Monday, 29 July 2013

India - Part 2: Rajasthan & Relaxation

Now, where were we?  Ah, yes...

Ram dropped us at Ajmer train station to travel to Jodhpur, the Blue City.  It was a long, slow, and generally uncomfortable journey that would have ben so much worse if not for the air-con.  On arrival my first tuk-tuk of the year took us to the hotel.  This would not be worth mentioning were it not that at night these things still speed through the streets as though it was a live action Mario Kart!

Jodhpur has two main attractions - the Mehrangarh Fort which sits atop a sandstone hill and the predominately blue paint on the buildings (thus the nickname...).  I thought we had seen a lot of forts, but this one tops the lot.  It is a large complex almost entirely carved from the local sandstone - the detail on the window screens was amazing.  The views over the city were worth the entrance fee alone, but the fort also housed an impressive museum.

Jodhpur itself is a sprawling maze of blue painted bulidings.  It is very easy to get lost in & I am sure that we missed out on some treasures!

Our last stop in Rajasthan was Udaipur, where the Indian sections Octopussy were shot (except the shot of the Taj Mahal, many hundreds of miles away, and Veranassi, many hundreds more).  Possibly because the tourist section of the city is not where many locals live it had a very different feel to anywhere previous.  The hawkers were pleasant and not pushy (ie: they understood what 'no' meant!).  They were so good we got persuaded into buying some stone elephant carvings from a craft showroom.  We had been taken to other places when on the guided tours but I felt too pushed into them and pressured to buy something.  On this occasion it was a free choice and I was more than glad to part with my cash!

The sights here are limited.  The City Palace rises above Pichhola Lake and the tour of the palace winds through what appeared to be the servants tunnels, exploring the history of the palace, which until Indian independence was still in use.  This was not the best palace we had seen and the decoration was of a much lower standard..

The other main sight are the palaces (now hotels) that make the set for Octopussy's palace in the aforementioned film.  Sitting in the middle of the lake, one is used for the external shots while the other was used for the internal locations.  And of course we watched the film in a restaurant while having dinner.  Well, you have to, don't you!?

In the morning we went horse riding around the countryside.  I had never been on a horse before.  My feeling was initially one of trepidation, followed by consternation, abject terror, acceptance and finally pure enjoyment.  The countryside was beautiful and not something we would have been able to see any other way, winding through little villages down  to a small lake.

My horse was called Rose.  Apparently she was very docile...

The final stop in India was chosen quite late.  Udaipur was not easy to get out of.  Finally the decision was made to spend a few days in Rishikesh, in Uttarprakand.  Getting there was still not straightforward...  Indian airport security require you to take all metal items out of your hand luggage to be screened seperately and to have a luggage tag attached.  They weren't this zealous in Moscow!  We took a car to Rishikesh and wer very thankful to get out when we arrived - he was not as safe as Ram!

It is near Rishikesh that The Beatles attended the ashram, and met the guru, which, it could be said, changed the face of music in the '60's.  We didn't go to the ashram...  What we did do though, was relax.  We did yoga daily (much more strenuous than imagined, especially as I have done pilates!), go on a few short walks along the valley and partake of more amazing food (more of that later).  The Ganges flows through Rishkesh and two months before our visit had flooded due to the monsoons.  Many cafes & guest houses close to the banks had been washed away not only by the waters, but also the fridges, furniture and vehicles that the river brought from upstream.  Many thousands of people had died in the flooding.  It even brought down a 100 foot statue of Vishnu!  When we were there the river was much more peaceful, and on our first walk across the river a mist was slowly rising which made it so atmospheric.  The weather was to give us another treat a couple of days later when we got to watch a lightning storm overhead during dinner on the guesthouse rooftop!

After three days it was time to leave tranquility and embark on a Asian must do - the night bus!  It was supposed to be a 'luxury sleeper'.  I suppose the terms are relative...  Our taxi to Haridwar where we were to catch the bus tried to leave us in a dark square to wait for the bus.  For 2 hours.  We made him take us to the travel agents office - a small office at the end of a less than salubrious dark alley.  At least we felt safer.  They took us back to the square at the appointed hour and we waited while the driver started to fill the bus.  And I mean fill.  Entire families were squeezed into the overhead sleeping compartments.  I'm so glad we booked reclining seats!  Credit is due to the driver though - him somehow managed to take two hours off the journey time back to Delhi!  Which meant an even longer wait for the plane to Kathmandu...

But that's the fun of travelling!

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