January - February 2018
  • Day11

    On our way home

    February 2, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 23 °C

    Just waiting to board flight AI131 to LHR. On time due in 1130. 18 degrees here at 05.39, predicting 33 later.
    It’s been a varied interesting and very enjoyable trip to celebrate knowing each other for 40 years.
    It’ll be good to get home and look forward to seeing everyone and then our next trip.
    Landed safely at 11.15. Waited 25 mins for a stand. Now awaiting our taxi home.
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  • Day10

    Elephanta Island & Mumbai Tour

    February 1, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌙 29 °C

    After a hearty breakfast we left with Anil at nine o’clock. The traffic wasn’t too bad and soon we were driving along a new bridge, 4.9km long that got us onto the peninsula proper. Here the traffic was more heavy, though no tuktuk, these are replaced by i10 black and yellow taxis. We eventually arrived at the Gateway of India, where we needed the loo. What better place than the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, grand lobby and memorial to those killed in the terrorist attack of 2008.
    Out on the quay we boarded a boat (10 rupees extra to go up top) for a leisurely trip across the Arabian Sea out to Elephanta Island, named by the Portuguese for an elephant rock, now in the zoo. On the way we passed the old HMS Hermes, some other Indian navy vessels, coal ship unloading and a tanker preparing to leave. Arriving at the island, which has a ship breaking yard and is opposite a nuclear power station and oil refinery, almost lost in the haze, we met our local guide and travelled by train the 1.5km to the end of the pier and start of 120 steps up to the cave temple of Shiva. The temple is carved from the solid rock, pillars walls and statues. For preservation purposes the temple is only used one day a year, though there is evidence that Portuguese used the statues for target practice. Our guide was very thorough in his explanations. He is a local lad and lives on the island whose population is 1200. His English is self taught from speaking with tourists. It seemed pretty quiet. By now it was getting pretty warm, so we were glad to get back on the boat, with a cooling breeze.
    Arriving back at the Gateway to India, our guide, Philip, was delayed in traffic so we had time to grab a tea and snack spinach and sweet corn toasted sandwich.
    The traffic being so heavy we opted for a drive through the main interesting parts of the city, mainly constructed in victorian times, including mini Big Ben designed by George Gilbert Scott, Victoria Station facade, hanging gardens, which cover water tanks and passed the silent garden, where Parsi, of whom there are 72,000, ‘bury’ their dead by exposing them to the elements and birds. Last call was the largest laundry in Asia, where washing is done by hand and dried out in the sun. It was right next to the railway, so no idea what happened in steam age, nor in monsoon.
    We then headed back to our airport hotel for a swim and dinner before preparing for a very early departure.
    We were really pleased to have visited this vast buzzing metropolis. So many historical and contrasting aspects where what you see does not always reflect what’s really going on, e.g the amazing laundry operations which collect wash and deliver in three days with little error - this is also the case with the huge lunch delivery service run by a similar caste. The trains reputedly run every 3mins on time and through the night.
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  • Day9

    Wildlife and birds

    January 31, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 29 °C

    Spotted deer or Cheetal
    Samba deer
    Indian small antelope
    Wild boar
    Marsh crocodile
    Palm squirrel
    Asiatic Greater Yellow House Bats
    Alexandrine parakeet
    Rose ringed parakeet
    Bank myna
    Black kite
    White throated kingfisher
    Pied kingfisher
    Cattle Egret
    Great Egret
    Black winged stilt
    Common sandpiper
    Common Redshank
    Indian roller bird
    Indian darter
    Indian pond heron
    White breasted water hen
    Rufous vented bulbul
    Black winged kite
    Great tit
    Red wattled lapwing
    Yellow wattled lapwing
    River Tern
    Indian pea fowl
    Rufous treepie
    Wild duck
    Ashy prinia
    Indian robin
    Indian house crow
    Yellow wagtail
    Laughing dove
    Rock pigeon
    Black drongo
    Common myna
    Common babbler
    House sparrow
    White browed wagtail
    Brown-headed gull
    Little ringed plover
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  • Day9

    And onward to Mumbai

    January 31, 2018 in India ⋅ ☀️ 34 °C

    And so we departed Jaipur in warm sunshine, accompanied by the rep and a different driver, Subhash having family commitments. The drive was through the newer parts of Jaipur, bigger houses and modern flats in the suburbs. Near the airport we detoured briefly to Neelkathan Exports, a textile warehouse selling local craft work both in traditional styles and designer gear; Gordon Ramsay is a customer.
    The airport was a few minutes away and not very busy.
    Easy flight on time in A321 brought us in to Mumbai Airport, which as we had been told, borders the slums, or vice versa. In fact our hotel, which has an excellent rooftop pool, is closer to the runway than the control tower and overlooks a slum in between. Tomorrow will be an interesting day!
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  • Day8

    Amber Fort and Jaipur

    January 30, 2018 in India ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    We did hear the mosque faintly then drifted back to sleep. After a leisurely breakfast we met our guide Umesh at the entrance and shortly after our driver picked us up. We drove through the Pink City, which is actually terracotta, the colour scheme strictly enforced, and on a short distance to the Amber Fort, which is painted more orange, though the name was originally Amar. Here we mounted an elephant called Lakshmi, which took us gently up the entrance road, swaying back on forth and giving way to many other elephants coming the other way. Their welfare is now controlled, so they they only carry two and stop working at midday.
    The Fort was a very grand palace, which was once capital of Rajasthan . Our guide gave excellent explanations of the uses and history as well as flavour of the area. From the top there were panoramic views and several other forts; in Rajasthan there are as many forts like churches in Europe.
    After the Fort we shopped, feeling camel hair carpets, then picking an elephant cushion cover and a shirt to be tailored during the day for me.
    Lunch was at the Pink City restaurant, though it transpired it was a dry day, being 70th anniversary of the death of Ghandi, so no cooling beer. We had masala tea instead, Darjeeling with black pepper, cardamom and ginger, to go with our pakora and samosas. Janet was attracted by more puppets, so we were lucky lunch came or we would have a whole family. Lunch was good accompanied by the nursery class next door reciting prior to going home.
    The afternoon was spent in the Maharajah’s Pink Palace, more grand still than the Fort, with the two largest pots ever made, silver and made to transport Ganges water from the source to England for the Maharajah of his day, and then the astronomical park, containing the second biggest sundial, accurate to two seconds and many other astronomical and astrological instruments.
    Driving back through the city, now in full flow with all the shops and stalls open, was a fascinating and wearing experience in itself, so we were pleased to get back to our oasis of an hotel and enjoy tea on the terrace as the sun went down.
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  • Day7

    On to Jaipur

    January 29, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 21 °C

    We woke early anticipating our third safari only to discover it was not booked. Just as well we had seen our tiger the day before. Time then for a leisurely pack, breakfast, painting and reading before the intrepid explorers returned. What a lovely hotel to relax in. Jennifer and Karin, our Canadian acquaintances from Victoria had been out and didn’t see one again.
    We set off, first calling into a Women’s textile factory, friend of Subhash. Janet was tempted by some lovely pashminas and an elephant wall hanging for her new room in the roof.
    We followed the same road, same bumps, a little more tolerable in daylight as you could see them coming. Along the roadside were many guava trees and our driver stopped to buy some for his family and got the lady to let us try one with salt and chilly sprinkled on the cut segments-interesting. We then stopped by what he described as real India, a small family dwelling, mud walls, one old gentleman, ladies making chapatis and a small herd of goats. He said they were really poor, working the local fields, though the surroundings were spotless and ladies well dressed. we felt uncomfortable taking photos, so declined and politely made our exit.
    Next stop lunch, where we found a book of birds and met our safari buddies of the previous day, Cliff and Maureen , who had been out again and seen ‘Arrowhead ‘ walking along the road and climbing on the wall, which made us slightly envious...
    On to Jaipur, our driver’s home city. He stopped to show us Welcome House and Sisodia Rani ka Bagh ornate 18th century gardens. Then we went along to the Monkey temple, set deep in a hillside followed by tea with one of Subhash’s family.
    We then drove through Jaipur traffic which miraculously keeps moving, arriving at a most intriguing hotel, with old style rooms, courtyard and gardens, within range of a loud mosque.
    Excellent continuation of our trip.
    And there was more... on our way back from dinner, where we tried some Indian red from Glovers Estate, we encountered a puppeteer and his two sons. He made all the puppets himself from wood and gorgeous materials , performing scenes handed down from generations of his family. His grandfather had done Punch and Judy. He showed us a belly dancer, Michael Jackson, who juggled his own head on hands and feet, a flaming knight on horseback who tried very hard to set fire to his horse, and finally a snake charmer whose two Cobras ended up in our laps! The older boy organised the puppets for his dad while the younger one drummed. He generously gave us a Maharina, and after an exchange of donations and something British for his boys, pound coins we had exchanged in Delhi for a porter, Janet has the Maharajah also to make the pair. They were all so pleasant it made a lovely experience.
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  • Day6

    Ranthambore and Tiger 'Arrowhead'

    January 28, 2018 in India ⋅ ☀️ 12 °C

    We were up early for our first safari into zone 10 which was largely disappointing and quite cool. The drive was more exciting.
    After excellent breakfast and lunch we joined Kamal and Baba for our second Safari. We picked up two more couples, including Cliff and Maureen who had taken the train and had an almost as bad train journey as our drive, getting in barely half an hour earlier.
    We hit the national park with lots of excited people shouting tiger, but all we found was total vehicle chaos which took a while to sort out. We then forayed into zone 4 and saw some interesting animals and birds especially by the waterhole. No tiger. We got back to where we had been earlier again greeted by people shouting tiger. This time we were in luck and spent half an hour observing Arrowhead, a young female, snoozing some 50 m distant. A great job from the A team guide and driver.
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  • Day5

    Taj Mahal and onwards

    January 27, 2018 in India ⋅ ☁️ 9 °C

    We awoke early on the 40th anniversary of our meeting, though our guide had suggested an 08.30 start rather than dawn; a wise decision given the thick fog which prevented us seeing the street. We parked and decided to walk the 800m to the complex. Here we entered through the eastern gate, still no sign of TM then through the main entrance, built in red sandstone inlaid with white marble.
    The classic view, with water gardens had just a while backdrop. As we approached the Taj Mahal rose from the mist. Donning protective footwear covers, we joined the queue to view, in semi darkness the tomb of the wife Mumtaz Mahal of Shah Jehan and his own, organised by his daughter. Both exquisitely inlaid with precious stones, as is the whole building and on a colossal scale. Truly awe inspiring. Shame it was so foggy.
    Reluctantly we left Agra and headed off to Fatehpur Sikri, a Palace built by a Mogul king where he lived with his selection of wives. Only time for a whistle stop visit as we had a train to catch from Bharatpur a few km away. We walked miles to get to the correct platform, then discovered the train was delayed one hour. The sleeper from Mumbai to Amritsar pulled in opposite, mostly sleepers as it takes 36 hours, with crowds heading across tracks to the two standard coaches at the rear. As it departed we learned of a further half hour delay at which point our driver reappeared, we spoke with the tour company and decided to take the drive instead. Cliff and Maureen who we met on the platform stuck with the train, we met on safari the following day and compared notes. The first part was fine. Then when it got dark, we discovered that many vehicles including big trucks do not run rear lights! Then when we turned to head south the road surface deteriorated beyond belief, then grew speed humps, many unmarked and a real hazard. We were really shaken up by the time we arrived at our hotel just before ten pm with barely time to eat before crashing.
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  • Day4


    January 26, 2018 in India ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Up early to beat the crowds and road closures for Republic Day which we did, leaving at 07.30, bar one junction controlled by about twenty cops all in different uniforms. According to our driver, Subhash, there was much to see, if it wasn’t so foggy. There were several toll booth areas on the motorway, also people waiting to be picked up and many trucks resting by the roadside. Most car drivers drove with their hazard warning lights on, trucks though did not seem to possess rear lights, which was somewhat disconcerting and a good reason to, more or less, occupy the middle lane. After the first toll stop, we called in the services for bathroom break, which Janet found interesting, though we resisted anything further.
    We arrived at our hotel in Agra around noon, our superior room having views of the Taj Mahal through the mist. Wehad a spot of Italian lunch in the themed cafe, then headed out with our guide to Agra Fort.
    The Fort, built as a Palace by the same person as the Taj Mahal consists of a huge red sandstone edifice surrounded by two moats, one dry, originally occupied by lions and tigers, the second by crocodiles. It was busy with mainly Indian visitors. Inside were layers of grandier with ever more ornate carved stone and decorated marble. Our guide explained that the builder was imprisoned by his son for the last eight years of his life, with just the view of the Taj to console him.
    On the way back to our hotel we stopped to see inlaid marble being made to exquisite high standards.
    Late afternoon brought some sketching with the Taj Mahal in late afternoon misty sunshine.
    Our room also had excellent views of the bathroom,having a glass wall. Having had her shower Janet discovered a blind which, when she operated, first jammed then fell off completely. Fortunately a repair man, yours truly, was on hand to fix it.
    Our evening meal was excellent with a wide range of tasty dishes.
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  • Day3

    Delhi Tour

    January 25, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 11 °C

    After a very good night’s sleep and excellent breakfast we were raring to go on our tour. A cool start, coats needed.
    Our driver and guide were a little delayed in traffic. We then set off for the biggest mosque in India, which can accommodate 20,000, Jami Masjid, and is situated in Old Delhi not far from the Red Fort and built of the same red sandstone brought 250km from Rajasthan in the 16th century. Janet had to don an orange cloak on entry. From there we walked through a market area where most shops were closed, then took an electric rickshaw to the spice area of the market where we tried many spices and bought some mixes to try at home, with recipes.
    Back to the mosque to meet our driver and into the traffic to see Mahatma Gandhi memorial, where he was cremated. From there we headed south passing the Presidential complex, though we were not permitted to drive to India Gate due to preparations for Republic Day on Friday.
    We stopped for lunch at Cafe Rendezvous where we had tomato and mozzarella focaccia and garlic hummus with pitta, no local beer!
    On then to the Qutb Complex containing a victory Tower , Qutb Minar where the sandstone looked gorgeous in the late afternoon sun.
    On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Lotus-domed Baha’i House of worship and passed India Gate close enough to see. Security is clearly stepping up ahead of Republic Day and many buildings are lit up spectacularLh including the Home Office next to our hotel.
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