Sara Thomas


Sara Thomas

We're inveterate travellers, living in London and making at least one long haul trip a year. Our current passion is India - we're gradually exploring more of it on each trip.

Asia » India » Rajasthan » Udaipur December 28th 2018

Off today to Udaipur. The Udai Bilas has grown on us despite its eccentricities and slightly haphazard way of doing things so it is sad to leave. We head north on NH8 towards Udaipur, just under two hours north. The countryside becomes more hilly and less productive. NH8 is in the course of being turned into a six lane highway; of course this being India, the construction goes on around you as you travel along. With little warning the existing roadway turns into a dusty track, with men with excavators slicing away the hillside in great clouds of dust as rock keeps crashing down (causing Mr Singh to cast anxious sideways glances), or hot tar is being laid and Mr Singh has to avoid driving inadvertently over it. There are numerous overturned lorries who negotiated the ... read more
Stained glass in City Palace Udaipur
Inner courtyard, City Palace Udaipur
Entrance to City Palace Udaipur

Asia » India » Rajasthan » Dungarpur November 28th 2018

This morning we visit the Juna Mahal, the old palace of the ruling Maharajahs on which construction started in 1304. It clings to the hillside a couple of kilometres away from the Udai Bilas. It claims to be the longest continually inhabited palace in India, occupied by 22 successive generations of the same family, the Rawals of Vagad, a remarkable feat of survival considering the conflicting sultanates and dynasties on all sides of them. The Rawals were Rajputs who had broken away from the Mewar court of Chittorgarh and Udaipur. We are the only visitors and it’s not immediately clear if the place is open. Eventually Mr Singh locates a youth of about 16 who shows us round this amazing place. The outer courtyard where you arrive used to house the elephant stables. The palace has ... read more
Shish Mahal, Juna Mahal
Durbar hall, Juna Mahal, Dungarpur
Beeeater presenting moth to mate

Asia » India » Rajasthan » Dungarpur November 26th 2018

It is time to leave Poshina. We are currently the only guests and Hanu seems slightly reluctant to have us leave. We go to the private balcony to settle up and his father the Maharajah is there to greet us again and to chat. He is a charming gentleman of indeterminate age but somewhere in his 80s one would surmise. He assumed the headship of the family aged seven when his father died young, on which basis he must have been an absolute ruler of the princely state of Poshina at the time of Parttion in 1947, albeit still only a child. What a link with the past! He tells us again about the “good old days”- when the British ruled India (“They ruled it properly, not like these damn corrupt politicians now”), and left the ... read more
Courtyard at Udail Bilas Palace
Cadillac, Udai Bilas Palace
Fruit bats sweeping in

Asia » India » Rajasthan » Dungarpur November 25th 2018

We go for a walk round Poshina village with our friend, the local Adivasi chieftain, who stands guard at the gate. He took the rifle just in case of trouble, but all is calm. Hanu had told us that there were local tailors who could run up a copy of a garment in a few hours for 200 rupees a piece, so we take along a pair of loose cotton trousers each. The first tailor shakes his head, a second is called, then a third and fourth. The conversation is entirely in Gujarati so we never do find out what the problem was, but the answer is clearly no. The chief leads us down some back alleys until we come across a small 15th century temple, which looked very mundane from the front, but we are ... read more
Garisia girl 1
Garisia girl 2
Garisia man

Asia » India » Gujarat » Palanpur November 24th 2018

Hanu takes us in the jeep to visit some of the local villages. He explains that the villagers are all tribal people from the Adivasis and Garasia tribes. We stop by the river, at a field growing a crop a bit like spinach. Women are filling up steel pots full of water from a hand pump, recently installed by the government. Next to that is a small shrine surrounded by armies of small terracotta horses, mostly about 18 inches tall. The tradition is to bring a horse to the shrine as an offering, with coconut, jaggery and oil, and your wish will come true. Behind the spinach field is one full of female cotton plants. All the flowers on the female plants are hand fertilised to produce seeds for the following year. Early each morning the ... read more
Village shaman
School lunch

Asia » India » Gujarat » Khedbrahma November 23rd 2018

We decide to pass on Achalgarh fort; apparently there is nothing left of the fort and it is more of local rubbish tip. Instead we elect to first visit the Ambaji temple. Mr Singh commends our choice. He tells he and his wife and 4 year old son visit the temple each year. They queue for five hours to see the deity. We'll be passing on that queue. The road snakes down through the Aravalli hills, Mount Abu town being at about 4000ft above sea level. The views and the hairpin bends are impressive. The roads here are being improved and progress can be slow. We arrive in Ambaji, which appears to be in the middle of pilgrimage season. There are groups of pilgrims, mainly young men, dressed in red shirts with matching bandanas and flags. ... read more
Ambaji pilgrims
Main temple at Khumbhariya
Khumbhariya temple

Asia » India » Gujarat » Modhera November 22nd 2018

We though the imam had kept us awake again last night. But no, apparently it was a cricket match at the floodlit ground down the road. The game went on till 4.00am! Music, drums, clapping, it somehow didn’t square with noise coming from a mosque. We make our regular 8.30am travelling day departure. Our first stop is the Sun Temple at Modhera. It’s a Hindu temple built in 1027 by King Bhimdev I of the Solanki dynasty, and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. We walk through beautifully maintained gardens, towards the deep stepped tank in front of the assembly hall, which was used for storing water. It’s 100 metres square in size, with 108 shrines situated on different levels of the steps down, where devotees would give prayers at each one before washing in ... read more
Modhera sun temple assembly hall
Looking into the Patan step well
Patan step well carving

Asia » India » Gujarat » Rann of Kutch November 21st 2018

After tea and biscuits at 715am, we start off to see the birds at the lake. It would be nice to report a good night’s sleep, but the beds were rock hard and the imam was ranting till past 1am. One of the other guests, an Indian expat living in New Zealand, tells us that the new mosque was built with Wahhabi money from Saudi Arabia, as are most new mosques in India. They bring a more fundamental form of Islam than Indian Muslims practise, and this can cause conflict both with local Muslims and with the Hindus. So it can become another source of tension between the communities. She said that over the last few years since the Wahhabis moved in, the number of little Hindu shrines has much increased in the village, as a ... read more
Pelicans taking off
Early morning cranes
Flamingos, Little Rann of Kutch

Asia » India » Gujarat » Rann of Kutch November 20th 2018

Today we’re headed to the Little Rann of Kutch. It’s a 4 ½ hour drive, but the roads are good. Along the way the vegetation is much as elsewhere in Gujarat, but as we near it becomes noticeably more dry and less cultivated, but still no sign of any salt flats. We arrive at the Desert Coursers EcoLodge at Zainabad just in time for lunch. A handful of circular mud build cottages – or huts - stand in a semi circle around an open area, and we’re shown to the green one. It’s small and basic, but the warm welcome and the sights of the Little Rann more than make up for that. At 4.00pm we go out in the jeep to the national park. We set off through the local village, which is poor, and ... read more
Jungle cat
Owl in flight

Asia » India » Gujarat » Rajkot November 20th 2018

A quiet day. We start at the Naulakha Palace, part of the medieval Darbargadh or fortified palace complex of Gondal, which was the original seat of the ruling Maharajahs. The main building was built in 1748, and is ornately decorated with stone carving and ornate jarokha balconies. It’s not clear where we go, and the only person visible speaks no English. We climb the steps up to the first floor of the main building, but everything is locked. As we descend, a young man greets us and starts to open up the various rooms of the palace. The main building was the Maharajah’s residence, and houses a large durbar hall with stuffed leopards glaring snarlingly down from the four corners. Most of the other rooms and buildings are devoted to little collections of items either commemorating ... read more
Gateway of Naulakha palace
Swamirayan Temple
Gateway of Swamirayan Temple

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