Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Another Goodbye (I Hate Them Still).

This morning we left Jaipur for Delhi, which was disappointing (even after our cookery lesson on the Friday evening) as I would have loved to have stayed longer, but I'm so aware that I can go back now at any time, with a head full of knowledge (i.e. how to hail a Tuck-Tuck driver at an interchange..) and that comforts me. On Monday I am flying home after a few days of credit card failures and overcharging in Delhi on the Sunday, and am happy to return back to my wee village.

But this trip to India will stay with me, this I know (oops, sounds like I'm going into a cheesy pop ballad) and with the hospitality of the people of Sainji, and the great nature of my tour group, I know that I will go back one day. Plus, I have everything south of Rajasthan to feast my eyes on, and God only knows how keen I am to see that. India - thank you for having me.

I wish I could do you justice but I can't write well enough and my vocabulary is just too small to find the words to describe you with the life and excitement that you exude. Now for my next (trick) adventure; on the 19th March I fly to Denmark and then onto Germany, so do keep an eye out for my European, slightly more homebased, adventures!

One last goodbye to India.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Onto Midnight's Children/Home and the World.

Our final stop, and one that I wish I could have stayed in so much longer, was Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan and we arrived on Friday. I'd seen the vibrancy of India and had experienced that culture shock, but Jaipur has been both all over again. The colours, the smells, the spices piled high, the chai, the rooftop terrace of our Guesthouse...the list is endless. (If you're ever in Jaipur then please do consider this family run guesthouse. Its charm is overwhelming!) I have fallen head over in heels, unrequited-ly, like a teenage crush, in love with Jaipur.

Tonight was our last evening in Jaipur and I found myself sitting on the rooftop, surrounded by wicker sofas and Parisian chairs, feeling happier than I had done in a very long time. The world of this crazy capital moved below me, and while I should have maybe felt scared or overwhelmed by the sheer everything-all-at-once of Northern India, I didn't.

I was excited, but I was also content. It was a beautiful sight. Jaipur is a city of immense history and culture, with its pink (well, red) walls that lined the Old City, the Amber Fort, the Royal Family in residence and the camels, Elephants and cows in the middle of the road. The beeping of horns that tripled that of Delhi and more shouting shopkeepers than you could imagine; everything screamed 'This is not England. This is not your Comfort Zone. This is not where you could be.' and yet there I was, haggling with Tuck-tuck drivers, buying drinks from a Chai seller with three teeth, and ignoring the dead dogs, like nobody's business.

One of the views from the rooftop.
In Jaipur, I finally got to see the real colour that you always associate with India. It was fantastic.

Yesterday, Thursday eve, we graced the local tourist attraction - Raj Mandir. Lonely Planet describes it as being like a pink marshmallow, both inside and out, and I couldn't have put it better myself. Like Molly Ringwald's dress from 'Sixteen Candles' it could only have belonged in the 80s, as this pink, sticky cinema could fit 1100 movie-goers, and attracted tourist groups from all over the Golden Triangle.

Point proven.

Elephant!!!! (V exciting)
Akin to the Taj Mahal reminder in every home correspondence, Dad's only question throughout my time in India (well, not only) was regarding Elephants, and I can report that my first month or so in India was significantly Elephant-less. But arriving at the Amber Fort, Jaipur's main tourist calling, there were more Elephants than I could have imagined.

Dressed up to the nines (I felt so casual next to these beautifully dressed animals) they carried tourists from the bottom of the fort up. The fort itself was designed to stand the test of time, and gosh how it has. My favourite was the mirror room, where the walls and ceiling were covered with tiny mirror fragments, so that when a candle was lit in one corner of the room would reflect on every piece of glass, providing light for the whole room. Genius!

Amber Fort.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Taj (and Agra's Other Treasures I Guess).

With every text I have got from my parents or every email I have received from home, I have been constantly reminded that the climax of my trip was looming on Tuesday: I was going to the Taj Mahal. Now, to say I was a fangirl of the Taj Mahal would be an understatement of the greatest proportions - I was near aching to see my first Wonder of the World, to the point of delusion when we arrived at our hotel in Agra.

Ah, you caught me, I am being insanely hyperbolic, but finally seeing the Taj Mahal in person really was one of the highlights of me trip - how could it not be? I would love to be able to play the cynic and say that it was just a big white building, nothing special, but alas, here I will start my gushing.

I was blown away this morning. It was even worth the 5.45am wake up call. With our guide, we were able to learn all about the history of the Taj too (about a 1/3 of which I can remember, oops!) and it really was beautiful, situated on the edge of the Yamuna, which Flo and I had seen flowing not too far from its source only a week earlier back in the Garwahli area. I am also now a huge fan of marble middle-aged does that make me sound?

My only complaint, criticism, would be about Agra the place itself. A tourist trap, a real 'nothing' place - just hotels, restaurants, and coach loads of tourist. I suppose it's inevitable that when such a wonder is built, it will be turned into a tourist attraction with all the tourist amenities, but as a place it was disappointing.

Excuse the morning fog, this is what you get for getting up before sunrise..

One happy, cheesy, tourist.

However, with its history, Agra does have two more tourist delights to offer; Agra Fort and the 'Baby Taj' (Etimad-ud-Daula's Tomb which is a Muslim mausoleum). Agra Fort is based on Red Fort, or maybe it's the other way around, so having been to both I was able to draw my comparisons; both made from Rajasthani Red Stone, both impressive in both size and structure etc but I was very impressed, and not just by the double moat - one section of which would have held alligators, and the other which would have held tigers, just to stop intruders.

After a whip around these two attractions, we, this afternoon, galavanted across a border or two and found ourselves in Bharatpur - the home of the Keoladeo National Park, and truth be told, not much else, before continuing onto Jaipur and further into Rajasthan tomorrow.

Agra Fort.

Tourist feat. Baby Taj where my shoes were 'stolen' by a familiar looking Tour Guide...

Monday, 11 February 2013

Adventures in a Megacity - Sam Miller

And so, after 5 weeks in Sainji, and after an emotional whole-school goodbye from the gems at GEMs, we found ourselves parting ways on Thursday and Friday, and saying goodbye in Delhi, where I then began my tour of Northern India with G Adventures to see the 'Golden Triangle' - Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. I'm glad that I decided to use a tour company instead of travelling by myself, as my tour book was running out of ideas and I have been running out of patience at being harassed for being a lone, female traveller.

The group met on Sunday evening after I spent the weekend taking myself off to the Red Fort (a must see in Delhi!), Lodi Gardens (which Flo before she left for Thailand) and the Crafts Museum. Did I mention that I, a former Waterstones bookseller, also managed to stumble into the New Delhi World Book Fair? On Sunday I became very, very lost when leaving the Crafts Museum and found myself quite literally in the exhibition hall. I thought I'd gone to heaven what with the cheap books, well, everywhere..

The tour has now begun and has not only took me to places that wouldn't have crossed my radar when planning my trip, but also provided a wonderful group of like-minded people to travel with, a great tour guide, and local guides whose knowledge even my Lonely Planet guide couldn't have matched.

Lodi Gardens - complete with crumbling ruins and birds.

A cheeky tourist snap from Flo's film camera.
Red Fort!

This morning we started bright and early in Delhi and I found myself in the older part of the city, with jammed streets, overhead wires, and chai stalls galore as we visited a Sikh temple, where I tried my hand at making chapatti in their charitable kitchen, and Jama Masjid - the biggest mosque in Asia (I think, do correct me if I'm wrong) which can fit 25,000 people in it. Needless to say, the view from the top of the Minaret over the misty streets of Old Delhi was worth the claustrophic climb.

The architecture of Delhi, even though I felt as if I'd barely scratched the surface of this Megacity (as Sam Miller describes it), is one of a kind, as Jama Masjid showed me. The sheer size of the Mosque was amazing in itself, but when combined with the marble inlay detail, the floral intricacies and the sheer minute construction of its beauty, made this a very special experience. While seeing the Sikh temple in action, and being able to take part in their cooking, was too a very moving experience, the Mosque was really quite overwhelming for me.

Making chapatti in the Sikh temple!

Jama Masjid.

We're now in Agra after a few hours on our bus, and are due to be seeing the Taj tomorrow! Eek!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

I Think I Wanna Marry You, in Garwahli Fashion.

Did you know that January is an auspicious month in the Hindu calender? Well, had you been awoken by the 'Wedding drum' at 5am for 1/3 of your mornings in Sainji, I think you (like Flo and I) would have learnt this very, very swiftly. We have spent 5 weeks in Sainji and are due to leave in the next few days, but we have attended 6 weddings - 3x as many Hindu weddings than Western weddings that I have attended in my lifetime! We soon learnt how one goes about Garwahli style weddings - apparently weddings vary from state to state, as I noticed when I may have accidentally walked into a wedding in Agra... - dance lots, eat quickly and well, and dance some more.

The dancing style (the link goes to a youtube video of the dancing!) was tricky for both of us to master, but after a few dance lessons at the school in preparation for Savitri's wedding, we both got the hang of it. Sort of. Not really at all. The colours, the sheer vats of food, the families, the was all so beautiful and wonderful to be a part of.

Two teachers at the school, Shayum and Savitri were seperately getting married, and knowing either the Groom or the Bride made the experience all the more special and memorable. Savitri made a beautiful bride, dressed in a chiffon red Sari embellished in the most gorgeous sequins and sparkles, and her Henna party the night before gave us a chance to try out our amateur Henna skills on the villagers! We may have felt like Wedding Crashers but we were welcomed at every step of the way at all the weddings we attended and I loved it. While the culture surrounded romance and love was different to ours, in played no part in appreciating the festivities and it was wonderful to watch a life long commitment being formed.

Wedding tent for wedding #1.
Wedding #1.
Dancing at Wedding #3.

Getting in the spirit.
Us and Kunwar's Mother (spot the odd one out i.e. me without a Gargara!)

Shayum's wedding.
Kunwar and Lori with Shayum on his wedding day!