India Delhi #5 History abounds ( Part 2)

Actually, I have to admit today we decided to try the Hop On Hop Off bus… HOHO…..usually great for visitors new to a city to get a feel for, and lie of the land.My friend read out the first review on Trip Advisor… ” this was shit…..” we laughed so much and still did it. result? it is as described ( shit), difficult to find the meeting point, no maps, route different to that on the map ( eventually given to us) and filthy seats. As this is not a review site, I digress.

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Dilli Haat- nice unhassled shopping and lunch. Good for souvenirs

Previous visits to Delhi have been much more locally oriented, hanging out with locals, eating, walking, looking at all the varied and interre3sting sights around Connaught Place. Check out the book vendors around here, incredible what they have, and so cheap compared to Australia. I pick up books for under $5 AUD each. This trip I was determined to catch the monuments….

TIP: seems to be many hotels ( especially smaller ones) have scant information on most sight seeing activities apart from organised tours. Make a plan, do the research and download travel apps that can be listened to offline whilst going around these monuments…They advertise at the site, but unless you have cheap roaming you are hardly likely to download the app there, check this one out…it seems to have a free trial.Would have been very helpful to us.

Today’s sightseeing sites were:

Dilli Haat– Photo above, we just called in for lunch. Nice group of stores and handicrafts, not too many in your face sales people which is welcomed. The pressure on the streets can be very oppressive.

Qutab Minar

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Tower is built in five different stages

Well worth the trip. A 73-metre  high tower originally started in approx 1200 AD. Read up here for more info…vey cool in India, you can actually walk around and touch history.

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Part of the Qutab Minar complex

The Bahá’í Lotus Temple

In a city dominated by Temples, Mosques, Shrines the Bahá’í built one of the most outstanding pieces of architecture as a place for non-denominational worship. It is like a mini Opera house and is just magnificent, and oh, so quiet.

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A grey day but look at the water colour!

Humayans Tomb

India has a number of UNESCO heritage sites, and this is one of them. I can’t believe we can actually walk around and be so close to history- in a lot of parts of the world this would be roped off and behind glass ( well parts of it)

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Sometimes referred to as the mini Taj Mahal

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The actual tombs

So that’s it, we are all monumented out now for the day. Time to put our lives at risk again in a crazy auto rickshaw run to our home base near Hauz Khas. Not sure at what point we were ok with going up a three lane highway the wrong way and given the simple explanation of “it’s ok ma’am, it’s legal at night”… really? oh well, must be ok then, after all, this is India…. More to come….

India Delhi #3 In search of Baoli

 

Not being one for organized tours, and this, my sixth visit to India I am feeling pretty confident about finding my way, even learning a basic smattering of Hindi. Helpful? well not really as we found out on a visit to Nizamuddin.

Nizamuddin Baoli


Most monuments and shrines are easy as long as you are respectful and follow the rules, that’s not a big ask. Whilst researching some of the less visited parts of Delhi the stepwells came onto my radar. A stepwell, or Baoli  is described by famous French photographer, traveler Louis Rousselet ( 1864) as  “[a] vast sheet of water, covered with lotuses in flower, amid which thousands of aquatic birds are sporting” at the shores of which bathers washed, surrounded by jungle greenery. He was not describing a lakeside scene or one of India’s famous riverside ghats, but an ancient well.

So that was the mission for today. Dehli has over 30 stepwells, and I had three on the list to see. This article describes more of the history of these beautiful feats of architecture that make up part of India’s rich history.

A walk through Lodhi Gardens after the rain is peaceful and beautiful amid the relentless traffic of Delhi. Nizzamuddin is where one of the Baoli still intact is a short walk from the gardens. If you intend to go there on your own ( without a guide) be aware this is absolutely not for the faint hearted. Most information I read blithely says, slightly to the north of Nizamuddin Mosque, what is not apparent is that the Baoli is directly at the entrance to one of the most important shrines for the Sufi faith, Hazrat Nizamuddin Darga. Having visited Ajmer Sharif Dargah in

Having visited Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan in the company of a family who kept me under their wing the experience was wonderful and enlightening. Not so today. The walk through the market place is confusing and confronting with many places openly slaughtering animals for sale in incredibly unsanitary conditions. The entire marketplace is hot, dirty where it need not be. Poverty is one thing but is that an excuse for the mess and filth this place was?  this was another level altogether.

Probably at this stage turning back and revisiting with a guide was a good idea especially for female western tourists. We fell down the rabbit hole and after being pushed and shoved,  purchasing flowers and offerings ended up within the shrine where a large sign proclaimed Shariah Law. You need to come here with an open mind, check…an open heart- check…..What we didn’t understand or appreciate, in a place of worship was the pure looks of disgust aimed at us, mostly from women and the need to actually protect ourselves and belongings. We needed to leave now, but no,  that was also not going to happen with out the requisite filling out of the “visitors book” and extortion of money. We paid some money just to get out. the prescribed amount seemed to be in the realm of 5,000 rupees. Only carrying small sums of money we simply did not have this and felt very intimidated.

Sufi music is undeniably hypnotic and this shrine has a big night on a Thursday I would love to have gone to, but no way were we stepping back in there. Of course, now I read reviews and see some warnings, in hindsight this was another instance a guide or a small tour would have been a good idea. Self-doubt has crept in somewhat after today…

So did we see the sought after famed step well? YES and it was every bit as amazing as I thought, some eager children happily diving into the pure green water with big smiles on their faces. We left quickly and quietly.

 

 

 

India Delhi #1 Friendship day, Lord Krishna.

Being met at the airport with flowers is most girls dream! Today this happened, a friend picked us up bearing flowers for friendship day, what a wonderful start to a trip! The first Sunday of August was declared Friendship Day and made a holiday in the USA in 1935 as a day dedicated to friends and friendship- how did I not know about this!

The huge proud flag flying at Connaught Place, Delhi

This is my first trip to India with a friend rather than family or solo and it’s her first trip so it’s very important to me she loves this place as much as I do.

August is not necessarily the ideal month to visit as monsoon is still in full swing but tickets were cheap so off we went.

Green Park is a residential neighbourhood of Delhi close to Hauz Khaus, a trendy cosmopolitan area which has numerous cafes and hangouts plus a lovely park. The hotel is, well, ok… it’s clean and comfortable which is all you need when busy out seeing the town, so no recommendations here for this hotel, but the area, yes.

Our first full day was a public holiday in India know as Raksha Bandhan. The day celebrates the love between brothers and sisters. It was one of the quietest days I have ever experienced in India!

ISKCON TEMPLE

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Lords Gaura and Nitai

Located south of the city and near the Baha’i Lotus Temple is the International Society For Krishna Consciousness temple. A truly magnificent and joyous place. Today marked the celebration of Lord Balarama’s appearance day ( birthday) It was colorful, loud and festive. There is a 30 min Vedic show outlining the basics of the Bhagavad Gita which was well done and informative.

An avatar of Krishna as Nrsimhadeva, protector of devotees

On our way out a bird fell from the tree to the ground without a head and its spine protruding out of its body!!! Oh, said the man next to us, must have been a tree snake- good grief !!! I am wondering if this has any significance for me and am trying/hoping to think this is not an ominous sign in any way!!!!

BENGALI MARKET

A trip to Delhi for me is not complete without a visit to this small area. This was where we lost all our clothes once in a fire at the dry cleaners! I was so pleased to see they had rebuilt the business! The sweet shops here are magnificent and a cheap thali lunch is around 280 R for two people   ( approx $6 AUD)

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Chole Bhature, a favourite chick pea dish


The sweet cabinets at Bengali Market

Then came the rain, and wow did it rain, quite spectacular, although most of what we planned for the day was outdoor so plan B was to head back to the hotel, drenched but happy. The rain initially makes us grim but it soon seeps away and leaves a lush green warmth from the newly washed trees.

After an hour or so of planning it was off the Hauz Khaus, the hip trendy area of Delhi for happy hour and dinner. Again, being a public holiday this vibrant nightlife area was quite quiet tonight so some modern Sufi music at Reloaded, a rooftop bar was just perfect- and the rain had stopped!

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It’s good to be back Delhi, see you tomorrow.

Japan: Only a week vacay?

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Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine

Japan used to be considered one of the worlds most expensive destinations  and a lot of people I speak to still seem to be of that opinion ( without having been there) Yes there are VERY expensive things to do , see , eat and buy but the average vacation in Japan need not be so at all. In fact it is quite cheap in certain areas, especially food. Of course this is somewhat subjective, and I would point out that if you are backpacking on a tight budget as always you can hunt out the cheapest way to do things.

Japan is a wonderful country steeped in many ancient traditions and has a culture quite unique maybe cultivated whilst having been cut off from the western world for nearly 300 years in the time of the Shoguns. Today’s Japan is high tech, busy and colourful , yet traditions and history have deep underlying roots in modern day Japan also.

Why do people raise their eyebrows when I say I’m going to Japan for a week? business people do it all the time – and they work in between! Change your mindset….wow a whole seven days, what can I do with that? stay at home on the couch or hot foot it to the airport. I know which one I pick. This trip was seven days and I went to Japan.

As an ex flight attendant I am only too familiar with long flights and body clocks, so I opt for day flights where possible… what a waste of a precious days vacation you say? wrong… my logic is that a day flight gives me the opportunity to do nothing for more than ten hours, watch movies, snack, doze… I feel like I have had a week on the couch- then I am not fried by a restless night trying to sleep on a usually pretty uncomfortable seat ( I opt for cheap tix so I can travel more)

Even as I am writing this I am planning my next ski trip. This time I think it will be to Japan again. It looks awesome, and I see that Jetstar also have amazing package deals on again.

MY SEVEN DAY ITINERARY

TOKYO- 3 Nights

KYOTO- 2 Nights

OSAKA- 2 Nights

This time I flew with Jetstar via Cairns. They have some no brainer deals on , especially when the return flight is for free, or two for one deals. However be prepared for a really early stat and a wait at cairns including reclaiming luggage from the first leg . I came from Sydney so that is a domestic flight. At least you only have to check in one hour before. Otherwise my standby website to check is Skyscanner as thats such a good comparison site. I have also used Zuji and Kayak but found the interface on Skyscanner much easier.

AIRBNB OR HOTELS?

I have been an Airbnb host for over two years and loved the experience of it, but rarely have I used it as a traveler, so this time I stayed in Tokyo and Kyoto with Airbnb, and Osaka in a small hotel. So here is a plug from me for Airbnb as I cant recommend it more highly. Of course each property has reviews so ultimately it is your decision as to where you stay and at what price point but I am very happy so far. If you want to find out more or book one of the places I stayed at it would be awesome if you want to use my referral key .  

As a solo female traveler I felt very safe. I did opt to take the entire place to myself rather than a room in another persons house, but that was simply my choice and was not at all to do with personal safety.

WHAT TO PACK

Well, once you get to know me a bit more you will realize that although I am spontaneous , I do have a regime of a few essentials I recommend to everyone travelling here:

Firstly, as far as the weather is concerned, I am not a weather blog, so please check google or a weather app….seriously the easiest answer to all these questions.

Toiletries– Pack your essentials everything else can be bought, however do not rely on any written English on anything. As I embarrassingly found out having to ask for corn plasters! Bring any medications you may need from home, and of course make sure you have travel insurance.

Clothing- Use common sense and dress for whatever season your research recommends! Do however wear darn good walking shoes, My Sketchers are the only shoes I have ever worn out, just awesome. I do take some pretty ones for going out in of course.

Electronics- Beware the voltage change so I don’t bother with hairdryers- most hotels and Airbnb  have them . DO get some plug adapters though.

COOKING CLASSES

As i move on with my travels you will see that i try to attend cooking classes wherever I go. I think it gives me a better understanding of the culture and make up of the people and countries. I am also a passionate cook and now have a small catering company so its important to learn as much as possible and have new ideas on the ready!

Ok… more to come on each city

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OFF TO THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN

 

JAPAN : Insiders guide to Pachinko, Toilets and more

This is my very first blog on one of my favorite countries- Japan, and I have chosen to title it like that- what was I thinking? There are so many oddities here for us westerners that I would be remiss of me to not mention them!

This trip to Japan is a quick one ( seven days) but covers a lot of ground. If you only have a week this is totally achievable and will leave you hankering for more. I will be posting articles on each city I visited separately. This post is about some of the more curious aspects of Japan and modern Japanese culture that I find fascinating. In fact entire TV series and books have been made dedicated to the  quirkiness of Japanese culture. I have family in Japan and as a disclaimer I love and respect the Japanese people, but man they have some peculiar ways of doing stuff!

TOILETS . When I first came to Japan in the late 1980’s most toilets outside the hotels were the squat type so McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts were the only places us delicate types would venture to use. Now the Japanese have mastered the art of sitting in peace. Or, one could say this is a natural extension of Zen…A typical toilet, even in airports has a heated seat, a bidet ( for the back bits) and a washer ( for the lady bits) and even music that is optional in case you don’t  want the person beside you to hear your personal sounds ( how perfect this would be at home many of you are thinking) The instruction panels range from the very pictorial basic ones to mind boggling variations that leave me wondering, really, just how many ways are the to do this? Beware the flush button as this may be confused with the attendant call button.

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A basic control panel!

PACHINKO

These parlors make our Aussie  Pokie rooms look like child’s play- do not be fooled,  it is way more serious. I have now had two attempts at this, both unaided and I have come out no wiser as to how on earth this game works. A disclaimer is that I was never any good at Pinball. So, from what I can gather you put money in, get a load of steel balls and shoot them around to win more steel balls. Sounds relatively simple, but I just failed miserably in getting any balls back , so after my Y 2000 ( about $23 AUD) was all gone I gave up. This place is not for the faint hearted , the noise is incredible, the players relentless in their dedication, ambition and their chain smoking. Obviously this is a game of skill that is beyond me as many people had basket upon basket of balls stacked up beside them. Have a go- if not just for the experience.

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View of the machine- sensory alert

TRAIN ETIQUETTE

Japan is a nation of many millions,and as as such their cultural etiquette is all about politeness- on the surface at least. Order is what makes thier society work. Follow the signs and the rules. Of course the Gaijin (or Foreigner ) card still appliers in most instances whereby any dumb move on your behalf is written off. That being said, when in Rome do as in Japan I say.

On the escalator, stand on one side-which side I do not know as it seems to vary, just follow and all will be well. At the platform, orderly queues for before each train is due ( and they are ALWAYS on time) let the people get off first and then you are good to go. Thinking back isn’t this they way I was bought up? yeah.. what has happened to modern day western politeness?

SMOKING

Wow the Japanese love to smoke! its changing but beware that smoking is still allowed inside most restaurants, although there are usual designated areas. Odd since its not allowed outside- in Tokyo at least.

POLITENESS

The English are known for their stiff upper lip, and politeness- but most of the time this is cynical humour- I am originally English so feel somewhat justified in saying that. The Japanese however take it to the next level. It can be somewhat foreboding until you relax into it and just accept this is what they do. Being greeted at my hotel- and a cheap one at that by people bowing can be a little unsettling, but rather nice. Then the entire staff at the check in all do the same thing.. walk to the lift and someone is thee to push the button- well that saves my energy I thought.. lovely… get in the lift and the button pusher is there bowing to me as the doors close- awesome!

PUBLIC BATHS

Today I had my first experience in a “public Bath” how hard could this be.. yahoo, in Australia we refer to them as spas or hot tubs, generally an experience being sometimes a solo affair with a quiet cup of tea or a team event involving numerous people, cocktails and rowdy music. Not so in Japan. Of course I was aware that here bathing is taken seriously, so when I booked onto a hotel that offered this , I was ready to go. After a full days sightseeing experience in Osaka, a relaxing bath was just the ticket. I read, and re read the instructions carefully, also phoning a friend to do some double checking. I did put a cheeky little bottle of wine in my bag, just in case I was alone and could recreate my bathtub at home.

After dressing in the appropriate “room wear” having stripped down entirely, I donned the room slippers and headed off. Boys and girls have their own rooms… enter the anti chamber… another pair of slippers is required, so I leave my ones at the door and don those for the meter walk into the changing area, I then did a quick scope of the bath chamber and realised I needed to now bare all. Whilst being a bit confronting, nobody gives a damn! I sit myself down on the child like chair and shower then hop in the HOT bath. Hmm clearly the quick shower is not quite enough, my other bathing companions are slowly and surely lathering themselves from head to toe methodically. Ok ill give it a few minutes, if I don’t pass out from the heat…silently wishing I had had a swig from the wine to calm my unsure disposition. After what seemed like for ever I decided to exit stage left and got out and proceeded to do the full lather for extra cleanliness.

CAPSULE AND LOVE HOTELS. Usually I would have put this under the heading of sub culture, however this is so mainstream that it deserves a mention here. My Airbnb lodgings were in very mainstream areas and I constantly saw hotels advertising rates by the hour- of course I cant say exactly what goes on behind closed doors, but short term hotel stays of 1- 3 hours is quite normal- maybe they just need a cup of tea and a lie down huh!

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Love Hotel

SUB CULTURE

Much has been made of the weirder side of life in Japan, the sub culture or quirkiness of places like Hrajuku in Tokyo with the numerous Maid Cafes, Cat Cafes, Bird and even Hedgehog Cafes, and on it goes. There is a glitzy sub culture of sexuality and I am not talking Geisha girls here…so what ever rocks your boat you will find it here in Japan that’s for sure.

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Maids outfits

As I have neared the end of this insight into some of the quirkier things I have experienced I realise there are so, so many others. I   will either write chapter two or intersperse them with the following posts. Thank you  for reading- I hope this has been helpful and informative, and when you experience these things on your travels- please share and let me know.