The plan started as a trip to Uttaranchal. Everybody was interested and Preethu's Achan and Amma also agreed to come with us. Air tickets to and fro Delhi was booked in no time as the rates were already going up. But, when planning started, November did not look like the right time to go to Uttaranchal!
Preethu suggested a Rajasthan itinerary instead and there were discussions which reached nowhere. Two weeks to go, our captain, Pravin and Nisha (the PraNi Inc in short) had to cancel the plan and the rest of us were left with flight tickets to Delhi and no plan! Next few days witnessed frantic Skype conference calls between Preethu, Tiju, Deepa, Kiran, Rajesh, Nithya, Sunil and Rajeev (I happily pretended to be baby-sitting Manu in between all this) to plan the trip.
In spite of a little reluctance from myself and Preethu, Delhi and Agra was declared must-go by everybody else! It would be my 3rd time in Delhi / Agra (after the road trip to Delhi in December 2005 and yet another un-documented trip in January 2008, which covered Fatehpur Sikri, Mathura and Vrindavan as well), but Taj Mahal was good even for a 3rd time! I contemplated heading to Amritsar to take a look at the Golden Temple, but gave up, as it was too easy to tag along with everybody else and I was too lazy to plan anything on my own :)
The plan was to head straight to Agra on day 1 and spend time till noon on day 2. After Fatehpur Sikri and Bharatpur en route, we would spend days 3 & 4 in Jaipur. We will be in Udaipur till day 6 noon after an overnight train journey to Udaipur. Then we will head to Mt Abu on day 6 and return on day 7 to board another overnight train to Delhi. Day 8 will be in Delhi and day 9 morning we will take the flight back to Bangalore. To the credit of the organizing committee, most of the things were actually booked and planned in a short time!
Rajeev backed out in the last minute leaving 12 of us (including Manu) on the date of travel. Even Sunil, sounded a little unsure as the travelling day approached, but was ready with his bags packed a day before :) Our packing completed only the night before travel. Most of the night was spent on packing and Preethu packed almost everything that Manu would need in a week. Finally, we had about eight full bags / suit cases for five of us. Preethu was left wondering where she will keep all the bounty she will be collecting from the shops of Jaipur, Udaipur, Delhi ... etc.
We started early morning on a saturday and gathered at the Bangalore International airport by 7AM. We were to take a Go Air flight to Delhi at 8.30 and got enough time even for a breakfast at the airport canteen. Manu's first flight was no trouble and he seemed to enjoy the slight turbulence we encountered - probably thanks to the bigger turbulences in Versa, that he is quite used to!
Flight landed by 10.30 and by the time we picked up the luggage, located our taxi guys and loaded the lugged in to their Innovas, it was 11.30. Both the Innovas were fitted with luggage carriers at the top ... and it was a lot of luggage. One of the Innovas was a private registration and Tiju, Rajesh and Co took that, while we took the other one. The driver of our Innova, Shibu, looked like a very down-to-earth kido and the other guy, Raj, was apparently quite funny! Raj, was also the senior guy and mostly led the way for us.
By the time we got out of the Airport, it was 12 and we had to reach Agra by atleast 5, if we had to have a look at Taj Mahal the same day. We planned to skip any elaborate lunch and Raj suggested that we could have lunch from a McD en route to save time, which we all agreed. We took almost an hour getting out of Delhi city limits and reached Haryana border by 1. We had to stop for a while to pay the entry taxes. Raj's Innova was a private registration and we needed to pay the taxes only for the other car. Raj told that he is adept at dodging traffic police and we will not have any trouble with his private registration. We had no option then, but to believe it!
We were on NH2 - the Golden Quadrilateral section connecting Delhi and Kolkata via Agra, Kanpur and Varanasi. Even though, the road is fully 4-laned (as early as 2005), the traffic was also high and our driver kept at a decent 80kmph speed, whenever the road was open. I found it extremely difficult sitting in the car as a passenger for such long times - as opposed to my usual role of driving it! It was fun playing with Manu for a while, but then, he opted for a nap. I looked around for a while, half asleep at times. We passed Palwal and then crossed UP border by 2.45, after taking another 'tax break' at the RTO.
The McD, where we planned our lunch was still a long way to go and our stomachs refused to stay empty for that long. We saw a restaurant - Moti Mahal - on the way and decided to go in. Only after getting inside, I realized that I had come here, during the Delhi - Vrindavan - Agra - Fatehpur Sikri (un-documented) trip in January 2008. I remembered that the place was costly and our final bill came to about 6.5K in spite of going for a simple order - as we wanted to finish the lunch quickly - rice, dal, rotis and couple more curries. The service was reasonably fast, but the lunch took its own sweet time and it was about about an hour by the time we hit the road again.
We soon spotted the turn to Vrindavan - about 6kms detour from the NH2 - and then passed Mathura. Last time, in January 208, we had visited the Krishna temple as well as the Vrindavan and the first thing I remembered was the herd of scary monkeys :) one of which even dared to flick a chappal and offered to give it back for food! This time around, the plan was to quickly reach Agra and visit the Taj Mahal.
About 5'O clock we passed the McD and I thanked god that we decided to stop for lunch earlier! We then passed Sikandara, where Akbar's tomb is located, and entered Agra city. The other car was ahead of us and Tiju called to say that 'Hum Taj Mahal ka/ke/ki Aas Paas Hein' (we are near Taj Mahal). The language of communication to the driver and other locals was predominantly Hindi, which was indeed a major change compared to Southern parts of India. While Hindi was not so alien to most of us, atleast some among us - I am not saying whom :) - had big trouble conversing in it! Soon, all of us were talking to each other in Hindi, with a funny (heavily malayalamized) accent. Most confusions revolved around the usage of Ka/Ke/Ki (as per the gender) - similar to Mohan Lals character in the Malayalam film 'Gandhinagar 2nd Street'. The coming days were going to be fun!
Preethu was already offering bribes to the driver to go faster so that we can somehow reach Taj Mahal on time. But, it took us some more time to reach the Taj premises and by then we got the bad news. The entry is closed by 5 and we could not enter. Tiju had arranged for a guide to buy tickets in advance - expecting that the entry is allowed if we have tickets - and even that did not help. Totally disappointed we headed towards the Taj Heritage Hotel were we booked our accomodation.
The other car left ahead of us and we kinda lost our way near Purani Mandi. Few queries and phone calls later we managed to find Taj Heritage Hotel, in Fatehabad road, next to ITC Mughal. Our rooms were distributed between 1st and 2nd floor. Tiju / Rajesh offered to move to 2nd floor so that we can occupy the rooms in 1st floor, as Achan had trouble climbing stairs, and we gladly accepted. There was a plan to head to a nearby mall for the night, but I was too reluctant and finally our family decided to stay indoors.
The others headed to the mall - at walkable distance - and had dinner at a McD. We contemplated having dinner at the hotel itself, but changed our minds after seeing the price column in the menu card! A tea we had at the hotel cost us Rs 35 / cup and the only dinner option was a costly buffet. We checked out with Raj, our driver, who offered to take us out to a nearby restaurant.
Raj was very vocal about the high cost of living in Agra and was saying that it is solely because of the tourist presence. He did not mint his words, when he said that Agra is nothing but an un-developed village if not for Taj Mahal. He took us to Quality Restaurant, which turned out to be comparatively economical. But, the food was just OK.
On our return, Raj stopped near a leather shop, from where Preethu baught a leather bag. Preethu also wanted to buy Agra Petha - a sweet made from pumpkin - and Raj took us to a bakery with a board saying - ''World Famous Agra Petha'. They had different flavours of Pethas available here and Preethu baught a few boxes.
We hit the bed early as the plan was to start as early as we can, the next day, to Taj Mahal. Manu took his own time to sleep and got up once in the night. We still managed to get up by 5, but, by the time all of us got ready and went down it was past 6. Our drivers dropped us at (what I thought to be) the west gate entrance and we had to walk some distance to get to the ticket counter. The counter at Taj Mahal opens at 6 and I hardly expected anybody to be there at this time. But, I was in for a surprise as we reached the ticket counter - the place already had a long queue!
|Manu at Taj
We entered Taj premises by 7 and spent about 2 hours inside, exploring the symbol of love at different angles! I especially loved the reflections I got at the pool in front of Taj Mahal and the view from the platform on the eastern side of Taj Mahal, with the rising sun falling on it. I wanted to take a boat across River Yamuna and shoot pictures of Taj from across the river. But, we did not have time for that right now and I had to be content with the usual shots. The lighting was quite good, especially, the view from east, while we were at the 'Jawab' - the building meant to compliment the Mosque at the western side.
Taj Mahal from the 'Jawab'
Tiju, Rajesh and Co stayed back for some more photos while we moved out. We stopped on the way at an artifact shop to buy a Taj Mahal replica and then decided to take a horse cart ride to the entrance. Manu thoroughly enjoyed the tuk tuk ride, but at the end of it, we were dropped at the eastern gate parking lot and then I had no clue how to get back to where our driver was waiting. After some confusion, we talked to an auto driver, who dropped us near the car, near Purani Mandi, after talking to the car driver.
There was no time to waste now. The hotel had complimentary breakfast which we availed. By 11, we were all packed and checked out from the hotel. After one more stop at the Petha shop for Tiju, Rajesh & Co, we were back on the road to Fatehpur Sikri. Our guide at Taj Mahal had told us that the Red Fort is not open due to Obama's visit and we decided to skip it. But, on our way out of Agra, we once again passed next to Agra Fort and found that people are going inside. It was too late by then to change the plan.
Raj took the old Fatehpur Sikri road and our car followed his through some busy market area. As we were crawling out of the city through this crowded road, the other car was stopped by a police man. Apparently, another policeman had asked him to stop and he ignored to avoid paying bribe - as his car was a private registration. I called up Tiju and he told that they are being taken to the police station. There was no point in us following them - so we decided to proceed slowly towards Fatehpur Sikri.
Preethu noted some bright colored fruit / nut being sold on the road side and we queried our drive what that was. It was called Singala (Water Chestnut), collected from fresh water lakes. We baught a bag of it - which had a soft edible portion inside. It tasted like raw tapioca, only a little sweeter and softer.
We soon reached the National Highway 11 (Agra to Jaipur, expanded to a 4-lane highway as part of NHDP phase III) and I slowly drifted to a sleep. Fatehpur Sikri is about 35kms from Agra and we had about 25kms to go. I got up when we were a few kms away from Fatehpur Sikri, taking a left from the 4-lane highway towards a state highway. I called up Tiju and he told that they were allowed to go from the police station after paying a bribe. He also said that they were almost near Fatehpur Sikri. So, we decided to go ahead and wait for them at Fatehpur Sikri.
As we were approaching Fatehpur Sikri, we were stopped by a few guys and commanded our driver to open the window. They soon broke in to a speech about the place and the cost involved if we were to go ahead on our own. Then they offered their guide services and told that it will cost us lesser, if we go with one of them. Phew ... they sounded more like goondas and less like guides. The tone was threatening and rude to say the least and there was no way we could have gone with them, even if it cost us a lot of money!
I actually remembered encountering the same goondas when I came here first in January 2008. After they were done, I thanked them for the offer and told them to get away. He started saying that he was only offering his service! I had to tell him that this sounded more like threatening and if they are serious about helping people, they should learn to behave. We moved ahead after this and I immediately called Tiju to warn about the rowdies waiting for them. As I was talking to him, I heard the same speech through the phone, which I had heard a few minutes back - as they already reached the place.
The menace was not over as we were stopped by more people 'threatening to help'. All of them were 'politely told to get lost!' At last, we were near the parking lot and the guys there told us that they cant let us go if they dont pay them! So, we turned to the parking lot, parked our car there and was surrounded by more people who offered their help. Tiju and Co reached there soon and reported that they had met with the same rogue behaviour. It was pathetic that one of the most famous tourist spots (and a UNESCO world heritage site) in India was home for rowdies!
The last time, we were here, I had hired an auto to go to the fort and this time even the auto guys sounded menacing. I saw a board saying battery operated buses and decided to check it out. Next to the parking area, there was a cafe and a few shops - after which I saw the place were battery operated buses were parked. It would cost us only Rs 5 / head for the bus and I came back and shared the news. There was some interest to take a horse cart, but most people agreed that we should not take any help from these rowdies. As we walked towards the bus, few of the 'guides' came along with us and kept asking us if we could hire them. The more we moved towards the bus, the more nicer they were to us. I have to say that I enjoyed watching them - with a certain satisfaction - realizing that we were not threatened by their demeanour.
Buses starting from here would go to either Diwan-i-Am or Jodha Bai palace and both these points were at a walkable distance. The bus we took dropped us at the entrance of Diwan-i-Am. As we stepped inside and tried to make sense of what we saw a few men offered to be our guide. This time, the tone and behaviour of the people were much better and we decided to go with one gentlemen for Rs. 200.
He showed us around Akbar's harem and the palaces of his three chief queens - according to him one hindu, one muslim and a christian. From whatever I read, Akbar had many wives apart from the three chief queens he was legally married to - Ruqaiyya Begum, Hira Kunwar (also known as Mariam or Jodha Bai) and Salima Begum. Akbar employed only eunuchs or women here, which housed his many wives and concubines.
The most prominent building here was the Diwan-i-Khas, where Akbar used to meet with his ministers. The Diwan-i-Am is where Akbar used to meet the general public and then there were three seperate palaces dedicated to the three queens. The last one of the palaces was of Jodha Bai - Akbar's Rajput queen and mother of Jahangir. Apparently, she was never referred to as Jodha Bai in her lifetime, but as Hira Kunwari or Mariam uz Zamani. This was infact, one of the reasons for protests against the Hindi movie 'Jodha Akbar' and there was another princess - Manmati of Jodhpur, wife of Jahangir, mother of Shah Jahan and niece of Hira Kunwari / Mariam uz Zamani - who was known as Jodha Bai.
We stepped out of the complex from Jodha Bai palace. The area outside had a person selling tea and most of us stopped for a cup. I also spotted the buses stopped here (the buses to and from parking lot to Jodha Bai palace stops here), which we can take while going back. The famous 'Buland Darwaza' - the tall and majestic gate which formed the main entrance of Shaikh Salim Chisti's tomb - was also nearby. Fatehpur Sikri became famous after Jodha Bai gave birth to Akbar's first son - Jahangir - here, thanks to the blessings of Salim Chisti - a Sufi saint. Infact, Jahangir was first named Salim in the honour of Salim Chisti.
There were people selling cloths outside the tomb, saying that the money will go for marrying off orphaned young women. He also gave threads to be tied at Salim Chisti's tomb. Mention of the three wishes sparked the interest of our group. Sunil was the first to step in and the guy suggested that he may wish to get a bride if he is 'alone'! Preethu, who was next, met with the same suggestion and I promptly passed Manu to her for correcting any misunderstanding! In any case, most of the people ended up buying the cloth and were off to the tomb in a flash.
The tomb stood out from the rest of the monuments as it was made of marble, while almost everything else in Fatehpur Sikri is made of red stone. People were expected to cover their heads before entering the tomb and I borrowed Tiju's handkerchief. There were many people tying threads inside the tomb and wishing for things. I only hoped that Preethu has wished for all the right things for both of us ;-)
There was a small market area in this complex with trinklets like ear-rings ... etc. Few of us gathered around these things. It was already about 3 and Manu might have been very hungry. Preethu suggested that we could go down and wait for others to join. So, I told this to Tiju and headed towards the Jodha Bai palace and boarded the bus going towards the parking lot.
Near the parking lot, there is a restaurant run by the UP State TDC. The place looked a little costly, but we decided to get in, as it was already late for lunch. The others joined in a while, but the service was painfully slow and we took more than an hour to finish the lunch. The bill turned out to be better than the previous day's lunch though.
Finally, by 4.30 we were ready to leave. Like the previous day, it was going to be another race against time. Bharathpur sanctuary was about half an hour (25kms) from here and we wanted to make it to the sanctuary before the entrance closes. The sun started going down soon - as we were at North West during winter. Sunset was quite beautiful but I did not want to stop for photographs and get late for Bharathpur. There was a brief stop at the border, to pay the taxes and we were quickly back on road. At 5.30, we were at the Bharathpur sanctuary, only to know that the sanctuary entrance is closed by 5!
Even though we could not make it for the safari, Tiju spoke to the people there and managed to get the permissions to take a trip to the barrier. It cost us Rs 200, but was better than going back empty handed. The light was very low and I could hardly take any good photographs - but we managed to spot peacocks, a sambhar deer and a group of wild dogs. By the time we came out, it was quite dark. We had about 180 kms to go for Jaipur.
The road to Jaipur was smooth, with the only breaks needed was for the toll booths. It turned out to be about 100+ for toll but I would not complain with the beautiful roads which were built. All major towns en route, like Sewar, Mahwa, Bamanpura, Dausa and Kanauta were bypassed. I had estimated about four hours to reach Jaipur, but we were in town by 8.30 itself. Soon, there were signs of the city and the buildings were painted pink.
We were at the Mirza Ismail (MI) Road and looking for our hotel (Arya Niwas), which was a small deviation from MI Road. We checked in by 9 and quickly ordered for food before the kitchen closed. The place looked very neat and most people seemed to like the hotel. In Nithya's word's they had taken care of all minute details! If the girls liked the place, it was obvious that the guys like it too :)
Food was yummy too and more so as it had arrived late! After food, we hogged on to some ice creams before calling it a day. For us, Manu took a while to sleep but this time there was not much pressure to start early. It was 7, by the time everybody got up. We had a few options for breakfast - continental, paratha or poori - and I opted for poori. It was a nice cosy breakfast hearing the chirrup of birds and squirrels. I could spot many birds here, including wagtails and doves.
It was about 10, by the time we got out of the hotel for sight seeing. Tiju had arranged for a guide who suggested that we first go to Jantar Mantar. We passed next to Hawa Mahal and the whole city was being decorated for Diwali. Apparently, a replica of Lalgarh Fort (in Bikaner) was being erected and the city looked lovely. The guide told us that there is nothing much to see in Hawa Mahal and suggested that we can stop for photographs outside Hawa Mahal on our back! I was a little confused, because from what I heard, Hawa Mahal is probably the most important and famous monument in Jaipur.
Anyways, we headed to Jantar Mantar and marvelled at the astronomical instruments installed by Raja Jai Singh II. Raja Jai Singh had apparently built five such facilities incuding the ones at Jaipur and Delhi. The one at Jaipur is the largest and also a World Heritage site. The place had many instruments to measure time of the day and day / months of the year based on the lcoation of celestial objects. It was based on simple principles (simple, atleast in hindsight) and huge amount of statistical data. Clearly, a lot of effort and patience had gone in behind the making and perfecting of these instruments.
The gang at City Palace
Three men in a hat - Sunil, Tiju and Rajesh
After Jantar Mantar, we headed to the city palace museum, which was once occupied by Raja Man Singh II and Jai Singh II. The museum had many artifacts preserved from the times of these kings. One thing I could not help noticing was the huge size of the dresses they were supposed to wear - almost XXXL size! Is it really because the kings were so huge? The city palace also had a gallery of paintings and dress material. We wandered around looking at the various paintings and I got bored after a while. When Preethu and Kiran started with their shopping, I volunteered to sit with Manu - which turned out to be a smart choice :) as Manu was in a very playful mood.
Preethu had read about a place called Lakshmi Misthan Bandhar (LMB) and we decided to check it out for lunch. But, our guide suggested some other place and vehemently oppossed going to LMB. We now had enough reasons to doubt that the guide was more interested in his commission and less about what we liked to do. So, we decided to ignore him and proceeded to LMB.
LMB is located near the Johari Bazaar, near Hawa Mahal and we passed next to Hawa Mahal once more. LMB was supposed to be a sweet shop earlier, but now was serving food too. The food looked authentic Rajasthani and we did not have much clue about what to order - so all of us settled for Rajasthani Thalis, hoping to get a glimpse of Rajasthani food. We got more than glimpse as they kept serving more and more food, till we almost ran away with full stomachs and no space to eat anything more!
Post lunch, the guide took us towards Jal Mahal. This is on Amber / Amer road (also the old NH8), which leads to the Amber Palace and Jaigarh Fort. Instead of visiting any of these places, he took us inside a shopping complex! While the rest went in to check out what is available, I again volunteered to baby sit Manu! This time, he was quite tired and slept off in no time. After almost an hour the rest of the people came out with hardly any shopping done. Preethu said that the place was quite costly and did not buy anything.
By now, the guides interests were quite clear and we had to dump this guy. He was telling us to go back to the hotel, take some rest and then go to Birla Mandir and Chowki Dhani. But, Tiju and Rajesh figured that this is only because he wanted to take his bike parked at the hotel. We were not feeling very generous this time and decided to dump him midway and proceeded directly to Birla Mandir!
Birla Mandir was towards the southern side of Jaipur and Raj asked a few people to find the way. Our driver, who knew the way to Birla Mandir, got a little impatient with Raj and started going ahead on his own. In the end, the cars were parked at two different places and we ended up climbing the stairs. Achan had knee pain and may have found it difficult, but he hardly complained.
It was a little dark by the time we entered the Mandir. The temple, also known as Lakshmi Narayan temple, is made of marble and had a few beautiful glass paintings and carvings around it. It did make a good spectacle in the night, but not anything exceptional. By the time we returned, it was totally dark and Achan had to climb down the stairs now.
After reaching the place were our car was parked, we had to wait for a while. Apparently, the other car had some starting trouble and also faced a near accident, thanks to a bus which they met at a turn. But, thankfully, nothing wrong happened. Finally, by 8, we headed towards Chokhi Dhani, an ethnic village resort, about 12kms from Jaipur city.
The puppet family
Chokhi Dhani is on NH12 (connecting Jaipur and Jabalpur via Tonk, Kota and Bhopal), also known as Tonk road. This road had many swanky buildings on either sides and hardly looked like the 'Pink City' we saw till now. We reached Chokhi Dhani by 8 and was greeted in traditional Rajasthani style. Chokhi Dhani is a place where traditional folk artists perform. We roamed around watching a puppet show and a folk dance performace. Meanwhile, there was a counter which dresses up people in traditional Rajasthani style and takes their photographs. Tiju and Deepa wanted to do it and the rest of the gang followed.
Gangs of Jaipur!
Traditional Rajasthani Couple ;-)
I started off taking photographs, but it was just a matter of time before myself and Preethu joined the fancy dress :) While dressing up men was simple, with a turban providing the only complication, Preethu took a little more time. The funniest accessory was a funnel, used to keep the head cover in place. Finally, everything was done and we started the photo session. The guys at the counter took a few photos themselves, but we wanted more. The photo session went for a long time, until we started fearing of being thrown out!
What followed was a long queue for food. The place was crowded beyond its capacity and we had to wait for a long time before we could enter one of the many dining halls. People were also trying to barge in and arguing with the officials maning the entrance. Being a large group of 11 people, made it even more difficult for us, as they could not find seats for all of us together.
Meanwhile, Kiran headed to see a fortune teller and was told that a 'Dusht Sthree' (cruel woman) was plotting her downfall and is the cause of all her troubles! The fortune teller wanted her to be paid if she had to divulge the details about the 'Dusht Sthree'! Obviously, Kiran declined to pay and came back. Hearing the news, Nithya wanted to check her fortunes and ended up being told about yet another 'Dusht Sthree'!
It was almost 10'O clock by then and we were all very hungry. Manu was also getting cranky and we insisted that atleast two seats be given so that we can feed Manu. So, Preethu and myself entered with Manu first. The rest of the people also got seating in a while and we all managed to sit together. Mats were spread around for people to sit. Only Achan was given a seperate seat as he found it a little uncomfortable to sit with his knees folded. All of us were desperately waiting for food to be served.
Food ... finally
The food took a little more time to arrive and started slowly with simple items. But, the quantity and calorie value of the food increased with time. Water and butter milk was served for everybody in two small glasses, which was being filled the minute it gets empty. I kept emptying the butter milk glasses for a while and lost count of the number of glasses I finished. But, the glass was being filled at an astonishing pace and soon I had to say no. But, it was only the beginning!
More rotis, rice and sweets kept pouring in to our plates with the guys egging us with 'Khao ... Khao ...' (eat ... eat) and we just could not do it after a while. The guys serving us had a great sense of humour as well. They made each one of us wear turbans and kept on cracking jokes. Finally, each one of us had to run away to the wash basin leaving behind the plates.
We spent some more time inside Chokhi Dhani visiting different stalls, including a bow / arrow stall and a toy stall. Finally, by about 11, we decided to call it a night well spent. The next day was supposed to start early as we planned to visit Amber palace early in the morning. Apparently, it offered an elephant ride, which was available only in the morning. So, Preethu suggested that we start as early as 6'O clock before it starts getting hot. Hearing this, Raj was livid as he did not want to get up so early. In his own inimitable style, he wondered 'unko jado pocha nahin karne ka' (those people have to clean up the place)? :) So, we settled down for slightly later - say by 8.
It was much more late by the time we actually got ready the next day. Even after we all reached the parking lot, the drivers were missing as they had gone for breakfast. I did not mind this at all as I was able to spot a few birds in the meantime. By the time the drivers came back it was 10.30 and elephant ride looked impossible now.
Once again, we went past the Hawa Mahal road and cut into Amer road, which is also the old NH8 (connecting Mumbai and Delhi via Jaipur). Past Jal Mahal, we could see the winding roads going up Amber palace. But, our driver got a little confused and ended up taking the road to Jaigarh fort, while Tiju, Rajesh and Co were waiting near the elephant ride counter. Bad cellphone range made matters worse as I had trouble reaching Tiju on phone. As soon as we realized the mistake, we headed back.
The road had many sharp curves and our driver was trying to reach back quickly. At a curve we suddenly had another Innova coming from the opposite side and ended up crashing on to each others mirror. Both the mirrors broke and the driver of the other vehicle was furious. It almost became a fist fight, but the issue was finally settled as passengers from both cars interfered and both cars had equal loses.
We skipped the elephant ride as it was already too late and proceeded through a narrow road towards the Amber palace. It was about 12, when we finally reached the Amber palace. The palace looked more charming, with the greenish water in Maotha lake making its foreground and the Jaigarh fort providing a menacing background. The palace as such looked majestic and was beautifully built. The palace and fort was built mainly by Raja Man Singh. We were shown around the palace and was told about the lives of the Raja Man Singh, Jai Singh and their queens.
View from the window
The place had a turkish bath, a unique water pumping system and a couple of gardens, apart from the usual glitz of a palace. What I liked most was the majestic views of Jaigarh fort through the windows and arches. The fort surrounded the palace and had a long tall wall with pillars in between. There was also a temple - Badrinath Temple - visible from the palace and made a nice spectacle.
We were done with the palace by about 1.30 and was back in the market area downhill, where we spotted a restaurant and had lunch. Post lunch, on our way back, we again passed next to the Maotha lake. I wanted to take a break here to savour the palace and fort with the lake in the foreground.
|Royal residence with a lake view
When I called Tiju to tell this, their car was once again caught by police, because of the private registration. While Raj was bargaining the bribe to be paid, we took a brief stop near the Maotha lake. The lake had a bevy of pigeons and Manu particularly enjoyed the sight. He got totally excited when I bought some food for pigeons (at Rs 5 from a guy who was selling it) and started feeding them.
Our next stop was Jal Mahal, a palace set in the midst of Man Sagar lake. The water in the lake was still, forming a nice and steady reflection of the palace. Apparently, the palace is 5-storeyed with the lower four floors submerged in water. With the current water level in the lake, we were able to see half of the fourth floor as well. We were told that boat services was once available to the palace, but it is now stopped. So, all we could do was walk along the road running parallel to the lake.
The beautiful Hawa Mahal
The remaining time was dedicated for shopping and highly anticipated by the female members of the gang. We reached near the Hawa Mahal by 4 and quickly took a few pictures of the Hawa Mahal. The road in the front is very narrow and the Hawa Mahal very wide, making it difficult to fit everything in the frame. But, I made Preethu, Achan and Amma pose with Manu, standing in the divider and ended up taking the shot from the middle of the road when the traffic slowed down for a short time.
After this, everybody started hunting the shops at the Hawa Mahal bazaar. The nearby Johari bazaar was more famous, but, we settled down with the shops at Hawa Mahal bazaar. I had seen people going up Hawa Mahal and never really believed the guide saying that 'there is nothing to see in Hawa Mahal'! So, I wanted to explore further and enquired people how to get to the top. The entrance to Hawa Mahal is through a small street to its right side. I just made it on time as the counter would close at 5.30 and baught tickets. Once inside, I spotted Tiju and Rajesh running away from the shopping session too :)
The Hawa Mahal took longer to climb than I expected and finally culminated in a narrow passage with a single window opening towards the main road in the front. It offered a good view of the entire Jaipur skyline. One could spot far away buildings, including the Amber palace, Jal Mahal, Birla Mandir ... etc. It had many small windows on both sides providing excellent air circulation. This is indeed the reason for its name as Hawa Mahal literally means "palace of wind or breeze".
The Mahal has 953 small windows and its design is said to inspired by the shape of Lord Sri Krishna's crown. The color of the red and pink sandstone, used to build Hawa Mahal, is replicated for most of the buildings in the pink city. I could not help wondering why our guide would say that there is nothing to see in Hawa Mahal!
After Hawa Mahal, we all headed back in search of our better halves and found them seated inside different shops. Yet again, I volunteered to take care of Manu, who was quite happy getting to take a look at the blinking and colorful lights set up for Diwali! He got hungry a little later and the shop keeper helped by buying bananas for him. This surely ensured that his potential customer stayed at the shop for a longer duration!
We reached back Arya Niwas by about 9, after going through some confusion, as traffic was closed in one direction at MI Road. After dinner, we got ready for the train journey to Udaipur. The train was scheduled to start at 10.45 and we had a problem as our cabs wanted to be relieved by 9. So, we settled the accounts with the cab drivers and requested the guys at the hotel reception to arrange for another cab.
The settling of accounts was more complicated than expected as the guys started quarrelling with each other. Finally, we had to settle their accounts seperately. Even after that both the guys were stationed outside the hotel almost till 9.30! Arranging the cab had its own complication as enough cabs were not available at this short notice. We settled for two 5-seater cabs with one of them taking a double trip.
At the railway station, we pondered for a while about what to do with the truck load of luggage. To make the matters worse, our platform was a little far off from the entrance. We did check with a potter who quoted Rs 200, but finally decided to do it on our own. It was nice to get some exercise finally. Each of us carried what we can and managed to transport all the luggage to the platform.
Originally, we had booked the tickets in 3rd class, with only one ticket in 3rd a/c. But, later, thanks to Rajeev, we managed to get tatkal tickets in 2nd a/c for most people, except myself and Tiju. So, the two of us would travel in 3rd a/c and the rest will come in 2nd a/c. The train was late and we had to wait for almost an hour for it to arrive. With most of the people seated at the platform, some of us moved the luggage to the actual location of our compartment and stood on guard.
This is where Sunil got friendly with two chinese girls. He had befriended them at some other place and the girls looked quite interested in him. They were amazed at the amount of luggage we were carrying and Sunil told that our families are seated nearby. Now, they were impressed (or so they told) by our chivalry as we gave the seats to the women, carried all the luggage and now were standing guard for the luggage.
Sunil was enjoying the attention until they joked that they finished 'all their money' shopping in Jaipur! I could not help remembering the 'Christine' episode in 'Dil Chahta Hai'. The girls also told that they will be in 2nd a/c as well! So, Rajesh (in my and Tiju's absence) was given the responsibily to keep an eye on Sunil :) Once the train arrived, we were busy loading the luggages and then I and Tiju moved to 3rd a/c. We did spot the girls hitting on Sunil yet again inside the train, but he was sufficiently warned (and threatened) by then :)
When we reached Udaipur by day break, Sunil was still there in his seat and it was such a relief. After all, I did do what was expected of a big brother :) When we got out of the station, the cabs and the guide was waiting for us. This time, one of the Innovas did not have a carrier at the top. It meant that we had to fold the back seat of one of the cabs. So, Sunil moved to the other cab.
We reached the Oriental Resorts Palace by about 7. The hotel complex was vast with huge lawns. The rooms were descent too. Manu was having a fever in the night and so we called up 'The Cradle', who advised to give him Calpol, which Preethu was carrying. More than the fever, he was refusing to eat anything, giving us some worry.
We opted to take the breakfast at the restaurant within the hotel complex. I could spot many birds in the sprawling lawns within the hotel complex as we were heading towards the restaurant. There were many varieties of kites, wag-tails and even a lapwing. But, the biggest surprise was a crawling reptile which passed just ahead of us. It was not a rat snake and my guess is that it is some poisonous variety. I would have loved to take a photograph to figure its identity - but the snake seemed to be in a hurry ;-)
For breakfast, we had Parathas and bread toast. Not everybody seemed to have enjoyed the breakfast as we were already in to the fourth day day of north indian cuisine. Hence, bread toasts were more in demand and most of us already were missing a good kerala breakfast.
Sight seeing started with the Udaipur City palace, situated next to Lake Pichola. Our driver took us till the entrance of Srinivas Hotel, from where we could walk in to the palace. The palace was quite grand with beautiful interiors, stunning chandliers and manificient views of Lake Pichola. But, I was a little bored listening to another set of king stories and did not follow the palace history that much.
Apparently, the palace was built by Maharana Udai Singh II of Mewar from whom the city of Udaipur got its name. It was then inherited by Maharana Pratap Singh. We could see many pictures of Maharana Pratap Singh and his legendary horse Chetak. The pictures depicted events from the battle of Haldighati where Maharana Pratap's army fought the Mughal army. Maharana Pratap had to flee and Chetak collapsed only after ensuring the king's safety. This story is part of the Rajasthani folklore.
The palace was huge and took us quite a while to explore it. Infact, it was getting late and we aborted to assemble back at the entrance. It was feeding time for Manu and we were not carrying any spoon. I had seen a restaurant within the palace complex and thought I could borrow a spoon from them. If the place is OK we could also have lunch from there. But, it turned out to be extremely costly, with a juice can costing about three times the MRP. A mineral water bottle was Rs 50 and Tiju baught a couple of them as there was no option. I was given a plastic spoon free of cost after I told them the purpose. I fleed the place after thanking them profusely :)
The plan was to go to a restaurant called Berry's in Chetak road, but after reaching there, we found out that the place was closed. So, we settled for another restaurant called Aroma in Fathepura road. The restaurant was a rather open air setup, with tents to keep the sun away. The food turned out to be just about average, especially a lime soda that we ordered tasted sour - mostly because of the low quality soda that was used.
After lunch, we headed to Sahelion Ki Badi, which had nothing much worth mentioning, except for a few fountains. So, we headed back towards the city palace for a boat ride in Lake Pichola. The lake has the Jag Mandir island and also houses some of the costliest hotels in the country - with the Taj, Oberoi and Leela groups pitching up their tents right in the middle of the lake.
Yet another lake view!
Taj ... Oberoi ... Leela ...
From the boat, we could catch a good view of the city palace and the adjascent Srinivas hotel, reflected in the lake. The ride cost us Rs 50 / head, but was more than worth the money as the boat took us around the lake in more than half an hours time. We could visit the Jag Mandir, where prince Khurram (later Shah Jahan) was hiding during his days of revolt against his father. Apparently, the architecture of Jag Mandir inspired Shah Jahan during the contruction of Taj Mahal.
Sunset at Lake Pichola
After the boating, we headed up the Machala Magra hill to the sunset view point. We reached there right on time as the sun was just about getting red. It was a sight watching the sun going down amongst the Aravalli hill ranges with its reflection in Lake Pichola - one of the best sunsets I have seen.
The light faded soon after the sunset as we boarded the ropeway to the Karni Mata temple. Ropeway cost Rs 30 / head and gave us panoramic views of the city and Lake Pichola. There was a restaurant at the place where the ropeway connects to and Karni Mata temple was still about 10 minutes walk from there. To get better views I headed further from Karni Matha temple, to the top most point of the hill. The city of the Udaipur and the Lake Pichola dazzled from here and I was lost trying to take pictures from here.
I was not carrying the tripod, but managed to click some pictures placing the camera on top of a wall. Tiju, Deepa, Rajesh and Nithya were also with us and time just raced away as we were relishing this beautiful view and taking pictures. But, I soon remembered that Manu, Preethu and others were waiting there for me. He still had fever and Preethu had asked me to come back fast. So, the photo session was aborted and we headed back to the restaurant, where the rest of the people were waiting for us.
It was about 7, by the time we reached back near Lake Pichola. Deepa and Co wanted to do some shopping and headed for the same. Preethu wanted to take Manu back to the hotel and some of us headed back. Tiju also came with us to the hotel as we were planning to invite our guide for dinner at the hotel.
The guide reached the hotel by about 8 and joined Tiju, Achan and myself for dinner. Preethu and Amma joined us after a while. Rajesh and the rest of the people came in before 10 and had dinner at the hotel itself. Manu slept early but woke up a few times in the night.
We were planning to head straight to Mt Abu the next day. It was about 10 by the time we all packed and started from the hotel. I caught a glance of the red wattled lapwing once again and managed to take a few shots as well. But, the snake was nowhere to be seen ;-) to give me a pose!
Bill settlement took a while as we had an argument with the hotel guys regarding the bill amount. A contact of Tiju had booked the accomodation at a discount rate and he had to get involved once again before the bill was settled. Finally, we were out of the hotel post 10 and hunting for a restaurant for breakfast - only to realize that none of the places were open this early!
We checked at a south indian restaurant in Anand Plaza who said we would have to wait for half an hour. So, we decided to head out and then he offered to serve us immediately. To our pleasant surprise, they kept their promise and we soon had hot dosas and idlis - after so many days that seemed like eternity!
Soon, we were out in the highway to Mt Abu - NH76 and then NH14. This stretch was again beautiful 4-lane roads, being part of East - West corridor road spanning the breadth of the country. The landscape was mostly barren and arid, with rocky hills of the Aravalli ranges providing some kind of landscape. Coupled with the wide roads, it provided us with a very smooth and un-eventful ride to Mt Abu. The Aravalli hills is geologically an old mountain range and is eroding naturally. Legal and illegal mining is aiding this natural erosion and is a major ecological concern as the Aravalli hills act as a natural barrier for the Thar desert growing towards South East direction.
Udaipur to Mt Abu is about 180+ kms and we hardly slowed down till reaching the Mt Abu road. The only noteable structure on our way was the two tunnels (marked as Ukhaliyat and Khokharianal respectively, the later being shorter than the first). We passed the Pindwara and Swaroopganj towns, with the Aravalli hill ranges starting to appear nearer after Swaroopganj. By the time we exitted the East - West corridor and entered the Mt Abu road, the hills looked very prominent.
The ghat section started now and we moved closer to those hills. Mt Abu is at a considerable altitude and rises suddenly from the planes. Infact Guru Shikar, about 15kms from Mt Abu town, is the highest point in Aravalli hill ranges. This hills station is located close to the Gujarat border and had a good flow of tourists from Gujarat, as evident from the countless GJ registration vehicles. As we entered the hill station, the temperature came down considerably, even though it was about 1.45, by the time we reached.
Our first target was the Dilwara Jain temple, which had a guided tour around this time. So, it made sense to go to the hotel only after visiting the temple. But, even before that, it was time for lunch. So, we headed to the 'Jain Bhojan Shala', a Jain food counter located close to the temple. We had a simple Jain lunch starting with chappathis and a side dish made of green chillies gradually progressing in to rice and other things. Preethu tried hard to make Manu eat, without much success. He was still a little disturbed and had some fever.
Camera, mobile phones and leather items were strictly disallowed inside Dilwara temple. So, we left all these items, incuding my wallet, inside the car before heading to the temple. A crowd had already assembled at the entrance of the temple for the guided tour. As soon as we joined the group, after security checks, we were greeted by the guide - arranged by the temple authorities. The guy spoke in a loud and clear voice and explained the crowd about the temple, its history and architecture.
Manu was a bit cranky here and I had to take him away from the crowd to keep him quite. So, I missed most of explanations from the guide. But, the intricate structures of the temple, carved out of marble was hard to miss. I could not help but feel awed at its wonderful architecture. This place was not as famous as it ought to be and the only reason I could think of was that the camera was not allowed inside! How could they not allow the beauty of this marvellous temple get captured in the camera of visitors and shared with others?
The temples were built during the reign of Chalukyas between 11th and 13th century. There are five seperate temples inside the complex, out of which the Vimal Vasahi temple - dedicated to the 1st Jain trithankar Adinath - and the Luna Vasahi temple - dedicated to another Jain trithankar Neminath - stands out for its wonderful architecture and intricate carvings in marble. Apparently, the workers at Luna Vasahi temple were paid equivalent to the weight of marble carved out - encouraging them to carve more intricately. In spite of the grandeour inside, the temple complex looked very sedate from outside, possibly to keep away the attackers.
It was about 3 by the time we came out of the temple. There was a small shopping area outside the temple and I spotted a few books on the temple with photographs. Disappointed at not being allowed to take photographs, I picked up one of books - I am sure that is what the seller would expect people to do. I was glad that I kept some money in my pocket when I left the wallet in the car earlier. When Preethu picked up a kurtha for Manu, I found myself short of money. But we managed to buy it as Achan was carrying some money with him.
Our next destination was the sunset point. Mt Abu was quite famous for its beautiful sunsets as the hillstation rises high above the surrounding plains. We had enough time before the sunset. So, we first headed to our hotel - Surya Darshan - for a short break. Preethu wanted to do some shopping and specifically wanted to go to Piccadilly Plaza. The driver did not seem to know the place, but he showed her some other shop and Preethu hopped in while the rest of us headed to the Hotel. On our way back to the hotel, we passed through the Nakki market and I spotted the Piccadilly Plaza - we could always go there in the evening.
Soon, we were headed to the sunset point and was dropped near the parking lot, about a km from the actual view point. I spotted a few horses there and a ride to the view point would cost us Rs 20. Preethu was worried about Achan having to walk too much, so we opted to hire a horse. It could carry two people and Preethu was glad to join. After a while, she even picked up Manu and he too enjoyed the horse ride. Amma and myself walked along, with the rest of the people already gone ahead of us.
The horse tripped a few times scaring Preethu, but she managed to stay on till the destination. The ride lasted as far as the road was available, but we still had to climb some steps to reach the view point. It was about 5 now and the sun only had a faint dash of red. We picked up a good spot, which looked empty. There were a few vendors around and some kids offering to show us some 'tricks'. The kids stayed around us for a while trying to coax us, even though we declined to take their offer. They left only after a while as new potential customers came in.
As we waited for the dash of red in the horizon to turn darker, we found ourselves in the middle of a huge crowd. There were a lot of people coming in and jostling for space. It was a holiday and what else could we expect at the most famous hill station in Rajasthan?
Ball of fire ...
It was about 6, when the sun finally became a deep shade of red and it was worth the wait. There was hardly any sign of clouds and it was indeed a very beautiful sunset. The huge crowd was the only problem, as we were pushed around by people trying to get a better view. Especially with Manu around, it was difficult. The crowd may have irritated him and he started crying. We vaccated the spot even before the sun was fully set and headed back to the parking lot.
We stopped at the hotel once again before heading to Nakki lake. Achan and Amma stayed back with Manu as he had fallen asleep. Our cabs dropped us near the Nakki lake market as vehicles were not allowed beyond this point. So, we took a short walk checking out the shops around. It was almost 8 by the time we reached the lake. The lake looked beautiful, especially with the Diwali lighting. The water was still and reflected the lights around it. We had plans to do boating, but it was a tad late as the boating had just stopped.
I stopped a while for photographs, while the rest of the people started raiding the shops. Apparently, Mt Abu turned out to be a lot more economical than all the other places we had gone - I guess due to the lower percentage of foreign tourists. Piccadilly plaza was open till about 10 and Preethu hopped in as I headed back to pick up Manu, Achan and Amma.
Preethu found the place extremely good and picked up a few brass idols - mainly a Radha Krishna and a Ganapathi - and flower pots. Finally, we all were stationed in King's food court for dinner. I was a little suprised to see the price tags in the menu - it was very economical compared to Jaipur and Udaipur. Also, the menu had a lot of variety - from South Indian to Chinese - and the food was spicy. Enough of wondering - it was finally time to eat without worrying about the final bill and we did exactly that! After a good sleep, Manu also seemed to be in good spirits - his fever had also come down.
Next day started by around 8 - when we checked out from the hotel. There was a restaurant right next to the hotel and we decided to have breakfast there itself. It cost us a lot of time as the service was extremely slow. By the time we ate something and got out, it was almost 10. We stopped at Nakki lake for a boat ride, but was disappointed to see that there were no boats. Apparently, the current contract had ended and it was not renewed yet.
Nakki lake and the hills
The lake looked totally different from what we had seen in the night. There were no decorative lights, but the lake still looked as much beautiful with the hills in Aravalli ranges giving it a majestic backdrop. But, with the boating not available, all we could do was sit a few minutes there and take a few shots, before heading back to the highway.
Soon, we descended the ghats, got back to the East - West corridor and were headed to Udaipur. There were a few places we could have gone to, but most of the good places meant that we may need detours. Most of us were reluctant to take those detours and so we decided to directly head back to Udaipur. It was yet another eventless drive, except for a brief stop when we were mobbed by people selling Sitaphal (Sugar Apple).
We found a dhaba en route and stopped for lunch there. The food was once again economical, but the options were limited to dal, roti and rice. During lunch, Manu spotted a cute little girl and started playing with her. Even after we finished our lunch, he refused to come along and we had to drag him out. I could not help wondering if it was signs of time to come!
There was enough time left for our train to Delhi and we did not want to waste all that time. So, we did take a detour to Fatehsagar lake, just before reaching Udaipur. It was a normal lake and boating was available as usual. It was still a little sunny, but we did take boat ride, mostly because we had nothing better to do.
We were at Udaipur before 4 and stopped at a bakery - Jayesh Misthan Bandar - to buy 'Sattu Ke Laddu', another item in Preethu's To-Buy list. Soon, we were at the railway station. Once again, we checked with a potter and was told Rs 200. As before, we decided to do it ourself, mostly because we had enough time.
Rest of the time was spent strolling around and checking out the snacks shops at the platform. I especially liked Amul Cool, which I was trying out for the first time. It was only a few minutes before the train was scheduled to come, that we realized that we were not carrying anything for Manu's dinner. Me and Preethu came out of the platform, took an auto and headed to a nearby market to buy some fruits, only to make it back to the platform just in time for the train.
This time, all of us were seated in the 2nd a/c and had a lot of fun playing dumb-c, cards ... etc. The train passed through Chittorgarh, where we managed to buy some dinner - thali, burger and some pakoda. At the next station, we also managed to buy water. Manu also slept early and so we continued playing till almost midnight.
At 5.30 in the morning, we landed at the Delhi Sarai Rohilla station - Tiju would dispute this statement as the time was 5.29 according to him! Kiran had a friend staying in Delhi and arranged for our taxi and stay. One of the cabs was an Innova, as usual, but the other one was a Xylo. Our driver, a Punjabi lab, was a nice guy. On the way to the hotel, our cab was stopped by traffic police and we spent a while showing all the vechile papers. Apparently, our driver had to pay some bribe to get out of their clutches - even though all his paper was in order.
Our stay was booked in Ginger Rail Yatri Niwas hotel, near the Ajmeri gate station. The security seemed to be in high alert and all luggage had to pass through security scan. Ginger hotels works in self service mode and the concept sounded nice. As, there was no room service, we had to wait till breakfast for morning tea.
Soon, we found the self service mode badly implemented. One of the lifts could be operated only with the room key and even after a few tries I could not figure out how to operate it! I assume everybody had the same trouble, making the other lift quite busy. A lot of doors too could not be opened without room keys. May be it was a security measure, but it did not serve any purpose as there were alternative doors which can be accessed from other floors, once you take the lift.
We had taken only three rooms in the morning and had to shift to other rooms for the night. So, we packed our luggages and kept it ready for shifting. The hotel guys offered to shift the luggages to the new rooms if it was kept ready - quite surprising considering the self service mode!
Breakfast was taken at the Comesum food court inside the Ginger hotel building. The food was good and so was the variety. After breakfast, we headed out for our little tour of Delhi starting with Red Fort. It was almost 10 by the time we started off and we had a lot of places to cover - no time to waste all!
The tricolor flutters high here!
We were first dropped near the Red Fort and saw a huge queue in front of the monument. While waiting for the tickets, I spotted a notice talking about a Light and Sound show, which would be in the night time. Achan also found this interesting and we planned to come back in the night. Once the tickets were purchased, we all took a stroll inside the monument. The plan was to come back by 11, but, a shopping area on our way out was too tempting for some :)
By the time, we came out of the red fort, it was already time for lunch time. We decided to go to Delhi Durbar - as some people in the gang was dying to have some non-veg food. The place had decent Biriyani but for a high cost. Also, there was no raitha or any other side dish with the Biriyani and we had to order it later. The guy who took the order told that one Biriyani will be sufficient for two people, but I was not so convinced after seeing the bowl! They must have under-estimated our capacity!
At the Qutb Minar
Qutb Minar was next on our list after lunch. Inside the Minar complex, I found the evening lighting quite good and spent a while taking photographs, delaying everybody in the process. We had three more places in our list - Akshardam temple, Lotus temple and India Gate - and the time was already 4!
We passed next to the Lotus temple on our way to Akshardam. The view from the road was good and we stopped for a few photographs before heading towards Akshardam. Stopping at the Lotus temple for more time would have made us really late for Akshardam and I felt that being at Akshardam before its dark made more sense. I had good memories of the place from my last visit and was looking forward for this!
At 4, we were at Akshardam, but was surprised to see a long procession of vehicles jostling for space near the entrance. We got out from the cars and left everything - including mobile phones and cameras - inside the car as most of the things were not allowed inside. At the counter, the queue was even more scary. The queue was split in to almost 6 or 7 and a lot of people were pushing others out of their way to get in. We also pushed in for a while, but soon decided to give up. I was not very keen to go through this crowd for a second visit and backed out. Eventually everybody came out of the queue after realizing that a Saturday evening was not the best of times to visit to Akshardam - especially on the day after Diwali!
We walked back to the car parking dejected - the parking lot was quite huge and we had to look around for a while before spotting our cabs. When we did, the drivers were missing. We did not have our mobiles also and could not even call them up. For almost half an hour we stood there wondering what to do.
The only person who enjoyed the wait was Manu as he had a huge parking lot to run around! I spotted the sun turning bright red next to the temple dom and wished I had the camera. Just then, the drivers came in. They were expecting us to come back only in a few hours and had gone for a tea! I made everybody wait for a little more time, as I grabbed the camera for a quick shot of the sunset near the dom.
We, India Gate and the Balloons
We spent our remaining time of the day at India Gate premises. Manu enjoyed this as well, especially after I baught him a big balloon :) It was dark by the time we headed back. We went to Chandni Chawk for a little shopping. The market was mostly closed as it was the day after Diwali - but still worth a visit.
The Red Fort was right next to the Chandni Chawk and Me, Preethu, Acha and Amma wanted to go for the Light and Sound show. Tiju, Rajesh and Co stayed back at the market for some more time and was planning to head to a restaurant called Karim's for dinner. By about 7.30, we were at the Red Fort, but the show had already begun by the time we took the tickets and got inside. The story of Shahjahan and the construction of the fort was being narrated.
Show went on with the reign of Aurangazeb and the decline of Mughal empire after that. It went through the plundering of Delhi by the hands of Nadir Shah, during which the Peacock throne at the Red Fort and the Kohinoor diamond was taken away. The show ended after covering the life of Bahadur Shah Safar, the British rule, the freedom struggle and the Indian independence. It was colorful aided with a good sound system. The only dampner was the halo of mosquitoes hovering around us!
After the show, we were back at the hotel and found that the luggage is piled up in one of the rooms. It took a while to get the keys and move the luggage, after which we went down to Comesum restaurant for a light dinner. On our way back, I could not help noticing that a lot of people were complaining about the services at the hotel. One lady was talking about cockroaches in their room, while another person was heard talking loudly (and angrily) on phone with the hotel support staff. We had a scare ourselves, when the bathroom lock malfunctioned and I got stuck inside! But, contrary to my worst fears, Preethu's call was quickly answered and a person came and rescued me :)
Next day morning, we were all packed up and at the reception by 5. It took almost an hour to reach the airport - just in time for our flight to Bangalore. Me and Preethu did not get a seat together, but a girl was nice to us and exchanged seats so that we could sit together.
We were quite hungry and Manu was starving when we landed at Bangalore airport by about 10. Preethu, Me, Amma and Achan opted to have breakfast at a restaurant at the airport premises while the rest headed back home. After a costly breakfast at the airport we too took a cab home and were there by about 11.30.