The activities during the morning are on my webpage about the Ganges. I was in Varanasi in the morning.
At 11 AM, three of us were driven by van to the airport and arrived there by 11:30. We had to wait till the Kingfisher Airlines counter opened. Then I found that the flight had been rescheduled to 2:45 PM. So we waited some more. Eventually I went through security and waited a bit more. The flight was on a twin prop, upper wing-plane. I had a bulkhead seat (probably because I was so early). We were served water, two small vegetable dishes and a dessert. It's only a two-hour flight. When I landed in New Delhi, I walked out the exit and saw a sign that said "Intrepid." It was my ride to the Clarke Heights Hotel which appears to be a clean 2-star hotel. When I was shown my room, I heard a constant jackhammer close-by. There is no way that I can relax here with that noise. I have signed up for the "Rajasthan Experience," an Intrepid tour. The other members of the tour have already made an afternoon tour of New Delhi and have already gone to dinner. I received a note that we are going to depart at 5 AM tomorrow.
I went to the office and asked if there was a bar or restaurant nearby and the lady led me to a very nice roof-top bar. I ordered a Kingfisher and noticed another group of six sitting nearby. I asked if they were part of a tour group and they had just returned from an Intrepid tour to Rajasthan. I said I was just starting one. They invited me to sit with them and talked for awhile. They said that their trip was excellent (my trip is the same but just two weeks behind theirs). At 8:30, I returned to my room, caught up in my journal and went to bed. I have a wake-up call for 4:30. I changed the memory card in my camera, so I'm starting out with a new one for tomorrow.
13 October 2009, Tuesday
My wakeup call came at 4:30. I took a cold-water shower (no hot water) and packed everything. I went to the lobby by 4:45 and started meeting other people. There is a lady from the Bahamas, a mother-daughter pair from England, a lady from Glasgow, a young couple from London, and me. I'm the only American (well the Bahamas is in the Americas too).
The Clarke Heights hotel is where I stayed last night. There were no bottles of water in our room, so I assumed that the water was OK for brushing teeth. I later learned that you have to buy water at the front desk. I would rate the Clarke Heights right up there with all the other 2-star hotels.
We boarded two taxis with all our luggage and drove to the railway station. We were in First Class, air-conditioned coach. I sat next to our guide, Ranjeet ("Jeet"). We were served a breakfast of two fried vegetable patties (nice spices), peas, potato strips, brown bread and mango juice.
I'm glad I learned to read and speak some Hindi. I've gotten some surprised positive comments. I can't always understand the return responses, however. Now, they think I know more than I do.
The train trip is very nice. The rail bed is in good condition so the ride is comfortable. At Agra, we boarded a van and went to the Hotel Royalé Residency (about a 2-2.5-star hotel). We checked in and I put my pack in my room. In Hindi, I asked Jeet if he has any children; he replied in Hindi, that he had a boy. I told him, in Hindi again, I had four children and told him the ages.
We boarded the van and headed to Agra Fort (see Agra Fort at Wikipedia) (see Google Maps). It's an extraordinary structure and I took lots of photos.
We re-boarded the van and went to a restaurant for lunch. We all ordered Indian dishes and shared them and then split the bill.
After lunch, we walked a few doors away to Kanu Carpet Factory, a rug-making company (18/166/E, Purani Mandi, Fatehabad Rd., Tajganj, Agra 282001, India or kanuexpo<at>epatra.com). They showed all the steps necessary in making hand-tied carpets. I ended up buying one to be shipped home. We'll see if it arrives [it did].
We went back to the hotel to wash up and then to meet again in the afternoon. We boarded the van about 3 PM, and drove to the Taj Mahal (see Taj Mahal at Wikipedia) (see Google Maps). We spent three hours walking around the Taj Mahal and taking photographs. I think I got some good ones. We walked back to a meeting point at about 6:15 and then returned to the hotel by 6:30.
Some of the group are going by van to a restaurant, but I'm going to take a shower and stay in the hotel. I'm not at all hungry. My voice is getting hoarse and my ears, a bit congested.
I went down to the restaurant and ordered vegetable pakoras, peanut masala and a Kingfisher beer. I went back to my room by 8:00 PM and filled out my journal.
14 October 2009, Wednesday
I fell asleep early last night. I got up at 6 and went down to breakfast at 6:30. I was the only guest there. Hot water was brought to my table for tea or instant coffee. Corn flakes were also available. They made toast for me, so I ate six pieces with a little jelly. Eventually they brought out cooked potatoes and baked beans. I had a little of both. I drank 3 cups of tea with a little sugar and salt added.
I went back to my room, took a shower and packed up. There was very little toilet paper in my room and I strategically used the resource till it was gone. I went down to the lobby and checked out at 7:15. They said that I had used the mini bar and asked for me to pay for it. I hadn't used anything and refused to pay. I wouldn't come back here.
We boarded our van and headed for Jaipur. I saw lots of birds including a peacock, cattle egrets, crows, kites, parakeets, and a bird with very long legs and small body (stilt). Also a black and white kingfisher (Pied?).
We stopped at Fatehpur Sikri, an extensive fortified palace (see Fatehpur Sikri at Wikipedia) (see Google Maps). It was beautiful. I took photos, but my batteries went dead and I didn't get as many pictures as I wanted. My batteries are in my camera bag in the van. When I got to the mosque, I had to wear a bright pink longyi and had to wear a little cap. We also had to take our shoes off. My Teva sandals are starting to fall apart again. I had to re-glue them this summer with Shoe Goop, but now that is wearing out.
After the palace visit, we walked down to the nearby village and went to a roof-top restaurant. We were served a very nice vegetarian thali. I especially liked the chili side dish. The thali included homemade yogurt, rice, daal, eggplant dish, cooked cucumber dish, another unidentified dish, chapatti and a very nice rice pudding.
After lunch, we re-boarded the van and headed for Jaipur (see Jaipur at Wikipedia). We arrived at the Hotel Bissau Palace around 4:30. This, I think, must be the most charming hotel I've ever been in. It's full of antiques and is highly decorated. I've taken a lot of photos. There is a swimming pool in the back.
After a short rest, we went for a walk through the very busy streets. It was too dark to see much. The others went on to dinner, but I opted out. Jeet got me a tri-shaw and told the fellow where I was to go. I got to the hotel about 20 minutes later.
At the hotel, I got a beer and pappadam and caught up in my journal. The others returned several hours later. We talked for awhile. The couple from England are very nice. He is a barrister and told me the difference between a barrister and a lawyer, which I've now forgotten. I went to bed about 10. The room is not air conditioned, but there is a nice ceiling fan. It was very pleasant.
15 October 2009, Thursday
I woke up early, but didn't get up till 7. I took a shower (only cold water was available, I don't know how to turn it on). I went to the restaurant and had omelet masala, toast, papaya, banana and coffee. The others slowly filtered in after I finished.
About 8:30, we got in the van and drove to the Amber Fort (see Amber Fort at Wikipedia) (see Google Maps), a truly amazing structure built on top of, and along the side of a quartzite mountain. Local stone seems to be largely quartzite (very hard sandstone), but I also saw some garnet schist flagstones. The fort and adjacent walls are huge. The fort was more a fortified palace than a true fort. I took lots of photos.
We re-boarded the van and went to a vendors' mall where the ladies bought saris and we two men bought tunic-like tops (kurta) with baggy pants and scarves. The Divali festival is coming up and we're supposed to dress for it.
After the mall, we drove to a tourist restaurant for a fixed meal. Five of us ordered the spicy one and two ordered non-spicy. It included tandoori chicken, another chicken dish, a pear and vegetable curry, daal, chapatti, plus dessert.
The van took us back to the hotel for a free afternoon. The English lady and daughter went to the museum while the rest of us went back to change money. I just had to get change; I have plenty of rupees, but only in large denominations.
At 3, I went to the swimming pool. The depth was five feet at the deepest, but the water felt great. I didn't smell any chlorine. I haven't seen anyone else get in the pool the two days I've been here. I also caught up in my journal.
At 5:30, we got together and took the van to the Raj Mundia cinema where we saw a 3-hour Bollywood movie, Dil Bole Hadippa (Hadittha) (official website). The movie was totally in Hindi and there were no subtitles, but we could largely understand what was going on. The movie had lots of music, singing and dancing.
We took two tuktuks back to the hotel and I thought we were going to cause several wrecks. It was after 9 when we got back to the hotel and I was not very hungry. Everyone congregated at the seats and table outside my door and we all ordered a few appetizers and beer. We had pappadam, vegetable pakoras and cheese pakoras. I went to bed after that.
16 October 2009, Friday
We had a thunderstorm during the night and it rained for several hours. Very nice sleeping weather. I got up at 7:00, took a shower (very little warm water) and then packed my things. I went to breakfast by 7:30 and was the first of our group there. Others started filtering in after I finished. I had toast, marmalade, omelet, yogurt, papaya, banana and tea. After breakfast, I settled my account and checked out.
We boarded our van at 8:30 and headed to Mandawa in the Shekhawati region (see Shekhawati at Wikipedia). It's a cloudy day, so far. The streets are already dry except for the occasional large puddles. We had a four-hours drive with a rest stop in the middle. I noticed sand dunes overgrown by vegetation and a dominance of acacia trees and other xerophytic plants.
We arrived at the "Desert Resort Mandawa" outside Mandawa (see Mandawa at Wikipedia). This is a very unique place. All the walls, inside and out, are covered by dung which is then painted. I don't know if it's buffalo or camel dung, but it has a very pleasing effect. I took lots of photos. At 1, we met at an outdoor pavilion for lunch. I had vegetable samosa, which came with some sort of fried vegetable paste (probably rice based) (sort of a puffed rice crisp), plus a beer. The samosas were very good.
My room is also very interesting with lots of painted trim. I also took pictures of the room. I walked around a bit and saw a row of British Enfield 500cc motorcycles. I think they are for rent. I'll look into it later. [Actually, they were part of a motorcycle tour of Rajasthan. They were American style with clutch and shift on the left side. Royal Enfields are only made in India now.]
Jeet's wife and baby came with us for this part of the trip. He doesn't get to see them very often. The baby is 5 months old and never seems to cry. His nickname is Kushi. They are here to celebrate Kushi's first Divali (aka Diwali).
Jay, Jeet and I went to the billiards room. I played two games of eight ball with Jeet and then Jeet and Jay played a game. They also played a game of snooker while explaining to me the rules. It was a slow game. After billiards, I changed to my flannel boxer shorts and went to the pool for a swim. I was in the water for about 45 minutes.
At 7:30, we all met at a festive outdoor buffet with entertainment, music, and puppet show. I didn't eat anything, so I helped take care of Kushi. I held him outward and walked around all the lights and puppet show (this is what I used to do with my kids). A line of men with torches, drum and fiddle played a pleasant walking dance. Kushi liked it, so we fell in line behind the men and walked with them. The locals thought it was great and someone put a turban on my head to match the others. Jeet and others took photos. It was great fun. Jeet's wife, Palavi, seemed to like it too.
After the festivities, I went to my room to sleep.
17 October 2009, Saturday
I woke up a lot during the night, but the room was comfortable. I woke up for good at 6 and got up at 6:30 for a shower. I noticed that the ceiling was made of long slabs of sandstone (with parting lineations). I'm assuming that they don't have earthquakes here. I left my room and walked around a bit. I took photos of a hoopoe and parakeet and another brown bird. Several of the staff came up to me and told me that what I did with the baby was great. Several others told me that they liked my grandson. They all know my name too.
I went to the restaurant for breakfast. I had cantaloupe, yogurt, bread, a potato-based dish and a grain-based dish. I liked both. I then ordered a masala omelet with lots of green chilies. Delicious. The staff served me a special masala tea with ginger. I talked to the chef. He trained on Mackinac Island, Michigan. The restaurant walls, inside and out, are covered with the dung coating and decorated with dung filigree with cowry shells and fragments of mirrors. Interesting effect. I was finished by 8:00.
We regrouped at 9. Two ladies in our group are sick and not coming along. We got in the van and rode a couple of kilometers to Mondawa village. It has a population of just 25 thousand and the streets are not so crowded. It is much nicer to walk here. We went to a Hindu temple (we also removed out shoes). We walked around the main shrine clockwise and then a priest came and I knelt down on my knees. He put holy basil in my hand and three spoons of holy water in my hand. I was instructed to drink a bit of the water and then splash the rest on my face and hair. He then rubbed a red spot on my third eye. I then put 20 purees in the donation box and thanked the priest. I had to back out of the shrine so as not to offend the god. I was the only one of our group to do this. After the temple we visited many havelis in the town. These are 100-170-year-old merchant houses with many painted decorations, frescoes and trim. Many are abandoned now and deteriorating. I took lots of photos.
I bought some electrolyte powders to add to my drinking water. It really seems to help. I suggested that others do the same. We went back to the resort and had lunch outside again. I had an interesting vegetarian pizza. At 2:30, Tanya (the lady from the Bahamas) had a henna painting done on one of her palms and forearm. She is black to begin with and the henna didn't show up well on her forearm, but did show up on her palm. I got some photos of this as well as photos of about 5 of the henna ladies.
I swam for a little while and then put on my kurta (tunic), baggy pants and scarf traditional to the region. The ladies put on their saris and we all gathered at 6:30. We took the van to a castle that is now operated as a restaurant and hotel (by the same people that operate this resort). There were about 150 guests there for the Devali festival (see Diwali at Wikipedia). This festival is the most significant of India and is like our Christmas. We had a buffet dinner, which was very bland to please the westerners. They did have a nice variety of Indian pickles. I had aubergine curry, butter chicken and a variety of other vegetables, but like I said, it was all rather bland. I would rather not have eaten; I like spicy food. Others in our group loved it because it had no spices. Can't satisfy everyone. At some point, I offered to pick up little Kushi so his parents could eat. The the music started again. It was the same torch-bearer and musicians from last night. Kushi (in costume) and I fell in behind them. We walked through the crowds and many of the westerners (French, Germans, Americans, Aussies, Brits) photographed little Kushi. His father used my camera to take photos too. The men in the march also made a big deal over him. It was fun. After awhile, they had a big fireworks display.
We eventually left and got back to the resort by 10:30. I filled out my journal and went to bed.
18 October 2009, Sunday
I woke up for good at 6, packed my bags and went for breakfast. All the staff know my name and call me "Don Ji." I speak to them in Hindi. I had masala omelet with green chilies, a donut and banana and a cup of tea. I checked out and settled my bill and we boarded the van. We have a long drive to Bikaner.
Some of the people have stomach problems and we've had to make lots of stops. I've seen hawks, crows, mynahs, stilts, lots of pea-fowl, eagles. About 11:30, we stopped at the Temple of Rats (Karni Mata) (see Karni Mata at Wikipedia) (see Google Maps). We had to take our shoes off and remove any leather. I removed my leather belt. Inside the compound, there are hundreds of mangy rats and plenty of food for them to eat. One rat climbed onto my feet and smelled and licked my toes (no comment about my toes please). Anyway, that is an auspicious event when one climbs over your feet. I don't know what it means if they lick your toes; maybe I'm going to heaven; or maybe the rat is. I got some photos, but not of the rat on my feet.
We continued to Bikaner. We arrived at the Karni Bhawan Palace, Bikaner (see Bikaner at Wikipedia), an art deco hotel with huge rooms. I took pictures of my room. When we entered the hotel, they rubbed red spots on our third eye and put a lei of marigolds around our necks. We got our keys and then all had the buffet lunch at 1:30. it included potato-spinach dish, cheese and curry dish, mutton (goat) curry, several other dishes, variety of pickles, pappad and chapatti.
We met again at 3 PM for a village walk. The fort is closed during divali and so we'll have to visit it tomorrow. Instead, we drove to a Jain temple and visited. We then walked through many narrow streets, and past many food stands. About 4:45, we boarded tuktuks and went back to the hotel. We got back by about 5 and I took a shower.
We re-boarded the van at 6:30 and drove to a very nice ranch outside of town. The owner, a long-time Intrepid guide, was our host. He showed us his Maharati horses which he bred. They are a fairly rare breed originating in this area. We sat outside and listened to the musicians. One of the local ladies danced to the traditional music. We were dressed in traditional clothes. Jay and I wore dhotis, a kurta (tunic) and hand-tied turbans. We had to strip down in a room and a fellow dressed us; he wrapped 9 meters of cloth around our legs, between our legs and tied it around our waist. It was a fairly intricate procedure which I can never duplicate. It was a somewhat uncomfortable process. We had to get up and dance and I was afraid my dhoti would unravel. The women wore beautiful dresses, ghaghara. I got some pictures, I hope. We had a buffet of goat curry, rice, cheese, vegetable curry, daal, chapatti, with pakora appetizers. I had a beer to drink. We had a spongy ball, rasgullah, saturated with flavored simple syrup for dessert. After a very pleasant evening, we returned to the hotel arriving about 11. I went to bed and fell asleep quickly.
19 October 2009, Monday
I woke up at 6 but didn't get up till 7:30. I packed and went for breakfast. I was the only one there. I ordered masala omelet with hot green chilies, a small plate of cubed papaya, toast and tea. I didn't see any of the others till about an hour later. I sat on the porch and watched the birds. I also checked out. We boarded the van at 9:30 and went directly to Junagarh Fort (see Junagarh Fort at Wikipedia) (see Google Maps) which is the best maintained fort in Rajasthan. I took lots of photos throughout. I also noticed that my Teva sandals are falling apart to the extent that I won't be able to wear them much longer, if I can't get them repaired. They should have held up much longer. I wore them for a month in Burma last year and only one month this year (India). I'm disappointed.
We re-boarded the van for our 7-hour drive to Jaisalmer. We got in a traffic jam in Bikaner and had to wait. It was all caused by a long wait at a railroad crossing. They don't have any automatic process, they just use a timetable to close the crossing and if the train is late the crossing stays closed for a long time.
We spent hours crossing desert areas. I saw white eagles and darker eagles (Tawny). I saw two chinkara gazelles. At 2, we stopped at a nice tourist restaurant and had spicy and mild dishes of daal, a special desert green bean dish, cauliflower and cabbage dish, potato dish, rice, chapatti and a nice green chili pickle. I had lime soda to drink. We got back on the road by 3. The traffic jam has thrown our schedule off. We are in the Thar Desert (see Thar Desert at Wikipedia). I've seen lots of fences and fence posts made of sandstone. I saw a Drongo, several peafowl and a Bangoose (large monitor lizard). The lizard was 2-2.5-feet long. The Thar Desert is the 7th largest in the world.
We arrived at Jaisalmer (see Jaisalmer at Wikipedia) about 6:30 at dusk. We could see the famous fort on the hill from just about everywhere. It is called the Golden Fort (see Jaisalmer Fort at Wikipedia) (see Google Maps) because it is made of local yellow sandstone. We drove to the Mandir Palace Hotel, a heritage site in a real palace. We were greeted with a dab of red paint on our third eye and a handful of marigold petals on our head. We arrived at night so I didn't take many pictures, but will take them tomorrow. My room is very nice and clean but has a strange odor.
At about 7:30, we went for a walk up to the fort, through narrow streets. We came to a restaurant-hotel and climbed numerous steps to reach the roof-top restaurant at the top of the fort walls. It is the only restaurant with a roof-top view on the wall (I'm not so sure about that). We sat on cushions at a low table. I didn't order anything because I was still full from lunch. I just had a beer. I took a few pictures as well. After a pleasant dinner and talk we went to a street intersection and boarded two tuktuks for a steep and wild descent through streets and tunnels to our hotel. It was like an amusement park ride with the tuktuks barely missing the walls by a few inches at high speed, only this was real. After the incredible ride, we arrived at the hotel, walked around the hotel a bit and then went to our rooms for the evening. My room still has a bad odor.
20 October 2009, Tuesday
I woke up at 6:30, took my shower at 7:30 and went for breakfast. The restaurant is near the top of the palace and there are nice views of the palace buildings. I had masala omelet, potato nan, toast and marmalade, yogurt with banana, and tea. They seemed very pleased when I ordered in Hindi. Not many (maybe none) westerners ever speak Hindi to them, so it is a novelty.
After breakfast, I went down to my room, opened the doors to air it out and filled out my journal. The walls of the palace are composed of a pleasant yellow-tan-ochre-colored sandstone. The blocks are hewn but not polished. The highly polished floor is the same color and may be the same rock. The polished slabs show lots of calcareous mollusk fossils so I'm guessing that it's a calcareous marine sandstone or an arenaceous limestone (probably the first).
We made another walking tour to see Jaisalmer ("Jessel-Mer") havelis and haveli museum. After that, we had a free day. I went with the mother-daughter team from England to the Golden Fort Museum, where we took an audio tour. I had to use my passport as a deposit for the three of us. I lost track of the ladies pretty quickly and when I wanted to leave, I couldn't get my passport back until they were ready to leave, so I sat in the exit area to wait for them. I used that time to catch up on my journal. After about one-half hour, they came to the exit. We walked to the base of the fort, then split up. They went for lunch and I returned to the hotel. On the way, I bought a 2-liter bottle of water.
Back at the hotel, I changed to my flannel boxers and went to the swimming pool. I was the only one there. The water was refreshing, not too cold and not too warm with just a slight piquant aftertaste of pigeon poop. I went back to my room about 2:30 and took a nap. Yesterday, I poured a liter of water down the floor drain in the bathroom. I thought maybe the water in the trap had evaporated, allowing noxious gases to escape. Apparently this worked because my room doesn't smell badly now.
We didn't have anything planned for the afternoon, so I hung out at the pool with Jay and his wife. I took another shower at 6:30, dressed in my purple-stained pants and shirt and met our group at 7. We walked a few doors down the street to the rooftop Saffron Restaurant. We had a very nice view of the fort all lit up. Jeet knew I liked spicy food, so he ordered for me. I got a dish of goat meat curry with a very aromatic and delicious gravy. I think it was my favorite dish so far in Rajasthan. A family of young boys and a father played music for us. One of the young boys showed me how to use clapper sticks, but I couldn't do it very well. I have photos.
After dinner, we all went to the rooftop viewing area at our hotel and Jeet told us about some of the other Intrepid trips he had led. I am interested in a couple of them, especially the one on the source of the Ganges.
I went to bed around 10:30.
21 October 2009, Wednesday
I woke up at 6:30, took my shower at 7 and went to breakfast at 7:30. Once again, I was the only one of our group there. I had the same thing as yesterday. After an hour, I saw a few of the others filtering in. I went through the little museum next to the restaurant and took photos of an Indian family there. Then I went to my room and caught up in my journal. I also packed all my things.
We went to lunch at the "Trio Restaurant" right next to our hotel. I didn't eat, but joined the others for something to do. It was a very pleasant rooftop and tented area. After lunch we went back to a room that was our staging area. We had already checked out at 12, prior to lunch. We watched a movie on TV while we waited to go. At 3:15, we boarded the van and left the city. We visited an area full of cenotaphs in the midst of an electricity-generating windmill farm (see Google Maps). I took photos. A boy offered to sell me some fossils. One was a rhynchonellid brachiopod about an inch across and the other, a very large brachiopod with strong plications. It was about 2.5 inches across. The boy said his father found them about 60 kilometers away. I don't know the genera, but presume them to be Ordovician to Devonian in age (most likely Silurian to Devonian). I paid the boy 100 rupees for them. He didn't know what they were and when I pointed out fossils in the local rocks, he said they weren't fossils.
We left the cenotaph area and drove another 30 minutes., There was a long train of vehicles headed for the camel-riding area. We disembarked and got onto our camels by 5 PM. My camel was named "Michael Jackson" and was the biggest of the group, a Cadillac. We rode the camels for about an hour, not including a 15-minute break two-thirds of the way through. At the break, we got off the camels. One has to be careful to lean back very far to avoid tumbling over the camels shoulders when they kneel or get up. A group of tribal ladies came over and sang and danced for us. I paid them 100 rupees and took photographs.
We rode the camels to a compound of tents by 6:15. The tents are wall tents permanently erected on a platform. They have attached bathrooms and carpeted floors. The bedroom was the size of a bedroom in my house. I took some photos here too.
After a few minutes we went to a large roofless room (atrium?) and sat down for dinner and entertainment. We were first served drinks, pappadam, and peanuts. Eventually, we were served pakoras with dipping sauce while musicians played and dancers danced. When the buffet opened, I went through the line and got a sampling of everything. The serving area was a little dark and I couldn't identify much, but I got chapatti, mixed pickle, rice, daal, cheese curry, desert bean, a couple of vegetable dishes and a goat curry. After I finished my plate, the dancing ladies went around and gathered people to get up and dance. Jeet got me to go up as well. I was bare-footed. I tried to match the ladies' steps and Jeet's suggestions. It was fun. Some of the Indians took my picture, I guess my dancing was pretty funny. Two others of our group and Jeet danced as well.
After a while, I went back to my tent and went to sleep.
22 October 2009, Thursday
I didn't sleep very well during the night. I woke up at 6 and was out of the tent by 6:20. It was light but the sun was not up yet. We went to early breakfast of white bread, marmalade, and plain omelet with tea for drink. We boarded our van at 7:00 and headed to Jodhpur, a 5.5-hour drive.
We passed the train called "Palace on Wheels." I don't know much about it yet (see Palace on Wheels at Wikipedia). I saw lots of birds including pigeons, doves, Common Stonechat, crows, birds of prey, peafowl, kingfishers. I saw five gazelle in one group. The region is composed of horizontal sedimentary rocks. None of the beds is very thick. The very low plateaus and mesas are generally capped by thin sandstones. At the cenotaphs yesterday, some of the sandstones and arenaceous limestones have abundant shell debris. One white 5-inch thick bed had asymmetric ripples on the upper surface. No other beds were white.
We got to Jodhpur (see Jodhpur at Wikipedia) by mid-day. We passed many sandstone quarries in very thick beds of fluvial sandstone. Lots of ripple marks on bedding plane surfaces. The sandstone was quarried for dimension stone and most houses here are made of it.
We got to Mandore Guest House about 12:30 and had lunch. I didn't have any; I wasn't hungry. The guest house compound is garden-like with lots of trees and flowers. We ate outside. There were a wide variety of birds including parakeets, house sparrows, Olive-backed Sunbird, Jungle Babbler (?), Asian Koel (female), crows, pigeons, doves and other birds I didn't have time to identify.
After lunch, we went to Mehrangarh Fort (see Mehrangarh Fort at Wikipedia) (see Google Maps) and took the audio tour. I took lots of photos. After the tour, we walked down the hill to a very old market area. The streets are wide here and traffic not as bad as elsewhere. A young street cobbler re-glued my sandals and now they seem fine. Now I don't have tape wrapped around them. The others stopped for a lassi while they waited for my shoe repair. Our driver arrived and took us back to the guest house.
I took a quick, cool shower and changed to my kurta tunic and baggy white pajama pants. We re-boarded the van and went to Jeet's house where we saw Palavi and Kushi again. Palavi fixed a fabulous Rajasthani dinner for us. They made a special spicy dish with garbanzo beans for me. It was all very good. I held little Kushi for awhile till he pee-ed on me. We spent a very nice evening there and looked through their photo albums and toured their house. I was getting very tired though and we left and got back to the guest house by 11 PM. I went straight to bed.
23 October 2009, Friday
I woke up at 6, but didn't get up till 6:45 when it got light. I went to the outdoor dining area. Once again, I was the first there for about 20 minutes. I had pancake with honey and the best masala and green chili omelet of the whole trip. I had tea to drink. While waiting for breakfast, I noticed the two dogs making a racket. Then I saw three very large langur monkeys (see Gray langur at Wikipedia) jumping from tree to tree. I got a photo of one in mid-air. After breakfast, I went to my room to take a shower and pack up.
We boarded the van at 8 and went to the Raja's Palace (see Umaid Bhawan Palace at Wikipedia) (see Google Maps). We took photos. Then we re-boarded to go to the Roop Raj Durry Udhyog, a craft village cooperative of weavers. They showed us a variety of durries and two of our group bought some. I took photos. Richard Gere, Prince Charles, the U.S. Ambassador to Indian have bought durries here.
We re-boarded the minibus and headed to Udaipur. We're leaving desert conditions as we head there. I saw sandchats, pigeons, doves, etc.
We stopped at a restaurant in the foothills of the Aravalli range near Udaipur. The others ate lunch, but I declined, I was not hungry.
After lunch, we had a short ride to a white marble Jain temple (Ranakpur Chaumukha Jain Temple, 1439) at Ranakpur (see Ranakpur at Wikipedia) (see Google Maps) where a young priest told us about Jainism and the temple. I had to wear special pants over my shorts. I took lots of photos.
We re-boarded the mini-bus and drove over the Aravalli Hills mountain range. The ancient mountain range runs from Delhi to Gujarat and is the oldest on the subcontinent (see Aravalli Range at Wikipedia). The mountains are forested here and not at all dry like in the Thar Desert. I took a couple of photos out of the van window. This could be the Appalachians.
When we got to Udaipur (see Udaipur at Wikipedia) (see Google Maps), we crossed Fatehsagar Lake (manmade) and then stopped to get into smaller vehicles. We said goodbye to our driver and paid him our tips. We changed vehicles because the streets were too narrow for the mini-bus. We got to our hotel, Hotel Lake Pichola, overlooking the natural lake, Lake Pichola. Each of our rooms had a balcony overlooking the lake. Our luggage arrived separately and I carried my small red pack to my room.
At 6:30, we re-grouped and walked across a pedestrian bridge to the other side of the lake. Jeet pointed out landmarks for us. We went to a rooftop restaurant directly across the lake from our hotel. I took photos of the lit-up buildings. I ordered Mutton Sula ("Soo-la"), a Rajasthan specialty. I asked for extra, extra spicy. I also ordered garlic nan. It was delicious and I would certainly order it again. Entertainment was another puppet show.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and most of us went to the rooftop area for a beer and discussions. After that, I went to bed.
24 October 2009, Saturday
I woke up about 6:15. I took morning photos from my balcony and then went down to breakfast by 7. I had the Indian breakfast, a vegetarian cutlet, a vegetable poori bread, a yogurt dish, tea, and lime soda (lime juice and carbonated water). The lime soda is a traditional drink that I have seen all over India. It comes plain, sweet, or salted.
In the morning we walked to the palace museum and took a tour (see City Palace, Udaipur at Wikipedia). I took lots of photos. The Maharana's (great warrior) family still lives in part of the palace.
At 11:30, we went to the Spice Box, an Indian spice shop, where we met the owner. [Indian Spice Box, 38 Lal Ghat, Udaipur, India, spicebox2001<at>yahoo.co.in] We walked up several flights of stairs and came to a room with benches and a table with series of burners. Five of us had signed up for a cooking class. There was another couple from England that joined us. We each took turns cooking the various dishes. I took notes on the recipes, which we got to keep. The cook was very funny and entertaining. We made masala tea, vegetable cutlets, chapatti, a tomato-based vegetable curry, a milk-based curry which was poured over a mashed potato and spices fried ball, saffron tea, etc. We got to eat all this for lunch and it was very good. We spent abut 2.5 hours here. Several of our group bought spices and spice boxes from his spice shop. I asked for his business card so that I could mention the shop on my web page. he gave me a packet of candy-coated fennel with the company imprint as a label. I tried to pay for the fennel, but he refused.
After ironing out some travel arrangements for the English couple (Gemma and Jay) in our group, we walked back to the hotel.
At 5:15, we walked across the pedestrian bridge to a boat landing and boarded a small boat with outboard engine. We slowly cruised the lake at sunset. We all took lots of photos, especially as some of the palaces and hotels turned their outdoor lights on. After 45 minutes to an hour, we returned to the landing as we passed a number of flying foxes flying around and drinking lake water (on the fly). There were lots of shorebirds too.
At the landing, we disembarked and walked to a cultural center. We got our tickets and entered a compound with lots of mattresses on the ground. There we saw a variety of dances and a puppet show.
back across the bridge to the Ambrai Hotel and Restaurant. I had thought it was the Embryo Hotel when they mentioned it to me. I had Dhurgaan Maans, a smoked goat curry, which is a regional specialty. It's supposed to be the thigh meat, unrolled and then smoked. Mine was just regular goat meat with bones, not much meat, but a lot of gravy. The gravy was good. I also had garlic naan and a beer.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel. I was very tired and went to my room to sleep.
25 October 2009, Sunday
I woke up at 6 and tried to sleep till 7:30. I got up at 7:30 and went down to breakfast where I had the Indian breakfast and tea again. One could order anything though. This was not a buffet.
After breakfast, I went to my room to take a shower, pack, and catch up in my journal.
In addition to the ubiquitous crows, kites, and pigeons, there is a great variety of shorebirds around the lake. I've seen cormorants, a variety of egrets, herons, ibis, Red-wattled lapwings, and many others I didn't identify.
Everyone brought their luggage down to the lobby by 10:30. I didn't want to go shopping so I agreed to watch the luggage till they got back. I read some more from my book. The others returned by 12:30 and then we all had a pre-ordered lunch, a variety of curry dishes, bread, rice, etc.
About 2:30, our luggage was put in the backs of two vehicles and we rode through the streets of Udaipur to the airport. After getting boarding passes, we waited for awhile. I noticed a lady giving autographs and having her picture taken by others. Jeet said that she was a famous DJ on a music channel like MTV and she married into a family of movie stars. There is not much else to say about our airport wait. We went through security and boarded our twin prop plane to New Delhi. Our snack was two different vegetable cutlets. We got to the New Delhi airport a little after 9 PM and took two taxis to the Clarke Heights Hotel. I guess we got there by 10.
This time, my room at this hotel was nicer, no jack hammering, and it was clean. I didn't like the room I had here 2 weeks ago. After 20 minutes we re-boarded the same two taxis and went to a hotel restaurant (I don't remember the name) and had a vegetable Seekh Kabab. I thought it would be chunks of vegetables grilled on a skewer. Instead, it was some sort of minced vegetable sausage which had been grilled. I used mint chutney and some acchar to give it flavor. I also had a garlic nan and beer. At dinner, Jeet mentioned a motorcycle tour of Rajasthan he was organizing. It would be using 350cc Royal Enfields. I'll have to find out more.
After dinner, we took the taxis back to the hotel. Six of us went to the roof-top restaurant for a beer and discussions. I was pretty tired and went to my room shortly after.
26 October 2009, Monday
I woke up at 6, got up at 7, took a shower and worked on my journal. At 8:30 I went to breakfast in the basement. I had masala omelet with green chilies, toast, instant coffee and a banana. Five of us sat together. The English mother-daughter team ate earlier because they leave this morning to return home. Jeet gave us some last minute details and then we said goodbye to him. After breakfast, I went for a 15-minute walk and then returned to my room by 10 to await a call from Jeet about my Delhi tours and airport car. I also unpacked my airline travel clothes (long pants with floral stains, real shoes, etc) so the wrinkles would fall out (they didn't).
I couldn't take a tour today because it's Monday and many things are closed. I ate lunch with the remaining group and had a black pepper curry chicken which was good. Their chickens don't have much meat on them but they also don't have added hormones and chemicals either. I also had nan and a beer. We all talked a while. Jay and Gemma are heading to Mumbai by train this afternoon and Jill and Tonya are flying out. I'm the only one staying over. I let everyone use my room for whatever they needed (bathroom, shower, storage). Jeet gave me a call to say that my tour tomorrow starts at 7 AM so I need to get some sleep tonight. I'm very tired anyway. I'm not at all hungry, so I won't eat tonight. I've gone to most of the evening meals just to be sociable, but I'm not usually hungry.
I went to be by 8 PM in order to be ready for tomorrow.
27 October 2009, Tuesday
I woke up throughout the night because of noise on the floor above me. It sounded like they were disassembling furniture and re-assembling it all night long. I got up at 6:20 and started to take a shower, but according to the placard, there will not be hot water till 11 AM. I went down to breakfast at 6:35, but they didn't open till 7. They said that they would open it for me and they did. I had tea, french toast (sans syrup), and vegetable (potato and peas) curry.
At 7, I met Anand, who is my guide for the morning. We walked out of the hotel to the Metro station and took the very nice train to Rajiv Chowk station. We got out here to see the early morning flower market. I took lots of photos. The market disappears by 9 AM. Then we walked to the Monkey God temple, bought and distributed candy to the various gods and rang bells to let them know we were there. We must have gone to 8 or 10 individual shrines in this one building. At one shrine, a priest put an orange mark at my third eye. I cupped my hand over a flame and then rubbed my hair with the smoke. No photos inside.
After the temple, we went across the street to a famous coffee shop. We went to the top floor for coffee and breakfast. This is where some of the first people met to discuss liberation from British colonial rule. I had coffee with cream and a rice breakfast (dosa saba, coconut-based sauce). I took a photo of a serpent eagle on the building above us. I met another Intrepid group there and was invited to sit with them.
Then we walked to Bangla Sahib (see Gurudwara Bangla Sahib at Wikipedia, and their web site), the first Sikh temple I've visited. I had to remove sandals and wear a small cloth over my head and my longyi, which I always carry with me. I took photos outside the temple, but none inside. We had to wash our feet and hands before we entered. Now I have visited temples from all four of the religions that are Hindu or derived from Hindu (i.e., Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh). This temple ended the morning tour.
Then we caught tuktuks for the Gandhi tour. I first went to the Gandhi memorial statue (the "eleven") and then Gandhi's last house (see Gandhi Smriti at Wikipedia) and also the place where he was shot. After that, we went to the Gandhi Museum (official web site) and lastly the Eternal Flame for Gandhi (where he was cremated) (see Raj Ghat at Wikipedia). I had an option to go to a shop selling cotton cloth like Gandhi made and wore, but I opted out of the shopping stop. We took a tuktuk to the Metro station where I paid the guide the money for the two tours and we took the metro back to the hotel (within about half a mile). I thanked the guide at the metro stop and I walked back to the hotel. I filled out my journal when I got back.
I took a shower and packed everything and put on my travel clothes. I checked out at 8:45 PM and my ride arrived at 9. I had a wee chat in Hindi-English with the driver. I arrived at the International Terminal about 9:45 and found the Air France counter. I got my boarding pass and went through Indian passport control and security. There are not many shops in the international area, but there are a few. I walked around and got two cappuccinos and then caught up in my journal. I also read some of my Bryson book. This is going to be a very long day ahead of me.
28 October 2009, Wednesday
We boarded the Air France plane to Paris and took off about 1:40 AM. After take off, we were served snacks. I had a sandwich with something like cole slaw in it and a yogurt and red wine. I watched the movie "Land of the Lost" with Will Farrel. It was good for a chuckle. After that, I tried to sleep but could never really get comfortable. The fellow in front of me kept his seat fully reclined and I had no leg room at all. I also couldn't get to the food on my tray. We were served breakfast around 4:30 or 5 AM. I had a croissant, roll with butter, papaya-pineapple slices, a nice spinach scrambled egg with au gratin potatoes and plain yogurt and coffee. We disembarked the plane around 5:20. Then I had to catch a shuttle to my terminal. It seems the driver plays a game of "try to make all the passengers fall," by using brakes, quick acceleration, and tight curves. There is no finesse at all to his driving. At the correct terminal we had to go through a very slow and backed up security line. I got to my gate area just as the sun started to rise at 7:10. I several hours wait here, so I caught up on my journal.
I walked around a bit and then I hear "Bon Jour Donnie Chesnut." I turned around and saw my cousin Joe Westbrook walking toward me. We hugged and repeatedly exclaimed with disbelief that we had run into each other. Joe took me over to where Laura was sitting and we talked a long time. Joe bought me a Cafe Latte and he had the same and Laura had an espresso. I didn't have any Euros, only rupees and they can't be exchanged here. Joe and Laura told me about their trip to Portugal and France, which was great. It got close to time for me to board, so I went to my gate area. I'm flying air France to Atlanta. I boarded the plane about 9:40 and the plane took off at 10:45 AM. I watched several movies, but I was so tired I don't remember what they were. I drifted in and out of sleep. I had two or three things out of a meal I don't remember. I sat next to two older Indian ladies with henna tattoos. They were going to a wedding in New York. They were from Mumbai. I mostly slept during the flight. I arrived in Atlanta at 3:25 PM (at the same time as the other passengers, oddly). We had to stand in very long lines for passport control and for customs. I got to my domestic terminal by 4:30. I sat down and filled out my journal. I feel very oily, dirty and tired. I got on my flight to Lexington around 7, after a delay and arrived there around 8 or 9 PM. The first person I saw in the baggage claim area was Mary. She looked bigger than I remember. We hugged and then I saw Anne and we hugged. We went to the car and they drove me home. Once again, it was good to be home.