Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pokhara -> Royal Chitwan National Park -> Varanasi -> Agra -> Jaipur -> Jaisalmer -> Jodhpur -> Udaipur

It was with some regret to be leaving Pokhara - the boys agreed that they could quite happily have stayed there for a few weeks... but a plan was hatched to go on a little safari in Chitwan - as our hotel owner could get us a very good deal at a place in the Park called Machan. Yet another early start of about 6am ensued and the pair were once again on a long bus journey. Luckily the bus wasn't too packed so it was possible to spread out a bit. Fowler opted to lie across the back of the bus as no-one was there, after a while it became apparent why as the bumps in the road were accentuated massively causing Fowler to be physically thrown at least a foot in the air and crack his nut on the roof.

At our drop off point near Chitwan we were picked up by the Safari folks and were whisked to the jungle camp on the East side of the Reserve through rivers, rocks and mud in a very old but capable Land Rover. We arrived at our jungle themed bungalow which was very comfy. In the evening theres a big camp fire and everyone gathers round for a drink and chat. Unbeknown to us someone goes to your bungalow and puts a hot water bottle in each bed - which scared the living daylights out of Ollie and Des as they suddenly felt something fluffy and warm in their beds and the dim light of the parafin lamps wasn't ideal for working out what it was at first!

The next couple of days were spent going on Elephant Safaris which were great fun (though its easy to be decapitated by low hanging branches - unless the elephant is ordered to tear them off with its trunk or actually flatten the whole tree - which is very impressive)- and an early morning rafting trip down the Rapti to see some of the bird life that is so prevalent in this part of the Park. On the first couple of Safaris we saw monkeys, eagles and 3 different types of deer - the best of all being a male Sambar Deer with big antlers. One of the big attractions is the wild Rhinos that are around Chitwan though their numbers have halved in recent years to about 300 (there are also tigers and leopards but it is rare to spot them). It looked as though we would be unlucky and not see one - until very early on the last morning. The Rhino didnt take too much notice of the 2 elephants (and camera weilding tourists on the elephants) that were so close but kept munching on the grass untroubled after a cursory glance - it was quite a sight.

Now the safari was over it was time to head back to India. Another long journey lay ahead - a bus to Sunauli - then Rickshaw over the border - then a bus to Varanasi to take a peek at this ancient city on the Ganges. The whole journey lasted about 20 hours - the most uncomfortable bit was the bus to Varanasi - as the boys struggled for leg room - and weren't helped by an officious bus conductor (we'll call him Mr Nice) who ordered the tourists to sit together on a tiny seat even though there were better seats to be had. Mr Nice also charged us extra for the bus and drove like a lunatic stopping every half an hour to get some more Paan (which is mildly narcotic) and sugar cane from the road traders. Des took advantage of the frequent stops to have a stretch and inspect the weird and wonderful cha huts, omelette stands, peanut sellers and chapatti makers (at least thats what I think they were).

Arriving in Varanasi at about 6am - the usual Rickshaw Wallahs descended and we got round to the Buddha Hotel fairly easily. First stop the next day was to get our train tickets to Jaipur then to get a rickshaw sorted to take us down to the famous Ghats at dawn to see the sun come up over the river. Another early start of 5am was needed - and we tore through the old city which could easily still be stuck in the middle ages. The Ganges was eerily dark and quiet and there were little candles floating down the river making the whole scene very special. People were also bathing, doing the washing and swimming in the "less than clean" water - with the huge Ghats, temples and an early morning cremation going on in the background - quite a scene. You could also see how high the water level got during some of the worst flooding - which was about 20 metres higher than the current water level - submerging virtually everything along the river bank.

After the boat trip we were taken round several temples and forcibly taken to a silk factory (the usual wheeze which the pair had avoided completely all trip until now)- for some hard sell tactics. The silk area in Varanasi is a huge child labour camp - everywhere you look theres kids as young as 6 or 7 working the looms in dark rooms like small robots - it was quite a distressing scene. This certainly galvanised the resolve of the lads not to buy anything from the fat cat silk trader.

With the train ticket already booked to Jaipur it was a simple matter of getting to the station on time. Though it was quite a long way and the Rickshaw driver was going as slow as possible to save petrol.A simple remedy of "we give you big baksheesh if you go quick" was all that was needed to ensure we got to the Mughal Serai station without tardiness as lines of flame from the Autorickshaw wheels lined the street behind us.. A last minute panic over which platform the train went from was finally concluded when an announcement told us it was platform 6. The pair had asked almost everyone in the station including the station staff and no-one seemed to have a clue.

The lads got into Agra Fort Station late on Christmas Eve and Rickshawed it to the Shanti Lodge Hotel which has just about the best view of the Taj Mahal ever - and was dirt cheap (no hot water though). Our rickshaw driver Kalu seemed like a nice bloke and we employed him for the next day to take us around the sights. A little celebration was going on in the hotel and free curry was served much to Fowlers delight.

Christmas Day. After taking in the staggering rooftop view of the TM over a nice cup of tea - the pair met Kalu and rumbled along to Agra Fort. The Fort was absolutely brilliant and for once there were quite a few notices explaining what you're looking at. Next was the very impressive Baby Taj (Itimad-Ud-Daulah) which preceded the Taj Mahal with its elaborate marble inlay work and imposing design. To get there we had to go over the Yamuna River via a huge bridge built by the British about 100 years ago - which obviously wasn't meant for the volume of traffic it now gets - being extremely narrow and dangerous. Bison were strewn across the dry river bed amongst washing wallahs and a few crops.

Next Kalu took us to a nice spot over the back of the TM - to get a different perspective and was a very nice walk along the semi dry river - where water melon crops were being planted in the river bed. Kalu also let Fowler drive the autorickshaw for a while which was a nice Christmas present! Next was the biggest present of all the Taj Mahal in all its glory - which was jaw droppingly spectacular - and very pretty as the sun set . It was extremely busy - but as Ollie commented - the Saris the women wore brought an incredible amount of colour to the scene - in contrast to the white marble floors and walls. Chirstmas drinks and dinner next, the pair headed for a very plush hotel called Amar Vilas - and had one or two aperitifs amongst the chattering classes. Then to The Park Restaurant in Agra which was very nice and served us some beer in mugs after seeing the lads horror that there were no drinks on the menu.

A lazy boxing day included a visit to Akbars Mausoleum at Sikandra - a 20 minute hell for leather Auto Rickshaw ride away. This was very impressive and had the usual cheeky colony of monkeys and a few deer. Fowler noticed some black growths coming out of one of the enormous archways so he took a close look - only to realise that they were the biggest wasps nests he'd ever seen by a country mile - and the haze around them was thousands of wasps - a quick exit/run ensued.

So to Jaipur and Rajasthan!

The train journey from Agra Fort to Jaipur was especially fun as the pair got chatting to a lovely Indian family - who were very generous with the snacks and sweets they had bought - Fowler didn't need a second invitation. Dr Sharma (Ajay) also gave us his contact number in case we got ill or needed advice which was comforting as Ollie was still feeling a bit peeky from Chirtmas diner. The journey went very quickly and after a few failed hotel attempts the pair got into the Jaipur Inn for a night before moving to the Evergreen Guest House - a lot more basic and cheaper. Jaipur has some great things to visit - the Amber fort, Nahargarh, the Pink City, the City Palace, Jantar Mantar (this is an observatory of epic proportions), Hawa Mahal and Iswari Minar Swarga Sal. With barely time to catch breath we had booked up to travel to Jaisalmer on the sleeper train!

Jaisalmer is out in the desert and at its centre is a huge fort where it is possible to stay. On arrival a train ticket Kerrala was bought to avoid disappointment in a weeks time. The lads stayed in the Hotel Desert - a friendly place - and had a nice room with balcony over a narrow fort path - usually full of cows and cow pats. It was a quiet place to spend New Year, have a look at the Palace, the Havelis (impressive buildings in the city outside the fort), see the market traders selling fruit, veg, spices and dried cow pats and to have a camel ride in the desert. The camel ride was good (if a little short) and it was nice to watch the sun set over the sand dunes. It was fun also to have an evening meal sat down with the camels on comfy blankets. However, Fowler wasn't so comfortable when he saw that a dung beetle the size of a 50 pence piece had crawled up his leg. With a shout of "what the #%(& *#%@^% **^&(# ^%@#%@" he brushed the beast off and would only sit down again for short periods to avoid further little surprises - much to the amusement of Burdett.

Having had a restful time in Jaisalmer it was now time to get the bus down to Jodhpur. The Jodhpur fort was spectacular and the curation team had made a real effort to provide a first class audio tour - something that so many attractions in India are crying out for. Views from the fort show the striking blue houses - characteristic of the city. The pair stayed at the Yogi Guest House - which was excellent value - and were soon on the road again, this time a bus to Udaipur.

Udaipur is fast becoming Fowlers favourite place in Rajasthan - a beautiful lake - and laid back atmosphere with Palaces everywhere (some of which have been turned into exclusive hotels). It seems Udaipurs big claim to fame is being where some of Octopussy was shot - and even now many restaurants play Octopussy every single night at about 7pm - not much fun for the waiters who could possibly have sat through the film for the last 23 years (or 8000 odd showings). And at time of writing Des (the closet petrol head, a very untraveller like trait) is eyeing up going to the Maharajas' Vintage & Classic Car Collection with none other than the original Rolls Royce Phantom used in Octopussy. Moore to come soon....

submit to reddit Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments:

Post a Comment