ROYALS // Bundi, India

The Bundi Palace is beautiful in a kind of untouched, slightly falling apart way. Many parts of the palace are closed off and inaccessible, and the rooms that are open often bear signs of decay. However, I found the experience to be a lot more authentic than the perfectly maintained forts seen in Agra and Jaipur. As an added bonus, we only saw two other tourists during our visit!

It felt a bit surreal being the only people in such a spectacular palace.

Out group tour guide had recruited a local tour guide from Bundi, who was incredibly informative about the history of the building.

More stunning views of the city.

One of the lesser known attractions of the palace is the untouched paintings that adorn numerous rooms. Our tour guide was obviously in the know about the palace, as he lead us up narrow staircases and around numerous twists and turns to bring us to the most amazing rooms.

Once one recovered from the dank smell of bat poo (that’s how little the palace was maintained) that was.

Our tour guide proved himself to be 100% in the know when he made a phone call and a previously locked door leading onto a terraced garden was opened for us.

The garden also featured what was possibly the most colourful and well maintained of the painted rooms. Many of the paintings depicted stories about the life of figures such as Ganesha and Krishna, as well as royal families.

As an optional activity in the afternoon, we took some jeeps from the hotel for a drive to a nearby village, where the same local guide from the morning took us around.

We were followed eagerly by a group of children who were obsessed with our cameras and asking us questions in English.

We visited a local potter, who whipped up one of these pots in about a minute. Some people in our tour group had a go, with far less success!

I asked our group tour guide about why cows wandered the streets in India, and he said that for good karma families would always feed the first chapati/bread to a cow, and the last to a dog. I suspect that is what this cow was eagerly waiting for!

On the way back into Bundi we stopped to see Kipling House, where Kipling was said to have spend his summers.

Our final stop was the 84 Pillared Cenotaph, a structure supported by, you guessed it, 84 pillars.

Back at the hotel we took part in a cooking class. The amount of spices used put every curry I have ever used to shame.

After dinner it was off to the train station to catch our last sleeper train of the trip back to Delhi! Thankfully we all had beds this time.

– Reanna

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AMBER // Jaipur, India

Looking back on all my photos is making me all the more ready to head off on another trip! Which is all the more hard when I think about the fact that I have just started full time work, and it is going to take me a few months to save up some annual leave. But I guess the perks of finally being an ‘adult’ is that I do get paid leave, and I can actually plan holidays in advance. That’s what being an adult is all about, right?

Returning to the colourful world of Jaipur, after a quick stop at the Wind Palace, we continued up the distant hills by tuk tuk to the Amber Palace.

We stopped at the bottom of the palace and had magnificent views up to the sprawling complex.

It was a bit of a hike up, with the added bonus of having to avoid elephants (a very touristic, and sad, form of transport of the hill) and vendors trying to sell you various knick knacks.

Once in the palace, we were treated to wonderful views of the surrounding hills. The hill in the above photo even included a wall that looked a little bit like the Great Wall of China.

The very sad looking elephants slowly making their way up the hill.

Our tour guide forced Chris and I to have a couple photo! Which I am admittedly grateful for – we are terrible at being in photos when we travel!

One of the most spectacular parts of the palace was the Hall of Mirrors, a very different version to the similarly named place at the Palace of Versailles!

Whilst being quite well restored, the palace also included faded paintings and walls, that really added to the ancient feel of the place.

On our way out, our tour guide took us down to a tunnel that extended several kilometres up the hill to a neighbouring fort. We didn’t have the time to explore, and I am not sure I would have wanted to spend such a long time underground!

We caught a local bus back into the city, which was certainly an experience! We had one more stop before having a free afternoon – Jal Mahal, or the Water Palace. Unfortunately the time of day we arrived was not the best for getting a great photo!

The afternoon was free for us to explore the markets and do some shopping, before heading back to the hotel for dinner and a ‘rooftop party’. The party was really just drinking cheap beers on the rooftop terrace, but our tour guide surprised us by organising a local musician! It was a really fun night, and a great way to wind down after the walking around the hectic downtown markets.

Jaipur, you are beautiful!

– Reanna

TO MARKET TO MARKET // Jaipur, India

So despite my best intentions, it seems an entire week has gone by already and now I am further behind in these posts than I anticipated! Apparently starting full time work and driving all over the countryside for Christmas festivities leaves one with little time or energy to do anything!

After seeing the Taj Mahal it seems like everything in India might pale in comparison, however everything continued to leave us in awe after we left Agra! We took a bus for the five-hour journey to Jaipur, entering into the state of Rajasthan.

After lunch and a quick rest in our hotel, we jumped into tuk tuks and headed into the old city centre of Jaipur to explore the markets. The above photo shows just how crazy the roads were, with pigs blocking the way!

The buildings were wonderful in a kind of old, beautiful way. They used to be all painted pink through natural colouring, however these days they tend to be more orange and clay coloured.

Our tour guide led us up onto a rooftop for a view of the market, and the Amber Fort off on a hill top in the distance! And of course, chai.

We explored for awhile longer. The markets included everything one could possibly need, from clothes, to spices, fruits and vegetables, ropes, ladders, etc etc.

Our tour guide pointed us in the direction of what was allegedly the ‘best lassi shop’ in the city. I obliged, and tried out a fresh banana lassi, which was admittedly quite good. The drinks were served in traditional clay cups, which our guide told us were used only once, before being broken down and remade into cups again.

That night most of the tour group went to see a Bollywood movie, but Chris and I chose to take a walk instead and enjoyed a quite dinner on a rooftop restaurant, before heading to bed at some ridiculously early hour!

The next morning we were up bright and early to head off for a day of sightseeing! Our first stop was the Wind Palace, which we quickly found out is not really a palace, but rather a large screen wall that was designed so that royal women could sit behind it and observe what was happening on the street!

I will continue the rest of our sightseeing day in another post, and it seems I took far more photos of the Amber Palace than I anticipated. Which appears to be a running theme for my travels…

– Reanna

 

AS THE SUN RISES // Varanasi, India

Reflecting back on our time in Varanasi now, I think the sunrise was far more beautiful than the sunset on the Ganges. We were truly lucky to experience both, and each time we went offered a different perspective on this wonderful city. The river bank was swarming with life both at 8pm at night, and at 6am in the morning, as people traveled from all over India, and the world, to come and pay their respects or bathe in the water.

After another abrupt awakening in the form of a tuk tuk ride, we boarded another boat and slowly made away along the river as our tour guide explained some of the history of the Hindu religion.

It was slightly foggy as our boat journey began, but it gradually began to clear as the morning became lighter.

People were bathing themselves in the Ganges at the numerous ‘ghats’, or riverfront stairs that mark a place to bath in the river. We also passed a location where bodies were cremated in the traditional way.

After our morning trip along the Ganges, we returned to the hotel for breakfast and yet another attempt to get cash. Eventually, after wading through masses of locals waiting to exchange old notes and trying to communicate with bank managers, we managed to successfully get cash out at the second bank we visited. Using an ATM has never felt so victorious!

After basking in our glory, Chris and I jumped in a tuk tuk our tour guide hired for us and drive about 20 minutes away to Sarnath, an area known for its collection of temples. Our tuk tuk driver dropped us out the front of the above Chinese Temple, and from there we made our way up a hill, passing by other sights.

My favourite temple was possible the Sri Lankan temple, due to its colourful collection of flags.

The next temple was dedicated to Jainism, an ancient religion neither of us had heard of, which originated in India.

Of course, I became distracted trying to take a photo of the numerous chipmunks.

Next, we visited the Sarnath Excavated Site, which featured archaeological ruins and the giant Dhamek Stupa. The Dhamek Stupa is the circular mound in the above photo, and is said to mark the spot where the Buddha gave his first sermon.

Wandering around the site also gave us a view over the fence into the nearby deer park.

Eventually we made our way back to our patient tuk tuk driver and headed back into Varanasi for lunch. We had another sleeper train ahead of us that night, much to everyone’s delight!

Admittedly I didn’t know much about the city of Varanasi prior to visiting, but floating along the Ganges was a wonderful experience, totally worth the pain of catching sleeper trains to get there!

– Reanna

CLEANSING // Varanasi, India

Nothing can quite prepare one for the experience of a sleeper train. The noise, the struggle of climbing into your third tier bed, the toilets, and the constant movement. But, as they say, sleeper trains are definitely part of the ‘local’ experience. I had taken one previously in China, but the trains in India were a whole different ball game! It is all part of the fun.

Thankfully I had a relatively successful night of sleep on the train, and we were woken in the early hours of the morning to the sound of “chai-chai-chai-chai”. Turns out, a steaming cup of chai is the perfect way to start your morning!

As it also turns out, trains are always late in India, and we arrived at Varanasi nearly two hours later then was forecast. Still sleepy and in desperate need of food and a shower, we were thrust awake with our first tuk tuk experience! Crammed in the back with our giant backpacks and speeding through side streets was certainly eye opening.

All was well when we found out our hotel was the best of the tour by far.

After a few hours of eating, showering, and attempting to get money (unsuccessfully on our part), our tour group took more tuk tuks back into the city centre to wander the markets and indulge in some local food.

Walking through the markets is always an experience!

I was really surprised about the sheer number of what I would consider domesticated animals roaming the streets of India! Dogs, cows, pigs, goats… my heart went out to every sad, stray puppy I cam across. Chris, of course, consistently ignored my pleas to adopt them and take them home.

After a bit more wandering and a trip to a silk store, it was on to the Ganges!

Varanasi must truly be views from the Ganges. It provided a whole new perspective of the city, as well as a moment of peace away from the chaos of traffic.

Exhausted, but happy.

Our evening boat ride (an optional experience on the tour) included being serenaded by a local sitar player (with a PhD in sitar playing, mind you), watching the sunset, and taking part in a flower and candle ceremony.

Essentially, the ceremony involved placing a number of the above floating candles on the water. Try as I might, my night photography skills were awful and I was unable to capture the view of the candles floating away down the Ganges.

All in all it was a wonderfully peaceful evening, followed by a blissful night of sleep to recover from the sleeper train. Well, as blissful as waking up at 5am the following morning to head down to the Ganges again can be!

– Reanna

 

BACK TO REALITY // Delhi, India

And I have returned! These past few weeks have been absolutely amazing, a true whirlwind of experiences and culture. Chris and I completed an 11-day tour of Northern India, relaxed for a three day stop over in Hong Kong, before Chris jumped on a plane back to Melbourne and I ventured on for a 10-day visit to Beijing! As usual, I have taken far too many photos, so it is possibly going to take awhile for me to get through them all on this little blog!

The beginning of our trip unfortunately started off on the wrong foot, due to the recent demonetisation (AKA the banning of all 500 and 1000 rupee notes) in India. It even has its own Wikipedia page now, as it was pretty bloody big deal in a country whose economy is largely based on cash. This happened four days before our arrival, so we weren’t even able to get rupees from cash exchanges in Australia. As a result, we had no money when we arrived at New Delhi airport in the middle of the night!

After a rough night of sleep (i.e. I had no sleep) at a hotel near the airport, we made our way to the hotel where we would meet our tour group in the evening. Not really understanding the gravity of the demonitisation, we walked into Connaught Place (the above photos) in search of ATMs. As it turns out, every bank had literally hundreds of locals lined up out the front, waiting to exchanged their banned money for the new currency. In the end, we gave up and planned to ask our tour guide what the heck we should do that night.

That evening we met our tour group at the hotel. We had booked the North India Explorer tour through Geckos Adventures. Our tour guide was 100% sympathetic towards the money situation shared by everyone in the group, however said he would have to get back to us in regards to how we should tackle the situation.

The next day we began our adventures together as a group. The Delhi Metro has ‘women only’ carriages, which our tour guide suggested the women in the group should use.

We wandered through a market area, Chawri Bazar, which is an experience in itself. Chris and I had quickly learned the day before that literally no one gives a shit on the road – pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaws, tuks tuks, buses, cars – all blare their horns and run all over the road. With the added bonus of no footpaths I felt like I was constantly living my life on the edge, but our tour guide was reassuring and helped us navigate the streets with ease.

Our first stop was Jama Masjid, which is one of the largest mosques in India. At this stage, Chris and I still had no money so I was unable to pay the fee to take my camera inside! It was spectacular, so feel free to have a quick google to see what it is like on the inside of the walls. The women in the group also had to wear these large, floral gowns to cover our arms and legs, which were just as fetching as you could imagine!

After that we meandered through some even narrower streets, continuously dodging motorbikes and tuk tuks.

After awhile we emerged onto a main road again and headed to Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib. A gurudwara is a place of worship for Sikhs, however people of all religions are welcomed. We had to make a quick stop to take of our shoes and cover our heads with scarves before entering. My photo below doesn’t do the interior justice, but it was beautiful.

I feel like the above photo somewhat catches how insane the traffic is in India!

Our tour guide showed us the kitchen at the gurudwara, where they were preparing meals for hundreds of worshipers. Feelings hungry ourselves, we crossed the road (somehow) to a local diner that thankfully accepted card. My meal above is just the beginning of the bread indulgence that lay ahead of me for my time in India!

Even the elephant in the photo above seemed totally okay with just how insane the traffic was.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel for a bit of rest, as we had to catch a sleeper train that evening. Chris and I did a bit more exploring in the markets near our hotel, and tried some chai from a street vendor, but eventually came back to rest and escape the noisy traffic. Our tour guide was incredibly generous and loaned us some money (about $40 AUD, which goes quite far in India) to see us through until we could find a functioning ATM.

Despite our money woes, it was a wonderful experience to arrive in India and become emerged in a new culture! And the food, which was possibly a motivation for visiting India in the first place!

– Reanna