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Published: December 5th 2018
INDIA TAKES YOUR BREATH AWAY ... ... ..
Over a period of about a week, we visited three amazing cities of India all so different but equally impressive. We drove from Ranthambore National Park to Jaipur a journey of 161 km which took us around 5 hours - a long day.
The traffic was horrendous for most of the journey, driving in India is certainly something of an ordeal! You meet just about everything on the roads and the constant beeping of horns does get a little bit much at times - give me the Highway Code any time … … All kinds of vehicles some in very poor conditions are on the roads, in the main though its the motorbike that is ‘king of the road’, usually topped with up to five people. Ladies ride side saddle with young children either sitting in the front holding the handlebars or if they are very young or babies then squashed in between parents. I was amazed that everyone seemed to stay on as we never did see anyone fall off, although a few close calls. In the villages and towns the motorised tuk tuk also joins the mix
There are ‘rules of the road’ but no one seems to take any notice of them. If there’s a little gap to the left of the vehicle in front of you then you go there, if there’s a space to the right then you move there - if there’s no space at all, well you just squeeze through anyway beeping your horn as loud as you can to warn the vehicle that you are alonside! Most of the large trucks have signs on the back saying ‘Blow your Horn’ and this is normal practice telling someone that you are coming up behind them and are going to overtake, which ever side of the vehicle you can. We did see one vehicle with do not blow horn but are unsure why … … We had quite a number of ‘close your eyes’ moments as we drove along as many vehicles just travel down the road the wrong way when the fancy takes them heading straight for you then swerving at the last minute to miss you … …
We were lucky to be able to sit in our 9 seater vehicle in the
safe hand of Sanjay, our driver and watch the countryside go by from the comfort of the bus. As there were only six of us and the driver there was plenty of space although the seating was a little cramped. We swapped the back seats with another couple every other day, although this was more bumpy it did have more space and the middle seat you could stretch your legs. Many local women were working in the fields, their colourful saris covering their faces, harvesting a variety of crops or tending to cattle. Some very young children looked after herds of goats along the road side, moving them on when they had eaten the curb sides bare. Most of the farm work was done by hand, but we did see a number of tractors harvesting as well. Those with tractors used them for all kinds of transportation as well as general shopping in the villages and towns. The fronts of many tractors were covered in brightly coloured streamers as were the numerous large trucks transporting all kind of goods around the country.
It was not only other vehicles you had to watch out
for as we drove through numerous villages and towns the streets were full of every animal you could think of; numerous feral dogs, cattle, pigs, goats, water buffalo and even camels all wandering along the litter strewn streets amongst the traffic and people eating whatever they found with many atop a rubbish heap. Barbers seem to be doing a roaring trade with just a chair in the open air and the men would just call in to have a shave by the side of the road. We also noticed many men working on sewing machines in very small rooms facing the street usually with a table covered in yards of cloth, other men stood iron reams of cloth with heavy metal irons. One thing that took some getting used to was seeing men openly making a call of nature on the side of the road. This is done quite openly, they do not go behind buildings but any where, in fact even next to market stalls strung out along the roadside. There obviously were not any toilets available so I could understand that but going to the toilet on the central reservation facing the traffic was another matter. We did
actually see a couple of open air loos just for men, open to the elements with just three walls but at least they were all facing a wall . … … …
Along the road side we noticed piles of dry dung fuel left out in the sun to dry. A
nimal excrement that has been dried is a main fuel source here. It is used as a fuel in many countries around the world, in India, this kind of fuel source is known as ‘dung cakes’. These ‘cakes’ are made by hand by village women and are traditionally made from cow or buffalo dung - there sure was plenty of that around! Most of the villages we passed did not have running water in the homes but had water pumps on the side of the road and we watched men and women fetching water, doing their washing as well as children playing with the water it seems to be a great spot for a social gathering. We came across a group of youngsters using a cattle trough as a swimming pool and having the best fun ever, swimming up and down the narrow trough, they
did not have nothing but seemed full of happiness. JAIPUR
Finally arrived in Jaipur, we drove along a promenade that edged the lake and a huge flock of flamingos flew off into the distance the sky turned pink with them. We were booked into another Trident Hotel, this time the Trident Jaipur
for two nights which is located at the base of the Amber Fort and just ten minutes from the town centre. We were really lucky and they upgraded us to a lakeside view room which was awesome. Not sure why we got upgraded as the other two couples didn’t must have been our lucky day.
Our fourth floor room had stunning views of the Mansagar Lake and the beautiful Jal Mahal at its centre - it looked like it was floating on the water. We had a large room which had a small 'jharokha' window (type of overhanging enclosed balcony window) which was perfect to take in the panoramic views of the lake and gardens, with the dark Aravalli range forming a dramatic backdrop behind the town. JAIPUR - The Pink City
Translated from Hindi, Rajasthan means ‘the land of kings’, and its capital, Jaipur, is defined by royalty. The 18th-century Maharaja Jai Singh designed the city to meet his every whim, with royal palaces, gardens and pavilions taking up almost a quarter of its footprint. Streets were designed as parade routes and a busy craft bazaar flourished, selling wares almost exclusively to decorate royal buildings.
Jaipur is one of the most vibrant cities in Rajasthan and known as the Pink City as many of the buildings in the old town are painted in a lovely pink hue. Painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales in 1876 and refreshed for later visits of the Queen and Princess of Wales the colour has now become the norm. AMBER FORT
We started our tour of the city with a visit to the Amber Fort, its architecture a fusion of Rajput (Hindu) and Mughal (Islamic) styles. Amber was once the capital of Jaipur state, and the fort the residence of its Rajput rulers. Maharaja Man Singh I, who led Mughal Emperor Akbar's army, commenced its construction in 1592 on the
remains of an 11th century fort. The seat of power was moved to its present location in 1727 due to Amber’s dwindling water supplies, but the Amber Fort still proudly stands guard atop the Aravalli Hills.
To reach the entrance at the top of the hill, you can drive or walk up. Stunningly decorated elephants do carry visitors to the top but, as their welfare aspects are unknown, we preferred not to ride them and took a land rover but as soon as we set off we got caught in a traffic jam. A large coach was trying to turn a corner and mayhem happened within minutes blocking the road. About eight local men were trying unsuccessfully to direct the traffic whilst others tried to squeeze past us and the coach with only inches to spare. Motorbikes joined the chaos whilst we just sat and watched - we were not in any hurry. I must say the traffic is bedlam in India but no-one seems to loose their temper they all remain quite calm which surprised me.
We zig-zagging up hill past market stalls and street vendors between narrow high walls before arriving into
the main courtyard through the Suraju Pole (sun gate). Nowadays anyone can go into the large courtyard but at one time women of the royal court were banned from the here but were able to watch the goings-on below from veiled windows high above which we were to look through later.
Inside was a labyrinth of corridors, galleries, temples and royal quarters surrounds three further courtyards - you could get quite lost . ..… The Sheesh Mahal (meaning ‘mirror palace’) is the most ornate room, covered in thousands of mirrors and semi-precious stones - the reflections were amazing. Our guide took everyones ‘magic photo’ using a mirror inlaid with glass which was quite fun. The fortified final courtyard, the zenana, was the private quarters of the Maharaja’s wives and concubines, each wife had separate palaces and the king had secret passages to each and no-one knew which wife he was visiting. He was also the only man allowed in this area and had all the women to himself!! CITY PALACE
We made a brief photo stop at the The Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, which was built
in 1799 of red sandstone alongside the main road into the city, allowing the royal women to observe parades entering Jaipur city unseen behind latticed screens. The street was busy and we took quite a while to cross to the other side so that we could walk on to the Royal Palace which is in the centre of the medieval city and is still the home of the current Maharaja of Jaipur. Whilst we were visiting he was at home as his flag was flying over the palace but we did not get an invite to tea … … Like most structures in Jaipur the palace also reflects the fusion of Mughal and Rajput architecture and is quite a sight to see. Spread over a large area occupying one seventh of the old city of Jaipur it has a sequence of gardens, buildings and courtyards, temple and even a dedicated museum. We had a quick visit to the museum which housed some interesting artefacts including a pair of pyjamas which were so large they took up a whole wall as well as a coat presented to the Maharaja by Queen Victoria.
Across from the City Palace was
the Jantar Mantar,
an astronomical observation site built in the early 18th century. More to Paul’s tastes than mine I did like viewing the largest sundial ever built though … … The site included a set of some twenty main fixed instruments. They are monumental examples in masonry of known instruments but which in many cases have specific characteristics of their own. Designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye, they embody several architectural and instrumental innovations. It was a really hot day so walking around the area was brief thank goodness. A building within the palace was being set up for wedding, apparently it was the wedding season and not expense was spared. I cannot remember the cost of hiring the area for the day but it was massive.
Our next stop was to see a weapons museum but I gave this a miss and Paul went on with some of the others. A couple of us sat and waited for them to come back in the shade only to be ‘photo bombed’ by some locals. Everyone here want to take their photo with you - have not come across that before but
it was good fun posing with some of the locals.
We later visited a textile company and watched a demonstration on block printing which was really interesting as well as carpets being loomed and of course they wanted you to buy. I though a carpet would be much to heavy to carry in our suitcases and in any case we were up to our limit, only having 15kg on internal flights. I did however have a dress made in 5 hours delivered to our hotel a perfect fit.
We really enjoyed our stay at The Trident at Japuir it had a great location and of course we had fabulous views of the Jal Mahal - the reflections in the lake of this palace in the evening light was truly lovely. The sun rising in the morning was magical as well, we wished we could have stayed here longer. At the end of each busy day we sampled some delicious food - plenty of choice and lots of different flavours to sample, beginning to like some of this Indian food if its not too hot that is… …
The lake just in
front of our hotel had many birds and we did get a brief chance to walk along the promenade with hundreds of white Egrets feeding on the abundant fish in the early morning before it became to busy with hawkers. It was a shame we did not have more time to chill and take in this amazing vista but time to move on again.
The next morning Sanjay arrived early and we drove from Jaipur to Jodhpur a distance of 328 km - a really long journey, makes you appreciate how large India is as we were on the road for 7.5 hours and it looked such a little way on our map . …… JODHPUR
As we arrived on the outskirt of the city, we stopped on the side of the road to pick up another local guide to visit the fort. We had arrived late though so the visit was really quick and you did not get much time to see anything really. Everyone has heard of Jodhpur but of course that is the special riding breeches which were actually designed here and given the
We stopped on the way to the fort at the Jaswant Thad, a beautiful white marble cenotaph built in 1899 to honour the late Maharaja Jaswant Singh 11. Beside the main building was a small lake and inside surrounding the cenotaph were some beautiful gardens and we spotted a lovely Purple Sunbird in the bushes. A quick visit and we were rushed on again by our guide. MEHRANGARH FORT
Mehrangarh Fort stands a hundred feet in isolated splendour on a perpendicular cliff, four hundred feet above the sky line and holds pride of place in Jodhpur - your first glimpse took your breath away it dominated the landscape. Considered as one of the most formidable and magnificent forts of Rajasthan, the fort was built by Rao Jodha in the year 1459. There are seven gates, which can be used to enter the fort, each gate made by a different ruler.
Burnished red sand stone, imposing, invincible and yet with a strange haunting beauty that beckoned the eye to its centre it was unlike anything we had visited so far in India. Much
has been written about this Citadel of the Sun, for truly, it really is one of the most impressive in all Rajasthan, so colossal are its proportions that Rudyard Kipling called it ‘the work of giants’
. Today, it is acknowledged as one of the best preserved forts in India.
From it high ramparts there were equally stunning views of the blue-painted Brahmin houses
for which the city of Jodhpur is famous. When we arrived they were quite faint but as the light changed the beautiful blue colour shone through. We spent some time at the fort but it really was a speedy visit. ROHET
After our visit we continued our journey to Rohet
a distance of only 40km, thank goodness, after such a long day on the bus and the visit to the fort as well it really was a welcoming stop.
A picturesque hamlet to the south east of Luni and settled by the Bishnoi tribal community who are famous for their reverence for wildlife and there careful environmental management. They are potters, weavers, leather embroiderers as well as camel and goat herders.
We headed off down a bumpy unmade road and wondered where we were going to end up, we stopped suddenly on the gloomy street with local handicrafts being made alongside a narrow track. A large herd of goats led the way with a lonely shepherd boy following behind and our bus followed him before they moved out of the way and we arrived in a large square courtyard.
We were staying at the Rohet Garh
which had such a majestic setting with high walls and ancient ramparts more a palace than an hotel. Inside was a beautifully landscaped garden - this was still the family home of the towns ruling Singh family and could not believe that we were actually going to spend two nights here. It really was like staying in a palace from the moment you entered the gates - how lucky were we.
The hotel was an extremely friendly place on the banks of a small lake, with well decorated rooms scattered around the gardens. The family are lovers of the great outdoors and are also keen horsemen and this is one of the
best places to base yourself if you are keen on riding.
We were lucky to have a morning to chill and it was easy to find a secluded spot on one of the breezy verandahs or in the gardens to read, spot birds
, and while away the hours - pure heaven and we could have stayed here for days.
Our room (small house really) was just amazing with a gallery seating area, downstairs and upstairs balconies and lovely frescos painted on our walls with matching textiles - a lot of thought gone into making the room unique.
The village of Rohet was home to about 7000 people who were extremely friendly and warm to us The hotel tries not to spoil the peaceful environment and therefore requested that we abstain from distributing money or anything else on the streets. There were a few over friendly kids who kept asking for ‘One Pen’ or ‘One photo’ or ‘One Rupee’. The hotel told us that the market is flooded with Pens and they are dirt cheap, for most of them it is a completion to see who collects more pens from the ‘Gorias’
(white People). Every year Rohet Garh takes up a project within the village for basic development and they ask that visitors donate to this. They use these funds to improve the infrastructure and facilities in local schools as well as hosting medical camps providing free consultation and treatment including surgery for the villagers. BISHNOI VILLAGE
In the afternoon we enjoyed a visit to the Bishnoi
tribe who our well known for their conservationist religious beliefs. They protect their flora and fauna with a reverence and live in tiny tidy hamlets. They farm large tracts of land which they keep part fallow for the benefit of the local wildlife. Indeed whilst we crossed over the fields in a small jeep we passed a herd of antelope grazing. We stopped and watch them for a while they were a group of about 20 fawn coloured females with one large black buck with huge spiral horns guarded his flock from others.
We pulled into a small hamlet and our guide who was from a different tribe explained about the Bishnoi and introduced us to the tribe elder .
They are strict vegetarians and do not even eat some root vegetables like garlic and onions but he seemed to do well on his diet, standing proud and straight and he told us he was 86 years old.
The history and customs of the Bishnoi date back as far as the 16th century and they are know to have resisted royal edits ordering them to fell trees by literally wrapping themselves around them (tree hugging comes to mind). Sadly in the 19th century many sacrificed their lives when defying the Jodhpur ruler from cutting down a forest by tying themselves to the trees.
We walked around a couple of the small thatched houses but we were unsure whether it was ‘tourist staged event’ as everything was so neat and tidy although extremely basic. An elderly lady was sitting on the floor rocking a baby in a swing crib whilst other children were standing and watching us nearby. A couple of animals were tethered to a side stable eating a bale of straw and another lady was feeding a baby. In one of the houses they showed us some of the grains they
eat like, wheat, corn and millet and how they ground them by hand. They later demonstrated how they cooked over an outdoor small fireplace and their cooking utensils, all spotlessly clean.
We stopped at another slightly larger village where some local men showed us how to brew Opium which they offer to all their guests, we decided not to sample the finished product though … … …
Early the next morning we set off on our own to walk around a lake to a small temple. We were told to keep left which we did and ended up in a very tidy stable full of some very grand horses which were apparently Marwari, a breed of horses excellent for riding. We did finally find the path and spotted quite a number of birds including, Ducks, Flamingos, Bee Eaters, Black Drongos, Plumb-headed Parakeets, Avocets, Eagles, Pied Kingfishers and large flocks of bright green Pigeons.
We stopped to chat to a local family collecting water from the lake and eating their breakfast on the ground. At the temple Paul chatted to a young man who said his brother worked at the
hotel and that he had a little textile and leather shop so we walked back with him to his shop which was opposite our hotel. Paul decided to have a belt made and I bought a couple of pairs of slippers. We went back a few hours later to collect it and chatted to a couple of children passing by as well as the shop owner’s sister in law who was busy hand sewing a sari with very small beads in the middle of the shop. The material had been attached to the frame of an old wooden bed and it seemed a perfect place to complete her intricate work. She insisted on me trying on a sari that she had hand made but I think there is no way I would be wearing the fine silk in the cold of the UK winter so declined to purchase! We later walked around the dusty village and watched everyday life going on all around, them and us milling around endless dogs and cattle and trying to avoid the heavily soiled road.
After a tasty dinner and a few drinks in the bar we headed back to our room
to catch up on some sleep. It really was sad to leave this tranquil place but we had to move on to Rankapur, a distance of 190 km and another long journey of 5 hours this time - we kept wishing we had a little more ‘leisure time! RANKAPUR
Ranakpur is a village located between Jodhpur and Udaipur, tucked away in a remote valley in the Aravalli mountain range. The Aravalli Range is a range of mountains running approximately 692 km in a southwest direction, starting in North India from Delhi and passing through southern Haryana, through to Western India across the states of Rajasthan and ending in Gujarat.
Ranakpur is named after Rana Kumbha, the ruler of Mewar who offered his land to the Jains for the construction of a temple said to be the most spectacular of all the Jain temples. This beautiful, serene place is renowned for some amazingly carved Jain temples constructed around 1439 AD. Along with magnificent architecture and numerous pillars, the place is also famous for large population of monkeys that live in and around the place.
parked our vehicle and wandered up a tree lined path and got our first glimpse of the temple. Although built so long ago it was in perfect condition and stunningly beautiful inside and out.
We did not have a guide for the temple but our driver, Sanjay gave us each an audio machine to carry around in English. As with any temple here you remove your shoes before climbing up the steps into the main interior. It was amazing and I wished I had brought my camera in but you have to pay to do so and I decided to leave it in the van this time. Big mistake, as the entire temple was carved from white marble with 29 halls supported by over 1,444 pillars holding up the ceiling, no two of which were alike, it was an awesome sight to behold. All of the carvings were intricate in detail, portraying people, elephants, flowers, as well as some stunning geometrical patterns - it was hard to believe that it was carved out of marble. We wandered through the cool interior, enjoying the tranquility - a really nice break from the overwhelming assault on the senses that
India can be … … but you guessed it we have to move on, the pace of this holiday is hectic but exciting and awesome at the same time and now we were getting to the end of our journey. UDAIPUR
We continued to Udaipur a distance of 100 km and a journey time of 2.5 hours and booked into the Trident Hotel
which enjoys a lakeside location set within its own gardens, although the views were slightly obstructed by trees.
Udaipur is known as one of India’s most romantic cities with its ornate turrets, balconied palaces and whitewashed havelis clustered around the waters of the shimmering lake.
We picked up yet another guide at our hotel and toured the City Palace, the largest palace complex in the whole of Rajasthan comprising many building added at various times in history by the maharajas. We had to leave our car and walk up to the entrance and there were stunning views out over the lake with its romantic island palaces shimmering in the sunshine and giving off beautiful reflections. As we entered we notice lots of activity going on
and had to keep watching where we walked as they were carefully painting the kerbstone up to the palace gates as well as the walls of the palace itself. Several workers were balancing on bamboo scaffolding which looked pretty unsafe whilst underneath them a man was sat cutting huge blocks of marble. Apparently there was going to be a wedding shortly of the daughter of one of the richest men in India - so no expense was being spared. Inside the palace was being decked out for the occasion as well which took a little away from the magnificent building with so much activity going on.
Our guide knew a shortcut and took us along some very narrow corridors to reach the most beautiful part of the palace. The Moti Mahal with its mirror inlay as well as the Chini Mahal with its iridescent tile work were spectacular to see. We also saw a large display of solid silver objects - many objects owned by the royal family of Udaipur since the 8th century. On the way out we walked through several rooms containing photographs of many different eras and past visitors to the palaces including many
of our royal family.
We stopped at Jagadish Mandir Temple which had steep steps to get inside. The noise once you entered was deafening, all around the small centre the congregation were smiling, dancing and singing - it remain reminded us of the lovely churches in the Cook Islands.
We later walked through the old town with its lively bazaars contained within the walls of the old city. The street was busy with people many heading up to the temple. Our guide managed to find a little shop that sold almost everything including security locks. Both of ours on our suitcase had been broken during our journey so it was great to be able to find one in this old city. The shopkeeper also wanted us to buy a bag and when we declined he tried to persuade us to buy some cigarettes but we declined these as well.
Udaipur has one of the oldest dynasties in the world even older than the Chinese and Japanese as well. It is also one of the fastest growing cities, in the 1980s there were only around 10 hotels but then came James Bond’s
Octopussy and now there are around 900 and still growing……
Later we visited a miniature painting studio, on display were many mural-like paintings - exquisite works of art taking hours to achieve but much to colourful for our home. If you looked through a magnifying glass you could see such fine detail in the faces of the people - stunning but not for us.
Back at our hotel Paul had a swim but I decided against it again none of the water in all the hotels we have stayed in was heated and it was far too cold. We later wandered around gardens the huge gardens and ended up entering the Oberoi Hotel which was located in the same grounds. The lovely staff inside tried to offer us breakfast but we told them we had already eaten at our hotel and we were not staying with them. They showed us the way down to the lake and they had much better views than our hotel. They also offered to get a golf buggy to drive us back to our hotel but we decided to walk back through the gardens it was nice to be
outside in the warm sunshine for a change and not stuck in a vehicle. They said that we should stay with them next time we visited India … … … FINAL DAY OF OUR GRAND TOUR OF INDIA
So we come to the end of our Grand Tour of India and it sure has been grand. Paul and I have travelled extensively since we retired but India was definitely not on his ‘bucket list’ for various reasons and so I thought one day I would have to come alone. However recently he had started to change his mind with the help of a couple of TV programmes - thank you BBC. He thoroughly enjoyed a recent series with Michael Palin travelling around India as well as more recently the third series of the Real Marigold Hotel about retiring in India. This starred some well know names including Susan George, Stephanie Beacham, Ian and Janette Tough (aka The Krankies), Syd Little, Peter Dean, Bob Champion and Stanley Johnson as well as Selena Scott and they stayed in Udaipur during the filming of the series.
I was also moved by the
reason that Selena Scott wanted to take part in the series even though she had said she did not feel old or retired - a bit like us really and of course my ancestors links to this amazing country. Selena Scott’s story: ‘There’s a little lace dress, wrapped in tissue, in my mother’s chest of drawers. It is a tiny christening gown, exquisitely woven in fine silk and perfectly preserved, made for a baby girl who perished in the Siege of Lucknow in 1857. This dress holds a special resonance because that baby girl was a very distant relative of mine. Although her father, a surgeon soldier, survived the battle which foreshadowed the end of British rule in India, tragically his twin daughters and wife died in the Siege. The one remaining link from that long-ago moment is this tiny frock, a frock I too was baptised in.’ THE NEXT LEG OF OUR JOURNEY
One thing that I will remember from this leg of our journey were the friendly people we came across, we were constantly stopped and asked to join a group in a photograph where ever
we went - makes a change from us taking photos.
Tomorrow we fly to Mumbai for our onward flight to Nagpur for our tailor made extension to see some of the central National Parks of India and hopefully lots of wildlife - cannot wait. Namaste - see you there
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