A Travellerspoint blog

The Aint No Party Like a Pushkar Party

The Pushkar Camel Fair

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Hello – We have been in Pushkar for the Annual Camel Fair for the past week and it has not been disappointing. Every year the fair attracts 100,000 camels and 1000's of horses, cows, goats and elephants for buying selling, racing, showing off and general debates about the size of your camels humps, or how many people you can fit onto your camel. Myself and Annie have already been on a camel ride, but we thought we would try out the camel taxi! I'm fascinated by camels, there are so many uses for them! The camel taxi (basically a camel which pulls a four poster bed on a truck) took us on a journey around the fair for about an hour and only cost us 250rupees, which was a bargain. Annie received many complements (and she did actually look beautiful in her newly acquired dress) from turban wearing camel and horse men along the journey. As the sun sets over the camel field you can hear the moans and groans of thousands of camels and the arguing and busking of local camel traders and gypsys. What a sight to see and hear.

We arrived on 31st October, a few days earlier than expected because we'd heard good things about Pushkar – not just the camel fair. Pushkar is a holy place, and this means that it is a vegetarian city (including no eggs) and no beer/drugs/dressing provocatively, and it is set within a valley and centred around a holy lake with holy men and ghats aplenty. Holding hands is strictly forbidden as is other forms of affection and inappropriate dressing and nudity. Despite these very strict we saw at least three contraventions within two minutes of walking round the lake – a little old lady smoking what can only be described as a crack/opium pipe whilst having her babs out in the lake! Annie skipt around her whilst I got a full on view of the merry lady who nemaste'ed me to complete the comedy picture, and had to laugh out loud trying to keep myself from falling in the lake!

The entrance to Pushkar lake is littered with 'holy men' giving you flowers, whom then lead you to the side of the lake to participate in a Puja, which is basically a prayer to the Gods for health, goodwill, prosperity in your family and friends. You need to repeat a mantra over and over again (however Hindu's do this 108 times – for this is a good number) then have to give money dependant on how much you love you family and friends – basically, its a bit of a gimmick to give money – I've never been emotionally blackmailed before from a 'priest' as he called himself, so I called his bluff and told him to shove it! Actually, I gave 60 rupees for me and Annie. This whole procedure is called a Pushkar Passport! And yes, it is a con for the toursist, but I actually enjoyed the mantra. Sorry to say that Dad, Ian Sue Sophie Will, you were only worth 60 rupees! I'm sure Dad would be more proud of me for not getting conned out of £50!

The camel fair was meant to start on 2nd November, but in true Indian relaxed style the fair started on the 3rd November and a few hours late. In fact most of the fair including the fairground and parts of the circus were also incomplete. The program started with some dancing girls, and then a camel race around the stadium. I did not care much for the dancing but the camel race was more impressive.

The Chak de Rajastan Football Match!

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The fair is internationally renowned and it rightly attracts many tourists, locals and the regional /national press. I'm told that the the first days activities are the best, which includes local dancing, a camel race and the Chak de Rajestan football match between the local team and a team made up from budding tourists who fancy their chances. Being fit and healthy, not to mention an excellent football player (dont laugh!) this match was right up my street. The match was due to start at 11am, and I turned up at 10am to register myself for the tourists team – I was the first on the list too! The Mela Stadium began to fill up, however only 5 tourists had registered by 11am, so I took it upon myself to rally people by asking every tourist in the stadium if they wanted to play. This enthusiastic act was rewarded by the organisers making me captain of the tourist team! Never before have I captained a football side, and I was determined to do a good job by organising the team, sorting out positions for the squad of 16. Our team consisted of English, Italian, Australian, South African, Israelis and a Dutch girl who was probably our best player. The time was about 1pm and we were given a proper football kit to wear, then we had to line up in the centre circle (which was only laid about ten minutes before with chalk from a bag) to meet the dignitaries (of whom we did not know), but looked really important. Being captain, I had to introduce the important people to the rest of the team and I was given a some flowers which I had to present to this important man! It was so crazy, I felt like David Beckham (only for a brief second!). The actual football match was for 25 minutes a half and playing on sand in the middle of the day, and was pretty difficult. Just before we kicked off, our Australian goal keeper pointed out that the only people out in the mid day sun are mad dogs and Englishmen – and he was correct, being India there were mad dogs on the pitch... and us Englishmen , as well as the odd cow... it is India after all! We started the match brightly, and I nearly scored within the first 2 minutes from a cross by the Dutch Girl which I had to leap high in the air, but unfortunately it just grazed the cross bar. This was to be my only chance in the match! Despite the good start and a few more chances from our team, we went 3 nil down by half time (our goalie had never played football before!) At the interval all of the national media wanted to do a half time interview with the captain of the Tourist Team – which was me! It was a real media scrum, about 5 cameras, 10 microphones (all with names branded on them like TV24 India, News Now, India Today, etc..) I have to say that I gave a good account of the occasion by thanking the organisers and the opposition. I said that even though I’m from Manchester, unfortunately I cant play football like Manchester City or Manchester Utd football stars aka Wayne Rooney, but I did say that people say I look like Peter Crouch. I cant help but think my little joke fell on deaf ears. Needless to say my name went into the Times of India (page 2) as 'Peter'. Anyway, we started the second half brightly and managed to bundle in a goal from 6 yards. The final score was actually 4-1, but we didn’t care, we all just loved being involved. I was interviewed after the match again by all the media again, and they just let me ramble on for about 10 minutes. It was such an amazing experience, we even got trophy’s and certificates presented in the stand by the mayor and other important people. My trophy is now proudly sitting in the hostel on thr highest shelf in the reception area, alongside the 2010 turban tying competition trophy! I loved every minute of the Chak De Rajestan Football Match – an incredible memory. Apparently I was on national TV at 7pm that day but didn’t see it.

Pushkar was a great place to stay and I would recommend anyone to go there because you get a real flavour of the Rajastani culture and customs.

Hope you enjoy the blog. Peace and Love. Andy x

Posted by Annie Thornton 01:08 Archived in India Tagged fair camel rajastan pushkar Comments (0)

Photos from Agra, Fatephur Sikri, Jaipur, Jaislemer

Taj Terrific

Taj Terrific

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

Snakey Wallah

Snakey Wallah

Desert Annie

Desert Annie

Camel Annie

Camel Annie

Posted by Annie Thornton 09:08 Comments (0)

Happy Diwali from Jaisalmer

Fireworks in the desert....

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Rejuvenated and ready for action, me and Andrew were feeling very positive about our impressive organisation booking our trains in advance and having dates set to be in each town. Imagine our horror when two days before Diwali we were packing ready for our night train to the desert and we realised we were still on the wait-list and therefore basically not on the train. We debated our options;

Option 1: 12 hours overnight in the unreserved section of a train that had set off from Delhi. Positives, this would get us to our preferred destination on time. Negatives: Although we are always prepared to spend a few hours in general class and can climb in the baggage rack and get down with the chickens like the best of them... the overnight trains generally have four people to a bunk at the first stop and any subsequent passengers hang out of the doors. Summarised: High chance of reaching destination, high chance of death.

Option 2: Bite the bullet and get a 'Delux Night Bus'. Now I know what you are thinking, Delux sounds good. Those of you who have visited India however will know that there is no 'standard' in India, 'Delux' is in fact the bottom of the scale. This is then followed by 'Super Delux', 'Superior Super Delux' and then 'Air Conditioned' which does to some level qualify the standard of all the previous classes). We took the bus and were pretty chuffed. We were given a sort of space age pod with a double mattress in and a door that closed and shut everyone out. Negatives: we stopped in Jodhpur and had to swop buses to one with considerably more passengers and considerably less room. It also happened to be full of passengers carrying Diwali fireworks, and happily lighting matches and smoking near the paper bags containing them. Again, high risk of death. However, we indeed reached our destination and were welcomed by comedy touts who gave us a cheap lift to the hotel we had already booked in hope of commission. They did not get any. Annie and Andrew (1) Unscrupulous Touts (0).

So Jaisalmer awaited us. Negotiating a discount on the room we had already booked we were welcomed into the family at our guest house which had a view of the fort from the roof top terrace. Jaisalmer consists of what can only be described of a massive sand castle in the middle of the Great Thar Desert with a little town surrounding it. The fort is filled with Haveli, Jain Temples, beautiful buildings and winding bazaars around the palace itself. Unlike other forts we had visited, this one is still inhabited by the usual collection of men, women, armies of children, cows, camels, buffalos etc. This is somewhat multiplied by the limited room and the narrow streets. We were expecting hassle in Jaisalmer but did not find any. People were pleasant and really interesting. Eco tourism seems to be picking up here and we met locals who were running organic farming set ups in the desert growing watermelons (now until I saw watermelons growing in the desert I didn't believe it either, but as you are regularly informed by locals here 'in India, everything is possible!)

The whole spectacle of a giant inhabited sand castle is worth seeing and just watching the light changing on the sandstone throughout the day and night is entertaining in itself as it is so beautiful. Here I found the Rajastan I was expecting, and did not find, in Jaipur. Camels pulling carts through bazaars, turbaned men herding goats in the main square, all the colours of the rainbow, masala chay in winding alleys and sunsets sitting on cushions with the obligatory Kingfisher on low tables sat on russet cushions. I was, and remain, disgustingly smug with the whole scenario and I apologise for it!

The whole experience was multiplied as it was the time of Diwali, the festival of lights, and we were here for the 26th October, the big night! Now, we took a peaceful evening meal in the fort surrounded by oil lamps and watching children play with sparklers. Very peaceful and pretty. Then we went into the town and embarked in our journey into the real Diwali.

I was plagued by those government videos they used to show you at school every year near bonfire night, 'Firework Safety'. You know the kind, all centring around poor little Johnny who returned to an unlit firework whilst using a sparkler without gloves on and was simultaneously blinded and burnt his fingers. Either they don't have these videos in India, or the children here have no fear of Little Johnny's fate as children as young as three and four were setting off rockets and fountains in the street whilst their parents looked on clapping and cheering. Hundreds of ruppees must have gone up in smoke and rainbow flames in Jaisalmer that night.

We wandered off the main strip onto a residential street. Any other day there may have been a cow grazing on plastic and some kids playing chase. Today the whole thing resembled a mine field during a colourful but dangerous war. Every third step there was a firework two steps away, people ran wild laughing and shouting. Me and Andrew were both amazed and terrified until we were rescued from the street by a local family who took us indoors and gave us chappati and Diwali sweets on the floor of the kitchen. The whole family wanted photographs taking with Andy, without Andy, with each other, with the cow....

We saw out the night with more fireworks (apparently you can never get enough) with the hotel boys. We retired to bed and did not sleep as apparently even dawn does not dull the effect of a really big rocket... 6am firework display anyone? I can recommend a good one!

The one thing you will hear alot of in Jaisalmer is 'camel safari? camel safari?' and being the camel loving pair that we are, we thought why not and went off into the desert along with a German Yoga Teacher, his wife, two local blokes, a child they kept around to do the washing up, and five camels. Andrew immediately developed a bond with his camel, Jondeer (who might as well have been called John Dear for the amount of affection that the camel man and Andy put upon his fur). Jondeer was a prize racing camel and we went off to a village for the camel herder to prove this to us when we sounded slightly cynical. Jondeer came 2nd.... Pretty good, although 2 out of six camels took off in the wrong direction when the starter firework was set off (oh yes, fireworks have many uses!) My camel, Acora... or Our Cora as I preferred, was altogether more mardy and was not having any affection. My camel also was disgusted by any attempt to speed it us, or guide it's course. However, we reached an understanding; I sit up top and don't bother her, she will do all the work and not bother me.

Sleeping under the stars on the sand dunes was fantastic. Andy totted up three shooting stars through the night. With no light pollution we could see everything and Andy did his best impression of a professor to inform me what we were looking at. Now, imagine our surprise when out of the peace and quiet of the desert came the 'Off License Camel' loaded up with ice boxes and Kingfisher at an altogether not bad mark up considering the commute. A night to be remembered!

With a new found love for the Delux Bus and a determination to try and stay out of main cities where possible, we have skipped dusty Jodhpur in favour of the lake sides of Pushkar a bit early for more camel related fun.

Posted by Annie Thornton 02:11 Archived in India Tagged safari camel rajastan jaisalmer Comments (0)

Agraaaaaa and Jaipuuuuurrrr

This blog entry is currently under the second draft atop a laptop in a strop

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Entry coming soon by Andrew Lancashire Esq

AGRA (Agr-errrr!) and Jaipurrrrrr!

Welcome to the long awaited blog that I (Andy) have written. Now I know that Annie is developing a little bit of a fan club back in the UK, however, I have been busy with Town Planning duties, which perhaps if I publish, we would not have as many readers. The following events happened about just over two weeks ago, prior to Diwali – so arriving in Agra was about the 19th October.

Agra is the home of the most famous building in the world and it is where Annie and I decided to stay for three nights. The train journey from Delhi was about 5 hours following a one hour delay and unfortunately this journey was the scene of which Delhi bely was to once again rear its ugly head into my bowels. There is no worse place to visit than a speeding train with a hole in the floor – trust me...

Moving on – we arrived in Agra to a horde of rickshaw wallahs wanting to take us to their hotel. Apparently, they make upto 5% on budding tourist who opt for the hotels on offer. However, we held firm and asked for a specific location then spent the next hour comparing hotels and prices. Agra itself is small city (perhaps half a million) but it looks like something from the dark ages, with modest commerce, and restaurants for the masses of tourists whom are there for only one or two reasons – the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.

Our hotel was basic and I spent the next day watching films on HBO due to my illness, but felt much better the next day and we got our tickets for the Taj. The Taj Mahal which most of you will know, was built in memory of Shah Jehan's second wife Mumataz and is in my opinion the most beautiful building ever built by mankind. The pure white marbel, intricate details, four symetical towers, bulbous domes make it a real treat for the eye, which set against a backdrop of blue sky make it a worthy tomb – I wonder what the first wife got? It wasnt actually that busy inside the complex, and we moseyed around for a few hours. I sat on the 'Princess Diana bench' and made a silly pose whilst Annie beat of queues of people trying to take photos of her – so just like a normal day in India.

Now on recommendation from Stephen Thornton we headed out on local bus to Fatehpur Sikri, the short lived capital, and now abandoned ancient settlement. In an email suggestion, Dad assured us that we would need at least one and a half day's to fully explore this archaeological site. Now, experienced as I am with my Dad's archaeological estimates (a thirsty day in Pompei comes quickly to mind) I think me and Andrew did the correct amount of time at the site in about three to four hours. This time scale is somewhere between American tour bus visitors and the avid historian in woolly cardigan. (Annie – She has again wrestled the computer off me.)

(bloody el, back to Annie Author) - By now me and Andrew have become quite the experts at refusing would be tour guides with a quick rendition of 'No Limit' by Two Unlimited (with a slight lyric correction to 'No no, no no no no, no no no no, no no NO NO TOUR GUIDE!'). However, this does hold its complications when you enter a site and realise you don't really know what you are looking at. However, Andrew worked hard to fill the gap that a local tour guide left us when armed with his lonely planet and best Indian accent he became my personal tour guide and led me round the monument pointing out all the best Jain decorative carvings (hope your impressed Dad!). This provided amusement for all in the vicinity and saved us somewhere in the region of 50 – 6000 ruppees (prices are highly negotiable in Rajastan it appears!). Therefore we now present;

Annie and Andrew's No Nonsense Travel Guide
Edition One Fatehpur Sikri
(N.B. Content may not be entirely historically accurate and authors will not be held liable for any offence caused or misunderstanding as a result of this travel guide).

Fatehur Sirkri is located 40km North of Agra and was the short lived capital of the Mughal Empire (1571-1585). The settlement was the brainchild of Mur protagonist and all round eccentric Emperor Akbar. In Akbar's excitement to build up his new location in lightning speed so that he could get to the interior design (Akbar was a big fan of Changing Rooms and Handy Andy), he forgot one important thing and built his complex in an area with massive water shortages. Silly Akbar! Therefore when Akbar popped his clogs, all his minions packed their bags and set up in an all together more sensible location near the local spring where they could have a decent shower and avoid the frustration of Akbar's frequent hose pipe bans.

However, for his life time his minions humoured the old eccentric and Fatehpur Sikri is a monument to this. Akbar built himself a reet big mosque and this remains open to all. Tolerant guy that he was, there is a huge mix of styles in the décor and engravings. Fre to enter and thronging today with would be bracelet sellers and people eating chappati the courtyard and tombs are well woth a visit (although it remains unclear where everyone gets the chappatis they are eating from). Be prepared, Andrew was slightly put out when he discovered he was required to pay 10 rupees for the rent of his Muslim head cover. However, the one they gave him was unique and slightly resembled a plastic cullinder and how often to you get to wear one of those in public? Everyone elses head covers were slightly less eccentric. If Akbar would have had plastic in his time, we like to think that the cullinder inspired effort would have been his personal preference.

The main beauty of the site is the palaces. Now as we have established, Akbar was no stranger to a bit of excess in his life and his love life was no exception to this decadence. Now it is unclear how many wives Akbar had, but we know he liked three a fair bit more than the others, and those three got a palace each.

Akbar was a man who liked to cover his bases. Therefore, just to be on the safe side he made sure that his preferred wives were all of a different religion, one Hindu, one Christian and one Muslim.

The Hindu wife was the preferred wife. She exercised regularly, was really good at Ludo (of which Akbar was a huge fan) and always let Akbar be in control of the TV remote. As such, she was rewarded with the biggest palace. The gift of a massive courtyard, rooms with vaulted ceilings and balconies meant that the Hindu wife was not short of space.

Now after viewing this spectacle, me and Andrew found ourselves feeling a bit sorry for Mariam, Akbar's Christian wife. Now Mariam's palace was more luxury apartment than palace complex and a wee bit short changed. Akbar, dismissing Mariam's love for Christianity, also got inspired by Lawrence Lewellen Bowen's new 'Hindu Collection' and went about drawing Shiva all over the walls of Mariam's space. Silly Akbar! Poor Mariam!

However, even Mariam was doing alright in comparison with the Turkish Muslim wife who was afforded minimal floor space in her abode. Sure the carving was beautiful and it makes a lovely visit, but sleeping in a four foot space must have been a bit difficult and would have brought about a lot of resentment towards the other wives in their posh pads. We can only deduce from the small space she was given that the Turkish wife was terrible at Ludo! That can always put a strain on any relationship.

At least our Turkish wife managed to survive Akbar's other punishments; being forced into being a living Ludo piece like the slave girls or being trampled by charging elephants along with convicted criminals.

All in all Fatehpur Sikri makes a great day out and we became strangely attached to Akbar by the end of our visit. Perhaps history would have been different and the settlement would be up there today with New York or Hong Kong if Akbar had only appointed a certain Barnoldswick based, sustainably minded and water orientated planning consultant... who knows.

Thanks for that interlude about Faterpur Sikri Annie. However all you need know is that is was abandoned and along came Agra Fort, and the Taj. Now Agra may have water but if you look at the state of it (the river), you would rather drink your own piss, or perhaps just buy bottled water!

Next city on the tour is Jaipur – the Pink City. We took a daytime train to Jaipiur (6hours - 400km) and was very comfortable. All through our trip we have been guided by the Lonely Planet India book but we had lost the part about Jaipur so we followed a couple to the their hotel (Merlin and Catherine – from Berlin and Poulton) which was lovely and chilled out and full of other western tourist. We met a Manchester fellow who gave us his section of Jaipur from his lonely planet book. You can always count on a Manc geezer.. ps: Man Utd 1-6 Citeh!!!! come on!!

I can see the attraction with Jaipur. Its a growing city, easy to navigate, plenty of forts, museums, temples and notable buildings, all painted pink. The city really is buzzing because the city is so compact and tightly developed unlike Delhi which is spread out across a vast area.

It is the start of Dewali (24th Oct) and all of the buildings and streets are decorated with lights, candles, gold and silver leaf etc (Dewali; the festival of lights – good triumphing over evil, and a party for Goddess Laxhmi). The atmosphere is magical, people with families, shopping, buying presents, smiling, laughing and being happy. Its a shame we aren’t staying here longer because the main squares are being set up for a massive festival for the 26th October).

Whilst we were in Jaipur we visited the Amber fort – and what a formidable and grand place it is. Set on the hillside, surrounded by lakes and valleys, the fort is more a series of palaces and gardens. We were promised Elephants by the Lonely Planet, but they must have been hired out for Devali events – so we walked to the top with our own legs. If you were fortunate enough to have money in the Mughal empire period, it was even more difficult to protect your assets and family. The Mughals were certainly cultured and educated, they could also build very effective defensive structures, as evidenced at so many places throughout India.

England have been playing a one day international series with India at Cricket. We are currently getting slaughtered 4 -0 (its very hard not to know the score – everyone is a cricket fanatic), soon to be 5-0 because we are playing shite. The young Indians cant resist it when they find out our nationality to gloat and point four fingers in our faces.

Leaving Jaipur was not as easy peasy, lovely jubly (as the Indians say) as we expected. However, we are hear to tell the tale as Annie describes in the last blog entry.

Posted by Annie Thornton 02:10 Archived in India Comments (0)

Varanasi and back to Delhi

Well it's just not cricket... wait a minute!

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Back in New Delhi where it all began one month and two days ago. We are treading water for an hour before we depart again! We feel we have now mastered going North and East, next, South and West! Our train for the dreamlands of Agra is awaiting and then on to the deserts! Due to the speedy leadup to Diwali on the 26th October trains are booked solid so we have had to do some planning in advance for a change (shocker) but what this meant is that we know we are definately going to be in Rajastan for Diwali , we are going to get to Udaipur and we are all booked to go to the Pushkar Camel Fair at the start of November! Suddenly feel very organised!

We left off in Varanasi where, from re-reading my blog entry, I was apparently somewhat overcome by the dirt of it all. Varanasi or Benares turned out to be one of my favourite stops so far. It is really something rowing down the Ganges as sunset watching Buffalo bathe in the water, pilgrims praying and holy men performing rituals with fire to celebrate the river and Mother Ganga. The streets are manic; rickshaw-wallahs at every corner waiting for you to linger for just a moment in order to pounce, helpful children cum forceful tour guides and silk merchants who are apparently are desperate to set their goods on fire just to prove to you (somehow) that they are genuine silk. All this is just part of the 'game' of India. Dodging through it all becomes a bit like a life size game of Paperboy from the Sega Megadrive and the feeling of achievement you get when you reach your destination is much better when you have to fight for it!

One thing to be aware of is that the auto rickshaw drivers in Varanasi will argue to the back teeth over a 10 ruppee increase in the fare price. You will find that wherever you want to go there are apparently Road Taxes, Closed Roads, Uphill sections that use more fuel and it is always 'long long far'. All these things make it more expensive for the driver... apparently. Now, saying that they are so sure that all these thigs are in the close vicinity of your location, only when you have agreed the price and set off will it become clear that the rickshaw driver a) actually has no idea where your location is... and b) doesn't actually have any petrol. I think we saw more of the petrol station in Varanasi from the back of a rickshaw than anywhere else! Comedy!

So, 12 hotel beds, 2 night train beds and 1 night bus later and we arrived back in Delhi, for one reason and one reason only... for Andy to represent the England fans single handedly at the India vs England One Day Cricket International and what a job he did. Showing my commitment to our upcoming nuptuals, I spent the two nights before learning the rules of cricket (I know family and friends, I can hardly believe it either!) Armed with glasses, salt shakers, matchboxes and sugar bowls... and oiled with a few Kingfishers... Andy went through all the rules, the positions and the hand signals whilst demonstrating with his table top representation of a cricket pitch. This was much to the amusement of other drinkers in the bar and the waiters. What Andy did not mention was that the Cricket we were going to see lasted for 8 hours.

We got tickets in the cheapest stand so were in the rough and tumble of it. People were sharing seats, climbing up poles and dancing for all 8 hours. Luckily, we were again a novelty so we got seats, and a running commentary from all sides in a variety of languages regarding the action. The crowd seemed to think Andy was a representation of England. When England scored a six, rather than clapping and cheering at the players, the whole India crowd in our stand turned to Andy and cheered along with him. Andy conducted them in songs and chants and shook hands like he was in the team. When India caught England out or got a six themselves, they again turned to us and cheered at Andy again. England lost, India was happy, Andrew was popular, Andrew was happy. Every so often we switched allegience and cheered for India... when we did that, people cheered for us. Crazy days!

Onwards and downwards! Our train awaits!

Posted by Annie Thornton 23:32 Archived in India Tagged varanasi delhi cricket_odi Comments (0)

Look Now Lucknow... and V for Varanasi

Chandigargh onwards.... the journey takes off!

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Now unimpressed as I am by the lack of emphasis that Andy gave the whole monkey stealing glasses episode (I would have preferred at least three blog entries on such a subject) I am required to pick up where the boy left off. Shame I am sure!

Now well on the well trodden footsteps of our mate Palin and his adventures in North India, we headed out for the Shimla railway ready to try the toy train ride through valley and mountains on a narrow track down to Kalka. Now those who have been to India, forums and travel guides might tell you to reserve seats, get tatikal tickets and make sure you have confirmation. Now that is not the Annie and Andy way to play. We maintain that as long as you turn up early enough at a train station and have sharp elbows it will all turn out ok. And it did! General class on this historic railway line provided us with window seats looking down over the aforementioned valleys and cliffs, Malaysian seat neighbours with a bottle of whiskey and a desire to share (for which Andy was very happy), a crowd of India kids who wanted to practise their English and ended with an invitation to our new friends homes in Malaysia! For the price of 50p each, you cant complain!

The ride was briliant! Viaduct style bridges over valleys, 103 tunnels through the hillside and a gang of Indian teenagers who found the need to whoop and cheer everytime we went over or through one... now that tradition they should definately take up at home! Good job as well that seeing as we had not worked out how to get from Kalka to Chandigargh (an hour away) it all worked out. There was a train, we again found general tickets (albeit this time we had to put up with a staring crowd of Indian men, but you get used to that), Andy could sleep off his hangover from the Whiskey and we arrived in Chandigargh in good time.

Chandigargh is a planned city by Le Cobusier. This gave Andy a fair amount of opportunity to use his knowledge on Town Planning which he enjoyed. In fact there were whole exhibitions and museums dedicated to Town Planning. Luckily for me, Andy reigned in his excitement and we only had to visit a few. The city was interesting but very non-Indian. In fact, it slightly resembled a combination of Stoke and Stafford town centre but with slightly more rickshaws and slightly less chavs. They are very proud of their Rose Garden in Chandigargh. But then again, the people of Armley are very proud of their Rose Garden. I will let you make your own conclusions on that!

We then headed by night train to Lucknow, home of the First War for Indian Independence and a really interesting and strangely appealing city. Our train plan seemd to initially fail us when our train tickets were RAC (apparently this means you have to share a seat) but by nightime the helpful conductor had found Andy a bed of his own and all slept well. All rested we landed in Lucknow and were back in real India! Now Lucknow is a city of history and wicked buildings, has sites and is vibrant and busy but is not really on the tourist track. In three days I saw one foreigner. On the one side this meant that we had no interfearence from apparent tour guides, crowds of other tourists or busses filled with our American friends clogging up ticket booths. This is all good. However, upon arriving our celebrity status that we had left behind in Amritsar reared its head and again we were the subject of Paparazzi and pointing. My personal favourity was when we walked through the Zoo. The zoo had two white tigers, the rarest of tigers that are born only once in a generation. Annie and Andy marvelled at the tigers. WE turned and found that no one else in the 50 strong crowd was looking at the tigers but were happily watching us and taking pictures. There was actually a spare enclosure in the zoo, me and Andy ran away for fear of people putting us in it!

And on we roll to Varanasi where I write this now. Sitting on the banks of the River Ganges, Varanasi is where you really see life! Hindus belive that to be dunked, burnt and sunk in the River Ganges is the purist thing to do when you die (I am sure in the religious texts it reads slightly more romantic than this). It frees you from all sin and spares you from the cycle of reincarnation and ensures you that all important trip to heaven. WINNER! Pilgrims come to drink and bathe in the waters of the river whilst children swim in it, bodies are burned at its banks and buffalo have their morning dip. All this in the most polluted river in the world. The place is colourful and congested, filthy and facinating, devout and disgusting. For all those people watchers out there I know and love, this is the place for you. When we have delved more into the city I will update you, but I am excited to be here! For now, beer and Paneer Masala awaits me!

Love to all,

Annie and Andy x

Posted by Annie Thornton 06:49 Archived in India Tagged varanasi lucknow Comments (0)

Mcolud Ganj, Manali and Shimla

Mcloud Ganj to Manali and Shimla

Well, its 10pm, 1st October and I am sat on the balcony with a vodka and coke writing this blog about the past week, and what a week it has been!

(25-27th Sept) Mcloud Ganj is a lovely place to be, mainly populated with Tibetan refugees and budding entrepreneurs who set up restaurants, hotels and shops for tourists and Indian couples on their honeymoon. Set within the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range, this place is massively different to the big city life. For one, its not dirty; two they have sewers; three, they sell beer at nearly every establishment! However, we have not been well from Delhi Beli and are off booze, currys, milk and mangoes (apparently does not mix well with antibiotics) and a day or two recuperating in the hotel serves well (especially when the TV has HBO films!!!)

The reason for our visit to Mcloud Ganj, is because of the irresistible pull to glean knowledge, peace and happiness from the presence of his Holiness the Dhali Lama. The visit to the Buddhist temple was so inspiring, as the peaceful and self fulfilling philosophy of the Buddha is so encouraging to lead a better life. There were so many Tibetans around the temple who live from charitable donations made to the Tibetan government and other sources, however, the Tibetans are very humble and a loving kind that I saw none begging or hassling, its just not within their culture. The museum gave me a massive shock when I read about the Tibetan persecution from the Chinese over the past 100 years. Its disgusting really that an entire nation can be almost wiped out from existence in this modern day, not to mention the 1.2 million killed from starvation, execution, or other dreadful ending. I do not want this blog entry to be wholly serious, but things have to be said. - such as FOXTROT OSCAR OFF CHINA!!!

(28th Sept) There is a lake in Mcloud Ganj, about 3km walk away, me and Annie made this trip and we wish we hadn’t. It was an infested putrid pile of goo, surrounded by tacky little concrete temples and so much litter and nappies strewn around the place. However, if you like walking through a forest when the heavens open up just remember turn around before you get to the lake. Perhaps a walk to the waterfall is more to you liking?, well, I can vouch for this little walk through the village of Bhagsu, there are lots of cows and goats that roam free through the streets (well 1 street actually), and survive from bits of plastic and sporadic patches of grass/soil. Anyway, the waterfall was cold and not as impressive as Igwasia Falls (Annie tells me that all waterfalls are inferior to Igwasia Falls in Argentina/Brazil) and in my opinion the shop opposite which is constructed from blue plastic sheets, wooden poles and stones spoils the setting and would be swiftly refused by any planning officer – although, I'm not sure the Indians have grasped town planning best practice. I am sure to bore anyone about town planning in India, so I will let you readers off for now.

A bus journey to Manali took 10hours and was very uncomfortable and left us both without hardly any sleep, but we arrived at about 5am (29th Sept) in the morning for a nice man to drive us to our destination (Old Manali)and to also offer us refuge in his hotel for only 400 rupees per night (£5). I have to say that Manali is beautiful and relaxing. We have an amazing room with a balcony and view of more Himalayan mountains (we are 2000m above sea level) and valleys. A river runs by about 200m away ans the sound is sooo soothing and relaxing. The air is clean, me Annie have got over our illness and back to 100%.

I sat on a yak and had my photo taken today (30th Sept) which was nice (cost 50 rupees), on the way to a 16C wooden carved Hindu Temple. More impressive was the paraphernalia which surrounded the temple such as Gypsy women thrusting great big white rabbits in your face (for photo opportunities, all at a price – 10 rupees), and old battered fair ground rides like the big wheel (not working), throw a ball at the bean bag, and the old classic – hook a duck! Afterwards I went and sat in a boiling hot spring by the side of a temple, whilst Annie read a book next to a Hindu Sadu (religious man who has no possessions and lives from mother earth).

I've never seen so much cannabis before. It grows at the side of the road and the pungent aroma is often found close to coffee shops populated by Israelis. The street value of the back alley to our hotel is probably a manc gangsters dream land!

Today (1st October), we took a Jeep trip to Rhotang Pass (3980m above sea level) to participate in some trekking amongst real Himalayan Mountains! We saw snow (not too far away), hilarious snow outfits that adorned indian men and women (probably over reacting the cold in my opinion) and eagles with at least a 2m wing span. Most people took a horse ride upto the snow line, whilst me and Annie braved the apparent cold and set off up the the ridge. I'm not sure, but walking just isn't the norm in India if you can afford it. Why use your legs when you can get a rickshaw, taxi, boat, horse or elephant if you can? 3 hours later, the driver still waiting for us, I had an omelet sandwich before we got in the jeep back to Manali. Had some food - The fish here is fantastic, fresh trout from the river! Tomorrow we travel to Shimla by bus out of the Himalayan mountains and across into more mountains. Shimla used to be the summer British Raj capital of India, so we are expecting to see lots of British Architecture, a 'Railway Pub', 'battered fish and chips', and please O GOD, a 'British Fry Up!!!'. I will keep you posted (especially the fry up.)

Peace and Up The Clarets!!!!

ps. Burnley 5 – 1 Forest. Amazing! (can you please pass my sincere apologies on to any forest fans I may know? Ta).

(4th October) Namaste. We have been in Shimla for two days following a long 10 hour bus journey. The journey out of the Himalayan Mountains to Mandi fared quite well, but the back roads and winding roads through the Shimla Hills was quite an experience. Shimla is the capital of Himichal Pradesh, and rightly so. Its actually quite a large city, which was built by the British Raj. Many architecturally notable and distinctly British buildings adorn the high street called The Mall. Its just like being in Skipton, or Stafford.. A very English Gothic Church and Town Hall are the main buildings along with a mock Tudor Post Office. I have to say that I feel we are cheating at the moment because this does not feel like India at all. The shops are fine boutiques and restaurants are top quality. Although i'm sorry to say that I have not found a Railway Pub, Fish and Chips or a greasy spoon café serving a fry up. Instead we have settled for kingfisher beers and chicken do-piaza.

The orientation of Shimla is very odd. The mall stretches east to west and other streets are also east to west, but lower, or higher altitude with the main Scandal Point at the summit where you can see 360 degrees over the hills and valleys. The whole town centre is pedestrianised, which makes for a very clean and stress free environment. I'm particularly fond of the horse rides dressed as British gentlemen at Scandal Point – I'm so tempted, but perhaps in bad taste!

Yesterday (3rd October) we walked up to the Jakhu Temple which is dedicated to the Hindu Monkey God Hanuman. A 100ft statue of Hanuman sits proudly atop of Shimla, surrounded by rhesus macaques who loiter and swagger around the place as if they own the joint! How apt! I was until this point a massive fan of the cute little cheeky monkeys. In the morning, I took out contact lenses and decided to give my eyes a rest and wear my glasses. This decision was clearly going to be something that I was going to regret. Walking down from the temple, still gazing at the cute little monkeys when one jumped onto my backpack and grabbed my glasses and legged it! I couldn't believe that I was duped by this little critter, so I sought to bargain with the monkey with a bag of nuts and sweets (that I purchased from a road side retailer, so convenient – perhaps too convenient if you ask me, I'm sure it was an act). I'm laughing now at the sight of this cheeky monkey looking through my glasses! He eventually let go when offered the bag of goodies. Unharmed and relieved, I started to laugh, whilst Annie was literally wetting herself!

Today 4th October – we have chilled out, played cards, drank beer and been shopping! I bought some new trainers and a new shirt! Out with the old and in with the new! Tomorrow we are back on the move via the famous Toy Town Train from Shimla to Kalka, which is sure to be an experience.

Take it easy. Lanky and Annie x

Posted by Annie Thornton 06:36 Comments (0)

Amritsar to McLeod Ganj....

Lama to you!

semi-overcast 25 °C

We left off in Amritsar about to visit the India Pakistan border... and what a day trip that was!

On the way we went to the Mata Temple in Amritsar. Now, the Hindu's know how to make a fun building of worship! They could teach a few of these Christians a thing or two! They appear to have based the temple on a mixture of the 'House of Fun' at Blackpool and Las Vegas. As you walk through the temple, you get greeted with multicolor Dieties, you crawl through the mouth of Ganesh and walk through a shallow tunnel of water into the hall of mirrors! All surrounded by mosaics and occassionally a small man who puts paint on your face and gives you some sweet rice to eat. Now that is what all religion should be like in my book!

We then jumped in a car to the India Pakisan border for a display of national pride! We reached the border and found out there are stands of seating and hundreds of people there to watch the border close for the night. Women from the stands get up and dance around on the army parade ground doing all the Bangra moves! Then there is a lot of flag waving on both sides of the closed gate. Then the master of ceremonies (who slightly resembled an Indian version of Michael Barrymoor) got up and started the crowd in cheers of Long Live India (Hindustan Zinzabad!) and 'All hail Baba G' whilst from over the gate Pakistan crowds retaliated with their chants. I particularly liked 'Baba Baba Baba! Gee Gee Gee' to the tune of Oggy Oggy Oggy.

After this there was a whole lot of hillarious marching and kicking from the police on either side. To see is to be believed.

They have then developed a fascinating way of displaying which nation is better. The head of the guards from each side gets miked up and holds a long note for as long as possible. The longer they hold the note, the louder the crowds cheer and apparently the better the country is. Whether the Pakistan or India guard lasts longest means they win! I think this is how all international disputes should now be sorted out! Stuff nuclear power, vocal exercises people! That is the way to success.

Now we have departed Amritsar and headed to McLeod Ganj, the home of the main man, the 14th Dalia Lama. In fact he is in town at the minute so lots of monks around... everyone loves a good monk! Now this place is a world away from the madness of Delhi. We are 1750m up in the foothills of the Himalayas and the scenery is breathtaking. The whole place is very chilled out. Generally lots of monks (I am very impressed with this so may repeat this fact a few times) and aging hippies. The town is full of Tibetan refugees and temples with prayer flags flying from every tree. Couple this with the fact there are wild monkeys everywhere hanging from buildings and temples, free cows chilling out in every spare space and falcans swooping around day and night and it makes a really lovely place to be!

Plan for the next few days? Who knows. Whether to stay until the beginning of October and do some trecking and go see the Dalai Lama's lectures in a few days or whether to move on to Shimla... will let you know when we have got round to deciding!

Posted by Annie Thornton 02:05 Archived in India Tagged amritsar mcleod ganj Comments (0)

Delhi

Welcome to India!

sunny 36 °C

So here we go! Welcome to India!

We are currently sat in Hotel Tara Palace in the heart of Old Delhi watching 'Bolly Divas' and resting up after three days hard sightseeing and revelling in the relaxation after the brilliant and manic environment of New Delhi. The current view from the window is generally a patchwork of corrugated iron where kids are flying kites.

The journey was surprisingly easy to say we had the baggage load of a small army rather than two backpackers due to everyone’s generosity in donating items for the Salaam Balak Trust. Thanks to my dad and his baggage trolley we managed all our transfers with relative ease and were even shocked ourselves. Needless to say we had a congratulatory shandy once we had got through check in and were bag free!

The only hold up was waiting for the bags and there was a moment of fear as the baggage carousel stopped without our bags appearing and ours were the last of the plane. Between us we had two lots of underwear, some PJ bottoms and a spare set of leggings if our bags were lost... Imagine the fashion combinations! We needn't have worried, two fold. Our bags did appear to some celebration and the clothes in Delhi are so cheap Andy has started to wish he had lost his bag and could start from scratch!

Our dutiful hotel pick up was still waiting two hours after we were supposed to arrive with his sign for 'And Drew Lank Shyre' and he helped us dodge all the scams and touts that are infamous for that initial arrival. As we left the airport we got that overwhelming feeling of heat hit us as we walked to the car park and we could finally appreciate what my mum has been referring to!

Now I am used to people pulling up on the motorway to change a flat tyre. I was surprised however when we were driving down the motorway and we saw a chap pull in the motorway layby on his HORSE and change its shoes at the side of the motorway. A sign of things to come I hope!

A quick run down of our activities. In Delhi so far we have explored the streets of Chandi Chowk. We are impressed by the city retail set up. You want a bike fixing, you go to bike fixing street where the mechanics are (incidentally this is outside our hotel), you want some fabric, you go to fabric street, you want a 32 MB USB storage drive... well there is a man on every corner ready to sell you that!

We have explored Connaught Place where Andy was subject to a near miss ear rape by an ear cleany man. The chap had a book full of recommendations from Western travellers that 'after this mans service my ears have never felt so clean', Joe Taylor, UK'. As the chap seemed to only have one cotton bud, and it did not look too chipper, Andy passed on the mans service. (don't panic Mum, it is Andy's new tattoo of Delhi in Hindi script you should be worrying about).

We have also since being here visited the Red Fort and it is really impressive. I won't go into detail as Wikipedia and the Lonely Planet do that for us all! I will tell you that neither of these sources go into what I think is necessary depth about the amount of wild CHIPMUNKS there are running around in the Red Fort! Now that is an impressive quality for any location.

We then went to Ghandi Smirti, the house where Ghandi spent the last 144 days of his life and the location where he was assassinated. They have a very entertaining range of montages depicting different stages of Ghandi's life made entirely from dressed up Barbie dolls. Now that is something they don't put in the guide book and I think would definitely increase the foot fall to this memorial if they did! Andy walked Ghandi's last steps and marvelled at the chap he idolises and his life. I entertained myself taking pictures of Andy posing next to Ghandi's glasses which are in a glass case at the exhibition. Shame Andy didn't wear his Ghandi costume as the glasses are all he is missing...

Beer and food brings us to today!

For those of you who have sufficient commitment to get to this point reading, I salute you!! For those that are already bored, we will put some pictures up in summary so your not missing much!

Today we hunted out the Salaam Balak Trust near New Delhi Railway Station that works with the Railway Children of India running children's homes, schools and training and apprenticeship schemes to help them get out of a life of poverty. We went to one of the Boys children's homes which served as a drop off for the donations we brought. There were about 30 kids who were there who we met and hung out with for a bit. Me and Andy got relatively mobbed by the kids who all wanted to shake hands, introduce themselves and then play hand clapping games. Andy remains the most impressed by the kids who could do the best Dame Ednor Glasses with their hands and turn their eyelids inside out. They will distribute all the goods we brought across the five homes they have in Delhi so thank you to everyone who donated!

The children's home is basic and they don't have a lot, but what we saw when we were there is that all the kids were clean, well behaved and when one fell over and cried,he got picked up by one of the staff and given a cuddle until he stopped. We also turned up unannounced on a Sunday afternoon so we reckon that it was a clear indication of the reality of the atmosphere there. There was a sense of a family rather than an institution. The kids all had ambitions of a future and the Trust is committed to helping them get there purely from the help of donations and commitment from the staff.

After a brief stop off for Thali and Chay we headed to Birla Mandir the massive Hindu Temple which Ghandi declared was for all castes. It was really lovely to walk round. Apparently for some of the visitors though, we were the biggest attraction as people took photos not of the architecture, but of us. All I can say is that we apologise to the UK for us being it's representatives in India! I assured them that other people are more photogenic!

Tomorrow (Monday 19th September) we travel to Amaritsar (450km north west of Delhi) to see the Golden Temple, which is the holiest Sikh Shrine in the whole of India.

Keep in touch everyone!

Posted by Annie Thornton 00:20 Archived in India Tagged delhi Comments (1)

Amaritsar 1

Golden Temple

28 °C

Leaving Delhi and Arriving in Amaritsar

Prior to heading off for the train at New Delhi Train Station, Annie and I stopped off for something to eat in the Pahranganj district on the Main Bazaar (High Street to us common Brits). Whist the Main Bazaar is full of small shops selling all manner of things, there are a few cafe/restaurants along here which cater for westernised standards of hygiene and sanitation. We ate food within a fine roof top cafe establishment to which we were offered tea coffee, coke, sprite and beer (spoken very quietly), which caught my attention and quickly responded with a quick 'yes please, two!'. The waiter returned with two tea cups and two pots of what he called 'special tea'. Indeed the tea pot was laiden with ice cold frothy Kingfisher Lager! Suffice to say we stayed a few hours prior to our train at 4:30pm.

The train station is like a mad house, I would not recommend New Delhi Train Station to anyone, people trying to sell, buy/rob or con your ticket from you or persude you to buy a new one because the one you have is incorrect/not a ticket but only a voucher for a real ticket. However, we managed to withstand the barrage of obstacles to get to our platform.

The trains are fantastically old and battered machines, but the carriage was a little newer and comfortable. In fact we had a pleasant 6 hour journey which was broken up by a 5 course meal! Sandwiches, Tea, nibbles, soup,Curry and ice cream! The landscape is flat here, and still imersed with poverty along most of the train route, including lots of people living on rubbish dumps, which was very sad to see. Arrived at 10:30pm to a screaming horde of rickshaws wanting to take us to our hotel which was across the road from the station! Hotel is called 'Grand Hotel ' Recommeded by Lonely Planet', however, I have read Lonely Planet and it does not say this, but is listed in the mid range hotels. This hotel has a bar called 'English Bar' and serves beer!

Following a stressful sleep under the mosquito net, we awoke for brunch in preparation for our long awaited trip to the Golden Temple. Built in the early 16C, this Sikh temple is the holiest sikh shrine in the world and is open to anyone who wants to visit providing you respect the religious etiquette I.e washing hands and feet, covering hair and shoulders, (men and women). White marble throughout the complex, with a holy lake and the Golden temple in the middle. It is such a divine and inspiring sight that it makes you feel quite overwhelmed. Indira Ghandi (former Indian President) made the decision to storm this temple in the early 1980's after an uprising which eventually led to her assassination – silly woman. What made me laugh was that the Indian Government fixed the temple, but the Sihks were not satisfied so they took down a whole clock tower and rebuilt it themselves!

Tommorrow we are going to the Indo-Pak Border to see the ministry of silly walks ceremony (those who have seen Michael Palin's around the world will know what i mean!).

Peace, Love and Harmony!

Posted by Annie Thornton 14:00 Archived in India Tagged temple golden Comments (2)

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