A Travellerspoint blog

August 2013

Part Two: South India

Chennai and Mamallapuram

Everything transportation wise with getting to and from the airports and flying from Kolkata to Mumbai and then to Chennai went really smooth. The flights were only about two hours each so while it was a pain to not have a direct flight it was still ok. The problem was that Thom was getting really sick especially when we landed in Chennai. All our major medicine and the first aide kit were packed in our bigger bags and there was no where in the airport terminals that sold pharmaceuticals. When we did finally land Megan and I got the bags and headed top the prepaid taxi counter so we could get a ride to our hotel. In the notes it said it was only about a 20 minute ride but it turned out to be almost another hour.

When we did finally reach the Hotel we knew we were going to to miss our group meeting that was at 2:00. Our new guide Chetan left a message for us that he should be back at 9:00 and would check in with us. It was about 6:45 and when I got Thom upstairs he had a really bad fever and was burning up. I got him some pain medicine to reduce the fever and water that I added electrolytes to. I was pretty nervous because the hotel manager said that if we wanted a doctor we would have to go to the hospital and I kinda wanted to avoid that all together if we could especially since we hadn't even met our new group leader yet. Luckily after Thom got some medicine in him his fever was starting to come down so I figured he would be ok. That night I took my sheet and slept opposite of Thom with fingers crossed that I wasn't going to catch this next. Before we left Kolkata our friend Peter seemed to have had this too.
It was 9:30 and I was already dozing when Chetan called to apologize that they had gotten detained and got back late and we agreed it would be fine to meet in the morning.

The next morning we had to be ready at 6:45a.m. Eeek! It wasn't too bad. I had taken some Capri and Ibuprofen just to be safe since my stomachs hadn't been co-operating the past week anyway and so I felt fine. Thom was looking a lot better as well so that was good. We met Chetan who seemed great and found out that two other guys Dhilip and Sam would also be accompanying us as Chetan was helping to train them for Intrepid. Yay! Neil, Diane and Megan were still with us and join us were two girls and two guys each from Australia as well as one girl from UK, another lady who teachers English from Canada and one more girl from Canada now living in Australia.

We had a small bus with just us and the ride that was suppose to be 2 hours was only about one-one and a half Sweet! Thom slept most of the way.
As we were driving we could see the ocean on one side. There was little traffic and people generally drove with in the lines of the road. So much more chill than North India.

One typically can understand by simple sights and sounds, the big air of difference between Southern Indian with rest of the parts of the country. The basic culture of south is essentially Dravidian culture, quite different from North India's Indo - East European culture.

We arrived in Mamallapuram and at our very very basic hotel above this really great local restaurant. We were only staying one night here in this small town.
Mamallapuram dates back to the Tamil Pallava dynasty in the 7th-9th century. The structures here, mostly carved straight out of granite, are among the oldest existing examples of Dravidian (South Indian) architecture.

After we got settled we met downstairs for of course some chai. (LOVE that stuff) Thom while better and no more fever,still wasn't one hundred percent and decided to just eat some yogurt or curd rather and some plain rice and rest at the hotel. So I joined our group and Chetan for a city walk. First we went to one of the second largest single stone relief carvings in the world.
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Then we saw "Krishna's Butterball" a huge bolder that looks like it should roll or fall but doesn't.
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Then we took a short walk to the Shore Temple
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The Shore Temple is so named because it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD.
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The Shore Temples configuration of the two Shiva shrines with the small Vishnu shrine in between illustrates an attempt to balance the different, competing religious requirements.
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Goats munch on flowers decorating a car
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Next we took a walk down to a restaurant overlooking the beach for lunch.
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My favorite Cows on the beach!
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They catch tons of fresh fish prawns and lobsters daily and the restaurants will actually bring you out a platter of what was caught and you choose exactly which fish you want.

Afterwards the group took another short walk to the 5 Rathas
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Pancha Rathas is an example of monolith Indian rock-cut architecture dating from the late 7th century.

Each temple is a monolith, carved whole from a rock outcropping of pink granite. The five monolithic shrines are named after the Pandavas and Draupadi. Four shrines have pyramidal roofs. The shrines represent diversity of Dravidian architecture of the time and it is likely that their original design traces back to wood constructions.
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And a stone elephant :-)
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We took the cleanest and most friendliest train ride to Maduri. It was 8 hours during the morning/day but we had sleeper cars so we could stretch out and nap.
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I am a little behind in the blog right now as we didn't have wifi in the last few places so I will try to catch up on Maduri and now Varkala

Posted by Kelly Rose 03:15 Archived in India Comments (1)

Kolkata and Goodbyes

One more overnight train to Kolkata.
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Monty warned us that this train makes a lot of stops and that some were through some not so nice areas so we really needed to be careful with our bags. That being said it was actually the easiest of our overnight train trips to date. The platform wasn't overly crowded and we were leaving earlier then before so it was still light out.
The compartments in the train were probably the cleanest as well as the bathrooms, they actually had some kind of air freshened that made it smell like cherries, go figure.

We were able to see many rice patties and water buffalo before it got dark.
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When we arrived in Kolkata we waited patiently while Zonty arranged two Vehicles to transport us to our hotel. It is kind of bittersweet as it was to be our last night together as a group. After this night everyone would be going their separate ways. Some people like Megan from Australia and Neil and Diane from New Zealand would be continuing to the South with Intrepid where we would also be meeting new group members and a new guide. We are hoping he is as fantastic as Monty has been. Others were staying in Kolkata a few extra days and then traveling to Mumbai and Goa on their own.

We settled into our rooms after the train and showered and had a funky breakfast delivered to the room. Then we met as a group to do a quick city orientation walk. Those of us traveling to the South agreed we were kinda tired of the chaos of the North and were looking forward to some beach and yoga time. We new we weren't going to have much time here so we just went for the walk and then decided to go back and chill out before dinner.

We stopped with the group and had some yummy samosa which are not Girl Scout cookies but rather yummy fried pockets of potato veggies and a little spice. I do love it when Monty points out the safe places to try some street food.
We all felt bad when one of members Peter felt really ill. He looked really bad and was burning up so he went back to the Hotel to rest.

Kolkata reminded me of streets in NY in a way with sidewalks, street vendors, billboards and tons of yellow cabs.
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We walked passed the memorial for Mother Teresa
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And the Queen Victoria Memorial
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There is this park that Monty said to check out the couples sitting together. You see many people are still forced into arranged marriages and this is where a couple sometimes will meet in secret and then eventually they fall in love and runaway together.

We had lunch just Monty, Thom and I and then we relaxed at the hotel. Well, I did as I fell into such a deep sleep. Thom decided to go back out and try to find a card for us all to sign to give to Monty to say thank you for everything he had done for all of us.

That night was actually one of the two times Muslims celebrate Eid so no one would be serving alcohol out of respect. Therefore Monty arranged for some beers to be delivered to the Hotel so we could have a toast before we went out and a drink when we got back.
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We all met in Monty's room and presented him with the card and tips and thanked him for all that he had done. He was a real friend and not just a group leader. Some cheers and beers and then we headed down stairs for a cab ride to the restaurant
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Poor Peter was too sick to join us but was there in spirit and name.
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After a nice dinner we stopped back in Monty's room one more time to say our goodbyes to those who would not be continuing on. Monty and Megan would be sharing a cab with us the next day to the airport.
We woke up early and the four of us got a cab and right till the end Monty hung out with us. He was boarding a different flight so we said our goodbyes there as Megan joined us on our flight to Mumbai and then eventually Chennai to begin our Journey through South India.

Posted by Kelly Rose 03:43 Comments (1)

Varanasi

Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm..... And breathe

So if after reading my blog so far you have thought, " Hey India can be really fun and Ya know what, I may just want to travel there too someday.." well then this entry is gonna get a little real.
Second overnight train.
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I'm not a fan but for me this one was better than the last. The train was running late and we had to change platforms but at least it wasn't as crowded as Delhi.

We got to our seats and people were already sleeping in our spots and Monty got them to move. The pillows and sheets were disgusting anyway so we just chuck those right out. Thom and I were better prepared after our first experience so we had our own silk sleeping sheets ready. Thom took the top and I took a middle one. I literally popped some benadryl put on my headphones and listened to some Radio Lab podcasts as I curled my small day bag all locked under my head as a pillow.

I only woke maybe a few times. Once mainly when an official man whipped open the curtains and turned the light on and demanded our tickets. "Monty?"
Back to sleep. I really don't like the trains and you just do your best to get through them, without having to use the bathroom if possible. Our cars are air conditioned though that is really the only perk.

The next morning I woke several times and went back to sleep, once when a tout was shouting at our sleeping bodies to buy chai. We just ignore it. When we got off and I could speak to some of the other members of our group who were in the bunkers a few sections down from us they told me all the excitement I was really glad to have missed. While not part of this story thank god, they could hear it happening.

Some drunk guy was pissing off his bunk. Ok, while thinking of the lack of personal space you get on a train that alone could have been a story. People complained, how or to whom I don't know how that works but they did. Drunk guy threatens people saying he is part of some mafia Then Monty said he could here the guy calling his friends telling them to meet him on the train at the next stop. Next enters police with riffles and Drunk guy starts crying and saying he misses his son??? Police threaten him but feel bad because now he is so pathetic and let him wait until the train stops before tossing him out I guess...
Trains....they really are such a good time

Last bit about trains. We also unfortunately found out that one of the girls in our group got things stolen from her bag on the train. She had it with her on her bed by her legs and the wall on the second bunk and someone had the balls to snatch it, take only her jewelry, a plastic water bottle and her prescription sunglasses. He left the receipt for the jewelry she had bought in Jaipur and her passport thank god by leaving the bag on the bed below hers. At first she just thought she must have kicked it over in her sleep but later realized things were missing.

Ok Varanasi, so I didn't think I could be more surprised by traffic in India but this city wins the crazy award so far. At least the part we had to drive through to get from the train to the hotel.

Varanasi, once known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi, is a historical city in northern India. The city is sacred to Hindus and also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In many ways Varanasi epitomizes the very best and worst aspects of India, and it can be a little overwhelming. However, the scene of pilgrims doing their devotions in the River Ganges at sunrise set against the backdrop of the centuries old temples is probably one of the most impressive sights in the world.

Unfortunately we arrived and everything had flooded. I mean all the ghats, the steps that lead to the Ganges were completely covered by water!!!!
They said this hasn't happened in over 11 years at least. So our experiences of the Ganges and Varansi will not be what one might completely expect and unfortunately no pictures to match what you will classically see there. But you can google image it that any day :-)

When we arrived at our hotel we we greats with a nice refreshing drink and leis of marigold flowers.
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After lunch we walked to where the Ghats were suppose to be but everything was under water so Monty brought us up to a rooftop for chai so we could see the Ganges.
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The Ganges is a sacred river to Hindus along every fragment of its length. All along its course, Hindus bathe in its waters, paying homage to their ancestors and to their gods by cupping the water in their hands, lifting it and letting it fall back into the river; they offer flowers and rose petals and float shallow clay dishes filled with oil and lit with wicks (diyas). On the journey back home from the Ganges, they carry small quantities of river water with them for use in rituals (Ganga jal, literally water of the Ganga). When a loved one dies, Hindus bring the ashes of the deceased person to the Ganges River.

After the cremation of the deceased at Varanasi's ghats the bones and ashes are thrown into the Ganges. However, in the past thousands of uncremated bodies were thrown into the Ganges during cholera epidemics, spreading the disease. Even today, holy men, pregnant women, people with leprosy/chicken pox, people who had been bitten by snakes, people who had committed suicide, the poor, and children under 5 are not cremated at the ghats but are floated free to decompose in the waters. In addition, those who can not afford the large amount of wood needed to incinerate the entire body, leave behind a lot of half burned body parts.

Later that evening we took a cycled rickshaw ride through the crazy streets to a market area.
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For as important this place is for Hindus there were tons of Muslims shopping about. Many of the women covered completely in full black burkas.
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Monty took us to a great textile shop where the owner educated us on how to tell the differences between machine made fabrics and hand woven cashmere and silk for example.

Next Monty was able to get us in to a small area where the daily worships that is usually done on the ghats was being held due to the flooding.
Aarti is a Hindu religious ritual of worship, a part of puja, in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to one or more deities.
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Aarti is generally performed one to five times daily, and usually at the end of a puja (in South India) or bhajan session (in North India). It is performed during almost all Hindu ceremonies and occasions. It involves the circulating of an 'Aarti plate' or 'Aarti lamp' around a person or deity and is generally accompanied by the singing of songs in praise of that deva or person (many versions exist). In doing so, the plate or lamp is supposed to acquire the power of the deity. The priest circulates the plate or lamp to all those present. They cup their down-turned hands over the flame and then raise their palms to their forehead – the purificatory blessing, passed from the deva's image to the flame, has now been passed to the devotee.
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The purpose of performing aarti is the waving of lighted wicks before the deities in a spirit of humility and gratitude, wherein faithful followers become immersed in God's divine form. It symbolises the five elements: 1) ether (akash), 2) wind (vayu), 3) fire (agni), 4) water (jal), and 5) earth (pruthvi). Communal Aarti is performed in the mandir; however, devotees also perform it in their homes.
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The next morning Monty arranged for different things for people to do based on what they wanted. This is where Thom and I got to meet Amrendra Jha, a university music teacher with his Ph.D in Sitar! He took us through narrow local streets to a music school.
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There he showed me the classic female Tambura. As amazing as it was it is really too big so the only Tamburi he had already made was at his house. We sat and talked music as he showed us his sitar and explained about the wood and his family and job at the university and all the students he had taught from around the world. His wife brought us some chai and we felt so special getting almost our own mini private concert.
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I was so pleased to have obtained my instrument through him in this way.

Thom didn't know (but I did) Monty had arranged for him to come play that night for Thom's Birthday.

We headed back to the hotel to get ready for the Ganges. Some members of our group wanted to swim in the Holy River. Thom and I opted not to chance the cholera epidemic that could come with the blessing but did tag along for the ride. You see if the river had not flooded we could have maybe just stepped into the water from the ghats or enjoyed the river from a nice boat ride.
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Instead the boat took us only 30 feet off shore and you had the option to pour the water on your head from a bucket. Damion and Peter really wanted to swim. They had asked Monty if he could get them the orange cloth that was traditional for the holy men to bathe in. Ummmm don't think anyone was planning for it to be such a small loin cloth! Here is the boat man showing them how to wrap it. They had quite an audience from the shore. I'll spare you the after shot.
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So first the boys
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Then the girls
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I'm glad to say that so far everyone still has all of their toes and fingers...lol

Back to shower off and then off to Thom's birthday dinner!
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Sitar, Tablas, and Tamburi
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Birthday Cake
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Monty helped me to get a new journal for Thom since he filled up the one he brought.
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And Monty got Thom and book on Karmasutra too
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Posted by Kelly Rose 01:23 Archived in India Comments (1)

Agra

Agra
Agra was only about 2 hours from our Hotel. We would be leaving the region of Rajasthan and entering Uttar Pradesh. There isn't a whole lot to do in Agra and there was another amazing Fort and Mosque along the way so we opted for private cars so we could stop and check them out.
First Fatehpur Sikri

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The city was founded in 1569 by the Mughal emperor Akbar, and served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585.
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Influences from Hindu and Jain architecture are seen hand in hand with Islamic elements.
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Next was Jama Masjid: It is a Jama Mosque meaning the congregational mosque, (A.D. 1571-72) as the date of its completion, with a massive entrance to the courtyard. It was the end of Ramadan so there were actually a lot of people selling things in the Mosque that are usually not there.
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The Buland-Darwaza added some five years later.
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Tomb of Salim Chishti: A white marble encased tomb of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti (1478–1572), within the Jama Masjid's sahn, courtyard.
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You can make a wish and tie a piece of string on the window. We just observed.
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After the site seeing we walked into the small nearby town and had an amazing lunch of Thali which is where they serve you small portions of many things.
Then it was back to the hotel to relax and freshen up.
That night was Monika's Birthday so we went out to a nice restaurant and had cake.
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Unfortunately it was also this major Hindu festival for the Monsoon. For four weeks every Monday the men walk barefoot to holy places. However this was the one night where a lot of them get drunk or smoke marijuana. We were up on the roof top of the restaurant and all you could see were men mostly younger ones walking the streets in huge groups. The place next door to the restaurant was blasting music and people were dancing and getting free food and water.

When it came time to leave it was probably the most scariest moments on this trip. Monty had two other friends of his join us and made all the women stand inside all the men in our group as we started out. I just kept my head down the entire time and avoided any kind of eye contact. I could hear boys shouting at us and I just kept walking quickly. It was the worst feeling ever maybe even more so as a western women. I never felt so small and vulnerable. Luckily it was only happening on the one main road and as soon as we crossed we were all fine. Thom who had his head up said later that yes they called out at us but no one really tried anything. Home at last it was an early night as we were meeting at 5:00a.m. to be first for the Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal
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The Taj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal is widely recognized as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage".
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Taj Mahal is regarded by many as the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Islamic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Indian architectural styles.
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In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar component of the Taj Mahal, it is actually an integrated complex of structures. The construction began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, employing thousands of artisans and craftsmen. The construction of the Taj Mahal was entrusted to a board of architects under imperial supervision, including Abd ul-Karim Ma'mur Khan, Makramat Khan, and Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. Lahauri is generally considered to be the principal designer.
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Later that day Monty arranged for people to go to the Agra Fort, but Thom and I were tired and really just wanted to relax and get organized because we had another overnight train to catch that night.

Posted by Kelly Rose 10:23 Archived in India Comments (4)

Jaipur and Bharapur

Jaipur

First I just want to thank everyone for the comments and for checking our blog out. We love hearing from you!
I haven't had a chance to write and post in the last couple of days due to traveling and Internet availability so I'll probably post two entry's at once.
Bus ride to Jaipur
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Jaipur is a city divided by the older historic areas and then newer modern section with malls and universities. According to that time, architecture of the town was very advanced and certainly the best in Indian subcontinent. In 1853, when Prince of Wales visited Jaipur, the whole city was painted in Pink color to welcome him and after that Jaipur was titled ‘Pink City’. I think it looks more orange though.
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After our long bus ride Monty took us to eat lunch. It was so muggy and hot. Afterwards we went out into the old town/market area on our own. I was not a fan and maybe because of the heat to be fair. However, Thom and I both felt people were more aggressive and pushy here and the city was really busy with traffic and not everywhere had sidewalks so we weren't that excited about the city.
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There was only one place that I wanted to see which was the Hawa Mahal.
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It was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, and designed by Lal Chand Ustad in the form of the crown of Krishna, the Hindu god. Its unique five-storey exterior is also akin to the honeycomb of the beehive with its 953 small windows called jharokhas that are decorated with intricate latticework. The original intention of the lattice was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen, since they had to observe strict "purdah" (face cover).
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Inside I was told wasn't worth it and while it is really an impressive structure it is just there as part of the busy street. We had to actually stand on this little road divider between insane traffic to take this picture. So rickshaw back to the hotel.

That night we all decided that we would go to the movies.
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Bollywood as you may know is huge in India and Jaipur had a great theater near buy to check one out. Monty got us all our tickets. There was a McDonalds next door and some of the group stopped in for a bite, more to just say they went and to compare the menu to the traditional Western one.

Inside we took a few pictures and got some snacks.
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We got classic popcorn.
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The movie we were seeing was called "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" (Run Mikha Run) It is a 2013 Indian biographical sports film based on the life of "The Flying Sikh" Milkha Singh, an Indian athlete who was a national champion runner and an Olympian. Even though is was almost all in Hindu and 3 hours long (there is intermission) we loved this movie. The story was great!

However, the theater experience was quite different from home. People not only let their cell phones ring but answer and talk on them loudly all throughout the movie. People also really get into the movie and cheer and applaud almost like a live show in a way. It was funny. I was a little disappointed that this movie was more serious and didn't have more singing and dancing but the few songs it did have were highly entertaining and very humorous to me.
Overall I loved the movie and had a great time.

We then went to an outstanding tandoori/grilling place. It was called "Talk of the Town" and Monty says that it is always busy.
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That is one way to know if street food is good and safe. If the product is always being sold and moved it is constantly made fresh too. Thom and I order lemon tikka chicken and it was awesome.
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It came with onions and some spicy green chutney that was so yum!
Afterwards we headed to another restaurant for a nightcap and went to bed.

The next day Monty arranged 3 taxi cabs to take us to two forts. First was the Amer Fort.
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Amer Fort was built by Raja Man Singh I. Amer Fort is known for its artistic style, blending both Hindu and Rajput elements. With its large ramparts, series of gates and cobbled paths, the fort overlooks the Maota Lake, at its forefront.
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There were elephants there too!
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I chose not to ride them as I'm not sure how they are treated.

Next the taxis took us too Jaigarh Fort.
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Jaigarh Fort is situated on the promontory called the Cheel ka Teela (Hill of Eagles) of the Aravalli range; it overlooks the Amber Fort and the Maota Lake, near Amber in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. The fort was built by Jai Singh II in 1726 to protect the Amber Fort and its palace complex and was named after him.
The fort, rugged and similar in structural design to the Amber Fort, is also known as Victory Fort. It has a length of 3km along the north-south direction and a width of 1km. The fort features a cannon named “Jaivana”, which was manufactured in the fort precincts and was then the world's largest cannon on wheels.
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There isn't much to the fort now but the views were great.
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After that Thom went back with some of the others while I went with Megan and Àlish to the jewelry shop. Jaipur is known for it's stones both precious and semi precious. It was kind of funny because were treated like VIP people with chai, cookies and a small demonstration on how the stones are hand polished. In the end I got some earrings.

Coffee With the ladies and then it was back to the hotel to get ready for House Party Monty was throwing for us!

Monty owns what we would call a condo in the more Modern section of Jaipur and it was really nice. He invited us all over, bought lots of different alcohol so we could have beer and mixed drinks and also cooked for us!
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Later we placed ring of fire or Kings and drinking card game. It was a good night although rough waking up the next day for the bus ride to Bharatpur.

Thom was not feeling great, too much to to drink so he slept it off on the bus ride there. We made one stop for the restroom and snacks and saw some monkeys.
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When we arrived at Bharatpur our hotel was AWESOME!
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With a pool!
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Too bad we only had one night here since there really isn't much to the town except for the Keoladeo National Park.
So first it was a dip in the lovely pool, then lunch then the park.

Being a UNESCO's World Heritage Site, the duck-hunting reserve of the Maharajas is one of the major wintering areas for large numbers of aquatic birds from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China and Siberia. Some 364 species of birds, including the rare Siberian Crane, have been recorded in the park. The name "Keoladeo" is derived from the name of an ancient Hindu temple devoted to Lord Shiva in the sanctuary's central zone while the Hindi term "Ghana" implies dense, thick areas of forest cover. It is mainly famous for siberian crane. It was the only habitat of siberian crane in the world, other than siberia.
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You have to take ricks haws that are pedaled not motored and it was the only part I didn't like. Our guide was great but he was this tiny old man and I just felt so uncomfortable having him pedal us around in the heat even if it was his job.

The park was really nice though. My camera wasn't great at taking pictures here though so they're not that great. However we saw lots of cool birds including a beautifully colored kingfisher and of course peacocks. We saw huge antelope, not like the thin African or American ones. These things were huge almost like stags.

We saw monkeys again too. This one had part of his arm chopped off :-(

There was a spotted deer, huge turtles, a fox thing, and tons of different butterflies and birds.
After it was back to the pool!
That night Monty showed us a slideshow of some of the different gods and ethnics in India to help educate more. Then it was dinner and an early bedtime as we were still pretty tired from the party the night before.

Next stop Agra....Taj Mahal!!!!!!!

Posted by Kelly Rose 03:23 Archived in India Comments (0)

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