Trip Start Oct 20, 2008
19Trip End Oct 20, 2009
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Our first stop was Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, and after the peace and tranquility of Rishikesh somewhere inside we were both a little upset to be back on the tourist trail with its vigilant demands. Apart from the filthy city of Agra, the Taj Mahal lived upto expectations and was stunning in design, intricacy and symmetry. We went along at sunrise with the throngs of tourists anxious to take that perfect photograph (digital photography has made this an endless task!). After trying to take a picture of the shy(!) Fiona as Lady Diana in front we left
Our hotel was pretty grotty. It's never a good sign when your room key is just a padlock. When we got in that evening we put in the mozzy plug-in and sprayed some Deed after noticing a couple of mozzies flying about. Suddenly, as i closed the left curtain a large lizard scurried across the wall. I scurried across the floor falling into the other curtain and disturbing at least 20 mozzies and a moth. That was it! - out came the nets, the silk liners, long sleeve t-shirts and after bathing in Deet we settled down to a rather tense game of Scrabble. Must try and handle this better as we're not going to cope in the jungles of Borneo!?
Next stop was Jaipur - the capital of Rajasthan. Arriving in the city it looked more developed with pavements and properly built shops! Poverty did not haunt every traffic light. However, not being here to shop, a city was not really what we were really after. Making the most of it we went to the Raj Minder cinema to see a Hindi film - Golmaal Returns. The old-style one screen cinema was enormous. Didn't understand a bloody word of the film but we just about followed the comedy plot. The locals lapped up the slapstick humour shouting and clapping throughout. There was the obligatory hindi dance section where the cast of hundreds jigged about
Next stop was Pushkar, a desert town 5-hour drive away. On the dusty streets that lined the roads to each town perched row upon row of tiny ramshackled shops, their shutters open like gaping mouths hungry to feed. They all seemed to be either 'newsagents' selling crisps and drinks or individual ridiculousness like an egg shop or a scourer shop. Stumbling mobile fruit stalls trundle past huge gaunt oxen which lap at stagnant lakes of water and hundreds of electrical wires cram into precariously leaning poles. How the country holds together without more structural, electrical and hygiene disasters is the biggest mystery of all but everyone seems happy and sane enough to put their faith in themselves and others and incredibly it all seems to work.
Pushkar was a town set around a large lake with steep desert mountains all around. With lots of rooftop cafes and a more relaxed vibe we were finally able to stretch out a chill without the harrassment. The taxis were hilarious here - just a piece of wood the size of a door placed on four wheels. They shout taxi!? - you jump on and they wheel you down the road! The town is quite an important religious place with several Brahman Temples and through our hotel we were taken by a Brahma priest (the highest caste and understood to be direct descendants of Brahman) to one of the many ghats surrounding the lake to take us through the Hindu prayers and the rituals they undertake whether it be on the ganges or here
With our special married bindi marks (the indians love the fact we're married but cannot understand why we have no children) and baggy pants and feeling all indian I organised a music lesson. At 7 we went to this guy's house set in a maze of side alleys and sat down in his bedroom and learnt some Sitar and Tabla (the bongo-style drums). Loved it! He showed me some of his skills on the instruments before i politely declined the usual offers to sell me (and ship) my own sitar home. After it became clear i was not going to buy he seemed to lose interest and left to meet a friend. As fiona was getting pedicure etc off his sister i was left in some guy's bedroom on my own facing the wall with a sitar in my arms that i had only learnt to play 15 mins before. Was a little surreal. Anyway, I tootled away thinking i was Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin playing the same scale over and over when, after about 30 mins, the family must have got sick of listening to me and sent in another brother to show me another scale. My fingertips at this point were being sliced to the bone on the cheesewire strings but with usual English politeness i ploughed on - now wanting fiona to hurry up.
Next stop....Jodphur.....Apart from getting lost in the tight, never-ending myriad of streets, the hotel manager going through his photo album of his dream trip to Sheffield and the strange chewing spice man who had lost his pigmentation (quite common in india - we think its the pollution) Jodphur was relatively uneventful
More hours and kilometres on the clock and the roads were getting slightly worse. It's not uncommon for cars and buses (and cows) to be coming the wrong way down the motorway. On the way to Udaipur we stopped at Ranakpur Temple - an incredible complex of roofs and harmonious outdoor spaces intricately cut from smooth white marble and held up by a forest of exquistely carved pillars (1444 in total). Each knotted pillar contained a unique series of obsessive carved doodles and every turn you made gave an amazing view.
We eventually reached Udaipur and sat on the rooftop of our hotel watching a perfectly round peach sun set over the city and misty mountainous landscape. After only our 12,546th sunset photo and our now statutory banana pancake we walked into town to get a feel for the place. This was our favourite place so far and where Octopussy was filmed it certainly has that kind of 70's Euro jet-set feel to it. An enormous white hotel floats in the middle of the lake, the impressive city palace on the banks and the hassle-free shops and bazaars allow us to roam and relax.
Made the mistake of eating some chicken and was ill for the last night
The bumpy journey to our last destination of Bundi over completed, half-completed, barely completed and non-existant motorways was make or break for the guts and thankfully i sailed through, the pain of my head hitting the car roof every 2 mins offsetting the discomfort in my stomach. Our 'hotel' in Bundi was set in the grounds of the crumbling 16th Century palace set on the hill overlooking the city and was essentially an openair courtyard with the surrounding stables now (barely) converted into rooms. Bundi was fantastic, the streets offering a 'no catch' hello at every turn. The kiddies were just made up to see you and wave instead of tugging at you physically and mentally for food and money as in Delhi and Agra.
We visited the palace and it was somehow refreshing to visit an attraction that had not been restored although this enormous structure sprouting organically out of the rockface and crumbling and tumbling into the town build over 100's of years may rot away completely. With no tourists around we were left to explore uninhibited the ruinous hallways and courtyards as if we were discovering it for the first time
It was time to head south and we jumped on a sleeper train and took the 14 hour tain journey to Mumbai (Bombay)
p.s. fiona is putting her photos on Flickr (photo website) and will provide the link in due course......