Nikki Sherratt

Joined May 2017
  • Day9

    Jaipur, the pink city

    May 29, 2017 in India

    So, we finally had a train that was on time and this time not overcrowded. Yey! On this train we met a bunch of students heading to jaipur to do medical school entrance exams. Apparently there are 1000 places a year in India and over a million apply, so chances are very small. They were pleased to meet us and taught us some hindi words. One wanted to go and do medical research in America and the other to work as a doctor in India.

    We arrived in the evening to our hotel moonlight palace. I was sad to leave our last relaxing stay but this was a cheaper city break hotel at a mere 8 pounds a night with a balcony and AC. It was decent and the hotel staff very friendly but also quite pushy with booking taxis for us to see the city at inflated prices (even if this is 15 pounds for a day of sightseeing for 2 of us, believe it or not this is inflated! ) we said we would sleep on it, but we booked in the end for a hassle free day as we only had 2 days here and the sights are far spread out. It saves a day of haggling with tuktuks and inhaling fumes with an AC car anyway.

    Breakfast was good, they have a great roof terrace overlooking jaipur with iced coffee and Nutella crepes. Yum. Lassi was good too. Turns out the dinners were the best too with the best spring rolls I ever had and all freshly made for us. The man had to go out to buy the ingredients whilst we waited. Talk about fresh!

    We then headed out in our AC taxi "no seat belt no probem" was heard again. And "no wing mirror no problem" also present again. We visited 2 hill forts. They were interesting with great views but we were absolutely dying from the heat today. By far the worst day the only day it really stumped us. 47 degrees and blazing sun all day. By 10.30am we were done in. Taking any oportunity for shade and a rest it was a tough day. A shame as some very interesting old sights to be seen.

    After the forts we visited amber palace, the most famous in Jaipur on another hill with some killer steps to climb in the sun. It was beautiful. A guard told us the king used the various rooms to hide his 190 wives and girlfriends in. He then of course wanted paying for this bit of information when we offered him a small gesture he mocked us saying it was child's money. Dale promptly told him to shove it then. In India there are 2 kinds of people. Ones who want money for anything eg directions, advice, even if you did not ask for them in the first place. The next just want to chat and find out about you with no bad intentions. They then want your what's app and Facebook. It is very hard to tell the two apart this is the trouble! We start saying no to everything but then you miss out on meeting all the interesting and lovely people we have met.

    Next we were taken to the none optional clothes shop...We did not buy of course. The taxi man then decided he no longer wanted to talk to us. We were silently taken to the monkey temple where we climbed 200 steps to the top and there were only 2 monkeys as they decided it was too hot and left for the hills. We agreed...and went back to the hotel at 3, dying a little and frazzled.

    Luckily there was a huge storm that night, crazy wind woke us up and a power cut meant a night without a fan or air con but this brought a wonderful cool in the temperature so today was a mere 38. Much more bearable! (Can't believe I said that!)

    We declined more pushy sales today and went it alone today to see the old city of jaipur. It is a walled city surrounded by pink walls hence the name pink city. And interesting place we visited the hawa mahal which had some interesting artifacts some from 7000bc! We then walked through the bazaars haggling over bangles and the like but my big hands meant they did not fit. Rubbish.

    We then decided to escape the heat and head to the largest cinema raj mandir to watch a bollywood movie. We watched "half girlfriend" which was mainly in hindi but switching between this and English. It was pretty good but very cheesy. Surprisingly despite the language barrier we knew what was going on and followed it even enjoying it! The Indians whistled everytime the characters kissed and it seemed talking on your phone is allowed. The cinema was a lovely old building. Before the show we met a lovely Indian family with a little 1 yr old who we were playing with and then they invited us to their house. We did not have time to go which was a shame. They export clothes to China and the USA for a living. So many interesting people to meet people love talking to us and of course they had to have a selfie and then the whole cinema has to have one too. "One selfie sir" is never one selfie....It is 100.

    Now on the train to our next stop. Heading to north India now, out of the heat and to a mere 34 degrees. Spending one night in Haridwar and then Rishikesh next door. Both towns on the ganges at the foothills of the himalayas famous for yoga. Looking forward to chilling out for a few days until our trek starts Saturday.

    Unfortunately our train had sold out of AC tickets so now have no air con for 13 hours. Luckily not too packed this time like before but very hot and noisy as all windows have no glass just bars on. Lots of train noise and people selling chai tea etc walking up and down calling "chai chai". This by the way is so nice. A bit like rice pudding flavour tea. Lots of spices. Yum.
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  • Day7

    Look for the bare necessities

    May 27, 2017 in India

    The simple bare necessities forget about your worries and your time...

    So since writing the last update we ended up having the worst day waiting all day for the train. The train was in the end 5 hours then 7 hours then 9 hours. ..eventually arriving 12 hours late close to midnight! We spent all day in the train station which was so hot without any food. There was little for sale (typical as when you want something it isn't there and when you don't there is hassle to buy! ) We were kept distracted by the odd person taking selfies of us and various comers to the bench where we sat (all day!) An Indian family of around 12 people came to talk to us, the younger girls who looked 15 but were apparently 20 were fascinated by us and used us to practice English with asking us what our favourite places and dishes were. The girl was studying to be a bank manager. I mentioned I liked her scarf and she insisted on giving it to me as a gift. I couldn't accept but she insisted so I accepted so now I have a nice momento of the day at the station! Indian people are so friendly. They also offered for us to eat with them. The Indians bring whole meals with them for journeys and all sit around sharing on the floor.

    We were so pleased to see the train but not so pleased that this time we were in sleeper class a lower class with no air con. This would be fine in the daytime for a short journey of 4 hours like ours, but now it was midnight at the train was full. There were people everywhere on the floor so it was hard to get even onto the train with our bags. We then found our "seats" in the dark and had to eject sleeping people from them. We then shared the top bunk for 4 hours. glad to arrive in the station we then found no tuktuks or anyone around at 4am! So we had no choice but to walk to the hotel 1km away. Luckily we had a torch as it was a rural place with no light. We passed a pack of Barking wild dogs and several wild boars on the way, it was pretty hairy!

    So pleased to have checked into our luxury stop even if it was 12 hours late. A 5* palace hotel costing 50 pounds a night Inc breakfast. It was beautiful with a huge soft bed proper rain shower and a pool. A welcome sight after journey from hell!

    The reason we came here was to visit ranthambore national park. One place where there are 60 bengal tigers a very endangered species. We were taking 2 safaris one evening one early morning. We set off on our first following a swim and a pool tennis match with a frsibie and some Indian guys taken very seriously by them! (We won 11-10)

    Our first safari was great. An exciting and bumpy off road ride through the park for 3 hours at sunset. This is where kipling got the inspiration for the jungle book. We were so lucky to spot a sloth bear (baloo the bear!) antelope, deers, loads of birds, hawks, owls, wild boar, and finally as we were leaving we saw a tiger in the trees. She was with her grown cub but a little far to get good photos.

    We took another safari this morning at sunrise, another early start. This time a different zone with more lakes. We saw a baby crocodile and lots of water birds kingfishers and herons. We then had the most wonderful sighting of a male tiger who walked in front of the jeep and then had a deer carcass that he killed 2 days prior and was eating the deer right next to us about 10 meters away. Wow. We sat and watched him for an hour eating his kill. It was incredible (apart from the dead animal smell!)

    Now sat chilling by the pool for a well needed rest. Won't last long outside though it is 10.30am and over 40 degrees even in the shade.

    Off to jaipur this evening on another train. A short 2 hours this time but let's see how late this one is. I don't have much hope for it being on time...
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  • Day5

    Wonders of the world

    May 25, 2017 in India

    Our next stop was Agra. So we ended up waiting for the last train until 4am..from 10pm. We were hoping to arrive at 6am to Agra but this was 3pm which ate into our time here. Luckily we still managed to fit in the best parts and do some shopping!

    We treated ourself to a nice hotel this time. I think it cost about 25 pounds including breakfast. It was a good choice, walking distance to taj mahal and a rooftop view too. A nice pool also provided a well needed swim from the heat, even if we didn't make it until 7.30pm!

    Our first stop was agra fort. We bargained a tuktuk who spoke suspiciously good English. Always be wary of a tuktuk talking perfect English...this would usually mean 1) he wants to be your guide 2) he wants you in his shop 3) both of the above.
    We managed to get a deal for £3.50 for the afternoon to include the fort and going to see sunset at a park overlooking the taj.

    The fort was nice and peaceful from the chaos outside it. A mughal fort built by the Muslims as unlike most of the rest of India Agra is a Muslim part of India mainly. Meaning they eat cows, and not pork! It was nice and lots of birds, chipmunks and cheeky monkeys! After this we braved the street food for the first time and had samosas 4 for 50p cooked by children! They were different from our samosas and more like a savory doughnut than a pastry. And survived to tell the tale, so far...

    We then went to the gardens for sunset at the taj. This was a lovely peaceful gardens with a beautiful view over the rear of the taj. Took some nice photos through the trees different to the usual tourist photos full of people in the shots! Great.

    Finished the day with a swim and a roof top paneer cashew curry and a veg jal frezy with delicious naan and the sounds of a sitar player. The huge bed was a welcome rest after the late night train the day before!

    This was short lived however as this morning we were up at 4.30am to get to the taj for opening time. Massive smugness when we were the first people on the princess Diana bench today meaning we had the whole place in peace and quiet to ourself for uninterrupted photos! Wasn't expecting that. Even found a nice guy to take a photo of us together without money which is rare in India. The taj is beautiful despite being under cleaning so some of it is scaffolded but this is quite discrete and certainly did not distract from it's beauty. As it changed with the sunrise it was certainly a sight.

    Of course the tuktuk as expected tried his hardest to get us to detour via his friends shop for his commission. We succeeded in avoiding this as we were expecting it and a polite decline or 12 was enough to shut him up.

    Now we are at the station waiting for the next stop. A 4 hour daytime journey to Ranthambore national park to hopefully spot an elusive bengal tiger. Of course...that is why I am writing this. Another 5 hour train delay and 5 hours of people watching at the station (which is never dull!)

    Staying at a 5 star hotel tonight for 2 nights as a treat. Can't wait for my bed.
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  • Day3

    Sitting here waiting for the train again....A mere 4 hour delay. Due to arrive at 22.17 now estimated at 2.07. Sat on a hard floor being stared at by Indian men so thought it was time for reflection. Actually quite pleased we made it to the station and can now chill for a few hours the journey here was quite something! Even for us, it was an eye opener. Beginning with a driver who had to be told how to drive the car by a passer by. Who knows if he had a licence, I doubt it. To then navigating the chaos of a just finished Arti (Hindu ceremony) with thousands of people/dogs/cows/trucks/tutuks trying to leave the city. I am now reflecting on my life...

    Varanasi is where we have been for 2 days. What a place. Difficult to describe in words more appropriate in photos. A noisy, colourful, bustling, intriguing place full of the best people watching. It is a holy city, apparently the oldest city in the world still lived in where Hindu pilgrims come to celebrate life and death. Every evening at 7pm they have a ceremony called Arti on the banks of the ganges. This colourful festival of light sound fire and colour lasts around 2 hours and thousands of pilgrims come to watch. We took a boat out last night to be rowed around. This was a great experience. Serene but with thousands around us but still peaceful at the same time. This combined with a row to the other end of the river where there are burning bodies....yes that's right human bodies. Being a holy city Varanasi is where the people consider it to be an honour to be burnt. They come and walk the bodies through the streets and then dip them into the ganges. The men are then burnt in a public display on the bank on huge fires burning 24 hours a day. The women and children don't burn, they just get thrown in the river. So floating bodies may go past (luckily not for us). This was sadistically fascinating to watch.

    Today we spent a well earned sleep in catching up on travelling time. We got woken at 6am by chanting and pilgrims up watching sunrise. We skipped this as we have more early starts for taj mahal sunrise (if our train ever comes).

    We then walked the streets or alleys of Varanasi which wind everywhere making finding the hotel very hard. Filled with trinkets and silk sarees it is hard to get anywhere without cows stepping on you or hawkers wanting money. But we found a great lassi shop where they make it by hand still which was a nice respite. Whilst drinking it 5 bodies paraded past the shop. In the afternoon we just chilled people watching on the banks of the river.

    Now on to (hopefully) Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Very excited for this. Hopefully get some good photos!
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  • Day1

    Delhi a baptism of fire

    May 21, 2017 in India

    Gutted. I spent the last 30 mins on the train writing this, do have it delete on me. So here is take 2. Probably not as good as take 1.

    We arrived in Delhi airport to the screen on the plane telling us it was a mere 35 degrees outside. This was ok except it was midnight....

    We eventually found our driver and went to the "car". "No seat belt, no problem ma'am this is India!" Seems also no wing mirrors, no problem, no lights, no problem is also true. What is mandatory however is ensuring you have a full working horn and using it at least 100 times a journey! Horn I have learned is a universal language for "I'm coming get out of the way" to "hello" to "please hire my taxi/rickshaw/bike" to "what the hell I have one so therefore I must use it".

    Arriving at the hotel was a welcome haven following navigating a cow and several rabid dogs. The air con and flushing toilet were welcome followed off with a nice breakfast included today all for the 12 pounds a night for 2 of us fee.

    This morning we set off for our tour we had booked of a Delhi slum with an organisation called PETE a charity that educates children from the slum. A beautiful lady called Lakshmi was our guide. She is from the slum and teaches English. The charity relies soley on donations and the tours for funding. This experience I cannot describe in words. It was humbling and shocking at the same time. As we walked around we were greeted with such welcome by the local people. Especially the hundreds of wonderful smiling children, all of whom just wanted a photo with us or of themselves. (We were to learn later that they are not the only ones who want photos of us....) A lot of the people are magicians some of who travel internationally to perform. We got treated to a fab magic show by a man in his family house whom he shared with 8 children and 3 generations in a single room 5 X 5 meters wide. People welcomed us into their homes and showed us their trade. But the sad side was also there of course. We saw how the government had demolished people's homes because they had no papers, reduced to rubble in a day where generations had lived. We learned how many still have to walk an hour to get clean water and how many still die young from cholera and typhoid. Women are married at 13 and pregnant at 16. Many still die in childbirth. Despite this the people were so happy and seemed to be living life. It puts life into perspective really.

    Following the end of this we headed in the metro to the red fort a large fort in Delhi. We took a rickshaw in the end as the metro station we wanted did not exist..
    We haggled hard getting the fair down from 170 rupees to 50 by shopping around. Shows what they inflate to although it does feel somewhat bad haggling over a matter of £1,50! This was an experience through crazy madness of the bazaar with people selling everything and anything. The horn again came in very useful.

    We looked around for a while before a monsoon started. We took shelter and ended up chatting to a couple of guys from the Indian army. It is none compulsory in India and considered a good job to do. They wanted selfies with us and as soon as we said yes everyone wanted one. We were surrounded by men and women all who wanted selfies with us. This happened every time we stopped to rest. We felt famous. Apparently they like it as we look different. Unlike other places like Thailand we have travelled we have only seen one other European couple so far.

    Eventually a little longer than expected the rain stopped. Unfortunately it had been so heavy we had to navigate deep water and mud from flooded roads to get back to the hotel to get our bags. Nobody knew where the hotel was as the rickshaw drivers can't read or read a map. We ended up having to walk an hour back in the mud and wet to get our bags. We then ran to the station to get our train! We were catching a night train to Varanasi our next stop and made it with a meer 5 mins to spare! Needless to say I have only peed once today from all the heat and running around. (In hindsight this is a bonus, as turns out Indian train toilets are not somewhere you wish to be)

    Arriving on the train eventually managed to find our seats to find 4 people in a spot for 3. This is ok the guy said. Hmm not ok by me I thought. Anyway we sat for a while with them until finally we had enough and dropped the bunks to get some sleep. I am now writing this opposite an Indian family of 8 sharing 5 bunks and some smiley children. Luckily the air con is working well.

    I really hope this saves now as need some sleep...

    Let's see what day 2 brings!
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