Report on Trip to India - Part 2 (long)
Posted on Jun 28, 2013 by
Hi - My India travelogue continues...
This morning, Saturday, November 8, we left the hotel at 5:45 for the Taj Mahal. I spent a very unpleasant night with my nose dripping constantly along with coughing. Fortunately, I had brought along my puffer so that helped somewhat. Upon arrival, we got in the Taj check in lines - men in one line and women in the other. It was not the greatest day for picture taking as it was very hazy. However, the first sight of the Taj was breathtaking and in the mist appeared almost ethereal. The beautiful pure white marble inlaid with so many semi-precious stones is absolutely amazing. Of course, our group posed for pictures which turned out very well and I had my picture taken on what has come to be known as the "Diana bench". We spent close to an hour there and in the grounds. The inside of the Taj, which is actually a mausoleum, isn`t much to see.
We returned to the hotel for breakfast and then proceeded on to the Red Fort, a huge and imposing sandstone structure across the river from the Taj Mahal. It was here that Shah Jehan who had the Taj built, was imprisoned by his own son. He was destined to spend his days gazing across the river at the beautiful structure he built in memory of his late wife, Mumtaz. Our group proceeded on to the "baby Taj" - I skipped that because I wasn`t feeling that great and they all told me I didn`t miss much. I did some shopping at the hotel where the prices were very reasonable and there was even a post office. I was able to purchase a sheet of Taj Mahal stamps and do some postcards. That evening, we attended an outdoor barbecue with a colourful puppet show and a very good dinner of grilled chicken, shrimp and sausage, beautiful baked potatoes, fresh vegetables, soup, fresh fruit and ice cream for dessert.
Sunday, November 9 saw us on our way to Jaipur. On the way, we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri, a palace complex which originally was surrounded by a city. Apparently, the occupants kept many wives and concubines who were housed in different levels of the buildings. The ride along an Indian highway is always an experience. It is not unusual to see residents "relieving themselves" in a field or alongside the road, sometimes with a bucket of water and a cloth for cleansing. We also came upon a "bull pool" - bulls are walking along the road towards their swimming pool and they appear to know exactly where to go and seem to enjoy their baths! Next stop was a very lovely bird sanctuary where we travelled in bicycle rickshaws again - we saw several varieties of large storks, cormorants and ibis.
Lots of highway construction, traffic congestion - dung carts, bicycles, motor scooter, busses, trucks, camels - unbelievable!! It took five hours on the road and we gave the bus driver a big round of applause for getting us safely to Jaipur and our hotel, the Dera Rawatsar. On the way into Jaipur, we saw at least 10 wedding parties - spectacular. We were later told that according to the horoscope, November 9 was a most auspicious day for a wedding to take place. The grooms are dressed in all white with a jewelled head dress and ride on a white horse. One was preceded by a brass band and another wedding procession also had a camel and an elephant. The hotel is very quaint with brass padlocks on the doors and local furnishings and quilts. Dinner was awaiting us - tomato soup, salad, rice, chicken curry, okra, cauliflower, some kind of potato dumplings followed by rice pudding and accompanied by more Kingfisher beer.
Our wake up call was to be for 6AM - however, at 5:20 I awoke to the sound of the muezzin calling Muslims to prayers at the mosque - could be heard all over the city I`m sure and went on for quite some time. Religion in India is a daily way of life. Unlike Christians who "church" on Sundays, it is integral to each and every day, in particular the Muslims. However, the Hindus have a god for just about everyone in the whole country of India!
One observation I want to make is that just about everywhere we go, we have to pay a camera charge. The price is usually always 25 rupees. Five rupee notes and coins are always in short supply. If you give 30 rupees to the attendant, you would expect 5 rupees in change. NEVER DO THEY HAVE CHANGE!!
My throat is sore again even though I did purchase some throat lozenges. My head is also stuffy - this cold does not want to go away.
While our accommodation at the Dera Rawatsar is authentically Rajhastani, I prefer the more modern version of a hotel. I am one of the lucky ones on the ground floor where I have hot water flowing automatically from the taps - the upstairs folk have to tinker with the taps as they are on solar power. To get in to the bathtub, you have to climb on to a marble platform which I did not attempt for fear of falling. I washed my hair using the hand held shower and that worked. TV is tricky too - had to give one of the guys 10 rupees last night to get it going but now unable to get it on again, not that there is much to watch. The hotel was originally a private home. The female owner came out from
"purdah" (from behind the veil) and became the first female Indian Member of Parliament - she is still alive and now 93 years of age.
Our arrival at Amber Fort was early in order to beat the crowds and it only took about half an hour to get to our elephant. What a hoot! I loved it! I rode on the elephant with Betty from Rocky Mountain House, B.C. All the elephants are decorated and it was quite an experience. Amber Fort was spectacular and I took lots of photos and video. We had a great lunch at the Pink Palace Restaurant of tandoori chicken - fantastic! Then it was to the market for 20 minutes of power shopping - two pairs of pants and a shirt for Christmas giving. Last stop of the day was the Civic Museum of the various Maharajas which was very interesting. Arriving back at the hotel, I managed to get in a swim. We had a great dinner featuring mutton stew, eggplant, pumpkin and lovely potatoes which were very sweet. Dessert was some kind of noodle pudding and things that looked like deep fried onion rings - all the desserts here are very sweet. Surprise - it`s Betty`s birthday and we have a beautiful dark chocolate birthday cake!
Off to bed and an awful night of coughing and dripping! I woke up at 3:30 and watched "Cold Case" on TV for an hour, turned out the lights and went back to sleep, only to be again jolted awake by the call to morning prayers. My head is still stuffy and the medication just is not doing the trick. I also have some laryngitis this morning and coughing - at least half of us on the bus have now caught "the cold".
We actually had a very pleasant ride after leaving Jaipur to Pushkar on our way to the camel fair. It was a newer highway but as we drew closer to Pushkar, it became two lanes. We had two very "near misses" to the point that Aili, our guide, told the bus driver "shanti, shanti" which I believe means to slow down. The tented camp is Pushkar is something to see - we were greeted with fragrant leis made of roses and given a cold drink, along with Rajhastani entertainment. My tent has two single beds, carpets, and a private bathroom with a flush toilet. However, hot water must be ordered in advance. Our camp is the Royal Safari Club.
There are thousands of people and animals here - Dromedary camels, sheep, goats, horses, cows, etc. Many camels are highly decorated with camel judging beauty contests. We have 30 tents in our camp in each double row with a main dining tent. I think there are probably about 200 guests in the camp and the food is exceptional.
We went through the fairgrounds this afternoon after arriving there via camel cart. It was a cacophony of crowing, barking, braying, shouting, music and dance. All the women are in spectacularly coloured dresses with most carrying tin cups to collect money after having had their pictures taken. There are also acrobats, snake charmers musicians, food booths and carnival rides. I had to climb on to a chair to get into the camel cart - the fellows weren`t holding it properly so of course I fell and got a big bruise on my leg. Our camel`s name is Krishna. At sunset, the group walked up a small hill and the setting was spectacular - the sun going down with the silhouette of tents and camels reminded me of childhood picture books - almost surreal.
Arriving back at camp about 6:30, we all met at the dining tent for dinner which was all vegetarian. No meat is allowed in Pushkar and until this year, no alcohol either. However, we are over the "county line" so to speak and booze is available if one wants it. There is a terrific amount of dust in the air because we are in the desert - it`s really aggravating my coughing. I deigned to take a sleeping pill tonight and had the best sleep I`ve had so far - bed was very comfortable.
Off we go again by camel cart - this time our camel is Mitou. I took along a bag of hotel shampoos with me and one child appeared on the way back and showed me that she had washed her hair. I passed out five shampoos, 1 talcum powder and 1 soap. Every child wants money and they are all selling something. The kids also have wooden violin like instruments and all they play is "Frere Jacques" - drives you nuts!
So many people, so many camels and so hot!! I bring along my sweat towel. One sure has to stay hydrated. I saw many lepers this morning and gave one poor soul 20 rupees. Moyra fell last night in the dark in her bathroom and thinks she broke her nose. Her face is a mess and she has two black eyes. I left my bathroom light on.
We went to the only temple in India devoted to Brahma - what a zoo!! They all take donations of money and sweets. Off came the shoes again and on went what we all refer to as our
"temple socks". We got 20 minutes to shop and I found a tshirt shop. Then we camel carted back for lunch after which we are leaving for Lake Pushkar for a "puja" blessing on us and our families by a resident holy man. He informed me I would have a long life, a big family and lots of money and then tried to shake me down for quite a large sum. Our guide was very upset about that as he also tried to extract money from everyone in the group. Lake Pushkar is the holiest lake in India - no picture taking of the lake is allowed - huge crowds of people in colourful dress, much noise and it all overwhelms the senses.
Again today, we had "Krishna the camel" who gives it his all in hauling the camel cart uphill complete with lots of flatulence!! Al from Mississauga stated that he thought "Krishna was going into overdrive!"
It is so dusty here we are all coughing and I`m almost asthmatic. Thank goodness for my puffer. I am looking forward to returning to civilization tomorrow and a hot shower. Plumbing at the camp is rudimentary and not conducive to showering. I also fell in the bathroom but managed to break the fall and only have a few bruises. Fortunately for me, I did not break my wrist when I landed. Tomorrow, we are off to Jodphur and will be able to get some washing done.(to be continued)