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24-31 March 2013 – Incredible India!

9 April, 2013 2 comments

It was a brief visit for us but we saw, did, visited, travelled, tasted, heard, smelt so much that it felt like we were on the road again… It felt good. Sometimes, I had to pinch myself and think hard about our life in London with a flat, a job and all that comes with it to make sure we actually came back.
It felt good to go back to a place we knew and loved.

In short Kwasi and i got on a plane at Heathrow on a snowy Sunday morning and changed for another one in Munich. We were flying Lufthansa and actually really enjoyed it. It is one of those airlines that lets you start your movie as soon as you seat down and until you reach your gate on arrival. They have weird food but you get to have a whole bottle of beer if you ask for beer instead of a small glass of horrible coke.

When we arrived in Delhi, it was 7:40 and it took forever to get our bags and some cash. When wegot out of the terminal we saw a small guy holding a sign with my name. We smiled just looking at the blue sky.
We followed our driver to the parking and on our way to the car he was so distracted that he almost got run over by another car. Then we finally found the car he realised that he lost the ticket so he had to pay a fine to be able to leave the airport parking.
So two hours after landing, we were finally on our way to Jaipur.
It is only 266km far away but the roads are so bad that it took us 5 hours to reach Sunder Palace in Jaipur.

Sunder Palace was the place we stayed at during our first visit in 2011 and we decided to come back just for one thing – their tomato curry!
Their food served on the rooftop restaurant is delicious and so cheap that it is worth staying there just for that. And the rooms are cheap too (about £16 for a night) and clean with TV and air conditioning.

So as soon as we arrived we went for lunch on the terrace and got ready to explore the pink city. We decided to go to the bazaars by rickshaw to get some cheap clothes that we could wear for Holi, the Festival of Colours.

In an auto rickshaw

After a couple of hours of shopping and wandering the streets of Jaipur we got back to the hotel and went to eat another tomato curry!

Pink pots in the Pink City Door

There we met Jenn, a American teacher teaching English in Saudi Arabia and on holiday in Jaipur. Kwasi was keen to get people to hang out with for Holi just to make sure we could be a big group. She was a bit weird but still accepted to play Holi with her.

Jasmine garlands Jawal Mahal

The next day is the Elephant Festival held in Jaipur for many years on the day before Holi. Unfortunately, when we were having breakfast we read the papers and we learnt that animal activists had managed to cancel the event because it was bad for the elephants. Great! We actually came all the way to Jaipur because of the festival….

In the morning we tried to find places where we could see the elephants being prepared but the only way to see it was at Amber Fort, just outside the city where they take fat American tourists up to the fort. Maybe the animal activists should worry about that rather than have them play polo once a year!
So we stayed there for a while looking at the brightly decorated elephants coming up and down the fort.

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After that we went back into town to visit the City Palace.

Water palace Turban

We came to the hotel for lunch and a third tomato curry. For the afternoon we decided to still go to the polo ground to see what the Rajasthan Tourist Office prepared for us. Well, they were contingents of folkloric groups dancing and playing instruments. The fun thing was that our rickshaw driver started to play Holi on the way and we got really excited.

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After a very long time, we decided to head into the Pink City again to buy our coloured powders to play Holi tomorrow. At a stall, a kid came to me, said ‘Happy Holi’ and splashed bright pink and purple on my face!

Pink City Holi powders Holi powders

Holi powders Bike and Holi

Back at the hotel, Kwasi booked car to Pushkar for the next day. The reason being that he talked to a lady who said that alcohol was banned there so the celebrations will be quieter and more “civilised”.

After a good meal, a good night sleep and a big breakfast we got ready for our trip to Pushkar. We met two Australian girls who decided to come with us to play Holi in Pushkar. So Renee, Rebecca, Kwasi and me waited outside the hotel for the car. There the hotel staff and us started to play Holi by chucking powders onto our faces and eating Indian sweets.
We got in the car and after about 20 minutes the driver realised that he got the wrong clients and we had to go back all the way to the hotel to find out that they actually didn’t order a car for us so we waited a good hour before we could leave Jaipur.

Our driver Zaheer Ali was so funny but so fast too. We screamed may times during the journey. It is a good thing he kept telling us that he is a complete race who has a complete driving licence and complete control of the car. This is why we actually ran out of petrol just 5 km outside of Pushkar! By that point, we were so late that we were not amused at all so we left him to deal with the car, found a hotel, ordered a taxi and finally arrived in Pushkar.

The place was crazy! In a square, there were thousands of purple people dancing to trance music blurting out at 2.00pm.

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When we arrived, we got ‘holi’ed a lot by Indians people, pinched here and there and hugged a lot.It was actually not the best feeling in the world. Luckily, an older Indian man told us to go further. At first we were very reluctant but he insisted and he was right. Further down was the place where all the tourists played Holi, it was a lot better and then we started to have some real fun playing Holi with complete strangers. It was the best time we’ve had in a while. Can you believe that you can actually get dirty for fun and not worry about washing afterwards. I have dreamt about this almost all my life. After dancing, playing, eating and sniffing colours, the music stopped and everybody went back to what they were doing.

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We decided to have a look at the sacred lake of Pushkar and it was great. We spent about half on hour on the ghats looking at the locals trying to wash the purple dye away.

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When we were leaving, Ali found us and apologised about the petrol. We actually had to apologise for the state we were in…

The next day was a lot quieter, we got a car to take us to Shekhawati, a place in the desert of Rajasthan were rich merchants built impressive havelis (huge houses). This time our driver was so slow and careful that it took forever to get there.

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We drove first to Nawalgarh were we visited two havelis: Podar Haveli and Baghton Ki Choti Haveli.
One turned into a museum and completely renovated and the other one on the brink of collapse.

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We also had lunch in Nawalgarh where we stopped at the Shekhawati Guest House, which our driver didn’t like at all – he insisted that we ate on the side of the highway… We were the only guests in this airy bungalow in a leafy garden and the lady cooked us the freshest dahl with chapatis and rice. Sorry Mr Jefferson but we don’t regret it, it was delicious!

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Our second and last stop (our driver was so slow that’s all we could see) was Mandawa, a great little town with fabulous havelis. There we visited several: the Naveti Haveli turned into a bank, the Nand Lal Murmuria and the Goenka double Haveli. The nice thing when you visit them is that they have a chowdikar (caretaker-cum-guard) will show you around and give you explanations (for a small fee obviously)

We got back to Jaipur late a night and had our last tomato curry as we were leaving for Delhi the next day.

We got tickets for the 6:00 train and had to take a rickshaw at 5.30 to get there on time. It was so weird to be back in Indian railway stations with our bags so early in the morning.
We were luck enough to have tickets for a nice train with A/C. Renee and Rebecca were on the same train so we decided to share a taxi to New Delhi once we got there.
All four of us went to the Tourist Office at New Delhi station to get tickets to Agra for the Sunday. We couldn’t resist, the Taj Mahal was so close, we had to see it again.

After we got our tickets, we went separate ways them to their hotel in Paharganj and us to our hotel in Connaught Place. We splurged and got a room at the Radisson (really cheap here). After settling in, showering and changing to clean clothes, we waited for the rain to go away to start exploring.
Our first stop was Old Delhi and the Jama Masjid. We arrived too late during our first visit and never got to actually visit it. This time, we saw it and went into it. I had to wear something on top of my clothes – not sure why I was wearing trousers and a long sleeve top…

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After this, we went straight to a local favourite: Karim. It is a great mughal restaurant hidden in a passage down a side street. There are four dining rooms all scattered around the open air kitchen. we got butter chicken, mutton stew and the best naans we’ve ever had. It was delicious food. We really recommend to anyone visiting Old Delhi.

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After lunch, we got a cycle rickshaw to take us to the spice market through the tiniest streets. It was a great experience if comfortable! The spice market was incredible, packed with vehicles, animals, humans, smelly bags of spices, dried fruits and tea.

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We went back to Paharganj after that for some shopping and mehndi – henna on my hands.

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After that experience, we got back to the hotel to relax a bit and ordered room service just to enjoy not going out. Well, very bad idea – this is the only food that got me a Delhi belly!

The next day was very busy – we visited all the sites we didn’t do on our first visit: Qtub Minar and the complex, Safdarjang Tomb, Humayun’s Tomb and finally the Lotus temple. We had lunch at the Dilli Haat, a tourist market with food stalls. We actually ordered Nepalese food: some momos and fried rice.

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For dinner, we went to Kake Da Hotel in Connaught Place and it was the same cuisine as Karim. The place is really horrible, service really poor, tables and cutler sticky but once again the food was amazing. Another recommendation guys.

On our last day, we got a rickshaw to take us to Nizamuddin station where we met Renee and Rebecca for our trip to Agra. After ” hours, we got there and got a car for the day to take us around Agra and its monuments. We were luck to order one without A/C so we had one of these old Padminis.
Our first was the Taj.

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We got to the Western gate and had no aueue at the ticket office or at the entrance, amazing. It was a different story inside, there must have been millions walking down the fountains and around the mausoleum. This doesn’t affect the sight though. It is still one of the best things I have seen in my life – way better that Cristo Redentor in Rio!

After two hours, we went for lunch in Taj Ganj before getting the car to take on the other side of the Yamuna river to take unobstructed photos of the Taj Mahal. You can go to a garden and pay or you can walk to the river which is what we did. If you can’t afford the 750 rupees to visit the Taj Mahal, we recommend this option.

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From there our driver took us to the Baby Taj, or Itimad-ud-Daulah. Much smaller and less famous, it is called the baby Taj, because it is also made of Marble. The better thing here though is that the decorations and inlay work is amazing.

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After that it was time to take the girls back to the station for their train. As for Kwasi and me we went to see the sunset on the Taj Mahal on a rooftop on Taj Ganj. It was beautiful and sad because it was our last night in this amazing place.

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We left our hotel the next morning at 5.00, got the cheap and efficient Airport Express and took off two hours later…

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12th November – Leaving Bangkok, transit in Delhi and arriving in Kathmandu

13 November, 2011 2 comments

5:30 am we were picked up from our hostel by a taxi we had arranged with the hostel to the airport (Suvarnabhumi) at a cost of 500 Baht.

We were dropped off at airport and we looked around for an iPod touch for me and Julie looked around some more. Didn’t buy anything in the end.

For the four hour journey to New Delhi where we had to change planes to Kathmandu went smoothly. Julie was excited about breakfast on the plane even though we had just eaten 4 slices of bread with Nutella each.

During the last hour on the plane, you could see the Himalayas. We are certain we have seen Everest and Annapurna.

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The transit to another Air India plane from New Delhi was a bit chaotic as our plane had arrived late and so we had to run to ensure we didn’t miss next plane. We were 10 mins away from gate when trey were making final call.

We queued for our visas at the Kathmandu airport (Tribhuvan) for a good 40 mins, enough time to withdraw some Nepalese rupees. Current exchange rate is 1 GBP = 127 NPR. So took out 15,000 NPR. A 15 days visa cost $25.

Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal. It has a population of almost 1million. It’s a cosmopolitan place that has many faiths with Hindu being number one and followed by Buddhism. The city is situated in a northwest of Kathmandu Valley.

Kathmandu is twinned with Edinburgh (UK), Pau (France), Dortmund (Germany) and many other more.

Going through arrivals was manic as we were swarmed by taxi drivers and luckily we had already booked a pickup from hotel. Even though we were walking to our micro-van with driver, other drivers were still asking if we needed a taxi. Persistency.

The journey to the hotel was a quiet one for me as I was trying to embrace and figure out in my head what we were in for. Never been to a place like this before.

People were a mix of oriental and also Indians. Some had the dark skin of Sri Lankans. The ride to our hotel in Thamel, a district of Kathmandu was insightful. Went through dirty markets, seeing the locals trade, cows every where, dirty rivers. The air looked polluted and reminded me of all the programmes I had seen of India.

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We believe this will introduce us to what India will be like but on a grander scale and to be honest, it’s frigging scary.

The streets of Thamel are narrow. Cars,bicycles, motor cycles, micro buses all shared these narrow roads which are about 12 foot wide. It’s very noisy, lots of beeps and people rushing everywhere.

Hotel we had already booked for said they were full as a few people had diahorrea so they were staying an extra night. We were taken to another dingy hotel called Karma. It was ok.

Julie saw a lot of things she wanted to buy. We bought a map to navigate but the map was very difficult to read. It’s not to scale we don’t think. So stopped in one place to get our bearings straight.

Looked around for a bit and then had dinner at Yeti Cafe, food was excellent. If you ever come to Kathmandu, you have to try Mo Mo. It’s their dumplings, we had a steamed one filled with chicken. Delicious. Tasted a bit like samosas.

After dinner, we got lost again, a dog hovered around, which I hated, screamed a bit and then asked someone for direction and found our way back to hotel. Time we arrived, there was no electricity so stayed in dark for 30 mins before light cane on again. It was around 8pm and we slept. Totally exhausted.

En français:

Ce matin on est très excites, on quitte l’Asie du Sud- Est pour le continent indien!et oui, on part pour Kathmandu.

Un taxi vient nous chercher a 5h30 et on part pour l’aeroport en roulant a fond sur leur équivalent du periph’

On arrive trente minutes plus tard, on enregistre et on mange des tartines de nutella avant de passer la sécurité. Pendant qu’on mange je remarque qu’il y a un bureau de poste donc je demande combien coute un colis pour la France car j’ai déjà pas mal de souvenirs que je me trimbale depuis la Chine, deux lanternes et 7 boites a riz plutôt encombrantes! Le colis met 10 jours et coute 40 euros donc je saute sur l’occasion. La dame de la poste vérifie le contenu du sac et remarque que j’ai deux petites statues de bouddha achetées a Angkor, et on n’a pas le droit d’exporter des effigies de Buddha hors de Thaïlande! Donc je les prends dans mon sac a dos. En passant la sécurité, mon sac est fouille et j’ai trop peur qu’ils me confisquent mes têtes de bouddha, fausse alerte c’est seulement le pot de Nutella!

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On passe ensuite notre temps a parcourir le terminal le plus grand du monde, Bon c’est ce qu’ils disent! Mais c’est vrai que c’est grand quand même.
Une fois a la porte, ils fouillent mon sac de nouveau et cette fois, la dame ouvre le sac des têtes de bouddha et les déroule du papier journal!… Re-fausse alerte, elle les remballe gentiment et me laisse passer, ouf!

L’avion est vide jusqu’à ce qu’un groupe de touristes thaïlandais arrive a la dernière minute!
On a droit a un petit dej dans l’avion cool! C’est omelette au ketchup avec un bout de poulet.
On a 2948km soit 3h30 jusqu’à New Dehli notre escale et les films ne marchent pas… On je survole la Birmanie, Calcutta, Varanasi et on arrive enfin a Delhi. A l’arrivée un employé de l’aéroport attend les passagers pour Londres, Toronto et Kathmandu. Oui, on est en retard. On le suit, on passe la sécurité, contrôle passeport en encore une fois et ensuite on doit courir jusqu’à notre porte d’embarquement, on a eu notre avion de justesse.

Pendant le vol, on voit la chaine de l’himalaya et même le mont Everest, il arrive bien au-dessus des nuages c’est incroyable.

Une fois atterris, on remplis les formulaires pour avoir nos visas ($25 pour 15 jours) et n fait la queue pendant une bonne heure avant de pouvoir aller chercher nos bagages. Ils nous attendaient gentiment dans un coin par terre. On sort de l’aéroport en évitant les chauffeurs de taxi très oppressant et n trouve un monsieur avec le nom de notre guesthouse, on lui fait signe et il confirme qu’il est le bon avec mon nom.

On roule pendant 20 minutes dans des quartiers très poussiéreux. On arrive a notre guesthouse et le propriétaire nous. Dit que c’est complet, alors que j’ai une réservation! Son excuse: un client est a l’hôpital pour touriste et il lui garde la chambre. Bref, il nous emmené a un autre hôtel, notre chambre pour la nuit est décorée au gout népalais, Hmmm!

Esuite, on sort dans thamel, le quartier avec toutes les auberges de jeunesse, les agences de trekking et les boutiques de souvenirs. On achete une carte de la vallee de Kamandu. C’est la folie, il y a des centaines de voitures, de cyclo-pousse, de scooters et pas de trottoirs pour les piétons. Ca klaxonne de partout, les gens dans la rue nous proposent des treks toutes les 5 secondes. On se perd dans le labyrinthe qu’est Thamel, même avec la carte. On décide de se poser prendre un coca et de se repérer un peu. On finit par trouver ou on est, ouf!

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Ensuite, on part diner, on s’arrête au Yéti restaurant, on a aime le nom. On commande des momo, des raviolis népalais au poulet et cuit a la vapeur, c’est délicieux et pas cher.

En sortant du restaurant, on va trop loin et on rate notre rue du coup on se retrouve dans les rues sans éclairages et pleines de chiants errants, n ne faisaient pas les fiers. On demande notre route a un monsieur et on rentre vite a l’hôtel pour se coucher, les émotions et le décalage horaire (bizarre d’ailleurs car il faut retirer 1h45 a notre montre, on n’avait jamais vu ça!) ont eu raison de nous. Quand on arrive il y a une coupure d’électrice dans tout le quartier, ah Kathmandu!