Feb 10 2011

The Blog is Dead, Long Live The Blog

A couple of years after the Big Cats and Holy Ghats trip we've decided to go to India once again. This time the plan will be slightly more adventurous and we'll be using mainly trains to cover a meandering route from Delhi to Mumbai in about four weeks.

There's a new blog for the new trip which has been named Monsoon Meandering, for reasons that will be explained on the blog.

So why not go and have a look.

Monsoon Meandering

 

 

 

 

 

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Apr 20 2009

Last Day In India

Today marks our last full day in India.

It's quite sad to think we're leaving tomorrow but it does feel like we've been here a long time and to be honest I fancy eating some vegetables that haven't been mullered to death. I've been surprised by the lack of fruit in the restaurants too so it'll be nice to eat an apple: how odd?

I've lined up for Namaste India Tours to pick us up at 11am (in twenty minutes) to take us around a few of the sights I want the girls to see, including the wonderful Humayun's Tomb that I remember fondly from my last visit.

Last night we tried to count the list of monuments, tombs and palaces we've visited, safaris we've done and animals we've seen but we failed: we've done and seen so much.

Thank you for following this blog, it's been really nice thinking that friends and family have enjoyed reading the articles and seeing the pictures. We'll hopefully see some of you in a few days.

We've truly had a wonderful holiday.

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Apr 19 2009

Karim's Restaurant Delhi - Too Good To Waste

One of the favourite non-veg eateries in Delhi is Karim's which has been around for over a century in the congested back streets of Old Delhi.

I'd heard Karim's was difficult to find and I was more than pleased when we arranged with IndiaMike's Kabaary to meet there for a meal - it's one of his (many I guess) favourite restaurants. Unfortunately Kabaary works a lot harder than me and was out of the country so we ventured to Karim's by ourselves, never really expecting to find it.

Directions to Karim's I'd read before were: get to Jama Masjid's south entrance, head down the road opposite, go down a tiny lane after 100 yards and find Karim's. It didn't seem likely that we'd find it but Karim's is such a busy place I just kept looking left whenever I saw people head off down an alleyway. (To be fair the brightly lit neon sign saying something like "Karim's is down that lane opposite this sign" did help somewhat.)

The restaurant was rammed with Indian families and there was only one other pair of westerners. We sat down and ordered so much food as it was all so cheap it was hard not to.

It's famed for kebabs (sheesh, shami) and barbecued-type food like mutton burra (yum). We ordered a couple of each of the kebabs on the menu so that the girls would find something without much spice: it didn't really happen, it was all pretty spiced up, especially the gorgeous shami kebabs which had a center full of chopped green chillies.

One thing I just had to try was the Brain Curry - yep, you read it right - and whilst it was okay I doubt I'll be ordering it again. Worth a try though.

I ate soooooo much but we must have left enough food for two people to have a proper meal. I wasn't pleased with my gluttonous behaviour but we had to try lots of stuff to fully appreciate the place. The whole thing, with soft drinks including LOTS of water, came to Rs1100, that's about £15.

@Kabaary: you said you might have to stop posting on IndiaMike if we didn't like Karim's. You needn't have worried.

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Apr 19 2009

From Calm Alwar To Crazy Delhi

Today we left Alwar and headed by train to Delhi.

This time we travelled in two-tier air con class, which was a cross between the two other classes we'd tried so far. I'd be happy to use this for an overnight trip, as opposed to three tier AC (3AC) but I think I'd go 3AC for day trips in the future.

The train was an hour late, which was expected at Alwar as it's already done 1000km before it reaches there. So all in all, over four trains, only one was late and only by an hour. Not bad.

Arrival at (Old) Delhi station was surprising as it's Sunday today, a day of rest for most Indians, yet the station was rammed and I literally had to barge my way throw the passengers to get anywhere. It's not something I like doing but once I got in the swing of it I turned out to be rather good at it. Things I never knew.

Out of the station and we're accosted by 4 autorickshaw owners - why didn't I notice the pre-paid autorickshaw counter?. I guess a local could get the fare for Rs50 or maybe Rs100 but I've already decided that I just want to get to my hotel so I'll settle for Rs200 - they're hardly rich those rickshaw drivers so I don't mind over paying a little. He starts off a Rs350 (only a fiver) and I utter the phrase "do I look like I've just arrived in India". The dust and dirt on my three-quarter-lengths tells him I've been here a while and he drops the price to Rs300. "You are just joking right?". Rs250. I pick up the cases already loaded into the van and leave. "One last chance" I say adn he drops to Rs200. That'll do, I know I've been fleeced, but I just don't care, get me out of here.

We arrive at the oasis that is the Ginger Hotel, a no thrills hotel where rooms cost Rs1000 per night. It's so clean, laminate floors and marble everywhere, LCD TVs and air-con. The kids check out Star Movies and the settle down to watch their first film of the trip - Runaway Bride. Dad buys a 24hr internet access card (Rs338) and starts blogging.

Tonight we're hopefully going to find Karim's restaurant, an institution in Delhi service great shami/sheesh kebabs and the like. But it's apparently a nightmare to find in the old heavily populated streets of Old Delhi. Let's hope we don't see a McDonalds on the way and bottle it.

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Apr 18 2009

Sariska National Park

Another early wake up call today as we went on our final safari of the trip, this time to Sariska National Park, between Jaipur and Delhi.

Sariska has always been overshadowed by its neighbouring Ranthambhore as there's been more tigers and Ranthambhore for many years. In 2005 Sariska hit the headlines big time when the tiger population, estimated at 20/25, completely disappeared overnight. Many stories discuss what happened but it's believed that they were all poached after locals were bribed. Whatever actually happened doesn't actually matter, it's just very, very sad.

Within the last few months a total of three tigers have been moved from Ranthambhore, where the tiger population is (allegedly) growing. (Maybe if they hadn't had moved those three I might have had a better glimpse of a tiger at Ranthambhore!)

We'd planned to go to Sariska way before I'd heard that there were actually tigers there but of course knowing about them added a bit of excitement during the safari. Of course, we never saw one, nor any other of the cats that are meant to live there. But if the lady at our hotel is to be believed then she saw one tiger, one leopard and a jungle cat, all in a single safari. So there's hope for Sariska.

Part way through the safari you enter the 'tiger re-introduced area' and stop to view some of the pugmarks (paw prints) cast in plaster. Not very interesting but there's some very tame Treepies (think colourful Magpies) there that will eat from your hand. Of course, the girls were too scared to try it so Dad got thrust forward - Jane had the video camera - to feed them. I put a piece of Marks and Sparks finest shortbread (that we'd carried around the whole of Rajasthan!) in my palm and held my uncovered arm out. It would have been wise to have worn long sleeves that day. Three treepies landed, had a fight on my arm, clawed me, ate and flew off. Not so nice; I tried again and only one bird, so no fighting, much better.

We did nice loads of wildlife on the safari and I'd really recommend Sariska to anyone passing by; it's certainly worth a visit. We saw birds (kingfishers, treepies, egrets, storks, herons and more), crocodiles, sambar deer, chittal deer and more.

It wasn't particularly cheap for us and we had to pay Rs1000 (15 quid) for a taxi there. Then entrance fees we're Rs200 each (apart from Amy who was free), Rs125 jeep entry ticket and Rs900 paid separately to the man with the jeep. So, Rs1625 (about 23 quid) for the safari and Rs1000 get there (which was way overpriced but we had little choice).

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Apr 18 2009

Outdrinking The Locals

At the poolside of the Alwar Bagh I was blogging away on the owner's laptop and a set of 6 guys jumped in for a swim. When Jane and the girls left to go back to the room for a shower one of the guys went a got a bottle of whisky and some glasses from the restaurant, as they others got changed. Seems that they'd jumped in the pool in their undies and were a tad embarassed about getting out when Jane was around. How funny is that?

I got up to leave and they asked me to join them for a drink, which of course I refused. But they asked again and I caved in quickly, after all, we're talking free whisky here!

None of us had had anything to eat so it didn't take long to start feeling the alcohol, especially for me, as you probably know, I don't really drink. Oi, stop laughing, it's true.

We had a really good laugh over the next hour, chatting about Indian customs against English ones and the guys did really practising their English. It was funny for me when one of the most vocal pre-ordered his meal, Chicken Makhanwala (Butter Chicken): I suggested that it's a meal for girls and that real men would order a Chicken Jafragi (read Jalfrezi), but he wouldn't have any of it, saying that he couldn't handle the spice. My Jafragi that night tasted great.

So I'm glad to say that I was the one that drank the bottle dry that night. It doesn't happen often so I'm proud of myself.

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Apr 18 2009

Alwar Bagh near Sariska

We are staying at the Alwar Bagh between Alwar and Sariska (another national park).

For the majority of the time it's just been us four and one other room booked out so it's like having the whole resort to ourselves. The chef certainly knows his stuff so I guess this weight loss of mine won't be staying off for long.

When we arrived we were asked what we like to drink and an hour later we saw a car come back from the market and unload the bottles of Kingfisher and Old Monk rum. What a great service, you wouldn't get that in England, you'd just go without.

The kids have asked for ice cream but the waiter explains that there isn't a way to get it back from Alwar (15 km away) without it melting and even if they did the power supply around these parts wouldn't keep it solid for long. Of course, they're kids, they don't understand.

The owner of this hotel is very friendly and confirms my chat with the waiter who told me he is "very good boss sir". Sir, he called me Sir, brilliant, wonder if I can get the lads at work to continue that? (Lads: don't answer this, I think I know what your answer will be and I'd like to keep this blog clean of rude words.)

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Apr 16 2009

Sad To Leave Ranthambhore

After our fourth night we're all quite sad to be leaving Ranthambhore but an adventure awaits: we're catching two trains to be able to get to Alwar and there's only just over an hour between arriving at Jaipur and leaving there on our second train to Alwar. If our first train is late arriving by 45 minutes, we're gonna miss our second one and face a three hour taxi ride for £30, which I'd rather not have to do.

We arrive at Sawai Madhopur station thinking about quitting the trains and going back to the hotel for another couple of nights. This wouldn't be a problem with the hotel as they're not very busy at this time of year and we'd only lose 25 quid on the train fares. But we press on and wait to catch the train.

Our spirits are lifted by six or so local kids all waiting to catch the train, they're so smiley at seeing us - yes Dawes, even me! - and they lift our spirits. I take a photo and they're amazed to see themselves on the screen; turns out to be one of favourite photos.

The train arrives and departs on time, it's clean and we've got the six seats (actually two long comfortable benches) to ourselves for the two hour trip to Jaipur. We play cards, read and I listen to some music on my phone (Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack of course).

The train arrives at Jaipur on time. Phew!

A quick platform change happens with me wishing we'd packed less and we wait for the second train which again arrives and departs on time.

During the trip we decide which hotel to stay at, it's between the Alwar Bagh (as recommended by Indiamiker Puchoo) or Hotel Aravalli (as recommended by...absolutely no-one, but it's cheap!). A fellow traveller looks at my internet printouts about the hotels and tells that the Bagh looks nice but he doesn't know it and that the Hotel Aravalli is.."not bad". (He doesn't mean this in the English usage of "not bad" (as in quite good) but just that it isn't bad, but it definitely isn't good! We agree to have a look at the Hotel Aravalli and see what it's like that is until the train slows down and we see it from the window: "We'll stay at the Alwar Bagh I think" I say.

A crowd gathers as we get out of the station. Autorickshaw drivers hassle us for the business, it's 15km to the hotel. The first one asks for just 200 rupees and I can't be bothered to haggle, it's less than 3 pounds, for 10 miles, and he's got the return journey to do. The other drivers discuss in Hindi that we've been ripped off big time. Three quid: I don't care

What a good choice that turns out to be. It's beautiful (do I have any other adjectives for hotels?) and has a couple of acres, with two pools and five separate buildings for the rooms and restaurant etc. We splurge and take a suite which at Rs4000 is quite dear, but it really is lovely...look it up in Google.

As I write this the sun has just gone down (7:16) and it's dark, I'm outside using the owner's laptop (with a wireless broadband connection faster than my one at home - Hayward: leave it!) with the Aravalli hills silhouetted against the dusk sky. "Beautiful" is the correct adjective I think - yet again.  

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Apr 15 2009

Safari So-goody

(Sorry for the lack of updates but Ranthambhore isn't famed for its Cyber Cafe's or broadband connections.)

Over the last three days we've done five safaris in Ranthambhore in jeeps. I've done one more than the rest of them just to give me one more chance to see the elusive tigers but this safari was done in a clanking great diesel truck which literally drove away any wildlife.

So what was the grand total number of tiger spots we made? One.

It's seems we've been quite unlucky but it's nice to leave this place realising that it's a real national park that contains wild life, not some open air zoo.

Tigers aside, Ranthambhore is a great place for wildlife: the birds (eagles, kites, vultures, treepies, parakeets, kingfishers), crocodiles, mongooses (or is that mongeese?), chittal deer and so on we're plentiful and a lot less elusive than those tigers. I've taken a few photos and hopefully there'll be a few good ones in there.

The Raj Palace hotel turned out to be very nice indeed and it's hard to imagine that you could find staff more friendly and eager to please.

(BTW, I'm sorry if this sounds like one of those everythings-fantastic-Christmas-round-robin-letters (I don't mean you Helen J) but everything is literally brilliant.)

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Apr 14 2009

Ranthambhore Safaris

Ranthambhore seems a nice place to relax a little. Our hotel has a nice pool and nice gardens, the room's okay and the food hasn't killed me yet - I doubt it'll take much to finish me off, maybe just a "wafer thin mint" will do it.

So early to bed as the safari started at 6am, alarm set for 5am, kids set their mental alarm to start moaning at 5:05am that it's too early and they just want more sleep.

We get picked up by our eight seater jeep; four seats for us; one for the driver; one for the guide/naturalist; two for a father and son from 'up north' in Matlock. And we're off, off on our first safari in India. I'm so excited, click my 70-300 zoom on the SLR and I'm all set.

We're been allocated zone 3 which I've heard is one of the best so this just adds to the excitement.

In the park we see loads of deer/antelopes, many species of birds and I'm astounded at how often the scenery changes compared to my travels in the Serengeti, Tsavo and Amboseli.

Click, click, click. And again. And again.

Suddenly word gets around that a tiger has been spotted in the long (8 foot tall) grass near one of the lakes. We wait, and a bit more waiting, followed by more waiting split up by some more waiting. About 30 minutes in total it seems.

Suddenly the tiger leaps out of the grass, two hundred or so yards away, chasing a wild boar, which she misses. Dejected, she goes back to the grass: it's all over in 60 seconds.

Our first tiger spot. Fantastic. I'm chuffed.

Photos are here

 

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