1. Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and Mumbai

Trip Start Jan 26, 2007
Trip End May 31, 2008

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

What a shock to the system. Just a few hours away from Dublin and you feel like you are in a completely different world. First destination was Delhi. We had organised a tour for the first few weeks to get around the major sights of India before we set off on our own as we thought we would see a bit more of the country this way. Walking into the arrivals hall was something else. First of all you are met by the heat and humidity, then by a swarm of people with placards with names on them. It took us a minute or two to find our guides but they were very friendly and brought us straight to their car. Nothing can prepare you for Delhi. I was amazed to see cows walking freely on the roads, people washing themselves in the street (as well as their clothes) from a bucket on the footpath, people selling fruit and veg from carts with (what was to become obvious) no street complete without the gang of men chatting and drinking tea or having their hair cut at the roadside barber.

After sitting in about two hours of traffic passing by elephants and cows on the motorway with monkeys everywhere you turn, we arrived at our hotel. The area around it was surrounded by what looked like a shanty town with all small little shops selling everything under the sun. They were just small buildings with metal sheets for roofs. Seemed to be a very strange place to put a hotel until we ventured out and took the train into the city centre. When you are up high traveling through the city you get to see almost everything. The whole way into the city on either side of the train you see the shanty streets, we thought it was just our area that the hotel was in but the it was the same the whole way into the city. We didn't expect to see that. The centre of the city is Connaught Square, a big circular area surrounded by large white limestone buildings. It was a bit run down but there were loads of street stalls selling all sorts of stuff from food, to clothing. It was an eye opener to the rest of the Country.

The tour started the next day. We started off with 14 people in the group, Paul & Phil from Brighton, Graham and Chobber from London, Gary and Pamela from Manchester, a couple from South Africa, Cathy from London, Ian from Brighton, Jean and Ken an American couple and myself and Ray. We took a bus tour around some major sights in Delhi - forts etc and headed for Old Delhi where we took a rickshaw ride through the old narrow streets.

We had our welcome meal that night and I quickly learned that Aloo was potato and it comes with every type of vegetable and curry. I still haven't gotten sick of eating Indian food, I tried to have a curry free day but just couldn't resist having it, I reckon they must be addictive. As we have travelled down the country the food has definitely improved and also gotten hotter in temperature. In the northern cities our food was served luke warm and would get cold very quickly. We have also been eating lots of naan bread (much better than at home) and roti a healthy alternative.

Next city we travelled to was Agra where we went to visit the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emperor in memory of his dead wife who died giving birth to something like their 19th child. He was apparently feeling guilty for playing away from home! It is the most visited site in India and we went to see it at sunrise. It's impossible to describe the building. Have a look at the photos, it looks like we are in front of a backdrop! Of course we had to get our photo taken on Princess Diana's seat! It really is an amazing place and well worth the trip to India just to see this alone.

You forget how big this country is. We travelled by bus on journey's taking at least six hours each day. It almost felt like a bit of a work road trip visiting different cities and stopping off . The tour is not called "On The Go" for nothing! Most mornings we had to leave by 8.30am and we even had some 5am wake up calls!

We visited Jaipur the pink city and took a stroll through a local village where we were mobbed by the local kids. I wondered was it all set up. It just seem unreal that people actually lived in mud huts - more livestock wondering around the village lanes here. We also went on our elephant ride here up to the Jaipur fort. This was really good fun. The elephants were very well looked after with the nodding, smiling owner gently walking the animal up and down the road to the fort.

We visited two small towns called Alsisar and Bikaner visiting more forts and havelli's (houses with old paintings on the walls). We were brought into many local handy craft stores, supported by the government, to keep these dying crafts alive. We saw carpets from Kasmir, marble, sliver, material block work, miniature paintings to name but a few. They certainly gave us the hard sale at most of these workshops. I was really tempted to buy an Armani bedspread, at least he told me that he was making the bedspreads for Armani. But I resisted at 250 Euro it really wasn't in the budget! We also visited Ranakpur which was not on the tour list but the guide recommended we take a look. It was an amazing temple built out of marble with intricate carvings etched into hundreds of columns and on the facade of the building. The level of detail was amazing. It is nominated as one of the wonders of the world. It should be up there. The hotels had definitely improved from Delhi - we mostly stayed in Heritage hotels which didn't really appeal to me at first but it was actually ok with the few exceptions. We stayed in old palaces converted into hotels- huge rooms and beautiful views. Ranakpur was definitely the best hotel - a newly built palace hotel which was a reconstruction of one of the local palaces which was knocked down. This was basically the first place that we got to relax a little by the pool.

Another day and another six hour coach journey and we arrived in Jaisalmer - home to the Camel. I really found it hard to believe my eyes as locals rode their camels down the road and used them to transport goods around. It was completely surreal. We had our camel ride here through the sand dunes. They put me first in the line thank god as it's true what they say about camels having flatulent problems! Ray was impressed and said that he has to get one of them for home! We watched the sun set here before heading back.

Next we landed in Jodhpur (home to Jodhpur horse riding pants!). Great view from the fort of the blue city, a beautiful landscape where every building has been painted blue. It makes for a very impressive vista high up at the fort. With all of the travelling we were doing one thing really stood out, the country is vast, but at the same time there are so many people living here that you would not go very far without seeing another person. There is this one tribe that we passed by on the road. There were old and young men, women and children all dressed in white, walking in a single row to the next town. Our guide mentioned that these were from a religious tribe that vowed poverty and just walked from place to place relying on the kindness of others for shelter and food.

Next city (and only a mere three hour drive away) was Udaipur and definitely our favourite city. Udaipur is a beautiful place. It is built on several lakes (I'm sure I was told at some stage how many) and is dubbed the Venice of the east. There are all of these little streets with bridges over the lakes with great restaurants and very friendly people. We could have spent a lot more time here. We took in a tour of the local palace and then a boat ride out to the pleasure island of the king - which is now used for wedding receptions.

Next stop was Mumbai where we were going to take a flight from Udaipur airport. We never saw anything like it, it was complete and utter organised chaos in the arrivals hall. There were people everywhere, in a room only about 30m by 15m all trying to get their bags scanned and then to check in for the flight. The tour guides were throwing their customer's bags at the check in desk while shouting the names of each passenger. Everyone was jumping queues, shouting, waving hands and tickets around place. So, suffice to say, we were not expecting our bags to arrive at the other end in Mumbai, but, they did! India is amazing, so many people, in what seems like utter chaos, but it all just seems to work.

Mumbai was totally different to every other place we have been to in this country. It is the most westernised city we had visited so far. It has a lot of British architecture from the 1800's when the East India Company ploughed money into the city. Although, there is still a lot of poverty in the city. The slums are quite extensive but it is not as bad as Delhi. We stayed at an area around India Gate - no cows walking down the streets and there were even internet cafes, coffee shops, western music and (most importantly) shopping centres! They don't have supermarkets in North India, families buy what they need for two days at a time. Still there are plenty of Hawkers here too trying to sell you stuff. There are loads of cinemas here though. Seemingly it is a national pastime to head to the cinema during the day. We were told that because there is so much poverty in the country, they keep the price of the cinema tickets very low. We explored most of the tourist district of Coloba and got on a ferry ride to Elephanta island a UNESCO world heritage site. The place was carved straight out of the granite rock on the island over 1500 years ago, but no-one knows when or by whom exactly.

We nearly ended up as extras on the set of a Bollywood movie which was being filmed nearby, they needed to have some foreigners in the background. It would have been great but we would have had to be on the set from 9am to 11pm to learn the dance moves! Our flight was leaving Mumbai at 11.30pm so we had to pass on that one, damn it. We headed off to Goa next for some peace and quiet....hopefully.
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