A Travellerspoint blog

November 2012

A few disasters...

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After the rather traumatic end to our evening last night, we felt that a lie in was in order so skipped the sunrise boat ride on the Ganges this morning.

Today we visited the silk weavers. We were shown into some of the buildings where scarves, shawls, sarees etc were being made. Unfortunately half of the workshops were shut because of Diwali. Still interesting to see some of it though. Then into the shop! We were there a long long time! Boredom soon set in. We were shown bedsheets, table runners, sarees, pashminas, shawls and about a million other things!!! We did get to try on sarees though which was fun! We looked super elegant!

Once we'd had our MacDonalds fix we headed back to the hotel (the staring from all the men in the mall we went to was a bit much for us to cope with today)! Unfortunately, our cycle rickshaw driver didn't really know where our hotel was so we got lost! Of course we had no idea where we were or where we were going so were of no use whatsoever. Luckily some random man in the street came to our rescue and managed to direct our driver to the hotel!

The next fail of the day was in our running out of toiletries...and all the shops selling toiletries being closed for Diwali! Oops!!

The penultimate fail of the day was dinner. It took an hour and a half just to get drinks...never a good sign. Then when the food came it was cold or undercooked (luckily Jo was checking so we didn't accidentally eat undercooked chicken)!!

And the final fail of the day was the hotel "running out" of wi-fi tokens! Bad bad bad when its Jo's mum's birthday and she needed to call home. We had a minor argument with the hotel staff before giving up. But our friends Felix and Sarah came to the rescue...they had some wi-fi that Jo was able to use!! Hurrah!

A few drinks in the roof garden ended the day on a high!

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 05:56 Archived in India Tagged varanasi Comments (3)

Diwali......

Festival of lights or health and safety nightmare?

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It is now 2am and Tam and I are trying to recover from a near death experience, the details of which I shall reveal in due course. First, let me start by announcing that we are now in Varanasi - the religious centre of the world and somewhere I have been anxious about arriving at. Sited on the river Ganges you imagine somewhere peaceful and beautiful, but I learnt a few weeks ago that it was going to be dirty and noisy and generally full of corpses. It does not disappoint on that front!

During our orientation walk we were near deafened by all the horns, were hard pressed to avoid all the cow poo, and were constantly harrassed by beggars. Then down the to river for our sunset boat cruise. I apologise in advance for my less than spiritual attitude, perhaps Tammy would be better at writing this section. I'm afraid mine will be a rather frank entry! Our main fear while waiting in the boat to leave was that we would see a dead body floating in the river (not too rare a sight here!)! Let me explain. Hindu's believe that if you submerge a corpse in the river Ganges, burn them on a funeral pyre on the banks of the river and then sprinkle the ashes in the river then your dead relative will be out of the cycle of birth and rebirth and will reach nirvana. Hence the large number of corpses in Varanasi! They literally line up near the banks of the river with their corpses waiting for space to create a funeral pyre. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Babies, pregnant women, people biten by snakes and priests cannot be burnt, so stones are strapped to them and they are thrown in the river - hence the not so rare floating bodies! Not to gross anyone out, but people wash and drink from this river...... :-S

Anyway, alas we did not see any floaters, but we did see both of the main burning sites. We then did a candle ceremony where we lit candles and let them go on the Ganges with a wish and a prayer. That was nice. Then came the setting off of the fireworks.... on a wooden boat, on a river filled with dead bodies and ash. This was because tonight is the main night of Diwali, the festival of lights! So we had to set off fireworks! But this madness was only the first of many health and safety nightmares!! After watching the evening prayer ceremony from the boat we headed towards home for dinner. Then back to the hotel for some drinks and more fireworks. This time our guide set them off from the middle of a very busy road! Even the cows seemed unfased by the noise and close proximity of explosions!!! Next health a safety nightmare, a firework flying so close past Tammy's face that she felt the wind from it!

Later that night, after watching an insane number of fireworks go off (from 4pm constantly until now!!! I have never seen anything like it!) me and Tam were alone on the roof terrace with Raghu, beating him at poker, when we saw a green flash coming towards us..... surely the firework was going to go over our heads and land elsewhere? Oh sh*t! Clearly Tam was the most awake amongst us because by the time the firework landed on the two seater table we had been sat around, Tammy was half way across the rooftop, cowering behind me, while I was half hiding under the table and Raghu was just staring at the lit firework in disbelief! And then BANG!!!! Yes, it went off! Luckily it was one of those pathetic ones that just shoots out a little light, a firework that we had been complaining about only half an hour ago for being so unimpressive! Thank God for the unimpressive fireworks though! Had it been something more impressive I would probably be without one of my shoulders, Raghu without a face and Tammy crying in corner!!!

Next came the hysterical laughter, and now we're waiting for the adrenaline crash!! I think we will both be fast asleep before long! So ends another eventful day here in India!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 05:31 Archived in India Tagged varanasi Comments (2)

Baby Taj, Black Taj and Bertha the cow!

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First stop today was the Baby Taj. Essentially a much, much smaller version of the Taj Mahal with a square roof rather than a domed roof. This was the first building to be completed with white marble. It was really beautiful but unfortunately, after seeing the amazing Taj Mahal yesterday, we were a little less than overwhelmed.

Next stop, the site where supposedly the Black Taj was to be built. The story goes that after building the Taj Mahal, the Mogul Emperor planned to build an exact replica in black marble across the river. Before he could do this however, his son imprisoned him and took the position of Mogul Emperor for himself!

Then onto a marble carving place. We were shown how the decorative marble plates are made and the incredible level of work which goes into each one. Understandable then that we couldn't quite stretch our budget to afford anything in there. It would have been far too heavy to carry anyway!!

Our next stop was a jewellers. I found an amazing Indian dark star stone ring but I resisted! And Jo also restrained herself from buying any of the chunky silver bangles. We're so good!!

The last stop today was a local market. Jo and I were unimpressed by the lack of shiny things so we spent most our time on the minibus waiting for everyone to come back. But we did find a mascot for Felix and Sarah for the rest of their trip...Bertha the cow!!

Our train tonight doesn't leave until 10pm so we'll spend the rest of the day wasting time in Costa Coffee and Pizza Hut!!

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 20:48 Archived in India Tagged and india agra Comments (0)

How many people can you fit in a train?

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Another early start today to catch a train to Agra! We're seriously losing track of whether or not 4am is bedtime or time to wake up!! So, you know the saying about sardines in a can? Yes, us in a train! We barely all managed to get on. We were supposed to have a bunk bed each to sleep our journey away on (much needed for me as I am currently feeling more than a litle under the weather!) but instead we were crammed four or five to a little bench and that was after Raghu kicked a whole bunch of people out of our seats!! The aisles were packed, it was hot and stuffy! I didn't have any room to put my feet on the floor and Tammy was cramped up in some tiny little space in the rafters! The low point for me had to be the constant presence of a man's crotch in my face!! So we spent a wonderful five or six hours in those conditions - fantastic! And then to top the journey off, getting off the train was so difficult that the train began to leave the station before we were all on the platform! Luckily it stopped again and we managed to get the last few stragglers (including Tammy, who is far too polite for India!) off the train!

We arrived at the hotel late in the morning and decided that we deserved a long lunch at Pizza Hut, only to discover half way through our meal that we had less than an hour before we were going out! Tam managed to grab a shower while I was paying the bill at Pizza Hut, but my lengthy shower times meant that I had to go out feeling very dirty and very ill!

Off to the fort in Agra - very impressive and it gave us our first views of the Taj Mahal across the river. Then onwards to the building itself. You may all call me ignorant now (and have every right to!) but I thought that the Taj Mahal was a palace, given that its so incredibly grand...... Turns out I was wrong - it's a tomb. The third wife of a Mogul emperor (forgive me for forgetting names!) was his favourite and requested, on her death bed, that he build something (anything!) to mark her burial place. So he built the Taj Mahal - he must have really loved her. So what do we have to say about the building? Amazing, truly beautiful, a stunning building, and completely, totally and utterly, unnecessary! I think she might have made do with something a little less extravagant, but then I suppose that shows what a romantic I am!!! Personally, I feel sorry for the first wife who was totally snubbed and buried under one of the gates leading into the Taj Mahal!! But under any circumstance, it was worth the visit! We must go back one day!!

Anyways, back to the hotel and out to dinner for Tammy! I am dying in bed! Room service for me and an early night!!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 20:30 Archived in India Tagged and india agra Comments (0)

Lazy sightseeing

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As promised, a round up of last night's antics:

First stop, a fancy bar for some amazing cocktails. Which yet again, Raghu paid for!! We all protested but he was having none of it. Jo introduced me to Caiprinha cocktails which are my new favourite! -Then onto a basement club which played the best music!! The only time Jo and I stopped dancing all night was when we went to the bar or the loo!! And we were in there until 3am so it was a lot of dancing...thank goodness we were wearing flats!!

Jo "sensibly" went to bed at this point. I thought it would be a good idea to stay awake and go up to a rooftop to have a few more drinks and some chips! I was seriously excited about the chips but was most disappointed to realise that chips here actually mean crisps!! Fail! Amazing night although getting in after 4am not so amazing when we were all meeting at 9am!!

Thankfully our sightseeing today mainly consisted of getting into a car, getting driven somewhere, getting out of the car, walking a tiny bit and taking some photos. Nice and lazy. We drove to the amber fort, the lake palace, a block printers, another palace (I can't remember the name) and the obervatory. The amber fort was beautiful. We walked up to the top, dodging the elephants on our way who were carrying other tourists up to the fort. The views were lovely! Then a brief stop to take photos of the lake palace followed by lunch!! Then onto a local block printers for a demonstration (Jo and I wanted to buy all the beautiful bedsheets)! And finally a walk around the quite surreal observatory. We ran out of energy after this so didn't make it into the other palace! But we saw the outside!!

This evening was amazing fun. We went to the cinema to see the big Bollywood film out at the moment called Student of the Year. Great fun made even more enjoyable by the beautiful men singing and dancing throughout! Then a cheeky KFC with everyone before an early night!

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 19:39 Archived in India Tagged and india jaipur Comments (0)

A visit with family....

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Next stop on the tour - Jaipur, otherwise known as the Pink City or the home town of our guide, Raghu! Getting here involved a very uncomfortable bus ride where even me and Tam struggled for leg space! After a quick freshen up at the hotel we went out for our "orientation walk". It seemed we were wandering around the bustling streets of the city to nowhere in particular when Raghu told us that he was taking us to meet his family. Next thing we know we are in a very plush living room being served chai tea by our wonderful hosts, Raghu's mother and sister-in-law! We looked at some old photos of Raghu and accepted some beautiful bangles as gifts before we headed up to the rooftop for our actual orientation of the city!

Cue cycle rickshaws (our first in India) to take us into the town centre. Several members of our group got lost en route and whilst waiting for them we saw our first elephant in the street..... cows, camels, dogs we are now used to, but elephants were a first! Very exciting! We dutifully followed our guide around the streets, listening to him chatting about jewellery shops and cinemas before we shamefacedly snuck into a McDonalds (again, we know! We're testing them out in every country!)!

Back to the hotel for a not so quick change before our first big Indian night out in celebration of Raghu's birthday! Despite our protestations I suspect we will be spoilt again by Raghu and not allowed to pay for much tonight! Thank God it's neither of our birthdays while here - I don't think we could afford it!!!

No doubt Tammy will have an update of the night's frivolities tomorrow! Stay tuned!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 05:23 Archived in India Tagged jaipur Comments (3)

A hike and a birthday

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5am wake up call!! Jo could not physically get out of bed...she was poorly yesterday and was definitely in need of some decent sleep. I managed to drag mysef out of bed and throw some clothes on for our early morning hike up to the temple of the first wife of Lord Brahma. We left in the darkness and so got to see a beautiful sunrise. Today is also Raghu's birthday. Instead of all wishing him a happy birthday at 5am before our hike, we all kept schtum! Mean hey!? But it was worth it. Christina and Caroline had managed to buy a birthday cake yesterday so on arriving at the top of the (big!) hill, we all broke into a chorus of happy birthday and presented him with his cake!! He looked so happy!! And so did all the monkeys who got to eat well over half of the birthday cake!

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at an amazing rooftop restuarant which served porridge!!! I was so happy...I've missed my morning porridge!

After catching up on a few hours sleep at the hotel, Jo and I head into Pushkar for some shopping!!! The streets are filled with clothes, jewellery, bag, etc... shops. Amazing fun! We went back to the resturant where I had breakfast and had the most amazing lunch of hummus and falafel. Yum! We also met the owner of the restuarant, Sandeep, who explained the meaning of our names in Hindi. Jo's name means some kind of wheat, my name means your!

We, of course, couldn't resist the shops and bought several things each. Amongst them, Jo got some hippie trousers (which I now like to call her "fancy pants") and I got a nice long dress. All extremely cheap!!!

To celebrate Rahgu's birthday we went out for a nice buffet dinner. Which Raghu paid for!?! Apparently in India, if its your birthday, you pay! He even bought a load of drinks for us all to have back at the hotel. Alcohol is actually banned in Pushkar but he managed to find some somewhere!

Pushkar has been amazing and we'll be so sad to leave. But definitely a place to come back to in the future!

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 23:18 Archived in India Tagged and india pushkar Comments (0)

Does my forehead look big in this?

Lakes, ceremonies, temples and red smudges...

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Another early start, followed by a train ride away from the beautiful Udaipur. But on to Pushkar! Exciting! We arrived at our hotel at one o'clock and had a huge lunch before trying to update the blog (internet here is slow and unreliable and not helped by the random and frequent power cuts!).

Then out into the town for a wander around. This place is a strange mix of spiritual people and foreign hippies! We like it! We learnt that Pushkar in one of the two most important spiritual places in India and many people undertake epic pilgramages to get here. We made it down to the lake (apparently created from the tears that Lord Brahama wept when one of his wives died) in time for sunset. There we took part in a ceremony that had us chanting and throwing things into the water. We all left with an attractive red smudge on our foreheads. But families, you should know that taking part in the ceremony not only fixed our bad karma and gave us good luck and the prospect of a good and happy life, but it also worked for you too - good deal, eh?!

After a wander around the shops (which turned into more of a scouting trip for where we will be spending our money tomorrow!) we went to a temple devoted to Lord Brahama, one of a very few in existence. We dutifully went in, rang on a bell, wandered around and then left again. Back at the hotel now, waiting for our set dinner time. In store for tonight - dinner, a Bollywood movie and then an early night in preparation for our 5am hike tomorrow morning!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 22:59 Archived in India Tagged and india pushkar Comments (0)

Art, food and some sheesha!

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First stop today in Udaipur was the minuture art studio. We learnt about where the different colours of paint are sourced from and the different mediums that can be painted on. And we all had a picture painted on a fingernail!! Incredibly detailed!

Upstairs from the art studio, we went to watch a cooking demonstration. Jo had a go at making samosas and chapatis. I was too scared to join in owing to my horrible cold (I've lost my voice)...I didn't want to spread it to anyone else! And then we ate...yum!!!

After lunch we went back into the studio where Jo had henna done on her hand and foot...beautiful. I thought my skin might react to the dye (I've already had to give up a bracelet I bought in China because it gave me a rash) so I instead had all my nails painted with minature pictures...Mr Taj, Taj Mahal, Mrs Taj, Lord Ganesha, Freedom Bird, Peacock, Camel, Elephant, Horse and Lotus Flower!!

Then onto the palace. We'll admit, we did get a bit bored after a while of being in there...it's huge and operated a one way system so we had to walk around the whole thing!! The views and the stained glass were pretty though.

Dinner at a local restaurant was yet again delicious. And they had sheesha! So after dinner we sat down outside and had a smoke (is it called smoking?). It was apple flavoured and actually tasted really good. Neither Jo nor I had tried sheesha before but we're now avid fans!!

4am wake up call tomorrow morning so bed by 11pm!!

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 22:46 Archived in India Tagged and india udaipur Comments (1)

From desert to mountains....

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We had a blissful lie in today, meeting in the hotel lobby at 6am to embark on a very bumpy bus ride to Udaipur (also known as Venice of the East or the Lake City)! Suddenly we left the arid deserts and entered mountain forests full of monkeys! Another very comfortable bus journey, despite the bumps. We've decided that the toilets in China have made us immune to bad toilets here, none of which are as bad as some that we experienced last month!

We arrived at lunchtime and succumbed to some home comforts at the pizza place across the road. Thankfully we weren't the only sellouts in the tour group, as another 6 people joined us there. After a very quick freshen up we headed out for an orientation walk aroud the city, followed by a sunset boat ride on the lake and some window shopping. We have decided that we love it here - by far the most beautiful city we've been to in India so far! We managed to restrain ourselves yet again from buying all the pretty paintings and textiles but our will power is quickly fading!

Onwards to a dance and music show including puppets, which was by turns beautiful and hilarious! Then to dinner, at a rooftop restaurant with a view of the lit up hill palace! We were both feeling a tad blue, knowing that it was bonfire night at home and we wouldn't be seeing any fireworks. After explaining what Guy Fawkes night was to the rest of our group (we're the only Brits) and facing the reality that it is a bit of a strange and slightly sick tradition, our guide made a call and got us some rockets and sparklers. We made a Guy out of a napkin and set him on fire, set off several great rockets and all lit a few sparklers. What a great end to our evening!!

The rest of the night will be spent sleeping I think - we are in desperate need of it!!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 03:38 Archived in India Tagged udaipur Comments (0)

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