Samstag, 31. Oktober 2009

Pushkar Mela

While rather a slow little town the rest of the year, during the annual Mela, Pushkar is a sheer frenzy of colors, sounds and - well - smells. During the eight lunar month of the hindu calendar Kartika thousands of camels are herded to Pushkar for the famous camel fair while at the same time tenthousands of hindu pilgrims come here to bath in Pushkar's holy lake.
The little town is jam packed with people of all kinds.
Wild looking Rajputs wearing wicked turbans and scary mustaches, Jogi-style guys with dread locks, wildly painted faces and bare chests, women dressed in beautiful saris in crimson, pink, yellow and orange wearing all the gold juwelery they own. And off course tons of tourists causing hotel prices to triple.

Strolling around the fair grounds is some sight. Though the camel fair is practically over by now there are still more camels in one spot than I have ever seen before. I am told there were ten times as many animals in town at the beginning of the fair on Monday of last week.

There is a constant movement through the tigny streets of the village. People coming and going to the Ghats at the lake to bath. Pilgrims visiting the local temples or getting something to eat at one of the many food stands.

I will stick around for two more nights. It's almost full moon and with the waning moon the pilgrims will vanish. And wioth them the hords of tourists like myself. And then Pushkar will once again be a sleepy little town until the whole frenzy will start all over again at the end of Kartika 2010.

Donnerstag, 29. Oktober 2009

Happy Birthday to Me


is what woke me this morning when the Agra Muezzin called for Prayer at 5:00 am.
15min later my alarm went off but I was already awake.
It was still dark outside when I packed my remaining things and headed out to the Agra train station. My train was supposed to leave at 6:16 and I planned some buffer time in case I did not find a Tuck Tuck right away or there was going to be heavy traffic. (Yes, roads can get pretty congested even at 5:30 in the morning here!).
At 5:45 I was at the station only to learn our train had 1h delay.
Well I guess some things are universal. If you are barely on time the train leaves sharp according to schedule - maybe even e minute or two earlier. But if you are there well in advance you can be sure the train is at least equally late.
So then we spent a nice six hour trainride in an Indian sleeper coach. Very interesting!
So I got to Jaipur and got picked up at the train station. I had booked myself into a nice hotel as a treat for my birthday.
Then headed into town.
Saw the Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds. Very nice.
But the most out of the ordinary was when I wondered into the local mosque en route of the old city walk just at two o'clock in the afternoon when everyone came for prayer. And before I new it I was shown how to wash myself for worship and then came along for my first ever prayer at a muslim mosque.
A really nice Indian guy took me along and told me what to do.
Later the two of us had some team just around the corner at a local bazzar. Turns out he also deals in precious stones! Like I never would have guessed. He also talked a little about how he knows a lot of people all over the world and how they come back frequently to buy more stones from him to sell for *a lot more* back home and make a good profit. He even showed me some he had on him just by coincidence. I casually told him precious stones were really not my business that I had to work too long every day to start a second business on the side. He did not press any further. In the end we parted bidding each other farewell and maybe I would give him a call if I came back to Jaipur again. Yeah right!
So either he didn't pull the full scam on me, a "brother in Allah" or this was going to be a long con to be continued next time we meet.

Tomorrow I'm off for Pushka at noon. Too bad I can't stay longer for I have hardly seen anyting of this great city. But Pushka with it's Mela is just must and my hotl booking is for tomorrow. So I'll come back again - eventually. I doubt I'll see my new friend here once again though...

Mittwoch, 28. Oktober 2009

Fatehpur Sikri

I have one more full day in Agra so I decide to visit Fatehpur Sikri the former capital of the area. It had to be given up again later for the lack of sufficient drinking water but the old palast city structures are still there.
I take the first half of a day long tour to avoid having to rent a taxi for the 40km ride.

We have a guide who tells us some about the history of this great place but we are in just a little bit of a rush. There's hardly anybody there.
We pass from the palace part of the complex to the sacral section Jama Masjid through the impressive 54m high Buland Darwaza, the "Victory Gate".

Our guide quickly ushers us along the walls, over the courtyard and then back towards the exit.
I ignore his requests and head over to the central building again made from white marble. It's the topmb of Sahikh Salim Chisthi. The big ruler Akbar one came to this holy man hoping for a son. And still today childless women come here to pray for offspring. I only get a brief look around then have t catch up with the group who will head on to see the Red Fort and the Taj.
First however we visit a restaurant for a 45min lunch. If only I had known this I would have spent more time at Fatehpur Sikri's Jama Masjid and caught up with them later.

Back in Agra I leave to group at the Red Fort which I already saw the day before.
Instead I head up to Agra's central mosque. My way leads me through a crowded bazar where everything is sold from beautiful saris to motorcycle mufflers. By now I got my traveling shoes on and walk unintimidated amongst the locals. And strangely nobody comes up to sell me something. I can easily take all the pictures I want. It's quite a sight.
The mosque however is a loss. Not much to be seen here. You probably have to come here Friday evenings when the muslems come to pray.

I get a moto-rickshaw and have him drop me off at the Taj south gate once again.
It's almost as stunning as the day before. The light is lower, more colorful and the general atmosphere yet more relaxed though there are much more people around than on the morning of my first visit.
I enjoy the sight of this beauty once again, this time on my own, and let my thought wonder. Tomorrow I will turn 36 and what a way to spend the eve of one's birthday.
With the light diminishing the white marble still stands out against the pale blue sky. We have a waxing half moon but only a few stars make it through the haze of Agra's smog.
I'm heading back to the entrance stopping several times on my way back. Each time I turn to walk it feels like turning away from a good friend I won't be seeing for a long while. When I finally reach the huge gate again I take one long look at my Taj Mahal before turning my back on it for good. It's hard to part but I know it is not for ever. I'm glad I spent the time and came here once again and I know I will be back sooner or later.

The Taj Mahal, Baby!

I get up at 5:30 and head over to New Delhi Station. It is still dark but already the road is crowded with people. I find the platform of my train and work my way to my seat. Still in the dark we leave Delhi at 6:15 sharp and with the engine sounding it's horn every half minute we head out of the city. On our way we pass the really poor quarters of the city then just sheds made from sheet metal and plastic foil. Then we roll past burning junk fields and finally it's farm fields. The sun is making its way over the horizon as a dark red ball of fire lighting up the hazy sky all around it.
The Chai Wallah is coming through our coach passing out some biscuits and tea for breakfast.
After two hours we reach the city of Agra, where, leaving the train station hordes of rickshaw drivers surround us to get a ride to town and maybe the followup sale of a day long tour around the sights of the area.
Andre, a fellow traveler I met on the train and I share a moto rickshaw to Taj Ganj where our hotels are located. Our driver is nice and is chatting us up what to do and when. He suggests to see the Red Fort of Agra first one or two more sights and visit the Taj later in the afternoon.
Some time later we meet up again and despite the recommendation of our driver we head straight for the number one attraction of the city:
The legendary Taj Mahal
We enter through the main gate, already a sight of it's own. The Taj is lurking through the opening of the gate and joyful anticipation starts building up. I notice me getting more and more unsettled, slightly quickening my pace. Then we step through the backside of the gate and into a garden with long pools. And on the
far end lies majestically the Taj Mahal, its white marble blazing in the morning sun.
We stand in awe, absorbing as much of the sheer beauty of this scenery.

We slowly make our way closer to the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal, Emerpor Shah Jajan's favorite wife. It is incredible and we can only take our eyes off of it to take more photographs. The entire trip was already worth its while.
We spend almost four hours strolling around the premises. Again and again we stop and enjoy the moment.
Again we are stopped and asked for pictures by our fellow visitors from India. We make their day. First the Taj Majhal and then a picture with a tall, bold guy from Europe wearing silver sun glasses. It's a riot.

Heavy heartedly we make our way back to the entrance and leave this gem of marble in this crazy maze of India.
Our driver is gone but he left his "brother" who has Adre's cigarets and lighter. He drives us down to the Red Fort of Agra, which I find even more intruiging than the one I saw in Delhi only two days earlier. We wonder through the courtyards on this large compound but still saturated with sensual input from our visit of the Taj, it's hard to feel true enthusiasm for this great building.
It is getting later in the afternoon and our driver is reluctant to drive us all the way out to Akbar's Tomb. We cross the Yamuna river for a view of the backside of the Taj in the evening light. It nice but simply can not compare to the view from the entering gate. Plus the barbed wire fence and military post preventing you from walking all the way to the edge of the water kind of kills the mode. We agree that a nice cafe with patio, chill Indian music and a large variety of chais, coffee specialties and long drinks would be a gold mine. Let's wait and see how long it takes until someone pulls it off.

We head back and chill on the roof top of Andre's hotel. We have some great chicken Masalah and two bottles of domestic strong brew. At ten I call it a night and head back to my own hotel just around the corner.
I crush on my bed and fall asleep almost immediately. But I do manage to get one last thought through my tired brain.
What a day!

Montag, 26. Oktober 2009

Baby Tja Mahal

I don't get it. A ride of maybe two kilometers by moto-rickshaw "tuck tuck" runs at about 30 Rupies. Twice the distance by metro subway train is only six! OK, the metro doesn't nessecarily go everywhere you want to since they only have three lines. Funny though, everywhere else everyone doesn't give a damn about who was first and who was next. But at the metro they neatly stand in line and wait their turn at the security check. I guess it's the uniforms. But they have security checks at all the metro entrances where they search you for weapons and check your bags. There are armed soldiers behind shelters of sandbags in the passages and men with rifles patroling. OK, paid my visit to the president's palace (actually I only got as far as the fence before yet an other guard blew his wistle at me). And the Gate of India, the "Arc de Triomphe" of Delhi. That's someting truely to kill time, definitly not a must see. But then I saw Humayun's Tomb. They call it the Baby Taj Mahal. It really looks a little like it. Strolled around the grounds until I felt at home... Awesome sight in the changing light of late afternoon.

Tomorrow though I'm heading out to Agra, to see the real thing, baby!
See you all then.

Sonntag, 25. Oktober 2009

Holy Cow!

My first day in Delhi.
I get up step outside to go next door and get some breakfast and what is literally the first thing I see? Right in the middle of the street it is. "Holy Cow" I say to myself and that exactly what it is.
After breakfast I dive into it. What a zoo! There must be about 1.000 people per squaremeter. A gazillion rickshaws twice as many motos and your occasional horse cart. I get called all the time for rides, for stuff to buy for anything else. I force myself to activly ignore it all.
All of a sudden I find myself in front of the New Delhi Train Station. I step inside, wave off the hords trying to tell me I need to buy a ticket to go in and make my way to the tourist travel office on the first floor up. There you need to register on a form which train exactly you want to book. How am I supposed to know that. But with pacience and perseverance I get what I need.
Strange thing, not even here at the Indian Railroad do they take credit cards. I need to get a heap of cash if I have to pay everything effectivo.
I head over to the Red Fort and spend the afternoon there.
The pressure of the street is a little less there. Still people eye me all the time. They secretivly snap pictures of me with their cell phones. Sometimes they even come up to me and ask if they may take a picture of me with them in it as well. It's funny, I'm as alien to them as they are to me. Only they get more candid photographs in than I do.
Later in the evening I head over to the Jama Masjid mosque. The inner square is huge and I climb the minaret for the view. The top is jam packed with people pressed against the grated windows. After some time I'm at the front.
I't getting late. The sun is alost gone. I better get going.
I head down Bazar Road for New Delhi West then hop on the metro and head for Connought Quare. Tons of stylish places for shopping. Very different from what I saw in Old Delhi. I duck into a nice restaurant and treat myself to the second Indian meal of the trip then make my way back to the hotel. I still need to do some research for places in Pushkar.

A Campfire at Delhi Airport

What a trip!
Our flight has two hours delay leaving Frankfurt and then cruises above Delhi for an other 45 minutes due to "heavy trafic". I guess this is going to be the theme of the next two weeks.
I had gone through some effort to make sure the hotel sends someone to come pick me up but I guess I can forget about that being almost three hours late.
Imigration goes fine, as I did get my visa after all. It was the last thing I packed Friday afternoon picking it up at the post office as registered mail but I got it.
OK, I'll just pick up my pack and see how to get a taxi without getting roally ripped off.
But - the luggage is not coming off the plane and on the belt. The entire Boing 767 is waiting for over an hour until the bags are there. Must be the luggage guys are bussy unloading the KLM flight or so.
Finally my pack pops up and I head for the gate.
Outside is a sheer mass of people. It's one o'clock in the morning mind you.
And all of them are holding pickup signs in their hands. IF my driver is still here, how am I ever going to find my name on the 273 signs held more or less my way?
I stroll along the right row of signs, and THERE IT IS! Jan Siebrecht.
And we are off for the hotel.
Outside I start to wonder who is having a campfire at the Airport. It's fogy as we drive down town. And the smell of fire never leaves. Slowly it dawns on me. Delhi is one of the most poluted cities - in India at least if not the world. It's not a campfire, it's just the smog of the city.
Even the AC of my room can not do anything about that. It may cool it down a little but can not make it go away.
But at 2:30 in the morning I fall asleep anyway. - Even though is only 10 p.m. for me.