Tuesday, July 21, 2015

from Jodhpur to Jaipur and Agra, from Delhi to the mountains of Dharamsala: 16 Days in India

It was an exciting, adventurous, scary and wary mix of feelings I had before embarking on a 16-day trip to India. I remember telling myself before that I don't think I will ever set foot on this country but here I am, writing about this on my last day here in this wonderful place. So before my flight tonight, let me recap the last 16 days of this adventurous ride all over the state of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and the endearing capital city of Delhi. We arrived at noon at this amazingly huge airport of Indira Gandhi. It was an easy-through Immigration and a hassle-free baggage collection and to getting to our hotel using the airport express train. We spent a night in Delhi before starting our journey

It felt really scary on Day 1. I kept thinking that anyone who will approach me will definitely just have an intention of getting money out of me. We went to Connaught Place area and Jantar Mantar to find decent food to eat and to begin immersing ourselves in India's atmosphere. But so far we survived except for some scary sights to see on the streets. We flew to Jodhpur the following day and we were greeted by Rishi, our driver for the next seven days. By the way, we got him through Ashok, a highly recommended driving company rated very highly on TripAdvisor. True enough, we did not encounter any problem with him. As a matter of fact, he was helpful all through out our journey.

Bloomrooms: A gem right in the heart of dirt, dust and defecation.

I am apologizing in advance if you feel offended by the title of this entry but this was just how I felt after stepping out of this incredibly lovely hotel. I know it sounds contrasting but let me tell you about the great things first about Bloomrooms. We arrived at the hotel branch of Bloomroom at Arakashan Road around 7:00 am. Luckily they allowed us to check in early without any additional costs. We were very tired after the 12-hour overnight bus ride from Dharamsala and allowing us to check in early was just he best thing that happen to us so far in Delhi. The rooms are quite small but it is good enough for 2 persons. I am always in awe on how interior designers and architects make the best out of a small space. It did not feel small at all. Most furniture are attached to the wall to save space. The bathroom looked spacious enough because of the glass walls and mirrors. The use of yellow and white as its main colors were quite relaxing.

Dharamsala and a glimpse of His Holiness Dalai Lama

It was a long 13-hour overnight bus ride from Delhi to Dharamsala. We made two stops. One is a forty-minute stop and the other is a fifteen-minute one. We were in a Volvo semi-sleeper bus where blankets and bottled Kinley water were provided. After an hour from the start of our journey, I was settled with my tablet and earphones to watch some TV series until I fall asleep when suddenly the bus attendant started playing a Bollywood movie. There were two screens inside the bus and what felt-like a surround digital speakers reverberating right to where I was seated. So since 90% of the passengers were locals, I didn't have much of a choice but to keep away my tablet and watch aptly titled Hindi movie "Gabbar is Back".

I did not realize what time I fell asleep but I was waken up by the zigzag motion of the bus as it traverse the uphill road to the mountain side of Dharamsala. The bus stopped at Mcleodganj which is our destination for the next 5 days of our 17 day India tour. Mccledoganj is a town in Dharamsala which is located in the northern part which is the mountainside area where His Holiness Dalai Lama, together with other Tibetan exiles, are taking residence.

Places to eat and shop around Mcleodganj, Dharamsala

A view of Mcleodganj from the Dalai Lama Temple
During our 5 days of stay in Mcleodganj, we visited different shops, ate at different cafes and stayed in two different guest houses. Let us talk about first the guest houses. We stayed at Chonor Guesthouse in our first two days. It is run and owned by the Norbulingka Institute. When we checked it online, the pictures of each room were amazingly beautiful. Unfortunately, the room we got did not live up to the hype we created ourselves. Although they had informed us beforehand that there is actually an ongoing renovation, I guess they forgot to inform us that even the room needed renovations. So we felt like the price we were paying was not worth the room we were staying. Our room that time was Lungka 2. In fairness, they offered to upgrade us but we already felt the disappointment so we just decided to move to another guesthouse, the Pema Thang, located 200 meters uphill from Chonor. Pema Thang Guesthouse was 35% cheaper than Chonor but the room we got gave us a great view of Dharamsala at any time of the night. If you decide to stay here, book for the rooms on the first and second level. The interior of the room was homey enough to make you feel relaxed but the toilet was a bit of a disappointment. But overall it was worth the price we paid.

RAAS Hotel Jodhpur: Peace within chaos and the Price of luxury.

Upon arrival at the Jodphur airport, I was welcomed with the scorching heat creeping within my skin. Fortunately, it was getting put of the airport was an ease. I was welcomed by my driver, Rishi, a middle-aged Delhi native man who drove all the way from New Delhi the day before in order to be my driver from Jodhpur to Jaipur then Agra back to New Delhi for the next 7 days. It took us about 20 minutes to reach Raas Hotel. This enchanting place, seemingly nestled within the Blue city, will be my home for the next 3 days. Inside the room, I was surprised with such a stunning view of the Mehngarhar Fort, a centuries old for which symbolized the prestige of the by-gone era of the royal Jodhpur families back then.

Going back to my room, the brick walls on one side is decorated with intricate circular carvings while on the other side is a painted cement wall. The balcony, which overlooks the fort and half of the Blue city, is quite spacious. The room is quite spacious as well with a king-sized bed and a two-seater sofa. It also has a walk-in closet good enough for two people. The whole room is embellished with decorations from a combination contemporary decors with a touch of terracotta bricks which are very common in the city of Jodhpur.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, India

The Mehrangarh Fort at Day
For a semi-neophyte traveler like me, visiting India can be quite overwhelming. I could say I am confident and will survive any place in Southeast Asia but travelling to a country where you obviously look like a tourist will be quite challenging. Especially that India is known for its notorious harassment of tourists and travelers. So I embarked on a journey to experience the best things to see in India despite the forewarned chaos. The first city I visited is Jodhpur. Located ate the edge of Thar dessert in the state of Rajasthan, Jodhpur is the second larget city of this state. The city itself does not have many things to offer to travelers except dust and dirt but it is the location of one of the most well preserved and maintained fortifications in India, the Mehrangarh Fort. Situated on top of a rocky hilltop, this fort overlooks the entire city of Jodhpur. From up the fort, you can see the whole city. The Blue city, which are composed of houses painted in blue, is one of the most striking views from the fort. You can also see other iconic palaces and buildings around the city. But Mehrangarh is definitely the only place that will capture everyone living and visiting the city.
The Mehrangarh Fort at Night