Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Pink City

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Jal Mahal


After our tour of the Amber Fort, we made a quick stop to see the Jal Mahal (Water Palace). The palace is located in the middle of Man Sagar Lake and is not open to visitors. So we enjoyed the view from land and then went about our day.
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Chandra Mahal


Next, we moved on to the center of Jaipur, the City Palace. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II moved his throne from the Amber Palace (actually located in Amer, 11 km outside of Jaipur) to continue his rule in the heart of Jaipur. The royal flag can still be seen flying above the Chandra Mahal. This seven story building was the royal residence within the palace grounds.

 According to Wikipedia, the maharaja made the switch from Amer to Jaipur because of an increasing population and increasing water shortage. However, according to our tour guide, the maharaja was compelled to build a new palace because his new wife didn’t want to live in the palace of his former wife. Both valid reasons, if you ask me. 

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Most of Old Jaipur was constructed of red and pink sandstone, hence its’ name, The Pink City. However, a subsequent ruler actually painted Jaipur pink to welcome Prince Edward VII and Queen Victoria. I don’t really see the connection there, but regardless, Jaipur will forever be known as the Pink City.

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Hawa Mahal


One of the most recognized buildings in Jaipur is the Hawa Mahal. This five story, honeycomb-like façade has 953 small windows decorated with intricate latticework. The purpose of the lattice was to act as a screen so royal ladies could observe the street below without being seen. The lattice also allowed cool air to flow into the building, giving it its’ name, Palace of the Winds

 I thought we were going to be able to go inside the Hawa Mahal, but our tour guide told us there is actually nothing to see inside. He told us the Hawa Mahal is just a bunch of government offices at present. But I think he pulled one over on us in an attempt to end our tour sooner, rather than later. I later learned that tourists can enter the Hawa Mahal from the rear of the building for a fee of 50 rupees (<$1). It might be true that it is now just office space, but apparently visitors can go to the top of the palace for a panoramic view of the city.

Tip for future tourists in India: If you want to see something during your tour, don’t let your tour guide sway you or talk you out of it. Do your research! Tour Guide: 1 – Dayna: 0.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Destinations, India | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Amber Fort & Palace

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There are many forts all over India that tourists can visit. We had the opportunity to visit several of them, but we passed over most of them in order to do other things. If you are like us and you don’t have time to see every fort, make sure you at least visit the Amber Fort in Jaipur. It is Jaipur’s main tourist attraction, rightfully so. The fort and inner palace are made of red sandstone and marble. The Amber Fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

ambergatesThe main entrance to the fort is through the Sun Gate (pictured above: top right) which leads to Jaleb Chowk, the first main courtyard. This courtyard is where armies would hold their victory parades upon return from battle. The stairway of Jaleb Chowk (pictured above: top left) leads to the main palace grounds. The Ganesh Gate is the entry to the private palaces of the Maharajas (pictured above: bottom left). Ganesh is the Hindu God who removes all obstacles in life (pictured above: bottom right). Above Ganesh Gate are latticed windows where women of the royal family could watch functions below without being seen.
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 The Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) is covered with mirror mosaics that light up the entire palace with a single candle. And the carved marble panel is known as the Magic Flower because there are seven different designs within the flower that are revealed when parts of the flower are hidden by your hand. Depending on where you place your hand, the following are revealed; fish tail, lotus, hooded cobra, elephant trunk, lion’s tail, cob of corn, and scorpion.

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 The Palace of Man Singh is the oldest part of the palace fort. The Baradhari Pavillion lies in the center of the palace courtyard and it was a meeting place for the maharanis. The maharanis were not allowed to meet privately with each other, only publicly in this pavilion to prevent jealousy and drama among the harem.

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 Oh…and there were monkeys. Let’s not forget about the monkeys!

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Categories: Destinations, India | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Great Elephant Encounter

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The activity that I was most looking forward to on our trip to India was riding an elephant. I have always been fascinated by elephants and the thought of riding one seemed like the coolest experience ever. But there was a problem. A big problem. I always try to be an advocate for animals and I knew all too well that elephants across Asia are not always treated well and are often exploited for tourism purposes. I certainly didn’t want to perpetuate that exploitation by paying money to individuals that don’t take good care of their animals. So what is a girl to do?

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Tourists have countless opportunities to ride elephants all across India and one of the most popular venues is at the Amber Palace in Jaipur. Everyday these elephants carry tourists up the hill to the entrance gate of the palace wearing cumbersome baskets designed to make the ride more pleasant for the tourists (pictured above). But these baskets are actually very bad for the elephants’ backs. Surprisingly, these gentle giants are not anatomically designed to carry heavy weights on their backs and the baskets make that weight even more damaging to the elephants’ spines.

So I started researching ways that I could humanely interact with an elephant while in India and luckily enough I found two options. The first option was an elephant farm in Jaipur called Elefantastic. The second option was an elephant haven outside Agra called Agra Elephant Rescue & Conservation Facility. Both of these places afford tourists a hands-on opportunity to humanely interact with elephants. We only had enough time to go to one location and we ultimately decided to go to Elefantastic because we had more time in Jaipur than we had in Agra.

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There are 24 elephants that live on the farm at Elefantastic and each one lives with a caretaker and his family. Most of the caretakers, if not all, used to work their elephants at the Amber Palace, but have given up that practice now that Elefantastic has afforded them an opportunity to support their families in a more humane way, while also offering tourists a much more personal experience with elephants. I was definitely skeptical about whether or not these elephants were cared for as well as the owner, Rahul, claimed. For example, I was told that the elephants only give tourists a ride once per day and then that elephant gets to rest the following day. That means the business operates with 12 elephants per day, rather than 24 since they only work them every other day. I found that a bit hard to believe. Nevertheless, the elephants seemed to be happy and well taken care of.

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Overall, the experience at Elefantastic was amazing! We were introduced to a 19 year old elephant named Annarkali, Anno for short. Anno had been rescued from a circus in India about a year and a half ago and she was in pretty bad shape. She suffered from toe rot on all of her feet and her toe nails were finally starting to grow back healthily. Even more sad, her hind legs were deformed from being “trained” to ride a bicycle for a circus act. We spent a good amount of time bonding with her by petting her trunk and face, and looking into her eyes. It was the most beautiful thing to have such a personal encounter with her.

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Once we were officially introduced we got to feed her a LOT of sugar cane! Her caretaker, Ramjaan, continuously handed us stalks of sugar cane to feed her.

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After feeding, we learned about the royal tradition of painting elephants in India. The colorful paints are all-natural; made from the dust of ground stones and gems. Our artistic talents were lacking, but it was still fun.

And then things got crazy….

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Ella watched me put paint on my hands so that I could put purple handprints on Anno. So Ella took that as a green light for her to put orange handprints on her face!

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The all-natural paint washed off pretty easily though, so that was good.

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After we got cleaned up, we had our chance to ride an elephant. Rob rode on Anno and Ella and I rode on a different elephant whose name I can’t remember. You’ll notice that the man riding on Anno with Rob is riding on her shoulders near her neck. That is actually the most humane way to ride an elephant because it is much easier for them to bear weight on their shoulders as opposed to their spines. I wish they would have offered us the opportunity to ride in this manner, but maybe there were safety risks involved that prohibited them from doing so?

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After our ride, we offered our friend a drink. She would fill her trunk with 6-8 liters of water and then chug it down over and over again. Good hydration is key!

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When our elephant encounter was over, we were driven to the home of Rahul’s mother who had prepared us a home-cooked vegetarian Indian meal. It was delicious!

If given the opportunity to start over, I would visit Elephant Haven in Agra instead of Elefantastic in Jaipur. While I do believe the elephants at Elefantastic are well cared for, I think the elephants at Elephant Haven are in a more natural habitat. They are free roaming and are not considered “property” to a specific family or caretaker. It really is a “haven” for elephants. Visitors of Elephant Haven are afforded a very similar personal encounter with elephants, at a fraction of the cost! (Elefantastic was the most expensive thing we did in India!) Elefantastic is a business, whereas Elephant Haven is a non-profit run by Wildlife SOS. The other key difference between the two is that Elephant Haven does not offer an elephant ride because of their stance on the humane treatment of elephants. Instead, they offer visitors to walk alongside their elephants. Even though riding an elephant was something I so desperately wanted to do while in India…it really wasn’t that exciting. Every other way we interacted with Anno was more meaningful because it was much more personal and affectionate than the actual ride.

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Categories: Destinations, India | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

India Welcomes Ella

  

We kept our schedule pretty breezy for our first couple of days in Delhi because we knew we were going to need time to recover from jet lag. One of the things we did during those first couple of days was visit a local craft market. Dilli Haat is a craft market that allows you to ease into shopping in India because there is a small entrance fee which eliminates the hawkers and riff-raff that are commonly found in the open markets. Rather than being bombarded by people trying to sell us crappy souvenirs, Ella was bombarded by people that were dying to have a photo taken with her.
  

  

India has a deep-rooted belief in reincarnation. It is a subject that I don’t really know much about, but I think Ella might have been a rock star in a former life! Everywhere we went in India we were constantly approached by people that wanted to have their picture taken with Ella. It was the strangest thing, but we generally obliged. As a result, Ella is most likely plastered on Facebook pages across the world.

  
 It seriously happened everywhere we went! It didn’t matter if we were checking out the sites, or checking into our hotel! At restaurants, our waiters wanted to carry Ella around the restaurant or show her the kitchen. People would just reach out to her with open arms and say “Come.” And off Ella went. She often came back with gifts from whomever she was visiting.

  

  

If strangers approached our daughter while at home in the US, it seems unlikely that we would be so willing to just let some random person walk away with our baby. But in India…it seemed ok. Of course we weren’t completely negligent parents. We never let her completely out of our site, even if she did get 50 feet away. Has anyone ever experienced a phenomenon like this elsewhere while traveling? And were you as willing as we were to let strangers take selfies with your toddler?

  

  

Categories: Destinations, India | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

We Went to India!

What do you do when your dear friend abandons you accepts a 2 year job position in India? You cash in your frequent flier miles and you travel halfway across the world, duh! When my friend Brie told me about her upcoming job in Delhi I was very excited for her and I told her that I would definitely be inviting myself over for a visit. She probably heard that from a lot of different people, but I doubt any of them were as serious as I was! I have always wanted to travel to India and going at a time when I actually knew someone there seemed kismet. So dates were set, flights were booked and an itinerary was planned. We enjoyed 16 days in India and we were able to see and do some really amazing things. Stay tuned for posts covering our time in Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Ranthambore National Park, and Goa. And then there was a bonus stop in Qatar, where we had an overnight layover before returning home. 

Oh, in case you were wondering…yes, we traveled to India with our toddler! That kind of travel clearly is not for everyone; adults and children alike. But if you are adventurous and keep an open mind, let us be your proof that it is possible to travel halfway across the world with a toddler…if you dare.

 Namaste!

   

 

Categories: Destinations, India | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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