Friday, 5 January 2018

India Day 13 - Delhi and home to Brisbane

This morning set the alarm for 7.30 as after breakfast we want to head to the Red Fort before returning to check out at midday. Lovely pancakes for me (after healthy fruit salad) and waffles for Isabel. Beautiful hot shower again this morning, soooo good after the last fortnight; it's the little things.
We grabbed a taxi from out front after a quick photo opportunity with the Sihk doorman for Isabel and headed straight to the Fort. Once we found the right gate, inside and exploring. Great place with an eclectic collection of buildings from the Mughal to the British and is an important site in relation to the first indian uprising in the 1850's. Like so many sites and monuments it is in a sorry state of disrepair or patched up. The opportunity in India for fantastic sites is so evident without resorting to Disney and there is certainly no lack of manpower available. Spent a couple of hours here before grabbing our last tuktuk ride back to The Claridges hotel to check out and then relax in the lobby with a coffee and a gorgeous chocolate truffle cake, yummy O:-).
We had booked an airport transfer through the travel agent before leaving and this was worth it. Nice taxi, guide through to customs, a very good indulgent experience. Once through it was some lunch, still vego, before relaxing on the reclining chairs awaiting our departure on Jet Airways to Abu Dhabi at 5.55pm. Hopefully no delays as it has been very foggy / smoggy today and we only have 70 minutes between landing and next flight to Brisbane in Abu Dhabi, fingers crossed.
Ok so it's now 7pm and we are just starting to taxi from gate 11B, 65 minutes late. Not looking good for the connection in Abu Dhabi, we will just have to wait and see.
Oh dear not a good start to the flight, Isabel has started vomiting and I'm not feeling well myself, hoping it wasn't that pizza we had at the airport. Well Isabel has stopped and now I've started, not good. Got to Abu Dhabi and we've missed the connection. Etihad are good and we have vouchers for accommodation, transfers and food ( not that we need food). Finally get to the hotel around 11 and hit the sack for a very uncomfortable sleep.
Finally get up around 9 and grab a taxi to a pharmacy to grab some more Imodium and electrolyte as running low (not the only thing running) before returning to the room to sleep and eat till our 7pm transfer. Thank God always carry spare undies and socks in carry on.
Get to airport and all good, wish I could say the same about myself, Isabel much better and holding everything together. Almost called a stop to getting onto the flight but persevered and we are on our way. More sporadic sleep and with 10 hours gone and 4 hours left feeling a hell of a lot better. Can only guess food poisoning as we find out later at least another 6 from our group suffered the same fate in a similar time frame.
Landed and Jane was there to pick us up. Finally home and the end of a fantastic adventure, made all the more memorable by being able to share with my beautiful daughter Isabel, thank you.

India Day 12 - Dehli

This morning a gentle start to the day and finally some hot water from the shower. Upstairs to join Graeme, Jim and Kristin at 10am for breakfast.
It was then off on a 30 minute taxi and tuktuk  ride to the National Railway Museum with Seth joining us, while Isabel stayed behind for some market shopping and a relax.
This was a great, fun experience with a very interesting museum section outlining the history of Indian railways and a fantastic collection of steam, electric and diesel locomotives along with rolling stock. We even got to ride the Joy Express which was just a bit of fun, pity it wasn't Sunday as steam rides on then.
We all enjoyed this site and  we'll we'll worth a look if extra time in Delhi. It was then tuktuk's back to the HP where we had some lunch and a farewell kingfisher before heading our seperate ways; a great bunch of people to share this trip and it's  experiences with.
It was 2.30 by the time Isabel and I took a tuktuk to our new hotel, The Claridges about 30 minutes away in a total different part of New Delhi. And what a difference, airline security to get in for us and all our bags and then opulence; going to enjoy this. Exactly why I booked it to have a little indulgence in nice surrounds and quiet after the previous tow weeks before we headed home.
Had a marvelous HOT shower and changed before settling down for coffee, hot chocolate and opera cake. Bit of a walk around and Isabel booked a massage at 6pm which gave me some time to relax, upload some photos and blog, on fast internet.
We then went to the mediterranean style restaurant; Sevilla, where we had some excellent dinner and a glass of red. I had spaghetti Caccio E Pepe a pecorino and pepper pasta for main and a great entree of olive gnocchi with goats cheese mousse and olive dust, exquisite. Finished the meal with some shared raspberry sorbet and then back to the room at 10pm for a marvelous sleep in quiet, comfortable surrounds. Another great day.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

India Day 11 - Jaipur to Delhi

Up at 4.15am and of course the hot water was NOT on as requested. Very quick shower and off to the railway station at 5 in tuktuk's for a 6 am "express" to Dehli. Now the original 3 hour trip has turned out to really be a 5 hour journey and we'll see how accurate that is; I'm tipping more like 6-7 hours given previous experiences.
Started well and on time until 99km from gangoa where we just sat for over an hour, apparently due to fog. We were informed that Delhi airport is closed due to visibility so this may be the case.
Had some chai masala which was lovely and an omelette sandwich for breakfast, not bad. So we just sat and waited as the temperature rose in the carriage to unbearable. Finally some railway guys started playing with the aircon and eventually got some cool air flowing to everyones relief.
Eventually underway with a couple more stops before arriving into Dehli at 12.15. Tuktuk's to the Hotel Perfect where we booked in and then went off around the corner to Spicy by Nature for some lunch. Vego spring rolls for me and Bira, an India wheat beer, which wasn't bad. 2 hours gone and we returned to the HP before heading off in tuktuk's to Connaught Place to see some markets. Pretty ordinary actually, but Kristin was finally able to find an ATM that accepted her card, better late than never. No real markets to be found and stupid me got scammed by some lowlife who threw dog shit on my shoe and then got another guy to clean it off. Cost me 1000 rupee to get my shoe back, but if that's the worst that's happened, pretty good trip I say.
After a tourist "bazaar" shop we headed back to the HP and on the walk from tuktuk to HP grabbed a fantastic looking chocolate birthday cake for Priyanka who has birthday on Saturday after we all leave.
Little bit of a rest before heading out at 8pm to a restaurant around the corner for dinner. Had the most amazing vego platter, bit spicy but lovely food, all washed down with some kingfisher's. We even got to pop into the kitchen to see the tandoor oven in operation. Priyanka was stoked with the cake, and the restaurant played a really kitschy birthday song as the candles were lit and we all sang. All in all a great finish to the tour and finally got back to the HP after 11pm looking forward to a good sleep. A few leaving in the early hours of the morning, and others over the next couple of days, while 3 more are staying in India for a couple of weeks to explore further south.

India Day 10 - Jaipur

A 6.15 wakeup at Hotel Utsav Niwas this morning and a not very hot shower this morning as the hot water had not been turned on. A simple continental breakfast with cornflakes, toast and coffee before jumping into the tuktuk's for a 45 minute ride to the Amber fort on one of the hills just outside  of Jaipur.
We got there in good time with the early morning sun on the forts amber walls, which was quite a sight. We met our guide Mr Akram out the front and then walked up the hill to the entrance passing many of the elephants taking paying guests up and down the path. Though looking quite spectacular decked out in costume etc, one can't help but think of the miserable life they have and how this only contributes to their misery and continuing mistreatment.
We then had an excellent two and a half hours guided tour through this massive fort with excellent explanation by Mr Akram. At the completion we ambled back down to our tuktuk's, passing many hawkers on the way. I almost got a tablecloth after bargaining from 4000 down to 500 rupees all the way along the path, but once agreeing to the price he disappeared. Priyanka said this was because we were too close to the police by then. Oh well saved some money.
From here we headed back into Jaipur, stopping on the way to look at the Water Palace ( no longer accessible) before arriving at a tourist jewellery shop, not my thing. Then went to fabric store where given a demonstration of hand block fabric printing which was excellent. Up to seven colours printed, very skillful. It was then onto lunch, finally at a reasonable hour, 1pm. Funny place and the worst meal we've all had. I have cooked stuffed olives with cottage cheese and ended up being 12 olives , stuffed and coated and deep-fried with chips. Isabel and Liz had pasta with a tomato sauce which ended up being dry overcooked pasta with sweet and sour sauce from a bottle, horrible. The girls got their money back and not a good experience for anyone, Priyanka won't be taking people there again.
It was then on to look at the wind palace and a bit of market grazing before the observatory. Even though only about 15 minutes from the restaurant, it suddenly hit me for the first time in days. OMG find me a loo quick ;-). Public one just down the street up a laneway, and wasn't this an experience! Western style, about 1m square, floor covered in water and what else I don't want to know and worst of all, bowl full of excrement to within 10cm of the top of the bowl and the stench. It's only in these situations when you realise that when you really have to go, you have to go!!!! Think I used half a bottle of hand sanitizer on hands, arms and any uncovered skin, still traumatized.
Then onto the Muntar Juntar astronomy and astrology observatory where we met Mr Akram again who took us around with explanation till we were kicked out at closing time 5pm, excellent experience.
Tuktuk's back to the hotel, with me lying down in the back, for a relaxing shower followed by a kingfisher in the lobby with some  others before heading out for dinner at 8pm.
Tonight was a dinner and show at Diggers Hotel ? in a lovely garden with firepits. Met by a drummer on arrival and then a lovely meal with music and traditional dancing. Not real kitsch at all and very entertaining, finishing with a puppet show and the chance to buy  some handmade puppets.
Home to the hotel at 10.30 ready for our 4.15 wakeup for the 6am train to Dehli, love Jaipur even with the toilet experience.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

India Day 9 Tordi - Jaipur

Up at 8am for breakfast and everyone a little slow this morning. Not alcohol related, just feeling tired after another long day of  travel. The rooms are great and nicely renovated and it's a little like a small summer residence which I believe it was. After breakfast it was downstairs to get into a couple of indian copies of the willies jeep to do a tour of the area. First we went to an ancient step well that was designed so as the water level fell you could use the steps down to access the water. From here to the large dam for the area where we drove on the dam wall and stopped at the sluice gate for a look and a very civilized morning tea of coffee, tea and orange cream biscuits. They had even incorporated a grinding wheel for flour into the sluice. After a dry monsoon season the dam was empty so people were using the land that would normally be covered by water to grow crops. A massive bee hive under one of the stone walls got us on the way quickly to our next stop, some sand dunes, which we climbed  for a view of the surrounding desert area.
We then proceeded back to Tordi village and walked the streets, getting a pottery throwing display and lesson. Some of the group even had a go, some more successful than others. It was then back to the hotel where a couple of local girls did henna patterns on the hands and forearms of some of our group including Isabel.
By then it was 1.30 pm so onto the bus and off to Jaipur. This was approximately 3 hours along the same route, arriving at the hotel Utsav Niwas just before 4.30pm. A lovely heritage building, we had a room on the second floor and possibly the largest bathroom encountered. Hopefully this will mean a slightly drier floor after a shower as all bar one so far have no screen or shower curtain and the bathmat and floor end up saturated. Every one is supplied with bucket and jug for a traditional Indian bath.
After a lighter late lunch it was off on a walk through the markets so that we arrived at the cinema just after 6pm for the showing of the latest Tiger, Bollywood movie. An action packed new release with two of India's biggest stars reminiscent of a combined Willis and Schwarzenegger film. Such an amazing cultural experience; much like in the streets with people moving, answering phones, babies screaming and a total interaction with the film. They were yelling at the action scenes, cheering for the hero and heroine and having a great time. One of the best experiences of the trip as we all walked out of that cinema with smiles on our faces all the way to the restaurant for a late 10pm dinner.
Dinner was at the Wall Street hotel and due to the hour, just a very nice vegetable spring roll and a kingfisher. Tuktuk's back to the hotel and finally into a very comfortable bed, to rejuvenate from another long and hectic day and prepare for another early start.

India Day 8 - Agra and the Taj Mahal

This morning we were up at 6am and no brekkie as it's a 7am bus to Agra fort. The fog is so thick that it is very hard to get a scale of the fort but the perimeter is apparently 2.5 km long. Built in the 1720's and added to, it was never breached until the British and has a large moat (which had crocodiles), inner and outer massive walls and then a single small entry which goes up a long ramp from where they could roll large boulders down in case of entry much like in Indiana Jones movie.
Had a great guide who explained everything very clearly with a few light hearted jokes and a couple of magic tricks.
Saw the spot where the king was imprisoned by his no 3 son who killed the other 3 to gain power and then overthrew his father. At least he could see the memorial and burial tomb of his beloved wife from this spot, the Taj Mahal from a distance. Not today though, lucky if could see 10m in front of you.
After this we stopped for breakfast ( simple toast, coffee and juice) and then went to a rug / carpet making facility. This is a government employment initiative for the locals after the shutdown of the factories to reduce pollution which was having a detrimental effect on the Taj Mahal. They now employ people in their homes to spin the wool and make the rugs. Use of vegetable or mineral dyes with good quality Australian and New Zealand Merino wool and the traditional method of weaving. A large carpet can take anywhere up to seven months to complete. They can earn 10,000 to 30,000 rupee per person per month based on experience and this can lead to a good household wage. Told about 50000 rupee per month is a good income in this area. Showed the whole process from pattern painting through to colour fixing and hand cutting the finished product before the sales pitch. Isabel bought a small carpet which will be shipped home, and every time someone bought something they all stopped and clapped. A fun and genuine experience.
Now it was back on the bus and off to the Taj Mahal as miraculously the fog had almost lifted. It was mayhem with long lines but once again the efficiency of the Indian entry line continued for foreigners with the "High Value" line, which led to immediate entry after a security scan and body rub down. As at most attractions there are local and foreigners pricing and entry. Here was 500 rupee for us which gave quick entry and 25 rupee for locals with massive lines, we did enjoy the High Value reference though.
The Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders and it certainly is. Breathtaking, beautiful, ethereal; use whatever term you wish and it will still fall short of witnessing it in person, truly a wonderful moment in your life.
We spent about 2 and a half hours looking around before finally meeting back at our rendezvous, ( and a crap coffee) to head back to the hotel, grab our bags and jump on the bus for the trip to Tordi.
We left Agra at 4.45 pm on a large bus/coach ( we all had 2 seats each) arranged by Intrepid due to the delays we'd had. First experience just out of town was doing a three point U turn on a four lane highway to get access to the on ramp; only in India :-)
The supposedly 6 hour trip once again kept extending out and was a ride that could have been used to create Crash Bandicoot; crazy. Mostly staying in the middle of two lanes or on the right and then passing on the left. I think this is so the trucks, cars and buses don't hit the bikes, tuktuk's, rickshaws, people and cars going the wrong way who stick to the far left, as I said crazy and no hope of sleep as I was in the front and could see everything!!!! We did at one stage pass a head on between two cars and the only explanation I can think of was one was on the wrong side of the road waiting for a break in the median strip (about 2m wide concrete) to get back on the correct side, not sure about injuries but smashed windscreen and driver not looking good.
We stopped about 3 hours in and grabbed some sugar fix and chips before continuing on about 74 km from Jaipur. This took about 90 minutes and we skirted around the bottom side of Jaipur. Priyanka said we were about 30 minutes from our destination and it was 9.45pm so looks like we are making it there for New Year's  Eve. So the road went from dual lanes down to single down to narrow bitumen and finally dirt and cows, massive feed lorries, tractors and anything else you can imagine. Finally at 11.55 pm (gotta love indian perception of time) on the 31st December we arrived at our place for the night, the Tordi Garh, a private heritage property in the village of Tordi. As we walked up the dirt laneway from the bus they let off some fireworks for us and promptly took us up to the balcony for dinner which had been prepared for our earlier arrival time. Tomato soup followed by buffet of chicken, cauliflower curry dish, chickpea flour balls curry and paneer spinach curry, all excellent, even though I did not eat the meat as trying vego for this trip. Had a very nice Indian wine,  a Luna Cabernet Shiraz. A great end to a long day and off to bed finally a bit after 1.30am.
Priyanka has been kind to us and said we don't have to be down for breakfast till 8am. This trip is hectic and erratic eating hours don't help. Must say , think I'm over the diorreaha now, yah !!

Sunday, 31 December 2017

India Day 7 - Train to Agra

Good sleep on the train but woken about 6 with a station stop which brought more people into our compartment, noisy people and a small child continuously saying "Papa".
Train running late (as usual) and now looking more like a 2pm finish. This could create issues with the Taj Mahal visit but we will see. Scenery from the train is great, mostly agricultural land with villages and a couple of small towns. Got very stuffy in the carriages so it was nice to just open a door and hang outside for some fresh air and a better view, something no way possible in Australia.
We had a birthday cake with candles for Renaye's birthday this morning which Priyanka arranged, a nice touch, not sure about the singing.
The loos once again are interesting, a stainless steel hole in the floor with raised foot pads, and let's just say the odour was not pleasant. Along the way I got out a couple of times to stretch the legs and was so tempted by the hawkers selling samosas as they smelt so good. Priyanka had one and said it was very good.
Many of the group caught sleep, played cards or just chatted during the day as the arrival time kept getting extended.
Finally after a 19 hour journey (6 hours late) that had already started nearly 5 hours late we arrived in Agra to a foggy evening, not looking good for the Taj Mahal tomorrow morning.
On to the hotel Atathi to freshen up, and the shower was so good, pity about the lack of towels. Got some lovely green and white striped beach towels when we asked as I think they thought we were going for a spa rather than understanding we didn't have bath towels.
After meeting at 7 we walked a little down the street to the Master Chef restaurant for dinner ( no allegiance to the tv series) where we had a good meal (cheena masala) with a couple of kingfishers before returning to the hotel at 10 for a well earned sleep on a comfortable mattress.
Getting low on the clean clothes front so going to have to get some washing done soon. The only issue being, even with quick dry items, nothing seems to dry.