fort, I walk a few km to the Jaswant Thada, a beautiful marble bldg that now stands as the memorial of Jaswant Singh II, who was cremated here.

I met Fernando at the guest house and we went up to enjoy a rather pleasent sunset. THe view from the rooftop allowed you to see the fort shine bright red. It was quite entretaining to see the neighbor kid fly his kite from his rooftop. I still don't know how he doesn't lose it or how it doesn't fall in a far away rood. We were joined by Tara and her brother, both from the UK. We had a nice relaxing dinner at the hostel restaurant. We were then joined by a Polish girl, whose name I cannot remember. The evening chat lasted until the wee hours of the night.

I took the direct bus to Jaisalmer from Jodhpur. It passes thru some impressive desert. On the way, I spotted several Indian Gazels casually eating from the few grasses and bushes of the Thar desert. Suddenly, out of nowhere, springs up a town full of character and life. In the center lays the impressive Jaisalmer fort. It stands atop a small hill overlooking the desert. It looks like an old scene from Arabian nights where you can just imagine the Maharaya coming out with his entorage to great you. The yellowish sand stone of the fort also makes it look like the perfect sand castle you always wanted to build.

Arriving to Jaisalmer can be an experience in and on itself. A mass of touts pour into the bus selling you a hostel that more likely then not gives them a commission. I managed to avoid them somehow and made my way to the impressive Jaisalmer fort. The streets on the town below are narrow ad packed with stores that make up an impressive bazar. The main gate to the fort greets you and just past it lies the steep climb up. The fort itself houses a wide range of hostels, businesses, restaurants, and even residential homes (to this day, about 1,000 ppl live inside the fort). The streets inside the fort, on top of the hill, are even narrower and so don't allow passage for cars or rickshaws, however, the ocassioal motorcycle can be seen on this roads!

After settling in at a cheap hotel, I walked down the fort to see the bazar in action. This day, the bazar is full of souvenir stuff (leather items, clothes, juice shops, and more), but it stil holds a bit of its past character, particularly as you walk away from the fort.

Jaisalmer is famous for many things and among them are the ornated havelis, which were the homes of rich merchants of the region. These havelis are best seen from the outside though as the inside lacks the beautiful decorations seen on the outside. Among them, I visited Salim Sigh-Ki Haveli (ki=private, and haveli=house), which has an interesting array of peacock brackets. The Nathum-Ki Haveli not only has an interesting carved exterior, but it also has two stone elephants guarding its door. The Patwon-Ki Haveli is a massive group of five intricately decorated houses all belonging to a group of 5 brothers.

I then stepped into the interesting Jawahir Villas (Badal Mahal), which is partially open to the public. This is the current residence of the Maharaya of Jaisalmer. The rooms you can see are intricately doen with beautiful carvings and paintings. The Badal Mahal also ahs a nicely decorated 5 story high tower.

As it was close to sunset, I headed towards sunset point only to be dissapointed when the guard charged me an exhorbitant fee! I simply walked around the hill until I found a nice spot for free 😊. The sunset point is not about watching the sunset, but ore about watching the yellowish sandstone of the fort turn a bright orange with the fading light of the sun as it set for the day.

I finished the day eating at La Purezza, a delicious Italian restaurant inside the fort. I don't usually eat western food in India, but tonight was an exception. Eating atop their terrace, I managed to see the beautiful city lights below. I also caught eyes of a large bat population wakig up in the night and going out hunting for food.

I set out on exploring the fort on foot today. Walking past the narrow streets I first explored the touristy side, which has a Jain temple and the Palace. Funny thing is that I didn't go into any of the sites as I was marveled by the ambience of the fort itself. I was captivated by the setting of the place. You can almost feel as though hyou are walking hundreds of years ago as their are hardly any motorized vehicles. Taking a wrong turn, I proceeded to get lost in the residential part of the fort. It is trully worth taking in this side of Jaisalmer. Walking past the cows in town, I came across a guy selling fresh veggies from his wheel cart. He was going home to home in search of costumers in a fashion reminecence of centuries past. Another wrong turn led me to a beautiful lookout point overlooking the town and desert below.

I arranged for a jeep tour of several sites out of town in the desert this afternoon. I was to share a jeep with an elderly couple from France. Originally, I had planned a camel safari, but since they are far too comercialized now in days I opted to wait and do it from Bikaner. The jeep tour was rather enjoyable as we got to see quite a few sites. The first stop was at Amar Sagar, the formal garden and pleasure palace of Amar Singh. It is a nice spot to unwind for a while. Afterwards, we visited the Bada (Barra) Bagh, the royal cenotaphs that arise out of the desert as a mirrage. The Royal Chhatris are housed here. THis is the restig place of the Maharayas of Jaisalmer. Getting lost walking thru them is definitly worthwhile. We then stopped at Lichmi to see the hindu temple of Ram Gunda. I still remember the large group of cows sitting casually at the entrance to this place. Having to remove your shoes outside meant having to walk barefooted as you did your best to avoid the cow shit that stood on the ground like land mines waiting to be detonated upon stepping on them. The Jain Temple of Lodurva is more interesting with the detailed Jain carvings in a honey-color sandstone, which was a sharp contrast to the the marble Jain temples I had previously seen. The best pic point is from a wall outside the temple. This temples are the only remains of a once flourishing Marwar capital. The next stop was at a Gypsy village on the side of the road. As we stopped, our guide cautioned us about possible pick pocketers. Indeed, the whole village swarm to our pressence in an overwhelming fashion. They were grabbing and pushing at us so it put a dent to the experience. The villagers live on wooden huts and wear colorful clothes. Afterwards, we headed to the sandstones, where we got to ride a camel for about 1 hour. We crossed the sand dunes en route to a sunset point. It was a perfect end for a great day.

The following day was a relaxing day as I waited for an afternoon bus to Bikaner. I left the fort and dropped my bags with the agent that sold me the bus ticket. I then proceeded to walk thru the Bazar on a mission to get lost and kill time. My guidebook was loosing some pages to the dry heat of the summer so I stopped at a store to get it fixed for less then 20 Rs. I then stumbled across Gadi Sagar, a beautiful lake situated east of the fort. It has interesting bldgs and a Jain temple. The lake is an important water reservoir that feeds the town.

The bus to Bikaner took me thru more desert scenery. Once more, I spotted a few Indian gazels eating and grazing in the desert. I arrived late at night at Bikaner. As usual, the hotel touts were waiting for me, but I knew better and immediately took a rickshaw to Vijay G.H.

I came to Bikaner not only to see the city, but to undertake a camel safari. I started the day by looking for a tour company. I searched various places, but in the end the best deal was offered by the guest house I was staying at, Vijay G.H., which also runs the Camel Man Safaris. They are the best in Bikaner. At present, they hold the record for the largest tourist camel safari. They had over 40 European doctors, 56 camels, and 12 camel carts on massive 3 day expedition thru the desert. One of the tour guides there told me he was so tired after that safari that he actually slept for 2 whole days following that ordeal. In any case, I was to go in two days so I had some site seeing to do in the mean time.

I started things off by visiting the impressive Junagarh Fort. Situated right in the heart of the city, the fort is heavily fortified for there are no hills as is the cae on other forts i've seen in Rajasthan. It is made of a redish-brown sand stone and at one time was sorounded by a moat. You enter the fort thru Suraj Prole. The vast courtyard in the entrance allows you to see the beauty awaiting for you inside the Palace. The facade of the palace is finely decorated with balconies and jali screens. Climbing a short ramp in the inside takes you int the palace itself. The interior of the palace is lavishly decorated with beautiful paintings, murals, mirrors and glass inlays, gold leaf, carvings, sculptures, carpets, and lacquer work. I strolled thru the many rooms of the palace and somehow made it into the museum, even though I hadn't paid for it. The fort museum houses old manuscripts, miniature paintings, jewels, weapons, palequins, war drums, and even a war place used in WW2.

After the fort, I went to the train station to organize my train ticket to Amritsar. I then walked to the Bazar. The market place in the various towns I visit never seizes to amaze me as each has its own aroma and character. This one is devided in sections with a vast area selling veggies and fruits. There is a hardware section as well lasting several blocks. The spice section is the most interrsting one as you can smell the fresh spicces in the air. For some it may be too strong and unbearable, but to me was like walking thru Indian paradise. Somewher on my walk, I came across a railroad track crossroad with the "do not cross" barrier down. Funny, cause there was no train comming and so the locals where crossing under the bar, even those in mopeds and motorcycles where doing it. I looked both ways and followed suit. As I was going so a local explained to me that the bloody thing comes down and blocks traffic for 30 minutes before the train crosses! Anyway, moving on the Bazar, I came acros a section full of clothes shops and textiles.

I took a rickshaw across town to visit the Bhandasar Jain Temple, which was built in the 1500's. Thus is the oldeest temple in town. It has some interesting paintings inside, but lacks the outside decor and carvings of the other Jain temples i've seen. Nevertheless, it is a good start for a walk thru the old town en route to the Kota Gate. As you walk thru the old town, you will come across several impressive Havelis with intricate carved exteriors and beautiful old wooden doors. The most impressive ones are in Rampuria Street and Purana Bazar, which is a smaller vegetable and fruit market. Walking down the street, I came across a dozen or so stray dogs as its usually the case in any city of India.. Out of desperation, these dogs would bath themselves in the open sewer to cool off. Thus, they where quite smelly! Substituting the word "cat" for "dog" really puts a meaning on Phoebe's (Friends) "smelly cat" song... trully, what are they feeding this poor animals?

I returned to the main bazar ad walked towards the Rajratan Bijariji and Rasik Siromani temple where I was attracted by religious music. On the back of these temples, the locals had errected a huge tent that house the Guru Sati Kuruje. The event was rather interesting as it drew hundreds into prayer. It was a really peaceful and spiritual moment for everyone present. I was amazed by the faith of these ppl. A few jumped up in spontaneous dances as they were deeply moved by the Guru's sermon. A rather bizare thing happened tonight as the clear skies gave way to a thundering downpure, rain, during the desert night.

I made a day excurion to the neighboring town of Deshnoke, 32 km south of Bikaner. My purpose today was to visit the world reknowned Rat Temple, Karni Mata Mandir. The beautiful silver gates and white marble carvings outside make way to a very holly place inside. It is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year. The temple is dedicated to a 15th century Mystic Karniji, who is workshiped as in incarnation of Durga. What in unique about this temple is that mice and rats are revared as reincarnated sants and as such are fed milk and sweets. Walking inside, I could see huge bowls filled with milk and the many rats drinking from the edge. I proceeded to wait in line to see the inner temple, but it turned out it was closed to foreigners. I did managed to get a rat walking over my feet as I waited in the inner courtyard! After all, the temple is swarmed with rats. The outer courtyard houses a large fenced enclosure where most of the rats live. Here is where you can see the white rat, which if spotted is said to bring you good fortune and luck. Luck I had as a long wait I spotted at took pics of the white rat!

I returned to Bikaner and made my way to the Lalgarh Palace, which was built in 1902. This red sandstone palace is situated on the desert north of town. It has interestin courtyards overlooked by beautiful zenana screen windows and jaroha balconies. Today, it houses a luxurious hotel filled with period furniture. The garden in the front even has an old Bikaner State Railway carriage!

The following day was to be the start of my desert safari. So before I begin talking about it let me take you back a minute and explain the basics of the camel safari, starting with the location. A large portion of Rajasthan lies in the vast Thar desert. I don't know the exact boundaries, but it is safe to say that at the north lies Bikaner and in the south lies Jodhpur, with the heart of the desert located to the west. The tourist market is centered in Jaisalmer, which is quite close to the Thar Desert National Park, located south west of that town. Those expecting to see a desert like Sahara will be disapointed as this one does have quite a bit of vegetation and ocassional grass. Nevertheless, there are quite a bit of sand dunes where you do get the feel of the Sahara. So for those with an open mind, and a tough butt, a camel safari can be a very rewarding experience.

I was to join Rebekah and Anne, both from Canada, on a camel safari into a portion of the Thar Desert just south of Bikaner. They had just finished a 2 month nursing assignment in north India as part of their nursing school curriculum. They turn out to be excellent company. A jeep picked us up at the guest house and took us to the start of the trek. Anne even took the wheel for a while to get a feel of driving in Indian soil.

We reached a small settlement inside the desert where we started the camel safari. Our caravan consisted of a camel cart and the three camels for each of us (thus there where 4 camels). The camel cart was guided by a camel man, who also was to be our cook. Our guide was to reide on the back of the camel cart lasing the day away as he casually explained the soroundings to us. Each of our camels had in turn one camel man each controling the animals. Thus, we had five locals assisting us in the caravan (1 guide, 1 cook, and the 3 other camel man).

Riding a camel is not as easy as riding horses. One has to take intensive lessons in order to know all the tricks. Thus, the camel man guides the camel as you sit on the back. Sometimes they will walk along wiht the camel and at other times they will seat at the camel cart. The camel is fitted with a unique saddle with padding designed to cover the hump. Camels in Rajasthan only have one hump. The came man guides and instructs the animal to kneel down to the ground so you can get on the saddle. In a swift move, the camel steps up, first on the back legs and then on the front legs. Therefore, there is a moment where you have to hold tight to avoid a fall. Once the camel is standing, you are over 2 meters from the ground so you get a great view as you ride around. The camel ride is not as smooth as one thinks, but after a while you get used to the rocking motion up and down, up and down. You almost feel like you're in a dance trance. Unfortunately, this movement isn't kind to your butt, which after a while starts hurting. Alas, it is the desert so you can't ride all day. The day starts with breakfast, followed by 2 or 3 hours on camel before noon. You have lunch and rest in the shade during the heat of the day and so you dont' get going until past 4 PM. Another 2 or 3 hours will take you to your night camp where dinner is made. And so the days where past in this fashion...

The first day took us thru various villages and vast parts of deserts. Our first stop was at our cook's village, where he kindly offered to us a cup of tea at his humble home. We kept on strolling thru the desert. As we approached a vast field of irrigated land, our guide told us we would stop in that farm for lunch. The farm was growing melons and peanuts. It had an expensive irrigation system costing 500,000 Rs taping from the rich undergroung water supply. We had the luxury of swiming in their pool, which was nothing more then a tank where they store the water pumped from underground. Nevertheless, it was quite refreshing. After lunch, we took a well deserved nap to kill time during the heat of the day. We kept on going thru the desert, past a road, and thru a large village. The kids in the village where asking for the empty water bottles so we obliged as it is a scare resource for them.

The desert life we saw today was spectacular! On the flora side we saw a few scattered trees along with the shrubs and ocassional grass. The fauna included dozens of Indian Gazels. At one point, we even saw an elusive desert fox stroll by in front of us.

We camped that evening by some sand dunes overlooking the desert. The camels where unpacked below and we slept on the sand dunes on top. As Anne and Rebekah had paid for just one night, their camels and the two camel men returned to their village that evening. We had a wonderful dinner in which we had our very own table set up and a very delicious dinner cooked for us. We slept under the stars up above on the sand dune, where at one point I managed to spot gazels gracing not even 10 meters from where I slept! Incidently, the night stars and milky way are amazing! You can see thousands of them!

The following morning, I bid a goodbye to the girls and guide as they went aboard a jeep back to Bikaner. The safari wasn't over for me as the cook, my camel man, and I will continue for two more days and one night. We started the morning crossing a vast area of desert following old trade roads. As usual, each villager we crossed asked for a water bottle and so whenever possible I tried to comply. The desert gazels today where far more in numbers as we were farther into the desert. I managed to take a few nice close up pics of some of them today.

We strolled all morning and ended up catching up with another camel cart from a local. We followed him for a while as we approached more villages and farms. We then visited some relatives of the cook who where building a camel cart. It was interesting to see how they carved the wood and molded the metal to their needs. They helped the cook fix his camel cart, which unbeknown to me wasn't in best of conditions that day. We stopped at the school on one of the big villages for lunch. The shaded courtyard made for a nice lunch brake and an excellent opportunity to fix the camel cart.

As we continued on our journey, we crossed more desert. Occassionally, we would come across vast irrigated fields that sprang to life out of the dry desert. The gazels usually enjoyed the green provided by this farm and at times could be seen near them or near a town, which also has some sort of water supply. We then made a pit stop at a village so our camel could get much needed water. After leaving the village, we came across our night stop at a vast sand dune. As before, I slept below the stars enjoying the peace and quiet tranquility of the solitude afforded by the sand dune in the Thar desert.

The third day was to be the last day of the camel safari. We began the day at a village, where once more the camels took in a load of water to sustain themselves for the day. It's interesting to point out the simple mud and wooden huts used to build the desert houses. They have tall floors and tall walls to keep cool during the day. The people live off the land as they can. Some are farmers, others are animal herders (sheep, camel, etc). Leaving the village behind, we came across Indian gazels. We then saw three goat herders with their large flock. This was followed by a group of beautiful green desert birds. Surely they had migrated from elsewhere as their bright color gave them away easily in the yellow desert.

We stopped at an old abondoned set of buildings next to a massive sand dune. We took shade under huge trees. Nearby, I could see the gazels taking shade from similar trees. On the top of the sand dune I could see the Bali Katar (Childrens Sand Dune) Temple. Finishing our lunch and nap, we took off on our last leg thru the desert. We finally met the jeep a couple of hours later. It took me back to the confines of town.

After a nice tea with Vijay, the owner of the guest house, I went upstairs and took a much deserved bath. I later went into town to verify my train ticket as I had just purchased a stand-by place. I did manage to get a spot, but only on pure luck. Even with 4 days advance purchase, getting the ticket out of Bikaner was a hassle as they are way overbooked. Alas my worries where over so I returned to the guesthouse and join Vijay on a few drinks of his local rum. He was indeed a great host and is a shame I missed him my first few days on account of him being in Jaipur. His friend, a Brahmin (caste), joined us for dinner, but refuced to drink. Vijay is a Rajput (caste), thus he can eat meat and drink alcohol. Even to this day, India is still defined by its casts. Just look at the personal ads of the news papers. They're full of ads that usually start off with the type of caste! Vijay's friend then dropped me at the train station in time to catch my train to Amritsar. Thus my trip thru Rajasthan came to an end.

Ah, but that was just the 24th of July. I'm way behind on my updates obviously and will only get farther behind as i'm headed to a no-email zone. So, a bried summary of where i've been as a tisser of what's to come. After Rajasthan, I headed to Amritsar. From there, I spent 2 weeks in the Valley of Kashmir. Then, I spend 3 wonderful weeks in Ladakh, a region that has close ties with Tibet. I then made my way thru Manali, Dharamshala, Rishikesh, Hardiwar, Fetapur Sikri, Agra (Taj Mahal), Orcha, Khajurahu, Varanasi, Delhi, Ayodhya, and Kushinagar. I'm now in Gorakphur awaiting a friend to enter Nepal. We plan on doing the Annapurma trek, a 25 day walk thru some of the best mountain scenery on Earth. So, I leave you off in Rajasthan and promise to catch up eventually. I'll try to see if I can come up with the Kashmiri update before the trek. We'll see... 😊

saludos,
Fernando


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1st April 2006

pictures
you have some really cool pictures here, well done. it would be soo useful if you could put a date on them or perhaps the time of the year. well done again!!!!!!!
2nd July 2006

Beautiful
I am an Indian but I haven't seen the Thar desert yet. Your pics have tempted me to go and see it asap. :)
29th July 2008

Good Approach to develop interest of People
Your site is really good you cover all types of Desert's tradition, architecture, sculpture and music. you also include your personal views.
31st October 2008

great
Great pictures. We are preparing our trip to India and we are in the mood now.

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