A Month in India

Dec 6th, 2011, 05:20 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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i did not find the tipping to be all that much trouble... i always keep plenty of 10 Rs notes in my pocket and some coins as well... one of these does not break the bank, and even 50 in a day is not that much... if the receiver was not happy with 10, i just kept walking and ignored their plea...

you write so beautifully that i am really loving my read. my report reads more like a 4th grade assignment.. your descriptions enhance my observations, so thanks for that...
rhkkmk is online now  
Dec 6th, 2011, 12:35 PM
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Loving your report. You are filling in the blanks in my memory as I read. For me being gone 6 weeks thoughts/ impressions merge into a blur at times. It is good to help sort them out. Looking forward to more.
kmkrnn is online now  
Dec 6th, 2011, 04:20 PM
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I can't agree more...my report palled in comparison to this one. I'm loving reading along.
dgunbug is offline  
Dec 6th, 2011, 04:44 PM
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Thank you all for your kind comments -- it's so rewarding to share our trip with people who have such a genuine appreciation for India.
Magster2005 is offline  
Dec 6th, 2011, 04:52 PM
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Orchha – Land of the Maharajahs

Another thing about India: no one likes to give you bad news (so they tend to overstate things or leave out parts of the story). We were told that the drive from our town of Khajuraho to Orchha would be about 4 hours, but in actuality, the ride took 7 grueling hours (with two stops). The distance was only 180 km (about 115 miles), but the roads were the worst we have seen yet. For most of the way, we drove on a single lane road that both directions of traffic had to share. When 2 cars were coming at each other, one or both often had to give way by pulling over to the ditch side of the road.

Tuk-tuks, cars, people, and every conceivable bicycle contraption was attempting to use the road surface, often so pockmarked and potholed that it was almost undriveable. For those of you who ski, the road was the equivalent of a ski trail full of moguls! Every once in a while, we hit a relatively smooth stretch of macadam, but for the most part we bumped along at 10 miles an hour, dodging every obstacle on the road (including cows, goats and water buffalo), veering around treacherous road craters, and playing a constant game of chicken with oncoming traffic as every vehicle vied for the “best” section of roadway.

The situation would be confounding to all but the most intrepid; one broken car axle or tie rod would leave us stranded for days. Needless to say, it was a long, bumpy, dusty day, but the sights along the way kept us fully entertained. Never a dull moment with cows and goats all over the roads, tuk-tuks filled to overflowing (the legal limit is 4 people but we saw overloaded tuk-tuks with a dozen or more passengers including young guys hanging on the back and sides), delivery trucks painted with the most colorful designs (almost like circus cars), motorcycles carrying as many as 4 passengers at a time, and buses of Diwali revelers blaring the loudest and strangest sing-songy horns we ever heard. And that was just the activity ON the road.

Our journey took us through tiny villages and larger towns all teeming with people wandering around the markets, getting haircuts on stools in dusty parking lots, good old village boys drinking at the local café, etc. We even saw our first elephant – “parked” in front of a school. We never get tired of all this fascinating action.

We made two stops along the way: one stop to stretch our legs at a so-so museum of Hindu statues and a second stop to eat lunch. Both the museum and the restaurant were located in palaces formerly owned by Maharajahs.

These Maharajahs lived like kings, reigning over large tracts of land out here in the countryside. The architecture of these palaces is wonderful with lots of arches, fancy balconies, and minaret-like turrets. On the surrounding hillsides, we could see the ruins of forts and hunting lodges that were once part of one Maharajah’s huge estate.

Descendants of the Maharajah still own (and sometimes live in) these palaces often operating them as hotels. But they have no real power anymore and no political influence (unless elected to a specific political post).

We arrived in Orchha (at last!) and rolled down a long unpaved lane to the Bundelkhand Riverside Resort Hotel located along the scenic and sacred Betwa River -- a refreshingly tranquil walled estate with gardens and colorful flowers everywhere. In keeping with the Maharajah theme of this part of the trip, our hotel was once owned by another Maharajah. We have a huge room, actually a bedroom and sitting room, all furnished with antiques. The bathroom has more than a few quirks, but the ambience is well worth some minor inconvenience.

The highlight of our time here was our tour of the palaces of Orchha with our latest guide, Hemant Singh. Hemant gave us a fun tour, and playfully called us Maharajah and Maharani. But all kidding aside, these Maharajahs and Maharanis sure knew how to enjoy a rich regal lifestyle. They were king and queen on a small regional scale. When the royal pair would make a grand entrance into their palace, servants would lean out of an opening high above the main arch to drop flower petals over their heads. Then, the Maharani would spend her day being gently pushed on a swing while the Maharajah went out hunting tigers. The palaces are a fascinating mix of Islamic and Hindu architecture because during this time period, the two religions coexisted quite comfortably.

The following day, Hemant took us to a small government village where the homes and the public school have been provided by the government in an attempt to improve the lot of the poor rural people. We visited a school here, and got a warm welcome from the friendly young students. We also got a really close-up look at village life: cow patties drying in the sun (used as fuel for cooking), and we even got to watch a guy hosing down his water buffalo! Later, we took a stroll through Orchha’s market for some good souvenir shopping. I even got my palm and arm stamped with various designs (hopefully, the vendor was telling the truth when he said it would wash off!)

One of the many things we find hard to understand here is customer service. In general, the hotel staff mean well (or maybe just mean to get a good tip), but they can really drive us crazy. We know that we are constantly being observed, and lots of times, they follow us around (or as my husband often says, “they track us like a bad fart!”).

Sometimes, with our guides, it is hard to pin down details like the daily schedule (which keeps changing). They can even be a bit dishonest or vague, or language-challenged at a convenient time. For example, the day we were scheduled to visit the small village, our guide Hemant arrived late and announced, “We have problem. No car for you today.” This was “interesting” since we had discussed this just the day before, and our itinerary clearly stated that we had a car at our disposal today. So, we pulled out our master schedule (the revered “programme”) to show Hemant. He made a few calls and guess what? “Car is coming!”

While we were waiting for that car, talk of a game of cricket began circulating. My husband had never played cricket before, but a cricket bat and ball suddenly materialized and Hemant invited my husband out into the quadrangle for some cricket playing.

He did himself proud, hitting one pitch after another. He even hit one so far “out of the park” that it disappeared into the vegetation. No problem, one of the staff quickly found another ball. By the way, the staff (and a group of Indian guests) loved watching my husband, the white-faced foreigner, play cricket – he became quite the star of the Bundelkhand Hotel that day, and “the boys” who work here talked about the cricket match for the rest of our stay.

Interestingly, we never see any cats here. In other countries such as in Europe, cats run stray everywhere, but cats don’t seem to exist in this part of the world, or, if they do, we haven’t seen them. We don’t think the Indians eat cats, as we’ve never heard talk of such, and we’ve never seen them on any menu. My husband has a theory that the monkeys may prey on the cats (?)

We had a late check out on our last day, so we decided to indulge in a special Indian treat: the “ayurvedic head massage.” We were each shown to separate hotel rooms where our masseuses were waiting for us. (Masseuses here in India are always assigned this way: a woman for women and a man for men – to avoid any man/woman “problems.”) The head massage was quite a workout for our skulls and heavy on good smelling Indian oils. The final oil had a strong peppermint scent, leaving us thoroughly mentholated (& anxious for a good shower)!
Magster2005 is offline  
Dec 6th, 2011, 06:31 PM
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Funny that my husband and I also questioned why there were no cats. I seem to remember that we were told that some people keep them as house pets, but don't quote me on that.
dgunbug is offline  
Dec 7th, 2011, 05:11 AM
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Agra – Home of the Most Beautiful Building in the World

We caught a late afternoon express train for Agra. This train experience was much better than our overnight trip but still pretty rough around the edges. Unbelievably, they kept plying us with food during the relatively short trip (2 ½ hours): snacks, sandwiches, hot tea etc. Most of which we didn’t eat – if you think U.S. train/plane food is bad, wow!! You are in for a real treat here.....

Train stations in India are real horror shows, with overcrowded platforms of travelers, beggars, and people lying around sleeping on the concrete floors. Luckily, we had a handler to make sure we got on the right train in all this mess. We consider ourselves “train experts” in any other part of the world but wouldn’t attempt it on our own here.

We actually met a couple from Idaho at the train station named Bill and Bobbie, who also had a handler to get them oriented. It’s always fun to commiserate with fellow Americans about the trials and tribulations of traveling in India (although we would have to say that we seem to be handling it much better than most).

We arrived about 8:30 p.m. in the city of Agra – after dark and too late to see anything, although we did get a distant first glimpse of the Taj Mahal from our hotel balcony. Yes, this is the city where the grandest building in the world resides (in our humble opinion).

Our hotel room looked terrific, but as always in India, things are not what they appear to be. The seemingly modern shower with its touchpad controls looked like a dream until we stepped in and realized that the water temperature fluctuated wildly on its own from scalding to lukewarm, and the water was a disgusting yellow/green color. Such are the realities of travel here.

The next morning, we were totally psyched to visit the world famous Taj Mahal with our new Agra guide, Monika Sharma -- she was our first female guide here in India, and by far our best guide yet. Monika was everything we like in a guide: knowledgeable, smart, curious, enthusiastic, energetic, and just so much fun. She showed us the sights, but also taught my husband lots of helpful Hindi words, and told me all about Hindu weddings (which tend to last for 15 days). What a wealth of information she provided. We wanted to pack her up and bring her home with us!

The Taj Mahal is simply the most beautiful building we have ever seen. We wondered how it could possibly live up to the hype, but the Taj was better than we ever dreamed. We arrived about 8:30 a.m. when the lighting was ideal, and it wasn’t overly crowded. It is impossible to describe the glimmering white marble and the wondrous reflection in the mirror pool in front of the building. You have all seen the pictures, but they do not begin to capture the grace and elegance of this place when you see it in person.

Up close, the Taj was a revelation with the most beautiful floral designs created with inlays of precious and semi-precious stones. The marble itself sparkles from the crystals embedded in it, and the semi-precious stones glittered in the sun like so many diamonds.

The Taj Mahal was created by Shah Jehan as a memorial mausoleum to his favorite wife, Mumtaz, who had died giving birth to their 14th child. The couple is buried side by side in the basement, but replicas of their caskets are on display in the rotunda located in the center of the memorial at ground level. This room has a sacred feeling to it much like a cathedral. One of the many things that make the Taj so pleasing is the perfect symmetry of every aspect of the complex. Only one thing lacks symmetry: Shah Jehan’s tomb is not quite identical to Mumtaz’s tomb – it’s bigger!

Oddly enough, the Taj Mahal is built over a large well, an engineering design which helps makes this beautiful palace earthquake resistant. If an earthquake occurs, the Taj foundation will “float” on the waters of the well, and the destructive shaking forces transferred to the structure are minimized by the damping action of the water. This also means that the river immediately behind it is an advantage and actually part of the anti-earthquake design, since it keeps the well beneath the structure always automatically filled with fluid, protecting the Taj for eternity – or until the river runs dry.

The details of the unusual foundation were discovered by the British when they tried to move the Taj. Yes, the Brits in a fit of arrogance during their tenure here, tried to uproot the Taj and move it back to merry old England! Anyway, happily for all, their plans failed, and the Taj remains just where it was always meant to be.

Agra has two other places of interest as well: the “Baby Taj” and the Amber Fort. The “Baby Taj” is older than the Taj and was probably the inspiration for it. As its name implies, it is a mausoleum similar to the Taj, but on a smaller scale. Both buildings were created by Persian workers and many of the walls and ceilings look like Persian carpets, only they were formed with marble and semi-precious stones instead of cloth. Designed by a woman (Mumtaz’s aunt), this building has a delicacy that feels very feminine. The marble inlay is gorgeous here as well, especially the Tiger’s Eye stones.

The Amber Fort is a huge place made of red sandstone that is part palace and part military installation. Shah Jehan, the builder of the Taj, was imprisoned here by his 3rd son (after a “little misunderstanding” over the issue of succession to the throne) for 8 years before Jehan died. Shah Jehan could gaze at his beloved Taj Mahal across the river, but he never entered it again during his lifetime.

However, don’t feel too sorry for Shah Jehan -- his prison was a fabulous suite of rooms with plenty of inlaid gems, an intricately carved fountain, and a wonderful pillared balcony. Also, his seeming altruism and bereavement in building the Taj for his lovely wife Mumtaz nearly bankrupted the kingdom, and he probably deserved imprisonment for his blind waste of treasury coffers. Another interesting fact: beneath this fort lies a network of tunnels that are said to lead all the way to Delhi!

As we were walking around taking in the sights, we heard a voice call out, “There’s Frank and Anne!” We were momentarily stunned -- nobody knows us here. Turns out, it was the couple from Idaho who we had met in the train station. Quite a coincidence to bump into two familiar faces in these crowds of tourists!

That night we ate dinner on the hotel’s rooftop terrace. We noticed a rifle hanging on the side of the building (which was a bit alarming). Suddenly, while everyone was eating at the terrace tables, a big old monkey jumped down from one of the trees and scared the living scheiss out of all; a hotel waiter grabbed the rifle and shot the monkey! Actually, he only scared him away, but we were pretty impressed that the hotel staff goes to extreme lengths to keep its patrons safe! You never know what’s going to happen next around here.

We left Agra after just two nights, but Monika came with us to a nearby place called “Fathepur Sikri.” Our ace guide Monika was her usually chatty self, telling us all about her brother who recently had a “love marriage” (instead of an arranged marriage that is still very common here in India). Monika told us that if she cannot find the right guy for herself for a marriage, she will let her parents arrange a marriage for her because, as she said, “then they will be responsible for the choice, not me!”

Fathepur Sikri is an ancient fortified city built by the famous Mogul ruler named Akbar. Akbar was a pretty bright and open-minded guy – he was a big fan of religious tolerance and proved the point by marrying three women: a Muslim, a Hindu, and a Christian. Each wife had her own designated area in the palace. The Hindu wife even had her own Hindu Temple, and a kitchen that never saw a piece of meat.

Akbar had a lot of toys: a gigantic stone platform bed that required an 8 foot ladder to reach (and a lot of cushions to make it comfortable!). He created a life-size game board (similar to chess) in the stone floor of the open courtyard – and reputedly using his harem girls as game pieces!

Akbar also had a favorite “execution elephant” who crushed those found guilty of serious crimes. The condemned person’s only hope of a pardon was to appeal directly to the elephant –Akbar trusted the elephant’s judgment, and if his elephant hesitated to crush a person, they were free to go.
Magster2005 is offline  
Dec 7th, 2011, 06:25 AM
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Loving your report - your descriptions are wonderful.

A few comments: kudos for riding the trains! Sorry you had a bad night, but at least you got the porter story in exchange.

Indian bathrooms: I found the bucket and pail a good substitute for the shower in really bad cases.

Language: the use of English has really grown - interesting article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2004/nov/19/tefl - but the waiter who "forgot" his Hindi may never have spoken it, at least not as a first language, having grown up with Bangla or Tamil or Gujurathi instead. I met some people moving from north India to the south complaining because they didn't speak the local language.

Moving the Taj - I think your tour guide was having you on.
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 7th, 2011, 06:42 AM
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thursdaysd -- Very interesting article, especially the unifying aspect of English providing a link between the north and the south -- thanks!

You know, I often looked at that bucket and pail and was tempted to give it a try just for the experience, but I never did -- maybe next time.

You are probably right about the Brits moving the Taj (I googled and could find nothing), but it did make for a great story at the time...
Magster2005 is offline  
Dec 7th, 2011, 09:17 AM
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Re cats. We were told there are so many dogs in India that the cats stay indoors until night time when the dogs go to sleep, for their own protection. We did see some, but it was usually after dark.

Loving your report still. Keep it going.
kmkrnn is online now  
Dec 7th, 2011, 12:42 PM
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ain't it great to be home, but don't you miss India just a little...
rhkkmk is online now  
Dec 7th, 2011, 02:58 PM
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Sounds like you had terrific guides. We had one at the Taj who was very pleasant but rattled on more than I care.

We didn't find the trains all that difficult to handle on our own. We took two of them during our stay in India, one being an overnight and one leaving at 5 AM. Did you see rats at the train stations at all? The one leaving at 5 AM from Jodphur to Jaisalmer was a real eye opener. As you described there were people sleeping all over the platform in front of the train. They were wrapped in blankets from head to toe and rats scurried around them looking for food. I couldn't wait to be out of there!
dgunbug is offline  
Dec 7th, 2011, 04:22 PM
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rhkkmk -- You know, when I first got home I was on total sensory overload and really didn't want to think about India. But now that I am settling in (and over my Delhi Belly), I am really enjoying my memories. In fact, writing this report has been a good way to relive it. And yes, I think maybe I do miss it alittle. It was always unpredictable!

dgunbug -- Good for you doing the trains on your own! We didn't see any rats at the train station (I remember reading your trip report about all the rats you saw!! OMG) But, we did see them scurrying around the backstreets of Udaipur --that was enough for me.
Magster2005 is offline  
Dec 7th, 2011, 04:30 PM
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Jaipur – The Pink City

We drove from Agra to Jaipur, a fairly boring ride, but on the way, our driver, Rampal, was always on the lookout for photo opportunities for us: camels, elephants, monkeys, a bus with as many people sitting on the top of the bus as were inside it etc.

Jaipur is another large city with lots of traffic and the usual mayhem. But we did see an odd sight: three men riding white horses decorated with the most ornate and colorful saddles – riding right in the middle of all the city traffic. Rampal explained that they were headed for a wedding. Apparently in India, the groom makes quite a splash by riding to the ceremony on a fancy white horse!

The following day, our Jaipur guide, Amid, gave us the full sightseeing tour. It is easy to see why Jaipur is called The Pink City – everything within the old city walls is pink. Most of the pink color comes from the local building material, reddish pink sandstone, but even storefronts and metal garage doors are painted pink.

First stop was the Hawa Mahal, aka the Palace of the Wind, a graceful 5-story structure with 152 windows. The sole purpose of this building was so that the royal ladies could observe the action on the main street from behind stone “screens” without being seen. The building looks like a giant peacock with a rippled roofline and protruding balconies that look like “feathers.” Once again, the peacock, the national bird of India, integrates itself into the action.

On to the Amber Fort, a terrific site up on a mountain overlooking the modern city where we made a grand entrance on a gentle elephant named “Bowwan.” Of course, the elephant ride was ridiculously touristy, but too much fun to resist. Up to the top of the mountain we rode, nauseously rocking with every ungainly step that Bowwan strode.

Inside, the fort/palace, a beautiful courtyard led to one of the prettiest rooms we have ever seen, the Maharajah’s Winter Bedroom. Every inch of the inner room and the pillared pavilion surrounding it was covered with convex mirrors and small polished silver devices – a sparkling sight. Amid explained that the floors would have been covered with colorful carpets and that lamps in the wall niches would cast reflections around the room, resulting in a dazzling effect like a kaleidoscope. On the practical side, the mirrors were supposed to reflect the heat of the lamps to keep the Maharajah warm during the cold season.

We also saw the “wheel chair” used by the Maharani at festival time. Apparently, her best gowns were so heavy with gold thread and semi-precious stones that she couldn’t even walk under their weight, so she had to be pushed along specially built ramps in her rolling chair.

Another part of the palace was specifically designed by a Maharajah who had 12 wives. His large courtyard held 12 identical apartments to house each of the women and included hidden passageways allowing him to secretly visit any wife of his choosing without the other women getting jealous. What a guy!

We made the inevitable stop at a handicrafts shop, but actually had a good time. Shopping here in India is quite an experience. They have shelves and shelves of all kinds of textiles. If you show the slightest interest, things start flying off the shelves: scarves, tablecloths, bedspreads. One after another is spread dramatically before you, usually flipped up into the air so that it floats back to the counter. “We have many colors. If you like one, why not two or four or six?” These guys are remarkably tenacious. My husband bargained hard, so at least we didn’t feel as ripped off as usual. Unlike the Chinese who love to haggle and make it a game, many of the Indians act peeved when they give in to our price -- which only means they are mad because they couldn’t get the usual 5 or 10 times the true price!

Our last stop of the day was at an astronomical observatory called Jantar Mantar with an open air assortment of astronomical instruments including the world’s largest sundial. My husband was fascinated by the scientific instruments, but disappointed that so many of the instruments were related to astrology. Astrology plays a major part in arranged marriages in India, so plotting horoscopes correctly was a big deal. (Today it is done via computers.)

The following day was a “freebie day” (i.e., no tour guide) so we chose to devote it to shopping and massage. Unlike the typical tourists, we wanted to visit the bizarre bazaars. Our driver Rampal seemed quite hesitant about taking us but eventually dropped us off at the somewhat daunting Nehru Bazaar, with an expression on his face like he might never see us again. The bazaar was rough and dirty, and we were the only white faces around, but everyone was friendly, and we had a blast.

Anne had scoped out a recommended Thai massage place called Ziva Spa. The masseuses were all Indians (Thai-trained, the manager assured us) but the place was spotless with all the amenities: soft lighting, soothing music, and nice “pajamas” to wear. Neither one of us could believe it when our hour of massage was over. What a nice respite from the craziness outside.

Let’s take a minute to talk about what we have been drinking. (India can definitely drive you to drink LOL!) My husband’s favorite beverage is Kingfisher, the only beer we’ve seen here in India. He especially likes the hard-to-find “Kingfisher Strong” variety, which sports an 8% alcohol level kick.

But India also offers a wonderful assortment of fruit juices including mango, papaya and guava. Iced tea and real lemonade are also good, but my favorite cold drink is something called a “lassi,” a liquid yogurt drink available in many flavors like coconut and banana -- very refreshing and good for digestion too. Another favorite of mine is Masala Chai, a hot tea made from spices like cinnamon and cardamom mixed with milk and sugar – like an adult version of hot chocolate.

The swastika symbol is a frequent sight here in India. You’ll see it in architectural design, in paintings, and they are even painted all over trucks and tuk-tuks that you see riding down the road. Of course, the swastika is a design used in the past by many cultures, and if you ask the Indians about it, they assure you that it is not the same swastika used during WWII, but a reverse twist on Hitler’s infamous emblem. In Indian culture, this reverse swastika has always meant infinity or eternity.
Magster2005 is offline  
Dec 7th, 2011, 10:49 PM
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Hey Magster, this is great! I am really enjoying your trip report. Can't wait to hear all about Bundi....
carobb is offline  
Dec 8th, 2011, 06:15 AM
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carobb -- Bundi just happens to be next! This was my favorite spot of the trip -- what a sweet town.

Bundi – Rajasthan’s Hidden Gem

We drove from Jaipur to Bundi via a highway, which may sound like an improvement, but don’t take that term too literally. As the signs kept telling us, this highway is a “Work in Progress” -- a dusty, partially completed roadway with a road surface that vacillated between macadam, sand, and mud. And to make matters worse, this road was filled with hundreds and hundreds of delivery trucks. Not a pleasant drive. Even Rampal, our ace driver was getting a little rammy and almost took out a sacred cow – hate to think about the ramifications of that (in this world, not to mention the next)!

The trucks of India are beyond gaudy! They are hand painted all over the sides, front, and back with every color of the rainbow -- the hood of the truck is usually the most colorful, but even the gas tank is often painted with colorful flowers, geometric shapes, swastikas, etc. Plus, windshields are decorated with tinsel, satiny curtains, and strands of garland making the truck look like it just ran over a Christmas tree!

And the mirrors almost always display a string of black pompons flapping in the wind. These are supposed to act like Evil Eye charms to ward off accidents and other catastrophes (“black eyes” here in India, as opposed to the similar blue-eyed Greek evil eye charms).

Trucks also have the words “Blow Horn” painted in big letters on the back (a request to blow your horn before passing), and sometimes a strange warning to “use dippers after dark.” We assume this is a request to use your high beam/low beam headlights; most of the time Indian drivers don’t even use their headlights until it really gets dark. They must all have a death wish!

The hamlet of Bundi looks like a little piece of Rajasthani heaven with a manmade lake in front and a fairytale Maharajah palace cascading down the mountainside behind the town. We are staying in another heritage property, the most authentic hotel in Bundi (which means plenty of ambience coupled with basic amenities). The murals painted on the walls here are absolutely gorgeous.

Our newest guide is Bhanwar Singh who definitely ranks up there as one of our best. He is a tall Bundi homeboy who knows every inch of this city, and he went out of his way to make sure we enjoyed our stay. In fact, he dropped by the very first night just to introduce himself. He also explained that we had arrived on the celebration of Small Diwali (will these Indian festivals never end?) which explained the firecrackers we kept hearing.

The following day, it was another holiday, an Islamic holiday called Eid. Bhanwar showed us the wonders of Bundi beginning with the palace – a magnificent (but neglected) 16th c. edifice, high on the hill behind our hotel. The welcome gate was topped with wonderful stone elephant carvings. For entertainment, the mahouts (elephant trainers) used to get the elephants drunk and stage elephant fights in the outer courtyard while the Maharajah watched from his elegant balcony above.

The real glory of this palace is the fabulous artwork, paintings that still sparkle even though most are in disrepair. The brilliant blue colors, made from lapis lazuli, are especially striking. One painting of the hunting lodge showed how animals would be lured to a pool of water in front of the lodge so that the women could shoot them! Nice trap for the animals, huh?

We also visited two fascinating step wells, elaborate wells used to capture water during the monsoon season. The zigzag pattern of the steps made the wells look like geometric designs similar to the pyramids of Egypt.

Driving through the small market, we got a look at the local dentist manning his stand with a nice choice of dentures on display. And a good selection of sunglasses as a sideline business! His wares and “shop” were spread out on a blanket an a busy intersection, alongside other merchants selling flowers, spices, and other unrelated things. We wondered who would have their teeth pulled or have their dentures adjusted right out on some busy, dusty open-air street with hundreds of motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and other vehicles just 10 or 15 feet away? Life here is sooooooo so different.

The most charming aspect of Bundi is the small town atmosphere and the friendliness of the people. This sweet spot is our favorite destination so far. We get no hassle here, no one has their hand out for money – it is an unspoiled little gem.

Bundi is known for miniature painting, and I got a peacock painted on my fingernail. It didn’t last long (washed off), but it was a very Bundi experience.

Our favorite night here was dinner at the Bundi Inn where we spent the evening with our guide Bhanwar, a Dutch couple named Jan and Petra, and the Inn’s owner, Kamel. This was one of those priceless interactions that we always treasure when we travel – good fun making special connections with new and friendly people.

One of our discussions had to do with the mystery of the cats. As you know my husband has been curious about why we never see any cats here. We got some evasive answers about how a cat was bad luck, and people are very superstitious. Apparently, dogs are good, but cats are bad. Bhanwar said that a cat would never be kept as a pet. And Kamel abruptly said, “We don’t kill cats!” But we are not so sure, given Kamel’s defensive response. Perhaps he protests too much! The cat mystery continues…

Bhanwar took us on an outing to the nearby village of Thikarda, known for its pottery. This was another friendly village where we got to see the school children doing the “morning praise,” a call and response chanting that they do each day before starting their classes. We also met a very special farmer who welcomed us onto his farm saying it was an honor to have us visit. He had a beautiful property that he was obviously proud of, with neatly planted plots of vegetables. He gave us some fresh cauliflower right out of his garden that was so sinfully sweet; we all walked along thru the fields nibbling on this farmer’s magnificent produce.

We have been making some progress with our Hindi, and my husband has mastered a number of basic phrases. The reaction to his speaking any Hindi at all is quite remarkable. People are literally stunned. He spoke a few words aloud in a restaurant, and a group of 6 Hindu people at the next table all whipped their heads around as though their favorite Bollywood star had just arrived on scene. They laughed as they called out, “You speak Hindi!” A few even applauded. Apparently, very few non-Hindus even attempt the language. We weren’t even sure we wanted to bother learning to speak it at first – since English is always an easier option. But now, it has enhanced the fun of being here in India.

We want to say a few words about turbans, since we found out some neat stuff about them. We actually watched a demo of a turban winding. Man, those things are long!! Many Indians wear these long colorful ribbons of material on their heads here in India. Why? Well there are many reasons.

(1) Originally, the color was an indicator of the tribe to which an individual belonged. But, that reason doesn’t exist anymore, since tribes no longer cavort as tribes did in the past. The turban is somewhat of a throwback to those days, and sometimes the peasants of a particular region (or family) band together and wear similar colors. (2) Some use the turban to signify religious preference; the Sikhs wear turbans always. Next, (3) turbans are devices to help keep the head cool from the 130-degree plus heat in the summer. Just think, a wad of fluff up there can insulate the skull from the blistering heat that can otherwise fry the brain. (4) Indians routinely carry stuff on their heads as they walk (pots filled with water, large wok-like bowls, bunches of sticks sometimes 10 feet long, we’ve even seen ‘em carry loads of bricks, tools, luggage, cotton bales, etc.). If they shape that turban just right, it can be used as a cushion and balancing mechanism for all sorts of portable things on top the skull. But, lastly, (5) we also learned that the turban is a strong rope that is sometimes 30 or 40 feet long; this can be a valuable tool for a resourceful Indian, who will tie a bucket to his long-reaching turban and lower it down to dip some water from a well.
Magster2005 is offline  
Dec 8th, 2011, 06:57 AM
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I know you are not there yet in this travelogue, but in response to someone's question above, you say if you had to cut out some things out, one would be Rawla Jojawar. I was just reading about this and thought it looked interesting as a place out of the usual tourist route. Can you please tell me more about why you'd cut it? Thanks.
julies is offline  
Dec 8th, 2011, 07:38 AM
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julies -- It would actually be hard for me to cut anything out of our trip, but if forced, I would drop Jojawar only because Narali was similar (and IMO superior). However, Rawla Narlai is more expensive than Rawla Jojawar so that is another consideration.

Both Jojawar and Narlai offer jeep safaris and the villages are similar. I really enjoyed the village walk that we took in Narlai escorted by one of the staff where we got to enter people's homes etc. The setting at Narlai is more dramatic with a giant rock looming nearby. Jojawar has the train ride which was fun, but we were surprised by the number of tourists on the train -- not as undiscovered as we thought.

So, it is pretty much of a toss up. I was really ready for the luxury of Rawla Narlai - it was such a treat. In any case, we really enjoyed all of our out-of-the way stops. They were a perfect compliment to the frenetic cities.

One more thought. The owners of Rawla Jojawar have a new place called Kesar Bagh that we got a quick tour of while we were there. More expensive but looked really nice - very rural with lots of wildlife around.
Magster2005 is offline  
Dec 8th, 2011, 10:35 AM
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india is dynamic, that is for sure
rhkkmk is online now  
Dec 8th, 2011, 12:04 PM
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We are looking at primarily out of the way more rural destinations, but I am trying to keep expenses down. So, Jojawar is more in our price bracket. Thanks.
julies is offline  

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