Showing posts with label Travel Talks #India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel Talks #India. Show all posts

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Jodhpur~India Travels

Jodhpur is a state in Rajasthan, it was founded by Rao Jodha  in 1459. It is commonly known as the blue city as it has many blue buildings. There is no real evidence to support why the buildings in Jodhpur are blue, but rumour says that the Brahmins who lived in the outskirts of Jodhpur painted their houses blue to differentiate them from the rest of the population.

There are many places to visit in Jodhpur and on our recent visit we stayed over for two nights during which we had the opportunity to visit Mehrangarh Fort, which is situated on the hill tops outside Jodhpur city and overlooks the city of Jodhpur. 

The fort was constructed in 1459 by Rao Jodha.  It is surrounded by a thick, 10 km long wall with seven gates. The fort has beautiful architecture and intricate sculpting and carvings. 

The pink stone architecture is constantly being renovated and repaired to keep it in good condition. Every effort is made to keep the authenticity of the building and the detailing  and repairs are all done by master craftsman.

The detailing work on the structure is stunning created all by hand, it indeed was a labour of love and the craftsman must have had astounding skills to create such a magnificent piece of work.

The rooms and courtyards have narrow staircases leading to the royal residence with beautiful porches and carved doorways. The rooms have adorned walls and mosaic floors with intricate patterns and eye catching stained glass windows.

The rooms most famous in Mehrangarh Fort are Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), Sheesha Mahal (Mirror Palace), Sileh Khana, and Daulat Khana. 

The rooms make up part of the museum where the age old treasures are exhibited together with paintings, exquisite collection of palanquins, howdahs, royal cradles, miniatures, musical instruments, costumes, furniture as well as cannons on the fort's ramparts.

Not far from Mehrangarh Fort is Jaswant Thada, a white marble memorial built in remembrance of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. Jaswant Thada is popularly known as the ‘Taj Mahal of Marwar’.  Marwar being another name for Jodhpur. The Jaswant Thada is completely built with marble stones. It has a unique feature that the marble stones sets off a warm glow when the rays from the sun catch it.

The Memorial is built like a temple with domes and pillars and there is a natural calming aura and ambience with in the rooms. Inside the walls are adorned with portraits of past rulers and Maharajas of Rajasthan.

There are also beautiful gardens surrounding Jaswant Thada which have  gazebos doted around where you can sit and enjoy the tranquility of the place and its surroundings.

There are many other nearby places to visit in Jodhpur if time permits such as such as Mandore Gardens, Kailana Lake, Umaid Bhawan Palace museum,  Masuria Hills Garden and Balsamand Lake.

Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park is next to Jaswant Thada. It was created in 2006 to try and restore the natural ecology of a large, rocky wasteland next to Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.

Shopping in Jodhpur is a must, the most popular place to visit is the Sardar Market near the Clock Tower. Here you you find local as well as tourists walking through the local market where you can buy anything from fruits and vegetables to spices, homeware and also clotings. Jodhpur is famous for its handicrafts, pottery, costume jewellery and dyeing materials. Most popular buys are embroidered leather mojaris (shoes), painted woodwork, dye fabric, jewellery, miniature painting, and Bandhini sarees a very unique design and print that Rajasthan is famous for.

Our trip to Jodhpur was indeed very pleasurable, the weather in February was comfortable and not too hot. Ideally an extra day would have given us more time to do more sightseeing and catch a Rajasthani folk dance show too.

Whilst in Jodhpur, I also had the opportunity to meet Neelam and Nikki from Verhomal spices you can read all about their story in my previous post here.

To read about my other posts in the India Travels series see the links below.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Jaipur ~ India

My India travels continues as we head to the magnificent state of Rajasthan and the city of Jaipur often known as the pink city. Jaipur was established in 1727 by Jai Singh II, and it is one of the largest city of Rajasthan. Jaipur is magnificent with beautiful architecture, it has the most eye catching and majestic fortresses, palaces, temples and beautiful havelis. The best time to visit this place is between October and March. The weather although is hot is still bearable.
On our recent visit to Jaipur we visited a few of the key sightseeing places:

Amber Fort

Amber Fort is situated next to the Maota lake on the rocky hill of Cheel ka Teela (Hill of Eagles) that overlooks the Jaipur. It was built by Raja Shri Maan Singh JI Saheb’ (Maan Singh I) and It dates back from the 16th century. The fort can be reached by car, on foot or by elephant rides which take you to the grand entrance of the fort. 

Inside the palace there are many state rooms, lots of beautifully carved architecture, courtyards and chambers. The most intricate and beautiful room in the fort is the Sheesh Mahal the Mirror Palace. The walls and ceilings are carved with floral patterns that are inlayed with glass mirrors. It is thought that if a candle is lit in the Mahal, it will replicate a starry night. The Maharaja built this room for his queen who wanted to sleep under the stars but since Royal women were not allowed to do this this was to replicate the experience of sleeping under the stars.

To make the most of the fort I would highly recommend getting an English speaking guide who will be able to give a detailed history and tour of the fort.

Hawa Mahal- Palace of Winds

Hawa Mahal was built in 1799 and it was an extension of the city palace. The palace spans out over five floors and the inside boasts beautiful and intricate Rajput and Islamic architecture. It has a very iconic honeycomb structure created by pink sandstone. These structures are actually the palace windows made from detailed  lattice work made in a typical Marwari design. It was thought that the queens and the royal women in palace used to sit behind the windows, out of sight so they could watch royal processions or religious ceremonies. The windows also provided air to travel through the lattice to keep the palace cool hence it was given the name Hawa Mahal meaning palace of winds.

Jal Mahal- Water Palace

The Jal Mahal the water palace set in the middle of Lake Sagar. It appears to have only one story which is visible from the banks of the lake, however the palace has an extra 4 floors submerged under water. It is not possible to visit the palace but you can view it from the banks. Along the banks of the lake there are a few stalls selling tourist souvenirs, photographers offering to take photos in Rajasthani attire and also camel rides. A typical visit to the Jal Mahal will be less than 30 minutes, just enough time to take some photos

Nahargarh Fort- Abode of tigers

Whilst in Jaipur we also visited Nahargarh Fort, Nahargarh which means 'abode of tigers'. It is located in one of the oldest mountain ranges of the world, the Aravalli Hills. The fort can be reached by car along a long winding mountain road, there are many places to stop to admire the beautiful and spectacular views of Jaipur. 

It is known that Nahargarh Fort, Amer Fort and Jaigarh Fort are all connected and were used as defence for each other. The fort is a two storey building with many rooms and beautiful Indian and European style of architecture.

Apart from sightseeing, shopping in Jaipur is plentiful, there are many shops on MG Road and lots of bazaars leading off the main road too. You can buy clothing and ethnic attire, hand-dyed and embroidered textiles, pretty jewellery and delicious food. The city is a rainbow of bright colours and it is very visually appealing.

Since we only spent two nights in Jaipur we wanted to make the most of the city, together with sightseeing and shopping we were looking for a Rajasthani cultural experience whilst dining. This we found when we visited Choki Dhani, which captures this perfectly in a rural village setting decorated with traditional artefacts and furnishings and serving  Rajasthani cuisine in a very authentic and homely way. Our experience of Choki Dhani was very enjoyable and it is worthy of a separate blog post which is next on the agenda.

Time permitting there are many other places to visit in Jaipur such as the Jaigarth Fort, Jantar Mantar stone observatory and  Birla Temple. Since we only had two nights to spend in this beautiful city. I think we managed to pack in all the key things we wanted to experience.  

To follow my India travel series do check out my previous post:

Jaipur- Choki Dhani

Friday, 5 May 2017

Rishikesh ~ India

 Rishikesh was the next destination on our India itinerary after visiting Haridwar. Rishikesh is in state of Uttarakand. It is set in  Himalayan foot hills where the ganges flows. The history behind Rishikesh is that has been a part of the legendary 'Kedarkhand'  now known as Garhwal; a princely state that was ruled by the Garhwali Rajput Dynasty. It is thought that Lord Rama did his penance at this place after he killed the demon  King Ravana.

There are many temples and ashrams to visit in Rishikesh, together with places like the Ram Jhula and the Laxman Jhula. These are foot bridges spanning over the Ganges where Laxman  and Lord Ram had used to cross the Ganges. The bridges which were originally made from rope were reconstructed from steel to make them more durable. We walked across these to cross the river from one side to the other, the crossing can be made by boat also.

Rishikesh is also well known for Ayurveda treatments and there are many centers that offer coaching and training in ayurvedic medicine. It is a home for travellers seeking solace, spirituality and yoga. Pilgrims flock to Rishikesh to offer prayers to the Ganges and it is also the starting point for travelling to the four Chota Char Dham pilgrimage places - Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri.

 Like Haridwar Rishikesh also offers Ganga Aarti, it is conducted at the Triveni Ghat and is also at the Parmarth Niketan but because both aartis are performed at sunset we had to make the choice to attend one of them only. The aartis are beautifully conducted using fire lamps and synchronised to spiritual music.

The visitors are invited to partake in the aarti too, volunteers passed around the divine lighted lamps for everyone to participate. The dramatics of the aarti are little staged for the tourists but never the less it is beautiful, more serene and calmer than our experience of the Ganga aarti at Haridwar.

The highlight of our trip to Rishikesh was the visit to the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. It is a Hindu temple dedicated to Nilkanth, an aspect of Shiva. It was thought the temple is marking the place where Lord Shiva saved the world by drinking the poison churned from the ocean. The temple is situated 32 km from Rishikesh, high up in the valleys of Manikoot, Brahmakoot and Vishnukoot and is located at the meeting of the rivers Pankaja and Madhumati.

The ride up to the temple which is situated 1330km high is through steep and narrow winding mountain roads. The scenery is spectacular and you will catch glimpse of many wild life residing in the mountains especially monkeys. Along the route, dotted on the river banks of the Ganges there are many campsites where travelers can stay and enjoy white water rafting. You can also find many Ashrams in the woodlands offering travelers a retreat to practice yoga and meditate.

The temple itself is pretty small, the walk up to the temple from the car park is lined with vendors selling religious artifacts and flowers and offerings. There are many food and tea vendors dotted around too.

We did find that we had to queue up to visit the inside of the temple to offer our prayers to the Lord Shiva shrine inside. The queue did not seem too bad and worshipers were creating a beautiful spiritual atmosphere as they chanted the name of lord Shiva whilst queuing. Once we reached the darshan point, we were able to offer our prayers but we did feel it was a little rushed and personally, I would have like to have had a little more time to soak up the atmosphere. Sadly because of the volume of people there this was not possible. Ideally it would be better to visit the temple at off peak times but due to its reach it’s difficult to make the journey too early or too late in the day as the roads are very tricky leading up to the temple.I would highly recommend visit to this temple both for the Darshan (prayers) and for the views which are spectacular.

On day two of our stay at Rishikesh we spent the day wondering around the shopping area, there are three tourist markets, one near Laxman Jhula, one near Ram Jhula and the third near the Triveni Ghat. In the markets you can buy many handicrafts, a range of religious paraphernalia, costume jewellery, kurta tops, cotton trousers and beautiful and colourful cloth bags and scarves.

For the more adventurous people there are many other things to do in Rishikesh such as bungee Jumping, Trekking, white water rafting, camping, kayaking and rock climbing too.

In all our experience of Rishikesh was serene calm and beautiful and I would love to return for a longer stay and to perhaps attend a yoga retreat.

To follow my India travel series do check out my previous post:
10 Essentials to carry in your hand luggage.
Top 15 India travel Tips

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Haridwar ~ India

On a recent trip to India we flew to Delhi and stayed over night stop to recharge and sleep after a a long flight. The next day after an early morning breakfast we set off on a long drive to Haridwar which is in district of Uttarrakhand, North India. The drive including stops for lunch was about 7 hours and we arrived in Haridwar close to 4.30 in the afternoon.

Haridwar is commonly known as "The Gateway to the Gods". It is amongst one of the seven holiest cities in the world. It is home to the river Ganges, which starts its flow from Gaumukh, Gangotri Glacier, 4100 metres above sea level. It enters North India at the City of Haridwar. Pilgrims from all over the world flock to this holy city to offer prayers to the Ganges.

The river flows through Haridwar and it has many ghats, the main one is Har ki Pauri which translates to "Footsteps of Lord Shiva" The main area around Har ki Pauri is a ablaze with sages, sadus (holy men) in orange robes and long hair.

Each Evening at sunset devotees offer prayers to the Ganga Maa (Hindus refer to the river as the mother). Oil lamps are lit and set to float in the river while priests offer prayers to the Ganges by circling large oil filled lamps whilst reciting the holy prayers. The ritual is beautiful and truly mesmerizing.

We too took part in this beautiful ceremony, which was truly enthralling and spiritual. The start of our holiday was indeed blessed with gods blessings.

There are more temples in Haridwar than one can keep count of  but we visited the Mansa Devi Temple which is situated on the Bilwa Parvat on the Sivalik Hills overlooking the city of Haridwar. The hills are home to many monkeys that habitat there.

You can reach the temple by walking or by Udan Khatola a rope way that has cable cars carrying people to the temple. The ride offers good views of the Ganges and the city of Haridwar.

At the temple devotees and visitors can offer prayers to the goddess Mansa and tie a sacred thread to a special tree in the temple to fulfill wishes. The walkways to the temple are lined with vendors selling souvenirs and platters of worshiping items such as coconuts, flowers and offerings.

Shopping in Haridwar 

Har ki Pauri Har ki Pauri is lined with many hotels and guesthouses. They are in the lively hub of Haridwar and very near the the main shopping area- Moti Bazaar. Moti Bazaar is made up of   entwining narrow streets that are packed with food stalls and street vendors selling an array of religious goods, utensils and prayer accessories, souvenirs, handicrafts, clothes and artificial jewellery. The narrow streets are very lively and extremely packed with shoppers, pilgrims and you have to really dodge in and out of the crowds. Leading from the Moti Bazaar is the upper road market where you can find clothing shops, house ware shops and bedding too.

The whole experience is very enjoyable, the streets are very colorful and there is plenty to buy and of course you must haggle to get the best price.The only negative side is that its heartbreaking to see the number of young children and holy men begging for food and money. You can offer to buy them a thali  from the street food vendors along the Har ki Pauri. Each plate of food is approximately eighty rupees.(that is about one pound).

It is common practice amongst visiting pilgrims to offer to to feed these unfortunate people as most hindus believe that the gift of food is the best charity one can offer. We too carried out this ritual, the kids just sat on the floor out side the food vendors, whilst they were served a thali of hot piping food. It was really satisfying to see that they relished the food with true appreciation.

Bathing In the Ganges.

In Hinduism it is believed that one must in their lifetime visit the holy city of Haridwar and of course take a dip in the Ganges. It is thought that bathing in the Ganges will wash away your sins and purify the soul. Since I practice Hinduism, we also wished to follow this belief and take a dip. At the bathing ghats there are steps that lead to the water, unfortunately in February the temperature in Haridwar is not warm, and the Ganges water was icy cold and absolutely freezing. It was not advised to fully immerse in the water in fear of catching pneumonia, however we did manage to dip our feet in which is thought to be good enough.

There are many more temples to visit in Haridwar and also a Tiger Reserve which we did not have time to visit since we were on a tight travel schedule. I could have easily spent a whole week in Haridwar just enjoying the  spirituality of the place. Our next stop is Rishikesh which I will feature in my next post.
To follow my India travel series do check out my previous post:

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

India ~a magical Journey

Spices and flavours are the two  things that are most important to me when I cook. I love the balance of sweet with sour, spicy with tangy and delicate fragrance of cardamom and saffron. Having Indian roots of course I grew up with spices, the aromas that filled our kitchen and from my mum's spice box was something I will never forget.

Originally from East Africa I grew up in the UK and I had always dreamt that one day I would go to India, the country that is the king of spice. India is a city of diverse cultures and you will be greeted with a rainbow of colours, flavours, sights and sounds. A country that is so full of tradition and culture that it will leave you mesmerised.

Years went by and the trip never happened for one reason or another. This didn't stop me planning my itinerary and dreaming of visiting the Golden temple in Amritsar, the Red fort in Delhi, Jaipur the pink city, the romantic and beautiful Taj mahal. I dreamt of visiting the golden deserts of Jaisalmer, and the beautiful Lake Palace at Udaipur.

I wanted to bathe in the Ganges, a must for any hindu once in their lifetime. I wanted to hear the cars honking and take a ride in rickshaw. I wanted to enjoy the sounds of  Ganges flowing from the mountain tops in Rishikesh.

I dreamt of tasting Indian Street food such as spicy chilli fritters and pav bhaji. Of course not forgetting vada pavs and the tangy hot and spicy pani puris, bhel puris and masala tea all served by street vendors.I wanted to taste the hot aloo parathas oozing with desi ghee(clarified butter) in the dabbas of punjab and savour the beautiful gujarati thali, a variety of gujarati cuisine served in little brass dishes .

How I longed to taste the sweet coconut water, savour the taste of sugar cane juice and enjoy refreshing squeezed tangerine juice all freshly squeezed on the spot by street vendors.

India, a country that has extreme poverty and slums but on the other hand there are rich  maharajas who live in palaces. You can hear the blaring sounds of the Bollywood  movie songs to the serene chants of the temple bells in the morning and evening. How I wanted to explore all this and much more. I dreamt and dreamt and my longing to visit India grew more and more each day.

I really wanted my dream to come true and like they say if you dream hard and you dream long you CAN make your dream come true and it certainly did....
Bags packed, jabs sorted, visas stamped and  flights finally booked, I left behind my two daughters and hubby  to go and live my dream for 4 weeks.(Ok not totally alone but with my sister)

I visited all the places I had dreamed of and many more over a four week period. I enjoyed the peace and serenity of the Golden Temple in Punjab, enjoyed  a camel ride on the sands of Jaisalmer, savoured the amazing sight of the Taj Mahal and visited Jaipur the beautiful Pink city.

I took a hair raising ride up the mountains to see the Ganges flowing at Rishikesh and I was fortunate to attend the Evening prayers to the Mother Ganges at Haridwar.
I also took a holy dip in the ice cold freezing waters of the Ganges a must for any Hindu to wash away ones sins.  I was crazy but this was a lifetime opportunity how can I go to Haridwar and not take the Dip!!! (Proof in the picture below)

I visited the slums to the palaces and saw the diversity of India. I visited mosques, temples and gurudwaras and prayed to all the incarnations of god. I ate to my content street foods I had dreamt of and enjoyed the sights and sounds of India to the fullest.

And finally I shopped till I dropped, I bought aromatic pungent spices, photography props, beautiful ornate sarees and kurtas and bangles all the colours of the rainbow till my suitcase was bursting at the seams. I wanted to bring back India with me and that I certainly did in my memories.

What a beautiful place my homeland is, this is where my roots are, how I wish I can return to savour and revisit this magical country once again.
Like I said "Dreams do come true" you just have to work hard at them.... so I shall start weaving my dream once more so that I can revisit this magical country once again.

This post is an entry in to the Trips100/Family Adventure Company blogger challenge.


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