Rajasthan, India 2013

The summer 2013 was the summer of a holiday with a very good friend of mine, Bérenger. We had explored various destinations, looked at what to do in each and the climate at the given period. The problem is that August is the monsoon season is most parts South East Asia. We found direct flights from London to Delhi, at reasonable price and the monsoon wasn’t as intense in this part of India than it is in the rest of the country. So there we go, flights are booked and we set off to Rajasthan, also called the Land of Kings. One week before, we finalised our plan. We are going to visit Delhi, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra, we found the perfect schedule based on train times and book hostels in each city. Now we are both looking forward to go and explore this fascinating country that is India.

Day 1 – Delhi

After a short 8 hour direct overnight flight, we land in Delhi at 6:30am on the 3rd of August. The taxi driver sent by our hotel is here and takes us to the city centre. This gives us our first impression of India and its capital. The roads are jammed, the people are driving in all directions, in short the city seems to be like a gigantic mess. But we manage to make our way to the hotel safely, check in, drop our bags and head back out straight away. The plan? We find the underground, go to the tourism office to buy our train tickets for the following day and then explore the city. We haven’t walked for 10 meters in the street that someone already offers to help us. I know he’s going to try and take advantage of us or want to get some money somehow. So remain dubious and tell him nicely that we’re ok. But he insists to know what our plans are and what to do. He caught my attention by giving away a very important piece of information: the Eid al-Fitr, end of Ramadan the month of fasting in the muslim religion, is coming up as well as the celebration for India’s independence on the 15th of August. It means that all trains in Rajasthan are fully booked for the next 2 weeks… S**t! That’s a slight problem. However, I’m still a little bit cautions about what we’re being told. He shows us a map and the tourism office we need to go to (a different one that we had found). He also recommends to go with a TukTuk which should be no more than 20 Rupees After all, he only wishes us nice holidays and ask for nothing. Maybe I need to be a bit less defensive and realise some people might actually really want to help. I can’t just rely on what books say and I have to make my own opinion about these things.

So we go back into the hotel to grab a card of a hotel so we can come back and head back out to look for a TukTuk. Oh, we are so lucky than one is waiting right outside our hotel (sarcastic). So we tell him where we need to go and guess what! The price is 20 rupees without even having to negotiate it down. So there we go, driving in the streets of Delhi. Just after we left, he puts a shirt on and explains this is the company uniform. Ah ok, I thought TukTuk were independants and not working for a company. How would that be called, TukTuk Delhi Limited? 🙂 But then all pieces of the puzzle came together when he stops, tells us we had arrived and takes us to the entrance of… a f**king travel agency!!!

I am still wondering when exactly we fell into the trap. Was it the innocent helpful guy in the street? But he showed us what was marked as a tourist office on a map. Or was it the tuktuk driver? I guess it doesn’t really matter, the point is that we are now discussing about hiring a driver for 2 weeks. But I’m a little bit cautious, what if he drives us to the country side and leaves us there? There is no chance for us to find our way back. But the trains are fully booked, the plan he worked out for us seems interesting, having a driver will allow us to be more flexible and use our time better; and it’s a really good price! A bit more than £500 each which includes all nights in decent hotels.

That’s the story of how we’ve met Vipin, our fantastic driver (well we don’t know that at this point). We’ve got lots of things to see today so no time to lose. We jump in his old white Tata and drive off the the centre of Delhi. Soon he parks the car and explains that we can only take a tuktuk from this point. He hands us over to a very skinny old man, driving a tricycle. At this point I’m thinking, how is this guy going to pedal with us sitting on his machine? But he does and it seems so hard and painful that I am soon feeling compassion for the guy. He is also quite the driver, slaloming between the traffic, imposing his rule on the road… I’m not so confident that we’re going to make it without an accident. And then we reach our first stop. He drops us off at the entrance of a market, which we need to cross and reach Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India.

We are on our own for the first time in this bustling city. Slightly nervous but massively excited, we reach the bottom of the stairs. There we cover our legs and leave our shoes at the entrance, hopefully they’ll still be here when we get back. We enter and, yeah, it’s pretty impressive!

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For a bit of history, it has been commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1644 and its construction was completed in 1658. Red sandstone and white marble have been used to give its natural colours to this impressive edifice which can hold no less than 25,000 people. The 40m high minaret provide amazing views. We weren’t going to miss the pleasure so we did go up one of the minaret for a bird’s view over the mosque and its surroundings. On the pavement of the mosque, they’ve emptied at least a few bags of corn for the pigeons. Surprising given the fact that in Paris, most people only want to get rid of them. Behind the entrance building is the street market we’ve crossed covered by blue and yellow stalls. Then behind are the walls of the Red Fort, which we’re going to visit later.

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When we came out of the building, we had to battle to get our shoes back, do you believe this!? The guy wanted 1,000 rupees for having looked after them. That’s £10!!! So of course, we refuse paying him such an amount and the argument started. Another guy, very aggressive, came around: “Pay him!” But I’m not going to pay 1,000 rupees to someone who just put my shoes in a corner and read a newspaper the whole time. It’s not really about the money but the principle. I understand that as tourists, people will try to take advantage of us. But in such a rude, ridiculous and certainly not subtle manner, no way! So I take the shoes by force and we put them back on. And the scandal kicks off, they start to shout, it puts all the attention on us and some other people start to approach. At this point, there is no way the situation can end well so I have to let go. I give him his money and we walk back to the square behind the market to meet the tricycle driver.

He then takes us to the Red Fort. Like Jama Masjid, it had also been ordered by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1639 and completed 1648, his objective being to transfer the capital of the Mughal Empire from Agra to Shahjahanabad (known today as Old Delhi). However, he never completed this move himself. He was imprisoned by his son Auraugzeb in Agra, who did make the city the new capital of the Mughal Empire. However, Aurangzeb was the first and last great emperor to rule from here, his successorts being unable to maintain the dynasty.

It’s literally gigantic. You can easily imagine elephants walking through the gates of this fortress of 2.5km perimeter. The first one is called Lahore Gate and leads to a covered bazaar called Chatta Chowk. Then you walk through Hathi Pol, Elephant Gate, because that’s where you dismount from your elephant. 😉 Now you can progress further into a garden and reach Diwan-i-Am, the Hall of Public Audiences.

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Of course you need to imagine all sorts of luxurious decorations, bright coloured carpets, curtains and paintings over the walls.

At the back of the fort are the emperor’s private apartments, his mosque, his hammam and his office. At this point, Bérenger and I started to feel a bit low on energy. We hadn’t eaten anything since the fantastic feast we had in the plane, hadn’t had anything to drink and the sun generated a good 40°C ambient temperature. I have been personally delaying as much as possible eating or drinking anything in fear of the famous Delhi Belly. But I can’t push it any further. Our tricycle driver stops for us to buy some water and then brings us back to our Tata driver. On the way I couldn’t believe my eyes: we were in a traffic jam, surrounded by cars, he was forcing his way through, people walking got squizzed between us and other vehicles and there was a lot of shouting. You can imagine the relief when we got back to the safety of the car.

It is now time for the first Indian meal. I am excited because I love indian cuisine, but nervous at the same time. We tried to order the food in Hindi, which made the guys laugh once, we asked for the food not too spicy, which made them laugh more and had the mouth on fire after 3 bites which made them laugh their head off. Anyway, despite being a bit hot, the food was actually excellent.

Now we head to Qutb Minar located in Delhi’s outskirts. This is a Islamic complex which was built in 1193 following the victory over the last Hindu kingdom in Delhi. Unlike Jama Masjid, this site is today in ruins. When we got there, the sky was dark grey and it didn’t take the rain very long to come. But after 10 minutes of it, the sky had completely cleared and the atmosphere very enjoyable. Qutb Minar is actually the name of this 73m high tower.

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We spent a couple of hours wandering around the ruins.

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Back in the car, I ask Vipin if we can go to Humayun’s Tomb. The story of the Taj Mahal is known around the world but the one of this place not much, even though it’s very similar. I read in my travel guide that the surrounding gardens are supposeds to be nice, especially around sunset… and it is absolutely amazing.

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Made only of noble materials, the interior is simple but rich, espacielly when the orange light is penetrating.

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We are now told that the park is closing as the sun has gone down. But we take our time to walk back so we can enjoy the peace of these wonderful gardens.

Then Vipin explains that he’s taking us to a Hindu celebration which is happening in a temple of Delhi. I was a bit surprised that we could attend this but I was really interested. However what exactly we were going to attend wasn’t very clear. And to be honest with you it still isn’t…

So we park the car and enter a large complex packed with people. But Vipin doesn’t take us to the heart of the action but towards an empty area and walks into a bulding. It almsot looks like an office with flyers about the Hindu religion. There is also a statue of SHivah (I think) in the hall.

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Then we are indicated that we need to buy tickets… ok but for what? We are then taken upstairs and we still don’t know what we’re going to be doing. This is really really creepy. They show us the way into a room, pitch black and close the door behind us. Then a hoarse voice starts to talk as figures appear under spotlights. It takes us a few minutes to realise that this is a scene of the Hinduism history. After a couple of minutes, that seemed to last at least 10, they take us to the next room for more thetrical representation of the local religion. The way they’ve done it is really weird. Every time we think we’ve reached the end, there is another door, to another room. Although it was probably designed to be informative and fun, it actually looked like a attempt of brainwashing. But now it’s late and time to go back to our hotel et rest cause tomorrow, we’re heading off to Bikaner.

Day 2 Bikaner

We come out of our hotel to meet Vipin with the car around 50 meters away. When dropping us off yesterday, he insisted not to park right in front of the hotel, but a bit further. He called them “angry people”. He said that, if they saw us going in his car, they would try to get some money from Vipin and his company. Apparently because they sell similar tours, they could be quite aggressive and create problems. All I know is that they weren’t too friendly and the day we’ve spent with Vipin was great.

So we leave Delhi and start a long drive to Bikaner, 400km twards the west. Apparently it’s going to take the whole day but it’s only 400km so I’m quite hopeful we’re going to get there in the afternoon. But relatively soon, the roads become terrible. They’re nothing more than a dirty track with loads of holes. We can’t do more than 40km/h on this terrain. I understand why it’s going to take us at least 12 hours. At least we get to see the country side, small villages, farms but no wild territory. I was expecting to see at least a little bit of forest or jungle but there isn’t. So the journey gets a bit long, we alternate naps, conversations with Vipin, another nap, reading travel guides, some more nap. We slept a lot. This is no surprise that when we arrive in Bikaner at around 7pm, Vipin is really tired and wants to go to bed. But we want to go and explore the city. He warns us that many people will try and talk to us, present themselves as students who are not interested in money but just want to practice their english. Or that they study history and they want to show us around. “Don’t speak with them!”, he said. OK, noted. We take a tuktuk and ask him to take us to the Old City.

Just 10 minutes later, a guy probably in his late 20s jump on the tuktuk and sits next to the driver. And he starts talking to us, with the typical “where are you from?”, “what’s your name?”, “how long are you in India for?”. Nothing too suspicious so far but I can see him coming. And when we got closer from the city center, guess what he says! ” I’m a student in history so I’ll come with you and show you around!”. So I turn him down politely, we’ll be ok. But he insists: “I don’t want money, I just want to practice my english with you!”. Hahaha! I found this hilarious. I gave us exactly the speech that Vipin warned us about, with the exact same words, in the same order. It really sounded like a play that they had repeated a thousand times. He kept insisting until we arrived at the entrance gate of the Old City where he finally let us go.

The Old City is a labyrinthus of narrow streets with many buildings made in the red sandstone we’ve seen already in Delhi. I am paying a lot of attention to which streets we are taking and in which direction so we can find our way back. But there is one other difficulty which we saw in Delhi but is more problematic here. There are many cows in the city. It’s a sacred animal in India so not only they don’t eat them but they don’t touch them. They wander around the streets peacefully. This is all fine until you need to walk right behind a massive bull.

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The atmosphere was relatively relaxed, groups of people were chatting, eating at food stalls or playing an unknown game on a large table.

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It is getting really dark now and it’s probably best to go back to the hotel. But of course, we are now lost in this labyrinthus. We try to find our way for a bit but no chance, all streets look the same and when we think we’ve found a place we recognize, it turns out it’s not. Our only chance at this stage is to take a TukTuk back. We find one and show him the card of our hotel. He says no and drives off. So we find a second one, but he doesn’t know where it is. He calls his friends and we suddenly have 6 people looking at the card of the hotel. Then one of them show us his TukTuk, indicating he’s going to take us for 100 rupees. As he doesn’t speak english, he grabs one of his friends to come with us. As always, the ride wasn’t smooth but in the night, it seems a lot worse. Then the english speaking guy turns around and ask “where is it?”. Well I don’t know, I thought you know! So they go and ask people in shops but nobody seems to be able to give us directions to our hotel. Then apparently someone did give a good indication and we are again on the road. The driver stops 5 minutes later to tell us we’re arrived. No we’re not, this is not our hotel! I’m starting to wonder how we are going to find our way back, are we going to call Vipin? But the guards at the gate seem to know and tell our drivers where to go. And this time, the directions were right and we safely found our way back. I thank both drivers, actually gave them 200 rupees because they were really helpful. And now we can relax for the rest of the evening in the lovely patio of our hotel.

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Day 3 – Thar Desert

In the morning, we quickly visited Junagarh, Bikaner’s fort. We flashed through it because there wasn’t much to see and we had to hit the road again. We are going for another day of driving to Jaisalmer. It is situated in the Thar desert in the most western part of Rajasthan, and is the last city before the Pakistanese border. We are going to sleep in the dunes so we don’t want to miss the departure of the expedition. On our way out of the city, we are reminded that transport can vary a lot more than in Europe as we overtake a camel.

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During the car ride, we had some sleep, read some books, had some more sleep, listening to Vipin singing, had some more sleep and eventually, the environment changed as we entered the desert. It’s not as desertic as I tought. There are many villages, farms, we even had to make our way through a herd of sheeps. But what do they feed on? On the rare and dry grass or leaves?

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It also didn’t feel like we were leaving modern civilisation behind. At all. The electric lines never leave the landscape. I was hoping that the deeper we go, the more likely they will disappear but no. Then we reached the lovely village of Khuri, 48km south of Jaisalmer. We are straight away taken into a small patio and served a cup of tea. That’s a nice relaxing attention after such a long drive.

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Around 10 minutes later, someone comes to tell us that our camel is ready. We don’t need to bring all our stuff with us as we’ll be back in the village for dinner. What!? I thought this was going to be a proper expedition where we take the camels, ride for a few hours deeper into the desert, put our tents up and come back the following morning. But we’re actually just going to the top of the dune some 500m away, sit there for an hour and come back. Well I’m sure the sunset from there is worth it. I jump and the camel and once I’m well installed, they get it to stand up. That’s the tricky bit. The animal leans forward so much that you really need to grab whatever you can not to fall on his head. And the ride itself? Fun but not really comfortable. I spend most of it chatting with Gopar, the Indian kid who is driving my camel.

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At the top of the dune, there are already quite a few tourists and their young guides are playing crocket which apparently is a religion in India.

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Now when you look towards the right direction, all you can see is desolation without any trace of technology.

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The sun set was nice and now it starts to get dark so we head back to the village for dinner. On the way, Gopar asks me whether we’re going to sleep in the little houses and in the desert. In the desert of course, sleeping under the stars seems really romantic. Who else than Beber to share this moment with? 🙂 But I wonder, are there any snakes or scorpions? “Yes, many”, he says. Alright, and are they venimous? “Oh yes!”, he replies. Great, that’s not really what I wanted to hear but it’ll have to do. They’ve been doing this for tourists for a long time and if there was any danger, they wouldn’t do it… hopefully! Back at the village, most people are already sat to have dinner. A local band is playing music while a lady is dancing in the middle.

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Well relaxed, we load the camels with beds and blankets and we head back to the desert. Not very far still and we set up our camp for the night.

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In the night, we place the camera on the bed, set at the slowest shutter speed possible and create light trails.

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Before we fall asleep, we set our alarms for 5am so we can watch the sun rise from the top of the dunes. But I guess we were so tired that we missed and got up just after 6am. Still some nice views. I even encountered an impala, a sort of deer which runs really fast.

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We go back to the village to join Vipin, have some breakfast, some coffee and leave our hosts relatively early. Today, there will not be a lot of driving and only the visit of Jaisalmer.

Day 4 – Jaisalmer

We start our day in the outskirts of Jaisalmer, in the boutique of Hari Om. He is a jeweller and works principally with silver. I mention that I’ve read his name in my travel guide, which said that he could be found inside the fort. In fact, it’s his brother. Jewellry is the family’s know how. So he shows us how he starts from a stick of raw silver and how he makes such fine details on the final product. He also has a stone that he uses to tell the quality of the jewellry. He rubs the object on the stone, if the mark left is shiny then it’s high concentration os silver. If it’s a lor more dull, then it’s a lot concentration of silver.

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As you can imagine, this demonstration took very little time compared to the time he spent showing us bracelets, necklesses, rings and many other items for sale. After we made a small purchase (I actually think the prices were relatively low for silver, hummm), we head to the Jaisalmer Fort. Unlike the ones in other cities like Delhi or Bikaner, people still live in the fort here. It is part of the city.

Jaisalmer fort was founded by the Rajput ruler Jaisal. He belongs to the Bhati clan, often fighting against the Mughal from Delhi. We enter Surya Pol (Surya Gate) and the road makes straight away a 180° turn towards Ganseh Pol. This concept was used to avoid that, during an attack, elephants gather speed and force in a straight line and destroy the fort gate. This turn requires them to almost stop and become targets for soldiers above the fort walls. Today, this street is occupied by merchants selling silk and other fabrics.

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The city is actually facing a major threat. It is made of sandstone and, as the name indicates, is mostly made of sand. We’ve all made sand castles on the beach when we were young. Can you remember what happens when water reaches the sand? Exactly, it collapses. Old and defective draining systems means that water is leaking from pipes inside the fort and slowly erode its buildings. Several organisations raised funds to renovate the piping and stop the erosion which was putting the entire site in danger.

From the top of the city walls, we have a fantastic view over this city lost in the Thar desert.

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We can see from above the entrance concept to stop elephants from reaching gates at full speed in war. The first entrance is below the fabric shop you see on the right hand side. You walk for a few meters and then turn around behing the small tower you can see in the middle of the image. Then you straight away go through the second gate and come out where the colourful silk sheets are. In the case you would make it to far to the taste of the defendants, they would welcome you with stones that are still on top of the walls. (I’m not sure they’re secured and the onles perfectly lined up on the ridge probably aren’t very stable…)

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Today, the fort offers a different type of attack to its visitors: the sellers interested in your wallet. Their technique are extremely impressive though. When we entered the fort, we got many offers for a guide to take us through the fort, in french of course. They attracted us by speaking english, spanish, german, italian, japanese, russian, etc. As I said, very impressive. 🙂 Inside the shops, a guy stopped me and said: “Hey, you’ve promised me to come to my shop yesterday”. Haha, well I’m pretty sure I haven’t promised anything because I wasn’t here yesterday. Sometimes they come up with very creative catch phrases which make the interaction a lot more funny and enjoyable than the overheard “Hey my friend, come see my shop!”.

One was a lot less opressive was equally surprising. A man smiling with a long beard shows us his shop, he’s a jeweller and his name is Hari Om. Confident that I have an unanswerable argument to stop his sales speech, I say:

“- Hey, we’ve actually met with your brother this morning and we already bought a few things.

– I don’t have a brother!”, he replies. Oh…

“- Well, we went to the shop of a man called Hari Om, like you, this morning and he said you were his brother.” He explained that he’s the best at what he does and many people try to copy him. He was very upset that other jewellers use his name and renown. He wanted us to go to the police with him to report that guy. I felt sorry for him but I’d rather not get invovled in this. You never what you’re getting into. He understands, doesn’t insist and wishes us some nice holiday. If you happen to go to Jaisalmer, you can recognize the real Hari Om as the following, extremely calm person, speaking very slowly, not insisting to make a sale, probably inside the fort and when we saw him he had a beard.

After this episode, we leave the fort to explore the many other monuments in this city. They are havelis, houses of wealthy merchants built between the 18th and 20th century. We had chosen to see the main two indicated in my travek guide. The first actually showed very little interest. It wasn’t maintained very well, paint had gone long ago and the walls were cracking everywhere. An entire tower was leaning so much that I thought it’s only a matter of time until it collapses.

But now were are in the street of the second one and we see a few men waiting in front of it. We pay the small entry charge and they let us in, alone. There isn’t anybody else. Straight away we can see that this haveli is in a much better state. Its walls are in good condition and the carvings very sharp.

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The havelis are built around a courtyard which provides shadow from the burning sun. From here start the stairs to the upper storeys and various room of the house.

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We realised very soon that, because it is unoccupied and probably not visited often, every single room was full of bats. By when I mean full, I mean full. There is no spare space on the ceiling for a few more to join the group. And we had to cross rooms, go up straicases to reach the top of the house. But even when we reach the roof, we can still go higher up to more terraces.

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From the higher levels, the view over the city and the fort is fantastic.

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Tonight Vipin joins us for dinner. Beber and I order some beer (which became a tradition before every dinner), but our local friend has brought his own bottle… of whiskey. We all had a really good time (well I did:) ). He’s really a nice guy. He is willing to share details about his life, his country, his culture and is also very curious about our life, country and culture. That concludes a very pleasant stay in Jaisalmer, most western point of our trip in Rajasthan. Tomorrow, we start our long journey back to Delhi with a first stop in Jodhpur.

Day 5 – Jodhpur

Well actually before we jump in the car, we have breakfast at the rooftop terrace of our hotel. I’ve had worse views to start a day…

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In India, the trucks are all very nicely decorated. As we stop at a petrol station, several of them were parked next to each other.

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This journey was short compared to the first two which took a full day. We arrived in Jodhpur at the beginning of the afternoon. Vipin didn’t lose time and takes us straight to a shop. We are welcomed with a cup of tea of our choice. Then the lady shows us various teas and spice mixes that are prepared according to secret recipes invented by her dad.

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You can imagine the story: my dad was mixing spices to obtain the best flavours and his dad before him, now I have taken over and our expertise is famous around the world… Of course! I’m being sarcastic but the lady is of very nice company. I chose two bags of spices and two of tea from the large choice.

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At the back of the sop, there’s a man packing a heap of spices into small bags like the ones we’ve bought. Is he really the person doing this for the shop or is it just an attraction to make it look more authentic?

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Coming out of the shop, I realise that our lovely driver is probably going to take us to a shop in every city in which we stop. This is quite annoying. But anyway, we’ve passed this for Jodhpur and now is just going to be about visiting. Well, not really.

The next stop is another shop, one of textile this time. We are taken to the second floor where we are presented with many pieces of fabric. I feel so lucky, we’ve been brought in another world-known shop. Only this time he’s got articles from an english magazine to back this up. It says that these guys are manufacturing most of the textile for the European luxury brands. We are even offered to purchase some of the big names designs for nothing compared to how much he’d cost to buy them branded. But I have to admit that they look very nice and the quality pretty excellent.

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They also have products in pashmina, a type of cashmere wool very soft and warm. It is made with the wool of the particular breed of goat called Changthangi, from the region of Ladakh and surrounding areas.

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Having bought a few things, I have a look further in the building. It’s actually a warehouse. There are 3 rooms per floor, all looking like this.

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And there’s 5 floors… That’s a lot of textile!

Finally Vipin takes us to our hotel. It’s amazing. The rooms are extremely spacious, with 2 large beds, there is a pool, a small garden and a rooftop terrace right underneath the fort of Jodhpur, Mehrangarh.

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After a short dive in the pool, we go to the rooftop terrace for our traditional beer and another indian meal. Tonight for me it’s Chicken Tikka. Well, chicken is obvious, that’s pretty much the only meat you can get in India (with lamb). But there are many many ways of serving the chicken in the indian cuisine. Tikka refers to a piece of meat, usually boneless and on a skewer, marinated into a paste made of various spices and yoghurt. It is then grilled into the traditional oven called Tandoor. The plate arrives, I cut the first piece, take it to my mouth and… oh my god… this is wonderful. The meat is juicy and extremely tasty, definitely the best chicken tikka I’ve ever had. Really, I’m not exaggerating, it was that good! It’s one of those dishes, you know you will struggle to find any restaurant matching this taste. The best chicken curry can be found in Gilgamesh in London, the best chicken tikka is here, definitely the best way of ending our first day in Jodhpur. I think I’ll like this city.

Day 6 Jodhpur

I feel that, for once, today is not going to be a rush. The only thing we’ve got to do is to visit the fort. There are other attractions but it’s no big deal if we don’t see them. So we head straight to Mehrangarh. It was built on a hill over the city in 1459, so we approach from below which make it even more impressive.

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It is known that Rajasthan is a very colourful place. But not only due to the vibrant colours used for clothing but also due to the character of its cities. Jaisalmer is sometimes called the Golden City as it is built mostly from sandstone. Jaipur is called the Pink City, which I’ll discover later in this trip. And Jodhpur is called the Blue City. The walls of the houses are painted in blue. Where this tradition comes from is unclear: some say blue is the colour of the Brahmins, one of many India’s caste, who painted their house to indicate where they lived. I’ve also heard that one of the Rathore ruler really appreciated blue and ordered all walls facing the fort to be painted in this colour. Whatever the origin, it gives this city a very unique identity. I understood (I thought I had) the meaning of the term while walking in the streets of the Old City yesterday. But actually, you can only realise how harmonious and unique this Blue City is when you have a bird’s view from the walls of Mehrangarh fort.

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Inside, we find a similar architecture style than we’ve already seen in Bikaner: long and curved lines, finished with sharp and pointed angles.

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As we’ve seen in the Red Fort in Delhi, there is the Hall of Private Audiences, very richly decorated.

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And the Hall of Public Audiences, a lot more spacious.

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The fort palace also hosts a large collection of royal objects, including the howdahs, carriages positioned on the back of elephants. This one is linked to a little scandal. It is said that, during a visit of the indian royal family to the UK, a journalist captured a photograph showing the ankle of the queen, which was then published in the newspaper. It wasn’t appreciated at all by the royal family, to say the least, and all printed copies of the newspaper had to be recalled.

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In India, opium is still consumed only by very few people, such as the Bishnoi community around Jodhpur. But back in the days, it was a lot more popular with the use of a type of pipe like the one below.

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Inside the palace, every wall, every door, every window, every pillar, or any type of architectural feature is made of finely carved stone.

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From outside the palace, every house participates to give Jodhpur its charm and its name of Blue City.

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Inside the fort is an attraction from the modern age but not less attractive. A zip line starts from the lower part of the fort, goes over the surroundings hills and provide amazing views over the entire fortress. That sound exciting. The only thing is that, it’s 1pm now and the next start is scheduled for 4pm so we’ve got 3 hours to kill. Back in the car, we share our plan with Vipin and he offers to go have some lunch and then see the Umaid Bhawan Palace, built between 1929 and 1943 for the Maharaja Umaid Singh.

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Some members of the royal family still live in part of the palace and the rest has been converted into a luxury hotel. There is a small museum inside, the only thing you’re allowed to see, with pictures and objects. Nothing too interesting really…

But now we jump back in the car for the exciting and fun activity. We drive back to the fort, walk all the way down to the lower part and get geared up for the ride. On the plan are 7 zip lines to take us across a small river (or lake, I’m not too sure) where we should have an amazing view over Mehrangarh… yes we do!

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What’s left now is a long zip line back to the start, Beber you go first! You should be able to see him at the bottom of the picture, in the middle with a white tee shirt, and he needs to reach the grey square at the top of the tower just in front.

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We all got stuck before reaching the final stop and had to pull ourselves onto the platform. Wow, we had a really good time. Far from the noise and crowd of all Indian cities, that was really enjoyable.

But we are going back to it as we stop by the Ghanta Ghar (Clock Tower). The square is actually a large market where Tuktuks, motorbikes, bicyles and cows co-exist in a loud hubbub of horns and shouts.

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Oh today was a great day. Back in the hotel, we look at the pictures and the videos Bérenger took of the zip lines. That was really cool. And to finish, what else than the now declared “world’s best chikken tikka”? Even the second time, my taste buds cheer! So far Jodhpur has been my favourite city. It’s got such a unique spirit, great views and we had a fantastic hotel with excellent food. Even the moments we’ve spent in the boutiques were pleasant and the people there, good company. I’m really looking forward for what Rajasthan yet has to offer. Tomorrow, we’re heading to Pushkar, a Hindu pilgrimage town. It wasn’t on our plan originally but was highly recommended, so we’ll see. 🙂

Day 7 Pushkar

At our arrival in Pushkar in the beginning of the afternoon, Vipin hands us over to a local young man who is going to show us the city. We jump on his scooter (it’s perfectly normal to have 3 people on it) and head towards the city centre. There are 2 reasons why Pushkar is a famous town. The first reason is its annual camel fair in November time. The second is its holy lake.

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To put some context around the history of Pushkar, I need to explain the Hindu religion a little bit. (far be it from me to think that I understand this religion, because I really don’t. It is based on a very complex set of beliefs and concepts so far from what I’m used to that I’m still unsure about what I think I know of it. So please, excuse me if my version is not quite correct and feel free to correct me if you have a better understanding.)

Hindusm is nor a monotheistic nor a polytheistic religion. It is often referred to as a henothestic relagion, which describes the belief in one single God while accepting the existence of others. In this context, the supreme spirit is believed to be Brahman, eternal soul and true self of every person. But the Hindu do not worship this Supreme Being, but rather its personalities or forms: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Protector and Shiva the Destructor. Occasionally, the Gods come down to Earth under a human form. These incarnations are called Avatars. For example, Rama, Krishna or even Buddha are a few of many Vishnu avatars. The Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) give orders to the Devis and Devas (Gods and Goddesses) to maintain their domain. The total number of deities in unknown, although 33 seems to be mentioned many times.

The legend says that Brahma got into a fight with the demon Vajranabha and killed it with lotus flowers. But then 3 petals fell down on Earth and created the 3 Pushkar lakes, one for each of the Hindu Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Today, Pushkar has great religious importance and many Hindu will make the pilgrimage at least once in their life to wash their sins away in one of the 52 ghats (baths) or pray in one of the 400+ temples surrounding the lake. Following the tradition, I spent some time with a Brahmin, the priest society or caste, for a spiritual experience.

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We were present during an annual festival in the honour of Shiva, called Kanwar Yatra (I think). Devotees will travel hundreds of kilometers to find a source of Holy water (from the Ganges for example), bring it back to their village and then pour it over a Shiva temple. That explains the processions of people we saw pretty much on every road in Rajasthan carrying pots of water at the end of a stick resting on their shoulders, sometimes following a trolley producing very loud music. There were some stands set up so the pilgrims could take their load off and rest before continuing their journey. In Pushkar, the Shiva temple was a few steps away from the holy waters of Pushkar lake. People were carrying buckets, pouring it onto the temple which then made its way back to the lake (which made the steps extremely slippery since we are not allowed to wear shoes).

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After having spent time with the Brahmin, we truly look like locals.

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Like this we could go to the Brahma temple, one of the very few in the entire world (I don’t know why yet but I will find out tomorrow). As a traveller I always have difficulties to enjoy visiting a religious site. As I’m only a tourist and I’m not here for the same reason as all the locals, I feel like I’m disturbing their environment. I don’t need to ask the question to know thay they’d probably agree with me. So unless there is a very specific reason for me to go (part of a group, amazing architecture or decorations, etc.), I try not to. And when I do, I spend as little time as possible inside the building. But it seems to me that the Hindu religion is relatively open and anyone can join the spiritual rituals and celebrations.

That evening, Vipin is joining us again for dinner. Being a holy, you can’t eat meat nor consome alcohol. Although the latter has evolved to a “you can’t buy alcohol in town but you can buy it outside town and bring it back with you”. We drive a around 15 minutes inside the narrow streets of Pushkar and park the car next to a vegetarian restaurant. As last time, Vipin brought his bottle of whiskey. I don’t mind vegetarian food and I’m happily following the local customs. The only thing is that I know I will be hungry again fairly quickly. So I make sure I eat plenty because tomorrow we’re climbing a hill to a temple built at the top.

Day 8 Pushkar

In the morning, the hotel seems completely empty. There isn’t even any staff to show us the way to the restaurant and look after us, I had to go to the kitchen to find a waiter. This morning the plan is to go to Saraswati temple. But first, let me continue the story where I left it (Vipin explained me the origin of this temple).

You remember Brahma, dropped the lotus flower petals and the lakes were created right? Well then Brahma decided to perform a Yajna, an ancient ritual and offering ceremony. But his wife, Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, music, art, could not be present on time for the celebration and complete her part of the ritual. So Brahma married another girl and, with her, performed the Yajna. When Saraswati arrived and realised what had happened, she cursed Brahma that he would never be worshipped. To calm her down, Brahma ericted a temple in her honour at the top of a surrounding hill. Saraswati reviewed her curse so that Brahma could only be worshipped in Pushkar. This explains the origin of the Saraswati temple and the uniqueness of the Brahma temple in Pushkar. But again, this is one of the many legends that exist.

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So there we go, we start the climb which is not too hard. It’s not very steep, not very long. The only thing is that it’s hot and humid. At the top, nothing special. A temple like we’ve seen many. It’s nice to have gone up there for the view but the temple pilgrimage is more for people practising the Hindu religion. So we stop 10 minutes to have a look at the view and come back down. As you might have noticed, the weather isn’t great anyway.

It’s 10:30am and we’re back in the hotel. We’ve got the entire day ahead of us but nothing really planned. So we grab our bags and start going towards the town centre. The plan is to go have a look around to “feel” the local life and see if there is anything to do. You don’t live experiences or witness surprising scenes by sitting in our hotel room. So hopefully, we’ll find something worth it out there. Unlike all other cities we’ve been to, there is no one here to sell us anything which is nice. I certainly feel a lot more free, less apprehension. But in fact, the weather was bad and after 2 hours we had seen it all, so we head back to the hotel. But with an idea in mind.

At the reception, we ask about ayurvedic massage (which they offer) and book an hour session. Some 45 minutes later, the masseurs are here and the treatment starts. By the way do you know what an ayurvedic massage is? We didn’t. It is similar to any kind of massage you’d expect there’s a few more things like tapping (on the head for example) and squeezing (the ears). And yes, there is oil, a lot of it. I am not sure I can say I was fully relaxed after that. Our skin was red and we couldn’t get the oil off it despite long showers… Great! We need to go for dinner anyway, the plan being to meet Vipin again and go to the same restaurant as yesterday.

But as we were waiting for him in the lobby, the hotel manager approached to ask where we were having dinner. He then offered to find some chicken for us. At first, that didn’t catch my attention but we would rather agree with Vipin anyway. He shows up, the hotel manager explains him the plan and Vipin asks us: “what do you want to do?” I felt some kind of embarassment between all people and I realised that it wasn’t right to eat meat in Pushkar, a holy city! I couldn’t understand why was the guy even offering it, he probably is Hindu. And the fact that we wanted to have dinner with Vipin, the decision was made. We’re going to the vegetarian restaurant. There Vipin had a few more drinks than usual and ended up quite happy. I spoke a lot about his day, he had looked after his car, his “indian” he calls it. He also met one of his old friends and they spent a lot of time talking together. At the end, I was a bit nervous about him driving in the not so easy streets of India, but he was completely fine. No problem at all. Ready for a good night sleep, but still quite greasy…

Day 9 Jaipur

Again, the drive from Pushkar to Jaipur, the Pink City, is relatively short. We arrive ar the beginning of the afternoon under a sky far from being nice. As we could imagine, Vipin takes us to another textile warehouse. The difference is that in this once, they also dye their fabrics. I have seen pictures of these long sheets of colourful material drying in the sun. But because of the weather and the frequent rains, they can’t work. The only thing they have ongoing is a little bit of printing, where they stamp patterns of different colours on a piece of textile. The guy looking after us shows how this is done.

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He’s got 2 stamps of different designs that he uses to apply different colours.

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We’ve got to be happy with this elephant because we’re not seeing more than that… that’s a shame.

Then we’re taken upstairs and we review the collection of textiles they’ve got to offer. In this one, on a craqué notre slip! We both bought a few pieces: bed cover sets (the same one actually, with silver and gold threads), gifts for our family, tailor made shirts and suits. Of course, we weren’t going to leave with them, we’ll have to come back tomorrow. But during the couple of hours we spent in this warehouse, the rain had been falling… a lot. To the point that the streets were flooded. Vipin brings the car as close as possible to the step we’re on so we don’t get wet. And then we drive for 10m to the next room where they store the carpets. I step out of the car and now I can see the state of the main street.

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In the small street we are in, water is just below knee level. But in the main street, in the background, water is at waist level… all that in just a couple of hours. We were feeling lucky for not seeing the rain despite being in the middle of the monsoon season. Well, there we go! (Since then I have met other travellers who went to Jaipur as well. Our experiences we the complete opposite. While Jaipur was our “wettest and coldest experience”, the people I met described the city as extremely hot, dusty and unbreathable. Quite different.)

The problem is that we couldn’t go because you can’t see the holes in the road and the car could get blocked in one of them. So we need to wait for the water to evacuate. That makes the guys from the textile factory happy cause they can now take us to the annex of the main warehouse, where they store (and sell of course) carpets. At the entrance, there is a man making one.

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They looked and felt really nice. I did take my shoes and socks off to step barefoot on them, really soft! I wouldn’t mind stepping on that piece of softness every morning. But we’ve really spend a lot of money already, we won’t have space in our bags so we’ll pass on that one. And gladly, the water has drained relatively quickly and we can jump back in the car to continue our visit. But Vipin takes us to another shop, NOOOO! One of precious stones. That one doesn’t even bother showing anything about his work, he takes us straight to the room where his goods are on display. Oh yes, there are some really nice ones but I’m not sure about the quality. He was persistent, I was fed up so I bought the smallest piece that I could find. It was for the equivalent of £2. He was happy he had made a sale and I was happy he left me alone, deal! But then he targetted Bérenger and again, wouldn’t let go until he convinced him to buy something.

We really didn’t stay long in this shop and asked Vipin to take us straight to the hotel, no shop on the way. Unfortunately, we weren’t in the center of Jaipur but in the outskirts, next to the fort. (You will have noticed that every single city has its fort). So we couldn’t explore and just relaxed with a beer and a nice dinner on the rooftop terrace.

Day 10 Jaipur

This morning, the weather hasn’t really improved. I know it sounds weird but I feel like we’re inside a fish bowl. It’s just really wet everywhere, even the air seems wet. (no, not like London, much worse). It’s in these conditions that we are going to visit Amber Fort.

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For the short history, the city of Amber used to be the capital of the Kachwaha Rajput. This particular community placed a high importance to marriage as a way of managing their diplomacy. They aligned themselves with the powerful Mughal empire through military alliances and marital unions. They were generously rewarded for this, which allowed them to finance the construction of Amber fort in 1592.

There is a noticeable difference to the other forts we’ve visited so far in the way that there is a large plaza. Of course Junagarh or Merhangarh also have open spaces but not as large as here. We can also distinguish the walls in the cloud behind, on the top of the hill. They go so far that I couldn’t see where they end. In a few words, Amber Fort is just incredibly massive.

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Inside this palace, the decorations are sober, the colours very light but equally if not more luxurious than what we’ve seen before.

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It is difficult to truly appreciate the splendour of the site given the horrible weather. I am sure sun rays would magnify the palace surfaces, richly decorated and nicely designed. But all we get in dull light with frequent showers.

On the way to our next destination, we drive next to Jal Mahal, the water palace. It owes its name to the fact that it’s flooded by the waters of Man Sagar. Needless to say, it cannot be visited.

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Then Vipin takes us to a royal cemetery, I can’t remember the name. The kiosk are more than what you’d expect of a more popular cemetery, nicely carved from rich stone.

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At the beginning of the afternoon, the rain has stopped for some time and Vipin accepts to take us to the city centre (he wasn’t too happy about that because it’s like a basin and quickly fills up with water during heavy rains). We take this chance to go a site “out of the ordinary”. What I mean is that every city of in Rajasthan has its fort and palaces, so we’ve seen many of those already. But Jantar Manta is different, it’s an observatory. In order to understand how each system work, we hire a french speaking guide (they all languages…).

If I remember well, the first object is used to determine the time of the year by observing the movement of the sun. There is a small piece of metal with a small hole suspended in the middle by 4 cables. The sun is projected onto the white stone and its position is recorded. The observer would walk between the panels and another version opposite of this one (panel in the place of stairs and stairs in the place of panels) is built right behind.

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The emperor also liked astrology. He built the Rashi Yantras. Each rashi is built in an angle specific to the zodiac sign it represents. Below is the leo rashi, my zodiac sign.

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This is the overview of the 12 rashis for each zodiac signs.

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The last object of this collection is truly impressive. It is called Brihat Samrat Yantra. It’s a 27m high sundial, with a precision of 2 seconds!

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We couldn’t see it working though… and as the rain returned, we headed back to the car. The water was rising really fast, incredible. So Vipin took us to a temple outside the city which didn’t have much to offer apart from a number of monkeys with their babies.

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That closes our stay in Jaipur. The weather really was horrible so I couldn’t really enjoy it. I am sure it’s a really nice city when it’s warmer and drier. But in a way, we were quite impatient to finish this because of the next (and lost stop in India), Agra! I have really high expectations and I’m really please we’ve left it to the end. The lost city of Fatehpur Sikri and the Taj Mahal should be truly amazing sites and I can’t wait to take the road and get there.

Day 11 – Agra

We take the road early morning, not unhappy to leave Jaipur and all its water. We are really hoping that the weather is mush better around Agra. This time, the drive is about 6-hour long and it’s in the middle of the afternoon that we reach Fatehpur Sikri, an ancient abandoned city some 50km before Agra. The weather was opposite to the one we had left: bright sun, sky absent clouds and extremely hot.

At our arrival, Vipin hands us over to a local guide. The guy had blue eyes so light and bright, I’ve never seen that before. Anyway he takes us to the entrance of the abandoned city where we are told its story. The Mughal Emperor Akbar wasn’t able to have a son to take his succession to the throne. He had heard of al old man in the outskirts of a small village called Sikri, capable of making miracles. He decided to go and visit this man, known as Salim Chishti. The old man blessed the emperor and told him he will have a son. The prophecy came true and Akbar’s first son was soon born. The emperor went back to Sikri in order to thank Shaikh Salim Chishti and asked him what he wanted in return. “A mosque”, replied the man. So be it! Akbar built an impressive mosque and a city with 3 palaces for his favourite wives, one Hindu, one Christian, one Muslim (I think this is a lesson of tolerance, especially 500 years ago when religion was the main cause for military conflicts). He moved the capital of the Mughal Empire from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri in 1571. But it was built in a very dry area and it suffered from water shortages. After an ephemere existence, the capital moved back to Agra and Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned in 1585.

Now we’re walking in it and it is truly remarkable.

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Every square centimeter has been carved with extreme precision.

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The pavilions are open to the exterior. There is barely any wall but columns to let the air circulate into the buildings.

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Now we’re going to the mosque which is still in use today, and there is a lot of people. We are asked, as expected, to leave our shoes at the entrance. (hopefully we won’t get into the same trouble as in Delhi) We pass the gate and the spectacle is surprising: the mosque is like a lively village.There are lots of people, outdoor stalls and eateries, and all that is happening in the middle of the tombs.

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Our guide had a very nice thought and proposed to take a picture of us in front of the gate. This is kind of him, he’s a really good guy and I don’t blame him but f*** that was painful! The sun was high in the sky, it was a very hot day, we were walking bare foot… the ground was burning!!! It was impossible to stand at the same place for more than 10 seconds. But hey, that’s a good picture. 🙂

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Salim Chishti’s tomb is inside the mosque, under a beautiful white marble mausoleum. The worshippers lay pieces of cloth on his tomb as offering for his blessing. It is very busy, we need to queue in order to enter but the air is a lot cooler, maily due to the beautiful stone windows which provide a lot of shadow but let you see the vivid colours of the outside.

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My impression is that of a family day at the park in Europe. The kids have brought their toys and they’re playing together (remember that we are inside a mosque, would you imagine this inside a church?).

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In the surrounding covered path, more stalls are installed selling anything from food to kitchware or clothing.

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Now we’ve seen it all, so we’re heading back to the entrance. But before we come out, let’s have one last look at this amazing scene of local life.

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We recover our shoes (without any problem this time) and start the walk back to the car. I am thinking to myself that entering this mosque was an incredible experience. I would have never thought to find such life in a religious site. For me religion means quiet and peaceful but why wouldn’t it be busy and lively? I know it is because there is a celebration going on (Eid al Fitr I think, the end of Ramadan), but still. I also usually feel uncomfortable being a tourist in relegious buildings, I disturb the people practicing. But this time I didn’t, probably because it’s an event which of course is related to the religion of Islam but also because I think it’s an opportunity for everyone in the local community to get together and celebrate. This creates a very different atmosphere. We’ve now reached the car, we say goodbye to our deep-blue-eye guide and begin the last portion of our journey to the ultimate site of our trip, the Taj Mahal.

I read of a park, on the opposite side of the river flowing next to the Taj Mahal, from which we have great views for sun rise and sun set. When we get there, it’s a bit late and I’m slightly concerned that we’ve missed the spectacle. Bérenger and I run between the trees in order to get to the river bank as quickly as possible. In fact, when we got there, it wasn’t too late… it is the perfect time… this is wonderful… I’m speechless…

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I literally can’t take my eyes of such beauty, and certainly can’t leave. Usually, when a site is supposed to be amazing and I hear many people talking about it, I build up high expectations and end up a bit disappointed. I had very high expectations of the Taj Mahal but what I’m seeing is beyond what I could ever have imagined! I am trying to print the image into my mind so I never forget this moment. It was only interrupted by the guards which told us we had to leave as they are closing the park. I’m already thinking of tomorrow, our last day in India but most certainly a excellent one to end a trip.

Day 12

This morning, we start at 6am, earlier than usual. We have asked Vipin to leave earlier in order to be at the entrance of the Taj Mahal when it opens, to avoid the crowd and get the good light. As always, he does what makes us happy without any reticence. As you can imagine, the ticket booth is surrounded of people trying to sell you tours, only this time they are way more insistent than anywhere else. A guy came to use some 200m away from the gate, spoke to us about his knowledge all the way, made up some stories about “you cannot get in without a guide”, waited for us as we were getting our tickets and walked with us until the actual entrance. That’s persistance!

But once inside the site, there wasn’t many people. We walked for a few meters, enter the park’s gate and here it is. Ladies and gentlemen, the Taj Mahal!

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The story of the Taj Mahal is equally beautiful. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, at the origin of all Old Delhi’s monuments and grandson of Akbar (who commisioned Fatehpur Sikri), married a persian pricess called Mumtaz. He had other wives but she was his favourite and he was truly in love. One day, he asked her: “What gift can I make you to express my love to you?”. “Something unique in the entire world”, she replied. Unfortunately, she dies soon after, in 1631, giving birth to Shah Jahan’s fourteenth child. He promised her to build the most beautiful mausoleum in the world in her memory. So the construction began the following year and was completed in 1653. Then, the emperor apparently got the architect killed so he could not design another building like this. As we’ve seen in the Red Fort history, Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb. He died in 1666 and was buried in the Taj Mahal next to Mumtaz. A legend tells that, once a year, at the start of the rain season, one single drop of water falls onto the cenotaph. As of today, the mistery hasn’t been eluded.

We really took our time to visit it. The light was amazing.

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We went inside the mausoleum and got approached by some guy saying he was an historian. He started to explain a few things about the building in the interior, whowed us the light deflection properties of the stones used to decorate the walls, quite interesting. Could you imagine the speed at which he ran off when I told him that we didn’t have any money? 🙂

We sat for a while, enough for some local ladies to pose next to Bérenger. Nice encounter at the most iconic building dedicated to love héhé.

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Right we’ve spent a good three hours in the park now. It’s time to go. We headed to the entrance, almost walking backwards so we could keep our eyes in the Taj Mahal. You’re going to think that I’m exagerating but no. For me, it’s that captivating! The last step was hard. We have to turn our backs and walk behind the entrance wall. It’s like saying goodbye to a very good friend knowing that you might never see him again (I’ve seen that in movies. You know, a train station, 2 people saying goodbye to each other, the train about to leave, one of them jumps in it at the last second, presses the face against the window, the other runs on the platform for as long as possible… you see what I mean right?). Well, it feels a bit like that. One last look, I print it in my head and I finally take my eyes off it to walk towards the gate. “No, wait! I’ve got to look again!” I run back and watch the most beautiful building of the planet for one very last time and then finally walk out of the park… for good.

We’ve got one last thing to see in Agra before we terminate our stay here: Agra fort. After Delhi, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Jaipur, this is the 6th fort that we’re going to visit… I don’t need to tell you that we’re not extremely excited, especially not after visiting the Taj Mahal. I’m glad we did it at the end cause anything else now seems unexceptional. But it is true that Agra fort is one of the finest example of Mughal architecture. Its history is made by the same names that we’ve already come across. Its construction began in 1565 under the reign of Akbar, as a military structure. Its successor Shah Jahan, extended it and made it a palace since Agra was again the capital of the empire after the abandonment of Fatehpur Sikri. It then became his prison when his son Aurangzeb locked him in to take over the throne. White marble and gold were used to show the wealth of the Mughal empire…

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… the hall of public audiences, huge, certainly one of a capital…

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… and the gardens, very pleasant.

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We come out of the fort to meet Vipin on the car park and we’re hassled by vendors of wips and other sort of useless objects, which are being really insisting. They followed us until we got in the car. Now we’re hungry, lets’ go for our last indian meal!

Sat at the table with Vipin, we realise that this is it. Our adventure is finished. It was an amazing trip, we’ve seen wonderful sites, discovered a truly unique culture, had excellent food (although Beber might disagree on that one 🙂 ). Rajasthan really deserves its nickname of “Land of Kings”. Each city had its own fort but yet with their own identity. And colour. My favourite was Jodhpur, the views from Merhangarh over an entirely blue city, the views from the surrounding hills over Merhangarh, the zip line experience, the best chicken tikka at the hotel’s rooftop terrace just under the fort’s walls, all elements were united to make it an unforgettable dtay. Now it’s time to go home and I’m also happy with that. After an another 3 hours to Delhi airport, a warm goodbye to Vipin, a McDonald’s (we really wanted to try the Mac Maharaja), we take off direction London, home.

To finish, a special note to Vipin, our driver. Of excellent company, he always looked after us, made sure we were safe and did his best to give us a fantastic experience. It surely wouldn’t have been the same without him, thank you! And also a special note also to Beber, my travel companion. 😉 On s’est bien marré mec, on en a parfois chié (surtout toi 😉 ) mais ça a été un vrai plaisir de partager ce voyage avec toi et j’ai qu’une hâte c’est d’organiser le suivant.

I’ve found one picture that I thought really summarizes the 12 days, anti-mosquito bracelet at the left hand (which didn’t work), the “Brahma bracelet” from Pushkar at the right hand, the tee shirt smelling like camel (it really stinks) bought in Pushkar too, the belt pocket to hide all our treasures (loads of them), the plastic shoe covers (so trendy) to avoid walking on sacred ground and of course, camera always around the neck to capture these moments!!!

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A bientôt pour la suite des aventures…