Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Road Trip Day 6 - Bikaner

On Day 6 we woke up in Bikaner, the last of our stops in the road trip. I have never been to Bikaner before this. So this was a first. We had only 1 day here, almost half a day actually, so we decided to do some googling and choose 1 or 2 places to see. The first on the list was Junagarh Fort. It is famous for being one of the forts that was never conquered. It was built in the city rather than outside on a hilltop, like Mehrangarh fort. It had a moat filled with water around it. The water is sort of gone now but you can see some of the moat still around. The royal family doesn't stay here anymore and have shifted to the Lalgarh Palace, which is also a heritage hotel. We did visit the palace too for a brief visit.

We picked a few odd things from here and there. Not too much shopping. A pair of slippers, a skirt here, an earring there. We did sample the local yet very famous Bikaneri rasgullas, namkeen and ghewar. That closed our eating local delicacies part of the trip. 

On the way back we stopped at the house of one of my dad's uncle's in Punjab. They have an orange orchard. We spent some time there and N got to experience a tractor, a buffalo and a hand pump first hand. He was so happy to pump out water by himself :) A chatting session and a sack full of oranges later we were off for home! 

It was a great time, time well spent - re bonding, laughing, chatting, sight seeing and shopping :) Cheers to the last day of this road trip and here's to many more!!

You can read the previous day's posts here - Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 & 5.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Road Trip Day 4 & 5 - Sun city, Blue city - Jodhpur!

We loved Jodhpur! Period! It looked great, and has expanded well in the last 20 years. The Jodhpur part of the trip was very nostalgic. We visited the house we stayed in, the school where mom taught, dad's office and the school where me and my sister studied for 2 years. It felt like replacing a photographic memory with the actual image.

My sis and me in the school campus in the pic below. Most of it was the same with a few additions, a fresh paint job and a new play yard. The current principal was happy to see us and told us to look around and take pictures :)

After that we did our round of shopping, yes we are pretty incorrigible that way! Ended up buying some bandhej and lehriya sarees, some handloom stuff and some souvenirs for gifts. In my defense I did not own a single Rajasthani saree before this :) 
There is this road in Jodhpur city, called Nai Sadak, and it was our regular shopping haunt during our earlier stay. We headed back there and had mirchi vada, matar kachori, pyaaz ki kachori and mawa barfi - all of Rajasthan's local specials. 

Out of the local tourist destinations we chose to re-visit Mehrangarh fort. I had images from earlier visits to the fort in my head - the blue coloured houses as seen from the fort, the huge looming fort structure and flights of pigeons!!
It has been maintained really well and has been done up well in terms of a tourist destination. The signs are easy to read and well explained. The guards are tourist friendly, seem well educated and can talk in Hindi and English in addition to their local language. There are cafes and very clean restrooms inside the fort (a rare sight in most tourist destinations in India). It was a great experience and I can visit this place again!!

We left for Bikaner around lunch time on Day 5. Reached there at about 7:30 pm. This was a good drive - the roads were pretty decent except a few stretches. Again not too many places to eat but as we got closer to Bikaner things got better. 

Day 6 - the last day post coming up soon... 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Road Trip Day 3 - Jaipur - Ajmer - Jodhpur

Day 3 could be summarized as loud and noisy! Noise of different kinds and types. Some tangible, some not. 
It started off at midnight with a tummy ache. Not me. N. Don't know the exact reason but maybe because of all the eating at so many places, the water and sitting for long hours. So in the dead of the night I walked to the parking lot to find Imli (tamarind) goli from the car. Two of those and some brisk walking in the room resulted in some burps and farts and all was well with the little tummy. Thank god it was gas and nothing worse.
We left Jaipur around 10 am. All the previous day's shopping had to be loaded into the car which takes time, you see. Drove straight to Ajmer Sharif with a loo stop on the way. 
On the way we passed a couple of toll stations and educated the toll walas on a statutory law which ensures that serving army officers and their dependent families are exempted from paying toll. Ex-servicemen are not exempt but serving officers and families are. I know the exact rule number too by now - Act 1901. It took about 30 minutes, looking through the official toll rule book, diverting an entire lane of 20 cars and trucks to other lanes, some noisy verbal exchanges between a dozen people to finally educate the toll company about the exact rule. All this happened because my dad works with a toll company in Punjab and knows the rules inside out and he couldn't tolerate someone twisting the rule to their benefit. Sigh! The downside of too much knowledge. 
At Ajmer Sharif the area surrounding the dargah is narrow, crowded and mismanaged. No proper parking outside. Dozens of people approach you to "help" with parking in multiple mini lanes and narrow restricted spaces. Once you are in there is no proper place to keep your shoes and again you can take any shopkeeper or flower seller's help to keep your shoes with them while you pay your respects inside. No guarantee for your footwear though. There was chaos, noise and I felt distracted. The entire process could be done in a whole lot of better ways but then faith and belief trumps everything, I guess. It was nice visiting the place again but I would have liked to remember visiting the place for reasons other than I do. There were no cameras allowed inside only mobile phones and so no pictures from that part. 
Reached Jodhpur at around 5 pm after a lunch break at a roadside dhaba. The food was a little spicy again but delicious nonetheless. 
Jodhpur brought back a lot of memories and we did see a few places in the army cantonment which we had been to earlier. 
Tomorrow we plan to revisit some more old haunts and maybe shop some too :) 
The commotion in the first half of the day resulted in peace, quiet and some sleep in the second half. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Road Trip Day 2 - Shopping in Jaipur!

All we did on Day 2 was shop! We shopped till we dropped! Well not literally but almost.
It was raining in the morning and we thought "Sigh! There go our shopping plans." But the weather gods were good to us and the rain stopped by the time we finished sight seeing.
We started by visiting Hawa Mahal. During our earlier trip to Jaipur about 20 years ago, this was one of the places we had been to and so we wanted to revisit the place. Took some pictures and saw Jantar Mantar and other city sights from Hawa Mahal.

Just outside Hawa Mahal is Johari Bazaar and near by are Choti Chaupad and Bapu Bazaar. This area is one of the main tourist hubs and shopping area (Insider info, courtesy, a friend's mom who stays in Jaipur) :)
We started window shopping and progressed to full fledged shopping very soon. The 2 members of the group who generally dislike shopping - N and my dad cooperated very well! They stayed with us throughout the day and even helped us shop. 
The shops and clothes were a riot of colors. Johari bazaar was in general overpriced than Bapu bazaar. So if you plan to shop, visit Bapu bazaar first. The rates are cheaper and closer to the actual price compared to Johari bazaar, reason being Johari bazaar is closer to the tourist attractions and attracts more foreign tourists. 
We picked some bedsheets, bed spreads, rajais (comforters), skirts, suits, bandhej sarees and some kurtas. Looking at the loot at the end of the day was immensely satisfying! I know material pleasures but ask a shop-a-holic and you will know how it feels ;)

We did have a good lunch at Lakshmi Mishthan Bhandar in Johari bazaar. Also enjoyed some local stuff like mirchi vada and daal ke pakode.

Tomorrow we leave Jaipur for Jodhpur via Ajmer. We plan to stop at Ajmer Sharif and seek blessings. 
I am excited about visiting Jodhpur, especially seeing Mehrangarh fort and my school. 
Cheers to holiday shopping and the little pleasures of life!!!

Had to do a collage of pics rather than my regular lots-of-pictures-post because of a borrowed, low speed internet connection. But something is better than nothing!! :) 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Road Trip Day 1 - Bathinda to Jaipur

Day 1 of the road trip was supposed to be the longest. We started from Bathinda, Punjab and reached Jaipur, Rajasthan covering almost 500 km. 
We had planned to leave home by 7 am and we managed to leave by 7:30. Not bad! It was a slightly foggy morning with a few light showers at some places on the way and the fog cleared up pretty soon. 
We had our road companion, the GPS. It couldn't beat the age old mechanism of asking local people for directions, but still was a big help :) 

Our first stop was for breakfast at my paternal aunt's place on the way in Punjab. It was nice meeting family after a very very long time. N got to meet his uncle, my cousin, for the first time. Some yummy poori choley and a few posed pics later we were back on the road. Oh, how can I forget the fresh ripe guavas plucked straight from the tree at my bua's (aunt's) house. They were so tempting and super yumm! 

Drove non stop, passed through Haryana for a bit and then entered Rajasthan. I was impressed with the state of roads as soon as we entered Rajasthan. The sign boards and directions were very well done too. The landscape turned sandy, yellow and dry soon. It was very quiet and peaceful though. Not much traffic on most part of the stretch. 

Stopped for lunch midway at a restaurant called Midway Khurja. It was a decent place. You could sit to eat in the garden or indoors.There was a highly overpriced souvenir shop too inside. The service was quick and food tasty, a li'l spicy for our taste though. Nothing typically rajasthani in the menu. They had a special non spicy food buffet spread too. I think the menu was more to cater to the international audience. 

Regarding food, there were not too many eateries on the way. I mean small chai wala open dhaba types were there, even the chips and soda shops. But not too many medium size restaurants. We were carrying enough stuff though, to feed an entire village, courtesy my mom, who thought we should have a variety because N was with us :) 
Covered some more distance then stopped for dhaba tea and confirm directions. Here is our ride!

And this is one of our designated drivers of the trip. Very ethnic chic I must say!! :) 

Reached Jaipur around 5:30 pm and made way through the city to our accommodation for the next 2 nights. That took us about an hour considering evening rush hour city traffic. None of us had the energy to venture out. So we decided to rest, change, have dinner in the room and crash early. 
Day 2 is going to be spent sight seeing and shopping. Yay! 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Rajasthan by road!

I have been travelling across countries and within India since last December. It started with the Sydney-Thailand trip last Christmas, followed by the move to India in Jan this year.
Once in India, I spent some time in Faridabad, Delhi, Bathinda, Bangalore and Chandigarh. Not more than a week anywhere though!
At first I thought I would get tired of the living-out-of-a-suitcase and getting-used-to-new-accommodations part very soon. But it has been pretty OK. It helps that the kid has grown up, relatively speaking, and is in general cooperative about seeing new places and meeting family (new people for him).

The next travel bit is a road trip to Rajasthan. It starts tomorrow and we plan to go from Bathinda, in Punjab to Jaipur, Ajmer, Jodhpur and Bikaner, in Rajasthan. We have stayed in Jodhpur for 3 years when my father was posted there while he was serving in the Army. I was 10 years old then.  We did travel across Rajasthan that time too and so a lot of memories will be revisited.
The road trippers include me, N, my sister, mother and father. Dad wanted to take the family out for a trip. According to him it is not very often that we get together like this and so this is a perfect opportunity :) Both his sons-in-law are away on their own business/work trips. So it's just the 5 of us. I will try to do a daily post with the highlights and if possible (network speed permitting) daily pictures.

6 days, 5 nights, some 1350 kms, 4 grown ups, 1 kid and a Scorpio.
The music is ready, maps have been printed, bags packed, car loaded and munching stuff collected.
Now it is get, set and go in the morning!!  Looking forward to it!! :)

This picture was taken in Sydney downtown. It represents movement, travel, activity and buzz to me. Life is like this - it doesn't stand still, even if we do!!


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