Category Archives: India

Posts made in India

Beach time in Goa and a day in Mumbai

Since I wrote the last update we’ve been very busy doing nothing but relaxing on the beach, its amazing how fast time flies by when your having fun!  After the hassles and stresses of our first three weeks its been great to put the backpacks down and do little but sunbathe and read a book.  I expected Goa to be very commerical and westernised but I was pleasantly surprised to find it still felt like India, at least in the bit we went to anyway.  If you come to Goa and want a quite time head for South Goa 😉

We ended up staying in Benaulim all week, we were going to go further south but we felt happy where we were and didn’t fancy more bus trips.  The guesthouse we stayed at was great, right on the beach which was both quiet and picturesque.  It wasn’t by any means luxurious but it was functional and cheap at 450 rupees a night, about £5!  It also had a fantastic restaurant with a wide menu ranging from veggie dishes to fresh fish, we eat well last week!  It was great to sit with some nice food looking out on the beach and sea, another world from our other India experiences!

The sunsets were great too:

The sea was a bit rough and there were strong currents so it wasn’t to safe to swim but we paddled about in the shallow water close to the beach.  Indian people were also messing around in the water and obviously enjoyed the beach as much as the tourists.  The Goan people were much more laid back than other Indian people we met, we hardly got hassled to buy anything – a pleasant change!

Unfortunately the time passed very fast in this paradise and before we knew it we were catching the train to Mumbai.  The train rides were one of my favourite experiences in India, much more comfortable than the buses and a nice way to speak to Indian people without them trying to sell you something!  The train took about 12 hours (overnight) from Goa to Mumbai and we arrived at 6am back into the ‘real’ India.

First impressions of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay under the British) were that it was busy and crowded but a lot cleaner and more organised than Delhi.  The city has a population of around 16 million people (not sure how they count this as people are everywhere and sleep anywhere) and around 50% of these people are deemed homeless – crazy!  Also no Rickshaws in the city centre, only taxis which were mainly batter old triumph style cars, and no cows!!!

We only had 24 hours in Mumbai  but we made the most of it and managed to take in quite a bit of the city by hiring a taxi for a few hours to take us around the main sights.  First stop was India Gate, constructed to commemorate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary in India in 1911, although it wasn’t completed until 1924.

It was being repaired when we visited but still a nice piece of architecture.  The sea is right behind the arch, although it was really scummy and smelt pretty nasty – no Goa!

We then headed across the city (which took a bit of time in the traffic) to the hanging gardens and towers of silence, a well maintained park which offers a respite from the busy city.  The towers of silence are a bit strange in that they are a place where corpses are taken to be consumed by vulchers.  Some Indians religion dictates that the human body cannot be mixed with the elements of fire, earth, and water therefore it is feed to these huge birds.  We couldn’t see any of this except for the birds circling high over the site, a bit morbid!

Next stop was Gandhi’s former residence in a suburb of the city, which is now a museum about his life.  Quite interesting to learn something about the man so many Indians consider as almost a saint.  I’d obviously heard of Gandhi but I didn’t realise what he did for the Indian people.  He lived a very simple life with only a few possessions, including lots of spinning wheels which he felt brought him closer to the people of India and the wheel would become an Indian symbol and now features on their flag.  One interesting exhibit was a letter Gandhi wrote to Hitler in 1939 to ask him to not start a war in Europe.  A very interesting and respectable man.  Here’s a photo of his house.

We then went to the Crawford market where you could pretty much by anything from fruit and veg to a tailor made suit.  It was an extremely busy place with many locals shopping there.  It was good to see how the locals shop though and the keenness of the sellers to make money!  The animal section was a bit sad though with puppies etc all caged up in grimy conditions and for sale, for what purpose I’m not sure.

There wasn’t to much that interested us to buy in the market so we headed down to the Colaba area which is where most of the tourists stay.  Lots of British architecture here including the train station known as ‘Victoria’ which from the outside looks like a government building and the Mumbai University buildings which has a tower not too dissimilar to Big Ben.

Colaba has lots a bazaar area aimed at the tourists selling souvenirs, clothes, copied CD/DVDs, and jewellery.  We spent a few hours buying some last minute souvenirs and it was enjoyable to do some negotiating with the sellers.  Lisa didnt like to haggle much so usually she would indicate to me she wanted an item and then I would haggle for it, I found that pretending I would go elsewhere to one of the many other identical stalls for the item at the price I wanted usually worked.  My best deal was getting a large elephant carving from 1000 rupees down to 600, saving me about £5 🙂

We were up early the next morning at 4am for the trek to the airport, about 30km north of the city.  On the way we saw many people sleeping in the street and lots of shanty style houses.  The most shocking shanty houses for me are the ones right next to the runway of the airport (the noise and pollution must be unbearable).  In this picture you can see how close the people live to the constant taking off planes, this is as we were on the runway.

We arrived back in the UK at about 5pm on Saturday and we immediately struck by how clean and green it was, no poo on the streets and no nasty smells and cows are crazily kept in fields!  We’ve had a great time in India, an amazing experience, but at times its been hard work and there’s nothing like the comforts of home!  After some time to reflect and unwind I think our experience will hit home, at the moment it all seems like another world.  I fancy going back and doing the north of the country in the Himalayas and into Nepal.  I can see why people either love or hate India, its a crazy place but it is so rewarding and culturally exciting and brings such a roller coaster of emotions its well worth a visit.  My advice is to take an open mind and leave the Western standards at home, once you learn how India ticks and can see past the grime it really is an amazing experience.

Some photos from our last week are here.

Thanks to all who have left messages, I’ve still got the travel bug and I’m sure the backpack wont be in the cupboard for too long….

Udaipur and on to Goa

We spent our last couple of days in Rajasthan in the city of Udaipur and we have found it to be one of our most favourite places so far.  Although it has a high population of over 800k people its relatively small by Indian standards, and we found it to be more organised and cleaner than the likes of Delhi and Jaipur.  The people seemed friendly too and although the usual salesmen hassled us it was a bit more low key than elsewhere, which was nice 🙂

Although I didn’t know it until we arrived here Udaipur is also famous as the filming location for the James Bond film Octopussy and when I saw this view it seemed familiar.

To celebrate the cities role in the film Octopussy is shown at pretty much every hotel and restaurant every night!  Of course we had to watch and it was interesting to see Roger Moore doing his thing around the city.  Although they say he flies into Delhi they show him arriving by helicopter in front of the Taj Mahal, which is 300km from Delhi and then next minute he’s fighting with a big guy in a turban in Udaipur about 500km away.  Octopussy has quite a few humorous almost slapstick moments and Moore is quite old in the film, James Bond stayed at a posh hotel and went on a Rickshaw but I didn’t see him suffering the grime and bumpy buses that we have!

Its easy to see why they used Udaipur in the film, its probably the most picturesque cities in India, set around a lake (which unfortunately is rapidly drying out as the last few years monsoons have been poor apparently) in the valley of surrounding mountains its almost a bit Rio de Janeiro!  The white building in the lake is the ‘Lake View Hotel’ (home of the rich baddy woman that Bond eventually beds in the film) and is one of the worlds poshest hotels apparently.  You can’t get there on foot, only by a boat, and afternoon tea is about 20 quid, we didn’t bother as it looked a bit pompous!

We visited the cities main sights which included the Jagdish temple, which seemed nice but not dissimilar to others we have seen – yep a bit templed/forted out 😉  The city palace was pretty spectacular though, still home to the current Maharanawe could only see a bit of it but it was one of the best palaces we have seen.  We took a  tour with a guide(who surprisingly spoke German!) and found it an interesting place.  The views across the lake and mountains were great and it must of been a pretty dominating place when it was built back in 1725.  Strangely from the outside it looks a bit like a big ocean liner.

The Fateh Sagar Lake itself is a bit dirty (this is India after all) and mosquito infested, but it does give the city a romantic feel.  The best views over the city are from the Monsoon Palace about 5km out of the city, so named as it was built high up on a mountain to avoid Monsoon floods.  Although it was only used by the royal family briefly and today its pretty derelict, which is the shame as its views are great.

The palace was also used in the film as the location for the baddy bloke and was used quite extensively in filming although it looks grander in the film than it does now.  We also went to the Sahelion Ki Bari gardens, which prove than Indians know how to keep somethings nice.  Its basically a park with lots of tropical flowers, fountains, and lotus pools a nice place to get away from the hustle of the city.  On the way back we stopped to check out the Maharana classic car collection, a bit sad I know but it was funny to see a load of Western cars in India.  Among the collection there we’re several Rolls Royces, Mercedes and even a Morris Minor!  Here’s us with a Rolls Royce Phantom 2, which as you probably guessed was used in the Bond film!

On our second day in Udaipur we spent the morning doing a cooking lesson.  We have loved the food in India (whats better than eating curry everyday!?!?)  and were keen to see how its prepared as whilst there are similarities its different to the Indian food we know at home (poppadoms, onion bhajis, tikka masala, etc don’t exist here).  Our lesson was at our teachers, Kamal, house in the city suburbs so we took a Rickshaw out there along with an English guy called Dan and a German girl called Eger who were also doing the lesson.  Although there wasn’t too much participation as we mainly watched as Kama prepared the food it was an interesting morning.  We went through preparing Veg. Pakoda (similar to Onion bhajis but smaller and with other veggies), Masala Chai (spicy milky tea), Malai Kofta (a tomato and potato based curry – really nice), Palak Paneer (Spinach and Cheese curry, they called all veg Saag here which I thought was Spinach), a Chickpea curry (forgot the name!), Alu Paranatha (potato stuffed Chapati which is fried), Chapatis, and Jeera Rice (cumin rice fried).  All were excellent and some of the best food we have had in India.  Apparently the foundation of all Indian cooking are seven important ingredients; Garam Masala, Turmeric, Salt, Cumin, Aniseed, Corriander, and Red Chilli.  We’ve purchase a few spices and are looking forward to giving it a go when we get home.

We have also been trying some chicken dishes in Udaipur and had a really great Tandoori Chicken, we’ve been eating well here!! 

Saturday morning we were up early to catch our flight to Goa, over a thousand km south on the west coast.  It was very luxurious taking a plane after the bumpy and grimey buses we have taken and it saved us loads of time too!  Although the flight was pretty pricey by European standards the service was excellent and we had some nice food on board.  We had to change in Mumbai and we surprised to see the close proximity of a shanty town to  the runway, little more than 20km away crazy!!  I will try and get a photo of it when we go back for our flight home.

So now we are in Goa, sea and endless beach, we are finally on holiday!  We got a taxi about 25km south of the airport to the quiet little village of Benaulim, we then walked about 1km along the beach to a little guesthouse called Anthy’s which is right on the beach, its great 🙂 

A little surprising to see a cow paddling in the sea, but hey this is India and cows rule!  Not much to report as we have been sunbathing and relaxing with a book.  Its the ‘off season’ because of the monsoon season and there aren’t too many tourists about, but we haven’t had rain yet and its really hot with clear blue skies, lovely 🙂  Also nice seafood here, which is caught locally (not thinking about the water quality) and tastes great – Tandoori Kingfish tonight I think.  We are here until Thursday and may go further South later in the week, but for now it’s nice to unwind and relax…

Udaipur photos here.

Jaisalmer, Camel Safari, and Ranakpur

I’ve been trying to write an update for a few days but power-cuts and loss of Internet connectivity are common in India and one or the other has always stopped me!  Our train from Jodhpur was on only 20 mins late (not bad for India) and we slept soundly through the night, in fact a bit too well the ticket inspector had to wake us up (it was 5:30am) as everyone had got off the train, luckily Jaisalmer was the last stop!

We had booked a hotel ahead so we found the hotels jeep waiting to pick us up, which was nice as we did’nt have to run the Rickshaw gauntlet 🙂  As soon as we arrived at the hotel we flopped into bed and slept for a few more hours.  After a refreshing shower we went up-to the hotels rooftop cafe for some breakfast and had our first view over Jaisalmer and its Fort.  Its a nice place, kind of a golden colour due to the sandstone used in the construction of its buildings – it almost feels more Arabic than Indian.  It was hot but not humid (I guess due to the desert), which made for a refreshing change.

Jaisalmer revolves around its medieval Fort, which is packed with Havelis, Guest Houses, and lots of stalls/shops.  Unfortunately due to the increase in hotels etc the Forts foundations are sinking due to drainage problems, its such a problem that Jaisalmer is listed as one of the most under threat sites in the world, the Rough Guide recommended staying outside the Fort to help prevent this problem.  It was only a 5 minute walk to the Fort Gate though.

We walked around and got pleasantly lost in the little alleyways and found ourselves overlooking the ramparts of the Fort across the city.  Its a great view to see the city and then just endless desert.  We found the Jain Temples which were nice and then headed into the Raj Mahal (Royal Palace) where we took the hour and a half audio tour.  The palace is a great piece of architecture and it was an interesting tour as we explored the Maharajah’s residence.  The building and the fort are designed to maximise water use, it doesn’t rain much here so every little bit of water is put to use.  Some interesting stuff on the British Raj tomb its crazy that we somehow colonised this vast country!

We went to bed early as we were up early to begin our camel safari the next day.  We met up with our group (2 Dutch girls, and an Italian couple) and then took a jeep out into the Thar Desert.  After visiting some grand tombs and seeing some sea shell fossils (must of been an Ocean at some point)  we met up with our Camels about 30km into the desert.  I was expecting some guidance on how to ‘control’ the camel but they just ushered us onto the thing as it was kneeling down, at the click of the camel man’s tongue the gargantuan beast stood up front feet first whilst we tried not to fall off, once its stood up its a long way down!

For some reason they gave me the smallest camel, Lisa had a great big one called ‘Mr India’. 

We plodded along for about an hour and I was surprised how green the landscape was, apparently its been a good monsoon this year.  It doesn’t take long until the inside of your legs and your bum start to hurt so I was pleased when we stopped near a shady tree for some lunch.  The camels were stripped of their loads and disappeared somewhere to find some food.  Our camel guides were really nice and great fun, we had a good chat with them as they cooked our lunch, we were most amused as although they have a very simple life they all have mobile phones (no signal in Harbury but its fine in the Indian Desert!).  They cooked up a great vegetable curry with rice and Chapatis and it was one of the best meals we have had here – the spicy sauce was super hot but really great! 

By this time it was midday and the sun was at its hottest so we dozed under the tree for a while, very pleasant.  The camel guides disappeared to get the camels and after they loaded them up we were off again, plodding along for an hour (anymore and its too painful!) to a village at the edge of the sand dunes.  There we met some villagers and had a tour around.  Then we got back on the camels for another 30 mins or so to the sand dunes where we would spend the night.  The dunes were a great sight and it was nice to be somewhere so peaceful away from the crowded cities.

We found a secluded dune relaxed and watched the sun go down, a really great experience it was like we were the only people on the planet (silence in India is almost impossible!).  When the sun disappeared we met up with the group for a Chai whilst our guides cooked up another nice meal of Dhal and Chapatis (we eat so much that day!).  After dinner we sat around whilst the guides sang local songs, they wanted us to sing songs of our countries but we couldn’t think of much – in the end I got them doing head, shoulders, knees and toes! 

Our bed was a matress and thick blanket under the stars, deffo our best hotel yet!  The moon was unbeliveably bright, it lit up the desert almost like the sun.  Unfortunatley this meant the stars werent too bright but we could make out the plough and the north star.  As there was a breeze sand got blown everywhere but it was still a great experience sleeping ona sand dune.  Here’s us relaxing in our bed with a chai (now thats service!).

After breakfast the guides somehow found the camels, which had disappeared, and we loaded up and plodded and hour or so to meet up with the jeep to take us back to Jaisalmer.  On the way we saw some local Shepherds with large herds of sheep and women carrying water on their heads to their remote villages.  Camel riding was painful and stinky (they fart and crap a lot!) but visiting the desert was a great experience and one of the highlights of our trip, if you come to India I would deffo recommend it!

Back in Jaisalmer we took a much needed shower (sand literally got everywhere!) and relaxed.  We were told about a posh hotel that would let you swim in their pool so we treated ourselves and took a Rickshaw to the edge of the town.  The hotel was super posh, they had musicians who played as you enter/leave and it cost a whopping 4000 rupees for a night (about 50 quid), we have been paying around 500 rupees a night!  Not sure why people come to India and stay at these places as it could of been anywhere, but there we plenty of Russians and Spanish staying there.  The pool was good though and it was great to go for a swim and sit by the pool with a book for a few hours, it almost felt like we were on holiday!!

In the evening we took the overnight train back to Jodhpur (not sure about the riding trousers link mik but the king geezer liked playing polo so maybe!) and from there got straight on a bus southbound to Ranakpur.  We were hoping for a deluxe no stop bus but only local bus’s made the 5 hour trip to the Ranakpur, we were a bit hesitant as we have been on some laborious journeys but it wasnt too bad and again we interacted with some nice Indian people, it still stopped numerous times enroute though!

Ranakpur is a tiny place about halfway between Jodhpur and Udaipur, we came to see the temples which are some of the best in India, theres not much there except a few hotels and a shop selling snacks.  We took a cheap hotel in a nice setting, green jungle covered mountains, with Peacocks running around outside.  Peacocks are pretty but very noisey it turns out!  I was also surprised they can fly!  They are also Indias national bird, I guess we must of imported some at some point?

After relaxing for a bit we checked out the Jain Temples, which lived up to the reputation and made the local bus journey worthwhile!  They reminded me of a Angkor Wat (in Cambodia) with their jungle setting and architecture – the figure carvings were pretty amazing.

The temples are well maintained (surprising for India) and still of great religious importance.  I had to wear some fetching trousers as I was wearing shorts, lovely.  We did the usual dot on forehead ceremony (I reckon so they can glean more money from us) and had a look round inside.  The carvings were great and the detail is crazy when you consider the methods they must of used. 

There wasnt much to do in Ranakpur so we relaxed with the view and just chilled out, again it was nice to be somewhere away from crowds and noise!  This morning we went around the nearby 4km wildlife trail with a guide as the area is home to leopards, panthers, and wolves and we didn’t want to get lost in the jungle!  We didn’t bump into any of these things though, but we saw a ‘dangerous’ snake, a tortoise, lots of colourful and noisy birds, and water buffalo (more interested in mud than spearing us :)).

We also had a good view of the temples and to give you an idea of the size of Ranakpur in the photo below our hotel is the red building on the left and the temples are on the right, apart from some posh hotels a few km away that’s it.

After a shower we jumped on a passing local bus for the 3 hour ride to the city of Udaipur.  Havent seen much of the city yet but first impressions are good, its said to be the most romantic city in India, its our last stop in Rajasthan as we fly to Goa on Saturday for some beach R&R.

Stu, yep you can get Cadburys here, same packaging but different shape and the chocolate has the consistency of pastry – its made in India and the heat is not good for Choccy here!  You can also get McVities digestives and hob-nobs, which do look and taste the same although they are made in India too!

Lots more photos here.  Keep the messages coming 🙂

A Relaxing Time in Pushkar & Jodhpur

On Tuesday we arrived in the little town of Pushkar, about 200km West of Jaipur.  The bus only took 3 hours and was completely full of Westerners, which was a little strange and felt a bit touristy after our previous bus rides.  Its easy to see why Pushkar draws in the tourists though, its a peaceful little place built around a small lake surrounded by mountains.  Its a bit of a hippy place but that’s India I guess.  The locals consider the lake holy and have little ceremonies everyday and bath in it.  They get you to do a little ceremony when you arrive (basically to make a little money) to give you good Karma and a peaceful stay in Pushkar, a bit silly really.  The lake was very green looking for my liking. although it harboured lots of large carp which you can see when the locals throw surface feed into the water.

The best thing about Pushkar is that there aren’t any Rickshaws there!  Hence much less hassle!!  The town is small enough to walk around, with its small lanes its a pleasurable experience.  There’s not much to do here, which is why we came, and it was nice to unwind and put our backpacks down for a few days.    There’s a few temples, which are relatively interesting, in one we had to wear a head scarf to cover our heads but it looked like a bandanna!

Theres lots of shops in Pushkar – mainly aimed at the ladies (jewellery, clothes, silk stuff, etc) and as Lisa is like a Magpie when it comes to silver stuff I have spent a bit of time sitting in various shops whilst she tries on many things!  The shop keepers are much more relaxed though and often they would offer us a Chai whilst we were in there shop and it was nice to have some conversations with them other than the “which country?”, “England”, “what your job?”, “computers” conversations we reguarly have!

On our third day in Pushkar we decided to walk up the mountain which overlooks the town to the Sara Swati temple, you can see it in this photo – the one on the right.

We were going to do it the day before but we got up early and it was raining and the top was shrouded in mist so we went back to bed!  The weather was relatively cool the next day so we decided to go for it.  There is a path leading out of the town and then steep steps leading to the top.   It was hard work especially when the sun came out, we were more than a bit sweaty when we reached the top about an hour later!  However we were rewarded with a stunning view back across Pushkar.

We sat at the top for a while enjoying the breeze and taking in the view, it felt very peaceful.  Local women visit the temple to pray they are not widowed by their husbands.  Coming down was quicker than going up and the shower back at the hotel felt amazing!  We relaxed with some nice food and checked out a few more shops in the afternoon – our backpacks are getting fuller by the day and Mum you can expect a parcel in a few weeks time!  We really enjoyed our time in Pushkar and felt ready for the next leg of our trip.

This morning we were up early to catch a 7am bus to Jodhpur, about 300km West.  Unfortunatley we had to take a local bus, which meant a very bumpy and crowded five hour trip through a million villages with numerous stops!  The bus was grimey and packed, Lisa and I were the only Westerners on the bus and I think the only ones who went the whole way to Jodhpur.  Somehow we got through it though even though we both had that “what the hell are we doing” feeling.  The people are so friendly though, they offered us banannas and we gave them biscuits although conversation was hard as not many spoke English.  Travelling here is probably the toughest I’ve experienced, but the people are unbelievably friendly.

We arrived in Jodhpur at 1pm (only 1 hour late, not too bad!) and immediately wen to the tourist office, we have a train tonight to Jaisalmer and wanted to leave our bags somewhere whilst we did a city tour.  The tourist office sorted us out with a tour, which showed us the main city sights in 5 hours.  After the bumpy bus ride we decided to pay 100 rupees (about 1 pound 20) extra and take a car rather than a Rickshaw, we haven’t been in a car since we arrived in India!  It was a Hindustan Ambassador, similar to a Morris Minor!  It had a bench front seat and curtains in the rear, we felt like royalty after some of the transport we have taken lately!

The tour took us first to the Umaid Bhawan Palace, home of the Rajasthan Maharaja and a very grand building.  Then we visited the Mandor ruins, which was an ancient city that is now a nice park to stroll in, although it was busy and not that peaceful today!  The we went to Jaswant Thanda, which is a marble memorial to some geezer, a mini Taj Mahal again, nice though and good views of the city and fort.  The Meherangarh Fort is the cities main attraction and a great piece of architecture overlooking the city high up on a rocky plateau.

Included with entry is a really interesting audio tour, which unlike several other places with visited actually let you know what the place was about!  Deffo the best fort we have seen, it is a very grand places and was famed for its defences as its walls were never breached.  The views over the city were great too.

Jodhpur is the blue city as a lot of the buildings are painted a violet colour, apparently it helps to keep them cool and also is a good repellant for mosquitos!  This evening we have been chilling, we’ve just had a nice pizza!  Our train is in an hour at 23:15, it goes 7 hours through the night and reaches Jaisalmer about 350km West at 5am. 

Jaisalmer is located in the Thar desert, something I’m really looking forward to seeing.  We plan to do an overnight Camel safari into the desert whilst we are then, should be fun.

Lots more photos here.  Stu/Mik sorry haven’t had the opportunity to photograph someone dumping in the street but I took a photo of the public toilet in Pushkar for you, its here, I didn’t want to hang around for someone to use it as the smell was nauseating!

Delhi, Agra (inc. Taj Mahal), and Jaipur

I’ve been trying to write an update for several days but we’ve been very busy!  We’ve visited three cities since we were in Rishikesh and seen some more amazing sights!

We took the overnight bus from Rishikesh back to Delhi, which wasn’t the most fun bus trip I have ever taken.  The bus was an hour late (leaving at 10pm) leaving Rishikesh and it was an old rickety thing (as most things are here) with dirty seats (we got flea bites – yuck).  It was a local bus so it kept stopping in random places to pick people up right through the night, and frequently the driver would stop so he could have a very loud conversation with someone.  We finally arrived in Delhi about 8am, Lisa was bursting for the loo (men can just go at the side of the road) and the city just seemed to go on and on until finally we reached the bus station in Old Delhi.   Lisa dashed to the loo and returned looking a lot happier 🙂

We were going to get straight on another bus to Agra but we were very jaded and felt knackered from the trip from Rishikesh so we decided to stay in Delhi for the day.  After much negotiating with some Rickshaw drivers (they always know a better hotel than the one you want to go to, because they get commission for taking you there), we got back to the Smyle Inn where we stayed before in Delhi.

After a few hours R&R, with a much needed shower, we took a Rickshaw to the south of the city to the Baha’i Temple, or Lotus temple due to its resemblance to a Lotus flower.

A very impressive piece of architecture for Delhi!  Inside was a much needed place of peace and tranquility from the chaotic streets of Delhi.  I had never heard of the Baha’i religion but after going round the information centre it seemed like a good one!  Basically it aims to mix everyone regardless of race or faith with the aim for peace amongst all, makes sense to me!

The next morning we took the 11:30am (after a much needed lie-in) south west about 280km to the city of Agra.  This time we took AC3 class (no flashpacking this time Rich :P) which was comfortable and mixed us in with the Indian middle classes.  In fact the train was so much more relaxing than the bus the previous day we have booked a few more train trips for future journeys – the train gets booked up well in advance in India. 

We arrived in Agra at 14:30 and were immediately ha-ranged by a load of Rickshaw drivers looking for business.  After negotiating a reasonable deal with a guy called Shameer we found a reasonable hotel and dumped our bags.  We made a deal for 600 rupees about 8 pounds for Shameer to been our guide/driver around the city for our day and a bit in Agra, something that saved the hassle of having to negotiate with Rickshaw drivers for a good price for every trip, which after a while becomes tiresome.  First stop was the bus station to book our ‘deluxe tourist bus’ to Jaipur (always plan your exit strategy!) and then onto Agra Fort.

We found Agras Fort to be nicer than the Red Fort in Delhi, its better maintained and arguably more picturesque with its red-sandstone ramparts and cream domed roofs.  Built between 1565 and 1573 in the form of a half moon its an interesting place to stroll around on an afternoon.

We soon got our first view of the Taj Mahal from the forts ramparts, which is located along the river, a very impressive glowing white in the distance.

We spent an hour or two taking in the fort and then Shameer took us to a place where they showed us how they created the complex marble decorations (flowers, animals, people, etc) on Taj M.  I wrongly thought this artwork was painted on, by hand the builders painstakingly sanded small colourful gems to create the art work, it was interesting to see them using these techniques and even small pieces (30cm sq) can take up to 1 month to complete.

We had an early night as we wanted to be at the Taj M for sunrise.  Lisa donned her Indian dress thingy (OK i now know its not a Sari!) and I thought I would go smart with a shirt 😉  We queued for about 15 mins to get a ticket, which cost a stupidly expensive 750 rupees (nearly 10 pounds) India people pay 20rs. Eventually we got into the complex and headed through a red gateway to be greeted with the classic postcard view of the Taj Mahal.

A very impressive sight against the chaos and filth of the streets around it.  It was built by Shah Jahan to enshrine the body of his favourite wife (who died giving birth to his 14th child in 1631), it took 20’000 men 21 years to build it from 1632 to 1653.  Legend says that Shah Jahandied with the grief of the loss of his wife and was laid next to that of his wives.  The real truth is he died of a opium and aphrodisiacs overdose at the age of 74, either way its a pretty impressive grave stone!

We were approached by a lot of guides and we took one who showed us some of the lesser visited places of the complex, and also showed us some interesting and different photo opportunities.

The Taj M really is an impressive sight definitely one of the best man made places I have visited.  Interestingly there is a red mosque to the left of the Taj M, but at some point they felt this didn’t offset the Taj M to well so they built an identical building to the right to create a mirror image.  The grounds within the complex are very well maintained and we spent several hours taking in the view from different places.  The Taj M is very popular for Indian  tourists and Lisa was still getting stared at in her Indian dress – this time by women who were asking where she bought it and complimenting her on her looks.  We had a really nice time at the Taj M (its almost an unreal experience!) and it was interesting to see how it changed colour as the sun came out and heated up the day changing from a grey ish colour in the early morning to a very bright white later on.  Unfortunately as time wore on more and more tourists turned up and this reduced the tranquility of the site and thus we beat a hasty retreat.

After some R&R we headed out to the Itmad-ud-Daulah, which the Rickshaw drivers nickname ‘Baby Taj’ although it has no relation to the Taj M.  Not many tourists but the sun was blisteringly hot and we were a bit ‘tombed out’, the highlight for us was watching some kids jumping into the river from the high wall and also seeing water buffalo swimming nearby, quite surreal!  We then caught the 14:30 bus to Jaipur.

The bus was an official government tourist bus with a/c and much more organisation, i.e. no fannying about stopping here there and everywhere enroute!  Not bad although the roads can provide a few scary moments as we dodged everything from fuel trucks to camels!  We arrived in Jaipur at 9ish and had to visit several hotels before we found one with a room available, I guess everyone goes along with the guidebook recommendations and heads for the same places.  In the end our Rickshaw driver took us to a new hotel where no one was staying!  It was slightly expensive but really nicely done out so as we were fed up going round hotels we treated ourselves and gratefully got into bed!

Jaipur is the capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan and due to a  lot of the buildings being painted pink it was named ‘The Pink City’ by the visiting Prince of Wales in the late 19th century.  We didn’t have a great day yesterday, the city is very dirty and the people are very pushy about selling there wares/services which gets very tiresome.  I think we were a little jaded from our busy schedule, and LIsa was especially getting frustrated from the attention she receives from stupid Indian men.  They blatantly stare and sometimes even touch her on the arm, not nice and very rude – but they consider all Western women to be cheap and easy apparently.  Eventually we had enough and went back to the hotel to relax.

In the early evening we took yet another Rickshaw up to the Nahargarh (or Tiger Fort) which overlooks the city to take in the sunset and panoramic views it offers.  It took nearly an hour to get there up some winding roads but the views were worth it, the city spanned further than the eye could see a low rise expanse of pretty much shanty town.

It was nice to sit and watch the sunset in a make some of the sky red.  It was sad to see what could be an amazing historical site has become something of a rubbish dump, but this is India and it seems they live for today, not caring about either the past or future.  On the way down the monsoon rain kicked in hard, making a very nervous journey down the winding track, however we had thankfully a safe Rickshaw driver and made it down without incident.  Once down in the city flash floods had washed much of the grime into large puddles which we had to plough through on our way back to the hotel – not nice.

Today we woke up feel refreshed and felt we should give Jaipur another chance.  We visited the Hawa Mahal (or Palace of the Winds) which is the cities main landmark.  It was under major restoration but still an impressive sight, being the home of the Rajasthan prince until 1947 where he kept his numerous wives who could not be seen by Joe public. 

Then we made a visit to the Jantar Mantar (astronomical observatory), which housed a load of sundials and other instruments used to work out time etc.  Interesting-ish but we didn’t hang about too long!  This afternoon we went out to a steep sided valley about 3km east of Jaipur to the Monkey Palace.  This was by far the best sight in Jaipur we have seen.  It’s a picturesque collection of several 250 year old temples grouped around a sacred water tank, and most amazingly home to 5000+ monkeys!  It was a bit of a hike from where the Rickshaw dropped us off up to the the main temple and we passed more than a few monkeys enroute.  We had bought some monkey nuts (it seems monkeys do actually eat them), which we were told to feed to the monkeys to give us good karma, and we hand fed these to the monkeys as we went.  They are really gentle and come and take the nut out of your hand when offered, pretty cool!

Even Lisa who isn’t the biggest fan of wild animals and was a little nervous of the monkeys (they do attack sometimes!) got into it.

The temples were nice too, and Monkeys seemed to be hanging around everywhere!  We had another little Hindu experience with another couple of dots on our heads which added to the spiritual vibe.  We deffo have had a much nice day today and now feel Jaipur is more than a sprawling shanty town!

We are having an amazing experience, India is an amazing place, its challenging and hard work at times but we are often rewarded with amazing experiences!  The people are very friendly and we don’t feel the slightest bit threatened, they want your money but they want it in exchange for their wares or services.  Unfortunately they can be a little bit pushy sometimes when trying to sell you something, and often they don’t take no as an answer – there is always an alternative!  The rickshaw drivers in particular try to ‘take you for a ride’ and charge way over the top, but some negotiation usually results in an agreeable charge.  Its also hard for Lisa as most Indian men prefer not to talk to women, thus they can often ignore her and always ask her questions to me.  It can get a bit tiresome, but once you are used to it life is easier!

Everyone wants to know about the unsavory stuff!!!  Its India, its dirty.  I have never seen so much squalor, its crazy how people can live in such conditions.  They seem not to care.  Cow shit (Lisa calls it Holy Shit!) is everywhere, in Jaipur there are also many camels and boars so add their shit too.  People throw litter onto the street so add that in too.  Then we have seen many people taking a piss or dump at the side of the road.   Food waste is dumped on the street.  On top of all that the monsoon comes once a day and mixes it all together in big pools.  Pretty nasty, and some places the stench is unbelievable.  Its unfair to say everywhere is like that but Old Delhi and Jaipur seem to have their fair share.  The people don’t seem to care and I guess they never will whilst they have no wish to change.  Its a crazy system.

Of course all this grime is not good for hygiene.  We have been Ok, I’ve had a bit of Delhi belly but I expected it at some point.  We drink water all day and due to the heat I hardly need a wee, yes I can drink 3-5 litres of fluid and not need a wee all day – I never thought it possible!  We haven’t been eating to much, way less than back home, justa  small snack in the day and a evening meal.  Lisa’s Dad is a doctor and he recommended us taking a shot of a spirit after every meal, this seems to be keeping the germs at bay – my taste of India is followed by a shot of Scotch Whiskey!

Tomorrow morning we are taking the bus to the religious town of Pushkar, about 3 hours away.  We have heard its a nice place to relax and unwind from the stresses of the big cities, so looking forward to that.  Thanks for all the messages, its really great to hear from you all 🙂  Coventry won their first game too, come on you sky blues!!!

I’ve uploaded loads of photos here.