Punjab and a Wedding

The backstory

My mate Amrit met up with Jashan during our wedding in 2014. They got along very well and decided to get engaged later in 2014. We were eagerly waiting for the wedding date so we could plan our Punjab visit. Luckily the dates coincided with our original plan and we couldn’t wait to attend the wedding.

We boarded a bus from Gandhidham, got to Ahmedabad and flew to Delhi. We spent a day in Delhi and Faridabad with family. We were ultimately picked up by the driver at our Faridabad residence. We then drove to the airport to pick up Bharat who was flying in from Sydney. The entire journey to Mohali was spent talking and drinking.

Paronthe at DhabbaWe reached Mohali in the early hours of the night. The highway between Delhi and Chandigarh is mostly GT Road which in the oldest highway in India. Along the way there are plenty of McDhabas which started out as truck stops but are now institutions. We stopped at one of them and enjoyed the paronthe with a generous serving of desi makkhan (home made butter).

Apart from the food and drinks on the way, the other highlight was a daredevil on the bike. He was lying on his back while keeping the bike stable with his feet. Crazy guy! Here is the video if you don’t believe me.

A video posted by Shruti Shukla (@ss19rulz) on

Free flowing booze

The wedding was held in Punjab and Punjabis are known for their drinking habit, especially at weddings. The boys were constantly asked and handed out a beer each time we were idle, bored or without a reason. The pre-cocktail and the cocktail nights turned out to be massive booze sessions. It proved to be too much for many of us including me.

Pre-cocktail

Turbanators

While we were still in Sydney, Amrit discussed the idea of groomsmen and bridesmaids coordinating their outfit colours and the groomsmen wearing turbans. The idea sounded good to us and this is the main reason why I have been growing my beard for months.

All of us had to try the turbans on before the wedding. Think of it as a trail run and somehow the non-Indians looked even better in the turbans. Amazing!

Trail for Turbans

The Bhangra

One of the other pillars of Punjabi culture is the dance, Bhangra. While at the wedding, we all danced crazy a few times. The non-Indian mates were a hit with the crowd due to the awesome dance moves.

Bhangra Dance

A part of the weddings are boliyan where the dholi, the drummer, invites different relatives and friends to dance. The first two nights we had all the energy to dance but eventually we were all tired and found it repetitive. Nevertheless, we bhangra-ed our way in the baraat, the wedding party, again!

Cocktail Party

Lots of curry innit

No Indian wedding is complete without overeating and this wedding was no different. Each day, a feast of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes were laid out in front of us along with a variety of breads. My friend Bharat had the lions share of curd (yoghurt) while I ate as much meat as possible.

Shruti got heena tattoeed over her hands, I got to feed her as well. Modern Indian love as they call it!

It may be a mark of how good the food was that on the wedding day, we both realised we had put on a few kilos. Yolo!

Customs & Ceremonies

There are quite a few ceremonies that need to take place before and after an Indian wedding. Applying heena, rubbing tumeric, wearing the bangles are some common ceremonies that happen in most Indian weddings. Alongside, Jashan had a chunri ceremony as well where the groom’s family showered her with gifts and blessings.

As part of family customs, before the wedding the bride’s family officially invited the groom and his family for the wedding. Although the two families had spent a lot of time together prior to the wedding, it was good to see family customs still being followed.

Wedding Collage

Day of the wedding

The day of the wedding is utter chaos. Everyone is stressed, everyone is trying to keep things on time but Indian weddings are rarely on time. I was given the job of keeping all the groomsmen on time while Shruti had to visit the beauty parlor with the ladies.

Our alarm went off at 4:15am and after sleeping early at 11:00pm the night before, we were still pretty sleep deprived. Shruti was out of the door by 5am while I woke the guys up. The wedding creeps up on you like a rising flood or lava coming down a mountain.

This was evident as incredibly all the guys were ready by 6am but the turban professional was nowhere to be seen. The groom had signs of the wedding day paranoia, his sister had signs of project manager paranoia while I looked at everyone helplessly. We finally got our turbans on and we looked like real sardars. Especially Marcello the Italian Sikh!

Wedding DayApplying kajal

During the Sehra Bandi ceremony, Shruti got to perform ‘applying the kajal’ ceremony in Amrit’s eye. As she is the sister-in-law, applying kajal is to avoid the evil eye. It was a touching moment!

The wedding finally approached though we were an hour late. As the Indian joke goes, we finally put the donkey on a horse.

The groom is the king for the day getting on his horse to get his bride. We danced and took photos to remember the day.

 

Groom on horse

We finally proceeded to the Sikh Gurudwara where Jashan entered looking stunning as the bride. The Anand Karaj ceremony was performed and the couple were married as the almighty intended.

Shoe stealing ceremony

The film Hum Aaapke Hain Kaun made ‘groom’s shoe stealing’ as an official ceremony at every traditional Indian wedding. The groom’s shoes are stolen by the bride’s sisters and friends who then demand a price to return it. The groom eventually gives up and pays a price. However, the challenge is to avoid having the shoes stolen.

We were on our game from the start and hid Amrit’s shoes safely in Nitesh’s car. After we returned from the Gurudwara, all the groom’s men and Pree’s (groom’s sister) shoes were gone. As a result, the groom went barefoot in protest for our photo shoot.

In response to this unfair tactic, Nitesh stole the car keys from one of the bridesmaid, forcing them to drive in one car. Once we returned for lunch, we were laughed at but we wouldn’t do anything to let the bridesmaids take the grooms shoes. Eventually, Jashan’s mother gave us slippers which went perfectly well with the traditional outfit. Not!

Feeling that the groom would look bad in the photos, we were urged to bring back the grooms shoes. We did so and this brought out the ‘hunter’ in the girls. Eventually they ganged up on the groom while on stage but we weren’t giving up so early. It was a brawl but I managed to save one shoe making it impossible to do the trade.

However, as is tradition, we had to give up and the groom had to pay a fee. Our shoes were returned and everyone went home happy. A fun but expensive game for the groom!

Sneaking out early

We left the wedding a little early on the day of the wedding reception. We had said our goodbyes the night before and were out the door by 6:30am. Being sleep deprived for 3 nights, we fell asleep as soon as we were in the train but saw enough of the Punjab heartland between Ludhiana and Amritsar including yellow mustard fields. Yash Chopra would be proud!

Sarso Fields, Punjab

Holiest of the Holy

Golden Temple or Harmandir Sahib is perhaps the most well-known building of India after Taj Mahal. It was built in 1604AD and was commisioned by Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjan of Sikhism.

The precinct is huge and mostly White while Central Temple is Golden. The Central Temple has water in a man made lake on the sides which makes it looks beautiful beyond words. As we saw this view, we noticed the carp in the water and the crowd waiting to get into the central temple. To say we were in a hurry would be an understatement as we had a train back to Jalandhar at 7:30PM.

Golden Temple, Amritsar

Amritsar Temple QueueHowever, once we entered the line, we forgot everything. The 10 Sikh gurus, the religious figures of Sikhism, were incredible poets as well as competent in traditional music. The Sikh scriptures are sung by trained singers according to the raga (note) of the day. The bani (words) of the gurus makes one forget about all the problems in life. The peace one gets can certainly not bought with money!

 

Golden Temple, Amritsar

Volunteer, Golden Temple, AmritsarAfter visiting the Golden Temple, we walked around to the langar (kitchen) hall for lunch. Free meals for all was set up by another Sikh Guru a few hundred years ago and till today has been feeding all sorts of people. The food is simple and vegetarian but is tasty and fulfilling. The system works on volunteer basis with people cutting vegetables, cooking, serving and cleaning up. A salute to the volunteers from us!

Langar, Golden Temple, Amritsar

Patriotism at the Border

India and Pakistan have a great rivalry, which is reflected in cricket as well. At all the borders with Pakistan, a “parade” or ceremony is conducted for the opening and closing of doors. The soldiers on both sides go through a ritual of handshakes and marching while taking down the flags and closing the gates.

Attari-Wagah Border, Amritsar

The most famous of these is the ceremony in Amritsar at the Atari-Wagah border. A taxi driver willing to take us to Wagah border on a shared basis met us outside the Gurudwara. We met him at 2:30pm, as he asked us to, but in true Indian fashion, never really got on the road till 3:00pm. The ceremony starts at 4:30pm so we would be there just on time.

Attari-Wagah Border, Amritsar

Attari-Wagah Border, AmritsarUnfortunately, the border ceremony has become incredibly popular for people visiting Amritsar. Therefore, when we reached the seats were already full and the crowd was so big that we could not see the border gates. It was disappointing as we had to watch the entire ceremony on a large screen though it was only 50 metres away.

Eventually the crowd moved away a little and we were able to get some good shots of the Indian Border Gate. At last, we walked back to the taxi as soon as we could so we could get back to the station in time for the train. We made it easily and managed to board our train to Jalandhar to visit the family.

 

Attari-Wagah Border, Amritsar

Summary

Final thoughts

The wedding was an organized chaos and Amrit and Jashan’s families worked very hard to get everything on time. We were thankful to them for inviting us. It was great fun!

We highly recommend becoming friends with a Punjabi so you can enjoy the craziness of a wedding. Attending a full blown Punjabi wedding should be a must do on everyone’s list.

Bride & Groom

In addition, we were in Amritsar were only for a day but managed to see 2 main highlights of the city. It was a quick but amazing visit.

Transport

We did not use any of our own transportation during the wedding but did use Ola and Uber for visits to Chandigarh and train station.

A free bus service is available from Amritsar railway station to Golden temple every half hour. Shared taxis are also available from Golden Temple to Wagah border parade.

Accommodation

We lived at Hotel Tulip Sec 71 Mohali during the wedding and that was a good hotel.

Punjab and a Wedding Gallery

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Renewing Indian Passport in India

A Big Mistake – Dealing with Indian Government 101

While traveling, its sometimes the little mistakes and events that cost you dearly. For us, it has been a smooth ride but we finally had to deal with Indian Government for a passport renewal and it was like peeling an onion!

First Mistake

While planning our travel, we did a quick check of our passports to see the validity. Both of us had passports valid for over 2 years. We didn’t check anything further. It was only while in India that we realised that Shruti’s passport did not have enough pages for all the visas and stamps. Bummer!

Therefore, like pilgrims going to Vaishno Devi, we decided to go to Mother India barefoot to climb the mountain. In the process, both of us and our parents had to cry to get the boon.

Go back to where you came from

Our initial questions from government officials revealed that we had made a mistake of coming to India and wanting to get a passport in India. The Indian government does not provide extra copies of passport for exhaustion of pages. One has to go through the entire process of getting a new passport. We were told “Why did you not do this in Australia? It would have been much easier”.

The pain we went through for renewing Indian Passport in India is combination of applying for a new passport and requesting for a visa for country. You need to be a resident for more than 1 year or if not, you need to get a high ranking government official to sign a document stating that you are of good character. As we couldn’t prove the former, we had to go with the latter option. Additionally, we had to make sure we had ALL the documents, including the ones that are not listed in the checklist, ready because they could ask for anything.

Second Mistake

While preparing for travel, we got all our documents photocopied and signed by the JP. However, we didn’t bring the original marriage certificate. This proved to be a real problem as a govt. official told us “How do we know you’re married based on a photocopy”. In addition, my being Australian also proved to be a hassle as there is a problem of fake marriages between Indians and foreign citizens especially UK, US, Australia, Canada etc.

What Hague Convention?

At this point, we had to contact my mum in Australia to send us the original marriage certificate signed by Australian DFAT to say that our marriage is valid in Australia. Once mum had this, she had to take it to Indian Consulate for attesting. However, they refused to attest saying that it was already apostilled by DFAT and was legal in India.

On the other hand, the passport office in Mumbai told us that they would not trust an Australian Document unless it was signed by the Indian Consulate. Now, this created a problem for mum as she couldn’t send us all the documents until attested and Indian consulate would not attest.

At this point, mum did the Great Indian Mother Tantrum at the Indian Consulate and told them her kids (Shruti!) was not able to get a passport until they attested the documents and she won’t leave until they accepted the application. It seemed to work as the document was attested in 2 days!

Jobs for the people

Once we had all the documents in hand, Shruti filled in the application and once again went to the passport office to try our luck. Different officials asked Shruti for different documents and she was ready for this. However, one official asked her to present the husband. Therefore, I had to go show myself.

However, it was still not over. More officials asked for different things including changes in the application, passbook (remember these – a written record of money transactions in the bank account) and more documents. She left at 9AM and we returned at 4PM after submission.

We realised that unlike in Australia, each official in the government offices only has 1 job, like checking the documents, entering the details in the record or scanning documents. It was quite inefficient as the applicant is forced to go from table to table and present themselves to each official.

Mistrust within government

Once the application was submitted, we had to do a police verification. A senior officer visited Shruti’s parents place to see that we were living there. Then, we had to go and show the documents at the police station to a junior officer. This was again inefficient. It seemed as if the Indian Government has a mistrust within itself. Ministry of external affairs has already seen and accepted the documents but Ministry of Home Affairs, through Maharashtra police, had to check the same documents twice. Learn from Germany, Modi Sarkar!

Final Thoughts

To be fair, Shruti’s case was a bit unique from the start. We should have renewed the passport in Australia itself but we made a mistake of not counting the empty pages. We are thankful to the officers who helped us as well as our parents. Although most of the passport application process is now online, there were still some inefficiencies within the process which can definitely be improved.

Shruti with new Indian Passport

Udaipur – Land of lakes

Getting in

Udaipur was the last leg of our Rajasthan tour and to get there we took a bus from Jodhpur. It took almost 7 hours and the bus got more packed at every village.

We saw the Hills of Mewar, the area around Udaipur and were amazed at the beauty. I bargained like a pro for tuk tuk, for the first time, and we reached the hotel. Though we were in a budget hotel, we had a lake view and it was stunning!

Lake VIew from Hotel, Udaipur

Jagdish Temple

Jagdish Temple, UdaipurJagdish Temple was constructed by Maharana in 1651. It is dedicated to Lord Krishna. The royal family visited this temple on special occasions and offered their prayers regularly. The architecture is very detailed and stands tall.

When we arrived at the temple, the curtains were drawn and followers were seated singing songs about Lord Krishna’s greatness. The atmosphere in the temple was very engaging and so we took a seat on the floor next to the crowd. While we were engrossed clapping to the rhythm, the lady in front turned around to inform us that the curtain was over and we could offer our prayers.

Upon coming face-to-face with the deity, we were stunned. It was one of the prettiest idol of Lord Krishna and we just wanted to keep looking at him.

Jagdish Temple, Udaipur

Forts and Lakes

As with all Rajasthani cities we have been to, there is a massive City Palace. We bought tickets for the palace as well as the boat ride in Lake Pichola. One of the first things we realised was that Udaipur’s monuments are very expensive. Not great for backpackers! The museum ticket is Rs. 250 each and additional Rs. 250 for camera, and the boat ride is Rs. 400 each.

PS: this palace is shown in the recent boolywood movie, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo.

City Palace, Udaipur

Tip: If you are interested in just the boat ride around the lake (approx. 20 mins), there is a cheaper option available at Lake Pichola / Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Park. Though the only disadvantage with this option is that you can’t get of at Jag Mandir for a short walk tour.

The palace itself was beautiful and grand with great views. Mewar has been the only kingdom which has fought its enemies and never laid down arms in front of them. Rana Kumbha and Maharana Pratap are famous throughout India for their battles and bravery.

City Palace, Udaipur

City palace in Udaipur had a whole section for Maharana Pratap, his horse, Chetak and the battle of Haldi Ghati. In this battle the Maharana defeated Mughal forces represented by King of Jaipur. It was a David vs Goliath battle and Mughals never attacked Mewar again after their loss. Similarly, the King of Udaipur never attended the Delhi Durbar of British Empire which was a risky move at the time.

Maharaha Pratap & Chetak, Udaipur

Though expensive, the museum was in a great shape. The rooms of different kings and queens over the ages had beautifully decorated rooms with some great views of the city and the lake.

City Palace, Udaipur

Once done with the palace, we walked to the jetty to take the ferry ride on Lake Pichola. We saw the Lake Palace which has made Udaipur famous around the world. It really was stunning from all angles!

Lake Palace, Udaipur

The boat dropped one to Jag Mandir which is another stunning palace hotel in the lake. It provides excellent views of Taj Lake Palace, city palace and the surrounding hills.

Jag Mandir, Udaipur

For our final complete view of the lakes and palace, we took the ropeway to the top to visit the Karni Mata Temple. Aside with the temple with its rats (who represents the Goddess), the view was another level. There are 7 lakes in Udaipur and all were visible from the hill as well as the city.

View from Ropeway, Udaipur

We visited the Chittorgarh Fort as a day trip. The fort is around 130 km from Udaipur and was built over a long hill back in the 7th Century. It is a very historic fort which involved several wars and mass suicides. It was won by the Khilji Dynasty and the Mughals but was eventually taken back by Mewar.

Chittorgarh Fort, Udaipur

The effects of Muslim occupation was evident as all idol in the temples were defaced. One of the important temples within the fort is of Mirabai. She is a famous medieval saint throughout India who dedicated her life to Lord Krishna. She wrote poems and sang songs which are now recited as prayers.

Mirabai Temple, Chittorgarh Fort

Seeing the beautiful marwari horses, palaces of Rani Padmini and victory tower of Rana Kumbha was an amazing experience. Each idol in the victory tower had a name and there are built over 9 levels. A great day out!

Victory Tower, Chittorgarh Fort

Great Company

On our first night in Udaipur, we met Marita and Peter from England. Over a long conversation, we found that they had been to India 30 times and knew Goa like locals. They retired early and have been traveling around the world since then! In terms of travel, they were our idols and we would eventually like to travel like them. We decided to travel to Chittorgarh together so we could save money and spend a good day having great conversation.

Final Day

Our final day involved walking around Udaipur and seeing some highlights. We had a milkshake in our favorite cafe started by a great barista. The coffee there reminded me of Australia.

We saw Bagore Ki Haveli which was from the house of Mewar opened by the govt. Being a govt museum it was a little old but still interesting. The most unique exhibition was of puppets! An entire room was filled puppets of all kind, courtmen, king, commoner, ladies and animals.

Puppet Room, Bagore Ki Haveli, Udaipur

Tip: There is a cultural music and dance show at Bagore Ki Haveli every evening so don’t miss it.

Food Choices

Udaipur is a well-known tourist destination, especially with the young Europeans and Asians. There are plenty of Israeli, Italian, Korean and Greek restaurants around in Udaipur and more cafes are popping up every other day! Additionally, there are lots of chill hang out spots around the city centre. Feel free to pick up a book or a board game and enjoy a relaxing afternoon along the lake or a drink in the evening with relaxing music.

We highly recommend Grasswood Cafe for an amazing cup of coffee. It reminded us of cafes in Sydney, so imagine the quality.

And of course, don’t forget the local food. It is delicious and the local thali is a must try!

Summary

Accommodation

We stayed in hotel Thamla Haveli which faces Lake Pichola. There are lots of hotels along the lake for various budgets.

Transport

Most tourist places are around Lake Pichola making the city center walkable. However, autos and cabs via Uber and Ola are readily available.

Final Thoughts

Udaipur is incredibly beautiful! The surrounding hills and the lakes make it one of the most beautiful cities in India. In addition, it is a backpacker central at the moment with hipster cafes coming up. An exciting time for the city!

We were in the city for 3 days and we reckon we were short by 2 days. We recommend spending 5 days in Udaipur so you have enough time to see all the tourist spots in and around the city. 2 to 3 day trips are required to see all the attractions around the city so ensure you have given yourself enough time.

Udaipur Gallery

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Jodhpur – The Blue City

Sunrise & salt paneGetting In

We arrived in Jodhpur by a passenger train after spending 2 days in Jaipur. We witnessed the sunrise along with the salt pans during the ride. Also, for the first time,  we took an AC Chair Car and we were not disappointed. We got a bit of sleep and managed to get some blogging as well.

Land of Grand Forts and Palaces

Mehrangarh Fort, JodhpurJodhpur is the Capital of the erstwhile Marwar kingdom which is known for its valour in defending itself. One of the greatest symbols of this is the towering Mehrangarh Fort. Built above the Jodhpur city,  it can be seen from anywhere in the city.

We walked from our hotel to the fort through curving streets full of blue houses. Once inside the fort, we were entranced by it’s scale and the view of the city as well as the hills nearby.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

We Hukkah Man, Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpurthen entered the ticketed area of the fort and visited the museum. The art of the Marwar area, its culture and the grand images of its kings were absolutely stunning. In addition, within the fort and throughout the city, people wore the traditional dresses and there were groups of people doing traditional dancing.

 

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

The museum was grand and virtually the entire palace of the area had been turned into a museum. The current king of Jodhpur has been very supportive in promoting tourism and that could be seen in the museum itself. Intricate detail of the life of the royals had been saved along with the paintings in the fort.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

We met a fellow traveler Nina from Riga, Latvia in one of the rooms and we chatted for quite a bit while we saw the museum. She was lovely and knew so much about the Indian culture including dancing Kathak in Latvia. However, she had a bad time being harassed by auto drivers and hawkers in Jaipur. We couldn’t be anything but sympathetic as we ourselves have been annoyed by the tuk tuk drivers, despite of being Indians! And, we shall see what other countries with different culture hold of us.

OMehrangarh Fort, Jodhpurnce we finished from the museum, we went to the ramparts of the fort. The Eagles were flying overhead after getting a meal provided by the royalty. The Eagle is the insignia of the Rathore dynasty and Eagles can be seen all around Jodhpur. From the rampart, we were finally able to see the blue city.

 

Blue City, Jodhpur

It is unclear who initially started painting blue houses or why. We’ve heard everything from Brahmins, servants of the royalty and also the fact that blue is a good colour to reduce the heat and mosquitoes. Whatever be the case, a large area near the fort has its houses blue and it is magnificent. The sun setting behind the hills was beautiful but were unable to see it set as the security kicks everyone out.

Sunset at Jodhpur

Blue City, Jodhpur, unlike other Rajasthani cities, does not have a lot of palaces or forts. However, it makes up quality for quantity. Our next stop was the grand Umaid Bhawan Palace which is the last of the great palaces built in India. As there was a famine in the area, the king decided to build a palace and provide employment for the people in the area. Most of the hotel is now part of the Taj Group of hotels, the king resides in a quarter and a small area is now a museum.

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur

The museum shows the history of the dynasty, the kings of the 20th century and thing used by the royal family. In addition, there is a vintage cars gallery which houses some amazing old cars.  Other than that, the view from the hill is amazing and we had great afternoon here.

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur

Magical Centopaths

The Rathore dynasty has been ruling the Marwar area since 12th century.  During this time,  they only had 2 capitals. Mandore was the Ancient Capital of the area and was in use till the 16th century.

Mandore Gardens house the ruins of the fort, various temples and centopaths of old kings of the dynasty. The centopaths are kept well and the architecture is quite detailed. Unbeknownst to us, the ashes of the kings are kept in the centopaths so they are more like a pyramid than a cremation place.

Mandore Garden, Jodhpur

On our visit,  it was noon and the place was peaceful and quiet. The shade provided by the centopaths was cool and refreshing while we were wowed by the architecture.

According to the legend,  Ravana’s wife was from the area and there is temple for him while he is considered a son in law. We never got to see this temple as we were warned against going to the hills by the tourist police. It was a fun couple of hours being there.

Sickness Hits Home

On our second morning in Jodhpur, I woke with a fever and a sore throat. It was a sure sign of a cold coming. However, I later felt weakness in the legs and signs of an upset stomach. To avoid further sickness, we decided to relax a little spending time at home sleeping and writing for the blog. I gargled and belched several times a day while taking panadol and managed to avoid a full blown cold. Phew!

A Great Feeling

We had been feeling a little let down by Rajasthan till this point. Part of it was the touristy feel to this place while it was also our hectic schedule.

Jaswant Thada changed it all. It is a white marble centopath for king Jaswant Singh who ruled in the late 19th century. It is known as the Taj of Rajasthan. The king is treated like a god here and people pray and ask him to grant their wishes.

Jaswant Thada, Jodhpur

TheRajasthani Singer land around is a stunning desert park and the old wall of the fort encircles it. While the memorial was beautiful, we sat on the stairs below in the shade to relax. An old rajasthani man a singing traditional songs and we sat listening.  The cool breeze blowing with Rajasthani music in the shade finally made us happy to be in Rajasthan.

Jodhpur

Rural Life

Back in Australia, we had wanted to try two unique things in India. One of them was living in the desert. We started researching and found Hacra dhani which was run as an eco-tourist experience. While it was expensive, the reviews made us believe that it would be a good experience. Mr Gemar Singh met us in Jodhpur and we drove towards his land and his home.

Mr. Gemar Singh & Wife, hacra, Jodhpur

(Here is a photo of Mr. Germar Singh and his wife)

Osian is an historic town around 25km from Jodhpur famous for its Jain temples and sand dunes.  Mr Singh was a hardy Rajput (former royal class) but he had a soft tone and gave a detailed answers. While he had a Mahindra 4×4 which could handle dunes and potholes, he drove unusually slow.

Black Buck, Osian, JodhpurAt one point,  he stopped the car on the side suddenly and pointed to the bush 50 metres away. It was a herd of black bucks, a protected deer once almost hunted to extinction. Again some distance away,  he suddenly turned the car into the bush and followed a trail until we saw a fully grown male back buck sitting in the middle of the field. As it saw us, it galloped away in full flight perhaps worried we will shoot it.

Black Buck, Osian, Jodhpur

By this point, we were already impressed with Gemar Singh, his eyes were trained to spot deer through the bush and his knowledge was amazing. However, our respect only grew for him. In the space of a few hours, we saw wild deer, blue bull, peacocks and Indian sprinbok deer.

Peahen herd, Osian, Jodhpur

We spent some time in Osian seeing the 1000 year old Jain Temple. The carving on the stones were immaculate as well as the story of how people in the area became followers of Jainism. The trading community of Oswal Jains which is spread all around the world comes from this town.

Jain Temple, Osian, Jodhpur

Our next stop was a camel ride and time spent with a camel herder family. However, this was no ordinary camel ride. We traveled through the brush over dunes to the camel herder village. Here we got to know our hosts, see their land and how they make a living in mostly arid land.

Nainsukh and his family owned around 6 camels. They had land where they grew millet from the monsoon rains and gave camel rides to tourists for a fee. We were welcomed to the centre of their property and invited to sit on a cot while they all sat on the ground. This meant they gave us higher status as guests.

Camel Herders, Jodhpur

We Camel Herders, Jodhpurwere mostly left free to discover their property, play with camels, calves and take photos to our hearts content. They even taught me how to tie a turban in the rajasthani style. While we sat, we saw villagers in their natural environment. They sat in the central area and talked about crops and other things. We noticed that the guests were welcomed with tea and opium. Lunch was a traditional thali with sabzi, daal, various breads and rice. Our favourite was definitely millet bread. Our host sat to serve us until we were done eating. An amazing gesture!

Camel Herders, Jodhpur

In the evening, we again mounted the camels to see more of the countryside and the sunset from the dunes. The camels crossed the village and its fences made of a thorny plant. Our guide was a young kid in the 9th grade who knew all about samsung and legal issues with property despite living in a village.  The village was changing afterall!

Camel Ride, Jodhpur

Another interesting change we saw in the villages was the toilet complex. Indian villages culturally have avoided building toilets and using the great outdoors to relieve themselves. However, not only is this a bad look for the country, it is unsafe for women. For the first time since independence, an Indian government has given a Rs. 12,000 subsidy to build toilets and the people are taking the opportunity with both hands. We saw people building new toilets throughout the villages. Modi government is changing a habit for thousands of years.

Finally, we saw the sunset from the dunes. It was incredibly beautiful especially with the camels chilling in the sand. We met an old British couple who told us great stories of their trip in Rajasthan. Once done, we were picked up by Mr Singh to take us to our accommodation for the night.

Sunset in Osian, Jodhpur

Once we reached Hacra dhani, we were absolutely astounded. We reached in the dark and there were no light whatsoever. In the pitch dark, we were able to see the stars and the Milky Way which already made our night. After showing us the hut and toilet, we had dinner in Mr Singh’s house with his wife and son. Mr Singh’s wife made an amazing simple meal of fire baked bread, kadi and sabzi.

Hacra Dhani(Here is a picture of the property in during the day).

After dinner, we sat in the dark and simply heard the sounds of the night. It was almost a full moon so we could see well and enjoyed the simplicity of the village. At night while sleeping, we heard the sounds of peacocks warning each other of predators.

Night art Hacra, Osian

In the morning, I got up to take photos and saw deer and peacocks just roaming around. We were only there for a short time but it really was an amazing visit!

Sunrise at Hacra, Jodhpur

An Expensive Disaster

The contrasting thing to the village life was living in a palace. This proved to be a nightmare as most of the bigger palaces are now run by huge 5-star hotel chains. On a backpackers budget, we could not afford such a thing. However, we though we had struck gold when we found Ranbank Palace in Jodhpur built in 1920s. It was built for a prince of the royal family and that was good enough for us!

Rambanka Palace, Jodhpur

When we arrived from the village, we found out that we were upgraded to a suite. Wow! What could be better? We then set about cleaning up and realised that the shower was broken. We could shower but would be burnt by the hot water. Nice upgrade!

Rambanka Palace, Jodhpur

The next two hours we spent sitting in gowns and watched as two maintenance guys came to fix the shower. We finally had a shower and thanked our stars. However, it was not for long as the TV remotes stopped working. The maintenance guy again fixed them but we were disappointed. Upon complaining, we were told that we could get 1 hour of free wifi as compensation. Thanks for providing us what should be free anyway!

This day also happened to be Karwa Chauth where Hindu women fast for their husband’s long life. However, being from the SRK generation, Manish also fasted the entire day without food and water. At night, we asked the hotel to have access to the terrace to be able to see the moon. For some reason, on this night it feels like the moon purposely takes a long time to come out. We waited for around half an hour when we finally noticed the moon. It was quite a romantic moment and we broke the fast with kaju katri and water.

Karva Cauth

And to finishing off, here is a traditional thali we thoroughly enjoyed.

Rajasthani Thali

This ended our trip in Jodhpur – the blue city!

Summary

Final Thoughts

We stayed in Jodhpur the longest out of all the Rajashtani cities. We had a variety of experiences in the city. To be fair, Jodhpur doesn’t have the monuments of other cities but it has various experiences around it which can keep you busy. One thing we liked in Jodhpur was that there were no hassling and the ‘tourist information’ centres, run by the police, were all around the tourist areas to provide service.

Our experience at Jaswant Thada and Hacra Dhani was absolutely amazing while the palace left a little more to be desired for!

Accommodation

We stayed at a 350 year old haveli built of red sandstone which was a delightful experience. Living in the small streets gave us an easy access to the Mehrangarh Fort while also showing us the markets of Jodhpur. We also stayed in Hacra dhani and Ranbanka palace. Dhani was an awesome experience but the palace was not so good.

Transport

We walked a lot around Jodhpur. However, we also used local buses as well as autorickshaws. Our experience with autorickshaws was better than other cities but still we couldn’t be sure they were not overcharging us.

Jodhpur – The Blue City Gallery

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2 Days in Jaipur

Arrival in the Land of Royals

Jaipur, FlightWe arrived in Jaipur from Kolkata overwhelmed by the Durga Pooja festival. As the flight got close to Jaipur, we saw the hills and the dry land terrain. Like the wise say, drive 50km in India in any direction, and the scene will be different. We knew we were going to love it. Once in the city, our first impression was that it was clean and organized. As we had never been to Rajasthan, we decided to see a couple of historic cities during this trip. We planned to spend 2 days in Jaipur, 5 days in Jodhpur and 3 days in Udaipur. This post is about our experience in Jaipur.

Going back in time

Raj Mandir, JaipurBefore we left Kolkata, Shruti booked tickets to watch the latest bollywood film at a classic one screen theatre. Raj Mandir is an institution in Jaipur and in the world of multi-screen cinemas, it is thriving. We got there to watch Shandaar, a film starring Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, just in time to grab tickets and drinks.

The film itself was stupid, funny and very stereotypical bollywood.  However,  the crowd in the cinema as well as the decor made the cinema better.  The condition of the seats and the theatre was just brilliant.  It seemed to be getting better with age. An amazing experience!

Palaces of the City

No trip to Jaipur would be complete without a trip to the palaces of the city. On our first day, we decided to walk around the old city. We crossed the Ajmeri Gate, which was one of the main gates into the walled city during the kingdom rule.

Ajmeri Gate, Jaipur

We then visited the famed Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Wind. It’s famous for being cool even in the heat of summer as the palace has been designed to catch wind from all sides which then pass through and makes it cool. The front-facade of the palace is just amazing – you decide for yourself.

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Hawa Mahal, JaipurWe went all the way to the top window and the spaces get narrow as you rise. Shruti tried to go back in time and spent a couple of minutes staring out of the window as the women in the palace would have done. Apart from keeping the building cool, these windows were the passage for Royal women to watch the day life of commoners go by.

Our next destination was the City Palace which was the main Palace of Kachwaha Rajput Dynasty of Jaipur. Being the main palace, it had images of the old Rajput kings as well as recent ones. In addition, the art in some parts of the palace was just exquisite.

 

City Palace, Jaipur

Finally, we visited the famous observatory,  Jantar Mantar. It has sundials and other instruments which accurately tell time as well as the location of celestial bodies.  Shruti was very keen to learn all about it and we rented the audio guide from the counter. However, we had not paid much attention during our physics class at school and didn’t understand much of the instruments. Like it’s name, Jantar Mantar – which translated to magical instruments, we were just amazed by how advanced the king was in the field of science and left the place a little tired and confused.

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Muharram

As we finished from the palaces and were heading back to the hotel, we landed upon the Muharram Procession. The procession included kids with handmade Taziyahs (buildings symbolising battle of Karbala) and banging drums as they passed through the city.

We took lots of pictures of the crowd including some curious kids who wanted us to take a picture of them. The crowd didn’t stop for 1.5 hours and we eventually had to head back only to realise that the old city roads were all shut down due to the number of people on the streets. This reminded us of Kolkata!

Muharram Procession, Jaipur

Forts of Amer

Amer is the ancient capital of Kachwaha Rajput rulers who later built Jaipur. We reached Amer by an AC City Bus connecting Jaipur and Amer, though we decided to get off halfway to see Jal Mahal. Jal Mahal, palace on water, was a lovely white building in the middle of a lake. Unfortunately,  it is not possible to visit the palace and the lake itself. Apparently, it is really dirty and not maintained from the inside.

Jal Mahal, Jaipur

Once we reached Amer itself, we negotiated with tuk tuk driver to see the forts in the area.

Tip: The tuk tuk drivers provide a cheaper tour option from Amer Fort. They can drive you to Nahargarh fort, wait there for an hour while you look around and then drop you at Jaigarh Fort. There is a down-the-hill pathway from Jaigarh Fort to Amer Fort and the walk takes about 15 mins. This is recommended route, otherwise you would have to walk up the hill to Amer Fort and then to Jaigarh. The tuk tuk driver, though he was with us only for 1.5 hours, charged us Rs. 400, which was about half the cost of jeeps and other hire car tour operators.

Our first stop was Nahargarh, the Tiger fort. The palace is well known as it can be seen on a hill from Jaipur. The palace itself was quite simple, with wall paintings but the view from the top was absolutely amazing.

Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur

Our next stop was JJaivana, Jaigarh Fort, Jaipuraigarh Fort which sits on top of the hill in Amer. The palace itself was quite large and had faced many battles. The highlight of the fort was the largest wheeled cannon in the world, Jaivana. It really was huge!

The palace had information on the history of the ruling dynasty including the last king, his services to the country and his social gatherings. In addition,  the palace had exquisite gardens and a fantastic view of Amer city.

View of Amer from Jaigarh Fort
As suggested by the auto driver,  we descended down the walkway between Jaigarh Fort and the Amer Palace which was much better than climbing the other way up the hill.  Well Puly, Amber Fort, JaipurThe palace itself was packed with tourists and we tried to see as much as possible without running into people. Though it was large,  it was not the most beautiful palace. By far the most interesting things in palace was the pond outside the palace, an old machine to pull water and the fact that the bollywood film, Jodha Akbar, had shown similar walkway up the hill, especially the bends in the path.

Amber Fort, Jaipur

Chokhi Dhani

Chokhi dhani is a Rajasthani themed village which is a chain around India.  Shruti had been to one in Gujarat and was very excited to show me the original Chokhi Dhani in Jaipur.

Choki Dhani, Jaipur

We booked a package tour to it through our hotel as the Chokhi Dhani is 22 km outside the city centre. Upon arrival,  we were given a traditional Rajasthani welcome of Tilak. Once inside,  we saw several dances of Rajasthan along with scenes of traditional village life. Oh, I danced as well!

Choki Dhani, Jaipur

As it was a Sunday night,  the place was packed full of people. In one quiet corner,  in a little room,  there was an old lady cooking over fire. This is the traditional method of cooking and she was coming a millet bread. We decided to take a small piece with ghee and garlic chutney. The taste was out of this world! The English equivalent to describe the feeling was ‘nonna’s cooking’.

Choki Dhani, Jaipur

While we waited for our timeslot for the dinner,  we watched some dances and drank some amazing jaljeera (spicy water). We had booked for a traditional Rajasthani meal and the host sat us down on the ground in an ac dining hall for all you can eat structure.

Our meal consisted of rotis (flat bread of wheat and millet), kadi (spicy yoghurt curry), sabji (gram flour veg curry), daal (lentil curry), baati (fire baked dumplings), churma (sweet cooked flour), khichdi (millet pudding), sangri (khejri vegetable dish), pickle and local lassi. Did I say it was unlimited?

Choki Dhani Thali, Jaipur

To say that we were full would be an understatement. The irony is that we had stayed hungry almost the entire day to be able to eat this. At the end of the day, we walked around the village a few more times to be able to digest all the food. After a paan, we were done.

Our driver for this trip was a young man whose job it was to take us to the Chowki Dhani and back in 4 hours. However, he somehow felt that we should see all the malls and parks on the way. Unfortunately for him,  we don’t like parks and we’ve seen enough malls in big cities to find them boring. We were irritated to say the least but decided against telling him that people come to Rajasthan for its forts, palaces and its culture instead of the new development.

Bizarre Bazaar

Since Jaipur is on the tourist trail, we had a bizzare ritual dealing with rickshaw and auto drivers. Every time we passed by a rickshaw, the conversation would be like this:

Driver: Would you like an auto?
ATs: No.
Driver: Its very cheap. I will show you the bazaar.
ATs: We don’t want to see the bazaar.
Driver: I will take you to good clothes or Rajasthani handicraft.
ATs: Walk away, ignoring.

Summary

Final thoughts

We weren’t in Jaipur for a long time and it was a jam packed time. We saw the traditional highlights of the city and were content with it. Being the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur is just another big city. In our view, pink city was the highlight along with Amer.

Accommodation

We stayed at Hotel Arya Niwas which was an excellent hotel. It was spacious, clean and the staff were excellent. Though it is a 3 star hotel, we actually felt like we were taken very good care of. Highly recommend the hotel, it is good price as well.

Transport

Within the city itself,  we did a lot of walking and using the minibuses. To go to Amer, we used Jaipur city bus – 1 from Sanganeri gate. There are plenty of tourist taxis around as well that can be hired on daily, half a day or just a tourist attraction basis.

2 Days in Jaipur Gallery
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