A Travellerspoint blog

the road to Jaisalmer (19 March)

not all Haveli's are equal!

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Day 7- March 19- Saturday - leave Jodhpur and drive to Jaisalmer

I am again awake with the call to prayer at 5.30am. I head to the rooftop of the haveli to listen. I love seeing the towns wake up. The people here generally sleep late. Well, later than I do! Unless of course you're Muslim, as call to the first daily prayers are at 5.30am! I make myself a hot black coffee and enjoy uploading pics to the blog! It still took at hour to upload 20 pics....I'm a few days behind.

Finally I am joined by the girls for breakfast. We all pack ( which is becoming slightly more difficult!) and load ourselves into the bus again for our 300km drive ( 7 hour trip) to Jaisalmer for the next 2 nights.

The pollution caused by the tuk tuks is quite noticeable here- let me just say what comes out of your nose isn't clean, and I'm assuming it's doing much the same to my lungs!

The drive is long, as far as our drives go. This was the longest. It is easy to assume, as Australians, that 300km will take around 3 hours. Here, the roads are narrow, rough and of course full of the craziness that we've now become used to.

Driving through remote villages, beautiful bright saris, farms, all working, people just sitting on the side of the road, chatting, or waiting for a bus to pass and pick them up. A beautiful sight is seeing the women, or girls, with water jugs on their heads, walking in groups to the water pump. A hand pump, where they fill their jugs, and again, place them upon their heads, and do the slow, graceful walk back to their homes. We definitely take water for granted. Fresh, drinkable water. We have only drank bottled water.

Anna, our trusty leader, has long talked about her favourite biscuits she's eaten in India. They are called 'Dark Fantasy' and that has of course led to other conversations. So much so, that we still haven't managed to find the elusive dark fantasy. We've scoured every dhaba and shop we've seen. Then, at out chai stop, we spot them. Seductively sitting in the glass cabinet. 4 boxes. We look at each other. 4 boxes won't be enough. We see more, many more boxes. Poor Saheed has listened to many conversations about dark fantasy, but ( as we discovered) had no clue what we meant, he thought we must really, really love these biscuits!

We load up with dark fantasy and climb back into the bus. They don't disappoint. We are so excited that we take photos with the box!
A few things I haven't mentioned thus far.......the cows, they are everywhere, along with donkeys, dogs, not too many cats, chickens, monkeys, squirrels, pigeons, camels and water buffalo. Cows, being sacred, are plentiful. We see women shooing them out of doorways to houses as the cows try to walk in. They also leave ever so lovely mines along the roads, paths and alleyways. We've become quite adept at spotting them, assessing their texture and 'freshness' which of course allows us to negotiate the best way forward. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, a couple of us girls ( thankfully not me!) have decided that the assessment was best performed with their feet, or with their shoes on, however, thongs and freshness do not go very well together. It was a shitty situation for them, and generally a hilarious one for us!

Poverty is definitely seen in India. But if you compare it to Bali, then I don't think you'd be too shocked. That is unless you've never left the Main Street of Kuta! It is something that exists in a third world country. We had a big conversation yesterday, and we don't know if they envy us or not. Or whether they pity us for the commercialism we've adopted, the disconnected state we enjoy, or the inability to truly appreciate our ways of life in Australia. We wonder if they think we are the unlucky, poor ones, and they're the lucky ones, with their richness measured by their contentment and happiness,many familial ties.

During the day, and at night, the locals chat to each other, sit in the streets, or at the front of houses in groups, generally the men together, the women together and all the kids, some dressed, some half dressed, playing games in the streets. They light up with laughter. Their beautiful brown eyes are so sparkly and mesmerising that we of course catch that playfulness, and laugh along too. Sometimes we take photos, they ask you to, assuming they know English words for photo, rupee ( money) and hello! We take pictures and then show them on the screen and they dissolve into laughter and a side wobble of the head. We imagine the others are teasing them the same as we would tease friends!

The scourge of plastic is very noticeable here. In some smaller villages, there are paddocks and roadsides buried under colourful plastic litter. Having said that, India is one of the biggest recycling countries in the world. If only they could get excited about building toilets.....that would be wonderful! ;)

We have taken to scoring toilets. As toilets go, we've used nice ones in haveli's and encountered not too nice ones at other places. The outside is generally not an indication of what lies behind the door. Toilet paper is guaranteed not to be present, and we are the weird ones who take tissues in our pockets at each stop. Generally there is a bucket and a tap, and you pour water down to flush it. We've had some, where another of us would stand guard, and the toxic fumes from a non flushing system would render you unable, and unwilling to enclose it further by closing the door.....but with a giggle, and a score, we again head off into the dusty roads, awaiting the next chance to score.

We mostly encounter squat toilets, which actually make sense. I swear they're cleaner than using a toilet seat that every bum has touched! However, the jury is still out on which way you face, the end closest to the door or the end with the water in it.......we have decided that for women, facing the water is best, less splash back, and safer for the feet, however, there are circumstances where facing the other way is preferred. I won't go into any more details as I'm sure you've figured it out!

The worst by far are the public areas where men go to the toilet. Basically, it is usually a wall, nothing more, where they stand and pee, and the smell is horrendous. These areas are not marked by signs, but let me tell you, they are easily found. Jo ( we were called Jo squared in Jaisalmer!) and I decided at one point to find a nice shady spot to sit whilst waiting for the others. We went, sat, and immediately stood up as on the other side of the 4 foot wall was obviously an unmarked latrine! Of course, we giggle, make jokes, and found another lovely spot without such aroma!

The other aroma you fall in love with here, is the smell of women cooking. Amazing smells, wafting through streets, enticing you to visit the very door which harbours the smells. But alas, we are not invited ( although I could almost guarantee if you asked, they'd welcome you in like an important guest, and sit you down and feed you!), and we keep wandering, and wondering what exotic curry they've cooked for dinner for their loved ones.

One last thing that takes some getting used to, is the spitting. Men here chew tobacco, staining their teeth red. The ground is covered with red splats. But, they spit all the time. Sometimes they spend a while making it worth their while, if you get my drift. To be honest, it isn't a noise I've become accustomed to, but it is their way, and with the pollution is some places, or the stench of cow dung, or the drainage systems, or the dust up your nose and in your throat, I get their need to do so. This is definitely a habit we have not taken up!

Back to our day at hand, we eventually arrive at our hotel. It is called the Lal Garh Fort & Palace Hotel. Now I've also said here the word palace and luxury are used very differently to us! But, we quickly assess the rooms and head to the rooftop, where we are greeted by beautiful cushioned seating areas with low tables in the centre. Now, this could have been the scene of a lovely romantic evening under the stars, with a cooling breeze, and the imposing Jaisalmer fort in the background.

Instead, it becomes the scene of many gin and tonics, many whiskies and nearly a bottle of vodka! It became a late night.....who knows what time we stopped laughing and headed to bed, but it was a night full of women's chats, laughter and stories of our lives, far away from India. 7 strangers met two weeks ago, but today, we all regard ourselves as friends. Bonded by a sense of adventure, and common love for India, it's people and the culture.

Posted by Jochester71 20:15 Archived in India Comments (0)


The Blue City

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Day 6- March 18/3 Friday- Jodhpur for the day

We drive up to the Mehrangarh Fort. Again, such enormous beauty, master craftsmen have built a marvel. Overlooking the town of Jodhpur it is now clear why this is known as the blue city. Blue houses and walls everywhere give the city a blue hue.

We pay for the guided audio tour, and are soon mesmerised by the dulcet tones of the mans voice......we vote he sounds like Kamahl! The Maharaja of Jodhpur has definitely taken the view that he wants to make monuments available to the public, to ensure they are maintained well, and has turned part of his home, the Umaid Bawan Palace, into a museum. Another part is a hotel. We didn't stay there!

The architecture at the fort is again, different to the region, and incredibly detailed.
Upon arriving we see a lot of police, or army officers. We are then ushered away from the entry as four of five police cars scream it at high speed. They stop, and we see media people with cameras photographing this well dressed man. We ask who he is.....it is the Governor of Rajasthan. Okie dokie!

This fort, like the others is awe inspiring. Ceilings are ornately painted, with mirrors, mosaics and gold paint. I assume it was actually real gold. Inside some of the rooms were old elephant carriages, then the carriers that were carried by men. The detail, again, is hard to comprehend. The history and the people who would have sat in these is hard to fathom. Who walked these paved corridors before me? How many people died in this an on holes stills visible around the outside walls.

We continue through the maze of rooms. The audio tells of the Maharaja's memories of spending time in this fort. The rooms, so ornate, and used for everyday water systems again are incredible.

I enter a court, alone, and next thing, Mr Governor enters, flanked by protectors, and smiles at me. He is obviously very polite, and given I was the only person there, and clearly not a local, he seemed welcoming. Although he didn't stop to chat!

The detail in the stone carvings belies anything I've ever seen in colonial architecture. These buildings must have taken many years to complete.

We then enter the room of baby cribs. So ornate- you'd want to order one well before children were planned to ensure it was ready!

We are taken to lunch in a new restaurant that looked like an officers mess- best naan we've had so far!

Umaid Bawan Palace sits atop a hill and in the distance it looks directly across to the fort. It is a very imposing building, like most. The history of the current Maharaja and Maharani, and his ancestors takes pride of place. It is quite special for the Maharaja to take so much pride in his history, and to ensure the people can enter, and see it. He seems to be a very well liked man.

Anna tells us to frock up for dinner. Oh la la....... We all scrubbed up ok!
We are driven by our personal bodyguard, no, driver, Saheed to our restaurant. It is called On the Rocks. It is a gorgeous hidden oasis with lights mounted under the tables and with the white table cloth all the tables glow. Tlarge_IMG_1381.jpglarge_IMG_1377.jpglarge_90_IMG_1372.jpglarge_IMG_1358.jpglarge_IMG_1351.jpglarge_IMG_1349.jpglarge_IMG_1340.jpglarge_IMG_1322.jpglarge_90_IMG_1307.jpglarge_IMG_1303.jpglarge_IMG_1282.jpglarge_IMG_1279.jpglarge_IMG_1272.jpglarge_IMG_1262.jpglarge_IMG_1255.jpglarge_IMG_1248.jpglarge_IMG_1233.jpglarge_IMG_1234.jpglarge_IMG_1235.jpglarge_IMG_1240.jpglarge_IMG_1247.jpghere is a sand floor, and it is under a huge tree. Food wasn't great but the ambience was memorable.

Posted by Jochester71 18:44 Archived in India Comments (0)


and the road to Jodhpur

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Thursday 17 March Pushkar to Jodhpur

I have not perfected the sleep in at all, and as usual I am awake around 5-5.30am! The thing I love is the call to prayer for the Muslims. They play it over loud speakers, and can be heard for miles. It is a beautiful sound to wake to, and often I stand outside to listen, not understanding a word, but feeling calm and serene knowing they speak of kindness and love.

Once everyone is up we have breakfast on the rooftop terrace. A lovely banana and honey pancake is served!

Off we go to see Pushkar Lake. This is off the Main Street, and well hidden. This is a holy place, and the Brahmen ( religious guys, much like monks) offer blessings. For the locals, they do this each day, and it is freely offered. For the tourists, of course they hassle you, and charge a fee......a hefty fee! We politely say no, and after a while they retreat, and leave is to wander alone. Men are washing in the water, women a bathing, getting blessings or bathing. Many sit around in groups, colour is mesmerising. Every sari is unique. Every woman, wearing it proudly. The women wear these all day every day. In the home, doing housework, working on building sites. Here there is usually a male supervisor, but it is the women, in full saris that are doing the work- filling up and moving baskets of dirt, rocks, bricks. All manual labour is for women. Occasionally you see a male, but often it is the women. They harvest crops. The men then drive the tractors to town to sell crops.

The lake is lovely, the temples beside it are beautiful. The water is definitely not the colour that would invite me to swim, or even dip my feet in! It is a lively place. There is an area filled with black faced monkeys. Monkeys and babies everywhere. Not great for Anna, who isn't too fond of monkeys! We watch them for a while.

Back up to the market streets and free time for power shopping before we drive to Jodpur. The shopping here is quaint, a few new tops, bags, trinkets and silver purchased.......rest time in the bus!

The road to Jodpur is, well, one of the worst I've ever encountered. Pot holes almost large enough to rip out the underneath of a car. It is slow. Very slow travelling. Hours pass, we chat, doze, stop for chai and lunch. The road doesn't improve.

Finally, we arrive in Jodpur.

Our hotel, here they are called a 'haveli' is gorgeous. Half colonial, clearly from the British era, and built in the early 1800s. It looks like a little castle, wooden shutters and stained glass windows everywhere. Imagine my horror when I discovered it was Perspex, not glass! Red curtains adorn each archway, quite striking and beautiful. That was, until we again realised the wifi was crap......

We walk the streets, past the clock tower, the bazaar and buy spices. We head to the world famous omelette man and across the road to the pakora man! We sit roadside eating the most delicious omelette, served between bread, like an omelette sandwich, interspersed with hot pakora- yum!

Posted by Jochester71 18:13 Archived in India Comments (0)

Jaipur (part 2) and the road to Pushkar

Nimbin of India!!

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16 March Wednesday - Jaipur part 2 and the trek to Pushkar

So we head to the Amber Fort. Driving through the old city is a salmon pink colour with white detail. Each city in Rajasthan has the old walled city within it. Jaipur is known as the pink city for the colour of the old city. This is where "The Very Best Marigold Hotel" was filmed, and there is a scene where Judy Dench is walking through one of the entry arches ( or exits) to the old city. The entrances are so intricate in design, and cars, tuk tuks, mopeds and pedestrians still use these huge arches to access the old part.

We stop at the Hawa Mahal, The Palace of the Wind. An architectural marvel. Unfortunately it is so large , and on a street, that it is very difficult to photograph. I manage as best I can.

We keep driving through the crazy streets!

Every place has a fort, but this is a beautiful, beautiful fort.

Driving along the road to the fort, we come across a lake, high above is the fort. The road up to the fort ( like many!) is long and steep. Building the forts so high up was clearly so they could see people approaching. To be honest, there's no way you could run up to the front doors to the fort as it is hard going!

We catch an elephant up to the top. Two to an elephant. Our elephant Driver /rider tells us he owns his elephant. His grandfather and father are elephant riders. We ask him lots of questions about his treatment of the elephant......does he feed him, water him, care for him. He says that his elephant is his life, his families life, and they respect them. The elephants only work for about 2 hours in the morning. Then they go home to rest, eat and do whatever elephants do! The colours again, and still, are incredible. The views across the water to a rooftop garden, exquisitely manicured, and then we are told this garden is only for the Maharaja and Maharani can go there. The Maharaja ( and the wife, the Maharani) are like the kings and Queens of towns. They are direct descendants, and still rule over their kingdom/ town/area.

The fort itself is so big. It is impossible to fathom just how big these forts are! Many are surrounded by further walls on the surrounding hills, the remnants of the whole walled cities that existed.

The design of these- the Amber Fort has all the aqueducts showing how water was transported from the lake to the rooms of the fort. Incredible engineering in a time when it must have been quite incredible to ensure readily available water.

Each arch way leads into another square, another amazing engineering feat. The small holes in the walls, amazingly intricate patterns are slanted upwards. From inside, you can not see out, and from the outside cannot see in, but this was their air flow. Glass didn't exist, and there are places where you can see the solid rock, and how they did the rudimentary hole and then carved shapes, stars, octagons, circles shaped like flowers. The detail is awe inspiring.the painting is indescribable, and to their credit, this fort is loved, men working on maintaining, fixing and repairing, ensuring the fort is available to educate for the years to come.

Each area we enter is like a new world of beauty. Photos can never do these places justice.

We leave the Amber Fort and stop for lunch first. Pizza Hut and Baskin Robbins! Curry does sometimes start to get a bit repetitive......so we welcome the different food. Of course, the toppings are different to home and we decide the tandoori chicken, and nacho pizza are the bomb! Baskin Robbins also has dice T flavours, but we mostly stick to chocolate!

We start the drive to Pushkar.

Road is not too bad- a main road of sorts, interspersed with small internal roads. Mick often complains about my 'back street loving', taking a maze of minor roads to each our destination. Saheed is also a back road lover, but sometimes the on.y roads to the towns/ cities are minor. Avoiding cows and other animals is now so normal that we don't even gasp anymore.

We stop for Chai at a Chai Wallah- roadside shop where they, again, make it using family recipes. Hot, and served with milk and sugar ( although most of us now request no sugar) it is so tasty.

On the road again and after another 2 hours we stop at a dhaba for lunch. Our standard order has become vegetable curry, potato curry and chickpea curry and sometimes a chicken curry. Always served with naan or chapati.

Back on the road and we eventually arrive at the hippie town of Pushkar.

As towns go, this town is full of Israelis and tourists. Hippie backpackers, mostly fire twirlers living the free and easy life. They smoke weed and eat laced cookies. The shops sell 'special lassi' again laced with hash. Locals however do not really like the hippies. They are rude, dirty and walk around with bare feet. The Israelis are not well respected here- many locals do not like their effect on the town, but of course, the shopkeepers like the income. The handicrafts here were amazing. Cushions and bags with the tiny mirrors sewn in, patchwork, a maze of colour.

We stay in a hotel called Hotel Kishan Palace, a hotel owned and run by two Punjabi brothers. The walls are entirely covered in murals. Every halls, walls, rooms and bathrooms. They tell me that they have had an artist working on it for 9 years. We are shown to our rooms. The doors are like shaped wooden doors into a castle! The locks are huge, heavy old brass locks, with heavy keys. As always, the rooms are basic, but comfortable and clean. The switches for hot water and power are usually located outside the door. We are now used to turning it on. I've also gotten ready, walked into the bathroom, gotten u dressed and turned on the tap only to realise I have t switched the water on. We reverse the ritual, turn it on, wait 10 minutes, and try again!

We head out for a walk through the town and the markets, and for dinner. We find a little eatery and order kebabs! They take a while to arrive, but the wait was worth it! Off back through the maze of tiny streets to our hotel for slumber!

Posted by Jochester71 18:03 Archived in India Comments (0)

Jaipur (part 1)

soaring above the world!

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Tuesday 15 March

Travelling to Jaipur

So up relatively early and off on our epic trip to Jaipur. As far as distance goes, it's only around 160 kms. As far as time goes, it is about 4 hours! Short distance, long slow trip! We head off, after an hour or two we stop roadside for hot chai. I've learnt to ask for chai without sugar otherwise I get such s sugar hit it makes my heart beat faster!

We headed to the village of Abaneri and visited Chand Baori ( step well). It is one of the oldest and was built by King Chandra who ruled Abaneri during 8th and 9th century. This 19.5metre deep Baori ( well) is square and bounded on three sides by steps, and on one side is a multi storeyed corridor with balconies. Across the road was a potter, turning a round platform with a stick to get speed, then turning little cups within seconds! Here they make little cups, that hotels use for water, then you throw it on the ground to return the earth to the earth. Such a lovely notion.
We pass many trucks, the front of which is a converted water pump. An open motor, powers these little trucks hauling wheat, hay and chaff. They bling them up too with tassels, flowers, streamers.

We stop roadside for lunch. To be honest, if I was here on my own, I'd not stop. Super basic, generally open air with a bit of shade. The surprise is the fresh, hot food. The curries are amazing and to be honest, probably way better than most expensive restaurants ( here!) the food is addictive as and most people don't have fridges, they use the freshest produce daily, with carts of fruit and vegetables being pushed through the streets and alleyways.

We headed to the monkey palace- the Temple for Hanuman ( monkey God) You definitely get used to being asked for money. If you take a picture of someone
they ask for 10 rupees. They are very cheeky, but we want the shots so we pay! 10 rupees is around 20 cents! The entry fee at the monkey temple is free, however if you take a camera it is 50 rupee, if you have a video camera it is 150 rupees. Half of us pretend there are no cameras in our packs.....seriously, we were so proud to have saved $3! Religious men called Shadu who live at the temple. The saddest part of this astounding beauty is that no one spends money fixing and preserving these magnificent buildings, thus, some are beyond repair and there is a time when it will crumble and cease to exist. Sad.

The monkeys here are either red bums ( nasty, don't trust them!) or black faces, the nice ones! Clearly they're nice, but if they've got babies they're very protective. The art work again is awesome.
3 of us were dying to go to the toilet ( few and far between, and some are very, very questionable with an aroma.....) so a Shadu told us he'd lead us to the toilet. As with all temples you remove your shoes. Through a myriad of hallways, and buildings, and then we get to an outdoor area with around 10 cows. ( remember they sacred, so they are everywhere!) ( remember we are barefooted!) we are told with actions ( they don't speak English!) to go around the cows ( and the shit!) and around the corner.....we are busting.....and then he yells yes......and then we look and it is a rocky dusty embankment, a cow right in the path.......so, we squat. quickly. He points to the tap to wash our hands and then, asks for money, for using the water. See, we saved at entrance, but paid anyway.

A Shadu leads us to a small room, a temple with the Hindu Gods and a shrine. He blesses us, asks us whether we are married or single. Married women get a red and yellow piece of wool tied to left hand. Unmarried, then same wool on your right hand. One of us is single and the other married ( clearly mine is on my left hand!) .....now we didn't really understand the blessing but I'm either going to have more children, or no children, or will meet a husband or not meet one. We were rather confused!

On the outskirts of Jaipur, the pink city, se stop at a shop that does block printing. They still hand print all the fabrics and they are exquisite. Tops, dresses, jackets, scarves, bags, pashminas......they're all here. We girls hit the shop with gusto! Then someone said they'll make tops for you with their fabrics and deliver to our hotel. Well, it was like a stampede of women, fabric, measuring tapes and rupees! 2 hours later...........

We arrived at the hotel, Ibis Jaipur. Quite fancy, and with that all important feature, wifi! We checked in, rested and then Saheed, our driver, had invited us to his home with his wife and three children for the evening meal. He lives in Jaipur so was pleased to be able to spend a night with his family. He drives us. As the bus is passing through alleys and tiny narrow, bustling streets, the kids see us ( white ladies) and start shouting and following the bus. They must be shouting that we we white ladies, as the kids keep running out from all directions. Wide eyed, smiling! By the time we pulled up there was quite a crowd. We head up a maze of stairs to the home. They rent a room, about 2.5 square, and live entirely in that room. There is a shared kitchen with 1 other family ( who live in the room next door) and is probably 1 metre by 2 metres. They share a toilet. There is a tv on the wall, and the two boys aged 6 and 8 watch cartoons. The daughter, Mahira is 3 months old.....and adorable. Anna nurses her, then passes her to me. Before long she is asleep in my arms. She is slid down just behind me on s little quilt, and sleeps, even with 9 adults and two boys in the same room!

Eventually dinner is served, and again, none of the family eat. We do. Again, the food is flavoursome and delicious. Saheeds wife doesn't speak much English, but hand-grasps, nods, smiles and thank you's convey our appreciation. Another experience that no other tour group would experience. So humbling. So very friendly and proud.

Wednesday 16 March

We are up at 4.15am as we are going hot air ballooning. I'm fine with the early mornings, just a bit nervous about the hot air balloon ride. We arrive at the departure point, and within moments trucks arrive with balloons and baskets. Air is blown in and when they light them, the warmth is felt 20 metres away! Hot chai and biscuits are eaten and then we are summonsed to climb in. So we did. And before I knew it, we weren't on the ground anymore. We were floating. This is what birds get to see everyday. Drifting over homes, quite low, they yell good morning and rush out to see us. It is early, and a lot of People here do not rise early. Probably as they're all up so late. We see the chaser cars, the fields of wheat, different crops, the Amber Palace in the distance. The serenity other than we yelling hello, and they yelling back. A person squatting in the paddock, unaware we are floating past, cows, buffalo, goats, pigs, donkeys, camels.......all waking up and a bit wary of us in our flying contraption.

The views are amazing, and although we drift up quite high ( and I stop taking photos, and decide to hold onto ( OK grip for dear life!) the basket for a while, it is peaceful. just reminds me to breath. I try to remember. I start taking deep breaths, and then we are floating down, closer to earth, and I start to enjoy it again.

We are up there in bliss for an hour. We come in to land in a paddock, in the middle of nowhere. Again, the children spot us, and grown men and women, and again, they we running out of houses, through paddocks to see the giant balloon and the white ladies in it. By the time we land, there are probably 50 or more people. Staring at us, staring at them. Photos, smiles and communication without a common spoken word. We laugh.

We receive our certificates and head back for breakfast. We check out and head to the Amber Palace.


Posted by Jochester71 19:25 Archived in India Comments (0)

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