Travelling round South Asia


by Rumbold
3rd January, 2008 at 8:52 pm    

I am going to India in a week and a half, for two months. I have got all my shots, flight etc. but as it is my first visit there, I was wondering if anyone had any tips. They would be much appreciated. I am sticking to north and west India mainly (UP, Punjab, Gujarat). Advice on the Punjab would be especially helpful.

Also, this can double as a midweek open/new year’s thread.


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  1. saqib — on 3rd January, 2008 at 9:05 pm  

    Rumbold:

    Take some bottled water and avoid fish; you should be okay!

    Actually, that does remind me; when the England cricket went to tour India in 1993, the team management advised the players to stay clear of fish; Mike Gatting, who i think it would be fair to state, was not the most conservative with his consumption, duly went for prawns. Result = the cursed ‘Delhi Belly.’

    Good luck on the trip…incidentally what takes you there…are you searching for an Asian wife?(opps…let’s not start that up again)

  2. Leon — on 3rd January, 2008 at 9:26 pm  

    You going to blog while out there?!

  3. Parvinder — on 3rd January, 2008 at 10:08 pm  

    Take a jumper and waterproof, especially when in Punjab… it’s freezing this time of the year but should clear up approaching Feb.

    How to avoid the delhi belly: as well as avoiding tap water, especially in Delhi, have one green chilli with your roti everyday. It works miracles

    Have fun!

  4. Raul — on 3rd January, 2008 at 10:22 pm  

    Is this a holiday or do you have an agenda, I would include more places there. Himachal Pradesh is nice this time of the year. If you are landing in Bombay, a one day stay over will be enough to catch up with some impressive historic architecture. Bombay has got a lot of history if you are so inclined. A 3 hour detour to Pune to check out the Osho ashram is always interesting for the architecture.

    Regarding fish, specifically avoid prawns, thats more often then not the culprit for people falling sick. Also get your own water or buy it from a central place, there is too much adulteration and fakery with the water bottles so don’t trust them. Same for milk.

    Don’t roam to avoid the usual extortionist rates by mobile operators, buy a prepaid from a local operator here. If you need internet access you can buy a Reliance/Tata Indicom usb card for some 50 pounds plus 10 pounds a month for wireless access-Its only 144kpbs though. The hotels can charge you a bomb for access so always ask before using. 5 star hotels in India are ridiculously expensive and are quite resourceful in extracting more funds from you but you are coming from London so you should be used to it.

    The airports are fully of some very shady characters, preferably have your transport and stay figured out before you land in the various cities. Don’t fall for any sob stories, don’t accompany unknown people however genuine and friendly or good they may appear anywhere even for a short distance. Regarding transport travelling by train does give you a unique perspective of India buts it takes a toll on you, most of the airlines are exactly the same since the problems stem from bad infrastructure so choose the cheapest. Enjoy the trip.

  5. Meh — on 3rd January, 2008 at 10:26 pm  

    Dub (coconut water) is a good choice for safe drinking when a lot of other options are not available.

    Be prepared to be largely overwhelmed, it really is a different world.

    Hang on tight to your valuables, much like many other places in the world, there are large crowds and skillful pickpockets.

    As someone else asked, there are lots more potential tips, but a bit more information on your plans/reasons for going would help…

  6. Desi Italiana — on 3rd January, 2008 at 10:33 pm  

    Rumbold:

    “Traveling around south asia” and

    “I am going to India in a week and a half, for two months.”

    India does not equal South Asia, and South Asia doesn’t equal India :) You’re traveling around India, not “South Asia” in its entirety. ;)

    Don’t drink the water unless it’s bottled or if you’ve treated and boiled it. Avoid salads. Eat only things that have been cooked, boiled. If you eat fruits and vegetables, eat them only if you can peel them. Stay away from seafood. Don’t feed the monkeys because you think they are “cute” and “adorable.” Don’t consume dairy products unless the milk has been boiled.

    I never used to believe in money belts, but I admit that once I wore them, I felt more assured that stuff would not be pickpocketed.

    Make copies of your passport and visa and store them in a place different from the original documents.

  7. Desi Italiana — on 3rd January, 2008 at 10:37 pm  

    Oh, and if you are going to enter mandhirs, make sure you ask if you can (if you’re not Hindu). I haven’t come across a Hindu temple in the north that prohibits non Hindus from entering (I think there are a couple in southern India, though), but you should ask and/or do research. And please make a trip out to some Jain temples, and if you do, remove leather stuff from your personhood. Or just leave it at your dwelling.

  8. Desi Italiana — on 3rd January, 2008 at 10:40 pm  

    Also, it’s a good idea to not walk around barefoot– don’t want to pick up footworms!

    And always carry a roll of toilet paper with you (this is not specific to India– just a travel trip because toilet paper can have several functions.)

  9. rupahuq — on 3rd January, 2008 at 10:53 pm  

    Try to pass yourself off as an NRI [non-resident Indian ie expat] for extra-affection from officialdom and sometimes discount rates for museum entry – although to be honest everything is so cheaply priced in UK terms that on this latter point it won’t break the bank if it doesn’t come off.

  10. Don — on 3rd January, 2008 at 11:17 pm  

    Always know where your towel is.

  11. Sid — on 3rd January, 2008 at 11:24 pm  

    Try and travel by train.
    Take a good digital SLR.
    Keep diaralyte (or its alternative) with you.
    Be prepared to [even just temporarily] leave your social and ideological moorings.
    Always tip the Hijras o/w they’ll put a spell on you.
    Write a travelogue in Moleskine notebooks.
    Wear sensible shoes.
    Always fix the taxi fare before you get in for the ride.

    Once in India I went to buy toilet paper and when I asked the shopkeeper the price, he said, “Life is cheap but toilet paper is expensive”. I was profoundly stirred by this at the time.

  12. FUNKG — on 3rd January, 2008 at 11:32 pm  

    dont be afraid of trying the excellent street food (cooked in front of you) its dirt cheap and check out the stalls frequented by construction and office workers. dont be scared off by the scare stories of hot cooked street foods, personally i have had more problems with hotel food. also like MEH said drink coconut water, excellent for settling the stomach. lastly look for cashew nuts and rotis to acclimatise yourself to the change in diet.

  13. Sunny — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:49 am  

    I’ll be going to India later in the year hopefully!

    My advice in Punjab – grow a moustache and keep twirling it like the Jatts too. Doesn’t matter if you have light skin, you’ll fit right in. Heh.

    The money belt is a good idea. I suggest taking two – one thin one which goes across your shoulder (containing very essential stuff like passport and big notes) and one across your waist containing general money. I travelled around India for two months though by myself and didn’t even get vaguely harassed once, so I wouldn’t worry much about getting mugged.

    If you’re going to eat food, make sure its recently cooked and generally avoid meats.

    I wouldn’t advise buying a card in pounds, since internet access is so cheap there and available everywhere.

  14. Justforfun — on 4th January, 2008 at 12:14 pm  

    Happy New year everybody – just back from the land of the Picts – all is well in our dear leader’s home town. Some natives are restless, but most have been bought off by lots of lolly, so us sassanachs – remember we must keep paying our taxes.

    Any way I see a Pickler is off to Bharat. Safe trip Rumbold. Apart from the food & hygiene tips already given I only add – take a bath plug – they are always missing! Will you be doing your own dhobi – travelling light and fast or going 5 star? On the food front – I’m afraid Rumbold, your love of the Moghuls is going to cost you dear. On any menu where Moghul is in the name of the dish, the price is very expensive !!!! – Its all that butter, milk and cream you see.

    Now Rumbold – do you look English? If so remember you have standards to maintain. I suggest a 6mm buzz cut all over the head before you go – as you never can be sure of decent showers and keeping hair looking good is difficult – and let the beard grow – if grey – even better as it may get you a seat on a crowded bus one day. But apart from a smart appearance – Most important – DO NOT be stingy with your tips, and let people help you. They have to earn a living and don’t be like NRIs who are constantly barating locals and treating them like dirt and refusing to tip generously. Tipping will eventually pay off. Tip the chowkidar of ASI sites well(Archilogical Survey of India) – he will then open up areas of the site that are not usually seen by the stingy. Out in the hinterland you will be forever being asked when are the British returning to kick out the useless bunch in charge at the moment. Be magnanimous and explain that the world is very large and that there are other places that have greater problems to fix first , but they must not worry, the British will be back :-) . India will just have to be patient. Of course now that India is Shining this might be a bit out of date, but some how I doubt it.

    Charity – take lots of pencils and pens and boiled sweets for the kids. Although again as India is Shining, poverty has of course been banished so this might not be the best thing to have on you. But its the thought that counts, right?

    Beggars – Those in the cities are the challenge to your conscience. Only you can decide what you do – I have no advice on this matter. The other challenge in the cities will of course be to your nostrils :-) – no advice here either!

    Anyway – why North India in December? – its a dump at the best of times – why not South India? – the people are much friendlier and not out to rob you every moment of the day! Anyway your ticket is bought and the destination fixed – so here is the Justforfun must see list.

    First MUST Do -
    The Taj by full moon. This is a MUST see and with the love of your life who I hope is with you. Check the phases of the moon now and plan now.
    By the way Fathepur sikhri is a ‘short’ bus ride away.

    Second MUST do –
    “Shikari”

    Now people will be forever giving you lists of palaces and forts etc to visit, but these are diversions from the main arena – the wild spaces of India. Of course you don’t have to actually kill anything. Plan now – what is your bag Rumbold? Things are constantly changing in this field. Fishing? – UP and the foothills will be great for this – Scotland and highlands are a disney themepark compared to India for this sort of stuff. Tiger – harder to find these days – but the Jim Corbet Park is worth a visit but check out the other big sactuaries because the whole nature conservation areana is in flux. Just spending the night up a tree in Leopard country is worth while and life enhancing and more memorable than any Moghul palace – let the Mowgli that lives in all of us out for once. If this is too late in the day to plan, then I suggest Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary http://www.bharatpursanctury.com/- close to Agra, and while it might not be the migrating season, it will give you small insight into the natural beauty. Its easy to get around – you can hire a bike and cycle around!! Remember the best time of day in India is Dawn, as the mist rises and the smell of the dew and grass lingers and the cooking fires are lit

    Forts and palaces – Now these are really just tourist traps (but bear in mind my tip about the ASI caretakers – ;-) to see behind the scenes and get away from the tourists)

    In Punjab – the Golden temple – but the rest is just farms and farms and farms and farms and tractors! …. and PathanKot Bus station! This is the HUB and jumping off point for HP, Kashmir and Ladakh. It is winter now so not sure what will be running , but a bus trip up to Chumba will get the flavour of the hills and test your vertigo. Pathankot bus station is chaos and impossible to make out which bus you need – my tip – pay some one to get your seat. He will run and jump onto your incoming bus and turf out the occupant and keep the seat safe untill the bus turns around and is ready to depart. This will save alot of hassle. Remember my tip about not being stingy. Everything is available and there is a service charge for everything. While there, a trip down the Beas from as close to its source to the Pak border would be an adventure. Full of historical sights and scenes from antiquity.

    When in this region avoid tagging onto any French groups – they are into exteme sports in a big way and will be heading high up into the hills. And while it will be a great adventure and the food will be good and the women enchanting, the extreme mountaineering might get you killed!

    Gujurat – Make for the coast and Daman and if possible Dui – take in the atmosphere and feel why the Portugese came. Ahmedabad has a few sites and the ‘stepped wells’ are worth a visit as is the local vegitarian fare. The rest India has better for the tourist – people don’t come to Britain to go to Birmingham.

    UP – see my advice about its foot hills and Shikari – the rest is in the ‘rough guide’

    One final tip – they do drink their whisky with soda – now I hate this but do not be put off – it makes Indian Whisky palatable :-) . One can ask for Whisky and ice – this is not unusual or frowned on. Probably best to stick to Gin and tonics though. Indian whisky are really not worth it and that includes the ‘scotch’ as it will be fake anyway! The beers are good but they are not your warm ales. They are chilled and have more flavour than your average British lager.

    Next time – remember South India.

    Justforfun

  15. Jai — on 4th January, 2008 at 12:18 pm  

    Rumbold,

    Aha, finally going back to your roots and visiting the “motherland” eh, ? Good, good ;)

    Everyone else here has already given some excellent advice. I can add the following:

    1. Buy those two Lonely Planet books I mentioned on your Mughal open thread recently — the one on India and Rajasthan, Delhi & Punjab respectively. They both include extensive further advice for foreign travellers, and obviously also include a wealth of information on places to visit and the history of those areas, along with detailed breakdowns on places to stay, eat etc.

    2. UP: I’m sure you’re already familiar with the usual touristy places to go (Agra, Fatehpur Sikri etc). Lucknow is also great, due to the Nawabi legacy — there are still some buildings & monuments from those times, and the cuisine is also renowned (the place is also very famous in Indian culture due to some stereotypes about the impact of courtly etiquette, poetry etc on the local society, although I don’t know how much of that still exists in the modern “India Shining” era). If you have time, I’d also recommend visiting Haridwar, Rishikesh and Varanasi (the first two are regarded as being part of “Uttarakhand” these days).

    3. Rajasthan: I noticed you didn’t mention this as one of the regions you plan to visit, but I very strongly recommend you go to this state if you want to check out the whole “Rajput experience”. There’s obviously a strong historical connection with the Mughal era too. Some of the fortresses and palaces concerned (and the history behind them) are mindblowing; main “essential” places to visit are Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, and Jaiselmer (time-permitting, others are Bikaner, Ajmer, Ambar, and Pushkar). Depending on how long you plan to spend at each city, you should be able to visit all these places within 2 weeks, although I’d recommend you stay longer if you have the time. Some other cities/towns are also excellent, eg. for “painted havelis/mansions” etc. Check out the aforementioned guide books for more details. Depending on how much spare cash you have (and what kind of “tourist experience” you’re looking for during your visit to India), I also recommend you stay in the various 5-Star palace-hotels which are available in the major royal cities.

    4. Punjab: Amritsar and Anandpur Sahib, if you want to check out the major Sikh religious centres (take a large handkerchief to cover your head with in the temple premises, and do not carry any alcohol or tobacco/cigarettes with you at the time. Also eat in the “langer”/communal kitchen with the large number of other visitors if you get the chance). Undertake the requisite background reading about Sikh history and the lives of the 10 Gurus in order to gain a thorough understanding of “what it’s all about”, since both of these places had an absolutely massive role in the history of Sikhs.

    Other good places to visit include Patiala (it was a Sikh Rajput princely state and therefore has its own fascinating history — especially since it was not a part of Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s empire — along with still having the palace, fort etc), and the Wagah border between India & Pakistan.

    I could recommend a few more places in Punjab which you should check out during your trip, but unfortunately they’re all in Pakistan now !

    5. Gujarat: Ahmedabad, for Mahatma Gandhi’s “Sabarmati Ashram” (which is very well-maintained, and they have an excellent on-site museum). Various other locations in the Kathiawar region are also good, particularly for monuments and buildings which are legacies of Rajput and Muslim rulers respectively. Much less touristy than Rajasthan, but still plenty to see.

    6. If you want to splash out, go on the “Palace on Wheels”, although bear in mind that this will be a full-scale 5-star experience where you’ll be shielded from a lot of things in terms of your environment and the people who’ll be travelling with you, and will therefore be very different to trekking around these regions on your own. It’s fantastic if you want to generally be pampered and see the region safely, comfortably, and in luxury, but obviously it depends again on what you’re looking for.

    7. Go and see one of the big Bollywood blockbusters at a large cinema if you get the chance. It can be a slightly different experience to checking out your local UCI, although there are now also a lot of excellent multiplexes in India too.

    Along with all the obvious historical stuff, places like Delhi, Chandigarh and Ahmedabad are also very modern cities and they have plenty of modern amenities like shopping malls, nice restaurants etc. Chandigarh even has some golf courses if you’re into that sort of thing ;)

    This is all I can think of for now, but I’ll add anything else that comes to mind later on. Hope this helps.

  16. Paul Moloney — on 4th January, 2008 at 2:23 pm  

    “Try to pass yourself off as an NRI [non-resident Indian ie expat] for extra-affection from officialdom and sometimes discount rates for museum entry”

    Does that really work? My wife’s ex-boss – a Malaysian Indian – said they could easily tell him apart from an expat local, so no cheapies.

    P.

  17. Deep Singh — on 4th January, 2008 at 3:27 pm  

    Shame that the Harballab festival in the Devi Talab Mandir is over (usually concludes before new year), it is one of the great classical music festivals in Punjab (of course, Calcutta is the true Mecca of Hindustani Classical Sangeet!).

    Be sure to look out for any classical music recitals, sure we have all the great artists visit the UK and US, however the performances one will see in India are far superior to what one can get to hear and see outside.

    Enjoy!

  18. Ravi Naik — on 4th January, 2008 at 3:28 pm  

    Pretty good advice from everyone. Not to give in to any clichés, but I have several friends who have gone to India, and some have loved it, others couldn’t wait to get into the plane and come back home – no one was indifferent to India. Those who didn’t like India couldn’t get past the poverty, the pollution and lack of sanitary conditions in many places.

    I think for the first visitor, the apparent caos, noise (Indians drive by honking) and poverty can be overwhelming, so the first days you might need to adapt your western mindset to the Indian one. Once you are able to achieve that, you will enjoy India a lot more.

    I wish I could go to India every year, it is an amazing place. I hope you have a nice time, Rumbold.

  19. Rumbold — on 4th January, 2008 at 4:08 pm  

    Thanks to everyone for all the great tips.

    Saqib:

    “Good luck on the trip…incidentally what takes you there…are you searching for an Asian wife?(opps…let’s not start that up again).”

    Heh.

    Leon:

    “You going to blog while out there?!”

    I am going to try, but can’t make any promises.

    Parvinder:

    “Take a jumper and waterproof, especially when in Punjab… it’s freezing this time of the year but should clear up approaching Feb.”

    Thanks. I had not really thought about rain. The weather we have in Britain at the moment is my favourite sort (cold, grey and dry), so hopefully there will be some of that in India as well.

    Raul:

    “Is this a holiday or do you have an agenda, I would include more places there.”

    I suppose that I want to re-establish the Raj (heh), but it is primarily a historical holiday.

    “Don’t roam to avoid the usual extortionist rates by mobile operators, buy a prepaid from a local operator here.”

    But do all mobiles work in India? And by here, do you mean India or Britain?

    Meh:

    “Dub (coconut water) is a good choice for safe drinking when a lot of other options are not available.”

    Good advice- I had not heard that one before.

    Desi Italiana:

    “India does not equal South Asia, and South Asia doesn’t equal India You’re traveling around India, not “South Asia” in its entirety.”

    Okay, fair point. I would love to go to Lahore, but it is just a bit dangerous at the moment.

    “Don’t feed the monkeys because you think they are “cute” and “adorable.” Don’t consume dairy products unless the milk has been boiled.”

    Yes, the monkeys are pretty dangerous. The deputy cm of Delhi was killed fairly recently after falling out of a first-floor window while trying to fend off a monkey attack. I did not know that about dairy products, cheers. Also, the money belt and photcopies are really good ideas as well.

    “Also, it’s a good idea to not walk around barefoot– don’t want to pick up footworms!”

    I never walk around barefoot- I’m British.

  20. halima — on 4th January, 2008 at 4:18 pm  

    Rumbold

    They say you can divide people in this world according to whether they love or hate Kolkata… Tip for the return trip.

  21. Sid — on 4th January, 2008 at 4:22 pm  

    The street food is absolutely amazing in Kolkata, I agree with FUNKG.

  22. Refresh — on 4th January, 2008 at 4:31 pm  

    Rumbold

    “I suppose that I want to re-establish the Raj (heh), but it is primarily a historical holiday.”

    That’s great to hear. I do hope you will be taking lots of very good photographs to document your trip.

  23. Rumbold — on 4th January, 2008 at 4:32 pm  

    Rupa:

    “Try to pass yourself off as an NRI [non-resident Indian ie expat] for extra-affection from officialdom and sometimes discount rates for museum entry.”

    I could try- maybe they will think I am Persian and take pity on me.

    Don:

    “Always know where your towel is.”

    Don’t forget the Babel fish.

    Sid:

    “Try and travel by train.”

    That is pretty much my plan. I am not going to take any internal flights.

    “Always tip the Hijras o/w they’ll put a spell on you.”

    Who are the hijras?

    FUNKG:

    “dont be afraid of trying the excellent street food (cooked in front of you) its dirt cheap and check out the stalls frequented by construction and office workers. dont be scared off by the scare stories of hot cooked street foods, personally i have had more problems with hotel food.”

    Really? Most people tend to say don’t trust street vendors. I don’t really trust the ones in this country.
    Sunny:

    “If you’re going to eat food, make sure its recently cooked and generally avoid meats.”

    Avoid meats? I’m sorry, I do not understand.

    “I wouldn’t advise buying a card in pounds, since internet access is so cheap there and available everywhere.”

    That’s good.

    Justforfun:

    “Apart from the food & hygiene tips already given I only add – take a bath plug – they are always missing! Will you be doing your own dhobi – travelling light and fast or going 5 star?”

    Take own bath plug. Okay- I would never have thought of that in a million years. I am mainly staying in budget hotels (£10-£15 per night), though will have to shell out for my final few days in Bombay.

    “Now Rumbold – do you look English?”

    I was going to get my hair cut really short (which is my preferred style anyway), to avoid having to cut it when I am out there.

    “But apart from a smart appearance – Most important – DO NOT be stingy with your tips, and let people help you. They have to earn a living and don’t be like NRIs who are constantly barating locals and treating them like dirt and refusing to tip generously. Tipping will eventually pay off.”

    What is a good tip to give?

    “Out in the hinterland you will be forever being asked when are the British returning to kick out the useless bunch in charge at the moment. Be magnanimous and explain that the world is very large and that there are other places that have greater problems to fix first , but they must not worry, the British will be back.”

    I tell you JFF, if anyone says that to me then I will immediatly hand over a 1000 rupee note before collapsing in a fit of pure joy. Do some people actually say things like that?

    “Anyway – why North India in December? – its a dump at the best of times – why not South India? – the people are much friendlier and not out to rob you every moment of the day!”

    To see the Mughal heartlands, and to avoid the heat.

    “Plan now – what is your bag Rumbold? Things are constantly changing in this field.”

    I am just going to ‘go with the flow’ and do things that I come across. Fishing sounds nice.

    “Gujurat – Make for the coast and Daman and if possible Dui – take in the atmosphere and feel why the Portugese came.”

    I was also going to spend a couple of weeks in Surat.

  24. Rumbold — on 4th January, 2008 at 5:03 pm  

    Jai:

    “Aha, finally going back to your roots and visiting the “motherland” eh,? Good, good.”

    Heh.

    “If you have time, I’d also recommend visiting Haridwar, Rishikesh and Varanasi (the first two are regarded as being part of “Uttarakhand” these days).”

    Time is a bit of a problem. I have two months, but I want to savour each place, rather than moving on every other day, so I plan to only visit ten cities at most for any length of time (Delhi, Agra, maybe Pataudi, Chandigarh, Amristsar, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Surat, Diu and Bombay).

    “Rajasthan: I noticed you didn’t mention this as one of the regions you plan to visit, but I very strongly recommend you go to this state if you want to check out the whole “Rajput experience”.”

    I will go through Rajastan from the Punjab to Gujarat, but will probably spend less time there then in other states. This is not because it is uninteresting, but time constraints really.

    “Punjab: Amritsar and Anandpur Sahib, if you want to check out the major Sikh religious centres (take a large handkerchief to cover your head with in the temple premises, and do not carry any alcohol or tobacco/cigarettes with you at the time. Also eat in the “langer”/communal kitchen with the large number of other visitors if you get the chance). Undertake the requisite background reading about Sikh history and the lives of the 10 Gurus in order to gain a thorough understanding of “what it’s all about”, since both of these places had an absolutely massive role in the history of Sikhs.”

    Thanks for the advice about covering my head- does it have to be a hankerchief, or can it be any sort of covering?

    “This is all I can think of for now, but I’ll add anything else that comes to mind later on. Hope this helps.”

    You, like everyone else, have been immensly helpful. Thank you.

    Paul:

    “Does that really work? My wife’s ex-boss – a Malaysian Indian – said they could easily tell him apart from an expat local, so no cheapies.”

    Yes, I suspect that will be the case.

    Deep Singh:

    “Be sure to look out for any classical music recitals, sure we have all the great artists visit the UK and US, however the performances one will see in India are far superior to what one can get to hear and see outside.”

    I am not sure of the merits of the sitar, but I shall give it a go.

    Ravi:

    “I think for the first visitor, the apparent caos, noise (Indians drive by honking) and poverty can be overwhelming, so the first days you might need to adapt your western mindset to the Indian one. Once you are able to achieve that, you will enjoy India a lot more.”

    I do like the calm, so this will be quite a challenge.

    Halima and Sid:

    If I had time, I would go to Bengal.

    Refresh:

    “That’s great to hear. I do hope you will be taking lots of very good photographs to document your trip.”

    I will, then superimpose the Union Flag/Jack onto them.

  25. Sid — on 4th January, 2008 at 5:15 pm  

    Rumbold, Hijras are cross-dressing eunuchs who have their own communities. They can usually be seen dancing and singing in weddings and birthdays and on the streets. And they have a knack of appearing in households which have had a newborn baby. Don’t know how they know but to refuse to pay them is risking their wrath and a curse!!!

  26. Desi Italiana — on 4th January, 2008 at 5:58 pm  

    Hey Rumbold, I might be in Nepal while you are in India. Come visit me!

  27. Desi Italiana — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:00 pm  

    Rumbold and Sid:

    ““Life is cheap but toilet paper is expensive”. I was profoundly stirred by this at the time.”

    Rumbold, say things like this and you’ll be a big hit with the ladies.

    Sid, marry me.

  28. halima — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:02 pm  

    Desi

    Send a blog thread out for tips on Nepal when you set out.. would be happy to suggest, I’m here for a year at least.

  29. Sid — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:04 pm  

    Desi, will you be my number two?

  30. Sid — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:07 pm  

    halima, you’re in Nepal? Eesh! One of my favourite places on earth.

  31. halima — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:09 pm  

    I feel Eesh, too, when I look out from my window this time of the year, real pretty snow caps. Just so you know, it seems to be a favourite holiday place for Bengalis..

  32. Sid — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:13 pm  

    I could easily live there and send the kids to Darjeeling or Woodstock in Mussoorie for school.

  33. halima — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:19 pm  

    You, me and a whole loada other foreignors seem to have the same idea… since the 1960s by the looks of their fashion…

  34. Desi Italiana — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:19 pm  

    Where in Nepal are you, Halima? I’ll be in Kathmandu.

    Sid:

    “Desi, will you be my number two?”

    Number two to whom? If it’s to someone else, then nope. I’ll be your number one, though ;)

  35. halima — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:23 pm  

    Kathmandu, and in Patan…if that means anything. Do get touch. Can definately suggest what/where/to do.

  36. Desi Italiana — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:27 pm  

    I’ll be in Patan as well :)

    http://italiandesi.wordpress.com/2007/12/24/headed-to-nepal/

    Haven’t bought my plane ticket, but I should, though. I’m scared that for some reason, the price might exponentially climb and then I’ll be forced to fork over more than 3 grand or something like that.

  37. Desi Italiana — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:29 pm  

    Rumbold:

    I forgot to add: take a washcloth with you.

  38. halima — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:36 pm  

    Desi

    Had a look at your blog.. It will be the best decision you ever made… Terribly exciting place to be if you’re into international affairs – one of the few places on the planet i know which is trying to shed it’s feudal past and find it’s modern feet – all poised between the 21st century’s two superpowers. Great time to watch from the side-lines, so to speak, as the New Nepal takes shape. I need not go on about the country’s natural beauty.

    Will send you an email to yr blog.

  39. Jai — on 4th January, 2008 at 6:53 pm  

    Rumbold,

    Time is a bit of a problem. I have two months, but I want to savour each place, rather than moving on every other day, so I plan to only visit ten cities at most for any length of time (Delhi, Agra, maybe Pataudi, Chandigarh, Amristsar, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Surat, Diu and Bombay).

    If at all possible, I would very, very strongly recommend that you try to re-jig your itinerary to fit Jodhpur and Jaisalmer in there (and Udaipur if at all possible — it’s in the south of Rajasthan so can be reached from Ahmedabad too). Or schedule a return visit asap ;) Trust me, you will not regret it. You’ll understand what I mean when you go there.

    I will go through Rajastan from the Punjab to Gujarat, but will probably spend less time there then in other states. This is not because it is uninteresting, but time constraints really.

    That’s a real shame. Man, since you’re aiming to explore the “Mughal heartlands” (to use your phrase), historically Rajasthan — or Rajputana, as it used to be called — was one of the biggest strongholds of all ! There is still a staggering amount of architecture there which reflects this — palaces, absolutely gigantic fortresses, ruins, old battlefields, remains of medieval architecture still highly visible within the modern cities etc. To some extent, more than there is in any of the other regions you plan to visit.

    Thanks for the advice about covering my head- does it have to be a hankerchief, or can it be any sort of covering?

    The general custom for male (non-turbaned) visitors is to use a large handkerchief (ie. not a hat, cap etc). It’s usually tied in a certain way, though — if you know Sunny “in real life” then he should be able to show you how to do it, as would anyone else you know who has been to a gurdwara.

  40. Sid — on 4th January, 2008 at 8:22 pm  

    halima, #38 – sounds fascinating. Care to do a guest post for PP?

  41. Justforfun — on 4th January, 2008 at 8:44 pm  

    Rumbold it looks like you will be sticking to the plains – a simple lightweight water proof fleece should be fine. In the hills you will need more but don’t worry – just travel light and buy locally if you need it.

    Tips – I give 10% for waiters and the like. As your not going 5 star we can forget the doormen, but still a few 20-50 rupee notes for helpfull backroom hotel staff would be good – (or its more nowadays – been 10 years since last went on a trip.) The sort who have taken your washing and brought it all back folded and ironed and not bashed about too much. For taxis, guides etc and transport just pay with the note one up from the fare and indicate that the coins are the tip. If the fare is not on a meter, then get a quote befor setting off. It is important to have lots of low denomination notes with you so that you can pay just over the correct amount, or you will forever be met with – ” No Change Sahib” as you hand over your 500 note and they look at you offering the change in boiled sweets!!!. As you go out for the day from your hotel – change lareg notes into small at the desk and get the hotel phone number incase you need to call to arrange to get back!

    For bribes to caretakers at historical sites etc to see around the off limit areas, phrase the question something along the lines you are looking for the academic historical guide for your research. Have you a Academic ID that you can show. There will always be an old boy who will want to show off his knowledge of the site. Ask him for a quote and if it sounds OK then fine. You can haggle by halving it and see what he says, or use the opportunity to ask for the VVVIP tour at that price and to allow photography ( These old boys are the type who will probably win your 1000 rupee bounty :-) ) Some places ban photography as a way of increasing their earnings as you have to bribe them to take pictures. It part of the game. Just remember not to get to fixated with trying to get the cheapest price. Your holiday is too short to waste on amounts that are inconsequetial to your self but alot for them – what does it matter if its 50 or 100 rupees. It’ll just make the NRI behind you in the queue look like a cheapskate as they haggle away.

    Fishing – Ask at any of the Forestry offices and they will point you in the right direction and suggest ghillis etc. They may have equipement, but perhaps a small collapsable rod and spinners should be put in your bag – flyfishing will just be too complicated and really only for streams in the foothills.

    This brings me to the hotels – if you are out of the main cities to see sites off the beaten track or out fishing or whatever – then an alternative is Dak Bungalows. These are cheap, simple, clean and well located. They are really for the travelling government officials , but if there is space they do take in tourists.

    http://www.hindu.com/mp/2004/05/10/stories/2004051000460200.htm – just googled this article to give you a flavour. Sounds like your sort of place.

    I second what Jai says – Rajastan is the ‘antiquity’ state – all the forts are impressive – Jodhpur and Jaiselmer for their fairy tale appearance, Chittor for is sheer size, Pushkar lake for its Brahama temples – the only one in India I believe. I would skew your holiday from Gujurat and spend more time in Rajastan.

    Surat – never been there – but when there you will have to get in some Parsi food. And in Bombay of course. Vikrant should be able to provide a list of the best places to eat.

    Are you a member of any of these clubs? http://www.bombaygymkhana.com/affiliates.asp – The Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club perhaps? – if so then the Bombay Gym is a good refuge in South Bombay when finishing off your trip. Its very convenient eating and relaxing after a hard days shopping for everthing in South Bombay. The scotch here will not be fake and everything is very proper if you get my meaning – you can even wonder around the maidans traying to talent spot the next Dhoni as all the park cricket is played on the parks around the Gym . The Willingdon club http://www.willingdonclub.com/ is also a good refuge and is close to the race course – worth a visit to see the races if you don’t want to shop. Just been to the site – its not even online – shows you how old fashioned and establishment it is. Take your Golf Club membership card – it may get you in. If you are any further North that the race course in Bombay – then you are not in Bombay ;-) but in a nightmare.

    No one has mentioned shopping – personally I would wait till you get to Bombay to buy – it will be more expensive , but you won’t have to lug it all around on your holiday, and the 5 star hotels all have shopping arcades. Go to the Taj Hotel by the India Gate if you must, or Chor bazaar just for the experiance at the other end of the spectrum.

    So we have the packing list :-
    – bath plug, the smart drip dry creasless white shirt, tie, the pair of good slacks, the polished shoes, Golf membership card, University library card, the collapsable fishing rod, the box of spinners, the camera, the spare batteries and sd cards. (Talking of batteries, if you need to recharge stuff, take a light bayonet fitting rather than a plug. The plugs vary in size and shape al over India – depending on antiquity, but the light bulb bayonets are all the same !)

    The rest is mere fluff

    I think you are ready to go.

    Justforfun

  42. Justforfun — on 4th January, 2008 at 8:56 pm  

    I forgot – “toilet paper” as its been mentioned – when in Rome do as the Romans – its best to learn to wipe your bottom Indian fashion with a jug of water and your LEFT hand. Right hand for eating.

    Toilet paper – my god what ever next! Best to start practicing now. And as you are going by train , get your better half to help you practice by shaking you from side to side as you practice squatting – so you are practiced and ready. No sh****ing is allowed in while the train is stationary at a station – for obvious reasons – it is only a hole in the floor.

    Justforfun

  43. halima — on 4th January, 2008 at 9:52 pm  

    Sid..

    It is interesting .. and would be nice to read about a other South Asian country than our usual suspects…

    I have impartiality issues, so can’t scribble, woulda loved to otherwise.

  44. Desi Italiana — on 4th January, 2008 at 10:30 pm  

    Halima:

    “It is interesting .. and would be nice to read about a other South Asian country than our usual suspects…”

    I second Sid; I think it would be really interesting to read your thoughts on this.

    Also, maybe travel tips, things to know, etc. I’ve done research on Nepal and Kathmandu, but reading a lot about it doesn’t entirely cut it, you know?

  45. halima — on 5th January, 2008 at 5:58 am  

    will mull..

    Travel tips…

    If working, you’ll be spending a lot of time in Kathmandu, which great in itself, is very different from the rest of Nepal. Go out and see Nepalganj and the urban centres of the country. I must do this myself..

    If hoping for a phone, ask your work people to apply for Nepal national mobile now – it takes 3 mths processing, and all other mobile networks are less reliable.

    Mountain bike – get one from States, if you’re into it, Nepal is one of the best countries in the world for it… If you like adventure sports, they have the longest bungee jump in the world here, beats even the longest drop in New Zealand.. Ahem. Not for me. But can do canyoning which is just as good, and some great rapids for rafting up to grade 6 and 7.

    Trekking – except for good pair of boots, can get everything here.. All good quality, and good fakes, too. Northface do a sale every now and then.

    Difficult to exchange foreign currency, rely on ATM but commission … But Indian currency is acceptable here.

    A good Scandanavian made duvet – maybe several if you are me! Best thing I bought out with me.

    I also make it my business to invest in a good Swiss army knife or leathermans wherever I go.. Perfect for random needs.

    Nepal is the worst place in the world for contracting infections from food and water – so do not under any circumstances, drink anythng but filtered or bottled, and no salads EVER during Monsoon, even iodine can’t protect you, all the ex=pats go down like flies..

    Oh and the caste system here is alive and kicking .. more so than India it would seem. Whatever your passions are towards this practice, it pays to be aware.

    Expect fuel strikes, long queues, electricity blackouts, Nepal bands (like hartals in Bangladesh) and the most dreadful pollution – eats away at your beautoful skin!

    But they respect vegetarians here.

    You can get pretty much everything here, except good sports equipment, but people seem to run off to Bangkok for shopping so there’s that option.

    Can get visa on arrival, carry 2 pics.

    I wonder also, if you should be looking into house share.. the reason I say this, is that there are lots of ex-pats, and limited housing with UN mission in town, and with cost of living being so low, you can afford big places so sharing is cost-effective… Ask your boss to help you make queries.

    Some say it’s difficult being a single female here, but I would disagree, there is a huge party scene as far as I can tell, mostly around the UN and emergency folk.. They work hard and play hard.

    and if anything else, just ask..

    You’re going to have the best ride of your life – I know people who have worked in Nepal and then went onto other countries in the world – and they say, you never quite get the same hit as Nepal again!

  46. Desi Italiana — on 5th January, 2008 at 7:19 am  

    Halima,

    Thanks so much for your tips!

    “there are lots of ex-pats, and limited housing with UN mission in town, and with cost of living being so low, you can afford big places so sharing is cost-effective…”

    I know I shouldn’t be picky, but I really would prefer to not share with expats. I think it defeats the whole purpose of even choosing to live in another country.

    Also, I’m going to look very hard for an affordable place for myself. I really, really need my own space, especially because I’ve got 50 million things to do, and often I’ll be bring my work home.

  47. halima — on 5th January, 2008 at 7:28 am  

    I wouldn’t worry about ‘affortable’ housing.. Nepal is technically the poorest country in South Asia (depending on whether one counts Afghanistan…).

    Be selective !

  48. Desi Italiana — on 5th January, 2008 at 7:47 am  

    “I wouldn’t worry about ‘affortable’ housing.. Nepal is technically the poorest country in South Asia”

    Well, it has to be “affordable” for me and in Nepali rupees– I’m not going there with a lot of US dollars, my salary is going to be in the Nepali currency. The first three months I’m going to be making 25,000 NPR a month, and that kind of scares me because it doesn’t seem to be enough to live without stressing out about the basics.

  49. Desi Italiana — on 5th January, 2008 at 7:48 am  

    “Oh and the caste system here is alive and kicking .. more so than India it would seem.”

    Yeah, I got that sense when I was researching…. ugh, I hate having to deal with that caste stuff.

  50. halima — on 5th January, 2008 at 8:05 am  

    Hmmmm.

    Then you need to be smarter than the average x-pat – not terribly difficult: don’t speak, just nod because you can ‘pass’ for being one of the many ethnic/linguistic groups in Nepal, no doubt.. walk around in salwar kameez and speak Hindi if you can, otherwise, if suspected of being an x-pat they charge you like day light robbery.

    But Patan is quite expensive and rental market is likely to stay high for as long as the elections haven’t taken place So ask your boss to source out best options, otherwise will be hard for you to look alone in new environment. I am in temporary place and move into a permanent place in March now, so takes a while! But I have been picky maybe that’s why.

  51. Desi Italiana — on 5th January, 2008 at 8:10 am  

    “So ask your boss to source out best options,”

    Ms. Boss says that they are going to help me out to negotiate rent at an acceptable place. In the meantime, they are offering to let me stay at the guest house of the building where I’ll be working at.

    Them helping me will be better, nah?

    “walk around in salwar kameez and speak Hindi if you can, otherwise”

    I was planning on doing that anyway, not to distance myself from expats, but because I really miss wearing a salwaar kameez on a daily basis without everyone staring at me, asking me “where I’m from,” and so on :)

    Hindi’s a little rusty, though. I don’t think Gujarati, which is my native tongue, will get me far. At least I can read Hindi/Nepali, although unfortunately, I don’t always understand everything that I am reading.

  52. halima — on 5th January, 2008 at 8:29 am  

    Desi

    True, really nice to be able to wear Salwar Kameez and also none of those styles like the NGO workers wear in Bangladesh – no offence, but I like styles that are modern and not the equivalant of Laura Ashley in India or Bangladesh! Joke, (sorry) if I have offended anyone who buys clothes from fair trade shops in South Asia. Shopping eh, my favourite topic in the world, always manage to get back to it somehow..

    Hindi is not my native either, only learned from Bollywood, so to speak, but no-one will notice! That’s the great thing about this country – it’s linguistic diversity… You’re already ahead if you can read Hindi/Nepali.

  53. FUNKG — on 5th January, 2008 at 9:55 pm  

    please don’t be put off by the advice not eat street food. nearly every rickshaw driver will try to direct you to an expensive tacky ‘upmarket’ restarant. why would you want to travel all that way to eat in a western style restarant? not me. i bought an excellent veg curry, boiled rice and roti for the equivalent of 20p in kerala 2004. if you see a stallholder with a sizzling hot pan of oil frying breadfruit or plaitain chips, you can be assured it’s ok. the same would go for fried fish, boiling hot rice and steaming hot vegetable curries. i am of carribean heritage so culturally it’s not really ‘my food’ i did not even have a trace of the run’s and im british. i have done the same in marrachech, bangkok, st lucia etc and im still standing!

  54. FUNKG — on 5th January, 2008 at 10:00 pm  

    oh yeah i forgot to mention. if you want to get any clothes made bring a something physical they can copy . DON’T show them a picture from a magazine. I asked a tailor to copy a YSL suit from Arena magazine. When he completed it, I ended up looking like an Indian civil servant. I had some excellent shirts with superior cotton tailor made, cost me about £4 each.

  55. Desi Italiana — on 6th January, 2008 at 10:08 am  

    Funk:

    “i have done the same in marrachech, bangkok, st lucia etc and im still standing!”

    True to dat. Like I hog, I snorted everything in sight on the streets of Marrakesh. Street food there was so effing awesome and yummy, and I would have to say that the street food was some of the best stuff I’ve eaten

    NOTE TO PICKLERS: If you will be in Marrakesh during the summer, go eat food found at the stalls in the major plaza. “Amazing” is an understatement.

    But ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS avoid eggs in Spain.

    Let me repeat that:

    AVOID EGGS IN SPAIN. If you find an egg in a soup, which you will because most soups in Spain throw in an egg, pick it out and put it aside.

    “When he completed it, I ended up looking like an Indian civil servant.”

    That is so cute. Post a pic of that, yes?

  56. FUNKG — on 6th January, 2008 at 4:36 pm  

    sorry desi i have no pics, when i got back i had the trousers tapered but the tailor tapered it too much so it was £65 down the drain!

  57. Sally — on 6th January, 2008 at 6:44 pm  

    Don’t even brush your teeth with tap water. Use bottled water for that as well. It’s a mistake some people make. Try and make contact with people out there who you might meet up with. If you are visiting Punjab you will likely meet some British people at places like the Golden Temple, and if you have Indian friends here ask them for contacts or friends or family over there who might meet you and show you around or just to have a friendly face there.

  58. Sally — on 6th January, 2008 at 6:45 pm  

    Oh, and don’t be afraid to grow a beard whilst you’re out there.

  59. Sid — on 6th January, 2008 at 6:56 pm  

    Lashings of talcum powder and airy underwear will help prevent ‘Sweaty Balzac’ (sic).

  60. Pali — on 7th January, 2008 at 1:18 am  

    Gujarat is not a ‘mughal heartland’

    You’d be better off visiting Rajasthan if that’s your interest.

  61. Desi Italiana — on 7th January, 2008 at 3:15 am  

    “sorry desi i have no pics,”

    Well, FUNKG, you mustn’t tease like that.

    Maybe Rumbold can dress up like an Indian Civil Servant and then post a pic here.

  62. Rumbold — on 7th January, 2008 at 12:39 pm  

    Desi Italiana:

    Heh. Thanks.

    Jai:

    “If at all possible, I would very, very strongly recommend that you try to re-jig your itinerary to fit Jodhpur and Jaisalmer in there (and Udaipur if at all possible — it’s in the south of Rajasthan so can be reached from Ahmedabad too). Or schedule a return visit asap Trust me, you will not regret it. You’ll understand what I mean when you go there.”

    I’ve re-jigged my iternary and will spend a week and a half in Jaipur and Ajmer, by cutting down time in Gujarat. I had to go to Jaipur when I realised that the reason is was died pink was to welcome the future Edward VII to the city. Ajmer was where the East India Company recieved their first firman (permission to trade), so I am looking forward to going there.

    Justforfun:

    Thanks for the tips about tips. The university card is also a good idea, hopefully that will get me into a few places (I can pretend that I am doing some research). I am not a golf player, so I think I will pass on the golf clubs. Am not looking forward to the toilet paper situation.

    “light bulb bayonets.”

    Sorry, what are they?

    FUNKG:

    “oh yeah i forgot to mention. if you want to get any clothes made bring a something physical they can copy . DON’T show them a picture from a magazine. I asked a tailor to copy a YSL suit from Arena magazine. When he completed it, I ended up looking like an Indian civil servant.”

    Heh- good point.

    Sally:

    “Don’t even brush your teeth with tap water. Use bottled water for that as well. It’s a mistake some people make.”

    Thanks. I will probably end up making the same mistake.

    Sid:

    “Lashings of talcum powder and airy underwear will help prevent ‘Sweaty Balzac’ (sic).”

    Now you are just scaring me.

    Pali:

    “Gujarat is not a ‘mughal heartland’

    You’d be better off visiting Rajasthan if that’s your interest.”

    Yes, describing Gujarat as a Mughal heartland was a bit ambitous.

  63. Justforfun — on 8th January, 2008 at 5:14 pm  

    Light bulb – bayonet fitting

    You know – the old fashioned bayonet fitting for an ordinary bulb – You can get ( or could get from all good colonial outfitters :-) )the bayonet fitting attached to a UK plug socket – then when travelling you just take out the bulb from its socket and put in your bayonet fitting, so that you have a UK plug socket to which you can plug in your gadgets. Saves on trying to have all the adaptors for the range of plug sockets you will find. In some hotels (?)I’ve been too you would not even want to touch the socket without rubber shoes on.

    Am I the only one with this very handy tool in my rucksack?

    Justforfun

  64. Rumbold — on 8th January, 2008 at 5:27 pm  

    Justforfun:

    Thanks- and where would I find this magical piece of equipment?

  65. Justforfun — on 8th January, 2008 at 7:48 pm  

    I’m afraid it appears they are illegal now :-( HSE gone MAAAAAAAD – actually I can see the point – the current/power rating on a lighting circuit is not suitable for other things — like a 3 bar fire !!

    http://www.oldatheart.co.uk/columbia6.jpg
    http://www.oldatheart.co.uk/gramophone.html

    However you can make one – and mine is like the pic, – an old bakalite job.

    I’ll look for a bayonet fitting for a bulb, then you will have to slice it open and attach a 2 core cable to the two contacts inside the fitting, seal them in a decent amount of tap etc and then at the other end of say 2 feet of cable, attach a 3 pin socket (like on the end of an single plug extension lead)

    This is turning into a real adventure :-) – better increase your travel insurance!

    Justforfun

  66. Don — on 8th January, 2008 at 7:53 pm  

    Sounds like an inferno in waiting!

  67. Justforfun — on 8th January, 2008 at 8:01 pm  

    http://www.74simon.co.uk/plugs.html

    wow – look at what I googled – now this is the type of electrics you will find – oh the nostalgia – its flooding back.

    … the latter of which had electricity supplied at a discounted rate. So many people had their homes wired up for lighting only, and then ran any appliances they had through the lightbulb sockets! So this gizmo was used to enable the householder to run both an appliance and their lighting at the same time.

    On reflection – you can probaly get the device in India – just take a modern UK 3 pin socket ( Not a 3 pin Plug) out there to add to the end of the cable.

    Don – but what a story when Rumbold gets back.

    Ps – if there is fire – blame it on the monkeys.

    Justforfun

  68. Rumbold — on 9th January, 2008 at 10:13 am  

    Thanks Justforfun. I shall try my luck in India, not build my own (that would only lead to disaster).

  69. Jai — on 9th January, 2008 at 10:35 am  

    Rumbold,

    I am not sure of the merits of the sitar, but I shall give it a go.

    (Belated response) Well there are other classical instruments, such as the sarangi, tabla and santoor (you’ll definitely hear variations of the first one during your visit to Rajasthan). Going to a ghazal “mehfil” would also be a great idea, especially if the great Jagjit Singh happens to be holding one of his periodic concerts over there.

    Yes, describing Gujarat as a Mughal heartland was a bit ambitous.

    The region definitely came within Mughal political and cultural influence (some parts of the area obviously more than others), but yes seeing Rajasthan would give you a much more extensive insight into the legacy of those times. “Rajputana” and its rulers played such a huge role in North Indian history, it would be great for you to explore as much of it as possible, otherwise you’re missing out a really big chunk of North Indian culture and society, especially as someone who has such a keen interest in the Mughal era.

    Hell, while you’re at it you may as well check out the soundtrack to a 90s Hindi film called “Lekin” too — the whole movie was set in Rajasthan, and the songs are very famous and of very high quality; not even remotely like the usual “Bollywood” stereotype, they’re mostly semi-classical songs reflecting Rajasthani music during the pre-colonial Rajput/Mughal era, although most of the film is actually set in pre-independence India during the “princely states” age. It’ll give you a bit more of a feel for the region’s traditional culture.

    Actually, during the late 90s there was a brilliant travel series on Zee TV called “Namaste India”; if you know anyone who recorded any of it, it would definitely be worthwhile for you to check out the episodes on the major Rajasthani royal cities, along with the episodes on Amritsar and of course on Agra & Fatehpur Sikri (which obviously included the Taj Mahal). All were in impeccable English, with a thorough overview of the history of the various locations depicted, and all accompanied with wonderfully atmospheric, evocative music. I think the series even won some awards back in India; it was very professionally done.

    I’ve re-jigged my iternary and will spend a week and a half in Jaipur and Ajmer, by cutting down time in Gujarat.

    Fair enough, perhaps a future return visit is in order ? :) It would be a good idea to pencil in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur if/when you go back (Chittorgarh, near Udaipur, is famous in India for its dramatic and quite tragic history, especially in relation to the events surrounding the “jauhar” ritual which occurred there several times during the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal period). Of course, Jaipur definitely has plenty to see in terms of still-visible Rajput-era city walls (with the occasional “chattri”/cupola on top), the main palace complex (with a superb armoury/museum, packed with historical weaponry and armour in excellent condition), plus the residence belonging to one of the historical “Sisodia queens” outside the main city. There are other associated hilltop forts nearby too, and don’t miss the “Jantar Mantar” complex either.

    However, the main palace — with the famous, recognisable front façade — is right in the middle of the crowded city centre. To get the “real” feel for the Rajput/Mughal era, nothing beats being confronted with the massive fortress on top of the plateau in Jodhpur (Mehrangarh Fort); apparently it dwarfs anything comparable in Europe. It’s pretty awe-inspiring to enter it through the huge front gates and walk uphill into the main fortress, past all the old horse stables; not to mention the amazing experience of standing at the ramparts right at the top and looking out over the rest of the city. It definitely makes you wonder what it would have been like to have lived in those times, particularly if you were part of the Rathore clan or a member of their armies. Jaisalmer, much further out in the desert, is also similarly memorable, although the outward appearance of the main fortress-citadel is very different to its counterpart in Jodhpur.

    Incidentally, you may also get a feeling of déjà vu if you visit these two places and happen to be a fan of the movie version of Lord of The Rings ;)

    Anyway, I think you’ll get a similar jaw-dropping “hit” when you see the Taj Mahal close up in all its imperial glory too. Nothing you have seen of it before, either in photographs or on television, will prepare you for what it’s like in real life.

  70. Sofia — on 9th January, 2008 at 10:46 am  

    Rumbold..i’m truly jealous..(and i’m not even the jealous type), but i would love to spend 2 months travelling India and Pakistan..although even this would not be enough…
    Regarding the situation in Lahore, not too bad, apart from food/petrol prices going up..you would still be ok if you went…avoid karachi though..
    I love Delhi, especially the old part…chandni chowk is worth spending some time in..even if it is a “hell hole” (quote courtesy of my mother)…If you manage to get to Dehradun/mussoorie…this time of year is quite nice..not sure if there was snow there, but there’s always rain:)…
    As for acting nri…hmmm..not sure if that works…i wore a shalwar kameez and still got asked where i was from…before i even opened my gob…
    If you’re in Jaipur..check out the samodi palace..i loved it and am planning to stay there the next time i go..

  71. Rumbold — on 9th January, 2008 at 10:46 am  

    Jai:

    “(Belated response) Well there are other classical instruments, such as the sarangi, tabla and santoor (you’ll definitely hear variations of the first one during your visit to Rajasthan). Going to a ghazal “mehfil” would also be a great idea, especially if the great Jagjit Singh happens to be holding one of his periodic concerts over there.”

    I must confess that I have never been too big a fan of classical Indian music (I prefer the newer, Bollywood ‘sound’).

    “Seeing Rajasthan would give you a much more extensive insight into the legacy of those times. “Rajputana” and its rulers played such a huge role in North Indian history, it would be great for you to explore as much of it as possible, otherwise you’re missing out a really big chunk of North Indian culture and society, especially as someone who has such a keen interest in the Mughal era.”

    Thanks in part to your persuading, I have added Ajmer and Jaipur to my list. The problem is that there are so many different places to see, that I do have to be selective.

    “Fair enough, perhaps a future return visit is in order?”

    I hope so, providing I do not absolutely loathe it.

    “However, the main palace — with the famous, recognisable front façade — is right in the middle of the crowded city centre. To get the “real” feel for the Rajput/Mughal era, nothing beats being confronted with the massive fortress on top of the plateau in Jodhpur (Mehrangarh Fort); apparently it dwarfs anything comparable in Europe.”

    Gwailor fort will have to provide an acceptable substitute (I know that it is not in Rajastan, but it is supposed to be amazing).

    “Anyway, I think you’ll get a similar jaw-dropping “hit” when you see the Taj Mahal close up in all its imperial glory too. Nothing you have seen of it before, either in photographs or on television, will prepare you for what it’s like in real life.”

    I’m also looking forward to seeing Itmad-ud-Daulah’s tomb.

  72. Rumbold — on 9th January, 2008 at 11:03 am  

    Sofia:

    “Rumbold..i’m truly jealous..(and i’m not even the jealous type), but i would love to spend 2 months travelling India and Pakistan..although even this would not be enough…”

    Yes, I am pretty lucky.

    “Regarding the situation in Lahore, not too bad, apart from food/petrol prices going up..you would still be ok if you went…avoid karachi though..”

    I know that Pakistan is not as bad as the news reports make out, but I suspect that as a white man, it would not be the most intelligent thing to go there now. One day I will though.

    ” love Delhi, especially the old part…chandni chowk is worth spending some time in..even if it is a “hell hole” (quote courtesy of my mother)…”

    I have heard that it is very crowded, so I will only devote a bit of time to it.

  73. Justforfun — on 9th January, 2008 at 11:26 am  

    I have heard that it is very crowded, so I will only devote a bit of time to it.

    Rumbold – this may come as news but India IS crowded :-) – everywhere! Even out in the jungle when you think its all quite, and you go around a tree to relieve yourself, you will find someone is there ahead of you – (Ps the tree bit, it’s optional ;-) ).

    Bits of New Delhi around the RajPath are quite and I recollect that Chandigarth had it wide spaces , thanks to Le Corbusier, but that memory was 20 years ago.

    Jaipur – overrated, but Amber on the outskirts is something else.

    Itmad-ud-Daulah’s tomb is nice and worth a vist because it has not been buggered around with too much. Just sits in its own garden and few visitors.

    As you are on a quasi religious quest – Chisti’s tomb at Fatehpur Sikri is worth a visit as its a living breathing pilgrimage site. Don’t get too close though – you may get pregnant.

    Justforfun

  74. Sid — on 9th January, 2008 at 11:48 am  

    Rumbold, here’s an article in the Guardian today on good hotels in and around Delhi.

  75. Rumbold — on 9th January, 2008 at 12:27 pm  

    Justforfun:

    “Rumbold – this may come as news but India IS crowded – everywhere! Even out in the jungle when you think its all quite, and you go around a tree to relieve yourself, you will find someone is there ahead of you – (Ps the tree bit, it’s optional ).”

    Heh. I hope that I do not have to retreat to my hotel room too much for peace and quiet.

    “As you are on a quasi religious quest – Chisti’s tomb at Fatehpur Sikri is worth a visit as its a living breathing pilgrimage site. Don’t get too close though – you may get pregnant.”

    Ha ha ha. Though that only happened when Chisti was alive.

    Sid:

    Thanks for the link. I have already booked by Delhi hotels, so I will just have to pray and hope.

  76. Jai — on 9th January, 2008 at 12:36 pm  

    Rumbold,

    Thanks in part to your persuading, I have added Ajmer and Jaipur to my list. The problem is that there are so many different places to see, that I do have to be selective.

    I know what you mean. Actually, seconding JFF’s comment above, at your discretion it may be worthwhile considering cancelling Jaipur this time (but definitely keeping Amber — it’s pretty much the full-scale “high-altitude medieval Rajput fortress”) and visiting one of the other cities I mentioned instead. I understand this may be complicated somewhat as you want to check out the pink architecture due to the associated historical reasons.

    Actually Wikipedia gives thorough historical overviews of those other royal cities but the photographs aren’t particularly good, with the exception of the page for Udaipur — check it out and you’ll see what I mean. The state and its Rajput rulers were also very famous for their stubborn defiance of attempts to impose imperial rule over them (both Mughal and British), which was actually acknowledged by the Brits and respected accordingly.

    The main palace at Udaipur (no, not the one on the lake) is also pretty amazing; it’s quite large, still in good condition, very atmospheric, with lots of courtyards, beautiful stained glass windows etc. It even has rooftop gardens !

    Gwailor fort will have to provide an acceptable substitute (I know that it is not in Rajastan, but it is supposed to be amazing).

    Yes definitely, it’s fantastic and extremely impressive.

    *******************

    Regarding accomodation, if you want to treat yourself then the Oberoi Hotels group is truly world-class; they have luxurious hotels in Udaipur, Jaipur and Agra. The one in Udaipur (built in imitation Rajput/Mughal style) has actually been voted the best hotel in the world.

    Their website has more details and of course plenty of high-quality photographs: http://www.oberoihotels.com/

    You’re going to have an absolutely fantastic time ! I bet you’re really looking forward it it, eh.

  77. Jai — on 9th January, 2008 at 2:14 pm  

    PS:

    at your discretion it may be worthwhile considering cancelling Jaipur this time

    Apologies if I’m accidentally sounding like I’m trying to talk you out of (or into) anything ! You have your own personal reasons for wanting to visit Jaipur etc, so of course it’s all entirely up to you :)

    (Chittorgarh, near Udaipur, is famous in India for its dramatic and quite tragic history, especially in relation to the events surrounding the “jauhar” ritual which occurred there several times during the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal period).

    Just to expand on the above, check out the following explanation of “Jauhar” when you have some spare time, as Chittorgarh is particularly well-known for it. It should give you a little more insight into some Rajput customs during times of war and the associated historical events, as this was integral to their culture.

  78. Desi Italiana — on 9th January, 2008 at 6:51 pm  

    ““Rumbold – this may come as news but India IS crowded – everywhere!”

    No it’s not. Have you ever taken a train through the countrysides? You ask yourself where the hell are the 1 billion plus people. The cities are suffocatingly crowded, but not every single nook and cranny in India is stuffed with people :)

    BTW, Ajmer is really, really pretty.

  79. Jai — on 9th January, 2008 at 7:12 pm  

    Rumbold,

    Ha ha ha. Though that only happened when Chisti was alive.

    Dude, there are still dargahs (Sufi shrines) around various parts of northern India where they all get together and sing qawwalis.

    Which reminds me, when you’re in Delhi try to check out the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya. The dargah complex also contains the tomb of Shahjahan’s daughter Jahanara, along with the famous poet Amir Khusro. Wikipedia has more details.

    Oh yes, I nearly forgot — there’s an extremely famous restaurant called “Karim’s” very close to the main mosque in Old Delhi (“Jamma Masjid”); apparently it has the best Mughlai-style food you’ll ever eat. The link I’ve supplied includes press reviews along with details of the menus available, the history of the restaurant and the family who are its hereditary chefs (apparently they’re descended from cooks employed by the Mughal emperors), etc.

  80. Rumbold — on 10th January, 2008 at 4:59 pm  

    Jai:

    “Regarding accomodation, if you want to treat yourself then the Oberoi Hotels group is truly world-class; they have luxurious hotels in Udaipur, Jaipur and Agra. The one in Udaipur (built in imitation Rajput/Mughal style) has actually been voted the best hotel in the world.”

    Far too expensive for me Jai.

    “You’re going to have an absolutely fantastic time ! I bet you’re really looking forward it it, eh.”

    Definately.

    “Apologies if I’m accidentally sounding like I’m trying to talk you out of (or into) anything ! You have your own personal reasons for wanting to visit Jaipur etc, so of course it’s all entirely up to you.”

    Please, feel free to offer your opinion on things. I am still going to Jaipur, but if/when I go back to India I will try and see other parts of Rajastan as well.

    “Dude, there are still dargahs (Sufi shrines) around various parts of northern India where they all get together and sing qawwalis.”

    I was talking about getting pregnant (As Akbar’s wife did thanks in part perhaps to Akbar’s visits to Shaikh Chisti).

    And thanks for all the links.

  81. Sofia — on 10th January, 2008 at 5:06 pm  

    oh yeh ..i went to karims…apparently i was sat behind two huge mafia bods…they looked perfectly nice to me:)…food is great..a bit ott on the ghee and haldi though…

    as for nizammudins..interesting place..like stepping back in time…read william dalrymples city of djins for more..

  82. Sofia — on 10th January, 2008 at 5:09 pm  

    chandni chowk is very crowded, as is that whole area…
    but if you get a chance..you can pick up some old edition books and such…

  83. Justforfun — on 11th January, 2008 at 9:11 am  

    Desi – You had the same thoughts as me ! :-) – but I’m sure Rumbold makes allowances for my exaggerations.

    Once on a Delhi- Bombay train, over 30 years ago as a child, it broke down somewhere in MP – south of Bhopal or Indore – can’t really remember – but it was in the middle of nowhere and it was all very exciting. However within 30 minutes there was a throng from a local village selling drinks and food. So while the place looked empty for miles around, there was a village withing 15 – 30 minutes walk of the train all ready and waiting with hot chai !! Amazing – and that was when there were 600million not 1000million

    However talking of lonely places, Chittor is the Rajput fort that still sticks in my memory – its sheer size, and while it may not be the best preserved , it has an unforgetable aura and state of melancholy. Its very atmospheric to stand on its vast battlements and consider it history. Its also pretty empty – and has few visitors. It even had gazelle and other animals still whithin the jungle that is in the interior, its so vast.

    Rumbold – good for you not going 5 star – the Oberois and Tatas don’t need your money – although their hotels do have their uses ! – to go to to flinch their soap and toilet paper! We all falter and fall in the end.

    Justforfun

  84. Rumbold — on 11th January, 2008 at 1:11 pm  

    Justforfun:

    “Rumbold – good for you not going 5 star – the Oberois and Tatas don’t need your money – although their hotels do have their uses ! – to go to to flinch their soap and toilet paper! We all falter and fall in the end.”

    Cheapness, not ideology, occasioned my stance.

  85. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 11:35 pm  

    what i want to know is = how have you got two months off?!! you lucky thing!

  86. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 11:36 pm  

    and also = when you come back, are you going to put up your pictures somewhere? a travel blog or something might be handy?..

  87. el rey de los casinos — on 5th March, 2008 at 12:30 pm  

    Go there guys buy prescription medications that are used to relax your body, relax your muscles.

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