The last few days in Rajasthan

Where I am sitting at the moment is so very different to the busy cities that we’ve experienced the last week or so. We are out the country, surrounded by nature with exotic birds tweeting and screeching in the trees and the odd peacock showing off it’s feathers. It’s such a peaceful location here in Abhaneri Niwas but let me go back a few days first……back to Pushkar….

The early morning train journey to Ajmer was pretty quick, it was a seater train for a change, plenty of air-com and we drank it plenty of chai to wake us up. We had a little peruse of the brides/grooms section of the Indian newspaper whilst on the train too.

Once in Ajmer we got private transport to Pushkar, it was about half an hour away, we winded our way over the mountains and arrived at our hotel, New Park Hotel. We checked into our lovely rooms and noticed there was a nice pool there too. The first thing I noticed was the heat, my body was in shock, ha, it had been nice to have a break from the heat for a few days. We had lunch at the hotel and then a few hours to chill out by the pool or just have a snooze.

Pushkar – blue lotus

We walked into town that afternoon, about a 15 minute walk in, to have an orientation walk with Alan. It’s quite a dusty town and there are so many cows, camels and pigs here. We strolled by all the stalls and shops, once again there are soooo many temptations here and I couldn’t wait to do some serious shopping the next day. Alan brought us around the outskirts of the lake, via the markets. We ended the walk down by the lake, we could only go so far with our shoes on. If you want to walk closer to the lake you need to leave your shoes in your bag, also we had to have our shoulders and knees covered at all times as Pushkar is quite a holy city. There isn’t any meat or alcohol sold in Pushkar either.

A few of us strolled around the shops after the walk, I priced a few things and kept a few shops in mind for the next day. We met everyone else for dinner around 6 at Out of The Blue, a nice rooftop restaurant. It was a beautiful view of the lake and surrounding town, you could also see the temple at the top of one of the mountains, all lit up with lanterns, very pretty. I had some falafel with pitta, hummus, tzatziki, salad and chips for dinner and decided I’d try the dessert Say Hello to the Queen. I’d seen it on a few menus and although the description didn’t sound too appealing (ice-cream, banana, biscuits and butter) I said I’d give it a go. Well what came out was totally worth it, it’s very similar to a crumble, except it’s banana instead of apple and the crumble topping is more of a cheesecake mixture of buttery biscuit crumbs. It was delicious and everyone who had a taste agreed, there was waaaay too much ice-cream though but that’s not exactly a major complaint. We wandered home, bit of an adventure getting home as we decided to take the “short cut” but thanks to google maps one of the guys got us back safely. What’s a little detour down dark roads filled with barking dogs and beeping mopeds and cars every now and then eh, ha ha.

Day 2 in Pushkar

This morning a few people from the group did the sunrise hike up to the temple, the rest of us had a lie-in instead and met Alan for breakfast at 8. We strolled towards Sugar and Spice in town. We passed by stalls filled with nuts and coconuts and overloaded motorbikes, nothing new there, I’m amazed how much they can fit onto a motorbike over here.

Cardamom seed

The cafe was a gorgeous little spot, it had a vegan menu with plenty to choose from, all the food was so fresh and tasty. I went for the toast with rose jam, by the far the nicest toast I’ve had here, it had a lovely crunchy crust and the rose jam was so good. Next came a very generous portion of mulberry yoghurt with muesli, dried fruits and nuts, just yum. The last thing I ordered from the extensive coffee menu was the black coffee with cardamon which had a fresh cardamom seed in it, so tasty. We got chatting to the owner, as he recognised our Irish accents and it turned out that he had spent about 20 years in Ireland working in restaurants in Dublin and Kilkenny, he used to buy his meat in Carlow, he came back to India as he was eating and drinking too much in Ireland. His influence for his restaurant was the Dublin restaurant, Cornucopia. It was so lovely chatting to him and hearing about his travels. We complimented his food and how fresh and tasty it was.

We spent the rest of the morning shopping, I bought some Indian bells, a notebook, a little bowl and then we came across a little perfume shop. Once inside we sat down on the cushions and he described the perfumes to us, he put so many different fragrances on our skin we smelled like a beautiful garden by the time we were leaving. πŸ˜‚ I bought a little bottle of the Golden flower perfume for INR200. I asked about the incense sticks and instead of just selling us a bunch of any old incense he asked what smells I liked and he chose some vanilla, rose, sandalwood etc and gave them to us for free so I went and bought an incense holder in another shop for INR50, so cheap.

After we took a frappe break in The Happy Buddha and enjoyed the balcony views of the streets, love a bit of people watching. Once again the cows rule the roost here and they were taking up the whole street lazing about. At one point we saw something quite interesting. A cow was peeing outside of a shop stall and the shopkeeper came out, ran his hands through the pee, while the cow was still peeing, and then blessed himself and the shop with the cow pee. We could have prob caught a few flies at that point our mouths were open that much. πŸ™ˆ

I was tempted by a few more shops on the way back to the hotel of course, we also stopped off at a restaurant for a light lunch of aloo samosa (potato) with a sweet or spicy dip and malpua, which is a lovely sweet dessert, it’s a deep fried pancake that’s been dipped in sugary syrup, yum. At this point of the day, midday, it was getting pretty hot so I practically jumped into the pool back at the hotel. We had some aloo jeera (fried potatoes with cumin and turmeric) and garlic naan by the pool too. I got ready for our evening meal and even made an effort to dress up a little with my new perfume and a new set of earrings, I went all out. πŸ˜„

We were treated to a home cooked meal that evening at our drivers family’s home. The whole family lived together, there were three houses altogether, like a little society or compound. We got to have a look inside the kitchen and see what his wife was cooking in there. There was a lovely little container filled with little pots of spices and a massive bowl filled with chopped coriander. We sat down and they served us pakora (ground flour batter a spicy chickpea filling) straight from the pan with a delicious mint and coriander dip, there were also some very tasty poppadoms served as appetizers too. I ate so many pakora, just melted in my mouth. Next we had the thali, which means plate, and there was a constant stream of food given to us. I’ll describe it from the right of the picture above, there was poori (a puff of bread made with refined flour), chapati (made with wheat flour), spicy tomato chutney, okra (lady fingers), rice with coriander, cabbage (with turmeric and coriander), eggplant, tomato and sugar chutney (unreal), potato and peppers (in the middle) and yellow dal served in the side dish. The family constantly came around with extra poori etc. We had rice pudding with saffron, in the other little side dish, for dessert. I practically rolled out of there afterwards, so much delicious food. We took a photo with the family, thanked them and headed back to the hotel in a food coma state. πŸ˜‚

Day 1 in the Pink City

Up nice and early this morning, had breakfast at the hotel of toast and butter and the we grabbed our private transport back over the windy hills towards Ajmer bus station where we caught the public bus, with A/C to Jaipur. It only took a few hours and we were in Jaipur just before midday, we hopped into some tuk-tuks and back to the beeping madness again. I had an egg sandwich for my lunch and we checked into our rooms at Ustav Villas. We had another lovely room, really nicely decorated and the beds were super comfy too. After we chilled for a couple of hours and freshened up a bit a few of us took a tuk-tuk to a shopping centre as we wanted to research getting some tattoos done. The rest of the group went to see a print demonstration and a precious stones cutting demonstration. We decided on a tattoo design at Xposetattoo and hopped back into our tuk-tuk into town to meet the rest of the group for our orientation walk. The tuk-tuk dropped us off by a construction site (there was a lot of construction going on throughout Jaipur) and we thought there’s no way this is the right spot, then he tried to charge us double but thankfully we knew it was only supposed to be INR300 and we stuck to that. We got out, found a guesthouse and by buying a bottle of water we got to use the WiFi and contacted Alan who came to meet us there, the sweet shop where the tuk-tuk driver was supposed to drop us was across the way and so began our orientation walk, finally. πŸ˜…

Alan got us to taste some local sweets and savoury snacks. The first one was by far my favourite, it was called Nariyal Barfi, it had coconut and cardamon in it and it just melted in my mouth, I couldn’t get enough of it. The second one was called Besan, a ball made with ground flour and sugar and it tasted like sugary sand, not quite a melt in your mouth sweet. The last one was called Mava Barfi, made with condensed milk, cardamon and gee, it was like a mixture of the other two. The Nariyal Barfi was hands down the nicest. The savoury snack was like a really spicy Bombay mix but it was a homemade mix.

We walked towards the temple around the corner, passing by a stall serving a puff pastry snack, which is filled with a potato mix and dipped into a mint and coriander water and then you pop it into your mouth. I’ve seen them everywhere here and thought we’d finally be getting to taste them but nope we have to wait until Agra to taste them, I cannot wait to try them. We also passed a stall selling an assortment of poppadoms and rice and bags of various beans and pulses, so colourful.

A few of us got tuk-tuks to the fanciest cinema I’ve ever been in, to see a Bollywood film called Dhadak. I bought some popcorn and a drink and we walked into the massive theatre to settle down in our reclining chairs to watch the film. It was such a wonderful experience, it was almost like being at a proper show, the audience cheered and clapped at different points. There was even an intermission, during which we had a few locals come up and ask us, with genuine interest, what we thought of the film, we loved it. The ladies toilets were through a powder room, well hidden, I felt like I was in an old school James Bond film, the decor was just beautiful. We discussed the film so far with Alan and then went back in for the second half. It wasn’t a very happy ending unfortunately as it’s main message was about honour killings so we were a bit shocked at the ending but we were so glad we went to see a Bollywood film. It was such a lovely evening and other than one row of tourists the rest of the theatre was filled with locals so it felt like we were a part of a regular night out at the cinema. It seems to be a big night out too as quite a few people were dressed up and I saw some more beautiful saris. After we got a tuk-tuk back to our hotel and conked as we had an early start the following morning.

Day 2 in Jaipur

I had the American breakfast which had toast, a pancake, a banana, coffee and cornflakes, so I was all set for my trek up to the Amber Fort. Alan organised a tuk-tuk driver for us for the morning.

He picked us up and drove us up to the Amber Fort which we caught glimpses of as we drove closer to it, it was absolutely massive. We walked up the steps to the entrance and passed by tourists on the elephants and plenty of locals trying to sell us photos and bags etc.

Once we got to the top of the steps we were inside the large courtyard area and plenty of tour guides were on us in seconds, we politely said naheji and bought the entry ticket for INR500 into the fort. We walked up another set of steps, through a beautifully decorated arch and into the shade for a little bit. It was already hot and it was only 10 in the morning but thankfully there were plenty of shaded spots in the fort.

We came out to another open courtyard with some lots of lush greenery and even more intricate buildings, I took so many photos, I just loved all of the colours there.

The next courtyard was by far my favourite as it had the infamous hall of mirrors. It was just so beautiful, all the little details, carvings, colours and teensy little mirrors that would catch the light and your eye. I think the photos say it all, although they don’t do it enough justice really, just so pretty.

Across from the hall of mirrors was the summer room and it was filled with various shades of blue and different patterns too, a very peaceful chamber and it provided another view of the hall of mirrors and the surrounding gardens also.

Up one of many steep, large stepped, stairs we reached a series of corridors with different patterned windows and pretty ceilings. We got lost a few times but it was fun to just stroll around and see the fort and surrounding fort walls from different vantage points.

We walked back down to another courtyard where there was a columned structure in the middle, another peaceful and cool spot to chill in for a bit. We made our way to the exit and back down the steps to our tuk-tuk driver.

We had two stop offs at the water palace and the Wind palace to take a few photos and then the driver dropped us off at the shopping centre, all together it cost us INR600 for the tuk tuk for the morning, it was such a handy way to get around.

The tattoos took a lot longer than we thought they were going to take, so we were so relieved we hadn’t left it until that afternoon to head to the Amber Fort and that. Luckily one of the cafes that I had found on Trip Advisor was only 5 minutes away from the tattoo spot so we got a very Western meal at Cafe Bae. The menu was quite extensive and I could not wait to try their desserts, we ordered burgers, I had a bean burger with potato wedges, just yum. For dessert I had the tiramisu which came in this very impressive bell jar structure, it was very theatrical, totally worth it though, just perfect. I also had a tea and I bought a slice of fruitcake to take away. It was such a lovely meal and the cafe was a really chilled out place, everyone was very friendly, one of the managers called us an Uber to bring us back to our hotel, just so helpful. We caught up with everyone back at the hotel and heard what they got up to for their free days and just relaxed for the evening.

Abhaneri – the city of light

Had a nice lie-in this morning for a change, we didn’t leave until 10.30, although I did end up waking up and in my half dozed state I read my watch wrong, thinking it was 9.15 I woke up Claire, she thought she’d slept through her alarm, I went to look at my watch again and realised it was in fact 7.40, bit of a dozy moment, haha. Had the continental brekkie of toast, cornflakes and coffee this morning.

Front of the local bus

We got a tuk-tuk to the bus station which was quite busy, full of people shouting pani (water) and crisps and children begging too, the bus stations can be a little overwhelming and it’s times like these that I’m glad I’m with a tour as I wouldn’t even know how to find the right bus. We threw our bags up above the seats and sat down, three in a row on our first local bus with natural air-con aka breeze through the windows. I had the fruitcake as mid morning snack, it was so homely and plenty to go around too. It took a little longer than expected but we eventually arrived at another town where we were picked up by some private transport. It’s always great craic to head on the local transport in any country, however similar to the chicken buses in Central America, it’s an icky experience in that you’ll be sweating like mad so I felt just wonderful, haha. We bought some fresh fruit and we arrived at the village of Abhaneri after 20 minutes.

Our hotel is like an actual palace, our room is massive, two huge four poster beds and you could have a party in the bathroom it’s that big. We had some fruit for lunch, you could also get lunch there for INR350, but Claire and I just wanted something light. They gave us a complimentary serving of the rice noodle pudding which was really nice of them, it was so creamy and full of cardamon and lovely plump raisins too. We had coffee out on the veranda area and just took in our peaceful surroundings, grateful for the lack of beeping for a change.

We started our walking tour with a local guide who brought us to the Harshat Mata temple first and showed us the different details in the carvings, a smiling face, lotus flowers, peacocks, pineapples etc. We also got a blessing of a teeka on our foreheads too.

We walked across the street towards the Chand Baori which means moon stepwell. I had been so looking forward to seeing this stepwell, which can be seen in The Dark Knight Rises, and it did not disappoint. It was so vast and deep, the steps just seemed to go on and on and on. Our guide showed us where the king and the queens bath would have been and how high the water comes during a good monsoon season. The building with the baths was 300 years old whereas the stepwell was as old as the temple, which was built in the 9th century.

Outside the stepwell there were some very curious but shy local women. The next part of the tour was a village tour and our guide was the hotel owner. We saw how they made the bangles, just fascinating, made out of rubber from a branch and colours were added over hot coals and it was reshaped and a steel bangle put in the middle to keep its shape. I bought the one he made, I just loved the whole process, it only cost INR150. Next we saw a potter at work, he made a cup, little bowl, vase and a big bowl in the space of 5-10 minutes, the wheel was hand spun, so impressive. We were also shown the kiln out the back garden. We watched a family weave a yoga mat with a loom, it takes a week to make a yoga mat. There were peddles underneath it like the peddles in a car, wonderful to watch. We walked through the rest of the village and the guide told us about the payment system in the village which is reliant on credit, you don’t pay till the end of the month, before you paid with goods, such as a bag of millet. We also saw a local grocer who was more than happy to have his photo taken.

We visited a house and were shown a typical bed, which doesn’t need a mattress, it looked almost like one of the woven blankets on top. On the roof of the house we were shown where the chapatis are cooked and how the best chutneys are made. On our way to the sand dam, for the sunset, we saw so many local children who waved at us, shouted hello and ran after the jeep saying hello, they were such happy kids. We had some lovely chai and biscuits while we watched a bit of the sunset and sat back and relaxed in the peace and quiet on a little sand dune, it was so green too. We headed back to the hotel and freshened up for dinner.

While dinner was being prepared some local farmers sang us a few songs and showed us some traditional dancing, they even managed to coax us up dancing a few times too, so much fun. Dinner was buffet style and I had the rice, salad, yellow dal, chapati and spicy kofta (like meatballs but breaded and minus the meat). For dessert I had the rice pudding, which had a much more subtle cardamon flavour and it had a few almonds in it too to add a little crunch. Tomorrow we head to Agra on a private bus, I am beyond excited to see the Taj Mahal but I’m trying not to build up my expectations too much, easier said than done mind. I can’t believe we’ve only a few stops left on the tour, it’s after flying by. Next post will be all about Agra and Varanasi.

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