As I’m sitting here, tired of reading my book, still feeling too sick to go out and do something, I realize how difficult starting this blog on our trip to Rajasthan is for me. I’m not sure why since it was a good trip. For me, though, it was shadowed by a head cold that kept rearing its head and two days ago became much worse. Along with that, trying to be a good tour guide for our group, an expectation I had put onto myself. The end of our trip it was rainy and cold in Jodhpur and Jaipur. When I saw our pictures I was surprised by the sunny days we had the majority of the trip. My stuffed up head had forgotten about that warmth. When we landed in Mumbai, I noticed my body relax and the air penetrate my weary bones. I was happy to be back. I think this a sign of settling into this chaotic city. With this said, Greg and I have already had thoughts about our next trip back to Rajasthan. I think I’ll do this blog in a more bulleted format.
Havelis, guesthouses and roof tops. The faithful Lonely Planet, along with suggestions from friends who visited Rajasthan over Diwali, came through in the sleeping category. In Jaipur, our first accommodation had a wonderful back yard with peacocks frequently stopping by, wonderful painted interior including the ceiling and a computerized check-out system. In Pushkar, again, the décor was wonderfully unique and bright. Small balconies over looked the town and the roof top restaurant provided splendid views. The rood top was serene and peaceful compared to the hawkers and pushy Brahmins wanting money for their “blessings.” In Udaipur…oh, Udaipur. We all liked Udaipur and wished we had more time there. The rooms at Dream Heaven all over looked the lake and its beautiful reflections of the white city. So did the restaurant…ahhh, the lake. We were lucky since this monsoon was long and wet. In drought years, the lake can be dried up, the island where the Lake View Hotel (where the James Bond flick, Octopussy, was filmed) stands on rock overlooking dried mud. In Jodhpur, we stayed in an old haveli within the old city’s walls. A haveli is an old mansion of the wealthy. Some have been turned into guest houses in order for the families to keep them. Greg and I walked around one that had been abandoned and was crumbling down. This haveli had fun décor with fabric, though our room had a nasty stench that did not go away. Our last hotel in Jaipur felt like we were in the US at a Motel 6. Bland, but clean.
Castles and forts. Rajasthan is famous for its old castles and many forts during the time of the Maharajas and Maharanis. Some cities still have royalty, much like England. They have opened and preserved palaces and forts to help earn money to keep their history alive. We also discovered the audio tour, which the Agra Fort, Udaipur and Jodhpur have done an excellent job with. So, all of pictures with us in those places have headphones making a cameo appearance. All of the castles and forts were maze like, with each ruler adding their own style and defense ideas. So rooms were elaborately decorated with mirrors, stained glass, and paintings. Others, a simple, but regal marble. I loved trying to imagine what it was like during the time when the walls were filled with the royal family and court. The book called “The Far Pavillions,” which I read during my Dengue stupor in college while in my Jamaica study abroad, took place in Rajasthan, so it was wonderful to see in real life what my mind had conjured up.
Taj Mahal Check, did it. Two out of the six of us had seen the Taj Mahal, but it still is a beautiful structure and hard to take a bad picture there. The adventure to Agra was the train ride. We caught a 6:10am train in Jaipur, which dropped us off about four and a half hours later in Agra. We had lunch, saw the Taj, saw the Agra Fort, had some dinner and then took another train back at 8:10am. The first train, we had AC Chair Car seats. Very nice and food delivered to us. On the way back we had sleep Car seats. This means we each had a seat and a bunk, but the windows were opened allow natural breeze to cool the car. Lesson learned: always carry bedding. I failed to realize how cold it would be in December on the train ride. Luckily it was only 4 and a half hours, so we all lived through it. That was the big adventure part of the trip.
Surprises. Ranakpur! Wow!! Really, the reason I even had us travel by car was to see these Jain temples between Udaipur and Jodhpur and we agreed that this was THE highlight of the trip. The Taj or Ranakpur – Ranakpur hands down. It was in the middle of nowhere, among beautiful hills. The ride there was through small villages and farm land. Water is irrigated by a series of water wheels that are run by oxen and drawn up with many tin cans on a loop. They use one until the water hole is dry for the season and start on another. Simple, yet effective. The Jain Temples were very detailed and ornate. The main temple had 1444 pillars made of marble. Spectacular.
Animals. Holy Cows!!! Peacocks and peahens. Monkeys. Parrots. Camels. Elephants. Cobras. You aren’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. Ryan made his goal of riding on a camel in Pushkar. He was about to pass on fulfilling this goal (he was promptly accused of being all talk and no walk), when Suzy said she’d go with him. The look on Suzy’s face when the camel stood up made it worthwhile for Ryan. My goal of seeing a cobra became a reality. When we went to have lunch on the back side of the Jaipur Palace, I heard the unmistakable sound of the snake charmers’ instrument, wailing close by. Rounding a corner, there they were, two of them, sticking straight up, facing the snake charmer. Sweeeeeet! (The wailing flute does get to be a bit much after awhile).
Lost in Translation? Mmmmm, nope. Over all we liked our driver. He was safe and cautious, which was welcomed. He was on time and would have rather been driving us the entire trip, but there were three days when he did not need to. At the end of the trip, we figured out how much in tip we would give him. After unloading our luggage, we thanked him and Greg gave him 1000 rupees. He looked offended and we couldn’t figure out why. He wouldn’t take the money. I called the travel agent who booked the driver and he said “you can give him a tip or not. It’s up to you. If he won’t take it then that’s his choice.” Greg went to try again. The issue was the driver wanted 500 Rs per person, well above the 100 Rs per day guidebooks and people had told us was typical. The driver called his boss and Greg told him what was going on. The bossman said, give him 1000 Rs, that’s what you are giving him. So, that’s what we did. Very strange.
Shopping. I should say SHOPPING!!! There was a lot of this. Greg and I had some ideas about some decorations we wanted to buy, but for those of us living here and those of us visiting, it’s a whole different ballgame. Rajasthan is known for its fabrics, clothing, miniature paintings, and much more. Suzy and Ryan left with a fair more than they came with and my dad and Alison have begun their India goods stockpile.
Sickness. Okay, this isn’t a highlight, but neither was the driver. But it was a part of the trip nonetheless. Sadly, this tour guide was sick the entire trip. Some days better than others. At the end I was fed up and just wanted some beer, so I decided for a few days I didn’t care if I was sick. Now, I’m on antibiotics. Alison caught the head cold about day two into the trip, so she could guess a little about what would be in store for her the next day. At dinner in Pushkar, with Alison staying to rest in the guest house, my dad suddenly said he needed to leave. I walked after him and he turned red and hot. But, he never threw up. He spent the night and next day feeling nauseous. Luckily, it was a day of driving, so he stretched out in the back of the van and slept for 8 hours. Suzy was next. In Jodhpur, she didn’t join us for dinner our first night. After a yummy dinner, we went up to bed after a long day (including Ranakpur!). As I was brushing my teeth, I could hear someone vomiting. “Oooo,”I thought, “That doesn’t sound good.” For a fleeting moment I thought about Suzy. Ten minutes later, Ryan shows up at our door to tell us about Suzy’s state. Suzy had about 24hours of the bug and then seemed well enough the rest of the trip. Ryan and Greg were unscathed…so far.
There it is in a nutshell. At least my version. There was so much that happened in ten days! Thanks to our four visitors for celebrating the holidays with us!