Visiting India is a huge culture shock, I've visited the South and Sri Lanka beforehand but northern India felt like a different place entirely. I can't quite put my finger on exactly what is so different about the north but it's truly unique to any other place I've visited. Usually it doesn't take me that long to settle into life abroad however it did take me at least a week to really embrace everything around me and to stop feeling so overwhelmed.
This week we were headed to Udaipur, Pushkar, Tordi Sagar and Jaipur. It was going to be a full on week of exploring and I was finally really excited, as opposed to overwhelmed, by all the places we were going to be visiting.
First stop was Udaipur, a city I had been wanting to visit for a good couple of years now. Also known as the lake city or where Octopussy was filmed, to James Bond fans, Udaipur is exquisite.
This was my favourite place on the whole trip. It's the cleanest city we visited, you sort of get used to seeing rubbish everywhere in India, but not here. Here is very different, it's also on the water which makes it a lot cooler than elsewhere. While it was still very hot it was a more refreshing heat than the intensity we'd experienced for the previous week. I felt very safe and at home in Udaipur. If I ever get to a point where I need to get away from it all, you'll find me here.
You must go and visit the City Palace here and also the Lake Palace in the middle of Lake Picchola. You can get a boat which leaves on the hour every hour from 10am across to the Lake palace. To return, boats leave every 20 minutes. From 10-4pm it costs 400 INR + the 30 INR to get into the city palace walls. From 4-6pm for sunset it costs 600INR. We set off to the Lake Palace with the intention of having a little look around and then heading back. However we were soon swept away by its charm or should I say the charm of the luxury hotel located on there. Before we knew it we were being seated for a buffet breakfast, which cost £9 (best £9 I've ever spent). Up until that point breakfast had been consistent of some plain biscuits, a spicy omelette or dry toast so I was incredibly happy to be presented with the array of goodies that we were. As the time rolled on we were becoming more acclimatised with all these luxury comforts and as if by magic we ended up on massage beds being massage by a Phillipino woman. By the time early afternoon rolled around we were considering a room at the hotel and then had to snap ourselves out of it and remember we were meant to be backpacking... Oh how I wished we'd stayed.
If you're looking to do some shopping then head to the Old Town, it's got plenty of stores to have a little browse around. You'll be spoils for choice by what you find in some of the smallest looking shops, floor to ceiling stacks of clothing. Udaipur are known for their small silk paintings, I purchased a little one to bring home, some aren't great quality but it's usually quite easy to tell which those are.
We reluctantly left Udaipur for Pushkar. Pushkar is an incredibly holy city due to it being home to the only Brahman temple in the world. It's a prime destination for pilgrimages and it was really beautiful. There's no meat, alcohol, eggs or drugs allowed within the city due to it being this holy. We were only here for a night which obviously meant we needed to head straight out to shop...
There's a huge main street which leads to the Brahman temple and is basically a huge tourist trap as its lined with every treasure trove of a shop you can imagine. It's here that I purchased both these dresses, they were £2.50 each. Bargain, if you ask me. Admittedly the yellow one is most definitely see through, I guess £2.50 doesn't buy you lining, however I love it nonetheless.
While you're in Pushkar you have the chance to be blessed by the lake. There will be people in the street trying to hand you a flower, do not take the flower as you'll then he pressured into giving money to them to carry out the blessing, sometimes this can be a huge amount as well. We decided we wanted to be blessed so we asked our guide to organise it for us and afterwards we paid 100 INR, he only asked for whatever we deemed right, no pressure. If you want to be blessed ask your hotel or guide for an actual priest to carry out the ceremony not someone that's wanting to rip you off. It was a really special experience, afterwards you're given a yellow and red string to be tied round your wrist which shows you've been blessed. This is also known as the 'Pushkar Passport'.
TO THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
We were picked up in a private transfer, which was very glamorous because we'd been travelling via local bus and train for the previous 10 days. The reason we were taken privately was because we were quite literally going to the middle of nowhere. I don't think there was a train or bus stop anywhere near. We were on route to a little village called Tordi Sagar to stay in a home stay at the head of the village's house... Or should I say collection of ginormous houses. They were gorgeous. We were greeted with flower garlands, there was no wifi, dodgy electrics but a charm unlike anywhere we'd been beforehand. I can recount a very amusing story of Emma being in the shower and the electricity cutting out, twice, it was also pitch black outside, it was all very amusing until the same thing happened to me! Shortly after our arrival earlier in the day we had been treated to lunch at a local home, the family are pictured above.
In the evening we headed up to the top of a sand dune to watch the sun set over the desert which was pretty special. That evening there happened to be a cross over with a couple of other groups which was really fun as we all had dinner together and then proceeded to get really quite drunk, well I didn't because I don't really like drinking and don't feel like I need it to be social, so I just observed everyone else get very drunk which is always quite funny.
There was a girl that came and covered us in henna while we were here, it's so easy to get completely carried away with it but they're so talented at it over there that it's so tempting to just keep saying yes. I still have henna stains on my palms 3 weeks later! While we were in the village we went on a walk around to see it all, on the walk our guide also told us about the Caste system in India. This system basically dictates your standing in society, you can't change your caste and in many cases it also dictates who you'll be allowed to marry - inter caste marriages in much of India are still frowned upon. It was fascinating to learn about and if you want to know more about it I definitely recommend having a little Google.
BACK TO CIVILISATION: JAIPUR
From the village we headed by jeep to Jaipur. My second favourite place after Udaipur. I loved it here, I think I finally felt completely relaxed and settled in Indian culture by the time we got to Jaipur. Jaipur is also known as the pink city and is the capital of Rajasthan. It's huge, it's full of exciting goings on and it's also gorgeous.
You must visit the Amber Fort, but don't get an elephant ride up to the top of the palace, as you'll see many doing because they use daggers to control the elephants so it's not ethical and elephants are beautiful creatures, harming them isn't worth reduced sweatiness and a cool Instagram photo. As tempting as Instagram can be... Also be sure to get a guide here, it's the best way to learn about the royal family that used to occupy this beauty of a palace.
If you get the chance I also highly recommend a visit to the famous Taj Mandir Cinema, experiencing a Bollywood movie is an occasion in itself. Forget the no talking, no phones, no communicating rule. Just like everything else in India, going to the cinema is loud, vibrant and full of life. I loved it.
Jaipur is where we did most of our shopping, we decided it was time we really just went all out and got it out our system. My goodness did we come back with some treasures. We asked a tuk tuk driver to take us round for the afternoon, we paid him 400INR for 4 hours and he was fantastic. He asked what it was we wanted to buy and then took us everywhere. We had a couple of places in mind which he also showed us but the ones he suggested were definitely the best. We arrived at a warehouse where vegetable ink printing was happening in a little shed outside. We were even allowed to try it out for ourselves, we were then taken into an emporium of goodies, everything you could ever hope to buy was here. We were seated and served chai as the owner went through everything they stocked and the price ranges for all of it. Soon we were whisked away by our own personal assistant who took us round the whole store to pick out and try on what we wanted. One of my favourite things about India was the tailor service, it was incredible. At the warehouse I picked out my favourite fabrics and had all manner of creations made for me, they were delivered to the hotel the same evening and they all fit perfectly! I highly recommend trying it out while you're visiting. Jaipur is especially good for this. Jaipur is also known for it's jewellery... so naturally we had to and buy some jewellery. We were taken to a little shop called Silverfish, which I'd highly recommend, we walked out with far too many purchases but with big grins across our faces. I would go back to Jaipur in a heartbeat, definitely visit if you're heading to India!
Before we knew it, it was Sunday and we were rolling into our final 5 days in India. The next post will tell you all about what we got up to, including a visit to the 7th Wonder of the World!