Village tour around Jodhpur and the Mehranghah fort

Jodhpur

Jodhpur is known as the blue city and famous for the Mehranghah fort that towers over the city. At our home stay we have a great view from the rooftop of the fort especially when it is lit up at night. The fort is over 500 years and survived battles and sieges. Gates with cannon ball indentations are still visible. There are also in one of the arches of the gates outlines of the hands of past widows who committed suicide after the death of their husband. All this adds to the atmosphere of this wonderful historic site. The fort is slowly being restored and the work done so far is excellent. We came up the back way of the fort which meant a short stroll to the entrance for the 500 rupee ticket which included the audio tour. The audio tour is brilliant and the best one I have come across so far in India. There are 33 stops on the audio tour with some clumped together. Several of the rooms in the Palace are extravagantly decorated.

Village Safari

On our second day we booked a village safari. We spent a great day out seeing wildlife and traditional villages. The morning tour began at the clock tower with a short drive to the countryside. Once there we were lucky to see on our way to the first village some vultures, a mongoose and several deer.

During the day the tour stopped at a sheep and goat herders village and a Bishnoi village where we saw an opium ceremony. Later we visited our guides weavers home. Here we had a lovely vegetarian lunch cooked by out guides mother and saw his home stay bungalows. If we had more time we would have stayed for a few nights. We enjoyed watching the carpet weaving and pottery making demonstrations. We also ended up buying a carpet which will decorate our home when we get back in a few weeks. Great value for money to with the tour costing 800 rupees each including a tasty lunch. The name of the company and link to the tour is Village Safari Day Tours.

This tour is off the tourist trail. I would highly recommend it for people interested in traditional Rajasthan village life. It was nice to get out of the city away from the hustle and bustle of Jodhpur.

An idiots guide to a safe and comfortable trip in Vietnam

John:

Just thinking about the great time we had in Vietnam and for anyone heading there hopefully these tips might be useful

Originally posted on JohnandDebbieRTWadventure:

Having survived a month in Vietnam I thought it might be useful to give people a few tips on safety and comfort. The traffic and especially all the scooters is a bit daunting at first, but there is a method to the madness. I always liked to time my crossing the road with another Vietnamese pedestrian and follow their lead or to just go boldly forward albeit slowly and not stopping. I never felt unsafe in Vietnam during our trip and of course you take the usual precautions, not leaving phones on tables at restaurants or bags unattended. Keep your bag close to your body when walking around or strapped in front as my wife does with her purse.

Transport

We found that Vinasun taxis were the best to use. Never had a problem with meters being turned on and the drivers were all polite. The taxis are in Saigon…

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Some useful tips when visiting Angkor Wat

Siem Reap

The city of Siem Reap is not going to win any awards for style or beauty. It is basically at the moment a huge building site in many areas. We had a lovely time there and most of the restaurants we ate out at were fine. There are a few places to visit and I would suggest if you are in Siem Reap make your first stop the Angkor National Museum to get a good introduction of Angkor Wat before visiting it.

Last month we spent 9 nights in Siem Reap. We stayed at the Privilege Floor at the Lotus Blanc Resort. Easily the best hotel we stayed in during our three and a half months in South East Asia. I have put a link above to my trip advisor review if you are looking for a bit of luxury when you are in Siem Reap.

Our goal in visiting Siem Reap was visiting Angkor Wat and the other temples. Below I have written several tips to make your trip to Angkor Wat easier and more effective.

Tips to visiting Angkor Wat

First tip is decide on what pass to buy. There are three types of passes. The seven day US$60, three day US$40 and one day US$20. We bought a three day pass which is valid over one week which means in the hot weather you can break up your touring with rest days if your there a week or five days. The ticket seller photographs you for the photo pass. One thing we found out later is that you should get a free map of the temple area. We did not. If you buy the pass late in the afternoon it allows free entry to Angkor Wat at sunset and you still get three days to visit it again and the other temples.

Second tip visit the Angkor National museum in Siem Reap before you go to Angkor Wat. The museum gives you background information on the different eras, mural, history of the sites and an insight into the history of the area.

Third tip is visit Angkor Wat at 5am for the sunrise viewing and make sure you buy the ticket the night before.

Fourth tip is go across the West Gate entrance causeway to the inner area. We went to the right side small lake for the sunrise and photos. It was fine and not as crowded as the left side.

Fifth tip use a guide if you can and make sure there a real one and accredited. We paid US$45 for a whole day. Money well spent. Tuk Tuk for the day costs between US$18-25. Depending on how much distance you cover. They have the mini tour and the grand tour. We did both.

Sixth tip is drink lots of water or fresh coconut juice. Lastly just enjoy the experience. Best bits for us were visiting the less popular temples and exploring them by ourselves.

I have written reviews on each of the temples we visited during our time at Siem Reap and the link below are further tips about the entire site.

Angkor Wat archeological Park

An idiots guide to visiting Fatehpur Sikri near Agra

Fatehpur Sikri

After seeing the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort we learnt of the existence of an old Indian capital a short 45 minute drive from Agra. Akbar was the first Mughal ruler of India and built Fatehphur Sikri. We decided since we had an extra day in Agra to visit to first ancient capital of India. We were staying at the Gateway Hotel in Agra and they organised us a guide and car for the day.

Our guide was a history graduate called Pradeep and he knew his history. After a 45 minute drive we got to Fatehpur Sikri. It was a magnificent site to visit. I can see why it has UNESCO World heritage status. Akbar built an impressive structure from the fortress wall, palace and mosque to the biggest gate in the world Buland Darwaza. Inside the mosque is also the white Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti. My favourite place was the tower Hiran Mirar a memorial to Akbar’s favourite elephant. The elephant executed people who disobeyed or displeased Akbar. Overall the visit to Fatehpur Sikri is a great day out and worth doing if you have a few days in Agra. Below are a few tips that hopefully will make your visit more enjoyable.

First thing you need to prepare yourself for on arrival at the site is that you leave the car at a car park. By government edict you have to walk or take a mini bus to the site, it cost 10 rupees each and takes a few minutes to get there. After you visit the Government run site Palace you then visit the non-government site with beggars and vendors eager to sell you their trinkets. Here is where Pradeep our guide was worth his weight in gold by limiting the interaction with them and us in a polite way. I saw other tourists without guides getting bothered while we escaped a considerable amount of the no thank you conversation every few seconds.

Tips when visiting Fatehpur Sikri

Tip One
We hired a guide and car in Agra from our hotel. It cost 4500 rupees and was well worth it. Our guide Pradeep had studied history and bought the different parts of the palace alive with the history behind them. He explained the history of each building that make up Fatehpur Sikri and the theories of why the capital was abandoned. The main one was lack of water. Pradeep also explained about Akbar’s colourful life and why he built the city here, Akbar even created his own religion a mixture of Islam, Hindu, Judaism and astronomy.

Tip 2
Take a bottle of water there is nowhere to buy any inside the site itself. We got a large one in the car park from a vendor for 20 rupees. An umbrella for shade would not be a bad idea if you are sensitive to the sun.

Tip 3
The site is split in two. Archeological India manages the palace and inside you are not bothered by vendors or beggars. It is very clean and I have written individual reviews about the temples, palace and other buildings in the complex on my tripadvisor page. Here is a link to one of them about Hiran Mirar the elephant memorial. There is a 250 rupees entrance fee.

Tip 4
After touring Akbar’s palace and other buildings be ready for when you leave the tranquility of the Palace. There is a short walk to the Mosque where you can see the white tomb and Buland Darwaza. I guarantee several people will come up to you selling their wares. Pradeep gently told them to leave us alone and that worked fine. He also warned us that pick pockets operated in the mosque. We had no problems. Entry to the mosque is free.

Tip 5
Our guide took us to a place to leave our shoes and we had to use dirty slippers to walk in the mosque due to the heat of the pavement. Bring some socks and a small bag to put your shoes in if you do not want to pay 50 rupees which included the use of dirty slippers. The room to leave your shoes is to the left of the entrance down some steps.

Tip 6
Once inside you can visit the white Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti which was busy when we were there. You also have to keep your head covered when going inside it. It is quite small with some lovely designs and does not take long to walk around. It also is reputed that people who make wishes here especially for babies are rewarded.

Tip 7
After taking a few photos of the gate known as Buland Darwaza go outside the gate and look at the view as well as back at the imposing gate. Below the gate is a village as well as the remains of the buildings they used to wash the elephants. Check out the horseshoes on the door, apparently Akbar had a horse with huge hooves and there is a horseshoe from that horse on the door, it is easy to spot among the other shoes.

Tip 8
I read up on the site and wanted to visit the site of the memorial to Akbar’s elephant. The elephant executed people by walking over their chests. The tower is a short walk down a path and called Hiran Minar with stone tusks sticking out of it. You also walk up to the tower through the elephant gate which has two damaged elephants facing each other on the top arch.

Tip 9
After viewing the tower you return the same way and go to between the two sites to a car park. Another mini bus takes you back to the entrance car park through a village. After visiting the sites we stopped on the way back for lunch lunch at the Ganepati Resort on the way back to Agra. We did not have the buffet lunch and stuck with a la carte. I have found that if you are going to get food poisoning that buffet food is sometimes the culprit.

Our visit took around 3 hours plus the 45 minutes each way car travel. We did visit all the sites at Fatehpur Sikri. On the way back to Agra ask your guide to point out the original mile markers that Akbar built. The markers are very impressive in size.

Second week in India visiting Jaipur: What did it cost?

After leaving Agra we had a lovely train ride down to Jaipur. It took around 4 hours and we even got served dinner. I did not know the meal and water were included in our train ticket. At the station we were met by the hotel taxi driver and whisked away to Umaid Mahal our home for the next six nights.

Umaid Mahal

I can recommend this hotel as a place to stay in Jaipur. We ate here every day for breakfast and dinner and the food was tasty and more importantly for India we did not get unwell. I would not say they are the friendliest people working at the hotel but they were efficient and polite at all times. Our room was wonderful with a comfortable bed, free working wi-fi, great shower and the decor of the hotel is very Rajasthan. There is also a small pool to cool off and a lovely rooftop restaurant. For more information about the hotel you can read my tripadvisor review about the Umaid Mahal.

What we did in Jaipur?

We of course visited the famous Amber fort which was stunning. It is deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage Status. Amber fort is spectacular and the curators have improved the site since I last visited in 1990. The courtyard is now paved and not a dust bowl like it was last time I visited. Great to watch the courtyard as people come up by elephant and get down in the courtyard. The drive up from Jaipur is now on a good road. The view is excellent looking up at the fort. I also have added some tips below that people might find useful if they visit the fort.

Tip One
If you have the cash hire a guide and car. It makes life so much easier. We did not do the elephant ride up as we have both done them in the past. The elephant rides in summer only run between 9-11am. If you come later you will have to take a jeep or walk up from that side. Our driver dropped us off at the moon gate or the back entrance where you walk a short distance to the entrance of the fort. We were lucky to hear traditional drum playing as we entered the fort.

Tip 2
Buy a combo ticket for 400 rupees. It gives you access to 7 attractions. The other main one people go to is Jantar Mantar and both the Amber fort and Jantar Mantar cost 200 rupees for entry. The ticket gives you access to Albert Hall Museum, Hawa Mahal and Nahargarh Fort. The other bonus is the ticket is valid for two days and you can return to visit the sites if you are really keen or spread the visit over two days.

Tip 3
If you have a car on the way up to Amber Fort ask the guide or driver to stop at Panna Meena Ka Kund. This is a sixteenth century water reservoir where there are some amazing steps down to the lower reaches. It is like something out of the David Bowie movie Labyrinth. The symmetrical stair walls are stunning and its free.

Tip 4
Visit the Shila Devi Hindu temple inside the fort. It is free and has some lovely decorations especially the entry door. The temple has several images of Kali inside which are interesting to see with her warlike and peaceful side shown.

Tip 5
Enjoy a wander over the cobbled paths and stroll along the impressive ramparts. The name of the lake below with the beautiful garden is Maota lake. We got some great pictures of the elephants walking up the cobbled path beside the fort.

Tip 6
There are four courtyards with each having a specific purpose. First courtyard is where the elephants drop you off or where you enter and buy a ticket. The second courtyard is where the Maharajah had public audiences with his courtiers. The third courtyard is where the magnificent Hall of Mirrors is located. There also is in this courtyard a beautiful garden laid out in the Persian style. The last courtyard is where the Royal wives and concubines lived. A gilded cage in which they hardly ever left. Ask your guide to show you the kama sutra style design along with the elephants and other paintings on the walls.

Tip 7
On the way out there is a snake charmer where I decided to have a photo taken. I was a bit hesitant as I do not like to pay for anything with animals. Our guide told us that the snake charmer release the cobra after three months and catches another one. This is due to something about making a spiritual bargain with the snake. I checked online but cannot find anything to substantiate this story.

Amber fort is superb and well worth a visit. My last bit of advice is to go when the fort opens at 8am before the hordes come at 10am. We had a great visit with few people around until we left around 10am.

Other sites we visited while in Jaipur were Jantar Mentar an outdoor astronomical observatory with the world’s biggest stone sundial and 18 other instruments. The Palace of the Wind, Albert Hall museum and Narhargarh Fort which overlooks the city and has great views. We also did a day trip to Ranthambore National Park to see a tiger, alas it was not to be. However, it was a lovely day trip and the park had a lot of other animals and bird life. If you do visit it make sure you stay a few days to enhance your chance of seeing a tiger. It is not the most well run park with 10 zones. Zones 1-5 your best chance of seeing a tiger and the best zones are 2 and 3. Zones 5-10 are unlikely to have any tiger sightings. It is a bit of a lottery system although if you pay a bit extra you can get into the right zones. We had Zone 4 and since it had rained a bit the tigers no longer needed to use the main waterhole and could drink elsewhere.

While in Jaipur we also visited a famous Indian Cinema the Raj Mandir Cinema which was a laugh. We watched an amusing Bollywood Hindu movie.

What it cost for the week?

I have just added up our total cost for the week.
Accommodation, attractions and food, day trip to Ranthamore and tour of Jaipur came to a total of 40000 rupees.
That works out US$630 for the week or £404. The total per day was US$90 per day or £58 per day. We are staying in 3-4 star accommodation and also getting guides and cars for most of the tours. You can do it considerably cheaper, however, we like to be comfortable.

After Jaipur we are heading to Jodhpur.

Week 51 – Land of Extremes – Delhi, India

John:

Great first week in India

Originally posted on 52 Weeks:

‘Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.’

[How this works is, each week, I will write to someone on my list, picked randomly and I will post it online on this blog – just in case the letter doesn’t reach its destination.  The letter includes a card with a random quote, which I hope you will enjoy (at the top of this blog page).]

Red Fort Red Fort – red tile

Ack! In less than a month I will be back in England and this years’ adventure will be over. Thank goodness that isn’t today and we’ve made it to India!

India is proving to be a bit more of an enigma to me, as to its movement or vibe – might be a better word? In other words, my time in East Asia was easier to get my footing on arrival, here, its taking me a bit longer and I…

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A week in India

Arrival in India

We arrived at midnight from Bangkok. All went very smoothly, no queues at the airport, driver waiting and in half an hour we were at our hotel the Shanti Home. Our first week in India has gone well. Neither of us have gotten unwell, yet! First four days were in Delhi where we stayed at the lovely Shanti Home and where we will be going back to stay when we return in a few weeks to fly to Dubai. The hotel is like an oasis admid the chaos of Delhi. We got the Bollywood room. Had several enjoyable breakfasts and dinners at their lovely rooftop restaurant overlooking the chaos of Delhi.

Delhi was a feast to the senses, the food was delicious, the Red Fort a bit of a run down and let down. In contrast, Humayun tomb was wonderful and a good forerunner to the Taj Mahal visit. The traffic, sights of flash cars, donkeys and bicycles along with cows and pigs wandering around are what makes India in some ways unique. We have increased our budget a bit for India as it is our last country bar Dubai before we go home.

The food

Much to my surprise I am really enjoying the Indian food it is mouth-watering and does not have the heaviness I associate with English and other countries Indian foods. I am happy to find that the food also agrees with me. Debbie also is enjoying a love of paneer and the lassi’s to wash it all down are delicious.

Agra

We took a car from our hotel in Delhi to the one in Agra via the Yamuna toll road. Wow. We were there in four hours at a cost of 80 dollars. The Gateway hotel was wonderful with a very comfortable room and efficient staff. The location was ideal and all the guides and cars we hired through the hotel were excellent. The next day we visited the Taj Mahal, my second visit and better than the first as this time I was with the woman I love. It was great to see it at sunrise and sunset in some lovely gardens opposite it.

The next day we went to Fatephur Sikri an anicent abandoned Indian capital built by Akbar. If you ever get the chance do visit it. The worlds biggest gate and an elephant memorial built by Akbar for the elephant he used to execute people. All in all we had a wonderful week and have now reached Jaipur by a 4 hour train ride in CC class which means comfortable air-conditioned carriages and with a three course meal thrown in.

Looking forward to our second week in India.