Last leg - almost home.
Well we have a little time to kill in Kolkata before heading home and Claire and I have dived head first into amazing luxury. Thanks to my wonderful parents who put us up for a night at the Oberoi Hotel, which is about a 7 star hotel and the most fancy place I have ever stayed. We haven't stopped smiling since we got here as its a nice change to the backpacking game. Which I love but its always nice to be clean and non-sweaty ;) The food here has also been amazing and we have been wrapped and scrubed to our hearts content in the spa centre, which I might add had my own steam room, shower and huge bath which they insist you use after your massage. No compliants here.
Kolkata is actually a lovely city, I wasn't expecting much but its lush and green with lovely huge parks. Today we witnessed our first monsoon rains - it was great and we swam around the pool in the rain and thunder storms - too good.
Well, gotta run and check out and eat another yummy meal before heading to the airport.
Be seeing you all soon. Much love. Rach
Location: The Taj Mahal, India
So next stop was Agra and the famous Taj Mahal. As we had 2 days there, we saw it at sunset and sunrise, each was pretty amazing. The building itself is inspiring and surprisingly calming despite all the people. For sunset we went to the back view and sat in an empty park across the river and took in the views just with our group, which was nice as the next day for sunrise we knew we would be surrounded by crowds. But the inside viewing of the Taj was beautiful as there is a well kept garden which provides shade and a lovely setting for the white marble marvel. So after having a huge Taj fix we set off for another overnight train to Varanasi, which is where we are now.
Sitting and watching the Ganges has been a nice change of pace but it is also the place where families burn the bodies of their recently deceased, so it also has a sad quality to it. Last night we took a sunset boat ride and performed a flower ceremony where we lit small candles with flowers in a bowl and flowed them off on the Ganges, it was very beautiful.
Its getting to the tail end of my trip, I'm sad to say. So you may not hear from me again, until I have time to kill in Kolkata, but a couple of us are planning to stay in a 5 star hotel (after roughing it for 3 weeks) so we may disappear into luxury for 24 hours. In which case I'll see you all when I get home.
Cheers. Love Rach
PS. Happy birthday Leah and Renee.
I know its been a while since I've written anything, but finding the time to sit and write an email has been difficult as we normally leave the hotels at 9am and don't come back until 11pm. Its been wonderful but exhausting.
Much to catch up on but I'll keep to the highlights.
Back in Udipur (one of my fav places) we strolled the lovely streets which we shared will all manner of live stock. Cows, dogs, chickens, donkeys, monkeys, camels all roam around like regular humans. Even elephants have crossed our paths much to our amazement. Although cows dominate here as they are sacred animals, so you can';t turn a corner without bumping into one, which I was ok with until one head butted me in my side which scared the life out of me and luckily its massive horns did not make contact. I now take a wide path around them. Its quite fascinating to watch them calmly sitting in the middle of chaotic traffic and horns blowing - but the traffic just move around them.
So also in Udipur we did a cooking class where we made chai, veg korma, paneer and chapati - YUM!
Then came the dancing. We visited a local club, had a few beers and hit the dance floor. Indians, it turns out, love Michael Jackson, so I witnessed mt first 'dance off' between my leader and his friend. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen and they looked right chuffed with themselves as we whooped and cheered from the sidelines.
Our visit to 'Ladli' might have been my best experience yet. It is a volunteer organisation supporting abused, orphaned and destitute girls. They provide education and vocational training for street children, so I was able to assist with their English classes for the day. The children were fantastic and bonded with people quickly. The founders extended an invitation to come back and volunteer next year, which would be unbelievable. I really enjoyed my time there teaching and playing with the kids. We all walked away with big smiles on our faces.
Then later that night we were driving up to the fort and I drove my first rickshaw! The driver offered to let us drive and I jumped at the chance, so I got behind the wheel and zoomed us up the mountain - the girls in the back were only mildly terrified :)
Location: Happy Birthday Akane, India
And to my lovely friend Akane - HAPPY 30th BIRTHDAY my dear. I hope you have a fabulous day and look forward to celebrating with you when I get back.
Much love Rach
Location: Udaipur to Pushkar, India
Thanks for all the lovely messages, I only just worked out how to view them, so was feeling a little unloved and then i found them all - YAY! But I need last names people, as I have a few Jo's and Sarah's in my life, so am not sure which of you have left me a message - thanks all the same though.
Ok, on with the travels. Was not overly impressed with Jodhpur, so shall skip over that and then we landed in Udiapir - ahhhhhhhhhhh, so relaxing and reminded me of the laneways of Santorini, but minus the beach. We did swim in the palace pool which was LOVELY and I felt a little like royalty.
We have discovered cheap massages and facials, so we might look dirty in the photos but are surprisingly clean :) for about 30 mins until we start sweating again in the humid india conditions.
Oops, I'm being pressured by my peers to run away and have dinner with the sunset and lake, so shall have to keep this really short, and no time for photos. Will try again in the next city.
Early local bus ride tomorrow to next distination - shall be some stories, am sure!
Love you all lots. Cheers, Rach
Jaisalmer to Jodhpur
As you can see in the photos we got dressed in traditional saris which was loads of fun. A local woman dressed us girls and informed my that I had chosen a wedding sari or something similar and subsequently attempted to set me up with my tour leader! Once I had stopped blushing and stuttering we went out for dinner on the rooftop of a local place which turned out to be owned by the Prince of Rajastan, who Ikku (our leader) knew and introduced us to. Very surreal.
Jaisalmer has to be my fav place so far and I was very sad to leave the beauitful and relaxing fortress, but we set our sites on the Thar desert within a stones throw of the Pakistan boarder. The camel ride was entertaining until your butt starts to protest, so it was great to see our camp site looming in the distance. We watched the sun set over the dunes with cold beers and good company. Another sleepless night was had, as attempting to sleep outside in the desert might sound like a good idea but there is a constant soft breeze out there which is lovely during the hot humid day but at night it blows teeny tiny sand into your face all night! So I was a little grumpy in the morning having watched the rather beautiful full moon ALL NIGHT LONG!!!!
The next day we boarded a local bus to carry us and about 100 Indians to Jodhpur for about 7 hours. This ride was quite amusing, imagine a normal bus and then add a second level inside along each side of the bus.This is where the locals sat, on top of us essentially, and my guide told me to watch out for the vomiting children that may ride up there! Luckily inthe end it was only men up there and apparently in this country staring is not considered rude, so long rides are endured with staring men for many hours. I've lost many staring contests.
Jodhpur is a lot like Delhi, quite intense, hot, polluted, and people hassling you. But we spent some time exploring the Meherangarh Fort which was quite lovely and containted many different types of royal apartments. Lots of Indians were also visiting the fort and they find us as fascinating as we find them and they love taking our picture. So today a group of locals were thrusting their babies into my arms to take photos of us. It was all very strange, but when I line started to form I needed to be led away by my tour leader. Very funny.
Gotta run. LAter. Rach
Howdy. I've been in India for about four days now and its been four pretty fantastic days! We started out exploring Delhi's two main sections, Old Delhi and New Delhi. Old Delhi is exactly what you would expect India to be, loud, noisy, congested, humid, sweaty as well as fascinating, colourful, vibrant, smelly and just damn exciting! We walked around exploring the tiny back streets which appear to be crumbling around the mass of people but life moves on swiftly regardless. New Delhi is green and clean with wide avenues, colonial mansions and a clear Bristish influence - quite charming but feels a little out of place.
16 million people swarm around this city which means there are always about five differnt people touching you at one time and most of them on purpose! Sitting on the floor of the Jami Masjid Mosque eating dahl and chapati with the locals my friendly neighbour puts his arm around my shoulders and insisted on a photo while I desperately was trying to remember the phrase Frank taught me about declining marriage proposals!
So it was timely to leave Delhi behind and board a 21 hour train to Jaisalmer. That trip was hard going with 6 of us sleeping in one small cabin on top of each other but we made the best of it.
Jaisalmer is FANTASTIC - the Golden City as its known. We are staying in the awe inspiring golden-yellow sandstone Fort which rises from the surrounding Thar desert sands. We eat dinner on the rooftop and watch the stunning desert sunset and see the colours of the sandstone change. Again we wander the labryinthine of lanes with the most beautiful architecture on display. These buildings took years and years to build (50 yrs in some cases) as most of the buildings use the golden sandstone with every inch covered in intricate carvings that look like lace.
So tonight we dress in traditional saris so the town can have a laugh at us and again dine of the rooftop terrace of a local palace. Tomorrow we set out into the desert on top of camels and sleep out under the stars - should be amazing.
Till next time. . . Luv Rach