Thursday, February 26, 2015

India - Rajasthan

Our next stop was also our first stop in lovely Rajasthan, maybe the most visited state in India after Goa. Jaipur was our first stop that we really enjoyed. We hired a tuk tuk to drive us out to our first Rajasthan fort, the Amer Fort. We grabbed an audio guide (definitely needed it for our first fort, not so necessary by the end). These forts are built to withstand siege and battle. There are walls around walls, steep staircases with sharp turns, spikes sticking out of the walls to gouge elephants, etc. That’s enough about forts for now. 
The Amer Fort

In Jaipur we were also lucky to cross paths with a lovely British couple that we had hung out with for a few days in Myanmar back in November! We met them for dinner and swapped our crazy India stories. The next day we walked around the old city, ate some amazing Indian deep-fried sweet called jelabi, and looked at the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Wind. It was built so the royal ladies could sit and watch the going-ons of the city, without being seen by commoners. It also turned out to be the only thing within our price range (a palace and an observatory were WAY overpriced). 

The Hawa Mahal
That night, we went to see a Bollywood film at this fancy old vintage decorated movie theater with our British friends. Although the movie was in Hindi with no subtitles, we were able to understand most of what was happening, especially with a little help from Wikipedia. Indians, at least the ones in Rajasthan, make a tonne of noise in a movie theatre, whooping, cheering and yelling at the appropriate moments. It was a neat experience! I can’t remember what else we did in Jaipur so it must not have been that amazing, but I do remember getting on our FIRST NIGHT BUS in India. Like the train, we were a little (or a lot) cold due to windows that didn’t quite close, and were additionally kept awake by an insane melodic horn (it sounded like he was playing a keyboard to produce the sounds!). We at least had our own nice little compartment and had some privacy from the rest of the passengers on the bus. It was kind of like sleeping in a coffin for two with windows. Finally, at some point, I was asleep, and when I opened my eyes we were in…

Jaisalmer! Our second Rajasthan stop. This was the desertiest of our stops, and the first thing we saw out of the window was the fort, rising out of the center of the town like a giant magical sandcastle. We lucked out again with our guesthouse, scoring a huge room and private bathroom for very cheap. The owner insisted his name was Aladdin (I say too good to be true) and was super helpful. The main reason we went to Jaisalmer was to do a camel safari out to some real sand dunes. Aladdin arranged this for a great price, and we were off the next day. Conor and I and our guide, Leelu, set off to wander around the desert for a few hours, then we (Leelu) set up our camp and cooked us dinner (it was delicious!). We slept out under the stars, and nothing even tried to eat us, although at one point I thought maybe I had to go pee, but when I peeped out from my blankets there was a dog just standing there investigating us, so I stayed where I was. I slept SOO well I actually missed the sunrise by like an hour and yelled at Conor for not waking me up to see it! Our camels had tried to run away in the night, and this 13 year old kid that was helping Leelu had to go chase them down for us. We rode them back to the village, then jumped in a jeep back to town. Pretty neat. We spent the rest of the day chilling with another cool British couple we met in our guesthouse, and went out for dinner with them at this restaurant with a slightly insane lady hostess, who chatted with us while we ate. The next day we wandered around trying to find these old haveli things until it was time to get on our bus. This was a shorter distance, only like 5 hours and then we were in…

In the desert with our camels
Jodhpur! Jodhpur is famous for, you’ll never guess, a FORT. This fort was impressive. The royal family has maintained it and turned it into an impressive museum. Jodhpur is also known as the blue city, because there are about 20 blue houses clustered together and if you take a photo just right it looks like the whole city is blue. 
blu city?

So the fort was informative. In Jodhpur, we were also able to meet our pal that we met in Varanasi a couple times! Saurabh took us to a fancy thali place where we ate until we were just about to throw up, then tried to have some drinks, but soon realized we were way too painfully full for that nonsense. So the next night we got smart and did the drinking first and the eating second. Conor and I hadn’t eaten much meat for about a month prior to this point, and Saurabh promised us amazing tandoori chicken, and he totally delivered. On our last day in Jodhpur, we decided to try out ziplining beside the fort, mostly because we heard that you get to zip over the opening of the prison that Batman has to climb out of in the latest Batman movie (you know the one with Bane!). It was a total bargain and lots of fun, and, what a coincidence, we were joined by a group of 4 Korean teachers vacationing together. 

After ziplining we were off on another bus, a bus which ended up taking approximately forever it turned out, toooo:

Pushkar! We arrived in Pushkar after like 8 hours on a bumpy local bus. It was dark, we were the only people still on the bus, it was EXHAUSTING. Luckily, our guesthouse was very easy to find and we were able to eat dinner and go straight to sleep. Pushkar is home to a holy lake, and has drawn all the kinds of tourists who feel the “vibrations” that always elude me. The very positive side of being in a town full of hippies was that Pushkar was full of AMAZING restaurants serving unique and flavourful dishes with fresh ingredients. We had already designated Pushkar as a do nothing place, where we would relax and recharge. We didn’t end up doing anything special, just walking around the town and planning out the rest of our time in South India. Our visit did coincidentally coincide with a holiday (Kite day? New year? Both??) which let us see lots of kite flying, some colourful processions through the streets to the holy lake, some extremely loud music, and a booze-less rooftop rave for teenage boys. All very interesting. When it was time to go, we easily made our way into the next town over to catch a local bus, which was much less painful than the previous one. We arrived with plenty of daylight left to go, in…

The holy lake at Pushkar
Bundi! Our smallest and least touristy stop of the entire country had a fort, but an old, abandoned, ruiny kind. We arrived and immediately asked advice about a good place to get chai, not realizing the gravity of our question. Within minutes, we were off, accompanied by the guesthouse owner, his brother, and 3 other guests, because getting chai is an event in a small town like Bundi. We arrived at Krishna’s, where we were told we would be drinking the BEST chai in India. Bold claim. It was, however, VERY delicious and unique, with a bouquet of flavours exploding in your mouth. Unfortunately for me, one of these flavours was black pepper, one of my kryptonite foods. :( So I didn’t get to drink all of mine. After tea, the guesthouse owner, Shivam, decided to send his brother to get us all some butter chicken while he built a fire,a nd we sat around the fire eating chicken with our hands. Good start! The next day, we walked up to the old Palace and Fort. The palace was REALLY cool, very ruiny and crumbly, but with a few rooms in amazing condition. Apparently it was never conquered by the Mughals, and the British also left it alone because they were on good terms with the royal family here. So it wasn’t RUINED, per se, it was just disused. A lot of fun to explore. 

room in the palace at Bundi
We also walked up to see the fort, which was a little less exciting, and a lot more terrifying due to a monkey family siege in which we both decided the best course of action was to run away. After Indiana Jonesing in the ruins, we decided to have a beer by the lake. It was a good day. I’m pretty sure the next way we walked around and saw a few more of the town’s monuments, including a much better than expected Queen’s Bath. 

The Queen's bath
Then we relaxed and drank some rum by a campfire. Early in the morning, we set off early in the morning, a little apprehensive about our instructions for getting to Udaipur. We caught a train at a totally different time than what we were told it would come at, but apparently it was ok, and then we got off the train and caught a bus the rest of the way. We must have been pretty pro at this point, because everything went exactly as planned, and by the evening we were in:

Udaipur! Our last stop in Rajasthan. Udaipur’s pop culture claim to fame is that the James Bond film Octopussy was shot there, and you can watch the film in dozens of restaurants in the main tourist streets. It is also known is the “Venice of the East” but if you’ve been to Asia you know there are like 50 Venice of the Easts and none of them are much like Venice at all. (I’m looking at you Tai O Hong Kong!) It DID have a nice lake, with a palace by the lake and TWO palaces on the lake. We went to see the palace, which is still VERY intact, with many rooms still fully decorated in what I’m calling “colonial-chic” style.
indo colonial chic

There was also a tree growing up of the second floor balcony. SECOND floor. Because Kings do what they want.  After the palace, we looked around a nearby temple with some very intricate carving. 
large temple in Udaipur

The next day, we checked out a vintage car museum that houses the old royal cars AND horse carriages. The next day we took a boat ride on the lake and got a really nice view of the palace from the water. The last thing we did here was watch a cultural performances that was pretty mind blowing. An older woman balanced like 10 jugs on her head and performed tricks like stepping on glass and balancing on a pan. It was pretty memorable. That night, we jumped on a train heading south, and in the morning we were in Mumbai!

dancing with jars

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