After leaving lovely Udaipur (white city on the lake) we decided to take a bus to Bundi ( a place in the middle of nowhere) and stay there for 2 days only...
When we were debating our visit to Bundi, we read in the guide book that the road there was bad and very shaky, a "bone rattler" they called it. But when we went to an agency in Udaipur to buy the bus ticket, the guy told us that there is a new road with 4 LANES. We took the sleeper bus for the first time.
Our sleeper cabin was fine and we made ourselves comfortable for the good night sleep. We goofed around and took some photos. The bus was stopping everywhere, picking up more and more passengers. We set off to sleep with the help of the earplugs. Soon enough it became clear that the ticket agent was lying and that the road was so bad, full of potholes. It was shaking and tossing us like bags of potatoes. I had to push with my feet on the bottom and head on the top of the cabin to stop myself from bouncing. I kept opening my eyes and looking outside in the dark thinking: "Where the hell are we going? Is there even a road here?"
I think we still managed to sleep a few minutes here and there between the series of jumps. We survived the journey. In fact we survived it much better than two Belgian girls (Mariane and Joke) who started puking as soon as they got off the bus and were sick in bed for a day.
We are not taking a sleeper bus again. Because even if the road isn't completely destroyed, there will be somebody playing insanely loud and distorted music through their cell phone. It appears that people don't even think that they might be bothering someone around. And no one seems to be bothered anyway, except us, poor little soft-eared Westerners.
On our first day in Bundi we decided to walk to the fort, on top of a hill above Bundi, to watch the sunset. Everybody warned us about the monkeys who like to hang out on the trail to the fort so we armed ourselves with some sticks. They told us monkeys can be aggressive. I was scarred from the start, but Miko got scarred also when we had to walk through about 20 monkeys sitting around the trail. We turned around and then bumped into the Belgian girls again! (we met them on the camel safari in Jaisalmer)
So, together in a group we walked through the monkeys with big sticks, making noise by clapping the rocks together. We avoided showing our teeth and making eye contact with the monkeys because that can provoke them.
It was quite funny when you think about it later. Those monkeys were probably as afraid of us as us of them. The locals just filled up our heads with fear so we would hire them as guides.
We also learned about the two kinds of monkeys here just like in Rishikesh. The tall ones with light fur and black faces and long curvy tails. They seem to be really mellow. Then there are shorter ones with brownish fur, pink faces, red buts and huge hanging balls. They are more aggressive (probably because of the huge balls). We stay away from them.
On our second day there we went to visit the beautiful Bundi Palace. It is decaying but that is what makes it so charming. It is full of very old wall paintings about the Maharaja. But the best part of it is the garden area. The contrast between the old building and the very well maintained green & square garden makes it a magical place.
In the afternoon we decided to rent a scooter and go visit the Shiva temple Rameshwar, about 20 to 30 km north of Bundi. This was so much fun. Riding in the countryside and going through villages we felt so free. It was great to be able to go around as we pleased and not have to deal with rickshaws and taxis. Miko wished he had gotten the motorcycle licence before the trip. We could have bought or rented a "bad ass looking" old motorcycle like this really nice Israeli guy (Jonathan) who we met at the guest house. That will be our next trip :)
The road to the temple was nice with very little traffic. Instead of crazy buses and trucks, we had to dodge cows, goats, camels and buffaloes. Very quickly, Miko adopted the Indian way of signaling - the HONK, to the point of his finger cramping because of it.
The temple itself was ugly. The place where people come to worship is a hole in a rock. Around it is a big ugly concrete platform. What's beautiful is the nature around it populated by many monkeys (the nice ones). The little baby monkeys jumping and playing with each other just like kids. Before going to the temple (cave), worshippers wash themselves at the bottom of the waterfall. Men wash themselves in one area and women further down the creek. It was interesting to see that some women were partially naked (the top part). Modesty is very important in India and in this male dominated environment, women are usually covered head to toe.
We were the only Westerners there, so EVERYONE was constantly starring at us. They stare at you with a blank face but usually if we say "Namaste" or just smile and nod our heads, they smile back. Miko was able to take a lot of portraits that day. People liked having their picture taken and he would always show them the photo after on the screen. Their reactions were interesting. Often they giggle, or nod their head in approval, but sometimes they try to take the picture from the screen. We wished we had a small portable printer to give them their photo.
But one of the most important things that day was that Hana drove the scooter for the first time in her life! Yeaaaah!!!!!!
At the end of the day we heard that a guy named Kukki was showing some cave paintings in the area and we called him to get more details.
We ended up meeting him personally and being invited to his home. It was nice to meet all his family, his wife, son and 2 daughters. They were very friendly and we talked for a long time. His youngest daughter really like Hana and insisted on doing henna on her hand. Hana agreed even though I know she said she would not do it while in India.
Anyway, Kukki really excited us about the cave paintings and seeing more of the countryside with him. Before the end of the day we decided to stay one more day.
The next morning we went to pick up the scooter we used the day before and realized that the stupid little piece of cow poop at the shop, sucked out half the tank we put in the day before. We did not say anything but returned the scooter empty. Now we are even.
After a welcoming chai at Kukki's house (you can't say no to chai) we finally left. On our way to the cave paintings we visited rice fields and a beautiful flower farm owned by his friends. After riding on beat up roads we arrived at a beautiful waterfall and spent the rest of the afternoon in this area.
But first we need to talk about Kukki. He is a character. He is like a big kid, always laughing. About 55 years old, he is a self taught archaeologist. He says archeology is his hobby. He found his first artifact when he was only 9 or 10 years old. And then kept finding more and more until he went to Delhi and showed his findings to a specialist. This man was impressed by his discoveries and asked him to look for prehistoric/historic cave paintings. He then became obsessed with the research, neglecting his family and business. But in 1999 he found his first cave painting and many, many more. Many famous archaeologists came to visit him since and now he has his picture in the Lasco museum in France.
We spent most of the day talking to him and hiking in the area of the waterfall and around the canyon. Kukki told us about an Indian archaeologist who came to visit him after he heard about Kukki (the cave painting legend) and stayed at his home. Kukki showed him his findings. Later this man claimed during a conference to have found these prehistoric cave painting himself. Likely, somebody stood up and said that that was Kukki's discovery and not his. Since then Kukki believes that 80% of Indians are bad people and that in his next life he wants to be reborn in Europe.
He showed us one of his discoveries from 2003. It is one thing to see prehistoric paintings in books or on TV, but when we saw them for real, we were really moved. It makes you realize how our lifetime is insignificant compared to how old those illustrations are.
This has been such a wonderful day: riding in the country side, honking :), passing farmers & goats, buffaloes, camels, the beautiful scenery of the waterfall and finally the paintings - awesome. The sun was going down and Kukki who initially wanted to show us more, realized that it was getting late and that we should head back to Bundi. We agreed. Kukki then thought for a minute and decided to show us one more thing - a lake. It was almost five at this point... We ended up getting back to Bundi 3 and a half hours later. A total nightmare.
What he did not tell us when we left is that we were going to ride 60km on insanely beat up roads in complete darkness, trying to avoid being hit by trucks covered with neon lights blasting very loud Indian music which we couldn't tell if it was coming from the outside speakers or from inside the cabin. Sometimes there would be more potholes than pavement and they called it a road. On top of it, Miko was driving with his camping headlamp because the scooter lights were so weak. He was so tense from concentration to avoid the potholes, his back was completely knotted. Plus Hana would bury her teeth in his shirt and back every time she hurt her butt while bouncing. In all that craziness, Kukki was behaving like everything was cool (which it was for him used to these roads) and telling us to look around at the beautiful nature when the only thing we could see was the back of his scooter, the next pothole to avoid & the huge light beams coming toward us. And we were running out of gas...
Somehow, miraculously we made it back to Bundi in one piece. We were ready to say goodbye to Kukki who made us feel so happy and amazed and then scarred shit less all in one day. But he insisted we go to his place for dinner that his wife prepared for us. We were angry with him, but he did not seem to realize how hard the way back has been for us. Miko was thinking: "Why are you so freaking nice and jovial, I can't even get angry at you fucker!".
We ended up going back to his place and having great food and talk with his family. Again we were having a nice time with him. What a character!
Finally to finish our experience in Indian style, Kukki gave us a ride back to the guest house, the 3 of us squeezed on his tiny scooter, honking and slaloming through the narrow streets of Bundi.
We decided to stay one more day to recover.
The next day we did nothing which was much needed but Raj, the owner of the "Elephant Guest House" that we were staying at, and the other guests there wanted us to stay and dress up for the parade starting the Bundi festival the next day. We decided to stay one more day (now 5 in total).
So, we got up early in the morning and Raj gave us traditional Indian costumes to wear. Miko was very happy that despite the weight-loss he couldn't fit in them. The truth is, he felt so ridiculous he did not want to wear it.
Raj's wife gave Hana and a British girl Anna a pink and yellow sari and they both looked good in them (unlike the men). It was fun getting ready and taking pictures but we had no idea what awaited us. What do you expect to happen when a few whities show up in a small town's festival dressed up in traditional local outfits?
When we arrived at the start of the parade everyone was staring at us, the Westerners wearing Indian clothes. We were invited to meet the town officials. There the picture session started and the cameras were rolling. That's when I congratulated myself for my wise decision not to dress up and Hana regretted hers.
The local newspaper were there taking pictures of the 4 whities dressed up in saris. Different tv channels were there and when one of them asked Hana how she liked wearing a sari, she answered that it was nice but too hot. They immediately jumped to the spanish girl next to her to ask the same question and get a better answer.
After this short moment of fame we caught up with the parade which was actually very nice. People in traditional costumes were walking with decorated horses, camels and even an elephant. Bands were playing and dancers performing. There was a procession of beautiful Indian girls with ceramic pots on their heads. That's when they stopped the group for another photo shoot. They put pots on the heads of Hana, Anna & 2 Norwegian girls in saris and placed them in front of the Indian girls, completely blocking them. Hana dropped her pot on the girl behind her (good job Hana).
After walking for what seemed like ages, we arrived at some kind of stadium were all the foreigners were seated in the shade (as VIP guests) and the mass of local people was standing around in the sun. There was horse racing and a mustache contest where the men had to lift a small child of the ground by holding on to their mustache. A turban competition to see who can wrap it the fastest. The biggest moment was when they asked the tourists to compete against the locals in a tug of war. Women first then men. The tension and excitement was insane. The crowd was so big and close to the contestants we couldn't even see the people we were competing against. They could have put a tractor on the other end, we would not have known. It was loud and disorganised. So much fun.
From what we understood afterwards, the tourist women lost, and somehow the men won.
Finally to end this very busy morning the city invited all the tourists for a delicious traditional Rajasthani lunch. Women were offered bangles as gifts (Hana broke hers trying to put them on :( and men had their heads wrapped in colorful turbans.
The rest of the day we spent relaxing and enjoying the few hours we had left at our wonderful guest house "Havell Elephant Stable". We left the next morning, sad but very happy we had extended our stay in Bundi.
We did not see much of the city of Jaipur since Miko got sick few hours after our arrival (stomach issues). Still, two things stand out from this short visit:
the Hawa Mahal, which is the main landmark of Jaipur, also known as the pink city. It was built for the wives and concubines of the Maharaja to be able to watch the parades and festivities on the streets of Jaipur without being seen from the outside. Its interior design is very minimal compared to other Indian monuments we have seen.
The second highlight is the Raj Mandir Cinema where we went to see a 3 hour long Bollywood movie. We were disappointed since the story was really bad and there was only one dancing sequence. The fun part was the crowd. Everybody talking and reacting to the movie, babies crying and cell phones ringing.
Later on, we wished we had skipped Jaipur completely and stayed 2 days longer in Varanasi. But how are you supposed to know....
WE saw TAJ MAHAL!!! And like everybody says, it is amazing and impressive. Especially when you first enter the gate and see it almost blending with the foggy background. It looks like unreal, floating and magical. If you come to India, you must see it.
Varanasi is a very interesting and photogenic place on the banks of the sacred Ganga river. The mother of India. Indians come from all over the country to burn their deceased family members. We witnessed one of the ceremonies because it happens out in the open on one of the ghats. It is so strange for us Westerners. The body, wrapped in cloth is brought on stretchers and dipped in the Ganga river, then placed on a pile of wood (special wood from the mountains, very expensive). Then they unwrap the face and place some river water in the mouth. Holly men perform some kind of ceremony and a close family member walks around the body 5 times before setting it on fire. There is more to it but this is what we saw.
In Varanasi we also celebrated Hana's 33-rd birthday! And to celebrate we woke up at 5:45am to go on a 2 hour boat ride on the Ganga river. It was especially nice to be on the river at that time and watch the sunrise and the city slowly awaken. People were bathing and washing clothes on the banks. It sounds very nice but when you know how polluted the river is, than it's not so nice. The ashes of the dead, the sewage system, garbage, the water buffaloes bathing, etc. It all goes in the Ganga. And in all of it, people happily wash themselves and brush their teeth. I think we just can not understand, it is a cultural thing and for them the river is holly.
Back to Hana's b-day. She also got an ayuverdic massage that day. And very special earrings that I bought in Udaipur but had already given them to her in Bundi because when I saw her putting the sari on and complaining about not having any earrings, I thought it was a good time to surprise her.
That day we saw Julian (our friend and fellow traveler from Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Udaipur) and went to see a little concert in an Music Ashram. We got to listen to some beautiful classical Indian music created by 4 men playing tabla, sittar, flute and one more instrument. The sittar was the best. The guy was totally rocking out.
On our way back to the hotel, we saw some crazy male action - dancing on the street as part of the wedding celebration. There was a lot of drumming and pelvis thrusting with the arms in the air, shoulder shimming, jumping, pushing and sort of humping, It was very sexual and aggressive. Did I mention that they were all young men....
The only downer we experienced in Varanasi was constant harassment & that virtually everyone was trying to rip us off. We always had to double check everything we were paying for. It kind of reminded us of the beginning of our trip in Delhi. And it was the only time since our arrival in India, that the rickshaw driver tricked us and dropped us off by some shop pretending that is the destination we agreed upon when actually we were 1km away from the place.
Still, Varanasi is a great place for people watching and hanging out. It is also very photogenic. If you like taking photos and if you like colors, you will go crazy here.
We had to keep going since we had a flight to catch from Kolkata to Bangkok and were planing to meet Kelly there...
We took a night train from Varanasi to Kolkata and for the first time we took a sleeper class so we were a bit anxious. Normally we were taking a more comfortable and more expensive 3AC class. While it was crowded in the beginning and noisy for most of the night, the people in our compartment were very nice and we were pleasantly surprised. One Indian man in his fifties was very chatty with us and when he heard that it was my birthday the day before, he bought chai (Indian tea) for everyone. Then a middle aged couple offered to share their dinner with us, some chapatti, curry and mango chutney. They were very nice and did not speak much English.
To our surprise, Kolkata was not a second Delhi. We did not see much of it, just the Sudder and Park Street area, which is very touristy, but we liked it. Old english colonial buildings mixed up with more tropical greenery is interesting and different from other places we saw. Unlike Delhi, it feels more like a city.
Overall, we really liked India even if the beginning was difficult. Even if you like this country or not, you can not forget it. It is a completely different planet from ours. Yes, it is very dirty and poluted & loud & overpopulated & male dominated. But it has so much history and culture. Each place we visited was so different from one another. We met some very nice and generous people. But we just saw a small part of the country, you need at least 6 months to visit it all. We want to come back to spend more time in the North and the South. But the next time Miko wants to do it on a bad ass motorcycle.
Well, we thought that we were done with India, but we are still here in Kolkata. Our flight to Bangkok was canceled yesterday. We spent a crazy day at the airport not knowing what to do and what is going on. We went to bed hoping the Bangkok solution will get resolved the next day, only to wake up this morning and hear the Mumbai news... What is going on with the world?!
We decided to go to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow and then to South Thailand (Krabi). We were supposed to meet with Kelly in Bangkok, and she got stuck in Japan. So, hopefully we will meet up with her in Kuala Lumpur this weekend.... Stay tuned.