From Pushkar, we caught a seven hour train to Udaipur.
That would’ve been bad enough – sorry, I mean “an adventure in its own right” – but this particular train didn’t have seats. Only benches. And, no, no cushions. Pretty sure I bruised in places I didn’t know could bruise.
Udaipur was just what we needed after the madness of Pushkar. It’s a picturesque place. Very relaxed. And there are some lovely little eateries. We had Thali at Hotel Garden (only 200 rupees) on the first day; mega yum. Then we discovered Rainbow café by the river; such a good spot for brunch.
Thanks to a recommendation back home, Catherine and I paid a visit to Millets of Milwar – and we weren’t disappointed. Such amazing fusion food; very healthy too (nice to have a break from ghee!).
Head to Jasmines for a sunset dinner. Oh and be sure to check out Natural Lake View; this is a lush spot for a lassi or a beer. Make sure you head all the way to the top for some stunning sunning on the rooftop bed.
Make sure you check out the culture show. You’ll be entertained by camel puppets, women carrying eleven pots on their heads, and men riding other men pretending to be tigers and lions, etc. Strange. But fun.
Udaipur is great for shopping; you’ll find the better quality items here. Saying that, it is a little more expensive than Pushkar (but it’s much nicer perusing the shops when you’re not under constant threat of being run over by motorbikes; saying that, Catherine did get head-butted by a cow).
There are some nice arty shops around too. Our guide organised a semi-sales pitch at Jankahs Arts; but it was really cool watching the demos and he wasn’t pushy at all. You can go here for henna, nail art… and you can pick up some beautiful prints while you’re at it.
Don’t be afraid to buy bigger items and get them shipped back home. You can get a tuk-tuk to the Post Office and, boom, sorted.
Oh and don’t believe them when they tell you its real silver. Even if it is stamped with ‘925’. Mine wasn’t the only finger that went green.
Be sure to go for a sunset boat ride; beautiful views! (But don’t get drunk like I did… this is what happens when you’re forced to go cold turkey for a few days…).
We’ve got a bitch of a travel day tomorrow; early bus journey, followed by a rest stop in a place I can’t pronounce, and then an overnight train to Mumbai. God. Help. Us.
Following a walking tour of the Tordi Sagar “willage” (where a few of the G Adventures crew got to re-enact that scene from Ghost; you know, the one with the sexy pottery?), we hopped back into our Shakira wagon (minus Shakira-on-a-loop this time, thank god) and embarked on a four hour jeep drive – only broken up by one Thumbs Up stop – to Pushkar.
We arrived, dumped our backpacks and set out into the town for a spot of lunch. Despite being told that Pushkar is a religious place and instructed to don sensible attire (cover up, etc), there were masses of people with their boobs / legs / arses out – it felt like stepping into a hot, sandier and weirder version of Romford. We were also told to stay well clear of alcohol (for 2 whole days, dear god) because getting caught sipping a beer could result in one’s arrest. That being said, hippies in their droves appeared to be completely off their heads… so even though alcohol might be a no-go, those partial to a magic mushroom lassi will be in their element. In short, Pushkar is a town full of semi-naked schroom-heads and multi-coloured cows. (In case you think I’m tripping – the cows got Holied).
(This cow had managed to avoid the paint)
We found a rooftop café for lunch and, after spending what felt like hours looking at the never-ending menu, were eventually told they only had dal and rice. So we had dal and rice. Later that day, we had dinner overlooking the lake and there was one poor waiter serving 19 of us… needless to say, that order took an ice age to arrive and, when it did show up, it was wrong. Pushkar’s not the best for dining experiences.
The town is pretty small so we didn’t really need a [dis]orientation walk but we went on one anyway, and nearly melted on route. This place is great for shopping – you can pick up tops, skirts and dresses for £2 a pop, and gifts for as little as 50p. Oh and I picked up some Valium for a fiver.
Those who could be arsed to beat the sunrise set their alarm at an ungodly hour the next day and hiked up a mountain. I stayed in bed. And eventually moved to a sun lounger. After lazing by the pool, some of us hopped on a camel and headed out into the sandy wilderness.
Being Arabian (ish) myself (well, I grew up in a desert), I felt rather at home. I spent most of the bumpy hour soaking up the sun and sights, thinking how lucky I am and pondering just about everything in my life. Healthy pondering though. I’m in a good place – mentally and spiritually. I think the hippies are rubbing off on me. (That wasn’t supposed to sound dirty).
We had dinner, dressed in traditional outfits, in the middle of the desert.
Once night had fallen, we watched a magician regurgitate metal balls and “make” birds (real ones) appear from nowhere. Then we were entertained by dancers to music that sounded like Indian-meets-Scottish-bagpipes. We got to show off our moves too (or lack of) – the entertainers had us up dancing and running around in circles. Finally, we watched a man playing, eating and licking fire while a few women danced around with flaming pots of fire on their heads. Standard night out.
It’s an insane place. Not in the good way. I got stressed out with the motorbikes (they don’t bother braking for people – only cows). I got stressed out with the cash machines (they don’t work). I got stressed out with the hippies (all of them are too fried to have any notion of personal space). I got stressed out with the air con (accidentally turned it onto heater mode). I got stressed out generally.
It’s been great (and bracing) but it’s definitely time to leave. Next stop: Udaipur.
In true dirty stop-out style, we left Jaipur in last night’s outfits and hopped into a jeep – the jeep of shame. Nah, it hadn’t been an all-nighter really. But we were advised to wear something we wouldn’t mind getting ruined because travelling from Jaipur to Tordi Sagar on Holi would be a “colourful” journey; meaning we were likely to get set upon by kids armed with paint (see below)
The group divided into fives and my five – the famous five – ended up in the jeep of a bigtime Shakira fan. We spent hours, and hours, and hours in that bumpy ole jeep, listening to Shakira on a loop. It was funny at first. But by the seventeenth “hips don’t lie”, we began to lose the plot. “Oh baby when you talk like that, you make a woman go mad” – yes, don’t you just, Shakira!! (See below shot of Catherine going slowly insane…)
Anyway, we laughed (hysterically and otherwise) most of the way to the small village of Tordi Sagar. And that’s when our particular fivesome (me, Jess, Rhian, Catherine and Matt) bonded. I guess there’s nothing like hours of Shakira on a loop to solidify friendships. From that point on, we were known as ‘Team Shakira’. A little sad, granted, but it worked.
We arrived at our hotel for the daytime version of Holi celebrations. Loads of village (pronounced “willage”) kids congregated and we had a party in the garden, with beer (hurrah). These kids don’t mess around though; they add water to the colours which means it basically turns into dye. Me and the other blondes decided to turban it up to protect our locks (we didn’t fancy rocking up to work with green hair) but it didn’t really do much to protect us.
By the end of the party, our group was like where rainbow-meets-kaleidoscope. People had green, yellow, pink, purple hair, beards, skin… my bra even went multi-coloured. But it was fun dancing with the locals.
There’s not much to do in this particular village so we decided to pay a little extra and go on a jeep safari. It culminated with us climbing a bitch of a sand dune. Heat + sand mountain + unfit = badness. I nearly died.
Got there in the end though…
We watched the sunset as we sipped our sweet tea (they didn’t have beer).
After a lovely evening meal, we all grabbed ourselves a relatively early night. No bars in the willage.
It turns out that catching a local bus in India is an adventure in its own right. We left the hotel at 7am to catch a tuk-tuk to the bus station, and then piled onto the bus – desperately hoping for a seat, for at least part of the seven hour journey ahead. By the time my gorgeous roomie and I had made it onto the bus, they’d run out of standard seats… so Jess and I were allocated a cage. Yup, a cage. Well, of sorts.
‘Is everyone sitting comfortably?!’
‘Great – then the journey can begin!’
But it didn’t. Begin, that is. Moments after we had apparently set off, we sat stationary for the best part of half an hour, on a dusty patch of road, somewhere between Agra and Jaipur. We watched the locals go about their daily business as we waited for – well, whatever it was we were waiting for.
The funniest thing about the journey was all the feet. Bare feet everywhere, sticking out of every part of the vehicle; feet stomping on heads and upper arms in a bid to frantically scramble up to the cages at the top of the bus; feet poking out of hidey-holes; feet touching other feet… a frantic footsie fest! Not in the sexy way.
Jess and I spent most of the seven hours hiding away from Starey McStarers, but we only had a scrap of curtain and it didn’t entirely close so I just glared at them, hoping they’d get the hint. They didn’t.
Anyway, we eventually made it to Jaipur. In order to recover from the 148 mile journey, we chilled out in the glorious sunshine for a while; and I tried to repress the memories of all the feet by doing a spot of meditation.
Once we’d regained feeling in our bottoms, we went for an orientation walk around Jaipur; which was very disorientating. Utter madness, in fact.
After being treated to a lassi, we went to India’s largest movie theatre with the intention of being entertained by a good ole song-and-dance; a Bollywood style knees up, if you will! Instead, we watched a really depressing film and left the Raj Mandir Cinema feeling semi-suicidal and a little confused (it was all in Hindi). Thanks, Sid.
Jaipur, known as the “Pink City”, is clothed in pink stucco. The capital of Rajasthan is one of the most important heritage cities in India and home to India’s second most visited site, the Hawa Mahal, or “Palace of the Winds”. Located in the heart of the Old City, the City Palace offers a striking blend of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture. A couple of quid will allow you to explore the courtyards, gardens, and beautiful buildings.
For another insight into Hindi and Mughal architecture, we headed to the magnificent Amber Fort and took in the sights as we tried to ignore the sad faces of the elephants who were forced to give fat tourists rides in the heat of the day.
Before having lunch at Hotel Glitz (classy), we had a photo op stop near the floating palace. Here I bought myself some Ray Bans. For £2. Roy Bans.
Then we did a spot of [enforced] textile shopping. Jess bought everything in sight, while the rest of us tried to escape. In order to prepare for the pending paint fest, a few of us branched off and had a stroll around the markets, trying to find Holi outfits. A round of banter followed a round of successful haggling. Matt and I decided to split a sari. Literally. Nothing like a makeshift Holi outfit to make things interesting. I rocked it pretty well during the Bollywood dancing class (if I do say so myself). Catherine and I had a lot of fun performing to the masses, all of whom were armed with bright, colourful powder (most of which found its way inside my mouth).
Here’s an overview of the dance moves:
Hip thrusts – snake – clicky clicky – looky looky – spear it – swoopy swoopy – pull Catherine up and twist – shimmy shimmy – I go down, she goes up – clap and shimmy – walk around – Indian DJ – hippy elbow shake – stir the curry – backwards swimming – foot stomps – Indian arms – crack your knuckles – windscreen wipers –
This made perfect sense at the time.
For a warped and wickedly funny slice of life, head to Komedia to see this corker of a comedy. Throughout the hour, the trio offer a laugh a minute – and that’s in the literal sense since each witty sketches lasts no longer. Broken up by a chuckle and a bell, the three meander from one hopeless real life scenario to another with grace and pace. The comics should be praised for their exemplary timing and characterisation; you get everything from the League-of-Gentleman-esque librarian and the mummy’s boy murderer, to the c*nt of a seven year old and birthday-for-one Mary. The descriptions hopefully speak for themselves so, needless to say, there’s pure comedy gold a’plenty; chuckles, belly laughs, cackles, wry smiles… and even some snorting and whinnies in the mix.
Today marked our first pre-dawn wake-up call, and first public train experience; of which, over the course of the fortnight ahead, there would be many, many more. I don’t remember much about either; I was pretty much unconscious throughout the period between the alarm and boarding the train, and I was borderline catatonic during the three hour train journey from Delhi to Agra. By the time we’d arrived, the awake part of me had joined the party.
Here’s a teaser shot to get you in the mood:
Agra is obviously best known as the site of India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. But before we were to enjoy a guided visit to this icon of Mughal architecture, we took baby steps and visited the Baby Taj. This mausoleum was built before the Taj Mahal by Queen Nur Jahan for her father. As with most of the sites in India, this would be an architect’s wet dream – lots of intricate detail in the marble structure, complete with embedded precious stones. It costs 110 rupees to visit the Baby T; definitely worth throwing in a quid to see it.
Agra Fort, the Taj’s less famous sister monument, was next on the agenda. The red sandstone and white marble Mughal fort is pretty impressive in its own right – but our tour guide went on a bit (that’s a nice way of putting it), and he wasn’t the easiest to understand. In the blistering heat, there’s only so much you can hear about Mughals before you melt into a sticky pile of… blargh.
A tuk-tuk from the hotel to the Baby Taj, to Agra Fort, and back to the hotel again was only 500 rupees. Between three of us… yeah, cheap as chips.
Then it was time for the big boy.
As a wannabe writer I should probably try to explain what it’s like using language but words will fail me so – here – have some photos instead.
Yes, I did get a warm fuzzy feeling. And not just because it was 30—whatever—degrees. Walking through the gates to see the spectacle for the first time is definitely up there as one of my ‘wow moments’.