A Travellerspoint blog

Canadians Who Don't Speak Kannada

Five Nights (or less) in Mysore

sunny 23 °C

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The famous dyes at the Mysore market

Nov 17-20

(Rob)

"Canadians who don't speak Kannada"

Paradise Lost! One minute we were poolside, the next we were sweltering in an airport departure lounge with no AC or fans. Spice Jet, however, eventually did the job and delivered us to Bangalore. We were delighted to see our (unconfirmed) airport pickup to take us to the hotel. It was nothing special, but not horrendous, and it had a nice Indian buffet breakfast included.

Then we were off again, by train, to Mysore. This train, and train station, made for a much nicer experience than our Agra to Delhi trip. In Mysore, we even got a tuk-tuk to the hotel (with a proud driver who crammed all our luggage into his new - "six months!" - tuk-tuk). So that was all very simple and pleasant for traveling India independently.

We should have known better. Perhaps it was our good mood, or our reluctance to offend, but we said "yes" to a cheap hotel room (Hotel Dasaprakash) that bordered on appalling. Within a few minutes, we said "five nights here?" Then we walked around downtown Mysore. Within a few minutes, we again said "five nights here?" We went back to the hotel and informed the clerk we'd only like three nights. "No problems," he said with the standard head bobble. We hadn't paid anything yet anyway.

The problem was that Mysore looked like Agra but without the famous monuments. Or Delhi without the modern conveniences. Sure, Goa was different, but here was our first south Indian city and it had all the worst features of the north: dirt, smoke, dust, public urination, hawkers, aggressive people, stray dogs, and...more dirt. Many people said the south is different, but I guess this isn't south enough. What drew us to Mysore, originally was the image of the famous market with the brightly coloured dyes. So I guess that's a pretty stupid plan for five days: stare at brightly-coloured dyes, but we also read about the palace, and the "grand, leafy avenues" making it "pleasant to stroll around" (Rough Guide). You have to read between the lines and use a LOT of imagination to get that out of Mysore. But they couldn't just write "EEEEEEEEWWWWW" and fill a thousand-page guidebook.

So then we started thinking: where to go? Eventually we settled on not changing our flight from Bangalore, and going back there for three nights instead of a one night layover. Jenn was at a low point for the trip. We were only halfway through India, and only two days out of Goa, and she couldn't bear the thought of another month if it was going to be like Mysore. Certainly, wherever we went, we'd have to be in a better hotel. We'd paid $37, ironically the same amount as Hotel Orchid in Hue (Vietnam), which was our favourite place to stay on the whole trip. Anica and I were feeling a little more upbeat, and Jenn plugged away at the choices both online, and in the Rough Guide, lining up some good options. She is amazing, though, because I know she was pretty down about how things were heading, but she worked through it. She came up with a whole bunch of new options to add variety and comfort to our remaining month in India. At one point, Anica said "but we have a nice hotel" in response to something we'd said, and we just stopped and stared at her. I think she meant: we were together, and there was a TV, and she was getting to watch an 8:00 movie every night. It couldn't have been the cockroaches she liked, or the bucket shower, or the peeling paint, or the buzzing flourescent tube-lighting, or the bathroom window open to the street or the...hmmm, why had we agreed to stay there? One lesson is this: India is not cheap. It can be, but you get what you pay for. In Vietnam and Thailand, you can get gorgeous, clean accomodations in any price range.

So, as I quoted once before, "other than that Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?" We did have some fun and saw a lot in Mysore. On the first night, we were lucky that it was Sunday, the only night that the Maharaja's Palace is illuminated. If you've ever seen Harrod's department store at night, picture an Indian palace lit up like this (or, for Torontonians, picture Honest Ed's).

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Sunday Night Lights at the Mysore Palace

It's a lovely occasion, where the gates are opened and all are welcomed in for free. Local families sit around on the lawns and stone piazzas, waiting for night to fall, having snacks, and chatting. Then, right at 7 PM, all of the 5000 lights come on. We looked at it from all angles, and also the other buildings and gates that comprise the Palace, also lit up, then walked back to our hotel. That was the only problem with that evening: the hotel.

Earlier in the day, we'd gone through the market, and seen the famous dyes, which were indeed quite colourful. On the second day, we spent even more time in the market. I found it fascinating. Along with Qingping (China) and Karauli (Rajasthan), this was the most vibrantly exotic market I've seen anywhere in the world. In particular (no, not the dyes), the flower-selling got my attention. The flowers are sold in garlands, out of raised, unlit stalls. The whole process seemed to be men's work . Most of the stalls had men of all generations plucking the flowers, stringing, and selling the garlands. And with all the goods sold, there was a rhythmic singsong chant to go with it, often a call and return between stalls.

Outside that market, one man, who worked at a movie theatre that showed movies in Kannada (the official language of the state of Karnataka), suggested we go see the incense makers in the other craft market. Then we were chatted up by another man, who was on his day off from selling "eight to twelve kinds of bananas". He took us directly to a traditonal incense and oil makers' shop, the kind of quasi-ripoff "help" that comes in the guise of a new aquaintanceship. But that's fine, because it was an interesting process, and the man who explained aromatherapy oils was quite a character. We managed to exit having only bought a tiny, overpriced bottle of water lily oil, which is supposed to ward off mosquitoes. Anica was fearlessly taking pictures of everything and everyone with her new camera, and seemed to enjoy her first days in Mysore for that reason.

To get out of walking around central Mysore, which we figured was the busiest, dirtiest part, we booked a full-day's sightseeing with a car and driver for our last full day. It turned out to be a good move, because they had a whole list of things, and we just said yes or no to whatever the driver suggested we see next. A couple of the places were many kilometres outside of Mysore, so the car was really worth it. There was the Chamundi Hills, with its winding road up to it. It is the 3400 metre hill that is visible even from the middle of Mysore. Although shrouded in fog, we enjoyed the ride. On the way down, we saw the black Nandi (bull). This is a 5 metre high statue of a bull 500 years ago carved from a single piece of black granite, and a shrine. I accepted the blessing (or in this case...bullseye?). Even farther out of town was K.R.S. Dam and Brindavan Garden, where there was a children's playground and many water fountains. Not fantastic, but pleasant. It also meant driving through towering fields of sugarcane, and intensely green rice paddies. The countryside, then, was nothing like Rajastan.

A couple of the other stops had to do with Tippu Sultan, the most famous "Tiger of Mysore," who defeated the British twice, before losing in the 3rd and 4th Mysore Wars. He was killed in the last one, and we saw his tomb (called Gumbaz), where he's buried with his mother and father in a domed vault painted in a variety of tiger-striped motifs. We saw his summer palace, where every inch of every wall is (was) painted. The grounds are kept very nicely there. We saw where he was killed in battle. The driver, who didn't speak much English, pulled over, showed us the plaque, said "ok?" and then started driving again. He was right; there wasn't any reason to stay longer to look.

As for the city sights, we'd got to see the Maharaja's Palace on the inside. It's well-preserved, and very beautiful, particularly the stained glass, and the wall murals showing a procession from 1931. The palace was rebuilt after fire from 1897 to 1912, so it's not too old. There are many European elements to it. Speaking of European influences, we also saw St. Philomena's Church, which is impressive enough for being a novelty in India.

So that was quite a full day! We just kept going and going, from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM until we finally said: take us to "Pizza Corner," (an uninspired, but safe choice - Mysore had good prices for food, but nothing great - we had all Indian cuisine, except for Pizza Corner here) and then told the driver we were done for the day. We would be out of Mysore in the morning. One more night in Hotel "Disasterprakash!"

Nov 17-18 "Bangalore one day and Mysore the next"

(Anica)

Today we got up and had a very yummy breakfast of toast with nutella and a hot milo. Then watched amazing race on AXN (very enjoyable). Then we went swimming for 2 hours! (we also read two chapters of Harry Potter non stop!) Got changed and did my diary. Had lunch of grilled cheese sandwich and one bag of chips and a wowie (diffrent choco bar with disney characters). played nintendo, did my homework, watched tv, then took drive to airport. (very hot). We got on a (delayed) spice jet flight to Bangalore. We got to bangalores airport and saw our driver got to hotel checked in and went to bed.

Nov 18 "Train from Bangalore to Mysore"

Today we went to the train station and got on a train to Mysore. When we got to our hotel checked in and saw our room. very nice. Had ice cream and walked round Mysore. we walked down to a pizza place, had a yummy dinner. went to city palace and saw pretty lights. Good night. (I swalled a pill because I was feeling sick!)

Nov 20 "A Tour of Mysore"

Today for breakfast we had two butter plain dosas, two pinapple juice and one coffe. After that we got in a SRS tours car to the Chamundi hills. When we got up to the hills we took pictures of a temple and statues, walked around the temple, and saw some cows. After that we went to the Nandi Big Bull! (and daddy got blessed!) After that we went to the Jagon Mahan palace and museum very nice even though a man patted me on the head! ("Hey stop it!") After that we went to the mysore palace. the things I Liked about is was it was very pretty because the walls had pretty carvings and the things I diden't like was the pic of me with girls (who tried to charge us money!) and the costs for leaving your shoes. No pictures! After that we went to a church (nice) After that we saw Tippus palace and tomb. After that we saw the krs dams and a garden. Then we went home and had dinner. Good night

Posted by jennrob 01:55 Archived in India Comments (9)

Going on Goan Time

From poolside, Goa, India

sunny 26 °C

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The view, as promised, at the River View Restaurant in Cavelossim, Goa

Nov 2-12

(Rob)

The company we booked our villa with in Cavelossim, Goa, is called "Lazy Days." We took the name to heart. For ten mostly sunny days, we did nothing in Goa other than just sit by the pool or beach and relax. Even our nearest internet access was almost a kilometre away, and therefore not so tempting.

We had a lovely two-bedroom villa, with a patio out back, in a quiet enclave of such homes called "Luisa-by-the-Sea." Many of the homes there are people's permanent residences. Some live there six months a year, and they're vacant during the monsoon off-season. We were part of a ring of homes that backed onto a large swimming pool. Just sitting in our backyard, we felt like we were bird-watching. The variety of birds - exotic, at least to us - was astounding.

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Our villa at the Luisa-b-the-Sea enclave

Other than our accomodation, we got by on about $20 a day by eating out only at dinner. The kitchen was fully equipped, and we didn't even have to wash dishes, as our price included 2-3 hours of maid service every day except Sundays. Linda, our wonderful maid, even did our laundry for us by hand during that time. Plus she was a very sweet person, who took an interest in Anica, being a mother of five herself. We exchanged addresses with her when we left. Linda was quite confident we'd be back in Goa again, of course. That seemed to be a theme wherever we went: "is this your first visit to Goa?"

The beach was spectacular: wide, clean, miles long, with clean, shallow water in which to wade, soak, or be knocked about by waves on rougher days. Although it was only a five minute walk from our house, we didn't go every day. For one, the pool was so nice. Also, the pool didn't have hawkers. The beach did. They had little stalls on the paths across the dunes to the beach, and there were strolling hawkers on the beach itself. If you stayed in the water, you were left alone. Otherwise, they'd chat you up, learn your names, and try to extract a promise of a future purchase. It was hard on us, because we had no intention of buying anything. We're travelling too long to buy a t-shirt or sarong at every stop.

Just as proliferate, thankfully, were nice restaurants. There were a couple on the next street over from Luisa-by-the-Sea, where we hopped a fence as a shortcut to get there. A nice one was "The River View" so named because Cavelossim is a strip of land between a river and the sea, and "The River View" is built out on a dock overlooking the river. Another is called "The Beach Hut," and I'm sure you can guess why. The main street is also lined with restaurants, and stores such as D'Mello's, where we bought most of our groceries.

Another feature of our villa was its inverter (or automatic back-up generator). Power outages happen several times a day in this part of South Goa. The first time it happened we had too many things switched on, and the inverter didn't work. Another night, during a spectacular, lengthy lightning storm, we conserved the back-up by just using candles. Using a flashlight, we went creeping down the darkened main street until we came to a restaurant that had on its backup power.

Knowing that the villa had a DVD player, we had stocked up in Delhi with (pirated) DVDs. Most of these actually worked just fine, so that we watched a movie every evening. Anica did more work on math and spelling than she had been doing, mostly cheerfully, and Jenn and I devoured novels. I'm reading aloud the Harry Potter series to Anica and we're into the third book now.

On Anica's birthday, November 8th, the Lazy Days people really helped us out by having a birthday cake delivered. The woman who manages the place, Lynn, also gave Anica a card and gift of a diary that's hand-decorated. The other manager, Sammy, came by with his wife and gave Anica flowers. We'd got a couple of gifts for Anica in Delhi, included a digital camera that was from her Nana and Grandpa as well. We watched the first Harry Potter movie that night, and Anica declared it a great birthday, especially with the phonecalls she got from her grandparents (we had a local landline that could take incoming long-distance calls). We were able to enjoy her special day, comfortably, and be able to do her favourite activity: swimming!

Nov 12-17

(Rob)

Having decided to spend a little more time and see a little more of Goa, we headed just up the road to Benalium (actually, it turned out to be Colva), where we stayed at the Sandray Resort. This allowed us to spend a few more of those relaxing days in Goa, but at less cost. The Sandray ran us just $32 a night, for a two room suite with kitchen facilities. It has just five suites, which surrounded a small, but lovely pool. After adjusting to our new digs, we really enjoyed being there. We knew it wasn't near the beach. In fact, we ignored the over-crowded Colva Beach, and instead, just once, took a cab to Utorda Beach. There we had dinner at "Zeebops," right on the beach, joined by Nigel, another Sandray guest.

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Utorda Beach at sunset, Goa

Everyone at Sandray seemed content to just sit around the pool, reading and sometimes swimming. That's about all we did, other than helping Anica with her schoolwork. Anica swam so much her hair's tinged green in parts. We mostly made our own meals, helped by a local grocery store called "Sho-Faz," and a bakery called "Dalima's." These were just a couple of blocks away, yet that still took us past yards with water buffalos, pigs, cows and goats. It was a nice reminder we were still in India. The resort, despite being so tiny, did have its own restaurant, and we had a couple of meals there. Basically, Goa was just what we hoped for: a place where we just slow down and unwind for a couple of weeks.

Nov 2

(Anica)

We got on a plane by Go Air which is not Goa's airline! Got to Goa ad 1 hour drie to villa. got there ad looked around to see pool, 2 large bedrooms, tv, dvd player (heaven). We went swimming, had dinner, watched Underdog. Good night.

Nov 3

(Anica)

Today we went swimming two times and dipped our feet in the beach. after lunch I watche Barbie of Swan Lake. Then had a beatiful river veiw Dinner. Good night.

Nov 4

(Anica)

Our pool in goa is big, warm, and very colourful. One end is very shallow and one end very deep. We go swimming 2 times a day. Our pool in goa has beatiful dark and light blue stripes, with two ladders at one end, ladder and steps at shallow end. It's surrounded by big palm trees (not to mention a toy winnie-the-pooh stuck in one). Also birds, bald eagles, and many other birds that I don't know the name of. One day we saw and heard jets. We just love it so much that we go swimming 2 times a day.

Nov 8

(Anica - "My Birthday")

Today I got up and had hot Milo and tosat with butter for bresfast. Nana & Granpa called [yesterday]. Happy birthday they said. Then Poppa called too. Also the owner of the villa bought me a diary and flowers and a card, and our maid Linda gave me a card to. Then I opended presants from Mommy and Daddy. I got a Barbie Mermaidia play makeup set, Abracadabra (a 70 trick magic show), a big card, and a Harry Potter gameboy and an art techer Barbie set. But then the most best presant ever A CAMERA. So even though told getting two, I got 13 encluding cards and calls. Wow! Went swimming and had lunch and watched Sinbad. Had cake with candles that do colours. Then had dinner and watched Harry Potter and Philophers Stone. Good night.

Nov 9-12

(Anica)

We went on a walk on Nov 9 down to fisharmans warf. on the beach went in on the Leila, another resort. washed our feet off and had a good dinner at fisharmens wharf.

One day we went to the beach and did wave surfing and played around.

One night there was a power outage forever. almost six hours! We used the flashlight to get to a restaurant with power.

One day we tried 2 movies before we could find one that pourply worked!!! Then the last one got attacked by thunder!

Nov 12-17

(Anica)

"Goa Benaliam"

One day we took a interesting drive to Sandray and saw our room. big table inside, and out side, small kitchen area, living room, pool, DVDs.

One day we took a taxi down to the beach and played and saw lots of interesting shells. Mommy picked one up with a crab in it and me and Mommy picked up some starfish. Had dinner with friend named Nigel and went to bed.

One day we went down to a shop called Sho-Faz and it had everything!

One day we went down to a bakery and got veg samosa, butter and chocolte cookies for dinner.

The pool is big with jacuzi and children's pool, waterfall out of jacuzi. and games we play are monkey in the middle, water bowling and lots more.

Posted by jennrob 01:50 Archived in India Comments (6)

Catching Up Again with Anica

Entries from her diary

sunny 28 °C

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As seen in Karauli, Rajastan, on our walk to the City Palace

(Anica)

October 27

"City Palace and Hindu Girls"

Today we saw the city palace, very preatty, and many stairs, very preatty. Then we walked back and had a very yummy tomato soup and pakora and French freis yum! Then we rested for a bit. Mommy, Poppa, Daddy and I think Manu slept to. but I read a comic and Harry Potter and two mystry novels. And today was the first time I did a camel cart ride! Very fun, we went to a lake and I played with Hindu girls and I ripped my pants :( Then we had dinner and went to bed.

October 28

Today we went on the most boring drive to Agra. On the way to Agra we stopped at a Natinal park very pretty. We saw many birds, Jackels, mother and baby deer, wild boar and piglet. After had pakora and French freis, very salty. yum. then saw a city very preaty and very old, many carvings [Fatehpur Sikri]. Finally we got to Agra and got stuck in a big traffic jam, a bus messed up our windshield things, got checked in and had dinner. Good night.

October 29

Today went to the Taj Mhal, not busy, very pretty and very neat. We went with a local Tour Guide but we diden't use him to much. after 2 hours we went back to hotel and had Breakfast. Read for a bit and went swimming, big water slide. Then had lunch-dinner, got on train and we got to Delhi and went to bed. good night.

October 30

Today we ended our tour and gave Manu our cards and said goodbye. Walked to Florence Inn. Got checked in, and rode Metro to Connaught Place and went to bookstore and had lunch at Thank God It's Fridays, went to bazer, got movies for Goa and had dinner with Chris, Rachel, Fin, Sadie. Good night.

October 31

We went to a mall and we went birthday shopping. We got me a Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone Gameboy and an Art Teacher Barbie set and 2 other (secret) presents. We had lunch at McDonalds and we saw a pretty Lotus Temple. We went to Connaught Place and looked around. We had dinner. Good night.

Nov 1

Today we said good bye Poppa and gave him a hug. Then we took the metro to India Gate and saw the Delhi Museum, very nice. Took Metro down to Connaught Place and had lunch at TGIFridays (yum). Looked in a bookstore and got money from an ATM, went back to hotel and had dinner. Good night.

Posted by jennrob 21:02 Archived in India Comments (9)

And Then There Were Three...

...Again

sunny 32 °C

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Yes, another view of the Taj.

October 28

(Rob)

Today was the "long day" that Manu had mentioned. It was lengthened considerably by the mother of all traffic jams as we entered Agra at the end of the day. Agra as in Agra-vating. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Our first stop was a world-famous bird sanctuary that, sadly, had seen better days. The near-drought that weak monsoons have caused means that few of the migrating birds have come. We did see baboons, jackals, egrets, owls, mother and baby deer, mother and baby wild boar, and many others, so Anica still enjoyed it. The tour of the sanctuary was done by bicycle rickshaw, pedalled by elderly Sikh gentlemen (was it a requirement for the job?), who narrated in thick accents. Manu rode circles around us on a bicycle they provided him, as each rickshaw only had room for two people.

The afternoon stop was much more impressive, and one I'd been looking forward to. We toured Fatehpur Sikri, the famous capital built by Moghul emperor Akbar on the advice of a mystic. Akbar had followed the advice and been rewarded with a male heir. As a capital, Fatephur Sikri, high on a hill, is impressive, and it was built in just 13 years.

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Inside of the palace gate at Fatehpur Sikri

Unfortunately, it wasn't in use for much longer than that. Lack of water, and the pull of Agra on Akbar's successors, made Fatehpur Sikri a ghost city. It's an incredible blend of Hindu and Muslim, and also Christian and Jainist elements in its architecture. This was Akbar's goal: to fuse all the faiths. He had a favourite wife from each religion, and their palaces are quite distinct from one another. There are whimsical touches on the grounds, such as a life-size checkerboard, where Akbar used to move dancing girls around as human playing pieces. In general, Fatehpur Sikri was wonderfully eccentric and impressive.

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Rob and Anica standing on a platform formerly used by court musicians at Fatehpur Sikri

Eventually, we arrived at our hotel after driving through a good portion of Agra. I realized that this, the city of the Taj Mahal, the capital of the Mogul emperor, and a city of over a million people, is crippled by filth. Every few feet we saw men peeing on walls. The dirt coated the streets and sidewalks to the point that some roads don't even look paved. The sun tried its best, but didn't exactly shine, so much as peer, through the haze of pollution. What a contrast to the city's landmarks and history.

October 29

(Rob)

Today we visited the Taj Mahal before breakfast. We were there just after 6 AM, as the sun was just coming up on its east face. Despite the fact that this is acknowledged as the best time of day to see the Taj, it's too early for many, so the crowds weren't huge. And yes, it is beautiful, perfect. Yes, it is worth getting there early to watch the sun draw out the whiteness, bit by bit. And, for me, having not had breakfast or coffee, the lightheadness really added to the awe I was feeling.

We approached the Taj through a park, coming in a sort of side entrance, which meant we bypassed the supposed hordes of beggars and hawkers at the front entrance. It made for a peaceful introduction to the grounds. At no point can you see the Taj Mahal itself until you pass through the large gate. There, like many, we paused to take a picture framed by the shape of the gate's opening. I never realized how impressive the gate was, or how perfectly symmetrical everything was, including the large, beautiful mosque on one side of the Taj Mahal, and its twin on the other, built only to preserve the symmetry.

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Is it the mosque, or its symmetrical twin?

I never realized there is no paint anywhere, that every decoration we saw was done with inlaid semi-precious jewels. Incredible.

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An example of the "pietra dore," or Italian technique of inlaying semi-precious stones into marble

When eventually we moved behind the Taj, and looked across the river, we saw how little water was in it. You almost couldn't get a boat down the river, it's so dry. That means the only place to see the Taj Mahal is from its own grounds, or from a distance, through the haze, from the Red Fort.

In the afternoon, we were on our own, without Manu (!), and decided to see the Red Fort, or Agra Fort, as its also called. This was used as the hall of public audience, palace, "harem," jail, etc. by a succession of Mughal emperors, for much longer than Fatehpur Sikri was. I'm glad we decided to visit, because again, it was simply grand, and so much to see. You can see where Shah Jahan remodelled parts of the palace from red sandstone to white marble, experimenting in what would lead to the Taj Mahal. Talk about home renovation! Anica was somewhat overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to have their picture taken with her. Apparently she's a novelty even for Indian tourists. We had to say no on her behalf a few times because it just got to be too much.

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Part of the grounds of the Red Fort, Agra

October 30 - November 1

(Rob)

Days of transitions, days of goodbyes. Starting with a goodbye breakfast with Manu on October 30th. We offered (sincerely, in case you're reading this, Manu) that if he's ever in Canada he could stay with us. Manu really made our tour experience enjoyable. It could have been really awkward, being the only family, but he was so gracious and unassuming, and good-natured that I think we got along great. Anica had an older brother for a while!

And then there were four. We saw a lot of Delhi, actually, including the beautiful, modern Lotus Temple of the Ba'hai faith.

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Ba'hai faith "Lotus" temple, Delhi

We started taking the subway, which, despite the pushy crowds, is one of the newest and cleanest things about Delhi. We shopped a lot with James, mainly in the Connaught Place area. These are a series of New Delhi circle-streets, radiating out from the centre, as planned and built by the British, where there's a park. Under that park is the Palika Bazaar. Yes, underground. As in sketchy. But, we spent hours haggling for cheap, pirated DVDs and other electronics. We also did some birthday shopping for Anica, making a great effort to get to a "real" shopping mall, only to be disappointed by the best Delhi had to offer (nothing like the shopping malls of Bangkok or KL). The stores around Connaught Place (i.e. the ones above the ground) are much better, particularly the many English-language bookstores.

We also had the unlikely treat of meeting up with another family doing a "big world trip." Rachel and Chris, and their two daughters, are on a mirror image version of our own year-long trip and we intersected in Delhi. Despite a long day they'd had, they made the effort to meet up with us for dinner. The kids had a great time, and we traded stories and tips. They're from the U.K., and Jenn had "met" Rachel on-line. We now subscribe to each other's blogs here at travellerspoint.

Then it was November 1, and time to say goodbye to Poppa/Dad/James. It was absolutely amazing being able to travel to Thailand, Cambodia and India with Anica's grandfather! All day, after he left Anica said she was still looking for him, expecting him to be beside or behind us.

So, and then there were three again. A weird feeling. Jenn was really looking forward to Goa. Although we'd got a lot out of Delhi, even spending a morning at the National Museum on our last day there, it was not a city we wanted to live in, or even stay in too long. The longer you stay, the more you see of the child beggars, even naked toddlers already trained to beg, and the more you either harden or despair. Or, as we did, talk about it with our own child.

Posted by jennrob 22:25 Archived in India Comments (5)

Blow Horn Please

On the road in India

sunny 30 °C

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This would be the Taj Mahal.

October 20

(Anica)

Title: Wow India! :) neat

Today we got up and had breakfast with our nice tour guide Manu (very nice). Then we walked down to a ATM and got Indian Rupees and went back to hotel and rested. Then had lunch and looked at some not to big temples. One you had to cover your head. we walked to a bar and had a very big good dinner. Good night.

(Rob)

When I think of our first days in India in the future, I will remember the smells of Delhi: smoke, exhaust, urine and dust. It's a bit of a cliche to describe India by smell, but everything I've heard is pretty much accurate. To be fair, we landed at Delhi's airport just as they're completely expanding and rebuilding it, so the first impression was a poor one. Then we stepped out and saw the old Ambassador taxis that look like they were here in 1947!

Meeting "Manu," our tour guide, was a pleasure and relief. For eleven days, thanks to our signing up with Imaginative Traveller, he will take us around Rajastan, and some of the most overwhelming travel in India. Jenn and I are very happy to leave the planning and decision-making to someone else for a couple of weeks.

Today, on our first full day in India, we saw some of the sites in New Delhi, including the place of Matahma Gandhi's cremation, the war memorial "India Gate", a Sikh temple (where we all covered our heads) and a Hindu temple (built in 1938, and covered, un-ironically, with swatiskas.

It's Durga Puja being celebrated now (or Dussehra), and across the street from our hotel there has been a concert last night and tonight. James and I went over to check it out last night, and saw a quiet, family crowd enjoying modern rock music on a closed-off city block. The lights for Puja are already being added to for Diwali, so Delhi looks quite pretty in certain stretches.

October 21-22

(Anica)

Today we went to town and saw a fancy-ish hotel. it was very pretty and old. Then we went to some Havelis. one when we got there the owner came and let us in. Me: "thank you." and we also saw a well that was 90 feet deep. then we saw the castle, then Manu said camel ride. "Yay" really hard to get up and down. then after that put on a green dress, lipstick, a scarf and bengals [bangles] for dinner. Good night.

(Rob)

These days should be subtitled "escape from Delhi." They probably do it like this on purpose, getting you out of the big, bad city. If so, we really have appreciated it. We are now at a desert resort (I know because it's called "The Desert Resort") in Mandawa, about 250 km from Delhi. Our accomodations are "luxurious mud huts," and I hope that's easy to picture because that's a really good way to describe them. The dinner is served outdoors, as a buffet, and the view is over several kilometres of desert shubbery. There's not a cloud in the sky. This is Rajastan. The drive here was every bit as evocative and colourful as the drive we took exactly one week ago through Cambodia.

The town itself, Mandawa, is known for a kind of decorated house called a "haveli." Havelis are the houses of rich merchants from the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century. They are adorned by fresco paintings that are very hard to keep up, as they are done completely in authentic local vegetable dye colours. In Mandawa, there are 45 such houses, and other than a couple that are now hotels, they are vacant. We had the good fortune, however, of running into a family from Calcutta who was visiting their haveli property here, the house of their ancestors. They only make the trip twice a year, and don't stay inside the house, but as they unlocked the door, they invited us in to look around. Anica had her picture taken with their daughter, who is almost a year to the day older. Each haveli is a courtyard home, with two stories, and the paintings cover the inner courtyard as well. Some have a theme, like one of the hotels, which was devoted to Krishna, or another done in art deco. It's certainly a unique feature to this part of Rajastan.

The next day, unfortunately, James became the first victim of some Indian indigestion. He missed out on an afternoon camel ride and a dinner at the local castle. Anica overcame her initial fear to quite enjoy the camel ride. As I looked out over the desert landscape, I couldn't help but think that the scene was one that hasn't changed in centuries. That is, until the camel driver's cell-phone sounded. We rode for about half an hour, until we came to a farmhouse (if that's the right word). There, we met the family and they served us tea. Indian tea is all boiled together, not steeped, and their milk was from their buffalo. Then we thanked them and rode the camels back to the resort.

We enjoyed the resort, including the playground and pool, except for the fact that there were many wasps. Manu even got bit by one that crawled down his shirt! That made relaxing by the pool a bit of a challenge.

October 23

(Rob)

A mere three hour drive today, and we're in Jaipur, the "pink city." There are many historical buildings here made from the local pinkish sandstone, and the old city has officially been "pink-only" since it prepared for Prince Albert's visit in 1876.

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Palace of the Winds, currently scaffolding, in Jaipur

That, combined with the 400 year-old city walls, and the fortications looming over us cliff-side, make Jaipur a very striking city. As with the other places we've been, cows are roaming freely through the streets. This I'd heard about all my life..."sacred cow" and all that. What I never imagined, however, was that monkeys, pigs and goats would also roam freely in a city of several million people. We first noticed the goats, when we saw a few on a second-floor balcony!

We were taken out to the Amber Fort today (which is not named for the colour). The combination of sandstone and marble, and also the detailed work in marble and carving, make it very impressive. Unfortunately, the lake below the castle is almost dry, and some of the fort is undergoing major restoration (such as the gardens). Still, it was neat to walk through the "women's quarters," with twelve apartments for twelve wives, and look out through marble lattice to the outer courtyard. Our local guide, Mr. Pram, seemed to be the dean of all local guides, and spoke very passionately about his Rajput ancestors. After a Jeep ride back down the moutain, we stopped on the way back to town to take pictures of the "lake palace," or summer home, which does indeed seem to float on the water.

October 24

(Anica)

Today we got up and had breakfast and went to the city palce and took a look around it. Beatiful. and the family still lives here. neat. Then we had lunch and we saw a Bollywood movie called Dhamaal. One time a grownup was bargaining to a kid. Then had diner. Good night.

(Rob)

A second (final) day in Jaipur, and we were with Mr. Pram again in the morning for a tour of the City Palace. The former Maharaja's family are still in residence here, a fact that greatly impressed Anica. First, we saw the ancient, royal observatory. These monumental instruments look at first like a giant, abstract sculpture garden. Their design just seems so impossibly modern, and yet they were built in 1728 and are each highly functional. There's a large sundial at an angle of 27 degrees, for instance. We, of course, set our watches to it because it's so accurate. There's another set of astrological platforms to measure each birth sign's position in the heavens.

After the Observatory, we saw a collection of the royal clothes, another of weaponry, and admired the beautiful, pink-walled courtyard, and the inner courtyard with the colourful peacock gate. Anica had her picture taken by a couple of Indian tourists; suprisingly to us she attracts quite a bit of attention here, too. One gentleman from Calcutta gave me his card (film-maker) by way of a thank-you.

There were also many pigeons about, because they're considered auspicious in Jaipur. Mr. Pram said you might get away with killing a man in Jaipur, but never a pigeon.

In the afteroon, we went to a 3:00 PM showing of a new Bollywood comed called "Dhajmaal!" Manu and our bus driver were with us, too. It was light-hearted, and slapstick silly, and even in Hindi, the plot was easy to follow.

We went out to dinner tonight...on our own (gasp!). Manu was so worried; it was cute: "Do you know how to get to the restaurant? Will you walk? Do you have the hotel address? Call me on my cell if you need me?" Well, we did just fine, although this is a very dirty city to walk around in. The beggars and hawkers, however, are not very persistent or bothersome. Dinner was delicious; it was south Indian vegetarian cuisine. They also made great ice cream desserts, and we all indulged in that. The restaurant was the first one we've been in here in India where we were the only visible Westerners. Maybe it's a coincidence, but Jenn and I thought that it was the best meal we've had so far in India.

Ocotober 25

(Rob)

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Thousand year old Ranthambhore Fort, tucked away high above the national park

After another stunning drive, we arrived at the "Ankur Resort" in Ranthambhore in time for a quick swim before climbing into an overgrown, open-top jeep. This was the vehicle that took us through Ranthambhore Nature Reserve for the better part of three hours.

Seeing a tiger, the main attraction, is actually pretty rare, and we had no such luck. We did see monkeys, spotted deer, (unspotted) deer, a mongoose, crocodiles (from a distance). Lots of deer and birds, actually. When they gave the alarm call, our jeep's driver took off in pursuit of the tiger that was surely coming. But no, despite the thrill of the chase, we never glimpsed a tiger. The park, however, is beautiful: hilly, with riverbeds running all along the road. In some places, there's a panorama; others the branches closed in our vehicle and we had to duck our heads to prevent being scratched. Once Anica figured out to avoid being injured, she enjoyed the ride itself. We also stopped beside a clear, still lake, which reflected the trees that ringed it.

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Lake at Ranthambhore Park

October 26-October 27

We arrived on the 26th of October in Karauli, to stay at the former Maharaja's palace. The Rajastani town of Karauli is much more off the beaten track that I would ever expect to see on a packaged tour. Driving here, we passed along a single lane road through several farming communities where people seemed very surprised to see who was inside our van. Sometimes children would run alongside our van, waving and smiling. The other drivers, however, were more aggressive than friendly. Very few oncoming vehiciles gave way at all, forcing us onto the dirt shoulders. It was best simply not to look, I found!

The Maharaja's residence is now one of faded glory and assorted curios. James and I had a veritable apartment to stay in, with a sitting room, a two-room lavatory, and numerous french doors and shutters. The rooms looked on the inner courtyard, where various size tables were set up for the meals to be served. At night, the full moon rose over the wall and shone down on the center of the courtyard.

Anica enjoyed being shown around the grounds. They keep four horses, some cows, rabbits, budgies, turtles and dogs, for example, on the property. They have a collection on panquins and of vintage cars. There was a swimming pool, which Manu described as "old-fashioned," before we saw it, but that we described as murky and univiting. There was a really cool billiards room, and we did play, but the undistubed dust was thick, and not all the snooker balls could be found. Like I said, faded glory.

At their "city palace," which we toured on the morning of the 27th, we were the only ones there. They opened up the rooms and buildings piece by piece, sometimes pointing the way with a flashlight. We couldn't believe how immense the palace was. And the oldest part of it was built in 1348! Much of it was fairly well-preserved, and very much worth seeing. Yet, many guidebooks, including our Rough Guide to India, don't even mention Karauli, or its city palace.

The best part about Karauli was walking through the town and its market streets. The people were so friendly: everybody waved and said hello, and nobody was begging or trying to sell us anything. The people here also like to greet us with "ta-ta," which (thanks to the British, I guess) we heard over and over in a singsong tone. I joked with Anica that we must be the "ta-ta" people. To our eyes, they are poor people, but not desparately poor, although the region is practically in drought conditions. The main business seems to be the quarrying of the red sandstone from the surrounding hills. The open sewers, and crowded, rough housing is quite a contrast, however, from the Maharaja's holdings. We met her highness, the latest Maharaja's widow, who was very gracious and welcoming. I wonder how the family is regarded in Karauli, because the property they own dwarfs everything else in town, even the temples.

When we took a camel cart ride (the equivalent of a horse-drawn wagon ride back in Ontario) in the late afternoon, we headed out of the town to a nearby lake, the dam for which was built over 400 years ago (although not considered a "historical" site, so I'm glad I asked about it). The people in the homes we passed came outside to greet us, and some children biked or walked alongside us. It wasn't at all intimidating, though. In fact, when we got to the lake, Anica saw that there was some playground equipment. She climbed and slid for an audience of children for the first few minutes, but then the novelty wore off and they all played together.

Leaving Karauli, we once again had that wonderful, bittersweet feeling of not wanting to go, of having found a place we really enjoyed staying at, and could have stayed longer.

Posted by jennrob 09:29 Archived in India Comments (5)

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