When in India one must see a Bollywood movie – Tales from Agra

Both Sam and I agreed that when in India, it would be simply shameful to miss out on watching a Bollywood movie, so while everyone else took off to see another fort, we opted for the cinemas.

We chose a movie called Anjaana & Anjaani, a modern-day romantic comedy about intercommunal love between a couple of strangers who seemed to have very similar names… or so I thought from looking at the posters. (Anjaana /Anjaani actually means male stranger/female stranger.)

We arrive at the cinemas in time to be checked through the metal detector, have our bags searched and to be frisked. The security was tighter than New Zealands border security! And, unfortunately, they found something – Sam’s full packet of smokes and a lighter.

Security – ‘you can’t take this in, no smoking’

Sam, pleading – ‘But I’m not going to smoke it!’

Security, unmoved – ‘you can’t take this in. this must be checked into the storage.’

To check an item into storage was 200 rupees, and it looked dodgy enough for us to question whether there would be any cigarettes in the packet on our return. On principal, we decided it best to say that we were going to pass the ciggies onto some friends, and instead hide the pack in an empty, unfinished department store (renovations were still being done throughout the mall and there were many unfinished cement rubble rooms). We walk away from the theatre with the security watching us like a hawk, and about 200m away, I quickly duck into an empty store and hide the ciggies behind a brick. When I pop out of the store I notice other shoppers watching us (all men) but they were at a safe enough distance.

The security doesn’t bother to search us when we return to the cinema’s.

We had been warned that there would be plenty of men in the theatre, but were pleasantly surprised to find it mainly occupied with families and non sleazy boys, who were friendly but only had eyes for the movie.

The Bollywood movie experience was terrific! Yes, the movie was full of cheese. The opening scene was in a new york wall street office when the stock market plummeted and these 5 indian men, who I think were responsible, were arguing in the office in Hindi in front of all these white dumb looking westerners, (totally believable). The power cut at least once. There were no subtitles, but the movie was simplistic enough and filled with plenty of over-emotional acting that we got it. And I have to admit that there were times when I would let out an involuntary loud sigh or groan over ‘the obvious’, and the music was so catchy that it got stuck in our heads for days. Yet, it was happy, fun, and the actors were beautiful to watch through the occasional cringe.

We walk out of the cinemas all smiles. Sam, a highly active smoker, was keen to pick up her pack of well hidden ciggies.

Sam retrieves the smokes from behind the brick of our chosen empty store.

Sam – ‘Take a look at this!’

T, viewing the pack of cigarettes which had been full a couple of hours ago and now only had 2 cigarettes left -‘Unbelievable, they could have taken the whole pack but at least they’ve left you a couple’
Sam, laughing – ‘yeah, they saw us hide the cigarettes, stole them, but left one for you and one for me.’

T – ‘cheeky. and sweet.’

When in India one must see the Taj Mahal – Tales from Agra

Jennie warned me that this would happen, she told me that the sight of the Taj Mahal would take my breath away.. and it did. I literally could not breath as I watched the Taj Mahal through sunrise, each ray adding a different shade of reflective light from the white marble that the taj was lovingly built from. I had to hold back tears! The experience invoked such raw emotion and the magnificent creation told a silent story even before the history of this structure was verbally announced out loud.

It was so beautiful. And it was created purely out of love for a woman. The story goes that the emperor was grief-stricken after the death of his third wife during the birth of their 14th child, and it was her dying wish that her emperor build the Taj Mahal as a symbol of their love.

The scriptures that border the entries to the Taj is from the popular islamic prayer, the Ya sin, that speaks of living a good life. The interior designs hold more than just Islamic influence, since the mausoleum was built by a Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, who was ruling a mainly Hindu nation, he wanted everyone to feel that they represented the Taj Mahal and everyone was welcome.

Local guide – ‘The Taj Mahal represents love and belongs to everyone who loves’

I’m going to call it – The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful man-made monument that I’ve had the fortune and pleasure of viewing through-out my journey so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Im still making that call at the end of my journey.

Definitely worthy of anyones bucket list.

It’s henna time! The royal dining experience – Magical moments of Karauli

Henna is one of those ‘when in India’ moments, you know, when in India one must get some henna tattoo with traditional design painted on them?

After a full day of activity, Miriam, Sam and I managed to squeeze in some ‘Henna time’ just before dinner.

This was not a well thought out plan. Firstly, Henna takes hours to dry, and sometime during when the skilled henna ladies were decorating both sides of our hands, arms, and feet, questions like ‘How are we going to eat?‘ started to arise.

Sam and T – ‘Miriam, why didn’t you warn us??’

Miriam, the smart one, had asked for the henna to be painted on the one hand and arm only, and on her left hand at that (she’s right-handed).

Dumbfounded, Sam and I sat there, both our arms and feet detailed with intricate flower patterns and design, looking quite tribal, wondering how we were going to pull off eating a formal dinner with everyone in the royal dining hall..

Somehow, being the confidently food motivated person I am, I just knew instinctively that I would find a way to eat my buffet dinner without any hands. In fact, subconsciously, I had been training for this moment my whole life!

Sam, not knowing what else to do orders a beer with a straw.

T, feeling a bit more ambitious at the dinner table, asks the waiter to bring out her soup entree..with a straw.

We sit there, in this decadent room, at the majestic wooden and marble dining table with its silvers and crockery, with our henna printed arms lying face up on the table trying not to disturb the wet tattoo ink scrawled over both our arms and hands, both our heads down indifferently sipping our beer and soup.

Dave, as everyone at the table looks on in shocked amusement – ‘How stupid are you lot!?’ A statement, not a question.

T, in best spazz voice – ‘Taanks Duawve!’ then continues slurping soup through a straw, but leaving behind any chunky bits.

Thanks to the helpful and kind waiters, we successfully devour our buffet dinner (use your imagination), though we did leave behind a trail of broken crockery, and dry crumbs of dark brown henna paint.

The breakfast conversation NOT to have – Magical moments of Karauli

Waking up after a night’s rest in Karauli

Apji, to Sam and T ‘So how did you guys sleep?’

Sam – ‘Not so great’, then laughing ‘Did you hear us screaming?’

T, as Apji shakes his head ‘no’ – ‘We had a bug incident. We were doing our usual gossiping before going to sleep, then Sam lifts her head off her pillow and right there next to her head was this big black bug with legs and wings! So Sam had this brilliant idea of taking the pillow outside with the bug still on it and setting it free, but as she lifts the pillow the bug jumped off and onto the bed. Sam came screaming back into the corner of the room where I was standing. So I then decide to catch it with some tissue, but as I neared the bed and almost had it in my hand, it jumped on me, and I came screaming back into the corner. So then,’ (pausing, cringing slightly, realising how the story ends and what I would have to tell the expectant group over breakfast), ‘so then, we killed it with our shoe’ shamefully puts head down, starts eating cereal.

Note – We panicked. It was an uncontrolable reaction, and we’re sorry.

Village walk – Magical moments of Karauli

Walking around the village town was my favourite moment in Karouli. It was like stepping back in time when every shop was owned, operated and run by the local tradespersons of sweets, bangles, rolling pins and leaf plates. Loud, dusty, noisy and smelly yet charming. During this walk, I learnt that cows eat practically anything, and pigs definitely do.

There was even a lady making dung cake for biofuel.

T, referring to the many pigs roaming the streets for scraps to ‘pig out’ on ‘I’m trying to work out why there are so many pigs around? I mean, they’re not considered holy animals, hindu’s don’t eat them and neither do muslims, they don’t offer milk as far as I know…what’s their role in this society?’

Jason – ‘To eat al the garbage’ indicating to the trash in all the old, old, school gutters and littered on the dirt streets ‘And for hair brushes, and some Hindus do eat pork. They just don’t advertise it’

Karauli Arati (blessing at the temple)- Magical moments of Karauli

The first morning in Karauli took us to a Hindu temple dedicated to one of the re-incarnations of the God Krishna.

Sitting next to a group of little old indian women who were chanting harmoniously for the morning arati, induced an uplifting joyful environment, their high spirits and faith creating what I can only describe as a loving and welcoming atmosphere.

As my friend Bianca would say, ‘it was like a warm hug.’

The magical moments of Karauli

Karauli is an ancient remote town in the state of Ragasthan that has kept it’s old indian charm. The King and Queen of Karauli are actively involved in maintaining the town and supporting their people, the Queen informed me of this personally.

Our accommodation in Karauli was the Bhanwar Villas Palace, the home of the Maharaja (King) of Karauli. We were informed that their royal highness’s would be joining us in the dining hall for dinner, to which Sam and I responded with the most important, and only question one should ask when being told their about to dine with royalty, which was ‘ What do we wear?’

Ranthambore Fort – The history and the myths.

Our Ranthambore local guide lead us on a leisurely walk through Ranthambore Fort, the centrepiece of the park, informing us of the history, religion, rituals and pointing out interesting architectural designs.

I especially liked to learn that back in the day when the enemies used to ride around on elephants, you had to build the entry gate to your fort to the side of a path so that if an elephant charges, it has to turn right or left just before impact and, due to this turn, will lose its momentum, force, and balance.

Scott, taking in the massive size of the fort and the labor intensive effort and time it would have taken to build, mused – ‘Wow, I wonder what it must have been like before and when they figured that out?’

T, laughing over the comedy of logistics involved for such a simple innovation – ‘Guess its time to build a whole new fort’

We walk past a temple on the hill. Opposite the temple, strung on the bushes are various items of dirty and old-looking pieces of ladies clothing and beads.

Local guide – ‘This is from when a woman recovers from leperocy, she hangs her clothing here as a sign that she is well’

Jason and T – ‘Aaaah’ nodding

Returning on the same path after viewing the remaining site, we pass by the same cloth-covered bush, this time walking with Apji, our tour leader

Apji – ‘Guys, this temple is to the God that grants wishes to Women, women come and pray here and then hang a piece of their clothing on the bushes near the temple’

Jason and T – ‘Aaaah’ nodding again, giving each other a sideways glance.

T, on the hush to Jason – ‘What happen to the leprocy?’

Jason – ‘Who knows, they could tell us anything’

Ranthambore National Park Tiger reserve – Tips when tiger spotting

I quote ‘Ranthambore National Park is generally considered one of the best places in India to see a tiger in the wild’ and ‘is Famous for its tiger sightings’.

We jump into a canter, a large army style open air jeep that has no suspension, and head into the jungle to spot us some tigers.

Tip 1 – Ladies, and some men, if ever in a canter, a sports bra is a MUST. Perhaps even two.

Tip 2 – Wear a cap and sunglasses to stop sharp branches doing too much damage to your face as you drive through the narrow jungle paths.

As I repeatedly got slapped in the face with rogue branches and spiky leaves, I decided that a guide who ducks out-of-the-way of pokey branches and shrubbery without yelling ‘duck’ as a warning to the others behind him in the canter is no guide at all..

Tip 3 – When the staff of the park were asked if there has ever been a tiger sighting in Ranthambore park, which had only opened in August last year, the answer was a straight out ‘No’. Now, I’m not saying that Ranthambore national park is a tiger spotting scam, only that it’s good practice to qualify if your tiger reserve is authentic or if it’s just a tourist money-making swindle.

Fortunately, we did get to witness an eagle successfully prey on a snake making it all worthwhile.

Jaipur – The Pink City of snake charmer’s and astronomy

Travelling out of the deserts of Mandawa and into the city of Jaipur, the capital of Ragasthan, the main tour attractions were the Amber Fort and City Palace. However, my personal stand-outs were the street snake charmer’s and the Jantar Mantar Observatory.

Snake charmers – OMG. Just like in the movies. As the charmer plays his pungi (name of the musical instrument) and the cobra slowly and hypnotically rises out of the basket, I involuntarily start backing up blindly into the crowd behind me, stepping on toes, my body turned to run but my head mesmerised by the charmer and his snake. To be fair, I was more charmed than the snake, who kept on striking its master, but hitting the body of the instrument.

It’s amusing to think that these snake charmers had been sent into the Commonwealth Games village in Delhi to clear out all the snakes. Can you imagine? – ‘ There are snakes in the athletes village, I repeat snakes!(talking on the other line) Affirmative. Send in the Snake Charmers’

The Observatory – Awesome. I have never been so enthralled with sundials in my life. In fact, I have never had the slightest interest in sundials in my life, but this was IMPRESSIVE. The Jantar Mantar is a stone observatory created by an indian astronomer King in the 18th Century to measure everything from altitude to time and also map the movements of the planets and the stars. It hosts the largest sundial in the world and it was because of astronomy that the town of Jaipur got into gems (birthstones) with its streets littered with crafts and jewellery merchants.

Local Jaipur tour guide – ‘You can tell everything from the stars and planets and only when you meet the right person who can read will you believe’

T, skeptical but highly interested – ‘And do you happen to know the right person?’

The tour guide ignores the interruption and continues with his prepared speech on the observatory. I let it slide, figuring the right person would have most likely been his cousin, uncle or brother, but it was then I knew I just had to get my palm read in India.