Day Ten – Home

Uneventful flight home, even arriving exactly on time.

The food was dreadful.  I can usually eat something on a plane but not this time – soggy warm vegetable curry rolls with some rubber like cheese for supper and curried fruit salad for breakfast.  Yuck.

Watched three films.

Oh, I should mention that there was no water in the loos.  The toilets flushed but you couldn’t wash your hands or face.  That’s not quite true.  Kingfisher solved the problem by putting a plastic bottle of water by the sink!

Heathrow was 0 Celcius after 30 Celsius in Mumbai!  I didn’t go to India prepared for the cold and so, I arrived back unprepared for the cold.

In summary, a totally splendid holiday.  I can’t imagine how you could see everything we saw and do what we did in 10 days using any other from of transport.  It would be too difficult to organise.

We had our rough moments but we expected there to be some and all that was needed was a good sense of humour.

Well done Riviera Travel and the Maharaja Train and with especial thanks to Anne Mitchell and Lokesh, our tour guides and all our fellow travellers.

By Dominic

Day Nine – Mumbai

Set off after lunch yesterday for Mumbai and left the train at 8:15 am this morning. We had the city tour.

We had an excellent tour guide.  She gave us a fascinating look at the city.

It was also good that she pulled no punches about the British history in India. Our tour guide had “attitude”.  She praised the legacy of Education, Railways, Telegraph, Government and Cricket but she  wryly showed us an hotel built in 18xx that used to have a sign: “No Indians, No Dogs”.

Quite embarrassing really.

At one point she said, “We welcome anyone who comes here as an honoured guest, even if they are British or Pakistani”.  Barbed comment but I don’t even think she realised what she said.

Mumbai is very interesting. Mumbai in the centre could almost be London. Victorian buildings, clean streets, (yes, London streets are clean!), disciplined traffic, well dressed people.

We visited the India Gate down by the waterfront. This gate was the last building built by the British.

We had a pit stop at the Taj Hotel that suffered the dreadful attack by Pakistani terrorists with machine guns.

The town hall.

Victoria Station now renamed into something unpronouncable and unspellable.

We visited the Gandhi Museum which was intriguing. He actually lived in the house and his bedroom was preserved.

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And we visited the “laundry”. Clothes are taken from the home, washed, dried on rooftops, ironed and returned in vast quantities.

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Our hotel, The Leela Kepinski, is outside Mumbai past some grim slums and very near the airport. It is wonderful – marble, brass, quiet, organised, luxury, not rocking from side to side, huge bedroom with space, wide corridors where people can get past each other with ease and most of all an enormous bath with unlimited quantities of piping hot water. Is this what heaven is like?

A quiet afternoon on the terrace by the pool before tomorrow’s flight.

Have heard nothing at all about Kingfisher so I guess all is well on that front.

We have had a fabulous holiday. I can’t think of a better way to see India. Travel could have been a problem but we avoided it all. The sights have been outstanding and the glitches have been part of the adventure.

Tonight we will not be eating vegetarian curry. Something Italian in the hotel rooftop restaurant.

(In fact, I had lamb chops.  The first meat in 10 days – devine.)

Signing off now. I hope you have enjoyed our experience.

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A cannon Ball tree.

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By Dominic

Day Eight – The Caves of Ajanta

In passing, I should mention that the jet lag has gone, we are stopping in quieter stations and we have got used to the hard beds. With that and the early morning calls so we can get to sights before the rush – we have been sleeping like babies!

On the other hand we have finally succumbed to a mild dose of Delhi Belly. I had it 36 hours ago and Sue this morning. Several others too. Hey Ho!

We started today with a 5:30am alarm for a 7:45 start. Getting up and breakfast takes a while. Then 1 and 1/2 hours in the coach to the Ajanta caves.

First we were given the opportunity to visit some vile toilets. Then a local dance exhibition. You might just make out the elephant faced god in the sedan.

It was a climb up to the caves. Two of our group with bad legs went by sedan. Very scary.
These caves are also man made. They are older than Ellora by 6 centuries. They started in 200 BC and all are Buddhist. They are all in the cliff wall rather than starting at ground level.

Again, all 26 temples and monasteries are carved out of one rock.

They were lost for 1000 years overgrown and in a valley feared by the locals because of tigers.

They were found in 1819 by an Englishman on a tiger hunt.

The astonishing thing is the paintings on the walls and ceilings. Sadly, no photos. To protect them they are kept in dim lighting and no flash is allowed.

Fabulous!

On the way back we had to stop the coach at a pharmacy to buy some antibiotics for the Delhi Belly.  Well,what can I say?  The pharmacy was just one of the many grotty little open fronted stores with piles of rubbish just outside.  No prescription was needed!  He cut the right number of pills of a strip with a pair of scissors.  Ten for me and ten for Sue then charged me the equivalent of 67p!   They were properly packaged and labelled so we did take them.  (They did work as it happens)

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By Dominic

Day Seven – The Caves of Ellora

What a day!

Two days ago Udaipur was great sight seeing but nothing exciting. Yesterday was 24 hours on the train. Surprisingly it was not boring even if it was uneventful.

Then today!

We took a coach for the 70km journey to the Caves of Ellora. Part of the journey was up a steep serpentine road with many curves and switchbacks. On one side there was a cliff and some ramshackle or non-existent crash barriers; on the other there was a large monsoon ditch.

The road was narrow. Just enough space for a coach and lorry to pass each other with about 9″ between unless there was a curve when getting past each other was impossible. There were signs encouraging drivers to drive slowly.

“Better to be late than to be the late”
“God blesses good drivers”

There were many lorries coming down the hill. On our side there were many slow lorries climbing up the hill. So guess what? Our driver overtook them! Even on blind curves. It was very scary.

The journey back was worse. It was dark. Way down the mountain it was clear that all the many lorries in both directions were having trouble passing on the curves so there was a very long queue nose to tail. Every so often a lorry would wind its way up the hill.

The unbelievable bit is that the car and motorbike drivers, seeing an empty lane for the oncoming traffic would just pull out and go zooming down the hill. When they met an oncoming lorry the road was totally blocked in both direction. Nightmare, scary as we worked round the curves. We were late back for supper!!

The Ellora caves are stunning. They are not caves. They are 34 temples and monasteries chiselled out of a mountain between 400 and 1000AD. The main (Hindu) temple is vast, see pictures, it is 30m wide and high and 80 m deep.

The whole thing is just one rock. No pieces, no mortar. They started at the top and slowly chipped downwards until the whole magnificent structure emerged. Mind blowing.

The smaller Buddhist is also one rock. It’s curiosity is that the vaulted roof looks like wooden beams but is just simulated by carving the rock.

As always, in these situation, for the locals, we were the tourist attraction rather than the caves. We shake hands and have our pictures taken with whole families.

Certainly, one of the highlights of the trip. Even the terrible journey is part of India.

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By Dominic

Day Six – Udaipur -Venice of the East

Slept till the alarm at 6.00. Result!

Today we were in Udaipur, the Venice of the East. It’s a city of palaces; Winter Palace, Summer Palace, Monsoon Palace and Leisure Palace all for one Maharana. His family is the world’s longest lasting dynasty, 1400 years. The main palace is the biggest in Rajasthan and the second largest in India. They are built on the world’ s first man made lake and water management system.

It is the home town of our guide, Lokesh. We met his identical twin brother who does the same job!

For the third time we have seen major preparations for a wedding. It is very big and expensive and for the bride’s father to pay.

Now we are up for over 24 hours on the train – 1600 km south.

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Lokesh and his brother. Note the proeparations for yet another wedding.

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By Dominic

Day Five -The Safari

This morning at 5.30 the Public Address system burst into life with the message in English then Hindi, “May I have your attention please. Train number 19020 from *******will be arriving shortly at Platform number 2” it then went into a loop repeating the message for 15 minutes!

Fortunately we have an early start to go on safari tiger finding so not really a problem.

In the absence of any warm weather clothes Sue put on several layers of extra normal clothes, a pair of my socks and another pair as gloves but even with the blanket they supplied the wind chill made it very cold.

We set of in a “Canta” It’s a 18 seater open topped Landrover type thing with next to no suspension.

We were frozen by the time we got to the Ranthambhore National Park. The inevitable and incredibly persistent vendors were selling fleeces. We asked the price of one. 1600 Rupees(£20). But have learned how to negotiate. So we said “No” about 10 times and then just ignored him as he tugged our sleeves and kept dropping the price. We bought it for 600 Rupees. Warmth at last!

We saw our tiger! A big male about 20 yards away asleep, occasionally stretching and rolling over. Sadly, almost impossible to photo it was so well camouflaged. We may have a picture on the better camera when we get home.

Here it is.  Rubbish.

Actually all the iPhone pictures are weak- see below. I’ll upload better at home.

The park was pure Rudyard Kipling. India’s second oldest banyan tree, huge; a long deserted and overgrown fort, a troupe of langur monkeys bounding along the fortifications. Magic.



Don’t be fooled by this picture. It’s a baby and only about 1 foot long!

This picture is a mongoose.

The journey itself was a nightmare.

 The seats were for two people but only wide enough for three buttocks! And the terrain was very very rough. We lurched forward, sideways, up and down.  A genuine white knuckle ride lasting several hours. Eat you heart out, Thorpe Park.

The funny thing was that there were some “sleeping policemen” road bumps at the exit from the park and our driver crept over them really slowly and carefully.

It was at lunch time we got the text from Jeremy about the new baby. We were very excited.

In the park we saw deer, boar, crocodiles, loads of beautiful birds and we had a very rare sighting of the albino mongoose. Last seen a year ago.

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By Dominic

The Gala Dinner

All 30 odd of us went to dinner in the current Maharaja’s palace. Once again, jawdroppingly beautiful.

We were welcomed with music, dancing, flowers, horses and elephant. Then Indian dancing and nibbles. Finally a very fine buffet in very grand surroundings.

We were caught slightly unawares because part of the evening was outside and we didn’t really come prepared for cold! But more about the cold if we survive tomorrow’s early morning excursion.20120127-223742.jpg

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By Dominic

The train

I haven’t mentioned the train. On arrival at our carriage we met our butler! He gave us a cool damp hand towel and a fruit drink before showing us to our compartment. Twin bed, adequate bathroom. He looks after just two compartments.

The train does not have many guests, just 30-35. It can take 96 apparently. But that would be awful, especially for those at either end of the train, 7 or eight carriages to get to the restaurant. For us it’s great.

Service is impeccable, prompt and friendly.

The menu is simple. A western choice or the Indian Experience. We haven’t tried the Western choice.

It turns out the the beds are very hard, even for me who has a hard bed at home. Sleeping has been a problem. It is a cocktail of jet lag, hard bed and noise.

Noise? In the early days the distances travelled are not too far so the train parks up for the night on the station once we arrive. Indian Railways work through the night so there are regular platform announcements. Also, trains passing through the station always blow their whistles to warn stray cows and people to get off the track. I have been waking up at 4:15 and struggling after that.

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By Dominic

Day Four – Jaipur, The Red Fort and the Observatory

Early start, cold morning. Off to the Amber Fort near The Pink City, Jaipur.

Jaipur is the usual traffic mayhem and rundown buildings but in the Old City the Maharaja declared that the whole city should be Ochre and there are some spectacular buildings.

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I knew the Maharajas were rich but my goodness the Amber Fort is big. It’s vast with a satellite fort high on the mountain to protect it and 8 km of an outside wall like the Great Wall of China.
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Let’s pass over the inevitable visit to the hard sell at the carpet workshop visit.  For me, they were the worst part of the holiday but I know others enjoyed them and indeed did buy the carpets.

Off to lunch at a very fine hotel. By chance, there was a wonderfully colourful wedding party in full swing.

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We the visited the Observatory, another UNESCO site full of huge outdoor astronomical equipment used by Hindu astrologers for such thins as arranging marriages. It has the world’s largest sundial, accurate to 2 seconds!

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Off to the Gala Dinner tonight

By Dominic

Day Three – The Taj Mahal and Red Fort at Agra

What a day! Early start off to the Taj Mahal. Photos cannot do it justice. It is stunning. We got up very early and it was gloomy in the cabin.

Unfortunately, Sue ended up with one pink shoe and one red one! The red shoe was a perfect match for her trouser suit. We had to brazen it out all day as the latest fashion. Fortunately, in the building itself we had to wear blue overshoes. Sue looked like Noddy but she won’t let me publish on a public blog. Picture for sale when we get home!

She looked stunning next to the other tourists. With the bright red suit and the blonde hair we were accosted half a dozen times by total strangers asking if they could take a picture of us with their family or holding their baby. I think they thought we were celebs!

Then we went to The Red Fort at Agra, the home of the Mogul Emperors. Huge, stunning. Built at the time Henry VIII was on the throne. Eat your heart out Henry. We have nothing even approaching the splendour.

We then had a visit to the inevitable marble workshop where some of the world’s most persistent salespeople worked us over. We resisted. Nuff said.

The day was not finished. We went to Fatehpur Sikri, the Ghost City. The Mogul Emperor, Akbar, had this vast, superb city built as his new capital. He then moved the capital from Agra. But after 15 years he decided to go back to Agra. So Fatehpur Sikri was just abandoned.

All three visits are UNESCO Heritage site. What a day!

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By Dominic