Sunday, 20 November 2011

Marble Magic

hello again fans-
well, a lot has been happening and right now we are sat on a rooftop cafe place (not as glamorous as it sounds) waiting for our food and feel about the most tired we have for as long as we can remember...

Back in Rishikesh, we had our last Hindi Lesson.  It was really nice to get a little  headway into the language, and one day further down the road maybe we will be able to say more than "This is not a train" and "this room is big, but dirty" etc.  Our teacher though, said we were "very gifted" and that it was a shame we couldn't stay and do more.  Eat that Whitley Bay High School german class!  Here is me and teach hanging out in his study.

From Rishikesh on the river Ganges, we made our way to Agra, via Delhi - a confusing one night stop over in our old faithful first hotel right next to New Delhi station ("Right past the men's street urinals, follow our noses, it'll be easy!") - a pity we were stupid and got a train ticket to Old Delhi station - the other side of the city.  Not a nice mistake to realise on arrival at 11pm, Delhi in the daylight is hard enough work to deal with.

Modelling my new tailored trousers...

So yes yes, Agra.  Home to the mighty Taj Mahal, and I was pretty excited about seeing this.  Laura not quite so! But I'll stand by saying it is one of the most incredible buildings/sights/things I have ever seen. Laura was won over and later said that it was 'Marble-ous'. Geddit?  :)  Its relatively expensive to visit in Indian terms, about £10 (25p if you're an Indian national though!), and so we got to stand in the queues marked 'High Value Ticket Holders'. Yeah!!  Arriving at the west gate at 7am ensured we got to see the morning sunrise over the white marble, and over the next 3 hours, the light gradually warmed, shadows appeared, and the mist burned away. I really was bowled over.  Here's some nice photos of the Taj, as well as the adjacent Mosque and Mausoleum (built of distinctive red sandstone), which are to the left and right in the grounds.

We didn't pay extra for a guide, of which there a lots (never an opportunity missed to scam/help a tourist here in India!)- though we did overhear one guide saying to a white couple "See how it gets bigger and bigger the closer you get..".  Now that's some good guiding!  Anyway, it was amazing and I'd recommend anyone to go and see it if they get the chance.

Agra itself is generally considered "Bad", and gets its own chapters on Scamming and aggressive hustlers which we had first hand experience but I wont go into that!  So we left Agra asap to its tenacious touts and bison and headed onwards to Jaipur.

Our train was a 4 or 5 hour 2nd class journey, and over the hard bench seats we got chatting to a family on the same trip to their home in Jaipur.  After several hours of pleasant chatting (Praveen was a scholar and had just finished his PHD in LED technology, which i was v interested in), we were invited to their home for some 'honest Indian hospitality and cooking'.  We jumped at the chance since they were certainly sincere with their kindness, and so the next night we caught a bus (a challenging mission / right pain) from the Pink City out to a suburb and their family home.

What followed was one of the best travel experiences we have ever had.  Neighbours from 3 directions came over to meet us and sat sheepishly grinning while we both drank chai and ate biscuits on their rooftop, feeling a bit scruffy and under-dressed.  Praveen and his family treated us like royalty, and proudly showed us around their home.  Laura was asked to sit with the women and I don't know what happened with that, though since none of them spoke English, I bet it went smoothly.  I went with the men which was much easier  and finally to the main event- The Meal.

Obviously we had presumed we'd all be eating together, so terror set in when we saw the table, with just the two places set and an array of dishes to sample.  And so, we both ate till we burst, while the family sat and stood around watching us and wondering how we were enjoying it, with Praveen translating.  They would eat after we left! An amazing evening! Praveen dropped us back at the bus stand on his motorbike, and we raced back to the city and our hotel.  A very memorable evening, with such kindness and sincerity. We were the first foreigners in their house, and it was the first Indian household we had been in. Laura had found a new friend in the young neighbour though- when explaining that she had once lived in Oxford, he replied "Yes yes! I have the Dictionary!"

In Ranthambhore national park, we were on the hunt for Tigers, and signed up for a Safari trip.  There is little else in Ranthambhore, so took the opportunity to use the TV in the room and the comfy bed for some proper R&R and general laziness.  Just what the doctor ordered!  The safari itself was an early morning trip out in a 16 seater 'Canter', which is sort of like an off-road flatbed truck with seats on, weighed down with tourists with cameras (in our case, Italian. Ciao!). There are 6 seater jeeps (Gypsies) too, but they are booked up until march next year apparently(!??).  We were really excited about this, especially Laura, who got out of bed faster than I think i've ever seen, outside of Christmas morning.

Unfortunately, our Guide was probably friends with the one from the Taj, and had very little info, other than pointing out what a deer was or what a crocodile was.  Still, riding in the Canter through the park was fun, and as it rattled and bounced along, we saw a lot of deer, some antelope, 2 crocodiles, an owl, a Vulture and some green birds.  And also a toilet block, inexplicably lost out in the bush.  Sadly no Tigers, who are clearly the star of the show.  They were having their Frosties probably, it was quite early.  We met a Swedish girl in our hotel, and I was very relieved to find I could still hold a half hour conversation in swedish, which has put me in a good mood and erased some doubt.

The last few weeks have been great, but we are both now feeling the fatigue of being in India.  We go from loving it to hating it, sometimes several times a day.  Its hard to convey on this blog, but we now mentally rate places we visit by how Easy or Hard they are to be in, which is what it has boiled down to.

Backpacking here can just be so difficult and frustrating.  It's generally like a Saturday afternoon on Oxford Street x 1000, the second you step out of your door.  The total lack of information / misinformation about transport, the noise, traffic, heat, the pollution, touts and hassles in the cities, the smells of food, petrol, urine, burning, litter, cows (all in one whiff sometimes) take their toll.

Despite all of this and that, we still see mind bending and wonderful scenes everyday; things which create those confused-grins across our tired faces.  I think we are learning that this is what India is all about, and once you get past the bad stuff, it really is an incredible place to be. So we are surviving- but just having to look after ourselves a bit more than normal.  If I slip on any more cow crap im gonna lose it man.

Our tickets from Jaipur to Pushkar were bought from the queue in the station marked for "Tourists, Senior Citizens and Freedom Fighters".  I think that is us, right??

We are Now in Pushkar, which is very relaxed and calm.  Hurrahh!

Not many pictures on us today, but see more from this post here

1 comment:

  1. Are there still lots of signs everywhere for things that have a dual purpose proclaiming 'toilet cum washroom', 'restaurant cum cafe' etc etc?