A Travellerspoint blog

Last stop - Mumbai - City With Many Sides


We landed in Mumbai and it was an hour drive into Colaba, the main tourist part of the city. It was one in the morning so we couldn't judge what the city would be like but at this point, it looked like it was bordering on apocolyptic. There were so many run down buildings and it was eerily deserted. We were startinf to feel slightly dissappointed that Mumbai wouldn't be anything like we expected. The next morning we hesitantly set off to see the city and to our surprise, everything looked different. The sidewalks (yes, I said sidewalks!) were lined with market stalls and the streets with palm trees. There were high end shops mixed in with local shops and although there were still those decrepit buildings that would have been lovely if they were just restored, there were also some very beautiful ones mixed in there as well.

We walked around the city and ended up at the Gateway of India, an arch by the water, which was right accross from the Taj Hotel where we were planning on having their famous high tea that afternoon. This was perhaps what Janet was looking forward to most throughout the whole trip! And once George heard that it was a buffet, he was also quite excited. We waited inside the Taj Hotel to get away from the sweltering heat. George's signature "I'm too hot", "I need to cool down", "I can't stop sweating" comments came back in full force. Finally it was time for our high tea and boy did it live up to our expectations. The beautiful room was filled with the sound of the piano playing in the background and we got the best seats in the house overlooking the water and the gateway. This spot is notoriously known for the get-together spot of Indian families arranging their childrens' marriages but it didn't look like there was any arranging going on that day. We drank enough tea to last us a lifetime and ate more than enough to last a few days. It was fantastic and we had to pry ourselves away.

High Tea at the Taj Hotel - from backpacker to high society

We did a lot of our shopping in Mumbai since they had some good deals and a great store called FabIndia that we spent a lot of time in. George is insisting on diclosing the fact that I "destroyed" every store I went in because of trying everything on and not being able to make up my mind. Fine, but I just wanted to make the right decision! No wonder the shopkeepers have a special price for westerners that's twice as much. The next day we did our walking tour of the city following our guidebook's suggestions and walked down to the famous Marine Drive, the upscale waterfront section of the city. By the way, we were told that Mumbai is the most expensive city to live in in the world, more than London or Paris but we will have to double check that fact. Nonetheless, real estate along Marine Drive is crazy. On the other end of the spectrum, Mumbai is also known for the biggest slum in Asia, with over 1 million inhabitants. We read up on different slum tours that take you in on foot so you can see what it's like and talk to the people but as interesting as it sounded, it seemed too exploitive to us. Although we didn't necessarily see the slums, we were certainly aware of the many sides of Mumbai, from slums to Bollywood to everything in between.

Marine Drive on a hot day - Can I go for a swim?

Our flight home was scheduled for 3am, the most inconvenient time possible, so we had a late dinner to waste some time before heading to the airport. As usual, the directions given to us by our Indian hotel desk didn't work out ("go left, then another left, and it's right there"...but it never is). Luckily we stumbled upon a place that was packed with mostly locals and a few tourists and decided it must be good. We made the right decision because an hour later we were stuffed with enormous amounts of amazing food all for $6. We're going to miss that.

And so this journey is almost complete as we sit in the Paris airport waiting for our connection home. We had an unbelievable experience in India - it's a country that grows on you and we suspect that its total impact will not make itself fully present until many months, or even years from now when we look at each other and say, "wasn't that incredible?". Yes it was.

Posted by jgjourney 03:17 Archived in India Comments (0)

Goa and the Good Life

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We arrived in Goa and the ride from the airport to our beach was an hour long. We got to our hotel and noticed a temperature change right away. It was HOT! We were starting to wonder if we'd be able to handle it on the beach. Our hotel was in a great location and we lounged around the pool for the rest of the day. We took a walk along the street toward the beach and were so surprised to see that it was more developed than we thought it would be. There were restaurants, shops, and even two grocery stores! They were the first grocery stores we had seen in our whole trip. The beach also exceeded our expectations. Spending over two weeks in the country, you begin to accept a certain level of garbage everywhere. Naturally we expected the same on the beach, however, we were happy to find that was not the case. The water was clean and so was the sand for the most part. This would be a relaxing few days in a beach town after all.

Goa is known for fantastic food and our first dinner did not disappoint. It was so good that we thought about getting seconds but decided to control ourselves. Sadly, nothing could compete with that restaurant so we ended up going there for our last meal as well.

Are you getting tired of these beautiful sunsets yet?

Day two was our first full day at the beach. Not too much to report except tanning (burning?) in crazy heat and having tons of fun in crashing waves. It was a great day and we were exhausted by the end of it. The beach is lined with "shacks" that are more like restaurans on the beach, giving it a great atmosphere and a place to cool down out of the sun when you need a break. That night we did some souvenir shopping and went to eat. Typical beach vacation. It seemed like everyone in Russia thinks the same way because the town is FULL of Russians. It seems to be their vacation destination and even the restaurants have menus in Russian. I guess it was fine but let's just say we've had our fill of Russians for a while.

This is the life!

Back to the beach for day three, this time in the shade. Interestingly enough, George was the one that was more burnt out of the two of us for once. He says he was trying to conserve our limited sunscreen supply but the truth is he thinks he is exempt from burning like the rest of us. Olive skin...ha! We spent the rest of the night jewellery shopping, which for most people would be fun but for us feels like torture since we have no idea what we are doing. We got flustered, gave up and headed for dinner - something we knew a lot about.

We forgot to mention that after the first day, the ocean was absolutely nuts! The current was so strong and the waves were crazy. The most you could do was go in to your waist, even your knees, otherwise you got clobbered. In fact, the lifeguards would blow their whistles and tell people not to go too far. Although it was mostly Indians they were worried about. Apparently they are not the best swimmers in the world. I acted as George's lifeguard since his skills aren't much better than the locals. Although he did manage to float for a few seconds in the pool! We were very excited about this accomplishment.

After our fill of the beach and enough jewellery shopping to last us a lifetime, we headed to the airport for our last stop - Mumbai. We were told we would enjoy this city but a few minutes after our arrival, we weren't so sure...

Posted by jgjourney 03:10 Archived in India Comments (0)

Udaipur & Some Peace

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We took a flight to Udaipur (no more trains for us!) and as we drove into the city we saw that it was much more touristy than anywhere we've been so far. Little shops and cafes lined the streets, which we had seen absolutely none of until then. We walked around for a while, had a snack at a German bakery, then went to a local performance that was recommended to us by our hotel. It was a great dance/song performance done by locals at the open-air museum. A highlight was our dinner on our hotel's rooftop overlooking the lake, the palace, and the lights of the city.

She must have some serious neck strength

The next day we went to see the city palace (now our routine in almost every city we go to), which was impressive but incredibly busy with tour groups. Perhaps the best part was seeing the staff set up for a wedding to be held right in the palace courtyard! It was very elaborate with huge centrepieces, a stage, and massive lighting structures. It was clear that this Indian family was highly well-off, making the weddings we think are elaborate back home seem plain!

After the palace we headed towards the bazaar. On our way there we got back to the real India we were used to with not as many tourists. The bazaar was somewhat disappointing, in fact we didn't even know we were in it until we asked someone where it was. We didn't spend too much time there and started walking back. To George's delight, we found a little shop selling samosas and grabbed a few to eat. They were absolutely fantastic! Now, you have to understand George's excitement with this because one of the things he frequently talked about before our trip was eating samosas all day every day. Unfortunately, Indians don't eat samosas as much as we thought they did. In fact, this was only our second serving of samosas in the whole time we had been there! But they were worth the wait...we even thought about bringing them home and freezing them. And they were a whopping 14 cents each.

I don't care if it burns my tongue off, it's so good!

We did some shopping then went on a boat ride around the lake. It was nice to be on the water away from the streets for a while. We also bought a miniature painting from a local artist who had been painting since he was 8 years old. He was such a nice man and very talented. We are surprised at times with the genuine niceness in the people. Most are so gentle and friendly. This was followed by another lovely dinner on the rooftop.

Sunset on our hotel rooftop

Our last day in Udaipur we walked around a bit and ate some more samosas. Hey, we didn't know when we would come across them again! They seamed spicier than the last batch so our mouths were on fire. George got more than he bargained for since I couldn't finish mine!

We hired a rickshaw to take us to Moutain Ridge, a small guesthouse in the hills outside the city. The ride there was spent talking with our 25 year old driver and gaining some insight into the youth of India. We have found the young people of this country so incredible. It will be interesting to see where India will be in the next 20 years when these young people have more authority. Although it was clear from our driver that they are in a stage between modern and tradition. In some cases they are still very traditional, such as wanting a "fresh village wife".

We arrived in the hillside and it was a perfect place to spend the next two days. George took a nap, I did some reading, we went for a walk (with no horns blaring!) and then went down for dinner which was spent family style eating with the other young couple staying there. They were actually journalists originally from London and Norway who are now living in Delhi.

Finally some peace and quiet!

The next morning the two of us couples woke up early and headed on a 4 hour guided walk through the rural area around us. We saw some villages, a temple, farms, a lake, and just the more natural side of India. Perhaps we ate too many samosas because we felt like the others were sprinting through all of this! We took our time and enjoyed the scenery. The walk/run prompted a long nap and we enjoyed another beautiful sunset from our balcony. We ate a beautiful candlelit dinner and had great conversation with the other couple on the terrace and that was the end of our relaxing days in the hills. That night, however, was less than relaxing as the winds were howling like crazy! George would get up and and try to shut our balcony doors in a way that would stop the rattling but it wouldn't work and all you could hear was swearing in the dark. If it wasn't 3 a.m. it would have been funny.

A far cry from the India that we have come to know so far

At 5:30 that morning we headed to the airport for our flight to Goa - finally some beach! We connected in Mumbai and got a chance to see from the air the craziness we would experience there in a few days. Can't wait! But before that, we are relaxing at Candolim Beach in Goa. We didn't know quite what to expect but we definitely were NOT expecting what we found...

Posted by jgjourney 04:56 Archived in India Comments (2)

Into the Desert - Jodhpur & Camel Camp

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We arrived in Jodhpur 6 hours later than scheduled because of our delayed train so we were anxious to get out there and see the city. First we checked into our Haveli - an old historic building that used to be home to aristocrats and Maharajas. It was quite the beautiful place, with its own courtyard to block away the chaos outside. Our room was equally nice, definitely the most interesting and enjoyable place we've stayed in so far. We had lunch on the rooftop and overlooked the city.

While our bodies were cooperating, we decided to head for the Mehrangarh Fort, home to ancient kings on the peak of a large hill overlooking the city. Our admission included an audioguide and we learned more about this fort than the typical misworded signs allow. It was definitely one of the best preserved sites we've been to and it was easy to imagine princesses in the courtyards and battles over the fort walls. This further increased George's desire to build his own fort. After the fort we walked around the city and although it was just as chaotic as the other cities, there was something about this one that we both enjoyed. We bought tea and spices and walked through the markets.

One day I'm gonna build me one of these

For dinner, we went back to our hotel rooftop and enjoyed the wonderful ambiance of trickling water fountains, soothing Indian music, and a lit up fort right before us. There were fireworks (as there are most nights everywhere), constant calls to mosque, drums beating, people dancing on their rooftops and everything else you can imagine. That is one thing about India, the atmosphere is so alive and vibrant almost all the time. Back in Toronto, you would have thought it was New Years Eve!

One of our many pots of chai on a rooftop

The next day it was time to set off for one part of the trip that we were most excited for - Manvar Camel Camp. It was one night that we splurged on, where we would stay in a luxury tent in the desert. We drove two hours into the desert and finally arrived at the resort. After a quick dip in the freezing pool, we were called for our jeep safari across the sand dunes, probably the best thing we've done so far. We saw gazelles, eagles, and antelopes, along with castor seed, cumin, and mustard seed farms. Who know you could farm in the desert?

Sand dunes of the Thar Desert

We were dropped off at our tent and had a few hours to just sit, relax, and take in the scenery before the evening entertainment and dinner. That is, until they called us to go for our camel ride. We've been on horses and elephants before, but a camel is something entirely different. For one, you get on the camel when it is sitting on the ground, which means it has to then get up on it's feet with you on it. Janet nearly got thrown right off the back. There's also a unique sound a camel makes - sort of a gross gurgling with it's tongue hanging out. Not very attractive to say the least. We slowly and steadily moved our way toward a sand dune hill to watch the sunset, however, our camel was more interested in chowing down on every bush we passed by so we were a little late. We still managed to get some great pictures though. Check camel ride off the list!

Camel + Sunset + Desert = Pic of a lifetime

We were given a few minutes to dust off the camel hair and then it was time for the evening performance which consisted of local singing and dancing by the campfire while lying back on our cushions and enjoying snacks and drinks by lantern light. We could get used to life in the desert! That was followed by dinner in a luxurious tent and some star-gazing outside our own tent. You forget how many stars there are and how lovely the sky is when living in a big city. Time for peace and quiet, although we most likely woke everyone at the camp with our constant nose-blowing. We were still getting over our nagging colds that night.

The early morning brought about endless desert sounds and it was cool and crisp as we got ready to go back to the city. That's a stark contrast to the daytime heat. Apparently it gets to 52 degrees during the hottest months. No thank you! We drove the two hours back to Jodhpur with two stops along the way. The first was a garden that was a little worse for wear with not much to see. The second was Umaid Bhawan Palace, where the royal family still resides. The building was pretty incredible, although most of it was closed to the public and much of it is also an upscale hotel.

That afternoon instead of staying at the haveli, we had booked a family run guesthouse that ended up being a great decision. They were some of the nicest people we have ever met. It was like staying with your own family, which is how they treat all their guests. We walked around the city aimlessly again and had dinner on the rooftop of our guesthouse. Dinner was made by the Mom at the guesthouse and it was some good old Indian home cooking. The next morning Janet got her long awaited henna done by the wife at the gueshouse who is apparently a "master" of henna. We were sent on our way with gifts (a bracelet for Janet and a necklace for George) and took a rickshaw to the airport, again where we met the nicest young Indian guy one could imagine. Overall, our last days in Jodhpur gave us the boost we needed in our travels because of the incredible people we had met. It really did teach us that loving families are the same all over the world.

Maybe one day I can be a master of henna

We are now in Udaipur, the city of lakes, and quite a contrast from the India we have experienced so far. And by the way, George is frequently being asked if he is Indian or has any Indian roots. We're starting to think somewhere along the line in the family tree someone took a trip to India...????

Posted by jgjourney 08:43 Archived in India Comments (0)

Jaipur from our Hotel Room

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We mentioned in the last post that since Jaipur was cut down to one day that we needed to make the most of it. Too bad our bodies weren't thinking along the same lines. We both woke up early in the morning with gurgling stomachs, particularly Janet, that just wouldn't settle down. Needless to say that walking around the city without easily accessible bathrooms would have been a recipe for disaster. Luckily we had another nice hotel room since we were bound to spend the majority of the day inside. It wasn't until mid-afternoon that George felt good enough to venture away from safety. One of us had to see at least a small part of the city! Unfortunately, Janet couldn't pry herself out of bed.

This was the first time we were separated this trip. The rules were clear, George had 2.5 hours to return to the hotel otherwise a search party was being dispatched. George took a tuk-tuk to the City Palace then started roaming the city from there. Jaipur is known for it's great shopping of textiles, leathers, and jewellery. Well isn't that terrific, George's qualifications as a shopper are defintely a weak link of the team.

It's a lot easier walking around Jaipur than some of the other cities because they actually have sidewalks! They aren't everywhere but enough to make walking the main streets a little less hair-raising. Two hours went by pretty quickly so he headed back to the hotel with a few pictures and a couple videos of Jaipur. While Janet was feeling a bit better, she still wasn't ready to venture out. Our overnight train to Jodhpur was that night so we were hoping that things would get better as the night went on. Last thing we need is to be sick for a 6 hour rocking train ride. Well, Janet got a bit worse before she got better and was definitely worried about the upcoming ride but don't worry Mom and Dad, everything turned out fine. Thankfully just a 24 hour bug.

Sidewalks are rare in this part of the world

They call it the pink city for good reason

Everybody said to watch out for the food, but guess what, we ate at pretty nice hotels for the 2 days prior to getting sick. The week before we had a mix of street food with absolutely no issues! Moral of the story: go back to buying samosas, Thali, Aloo (potato) burgers, and Lassi from street vendors.

That night we headed for the train station an hour before our midnight train was to depart. We got there, looked up at the board of the train schedule and had to look a few times to make sure we were seeing straight. Was it true? Was our train delayed by four hours? Yes, it was true. So after finally finding an honest tuk tuk driver who actually knew where our hotel was (not just nodded with a confused look on his face), back to the hotel we went for a couple more hours of sleep. We woke up a little while later and had our hotel call for the status. What the??? Now it's delayed six hours?? So our midnight train actually ended up departing at 6:30am, the time we were supposed to arrive in Jodhpur. Ah well, that's India. At least we had our comfortable hotel to wait in (the train station in the early morning hours is not the most welcoming place in the world). Our train finally arrived and this time we had no crazy...I mean eccentric bunk mates. But we did have a nice and friendly young Indian gentleman - one of the nicest we've met here. No lecturing on religion this time!

We are now in Jodhpur on the roof of our hotel with a view of the 500 year old fort and overlooking the city. But more on that later...

Posted by jgjourney 08:20 Archived in India Comments (0)

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