India, February 27, 2017

Day 15

Ranthanbore National Park is jungle, although it’s not Tarzan’s jungle; no high sprawling canopy or hanging vines. It’s dry with small water holes and low spindly trees broken up by the occasional Gum or Banyan tree. This is the end of this region’s dry season, with monsoons starting in June and continuing into September.


The roads are paved, semi-paved or rutted rocky tracks, where we had to hold on for dear life.  The sunrise over this hill county was a soft pink in a clear blue sky.  The national park was established in 1981 and a tiger reserve in 1974.  India’s declining population of tigers is finally on the upswing.  Tigers live an average of 14 years and aren’t known as great hunters.  Out of 10 attempts they will be successful in killing game 1 time, so they tend to hoard their food in a hidden area, eating and sleeping until it’s all gone.

We had a brief stop at the ranger station where our driver and naturalist got their instructions on which area to enter.  The park is divided into zones and the safari drivers are directed to different zones to keep everyone somewhat separated, minimizing wear and tear on the more popular sections of the park. Here is our naturalist, Ru with an friend.

Halfway into our 3 hour safari, we saw female Bengal tiger tracks in the road.  Then further on, we could hear a tiger barking a warning signal. You can hear the back on the sound bar below.


We kept following the warning barks until we saw a couple of safari jeeps in the distance stopped with everyone’s camera’s at the ready.  As we pulled up we could see a tiger in the grass with her 3 cubs of about 6 months (featured photo). They started walking and we were able to follow at a distance.



We were so blown away to be a part of this very rare sighting.  This mother and her cubs have only been sighted 4 times before today. Here are two cubs fooling around trying to climb a tree….not much luck. Although the naturalists aren’t allowed walkie talkies in the park, they seem to have a sense of when another group has found a good sighting.  As the tigers moved through the park, there was a tiger race with jeeps flying over impossible roads, while the naturalist yelled for us to hold on.



Our day was made and we had one more afternoon safari to go.

After a traditional Indian lunch, we went back to the room to rearrange out luggage for the next day.  We needed to transfer everything we would need for the afternoon and evening to a carry-on for the next days train trip.  It took quite a bit of juggling but we finally managed.  Paramjeet picked up our big bags to take by car to Bharatpur, where he would meet us the next day. Ohhhh….separation anxiety from Paramjeet, who has been a rock during our driving portion of the trip.

Ru picked us up at 2:30 pm for safari number two.  Our new driver was a speed demon, and we were a little concerned about trying to stay in the jeep if he flew over the rocky, rutted roads in the park. Fortunately once we got there he slowed down to a reasonable pace for the terrain.  After driving for quite a distance, stopping to listen for game, we again saw a jeep in the distance pulled over with everyone looking into the bush. Pulling up we could see in the distance an elusive Indian mountain leopard, tan on top, white on the tummy with black spots all over.  This leopard was way back in the trees, at the base of the mountains and very difficult to see.



We have been so fortunate at the Ranthambore National Park.  We even got a glimpse of a sloth bear, before he was scared off by an aggressive safari driver.  I’m hoping we can get a photo at safari in Bandhavgarh National Park.

The park is full of Sambar deer, Spotted deer, Rose Ring parakeets, Kingfishers, little Mocking birds, Heron and numerous other animals.

India, February 26, 2017

Day 14, Jaipur to Ranthambhore

We tore ourselves out of the heavenly beds at the Samode Haveli hotel for the 4.5 hour drive to Ranabath. Even though it is beautiful city, with magnificent forts and palaces, it’s a relief getting out of the congestion and smog of Jaipur. We were soon traveling through open farm county with cauliflower, mustard, wheat, garlic, guava and hay being harvested.

There was one of the big transport trucks being loaded with hay. The gigantic bags hanging off the sides of the trucks are like oversized panniers. As you can see the hay is chopped up, making it easier to handle with the front loader.



We’ve been seeing a lot of jeeps with 8 to 10 people jammed inside, sometimes half hanging out the window or riding on top. Parami says these are the local taxis’ that travel up to 30 kilometers. Longer trips are made by bus.


There was a large group of ladies in their colorful saris digging a trench alongside the road with pickaxes. It was a very jarring tableau of beauty and hard labor. We caught them taking a much needed break.


We stopped for a small lunch and I had some delicious local curried cauliflower with our usual garlic Nan.

Paramjeet drove us through one very small village that must have had 6 or 7 tin shed barbershops.  We couldn’t figure out how such a small place would need so many barbers. This barber was all for having his picture taken, don’t think his customer was so sure.






We have arrived in Ranthambore and are staying close to the Ranthambore National Park, the park covers 151 square miles. The park has been preserving tigers, stripped Hyenas, Sloth Bears, Flying Foxes and Leopards since 1955, but wasn’t declared a National Park until 1980.

There was just time today to visit a women’s cooperative that specializes in hand loomed camel hair carpets, textiles and paintings. The work is very time consuming and intricate with a lot of hand stitching. Suzanne and I might have appreciated their workmanship a bit too much.  We might not be able to buy anything for the rest of the trip.


Tomorrow we are off on two safaris. With luck we will see a tiger…..

India, February 25, 2017

Day 13, Jaipur

Hot day with lots to do….we got an early start driving with our tour guide for a quick Hawa Mahal Palace photo opportunity. The palace is located on a busy street, so there’s no stopping, just slowing down for a snapshot.  The latticed windows were where the wives and concubines could watch the royal processionals coming up the avenue.


Then we were off to Amber Fort to take an elephant ride to the top.  The line was very long, but moved pretty quickly.  Jaipur’s main industry seems to be tourism, along with gem cutting, jewelry making and textiles for the tourists to buy.  Our guide today was our favorite so far.  He was very nice, with some personal stories and a sense of humor.


The elephant ride was a mass production, but fun just the same (featured photo). And thank goodness we didn’t have to walk up to the fort, which is sitting atop a sizable hill overlooking Maota lake.  Our guide told us the there would be photographer’s and not to buy from them until we were ready to leave, so we would be able to negotiate a better price. He also filled us in on what to pay for the photos.  Suzanne sat in the front of the Howdah (carrier) and I sat in the back, so she would be able to see.  Unfortunately for Suzanne the elephant was flinging water out of his nose to keep himself and Suzanne cool. Here is a picture of a picture. It’s not as clear, but a fun shot.


The fort is the site of the winter and summer palaces of Raja Man Singh and was built in 1592. The different palaces are placed one on each side to catch the warmth of the sun or the cool breezes, depending on the season. The fort has a beautiful mirrored palace that is under restoration.  The lovely photo below shows the moorish influence in the architecture of this Hindu fort.


The Palace of Mirrors was originally inlaid with gemstones, but those were removed many years ago. All the mirrors, gold inlay and colored glass, allow just a few candles to light the entire palace with their reflection.



It was very interesting to watch the craftsman working on replacement of missing parts of the mosaic.


On our way out of the fort, we walked a way down the hill from the fort. As soon as we were through the gate I was approached by one of the photographers with three photos of us on our elephant.  I kept saying no, as per the guides instructions and he kept shoving the photos in my hand.  Next thing I knew, Suzanne took the photos and pushed them back, grabbed my arm and was dragging me down the hill. Boy was I surprised! She was determined that we weren’t negotiating until we got to the car pick up area, where we successfully negotiated for all the photos we wanted. On our walk down we witnessed a wedding party heading up to the fort. The groom is on the left and the bride, on the right, walks behind fully veiled.



Suzanne has been keen to visit some of the local craft shops. We will have to get Parmai to take us, because the guide was less than enthused about stopping at the local shops.  Not sure what that’s all about, but its not the first time we have been discouraged from shopping, except at the approved stores.  They can be interesting, because there is usually a demonstration of gem cutting or  jewelry making. Before lunch we were taken to one of the Indo Asia companies approved shopping stores.  They were cutting, emeralds, rubies, which are found in India, and other stones that are imported from out of country.


The City Palace was next up, with it’s Peacock, Lotus, Rose and Banana leaf gates. My head is reeling from all the forts and palaces.  They are all unique, so thus far not boring, but it’s getting hard to keep them all straight.


A snack shop we passed on our way to the last stop of the day, Jantar Mantar, as collection to architectural astronomical instruments that were started in 1727 and completed in 1734. We arrived at 2:30 pm and the sundial in the bottom photo, shows the time within 2 seconds.




It’s on to Ranthambore tomorrow were we will hopefully be seeing some Bengal Tigers in the wild.

India, February 24, 1917

Day 12, Shahpura to Jaipur

We left our gracious hosts this morning to deal with their big day. They are expecting an influx of 21 guests. With just nine suites, they were setting up opulent safari tents, with carpets, furniture and baths.

As this is a car day with the four hour drive to Jaipur, it’s a good time to focus on overall photographic impressions rather than the just the travelogue.


Suzanne bonding with the local kids in Shahpura. They were very excited about having their picture taken with one of us.  As you may have noticed, Suzanne usually gets the honor because I’m holding the camera.  I’m smiling as I take the pictures of her……if I’m taking close up and personal photos of people, permission is always requested.

A bit about money in India. The exchange is 67 rupees to 1 dollar. Our money goes a long way in India and although we aren’t doing the budget tour, we aren’t breaking the bank either.



Thank goodness we didn’t see this sign before exploring the Ranakpur, Jain temple with it’s gazillion steps.  Not sure what the benefit of the ‘aged’ route was, as it just took you on a long detour through a park.


We were all ahhing and oohing today when we spotted a huge herd of sheep flowing down the road.  There were sheep, with a few goats, for almost as fas as we could see.  Don’t think it made Parami’s day….


On our way to Jaipur, we are taking the back roads through small villages. I’m amazed at the motorcycles with families of four or five perched on top, zipping along the highway. The Indians seem to be masters at getting the biggest load possible on any vehicle. Women for the most part ride sidesaddle on motorcycles, sometimes with small children held in their laps.  We’ve noticed that some machines have special foot rests for the ladies, so they don’t fall off.


While Jodhpur is the blue city and Udaipur the city of lakes, Jaipur is the pink city.  With all our travels it’s hard to believe we are still in the very large state of Rajasthan.  Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and home to about 3.5 million people. Tomorrow we will be exploring, taking in five different sites in the city, one of which includes an elephant ride to reach the fort.

On our way through the massively congested city, Parami asked if we would like a restaurant instead of eating at the hotel. We agreed that would definitely be more interesting, so off we went to have a very delicious veggie lunch, while being entertained by this gentleman with bells on his ankles, a Chikara folk instrument and a shaking bootie (mostly at Suzanne, although she says it was mostly at me).


We saw the gentleman in the featured photo pressing sugar cane on his cart and selling flavored cane juice to the local kids.


We are checked into another gorgeous heritage hotel, Samode Haveli. The common areas are covered with intricate paintings and our room is colonial Indian. The room is very spacious, with our own enclosed terrace. We are drinking coffee and tea in our room, but are about to move on to a glass of wine. The Muslim calls to prayer are echoing through the hotel, they are lovely, but we aren’t looking forward to the one before sunrise.

India, February 23, 2017

Day 11, Udiapur to Shahpura

Met Parami (Paramjeet) this morning for the 4 hour drive to Shahpura, which is a small town off the beaten track on the way to Jaipur. On our way, we took an unscheduled side trip  to the Sas-Baku Temple built to honor Lord Vishnu in the 11th century.  The temple is no longer consecrated so we didn’t need to remove shoes as usual. The temples are covered with carvings from the Kamasutra, which is an ancient erotic love manual.



Continuing towards Shahpura, we saw some incredibly overburdened trucks, motorcycles and auto rickshaws transporting hay. Can not figure our how they get that load organized on the truck. Think the driver was looking back to see if his tail was dragging.


We are staying overnight at the Shahpura Bagh, a royal hunting lodge and summer home that has been recreated by the family into a charming, rural hotel.  There are only 9 suites and Suzanne and I chose to locate out in the back bungalow with a dressing room, bedroom, bath and sitting area.  The family is very friendly and rescued us, as someone accidently locked us in our beautiful room. Suzanne was calling out the window for help. I found the hotel phone number on Trip Advisor and rang up the front desk. Jai, who is one of the owners answered the phone, apologized profusely and sent help running.  We got a good laugh, figuring we could live on the food and drink in the mini-bar, until Parami came looking for us.  All in all we were trapped for less than 5 minutes…..such drama. To recover from our ordeal we retired to the poolside bar for a glass of wine.



Waiting for Parami, we took a short walk around the property.  That’s where we saw our friend in the featured photo.  There were dozens of parrots flying around in the mature trees on the property, chattering and making themselves very busy.


Parmi, Suzanne and I headed into town to see the market, fort and local temples.  There were no other tourists out and about.  They all seemed to staying on the hotel grounds. The local people were extremely friendly, waving and engaging in limited English conversation.



You can see Parmi and Suzanne by the gate.  After we returned to the hotel, we just had time to get ready for dinner.  The owners came around and visited while we ate a well prepared traditional Indian dinner. Being out in the country made the walk back to our suite very special with a night sky filled with the galaxy of stars.

India, February 22, 2017

Day 10, Udaipur

A big, big day…..The gigantic city palace was up first.  It is one of four palaces built by the Maharanas, two have been turned into hotels. The rulers of the Mewar region of Rajasthan started using the title of Maharana (Prime Minister or Custodian) instead of Maharaja (great king) in the 13th century. In this Hindu civilization Lord Shiva was considered the king of Mewar, so the royal families took the lesser Maharana name. The City Palace is the Rajasthan state’s largest at  800′ long and a 100′ high.  Construction began in 1599 by Maharana Udai Singh II, the cities founder.  Over the centuries the palace has become a conglomeration of eleven palaces that were built by successive Maharanas.  We entered through a gate to the main courtyard where there are eight arches to commemorate where the Maharanas were weighted eight times and their weight in gold or silver was given to the happy populace.


The palace was of course divided into separate areas for men and women.  This is where the Maharana sat overlooking a courtyard while entertaining guests.


The palace has several very ornate rooms that are dazzling with vibrant colors, crystals and mirrors.



While the Maharana was entertaining, his wives are gathered in their quarters watching the proceedings through latticework windows or gathering in their own communal room.


We were able to get a sweeping view of Udaipur from the top of the palace.  Udaipur is unique among the cities we’ve visited so far. There are two notable differences, there is very little litter, and there are very few freeranging dogs, donkeys or cows.  A little research turned up the fact that there is an animal rescue group in Udaipur.  They take all the animals off the streets and care for them in their facility. Also the mayor has instigated a anti-litter campaign, that seems to be working very well.


About 150 meters from the palace is the Jagdish Temple our second major stop. After a very steep staircase flanked by elephants, we reached the temple. Unfortunately photos are not allowed in the interior. The temple was built in 1651 and dedicated to Lord Vishnu, preserver of the universe.


Then it was on to Sahelion Ki bari, the ‘garden of maidens’, which translates to the Maharana Sangram Singh’s garden for his Queen and concubines (48 young women accompanied the Queen in her marriage as part of her dowry). He built the garden in the mid-18th century with 5 fountains that work by water pressure from a nearby lake. Got a picture of our guide for the day, Laila Sharma who is a Jain monk. He lives and works at the Ranakpur temple that we visited yesterday. His family have had monks at the temple for 17 generations.



In the afternoon Suzanne and I were treated to a boat ride around Lake Pichhola, where we were able to see the Lake Palace Hotel that was featured in the James Bond classic, Octopusy. We also passed the back of the City Palace (featured photo), and then motored out in our boat to Jagmandir Island to view the palace grounds.


Back to the hotel where we collapsed with a glass of wine and had a lovely dinner overlooking the city.


India, February 21, 2017

Day 9, Rohet to Ranakpur to Udaipur

We sadly left our desert oasis of Rogetgarh.  It was such a special place, green and cool, with warm, friendly people.  We hit the road with our driver extraordinare for the Jain temple of Ranakpur.  On the way we stopped to watch sesame oil be made in the ancient tradition.  The bull is blindfolded to keep him from becoming irritated at walking in circles all day.  The woman is pushing the sesame seeds into the center depression, the wooden post rolls around crushing the seeds for oil.



Ranakpur temple is in a valley, still in the state of Rajasthan. The temple is dedicated to Tirhankara Rishabhanatha, a revered teaching god of Jainism. This temple (featured photo) is one of the five holy places of the Jain community and was created in the 15th century. The religion is traditionally known as Jain Dharma and there is evidence of Jain monks in the first or second centuries BC.  The three main principles to Jainism are non-violence, non-absolutism, and non-possessiveness.  The central tenet is non-violence and respect for all living things.


The temple is an architectural wonder with 29 halls and 1444 pillars all carved, with no two alike.




After exploring the temple, Paramjeet drove us to lunch where we were the ‘table of disappointment’.  Suzanne and I would have been happy with a power bar and bottle of water, but didn’t want Param to go hungry.  We pulled into a restaurant and were the first party from the temple to arrive.  We ordered diet cokes, mixed vegetables, Nan, and vegetable noodles.  The staff couldn’t have been more unhappy, commenting on how we only ordered 3 dishes.  Weird experience, but at least Param was happy with a good lunch. Param stopped the car so we could see some Gray Langur monkeys.  They immediately jumped on the car.  This guy is sitting on the drivers side rear view mirror.


Further on our way to Udaipur we stopped to watch a farmer using an ancient method of irrigation.  The hand dug well is about 25′ to the waterline. The oxen turn the wheel, which sends little pails down to the water, then back up to be dumped in a small channel that takes the water to the adjacent fields.

We have arrived in Udaipur at another heritage property. The hotel is a 150 year old, ruined palace that was moved and restored on a summit overlooking the city and countryside.  The aspect is stunning and the room is modest.  We are looking forward to a big day tomorrow with adventuring to multiple sites.  Adventuring is pretty much part everything here.  From figuring out how to use the shower, to puzzling out what people are saying.  And Suzanne and I have found we compliment each other pretty well. She can dodge traffic, with me hot on her heels, to get to the ATM and I know how to use it.  I can deal with the old school room locks and Suzanne makes sure I take my Malaria pill.  So, all is well and we are doing our best to take care of each other while exploring India.

India, February 20, 2017

Day 8, Jodhpur to Rohet

We had a lovely last evening in Jodhpur, venturing from the hotel into the old city for a roof top dinner at Indique.  From our elevated table we had views of the old clock tower, fort and palace.


Back to the hotel to get packed up after our three day respite from travel.  We are off in the morning for Rohet and Rohetgarh, a family run fort in the traditional Rajasthani style.  We have been traveling through the Rajasthan region (state) since before Jodhpur.  Rohet is a short 45 minute drive from Jodhpur.  Paramjeet has a small shrine to Ganesha on the dashboard, decorated with a beautiful garland.  Ganesha is the god of new beginnings and is an obstacle remover.  Perfect for the car….as Paramjeet says, “to drive in India you need a good horn, good brakes and good luck.


On the way we passed a group of women breaking and hauling rock.  Very hard work, especially in 87 degree heat.

In our itinerary from our travel agent Christina at Willamette Travel, we were warned that the 375 year old desert fort would be our most basic accommodation.  So, we were prepared for bare bones, and laughed ourselves silly upon arrival.





The heritage fort hotel is still the residence of the original royal family of Rohet.  Suzanne and I were lucky enough to meet a female member of the family later in the evening when we went down to the bar for a glass of Indian wine, Sula.

After it cooled off a bit in the late afternoon, Suzanne and I took a safari to nearby Bishnoi and Brahmin villages.  The Bishnoi are a group of people that worship nature and believe in the sanctity of plant and animal life. No TV, electricity, toilets and they only eat vegetables and milk. Women with a ring in their nose means they are married.


The grandfather of the small clan we visited is 87 years old and his wife is 81, must be doing something right.  They live a very simple life on 15 hectares (37 acres in the semi-desert).

Imagine our surprise when we got to the Brahman village of approximately 300 and found everyone preparing for a wedding. But the bigger surprise was the fact that the local men were preparing liquid opium to drink in honor of the big event. We were offered a some, which we graciously declined.


The groom had his turban done by our guide. We were extremely lucky to able to watch some of the wedding celebration.

After returning to the fort, we had a great vegetarian dinner and enjoyed the sparkling garden.


















India, February 19,2017

Day 7, Jodhpur

This has been a very fun day.  Suzanne and I had a leisurely morning (our 2nd in a row, yippee) with a 9:30 am pick up by Paramjeet ‘highest success’. Suzanne and I both like Paramjeet immensely. He is helpful, but because he is a driver and not a guide, we are able to make our own decisions. The guides were great and full of information, but they have a routine and a certain way they like to do things. So, giddy with our freedom, we went to Maharani spices in the old city. The gentleman running the shop was very helpful. We bought some unusual and sumptuous smelling spice combinations.  The spice shop was just a short distance from the Sardar market with it’s century old clock tower (you can see the fort to the left).


The market is set up from around 10 am to 8 pm. Taking our life in our hands we crossed an intersection to take a look as they were just setting up for the day. Our good luck, because the hawkers weren’t on their game yet. The hawkers are young street kids that get paid to direct you to certain shops, where you then are charged 3 to 4 times the normal amount for your purchases.  Everyone has warned us to not engage with them.

Like chickens are ubiquitous in Hawaii, cattle are ubiquitous in India.  In fact we have seen an amazing amount of free ranging wildlild in urban India.


img_0138After the market, Paramjeet took us to a wine shop. I almost had heart failure after figuring out what our hotel charged for a bottle of Jacob’s Creek Shiraz the other night.  The taxes were almost half the cost of the bottle.

We then drove up to the current Maharaja’s palace to get a closer look.  The hotel he added only has 55 rooms at approximately $824 night.  The rest is all his personal residence.


On our way down the hill from the palace, Paramjeet spotted three antelope on the hillside just off the highway.  They were climbing a sandstone cliff face and could have been mistaken for mountain goats.

img_0139Jodhpur is on the edge of the Thar desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert. The desert forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan. Because of the complicated relationship with Pakistan and the border only 200 to 300 Kilometers from Jodhpur, there is a very large military presence in the city.  After India was partitioned by the British in 1947, three wars have been fought over the Kashmir between the two countries.


Paramjeet wanted to know if we would be interested in visiting a Guda Bishnoi village textile warehouse to look at their immense offerings of pillow cases, scarves, fabric, tunics, purses, and more, of course we would!

India, February 18, 2017

Day 6, Jodhpur

This is our second day in Jodhpur, ancient trade cente for opium, copper, silk, sandals, date palm and coffee. The city was founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha a clan chieftain.  Our day was packed with sightseeing, starting with Jaswant a white marble memorial built in 1899 for Maharaja-Jaswant Singh II (featured photo, and no we aren’t starting to dress alike, this is a one off). This royal family is still living in Jodhpur and are currently living in a 365 room palace that has been partially converted to an exclusive hotel.


Our second stop was the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort, which was built by Maharajah Man Singh in 1808 following his defeat of invading forces from Jaipur.  The fort is in Trust and run by the Jodhpur royal family.  Although the fort is carved from sandstone, it is so finely done as to resemble sandalwood in the intricate latticework windows.


The Takhat Vilas was the bedchamber of the deprived Maharaja Takhat, who had just 30 maharanis and many concubines.  The maharanis lived in the zenana and were able to view the world through the carved lattice windows.  Currently the zenana is used to display the royal cradles.



This gated entrance was an access and processional road for elephants and horses entering and leaving the fort.  The gate is studded with long metal spikes to keep the elephants of invading forces from gaining entry. The zenana can be seen in the upper left of the photo.

This ornate hall was the meditation room. I had a hard time imagining meditation in such busy and distracting surroundings.



The fort has been undergoing restoration since 1972.  The gentleman below is restoring a royal palanquin (a spoil of war).



Jodhpur is famous for it’s artists of miniature paintings.  The fort had some of the finest examples on display. This is Ambika being praised by the gods for defeating the usurper monkey demon.


Jodhpur is known as the blue city.  With this view from the fort, the reason for the name became apparent.

Suzanne and I are still adjusting to the time and temperature change.  By the time we finished lunch and headed to Mandore Garden temperature was over 90 degrees.  The Mandore Garden has some of the earliest royal memorial buildings in Jodhpur.


Tomorrow we are off to the old clock tower and city bazaar.