Balmy Kerela

Arriving in Kochi we hail an old Ambassador taxi and soon we’re bumping along the back streets to our two day stay in Fort Cochin at Saj home  a lovely homestay just a few minutes walk from the Chinese Fishing nets.

The nets are a bit of a tourist and photographers hot spot! Here’s Neil getting in on the action . . .

During our stay we arranged a seven hour back water cruise – organised by the lovely owners of Sajhome.

As we lazed around and took in the scenery, the hard working ferry man kept on with his back breaking labour!!

Yes this is the only method of power for the converted rice barge we were in!

Agra via Ranthambore

So after spending a fantastic couple of days in Jaipur at the lovely Dera Rawatsar hotel  we were heading off in the car again to Ranthambore national park in search of the almost mythical Indian Tiger!!

We stayed overnight at the Hotel Ankur Resort hotelankurresort.com which is a basic but clean place to rest your head.

Sadly I was by now in full grip of hideous chest infection and cold picked up in Jodphur and also a rather gripey stomach so not a happy combination!!

Needless to say we didn’t see any tigers – but we did spot a leopard in the distance, thrilling if somewhat small . . .

But then we were heading to the highlight of my North Indian odyssey, Agra and the TAJ MAHAL!!

After a pleasant night at the Howard Park Plaza hotel we were ready and raring to go. Only to find the fog has descended yet again!!

Determined, we visited the Agra Fort first and waited for the fog to burn off.

P1060403

The fort is a UNESCO world heritage site and was built by the Mughals.

P1060423 The deep red stone work contrasts with the delicate white decorative features.

P1060426

Then it’s off to the main event! There’s so much said about the Taj Mahal, so many superlatives, so many poetic descriptions, and often, things are never as good as you hope they’ll be. But this was.

From the minute you board the electric bus to be taken to the gateway (no polluting vehicles are allowed within the vicinity of the Taj) there is a palpable sense of excitement.

Through the security gates, where any food, drink (and as my other half discovered to his horror tiny teddy bears) are confiscated, to the epic gate way.

168601_501088677352_4981176_n

Then we were there, admittedly it was still foggy to begin with . . . But it was still amazing!!!!!! It is hard to put into words how it feels to be stood in front of one of the most iconic buildings in the world.

Then the fog cleared and there it was in all its glory.

P1060542 P1060526 P1060524

The striking yet simple decoration of this stunning mausoleum stands out against the delicate blue of the sky.

P1060538

Then we were back to Delhi, via endless road blocks and cross country diversions, and so ended our North Indian leg of the journey.

Hopping on a plane we were headed for Kerela. From 8 degrees to 32 in a four hour plane journey . .

The Pink City Jaipur (AKA the slightly black, grimy city!!)

So we finally arrive in Jaipur,  I am eager to spot the Palace of the Winds and visit the Amer fort, but the weather has turned against us again!Thick fog rolls in and dismal greyness descends. Plus a local dignatory has passed away meaning pretty much every where is closed!

But later on it gets brighter and we visit the city palace complete with its beautiful ornate Peacock gate.

.
Here’s the guard outside another ornate one.
There’s yet more pics of food too!

Pushkar, colourful camels and the pink City Jaipur

So we rolled onwards to Jaipur via Pushkar, home of the legendary camel fairs and Ajmer. No fair on in Pushkar sadly when we were there, but we still spotted a few brightly coloured specimens!!!

Pushkar means Blue Lotus in Sanskrit and is a sacred town for Hindus, situated 11 kms to the North-West of Ajmer.

Hindus believe that the gods released a swan with a lotus in its beak and let it fall on earth where Brahma would perform a grand yagna.The place where the lotus fell was called Pushkar.

Delicate blue temples line the hillsides down the the ghats where devotees bathe, watched by the cheeky monkeys that line the streets and swing from every house.

Cheeky monky!!
There are also fantastic, colourful markets to be seen (you may have spotted a favourite photographic theme of mine – piles of produce!!)

After getting snap happy with the food we were off again – Jaipur here we come!!!

The Blue City Jodphur, via Ranakpur

On route to Jodphur we visited Ranakpur, an ornately carved Jain temple. Over 1444 marble pillars, carved in exquisite detail, support the temple. The pillars are all differently carved and no two pillars are the same.

Then onwards we trundled, me, Neil and our ever cheerful driver. Towards Jodphur the blue city and the epic Mehrangarh Fort that overlooks the city.

The fort is situated 400 feet (122 m) above the city and is enclosed by imposing thick walls. Here’s the view of the city sprawling below.

In the centre of Jodphur is the Clock Tower and Sardar Market. A bustling, polluted, frenetic place full of sprawling alleyways and market stalls piled high with every possible item.

Flattening yourself against the wall in order to avoid being run over by tuc tucs is inevitable, being curiously stared at by shoppers is another.

Neil braved the mobile crisp cart, where the seller digs his scoop into a mountain of crisps, pops them in newspaper and shakes some spices over them. Here he is serving them up!

Here’s just a taste of the colours and sights of the markets. They really are a must to get a real flavour of the way people go about their everyday lives. It’s noisy and very polluted though, I got a chest infection while here, not very nice!!

While in Jodhpur we spent New Years day on a trek into the Thar desert. Here we met members of the Bishnoi tribe, visited a pottery yard and spent time with a local family. Here’s some of the adorable kids at the potters yard.

Here’s one of the tribal elders taking his camels out for the day!

All in all another fantastic experience, but time moves onward and we had to be off to our next destination Jaipur via Pushkar/Ajmer!!!

India – Cross country car journey and beautiful Udiapur

So off we headed on the epic car journey from Delhi to Udiapur, stopping overnight in Jaipur where we would return to later.

We finally arrived, 26 hours later, just in time for sunset over the lake City of Udiapur.

Throwing our stuff into our gorgeous room at the Hibiscus guest house ( a stones throw from the beautiful lake views of the city palace and magnificent lake palace) we headed out to take some snaps of the setting sun.

It truly is an incredible place. Bustling, compact, crazy. We only wished we could stay longer. As the sun shed its last glowing golden light over the serene city place we could relax for the first time!!!

Udiapur is full of the most amazing art work covering every wall, while sacred cows meander the streets and ancient motorbikes lean against every building.

Here I am with the lake palace in the distance and some nosy locals checking us out!! Even though the journey to get here was hair raising, full of honking horns, thick fog and horrific roadworks, it was worth every minute.

We have the most AMAZING peanut curry on the roof of our lovely accommodation, lazing in cushion filled paradise – absolutely stunning, we had the most amazing stay.

The second day started off with a whistle stop tour of the gorgeous Jain temple in the town centre and a browse around the ornate lake palace before back in the car and on route to Jodphur, the blue city!!!

Incredible India – Delhi continued

Here’s even more colourful market traders in Old Delhi

Carrying on our second day in Dehli we headed to India Gate, the memorial which commemorates the 90,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who lost their lives while fighting for the British Raj in World War 1.

Clustered around the monument were people selling all sorts of things from flutes to ice creams, hot nuts to fluffy pom poms!

I loved the battered old tuc tucs they used as ice cream vans!

Check out the soles of my feet caked with the Delhi mud! Rather gross.

We were now meant to continue our journey across Rajasthan via an over night train to Udiapur taking 12 hours.

Alas this was not to be due to ongoing protests. People had ripped up train lines and were sleeping on the railway tracks. So became the epic 26 hour car journey cross country. . . .

Incredible India – Delhi

While I am on the topic of travel, I was fortunate enough to do some travelling in India earlier this year.

For my first ever experience of this country I decided to set us a punishing itinerary covering a huge swathe of Rajasthan then dipping into Kerela.

Flying into Delhi in December, we were head first into one of the wettest, coldest months they’d had for a few years – typical!

So with rain macks donned we were shown the frentic sights of  Delhi courtesy of a tour arranged by Delhi Magic – a fantastic company who I can’t recommend enough.

From the serene yet damp surroundings of Humayans Tomb to the packed streets of Old Delhi, we were literally head first into a maze of colours, smells and sensations that were completely bewildering, frustrating at times but always incredible.

Rickety transport!!

Tasty food at Pindis!

On our second day our assured little guide took us on the metro, whizzed us round temples and mosques. We encountered lots of interesting characters including this gentleman taking it easy!

Then we ordered  our first ever proper Indian Thali at Haldiram’s in Delhi. Very tasty!! (Apart from the dessert which was so perfumed it was like eating toilet cleaner!! – Not to my taste)

Next up were the amazing markets, full of hustle and bustle, food and socialising, take a look at some of the street food – fab!