A Travellerspoint blog

India

Down on the Farm in Jodhpur

sunny 25 °C

Baggy riding breeches known as Jodhpurs originated in this Rajasthani city where polo has been the sport of maharajas for centuries. Jodhpur is also renowned for the myriad of indigo coloured buildings that make up the old city…
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In the midst of this maze of ancient streets and lanes is the market – as vibrant and chaotic as any we have found in India…
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And standing sentinel high above the tangle of city streets is the Maharaja’s enormous castle – the Mehrangarh Fort…
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This virtually impregnable fortress is an impressive reminder of the power wielded by the Rajputs – a local Hindu clan who were under constant attack by the Muslim Mughals. The Rajputs were never defeated here, although they eventually formed an alliance with the Mughals, (as they did later with the British). This part of the palace was where the Maharaja’s many wives were kept isolated from all other men in what is known as ‘purdah’…
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When one Maharaja died in 1843, all of his thirty-two wives calmly stepped onto his funeral pyre and were burned alive. This is the custom of ‘Sati’ and here are the right handprints they left behind…
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The Mughals are no longer a threat today, so Jodhpur’s royals now live across town in the impressive, art-deco, Umaid Bhawan Palace…
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Three thousand workers took fifteen years to build this pile for Maharajah Umaid Singh in the 1920s/30s. Unfortunately, the Maharajah metaphorically fell off his polo pony just three years after it was completed and his four-year-old son took the reins. However, maharajaship ain’t as regal as it used to be and to make ends meet most of the joint has now been turned into a luxury hotel.
In case you’re wondering, we are not staying up here on top of the world; we are down below in the ‘new’ part of the city where the wide streets teem with traffic, pedestrians and farm animals. Jodhpur may be a relatively modern city of a million people but, as in all Indian cities, stray cattle wander the streets and thrive on the garbage that is simply piled on every available corner. And, along with the cows, there are pigs, goats, dogs, chickens, camels and rats. Living here is to live on a farm and this herd of about twenty cows are being ‘farmed’ on the road outside our hotel’s gates…
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Posted by Hawkson 07:13 Archived in India Comments (2)

The Antiques Roadshow

sunny 25 °C

A road trip across Rajasthan is a mind-spinning kaleidoscopic journey through history, where, apart from cellphone towers and satellite dishes, the present century ends at Udaipur’s city gates. After that the roads deteriorate into a mishmash of nineteenth-century cart tracks, early twentieth century tarmac and a short stretch of modern dual-carriageway, (though the centre median is completely ignored by bus and truck drivers who see no reason to stick to the correct side if there is less traffic on the other). Our vision of this ancient roadway was re-enforced by the odd camel cart…
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And even an elephant… Elephant_ride.jpg
Every road journey in India is a spring-snapping, bone-jarring, death-defying adventure but, as we climbed the arid Aravalli mountains, the 16th century fort at Kumbhalgar took our breath away…
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This enormous ‘castle-in-the-air’ stands on a peak more than a thousand feet high and is surrounded by a curtain wall of more than 36 kilometres. The view from on high is truly spectacular and explains why this bastion was breached only once; and then only for three days…
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After Kumbhalgar we drifted through the middle-ages as we passed dozens of ancient ox-driven bucket wheels being used to lift water from the wells…
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And then we were back in 1469 at the beautiful Jain temple of Ranakpur… Ranakpur.jpg
...the finest, best preserved, (and cleanest), religious building on our trip by far.

But our day in the history department wasn’t over. When we arrived in Jodhpur we discovered that our heritage hotel, The Kothi, had a colourful past and a wonderful host family…
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This magnificent mansion, with 20ft ceilings and a wealth of antique furnishings, has been the home of six generations of the Singhvi family since it was built in 1888. The soaring main hall with its stone balcony is home to an antique-collector’s dream of ancient artifacts including many pieces inlaid with ivory and a diamond encrusted shield made of hippopotamus hide…
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Here in Rajasthan we are not watching The Antiques Roadshow – we are living it.

Posted by Hawkson 07:39 Archived in India Comments (0)

Udaipur's Backside

sunny 28 °C

After a few days in Udaipur we discovered that its opulent and impressive façade is barely skin deep. Just behind the whitewashed palaces, the ritzy hotels and the towering havelis that overlook the lake, lies a tight tangle of grubby streets teeming with tuk-tuks, stray animals and many who have to wash their hair under the street pumps…
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But this city has been divided between the haves and have-nots ever since its inception in the mid-sixteenth century when, as the legend goes, the first Maharana of Mewar killed a hare here and god told him it would be a great place to build both this palace and his two others...
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This immense City Palace was constructed for the privileged aristocracy in the mid 1500s on the backs of people enslaved by poverty… a common practice in the sixteenth century. And, today, as we tour the hard-scrabble backstreets just outside the palace walls, we see people and stray animals still scratching a living much as they did when this place was new, and we wonder what they make of the wedding taking place at the City Palace tonight. Here’s the mainstage for tonight’s affair …
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And here’s the city’s vegetable market where, we were reliably informed, inflation has pushed the price of many products well beyond the reach of the masses…
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This guy sells raw sugar...
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While this lady's whole life revolves around a rickety handcart from which sells individual sweets and packets of tea and coffee for just 1 or 2 cents...
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And these donkeys are still used as transport...
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However, tonight, maharajahs, mega-rich movie stars and well-healed moguls of business and politics won't need donkeys. They will breeze in on corporate jets, helicopters and limos to dine on caviar and to quaff bucketfuls of champagne at the City Palace. And they will be seated on a massive platform supported entirely by a flimsy forest of scrap wood – a metaphor for their precarious position in society perhaps?
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Surprisingly, the Palace remained open during preparations for this evening’s event, the first of the four day celebration of this particular wedding, and we watched as hundreds of lackeys raced to transform it into a glitzy Bollywood wedding chapel using thousands of metres of cloth, hundreds of crates of roses and orchids, (specially flown in from New Zealand), dozens of crystal chandeliers, together with sufficient stage lighting and sound systems to power a Celine Dion spectacular…

We have no idea of the cost of this one event, but weddings are huge money-spinners in India where conspicuous consumption and in-your-face flashiness have become the weapons of choice for the obscenely rich. Unsurprisingly, many might claim that the overt ostentation has been copied from the West, but one look at the Maharana’s monstrous mansions proves that such self-aggrandizement has been the norm here for centuries.
However, just as we wonder what the proletariat might make of the aristocracy’s profligacy, we wonder what the toffs might make of the shameful headline in today’s Times of India. “Eighty-percent of women in India cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins!”
We bet the bride at tonight’s wedding in the City Palace doesn’t have that problem, neither did one precocious ‘Indian princess’ we met at our hotel in Munnar. This young bride derisively complained that she didn’t have a flashy up-market camera because her insensitive relatives and friends had only given her gold as wedding gifts… What a bummer! But even worse, she protested, was the fact that she couldn’t wear the gold jewellery because it was much too heavy… Aw Shucks!

Posted by Hawkson 05:43 Archived in India Comments (3)

Udaipur's Shiny Face

sunny 28 °C

For much of our Indian sojourn the natural landscape has been marred by stark cellphone towers, belching smokestacks, refinery chimneys and crumbling concrete high-rises, and when we arrived in Udaipur it seemed that nothing had changed. The road from the smart new airport took us past massive zinc smelting plants and through squalid villages – complete with ubiquitous, and probably illegal, cellphone towers. But then, as we finally threaded our way into the centre of the old city, a magic wand was waved and we found ourselves transported to an enchanted land of palaces, castles and temples.This is the enormous City Palace which was started in the early 16th century by the first Maharana of Mewar…
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And, on a hill overlooking the lake, is the Monsoon Palace where the Maharana and his retinue could safely ride out the summer storms…
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Udaipur is a whimsical place, bursting with fairytale palaces and haveli, (great mansions), many of which have been transformed into stunningly beautiful hotels charging up to twenty-thousand dollars a night for a suite. Here’s our hotel: The Jagat Niwas Palace…
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And here’s our view across Lake Pichola to another great palace which has been turned into a hotel. This is the famous and incredibly expensive Lake Palace Hotel, which was the Maharana’s summer home and was featured in the1983 Bond movie, Octopussy…
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A cat may look at a king, they say, but when it comes to this uppity joint that’s about all we can do. We wanted to go for lunch one day but were politely informed that they don’t cater to riff-raff. No matter, when it comes to eating in Udaipur, there’s no shortage of haute cuisine. In fact, most restaurants are on the rooftops so we can enjoy the stunning scenery as parrots, hawks and pigeons flock to roost in the crag-like towers of the palaces, and the waning sun drops behind the surrounding Rajasthani hills…
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Or, we can turn our backs on this incredibly beauteous sight and watch 007 ass-kicking his adversaries in any of the dozens of restaurants that show Octopussy every evening… Now what should we do?

Posted by Hawkson 01:44 Archived in India Tagged udaipur Comments (2)

Tea and a Pee at the Taj

Majestic Mumbai

sunny 32 °C

In a city teeming with slum-dwellers and street people it seems insensitive, even downright obscene, for visitors to pay up to four-thousand-dollars a night to stay at The Taj Hotel, so we only went for tea and a pee. Here’s Sheila enjoying a cup of White Darjeeling – the world’s most expensive blend…
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We only had tea, (and a pee) at the Taj, but it interesting to note that a couple of cups cost us two and a half times as much as our entire dinner at a lowlier joint around the corner.
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The Taj Hotel, built in 1903 by Jamsedji Tata, a Parsee, (the Zoroastrians who fled Persia in the 7th century to escape Muslim persecution), stands as a lasting memorial to the terrorism that rocked this city in 2008, and just as we had no desire to be constantly reminded of that dreadful event; neither had we a macabre voyeuristic interest in the millions of poor who struggle to subsist in the teeming slums and panhandle on the city’s rough streets. However, it is impossible to escape either. No tour of this enormous city would be complete without a visit to the Gateway of India, built to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1911, which became a focal point for the legions of press covering the terrorist attack…
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…or to the Oberoi Hotel, the Victoria Railway Station or the Leopold Café, which all came under attack…
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And it is impossible to ignore the grinding poverty on the streets of this city. The average income in Mumbai is four times the national average, which means that a city worker may receive a whopping four-thousand dollars a year. However, millions still live in the most depressing slums imaginable and it is inconceivable that they will ever escape.
On the plus side – Mumbai has a wealth of magnificent colonel-era buildings, like the Prince of Wales Museum...
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…and The Mumbai University – designed by Sir Gilbert Scott who designed St. Pancras Station in London…
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Mumbai is a truly vast city with a population exceeding 18 million, which means that we have seen only a fraction of it. However, if today’s papers can be believed, the city is about to shrink. Corrupt building practices are rife here, (though all kinds of corruption is rife), but, under pressure from the courts and public opinion, the city government has ordered the demolition of all illegal buildings. This means that more than 300 highrise tower blocks would have to come down – any bets on that actually happening?
Now, for those of you envying us our months of warm sunshine - You should know that The Times of India today reported that Mumbai is in the grip of one of the coldest winters on record. Nighttime temperatures have plummeted to a distinctly chilling low of 15 degrees, while daytime highs have barely crept above 32 degrees... Brrr!

Posted by Hawkson 07:35 Archived in India Comments (4)

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