Thursday, November 29, 2007

Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1

Rule No 1: When traveling in India, listen to your intuition or your wife!

Well, someone did neither, but did listen to the “hukum Swift bilkul nikal jayegi” of our hotel concierge. Happy that his “Made in India” car will take him through anywhere.. and confident that once you’ve driven through Bombay, you can drive everywhere, he started driving towards the City Palace through the Old City.

Streets of Old City, Udaipur
Being part of a video game is also an experience I guess. Maneuvering through, cows, thelas, bikes, other cars, add an SUV too, cows, school kids! Hey, this is too easy, why not add open drains on both the sides and make it more fun! Feeling like fools, with both our heads popping out the windows to check on where we are heading, we crawled ahead. Bombay, there would have been 10 self appointed traffic cops, guiding you through, here.. none of that. I guess they were so fed up of tourists trying to brave through, they thought let them have a taste.
We’ve reached! Would have been 5 mins walking, was 20 mins driving, felt like an hour.

I will not go through the history of the places we visited, since I don't remember it all :). But just a few things that made an impression.

First stop, Jagdish Temple. The rajasthani style aarti singing made me want to sit down and clap to the beat.

Rule No 2. Hire a tour guide.
(Caveat: Do not necessarily expect a lot of rajput history from him.. Bollywood history, oh sure!)

Next stop City Palace, hired a guide.

City Palace is the biggest palace in India, if not elsewhere. But for the biggest palace, it has the smallest rooms I’ve ever seen.. Hey, maybe I can think of my house as a palace now. You don't see a lot of the royal opulence that you associate with palaces here. The closest is the Sheesh Mahal. Rather there seems to be this fascination for porcelain tiles from phoren (Netherlands), which was quite amusing.

Now move on to the real meat. Down the drain went my thoughts of a history lesson a la William Dalrymple. Our guide was quite insistent we take a picture where Juhi Chawla did a few thumkas for a song. No comments whether we fell in for it or not.

From the balconies of the palace you can look onto Lake Pichola with Jag Mandir, Lake Palace and Udai Vilas.

Raveena Tandon got married in Jag Mandir. That it was the inspiration for THE Taj Mahal is just a fluke (Shah Jahan stayed here after revolting against his father Jehangir and was inspired by the intricate chatris in the courtyard).

Hollywood left a huge mark too. Lake Palace the most expensive hotel till Udai Vilas came around. James bond, Octopussy was filmed here! You'll find a lot of hotels which show Octopussy non-stop!

Weddings and parties in the beautiful courtyards of the Palace will cost you Rs. 15 lakh per night.

Saheliyon Ki Bari. You really need to think hard to see how beautiful the place must have been in its true avataar. I think there is nothing existing now that parallels the ingenuity and beauty of these fountains in that period.

Rule No 3. Just walk or take a rickshaw through the old city.

Having learned our lesson, we walked through the old city for our next destinations. Narrow lanes give you the opportunity to peek through the lives of the people living there. Stairs leading up to old style gates... Paintings on walls.. It's difficult to avoid the shops with their pretty embroidered skirts and peasant tops, souvenir's and miniature paintings.

Sajjan Gadh. You can see the hunting grounds of the kings from here. The same hunting grounds that you see in the murals in City Palace. Birds eye view of the city.

Bagore-Ki-Haveli: They showcase different dances of Rajasthan in a beautiful and intimate courtyard setting, under a tree.
Bagore Ki Haveli, Udaipur, Rajasthan

It is next to a less frequented, yet pretty location to watch the city by the Lake Pichola, ChandPol.
ChandPol, Udaipur, Rajasthan

Dinner at Ambrai (the king's brother's palace) is highly recommended. Great location to see both City Palace and Lake Palace all lit up at night.

Udaipur. Check.

Jodhpur, Rajasthan : Blue City - Day 3

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1

Oct 26th 2007

All our research in place, the wife and I were raring to go. The previous night we had stopped at Crossword (a book shop) to pickup a mapbook, during that trip, I also picked up Lonely Planet - India. I thought for a while whether I should really be picking up a book that I usually see foreign tourists clutching on their trips here. I must stop and give props before I proceed.

Without Lonely Planet, we probably would have had an average Rajasthan experience. I cannot emphasize enough how much LP helped us to enjoy our own country, proving that an outsiders perspective on your own country is so much more fun to look at the same thing from!

Ok, back to the morning of the 26th..
8.20 AM : Bags packed and goodbyes in order, we roll out of Powai in our trusty red Maruti Swift.
Mileage Marker: 16336

Bombay TrafficWe had wanted to leave earlier so that we could beat the traffic, but oh, well - fortunately we're against the traffic at this time so we hit pretty much no traffic all the way till we cross Borivali. There are a series of Octroi posts where the traffic invariably will back up and slow people down.

We finally weave our way out of the end of city mayhem and are now making some progress, getting out of the city, the road conditions get a bit bumpy - the entire Rajasthan trip is on NH-8, the patch out of Mumbai is average with sections that are potholed and need fixing, but pretty soon the road conditions improve and we're able to zip out and make good time.

Vegas In BombayOur plan is to make it to Ahmedabad where we have decided to halt for the night and then make an early morning run for it to Udaipur - but we're not solid on this front - anyhow, we plow on. We get out of town, toll booth, hmm, ok - pay our money and move on. Now enter Dadra, Nagar Haveli - the most painful drivers I've ever encountered, not one single person is willing to give step out of the way - what is wrong with these people - I think they hate Mumbaikars!

More toll booths, the wife and I are getting programmed now - the wife has just gotten her hands on a new digital camera that we bought, so she's being trigger happy and clicking away, while I'm putting pedal to metal. Soon we're into Gujarat (yay!) and are making our way through Navsari,I must say that the road is now 3 lanes in both directions and its pretty amazing - since we're crossing townships, people end up crossing the road on front of us - so ultra alert.

We hit a MAJOR road block near Kadodra - NH8 is being widened to be 4 lanes all over - the good people of Kadodra decided they would learn traffic management on the job - this means that there is such a massive backup of trucks - if we stayed where we were we would never make it to our destination in time - so after being the "law abiders" we join in with the scores of cars that are simply driving in the oncoming lane, which has sparse traffic, only trucks are now waiting in the right lane. This turns out to be the right thing to do - as I cross about 600/800 trucks waiting to get their chance as the humans control traffic, I realize I've saved about 2 hours atleast - anyhow, we get back onto the right side of the road eventually and again start chunking through - we reach Surat, bypass and head into Bharuch, land of the Khari Singh (salted peanuts) - cross the Narmada - and break for lunch.

Ruchi (my wife) takes over the driving duties at this point as we head into Baroda. The Bharuch / Baroda road is also being constructed, so we end up in a Kadodra type soup again - feeling guilty for breaking the law, I forbid the wife to do the same - result - we're stuck and going nowhere - finally we start using the shoulder like other cars ahead of us and somehow manage to get out of the jam - but we've lost a good 1.5 hours, 2 hours total including the previous mess!

We reach Baroda and take the inner city roads to reach the Baroda Ahmedabad expressway - its now about 4/5 PM - and we're questioning our ambitious plan of making it to Udaipur tonight! :(( Anyhow, we hit the expressway and its pure joy after the travails of NH8 - 120 kmph anybody? Ruchi is making the car work and we reach our designated exit, just before Ahmedabad - taking the HimmatNagar exit on the expressway. We consult with someone we know who has driven this route before and he assures us that we might as well make a dash for Udaipur if we can hit Himmatnagar - we are buoyed by this and after the quick dash to Ahmedabad - we're hopeful again.

However, the exterior Ahmedabad ring road is all under construction, its night time and due to the construction we're having to share the same road (sans dividers) with the oncoming traffic. This is new to Ruchi as she's never driven in the night before - we tread carefully but we're still making progress. Fantastically, even the shabby ring road people are taking toll from us - we feel gypped since the roads are terrible - oh well.

In the confusion, we miss our turnoff towards HimmatNagar, but the helpful toll guys at the next circle indicate that we've come ahead. We're quickly learning that its easier to ask random people on the road for directions, our map book is good, but its got one level of zoom to little - our friends on the roads who will give us directions are now referred to as "flunkies" and the act as "flunkie check"!

We are back on track, this road is narrow and the drivers are insane - we're both focused on the road and are being super cautious - we finally make it out of that section with *some* scares - some people just dont care about living - it feels like that seeing some of the moves people are making in the darkness! Anyhow, we're now zooming towards Himmatnagar, the road has gotten nicer, but people keep running across the roads making it risky to speed too much. The drive is taking its toll on Ruchi - she's been driving for a long time now - we decide to switch at Himmatnagar.

We break at Himmatnagar for dinner and some much needed rest, load up on the tea and caffeine - food feels good - we eat at Hotel Landmark - decent food and just off the highway. I take over driving duties - we've decided now that we WILL reach Udaipur tonight. We had called a hotel from Bharuch in the afternoon and made our reservations in Udaipur so we had a place to crash at night.

After Himmatnagar, the road was fantastic - the traffic became regulated and roads were smooth and nice - we made good time - we were still paying tolls every now and then!! The road moves into a incline and there is a ghat (hilly) section that we're navigating - we keep climbing for quite some time. Finally, we hit the toll booth about 30 minutes outside Udaipur - finally, the goal is in sight!

We enter the outskirts of Udaipur, ceremonial gates and a full moon welcome us! :) Udaipur at night is deserted as it should be - we have some rough directions thanks to LP and turn into an inner city lane from the main roads. As we drive inwards, we know that we're lost - time for flunkie check - its 11.30 PM and we've made it to Udaipur! Mumbai - Udaipur 11 hours.

Flunkies guide us to the right place - we call the hotel guys for directions - the hotel guy tells us that he's released our booking because he assumed we were coming by air!! @!#!@$ Post this - we made it a point to tell ALL our bookings that we were driving and we might come late - but we'd come. Anyhow, middle of the night - Ruchi went ballistic on hotel guy - rightly so - we tell him - nothing doing - we're coming - he should figure out a room for us.

We reach Rang Niwas Palace finally, our hotel. The place is beautiful! Its an old haveli, but we dont know if we have a room yet - we park the car and are greeted by a smiling character - he apologizes and says he has a room for us - all's well that ends well - Ruchi and I stare around and are in awe of the place we've booked - chalk the first one up for LP - yep, its a LP recommendation. Anyhow, we're dead tired from the driving - we toss our stuff into the room and just crash - we've made it to Udaipur - the adventure has begun and day 1 has set the tone! Udaipur sightseeing tomorrow!!!

Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Rajasthan RoadTrip - Initial Planning

At long last, initial post on the road trip we just did thru Rajasthan, our first in India! We had 10, at best 15 days in which we wanted to do a road trip and we had decided to travel in Rajasthan. The biggest deterrents were

a. Road Quality
b. Facilities on the road
c. The Unknown, we had never done this before!

Initial research threw up the following links, somewhat useful, the RTDC website I must say is fairly informational as an initial starting point.

Our initial pass at an itinerary yielded, this is the order in which we would have driven

1. udaipur
2. bundi
3. ajmer
4. jodhpur
5. jaisalmer
6. bikaner
7. shekhawati
8. jaipur
9. agra

Ofcourse, this proved to be impossible, Jaisalmer is the fly in the pickle, we found out that things are organized in "Triangles" - you could do
1. Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jaisalmer
2. Agra - Jaipur - Bikaner - Ajmer (maybe)

from a distance perspective, Jaisalmer is waaaaay out there and throws off travel planning by road alltogether.

So,we decided finally on the following itinerary, not wanting to overkill and touch/go everywhere -

Oct 26th, Friday (Mumbai) - day 1 (300 km)
- Mum -> Ahmedabad (night halt)

Oct 27th, Sat (Udaipur) - day 2 (300 km)
- Leave early morning ahmedabad, reach Udaipur (afternoon)
- Check into hotel, goto pichola, check out evening entertainment

Oct 28th, Sun - day 3 (300 km)
- Leave Udaipur for Jodhpur via shilpgram
- Stay overnight at Jodhpur, if we get time, we'll sightsee jodhpur as soon as we reach

Oct 29th, Mon - day 4 (278 km)
- Sightsee Jodhpur, scoot early and leave for Jaisalmer
- Jaisalmer Sightseeing, sleep in jaisalmer

Oct 30th, Tue (Deogarh) - day 5
- Jaisalmer to Deogarh, stay in deogarh

Oct 31st, Wed - day 6
- Deogarh, kumbalgarh, stay in deogarh

Nov 1st, Thu - day 7
- Deogarh, rohet

Nov 2nd, Fri - day 8
- early morning leave for bombay
- deogarh to ahmedabad

Nov 3rd, Sat
- ahmedabad to mumbai

Nov 4th, Sunday (Mumbai)
- Relax

Armed with this information, we were ready for our road trip. Next post on how we did it!

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Rajasthan RoadTrip Pix!

Finally uploaded our pictures

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Raghu Dixit

Am getting hooked onto the sound, cant wait to buy the CD. Meanwhile, thanks to Youtube I found a great rendition of "Mysore Se Aayi" - RDP sounds very good live - check it out. Gets crazy in the end with everyone joining in but gives a good feel for his sound IMO.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Filler Post

Just got back from a super road trip in Rajasthan with the wife. Am so buried in work - havent got time to write a propah blog entry about it - but I will. Currently just catching up on some great music. Bollywood soundtracks -

Aaja Nachle - pretty fun soundtrack, title track is killer. Above average soundtrack. I would buy the whole CD.

Khoya Khoya Chand - some notable tracks, again title track is the jewel alongwith Swanand Kirkire's lyrics, amazing. Watch out Javed Akhtar! One or two tracks standout at best, wont buy CD.

No Smoking - killer track by Rekha Bharadwaj and Sukhwinder as always stellar. One / two tracks at best, wont buy CD. A lot of mood pieces.

Jab We Met - AMAZING soundtrack, all the songs are good. Pritam knocked me over with this one, definitely CD purchase.

Indipop listening to Agnee, decent outing by them - though they still suspicously sound like a college band sometimes!
...and major recommendation for Raghu Dixit (Raghu Dixit Project (RDP)) - I only recently discovered RDP, he's supposedly quite a phenom in Bangalore or atleast his band used to be - Antaragni. If you like folk/rock/fusion check it out. Definitely a CD purchase! Support!

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