A Travellerspoint blog

India: Delhi Sightseeing


View World Tour: 2023 on Glichez's travel map.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

I woke up early this morning, at 06:30, so I could head down to the lobby and bid farewell the everyone else in the group. By good coincidence, everyone’s flight was around the same time, so they were able to share taxis to the airport. Only Fred and I were remaining in Delhi for a couple more days. Once the goodbyes had been said and the taxis had left, Fred and I made plans to meet back in the lobby in a little bit so we could head out into the city together.

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I planned a full day of things for us to do and we were going to take the metro all over town. I thoroughly enjoy taking the metro in different cities because it gives a different perspective on daily life than just taking taxis or tuk tuks everywhere.

There was a metro stop a short walk away from the hotel, though the street was packed with people and it was a bit chaotic. Once we were at the station, we waiting in line to buy a tourist day pass, but were told to wait in a different line for the pass. We finally managed to get our passes, but it was all a bit confusing. The station and trains themselves were all very nice and modern. Owning to the overcrowded nature of Delhi, the metro was packed with people as well, though we didn’t see many tourists taking the train.

Our first stop of the day was at Connaught Place, an old British colonial building that now serves as a shopping center. It’s a massive circular complex with stores and restaurants. We had driven by the area during the tour, but never had time to get out and walk around. The place was mostly closed because it was a Sunday morning, but we stopped in at Starbucks to get some coffee. The Starbucks itself was very nice and we had a good time with our late breakfast.

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Hopping back on the metro, we headed over to the Red Fort and exited a station along a busy shopping road. As we walked down the road, so many people and kids approached us to beg for money or to try and sell us things. I was thoroughly over the constant hassling by people at every turn in India. At one end of the street was a pretty red temple with some unique architecture.

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When we reached the Red Fort, the entrance we arrived at was closed. A local man tried to offer us help getting inside, but he was only doing it so we’d give him so money, so we quickly walked away. The open entrance was quite a long walk from where we were, but we persevered and eventually reached the ticket counter. There was a separate queue for foreigners that was empty, so it took us no time at all to buy our entrance tickets.

The Red Fort is an imposing fortress from the Mughal-era of the 17th century, built of red sandstone. The exterior walls were very tall and clearly offered a good defense against any would be attackers. We walked along the main wall for a little bit until we reached the entrance to the compound. The main gate had several niches and beautiful architectural decorations adorning it.

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Inside, the area was quite spacious with trees and large lawns everywhere, with a scattering of buildings to be visited. Much of the complex now houses several museums, though nothing was nearly as impressive as the fort we visited in Agra. Anu had warned us that the fort in Delhi wasn’t as grand and he was absolutely correct. However, we did still enjoy having a stroll around the interior.

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Some of the pavilions and archways inside were very beautiful. They were all so different from one another, which made our visit more enjoyable – every near area we entered had something interesting to see. The place was full of visitors and school groups as well. We spent about an hour exploring the Red Fort before deciding it was time to leave. Both Fred and I were glad we visited, but felt that it was underwhelming as a whole.

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We were able to leave the fort through the original entrance we had arrived at earlier, which was now open. We walked back to the shopping street to have a quick bite to eat for lunch before continuing our tour around Delhi.

We took the metro further out of the city in the afternoon to head over to the Akshardham temple. We had driven by the temple on our way back to Delhi the day before and it looked absolutely stunning: a massive temple that was built less than 20 years ago. The metro dropped us off at a small shopping center and we walked over to the temple itself.

The entrance was packed with locals and tourists alike, all queueing up to go inside. To our disappointment, we were not allowed to take anything inside with us: no bags, cameras, or phones. There was a baggage check desk where people were leaving their belongings, but we did not feel very comfortable leaving our valuables there – especially our phones. Unfortunately, we turned around and did not end up visiting the temple.

Fred needed to find a pharmacy to buy some painkillers and we found one relatively close to the metro station. We had to cross a pedestrian bridge over a major road and then walk through some local neighborhood to find it, but it was a fun adventure! It was fun to explore some more local areas away from the touristy places. The pharmacy had exactly what Fred needed and we soon made our way back to the metro.

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We returned to the hotel to have a break for the rest of the afternoon. I spent the time relaxing in the hotel room and going out to play Pokemon Go. While I was playing Pokemon, I stumbled upon a Starbucks just a short walk from the hotel, so I stopped in for a cool drink.

Our dinner plans were to meet up with Anu, who was taking his new tour group our for their welcome dinner. His new tour was more luxurious than ours and they were staying at a hotel in the southern part of the city. Fred and I met in the lobby at 18:00 and planned to take an Uber or tuk tuk over to the hotel. We were both shocked by the horrendous traffic in the area and found it impossible to get an Uber. We hailed a tuk tuk, but they refused to drive us so far.

With no other options available, we went back to the metro. The train was absolutely packed with commuters, and I felt slightly claustrophobic during the journey. We had to change metro lines once and had to push our way onto the train when it arrived. It was total chaos and not as pleasant as our rides earlier in the day. When we got off the metro near Anu’s new hotel, we took an Uber over to the restaurant where he was having dinner.

Anu and his new group had arrived only a few minutes before us, so we weren’t too late. It was nice to see him again – it was well worth the long metro journey! The new group was slightly larger than our group had been, though with a wider range of ages. Fred and I sat at a table with some Americans and a young woman from Australia. It was interesting to get to talk with them and sing Anu’s praises – they were truly lucky to have him as their guide!

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For dinner, I ordered the malai kofta with rice and garlic nan. The older woman from Arizona who was sat next to me had many issues ordering her food and it was quickly apparent that she would be high maintenance for the duration of the tour. Anu explained the various dishes to her, but she kept complaining that there was nothing she could eat (she had no dietary restrictions other than nothing spicy). I told her of some non-spicy foods that I had eaten, but she just got more confused and was clearly overwhelmed by the experience. Anu eventually ordered her the malai kofta as well. By this point, she was annoying me and I could tell that Anu was not enjoying having to help her. I could not imagine doing his job and having to tolerate customers like her. When the food arrived, she tried to help herself to some of my rice and nan – I had to tell her that it wasn’t a ‘family style’ dinner, but she appeared to not comprehend what I was saying. I didn’t share my food with her, which I think she found rude, but I was paying for it and wanted to eat it myself.

I spent most of dinner talking with the young woman from Australia, who was enthusiastic about traveling. We discussed places that we had visited and where we wanted to visit in the future. However, it turned out that she was far more naïve and uneducated that I originally thought. For example: when we discussed Cuba, she thought it was part of the United States and not an island. So yeah, that was surprising.

When dinner ended, we took a taxi with Anu back to his hotel where we hung out in the lobby for a little while. I was glad to have this final chance to chat with him. Anu had truly made the entire trip extra special and he was incredibly friendly. When it came time to head back to our hotel, Fred and I took an Uber, which was much easier to order now that traffic had died down. We were back to the hotel by 22:00 and I spent the remainder of the evening relaxing before bed.


Monday, October 16, 2023

The final day in India dawned early – I was up at 06:30 again for some inexplicable reason. I had no plans for the morning and thus no reason to be aware so early, but I couldn’t get back to sleep. After showering and getting ready for the day, I went down to the lobby to extend my stay by one more night. I was supposed to check out this morning and leave my bags in Fred’s room until my flight later in the evening, but I thought keeping the room would be a better idea. I could relax and chill in the room later in the day before heading to the airport.

Fred and I went over to the nearby Starbucks to have some coffee and a light snack before heading out for the day. We had more plans to tour around the city for a bit, as well as running a few errands that he had previously planned. Before the tour began, Fred had met a tuk tuk driver who had taken him around town and helped him to buy a few suits. Today, he was meeting the driver again so he could pick the suits up. We planned to have the tuk tuk driver take us around the city some as well.

The driver met us at 11:00 and we set off to pick up the first of Fred’s suits. The tailer had done a very good job making it and he was pleased with it. The shopkeepers had some carpets for sale in the basement and Fred had put one on hold during his earlier visit, so we went down to have a look. We were shown several beautiful carpets and Fred ended up buying a couple more (they would all be shipped back to his home in the UK). We then drove to another store where Fred picked up his second suit.

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With the errands done, we had the driver take us over to India Gate. He parked near to the gate so Fred and I could walk over to get a proper view of the monument. It is a large arch that commemorates the Indian soldiers who died during the First World War. We had to walk up a long pathway in a park that was full of tourists. There were many men around with cameras who tried to take pictures of tourists and then charge them fees for the photos. I ignored all of them and walked to the end of the path where the gate was located. I was glad we had a clear day with no smog so we could properly see the gate – I’ve seen so many photos online of hazy conditions in Delhi due to pollution.

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The next stop was the Safdarjung Tomb, which was only a short ride away from the India Gate. We paid the small entrance fee and went inside. The tomb is at the end of a palm-lined walkway with a small pool down the center. We walked down to the main building and walked around inside. It was simple inside with the tomb itself at the very center, but the walls were intricately decorated. It was a short visit, but well worth it!

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The final tourist stop of the day was at the massive complex that contained Humayun’s Tomb. Fred had visited the place on his first day in Delhi, so he waited outside while I went in to have a look around on my own. The path to get to the tomb itself was through a beautiful park with trees and various old stone walls and gates everywhere.

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When I reached the tomb itself, I was in awe: it was a large building atop a small hill and was very opulent. The main path to the entrance had a long pool in front of it as well. I climbed the stairs to reach the main plaza where the tomb itself was located and was rewarded with some great views of the surrounding area. I could see various other tombs and temples popping up among the trees. I didn’t go inside the tomb, but spent some time walking around to admire the beauty of the building.

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Before leaving, I walked over to Isa Khan's Tomb, which was located in the same complex. This is an octagonal tomb with blue domes on the top, surrounded by a sunken garden. I stopped to take some photos of the tomb before heading for the exit. I was glad that we had the time to make this stop – this was definitely a highlight of Delhi for me (if not the best sight we’d seen in the city!). The tombs and the park around them were stunning.

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When I met back up with Fred, we decided to head out for an early dinner and to have Western food. Our driver seemed disappointed in our choice, but we had eaten a lot of Indian food over the past two weeks and wanted something different for our last meal in town. The food was good and we each had a large cookie for dessert.

When we returned to the hotel, I packed up my things and then relaxed with some Netflix for the remainder of the evening. Later on, I met up with Fred again in the lobby while we waited for my airport taxi to arrive. Anu had arranged the taxi for me, which I was grateful for because Ubers were not allowed to come directly to our hotel. The taxi was on time and, after saying goodbye to Fred and thanking him for spending the past two days hanging out with me, I set off for the airport.

Once I got checked in, I sent a photo of my boarding pass to Thinh, who still had no idea that I was coming home to Hanoi early. When he saw the photo he replied with: “Wait. Why does it say Hanoi?” Then a moment later he said: “OMG!” I sent a video to him and told him how excited I was to come back to Hanoi and see him. I gave him my flight information and insisted that he not meet me at the airport – I knew that he would want to come and meet me, but my flight landed at 05:00 and he had to work the next day. I told him we would meet later in the day when he finished work. He was so excited by the surprise!

The flight back to Hanoi was alright, though the airplane was insanely warm inside – they didn’t seem to have the air on much during the flight. The dinner that was served was just so-so, which surprised me; I expected better from Vietnam Airlines. I managed to get some sleep during the flight as well. Finally, at 05:00, we landed in Hanoi – I was home!

Posted by Glichez 04:42 Archived in India Comments (0)

India: Agra and the Taj Mahal


View World Tour: 2023 on Glichez's travel map.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Friday the 13th…. Oooooh!

Today we left the national park behind and began making our way back towards Delhi – but first we had to overnight in Agra. The plan for today was packed full of activities, interspersed with lengthy drives in the bus. As we made our way towards Agra, we had to make a stop because Beverly was not feeling well. She and Lyn had been sitting in the rear of the bus the entire trip (everyone stuck to their original seats from the first day), and it was only now that we learned how miserable the back row was for them! There was no air-con vents in the bank, only a small fan, which wasn’t enough to truly cool them down on the hot days. We all resolved to rotate around the seats so Beverly and Lyn could have a better time on the bus for the last two days. I felt quite bad – had I know how awful it was for them, I would have offered to switch seats much earlier in the trip.

The first stop of the day was at the Chand Bawri Step Well. Anu purposely didn’t tell us anything about the place until we arrived – he wanted us to see it first, and he was right to do so. The step well was absolutely stunning: hundreds of interweaving stairs led down into a massive water well, which was used by the local people for centuries. The steps allowed for the water levels to rise and fall, while still providing access to the water. A royal palace was carved into one side of the step well, with intricate carvings showing off the wealth and power of the royal family. A scene from “The Dark Knight Rises” was filmed at the step well: the scene where Bruce Wayne is climbing out of the pit. India has step wells located all over the country, but this is one of the most amazing examples.

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Next to the step well was a small temple which we didn’t get to go inside to explore. It was very pretty from the outside though. We then got back on the bus to complete the journey to Agra. We had lunch along the way and arrived into the city by mid-afternoon. It was a decent day of driving and we still had more to see once we arrived in the city.

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In the late afternoon, we drove to the Agra Fort, which was located quite close to the Taj Mahal (we caught a glimpse of the Taj Mahal during the drive – a teaser for our visit the next day!). Once at the fort, we were supposed to have a local guide, but Anu ended up taking around instead. He explained that he was able to provide better guidance through the fort than the local guides that work there.

Construction on the fort began in the mid-1500s by the Mughal rulers of the region. It served as the main residence of the royal family until the mid-1600s, when they transferred the capital to nearby Delhi. The fort is constructed in three main sections, corresponding to three different rulers who added onto the fort. The first rulers, Akbar, build the res sandstone section of the fort. His grandson, Shah Jahan, finished the construction of the fort using white marble. It was this ruler who built the Taj Mahal as well (more on him in the entry for tomorrow!).

The entrance to the fort is very imposing, with massive red walls and a curved pathway leading to the main gate (the curved route was to prevent elephants from being able to charge and ram the gate). Once through the gate, we walked up a long ramp to reach the main square of the fort. Along one side was the oldest part of the fort which served as the royal palace. It was beautiful in the afternoon sun, with the red bricks and tile work standing out along the building.

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Inside the palace, we stopped at in the main courtyard and had some time to wander around before Anu gave us the history of the building. The detail in the carvings along the wall was amazing! As we walked through one section, we got a whiff of an unpleasant, musty smell – the place definitely smelled as though it was hundreds of years old! The architects had built hallow walls to allow for heating and cooling during the winter and summer months, respectively.

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Going through to the next courtyard, there was a long wall with several windows look to the outside of the fort. Through these windows, I got my first proper glimpse of the Taj Mahal. It was absolutely gigantic! It stoof majestically along the banks of the river, nested amongst trees – truly beautiful. The sun was at just the right angle as well to properly illuminate it for us as well.

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The palace had many pretty buildings that we were able to explore, including a white marble pavilion. One of the pavilions just had the marble walls with the detailed carvings on display, but when it was originally built it was covered with previous stones. The floral designs were filled with emeralds and rubies, etc and the entire room would sparkle when the sun hit the stones. All that remains of some of the colorful décor are some painted columns that once contained many gems.

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Our tour around the fort concluded as the sun was setting and it was time to head to dinner. Anu took us to a nearby restaurant where we had yet more delicious food. I had thoroughly enjoyed all of the food in India, even though it was so heavy! The restaurant had the dessert Hello to the Queen on the menu, so I ordered one after I finished eating. It wasn’t nearly as good as the one we had enjoyed several days ago in Pushkar, but it was still delicious.

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During dinner, I talked with a few women in the group about a possible change of plans for the rest of my travels. I was thinking about flying home to Hanoi on Sunday, rather than continuing through Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Rather than canceling those portions, I would just postpone them until early next year: I would visit Bangladesh and Sri Lanka en route home from the States in February, and then fly to the Maldives for a visa run in early May.

I wanted to do this mainly because I was missing my boyfriend, Thinh, quite a bit. We had only been dating a few weeks before I left on this trip, so it had been difficult being away from him. I wanted to get back home to spend time with him and continue to see where our relationship would go. We’re still in the “honeymoon” phase of dating, so I didn’t want to miss any more time with Thinh.

Everyone I spoke to agreed that it would be a good idea – especially since I wasn’t cancelling the rest of the trip, just rescheduling it. Plus, living in Southeast Asia, it is very easy for me to visit these countries without paying for expensive flights. I decided to move ahead with my plans and I was instantly excited to fly home in a few days. I didn’t mention anything to Thinh though – I wanted it to be a surprise!

When I got back to the hotel, I spent some time getting all of my flights and plans shifted around and rebooked. I couldn’t find an affordable flight home on Sunday, but I did find a direct flight home late Monday night. After booking an extra night at our hotel in Delhi to stay overnight on Sunday into Monday, I booked the flight home.

I went to bed excited about both my updated travel plans… and also for visiting the Taj Mahal in the morning!


Saturday, October 14, 2023

Today was the big day – we were finally visiting the Taj Mahal!

This also happened to be our final day of the tour and there couldn’t be a more perfect way to conclude a tour of India than by visiting the most iconic building in the country. The group collectively agreed that this was the best schedule because, if we had started with the Taj Mahal, everything after that would have felt somewhat less exciting or anticlimactic.

We left the hotel at 07:00 for the short drive to the Taj Mahal. Once there, we had to queue for the entrance, which was thankfully moving rather fast – we went through metal detectors and had our bags checked, but it was a breeze. It was already very crowded as we made our way over to the location where we would take an electric cart to the entrance of the Taj Mahal itself. The cart was comfortable and the drive took only a couple of minutes – it is entirely walkable.

Outside the main gate, Anu gave us some information about what we would be seeing as we entered. The gate was massive, built of red sandstone with while brick and tile inlays. Atop the central arch were several small domes at the front and rear of the gate. Each dome represented one year of construction on the Taj Mahal – there are 22 domes in all!

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Passing through the entrance gate, we finally saw it – the Taj Mahal! There is a lot of hype about how amazing the place is and it did not disappoint. I stared in awe at the majesty of the place: the white marble mausoleum, flanked by four minarets, and the long pool stretching out before it. The symmetry of the building is instantly visible. The four minarets, while appearing to stand straight up at 90 degree angles to the ground, are actually slightly angled away from the main structure. This was done as an earthquake precaution: if the minarets were to crumble or fall, they would fall away from the building and thus not damage it.

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After giving us some time to take photos, Anu took the group to one side and gave us a history of the Taj Mahal. It was constructed between 1631 and 1653 by Shah Jahan, who was the fifth Mughal emperor. He built it as a tomb for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, whom he loved dearly. His own tomb is located next to hers inside the central structure. Mumtaz Mahal died giving birth to their 14th child and Shah Jahan was overcome with grief. The Taj Mahal was built to symbolize his undying love and devotion to his wife.

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Anu had arranged for a photographer to take a proper group photo in front of the Taj Mahal, and he then took some individual pictures of everyone. The group photo was given to us as a gift from Anu, while the individual photos could be purchased upon leaving later in the morning. We were then given 90 minutes of free time to walk around and explore the compound. The entire Taj Mahal complex covered a huge area, with large gardens surrounding the mausoleum, two large temples and palaces to either side. Our entry tickets granted us full access to the mausoleum, so Anu told us how to access it and where to meet when our free time was over.

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I set off towards the main building, walking with Christina. We continually marveled at how utterly amazing the Taj Mahal truly is – we had seen so many buildings in the same architectural style throughout our trip, but nothing was this grandiose or awe-inspiring. We walked along the path next to the long pools (unfortunately the fountains were either turned off or not working).

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The famous photo of Princess Diana sitting alone at the Taj Mahal was taken on a raised platform that contained two benches on either side. Due to the popularity of the image, as well as the spectacular views from the platform, it was overcrowded with visitors. Christina and I went up there and watched as dozens upon dozens of people queued up to take a photo on “Diana’s bench”. Continuing further along, we came across a narrow pathway that crossed over one of the long pools. Again, people were queueing up to have their photos taken because this view had no crowds in the background. I waited for several minutes and people kept jumping ahead of me, so I just walked out after someone finished so I could take my photos. I could hear someone behind me shouting that I should move, but I took my time to get the photos I wanted. The pictures turned out even better than I could have expected.

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Christina and I then reached the main building itself and we proceeded up some stairs so we could go inside. We had to wait in a long and disorganize queue to have our tickets scanned. Proper queuing is no something that is done much in India, so this wasn’t anything new to us by this point. Once through the security check, we were able to make our way around the exterior and get a proper close-up look at the building. All of the while marble looked so perfectly and meticulously placed – it was very pleasing to the eye. We could also see the carvings along the top of the various archways in the building as well. Interwoven, colorful floral designs covered these parts of the building.

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When we entered the Taj Mahal, signs were posted stating that photography was prohibited. The interior was smaller than I had expected. In the center of the domed interior were the two tombs, surrounded by a meticulously carved white marble fence. It was crowded inside and the guards kept visitors moving along clockwise around the tombs. To exit the building, we were led along an interior corridor that had some more amazing marble carvings. Various flowers designs were carved on the walls in such amazing detail. Christina and I both snapped a few quick photos!

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Once we exited at the rear of the building, we were able to admire the views overlooking the nearby Yamuna River. There is a legend that Shah Jahan planned to build a second Taj Mahal on the opposite side of the river, but this one built of black stone, with the two connected by a bridge. This is merely a myth, but I could help but speculate how beautiful it would have been had he actually constructed such a building.

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Christina and I slowly made our way back around the Taj Mahal, taking our time to continuously admire the beauty of the site. There were so many opportunities for great photos, but one of the best was outside a large nook to the eastside of the building. The sun was bearing down on this side of the Taj by this point and, while making it very warm, it also gave us better lighting to see some of the details in the monument.

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We then began making our way towards the gate where we would be meeting Anu. The time had flown by during our visit and we only had 20 minutes remaining. Despite this, we took our time and stopped at various places to snap some more photos. When we reached the main entrance gate, the crowd size had markedly increased and I was glad that we had arrived so early this morning to avoid the surge of visitors. I had Christina take a few final photos of myself in front of the Taj Mahal and then it was time to leave.

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Outside, we met up with Anu along the busy street and waited for the others to join us. There were small shops all along the street and the vendors kept approaching us to buy their products. It was getting exhausting to constantly be bothered by the sellers – I will always walk away from a store if the seller is too pushy, even if there is something that I truly want. Christina went in search of some postcards and I grabbed a cold drink.

When everyone regrouped, we went to get in line to take the electric carts back to the bus. The “queue” for the carts was utter madness. Again, queueing appears to be unheard of in India. When an empty cart would arrive, people would swarm it, pushing anyone in front of them out of the way so they could get on board. Several carts came by before we managed to rush aboard two empty carts. I pushed several people out of my way and I just barely got aboard. Fred had to sit on the very edge, squished in as we drove back to the bus. It was ridiculous.

We returned to the hotel so we could have breakfast, shower and pack up before leaving. Once again, I skipped the breakfast and spend the time lounging in my room. When it was time to go, we got our bags loaded onto the bus for the final time and prepared to return to Delhi.

Prior to leaving Agra, we stopped off at a local carpet store where we were given a short demonstration on how they make the carpets by hand. The shopkeepers then escorted us to the second floor and displayed several dozen carpets for us. Then the shopping spree began. Quite a few women in the group ended up buying carpets – more than I had expected! I quite fancied a few of the carpets as well, but it would have been too much of a hassle to have one shipped to Vietnam. Besides, I didn’t really need a carpet. We spent about 90 minutes at the carpet shop during which I spent time chatting with Anu. Each of the shops we had visited during the trip gave out free masala chi (tea), but Anu had this shop bring me a beer to enjoy (just like at the jewelry store several days prior).

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We had one final stop in town: a marble shop. Again, we were given a demonstration on how they make the marble objects and inlay precious stones. The store itself was nice and a few people bought some items there. We had only a limited time at this store, thankfully, because we had to get on the road to Delhi.

Lunch today was a long-teased and joked about treat: McDonalds! Yes, the group collectively wanted to try an Indian McDonalds to see what different items were on the menu, especially since beef isn’t served in the country. Anu had Uber Eats deliver him McDonalds several days previously and I had been eager to give it a try myself. Only Susie (from Scotland) wasn’t enthused about having this for lunch – she kept declaring that she’d never eaten at McDonalds in her entire life, like it was some badge of honor or something. It was annoying because it was almost trying to detract from the fun that myself and others were having at going to McDonalds.

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We all had to get our food for take-away and eat on the bus. I ordered a double chicken Big Mac, as well as some India-inspired chicken burger that was styled after a curry. The Big Mac was good, but the curry burger was far too spicy for me to eat. I had a McFlurry for dessert, which was perfect for the hot afternoon.

Christina and I were sitting at the rear of the bus for today’s journey, enduring the heat with the small fan as best we could. I had sat in the rear a few times since we began rotating around and I was still shocked that Beverly and Lyn suffered for so long! The only person who refused to take a turn in the back was Julie (from the UK). She was the most high maintenance person in the group and paranoid about everything. Oblivious to anyone else, she would just focus on her needs and concerns, constantly asking pointless or ridiculous questions of Anu. For example, on the first day when we visited a mosque in Delhi and had to leave our shoes outside the entrance, Julie was worried that her shoes would be stolen. At meals, she would take ages to decide on a dish and ask Anu what was in every single item on the menu. It was irritating and nearly everyone in the group was fed up with her antics by this point. I wasn’t surprised that she hadn’t had a rotation in the rear of the bus either. Susie had told her it was her turn, but Julie got quite uppity about it – her selfishness was on full display.

Nevertheless, we arrived back to Delhi in the later afternoon and made good time getting through the traffic to reach our hotel. We were staying at the same hotel where we began our trip two weeks ago, and no one was excited about staying there again – myself included. I was given a room in the adjoining building and was pleasantly surprised by how much nicer the new room was compared to the one I had the first night! The main thing was that the room was clean!

After a short rest at the hotel, we went out for our farewell dinner. We followed Anu as he led us through the streets, including some busy shopping areas, to a nice restaurant for dinner. The place was small, but very nice! They didn’t have any Indian Kingfisher beer available for dinner, so I ordered a Tuborg instead. Anu had cocktails tonight, rather than joining me in a beer as we usually did (he didn’t like Tuborg beer – and I didn’t blame him!). As we ate, several other tour groups arrived for their welcome or farewell dinners as well.

Towards the end of dinner, Mandy presented Anu with the envelope containing our tip money and a thank you card. He was such an amazing tour guide and he really made the trip special. I was glad to have lucked out and had him as our guide on this tour.

When we left the restaurant, we walked back to the hotel where we had to say goodbye to Christina. Her flight was at 02:00 and her transfer arrived at 21:30 to take her to the airport. After seeing her off, the rest of the group mulled around in the lobby for a few minutes. Everyone except Fred and me were leaving in the early morning, either flying home or on to further travels in the region. Fred and I were both leaving late Monday night, so we made plans to go around town together the next two days.

We all said goodnight to one another and planned to meet up in the morning when everyone would leave for the airport. It was crazy how quickly the past two weeks had flown by! The tour had exceeded my expectations and my initial reservations about India were fully dispersed by this point. As I reflected on the tour in me hotel room, I was amazed by how much we were able to fit into a 15-day timespan!

I had two full days left in Delhi though and I planned to make the most of them.

Posted by Glichez 00:22 Archived in India Comments (0)

India: Jaipur, the Pink City, and Tigers!


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Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Today was a full day of sightseeing around Jaipur and I was very excited to see more of the city. The main focus this morning was on the Amber Palace, which is located just to the north of the city. Before going there, we made a short stop at the Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Wind. The stunning building isn’t actually a palace, it is just a façade. It was built to allow the royal ladies to observe the everyday lives of the commoners outside the palace. They did so by looking out of the over 900 small windows that were decorated with intricate latticework, which allowed the ladies to look out without being seen by the commoners. The Hawa Mahal is connected to the nearby City Palace, which allowed the royal ladies to walk between the two places with ease.

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When we finally arrived at the Amber Palace, the group had to transfer from our bus to smaller 4x4 Jeeps to drive to the top of the hill where the fort entrance is located. The fortified palace is situated along the banks of a river and it was very imposing to see it towering over the water. The architecture of this region was so unique and beautiful. Once we reached the palace itself, we met up with a local guide who took us around the entire complex.

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Heading up the main staircase, we reached one of many courtyards in the palace. Behind us was the main entrance courtyard, which was the largest. As we continued into the palace, we reached a beautiful pavilion with some amazing pillars. From there, we could look down upon the river where a garden had been built for the palace. From the banks of the river, the garden was hidden, so it was nice to be able to get this view as well. We couldn’t visit that section of the palace, unfortunately. I could also see people riding elephants up to the palace rather than taking the 4x4 Jeeps. The other side of the courtyard had a much larger covered pavilion with more intricately carved pillars. The entire palace was quite crowded today.

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Our guide then took us into the interior of the palace. The main building was very beautifully decorated, befitting a maharaja. We found ourselves in yet another courtyard which was full of bushes and flowers. The first building we stopped at was decorated with marble and small mirrors, which made the entire place sparkle. Detailed carvings had been made into the marble and painted as well. In one corner, our guide had each of us pose looking at a small mirror; he then stood next to us and used the mirror to take some great photos of our reflections.

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We had some free time to wander around the courtyard on our own. I climbed up the stairs to the balcony so I could get a proper view of the entire courtyard. The balcony had several smaller buildings that appeared to have been used by the royal ladies as they had more of the latticework coverings on the windows.

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Heading further into the palace, we reached the location of the chambers of the maharaja’s wives and concubines. The wives live in rooms along one side of the palace, while the maharaja lived in rooms overlooking the quarters of the wives. A long stretch of rooms adjacent to his apartments were where the concubines lived. The center of the courtyard where all of these apartments overlooked was a small pavilion where the royal ladies used to relax.

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This brought our visit to the Amber Palace to a close. I found it a very interesting and fun visit, despite being so crowded. Anu then took the group to have our lunch before taking us back to the hotel. It was very hot outside by the time we got back to the hotel. I had found a few places around Jaipur that sounded interesting to visit during the free afternoon. When I discussed them with Anu, he said most of them weren’t worth visiting. It was a little disappointing that the other sights around town weren’t that impressive, but I made other plans instead.

I decided to head over to Starbucks for the afternoon and I was joined by Christina and Mandy. The three of us met in the hotel lobby at 15:30 and ordered an Uber to drive us to Starbucks. We opted to take an Uber tuk tuk there, which ended up being rather fun. The three of us were squished together in the back and thankfully the driver wasn’t too crazy during the 20-minute journey.

As we drove along through traffic, a car bumped into our tuk tuk – we were in a minor accident! The car peeled back some metal on the tuk tuk, but otherwise everything was fine. The ever so slight collision happened on Mandy’s side of the tuk tuk, so we all joked that she should pretend to have been injured when we met back up with the group later.

The Starbucks was very nice and had plenty of seating for us. After ordering our coffees and sweet treats (I had a cookie, while they shared some chocolate cakes), we hung out for a little while and chatted away. It was really nice to have some time away from the entire group. The group is friendly, but it can get tiring being around so many people all the time and having more intimate conversations is difficult. Mandy told us a lot about when she adopted her son from China, which I found very interesting. Both Mandy and Christina are lovely people and I really enjoyed any chance to chat with them.

Eventually, I did some reading while Mandy knitted, and Christina did social media on her phone. It was the perfect way to spend a hot afternoon in Jaipur! We spent roughly two hours at Starbucks before it was time to leave. Rather than returning to the hotel, we planned to meet the rest of the group at the restaurant at 19:00 for dinner. Before going there, I suggested that the three of us make a visit to a nearby temple. Mandy and Christina were keen, so we ordered another tuk tuk to take us to the temple.

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The Birla Mandir temple is a very recent addition to the city, built in the late 1980s and contrasted out of while marble (it would fit in quite well in Ashgabat!). The Hindu temple is dedicated to the Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu. Their images adorn the interior of the temple in several carved marble wall panels.

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The tuk tuk dropped us off at the parking lot and we had to proceed on foot. After climbing a short staircase, we found the main path leading to the temple. It was beautiful in the twilight of sunset! There is one tall tower, along with two smaller domes in front. The entire building was illuminated in a greenish light, which added to its beauty. There were a lot of people heading towards the temple this evening.

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When we arrived at the entrance, signs indicated where we were to leave our shoes. Mandy preferred to wait outside, so she sat down in a chair to one side of the entrance. Christina and I were leaving our shoes with her rather than at the check counter, when a guard came up and was insisting that we take our shoes to the counter. We tried to explain that Mandy was remaining there, but he did not understand what we were saying. Only when she had sat down and it was clear that Mandy was remaining there did the guard relent.

Christina and I entered the temple compound and marveled at the stunning beauty of the temple itself. The entire exterior was covered with intricate carvings into the marble bricks. Depictions of various gods and other designs met our eyes everywhere we looked. Signs around the temple stated that photographs were not permitted, but people were snapping pictures all over the place, so we took a few quick ones as well. After walking around outside, we entered the temple to have a look around. The inside was not as large as one would expect. The highlight was when we walked around the central altar. The walls had some incredible carvings on them depicting Lakshmi and Vishnu. We didn’t understand everything that the images were conveying, but Christina was able to identify many of the figures in each one.

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We rejoined Mandy and set off for the restaurant, which was only a 15-minute walk away from the temple. The walk was rather easy as it just followed the one main road outside the temple, but we did have to cross several busy streets along the way. Traffic in India is crazy and it made some people in our group uneasy each time we had to cross a street; I was reminded of traffic in Hanoi and was less intimidated. The three of us managed to navigate our way across the streets and to the restaurant.

The rest of the group had arrived shortly before us and we joined them inside to enjoy dinner. Yet again, Anu had taken us to a wonderful restaurant and I enjoyed my favorite meal of the entire trip. Unfortunately, I’m writing this entry too long after the dinner to recall the name of the dish I ordered – it was a recommendation by Anu and not one that I’d eaten before. For dessert, I ordered a “sizzling brownie” which lived up to the name. It was a brownie with ice cream served on a hot platter with that was drizzled with chocolate sauce. The sauce sizzled on the piping hot platter. It was good, not nowhere near as good as Hello to the Queen – that dessert still made the group swoon.

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The bus took us back to our hotel, where I spent the time working before bed. Jaipur had been a very pleasant visit, though I think an extra day in the city would have been nice. There are so many different things to see and just not enough time.


Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Today was another one focused on driving as we made our way to Ranthambore National Park. It wasn’t too long of a drive and we arrived in the early afternoon. Our hotel for the next two nights was very nice and it even had a pool! We all went over to the hotel restaurant for lunch and I found the food to be just so-so. I ordered a fried rice which turned out to be too spicy for me to eat. I had been so lucky throughout most of the trip to not encounter many spicy dishes, but this one proved too much for me to handle.

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The afternoon was spent relaxing at the hotel. Some in the group lounged by the pool, others napped or relaxed in their rooms, while I spent the time working and blogging, The hotel had decent WiFi, but it wouldn’t connect in my room, so I had to resort to using my mobile hotspot.

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Dinner was included with our stay at the hotel and was served in the restaurant. It was a family-style buffet: the waiters brought out several dishes for our table to share, and we could get more of anything as well. Unfortunately, most of the food served was again too spicy for me! I was able to have some of the French fries and nan, but that was about it. I was very disappointed that everything being served was so spicy. Other restaurants had toned down the spice level because we were tourists and obviously not used to the traditional spice levels. Not this restaurant. Anu kindly offered to have them make something else for me, but I declined – I didn’t trust them to make something that wasn’t spicy.

The evening was then spent doing some work before heading to bed early. We had to be up at the crack of dawn the next day, so I wanted to make sure to get some sleep before the alarm rang at 05:00!


Thursday, October 12, 2023

The focus for today was on taking a safari drive through Ranthambore National Park. We had one included morning drive included with our tour, and most of the group had signed up for a second drive in the afternoon. I had opted out of the second drive, so all my hopes on seeing a tiger were wrapped up in the morning drive.

We had to depart the hotel at 06:00 this morning, so I had to wake up at 05:30 to get ready. It was the earliest wake up of the entire trip. The safari truck picked us up outside the hotel. It was a large truck with about 20 seats. Luckily, we were the first two board the truck and we could thus get the best seats. We drove through the small town and picked up a few more people before heading to the entrance to Ranthambore.

Ranthambore National Park is divided into several different zones and each safari truck is assigned to a specific zone for their drives, thus helping to prevent over crowding in one or more zones. We were assigned to Zone 1, though there are no boundaries between the zones so the animals can wander between them at will. It didn’t take us long to reach the entrance to Zone 1 and our safari drive began!

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The trucks are required to stay on the designated pathways through each zone, which was understandable as it helped to preserve the animals’ natural habitat, but the animals also learned that the truck paths were places to avoid. All of us were eagerly hoping to see a tiger in the wild, though we knew the chances were slim because there are only 70 tigers in the entire park.

Shortly after entering the park, we saw some smaller safari trucks off-road in a clearing and our driver soon followed at high speed – they’d spotted something. The drive was somewhat dangerous because tree branches kept snapping back into our faces. When we reached the other trucks, we were told that a tiger had been spotted! We drove slowly further into the woods and then we spotted it – a female tiger walking through the trees!

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Everyone in the truck was excited to see the lone tiger. I was surprised at how well camouflaged the tiger appeared among the trees – I thought the orange color would make it stand out. The tiger was slowly walking among the trees, totally ignoring the trucks. The entire encounter lasted less than one minute before the tiger walked down a hill and out of our view. It was exhilarating and was an amazing start to the safari! Anu told us that he had been on several safari drives recently and seen no animals, let alone a tiger. We were exceedingly lucky and now everything we would see would just be a bonus.

After making a hasty drive back to the main road through the park, we resumed the normal safari drive. It was only after we’d returned to the road that we were told that the drivers were technically forbidden from driving where we’d just gone, but since it was only a short drive, they decided to risk it. If they were caught, they could have their licenses revoked!

The remainder of the drive was less eventful, but we did see plenty of other animals. The one we saw the most was the spotted deer: we saw several small herds of them throughout the park. Most of the time they were just grazing, while other groups were running away as they heard the truck approach. We also saw some peacocks in the distance. When we stopped alongside a small lake, we could see a hawk perched atop a log, waiting to find some prey. It sat perfectly still and didn’t make the slightest of movements the entire time we watched it. Further along, we saw a young crocodile along the banks of a river (though it quickly disappeared into the water). The final stop was at a large open area where we could see many birds flying around. It was quite serene to sit there and just listen to the birds calling to one another.

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The drive back through the park was quick and we only made a few stops to see more spotted deer. The hawk was still perched on the log as we drove past as well. We exited the park about three hours after entering and everyone was quite pleased with the safari. We were incredibly fortunate to have seen the tiger – let alone having it be the first animal we spotted!

Once we returned to the hotel, it was time for breakfast. They served several delicious options, including an omelet and French toast! We were able to have as much of each dish as we wanted as well. I had a few slices of French toast with my omelet – I was very pleased with today’s breakfast! Everyone then retired to our respective rooms to nap and get some rest.

I spent the remainder of the day relaxing in the room: watching Netflix, reading, blogging, and getting some work done. I eventually went to the hotel lobby so I could connect to the WiFi there – it was the only place in the hotel with a decent signal. The rest of the group had their afternoon safari at 14:00 and I saw them off while I worked in the lobby. Since I had seen a tiger in the morning, I had no regrets about skipping the afternoon drive. It was an expensive optional activity and given the scarcity of wildlife that we’d seen throughout the morning, it wasn’t worth it to me.

I had a late lunch at the hotel restaurant, and I ordered a good amount of food: Malai kofta, garlic nan, and plain rice. It was all quite good, though the kofta was a bit on the spicy side. This hotel restaurant really liked to make their dishes with a lot of spice, even when I asked for no spice. I then went back to my room to relax in the air-con.

When everyone returned around 18:00, they told me that they saw more of the same animals as the morning, but no more tigers. They did see some more birds and had a beautiful view over the entire park from atop a hill. It sounded quite nice, but not enough to make me regret my decision.

Dinner was included this evening and it was similar to the food we had had the previous evening. Again, most of the food was too spicy for me to eat, so I just had some rice and garlic nan. It was a very disappointing meal – I was glad that I ate such a large meal for lunch!

After dinner, everyone went back to their rooms to get some sleep. It had been a long and tiring day for us all, especially with the 06:00 start time for the first safari. I decided to not stay up late working and I was asleep by 23:00 – finally an early evening for me!

Posted by Glichez 05:21 Archived in India Comments (0)

India: Too Long in Pushkar


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Saturday, October 7, 2023

The group had yet another early departure this morning so we could head out to the holy town of Pushkar. It was an uneventful ride on the bus and I tried to catch up on my sleep for a bit along the way. Luckily, the ride wasn’t too long and we arrived at the hotel around midday, just in time for lunch.

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For some inexplicable reason, we were booked into a hotel far from the city center and there was nowhere to go out and explore around the hotel. It did have a pool, which everyone was excited about, but that proved to be the only good thing about the hotel. Anu had warned us that it would be the roughest hotel of the trip and he was not wrong.

The rooms were just awful! Mine looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned in weeks! Dust, dirt and hair were in the corners of the room, the bed sheets appeared in need of a good washing, and the bathroom was foul. It looked like dirt and grim was everywhere. Everyone in the group was shocked and disgusted with the hotel. I felt dirty just sitting in the room. To top it all off, the WiFi signal did not work in any of our rooms, only in the lobby and the restaurant.

We reassembled in the hotel restaurant for lunch after taking our bags to the rooms. The restaurant had a simple menu, which was alright. I was glad that they had a place to eat since there was nothing else anywhere close by to have a meal. I had kofta for lunch and it was alright, though a bit spicy for my liking. Everyone agreed that the food was alright, though nowhere near the quality that we’d been eating in other cities.

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The afternoon was left for leisure and most people lounged by the pool. I spent the time relaxing in my room: watching Netflix, blogging, and working (using my cell phone’s data for an Internet hotspot to connect my computer).

The group had decided to do an optional camel ride in the desert in the evening, followed by dinner and a dance performance. I skipped the excursion and remained at the hotel. I have ridden a camel in Mongolia and didn’t really enjoy the experience, so I didn’t have a strong desire to do it again. The dinner and show also didn’t pique my interest. For my dinner, I ate at the hotel restaurant. I was the only one there eating, which was perfectly fine for me. I used the time to get some work done on the blog so I wasn’t so terribly far behind.

The group returned around 20:30 as I was eating, so we spent some time chatting about their evening. They all enjoyed it, but the consensus was that I hadn’t missed anything spectacular. The performance after dinner sounded like it was just so-so, which made me believe that I had made the right decision.

The remainder of the night was spent relaxing at the hotel. It had not been a particularly interesting day – indeed, it seemed a bit of a waste of time. We had another full day in Pushkar tomorrow as well. No one in the group was pleased about having to stay at the shit hotel for two nights.


Sunday, October 8, 2023

Today we were able to sleep in as the day’s sightseeing was due to start until 11:00 – wonderful news! Unfortunately, I woke up at 05:45 and couldn’t get back to bed. I laid in bed for a few hours though, having a lazy time during the morning. I went down to breakfast at the hotel restaurant, but their options were total garbage (I didn’t expect any better) – no one seemed impressed by the food.

At 11:00, we all met for our short city tour around Pushkar. We took the bus into town and were dropped off at one end of the long street market. Anu then led us on a walk through the market, which I didn’t particularly find very interesting. It was just shop after shop selling various goods, but nothing was very unique or special about it. I have been to dozens of similar markets around the world, which is why I was not enthralled with the experience.

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Pushkar is a holy city where many Hindus and Sikhs make a pilgrimage. Legend has it that the creator god Brahma came to the earth and reached the location of the present-day city of Pushkar. He spent a thousand years in this location and he threw a lotus flower to the ground. The lotus made the ground tremble and Brahma explained to the devas that he did this to vanquish a demon who lived in the area. Thereafter, the area was known as Pushkar.

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The lake in the city is the main site of pilgrimage and there were hundreds of people at the temples along the banks of the lake. The people would pray and then get themselves wet with the water in the lake: some would pour it over themselves using cups or buckets, while others waded into the water and submerged themselves.

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Anu had arranged for a priest to perform a prayer ceremony for us while we were there. The priest gave us each a plate filled with various things (flower petals, salt, colored powder) and a coconut. We followed him to the lakefront temple and sat while he performed the prayer. We sat amongst the locals while they prayed and bathed in the water, which was a very interesting experience. The priest laid out a carpet for us to sit on and then began to lead up through the prayer. It was difficult for me to hear what he was saying most of the time due to the noise in the area. He recited some prayers, which the group repeated. He then mixed some of the lake water with a red powder in his plate to make an ink, which was then used to place marks on our foreheads: a dot for the women and a vertical line for the men. We then carried our plates to the edge of the lake and threw the contents of it into the water. It was a very unique ceremony and I was glad that Anu arranged it for the group.

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It was getting very warm out and we were all hungry, so Anu took us to a nearby restaurant for lunch. The place was very nice – as all the restaurants that Anu had arranged for us – and the food was delicious. They even had a Vietnamese coffee on the menu, which I eagerly ordered. When my drink arrived, it was definitely not... what I had expected. It was a smoothie, not a coffee - they had either screwed up my order or given me the wrong drink. Shortly after it arrived, the waiter came out and brought me the correct drink. It was good, though not as good as the real thing back home in Hanoi.

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When we finished eating, the group split up for the remainder of the day. Some remained in town to wander around the market a bit more, while others were returning to the hotel. I opted for the hotel as nothing in the market had caught my eye during the walk earlier in the day. The remainder of the day was spent relaxing, watching movies, working and blogging.

Dinner was at a restaurant back in town and we took tuk tuks to get there from the hotel. The place we were eating was along the edge of the lake and we sat outside on the patio. The area was quite busy and there were many people by the lake, hanging out and enjoying the cooler weather at night. Dinner was good, but it was the dessert that stole the show. There was a dessert called Hello to the Queen, which sounded rather intriguing. Fred ordered one and we were all amazed by it when the waiter brough it out. It was a large sundae with ice cream, sauce, a warm biscuit, bananas and nuts. Lyn tried a bite and she absolutely loved it – her reaction was enough to make four of us ordered one to share. Lyn, Christina, Mandy and I all shared one of the desserts – we devoured it rather quickly too. The mixture of flavors and textures was superb!

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When we got back to the hotel, I had to do some work for a little while and then I went to bed just after midnight.


Monday, October 9, 2023

Everyone was happy to be leaving Pushkar this morning, mostly because none of us had enjoyed the hotel. The city itself was nice and I think the group would have enjoyed it more had we stayed at a different hotel. We had a long drive ahead of us to reach the city of Jaipur, which is where Anu lives. As usual, I spent the time napping and trying to listen to a podcast. I’d been listening to “Behind the Bastards” the entire trip, though I was constantly having to rewind or restart episodes because I kept falling asleep.

The first stop of the day was at a textile factory that made fabrics using block-style technique. This uses large stamps to create various patterns on fabric, using layers of ink to add depth and complexity to the designs. We were given a short demonstration of how the blocks are used to stamp the color onto the fabric. The example we were shown was making an elephant. Several stamps were used, each one using a different color and covering a different part of the elephant. The end result was a beautifully colored and detailed image.

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The group was then taken into the store where we were shown various fabrics and items for sale. Once we were turned loose, many in the group went in search of various articles of clothing to buy. The textiles were quite pretty, but there was nothing that caught my eye, so I ended up not buying anything. The store had ready-made articles of clothing, but they could also make new pieces from the bolts of fabric available. Many people had clothes made, from shirts to robes to bowties.

We were then taken to the hotel for a quick break to freshen up before heading out into the old town of Jaipur. The city is known as the Pink City and it certainly lives up to the name. Buildings throughout the city are painted in a terracotta pink color. In the 1870s, the son of Queen Victoria, Albert Edward, visited Jaipur. The maharaja at the time ordered the town to be painted pink to welcome the royals because pink was the color of hospitality. The color scheme has remained a part of the city ever since.

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Anu took us on a walk through part of the old city so we could see some of the historical architecture and the pink colors buildings. Much of the walk took us past various stalls and shops selling spices, peppers, etc – it was very fragrant, though the peppers were slightly overpowering to me. It was a short walk, but enjoyable.

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Dinner this evening was at a rooftop hotel where we could get 360-degree views all around the city – Anu knew where to find the best restaurants in every city! He had told us that this particular restaurant was one of his absolute favorite places to eat, so we had high expectations for the food. It did not disappoint – everyone’s food was delicious! While we enjoyed our meal, we could see dozens of kites being flown across the city. Later on, we were able to watch the beautiful sunset as well.

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As with most nights, this one ended back at the hotel with me staying up late to work. No surprise there.

Posted by Glichez 11:54 Archived in India Comments (0)

India: Udaipur Palaces and Local Trains


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Thursday, October 5, 2023

Today was a day that I had been looking forward to ever since I had booked the India tour. Udaipur is one of the gems of India, with beautiful lakes and palaces all around the city. It had been used as a filming location for several movies, including the James Bond film “Octopussy” starring Roger Moore. Not every tour visits Udaipur, so the fact that this particular tour stopped in the city is why I picked this one over the others. It was essentially a decision between going to Udaipur or Varanasi. I think I chose wisely.

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Anu took us over to the city palace in the morning so we could have a guided tour. Once again, we had a local guide with us who provided detailed explanations about everything we saw inside the palace. This was the main palace of a different maharaja and 11 different rulers had lived there since it was first built. Construction began in the 1550s and, like the fortress in Jodhpur, it continued to be expanded and enhanced over the centuries. The current maharaja still resides in the palace, but only in one section. The rest of the palace is split between a luxury hotel and the museum, where we would be visiting.

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The exterior of the palace is very grand, similar in style to the fortress that we visited in Jodhpur. The top floors were intricately carved stones that displayed the power and wealth of the royal family. The main entrance gate to the museum section of the palace was quite grand – and the doors had spikes placed up high to prevent elephants from battering the doors down!

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Our guide took us through some of the smaller, narrow corridors and stairwells to reach the upper floors. Along the way, we saw some small shrines that, while not grand in size, were exquisite in decoration. The first area we reached was a courtyard with several trees to provide shade. There was a basin where a pool was once located (though it is no longer filled with water). This was an area where the maharaja would relax and have celebrations.

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Heading further into the palace, we were able to see some of the lavish royal chambers. Some of the rooms were decorated with mirrors on all of the walls and ceiling – including a bedchamber! Everything was a bit “over the top” when it came to the décor, and it was marvelous to be able to view the royal rooms.

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There was a beautiful balcony that provided views over the entire city on one side, and over one of the lakes on the other side. In the middle of the lake was the Taj Lake Palace: another of the royal palaces that now serves as a luxury hotel (and is closed to non-guests of the hotel). This palace was used in the movie ‘Octopussy’ as the palace of the titular character.

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Another royal chamber was up next and this one was used by the queen. Suspended from the ceiling was a fan that a servant would operate using a rope to keep the queen cool. The walls were adored with mirrors and stained glass filled the windows. Next door was a lounge that was used by the royal family, complete with a small swing for use by the queen.

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The next courtyard was my favorite part of the palace. It was small, but one side was dominated by a beautiful balcony. The walls on either side of the balcony were colorfully decorated with various figures, and peacocks made of tile were situated below. The maharaja used to use the balcony, while the women of the royal household would use the small windows on either side to observe events in the courtyard.

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The final room in the palace was the dining room. Again, this was covered with mirrors on all sides and was quite the luxurious place to have meals. We then made our way back down to the ground floor, where we saw a small pavilion inside yet another courtyard. Overall, the city palace was the most luxurious sites that we have visited thus far in India – I was very impressed!

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When we reached the exit of the palace, most of the group opted to use the restroom, while Christina and I went to get ice cream from a nearby shop. The queue for the ice cream was very long because of a large school group in front of us. After paying, we were given a receipt and then had to stand in the crowd around a window to wait for a member of staff to hand out the ice cream. Since there was no proper queue, it was a free for all to see who would get served first. We crowded in with the kids and eventually made our way to the front – though it did take quite a while. I got a vanilla cone and Christina got chocolate. We were both impressed with the ice cream and were glad of the cool treat on the hot day.

We then met back up with Anu and set off to have our lunch. The restaurant was a short walk away and was situated along the lake. The views from the terrace where we were seated were spectacular! We could see the Taj Lake Palace, along with some other beautiful buildings across the lake. Anu had taken us to yet another very good restaurant, where the food was again delicious!

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The group had free time for the remainder of the afternoon. While some returned to the hotel and others went to an art studio, I wanted to visit the Monsoon Palace. Christina and Fred decided to join me, and Anu kindly arranged for a tuk tuk to take us there and then back to the hotel. The drive to the palace entrance was shorter than expected, but the tuk tuk could only take us to the main parking lot. After paying for the entrance tickets, we then had to pay a small amount for a truck to drive us to the top of the hill, where the palace itself was located.

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The Monsoon Palace was yet another of the maharaja’s palaces in the city. The palace was constructed in the 1880s atop a hill overlooking the entire city. It was originally planned to be used as an astronomical center, but that was abandoned when the maharaja who built the palace died. This too was used during the filming of “Octopussy” and was used as the home of the movie’s villain, Khamal Khan.

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When we were dropped off by the truck, we had to walk up a long ramp to reach the palace itself. The exterior of the building is mostly plain and nondescript, except for the main entrance. This section of the palace is narrow, but elaborately decorated, rising to cover all four floors of the buildings. The entire palace was smaller than expected though and it was not as well maintained as the other royal palaces in Udaipur.

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Inside, there were only a few rooms to walk through and they were filled with displays of some of the local animals. The interior was not grand or opulent, as I had expected or hoped. There was one room with a beautiful balcony that spanned two floors, which I rather enjoyed. The rear of the palace was nice enough, though a bit of a letdown after visiting the City Palace.

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It was the views from the palace that made the visit worthwhile though. From atop the hill, we could see all of Udaipur and some of the man-made lakes in the area. Mountains and hills surrounded the city – the entire area was lush and green. It was also very breezy at the top, providing some relief from the intense heat. It was even difficult to keep our clothes from ballooning in the breeze!

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Christina and I found the stairs to the second floor, but we were disappointed to find there was not much to see there. A small courtyard contained another ornate balcony, and a central room had windows overlooking the city. It was still well worth the visit though! We took some time snapping photos and posing in the windows before heading back down to find Fred, who had been exploring a bit on his own.

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The three of us walked over to a nearby garden, where we were again rewarded with spectacular views of the city. Udaipur is truly a gem and one of the best cities in all of India! The mountains, lakes, and historical buildings make it such a unique and fascinating place to visit. We also got an amazing look at the Monsoon Palace itself from the garden, which also had a small pond.

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Finally, we went to the small terrace café to get a round of cool drinks before heading back to the hotel. We lounged on the terrace for a bit, chatting away and relaxing in the shade. I had a really fun time with the two of them – it was nice to get away from the larger group. The group is very nice, but being around so many people all the time can be exhausting for someone introverted like me. I prefer smaller outings like this trip to the Monsoon Palace.

After taking the truck back down the hill, we met back up with the tuk tuk driver and drove to the hotel. The remainder of the afternoon was spent relaxing at the hotel. I relaxed in my room, watching some movies and cooling down in the aircon.

In the evening, the group met up so Anu could take us to see a local dance show. The dancers performed some traditional Indian dances and even showed off some of the puppets as well. The dances were nice, but it was the final performance that stole the show. A woman began dancing on her own and then placed three pots on her head to balance while she spun and danced. To our surprise, she soon added even more pots on top of her head and continued to dance. Finally, a third set of pots was added and she had a tower of them to balance while she danced! The entire stack of pots appeared to be taller than the dancer herself! Overall, it was an alright evening, but I wouldn’t see it again.

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We went direct to dinner after the dancing and enjoyed another delicious Indian meal. The food had been spicy for me throughout the trip, but I was surprised that I was not suffering from more heartburn. Typically, I get horrendous heartburn whenever I eat spicy food at home, so I tend to avoid it whenever possible. In India, it is damned near impossible to avoid spicy dishes, but I’d been doing alright with the spice level.

Back at the hotel, I again spent my evening working until the late hours. I was getting burned out of work entirely – not just because it is difficult to work remote while traveling, but because the job is a thankless nightmare. The company is a shit show of epic proportions and I was getting tired of the bullshit. At 02:00 I logged off and went to bed.


Friday, October 6, 2023

I woke up still feeling tired this morning – I had been averaging five hours of sleep each night so far on the tour and the lack of sleep was catching up with me. Today we were leaving Udaipur and driving to the town of Jojawar. We didn’t have much on the agenda for the day aside from the driving, but Anu had the great idea of taking a local train for part of the journey. Everyone was quite keen for this experience and it would allows us to see more of the natural beauty of the region.

We departed at 08:30 and drove a couple of hours to the train station. Before catching the train, we stopped at a roadside diner for coffee, drinks and a restroom break. Anu warned us that we would not want to use the facilities on the train. The diner was decorated like a 1950s café, complete with retro cars sitting on the front patio. It was a nice place to stop for a short break.

At the train station, we had to wait for about 20 minutes for the train to arrive. The station was small, but there was quite a crowd waiting along with us, including a large school group. On another set of tracks was a tourist train that advertised air-conditioned cards, but this was not the train that we would be riding today. The train finally arrived and Anu quickly helped us to board and find seats together in one of the cars.

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The train cars were very basic, separated into three separate seating area while had wooden seats for the passengers. There were no assigned seats – first come, first served. Luckily, we boarded an empty car and got an entire section to ourselves. It was warm inside, but the open windows brought in a refreshing breeze once the train started moving.

The train didn’t go at very high speed, which was nice because it allowed us time to gaze at the natural beauty of the surrounding areas. The tracks led up into the mountains and through some tunnels to reach the other side, so we could looked down at the nearby valleys along the way. I was seated near one of the windows, so it was my job to take lots of pictures and then share them with the group. There were a few sections where the train made wide turns, allowing us to see the cars ahead of us quite well from the window. Other passengers were standing and leaning out of the open doors while the train wound its way through the mountains. Some locals came up to me and asked to take photos with their kids, which I agreed to do. They were very nice and the kids were friendly, though shy.

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At one point, the train came to a stop so we could observe the monkeys along the sides of the track. This was not an experience that many of us were particularly excited about. We were fine seeing the monkeys from afar but did not want them to jump onto the train. Sure enough, a monkey jumped onto the windowsill of our section and could easily have come inside the train. This startled many of the women in the group, but the monkey quickly left when it realized that we had no food. We were all relieved when the train began moving once again.

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The remainder of the train ride was less eventful. The train went over some bridges and we could continue to marvel at the beauty all around us. I listened to a podcast during part of the trip, continuing to gaze out the window the entire time. The train ride lasted roughly 90 minutes and I was glad when we finally arrived at the station. The wooden seat was starting to make my back sore.

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The bus was waiting for us at the station and we soon made the 20-minute drive to our next hotel. Anu told us that tonight’s hotel would be among the best of the entire trip. We were staying in a former palace that had been converted into a hotel and the place was quite grand. We were greeted with cool, refreshing towels and a cold drink at reception. After quickly dropping our bags in our rooms, we went down to the restaurant to have lunch. The lunch itself was mediocre and, honestly, I was disappointed. We were served simple sandwiches, French fries, and some fired dish (I can’t recall its name). The sandwiches were just filled with a thin layer of cheese and veggies, and they weren’t very filling. I was still rather hungry once we finished eating.

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The hotel itself was beautiful though and it even had a pool! Most of the group lounged by the pool after lunch, while I returned to my room so I could relax, blog and do some work. I was glad of the free time to spend by myself during the afternoon. The time flew by and, before I knew it, it was time for dinner!

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Before having our meal, the group went up to the rooftop so we could watch the sunset. We had a round of drinks there as well, which was quite nice. Today was Mandy’s 60th birthday and she kindly bought everyone a round of drinks to celebrate! Mandy is from the UK, but had living in the States for over 30 years. It was fun to be able to celebrate her birthday in such a beautiful hotel!

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Dinner was buffet-style and was just so-so – though better than the lunch! Many of the dishes that were served did not particularly appear to me, but I had quite a bit of rice. When we had finished eating, the staff brough out a cake and we sang “Happy Birthday” to Mandy. After cutting the cake, Anu surprised Mandy by smearing the first slice in her face! She took it all in good stride though. We were all served a slice of cake for dessert, along with rice pudding. It was a delicious cake!

As with every other night of the trip, it ended with me working until the late morning hours working. Always working. The following day was mostly free time and I planned to spend that time catching up on sleep though.

Posted by Glichez 09:11 Archived in India Comments (0)

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