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A 6-week waking dream in North and South India.

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A 6-week waking dream in North and South India.

Old Jun 15th, 2016, 04:27 PM
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Once again, your beautifully written description and pictures depicts jodhpur beautifully. Thanks for your efforts in putting this trip report together. We too loved jodhpur's palace and also the town itself and market center. Thanks again. This report has brought back great memories.
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Old Jun 15th, 2016, 05:00 PM
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"But it was a sad reminder of the animosity between Hindus and Muslims in India. This is relatively recent after having lived together peacefully for millennia"

Hardly. Islam has only been around for one millennium and a bit. Plus, Muslims arrived in India as invaders and conquerors. See: Mughal Empire. Although the current situation is indeed tragic.

"India being arbitrarily ripped in 2 during Partition"

While the border might certainly be considered arbitrary, the division was at the insistence of the leader of the All-India Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
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Old Jun 15th, 2016, 07:04 PM
  #143  
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thursdaysd,
Congratulations, you got me on my typo of "millennia" in place of "millennium".

But if you're going to be a stickler, then you need to be more accurate yourself.

First, your description of Muslim invaders is not how it was perceived at the time by the people who were actually being invaded.

The original Sanskrit documents from the eleventh century describe them not by religion, because religion wasn't their identity. Instead, they were described by ethnicity --- as Turks.

And it certainly was a violent invasion, as was typical of medieval times. But as time went by, the two cultures intermingled until they become a hybridization, sharing language, values and culture. People in India then didn't define themselves primarily from their religious identity.

So yes, they did live peacefully together for a very long time. In fact, they did so from around 1300 to the 1940s, when things started to get ugly. Less than millennia, but a very long time.

Some historians blame the British for compartmentalizing Indians by religion and thus starting a trend in which Indians began accepting this division.

"the division was at the insistence of the leader of the All-India Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah"

That is too simplistic.

Clearly Jinnah was no saint, but neither were Gandhi and Nehru. For many years Jinnah worked as a unifier, and for this was hailed as “the Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity”. He actually opposed the concept of a separate homeland for Muslims. Even when he began to suggest the idea, he told colleagues it was just as "a bargaining chip".

But things spun out of control for a great many complex reasons, and Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah grew to despise each other. The peace that had existed between Hindus and Muslims was shattered by horrible violence. After WW2, some journalists and British soldiers who had seen the Nazi concentration camps described what was happening in the cities of India as being as bad or worse. There were widespread religious massacres. Public torture. Genocide.

The British were financially strapped, and needed to exit India fast. Jinnah was now calling for a separate Muslim state. Nehru saw this as the best way to get rid of a difficult political rival, and also embraced the idea. That Partition was implemented so quickly and sloppily by the British surely added to the even more horrendous violence that followed.

It is so sad to me that if only Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah could have acted more like adults and not been so consumed by distain, partition and all the associated horror could have quite possibly been avoided.

And now, of course, we're all stuck with a semi-failed state in Pakistan, and all that comes with that.
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Old Jun 15th, 2016, 07:23 PM
  #144  
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And now that I have that off my chest :

annhig,
Thank you, I really appreciate that!

tripplanner001,
I find I'm becoming a bit of a booster for travel to India, and perhaps you will go someday!

dragon88,
Yes, celebrations and weddings in India can necessitate the liberal use of earplugs when trying to sleep at night!

dgunbug,
Thank you for the encouragement to continue!
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Old Jun 15th, 2016, 07:44 PM
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In other words, the Hindu-Muslim situation is, and has been, a great deal more complex than "they got on well right up until yesterday", which was essentially what you wrote.
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Old Jun 15th, 2016, 08:24 PM
  #146  
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thursdaysd,
I disagree with your assessment.

If you'd care to start a new thread on this subject, I'll be happy to discuss it further there. But I don't want to further bog down my trip report with politics.
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Old Jun 15th, 2016, 09:17 PM
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Yankee Doodle Rick! Haha--it took me awhile to figure out the feather reference!!

Thank you for your excellent summary of that tragic, complex period in (relatively) recent history, whose effects evidently linger in some areas. Reminds me of even more recent tribal conflict in Africa--which some likewise explain partially as a result of colonialization (another long discussion).

Should you ever visit Shimla, don't miss the Viceregal Lodge in the hills near town, where you see the rooms in which the Partition agreement was figuratively hammered out. Or if in Kolkata, the old Indian Coffee House in the University District (still going strong!) was the site of plots hatched for independence from Britain.

Re: north vs south roads... it's hard to generalize, especially about anything India, but in my experience, fwiw, there's nothing in the southern part of the country to equal the dusty filthy polluted misery caused by torn-up road and building construction, in the areas both to the immediate south and north of Delhi on my last trip to that area (Oct 2013). Two yrs ago, I was in the South only, and all roads were fine, including in some fairly remote areas. However, I did not see the central areas of Karnataka to which Thursdaysd refers.
My main fear of Indian roads is carsickness, and for that, the winding roads in the Wayanad district can't be beat. I've yet to see Munnar's though!!! Without Progol's recommendation of scopolamine, I wouldn't even attempt those!

Comments on your Jodhpur photos are forthcoming. I want to savor them first!
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Old Jun 15th, 2016, 10:09 PM
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rje thanks once more for your photos and the Jodhpur section of your trip report. I loved the many different shades of blue that you captured and the contrast that the women's saris made against this backdrop.

It was good to hear that Raas is a good place to stay as I have recently booked three nights there for my late September trip. I was pleased to see that it was as central as it had appeared to be on its website and possible to wander around the streets of the old town. It sounds like we will definitely need to venture out on the food front! What was your best food experience in Northern India ?
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Old Jun 16th, 2016, 03:57 AM
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Yes, Rick, someday and hopefully not too long into the future... 2018 maybe?
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Old Jun 16th, 2016, 06:22 AM
  #150  
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CaliNurse,
"Yankee Doodle"
I had thought the use of the word "macaroni" to be a nonsense lyric. But then I found out about this:
http://mentalfloss.com/article/65651...ather-macaroni

I don't know when we'll get to the Himalayas and Kolkata, but they both are on our list. (sigh, oh that list...)

"in Kolkata, the old Indian Coffee House"
I love the Indian Coffee Houses. Mostly for atmosphere! Although they vary, some are nondescript. I was sad to hear that a great-looking one in Bangalore that I photographed on several occasions closed and re-opened as a new more modern version. Humbug.

"north vs south roads"
Our experience on primary, secondary and country roads in Karnataka was that they were still better than the ones in the north even though some were unpaved. It just seemed like even unpaved they were less rock-strewn and bone-rattling than the unpaved roads in the north.

"scopolamine"
Let me second Progol's recommendation. I try not to use drugs when not necessary, but the scopolamine patch has saved me on many diving trips, as I suffer from seasickness on bobbing boats. I did experience mild side-effects of thirstiness, but no big deal.


loncall,
Thank you!
And yes, we thought RAAS was in a great location. Don't let me scare you too much about the food there! It wasn't bad, just not great. Especially considering the price. And the setting for dinner really is stunning!

The best food experiences we had in Northern India? I haven't written about them yet, but they were at the small heritage properties where we stayed in Begun, Bhainsrorgarth and also several restaurants in Mumbai. I'll include them in those segments, coming fairly soon!


tripplanner001,
2018
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Old Jun 16th, 2016, 10:07 AM
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rje,
I may be repeating myself ad nauseum, but your photos and report are just amazing. Love, love, love the photos of Jodhpur -- and am slightly envious, as we never got to spend much time wandering around the city itself, so missed the local feeling of the town. You capture the "color" - both literally and figuratively - beautifully.

I'm sorry to say that we are postponing our planned visit to S. India due to family health problems... but I can't wait to go and then I'll be able to contribute my comparison between north and south!
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Old Jun 16th, 2016, 05:24 PM
  #152  
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progol,
There are some things that people don't mind hearing repeated, no matter how many times! Thank you!

And I'm so sorry. Later, when you do go, I'm sure you will have an amazing time, and if I can help with any information, please feel free to ask.
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Old Jun 17th, 2016, 07:48 AM
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so sorry that you've had to postpone your trip, progol.

but it does give you more time to plan!
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Old Jun 17th, 2016, 08:52 AM
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Rje...thanks for the link to the macaroni explanation.So the "Grand Tour" was similar to today's "GapYear" journey. See the world before settling down to your home-based duty! Never thought of the connection before.

Wonderful blue photos, of the publicly acceptable kind!!

In addition to the fort and town building photos, lol the goat in camouflage! And the young woman in dark pink pants with her lovely face turned at just the right angle!

Is that construction behind the fence at your hotel? If so, do you now what's being built on this prime real estate location?

Exhilaration and tears indeed. In India, it's as if all of life is compressed into a scale model diorama, then magnified into brilliant fireworks!
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Old Jun 17th, 2016, 10:38 AM
  #155  
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CaliNurse,

"Is that construction behind the fence at your hotel? If so, do you now what's being built on this prime real estate location?"


http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...theme-park.cfm
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Old Jun 17th, 2016, 10:59 AM
  #156  
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CaliNurse,

Sorry about that!

I assume you're referring to the area to the right, over a brick wall?

The true answer is that wasn't construction, just a rather artless fence, beyond which are some homes.
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Old Jun 26th, 2016, 06:35 AM
  #157  
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Narlai, Ranakpur Jain Temple, Bera and wild leopards.
Photos are here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/129067...57669046669675
They show more if you make them large!


While India is no Africa as a wildlife destination, there are some areas with good viewing opportunities, and they were a nice bonus for our trip. Knowing national parks in India can be problematic, we decided to skip Ranthambore and other such heavily touristed locations in favor of the Aravalli Hills region. The fairly good possibility of seeing wild leopards there was too appealing to pass up. As was the chance to see wildlife at our own pace, without crowds of tourists, and no rules about what time we had to leave the area, etc. The Aravalli Hills mountain range is one of the world's oldest, dating back to an enormous collision with the mainland Eurasian Plate in the Precambrian era. And today there is a relatively sizable leopard population living there in a sort of truce with local people.

Our first stop in this area was 2 nights at Rawla Narlai, conveniently located between Jodhpur and Udaipur. The easy 2-hour drive was on good roads, which is not surprising given that location. We'd been tempted by rooms in the original buildings, but decided it would be more sensible at this point in our trip to opt for the newer building, which had an elevator for C. This turned out to be a great choice for us because it provided a needed break for C's legs but the building and our room still had a lot of charm. Our room included a Jharoka (a kind of enclosed balcony) with a view looking out over the gardens and pool, with a big rocky hill dominating the landscape beyond. Also visible on that dome-like hill was a temple nestled in the boulders. A stream of brilliantly garbed worshipers climbing the many steps up to it made a striking contrast against the pale rock.

That afternoon we just relaxed and then wandered around enjoying seeing small village life. This wasn't just human, as it included wildlife within the village. We watched the humorous antics of visiting Langur monkeys, so much less aggressive than Macaques. A momma Langur arrived at a village woman's doorstep, baby clinging to her underside, and was rewarded with chapati while the villager's dubious neighbor watched. We even saw a hyperactive mongoose making mad dashes through the village. Back at the hotel, we had dinner outside amidst fire pits (the inside restaurant didn't seem nearly as enticing). The food was good, not great, although subsequent meals were greatly enhanced after our request to use more spices!

The next day we went on a private safari. I had some trepidation about how well my camera would perform. During the entire time leading up to our departure for India, I'd been having an ongoing debate inside my head ---- should I bring better quality (heavier) lenses and camera, or just bring a relatively light-weight "prosumer" camera? I already knew I'd have a casual attitude toward photography on this trip for a number of reasons. So in the end I opted to only bring a lesser quality and lighter weight camera, so as not to have to lug weighty stuff all over India (particularly on 2 internal flights). After all, in most cases, a good camera is not important to take good pictures. This in spite of a common belief that the camera choice is all-important. Reminds me of an old exchange: "I love your novel. You're such a good writer. You must have a really good pen!"

The only place I worried I might regret this choice was at this part of the trip, when we went to look for leopards. But I also know the well-established scientific fact that the way to guarantee no rain will fall is to bring an umbrella. So I'd be really irritated if I lugged heavy gear all through our trip but then saw no leopards, which was, of course, a possibility.

You already know where this is going. We did see leopards, and wonderful sightings at that. But under challenging conditions for my poor little camera that I'd brought. This is where the better camera and lens would have helped a lot. So when you look at the photos, please lower your expectations of quality!

OK, so here is the part where I write about our first "safari" of this trip. Experienced travelers here on the Fodors forum who have been to Africa are now allowed to begin smirking at my excitement over what to them will seem like so little!

It was 4 of us in the jeep - C & I and a driver/guide and a dedicated guide. We left in the early afternoon, and after leaving the last vestiges of villages we drove down narrow and surprisingly smooth dirt roads, passing fields of mustard and wheat, and soon arrived at a lake where there were a great variety of birds. We saw Indian Rollers, Kingfishers, Eagles, Cranes, Herons and many others. But the sun was already getting low, so after an appreciation of the aviary abundance, we headed for the site most likely to attract leopards.

As we came around a turn, the driver abruptly stopped, and pointed to our right. There partly hidden in a nearby bush was the biggest owl I'd ever seen. It was an Indian eagle-owl, also called the rock eagle-owl or Bengal eagle-owl. Suddenly, with a loud thrashing of leaves it burst out of the bush and flew a short distance to a rocky hill. There, it sat in repose, staring at us, backlit by the low sun, and oddly, sitting amongst a great many other birds. I asked the driver to turn off the engine, so as to minimize camera shake from vibrations, as we were staying in the jeep. I took a number of shots of the impressive bird, and when I had enough, the owl seemed to know it and took off into the setting sun.

We proceeded on, occasionally passing a tiny rural home. The driver knew everybody and would offer them greetings. At many of the homes, women were sitting outside by fires, stirring dinner pots or making chapati. Then we left even that narrow dirt track, and proceeded to drive up and down great sculpted granite hills past fantastically-shaped boulders, while the guide peered through binoculars, searching for traces of leopard. The landscape was beautiful, made more so by the golden light of the last vestiges of sun. We stopped on top of a particularly large smooth granite hill, and got out of the jeep. The sky soon began to darken, and after a while it was becoming obvious there would be no leopard today. So we returned to the hotel, knowing we had several more opportunities, if we wanted them, and feeling appreciative for all that we did get to see so far.

There was an early morning safari the next day, and we were offered the option to go only if a tracker had located a leopard. We agreed to this option, and went to dinner. At about 9am the next morning a young man ran up to where we were amusing ourselves watching parrots. "Sir!", he breathlessly exclaimed. "Leopard!" I ran to grab my camera and we tore off in a waiting jeep. Minutes later we drove up onto an expanse of granite hill where another jeep from our hotel was parked. And sure enough, up above us was a magnificent female leopard. Far enough away and in deep enough shadows that I instantly cursed my sensible self who had opted for the lighter camera! But we were given high-quality binoculars that provided a much better view than my camera could, and sat entranced with the first wild leopard we'd ever seen. She was gorgeous! She was sleepy and almost ready for bed, and after a while she gave a huge stretch and then disappeared into a cave. I know that in Africa this would be a common sight, but as a bonus on a trip to India, it was thrilling, and more leopards were still to come at our next location.

Later Raj picked us up, and we proceeded on the 1-hour drive to Ranakpur Jain temple. The temple didn't open until noon, so we stopped at a modest country temple nearby, noticing a large group of local people climb out of the back of a dump truck where they'd been standing in their best temple clothes during the drive. Ranakpur is well-known, so I'll just remark that it is exquisitely carved and well-worth a visit. We arrived as it opened, so it wasn't too crowded yet. But there were still enough visitors to diminish the atmosphere of other less-touristed temples we'd visited. Unavoidable, I suppose, as it is an easy day trip from both Udaipur and Jodphur.

Then we proceeded to our hotel, Castle Bera. Thank-you to Julies for the recommendation from her trip reports on the Asia Forum. It was quite an experience. The Thakur owner (a feudal title) is nicknamed Winku, and he accompanied us on our afternoon jeep safari. The rugged landscapes were again dramatic, but we were beginning to give up hope of seeing a leopard when the guide pointed up to the top of a rocky hill. "There!", he exclaimed. "Ummm, where?", I asked, seeing nothing even remotely leopard-y. "Right there, to the left of that rock, by the bush", pointing toward dozens of rocks and bushes. I continued in my state of non-leopardosity. C then exclaimed with delight that she'd found it, but your pathetic narrator still saw nothing spotted but the granite rocks.

The guide then patiently gave me a step-by-step explanation of how to find it, counting off for me how many rocks from a particular landmark I should look for and then how many bushes up from that I should look. And finally even I could see the tiny head and ears silhouetted at the top of the hill. Perhaps the title of this section should have been "Leopards are hard to spot". But of course, as soon as I finally found her, she promptly disappeared. Luckily, she soon began slinking down a long granite slope! And then her adorable cub bounded into view! Followed by a second cub. I was alternating taking pictures (which at the time I really couldn't see in the low light) and using binoculars whose optics allowed me to see them quite clearly. Then momma began playing with her cubs, and they all scampered about. At one point the momma caught a cub's tail in her powerful jaws, making the running cub fall flat on its chubby belly! You can see some shots of this and the prior leopard at Narlai in my newest album, but again, apologies for the lack of sharpness.

After we returned to Castle Bera, we had a dinner around a big table with Winku and the 2 other guests. We had disappointed him by not wanting drinks, but he still enjoyed showing off his elaborate bar, of which he was quite proud. Elaborate bars seem to be a theme among Indian former royalty. Winku told us about the many royal families he was related to, but took pains to stress how far down the ladder he was. We then discovered he was also related to two of the royal owners of properties we'd soon be staying at, and asked us to convey his regards.

We reserved an early morning safari, and after the alarm woke us we staggered down the stairs to the courtyard at the agreed pickup time of 5:30am. It was still pitch black and quite chilly. As we arrived, right on time, we were dismayed to see our reserved jeep leaving, driving away from us, and passing through the gate and into the darkness. I watched with wide eyes as its headlights disappeared. But surely it must return at any moment? So we stood alone in the dark silence, tired and cold. Time passed, but no jeep. I couldn't believe it, as we'd been assured just hours ago that our safari was all confirmed. Finally, after a brief considering whether we should call at such an early hour, I pulled out our cell phone and called the hotel above us. I could hear the phone inside ring. And ring. And ring. No answer. I tried again a few minutes later on Winku's personal cell, no longer reluctant to make this early morning call, as it was his responsibility to straighten this out. Many rings later the sleepy Thakur answered, and said he'd call us right back. He did, and said the jeep would return at once. He told us that he'd been told we'd cancelled the safari, which of course we hadn't done. So when the jeep returned we climbed in for a chilly drive without the windshield up, welcoming a brief stop at a small shed where tiny clay cups of steaming tea were brought to us. We then proceeded back to those leopard hills, but no luck. The rising sun revealed beautiful landscapes, and I still enjoyed taking photos of people and birds. And although no leopards were found that morning, we were thrilled by the combined wildlife we'd seen during the last 3 days.

(coming up next, we stay at the hotel that was filmed for the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel! And then an amazing heritage stay in Begun)
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Old Jun 26th, 2016, 07:14 AM
  #158  
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I accidentally hit post instead of preview before I'd updated the link to the new photo album.

To see the new photos, go here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/129067...57669843751086
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Old Jun 26th, 2016, 07:19 AM
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Rick, as one of those who've been on safari in Africa and had the fortune of viewing a few leopards, I would say that your leopard sightings are comparable. And to do it without crowds, even more rare. Were you able to get close to them? Are there rules on being on- or off-road?
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Old Jun 26th, 2016, 07:40 AM
  #160  
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tripplanner001,
So far I haven't been so lucky as to get to Africa. So your comparison is interesting information.

We weren't close. Without binoculars they were just dots. But with the binoculars we were given, they seemed very close! And also the binoculars enhanced the amount of light, so we could see them clearly, even when they walked into heavy shadows. They were so much fun to watch!

Since this was just undeveloped countryside, and not a park, there were no restrictions regarding where we could go, except the capabilities of the jeep. But the jeep was able to drive us up some very steep boulders! We had to have faith in the driver's skills and just hold on tight! For those who might be concerned about the jeeps damaging the landscape, we drove on rocks, so that no plants or sandy hills were affected.

And for those who might be concerned about this access to the leopards, the fact that there are so few people visiting this area, combined with the respect shown by the guides and drivers toward the leopards meant that they aren't being disturbed.
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