Should I go to India? (Rajasthan)

It’s difficult to imagine a country more diverse than India. With 22 official languages,  6 major religions and countless traditions and cultures, your experiences in India will depend greatly on the areas you visit.  Of the places we visited, Rajasthan was the most flaunting of their customs and traditions, and no matter where you travel there, you get a taste of the individual cultures that make up this desert state.

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Rajasthan is a state located in north-western India.  Although it is mostly famous because of its Thar Desert, Rajasthan has much more going on than just sand.  We visited 5 cities (and could have doubled that number if we’d had the time) and had some pretty awesome experiences.  Here are some of the highlights of Rajesthan.

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Palaces and Forts

Prior to its independence from England in 1947, India didn’t look the way it does today. Although it is now a democratic country, India used to be made up of several small city states, run by kings.  As a result, there is an abundance of history in Rajasthan and if you like seeing antiques and learning about the past, the palaces and forts in Rajasthan are excellent ways to spend your afternoons.

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Rajasthan’s forts speak volumes about India’s past.  The different colours seen here are because these two areas were built in different times and of different materials

The fees to get into some of these palaces were quite high, and from what I heard from other tourists, not always worth the money.  In Udaipur, we opted to skip the palace because of the high camera fee.  We were relieved to hear from a couple later on that it had been wise to skip it; there was little more than a few paintings to see.  In other places, like Jodpur for example, the forts (and attached palaces), are well worth your time and money.

Many of the hotels in Rajasthan are actually old palaces and government buildings from past rulers.  We stayed in several of these buildings, known as Havelis, while in Rajesthan…each had beautiful architecture and interesting rooms.

Architecture

Each city we visited in Rajasthan seemed to have a nickname.  Jaipur is ‘The Pink City’.  Udaipur is ‘The Lake City’, Pushkar is ‘The Pilgrimage City’, Jaisalmer ‘The Golden City’ and Jodpur ‘The Blue City’.  Each of these nicknames comes from the unique architecture and geography in the area.

Jaisalmer impressed me the most with its beautiful sandstone carvings.  Not only is the golden colour of the sandstone beautiful, but the intricate detail found all around the city is a photographer’s dream.

Similarly, Udaipur’s gorgeous hotels built along the lake are a sight to see.  The white buildings reflect on the lake, giving the city a serene atmosphere.

And if the cities themselves aren’t beautiful enough for you, the temples and other landmarks in India are also sights to behold.  After all, the Taj Mahal is just one of India’s famed buildings…there are many, many more!!

Markets

If shopping is your favourite pass-time during travel, Rajasthan is for you!  Every city we visited had markets where you can check out Rajasthan’s unique textiles.  And, for a state famous for its desert, you wouldn’t believe the colour you’ll see in these markets!!

Among the best cities for shopping were Pushkar and Udaipur.  While the shopkeepers in Jodpur and Jaipur were pushy and known to chase you down the street…Pushkar and Udaipur had a much calmer feel to them.  There was an abundance of art and textiles (bedding, scarves, clothing etc…) to see everywhere we visited in Rajesthan, you could only really peacefully visit shops in these two smaller cities.  We bought the majority of our souvenirs in Pushkar, where the prices were fair and where I was given the chance to try things on without people grabbing my arms and trying to drag me into different stores (a frequent experience in Jodpur!)

Of course, you do need to be careful when shopping in Rajasthan.  The prices aren’t nearly as inflated as they are in the Golden Triangle, but you will still be ripped off if someone sees the opportunity.  Pushkar specifically had an interesting scam that involved locals trying to push you into paying for flowers that are originally presented as being free.  A rule of thumb in Pushkar…people are really nice…just DON’T BUY THE FLOWERS!!!!  And, of course, be weary of anyone telling you that their products are 100% Kashmir or Pashmina…they most likely aren’t.  I paid 1000 rupees for a scarf that I saw for 400 rupees only a few days later in one of the smaller cities.  Be skeptical of initial prices and BARGAIN HARD!  (even when they try and make you feel like you’re ripping them off…it’s part of their shtick)

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I saw these table clothes for 500 rupees in the market.  We ended up buying 3 of them from a gentleman in Jaisalmer, who was selling them for some of the women living out of the city.  We paid only 100 rupees each and we knew he was STILL making good money on our purchases.

Wildlife and Landscape

Rajasthan is THE place to visit if you are interested in diverse landscapes and wildlife. From monkeys to cows, there won’t be a day you don’t see an animal while in India.  And because Rajasthan covers such a large area, the landscapes change a great deal as you travel around the state.

The farm life within the cities is astounding.  Not only cows roam the streets of Jaipur and Jaisalmer, but also goats, sheep, pigs and chickens…

There are monkeys all over the place in Rajasthan!  I’m always afraid of being bitten because monkeys can be so aggressive, but the zoom on my camera made it easy to get some good close ups of these cool little dudes…

 

And of course, I can’t forget about the friends we made in the desert

The most remarkable animals we saw in Rajasthan were the famed Demoiselle Cranes we saw outside of Udaipur.  These cranes are famous because they have the most difficult migration of any bird on earth.  Not only do they need to fly over the Himalayan mountains to get to their breeding grounds in India…but they get attacked and eaten by Golden Eagles along the way!  Don’t believe me?  Watch Planet Earth!   We watched the episode about Mountain Landscapes after we got home, just to see the cranes that we’d been lucky enough to see up close in Rajasthan!

Some Cautionary Tales

There are far more ups than downs visiting Rajasthan.  For Dave and I, the biggest downer was our driver, who was strange and actually pretty terrible at his job.  Look around for drivers that have good reviews before booking because you’ll be spending 35+ hours in a car with that person…and trust me…you don’t want a guy who plays the same 5 minute Ohm on repeat the entire time!  It can really ruin a trip!

Additionally…it’s a good idea to book ahead of time.  While it’s often better to book tours once you’re IN a country, you will be overwhelmed with the number of tour guides trying to sell you packages once you’re in New Delhi.  Many of them will lie to you to get your business (ours assured us that they were government run…they were not!) and they will all try and rip you off.  Check Trip Adviser before you get tied in with anyone in India.

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Also…make sure you’ll be being driven around in a decent car.  This was our driver and car…the driver was ok…the car was nice.  I can’t imagine how horrible it would have been to spend 35 hours in something without proper suspension!

Aside from drivers…make sure to look around before buying things so you get a feel for what prices are in markets.  Don’t believe anyone who tells you their scarves are 100% anything…they are lovely, and I wouldn’t discourage you from buying 1 (or 3…), but I would caution you to limit how much you spend.  Most of the time, the Kashmir or Pashmina scarf they’re selling you is mostly silk or even polyester.

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And, of course, I highly recommend that you make purchases at places like Belissima…shops that specialize in art and textiles being made by people in need…This particular shop helps women who have been widowed or who were never married.  (it’s located in Jaisalmer fort…there are signs everywhere so it shouldn’t take long to find!!)

So there you have it…Rajasthan is chalk full of things for every type of tourist.  From gorgeous landscapes to intricate architecture, you’ll find something interesting at every stop you make.  If I could do things differently, I would have taken 3 of the days we had in New Delhi and added them to our time in Rajasthan so we could have seen Bikaner or Rathambore.  Perhaps some day I’ll get the chance…

Should I go to India? The Golden Triangle

It’s been over a month now, since Dave and I returned from our 29 days in India.  I’ve written 12 blog posts about our trip and have spent countless hours going through photos and videos.  I filled a journal with anecdotes and airplane tickets and have reminisced a great deal about our time in that crazy country.  So now, before my memory gets too fuzzy on the details, is the perfect time to dole out some advice for my fellow travelers.  Is India worth the trip?  Let’s take a look at the facts (according to my own experiences anyway!)

Golden Triangle Tours

Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle is THE tourist circuit in India.   Tours typically begin in New Delhi, then head to Agra and finish in Jaipur.  These 3 stops can  be done in a short amount of time (3 days is easily doable), making them popular for foreigners who don’t have a long stay in India.  And, because the Golden Triangle covers so many of India’s ‘must-sees’ (The Taj Mahal, The Pink City, etc…), you will not have difficulty finding tour operators or drivers for a trip around India’s most popular tourist circuit.

Let’s break it down…

The Good

Beginning in New Delhi, you will experience the country’s capital, for better or for worse.  There is a great deal of history there, which is great if you’re interested in India’s past (both modern and ancient).

In addition to the historical sights in Delhi, the Zoo was surprisingly impressive.  The animals seemed to be well cared-for and the park where the Zoo is located is a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Agra has a great deal to offer tourists as well.  The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort alone are enough reason to make the 4 hour drive from New Delhi.  Best of all, if you leave New Delhi early enough and are okay with a long day, you can see Agra’s most famous sights and then head onto Jaipur for dinner.

Jaipur is the final stop in the Golden Triangle, and it’s a nice little introduction to the state of Rajasthan.  Dubbed ‘The Pink City’, Jaipur is full of markets, historical sites and, of course, several forts.  It’s a lovely place to spend a day or two, especially if you’re tight on time and want to see Rajesthan, but can’t make it to one of the other cities I’ll be writing about later on this list.

New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur can surely offer you some insight into the rest of the country and are a great place to start if you have limited time to spend in India.  I can see what attracts people to these 3 places, but if I’m going to be honest, there were a lot more drawbacks than selling-points for me during my time in the Golden Triangle…

The Bad

I’ll begin with the most trivial problem on my list, though it IS the most relevant for the average traveler.  If you are traveling to New Delhi, prepare yourself for scammers!  There are an unbelievable number of people out on the streets at any given time trying to get into your pockets and take you for as much as they can.  Some of my favourites:

  • Taxi drivers who tell you that your hotel is closed/full/doesn’t exist, who offer to take you to a hotel that their cousin/brother/friend owns.  The hotel they bring you to is invariably be cheap and dirty but the prices for the room will be jacked up, because the taxi driver is making commission.  You will face this type of scam right at the airport, so beware!
  • Travel agents who claim to be ‘government owned’.  They might give you a tour, but I estimate we paid about 30%-40% more than we should have when we signed up for our tour.  That’s nothing compared to what some people face…
  • Tuk Tuk drivers who charge 5, 10 or 50X the price they should for taking you places.
  • Tuk Tuk drivers who say they’ve met you…and then try to make you feel bad for not remembering them.  These guys will guilt you into letting them take you to an ’emporium’, where everything is massively over priced and where they are given a commission.
  • Counterfeit everything!  Don’t buy scarves, or anything for that matter, from any emporium.  Once you get out of Delhi, the ‘hand painted post cards’ that the nice painter made in the Emporium go from 350 rupees to 35 rupees…you also discover pretty quickly that they aren’t hand painted…Silk is another big one…most people can’t tell the difference between Cashmere, silk and polyester, so do yourself a favour and skip buying any expensive scarves.
  • You will be told all sorts of things about how you can tell that a person’s scarves are ‘the real deal’….the one I fell for was the ‘burning hair’ routine.   They will tell you that burning cashmere smells like burning hair…it does…but so does any silk (low-grade or high-grade), which is a MUCH cheaper material

These are just some of the scams Dave and I experienced (and in most cases…evaded) while in Delhi.  It’s honestly an exhausting experience being in Delhi, because you feel as though you can’t ever trust anyone; a feeling I really dislike.  Furthermore, Delhi isn’t the only place where you’ll experience these scams.  India’s tourism industry is filled with dishonesty, and you’ll deal with this in all of the big tourist destinations (Delhi, Agra, Mumbai and Varanasi are the worst)

The next problem on my list:  the pollution!!  New Delhi holds the record for being the most polluted city in the world.  While everyone talks about Beijing’s pollution problems, China’s capital got to about 500 points on the Air Quality Index this winter (making big news!), whereas in New Delhi, this has been happening for years.  They had to actually expand their AQI scale because the city was so often blowing past the highest number ON the scale!   New Delhi’s pollution is estimated to cause 1.5 million deaths every year and is causing massive issues for the country’s healthcare system.

From a tourist’s perspective, the pollution is little more than an inconvenience.  Staying in New Delhi for a few days isn’t going to kill you, but it WILL make you appreciate the clean air back home!

In addition to the air pollution, New Delhi is also very dirty.  You’re told by everyone who’s ever been to India to expect it…but there’s really no way to prepare for some of the things you see.  The garbage bins that exist hardly seem to be in use, and people mostly just throw their trash onto the ground.  Later on, a cow or dog will come along and eat anything edible…everything else gets burned at the end of the day.  Sadly, from what I saw, burning garbage isn’t solely done to eliminate trash…it’s also done for warmth…

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Not taken by me….but we saw things like this often.  There are countless stray dogs roaming the streets of New Delhi, and they rely on garbage for survival.  

To say that Delhi is poor is a gross understatement.  More than 50% of the population lives in the slums.  For those of you who have had the fortune of being born in a 1st world country, where slums of this degree don’t exist, I will paint a picture…

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An Indian man sleeps on the roof of his house at a shanty area in New Delhi, India, Monday, April 20, 2015. . (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Slums are basically groups of makeshift houses,  built in areas that can’t technically hold buildings (near rivers that are prone to flooding, for example).   The poorest of the poor live here, where there is often no electricity or running wate, and therefore, no toilets. People mostly defecate in the streets, creating sanitary issues.  Without clean water, children and adults both die of parasites and something as common as a bad case of diarrhea is a death sentence for many of these people.

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Once more, I cannot make claim to this picture, but Dave and I did see countless naked children running around the streets of New Delhi.  His belly is most definitely not large because he’s full…parasites are a big problem in India.  

It sickens me to say that you can actually pay people to go on tours of these slums, in both Delhi and Mumbai.  The idea of gawking at the poor, who already live with so little dignity, bothers me a lot.  There are many organizations out there that are trying to help these people, but it’s too big of a problem to be going away any time soon…

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People filling jugs with clean water brought to them by a relief group.  This clean water is vital for their survival

So…if I’m going to sum it up…I wouldn’t visit the Golden Triangle again.  The Taj Mahal was VERY cool and I highly recommend a visit, but if I were planning our trip again, I would be spending as little time in New Delhi as possible.  There are plenty of other places in India that ARE worth a visit, and next I’ll be outlining the pros and cons of travel in Rajasthan.  Thanks for checking in!

 

Awesome Agra

Often, when it comes to traveling, I am underwhelmed by ‘must see’ sights that everyone else seems to love.  At Yellow Stone, I didn’t find Old Faithful to be particularly punctual or impressive.  In Cambodia, I preferred several temples over Angkor Wat.  Even in Thailand, I preferred Elephant Nature Park and Ayuttaya over the crowded beaches.  Agra, however, was the exception to that rule…Although I arrived at the Taj Mahal expecting to be underwhelmed, within minutes, I realized I had underestimated India’s most iconic building.

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We traveled for hours in a thick fog and Dave and I were both very worried that the visibility was so bad that we wouldn’t even be able to see the building.  Luckily, as the sun climbed in the sky, the fog dissipated and we arrived at Taj Mahal’s front gate with beautiful blue sky above us.

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India’s pollution problems + Winter fog = poor visibility for some tourists!
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We were so glad the sky cleared by the time we made it to the front gate.

We were provided with a tour guide while we were in Agra.  I don’t typically like guides, because they can take so much away from the experience (I hate being shuttled around) but this one was pretty good.  He offered a lot of information about the structures themselves, although we did find out later that some of his facts weren’t exactly true (more on that later).   The things that were true, though, made it worthwhile having a guide at this particular attraction.

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I doubt he liked us very much, though.  He learned quickly that we weren’t big spenders when we opted out of the 1/2 km carriage ride to the Taj Mahal.  The weather was nice and so was the walk 🙂

Now, about the the building and grounds themselves…

In 1631, the Mughal emperor of India, Shah Jahan, lost his beloved wife during the birth of their 14th child.  After spending a year in secluded mourning, the emperor hired an architect to design a beautiful building both to commemorate his late wife, and to act as her final resting place.   The architect did his job well and today, thousands of tourists flock to the Taj Mahal to visit the burial sight of Emperor Jehan and his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Now that you have some history, I should explain why this UNESCO World Heritage Sight is so renown.   I like lists, so let’s do it that way…

#1 – The Optical Illusions

When you are (finally) done with security and have bought your tickets and paid for your camera fees, you make it through the front entrance.  This is when you first see the Taj Mahal.  It looks enormous and very close, and you can’t quite figure out why you hadn’t seen it behind the front gate.

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When you first see the building, you realize that photos could never possibly do it justice.

But as soon as you step through that doorway, you realize that there is quite a bit more walking to do before you actually get TO the building itself.  The doorway just makes it look closer than it really is.

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The view from the other side of the gate

There are also optical illusions on the building itself.  For example:

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This pillar does not actually have points everywhere.  It only looks like it is because of the way the stones are inlay-ed (we’ll get to that…)

 

More interesting yet, depending which time of day you visit the hall, it changes colours!  I had always seen the Taj Mahal in pictures during sun sets, so it surprised me a lot when I saw that it is white!  The entire building is made of high quality marble.  The material is actually partially translucent, so it reflects light in some very interesting ways.

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With a really beautiful sunrise or sunset, the building actually turns pink

This marble is very valuable and delicate, so India has come up with an interesting cleaning regiment for their famous landmark.  Instead of washing dust and dirt off with a pressure washer (or a harsh equivalent) they cover parts of the building with mud, and then gently wipe it away by hand.   The mud helps to delicately scrub away any built up pollutants on the Taj Mahal’s pristine facade.  They were working on 2 of the towers when we were visiting.

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#2 – The Symmetry

Every aspect of this building is symmetrical genius.  From the trees, to the pools to the mausoleums that stand on either side of the main building, the Taj Mahal is balanced.  As you walk through the gate, you are met by a long pool that leads up to the Taj Mahal itself.  The line in the middle of that pool runs directly to the center of the main building, making for perfect picture taking.  Even the most amateur photographer can get a straight picture if they know where to look.

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And everything from the trees to the stone steps to the pools on either side are mirrors of themselves.  It’s really quite impressive because as long as we were with our guide, he never seemed to run out of things to show us that were perfect mirrors of one another.   Both inside and outside of the building, everything from the art to the pillars to the shape of each room is a perfect reflection of the other side.

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Obviously I didn’t take this picture, but it shows that no matter which side of the Taj Mahal you are standing on…you see the same thing!
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Similarly, the pools are designed to reflect the Taj Mahal perfectly and there is a mosque built on either side of the main building.  Each of those mosques are also perfectly balanced.

But wait!  I’ve saved the best for last!!!

#3 – The Inlay Art

What impressed me the most about this incredible structure wasn’t the symmetry or the marble.  It was actually the art and how that art was made.

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A close up of one of the entrances.

Now, the Islamic writing around the arches is painted on…but all of the other art you see…the flowers and vines…that’s not paint!

Every piece of those flowers and vines are actually made of precious and semi-precious gems.  Here’s how it’s done…

The high quality marble that was used to make the Taj Mahal was carved into by artists.  The designs were chosen ahead of time, and gems were brought from as far away as China and Egypt to complete the task.  The gems were sanded down to fit into the holes in the marble and then glued into place.  So instead of having paint all over the Taj Mahal…you have incredibly detailed inlay work.

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All symmetrical and all inlay-ed precious stones

We went to a factory where this form of art is still being practiced.

This form of art is called Parchin Kari in India or Pietra Dura elsewhere.  In order to decorate the Taj Mahal, Emperor Jahan had Jade brought from China, Sapphire brought from Sri Lanka and even Turquoise from Tibet.  The results are magnificent.  Not only is the art beautiful, but when the light hits certain gems just right…the whole building sparkles!!!

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It is a bit difficult to catch on camera, but you can sort of see it in a few places here.

Sadly, because this building is so famous, it gets a lot of attention from thieves.  Repair work is almost always being done on the building because tourists try and remove stones and are sometimes even successful!

 

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Myth vs Facts

India has worked hard to protect this  building, and during the second world war and wars with Pakistan special measures were taken to keep the building from being bombed.

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Although only partially covered in bamboo here, it is believed that India covered the entire building during WW2, to keep the Nazi and Japanese forces from recognizing and bombing their most famous landmark.

Of course, this is one of the more interesting TRUE stories about the Taj Mahal.  I learned later on that some of the other interesting stories our guide told us are completely fabricated.  For example, there were never plans to build a second BLACK Taj Mahal across the river.  It is a myth being perpetuated by tour guides in India.

Another myth that has added interest in the Taj Mahal states that the Indian Government had plans to demolish the building and to sell the marble.  This story has no more truth to it than the black Taj story does, but it continues to be told because it increases interest in the famous landmark.

To me, I think the building is fascinating enough WITHOUT fabricating additional stories.  But hey…I suppose they know what they’re doing…there’s no such thing as bad press, right?

After visiting the Taj Mahal we also went down to Agra Fort, which was built during the same period for the same emperor’s family.  It wasn’t as interesting as the Taj Mahal itself, but it was still pretty neat and definitely worth some photos!  (click on the photos for captions and explanations)

I have 1 last post that I’m still working on for India.  I hope to have it up soon!

If you found this blog post interesting, please feel free to share with your friends.  As always, comments and likes are always appreciated (and make me feel a little less like I’m talking to myself;) )

Movin’ Mumbai – Bustlin’ Bombay

We are sitting at The Mark Cafe, a 2 minute walk from the River Ganges, and it’s Valentine’s day.  Dave and I have a habit of spending the most romantic day of the year in foreign countries, and although this Valentines day has probably been the furthest thing from Romance that we’ve seen, it’s been interesting in its own right.  I’ll be writing about Varanasi, or Banares, next time though.  For now, I’ll be writing about the mayhem that is Mumbai.

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The Mumbai Skyline

Mumbai, formerly called Bombay (during the Brittish rule of India), is a port city on India’s west coast.  It’s the home of Bollywood, the world’s largest open-air street food market and is also India’s most populous city.  There isn’t a whole lot to do in Mumbai, so we didn’t stay very long, but a day and a half was ample time to see the sights that deserve to be seen.

 

What makes Mumbai so remarkable, as far as I’m concerned anyway, is its architecture.  Because the city has been under both Portuguese and British rule in addition to its Hindu and Muslim history, there are so many interesting buildings to see!

One of the difficulties of being in Bombay though, is the security…

There’s some ugly history here.  Some fundamentalist Hindu groups have caused problems for the Muslim population (killing over 1000 Muslims in 1992 and 1993 during riots) and in return, Muslim fundamentalist groups have bombed popular tourist sights and other places of interest in Mumbai.  There has been peace in the city now since 2011, but as precaution, there are metal detectors going into every shopping mall and every tourist sight.  Even going to Starbucks, means having your bag searched, being patted down and walking through a metal detector.  Scary stuff…

But not all of Mumbai was scary…like every city in India, they have an abundance of farm animals running through the streets….Also, the taxis here all have funny designs on their ceilings.  They’re quite nice actually, as far as taxis go.  And everyone uses their meters so HAZZAA!!!  No arguing required!!

My next post will be about the most insane city I have ever visited…stay tuned for my post on Varanasi – Home of the River Ganges.

The end of the Rajasthani Road

I have fallen very behind in my writing because although Goa is beautiful and relaxing, the internet there is the worst we’ve seen.  Still, tonight it was behaving for a while so I began the process of uploading pictures into wordpress…whether or not the internet holds out well enough for me to actually finish my post tonight, is another affair entirely… (it didn’t…I’m now in Mumbai, finishing the post!)

We finished our time in Rajesthan in the city of Jodpur.  Nicknamed ‘The Blue City”, Jodpur is famous for the massive fort that sits above the city.  We stayed in a gorgeous old Haveli-turned-hotel and had a stunning view of it.  As I wrote my last post (Jaisalmer), this was the view I had to admire while I worked.

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We were pretty shopped-out by the time we reached Jodpur, so the markets were of no interest to us.  Still, we wound up in one, only to buy some water and be asked at least 20 times where we’re from.  We’ve realized, over the course of our stay in India, that people here think Canada is made up of 2 parts:  The French Part and The English Part.  They’re always very confused when I say that we live in the ‘English Part where many people also speak French…and German…’.

I’ve realized, since we left our driver behind, that Prama is like wine…he got better as the trip progressed (not a lot better…but better…).  Because the fort was so far from our hotel, we weren’t able to get around on foot and were sort of at Prama’s mercy when it came to what we would see.  But, instead of bringing us to Emporiums (where he’d make commission off of any of our purchases)…he brought us to a lovely (free!) park!  We saw monkeys, beautiful gardens and eventually stumbled upon some beautiful old temples that reminded me of Ayuttaya in Thailand.

This is where I’m going to make note of something I realized while walking along the temples in this park.  In many temples (especially active ones), you must remove your shoes if you wish to enter.  In warmer places this isn’t an issue, but in Delhi it drove me nuts because the stone was so cold under my feet that my legs were cramping.  We missed out on a lot of temples because I just couldn’t deal with the pain in my leg (my leg is doing much better these days…but it still has its limits).  In Rajesthan it wasn’t too bad so we took off our shoes and toured the old buildings.  When we were on our way back through the park though, we saw this….

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That’s all garbage…

I took this picture about 5 minutes away from the temple where we took off our shoes to show respect and to avoid tracking dirt into Hindu sacred space.  Seeing yet more garbage in a beautiful park made me wish that Indians treated their country the way they treat their temples.  For people who are so profoundly religious and deligent in their duties to the gods (not eating beef, treating animals with respect, the most devout are vegetarian or vegan), they completely ignore their duties to nature.  The number of times we’ve seen garbage like this has been depressing!  India’s current president, Narendra Modi, is putting a lot of effort into cleaning up the country, but he has a long road ahead.  It’s a good thing he works 18 hours a day, because I can’t imagine how he’d get anything done if he didn’t!! (Jay, from Jaisalmer, is a big Modi fan.  We learned all sorts of things about him!  I have hope for this president!).

Ok…I digress…

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A worthy digression if ever there was one…

Our next stop was to the big site to see in Jodpur:  The fort!  We’ve seen several in Rajesthan and it seems like every city has both a fortress and a palace to tour, but Lonely Planet spoke especially well of this one, so we paid the 500 rupees each (50 for locals) and the extra 100 rupees for our camera (free for locals) and we took the tour.  It was honestly worth the money…There was lots to see and the audio tour was very well done.  My only complaint was the hoards of Indian tour guides that all insisted on shouting above one another and pushing anyone who wasn’t paying them out of the way…I was nearly knocked over at one exibit, while looking at the ornate elephant seats from Jodpur’s history.

The audio tour was awesome…it told us the history of the fort.  I learned that it has never been taken by an enemy and I even heard the stories behind the cannon holes in the walls.  There was a lot of battling between the Kings of the different Rajesthani settlements back in the day.  It was neat learning their history.

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The red circle is around a hole caused by Jaipur canons.  The king of Jodpur had been offended by the neighboring royalty, so he ordered a carivan of wedding gifts to be seized on its way to Jaipur.  Jaipur retaliated by (unsuccessfully) trying to take Jodpur fort.

Also interesting were some of the artifacts in the museum part of the fort.  In addition to the elephant seats, there were also carriages that carried the kings and queens of Jodpur.  You can tell which carriages were womens’ because they hid the women away behind curtains and stained glass.  In the past, women in India lived in Purdah…only to be seen by their immediate family.  Women often hid in seperate rooms when guests came to the house, to keep themselves from the ‘prying and lustful eyes of men’ (my favorite line from the audio tour).  This particular carriage was of significance, because it belonged to the queen that was alive during the Brittish take-over of the country.  The Brittish were very interested in the royal families and wanted to know what the women looked like, but all they ever got to see was a flash of the queen’s ankle as she walked up the steps of her carriage.

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This carriage

A photographer managed to get a picture of that ankle and a story was suppose to be published the following day in Brittish newspapers but the royal family intereceded and the pictures never went to print.  A little different from our culture, where Kim Kardashian can ‘break the internet’

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The only picture in the shoot where she was still wearing any clothes….

Our final stop in Jodpur was at the ‘mini Taj Mahal of Jodpur’.  A king had it built for his queen, when he heard of the Taj Mahal being built.  He thought it was a beautiful act, so he wished to do the same.  It isn’t as grand or as semetrical as the Taj Mahal (more on that in the future!), but it was beautiful in its own way!

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I’ll leave you now with some pictures of our hotel/Palace!  This was probably our favorite hotel in all of Rajesthan, not only because of the great restaurant, but also because of the gorgeous view and the beautiful rooms.  For anyone reading this and looking for a great place to stay…Krishna Prakash Heritage Hevali is where it’s at!

And the grounds were beautiful too!!

Next up will be Goa!  We seem to have better internet in Mumbai, so  I should be able to post again tomorrow! (Unless we are out exploring…)

Thanks for stopping by!!   Anyone visiting my blog with questions regarding any of the places we have been can feel free to leave me comments in the questions section!  I will do my best to answer any and all that are asked!

 

Jaisalmer: The Crown Jewel of Rajesthan

Before I begin writing about Jaisalmer, I should explain why I have not yet written about the Taj Mahal or about our night in the desert.  I have realized that keeping up with writing everything is extremely difficult, so I’m saving my very specaial posts (such as the ones listed above) for when we’re back in China, and I have access to my laptop for proper editing and such…

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Discalaimer:  If you do not enjoy pictures of camels, my post about the desert may not be your cup of tea…

But until then, I have plenty of other things to write about!  So don’t worry, I haven’t given up yet!!

We spent 3 nights in Jaisalmer, making it the longest stay of our trip so far.  This is fortunate, because it happened to be the highlight of our Rajesthan tour!  In addition to our fabulous night in the desert, we also got to tour the city itself, and Jaisalmer Fort, which were both spectacular places to tour!

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A view of the Golden City rom its famed fort

The city of Jaisalmer is nicknamed ‘The Golden City’.  The reason: most of the buildings there are built of sandstone.  So, like the desert surrounding it, Jaisalmer has a golden glow for tourists to admire.

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Sandstone is also quite soft, as far as stones are concerned, so artists are able to carve intricate patterns into the walls of all the buildings.

The markets here are similar to all the others we’ve seen in India so far.  Here though, we were able to see the highly prestigious ‘National Egg Center’ and view a handicraft that has made Jaisalmer famous:  camel-leather bags.  The leather comes from camels that have died of natural causes, and there were a wide range of them to see.  Some were quite pretty.   I don’t know why I never thought to take any pictures…

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See here:  The National Egg Center

The fort was my favourite part of the city though, because it’s different from many others that we’ve seen.  This towering fortress is home to about 4000 people who own livestock (we saw cows goats and chickens…all within the fort walls) and set up all sorts of shops and restaurants for the tourists who visit.  One local business owner told us that Jaisalmer’s tourism industry is vital for about 70% of the population.  This fort is a big part of that industry.

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A view of the fort from the city

 

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citizens set up shop

We met some really fantastic people in Jaisalmer.  One man asked us if we needed directions and before we knew it, we were up in his inherited Haveli, which is a sort of mini-palace where royalty once lived.  For 6 generations, his family has had this haveli, and instead of charging tourists to come see it (which many locals do), he offers free tours and shows us the handicrafts that he sells for the women in small villages that surround Jaisalmer.  He sells everything at such a great price we bought some things we hadn’t planned on both for ourselves and as gifts.

Another woman was a true inspiration…

Many women in India lead difficult lives.  Traditionally, women were expected to throw themselves on their deceased husbands’ cremation fires because they could not be expected to live without them.  Today, this practice is banned, but widows are still very badly treated.  Because women are expected to stay home with children and to cook and clean, when their husbands (who are typically older than they are) die, they are left without the means to survive.  Bellisima is a company that helps those women as well as many other womens’ groups.  

They sell textiles, jewelery, scarves, trinkets and other souvenires to help women who are in need.  They also empower women to make their own income…even if that means using their limited free time to do so.

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And widows are not the only group of women who need help.  Women aren’t throwing themselves on funeral pyres anymore, but rape victims are often blamed for the crimes committed against them, and family shunning is common.  The woman we spoke to here had been disowned by her husband’s family because she wanted to use her education to help women in India.  Luckily, she married a man who supports her decision, allowing her to work hard and begin to change the mindset that women are second class citizens.

I purchased a scarf and Dave and I chose a beautiful table cloth that was hand stitched by local women.  It was more than we intended to spend that day, but this is the type of place that I want to support.  I can buy a scarf in any bazaar of any city, but to support a movement that is helping change India for the better…that’s a scarf I will wear with pride!

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Why not buy something beautiful and support a good cause all at once?  Above is one of many wall hangings you can purchase at Bellisima.  I didn’t get any photos of my scarf yet because it is still packed up…

This is our last night in Rajesthan, and tomorrow we’ll be heading to the beautiful beaches of Goa!  Before I go though, here’s a funny picture to finish my post with:  there was a cricket match playing in this shop…

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Thanks for stopping by!

Pilgrimage to Pushkar

Oh Rajesthan:  The contrast continues!

I am writing this post from the lobby of our hotel because the internet doesn’t work in our room (it also barely works here…I’ve resorted to typing this up in Wordpad and I plan to copy and paste it later).  The internet on our phones has been working beautifully, but I’m nearly out of data now so Wifi is becoming increasingly important.  It doesn’t seem that the hotels in India care to spend more than they have to on their guests, so the toilet paper provided is minimal, the internet is sketchy if it exists at all and the facilities in the rooms are minimal at best.  For anyone who isn’t well traveled, I can’t imagine India being a very enjoyable place.  For those of us who have stayed in the cockroach infested hostels of southern China though, it’s been bareable enough.  I’m happy to have read many blogs ahead of time and I came prepared with my hair dryer and we’ve been buying toilet paper in town when we start to run low.

 

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This is our 3rd stop in this desert province, and we are so far impressed by both its beauty and also by the unique characteristics that define each city.  Jaipur, the pink city, was buzzing with bazaars that are a clausterphobic’s nightmare.   Udaipur’s peaceful lake gives the city a much calmer feel, but as soon as you enter the street, you are once more overwhelmed by the shopkeepers and rickshaw drivers.  Pushkar, our current destination, is different yet.  It’s a sleepy town (as far as India’s concerned) and the fact that it is a pilgrimage destination gives both its cuisine and its tourists some different traits.

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On the surface, all Bazaars may look the same, but this was one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen.  It was much more relaxed with a lot less traffic than others we’ve seen in India

Pushkar is one of 5 important pilgrimage sights in India (we’ll be visiting a second, Varinasi, later in our trip).  People travel here to see the holy lake where Brahma, a Hindu god, was said to drop a lotus flower (India’s national flower).  Some of Ghandi’s ashes were also scattered in this lake, so it is definitely an interesting little stop

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Pushkar Lake

People are far less pushy in Pushkar and many of the prices in the bazaar are fixed.   Even when prices aren’t stated right upfront, the barganing is way less brutal, so we did some clothes shopping while we were there.  Without rickshaws everywhere, it was a lot less stressfull here than it had been in Udaipur.  I don’t think we’d have wanted to do more than 1 day in Pushkar, but overall, the time we spent there was very much enjoyed.

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One aspect of Pushar though, was not quite to our taste, so to speak.  Because it is such a holy place, meat is non-existant there, and it was even impossible to get eggs.  This wasn’t too big of a deal for me, because my stomach took a turn for the worse in Udaipur and I was mostly just nibbling on french fries, but Dave wasn’t too pleased!  As I write this now, we are in Jaisalmer, and I have to admit that after nearly a week of strict vegetarian diet, Dave and I were very excited to order meat for dinner tonight!!

We did make some animal friends though, so that made up for the lacking diet…

My absolute favorite part of Pushkar though was neither the markets nor the lake.   Our hotel had a very special tenant that made my stay in this small city…

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A Great Dane with floppy ears and a sweet disposition

We called him Frankie because we didn’t know his actual name (or if he even had one…) and not only was he friendly and incredibly sweet, but he was also an excellent judge of character!  While he adored us, leaning up against me and always asking for more scratches… he HATED our driver, Prama.  We don’t like him either, and I think Frankie could sense that because as soon as Prama came near us, this loveable dog would start barking at him until he left.  This dog stole my heart…

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The best part was that Prama was terrified of this goofball!!!  Gawd I love Danes!!!!!

Tomorrow we head out on our desert safari!  I’m very much looking forward to writing about it!  Until then, I’ll leave you with some pictures of the beautiful Rajesthani countryside.

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We have seen SO MANY monkeys!  These are Black Monkeys: just 1 of 15 species of monkey found in India
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Our driver made himself useful today and took us to a migration sight for Demoiselle Cranes.  They spend 5 months away from their home, in Russia, and they’ve chosen this spot in Rhajesthan because Jaine Monks were feeding them regularly.  Today we saw about 1000 of these birds.

Internet permitting, I’ll be back upon our return from a night out in the desert!!!