First things first, we are not currently in India. In fact, it’s been four months since we were there. However, our India posts fell a little behind schedule, a little like the Commonwealth Games. So now that we are travelling through Asia again, we’re going to publish our India posts now.
People say India is a love or hate affair, for Tony it was love at first sight, for me the opposite. The good thing about visiting Delhi first in India is that once you leave it there is only looking up. Delhi couldn’t be more chaotic, hotter, and dustier than it was when we were there. I knew everything was going to be better from there, in fact I had such a positive attitude about leaving it that I was even looking forward to our overnight train from Delhi to Udaipur in Rajasthan, the Northwest of India. And it was great, we got the best compartment in the train. There are about 10 classes in Indian trains and you have to book in advance to get what you want. For Asian standards this is the best train we have taken so far. We were warned about heat, cockroaches, thieves, perverts, etc. and we got none of that. We got a locked compartment just for the two of us with closet, sink, and wide beds. It was so good that we even overslept and we got late off the train. It was not expensive either.
I think we had good karma. I used “The Secret” attitude, I had no doubt in my mind that all would be positive after Delhi; but also I believe the universe conspired to celebrate Tony’s birthday in grandeur. He sure deserves it because of his optimistic attitude about everything. I really admire how even in our lowest points in this trip he always manages to be optimist in everything. Me, I have to admit I’m more of a cynic in these situations. Tony was able to bear the heat of Delhi (47 degrees C) and walk around all day sightseeing with a smile on his face, and he is not even a native of the tropics like I am, he comes from the land of mist and drizzle; I had to rest in air conditioning. Tony is able to eat all the street food and beverages he sees and never gets sick; I on the other hand since Mongolia, have been watching everything I eat, to the point of almost becoming a vegan and washing my teeth with mineral water, and I have still managed to get stomach problems more than once. So yes karma is on his side and he was going to have a well deserved perfect day. Happy Birthday!
We both see things through different eyes. I grew up in Honduras, a very poor country, so I am not as impressed by poverty elsewhere. I do know very well the struggle of the poor, making it hard for me to see these parts of the world as a tourist. In fact many people from my country cannot understand why most of our itinerary is through developing countries. When people from Honduras travel they choose the most developed countries as their destination, they wish to see something different: USA or Europe. I am extremely fortunate to have traveled extensively through Europe and North America already. For Tony all this is different and new and I understand his interest to see how the other part of the world lives, as Ireland became one of the richest countries in the world. He is Honduran now sometimes as he has learned that it is a better answer than being Irish when asked where he is from. When you say Ireland the Euro signs starts shining on the locals eyes and raise their price 10 times, when you say Honduras they completely lose interest in us.
For his birthday he deserved a reward so we decided to splurge – big time! We stayed for 2 days in Udaipur, the city of romance, at the fantastic Udaivilas from the Oberoi Group. The landmark hotel of Udaipur and probably Rajasthan is the Taj Lake Palace, but the Udaivilas is even a step above in luxury and style. It was recently qualified as the best hotel in Asia and the 4th in the world. For that brief period we forgot we still had 10 more months of travel and no income, we pretended it was a luxury weekend getaway and on Monday we would be back at our paying jobs. It was well worth it! We are both lucky to have traveled before to other luxurious destinations and flashy resorts, but this experience was out of this world, tops our list as best ever. We highly recommend it to everyone, at least once in a lifetime you have to be treated as royalty.
We were greeted at the train station by a member of the hotel and a chauffeur driven luxury car, welcoming us with refreshing natural spring water, cold towels and the morning paper. Minutes later we arrived in the magnificent palace in a fortress setting, sheltered from the outside to provide peace and quiet to its guests. There was a welcome committee awaiting us: more cold towels, rose mango iced tea and we were marked with a sandalwood dot in our foreheads, a traditional Indian welcome, and everyone congratulated Mr Byrne for his birthday. We were then given a tour of the property and escorted to our room to do the check in. What a room it was, almost 700 square feet, with a terrace and private entrance to our own semi private infinity pool that overlooks the city and the Lake Palace, in a lush green setting of abundant plant life, animals and many colorful birds.The water in our pool was perfect, the water in the lake not so much. The Lake Palace is supposed to be a palace island surrounded by a man made lake. It was so dry that you could walk to it from all sides, we were glad we opted for the Udaivilas. Apparently the monsoon has not been strong the last two years, hence the dryness. While in our pool we could see all the activity going on down there in the dry lake, kids playing and a migration of different animals, the water buffaloes being the most impressive. Before going to dinner to feast on traditional Indian food we celebrated in our pool with champagne and a rich chocolate cake offered by the hotel. We sure have missed champagne.
Not only the settings of the hotel are majestic: traditional Indian palace architecture and immense gardens including a wildlife refuge, but the service is out of this world. Numerous staff all very knowledgeable and attentive to your every need; but most importantly every single one of them, no exceptions, with a big smile on their faces. Beautiful settings definitely, but in my opinion service is what makes all the difference, and in India this was the only place where we got it.
We could not be there and not take advantage of the spa, and we are glad we did. We had the best treatment of our lives: a couples massage followed by a milk and rose bath. Not any rose bath, but a bath with literally thousands of fresh red rose petals. We also took part in a private complimentary yoga lesson. Tony enjoyed it so much that he will probably take yoga now, as it loosened a tight muscle in his back that no physiotherapist had been able to before. Although all the stretches were strenuous, probably the hardest thing was trying not to laugh out loud when our yogi was chanting “breathe deeply” in a heavily-accented and quite funny voice – lucky he had his eyes closed.
After a late breakfast in bed and a dip in our pool, against our wishes but using our better judgment we left paradise and ventured back again into the real India. The chauffeur drove us to our next appointment: Indian cooking lessons. Indian cuisine is actually really easy to make, it all revolves around the seven simple spices. We were disappointed with the lessons, nothing like our previous experience in Yangshuo, China. The concept here revolved around watching a lady cook and us taking notes only, although we did get to eat all the food too. It was all vegetarian as they were a Jain family who don’t use any animal products for food, dress or anything.
We visited several cities in Rajasthan, and they are all very colorful and interesting, but Udaipur was my favorite as it is by far the most tranquil and where we got the least hassle of all India. We did a walking tour through the town, especially its colorful markets and everyone was extremely welcoming and saying hello and other greetings in their language. Later we found out that it was because we were both wearing flower necklaces, which means you have just been married, and this is wedding season in India. Tony had gone previously into a temple and put a flower necklace on the goddess and one on me, then the girl selling them laughingly convinced him to wear one himself. Only hours later we realized her mischievous intentions, meaning “just married”. We also visited a tailor who made an Indian outfit for Tony to celebrate his birthday.
From Udaipur we traveled to Ranakpur, a major site for the Jain division of the Hindu religion. They have a beautiful temple carved all out of white marble, a real piece of work. There is nothing else in Ranakpur to do, but the drive from Udaipur was really scenic. We went through colourful villages where the people wear dazzling bright colors daily, the women beautiful saris and the men hot pink turbans. The turban’s colour and the way it is worn reflects where they come from and their caste. As expected the way of driving in India is completely crazy, even more than in Tibet. We made it one piece amazingly. Apart from the usual cows that rule over India, we were delighted to see camels in the highway, oxen turning wheels at water wells, as well as wild boars and other creatures we can’t name. But the best of all were the hundreds of crazy monkeys in different sections of the road as we got closer to Ranakpur. Tony stopped to take pictures and if they had a camera they would have been flashing away at us, as they are extremely curious creatures. Every time we stopped, dozens of them appeared from the bushes and got close to us to watch us.
Visiting Udaipur definitely uplifted my spirits after 4 days in crazy Delhi. There is so much to see in Rajasthan, and I am sure that in not so extreme heat it is even more magical. After Ranakpur, we continued on our tour of the …purs and moved on to Jodhpur.
All our India photos are uploaded in our photo album here.