Mandawa

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We’d only had about 5 hours of sleep when the alarm went off. Time to explore Rajasthan! We packed our bags and checked out before anyone else in the hotel (staff included) had woken up. Then we climbed into our waiting car.
We had a new driver, Raju was his name, and he seemed to be very nice. We slept on and off for most of the trip, but Raju kept turning around every hour or so to see if we were still okay.
When we pulled up to our hotel in Mandawa we were surprised at how beautiful the place was. Mandawa is just a tiny town. It has dusty streets, a small food market with rickety wooden stalls, and dilapidated looking homes built in a maze around the city. But when we pulled into the lot where we were staying, we were faced with a beautiful white building, painted intricately with Indian designs. The lobby was gorgeous. It had lovely seating areas scattered around, and an open courtyard through a doorway next to it. The place had a rooftop restaurant that looked out over the tiny town and towards the setting sun. If this was the budget tour, I can’t imagine what the mid-range and luxury people were experiencing!
We rested for a couple hours in the heat of the day, then had a local man walk us around the city and show us the sites. There really isn’t much to do in Mandawa. It’s very untouristy, there aren’t any major temples to explore, and the place is very small. But, it is a beautiful town to see if you want to get a feel for a real Rajasthani town. Mandawa used to be the major hub for the exporting of textiles and opium. Hard to imagine given its size, but it’s true.
The town was influenced by both traditional Indian art, and British business culture, leaving it uniquely beautiful. The town sports wall paintings that are over 150 years old. They are found on so many buildings as you wander around town. They depict stories and tableaus of Indian gods and animals, and also of British colonialism.
On many buildings, the paintings are faded or ruined from years of sun damage or structural collapse. But Mandawa still has many homes that have paintings inside as well. We were lucky enough to explore a few of them.
One building we went into was a home that must have belonged to a fairly wealthy family. Our guide said that it was probably home to a family of about 25 people (children, parents, grandparents etc). When you come ducking through the main door, you stumble into an open courtyard. Stairs lead off in three directions: left, right and straight ahead. We walked to the right and up into a little room.
“This is the business room” our guide said. This would be the room where the family would entertain its guests, or talk business with partners. It had a large square cushion on the floor where men would sit together, discussing the world and smoking opium. A small area in front was for dancing and entertaining, then a raised section in the back was for musicians to play. Right around the room, close to the ceiling were small wooden doors.
“That is the ladies section” he explained. The women were not allowed to join the men in business discussions. So instead they sat in the ladies quarters and could stick their heads through the little doors to watch the entertainment below. Prime viewing seats if you ask me!
The entire room was ornately decorated with carvings and paintings. Hardly a spot on the wall was bare. It was exquisite! I can just imagine how amazing it would be to sit in one of those smokey rooms, watching the dancers and listening to the musicians play over 150 years ago.
The rest of the home was slightly less ornate, but equally as unique. Brightly painted doors, a slave’s quarters, stalls for the livestock and a stunning rooftop with views across the city. This place was magical.
We continued our walk around the town, exploring homes here and admiring paintings there. At one point we went into a place called “The Golden Room” it was a beautifully crafted business room much like the others we had seen. This one however had paintings embossed with real gold detailing. The room sparkled in the light and was wonderful to see. It wasn’t a fully golden room, as we had sort of hoped from the name of it, but it was gorgeous nonetheless!
The paintings and old homes were absolute gems within an otherwise dusty old town. It gave spirit and culture to the area, and a look into what Mandawa used to be like.
My initial reaction of Delhi left me missing South Africa, but seeing Mandawa gave me a glimmer of hope that India is more than just chaos and bribes. I was glad we had stopped in this nothing town, and I was looking forward to exploring deeper into the rich history of India over the next two months.

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Whirlwind City Tour

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Our second day in Delhi was a whirlwind of temples! I honestly have no idea where we went, but the places were amazing!
I walked down the little alley by our hotel in an attempt to get money again when a young boy stopped me.
“Hello, madam, hello! Do you remember me? I took you to dinner last night”
Oh yes, it was guy #2 with a friend in Delta.
“Yes, I remember you”
“You have a tour! Your guide is here! He has been waiting for you for three hours!”
What?! A huge misunderstanding. No one knew who was supposed to tell us about our city tour, and in the end, no one did. I ran back to the hotel to grab Kelsi.
“City tour! Lets go!”
We left in a mad rush and were shoved into our driver’s car.
“Okay, let’s go!”
We had no idea what was happening as we careened our way through the Delhi streets. Our guide kept pointing and saying short sentences about the things around us. Most of what he said was lost in his accent and the honking, screeching and yelling that was going on outside. We just nodded and smiled.
“Old Delhi!” We heard him exclaim, then he stopped the car and let us out.
“You see temple, then you find car in parking lot” and he drove off.
What’s going on? One minute we were quietly waking up in our hotel, and the next we were standing in the bustle of old Delhi with no clue what was happening.
So we wandered towards the temple.
“Shoes off here!” Someone yelled.
“200 rupees for camera!” Said another man.
“You need robe. 100 rupees!” Shouted a third.
What? What? What?
We doled out money as needed and stumbled into the temple in horrifically tacky flowered moo moos and 400 rupees short. Okay, welcome to the temple!
The robes they gave us didn’t cover anything more than was already covered, but every single white tourist had to wear one. Just another money making scam. Cameras also cost money. Anywhere between 10 to 400 rupees it seems. But they won’t let you go in without a ticket so unless you hide it in your bra (which we ended up doing for the more expensive places later on) you’re stuck with the fee.
The first temple we went to was beautiful. A wide open courtyard, gorgeous structures and walls and huge domed ceilings. Okay, so actually I think this was a mosque. Mosques are Muslim and temples are Hindi. I’m trying to overcome my ignorance of Indian culture and learn what I can about the different religions and customs. It’s a slow process.
Either way, it was gorgeous. We spent some time milling around in our moo moos and taking photos, then we left to find the car. On the way out, the man standing by our shoes demanded money.
“I watch shoes. You pay me” he shoved Kelsi when we stared blankly, unable to understand his thick accent. You want money because we left our shoes on the ground?’ You don’t even know that these are our shoes! We could be stealing anyone’s! We were upset, but handed him a small note and angrily walked away. Next time, the shoes went into my purse before we walked up to the temple. Later on we just shook our heads at all the poor tourists getting ripped off by guys watching their shoes as we strolled on by. By the end of the day we were pros. We walked through, camera in our bra, shoes in the purse and following closely at the heels of another tour group. If you walk in, with a dazed and confused look, being herded behind other white tourists, the guards just think you’re on the tour and wave you through. First day in Delhi we probably saved ourselves over $20 dollars in shoe/camera/entrance fees!
After the first mosque we carried on to Gandhi’s grave sight. A lovely little monument in a beautiful garden, we took some quick photos and carried on.
Thirdly, we came to a place called Humayun’s Tomb. It was a pricey entrance fee, and we weren’t sure even what it was! When we entered the first gates though we were amazed by what we saw. Humayun’s Tomb is the second most elaborate mausoleum in India, next to the Taj Mahal! I’m glad we decided to go in!
The place was stunning, with a rich, red color and intricately detailed stonework the tomb is quite a sight. It is roughly 4000 square meters, 50m high and has 160 royal members buried in it. (We counted 24… Such a fail)
This mausoleum is where we really discovered how much Kelsi and I stood out in India. Two blonde haired blue eyed girls traveling alone is apparently pretty uncommon here. Out of the two places we had visited that day, we had two groups of guys come up and ask to have their photos taken with us. (Apparently the joke was lost in translation when I told one guy I was going to charge him for the photo. Seemed only fair considering everyone sitting in the temples did the same thing to us!).
While we were at Humayun’s Tomb, we stopped and asked a lady to take our photo while we stood in front of the building. As she was preparing to take the photo, about 10 other groups all took out their cameras. We posed for our shot, and 15 or so clicks went off as EVERYONE took a photo of Kelsi and I. So strange.
Since then, even women have come up to us excitedly wanting to get their photos taken with us. Every time I assume they want US to take a photo of THEM, but every time I’m sorely mistaken.
After the tomb came lunch. We had no choice in the matter. We were dropped off at a restaurant full of tourists, with costs 5 times as
expensive. If we weren’t so starving we would have protested more. Instead we ate a couple of lovely curries and cured our hangriness.
When lunch was over we visited the beautiful Lodhi gardens. They were a peaceful escape in the middle of such a crazy city, and a fabulous place to clear our heads. Then came the Lotus temple, which we were totally lost in. We kept getting pushed from one line to another, herded around like sheep, only to enter into a temple that was unadorned, in total silence, and allowed no photography. Not worth the visit, apart from the beautiful lotus shape of the building itself.
Afterwards we drove 10km outside the city to another temple. I was lost with names at this point, and exhausted. The place was lovely, just like all the others had been, and had a huge tower in the middle of some ancient looking ruins. It’s too bad we were so sleepy, because it was hard to fully appreciate how gorgeous the place was when all I could think of was bed. We’d been on the tour for nearly 8 hours. That’s insane.
Apparently, however, this was our last temple. Oh good!
What our driver failed to mention, was that we would now be brought to a three story, textiles and carving market, where we would be harassed by merchants to buy their wares. Kill. Me. Now.
We wandered the floors of the building, trying to make small talk with each and every merchant that approached us. It was overwhelming. The stuff was beautiful, but we weren’t about to carry trinkets in our bags for 2 more months when we could but all the same stuff in
Mumbai at the end of our trip. So we dragged our sore feet back the the car empty handed. Home time.
But it wasn’t! “One last temple!” Our guide said. Oh god. He pulled over at some lit up temple all sparkly and white in the darkness of Delhi and dropped us off. We were over it. We both walked around the corner, took a photograph of 80 percent wall and 20 percent temple and stormed back to the car. We took a photo, happy?
Then there was a mandatory stop at the office for final details of our trip,
and finally we were dropped off at the main bazaar. We couldn’t quite get to our hotel by car, because there were a bunch of cows blocking the road (only in India) so we got out and walked the last few hundred meters to make it home.
What an exhausting day. We had no idea what was going on or what we had just seen. We searched each place out in our lonely planet guide in an attempt to piece together the day. Eventually we just ate dinner and went to bed. Our new driver was scheduled to pick us up at 7am the next morning.
Road Trip #2: Rajasthan!

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New Delhi

New Delhi. It was early morning and already sticky hot. I’ve heard stories of getting off planes in India and having a stench hit you in the face. I had braced myself for the Eau d’India but thankfully it never came. We were like moving corpses as we walked through Delhi International: and we had a whole day ahead of us.
I got to the baggage carousel and found both our bags right away (always a relief). Kelsi had to wait in line for a visa and came through about 20 minutes later with a scowl on her face.
Turns out whatever her travel agent had said about India visas was wrong. Kiwis are now only allowed a one entry, 30 day visa for US$60. They can also only get a maximum of 2 visas a year. This was a slight problem, as we are staying in India for 2 months. Luckily, we had a vague plan to fly down to Sri Lanka for a few days, and so I had applied for a double visa. Now it looks like Sri Lanka is a must stop over or Kelsi gets the boot by the beginning of April!
Surprisingly, we managed to find our way out of the airport, onto the metro, at at the Main Delhi station with only a few peoples’ guidance. Delhi’s downtown core was chaos! People, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, cars, stray dogs, cows: you name it, Delhi’s got it. Crossing the street was our main mission. Bags on, still half asleep, we followed close at the heels of some locals in an attempt to cross the main thoroughfare. It was only a four lane street, but somehow the city had made it into a chaotic mess of 7 or 8 lanes at once! When we crossed the street we felt like experts; we’ve got this! Go ahead Delhi, do your worst.
To get to the hostel we were trying to find we had to leave north from the metro station, then cross over top of the major train station, then enter the main bazaar and find the red mosque. Easier said than done. The directions weren’t difficult, but moving in a crowd with our life on our backs was not ideal.
The main bazaar was even wilder than I had expected from downtown Delhi. Merchants yelling, clothing shops spilling into the streets, food stalls with public urinals right behind them (we opted to avoid that food stall) and all the chaos of India wrapped up in a few squared blocks. It was like Bangkok’s Khaosan Road on steroids.
We eventually managed to push our way through the crowds and arrived at the Smyle Inn. Cheap, clean rooms for a couple dollars and it comes with a free breakfast! Sign me up.
When we checked in, all we wanted to do was go to sleep. We’d been up for over a day and we were both beyond exhausted. But sleeping now would screw up our pattern, and we had to do way too much organizing.
We had arrived in India with nothing planned. We have a booking for the Holi Festival in Mathura on the 25th and a flight home booked in May. That is all. I even only found out about the Smyle Inn off my hostel world app in the Dubai Airport. I love not having everything planned while I travel, but having a vague idea of what we should see is essential if you want to see anything at all. So for our first day, we needed to come up with a game plan.
First was money. The $20 worth of rupees that Cathy gave me was a lifesaver at the airport. It got us into town and saved us airport exchange rates and ATM fees. Right around the corner from our hostel was a CitiBank. Lonely Planet said that it should work with most foreign debit cards, except, apparently, mine. In fact, NO ATM’s will accept my debit card, because my “card is invalid, please contact your branch”. Great.
As we carried on, everyone in the street wanted to meet us. I knew that two blonde haired, blue-eyed girls were going to cause a stir in India, I just didn’t realize how much. We were the staring focal point of nearly everyone in the main bazaar (even all covered up in our layers of clothing).
“Where you from pretty ladies?”
“Hello. Namaste. Which country?”
“Namaste. What is your name?”
It was a little overwhelming on no sleep and I would have given anything to just crawl up in my bed back at the hotel. But we had to keep on trekking. We were on our way to Connaught Square, where the tourist information center was. Booking from there, you don’t have to pay commission (or as much) unlike at a hotel. We met one young guy in the street who pointed us in the right direction. His English was pretty good. “Where are you from?” He asked. “Canada and New Zealand” we said. “Oh, Canada. English or French part?”
“English. From Vancouver”
“Oh! I have a friend who lives in Delta. He says it very nice there”
Delta, wow, I’m skeptically impressed that he’d heard of Delta. Apparently the guy had spent a couple weeks in Montreal with his Canadian ex-girlfriend. He’s also been to New Zealand. He was now waiting for the arrival of his fiancĂ© from Holland… Boy gets around the world for working at a jewelry stand (as we found out later).
Maybe it was because we were exhausted, or maybe it was just a gut feeling, but every person that spoke to us that day I thought was lying to us. We left world-traveling-lover-boy behind and walked towards Connaught Place. It wasn’t half a block down the road before we picked up our next cling-on as we tried to cross the road.
“Here, walk with me, I live here, I can help you cross the road safely! Which country you from?”
And it began again…
This guy said he just happened to be walking by the tourist office and he would show us the way. It’s a sad day when what seems like such a nice gesture is construed as some sort of a trick. Is he taking us to his friend’s travel shop? Does he get commission off picking up tourists and dropping them off?
God we needed sleep. All my senses were skewed and I was in a constant state of skepticism. Either way we ended up at the tourist office and cling-on two continued on. Maybe he was just being helpful.
We got into the office and was greeted by Samel: a young tour consultant in his thirties who knew EXACTLY where we needed to go.
We sat down just to ask a couple questions and instead of answering any of them, Samel drew out a map with a bunch of dots and started listing the cities we were going to visit in the next three weeks. Wait, what? We just wanted to get some information and find out how to book a bus or a train? Now this guy is asking us if we would like the deluxe, mid-range or budget tour.
Hours since last sleep: 30 something.
This was all too much. We liked the idea of not having to look up anything, but didn’t want to be on a tour. Samel was a smooth talking and straightforward salesman. “This is what you want to do. Trust me.”
I didn’t trust him, not at all, but not planning seemed like a great idea on no sleep. We told him we would go home and discuss it, then come back to him in a couple hours.
We left the building and ran into cling-on number 2 again. He’d been waiting around the corner.
“Did you get all the information you needed?”
I thought he was going somewhere…
We thanked him for taking us and carried on. We stopped at the markets on the way home to buy some clothing. Long, airy, baggy Indian pants and some scarves to cover our shoulders. The stuff was cheaply made, but only cost us a couple dollars so we were happy. New wardrobe: Check!
Finally, we dragged our feet back to the hotel, briefly having to stop to hear more about world-traveling-lover-boy’s fiancĂ© one more time. Fantastic.
Back at the hotel we struggled to stay awake as we decided where WE wanted to go over the next few weeks.
When we arrived back at the tourist office with a plan we sat down at Samel’s desk again to ask some questions.
“We’re back!” We announced, only 2 hour after we had left.
He stared at us blankly.
“The Germans?”
“Uh, no, from Canada and New Zealand. We were just here a couple hours ago.”
“I have a lot of tourists in and out all the time here” he said unapologetically.
This guy sucks at his job. But we were not about to find another place when all the shops were closing so we continued on with our plan.
“These are the places we would like to go. Can we organize a driver to take us here?”
He looked at the list, slashing things here, and changing dates around. He didn’t take into consideration much of what we were saying, but in the end we found a nice compromise that left us with so many more things than we could ever see on our own. Everybody is happy.
“Would you like to go on a city tour now?”
Oh god, we still haven’t slept.
“No thank you, we are tired. We are going for dinner then to sleep.”
“No, no. It is included. Here, I will get someone to take you to dinner, it’s a great place. Then the driver will pick you up and you will go for a short tour.”
Before we knew it we were pushed out the door and taken around the corner by some young guy.
“Which country?” He asked
“Canada and New Zealand”
“Oh Canada, French or English?”
“English, from Vancouver”
“Oh, I have a friend that lives in Delta! He says it very nice.”
Hmmm, Delta eh? Pretty popular place with New Delhians!
The guy that brought us to the restaurant also ordered our food: a special Thali. Thali is a common all you can eat dish here in India. It comes in a big silver platter with separate compartments. It has several different dipping sauces or curries served with naan and rice. A great way to try a little bit of everything.
When dinner was over our driver grabbed us and sped out through the city. He took us to see the India Gate and some temple that was beautiful and right in the middle of the city. Unfortunately we couldn’t appreciate it through all our exhaustion. We were probably at 40 hours with no sleep and we could hardly stand. When we were finally dropped off at the hotel later I collapsed into bed and didn’t wake up for 12 hours… Kelsi for 14. It was quite the first day in Delhi!

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