Northern India Blog - 18th October to 2nd November 2014 - Olivia Emms
After arriving a day early and having the luxury of a day to rest and relax, we had dinner at the soon to be quite famous (for the purposes of the trip) Crossroads Restaurant next to our hotel, Hotel Arpit Palace in Delhi.
On the first official day we woke up at around 9.00am and had breakfast of mostly fruit because we were not ready to face curry for breakfast! Lisa and Abi (our tour guide) went to pick up the others, who were coming on the holiday, from the airport.
We had a late lunch on the terrace, which had a lot of noise coming from the street. Delhi is very noisy as we all soon found out, especially around Diwali, which we had arrived in India just in time for. During lunch I tried my first pakora, which is either meat or vegetables fried in gram flour. We also had a drink called Chai Masala Tea: which is warm tea with spice. We sat on the roof terrace and watched the birds with Gill, one of the members of our group who is very interested in ornithology. There were lots of black kites and also rooks, pigeons, parakeets and more besides. We also caught our first sight of the chipmunk like creature called Indian Palm Squirrels.
Going out for dinner together in Delhi was when we met the other two members of our group, Viv and her daughter Fran. The streets of Delhi are very crowded and busy as one would expect. There were many lights and decorations around the city for Diwali. The meal was great: Abi ordered for us or helped us order what he thought we would like.
The Second day, after a breakfast of sandwiches, we went to go and pack our bags because we were going soon to visit old Delhi. The streets of New Delhi were very interesting: you see very few women in the streets during the day, there are barbers shops on the roads and groups of people cooking or sitting around a stove in front of shops and in the road. To the excitement of all, but particularly the youngest members of the group (Fran and me) there were monkeys on the railings.
We stopped to look at the palace and various state buildings. Finally we stopped off at a mosque in Old Delhi. Old Delhi was very different to New Delhi. The streets are narrower and darker with a lot of wires hanging from the buildings. There were many colourful flowers being sold as well. Marigolds are often used in India in religious ceremonies as offerings to the gods.
Before going into the mosque we had to take off our shoes and put on a robe to cover ourselves, over our clothes. It was a beautiful square with a fountain at the centre. On either side there were doves. The place to pray was under a walkway with beautifully decorated arches. Beneath the walkway were chandeliers, which were made of little hexagons of glass instead of, tear drop or rectangle shapes more commonly seen in the UK. There were many people who were keen to have their photograph taken with us, particularly parents with children. We felt a bit like celebrities even though the only reason for the interest is that the local people are not used to seeing white people. They just want to capture an experience like us as we were drawing and taking pictures.
After the mosque we got to see the streets of Old Dehli by rickshaw or tuk tuk as it is called there. Lisa felt very sorry for the rickshaw man and wanted to pedal the rickshaw, as he was considerably smaller than the people he was pedalling for! We were very impressed by the abilities of the rickshaw drivers to navigate the twisting, narrow and very crowded streets. After this we drove to Agra, which didn’t take too long. We stopped for some food at a service station. This was not like an English service station; there were samosas, omelettes with different fillings and even a full curry.
When we arrived in Agra we checked into a very nice hotel. In the afternoon we visited Agra fort, which was made mostly of dark terracotta stone. We had a wonderful guide who explained about the architecture and who had many tricks to show: for example throwing a coin into a seemingly closed window and it appearing in an archway underneath. We also had an amazing view of the Taj Mahal from across the lake. This related to another one of the guide’s optical illusions, which was showing how the Taj could appear larger and smaller depending on what you can see of the surrounding landscape.
After that we went to a warehouse where marble inlay is done in the old fashioned way: wearing down the stones into the correct shape, carving into the marble and then placing the different colours of stone into a particular pattern into the marble to produce the desired effect. Later we had dinner at a very nice restaurant; we sat on the rooftop and listened to a sitar player.
Today everyone woke up very early to visit the Taj Mahal. Abi was keen that we should arrive before the crowds. We took a taxi there because vehicles that cause too much pollution are not allowed near the Taj. Once inside everyone took lots of pictures especially the professional photographers of the trip: Fran and Gill. The building was as massive and beautiful as you would expect, but strange to see because most people have seen many pictures of the building so to see it in reality is strange.
It was interesting although quite sad to hear the stories about the Taj Mahal as it was built by a king for his favourite wife on her deathbed. She made the king promise not to marry again after her death and to do something to prove his love for her. So he built the Taj Mahal and both he and she are buried in it.
Afterwards we returned to the hotel where we had some chips and hash-browns and beans on toast very exciting for those missing English food, especially breakfast food! We then had a long coach journey to Jaipur, which we broke up with a visit to the abandoned city of Fatephur Sikri. We saw a block where allegedly the rulers’ elephant used to stamp on people’s heads that were being put to death. We also saw where the favourite elephant of the king of this city was buried. There were a lot of asian influences in the architecture within the village of Fatephur Sikri. A large amazing structure in the middle called Panch Mahal with a large dome. We split up and started sketching to get started with this aspect of the holiday. I found a courtyard with a pagoda to draw.
After we finished sketching we left the abandoned city and visited the mosque that was nearby. We had a guide named Peter who showed us around the Fatephur Sikri. He took us outside where the ground is very hot which was a bit painful as we had bare feet! But then we stood on a souvenir sellers carpet and it wasn’t so bad. The side of the mosque was decorated with the same stone inlay that we had seen at the Taj Mahal and at the factory. We then went inside to a little temple, which was in honour of a particular one of the gods. We bought a little bag containing marigolds and a piece of string. We also had to cover our heads either with a shawl if we had one or if not we had to wear a little plastic bowl on our heads. So I was quite glad that that I had a shawl!
We were not allowed to smell the marigolds because that was supposed to take the magic out of them. The red, orange and yellow marigolds were sprinkled on a shrine that looked slightly frighteningly like a bed and then we tied a piece of string around a piece of the architecture and made a wish. As we left we were hit on the head with a peacock feather, which Gill (one of the members of our party) found very funny.
When we arrived in Jaipur we went straight to the hotel, which was very reminiscent of the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. It was a rather old fashioned hotel and had a lot of beautiful and unusual paintings on the walls as well as some historical items. There were some boys playing musical instruments in the dining room and a veranda overlooking the large gardens and shops that were a part of the complex.
We woke up reasonably early and drove the short distance to the amber fort. On the way we passed the palace of the four winds, which is one of the most visited places in India. There was great excitement among the animal lovers of the group: Fran and me in particular, because today was the day that we were going to ride on the elephants up the hill to the palace. Gill and I rode on one and Viv and Fran on the other. Some of the elephants were painted and something that they could do was if someone dropped something like a bottle of water the elephants would pick it up. The seat on the elephants back was sideways so that the two people sitting on its back were facing one way over the side of the elephant. This was presumably to do with distribution of weight but it provided a great way to view the surroundings as we were facing outwards down the hill.
At the top of the hill there were lots of very keen photographers hoping to snap our pictures and sell them to us when we got to the top. The fort was stunning and well worth the journey. There were a series of courtyards one containing a mirror palace and an outdoor garden where people tending to the plants and sweeping as we watched. There was a women’s courtyard which was quite fascinating because there was a balcony which ran around the outside of their rooms but they were not allowed to meet there or to go into each others rooms to meet. Instead they had to arrange to meet in the courtyard below. It was here (in the amber fort) that we first saw snake charmers, a disquieting thing to witness despite having seen it on television, in cartoons etc. Once we had completed our visit we travelled back down the hill in a tuk tuk.
In the afternoon we visited parts of the city. First stopping by the water palace, called the Jal Mahal, to snap some pictures because it was an amazing sight and had the potential to be a beautiful composition. Secondly, quite bizarrely, we visited a museum containing quite a lot of English artefacts. Thirdly we visited the stargazing observatory, which was incredibly detailed and interesting as well as before its time in terms of science. The observatory combines elements of astrology and astronomy because at the time when the observatory was being built the two were interlinked and overlapped. The astronomical instruments are very interesting in terms of their size because they are very large. They are accurate to a reasonable degree and the observatory is one of the earliest examples of Verdic thought. The religion of the Verdic period is an ancient form of Hinduism.
In the evening before dinner we went to a jewellery emporium. Because Jewellery is one of the things that Jaipur is famous for and our tour guide Abi gave us the opportunity to buy some pieces for our families and ourselves.
Today was the day that we drove to the town of Pushkar where we were to spend a few days, and focus on painting and drawing. Some of us had already taken the opportunity to draw some of the beautiful paintings that adorned the walls of the hotel in Jaipur
As we arrived in Pushkar we could see that it was very open with views of the mountains and that there seemed to be a lot of artistic activities including beautifully printed materials and very diverse and vibrant types of clothing. Pushkar also had some of most lovely architecture that we had seen so far with many coloured domes and buildings many of which can be viewed from the lake.
Our hotel was a little way out of the centre of Pushkar and we were excited upon arrival to see a large stone archway and the unusualy green surroundings. There was a swimming pool and as we checked in we were amazed to see a flock of geese in the garden. There was also a restaurant within the grounds, which proved to be very convenient as it was nice to have somewhere to come back to in the afternoons and evenings and not need to find places to eat for lunch and dinner if we did not want to go out for a meal.
While sitting in the gardens of the hotel we noticed that one of the ladies who was cleaning the paths had a very beautiful face and we asked if it would be ok to draw her. So we had our first drawing lesson in the hotel gardens. Lisa showed and reminded us how to draw faces, getting the proportions correct and drawing the features correctly.
After settling in we went to a café/ restaurant on the side of Pushkar Lake. On Abi’s always-excellent recommendations most of us opted to have sizzlers. Sizzlers are a kind of very spicy and hot meat dish with vegetables.
Today was spent further exploring the town of Pushkar and beginning drawing in earnest. Pushkar is quite popular with British tourists and has quite a hippie-ish vibe whilst still retaining its charm and cultural history. We began the day sketching outside the mosque: Lisa used the complicated lines and shapes of the building to teach us about perspective. There were several groups of interesting people sitting in and around the entrance to the mosque and some of us drew them as well.
It was today that we also discovered a lovely cereal bar café, which sold lassies as well. You could order muesli with various fruits and coconut, filling and very refreshing in the heat. There were lots of different flavours of lassie including a “special” flavour. In the afternoon we returned to the hotel and some of us had a short rest while others began drawing a still life that Lisa set up with the help of the hotel staff.
That night there were preparations for celebrating Diwali the next day. There were lots of fireworks which were organised by Abi and our driver Vikrum who were both very happy about the prospect. We stood outside with another group from the hotel to watch them. The owners of hotel had also put out a lot of little lights around the restaurant and garden and flowers in bowls of water.
Today the Diwali celebrations continued, one of the chief components of this appeared to be throwing a lot of fire crackers by the young boys in the town which amazingly did not seem to scare the cows who at some points were right next to where the crackers were being thrown. The lake caused the constant mini explosions to echo throughout the town. In amongst all this chaos the girls and women from town walked around the lake dressed in beautiful clothes.
Today we went to the sunset cafe, the restaurant that we visited on the first evening, to draw the buildings across from the lake. To create the effect we used coloured paper and oil pastels. We also took part in a tradition which required half a coconut, a string bracelet and various different coloured powders and rice. We visited the cereal cafe again and on the way back to the hotel we discovered a man making hand carved stamps and many of us bought them as they were very skilfully made and we thought could be used to print either on paper or on fabric. We also saw some large silver Langur monkeys which we were quite tame.
We visited the cereal cafe once again before heading back to the hotel. In the afternoon after a short rest we began drawing a scene, with man and a camel from the town, which Abi had arranged for us. After a last swim in the pool or a rest or finishing off the sketches and paintings that we had done so far and dinner we packed as we were leaving the next day for Jodhpur.
Today we drove to Jodhpur in the morning. When we arrived we were very intrigued by the hotel it was another one that reminded us of the Best Exotic Marigold and had a very interesting garden with paintings and swings and even beds. We had lunch in the garden, some of us opted out of the adventurous choice and had chips and omelette. In the afternoon we visited the Mehrangarh Fort which was stunning. Viv was very happy because there were a lot of ancient artefacts in the museum and some rooms were done up in the style of the interior decoration that would have existed at the time that the fort was being used.
It was possible to walk around the ramparts of the fort and from there we could see the brilliant view over Jodhpur and the blue houses that give the city its name of the blue city. We also found a small temple outside on the side of the rocks with some brightly coloured statues and bells that people ring after they have prayed.
There were also some examples of traditional artwork of scenes with many people in a lot of detail, drawn in a very particular style. There was a helpful audio guide that made us laugh because it reminded us of Richard Burton with a very old fashioned accent. We were stopped quite a lot here by people wanting to take photographs with us sometimes with their children which included handing them to us without explanation. There were some lovely things in the gift shop, mirroring some of the patterns and colours that we had seen in the museum. There were scarves made out of luxurious fabrics and colourful jewellery and bags, even Lisa was tempted by these. In the evening we returned to the hotel and had and had a meal at the hotel before going to bed.
Today we made the long drive to Jaisalmer, we arrived at the hotel which had a large pool outside and a very ornate walkway. However, as it turned out, the hotel was still being renovated and therefore we were only able to stay in it the next when another party had night but Abi was very
efficient in sorting out another hotel for us. In the mean time we swam the pool and had some lunch. We then took our bags and moved to another hotel where some of us drew and others ventured out to the shops. Luxurious fabrics and colourful jewellery and bags, even Lisa was tempted by these. In the evening we returned to the hotel and had and had a meal at the hotel before going to bed.
The next day we moved our bags back to the first hotel and headed out into Jaisalmer for a tour of the city which is sometimes called the golden city because of the colour of its stones. We saw the incredibly ornate buildings with detailed sandstone carvings. We visited a hotel, from the top of which you had a brilliant view of the whole city. The guide showed us that the house belonging to the opium sellers was larger and more beautifully decorated that the house that used to belong to the royal family of that area, giving an insight into the history of the place. Before Lunch Viv and Fran returned to the hotel while the rest of us remained in the city centre, we visited a old house that was also a museum and shop. We also had some food and continued to explore the city and take pictures and sketch.
In the afternoon we went on a much-anticipated ride on some camels out into the desert to watch the sun set. Viv in particular was excited because of her interest in horse riding. Camel Safari was clearly a very popular pastime as there were many other groups out in the desert. There were dancers and musicians there also and some of us had a childish moment and ran down the sand dunes. In the evening we went out to eat in Jaisalmer to a rooftop restaurant beautifully lit with lanterns and candles.
Today, after a breakfast at the hotel we began our journey to Udaipur, which was to be so long that we were going to make a stop off in a rural property for this evening. This turned out to be a beautiful rural palace that Abi had used his contacts to organise for us, we were all stunned when we arrived and were greeted with leis and sweets as well as an extravagant lunch. We were even more impressed when we were shown the rooms that we would be staying in which all different and very were lavishly furnished, the room that I was staying in had three enormous rooms: a living room with sofas and chairs, a bedroom opening onto a balcony and a bathroom with an enormous shower and two sinks. The building had three floors and a courtyard in the centre with a garden and fountains. On all four sides of the courtyard there were walkways and balconies looking out onto the garden and there is a rooftop terrace with a view of the village.
We were shown around the house by some of the family who owned the house who described some of the history to us and also showed us the gardens and some of the wildlife. We then sat on the roof and had some tea before having some downtime to have a rest after our long drive or to do some sketching. Later in the evening there was another large meal put on that some of us attended but mostly we were too full from almost a whole day of eating and travelling to manage very much. It was nice that at this time we were also able to meet the other guests who were staying at the same time as us and also quite bizarre to speak to them as they were also British and we found that we had some links with them through schools and places that we lived.
Today we had a short tour of the village in the morning after breakfast. This was very interesting and a good opportunity to take some photographs with people. We saw some school children on their way into classes and people doing their daily work. We were even shown into some people’s houses, which we felt, very honoured and slightly embarrassed by. The people were very gracious but it was probably something that they had to do because of the royal family of the area who were showing us around.
In the late morning we began the rest of our drive to Udaipur. We took some very rural roads during this journey and at one point there were monkeys surrounding the car and we even fed them bananas from the snacks that we had brought with us. At one point on our journey we stopped at a fabric shop where if we wanted we could have our choice of material made into clothing or a scarf.
When we arrived in Udaipur we checked into our hotel, which had a view of the Pichola Lake with the famous Lake Palace. The hotel had two balconies each with tables for the restaurant from which we had plenty of choices of pictures to draw. We had some dinner at the hotel while Abi went back to stay with his family who live in Udaipur.
Today after breakfast we visited the City Palace with a guide. This structure is beautiful architecturally like the rest of Udaipur, which has been called the ‘Venice of the East’ although some might argue that it is actually more beautiful than Venice as everyone has different tastes. Udaipur actually became famous due to its picturesque buildings as it was used in a James Bond film for this reason. There were many rooms with colourful mosaic tiles and mirrors; there were also some artefacts from the days of the palaces use. Today the palace seemed to be very busy with lots of visitors, so many in fact that at times it was difficult to move.
Later some of us had a rest and some had a bit of lunch and in the afternoon we did some drawing from one of the terraces at the top of the hotel. Some of us did water colours, some used coloured pens, Gill, who has a very precise drawing style had been doing some of her paintings on fabric but today chose to do water colour on paper instead. We were discussing tattoos and because I said that I would like to have one of a tree we decided to play a trick on Abi by drawing a pretend tattoo using coloured ink pens. Later when we were having supper at the restaurant in the town we showed the tattoo on my back and he was shocked as he thought it was real.
Later in the evening we went to watch some traditional singing and dancing at an old building nearby the lake. The dancing and the costumes were amazing: there were two girls who danced while balancing a pot with fire burning on the top, there was also a dance that involved balancing more and more pots on the dancers head. Walking back through the streets of Udaipur on the way back to the hotel we had a look in some of the shops, preparing for what turned out to be quite a big shopping expedition the next day.
In the morning after breakfast the people from the fabric shop that we had visited on the way to Udaipur came to deliver some things, shirts and a coat that Viv and Gill had ordered, and to check that the measurements that they had taken for them were correct. While this was being sorted out Fran and I went shopping in the city for some presents for people at home and I went to get a henna tattoo.
We had lunch today at a German bakery and coffee shop, very strange to find in India, to have things like toast or sandwiches, salads and cakes and pastries. After this we went to the building where we had watched the dancing to do some more drawing and painting. Some of us painted buildings from the lake, including the lake palace from this new vantage point while others drew from the decoration and murals on the walls of the structure.
After this Abi arrived to take us to boat trip around the lake, which had, been organised for this afternoon. The boat was a little late so we sat and had a snack and a drink at the same restaurant that we had eaten at the night before. The sunset cruise on the lake was very stunning and as a group we attracted quite a bit of interest from families of people who were also taking the boat ride.
This evening we were very honoured as we visited Abi’s home and his family cooked us dinner. We got to meet his young son who was very cute and his whole family were very hospitable and charming.
Today Fran, Viv, Abi and I left to catch the first flight of two, which were to take us back to Delhi. This flight was early in the morning and when we arrived in Delhi we all needed a rest. Once the others arrived some of us went out shopping, mostly to get food including a MacDonald’s as some of us were very excited by the prospect of more familiar (albeit junk) food.
With the remainder of the day we played some card games, I played very badly, did some last minute sketching and prepared for our farewell dinner. We gave a drawing done by Lisa, much more professional looking than the rest of our attempts, and a card to Abi as a very small token to show how grateful we were for how well he had organised our tour.