I don't know why I have been putting off writing for so long... its not as though I am short on news. We have been doing heaps of travel and I am slowly ticking off my 'must see in India' list.
Where do I begin? Well... my sister Julie and her husband Michael arrived in early March. There arrival triggered a very busy and packed itinerary of site seeing and travel.
Initially after they arrived Ray and Mike took off to the Anderman Islands to see the work Mike and Julie's church support. While they were gone Julie the kids and I spent time hanging out at the ashram and site seeing in Delhi. Up until Julie's arrival I had put off being a tourist in Delhi as I figured at some point we would have some visitors and we could do it then.
Sites we covered in Delhi included Humayan's tomb (an impressive precursor to the Taj Mahal), the Lotus temple and the Q'tub Minar. We also spent some time at Sarojini-the best market in the world!!!
On our site seeing trips Sam took over my camera and became our official photographer. He took some impressive shots and experimented with framing his subjects within the available surrounds.
During this time I also had to say goodbye to Ruth and Jake as they would be heading off on the final leg of their journey before heading home to NZ. Now that I am back at the ashram and into normal routine I really feel its not the same without them...blah.
One of the highlights of touring Delhi would have to be Delhi by Cycle. It is a tour company organised by a Dutch guy, which involves touring around the old city of Delhi early in the morning by bicycle. So one Saturday morning the six of us set off at 6.30am to be in Delhi by 7.30 to set off for a 3 hour ride.
It was so much fun weaving through the narrow lane-ways of Old Delhi just as it is coming alive in the morning. Hundreds of people greeted us as we wove through the streets avoiding cows, goats, dogs and poop. Our first stop on the tour was for chai not far from the banks of the Yamuna. As part of the tour we where supposed to go for a early morning row, but the pollution of the river was too bad; the black water looked so thick you could have walked on it. From the chai stand we visited the 'home for disabled cows' ... and that's all I am going to say about that!
We continued our ride taking in more of the sites of Old Delhi such as the Jama Masjid Mosque and the Red Fort. Towards the end of out ride we stopped in at the world famous Karim's restaurant for breakfast where we had there speciality of goat's trotters with the most delicious flat bread.
By the time breakfast was over Old Delhi was getting pretty busy and the ride was becoming slightly more challenging with many more obstacles and much traffic to avoid on the way.
Without a doubt bicycle is one of the best ways to see Old Delhi and this tour should be compulsory for any Delhi tourist.
For the rest of the day we did a bit more site seeing, picked up our tailor made jeans ($12) and saw a few more markets all in between the kids soccer games. That night we were catching the overnight train to Udaipur and I have to say with such an early start it was just about one of the longest days of my life.
The 12 hour overnight train to Udaipur restored my faith in Indian Railways. If you have been following my blog for sometime you will know that our first train experience was not the best- the train left 6 hours late, then the 24 hour trip took 36 hours and someone tried to rob us in the middle of the night. The trip to Udaipur however, made up for that experience- the train was clean and on time and with little disruption during the night. I now know the key with train travel is to take the express trains or fly!
We arrived at Udaipur at around 7am and took a rickshaw to our hotel. The hotel we stayed at was wonderful; even though we arrived long before check in they gave us a temporary room to use until our room was ready. (I have to say Trip Advisor is the best website on earth for choosing well priced excellent hotels).
The Lake Pichola Hotel was a converted mansion right on the lake. We had a lake view room with views of the Old City and the Lake Palace.
Udaipur is a city surrounded by mountains and is famous for its lakes and palaces. Udaipurs modern claim to fame is the Lake Palace appearing in the James Bond movie Octopussy. In fact the movie is played at 7pm every night in most of the Udaipur cafes. This was something I planned to see while in Udaipur but alas I am still yet to actually watch a Bond movie.
We stayed in Udaipur for 3 days and I loved it! Even though we were there in peak season it was so quiet compared to Delhi. I loved wandering around the Old city browsing at the shops, many of which sold the intricate two dimensional paintings that Rajasthan is famous for.
We did our fair share of site seeing while in Udaipur, taking in three of the palaces as well as temples and the views of Udaipur from the Monsoon Palace. As much as I enjoyed these sites the highlight of my time in Rajasthan was sitting cross legged in the courtyard of one of the simpler hotels having painting lessons with Madan. I had a 2-3 hour lesson each day with one of the kids joining me on alternate days. If I was really organised I would take some photos of the finished product and attach it to the blog but alas I am not :)
From Udaipur we took another overnight train to Jaipur; the capital of Rajashtan. Once again we got in early and took a rickshaw to our hotel. The hotel was cheap yet wonderful... another credit to Trip Advisor.
After breakfast we walked from our hotel to the pink walled old city of Jaipur. Jaipur was not really what I had expected; although it has a long history, it does not feel as old as Delhi or Agra. We spent the morning exploring the City Palace and wandering through the old city spotting camels and the occasional elephant (all tame). That afternoon after a short siesta we drove out to the Amber to see the fort. Our driver, Gurdial had driven down from Delhi that morning and was spending the rest of the trip with us. He is such a great guy and enjoyed seeing the sites of his country as much as we did, albeit for a tenth of the price...but fair is fair.
Ray nearly made the trip very costly for Gurdial after he told him to keep driving when the police tried to pull us over because Ray was not wearing his seat belt. As it was we had to do a U-turn and the police pulled us over on our way back. After much hoohaa Ray (once again) got out of a fine and we were on our way.
Don't ask me how many forts I have seen in India, but the Amber fort was by far one of the more impressive. At the Amber fort I hired a guide; he pointed out lots of interesting details and explained to us what it would have looked like back in the day with its thick rugs, velvet curtains and ornate furnishings.
If you are ever after a guide don't ask me to pick one... our guide at Amber was about 100 years old and had to sit down when he spoke as he was breathless from emphysema.
We spent one night in Jaipur and the next morning we headed off early for Agra.
So this was my second trip to Agra and hopefully my last. Although the city has some fairly impressive history and monuments I don't like it. It is dirty chaotic and certainly not what you would expect from a city that is raking in a tonne of money for one of the most prominent tourist attractions in the world. Also, avoiding the numerous touts and people trying to sell you hunks of marble becomes unbearable in a very short time.
The first thing we did on arriving in Agra was head straight for the Taj Mahal. Last time I visited was during November when it was far less crowded and not nearly as hot. We did not find a guide so I did my best at showing Julie and Michael some of the more interesting features and telling the what history I could from memory.
Once again we had fun taking lots of crazy photos and just enjoying the sight.
After the Taj we checked into our hotel and had a quick bite before heading out to see the Agra fort. Last time at the fort I did not have a guide and I felt that we missed out on some of the key features and history. This time we had a great guide (engaged by Ray) who took us through the fort and pointed out many of the things we had simply overlooked last time.
A guide is a must if you ever go to the Agra Fort. I was hoping he would be able to sneak us into the closed to the public mirrored bathroom, but as there was no guard on duty to unlock it (for a small fee) we could only peer through some very small and dirty windows :(
As much as I don't like Agra with all its hassles and touts our Agra Fort guide was fantastic and the cycle rickshaw wallahs were honest, interesting and helpful.
After staying overnight in Agra we headed back to Delhi. The chaos and traffic that welcomed us was particularly horrendous.
We stayed one night in Delhi before flying out to Goa at midday the next day.
We were allso looking forward to this week away in Goa, especially after such a full on schedule. During our time in Goa we were not tourists but rather just enjoyed reading by the pool, walking to the beach for a quick swim and eating much missed seafood. I managed to eat seafood everyday while I was in Goa, but was a little disappointed that all the prawns were grilled or fried.... I really miss vivid orange and white chilled prawns.
After a few days of being extremely lazy Ray, Sam, Hunter and I decided to head out of the resort and explore a bit more of Goa. We hired a couple of motor scooters and headed north to explore the coast line, Hunter was my pillion passenger and Sam with Ray. It has been ages since I last rode a scooter and I had forgotten how much fun it is, especially in a place like Goa where the roads are flat and winding and shaded by hundreds of palm trees. I would hate to ride a scooter around chaotic Delhi but Goa felt like being in another country.
After some time exploring and enjoying the ride we pulled into one of the northern beaches for a swim. It was a little different from the beach where we were staying, with a lot more Indian tourists, rather than the multitude of Russians. There was even a cow sunbathing on the beach :)
From the beach we started heading back to our hotel. Along the way we pulled into a hair salon so Sam could get a haircut. The advertised price for a haircut was 20 rupees (50 cents)... even cheaper than Delhi. Ray felt bad and payed $1.
We managed to get a little lost on the way back to the resort, but were rescued by Google maps... got to love it.
Not much else to report on our time in Goa. Except perhaps that I would not necessarily recommend it to Australians as a beachside resort holiday destination. Australia's beaches are by far nicer and if you are looking for an OS beach holiday Indonesia, Malaysia or Thailand would be the go. So, would I go to Goa again if I was desperate to see the ocean while in India?....probably not, next time perhaps we will try Sri Lanka.
Back to Delhi
We have been back in Delhi and the ashram for a week now and the weather is really hotting up. Each day sees temperatures in the late 30s, dropping to the early 20s overnight. By next week the temperature will hit the 40s and the night-time reprieve will no longer occur. I think we have made the right decision to head home for the two hottest months of the year.
Potentially this could be my last blog for sometime. Frankly I have lost my writing verve and am finding it difficult to write about life at the ashram. Also I doubt I will have time to fit another blog in between rafting in Rishikesh and heading home. So until early July...