Posted by: glenswatman | April 26, 2011

20110411-20 INDIA Rajasthan

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MONDAY 11 APRIL – I’ve been up since the early hours with the “Ranthambhore runs”. We want to get to the station early to use the ATM and book more onward tickets but our rickshaw arrives late and then I have to make a last minute toilet dash. Worse still the bumpy rickshaw journey means I have to make a sprint into the station. The first office I see is the station masters so I ask where the toilet is as I need to go urgently. He lets me use his private loo, and probably regrets it afterwards! The train is on time and we find our booked sleeper seats, (Rs371, £5.60). We are allocated a top and bottom bunk complete with warm bedding from the previous occupants! Whilst Steve sits up I am happy to curl up in a ball on the bed. By the time we arrive in Jaipur I have checked out the toilet half a dozen times, luckily they were not too smelly – well they weren’t until after I had been. At Jaipur station the platform is heaving with people and we notice someone beating them back with a stick as they push to board before others can get off. We’ve got a reservation at a hotel and call them for our free pick up. Even so we are pestered to death by rickshaw touts. It is obviously a major problem as the hotel say they will send someone with a sign showing our name, the hotel name plus he will have a password 555. Hotel Pearl Palace is amazing, it is ornate with individually artistically decorated rooms. We are given a huge family room, 306, with 2 double and 2 single beds. Best of all the king sized bed is very comfortable. Steve takes a walk around the local area and checks out the hotel facilities, a library and quiet lounge and 2 rooftop areas plus the magnificent “Peacock Restaurant” where he has a tasty lunch. Although I drink litres of rehydration fluids my situation does not improve much but I do make it up to the roof early evening. We are directly opposite an old fort. The restaurant has amazing wrought ironwork furniture, lots of plants and other decorations – it is almost like the whole building is some sort of whacky art museum – we love it.
JAIPUR, HOTEL PEARL PALACE. Rs900 (£13.50) Non A/C room with TV

TUESDAY 12 APRIL – I’m a little better but Steve’s stomach is now delicate. We abandon our planned walking tour in favour of getting a rickshaw to drive us around the city highlights. First we have to cut through the old part of the city, known as the pink city as all the buildings were painted sandstone pink when the Prince of Wales visited in 1876, it is mayhem. City Palace (Rs300, £4.50) has some very fancy rooms and a lovely courtyard with a different sculptured door for each season. A section is still lived in by the royal family. Many years ago King Jai Singh, after whom the city was named, created an observatory. Jantar Manar (RS100, £1.50) is a courtyard with lots of his instruments. They look like huge sculptures but each has a scientific use recording eclipses, time etc. One of the most famous pictures in Rajasthan tourist brochures is of the Hawa Mahal, a very high tapered building with dozens of tiny windows, we enter from the back and see the building is one room deep and has the small windows where the women of the harem could look out without being seen. Round off the tour with a quick look at the run down cenotaphs in Royal Gaitor Park, (Rs30, 45p) then walk around the magnificent building of Albert Hall. We’d agreed a 4-hour tour for Rs250 (£3.75) with our driver but after 3-hours we’ve had enough and return to rest. We move to a different room as last night we were underneath the kitchens and it was noisy until after 1am. Our new room, 202, is smaller but also very nicely decorated. It is so hot outside that we use room service to have a snack delivered. We find the windows won’t open so ask for the air cooler to be turned on but it is very noisy and smells musty so after an hour we opt for the heat instead.

WEDNESDAY 13 APRIL – To try and avoid further illness we decide to eat at the hotel as it seems clean. Not necessarily so as Steve find a chunk of tomato in his porridge! We walk down to the nearest chemist for more rehydration sachets and other essentials like toilet paper. At Rs70 (£1) for a small roll this could make a big hole in our budget. We pick up dry sweet biscuits and plain salty crackers but when we open the crackers we find they are curry flavoured. Steve just feels weary so I leave him in bed and sit in the lounge and chat to other travellers. One couple are heading out to the famous “Lassi wallah” stall and invite me along. It’s near the centre of the city so they have to take a rickshaw but insist the lassi is worth it. When we arrive the original stall has sold out so we buy from one of the clones next door. For Rs30 (45p) you get a large freshly prepared thick and creamy yoghurt shake topped off with a slice of cream off the top of the yoghurt. It is served in clay mugs that taper down to the bottom and only just stand up. The most amazing thing is that the mugs are disposable. WE opt for a take away and they cover the mugs with greaseproof paper and fasten this on by winding about 10 metres of string around it.

THURSDAY 14 APRIL – At the railway station we see the “Palace on wheels” which also looks superb, our standard train arrives on time and in our 2 A/C sleeper compartment we find a couple who live in America but have come back to visit relatives in Kashmir. It’s funny to hear them talk about how dirty and unhygienic India is. Arriving in Ajmer we are negotiating for a car when we see a lone European traveller and suggest sharing. Marie is a Greek girl who lives in London. Is married to an Italian and has a Turkish grandmother. She is travelling alone as the night before the start of her 3-week trip she had a huge row with her husband. She flew to friends in Delhi and they have pre booked all her accommodation to make things easier but we still think she is brave. It’s a short ride over the hill to Pushkar where the taxi driver tries it on saying the fare we agreed was Rs200 (£3) but is now Rs300 for 3 people. As he has to drop us at 2 different hotels we offer him a little more which he declines but when we make to walk off to check in he chases after us and snatches the extra. At Hotel Navaratan Palace I insist on being shown a number of rooms before I find one that has a combination of soft mattress, clean walls and nothing obviously broken. The great thing here is that there is a lovely swimming pool and garden area. Steve is still drained so I leave him in bed and go to the pool where I meet Andrew and Rachel from London. They live in a converted Ambulance, come to India to order things to sell at the summer festivals in England then go to Thailand to buy things to sell at the London Christmas market. Late afternoon Steve feels up to a walk and we immediately please to find that although the narrow streets are crowded with vendors there is little hassle. There are also very few cars, rickshaws or motorbikes. A basic pizza at “Out of the blue” turns out to be a 12” one with enough for us both plus a couple of slices to take away. As I am still having some stomach problems and Steve is far from right we are wondering if our bodies are missing meat, are de toxing through not eating it, are lacking vitamins and don’t have the strength to fight of infection. Based on that we will buy some multi vitamins and minerals tomorrow and hope for the best.

FRIDAY 15 APRIL – It has been a surprisingly quiet night until daylight when the traders returned to open shutters and stalls. Now we both seem to be going down with colds and we have hardly used the air conditioner since we got here so can’t figure it out. We make a wide walk around the lake. Steve nearly throws up when we walk past a stinky rubbish pile full of pigs. At least once we get out into the country the air is fresher. There are dozens of temples here and we check out a few. Spot a barbers shop where Steve gets a wet shave for Rs15 (22p). They finish off by rubbing a white bar over his face and explain it is a lemon stone. The beautiful Seventh Heaven guest house has a nice rooftop restaurant and the muesli with fresh fruit, honey and yoghurt is just what I need. The swimming pool at our hotel has an interesting system of Indians only until mid day, then Europeans until 5pm and Indians after that. Think it is so that we feel comfortable wearing bikinis and also don’t get men perving. It’s a good time to sit in the shade and read between dips but interesting to note that we have not seen any Indians using it at any time. At Rainbow restaurant the cottage pie is delicious. Owner Gopal makes it fresh each morning with 8 different vegetables mixed with soya then topped with mash and cheese. Unfortunately I have already placed my order for the banofee pie and am absolutely stuffed by the time I finish.

SATURDAY 16 APRIL – At the bus stand it is the usual nightmare of miss information when we ask about the bus to Udaipur. It is supposed to arrive at 9am so we hang around as we want to see exactly what type of bus it is. In the meantime the man from the barbers calls Steve in for a haircut. He does a good job and follows the cut with a massage then asks for just Rs 10 (15p), we tip him double. He then asks to do my hair so we figure in for a penny in for a pound and repeat the process for myself. The bus still hasn’t arrived by 10.30am but the one that does pull in is 4-hour behind schedule so think we will take the train. The streets are much busy with lots of tour groups, Western and Indian thronging through the bazaar. . I’ve still got a bubbling stomach and the pharmacist suspects a bug and prescribes anti biotic to be taken in conjunction with pro biotic and indigestion tablet for 5 days. In the evening it begins to rain and we hear a huge cheer go up, the rain lasts for less than 5 minutes.

SUNDAY 17 APRIL – The medication seems to have had an immediate effect on improving my stomach. Only problem is I now have a cold with a streaming nose. It’s only half way down the street when Steve wretches at pig smell that I realise my sense of smell has completely gone, what a bonus. We chat to market traders Andrew and Rebecca and they tell us most of the clothes they buy here are made from second hand saris. Apparently Indian women collect them all their life then after they die the family sell them. With 5 metres of cloth they are a bargain at prices as low as Rs30 (50p). They then use the fabric to get shops to design their clothes and sell them in England as vintage – brilliant. For the 3rd night on the trot I have shepherd’s pie at Rainbow. You eat on the rooftop but then go into the family lounge to pay and invariably get held up chatting. We then go to “Honey Dew Café” for their excellent pots of espresso and chat to fellow Brits Nick and Gavin.

MONDAY 18 APRIL – We are really enjoying our breakfasts here, muesli with fresh fruit, yoghurt and honey. We buy fresh brown bread, a tube of jam and bananas for our train journey later today. Room check out is noon and we are a bit miffed as they knock the power off on the dot, we were busy watching an episode of “Amazing Race” filmed in India. It’s convenient to spend the afternoon by the pool before our 3pm taxi to Ajmer arrives, Rs250 (£3.75). We’ve bought out A/C seat class tickets to Udaipur, Rs341 (£6.80) so head straight to the platform. Getting wise we have realised that most times the A/C coaches are in the middle of the train and even if not if you start by standing in the middle of the platform you then only have half a length maximum to sprint. It’s a cool and noisy carriage (Indians generally don’t discipline kids) but gets us to Udaipur in around 5-hours. Besieged by rickshaw drivers we are happy to have booked ahead at Mewar Inn and arranged for Mahindra’s free pick up. They promote themselves as being way cheaper than the tourist hotels as they are in a different area so you get more for your money. The A/C rooms are Rs500 and Rs600 (£9). When he shows me the Rs500 room a cockroach runs over the floor so he ends up giving us the dearer room at the lower price. It’s very nice with a flat screen TV, light, spacious, nice furniture but spoilt by a huge stain on the sheets and someone else’s poo stuck on the side of the toilet pan. They just don’t quite get it here. It is after 10pm and we are too tired to head down to the tourist area and check out other places so get the offending items corrected and bed down.

TUESDAY 19 APRIL – Fed up with rip off rickshaw drivers we know the price to the lakeshore is Rs40 (60p) so we just march up to them and say I want to go to the lake and I will pay Rs40. The second one quickly agrees. Anjani Hotel has good reviews and a swimming pool so we begin there. It looks like a couple of old “haveli’s” joined together around the pool area. Unusual rooms with the small paned windows each with a different colour glass. The mattress is about 2 feet deep and the most comfortable we have seen in India so we are sold. Mustn’t tell anyone else he has dropped his price to Rs1100 (£16.50) just for us! Udaipur old city is on the edge of the lake and we are right in the heart of things but tucked away up and alley so not too noisy. We walk down the hill to the lake and take lots of photos. This is where the Roger Moore James Bond movie was filmed back in 1982 and the lake palaces have not changed a bit. Backtracking we are drawn into “Bagore Ki Haveli” museum, (Rs30, 45p) and what a gem it turns out to be. We have a personal guide who tells us all about the lives of the inhabitants but a highlight for us is the puppet room. Someone has made hundreds of puppets and seated them in a room to replicate the way the king would have used it. In the evening we eat at “Natural Lake View” roof top restaurant where they show the movie Octopussy. It is quite strange watching the movie then glancing to one side and seeing the lake and palaces that are being shown. I chat to owner Blacky and book a cooking class for tomorrow.

WEDNESDAY 20 APRIL – Our plan to get out early and do some sightseeing is foiled as things are not open. We want to do a boat trip and they don’t start until 10am. Make do with a walk over the bridge to a small island to get a better view back towards the palace. At 11am I have a cookery lesson and Blacky begins by showing me how to make the basic curry paste which is used in many dishes. We use this to make the mushroom butter masala and special vegetables. Next we do chow mien and dal and finally cheese roti. All done very quickly and easily with just one gas burner so perfect for the motorhome. Steve is very impressed with the food although there is way too much. We realise when we get a bill for Rs800 instead of the Rs500 agreed as Blacky has cooked extra food for Steve. We are full to bursting so a siesta is needed. Late afternoon we head to the city palace museum. (Rs60 90p). This is a great way to see the palace buildings even though the museum rooms are the typical weapons and clothing. There are some stunning rooms with tiny mirrored walls and ceilings, magnificent painted walls and other fancy architecture. We then walk out to the cable car, a bigger walk than we thought so when a rickshaw pulls up and says free ride to the top because I am going there, we are happy. The ropeway carries 2 small cable cars to the mountain opposite, (Rs66, 95p). We have fine views over Lake Pichola and beyond. At the top we follow the path to a temple where I get a bit of a fright. There is another temple in Rajasthan that is famous for the rats and it is supposed to be lucky if they run over you. We enter and see lots of white “rats” at the edges of the main room but are assured they are mice – the biggest flipping mice I have ever seen. We continue along something like the “Great wall of China” to a lookout point. En route a local attaches himself to us and takes us on a detour to an underground area where people are living. Having seen the city lit up last night we settle in for a film night in our room.


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