Venice in India!?

So we have started to collect a group along our travels now. We have 1 American Israelie, 1 Croatian/Canadian and 2 more Aussies, bringing the total to 6 people. We all woke up early and began making the trip from Pushkar to Udaipur. There is no train or bus station in Pushkar so we took a short taxi to the train station, with our plans of picking up a ticket at the station. This is never recommended in India as the recent swell in the middle class means that the trains are the most popular form of transport. After a few moments of relative chaos at the station but we managed to book 6 last minute tickets on the train to Udaipur. This meant we had a place but no reserved seats or confirmation, but we pushed through and went to the platform we had been directed. To our surprise we were met with an empty carriage which was a first for my Indian train experience and for the cost of about £4 each we weren’t complaining. The train journey was about 6hrs total and had a few stops along the way. As usual we were celebrities again!

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Above: Getting photos taken on the train. Below: I know what caged animals feel like!

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We arrived in Udaipur in the evening and stayed in Bunkyard hostel which was right beside the main lake. The views from the roof top across the lake were spectacular, I would recommend it as a place to stay but the food waste great so I would eat out if you decide to stay here.

We took it easy the first night after our long day of travel. The second day we took a walk around the town. The streets are relatively narrow but very quaint in comparison to other parts of India. We didn’t visit the palace but did take a walk over the bridge to the other side of the town. That night we decided to take a lake tour on a boat for sunset. It was the best way to see the city and quite cheap. It’s not a very large lake so the whole tour was around 40 minutes which was the perfect amount of time.

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Above: View from the lake at sunset.

There are some beautiful restaurants and hotels around the waterfront. The most famous being the Taj Lake Palace which is on a little island of its own. We were told that this is where the king/prince goes to eat when he’s in town. There is also an amazing 5 star hotel called The Oberoi Udaivilas which we saw from the lake. In the evening the spray an anti mosquito mist across the garden which I had never seen before. It’s very expensive but if you had the money I imagine this would be hands down the best place to stay.

There are a lot of silver shops around Udaipur and the price of silver is cheap across India, so I decided to get a momenton of our trip. I was looking for a specific style of ring which I had seen all the jewellers wearing, but none of them were selling them. We managed to find a whole seller who would make the ideal ring for a quarter of through price I had been quoted, so I took the chance. From scratch he made the ring within 4 hours and finished polishing it when I arrived back. All for the price of about $25 which I wasn’t more then happy with. I now also have a personal momento of my time in India!

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Above: The finished piece.

From Udaipur we decided to catch a flight to our next destination in Goa. The price was relatively the same as it was an early morning flight and it would save us a whole day of travel, giving us an extra day to relax on the beach. Next stop Goa!

 

 

Backtracking to Pushkar!

To make up for our earlier error by missing the train we had to postpone our Jaisalmer visit by a day which meant we had to take Jodpur out altogether. We never heard many positive recommendations for Jodhpur other then the fort so it wasn’t to hard to take this out. We decided to backtrack slightly and visit Pushkar and the camel fair that was just starting. We took a train from Jaisalmer to Pushkar and it was very pleasant, this time we were in A2 so we had our own beds with curtains. Very much needed for the longer train rides, if you aren’t on an extremely tight budget.

We arrived in Ajmer in the morning and caught a taxi to Pushkar. This is the only way to get there as there are no train stations in Pushkar. I don’t believe there are any bus stations either, but I could be wrong. Its only a short trip from Ajmer and the taxi will set you back about 500 rupees, which is always negotiable as is customary in India. We stayed at the Moustache hostel there which has recently opened. It was a great hostel and a really awesome location, they have a grassy area surrounded buy the rooms, so you can relax or play volley ball. The layout was something unique that I hadn’t seen before.

The festival meant that the town was a lot busier then usually. This also made exploring quite fun as there were lots of things going on. Usually I hear that Pushkar is much more peaceful but I would be happy to visit it either way. There’s is a lake at the center of the town which we took a walk around in the evening. With the sun setting and all the candles surrounding the water it was one of the best sights I saw in India so far. We even managed to play some traditional drums in front of lots or people praying.

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Above: Religious worship at the lake. Below: Camel dancing at the fair.

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We took a walk around the camel fair to see some of the shows they were putting on. There was a beauty contest and even camel dancing. We caught a showing of the camel dancing but it wasn’t quite what we had expected. The treatment of the camels did seem a little aggressive which wasn’t pleasant for some. It’s easy to forget that things are different in other parts of the world.

We took part in other areas of the fair and I even went on a very rusty Ferris wheel. The speed it was going mixed with the fact that there were no doors on the cages, made it somewhat of a thrilling ride! We spent a couple of days resting and exploring Pushkar and caught an amazing sunset at the top of a very steep hill. If you ever visit and have time then I would recommend it. You can buy a packet of biscuits and feed the monkeys. Just make sure they don’t see the whole packet, or they will swiftly turn into an organised gang of thieves.

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Above: Monkeys waiting for some biscuits and ignoring the sunset.

Pushkar was a lovely relaxing place to visit and I would have liked to spend a little more time there, but Udaipur is calling!

 

Camels in the desert

The bus from Jaipur to Jaisalmer was a different experience then what I had expected but quite frankly I had no idea what to expect! We paid a relative premium and got a double bed type room at the back of the bus, which was surprisingly spacious. Once we made our way through the hustle and bustle of the Jaipur evening bus station, the cabin seemed to be pleasantly peaceful. My two tips would be, if you have a lying down bed type room on the sleeper bus, ignore the men standing at the front of then bus who say you need to pay 30 rupees to put your bag under the bus. There is more then enough room for you and your bag in your section and it’s rather disconcerting to give all your worldly possessions to an un-uniformed man standing at the front of the bus claiming you need to pay him for this luxury. Also, book a room at the back. I had to swap for a front room shortly into the journey and it’s difficult to sleep when people look in or try to get into your room at every stop, this doesn’t happen at the back as much. All in all it wasn’t a great nights sleep but the whole process was a lot less painful then I had expected and sleeper buses are a very viable option.

We soon arrived to our destination and there was a noticeable difference in the temperature in Jaisalmer, the desert heat was much less forgiving then in the other parts of Rajasthan. We found our hostel and rested before heading out. Jaisalmer is quite a small town built around a fort, you can walk around the outside of the fort in about 20 minutes, which we did. We then found a place to eat called Monica’s, which is recommended by a lot of locals and easy to find. The food is great and reasonably priced.

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Above: Foyer of the Moustache hostel in Jaisalmer. Below: the Jaisalmer Fort at night.

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We came to Jaisalmer, as all tourists do, for the camel safari. We spoke to the hostel owner and he told us his family did camel safari’s in a small village where he grew up, about 40 minutes drive from the hostel. It seemed nice to see where this man had grown up, and his prices were very reasonable, so we took him up on the offer.

We woke up just after 8am to eat, prepare and start the short drive to the town where the safari would begin. We were greeted by the friendly faces of our tour guides and then introduced to our camel’s. My camel was called Curra, which was apparently short for Currathangreptranha (or something like that). Since I couldn’t pronounce or remember any of that I just called him Max, which he seemed to like. Max and I really hit it off and I could see this would be a long and fruitful relationship. We started with an hours ride and then stopped for lunch and a rest, which we needed more then the camels. It turns out the saddles don’t provide much comfort for the human behind. Our guides made us chai teas and lunch while we chatted in the midday heat. The camels were free to graze during all this but did have short ropes tied around their feet, to make sure they didn’t wander to far. Which I wasn’t thrilled by, but I can understand the necessity.

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Above: Starting our safari. Below: Max and I stopping for lunch

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Above: Taking off for the second leg

We avoided most of the heat and started our second leg of the trip. This was a slightly longer trip to the dunes where we would be camping. The desert silence was mixed in with some conversation, the odd antelope or lizard sighting and Disney tunes being played from a bluetooth speaker from the back of the camel line. This made the more painful two hour ride slightly more manageable. I also managed to convince the guides that I was in fact a seasoned camel rider so I was able to take the reigns and Max and I were free to wander the desert! The added bonus being that I didn’t like seeing his reigns yanked around every five seconds so I was able to give Max the smooth ride he deserved.

Once we arrived at the dunes we set up camp and the guides started preparing food. The camels were again free to roam and eat the bushes, but still with the ropes around their front feet. The best way I can describe it would be seeing someone trying to walk with their trousers around their ankles. Free, but not quite. The food was again really tasty, but it came with something that we effectionatly began calling, the desert crunch. Hard to cook a meal in the desert without a little sand getting involved, no?

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Above: Stopping for the night at the dunes. Kasey Marie and Shoogy in shot. Below: Desert sunset

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We slept on raised beds above the sand which was reasonably comfortable but also managed to keep us away from the large black beetles that appreared in hordes as soon as the sun went down. They were harmless but equally annoying. That night was the first time I had seen stars in India as it seemed this was the only place without a smog cloud or light pollution. The night did get a little cold but there is nothing nicer then falling asleep under the stars. We woke up to the sunrise and had a brief breakfast. We collected and saddled up the camels and began our hour trip back to the village.

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Above: saying our goodbyes.

We arrived back before our pick up cars and said our goodbyes to our travel companions. Once the jeeps arrived, to cheer myself up I asked if I could drive, which the guide was surprisingly happy to let me do. You might be able to catch that clip in the highlights film! All in all a good experience and I would recommend it to anyone but maybe just once. I don’t want to put Max under too much strain after all!

Agra to Jaipur

We wrapped things up in Agra within a day which is what I would recommend, then caught our train from Agra to Jaipur at around 6pm. This time we opted for the sleeper class. Someone recommended we give it a shot as it’s supposed to be an ‘experience’ (for those that don’t know, this class is lower then 1-3A and second class. I plan to do a more detailed post explaining the trains, classes, recommendations etc in future). We only took this class from Agra to Jaipur because it was only 4hrs and we weren’t sure what to expect. As with the other parts of India this didn’t let me down and was certainly a culture shock, but a good experience none the less.

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Above: Me with my bunk mate. Below: The carriage view (hard to get a good picture without being rude)

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The train was busy and there seemed to be no designated seats. We were told which seats we were sitting in which were already filled by a middle aged couple who just seemed to smile and nod when were repeatedly asked them to move. To avoid the ensuing farcical event we put our bags under the seats and took any available space. The train was reasonably pleasant and the fellow passengers are usually very friendly and happy to invite you to share their food. I ended up on a top bunk but swapped a few times throughout the journey. After about 2 hrs of sleep I was woken by a random man. I’m my dazed confusion I jumped off the bunk and took the seat he was pointing to. Only after waking up a bit more did I realise that he had just moved me so he could lie down. My tip would be to take a seat and don’t move for anyone. If you go to the toilet when you have a good seat, someone will take it.

The train arrived in Jaipur 2.30hrs late and we managed to get off at the wrong stop… Jaipur has 2 stops and because the trains move when they want to,  we wanted to avoid getting stuck so jumped off at the first station. We began spesking to some local boys who were in Jaipur for work/school from all parts of India. They were flatmates and had decided come back to the city early so they could enjoy themselves for the holiday, away from their strict parents. It looks like teenagers are all the same no matter where they live! They helped us order a taxi and even offered us local sweets and giftd us a scarf. We arrived at the Moustache hostel in Jaipur just after 1am, checked in and headed to bed.

We woke up early and met our friend from Agra, Lara. We then saw some sights in Jaipur like the Red Fort, Water Palace, City Palace and more. It was a beautiful city and it’s easy to see why they call it the pink city. I then managed to make my first purchase and got a little ripped off for a formal top (kurta) and 2 bottoms (pajamas). I only found out later that I had paid through the nose after speaking with the employees at the hostel. Still glad to have a genuine India kurta though. (When I say ripped off, I paid £40 for a tailored suit and 2 pajamas. So it wasn’t bad in relative terms. Someone explained an easy way to bargain in India to get a resonance price. When they give you the price of something, you should usually pay a 1/4 of the price. If they don’t go for this then just walk away).

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Above:  Meeting an elephant on the street. (They will expect you so pay after you take a picture). Below: Meeting some kids near the hostel

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We relaxed on the 3rd day as we had our train to catch that evening to Jaisalmer. We followed the delay times on trainman.com (great site for trains in India) and saw that our train was running over an hour late. So we decided to arrive at the station a little later, to avoid waiting on the platform. In India, this is NOT a clever idea. Being honest, no one really knows when the trains will arrive so just be there on time and sleep on the platform with the locals if you have to. In short we missed our train and had to stay another day in Jaipur. Always good to keep your plans flexible when traveling.

Big thanks to the staff at the Moustache Hostel Jaipur for helping us out so much. They allowed us to come back and arrange alternative transport, freshen up, and also sleep in the common room, even  though the hostel was fully booked. Highly recommend the hostel and their staff.

We managed to book an overnight bus to Jaisalmer instead of the train. Will keep you posted on the experience.

 

 

 

Train to Arga and the Taj Mahal

Our train to Agra was in the afternoon, so we woke up at around 10am and took a walk round the area in the daytime, after the fallout of Dawali and the fireworks. There were scorch marks dotted around the streets and lots of old pieces of fireworks which had been swept up haphazardly. We made our way to the shop to buy food and water for the train. I doubt many locals use the supermarkets as the price was definitely above average, but at least we didn’t have to haggle!

The train was set to leave at 4 and after some confusion as to which platform it would arrive we didn’t take off till after 5. I suppose that is the Indian way as nobody seemed to be bothered by the delay or the last minute change. We booked the A3 class which is the 3rd best air-conditioned class. It was very pleasant, lots of space and even someone bringing us food, water, tea/coffee and even bed sheets? We later found out that this was the most expensive train you can book… But for £12 I wasn’t complaining.

The arrival into Agra was a lot less stressful then I had anticipated. Other then the locals rushing us off the train because we were ‘taking too long’ (classic clueless westerners), the station was quite quiet. We managed to grab a Tuk Tuk to the hostel and the whole process was relatively painless! Oh, apart from Sarah spiling the boiling water on my leg… (to be honest it barely touched me). We had food at the hostel (Panda Friends Guest House, with Bob Marley Restaurant included) and got an early night so we could catch an early viewing of the Taj Mahal.

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We woke up at around 6am and started walking to the Taj, it was only a 15 minute walk from our hostel. We came from the east side, which I would recommend as there was someone there to show us how to get our ticket, get us free water and shoe covers, which you might have to pay for inside. They do try to take you on a tour which is really cheap but we didn’t bother.

Security at the entrance is quite busy but it moves fast. Also, don’t bring food, pens, chewing gum or note pads as they take these off you.

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The structure is absolutely amazing and I would definitely recommend it to anyone going to India. We arrived there at about 7am so we didn’t catch the sunrise, but without anything to compare it to, I would suggest the early morning as the lighting was amazing and the crowds were quite small, even for a weekend.

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(Pubic facial hair is coming along nicely. There are a few road side barbers that I might try out! I did get my tetanus shots so what could go wrong?)

After this we walked to the Agra fort. Some Tuk Tuk drivers will try to send you the wrong way so they can bring you there themselves but just make sure you ask 2 or 3 other people as well so you know where to go. Most people are very friendly and they are more then happy to help.

We grabbed lunch after the fort so went to ‘Pinch of Spice’ for lunch and I would highly recommend this to anyone in Agra. We also met a nice Croatian girl named Lara, we’re going to meet up with her at the next city and tag along on the tour she’s arranged.

We’re just avoiding the heat before we catch our next train to Jaipur at 6pm. This one is one class lower but only cost us £2, so look forward to the update from that! FYI, the toilets on trains are no better in any class, from what I’ve seen so far. On the plus side, Delhi has still not hit my belly. Although heartburn is a problem…

Travel tip: Strike up conversation with other travelers, you never know where it might take you!

Presidents House

After arriving early in the morning on the 19th, and with little sleep, it was hard to comprehend the beauty of the city. So after a shower and a quick nap we headed out to explore.

We were recommended a restaurant in town so we took the metro, which was described as 254x better then the London Underground by our taxi driver – how could we not try it! It’s unsurprisingly not exactly 254x better, but I could settle for 10x. They have a designated ladies carriage at the front of the train, which is definitely something London could use. Other then that the crowds, pushing and shoving are all the same, at least in India they do it with a smile.

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We had a Dosa for dinner. It’s a large pancake type dish with a potato curry (Sambhar) in the middle. There were then 4 dipping sauces to choose from. Coconut on the right, green was coriander and some spicy ass red stuff (made from garlic, called garlic Chatni). There was another potato curry on the left. All tasted amazing. Still no sign of the Delhi Belly but I’ll keep you posted on any bowel movements.

We then took a walk through the city with a girl from Israel that we met at the hostel. She told us that the presidents house was close so we decided to take a look. (Not before I managed to snag a cheap pair of Delhi trousers from an honest merchant. Who knows if I got ripped off, I haven’t been here long enough to tell, but I do look damn good I must say!). The presidents house and surrounding buildings were more beautiful then I could have expected! The lights changed colour every few seconds which cast a rainbow over the building, framed by the night sky.

Lesson 1: Take tips from strangers, you have nothing to lose.

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(Thanks to Anjali Upmanyu for the corrections)