Go, go, go to Goa

There isn’t much to write about Goa except for the instantaneous feeling of relaxation as soon as you arrive. Our beach hut was just that, a hut right on the beach – you cannot complain about waking up in the morning to the sound of crashing waves.

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Our two days in Goa were filled with sun, cocktails, food, swims and walks through the markets.

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It was perfect!

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Hello sunshine

Finally some warm weather!
First stop – food of course.
We decided we needed a break from Indian and headed to the hotel restaurant India Jones and had the best dim sum I have ever had! Unlimited dumplings from a lovely waitress left us feeling like we wouldn’t need to eat again in India.
We were that full we were just able to roll ourselves to our room before the food coma hit us.

After a short nap we headed out onto the streets of Mumbai and followed another Lonely Planet walking tour. The focus was the mix of colonial-era and art deco architecture.

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Mumbai is a beautiful city to walk through and Sean loved watching the hundreds of cricket games all happening on one oval in the middle of the city.

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The next day we went on a tour through Dharavi, one of the biggest slums in the world, with Reality Tours and Travel. On the way to the meeting point we were able to watch some of the Mumbai Marathon, thousands of people crowded the road to see many struggling their way through the humidity to the finish line.

The tour was an eye-opening experience, another thing I was unsure whether we should do as how ethical can making profit over people’s misfortunes be. But with 80% of the profits fed back into the community and seeing the community centre Reality Tours has set up was inspiring. When we arrived at the community centre the children were participating in a dance class, we were told that the centre not only runs English and computer classes to further the children’s education but classes to develop the children creativity and social skills like art, sport and dance. I would absolutely recommended it to all that visit Mumbai, it’s completely different to what you expect. I will have to post photos of the tour later (provided by Reality Tours) as we were not allowed to take photos during the tour to protect the privacy of those living in the slums and also as backlash to the movie Slumdog Millionaire which angered many residents.

As our tour ran over time and we had a flight to catch we had to ‘amazing race’ it back to our hotel before the long drive to the airport and the long line to check in, to JUST get a seat on an overbooked flight to Goa.

Salmon City

We got into Jaipur with Sean still struggling so we headed straight to the hotel and spent the afternoon chilling out.

The next day was an early start as we wanted to beat the rush to Amber Fort so we could go for an elephant ride up the mountain. I’m unsure how I feel about it as I don’t know how well the elephants are treated, still an incredible experience.

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Amber Fort is one of my favourites so far – which might only be because the sun finally came out and it was beautiful and warm while we wondered around.
It is a huge royal palace divided into four main sections, each with its own courtyard. The many stairways and winding hallways lead to a couple of hours of exploring.

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Jaipur is the shopping capital of Rajasthan so we we’re taken on a quick tour of the main consumer items. In a textile factory we were shown how fabrics are stamped by hand to create their beautiful patterns. Next stop was a jewellery factory, where the men were very disappointed we weren’t interested in anything other than some turquoise jewellery, begrudgingly putting their diamonds and sapphires away.

After lunch we headed into the Pink City (Old City) to follow a Lonely Planet walking tour through the main bazaars. It was overwhelming what you could get here. I wish we took more time but we were running low on cash and I didn’t want to get too attached to anything – plus we are running low on room in our bags!

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Only a quick stop in Jaipur as we are off to Mumbai tomorrow (another quick one with just a night stay). With all these quick stops I can see the end of our trip coming way to quickly!

I spy with my little eye something beginning with… T

Unfortunately not a tiger, but a tent! The most amazing tent I have ever seen.
We are leaving two nights of absolutely heaven in Ranthambhore National Park and I am devastated we have to go.
Wake up calls with tea delivered to your bedside, amazing food, hot water bottles placed in your beds while you were enjoying your dinner around a campfire, afternoons spent reading under a blanket and safaris.

Sean may not be as sad as me to go as it was his turn to be sick, but there could be worse places!

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“Did you ever build a castle in the Air? Here is one, brought down to earth and fixed for the wonder of ages”.

By Sean…

Starting with an early morning we left the beautiful surrounds of expat Delhi. The Mont’s made the perfect start for our trip but it was time to kick on! We had our driver take us out of the hustle and bustle and south towards Agra. The 3 hour drive went faster than expected including a sneaky pit stop where I couldn’t help but get my hands on some more Indian cuisine!

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We finally hit the outskirts of Agra and the two of us had the same look on our faces. For a place that is home to one of the 7 wonders of the world the place was a big let down. Dirty narrow streets all based around the Yamuna River which was just as filthy and quite dry being outside of monsoonal season. Once dropping our bags off at our hotel we left for two of India’s biggest icons!

Allowing as much time as possible for the fog to pass we headed to Agra Fort. The fort’s construction was initiated by Emperor Akbar in 1565 and was primarily built as a military structure but turned into a palace by Shah Jahan, it then became his prison when son Aurangzeb seized power in 1658. The fort today is still used by the Indian army leaving only 25% accessible to the public. This section is known as the royal quarter, with spectacular architecture and marbled carved rooms making you appreciate the time it took to create such a structure. I was amazed by not only this but the engineering involved in creating such a place. Overall the fort stands as a lifelong representation of the Mughal empire.

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Next stop the icon of India. The one building that looks like a fake picture until you stand in front of it and you cannot help but be absolutely struck in awe. Walking into the surrounds of the Taj you pass through one of 3 grand archways known as Pishtaqs. Looking beyond the arch you see the amazing translucent white Marble Taj Mahal standing perfect in every way. Constructed between 1631-1653 the Taj was built for the final resting place for Shah Jahan’s third wife Mumtaz Mahal. She was laid to rest underneath a marble plinth in 1633, two years after her passing while giving birth to her 14th child. Please forgive us for the photos, the guide insisted on taking as many cheesy pictures as he could!

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The Taj was, is and always will be incredible and something that will be hard to forget!

Time for the best part of the day so Brooke had to pick a place for dinner, so we went down the winding, dirty narrow streets of Taj Ganj. This budget area is renowned for its cheap rooftop restaurants and we were not disappointed. Climbing four flights of dirty stairs and onto a rooftop with a group of scarfed covered men crowded around an open fire were a few wooden tables. Treated as royalty from the second we were spotted we ordered some vego Indian food and a beer to keep us warm on the chilly foggy evening!

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Time for bed before the long drive to Ranthambhore tomorrow!

New Delhi, Old Delhi

Saturday morning we had a bit of a sleep in as Lynda and Gary informed us nothing happens in India before 11, then Gary and Emma took us to see the India we were expecting.

Into Old Delhi we went, first stop was at the Red Fort – surrounded by an 18-m high wall Gary told us how the moat used to be filled with crocodiles and dangerous snakes to stop any unwanted visitors. The fort today is still partially occupied by the military.

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Doing as tourists do we jumped in a rickshaw and explored Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s main shopping street. We rode through the spice market, which would clear anyone’s sinuses and we hopped off to have a look around. Lucky we were with locals as up we went some questionable stairs winding past peoples apartments to the most incredible view over the busy streets.
Next we stopped at the Monty’s spice man, where there was every kind of spice and mix you could dream of and hundreds of teas. I couldn’t go past the Lychee tea as Sean picked up some spices to try and replicate the taste of India at home.

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Back on the rickshaw we headed down the colourful wedding lane and down silver alley where I managed to pick up some silver rings for $14 each could have gone crazy but limited myself as this is our first city. We had lunch at one of Gary’s favourite spots Karims, we got lots of funny looks as the only white people in the back of the alley restaurant. Our first experience of Indian food was not a disappointment, especially for Sean who inhaled a full tandoori chicken.

Next stop was the impressive India gate, a 42-m tall stone memorial arch which pays tribute to around 90,000 Indian army soldiers who died fighting for their country in all conflicts. Down Rajpath we saw Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s House) but only from a distance as on the 26th of January is one of India’s biggest festivals – Republic Day – where a spectacular military parade runs down the Rajpath, the preparations are already beginning and this year is bigger than ever as President Obama is the official guest of the ceremony.

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In the afternoon we headed to Ghandi’s Museum. This is the place where Mahatma Ghandi was assassinated on the 30th of January 1948. You can follow the last 48 hours of Ghandi’s life and follow the concrete footsteps which lead you to the spot where Ghandi died. The museum was fairly busy but extremely quiet. A very eerie place with photographs, quotes and painting covering every wall.

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On the way home we stopped into the Australian High Commission to see where the Monty’s spend most of their time. It was absolutely beautiful, you could have sworn you were in Australia and we both had this weird feeling of pride that ‘our place’ was so amazing.

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Then came the dinner disaster, of course I was the first one to suffer the inevitable Delhi belly! The Mont’s took us to their favourite restaurant in town but this was slightly ruined by the fact that as soon as I walked in the door I was running to the toilet for a good vom! Straight back home and into bed I went, but spent all night running back to the bathroom bringing everything back up – a slight tarnish on an otherwise amazing day.

Sunday morning I woke up feeling queasy and tired but didn’t want to miss anything so headed out of the main city with Lynda & Emma to Qutb Minar a 73-m high victory tower erected by sultan Qutb-ud-din in 1193 to proclaim his supremacy over his rivals. The five storey monument was completed by his successors as he was only able to complete one storey before his death. We also explored the surrounding ruins while being asked for many photographs by many of Sean’s adoring fans.

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Lynda then took us to my favourite place so far Hauz Khas (I just wish I wasn’t feeling so terrible so I really could have taken it all in). The village is filled with boutiques, bars, restaurants and quirky shops. We had tea at Elma’s, a funky cafe up a few flights of stairs (like all the places in Hauz Khas) then got lost in the laneways of beautiful shops – again nothing like I had pictured for India. Before we headed home we went to a rooftop pub called Imperfecto for drinks and pizza, another funky place filled with sand and a water feature running down the middle, blowing my mind that places like this exist in India.

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Another quiet night in as I was still feeling queasy and we were to have an early start in the morning as we are now on our way to Agra to see the icon of India and we can’t wait!

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And so here we are

In the early hours of Friday 9th January we sat on the plane heading to Singapore, we were both pretty tired so it didn’t take long before we were both asleep – a bit squished up on the Jetstar plane but asleep.

We landed at Singapore and had a quick turn around before we got on the Air India plane heading to our final destination Delhi. Air India was a nice surprise – big seats, TVs in the back of chairs, pillows and blankets.

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Our first adventure was trying to get through immigration! Over an hour standing in a line with what felt like half of India. This was our first experience of ‘India time’, there was no urgency what so ever with half the counters closed and those who were working just hanging out. We found out after, lots of flight came down at the same time because of the fog – so not usually a problem.

Gary met us at the entrance of the airport and took us back to their beautiful apartment. This part of India is nothing like we expected with beautiful wide, quiet, clean streets lined with big trees. We were in expat heaven. After have a quick break Lynda and Emma took us out to see New Delhi.

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First stop was Humayun’s Tomb – built in the mid-16th century by the wife of the Mughal emperor this tomb is believed to have influenced the design of the Taj Mahal. The red sandstone was absolutely magnificent behind the setting sun. The intricate design and engineering is impressive.

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Isa Khan’s tomb is within the complex of Humayun’s Tomb and is just as beautiful.

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To get inside the complex you have to get a ticket – again a new experience, foreigner price vs local price, the foreigner price being 25 times the local!

Lynda then took us to the most important activity…shopping!
We went to a craft emporium, even though I was exhausted I managed to summon some strength for this! There was everything you could think off for ridiculous prices.

We came back home to have a nice dinner and an early night ready to start our first full day in India.

If you put off everything ’til you’re sure of it, you’ll get nothing done.

10891978_10152471394673204_288294248800438944_nIndia has been on the bucket list for a while and last week Sean and I decided there is no time like the present, especially since friends of ours who are working in Delhi are about to come home.
We went to the Indian embassy in Perth to see if we could get visas in time and later that day we were booking our trip for the following week!
We fly out early Friday morning for our 16 day adventure and we can’t wait.
On our last holiday to beautiful Vietnam I tried to keep a journal of everything we experienced so I thought I would trial a blog this time. I am no writer so please bear with me…