Monday the 19th, another early rise in order to hit the road for a 300 km drive to Jodphur. 300 km might not seem to be much but it still took us more than 6 hours through a desolate and dry landscape. Nothing seemed to happen whilst driving so it might not be a surprise we fell asleep a couple of times.
Around 13.30 we arrived in Jodphur were we were greeted by our local representative and guide and after lunch we headed straight to the Mehrangarh Fort (Yes another one ;-), this was without doubt the best preserved and beautiful fort we visited so far. Also this was one of the strongholds during the time of the silk route. The fort was massive with latticed windows, carved panels and beautifully decorated windows. There was a large collection of musical instruments and royal costumes which made our quest through the labyrinth of corridors very interesting and worthwhile. Jodphur is also known as the blue city and seen from high above in the fort we could indeed see why that was the case. Most of the houses were in a fantastic shade of blue (blue is the color of the Bramhas) which gave it quite a surreal appearance, Wow!
Closely to the fort was located Jaswant Thada, a 19th century cenotaphs, erected in white marble. Although hardly as impressive as the Taj Mahal we still enjoyed this beautiful mausoleum and the good views at the fort.
Back in the hotel it was time to wash off the travel and sightseeing dust and sweat so it was pool time! The pools were certainly things to look forward to after a long day of traveling though it surprised us how cold the water was at places, this one was no exception.
In the evening we were picked up by Param again who brought us to a spice and teashop. Hmm, shopping time again! We ended up with a good collection of Massala’s (spice blends) so I guess once home we need to start practicing cooking Indian. Done with shopping we made a short stroll over the local evening market. This was a quite dirty one, not very fancy at all but it reflects real life in India which is a hard life for the locals.
Monday the 19th, another long drive… Another 290 km to go… And I was not looking forward to this as my stomach had been restless since yesterday and there were some signs of a mild Delhi Belly. The first part we drove through the same dry desert landscape we had already seen for days so it was Ipod time again (And Ipod means close your eyes and doze away…). We had to stop several times for a sanitary break and fortunately things went quite ok regarding that. Halfway we had a stop at one of the most significant Jain temples in the area, the Chaumukha temple which was definitely worth a stop. The temple has an enormous basement with over 4000 beautifully crafted pillars. There were a lot of pilgrims around and everywhere small ceremonies were taking place. In the inner sanctum, which was open to all 4 sides a four faced image was enshrined which caught the attention of most worshippers.
Back on the road the landscape quickly changed, it became much greener and hillier so the iPods went off and we kept attention to the beautiful scenery around us. We had one final stop for a drink and another sanitary break before we finally made it to Udaipur, far too late so the representative had been waiting quite a while for us. Sorry, it was due to multiple calls of nature… neither Paul or myself felt hungry so we skipped that and went to bed early.
When we woke up I still did not feel 100% but decided to go on the sightseeing anyway, the guide was a bit ehh grumpy (or did it have to do with the fact I was not feeling well), especially as I had to make two stops before he could even start his story and the tour. The first stop was the Jagdish temple and this was India pure! Worshippers wore playing their instruments and singing, a woman was dancing, lots of Sadhu’s (holy men) around, what a fantastic experience, I guess this is how most people envision India, the music, the incense; it almost seemed the dancer was in trance. Of course we stayed here much longer than our guide anticipated and finally he dragged us away to see the city palace.
Now do you remember I wrote there were loads of local tourists due to the Diwaly holiday? I can only say welcome to the madness. As soon as we had entered the palace we knew we had made a mistake. Herds of people pushing and rushing their way in (Guess when the Brits ruled they forgot to teach the Indians the art of queuing) and once we had entered there was no way back. The palace was a large collection of rooms which were as we had already experienced before connected by a maze of corridors. And these mazes were crowded, crowded, crowded… Oh dear, not for the faint of heart or people with the slightest form of claustrophobia. It was so crowded we could hardly enjoy the different rooms.
At one point I really had enough hen somebody was constantly pushing in my back so I forced my elbow backward straight into the stomach of the person behind me, followed by a sound like Aaarrggh, I immediately felt bad because of that but sometimes things can become a bit to much to handle and this was certainly one of those occasions. There was no way but going with the flow, the air was bad, people everywhere, what a place to be….. Halfway we asked our guide (still being his grumpy old self) if there was no shortcut and there was… We passed a couple of signs of ‘no entry’, skipped the queens palace and 10 minutes later we exited trough a ‘no exit’ door and found some place to breath again. We were glad to be out as it had not been the nicest of experiences. The whole time in the palace there where only two things going through our minds: what if there is a fire, what if panic breaks out which was not unlikely with this density of people. But we were out, in one piece a bit shaken, not stirred so things were fine.
And even better, we were off to a much more quite place, Sahiliyon-ki-bari, the fountain garden. This was built especially for the wives of the Maharana (Yes that’s right, in Udaipur the official total for the king was Maharana, instead of Maharaja which is in use in the rest of Rhajastan). A relatively quiet place, some nice fountains, beautiful gardens and… Breathing space…
After our visit at the gardens we went back close to the city palace…. Oh well, I almost forgot to tell that Udaipur is also known as the city of lakes. It’s surrounded by hills and has three lakes. We were going for a boat ride on lake Pichola, which is the most beautiful of the three and lies directly next to the city palace. (ok, you’re right, it’s the other way around, the city palace is adjacent to the lake). Centrally in the lake there’s another palace, which is now converted into a hotel and a small island where we had a beer (we decided to skip lunch as prices were skyrocket high). Once back on the shore we strolled back to the hotel and decided to call it a day for sightseeing. I started off with a very relaxing herbal massage followed by a steam bath (oh joy, sitting in a box full of steam with just my head poking out so I could breath normally). It was magic and I felt the stress getting out of my system whilst the sweat was pouring out of my pores). After that the bar brought even more relief from all experiences of the day and with the rum being on special it turned out to be a good end of the day after all.
Today we had a free day….. So what to do. We had been asked whether we were not getting tired of all the impressions yet and yes, we must admit yesterday was such a day… Therefore we decided for a little break and went to a related hotel from the one where we stay (which is in the center of town and has no pool) and spent a day working very hard on our tans and doing… nothing at all. The hotel was beautifully located next to a wild park where deer came to drink water at the small lake close to the hotels and monkeys were hunted by the waiters when they came to close to us. It was a beautiful day and brought exactly that what we needed, a relaxing time. We had a splendid lunch and now we are back in our own hotel the both of us feel much, much better. The break could not have come at a better time and now we were ready for some more days of traveling before we finally get to a rest point in our trip.
The trip from Udaipur to Pushkar was another 275 km. The first part was still green and hilly but pretty soon we returned to a dry desert landscape. Early afternoon we checked in at the Jagat Palace which was amazing indeed, we had a nice lunch after we went “downtown” Pushkar. The village was preparing itself for the annual camel fare, a fun fair was being setup and the town boosted with activities. It was nice and crowded with pilgrims and pilgrims wannabee’s (it was amazing how many western hippies were around who, attracted by widely available drugs, seemed to have lost the plot somewhere and spent, or should I say wasted, their time walking stoned through the streets of Pushkar. Drugs are illegal in India; however, the holy men (Sadhu’s) use it more or less legally as a way to enhance their spiritual openness, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna….. We sometimes wondered who was most out of this world, guess the Westeners won. In spite of this estranging site the atmosphere was fantastic, we visited the most important Brahma temple in India (the Creator) which was a nice sight, we avoided the bathing area’s for the pilgrims as Param had warned us the touts could be pretty horrible in trying to persuade to buy flowers to pay respect to the holy lake…
As said the atmosphere was great and we enjoyed watching people in all colors and shapes. The street was one big marketplace and a fantastic vibe was in the air. Still I felt pretty tired though so we returned to the hotel at 18.00. I went for a short nap, which lasted about 3 hours and by the time I was more or less awake Paul was ready to go to bed so I remained where I was not to wake up before 07.00…. a 13 hour sleep…. Oops!
Totally relaxed the next morning we returned to the streets of Pushkar, yesterday we were so impressed I did not make any photos at all so today it was time to do the photo run. It was such a great place to make pictures of people, a photographer’s paradise…. Camels on the street, holy cows, pilgrims, women in their colorful saris, India pur sang… Amazingly there were not so many hippies around at this time of the day, guess they all still must be enjoying their ‘sweet dreams’.
Our last stop of the tour was Samode, a beautiful village in a rural area, not far from Jaipur. We stayed at the Samode Bagh, the royal gardens of the maharaja of Samode. The entrance was breathtaking. We walked about 10 minutes through the formal gardens which were scattered with fountains. Actually the lifeline of the garden towards the central building was one large fountain, amazing and another moment of being speechless…. At the local buildings the pool was located, not to big but totally in marble laid in with floral decorations. Behind the building was another huge park with the reception area and…. 40 tented bungalows!!! We were received very warm and friendly and immediately felt at home. Our tented bungalow was amazing, we could hardly believe our eyes. Paul tried to do some horse riding but all horses were scheduled for the gala dinner at the palace tonight, oh well, Goa is another chance.
We spent the afternoon at the pool and in the evening Param picked us up to bring us to the palace for dinner. Entering the palace was a different story, huge steps leading to the entrance, paved with a wide red carpet, we were really happy we dressed up for the occasion and did not show up in shorts, that would have been embarrassing. As we still had some time before dinner we got a short tour through the most important rooms of the palace, which were beautifully decorated, oh joy, the lifestyle of the happy few. In one of the courtyards we had our pre-dinner drink after which we were guided to the restaurant. We could choose between a table inside our outside so we opted for a lovely al fresco dinner.
We felt a bit guilty that whilst enjoying ourselves Param was waiting for us outside. Shortly we had considered inviting him but being convinced he would not have been in his comfort zone in this surroundings we skipped that idea. It turned out to be a wise decision after we saw the place.
One final long drive. Samode to Delhi, another 300 kilometers, yippee….. We had a break at Param’s village where we met his parents. It was really nice there but with them hardly speaking any English it was a bit difficult to keep the conversation going. After a lovely chai (Tea) we hit the road again and mid afternoon we approached Delhi. It was a bit of a shock to see how crowded it was and the skyscrapers filling the horizon, we had not seen anything like that the last couple of weeks.
The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Param, he brought us to the airport where we said goodbye. We arrived as customers but left as friends.
Our flight to Mumbai was delayed with 2 hours and therefore we missed our connecting flight to Goa, well, things get better in India as a precaution we had already booked on the next flight as well just in case… Well, our original flight had already departed and the new one, hmm, was delayed. We still made it to Goa and arrived over there at the end of the afternoon. The hotel was in one word brilliant but the pool was the main thing…. It was great. At the pool bar we met a couple of young students who were on an exchange program in Bangalore and we had a great time together. Dinner at the restaurant was great but we decided not to join them clubbing, we’re to old for that 😉
The next day we had breakfast, went to the pool and stayed there the rest of the day doing absolutely nothing….. At sunset we enjoyed a couple of cocktails after which we found a nice local restaurant for dinner. Goa reminded me a bit of Bali 20 years ago, all still very rough and no sophistication at all, still very laid back though and it was a nice change we could walk around and not be constantly hassled.
An early night, an early rise and… more pool time. The last three weeks have been fantastic but also very hectic and in order to finally get some rest the pool was the ideal place to stay and the only work we did was working on our tans and swim to the bar for a refreshing kingfisher….
In the evening we went out with the youngsters to a nice restaurant and ended up having to many old monk rum 😉 It was a great evening though we did not go to bed until 04.30 and that was the first time this holiday, normally that was the time to slowly get up 😉
In spite of getting to bed that late we were the first ones up and by 10.00 we found a sunny place at the pool again and spent our time over there until 13.30 when it was time to say goodbye, get our backs and head back to the airport.
Our flight was in time but unfortunately the hotel had not send out a driver for so we spent some time at arrivals before we decided to take a taxi instead. When we arrived at the hotel they were very apologetic but we did tell we were not amused. The room was perfect though, at the 14th floor with a nice sight over Mumbai.
After breakfast we took a taxi to the Gate of India where we started an interesting stroll through the area. Now I must admit Mumbai was not as crowded and dirty as I had expected though there was still enough to be enjoyed for all senses, sight and smell. We ended up at a market place where the smells were ehh quite.. strong (that’s the understatement of the year) The buildings had some great history around them and sometimes we felt like being in the middle of Batman’s Gotham city… It was amazing to see these glorious buildings from the past in a state that has certainly seen better days. It was very interesting though and we enjoyed it a lot, think the both of us had eyes to short to see everything around us, Mumbai is a hustling and bustling city and we did enjoy it a lot (at least the bit we have seen so far) though definitely a place to live, Guess the crowdedness and dirt would drive us crazy in the end.
In the afternoon we went for a splurge and visited the Taj hotel (Yes the same one that was under attack last year) for a high tea. It’s Mumbai’s most famous landmark (well, maybe after the gate of India to which it lies close) so we could not leave Mumbai without having enjoyed a traditional English splurge… We ended up spending a couple of relaxing hours before we took a taxi back to our hotel.
Our final day we strolled around a bit more and visited a modern shopping mall, it was weird to see the Rolls Royce dealer on one side of the street and the Jaguar dealer on the other side, what a contrast with the slums. Neither of us could believe time flew by so quickly. In less then 4 weeks time we fell very much in love with India. It was a good experience to see how things in India run, sometimes a bit hard to handle for western people but that’s life. On the other hand, since we arrived in India we were so absolutely spoiled and the service has been of such a high standard that it will be tough to get back to western standards….
Sunday morning, 03.00, take off… We left Mumbai in time and started our 9 hour journey to Brussles. Time’s Up! It’s been an eye opening holiday and both of us really enjoyed it. The differences in what we’ve seen, the lasting impressions, the people, the food. This was definitely not the last time we’ve been to India.
As usual the last couple of years we started our journey on the internet. There I found an Indian Travel Organization called Savion. During our numerous e-mail contacts they proved to be very flexible and were able to fulfill all our wishes. It turned out to be an excellent choice to book out trip with them as it has been a schoolbook example of how an organized tour should be. The both of us can wholeheartedly recommend them to you (On our next trip to India we will for sure use their services again!). To all of you at Savion who were involved to make this trip possible we would like to say a big thank you. Surender and Neeraj, Thanks for replying to our numerous emails and organizing this trip. Sanjeh, thanks for taking care of us, wherever we were on our adventure. To all the local guides and the representatives you have been fabulous. And last but not least, Param, thanks for driving us everywhere, your patience and your friendship! We’ll never forget you!
To all the people in India:
We will be back !!
Sahib Marc and Sahib Paul