Thursday, 24 December 2015
Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India
We had an overnight flight to Delhi. Once there we took an internal flight to Jodhpur , a small airport where we were collected by our hotel. By the time we go there at four we were fairly shattered so decided to sleep for a couple of hours before heading out for Xmas eve.
Heading into town it became apparent that nothing much had changed in India. We could have got a taxi from our plush hotel but a tuk tuk was the cheapest way. The restaurant we chose had an amazing view of the fort atop its volcanic plug. However being alfresco in December it was cold. In fact it was around 10 degrees plus a rather stiff breeze. We had curry and started to warm up when a brazier of burning coals was brought to our table.
After dinner we had to once again negotiate our way back in a tuk tuk. On the way there we paid 100 but now they asking 300 to get us back. The key with tuk tuks in India is to do your haggling before you get going. He said 300 we said 200 and we agreed on 250. On the way back he stopped to get some sweets for his children and tried to sell us a tour of the city. We also passed some churches and were helpfully told that tomorrow was one of the biggest Christian festivals of the year!
Friday, 25 December 2015
Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India
We were very tired so had not planned to do a lot and admirably achieved this goal. We ended up heading out to Mehrangarh Fort at 1200 and made our way up through the progression of gates to the ramparts. At the top there is only a small section you can walk along to a Hindu shrine and then back again. For some reason we also voted against visiting the museum which meant we saw very little of the inner fort.
Instead we headed to Chowgh Bagh, a delightfully manicured garden on the North side of the fort on the way out of the fort that is less frequently used. We stopped here for around an hour taking in the relaxed atmosphere, reading books. We finally popped out of the fort entrance around four and found ourselves in the old city.
This was very picturesque with lots of the traditional blue houses that define Jodhpur. However as we got back towards the main drag of the older part of town it started to get very congested. In narrow alleys bikes would be zipping within inches of you. Thousands of pigeons occupied the web of overhead telegraph wires threatening to crap on you at a moment's notice. In short it was not a great place to be.
It got worse the more we walked. There were traffic jams as tuk tuks and bikes vied for space with humans in the narrow lanes. The traffic fumes in the central market were unbearable and every stall had a casing of lead dust. We were quite happy to escape!
That night we stayed in the hotel for dinner keen not to soak up any more pollution.
Saturday, 26 December 2015
Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India
We had decided to do a tour of the Bishnoi villages south of Jodhpur. Fiercely nature loving this tribe had saved their local habitat from the ravages of a local maharajah. The story was that Maharajah Abhay Singh wanted wood for his palace. He went to Khejarli to cut down some trees and met with opposition from Amrita Devi. He said he would spare the trees in return for money. She said she would rather pay with her life so he killed her and 400 other villagers.
We started off with a visit to a pottery workshop which was fairly similar to many other workshops. After this a visit to a typical Bishnoi house which was excruciatingly embarrassing and not made any better by being forced to watch the patriarch of the house grind up and imbibe opium which is apparently legal for certain groups.
After this we went to a carpet weaving workshop where Anna learnt how to weave on a loom and we bought a doormat. Then we went on a tour of the scrub land where we found some antelope, Blackbuck and a lake full of Demoiselle cranes.
We got back to the hotel at around two then went for a couple of hours in the sun. This was followed by a forgettable dinner.
Sunday, 27 December 2015
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
We had not been able to get a place on the train so had booked a driver to take us to Jaisalmer, a drive of around five hours. We got going at around 1000 and sped off through the scrub like plains.
The drive as always in India was fairly terrifying. Continuously meeting overtaking cars in the middle of the road and herds of cows. We stopped for fifteen minutes at a quite nice hotel in the middle of nowhere called Manvar for a cup of tea. At around three we found ourselves on the outskirts of Jaisalmer .
Our hotel, the Gulaal, was fantastic. A fairly new build the owners had constructed it in sandstone in the style of a merchant house or haveli. It had two atriums open to the elements and hordes of detailed carvings. Our room had a fantastic view of the fort as did the rooftop bar.
We were keen to have a walk after sitting down for so long and set off for Jaisalmer Fort which was only ten minutes walk away. The fort is a walled city on top of a rock in the middle of the desert. Once you navigate the various gates you find yourself in a central square from which a maze of tiny alleys radiates. Going down through them you pass hundreds of tiny shops from which vendors try to attract your attention. "Such lovely hair" one woman called out to Anna "it's just like noodles".
As we navigated the streets we found various points where you can get out to the ramparts. If there is a criticism of the fort it is that they do not do a lot with the ramparts. There could be a fantastic walking path all the way along, more often than not all you find is piles of rubble blocking the path. The other thing which is slightly surprising is the collection of cows which roam the narrow alleys. Whilst it's normal in India to see cows roaming around town it is another thing finding one completely blocking your path. You would think they would discourage them but the truth is many Indians treat them like mobile garbage disposals as they eat anything from food scraps to cardboard.
We settled down for a drink at a rooftop cafe and watched children flying kites for about an hour before heading back to the hotel and getting ready for dinner. This was somewhat anachronistically at a Korean restaurant I had found, we fancied a change from curry!
Monday, 28 December 2015
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
We had decided to visit a few of the local sites in the morning so started with a couple of the havelis. These are large sandstone constructions built by wealthy merchants. Like our hotel they featured a series of courtyards open to the elements. The first one was Patwa Ki Haveli which appeared to be overloaded with tourists. It was very interesting as a lot of the decoration had been preserved but it was a trial dealing with the crowds of people all intent on selfies with every single exhibit.
After this we tried to get into Nathmal Ki Haveli but only the lobby was open. Speaking to our hotel owners they explained that it was still a private residence and the current owners often shut up when the crowds are too numerous. We then went to the palace inside the fort for more of the same, endless hordes of selfie intent tourists and a progression of rooms of stuff.
In the afternoon we chilled out at the hotel. We went for sunset at one of the rooftop cafes. We then went for dinner at another hotel the First Gate which has a great view of the fort and a pizza oven - a welcome break from curries.
Tuesday, 29 December 2015
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
We had booked to go on a desert safari during the day but this was not due to start until one. So again we relaxed at the hotel popping out only briefly for lunch. The jeep driver Papu picked us up at the hotel. We then headed west through the scrub land towards the Pakistan border.
We stopped at a variety of sites along the way. The first Bada Bagh was one of the more scenic, the tombs of all the Maharajahs of Jaisalmer both Muslim and Hindu sited above a fertile valley or garden. We wandered amongst the tombs some of them collapsing others in perfect condition looking out over the garden to the scrubby hills around.
Following this we went to Kuldhara an abandoned village. Apparently the Maharajah attempted to tax some Brahmin villages 400 years ago and not liking the whole idea 83 villages emptied over night and moved to Pali near Jodhpur. It was not terribly interesting as there were a couple of reconstructed buildings and piles of stones and hundreds of tourists scrabbling over everything. The next stop was much better as we went to an oasis, really just an artificial lake bit compared to everywhere else it was very peaceful. The last stop was a bit of a disaster, another abandoned village and a reconstructed fort. Certainly anyone else doing this tour should just go to Bada Bagh and the Oasis and then the dunes.
The Khuri dunes were the highlight especially watching the sun setting over them. As with most deserts the Thar is not continuous waves of rolling dunes. Instead the sand tends to concentrate in specific areas. The patch our driver found for us was relatively unpopulated, there were other groups but we were able to plonk ourselves on top of one of the biggest and no one approached us. Well I say no-one but in fact we did have a couple of begging children and a belly dancer scramble up the dune to walk away empty handed.
The sunset was definitely the best we saw in Jaisalmer and in the top five. It was assisted by incredible cloud formations. We chilled out on the dunes watching it get redder only slightly kicking ourselves that we had not bought some wine! After that it was a very nice dinner at a vegetarian restaurant Natraj back in town.
Wednesday, 30 December 2015
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
We probably spent a day longer than strictly necessary in Jaisalmer but it was such a relaxing place that we did not regret it. Having exhausted most of the sights we decided to visit the Jain temples in the fort. We had not covered these on our previous trips because our guide book advised that you cannot take any leather into a temple. Taking the rules literally I left all our leather items, wallets, belts and even synthetic leather at the hotel. We then set off up the road one last time.
The temples were well worth the visit because of the intricacy of the carving. However we got a huge surprise, literally everyone was flouting the rules. Not only were people wearing belts but pretty relaxation woman sported a leather hand bag. Anna even suspected one of the monks of wearing a leather watch strap! This seemed unlikely to me as Jains are such strict vegetarians quite a lot wear scarves over their mouths to avoid the possibility of swallowing a fly. In fact their dietary restrictions extend beyond vegetarianism. They also cannot eat any vegetables which would effectively have their lives curtailed, for example onions and potatoes are forbidden as they are tubers, whereas apples, nuts and wheat are fine.
The rest of the day was occupied by more relaxation plus dinner at the First Gate again. We had booked an overnight train to take us to Jaipur so had to stay up relatively late. The hotel owners took us to the station and when the train arrived we found our "first class" sleeper carriage. Whilst waiting for departure an attendant barged his way into the carriage and sprayed some disinfectant over the floor and our luggage and proceeded to mop with us in it. Once the smell had died down we managed to get off to sleep.
Thursday, 31 December 2015
Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
We woke up on the train to Jaipur. Theoretically it should have been possible for us to wake up in Jaipur but the train is slow and takes a very long route after Jodhpur going all the way south past Pali before going North again to arrive at around 1400. So we had not much to do apart from enjoy the journey. This was hampered windows of the carriage were not particularly clean so we could not enjoy the view. Coupled with this they put the air conditioning up at full blast. So rather than a first class experience it was like being in a frozen prison cell for five hours. At least it was cheap!
At Jaipur we had to do a bit of hotel shuffling. We had debated a lot about what we were going to do for New Years eve and made a last minute decision to stay at the Rajputana, a very nice hotel conveniently next to the train station. After checking in we set off to enjoy a bit of the city with what was left of the afternoon.
We started off at the Jantar Mantar , an astronomical observatory constructed by Jai Singh in 1738. Coincidentally we had been in New Delhi earlier in the year and had gone to one of his other observatories (he built five) and so knew approximately how it worked. Jaipur is the biggest of all the sites with thirty different instruments all designed to measure the positions of various heavenly bodies. The most fascinating were twelve gonomons that measure each of the constellations of the galaxy. We found our own and took photos of each other!
After that we walked through the city's pink bazaar marveling at the wealth of goods on sale. We were beckoned into hundreds of shops having to dodge merchants who would start haggling with you as soon as your eyes lighted upon one of their wares. As we worked our way South things got progressively more manic. At one point we had to dodge a passing elephant with accompanying procession.
Back at the hotel we got ready for dinner. We had booked to go to the hotel's Mughlai restaurant Peshawari. The food was fantastic and a fitting end to the year. We ordered a set meal that was so big that we did not get through the starters, these were mainly meats roasted in different ways and were so tasty that we only felt slightly guilty that we only had half of the main which was a black lentil dahl. We crawled to our room with distended bellies and saw the New Year in watching the rather peculiar celebrations on TV.
Friday, 1 January 2016
New Delhi, India
The first day of the year was not a lie in for us. We had booked ourselves on a 0600 train to Delhi as all the others were peculiarly in the afternoon. This was a much more civilized affair, a brand new first class carriage with comfortable seating and lots of space to move around. We sat back and enjoyed the views of the rolling countryside and arrived in New Delhi at around 1000.
We were a bit early to check in to our hotel so had an early lunch. We then headed out to Hauz Khas Village , a hipster area in the South of New Delhi. We decided to take the metro which was rather exciting as it had been opened since our last real stay in Delhi in 2004. It is a very uniquely Indian affair featuring strange tokens that you have to buy at kiosks, x ray handbag scanners and carriages with seats reserved for women. Unlike most transport options in India it is however very fast and efficient. We popped out at Green Park after twenty minutes and cut through the Park to Hauz Khas.
One thing had changed since our last visit, New Delhi is now officially the world's most polluted city and the smog was incredible. The park had trees in it but these were all covered in layers of brown dust. In fact the city had decided it had enough and had started 2016 with an experiment, alternating the days cars were allowed into the city based on their number plates. Whilst this did not have an impact whilst we were there I read later that it was a modest success.
Hauz Khas is named after the royal water tank which it sits next to. It is an affluent neighborhood and home to many restaurants, bars and fashion boutiques. We were keen to do a bit of shopping and in a place where you are not continually mauled by shop keepers. We nosed through various clothes and antiques shops. We had a brief look at the water tank which seemed to be mobbed by courting couples all keen to take selfies overlooking the tank.
When we finally got bored of exploring we stationed ourselves in an incredibly nice Italian restaurant with a view over the park. At this point I started flagging and so we made a decision to turn in.
Saturday, 2 January 2016
New Delhi, India
Our last morning in India, we had a pleasant breakfast at the hotel and jumped in a taxi. We arrived far too early at the airport and our plane was late. We finally took off around 1300 and headed back off to blighty.