Friday, November 26, 2004

Jumping Jaipur

The next day I visited Fatehpur Sikri(1,2,3,3,4,5,6,7,8)

. A city built by Akbar, with just one problem, it had no water. It was deserted just 20 years after it was built, except for the canaries!

The ghost city contains three temples, one for each of his three wives. One mulsim, one christian, one hindu like his respective wives.

Then you enter a marketplace, with a huge main gate through which you got a good view overlooking Agra.

At the grand entrance to the mosque far above the heads of the people there lies four huge beehives, I was just glad they didn't get angry. At least the squirrels were placid.

Onto Rajastan next and I briefly stopped of at Bharatpur which is home to Keoladeo Ghana National Park. This has become a bird sanctuary after water was diverted into by a maharaja, at the time to stop water shortages.

Only rickshaws are allowed in, so I jumped into the back of one and we, were off. The driver was also a guide, and stopped at places where he knew the birds were likely to be. He showed me a hollowed out tree where an owl lay sleeping and also a bird sleeping in the undergrowth. I was only metres away from the sleeping bird before I made out the shape. It looked like a branch or a twig, but I then made out the shape of the bird.

I also saw some antelopes(1,2),
deer and a whole host of birds(1,2,3,4,5,6)
including a huge eagle gliding across above the water and lots of butterflies.

The land there looked like the African savannah with the antelopes on it. Also there was some nice islands with tropical vegetation and storks in the reeds. A good place to visit but I had only 1 1/2 hours there before back in the car and off to Jaipur passing an ancient ruined fort.

Jaipur, a bustling old city originally fortified but has expanded beyonds it walls rapidly. I stayed in a hotel with a moonlit rooftop.

Japiur is famous for it's gems and it's gem scams!

Also I noticed a high number of pigs running about the roadside. In addition to the usual dogs, cows and goats!
Just to complete the animals the hotel had a cat. I think I heard it annoy the dogs. There were in fine singing mood at five in the morning.
As it was Sunday the driver (Sanjay) suggested I share a drink with him and his pal. So between the three of us, we drank a small bottle of rum. Seems to be the tipple of choice. (Not as nice as Morgans though!)

The next day I had a tour of the Amber palace. And the best bit by far was the ride upto the fort.

I stepped carefully from the platform onto the chair, beneath which lay a large, grey elephant!

The decorated elephant then proceeded to amble up to the fort under the direction of the driver, who seemed to use his feet to tickle its ears! (Except for one elephant that was being naughty, he got a whack on his cushioned head with a metal stick for his troubles). On the ride up you get a good view back down into the garden island.

The actual fort itself was atmospheric, especially as I manage to shake off the crowds and explore some of the rooms myself. The rooms are bare now, but some have just the faintest light streaming through the windows, others are boarded up and some just full of junk.
As I explored further, it got darker, I came across a room that was pitch black and couldn't see a thing. At that point I decided to escape this maze and turn back and head back up to the light.
Overlooking from the balcony I could see a lot of guys in pink headscarfs milling around the courtyard.
Inside there were decorative gardens , intricately detailed decorations, shiny ceilings and stained glass windows. Also a wall above which the birds were flying, taking in the extensive views down into town.

I had a look at the fort above the Amber Palace which contained a giant cannon, the reputation was enough to secure that the fort was never conqeured as the cannon was never fired in anger. It was now home to black faced monkeys with curly tails. They would leap from the trees onto the walls

As I hadn't really planned out what I was doing I let Sanjay show me around town and briefly saw a lake palace owned by a mahraja. There is a famous one in Uidapur but I wouldn't mind owning this one either. Sanjay is going back to Delhi, so I'm back on the trains and buses again. It was good to have a driver for a short while, but hopefully it won't be quite so busy in the rest of the places so I can move around freely.

I also one to the cenotaph, situated next to a steep hill, which had many intricate marble carvings.
Later at the hotel somebody remarked that India is all "temples and graves"! Not too far off the mark though. There is a huge amount of forts, palaces, temples, mosques, mauseleums everywhere you turn.

The next day I went to for a ride to an old astronomical observatory. This park was full of large moondials, well astronomical instruments. For measuring the sun, planets and stars. Such as a spherical sundial
You could also climb up the instruments via the stairs.
Or just stare into the sun.

Still I hope to go to a very interesting temple tomorrow!

Agra Agra doo doo doo

On the way to Agra I stopped off at Mathura, birthplace of Krishna.

As I exited the car, I was quickly pounced upon from a guide. (When you've got your own driver everybody wants to be your friend!)

The guide showed me around and gave me a confusing history lessons about the Gods.

Mathura has a Hindu temple right next to a Muslim mosque. Around there are armed policemen and metal detectors. I had a look about and just when I was thinking how much a white guy stands out my guide drapes a garland of marigolds around my neck. Cheers!

As I left, I gave the flowers to a nearby cow, so I should be full of good karma now.

Next stop was to be the hotel, and then Taj Mahal. As we drove along the driver picked up somebody and said he will be my guide for the Taj Mahal, hmm okay.

Actually the guide for the Taj Mahal was excellent!

There was a queue to get in and he led me through to another counter and we got in straight away. At first you can only see the minarets as you are led into a courtyard with large walls and not until you pass through the gate do you get the first full view of the Taj Mahal.

It really is a spectactular building (1,2,3,4,5,6,7. 20,000 people worked over 22 years to produce it, so you would expect it to be something special.
What you don't see in these famous pictures is that it is perfectly symmetrical building and is flanked by two mosques. (One is purely for symmetery and cannot be used as a mosque as it's facong the wrong direction)

While the years have taken some toll on the Taj Mahal in general it is in excellent condition. Mostly this is due to the way in which it was built. The marble has been carved away and inset stones are used as opposed to painting, as well as more traditional carvings. Scripts from the Quran adorened the outside carved in black onyx. Also four large minarets are positioned at each corner carefully tilted outwards by only a degree, believed to be so that in case of an earthquake the minarets would fall outwards and not onto the Taj itself. Of course the gardens around are also carefully manicured and filled with reflecting water ponds.

The guide managed to skip past another huge queues to go inside the darkened mausoleum where intricate flower patterns are displayed. I later saw how they were created in a shop. The marble is stained with henna and the individual pieces are each shaped using a grinding wheel. The grinding wheel is operated by pushing a rod back and forward while the other hand holes the piece of stone against the wheel. Some of these designs are tiny with individual pieces just millimetres across and all down with different stones with diffent hardness and of course colours.

The piece is then traced onto the marble and the outline shows in the henna, then the marble is scrapped away to fit in the stone. Finally the marble is clean to remove the henna.
Some of the designs have over fifty separate pieces to assemble and at the end, one small colourful flower.

Easy to see why it took so many people so many years!

I finally left once the sun had set on the Taj Mahal.

Escape from Delhi!

As I was walking around Delhi, as usual you are approached by somebody hoping to get some business. This time a guy said I could get a free map from the official tourist people and so I did. Later on I passed the same travel agents so I decided to arrange my onwards travel. I asked if I could get a train ticket to Agra but the trains were all full. So, I ended up with a bus ticket instead, which would stop outside my hotel. In retrospect this seemed a bit strange as my hotel was packed into a maze of alleyways not ideal bus driving conditions, but hey this is India where their driving is crazy anyway another bus stuck up an alleyway wouldnt make any difference.
Six O'Clock alarm call, and I'm ready and packed and double-checking I haven't forgotten anything (once the bag is packed the paranoia about forgetting something creeps up).
Standing outside the hotel at 6.30 in the morning first light waiting for the bus, still standing there 30 mins later...

I phoned the travel agency company but no replied. The guy running the phone business, said I should go over there immediately. So I go to get a taxi and quickly run past a procession of people celebrating something as they are all blocking the road and no taxis can get past. I manage to finally get in front of them and see a taxi coming towards me, and so jump in and spin off to the travel agents.

After a while the taxi driver finds the shop in the vast Conaught Circle, with the help of just a few passerbys.

Off course when I got there about 7.30 it was still shut.
Also waiting were a couple of other guys who were here to collect money from the agents.

I talked to them and they said they were from the official goverment tourism people. They phoned the agents and found out that they wouldn't open for another 45 minutes. So I go back and have a look at one of their offices and they tell me that the agent didn't have train bookings rights and so could only book buses.
They then showed me how they could electronically reserve trains and showed the trains for Agra which were all jam packed for the next 5 days. The have a waiting list in case anybody cancells the ticket, for tomorrow the wait list stood at 108.
Delhi-Agra-Jaipur is known as the Golden Triangle probably due to the amount of gold fleeced from tourists!
So after having a look at the options, I decided to splurge and get me a driver. This enable me to go to Agra today as was initialled plan, once my credit card was zapped I was whisked into a waiting car quicker than you can say "Taj Mahal, Jeeves!"

And so I finally escaped Delhi.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Wandering in Delhi

I've taken a bus sight seeing trip around Delhi, but as the traffic is jammed pack I saw more of the inside of the bus than Delhi itself. Still it was a useful whirlwind tour around some of the popular sights.
First stop was the Birla temple a Hindu place of worship. As the majority of the tourists on the bus were Hindu they was a lot of praying go on when I visited. I just try and keep out of the way but you can see in people faces wondering why I was there!

On route we stopped at the Parliament buildings all though you are not allowed too close for security measures. Next was India Gate as large arc with long straight pedestrainised roads passing through it and surrounded by large green parks. Soldiers were present here and it looked like there we might be in time for a parade, but it seemed they were just practising. The sergeant was running around adjusting people hands and feet to the correct alignment.

Next stop was Qutb Minar, a 70m tower built in the 13th century. According to some guide that latched himself on to me, the tower was used as a giant sundial. Also present in the site was a mysterious 7m iron pillar, made from extremely pure iron which should not of been possible at the time of inception over 1600 years ago.
Also there were many carved pillars of which no two are the same, each with intricate details.

We stopped off at a Indira Gandhi house which is now transformed into a museum. Outside a comerative plane of glass marks the spot where she was assinated. This was all lapped up by the Indian tourists as her family seemed to have entered into the Indian psyche. In the paper today was a tribute on the anniversary of her death.

Next a monument at Rajghat to another Indian icon, Mahatma Gandhi, where an eternal flame burns. His legacy still lives on even though he was murdered back in 1948.

Finally we circled past the Red Fort, again security was priority and no parking was allowed. Although by this time it was dark however the fort was at least illuminated. Soon I was dropped off and making my way back to the hotel, glad to be of the bus and stretch my legs. It's always a lot hard to find your way after dark as familar land marks can be easily missed, however I made it back without getting lost once, a new record!

I have somehow contrived to catch a cold in this 30C+ weather. As such I couldn't really be bothered doing much the next few days. I popped into the Museum of Modern Art which wasn't quite what I was expecting. The curators have a different idea of "modern" from the British museums. There was 18th century drawings and a lot of paintings from unknown artists. Still there was some more modern paintings which weren't bad, as well as the usual dross of a few strokes of a brush declared as a painting.

Today I went for a fancy lunch to a restaurant called Parikrama for a bit of Chicken Tikka Masala. The restaurant sits 24 floors above Delhi and rotates to give you good views. However as is usually the case in Delhi it is shrouded in haze, probably from the exhaust fumes of all these auto-rickshaws.

Yesterday I went to a cafe and peered down into the Main Bazaar. Complete with cat on a hot tin roof and ramshackle housing.
Down at street level things are just as chaotic, especially the wiring!
I got this map of Delhi and realised it was no wonder I was always getting lost.

Tommorow I leave for Agra, famous for the Taj Mahal and persistent touts!

Just a final word about the unashamed dual pricing system in operation in India, the Qutb Minar cost 5rps for Indians, 250rps for Johnny Foreigners. Similarly, the Taj Mahal is 20rps vs 750rps. I'll need to get a better tan and brush up on my Hindi!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Diwali and stuff

Diwali was celebrate on the 12th in McLeod Ganj. Diwali seems to bascially involve lots of gunpowder.
For a week or so beforehand there had been the occaisonal firecracker, but on the day the intensity increased.
As night fell sporadic machine-gun burst of crackers went off and then bulding up to a crescendo and thousands of bangers go off almagamating into a loud rumble of noise! They say they celebrate it in Delhi with more gusto. The next day I noticed in the papers 60 people were admitted to hospital with burns. A spokesman commented that as it wasn't just children that were injured then it must be substandard explosives. Didn't seem to suprising to have injuries as I witnessed fireworks going up into the sky and then red-hot stubs falling back to earth and bouncing, in a display of sparks, onto a tin roof.

I then had the dubious pleasure of sitting on a bumpy bus for eight hours as I trundled down to Chandigarh. I arrived just as it was getting dark after setting off from the hotel at 9.30.

Chandigarh is a purpose built city for the adminstration of Punjab and so is only 50 years old, but it still looks like it falling apart. As opposed to probably any other Indian city it is built on a grid system and divided into sectors which should make it easy to find you way about. However I still got lost and so did the drivers.
The next day I visited Ned Chand's Rock Garden!
Wall made from plug points
Strange pot thingys!
Whirly organic tree sculptures
Pebbled ceiling
Rocky walls
More weirdness
Open area
Some steps
Close up
Decorative pebble design
Rock army!
They are looking at YOU
Another army
Friendly rock person
Motley assortment
Cup of tea?
Yet more rock people
Regimented army hold sway over tourists
Yep, they are all different
Also some rock camels
Rock armies come in different colours
Note the wire jacket
Doesn't look very comfy
Wire feet
A lot of wire
The new area of the garden
What bits are real?
Large stepped area
With a woman sweeping

This bizarre place featured a weird cast of people and animal statues sculpted from junk. The walls are covered in broken plug sockets and the like to form a mosaic. Truly a unique place. Ned has been working secretly on the site for decades. When first discovered it was threaten to be bulldozered but got a reprieve and now even enjoys funding for bringing in the tourists.

I also popped into the rose garden which is reputedly the biggest in Asia with over 1500 different types of flowers. However for the horticulturally-challenged it may just look like a big park.

Next stop after a 4 hour train ride is back to Delhi. I've got a city tour organised for tomorrow and when I went to a tourist information centre they told me I'd been ripped off, so no change there!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Momos for lunch!

I've arrived in McLeod Ganj just slighlty bruised after the bus journey.
McLeod Ganj is a stange mixture of Tibetan, Western and Indian infulences. As the headquarters of the Dali Lama there is monks walking about the streets in the robes all the time. (as well as the cows, and occasional monkey!)
Monks and monkeys
Just the monkeys
Lazy streetside cows
Tibetan flags adorning a building
Sneaky cow attacks toursits photographing monkeys!
Erm.. a cow
Monkey eating

Perched above Dharmasala only proper taxis and motorbikes can get up the hills so no noisy autorickshaws in the streets here.
Views down from McLeod Ganj
Dogs take a nap
Still napping
Menancing looking monkey with kid
View back to McLeod Ganj from a walk
Hazy close-up
Goat herding
Goats everywhere!
Monkey and mini-monkey
Pensive monkey ponders future of monkeykind

There is a lot of courses about meditation and yoga here, however I opted for a quick class in dumpling making (cue dumpling jokes)! The Tibetan dumpling is known as a momo. I spent a few hours with a chef and the one other attendee, Canadian mountain biker Steve, learning how to make momos. They come in a variety of folded shapes and filling, such as cheese & spinach or even chocolate. You are supposed to fold the dough in a certain way and it looks good when the chef, Sangye, done it but mine were a bit of a mess!

Still at least they tasted okay and Sangye also cooked up a deep fried egg roll which despite the sound was quite tasty!

I've also went to the unprouncable Tsuglagkhang complex where the Dali Lama resides, unfortuantely he was out for lunch!
At least the monks were there flamyboyantly arguing with each other about Buddhism.
More arguing
And more monks in the complex

There was an excellent museum there about the Tibetan struggle to maintain their culture and identity under the threat of the Chinese. It featured stories about people escaping across the Himalayas from Tibet to here. There is quite a few beggars with severe disabilites and amputees which may be from frostbite.

Today I was awoken by an earthquake, overall I prefer alarm clocks. It was probably fairly minor but certaintly a suprise!

Close to the hotel there was a stupa which I took a walk down to.
Lots of stairs
Tibetan stupa

Monday, November 08, 2004

Up in the hills with the monkeys!

Greetings from Dalhousie!

I'm 2000m above sea level (Ben Nevis is 1334m) admitedely I got the bus rather than clamber up here.
The bus ride was erm.. interesting. At first I though the bus was going to go up, up, up. But it was more like up, left, up, right, down, up!

I saw my first fleeting glimpse of a monkey from the bus! Later on walking down the path a one-armed monkey jumped out in front of me, stared, then continued down the mountain. Recently a monkey tried to steal my crisps! I waved my arm and it shouted a wee bit and retreated. If it really wanted them I would of given it to them they've got sharp looking teeth!

Aside from monkeys the views here are amazing stretching out over the valley with more mountains in the distance. At night time there is prayers being echoed round the valleys via speakers, with thousands of stars and the gently clink of wind chimes this should be the other side of the world from Delhi not the same country!
Balcony at hotel
View from the balcony
Balcony again!
View down in the valley
Village perched on the mountainside
Sunset in Dalhousie

As I walking through down a road a procession of people came up with flutes, trumpets and drums playing what I shall call Eastern-Jazz fusion! Followed by people in ornate costumes and they continued through the streets. There is a heavy Tibetan infulence on Dalhousie with various settlements around and also rock painting depicting Tibetian Gods.

I shall soon move on to McLeod Ganj near Dharamsala where I intend to spend a bit of time if I like it!

Golden Temple

I moved on to Amritsar where the Golden Temple resides.After being whisked off to the hotel in a auto-rickshaw, I was knacked after sitting on a train for the 7 hours from Delhi. I never quite understand why the actual travelling is so tiring can you don't do anything!

I arrived in a hotel where they had subtle air-conditioned units.

The next day I got a rickshaw to the Golden Temple, eventually. The rickshaw driver seemed to be taking me for a tour through the markets and bazaars. Literally taken for a ride! At the end I asked him the price and he asked me how much I though I should pay him. I said 30rps and he seemed happy enough!I then got a bright orange headscarf and deposited my sandals at the shoe collection. Then you have to walk through a bath of water to cleanse your feet before entering the temple complex.The acutal temple is an amazing sight. The traffic horns die away and there is a quiet peaceful atmosphere as you would expect in a place of worship. The Golden Temple is surrounding by a large shallow bath of water, connected by a single walkway, and in the centre stands the actual temple. Reputedly gilded in some 750kgs of gold!

I then went for a free meal! Inside the temple complex lies a full working food factory serving 30,000 people a day. You collect a tray, bowl and spoon and you go in and then sit on a mat cross-legged. I just copied the guy to the left of me! Then I held out my hands and the worker dropped a couple of jappatis to me. Shortly a guy comes round with a large bucket and a spatula which he slops down your lentils and something like a small bit of ginger?? Then somebody says a prayer repeated by some of the attendants and then everybody tucks in!

After that I had another walk round the temple and realised why their are carpets on the marble especially near the foot baths. I walked through one and then done my best Chaplin-esque running on the spot before recovering and quickly back on to the carpet.

Then I wander out on the street and tried to look for a quiet moment to whip off my turban! No t quite sure what to do with it I just shoved it in my pocket.

Although I'm finding it very easy to get lost in the cities, as I have no sense of direction, it's at least easy to get your wait out as auto-rickshaws are everywhere.
Or so you would of thought.....
I tried to get back to my hotel which bore the very unhelpful name of Tourist Guest House. This was met with a blank stare by the taxi driver who drove about for 5 minutes looking for people to ask. At a taxi rank about 5 people were all trying to work out where I was wanting to go!
I got there in the end! I though the map on the back of the card would of been helpful for the driver, but I don't think they use maps!

My fingers hurt from having to whack this old keyboard now, hardling touch typing but aleast all the keys work!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

I made it to Delhi..... and so did my luggage!

Got to the hotel without to many problems except for standing inqueues for ages for security and changing money. As your not allowedto take rupees in everybody needs to change money.

I'm knackered as I didn't sleep on the planes.
Delhi is crazy! People& cars everywhere.I'm just off a main road from the railway station.Everybody drives with their horn! There is cycle-rickshawauto-rickchaws motorbikes and cars going through the equivalent of aramshackle Barras.

I have a feeling it will take a while to get used to India.I don't think I fancy too much time in Delhi, its all a bit toofrantic for my first place in India.I'll try and head to Amritsar probably might be a bit cooler possiblyslightly quiter??

I'm gonna just try and stay up for a few more hours so as to try andget my sleep pattern normal! I'm half way through that Divinci Code already.There is a restaurant on the roof of my hotel which looks like a goodmenu so I'll eat there tonight and get an early night.