Saturday, December 22, 2012

NEVER GET OUT OF THE BOAT! India 2012 part 10

Tourist bus outside of the Wall Street, Jaipur.
We met our crew outside of the Wall Street in the early morning. We were to make our way to the Raj Palace Resort in Sawai Madhopur. 

Saw more great sites leaving Jaipur. I would never see anything like this back home so I cherished all of the great memories! 

These guys were hauling down the freeway.  A little unnerving? You bet! On the road out of Jaipur.

So much delicious fruit! 

Leaving Jaipur.
Pimped out, Indian style. 

Salutations on the road out of Jaipur.

Where were these guys heading to?
After another death defying trip out of Jaipur, we made our way to the Raj Palace Resort. This is a very cool old hotel and it has a pool. Some of our fearless team members have already made their way into its blue waters. Feels good to be out of the city again. This is some real peace and quite. There is a great jungle like atmosphere here at the Raj. When we came in, the hotel staff placed marigold necklaces around our necks and painted red dots on our foreheads. There is one gentlemen here who is decked out. He's wearing an authentic period outfit and is impeccable. He has a mustache to die for. We're eating box lunches that the previous hotel prepared for us. Bananas with tomato and cheese sandwiches. So good. We're all getting comfortable now. We will be heading to the Ranthambhore National Park shortly to see if we can catch a glimpse of some tigers. Our group leader has a special ride planned for us. 

Hotel Raj Palace, Ranthambhore 

Our room.

C'mon in!
I wanted to know who his tailor was. 

I really like this hotel. There is a writing desk and it fits me perfectly. I would very much like to take it home with me. The other hotels really didn't have this type of furniture and it gives me some time to really work on this blog. 

Yup, this is all you'll need in India!
Well, we definitely were in for a treat. The excursion of the day was to visit the Ranthambhore National Park. We were going to try to spot some tigers.  The special ride was an open top safari bus. If we were going to find some tigers, we would be pretty damn close. The bus fit about 18-20 people. Our guide looked like the b-movie actor John Saxon. Heading into the park was nice. There were ruins scattered all over. I once again felt like we were heading back into time. Even our bus was a creaky old beast. She threatened to fall apart at every curve and turn. The roads were ridiculously bad and we literally were in each other's laps as the bus tossed us around like dolls. Our park guide tried desperately to find us the ever elusive tiger but did not have any luck. We did stumble upon some tiger tracks. We were close to finding one. Well, we did see a crocodile and some deer though.

The Beast!

Tiger tracks! That tiger was near!
Undaunted, our guide pushed the driver of the bus to venture down a path that they really weren't supposed to go down. We all vowed our secrecy (oops!) and we pressed forward through the bushes! We really felt that we were on to something. Mr. Saxon dashed like a madman down the aisle of the bus peering intensely into the forest before finally stopping the driver. We've been beat! No tiger today. I'm glad we stopped as it appeared that the trail ended. I don't know how far we could have gotten without getting stuck out there or going off a cliff. 

The scenery was great out there in the sticks. The rocky bus ride was slightly amusing until it was time to head back and I realized that we had the achingly bad road to weather through. As we headed back tree branches whipped around smacking people in the faces and even whipping one guy's hat off his head. That's the price we paid to see some tigers!

Ruins of Ranthambhore National Park. 

The temple. 

Tower of Ranthambhore.
Thankfully, it was a short drive back to our hotel. It was getting a little cold. We all stumbled off the bus in pain and took a small break. Dinner would be in an hour. My mom and I decided to do a little shopping. There were some shops a few blocks from the Raj. One small shop had some great finds. I bought my son a tiger t-shirt and we walked to the next shop next door. This place was really nice. I was about to buy some souvenirs until I saw something that made me sick. The entire store was covered in small mosquitoes. There were in the blankets, the shirts, everywhere. I looked up at the ceiling and saw that mosquitoes were dropping like rain. That freaked me out. I literally grabbed my mom and we ran out of the store. The poor salesperson didn't even have a chance to say goodbye.  

As soon as we got back, there was some entertainment and drinks waiting for us in the courtyard  A small band was playing some music. The singer was great. One of the dancers came to our group and grabbed my mom. He started dancing with her. Man these guys know how to shake their hips! I ordered a round of Indian rum called Old Monk for one of the group members and I. It was good. He ordered a round for me too. The dancer did a little routine where he spit fire. He then came around and pulled our whole group to do some dancing. I broke out some mock breakdancing moves complete with a bad handstand. We finished our drinks and headed into the restaurant for dinner. 

Fire at the Raj Palace Resort. 

It was getting cold!!
It was an early night for me. Tomorrow we head to Bundi. Fireworks would be exploding for the remainder of the night. 

Bad road at the tiger reserve. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

NEVER GET OUT OF THE BOAT! India 2012 part 9

Strolling. Jaipur.
Woke up at 6:30 AM and went downstairs to have brunch. Potatoes, toast, hard-boiled eggs and yum, baked beans. Baked beans at breakfast? A group of Korean tourists came in and tore up the buffet. Glad I got here early. I wonder if anyone came down for the midnight buffet?  

Baked beans for breakfast? 
Our group leader took us to Jantar Mantar. This interesting park is a collection of fourteen astronomical observatories. All of these devices were built by the founder of Jaipur, Maharaji Jai Singh. These instruments look more like sculptures. These angular buildings jutting out of the ground like stone needles. The structures vary in purpose. Some were designed to measure time, others to track the stars. The place would fit perfect in a science fiction movie. One of our group members got yelled at for climbing up the stairs to one of the structures. 

Stairway to heaven. Jantar Mantar. Jaipur.

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur.

We were not allowed down there! Jantar Mantar, Jaipur.

Like an M.C. Escher drawing! Jantar Mantar, Jaipur.

Sky bound. Jantar Mantar, Jaipur.

Great place to relax. Jantar Mantar, Jaipur. 
Took a picture with a real life snake charmer. I've always wanted to see a snake charmer. I taped some of his tunes. He put the snake around my neck. I didn't worry about it biting me, the fangs were removed. The snake charmer played some cool tunes on his flute. One side of the flute played a drone while the other side was for playing notes. I gave him some extra rupees and he said that I was a good man. 

Is this thing real? Outside the Jantar Mantar.
I had been looking for a 9 volt battery for days. A spied a guy selling batteries out of a cardboard box. He didn't have a 9 volt. He said that he could get me one though. I didn't think anything of it until I saw him as I was leaving the Jantar Mantar. He found a 9 volt battery and it was all mine for the 500 rupees. Yow! That was $10.00. I didn't want to pay that much, but he said that he walked a long way to get it, so I grudgingly paid for it. Glad I did. I really needed it for my Smokey Amp.  

We were then taken to a magnificent fabric store as part of an agreement with our tour guide company. They had some really nice things here. While the rest of the group were off buying clothes, the head salesperson told me to follow him into a side room. There were carpets everywhere. He tried to sell me one. He told me to take off my shoes and walk on one of the larger carpets. He rolled one out especially for me. I felt kind of bad. There was no way that I was going to buy a carpet. He told me he asked me because I looked like an artist. I told him that I appreciated the thought, but buying a carpet was out of the question. He seemed a little bummed.

Our group split up again. My mom and I went back to the hotel. I was craving pizza. Someone mentioned that there was a Domino's Pizza near our hotel that delivered. I asked my tour leader to phone in an order. As soon as we got to the hotel, my pizza was there. A boy on a motorcycle delivered it. Damn it was good.

Domino's Pizza, Jaipur style!
Everybody on this trip is slowly catching a cold. Two of the girls in our group brought it with them. They were coughing up a storm. It's been a game to see who gets sick next. My mom was feeling under the weather so I went out looking for some medicine for her. She's had the cold since Fort Madhogarh. 

Going out alone was a heavy experience. As I ventured down the streets of Jaipur, I was getting the stare down from practically everybody. As I said before, everyone thought that I was Indian. So it seemed strange that I was getting this kind of attention. I was a getting a little paranoid. It could have been my appearance. I was the only guy wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses. That made me stick out a bit. I bought some Hindu stickers and a poster of Kali. I took off the sunglasses and shoved my hat in my backpack. The stares went away and I felt like part of the population. For someone who hates getting stared at, this was a great sense of relief.

I took a rickshaw back to the hotel. My driver had black teeth. I bargained with him for a bit on the price back home. Right then, another guy in a tuk tuk came and said that I could ride with him. I had already made a deal with the rickshaw driver and politely declined the alternate offer. I told my guy the name of my hotel and we ventured down the road. The guy was a little spacey. He made a left down a dusty street and dropped me off at the wrong hotel. I told him that this was not my hotel and asked him if he was lost. I started to panic a bit as he kept riding down getting farther away from where he picked me up. Luckily I spotted a pet shop that was on the corner of where my hotel was. I poked him in the back and told him to head down that street. I was filled with relief when I saw my hotel. I paid him and went inside.

Went in search for a small screwdriver to open up my portable amplifier. I just purchased the most expensive battery of my life and I waned to put it to use. I sat at the bar and asked the bartender if he had one. I kid you not, the entire hotel staff got up to help me. I told them I needed a screwdriver to open up my tiny amp to replace the battery. They asked why I had an amplifier and I said that it was because I brought my electric ukulele  They asked if I had with me and I said yes, I went up to my room and grabbed it. When I got back, a skinny maintenance man found a screwdriver and was opening up the back of my amp. Once the new battery was in, I played the hotel staff a feedback rich medley. I think they liked it. The hotel manager who was present said that he liked Enrique Iglesias and the song, "Hotel California." Who doesn't like "Hotel California?" I arranged for my group to play a small concert in the bar. Our guide is going to bring his acoustic guitar. Unfortunately, this didn't happen.

Later that night, we were to meet our tour leader in the hotel lobby. He was going to take us to a fancy dinner at one of the palaces. There weren't that many of us come dinner time. The family in our group decided to do their own thing. My mom was sick as was another member of the group. We hired two tuk tuk's to take us to this heritage home for dinner. We ventured our way through the eldritch streets, again risking life and limb. The heritage house was nice. It used to be the home of a king but they turned into a restaurant. There were musicians playing sitar and tablas as we entered. I talked to them briefly. Good guys! The place was like a museum. We ordered drinks and sat and waited in the lobby. Fireworks blasting in the background. 

Pretty sweet heritage hotel. Jaipur.

Like a museum! 

Beauty and the beasts. 

These guys kicked out the jams!
After dinner we got in our tuk tuks and headed back to our hotel. I saw some strange sights as we journeyed through this bizarre world. A guy on a motorcycle puked all over a friend. Something red and meaty was bubbling in a huge cauldron. Shadowy figures lunged from dark alleys. We raced down these hellish streets and made it safe and sound back to The Wall Street Hotel. 

Cool tree! Jantar Mantar, Jaipur. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Slimer in India 2012

I thought it would be a fun idea to take my son's Slimer Ghostbuster toy to India with me and take pictures of him. I was bummed that I didn't get Slimer at the Taj Mahal though. Oh well, next time.

Ladies and gentlemen, here's Slimer's journey across India!

Here's Slimer in Delhi. 

Slimer at Fort Madhogarh.

Slimer in Jaipur. Our driver had his own collection going on. 

Even though the table is marked Jaipur, here's Slimer in Bundi.

Slimer's last India appearance. Bijapur. 

NEVER GET OUT OF THE BOAT! India 2012 part 8

It's hard saying goodbye. These gents took care of us at Fort Madhogarh.
Morning came quick. We showered, dressed and made our way up to one of the fort's towers for breakfast. Toast, omelettes and chai. The view was perfect. The sun set evenly on the land below. On one side of the fort you could hear the playful screams of children. On the other side, some sort of heavy machinery, pumping furiously. One side was completely silent. We had 360 degrees of sonic bliss. I left the breakfast area early and took photos of the unfinished floors of the fort. It was bare gray concrete, broken furniture and unfinished walls. Very relaxing. Our group leader told us to meet him downstairs. Our vehicles would be waiting for us to go to Jaipur. We paid our bills (the hotel staff meticulously accounted for every drop of beverage) and headed to the front of the fort. We didn't want to leave. This place was magical and we all held a great fondness for our stay here. 

Walking the unfinished parts of the fort.

The other side of Fort Madhogarh.

The other other side of Fort Madhogarh.
Breakfast. Fort Madhogarh style.

We packed our gear on the top of our vehicles and left the comfort of Fort Madhogarh behind us. We were on our way to Jaipur. Our driver had a most fashionable haircut. He reminded me of the bassist for Interpol, Carlos D. Thankfully he laid off the horn. What a welcome relief. The journey to Jaipur was short, only an hour long. Once we reached the gates of Jaipur, you felt like you were thrown back into time. There were carts being pulled by animals and people selling fruit in the street. Pigs and docs floundered lazily in the streets. The gates to the city were extraordinary but it was rocky terrain. We zipped through this tiny two lane road that was cut through the mountain.  Once we got into the heart of the city, the honking and fast pace of India hit us hard. 

Our first stop was the Amber or Amer Fort. Our drivers careened through these amazingly tight alleys to get us there. We had to stop a few times to let a cow or bull through. There was barely any room for our car. The people in our group joked that we we would have to take the same way out. It was impossible. I did see cars that were heading in the opposite direction. How they got through, I'll never know. 

Our drivers pulled up a huge and steep driveway and beckoned for us to get out. It was suicidal as cars whooshed by us at high speeds. 

The Amber Fort had elephants that you could ride on. Visitors flopped around on colorful blankets. Intrepid Travel discouraged their travelers from riding them as they viewed this as animal cruelty. I could see why. The elephants were walking on stone blocks.  This is very unnatural terrain for them and causes distress to their feet. These elephants had to walk a long way to get to the top of Amber Fort. We stayed away from them.

Our group split up for a few minutes near the fort entrance. There was a small band playing music on the second story of one of the buildings. They sounded great. After taking in the sights, we met our Amber Fort guide under a huge tree. He asked if we first wanted to visit the Shila Devi temple. If so, we would have to remove our shoes and leave any item made from leather with him. These were not allowed inside the temple. We removed our shoes and belts and went inside the temple. There you could pay homage to the goddess Kali. You could ring a huge bell that was hanging from the ceiling before offering prayers. The temple was very small. I overheard someone saying that the temple brought in thousands of visitors. We collected our shoes and headed in to the main entrance of the fort. I felt bad. I accidentally left my leather belt on during the temple visit. 

The fort was beautiful. It was nestled in the mountains and had nice views of the city below. Things got a little hazy for me here. I don't recollect what our tour guide looked like or what information he shared with us. I just have my pictures to remember the fort by. There was some sort of altercation in one of the courtyards. I guess some visitors were in an area that was off limits. An argument ensued and three unformed guards came out swinging plastic pipes. The offenders were quickly ushered out and we went back to our guided tour. My favorite parts of the fort were the areas that looked like they were going to crumble right before my eyes. There were many areas like this.

Amber or Amer Fort 

The entrance to Amber Fort. 

The courtyard outside of the Amber Fort. 

We thanked our tour guide and made our way to the exit. A boy approached me with a small instrument. I bought one after haggling with him over the price. It turned out to be a toy. I accidentally broke it while trying to play it. 
As we were making our way to our hotel we passed an amazing sight. It was a palace in a lake called the Jal Mahal. We pulled over and took a few pictures. It was a shame that we couldn't visit. I guess it takes hours to get there.

Jal Mahal. Jaipur.
We ate at this cool restaurant. It was half indoor/outdoor and had a gal who did Henna while you ate. As we entered, I saw a musician playing a ravanahatha for the diners. The ravanahatha is a classic Rajasthani instrument. One that I would see many times during our trip. I pulled out my ukulele and we jammed for a minute. The musician let me play his ravanahatha. It was difficult. It's similar to a violin but you hold it to your chest and play on one string. The bow has small cymbals or bells attached that keep a beat while you play. One of the waiters came along and jokingly said that we should have a contest to see who played better. I didn't have my small amplifier with me so it was hard to hear what I was playing. The gentleman really knew his instrument. He did a little dance with these insane movements of his head and started to sing. I threw my arms up declaring him the winner. Ate some delicious dal, rice and naan. 

Right before the duel. Not sure what's up with that look on my face!
As we were leaving we passed a turban museum. I really wanted to go but we didn't have much time. We needed to get to our hotel.

Just so you don't think I was making it up!
The name of our hotel was The Wall Street. It billed itself as "A Business Hotel." It was probably the most modern hotel we have stayed in so far. They had wi-fi, but only in the lobby. We unpacked and I went down to the bar to grab a drink. I ordered a Carlsberg. Finally something other than Kingfisher. Tasted the same. They were playing really bad dance music in the bar. I felt a little embarrassed and headed back up to my room.  

Our group met downstairs for our orientation walk. More like disorientation walk. Jaipur rivaled Delhi in terms of chaos and dust. Cars were blaring their horns, risking life and limb to gain an inch down the road. Minutes into our orientation, I was already lost. Thankfully, this was our group leader's hometown so he really knew his way around. We walked through the one of the famous gated entries into the city. Jaipur is called the pink city due to the color of these gates. They were intricately painted with designs. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a yogurt shop. So delicious. The yogurt was scooped into terracotta cones. You were invited to smash the cones in metal trashcans after you were done. 

Fireworks were everywhere!

On the streets of Jaipur.

This bakery looked good!

The cinema! Jaipur style.
Jaipur nights.
Headed back to the hotel to crash out. As I was heading up to my room, one of the hotel staff said to come back for the midnight brunch. I passed. 

5 heads are better than one. Outside of our "business hotel" in Jaipur.