A Travellerspoint blog

Mega markets, Raj dining and .... more monkeys !

India - Day #7-8 - Jaipur

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Well yesterday we arrived in Jaipur and for the first time our hotel pickup didn't arrive. We waited palming off the circling brood of rickshaw and taxi drivers, salivating at the chance to take us for a ride. Eventually we picked the bloke who spoke English the best and made it to our hotel.

Jaipur is a very busy city, 2nd to Delhi it seems so far. Even in the evening it was hot and dusty.

That evening we headed down near the old city where the markets are and had dinner at the Copper Chimney. It was a bit touristy, but I think we were craving that a bit. The food was very good. It was also quite popular with the locals.

I was gazing out the window, when a small white car pulled up and out jumped some local women who preceded directly into the restaurant. I did a double take as I looked back at the car and saw two fat sikh's still sitting in the front seat of the car parked out front. They had a pre-meal on the dash board of the car. I mean plates, side dishes the whole sha-bang. Then casual as you like, one produced a bottle of beer from below the dash and topped up the others cup. Then in the same fluid motion, out came a bottle of whiskey adding some as a mixer. After a few minutes, they straightened their white robes, readjusted their turbans and sauntering into the restaurant to join their female companions. I wasn't game to take a photo, but it was priceless.

After that we were pretty knackered so we just headed back to the hotel via an internet cafe.

Next day, we enjoyed our complimentary breakfast in the massive hotel restaurant. We were the only ones there, but the huddle of staff chatted about cricket to us for a bit. They rave on about Ponting a lot :)

We stepped it up a notch and piled into the old town markets, attempting to follow the walking route suggested in the Lonely Planet. The hard part is none of the street names are written in English, so by some miracle we fluked the right street. The markets are much more organised than any other so far. Each little shop has a number allotted, so if you ask for something specific (like a battery recharger) they'll blurt out some shop number, and if you can make sense of the numbering order, you might just find it.

Each street or section seemed to specialise. So you'd find a street of fans, or irons or similar electric appliances. Some were dedicated to marble work, which was quite amazing. There'd be some marble shops taking a electric circular saw to slabs of marble, others chipping away with chisels, while final touches were made with sand paper or other rocks. The end results were spectacular but just a little heavy to stow in your backpack.

We had the usual toute tussles, like one guy insisting he just wanted to practice his English, but eventually pointed to his car nearby in case we wanted a day trip somewhere. Its relentless !

Some guy we talked to took us to his shop upstairs above the markets and showed us gem cutting. There were bags of raw gems lying around. I was looking for a wrist wrap or similar but eventually bought a kinda silver bracelet (which one end fell apart one day later LOL - they might be good silversmiths, but they might wanna work on the glue).

There wasn't too much we wanted to see in Jaipur, but we took a walk to the Royal Palace but didn't go in. We were warned it was pretty average and full of trinket shops, and didn't feel like paying a fairly rude entrance fee for that. During that time we were constantly tailed by this old man on a peddle rickshaw, pointing out obvious landmarks and insisting he was fit and ready to take us anywhere. His persistence wore us down and we let him take us (squashed together on a hard narrow seat) to the next temple near by, which was closed. To his defense he did mumble something on approach about it only opening after 5:30pm. But he still had no problem taking us there. Needless to say we weren't keen on any repeat trips. So we jumped a ride to two vibrant young guys in an auto-rickshaw to take us to some further sites.

They were all excited and told us we were good luck for them as we were their first for the day. We saw the Water Temple, which was half submerged after damn was built by one of the rulers. It looked quite cool. Then we were off to the Monkey Temple, but they suggested to Moghul village on the way, which turned out to be some markets, so we asked them to just keep going. We decided it was still too early in the day for the temple as its best by dusk. So we diverted to some food area. They took us to a pretty authentic Hindi place. The food and lassi's were great.

The drivers often have a tendency to consider you their ticket for the day and will wait for you no matter what you do. We had told them we didn't want their service further, cause I was unimpressed with their game playing - they were trying to slyly stretch the price out from what I had agreed on. It was next to impossible to lose them. There is simply no point trying to get another ride with them near by cause they will all start talking to each other and scheming. We had to walk way down the road and cross over just to get another ride.

Eventually we landed some old geezer with tufts of hair poking out his ears like Yoda. He was also the only driver ever that did not beep his horn. That ride to the Monkey Temple made us realise just how important it is to beep. If people ahead of you don't hear you coming, they just swerve in front of you.

We pulled up at the base of this dusty rocky hill. You could instantly see a few monkeys milling around. We bought only one bag of peanuts from the two on offer. As he swung his hand back with the rejected bag of peanuts a sly monkey grabbed it and bolted for the hills. It was kind of fortunate we had seen this up front, cause we were prepared now :)

We hiked up this windy path to the top temple and gazed at the spectacular views and hordes of monkeys below us. The sun was a bit too high still and we didn't really bother waiting for sunset. Instead we trekked down to meet our simian greeting party. The monkeys had all swarmed onto the path and I fed them while Scotto took some photo's and camera video. It was very cool indeed. They are very gentle but cheeky as. One would hold my hand while happily receiving more peanuts with his other hand. At one point I just looked away for a second, and he instantly made a snatch for the bag. Luckily I had a firm grip and scurried off empty handed.

Upon arriving back down, sure enough sitting with our driver was our first driver who'd taken us from the train station to the hotel. He had given us his mobile phone number (yes, many have them here surprisingly - its a huge market) and was trying to make us promise to call him for any further trips in the city. We had got up late and just taken the next available. So now he was there at Monkey Temple and he wasn't happy. He gave his upset and disillusioned face and told us that he "would never trust another tourist again!". This almost made my blurt out in hysterical laughter, but instead opted for the "well yes, I guess now you know how it feels pal".

That night, were thinking about having dinner in the revolving Om restaurant, but instead we headed for the Rambagh Palace Hotel, the only 5 star hotel in the city to checkout the Polo and Steam bar. It was a fair drive, but we were amazed by what we encountered. The place was epic. The Steam bar was a full train with engine and carriages just inside the hotel gates. It was empty, surprise surprise, so we kept on walking through the magically lit gardens up to the main hotel. There were fountains and it had the British Colonial look. We ventured around the side, and up some marble stairs into the main ground where two musicians were sitting on a small podium in the middle playing authentic Indian music (drums and sitar). The rest was just decadent and elegant. Waiters all dressed up with flowing red turbans, table and chairs on the grass surrounded by the facade of this amazing sultry lit hotel.

After a wander around, we thought we'd have a go at having a drink here. We ended up having a full meal and being waited on hand and foot. The prices were comparable to decent Sydney restaurant. So not outrageous at all. Everybody was friendly and chilled, right down to the security guards.

We had a very early train to catch the next morning so we headed back to a little internet and then crashed.

ps. Don't forget you can see Scotto's blog on http://scottness.travellerspoint.com/.

Posted by dinofile 00:37 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

When I say whoah ... I mean whoah !!

India - Day #7 - Pushkar

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Well to get to Pushkar we actually arrived by train in Ajmer. The plan came together and our hotel pickup was waiting for us at the exit to the station. They hold up a sign with Scott's last name, usually misspelt but its like poetry to us.
A 20 minute mini van ride over some rocky hills and we descend into Pushkar. Our hotel is very nice again with flowery green gardens in the front staving off the dusty dry surrounds.

Pushkar is a holy city and pilgrims rock up here to bath in the holy waters in the center of town. This also coincides with the camel festival in half November, which thousands of camels and people converge for games of camel polo, racing and mayhem. Shame we're gonna miss the insanity.

We were extremely exhausted and basically just crashed out and did some blogging until our mini camel safari was awaiting at 4pm. There were a handful of us from our hotel doing the safari, which was only 3 hours out of town, around a mountain and back. Its one person per camel and each has an experienced desert rider sitting behind them controlling the reins. As we started out the camels have to lurch up from their sitting position. You have to lean back then forward or else you are going to nearly fall off. We were all up in seconds beaming with excitement. Little did we know that our bums would be beaming us a message of pain within about 10 minutes.

Basically there is no escaping the friction burns and back pinches that occur in the honey moon period. But it is so enjoyable to be cruising out through the scrub around the mountains that the discomfort takes second place. There are goats, monkeys, lots of trees with spikes. Then of course, there's the guides themselves. Mine was the leader and had spent many years taking people on 12 day tours through the desert. He had many stories. For example, I asked if it was dangerous and did he carry a gun for perhaps banditos. He said all he carried was a stick, a big knife and a fist full of chillies in his top pocket. Anybody starting some disturbance would first get a face full of India's finest chillies in the face.

The mini safari was very cool. I have ridden horses before and not really enjoyed it, but I really like riding camels. They are much more mellow and when they do jog (canter ?) or run its actually a lot smoother. We stopped a bit out of town to watch the sun set, then headed back right through town to the hotel. It is a strange feeling being part of a camel procession trotting on hard roads through the city market looking down on the locals and passers by. You are so high up, you feel like a complete observer, except for the fact that everyone is looking at you, usually bemused.

When we had stopped to watch the sunset, the camels all kicked back and started lying on their sides in the dirt and sand kicking sand over themselves like dogs. It was quite a sight. I don't think any of us were expecting that. Also while heading back into town, we passed the site where all the tents are pitched for the camel festival. At the moment its just a endless sea of white wash basins coming out of a massive stretch of flat land. They just pitch a tent over each basin and presto, instant civilization.

So that night after the safari, we went into town and realised just how touristy it is. Though its small it really caters for tourist more than any place we'd been. Many shops had western dance club music playing and there were many restaurants that offered western food, especially Israeli. We ended up in one of these Israeli places just to check it out. The food was pretty average, but the "special" lassi's spun us out big time. We barely could find the hotel.

The next day, our final day, we went back into town to check out the ghat's (bathing areas). We almost got into a fight with the Braman brethren. They claimed they were a descendant clan that protected the holy waters, or something to that effect. What they really wanted was for us to proceed no further into the markets unless we did the holy ritual and "donated whatever we feel is right". We eventually caved and did it. It was actually quite relaxing - you sit face to face with them on the edge of the lake and repeat what they say and toss stuff into the lake. In the end you get a red racing stripe on your forhead with some rice stuck to it. But the real goodness is the colourful string they tie to your hand. This my friends is your ticket. From this moment forth, thou shalt not be hassled any further by any Braman's in the area (unless they really feel like it). They try to encourage you to give some serious money donation but I kept it real alright.

Eventually we headed back to our hotel to take a van back over the range to Ajmer to leave for Jaipur.
Unfortunately while trying to take a shortcut got way off track down some country roads and had to pay some dude to drive us to our hotel in his cool jeep. We were now late. Then a further comedy of errors as the hotel owner, hitching a ride to Ajmer with us, forgot his mobile phone and ordered his hotel boys to fetch it for him while we waited a kilometer or so down the road. They fetched the wrong phone and were send scampering back again. I still don't know why we couldn't just have done a U'y and got it ourselves. But I am still learning.

We finally got on our 2:30pm train for the bustling Jaipur.

Posted by dinofile 09:56 Archived in India Tagged train_travel Comments (1)

Venice of the East

India - Day #6 - Udaipur

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Udaipur being labelled Venice of East is certainly no mistake. The palaces and hotels on the edges of the lake cut a fine figure. I only recall crossing and seeing one low set curvy bridge, but that was enough to sign the Venisian deal.

Udaipur has another claim to fame, being the location for some of the movie Octopussy (James Bond).

Our hotel, the Kalika Palace ("palace" meaning OK 3 star hotel), was in a quite up market area north west of the lakeside City Palace, but it was walkable. We had breaky on the hotel rooftop restaurant, but the only thing baked was us. The sole umbrella was almost no protection from the sun, even in the early hours - that's about 9:30am for those who don't know me well ;)

When we did the main Palace we took up a guide. This 22 year old dude turned out to be the local Cassanova for this savory Venice. He was very slick and did the tour very well. Then he managed to lure me to buy two pieces of artwork for a pretty substantial price, which I am now nursing on my travels. In my defense, though I didn't barter them low enough, they were pretty awesome. Later he took us both to the top floor of the Hotel Mewar Haveli on the edge of the lake with spectacular views and a suberb interior. I highly recommend at least a drink there while you go photo loco. Later he bumped us into a textile shop where I bought a further linen item. We finally managed to lose this charming grease merchant and heard our - err well my - wallet sigh in deep relief.

Incidentally, Scotto was off doing a 2nd visit to the City Palace while I was being hussled in an (official cooperative - so they say) Art School with the smooth talker. We had chosen not to pay the extra moola to allow cameras in the museum portion of the City Palace visit, but it turned out the "museum" was really just the inside of the Palace. So Scotto did a 2nd visit in paparazzi mode. We arranged to meet up outside the palace and I finally rocked up late on the back of a motorbike nestled behing our slick grease monkey and a driver - 3 on a bike is pretty normal here. Scooting through these towns on motorbikes is hair raising but damn fun !

Though the Art School (in the old city markets) ultimately ends up a sales job (like everything else - though albeit the most mellow one I've had), it was fascinating and I do recommend it - or one like it. If you believe what they say, they are the original school and train proper artists. You get shown the ropes of how they make their art. Very cool. Like they use actual rocks for colours (like the aboriginals in Aus). Also the guy who sold me the stuff is an artists and had some newspaper clippings showing him as an up and coming star in their art world. He claimed he could paint my name and a small elephant on a piece of rice. I dared him, but I think we got side tracked the matter at hand - operation fleece deano :)

Btw, some of the artwork is so intricate, it takes months, often use a magnifying glass and brushes made out of a single squirrel hair. Brushes for larger areas are often made from camel eyebrows, yes eyebrows (could be worse - could be nostril hairs !!) as normal camel hair is too rigid. Some work, like one piece I bought, is done on camel bone, as tusks were outlawed in 1998 (I think he said).

Later we decided just to leasurely cruise around the old markets and just buy some trinkets. I ended up getting another ring, necklace and some earrings (its been a long time). It was quite a laugh with the earrings (they're only small plain silver hoops). The shop owner was a cheerly fellow, who giggled like a school girl as I was going mad trying on stuff. I had some trouble getting the rings through my ears myself, so he offered assistance. So we all were uncontrollably laughing as he whipped out his trusty (and possibly rusty) pliers and went to work on my ears like a dentist bearing down on a jittery patient.

Growing weary, we stumbled into this perfume essence shop. Like the real deal. Little viles of pure essense. We bought a couple of tubes. Its pretty strong stuff and the noses of all the dogs in the street twitched as we wofted out of the shop. Any more than one drop of this stuff could send a camel into a fit at 20 yards.

We had more than our fill of shopping and needed some amber and japarti comfort. We noticed a sign to the "Octopussy Show" on the highest rooftop bar in Udaipur. Irresistible cheesy moment ! So we scaled the staircase to find two Brit tourists wrapped around a few G&T's. The "show" was simply TV playing the movie over and over and over ... The bar staff we about to go postal. Luckily there was a slightly higher part where you could escape the show and just enjoy the amazing night views of the lake and palace's. Worth the climb for sure.

Since this was our last night, we thought we wouldn't dwell on this corn filled roof top, so we headed for another place mentioned in the travel bible. It turned out to be much more refined (very Raj'like) and right on the water's edge. The name escapes me for now, but sure to be in Scotto's blog :)

Btw, besides a few palaces next to, or on the lake, there are some up on the mountains. Very beautiful.
Also there is a hotel on the lake that boasts to be Asia's top hotel. Rooms are about US$3000 a night I was told.
(Bill: you might remember as you sent me a picture of it as somewhere to stay ;)

Well we have accepted our tight schedule as little sample bags of India. We are disappointed we have to leave but the always looking forward to the next stop. We have a midnight train onto Pushkar in the South East of Rajasthan, where the camels like to frolic.

Posted by dinofile 10:11 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Photo mister !!

Links to photos and Scotto's blog

sunny 33 °C

I have finally uploaded a pile of photos to my photo gallery.

I haven't got time at the moment to inject appropriate thumbnails into the each blog entry yet ... later :)

Also, I (Mr GlossOver) don't impart quite as much detail as my travelling counter agent Scott McPedanto, so Scotto has started his own rival blog.

Also he's going crazy uploaded photos quicker than me, so you might see some more on his photo gallery

Posted by dinofile 02:40 Archived in India Tagged photography Comments (0)

Monkey madness and the bouncing bus

India - Day #5 - Jodhpur

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Well we did end up going to Mandore park just outside of Jodhpur. Straight away there was a herd (or would you say plethora :) of monkeys. Big ones too. We had a look around the park first, which was smaller than expected but had some old temples from the 1600's, that looked pretty, well, old. Then got straight back to those monkeys !

They were cool. Just sitting in packs. This dude had a box of apples and was getting them to come up to him and take an apple and eat it. One monkey, lets call him the super-monkey, came up and ignored the apple on offer to him, deciding instead to sift through the box of apples for just the right one. Which happend to be all mangled and wonky. No accounting for monkey taste I guess.

Then the dude took the box of apples further into their territory next to this tree, handing out apples again. I was filming the moment with my camera video when one crazed monkey started to chase and attack another one. All I saw was monkey fangs and limbs coming at me out the side of my eye. No time to react, the monkey literally used my thigh as a spring board to perform a sharp change in direction in his quest to kick the other monkey's butt ! I had this massive monkey paw print on my pants. It took a while for my heart rate to go down I can tell ya.

JodhpurMan..yMonkey.jpgJodhpurMan..yEating.jpgJodhpurMan..otPrint.jpg

Finally we got on a bus out of Jodhpur for Udaipur. The bus station was really just some dusty street corner. While waiting we watched this Indian women in full colourful sari gear dig holes into the middle of the main bitumen road with a pick axe. Its must have been at least 35 degrees. But at least there was another woman to take a turn when she got tired. I think the Sydney council workers could learn a thing or two from these tough broads !

We foolishly braved normal seats instead of a sleeper. We spent the next 6.5 hours bouncing around a bus without airconditioning. It was hot and I mean hoooooot. The driver was completely insane, but in a good way, I guess @_@
I swear he spent more time on the wrong side of the road than the right. I only counted a few times where I thought I was done for, so I think that is pretty good going. I gotta say though, just when I thought I was used to all the horn beeping, I was dozing off a few times with my head against the window, just as some bleeding truck would pass us tooting its Crusty the clown horn at the decibel level of a Concord on take off blasting me out of my chair hemorrhaging profanities.

BusFromJodhpurGoats.jpg

Like I said, the journey was damn hot and dusty. The landscape was very dry and barron, but still people seem to live in these villages along the way. Just after the half way mark, it started to get a little greener and just as we went over a mountain range about 300 kms from Udaipur it became cooler, green and luscious. As we got even closer to Udaipur we started seeing marbel shops and factories. This went on for miles and miles. It must be the primary place in India for marble. Big slabs of it of every shape, colour and quality you can image just line the roadside propped up ready to move.

We finally arrived at night and made it to our hotel where we hooked up with some other travellers at our hotel and heading into the central part of town for some food and a drink. But buy this time it was pretty late and most things were closed. We found someplace and thought we'd order something safe by going the bruscetta and nachos. Big mistake. Anyway, after that, everything was absolutely dead. We couldn't get a ride home and had to leg it. Besides the packs of rabid dogs scoping our every move we made it home on a beautiful full moon night.

Sorry about the lack of photos. Bit pressed for time. They will come though, so if you're interested check back on some past blog entries, cause I will probably add them soon :)

Posted by dinofile 09:42 Archived in India Tagged bus Comments (0)

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