ultramarinus – beyond the sea

India

DAY 6 (2/3): GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.29

Leaving peaceful Pushkar behind, we took an express train to the capital city of Rajasthan, Jaipur, where we would stay for two nights before moving on to Agra.  Known as the Pink City due to its historical pink buildings, Jaipur is included in the travel itinerary of most foreign visitors as part of the Golden Triangle (the other two cities being Agra and Delhi).  After checking in at our hotel, the first place we visited in the bustling city was the City Palace, the royal residence of the maharaja.  The palace was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1727 as he moved his capital to Jaipur from Amber.  The complex contains beautiful buildings, courtyards, and museums.  We spent half the afternoon in the complex until the palace closed for the day.

DSC_1712The Mubarak Mahal courtyard and the Mubarak Mahal were some of the first highlights of our tour.  Completed in 1900, the Mubarak Mahal was built to receive foreign guests.  It is now converted into a museum.

IMG_0433In complement with Mubarak Mahal, the Rajendra Pol Gate connected the Mubarak Mahal Courtyard with the Sarvato Bhadra Courtyard.

DSC_1720Getting closer to Rajendra Pol Gate, we were amazed by the fine details.

IMG_0442The Sarvato Bhadra Courtyard is dominated by the Sarvato Bhadra Pavilion in the middle, and the Clock Tower at the south side.  The clock was a manifestation of European influence in the court during the Victorian era.  It was made by Black and Murray & Co. of Calcutta.

IMG_2616The Sarvato Bhadra is open at four sides.  It was used It was used as a reception hall for private guests and coronation rituals

IMG_0454 With 1.6m tin height and a capacity of 4000 litres and weight of 340kg, the two sterling silver vessels, Gangajali (Ganges-water urns), were the world largest.  They were made to take the water of Ganges for an England trip of Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II.

DSC_1724From Sarvato Bhadra Courtyard, we could enter Pritam Niwas Chowk, the final courtyard where visitors were granted access.  The yellow Chandra Mahal, the residence of the maharaja, is the centre piece of Pritam Niwas Chowk.

DSC_1741The 7 floors of Chandra Mahal is off limit for visitors.  In Pritam Niwas Chowk, we could only admire the exterior facade of the palace, as well as the beautiful four small gates (known as Ridhi Sidhi Pol).

DSC_1733One of the gates we liked was the Peacock Gate at the northeast.  It represents the season of autumn and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

DSC_1755Motifs of peacock can be find even on the upper floor and roof structure.

DSC_1735Though the most magnificent features of the gate are the five peacocks at the lower level.

DSC_1748The vivid colours and three dimensional gestures of the peacocks were truly amazing.

DSC_1744Another gate we liked was the Rose Gate in the southwest.  It represents the winter season and is dedicated to Goddess Devi.

DSC_1747The Rose Gate is heavily decorated with motifs of rose flower.

DSC_1753The Green Gate at northwest represents the spring season and is dedicated to Lord Ganesha.   The Lotus Gate at southeast, on the other hand, represents the summer season and is dedicated to Lord Shiva-Parvati.

DSC_1764After checking out the four Ridhi Sidhi Pol, we returned to the beautiful Rajendra Pol Gate and Mubarak Mahal courtyard  to visit the museum.

IMG_0480Looking beyond Rajendra Pol, the beautiful Mubarak Mahal stood silently as if bidding us farewell.

IMG_2627Although not completely open to the public, the City Palace offered us a glimpse of the former grandeur of the royal family of Rajasthan.

 

 

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DAY 6 (1/3): SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.29

At 6:30 in the morning, we returned to the ghats of Pushkar Lake.  The eastern horizon was about to turn yellow.  We came to have a final stroll along the sacred water.  We regret that we couldn’t spend more time in Pushkar, a place that is meant for slow indulgence for its spiritual qualities.  We, however, were making a brief loop of Rajasthan in a rather limited time.  Situated between Jaisalmer and Jaipur, Pushkar was a convenient stop in our itinerary.  We didn’t come in time to attend the famous camel fair, nor did we hike up the nearby hills or visit the Brahma Temple (no cameras, shoes, leather).  Just spending several hours strolling on the ghats turned out to be more than worthwhile for us.  Among cities and sites that we visited in Rajasthan, Pushkar stood out as a charming and peaceful destination that truly touched our hearts.

IMG_0282At 6:30, some locals were already lingering at the ghats.

DSC_1653It was interesting to see how a local interacted with a cow.

IMG_0309The forever presence of pigeons at Pushkar Lake.

IMG_0333The sun rose beyond the hills while a dog rested on a ghat with marked 2018.

DSC_1667The adjacent temples had yet come to life.  Scattered temple staff and pilgrims arrived at the ghats.

DSC_1675Once again the ghats were covered with a coat of orange glow.

DSC_1688The setting looked magnificent with the morning reflections.

DSC_1696Following the sunlight, we walked over to the west side of the lake.

IMG_0360Every moment could be captured as a peaceful painting of the old India.

DSC_1709Some worshipers were listening to the priest’s teaching at one of the ghats.

IMG_0372At the northwest corner of Pushkar Lake we bid farewell to the sacred water.

IMG_0382We stopped by a tiny cafe called Honey Dew for morning coffee.

IMG_0385Brahma Temple in Pushkar is one of the very few Hindu temple in the world dedicated to Brahma, the creator god in Hinduism.

IMG_2588Robin Jewels is a nice jewellery shop we found online.  Before leaving Pushkar, we dropped by the shop and picked up a few pieces.  Robin is specialized in silver, brass, gold and gemstones, with their own manufacturing workshop in town.

IMG_0388We took us a while to narrow down to a few pieces to bring home.

IMG_0396After Robin, we followed the main market street along the north side of Pushkar Lake back to Inn Seventh Heaven.

IMG_0402For a little less than 24 hours, we had a taste of the spiritual side of India in the sacred town of Pushkar.

IMG_2591We checked out the lovely Inn Seventh Heaven and get on a hired car to Ajmer Junction Railway Station.

IMG_0423In an hour or so we would arrived at the bustling city of Jaipur, the capital and largest city of Rajasthan.

 

 


DAY 5 (3/3): SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.28

We returned to Pushkar Lake just before sunset, hoping to witness any form of religious ceremonies that might be performed.  If we arrived two weeks earlier during the Pushkar Camel Fair, we would probably see large scale aarti and deepdan ceremonies by the ghats.  At the ghats, the air was peaceful and a little cooler than earlier.  We sat down on the steps to enjoy the sunset over the sacred lake.

DSC_1596Sunset was a great time to absorb the peaceful atmosphere of the ghats in Pushkar.

DSC_1597Maybe the presence of fish signify the improvement of water quality?

DSC_1599Deity worshiping might happen anywhere around the lake shore.

IMG_0156Buildings were covered in an orange glow as the sun set.

IMG_2426Nag Pahar (Snake Mountain) and Ratnagiri Hill were highly visible from Pushkar Lake.

IMG_2429Watching the sunset over Pushkar Lake was one of the loveliest moment in our journey.

DSC_1610Given the beauty of the sunset, the number of tourists lingering at the ghats were surprisingly few.

DSC_1615In just a blink of eye the sun sank beyond the buildings on the horizon.

IMG_0194Even the cow enjoyed the beauty of the sunset.

IMG_0214_01A small group of pilgrims and temple staff performed evening prayers at Varaha Ghat.

IMG_0222Candles were lit and flower petals were scattered into the water during the ceremony.

IMG_0220Although short, the prayer ceremony generated a spiritual ambience no words could fully describe.

IMG_0235The last pilgrim prayed to the twilight as all other worshipers returned into the temple.

DSC_1628Pilgrims and temple priests finishing their last bit of prayers at the ghat.

DSC_1629As light faded, we decided to call it a day.

DSC_1639We left Pushkar Lake from the entrance of mVaraha Ghat.

IMG_0245The market streets behind the ghats were much more lively than the waterfront.

IMG_0248On our way back to Inn Seventh Heaven, we passed by the old Rangji Temple.

DSC_1640At the hotel, we once again headed up to Sixth Sense, the hotel’s rooftop restaurant for a vegetarian meal.

IMG_0264To finish the night, we ordered a Rajasthan vegetarian thali.


DAY 5 (2/3): 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.28

Beyond the vibrant streets of souvenir shops, cafes, and guesthouses, 52 bathing ghats follow the sloping topography, descending down to the sacred water of Pushkar Lake.  Throughout centuries, Hindu pilgrims came to bathe in the sacred water to cleanse their sins and skin diseases, and worship in one of the 500 temples dotted around the lake.  Earliest record of the lake’s existence dated back to the 2nd century BC.  Site modifications over generations, including a dam built across the headwaters of the Luni River in the 12th century, had transformed Pushkar Lake into today’s artificial appearance.  In the Mughal era, religious activities had came to a brief halt and temples were destroyed.  Since then, pilgrims had returned, and temples and ghats had been restored by local rulers.

Today, the government is making effort to improve the water quality of the lake, after pollution and deforestation reduced the water level and killed off most of the fish.  Pushkar is still attracting large numbers of pilgrims, and so as foreign tourists who either come here for the colourful camel fair, or take a break in their Indian tour as they got fatigue of the noises and bustling activities in the cities.  Visitors come to this vegetarian-only and car-free town for its spiritual ambience, or a chance encounter with an insightful guru, or a peaceful rooftop to chill out during sunset, or a few days of yoga classes, or an evening aarti ceremony at a historical ghat, or to simply do nothing and sort out their inner souls while meditating by the water.

IMG_0035It was only a short walk from Inn Seventh Heaven to Varah Ghat.  We took off our shoes compulsorily and walked down the ghat towards the sacred lake.

DSC_1447It was a magical experience to walk from one ghat to another.

DSC_1451Each ghat is unique despite all leading to the waterfront of Pushkar Lake.

DSC_1452Pushkar Camel Fair, one of the largest livestock fair and cultural event in India that attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors, was over just a week or two ago.  After the year’s biggest event, Pushkar looked a little sleepy when we arrived.

IMG_0050Rajasthani pilgrims in their vivid sarees walked by the sacred lake in the afternoon sun.

DSC_1469We had a good time wandering from one ghat to another along the lake’s north shore

DSC_1472No shoes were allowed at the ghats.  It took us a while to get used to walking in barefoot along with the free roaming cows, dogs and pigeons.

DSC_1473Layers of balustrades, stepped plazas, terraces, and bathing pools provide a rich palette of textures to the scenery.

DSC_1504We decided to do nothing for the rest of the day other than strolling along the lakefront.

DSC_1507The shrine on a raised platform at the northwest end of the lake was painted in vivid orange and was visible from all over the lake.

IMG_0057Pigeons and more pigeons.  Bird or animal feeding is considered a good deed to improve a person’s karma according to Hindu beliefs.

DSC_1509The ghats were photogenic under the afternoon sun.

IMG_0122Reflections of passing people on the bathing pools were beautiful.

DSC_1523Especially with the vivid colours of the local sarees.

DSC_1529Local Indians are curious and friendly and love to take pictures with foreign tourists.

DSC_1532It was a delight to see the free roaming cows around Pushkar Lake.

DSC_1559Pigeons were everywhere.

DSC_1562And so as some larger water birds.

DSC_1564Hotel Pushkar Palace has one of the best view in town.

DSC_1569We ended our first ghat walk in mid afternoon and decided to return for the sunset.

 


DAY 5 (1/3): RANIKHET EXPRESS, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.28

Every day, the mail express train Ranikhet Express covers 1,263km from Jaisalmer in the Thar Desert to Kathgodam in the foothills of the Himalayas.  The express train was also our most convenient way to go from the Golden City of Jaisalmer to Ajmer, where we would transfer to the sacred city of Pushkar.  Worrying that sleeper seats would sold out days before we arrived in India, we purchased our train tickets and seat reservations days before we departed for our journey.  Like many fellow travelers, we had a hard time trying to register at the official Indian Railways website.  We had no choice but to buy the tickets through an online agent.  We chose 12go.asia after some online research.  The ride on Ranikhet Express was our first train experience in India.  We weren’t sure about the validity of our reservations until half an hour before the train departed, when our seat assignments finally appeared on the official website.

The 12-hour train journey was rather smooth.  We met a local couple from Bangalore.  They had just finished touring Rajasthan and were heading to Jaipur for their return flight down south.  We four shared a First Class compartment for 12 hours until we got off at Ajmer.  In the compartment, we locked the door, took off the lights, and wrapped ourselves in our own cocoon liners beneath sheets provided by the train.  Not sure if it was the rumbling noise or the steady movement of the train, we felt a little sleepy and soon fell asleep.

IMG_9952The manager 1st Gate Home Fusion Hotel arranged us free transport to the railway station.  We arrived at the station about half an hour before departure.

IMG_2279Our online seat numbers finally came out when we arrived at the station. We were a little excited as it was our first time to take the train in India.

IMG_9951The train seemed infinite at both ends.  But first we had to find our 1A car.  We met a young local couple who were looking for the same car as ours (it turned out that they were sharing the same compartment with us).  It took us a while to find the right car.

IMG_9957At about 12:30am, we finally settled at our compartment.  It was a First Class 1A car, with four beds in each compartment.  We took up the beds at one side, and the young local couple took up the opposite side.

IMG_9958The train car was neat and quiet.  We were ready to get some rest during the 12-hour train ride.

IMG_9964The Ranikhet Express ran at an average speed of 42km/h. The journey was rather smooth and we arrived at our destination Ajmer Junction in approximately 12 hours since we left Jaisalmer.

IMG_9968We had some sleep during the night.  In the morning, a young hawker came to our compartment to offer breakfast.  We asked for two cups of chai tea to start our day.

IMG_2333We arrived at Ajmer Junction 15 minutes later than scheduled.  Our “12-hour roommate” bid us farewell before heading back into the train, while we looked for the station exit.

IMG_9972Outside of Ajmer Station, we met the driver from our hotel in Pushkar.  Soon we embarked on our half hour journey from Ajmer to Pushkar, the thousand-year-old sacred city for Hindu pilgrims.

IMG_997313km separated Ajmer with the peaceful sacred city of Pushkar.

IMG_9981We left Ajmer and entered Pushkar Valley in the Aravalli Mountains.  Before leaving Ajmer, our eyes were caught by a group of people carried religious or ceremonial tools heading uphill.

IMG_0014In early afternoon, we finally arrived at Inn Seventh Heaven.

IMG_9999Inn Seventh Heaven centers around a refreshing courtyard.

DSC_1434Our spacious room at Inn Seventh Heaven turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

IMG_9997Outside the window, a festive ceremony was taking place across the street.

IMG_0026After settling in, we walked up to the rooftop terrace of Inn Seventh Heaven.

IMG_0010Relaxing seating were provided all over the common areas of the hotel.

IMG_0017On the top floor, a spiral staircase led us to the rooftop restaurant.

IMG_0022A rooftop restaurant in the midst of the sacred Pushkar was the perfect place to chill out and do nothing.

IMG_0027As no meat was allowed in Pushkar, we had a hearty vegetarian lunch before heading out to the sacred lake.


DAY 4 (5/5): LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.27

Before returning to 1st Gate Home Fusion Hotel, we dropped by Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli, another famous haveli in Jaisalmer.  The haveli was built for Diwan Mohata Nathmal, the chief minister of Jaisalmer who served between 1885 – 1891.  The haveli was supposedly built by two architects, Hathi and Lulu, who happened to be brothers.  Each brother started building the mansion’s from a different facade, and thus the two sides are said to carry subtle differences if looked closely.  Unlike Patwon Ki Haveli, Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli is not a museum, nor is it open to the public.  Visitors like us can only reach as far as the entrance courtyard that was flanked by a few souvenir shops selling miniature paintings.  After a brief stay, we took a leisure stroll back to the hotel.  Wandering in the busy market streets of old Jaisalmer and seeing all the vibrant interactions of the locals was a delight.  Such delight would left us pleasant memories of the Golden City before we moved on to our next destination by night train.

IMG_9901Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli is considered to be one of the grandest haveli in Jaisalmer.

DSC_1421The two yellow sandstone elephants of Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli are iconic representations of Jaisalmer’s splendid architectural carvings.

DSC_1419Visitors can only go as far as the entrance courtyard of Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli.

IMG_9909After stopping by at Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli, we wandered a bit in old Jaisalmer to find our way back to 1st Gate Home Fusion Hotel.

IMG_9900In the maze like network of small streets, we passed by two stone workers who were preparing stone blocks from a pile of local yellow sandstone.

IMG_9644At a street intersection, a group of men gathered for some sort of discussion at a beautiful veranda.

IMG_9641Shops lined on both sides of small market streets.  Cows were free to roam around on the streets (and shops).

IMG_9876It was strange to see cows roaming freely on the streets while some ended up becoming leather goods in shops.

DSC_1425Despite the remote desert location, fresh vegetables were sold in abundance.

DSC_1426It was late in the afternoon and there were only two vendors left at this market square.

DSC_1430Most shops were completely open to the streets, including these tailor shops.

IMG_9913Just like other places in Rajasthan, garments of vivid colours were always the most popular among locals.

IMG_2266For snacks, sweet pastries seemed to be the way to go.

IMG_9928Cakes with sharp colours and sweet flavour: Indian style.

IMG_9931We passed by the popular Bhatia Sweets near the first gate of the fort.  Both locals and foreign visitors gathered here for their regional sweets ghotua laddu, kalakand, etc.

IMG_9635We returned to 1st Gate Home Fusion Hotel near the fort, where we had dinner at the rooftop restaurant again.  Despite we had already check out of our room, the manager let us stay at the massage room until it was time for us to leave for our midnight train.


DAY 4 (4/5): DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.27

From our guidebook we picked Saffron Restaurant for lunch.  Situated on the leafy rooftop of Nachna Haveli Hotel, Saffron Restaurant offers an atmospheric venue away from the busy lanes of Jaisalmer.  The building complex is owned by the Nachna family.  They are direct descendants of Maharawal Jaisal, the founder of Jaisalmer.  The Nachna Haveli was partially converted into a heritage hotel in 1996.

IMG_9869We entered the Nachna Haveli Hotel through a elegant gateway.

IMG_9865Beyond the gate, we arrived at a sleepy and lush green courtyard.

IMG_9863Comfortable seating adjacent to the courtyard offers visitors and guests a great place to escape from the afternoon heat.

IMG_9859We were told to go upstairs to the roof for the Saffron Restaurant.

IMG_9860Compared to the dusty and often busy street outside, the leafy and tranquil rooftop of Saffron Restaurant felt like a paradise to us.

IMG_9856At Saffron, it was a big surprise to find that film shooting was going on at part of the rooftop.  It was a scene of causal talk between a mother and daughter while hanging the laundry.

IMG_9877After lunch, we went to check out the guidebook recommended handicraft shop Desert Handicrafts Emporium.

IMG_9881Desert Handicrafts Emporium is owned by LN Khatri, a knowledgeable historian and folklorist of the Thar region.

IMG_9882After purchasing two embroidered pieces, Mr. Khatri led us to his Thar Heritage Museum.  With a decent collection of artefacts and antiques from various desert villages.

IMG_9883One of the most interesting display was a Gyan Chaupar (meaning ‘Game of Knowledge) game, which sometimes can be referred as the Snake and Ladder game.  The game has been around in India since the 2nd century.  It is a game that involves educating people about religious vice and virtue.

IMG_9888Displays at the Thar Heritage Museum are grouped in such a way that visitors can easily learn about the specific life and work of various kinds of people in the Thar Desert.

IMG_9896Opium was popular in Rajasthan in the old days.  Khatri’s museum designates a corner to display the artefacts used for opium smoking.

IMG_9892Mr. Khatri’s father was actually a ghee collector in the Thar Desert.  A number of old ghee containers are on display.

IMG_2245The displayed items in the museum reflect a bygone era of the Thar Desert.

IMG_2250Embroideries with gold and silver threads are popular in villages of the Thar Desert.

IMG_9897Vintage black and white photographs in the museum convey a romantic sense of the bygone Rajasthan.

IMG_9889Mr. Khatri was kind to show us around and talked about the highlights of his collection.  The visit offered us a thorough glimpse of what life was like back in old Rajasthan.