India: Part III

posted in: Asia, India | 0
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[ultimate_heading main_heading=”Jaipur – the Pink City & the Amber Fort”][/ultimate_heading]

On Monday, November 19th, Anja and I left busy Pushkar and went to Jaipur, a destination we had heard many good things about and we were looking forward to visiting. We called an Ola Cab to bring us to the train station in Ajmer (10km away) and just like last time, the driver told us to cancel the ride; he would bring us there inofficially for only 400R. Since Ola said the ride would cost between 375R and 475R, 400R seemed like an acceptable price to us and we accepted. It’s really strange, all Ola Cab driver seem to do this inofficial thing, probably so they don’t have to give any of the profit to the app or so they don’t have to pay taxes, I don’t know…

Our train left at 11AM and we were surprised to see that it already arrived at 10:15AM and we could already embarque. The train took almost 3 hours to get to Jaipur and it wasn’t such an amazing experience as LonelyPlanet had promised; the train was all right, but we prefered the buses: the view is better even if they don’t have toilets.

In Jaipur, there were lots of tuk tuks waiting to bring new arrivals to their destination. Our tuk tuk driver was really weird and the tuk tuk broke down a few times on the way. Fortunately, in the end we did make it to our hostel… Ahmed had booked the Backpacker Panda Stephels hostel for us. A few days earlier we had checked out the hostel online and seen that it has only 5,1 Stars on Hostelworld! I don’t know how we could not have seen that when he suggested this hostel to us… Probably we had checked out the Backpacker Panda in Pushkar or somewhere else and not here. So we tried to make him change the hostel, but he wouldn’t do it. We were angry, but nothing could be done and Anja suggested we go check it out anyway and if it really is that bad, we could still go to another hostel and pay ourselves.

In the end, the hostel wasn’t that bad. The guy at the reception wasn’t super friendly or any helpful (didn’t speak much English either), but we had a 6 bed dorm to ourselves and it was clean, the beds were comfortable and the temperature was all right. The next day, there was another guy working there and he was much nicer and more helpful. The only shame is that there were no other tourists (probably because of the bad reviews) and that there was no cozy common area and the rooftop wasn’t used (could have been a nice place).

After our check-in – again, no problem with the booking; such a relief -, we went around the corner to a kebab place recommended by Google and had some really good chicken rolls. Anja – a big meat lover – was very happy about that. It was just a bit too greasy and my stomach was complaining a bit later, but nothing serious fortunately.

After lunch (at 3PM), we took a tuk tuk to the Amber fort. We wanted to make a stop at the Jaigarth fort first, but you can’t go there by car, only walking, and there was no parking space for our tuk tuk, so we crossed this stop from our list. Instead, we stopped at the Jal Mahal, a palace in the middle of a lake: absolutely beautiful.

From there, we went to the Amber fort and the view took our breath away! It’s not only huge, it’s also gorgeous! With my old student ID cards – if have 2, same picture, different year – I managed to get student tickets for Anja and myself and we were very happy to have saved 800R in total. We walked around the beautiful building for about 90 minutes and then went back to the city. It was definitely one of the highlights of our visit in India and definitely the most beautiful thing you can see in Jaipur!

After a quick refreshment in the hostel, we went to the Brew House that we had found earlier and that seemed quite promising. On the way, we saw an Italian guy we had already met in Jaisalmer and it was fun to run into him in such a big city a couple of days later. The Brew House did not – as you would expect – have many kinds of beer or any artisanal beer, only the typical ones. Instead, they had good and cheap cocktails and food and so we had a good time anyway.

The next morning, we left our hostel early to start exploring Jaipur. First, we wanted to get breakfast somewhere (no breakfast in our hostel), but nothing was open at 8AM; actually, all the city seemed to still be sleeping… So we decided to start our walking tour and get breakfast later, on the way. The first 45 minutes led us through the bazaar streets around the famous pink city. All shops were still closed, so it was very quiet. Then, we went to the famous Hawa Mahal, the palace of wind. Google Maps said that right there was also a Coffee Day (an Indian Starbucks) where we were going to have breakfast. Like the day before, we got the student price here as well (200R p.p.) and we were very happy about it (later we learnt that we should have booked a combi ticket that includes for the same price the Jantar Mantar, but we didn’t see that option there…). The wind palace was really beautiful, with artfully decorated walls and pillars. We spent quite some time there before continuing our tour.

From the Wind Palace, we went to Jantar Mantar, one of the most famous astrology centres in India. It had some very impressive, huge measuring instruments. We took an audio guide to get more information about them, but the audio guide wasn’t very good and we barely understood anything… Well, it was still impressive, even though it all seemed incomprehensible to us.

From Jantar Mantar, we went to the city palace. Unfortunately, they were smart enough to get that I showed them two same student cards, so they only gave us 1 student ticket and Anja had to pay full price… The palace was much smaller than we had expected, but it is magnificent! The architecture and the decorations are gorgeous. It is definitely the most beautiful palace we have seen in India!

After visiting the palace, it was already 2:30PM, but the rest of the visit was just walking around the pink city and its bazaars anyway. We also went up to a view point and we were quite disappointed: the city is not, like people say, pink! It’s only the buildings in the main streets of this block that are pink and not even pink, it’s actually more orange; the buildings inside this block are all grey. Jodhpur with it’s blue houses was much nicer.

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and when you’re there, you can feel that pretty easily. It’s a very busy city, it’s super noisy and it smells awful. The bazaars are not really made for tourists like in other cities we have been to, but for locals who need to buy things. Honestly, besides the big touristic monuments, the city isn’t very nice. There are no nice restaurants or bars where you can just sit and have a drink or eat something like in Udaipur for example. It’s all street food; after 2 weeks we still didn’t dare to eat this because a) it would most probably be too spicy and b) it might make us sick and we didn’t want to be sick during these 3 weeks. Around 4PM, when we were done exploring the pink city, we were absolutely exhausted: we had been walking for 7 hours non-stop and had barely eaten anything… After relaxing and showering in our hostel, we went out once more to get an early dinner. We found this really good place in a rather posh part of the city, close to our hostel, Praddy’s Dinner. We had some really good fresh smoothies and really good pasta.

[ultimate_heading main_heading=”Agra & the Taj Mahal”][/ultimate_heading]

The next morning, we took the 8:10AM train from Jaipur to Agra. It had been a huge fight to get a ticket for this train. We had told Ahmed days before that we wanted a ticket (bus or train) around 9 or 10AM to Agra, but, of course, he hadn’t booked anything until the last moment. He told us that there was only 1 bus at 6:15AM and then only after 5PM. When we asked in our hostel, the guy found a train from Ajmer via Jaipur to Agra at 8:10AM that would arrive at 12:30PM and that was perfect for us. Ahmed had already booked the bus, making us believe that it was our only option. I called him a liar and told him to book us this train. It wasn’t our fault he had booked the bus even though there was a train at the time we wanted to depart. It had taken hours and hours and lots of messages and threats, but we finally got him to send us the train ticket. The train was okay, but, just like the last time, our conclusion was that the buses in India are better than the trains: you have a better view and you see more.

We arrived in Agra at 1PM – only 30 minutes late – and we took a tuk tuk to our hostel, the Bedweiser Backpacker Hostel. On the way, we got into a big traffic jam caused by a huge muslim manifestation in honor of the prophet’s birthday. It was surprising how many muslims live here in Agra. Our hostel was all right, nice rooftop terrace, friendly and helpful staff, but the rooms were a bit small and too warm.

After lunch, we went looking for a place to exchange money: we had underestimated how much we would need, especially in Jaipur with all the entrance fees. Fortunately, we could pay the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort online by credit card. Afterwards, we went to the river, next to the Taj Mahal, to see the sunset behind the Taj. In the hostel, they had told us to take a boat and watch the sunset, but at the river, they told us it costs 500R and that was way too much for a 15 minutes boat ride just to take a picture of the sunset with the Taj Mahal. Apparently it’s so expensive because it’s somehow illegal and the driver has to bribe the police officers at the river, but I don’t know… So we just watched the sunset from the river bank where and it was very beautiful! The river bank itself, however, was absolutely disgusting. This river is so dirty that you would probably die immediately if you fell in (apparently it’s the second most polluted river in the world after the Ganges). We met a nice Korean guy there who gave us some tips for our visit of the Taj the next day that were quite helpful, like getting there much earlier than 6AM when the line would already be huge. The sunset here was, to our big surprise, very early: at 5PM the sun was already completely gone and it got quite cold there.

After watching the sunset, we left the riverside and went to a nice little restaurant close to our hostel, the Good Vibes Café. We had some beer out of coffee mugs – they are not officially allowed to sell beer, so they buy it on the street and sell it literally below the table in their restaurant! 😄 We had some nice curry and we played Jenga. Afterwards we went back to our hostel and had another beer on the rooftop terrace to celebrate my 9-month-travelversary.

The next morning, we got up at 4:45AM to arrive early to the famous Taj Mahal. It was still dark, but the way was nicely illuminated (it was only a 15 minutes walk) and there were already lots of people on their way just like us. We were quite in front of the line, but when we got in, they told me I had to go back and put some of the stuff in my bag into a locker… So stupid! It was the cookies we had bought for breakfast, a waterproof marker and my selfie-stick that can also be used as a tripod and those aren’t allowed… This made us loose at least 10 minutes, but whatever.

Visiting the Taj Mahal was worth all the trouble and definitely the getting up early: early morning is the best moment to see it, because that’s the moment when there is the least smog to ruin your pictures. The Taj Mahal is absolutely mesmerizing and breathtaking. You could spend hours and days just looking at it!

We spent a couple of hours at the Taj Mahal, amazed by the beauty of this architectural masterpiece, then we walked the 30 minutes to the Agra Fort.

First, we had hesitated if we should visit it or not, but the guy in our hostel said it’s very nice and indeed, it would have been a shame to miss it. The fort in Agra is not just a fort, but it is also a royal palace. The architecture is quite mixed: a lot of original red sandstone and a lot of white marble added in the 17th century by the same emperor that had built the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his wife. He actually spent the last 8 years of his life as a prisoner in this fort after having been overthrown by his own son. The view from the fort over the river and the Taj Mahal would be very nice, if you could actually see anything besides the smog…

Agra is not a very nice city, but the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort are definitely the highlights of our trip in India!

[ultimate_heading main_heading=”Delhi & the Akshardham Temple”][/ultimate_heading]

At 2:45PM, we left Agra and took a bus to Delhi where we arrived at 7PM. We were supposed to exit at the Akshardham Metro station, but there was so much traffic that we decided to exit the bus earlier, at the Botanical Garden Station. From here, it was a 45 minutes metro ride to the Qutab Minar station from where we took a tuk tuk to our hostel. Our driver made us pay too much: 70 instead of 50R and he thought he was part of some kind of “The fast and the furious”. We were happy when we reached the hostel alive… It was already quite late and Anja was absolutely exhausted and a bit cranky, so we just had dinner at the hostel (a really good veggie burger) and then went to bed early. I was quite tired myself after gettting up at 4:45AM to see the Taj Mahal; it had been a long day.

The next morning, we wanted to have breakfast at 8AM, but nobody in the hostel was awake yet, so we had to wait until 8:45 to get something to eat. In the end, that turned out to be good, because it would have sucked to have to spend more time in Delhi than we already had. Breakfast was basic, but good and the staff in this hostel was great: super welcoming, friendly and helpful. The rooms were quite nice and they even had free drinking water, something very rare in India.

After breakfast, we walked the 20 minutes to the metro station and then went to Old Delhi. At first, we had thought to go to Qutub Minar next to our metro station, but it was still a 20 minutes walk away and the entrance fee was high enough for us to not necessarily want to enter (500R), so we decided to skip this place. In Old Delhi, we walked around for 2 hours, visiting monuments and markets, but very fast, we decided that Delhi is the most awful city we have ever been to: it’s disgusting! There is trash everywhere, just like there are beggars, sick and starving people in every street, it’s so polluted you barely want to speak so you don’t get all that smog in your lungs; and the smell: oh my god. So awful! Everyone we had met during our trip had told us that Delhi is awful, but you always assume the best and think that people probably overreact, but not here; there is no other way to say it: Delhi is a shithole.

We didn’t want to get any street food, because it all looked too dirty, so we went for lunch to McDonalds in the railway station. Then we took a metro to the Akshardham temple a bit outside of the city and here you almost felt like being in a different country: everything was clean, the entrance was for free and it didn’t smell bad there. This is the largest temple complex in India and it was build very recenty, in 2005, so it’s quite new, but it’s gorgeous. The architecture is amazing, such beautiful monuments and carvings in the walls and pillars! We enjoyed our time there a lot and spent a couple of hours there, waiting to see the light show at 6:15PM. It wasn’t just a light show, but also a water show and it was really beautiful! Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the temple complex, but I can definitely recommend you to visit it. It’s a very beautiful and peaceful place. We were happy that our India trip ended here and not after visiting the city center of Delhi.


Anja and I have had a very good time together, enjoying each other’s company and overcoming all the difficulties we encountered together. 😊

My conclusion about India: it is a very beautiful country with lots of gorgeous monuments and an interesting culture. It’s a shame that this is ruined by how dirty, polluted and bad smelling it is. The sun never sets on the horizon, always behind a big wall of smog. There is trash everywhere and it smells absolutely awful everywhere. There are many friendly and kind people in India, but there are so many people who try to scam all your money out of you, mostly tourist agencies, even “Incredible !ndia”, the official tourism office of India, and every tuk tuk driver. Then there are the Indian tourist who are the worst tourists I have ever met: they run around, not really appreciating anything they see; they shove and push you around, trying to skip any line and always taking unwanted pictures of you or asking if they can take a selfie with you – not in a polite way.

The food in India is quite good, if you manage to get something not too spicy. I really enjoyed their curries and naan (a kind of flat bread).

Indian guys love to touch each other: they hold hands and hug each other. If you think it’s weird that French guys greet each other with a kiss, you should see Indians… 😄 Indian women do this much less and contact between men and women – at least in public – is even rarer.

Indians are also huge in animal mistreatment. You know that cows are holy in India, right? Well, I must say that cows in Europe are treated a hundred times better than here: they literally live in trash. The cows in the cities have no food besides what they can find in the trash on the roads and that’s also where they sleep and live. They are just like street dogs. Can you imagine what eating plastic and paper all the time will do to their stomachs? They probably all die young and in a lot of pain… Poor animals… Same goes for the treatment of horses, elephants and camels: they get hit all the time and they have to run between cars, tuk tuks and motorbikes on the streets. It’s disgusting for someone who loves animals and believes in animal rights…

India may have some qualities, but I don’t think I will ever come back here, maybe to the mountains in the North or to the South, but it’s unlikely to be in the near future.

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