India – Rajasthan Jaipur
07th May 2016, the start of my blog journey… I start blogging because I feel the need to share my Food and Travel stories with more people than my closed ones. I believe that creativity continuously needs room for improvement and my blog is the place where I will share all my thoughts, creative ideas, faults, ups and downs regarding my Food and Travel journeys….Keep tuned.
India…my first blog story is for India… A few people asked me, why India? Well, it’s a long story…To make the long story short, I have a Love affair with India, I visited it four times (solo in Kerala 2009, our today’s story on 2011, Goa with my best friend in 2012 and again solo in Kerala 2015). My first trip to India was the one I did completely by myself until then I haven’t done any solo traveling and I haven’t been anywhere alone, not even in the movies for example and I never lived alone also…I could never imagine that I could do it. At that time, I was in a difficult situation of my life and after the encouragement of some beloved friends, I realized that the only person who could really help me was only myself, to be in silent place (hmm not so as it turned out later .. :)) completely solo. (Sivananda Ashram in India – I will do a relevant post). So I found myself in India for one month, in a totally different country, with totally different culture. That was it! In a way, believe it or not, that solo trip changed my life and how I was seeing things in my life….Words failed me I feel thankful… Let’s get started! 🙂 🙂
It all started during summer of 2011, where we were looking for a trip break. That period, I was working in Qatar, and my sister with two of my best friends wanted to visit me, but they wished to combine it with another trip in Asia. The prices from Greece were quite expensive and the only place that was affordable was India. The decision was made up quickly and they booked a combination flight to India and Qatar for 480 Euro, 12 days in November. Let me talk a little bit about our status (you will understand why, later on:) Myself, had previously been in India, I am manic with traveling, I don’t mind the dirt in unknown countries, I eat everything, well it depends!-and I’m generally an adventure person. My sister: Persistence traveler, almost fearlessly and she likes the adventure, first time Asia, Irini: Likes traveling, she has an obsession with photography, she is not welcoming other flavors and she is a little bit freaks out with the dirt, first time Asia.Penny: She likes traveling, she is completely freaking out with dirt, she doesn’t t like try other flavors, first time in Asia also. Before they depart, they requested me to purchase food supplies (crackers, canned food) which I did not pay attention to, as I considered it excessive, because of my previous travel to India and felt that we will not have any issues (BIG MISTAKE!).
We had a flight with Qatar Airways to Delhi and from there to Rajasthan (Jaipur). We had already booked tour package including driver and all the tours in a very good price.
The Airport Delhi Indira Gandhi is new, modern and very clean with thick carpeting. At passport control you can see a huge sculpture with not so courteous gesture for the Greek culture, and outside was a crowd of Indians shouting “Mandammmmm taxi ????”. I took aside Penny and I informed her “Listen, India is not very safe, for any reason will not split up, we’ll be altogether everywhere” you must have seen Penny’s reaction…popped out eyes, whispering a brief scolding and I kept silent. I just smiled and said to myself. (Mmm I “smell” adventure). The driver was waiting for us at the gate – a happy dude, very kind – and we started our journey to Jaipur. Upon arrival at the main exit gate, we were in another world: you feel the humidity, the different scents and the diversity to be overwhelming. The dull weather at first we thought it was the just cloudy weather but we soon realized it was just smog! With so many millions of people, it’s not at all surprising. The journey was about 6 hours, with too much traffic, cows, people, cars, trucks all together! The three of them, were in a state of shock “where are we, why are we here!!???” – Believe me, by the end of the journey they have completely changed their minds! Fortunately, our hotel compensated all the “torture”, it was a two-story building with clean rooms. The next day we wake up for the breakfast in which we just had stale slices of bread, a kind of runny cheese and bananas. We just had the bananas only…
Jaipur. The city of Jaipur is the capital of the Rajasthan state. “It was founded in 1727 by Maharaja Jai Sinnch II who gave the name of the city. The city now has over 2.5 million people and is also known as the Pink City. The city’s status as the Pink city is due to pink color painted buildings in the old walled city. There are many theories about why the city has this color. According to one theory, the city was painted this color by Maharaja Jai Sinnch II to honor the Hindu god Siva which is considered to be the favorite color “. As we started our journey very early morning, the shops were closed and the traffic was not so bad. The sun was shining above the buildings and that pinkish color just looked fabulous. Our destination was the Amber fort and the city palace, which is located 11 km outside the city. In order to access the top of the fort, you need to climb on the elephants. Once we got there, we waited in a queue for about 20 minutes, and we arrived on a platform at the height of the elephants back. I felt happy since it was no need to climb up, I have to note here that I hate heights! We climbed up with my sister in a small seat and here we go! Oh, my!!! The seat was too small (or maybe because of my fat I could not fit! 🙂 ), it was open all around and was moving too much! The elephant was conflicting with the other elephants and approaching the edge of the wall of the cliff, dangerously. I grabbed my sister and briskly screams heard from my mouth! The elephant driver had dropped down from laughing…! Of course, now that I remember all of these I am laughing out too! Ouuuf the “torture” was over in half an hour and we enjoyed the great view and the beauty of the palace. The way down was by feet ( thank God!) with lots of merchants around, trying to sell their products.
The next couples of hours were spent roaming around the Jaipur city, bargaining at the numerous shops and shooting some amazing photos. Everywhere you could see lots of colors, lots of traffic and too much noise. We liked the women with their colorful saris, vendors with their merchandises stacked on the road, cows were roaming into the middle of the roads, preventing motorbikes and cars, the smiley kids from school with their white uniforms… all together it was just a beautiful magical setting. On the other hand, beggars were begging for a few rupees, homeless people were sleeping on the sidewalks, the barefoot children were running in the mud, overall it was a confusion of wagons, cows, motorbikes, all on the same street trying to pass without colliding. And horn, long horns, grime and dirt, too much dirt…Our attention caught a barefoot child, about one-half years old where a motorbike routed over his little feet. The child started crying and no one paid any attention. Shocking…very shocking… Well…Let’s move on…Our next stop was to a big shop with Indian handmade carpets and saris with amazing colors! The carpets were made of silk, wool, with beautiful colors to suit all tastes.
Of course, we fell in love with the colorful saris. “Sari is a fabric with dimensions 5.5.mtr length, 1.25mtr width. It is worn over an inner garment with long until the ankle, which usually has the same color as the Sari. A cord is hemmed on the inside of upper limb, in order to be held tightly in the middle of the skirt and holding the ends of the sari. The shirt is sewn and applicator, either with sleeve either without “-More about sari click here Countless quality saris, really colorful, we did not know what to choose. After an hour and several fittings, and after we were noticed by the whole store, we got four different designs. As the evening was approaching we wanted to go somewhere for dinner with traditional dancing and food. So we put on our new saris (we spent almost half an hour to put them on!, it’s not easy at all..) and we traveled to Chokhi Dhani.
It is a place, outside Jaipur where you pay an entrance fee which includes food also. It also has various activities such as traditional dances, camel ride, boating in a small pond, etc. There are two dining options, real Rajasthan menu and Multi Ethnic menu. We decided to try local flavors, so we chose the Rajasthan one. I just want to mention here, that we hadn’t eaten all day, except the bananas and some crackers. The place had live music and they brought us a round plate, to each one of us, which many mini bowls with various tastes. It looked very tempting and since we were very hungry we start eating like “pigs”! 🙂 After the first, second bite, our eyes were blown out and smoke was coming out of our ears! The food was VERY VERY SPICY. No relation with the flavors of the North part of India.
Generally, I am mad about spice, I really LOVE it but that food surpassed all my imagination. We were not able to figure out the flavors. Eventually, we ended up eating bread and rice. I would like to mention here, that generally in the traditional Rajasthani food is very spicy and very different from other parts of India. It is without any meat and if you are not enjoying spice you might have an issue of visiting that place. So yes take food supplies with you! After we head out for a tour around the place and we constantly had a crowd behind us following for photo shooting. We looked quite strange to them, wearing those saris, and not without reason, we were really for the carnival! Actually, I can say that my sister was very pretty with the sari! (Unfortunately, she did not allow me to publish any photos!). The kids wanted to touch us, to talk to us and to take as many photos as possible! People are very friendly and smiling ALL THE TIME despite their survival difficulties. 🙂
Agra. Next morning, we continued our adventure to Agra city. Our guide was very quiet and did not say much…During the route, we asked the driver to stop to get a picture of two women who were in the fields. (They were in a long distance). Irene comes out of the car and runs amid the fields, and from behind my sister. They approached the women and they left with them in the opposite direction. Panicky the driver descends out of the car and tells us. “I’m going to get them, it is not safe to go there, get in the car and lock the doors.” Penny bathed with cold sweat and we began to shout out to the driver “Heyyy come here do not let us alone!!!” Oops! We sat for a while in the car, and after a while, we went out and we start taking pictures! Pose pose from here, from there, and when we were noticed by someone, we have entered the car and put the lock.:) After half hour Irene and my sister, came back with wide smiles! They went to a small village where the ladies wore their beautiful formal dresses in order to take photos with them! They were very happy and very friendly people!
Next stop was to feed some monkeys on the main street and to “attend” a wedding! It was a huge field where five marriages were taking part that day. We approached a small ground and we saw a groom, who was sullen and in bad mood! (If you consider that sometimes are not getting married without their own will, it is not strange at all). They invited us to attend the celebration but unfortunately, we did not have time.
We arrived in Agra city, where our hotel was very close to the famous Taj Mahal. We were planning to go for some photos during the sunset and the next morning to go to see it in our own peace. But this was not possible, because of the big fort around it. So we decided to go for dinner where we ordered main dishes and drinks. As soon as the beverages came, we saw the expiration date and it was out of date. We started a conversation with the waiters about the date and finally, after some time, we realized that the drinks have the date of production and not the expiration one, whether we thought so … 🙂 Then comes the food, which was not exactly what we ordered, my sister had ordered chicken and was 4 small pieces and we thought that was just the appetizer, we were waiting for the main dishes for one hour, it was spicy, the staff did not understand English, we did not understand their language, we had so much laughter that day! Fortunately, the staff was very polite, and the tandoori chicken – bread “Nan” was delicious!. I will be sharing some Indian recipes in the near future. 🙂
Finally, Taj Mahal, a creation of a man’s Love towards his wife….On the most beautiful buildings, I have ever seen in my life…The day has finally arrived! We reached very early morning, according to the advice of our guide, in order to avoid the queues. There is a separate queue for Indians and another one for the foreigners and of course different price and very strict control to get in. We had to take our shoes off in order not to spoil the marble, luckily our guide had brought us a few surgical plastic shoes. Also, there is a place where you can leave your shoes but was almost impossible, too much crowded! We took our shoes in hand and then we went to admire the splendid mausoleum and the view to the Yamuna river. As we waited in the queue, our waiting became unbearable! We were curious what will see…and voila it’s our turn!….I remember when I passed the entrance… Unbelievable!!! The monument is remarkable…Really NO picture can describe it…huge, imposing and it changes colors depending on the sunlight. As soon as you enter and see it, you feel so small like a dot, like no matter who you are, where you are, your existence has no meaning in front of this magnificent building. In addition, that morning had a mist and it made it even more impressive…We were lucky, after a while a little sun came up and the building’s beauty revealed completely in front of our eyes. More information about Taj Mahal. Inside the Taj Mahal, there is almost nothing, just a huge tomb and nothing else (the pictures are prohibited). If you find a long queue to get in, and you do not have time, do not get upset, you will not lose anything. In our case, the tail, as you will see in the following photo, was not long so we were able to get in.
Afterwards, a small visit to Agra, to the small Taj Mahal imitation of the great one and the Agra Fort where we decided not to get in – the 75% was under renovation and it was closed. I would like to mention here that the small Taj was constructed prior to the big one, from a Muslim man towards his love for his mother.
Varanasi also known as Benares. Late in the afternoon, we were joined by our guide who informed us about our train trip and our arrival time which was the next day morning. Train is my favourite mean of transport and I was very excited about it! On the station you could see homeless people, small children begging around and… big rats! Our tour guide informed us that he booked first class tickets where the tourists and high class Indians travel. We wanted to go to the toilet, but he said that we will not face any issues with the train toilets. We felt a relief, but actually wrong action! :). Here comes the train and we got to be settled. The cabins are in a very narrow corridor and there are beds up and down as per four, separated by curtains. And here comes the shock! Neither tourists nor high class Indians were in the first class. Most of them were sick people who would go on their last trip to Varanasi to cleanse their sins. (I will refer in more detail in the next article..) Very likely my neighbours on the floor below were half dead…At first was really really shocking…but after visiting Varanasi we could see it a different way…The toilets were indescribable. In order to get in you need boots to get through the water or whatever was dirt was on the floor. We had perfumed handkerchiefs around the nose to endure the smell. Penny did not visit the toilet for total of 24 hours! We tried to sleep, but every now and then passed an Indian offering tea was passing by. Chai chai chai !!!! Furthermore, it was night – we could not gaze at the view, – and we were very hungry (good that we had the crackers with us!). I think up to that day we may have lost two to three pounds each. 🙂 We reached Varanasi, 2 hours later than the scheduled time, due to fog. Don’t get me wrong, traveling by train in India is really a unique experience, despite all the difficulties and the different standard of living. If you are travelling with friends also, you will have a great laugh and great time, I guarantee it!
Varanasi needs a separate post as it is a very special, beautiful, spiritual and shocking city at the same time. Whatever pictures or documentaries you may have seen, nothing prepares you for the reality…As if you are literally in another time as if time has stopped, as if life has little meaning…a city that sucks all of your energy…a city that you will never forget in your life, certainly my favorite city in India. You can read the special post about the Holy city Here
Facts to consider:
- India is a very cheap country, our budget except the ticket was around 300 euro each for 1 week including accommodation, food, tickets to monuments, train tickets, local plain tickets, tour guide, and transportation.
- It is a dirty country, yes it is! Please visit it with an open mind and do not judge anything, it’s a different culture with unique beauty and smiley people.
- If you have a problem with your stomach and generally you are sensitive, take the relevant pills for diarrhea, yes it happened to us also! 🙂
- Only drink bottled water and eat from restaurants, avoid street food.
- Avoid going out alone if you are a female, arrange transportation from your hotel and better do not jump to any taxi’s, rickshaws, just use your common sense.
- Even if you are going into a schedule, leave room for the unexpected to happen…this will give you great stories, great photos, great videos and the real India.
- India is a very spiritual place…if you leave space in your heart and slow down, something will change inside you… Serenity…That’s for sure…
- and remember again… Accept the difference and either you will love it or you will hate it. I personally Love India… 🙂
MOST OF THE PHOTOS ARE MY BEST FRIEND IRINI
Interesting documentaries and videos to watch:
- Chokhi Dhani village
- Chokhi Dhani village
- Amber Fort, Jaipur city
- Taj Mahal national geographic documentary
Travel Books about India:
- Shantaram: A Novel
- Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
- Kaleidoscope City: A Year in Varanasi
To be continued…. NAMASTE.