This blog forms a 10-day overview of our travels and experiences through the Golden Triangle Extended:
- Delhi – Agra
- Agra – Jaipur
- Jaipur – Jodhpur
- Jodhpur – Ranakpur
- Ranakpur – Udaipur
- Udaipur – Pushkar
- Pushkar – Delhi – International Airport to Spain (via Moscow)
We travelled in a 13-seater (including our driver Deepak) van a distance of approximately 3,000km with our family of 6 and with Steve’s sister’s family of 3. We had a magical experience together, and at times it was a hard slog with early mornings and long travel days in the van, but we all got along and enjoyed the many surprise cities and experiences along the way.
Special thanks to Andrea, Luke and Harry for coming over to experience this magical part of India with us and creating some lifelong memories on the road once again.
Although we are now living in another continent, and another country Spain, I’m going back to blog on our final 10 days in India before starting a new chapter for Europe. Hope you enjoy.
NOTE: This is a rather long blog post, so it may be a good idea to take it in smaller bite size pieces.
Day 105 | Overnight train to Delhi | 2 April 2017
Dr Moses leaves us on platform no. 4 of Bhusaval Railway Station better known as The Junction. There are hugs and thanks all round; I can’t quite believe that we are here already – that part of really saying goodbye for I don’t know how long. There is only a 1-hour delay on the train which is exceptionally good news for us so we’re expecting our final train ride to Delhi to arrive just after 9pm.
As we wait for it, we wander up and down the platform. Amazingly there is the best platform food we’ve ever experienced on offer – samosas, pancakes, omelettes and other street food delights. It’s just as well because all we had on us for the 20-odd hour journey were bananas and packets of dry nuts.
Our nine sleeper seats in class 2AC are scattered all over the carriage and one is located in another carriage! It’s been a real dilemma getting seats on the country train and we are fortunate to have these ones. With all our experiences of catching Indian trains, I’m always a little nervous of actually getting onto the correct train and carriage. But I’m calm tonight. At least we are standing in the correct area to board our carriage due to the overhead sign being labelled. As the train approaches we are all quite excited about boarding but then also know through experience that boarding is the easy part. We need to do some negotiating once on board. The train carriage aisle is extremely narrow (as usual) and the #onepinksuitcase fits through just. We spend the next 50-minutes negotiating with other Indian rail passengers for them to move so we can get our group of sleeper seats (nine of them) that are scattered all over the carriage closer together. The negotiation finally works, somehow it’s a miracle and kudos to Steve, and we all jump into our beds and go straight to sleep on the moving train.
Steve top and Lisa top in one compartment with two other Indian men; Harry top side, Andrea top side and Billie bottom side along the aisle; the others – Luke, Charlie, Ash and Dacey are in their own four berth compartment opposite Andrea. Yay! The carriage looks and feels more like a third class than a second class carriage, and we discover it’s an older version of the newer ones.
Everyone has the best night’s sleep on that train, even though the train pillows are lumpy, and I’m greeted by an Indian man walking briskly down the train carriage early morning calling out “chai…chai…chai” carrying his heat proof container. This time they pour hot water out of the container and add a tea bag (that’s a first – usually it’s pre-made). I order one and sip on it from the top bunk as I wake up while Steve sleeps. Ash wakes up and declares she has had the best sleep she’s had in ages – probably in nine weeks since living at Dwarka apartment in Buldana as there’s lovely cool air-conditioning streaming through the carriage, and also because she’s excited about moving to our next part of the trip.
Steve’s sister Andrea, and nephews Luke and Harry are journeying with us and experiencing their first Indian train ride. Harry wakes earlier than others along with me, and I watch him as he sits on his top bunker bed reading a book through the slightly open curtains. Billie and Dacey wake and we purchase Indian fruitcake for 35 rupees and the kids enjoy munching on that for breakfast.
Let the school holiday adventure and journey along the Golden Triangle Extended version begin!
Day 106 | Delhi to Agra | 3 April 2017
Our 30 carriages long Indian train travels slowly through the outskirts of the metropolis city of Delhi. We can tell we are coming closer to a major city as the amount of waste and rubbish strewn outside is becoming ever so noticeable, even though we have been in India for 3 months already! It’s that bad. Men walk along the train tracks carrying sacks over their shoulders collecting discarded plastic bottles and anything else of value. We really notice how bad the environment is here, since living in quiet Buldana for nine weeks, and as we glance out the old scratched train window we long for a day when India’s rubbish is handled in a much better way. The makeshift slum homes appear parallel to the railway tracks, under the overpasses and bridges. The scene looks more like something from a battle zone from a movie set.
I receive a call from Romey (our Delhi tour contact for Golden Triangle) and tells me he will meet us on platform no. 6 at Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station in Delhi. It’s extremely crowded with huge lines of people and their luggage snaking their way up the stairs to the exit. We feel grateful that Romey has met us on the railway platform and we follow him like sheep meandering through the busy crowd to another exit. Welcome to Delhi!
The nine of us wait out the front of the station while Romey makes a phone call. We are still carrying our backpacks on our backs and our other luggage is piled up like a bonfire in the middle of our group. We are waiting for our touring van and as it drives around the corner and collects us, I’m relieved. It’s only a month old 12-seater touring mini-van complete with driver. Our driver’s name is Deepak. The look on the girls’ faces is a very happy one once they’re seated in the van. The long nine weeks living and studying and surviving in rural India has officially come to an end and now the school holiday Golden Tour adventure begins with their cousins.
Our tour starts immediately after Steve pays for the 10-day tour. Steve sits in Romey’s little white car that is behind our van trying to process the payment via a remote credit card facility. It doesn’t work so we move the van and Romey’s car to another location for better internet signal.
The Golden Triangle Extended tour per person per day cost is $50. This includes 10 days of accommodation, tour van usage, driver and guides, and hotels breakfasts. It doesn’t include entry fees to sites or lunches/dinners on the way.
Once paid, we leave the hectic streets of Delhi and drive straight on the highway to Agra entering the state of Uttar Pradesh. The outskirts of Delhi are a landscape of very tall high rise apartments bunched together into clumps. They’re white and grey and thin and towering high. It’s an odd looking thing. It’s about 3.45pm when we take off and it will take about 3.5 hours before we arrive into Agra. Luckily there is a pool waiting for the kids so they can take a dip and refresh their weary bodies from so much travelling.
Day 107 | Agra to Jaipur | 4 April 2017
The Taj Mahal
We wake at 6am, enjoy a hotel breakfast for the first time in nine weeks and board the touring van at 7am with Deepak to go and see one of the wonders of the world. It’s certainly a much anticipated highlight of the tour. Deepak drops us off at the outer area of the Taj with our local tour guide. It’s quiet and relatively cool here in the early morning which is good – there are no queues for tickets (1000 rupees each | under 15 free), security checks or entry. It’s a very straight forward, hassle free entry which is what we need with somewhat tired kids in tow.
And then just like magic, the ivory white shimmering Taj appears completely symmetrical through the entryway. It takes our breath away. We spend a few hours inside the gates of the Taj Mahal exploring this wonder and taking in its every angle and view.
One of the four of the Taj’s minarets is currently being worked on so there’s a network of scaffolding surrounding it unfortunately. We are happy to have beaten the day’s crowd as well as the heat. Our guide is more hands off than on – and informs us that he’ll sit up the back and waits for us as we wander around and get all the photos we desire. We agree to get a cheesy family shot with a professional photographer scouting the grounds at the main entrance with the saintly Taj set as the background – a memento of our visit for years to come.
This is the second visit for me to the Taj Mahal and I’m feeling grateful to be able to return to such an amazing site of the world and see its magnificent beauty and structure in person. The Taj is actually a mausoleum and was commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1631 in memory of his princess wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to her 14th child. This wonder of the world is his expression of his love to his wife and the depth of his grief over her death. It’s an amazing story to read if you get a chance.
It’s 42-degree heat this afternoon and we’re literally cooking under it but we won’t be stopped. We forge on and leave the comfortable cool climate environment of our touring van to go and explore Fatehpur Sikri. It’s on the way to Jaipur and we’re glad we did.
It was built in the second half of the 16th century by the Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri (the City of Victory) was the capital of the Mughal Empire for only some 10 years. It’s a very interesting site to visit and explore, especially the tall and decorative gates called Buland Darwaz the 54m high “Magnificent Gate”. Our guide takes the nine of us around explaining in detail the site and the personal issues affecting the Emperor who had three wives – one Hindu, one Muslim, and one Christian (according to our guide) but no children. The Emperor had come to this site previously to seek the consult the Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, who predicted the birth of an heir to the Mughal throne. Thus the Emperor built this site.
Fatehpur Sikri was more expansive than first thought, and long carpet runners lined the heating red sand stone pavement from one section to another. But even the carpet runners were burning hot from the heat that afternoon. So we ran and skipped and sprinted across the carpet networks to reach the shade. Men spread their weary bodies down in the shade on the floor of the site, hawkers sold jewellery and umbrellas and water. Our guide suggested we should visit a family friend’s uncle’s shop “just to look” but we dismissed his requests and walked straight back to the van to the air conditioning and icy cold water sitting in an esky of ice.
Back in the van and we leave the mosque at 2pm for another few hours to our next stop Jaipur. Our estimated time of arrival is 5.30pm where we will enter the colourful state of Rajasthan where most of our tour will be. On the way we pass sheep and goat herders and sharp jagged mountain peaks full of rock.
We’re all a bit excited as the hotel has a charm about it that reminds us all of the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – the décor has character. We are all in love with our overly large rooms and we sleep in groups of three – the adults, the biggies, and the littlies. We enjoy a beer and drinks on our room’s balcony and sit there and enjoy listening to the Muslim Prayers echoing throughout the city of Jaipur. It’s a magical moment in time and we lap it up completely.
The one downside about Jaipur is that it’s ultra-expensive. And we’re not used to forking out lots of rupee so it’s a bit of a shock to our system. Dinner at the charming hotel restaurant with folk music was the most expensive dinner we’ve had in a very long time – $120 plus taxes (there are so many taxes here)! Unfortunately, the folk music was played and sung obnoxiously loud so it was a little difficult to fully enjoy the night. But the food was lovely even though it was overly expensive. We plan to ask our driver Deepak for some cheaper restaurants in and around Jaipur for tomorrow night’s dinner.
Day 108 | Jaipur | 5 April 2017
Today we have a guide for most of the day who will take us on our sightseeing tour of Amber (Amer) Fort and other places of interest in and around Jaipur city. We depart at 8am for a day of sightseeing…
Amber (Amer) Palace Fort
We don’t want to experience the ‘Royal elephant ride’. These 100 or so elephants work at the massive palace fort delivering tourists from the bottom of the complex right up to the top following a concreted path. We are all against using elephants for tourism purposes even though it is documented in the Indian press that conditions for the elephants have been improved. I don’t believe it. We decide to travel in two open air jeeps which drive us all up the narrow winding roads to the base of Amber fort. The drive is a windy and crazy one, but adds to the real Indian experience. The fort is simply amazing (for me the second time) and there are no elephants working for the tourist industry for two weeks as there is a Hindu Festival occurring at the fort and the elephant rides are not operating.
Amber Fort is a delight to walk through and a photographer’s paradise. So I am well catered for. The kids however are a little less impressed by our guide who is more of an analytical type and talks way too fast for anyone to keep up and digest the information presented. We ask him to slow down, and he does for a bit, but then he’s back to a faster talking pace. The kids respond by taking the fort in their own hands and disappear exploring high up into the 4th storey and they wave down at us. We’re still trying hard to listen to our guide.
Amber Fort is located in the city of Amer and is 11km outside of Jaipur city and was built in 1592. The fort is constructed from red sandstone and marble, has cobbled pathways and a myriad of courtyards and private halls and rooms. The palace was the residence of the Rajput Maharajas and their families and is now more commonly known as Amer Palace. The Sheesh Mahal, or Hall of Mirrors, is a special stop with thousands of intricate sparkling mirrors hanging in the hall.
We return after a few hours exploring the fort to the base of the fort and our guide suggests a place with the fort as a backdrop for a photo opportunity. A worn out snake charmer tries to entice rupee out of our pockets with a cobra snake ‘dancing’ out of its small wicker basket. But the cobra snake can’t be bothered today nor any other day I suspect. Its handler prods and pushes it to perform. I had seen this on my previous visit so knew to keep walking on. We all walk away quickly hoping the prodding and pushing stops.
The Floating Palace
A photo stop opportunity across Man Sagar Lake with a palace floating in the middle of the lake. Memories come flooding back to me from two years back when I ‘escaped’ my overly protective tour driver Ravi and went for a lovely long walk past the floating palace on my own early one morning.
The Palace named Jal Mahal, which translates to Water Palace, was built 300 years ago. There are four floors submerged under water, with the fifth above. There are also no chambers, just a garden.
Hawa Mahal (aka The Honeycomb Building)
We stop off to view one of the most distinctive landmarks of Jaipur – the Hawa Mahal also known as the ‘honeycomb building’ along Jaipur’s main road. It’s an amazingly unique piece of architecture and pink colour. Hawa Mahal was built in 1799 as a palace in Jaipur so named because it was essentially a high screen wall built so the women of the royal household could observe street festivals while unseen from the outside. There are five storeys with 953 windows looking out onto the pink city of Jaipur.
As I’m taking photos of the honeycomb hive palace, Steve has found fireworks shop and he purchases two large boxes for $6.
The Pink City
We are trying to find a more reasonably priced dinner for us all tonight in the Pink City. Deepak suggests an Indian Thali restaurant but on our way there we wander past another café that has an array of interesting pieces of art on display inside which beckons us to enter. We decide to stay here for dinner tonight and appreciate the lovely works of art surrounding us. The owner of the café is the artist and has been painting for 30 years.
Our driver Deepak tells us to call him when we’re ready to be picked up, but with all this sitting while touring we are finding it a pleasure to walk around the pink city town and find our own way back to the hotel with the assistance of Google Maps.
Day 109 | Jaipur to Jodhpur | 6 April 2017
It’s another long all-day drive to Jodhpur today – a big 7-hour drive in the touring van with a couple of rest and food stops so it’s an early 8:30am departure time. We say goodbye to the Rajasthani-dressed hotel doorman and take a quick photo with him on the steps of the entranceway before we leave. He’s spectacularly dressed each day in traditional Rajasthani dress and has a very long and curled moustache.
The bell boys take all our heavy backpacks to the van for loading and expect some sort of rupee payment for doing so. Since we are in a hurry, Steve hands the money over to our curly moustached doorman who was more than happy to accompany us to the van and accept the payment. But as soon as the bell boys saw this it was game on. The door closed on the van and we could gather instantly that the payment to the curly moustached doorman was not going to be equally shared amongst them all. The doorman was pocketing all of the rupee. I asked Deepak to stop and we hollered out to the bell boy to come over and we handed him some money personally. He smiled with gratitude. Boy oh boy it’s a dog eat dog world here.
We enjoyed the city of Jaipur but found it excruciatingly expensive everywhere we ventured so we are happily looking forward to the city of Jodhpur and hoping the price hikes are not as common from now on…
The Mumbai highway no. 8 is three lanes but trucks hog each lane. Deepak weaves in and out of the small gaps between the trucks to get ahead. We are about 900km from Mumbai. We pass truck stops with men washing themselves at the water tap. The roads are lovely and smooth so it’s a comfortably long journey. We stop off for a rest and loo stop and meet up with Jennifer, a teacher from Melbourne who is also touring the Golden Triangle in her school holidays. We chat for quite a while at the stop and become friends on Facebook.
We arrive into Jodhpur in the late afternoon and our driver Deepak organises three tuk tuks to take us to our hotel into Jodhpur city from the market area below. This is because the van just won’t fit through the narrow roads that twist and turn all over this city. We arrive to the hotel in a whirlwind – crazy auto rickshaw drivers that only know how to stop and drive fast. We relish passing all the amazingly cultural street scenery of Jodhpur along the way: charming roads lined with cafes and handicraft shops. This place gives out a very positive vibe from the get go.
But then we run into a problem at the hotel. There seems to be an issue with confirming our two-night stay here. Some sort of issue between tour company and the hotel owner. We wait over an hour for things to be sorted out – there’s a suggestion of moving hotels but we are already in love with the Haveli (a generic term used for a townhouse or mansion in India) with it’s absolutely charming courtyards, wooden doorways and old style decor. The We are mesmerised by the Haveli’s worldly charm, it’s like a spell and we are intoxicated by it. Plus, on a more practical note, there is an awesome undercover pool that looks more like a large Turkish bath tiled with mosaic which would be just perfect for all of us right now. I try calling Romey with no success so I send him a message saying, “we are really wanting to stay here!”
Somehow the arrival of our driver Deepak in a tuk tuk makes the issue of confrimation disappear and we are here for two nights. If you’ve ever tried to work out an Indian problem – please don’t! Indian problems have a habit of being turned inside out and all about and it feels like you never to get to the bottom of it; you just make it more complex. We are shown to our rooms and we are all delightfully happy. Two minutes later, the kids are in the Turkish pool and the adults are on the Haveli rooftop admiring the magnificently close proximity of the magnificently strong Mehrangarh Fort that juts up out from the red rock mountain.
The Haveli is oozing old world style culture blended with modern facilities. It’s a Haveli – small wooden doors that open up into a square courtyard, and the courtyard has paintings on the walls and cute windows, pot plants and centred decorative water fountains. There’s also a multilevel rooftop restaurant where customers can sit outside under the shade and gaze up to the amazing Mehrangarh Fort. We sit for quite some time, watching the last of the afternoon’s sunlight spread a warm glow over the exterior stone walls of the fort while we keep pinching ourselves.
First night: we walk down the hill and past the clock tower into the bustling market area. There is a Hindu Festival taking place with music and talking blaring out from loud speakers and a float ceremony taking place. Crazy place! A Thali dinner is enjoyed at Priya Restaurant where most of share steel plates of Thali; the younger one’s find it not so enjoyable as the Thali food is a tad too spicy for them.
Day 110 | Jodhpur | 7 April 2017
The next morning, we rise early to walk up the hill to the fort area. It costs 600 rupees each (400 rupees for students) plus a camera fee to enter and we are handed an English headphone system that allowed us to wander independently around the mammoth fort without an overzealous guide. This works better for the kids to go at their own pace and skip what doesn’t interest them.
Spectacular views across the blue city of Jodhpur from the top of the fort area are appreciated before heading back down to our Haveli to the Turkish pool for a swim and play, while Steve, Andrea and I venture out into Jodhpur’s blue city. Tony, our young Muslim manager from our Haveli hotel is kind enough to walk with us for an hour and a half tour. The narrow roads and little shops reminds me of photos I’ve seen of Greece! This place is amazingly beautiful. We are in so love with the Blue City of Jodhpur and although it’s quite hot here we are basking in having access to all places without having to deal with the heavy tourist crowds.
Second night: we walk up the hill from our Haveli to enjoy the view and our final dinner in the Blue City on the rooftop of Hill View Restaurant. The nine of us sit so close to Mehrangarh Fort that it feels like we could reach over and simply touch it! Dinner was great under the black starry night surrounded by the yellow lights of Jodhpur to our right and the lit up fort to our left. This is definitely the life! Spectacular first class views as the fort lights are switched on and the twinkling of Jodhpur city lights up the night sky.
Steve and I plan to have a night alone. Unfortunately, we end up having an argument, can’t even recall what it was all about, and don’t really make the best use of our time alone. It’s one of the difficult things about long term travel with a family – we are always together most of the time! The pressure of being on this road for three months is building and tonight it popped!
Day 111 | Jodhpur to Ranakpur | 8 April 2017
On the suggestion of our driver Deepak, we have added a new stop that will replace staying in Alwar (closer to Delhi). Ranakpur is a very country location – farms, crops, animals – a completely different feel to the cities of Jodhpur and Jaipur. A lot more like a village feel about it which is a nice change up for us all.
We are staying in a large sprawling Indian hotel, with a massive outdoor pool in a peaceful location. The reason we are here is to visit a Jain temple and another impressive fort.
The Jain temple was extraordinary. It took us a bit to get in though due to the fuss around clothing and other things. The Jain’s are quite particular. We were refused entry with mobile phones, chewing gum, and then there was a problem with Charlie’s tongue bar! But after we placed all our devices in a locker for 10 rupees, and re-approached the unfriendly Indian security woman for scanning, we were granted entry to the spectacular and naturally cool marbled Jain temple.
Dharna Shah, a local Jain businessperson, started construction of the temple in the 15th century following a divine vision. There are over 1,444 intricately carved white marble pillars that support the temple and they are all unique – so not any two pillars are the same! It’s a dizzying display of marble but a lovely cool place to sit down and rest (which the kids did). We are each given a headset and we can walk around independently listening to the history and the ethos of Jain religion.
A quick return to our hotel for a swim in the pool (remember it’s over 40 degrees here) and then we were off again to see the fort that Deepak tells us we just have to see. I negligently assume the fort was close to our hotel, so I kept telling the kids it’s just around the corner. But as we soon discover it is a lot more involved than that. We drive 1.5 hours on winding roads until we finally reach Kumbhalgarh Fort. We stop just outside the fort’s base for a chai, and some of the kids – Ash and Harry – are car sick from the winding roads and Deepak’s fast driving. If we thought we’d seen the best fort ever in Jodhpur, it was time to think again.
The fort is a hidden gem. If you can be bothered to make the journey, it’s well worth it. The fort is a large area where we wandered around and them climbed up it to the very top. It’s like sitting on top of the world with the slightly cool afternoon breeze and the setting sun an absolute delight.
It’s a 15th-century, hilltop fort and UNESCO-listed site surrounded by a massive 36km-long perimeter wall. Entry to Kumbhalgarh Fort costs 400 rupees each/kids under 15 free. Let’s just say this is a very impressive fort at sunset and a great place to explore. We are very happy we made the decision to change plans and venture this far out to see this fort. Absolutely stunning and another little place for me to capture great photos.
We depart the fort on a high. The walk around the fort has freshened everyone up and we are ready to get back in the touring van and head home. Luke sits in the front passenger seat beside Deepak and he has the music playing from his phone. The touring van has become a cool blue disco colour and the music volume is turned to max. We are cruising back along the winding country roads rocking it with the family. Lots of memories and fun in the touring van.
Day 112 | Ranakpur to Udaipur | 9 April 2017
We finally get a quiet morning to sleep in and enjoy a swim before heading off to our next city Udaipur. The more time and no rush is pleasantly appreciated by all.
If there is a way to best describe Udaipur, it is India’s Venice. We stop off to visit a botanical garden first and enjoy the greenery as we wander around the once Royal Women’s garden. Then it’s into the city which is beautifully located on the lake’s waterfront, where hotels seem to float just on the water’s edge. Yet again we leave our touring bus and Deepak on the outskirts of the city, and we catch three auto rickshaws into Udaipur’s heart. Our hotel has a roof top (what Indian place does not?) and we walk up to it and take in the glorious views of the elongated city of Udaipur. It’s a sight for the eyes and yet again we are completely in love with the city on the lake at first glance.
We book in an afternoon of cruising on Lake Pichola at sunset, and in the meantime we sit on the rooftop and order a coffee overlooking the lake. We chat about travel and futures and enjoy each other’s company in this relaxing and most surprising place.
At 6pm our boat tour departs from the jetty just across the road from our hotel for 45 minutes (400 rupees each) at sunset. Being on the quiet lake is simply gorgeous.
We are again pinching ourselves – are we really in India? I’m in sunset heaven on the water with my camera and snap away oblivious to anyone around me. We meet some foreign travellers on the boat ride, who sit closer to Ash and Charlie and the girls tell them about our year away. The foreigners are enthralled and very jealous of their travel itinerary. Our daughters, I think, just don’t yet quite realise the significance of spending a year travelling (free for them) and soaking in diverse cultures and food and experiences. But they will one day. It was nice though for these 20-something travellers to remind them how fortunate the four of them actually are.
We enjoy dinner at a restaurant right on the water and the nine of us sit on long cushions around a floor table. We enjoy lovely food and a few too many drinks before heading back to our hotel for a lovely night’s sleep in beautiful Udaipur. We meet a chocolate brown sausage dog at the hostel across the road from our hotel, and Dacey is instantly in love. Her name is Coco. I’m sure we will see Coco again before we depart Udaipur.
Day 113 | Udaipur | 10 April 2017
Today is about getting out and about independently in the city of Udaipur. We decide to walk towards the Royal Palace looking at all the shops and cafes along the way. There’s plenty to see and plenty of shopping for handicrafts.
Ash and I had been talking about having our cards read in India (we love that sort of thing), and as we are looking at jewellery inside a small street store I turn around and see a square sign advertising for a Palmist and Astrology Reader. Next thing Ash and I are walking up to the third floor while the others continue shopping. The man invites us into the room on the third floor, and he speaks some English – enough for me to instantly feel good vibes from him. I enquire about price, but he doesn’t charge like that. Depends on the depth and time we want. We tell him we will talk with our friends and come back.
We do return, while the others wander back towards the hotel and get a bite to eat. We entre his room taking our shoes off at the door, and sit down on a single bed. The man brings a small table over and seats himself in a chair facing us. He opens up a small notebook and grabs a pen. On the small wooden table between us is a chipped round magnifying glass. I’m excited, nervous, unsure all rolled into one. Ash goes first. He asks her to write down her full name, address, date of birth, and time of birth. He looks at what she has written for some minutes before jotting down a series of numbers underneath.
The palmist then asks for her right hand, facing up and starts looking and then pinching all around the skin on the palm. Then he starts talking. It’s almost he looks right through Ash as he tells her that she is best to pursue writing/editing, public relations, social work, administration. He repeats the same sentence and we listen intently making sure his Indian accent can be understood. He emphasises administration as most important. He goes on…
- Hindu God – Shiva
- She should wear coral – it’s good for her
- She should live away from her place of birth
- She is okay for money – she will be independent in business
- 15 +3 years a man will come into her life – but she is to think deeply and not to rush into anything
- Her genetic makeup is 60% Steve, 40% me
- Plus more on colours and food and health.
At the end we ask questions for clarification, and then it’s my turn.
He starts with writing down numbers, like a code from what little information I have provided him. He starts with writing and reading, land and metallic, and contact and contract as my lines of work.
- Hindu God – Ganesha (the elephant head)
- I am 50% dad (upper face), 50% mum (lower face)
- I am not to sell the parental home
- I am going to be independent in business
- Money comes in and money goes out (Steve can vouch for that!) but over time the going out will be less (hahaha)
- I will return to India and many other countries
- And more on colours, food and health.
After nearly 3 hours we were done. We were given each a chant that we needed to perform; Ash when she was frustrated. This palmist who had worked for 30 years was a lovely man and said if we ever wanted to know something all we had to do was write to him, asking in capital letters, so he could understand and answer and get back to us.
We returned to the hotel sharing our palmist experience with the others. They had all enjoyed massages opposite our hotel. But Ash, Charlie and Andrea jumped into a tuk tuk and went to see the palmist as well. Amazing experience.
Dinner was enjoyed at our hotel roof top restaurant and then we wandered over to the Tuk Tuk Hostel, where there was music and activity. There we lay on the bed mats on the rooftop and played with Coco the sausage dog and danced (well I did) with some backpackers to Indian beats.
Day 114 | Udaipur to Pushkar | 11 April 2017
We leave beautiful Udaipur at 8.45am for Pushkar. It’s another long seven-hour journey ahead for us all, but we’re used to it now. The kids are packing the backpacks really well now and they’re ready to go on time. It’s kind of like a travelling drill every second day when we’re leaving one city for another.
We travel on a very smooth highway, and pass 35km of marble factories and businesses operating on the side of the highway. Large square slabs of cut white marble are being transported via trucks along the highway. It’s an amazing sight to see.
We arrive into a more desolate landscape of dry desert. Pushkar is a heritage township and maintains strict conditions for drinking alcohol and what foreigners are expected to wear. At the front of our hotel lobby a large sign showcases the list of prohibitive activities and substances in the heritage area of Pushkar. It says that Pushkar is a very conservative society and it is prohibited to be carrying or consuming alcohol, meat and clothing must cover the shoulders and reach to the knees. I’m now worried about jumping into the pool.
Of course after a long day spent in the van, we, especially the kids, are looking forward to a dip in the pool. But as we look at the pool – it’s empty and being cleaned. Steve guesses that it will take at least a day or more to fill the pool up. We have a bit of banter with the hotel manager, letting him know how disappointed we are that the pool is out of action. We are wary of the promises the Indian hotel managers claim – “it will be ready in the morning” when no work has started on its cleaning.
Anyway…pool or no pool we happily walk up to our second floor rooms and get ready for our camel safari to the desert at sunset. We’re told to wait out the front of the hotel and the camels will be there to pick us up! We wait out the front but no camels. We make a few queries, and then find out that we need to drive to the camel safari place. So Deepak drives us not far down the road from our hotel where we expect to get onto our camels. No camels here but there are four tortoises walking around the grassy green courtyard of the hotel-restaurant that keeps the kids intrigued.
We are asked to jump into a jeep, and I squish in between the passenger Steve and the driver an Indian man sitting on a makeshift wooden seat that covers the gear stick. He drives us to an area where we are to jump onto two carts being pulled by two camels. But this is not what a camel ride is all about. We tell them in limited English that we want to ride a camel – one camel per person. So the two camels and their carts are lead away, and yet again we are asked to jump into the jeep and we are driven to the actual camel stables. There the camel handlers prepare nine camels with saddles and bridles. This is more like it.
We assume they were trying to get away with not having to prepare so many camels for the nine of us, hoping we would just think the camel ride was actually sitting on the back of a cart. But they didn’t know I had been here before did they!
The hot sun was disappearing, and so too was its heat which was a nice advantage of being stuffed around by this camel safari company.
We start mounting the camel and sit in the saddle as they lie down and on command the camel lifts itself up – front legs first then hind legs. We held on and lent backwards. Dacey was a bit scared of having a camel all to herself so she hitched a ride with Ash. Once we were all on a camel we headed off with camel leader for a two hour there and back tour to the Pushkar desert at sunset.
We walked up and down small mounds of sand, across bridges and finally we got to disembark off our camels and stand on the desert and watch the sunset disappear behind the mountains in front of us. There was a small group of men who played traditional musical instruments and they approached Steve and had some fun singing and playing music with the most tone deaf man I know of! It was funny though, as the Indian man gave Steve his turban, and swapped it for Steve’s cap.
Have you ever seen a camel relax? It’s the most unusual position I’ve ever seen. They lie down on their side, just like a horse would but they stretch their long necks back towards their hump – looking so uncomfortable that it made us look three times! And there the camels lay in the sand with their necks stretched back relaxing and resting.
Charlie brought along her Drone in a backpack so she fired the drone up and captured some amazing desert footage and all of us on camel back. Then it was time to head back to town in the dying light of the day. It took us an hour to get back over the bridge in the city area, and by then it was pitch black and a lovely golden full moon was rising over the mountain range in the east as the Muslim prayers echoed out into the Pushkar night air.
Steve’s camel handler was a young boy around the age of 7-8 years of age. He didn’t go to school. Most camel handlers are poor village people, employed by more wealthy camel owners. They’re also illiterate and don’t attend school. But on the way home, Steve’s camel was misbehaving and wouldn’t listen to its young camel handler who steered the camel seated behind Steve. And in a flash, Steve’s camel galloped up to us who were straggling behind. All I can remember seeing was Steve holding on to dear life and jaw clenched, while the young camel handler jumped off the galloping camel. It was stopped soon after by another walking camel handler. I thought he’d asked the young boy to try a gallop, but it wasn’t the case at all. A very funny story shared afterwards that had Andrea and me in tears.
That night we went to the camel booking hotel-restaurant, where they informed us that there was alcohol that could be purchased so Steve enjoyed some beers and Andrea and I enjoyed a vodka. So much for the alcoholic restrictions. We enjoyed pizzas, fired rice, chicken butter masala (so much for no meat either), rice and naan bread.
Day 115 | Pushkar | 12 April 2017
Today Andrea and I were sick. Andrea was much worse than I was earlier on in the day, but later on I succumbed to also lying in my bed being near the bathroom. It was our final day of the tour and in Pushkar so we had decided to hire scooters for the kids and get about Pushkar township on our own. Each scooter cost 270 rupees for the day plus 2 litres of fuel that was siphoned out of the larger motorbikes and put into the scooters. I was well enough to get out on the back of Steve’s bike early on in the day, but it was obvious I wouldn’t last long into the afternoon.
The kids absolutely loved the scooters and the freedom it gave them to zoom up and down the quiet streets of Pushkar. We also rode into the crazy winding heritage area too – dodging people, cows, dogs and cars. I’m actually amazed no one crashed into anything! The temperature soared to 42 degrees, so the cooling breeze on our sweaty shirts was welcome as we rode around town.
The rest of the afternoon I spent lying in bed next to Andrea dozing in and out of sleep. Steve and the kids went back out on the bikes for one last ride, returning to have dinner at the hotel restaurant.
Then we packed. Not to leave just for Delhi, but to leave India. Our time in India was drawing to a close. Tomorrow we were driving back to Delhi to finish our Golden Triangle Extended tour, but also our family of six were also being dropped off at the International Airport to catch our flight to Spain via Moscow while Andrea and the boys stayed one more night in Delhi and caught their flight back home to Australia the night after.
But first we all stand in the middle of the road in quiet desert place Pushkar and we light the two firecracker boxes that Steve purchased earlier in the tour in Jaipur. They make a big noise and there’s some impressive fireworks set up into the night sky. The kids are delighted. Andrea and I are happy to be out of our sick beds for a little bit.
Day 116 | Pushkar to Delhi to International Airport | 13 April 2017
We left Pushkar at 9.30am. I had a great sleep and felt like I could face the day. Andrea was feeling better too. Today was our final day in India.
We had never seen traffic like it – the number of lanes were unable to be counted as the cars and trucks and vans were scrambled all over the lanes. It was chaos at its best. Lots of tooting, pushing in, manoeuvring to other advantageous positions. The way Indians drive their cars, I believe can be summed up by how they’ve had to live their whole lives – competitively. No one on the road can afford to let someone else in because there’s another 10 cars doing the exact same. There’s so many cars, so many people.
We stop off at Deepak’s recommended restaurant for our last family dinner together and celebrate the reason Andrea and the boys came on this trip with us in the first place – And’s 50th birthday present! Steve disappears for a bit – jumps on the back of a friend of Deepak’s motorbike and purchases a cake. We enjoy the cake after dinner and wait for Deepak to reappear after he left the restaurant to go and see his wife and young child. He has back to back driving jobs which means he is away from his family a lot of the time.
We start getting a bit jittery as he hasn’t returned when he said he’s be back to take us to the airport and to get Andrea and the boys luggage out of the van and into a taxi to take them to their Delhi hotel. He appears holding a baby – a beautiful little baby boy. But it’s all a bit of a rush now to make the airport in time, and we are in India after all. Who knows what the traffic will be like, or the check in.
We say our farewells to And, Luke and Harry and before we know it they are crossing the busy Delhi road and we are boarding the touring van one last time. We notice Deepak drives a little crazier than he has done in the previous 10 days of touring, and my nerves are being tested. I hope we are going to make it to the international airport on time.
We do. But what was waiting for us beyond check in and customs was another thing…