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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 26th, 2016, 08:18 AM
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Rick, your description is equally as interesting as I haven't been to India. We saw leopards both in South Africa and in Botswana during our first trip to Africa this April. In Botswana, we saw a leopard once and it was from a distance as we were on national park land and were not permitted to go off-road. At Sabi Sand (a private reserve) in South Africa, we went off-road and thus saw these beautiful creatures closer, including one very near encounter, although our driver was mindful of where we could drive and where we couldn't given the fragility of the ground with the current droughts. We saw one at a time on each occasion, three times out of seven game drives in SA and one out of six in Botswana, so it was a similar roll of a dice.
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Old Jun 26th, 2016, 12:57 PM
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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.>>

that's good to know, Rick. We were horrified by the behaviour of the LR drivers in Sri Lanka, who were prepared to chase around the parks like Yala in the hope of spotting a leopard or other rare sighting. We were greeted with disbelief when we said that we didn't want to do that but to look at birds and other more common [to them] animals, and we had to say it several times before our guide and driver took on board what we meant. I don't blame the drivers of course but their customers who are only interested in what is rare - and likely to get rarer.
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Old Jun 27th, 2016, 12:40 PM
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Oh darn...why tease myself by opening your photo album when there's not enough time to read the accompanying words? Wonderful, wonderful photos , (no surprise by now) which remind me how much more there is to see of India!! Love the one of the sleeping dogs. "Mad dogs and Englishmen..." eh? And the leopard stalking prey , in the shot with the plants dow the slope. And that's just for starters. Thank you, rje!! You've given me something to look forward to reading tonight after work!!

For other readers: the originally posted photo album for this segment (Narlai, etc) says "Jaiselmer." Keep going to get to the correct one.
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Old Jun 28th, 2016, 12:46 PM
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The image of you and C dragging yourselves out into the dark early morning, only to see the safari jeep heading away from you...you gotta laugh, but only in retrospect!
Thanks or the quote about novel and pen. So true of photography ...especially with marvelous easy-to-use on-line editing tools available to tech-challenged folks like yours truly. I use only small lightweight cameras, can 't stand the feel of a scratch strap pressing heavily on my neck! Would you mind revealing which camera you took on this trip?
Wait 'til you get to Africa! Some of those lenses are scary!!!
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Old Jun 29th, 2016, 02:04 PM
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annhig,
That's a shame that those guides in Sri Lanka valued birds and other wildlife less than you do. Luckily, you knew better! But the guides should have been the ones saying that leopards aren't the only wonderful things to see!

CaliNurse,
The camera body I took was a Nikon D5500. Not a pro camera by any means! But it was adequate for what I needed.

The lens I usually left on it was a very old Nikon 18-200mm. Not terribly sharp, and not good in low light. But so convenient not to have to keep changing lenses, or carry others around all day.

I did bring 2 other lens which I used only occasionally. A wider 10-24mm Nikon lens. And a better 70-200mm lens that I could mount a teleconverter which brought it up to a 320mm lens, but also significantly reduced the quality. In photography, everything is a compromise!

I didn't bring a good long telephoto sufficient for small wildlife at a distance or those leopards. For one thing, I don't own one! I thought about renting one, but it would have been very expensive for such a long trip. And also they're very heavy and would have been used only a couple of times over the 6 weeks.

And I also used my camera phone for some of the shots.
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Old Jun 29th, 2016, 02:53 PM
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annhig,
That's a shame that those guides in Sri Lanka valued birds and other wildlife less than you do. Luckily, you knew better! But the guides should have been the ones saying that leopards aren't the only wonderful things to see!>>

rje - we had already been pretty horrified at the behaviour of the drivers and guides at the national park further north where the elephants are so we were pre-warned and knew we didn't want anything like that again. But even if you hadn't had that experience, there was plenty in the little museum about dead leopard cubs etc to make any visitor aware of the situation, even if common sense didn't.

I have to say that I blame the tourists - if they said stop, the guides would do so. It's only because people are so determined to see leopards/tigers/etc. with scant or no regard for the welfare of the animals that this behaviour continues. It's natural that they respond to their customers - and hope to get a big tip if they "succeed".

it's wonderful that you were able to have such a great experience without disturbing the animals.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2016, 11:44 AM
  #167  
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"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" from the movie (actually the Ravla Khempur Hotel) and Begun.

Photos are here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/129067...57667684951983
They show more if you make them large!


While planning the trip I tried to minimize long car trips for C, so I searched for a place to stay overnight between Bera and Bhainsrorgarth to break up the drive. Not finding a lot of options myself, I asked Nikhil from TGS if he had any suggestions. He wrote back that the Ravla Khempur Hotel was roughly at the half-way point, and that it was the hotel used for the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. That was an amusing idea to us, so I went ahead and emailed them, booking just a night.

As we began our drive there, I asked Raj if he knew where it was. He replied "I know every hotel in Rajasthan"! And by her end of our trip, I would come to believe him!

When we arrived, we found the lobby still dressed with "temporary" architectural elements that had been added by the art director of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie for atmosphere. They were only built of flimsy materials, so who knows how long they'll actually last! There were also leftover props in many other parts of the hotel. Our check-in was appropriately chaotic, true to the spirit of the movie. As time went on it began to appear as if the management and staff were trying to actually emulate the movie! We were shown to our rooms and warned that hot water was only turned on for a few hours, but that we could make a special request at the desk for other times. Inquiries about the hotel were met with charming enthusiasm but a surprising lack of knowledge. Our room was close to the usually vacant front desk, so that while we were unpacking a British women heard us talking and began banging on our door, insisting that we come out at once and check her in, as she thought we must be the staff! I turned on the ceiling fan, but hurriedly turned it off when it launched a shower of dust from above. Perhaps the low point was discovering our toilet didn't really flush.

Dinner was extremely odd. I later joked to C that perhaps the explanation was that this was all some kind of participational theatre where the waiters were actually actors, deliberately creating a peculiar experience that involved the audience, or in this case the guests. Kind of like how the actors in Tony 'n Tina's Wedding stay in character even when they're not on stage, interacting with the audience.

As we walked to the satellite dining pavilion we had to pass through an excavation next to the restaurant. From our seat in the open-air building we had a great view of the yawning pit which we were told would someday be a swimming pool. The restaurant was also next to a row of stables with beautiful thoroughbred horses. One of the horses who was walking alone outside his stable amused us with his tendency to peer curiously through the windows at us as we ate! We discovered that the hotel owners were also horse breeders. And as a result, the restaurant had a completely equestrian-themed decor! Even down to the cutlery, which were heavy objects whose handles sported largish horse-heads!

We laughed when we saw that a small television at the far end of the pavilion was playing a DVD of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on a loop for the entertainment of the guests. Our waiter invited us to view it. We demurred, saying we'd already seen it. Every other member of the staff would in turn invite us to view it. The manager who arrived the next day invited us to view it. We should have had a card printed out: "Thanks, but already seen it".

The service was an interesting mix of earnest effort contrasted with an amazing lack of awareness. For example, as we sat at the table, the placemats were repeatedly fussed with by several different staff members until they were aligned with mathematical accuracy parallel with the edge of the table, yet they were stained from old food spills. The horse-cutlery was equally carefully placed, after which each waiter would stare at them and then return to adjust them again, over and over until satisfied they were in what they thought was the perfect position. Unfortunately, they had been holding them by the eating end! And some had old food bits still on them and some were bent to the point of being unusable. From our seats I could see part-way into the kitchen, and I glanced in, which turned out to be a mistake, as I saw our waiter placing all our dishes full of food on the floor! And then he would bring them to us, carrying them with his fingers in the bowls, sometimes even touching the food! And while the many flies that we had to constantly shoo from our food may not have been the fault of management, they certainly didn't add to the sanitation or the ambiance.

We really wouldn't have eaten there if we had any other options, but this was the only place in an isolated village in the countryside. So being very hungry, we went ahead and ate, which is hard to do with crossed fingers and gritted teeth! This was to be Rifaximin's greatest challenge, and I am very happy to report that the little pills came through for us like a champion, as neither of us suffered any ill effects.

The next morning the manager appeared. He apologized for his absence the day before, having been traveling, and asked how we were enjoying things. Oh boy. I felt bad having to tell him, but thought it was for the good of the hotel that they know. I told him the staff were all very nice, very polite, and very attentive. But that a few things were going to ruin the whole experience for guests, and as tactfully as I could told him what his staff needed to learn. I'm afraid all they'd been taught was pomp and flourishes. I tried to include as many positive things and compliments as I could and I do think there will be improvements made. After all, in spite of the fictional movie, this is a hotel owned by a larger company.

Moving on after breakfast, we arrived in Begun and proceeded through tall gates into the 600 year old Fort Begu where we were greeted like we were royalty. But the actual royalty was instead the person who was greeting us, who was a Prince named Ajay. He was in charge of the fort/hotel while his father was away traveling. We were happy to find we'd been given the room I'd requested, the Chitrashali suite). I'd gone so far as to send them a photo by email to identify which room we wanted, as it looked amazing (and it was!). However, it was up one more flight than had been indicated. And the rough stone steps leading to that extra floor were very steep, so I later asked that we should have our breakfasts brought up to a patio I saw outside our room.

We then sat with Ajay in a drawing room decorated with old swords, framed maps and portraits of the royal family of Begu going back many generations. Ajay regaled us with some fascinating history and when asked what we did he was very excited to discover that C is an actress in the theatre. "My dream is to be a theatre actor" he exclaimed theatrically, clapping his hands in excitement! So they bonded over their mutual love. And we learned life is "complicated" for an Indian Prince from a conservative royal family who wants to pursue a career acting in theatrical comedies.

Our light-flooded room was reminiscent of royal rooms you've seen if you've been to palaces in India. A bit of Sheesh Mahal and stained glass, but with an updated bathroom. Quite the romantic fantasy room! It was huge, with columns separating it from a sitting area with lovely views. After settling in we went down one flight to the royal dining room where the manager named Mac greeted us and our lunch was brought in. Mac (who worked in many capacities at the property) served our food while wearing white gloves, which was a bit to much for us. The lunch was delicious - some of the best food we would have in our entire trip. I wish I could remember the specific dishes, but I do remember there was one fantastic chicken dish and several amazing vegetable dishes, none of which we were familiar with. So much flavor! And of course accompanied by the ubiquitous chapati, which we never tire of.

While C rested, I took a walk out the gates to see the town of Begun. An interesting and friendly little town, with a lively market and I saw a traveling circus had set up on the outskirts.

After returning to Fort Begu, we were invited to see the family Summer Palace, or rather the ruins of the palace, located on a small nearby lake. There was a very nice Australian couple who were the only other guests and they accompanied us (Robert and Peter, if by some wild chance you read this, please contact us as we lost your contact info!).

First we were driven to a nearby local temple and then to a step well and then to the family Cenotaphs, so evocative in the late day sun. We heard more fascinating family history and then drove off again into the countryside, passing through a crude gate fashioned out of branches and through a tiny village, followed by a big locked iron gate, and finally we could see the Summer Palace peeking through the trees. Walking a short distance by the lake, we went down a few old stone stairs and onto a narrow stone causeway which led out to the old palace.

The main palace is several stories high and sits out in the lake. Also out in the lake are 3 small separate concubine houses (for the king's convenience), all clustered together on the causeway, with the house of the favorite concubine being the closest to the palace. Each night the chosen concubine would walk the causeway past the queen's room. We never heard how the queen felt about this arrangement. Beyond the palace is a temple, also built out over the lake.

The palace has 2 towers. At the top of one was a room where C and I were supposed to have had drinks and snacks. But in consideration of C, we had a table placed on the stone causeway, which I think was actually a preferable location, as the view of the palace and lake was unimpeded and gorgeous as the sun set over the water, washing the palace in a rosy glow. Mac brought us our drinks and snacks and then retreated to let us enjoy the remarkable setting in privacy. The only sound was an occasional bird call and our murmurs of delight. The lake was so smooth and still as to be like a mirror. Such a romantic, exotic and atmospheric experience, and one we'll always remember.

When the last vestiges of sunset had faded, we drove back to Fort Begu. We were invited to have drinks in the garden with Ajay and the other couple, and the conversation was fascinating. Ajay had a number of wonderful historical stories, some of which were hilarious. Dinner was served under the stars in another part of the garden, lit by candles and fire pits, and again, the food was scrumptious. After lingering for some time after, we made our way back to our room to discover a large metal bowl on the floor filled with red roses floating in water, in the center of which was a large floating candle giving off a beautiful light. So romantic! We felt it was safe to let it burn when we went to bed, since it was surrounded by water and stone, so off to sleep we drifted with the faint rosy glow of the last of the candle on our happy faces. Our very special night light!

So as to spare C more trips on the steep stone stairs, I asked that we have breakfast brought to a terrace outside our room, and we enjoyed the views and again some very good food. I had only booked one night, so sadly we had to leave soon, and Ajay recommended before we left that we visit an abandoned part of the fort. It was part of the old Prince's palace, and while it is now in ruins, the former splendor can still be seen in the architecture and the faded wall paintings, as well as the room of mirrors and stained glass.

Then we walked to the inner driveway where Raj waited with our car. Saying a reluctant goodbye, we drove out of the gates, thinking that we'd like to return someday. But before we left town, I asked Raj to stop in a small residential area I'd spotted the day before, and walked through, taking photos. Then we drove out of Begun, heading further east into the open countryside.

(coming up next, another heritage stay at Bhainsrorgarh Fort)
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Old Jul 3rd, 2016, 01:27 PM
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both the sublime and the ridiculous, rick - thank you for sharing both of them [and your wonderful pictures] with us.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2016, 06:18 PM
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Omg - I love your descriptions of the hilarious food experience in the "Marigold hotel". So typically Indian...you've gotta love it. These are the experiences you look back upon so fondly. Your heritage stays sounded wonderful. Looking forward to continuing on with you while you describe your adventures.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2016, 10:13 PM
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Ewwww.. Should i be in the neighborhood, I'll avoid a stop at the Marigold Hotel! Dust from the fan, clueless food preparation, nonfunctional toilets. I'm hardly squeamish (as if you could be for long in India!) but that sort of experience is hard to laugh about as it happens. I hope you gave feedback to Nikhil so he'll know not to recommend it as a stop...at least, without strong warnings of lowered expectations, or until they get their act (double meaning!) together.
Your second accommodations sounds much better! What romantic settings by the lake and in the boudoir! (Your wife,at this point, might have said, "All is forgiven!") I think those forts with areas of semi-decay have more charm than the totally remodeled upscale hotel palace/forts. ( I stayed at one relatively clean but decaying place with wall-mounted swords, stuffed animal trophies, afternoon tea with the maharani, etc--half a century or more of backwards time -travel.)
LOVE your photo of the stepwell with girl in red dress. You could juxtapose it with your photo, much lower down in your gallery, of another woman in red (possibly in the concubine building ?) painted on the wall.
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Old Jul 4th, 2016, 05:05 AM
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Wow, lucky you didn't get sick at the Marigold! (In those circumstances I become a vegetarian.) But what a lovely second act.
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Old Jul 4th, 2016, 06:17 AM
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Finally starting to catch up, and I have to laugh -- here it is July 4th, and I just read that lovely piece about Yankee Doodle Dandy that you provided the link to:


>

Fascinating background history!

Happy 4th, rje! I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your report, at last.
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Old Jul 4th, 2016, 06:21 AM
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Again, great pictures. Aren't those stepping wells wonderful!
On our last trip to India we brought along protein bars for times like you experienced. You are brave souls.
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Old Jul 4th, 2016, 10:56 AM
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Welcome back from Sicily, Progol!We've missed you here in "virtual" India!
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Old Jul 4th, 2016, 12:08 PM
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Progol - did you do a trip report? Sicily is high on the bucket list. Also - are you a pro golfer?
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Old Jul 4th, 2016, 12:37 PM
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Rje -- I don't know where to begin in my continued awe of your report and photos! It's fascinating seeing images of places I've actually been, and appreciating your vision. I so love the photos of Jodhpur and, as I said earlier, regret not spending more time in the town itself.

I understand the frustration of not having the "right" equipment for the job -- but oh, my, you do wonders with the camera equipment you do have! We've long since given up anything beyond a simple point-and-shoot, but there are times when the "shot" gets sacrificed. Sometimes I have to remind myself, though, to ENJOY a place by simply experiencing it, not for the photo that will result.

So love the story of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel! It makes a great story -- do you think they alight have cameras up and film everyone who stays there? Your description of your experiences there would make great film clips added to part 3 of the movie! Could you just see the "real life" clips interspersed with the fictional movie?

So many wonderful images! Like CaliNurse, I love the step well picture with the young woman in red. Really wonderful shot! I loved your scenic shots -- the reddish hue of the hills is amazing! And I loved the leopard shots -- I haven't (yet) gotten to Africa, so I can also appreciate the excitement of seeing the leopards in the wild.

I don't want to go off-topic here, but I did want to say thank you and to annhig for your kind words about our need to postpone the planned trip for South India. Who knows, by the time we go, perhaps I'll be able to,add some more time.

And thank you to CaliNurse for welcoming me back from Sicily! It's been a while now, but to answe dgunbug's first question, yes, I did write a trip report and there are photos, too. And to dgunbug's second question, no I'm not a pro- golfer! Never played in my life!

Anyway, back to rje's wonderful report...
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Old Jul 4th, 2016, 12:39 PM
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rje -- that sentence where I want to thank you should've read "thank you to you and to annhig"!
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Old Jul 4th, 2016, 01:13 PM
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I'm catching up again... travel in India is always colorful. And if you are going to experience it, one has to bend some of one's travel rules. That was a good test of the Rifaximin - glad it came through for you!
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Old Jul 5th, 2016, 07:16 AM
  #179  
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annhig,
"both the sublime and the ridiculous"
That's a very nice way to put it! And so concise!

dgunbug,
We do look look back upon it fondly, but in a "shaking our heads" kind of way! Even as it happened we tried to have a sense of humor about it, which is so important while traveling, isn't it?
Still, I don't want to turn people off to the "Marigold". If management makes the promised changes, it could be a good and inexpensive option for that area of Rajasthan.

CaliNurse,
I so agree about a bit of decay being left in an old place adding atmosphere. Some places are so renovated as to render them sterile. And I'm glad you like the step well shot, it is one of my favorites. That wall painting you mention of the woman with the red dress was in the ruins of the Prince's palace, located on the property (we never went into those concubine houses). But the really spectacular wall paintings were in Bundi, which I'll be able to show soon.

thursdaysd,
Staying a vegetarian there might have been a good idea! Although I continue to be surprised about what foods are less safe. I recently discovered that the belief that it is the mayonnaise in potato salad that gives so many people food poisoning when left in the heat is wrong, as the potato is just as likely to be the culprit. Same with the pasta in pasta salad.

progol,
You're so right about the experience being the most important part of travel. Not spending a trip seeing a culture through a viewfinder. And even worse, I just read about a man dying at Machu Picchu trying to get "the perfect photo", but instead falling to his death.

Kathie,
I can never be completely sure if it was the Rifaximin or just good luck. But since both C and I usually succumb to stomach problems on trips in Asia and Latin America without it, and since we ate so many "danger foods" for the entire 6 weeks, I am inclined to credit those pills for the lack of problems. Also, these were the Indian generic product, which was incredibly inexpensive. But I wouldn't have faith in the generic pills manufactured in a number of other Asian countries.
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Old Jul 5th, 2016, 11:14 AM
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Can't help but both laugh and sigh at your experience while at the "marigold". Perhaps the experience was intentional as they wanted guests to have a real life experience as in the movie of pensioners with limited income who come to live in India..........Whatever the intended purpose, from the outside looking in, I felt your "pain". You have a gift with words~ thank you.

The photos, again, are outstanding........you did not want to share photos of the inside of Marigold? just curious..........

Your journal is truly experiential!
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