Along the Away

a traveler's tales

Archive for July, 2011

Ahh happy days!

They go something like:

  1. Rise with the sun
  2. Morning yoga in an outdoor shala
  3. Enjoy an organic brekkie with fruits and yoghurt and pancakes and muesli amidst a table strewn with flowers
  4. Amble down to the outdoor meditation hut and spend a blissful 30 minutes being still
  5. Have a long hot shower in my private garden bathroom
  6. Read on my cottage verandah
  7. Tuck into a delicious organic vegetarian lunch by the pool
  8. Take a stroll on a bush trail walk
  9. Swim in the pool
  10. Afternoon yoga in the outdoor shala
  11. 1hr massage
  12. Sit in the steam room a little while
  13. Back to read on my verandah
  14. Is that the phone… oh yes thank you for the dinner reminder
  15. Organic vegetarian dinner under the lantern strewn trees
  16. Good conversation with beautiful souls visiting from around the world
  17. Sleep in a fluffy marshmallow bed

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Welcome to Shreyas Yoga Retreat. Oh God was this what I needed. This place is amazing, a true oasis to relax, unwind and recharge.

Although I arrived with a hacking cough still, the lovely staff arranged for the health consultant to meet with me; she organised a special tea to be made for me and for the steam room to have peppermint oil in there when I went in. I started to feel better immediately.

Shreyas is pretty magical, for one thing – whenever you enter a building on site you leave your shoes at the door. Whenever I went in I slipped out of my shoes and left them facing the door… yet when I came out, my shoes were at the door, facing out so I could slip them straight on. Sometimes, I only went into the building for a few minutes but sure enough, when I came out – the shoes had turned around…. and I never saw anyone do it. Amazing.

And the flowers. They’re everywhere, in pretty arrangements or just scattered around. On the table at breakfast. On my freshly made bed when I return from meditation. On the soap dish in my bathroom. On the sun loungers by the pool. Even on the trees… oh wait, yeah they belong there. But even on my outward facing shoes sometimes when I come out of buildings.

As mentioned in the previous post, I have misplaced the photos I took from the last couple of weeks of my trip (I did take a photo at dinner and breakfast on my iPhone (cliche much?) which is why I have those two). But here are some photos I pinched from the Shreyas website (which you should check out if you are in the area as I highly recommend a visit there):

My cottage looked exactly like this one. Maybe it is this one. Who knows, whichever one was mine, it was really beautiful inside. The blinds go up and down during the day by themselves. And the bed makes itself in the morning and turns itself down after dinner. It is a crazy-capable cottage.

Here we did our yoga every morning and afternoon. OK, maybe I missed a couple. Because of my cough… and maybe because all the relaxing one does does skates dangerously close to laziness, but I did go to at least one, sometimes two yoga sessions a day.

The meditation hut was fun – breathing, chanting, humming, and lots of stillness. And so quiet – in India, quiet. Pretty special.

My outdoor garden shower – seriously, maybe my favourite thing.

Can you just imagine the peace that comes from hours laying by this pool under this frangipani tree? Can you?

And that concludes India.

Say what?

Pretty momentous, but yes, just like that it was over.

Four months trickled into three then into weeks and then days and then…

I was on a plane.

And I was home.

I’ll definitely be coming back to Mumbai; but unlike all the other places in India I’ll be back to because I loved them THAT much, I’ll be coming back to Mumbai because I didn’t really like it that much at all. But there’s something odd there; Mumbai is the home of Bollywood, I’m meant to love it… What’s wrong with me? I’m putting it down to bad timing; at the end of four months in India my enthusiastic embrace of Indian mayhem is perhaps not at full capacity.

Following five weeks of life on the road and after almost four months in India I’m tired of looking and appreciating; and on my first Mumbai afternoon I got sick with head cold thingy complete with headache and hacking cough. Horrible but on the bright side, good timing as I’m trying to shed as much luggage weight as I can before my homeward flight – I was popping pills from my untouched medical supplies with happy abandon, happily justifying having lugged them around with me since I got here. See, I did need them!

But aside from all this, I did get out and about a bit and I think on another visit I’d probably find much to love about Mumbai. On this visit, I found it just like other Indian cities but a notch more intense in the noise, traffic and population departments. Beautiful buildings though, architecturally impressive and worth wandering around with eyes up. But there are lots of staring boys; lots and lots and lots. Nearly started giving them the finger actually, that’s sorta where I’m at with that Indian peculiarity. But the women are gorgeous and wearing some of the best fashion I’ve seen in India.

I cobbled together a walking tour of sorts, from the lonely planet and from a map given to me by my previous tour leader who lives in Mumbai and is in the middle of creating urban adventure walking tours here.

I was staying in Colaba, right near the Gateway of India so that was my first stop. Then I walked past the Victoria Station – Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus – it was pretty impressive. I walked up MG Rd to the Flora Fountain and walked along the promenade at Chowpatty Beach (it was so hot but the beach was quiet and dirty – apparently it’s much busier at night). I went to the Gandhi Museum and that night went to see a Bollywood film at the Regal theatre. All of this lacks the lustre of my previous posts as quite sadly I can’t find the photos I took towards the end of my trip!¬† I’m missing Mumbai’s photos altogether so I’m sorry that this post is devoid of any visual appeal… I am still trying to figure out where I put them when I came home.

Naturally, I spent a bit of time shopping and eating, two things I have become an expert at doing in India.

I also spent more down time at my hotel than I have at any other time in India. Next stop for me is a flight back to Bangalore where I plan to visit my friend and Janaagraha colleague Rashmi one last time (and pick up the stuff she so kindly has been holding for me like my laptop). I also need to visit a tailor where I left my Goa-bought sari quilts to have cotton backings sewn on, and then get a taxi to my week of blissful R&R – a week at Shreya Yoga Retreat outside Bangalore.

To be honest my heart had left Mumbai before I actually did – it was sitting in anticipation on a yoga mat in an outdoor shala at Shreya’s waiting for me to finally sit still for a minute. I left Mumbai feeling a little guilty I hadn’t given it a real chance to charm me.

Maybe next time.

There is one place left for me on my north India trip and that is Amritsar. We took a local train there, another 6 hour stint squished onto facing bench seats with Indians getting on and off, going about their business. I sat in a section with an Indian family that broke out a big picnic feast to while away the time.

Amritsar is the holiest city for the Sikh people and the centre of Sikhism – the big highlight is the Golden Temple which I couldn’t wait to see. A favourite film of mine is Bride and Prejudice, in which the family live in Amritsar – I have wanted to go since I watched that movie, I admit mostly because I like the way ‘Amritsar’ sounds in Aishwarya Rai’s accent :-)

Once we arrive we check into our basic hotel and then head out to tour the city by cycle rickshaw, an adventure in itself. I feel like a real dead weight when I sit on human powered transport. I would be happy to have some back seat pedals to contribute a little, share the load. I try to remember that it would be less helpful if I forfeited to an alternative transport mode which was less sustainable and denying someone the right to employment. That was a diversion on the subject, the tour itself was lovely, and even while pumping his legs to cart my friend and I around our rickshaw cycler was friendly, chatting and pointed out interesting things along the way.

We went to check out the Golden Temple even though we had plans to come again the next day as apparently all the action happens at night. Firstly we head to the dining hall where, as with the Sikh temple in Delhi, everyone is entitled to a meal. We sit down in one of the long lines and the volunteers walk up and down putting food on our plate and sloshing water in our cups. The hall vibrates with voices and the clatter of plates, it is overwhelming but exhilarating at the same time.

The Golden Temple (Shri Harimandir Sahib) is quite a breathtaking sight, it sits in the middle of a sacred lake surrounded by a marble walkway.

When we go, it is packed. And I mean busier than Sydney Harbour on NYE packed! The night-time air is filled with chanting from the Sikh holy book. People mill about praying or talking, and the crowd spirals in a throng toward the temple itself, the purpose to touch it before spiraling back out again. It was intimidating, especially as the crowd is mostly male and I had read and heard that groping in the crowd was not uncommon. But it is just one of those things that you feel the pull to do – you come all this way, and there it is within reach. So with a small group of my fellow tour buddies we join the crowd and were soon squished into the middle of it. I didn’t know where I started and another begins, we were so molded together. In a way it prevents too much worry about groping – who can even move? I do feel a few suspect nudges here and there, but when I turn around an old lady is staring at me – hmm, I think this crowd is more impatient than frisky, phew. Closer to the Golden Temple the crowd calms down as there is more crowd control and we walk single filed around, I touched the gold and soaked in the reverent atmosphere. It was special, but obviously did not hold the meaning or appeal to me as it did for those here for spiritual reasons. I felt kinda bad I was taking up room as a tourist… but a few more elbows and nudges from the crowd snapped me out of it.

We returned again the next day and it was such a different experience – I definitely recommend going at both daytime and night if you can.

A meal is also provided to temple goers during the day. It is an epic task to feed the throngs the people that pass constantly into the dining hall. The clanging of the metal plates being washed and thrown in large metal cages was immense.

We decided to go exploring and discovered where the chapatis were being made.

We somehow wandered down into some underground spaces, still not entirely sure where we were or what they were used for but the architecture was beautiful.

The temple goers can bath in the lake surrounding the Golden Temple if they wish. Of course there is an area for men (who strip down to their undies) and an area for women (who go fully dressed) and children. Check out the line to the ladies changing rooms (some things are the same everywhere huh?)

The colourful clothing of the temple goers was so magnificent against the blinding white of the marble. The scene really is a feast for the eyes (and my camera).

After we left the Golden Temple we traveled by cycle rickshaw again to visit Jallianwala Bagh, the site of the massacre in 1919 that was a pivotal incident in the lead up to India’s independence. The story is very sad, in summary 15-20,000 people gathered at these public gardens in 1919 following clashes between the British regiment and the local population. Fearing that the gathering was gearing towards an overthrow of the British government, an acting Brigadier-General ordered his regiment to fire into the crowd (including women and children) for ten minutes (ten minutes!) Official records claim nearly 1700 bullets were fired with 379 dead and 1100 injured. It is estimated the number of dead was really around 1000.

The gardens are now a memorial for those who lost their lives. A brick wall scattered with bullet holes is still standing.

In the evening we went to see the India-Pakistan border daily flag ceremony – holy moly. What fan fare. What theatrics. What a pumping dance party vibe on the Indian side (blaring Bollywood music, impromptu dance parties complete with shoulder shrugging and finger pointing) and solemn steady chanting from the Pakistan side.

This daily ritual has been performed by the respective security forces since 1959 – and it is really very cool and lots of fun. Plus there is a lot of high kicks, pivotal hop things and yelling. This ceremony takes place every evening before sunset on the Grand Trunk Road, one of the only roads linking the two countries.

Somehow I can’t find the photos or video that I took of this momentous event… I will have to keep hunting and add them when they resurface.

And just in case there was not enough photos in this post already – here is a final one – because sometimes you see things that are just worthy of a photo, I took this as we were cycling around.

Now that summer has well and truly hit North India and the temperature languishes in the mid-forties everyday, I’m going to join the migration to the mountains where it’s cooler. The travel distances are long and the trains and buses notoriously unpredictable the further north you go so I decided to travel with a group on the Intrepid tour Mountains and Mystics.

From Delhi we traveled by train through the state of Punjab to the state of Himachal Pradesh where my first stop was Shimla. This town is a former British Hill Station where the entire British Government would relocate during the heat of the summer monsoon. As a result there are plenty of quaint British buildings, including the stately Viceregal Lodge where the Government operated from. The town is breathtaking; it staggers down the sides of the mountain so that looking across it’s a brilliant cluster of buildings that seem to tumble down the slope. Only by looking closely you can see the alleys and roads that shape the cluster into a town.

The Lodge is across the mountain from where I’m staying but easily accessible by taking a leisurely 40 min stroll along the hilly pedestrian road ‘the Mall’ which forms the backbone of the town and is lined with shops, bakeries and cafes.

These are broken up by the Town Hall in the middle on the hill side and interspersed on the other side with narrow alleys that feed into the bazaars criss-crossing down the hillside below, offering quick peeks at the brilliant mountain vista.

Another Shimla must-see is the Jakhu Temple, a ‘monkey temple’ dedicated to the Hindu monkey God Hanuman, situated right at the top of the mountain, accessible by a steep 30 minute hike. It was tough going after three months of inactivity, but worth it to feel my muscles pumping again and to breathe the crisp mountain air in the forest.

Like all monkey temples in Asia, you’ve got to be on your guard from the hundreds of monkeys that hang around the temple being fed offerings each day; they get a little greedy and will take anything from you including food, sunglasses and cameras. They’re smart too, they’ll return your item in exchange for food! Cheeky! There aren’t that many around when I went though, probably because we walked up at 5.30am at the tail end of a thunderstorm, assured by our leader ‘oh it’ll stop in a minute’. True, it had stopped by the time we reached the top :-)

The night before we left we enjoyed dinner on the rooftop of our hotel, complete with a bonfire and bottles of local made rhodium flower wine and yummy yummy Indian food. The best thing about a town built on the side of a mountain is that you have a fabulous view wherever you are. The sun was setting and the misty clouds rolled across the hills against the changing colours of the sky, breathtaking! The diversity of the Indian landscape is amazing, it’s hard to believe everything I’ve seen belongs to the same country.

Following Shimla we traveled a winding six hour drive around the hills to Mandi. We stretched our legs walking around this rural town checking out a number of colourful temples.

Walking around absorbing the local sounds and smells is the best way to experience a place. You are bound the bump into some interesting locals along the way too.

In the evening we stayed the night in the Palace of the former Raja of Mandi – in fact the 80-something Maharaja himself joined us for dinner and breakfast! Did you know that Maharaja means Great (or High) King? Neither did I, I looked it up. Prior to India’s independence in 1947, one third of India was under the rule of state rulers – Maharajas and Princes (the other two thirds were ruled by the British). After independence the titles did not hold the status that they used to; our dinner host told us that many of the former rulers had to sell their palaces and estates because they were left with no money to look after them. Some – like his family – turned them into hotels to be able to afford their maintenance. It was very interesting – he was also quite the joker and showed us little tricks on paper that he was chuffed to baffle us with. It was a lovely experience, he was a gentlemen from an era that will soon be only in the history books.

I’ve been a-trekking! What a truly beautiful experience, I feel so recharged after some physical exercise and some fresh air.

First we left Dharamsala via local bus and took yet another twisty turny ride around the mountains – all the more fun hanging onto the rails of a bus seat as we went. It was a nice cosy ride though, iPod on, watching the mountain views out the window. We stopped for a brief break somewhere, found a local toilet, bought some local food. Little things that seem so normal at the time, but looking back seem like such a foreign experience (and one I’m glad to have had).

We arrived in Dalhousie in the afternoon and took a wander through the town spotting some more pretty impressive rock art.

And chillaxing dogs. I like a town with chillaxed dogs.

And monkeys!

As we started out in Dalhousie we passed this settlement. It is these moments that make travel so rewarding. When stark reminders pop up around you and you remember how different parts of the world are. Ironically it is when I am out in nature overseas that I am struck with how similar places in the world are – I’ve been on bushwalks all over the world and when you disappear down a path away from civilisation it’s the tree and hills and mountains and sky that make you realise you could just as easily be in Australia, in Canada, in Thailand, in Samoa. Sure there are subtle differences but essentially we have all been gifted with trees and sky – it is our own man-made interferences that divide us. Here as we started the trek, just before we disappeared into nature, the sight of these shanty homes struck me.

From Dalhousie we trekked all the way to the Chamba Valley, which took about 6 hours and was up and down the whole way. I love a good trek and don’t mind the ups and downs. At least we were able to send our bags on ahead in a vehicle so we were traveling light and earning fabulous views with every up. We went up and over the Lakhar Mandi Pass, traveling through the forest, then down down down a steep and narrow path.

Really, I had my camera out the whole time I think, it was just so beautiful. See what I mean:

We stayed the night in Khajjiar, however we were all so tired we ate and retired to our rooms pretty quickly. I had a TV in my room (so rare) and watched Bollywood music videos till my eyes closed.

The next day we were up early and started day two of the trek to Chamba. It was just as beautiful but we spent most of the time heading downwards this time.

Indian toll booth? Not sure what the payment is to get past…

Oh the peace and serenity of a blue sky, clean air and wide open spaces…

Finally our trek was finished as we arrived in Chamba just as it was starting to downpour – we grabbed a bite to eat, stocked up on some supplies and caught the local bus to the base of the hills near our accommodation. The bus ride was comical, we were wet and carrying our large packs, wedged in wherever we could find room. It was raining, the roads were steep and winding, the driver hoon-ed this way and that, barely stopping to let people off. With no clue when we were supposed to get off we watched our tour leader like a hawk ready for the signal to jump up and launch ourselves out the bus before we accidentally got left on it and were trundled away to God knows where.

The home stay we were spending the next three nights at, a place called Himalayan Orchard Huts, can only be reached by a 30min steep steep steep walk up a narrow and rocky path – I suppose it makes the place even more special by having to put in a solid effort to get there. Our arrival was all the more so by doing it in the rain – yep, soaking, bedraggled, tired and this time carrying our bags – let’s just say the trek was made pretty much in silence, heads down, lets-just-get-there-already determination. That’s generally my strategy when I’m well over something before it is actually over. Grim determination, let’s do this as fast as possible.

It was worth it, the views alone but also being a home stay the family also live on site so we were welcomed warmly with a special ritual (well, OK, I got a dot on my forehead but I was so tired otherwise I would certainly have paid more attention and would have more specific information to give you). The family are friendly and happy to chat about their life in the Chamba Valley and our lives back home from the various places we come from.¬† There is a fresh water swimming pool (it’s actually less like a pool and more like a hot tub next to the verandah – but cold… can I call it a cold tub?) which is filled by the fresh spring water on the mountain. The family have an organic farm that supplies the delicious food we eat everyday around a large dining table. The son joins us at each meal time and explains the ingredients and local methods of cooking. The father runs morning meditation classes and our tour leader holds a few impromptu yoga classes outdoors each morning. It was certainly a time for R&R which is always made all the more divine when you’ve earned it after trekking for two days.

The area is itself beautiful and we had the chance to do some treks around the hillside. The paths and cultivated land are jutted into the slope and form beautiful patterns when you look out across the valley.

On one walk we were invited into a local classroom where the teacher asked the students to stand and say ‘my name is…” in Hindi. This was actually quite frightening to some of the children as Hindi is not their mother tongue, they speak a local dialect instead. Some of the kids whispered so quietly we couldn’t hear, others were more confident, giggling as they went. One little boy was so petrified he stood there staring blankly at his teacher like a deer in headlights until his teacher excused him to sit down, it was really so cute (though I felt so bad for them – who the hell are we to waltz in and disrupt the lesson in such a way!) Finally the whole class sang us their local anthem and we waved goodbye. I would have loved to take some photos but the kids were really so shy I didn’t dare. They were very different to the kids in the cities or towns that regularly see foreigners and have no problem running up to us yelling ‘hello hello’ before running away giggling.

I took this photo when we walked past a local house and they offered us chai. This is their kitchen – wow huh?

The rest of the three day stay I relaxed on the verandah reading or just enjoying the views. The accommodation was basic – I stayed in a little room on the ground floor which actually felt a bit cave-like due to the plastered walls and low light. I had a bad experience with large hairy spiders here. Two mornings I woke up to find one in my room to my horror. I just really truly can not handle spiders. Not big hairy ones. I can’t rest if I know there is one near me – so both times I had to call out like a wuss and get one of the guys to remove it for me. Ughhh! To make matters worse, during the second day’s meditation session there was a mother of a spider on the top corner of the room. We were in a small cosy room as it was, so heaven help me I could not close my eyes or lapse into the meditation. I kept one eye open for 60 minutes and then had to run underneath it when leaving the room. No, I did not go back to meditation the next day.

Aside from that, I would recommend the Orchard Huts to anyone traveling in the area, it is a fabulous way to experience local life in a relaxing, beautiful environment.

And a bonus is that when it’s time to leave the 30min trek back to the main road to catch the bus is mostly down hill, yay! This time we were lucky to do it in dry weather; so off we went on the last leg of our journey – to Amritsar!

Some places go straight to my heart before I’ve even been there five minutes – Dharamsala is definitely one of those. Another twisty turny 6 hour drive from Mandi and we pull into the town’s narrow windy roads choked with traffic: crawling cars and faster pedestrians. Home of the Dalai Lama, and many of the Tibetans in exile, spiritually is in the air. Set high in the mountains with Buddhist monks in their red robes walking the winding streets and colourful prayers flags flapping in the wind, I am at peace the second I arrive.

There is a lot to do here but no hurry to do it in. I have an urge to come back even before I’ve left. It’s the kind of place I would like to spend a month of my life some time, taking leisurely walks in the mornings, learning yoga and meditation, art and cooking classes, and spending lazy afternoons reading in any of the numerous cozy cafes. It’s a place that recharges the soul – I certainly feel a lift in mine just being here, one I need after three months dealing with India.

I visited the Norbulingka Institute where Tibetan refugees learn the traditional arts and crafts of Tibet, ensuring their culture continues strongly even in exile. As well as walking around the peaceful grounds, there is the opportunity to peek in some of the studios where artists have their heads down working away, drawing, painting and sculpting. They look up and give visitors a quick smile and then are heads down at their work again.

There is a lovely cafe outside where we have morning tea sitting amongst the trees, colourful prayer flags strung up around us. It feels quiet and still, entirely unlike anywhere I’ve been in India previously. The story of Tibet is heartbreaking, all the more so once you sit amongst the peacefulness of their culture.

My group spent three days here in total, and amidst the cafe visits, roadside markets and hours spent browsing in an English book store I did a few of the local walks. There was a particular walk alongside a trickling stream that led up to a waterfall, where a very groovy cafe sits at the very top. There is a somewhat paved, somewhat not path from the town to the top, and along the way there are painted rocks, some with messages and some beautiful illustrations.

Another walk was a bit tricky, I was a bit worried I was going to go rock-sliding (a new sport?) on this one:

I joined a cooking class run by a local man who shared his story about escaping from former Tibet whilst he also demonstrated the art of ‘momos’, a specialty in Tibetan cuisine. We also made noodles and a soup which we got to eat for lunch. I must admit I find the food rather bland in contrast with Indian food (my great food love) so the more subtle Tibetan fare doesn’t stand a chance on my palette.

As much as I have enjoyed exploring the mountains, travel fatigue has started to take hold after three months away. I had become fairly complacent. Where the first couple of months I’d regretfully leave a place, forming attachments and looking back longingly at the end of every experience, I had started to feel fairly detached from places. I liked them, they interested me, but I moved on easily and felt no loss. Dharamsala changed that for me, I left that place begrudgingly, and if I hadn’t been on tour I may have changed the rest of my trip’s plans and spent the remainder there. If not for the fact that on we went to a homestay in the mountains that we had toactually spend a whole day walking too that is! Take me to the mountains, let me walk amongst the trees :-)

Pushkar! Camels! Here we go – check out my new friend:

He looks good at every angle. And you are about to find that out.

But first, Pushkar is the site of the famous camel fair held every November. So it is pretty much a given that you must take a camel ride into the dessert. One afternoon we met outside our hotel to find a posse of camels waiting. I can’t remember if I chose my camel or if he chose me (or maybe I just got on the one I was told to) but take a look at this face will you, he looked very happy to have me.

PS. Check out his camel friend photo-bombing in the top right corner. Hehehe:

And here is the camel that was behind us in the camel train – he was alright too:

So off we went into the desert in one long line, a camel train if you will.

The ride was heaps of fun and actually really comfortable. Full disclaimer – I have no problems with heights, animals or motion sickness, so it really was a joy ride for me. The journey through the desert was very peaceful and quite mystical in the golden light of the setting sun.

We stopped for a little while as even a camel must drink sometimes.

And have a lay down when they’re tired out (I think these camels get their own way a lot). We all took a break for while, having hot chai as we watched our camels stretch out and have a nana-nap.

Eeeeek! A two headed camel! No, wait… No, it’s just two camels guys.

I told you they look good at every angle, you can’t disagree with this:

Then we rode off into the sunset… I have always wanted to do that.

The last part of our camel ride was through the town which was quite jovial and festive. All the local kids (and adults) waved at us from the side of the road or from motorcycles. I felt like I was in a parade though I suppose camel-transport was a usual day in town for them.

Pushkar itself has a quite the chilled out vibe, plenty of local and tourist hippies around and ‘special’ items on the menus in the cafes. I spent a little time browsing the market streets and drinking fresh juice (non-special) from a little hole-in-the-wall stall with mounds of fruit hung up all over the store front. I walked down by the lake and the ghats, hanging out with my tour friends at the sunset cafe. It was very chilled, once again a reminder how life should be sometimes – there’s so much more than the busy cycle of work and home.

On the last night we went to dinner at the home of a local family, the father works with the local Intrepid team so he welcomes groups to dine at his home. We all sat in a row in their courtyard and his lovely wife and family brought out piles of yummy food. His little boy was very sweet, shaking everyone’s hand and saying hello.

When we left Pushkar we went to the station to catch an overnight train to Delhi, which I quite like, the soothing rocking of the train lulls me to sleep. I’ve heard some really unpleasant stories about them, foreigners getting robbed or waking to find a someone leaning over staring at them, but I’ve been lucky, I keep all my valuables on me, tuck myself up, close the curtain around me and am quite cosy.

Yes I’m one of those people that quite like being in transit. Even this part is alright:

(photo credit: Daniel Brielmayer)

Waiting has its advantages; you can read, listen to music, talk, daydream, sleep, and not feel like you should be somewhere, doing something. Travel teaches you that it’s OK to slow down. Maybe some people don’t need to learn that lesson, but I do. That calm middle ground is my holy grail.

Well.. off I go to Delhi then!!

India’s City of Lakes is fairytale beautiful, with white marble palaces, glittering lakes and winding narrow streets hiding stores and cosy cafes on the street and funky rooftop restaurants at the top. Walking around and discovering a must-buy/adorable street dog/chatty local/picture perfect cow moment is all in the fun. I could definitely have spent a week here instead of two days, but I made the most of the time I had.

Udaipur is the kind of place you could just wander around for ages – sure it’s a little more tourist-centric than the rural areas I’ve just travelled through (there are a lot of market stalls and shops selling jewelry, clothes, woven blankets, handmade leathers shoes and silk) but as it comes towards the end of the tour it’s kind of welcome at this point.

The first afternoon I wandered around, did a little shopping (such as some lovely silk scarves for presents and some colourful embroidered bags for me) and soaked in the creative, bohemian atmosphere.

Later I met up with some friends from the tour and we went to watch some artists painting in the famous ‘miniature’ style. They showed us lots of their work and I bought two miniature matching peacock paintings on white marble. Then I had a peacock painted on my finger nail (as you do).

Next to explore was the City Palace, which dominates the scene being the largest palace in India and set picturesquely alongside man-made Lake Pichola. It was built in the late 16th century and is only partly open to the public as the current royal family still live there. In a nutshell, it is fairytale beautiful and opulent. Unlike the other palaces I have visited (oh ladi-dah! I mean the ones I’ve seen in India. On this tour. I don’t mean to imply I’m a frequent guest at Buckingham) this one has many furnishings and murals on display which was quite fascinating. There were lots of little touches around the place with a big emphasis on aesthetics and beauty.

There’s so much I love about this photo, but the Indian lady takes the prize.

OK I think that is enough from Udaipur Palace.

In the evening we watched a local dance performance showcasing traditional Rajasthan dances – the women were so beautiful in their colourful and sparkly costumes, their performance was mesmerising. I particularly loved a dance where a woman stacked more and more clay pots on top of her head (and kept them on!) I love Indian music and dance so the evening was really enjoyable.

We later had dinner at a rooftop restaurant with candles flickering and the breeze keeping us cool, another unique never-to-forget Indian moment.

I joined a the group from my tour in a cooking class with a local business called Spice Box. We cooked a range of super delicious Indian classics and then got to eat our results for lunch (yum!) I wonder if I will take the time to cook Indian food at home? I like to think I will, but there are so many ingredients involved, and quite a shopping list to prepare for… and so easy to order take-away (for shame).

On our last night before we moved on to Pushkar we caught the cable car to Sunset Point to watch the sun set.

And because I like to end on a ‘just because’ whenever possible, a pretty photo for pretty’s sake: