Another trip to India; temples in Maharashtra and palaces
February and March 2010
Our route from Mumbai to Delhi,
via Maharashtra (Ajanta, Ellora), Madhya Pradesh (Mandu, Sanchi), Rajasthan
(Bundi, Chittor, Udaipur, Pushkar, Amber, Jaipur) and Fatehpur Sikri and the
Mon 1st to Weds 3rd Feb. Arrived at Bentley’s hotel in Mumbai/Bombay at 3am, where they gave us room 15, a very spacious, airy room with a balcony overlooking private gardens with a riot of palm trees and other vegetation. At 9am we were still dozing when they knocked on the door and delivered breakfast – clearly it was time to get up. We wandered down Colaba causeway looking at the shops then each day we went to Café Mondegar for our favourite brunch of spicy beans on toast.We had pleasant days strolling round our ‘patch’ of Mumbai, doing some shopping, had a look at the outside of the very impressive Prince of Wales museum but didn’t go in (12 pounds charge for taking a digital camera in!) or walking down to the Gateway of India and having a look at the posh shops in the Taj hotel, then Sheila sometimes retired for a nap while I went to Indigo Delicatessen for a refreshing pot of Darjeeling tea with cumin.
One afternoon we went on the ‘Reality’ tour of Dharavi, advertised as the largest slum in
||Car parking is a problem in Mumbai
- you have been warned!
After a walk along the sea-front, and a couple of dare-devil road crossings at so-called ‘pedestrian crossings’, we went and had a lovely meal at the Gaylord Restaurant – I had curry of course (chicken with ginger and garlic) but Sheila had to go for the Lobster Thermidor – does she think she’s back in the Caribbean? The next evening we went back to Gaylord restaurant for a huge disappointment because they had run out of lobster. We had a nice curry and made them promise that they’d have lobster when we came back the next day, which they did, and made a great fuss of us.
Thurs 4th. After our usual brunch at Mondy’s
we went to CST (Victoria Railway Terminal), a Unesco
world-heritage listed tourist sight in its own right and the busiest train
station in Asia, and found our way to the 1:50pm express to Aurangabad and got in our comfortable ‘chair class’
seats. After moving seats and re-arranging all
the other passengers so that we could see out of the window we had a comfortable
ride, except it was like being in a call centre – all around us mobile phones
were ringing in a variety of tones throughout the journey. In
||And if you find a traffic jam, the best thing is to get in as close as you can, to block any escape route for any of the other traffic!|
We passed through agricultural scenery
including cotton, corn, sunflowers and grapevines, past slow creaking buffalo-carts
laden with sugar cane.
Note – about 75 Rupees to one pound, 65 to one Euro, 45 to
one US dollar.
Sat 6th. After
a late start we went on the tour to Ellora with
Aleem (Rs 750) and
it was also very impressive.
||In Ellora there were a selection of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain rock-cut temples (Ajanta was all Buddhist) one of which, the Kailasa Temple (number 16), is definitely not to be missed – a complete, complex temple with buildings, statues, pillars and stone elephants, all carved top-down out of a huge stone cliff – we climbed up to see it from the top as well.|
||An unfinished carving in one of
the Jain temples at Ellora.
After freshening up at the hotel (which
has a 24-hour checkout system so we don’t have to leave until 8pm) we caught
the sleeper bus to
On the way back to Aurangabad Aleem took us to his home village, Khultabad, to visit the tomb of Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal emperor. In
Sun 7th. We
arrived at 6am in the freezing cold and
||Sanchi was lovely, a Buddhist stupa set in parkland on a hill with elaborately-carved gates and the ruins of other stupas and monasteries around it.|
Tues 9th. Breakfast
at the hotel (included in the price) was an Indian buffet so I started the
day with chickpea curry, rice and lime pickle while Sheila had the more
conventional toast and jam. Our driver and his
navigator turned up 15 minutes early and at 9am we were off on the long
||By 5pm we were in Bundi and stayed at the lovely Haveli Braj Bushanjee in an atmospheric 250-year old house, in a room with high ceilings, oval stained-glass windows, alcoves and a spacious, spotlessly clean bathroom, for Rs 1,500 (20 pounds) – what luxury.|
||We had a walk down the main street, out through one of the city gates and round the colourful vegetable market.|
Then we went in search of somewhere to eat, but the options seemed rather limited. We had first course of beer, masala popadoms (with a topping of chopped onions, tomatoes, lemon juice and coriander), dal soup and rice pudding at the Rainbow café, a nice little 2nd-floor terrace overlooking the main street, then main course at the Kasera Paradise Haveli restaurant where we seemed to be the only people in the whole place and Sheila went into the kitchen to help the chef/waiter/maitre d’ to cook our curries, but the result was not the greatest meal (not Sheila’s fault, I should add).
||After a restful night in our quiet, dark, clean haveli room we were out (relatively) early to see Bundi castle and the palace, which were both delightfully run-down and picturesque with great views across the town and valley.|
||Apart from having to rent big bamboo sticks to keep the monkeys away (Sheila was practicing her Samurai pose as we walked along) it was a delightful spot.|
We went back for a nice lunch at Rainbow Café
and made a fuss of their cute puppy which was clean and fluffy, unlike the
mangy mutts in the street below. In the afternoon
I went for a walk down to Ranij-ki-Baori, the
most amazingly large and deep step-well with carvings, archways and pavilions
on top of its surrounding walls; then a walk up to Sukh
Mahal, a small old ‘palace’ or villa overlooking
a lake, where Rudyard Kipling once stayed and wrote.
We went to yet another rooftop restaurant at the Kasera Heritage View Haveli
and with our first beer watched the sun set over the lake with a little temple
in the middle, then turned our chairs round the other way and with our second
beer watched the floodlit palace, now deserted by humans and owned by the
monkeys that prowled along the ramparts and ledges, and in and out of the
windows. In most towns people hang washing out
on their rooftops but in Bundi they daren’t because
the monkeys would have them. We then went back
to Rainbow Café for our actual dinner.
Thurs 11th. We
were on time for the 9:40 train at Bundi’s spacious,
modern railway station, but the train was not. It
finally departed nearly an hour late, and eventually arrived at Chittor (Chittorgarh) about
2 hours late.
||A nice young auto-rickshaw driver took us on the tour of the huge fort at Chittor, which occupies the whole of a big hill 3km long and includes crumbling palaces, active temples, a tower with 8 levels that you climb up on tight, steep steps, and Padmini’s Pavilion, set in lovely gardens overlooking a lake. It was all very impressive and good value for the 100 Rs entrance fee.|
||In the spirit of co-operation,
the monkeys at Chittor help to pick the nits out of the pigs' hair.
We had planned to continue to
On the way down from the fort we stopped to stroke the magnificent Marwi horses (with the funny inwards-pointing ears) in a stable where they go after they’ve finished giving tourist rides.
||On the way back the rickshaw driver suggested we look at ‘his’ hotel so we did (it has no visible name outside but we found it was called Udai Garh) and although the hotel was full we went up to the rooftop restaurant which had magical views of the floodlit palaces floating on the lake, so we stayed and had an excellent meal, warmed by the blankets they lent us and smoked by the log fire they lit beside the table.|
Fri 12th. After
two weeks of being on the go most of the time we slowed down and decided
to relax a while in
||We moved down the road to the Kankarwa Haveli right by the lake, and had a delightful old-fashioned suite (room 204) with alcoves and wooden furniture, and a day-bed with cushions where you can sprawl and relax enjoying the view of the lake and the pretty pavilions and palaces around it, while the washerwomen pound the clothes (hopefully not ours) on rocks below the window.|
||We walked through the old town and across the footbridge to Hanuman Ghat on the other side of the arm of the lake, and walked through rather grubby backstreets to the fortress-like gate of the hyper-luxurious Leela Palace Hotel. Today is Sheila’s 60th birthday (she told me to say that, normally I’d be too polite to mention it!) so we made reservations for lunch (dinner is reserved for residents only at the moment) and we were welcomed by uniformed and turbaned doormen, taken by electric buggy through the lovely grounds and then escorted under a beautifully decorated sun umbrella to the restaurant reception. We splashed out on sparkling wine (35 pounds) and had a lovely meal with attentive waiters anticipating our every need. A thoroughly enjoyable treat, if somewhat expensive.|
On the way back we went by auto-rickshaw
to Fri 19th. At leisure
Most days we had our favourite breakfast at (another) Rainbow Café,
next door to the hotel – spicy baked beans on toast and fried eggs on toast,
all very tasty but prepared in a kitchen that looked like the black hole
We had a look round Bagore Ki-Haveli, a museum in an old palace by the lake front, Sheila had a pedicure while I had coffee and cake at the Edelweiss Café, checked the photos on a computer at an Internet café, and we spent quite a bit of time looking round the shops and other hotel/havelis.Went to visit the very impressive City palace, which was being prepared for a mega-expensive society wedding, for the daughter of a rich marble exporter – they were erecting stages and bandstands all over the gardens, with thousands of flashing lights (not yet flashing, but they will be on the day). We went back to City Palace another day to see the Durbar Hall, the enormous meeting hall with its enormous crystal chandeliers at the heart of one of the three separate palaces, now the dining hall of one of the two luxury hotels in the complex (the other one is so exclusive you can’t go in unless you have a reservation). Around the upper gallery of the hall is the ‘crystal gallery’, full of the most amazingly opulent, rare crystal chairs, sofas, tables and even a bed, along with assortments of lights, glasses and even fly-whisk handles. It was ordered from
Udaipur City palace - the gateway.....
.... the door.....
.... a window.....
.... and a swing!
We walked through the palace complex
yet again and went to the jetty for a boat ride on the lake. It was very pleasant and there were great views of
all the palaces and havelis, but it was rather
shorter than the advertised hour. We stopped
Lake Palace hotel, Udaipur.
So exclusive you can't go there unless you've got a reservation (and heaps
One day I walked to the clock tower and along Bara Bazaar and back through nameless back streets until I came out near the Whistling Teal where I had a refreshing soup and tea in their well-kept garden restaurant. This became my ‘oasis in the city’ and we went back several times for a refreshing drink – on one occasion monkeys were disrupting the peace and quiet by shaking the trees above the tented hookah-lounge.Sheila went for some pampering and had the full Ayurvedic massage (this time the masseuse was a woman, unlike in Mahabalipuram on a previous holiday when, after a massage by a masseur, she wasn’t sure whether to pay him or call the police!). She also went shopping and bought a marble doorstop after haggling for several days to bring the price down to a third of the starting price.
||One day at 5pm
we got a rickshaw and minibus tour up the
It’s so difficult to choose where to eat in Udaipur – in Bundi there seemed to be few good places but here in Udaipur you can’t move for restaurants (both metaphorically and literally, because we’ve eaten so much!). One of our favourites was the Ambrai Restaurant where we had a couple of really tasty meals (smoked chicken curry, chicken tikka and a bucket of raita) with very nice Indian Sula wine (half bottle about 10 pounds), sitting at table 9, the prime position in the corner of the garden with (yet another) great view of the floodlit palaces and mansions around the lake.Another day we went for dinner at the rather posh Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel in yet another haveli nearby in our Lal Ghat neighbourhood, and had an average meal in a stunning position in a window table in an alcove projecting over the lake with all-round views of the picturesque floodlit palaces.
One evening we went to see the cultural dancing at the Bagore-ki-Haveli, then had soup and a lemon soda at the Little Prince restaurant by the bridge, while a marching band procession went slowly along the other side of the lake shore and fireworks went off all over the city – it must be someone else’s birthday!
||For mile after
mile on leaving
||As we walked back down Pushkar's main street afterwards we found that it had been converted into an open-air theatre with a festival in progress (in honour of Rama) with loud music and costumed dancers including one with a huge live snake draped around her (or him?), while priests (or at least men in white smocks) walked up and down the audience who were seated all over the street, showering them with marigold petals.|
||We had breakfast and lunch and afternoon tea relaxing in the chairs and swings on different levels around the pleasant central courtyard at the Seventh Heaven. We moved into one of the very nice rooms in the main building (a bargain at 800 Rs) and were much happier.|
||Out in the town Pushkar seemed much quieter and more relaxed today and while Sheila slept on one of the swings at Seventh Heaven I strolled around the streets and once round the lake and the bathing ghats with minimal hassle from priests and beggars. Unfortunately the lake has completely dried out which rather reduces the picturesqueness (as well as the opportunities for ritual bathing) but a couple of the ghats have constructed their own ‘swimming pools’ at the bottom of the steps so people could still perform their ablutions.|
In the evening we had another great pizza at Out of the
||We went on an auto-rickshaw tour out to Amber, another impressive Rajasthani fortress and palace 11 km north of Jaipur. The palace audience hall was dazzlingly decorated with inlaid glass and mirrors but there was no furniture|
||If you are too tired to walk up
to the palace, other forms of transport are avaiilable!
||On the way back
we stopped by a lake where they were offering elephant and camel rides but
we didn’t venture onto one.
||The only way to travel - the Hindustan
Ambassador, designed in 1956 and still going strong. We stopped at the station to negotiate a car to
Then in the evening went back to Peacock restaurant for a nice Thali.
Weds 24th. We had a good day sightseeing in Jaipur. An auto-rickshaw dropped us in Panch Batti square (by Raj Mandir, the largest cinema in Asia) and we went on a (self-guided) walking tour through the bazaars, past marble works down little side alleys where they were chipping out elaborate temple monuments, past fabric shops and bangle makers, and a tiny little workshop down another side alley where a master lacquer maker showed us his photo album of him with Prince Charles, Indira Gandhi and various maharajas while his sons and daughters boiled and kneaded the blobs of lacquerware.
We walked through
archways into the area where the palaces are and went to the
We admired the
cowpat section of
A well-loaded bicycle in Jaipur.
||Then we went to the nearby Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) with the 5-storey pink facade with all the delicately carved windows that you see on all the tourist brochures of Jaipur, to find that it’s actually only a few feet thick, with another ‘façade’ on the other side. The ‘pink city’ of Jaipur is actually painted pink, not built out of pink stone.|
Thurs 25th. We
set off in our Ambassador car for the ride to Fatehpur
||The palace at Fatehpur Sikri.
||The mosque at FatehpurSikri.
When we arrived at
It was too late to go into the Taj but we walked down the little road beside it to the river bank and had a wonderful view of the back of the Taj at dusk. As well as being beautiful it is just huge – you don’t realize the sheer scale of it from the pictures. It was wonderfully peaceful on the river bank away from all the touts and vendors, with only a handful of other tourists and a boatman offering boat rides who actually took ‘no thank you’ for an answer. Unfortunately the restaurant in the attractive garden in the Sheela does not serve beer so we walked some way up the road to the Taj Plaza hotel’s rooftop restaurant (which could be really nice but is just a neglected empty space with plastic tables and chairs and washing hanging out to dry around it – they should have copied the Peacock rooftop restaurant in Jaipur). The food was very good, though.
Fri 26th. The
Taj is closed today so everything seems more
relaxed, the hasslers are having the day off.
||After breakfast in the pleasant garden at Sheela hotel we went by cycle-rickshaw to the Red Fort and had a walk round the impressive palaces, fortifications and mosques inside, including the white-marble palace where Shah Jehan could gaze out at his Taj Mahal when he was imprisoned by his scheming son.|
||In the evening we walked down to the river again and had a gentle boat ride over to the other side to see a fabulous view of the Taj Mahal reflected in the river at dusk.|
||We dragged ourselves up before dawn to get an early start at the Taj Mahal. Saturday is a popular day for it and after buying our ticket we joined the hour-long queue to go through the tight security into the Taj compound. Once again the sheer scale of everything strikes you – from the first courtyard you go through the huge entrance gate into the gardens where hundreds of people are taking the classic photo of the Taj reflected in the ornamental watercourses. We wandered slowly through the gardens amongst the crowds of Indians and tourists, enjoying the atmosphere and from time to time looking up and thinking – wow, that’s the Taj Mahal over there, isn’t it big!|
||By the time we got to the Taj mausoleum itself huge numbers of Indian people had come in and a long queue had formed to get inside through the tiny entrance door. Many of the Indians were pilgrims from villages outside the city who were on a tour of the Hindu holy sites and making a ‘side trip’ to the Taj just to see it (Indians pay 30 pence to get in, foreigners pay 10 pounds for a one-time entry, so it’s a cheap day out for local people) and of course the villagers had no concept of queuing, so a couple of soldiers were constantly trying to stop breakaway groups surging forward past the queue, or skipping from one side to another as the queue snaked back on itself. The soldiers kept hitting them with sticks to keep them in line but they’re tough little blighters and didn’t seem to feel it.|
||You have to follow the Indian way of queuing by crushing right up to the person in front of you, because if you leave the smallest gap someone will be in it.|
Once inside the mausoleum the crush
reached panic level as everyone pushed forward to get a glimpse of Shah
Jehan and Mumtaz’s
tombs, all snapping photos on their mobile phones in defiance of the strict
‘no photos inside the mausoleum’ policy. By
the time we got outside the queue had grown to (I calculated) over 800 metres long, snaking back and forwards round the raised
platform on which the Taj stands, and we stood
fascinated for some time watching all the attempts at queue-jumping, the
angry reactions of the people who were being usurped, the ineffectual attempts
of the soldiers to control them and the sheer bewilderment on the faces
of the westerners caught up in it all – wonderful entertainment.
||Close-up the huge crush of humanity seemed overwhelming yet as we walked back down the gardens the enormous Taj Mahal came back into perspective and the masses of people looked no bigger than ants.|
Sun 28th. Because
the trains are too early or too late, or maybe because we’re getting soft,
we got a car for the 200km drive to
||Today and tomorrow
are ‘Holi’, the Hindu festival of colour where everyone throws coloured
powder and water over each other so we put on our oldest, least favourite clothes and accepted the hotel staff’s invitation
to the roof where we and another European couple covered each other and
the staff in coloured powder.
Rather than go and wash it off straight away, we went out for
a walk up and down
to Fri 5th. Sightseeing
||We got the metro into Delhi old city and walked through the bazaars to the Red Fort, another imposing Mughal fort and palace complex constructed by Shah Jehan. An artificial 'river' used to run through the rooms of the palace to keep them cool.|
We also went shopping, in our local
bazaar in Karol Bagh or on the Paharganj bazaar, the ‘travellers street’ of
||Another day we got the metro to Central Secretariat to see Lutyens’ Governor’s residence, now the Presidental palace and the nearby government buildings. The ‘Rajpath’, the great central avenue, was so long we got an auto-rickshaw down to the India Gate at the other end.|
||We tried to
go to Humayun’s tomb but the taxi driver got
lost and took us to Safderjang’s tomb instead,
which turned out to be very pretty so we went in to see it anyway. It was one of the last great Mogul tombs in
||After the tombs
we went back a further 500 years or so to Qutb
Minar, a very impressive tapering victory
tower in very good condition, erected in the 12th century by
the rulers of the first Muslim kingdom in
||After tramping round all these monuments in the heat of the day we needed refreshment so we went to the old colonial Imperial Hotel and had ‘high tea’ – tea with sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and cakes - and fresh orange juice and lemon tart all for 10 pounds, sitting in their cool café courtyard.|
Back up the road we went to
In the early hours of Saturday morning
we flew home.
Anti-roll bars, Indian style!
An Indian quote: In
Sheila’s quote (while being hassled by priests in a temple): We came for praying, not for paying!
If you would like to see our
other holiday pictures, click here ....................
If you would like to see our
other holiday pictures, click here ....................