Updated: Apr 1, 2018

Jaipur & New Delhi

Jaipur was a city I had hopes for, largely due to other people on my trip and anecdotes exclaiming great shopping which I enjoy...! The first thing that you notice from entering the city is all the terracotta of the old city walls. Proclaimed the ‘pink city’, after they proceeded to paint the entire city pink pending Prince Albert's visit and, the pink was claimed to be Queen Victoria's favourite colour and also the colour of hospitality. Over time this settled for terracotta so all new buildings had to abide by the standard. It makes for a beautiful facade across the inner city. When we arrived in Jaipur we headed straight to the amber fort which was founded and built by the emperor of Jaipur city from the 16th century to 18th century.

The fort is located in a steep hill, which trials you as you weave up and up the ascent in the sun not sure of the end point but assuming the entrance not too far ahead. As you reach the entrance you get an appreciate for how high you have climbed and you get a view of the surroundings. The fort is located a bit outside Jaipur so the view isn't directly on the main city.

The subsequent tour guides you into various buildings on the site used by the ruling family for all different activities. Some of these were so impressive, from the detailed sculptures of the capitals of columns, to the painting detail still vibrant today. I was in awe and could have spent a number of hours here. Again a lot of the architecture is inspired by Arabic architecture so you see these influences throughout.

After this tour we headed to the textile area of town to see some block printing done and we spend a longgggg time in the show rooms, the silks, embroidery and block was amazing we all bought a few things and one of the girls had some dresses made. Before long we were back at the hotel but no rest for the wicked we had a Bollywood dance class to attend. This was a comical experience largely due to the fact we were in the hotel lobby dancing with a teacher who I'm pretty sure was not a dancer teacher and made the routine up as he went along. Needless to say it entertained our group and I have some key moves to take with me 👍

We had another day in Jaipur which mainly was spent shopping, but we did take the opportunity to head to the Observatory which is well worth a visit for all the shapes alone. We also got a palm reading down which was really interesting.

After the visit we headed to the main bazaar area in the inner city but I was disappointed with the quality of stuff and everything was the same in all shops. We did go to a specialised gemstone shop but again I didn't rate the quality of silver which was what I sought.

Terracotta facades

Nevertheless I used the silver hunt as a food crawl and had lots of samosas, lassis and ice creams along the way before meeting the others at the cinema for a Bollywood movie. We had been told to experience a movie in India as it's meant to be a noisy affair. Regardless of this the movie we chose to see provided an education to us all especially the guys in the group. Padman is a true story film about a man from a small rural village in India who brought the sanitary pad to rural women in India. After seeing the plight of the women in his life during their menstruation, which in traditional India meant women had to sleep outside, eat separate to their family, not touch any one, and use a dirty cloth, he decided to do something about this. After realising the price of sanitary pads he invented a low cost machine to create them and then essentially franchised these machines to women in different villages to produce them themselves providing a small income for them. He won lots of activist awards and UN accreditation etc.. but as you see in the movie even discussing periods was taboo and he was ostracised and expelled from his village. It was a really interesting movie and certainly surprised the boys who thought it was going to be about iPads!

New Delhi

The next day we headed to capital of India, New Delhi. Yet again we set off on an early train, taking only 4 hours from Jaipur. When we arrived we headed straight out on a sightseeing tour of the city. New Delhi is intense to say the least. You are bombarded with the noise, the smells, the pollution and the staring mainly from men! I have travelled many many places before, included a lot on my own but my experience in New Delhi was breaching on awkward, I was very glad to be in male company even thought I am sure I was of no harm. Overall I was feeling the strain of constantly being segregated as a women whether it's on the metro carriages, specific seats just for women or separate queues for men and women it all kind of came to a head in Delhi. That's not to say we didn't see some great things. After fuelling up with a South Indian dosa again we explored a Sikh temple which was really fascinating. They are a separate religion to Buddhism or Hinduism and have a strong culture towards community. There was a large dinning hall next to the temple where volunteers cook 3 meals a day 7 days a week to whomever comes in, no matter what your class or caste. We had a quick go at rolling some chapatis and frying them which was fun, I would have loved to have volunteered a full afternoon. After this we visited Jamal masjid mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in India able to host up to 20,000 practitioners. It was really nice and peaceful although I had to pose for a lot of photos with people's children. You have to pay to bring a camera and the leave your shoes outside, but it's small change. They also give you a long jacket/dress for modesty.

A trip to India wouldn't be complete without some Indian spices, so we headed to the main spice street to satisfy this craving. Be careful though when you go into the chilli market it is a fierce battle of the sense, all of us were coughing and spluttering for about 10mins but if you want good chills they are the place to go.

That evening we thought we would relax before dinner as we hadn't done much of this, but unbeknownst to us the boys had planned a surprise for us. We were due to miss the holi festival of colour by a day so they arranged for us to use the rooftop of the hotel and have our own festival including the drone. This was a lot of fun but if you are ever in holi please remember to close your mouth and eyes when in a paint storm, I suffered on both occasions. Sadly I had to sacrifice a new white top but hey it was worth it. I am now 5 days on and I still have a red tint in my hair (I swear I have washed my hair numerous times) which is kind of cool so many I should get red pink highlights someday....!

India you were intense, beautiful, inspiring, delicious, mad, hectic, and bloody brilliant. I only, dipped my toe into India. I still have yet to explore the Himalayas in the north, the entire south and west, and the yoga delights of Rishikesh. I know with certainty I will be back, and in the meantime I will take some India home with me in all my cooking and my new bedsheet!


Agra & Tordi

We left Varanasi on an overnight sleeper train to Agra the home of the Taj Mahal. Our train was to be 12 hours but it wouldn't be a proper experience without a delay which was 6 hours for us, so after 18hours on a stuffy train we were pretty happy to get off it. If you are doing a sleeper train it can be hard getting seats together but make sure you are there early as there is a rush to get luggage stowed in your area, some people bring the kitchen sink with them so space can be minimal.

One saving grace was peaking a sight of the Taj from the train window. It gave us all goosebumps as we nerded out on what we would witness the following day. Before that though we had Agra to explore so we freshened up and headed out for a bite to eat. We went traditional and headed to a South Indian restaurant. Apparently South Indian food is dryer than north India which is more curry based. Needless to say you need a translator for the menu or else the fate is in the gods. One of the most prominent item on the menu were Dosa. These are rice paper wraps with curried potatoes, onion, garlic in the middle, it was yum. We have the other dips as well, pickle, coconut yoghurt, and chilli. It was so tasty I'm going to try make back in the uk. I was persuaded to order the paper dosa which I think is a parody to dosas see photo, most are a normal size!

After lunch we headed to the Agra fort which was absolutely amazing. This fort was the main residence of the mogal empire in the 1600’s used as a walled city when Agra was the then capital of India. The terracotta vibrancy sends an energy that almost burns you, especially in the heat. As you weave through the high gates and entrance you walk along a rough cobbled path to the main buildings.

During our visit we only cover 1/4 of the plot as some of the fort is still used by the Indian army today. It is massive. We explored various buildings used by the families, the wives, mistresses and emperor. They shifted between terracotta buildings to marble all with overwhelming detail. There are also a number of optical illusions which make it a lot of fun to play in! We got a good view of the Taj here also.

After the fort we split up, one group headed to a garden area at the back of the Taj to watch the sun set on it, while myself and two others headed to nerd out at a building which is known as the Baby Taj. Named so as it inspired the Taj Mahal. I was built by the Mogal empire in 1622 in just 6 years which is astonishing. The building is a tomb and a number of outbuildings which proportionally synchronise the tomb in the centre. While the outer buildings are impressive in themselves it is only as you approach the centre of the site to the tomb you become awestruck. The structure is built from marble but is encrusted with inlays of other materials like onyx and topaz.

We really enjoyed this and learning the Mogal story about its creation. It was close to being one f the highlights of the trip and a wonderful preamble to the main event. We ate street food this night which was interesting... I had a potato curry pot and then a type of tomato Dahl with fried bread. Most food in India is fried which can be waring.

We headed home to prep for the visit we had all been waiting for - the Taj Mahal

Visiting the Taj Mahal is popular, so you need to go early! We wanted to be one of the first people there. They open the doors 30 mins before sunrise so we headed out 1hr pre sunrise, and joined a queue of about 50 people. By the time we were entering, the queue behind us was massive. You can't really take many things into the grounds and it's quicker if you don't have a big bag to search, I just brought a camera as they give you a bottle of water with your ticket. It's quite funny as you go through there's a mad rush to get there, no one looks at any of the other bindings or the entrance gates which are lovely too. We all were giddy with excitement and trying to wake up our faces to get our money shot photos! Turned the bend under the entrance we see the Taj is the dusky fog - wow - got to get a closer look at this! We headed to the main platform to take our photos along with the world and its uncle, but we got some great shots. Funnily there were a number of tourists at a particular bench they thought was the princess Diana bench however apparently it is the one behind but for some reason everyone always thinks it's the other one! There was certainly a lot of fanfare around it. We each took just over an hour to explore the grounds and go into the Taj. We went into the Taj which is a bit of a queue and a walk around the tomb while it isn't as impressive as the exterior I still found myself almost in tears, overwhelmed by the beauty, the scale and the story.

The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (reigned from 1628 to 1658), to house the tomb of his favourite wife. In today's money would have cost over $800m!!

I could have stayed all day here but alas we were on the road again to a village called Tordi 7 hr drive away.

Tordi Who knew I would one day stay in a palace! Well tonight was the night, we rock up to a small village at sundown after learning all about the caste system on the ride down. We were to be guests in the old disused palace of Tordi! The white building had lots of twists and turns up to the best roof terrace which I sneaked some yoga on the following morning.

We went to bed early as yet again we wanted to be up for sunrise so at 5.30 we all left to hike up to the fort at the hillside of the town. Unfortunately it was a cloudy morning so not he best sunrise but nice to have chai masala and biscuits from the top. After playing with the drone we headed back down and did a village walk it learn more about the caste and history of the people who live in Tordi. Historically Tordi had been a village home to untouchables which isn't really on a caste system, they were deemed unhealthy, unhygienic so other people would avoid them. This perception came through the work they would do which no one else in society would do such as cleaning. They were ostracised in society making it very difficult for them to make a living. As we walked through the village we saw signs on some of the houses which indicates that the family received a government grant to build a bathroom in the front of the house, something which is not common in the society. More and more the government is trying to provide these grants to those most in need. We also met a potter and some of us had a go with limited success! Before long it was time to get going again to the much awaited Jaipur!

Updated: Apr 3, 2018

Varanasi, India

My 30th travelling destination was fated to be India. A country and culture I have been fascinated with for a number of years largely brought about through my life in the UK working with a number of Indians and gaining exposure to amazing Indian food even if the less authentic kind. Not to mention my love for yoga founded in this beautiful place.

My extensive travels through Asia, south east Asia and Africa meant I didn't get much of a culture shock per say but I did get a battle of the senses. Everything in India is intense, the noise, the cows, the smells both of food, spices but also dirt and litter. I chose a tour which covered off Nepal, and India so these posts explore the India leg.

Varanasi The first stop across from Nepal was the famous town of Varanasi which is known for the Ganges. The river Ganges is an almost mythical creature in india, it is where they bathe, wash, clean, pray and also cremate which was a new one for me. We were fortunate to get to do an evening boat ride the day we arrived which was such a special experience. We all lit small candles in banana leaf baskets filled with magnolia flowers and dropped them in the river from dust to dark. This is a praying practice and in the darkness the river is lit by the hundreds of candle lights and orange of the magnolia.

We then cruised to witness a evening prayer ceremony on the river bank which consisted of 5 platforms each occupied by a priest performing a ritual or what seems as a synchronised dance between the 5 of them. There is someone on the loudspeakers reciting the prayers, instruments sounding all across a backdrop of hundreds of boats jammed together to watch the spectacle and hundreds of people worshiping on the river banks. The boats were so tightly packed together traders can easily jump between the boats selling more candles or chai masala which we had by now become well acquainted with.

That evening we went local yet European to have what was deemed the best apple pie. We had pizza and pie which was good but it had nothing on my granny's apple pie! We did a sunrise boat cruise as well while in Varanasi, this was amazing. We were lucky with a beautiful sunrise and the peacefulness of the river was a great experience.

You get to experience a lot about Varanasi from the river bank which you can walk along for a good hour or two. This is a great people watching spot to see holy men, people bathing , or families preparing bodies for cremations in the Ganges.

In hinduism the Ganges is worshiped as the god Ganga and one of the most sacred rivers to Hindus. The are lots of different myths regarding which goddess brought it into creation but needless to say Varanasi is deemed a sacred city because of it. It is a humbling and slightly shocking experience weaving through the river bank promenade observing thick black smoke from a funeral pyre you know isn't a rubbish fire. The idea of this public display of cremation is completely different to the private and unspoken practice in traditional western cultures. It was difficult to attribute an emotion to this observation, whether it was humbling to experience someone's return to ash, or if it was disturbing to see deconstruction of man. In any case it makes you face your own mortality and spiritual practices which is a good self reflection for time to time.

Away from the river bank, Varanasi is a typical mad city. It is noisy, busy, and smelly, but so massively vibrant you cannot but smile. We dived into the market places for a look around. We went to a silk shop to learn about the fabrics and then took a trip to get a lassi (yoghurt milkshake served in terrocata pots) and a Somosa (common curried potato and onion pastry)

To get some more Buddha culture some of us headed to an archeological site, Sarnath, where it is believed Buddha conducted his first sermon. This place was a big surprise for me as I had no idea what to expect. The ruins are from the 3rd century when emperor Ashoka built a number of stupas and monasteries, most are in ruins about 2 feet high but one really large stupa (hollow structure) it is said it marks the spot where Buddha conducted his sermon. There is a museum on site as well which is interesting with lots of ancient cravings and sculptures. Both cheap as chips, we got a rickshaw from Varanasi there and it didn't take too long.

We all wanted a bit more time in Varanasi to hang around, there are some nice cafes to chill in we had breakfast in a tiny apartment style cafe with lots of nooks and crannies, and I'd say it's one of many in the city. As it is such a spiritual place it brings like minded individuals aka. the hippes :)