Next stop was Jodhpur, the blue city. Wasn't able to get a good photo of that quirk but we saw the Meharangh fort. It was AmAZInG!!! It has stood uncovered for 600 years and is formidably huge. There were many clever additions like spikes on the entries to stop elephant ramming and sharp right turns so elephants couldn't get a good run up. We also saw a engraving of the kings brides hands. Our audio guide informed us that when a king died, his brides would make a cast of their hand when they left the castle. They also had to throw themselves alive into the Kings burning funeral pyre without making a sound....SO gruesome!
23 January 2016
All the cities in Rajasthan have forts but jaisalmer is very interesting because it's fort is still in operation and had people living in it. We spent our next day exploring the fort and enjoying the orange sunset over the sandstone buildings and desert.
22 January 2016
After an overnight BUMBY bus from Pushkar we arrived in jaisalmer and promptly booked a camel journey for 2pm. We almost fell into a scam, being siphoned off at the bus stop but luckily we said we had to make it to our hostel before we decided anything and figured out the whole story. We ended up trekking into the desert with a Canadian dad son and sons girlfriend and had a lovely night out under the stars. P.S camels really aren't that comfortable
21 January 2016
Pushkar wasn't very large and we saw a lake where we managed to fall for the classic tourist scam of offering prayers to the river only to be strongholded for 'donations'. We hope our money blesses you all with health and happiness :) we also did a spot of shopping to the background sound of raucous drums and harsh Indian wedding music.
We continued our luxurious spin and got a private car to Pushkar...it actually worked out cheaper than the bus!!! Our hotel, Kanhaia haveli was definitely a step down but notheless clean and quaint. We're well rested and ready for a big day exploring Pushkar!!!
20 January 2016
We did some brief forays into Jaipur, but it was pretty average. The hotel was definitely the main attraction!
19 January 2016
Checked into the opulent jai mahal palace at 7:00. We enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast and our room was ready by 9:00. Excited to live in the lap of luxury for a night :) more pictures to come
18 January 2016
Overnight AV sleeper bus to Jaipur...stressful as the taxi driver didn't know where to go, but in typical Indian fashion the bus was late and we got on it. Very comfy cabin/beds but VERY bumpy. Indian roads are not smooth :)
16 January 2016
Rishikesh was our next stop. It was a relaxing chill spot on the Ganges, up in the mountains where it is clean. The stopping point for the Beatles when they went for their ashram stint, it was a town crawling with gringos or 'ghoras' who were wanting to connect with their inner yogi or spiritual being. We tried yoga but we're all very inflexible so it was an hour of torture..( might try to get into it when we get back to Aus). We went white water rafting which was a blast, and while doing so went for a swim in the Ganges. IT WAS FREEZING !!!!....But I suppose our spirits are now cleansed. James got into the spirit and transformed his look into relaxed hippie traveller, and we all ended up buying wool scarf ponchos. They beat friendship bracelets any day. We treated ourselves with a spot of western fare and overall had a lovely respite from the chaos of the rest of the trip!
Arrrgh everything is out of order as journi works by picture date and posting date, so I'm sorry for the jumble but I'll try and be more vigilant in posting each day.
James has pictures on his camera, but the rest of the day was spent at the famous Mughal silk area. Varanasi is famous for its silk and especially its silk sari's. Evie and I walked away with our own gorgeous ensembles and James purchased a couple of smaller silk brocade items.
15 January 2016
As our train was super late, we got into Delhi at 2am. We were very scared and were swarmed by taxi drivers even that late at night! To prevent as much as we could something dodgy we managed to find the prepaid taxi stand and got a nice taxi to our hotel, Sikkim house. It was a struggle finding it, but it was right in the middle of the embassy area so the streets were wide, clean and empty of people. Unfortunately this hotel wasn't provided and we had to pay, but for 150 rupees each per night we got an entire dorm room to ourselves! Not the worst outcome. After a long sleep in we woke up, got money and visited Jama masjid mosque and the red fort, ending the night at the Muslim markets :) an early nights sleep was had before our 6:45 am fast train from Delhi to haridwar for our next pit stop Rishikesh!! (This train was on time thank god!)
14 January 2016
We were booked on a shatabdi train (super fast on time) to Delhi. Just our luck though that the train ended up being delayed by 2 hrs. We struck up a couple of conversations in the food court, firstly with a group of Kashmiri women 2 sisters (of grandmother age) and their daughters. The older lady Farida who could speak English had a degree in physics and was a school principal, her niece Saima was a fashion designer and her daughter whose name I've forgotten ( she didn't speak much) was an architect. They were scheduled to be on our train too and were exceedingly nice sharing special Kashmiri plum cake with us. Evie noted that it tasted very similar to a traditional butter cake. We also met two Canadian girls. They managed to get to the taj at sunrise (what we wanted initially) but the fog was so thick they couldn't even see it inside the complex. They waited for 5 hrs for it to clear! So, in a strange way we dodged a bullet, as in the afternoon the taj was visible!
As we had spent hours on a train, my phone died after our photos at the entrance of the Taj. It was absolutely magnificent- definitely worthy of its 'world wonder' status- though a bit disappointing as there was lots of fog/smog. James has lots of pictures so it's okay :).
We stopped off at Sheroes hangout for lunch which is a cafe run by acid attack victims that is pay what you wish. It was humbling to see the girls and all the stories of how they have rebuilt their lives after their attacks.
As the train was 5 hrs late and arrived at Agra fort station as opposed to Agra cantt. We decided to switch our itinerary- scrap fatephur Sikri and do a quick tour of the fort before the Taj Mahal (our day had been cut in half). The fort was well worth it and our tour guide we hired inside was excellent at giving us the rundown of the Mughal kings and their empire and areas of Agra fort. Did you know the guy that built the Taj Mahal was imprisoned by his own son?!
Then came the TRAIN fiasco.
Due to upcoming republic day and potential terror threat and horrible fog. The 5pm train we were meant to catch was cancelled. The only other seats available on any train that day was sleeper class ( one above unreserved) on an 11pm train that would get us to Agra by 7am the next day. We were hesitant but decided to strap all our valuables to ourselves and cop it. Unfortunately as they were the the last tickets available. 2 beds were together and one was at the other end of the carriage. In the interest of safety James had to take that :(. After the incidents previously described we realised our train was exceedingly late and we ended up getting into Agra at 1 pm as opposed to 7:30 am!!!
The instant we got on All eyes were on us. We were all petrified and vowed to not sleep as there was no guarantee our stuff was secure. Then Evie and I lucked out. In our 6 person berth area there were 3 local university students who spoke almost fluent English and who were fascinated and excited to actually speak with a foreigner. Considering we were the first foreigners they had ever spoken English with their accents were impeccable. We discussed a wide range of topics including Indian education, global warming and ISIS ( not doing much to help the India-Pakistan relationship). The boys shared their home cooked train meals with us which at that point was a blessing and they helped us secure our big bags. Evie and I managed to sleep knowing we had three people around us who would help us if anything dodgy happened. Luckily it didn't. Unfortunately James didn't get the same experience. As he was on his own and noone in his carriage spoke English his journey was much more stressful.
13 January 2016
The next morning while James was sleeping Evie and I went for a two hour sunrise walk along the ghats observing daily life. It was fascinating to see the different industries at each ghat work. We also stumbled upon mass public yoga/meditation, but were unfortunately a bit late to join in.
Our last day in Varanasi was spent mosying around the alleyways, getting much anticipated henna and making friends with the gujarat university shooting team and a newlywed Muslim couple who's were a journalist and a scrap metal removalist at a hole in the wall dosa shop. It was absolutely pumping out dosas for locals, and was a nice respite from the multitude of touts in every other section of the old city. The chats were genuine without an ulterior item selling motive in mind!
12 January 2016
Old Varanasi is a maze of tiny alleyways navigating between bikes, people and goats and cows. In other words MAYHEM
After a 5am wake up to get to the airport and our 8:25 am flight we finally reached Varanasi. We weren't able to check into the hotel because they were still cleaning rooms, but as soon as we got a look at the view ( hotel alka is right on the Ganges river) we were happy to sit and chill, watching the river life go by.
CLICK ON THE PHOTO -morning river trip on the Ganges
We went for a early morning boat ride along the river to get a view of the ghats (sections of steps next to the river) each of the ghats has a different purpose. Some are for washing clothes, washing people, holy rituals and burnings. No pictures were allowed at the burning ghats but they were desolate with big piles of smoldering ashes.
10 January 2016
Then we met a vivacious young girl who showed us had community and her home. Completing our journey through the Kolkata's local life.
We were given an intense moment of what it was like to be a celebrity.
We feasted and partied.
Also it was a Sikh new year celebration.
Also we got upgraded. Again.
We were invited to join an Indian wedding! Goal of the trip achieved! The community had raised money to provide beautiful weddings for 20 poor Muslim girls. They were given gifts of beds, gas stoves, pots and buckets.
Caught metro to college street to see the books. Got a little lost and realised college street was closed because it was a public holiday...but a happy coincidence as it led to the wedding.
Church service in the morning out of curiosity where we met Johney. The crazy Indian priest with dreadlocks who apologised for the length of the service and played pink floyd on the organ.
9 January 2016
Moved to another room - our 'proper' accommodation. Luxurious with our own bathroom and TV lounge sitting area. Perfect for our evening wind-down and our attempts to overcome jet lag by staying up till a reasonable hour (8:30 pm :) ).....clocking out
South Park Street Cemetery-
"Beautiful and Inspiring, each step a step back in time to a world long forgotten. Moving at every level" -James Robinson
Amazing large English style tombs with forest regrowth, making us feel like we were in the middle of an Indiana Jones epic.
10 of our favourite photos from Kolkata....next stop VARANASI
The National India Museum!
James by this stage was extremely culture shocked so we explored down Sudder St and found Blue Sky Cafe, a relievening 'gringo cafe' that had decent cheap food and the all important WiFi
We started our walk around down park street and stumbled upon a big market area 'new market'.
All the banks are on strike so money changers are closed. Luckily Evie brought a lot of changed currency otherwise today would have been spent entirely in the hotel!
2 hours of the morning spent trying to get a sim. Finally succeeded thanks to Manooj ( Mac) but it won't be operational till Sunday or Monday
Morning walks in maidan park with old mate kangaroo bin.
Our bed accommodation for the first night!
After a grueling 2 hrs getting through customs we were picked up by mr. manooj of Sikkim house with a sign 'Georgie Kelvin Australian Friend' and thankfully a taxi. As it was midnight there was no traffic and the normally 1 to 2 hr journey was cut to 30 mins. Still we had time to stop for a Chai, served in cool little clay cups and were shown to a basic room where we immediately crashed, Evie noting it was the best sleep of her life!
8 January 2016
KL airport 5 hr stopover....time for dins and a spot of duty free gin
5 hours of non stop conversation on the varied topics in the book later, we realize there are still 4 entertainment-less hrs to go. Our brains (my brain) are about to explode with general knowledge, so for now.....it's Serial Season 2.
Musings on Security at Sydney: an electronic scanned passport photo confirmed by someone far back at the desk, and a drop of the departure card in a box....MODERNISATION!!!!!
Air Asiaaaa, the flight begins - the guy in the back of the picture had a birthday serenade over the speaker that he totally missed because he was listening to music. His loss, we enjoyed it :)