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North India: Jaipur

City PalaceIt’s time to recap our last day of the North India trip we have undertaken some weeks ago. After having opt for a complete North India package, we ended up in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, on Sunday. We were very lucky with the weather on that day and so it was a beautiful morning with blue sky when we had our breakfast at the Hotel we stayed in Jaipur.

Museum Guard & MeWe started our visit to Jaipur with the City Palace, the former residence of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, which is not only an impressive building, but also a Museum where traditional clothes from the Maharajas at that time were shown. It also featured a decent collection of weaponry, coaches and Polo equipment. While I could live with the fact that they just recently increased the entry fees for tourist and that they are now 10 times as expensive as for locals, I was a bit irritated by the fact that even the employees of the Museum (for which with paid a fair price after all) asked for money for even the most basic forms of what I would call kindness. Although I didn’t ask for any service, I was told some very basic facts about some of the exhibits and I was also offered to take a picture with one of the guards there only to discover that they indeed only wanted my money afterwards. Anyway, the museum itself was worth it.

Jantar MantarShenji and I also met Romain and his girlfriend Celia at that time (who booked a similar package, but who travelled independently from us) so we decided to spend the rest of the day as a typical group of tourist. We then headed to the next “attraction”, the famous Jantar Mantur, a collection of astronomical instruments. The world largest SundialThese instruments where built in the early age of the 18th century and were truly spectacular. Jantar Mantur also inhabits (supposedly) the largest sundial in the world and I needed several attempts until I finally managed to capture it altogether.

In the afternoon, it was time for us to visit one of the most popular tourist destination of Jaipur, the Amber Fort. After all the cities we saw and especially after having spent more than 2 months in Bangalore, it was such a great experience to see some of the natural beauty of India. The Amber Fort is located amidst several green hills, occupying a vast area near an artifical lake and with small gardens and green spaces everywhere. One of the most amazing part of Amber Fort is Maotha Lake at Amber Fortthe Hall of Mirrors. All the walls and ceilings are full of very small mirrors and it is said that a single lightsource can light the whole place because of the zillions of reflections. And because the palace complex is indeed a very complex structure, it happened several times that we lost parts of our group and actually walked in circles as the place a bit like a labyrinth.Inner Circle

Several hours later, after we also visited the small town next to the Amber Fort (which was not a tourist attraction at all, but this was indeed very refreshing), our feet started to hurt and so we decided to complete our Jaipur experience with a nice meal in a North Indian restaurant that was specialised in barbecue chicken. It was called Handi and served the best chicken I ever ate in India (and yeah, I ate a lot of chicken here).

Romain & CeliaWhile Romain and Celia spent the night in Jaipur, it was time for Shenji and me to say good bye and prepare ourselves for yet another long journey back to Delhi (by car). We left at around 20:30 and planed for an arrival at 2:00 o’clock in the morning at the International Airport of Delhi, leaving us with enough spare time for some unforeseen events since the flight was scheduled for 6:15 only. If you think now that we are a bit overcautious , listen. At 1:30 in the morning we got a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere somewhere between Jaipur and Delhi. Imagine, there were no buildings, nothing, just the streets. Luckily, our car had a spare wheel but breakdown triangle. Without a proper emergency lane, I was left no choice but to stand there in We are stuck...the dark, waving with my hands and hoping that all the trucks, cars and bikes see me early enough. Our hard working driver changed the wheel in the meantime and we drove directly to the next “service area” where we had our tyre repaired (at 2:00 o’clock). We then finally arrived at around 4 o’clock and eventuelly flew back to Bangalore where we went to work the same day (after having a shower first of course). Well, I wasn’t that productive that day *yawn*…

Taj MahalAgain, we had to get up very early, 6:00 o’clock this time because our driver was expecting us at 6:30 to drive us to Agra, the town where the famous Taj Mahal is located. After a rather exhausting travel of about 4 1/2 hours, we eventually arrived at the South Gate of Taj Mahal, only to wait another hour in the waiting queue for the entry, even after we have paid incredible 750 Rs. for the entry fee. There are separate prices for foreigners (probably about ten times as expensive) and for locals. I can live with that, no problem, but then I think it’s legimate to ask for separate entries as well.

Waiting QueueBut to be honest, it was also to a certain extent our own fault that we spent so much time in the queue. While we waited there in the queue, we were approached by about a dozens of so-called tourist guides and a few other very suspicious individuals that tried to convince us in paying them about 200-400 Rs. for a shortcut. When we traded it down to 100 Rs., we gave in and followed one of them but as soon as he entered a very dark and ominous building, we decided to rather stay in the queue for some time than end up on the newspaper’s headlines the next day (it wasn’t dangerous at all and we weren’t afraid, even I was more massive in size than those tiny Indians, but you never knows what lurks behind the next corner *haha*). While we might be a bit naïve, we are not completely stupid, so we didn’t pay in advance and we only lost our place in the queue.

Our GuideIn the end, we gained. This is because when we waited the second time in the queue, yet another guide introduced himself but to our surprise, he claimed that he will not ask for money as he has been already paid by the government. Naturally, we were still very suspicious, especially since the tour was supposed to be completely free of cost. There must be a catch somewhere… However, after we repeatedly stated that we won’t pay anything for the tour and the guy was still there, we gave it a try.

I was at Taj Mahal ;)We were not disappointed. After we ultimately entered the area of Taj Mahal, he started to tell us very funny, interesting and astonishing stories about Shah Jahan, the emperor at that time (around 1631), and how he gave orders to build Taj Mahal after the death of his beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal. Thank you very much for the tour, Mohammed (the Name of our Guide, as written on his business card). The main building of the Taj Mahal, the mausoleum made of white marble is just amazing and I think it’s better to have a look at some of the pictures I made there so that you can imagine how impressive the building actually is.

In front of the Tomb of Salim ChistiIn the late afternoon, we went to visit a town called Fatehpur Sikri where we headed to Jama Masjid, a mosque with a tomb inside (The Tomb of Salim Chisti) but after having seen Taj Mahal, we were (naturally) not so impressed anymore although the architecture was also very remarkable. Inside the tomb, there were also some kind of stone fences where you could knot a thread to have one of your wishes become fulfilled. So we did. Unfortunately, the place itself was a bit dirty and as usual they wanted money for everything, one of the guys actually followed Shenji from the mosque back to our car (he even entered the same rickshaw without asking) until Shenji conceded and bought a wooden chess for 50 Rs. (very good trade actually, as it started at around 300 RS.)

A wish

At 18:00 o’clock, later than intended, we left Agra and arrived in Jaipur after another exhausting journey of 5 hours. After having eaten something at 23:00 (the restaurant in our hotel was still open, but we were the last guests), we immediately went to bed because we were, quite obviously, pretty tired.

Summary (for the lazy ones, the other should go for the more link): Shenji and I wanted to see the Taj Mahal because it’s basically a must-see for any journey to North India. That’s why we booked a flight from Bangalore to Delhi and started our trip on the 15th of August. After not getting that excited about New Delhi (very dirty) and several wrong decisions in terms of crappy day trips, we changed our mind completely, cancelled the hotel in Delhi, cancelled our two day-trips and went for a complete package to visit Agra (Taj Mahal) and Jaypur by car with a driver. On that friday, we basically just hang around in the Central Park of New Delhi, met Romain and his girlfriend and spent the most time that day in restaurants and a coffee shop.

Full Story:

On Friday, the 15th of August 2008, Shenji and I started our 4 days / 3 nights journey to North India. To use as much as possible of the limited time we were granted, we booked a flight from Bangalore to Delhi at 7:15 in the morning! Because we only got e-tickets, we were supposed to appear at the airline’s desk 2 hours in advance (and of course, stupid as we were, we believed it). Add to this precautiously calculated time another half an hour at least to get to the airport in Bangalore and you have to get up at 3:30 in the morning *going crazy*.

So there I was, Bangalore International Airport, 4:00 o’clock in the morning and our the information / ticket desk of our airline (Jetways Lite) was closed… after more than an hour of idleing, the desk was still closed but at least the check-in opened. Or at least the personel tried to start the system but guess what, it didn’t work. Jippii! Anyway, even with all the delays, we had still enough time to spare and after they settled their computer problems, we were able to board the airplane in time without any hassle. No security problems, no additional problems.

Two and a half hours later, it’s time to say “Welcome Delhi”. Continue Reading »

Hey there,
I finally managed to see Taj Mahal last weekend and visited many other beautiful (and less beautiful) places around Delhi. I took over 300 photos so I need some time to sort them out and I’m still terribly tired after a long and exhausting trip back. That’s why you have to be a bit patient before my complete story about that journey gets published.

GokarnaTo bridge the gap till then, I can shortly tell you about my trip to Gokarna the weekend before. Because Bangalore is completely surrounded by landmass, it was only a matter of time until I wanted to see the ocean. When my (german) co-worker asked me if I’d like to accompany her on her journey to Gokarna, I surely took this opportunity. Gokarna is a very Gokarnasmall town below Goa on the west coast of India. We travelled by sleeper bus where each of us got a narrow but comfortable bed. That was absolutely necessary because we started Friday evening at around 19:45 and arrived in Gokarna the next morning at 7:00 o’clock. And although the bed was large enough for me, the constant up and downs and neverending seesaw kept me awake most of the time so I was still very tired when we finally arrived.

GokarnaWell, there isn’t much to see in Gokarna. In fact, there are only a few small beaches near Gokarna but this was exactly what we were looking for. After the noisy and loud Bangalore, a peaceful and calm place was more than welcomed. Unfortunately, the sky was clouded but nevertheless, we spent the whole morning & afternoon walking around at the beaches, laying on rocks, idleing, doing nothing, sleeping, musing. Not even the warn signs could spoil my recreation.

GokarnaAnd then the rain started. And it didn’t stop. We seeked shelter under the next building and waited for almost an hour before we could return to our beach “hotel” (well, wasn’t exactly a hotel as you would imagine it, just some small houses with beds) only to arrive just in time before the next rainfall started. Confronted with the inconvenient truth that the weather might be the same on Sunday, we decided to cancel our stay and returned to Bangalore the same night. Of course it took us another (bumpy) 12 hours back and when I arrived at home, I actually went directly to bed again, but this time I could sleep for hours without interruption.

24 hours travelling to see the ocean for about 12 hours seems like a bad trade but even this short amount of time was enough to leave the stressful Bangalorean life behind me and recharge my exhausted mental batteries.

Gokarna

Supriya’s Wedding

Supriya's WeddingOne of my co-worker’s got married last Monday and invited the whole team to her wedding so I had the unique chance to attend an Indian Wedding! On the left you can see Supriya and her soon-to-be husband Ramu. In contrast to Christian weddings, they Hindi weddings take place according to a religious calendar that defines the available dates for marriages. Additionally, they are divided in two parts, the Reception and the actual marriage. The Reception day is meant for welcoming all relatives, friends and guests and to give everybody a chance to wish the wedding couple all the best. It is usually in the Supriya's Weddingevening (and in my case the day before the wedding) and followed by dinner for everyone. “Poor” Supriya had to smile all the time because all the guests (several hundreds!) lined up in queue in order to be on a photograph together with the wedding couple.

Supriya's WeddingThe actual wedding started Monday morning and followed a prescriped sequence of steps, rituals and ceremonies. Some of them were very similar to ours, such as throwing rice at the couple, some of them were (of course) very different. For example, they had to wash the feet of their parents with oil. It was a very enjoyable experience and Indian wedding are definitely something different. More people, more colours and a whole team that was responsible for recording every single part of the wedding, either with a semi-professional video camera or several still cameras. Afterwards, everyone was invited to have lunch which was served on a palm leaf!

Supriya's Wedding

There is a album with lots of pictures at Flickr!

Temple Trip

A view from the TopI know I haven’t updated my blog for some time, but I was very busy this week. Nevertheless, I’d like to share my impressions from our best Bangalore trip in India so far. Last Saturday, we disguised as tourists and went on a tour to some of the most famous temples near Bangalore. I’m normally not that very keen on seeing temples and old building (especially after our somewhat disappointing second weekend where we visited the not so impressive Summer Palace and the Bull’s Temple in Bangalore, I didn’t even consider blogging about) but this trip was just fantastic!

Early in the morningWe started at 7:00 o’clock in the morning (*yawn*) and after several hours, we reached our first destination, Shravanabelagola. It’s the name of the city where we first had to climb a steep stairway as the temple complex was built on top of a hill.

Gomateshwara

Gomateshwara

Luckily, we all are still very fit so it wasn’t a problem, but some of the British we overtook were heavily breathing even after the just mastered the first few steps. And of course, you had to take off your shoes before you enter the temples because it is sacred ground. And finally we saws it, the enormous statue this place is famous for, may I introduce you to Gomateshwara. With a height of 17m, it is one of the largest monolithic statue in the world. It was just impressive and we took dozens of photos.

But time was short so we left before lunch time and travelled for another hour to Halebidu. It’s the home of Hoysaleswara Temple, which is dedicated to one of the most important Gods of Hinduism, Shiva. It’s amazing how much that temple differed from the last one. All walls and pillars are completely covered with beautiful reliefs and carvings. Whole armies are carved in stone and several incarnations of gods are emerging from the walls. The bull (nandi in Hindi) is also a very important part of this temple because it is the mount of Shiva (every important Hindi God or Goddess has its own mount).The Bull & Me

In the afternoon, we went to (guess what) yet another temple, our last one, the Chennakesava Temple in Belur. It’s not only a single temple building but a whole temple complex, completely surrounded by stones walls, similar to our monasteries. Oddly enough, we saw the same tourists from the other temples again, so they all must have had the same idea as we had or it is just a very common tour.One for the family album

What was quite suprising was, that we weren’t charged any entry fee for all of the temples, especially if you consider that those temples were pretty known tourist attractions. But on the other hand, we were confronted with dozens (no exaggeration here) of street hawkers that tried to sell all kind of souvenirs. They were unusually aggressive and followed us even to our cars (where they continued to stand at the cars’ windows, not willing to give up). Who cares, it’s their business, isn’t it?Street Hawkers

Tired but happy we arrived at 21:00 o’clock in the evening, after an exhausting 4 hours trip back to our apartments. But it was worth it. Or as Americans would formulate it, it was awesome :)!

Around 15:00, rumors about some terrific bomb blasts all around the city (Bangalore) started to grow rapidly throughout our office. It didn’t take long for the media to pick up the story and a bit later, this terrorist attack was the main topic everywhere in India. In case you missed the news, there are already dozens of articles out there, so I won’t recap everything. According to a BBC article and the Bangalore Times, there have been several low intensity bomb blasts this afternoon within only a short period of time at various crowded places in Bangalore. Luckily, I was at the Office at that time. But still, it happened very closely to our apartments where we stay here in Bangalore. The Madivala Bus Stand (where the first bomb exploded) is actually just a couples of minutes away from Saint John’s Wood (our apartment complex)! The bomb sites in the map below were created by myself based on the information in the news, so they might not be that accurate but you get an expression how close we are.

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