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First stop …Bangkok

A trip along the canal in a revamped boat used previously for collecting rubbish probably wouldn’t be near the top of the ‘must-do’ list for visitors but it’s a great free way to see the city. Yes there’s no charge and it’s good fun. We discovered it the first time we stayed at Baan Manusarn, an inexpensive family run B & B in a quiet part of Bangkok  down from Thewet Pier on the Chao Phraya river. There’s an interesting Thai market opposite the B & B(they are always worth a wander through) and a good cafe down the road  serving cold lager with entertainment from a very friendly cockatoo.

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The Chao Phraya river flows through the middle of Bangkok, it’s a river that never seems to sleep. Apart from the ferries which are cheap, full of locals and a good way to get around, there are numerous tourists boats, river taxis and longtail boats criss-crossing the river, like a constant armada. It’s the huge commercial barges that I find the most fascinating. These boats seem to  go on for ever and when full float silently along this huge river dragged by a tug boat. Mostly I think they are carrying sand or rice and once unloaded they seem to bounce back up river behind their little towboats.

Early evening is when the tourist cruise boats start. You can’t miss them with their garish lights and loud music. I shouldn’t knock them as I know friends who enjoyed their two-hour trip and the ‘international cuisine’, but it’s not for us. We’d rather go down to the pier, chat with the locals, share an offering to the fish and watch the sun go down.

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The nearest Buddhist temple (Wat Devaraj Kunchorn Warawihan) is quite near to our B & B and is a beautiful building, hidden down a narrow side street. On our second evening walking past we were drawn inside by the chanting of the monks. I love the sound but I’m always amazed at how the monks can sit that long without changing their position. Needless to say we eventually had to leave as we were both getting cramp!

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There are of course lots of places to visit in Bangkok. Most tourists go to The Grand Palace and Wat Arun   also called The temple of Dawn. A word of warning about visiting The Grand Palace – check out the dress code, the guards are very strict. If you show up improperly dressed there is a booth near the entrance where for a deposit you are issued with a wrap round long skirt. No problem like that at Wat Arun, our only problem was that we were suffering from jet lag and the heat as we’d only arrived a few hours earlier. We found it hard to drag ourselves around.

These people in the picture below at Wat Arun  have hired their costumes. You see groups like this dressed in national costume at all the main tourist places. Turns out they may not even be Thai! I have more pics like this which you’ll see in further Blogs. You’ll probably notice too that no-one takes the trouble to wear the ‘right’ shoes!

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Whether The Grand Palace is always crowded with tourists I don’t know. Looking at the number of coaches parked outside I think it’s pretty impossible to go there without having to jostle with everyone. I gave up trying to get some clear shots of the amazing architecture and instead did the same as everyone else, sharpened my elbows and darted in front of anyone with a camera who was taller than me!

We quickly worked out that The Grand Palace is divided into two main areas; the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Royal residence. The place is still used for hosting royal ceremonies and welcoming the king’s guests and other foreign dignitaries.

The elegant statues of Buddha are beautiful but there are so many features here it’s no wonder everyone is clicking away in every direction. It was a bit of a bun-fight and after a couple of days in Bangkok we were looking forward to escaping to the country.

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Reading this back it sounds as though we didn’t enjoy Bangkok but we did. We’ve been there a number of times now and have generally avoided the centre as we prefer just wandering around the streets to see what we come across. China town is fun though, you can buy lunch for a ridiculously cheap price. Travelling up and down the river on the ferries is what we enjoy doing and going into the Wat’s (Buddhist temples) which are everywhere. Bangkok is a buzzing, lively city and a real attack on the senses and apparently has more visitors than any other city. It’s not difficult to see why.

 

Bristow’s Perfect Haveli in Jodhpur

In my Blog about our stay in Jodhpur I mentioned the Haveli where we stayed in the Old City. I guess the first thing is to explain what an Haveli is. Of course I’ve gone to Wikipedia as it’s the easiest way, so here goes … An Haveli is a traditional townhouse or mansion in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, usually one with historical and architectural significance. The word haveli is derived from Arabic hawali, meaning “partition” or “private space”. Well I can’t argue with that but George Bristow’s Haveli is much more than that.

Welcome to Bristow's Haveli n Jodhpur

Bristow’s Haveli as George’s web site says offers guests a unique experience inside the old walled city of Jodhpur. It’s a place where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city …and that is so right! From the time you step through the front door you’re met with not only a lovely warm welcome but a feeling of complete calm. This place is a real gem and the service is fantastic, we couldn’t fault a thing.

The wonderful people you will meet at Bristow's Haveli in Jodhpur

Every morning Abjez would bring us breakfast. Each day he would cook us something different, usually quite spicy but hey we wanted authentic Indian food and we were given it along with croissant, jam and other delights. Nikhil would arrive shortly after breakfast to check that all was well and to ask if we wanted Nehru to take us somewhere in his auto rickshaw. Nehru is one of the gentlest, kindest men I’ve ever met. He even rang us just after we got off the plane in Delhi from Jodhpur to check we’d arrived safely.

Courtyard and stunning backdrop at Bristow's Haveli in Jodhpur

Our ritual after breakfast was first of all to walk round the roof top to check out was happening with our neighbours and also to admire the view of the fort. It’s another world up there;  people drying papads (poppadoms) on their roof, children playing table tennis (true), someone regularly checking that his caged birds are alright oh and not forgetting the neighbour opposite doing his morning exercises and waving at us at the same time. I’ve already mentioned about the monkeys in a previous Blog …they only called in one morning but Nikhil was up there very quickly to shoo them away with the help of a very loud banger (firework). If the mornings at the Haveli sound interesting, well they are. You wouldn’t get all this in a modern hotel in the city.

The 'eyrie' and chill out place at Bristow's Haveli in Jodhpur

One of our favourite spots to sit was in what we called ‘The Eyrie’. Actually scores of eagles soar around the fort so the name is quite appropriate. As soon as we got back to the Haveli Abjez would ask us if we wanted a beer …of course we did! Up the two sets of steps he’d come, balancing his tray with beer, glasses and always a plate of fruit. Yes we were thoroughly spoilt!

One part of Bristow's Haveli in Jodhpur

The larger picture show one of the lovely cool areas in the Haveli and the top three is  our suite taken as we arrived in the evening. We loved the ‘swan towels’.

One of the suites at Bristow's Haveli in Jodhpur

There were two other guests staying during the first two days of our stay and they were as enchanted as we were with everything. Their suite was more spacious than ours and had a balcony which was the perfect chill-out place. Nikhil suggested we move in once the girls had left but we loved our rooms so much, even the lure of the balcony didn’t persuade us. I did as you see take some pictures of this suite which was as delightful as ours.

Some of the fascinating features in Bristow's Haveli in Jodhpur

There are many beautiful objects dotted around the Haveli, here are a few of my favourites. I especially loved all the lamps and the wall hangings.

A peaceful evening at Bristow's Haveli in Jodhpur with a super moon

The courtyard in the evening is magical and so peaceful. I don’t know how often they have stunning sunsets over Jodhpur or whether we were just lucky. For three of the five nights we stayed the sunset was magnificent. As a photographer you can imagine how excited I was and how many shots I took. On our last night not only did we have a superb sunset, there was a full moon too, a super moon! My little Panasonic camera did very well to pick it up but I wished I’d had my Canon with me with it’s long lens .  Photographers are never satisfied my other half says! Actually as you can probably tell  we were completely satisfied with everything at Bristow’s Haveli   If you happen to be visiting Jodhpur this is the place to stay. Thank you Nikhil, Abjez and Nehru for looking after us – what a team!

Last day in Jodhpur

It was our last full day in Jodhpur and so we decided to take a trip into the countryside.

Our very chatty driver had a planned itinerary which made the trip easy for us. The first stop was a visit to a Bishnoi family. Bishnoi is a Hindu religious sect found in the Western Thar Desert and northern states of India. I found out more about this sect when we got home and it’s fascinating. Their diet is totally vegetarian and amongst other principles they have a ban on killing animals and provide protection to all life forms. They make sure that the firewood they use hasn’t any small insects and they don’t wear blue clothes  because the dye for colouring them is obtained by cutting large quantities of shrubs. Unlike other followers of Hinduism they bury their dead rather than cremate them as they have a very strict ban on cutting down trees.

Their lifestyle is very basic including living in round mud huts with a grassy roof. Not only a basic life but a healthy one too. The head of the household and his wife were both eighty-seven apparently and very fit. No problem for them sitting crossed-leg on the floor or grinding the corn using a very heavy grinding wheel! We also had a demo by the elder on how to make liquid opium! Didn’t taste too bad either. Wish I hadn’t worn my blue cotton top though!

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The wildlife in the area is amazing too. Antelopes, gazelle, blue bulls and some very large birds which I think were cranes. Anyway they made an amazing sight when they took off.

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Despite the fact that families on the tourist trail are happy to have their picture taken, the Bishnoi are very private people and dislike having cameras pointed at them. For the picture at the top of this Blog and the one below I had to work quickly. I never like taking pictures of people who aren’t happy about it but I couldn’t resist capturing a couple of shots of their wonderful saris.

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We enjoyed the morning although we felt guilty that we bought so little at the pottery place and nothing at all at the block printing workshop even though both guys gave us an interesting demo. We felt a bit trapped but if there’s nothing you want and it’s the last day …what can you do? However …on the way back just as we’d got near to the city our driver asked if we wanted to stop at an embroidery place. We weren’t that bothered as by now we could do with a cold beer back at the Haveli but we said okay and that we wouldn’t be long. It turned out that this place was a large warehouse full of the most beautiful textiles, they were stunning. An hour later we left with a gorgeous Indian wall hanging and a silk bed throw to die for! It was a great way to finish our trip!

 

Staying in beautiful Jodhpur (Part 2)

Walking round Jodhpur can get pretty exhausting what with the heat, the traffic and the crowded streets. Fortunately we found a great little place with a quiet courtyard that served a good lunch. We went back there one evening and had the best veggie curry ever, but this time on the roof terrace after climbing up several floors on stairs with no handrail!

Anyway after our lunch we decided to head out of town to escape the crowds with a first stop at Panchkunda Cenotaphs. Nikhil at our Haveli had told us that tourists don’t know about this place and he was right, we had it virtually to ourselves apart from a couple of local lads. As you can see, these monuments are really something and according to the notice Jodhpur queens were cremated here. It’s often used now for a film set and we could see why.

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Our next stop was Mandore Gardens. Not a place to go if you don’t like monkeys, they are pretty much everywhere. One or two tourists thought it would be a good idea to feed them but soon realised these guys aren’t the friendliest on the planet. The black and white picture on the right has got to be the funniest I’ve taken all year …just the way he was sitting was hilarious.

As we walked towards the temple in the centre of the gardens a family latched onto us and gave us offerings to make to the Gods in the temple. We weren’t sure how to play this but their little lad showed us. Afterwards we walked outside and saw a woman virtually wringing her hands into a fire which was just outside the temple. Fire is a principal element and apparently she was doing this to wish good luck to the wedding couple who had suddenly appeared. They proceeded to walk round the fire, attached to them was a pink cotton band, again all symbolic. At a Hindu marriage the couple must walk round the fire seven times, clockwise, which of course they did. A great moment to witness.

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Walking out of the gardens towards the gates we noticed a very serious game of cards going on plus a group of women sat on the pavement selling jewellery and one very bored child.

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It was good to get out of the city for a while and even better to sit in the eerie at our Haveli drinking beer and chilling out. All peaceful until … wouldn’t you know it …within five minutes there were blinking monkeys jumping across the roof tops including ours, bold as brass. They are so skittish, destructive and cheeky and a law unto themselves. Bangers, as in fireworks are about the only thing that will send them scurrying away. Glad we haven’t got these in the Cotswolds!

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Staying in beautiful Jodhpur (Part 1)

Jodhpur is the second largest city in Rajasthan and is a great place to visit. Not only did we instantly fall in love with this vibrant, bustling place, we fell in love with our Haveli too! Bristow’s Haveli is a perfect place to stay for anyone visiting Jodhpur.

The Haveli is situated in the heart of the old  city and is a peaceful retreat with a courtyard garden, lots of places to sit and relax and the most wonderful service anyone could ask for. I mean when a beer is there as soon as you step inside after a day’s sightseeing, what more could  you ask for? This place is so good I’m going to write a separate blog about it. Meanwhile … let me tell you what we did the first couple of days in the old medieval city.

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This is Sardar market. The top big picture was taken in the morning before everything had got going. The one on the bottom right gives a better idea of how manic it gets. We were surprised that no-one pestered us even when the market was really busy and glad to say, we also felt quite safe.

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Mehrangarth Palace dominates the skyline of Jodhpur and is very impressive. We walked up by the steep steps a couple of times although you can take an auto rickshaw to the main entrance. On the first day I walked up onto one of the grassy mounds by the car park and was immediately shouted out by a guard. I pretended for a while not to hear him as I wanted to take some pictures of the old town to show the renowned blue houses and the hilltop palace you can see in the picture, top right. Once I climbed down I had to take this shot of the guy giving camel rides. It looks like he’s in the desert with the camel but it’s actually in the car park! We gave this one a miss and paid whatever it was to go into the fort and museum having left our passports so we wouldn’t run off with the headsets!

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The fort is impressive as is the museum. You can easily spend a day there and although  there were loads of groups with their guides we managed to avoid them most of the time. The intricate acrchitecture is amazing as are the views from the ramparts and the museum is interesting too with beautiful wall hangings, palanquins and Indian art. I loved the shop though, the best I’d come across since leaving home so I did buy quite few presents as things were really top quality. Too good an opportunity to miss!

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You couldn’t fail to be impressed with the intricate details everywhere.

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As you walk round the city with a camera it’s not long before children ask you for a picture. Interestingly they’re not that bothered about seeing it, they just love to chat especially if you have sweets to hand out. I love this picture of this little girl who a few seconds before had been smiling away and playing with a little plastic box – maybe her only ‘toy’? She quickly grabbed the sweet but she definitely wasn’t going to smile for a picture. There’s a lot of sadness I feel in her eyes.

 

On to Jodhpur via the Jain Temple at Ranakpur.

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It was an interesting drive to Jodhpur. The views going over the hills were stunning and the monkeys at the side of the road were an added bonus. You might spot in this monkey picture that we almost had one in the taxi with us as his paw grabbed the top of the window …we quickly closed it. They only looked cute from a distance!

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Our first stop was by a watering hole where the oxen were raising the water to irrigate the nearby field using a centuries-old system. We were equally fascinated by the farmer in the other field  who was tilling his land using a wooden plough pulled by two very lean looking bullocks. Tough work eaking out a living in this terrain and climate and using what we would consider very primitive methods to work the land.

 

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We arrived at the Jain Temple just a few minutes before it opened to the public. Enough time to read the board listing all the regulations of which there are many. Inside there are guards making sure visitors stay inside the designated areas and although photography is allowed even pointing your camera at the inner sanctum gets me a sharp rebuke from a guard.

This temple constructed entirely of marble is stunning. Each pillar is a work of art and apparently there are 1444 of them! The ceilings are intricately carved too. If you’re travelling between Jodhpur and Udaipur don’t miss visiting this Jain temple at Ranakpur, it’s well worth it.

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Our last stop before arriving in Jodhpur was down to me asking the driver to pull in to see what this guy was doing. You can see in the black and white picture that he has a wooden structure attached to a pole going into the ground and the oxen walking round which turned the central pole. He was blindfolded, the animal that is, so I was more concerned about him than what the guy was producing. I was told the blindfold meant that the animal wouldn’t get dizzy and was assured that it had regular breaks. (I’m gullible enough to believe this!). I can’t tell you what the ‘sticky gooh’ was but there were plenty of people stopping to buy a bag of it. John and I both had a taste and yes, it was delicious, if a bit too sugary.

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At last we arrived in Jodhpur, the city known for its many iconic blue buildings. As soon as we were met by our auto rickshaw driver, Nehru, who had the most wonderful warm, welcoming smile we knew that our five days here was going to be great!

Back among the tourists in Udaipur.

Yes we were tourists too but it just felt that we’d had Bundi all to ourselves, apart from the people who live there of course!

Arriving in Udaipur was a bit of a shock to the system as the streets were packed with tourists. Not surprising really as our hotel was in the old town near to The City Palace and the lake. I thought the hotel would have more character but the view from our room more than made up for that and the food in the restaurant was some of the best of our holiday.

After wandering round we did what all visitors do, we went on a boat trip on Lake Pichola at sunset. The golden light on all the buildings was fantastic and the sunset didn’t disappoint. Cups of chai for 5 rupees were being handed out as you got off the boat. I love chai but it’s far too sugary for John.

Our second day in Udaipur was spent visiting The City Palace and what a place it is. OK it was pretty busy with tourists so I had to be patient at times and wait for a clear shot of the architecture but it wasn’t a problem. The mosaic work on the walls is amazing and  the paintings are impressive. This time we’d had to pay to go in but it was worth it.

That evening we went to another must-do when in Udaipur – a show featuring traditional dances and puppets with a jaw-dropping finale. It’s hard to explain this but one of the dancers, an elderly woman started with one water carrier pot balanced on her head, then she would add another and dance around the stage between placing another one on her head. She had this fixed grin on her face or perhaps it was a grimace but it was so funny. It was very clever but also very bizarre. The show ended abruptly after that with the compere announcing this was the end of the show but none of the performers came back on stage so we all just made our way to the exit. Bit of a let down in a way. Good meal though at our hotel and yes we were still talking about what we’d seen. No web site on Udaipur includes this in the must-see list but don’t let that put you off!

The next day we headed out by car to Jodhpur with a stop en route at a Jain temple. More about this in my next blog.

Lake Pichola, Udaipur
Stunning architecture all along the lakeside.
Sunset over Lake Pichola, Udaipur
Sunset over Lake Pichola
Tag Lake PalaceHotel on lake Pichola, Udaipur
Tag Lake Palace Hotel on Lake Pichola
Footbridge one lake Pichola
A Japanese-style foot bridge over the lake
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Beautiful mosaics at The City Palace
Stunning architecture at The City Palace, Udaipur
An architectural delight at The City Palace, Udaipur
Evening show in Udaipur
Whirling dervishes at the evening show
Finale at the evening show in Udaipur
A balancing act – a sixer!