A Travellerspoint blog

Hampyness

sunny 36 °C

Hampi – Scott author not Deb

After two weeks of R&R at the beach we decided to head inland to visit the temple ruins in Hampi which Lonely Planet states is a ‘must see’. While Hampi is about 250 kms from Palolem it took a 10 hour overnight sleeper bus trip to get there. This was our first sleeper bus trip so we crawled into our small double sleeper berth with some intrepidation. The trip was ok and we both managed a few hours sleep without throwing up unlike one other poor guy on the bus.

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We arrived in Hampi at 7am on the Saturday morning and checked in to our accommodation. Now a point to note here is that normally Deb books the accommodation because I’m too lazy to do the research but in this case to show that I’m pulling my weight as part of a loving twosome (big deal – books one room out of the approximate 90 days we’ve been travelling so far says Deb), I had arranged our accommodation and what a disaster it turned out to be. Firstly, the Indian lady owner tried to say the room we had booked wasn’t available and that we would need to upgrade to the deluxe room. Once we pointed out that we had prepaid and we weren’t prepared to pay more our basic room suddenly became available. Our lovely basic room which was to become like a prison cell to us seemed on the surface ok but the bed was like a concrete block with pillows so flat that they were the thickness of a crepe. The shower only ran cold so we had to bucket hot water over ourselves plus the bathroom was so small we had to sit on the toilet as we were bucketing the water. Finally, there was no AC just a fan in temperatures that reached 35+ in the day and dropped down to a cool 23+ at night. I had booked a real doozie and I paid the ultimate price when struck down with a virus which meant I had to spend a day and a half stuck in the room.

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Accommodation and sickness issues aside we decided to get our fitness mojo on and hired pedal bikes to bike around the 32 kms of temple ruins. This was a little ambitious as the temperatures were excessively hot and everyone else was doing the circuit in tuk tuks plus the bikes were Soviet era one speeds built from the remains of unsold Ladas so they weighed a tonne. We started off early to beat the heat and set off down a dirt road that soon turned into a boulder hop as we clammered with the bikes over huge boulders. Twenty minutes into this I had my first tantrum as dripping with sweat I found my locking mechanism was not working on the bike. Once I had calmed down we continued our bike/clammer and arrived at the main temple site right on 8.30am which was meant to be opening time. Twenty minutes later someone did turn up and allowed us in to the temple. This is where tantrum number two struck as with my sun glasses sliding down my nose and my shoulder bag getting in the way once again I couldn’t get the bike lock to open. Deb calmed me down yet again and we continued biking around the ruins as the temperatures got hotter and hotter and the hills got bigger.

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By 2pm we had completed the circuit with only one more ruin to see when tantrum number three occurred. This time it was Deb who was so hot and tired that she refused to stop to see the last sight despite it looking really interesting but she pedaled off in to the distance towards home. The one redeeming feature was we knew that we had a lovely cool room awaiting us with a hot shower and a comfortable bed for our weary bodies to collapse into. Not!

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Tantrums aside Hampi did have some good points. The scenery is incredible with massive granite hills that were covered with huge boulders. We discovered some great ruins that included fabulous Ramayana relief work and found the best fresh juice place around. We watched some very funny monkeys at play including one very cool and laid back monkey who joined us to watch the sun set. He sat on his own rock and watched the sun go down. Another cool animal moment involved watching the temple elephant taking its bath in the river and getting a good scrub behind its ears.

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Admittedly, we were not too sorry to see the back of Hampi as we set off on our 10 hour bus journey back to Palolem.

Posted by Deb_Scott 22:15 Archived in India Comments (1)

Monkey Mischief and Jaipur

Rambo Deb

sunny 22 °C

Following on from our previous blog entry where we mentioned that the monkeys were not liking Deb, I must relay a brief tale of Rambo Deb and monkey mischief.

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The setting was on the roof top of our haveli in Bundi where there is a restaurant that looks out over a patio and the roof tops of Bundi. Deb and I were engaged in a game of cards that was down to the winner takes all so we were totally focused on the game. Suddenly, I had a feeling that we were not alone. Looking up, I saw that there were five large monkeys sitting not more than three metres from us – staring. I alerted Deb to the fact that we had guests and we decided that a tactical withdrawal to the restaurant area was in order.

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In a situation like this we have an unspoken code that dictates a course of action. This is based on the US Marine Corp, which is “The White House has fallen” meaning time to make a move and “No one is left behind” meaning no one is left behind. Deb moved off first slowly and I was to follow. She was within five metres of the restaurant door when the biggest monkey made its move and ran straight past me and seemed to be heading towards Deb. Move over Usain Bolt, Deb covered the last five metres to the door in record time. She went through the door, slammed it shut and locked it. The monkey in the mean time continued on a straight line and disappeared over the wall and was gone.

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So, this left me on the patio with four monkeys and my route of escape had been closed off. I looked at the four remaining monkeys and they looked at me. Time stood still as the sun blazed down, tumble weed slowly blew across the roof and an old John Wayne western theme song was slowly playing in my head. It was show down at the O.K Corral. The monkeys made the first move and slowly sauntered past me and over the wall and disappeared. I was left alone thinking that the danger had passed when the next minute obviously remembering the code of “no one is left behind”, Deb pops up at the open restaurant window with the restaurant’s rifle which the restaurant workers use on monkey patrol at night. They leave the gun sitting on a table in the restaurant.

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To this day I’m not quite sure what Deb’s next actions would have been but with no monkeys in sight and the rifle pointing directly at me I didn’t know if I should slowly raise my hands or stop, drop and roll on the basis the rifle might accidently go off. Deb finally realized that I was none to pleased to have a gun pointing at me and lowered it. It’s great to know that in a Black Hawk Down situation, I have a wife who will come and save me with all guns blazing.

Jaipur

The following day we moved on to Jaipur which is the capital city of Rajasthan. We had our first trip on a Government bus as opposed to the private company buses we had been taking. It was dark when we boarded the bus but as the sun rose we saw the dirty condition in which we sat. Luckily it was only a four hour trip. On the day we arrived in Jaipur we decided to visit the Pink Palace which had a big write up in the Lonely Planet. This turned out to be probably the most underwhelming of the sites that we have seen in India, plus it was expensive and packed with local tourists.

Day two in Jaipur and we decided to hire a tuk tuk driver for half a day so we went out and visited Amber Fort. This is a magnificent fort constructed of pale yellow and pink sandstone. Once again there were a lot of local tourists but the size of the fort meant that the crowds were well dispersed.

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We also visited the Jaigarh Fort that boasts to have the largest wheeled cannon in the world.

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Afterwards, we visited the Jal Mahal a floating palace in the middle of Man Sagar lake.

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We finished the day off with a late lunch of Southern Indian Thalis at the Chitra Café at Hotel Arya Niwas.

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In the morning it is off to Delhi to catch a flight to Goa in Southern India. Sun and beaches here we come.

Posted by Deb_Scott 03:36 Archived in India Comments (0)

Chittor and Bundi - Rajasthan

sunny 25 °C

We decided that since time is our friend that we would explore some slightly more off the beaten track destinations hence our decision to include Chittor and Bundi into the Rajasthan itinerary. Firstly, I made an error by booking accommodation in a palace 42km from where we wanted to be and although 42km doesn’t sound too bad, in India that is the equivalent of at the very least an hour of driving on a pot holed road and the need for a driver because there is no public transport. Oh dear. It wasn’t going to be a day where we stuck to the budget.

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The fort in Chittorgarh is apparently the largest fort complex in India. It certainly would be in terms of land size but not so much in terms of actual buildings. We loved Chittorgarh though because they were ruins and the architecture was quite different from anything else we had seen, as well as considerably older. Once we explored the palace area, we headed into the countryside towards our accommodation.

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It was fabulous to really be in a rural area; we have felt quite ‘citied’ out. Castle Bijaipur is nestled amongst a verdant valley and surrounded by Central Otago type hills that made us feel a little home sick. On the way we saw opium field after opium field which we’d never seen before.

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The following day, we decided to take a driver and car to Bundi rather than go 42km back to Chittor to catch the train. A wise decision. On the way, we stopped off at an 8th to 11th Century temple complex dedicated to Shiva. Once again, we were happy that the style of the buildings were markedly different from anything we’d seen previously in Rajasthan.

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Bundi is supposed to be a bit more laid back than other cities but we didn’t really find any evidence of that. We still encountered noise pollution amongst all the other continual types of pollution in India but to make matters worse, Bundi has a rather large population of sizable monkeys. Not the cute smallish monkeys you find in Asia but quite big buggers with large incisors. Somehow, monkeys take a huge dislike to me. I’ve had monkeys bare their fangs at me, monkeys throw things from power lines at me and yesterday a monkey charged at me. Thank god for the rickshaw driver who quickly picked up a couple of big stones and hurled them at the monkey who was less than two metres from where I was standing. The monkeys in the picture below are not the ones I'm referring to by the way!

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The real attraction of Bundi though is the palace and fort. The palace is absolutely stunning and contains the most magnificent palace paintings we have seen thus far. It is small and most of the buildings within the palace are locked up but it is worth the journey. Rudyard Kipling described Bundi palace as being ‘the work of goblins rather than of men’ and you can see from the photos that the palace would fit perfectly into a Peter Jackson film fantasy.

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The guidebook as well as locals suggest that you take a very large stick to wield as you climb up to the fort to protect yourself from testosterone prone monkeys so I decided to hell with the fort. I’m not going anywhere near the fort because I’m a crazed monkey magnet. Scott looked a bit disappointed but too bad on this occasion. Besides, we’ve seen plenty of forts!

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Later on in the afternoon, we hired a tuktuk driver to take us around Bundi’s spread out attractions. In a couple of hours we covered: two cool step wells, two temples, a cenotaph, countryside, a lake and the spot where Kipling was inspired to write Kim and The Jungle Book.

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Tomorrow is a bit of a rest day and then we head to our final Rajasthan stop – the pink city of Jaipur.

Posted by Deb_Scott 06:14 Archived in India Comments (1)

Cooking up a storm in Udaipur, Rajasthan

sunny 25 °C

Since we are huge fans of the James Bond films, we were very much looking forward to visiting Udaipur. Although you can visit the Monsoon Palace, the real attraction is the Floating Palace. Built entirely of marble as a Summer palace for the local Raj and his family, the palace appears to be floating on the still waters of the lake. Unfortunately, it is now one of the most luxurious hotels in the world at a mere $1000 per night for a basic room so we were not going to experience that up close and personal. Nevermind. Our hotel whilst pleasant with many sitting areas and a comfortable bed with soft pillows has been very noisy. We won't be back to Poonam Haveli but the views almost make the noise bearable, as you can see.

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The following day, we headed out to check out the sights. Udaipur is really touristy but we actually enjoyed that because it meant finding a proper cafe and lots of cute little shops. The usual litter clogged streets were not to be found either but Scott still managed to step in cow dung despite the fact we have only seen three cows wandering the streets here. The fort and palace here really are not worth a visit if you've already seen other forts and palaces. To be fair, we could have missed Udaipur but then I wouldn't have had the pleasure of meeting Meenu or drinking New Zealand standard coffee from a cool cafe owned and operated by a Greek woman and her Rajasthani husband.

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I decided that I wanted to do a few cooking classes in India. Meenu is a very busy mum who also runs her own cooking classes, as well as looking after the family restaurant and her parents. I spent the morning with her discussing everything from husbands to education to spices and to the terrible plight of women in India. It was just so lovely to spend a whole morning with a woman; it is obvious I miss socialising and making connections with other women. Scott and I are getting on supremely well but sometimes you do need to interact with others. On that, we have continually bumped into a really fun couple (Mike and Brian) from England as we've roamed Rajasthan so last night we had a fabulous evening enjoying their company. We are certainly going to pay them a visit when we get to Britain.

Back to the cooking class! In four hours, she taught me how to make: Garam Masala, Chai tea, Pokura, Wet and Dry Masala, Chapati, Paratha and Poori.

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Meanwhile, Scott braved a massage to sort out his sore neck and shoulder and we've spent the rest of the day doing what we do best - eating, drinking lemon sodas and reading. Tomorrow, we are off to Chittorgarh for one night on the train in cattle class again before travelling onto Bundi for a few days.

Posted by Deb_Scott 02:43 Archived in India Comments (0)

Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur - Rajasthan

sunny 20 °C

Bikaner

I believe I ended my last post stating that we had an eight hour journey from Amritsar to Bikaner. Once again, we were wrong. Thirteen hours and about 650 km later on a pot-holed ridden road trying to avoid, camels, dogs, goats, cows, oxens and other drivers, we finally rolled into our family run guesthouse. We think that our driver knew that Bikaner was sort of south of Amritsar and that that would be enough for him to get us there. Fortunately, despite him being clueless with directions, he was a very safe driver so it wasn’t too terrifying until night fell over the desert. At one point, I had visions of dad and Peter standing at the edge of a litter-strewn ditch trying to imagine how our lives ended. On every blog imaginable it clearly suggests NOT driving at night – during the day is bad enough. Nonetheless, we arrived at Hotel Jaswant Bhawan in one piece.

Our accommodation is relatively basic but it really is lovely. It is a 200 year old family home where everyone pitches in. The eldest son seems to manage the front desk and he speaks perfect English whilst the women flutter around the kitchen serving up delicious breakfasts and chai tea. The rooms are modern but the guest dining room and the family lounge have been captured in time. As soon as we walked through the family lounge to the dining room, I was transported back to the 1930s. Everything right down to the carpet and curtains, including the furniture, decorative items and the family photographs are perfectly preserved from the family’s heyday.

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Scott described Bikaner as a dust swirled town and it is. We really like it though. It seems the further south we go, the friendlier and more genuine and honest people seem. We will see, of course. Today we roamed around Junagarh Fort which was constructed between 1589 – 1593. The relief carvings on the walls are most impressive as are the sumptuously decorated rooms. The Mughal rulers certainly had lavish tastes.
Afterwards, we grabbed a tuktuk and took off to the old city to explore the medieval bazaars and a couple of Hindu temples. There were lanes and lanes of tin pots, flowers, sari sellers and just about everything in between. Fantastic.

Jaisalmer

Although the train to Jaisalmer was rather dirty, we were fortunate that for most of our journey we were the only ones in our compartment and the train arrived early! Apparently that is hardly ever the case in India. To top it off, the scenery was ever-changing as we started to move towards and eventually through the Thar Desert.

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Jaisalmer itself is a fabulous place largely due to its relatively small size and it is a bit of a tourist mecca unlike the previous places we have visited. The views from our hotel were superb as was the hospitality of the owners. The streets are a warren of tiny shops selling all sorts of things. I decided it was about time I got some Indian clothes so we went on a bit of a shopping spree buying tunics, tights, scarves etc…The kurta (the long tunic) is very comfortable and I expect I’ll end up buying another one or two.

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Apart from the impressive fort, the real joy to be found in Jaisalmer has to be the local people we met. It is a rare occasion to find a woman running her own shop so when we spotted ‘Laxmi’s Textiles’ we had to pop in. Laxmi turned out to be absolutely wonderful. We spoke to her for a while and when I went back later on my own, I was offered dinner at her house and she stuffed me full of the most delicious Indian food I’ve ever tasted. Laxmi wasn’t the only retailer we spent a bit of timetalking to. Just a few metres from our guesthouse, there was a gorgeous shop filled with divine scarves, wraps, books and so on. Julia Johnson and Angee Robertson, you would have loved it. The proprietor started to tell us about how he imports the best wool in the world and how the local women weave this wool into premium products that he then exports to Europe. The wool, of course, comes from New Zealand. We bought two beautiful scarves from him for a real steal. From that moment onwards, every time he saw us walking past his shop, he would wave and smile.

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The following day we set off on a jeep tour of villages in the desert and a camel safari. Not so much a safari but just a couple of hours on a camel. That was plenty. In fact, our muscles are still recovering. The village tour was great. It wasn’t really a tour. The driver stopped at a few villages along the way and let us wander about talking to the locals. On one occasion, the children were a bit vicious; they pulled at my engagement ring, earrings, watch and then they tried to clamber all over me. Scott just left me to it.

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Jodhpur

Jodhpur is known for its riding trousers but the real reason for visiting the blue city is Mehrangarh Fort. According to the guidebooks (and I agree with them), Mehrangarh is one of the most magnificent forts in India. It sits 120 metres above Jodhpur’s skyline and the views from the top are simply amazing. Aside from the views, the architecture of this fort is stunning. There are numerous lattice windows, frescoes, towers and an impressive array of elephant seats.

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Jodhpur is known as the blue city – it really is blue as you can see from the photos because traditionally blue signified the home of a Brahmin. As well as glowing with a blue tint, the blue is thought to repel insects. Could be true as we haven’t had to deal with any insects here. The Blue City contains the best bazaars in India that we’ve seen so far. Inside the walled area, where we are staying in a 350 year old Haveli, is a tangle of winding, glittering, medieval streets selling absolutely everything you could possibly imagine.

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Apart from the fort and the current Raj’s palace, there isn’t too much to keep us here so tomorrow we are off to Udaipur where the Bond film ‘Octupussy’ was set. Can’t wait.

Posted by Deb_Scott 04:33 Archived in India Comments (1)

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