Travelling in Rajasthan, Mumbai and Hyderabad in INDIA

We are approached on the street by a casting scout for a Bollywood movie.  Barely hesitating, we accept the offer.  The following morning we are driven across Mumbai  – not an easy task – to a shopping centre which has been closed to the public to allow filming.

DELHI, INDIA

 

Knowing that my flight to India, would be arriving late at night, I pre-booked accommodation and an airport pickup.  Not something I normally do, but given the size and haphazard nature of Delhi, thought it prudent that I do so.

I try unsuccessfully to find my name amongst the dozens of makeshift signs held by taxi drivers and hotel staff.  Tired and frustrated, I take a taxi to the city.  The driver, unable to determine the exact location of my accommodation, abandons both the search and myself in a dark street.  After an hour of wandering the streets and now after midnight, I finally find the guesthouse.  Exhausted, but relieved, I walk inside only to be told they have no booking in my name, nor do they have any other available rooms.  With my patience expired and few other options, I accept a very basic bed in a nearby decrepit building.

The following day I find more suitable lodging and return to the airport that night to pick-up Carol to begin our month-long journey in India.

First impressions of Delhi are not flattering.  The smell and noise is not unlike any city in Asia, but the air pollution is quite a shock to the uninitiated.  Visibility is barely more than 300 metres!  Also confronting is the men urinating on the street; the associated smell is difficult to stomach.

New Delhi - India

New Delhi Smog

 

 

New Delhi - India

New Delhi by night

 

 

Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum - India

Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum

 

 

We explore the sights, including India Gate, the National Museum, Jama Masjid – India’s largest mosque, the Red Fort with its 33 metre high walls, and Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial and nearby museum dedicated to his incredible life.  We also find some beautiful parks with well manicured lawns offering respite from the madness that surrounds them.

Indians are adept at bargaining and selling, against which I find myself powerless.  Unbeknownst to me however, Carol is proving a worthy adversary to their time-honoured techniques and she immediately assumes the role of negotiator for our entire time in India.  This also serves as a source of confusion to them, given their male dominated society.

AGRA, INDIA

 

Before arriving in India, I had not realised the size, significance and abundance of the forts built for protection against invading forces centuries ago, a welcome substitute for the temples of SE Asia.  The Agra Fort is impressive in its own right, but visitors to Agra are here for something more.  Something so special and revered, that some – myself included – have wanted to behold and touch their whole lives.

The Taj Mahal – built by a ruler/king as a memorial to his deceased wife – is now one of the seven wonders of the world.  It’s magnificence and splendour, sitting on a bend in the Yamuna River, is Agra’s  – and even India’s – most magnificent structure.  We arrive pre-dawn and marvel at the sunset lighting up the marble surface, the colours changing with the rising sun.

Taj Mahal - India

Taj Mahal

 

 

Taj Mahal - India

Taj Mahal

 

 

 

Taj Mahal - India

Taj Mahal

 

 

 

Taj Mahal - India

Taj Mahal

 

 

 

Agra Fort - India

Agra Fort

 

 

 

Agra Fort - India

Agra Fort

 

 

 

Agra Fort - India

Agra Fort

 

 

I exit the front gate and turn for one final glimpse; this is one place that deserves its reputation and lives up to the hype.

JAIPUR, INDIA

 

You know a country is populated when a city of 2.5 million people barely makes it in that country’s ten largest cities.  Known as the ‘pink’ city, as the original part of the city, and all of the buildings within the surrounding wall, punctuated with several gates allowing access in, is painted a light shade of pink.

Thousands of shops line every street and alleyway.  One could spend days engaging in retail therapy – if one was so inclined.  It seems Carol is.

November marks the dawn of the ‘wedding season’ in India.  As we were in Jaipur on a weekend and our room overlooked a busy street, we had prime position to witness the wedding processions as they meandered past.

Each wedding party moves – very slowly –  along the street to their final destination.  They generally comprise a boisterous and deafening live band, with a support act of a light show, a rowdy generator, a colourfully decorated horse/camel/elephant, and plenty of dancing.    Then halting every 100 metres to ignite fireworks into the night sky.  Initially fascinating, but as the night progressed, became quite tedious.

Jaipur - India

Jaipur

 

 

India

Fashion Colours

 

 

We concluded our three night stay with an excellent night tour of the city and dinner at the beautiful fort perched high above Jaipur.

Returning back to the city from the fort around 11.00 pm, I witness possibly hundreds of people sleeping on the footpath and surrounds.  A sobering reminder of the poverty that exists here in India.

RANTHAMBORE NATIONAL PARK, INDIA

 

India Rail is the model of inefficiency.  That the train for the two-hour journey from Jaipur can be three hours late is bad enough.  Seats are often sold out days before.  Purchasing a ticket involves a laborious form filling exercise before standing in a queue, often for over an hour.  Very frustrating.

Our hotel was out-of-town, close to the entrance of the National Park – a pleasant escape from the city chaos.

One imagines India as a hot and humid continent, but our four-hour, early morning, open top jeep ride was bitterly cold.  We sight a sloth bear – the first time I have seen a bear in the wild – langur monkeys and different species of deer.  However the main drawcard – tiger – was not to be seen on today’s visit.

The hotel owner ‘forgot’ to arrange our transport back to town and the train station.  This example of apathy in India, is becoming all too common from those employed to provide a service – a direct contrast to SE Asia.  Taking the initiative, we flag down a passing empty school bus.  After a frantic race through the back streets, arrived at the train station with seconds to spare – the train actually left on time.

JODHPUR, INDIA

 

Carol befriended some gypsy ladies and their children on the train.  Arriving in Jodhpur around midnight, she exits the train sporting a henna painting on one hand, courtesy of the gypsy’s.

India

Henna Painting

 

 

With the majority of buildings painted blue – thought to repel insects – Jodhpur is naturally known as the ‘blue’ city.  Staying in the old part of the city, we meandered around the narrow cobbled streets and surprisingly hassle free shopping.

Built in the 1930’s, the beautiful palace just out of the city, is part – expensive – hotel, part museum, and mostly residence for the current Maharaja of Rajasthan – a polo playing friend of Prince Charles – and his family.

Jodhpur - India

Jodhpur Fort overlooking the city

 

 

 

Jodhpur - India

Locals on the streets of Jodhpur

 

 

 

Jodhpur - India

View of Jodhpur from the Fort

 

 

 

Jodhpur - India

Jodhpur Fort

 

 

The primary attraction however is the massive fort – some 800 years old – sitting atop the cliffs, towering over the old part of city.  It’s dominate presence over the city, had me mesmerised.  Now a museum, was a treat to explore the numerous courtyards, palace rooms and splendid views of Jodhpur.  The portable audio commentary as you wander around the complex is the best I have experienced.

JAISALMER, INDIA

 

With the last wet season consisting of two hours of rain a day for four days, and summer temps close to 50 C; Jaisalmer is definitely a desert city.

It would seem that India either endured numerous battles from nearby countries or simply had a fort building contest.  Jaisalmer completely surrounds a rocky outcrop – a few hundred metres in diameter – atop which sits another ancient fort.  This fort has a point of difference – it’s a ‘living’ fort.

Jaisalmer - India

LIfe inside Jaisalmer Fort

 

 

 

 Jaisalmer - India

Jaisalmer

 

 

 

 Jaisalmer - India

Jaisalmer Fort

 

 

 

 Jaisalmer - India

Jaisalmer

 

 

 

 Jaisalmer - India

Jaisalmer Fort

 

 

Businesses, guesthouses and restaurants all operate with the fort’s imposing outer stone walls.  The cobbled streets within are very narrow – sometimes only two metres – and watching Carol trying to squeeze past a Braham cross beast with foot long horns – an animal she finds terrifying – is priceless.  Like a slow motion running of the bulls.

We relish the opportunity to sleep and eat within the fort walls.  To eat at a table adjacent to a window in the stone wall, with perhaps a hundred metre sheer fall out the same window to the city below; is a moment I will cherish always.

The fort was a bonus, our prime reason for visiting Jaisalmer was a two day and one night camel safari.

An hour in a jeep has us deeper in the desert.  Here we meet the ‘ships of the desert’ and my own ship – an eight year old male camel called Kingfisher.  We ride through predominately sandy terrain, sometimes rocky, with the occasional low growing shrub and cacti.  At times we would see ‘Sahara’ like sets of sand dunes and it was on the edge of one of these dunes we make camp for the night.

 Jaisalmer - India

Jaisalmer Camel Treks

 

 

We sit atop the highest dune late afternoon, embracing the desert stillness, a feeling of peace as we gaze westwards towards the sun setting over the Pakistan border some 50 klm’s away.  A campfire keeps us warm from the creeping cold, before retiring to our beds laid out under the starry night sky.

A wonderful experience, although riding a camel for two days is not without its discomfort.

UDAIPUR, INDIA

 

Another city, another colour, this time it’s the ‘white’ city.  Romance is a thread woven through the fabric of this beautiful city and the location for the James Bond flick ‘Octopussy’.  The famed white Lake Palace Hotel holds centre stage in the middle of Lake Pichola, along one side of which is Udaipur.

A two person paddle boat and/or boat cruise are both available to explore the lake and visit the white palace.  Another must, is dining at any of the dozens of rooftop restaurants which all offer views of the lake off which the palace lights reflect at night.  The romance of Udapair is inescapable.

India

Intricate Carvings

 

 

 

Udaipur - India

Udaipur

 

 

 

Udaipur - India

Udaipur

 

 

 

India

‘Vehicles’ come in all shapes and sizes.

 

 

Aside from the lake, we visit the ‘monsoon’ palace, several kilometres out of the city and perched high atop a mountain offering 360 degree views; perfect for sunset.  Exploring the city on foot we discover the City Palace – the largest in Rajasthan, the beautiful gardens of Sunset Point, the Botanical Gardens, and the myriad of jewellery shops from which we do some Xmas shopping.

One of my highlights was finding where the Maharaja houses his vintage car collection.  After approaching the caretaker, he happily unlocked each and every garage enabling us to walk around each vehicle, even to take photos.  Vintage Mercedes, Rolls Royce’s, Model T Fords, American muscle cars – amazing collection.

Early one night, I succumb to a fever.  The next morning at Carol’s insistence – she is a registered nurse – we visit the hospital.  The initial diagnosis is malaria, and an immediate blood test is carried out.  With immense relief the test result is negative, however I’m escorted to a small room with one bed and placed on a drip for six hours.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of Indian hospitals.  However I appeared to be the small hospital’s only patient, and through the course of the day, I met each and every doctor and nurse as they came to visit and converse.  Before leaving I was handed the handwritten bill for payment.  It seemed quite extensive, well over a page in length, including blood tests, IV treatment, the bed, and plenty of antibiotics.  With trepidation I look at the total cost – USD$40!  How is that possible?

MUMBAI, INDIA

 

Having prior registered with smartraveller.gov, I receive an email the same day we are arranging transport to Mumbai.  The email warns of information obtained with regards to possible imminent bombing attacks in Mumbai, most notably the airport and trains.  To err on the side of caution, we travel via bus.

Approx 18 million people call Mumbai home.  Five million people utilize a train every day!  The size and scale is staggering.  The disparity between the wealthy and impoverished seems more evident here; the home of India’s financial district and Bollywood – which incredibly is bigger than Hollywood, against huge slum districts dominated with corrugated iron.

We are approached on the street by a casting scout for a Bollywood movie.  Barely hesitating, we accept the offer.  The following morning we are driven across Mumbai  – not an easy task – to a shopping centre which has been closed to the public to allow filming.

As luck would have it, the film titled ‘Singh is King’ is a joint venture between Bollywood and Hollywood.  The actor and actress that have been chosen for the leading roles are THE two biggest names in Bollywood (Akshay Kumar & Katrina Kaif).  In one scene  – involving a shooting and considerable mayhem – Carol runs into the lead actor, nearly knocking him to the floor.  Recounting this story to Indian people we meet afterwards, results in disbelief and delirium.

Fascinating to watch the mechanics of film making up close, but at times was also quite tedious.  Some months later we download the film and despite our best efforts in slow motion, are unable to see ourselves in any of the scenes shot that day.

After our days work, we explore the nearby area on foot including the newer financial district and the older fort district with its 150 year old buildings such as the Mumbai University.  Adjacent to the Uni is the ‘oval maiden’, an area comprising approx four football fields joined end to end.  Cricket is the recreation of choice in this large patch of green; from well organised corporate games on rolled pitches, to impromptu games by children on any spare space they can commandeer.

 The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai - India

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – Mumbai

 

 

 

 The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and Gateway of India

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and Gateway of India – Mumbai

 

 

 

Mumbai University - India

Mumbai University

 

 

 

Chowpatty Beach - India

Chowpatty Beach

 

 

 

 Chowpatty Beach - India

Chowpatty Beach

 

 

We end the day with a walk to Chowpatty Beach to watch the families in the late afternoon and early evening.  Well worth a look, but would advise against swimming there.

No visit to Mumbai is complete without a ride in a Mumbai taxi.  Unlike anywhere else in India or Asia, there are no auto rickshaws, but rather cool 1960’s style retro cabs and they are in such numbers, they appear to dominate the traffic.

On our final day, we take the one hour boat ride out of the harbour to Elephanta Island.  Other than caves and carvings, the island offered little, but was amazed to see so many container and navy ships on the water, none of which were visible from the mainland due to the heavy smog.

HYDERABAD, INDIA

 

Nearly everyone in Australia has spoken to someone from Hyderabad.  With a population of around six million – the majority of whom are Islam/Muslim – the city’s largest industry is call centres servicing banks and phone providers abroad.

Once again we explore the city, which surrounds a huge lake.  Spending time in the main park – we have made a habit of taking time out in a park at each city to escape the chaos of Indian traffic – also the Marble Temple, Planetarium and Golconda Fort.  The Mecca Masjid, a 400+ year old mosque – and one of the worlds largest – seating some 10,000 worshippers.

Hyderabad is famed for its jewellery, predominately pearls.  We discover a street lined both sides with shops selling only bangles.  Carol is in her element.

Hyderabad - India

Hyderabad

 

 

 

Hyderabad - India

Bangle Shop in Hyderabad

 

Our last day in India concludes with a final five-star dining splurge atop the palace hotel, before departing for the airport and home.

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Only in India can one witness an expensive 4wd swerving to avoid cows, then getting ‘stuck’ behind an elephant – all whilst driving in the city!  Incredible wealth side by side with immeasurable poverty.

If not born into a favoured ‘caste’ , one must fight hard to compete for limited resources and opportunities.  This perhaps might explain the lack of etiquette and manners we have witnessed, especially by the male population.  Women over the age of 21 will soon be allowed to work in restaurants, bars etc in Delhi, hopefully this will be replicated across the country.  The magnificent colours and designs in the shawls and sari’s they wear are a welcome diversion from the rubbish and pollution that surrounds them.

Travelling in India  – especially the cities – is anything but a relaxing experience, but the culture, landscapes and history, especially the amazing forts, will ensure my return in the near future.

Link to my photo site:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/danthewanderer/sets/

 

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