25th Dec 2011 - 10th Jan 2012
Well I don't really know where to start.. think i will start by saying India is a place you can absolutely love one minute and absolutely hate the next.. at least that's how I saw it!! Day 1 loved it, day 2 loved it, day 3 hated it...!!! etc!
So Di and I flew out to London on Christmas Eve and after an 8.5 hour flight, touched down in Delhi at about 10am on Christmas Day. Let me be honest with you here... I was expecting temperatures of early to mid 20s as that is what the weather website told me to expect, however it was a cool 12 degrees... OK so warmer than London but hello I wanted sunshine. We got a cab to our accommodation 'The Park, New Delhi' a few security scanners later and we were inside and checking in. Up to our room to drop our bags and then back to the hotel restaurant for some lunch, well a sandwich as that's all we felt like after the flight.
Following lunch we headed back upstairs and decided to have a nap until 4 (so 2 hours) and then go out and explore.. well 4pm came... AND WENT.. and we eventually got up and ready and were out by 7.... where did all the people come from! It was crazy. We went for a walk around connaught place which is central Delhi, with the center circle all the big brand and expensive shops and the other circles the cheaper goods. It was an experience I have to say, I think we saw potentially 16 of the 18 million people in Delhi, saw rabid dogs.. well we called every dog we saw 'rabies', loads of homeless people, about 6000 street vendors selling anything and everything, as well as a few people with open sores trying to get money off you... somewhat scary.
We decided it was a bit much so grabbed a rickshaw to take us to a market area we had been told we really vibrant and lively... If I though the connaught place area was scary I was wrong. We had beggars coming up and trying to touch our arms, then following us, I nearly walked into a cow, there were goats, dogs, cycle rickshaws, motorized rickshaws, people on bikes all zooming past.. never the less we pursued, ok so we walked in, down one side, back down the other then caught a rickshaw back to our accommodation.. don't want to overdo it now do we??!
We decided to have some food at the Indian restaurant attached to the hotel, chicken tikka and garlic naan.. I know not very adventurous but why change when that's what I like ah??! It was amazing. The chef even came out and chatted to us for about half an hour which was cool. All too soon, ie far too much food, and it was time for me to have a wee food coma, so back to our room we went. We then jumped on skype and said merry Christmas to Caro and Emma back in London before falling into bed about midnight! Exhausting!
Monday morning we were up, and having breakfast about 9.30am and ready for our taxi pick up at 10.15.. why you ask! today was our Indian cooking course! Whoop Whoop. We were collected and taken (took about 45 minutes) to Joyti's house for our 'Gourmet Desire' cooking course. What fun! There was another girl who joined and we got started. We tasted the spices (some were foul) and talked through the recipes as we went!
We made tomato broth, Indian green chutney, mixed vegetable pakoras, cardamon rice pudding, dal, butter paneer, chicken rogan josh, rice pulao, think something else but cant remember.. anyway we helped make it, watched it cook then happily ate it... mmmmmm!!!
Following lunch, we were back in our taxi and on the way to the local spice market. We happened to pass a silk market on the way so Joyti decided to take us in and show us some of the local silks... so amazing. Every 30 days the exhibition changes vendors however its always local silks, rugs, scarves, pashminas, bags...
Eventually we made it to the spice market which was loads of fun to wander around, massive vats of the spices, nuts, seeds, herbs, lots of fresh veges and marigolds for sale. From here we headed to a local sweet shop (not quite what we were hoping for) onto another clothes market and then some 8 hours later, we were on our way home. So full from lunch that we didn't need dinner at all.
Tuesday we were up and headed out to connaught place (much less manic in the daytime) and then for a walk to local emporiums. We managed to get ourselves a little lost so caught a rickshaw to get back home after about 3 hours of walking and not much liking the area we were in (this was hate India day!). At 1 we caught a taxi to the hotel we were meeting the rest of our tour in... hotel perfect however I have to say it was not perfect. It was a concrete shell, and freezing! After about 40 minutes of standing from of a heater trying to put some heat in the room we decided it was time to see our new local area... which was no where near as nice as our old local area... anyway we found McDonald's and decided that was a good option rather than curry. I could have had a McSpicy Paneer burger but went for good old fillet o fish, chips and a drink... magic!
Back into our accommodation for some tv, then down to meet our new tour group and tour guide. Our group consisted of a Mother and son from Australia (Peggy and Steve), a couple from Australia (Abby and Robyn), two girls from Germany (Christina and Monique), some sisters from Australia but living in London (Bree and Kara), two kiwi girls from Christchurch (Tori and Alex), and Caroline from London, Di and myself. Our tour guide was Dhee and after he yabbered for about 40 minutes at which time he told us we were on a budget tour for Di to tell him she is not a budget tour sort of person, we headed to dinner at a local... guess... Indian place!
Tikki chicken and garlic naan and a beer and I was happy. Good chance to meet our tour party before heading back to our hotel for some sleep (in the ice box) before our exploring Delhi day. Our first stop the next day was the local metro to the Old City Market area known as Chandni Chowk, where we walked down mad side streets, dodged Buffalo's, cows dogs, goats, bikes, rickshaws, cars and 18 billion other people. We went to see the Red fort then onto Connaught Place, or as Dhee says the commercial heart of New Delhi. After the madness of Connaught place, we headed back to our local area to find some food to take onto the overnight train to Varanasi. The train was actually pretty decent, slept relatively well considering the noise and arrived in Varanasi about 8am.
I was really excited about Varanasi, which is regarded as the spiritual heart of India, the city of Shiva built on the banks of the sacred Ganges River. This is the location that thousands of pilgrims flock to to see the great ghats to bathe in the holy waters - a ritual that is believed to wash away all sins. The city claims to be one of the oldest in the world and it’s a magical place where we will be able to witness the rituals of life and death on the ghats. Mum suggested I should visit here and I can see why!
On arrival at our hotel (Hotel Suyra) which was amazing by the way compared to hotel perfect... even had heating in the room which Di and I cranked up.. we headed to breakfast then back to our rooms to shower, nap, rest before we went to look at sarnath which is a sacred area to the Buddhists (like the Ganges is to Hindus). We walked around, took lots of photos of the temples, went to the local archaeological museum and then headed back to our hotel for dinner and drinks.
We had a very early start the next day as we were going to look at the ghats on the river Ganges as well as as early morning boat ride. While we waited for the mist to rise of the water, we went for a walk through the back lanes and crowded alleyways of this timeless city. We walked through some of the ghats, looked at the area that the bodies are burnt and then ashes returned to the Ganges by the family etc. We learned that certain people are not burned as there bodies are already deemed to be sacred, priest, children, mothers who die during childbirth and people bitten by snakes. Apparently about 150 people die a day in Varanasi and surrounding areas and their bodies are all brought here to be burnt.
Once on the water, we were able to see some of the different ghats, people bathing in the water, laundry being done in the water etc. We were given a tea light candle to light and make a wish and put in the water to float which was really pretty. After the morning tour, we made our way back to our hotel for shower, naps and then we headed out to a local weavers, and then silk maker which was cool. Back to the hotel for lunch and naps/book reading/massages etc and then it was back down to the Ganges to see the evening prayer ceremony take place which sitting on a boat on the Ganges. We did go for a boat ride down and there were 9 bodies being burnt at once, its basically a 24 hour place, with bodies being placed on the fire on bamboo stretchers.
After the ceremony, it was back to the hotel for dinner and drinks, but not a late night as we were exhausted. Then next day (new years eve) we had a free day so Di and I walked into Agra town for a few hours then back to get some food before getting on the train at 5pm. It was an overnight train so lots of chatting, eating a little bit of drinking (it was new years eve after all) and then another night of little sleep before waking up in Agra.. home of the Taj Mahal!!
Having arrived at our hotel and having no room to check into yet, we had breakfast and then a group of us headed to the Agra Fort for some exploring. We had amazing views of the Taj Mahal in the distance and just wandered around looking at the different areas of the fort. After about 2 hours we rickshawed back to the hotel for a shower, nap and then it was off to the Taj Mahal. The amazing 17th century marble mausoleum, built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his second wife who died giving birth. Started in 1631 the project was completed in 1648 and employed a workforce of over 20,000 people. Construction materials were brought from all over India with the marble from Rajasthan transported by over 1000 elephants. Di and I went inside for a look and were both surprised at how small the inside was but what an amazing place.
Off to dinner for some butter paneer and garlic naan, then home for sleep! The next day we were off to Tordi Garh in Rajasthan, asmall, out of the way village. Tordi Garh is a small town that we have identified is a true ‘off the beaten track’ experience. After a 4 hour bus trip from Agra, in what can only be described as a piece of tin held together with cardboard (but surprisingly comfy) we are met by jeeps and drive a couple of hours through beautiful countryside to Tordi. Now let me point out I think our driver had a death wish, drove like a maniac at full speed and we even broke down at one stage!! I think my kidneys were bruised when we arrived from being thrown around the jeep!
Once settled into our palace (Our host was the owner of the palace at Tordi, a direct descendant of the feudal lord who built the palace in the 16th century.). Di and I got to worst room we are sure, a concrete block with far too many windows to keep any heat in, and cold cold cold (however we got about 3 extra blankets). We headed out to the sand dunes on camels to climb the dunes (hard work) but got a lovely sunset as a reward. Sitting, drinking local chai tea and eating biscuits - not too bad! back to the palace and dinner time. We had the first sitting (there were two tour groups) however we managed to get in an argument with the other group and they were very rude, but the food was amazing. All locally produced and tasty!
Then next morning (after sleeping with extra blankets, thermals, merino tops, down jackets)... brrr... we headed for a walk around the local village, visiting an old village temple, walking though markets and meeting families on the way. Ruined temples and a fortress lie further afield. Really interesting. We got to see a local pottery man in action and a few brave (or forced!!) members of the group took part. Once back at the palace we had lunch then back in the jeep for another few hours to Jaipur.
Again bruised kidneys but alive, we checked into our hotel, then headed out to dinner with the group to a local vegetarian place (well some opted for the meat place next door). Mmmmm butter paneer and garlic naan :-) The next day we traveled 11 kilometers out to the stunning medieval Amber Fort. This fort was built in 1592 by Maharaja Man Singh and is a superb example of Rajput architecture. Some opted to be escorted up the hill by elephants while the rest of us caught the van. Once inside we spent about 3 hours exploring, looking at the old rooms, cooking area, well, where the king lived, where his 14 wives lived... ha!
After the fort, we went to a local jeweler and then a local souvenir place, which sold scarves, pillow cases, duvets, you name it they sold it. After lunch Di, Caroline and I went to the city museum which was really interesting, then to palace of the winds (Hawa Mahal - This five-storey façade with its pink, honeycombed sandstone windows is one of Jaipur's best-known landmarks) then some shopping.. far far too much! There were people constantly coming at you that in the end we were like ... lets go home!! Out for dinner with our tour and got to see some local entertainers dancing.. crazy!
We had an early start as we left Jaipur headed back to Delhi on the train (day not overnight) so lots of time for sleeping, reading and resting. Once back in Delhi and checked in our accommodation (went and found McDonald's again :-)) and then about 8 of us headed off on a city tour where we visited Qutab minar, lotus temple and Humayun's Tomb and Safdarjang's Tomb which were examples of Mughal architecture and design.
For our last dinner together we had... guess... wrong Chinese, which was rather odd but really good too... we said goodbyes that night as a few of us had earlier departures and some were staying an extra few days. My flight was a 1.30pm so I headed to the airport with Robyn and Abby after saying goodbye to Di :-(. I arrived back in London at 5.40pm Local time after a 9 hour flight and had massive queues at customs, the baggage carousel broke down and we all had to wait for it to start again, and finally got home about 3 hours after landing.. welcome back London!
Hope you enjoy the read and the photos xox
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