A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Road to Jaipur

The alarm went off at 5:30am. The storm that had been threatening all night had never come, thank god. The drive to Jaipur was about 5 hours. Once we’d entered the state of Rajisthan the roads improved massively. The whole area just seemed better off. Tractors ploughed the fields in place of ox, the cars seemed newer and we even saw some two-storey buildings.

We entered Jaipur and were pleasantly surprised at how clean it was. Rubbish was limited to a few piles on the odd street corner instead of being spread all over town and rendered buildings looked quite well maintained.

We were blown away by our hotel;

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old English colonial style, with massive chandeliers and white marble furniture in reception. Our room was decorated from the same period with a four-poster bed.

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We obviously had no hot water but after three weeks without a hot shower we were getting used to it. We spent the afternoon beside the beautiful pool situated in a landscaped garden. Not bad, not bad at all.

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Posted by asprey 23:58 Archived in India Comments (0)

Our cool guide AJ

Our guide AJ, who was the best one yet, told us we were going to Jantar Mantar, I don’t think anyone had any idea of what it was. As we walked through the main entrance and into the large courtyard I gasped, “no way! This is the place I saw the Dan Cruckshank documentary on! I always wanted to see this but didn’t even know what country it was in! And now we’re here!”
I was so pleased; it was a giant out door observatory. Huge concrete built instruments used to measure the stars and tell time.

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AJ gave an impressively knowledgeable talk on the instruments and how they worked.

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It was really great in a nerdy kind of way. I loved it.

Next it was on to the King’ palace, opened up by the Jaipur royal family as an historical site and museum. Again AJ’s knowledge was impressive.

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The evening bought a special treat; a traditional Indian puppet show. It was like Punch and Judy on korma powder and acid. The craziest and weirdest 20 minutes of my life but lots of fun and laughs. Beers followed.

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Arriving in Delhi

On the way out of Jaipur we stopped off at the Amber Fortress; another amazing building expertly explained by AJ. If an Indiana Jones film wasn’t shot here then there’s something wrong, we felt like we were in the middle of one of his adventures.

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Leaving the fort we were treated to the sight of over 30 elephants hanging around in the car park waiting for rich German tourist to turn up in their luxury coaches.

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Then it was on to Delhi.

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The roads got bigger and building got higher, eventually we were passing high-rise flats and super-modern cinema complexes. To be honest I was a little disappointed to be back in a big modern city. Xi’an in China was the last real big modern city we’d seen and that was two months ago. I was almost intimidated by it all.

Sarah found it hilarious that next to the crazy gridlocked three lanes of traffic, there was a fourth lane, the Commonwealth Games Lane.

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We didn’t see a single car in that lane the whole time. It looked like the reports that no one was bothering going to the games were true.

Kristina moved onto the back streets of Delhi and stopped outside the Good Times hotel. The hissing of her air breaks signalled the end of the trip. Kathmandu to Delhi completed.

We jumped into a tuk tuk to the cheap end of town. As always the tuk tuk driver assured us he knew where he was going. 100 metres down the street the driver stopped, “I’ll take you to the tourist information centre for the hotel booking service.” Tuk tuk drivers earn commission from this service.
“We have a hotel booked already.” I said, slightly annoyed.
“Where do you book?”
“On the Internet.’
“I think they have double booked your reservation.”
“How do you know that? Do you have WiFi on this tuk tuk? Just take us to the Pearl Palace.”
“No! You must book another hotel.”
“Do you know where the Pearl Palace is?”
“No.”
Sarah jumped out, “you absolute idiot! You let us load our bags in this thing, you drive us just down the road and they try and rip us off!”
“But… miss…”
“Don’t even talk to me!” said Sarah more than a little angry.
He looked at me for an answer, “probably best you don’t talk to her, she will kick you ass! And to be honest you deserve it!” I said nodding.
He looked like he’d been slapped round the face. I don’t think he was used to powerful women.

In the evening we headed to Conaught Place, the most cosmo area of Delhi, and the most expensive. We paid double the price of any other meal we ‘d had so far on India and it was pretty average food. Sarah didn’t feel too good, we think maybe too much sun so we headed home early.

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Delights of Delhi

We headed out on our own for the first time in six weeks, just the two of us. We’d had warning from Dragoman that Delhi was on the highest level of terror alert, ‘Possible Imminent Attack,’ obviously linked to the Commonwealth Games. We used the assumption that terrorists tend to strike in the morning rush hour; 9/11, London, Madrid, all happened before 9:00am. We decided to wait until 10:30am before riding the Delhi metro system.

The metro was surprisingly modern, but shockingly crowded. A double queue formed at each door location, 50+ people long. The front two carriages were reserved for women only. Queue guards doubled as ‘pushers’ – forcing people onto the carriage so the doors could shut. Two or three trains came and went before we worked our way to the front of the queue. We were ‘pushed’ on and the doors closed. Each of us had six or seven people touching us, the only saving grace was that we were a good foot taller than anyone else on the train so we were out of the breath zone. Sarah fought her way forward and through into the women’s carriage where there was only a quarter of the number of people. She laughed and waved at me sandwiched between a mash of locals.

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I survived the human stampede and we exited the station. Our next location was the Red Fort, one of Delhi’s highlights. As usual the security was tight, it was a bit intimidating having tripod submachine guns trained on you as you were felt up by the gate guard.

The Red Fort was nice to see but it was nowhere as nearly impressive as the Amber Fort or the Red Fort in Agra; there are a lot of coloured forts in India.

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We were feeling pretty regal after learning all about the royalty and wanted to experience a Maharaja for real, so we headed to Mackers for a MacMaharaja burger. It was hmm hmm good!

We’d read about one of the biggest mosques in Asia so thought we’d go take a look.

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We had a fight with a guy at the first gate who wanted to charge us 200 INR to take our camera in. We walked round to the other gate and had another fight with a guy who wanted to charge us to go in even though we knew it was free entry.

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We smuggled the camera in and managed to take a few snap shots out of pure protest. The view from the top of one of the huge minarets was amazing but it was a little too high for me so I didn’t hang around.

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We went for another scrum on the underground.

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Our hotel was pretty and cool and half the price of the tour hotel.
We all met up in the evening for an end of night drink, we found a great little place that we very Indian but somehow reminded me of an English pub. We said our good-byes to the group.

Posted by asprey 00:03 Archived in India Comments (0)

Off to Amritsar

So the official trip was over but Kristina was heading north the same as us, so Noel and Dan offered us a lift along with Nat. We left Delhi and after a long boring 10-hour drive we arrived in Amritsar, 25Km from the Pakistan border.

We found a cool guesthouse but decided to save money by camping in their garden rather than taking a room. We hired an auto-rickshaw for the evening; our driver was Noranja. The first restaurant he took us to didn’t serve beer so we walked out, by the fourth restaurant we came to the conclusion that Sikhs don’t drink beer and ended up back at the first restaurant.

We ate thali washed down with coke and then ask Noranja to take us to a bottle shop. With beer in hands we raced through the streets in a crazy computer game turbo rickshaw ride to the golden temple. We left the beer in the tuk tuk and donned ridiculous orange headscarves in order to get into the temple.

The Golden Temple was breath taking; a square golden building in the center of a huge man made lake. We were lucky enough to be there in the middle of a religious festival so the thousands of coloured saris and turbans just added to the beauty.

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We sat and watched. The tranquillity was broken by a guard, armed with a spear, reprimanding me for pointing my feet at the temple, apparently a huge disrespect. Oops. We didn’t want to upset anyone else so we left. Outside the temple we sat in the tuk tuk drinking our beers and waiting for Noranja to finish his cigarette. A young Sikh guy approached and said angrily, “this is a very sacred site and drinking is an act of disrespect, illegal under Sikh law, I’m going to make a phone call and have you all arrested!” Being arrested seemed to be becoming a common theme on this trip. So much for not wanted to upset anyone. We left.

Posted by asprey 00:07 Archived in India Comments (0)

Pool Day

We sat discussing over breakfast what we wanted to do for the day; I had my opinion, “that swimming pools looks good and it’s a lovely day!”

We ate breakfast, dinner and tea from the food locker in the truck.

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The most strenuous thing we did was open tins.

Posted by asprey 00:08 Archived in India Comments (0)

Famous in Amritsar

We thought we’d better do something after the lazy day we’d had. So Sarah, Nat and I headed to Martyr Square, the site where a couple of hundred British troops executed hundreds of unarmed Indian demonstrators in 1919. We wondered how the Indian people’d receive us and had a cunning plan to claim to be Australian if there were any problems.

“You are English!” said a guy to us at the side of the eternal flame.
“erm…”
“I love Eng’erland. Can I have a photo?”
We posed for a photo at the side of the memorial, English and Indian side by side.

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It seemed a bit odd how happy he was to see us in this place. It started a crazy and we spent the next the next hour having our photo taken with groups of school kids and parents with their kids.

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We finally escaped and headed back over to Golden temple to see it in daylight. The ridiculous headgear was still required but we found the temple to be just as stunning as in the dark.

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We watched as pilgrims bathed in the sacred water of the ‘holy tank’ – the lake around the temple, wearing nothing but their baggy pants and their curved knives tied around their turbans.

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We’d said many times that all temples are pretty much the same and after a while all blur into one. The next temple we moved on to could never be forgot. The Mata temple was the craziest place of worship we’d ever seen. Entering through a two feet high, ten-foot long tunnel it was a rabbit’s warren of tiny corridors lined with mirrored walls and crazy statues. It was nuts!

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Another pool day

Another day chilling by the pool. I borrowed a bike from the guest house owner and did some shopping. I had four near death experiences on the Indian roads so headed back to the pool.

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The road to Mcleod Ganj

Early rise, breakfast and tents down. We hit the road heading Northeast; our destination, McLeod Ganj, the home of the exiled Dalai Lama.
We travelled over bad roads, mountain roads and at some points there was no road. We arrived in town late in the day. We found accommodation and finished a long day with a meal and some beer.

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Dalai Lama's House

We walked 5 minutes down the hill to temple and the home of the head of Buddhism; we’d heard that the Dalai Lama often met with visitors to discuss various things including Buddhism. He wasn’t at home. We were disappointed but at the same time I suppose we felt a bit selfish, millions of Buddhists around the world would literally give their right arm to meet the big man and here was a failed catholic guy and a atheist girl expecting a quick chat with the Dalai Lama. I’d already planned our discussion topics, just in case. It’s not very original but ‘China’ would have to be the main subject. I would be interested in knowing how he felt about it all. Being a Buddhist, the number one Buddhist, he should be unable to hate. But how can you not hate a country that has invaded your homeland and destroyed the identity of your people?

I found it shocking that we’d learned more about Tibet’s history, including the Chinese invasion, during our 10 minute tour of the tiny museum on the way to the temple, than we did spending over a week travelling round Tibet it’s self. I just goes to show what a tight control China has on the country.
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During many of our late night drunken debates about ‘Free Tibet’ the only thing that we all ever agreed on was that you shouldn’t have an opinion on the subject unless you’ve been to Tibet. I now realised that this fact was totally untrue because once your inside Tibet you can’t get any information. I suppose the machine gun turrets are on every street corner are there for a reason.

I also found it a sad fact that during the invasion the whole world stood by and did nothing. The whole thing was over drinking water; the majority of China’s drinking water comes from Tibet. This was even confirmed by our friend Myles, himself a Chinese national.

The story is almost identical to the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, where the UN backed by thirty-four countries dived in to help. It seams the world oil price is more of a concern than the world water price.

The temple it’s self was pretty uninspiring, it looked like a multi-storey car park painted yellow.
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In the centre was a single room formed by concrete walls. Inside was a small hall and a glass cabinet with a statue of Buddha. Around the concrete cube monks sat debating. They would argue and clap in response to they opponents argument. The louder the clap the more they would disagree.
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Posted by asprey 04:19 Archived in India Comments (0)

Relaxing in McLeod Ganj

Breakfast, Internet, Lunch, Afternoon nap, tea, beer and bed.

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Posted by asprey 04:24 Archived in India Comments (0)

The rough road to Shimla

The plan was McLeod Ganj to Shimla in five hours. We left at 9:00am, by 7:00pm we were on the outskirts of Shimla, we hadn’t even stopped for lunch. We were aiming for the Suhk Shahn hotel.

“No rooms!” said the miserable guy behind reception. It was the same story at the next two we looked out. There was a real dump of a hostel that smelt of sewage and dried food but things were getting desperate so we enquired, “INR1000 per room!” said the equally miserable guy behind reception. “You’re having a laugh mate,” I replied, “is that for a week?”
“How much you want to pay to stay here?”
I looked around, “that’s like asking how much you’d pay to have your head slammed in a door!”
He shrugged. I left.
The next place said they’d do a special deal if the five of us shared two rooms, one of us would have to sleep on the floor for just, INR5,500.
Finally we found a place with the same five-in-two, one-on-the-floor deal for IND1,600; still well over the odds, but we took it.

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Touts, how we love them

At 8:00am the great hotel hunt began. Noel and Dan had gone to find a parking space for the truck. Shimla is built on the side of a steep valley so we spent most of the morning walking up steps. We reached the top of another flight of steps. There was a greasy Indian Freddy Mercury look-a-like sitting on the railings at the top, “You want room?”
“How much?”
“Good price!”
“How much?”
“Velly nice room!”
We’ve never got a straight answer to the ‘how much’ question since we’d been in India. He showed us pictures of luxury rooms, “air con, hot shower, velly nice view over valley,” we eventually levered a price of INR500 out of him.
Room touts rank just below Tuk-tuk drivers and serial killers in trustworthiness, so I hated the fact that we were relying on this dude. “So we get this room in the picture for 500? And that’s Indian Rupees, not Dollars or Euros? And that’s per room not per person? And they’re not luxury tax added on? And we don’t pay any commission to you? And you’re not going to tell me the hotel is full when we get there so we have to stay in the ‘sister’ hotel? And we don’t have to pay more for a window or hot water?”
“Yes, yes!”
I thought I’d covered all the scams that had been tried on us before by room touts. I still didn’t’ buy it. He told us it was a five to six minute walk to the hotel, fifteen minutes later we were still walking further up hill. Sarah and Nat waited in a coffee shop with all the bags. The tout made a phone call, which is a sure sign you’re going to get stitched. Two minutes later another guy appeared with a mobile phone in his hand, he introduced himself as Nazir the hotel manager. He seemed a nice guy but I was still waiting for the scam. I looked round and noticed the Freddy look-a-like had disappeared. “Nazir, you look like an honest man, can I trust that other guy?” I asked. He just shrugged.

Nazir showed me the room at the hotel, as the door opened the smell hit me and I felt the shocked look freeze my face. The walls were black with mould; the bed sheets were stained yellow in the sleeping zone and door had no lock on it. “Jesus! This place is a dump! You wana change me 500 for this?!”
“No, these rooms are 700!”
“That greasy bummer told me 500 and it was a luxury room! I knew I couldn’t trust him. He’s a liar! Where is he? Where’s the luxury room Nazir?!”
“We have better rooms in our sister hotel.”
“Nazir, go and find the other guy, he shouldn’t be hard to find, the smelly bastard’s not had a shower for a month from the smell of him. He has a leaflet with a picture of a luxury room! I want that room and I want to pay 500! Don’t mess me around Nazir, I’ve already had one idiot lie to me today, please don’t become the second! I’ll give you one more chance, if you can’t give me this luxury room for 500 at your sister hotel, tell me now!” I was fuming and I think Naz could tell.

Nazir gave me his word and lead me through the back streets. We reached the other hotel. He showed me the room and to be honest it wasn’t bad, but I was still angry. “Nazir, I’m going to say no, just because your friend lied to me, I don’t do business with liars!”
“But I have been honest with you.” He replied, and he had a point.
“Ok, I’ll give you 450 per room, or I walk.”
Nazir shook my hand and we had a deal. It was also part of the deal that Naz made sure I didn’t see Freddy stink-bomb the whole time I was there.
I went and got Sarah and Nat and then we met Noel and Dan later for beers

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Posted by asprey 04:28 Archived in India Comments (0)

British Shimla

I love monkeys, not in the same way as our friend Simon loves street dogs, I just find them funny and like to think I share their mischievous nature. So Sarah pointed out that there was a monkey temple just up the road. ‘Up’ being the word. The road was so steep I don’t think you would have got a car up it. We walked for over half an hour, puffing and wheezing all the way. At the top it was all worth it, a small but impressive temple set in landscaped gardens and hundreds of monkeys looking to steal and break anything left unattended.

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Luckily we’d rented ‘monkey sticks’ to fight off the little blighters. (Monkey sticks are actually just sticks, but they become so more rentable with a snazzy name.)

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After the temple we walked to the other end of town along the valley ridge to Viceroy Lodge and manor house built in 1833 for the Viceroy of India.

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It was just like an English stately home. We took the guided tour and Sarah picked up some young Indian guy desperate to impress with his posh English vocabulary.

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“This is exquisite don’t you think. Just look at the splendid beauty for this place. Simply magnificent, I just find it astounding!”
Nat and I giggled at a distance as Sarah tried to lose the guy, but failed.

On the way back to town we happened across a festival at the local Hindu temple. Kids dressed as gods sat in the back of pick-up trucks (that’s a ute for you Aussies) and paraded round the town. The costumes were great but the megaphone music was a bit deafening.

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Posted by asprey 05:45 Archived in India Comments (0)

Toy Train

We’d seen all the sights of Shimla so we decided to get the ‘toy train’ out of town to see some of the surrounding area.
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The toy train was a 2/3 scale train and cost INR95 to travel 2½ hours to Kandaghat.

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We were treated to some great scenary across the valley as it headed down hill and through 46 tunnels.
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We reached Kandaghat, had lunch in a small local roadside restaurant and jumped on the local bus back to Shimla. There wasn’t much point in doing what we did, other than it being a great morning.

We chilled in the afternoon then went out for a nice, but veggie, meal to celebrate our last night in to cool little hill top town.

Posted by asprey 05:47 Archived in India Comments (0)

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