Friday, November 23

Bika.. what?

Bikaner -- an alternative to Pushkar, on my way to Jaisalmer. There is a camel festival in Pushkar, making it difficult and quite expensive to get a place to stay. With prices going up five times the norm, I decided not to even bother and settled for visiting Bikaner instead.

It's a quiet place compared to the places I've been to thus far. There's not much in terms of sight seeing, I went to the Junagarh Fort and the Lalgarh palace. They pale in comparison to what I've seen so far, but it was something to do for the afternoon.

Right now I'm in a VERY dusty computer cafe finishing up all my updates and I can't wait to get back to the hotel. It's one of my cheapest stays and it's incredibly clean -- it even has fully functional western toilets. The restaurant at the hotel is supposed to be really good, the food up to this point has been delicious!

Junagarh fort:

The street my hotel is on:

Welcome to Rajasthan

Entering Rajasthan is like entering a different country. The people seem fierce and have a proud history. The landscape is mostly desert with imposing forts on every hill and palaces around every lake.

Like most who come to Rajasthan, my first stop was Jaipur. It's a busy city with a lot to see! I woke up early, met up Bhuwan and set out to see the Amber palace, just a few minutes outside of Jaipur. It's a beautiful palace overlooking a lake, built for concubines. Part of the taxi tour package included an elephant ride through the palace gate but a long line up of tourists suggested a two hour wait and I opted to go through the back entrance. Even in its run-down state it's impressive and one can't help wonder how it would have looked during its golden age.

Walking through the palace I met Pedro, a fellow from Portugal, running around and taking photos with the same enthusiasm and camera model as me and Tim and Christine, a couple from Australia who were eager to talk about Nikola Tesla. We were trying to figure out the easiest way to get up to the fort overlooking the palace and Tim and Pedro figured out a way through a palace window followed by a climb down one of the palace walls. It was like being in the game "Prince of Persia" and it made for a fun adventure -- making up for lackluster fort.

I returned to the city where I checked out various other sights such as the Hawa Mahal, the Jaipur City Palace and the Jantar Mantar. My driver also took me to the nearby Galtaji temple though instead of going to it I decided to hike up the hill to an abandoned and secluded fort. I had it all to myself and was also rewarded to a great view of the entire city.

While checking out these sights I ran Nick and Maggie (who I met in Delhi) and we talked about meeting up later for chess -- I don't think Maggie was too keen on that idea. I also met up with Manu (from Agra) and walked around searching for an internet cafe. We didn't find one but we did end up having a great dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Couldn't ask for a better day!

The walls of Amber fort:

Amber palace:

Amber from the walls of the palace:

Camel riders inside the fort:

This is who the fort belongs to now:

Cow road block while hiking to abandoned fort:

The city of Jaipur as seen from abandoned fort:

Taj Mahal - it deserves it's own entry

Wow, it's impressive and quite inspiring. I spent all morning walking around and inside the Taj Mahal and its garden. The gates open at 6:00 am and I got there quarter to. They did not allow me to take my tripod inside and I was asked to check it in at the nearby lockers. On my way there I met one of the hundred Taj Mahal keepers who promised me the best Taj photos for 350 rupees (that's just under 10 USD). I told him if I can get an amazing shot, I'd be happy to give him the money. The photos were medicore, but he really tried his best to get me a good photo and took me to dozens of spots, even to a rooftop of his friends' place. After he invited me over to his place for tea, a tiny place where he lives with his wife, five sons and a daughter. I couldn't give him any less and I didn't feel ripped off.

Inside the gates of the Taj Mahal it's quite busy. Thousands of people and it's very difficult to get a photo without someone in it. I did my best waiting for people to get behind trees or pillars before taking the shot. It's really an amazing structure from all angles.

The reason it was built hits you as soon as you enter the tomb. It's beautiful inside and photos are not allowed. It's difficult to describe the emotions that hit you -- it's one of those things that everyone needs to experience for themselves.

(I hope these photos are not as crappy as they look on this ten year old computer, using Windows 98)

The classic shot:

From the side:

Inside one of the side structures: