India Part 4. Jaipur

Following our camel cart ride on Badel the camel around Sawai Madhopur and then a big laze around the beautiful swimming pool area, we had an early lunch and waved farewell to the staff at the lodge. We had a four hour coach journey towards Jaipur, where we were to be based for 3 nights.

During the coach journey, our Indian guide, Mavi was on form, talking to us for the majority of the journey about all aspects of Indian life. I was totally gripped, his stories were so personal, but highly interesting – he explained the cast system and talked to us about his experiences of life as the oldest brother and the responsibilities that brought. He explained abut the school infrastructure, taxes, and told us some historical stories local to the area we were traveling through. Before we knew it we were cruising into Jaipur- but not before the house bottle of gin had been opened for a sundowner. That’s right- our wonderful hosts had organised an on board bar for us beer guzzling brits. And what a fabulous idea it was.


On arrival at the Trident Jaipur we were given a bindi and welcomed in. Keith and I whizzed off to change into our swimwear – our top tip would be to pack your swim wear in your hand luggage – it sometimes takes a few minutes for the luggage to be unloaded and distributed, wasting valuable pool time! We had a quiet evening which was ideal as tomorrow was another big day!

Monday dawned and with it came another fairly early start. We all met at 08:30 and were bundled onto our coach towards the Palace of the Winds. This is one of Jaipur’s most iconic images and it really is beautiful.

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After a token photo with a snake charmer (bucket list, tick!) we moved on to the Jantar Mantar, which houses a collection of 19 architectural astronomical instruments built in the 1700s, which was just staggering. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I can certainly see why. The largest sun dial was absolutely ginormous. All of the instruments on display had been hand built and were designed to enable observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye.

 

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After an hour or so guided tour we continued on to the City Palace, which is still a Royal Residency. It was, as we had come to expect, another fabulous display of courtyards, gardens and buildings. Many of the buildings now house mini museums, and we got to see a large collection of Royal clothes and weapons.

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As part of this there was an opportunity to meet some artists who use natural colour (taken from rock colours mixed with water) to paint the most beautiful paintings, on rice paper and silk. Naturally we had a little spend, still excited from our Tiger experience we purchased a hand drawn tiger and an elephant on silk.

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Next stop was a gem shop/jewellers where we got to see how gem stones are cleaned up and made into specialist jewellery. Let’s just say this particular stop added a little dent to someone’s credit card. Ahem!


👆handmade to measure, fire opal (my birthstone) #justsaying #boydidgood

We nipped back to the hotel for a bite to eat – we tried the chicken tikka pizza! Which was yum, before a quick swim and then it was time for another highlight of the trip, a trip to a local elephant sanctuary.

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This trip actually came about after I enquired to the lovely Ian, our tour manager, whether we may be able to go and see some elephants somewhere. He worked on it specially for us, and then the next thing was that we got told it was happening and he was opening it out to the group (if we didn’t mind, which of course we didn’t). The coach, all the tour guides and driver’s assistant were assembled and 17 of us headed off towards Eletastic for an afternoon of one to one time with some rescued elephants. Oh they were ADORABLE! So incredibly gentle. We got to bond with our elephant, which on my part meant LOTS of cuddles with Carly the Elephant, we got to feed them tons and tons of sugar cane, then we got to paint them with natural non chemical paint (apparently this is a tradition) then bath and scrub them down, which they LOVED. Then we all went for a walk with our elephants. Absolutely marvellous and something that neither of us will ever EVER forget.

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After our time with the elephants, Keith and I were absolutely drained, so opted for a quiet dinner and an early night. You  know when you just literally can’t take another thing in – this holiday was fast becoming a trip of a lifetime, every single day was producing the most incredible sights and experiences. We needed some time out! Needless to say, the minute our heads hit the pillow at 8.30pm we were sound asleep for 10 whole hours.

Tuesday arrived and it was another fairly early start. This time we were heading to The Amber Fort, another well known Jaipur landmark. Those who visited the elephants were still in awe (us too!). At the fort it was a little bit upsetting as there are lots of elephants who work doing elephant rides all day up and down the hill here. It was boiling hot, and although it’s apparently much better than it used to be, after yesterday’s experience, I think we will always be upset seeing elephants being worked in this manner.
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The fort was spectacular. We had an interesting Jeep ride up the hill to the fort- our diver got out and punched another one’s driver, right on the nose! – goodness knows why, but good old Marvi sorted it out and we were soon on our way. It was probably the most chaotic of all the places we visited, there were loads of sellers, and even more selfie sticks! (including mine, lol!) The highlight for me was the beautiful marble gates and also the mirrored walls. Apparently back then mirrors were extremely difficult to come by, so displaying lots of mirrors on the walls was a sign of wealth.

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After a few hours it was time to board our jeeps and travel back down to the coach.

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We were dropped back at the hotel and a man came and gave henna tattoos to those who were interested. Me of course! 

We then re grouped at 4.30 (those who wanted to) for a trip to the local market. Wow, what a great experience that was! Chaotic yes, but we so enjoyed having some free time and being set loose to do our own haggling, which we did with enjoyment! We got some right bargains too! It happened to be the Monkey God festival too so we enjoyed some music and a parade.

All to soon, we were packing our cases again, and the realisation that our trip was coming to an end hit us. Still, we had one more location to visit, a heritage hotel, so we headed for an early night dreaming of tigers, elephants and Ruby the camper van’s MOT next week!! Haha

Until next time

Lx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

India Part 3. Fatehpur Sikri to Ranthambore National Park

Friday dawned and it was a fairly early start. We packed an overnight bag as although we were receiving our suitcases that evening it would be after dinner as we were travelling by train and our bags via coach which was a good 4 hours drive.

We left the Trident Agra after our short but lovely stay and travelled an hour or so to Fatepur Sikr on the coach. Fatehpur Sikri is a now abandoned city, complete with city walls, but once was home to the Mughals, and was in fact their first planned city. It’s built out of sandstone and stands impressively on a small hillock with views all around.

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Nowadays it’s listed as UNESCO world heritage site, and we enjoyed a fascinating tour around with Marvi’s amazing commentary, seeing both the winter and summer palaces, along with the ladies and men’s quarters.

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The main carpark is about half a mile away so we transferred onto small coaches to get to the entrance. That in itself was quite an experience!

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During our visit we saw some incredible carvings in the sandstone and also some original paintings onto the sandstone of elephants.

After our visit, we rejoined the coach, and went towards a different hotel which we called into for Lunch. It seemed to be the meeting place for several similar groups passing through, but the buildings were particularly grand and the food nice.

Next stop was the train station where we boarded our train for 3 hours, towards Sawai Modpur, where the National park is.

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This train was totally different in feel, and slightly cleaner. We preferred this train to the previous one as the seats were large and leather and it had a bot of a 1920s feel to the carriage. There was a bit of a hoo hah as our booked tickets had different people sat in but good ol’ Ian and Marvi soon sorted it and we were on our way. Keith had another interesting toilet experience here – I however just crossed my legs. We almost drank some tea on the train, but thankfully Marvi caught Keith’s eye just as we raised the cup to our glass- as if to say “I wouldn’t if I were you” – we decanted the tea into an old water bottle and wow it absolutely stank of stale manky water!

We were met off the train by the manager of the Raj Vivante Lodge and he had brought a couple of “canter” jeeps to pick us up. This was our first taste of tomorrow’s safari.

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After a fabulous welcome at this former hunting lodge (where the British Royal Family stayed in the 1960s,  we among with our pool buddies went straight to the pool for an evening dip. We were joined by the resident fruit bats who gave quite a show to us, including dipping in the pool whilst we were in it for some water!

We had a lovely evening at the lodge, including a night cap of Indian Whiskey in the bar area- but it was filled in some part with apprehension- we had a very early start tomorrow- 05:15 our wake up call has been booked for – the reason. We’re off to hopefully see a tiger on safari. Would we be lucky and see this majestic animal.

Saturday arrived very quickly indeed- I felt like I’d only just nodded off when the alarm went off. Keith and I had a mutual understanding not to talk to each other for at least half an hour- we both do NOT do that time of day. By 6:00 we were on our canters and met by our park ranger who travelled with us the short distance into the park. Before we had got through the gates a group of jeeps had congregated all looking up on the hillside. We soon discovered they had spotted the leopard, sat cooly upon his rock, surveying his land below. Apparently the leopard is rarer than the tiger, so it’s safe to say the mood was electric. But this was only the start. We drove on through the park, our ranger constantly with one ear listening to the animals’ dawn chorus, trying to figure out where the tiger was. We sat for a period of time and nothing other than very timid Spotted deer and Summer deer were around and after proabably half an hour of not seeing a huge amount we moved towards the water. We saw a family of wild boar, a kingfisher, parokeets, and even a black Kite – but no tiger. We drove around to another stretch of water and saw a crocodile, and then two more. Still no sign of the tiger and by this time the mood was slipping. Noone was ready to moan about not seeing it of course, this is natural surrounding and not a zoo. However I know I was starting to feel disappointed – It’s only natural right?! Next thing, near to a family of monkeys, our guide spotted a commotion down over in the distance. A large group of animals  were running en mass away- it turned out to be an antelope – but our ranger had other suspicions. Two minutes later he orders us to “hang on tight” and my goodness me, we really needed to. The driver CHARGED  a mile or so down a bumpy dirt track with us 15 brits hanging on for dear life, but howling with laughter in the back. Next thing was a blur – we seemed to turn a corner and then we were faced with a real live TIGER, just strolling past us for a sunbath. Wow, just wow. I cried and cried and cried! What an INCREDIBLE sight. I’l never forget how beautiful and graceful this creature was. The range moved the van a few feet and we found it’s mate on it’s way to join him. What an addrenaline packed morning and it wasn’t even 09:30am.

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We were returned to the hotel where breakfast was served-the mood in the hotel was ecstatic. Noone could believe what we’d seen. It was at this point, Ian, the tour manager admitted that this was a VERY rare occurrence for Great Rail groups.

We had a few hours of free time before we were back on the canters for Safari round 2. This time we took a more mountainous route which was so bumpy – I don’t think I stopped laughing once. it was so so funny bouncing around the back! The bumpiness was what I imagine being flung around inside a tumble drier is like. During the afternoon safari we saw another tiger but this one was further away and also 3 sloth bears and a baby crocodile.

What an absolutely incredible day- when I thought nothing would ever beat being at the Taj Mahal then this happens!

That evening we enjoyed some traditional Indian Music whilst we had our dinner before an earlyish night.

Sunday soon arrived and we had some free time to spend at the lodge hotel. We teamed up with another couple and went on a camel ride around the local town. This was a fascinating insight into life here – we passed through the market area and also got caught on the duel carriageway during rush hour. At one point we had a combine harvester UNDER taking us. Mental! We marvelled at the scaffolding attempts (see pic below, can you spot the man free hanging on a self built hanging ladder?!)

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After lunch it was time to bid a very fond farewell to this part of the country. The staff here are excellent- clearly nature lovers, everyone was excited to hear about our sightings and see our pictures- one of the waiter’s couldn’t wait to show us his picture of the leopard on a nearby hotel wall which he discovered on his way home recently. Wow!

Our next stop is Jaipur.

Until Next Time

Lx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

India Part 2. Agra Fort and Taj Mahal

Thursday was a very early start indeed, in fact I can’t believe I’m still awake writing this now! We were to meet at 06:30 in reception, the hotel very kindly provided a light breakfast and most importantly coffee and we were on the road for 06:45. The reason for our early start was the 08:00 train to Agra, what an experience!



We were booked into the first class cabin and told repeatedly it was nearly new service. Wow, if this is the new one, goodness knows what the old ones are like that’s all I can say.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a fabulous experience and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Well, I may have just cleaned it a little perhaps. There was grime, hairs, dust, it just felt dirty. However positively, there was loads of legroom, big windows (although seeing our wasn’t too easy!) and we got breakfast included too.

 Keith’s toilet experience has ensured that no french toilet will ever daunt him again- he mistook the loo for the western one- it was the Indian one, which was a hole in the train carriage and basically your “business” just fell out onto the track! But, he came out happy to have had the experience. And that’s what India is. A truly awesome yet out of this world experience. We did get to poke our head on the three tiered sleeper train, and boy was this an eye opener. Made ours look like a Bentley.



We arrived at Agra station and was collected by coach and taken to our hotel for the the night, the Tident Agra. Wow, it’s AMAZING here. After a quick freshen up we were out again, this time to Agra Fort. I dont think many of us had braced ourselves for this, I certainly hadn’t- today’s focus for everyone was the Taj Mahal later. How wrong we were. It is simply breathtaking. Absolutely huge and in really great condition, it’s a mix between red sandstone and marble and despite it being 42degrees,  we couldn’t help but be amazed and in awe.



We had lunch break back at the hotel, which will go down in history as my most favourite lunch break ever. A group of us hit the pool area, which is stunning, and were brought beers into the pool to enjoy. We ordered paneer rolls for lunch, also brought to the pool, and we had the most chilled out (yet 40 degree!) lunch I can remember,

Soon it was time to head out again, this time to the main feature, the Taj Mahal. Well, I don’t even know how to put into words a description of this wonderful experience. All I can say is it’s much more beautiful than any photo you will ever see, and so incrediblly huge. It’s perfectly symmetrical, which given it was constructed before the helping head of a computer, is amazing. Just make sure you take a pack of tissues, I blubbed like a baby! And so did many others in our tour. Incredible and I’d go as far as saying life changing! Wow


Back to the coach and our Indian guide, Marvi, had a row of souvenir sellers to show us. An interesting take on buying over here, I must say but – it works. The tourist resorts are teeming with sellers, and apparently trying to rip us off. Marvi haggles for us, gettting a fixed low price, then introduces the item in a similar fashion to on QVC, if you like it, you pay. A member of our group broke away to buy a fridge magnet. He was charged 500 rupees to start (£5) and haggled to 200 (£2). I was miffed when he got to the coach as I wanted one- then Merv, our guide, brings a fridge magnet seller on board, and says they are 50 rupees (50p!) so it works!

Back to the hotel we went, in time for an evening dip and then dinner. It’s another Indian buffet tonight, and it was delicious. We sank a few jars trying to make sense of what we saw today. Absolutely awesome.


Until next time

Lx