Oct 25 – travel to Delhi. Dream come true trip, long wanted to visit India and especially Rajasthan. Great flight from Heathrow to Gandhi Delhi airport. Landed at 11.30pm; big airport with hundreds of metres of carpet and 4 seater passenger carriers whizzing about narrowly missing people. Funny experience in the toilets when I walked in to the end stall and had to step up to the traditional porcelain squat toilet. Only to come out and realise that all of the other stalls were the standard UK style toilets. Bloody typical! We had to join the e-visa queue for about 40 minutes to get the official visa stamped in our passport after showing our printed online visa. No extra fee as we’d already paid online. A pre-arranged driver and staff member met us at the airport and by 1am we were in the room at Master Bed & Breakfast about 5km from Connaught Place. Great nights sleep with earplugs to drown out honking trucks, howling dogs and other unidentified aural assaults! (Website links to where we stayed and driver at the end of this blog post).
Oct 26 – Delhi. Porridge toast and tea and a communal table chat at the B&B, getting to grips with the rupees exchange rate and leaving our passports with the wonderful Reiki teacher Ushi (owner of Master B&B Guesthouse). Rita and I headed with Harphool our driver and Naveen the guide in to Old Delhi, weaving in our minivan through auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, buses, cars, mopeds, dogs and wandering cows (sacred in India) past the huge Red Fort (shown below) to our first stop; Jama Masjid mosque. Once at Jama Masjid (below) we climbed the red stone steps, handed our shoes in at the entrance and donned our colourful gowns to enter the mosque; free to enter for a 300 rupee fee for cameras. Naveen our guide didn’t come in with us but guarded our shoes and bags outside. A grand wide open space opens out in to a large area with 4 corner minarets peppered with several speakers for the call to prayer. Indian men washed their faces in an oblong water feature whilst women sat in colourful saris in the sun of a smog hazed yellowed sky polluted by the 25 million population of Delhi. Wandering around the mosque we were asked by an Indian family to be in a family photograph with them, something that became a regular request throughout the day and one which we happily obliged. Two beautiful young girls followed us around; not asking for anything only wanting to be in our company…dressed up for their day out and proud to point out the minarets and arches.
Hawkers at the entrance successfully sold us two amusing little woven lidded baskets with pop up hand painted cobras inside, wobbling around balanced by little magnetic weights; at £2.50 each we dispensed with the traditional procrastinated haggling. Back in the car we stopped at traffic lights and a young boy with a painted face twirled his head to spin a long plastic attachment on his cap and performed backflips on the street in pursuit of tips from trapped motorists. We gladly gave him some money for an industrious performance….sad in the knowledge that he was most likely one of the thousands of Indian children who couldn’t afford to attend school and the money he makes a vital contribution to feed his family. A group of ladies asked to be photographed with us; something we are getting used to and one we never want to refuse on seeing the obvious delight whenever we agree.
Swapping the minivan for an auto rickshaw which could squeeze through the smaller streets, we entered the wholesale market streets of Chandni Chowk, bumping between other rickshaws and pedestrians looking at row upon row of jewellery shops, sari vendors, temple decorations, brass wares, ornate padlocks…
…and squeezed in between, the street food sellers stirring almonds in to porridge, slicing custard apples, stacking fruit…it’s the sensory full on Indian experience that everyone tells you about but not the ‘assault’ or ‘overload’ as I regularly hear foreign visitors describe it…it’s a fascinating fleeting glimpse of daily life in a bustling vibrant atmosphere where we felt safe and welcomed. Years of travelling have possibly prepared me better for the experience; I love the chaos, the colour, the smells…the random encounters with local people.
We visited the spice market; a long street of small open fronted shops piled high with mace, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, tea, dried coconut, star anise, cinnamon bark; hundreds of sacks of wonderful aromas. My Aunt bought a sealed foil bag of a masala mix of spices for chicken and another bag of mango black tea leaves. Outside a street vendor crumbled spices on to cut squares of something which resembled leaves whilst a few feet away 5 people sat around a handcart threading fresh marigolds and other flowers for shrine decorations. A man selling huge balloons another elaborately carved padlocks; whilst someone bashed away with a hammer making a hole into a cabinet drawer surrounded by 6 idling onlookers. And through all of this; the delivery men with boxes and crates piled 3 or 4 high on their heads, pushing their way through the crowds and the rickshaws.
Back to the car and to the memorial at Raj Ghat dedicated to Mahatma Ghandi; a black marble platform commemorates the place of Ghandi’s cremation in January 1948, the day after his assassination. An eternal flame burns with beautiful rings of fresh flower arrangements. On Mahatma Ghandi Road, a wide stone pathway leads in to the walled area of garden which holds the memorial. Shoes are removed, it is a popular pilgrimage site for millions of people. Outside the wall, shoes collected, we walked up on to the surrounding walls for a different view looking down across the gardens and trees.
Rita asked our guide (whom we nicknamed Mr. Bollywood for the frequency to which he attended to his hair) what a particular tree in the grounds was; his reply: “An Indian tree”. An ex cricket player his first love wasn’t as a tour guide which was understandable but he did give us some very humourous answers to questions. A quick lunch of veggie burger and the obligatory drive to the Guide’s friend’s craft shop (admittedly an impressive one of amazing quality but way out of our budget) was followed by a persuasive argument with the guide to stop at the eye-popping Hanuman Temple.
It’s on the side of a chaotic main road but we managed to park and headed inside to have our first orange tiki dotted on our head followed by a second in a dark red colour, a chant by one of the priests which went on a lot longer than expected….both of us swished and bashed quite enthusiastically on the heads and shoulders by a large bunch of peacock feathers and finally offered a drink of water in a small bowl. Not wanting to risk it, I politely declined so unexpectedly and amusingly, he flicked it in my face. A fantastic first day exploring Delhi…we ate a simple home cooked dinner back at The Master B&B with the wonderful Ushi and crashed out quite exhausted in our room.
Oct 27 – Delhi. A 9am start and we decided to ditch Mr Bollywood, a nice enough guy but didn’t seem too interested in being a tour guide…and to be honest the day was way better. He’d been a good introduction to Delhi on day 1 but we found that having Harphool and the car gave us all the convenience and the flexibility we needed. We felt more in control of the day we wanted. Ushi at Master B&B sat down with us the evening before and gave us loads of great ideas. I started the day off well by standing on the strap of the only pair of sandals I’d packed; tearing it off, but I knew there’d be a cobbler nearby who’d sort a quick fix. Swapping to a pair of trainers we headed out in to the heat, talked though the list of what we wanted to see with Harphool and headed straight to India Gate, a huge war memorial which straddles the Rajpath and designed by Edwin Lutyens. Lutyens famously being the main architect of New Delhi and the ceremonial layout which includes the domed canopy situated approximately 150 metres of the India Gate and placed in such a way that it can be viewed through the gate when standing outside the palace. Lutyens was also famous for designing war memorials and India Gate, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1921, is a towering remembrance of 82,000 soldiers, resembling the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and inscribed with the names of 13,300 soldiers. By coincidence our visit coincided with some sort of official event, with uniformed soldiers and police decorated with medals posing for media photographers in front of the gate. Street food hawkers vied for business and a group of school boys with fabulously styled hair were keen to pose for a photograph.
Next stop Humayun’s Tomb, the beautiful red sandstone tomb completed in 1572, of the Mughal Emperor Humayun. commissioned by his first wife Bega Begum, it was the first garden tomb on the Indian sub-continent and is now an UNESCO world heritage site. A long path leads towards the main entrance, lined on either side by large open gardens and trees. Inside the building lay the tombs and graves of Humayun, his wife and various other family members as well as the son of Emperor Shah Jahan and other subsequent Mughals. Visiting schoolchildren mobbed us on our walk around the grounds and building, squealing with delight when we took photos with them and running up to the hedges to practise their english and talk to my Aunt about football (she’s a massive Liverpool fan). Reprimanded by school teachers trying to herd them back in to their school groups. Children here don’t seem to notice age as much as children in Westernised countries, intrigued instead by our foreign-ness and their desire to attempt some greetings in English.
Beautiful Lodi Gardens, our favourite place in Delhi. Dating to the 1400s, a green escape from the city; a favourite place for locals to relax, read…pose for romantic portrait photographs in the doorways of the main domed building, Bara Gumbad. We could have whiled away hours relaxing in the shade of a tree with a good book and one eye on groups of well fed roaming street dogs. Wistfully we explored for an hour before leaving to drive to the Akshardham Temple on Delhi’s outskirts.
Long traffic jams on a featureless motorway of dust, smog, roadworks…arriving at Akshardham Temple to enormous queues and entry requirements to leave all bags and cameras in lockers. Not wanting to wait for hours, we peeked through the gates at the huge temple; we’d be seeing so many more so we walked away, drove back to central Delhi to grab a late lunch. You can’t see everything, sometimes you just need to re-plan, move on.
The Coffee Bean cafe in Kahn Market has an unprepossessing facade, situated on the second floor above a derelict shop with no obvious door. But inside it was fresh and clean and full of young Urban Delhiites in the latest Western fashions. We ordered pakora and drinks and chatted with a couple on the table next to ours. Khan Market consists of a couple of streets filled with small boutiques, cafes, restaurants and upmarket shops catering to the fashionable and ex-pats; there’s even a branch of Body Shop. One shop packed with colourful traditional decorations, another small food market sold westernised snacks so we stocked up on sun-dried cranberries, Pringles and roasted almonds for the long car trips ahead. Indian food is fantastic but westernised snacks give brief respite from ghee laden spicy heavy meals.
Harphool drove us to see the President’s palace and Lutyen’s Rajpath grand parade linking India gate to the offices of the Indian government, illuminated by the gloaming yellow light of oncoming dusk. We even managed to squeeze in the last hour of the day visiting the National gallery of Modern Art, enjoying the main gallery but mesmerised by the miniature paintings in the Jaipur wing of the building. Magnifying glasses on shelves under the paintings encouraged closer inspection of intricately detailed landscapes.
Oct 28 – Agra. Early start, got up at 5.30am. Harphool must think we’re mad. He’s dropped us at the railway station to catch the 8.32am Delhi to Agra train whilst he’s driven ahead to Agra with our suitcases to meet us there. But hell, we wanted the Indian train experience! The drop off area was chaos so we legged it as quick as we could in to Saturday morning rush hour. Being told the train was leaving in minutes from platform 7, Rita and I had to push through hundreds of people, fighting our way down a long staircase crammed with people walking up. Madness but fun (thank god we didn’t have the suitcases), we made the train with three minutes to spare.
Second class AC with fold down bunks. Old fashioned blue vinyl seats and pull across curtains, wonderfully atmospheric. £12 each for a 3 hour journey. The rail network in India is extensive and fascinating. The tea seller walks the length of the train calling out “chai chai!” carrying his large metal teapot; others sell water and snacks. Everyone friendly and quick to help, some stretched out on bunks to sleep. We watch passing slum dwellings backed up to the tracks; people washing…their clothes, their bodies. Cows wobbling over rubbish tips, pigs wallowing in mud. Small packs of scavenging dogs look well fed. Small brick-built, one room places backing on to some two storey dwellings roofless, open to the sky. Many painted in pinks, blue and green…basic and thrown together but pride apparent in the decoration. Fields of rice paddies, cotton, carefully managed square parcels of land growing vegetables. Women in saris digging, working on railway track repairs. Someone having a piss, another man naked washing from a bucket. A hard life lived openly. Sad yes, poor and challenging definitely…but also a community going about their daily activities.
In Agra, after many attempts to call him on our useless local mobile phone (a source of daily amusement) a lovely gentleman rang Harphool for me using his own phone. Harphool appeared in the waiting room; where a boisterous young boy ran rings around his mother but was too timid to engage with us; the funny looking tourists. To the Taj Gateway Hotel where we were greeted by 5 people at the door, had the customary welcome tikis dotted on our foreheads and taken to our room with a view of the Taj Mahal in the distance from our bedroom window… which quite floored us. Time to freshen up and make calls back home. Harphool came back an hour later and took us to Agra Fort.
The Fort, better preserved than the one in Delhi, is a huge Mughal fortification built in the reign of Emperor Akbar; begun in 1565 and made of red sandstone which radiates a deep red glow…deeper in the shade than in the direct sunlight.
Lots of people here as it’s a Saturday but in an area as huge as this, it’s easy to find areas of calm. We had more requests to pose for photographs in family groups, or with school kids and young men with their girlfriends and new brides. A young women proudly showed us her wedding hennaed hands. We’ve been told that photos with foreigners is a status thing, which humbles us. We’re happy to oblige and it’s good fun.
The Emperor’s grandson Shah Jahan made further additions to the fort in his favourite white marble only to become imprisoned in it for 8 years when overthrown by his own son. The contrast between the dazzling white and cream colours of the white marble is a stark contrast to the red sandstone of the main fort as you wander from one in to the next. Views across to the Taj Mahal and the Yumana River look surreal; like paintings on a pale hazy backdrop.
From the fort we had a late lunch at an Indian restaurant, posing for photographs with an Indian family. Back at the hotel we sat on the rooftop watching the sun go down and the madness of the honking, swerving traffic on the main road 7 floors below. We chatted to an Indian family and watched the Taj Mahal disappear in to the night. A huge flock of birds flew in to roost in the trees, filling the night with their song.
Oct 29 – Agra to Jaipur. We did what most of tourists do, headed to the Taj Mahal at 5am to beat huge crowds and stifling heat. Even at this early hour roads are packed with honking buses, cars, trucks and rickshaws. It’s a wonderful chaotic scramble of noise and dust. By the time we’d waited for the ticket office to open, joined a long queue to pay our 5,000 Rupee entrance fee and then another long queue separated in to two lines for male and female to be security searched…almost 90 minutes had passed before we entered the Taj Mahal gates. Nothing prepares you for your first view of the Taj Mahal. It is breathtaking; we are instantly stilled by its beauty. It is simply jaw dropping. Sitting like a pale gleaming mirage at the end of a formal planting of trees facing the grand red stone gate, this monument to love built by Shah Jahan for his wife is so very moving that I had tears in my eyes. In protective overshoes we climbed the marble steps and walked around the tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife, lying behind an intricately carved marble hexagonal screen with the dome towering above. Packed with visitors herded clockwise around the tombs by guards; the constant chatter is a downside…our awe craved silence. The most recognised building in the world is incredible.
We walked to the back of the building and gazed out across the Yumana River at regal white Ibis birds and a single boat emerging from the haze. The Taj Mahal glittered in early morning sun. It is every superlative; even with the crowds.
Back to the hotel by 8.30am to pack up and have breakfast of porridge, idli (small white Indian dumplings) dipped in to sambar (Dahl like in texture) and in to the car to drive 40km west of Agra to Fatehpur Sikri in the Agra district of Uttar Pradesh. Founded in 1569 by Mughal Emperor Akhbar The Great, Fatehpur Sikri is a walled red stone city originally consisting of a mosque, court, royal palaces, harem, private quarters and other buildings. The most architecturally stunning is the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences), dominated by an ornately carved column with narrow stone bridges radiating out to each of the four corners of the room.
From Fatehpur Sikri we had a two hour drive to the captivating step-well Chand Baori near the town of Abhaneri. Built in the 8th century with additions made in the 18th century, I was transfixed by the ingenuity of this deep Escher style bathing facility. It deserves UNESCO protection. I’ve never seen anything like it and it captivated me as equally as the Taj Mahal. The complexity and ingenuity of its design, the hundreds of separate steeply stepped sections leading down to the well; functional whilst beautiful and a testament to the historically dexterous building skills of India.
Opposite is the small Hindu Harshat Matu Temple. Removing our shoes, we climbed the steps and made a small donation to another Hindu God; so many we can’t remember them all. Goats with green painted horns clattered over the stone and a tractor rumbled by with a towering mountain of hay.
A two hour drive to Umaid Bahwain http://www.umaidbhawan.com a beautiful heritage styled hotel in Jaipur. Its elaborate tiered structure, balconies and highly decorated design rivalling the sights of the day. Swags and drapes, marble floors, hand-painted ceilings, inlay work, Rajasthani styled paintings, portraits of Mughals and Emperors, a pool, a shop, colourful chandeliers… and a fabulous rooftop restaurant with great food and traditional entertainment. All for less than half the price of a major hotel.
After check in we drove to the city outskirts to visit and eat Thali with Ganpat and his family; the owner of the family run travel company called Incredible Tour To India who I found through Trip Advisor. He bought the Agra train tickets for us before we left the UK, arranged for Harphool and the car and free daily bottles of water. You drink a lot of water travelling in India and Ganpat’s thoughtfulness was greatly appreciated. I had booked our trip independently, sourcing hotels online and booking our own flights but without Ganpat’s services it would have been very difficult to get around. Rajasthan is a huge area. If you stumble across this blog and are looking for a car and driver, guides. or a tour company to book and arrange everything for you then I really recommend Ganpat and Harphool. Contact them direct here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Oct 30 – Jaipur. Leisurely start, but woken at 7am by staff setting up breakfast above us. We thought it was builders from all the banging. Fabulous breakfast on the roof…we really like this place. It’s a labyrinth of interconnecting corridors and balconies with different eye-popping painted ceilings and murals around each corner. With Harphool we drove to the magnificent Hawal Mahal or ‘Palace of the Winds’. The old city of Jaipur is painted deep pink or built in pink sandstone, known as the Pink City. Inside the gates of the old town every building has to conform to this colour, Hawa Mahal included; constructed of red and pink sandstone. I’ve seen many photographs of it, never realising that it’s located on one of the busiest traffic intersections in the city. Once you find your way in, (it isn’t obvious – between the shops, ask the locals) you find a tranquil courtyard with steps leading to the main building. Standing at 5 stories it has a staggering 953 small windows, which allowed Royal ladies to look out on city life whilst remaining hidden or in ‘purdah’.
Next to the Albert Hall Museum, the oldest museum in Rajasthan opened to the public in 1887. An orante building with displays of huge woven carpets, pottery, paintings and stone artefacts.
We wanted to shop but didn’t want to buy antiques, eventually finding some shops on the same road as Jawa Mahal. After prolonged bargaining to buy bed covers, I bought one at a fair price…and was amsuingly told by the shopkeeper: “Your English is impressive ….nearly.”
Bought some woven red nylon harnesses with brass bells for camels which will get hung across my windows at home…I don’t have many camels. On to Anouki clothing and gift shop for lunch in their cafe, a great little place with branches across India, excellent European light lunch choices, cakes and coffee etc. Everything here is fixed price and really good quality. Design orientated clothing, made by local people and cooperative groups; impressive and great for gifts. Our last stop of the day to the gleaming white Birla Mandir Hindu Temple backdropped by a setting sun. Absolutely beautiful.
I am running out of superlatives for India. Everything is fantastic. Ate Thali on hotel roof, dancers and musicians performed, bowls of fire on their heads; slightly concerned they don’t wander too close to the awning and burn the place down.
Oct 31 – Jaipur. Every day we promise ourselves an easy relaxing day we end up bowled over by more magnificent wonders. Harphool picked us up at 10am and took us to the Amer Fort (or Amber Fort) in the town of Amer. I’ve realised now that every time I ask “How far?” He replies “yes?” His name sounding so similar to my question. Squeezing up a tiny road lined by kiosks and street food vendors, dodging donkeys, camels and goats, spotting the odd baboon picking at his fleas, winding higher and higher to the fort entrance, passing elephants carrying tourists to the fort and back. We’d been advised not to pay for elephant rides; the animals suffer from neglect and abuse, often chained with spikes, maimed, tusks damaged, still forced to work when old and blind. PETA and the central zoo has taken up the issue, campaigning for an end to the cruelty. Please don’t take an elephant ride to the fort, take a car or jeep.
Running the gauntlet of souvenir sellers; mirrored parasols, tacky fake turbans, strings of carved elephants, blankets, boxes, bags…we go in to the fort on cobbled paths, surrounded by ramparts and a series of gates. Built from marble and red sandstone by Raja Man Singh (additions added later by Sawai Jai Singh) it’s laid out on four levels each with a courtyard, the highlight being the Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace)… a glittering reflective display of hundreds of cut mirror mosaics on ceilings and mirrored panels. So much to see…the Mughal styled gardens and Jai Mandir (Hall of Victory). The fort also a palace, was the residence of the Rajput Maharajas and their families.
On to Elephant Village where the returning Amer Fort tourist ride elephants are tethered and stabled. I’d expected to visit the respected charity organisation Elefantastic where elephants are not used for tourist rides; sadly a language misunderstanding led us here. We weren’t comfortable with elephants being used for tourism and after we’d seen an elephant being decorated with non-toxic paints (we were told) we took some photos, declined elephant rides, my Aunt fed one a few bananas…and we left, refusing requests for money.
Harphool took us to Jal Mahal, the architecturally Rajput styled floating summer palace on the lake. Roadside vendors offered costume hire to the locals to pose and take photos with the palace and lake as backdrop, street food vendors pedaled their wares and cooked from mobile carts.
On to Jantar Mantar; a surreal astronomical site of large sculptural objects used for measuring the planets. From Wikipedia: “The Jantar Mantar is an equinoctial sundial, consisting a gigantic triangular gnomon with the hypotenuse parallel to the Earth’s axis. On either side of the gnomon is a quadrant of a circle, parallel to the plane of the equator. The instrument is intended to measure the time of day, correct to half a second and declination of the sun and the other heavenly bodies.”
Another lunch at Anouki sharing a table with a young man awaiting an interview for an engineering place in London, happy to chat with us to distract him from his nervousness. Wandered around the shop and bought a few things, so many beautiful block printed fabrics, dresses, shawls and books here. Back at the hotel in our splendidly decorated Royal Suite with 9 chairs we had a ‘finance meeting’; a tally of the day and what we owed and how we planned to pay Ganpat for the driver service. Butter paneer masala, salted lassis, chicken tikka and banana fritters up on the restaurant rooftop. My stomach stretched to the limit….but the food is so good. We enjoyed our time in Jaipur, it’s a vibrant city….very busy with rickshaws, elephants, overladen tractors, fabulous old Land drovers, the roadside barbers, the kids all squeezed in to pickups and minibuses and rickshaws on their school run; waving to us in the traffic jams.
Nov 1st – Pushkar. Breakfast; goodbye to the Thai lady travellers we keep bumping in to, check out of the wonderful Umaid Bhawan. Dropped by to visit Ganpat to pay out thousands… (of rupees!) and be photographed wearing the 3 piece sari outfit made for us by his wife. No we don’t want to wear them over the top of our normal clothes for a three hour drive in 35 degree heat. They are good people and Ganpat is a really helpful organiser but we want to get to Pushkar to relax in the posh 5 star treat Westin Spa Hotel. The tarmac road led us away from Jaipur and on to Pushkar where the landscape became mountainous and the ground sandy and loose. Camels pulled carts or rested under trees with turbaned men. This one below looked like they’d run out of felt tip pens when decorating him.Two goat herders sat chatting in the shade surrounded by about 50 goats. We passed colourful Rajasthani Tata trucks, hand painted and decorated with tassels. A wonderful wedding car covered in beaten gold coloured panels, rickety wheel wagon carts piled high with fruit.
And you know you’re having the time of your life when you get stuck in a camel traffic jam. I love this country…it’s unpredictable, noisy, colourful…and quite mad.Entering the outskirts of Pushkar was great fun as we drove by balloon sellers, lurid pink candy floss, big wheels, camels, people blowing whistles…blaring Indian music, all manner of food sellers, all here for the famous Pushkar camel fair. Chaotic, noisy, dusty and totally bonkers….it looks fantastic. The Westin was rather a comedy of errors finally resolved by the general manager who’d obviously had a very long and taxing day. A wedding of 300 people was in full swing with blaring music at a decibel level I didn’t think was possible…it put the mockers on a swim and relaxing afternoon. A stunning villa room with two massive beds, twin sinks and a sunken bath…but a balcony covered in pigeon shit and fag ends. Things missing from the room. Eventually cleaned up but it all went a bit Mr Bean. They comped us dinner in our room and a pot of tea with torn tea bags. The general manager asked housekeeping to tidy the room…but they took away the replacement tea for the knackered tea and had to be called back to replace it. Since checking in, the room bell must have rung about 15 Times as staff turned up in twos and threes. The wedding music stopped around 11pm but then the speeches started through blaring microphones. Then the music started again and went on until 6am. We got an upgrade however to a room with a pool in it..good fun. To be fair to The Westin I am sure that standards are usually very high, the rooms are gorgeous and huge, the beds luxurious, we got free spa treatments thrown in too and that was amazing. The restaurant is fabulous with quite amazing buffet breakfasts…it’s all of a high standard but on this occasion I think the wedding tipped them over the edge.
Nov 2 – Pushkar camel festival. So the amazing room upgrade with our own plunge pool is fabulous. Great breakfast in the lovely dining room (dinning according to the menus, it’s a giggle), Harphool arrived, 300 wedding guests left with about 1200 pieces of luggage and 20 minutes later we were standing in a scrubby desert field with about 50 camels.
We’d hired a guide through Ganpat called Rajesh; we didn’t need a guide so much as a bodyguard because we knew the camel fair and the pilgrimage attracted thousands of people and felt that some protection from amassing gypsies would be handy. We walked around the horse and camel trading grounds first which were fascinating but emptying out; the last few days of October see the fever of camel and horse trading and then the traders pack up and leave. Dusty carts rolling out with some heavily decorated camels munching on opened sacks of hay…jangling with bells around their legs and draped with masses of colourful wool pompoms. Horses standing regal under elaborate canopies…some Albino with pink muzzles and others with starling blue eyes. Many Mewar horses with the famously naturally curled ears.
After several days of trading in October the fair then kicks in and thousands of pilgrims descend on Pushkar to bathe in the Holy Lake from the Ghats. They flock the narrow streets of Pushkar, market stall doing a frenzied haggling trade. The place is flooded with colour as women in jewel bright saris barter for cloth and spices and silver jewellery. Men dressed in white wearing bright turbans weave through the chaos, determined in their direction.
Young gypsy girls painted to resemble Hindu Gods pose in the market streets, quarrelling loudly when we put a 50 rupee note on one of their trays and not the other, intending that they share… but a squalling cat fight breaking out which Rajesh has to calm. These kids are only about 6 and 8 years old. Feisty characters. The younger of the two sulking as she poses for her photo and being admonished again by Rajesh. It’s funny to watch but getting money is a serious business for these kids and they want to make the most of a lucrative situation. Another painted girl wanders over with the same wig and painted blue face of the earlier child, this one with a rubber snake wound up in to the hair. There’s something a bit Amy Winehouse about her beehive and animal print dress. We give her some money, she poses and then moves quickly to pose again for some visiting Indian pilgrims.
We find a cashpoint unexpectedly in the middle of the market then head with Rajesh to a roof top cafe with views across the lake. Plunging back in to the madness of the marketplace we barter for cheap silver bracelets, elaborate camel decorations of heavy engraved brass bells and braided bridles decorated with conch shells. Men burn camel dung and waft the smoke away from the stalls, tables are piled high with powdered dyes for tikis and temples, woven doughnut shapes are headrests for the pots and bags women carry on their heads.
Street food sellers, a dandy in a denim waistcoat, bamboo ladders… stumbling upon a quiet street with a beautiful building on it, ducking away from the outstretched hands of gypsy women exchanging photos for money.
We wander back towards the main fairground, queues wait to board the rickety ferris wheels. A boy on the front of a motorbike has thick kohl smeared from his eyes. Wander past the balloon selling kids and head for Harphool and his car. Driven away from the frantic cacophony of colour and noise that is Pushkar Camel Fair. A fantastic experience but one that has left us hot, knackered and frayed around the edges.
Back at the hotel we enjoy luxurious Ayurvedic massages, then relaxing in a steam room; clearing out my nose and throat. I feel cleansed. Dinner of Indian food in the hotel restaurant and then sank in to huge beds with 5 pillows each and slept like a log.
November 3rd – Leaving Pushkar and off to Udaipur. An excellent buffet breakfast, one of the staff showed Rita how to make Masala chai; grinding the spices and heating the milk. We ate fresh fruit and French toast dripping in honey. It’s a direct drive of approx. 5 hours to Udaipur. Leaving Pushkar we saw the last of the camel traders setting out for long journies home, hawkers selling off stock to have less to carry back; two women stood atop a parked bus holding up colourful saris to catch the breeze and the eye. By a stretch of motorway hundreds of monkeys gathered; sitting in trees, one female monkey protecting her infant on the roadside wall. I asked Harphool to stop and waiting for a break in traffic I crossed to take some photographs from a safe distance, knowing monkeys can be vicious especially when with young. An undernourished cow stood by, its ribs and haunches jutting at angles. Two motorbikes stopped, the riders got off to throw food. The monkeys ran nimbly from their stunted tree perches and scrambled to grab it. The cow inching forward, another joining it, but none of the scraps were offered. I was surprised; cows are viewed as holy in India.
At the outskirts of Udaipur we stopped at a vintage car museum. Around 20 cars one of them used in the Bond movie Octopussy. We paid a small entrance fee, persuaded the guide to admit Harphool free (locals used to have free entry, Harphool wouldn’t accept my offer to pay for him). Up to this point Harphool had politely refused offers of lunch and to join us. No doubt he’s seen it all many times and lunch breaks meant he could meet with friends and family in the area. We’ve grown fond of him and he of us to some extent; he laughs with us and we show him our photos from the day. The guide explained details about the cars, he spoke very quickly, moving between us and other people but there were signs for each car explaining the model, the year they were made etc. An interesting diversion for half an hour but more for car enthusiasts.
To the City Palace. Building began in 1553 and took over 400 years during the Mewar dynasty; the first city palace we’ve been to, skipping them previously in favour of the forts and temples. Only so many of these sites before they merge in to one; the magic lost. But the City Palace of Udaipur, on top of a hill with views of Lake Pichola is known to be one of the most beautiful. We could see why. Dappled sun filtered in to shaded columned courtyards, people relaxed on benches under trees. Ancient marble and stone softly glowed.
We checked in to Madri Haveli, an old merchant’s house converted in to a beautiful boutique style hotel. Two boys from the hotel pulled the bags up the winding steep narrow streets, dodging motorbikes, cows and hobbled donkeys. We are staying in the old part of town where the streets were designed long before anyone would have dreamed that one day cars might want to pass.
Laughing at Ganpat’s mobile phone that never works. I found a button on it saying ‘fun & games’ which it has been, and another for the ‘blacklist’ which I’m obviously on. Dinner on the rooftop; a delicious spinach daal, garlic naan bread, crispy bread called lacha parantha, chicken tikka followed by glistening sweet Babel Jamun (sponge balls saturated in syrup). Finished off with thick comforting masala chai then back to our room where we lit the candle in the large beaten metal lantern sitting on a small Rajasthani table in the carved stone alcove.
Nov 4 Udaipur – I woke to see Rita sitting in her alcove nest reading her book backdropped by the tiny wooden doored peep hole windows and coloured stain glass illuminated by the early morning sun. We could hear the neighbours in the courtyard clanking metal cooking pots and throwing out water, their laundry hanging on lines across the back but spied through our furtive peephole windows. The call to prayer echoed the streets, from narrow wall to narrow wall. Breakfast on the roof with monkeys scrambling from a tree to chase each other across the Haveli, moving fast, disappearing in the flash of a long curled tail. Shivum Shanker was our regular waiter, waiting tables at breakfast lunch and dinner. He’s funny, charming and incredibly courteous.
Harphool drove us to an animal sanctuary just outside Udaipur; mentioned in my guide book. He thought we were mad….such a depressing place. ‘Disabled Heaven’, an area packed with at least 50 dogs unable to walk. Sad but unrealistic in India where millions of humans are living in poverty. The dogs should be put out of their misery. We drove by a roadside temple, brilliant white, painted with tigers. At the edge of the city we looked out across one of its lakes. Udaipur ‘The Lake City’ a romantic favourite for Indian tourists.
On to the beautiful gardens Sahelion Ki Bari, with gorgeous gardens and fountains and we were asked to pose in another family photo, the first in a while. They in turn posed for me. We watched the ladies planting seeds out in to pots who giggled when I photographed them and then asked me for money…I politely declined and they continued to giggle and chatter.
To a shop to see door and window decorations and textiles, many of them collectible antiques, highly priced but stunning in their intricacey and history. Wondering at the efficiency of the sugarcane juicing machine; an ubiquitous roadside feature of Rajasthan. Back to the old part of the city where we visited a miniaturist painters shop; bought old stamped postcards hand-painted with Indian animals and chatted for almost an hour with the miniaturist as he showed us his work on wafer thin slices of marble and handmade Indian papers. Lunch on the hotel rooftop of soup and warm bread rolls served as always by Shivum Shanker. I asked if he had a girlfriend or wife he replied “But M’aam I am baby!” Downstairs we rested up then had naked massages at 5pm in the room right next door to our own…no discreet towels, Rita initially horrified, we giggled, faces averted. Tinny music played whilst Moneesha and her sister whispered to each other and rubbed and pulled our toes, Moneesha breaking off mid massage for a wee in the massage room bathroom. Invorgorating and amusing…we foggily stumbled to our room, sleepily climbed the stone steps to the roof to eat more wonderful food by candlelight… with fireworks sounding across the city.
Nov 5 Udaipur – We gave Harphool the day off, walked down to the clock tower to find the local market to shop, wandering around the old town dodging motorbikes and scooters, declining polite offers of rickshaw rides and stepping over the odd cowpat. Cars cannot access these narrow streets and it is all the better for it. We wandered in to a Jain Temple on the main street, up a few steps from the pavement with an incredible mirror mosaic domed ceiling, carved pillars and brightly coloured handpainting. We helped to chase a dog out of another brightly painted orange temple guarded by cement tigers and an elderely lady threading fresh marigolds on to strings for temple offerings.
Fun shopping buying traditional aluminium tea kettles, tiffin boxes, milk pails, spice containers, copper balti dishes, old metal bells with wooden clappers, a hanging brass Ganesh ornament with bells, a temple garland and ornate heavy padlocks where we had to wait for one of the young boys to run off to find the shop owner. No haggling as the prices were so low. We loved it. Food stalls dotted amongst the simple small shops, with ornately wrapped parcels of sweet treats. A little boy passed on a large bicycle with stabilisers, beaming at us he happily posed for a photo.
A little unnerved at the food market, immediately singled out by children asking for money…we didn’t feel threatened, just vigilant. A lady bundled threaded marigold flowers in to a sari outside a small temple with a cow chewing quietly as it lay alongside, scooters driving around it. Another worked on woven baskets using a short flat blade to separate the naturally dried plant fibres and press them in to palce; seeing my interest she handed me the knife encouarging me to have a try..her husband silently glowering as he willed her on with her work. Brass band instruments, wonderful parasols made from slats of bamboo and old worn saris… brightly painted buildings and the clatter and bustle of market life. Wonderful.
Jagdish Temple. Built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1651, at the top of marble steps in Udaipur’s old city; Jagdish Chowk. Leave your shoes at the entrance and accept the offer of a guide. The gentleman who guided us knew the temple’s history and it’s how he makes a small living from the tips. In the main temple an idol of the deity Lord Jagannath is carved from a single black stone. The guide explained how they clamber barefoot to the top of the temple to change the flag. Ornate stone waterspouts jutt out; a peacock, a crocodile, an elephant. Three stories of hand carved stone feature thousands of Hindu deities and iconography and perched at the top is a steeple nearly 79 feet high. Jagdish-ji is the largest temple in Udaipur; a major tourist attraction but 30 minutes before closing almost empty. In Hindusim the clockwise symbol (the red marks on the pillars) is called swastika, a symbol for the sun, prosperity and good luck and the counter clockwise sauvastika means ‘night’. In Sanskrit “conducive to well being or auspicious”. Sadly appropiated by the Nazi party where it stood for racism and hate. The same symbol is also used in Jainism… and Buddhism where it is alleged to symbolise the auspicious footprints of Buddha.
Udaipur is a wonderful city for wandering, as much as we love having a car and Harphool, it’s great to have these days in between where we give him a day off, wandering at our leisure. Knowing that we are safe and that people will help us find our way back if we get lost. Neither of us ever had concerns that we would experience any problems and if we got lost everything is a short rickshaw ride, haggling the fee a part of the fun. Haggling in shops isn’t an issue because most prices appeared to be fixed for locals and tourists alike. At prices this low I didn’t want to insult the vendors when it’s obvious how comparatively wealthy we are. I firmly believe in the tourist price and the local price; no tourist should ever expect to pay the same as a local earning only a few dollars a day compared to the salaries we earn in the West. And though many tourists bemoan the art of haggling, remember that it is a cultural trait and not purely there to ‘rip you off’, it’s a deeply embedded custom. If you pay an amount you are happy with, then despite what the next person pays, be satisifed with your purchase and walk away smiling.
Udaipur is a city best explored on foot; small discoveries and random encounters are the highlight of travelling…meeting the lovely bookmaker on the way back to Madri Haveli; sat cross-legged in his simple shop surrounded by his handmade sketch and notebooks. Indian paper and tooled designs on the leather covers. We both bought several in gorgeous amber, deep jewel turquoise and orange. Back up the steep street to Madri Haveli to eat a rooftop dinner, we chatted with a couple who live in London, Rita thrilled because he’s a fellow Liverpool supporter. Our last night here; sad to leave this pretty town.
Nov 6 – Drove to Jodhpur, winding down through amazing mountains and gorges, very different scenery to what we’d seen so far in Rajasthan. Landscapes of trees and crops. Harphool slowed down to allow monkeys to scramble over the car, disconcerted when I tapped the window that I was going to open it. I know how destructive and vicious they can be…also amusing. Cattle ambled by with brightly pained horns.
Too early for the Ranakpur Jain Temple, we drove to a local hotel and whiled away two hours drinking chai and showing Harphool photos on the iPad. Back to the temple for the 12 noon opening and paying only a 200 rupee entrance fee, our jaws hit the floor as we climbed in over the steep marble step, carved with monkey heads. 1,400 individually unique carved pillars quietly glow in the filtered sunlight; fractal like ceiling spiral above us. Built in the 15th Century the temple is dedicated to Tirthankara Rishabhanatha. Walking through the open chambers (I think there are 27 in total); the scale of the marble workers craftsmanship is staggering. We wandered stupefied and humbled, at each corner some new marvel, a carved elephant, more fractal like ceilings, a beautiful vista out across the hills, an old tree twisting up towards the sun. A local man dressed in saffron yellow robes, idled in the sunshine, glowing against the marble…his job to grind the sandalwood to make the tika’s used to anoint people’s foreheads. When we leave an hour later we both feel dazed, overwhelmed by the beauty and the scale, the play of light against the stone, the enormity of the dedication it took to create this incredible place temporarily silencing us.
Back in the car with Harphool we enthuse over what we have seen, a structure as breathtaking as the Taj Mahal. It had a powerful stillness…meditative. We continue to Jodhpur, pulling over for roadside chai. The owner grinds spices and prepares chai in pans over hot coals. He holds out his hands to show us the spices and black pepper, the lump of ginger and his pestle to grind them. It is the best chai we’ve had, we thank Harphool for the authentic experience.
Arrived in Jodhpur at 5pm, chaotic rush hour traffic as Harphool manouevered the car through the crowded market place and under the main gate to drop us at Haveli Inn Pal right in the heart of Jodhpur market. We checked in and I filled in the giant book under the watchful eye of the owner who sat stately but silent across from me leaning gently against his stick. The manager explained that the owner had suffered a stroke and was unable to speak easily but was still active and when younger had been a revered Rajasthani Mewar horse trainer…old family portraits lined the walls and a large glass boxed table containing equine artifacts took central place amongt the ornate scrolled sofas. We switched from a sad scuffed twin room, arguably with a fantastic view of the Fort, to a double with a giant wide bed raised around four feet from the floor and requiring a low table on each side to get on to it. We laughed as we attempted to climb on without using the tables, I could just about manage but it was a struggle. We looked like something from The Princess and the Pea suspended several feet above the ground with an ornately carved wooden headboard inlaid with mirrored panels. Sitting up on the bed I could look out across the lake and watch the birds diving from a moored wooden dinghy. As with previous Havelis we headed up on to the roof to have dinner, our waiter Som Singh attentive and chatty…. looking straight across to the famous Mehrangarh Fort, slumbering flickering in lantern light on the hill just a short distance from us. In bed I listened to the long mournful sound of train horns, dogs fighting, motorbikes, scooters, buses, rickshaws and lorries; all with their hands permanently pressed to their horns. Earplugs firmly wedged in I snuggled down under the beautiful hand stitched quilt for a good nights sleep in the giant’s bed.
Nov 7 Jodhpur – Awoke feeling a bit ropey, dogged by the sore throat from Delhi possibly brought on by the pollution, but took some paracetamol and we had breakfast on the roof, dragging our table in to the shade, the sun already fierce even at this early hour….but a beautiful day in dry heat and those amazing views across to the Fort as we ate pancakes and drank fresh fruit juice. Sometimes on this trip I need to pinch myself…the daily visual feasts accompanied by the delicious edible ones. Harphool drove us up to the nearby Mehrangarh Fort, situated 125 metres above the city and one of the largest in India. A series of 7 gates give entry; Jai Pol or Gate of Victory is the main entrance. We cheated and followed advice to take the lift up at an additional 50 rupees each and operated by a lovely man who dragged the metal lift gate across for the doors to close. My Aunt cautious at first but managing her fear of heights admirably. The Fort seems to grow up out of the rock, rising magnificently to give dazzling views.The battlements are between 6 metres to 36 metres high. We posed for obligatory photos with Indian families as we looked down across the blue cubed buildings of the old city of Jodhpur. Friendly engaging people, they spoke excellent English, enjoyed talking to us about England where they’d visited previously.
Walking in to an open courtyard area, I stop to talk with an elderly gentleman demonstrating an hubbly bubbly pipe; I give him a tip as he encourages me to take his photo. He’s a well known character, based here for years contentedly charming the tourists. We chatted with an Irish couple, swapping train stories; they had adventurously achieved an overnighter, enjoyed it but said it was something they’d never need to repeat… they didn’t get much sleep and stumbling along a swaying carriage in the middle of the night to use a squat toilet had been too much of an experience.
Several beautifully decorated palaces are inside the Fort walls; Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), Sheesha Mahal (Mirror Palace), Sileh Khana and Daulat Khana.The small museum is the best one we have seen so far in Rajasthan; featuring weapons, costumes, paintings and decorative items including gorgeous painted carpet weights which I’ve never seen before. One large room displays several wonderfully ornate elephant howdahs and palanquins.
Leaving the Fort turning right at the Jai Pol gate, we walked down to the small but beautifully restored 18th Century Rajput Chokelao Garden, walking further down we’d wandered off course to one of the other three gates which exits out in to the old city. We walked back on ourselves, up steep cobbled pathways under the towering walls in 33 degrees heat to the correct exit gate for the car park and Harphool…seduced by the gardens and the pretty striped chipmunks. Rita laughed as she tapped me on the shoulder to see a man walking by loaded with hosepipe…we’ve spent 2 weeks trying to frame our photographs to omit hosepipe trailing the scenery of everywhere we’ve visited.
Knackered, red faced, sweating we relaxed in to the air conditioned vehicle, getting out 5 minutes later to visit the marble cenotaph of Jaswant Thada; built by Maharaja Sadar Singh in 1899 as a memorial to his father Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. The cremation ground for the Mewar royal family. The Cenotaph grounds house several carved marble gazebos, a lake and landscaped gardens. The masoleum is positioned at the top of marble steps, built from carved sheets of polished marble; so thin in parts that you can see the sun shining through casting an amber glow inside.
Back at the hotel we ate a simple lunch, spent the afternoon relaxing on our giant bed looking out across the lake; watching herons and cormorants air their wings on an abandoned boat. Too lazy to move, we had our ‘finance meeting’, ordered room service, stuffed our faces and flaked out.
Nov 8 Jodhpur – The faucet to flip between tap and shower firmly jammed, encrusted with years of water…but Rita is enjoying sitting under the tap on the floor; just small enough to fit. I have a choice of measuring jug or bucket. Rubber pipes run from taps to the loo, it all works just fine. We breakfast on milky spiced chai, porridge and pancakes, looking out to the Mehrangarh Fort. Rita said it looks like it’s floating; and it does…grand above the city in the haze of morning sunlight and smog, but the sky is blue. Harphool arrives at 9.30 and we head to a dusty public park, no flowers but has its charm. Street dogs napped, barking when other dogs wandered too close. Clay bowls of water, rice, vegetables; food left out for them. Two soldiers relaxing on a bench asked if we were enjoying India, the older soldier wearing a smart grey beret, military insignia pinned to it. A man in his 60s passed performing his exercises; swinging each arm up, stretching his legs in long strides. A dove perched on a sign written in Hindi, cooed and eyed us. We went to an ATM for the requisite 4 separate withdrawals for 36,000 rupees owed to Ganpat. To the post office, long queues of people at the only open counter; another for stamp sales unstaffed but several eating at desks. I asked to buy stamps, but they’re enjoying their lunch. 15 counters stood empty. Frustrating but amusing. Harphool drove us to the Jodhpur branch of Anouki, smaller than Jaipur and no cafe but in a parade of shops we browsed before driving to the market where we wandered idly. Here we said our goodbyes and let Harphool head home to his wife and two daughters a day and a half early. I never did get him to call me by name, his daily “yes m’am”…but we frequently got him laughing. A lovely man, he made the long drives easy. We tipped him handsomely, shared a last few minutes of easy laughter over the usueless mobile phone, watching as he drove out of the market gate…sad to see him go.
The old city of Jodhpur is best wandered on foot; too narrow for cars and a constant ratrun of scooters, motorbikes, sputtering auto-rickshaw drivers and ambling cows; a simple walk for lunch an obstacle course…but great fun. The blue painted buildings are welcoming, amusing street signs for beauty parlours dot the alleyways, looking up to see gorgeous stone balconies and cupolas. We loved Udaipur but having 4 days to settle in to Jodhpur, get to know it’s streets, made it my favourite city. An easy going atmosphere; the streets and alleyways more open to the sun.
On recommendation from Shanker the manager back at Madri Haveli in Udaipur, we looked for the upmarket boutique hotel Raas for lunch. An older gentleman in a mechanics workshop directed us up an alleyway barking “what do you want?!” in a humorous friendly way. At the other end of the alley a large crowd was gathered, policemen stood by, young boys and men clamoured at the wooden entrance gates to Raas. Confused we asked admittance, allowed to climb in through a smaller gate but inside politely turned back; we weren’t guests or journalists; India’s most famous cricketer the retired batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, was there on a photoshoot. We were directed to a cafe owned by Raas called Stepwell, but before we climbed the steps to it police sirens honking horns and a small motorcade alerted us to Tendulkar’s departure as a crowd chased his chauffeur driven car through the streets. People lined the roadside taking photos on their phones. Tendulkar is a rockstar here, he sped away waving to his fans through the narrow streets of upmarket boutiques and design stores. Inside the Stepwell Cafe that we realised the significance of its name. It directly overlooks a steep ancient bouri (stepwell), we had walked by before without realising its existence, hidden from the street, sunken beneath pavement level. Sitting on a blue sofa we drank salty lassis and ate lunch whilst watching locals throw bread down in to the stepwell for the fish. In the courtyard of Haveli Inn Pal and Pal Haveli (the more upmarket boutique sister hotel accessed through the same main gate), we wandered in to a small textile shop called Anvi Textiles. Amongst the pashminas, ornaments and parasols were gorgeous textiles hand-sewn from old cloth and saris, minutely stitched and decorated with silver and gold threads. Made by mothers for daughters as a kind of insurance policy, the textiles could be melted down for the value of the gold and silver. I really wanted one but the 15kg baggage limit in our flight from Jodhpur to Delhi was restrictive; at £170 for the one I most admired I faltered…something I may come to regret. The owner of the shop is lovely and does offer shipping by courier or India Post.
Back in the room we had an hilarious packing and weighing session, cramming our heavier purchases in to our hand luggage including my Udaipur metal teapot filled with brass ornaments. We borrowed a weighing hook from reception to check that the main bags were under the Jet Air 15 kilo limit, my Aunt standing on the ‘step’ bedside table to give her enough height for me to lift the bags on to the hook in turn. Som Singh delivered two coca-colas to the room (“would you like them served room temperature or cold Mim?”) and laughed with us as we tried to fit everything in. Up on the roof for dinner, gazing at the fort whilst fireworks went off in different parts of the city, the call for prayer drifted across from the mosques and drumming thrummed from the temple below.
Nov 9 Jodhpur – Trying to check in online and get boarding passes for Jet Air but it’s frustrating and sending me in a loop. Spent the morning walking around in another loop trying to find the Krishna bookstore to buy stamps, meeting interesting people as ask directions…which ultimately send us on another big loop. The chai tea seller fires up the coals under the huge simmering aluminium pans and grinds in spices. People carrying huge loads on bent backs shuffle by in old plastic sandals. The street food vendors in their bright beautifully hand painted mobile wagons, an elderly white haired lady selling an array of vegetables tries to tempt me to buy with fresh red chillis and tomatoes. We enjoy these labryinth alleyways which when followed logically seem to lose us but when wandered randomly we find exactly what we need. It reminds me of reading R.K. Narayan novels and his rich descriptions of Indian life in his fictional cities.
A street lined with stationery shops directed us down another alleyway where we found ‘the cotton man’ standing on the raised entrance to his store where huge sacks of cotton were being weighed. On request he pulled back a heavy hanging cloth to reveal his colleague crouched at the back pushing cotton balls through an ancient clanking noisy machine, confined in a small dark unit approximately 12 by 6 feet, fine cotton particles filling the air and coating his hair and clothing. He’d covered his face with a cloth and as fascinating as it was to see the machine working, the realisation of the damage inflicted on his health sobered us.
Two guys in another unit were selling old army metal ammunition trunks and spare parts. We finally found the Krishna book shop which must have just opened on our second or third walk around as it now had the shutters rolled up. The ground floor filled with Indian carvings, camel bone padlocks, postcards and gifts whilst upstairs groaned with a huge weight of books. We bought stamps at the counter downstairs and followed their directions to a battered post box standing at the base of the clocktower (the postcards only took 5 days to reach their various overseas destinations, faster than the postal system back in the UK). Wandering around Sardar Market sprawled out all around the Clocktower we watch as the cloth sellers untie their huge bundles and start to lay out hundreds of brightly coloured used lengths of sari, some cut for shawls and selling at only 50 to 100 rupees each. I buy a couple, at this price not even venturing in to haggling as the prices are already so low. Neighbouring stalls vie for my custom and I wish for an entire empty suitcase and a more flexible Jet Air allownace to allow me to take home loads of these beautiful jewell colours, many sewn with hundreds of sequins which glint at me in the sun. Everywhere is a bustle of activity as the bangle seller sets out carefully bound loops of plastic bangles, a woman tries to sell me silver coloured ankle chains, two men are busy repairing something in a hole in the road helped by a young child holding a pickaxe larger than he is.
After lunch at the Stepwell cafe again enjoying our delicious salty lassis, we walk back to this area and explore another street running to the right of Haveli Inn Pal. It is lined on either side with skilled crafts people weaving baskets and selling hand fired pots, some decorated, some plain. A lady makes temple candle holders, another sells ahnging decorations made from clay; there are charm sellers and brass figurines, carved wooden statues and some more upscale shops with carved elephants at the entrance selling Indian antiques and much larger carved doors and tables. A tractor is parked further along with a small handpainted symbol over it’s headlights and a rickshaw crammed with schoolboys laugh when I go to take their photo …a father pushing one more boy in to the seats who is crying and being admonished for fighting.
Walking back to Haveli inn Pal we see another Mewar horse with its curled ears looking mournful as it stands with it’s handpainted carriage, head bowed… but doesn’t appreciate my attempt to stroke him and bares his teeth. I take a close up photograph inspired by one I’d seen framed back in Madri Haveli in Udaipur. We eat on the roof again, one more butter paneer masala before we have to start our way back to Delhi tomorrow.
Nov 10 – fly Jodhpur to Delhi. Our wonderful journey around Rajasthan comes to a close. We get a taxi to Jodhpur airport. We join a queue for bag drop, both of them coming in around 13 kilos (damn I could have bought the wedding blanket). Everything including the tea kettle gets unpacked from my hand luggage, inspected and put back in to go through security scanners; amused looks pass between airport security. They are efficient and good humoured. We sit next to an English woman; a textile designer on a grant researching traditional textile techniques in India. I show her photos of the wedding blankets; she tells me I should have bought them. We’re all concerned the plane will be delayed. The heavy pollution in Delhi made worldwide news; levels at a global high surpassing other cities by dangerous measures. The flight takes off exactly on time landing an hour later at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi airport. We check in to the airport Holiday Inn, amazed to see how more upmarket it is than in the UK. We forgo a swim; the outdoor pool shrouded in yellow smog and we eat a large meal in the restaurant…call home to our husbands…and sleep well. Keen to see family, but neither of us wanting this Indian experience to end.
Delhi – Master Guesthouse http://www.master-guesthouse.com/
Agra – Gateway Hotel (large chain hotel) https://gateway.tajhotels.com/en-in/fatehabad-road-agra/?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=Local&utm_campaign=Fatehabad-Road-Agra
Jaipur – Umaid Bhawan Heritage Hotel http://www.umaidbhawan.com/
Pushkar – Westin Resort (large chain hotel) http://www.starwoodhotels.com/westin/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=4379&SWAQ=958C
Udaipur -Madri Haveli Heritage Hotel (our favourite) http://www.madrihaveli.com/
Jodhpur -Haveli inn Pal Heritage Hotel http://www.haveliinnpal.com/