Rajasthan part 1

We spent 2 weeks in Rajasthan so we’ve split the tour of the state into 2 parts, part 1 is Agra, Jaipur and Pushkar.

We started off in Agra, home of probably the most famous Indian temple; the Taj Mahal. On arrival we visited a park that sits behind the Taj to see the “river side” as the sun went down a small crowd gathered to watch the ant-like people swarm in and out of the domes of the temple. The next morning it was our turn to be the ants, we woke up at 5.30am as we had be told that sunrise was the best time to see the Taj Mahal and it did not disappoint. There were less crowds, but still more than we expected, lots of short queues to get the Instagram-worthy shots!7589954208_IMG_1022

Next up was Jaipur, a half-day drive from Agra. We went to the Monkey temple, which is both a shrine to the Hindu Monkey God and overrun with real monkeys, we never got to the bottom of which came first! From here it was a short climb up a hill to the Sunshine temple which has an amazing panoramic view of Jaipur.

 

Top tip: keep small notes with you in the temples because if you are blessed you will need to give a “donation”, which are not optional and you will be advised if you don’t give enough! We were blessed about 5 times before realising you can politely decline before you’re out of pocket about 1000 rupees!

 

The next day in Jaipur we went into the old part which gives the pink city its nick name. The beautiful art deco buildings are a pale terracotta colour. We visited the Jantar Mantar where Ella could geek-out over the 18th century star constellation, astrology and time measuring apparatus (they have the largest sun dial in the world which could measure the time to a 6second accuracy, in the 1700s… pretty impressive!) We are trying to be positive tourists so we accepted the offer of a local guide in order to put money into the community, however this was a disaster as he failed to tell us anything, and wondered aimlessly around the grounds, so we gave him a small tip and carried on on our own.

 

No hurry, No worry!

The next place we moved to was Pushkar, this was the first city we had been to where there were a noticeable number of non-Indian tourists. Pushkar is a hippie paradise, people live by the phrase a tea stall holder said to us: “no hurry, no worry”. The town is tiny, we could walk from one side to the other in half an hour. There is a bazaar over 1km long full of stalls selling patchwork trousers and jewellery like that you’d find on a stall in Camden. The cafes mainly serve pizza and special lassi but we managed to find an incredible curry house (Raju, Main Bazaar) which may*** be the best curry we’ve had in India.

***The jury’s still out, we don’t want to commit!

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There is a holy lake in the centre of Pushkar which legend claims was a petal of a lotus flower placed down by a god in the middle of the desert. People from all faiths make the pilgrimage to bathe in it. For such a small town there are a lot of temples (500 or so), we visited during a festival where the statues of the gods from each temple were taken from their home and down to bathe in the holy lake, this was partnered with a lot of singing, dancing and music through the tiny streets. There are also temples on the hills surrounding the town; we opted to walked up to Savitri Mata temple (we love a steep hike apparently!) but there’s a cable cart going up and down the hill if you wish. The views are breathtaking from the top. You can see why the lotus flower legend was born as there is nothing but desert for miles around this tiny lake.

 

Love Isaac & Ella xxx

Treacherous Trekking (& a proposal!)

Whilst we were in Kashmir we went on a trek into the mountains to see one of the Great Alpine Lakes. We set off to the Naranag base camp with another guy, Ben, who had also been staying on the houseboat. We had signed up for a 3 day trek but this really turned out to be: 1 day small walk and set up camp, 2nd day 34km huge climb up the vertical side of a mountain (increased elevation of around 1200m) and back down, last day pack up and walk to base camp!

We were guided by Arfaz and Israd, a young man and teenager from the village. We set up camp on the first day near the river, which Isaac and Ben swam in; it was icy cold as the water flowing straight was from the glaciers at the top of the mountains. In the evening we ate the most delicious curry, we were stunned at how good it was seeing as there was just 1 gas stove in the middle of nowhere, we had fresh trout from the river as well.

One thing we haven’t mentioned so far is the amount of people who we have met who want photos of/with us, being asked “selfie?” is quite common in Asian countries but nothing quite compared to Naranag. We were stared at, a lot, and we were told that for quite a few people we were the first white Europeans they had ever seen, except on TV.

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One of the photo shoot pit-stops

We set off on day 2, not really knowing what we had let ourselves in for. The first 3 hours of the trek were the steepest and most difficult, when we reached a tiny hut which sold tea and snacks, we filled up on sugary chai and were able to fill our bottles with fresh water straight from the mountain. The incline eased off a little after that but we still had a long way to go!

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Scary dog at an Indian military base

After another 4 hours walk, and a brief encounter with the Indian military (and their adorable puppies), we reached the stunning Gangabal Lake. The view of the glacier and of The Indian Himalayas was breathtaking. Isaac asked the guide to take a photo of us and as we were posing he got down on one knee!!!

Top tip: if you want someone to secretly take a photo of you proposing to your girlfriend in the mountains, first ensure they know how to use a camera (!)

So no photo evidence of the moment was captured, but it was incredible, and we will 100% remember that moment forever.

After the high of the proposal wore off, reality hit and we realised we had the return half to do and only 3 and half hours until nightfall. The guide did not seem too concerned about this at any point, but then again there’s a very relaxed atmosphere in Kashmir, weed grows freely at the side of the road and people don’t seem too stressed about anything!

Down was a lot quicker than up, but a lot more terrifying. As it got to about 7pm it was pretty much pitch black, luckily Isaac’s mum Jane had insisted we pack the brightest torch known to man, which I think we can safely say saved our lives! Once we eventually made it down (13 hours after leaving camp) we were treated to another amazing curry and quickly fell asleep like babies.

Ella & Isaac xxx

Mountains and Military in Kashmir…

We flew into the tiny Srinagar airport from Delhi, the flight was ok for me but Isaac was being pretty horrifically sick at this point… As we drove through the town we both noticed the heavy military presence, along the road and in empty building sites. The region has had a turbulent political past, as it has been the centre of a territorial dispute between India, Pakistan and China for many years. The peace movement has meant that the situation has been improving since 2004, but you can clearly see the impact on the people and towns. Most of the army in the streets looked bored and were playing games or yawning but this didn’t really distract from the fact they had military grade rifles strapped to them.

We didn’t know what to expect of Kashmir (Our £2 charity shop Rough Guide to India is 2001 edition, so only gives one paragraph on the region confirming that it was not accessible to tourists at that time). But it is incredibly stunning, the snow-peaked mountains make you feel like you’re in Switzerland and you could be in Venice lying on a Shikara long boat on the lakes.

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We stayed on a 19th Century houseboat on Nageem lake, a throw back to British colonial rule, the entire thing was made of engraved wood. We were looked after by a Kashmiri family, and drank SO MUCH Kashmiri tea (which contains cardamom, cinnamon & saffron). We were sent off with a huge bag of it to take on our travels. Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in India and a call to prayer can be heard 5 times a day echoing around the lake.

Top tip: data in India is ridiculously cheap 400 rupees (~£4.50) can get you a month SIM with 1.5GB of data per day, but you’ll need a different package to get coverage in the northern states, which we didn’t do, so were pretty cut off!

We really think Kashmir is beautiful. Things are a bit pricier than the South as it is not well connected by train like elsewhere in India, which meant we enjoyed a dusty, bumpy 10 hour jeep ride to the nearest train station in Jammu when we left!

Love Isaac & Ella xxx

Delightful Delhi?

After a sleepy 8 hour flight from London, and a quick panic that our luggage was missing (but turned out we were at the carousel for the other Heathrow flight) we ventured into the heat and humidity of Delhi.

Ella had read up about the Airport line which was new, fast and cheap (~68p) so we went down towards the air conditioned metro. So far, so good. We only had to make the 7 minute walk from the New Delhi train station to our hostel. Not so easy. This area is renowned for touts and scammers and we didn’t believe how many there would be, everyone telling us stories that our side of Delhi was shut off by police, it was flooded, the bridge was closed, and so on. After a lot of hassle and usage of our UK data we made it across the bridge into the Main Bazaar and to the comfort of our hostel, which bizarrely came with a three person sized double bed.

The next few days we had a great time exploring the roof top bars, where beer is served in tea cups, and a day tour with an eccentric rickshaw driver. I’m sure we won’t be the last to say driving in Delhi (and a lot of India) is crazy by western standards; “good brakes, good horn, good luck!” as one of our taxi drivers told us.

“Good brakes, Good horn, Good luck!”

Delhi is completely busy, with a population of 20 million, and we’re sure parts are definitely delightful, but for us 2 nights was enough and we booked a flight out to the mountains in Kashmir.

Top tip: if it’s your first time in India get a prebooked taxi from the airport, then get out to explore once you’ve dropped the bags that scream out TOURIST.

Ella & Isaac xxxx