Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vacation and back… Part 2.

So taking on from where I left off in Part 1, this one's about Agra and Jaipur... and a few other things.

Agra - Shah Jahan's view of the Taj from his prison cell

Agra: Agra was the next stop on my holiday. On the way to Agra is Akbar’s resting place, the Sikandra Fort. The fort is built with a grandeur befitting the great ruler of Mughal India. A fine specimen of architecture, this is also one of the better-maintained of the monuments he built. In the lawns surrounding the fort, monkeys and peacocks and deer roam freely, in what can only be described as a breathtaking sight. I have never seen so many peacocks together! It is not hard to imagine how it would have been when Akbar had walked the courtyards there or held darbar in those lawns.
No visit to Agra is complete without a mention of the Taj Mahal. Just as its beauty is alluring, so disappointing is the town that the Taj calls its home. Dirty and most tourist-unfriendly is Agra city, my lasting impression of Agra is of the feeling of being ripped off on any transaction you make, be it a tourist guide or a handicrafts seller. Stay at a nice hotel and you will easily forget the disorganized and dirty town you see as you go around in your car. The Taj itself is home to a number of pickpockets, unlicensed guides and street vendors, all promising to sell you the Taj in all sizes for a price tag of Rs.5 to Rs. 5,00,000. But cross the gates and behold the beauty in white marble and you are left speechless. No amount of photographs in magazines or documentaries on the Discovery channels will prepare you for the sheer breathtaking edifice that the Taj is. A good guide will tell you little bits of history and details of architecture that will make the monument all the more spectacular. But even without it, when you enter the inner chamber where Shah Jahan is purported to be buried alongside his beloved Mumtaz, you can’t help feel envy for a woman who was so loved. The Taj is best viewed early in the morning before the marble floors get hot. The Agra fort is another must-see in Agra. Here’s where you’ll feel sorry for Shah Jahan as you visit the chamber where his son kept him captive, his only solace being the distant view of the Taj Mahal that he could see through the holes that were gouged patterns on the wall. Here he died, after spending 12 years in captivity. His body was rowed across the Yamuna and taken to the Taj where he was buried.

Jaipur: From Agra we made our last stop at Jaipur. Undoubtedly the best part of our entire vacation, Jaipur was everything that Agra was not. Clean, friendly and very pro-tourist, Jaipur was an absolute delight. At Jaipur are the Sawai Man Singh Palace and fort, the museum and the Jantar Mantar. And don’t forget the shopping. There’s lots you can shop here, right from Jaipur block printed clothing to silver jewellery to handicrafts. A not-to-miss is the area of the Bazaar that seats the men and women who will henna beautiful and intricate patterns onto your palms. Rajasthani food was delightful, especially the sweets! The only downside of Jaipur was the hot sun that had me tanned about two shades.

I celebrated my birthday over the weekend when I was in Bangalore with my family. Bangalore has got to be my favourite Indian city after Chennai. I love visiting Bangalore but it's always great to be back home because it helps me appreciate Chennai's traffic more. Bangalore is infamous for bad infrastructure which pretty much translates to bad traffic jams on the roads. That apart, Bangalore has a pulse and culture that's unparalleled. Did I mention that Bangalore also has the best pubs? Anyone who knows me will know that I will not write about Bangalore without talking about the Legends of Rock pub. Great music, period. That's enough reason to go there.

Being my last birthday at home for some time to come, my birthday gift was a good time at the pub topped off with some lip smacking dinner. Thankfully, this time there were no talks about growing old(er), since everyone was too busy with all the work we had to do in Bangalore. When I returned, it dawned on me that I have very little time before I have to go. It sucks.

Vacation and back… Part 1.

So I’m back from a whole bunch of traveling. I wrote a bit about the palces I was going to in my last post. Ideally, I would have liked to write a post each about each of the palces I visited simply because they do warrant a piece each. But with going-away day barely a week away, I’m hard pressed for time and therefore I’m going to make it short.

First up my Mumbai trip. I love Mumbai and I was thoroughly pleased to see that it hasn’t lost any of vibrance in the last 5 years that I’ve missed it. I got to meet some friends and generally had a lot of fun visiting places I had not been to when I was living there. Unfortunately we couldn’t catch a show at Prithvi theater but we did catch some good coffee in the historic theater that was started by Raj Kapoor. I got to meet this awesome entrepreneur buddy of my friend and also an old friend of mine who I’d lost touch with. Some shopping and cocktails and yummy maharashtrian food and great company – ingredients for the fun-est time ever!

Haridwar: This was the first stop on my trip. Reason for being there is simply the Ganga. Of the 2 days we spent there, one evening was spent at the ghat watching the evening aarti which is really really beautiful. Haridwar’s ghat or bathing area is built for just bathing. There are stairs leading into the river while a part of the river itself is channeled to flow through a narrow-ish area with bathing stairways flanking both sides. I’m not doing a good job with the description, but the picture below should explain. The first and only way to describe this palce is crowded! There are multitudes of devotees thronging to the banks of the Ganga to wash their sins or take blessings (like me). I did not go there as a devotee – this was hardly a pilgrimage. But the sight of the river and kind of faith that people have for Ganga Mayya (Mayya = mother) kind of makes the whole experience a reaffirmation of faith. Save for this, my view of Haridwar is being crowded, old-world and a little dirty. I guess it’s typical of any Indian pilgrimage town.

Rishikesh: This is about 20kms from Haridwar. Here the Ganga is more placid and cleaner. She is also a lot deeper here. The symbol of Rishikesh is the Laxman Jhula which is a bridge spanning the Ganga. The other side of the bridge is home to the temples and ashrams that play host to the scores of devotees who throng Rishikesh every day. This part of the town is really quaint and is a pedestrian-only area. In true Indian style, there are beggars and cows jostling for space among the devotees and shop keepers who sell you everything from precious stones to Ganga in a bottle.

Devprayag: I haven’t got much to say about this places since I spent only an hour or so here. Devprayag is the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirati rivers that then flow downwards fromt here as the Ganga. Bhagirati is the more placid of the two while Alaknanda is faster, with a roar that can be heard some distance away. At the point of confluence, you can see the two rivers distinctly, differentiated by their colors.

Haridwar - Those are real people!

Next up, I headed over to Agra and Jaipur which I will write about in Part 2.


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