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Published: February 1st 2010
Just a final note on Nepal... as the flight took off from Kathmandu airport I was lucky enough to be seated on the right hand side of the plane and as we rose through the smog and then the clouds I had a perfectly clear view of the Himalayas stretching across the horizon above the cloud. Now I know because I've been told, that one of them was Everest but I'd be lying if I said I could have pointed it out, because I had no idea which it was, but they all looked pretty damned impressive.
So it was back to India and on arrival in Delhi I was shocked to be told by Immigration that according to the conditions of my Indian visa I wasn't actually allowed back into the country for 2 months once I'd left.... oops, I obviously hadn't realised this and managed to convince them it was an honest mistake - mostly by the genuine look of worry on my face I think - I had no idea!! Anyway he grumpily said I could come in on this occasion but next time, stay away for 2 months. Yessir!
So my friend Susie had arrived
a day before and we decided that we'd pretty much head straight out of Dehli the next day as she has only 2 weeks in Rajasthan before she heads to Kerala. We headed to Paharganj and managed to find someone who could get us tickets on the 'sold-out' train to Agra for the next afternoon - you can always find a man who can in India. 3 hours late ( pretty much standard for Indian railways) we headed off the following afternoon and arrived that evening in time for dinner. It was only when we went to the roof terrace for breakfast the following morning and once the fog had finally lifted that we realised that we could actually see the Taj Mahal from our hotel roof and for free!!!
Our first day in Agra we visited the 'ghost city' of Fatehpur Sikri about 30km away - this was the capital of the Mughal empire between 1571 and 1585 - shortlived due to a lack of water in the area and it was abandoned after only 14 years. Most of the buildings are made from red sandstone which is beautiful warm colour. It stands quite spookily really well preserved
Mosque at Agra Fort
if we stand still long enough.....
but completely deserted, although the mosque is still in use - and somehow in spite of all the tourists it does feel like a deserted town.
After spending most of the afternoon there we headed back to Agra and got dropped off in town in order to try to track down a beer - which proved very elusive unfortunately!
We didn't bother trying for the sunrise at the Taj as the fog was settled in til late morning so headed to Agra Fort instead, which was pretty impressive. Another red sandstone building, it was enormous and had lots of different elements to it. In the afternoon we headed over to the main attraction - and boy do they know it - 750 rupees entrance fee for foreigners (about a tenner) - I think this is the most expensive tourist site in India and allegedly Bill Clinton is to blame because he commented on a visit about how cheap it was and how they could easily charge tourists more - so they did!!
Anyway, I have to say, the first sight of it, as you walked in through the gate was absolutely breathtaking. It's not that it's particularly
huge or different from the pictures that we've seen a million times, but it's very whiteness seems to make it shine - and it just sits there against a perfect cloudless blue sky.
Obviously it was pretty crowded and we made the mistake a getting a guide who really wound me up by bossing us around and trying to rush us through. He also said that we weren't allowed to take in a whole list of things including sweets, phones, and calculators!!! He was unable to explain why we couldn't take calculators in with us - not that we were packing Casio's or anything. Anyway during the tour he kept counting things like the number of years it took to build, the number of minarets in the ground, the number of this, 12 sets of that blah blah blah - then he'd add it all up in his head, divide it by something and come up with some magic number that related to the year it was started or finished or some other tenuous connection - this, we decided, was why we couldn't have calculators so that we couldn't check his maths!
Anyway once we finished with the
guide we took our time and walked through on our own and took our photographs. 'Diana's bench' had a queue but it was pretty easy to elbow your way to the front (I've been taking tips from Indians) but you couldn't do much about the crowds in the background.
That evening we were supposed to be on the train to Jaipur at 7.30pm but when we got to the station we were told it was going to be an hour late - not too bad, but then once that hour had passed it just kept shifting and finally we boarded 3 hours late. So we arrived in Jaipur about 2.30 in the morning, but we'd planned ahead and booked a room - no problem we thought and just jumped in a rickshaw. When we finally found the hotel and knocked them awake they denied any booking and said they were full so we were pretty much in the hands of the rickshaw driver, but luckily spotted somewhere before we were taken to a hotel on his recommendation and finally got to bed about 4 am.
We had only a day in Jaipur so it was pretty busy the
next day and we headed straight out of town for Amber Fort which was beautiful - really, really impressive. Within the Fort there was a Glass Palace that was made from tiny sparkling mirror tiles which was stunning. One of the Maharaja's had 21 wives (Maharini's) and had built a secret corrridor to access any of one of their bedrooms so that the others wouldn't know and therefore be jealous - a very cunning chap! Then it was back into the Pink City to see the City Palace - much less impressive, so we headed to the edge of town and climbed up towards Nahargarh Fort for a sunset view of the city. It was a nice walk and we could see all the kids on the rooftops flying their kites.
Jaipur was also where I knowingly saw my first dead dog of India. I say this because everywhere you go there are dogs lying around looking like they're sleeping, but they do genuinely look asleep - this one was most definitely dead and all day in my head I could just hear myself saying ' I see Dead Dogs, I see Dead Dogs' - like in the film
Glass Palace at Amber Fort
Mirror, mirror on the wall....
Sixth Sense but different......
As we'd had a dry time in Agra we went in search of beer and yay!! found ourselves a nice rooftop bar and a couple of bottles of Kingfisher. A couple of Indian lads joined us (mostly because the bar wouldn't serve them unless they were with us.....) anyway they were pretty interesting. One of them was from a pretty wealthy background - his father owns 23 elephants and a number of export businesses. They were a little insulted that we were only spending a day in their city and insisted on taking us on their bikes to see an illuminated hotel in the middle of lake (not the most impressive thing I've seen) and then to a (surprise, surprise) textile factory!! Anyway we shook them off and went for dinner, where we met two more fairly wealthy and very confident young guys who were also insulted that we were spending only a day in their magnificent city. Still just one day it was, though I may return towards the end of my trip.
Next day saw us on the bus and headed into Rajasthan, starting at Pushkar - a much smaller place on
End of the working day
path from Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur
the edge of the desert. It's much friendlier here and there's a lot less traffic (they don't allow auto-rickshaws) and its pretty sacred and chock full of temples so beer is again hard to find - but once you know who to ask....
The immediate thing that hits you about Rajasthan is the colours - everything is really bright and colourful, the ladies wear bright red, pink, and yellow sari's, trimmed with sequins and lots of jewellery - big gold rings, bangles, earrings and nose-rings and the guys wear turban-type headgear - not quite turbans, they're wrapped differently and again are brightly coloured.
Pushkar is centred around a lake, though the rains were so bad last year that it's practically dry this year. The means that many of the ghats aren't used, but we visited a temple that is next to one of the ghats with water and there were lots of people bathing there. Surprisingly, given that a lot of the ladies cover their faces with their sari's when walking down the street, there were a lot of baps on display whilst they were washing themselves! Whilst we were at the temple we were accosted by a
couple of 'priests' who just started giving us blessings. Now I'd read about this and the 'Pushkar passport' where they tie red and yellow string around your wrist to indicate you've been blessed and the pressure they put on you to 'donate' to the temple. Now, I don't have an issue with giving some money but this guy was actually demanding to know how much I was going to give and expected me to hand it to him rather than put it into the donation box (he said the donation money just went to the cows!!). Anyway, long story short, we had a little falling out, I told him I didn't want the strings on my wrist (I already have one set from the killing goats temple in Calcutta) and he told me I wouldn't be allowed in any other temples in Pushkar without it and I'm pretty sure he may have cursed me!! Later that day I went to the main Brahma temple and they were more than happy to let me in and bless me - so hopefully that cancelled out any bad wishes from the first temple!
Not sure if there is something in the air
this could be Barbapapa?
in Pushkar but we've seen 2 5-legged cows (that's two cows, each with 5 legs). It's not a leg they can walk on, but a short leg with hoof that is growing out of their shoulder - and I know there are definitely two of them because I saw them at the same time - very strange. Anyway being India, this is celebrated and the poor cow is dressed up and showered in pink paint powder and paraded around the streets by a sadhu with the ever-present collecting tin.
Being on the edge of the desert we thought it would be wrong not to venture out into the wilderness at least a little way. However, I have ridden camels before and was not keen to repeat the experience and Susie had already decided it was not going to be on her 'to do' list so we signed up instead for a 3 hour desert safari on a camel cart - which is exactly as it sounds - a cart pulled along by a camel. Now you get a completely different perspective from this angle - most of the 3 hours anytime I looked ahead I had a close-up view
of a pair of camel's testicles (and they looked like they were chafing against his thighs). If you looked at other camels coming along behind they wanted to know what you were looking at and starting poking their head into the camel cart to look right back at us - often spraying camel spit at the same time. The view around us wasn't all that inspiring and actually we spent most of the time trying desperately to stay on the flat bed of the cart which became more precarious as we ventured into some small villages with nothing in the way of roads. It was nice to see the villagers though and one kind lady offered me her baby daughter for just a few rupees. Tempted as I was at such a bargain I knew there was no way she would fit into my backpack so I had to refuse.
Today we're off to Jodphur, then Udaipur before Susie heads south and I continue around Rajashthan and towards north-west India and the Punjab.
Thanks again for messages and e-mails,
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