Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jaipur, India - The Pink City

We woke up to the sound of peacocks outside our villa and got ready to leave Bharatpur for Jaipur. On the way, our driver asked us if we were hungry and wanted to stop. We weren't and said so but he said we were going to stop anyway because he was hungry. Really, he wanted us to stop in at another tourist trap of a restaurant and shops. One friend did buy a bracelet and actually saw the driver go up and get his commission. Once we got back in the car, he noticed a necklace that another friend had on. He asked her if she got it at the shop, probably wondering why he hadn't received the commission from that one, but she had brought the necklace with her from home. Silly driver. By this time in our trip, we were ready to get rid of him. We saw some great vehicles and passengers on the drive to Jaipur.

Jaipur is called the Pink City because in 1876 the Maharaja Ram Singh had the entire city painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII). They say the tradition has been maintained but we didn't think the old city looked very pink. Jaipur was a little too noisy and busy for us but we did have another beautiful place to stay and saw some amazing sites. Also, there was a little bit of home on the street for me:

On Christmas Eve, we went out to dinner and asked the waiter to take our photo. Even with all of our suggestions to hold the camera higher, this is the best photo we got that night:

We visited the Amber Fort but decided to walk instead of riding the elephants up. Our guide book questioned the treatment of the animals and we didn't like the look of the spike the men used to control them so we passed. Once we entered the walls, we got wonderfully and helplessly lost in the halls and rooms for several hours. Construction of this fort began in 1592 by Maharaja Man Singh.
Our favorite shop was owned by a family who had originally come from Afghanistan. They had beautiful jewelry, boxes, and enamel bowls. After visiting their shop a couple of times, the son invited us to their home for dinner. This happened to be our Christmas dinner but it didn't end up being as we expected. His parents didn't come and goat was the only thing on the menu. The son also began talking quite passionately about everything - from gems, to history, to more disturbing things like the Taliban. As the only American in the group, I was relived when he stopped talking passionately about how terrible America is and switched to talking about the plight of tigers in Indian reserves.

The next day we visited the City Palace. The palace was built between 1729 and 1732 but has had addition up to the 20th century.

On our last morning, we stopped by the Palace of Winds. The Palace of Winds, or Hawa Mahal, is a five-storey building which was constructed in 1799 by Maharaja Sawaj Pratap Singh. Its purpose was to enable ladies to the royal household to watch the goings-on of the city without being seen themselves.

Our hotel in Jaipur was a nice respite from the bustle of the city.

We headed to Pushkar in the late morning.

More photos at flickr.


Friday, January 15, 2010

India - Fatehpur Sikri & Bharatpur

After leaving Agra, we drove to Bharatpur stopping at Fatehpur Sikri on the way. Fatehpur Sikri was constructed beginning in 1570 and is now a ghost city. Mughal Emperor Akbar visited Sikri and was given a prediction of the birth of a son. When the prediction came true, he built his new capital here.
We arrived in the late morning and walked around the abandoned city until we arrived at the large mosque. The four of us entered the mosque and spent some time there.
The most beautiful part of this mosque is the white marble tomb of Shaikh Salim Chishti, the man who made the prediction of a son for Akbar. Childless women visit this tomb and tie a thread to the marble lattice screens. The lattice screens here are exquisite.
After splitting up and walking around the mosque on our own, I met up with Carol again and walked toward the entrance we used to come in to the mosque. On our walk back over, a little boy came up to us and told us that our friends were over by the entrance we were walking toward. We had noticed by now how quickly everyone knows who is in which group of travelers and they all keep their eyes on you. We had already grown distrusting of people who approached us like this - even little boys.

When we met up with one of the other girls, Monita, we asked her if she had seen our last companion, Taali'ah. She had received a text message that Taali'ah was waiting outside, but when we exited the mosque, she was nowhere to be found. We searched in the mosque, outside the mosque, sent text messages - everything we could think of to find out where she had gone. The little boy had followed us and told us that our friend "not here, go". But, when we tried to get more information from him, the message was unclear. I chatted to him, watching our stuff, while Carol searched again in the mosque. His name was Rasa, he was ten years old, and he was selling postcards and jewelry - he would pull out an impossible amount from his little pockets. He ran back and forth to the other buildings searching for our friend as well.

Finally, after about an hour, the text messages finally came through and we found out that Taali'ah had gone back to the car after not finding us and being harrassed by touts. We wanted to give Rasa something for helping us look for her, but he would not accept money from me. I asked him how much his wares were, but they were quite expensive now, so I handed him the amount I wanted to give him and we headed back to the car. We hadn't just walked back to the car earlier because the parking area was quite a walk from the mosque and we didn't want to leave the area where we had last seen our friend.
After leaving Fatehpur Sikri, we continued on our way to Bharatpur where we stayed the night. We had lunch at our hotels and then met up to visit the bird sanctuary at Keoladeo Ghana National Park. They were out of bicycles to rent, so we had a nice walk in the sanctuary seeing jackals, storks, egrets, owls, deer, antelope, buffalo, cattle, and an eagle.
We loved the hotel where we stayed and wished that we could stay longer to take it all in. There were old photos on the walls - some dating back to the 1920s - of Indians and Europeans. Our room had a large column in the middle with archways quartering the room. I could imagine what it must have been like to be here nearly 100 years ago. Outside the gates of our hotel was a very different place.

More photos at flickr.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Agra, India - Red Fort and Taj Mahal again

After spending a few hours at the Taj Mahal in the morning, we had a cup of coffee and then headed over to the Red Fort of Agra. The Mughal emperors Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb all lived here. It was originally a brick fort and has been around as early as 1080AD. When Akbar decided to make Agra the capital, he had it rebuilt from ruins with red sandstone. It was completed in 1573 after well over one million builders worked on it for eight years. It was also where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb, for the last seven years of his life - with a view out the window of the Taj Mahal he had built for his wife.
After exploring the Agra Fort, we ate lunch. Here's where we had lunch, looking down the street in both directions:
As we walked back to the car, I saw a bull walking toward us and decided to take a photo of my friends walking by the bull. Here's the bull:
Apparently, the bull did not appreciate this because when I walked by, he rammed me with his horns - hitting me first on the bum and then bruising my elbow. That'll teach me to photograph camera-shy bulls, huh?

We also saw a barber on the way back to the car. You can't tell very well from the photos, but the barber's shirt was metallic silver.
Here's what the street looked like where we were supposed to meet the driver:
Here it is with motion and sound:
Yeah....and we crossed that street. We didn't find the driver for some time, but we eventually did and decided to end our day across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal to watch the sunset. We walked along a fence on a small dirt road that ended at a gate on the shore of the river. A few other people were already there and several children were selling postcards. It ended up being a great place to watch children bringing in their goats, women carrying bundles of sticks on their heads, and of course, the sunset and the Taj Mahal.
Here's the boy we bought our postcards from:
He was a pretty clever little salesman - speaking a few words of several languages and laying on the charm.

More photos at flickr.