22.01.2010 - 29.01.2010 20 °C
While waiting on the platform at Agra station for my train to Jaipur in Rajasthan, I heard a voice from behind me say, "Ah, a fellow Kiwi". I turned around to find a scruffy looking guy with a long beard and long hair tied back in a pony tail. He must have seen the NZ flag sewn on my backpack. His name was Justin and apparently he had been travelling around the world for about three years, and it showed. He had a serious, yet relaxed, look on his face, almost like he'd seen it all before, though he did admit that India was still a bit of a shock to him. What really impressed me was his backpack. Whenever somebody sees my backpack they always say, "Is that it!?". I'm quite proud to be carrying a small 40 L backpack that weighs around 10 kgs and that I can take onboard with me as carry-on luggage. But this guy had a bag that must have been between 15 and 20 L. What's more, he had a sleeping bag in it! I didn't ask what else he had in there, but I imagine it was probably just his tootbrush and passport. He was the first Kiwi I'd met since the very first night of my trip when I landed in Tokyo.
Train platforms at Agra Cantt Railway station, what you can't see in this photo is the cat-sized rats wandering around the tracks and the odd cow or two meandering on the platform
On that train I met a friendly Indian guy called Rahul. He lives and works in Dholpur, about 60 kms south of Agra. He was travelling to Bharatpur to meet a friend, then on to Jaipur the next day to meet his girlfriend - he was very quick to point out he and his girlfriend will be sleeping in separate rooms. We had an interesting conversation about travelling, arranged marriages, cricket (of course) and his favourite movies, which included all six of the "American Pie" series and the horror "Hostel" - he told me to becareful should I go backpacking in Slovakia ...I think he was joking.
Rahul whom I met on the train to Jaipur, he liked this photo so much that he asked me to email it to him
Jaipur ened up being a bit of a disaster in terms of sightseeing, mostly because I think Jaipur is overrated and I underestimated the length of one of my walks which wasted a whole day. The touts there were the worst I'd come across in India and the city was even filthier and smellier than Delhi. I took a trip to the so called "Pink City" (which ended up being more like the "Faded Orange City"), then I thought I'd challenge myself to long climb to Nahargarh (Tiger Fort) a fort palace perched on the edge of one of the surrounding hills. I ended up walking for hours through a maze of small streets in the outer suburbs of Jaipur trying to find the start of the path. I asked countless people for directions but they were typically vague and most contradicted eachother.
Even though there were still a few ricksaw wallahs hassling me for rides along the way, I was stopped by lots of ordinary people in the little back streets, most of them really friendly who just wanted to say hello or have their photo taken. It felt like the real India in some ways.
Some kids who wanted their photo taken
This could have been the "National Geographic" photo from my trip to India, but I didn't use a flash
I haven't really talked about the cows much yet, which is surprising because that was one of the first startling sights any visitor experiences in India (along with the extreme poverty). I got so used to seeing cows roaming the streets in the middle of the city, that I forgot how strange it was. As most people know, cows are sacred in most parts of India, this means they are free to roam the streets, even on busy roads in the middle of the cities, including Delhi. People just drive around them, sometimes politely tooting their horns and the docile cows continue their slow meander without battering an eye lid. The only danger they really pose, is a slap in the face by a tail soaked in cow shit as you are walking past (I should know, I've had several close calls).
Holy Cow! Taken within the Pink City in Jaipur with the Ajmer Gate in the background
A bull wandering the streets of the Pink City in Jaipur
Of course it's not just cows that you'll find sharing the parks, roads and footpaths with the locals. Depending on where you are, you'll also find pigs, horses, donkeys, goats, camels, elephants, monkeys, chipmunks, cats and of course stray dogs. Stray dogs are so numerous that you'll find one down almost every street you walk down, they'll usually be by the side of the road scavanging for food in piles of garbage.
Some of the local cows and pigs resting and rummaging on the side of the road in Jaipur
One of the main streets in Jaipur, the Nahargarh fort can be seen in the background on top of the hill
Eventually I did reach the start of the 2 km zigzagging footpath at the base of the hill leading to Nahargarh, but after about 200 meters, I looked at what I still had to do and decided to give up. I was already sweating, exhausted and dehydrated because I had already been walking for a few hours in the searing heat and my water had run out so it was probably quite sensible.
One of the views of Jaipur from the footpath heading to Nahargarh fort
Just as I started heading down I was met by a crowd of seven boys (probably in their late teens) and they turned into a real hassle to deal with. They wanted their photo taken as if their life depended on it. As they tried to get a look at the photos I'd taken of them, they crowded around, cornering me up against a wall. They then wanted to get a photo of me with them but by that stage I already had a bad feeling about them and was not about to relinquish my camera, so I made some crazy excuse about why I didn't want my photo to be taken, against my religion, blah blah blah. They didn't understand and kept on asking and then out of the blue I heard one of them say, "Give me a hundred Rupees". I gave him a dirty look instead and burst my way out of the crowd. A couple of them laughed as if it were a joke so I think he was just being an idiot, plus he didn't ask me again. Nevertheless I started heading down the hill pretty quickly while being followed by a couple of them asking me if I could send them the photos I'd just taken. I pretended I didn't have a pen and paper so that I didn't have to open my satchel in front of them. He then asked me for my email address so he could write to me and I could reply with photos attached. I think he suspected I was never going to do it when he started making me promise that I would send them. Hopefully whoever owns "firstname.lastname@example.org" doesn't get annoyed I used his or her email address. I'll include their photo here for shaming purposes only.
The little punks who annoyed me on the path up to Nahargarh fort in Jaipur, the podgy looking guy third from the right with his arms up in the air was the one that asked me for money, you can tell he's trouble just by looking at him
By the time I'd walked down the hill and through the streets of the disappointing Pink City, it was after 4 pm and most of the other tourist sights in Jaipur were closed or about to close. I was walking towards the City Palace when a friendly older man who spoke perfect English started chatting with me. After he found out I was from New Zealand we talked about cricket for a while (my knowledge of cricket really got stretched). I think the only reason most Indians know about New Zealand is because we play cricket, which I must admit is always a good conversation starter. He suggested I go to across the road to a market's roof top which supposedly had good views of the city. I had given up on seeing anymore sights in Jaipur anyway so I headed up the stairs. The view was quite mediocre to say the least and I wasn't particularly impressed though I did bump into a young boy and his father flying some kites. The father let me fly his kite for a while, but I didn't hold on to it for long fearing I'd loose it, lucky because less than ten seconds after I handed it back to him, the string broke and the kite was set free.
Father and son flying kites on a Jaipur rooftop
There seems to be some sort of kite flying craze happening in Jaipur. Hoardes of children and sometimes adults can be seen standing on the street or roof tops flying kites. If you look up at the sky, you'll see dozens of them floating high up above the city. If you focus a little closer at the trees and power lines, you'll find several of them tangled amongst the branches or wires. Every single tree has at least a couple of kites embedded in its branches, sometimes there are so many they look like giant christmas trees. Who ever is selling kites in Jaipur must be making an absolute killing.
The view from market rooftop, you can see the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal (Heaven Piercing Minaret) and on the top right the red kite that I flew
As I was about to walk down from the roof, another "friendly" local stopped me for a chat. He said he wanted to practice his English with me but I wasn't in the mood to be used as a free English tutor at the time so I didn't contribute much to the conversation and I hinted to him that I was meeting friends for dinner at my hotel. Didn't stop him from talking though, and then he started warning me about the various "Gem Scams" that occur quite often in Japur. In the same breath, he said, "My family owns a gem store, would you like to come and see it?" - he seemed genuinely surprised that I had declined his offer.
To be honest, I wasn't much impressed with Jaipur. I really wonder why it's part of the so-called "Golden Triangle" of tourist destinations along with Delhi and Agra. In retrospect I would have skipped this grotty little town altogether and gone somewhere else in Rajasthan. My next destination was Udaipur, also in Rajasthan, which appeared to be much more promising.
My overnight train journey from Jaipur to Udaipur was probably the worst I'd ever been on. All of the 1st class tickets had been sold out so I had bought a sleeper class ticket. The sleeper class basically gives you a bench with a hard rubber mat on it, no bedding, no curtains and no air-con. My "bed" was about 1.5 meters long (too short even for me). It was right at the end of the carridge right next to, and parallel to the aisle. There was no door at the very end of the carridge so I had full view of the area where the toilets were as well as the narrow accordion-like join between the carridges. It was freezing cold, smelly and extremely loud which resulted in a really uncomfortable and sleepless night. What made it worse was that the guy who was in the bunk bed above me, decided he could sit at the end of my bunk without asking, even going as far as grunting at me while motioning me to move my legs out of the way so he could sit down. Eventually he climbed up to his bunk and I was able to stretch out a little. Everyone sleeps with their clothes and shoes on in this class which only got me thinking about all the dirty shoes that had trapsed through the disgusting floors of the squat toilets, then made their way back on to the mat I was currently lying on (putting my anti-germ neurosis aside, you have to admit that it is quite disgusting). I ended up leaning against my uncomfortable backpack most of the night counting down the hours. Somehow I ended up nodding off in the late hours of the morning only to be awakened by someone tapping me on the arm. I looked up to find a line of people who were staring down at me as they stood in the aisle ready to get off the train. We had arrived in Udaipur and I couldn't have been any more glad.
As soon as I got to my hotel, I had a shower and went straight to bed, which has become a bit of a common theme after many of my train trips. The whole point of me taking overnight trains was to try and save on one night's accomodation as well as not to waste too much time travelling during the day, but this strategy doesn't seem to be working very well because I never end up sleeping very well on trains. I spent the rest of that day at the hotel, sleeping, eating at the roof top restaurant, catching up on my blog and performing some precision surgery on my Lonely Planet.
My India Lonely Planet before surgery
My India Lonely Planet after a successful operation to remove excess chapters
The view from the roof top restaurant at my hotel in Udaipur
Once I got out and about over the next few days, I decided I quite liked Udaipur. It is surrounded by small hills and lakes which give the city a different feel to the rest of the places I visited in India. The only drawback is that it's very touristy, but this also has some advantages. Shop owners seem to take pride in the areas in front of their stores so the narrow little streets are relatively clean and there was no shortage of good restaurants and cafes to find decent food in.
The view of the narrow streets of Udaipur from my hotel window
The view from my hotel window on the fourth floor included, parts of Lake Pichola (undoubtedly Udaipur's proud center piece), at least two temples and the roof top domes from the nearby City Palace and Museum.
The temple directly across the road from my hotel
My biggest excursion in Udaipur was to the huge City Palace and Museum located on the east bank of Lake Pichola which was only a short walk from my hotel.
The Tripolia Gate at the entrance to the Palace Museum
Some of the towers and balconies on the city side of the City Palace taken from the courtyard near the entrance
Like so many other palaces and forts in India, Udaipur's City Palace is a conglomeration of buildings (Mahals) added by various maharajas throughout the centuries. Even though the architecture styles of each contribution remained relatively consistent, the internal decorations varied greatly from one part to the next, which was good because it's a big palace and it would have been a tad boring if it was all the same. I ended up going just at the right time because a couple of huge tour groups had just entered the palace and because I was taking my time, I was soon walking around almost by myself. I won't bore you with any more history lessons so instead here are some of the photos I took.
Angel on wall in small terrace
A couple sitting near the window across one of the small courtyards
The intricate tile work with inlaid gems on one of the balcony windows at the Chini Mahal
Doorway leading out to courtyard from one of the Palace rooms
A peaceful courtyard garden at the Bari Mahal
A girl (looking at me suspiciously) standing at the edge of the Bari Mahal garden
The intricate archways on one of the small towers
My reflection in one of the mirrors at the Moti Mahal
The large pavilion at the center of one of the courtyards
Just as I was leaving the City Palace near the palace's gate, I walked past a small tailor shop where I saw an old man who looked hard at work sitting next to an ancient looking foot-powered sewing machine. It looked almost like it was staged for tourists but he was doing actual tailoring work so it was hard to tell. He nodded with an unsurprised look on his face when I asked if I could take his photo which probably meant he was quite used to it.
Man inside tailors, near exit to the City Palace in Udaipur - turned out to be my favorite photo of the day
On another walk that I took to the other side of Lake Pichola, I got some photos of the City Palace as it sits on the east bank of the lake.
The City Palace and Museum from the west side of Lake Pichola
Some dogs and a cow dozing in the blistering heat during my walk on the west side of Lake Pichola
After each of my walks, I always stopped by at Cafe Namaste which sold various yummy bakery treats and very decent coffee.
Assorted bakery goodies and excellent coffee from Cafe Namaste, I may have got a bit carried away
While sitting in Cafe Namaste I always got plenty of entertainment from the mini traffic jams which developed right in front of the cafe. The streets in the center of Udaipur are so narrow that maybe two cars can fit on the same bit of road but only if they are both small and they squeeze right up to the shop entrances. Despite of this, people would barge in trying to find gaps even though it was clear it was going to end in a stalemate. They would all then sit there motionless tooting their horns at each other for a couple of minutes until someone finally relented and backed out of the way.
Murual discouraging crime painted on wall next to temple across the road from my hotel - Forget real CCTV cameras, God is watching.
The steps leading to Jagdish Temple in the center of Udaipur
On my last day, I took a longer walk around the shores to the south east side of Lake Pichola. From there I could get a better view of Udaipur's most famous locations, the Lake Palace and Jagmandir Palace each one located on separate nearby islands. The Lake Palace was one of the shoot locations for the James Bond film, Octopussy and to this day this is still being exploited by the countless rooftop restaurants dotted around Udaipur which advertise nightly screenings of the movie. The Lake Palace has been converted into a luxury hotel and Jagmandir Palace has become a museum which can only be visited if the lake level is not too low.
Jagmandir Palace on Jagmandir Island in Udaipur
Jagmandir Palace background framed by a huge oak tree growing near the lake shore
And so my brief stop in Rajasthan ended. I think I ended up skipping some of the best parts in the province because of the little time I had left in India, but these were the desert regions and I've got plenty of other deserts to visit throughout the rest of my trip so I wasn't too disappointed.
From this point on, I would be heading much further south so that should be the end of the "cold" part of my trip, which is quite a relief because I've been craving some decent hot weather which I would have experienced had I not left New Zealand at the very beginning of the summer.
Over and out.