My Say

No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth. - Robert Southey

Saturday, 3 December 2016

India Trip: Alvida

Reaching New Delhi in the evening, our driver dropped us at Akshardham Complex. Entry to the complex are absolutely free but some sites (like the magical fountain) would need minimal fee in which we skipped. The detailed carvings at the major dome, be it the wall or ceiling, are overwhelming and from our observation, they seem to be hand-made which make them more amazing. The complex is just like the Hindu's version of Fo Guang Shan that I visited back in Kaohsiung, Taiwan last year. Oh, one point to note that the photography is not allowed within the complex.

We visited a tea shop before checking back in at Treebo Natraj Yes Please. The shop owner showed different types of teas that are being produced from different regions of India. My knowledge on tea now is slightly better than before, beyond than just Darjeeling Tea. Mango tea left the deepest impression in my mind for its strong prominent flavour. India is the largest mango producer in the world.

Red Fort was our first stop on the next day. Due to the traffic condition around the area which makes it hard to find parking, we were asked to take trishaw, and it wasn't free. Hesitated, we hopped on and explored New Delhi like typical tourists for first half of the day. This is our third fort for this trip after Amber Fort in Jaipur and Agra Fort in Agra. The resemblance is observable: made up of sandstone and hence, bright red structure. Entrance fee is 250 Rupee.

On the street of New Delhi 

Red Fort

Okay, I have an unpleasant experience prior entering to the fort as I accidentally stepped on seem-to-be cow dumps. I thought the day wouldn't get any worse after that.

To tell you the truth, I never thought I would see people wearing saree on the street. Just like how I don't expect the chinese wear cheongsam and Japanese wear kimono, on the streets (exception for tourists). Okay, come to think of it, maybe they are tourists. I don't know.

Birds are flocking in the sky

We made a trip to Old Delhi after exiting from the fort. Our driver (I'm not sure what's the guy called who ride the trishaw) told us some of the buildings at the street has been there for more than 130 years at least. The wiring at the street was far more unimaginable than that I saw in Krabi, Thailand. As we passed by the street, I noticed the patterns of the shops in seems to go section by section. A stretch of shops will be selling saree and the next will be books and spices come after that and eventually cards too.

Jama Masjid at the end of the road

We returned to our car and we made a quick visit to Gandhi Smriti, which showcases the life and death of Mahatma Ghandi. This was the place where Ghandi spent his last moment before he was assassinated. There's a section at the site that showed the last steps that he took before coming to the fateful spot. Free entrance.

Rest in peace, Ghandi. 

We were brought by our driver around to have a glimpse of India Parliament building and the famous Indian Gate. We spent the evening at Connaught Place which is basically a shopping street in New Delhi. For a while, we felt like we are back in urban civilization after all those days we visited heritage sites. It comes to my realization the books sold in India are rather cheap. Those books that you see being sold on the street walk are legitimate. I didn't manage to locate kama sutra though.

Section of Indian Parliament Building

View of Indian Gate from our car

Connaught Place

We thought our adventure was yet to end as we still have one day to explore before our flight late night on the next day. We were wrong.

Prior to our dinner, I had Ayurveda Massage in which is located just right next to our hotel. The cost was 2000 Rupee. It was heavily oiled full body massage. Rejuvenated after an hour session, we were off to dinner. Never thought this would be my last dinner (proper dinner) for this trip.

As we returned to our hotel, one of us started to feel discomfort in her stomach. We thought it was only her. As the clock struck 1am, I remembered it vividly, I was awaken from my sleep and went to toilet and vomited. Apparently all of us experienced the same symptoms. Had the herbal pills that I brought from Malaysia for precaution and I went toilet for second time. By that time, I was yet to experience any bowel movement. We were too weak to travel on the next day and stayed in for the whole day at hotel, barely eating anything other than banana and ORS drinks. Our flight was 1am (exactly 24 hours after the initiation of my sickness) and the waiting was quite a torture. I even skipped the inflight meal that I have ordered as I decided to sleep away. Not to mention I was too cautious with my bowel movement as little consumption (even if it's just water) spelled almost immediate toilet trip. I only get to fully recovered after a month returning from the trip. Until today, I still haven't any sort of Indian food.

This trip was an eye opening for me in every aspect that I could imagine. It may not be a conventional touristy kind of places that people will usually seek for during holidays but being a traveller, this is one of the countries that I would recommend to visit to experience the cultures from different parts of the world, minus the diarrhea (my diarrhea persisted long enough that I could spell it correctly now at first attempt). This trip definitely will make you to appreciate your country better. There are more to offer from this country and how my trip concluded shall not stop me from revisiting India.

Till next time.

Recap our India Journey:
Jaipur - Agra - NEW DELHI

India Trip: The City of Love

Concluded our trip in Jaipur by bidding farewell to City Palace, we continued our journey to another state in India, Uttar Pradesh in which the capital is Agra. 200km distance means another 4 hours of journey. I remembered clearly that during this trip, I was the front seat passenger and dozed off. The driver put on sudden brake and I woke up, thought there was something on the road. Apparently, there was none. Subsequently, I was trying hard to stay awake for the rest of the journey or pretending to be awake by wearing my sunglasses and with a book in my hand (I was really reading it at first until a point that I stopped flipping pages as I couldn’t even finish a paragraph, or sentence even). The latter can be a good tip to avoid unnecessary nuisance during a road trip.

Before reaching the city of Agra, we dropped by Fatehpuh Sikri, UNESCO listed site since 1986. “Fateh” which means victorious in Arabic with Persian origin, the site is basically a walled city. The whole site is made up of standstone hence the monuments are in red, pretty much similar to most historical sites that I visited throughout India (not the one after this, though). The driver won’t be able to bring you right to entrance of the site as there are buses provided (with a minimal fee) to enter the walled city. I would say I have a fair share of Indian bus experience as the bus was overloaded with passengers and some were standing at the door before the drivers decided to make his move. Thankfully the journey to the site wasn’t that long so it was bearable. The site is accessible with a fee of 500 Rupee (and 10 Rupee tax which can be levied if you keep entrance tickets for other sites. More on this later). 10 Rupee is like, 60 Malaysian cents?

It’s not something new for me that kids approached you while you are on a trip. The memory of Greek kids came to scratch our table back in Athens, 2012 is still vivid in my mind. I have more of that in this country, not the table scratching but the kids approaching. As much as you wish to sympathize them, it may not be a wise move. Exiting from the complex, we were being followed by a group of kids who didn’t ask for money but for the entrance tickets. One of the kids said they need it to make a calendar or something. I remembered clearly there was one kid was telling his friend (or not) that he has this one (us). Ignorance is bliss to save ourselves from unwanted trouble. While waiting for bus to take us back to our driver, I heard a Japanese lady saying that she is fond of travelling in India.

We continued our journey to Agra which is around 40km away. Checking in at Treebo White Inn and had our dinner at Tea’se Me, an eatery that located at the rooftop of a hotel. No, there was no view of Taj Mahal from there despite its vicinity to the East Gate. I wasn’t sure whether our driver was lazy or it was not part of the package but, after dropping us off at the restaurant, he gave us money to use “tuk tuk” back to hotel. All the “tuk tuk” that we have hopped on didn’t seem to be reliable as almost of them didn’t know where we are heading. Never mind that, after a fine dinner, we were all excited for the agenda of following day. It was the prime reason for this trip anyway. Our stay is strategically located at East Gate road hence for a budget hotel, it is recommendable (though not so much on the breakfast).

We headed as early as 6.00am towards the ticket office which is within walking distance. The entrance fee is 1000 Rupee and this is inclusive of buggy service bringing you to East Gate. You are not allowed to bring any bag to the site and hence they are to be stored at the lockers at the office. Camera bag is acceptable. You will be provided with a bottle of mineral water and shoes cover. Reaching the gate there would be security check, just like any other sites. Lines for males and females are segregated whereby the ladies would be checked within a tiny curtained room. Tripod isn’t allowed at the site as the officer asked me to remove the tripod from my GoPro stick and deposit at one of the souvenir shops. Hesitantly and reluctantly, I went on with it. Slowly, we took our step towards the wonder. We were greeted by the magnificent gate and slowly, we walked pass it. Slowly, the sight of it is becoming clear.

Slowly stepping in..

Since we were early, the crowd was pretty decent though you would still need to wait for photo taking at your favourite spot (same goes for everyone else, really). The place is surrounded by 4-sided wall with green landscape. As you approached the mausoleum, this is where you would need to put on the shoes cover, or you could go barefoot stepping on the white marble. Photos taking is only permissible up to entrance. Being this close to the monument, it gives me the perspectives of Taj Mahal from different angle. It was so whitely grand and to think of the effort to build the site for 17 years, can only imagine how much was the love of the king towards his wife (though the ending was rather sad for the king). I just can’t help to take photos of Taj Mahal whenever I have a glimpse of it. Was captivated and to remind myself that I was seeing the actual thing. I bet the percentage of its photos is highest than anything else in my gallery.

The cliche photo of Taj Mahal with its reflection

Close up

Me trying "Tree Pose", or so I thought

View from Taj Mahal towards East Gate

Taj Mahal, ticked. Remember to keep your ticket for tax levitation at other sites. Claimed my tripod and bought a little overpriced souvenir from the shop, we returned to our hotel for our breakfast before checking out.

Next site that we visited was the Agra Fort, the former residence of Mughal Dynasty. Like Amber Fort in Jaipur, most of the monuments were made of sandstone and hence, the bright brick red colour. It was believed that Shah Jahan, the king who built Taj Mahal, was confined by his son at the fort, in which he could see Taj Mahal from a distance from his lockout before his life ended there. The fee is 500 Rupee.

Can imagine the King had his last moment looking at his wife's tomb

Agra Fort and some ruins are noticeable on the right

We visited the Tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah, which is also called "Baby Taj". This mini white marble maosoleum is accesible with 200 Rupee, with 10 Rupee levied by showing Taj Mahal ticket.

A kid was seens swimming at Yamuna river.

We were towards the end of our journey as we headed back to New Delhi right after.

Jaipur - AGRA - New Delhi

Sunday, 23 October 2016

India Trip: The Pink City

Landed at New Delhi Airport at 2200 hours (local time) on the 2nd of October, we have initially booked our driver to pick us up at the airport, which is included in the package. However, our driver seemed to be nowhere to be seen at the airport. One point to note that the moment you have exited from the airport arrival hall, you won't be allowed to re-enter the building (there were some drivers waiting inside the hall so we thought to go back in to look after our drivers but were stopped by the guard who appeared to be not understanding English much when we tried to explain our situation). We tried to contact the car agency through the phone provided (cost 5 rupee for 1 minute) but was hung up half way through the conversation. There were some kind samaritans who were willing to lend their phones to call the car agency on our behalf as the receiving end apparently had some issues understanding us earlier (and not to mention the line wasn't stable). In the end, the car agency claimed they didn't have our booking which came as a shock as the agency did reply our email earlier that day. Frustrated, we decided to take cab to our hotel. By the time we checked in at Treebo Natraj Yes Please, it was already passed midnight.

Earlier next day, we had our breakfast at the hotel (it's complimentary), and we walked to the car agency which happened to be nearby our hotel to sort out our car. Apparently the guy that has been responding to our email was out of office and his colleague wasn't made aware of our booking. We settled with Toyota Etois and were given slight briefing by the agency on travelling in India, i.e. tipping is a thing in India, avoid eating street food (for tourist), ensure the water bottles are properly sealed before buying them etc. Packed and checked out from the hotel, we headed straight away to Jaipur, Rajasthan which is 260km away.

When we arrived at Delhi late the day before, I wasn't aware of the seriousness of the traffic condition in the city. You shall prepare yourself of continuous honking on the road and the cars on the road are driven along exceed the designated lanes. Our driver told us the golden rule of driving in India, "Good horn; Good brake; Good luck". It's common if you pay attention to those cars on the road, they tend to have dents, even when the cars are still new (considered the plastic covers are yet to be removed from their seats). These are just few of my personal observations on the first day in Delhi on the road. More shall unfold sooner. Speaking of our car, in spite of maxing out the air conditioner, the back seat was still rather warm hence my friend used her portable fan to chill ourselves. You could imagine how hot the weather was. Apparently there's a tax to pay for drivers bringing passengers when crossing the state. This is not toll as there are proper toll gates for this. The tax is paid at a small booth at the road side with no proper allocated parking at the state border (there was one time our driver crossed the highway to pay for the tax). In my opinion, the drivers in India generally seem to have very low regard on safety.

Tax Collection Point by the road side 

The toll station. These people usually wander around to sell things to drivers while queueing. Things like sun shade, coconut, bottled water etc.

Jaipur, Rajasthan
After 5 hours being on the road, we have reached the state of Rajasthan, the state where Jaipur serves as the capital. Amber Fort is located prior reaching the Pink City and hence it was our very first stop for this trip. Declared as UNESCO Heritage Site in 2013, the fort was built on top of the hill. Some part of the fort kinda remind me of Great Wall of China. The cars are allowed to drive up to the entrance of the fort so hence don't fret about walking up the hill. The fort is accessible with 500 Rupee. This is my first fort to visit in India and hence I went in without expectation (or this overall trip in general). There were some maintenance work ongoing during our visit in front of the main entrance. The place is pretty well preserved. Some of the structure are made up of white marble which keep the heat away during the hot weather compared to other parts which are made up of sandstone. One hour is suffice to cover the whole place.

The parts of fort I don't think is accessible. 

This view resembles the view of Athens from Acropolis

 The floating park in the middle of lake is so picturesquely serene, complemented by the green hills.

Entering the hall 

Secret garden within the fort and marble building in the distance

On our way to the city of Jaipur, we dropped by Man Sagar Lake to have a glimpse of Jal Mahal which literally means Water Palace. During our visit, we couldn't see anyone offering a ride to the centre of the lake. I read there used to have gondolas around the lakes but it has stopped for years.

I know cows are sacred to the Hindus. Seeing them on the streets of India is common scene. This also means that you need to watch out for the "inevitable" when you walk on the street. 

Jal Mahal, the "Water Palace", as if it was floating on the lake and can only admire it from far.

Afterwards, our driver brought us to textile shop which is famous for the "pashmina". The guy at the shop demonstrated how the printing on the cloth is done. The cloth could be made into scarf, shawl wearable clothing and several others. Jaipur contributed 70% to textile industry in India. In case you want to know, the shop accepts credit card if you wish to buy any or they also accept certain currencies with the rate fixed at their shop. Next to the shop is a jewellery store. There were some guys doing some polishing work on the mineral stones.

The guy demonstrated the printing on cloth, with the four assistants

The guys work on the stones at the jewellery store next door.

We checked in at Pandya Niwas before heading to Surya Mahal for our dinner. Surya Mahal is located at busy street of M1 and this place serves a good escape for a decent meal. It is entirely vegetarian restaurant and serves mostly Southern Indian cuisine.

Mixed Uttapam - my dinner for the night. 

Next morning, my friend and I had a stroll on the street of Jaipur. The experience was rather different and exotic for me compared to my previous adventures. It was indeed an eye-opening experience to another whole new level seeing the locals live their life, in this part of the country at least.

Never thought that I would see camel in India too.

Before concluding our day in Jaipur at the City Palace, we stopped by Hawa Mahal for this shot. You may enter the site with 200 Rupee. Now you could have guessed why Jaipur is also known as the Pink City. Most of the structures are coloured in pink, in which believes signifies hospitality.

City Palace reminds me a little of Forbidden City in Beijing when the palace is confined by 4-sided brick wall. The largest silver vessels in the world as per Guinness World Record are located at this palace. Sabha Niwas "Hall of Private Audience" (no photo is allowed in this hall) portrays the generations of Kings that ever ruled the region.

The largest silver vessel in the world 

A lady painting mehndi on my friend's hand

There was a guard requested us to take photo with him. Being within the paid site, I thought he was just being friendly with tourists for visiting the place. Been travelled to some other places in the world, these are those kinds of approaches you would wanna avoid because they usually will ask for money. Next thing you know, he did. I need to learn who is sincere or otherwise.

That concluded our trip in Jaipur and next we headed to the city of love.

JAIPUR - Agra - New Delhi

Saturday, 15 October 2016

India Trip: Namaste

Taj Mahal is definitely one of the major drives for me to visit India. This has been crossed recently when me and my friends travelled  across the Golden Triangle of India. My knowledge on India is overclouded with their Bollywood scenes. Remembered those days when I was growing up watching Shah Rukh Khan movies, in which they spend a lot of time on singing, one of their movies' signature. Naan, tandoori chicken and tikka masala, just to name a few of Indian cuisine that I get to try locally, in which you will find them everywhere in India.

 Indian Chicken Curry

Visa is required for Malaysian to visit India for tourism purpose for 30 days. This can be done online without the need of going over to the embassy. You won't be able to apply for the visa more than 34 days ahead of your planned day of travel and it costs 49 USD. Remember to have scanned copies of passport and passport photo for the application though you can save the form online and reaccess anytime. From my experience (and so are my friends), it takes only a day for the visa to be granted. The copy of granted visa shall be printed and brought along for immigration verification.

View from Amber Fort, Jaipur

Our visit was during early October 2016 and the weather was rather hot, which is around 35 degree Celcius during day time. I remembered the night we landed at Indira Ghandi International Airport, the heat was immediately felt when we stepped out from the arrival hall. Regardless, it is better to wear decently (long pants, sleeved shirts) as temples will be among the places that you are going to visit. Sanitizers, wet wipes, sun block, mosquitoes repellents, just naming a few of the essentials you ought to bring while travelling around India. Reasons? The cities that we visited are very dusty (oh, this means you might want to bring face mask too) and the conditions there, it would be a good practice to sanitise your hands before any meal. I guess all of us were rather cautious about hygiene issue in the country and it's safe to clean the empty plates and cutlery (with the wet wipes) before placing any food on them. Due to the heat as most of the sites are outdoor, you would want some shield from the sun and you can't risk to be bitten by mosquitoes which go active in the hot climate. Despite of all our efforts to stay eating clean (we completely ignored eating street food), on the last day of our trip, all of us succumbed to our worst nightmare, food poisoning. The trip didn't definitely end the way we wanted. Still, better be safe than sorry.

Entrance to Taj Mahal

The currency used in India is "Rupee" and comes in 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. It's a culture to tip in India and it's a good tip to keep those small change. Generally a tip of 10 or 20 will suffice. The exchange rate during our time was around 100 Rupee for MYR 6.20. India timezone is 2 hours and a half later than Malaysia's.

Old Street in Delhi, facing Jama Masjid

5 hours flight from Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, we headed straight to Jaipur on the next day before continuing to Agra and back to Delhi. You can opt for bus or train for the intercity travel. Four of us hired a driver for the entire trip which costs 18,000 Rupee that includes pick up and shuttle to airport, so it sounded like a good bargain (or so we thought). The traffic in India was rather crazy so it takes a lot of courage (for me at least) to drive there or even cross the street. "Tuk tuk" is a common public transport to get you around the city.

Our journey throughout the Golden Triangle shall unfold in the next chapter.

India Trip Journey
Jaipur - Agra - New Delhi