Monday, January 31, 2011

Wrapping India Up



19 to 21 January, 2011 – Mumbai, India

First, a couple of photos that should have been in the last blog entry, but missed because I wrote it early ;)

Just Before Sunset
Just Before Sunset
During beer o'clock, from our hut verandah, Palolem Beach.


Just After Sunrise
Just After Sunrise
During breakfast, from our hut verandah, Palolem Beach.


Two nights in Mumbai before our flight. One full day, for which we had left a trip to Elephanta Island for. The island is 9 kilometres from Mumbai by frequent ferry. It was nice to have a focus for the last day. The island has a number of caves, which were turned in to temples many centuries ago with some impressive carvings. This, along with plenty of opportunities to spend money on souveniers, watch monkeys play, watch monkeys steal, eating, drinking, and suddenly our day was full. In the evening, we went out for a bit of a nicer dinner, and our final Indian curries, with our couch-surfing host Helene.

Thirsty Monkey
Thirsty Monkey
The monkeys on Elephanta Island steal food and drink from anybody who doesn't hold on to it well enough. They then sit close by and taunt the victim by consuming their ill-gotten goods with much gusto and little respect.


Cave Temple, Elephanta Island
Cave Temple, Elephanta Island
Some of the centuries old carvings in the cave temples on Elephanta Island, not far from Mumbai.


Shiva Bust, Elephanta Island
Shiva Bust, Elephanta Island
A large and impressive bust, perhaps a thousand years old, in the cave temples on Elephanta Island, not far from Mumbai.


Sea Eagle
Sea Eagle
A sea eagle hovers on a draft, scanning for food. Elephanta Island, Mumbai.


Helene
Helene
Our Mumbai couch-surfing host, the beautiful Helene of France. No, she and Jo did not deliberately choose to wear red on red cushions...


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Finally, Some Sun



13 to 19 January, 2011 – Panaji and Palolem, India

OK, so maybe I have jumped the gun by writing a blog about Goa while we are still here, but ideally, there is not much happening. We decided to get down here to get some sun, and it hasn't disappointed - 31 or so for the 3 days so far. We did spend the first nights in Panaji, capital of Goa state, and did a day trip to Old Goa (which was abandoned after epidemic upon epidimic, like cholera.

Now we are in Palolem - beach front hut, cows wandering past, and perfect sunsets.

A Church In Old Goa
A Church In Old Goa
One of a number of churches in Old Goa, no longer in regular use. The settlement of Old Goa was abandoned a couple of centuries ago after the population was desisimated by one epidimic after another.


All That Remains Of One Cathedral In Old Goa
All That Remains Of One Cathedral In Old Goa
Only recently have efforts been made to stop further deterioration of this cathedral in Old Goa.


Me On A Beach
Me On A Beach
I did protest, but Jo wanted this photo included. Palolem beach, Goa.


Palolem Beach, Goa
Palolem Beach, Goa
Goan beaches are not exempt from the usual sight of cows wandering at will.


Always Capitalise on a movie Connection, Particularly Bond



9 to 13 January, 2011 – Jodhpur and Udaipur, India

Jodhpur - home of the riding breeches bearing the same name, and yet another magnificent Rajasthani fort.

Rooftop View
Rooftop View
The mighty fort of Jodhpur, behind. We had coffee on this rooftop. And breakfast one morning. And dinner one evening. Had chai while waiting for our bus...


Jodhpur Fort
Jodhpur Fort
Approaching the main entrance of Jodhpur, the palace rooms look down from above.


Inside Jodhpur Fort
Inside Jodhpur Fort
One of the richly decorated palace audience halls in Jodhpur fort.


Architectural Detail
Architectural Detail
Jodhpur fort.


Architectural Detail
Architectural Detail
Jodhpur fort.


Two days was a good amount of time, with an overnight bus booked to Udaipur. Although, we did fill some of the time up with an Indian cooking class! It should also be mentioned that Makhani Lassi, lassi with saffron, a speciality of the region, is just magnificent.

Jodhpur, the Blue City
Jodhpur, the Blue City
The blue used in the majority of Jodhpur buildings is made by mixing Indigo with the paint. It is said to be cool and repel mosquitoes, as well as being aesthetically pleasing.


Now, There's Something You Don't See Every Day!
Now, There's Something You Don't See Every Day!
Even in India, the sight of the working elephant in the city streets is not too common. Nice that he struck a pose, with the fort in the background! Very obliging.


Cooking In Jodhpur
Cooking In Jodhpur
I don't have to don a hat and apron to be a master chef. We did an Indian cooking course while in Jodhpur and had a ball. It was run in someone's home-cum-spiceshop-cum-kitchen.


Then, we had a couple of days in Udaipur before our Goa flight.

Udaipur
Udaipur
By the lake shore of Udaipur.


The Setting of Octopussy
The Setting of Octopussy
Udaipur is where the majority of James Bond's Octopussy was set and filmed. Many cafes and restaurants screen the movie every night, so we did sit down and watch it again. It was great, after having been around the town for a day, to recognise everything and how it all fit (or didn't, as the case may be!) The principal buildings used in the movie are not quite visible here, (although some are), but I think that may even be Octopussy's barge out there. We thought about going to the island only inhabited by beautiful women, but that may have just been a movie fantasy. I know the best way to get there, in a fake crocodile. That's how Roger Moore did it, anyway.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jaisalmer, In The Desert



8 to 9 January, 2011 – Jaisalmer, India

Jaisalmer is a desert city. From atop the fort, in any direction you look, you can work out where urban finishes and desert begins. Not barren dunes, but a scrubby sand expanse that supports a surprising amount of life and a lot of people.

Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer Fort

Often compared to a sand castle, Jaisalmer fort is just stunning, and many people still live within it. However, it is under threat, primarily because the plumbing was never designed for so many people, particularly hotels and the strain Western tourists place on the water resources.


Water is an issue. Not enough, yes, but also too much. While it is barely enough to support all the people who live and visit Jaisalmer, even what there is may be threatening to erode their beautiful fort away. The plumbing was never designed to carry a lot, and there is so much sand - some say it is exactly like pouring a bucket of water over a sand castle!

The Jain religion was a reformation movement of Hinduism from around 1500 years ago. We visited some of their temples in Jaisalmer, which were perhaps a little more sedate than the average Hindu temple, but largely indistinguishable to the untrained eye (like ours).

A Jain Monk
A Jain Monk
Inside the Jain temples of Jaisalmer.


Jain Temple Carving
Jain Temple Carving
Interior wall decoration in the Jain temples of Jaisalmer.


Temple Interior
Temple Interior
Inside one of the Jain temples of Jaisalmer.


There was some wandering, some museums, much eating, and even some shopping. And the nicest room we have stayed in while in India! But you know, it was all about that magnificent fort.

Tractor Driver
Tractor Driver
Turbaned, moustached, and very Rajasthani. Streets of Jaisalmer.


Hotel Balcony
Hotel Balcony
This was our gorgeous balcony in Jaisalmer. It is not wooden - it is entirely made of stone! It is not for chairs and a barbecue, but more ideal for cushions. Cute, hey!


Our Gorgeous Room In Jaisalmer
Our Gorgeous Room In Jaisalmer
We loved this room. So many nice touches. And the stone sitting balcony just topped it off nicely.


Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer fort at dusk.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hope You Don't Mind Rats



7 January, 2011 – Bikaner and Deshnok, India

If you have a rat phobia, then don't visit Karni Mata, the rat temple of Deshnok. Here, the rats are revered, and locals believe them to be reincarnations of their ancestors. Around 600 families in Deshnok claim lineage from Karni Mata, and that entitles them to be reincarnated as kabas, or rats. They offer food and milk to the rats. Wire covers the open courtyards to keep predators out. It is considered good luck and auspicious to have a rat run over your feet - Jo should be in for a good 2011, then, if you check out the photo below!

An Offering At The Rat Temple
An Offering At The Rat Temple
A man makes an offering of sweet balls at the rat temple of Karni Mata, Deshnok.


The "Watering Hole"
The "Watering Hole"
Lots of sweets, lots of grains, and lots of milk. The rats are well fed at Deshnok's Karni Mata.


Little Content Fatty
Little Content Fatty
One of the residents at Karni Mata rat temple, Deshnok.


So, What Now?
So, What Now?
Hmmm, it is supposed to be good luck to have one of the rats run over your feet, so what does it mean when it climbs your leg? At this point, not sure if Jo or the rat knew what to do! Luckily, it was the rat who decided enough was enough, and turned around and scurried off. It would not have reflected well on us if we had needed to physically hurt the rat to stop it, being revered and worshipped hiere. Karni Mata rat temple, Deshnok.


Don't worry if you come to Bikaner and don't want to see the rats, there are other things to do!

One of the Many Courtyards
One of the Many Courtyards
The fort of Bikaner is really just a series of courtyards and palaces built by successive Maharajahs. Junagarh, Bikaner.


A Laquered Appearance
A Laquered Appearance
Inside Junagarh (the fort) of Bikaner.


Wall Details
Wall Details
Inside Junagarh (the fort) of Bikaner.Inside Junagarh (the fort) of Bikaner.


More of Those Arches
More of Those Arches
Inside Junagarh (the fort) of Bikaner.


Monday, January 10, 2011

The Tiger Hunt



1 to 6 January, 2011 – Jaipur and Ranthambhore, India


You Know You Are Not In Australia When …
You Know You Are Not In Australia When …
You know you are not in Australia when one of your co-passengers carries a sword because it is part of his cultural heritage, and he just wouldn't feel “dressed” without said weapon by his side. In the waiting room, he decided to adust his turban. It was about ten minutes of flattening and patting the strip of cloth in to place. We realise this was entirely necessary, as his turban is held in place with a metal ring around his head, so I'm guessing if it isn't right, it will create pressure spots on his skull!


Indian Train – General Class
Indian Train – General Class
Everyone's friendly on Indian trains. In the unreserved seating areas, people squeeze up and make room, because they all know when they are standing, they expect people to make space for them. Six, seven, or even eight if there are a few kids is not a rare sight on a bench for four people. Then there are always one or two people sitting or lying on the luggage rack above.


Jaipur. A little bit reverse of the usual. The old town is planned and orderly with wide streets laid out in grids. The new town, outside the walls, is where the randomness takes over. Forts and palaces, and another observatory by Jai Singh II. Sunsets and souvenir shopping, posh tiffin in maharajah style luxury and dinners in the street with the cows and dogs looking on. We did enjoy Jaipur.

Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
At Hawa Mahal, “Palace of the Winds”, Jaipur.


Jaipur's Jantar Mantar
Jaipur's Jantar Mantar
The sundial at the 18th century observatory at Jaipur.


Amber Fort
Amber Fort
A few kilometres from Jaipur, Amber Fort is more of palace. Morning light is the best for getting lake reflection photos!


Amber Fort
Amber Fort
Jo likes taking photos through nicely shaped archways.


A few hundred kilometres south of Jaipur is Ranthambhore National Park. Formerly, it was a favourite hunting area for the maharajahs and big wigs, but in the 1950's was declared a wildlife sanctuary and later gained National Park status.

Ranthambhore National Park
Ranthambhore National Park
A 500 year old banyan tree integrated with an old fort gate, inside what is now the Ranthambhore National Park.


Spotted Deer
Spotted Deer
The chital, or spotted deer, Ranthambhore National Park.


Samba Deer
Samba Deer
A samba deer attends his itchy scalp, Ranthambhore National Park.


Chatting Away
Chatting Away
A pair of black faced langurs, sitting like a pair of old men sharing opinions. Ranthambhore National Park.


Female Nilgai
Female Nilgai
The nilgai, or blue-bull antelope, (although it is the male which gets the blue colour). From differing angles they appear to be shaped more like a horse, or even a cow, than an antelope. They are large and very beautiful. Ranthambhore National Park.


Samba Deer
Samba Deer
The samba does not mind being in the water, and sometimes feeds on surface vegetation. Ranthambhore National Park.


We saw some beautiful scenery, and some beautiful animals. It was an open topped jeep, and as the following photo shows, it was pretty cold!

A Friendly Tree-Pie
A Friendly Tree-Pie
On a cold safari in Ranthambhore National Park, and a rufous tree-pie decides to join us.


While all this was great to see, they were not our reason for enduring the cold dawn and dusk in a jeep. Our reason was similar to the maharajahs. We were on the trail of the tiger! At times, things looked grim, and at others, there was hope and confidence.

She's Been Here Recently
She's Been Here Recently
Ranthambhore National Park. These tiger prints are (apparently, because we had to be told, not being experts ourselves) a few hours old. Is she still around? Is she lazing in the sun nearby after a recent kill? Is she long gone and far away?


Considering that the statistics for a sighting at this time of year were not in our favour (about 20% we were told) we were careful not to count on it. However, when we were close to giving up, and the jeep had begun to make its course towards the exit, we were blessed with a close and clear sighting.

Yay!  A Tiger!
Yay! A Tiger!
Sorry about the wrong ISO setting. It was getting late, the light was fading, and we had pretty much given up seeing a tiger. And suddenly there she was not running, but on the move, through the grass, heading to the trees. No time to stuff around, just snap a couple of photos, and enjoy the moment of seeing a tiger in the wild. Ranthambhore National Park.


We actually made three trips in to the park to start getting the odds in our favour a little, and could possibly have squeezed a fourth one in had we not seen a tiger by then, but were glad to have an excuse to not face another 5 a.m. wake up and crawl out of a nice warm bed into the chilly morn.