A Travellerspoint blog

Mumbai


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We arrived at Bandra Station at lunchtime, aching and irritable from a poor nights sleep, knowing we still had about an hours tuk tuk ride through Mumbai to get to our hostel. We fought our way through the usual scrum of tuk tuk drivers and eventually managed to settle on a reasonable price and set off through the calmer streets of Mumbai. The tuk tuk driver dropped us off outside our hostel and we were immediately greeted by a 'movie scout' who promised us a days work as extras in a Bollywood movie! Stardom beckoned for all of five minutes until the hotel manager told us the guy was dodgy and we would be wise to stay clear of him. Our Bollywood dreams in tatters we headed off to see the Gateway to India, via a quaint little art deco bar called Cafe Universal that just happened to be next to our hostel. Although very similar in appearance to the India Gate in Delhi, the Gateway to India is not a war memorial. It was built to commemorate the arrival of King George V in 1911 and has seen many governors, viceroys and heads of state pass through it on their arrival to India. Unfortunately we were not considered important enough to walk through it and had to join the hundreds of other tourists simply walking around it. Afterwards we wandered around the streets of Cordaba and stumbled apon the infamous Leapolds. Although there was quite a queue we couldn't not have a drink there. We managed to squeeze into a table and enjoyed a beer whilst taking in the place. I always imagined it to be a seedy looking speakeasy kind of place and was surprised that it actually seemed to have more of a TFI Fridays feel to it!

Day two saw us sample some new Indian breakfasts - upmas and the sweeter sheera. Delicious! With our bellies full we returned to the Gateway To India, but this time we boarded the ferry for the one hour ride to Elephanta Island, another UNESCO World Heritage site. The boat ride itself is rather impressive, with views of the mumbai skyline, docks and naval yard. Arriving at the picturesque Elephanta island we opted to walk the 100metres instead of pay 100RS for the train and were glad when we almost beat it anyway! We were a little dismayed to be greeted by yet more steps up to the caves, but this time were distracted during the climb by the many stalls selling tourist tat.There are five caves in total that you can visit, all have rock cut sculptures, made during the 5th and 6th century's, dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Without doubt the most striking cave was the first. Measuring an impressive 40 meters from front to back, supported by several stone columns. The masterpiece is the dominating 7metre tall Sadashiva, representing the three aspects of Shiva; the creator, the preserver, the destroyer. The other caves were progressively less impressive so we took a climb up to the gun mounts at the top of the hill for some more impressive views of Mumbai.We finished off the day with yet another blinding curry at a local cafe.

On the third day we tried our luck on the Mumbai metro where I casually jumped onto the women only carriage! Our destination was the Dhobi Ghat. This place holds the world record for most people (496) hand-washing clothes at a single location. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when we got off the train and walked over the overpass. My jaw dropped when all i could see was row after row of washing lines full of clothes. We took a tour of the place and where guided through the maze of hanging clothes and washing 'blocks'. 7000 people work there using 800 blocks to do the washing. A family working there will earn 2000rs per month gross (200GBP). Most of the clothes in mumbai will go through this place, every item is marked so it doesn't get lost and they achieve an impressive 24hr turnaround. It seemed like back breaking work and yet everyone i saw had a beaming smile, inspiring. We spent the afternoon strolling along the famous Marine Drive, a nice walk but the Mumbai skyline from here left me a little wanting.

Our forth and final day saw us partake in a little retail therapy. We headed to the Phoenix mall that initially seamed very small, that was until we realized the mall we were in was a smaller mall of a massive five mall complex. We took a stroll into M&S, and feeling quite odd quickly shot off to find some other shops whilst enjoying the air conditioning. I found it very odd to be in quite opulent surroundings when just outside we had seen homeless communities living under tarpaulin tents. Our shopping requirements fulfilled we set off back to hostel on route to the train station.

Mumbai is certainly a city of contrasts.We packed a lot in whilst we were there and i loved every minute of it.

James

Posted by gonetravelling 20:28 Archived in India Tagged mumbia Comments (0)

Udaipur

sunny
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Manjeet drove us straight to Fateh Sagar lake and we stopped for a lunch of Pav Bhajis (surprisingly, a lentil and mashed vegetable curry with sweet, buttered bread fingers). He announced that he would be leaving at the end of the day, unless we wanted to pay for a guesthouse for him - we think he was hoping to join his friend for the wedding. After looking around the Moti Magri which seemed to be a memorial to Chetak one of Maharana Pratap's finest horses, we asked if he could drive us to a post office so we could post home our souvenirs (mainly cooking related). He found us a packing shop where the boxed items were then sewn together, and finally shipped off. We said our goodbyes to Manjeet at the Pichola Haveli hotel, located right by Pichola Lake and Bagore Ki Haveli it meant that we were central and able to easily reach the main sites.

That evening we went to a traditional music and dance show at Bagore Ki Haveli, a courtyard setting, beautifully lit in the sculpted archways. Despite being busy we managed to find a quiet corner to watch from. The narrated performance was full of colour and humor, accompanied by deep, resonating drums. Veiled dancers, puppeteers and the finale, an incredible feat by a lady who ended up carrying 10 clay pots on her head to much applause - great theatre that we thoroughly enjoyed.

The following day we dedicated to organising ourselves, drinking lassies, masala tea, and snacking on masala papads from a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Jagdish Temple, the largest in the city that rises in tiers of figures including alligators, elephants, horsemen and musicians and is at the junction of a busy crossroads that is great for people watching. We instantly liked Udaipur for its natural charm, cradled in the Aravallis hills there are spectacular views from the many rooftop restaurants, narrow and colourful winding streets bustling with motorbikes, shoppers, cows and the delicious drifting smells from food stalls.

So Udaipur is a good place to get side tracked (actually lost), and with the best intentions of going to the City Palace we ended up browsing through the tourist shops via another rooftop terrace and lunch. By the time we found the palace we discovered entry was twice the price in the afternoons, so instead decided to track down the spice market and ended up getting side tracked (lost) again. Another rooftop bar and a few more beers later, we somehow missed the market but conveniently found we had done a full circle back to the hotel. We tracked down a restaurant that had a showing of Octopussy, famously filmed around Pichola Lake, and sat watching it with the restaurant owners little niece Lakshmi who kept us entertained.

The next day we were woken up by the usual dogs barking and locals hawking and spitting echoing through the hotel. We went straight to the City Palace, walking through the elaborate rooms leading to courtyards leading to more elaborate rooms, all beautiful if a little disjointed and unremarkable against other palaces we have seen in Rajasthan. We walked down to the boathouse and jumped into the front seats of the boat, regretting it a little as we battled showers of waves on the choppy water. They took us past the Jag Niwas Lake Palace that we had seen in Octopussy the night before, and then stopped on the floating island, Jag Niandir where we dried out and decided we really need to start playing the lottery again - a beautiful hotel set in beautiful gardens, where we particularly liked the fairly lights in the trees.

Jane

Posted by gonetravelling 04:18 Archived in India Tagged udaipur Comments (0)

Ranakpur


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Our original plan was to head to Mount Abu for some trekking, but we were convinced otherwise by Manjeet who told us it would be very cold, and he knew a much better place. Having spent most of our time in Rajasthan focused on forts and palaces it was a welcome change to be venturing into the Indian countryside, much prettier than Ranthambore with miles of tree-lined roads, scattered stone walls and scrub nestled along the western side of the Aravalli hill range. The little guesthouse was very simple, cosy and quite literally in the middle of nowhere - no local shops or restaurants and no internet access. Manjeet drove us to a spot he knew and loved a few miles up the road, a beautiful lake extending around tree covered mountains, with flocks of birds skimming along the water. We must have sat for an hour just taking in the peaceful surroundings. Manjeet gestured for us to come quickly - as we approached the side of the rocks we could see a crocodile plunging into the water and stealthily swimming away - we had disturbed his last few rays of the evening sun.

We decided to find a high point over the lake to watch the sunset, picked the highest mountain we could find and clambered up the steep slopes to the top for a view of the golden glowing sky reflected in the lake. We returned to the guesthouse for an amazing home cooked Kaju curry, a couple of beers and rounds of Yatzee!

The next day we signed ourselves up for a trek to the Parshuram Mahadev Temple, housed within a cave, it is known for the naturally formed figures of Ganesh and Shiva and is a pilgramage site for many. A little unsure of the details of the trek we asked Manjeet to help us translate as our guide spoke no English - a 4 hour round trip sounded good and we set off through the Indian bush at a substantial pace, with our guide dressed in a traditional dhori, flicking his stick at anything in the path.

After a couple of hours hiking through the bush we joined a winding path that wrapped its way around the mountain. On the uphill climb we realised just how unfit we are and in the relentless heat, running out of water we spotted a marker showing we still had 2km to go. Realising our leisurely 4-hour hike had been lost in translation we were quite glad our guide didn't speak English! Once we reached the top of the hill and climbed the many steps to the cave temple we queued to gain entrance to the small, damp cave. Once in, we had the naturally formed cows head and cows nipples enthusiastically pointed out to us, and we were assured the temple was at least 800 years old. We stepped around a yellowing old man who appeared to have been there since the temple was created, to reach the exit, not fully appreciating and understanding the sanctity of the cave. We then started our 5-hour retreat back to the guesthouse. Later we found the temple is 3995 feet above sea level - and we felt everyone of those feet!

At breakfast the next morning we were aching but cheered up by the flocks of parakeets that were nervously swooping for the grain laid out for them, each time a brave few would be followed by the flock. You could hear the murmur of their wings first, and then the happy tapping of their beaks.

Jane

Posted by gonetravelling 04:14 Archived in India Tagged ranakpur Comments (0)

Jaisalmer


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After feeling like we had been on a whirlwind tour we both felt the need to kick back for a couple of days and Jaisalmer seemed a good a place as any to relax a bit. The Golden City is dominated by a huge fort that i couldn't help thinking looked like a giant sand castle. After a long drive all we wanted to do was get a good nights sleep. Unfortunately our first night was spent right next to a wedding celebration. The music, which consisted of the first ten seconds of some banging techno track followed by ten seconds of a different techno track etc played on well into the early hours. The sounds systems they use are out of this world. It felt like i was standing with my ear up against the main speakers at the pyramid stage at Glastonbury. Suffice to say neither of us got a good nights sleep.

We woke wearily and were glad when the hotel offered to move us to a different room. We spent the morning getting lost in the bazaars in and around the fort. After lunch we found a quiet little rooftop cafe with a magnificent view across the desert and settled in for the afternoon. This rapidly turned into evening and we watched the sun set whilst enjoying fantastic stuffed tomato curry.

The next day saw more haggling practice with the stall owners in bazaars and chai teas drunk in rooftop cafes. We did come away with some cooking implements that Jane was particularly happy about and i am sure will be well used when we get back home. Feeling the need to do the tourist thing we set about trying to find the Patwon Ki Haveli. This was an unbelievably ornate structure consisting of six houses. Five of which were privately owned and charged a hefty fee to enter. Luckily the sixth was government owned and run and therefore much easier on the wallet, so we ventured inside finding the level of detail as intricate as the exterior.

After an afternoon stroll around Jaisalmer lake we set off with Manjeet to Badu Bagh with the intention of watching the sunset there. This was the burial site for the Maharajas of Jaisalmer state. I found the numerous cenotaphs a majestic and rather peaceful place out in the desert. Jane wasn't so comfortable wandering around what is essentially a graveyard so we set off to find an alternative site to watch the desert sun go down. Whilst the sunset proved a bit disappointing in the grand scheme of things I still thought it was a magical way to end our time in the Rajasthani desert.

James

Posted by gonetravelling 03:26 Archived in India Tagged jaisalmer Comments (0)

Bikaner


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We set off early from Pushkar for the long drive to Bikaner to visit the Karni Mata Temple (temple of the sacred rat). What we didn't know was that Manjeet had arranged a little surprise for us both. At about midday we started driving around some back streets of a small desert town. After crossing the same cross roads for the third time I think Manjeet saw we were a little anxious and so explained that we were here to meet some friends of his from his home town. One of his friends duly popped out of a side alley and directed us towards a large building where we were greeted by some inquisitive eyes and beaming smiles. It turns out that several of his friends form his home town of Kangra, in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, came to the town about 8 years ago to set up a secondary school that has been going strong ever since. We sat in the principles office for lunch and chatted with the other members of staff about the school and their home town as well as our travels in India and beyond.

After lunch we got to meet all the students one class at a time. An amazing experience, walking into each class to be met with stares and giggles, the students would quickly open up and ask questions about our lives. This was often followed with the entire class thrusting there schoolbooks at us and asking for our autographs and facebook details. The school bell rang at 4 and that's when it got crazy. I have never signed so many autographs, shaken so many hands and seen so many smiling faces in my life. Even the parents were getting involved! Eventually the students left and we finished our time at the school enjoying some chai tea and chatting about family life and marriage with the teachers. It was a brilliant surprise, certainly not on your average tourist route and an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.

We left the school after 7 and still had time to make it to the Karni Mata Temple. Although it seemed to pail into insignificance compared to the school. We hunted high and low in the hope of seeing the auspicious white rat but unfortunately it wasn't to be. We finally got to a rather impressive hotel late into the night and had to spend a good couple of hours washing rat poo off our feet!

James

Posted by gonetravelling 03:21 Archived in India Tagged bikaner Comments (0)

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