Having been kept awake all night by the hostel’s party animals going out nightclubbing and noisily returning at all hours between 03:00 and 05:00 without any consideration for the other hostel guests, PK and I arose at 06:00 and headed for the Majesty bus station in Bangalore for the journey to Subramanya.
We had dosa with curry and chutney for breakfast at the bus station. I love dosa. The portions were so big it defeated both of us, but it did set us up for the seven hour journey to Subramanya. The morning was cold and I needed my sweater on. By eight o’clock the sun is up properly and the sweater was relegated to the rucksack.
The bus journey to Subramanya takes about 7 hours. Initially across the relatively flat-lands of the central portion of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Then it takes a downward route with hairpin bends and spectacular views as it descends the Western Ghats towards the coast and the Arabian Sea. The roads aren’t bad, no worse than some of the country roads in Eire or Wales. The same can’t be said of Indian drivers. Overtaking on the worst possible bends, driving three abreast, the journey can be nerve wracking. I just relax and work on the principle that if my time is up, it’s up.
After a couple of rest stops to get the rectangles out of the backside we reached Subramanya, home to the famous temple of Kartikeya, the son of Shiva.
[quote from Wikipedia] In this temple Kartikeya is worshipped as Subramanya, lord of all serpents. The epics relate that the divine serpent Vasuki and other serpents found refuge under Subramanya when threatened by the Garuda.
Kartikeya is also know as Murugan, Skanda or Kumara. He is the brother of Ganesha (known as Ganapati in the south of India).
Now it’s time for a local bus and then a short trip in an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) to PK’s parent’s farm down by the river Kumaradara. The Kumaradara flows through Subramanya too, and the religious pilgrims bathe in the holy water. I just swim in it.
Down on the farm
PK’s parent’s were delighted to see me again. They frequently ask after me when PK is home and on the messenger to me. “When is Q coming over again?” I would love to be able to speak to them without needing PK or his brother Rathan to translate. I have to learn the Kannada language, or at least enough to have basic communication.
PK’s father farms. Principally areca nuts that are used as a stimulant that they chew in much the same way that western people used to chew tobacco. He also collects pepper from the vines on various trees and taps rubber. You can see the areca nuts drying in the main picture. In the photos there is a picture of PK’s dad at the rubber trees and the milk collection bowl. It’s hot an humid here; probably in the high 20s or low 30s celsius (USA friends do the math 😉 )
After a couple of cups of tea we, PK, Rathan and I, head for the river for a swim. The water is beautiful and warm. Warmer than the air temperature in the UK at this time of year. I hate cold water but this is lovely and refreshing. PK’s dad is going to go fishing tomorrow and I’ll head along with him to take some photos. I had assumed that they’d be fishing with rods and poles but I was wrong, they’ll net the river.
Supper is of curry and boiled rice of a type that I’ve never seen or tried. The grains are huge and fat with little black flecks. It’s surprisingly light. PK’s mum seems to want me to get fatter – she fed me way too much. So we had a giggle as I stopped her from mounding my portions daily. Out here in the countryside the food is served on a banana leaf instead of plates. I would have liked to have taken a photo or two but I felt that maybe they would have been a bit embarrassed. I’ll try and rectify this later in a roadside café.
The milk in the tea is straight from the cow. It’s lovely tea but as I have a slight lactose intolerance I requested milk-less tea. The tea is strong, so strong you could tar the road with it. A little sugar is needed.
The nights are quiet with only the sound of the odd night bird and night-time insects. No traffic noise whatsoever. The sky is crystal and the stars are so bright away from the light pollution. I can see Orion and Taurus easily and much higher in the sky than they would be in Wales. Gemini is over head and Leo is just fading into the trees and the horizon. To the south are stars that I don’t know. They’d be below the horizon in the UK and invisible. Ursa Major and the Pole star aren’t visible because they are so low on the northern horizon here. I don’t even know if they would be visible from this latitude. I have seen them in Uttar Pradesh but U.P. is about 2000 km north of here.
In this little valley near the village of Yedamangala 4G connection isn’t really available. A climb up the hill soon rectifies that but it does mean that communication and writing this is impossible. In a couple of days I’ll be back in Perlampady where the connection is permanent(-ish) albeit a bit slow.
Well I flew from Mangaluru (Mangalore) via Bengaluru (Bangalore) to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at 10:55. Madan, Vishak and Abhijith accompanied me to wave me off. The funny thing about Indian airports is that once you enter the building, you can’t check your bags and then go out for a while. There are one or two food stalls, literally one or two. This meant that the boys and I hung out for a while, had a coffee and samosa, and then I entered the restricted area.
The flight was just over an hour. I was fed! A veg sandwich, coffee and a chocolate bar. Bengaluru airport transit area is much more international. There were the usual type of shop and restaurant. I had an hour and forty minutes to kill before the Colombo flight. Maybe the Mediterranean Restaurant Bar could sell me some long waited for, raw green vegetables? I opted for grilled mushrooms with mozzarella on a toasted panini. It was huge, came with endive, lettuce, tomato and onion, all raw, and some pretty decent green olives. Sigh! And at a good price, for an airport. Better.
I finished at the restaurant and saw that they were calling my flight. So I boarded the last leg to Colombo, due to arrive at 03:15. Yawn! I got fed again! The hostel I’d booked had a deal with a taxi car service, so I was duly delivered to the Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel at just before 05:00. By 5:30 I was in bed and asleep. I woke at about 09:30, not bad 4 hours. I went exploring the local area, buying fruit and water, trying the food, that kind of stuff. Then I took it a little easy, sat in the lovely garden of the hostel chatting with a vet called Rosie, and grabbed an early night because I wanted to get into Colombo centre the next day. I slept like a log! Nearly 10 hours.
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel is probably the nicest hostel I have stayed in. It has lovely rooms and gardens. It’s 80m from the beach in a quiet area. Ok the trains pass during the day but at night there is hardly a sound. Colombo is 10/- from Dehiwala station, just up the road. The owner, Mrs. Merle Senanayake is a friendly person and helpful.
Mount Lavinia train
I caught the train at Dehiwala, just one stop up from Mount Lavinia, and closer for me. It cost 10 Sri Lankan rupees. That works out at 5p, yes, £0.05. (In €0.0529, at the time of writing.) Five stops I think it was. I got off at Secretariat Halt. Fort Railway it the central station and the one after Secretariat Halt. Almost the first thing I saw was a huge white stupa.
Google’s Street View of the stupa
Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo
So I took some photos. And headed off down Lotus Road in the direction of the sea when I met Siri. A junior finance officer in government. He told me that today (Friday 12th Jan 2018) was a Buddhist holy day and a day off and that he was on his way to the main temple. Would I care to accompany him? He take pleasure in showing me around. So that’s how I got to the Gangaramaya Temple. Wiki link here and AboutColombo.lk link here. I guess I don’t really need to say much more about the temple complex, the photos are enough. Needless to say it was awe inspiring. The mix of styles, many gifted to the temple by Thailand, Myanmar, China, and Japan demonstrating the significance of this complex.
Sri Lanka’s Independence Day is celebrated on 4th of February commemorating the end of British rule on that day in 1948. India’s independence day is almost exactly 6 months earlier on August 15, 1947. This memorial building erected to the end of British rule is a loose copy of the Audience Hall (Magul Maduwa) located in Kandy in the temple complex called The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Kandy was the capital under the monarchy. A statue to the Hon. D.S Senanakaya, the first Prime minister of Sri Lanka, was erected in front of this monument. Most visitors miss the museum located in the basement of the Independence Memorial Hall, I certainly did. I don’t remember seeing any signs.
Finally, as I was getting tired from walking all day, I got to the Floating Market with the Lotus Tower in all its glory in the background. The light was going and the photos didn’t turn out that well. When I go back to fly back to India I’ll try and get some better ones.
The train ride home was an experience! One of those “see how many people can fit in a carriage” situations. A goodly number were riding the running boards. It was only by pure luck that I managed to get out at Dehiwala just as the heavens opened and down came the torrential rain. It was actually a relief after the oppressive humidity all day.
Lazy Saturday on the beach
So far I had hardly inspected the beach. I took myself off by road to Mount Lavinia walking, maybe 3km, and then headed for the beach to work my way back to the hostel. A beach is a beach and those that know me will know that I’m not that enamoured with lying on beaches getting sand everywhere and burning. That said the beach here is nice with coconut trees and vegetation giving the tropical feel. I made my way up the beach in the direction of Colombo. The water felt nice. Once back to the part of the beach near the hostel I got out the towel and book and indulged in a few rays. It felt like an age since I’d had the sun on me. No such luck in Uttar Pradesh. It was certainly hot, I’d say the mid thirties. Ok now for the test – the sea. It was lovely and refreshing.
So Saturday is the last day and I need to go back to the hostel and charge phones, power-banks, computers and all. Travelling these days is all cables and chargers. I got back to Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel, showered and shaved and began preparing for an early start to Kandy on Sunday.
Madan has had me sitting on the back of Baja Pulsar F 220cc motorbike for my journeys into the Western Ghats mountains of this part of India. The bike is incredibly uncomfortable and the scenery is incredibly beautiful. So it makes a sore bum worth while. (I linked the specs of the bike for those of you that like that kind of thing… Yes Tim, you.)
The geography of this area and the Western Ghats still confuses me, largely to do with the place names that bear no resemblance to European place names. I’ve been to the joining of the three rivers that form the holy river of the south, the Kaveri, at Talakaveri (tala = head) and I’ve seen coffee plantations. There are coconut palms everywhere and also areca nut palms. The latter look a little like mini-coconuts both growing and when taken apart, they are fibrous inside just like a coconut. They are a little smaller than a tennis ball. Areca is used as a kind of tobacco substitute here. It’s chewed with a bit of tobacco wrapped up in a leaf that has a light coating of lime on it. As yet I haven’t tried it, and I’m not sure that I will. We’ll see.
The Western Ghats of Karnataka and Kerala
The bike ride took us in and out of Karnataka and Kerala as the border is very close to this part of Karnataka State. The Western Ghats run the length of the western side of India, a bit like the Andes in South America. In places we were in deep jungle and I’m still hoping for some wildlife. Tigers don’t exist here but there are cheetahs and elephants. To date I’ve only seen birds which move too quickly to get pictures. I’d need to sit still for a couple of hours. In other areas the scenery is open and rolling with mountains in the distance. The rivers are fairly dry at the moment but Madan tells me that they are huge and fast running in the monsoon season.
We climbed Ranipuram in Kerala and saw the vistas of the Western Ghats from on high. Some of those photos I put on Facebook. I went to Hanumagiri which is a huge temple dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey god that helped Rama rescue his wife Sita from Ravana the king of Sri Lanka who was claimed to be a Rakshasa, a demon. There is a lot of information on the legends of Hanuman on the Wikipedia site. Here in India Hanuman is jokingly referred to as Superman’s big brother. Read the stories and find out why. The little squirrel I mentioned in this post is tied in with this legend. It helped Shiva to construct the land bridge to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita.
We stopped for lunch, it cost about 2 quid for the both of us. I had a pilau I don’t remember what the name of Madan’s dish but it was served on a banana leaf. Here in the south they eat with their fingers. They claim it tastes better that way. I don’t see how and I haven’t noticed. Nevertheless I’ve had to learn the technique as some of the eateries don’t supply cutlery. I’ve explained that in Europe one of the first things you teach children is NOT to eat with their fingers. Personally I find it pretty gross to have food all over my right hand, but that’s the culture here. Granted all the establishments have a hand basin or some sort of wash facility.
I stayed in Udaipur longer than intended due to the fall down the stairs and the swollen eye. But on Friday I set off for Kota on the train. I had been going to go to Ajmer first but decided to cancel that as I still didn’t feel 100% and I wanted to get back to Mickey’s and relax a bit and let my eye heal. I may feel 30 years old but the truth is that I’m 60 and I was getting tired. The same tuk-tuk driver that helped me with the medical issue took me to the station. The train got me in to Kota late, around 23:30. A tuk-tuk ride got me to Hotel Navrang that I’d booked on the Oyo app.
Kota isn’t known for its tourism like other cities such as Jaipur, so finding a hostel had proved impossible but Oyo had come to the rescue with a fairly well priced hotel that was clean, comfortable and great value for money. Not far from the station and only about 1km from the town centre and Chatra Vilas Gardens, which are super and very restful.
Kota – day one
Being in a hotel is different from being in a hostel. In a hostel there are fellow travellers to talk to about sights and where to go. Hotels you are on your own. The staff of Navrang had rudimentary english so quizzing them wasn’t much use. I googled a bit and the following day I set off looking for breakfast and in the direction of the Chatra Vilas Gardens. The garden charges 5/- entrance and it is a paltry sum to pay for the maintenance that they do there. The place is a great for getting away from the noise, not that Kota is that noisy compared to other cities. I wandered around the gardens and took some photos of the old buildings and the small train that tours the gardens and then headed for an attraction I’d seen on google, the Seven Wonders.
The Chatra Gardens has one border on the Kishore Sagar lake, the Seven Wonders is on the opposite side of the lake. In the middle of the water is a palace called Jag Mandir which is closed to the public but well worth a few shots with a long lens. The palace is a beautiful red stone monument built by one of the queens of Kota in the year 1740. Rounding the lake I arrived at the Seven Wonders. It was closed until 14:00 and as it was only just gone 11 I decided that I’d give it a miss. The Seven Wonders is a recreation of seven of the world’s most famous structures, in miniature. They comprise:
Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the redeemer
Pisa’s Leaning Tower
Paris’ Eiffel Tower
Agra’s Taj Majal
Egypt’s Great Pyramid
New York’s Statue of Liberty
To be honest, I have seen 4 of the 7 in real life so, while they are really well done and well exhibited, it wasn’t a problem for me to give the gardens a miss. It was very hot and there was no shade, so a walk around the outside of the lake and a look in at the structures was good enough for me. They are supposed to be beautiful at night when lit.
I then walked on to the edge of the roughly rectangular lake and caught a tuk-tuk to Kotah Garh, the City Palace. Kotah Garh is situated on the eastern bank of the Chambal River at the centre of south-eastern Rajasthan. The oldest part of the palace seems to have been built in the 13th century with numerous later additions. The shame is that it is all being left with rudimentary maintenance. There are sections of the palace that I imagine are positively dangerous judging by the outside. The entry on this page explains more of the detail and would bore you if I repeated it here.
I walked around the Kota palace for a couple of hours being shown the Maharaja’s bedroom and other sights, taking pictures that you can see here, and feeling sad that this beautiful place was slowly falling apart. And then I headed for the river Chambal and the back side of the palace to look over the river and see the Kota Super Thermal Power Station and to take some more pics.
By now lunch was calling, so I headed back round to the entrance of the palace where I’d seen some shops and food stalls. I ate my lunch and had a drink and decided to head back to the hotel to rest, I was still feeling a bit wobbly and my fat eye certainly wasn’t helping, it was hot and I needed a sit down. It’s quite tiring trying to navigate with only one eye.
Hospital in Kota
In Udaipur they had told me that my stitches needed to come out in a week’s time. That would make it a Monday or Tuesday. I’d noticed on Google Maps that the hotel in which I was staying was only a few hundred yards from a government hospital. So I decided to stroll in on Sunday morning to see if I could get some information or, indeed, have the stitches removed. I could see in the mirror that the wound was pretty well healed. I walked up to the reception and asked if anyone spoke english. A tall bearded young man said he did. I explained the situation to him and he said “come with me”. Off we went. He took me to a consulting room and barged me to the front of the queue and had a doctor examine me. The doctor wrote something on a paper and I was marched off to another room and made to lie on a none too clean bed. Well this was a government hospital. The stitches were taken out there and then and I was marched off to the dispensary where I was given some medication. That simple!
The young man asked me if I had some time to sit and talk. Well I was a day ahead of the game now so I said yes. His name is Sarvendra and his english is pretty good and, I was told, learned from… Facebook! Maybe I’ll have to revise my opinion of that data mining company. We chatted a while and it was still early, probably not even 09:30. Sarvendra asked if I’d like to meet him after his shift finished at 14:00 so I agreed.
I went back a little before two but Sarvendra didn’t finish until a bit after three. I was then taken on the back of his bike back to his house to meet his parents, uncles, cousins and all. Selfies with the white man all round. I was fed some lovely food too. I then was taken to another relative’s house and a guitar was given me to play. The strings were old, corroded and knackered. The action appalling. The machine heads rusty and really the guitar was all but unplayable. But I managed to coax some sound out of it and by the reaction received, it was probably the first time anyone had made any sort of music on it. I don’t know what India thinks of blues but that’s what they got. So after an afternoon of being the point of interest, I was taken back to my hotel in the late afternoon where a date was made for a road trip the following day after work.
Road trip to the countryside
The Kota road trip was great. We were accompanied Manoj and Tutu too, friends of Sarvendra’s. We headed out of town to the southwest to see the new Hanging Bridge. As you can see in the photos it is still something of a novelty and the place was crammed with people wandering around in what amounts to motorway. I have to say it was an impressive structure and all the better for being able to see it walking instead of in a car. My positively favourite bit was the guy leading the camel. There aren’t many countries in the world where you get camels as part of the motorway traffic. There are a couple of pictures. The hanging bridge seen, we mounted the bikes and headed south again.
Out in the countryside now we came to a temple in the middle of the jungle. Sarvendra tells me it is called Nahara Singh Mata temple. It’s not as built up as the usual Hindu temples and really comprised of a couple of buildings by the side of a stream. The stream oozed out of rocks in a mini waterfall where we washed our hands and feet before entering the temple building. Many temples here require you to remove your shoes as a mark of respect and in the heat and humidity here it’s often a relief to do so. There were loads of monkeys around and you have to keep your eye on bags, cameras and the like, the monkeys apparently have a tendency to pinch things.
Over at the second of the two buildings there was a crowd of men preparing food. Sarvendra told me that these guys look after the temple and the area. He went over to talk to them and a second later I’d been invited to dine on traditional Rajasthan food. The men and boys were delighted to serve me food. They gave me an old fertiliser bag to sit on and dusted of a plate and served me with dal, which was gorgeous and some small balls of flour to be dipped in the dal and also included a large ball which was sweet. The whole lot was delicious. I’ve never been anywhere where the people are so friendly and accommodating to strangers. Naturally I had to pose for the selfies again but in my photos you can see me and the food and the gang that fed me.
Next stop on the road trip was the Baroli Temple Complex. These temples are some times known as Badoli Temples. There are eight temples here within a walled area. Built during the Gurjara-Pratihara Empire in the 10th–11th centuries. They are one of the earliest temple complexes in Rajasthan. They are also supposed to be the most perfect examples of their age in this part of India. I’ve linked a wikipedia entry here but one of the facts that is mentioned is that a carved stone image of the god Nataraja (dancing Shiva) was stolen from the Baroli temple complex in 1998. It has been traced to a private collector in London. However, the statue has not been recovered so far. So we can see the greed culture of the west is alive and kicking and a source of embarrassment to all. There is a good PDF here if anyone is interested.
Quote from p20 of the PDF
The carved stone idol of Natraj was smuggled out of India, and a police case registered as far back as 1998. The Rajasthan Police carried out an ‘Operation Black Hole’, and the statue was located in London with a private collector but remains unrecovered to date. Whether efforts after such a long a lapse of time will succeed is a moot question.
My view is that the collector/thief should be named if the police know where this idol is. It can hardly be libel or slander if true. My money goes on someone with incredible wealth and no concern for anyone but his/her self.
Final stop on the road trip was the Rana Pratap Sagar Dam, 53.8 metres (177ft) in height built on the Chambal River at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan. Its main function is hydro-electric power generation but it is also associated with irrigation projects too. The power station was officially opened on 9 February 1970 by Indira Gandhi. The dam and power plant are named after the warrior Maharaja Rana Pratap of Rajasthan. The Chambal river (once known as the Charmavati River) runs north-northeast through Madhya Pradesh, then for a time through Rajasthan and forms the boundary between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh before turning southeast to join the Yamuna River in Uttar Pradesh state.
And that was the end of the trip Kota road trip. The next day I was due to leave for Agra but there was a cockup with the tickets with the agent booking it a day earlier than asked, for Monday night instead of Tuesday. At this point I’d had enough, I’d been on the go for the best part of a month. Tuesday morning I went to the railway station in Kota and booked myself a ticket on the sleeper train back to Mickey’s. I was tired and I wanted a rest. The constant moving and running around had exhausted me and I was ready for a few days peace and quiet and the chance to let my eye heal and write up the Rajasthan trip.
When you arrive at Udaipur bus station you will be flooded with tuk-tuk drivers wanting your custom. They will all try and rip you off, of that you can be sure. The only way I and some other travellers I’ve met have found to counter this mad craze to lose their income is to have Ola or Uber applications open which show you approximately how much the fare will be. Then it’s up to the tuk-tuk driver to turn you away or accept, or you get Ola or Uber. I’ve found it easier to walk to a different street, just away from the station, where you’re more likely to encounter someone more amenable. The first guy at the Udaipur bus station wanted 400/-INR for what amounted to a 120/-INR ride.
Udaipur is very much a tourist town. And it’s easy to see why, it’s beautiful. Nestled between hills and situated on two lakes, Pichola and Fateh Sagar, with its island palaces, temples and a lot of hindu architecture, it’s almost like a step back in time. I spent the first morning walking around and taking photos. The first thing I noticed is that Udaipur is quiet. Hardly any horns! The second is that it was the cleanest city I’ve visited to date. You’ll soon find out it’s where they made the James Bond movie “Octopussy (1983)”. A lot of restaurants will screen the film nightly. I didn’t go. I saw more Europeans here than in any other place I’ve been so far, and from all ages and financial brackets.
On my return to Bunkyard Hostel that I’d booked online from Jodhpur, I bumped into Mustafa, a young architectural student just writing his final thesis for his degree, whom I’d met briefly the night before. We were on the roof terrace taking in the morning view and chatting when we were joined by Rahul. Bunkyard is another good hostel, and the views over Lake Pichola are superb. It’s multi-level hostel with the restaurant at the top. I picked a dorm without aircon and it was bang on. I’d found out the night before that Mustafa was in my dorm and now I found out that Rahul was too.
The Bunkyard staff are really friendly, if a bit slow in the morning. I have to admit that I found a place where I can have 2 breakfasts and 2 chais for the price of a chai in the hostel and I don’t have to wait, so I go there instead. Well the three of us sat in the early morning sun putting the world to rights. We were sitting under the sunshade four hours later. These two young men suffer the same disillusionment with their world as I suffer with mine. It was a gentle day goofing off, and attempting to put the world to rights. The next couple of days were spent exploring backstreets and walking out of the city into the semi jungle at the west end of the lake.
Saturday Mustafa invited me to split the cost of a scooter with him. 400/-INR for the vehicle for the day and a further 200/-INR petrol. Seemed like a good plan. Off we went into the hills to the west of Udaipur. A totally lazy day out looking at temples and lakes.
First we visited a temple on a little pond. I can’t recall the name of the place and neither Mustafa or I have found it on the net. The place was beautiful and serene except for the half finished block-work and cement structure that had been abandoned. It looked to me that once it might have been going to be a hotel or B&B type place, but to my mind it totally spoiled the view and temple, and I was hard put to try and exclude it from photos. We also visited the Lake Badi where I took photos and was tempted to go for a swim. Both Mustafa and I thought that we should have visited the lake in the morning, for the sun’s direction. It was the first lake I’d seen without a scum of plastic wrappers and bottles floating on it. That said, the shoreline was littered with broken beer bottles, crisp packets and the like. It’s such a shame that the young couples and visiting people don’t take their rubbish away with them. Mustafa, Rahul and I had been talking about this inability to take rubbish away and dispose of it in the proper place. It seems that that the younger, educated Indian is aware of this pollution and would like it to change.
We then spent a couple of hours relaxing under a shade tree with an old man and his wife. Mustafa had asked the man we’d spotted if he’d mind if we shared the shade of his tree and in friendly Indian fashion there was no problem. Apparently the language they were talking was a dialect of hindi and Mustafa had to struggle a bit to be understood and understand. They were sweet enough to let me take their photos but the wife nearly made me giggle when she started to say that she didn’t have her fine clothes on. She was lovely the way she was.
By now the evening was beginning to roll in. Our intention was to get up to the Monsoon Palace, Sajjan Garha, in time to see the sunset. Sajjan Garh Palace is called the sunset point and it seemed the right thing to do. It is named Sajjangarh after Maharana Sajjan Singh, who built it in 1884. Originally intended to be a five floor astronomical centre and built to watch the monsoon clouds, but was converted into a hunting lodge and the monsoon palace on the death of Maharana Sajjan.
The road up to the Monsoon Palace is not very obvious and it is all hairpin bends once you pass the pay-in point. Again Indians get in for 10% of the tourist’s price. It cost me 300/-INR. The climb up offers spectacular views over the hillsides around Udaipur. Once at the top though it became a little disappointing. The building, once glorious, is now running to ruin, which is such a shame. And today, we weren’t going to be seeing any sunset. There was a high bank of cloud in the west, behind which the sun was slowly sinking. The clouds were spectacular though, backlight by the sun. The views were immense. But the light was disappearing fast now so we hopped on the scooter and headed back from a splendid day out in the fresh air.
Sunday morning Mustafa and I were sitting in one of the communal areas of Bunkyard discussing what to have for breakfast and whether he should head off back to Ahmedabad in Gujarat that day to write his thesis. Breakfast was decided on and his return was postponed for at least 2 hours. I headed off to put the computer away so we could go and eat. And then it happened. I must have had a blood pressure rush or I fainted, I don’t know. All I remember is that the mural at the top of the stairs rose up to meet me and the next thing that I remember is that Mustafa was pushing me bleeding into a tuk-tuk and he and the driver were rushing me to hospital. The ride was a fragmented dream while my thoughts were beginning to clear, albeit very slowly. The next memory was of lying on an operating table having my head and eyelid stitched. 6 stitches in total, two in the eyelid the remainder in my forehead. According to Mustafa, I’d reached the top of the stairs and then just crumpled and fell, head first, down a flight of 15 stairs. He was so worried and it was his prompt actions and help that pulled me through. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to him and you can be sure that as soon as I get an itinerary that allows me to head west, I’ll be staying with Mustafa for sure.
So to cut a long story short, Mustafa delayed his return to Ahmedabad until later that afternoon while he saw that I was ok. I had concussion and my sense of balance was seriously disturbed. I dozed at about 14:30 and when I awoke my friend had gone. The next few days were spent recovering. I was still seriously dizzy and having an eye that wouldn’t open didn’t help. Monocular vision with no depth of field doesn’t help with head injuries and balance.
The Bunkyard staff were all very sympathetic and helpful, made sure I was ok and generally kept an eye on me. For two days I lurked around the hostel, staggering into the odd table. Mustafa had told me that I’d need to go back down to the hospital on the Tuesday so the tuk-tuk driver that had taken me before agreed to go with me again as he’d been with me most of the time that I was there in the first instance. I was checked over and given some new medication. Mickey from Satya Dhaam was worried and got two young lads known to his wife to check up on me which was nice of him too. All in all I decided to stay for the remainder of the week, allow my eye to recover and for the swelling to go down, and to move on to Kota on Friday, all things being well.
Udaipur is a wonderful city. For anyone visiting India, go there. I’ll be going back for sure, and it is the sort of place in which I could imagine settling down for a while.
Well the last few days have been hectic and I haven’t had a chance to write anything for a while. On the 28th of August I set off from Meerut to visit Jaipur in Rajistan, the desert state. There had been riots on the streets of Delhi on the 25th with people killed and buses set on fire at Anand Vihar. All of this was because of the conviction of a Baba, a holy man, the guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, religious leader of Dera Sacha Sauda, who was convicted of rape committed some years ago. I had left Anand Vihar for Meerut the day before, on the 24th, and there was some speculation that the 28th, day of sentencing, could produce the same rioting. Luckily I made it through to Sarai Rohilla Station for the train to Jaipur with no mishap.
Sarai Rohilla train station in Delhi
The Sarai Rohilla train station isn’t the easiest place to navigate. There is little help, no platform staff (that I could find) and not much by the way of indication where to go. A friendly young police woman put me straight. I had a few hours to wait so, in Indian style, I had a snooze sitting on one bag and using the backpack as a chair back.
Once the train arrived a member of the station staff arrived and began to glue paper to the doors of the train. On inspection I found my name and seat number printed on the paper and confirmed that my seat number was the same as that which my ticket said.
The journey to Jaipur is 4 ½ hours. The train was a double decker and I was on the top deck. The aircon nearly froze me but the ride was comfortable enough. We pulled out at 17:35 on the dot. Travelling through the outskirts of Delhi heading west was yet another eye-opener. People sitting on the tracks chatting. Kids playing on the tracks. One teenager throwing stones at the train trying to break windows. People peeing and crapping by the side of the tracks with no embarrassment. I was happy to leave it behind and watch the scenery change.
The Himalaya Towers Hotel – Jaipur
We were a bit late in arriving in Jaipur. I was due in at 22:05 but we got in about 10 minutes late. I had taken the time to book a room at the Himalaya Towers Hotel using the Oyo app. On Google maps it looked like it would be a nice quiet place just outside the centre of Jaipur. It wasn’t. It was about 17km away and south of the airport. The Ola Cab didn’t know where it was and I was hassled and hustled by a taxi driver with excellent english. Eventually I did opt to go with him as he seemed to be the only person with any degree of knowledge. The cost was 500/-INR which here is exorbitant.
The hotel was, in all fairness, clean and tidy and not too expensive. About £7 a night. But what I hadn’t counted on was the expressway. I told you about the Indians love of the horn in this post. At about four thirty the trucks started going by. They have multiple horns. They play tunes like Woody Woodpecker and various other horrible “melodies”. So that was me awake with just over 4 hours sleep. I walked out at 8am and caught an Ola car to a hostel called Mai Thik Hoo that I found on the Hostelworld App.
Mai Thik Hoo Hostel in Jaipur
Mai Thik Hoo was a brilliant place and it was quiet! The staff are super friendly, helpful, speak great english and young. I was the oldest person there and they insisted on calling me “sir” which I hated. We got over it. If you are backpacking in Jaipur go to Mai Thik Hoo, you won’t regret it. I arrived at about 08:30, checked in and met a lovely girl called Liliana from Mexico. Yay, a chance to speak spanish again. We talked for a good while and decided to team up to see some the famous Jaipur sites. The boys from Mai Thik Hoo called up a tuk-tuk driver that they trust (the kept stressing that they feel responsible for their guests) and for the princely sum of 500/-INR Liliana and I took off for out tour.
The Pink City
We were taken first to a part of the Pink City where we got out and took some photos (or clicked some photos as the Indians say) and then headed off to Gaitore Ki Chhatriya, the Royal Cremation Ground of the Kachhwaha Rajputs.
Gaitore Ki Chhatriya will cost you 30/-INR to get in and it’s a bargain! There are three “courtyards” and they are incredibly beautiful. Built of marble, all hand carved and following the Vedic rules for building a memorial. Vedic rules, they state that crematoriums should be in north of the village and sloping southwards. A body of water should be nearby. A lake or a river is perfect backdrop for these memorials. The crematoriums and memorials should be constructed in a concealed location in order that they cannot be seen easily. I won’t go into it any more here but here are two links for those that are interested. [ 1 ] and [ 2 ].
Next stop was the famous Amber Fort of Jaipur. This fort is a spectacular piece of architecture sitting on top of a ridge. The Fort is known for its artistic Hindu style decoration. It is truly huge. It is actually located in Amer, about 11km away from Jaipur. As we were on a limited whistle stop tour we decided that to go in to the Amber Fort would use up too much time so we contented ourselves with walking round the outside and seeing the views from some of the ramparts. We also walked down into Amer from the fort and saw the Shiva Temple there too. It would be easy to spend a day in the fort alone. For those that want to know more, I have linked the wikipedia entry here.
We were then taken to Panna Meena ka Kund. This is another stepwell like the one in Delhi mentioned in this post, but more beautiful. There really isn’t anything more to say about stepwells but this one is situated near Anokhi Museum on the Jaipur – Amer road, It is a beautiful place that was built during sixteenth century. The place was mainly used as a place for social meetings. People from nearby places would come here to get water, go swimming or just to pass time with friends and family. This beautiful well has a unique architecture and style.
Heading back into Jaipur from the Amber Palace we stopped at the Water Palace. Our tuk-tuk driver told us that once one could visit it but these days the government has shut it off to visitors. So we took some pictures, (which you can see here) of this amazing piece of Rajput style of architecture, bought cucumber snacks and kulfi which is an incredible rich, dense, creamy non-whipped ice cream and headed off to the Monkey Temple.
This temple is dedicated to Shiva. Upon our arrival a very slick young man with good english entered the tuk-tuk and started giving us his sales pitch. He lives in the area and has worked with the monkeys all his life. They can be viscous and carry rabies and apparently we really needed his help. Liliana and I took an immediate dislike to him. He wanted 200/-INR from each of us to walk us up a hill of about 800m to a temple. There are supposed to be loads of monkeys around. We were also hassled to buy peanuts for the monkeys, being told it was “good karma” to feed them. Anyone who has any knowledge of the laws of karma knows that that’s pure BS. The result was another young lad took us up for a quarter the cost. Maybe he only had a quarter the knowledge because he really didn’t seem to know what he was talking about and contradicted himself a few times. But there again there wasn’t really much to say. Hey ho. We saw not one monkey! However when we got back down we found them all asleep near where our tuk-tuk was parked. In all honesty this was the most uninteresting part of the trip and we were both happy to get back to the hostel.
Liliana and I arranged to wake early and get back into the Pink City fairly early to try and maximise her last day. We caught the metro from Civil Lines, where Mai Thik Hoo is situated, and headed for Chadpole station. While India wakes early, not much starts before 09:00. We arrived at Chadpole and put on Google’s location service so that we could navigate. Both of us wanted to see more of the Pink City than we saw the first day (all the photos are above). We also wanted to go to Jantar Mantar, the Palace of Winds (Hawa Mahal) and the Albert Hall Museum. Unfortunately we ran out of time for the latter.
On exiting the metro station we happened upon a beautifully decorated temple. I haven’t been able to find anything online about this place so I asked Mickey from Satya Dhaam to translate the hindi in the photo. This is what he said it says. Maji Sahib Shri, Shri Tawar Ji. He also says that he thinks the temple is to a person called Maji Tawar and the Sahib, Shri and Ji are honourifics or marks of respect for the named person. I have searched google and can find nothing more. It seems a shame that no one has written anything because it was quite beautiful. It also contained a drum machine. The strangest drum machine I have ever seen as you can see in the photo.
The next few hours were spent with Liliana taking photos and shopping for presents and souvenirs. It was fun but tiring. The shop keepers always want you to buy more and more. You tell them you haven’t any money, they say “use a card”. You tell them that you are backpacking and don’t wan’t the weight, they say “we’ll send it to the hotel or your home”. It’s never ending, very tiring, stressful and irritating and a lot of time was wasted just trying to say NO. The people of Jaipur have a much better command of European languages. We were hassled by a young man speaking excellent spanish who wanted us to go to a particular café overlooking the Palace of Winds. Looking for his commission I suppose. By now I was hot, tired and my blood sugar levels were dropping fast and all the both of us wanted to do was sit down, have a bite to eat in relative quiet. I lost my temper with the guy and asked him, none to subtly, if there was any danger of us being able to do what we wanted to do without him hanging around hassling us. He left and so did we.
Palace of Winds – Hawa Mahal
The Palace of Winds (or Palace of the Breeze) is a super impressive structure built of red and pink sandstone. However it is really just a screen to allow the women of the palace to watch parades without being observed. It is attached to the women’s quarters of the palace. Built in 1799 and supposed to emulate the crown of the Lord Krishna. There are 953 small windows covered with a lattice work that allows the breeze to pass through and creates a form of “air conditioning”. The whole structure is only one room deep but the lower floors have small patios or terraces. There is a lot about Hawa Mahal on the web and this is the wikipedia entry.
Jantar Mantar – astronomical instruments
Salads finished we headed for Jantar Mantar. Jantar Mantar is is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments, built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh II, and completed in 1734 CE. It features the world’s largest stone sundial, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which, in my experience means higher entrance costs, longer queues and more tourist prices and rip-offs. The observatory comprises of nineteen instruments for measuring time, foreseeing eclipses, following the placement of significant stars as the earth circles the sun, finding out the declinations of planets, and deciding the heavenly elevations and altitudes. Most of this information is from wikipedia and I won’t repeat it here. It is enough to say that it is very technical and very impressive. The instruments are huge with a view to increasing their accuracy. The Giant Sundial, known as the Samrat Yantra is one of the world’s largest sundials, standing 27 metres tall. Its shadow moves at 1mm per second, or roughly 6 cm every minute. It rained when we were there so this phenomenon was lost on us.
And that was it – we were out of time. Liliana had to get back to the hostel to get her stuff together for the train at 17:00, so we grabbed a tuk-tuk and headed back. All in all a good day. Personally I have to say I was super to be speaking Spanish with Liliana and we both enjoyed the days and each other’s company.
I had to return to Delhi for a dental check-up and I needed more eJuice for my vapouriser. I found a business selling vapourising supplies called Evolve down in a place in SW Delhi called Seket. Whilst looking at the map for how to get there I noticed that it is near to Qtub Minar, so I took the opportunity to visit.
Qutb Minar complex
Qutb Minar is a minaret that forms part of the Qutb complex and is a 73-metre (240 feet) tall tapering tower of five storeys. It is made of red sandstone and marble, The design is thought to have been based on the Minaret of Jam, in western Afghanistan. See the wikipedia entry here.
Qutb Ud-Din-Aibak was the founder of the Delhi Sultanate and it was he that started construction of the Qtub Minar’s first level in around 1192. In 1220, Aibak’s successor and son-in-law Iltutmish completed a further three storeys. A lightning strike in 1369 destroyed the top storey. Firoz Shah Tughlaq replaced the damaged storey, and added one more. The British also added a storey to the building but it was so out of keeping with the original that it was never used and stands alone in a part of the complex.
Qtub Minar is a little hard to get to. You either have to do two sides of a triangle on the metro from where I was in Faridabad, figure out the buses or get an Ola Car. I opted for the latter. Ola are a cheap ride company and anyone visiting India would be well advised to download their app and a similar one called Uber (Android and iPhone). My journey to Seket cost about £1 in air conditioned comfort. I bought my eJuices and headed on to Qtub Minar.
Qtub Minar entrance cost and guide
First thing to know is that it will cost you, the tourist, 500/-INR (just over £6 and nearly 17 times more than the locals pay). Indians enter a lot more cheaply at 30/- INR. It is now a UNESCO site of Historic Interest which has undoubtedly put the prices up as it has in the Alhambra in Spain. I was accosted by a gentleman who claimed to be a guide. I wasn’t really interested as I had read up on Qtub Minar, however he told me that the guide was included in the price of admission and showed me an official looking ID. Whether it was or not was any Photoshopper’s nightmare. The guide certainly knew his stuff, showed me the points of interest for about half an hour and then told me that his “clients” usually tip him $20. Three times the cost of the entrance fee? I didn’t have twenty dollars on me and I wasn’t about to give him $20 for half an hour’s work. I gave him what I had in my wallet at the time, which was 200/-INR. He moaned and made such a scene that I asked him if he wanted me to rob someone to pay him his extortionate demand. He left. Twenty dollars is 1280+ rupees. Bearing in mind that you can eat out substantially for about 70/-INR I thought it excessive for half an hour.
The building of Qtub Minar
Qtub Minar was built after the defeat of the last Hindu kingdom by the Muslim invaders and provocatively there is an inscription over the east gate informing the public that the minaret was built using the materials from 27 destroyed Hindu temples. The Qtub site still has remains of the Hindu temples as you can see in the photos. The tower is decorated with Arabic writing that I was told were passages of the Q’ran. Because of the plundered Hindu remains there are a number of Hindu decorative features inter mixed in this Islamic design, including a frieze of positions from the Kama Sutra which would be in direct opposition to the Q’ran’s rules on the depiction of life.
Diverse opinions surround the creation of the minaret. A few sources claim it was built as a pinnacle of triumph denoting the start of Muslim domainatin of India, others say it served the muezzins who called the steadfast to prayer from the minaret. There are a number of opinions around the naming of the tower with some saying it was named after a Sufi saint, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki while others believe it was named after Aibak himself.
The minaret has suffered two earthquakes, one in 1505 and another in 1803. It also suffered a lightening strike that cost it the upper storey. You used to be able to enter the tower and climb the 379 steps to the top taking in the views from each floor’s balconies. Unfortunately, according to the guide, a child fell to it’s death and the inside of the tower is no longer open to the public.
The rust-free Iron Pilar of Qtub Minar
One of the other features of the complex is the 7m tall rust free iron pilar that has scientists wondering how it was made. This pillar dates from Gupta Empire which reached its peak from approximately 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian subcontinent. This was a time of peace and prosperity and it lead to the Golden Age of India with many innovations in science, art, philosophy, engineering etc. and eventually crystallised into what is now the Hindu culture. (See this wikipedia entry.) There is a belief that that if you can embrace the pillar with both hands while standing with your back to the pillar then your wish gets fulfilled. This possibility is now made difficult due to crash railings around the pilar.
Today Virender and I met up to go the Red Fort and Chandi Chowk. But before that to get my Mac fixed. It didn’t happen. We also tried to sort out the problem with my SIM card. That didn’t happen either. I haven’t mentioned before, but Virender is/was a hardware technician, so, with whom better to go?
Firstly we had breakfast together in Nehru Place. It was superb. He ordered two rice dishes one called Shahi Paneer the other Matar Paneer. It seems that paneer is a cheese and the other part is the way it’s prepared. I liked both but I’d go for the shahi paneer the next time as it had a sweetness to it which I’m guessing is because of the cinnamon. One plate and a pepsi 105/-INR (£1.25 or €1,40) and as usual it was huge. I’m only eating a large breakfast and a medium sized snack these days. And mangos 🙂
We then went to the Authorised Mac Repair which I wrote about in this post. And on to an Airtel dealership to try and resolve the SIM issue. I’ve ended up buying a new phone so at least I’m back in contact with whatsapp.
Chandi Chowk – Old Delhi
All the chores taken care of we headed for Chandi Chowk. Chowk means square or place. Chandi Chowk reminds me of some of the street scenes from the film Bladerunner, with Harrison Ford. It’s madness. It is a heaving mass of humanity and quite overwhelming at first. It also reminded me of a Pink Floyd concert in 1974 at Knebworth Park where there were about 250,000 people. The noise is horrendous, it never stops. And you want to see the electricity supply! Chandi Chowk is actually in an area of Old Delhi where the traders have their shops and emporia. The streets a predominantly divided into types of goods. That’s to say one street will sell plumbing goods and another shoes and so on. The variety is endless. Cameras, spices, bangles, surgical instruments, wedding clothes etc. etc. You name it, and there’s and area for it.
This is a place where you keep a firm grasp on your wallet, backpack and anything else. Not that I had any problems but the possibilities are there and I had been warned by at least two people that opportunistic crime, pick-pocketing and the like are quite common. It is very easy to get lost and I’m really glad I came with someone that spoke hindi. The area is predominantly a Muslim area and we passed a number of mosques. It is also the home to the haveli of Mizra Ghalib (1797-1869) one of the most famous Persian and Urdu poets of all time. A Haveli is a traditional townhouse or mansion in India, usually one with historical and architectural significance. Outside the haveli was a Muslim man sitting on his motor bike with two goats. In the middle of a city of 27 million people?
The traders’ market in Chandi Chowk
We took a spin down the dried fruit and spice market road. The scents that assail your nostrils are quite incredible. Plenty of people were sneezing from the pepper and other spice dust in the air, including Virender. The centre of the street is lined with barrows with sack upon sack of different spices and the traders have their little shops on each side of the road. We didn’t stop there too long as there is an almost unpleasant feeling in the upper nose and back of the throat. I had a desire to see the street of the bangle sellers. I had read about it in a guide book and I’ve always liked the Indian bangles and beads. After a few enquiries we found it. It’s almost beyond imagination that a whole area is dedicated to selling bangles but the colours are wonderful to see. The old man in the photo was kind enough to pose for a photo by his stall. He thought it was very amusing as you can see from the wry grin on his face.
Chandi Chowk slide show
If you want to see these pics a bit bigger, press the show thumbnails link and go through the photos manually. Alternatively, for the much bigger, go to my space in FLICKR
A rickshaw ride later, that was more stationary than moving, we reached the Red Fort. On the way we passed a couple of temples, one Jain temple called Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir which houses a bird hospital and one Sikh temple called Gurudwara Sisganj Sahib which marks the site where the ninth Sikh Guru was beheaded on the orders of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb on 11 November 1675 for refusing to convert to Islam. They are spectacular in their colours and architecture.
Now I have seen the Red Fort in pictures and documentaries but nothing compares to the “red” in real life. The place is immense and I only had a chance to get a quick glimpse as a) it was getting late, b) the light was going and the photo opportunities were disappearing and c) the noise and bustle of this area of Delhi were quite overwhelming me and I was getting tired and longing for a bit of quiet. I mentioned in the post about India Gate that there has been a new president installed. His first address to the public will be from this fort some time in August, so the whole place was being prepared for this event. A bit of a shame as the police and military presence was huge, crash barriers installed and there was a lot of building, repair and electrical work going on. I will revisit it when I return to Delhi to take in the parts I didn’t get to see.
Virender and I had made a date to meet up. He wanted to introduce me to Delhi and take me somewhere special, a surprise he said. It was a surprise! He took me to Akshardham, the Temple dedicated to Swaminarayan. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.
I was told that I should NOT bring my camera as it wouldn’t be allowed into the Akshardham complex. I moaned about that and was laughingly allowed to bring my small video camera that does shoot stills but not of terrific quality (sorry folks). Naturally I regretted that but I’ll have to go back and retake some of these shots with the DSLR. Nevertheless I have some pictures and footage of the day.
I met Virender at the Kailash Colony Metro station, entrance gate 2. It’s on the violet line. He told me that the easiest way round the city was to use the metro and went off and got me a rechargeable metro card with 200/- INR on it (I still have 144/- left). It’s one of the touch cards that I know from the buses in Spain. Nice and easy to use, no getting into difficulties with machines in english and hindi. No struggling with ticket office personnel that don’t speak english (and not every one does). Just place it on the reader and the gate opens and logs you on to the system. The card then gets scanned at your destination when you pass it over the reader and the appropriate amount is deducted.
The centre of Delhi.
We got off at Jarpanth metro station and walked down the road trying to find a tuk-tuk driver that didn’t want tourist fees. Virender explained to me that the first and last carriages of trains are reserved for women – good to know 🙂 and also that there are certain designated seats for older people like me and differently abled people. It is illegal for a younger person not to offer one of these seats to us should they be occupying one. Yay, being old in Delhi pays off! We found a tuk-tuk drier that took us to the Government Buildings.
Today happened to be the day that a the new President Ram Nath Kovind took office so the security that I mentioned in the post on the Lotus Temple was phenomenal.
This is a city of approximately 27 million people (apparently that figure increases by about a third during the day when people from the satellite cities flood into Delhi for work,) so the chances of getting photos with no one in the way is impossible.
Because of the presidential inauguration all vehicles were being redirected, so Virender and I got out and walked up toward the top of the Rajpath and the government buildings until a seriously agitated policeman told us to get off the road as there would be official cars passing. The army personnel were a lot more affable. We stood outside the building that houses one of the ministies while the vehicles passed by and I took the opportunity to take some photos and shoot a bit of video.
We then jumped into the tuk-tuk and headed for India Gate itself some few hundred of yards away where I hopped out and went and did my tourist thing. Virender waited with the tuk-tuk. India Gate is a war memorial to 82,000 Indian soldiers that died in WWI and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. It was designed by Edwin Lutyens, as were a lot of Delhi’s buildings of the time, and in some respects it is like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It straddles the Rajpath that is part of Delhi’s “ceremonial axis”. I’ve marked it on the map. The Government buildings are at one end and the India Gate is at the opposite end.
Ugrasen ki Baoli or Agrasen ki Baoli
The next port of call and a short tuk-tuk ride later was Agrasen ki Baoli. This structure is a stepwell. It is located on Hailey Road near Connaught Place.
There don’t seem to be any historical records to prove who built Agrasen ki Baoli, but it is believed that the legendary King Agrasen had it constructed and it fell into disrepair. In the 14 century the Agrawal community rebuilt it.
The well was fed by monsoon rain that was collected from the surrounding area and funnelled into the well through the arches on the sides. The openings have since been blocked off. People were able to come and fill their containers at the well irrespective of the height of the water by using the steps to reach water level. It is 60 metres long and 15 metres wide and contains 108 steps that are slightly higher than a normal step and is fairly exhausting to climb 🙂
If you’d like to see a short video I made of this part of the day, go here
We then walked to Mandi House to catch the blue line metro, direction Noida City Centre, for Akshardham. Before entering the complex Virender took me off to a spot where you can get a fairly decent shot of the temple complex, (I’ve put that on the map too) and then we headed into the temple grounds. Construction on the Akshardham Temple began on 8 November 2000 and Akshardham was officially opened on 6 November 2005. On entering my back-pack was checked and I was waved on. Then came the security. You check everything! No pen-drives, cigarettes, cameras etc. The whole list can be found on the Akshardham website. There is a form you fill in listing your “prohibited” items including mobile phones (turned off!) and you sign it. Then you queue up to deposit your goods at the “cloak room” and receive a token with the identity number of your left items. Once through there you proceed to security proper where you pass through a metal detector.
Belts, wallets, handbags etc and items that are allowed in are removed and checked. Once through the metal detectors you are frisked by army personnel, and assuming you are clean, allowed in to collect your possessions. I have to mention at this point that there is a dress code. You are not allowed in unless you are wearing a shirt that covers your arms to at least elbows. Trousers or skirts that reach below the knees. If you don’t meet the trouser requirement they will rent you a sarong for 100/- refundable when you return it on exiting. I wore trousers and a long sleeved shirt because that is what is expected and I am a guest here. First time since arriving and I was sweating uncontrollably.
The Ten Gates of Akshradham
I have to say the place is stunning. The carving is beyond my ability to describe it but it is a fabulous example of Hindu art. The photos I have included are from their DOWNLOADS page on their website. The entrance area is the Ten Gates which represent all 8 major points of the compass, N, NE, E, SE… and UP and DOWN, ten in total. The main buildings are either white stone or red stone and every inch is carved and decorated with the various gods or their avatars. With the symbol of the peacock, India’s national bird. With stylised vegetation and religious symbols. It really defies description and has to be seen. It is such a shame cameras aren’t allowed. Then again I’d have filled dozens of memory cards and I wouldn’t have taken in the ambience, so maybe it’s a good thing?
Virender left me to have a look at the gardens while he went and got tickets for the “attractions”. Entrance is free but the displays cost, but the cost is really very little and more than reasonable. He has been to this temple so many times with various couchsurfers, it is his introduction to India to which he takes all visitors. I have to say it was wonderful to be with him. I had my own personal guide and translator and I suspect I was told things about the complex and creed that the normal visitor would never learn.
The first thing that we did was take in the 3D animatronic and film display of Swaminarayan. Now I do have to be honest here, while it was very very good I did get the feeling that conversion was the point. Those that know me know that I’m not good with religions and especially when I feel that I am being lured into conversion. That said, all the values put forward were humanitarian and absolutely sound in behaviour and moral code and I enjoyed it very much indeed.
Nilkanth Varni on IMAX
The next attraction was an IMAX film produced by BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha on the Life of Nilkanth Varni, the name Swaminarayan adopted when he left home at 11 years of age to start a 7 year pilgrimage around India. I found the film fascinating. Unfortunately the print jumped quite a bit but the scenery and imagery were stunning. The film is in hindi but english translation is achieved through headphones. This isn’t really as successful as it sounds as the volume of the original hindi soundtrack tends to bleed through the headphones making it a bit difficult to follow. Nevertheless once you get past that, the film was educational and informative and good to watch. The Akshardham website has more info and I’ve linked it here. I’d watch it again and I have found it online if you choose to google it.
The Water Show.
By now it was dusk and the lights had come on. This is apparently a particularly spiritually important part of the day. I have to say this show blew me away! It is a combination of water effects, lasers, and projected animation an I’ve never seen anything like it. I dare say that there are theme parks with similar but I’ve not been to them. The first part of the show is water and laser. I have seen similar, in fact I went to the Royal Academy’s “Light Fantastic” show in the late 1970s which was stunning in it’s time and left a mark on me.
The second part of the show is a story. It was here that Virender really helped with his translations. The story starts with the Gods of Water, Air, Fire and the Sun who have become complacent and proud of their defeat of the demon hordes.
One day four little boys are playing by a river. They make a flower of the water in the river. The fountains in the pool are used to create the flower. The noise of their play and happiness disturbs the Gods. The Water God arrives on the scene. This is where the animation starts. He berates the boys for disturbing him. The boys talk back to him in the same condescending manner that the God uses and they task him to destroy their flower. Water combined with laser and animation makes the amphitheatre come alive and at the end of the God’s displeasure the water flower is more beautiful than ever.
The second God on the scene is the Fire God. He talks angrily to the boys and they reply in kind and challenge him to destroy their flower. The flower remains and again even more beautiful than before. The God of Air comes next and jokingly tries to wheedle the boys who joke back and again the challenge is raised with the expected result. The Sun God then arrives and… well you have the drift by now. The Gods, unable to understand what is going on appeal to Lord Indra who intercedes on the demi-gods behalf with the Creator. The Creator tells them that this is a punishment for being prideful and the display ends.
It was absolutely fantastic. I can’t begin to say how much I enjoyed it, and to me, it was the best part of the already brilliant day.
A boat ride to the past at Akshardham
But we weren’t over yet. The last spectacle was a “boat ride” through the Akshradaham’s view of ancient India’s past. Make sure to tell the guide you are english speaking. You may have to wait a short while for the twenty or so seater boat to be filled, you are then whisked away on an “underground” tour of India’s ancient past. It is super interesting but the boat goes too fast to process all the facts being thrown at you. I will have to do some research on this and maybe put up a post at a later date when I have all the facts.
The Aksardham Temple
I took off my shoes and went into the temple proper. The decoration is exquisite. Again every inch is covered and defies description. Now I have seen some beautiful decoration in my time, after all it was my job, but I have never seen anything quite like this! I’ve seen the Alhambra in Granada which is so beautiful and I’ve seen the little known Watt’s Chapel and I’ve seen the Mezquita de Córdoba. But nothing I’ve seen in my 60 years (so far) compared to this. It is quite literally a labour of love sculpted from what looks to be carrera marble. Yes I found some faults. Slight cuts where there shouldn’t be and faults in the marble itself that had been filled. But the scale and depth of this masterpiece defies imagination.
It is a must see if you are in Delhi.
Other beautiful places I have seen.
1st) The Alhambra, 2nd) Watts Chapel, 3rd) Mezquita de Córdoba.Watts Chapel photo by Nick Garrod on Flickr
Today I decided to take myself off to the Lotus Temple. I had seen it on the map and it’s not far away. It had to be done at some point. Having not been able to eat last night, due to the surgery I again ordered in. Scrambled eggs have never tasted so good. I had to pass on the tea though because I’m not allowed anything hot at the moment. I even had to wait, salivating, for the eggs to cool.
For those of you that have looked at the map, the temple is left out of the door of the hotel, up to the end of the block. Turn right for the length of the park I was in the other day, with the squirrels. Left again and keep going. I thought I could approach it through the park. I couldn’t. So I ended up walking right round the temple before I found the gate.
I was taking a couple of pictures of some of the massive buildings near Nehru Place (the IT hub of Delhi and a shopping centre), when these three young lads decided to try and talk to me. They were more interested in the cost of the camera than me 🙂 I asked them if I could take their picture and the tall fellow on the left was not keen but his buddies persuaded him. He doesn’t look to happy about it. Figuring that this may have developed into a “security” issue, I headed off into the park.
Astha Kunj Park
Eventually I circumnavigated the park, sweating profusely, to the entrance to the temple. Security in Delhi is tight! Everywhere has metal detectors and security men and the Lotus Temple was no different. I was searched and informed that I could use my DSLR camera but not the video camera and that no photos were to be taken inside. Fair enough – those are the rules. Unlucky my DSLR is that old, all the new ones are able to shoot video too, who would have known?
The Lotus Temple – Bahá’í House of Worship
The Lotus Temple is a Bahá’í house of worship. It’s called the Lotus Temple for obvious reasons. Building was completed in 1986 and CNN claimed in a report that it’s the most visited building in the world, apparently even more visitors than the famous Taj Mahal. According to the Indian government over 100 million people have visited since its inauguration. I heard spanish spoken for the first time here by a group of three people more or less my age.
It was designed by the Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba and uses 500k watts of electricity annually of which 120kw is generated by solar panels. It’s the first temple in Delhi to use solar power. The temple has also won numerous awards for its design, and not surprisingly.
Bahá’í houses of worship
Bahá’í houses of worship are open to any and all creeds, irrespective of gender or other distinctions. There are certain restrictions. You can sing in there but you can’t play instruments. No fundraising is allowed. You can read from any scripture but the reading of non-scripture is forbidden. There is no set pattern of worship but rituals are not allowed. The Bahá’í scriptures say that there must not be any statues, pulpits or images displayed and that all their temples have to have 9 sides. The building is made of 27 marble covered, free standing petals, arranged in 3s making the obligatory 9 sides. It was a shame I couldn’t take photos inside as the space was huge, clean and fairly awe inspiring. The removal of shoes is necessary to enter and I could have taken a bag to carry them but opted for my day-pack. I have to say that it was a great relief to have the shoes and socks off and the floor was cool and welcoming.