The famous Wagha gates – were huge on both sides, with spectator seats (for the afternoon closing ceremony, we’d missed last night) – the Pakistan side looked definitely quieter. In India they were building a huge new seating area (apparently they attract huge crowds every day!). Our passports were checked again 10 m before the Pakistan gate and again 5 m into India. It seemed all quite casual, and so I asked it if was OK for us to take a photo. That was fine here at the gates, and one of the officers even took a photo of us both together.So we were in India, and now we just had to complete all the inspections and paperwork.
That is definitely one for the album – I don’t imagine there are too many photos of foreigners on their own vehicle passing this famous gateway. We were told to drive on passed the building site, round to the Indian immigration building (no photos here). There was plenty of security, and were directed where to park up by the side of the building. Inside there were only a few other locals going through the process, and more porters than anything else. There was only 1 immigration booth open, and a couple in front of us. The woman doing the passport entry was so slow – we must have been stood waiting over 15 mins, before she had finished with the couple in front. Then onto us and another 10 mins, to get out passports stamped and photos taken. We were then onto the main customs clearing hall, and pretty much deserted apart from the staff. Here we were a much longer time, as the paperwork for the carnet was processed, ever so slowly – the booklet being taken from place to place, and we were asked to fill in forms, and then take the bike across to an inspection area. Here the VIN and engine number were checked. It was actually getting hot and uncomfortable in all the riding gear, dripping sweat. There was a hand waving baggage check, as they wanted to know what we were carrying, where we were from and where we were going. There were sniffer dogs too, but really no hassles at all. Then finally we were cleared to go – given the duly filled and signed A4 sheet, which we had to hand in at the main gate. We climbed back on the bike, were waved off by the security guys (BSF – border security force) and headed to the exit gate, where we handed in the sheet and were out onto the streets of India.
The first thing I saw amongst the small kiosks across the road was a ‘British wine and beer shop’. It was only 30 km to Amritsar and that was all we were doing today, and it was just a straight road in. I’d noted down a hotel to aim for, not far from the railway station, which shouldn’t be too hard to find. There was a dedicated bus lane under construction pretty much all the way in – but for now it was just a building site. And thankfully traffic wasn’t too bad – it actually felt calmer than Pakistan somehow. We passed the very impressive Khalasa University building on the outskirts.
And were following roadsigns for the Railway Station and Golden Temple. I got us passed the railway station entrance and onto Court Road, where the hotel should be – but I just wasn’t sure where. In fact there were so many hotels squeezed between the businesses on the very busy road. There were also a good number of police about, so Stew pulled up by a couple so we could asked for the ‘Sunrise hotel’. They weren’t too sure, but a local guy sat nearby just pointed round the back laneway.
With thanks we set off, and sure enough we found the ‘Golden Sunrise hotel’ just round the back away from the bustling main street. At first sight there didn’t seem to be parking, but one of the receptionists showed us to a lockup just at the back of the hotel. It looked fine, and checking in for a room, that looked really decent for the price too 1200 rp (with breakfast and, supposidly wifi). I asked what time was breakfast, and the young female receptionist just asked what we wanted – Indian paratha, curd and black tea would be fine. So by 2pm we’d got the saddle bags and valuables up in the room, and were making a brew (there was a kettle and a couple of tea bags, which was quite a novelty).
Then 15 mins later, we were brought up room service of fresh hot paratha, curd and black tea !! – we weren’t really hungry, but ate some as it was nice and fresh, and then we just recuperated an hour on the bed, before we went back downstairs to unpack the rest of the bike, and get it parked away in the lockup. We left all the camping gear, and just took up the back and side box, so we could get a change of clothes and lock things in the room too.
Well the wifi was pretty useless, we couldn’t get connected, but there was an electric hot water tank for the shower – You just can’t have everything! Before it got too late we thought we’d do a reckkie round the local vicinity. We asked for a tourist map in reception, but they didn’t have one, and we asked for Money Change, and were told there were some taking the road towards the railway station. So we headed off in that direction, and indeed soon found a Currency Exchange place. The streets were such an eclectric mix of life and work on the streets, but not too many places to eat besides the street food stalls.We walked passed a cute old post office, and posting boxes.
We kind of just walked round the blocks an hour, taking the street that looked the most interesting – that was the one with the elephant; getting fed loaves of bread at one of the street cafes. It was great to see women out and about, and so colourfully dressed to…..definitely more colourful than some of the old buildings and public toilets (These weren’t the worst we saw!)
Well, with the late afternoon paratha, we really weren’t too hungry for dinner, and could just finish the left overs. But a nice cold beer would be good. We went to the beer shop nearest the hotel, and were hoping for Kingfisher – but they didn’t have any. We ended up getting 4 cans of ‘Thunderbolt’, a bottle of cold water and headed back to the hotel.
It wasn’t till we got back that we saw the beer was a strong 8% – but we were hot and thirsty so it went down really well. It wasn’t long after that we’d turned in for the night.
The next day we were just going to be tourists – visiting the local sights of bloody massacres of old.
Stew made us some morning tea, as I really wasn’t feeling too good. I peered out the curtains around 8am, and the back laneway was really quiet – there didn’t seem to be early risers round here. We headed down to reception about 8.30am to see what we’d get for brekkie. It was a limited choice; paratha and curd, or omelette and bread. We opted for omelette and bread, with some black tea, and they said they would bring it to our room. It arrived about 15 mins later, and was not bad – quite spicy really, and we topped with some HP sauce too. The tea was very sweet, so Stew made some of our own. We then got ready to head out for the morning – I’d drawn a sketch map to walk from across the railway to the two main tourist sites, and reckoned it should only be a couple of kilometer walk. First though we had to negotiate the pedestrian rail track crossing – We followed a local, right across the line.
And then managed to navigate down the main Hall Road, through the Hall Gate. There streets were lined with small shops, but nothing too interesting, the buildings on the first floor level were far more interesting. We did call in at one bookshop, that had a section of English novels, but Stew couldn’t find anything inspiring to read. And then we made it on the main pedestrian mall, following the crowds.
In 1919 General Dyer ordered the British to fire on unarmed civilians in Jallianwala Bagh, as the Indian’s continued their peaceful fight to win their independence from British rule. Over 300 were killed and 1000 injured. It was the first place we came to.
Then only hundreds of metres away, the beautiful Harmandir Sahib, ‘Golden Temple’ – the most holy sight of the Sikhs, founded in 1609. Here the Indian army was trying to quell unrest of the Sikh minority, with militants taking a stand at the Golden Temple in 1984. More than 300 were killed, and it led to the assassination of Indira Ghandi by two of her Sikh body guards later that year.
We wandered the streets more than 3 hours, and just amazing how much renovation and construction work was underway, to ‘Beautify the streets from the Town Hall to the Golden Temple. There was so much dust again, and so many tourists (local) too, all heading to the temple for pilgrimage. We did like the police notice board too.
On the approach there were masses of people, all depositing their shoes and getting headscarves – everyone had to have some head covering. Stew hadn’t brought anything, and really didn’t like all the crowds, so he sat with the bag and my shoes as I went into the historical sight. Oh, you got a foot bath on the way in and out too. Devotees were kneeling and kissing the ground, and bathing in the waters that surrounded the main temple. Then taking a circumnavigation to join the queues to enter the main golden temple.
After we finished our tour about we escaped into MacDonalds. It will be so much better when construction completed, but for now it was mostly a noisy mess, so it was nice to escape for half an hour. We took a table on the first floor by the window, and could watch the busy streets below. The Mac’s was totally vegetarian, so Stew got a spicy paneer burger meal, while I got a spicy paneer wrap, and we finished off with an ice cream cone to wander back out on the hot streets. The building isn’t a patch on the old market building just up the road, or the old milk shop opposite.
We made it back to the hotel around 1pm, and I was feeling quite weary and actually slept maybe 2 hrs – My headbugs aren’t getting any better, quite a bunged head, sneezing and runny nose today. Stew made himself some tea, and after we went to sit in the lobby for an hour to get online again. We needed to make some plans for the drive out tomorrow and where we might get to. I wrote a few things in my note book, making note of the main roads and towns. Shimla (the famous hill station in the Garwhal hills), was about 7-8 hrs drive away, so don’t think we’ll make it there, even though its only 350 km away. Stew was feeling hungry, though I didn’t really want anything, but was happy to go walk about, and maybe get a cold beer. Stew was thinking maybe a couple of samosas, but none of the street vendors had them, as we headed down towards the station. We thought we’d just do a walk round the block, and on the main road by the railway station, we saw a western guy, just moving an Enfield bullet, outside the Grand Hotel. He was with another guy too, looked more Italian, though it turned out he was from Greece. They were Chris and Peter (not really but I can’t remember his Greek name). They were from Albany in WA !! – and on a month trip, on a hired Enfield from Dehli. It also turned out that Chris though born in Albany, grew up around Leeds in the UK!! We chatted a while, and gave them one of our travel cards. They were staying at the hotel, so we asked if they had a restaurant, and they said yes, and Kingfisher on tap. So it seemed like a good place to sit and have a bite to eat. We were shown to the garden restaurant area; another dusty old place, and no other guests about, but it was a nice place to sit away from the busy street. The menu was pretty good, and Chris said the portions are pretty big. I really wasn’t hungry, so let Stew order what he fancied; aloo ghobi massala, rice and a roti, with 2 glasses of Kingfisher light (5%). It was great, and I did have a tiny bit to eat – and we just enjoyed the whole place.
We were back in our room by 7.30pm – Still no wifi, so Stew flicked the TV, while I did an hours work on the diary. I was ready for bed anytime, and turned in before Stew. I didn’t sleep too well, and wasn’t feeling too refreshed when Stew got up to put the kettle on around 6.30am. After a nice cuppa, a hot shower and a couple of paracetamols I was feeling much better. We set about packing and then had breakfast in the lobby, so at least we could get on the wifi for a while. And we had our marmalade and vegemite, so the toast was even better. Breakfast finished we paid up our bill, climbed into our riding gear and set off out onto the busy, bustling and dusty streets, catching sight of some pretty wierd vehicles and the usual huge cart loads.
It really wasn’t an enjoyable 4-5 hrs on the road today. For starters all the dust and grime, and the air quality is so bad. Everything is lost in the milky white haze. I’d kind of jotted a route for us, heading towards Chandigarh, but turning off at Rupnagar towards Nalagarh. Then heading right again would take us towards Pinjore, and I reckoned that would be enough for the day. We’d also had a good look how to get out on Amritsar, and from our walk about, knew we basically needed to get over the railway line and this would take us to the Grand Trunk road, and the AH1 out. The navigation all went pretty well, and I could keep tabs on whereabouts we were on the GPS. Stretches of the road were absolutely abysmal, and when we did a first petrol stop, Stew saw the steering head bolt had come loose again – we are getting shook about so much on the bad road surfaces. Then other stretches weren’t too bad at all, and it it weren’t for the poor visibility, the surroundings were quite pleasant, as we headed in towards the Garwhal hills.
We could just about make them out in the distance. It was quite green, (well dusty green) and we were driving tree lined roads a lot of the time between the villages and towns. Best sights of the day though were the huge working elephant, and a whole troop of small monkeys.
Neither of our bums were holding up well today either, and we just had to pull over for a leg stretch – even though we hadn’t done 100 miles – it really is quite slow going in places, and there are so many things you have to look out for, trucks, tractors, cows, horses and people. We needed more petrol, and we were getting a bit too near to Chandigarh – so after filling the tank, we pulled over in the shade, so I could get a good look at the map and GPS. I knew we were getting close to the Nalagarh turning, but thought we may have missed it a few kilometers back. There was a guy on a small motorbike who walked over to us after getting petrol. He didn’t know much English, but was trying to help us find the way on the map. It turned out he was heading for Nalagarh (and onto Baddi) – just where we wanted to be, so we basically followed him out. The turn off we wanted was just a few kilometers further up the road, so we hadn’t missed it at all. By now it was getting on for 1.30pm, Shimla was another 100 km and we’d pretty much had enough for the day. We waved bye to the guy as we continued on towards Pinjore. And now we were just looking for any reasonable hotel. There was little on the streets besides grimy industries, school compounds, and small shops of all kinds lining the street side – so nothing of interest to wander around, but as we rounded the next bend, Stew spotted the Oyo sign, and I’d mentioned this seems to be one of the hotel chains round here (I’d seen one opposite our hotel in Amritsar too). It was set back off the street, in large grounds, and actually looked quite posh – I knew it wasn’t one of the cheapies, but it would do for one night (And checking in at 2pm, we always get good value).
The male receptionist spoke quite good English, and we soon found out it was 3000 rp ($60 AUD) for a double room – breakfast and wifi included, and there was a restaurant too. So that was all good, we checked in and just took the saddle bags and tank bag up to the room. It was quite big, clean and spacious, with an extra big double bed. This was rather on the soft side, as we sank into the mattress sitting down to take off our boots. There were all the usual facilities (except a fridge), but decent toiletries and towels, flat screen TV, tea bags, coffee and a kettle. First job was to make a nice brew, and Stew had a couple of digestive biscuits too. I still wasn’t feeling too good, so just happy with a nice cup of coffee. We lounged a couple of hours, spending some time pouring over the map, and trying to plan our a route for the next few days. We decided on a few days rest in the Himalayan foothills – heading for the old British Hill Station of Shimla. It wasn’t that far, and we had a good browse round for potential accommodation. There was no where to go walk about outside, so we just headed down to the restaurant. We thought we were the only guests until another Indian family with a couple of young kids came in about half an hour later. We started by sharing a beer (they only had Kingisher strong!) – while deciding what to have to eat. I really wasn’t too hungry with all my head bugs, so we just ordered one daal and spinach curry, rice, rotis, raita and a second beer when the food came out. The food we pretty decent and we enjoyed the meal – and just the right amount for us both really. By the time we got back to our room I really wasn’t feeling any better, the bugs are getting ontop of me, so I soon turned in with music over my headphone, leaving Stew to turn everything off.
The next day we only planned 120 km to Shimla, so there was no need to rush off. I’d had a pretty awful night – the most terrible guts, and head. I had to get up to the toilet three times. I think I’d expelled everything I could, so I didn’t feel too bad by the time Stew got up to make some tea around 7am. I definitely felt like I was fighting bugs, and just not at my best. Hopefully I can shake it off with a couple of days rest in the Himalayas. Stew was getting an online news fix, while I was copying across some Pakistan photos for the blog. We both had a lovely hot shower, which brought me round a bit, and then we headed down for brekkie. It wasn’t the best – Stew asked for a soft egg, and when it finally arrived, it was so runny it didn’t look appetizing at all. We got a plate of chopped fruit which was nice, and I asked from some yoghurt too, which might just settle my stomach. We also had some toast and jam, and milk coffee – enough to get us going for the day.
We’d checked out, paid up and were on the road by 10am. If we thought yesterday was bad on the road, well today it just got worse – I think one of the worst days drive we had. 4 hrs, and we were still 50 km away from Shimla. Our impressions of the Himalayan foothills were totally destroyed. Dusty, filthy roadworks most of the way, and some really terrible stretches of road surface. And there was so much traffic on the single track road, and terrible driving.
The only amazing thing was about 2 hrs in we’d just crossed a railline and then we saw a MacDonalds!! So we had a nice relaxing lunch – well I didn’t eat anything (my guts just aren’t stable), just had some sprite, while Stew ordered the veggie burger meal.
It was hard slog, but we continued on. Thew scenery just got better, if if the roads didn’t!!
By the time we reached Solan, we’d had enough – and just wanted somewhere to hole up for the night. We pulled in at the first hotel we saw on the approach to the town, Hotel Paragon Palace. It wasn’t cheap at 3000 rp again, but we’d had enough, and didn’t want to go any further. It was painful to think we had another 4 hrs to drive back on the same awful road, back to where we were and getting nowhere – but we’d try set off earlier in the morning, and try beat some of the traffic!! And we were both incredibly grubby, I didn’t think we could get any dustier!! Stew even had to shower, he had that much crap in his eyes. We went out for a wander around 4.30pm, but there really wasn’t anything to see in the vicinity. The view from the hotel terrace was the best, and even then you had to look beyond the construction zone.
We put the cover over the bike, just so it wasn’t all visible, and then headed back. We could do with a bit of wifi, so took the computer down to reception, and managed to get logged on (even so it was still very slow! – so we couldn’t do much) – we sat an hour with a cold beer, before going into the restaurant. We thought we’d just aim for somewhere north of Dehli tomorrow, depending what the roads were like when we got out of the hills, and the plan was to set off reasonably early too. So I looked about for accommodation again, and wrote a couple down, and then pinged off a couple of short emails. By the time we sat down to eat it was already 7.30pm, and a couple of other tables were occupied too. I really wasn’t very hungry, still with dodgy guts, so I let Stew pick again tonight; chicken masala, rice, roti and mint raita. The food was really good, though I didn’t want the chicken – the sauce was great though, and we were brought out a bit of pickle and chopped onion too. Stew really enjoyed it, the only real highlight of the day. We headed back to the room an hour later, and watched a bit of TV before turning in for the night listening to some music.
I slept better not having to get up to the toilet several times, but even so it wasn’t too peaceful with noisy people and dogs barking too. My body still wasn’t the best, and I was sluggish getting up. We thought there was breakfast from 7.30am, so just got up, dressed, packed, and got everything ready on the bike. Then went to reception to pay the bill. It looked more expensive than I’d expected, and on checking they had charged us for 4 beers and not the 2 we had! – an extra $8. There was hardly anyone around and the guy on reception pretty sleepy. We said we’d sort it after breakfast, and he then said breakfast isn’t available till 8am! We weren’t hanging round. Thankfully he took the initiative and deducted the extra 2 beers from the bill. I paid up and we were glad to be out of the place and on the road just after 7.30am. It was cooler, but hardly fresh – and being early enough the traffic wasn’t too bad, though it was already building. We did better than we expected riding over the worst sections of road in the first hour. Images can be quite deceptive, and as I got a few really nice shots over the deep green valleys and hills, and on the other side billowing dust and terrible roads.
We ended up on a small detour (around 10 km), that took us on a lovely quiet section that deteriorated into quite narrow single track lane. We had to pull in for an on coming car, and there was a big step in the road. When Stew tried to get us out, his legs just weren’t long enough and we gently toppled over!! No hassle though, we managed to pull Fritz back to the vertical without too much hassle.
After 2 hours we’d made it to the Macs were called in yesterday, and were looking forwards to a MacBreakfast – but there was no brekkie menu, even though it was only 9.30am! So we just got black tea – but that was too strong, so we had to put sugar in. My guts weren’t really up to food, but Stew managed to get a couple of samosas in the food hall before we set off again. We still had some pretty awful road conditions to pass, but an other hour and we were nearly out of it. Once by Pinjore the road definitely improved and got faster – but still pretty crazy; lots of traffic of all kinds, and the odd cows wandering around too, so it wasn’t a whole lot easier.
We stopped for one petrol fill, and another for a roadside cold drink – checking the map. We thought we’d get to Panipat (North of Dehli), around 1pm, and that would do for the day. The main thing then would be to find a hotel with wifi. As we approached the city we pulled off the through road, and headed in towards to city melee. It was soon choc-a-block. I saw the sign for a tourist complex and got Stew to pull in. It would have been fine, but they had no wifi – so we continued on. It was just a maddening, noisy, dirty, dusty corridor, and I couldn’t spot any hotels on our side of the road. I’d seen at least 3 or 4 on the other carriage way, just no way of getting across easily. 10 mins later we were in standing traffic, not 6 inch between vehicles. There was a U-turn ahead, so I said to Stew maybe try get across, and try get a hotel on the other side. Stew got us across, and I directed him to a decent looking hotel I’d spotted just up the road. He pulled in to park right outside the front door. It was like an oasis inside, and even though it was 3500 rp for the night, we were just too tired, hot and bothered to go any further. The staff were very friendly, and soon got us checked in, and shown to a really lovely room.
Now we just needed a cuppa to recuperate. They had wifi we could access in the room, and breakfast was from 7am. We didn’t bother unpacking the bike again, just wrapped him all up in the cover again. A couple of hours later we were feeling a bit more normal again, and both had a nice hot shower to freshen up. Not that we could feel that fresh without a chance of clothes, but that would have to wait for another day. We went over the maps again and online, thinking we’d aim for Jaipur tomorrow. There were plenty of hotels and it looked like quite a lot of things to see and do. We browsed hotel options, and Stew found a really nice old colonial place – ‘Krishna Palace’. It was reasonably close to the centre, so we could even walk to the old ‘Pink City’ parts and the Palace of the winds. There was decent grounds, so hopefully we could even wash the bike, and Stew could check it over again, and it was a decent price too around 1500 rp. So I wrote down some directions and the address. It was around 370 km drive, so would quite a long day on the road again. I then checked the email and found a lovely newsy letter back from Lacey, which was so nice to read. She’d had 3 days off work last week, with an awful throat – so hopefully getting better for her trip over East with Laura on Friday. They’d had some nice days visiting the Harrisons, and an evening with the Stewarts too. Not knowing when our email would be good again, I sat and wrote a longish email back, while we went for a cold beer in the downstairs bar. And then we moved across to the restaurant. It wasn’t busy, but there were a couple more tables occupied; One by a single Chinese guy and another with an Indian family with a small toddler. The menu was great, but still not feeling 100% we didn’t want to order too much. Tonight we got a mushroom curry, jeera rice, raita and Stew got a buttered nan while I got a roti. We even got papadums and mint sauce tonight, which was lovely. We were both pretty stuffed by the time we’d finished, but managed not to leave too much. Retiring to our comfy room, we managed another hour screen time before turning in for the night.
Stew said he slept really well, much better than me really. I was struggling with the background heavy drumming noise (Maybe a big generator), and it kept waking me up too. We woke around 6.30am, and the first tea I made tasted a bit funny, and I couldn’t get on the internet either – though Stew was OK, so we ended up just going down to breakfast, which was just opening at 7.10am. Stew was reading the news, and found 44 police cadets had been killed in Quetta and 2 customs officers, by suicide bombers!! This will make the tourist travel to there even harder now I imagine !! We then went to see what was being set up on the breakfast buffet, and today Stew found some cereal, so I had some too, it made a nice change. It was almost muesli and yoghurt, with some chopped melon too. Then we finished off with some toast and jam, pretty much setting us up for the day. We’d paid up our bill, and were out on the noisy, dirty road by 8.15am. It was a bit of a bustle to get out of the city strip, before we took the turning to Rohtak, and here amazingly we found good and quiet road. I think its the best road we’ve drive for a day so far in India. It was still tough at times – the trucks, drivers, and others things on the highways, just never cease to amaze you. And their driving skills are crazy – no rules I think is is the rule. Often the slowest moving vehicle is in the fast overtaking lane – and that can be tractors loaded with hay, or even the cows sauntering along. Then there are clearly direction flows to the traffic, but there are always vehicles going contra-flow !! So you really have to have your wits about you, and do like the locals. We were surprised to see a jumbo plane next to the road though – even though it was a makeshift restaurant.
Stew was going with the flow, and weaving round the slow, and often so badly polluting vehicles, on which ever side was clear at the time. I’m just a second pair of eyes, looking out for anything that Stew may have missed. We had a small motorbike with driver and 2 passengers, following us for a long while, and when we pulled over for a cold drink, they stopped too. There were 2 guys and a girl, and clearly surprised by our bike, asking to take photos (on their smart phones): Stew invited them to sit on the bike too – which they loved. I snapped a photo of them setting off again, and the camel carts, passing by.
Then at times the drive was almost pleasant – we had quiet stretches of road, and mostly out in quite a verdant green countryside. And with quite a strong wind the air quality was much improved on what it had been for the passed week. We were doing so well, until we got to the last 50 km into Jaipiur. I’d managed to locate the Krishna Palace hotel on the GPS; so we were using that to navigate in by. It took us away from the ring road, and heading towards to centre, and was pretty good going with few trucks on the way. Then in the distance we could see the old fortress and walls, and knew we were getting near.
The road took us, skirting the old pink city boundary wall – small narrow winding, and quite filthy streets, with people, dogs, goats, pigs and cows – and all manner of perambulation. We did seem to be going in the right direction, and then we turned onto a main street, that had the metro train line running overhead on huge concrete pillars. It was grid lock – markets, bus stops, shops, hotels and eating places lined each side, but hardly anything was moving – work men were trying to lay brick paving under the metro line – and vehicle passage was narrowed to a single lane – with buses, trucks, rickshaws, cars and bikes coming in from all sides – it was very slow progress, but we eventually made it through (and getting so hot and sweaty in the afternoon heat), and then we were at the Jaipur Junction rail hub, a small roundabout we needed to head right, and then out on the railway road (it was a really big station complex) – but again teeming with people as hoards were trying to get in and out of the station. Then finally another kilometer up the road, we were at the military hospital and opposite was a small side street we turned into. It was so calm and quiet – looked quite residential. Only another 500 m and I saw a sign for the Krishna Palace guest house on the wall. We turned in through the gates to the walled compound, a gorgeous old house, lovely front garden and parking down the side. It looked a great spot, so we were soon parked up and checking out the rooms.
There was small basic non-AC for 800rp, but a much nicer and larger room with AC, and TV for 1575 rp. We were assured we could get wifi in the room, and wanted to stay maybe 3 days, so soon agreed on the larger more comfy room. That sorted, we soon had the saddle bags and valuables in the room, peeled off our filthy riding gear, and collapsed on the bed for an hour. We made some tea which went down really well, and then got on the wifi, which was not too bad. We didn’t have the energy to do much this evening. We’d got a tourist map in reception, and checked on line the nearest supermarket was a good couple of kilometer walk. We did find a beer shop near the railway station, so just thought we’d walk there. It was twilight as we headed out, and the quiet residential street, soon turned to the bustle of evening rush hour. There was all kinds of food vendors along the road by the railway station, but the sight of the stinky effluent channel along side was not appealing at all!! We walked as far as the Jaipur Junction intersection, and then finally spotted a tiny liquor store, doing quite a brisk trade. We managed to get a couple of cold light beers (Tuborg in thus case), and then wandered back. There were a few hotels, and other kinds of shops – shoes, clothes, engineering, motorbike repairs, tyres, and moto spares. I spotted on shop with oil, so we stopped off there and managed to get 2 L of 20:50 engine oil and 2 L of gear oil. And we bought a small lock, as the only one we now have dropped to pieces when Stew took it off the bike earlier. As we made our way back, the hotel looked even prettier lit up in the dark.
We were back in our room by 6.30pm, enjoying a cold beer. Stew had flicked the TV channels, and there were no film channels available. After I went to order us some food – which we just wanted in the room today (too weary to bother with the upstairs terrace). We got aloo matter, jeera rice, onion raita and 4 chappaties. It took a while to get delivered, and even though the portions were smaller than we’d had elsewhere, the food was good – and the chappatis were hot and fresh when they finally arrived (A couple of mins later). Food finished, we didn’t last too much longer, and we were both plugged into music and turned in for the night before 9pm.
I slept so much better, despite a few disturbances from other guests, and dogs barking intermittently, oh, and the trains from Jaipur Junction railway. Stew was up and browsing the internet by 6.30am, but I was zonked and slept on till Stew made some tea around 7.45am. It was pretty good, and tasted so much better than yesterday (Must be the water!). There was no rush to the day, and we didn’t plan doing much – I just wanted to get some cleaning and washing started. So tea done, I set about the task. Stew was happy relaxing with the online news content, and he’d have a lot more to do on the bike later. There was a huge bucket in the bathroom and hot water, so I soon filled that, and some soap suds. Then set about sponging down everything we’d brought into the room from the bike, including our bike suits too. The second bucket was to dunk in the pile of grubby under clothes and my shawl again, leaving them to soak. Looking in the mirror I couldn’t believe the mucky tide line around my neck!! And Stew still had terribly gritty eyes, so we both had a good shower, and so nice to get a change of clothes. I was still not 100%, gripey guts and bad head, so had another couple of paracetamol, and I didn’t fancy any breakfast. Stew ordered the Indian brekkie, puri Sabzi – 4 small puffy rotis, with lime pickle and a dish of potato curry sauce. It took about half an hour to prepare, and we took it sat out in the covered terrace just to the front of the house from our room. It was so nice. I’d made a mug of coffee, and we sat a while longer just enjoying being clean and relaxing for a change.
I finished off the clothes washing and got everything strung up on a line in the room. Stew was looking online for freight info to Oz, and it looked like there were a couple of places I needed to send off some emails. There was also an email back from the Oz vehicle imports – saying our previous approval for import in 2014, was no longer valid and we needed to make a NEW application, under the category ‘import of vehicle manufactured prior to 1989’. It took a while to do, so Stew made us a brew and digestive biscuits with peanut butter and chocolate. I had to upload a couple of photos of the bike, and we had to pay another $50, and then reply to the email, to let them know we had made a new application. What a faff!! After that we were ready for a change of scene, and got ready to go walk about. We weren’t sure where we’d end up, really looking for some bigger supermarket, and heading towards the pink city – maybe a couple of tourist places too. We ended up on a 5 hr walk about – and saw every kind of shop imaginable except for a food supermarket!! We had a rough idea from the tourist map, and by the time we’d walked under the metro onto the MI Road, and passed the main GPO; we thought we might as well keep walking to see the sights in the old pink city. At one of the large road intersections we spotted a Macs, so went in for a cold drink, and Stew got a MacFlurry too.
It was so noisy on the streets, traffic and horns – incredible, and so hard to escape from it. Then through the Ajmer gate we were in the old city, and quite a sight….nothing too spectacular, mostly old decaying buildings and small shops, but the funniest thing was 3 little pigs walking across the road!! The main market street was such a bustle, and everyone was out shopping for their Diwali trimmings and goodies.
It was so colourful……just like all the street xmas decorations we are so much more familiar with. There were quite a few places selling fireworks too (We’d heard quite a few going off last night). We even managed to make a couple of purchases (a paint brush and bowl – Stew wanted for the bike oil change)
And then found our way to the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the wind), and it was so tranquil away from the bustling streets, even though there were quite a lot of tourists in the place too. But it was so big, it was easy enough to get to some amazing empty spaces, away from the ‘madding crowd’. It was so impressive, the open filigree construct to let the wind through was amazing, and all the tiny wooden doorways to see glimpses on the busy streets below was amazing.
You could see out from the top floors (4 or 5) for some great views over the city, to the hills and fortresses. I’d read the Maharaja built the palace in 1799, and the high ‘wind facade’ was to enable his wives to watch the activities on the streets without being observed. He was so keen to have Prince Albert enticed away from Bombay, that he built the ‘Royal Albert museum’ specifically for that purpose and had all the city walls and buildings freshly painted terracotta pink. His wife loved the pink colour so much, she got the maharaja to pass a law that all buildings in the city had to be painted the same pink, and this law still stands today, within the confines of the old city bounded by the city gates.
Having seen enough, and that the streets were totally choc-a-block with the afternoon traffic, we thought we’d be as fast just walking back steadily. It was a long way even to get to the gates, and already twilight with the lights coming on before we were back under the metro line, heading towards to Bani Park region.
When we had set off earlier, we had seen both a bar and a bottle shop at the end of our street, close to the ‘Collective circle’ – and by the time we’d made our way back, we were both ready for a nice cold beer, so headed to the bar. It went down so well. The bar was definitely a male domain, with me being the only female in sight. Even so it was friendly enough, in a dim lighted cavern type of place. There was also a small grocer shop on the street, so we finally managed to get a few supplies; biscuits, chocolate, peanut butter, crisps and milk. It was 7pm by the time we made it back to our hotel, and ready for an evening meal, we ordered some food to have in our room as soon as we got back. It was so good, and just enough again. We had potato and tomato curry (for a change), with rice, rotis and raita, and then had an hour of screen time before hitting the sack, to some music over the headphones.
There were so many fireworks going off through the night, and it was still 2 days off the Diwali festival. This was making the dogs bark too, and then late revellers returned to the hotel. We did sleep on peacefully eventually, not walking too much before 7.30am. We had a pretty leisurely day, though getting some ‘work’ done, after we’d had a couple of brews, and some breakfast in the room too. Stew got puri sabzi again, while I ordered muesli and yoghurt. I’d pinged the girls whatsap again; Sairha was at the Joondalup library on excursion with TAFE and Lacey was home, after a long shift yesterday. So we set up skype and amazingly the sound worked today – great 🙂 So we nattered over ‘work’ at home. She’d got the reticulation working, but pipes were stuffed in the front garden, thanks to the council work. So lovely to have a natter again before she was heading off. We told tales of our walk round Jaipur yesterday and the Diwali preparations, and then it was time to go and signed off with love and kisses. We then started our ‘work’ too. I did more clothes and equipment washing, while Stew washed the bike, was checking it over and doing an oil change on the engine and gearbox. It was taking quite a while, so we had a break for coffee and peanut butter biscuits. Then Stew was off downstairs again, while I was set to doing some work on the blog chapter for Pakistan – that was taking a while too. By 4pm Stew had had enough. There were too many onlookers disturbing him, and he’d done everything except the gearbox oil. So he brought all the gear and tools back upstairs. He said he wanted to finish the bike work tomorrow, and that we should stay another night – that was fine by me too. We thought we’d try a sunset beer and food, at one of the other hotels we’d seen on our walk yesterday. But that didn’t work, we tried two and neither of them sold beer. So we ended up back at the bar – We were now like ‘regulars’, as the bar man brought round a light Kingfisher beer and two glasses, like we’d had yesterday evening, without even being asked. Diwali definitely seems to keep the locals with their families – We were the only customers over the next hour. We nattered a while over our more immediate tasks…..how to get off the continent, and where we should be driving to next. Thankfully, Stew was now more chilled, than he’d been the first few days on the awful roads up north – and was actually enjoying our ‘Marigold hotel’, and the respite from the madding crowds here in Jaipur. So we decided we’d continue south towards Pune, and try make contact with Mike and Carmens’ friends there, to see if they could help organising the bike freight. Beer finished, we got one bottle takeaway and wandered back to the hotel. Everywhere was so brightly illuminated for Diwali, and many of the residences we passed seemed to be having gatherings, with people dressed in their ‘Sunday best’. There were booms and cracks of fireworks intermittently all night.
Back at the hotel, we ordered dinner – a variation on the last two, and this evening had it delivered to the roof top terrace. We also got some spicy dry fried potatoes tonight which Stew really liked. There were a few other Western guests at a couple of tables, but I wouldn’t say it was really busy at all, and so made a nice relaxing place to sit for a while. We finished off the evening with coffee and biscuits in our room, with Stew watching some more ‘Breaking Bad’ on netflix, while I was composing some emails to send off for freight enquiries in the morning. By 10pm we’d had enough, turned out the lights, and put music on our iPods to fall asleep with.
The start of the Diwali 5 days festival
We rested well, and this morning I got up to make us some tea. An hour later we ordered some breakfast, and then Stew got himself ready to go finish off the gearbox oil change. I was gathering all the freight contact details, and sending off a half dozen emails. We were all done by lunchtime, and after some coffee and biscuits, set off walking again for the afternoon. Another long walk (5 hrs), along the MI road towards the City gates. We passed the post office and it was open, and I really wanted to get some stamps. It was quite a mission. We ended up in the wrong queue for 10 mins, before being directed to another ‘happy counter’ (They all had happy counters stickers). Then we had to wait for the philatelic bureau to open – and it was so fun to watch all the activities. Parcels still being stitched and sealed for packing, and no one really queuing. But we finally made our purchases –
and from there we went onto the Albert Hall Museum – such an impressive building, and a few interesting collections. In the museum shop we managed to buy some postcards, and Indian pin badge for me, and a new novel for Stew. They were even stringing up light globes all outside the building for Diwali, which would look pretty awesome after dark
Walking back we saw the street dogs were making themselves rather comfy looking places to nap. Further along we even found a roof top bar to sit and watch the sunset – it was pretty dusty and delapidated. Looking across the hills we could see one of the forts, but down on the street below the view was of one very open urinal….and just amazing how well used it was!!
It was well after dark by the time we got back to the hotel. We packed up as much as we could on the bike ready for the morning, before ordering some food. We had the fried potatoes again, but today got channa masala – which was better than the dall. And then off to bed.
So we’d pretty much packed the night before, and not planning a long drive – only 150 km to Pushkar, we weren’t rushing around to set off too early. Even so, we decided not to have breakfast here, just a cuppa in the room. We did the last bit of packing, paid the bill eventually (My debit card wouldn’t work for some reason, so third attempt we tried Stew’s off the same account, and that was fine! – 8800 rp, for 4 night around $46 AUD for bed and all meals, not too bad at all) – and then we were out on the road by 8am.
It took an hour for us to get out of the sprawling city, trying to navigate the roads and get over the railway. But we eventually made it out passed the ring road and then had a pretty easy drive towards Ajmer. There were trucks, buses, cars, bikes and cows about – but not too busy really. We were zipping along quite comfortably, when out of the blue there was a MacDonalds sign – no town or anything, just a NEW MacDonalds. I thought Stew had missed it but he managed to slow down and take the turning. We were the only customers, though by the time we’d finished our coffee an Indian family with a couple of kids had turned up. Definitely dressed in their Diwali best: I really wasn’t hungry, so just had some coffee, while Stew got a veg tikka masala – which he said was good too. The strangest sight was the cows just walking passed the ‘Drive-through’
We ended up not getting the ring road around Ajmer, so took old road between there and Pushkar. It was busy getting through the town, but once out the other side it was a lovely drive. We saw the large Ajmer lake and then climbed over the hills, with some great views down into the smaller Shanti holy place of Pushkar.
Neither of us remembered it looking like what we saw, or could even find where we had stayed previously. We just followed the GPS and sketch map I had, as we were aiming for Radhika Palace hotel, we’d had a good look at online. It was another ‘Marigold hotel’ kind of place – basic, run down, but in a quieter end of town, with courtyard gardens, view over the lake, parking wifi and even a pool! We found it without too much difficulty, and immediately like the feel of the place. The owner even reminded me of the guy from the ‘Marigold hotel’ too – expressions, like ‘we like this to be described as homely’ and more. We were shown 3 different rooms, and in the end picked one on the first floor of the rear back courtyard. It was spacious, though sparsely furnished, and had lovely patio doors opening to give wide views over the mountains (This was actually better than the small views of the lake you could see from the front side rooms).
It was definitely a work in progress, maintenance and renovations going on all over the place. The grounds were lovely though – nice courtyard gardens, with several tortoise – and then round the front a larger garden restaurant and large reclining lounge with great views over the lake. We’d soon got checked in, at an agreed price of 1500 rp, and just taking the saddle bags and valuables up to the room, we were soon making a brew and relaxing an hour. We got the rest of the gear off the bike, and I wandered round taking a few pics. The pool looked pretty decent, and there were only 2 other people there, so I managed to persuade Stew we should go for a swim before an afternoon walk. It was soo good….
After walked around the lake into Pushkar – the market street was so big, and nothing like we remembered. There we so many cows ambling about too. And lots of tourists – a load of new age hippies, and retires seemed to be the main groups. There were all the usual tourists offerings; fabrics, clothes, shoes, pottery, jewelery – and plenty of eating places, all interspersed between the shrines and ghats. We walked an hour, then went to sit at one of the rooftop restaurants overlooking the lake – for lemon sodas, and watching the sunset. On the walk back we stopped at one of the small kiosks and bought a large bottle of water, a pack of digestive biscuits and some chips, we munched as we walked.
We were back at the hotel by 6pm, and did an hour online, before heading to the lounge dining area overlooking the lake for dinner. It was so nice – watching the lights over the lake, and an orange robed devotee doing whatever around a fire he had made under a tree, on the terrace just below us. I’m not sure how it goes – but he had a couple of bags of things, and was just doing nothing much. Made a drink on the fire, was smoking – and had mod cons, like a torch and mobile phone! There were another couple of groups eating, but they wandered off before we’d finished – and so we had the place to ourselves. We got a good meal of palak aloo, rice, rotis and raita (though we did forget to ask for it spicy). And with no alcohol in the town, Stew had banana lassi and I another lemon soda. We could hear plenty of fireworks, with loud cracks and booms, but there was very little aerial display. We paid up, and wandered back to our room, for a coffee and biscuit and another hour online, before turning in for the night.
Its just amazing how poor the insulation is in some of these places, as we’d been quite rudely woken in the small dark hours, by some female foreigner (not English speaking as I didn’t recognise the language) – talking so loudly. I was indreculous that someone could be so inconsiderate of others trying to sleep at this hour. I’m sure she woke the whole guest house. Stew ended up putting his bike ear plugs in!! She kept on for ages, at times shreiking and laughing so loud too – it sounded like she was high on something!! After what seemed like forever, the talking stopped and we finally drifted off again, and woke then to daylight and the morning bird song. Stew was wrapped in the blanket, though I had been warm enough in my lungi. Stew checked the time, as I got up to make a brew, and opened the patio door to see the sunrise. The sky was already glowing yellow, but the sun not quite over the mountain. And it was pretty cool out there, so I closed up the door again, and we had our morning tea in bed. We both were an hour online, before hunger got us up and dressed and out to the garden terrace over looking the lake. We ordered a pot of hot milky coffee, jam toast and a banana yoghurt muesli, which went down well and such a nice view.
We returned to the room, and I was determined to finish the last photo load up for the Pakistan blog chapter before heading out for the day. It didn’t take me so much longer. It was quite a long one, and so good to get it completed. Stew was getting his news fix online, and also checking the travellers websites for freight from India. We’d no sooner headed out onto the lake side, than we were approached by a local giving us a flower head, professing brahma good blessings and taking us to the lake side. After repeating several phrases, tieing some string around our wrists, and tossing the petals in the lake, he then asked for donation !! I think there is a lot of that around the place – just trying to get rupees out of the many tourists, and somehow spoiling the vibes of the place. We walked round the lake in the opposite direction today, and enjoyed watching the monkeys, doing what monkeys do – so animated to watch, and definitely more appealing than the cows!
We found a slightly bigger supermarket on our wanderings, and even managed to buy a tin of baked beans, as well as some more tea bags and shelled peanuts. Then we headed back to the roof top cafe we’d sat at yesterday, and got cold lemon sodas to drink. The monkeys were all over the place today – we hadn’t even seen any yesterday.
From there we made our way back to the hotel, and after a brew, got changed into our cossies and had a lovely swim just before sundown. Again there were only a couple of others guests around, and we soon had the place to ourselves again.
Back in the room we showered and changed, and then was checking online again. There was an email from Jason, seeing if we were around to skype. It had been sent about an hour earlier, but we thought we’d give it a go. So Stew tried facetime on the iPad – he soon picked up, and was walking round the WhiteRose centre with grandad and grandma. They were just heading to the car, so they called us back. It was so nice to see them all and have a chat – everyone looking so well, and getting excited on a 6 week countdown to get out to Oz. We nattered a good long while, but then had to get off as Jason was doing a cross-country event in Leeds in the afternoon.
We then did a bit of map checking and sorting out where we should head for tomorrow. In the end we decided on Udaipur, and Stew found a decent looking ‘Marigold hotel 3’, near the lake side. So I wrote down the contact details and made a sketch map of the roads into town. We then walked back into town for dinner, and sat at a place further round the lake on the lakeside. There were menu boards advertising falafel, which I really fancied for a change, Stew ordered a thali special, and we both got lemon sodas to drink. The food was really good – the falafel on the small side for a meal, and the thali on the large side – so we ended up sharing the extra that Stew had. It was quite spicy, so we both fancied chocolate and coffee back in the hotel. So we paid up and walked onto the market street. Everything was about shutting up for the night, but we did manage to get a chocolate bar and then headed back. There were so many fireworks going on tonight, and many more sky rockets too – and the lake was lit beautifully with burning oil candles, so we were treated to quite a light festival for Diwali. The family were setting off a load of fireworks in the front of the hotel too as we got back, and they just asked Stew if he would move the bike into the entrance out of the way. It made for a few lovely photos, in a special place to be on Diwali.
The fireworks went on pretty much up to midnight, building intensity to the new day…..but then only quietened till day break when we heard intermittent booms again. Stew was up early by 6am, and soon up and about in the bathroom and making tea, and munching biscuits, and online getting a news fix. I was trying to doze on another half hour, and then enjoyed my tea too. We were pretty efficient at packing up, and were off by 8.15am. The morning was quite cool, and the whole valley was shrouded in mist.
We took the old road back through Ajmer, and had a great ride over the hills. In fact the road was so good today – the last day of the holidays, and so little haulage. I’m sure we saw more cows than cars today, and quite a few were painted up too! It was almost relaxing. It took us a while to get onto highway 58 heading south, we could see the main Ajmer bypass, but couldn’t get onto it, and ended up having a 5 minute wait with a load of other motorbikes and tut-tuts at a railway crossing.
Then finally on the good road, we drove nearly 100 km before filling up. We ended up on a really quite scenic road to Udaipur, not many place to stop, but we did find a good roadside stop for lunch. We ended up getting samosas and a dosai masala to share. A lovey Indian couple were talking to Stew as I was paying the bill, and then there was a tour bus, full of Canadian American’s pulled in, so we ended up on more photos and nattering before we set off again. Their bus was even decorated up for diwali, as well as lots of other things too.
We were approaching Udaipur around 1pm, and I did pretty well navigating to the hotel we had written down, along the lake side, before the City Palace. BUT when we got there there was no off street parking – it was just too exposed. Does this look like parking?…
The hotel outlook over the lake was really nice, but it just wasn’t practical. So we moved on, not knowing where we were heading – right through the narrow congested and busy tourist streets. I was trying to take us in a wide loop away from the city and then back towards the lake. We pulled up again, and ended up following a local guy on a motorbike, to a nearby hotel with better off street parking. It was nothing special at 1500 rp, not even wifi in the room, but it would do for one night. We just took off the saddle bags and valuables, got checked in and soon crashed out on the bed. We both dosed off for an hour! – and then made some tea and biscuits before going off walk about. We head towards the lake, but never made it. But we did see the local motor museum,
We skirted a huge park, and saw glimpses of the city palace, heading into the narrow lighted streets for diwali. So many local tourist, visiting the temples – it was so colourful.
We wandered back, and ended up at a restaurant bar right next to our hotel for dinner. And enjoyed a really good meal of chicken masala, rice, nans and some cold light Kingfisher beers. Then back to our hotel, we moved the bike to the hotel front door, and covered it up before heading up to our room.
We didn’t sleep too bad, but were disturbed by early risers and the pigeons on the window ledge. We dosed on till 7.30am before getting up to make some tea. We needed a bit of wifi, to try find out where we could get to in Mt Abu, so sat in the lobby an hour over some coffee – supposidly toast and butter, but it wasn’t even toasted. We found a few cheaper places to try get to, so I drew a sketch map and wrote a few names down. We were heading off down the road by 9.15 am. Stew wasn’t feeling too good, so we didn’t plan a long ride – and Mt Abu was only about 150 km.
It turned out to be a really good day on the road, we couldn’t ask for better roads in India. And it was much quieter than we expected, once we’d got out of Jaipur. We saw more diwali sights, of painted cows, trucks and buses – and stopped at one of the road side hotels for some lunch.
It was a great place, just set back off the road, in a lovely garden where we sat out to eat. The bike was parked in a right pile of banger debris. We shared an aloo paratha with some curd, and milky coffee.
The scenery was so lovely, and we really didn’t hit too much traffic till we got into the narrow mountain road climb – a slow bus was holding everything up. There were monkeys all over the place too.
Then as we got into Mt Abu it was so packed, with local holiday makers. It was hard getting through, grid lock, and some roads closed to traffic too. We tried a couple of guest houses not far out from the lake, but they were fully booked – the place looked so packed, we didn’t hold up much chance of finding a cheap place today. We were told the diawali holday was still on all week, so prices were top whack, and everything was pretty much booked out (its quite an Indian tourist holiday destination – the only hill station in Rajastan).
We drove further out of the centre, and took a turning to the ‘Yorkshire Inn’ – amazing! There was a car park in front, and it was definitely quieter. I went in to enquire 6500 for a night ! So expensive really, but Stew was really feeling quite rough, so we decided we’d stay and move on tomorrow again.
It was really decent, and had wifi in the room – so we soon got checked in. There was some pretty awesome ‘Yorkshire Inn’ toiletries too (definitely coming home with us!). We rested up an hour making a brew and a few biscuits and got online. Stew was deteriorating and wanted to get to a chemist – see if he could get some drugs for his head. Definitely developing a nasty debilitaing intermittent cough. So we headed out – there was a hospital just down the road, and an ATM – so we managed to get some more ruppees, and in the dispensary Stew ended up asking for an inhaler – to hopefully settle his irritated chest (not bad for 120 rupees). We walked further into town, catching the sunset on the lake. It was SOO busy – unbelievable really, and we only saw two other western faces on our 2 hr walk about. The kids were really loving the activities, with quite a few getting dressed up for photos.We managed to find an elevated terrace beer garden, and sat for a drink watching the busy streets below.
We did wander into one of the bigger shops, but weren’t inspired to buy anything, so walked back. Stew was not feeling good at all, took some more paracetamol, and we decided we’d just have some food in the room. So I went down to reception to order – it didn’t take long really, and was delivered nice and hot to the room. It was quite delicious – we got a mutton massala tonight, not that the meat is much good, but the curry sauce is really good, and we got chappaties, with rice and raita. We turned in for the night listening to some music – and expecting more fireworks, as we’d already heard quite a few up to then.
Stew had quite a rough night, getting up a few times with bouts of coughing, awful bunged nose and sneezing – and the ticking clock keeping him awake too! But he did manage to sleep in between. So he disturbed me too, but really not too bad at all, and by the time we were awake for the day around 7am, I was quite refreshed. We were woken to chanting in the Hindu temple just up the road. Stew felt better after he’d got up, cleared his head a bit, had some more tablets, and a nice hot shower. We weren’t rushing off, making the most of the comfy, expensive facilities really. We had some tea and then I had a hot shower too. We both went online for an hour; Stew getting his news fix, while I was writing some email responses to the freight enquiry replies we’d had, and also to Mike & Carmen, and their Pune contacts – Shalaka and Rajesh. We got quick replies from everyone, with Shalaka and Rajesh, looking forwards to meeting us when we got to Pune. Shalaka even offered for us to stay with them, which was so nice, and join them for the Enfield Riders Mania event in Goa from 17 – 20 November. Stew then fancied some breakfast, so ordered some fried eggs and toast with a couple of milk coffees. This gave me chance to ping off some whatsap messages, to the girls and SarahB, and put a quick update on Facebook – of the ‘Yorkshire Inn’ too. So we eventually finished our packing, paid up our bill and were on our way. As we’d had to pay cash (7000 rp), we first went to the ATM by the hospital again, to get another 10000 rp. Then we were heading up the road to look for the Bikaner Palace hotel – the place we knew we had stayed at in 1990 ! We’d had a look online and knew it was now over $200 AUD, so quite too much for our budget! BUT we really did fancy just visiting the old place. It took a bit of finding, we took two dead ends to start with, and wondered how on earth we found the place before. But then we saw the big gates, and on the side pillars it was carved in ‘Bikaner House’. I knew it was the right place, even though we didn’t recognise the gates or driveway. The gates were closed and there was a security guard – who didn’t seem to know any English. Stew pulled over and we pointed and asked ‘Hotel’. He wasn’t letting us in, without a phonecall up to the house. Stew was ready for turning away, but I really fancied going in. A minute later the guard returned, nodded and opened the gates for us. We drove up the steep winding drive way and as soon as the building came into view, I knew we were at the right place.
There were a few cars parked up, working staff and guests around. We pulled up by the huge entrance and parked up. I went in to explain what we were doing here, while Stew got out his iPad, as he had a couple of photos on there of the last time we were here. The staff were so helpful, and happy for us to take a tour – and take a few photos, even though we weren’t going to stay. Amazingly the staff recognised the bedroom from our old photo, and took us into it again; the main suite just off the entrance hall. I was expecting it to be quite up-market and renovated since our previous visit, BUT in fact it wasn’t very much different. It was a huge space and still had the same beds, and furniture, and the same lounge with with a window over looking the garden and where we had parked the bike. One of the staff talked with us and walked around, showing me the huge dining room, again which I totally recognised.
There was no games room any longer (with the pool table), and quarters were reserved for the owners too. Out front you could see quite a bit of renovation work had been done on the ground – a lovely grassed area with garden furniture, across the tennis courts, to a new outdoor area with the best views over the valleys – across to a huge Jain Temple on the right, and in front a Hindu temple, and another huge space for wedding celebrations. We snapped a few photos, but didn’t want to stay too long, so said our thanks getting ready to head off again – and now the European guests came to greet us, amazed with our story too. They were from Switzerland, Bern – so we were able to say we’d stayed there camping on the Aare river, and where we got our Indian visas from. And then we were on our way – so glad we’d been able to visit again. It was already 11am, and it took us an hour to get our way through the congested town and narrow road back down the mountain. But once we were on the main road again, it was pretty clear and quiet and we made really good distance then.
We just weren’t sure how far we’d get today, but were hoping to make it round passed Ahmadebad, and a bit further south towards Vadodora. We had to make a fuel stop, taking nearly 1000 rupees, and then we were across the state border into Gujarat. An hour later were ready for a snack stop. Stew pulled in at one of the roadside hotels again – ‘Caravan Hotel’. There were other tourists already parked up and it looked a decent place. There was no pakora or samosa, so in the end we just ordered some dall and chappati. With cups of tea and a bottle of mineral water, we paid 170 rupees ($3.5) – So cheap, and it was delicious. The bike was attracting a bit of attention, and as we got up to leave, the mum from the family sat across from us, came out to the bike with her baby, and got Stew to hold the baby for a photo with the bike !!
Amazingly the baby didn’t scream and was wide eyed, pulling on Stew’s beard. As we got further along, we were following the GPS to bypass Ahmedabad, and were off the main highway. The road was pretty decent, and really not bad to get away from all the trucks. We were just slowed up with the village road bumps, tut-tuts and animals. There were obviously more Diwali events happening, as we saw highly colourful decorated carts, complete with music system being pushed along the roadside. People were carrying red flags on poles, with lots of people walking along the street, dressed up – they must have been at some daytime gathering.
We were following a wide sweep round Ahmedabad, passing Grangnapur (a big military area, and we saw camps for both the airforce and BSF), and then we were back on NH8 the main ring road that would then take us onto Vadodara. We were on the lookout for any reasonable looking hotel – and I spotted we just passed the ‘Suraya Palace’ as we were headed towards a main roundabout. We’d really had enough for the day – it was already 4.30pm, so Stew pulled over and then did a U-turn. The building was set well back off the road, with a guarded gate and quite large garden in front.
It wasn’t really decent by any standards – but they had a room available for 1300 rp. The bed looked like it had been freshly made, though the blanket didn’t look like it had been washed in sometime! The toilet was clean enough, but the back splash mirrors and tiles looked like they hadn’t seen a cloth in quite some time. No matter it would be fine for the night, and we were soon relaxing with a cuppa and a biscuits. We ventured to see what we could get to eat around 7.15pm – and we timed is so well, 5 mins before several big family groups came into the restaurant. It looked like the place was full tonight. We did check, but no beer was available – Gujerat is a ‘dry’ state. But the food was really quite good – we ordered aloo matter, palak paneer, rice, raita and rotis, and were brought round a plate of sliced onion with lime, and some great tangy lime pickle. We didn’t manage to eat it all, with the second veg dish it was just too much. And then we were pretty much ready for bed. We both bedded down for the night listening to music on our iPods again.
Thankfully Stew managed to sleep better, though still not the best, and felt more refreshed when he woke around 7am. I got up to make us some tea. With not unpacking the bike again, we were ready for the road by 8.30am – and as usual we had an entourage of staff and other guests waving us off and taking photos. It turned out to be a very long day on the road, and nearly 10 hours and in the dark before we finally found a bed for the night in Dhule – we never expected to get that far today (nearly 300 miles). But once we’d turned off the main Ahmedabad – Mumbai highway NH8, at Surat onto the NH6 east, it was so a much quieter countryside drive, and we just couldn’t find any hotels. We stopped at a few places that said ‘hotel’ but they were in fact just eating and resting places on the highway.
And it was also a Mac day, twice. First we were so annoyed we couldn’t get on the Ahmedabad – Vadodara expressway, NO 2 or 3 wheelers allowed. We pleaded our case, but the toll guards were having none of it. They wouldn’t let us proceed, so we had to turn about and head on a much slower road down to Vadodara. BUT this did mean we found a Mac for a late brekkie around 10.15am. We even got 20 mins of wifi – though there was nothing urgent on the email, and we had a quick look for hotels where we were heading. Once back on the main NH48 around Vadodara we were able to pick up the pace, and just play wacky races with everything else on the road, dodging all the trucks, buses, tut-tuts and cattle carts. Then about 10 km before Surat and our turn off east, we spotted another Mac sign, and I’m so glad we pulled in. We got really good coffee and an ice cream cone (but no wifi here). We were so glad of the rest, as after that we just weren’t able to find anywhere to hole up for the night till well after sunset. The countryside scenery was lovely though, we’d crossed so many waterways, and here there were rolling hills and huge lakes too. And we saw a gorgeous big red sunset too.
BUT it was pitch black by the time we’d reached the outskirts of Dhule. We tried another couple of places for a room for the night, but no luck – they looked like they were just under construction. Then we were into the busy town main street – shops of all kinds, garages, banks, schools, we just couldn’t see owt in the way of hotel signs: then Stew pulled over. There was a hotel sign, but no entrance obvious – rooms were above a shopping mall. We pulled in anyway, and just needed to check it out. Parking for the bike wasn’t the best, but we were really done in. We had to walk up to the second floor to reception – and yes they did have a room. What a strange warren of a place. We were shown a room, the bed not having been changed. Otherwise it was no worse than yesterday, so we asked to get the bed changed. No Problem – and they did have a restaurant and more importantly beer (we had crossed from Gujerat to Maharashtra). We were happy to just cover the bike up, but one of the older reception guys who spoke some English, was insistent we took all the baggage off the bike.
So we first had a beer (in a dingy bar area on the 3rd floor) – it went down so well. And then we unpacked the bike, and had help from Staff getting it all in our room. We asked if we could have food in our room, and the older guy said we should go up to the family terrace. So we did – and what an amazingly pleasant big open space on the roof top. There was a kids play ground, a large screen playing Bollywood music videos, several other people enyoing a meal, And we could even see the stars. So we had a really lovely relaxing meal, a couple more beers, channa masala, rice and chappaties – which was so good too. Then after such a long hard day on the road, fed and watered, we were soon bedded down with music on our headphones and pretty soon fast asleep.
Stew slept like a log, and I didn’t do too bad either. We weren’t bothered about breakfast, thought we’d just have some tea and eat out on the road later. It took us a few trips to get all the luggage down to the bike and all strapped on again. The streets were so incredibly quiet compared to last night. I took a few photos of the ‘Pitam Palace’ – such incredible contrasts, from abject dereliction to other pleasant spaces.
We had quite a day on the road……150 km, and we thought we’d be in Aurangabad by midday. But no – the roads were so bad, pothole dodging more than anything today, and them a mountain climb on atrocious roads too.
We had one petrol fill, and then as we came out of the mountains, and through another small village Stew spotted a ‘hotel’ – eating place. Family restaurant and garden. We were the only customers and there was a lovely Enfield parked up inside. We were both ready for a break and got fresh pakoras and hot tea; just what we needed.
The descent from the mountain took us through impressive old gateways and fortress towns. We didn’t get to Aurangabad till after 2pm, and with no real hotel to aim for, we were following our noses. Amazingly I spotted ‘Arts hotel’ just behind off a busy main street – and it turned out to be pretty OK, with wifi in the room, once we’d swapped rooms on the third floor.
We had a brew to recuperate and them both crashed out on the bed for a couple of hours. By now it was nearly 6pm and dropping dark, so we decided to head out for a wander – beer & dinner, and we found a little supermarket which was great (the best we’d seen so far in India). We got some milk powder and fruit, and just had to get a pic of the local chips and cola.
The restaurant was a bit of a walk, but nice out in a garden…we sat down and got cold beers and nibbles before ordering kaju (cashew) curry, dall, rice and chappatis…..all so good, and so relaxing after a few long hard days on the road. We wandered back to the hotel in the pitch dark, but thankfully it wasn’t too chaotic on the road. Back in our room we managed a half hour of screen watching before bedding down for the night, and soon sleeping soundly.
We both slept really well again, though there were a few noisy disturbances in the night. The room wasn’t too hot and stuffy, even though I slept with no covering at all. And we dosed on till after 7am. Stew got up; checked the water supply, and found it warm enough to have a decent shower and then made us some tea. I was also glad to have a lovely warm shower too, feeling so much fresher. And I filled the bathroom bucket with hot soapy water to wash through all my grotty clothes. We had a lovely relaxing couple of hours – doing some online checking, and I had to write some emails back for the freight enquiry replies we’d had, as well as more personal ones too. With a second brew, we both enjoyed munching on some fruit – seems ages since we had any. A while later Stew was ready for some brekkie, so we dressed and thought we’d eat downstairs in the cafe dining area, but it wasn’t open. Stew was fancying fried eggs, but was told they didn’t have them, though he could have omelette (!!) – which he didn’t fancy. In the end he ordered some Indian aloo pula, and some hot milk coffee which we had brought up to the room. By now it was heading on for midday, and we were both ready for a wander. Stew had checked an online city map, and saw we could do a walking loop round the main shopping area. We’d also had a look what there was to see in the vicinity – There was a mini – Taj Mahal, Bibi-qa-Maqbara – Built by Aurangzeb’s son Azam Khan in 1679 as a mausoleum for his mother Rabia-ud-Daurani, and some local caves (not as extensive as the Ellora caves 30 km away), but we thought we’d maybe go tomorrow, and just have a relaxing day. So we headed out on foot, and walked an hour round the loop and passed the Paithan (city) gate. It wasn’t really inspiring – no other tourists in sight, and just the local establishments of clothes, shoes and mobile phones, with a few eating places. We did see more evidence of the old city walls, that were now only used as a back drop for the local poor shanty dwelling and their animals. The waterways were pretty fowl and so badly littered too. Stew was fancying a samosa fix, and in the end we did find a small bakery with veg savoury puffs, which made a nice change. And then we went to sit in the very Western Coffee shop on the ground floor of our hotel – It also was very Western prices too $7.50 for a large latte, cafe frappe and piece of cake!!
But its the first coffee shop treat we’d had since we were in the bookshop cafe in Ankara (Several thousand miles away), and it was lovely to sit nearly and hour reading our books too. Back in our room, I actually managed to finish reading the book I was on – but really wasn’t impressed. Stew said I should read ‘American Sniper’ next. Stew was browsing online and flicking the TV. We saw that ‘The Martian’ movie was starting – so we watched that for half an hour – but the adverts were so painful (As bad as in Oz) – so we went out for dinner. This evening we walked to the other restaruant bar we’d see just up the road. It was much posher, definitely the most expenisve looking place we’d been in India. It was a small cozy place, and we were the only customers – to 6 staff I think. It wasn’t overly expensive, but Kingfisher beer was 275 rp a bottle, the most we’d paid. We were brought round some lovely starter snacks though, including mint yoghurt sauce, hot pickle, papadaums and peanuts. For dinner we both fancied something different, so decided on chicken tikka masala, which we had with rice and chappatis. It was so nice too. Meal finished and paid for we were back in the hotel room and even able to enjoy the end of the ‘Martian’ movie before turning in for the night.
We slept well, waking for a day being tourists. From what Mike in Germany had told us, we should visit Ellora caves and the mini Taj Mahal. And what a great day we had – the Buddhist caves were just amazing. One of the temples (no 16), had taken 200 years in construction – 10 generations then. The temple was chipped out from the solid granite bedrock !
We wandered round for hours, there was so many spectacular sights. The temples were incredible, and there was even a huge monastery. The domed ceiling in one of the chambers gave incredible accoustics.
Stew had taken his torch, and was so enjoying getting into the dark places, and I did manage to get a photo of the bats and furry local squirrels too.
With still being the Diwali holiday time, there was such a long queue to get into the mini- Taj Mahal, when we got there, that in the end we just took a few photos from the outside!!
What an amazing day. We didn’t get back to the hotel till after 5pm and decided we’d go for dinner at the first garden restaurant we’d been to a couple of nights before, and had some jeera potatoes and dall, with a couple of beers. We called off at the little supermarket and got a few supplies, before heading back to our room. We didn’t stay up more than another hour reading, as we wanted to not be too late up in the morning for a long days drive……We were headed for Pune and the facebook contacts of Mike and Carmen