Gail's diary of India

*Gail is a client of Main Beach Travel, and her trip was organised by Vanessa*

Wow, wow, wow! What an experience! What a city! Loved Delhi. Old Delhi is chaotic, exciting, energising, colourful, chaotic yes chaotic again and again, yet with its unique sense of order.  Everything and everyone just fit in. There's not a word to describe what it is like on the roads, especially the roads of Old Delhi. Chaotic isn't a descriptive enough word to describe these roads. People pulling carts, carts laden and often overflowing with textiles, clothes mostly second hand, bedspreads, fruits, vegetables, controlling carts lead by bullocks, donkeys, horses, camels, peddling rickshaws, walking, riding motorcycles, bicycles, driving tractors, motorised rickshaws, cars, all sizes of buses and trucks compete on the roads which also have the revered cows sauntering along without a care in the world. All travelling at the quickest speed they can, swerving every which way and even going against the traffic, often! This is not just Old Delhi but all Delhi and this area we are visiting of Rajasthan. All inner city areas are chaotic and a little less so elsewhere. It's chaotic but exciting!

The spice markets of Old Delhi creates an almost overwhelming sensory experience and is set amongst shops of all manner. These are typical small Asian style shops though in greater numbers, remember India has something like 1.2 billion people, so more of everything to cater for those numbers. Footpaths, if they exist, and road edges have walking people compete with overflowing shops, with hawkers galore selling all types of street foods cooked and fresh, textiles, motor bike repairers, bullocks, cows, dogs, temples, areas where people congregate for whatever reason and parked vehicles of all manner.

We were driven by bus, peddle and motorised rickshaw and we walked along the main road and in impossibly narrow lane ways dating back to the 16th century. Streets where electrical wires are haphazardly strung overhead running alongside of the very haphazardly built buildings where all manner of small shops, craftsmen and traders reside. Stonemasons, jewellers, wedding paraphernalia, dressmaking needs, street food vendors, material shops, stationery, are some. We have noticed very little smoking and drinking in India though rubbish is strewn anywhere and everywhere. This rubbish mixed with the cows, dogs, pigs, donkeys, camels, ect. defecating and pigs, dogs and cows eating this rubbish was a bit off putting. Men urinating in the open is also not uncommon too. At least they always turn away from the people unlike a few we have seen when travelling in Italy and France. One shop owner pointed out his wall tiles outside his shop, the tiles have gods depicted on them as the people won't urinate on a god.

Buildings especially in the outer city and country areas, are often very much home made jobs and rarely finished. Areas look like war zones but the buildings are just poorly built with horrendous brickwork and are badly maintained. I don't know how the people can live in them. Though there are also many who do not have even these buildings for shelter living on the streets, under bridges, in shanties if they are lucky, often just out in the open or under a makeshift tent usually made of blankets sheets and rags. Wherever and however they live almost everything is thickly caked in dust turned into dirt. It only rains in the July - September period so everything is dusty here.

After a day in Old Delhi it was wonderful to go home to the fabulous Imperial Janpath Road hotel. What an oasis in this crazy city. In saying this this embassy area of New Delhi is good. We've noticed that in the better kept areas which also have well marked lane way roads the driving is better, less chaotic than the more ramshackle areas. So they can drive reasonably well according to our standards but choose not too, often. This trip has given us a good insight into the Indian taxi drivers back home. In fact our Aussie ones drive in a more orderly manner compared to those here!

We have been and will be driven by our very competent driver, Gurmeet and his trusty offsider Ravi, from our airport pick up until our trips end. Competent driver Gurmeet is, he also drives at speeds where it's allowed, which is most of the time, and zig-zagging from lane to lane looking for the fastest route as all Indians seem to. They are very polite and always on time as has all the excellent guides we have had. Nothing has been too much trouble for the Abercrombie and Kent personal. Nothing has had a strict time-frame, they even encouraged us to do extra sightseeing, even suggesting and providing transportation to restaurants outside our itinerary.

Delhi has had 7 dynasties, each dynasty knocking down the city and rebuilding it or adding to the city. Delhi is the heart of India strategically positioned between a river, mountains and a desert. Highlights of our visit have been a visit to a school, a Catholic school which takes in students from the slums, those children, especially girls, who could easily miss out on being educated. This was followed by a cooking class and lunch in an Indian family home. Here and also with a couple of female guides to follow we've have been given a good insight into the male / female roles of this very male dominated country. A country where arranged marriages are still very much the norm and dowries commonplace.

The Oberio Amarvillas Agra was out next home with a room overlooking delightful grounds and across to the 17thC Taj Mahal which was shrouded in the mist quite common at this time of year. The only way you would want to visit the Taj especially on NYE is with a guide as we did. The line of nearly all Indians visiting was huge. It went around the Taj twice and a long way through the grounds and that doesn't include the line to get into the grounds. Fortunately for us we were ushered straight into the grounds and taken to numerous great viewing spots in the grounds. We sat for a long time admiring the perfection of this beautiful symmetrical white marble Taj Mahal. So perfect and an example of this perfection is shown by the handwritten Koran writings around the massive doorways that are scaled to size so it appears the same size to the viewer at ground level. An early morning visit on NY's day away from the crowds allowed us to walk straight into the interior of the Taj Mahal built for love by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his favourite wife, his second wife who produced 14 children, 6 of who survived. Inside we viewed the symmetrically arranged rooms with walls that had been inlaid with precious stones. In the centre are the tombs of the Shah Jahan and his beloved second wife. Unfortunately the 3rd son of this union killed his brothers and imprisoned his father but went to rule for 49 years. Even though he killed many of his family it is said he ruled well. This king allowed his sisters to survive, one who attended to the needs of their house imprisoned father.

Whilst we sat viewing the Taj Mahal our guide spoke about its history and spoke about her life, her journey to marriage, motherhood and working as a guide which is quite a male dominated area. The Taj Mahal is a remarkable extremely beautiful building, a magnificent resting place for the very much loved second wife of a hugely wealthy man.

Jaipur, the pink city, was our next stop where we stayed in the beautifully landscaped 38 acred Oberori Rajvillas. Here villas are set among immaculately kept gardens where many peacocks strut, peahens gather and their chicks race around . Birds of all types live here and there is a constant symphony of bird songs. Delightful it is!

We visited the lovely Palace of the Wind climbing up to its peak from where we had a view over the city. We visited the interesting Jantar Mantar astronomical park where very large astronomical and horoscope instruments built a couple of centuries ago and still in perfect working order and are now UNESCO protected . We visited the 18thC City Palace, and the magnificent Amber Palace with its spectacular Hall of Mirrors. We took a rickshaw ride through streets filled with rickshaws, cars, camel carts, trucks, and where we saw some traditional Rajput men with colourful turbans and magnificent moustaches. Our rickshaw let us of at the Triploia Bazaar where we walked passed the flower markets, spec markets and visited handicraft shops.

Jaipur saw us at another home cooking class this time in an old palace. Again the class was followed by lunch this time with two of the family who spoke about the extended family of 22 living in 4 apartments of the old palace. Sally asked if we could visit an apartment and after some consultation took us to the parents one which had the mod cons and was nicely decorated inside even though it had a glass wall between their bedroom and lounge room and behind the glass was a tiger hunted some years ago. Weird!

After a long drive we arrived at Chhatra Sagar. How peaceful is Chhatra Sagar a luxury tented camp first created along a dam completed in 1890. Early 20thC Camp Chhatra was a highlight for visiting dignitaries to Nimja with high teas and exotic dinners. Two great great grandsons of the visionary nobleman who dammed this lake and put wells in the surrounding area run the camp today. Our view from the tents is over the wetlands and surrounding fields which are now full of bird life, antelope and wild boars. We have walked through these wetlands and have spied many of the animals and birds up close. We have climbed a steep rocky hill where we had a 360* view of the region and celebrated the attractive sunset with champagne, of which our hosts kept insisting on topping up our glasses. Then we had to walk back down the hill 😅. At nights we enjoyed drinks around roaring campfires under a canopy of stars followed by delicious traditional dinners prepared with fresh local farm produce. 7am on the dot tea and biscuits arrive at our tent then John and I are first guests out for breakfast served in the partly open air dining area overlooking the a slightly misty early morning lake. An oasis of calm though a wonderfully noisy oasis with the constant songs and calls of the bird life resonating through the air especially in the mornings, so many are they that even I hear them.

We were introduced to a local farmer and walked around his fields of mustard seed (canola), aniseed, potato and wheat. As long as there is a good monsoon season  the dam provides good irrigation to this desert region and the crops look very healthy. We passed by numerous shepherds with flocks of sheep or goats. Stopping in a local village we observed a pottery maker, a silversmith, a shoe marker, making products for this village. We observed colourfully clad ladies cleaning out their family's goat yards, ladies and girls collecting water from wells and water pumps. These are dedicated female jobs as are cooking, cleaning and child rearing. The children were as children everywhere happy and wanting their photos taken and waving to us as do many of the teenage and adults. Indian people seem a very happy friendly people.

Chhatra Sagar is truly a remarkable oasis in this peaceful region and I have not heard the beep beep of a horn since arriving here. That in Itself is remarkable here in India!

I didn't think our hotels could get better but the Umaid Bhagwan Palace, Jodhpur, completed in 1943 and was the largest residence in the world proved me wrong in quite a big way. 2016 it was  voted best hotel in the world. Spectacular outside equally lavish inside. We were upgraded to the royal suites where the attention to detail and gifts given was incredible. On arrival you are trumpeted along the flight of stairs bordered by staff in various uniforms. As done elsewhere a red dot  is placed on your forehead, a garland of marigolds around your neck and a drink offered, here it was champagne 🍾 as we're lead to seats whilst the staff complete the check in process. As Jaipur was the pink city Jodhpur is the blue city. Jodhpur looks a cleaner and more organised city. More organised in the traffic which appears to travel in the one direction more than it does elsewhere. Not every which way with often enough against the run of vehicles.

A trip to the market place was our first tour here. We love the hustle and bustle of markets where are manner of goods are sold. Beautiful brightly coloured textiles, such as saris, turbans, blankets, purses; kitchen ware; spices, lentils, flours, sweets, clothes, shoes, fruits and vegetables.

We visited the surrounding countryside to visit their cottage industries and different sects. Beautifully woven rugs, pottery, shoe makers, silversmiths; a Janis people's farm and compound. Mehrangarh Fortress which perches above the city was also visited.

The drive Jodhpur to Udairpur showed the change from dusty desert to a land feed by artisan water where crops grow well and towns are less dusty. Flat land turned into hill lands, the Armani Hills and valleys where green fields are scattered among the stoney treed hills. Fields where I've seen more workers than elsewhere along our way. Higher into the hills it becomes drier and rockier though there numerous small bodies of water where women wash clothes and people bath. Some more nomadic homes are scattered around mixed with the ' normal ' style homes. men seem to be just sitting around, often sitting in the squatting style. Women when seen are working in the fields, tending to children, carrying water containers on their heads. Men appear to be the store keepers or are just sitting around whilst women are often working not just in the home but also in the fields and on building sites, doing rendering for example. Of course there are also men on building sites particularly the more commercial sites.

Along the way we visit to the 14thC AD Ranakpur Temple of the Jain people. An example of exquisite harmony between religion and art. A temple with many many highly decorated carved columns. The massive structure all built by marble and took 2500 craftsmen 50 years to construct. The Jain people believe in non violence, truth, non stealing, celibacy/chastity, non attachment non possession. They only eat vegetables grown above the ground. Yet when listening to the audio provided a past 'priest' amassed great wealth and present day priest asked for money even though a notice in the brochure give on paying the entrance fee say do not give money to any staff. 'Priest ' said he wasn't staff as he was a priest. He didn't get money from us we figured our entrance fee enough and it seemed a contradiction to their non possessions mantra. Our guide was disguised by the priest asking for money.

We've left the narrow bumpy mostly one lane rod we traveled on the past few hours for a 4 lane highway. All the highways so far have been good roads. You still get the odd nomad with his camel, cows, shepherd with goats or sheep, the revered cows on these highways among all manner of vehicles. Also on highways where vehicles are traveling at speed you will see a vehicle driving against the traffic, usually they'll be on the road edge side but not always! A couple of times we have had trucks in the middle lane of 3 lane one way road driving towards us and seen trucks, cars etc doing it often enough! Actually we now know why some of the Indian taxi drivers at home drive like they do!

One time I decided to count how many beeps on the horn Gurmeet our driver does in 5 minutes. 32 it was and he beep beeps a lot. Every time he passes something on the road he beeps, they all beep. I say 'something' as it could be a vehicle, person or animal. You wouldn't believe the number of cows everywhere. Cows are revered. Cows are the mother and provides sustenance. Hence their revered position in Indian society. Animals are respected in India and most are let roam freely. It's a 'live and let live' attitude here. Animals also create  huge amount of the rubbish on the ground with their deficating everywhere!

Our arrival at the Tai Lake Palace Udairpar was by boat at it's situated in the middle of a lake. The hotel is as one imagines a palace built in 1749, when it was built as the summer palace for the king, should be. Udairpur is the prettiest of the towns/cities we have visited though there is still the grubbiness of India.

We visited the palace, the gardens some distance from the palace and where the queen would picnic. Walked through the town and alongside the lake. Back and forth we traveled by boat between the hotel and town. All good it was. We watched a couple of dancing shows put on by the hotel staff.

Back in Delhi at the Oberon Gurgaon we had a fantastic fine dining Indian dinner, fabulous food for our last night here.

Our trip in India has been good. It's a country of colour, the females nearly all wear beautiful brightly coloured saris, many of the men wear drab colour western style clothes though some, especially the older gentlemen, still wear the traditional clothing. It's a country of hustle and bustle, of noise with the ever present 'beep beep' of horns. It's a country of the small shop and food stall owners. Indian food is good and most not all that spicy which suited me, John has been hanging out for a really spicy curry though 😅. It's a country full of bird life. I've always thought Australia had more bird life than any country I'd seen but India beats Australia quite easily.

It's also a country that could be a lot cleaner simply by removing all the animals off the roads, walkways, towns and cities and putting them in fields. I read the new Prime Minister is vowing to put in toilets everywhere as many homes still don't have them. Unfortunately infant mortality is high due to poor sanitation as are deaths over all ages from diarrhoea and poor hygiene. It's a very male dominated society. Many men seem to laze around when they could 'doing something ' such as trying to make their homes more habitable for example. Yes there are good homes also but too many not well built ones. There are also very many very hard working men working long long hours as shop keepers, food vendors, guides , hospitality workers, labourers and so on. The Indian people seem very pleasant, happy, helpful people and tourists are made feel very welcome.

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