Udaipur -> Goa update

So we are now in Goa surrounded by palm trees and greenery. We are by Majorde beach which is amazing and have been exceptionally lazy since we got here. Our most strenuous activity so far has been planning a trip to Hampi, at which point I realised we never wrote up one of our earlier trips – our stay in Udaipur.
I had read a lot about how Udaipur has been distorted by tourism, how the centre is stifled with travel agencies and hotels and how fake this all was… However our first impression as we wandered around at dusk was how peaceful and lovely the place was, with music playing and a nice breeze it felt like we were by the med. I then realised this peace was not that of a chilled Indian lakeside community, but was because the area by the lake caters exclusively to tourists and it was off season. Instead of people thronging the streets and night markets we passed by hotels and small touristy shops. We also saw more white people in a ten minute stroll than in our entire previous wanders. It was sad that due to all of this we felt more comfortable and relaxed than in any previous large city! Even hawkers and drivers seemed more chilled – perhaps understanding from experience that most tourists shirk away from those who shout at them!
We had dinner at a hotel with unbelievable views of sunset over the lake and the lake palace hotel. We managed to get the last table outside and had a nice chat with an Australian couple and an America lady. We also had such good chicken tika that we ordered it twice!
The next day charlie nearly abandoned me through sheer boredom as I went on a shopping spree. As he sniffed disprovingly at me spending at a silver shop, a book shop, a bag shop… I kept repeating ‘well I would only buy the same in England at some point for like 500 times more, really I am SAVING money’ (a line I repeated several times in a textiles store in Jaisalmer where after several hours I left with a new best friend, Santosh, and a significantly reduced bank balance..

The weather over these last few days in the north was less good – a fair bit of rain and cloud. Consequently we lost our heads like classic Brits when yesterday in Goa we were blessed with perfect blue skies. We are now both severely burnt. I am not sure what we even did today apart from sleep eat and read. We are in the most lovely place which feels like being on a boutique sleepover. It is a gorgeous renovated Portuguese house with a few guest rooms, run by an ex pat British brother and sister who are very interesting and encourage all guests to meet and chat away and have insisted we take the books we started reading us. We met a very nice guy who works for the British gov doing the accounting for their aid abroad department who is staying here too (and got equally burnt with us).

I recommend to any one ever thinking of visiting the area to stay here (vivenda did palhacos, Goa). It was the upper most end of our budget but was worth it and they have let us stay another night for free since the room was empty! Such lovely people.
We are off to Hampi early tomorrow (mmm 7 hour train ride) and I miss the beach already. Even when it was cloudy today it is so calming to sit and do nothing. Except fend off creepy Indian men who get a kick out of not subtly taking photos of any girl in a bikini… Ah well keeps things interesting!

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Jaisalmer

Our final stop in rajathstan (the nort of India) was jaisalmer- a beautiful sandstone city that seems to rise out of the desert itself. The journey there was far less picturesque, comprising of a 12 hour overnight bus. Our seats had been marketed as ‘sleeper class” but as we were buffeted around our coffin-like compartment we started to think that something may have got lost in translation.. having deeply repressed my memories of bus travel from south east Asia it is hard to measure how the indian experience compared- the latter certainy scores higher in the sense that a Vietnamese air conditioning unit did not explode all over me, but it is not an experience I will be clammering to repeat.

So we arrived into jaisalmer at 830AM in need of both sleep and and a chyropracter – luckily Fabia had booked us a beautiful haveli to stay in. Having rested up all lunchtime we felt strong enough to swap the air-conditione comfort of our hotel and beds for the desert and a camel’s back. We hopped in a jeep and 30 minutes later arrived at the Sam sand dunes. I had never been to a desert before so was really wowed by the dunes. We hired a friendly camel called ‘Michael Jackson’ for an hour and a half and set off the explore the dunes. Michael certainly possessed the dancing hooves of his namesake although trying to get a camel to moonwalk proved a bit too ambitious.. Obviously recognising fabia’s horse-riding prowess, our guide relinquished the reins and we had a great time trotting around. he also proved a worthy competitor in an impromptu sand dune long-jump competition. I emerged out of the sand victorious but with what felt like half of the Sahara caked onto my body. Despite multiple showers and much scrubbing I can still feel like I am shedding sand. I guess all great victories come at a price..

Sent from my iPhone

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Krishna Ranch

Krishna ranch was recommended by Lonely Planet as a top choice activity in the countryside surrounding Udaipur. Once I had looked up them up on trip advisor and seen all 40 excellent reviews I was set and Charlie luckily agreed with me/ quickly resigned himself to two days of horse time.

We arrived exhausted having left Bundi that morning and stopped off at Chittorgargh fort (the biggest in all of Asia according to our driver) on the way. We were shown to the cottage we were staying in, which was large and authentically rustic looking. Very clean for India standards but as befits somewhere on a farm, there were a few too many bugs for our liking! They said they would bring dinner over to our veranda but we instead wandered over to the centre where the horses were tied up and dozing in front of a tree house type raised table and storage area. A lovely woman called Navrani served us freshly made food in huge quantities. This tiny lady worked incredibly hard, when were were there I never saw her stop, be it cooking, feeding the various animals, or stripping the banana plants.
So we ate our first meal on the ranch in candle light with horses on every side including a foal and mother in an enclosure. Pretty dreamy stuff (for me at least).
The next morning we went on a half day ride with a French couple too which was lovely. Just walking and jogging, we passed through tiny villages, various spice and fruit fields and visited a huge lake. Our guide was lovely and told us lots of little facts about how the houses were built and these giant over a metre across woks that rural families use for group occasions. They use cow manure for everything – in housing walls, as fuel and ofc for fertiliser. We went past many women busy scraping it into piles with just their hands, and once again cows and buffaloes were everywhere.
When we got back to the ranch the guide took Charlie off quickly by himself for a canter. Charlie, having previously assured me that he could ride and had cantered round a ring and everything, returned 5 minutes later looking rather pale. Going round a ring on a bored riding school pony is very different from a pure bred Malawari horse and the open countryside! He said he was terrified but loved it. In England there is no way you could have an experience like this as thanks to health and safety and insurance most riding schools would have made him have several in ring lessons costing probably 30 pounds for half an hour before daring to let an inexperienced rider do something similar! We have decided he will have to come with me to my friend Clare’s where they have their own horses and we can give him some tuition for free! Clare is you are reading this, heads up…
After lunch with the frenchies, a middle aged couple who were super friendly and had lots of interesting stories, I got ready for an afternoon ride with the ranch owner’s brother. I had said I had a horse and inevitably shown everyone multiple pictures of Millie. This and my clearly obvious wide eyed happiness and frequent admiring and moving from horse to beautiful horse, had I think given the impression that I too rode for multiple hours every day back home. Thus my ‘faster’ afternoon ride was one of the most harrowingly speedy rides I have ever been on. We covered a huge amount of ground either jogging, cantering, and the odd ridiculously exhilarating gallop often whilst dodging people, goats, and fairly aggressive male buffaloes!
We rode up into the hills and I did my best to take pictures as I went of goats jumping along walls next to us, children who rarely see a woman riding and who screamed with delight and sometimes tried to chase us, and the cows that seemed to enjoy capering infront of us. My lovely horse, Pudam, a dark bay with the build of a perfect Arab but with the Malawari ears (these curve inwards) was however too strong to let me have camera in one hand and reins in another for long without fear of dropping one! The ranch owner told me ‘these horses just want to gallop all the time’ and this was certainly true. Right from the start they walked out so forward going that you could feel the energy like a coiled spring beneath you.
By the time we got back to the ranch I could barely walk. Having ridden in thin cotton trousers and plimsolls, my legs were destroyed. Of course the fundamental problem was I am horribly unfit and just generally every muscle was unprepared for a full day of riding! However hobbling for the next 48 hours was 10000% worth it for this experience. It was an amazing way to see the country side. Especially in the afternoon I really saw rural Indian life miles away from any tourism, in villages nestling at the bottom of hills which have restricted access as they are wildlife protection zones. But to be honest as my family will know, mainly my brain was just screaming PONIES!!!

Nearly all the pictures are on my digital camera and will be uploaded later

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Jaipur and Bundi

Hello,

I’m writing this, my first post on this blog, from a delightful restaurant in bundi. It’s run by two brothers called Tom and Jerry whose cat and mouse cartoon counterparts lend their names and faces to the restaurant and its menus. We originally only intended to pop in for a quick drink and bite to eat but a local monsoon had other ideas.. Umbrella-less we decided to sit it out . 3 hours, 2 pizzas and many milkshakes later we are still waiting for the rain to stop.. All the food has been super tasty though so we are not complaining. it was really nice to have some western-style cooking. The Indian cuisine is great, especially the rich and creamy paneer curries which is like melt in the mouth tofu, but after a week of complex textures and spices we were both craving something simple and familiar.

Before stopping of at Tom and Jerry’s we had spent a few hours exploring the local fort and palace. Kipling described the latter as “the work of goblins rather than men”‘and with its decaying rock-hewn grandeur you could certainly imagining it in a lord of the rings film! The Taragarth fort also had a great sense of adventure to it- set on a hilltop above the palace, it is a collision zone between man and nature; wildly overgrown trees and shrubs do battle with 700 year old stone arches and walkways. As you explore the dead ends and deserted hallways you half expect indian jones to suddenly burst through a wall, ancient artefact in hand! On the way back down we encountered some of the local makaws we had previously been warned about. Although we had heard horror stories of them swinging down to steal phones out of pockets, and we had even been armed with a large stick “for our own protection”, the ones we met were perfectly well-behaved and fun to watch. Maybe a few bad apples with kleptomaniac tendencies have spoiled their reputation. They are incredibly agile and I think graceful creatures. The controlled way they use their momentum to propel themselves first-time from rooftop to rock to tree at great speed is a great sight.

This rugged hilltop taragath fort had a very different feel to it than Jaipur’s pink city and amber Fort. Although we greatly enjoyed the elephant ride up to the latter, once inside I was somewhat underwhelmed. There were some very nice views and architecture but it seemed to lack a bit of character. Maybe this feeling is a natural product of seeing the Taj Mahal a few days earlier. Perhaps this also explains why I particularly enjoyed exploring Taragarth today; With its crumbling defences, deserted towers and overgrown courtyards it feels completely different from the taj’s white marbelled symmetry. Getting lost within its claustrophobic walls, as makaws tracked our every move felt like an adventure and it was a far cry from some of the more tepid tourist and tout-filled sights we had visited earlier in the week. Exploring Taragath felt genuine and exciting and it was an experience I hope to recapture when we visit the famous chittaughar fort tomorrow.

Charlie x

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Drivers in India

Easily the most obvious sign to us once we left the airport that we were in India were the road laws/ lack of any.
Today we had our most crazed driver yet. We were on our way to the station to catch a train for Kota (where we got a car to Bundi)
We were taking a tuktuk which is a sort of camped up colourful go cart mixed with a golf cart but more rattly and with correlated metal forming a wall around you. Firstly our driver refused to say a word merely gesturing for us to get on and nodding when we suggested a price for our journey. As soon as we started moving he started cackling, loudly, to himself and making crazy signs with his hands and muttering. This progressed to shouting at the people we passed, most of whom we nearly crashed into and culminated in a high speed crossing where we narrowly avoided smashing into a bus we were under cutting and then witnessed a motor bike crash which the driver gleefully screamed and pointed at. I have never been so relieved for a journey to be over!
The day before we experienced another odd Jaipurian (made up spelling) – the grumpiest tuktuk man EVER. We met his brother the day before at the pre paid taxi booth at the station when we arrived. His name was Ali, he spoke English and showed us a book of testimonials of people he had taken round the city in everything from Polish to Korean. We were impressed and agreed to meet him the next day for a reasonably priced half day tour of Jaipur. Shockingly Charlie was ill the next morning (I 100% thought I would be sickly first) so we had to cancel on happy Ali and said we would take his brother later in the day instead.
His brother was nothing like him and I doubt related – he was genuinely a very angry man and huffed and puffed the entire journey. Normally people are over friendly and helpful as they have a tip in mind, but this guy grunted his way through our day. Then asked for more money. Then bullied us into taking him the next day too for a ridiculous price. We later called him to say we were ill and would not be needing him. We booked a tuktuk through the hotel instead and had to stick our heads round the corner in case grumpy had in fact turned up anyways having refused to accept a phone cancellation. Luckily he seemed to have got the message and a nice friendly normal driver took us to the Amber Fort (which was awesome)
Now that we are in a much more rural area, the roads are far calmer but have a new obstacle – cows every few meters, often just lying down in the middle of the road whilst lorrys inch carefully around them. It’s the funniest and cutest thing. The cows are small and have dark eyes and long lashes and are all clean and adorable looking h like the giant ones which always seem to be covered in flies in England. There is so much open grassland around yet they persist in hanging around in the roads. I think maybe they like the breeze of cars going past them?! Maybe they are conducting their own silent west side sorry?! They are everywhere will try take pictures on our way back to the station and just so chilled. By road I don’t mean country lane I mean India’s version of an A road.

Our driver from Kota to Bundi was in a big four wheeled drive which had .. Suspension..! A welcome change. He was good natured and pointed things out to us and laughed when he saw us looking at the cows. Crucially he did not try get more money for this extra friendliness – which is very rare!
We are now staying in the cutest Haveli and have had a free room upgrade. So happy to be out of the big cities! I look forward to more cow spotting tomorrow..

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Arrival in Delhi

First impressions
– The journey went by so quickly it seemed so surreal to suddenly be somewhere so different.
– Not as blisteringly hot as we expected
– Drive from airport to hostel in an little open air vehicle was more like an aggressive go karting race than a transfer.
– Everyone is so friendly.

Second impressions
– It is actually hugely boiling as soon as we had walked more than 30 m and our car was stuck in traffic
– Our airport transfer was fairly sophisticated compared to the Tuktuks in the centre
– Everyone is trying to scam us!! Have honestly learned some useful life skills already in regards to lie detecting and how to say no.
– Dehli is too large to comprehend

Our first day felt very surreal and we definitely fell prey to being sent places we didn’t need to go and being over charged.
We bumped into our friends at the airport and it turns out they are here for the same time and rough same route as us which is pretty great. Having parted ways post flight we then ran into them outside Jamma Masjid which added to our general feeling of surrealism. We sat and chatted on the steps and I got assaulted by adorable girls begging which although I knew would happen is still so difficult to ignore!
The area was packed as service was beginning and independence celebrations have been going on. This means the Red Fort is shut so but we went to the Lonely Planet recommended Karim’s for our first Indian meal which was delicious. I am totally paranoid and we didn’t risk pouring our bottled water into cups or eating the onion and lemon slices they brought at the beginning of the meal. However we did have their highly recommended almond and mutton curry which was so good.

Today we took a ac car around the south part of the city which was definitely a great call. It only cost 500 rupees and was so much more comfortable and less stressful than continual tuktuks and the bartering involved. We bumped into our friends again at Humayun’s Tomb and despite this huge coincidence we agreed that there are barely any westerners around so spotting each other at main sights is not really so hard!

The big sites are ofc very impressive but generally we are very pleased to be leaving such a choked and noisy city. It’s not the sights or smells that are overwhelming for us, it is the incessant honking from every single vehicle!

We leave for Agra tomorrow morning and plan to see the Taj Mahal first thing Saturday morning.

When we have access to a computer will hopefully upload some proper photos! These are just a few from my phone. Tuktuks on the road – Jamma Masjid lit up at night and India Gate.

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