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.