India is everywhere. It is under my finger nails, through my hair, up my nostrils and has well and truly dirtied the soles of my feet. Wherever we are there is the vague miasma of cow dung and urine and the heat continues to be well beyond warm. Despite what may appear as a scathing review I am loving India. We have been moving family consistently every day or every other day so I am seeing a lot of Rajasthan (which is really only scraping the surface of this country).
Leaving the village behind we headed on a private bus with AC to Jaipur, the Pink City. This 42km journey took 1.5 hours as traffic in India really does move at a mind-bogglingly slow pace on the whole. Jaipur is known as the Pink City as when the royal family came to visit in 1876 the whole city was painted pink with natural dyes for their visit. Maintaining the natural dyes however was very expensive so inside the “pink” walls the city is now predominantly a terra cotta red colour as that is much cheaper to maintain. Before heading to our hotel we went to Amer Fort. Taking 150 years to be completed, Amer Fort is divided into four sections, each built by different Kings. My favourite was the second one which had the Palace of Mirrors and a beautiful garden. Our tour guide had a fairly good grasp of English and therefore attempted quite a few jokes… Sadly his comedic timing wasn’t quite there which resulted in a lot of forced laughter from the group.
After Amer Fort we went into Jaipur for a block printing demonstration. Given the opportunity to try and do block printing I discovered that it is a lot harder than it first appears, trying to stick 4 separate wooden blocks on top of one another is not something I have a talent at, my elephant ended up with two trunks!
We were then able to look around the shop and Karyn and I got to try on saris! This was a lot of fun and made me really want to buy a sari, but realistically travelling with an extra 6ft of material is a waster of time!
We then went to a demonstration of cutting and polishing of gem stones – this was quite interesting but so blatantly a sales pitch that I was careful not to seem to interested for fear of being harassed into purchasing something! Arriving at our hotel at 3pm there was just enough time for a quick nap in the AC before we headed out to watch the latest Bollywood blockbuster called Baaghi. WOW. Watching a Bollywood movie in an Indian cinema is an experience in and of itself! Silence is not encouraged at Indian cinemas, rather the audience cheer, boo and hiss at the screen depending on what characters have come on! Despite the whole film being in Hindi it was fairly easy to follow as generally the acting was very overdone. The singing was also quite severely auto tuned but it was all a lot of fun and an experience I am glad I have had.
The next day was a free day in Jaipur, at which point I decided it was definitely not the most interesting place that I think we could have had a free day! Delighted to have a day where we didn’t have to move en masse, Karyn and I headed first to a very famous Lassi Wala (lassi is a yoghurt based drink blended with water, spices and sometimes fruit like Banana and Mango) I had a very large and delicious lassi out of a terra cotta cup that you then throw in the bin (seemed quite wasteful to me).
After downing my lassi in what Karyn considered record speed we then walked through the streets of Jaipur to a cafe I had read about in Lonely Planet that sold organic salads, washed in bottled water – very excited at the prospect of fresh uncooked greens it was my number one activity to do in Jaipur. Arriving at what looked like a very closed office building Karyn and I managed to ask our way into the building to discover that not only was there an organic cafe but also an organic shop with beautiful clothes – a massive win! After browsing the shop for 45 minutes and each buying a pair of block printed pants we sat down for some fresh and delicious vegetables as well as a couple of savoury muffins! It was an hour and a half of no curry bliss!
Walking back to the hotel in yet another 43 degree morning we arrived back rather sweaty and tired. Deciding this was the perfect time for a siesta we both had a rest before deciding to restart our adventures at 1:45pm. This was a big mistake. Leaving the hotel then and deciding to walk to the Palace of Winds was undoubtedly one of my hottest experiences to date. Both being rather stubborn there was no question in our mind of turning back or taking a tuk tuk, it simply had to be done how we had planned it. The walk was very interesting as we went through very local parts of the city. With phones in hand to take lots of photos of the experience Karyn ended up being hit with an old woman’s bag who did not appreciate us filming them walking towards us. The Palace of Winds (Hawa Mahal) is really a facade, it was built so that the women of the royal household could observe street festivals without being seen from the outside.
- The lack of shade
- Our lack of guide to explain things to us.
Despite most of the signs explaining the instruments being in both Hindi and English, the terms used were so foreign and physics based that I just had no clue what was going on and lost interest very quickly.
Returning to the hotel by push bike tuk tuk was an hilarious experience. Karyn and I went in a rather old and thing man’s tuk tuk – he managed to bike for all of 50 metres and then had to get off and push the bike with us sitting in behind as there was a slight incline and he was unable to bike! This happened multiple times throughout our journey, there was also one point where we had to get out as he had chosen to take the back roads that were so poorly paved we would have tipped had we insisted on staying in the bike. Back at the hotel we met up with the group for dinner and headed off to a vegetarian restaurant. The food was delicious however the way in which you ordered was very questionable – rather than having photos of the food or even plastic displays, the restaurant had actual plates of food sitting on the bench under a plastic lid – based on how crusty the naan and chapati was I would say the food had been sitting there for at least three days. There was also one heart stopping moment where someone ordered and the guy went and pulled food out from under the plastic lid – at that point I thought hell no, if they are just reheating the food from here I will go hungry. Thankfully the guy was just taking it away because they had sold out of the dish.
Our last morning in Jaipur I got up at 4:30am to go hot air ballooning over Jaipur – while we had hoped it would be over Amer Fort it was instead over small villages on the outskirts of Jaipur. As we took off (after another balloon went before us) the young Canadian girl on my flight said “Oh wow, they are going pretty high aren’t they”, I laughed and joked with her that she was scared of heights to which she replied yes… Thankfully after about 10 minutes she calmed down and was ok with the whole affair (other than landing). Hot air ballooning is a surprisingly peaceful experience (if you mentally block out the sound of the fire being blown up) – I don’t know what I was expecting but it was certainly much smoother than I had anticipated. As we flew over villages, the villagers would run out of their houses and wave at us or offer us their paddock to land in. As we approached the last part of our trip in the balloon we attracted about 50 young boys who ran behind us for 2km trying to be there when we landed – they succeeded. When we did finally land we felt like celebrities all the children were yelling hello, asking for us to take photos of them and trying to shake our hands – the man who controlled the hot air balloon said balloons basically never come down in this area so the villagers were all very excited! I am pleased I went hot air ballooning however it’s probably something I would only do once!
Arriving first at our hotel we went swimming and prepared for 4 hours in an open topped jeep in the “jungle” for a safari. At 3pm we were loaded into the Jeep, asked to sign one form saying that if we were killed the driver wasn’t responsible and off we went. Joanne (the Australian) and I laughed at how there was no safety briefing, no warning to keep your limbs inside the vehicle or even to stay in the vehicle – it was all very Indian!! As we laughed about this we noticed another jeep coming towards ours with very little room on either side of the jeep – CRACK! Off came our wing mirror along with the other jeeps. Without batting an eyelid our driver drove on. Jo and I quickly decided that when travelling we would definitely not be resting our arms anywhere near the outside of the vehicle. Stopping at one of the gates into the park a man sitting across from me cracked open a bag of potato chips – within 2 seconds a monkey had jumped down onto the bars of our vehicle heading for his food! The man was quite sternly told off in Hindi and asked not to produce food while we were in the park.
It was a very eventful first 5 minutes that perhaps hyped up my expectations for the whole safari slightly too much – I would have to say I had never connected India with safari before this experience! Heading into the the “jungle” we saw lots of deer, monkeys and birds but we were really in search of tigers! After about 45 minutes of driving through the park we found 4 other jeeps parked up and sure enough they were looking at tigers. It turns out in the heat of the day tigers have very similar behaviour patterns to me – all they are looking for is a shady spot to lie down in – the most exciting thing we saw therefore was one tiger getting up and moving from one shady spot to another. No killing a deer or wild boar like I had hoped for!
Yet again the next morning we were on the move to Bundi, what is known as the mini Blue City (Jodphur is the big blue city). Arriving there around lunch we ate and took auto rickshaws up to the palace in Bundi. This is a very dilapidated palace that has not had any upkeep since the 1950s. Despite taking autos to the palace there was still a relatively steep walk up to the actual entrance to the palace which proved a real challenge for some members of our group – Karyn and I got told off for walking too fast (yet again). The palace had some amazing frescoes inside it that were all based around the colours blue and green and depicted the life of Krishna a Hindu God. There were also some epic monkeys in the back of the palace who fought the whole time which was very fun to watch!
From the palace we walked back through the local markets of Bundi to a step well. Bundi has 52 step wells, which I am fairly certain is the most of any city in India. The step well however was not a thing of great beauty – used by locals until the 1990s it has now become something of a dumping ground for the locals rubbish. The concept however is pretty cool, the idea being that a step well is fuelled by the monsoons and so when there is a good monsoon the locals don’t have to walk down very many steps to get water, however as the water dries up they have to go further and further down to get their water.
Bundi is definitely one of my favourite places that we have been so far. For one, it is regarded as a very small town by Indian standards and has a population of 130,000 – the first number I have actually been able to understand!! Moreover, the blue of the city is amazing, it was originally a colour that was only able to be used by the Brahmin caste of India, however as people began to realise that the scent that came from the indigo colouring actually kept away mosquitoes and other bugs they decided that they would all use it. Finally, the town was quite relaxed and the locals not too overbearing, this made walking through the town a relaxing and enjoyable experience as opposed to one where I felt the need to keep my eyes down and walk rather quickly.
Just to reiterate my point on cows – I saw these cows in the space of 45 minutes! Please note the one in the middle is actually eating of a street food vendors machinery (I haven’t eaten street food here for that reason)
Finally, I have discovered a few favourite dishes here in India (in case anyone is even remotely interested or still reading) in terms of curries a veg kofta is delicious as is mushroom masala and chana masala (chickpea masala). I also have developed quite a serious addiction to butter naan! In terms of non-curry dishes I tend to favour eggplant based meals particularly Baigan Bhurta – this is roasted eggplant that is then mashed up with spices and coriander – kind of like babaganoush. Finally there is gulag jamun (a dessert of evaporated milk and sugar – sounds gross but tastes delicious) and masala chai (a type of tea). Masala is actually a generic term for a mix of three or more spices so it is used very widely in menus!
Onwards to a two night stay in a “palace” with a pool in a small village called Bijaipur!