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India (Delhi, Rajasthan, Mumbai)

Total Pictures Taken: 322

Summary

Detail

Palace on Wheels

Getting There

Contacts


Summary

We spent 17 days India; most of our time was spent on the Palace on Wheels luxury train tour through the state of Rajasthan.  We are glad that we did the train tour because it provided us a chance to view parts of India we would never have seen otherwise, and we met some interesting people, some of whom we plan to see again.  But it took some expectation adjustment because of the extreme 'group' nature of everything about the tour.  We spent a few days in Delhi on either end of the train tour, mostly hanging out near Connaught Place, a big shopping area of Delhi.  We left for Nepal and Tibet, then came back through Delhi to Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), on our way to Thailand.

 

Facts

Currency: Indian Rupee (Rs$46:US$1)

Language: Hindi, English and many others

Internet connection speed: DSL-very fast!

English speaking TV channels (in hotel): 22! (but HBO has commercials)

Religion: 85% Hindu, 10% Moslem, 5% Budhhist/Christian/other

Time difference:  GMT +5:30 (10:30 hours ahead of Atlanta, 9:30 after DST)

Driving lane: left side

Temperature: New Delhi 75-105F, Rajasthan 65-95F

 

Detail

Because we had only a couple days in New Delhi before our train tour, and a few days after the tour, and after Nepal/Tibet, we did not do very much except walk around the area within a couple miles of our hotel, in the India Gate and Connaught Place areas.  The roads around India Gate are wide and everything is quite spread out with huge traffic circles and lots of open space, making a simple path on a map a real challenge on foot.

Connaught Place is a huge horseshoe shaped area of town that is filled with every shop you can imagine, spanning over tens of blocks around the huge circular area.  We walked around this crowded area a few times and it became quite clear that it was not a tourist area -- we were amazed at how few foreigners attended this area.  Maybe the tourists went the to bazaars and markets to which all the auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers want to take them for commissions.

We considered visiting some of the forts and tombs in the New Delhi area, but decided that we would not appreciate it enough after the Palace on Wheels tour.

We will include some of our observations on New Delhi and India, in general, and then provide details about the Palace on Wheels tour.

Sacred Cows

Given the majority Hindu population, cows are considered sacred (but not worshipped) and have the run of all the towns we visited.  Cows freely roam the streets during the day, being fed by strangers (people feed anyone's cows), and then the cows return to their owners at night.  Since cows often walked through the streets they were a constant respected obstacle -- a driver would honk at anyone and everything else, but not at the cows!   According to one of our bus guides for the Palace on Wheels, the penalty for hitting and killing a cow was 6 months in jail.  In comparison, the penalty for hitting and killing a peacock (national bird) was 1 month in jail, and killing a person was only Rs5,000 (because it is too expensive to go through the courts, so you could just pay the victim's family).  We are not sure how accurate any of that is, but cows sure had the run of India.

 

Auto-rickshaw Racket

Auto-rickshaws are small motorized 3 wheel vehicles that crowd the streets of New Delhi and most of the other towns we visited in India.  The auto-rickshaws have mostly replaced the people-powered rickshaws of the past.  We grew to dislike the auto-rickshaw drivers in India  for many reasons.  The first day we took a rickshaw to India Gate from our hotel because the hotel employees said we would not find it otherwise.  The hotel people explained that all auto-rickshaws (and taxis) have government dictated meter rates and they gave us a print-out of the published rates. India Gate was only about an 8 minute auto-rickshaw ride, and when we got there we realized that the driver never started his meter, even though Dan specifically reminded him twice to switch it on when we got in. When Dan asked how much the ride was, he said 'do you like me?'.  We asked again how much, and he smiled and said 'do you like me?'  How annoying!  We gave him some Rupees and he kind of smirked -- we realized later that it was way too much.  His damn tactics had worked on the novice travelers to India.

 

Every few minutes as we walked along the streets an auto-rickshaw would pull over to our side of the road and honk at us.  They could not believe that we would rather walk, and they would follow us, eyeing us the entire time.

 

On two separate occasions when we walked from the Intercontinental Hotel to Connaught Place (which was less than a mile) we were dogged by auto-rickshaw drivers.  On the first occasion, the driver got out of the auto-rickshaw and told us that there was a political protest in the area, that it was not at all safe for us, and that we had better let him take us to a much better shopping emporium for only R5.  We said no thanks, we would be fine.  Another guy came up, clearly in cahoots with the driver, and tried to convince us to go with the driver.  We forced our way past them and continued to Connaught Place.  We saw no political protests, and knew they were lying to get us to shop where they would get a commission.

 

On the second occasion (another day), a driver also got out of his auto-rickshaw and stood in front of us telling us that there was a huge strike in the Connaught Place area, that it was not safe for us to be there, and that all the shops would be closed. He, of course, could take us to a shopping area that was much better for us.  We more aggressively let him know that we would be fine as we moved past him.  He followed saying more things to us, but we ignored him and went on.  All the shops were open and there were no issues, of course.  Later in the week there was a taxi/auto-rickshaw strike that did make it much easier to walk the streets unsolicited!

We found it very sad that they felt like they had to resort to such measures to get tourist business.   It did seem that there were way too many auto-rickshaws on the streets -- way more than the demand, at least while we were there.

 

One interesting point is that auto-rickshaws are not allowed on five-star hotel property.  We learned this when we took one from the train station to the hotel, and he had to drop us off around the corner, at the edge of the hotel property.  We understood how annoying it would be to have tons of auto-rickshaws soliciting customers as soon as they walked out of the hotel lobby.  

On the Palace on Wheels tour, in the small towns we visited, the auto-rickshaws did not solicit business because they knew we were part of a group.  However, they would run right behind us on the narrow streets and lay on the horn while we moved to the side to avoid getting hit.

 

Great Food

We were very pleased with the Indian food we experienced in Delhi and on the Palace on Wheels tour.  Although the food was not as spicy as we prefer (we understand that southern India is best for spicy food), it was very tasty.  We were amazed at how many dishes were created from cottage cheese -- it seemed like the Indian version of tofu.  Although we had a lot of good food, the  best individual food dishes all came at our day 4 dinner on the POW train.  The dishes included: Paneer Rajala (fried cottage cheese, chopped onion, cream, salt, white peeper, cashewnut and makhana), Gobhi Achari (fried cauliflower cumin seed, red chillies, powdered mustard, kalatil, kalonji, black peeper, cinnamon stick, cardmon, clove, lemon juice), and Mutton Sagwala (boneless lamb pieces, ground spinach and Indian spices).

 

Tipping Pressure

Tipping, or backsheesh as it is referred to in India, was a bit of a stress point for us.  It seemed that too often there were too many people involved in a transaction to easily tip.   We did tip a lot, but when three people would help us get out of a car, and two baggage people would deliver bags (we only had 2 bags) to our room, or two people would come to deliver something to our room which only required one person, we ended up not tipping at all.  On the second day of the POW tour, Dan counted 10 tipping opportunities where we could (or should?) tip -- a bit taxing!  At the end of the POW tour, we were all wondering how much we should tip our very attentive cabin stewards, and the POW provided formal guidance.  One manager said people typically give the steward US$70-100 per cabin. If you do the math, they do quite well!  We understand why Umesh, our steward, had been doing this for 12 years.

 

Littering

We were quite surprised at the seemingly consistent propensity to litter in all the areas of India we visited.  Of course all smokers just dropped their cigarette butts anywhere they pleased, but that is no different from most places in the world.  But in India we saw people on the street just drop their food wrappers at their feet, throw their paper cups or plastic bottles on the ground, and many instances of throwing trash from the windows of cars or the backs of trucks.  In Delhi there must have been some organized effort to remove the trash from the main streets because we did not see the mass accumulation we would expect with those practices (of course, many alleys, side areas, and gutters were full of trash).  But from the railway we could see huge accumulations all around houses and streets in many of the outlying towns.   While waiting in the parked bus on the streets of Udaipur, we watched a business owner walk out of his shop carrying a huge package of trash, cross the street, walk in front of the bus, and throw the package over the wall of a residential courtyard next to us -- the courtyard was perfectly clean except for this new trash.  We were extra disturbed when we heard from one of the POW passengers that they saw a POW steward throw a huge package of trash from the moving train -- at least he was embarrassed when he realized he had been seen! 

 

 

Palace On Wheels

The Palace on Wheels (POW) tour is described as "a journey worthy of kings" and by Indian standards it is very expensive.  When we arrived at the Delhi train station, there was a large white tent with music playing and drinks to welcome us.  The tent stuck out like a sore thumb in the train station, which has seen better days.  The sore thumb idea also describes the way we felt as we entered many of the cities we visited.  We definitely stood out -- in part because of the sheer number of us.

There are four passenger cabins per train car, with a small breakfast area at one end.  Our cabin was about 72 square feet (9x8) with a very small full bathroom.  Our very service-oriented cabin attendants waited on us constantly -- waking us up in the morning, serving us breakfast, bringing water to the room, cleaning up the rooms, giving us cool moist  towels each time we returned from a hot day of touring.  When we were having electrical plug issues with the laptop, Umesh, our main attendant, insisted on going to an electrician in the next town to make sure that we had full power.  When Dan was clear that he did not need to eat breakfast each morning, Umesh insisted on bringing at least a glass of juice to the cabin which we accepted with a smile (and then poured down the sink). 

The train has a whole car dedicated to the bar/lounge area and two cars dedicated to dining.  We were quite surprised that the only wine we were offered was US$45/bottle (later on we found out there was a US$12 comparable bottle that the bartender was not pushing.)   Each meal consisted of 10-12 small courses served by waiters.  We could of course eat as much as we wanted, and the food was good to excellent at every meal.

Because there were 60 people on the tour (the train held a max of 120), we were in a large group every day.  The tour provided three large buses for us each day, and we traveled with the same 25 people in our bus each

day.  We had to seriously adjust our expectations and attitudes to tolerate the negative points of group touring.  Fortunately, there were some cool people on the train, many of whom also were not fond of group touring.  And, the benefit of group touring is that it allowed us to go to some areas we might otherwise not have seen.

The following provides details of the schedule and locations toured on the POW trip.

Day 1 - Delhi

We joined the POW tour at 4PM at the Delhi Cantonment train station.  There was a big white tent in which we waited until the train was ready.  Around 5PM, the cabin stewards came out to the terminal and chaperoned each guest to the cabin.  Our cabin steward, Umesh, must have been busy because as most of the people moved to the train, we just walked to our cabin car to meet him.  When we left the terminal, there were several women dressed in saris who gave us flower garlands and painted dots on our foreheads.


Umesh showed us our cabin -- all 70 square feet of it!  Soon after the train started moving, we went to the bar car, ate the many hors d'oeuvres passed through the bar car and drank out first bottle of relatively expensive wine.  We were both in the middle of good books, so we were a bit anti-social, reading in the bar car.


Our first night on the moving train was pretty good.  We actually slept fairly well with the rocking of the train, but it seemed that the train stopped/started a lot, and passing trains would lay on their train whistle while they passed!

We found it interesting that this is a '7 day tour', when the first day starts at 6PM and is only dinner on the train.  Most interesting is that you pay by day, so the cost is a per day cost times 7 (no option for just 6).

Day 2 - Jaipur

As we got off the train on day 2 at Jaipur, there was a big Palace on Wheels welcome banner, flanked by two elephants with riders, musicians playing Indian music, and the women to give us the garlands and forehead dots!  The riders would move the elephants close for petting and pictures, then immediately lean over for baksheesh.

We boarded the three buses and headed toward town, where we first stopped for pictures of Hawa Mahal, which is basically a large pink building facade in the middle of the old part of town. It is a fake building front that used to serve to allow women to watch happenings in the street without being seen.

Then we went to Amber Palace, where we immediately got in line (actually moved to the front of the line) for the required elephant ride up the road to the palace entrance.  There must have been 50 elephants and 200 tourists at the bottom -- what a horrible group scene!  They put four people on the back of each elephant and slowly plodded up the hill.  The rides were included in our tour, but of course we had to tip the elephant drivers.

Then we boarded the buses to be taken to a carpet factory to see the entire rug making process, and to experience our first 'forced selling/shopping' on this tour.  A carpet factory manager walked us around outside where the steps in the carpet making process take place.  The process is very long and labor intensive.  He then led us into a large, open, comfortable room with seats all around the walls and stacks and stacks of rolled rugs, and then closed the doors.  They told us to relax and be comfortable, and they offered us cold soda drinks/water.  Then it started.  They said 'please, no pressure, we just want to show you the high quality/best price products we produce, because you are special you get the best price, no need to negotiate, you have seen it made so you can trust its quality...'  A number of 'friendly' sales people would cover the room and watch your eyes to see if you made any expression whatsoever at any of the many rugs being unrolled rapidly on the vast floor.  They then approached and greeted you and then focused on selling you a carpet at 'the best price'.  We soon determined that the best price was about 4 times higher than other 'best prices' available in a non-forced shopping situation.  The penalty for being on a POW tour!

For lunch, the bus took us to The Palace Hotel, a palace-turned-luxury-hotel.  We ate a buffet lunch and some people went swimming.

Later we were taken to a 'special' jewelry store, for free cold soda/water, and guess what, 'forced shopping'.  We bucked the group and walked around the small town instead.  We enjoyed being on our own and just walking around the town.  Many of the passengers in the group were quite annoyed with the forced shopping situation.  There was much discussion on the amount of commission the guides or POW got from any sales at these places. 

Our last touring stop in Jaipur was a huge outdoor observatory and City Palace.  The observatory, built in the 1700's, had huge structures for viewing stars and planets and for keeping very precise time.  These structures were very interesting, although we did not completely understand how they worked.  The City Palace was a not a very impressive palace on the inside.  It was just a couple of large courtyards with some very small museums.  The tour guide insisted on reviewing every piece of clothing in the textile museum -- fortunately there were only about 15 things to look at in the whole museum.   We noticed that most of the palace museums had very few items and very little documentation on any items on display.

We had to 'kill time', until the train was available again for boarding, so the bus dropped us off at the Jai Mahal hotel, another palace-turned-luxury-hotel.  It had very elaborately organized grounds, but did not have any  interesting history that we could discern.

That night Dan could not get the laptop power cord to draw power from our cabin outlet.  Umesh insisted on taking the power cord into the next town to get an electrician to look at it. The next afternoon, the power cord was plugged in and working perfectly!  Umesh was definitely very helpful, and weenjoyed having him as our cabin steward.

Day 3 - Jaisalmer

We started late from Jaisalmer because the train arrived late in the train station.  Jaisalmer is called the Golden City because all the buildings are carved from sandstone which shines yellow/gold in the sun.  The town is in the Thar desert, the second largest desert in the world after the Sahara.  Supposedly, Jaisalmer is the closest Indian tourist town to the Pakistan border.  The POW tour arrival dates are well-marked on the town's calendar -- it is said to be the highlight of the week for the town.

After visiting a very old reservoir that gathers water during the monsoon seasons, we walked through many of the streets of town.  We entered one showcase haveli (stone home) and took some panoramic pictures from the roof top.  Unfortunately, the quilt shop at the bottom worked it so that we were subjected to forced-shopping/selling for much too long.  Dan reminded the guide that we had places to see (anywhere but there!), and he soon allowed us to move on. 

One of the biggest attractions in the town is Jaisalmer Fort, which is quite large, well-preserved, and is still home for over 3,000 people (though we believe many of them are vendors).  The fort was pretty cool and had a great deal of historical significance.  We were quite amazed that it had several internet/email shops -- they were all full! 

Late in the afternoon, we ventured out to Sam, a remote camel riding development area in the Thar desert, very close to the Pakistan border -- we saw fighter planes flying by as we drove the long distance to the area.  Fortunately, they only required two people per camel so we had our own (vs. the 4/elephant in Jaipur).  We joined the long line of 30+ camels on a short ride through the desert sand dunes.  A very annoying situation, which the POW guide warned us about, was that the camel guide walking in front of the camel, would offer to take us for an 'extra long' ride.  The big point was that the POW had paid for the ride, but anything else we agreed to with the camel guide we would have to pay for -- the guide warned us to be careful to agree on a price ahead of time for any extension of the ride  Well, the camel guides' tactics seem to have refined over time.  After about 15 minutes of riding, all the camel guides congregated the camels/riders around an area in the dunes.  Some of the camel guides continued further.  Our guide said 'would you like to continue. your friends are going further?'  We said, no that was far enough.  He again said 'this is not far enough, don't you want farther?'  We said 'take us back please'.  Of course he mentioned no price, but we knew it would cost more.  Some of the others were taken by these tactics.  On the return a young boy kid came up and asked if we wanted to buy a coke -- we said no -- he opened it anyway and said 'for the camel driver, he is so thirsty'!  Pretty annoying, but it was only Rs20 (~US40) so we paid the kid.  We later learned that the drivers who took their riders on the extra 10 minute ride demanded Rs200 for it.  We also learned that they had not taken us as far as the POW had paid for, so they were actually stopping early, and then demanding extra payment for taking us as far as was already paid for by POW.  When we tipped our camel guide the Rs50 that the POW recommended, he looked extremely disappointed.

We then drove to a luxury hotel for dinner and entertainment by the large pool.  It was a long day, as we returned to the train after 11PM!

Day 4 - Jodhpur

On day 4 we visited Jodhpur, called the Blue City because many of the houses are painted blue.  There were a few possible explanations provided for why blue is the color of choice: show of class in their caste system, better bug repellent, or easier on the eyes in the bright sun.  Jodhpur is also called 'Sun City' because is has the 'maximum number of sunny days in a year' (not sure what that means!)

We first drove to the Jaswant Thada tomb which was built from the same marble used for the Taj Mahal.  During the visit we saw a 4 foot long black cobra snake slithering away from us on the sidewalk as we walked around the garden.  We had strayed from the group so we were the only ones to see the snake.  At first when it saw us it had its hood fully extended, then as it escaped through the garden underbrush it pulled the hood back and looked like any other black snake.

Then we walked through Mehrangarh Fort, one of the best preserved forts we visited -- because it was so far inland and protected by other districts it was never conquered.  It had huge high ramparts, complete with cannons, that provided great views of the city. 

Our guide wanted to take us for 'special shopping' before lunch, but the whole bus rebelled, and instead, we went straight to the Ummaid Bhawan palace for lunch.  This palace was run by the Sheraton group of hotels -- we had had enough of palace/hotels at this point, so that we sat in the huge lobby and read our books.

Dinner on the train that night provided some of the best dishes of the trip (see Food section above)!

Day 5 - Sawai Madhopur / Chittorgarh

Day 5 included a very early morning game dive through the Ranthambore National Park, renowned for the 28 tigers it holds.  Since we had done the safaris in Tanzania and South Africa we were not as excited about this, but we thought it would be cool to see some tigers in the wild for the first time.  We had three 25-person open jeeps and drove quite a way to the park.  Unfortunately, our jeep was loud, and our guide seemed disinterested in the whole excursion.  In addition, we had some smokers who littered the National Park with their cigarette butts.  As it turned out, ours was the only jeep to not see any tigers.  Quite a disappointment.

After a big breakfast on the train we left mid-day for  the town of Chittorgarh to see Chittorgrah Fort.  This fort was mostly ruins and the least interesting of all the forts we visited.

We stayed parked in  Chittorgarh train station all night for our first non-rocky sleep -- we had gotten quite used to bouncing around in our sleep, but it was nice to have a calm night.  Of course, the other trains coming through the station still blew their whistles all the way through the station!

The 'pride' of India - the Taj Mahal in Agra.  This was our last stop on the Palace on Wheels train tour. in-pow-agr-taj-mahal-front-dan-kristen-2-600.jpg (66834 bytes)
in-del-india-gate-kristen-600.jpg (59461 bytes) One of the few pictures from Delhi.  Kristen and the India Gate, a memorial for the Indian soldiers who served in WW II .
We rode in the 'auto-rickshaw' many times in Delhi, though not as many times they would have liked (they followed us and honked 'wanta ride? wanta ride?' all the time!) in-del-auto-ricksaw-view-driver-600.jpg (78488 bytes)
in-pow-prep-welcome-tent-dan-600.jpg (122469 bytes) Our welcome to the very basic Delhi train station to embark on the Palace on Wheels train tour.  They had a music trio playing, serving drinks, in a shaded tent.
Umesh, our personal cabin steward, waited on us 'hand and foot' the entire trip.  He has been doing this on the train tour for 12 years! in-pow-chi-train-entering-utesh-dan-2-600.jpg (66873 bytes)
in-pow-prep-car-cabin-kristen-dan-600.jpg (85485 bytes) We are smiling on our first entrance into our home for 7 days, even though it is only 72 sq ft in size.
We are returning from a day of seeing palaces and forts. in-pow-chi-train-kristen-dan-600.jpg (69649 bytes)
in-pow-del-moving-sunset-4-600.jpg (42824 bytes) Our view of the sunset from our cabin as the train moved through Rajasthan.
At each station as we got off the train to start our day of touring, we were met with some sort of celebration.  At Jaipur, there were elephants, music, and local women to place "leis" around our necks and dots on our foreheads.. in-pow-jai-welcome-sign-2-600.jpg (87786 bytes)
in-pow-jai-bus-view-street-1-600.jpg (107384 bytes) A view of the streets in Jaipur from our tour bus.
Dan checking out a marble  carved screen on the window of Amber Palace in Jaipur.  The queen and other women watched the happenings in the palace courtyard, through these screens so they could participate but not be seen. in-pow-jai-amber-palace-inside-mesh-dan-600.jpg (117192 bytes)
in-pow-jai-amber-palace-inside-kristen-1-600.jpg (107814 bytes) Kristen in one of many  mirror/marble/gold/gem decorated rooms in Amber Palace in Jaipur.
The great tourist attraction of Amber Palace is the elephant rides to the palace -- required transport to the palace . This is truly 'group touring' -- 4 people per elephant in a chain of 30 elephants going up a 1/4 mile hill. in-pow-jai-amber-palace-elephant-dan-kristen-600.jpg (104428 bytes)
in-pow-jai-carpet-factory-block-painting-600.jpg (96203 bytes) One of the typical tourist stops (should  we say traps?): carpet factory.  We got to see how they do  block painting to make the colorful clothes.
in-pow-jai-carpet-factory-process-4a-600.jpg (99933 bytes) And we learned the entire, very long, process of making rugs.  This is the 4th step in the process: washing rug.
in-pow-jai-carpet-factory-process-8-600.jpg (106637 bytes) And the whole point of stopping to learn the process: to 'sit in a closed (?locked) room, have a drink, no pressure to buy, you have 30 more minutes here anyway, you know it is top quality, we give best price' sales pitch. We saw this more than once!
We are standing on the streets of Jaipur, the Pink City, flanked by  Hawa Mahal.   It is a huge facade of a much smaller building used to provide women a place to watch happenings in the street without being seen. in-pow-jai-hawa-mahal-kristen-dan-600.jpg (89836 bytes)
in-pow-jai-city-palace-textile-sign-dan-1-600.jpg (86574 bytes) We found 'museums' in the many towns we stopped in to be lacking.  This one, the 'textiles' museum of the City Palace in Jaipur, had 3 rooms with glass compartments and 200-400 year old clothing that looks much like clothes they wear today.  The guides insist on stopping to view every piece of cloth!
The observatory next to the City Palace in Jaipur, built in the ??1700's??, has huge structures for viewing the stars and planets and keeping time to a very precise accuracy.  Dan is checking his time against this huge time device that supposedly is forever accurate to 20 seconds.  in-pow-jai-observatory-time-2-dan-2-600.jpg (68737 bytes)

in-pow-jai-palace-hotel-kristen-pano-2200.jpg (181399 bytes)

A panoramic of Kristen standing in front of the Palace Hotel in Jaipur, where the group ate lunch one day.  It is now a luxury hotel.
We had lots of time to kill after lunch, so Dan posed next to an elephant hedge.  Can you say 'cheesey'? in-pow-jai-jai-mahal-hotel-elephant-hedge-dan-600.jpg (69787 bytes)
in-pow-jsm-amar-sager-lake-pano-2200.jpg (191738 bytes) A panoramic of a reservoir palace in Jaisalmer.  They built this in the 1400's to collect water during the monsoon season.
If the water line reached the height of Kristen at the stairs to the water, they would have enough reserve water to support the town for 3 years . in-pow-jsm-amar-sager-water-level-kristen-600.jpg (66229 bytes)
in-pow-jsm-amar-sager-trash-bin-600.jpg (75373 bytes) Typical out of the way trash receptacle.  All we saw were empty.  Not surprising to us given the apparent comfort of most locals to just throw all trash onto the ground.
View of the streets as we walked through Jaisalmer.  We walked through the town for couple hours. in-pow-jsm-street-view-2-600.jpg (79620 bytes)
in-pow-jsm-street-girls-600.jpg (96571 bytes) Girls watching the 'strange tour group' watching them, or at least the sandstone building here where they are standing.  They begged us to buy bracelets as we walked.
Dan getting down from the top of a haveli (house) in Jaisalmer, after taking the panoramic pictures below.

in-pow-jsm-haveli-rooftop-tower-dan-600.jpg (50386 bytes)

in-pow-jsm-haveli-rooftop-view-fort-pano-2200.jpg (191901 bytes) A panoramic view of the Jaisalmer Fort from the top of the haveli.
in-pow-jsm-haveli-rooftop-view-pano-2200.jpg (263490 bytes) A rooftop panoramic view of the Jaislamer buildings.
Jaisalmer is known as the Golden City because all the buildings are made of carved sand stone, which shows gold in the sunlight (so they say). Kristen is standing in front of the one we entered, toured, and then got subjected to a quilt forced selling situation. in-pow-jsm-haveli-front-kristen-600.jpg (95811 bytes)
in-pow-jod-mehrangarh-fort-cannon-dan-2-600.jpg (88005 bytes) Dan standing on the ramparts of Mehrangarh Fort in Jodphur, the 'Blue City'.
A panoramic view of the Blue City (Jodphur) from the fort. in-pow-jod-mehrangarh-fort-rampart-view-city-pano-1600.jpg (252033 bytes)
in-pow-jsm-fort-jaine-temple-inside-holyman-600.jpg (101301 bytes) A holy man in one of the seven Jain Temples in Mehrangarh fort.  There are over 3,000 people living within the fort walls today.  Most seem to be vendors catering to tourists.
Kristen standing on a ledge over Jodphur, at a tomb near the fort. in-pow-jod-jaswant-tomb-view-blue-kristen-600.jpg (58754 bytes)
Another panoramic of the Blue City from the tomb. in-pow-jod-jaswant-tomb-view-blue-pano-2200.jpg (293726 bytes)
in-pow-jod-jaswant-tomb-cobra-snake-600.jpg (89326 bytes) As we walked around the garden of the tomb in Jodphur, a 3 foot long cobra slithered across the path.  We followed him until he hid in a dense bush.
While stopped in Jaisalmer, we were taken to Sam, a tourist development close to the Pakistan border, where we rode camels.  These are the few pictures that don't have some of the other 60 people/camels in them!  in-pow-jsm-sam-camel-dan-kristen-1-600.jpg (53288 bytes)
in-pow-jsm-sam-camel-shadow-3-600.jpg (65705 bytes) Our ride took place as the sun was setting so we made cool shadows on the sand.
Dan just before getting off our camel. in-pow-jsm-sam-camel-sitting-dan-600.jpg (73289 bytes)
in-pow-jsm-sam-sunset-2-600.jpg (38230 bytes) The sunset in the desert after our camel ride.  Not nearly as impressive as others we have seen.
In Jaisalmer, the group went to Gorbandh Palace hotel for dinner and entertainment.  A long day! in-pow-jsm-gorbandh-palace-dinner-pool-600.jpg (74916 bytes)
in-pow-saw-ranthambore-entrance-crowd-600.jpg (88041 bytes) While stopped in Sawai Madhopur, we had a game drive in Ranthambore National Park.  Notice the crowds entering the park for game drives (almost same picture as Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania)!
in-pow-saw-ranthambore-boar-2-600.jpg (113083 bytes) We were searching for tigers in the park while riding in our 25 person open air jeep.  Unfortunately, the wild boar was the only interesting animal we saw.
Dan in Chittorgarh Fort with the Victory Tower behind him. in-pow-chi-fort-victory-tower-dan-600.jpg (60942 bytes)
in-pow-chi-fort-view-to-side-600.jpg (91434 bytes) A reservoir within the walls of the Chittorgarh Fort.  This fort was mostly in ruins, and at this point in the tour we were mostly 'forted' out..
An example of Hindi language.  This sign is saying something about something in Chittorgarh Fort. in-pow-chi-fort-temple-sign-600.jpg (81666 bytes)
in-pow-uda-lake-palace-jag-mandir-pano-2200.jpg (234402 bytes) Panoramic view of the lake palaces in Udaipur.  The one on the left was the location for the alligator scenes in the James Bond movie, Octopussy.
Dan standing in the hotel/palace on the shore, with the Lake Palace in the background. in-pow-lake-palace-dan-600.jpg (49320 bytes)
in-pow-uda-paint-shop-inspect-kristen-600.jpg (54224 bytes) Kristen humoring the painting sales people in a forced painting/carving selling situation in Udaipur.
During the forced selling we saw a very cool very intricate sandalwood carving of a sword with other smaller inlaid carvings.  The 'best price' in this best priced shop was US$7,000! in-pow-uda-paint-shop-carving-man-600.jpg (77031 bytes)
in-pow-bha-fatehpur-sikri-pano-1-2200.jpg (175669 bytes) View of the courtyard in  Fatehpur Sikri palace in Bhartpur.
Kristen in our typical 'group setting', trying to be interested in a carved column in Fatehpur Sikri palace. in-pow-bha-fatehpur-sikri-crowd-kristen-600.jpg (80883 bytes)
in-pow-bha-fatehpur-sikri-lawn-mower-1-600.jpg (127110 bytes) The lawnmower in Fatehpur Sikri.  This picture cost us 10 rupees -- you do not ignore the outstretched hand of a man carrying a machete.
As painful as it was, we went on a rickshaw ride through the National Bird Sanctuary in Bhartpur.  The driver could not understand why were not taking lots of pictures of the far way birds and asking lots of questions.  Typically, only 'birders' come here. in-pow-bha-bird-sanctuary-rickshaw-kristen-dan-600.jpg (115797 bytes)
in-pow-agr-taj-mahal-front-1-600.jpg (63838 bytes) The famous Taj Mahal in Agra.
Kristen standing by the intricately carved marble with inlaid gemstones (no paint) at the entrance to the Taj Mahal.  Unfortunately no cameras allowed in the actual building. in-pow-agr-taj-mahal-wall-kristen-600.jpg (128084 bytes)
in-pow-agr-taj-mahal-hawker-1-600.jpg (65848 bytes) Outside the Taj, we were assaulted by 'hawkers' pitching goods as we drove away.
The flower petal welcome sign at the Jaypee Palace in Agra where we ate dinner.  The wooden snakes are ours -- we bought them for our nephews. in-pow-agr-jaypee-palace-flower-sign-snakes-600.jpg (60364 bytes)
in-mum-juhu-beach-view-pano-2-2200.jpg (243778 bytes) During our short stopover in Mumbai, we stayed on Juhu Beach, where huge crowds gathered each night.
On Juhu Beach in Mumbai, each day near sunset, they set up and powered Ferris wheels manually. in-mum-juhu-beach-ferris-wheel-7-600.jpg (110209 bytes)
in-mum-juhu-beach-sunset-04-600.jpg (44598 bytes) Sunset on Juhu Beach.
 

Day 6 - Chittorgarh / Udaipur

Because the train could not go to Udaipur, we had to take the buses for a 2+ hour ride from Chittorgarh to lunch at the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur.  The Lake Palace is a palace-turned-luxury-hotel that lies in the middle of a large lake.  We had to take a boat to the palace for lunch.  Because it was just before monsoon season, the lake was quite empty, so the impact was not as cool as it could have been.  An interesting point is that the accompanying palace in another part of the lake was the location for the James Bond alligator-fighting scene in the movie Octopussy.  While sitting in the lobby of the Lake Palace hotel, updating the web site, we met a very cool couple who are teaching abroad in Mumbai -- we made plans to hook up with them as we pass through Mumbai on our way to Bangkok.

On our way through the residential areas of Udaipur, our guide pointed to some fairly large houses and said they came from 'black money'.  He said that the income tax is 65%, but the government has no means to determine how much someone makes in the private sector and no way to enforce tax collection, so the rich 'voluntarily' pay only 3-5% of their income in taxes, and the rest they keep as 'black money'.

They took us on a painting/carving 'forced-shopping/selling' trip, but it was much less painful than others.  We skipped out after the demonstrations to the nearest internet cafe.

We left for Bharatpur late in the evening.

Day 7 - Bharatpur / Agra

Not being birders, we were not very excited about the morning tour in Bharatpur, a bicycle-rickshaw tour of the National Bird Sanctuary.  When the buses arrived, the 50+ rickshaw drivers jumped to attention to get their passengers.  Our driver could not understand why we did not ask lots of questions and take lots of pictures while he rode in line along the road through the sanctuary.  But he admitted that it was off-season and that there were not very many interesting birds -- the place was deserted!  On the way back from the 30 minute ride, he starting asking 'do you like me, did you like my tour ...'.  He suggested a Rs300-400 tip for his great services, but we gave him the POW recommended Rs50.

After the bird tour, we toured Fatehpur Sikri, another palace with many courtyards..

The train left for Agra, home of the famous Taj Majal, while we ate lunch on board the train.  'The Taj' is as impressive and beautiful as it is built up to be -- a massive symmetrical structure with no expense spared.  Kristen especially loved the Taj.  A notable point in getting to the Taj, however, is the crowds and aggressiveness of hawkers.  We had to leave the buses and board electric taxis to get to the entrance of the Taj grounds (for the protection of the Taj, gas-powered vehicles are not allowed near the Taj). Exposed for just the few minutes between the bus and the taxi, we were "attacked" (seriously, they grabbed at us, trying to get our attention and get us to buy their wares) by vendors hawking every tourist good  imaginable.  When we arrived at the north gate of the Taj grounds, we stood in a huge crowd to get past the entrance.  The hawkers are not allowed inside the grounds, so we were able to enjoy the experience without being solicited to buy souvenirs.  Photographers, however, are allowed inside, and several photographers approached us to take staged photographs ('no requirement' to purchase) with the monument.  On our departure from the Taj, the hawkers again attacked us and ran alongside the taxis with their goods and arms in the taxi.

There had been a big controversy on board the train earlier in the day because the POW had requested that we depart the train by 6AM (rather than the scheduled 8AM departure) the next morning so they could board a private charter at 8AM for the next trip.  We all knew this was the case when we started the tour, so it was no big deal, except that they also wanted to cancel the dinner at the Jaypee Palace that night, in order to get people back to the train earlier that night to pack their bags.  As a matter of principle, many of the group signed a petition demanding that we get dinner at the hotel.  The POW had already paid for the hotel so they were ok with the change, so they 'gave in'.  We did not sign the petition because we had found the dinner on the train to be quite good, especially in comparison to the hotel lunches and dinners we had had.  So, after touring the Taj Mahal, we sat around the Jaypee Palace for a few hours waiting for dinner. We and a Brit living in Hong Kong, went bowling in the hotel entertainment center to kill time.  As expected, the dinner at the hotel was marginal in comparison to the great food on the train.

We packed our stuff, slept, tipped Umesh (he gave us his address to send the pictures we had taken with him for his album), and then departed at 6AM the next morning.

Mumbai

Our Round-The-World ticket flight to Bangkok, Thailand, flew out of Mumbai, so we decided to spend a couple days there before our flight.  We had read pretty bad things about Mumbai, in terms of crowds, poverty, difficulty in getting around, so we were content with staying near our hotel in the Juhu Beach area.  The travel books describe Juhu Beach as the 'sunset boulevard' of India -- not sure we agree, but it was a decent place to spend a couple days.  As we walked on the beach in the evening we witnessed huge crowds of people congregate on the beach after work and stroll, play games, eat/drink, watch the sunset, etc.  We happened to be there on a Saturday, and we could not believe the number of people on the beach.  We had read that the water was very polluted, and we did notice that not many people actually went in the water.  We were the only foreigners we saw in the area, and we were pleasantly surprised how few hawkers approached us (only about 5 in a 45 minute walk).  We found the Ferris wheels interesting -- they were manually powered, with 6 guys jumping on and off forcing them to spin.  We were amazed that they moved all the stands, rides, tables/chairs to the beach just before the masses arrived, and removed it all before the next morning.  We took some great sunset and interesting crowd pictures.

The next day we attended Easter service at a local church around the corner from the hotel.  Given what we believe to be a low proportion of Christians in India, we felt quite fortunate to have found a church so close by.

 

Getting There

After our one night in London we flew all day (11 hours) on British Airways, arriving in Delhi at 1:20AM.  Fortunately, we flew first class so we were able to relax, eat, sleep, and watch movies in comfort.  When we explained to the flight attendants that we had seen most of the movies on the movie tape list, they were very nice and let us 'borrow' the main run movies to be used on the flight back to London.  So we were able to finish Traffic, which we had started on the flight to London the night before (see London - Getting There).  After the long flight we were the first ones off the plane and the first ones into customs.  India was one of only two places for which we had to get visas before our trip started (see Prep - Visas) so we breezed through customs.  As a nice added first class feature, British Airlines had set up a first class podium at the baggage claim carousel with moist towels and mineral water for first class passengers!!  They also removed first class bags as they came off the belt and placed them at the podium.  It was very nice service, which we totally did not expect.

The night before arriving in Delhi we looked online for hotels and decided to stay at the Hotel Inter-Continental.  As Six Continents Club members we would get special privileges and it looked like the hotel was in a decent area according to online maps.  We had to make an international call to make the reservation because we were tired of getting the 'rack rate' listed on the website and we needed them to pick us up at the airport.  After some miscommunications and a lengthy phone call we felt somewhat sure that the hotel would pick us up at the airport, but got nowhere on the price. 

Since we had seen it many times now, we were used to the huge crowds at the airports wanting to get passengers into their taxis or just waiting on arriving guests.  The Hotel Inter-Continental ride was there to pick us up, and we got into his subcompact car.  As we got to the car, someone hanging around near the curb tried grab the bags to help put the bags in the car (even though there were already two hotel people helping), clearly expecting a tip for the 2 seconds of unneeded help.  Fortunately, the driver pushed him away.

 

Contacts

Name Contact Info Comment
Hotel Inter-Continental New Delhi Hotel Inter-Continental New Delhi Older luxury hotel in Connaught Place area (near India Gate).  Pretty good 5 star hotel. Has DSL internet access!  Be sure to look for Rakhee.
Palace on Wheels

Palace On Wheels site

The easy (though expensive) way to see many places in Rajasthan.  Be prepared for group touring.
Holiday Inn Bombay Holiday Inn Bombay Considered a five star hotel on Juhu Beach.  Old, but nice enough.

 

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