Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Jodhpur



Jodhpur market and fort
Another tale of train woe to start this trip. It was supposed to be a short morning ride from Jaipur with an opportunity to see some countryside in the daylight and still have half a day to look around Jodhpur. Of course the Indian train world rarely goes to plan and, after checking just how late the train was expected to be, we arrived a couple of hours late to the station. A couple of hours more and we were finally on the train and moving and we arrived only about 5 hours late. So much for looking around Jodhpur that day.

Passengers jumping onto the moving train
Colourful













Anyway, Jodhpur turned out to be probably our best stop. It is much smaller (less than 2 million) and feels a little less hectic except around the main bazaar areas. The old part of the city has many houses painted blue as this used to signify the houses of the Brahmins (the top caste), though now anyone can paint their house blue or any other colour. Within the city area there are two major attractions, the first being the last grand palace built in India (in the early 20th Century). The 300+ rooms are occupied by the Maharajah of Jodhpur and his family plus a 5-star hotel, so without paying the $US600+ a night fee it isn’t easy to see inside. Luckily the other attraction, the Mehrangarh Fort makes up for everything. It stands at the top of the old town looking very impressive and is the best I have seen in India.
Umaid Bhawan Palace




Before we got there though we visited the textile warehouse that I mistakenly referred to in the last post as being in Jaipur! When you’re moving to new locations every other day it is easy to lose track …






We had ample opportunities to purchase clothes, spices, bangles and rubber ends for chair legs from the incredibly hectic market. So colourful and loud but a nightmare to navigate with stalls everywhere, half the city’s population, and all sorts of traffic competing for the roadway.

 




On with the Mehrangarh fort.  Built in the 15th Century it was never conquered and that is not surprising given the massive walls and position on top a ridge above the city. The usual collection of courtyards and decorated rooms along with a huge collection of cannons on the walls. There were plenty of local Rajasthanis with their traditional moustaches dressed in traditional garb awaiting photo opportunities, for a price. Interesting was watching one demonstrate tying his turban. They must be 30m long and require a companion to hold one end while he slowly wraps it around his head. Once it is all tucked in the turban can be taken off and put back on again just like a hat.


in the armoury


turban wrapping










Jaswant Thada - final resting
place of the Maharajahs
After leaving the Fort refreshed we walked along the ridgeline (turning down numerous offers from tuk-tuk drivers) to a marble cenotaph – a beautiful building where the various Maharajas of Jodhpur are buried. Well, at least some of them as inside as paintings (presumably not the originals) of each of the Maharajas dating back to 1250. A serious amount of history.








Serious muttonchops




Friday, 28 October 2016

Jaipur


Patiently waiting for a train
These posts seem to start with “another long and much-delayed train journey …” and this is no exception. This was supposed to be a short daytime trip starting early morning which would give us most of the afternoon to explore, however the 07:30 train didn’t get underway till 11am! At least the station was a relatively clean place to wait, and wait. At least it being a daytime trip we got to see more of the countryside along the way.

Who has the right of way? Train or cow?





That's a tiny Vicki at the bottom!
Jaipur (aka the “Pink City”) has a surfeit of attractions mainly based in two areas – the walkable central old city and a string of palaces and forts on the surrounding hills. The latter all lie in one direction out of the city so it makes sightseeing easy. Our first day out took through the city walls to the centre of the city. The walls and many buildings are pink in colour, though some seem to have more of an orange tone. We started with one of my favourite attractions from when I last visited 30 years ago – the Jantar Mantar Observatory. This is a large garden full of ancient structures that can be used to determine time and the position of various celestial bodies. The scale is enormous and the structures are fascinating even if you have no interest in their function (queue one of our party).

Jantar Mantar structures ...




Swamped with schoolgirls, and their teacher



The City Palace
Immediately across the road (avoiding the usual stalls and shopkeepers) is the entrance to the City Palace. This is a complex full of courtyards and rooms that are truly beautiful, the original home of the Maharaja of Jaipur. It is easy to spend hours wandering around here.





Taking a well-earned rest











The final stop of the day was outside the Hawa Mahal (the “Palace of the Winds”).  Built in 1799 it isn’t really a building as such, just an impressive frontage designed so the royal ladies could observe street life without being seen themselves. Apart from us observing this beautiful fa├žade, the other reason we were here is that 30 years ago I bought a puppet from a shop opposite. Over the years it had slowly rotted away and I wanted a replacement. I couldn’t find any puppets in what I thought might be the original shop but we were directed to a shop a few doors away (horizontally and vertically). There appeared to be either old ones available with well-carved faces and material in poor condition for a lot of money or new ones with less detail but cheap. Something about the old ones taking 10 days to carve while the new ones can be turned out 10-a-day. Hence no new old ones, so to speak. Finally managed to negotiate for a reasonable quality new one that looked almost as good as the old except the material wasn’t about to rot in a year or two.

puppet show at the Palace

And suddenly something amazing lumbers by!
 Now every day since being in India the temperature has been in the mid-30s but here it only dropped to the low-20s at night. The problem being that I had mistakenly booked a room without air-con, so sleep was very difficult.
The next day we hired a tuk-tuk (and driver!) for the day for 600 rupees ($NZ13) and headed out of town. As a large city it took some time to escape but Shahid, our driver, had converted the rear parcel area to a set of large speakers and attempted to drown out the street racket with his music, luckily he had good taste in Hindi music!





First stop: as we headed up through a small village we stopped at a local temple and popped in to hear some chanting and collect a real flower garland each. The Hindu temples are always interesting with their decorations and multiple gods. Outside there was a herd of cows milling around and they enjoyed feeding on our garlands!


Visiting the temple
Disposing of the garlands
Official rubbish disposal


Second was the Monkey Temple (at least that is what they tell English-speaking tourists it is called). A series of Hindi temples built around a spring that provides water to baths, which humans and friendly monkeys were enjoying. It was a very peaceful spot.
Rubbish everywhere outside the temple
One of the locals
Another local
Drying out after a swim
Construction equipment

One very happy girl!
Next up was something unexpected that turned out to be a major highlight for us – an elephant sanctuary. Elephants are used to transport tourists up to some of the local attractions but they are now banned from taking part in ceremonies so many came to this large reserve. We spent about 45 minutes feeding two of them which was just magical. If only we had known about this we would have made time to take part in painting (!) and washing them and even riding them. They just put a padded blanket on to ride on, not the usual big wooden seats used for the (other) tourists.


Tara with her keeper
Pedicure time

There are three big forts running along a ridge back towards Jaipur. We started at the biggest and the best – the Amer (or Amber) Fort. It is a huge complex nestled on a ridge but with walls running along the neighbouring ridge tops, much like the Great Wall of China. Once again there were many courtyards and rooms to wander through. Another few hours went so quickly. As the sun was going down by this time we drove up past the next fort, Jaigarh, and onto Nahargarh Fort to watch the sun set over Jaipur. As is the norm around here the sun is a large orange/red disc as it sinks into the murk above the horizon and disappears completely before it hits the horizon.




The fort walls run across the ridge in the background
The Water Palace




Jaipur is also renowned for its textiles and we spent quite some time in various shops listening to the sales pitches. It is always best to enter a shop by yourself rather than be shown to one by a local as they are there to collect their up to 40% commission on anything you buy. It is always their cousin’s or brother’s shop they are taking you into (yeah, right!). We had already picked up the odd scarf by this stage, some silk, others allegedly so. But we did find a warehouse that sold top quality fabrics, both of local manufacture and special “over-runs” for orders for European fashion houses like Versace and Hermes. Whether that is true or not the actual materials were superb and we succumbed. We Googled that shop later and found most people doubtful of the claims but all were impressed by the quality of the goods they received, so we were pretty happy (and financially poorer) in the end.


Our final impressions of Jaipur are that it is a large city of many millions with all the noise, chaos and pollution that brings, but there are a lot of amazing attractions to visit and the entire old pink city is a wonder in itself. Well worth the trip.

Bye!