India: The North to The West

p1120162Our trip across the north would take us through from the spiritual hub of Varanasi, to see monuments of love and war, the mega city of Delhi to a desert outpost in Jaisalmer, a Pink city, a Blue city and a city by the lake. India is a never ending sea of change to keep you interested, at times it will test you but India is never boring.

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Kingfisher in the Taj gardens
The City of Agra is known for one thing, and it’s not a bad association. Our journey on an overnight train brought us here, albeit 8 hours late for the obligatory travellers pilgrimage in India, the see the wonderful Taj Mahal. Due to our trains tardiness it meant we had to stay 2 nights, but did mean we were able to catch sunset from the Agra fort. The fort is a well kept palace/former prison, used to hold none other than the Emperor whose broken heart had led him to build the Taj after his ungrateful son ascended to the throne. It’s a must see along with the Taj. The next morning it was off to the main attraction with Mark’s assurances we’d stroll straight in like he did last time, alas, to accompany the somewhat cynical price hikes (prices are 20x higher for foreigners than for Indians, a frustratingly common theme in India) came longer queues and larger crowds. It should be expected given the place it holds on many peoples bucket list. The mausoleum is strikingly beautiful and surrounding gardens are exquisitely kept and serve to somewhat spread the crowd more so than say, the terracotta warriors in China. Its size and grandiose presence serve to make it worthy of a visit, along with its place on the 7 world wonders, unlike say…..Mark’s pet peeve Christ the Redeemer in Rio.

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Old Delhi spice market

Onward to Delhi and on the first night Mark managed to get himself a touch of the Delhi belly, but we still managed to go out and explore the truly frenetic streets of Old Delhi. Breathing was a struggle as during the Diwali celebrations so many fireworks are let off (despite a city wide ban) that the smog reaches a zenith that is scary, with visibility as low as a few hundred meters. We found the Red fort highly disappointing and unkempt after Agra fort, with Martina becoming something of a minor celebrity being asked to pose for photos with women and children alike. What was great however was an archaeological dig site that was very surprisingly free with uncharacteristically well maintained park areas, some nice respite from the chaos. In the evening we were roped into a rather strange night out. With an assumption that foreigners are something of a draw-card in Delhi’s clubbing scene we were shuttled in with our T-Shirts and runners among the Delhi elite where we were offered free drinks in return for looking as though we were having a good time. We were encouraged to post ourselves on the dance floor, dancing to a mix of eclectic, badly mixed non-genre specific beats, akin to when someone gets a hold of the controls at a family BBQ, no song was ever allowed to reach the second chorus before it was abruptly changed. But hey, free drinks to be a dancing monkey for a night, it’s a small price to pay.

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The step wall in Jaipur

Rajasthan completes the so-called golden triangle, not the opium one, India’s primary tourist trail. Jaipur is the capital of the state, known as Pink City, also the city Mark was asked to smuggle a copious amount of illegal jewelry, not once, but twice, last time he was here. With multiple forts, parks, museums, street food and even a place that serves a passable Flat White, Jaipur is a pleasant city, if you can avoid the multitude of people trying to tell you to buy their products at every turn. Rajasthan is also known as the desert state, due to, uhh, the desert. We headed out on yet another overnight train to the wild west desert town of Jaisalmer. There really was little of note in the Western outpost, the fort was nice, with some of the small cobbled streets more synonymous with Europe than India. We embarked on a small sojourn out to the start of the dunes around 30km from the border with Pakistan. It was incredibly peaceful sleeping under the stars, and the food they managed to whip up in the middle of nowhere was delish, unfortunately it appears camel riding has become no more enjoyable for the males among us, while Martina loved her tall camel, “Johnnie Walker” and for no particular reason got given the reigns to her camel unlike the rest of the caravan.  

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Jodhpur, The Blue City

Leaving behind the desert we headed back inland to Jodhpur, known as the blue city. Prominently standing above the city was probably the most impressive fort in the state, Mehrangarh Fort which, after all the others, were starting to wear a little thin and blur into each other. Thankfully not only was it well restored  bu the view from the top gave a sweeping panorama with the patchwork of blue coming through. The streets of Jodhpur are as hectic as anywhere in India with motor bikes, rickshaws, pushcarts, cars and cows all vying for right of way, this wasn’t enough to stop Mark catching the end of a famous NZ cricket victory whilst trying not to get hit, he did get hit however (not his fault, soooo..) thankfully not suffering any injuries. By this stage we have been bouncing around at relatively short intervals as we are trying our best to get to Chennai for our flight to Sri Lanka at the start of December. This rapid fire approach isn’t really our style and can sometimes cause a little bit of lethargy, so it was nice to move to Udaipur which sits around 2 lakes. Despite being busy, the plethora of rooftop terraces allows you to get above the streets and take in the calming views on offer. We tried our best to take it easy and in large part succeeded, the highlight of our time a cultural show in which a 72 year old lady balancing 10 pots on her head danced around like it wasn’t a thang despite the stack being taller than she was.

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Sunset over the lakes of Udaipur

We leave now for the sprawling metropolis of Mumbai, before heading down the coast for some R&R and make our way to Chennai for our flight to Colombo in early December so be sure to catch us next time!

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Chilling in Jodhpur

Remember to  @catchustravelling on Instagram

M&M

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