Bundi Tonk, Pushkar, Jaipur & Delhi Mon 8 – Fri 19 March 2010
As we'd left Bundi a lot later than planned it was already getting dark as we hit the outskirts of Tonk. We really hate driving in the dark here - the roads are teeming with cows/pedestrians psychotic truck drivers - so we were pleased to see the Hotel Midway. This glass building is actually just a restaurant at present though a resort/ hotel is being built. The owner Mr. KD Khan actually operates out of Jaipur and this is a new hotel for him which had only been opened 2 days when we rocked up. We had a really great meal there and -hurray - we were allowed to camp for the night which was great.
Khan's main business is a tour company; he specializes in tailor making tours of Rajasthan to your exact requirements. He was certainly very hospitable to us and we hope to go back and stay when the resort is finished! Have a look at his site www.a1toursindia.com for further information on his services.
The next morning we awoke to find Khan's workers around us hard at it building the resort including the statutory building site camel! Thanks for letting us stay and good luck with the resort when it's complete.
As we head next to Pushkar we had actually gone 60 km out of our way to get to Tonk and will have to back track. As mentioned previously Tonk is very much off the tourist track but there were a couple of attractions which we were keen to see hence the diversion.
Surrounded by rocky hills Tonk is a 17th century town originally ruled by a tribe of Afghani Pathans a wealthy prosperous tribe who have left some imposing architecture behind. One example is the Jama Masjid a beautiful mosque built by the town's first ruling Nawab (Muslim ruling prince or landowner) Amir Khan in 1246 and completed by his son in 1298. It was a very impressive building hung with chandeliers and with lovely frescoes and gold decoration throughout.
Tonk also houses some fine examples of Muslim homes and we saw one - Sunehri Kothi - which was elaboratey painted throughout though there was a lot of renovation work going on so we couldn't see inside.
The area is a big centre for Islamic studies housing the Arabic & Persian Research Institute which has a rare collection of ancient manuscripts. We saw some students studying and restoring ancient art work and script writings on the walls of what we think was an Afghani home. The work was very detailed - there's not a lot of English spoken here so we couldn't really get a lot of information!
Tonk seemed a lively little town with goods coming and going and market stalls everywhere, worth a look if you're in the area and we were pleased we'd made the effort. After this we headed on to our next destination Pushkar.
It's around 4 months since we were in Pushkar so it really felt like returning home! We remembered that Pushkar being a pilgrimage centre didn't sell beer so we stopped off at a beer shop on the way. In the vicinity of the shop were some very drunk truckies who had definitely let the beer get to their heads - and insisted that we take their picture! We hope they weren't driving anywhere for a while.
It was dark when we hit Pushkar but no worries we knew where we were camping - back to the RTDC. As mentioned on my previous Pushkar page when we were here previously we had a good security team guarding the car - the RTDC dogs Duke and Blackdog. We had been sad to leave them and were looking forward to seeing them again. They obviously felt the same and gave us a real welcome with lots of howling and tail wagging which made us feel appreciated!
We'd seen most of what Pushkar had to offer last time and the main reason we'd come back - as well as breaking up the journey back to Delhi - was so Andrew could do one of the jewelry design courses on offer here, which he'd meant to do last time but never got around to.
So next day off he went to enroll in the Silver School. Pushkar is a good centre for all sorts of shopping -including Indian stones - and he bought some green onyx locally and made me the lovely pendant in the picture so I got something out of it too! You can do several days or just one and prices are pretty reasonable, Sunil Soni was a great teacher and Andrew would recommend hm. He can be contacted on email@example.com or (0) 9982546377.
We enjoyed hanging in Pushkar - it is a relaxed little place with its charismatic holy men - some of them sporting enough bling to put a rapper to shame!
There was a 15 day long Southern India festival going on when we were there and we saw the fireworks and heard the dancing every night - though frustratingly it was in the one temple which non - Hindus weren't allowed in so we couldn't get a close look, though we saw the parades as they spilled out onto the streets in a real party atmosphere. There was an older temple - Old Rangji Temple - which had the same festival going on and foreigners were allowed into the temple area though not into the main area where the god's vehicle (a chicken in this case) was housed. All a bit confusing but very colourful!
There were great shopping opportunities here - camel leather bags, silver jewelry made with local stones and cloth as well as my weakness of 2nd hand books. There was also a lot of local art work. The couple in our picture are long term residents of Pushkar. The gentleman had been painting here since he was 13 and when he married at 21 he taught his new wife to paint and they've been here ever since - 24 years in total .
There were some lovely things for sale but we tried to restrain ourselves!
We also went to some great restaurants - "Little Italy" which did fabulous pizza which helped us get over the deep fried one we had in Bundi and the beautifully restored haveli "Seventh Heaven" had a great veggie restaurant - and met a lot of nice people making Pushkar an easy place to hang for a while.
Whilst hanging around the (waterless!) lake we got to know the local musicians who come in from the desert to play and sell their CDs and teach music - they were really good. Andrew was keen to go to one of the workshops which teach you how to play the sitar - next time!
Whilst camping at the RTDC we had to fill in the infamous C Form - detailing visa and passport details and where you are travelling from/to. There was a bit of a scandal here when David Headley the American/Pakistani terrorist thought to be one of the masterminds behind the Mumbai bombing in November 2009 had stayed in Pushkar and his details were not taken properly. Maybe for this reason we had a visit from the "Foreigners' Registration Officer" (FRO) who told us we weren't allowed to camp there - though he had to back off when he realized we had permission. Sadly, whilst obviously security is a very important thing the increasing paranoia re: terrorism is likely to make the lives of overlanders ever harder. Our "security" dog Duke clearly didn't like the look of the FRO and wouldn't let him approach the car which made him extra irritable. He was on the point of running poor old Duke in thinking he was our dog - but he backed off when we said he belonged to the RTDC so he was saved! On that note the dogs were incredibly good security if anyone walked near the car they let us know -we'd like to take them as our in-house security team - we'll really miss them when we go.
Prior to leaving we had a quick look at the Gurdwara or Sikh temple which was just next door to us and as we'd been gazing out at it we thought we should make the effort of having a closer look. Built in 2003 (and still not completed) it was an impressive building.
There is also a Mosque here and a Jewish centre so whilst it is a big Hindu place of pilgrimage all the religions get a look in as allegedly there's also a Christian church here somewhere. On the way out we did our karma a final bit of good by buying some grass to feed to the sacred cows who (with the grass cutters/vendors) hang around the temple gates for this purpose.
On Sunday 14 March we left Pushkar for the last time and headed the 150km north to Jaipur. Again we are retracing our steps a bit as Jaipur is a good stopping point on the road to Delhi. Whilst we were there Andrew also hoped to get some stones he'd bought in Pushkar cut for a couple of pieces of jewelry he hadn't finished off. Jaipur "the pink city" felt very hot and traffic filled - touts and beggars everywhere! There are lots of poor tribal people who come to Jaipur and end up living on the streets. Having travelled now to rural areas we thought it sad, in their little rural communities their houses are immaculate yet here when they come in search of a better life they live in such squalor, and it must be a shock.
As ever being back on familiar turf was good - and we quickly found MI Road - where we hit the internet at Reliance World and went to Handi's for dinner. This was a bit more pricey than we'd got used to (a Mughal restaurant specializing in BBQ and tandoori it was a bit more upmarket then we expected) but it was a change to have a "meat fix" after pure veg Pushkar!
We headed towards the Lakshmi Villas Hotel where we parked last time but - horror of horrors! - they were all lit up like a Xmas tree and hosting a late season wedding so we drove on and pulled up past the golf club. Here we were very lucky as Rajesh the security agreed to let us stay, which we did for 3 days. The first morning he woke us at 5.30am to tell us he was leaving for his day job - and kept waking us and telling us until we woke up enough to realise he wanted a tip!! - after that we paid him 100 rupees (around $2.50 Aus) parking money per night the night before to avoid this early wakeup call! He seemed very pleased with this - to the extent of writing us little thank you notes which he left under our windscreen wipers! Jaipur is an affluent city (in parts) and the golf course and nearby walking track was packed with early morning exercisers next morning. It's funny the wealthy areas have adverts for gyms and slimming products (which you never see in the poor rural areas) just like home - the downside of a good life style! The polo club was next door and early each morning we saw the horses being exercised - superb animals.
Jaipur is a big centre for gems but also a big centre for gem related scams! Sunil in Pushkar had told Andrew to get his stones cut at Suraj Pole Gate - a Muslim area specialising in stone cutting and wholesale selling of stones/jewelry. We set out to find this when what we wrongly thought was a good Samaritan stopped and offered to show us the way and we ended up at a shopping emporium. These guys are real sharks. By way of example - having got there we decided to get a quote for the few bits of work we needed doing and it was 4,500 rupees -around $105 Aus. We left and got to Suraj Pole Gate - where we got the work done for 330 rupees - or $8.25 in total!!
These touts are used to dealing with time poor tourists often on organized tours who aren't around long enough to realize how badly they're being fleeced. Suraj Pole Gate an area in the old city was full of jewelers and very competitive. We went to the shop we'd had recommended - Piedra Fabricante and were really pleased with the quality of the work - see their site on firstname.lastname@example.org. Special mention also goes to the Khan clan at Rajab Gems telephone 0141-2619227 - this outfit specializes in cutting stones. Situated next to many mosques this friendly Muslim area is a very small close-knit community - everyone is everyone else's "cousin brother"! If you're looking to buy stones or jewelry check out this area before the big emporiums - much better value!
We also found time to have a look at Jaipur's Modern Art Gallery. This was very understated - so much so that most people (even in the same building) seemed not to have heard of it !-but it had a couple of nice pieces - and even better was fairly breezy so we escaped the intense heat for a while!
One quintessentially Indian experience we'd missed out on so far was seeing a Bollywood movie (though we'd managed to get on set as extras!) so we decided to put that right. The Jaipur cinema Raj Mandir is allegedly the place to see a Hindu film and we'd meant to get there last time we'd been in Jaipur. This time we went ahead to book as despite the immense size- about 1,500 capacity- it often gets booked out. There are 3 categories - Ruby at 60 rupees a seat, emerald at 80 and we splashed out on Diamond - 150 rupees. It was a huge ornate building and felt really luxurious. The movie "Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge" which means "When the guest arrived" was a comedy about a glam Mumbai couple whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of a long lost uncle. It was quite good though we left at the intermission as we'd had enough without being able to understand the dialogue - maybe we should have picked a movie with more songs. It was a great experience just being in the theatre though.
One thing we noticed is how much stricter the censorship was - this wasn't a "sexy" film at all but in one scene where they are woken up in the early hours and get out of bed they are both completely fully dressed - similarly the male lead changes out of his trousers in front of his wife under a towel! Just little things but a difference to a western film. Of course in a later scene the exception is a few western women who are gyrating around on stage in bikinis for no apparent reason at a function!! We looked out eagerly for any of the "extra" friends we made during our brief film careers but didn't spot anyone! It was a great venue - and really comfy reclining seats too.
Amazingly it's almost a year since we hit India - although we've had a 6 week break in Nepal - so our 3rd party insurance is coming to an end. Another little job we had to do in Jaipur was track down the United India Insurance Company to renew this. Thankfully they are still a "no hanky panky" outfit and this was accomplished with ease - for just 3,200 -$80 Aus- for another year's cover - sadly you can't buy less than a year for some reason though allegedly we can claim the unused portion back when we leave India. Thanks to Mr. Mahendra Bhandari for helping us out.
At the golf club we were camping just behind the beautiful Rambagh Palace which is now a luxury hotel and part of the Taj group. This palace was the former home of Maharaja Man Singh II, and until her death last year of his wife the Maharani Gayati Devi. This lady had quite a life- marrying the Maharaja when she was just 20 she lead a really lavish socialite lifestyle, and was named by Vogue magazine as one of the world's most beautiful women. She later stood for parliament - achieving a landslide victory before falling foul of Indira Gandhi and ending up in jail for tax evasion -experiences she later wrote up in her bestseller "A Princess Remembers. " This palace which was converted in 1958 was the first in Rajasthan to become a hotel - the first of many! I was keen to have a look around so we planned to have a coffee there on the way out of Jaipur -but unfortunately in the mornings it is closed to anyone but in-house guests. Never mind - instead we went to another Taj Hotel the Jai Mahal the 18th century residence of Jaipur's Prime Minister. Very nice - with ornate gardens with a lavish swimming pool at the centre - the only drawback being that 2 coffees cost as much as we usually spend for dinner!
So we left Jaipur and on Wednesday 17 March we arrived (for the 4th time this trip!) back in the busy capital city of Delhi. Whilst we were in Diu they had had a very cold snap and the papers were full of pictures of people freezing on the streets. This is really hard to imagine now - it was hot and sweaty as ever. Delhi doesn't really enjoy a great climate - being either too hot or too cold - with a very brief period of pleasant temperature in the middle - which we seem to keep missing!! We headed back to the Manjnu-ka-Tilla or Tibetan Colony where we stayed at our old favourite Wongdhen house. As ever the welcome was very warm - though (whilst the actual guest house was spotless) we noticed that the whole area was really grotty /smelly in the heat. Indian inner city living.
The Commonwealth Games are to be held here in Delhi (200 days or so to go) and there really isn't a hope in hell they will be remotely ready. Everywhere you go is absolute chaos so the road conditions are worse than ever. I read a couple of weeks ago in the paper that when asked what they planned to do about this one of the MPs here said that she and her team planned to go to the temple and pray to one of the goddesses that all would be well! At least she was honest!
As I type it is now Friday 19 March and we are spending a few days in Delhi doing various chores. These include getting our Nepalese and Bangladeshi visas, getting the car's oil change done and picking up our tyres from Maxxis and sorting out our camera. This latter is very important as for the moment we are camera -less. Despite being serviced within its year warranty - just as we left Malaysia- it started going wrong shortly after we first got to India - it was still working but we went through batteries at a crazy rate - 4 a day. Given that we are always on the move this was majorly inconvenient. We got the circuit board repaired when we were last in Delhi but within days it was malfunctioning again. Thus we have hung on to get to Delhi to get this sorted out only to be told on arrival that they now can only repair this type of camera in Mumbai. Obviously this is majorly inconvenient as we want to start heading east as soon as we can. The circuit board has now completely committed suicide so we are looking at getting a new camera. The U Tough Olympus camera is ideal for our trip being both waterproof and shockproof, but the model we had is no longer available here as there is a new model in the range which is about to be launched, though it doesn't arrive until "next week" which seems to be a stretchable concept. So - we are killing time a bit waiting for it to arrive and also negotiating with the people at Olympus in the hope that they will come aboard as a sponsor and give us a new camera (or at least offer us a very good deal!) Wish us luck!
In the meantime we drive around hot dusty Delhi camera-less - very frustrating as we keep missing excellent photo opportunities. We'll try and fit in a few tourist sights as well as finish all our jobs - prior to starting the drive eastwards where our first stop is the erotic Hindu temples at Khajurago.