Thursday, 22 April 2010

This is the touristy bit!

Not surprisingly, Rajasthan is one of the most popular states in India for the average tourist to visit. And the reason for that is simple: Around the 16th Century, Rajput strength was at it’s peak and the state was made up of a series of kingdoms ruled by powerful leaders and Maharajah’s, who built impressive palaces and forts to protect their domains.

Over the years those fortresses were put to the test time after time, in defense against attacking powers and so Rajasthan is rich in both fascinating history and monumental architectural structures. In just over a week we made it our mission to visit as many forts and palaces, as was humanly possible. Some have been perfectly preserved or reconstructed to give you an atmospheric glimpse of their original grandeur – some are in a sad state of disrepair but all share that magic quality of ‘viewability’ – that made our time in Rajasthan captivating.
We began our tour of Rajasthan in Jaipur, visiting the Amber Fort

just outside the city (where I was delighted when our guide asked if Darko was my son……seriously – has married life really taken its toll that much?)

as well as the city palace (still inhabited by the Maharajah of the city today)

and the impressive, weird and wonderful observatory.

From Jaipur we had a quick stop in Bundi, one of the smaller towns on our circuit, where Rudyard Kipling spent time writing, which actually gave us a wonderful insight into why people used to fall in love with India.

Wandering the narrow lanes and alleys filled with bright blue buildings (painted blue to represent the Brahmin caste to which the inhabitants belong)

we were greeted with warm smiles and an amicable willingness to pose for a picture

without ever being asked for ‘rupees’ or ‘school pens’.

The streets were surprisingly clean and garbage free

and the ram shackled, falling down palace towering above the town, on the way up to the impressive fort on the hilltop behind, made a suitably romantic excursion for the late afternoon and early evening as the sun set behind the horizon.

In Bundi we stayed in a 500 yr old renovated Haveli with stained glass windows and traditional murals that made us feel like we were stepping back in time.

From Bundi we made our way to Chittorgah to explore the various ruins and structures of yet another hill top fort,

with its Palaces, Tower of Victory and Tower of Freedom, displaying sculpture and stonework that rivaled that of Hampi.

This was where we also managed to get a taste of the real authentic Indian experience for my Dad and his wife,

since most tourists only stop by for the day and visitor accommodations are sparse. We found ourselves a cheap hotel with mostly Indian guests and were treated to the usual delights of loogie hocking sounds through the paper thin walls and even a special visit in the night from the hotel clerk trying to deposit a second loads of guests into the room already occupied by my dad…..just so happened he was standing naked by the bed at the precise moment the door was flung open. Needless to say, the clerk made a hasty retreat and certainly got an eyeful of a naked Dave out of the deal! 5 Star service all the way!

From here we made our way to the magical city of Udaipur.

Considered by many to be the most romantic city in India, and I have to say, I think I agree.

The view from our hotel rooftop was utterly spectacular, looking out over the lake on the banks of which the city nestles. The island beyond the shore is actually home of the lake palace, now an exclusive hotel where part of James Bond, Octopussy was filmed and so we enjoyed several meals just gazing out to this picture of elegant beauty. And surprise, surprise there was a palace to visit, with exquisite mirror work and murals throughout decorating the walls and ceilings. Mostly the palaces of Rajastan are a series of rooms and courtyards that have been constantly amended and added to over the centuries that give you the sense that you are lost in the labyrinth of a fairytale castle.

It’s easy to spend hours just wandering about from room to room, imagining in your mind’s eye, the life of the Maharajah and his Maharani, with all their servants and courtiers.
After a second day in Udaipur, spent riding around the surrounding countryside of the city, on thoroughbred Mewari horses (don’t forget to ask Diane how much she loved that morning more than any other part of the trip) and dining in one of the finest restaurants of India, overlooking the lake with a lovely bottle of rose, it was time to move on once again.

This time to Jodhpur: another Brahmin blue town

with charming alleys

and friendly faces,

and yep, you’ve guessed it a fort with a palace.

Finally we made it to the final destination on our sightseeing itinerary in the town of Jaisalmer, and said goodbye to Krishna, our wonderful driver who had miraculously got us all the way there in one piece without a scratch or a dent, although at one point we did wonder whether we were going to be stranded in the desert with the clutch in pieces on the highway, since his ability to change gears almost completely arrested by the time we made it.

Jaisalmer is less than 150KM from the border of Pakistan and so we noticed a distinct difference in the personality of the place.

Perhaps it is just the dry arid heat of the desert that calms the mayhem of India, but to me it seemed decidedly different to the rest of India.

From here we arranged a camel safari,

to spend a night out under the stars, eating by the light of campfire and enjoying the fresh cool air of the desert at night. As we lay on our blankets waiting for sleep to wash over us we were treated to the spectacle of a shooting star or two to wish upon and thankfully awoke to find that our wishes had been granted and our camels were still on hand to take us back to civilization.

Although Darko discovered unhappily that his camel managed to take the concept of ‘morning breath’ to a whole new level while he was preparing to mount and found himself gagging from the foul odor emanating from his camel’s mouth, we were glad of the ride, since by 9am the scorching sun was already beating down on us full pelt and giving us a taster of the heat to come.
Finally we caught the overnight train back to Delhi, where we were to part ways with our travel companions and point them in the direction of the Himalayas, whilst we would head off on our final task of this crash course to insanity, of seeking a little spiritual enlightenment. On the train we had a chance to reflect on our whirlwind tour and reminisce on some of the more memorable moments. The very concept of traveling in India with novice backpackers in the over 50’s category was truly a bit of a daunting one, but we were glad to say that our buddies handled it all with ease (although Diane may disagree if you ask her about that lovely train ride back to Delhi and the aftermath – but that’s for her to tell!). Despite the daily growing stack of luggage, and the inability of my father to show up on time for anything (nothing new there then!), we all proved to be a pretty well behaved troupe of travel companions. Amongst the most memorable moments though I have to say, it wasn’t the beautiful mosaic mirror work on the ceilings of the palaces or the impressive vistas from the roof of a fortress. Nor was it the silence and stillness of the sand dunes

as the cool evening breeze began to blow whispers across my face, or the rolling lilt of the camel’s rhythmical stride under the scorching sun. No, it was the repeated queries from my father, about the schedule for the day that had already been discussed 17 times over breakfast, or the constant questions for Darko about camera settings and ISO speed. And then there were the hilarious moments on the overnight trains, watching with amusement as Diane attempted to hoist herself up on to the top bunk of the sleeper car and failing miserably (making it eventually, with a bit of a boost from behind), or learning that Diane was actually planning to ‘hold it in’ all night because she just couldn’t bring herself to do the ‘squat and squirt’ in one of the ‘hole in the ground’ toilets. (Apparently the stench was just too foul and made her wretch the minute she bent down – which I guess probably would inhibit the relaxation of the correct bladder muscles for urination). Ahh – such giggles we had at the expense of poor Diane – but don’t worry – we finally found a stall with a ‘sit upon’ as she called it and the call to nature was successfully answered. And then of course there were the lessons on how to get rid of the beggars and touts and the imparting of the wisdom that the salesmen are almost NEVER telling the truth, as well as the multiple training sessions we attempted to provide (mostly in vain) about the nuances of a successful haggle – lets just say that Diane’s poker face needs a lot of work! It was all these personal moments and many more that made our little jaunt around Rajastan more than just a trip to India – but a portion of this crash course to insanity we are on that I will always remember with fondness and pride.

I discovered that I can actually get along with my father for more than two hours at a time and that family truly is a precious thing. (Especially when that family helps to up your daily accommodation budget from $10 to $25 and you actually get a good night’s sleep as a result – India looks so much better after a good night’s sleep with a chauffeur driven car!). But all joking aside, traveling with family really is a great way to get to know one another in a neutral environment that can help you to see a person in a whole new way and I really would recommend it to everyone……..but don’t quote me on that!

No comments:

Post a Comment