A Travellerspoint blog

Happy Holi (March 24)

and love and all that colour!!!

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We are up early, dressed in our oldest underwear, and mostly white clothes! I'm armed with my coloured flours. We eat breakfast, all chattering excitedly, not only about last night, but about today! Today is Holi- the festival of love, celebrated by wiping people's cheeks or neck with coloured flours, whilst bidding them a Happy Holi.

We head out for our walk to the square. Almost immediately we encounter a street vendor, selling flour. The girls load up with various colours. Lorraine, I have discovered is an Eagles supporter, I've already told her she will receive my purple flour, she then retorts silently and buys blue and yellow. I know where this is heading! Jan has the most beautiful pure white hair, and is armed with a hat, as she did not fancy heading home with clown coloured hair. We are all primed and excited.

Not too far along we encounter our first Happy Holis, as taxi drivers wish us Happy Holi, and bless us with stripes of colour on our cheeks and necks. It is customary to wish each other a happy Holi by swiping each cheek, or each side of the neck. We then encounter a group of children, and then we notice they we armed with water pistols. They look us in the eyes, we stare back, slightly shaking our heads with a no........the colours mixed with water are a lot harder to remove. Then, all of a sudden a water bomb explodes right on the road before us, and as we glance upward we see the children hanging out the windows, like gentle assassins, armed with water cannons and water and colour filled balloons! We start running and laughing.......they got some, missed a few. Clearly today is going to be fun! We encounter a lot of locals as we walk, most do not speak any English, especially the older generations, but they all understand and reply with Happy Holi's. Such joy. Such love. I love the unspoken language we all speak and understand clearly. That is definitely something I am taking home from this trip, the gentle eyes, warm greetings from total strangers. We arrive at the square and the fire from the bonfire is still smouldering. Not helpful to Judy and Jans' asthma.

It starts ever so gently. Groups of men, with drums and small trumpet like instruments play gleefully, and as the music goes on, they gain momentum, drumming faster, louder, singing with more gusto. It is only after we dance, and smile that they then put out their hands. They want money. Although we all took a small amount of money with us, we shake our heads saying we have none. We had already paid for another drumming band. The square steadily fills with tourists, of all nationalities, locals and bands. It is great fun. Chaotic, the chalk doses get bigger and bigger, more colours, layering on top of the previous layer and colour. The people start throwing huge handfuls of colour, on your hair, it runs down our tops, it becomes more and more chaotic. The crowd dances to the drums, chanting, and a cloud of flour fills the air. And then we are right in the middle of a cloud of flour. We did it. We finally did it. With mouths full of flour, colour and dust, we spit. We all did the thing we doubted we would ever do. But it was the only way to clean our mouths out, and our throats. Well, this is India, 'anything is possible'.

The local custom is for them to drink and eat items made with bhang- marijuana. Even the women have it, although I'm sure most don't.
the crowds surge, more people arrive, fresh faced, but not for long. My cheeks ache from smiling and laughing. Little children, beautiful children smear us, we smear them. Ever so gently. Their parents silently thank us for being gentle.

We leave around 12 when the crowds are starting to disperse, slightly. It is tradition to then go clean up and spend the afternoon and evening with family. We are quite exhausted. We arrive at the hotel to be told they are having a small Holi celebration around the pool. There are free drinks and nibbles. The couple who own the hotel (and live there) are lovely people, and the wife smears us with more colour. Before long, the beer is flowing, the colours are again being thrown and the water guns have appeared. A band arrives- one we had earlier seen at the square, and before long we re singing, dancing, smeared with layer upon layer of colour. It starts to get quite hot, and as we dance, the colour starts running with sweat. Now, did i mention before it is harder to remove when mixed with water? Hmmm........

Slowly people start emerging from their rooms clean again, but with colour stains in hair, faces, arms and it seems purple and blue are the hardest to remove.

we rest in the afternoon, happy to have made lots of new friends from all over the world, who are also staying in our hotel. We are off for our last dinner together tonight.

We head to Jawat Niwas Palace, a gorgeous building, paint white, and with a 4th floor rooftop restaurant overlooking the lake, the Lake Palace and the lights. It is breathtaking. We enjoy dinner and cocktails. Of course cocktails are worth it here, as you don't get ice, so it is all drink!!

we leave the hotel, and start walking. And then he appears. Again, walking beside me. Goldie, the dog from last night. Easily identified by an ear that sits back. We are nowhere near our hotel. There are hundred of stray dogs roaming the streets. Again, it is not before long before he chases other dogs away and clears our path. We are all totally in agreeance that Goldie is our protector. We jump in a tuktuk to make it back to the hotel. Goldie stays behind. Even that night, we all heard barking, and wonder if Goldie was sitting outside the hotel gate, waiting patiently for us.

we are exhausted, landslip arrives easily!

Posted by Jochester71 17:58 Archived in India Comments (0)

Udaipur- It's Holika Dahan and Chhoti Holi! (23 March)

OH&S in full swing.....NOT

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Udaipur is known as the Venice of India. It sits beside a large lake, called Lake Pichola. In the centre is the Lake Palace, now a 5 star hotel.

We walk the narrow streets, again mesmerised by the local crafts, little stores and friendly people. We make our way to the Palace, and walk through as they are preparing for a big celebration tonight ( the night before Holi is also a huge night of celebrations). They call today Chhoti Holi, and Holika Dahan is the lighting of the bonfires signifying the destruction of evil.

We take a boat to Jag Mandir, or Lake Garden Palace, built on an island. Well to be honest, this place IS the island! It is stunning, with amazingly manicured gardens and gorgeous views of the city of Udaipur. Now, previously we have discussed toilets at length. I went to the toilet here, and behold......the most gleaming bathroom I've ever seen, complete with a man, to tend to you, ok so I came out of the private cubicle to him turning on the tap for me, pushing the hand wash for me, and handing me a towel. Wow! Best 10 rupees I've ever spent! Word spread quickly, and even those of us that didn't feel the need, went to the toilet anyway!

We shop, wander the streets and buy our coloured flour! We are thrilled to find tonic water for sale from a street vendor, and three of us buy 6 cans each to finish our 3 litres of gin.

We rest in the afternoon, some swimming, some sleeping to be ready to head out to the square Jagdish Mandir ( or more particularly a junction of 4 alleyways) for tonight's celebration.

We arrive around 7. On the way we see straw trees built at intervals along the alleyways. Some are laced with firecrackers, like Tom thumbs, and have decorative borders painted around the bottom in chalk. People are starting to come out to ready themselves!

At the square, there is a DJ, local dancer and mimer ( female) and various other performances. It is an electric atmosphere and we are definitely feeling the excitement build. They ask for tourists to go up on stage to dance, so it seemed fitting that we volunteered Jo, the other Jo, who is a dance teacher extraordinaire! We laughed and she loved it! People are letting of crackers of coloured paper all over the place, boys jostle for a better viewing position to see the female dancer ( maybe she's a sensation here!) but everyone is friendly and before long, there seems to be a group of boys ( probably early 20s) who have become our protectors. They hold guard around us to ensure we don't get jostled. On this trip, many, many people have asked us to pose for pictures with them. They have photos on their cameras and phones of total strangers, as do we!!

The straw tree here is the biggest we've seen. I soon notice that it is red. Not straw coloured. I then look closer to realise that the whole tree is totally covered in packs of Tom Thumb crackers. Woah! When this beauty is lit, it is going to be crazy!

The dancing continues until around 10pm when men with sticks start telling is to move back from the fire tree. Well, we didn't understand a word, but everyone starts moving back, so we assume positions. Anna and I are backed up against a wall, Lorraine and Jan have headed to the safety of a hotel doorway, up some steps, the other three girls have been bearded a little to our left. The crowd starts going crazy, men are yelling for us to stay back, we have some Indian boys ( our protectors) squashed with us, we hear an almighty racket and see a huge smoke bomb making its way up one of the alleys, it was only then that I noticed a huge ring around the fire tree, of Tom thumbs. Holy shit, they're a trail up to the tree, but first it will come up the alleyway, around the tree, directly in front of us, until the climax of the tree actually igniting, and again setting of a whole 7 metre high giant firecracker! The sound was very, very loud, the crowd excited, we were jammed tight. As the fireball approaches, we duck, guarding our faces with our hands, unsure who is covering who, or how much of our bodies are exposed to the immediate area beside the crackers. I'm squashed into Anna, willing the wall to move back a couple of metres, then it starts. The shells of the crackers are hitting me everywhere, I hold my hand to protect the side of my fave. It is so loud, I recall yelling a certain four letter word very loudly, over and over. It is so loud that no one hears, least of all me. I'm being pounded by the shells, hitting me everywhere from my leg to my head. We huddle ever so close, no one caring how squashed we are, but it soon becomes hard to breathe as the smoke is horrendous. The squashiness reduces, and we see the fireball has passed us and it now heading for the tree. Whoosh! Up it goes, banging and cracking as loud as can be. The crowd cheers, screams, dances, shouts. They start chanting ( holy eve) over and over
We are screaming, smiling, laughing and telling each other how fakin scary, amazing and intense that experience just was. We retreat to the hotel steps, our prearranged meeting point, we head inside, we desperately need water to drink, we all talk at once, stories of our experience, the pain and ecstasy, the exhilaration, of being afraid but joyous at the same time. We laugh about the TOTAL lack of safet awareness, how low the powerlines are, how dangerous the whole thing is. But would we relive it is a heartbeat? You bet! We are so full of adrenalin that our stories continue, talking at warp speed, air dropping photos and videos to each other over dinner on the rooftop restaurant.

It was the most intense, insane experience this far. And we LOVED it!

We start walking back to our hotel, and notice the power is out. Hmmmmmm, not surprising at all! We soon notice a gold coloured dog, looking slightly like a dingo following me. He follows us all the way to the hotel, even when other dogs near us, he chases them away. We leave him at our gate and head inside to rest.

Posted by Jochester71 01:38 Archived in India Comments (0)

heading to Udaipur (22 March)

I still don't like walking up hills!

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Day 10- Tuesday 22/3 depart Bhenswara to Udaipur

As usual, I'm the first awake. We eat and see all of the tourists up, silently eating breakfast, and depart.

We are off on a jeep safari around a range of mountains, to visit two local villages. The first is very primitive, but again, we question who envies who. The jeep pulls up and children swarm from every direction. They tug at our sleeves to take their pictures. Some clothed, all with dreadlocked hair from a lack of brushing, and probably a lack of readily available water, and some half naked. We oblige, take photos and visit the prayer corner dedicated to the snake God. We warily look around to ensure there are indeed no snakes around. Every step we take is echoed by the footsteps of a child. They follow us closely. We receive a blessing from a local elder, and retreat.

We bid our farewells and head to another village of shepherds. The men all wear red turbans, and we are told all shepherds are identified by this distinctive feature. Goats and cows and water buffalo aplenty we walk though the dusty dirt streets. Again, we are mobbed by the children. We take photos, and enter the home of a local couple, she makes chapatis ( or a type of) on an open fire in the courtyard. Meticulously clean, and made of dried and compressed cow dung. There is not a speck of dust! We eat and then head to a local school. It is beautiful, and they are reciting their morning prayers. Each in uniform, these children have so little but are all eager to learn, engaging and friendly.

We head to a vantage point overlooking the mountains and the flat, arid terrain for chai. "Camel eyes" take photos for us, and we hit the bumpy road for the hotel.

Off we go again on the road to Udaipur, which will be the last stop on our tour, and the place where we will celebrate Holi.

We drive up s terribly steep mountain range to s fort, built right at the top, in seemingly untouchable terrain. We are close to the edge of large drops, and although there are concrete blocks, about a foot high by 2 foot wide to seemingly stop wayward cars, it does little to calm our nerves. Most roads are one lane wide. Passing cars and busses is an art form that we are probably never going to have to learn, thankfully!

We arrive at Kumbhalgarh Fort. The fort was built in the 15th century, and is 100 metres above sea level. It is surrounded by 36 kms of 15-25 feet thick walls. It is the second largest wall in Asia, second to the Great Wall of China.

Of course, there is a rather steep climb to the top. But the views are worth it. It is beautiful and we are thankful that Saheed brought us here.

We have 90 kms to Udaipur, which equates to a 2 hour, 15 minute drive! As we arrive into Udaipur we notice the street vendors with huge piles of coloured flours! Holi is near, and everyone starts to get a bit excited for what is to come over the next 2 days.

We arrive at Hotel Maehendra Prakash- again a beautiful hotel, still home to the ancestors of those who built it. The staff are like welcoming family members, and again it has a pool!

Sadly it is time to say goodbye to Saheed, our most amazing drive, friend and protector!!!

We eat dinner and again, we delight in some sleep!

Posted by Jochester71 22:36 Archived in India Comments (0)

the trek to Bhenswara (21 March)

I could live in a castle!!!

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Day 9- Monday 21/3 depart Jaisalmer to Bhenswara

After breakfast we go to visit Gari Sar Lake. The locals are feeding the catfish- they're huge! A pretty place, but not where you'd swim!

We then continue the usual routine of silly chats in the bus, the occasional scream from a near head on car crash, and amazing lunch and chai stops. We grade the toilets, and finally arrive at Bhenswara, a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, in an area that is hot, arid and reminds me very much of home, and in particular, further north.

We arrive at a huge archway, the entrance to the hotel, and see a red carpet. How exciting! The drummer starts and we enter a world that belies the views of the outside streets! This is a house, built in the -17th century, still housing 2 direct descendants ( well they're in their twenties) and their auntie and uncle. They are the highest caste- meaning they were born with the biggest silver spoon, as opposed to some born with dust in their mouths!

Camel eyes ( as we call him, but only behind his back!) tells us of the history, how it was lovingly stored in the early 90's and how it is now shared with travellers. It is a beautiful oasis, with a pool! A pool I tell you! We check in to our rooms and can't get our bathers on quick enough! We are not the quietest bunch, and soon we have Kingfishers ( Indian beer.....and long necks!) ! This is paradise!

We prepare for dinner, but not before a large tour group from France arrive. There are around 30 of them, they walk in, each alone, and head to their rooms. For half of them, that was the last we saw of them. Our pre dinner drinks in a beautiful grassed courtyard are followed by dinner. Different dishes, each one a family recipe, prepared lovingly from local, fresh ingredients. The Brinjal ( eggplant curry) is my favourite!

We get to talking to "camel eyes", who is looking quite dashing in an akubra hat! He tells us that he was educated in a city school, where the maharaja's and noble children go. His English is good, his eyes are better. He explains to us the caste system, basically, it will never change as the higher caste have all the power ( Government, army, etc) and of course it would be unlikely they would vote to abolish the system. He e plains that your caste decides your future from birth, from your job, your education and who you will marry. You can only marry someone within your caste, never ever from a higher or lower caste. He explains that they are changing though, he will be able to see photographs of his intended bride to be, provided to him by his parents, and he can, if he chooses, remove some of those women from the range of possible wives. As far as arranged marriages go, they are very successful here, probably due to the fact that it is nigh on impossible to divorce. Of the people who choose a "love" marriage, 50% end up divorcing- much the same statistics as Australia!

He also tells us that the high castes have guaranteed jobs in high positions. He said it doesn't matter if your as thick as a plank- the job is guaranteed, therefore even the most intelligent person, who is lower caste, will still have no possibility of ever attending university or gaining a government job! Sad state of affairs.

We head back outside into the courtyard and notice around 25 of the French have sat down. A drummer, another instrument similar to an accordion, and a couple of boys are there to entertain us. At various stages the young boys get up and dance, then request we join them. We notice that every French person is sitting there, on their mobiles. Not one engages with the music, or entertainment, thus there are 7 girls and Saheed our driver all dancing, singing and laughing. What a sad state of affairs that none of the other travellers are experiencing the joy India offers.

The band finishes up, the boys look like they're sleepy and we decide that we should go for a post- midnight swim! Bathers on, giggles stifled so as not to wake sleeping guests, and we silently enter the pool. Well, we thought we were quiet, but apparently we weren't!

Bed, and dreams of a beautiful country abound.


Posted by Jochester71 22:29 Archived in India Comments (0)

Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert (20 March)

camels are not my friends

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Day 8- 20th Sunday - Jaisalmer overnight

We woke early, well, to be honest, I woke early, and headed up to the rooftop. The lovely man who runs the restaurant was there and got me hot water for my nifty travel espresso machine. He watched me make a coffee ( as most have been intrigued) and then presented an additional cup for me to make him one. The only coffee we've seen here is Nescafé Blend 43! He tastes it, and although his English is very limited he tells me, in a round about way, it's strong and good.

The girls arrive and we eat. Curry and coffee is now totally normal for breakfast. We head into the streets. Jaisalmer is known as the golden city, and the stone they use is a beautiful golden colour. The architecture changes from town to town, and again I'm in love with the buildings before me.

We make our way past cows and people to get to an old historical haveli. It is magical- so much detail and a glimpse into how the higher caste lived.

We make our way to the leather shop where Nevermind obtain their leather bags from. The family business employs everyone, even grandma does the embroidery on some bags! They are friendly and welcoming. We all go slightly nuts with purchases! It is a hot day, and we try hard to find shade. Cow dung and heat are not a good mix......and there's plenty of each!

Each house, well almost each house, has a colourful Ganesh ( Hindu god with an elephant as a face) painted outside on the wall, with dates. When someone's children get married, they paint the Ganesh a week before, then put the date of the wedding, or if you have multiple children, weddings! I was a bit concerned one house had a high divorce rate, until the story was clarified!

We make our way up to the fort, and again, it doesn't disappoint! These buildings are indescribable and I can't imagine how they were built!
We meander the thin alleys and find a Tibetan rooftop restaurant. Food eaten, we head back to the hotel for a rest before our big safari.

Around 4pm we head off to the Thar Desert for a camel ride, dinner and dancing. On the way we see another bus with passengers on the roof. It is crazy to see, but for us, now a normal sight. Once the seats are full, people stand up in the aisles. Once that's full, they also lay is the luggage racks ( ie above your head) then the unlucky ones just sit on the roof! They can be on very long journeys, and just sit there! We take photos from our bus, ( a little 7 seater, much like an econovan) and they laugh and smile at us!

We get to the camp, and see the camels. Now I've never ridden one before and they all look amazingly gorgeous. We have chai and then set off. Now, mine gets up, I feel terrified. It's so high, and I'm not at all feeling ok about this! I ask to climb off....well that doesn't happen until he gets down first! I then climbed onto the chariot! Like a trailer, but small, with Anna. Much better!

The desert is beautiful- much like our sand dunes except we are nowhere near water, and the locals don't like that it is only 50kms from the Pakistani border! The Indians don't like the Pakistanis- so much so that they have wind farms near the border, and they power floodlights that light up the border at night to stop them running into India! I can now understand the rivalry in cricket between them!

We watch the sunset and head back to the camp. Amazing buildings built of cow dung, with a floor or compressed cow dung. It is just like mud brick houses. A band starts playing traditional music, and they have a girl / lady dancing. She perfects the 'resting bitch face' and we set about trying to make her smile. We weren't very successful, but occasionally she flashes one, probably to stop us smiling crazily at her! We take to the dance floor, by now we've perfected the Bollywood style, mixed with some thigh slapping, and we all imagine we are quite good. The videos show otherwise!

It is yet another late night, and we head off into the night to the hotel. Now cows on the road at night are a whole new concept of terror!

Posted by Jochester71 20:21 Archived in India Comments (0)

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