Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Delhi, Agra, Rajahstan
Part 2

11.12: Hong Kong -> Delhi
12.12: Delhi -> Agra
13.12: Agra -> Jaipur
14.12: Jaipur
15.12: Jaipur -> Pushkar -> Jodhpur
16.12: Jodhpur -> Jaisalmer

17.12: Jaisalmer
18.12: Jaisalmer -> Bikaner
19.12: Bikaner -> Shekawati -> Sariska National Park
20.12: Sariska NP -> Delhi
21.12: Delhi -> Bangkok

(continued from Part 1)

11.12: Hong Kong -> Delhi via Bangkok
Yatri guesthouse, Delhi, http://www.yatrihouse.com: overpriced at 1400 Rs for a double room. The rooms are dirty and run-down, the toilet is in a very poor state. The shower stops working after a few minutes, and you are forced to throw buckets of water on your back to rinse away the shower gel. No mosquitoes however, and the owner is friendly.
Weather: beautiful sunny day in HK in the morning and noon; a pity I'm leaving today, as the visibility is quite good and I could shoot some good photos. Fresh in the evening in Delhi; the air is incredibly dirty, as in a dantesque hell.

I wake up (actually am woken up by the outside noise at 8:20am, 20 minutes ahead of my alarm clock wake up time. Today is a "fly-day" - will spend the entire day in planes and airports, getting from Hong Kong to Delhi.

At 10am I fetch a taxi (30 HKD) to the Kowloon station, where I will fetch the airport express. After checking in the bag at the Kowloon station (until Bangkok on the TG 601 flight), I get on the next train and reach the airport around 11am. The Thai airways flight leaves almost on time at 12:50pm.

The plane lands in Bangkok International Airport 10 minutes late. Then it gets a bit messy to reclaim the bag and change airlines (I arrived with Thai Airlines and am flying to Delhi with Air India). It appears that I can only get my bag if I go through immigration, but I don't have an entry card (didn't take it in the plane, as I am only transiting). So I look for an entry card, but can't find anywhere one (they don't distribute them freely as is the case with the KL airport for instance). Then I go to the immigration officer and explain that I want to get my bag and check it in with Air India. The lady checks my Air India ticket and sends me to the Transfer Desk 1. There the guy explains that if I go through immigration I have to pay the 500 THB airport tax. He also says that Air India will send somebody to pick up my bag and will check it in for me. After passing through one more guy, I am sent to Transfer Desk 2 - Transfer Desk 1 was the wrong address, since Air India have their counter at Transfer Desk 2 (by the way, 800 metres distance between the two transfer desks). Finally at the Air India counter, after checking my ticket, reserving a seat and checking my passport and visa, they tell me to come back at 4:15pm to identify my bag.

At 4:15pm I'm back, but there is some queueing up, some waiting, Indian people who don't want to queue up and try to push their way to the front, some confusion etc. In the end I manage to identify my bag and get the boarding pass at 4:45pm, over two hours after landing in Bangkok. Then I rush to the KFC restaurant and get some take away food. After that I stop at the post office and check my emails (the card they sell costs 100 THB and allows you to surf the web for 90 minutes - pricey, but there seems to be no alternative at BKK airport - I wonder if there is WLAN access somewhere).

I manage to reach the security check at 5:20pm. There they check if you have a boarding pass and do the usual scan. Immediately after that, at the gate 20 metres away, again they do a security check. This time it is done by the airline (Air India), and since they don't have scanners, the employee opens your bag and looks inside. Then a couple of ladies check if you are carrying any weapons on you. Not clear what they are trying to achieve, since the people who made it here have already passed through the security check above and they lack the equipment to do a proper security check. Then, at the entrance on the gate waiting area, they check your passport and boarding pass. When walking to the plane, two employees again check your boarding pass. Either the people here are paranoid or their security checks suck so that they have to perform them twice.

The flight with Air India is ok. It leaves with some delay (20 minutes), but the on-board service is fine. I had been warned in Internet message boards against flying with Air India, citing poor service and delays as the main reasons, but so far (while I write this I'm sitting in the plane on the way to Delhi), eveything is ok. The plane (a Boeing 747-300 combi) is old however - you can clearly see it in the toilets, the seats and the audiovisual equipment. By the way, the Indians are far less disciplined than the Chinese - there is a lot of chaos on this flight, while there was virtually none on the Chinese flights.

The reality check comes when we land in Delhi. There is a small delay, as we land at 8:50pm local time, instead of  8:40pm. Passing through the immigration is quite speedy, but then I have to wait for one hour, until 10pm for the bag. Initially it's an average of one bag per minute which shows up on the conveyor belt.

It's 10pm when I finally get out of the arrivals zone. Shirley and Sara are waiting there for me. We then drive to the Yatri guesthouse (see above).

12.12: Delhi -> Agra
Hotel Sheela Inn, opp. Jalma Institute, eastern gate Taj Mahal, Agra, +91-562-3093437. Newly built hotel, with decent infrastructure, relatively clean; the room is quite small however and only contains two beds, a TV and a telephone (+ A/C and a fan). There is no hot water in the toilet, because they had no electricity the whole day (this is what they tell us). 600 Rs for a single, 700 Rs for a double.
Weather: fresh in the morning, but not too cold (can sit outside for breakfast). Sunny day, no clouds, but unbelievably polluted air. Very poor visibility.

We manage to be ready by 9am, then in order to be able to pay for the rooms and for the car deposit, I drive to a nearby bank where I withdraw 20000 Rs with the ATM card. Soon after that I get rid of most of that money, when I pay for the hotel and car deposit. We were planning to leave by 9am sharp, but only manage to leave at 9:30am. Then we look for a mobile phone shop, because the Airtel prepaid card Shirley bought yesterday is not working (cost is 540 Rs, with 500 Rs of calls, but it apparently has to be activated first). After some driving here and there we finally get a new card with 370 Rs of available talk time (we pay 875 Rs for that).

At 10am we finally leave Delhi. The town is very dirty, probably the dirtiest place I've ever seen. Around 12pm we have a lunch break somewhere between Delhi and Agra, which takes one hour. At 1pm we leave and reach (the outskirts of)  Agra at 2:30pm. Then we spend some time driving around and looking for a hotel. The place we try out first, the Mayur Tourist Complex, is the only place listed in the "C" category (Rs 750-1200) of the Footprint India guide. The room they show us sucks horribly - the bed contains insects, the shower doesn't work properly and overall the room is pretty run down (and there are lots of mosquitoes in the room). On top of that they charge 1500 Rs for it. So the driver brings us to a newly built hotel, the Sheela Inn (see above), which is a much better place.

At 3:40pm we are all ready to go visit the Taj Mahal, when it turns out that today there is a VIP in town, who is visiting the Taj Mahal, and nobody can go visit the Taj Mahal. Ok, fine, we'll do the Taj tomorrow morning and visit the Agra Fort today instead. Well no, we cannot move because the entire road is blocked. After some time, at 4 something pm we finally can move and drive to the Agra fort. But we are out of luck, because the VIP now also wants to visit the Agra fort, and the fort is now closed for the tourists. Some discussion follows, what are we going to do, Sara suggests to visit a mosque, but the driver says no tourists ever go there. So finally, at 4:20pm we give up and simply try to go to a cafe and relax. First we drive to a nearby Citibank branch where I get some cash, then we look for a cafe. But it's not so easy to find a cafe and in the end we go to a Pizza Hut branch for some food (after being stuck again in one place and not even allowed to walk to the Pizza Hut, because the VIP chose to drive along the road where we currently are).

After the Pizza Hut I check my emails in a nearby Internet cafe (fast connection, for 1 Rs/minute) and at 6:30pm the driver brings me back to the hotel. After we have a dinner and the day is more or less over. Not much to do in Agra in the evening, unless you enjoy walking along dirty streets with people constantly approaching you trying to sell you something.

Tomorrow we'll do the Taj Mahal, the Agra fort, the ancient town of Fatehpur Sikri and drive to Agra - will be a pretty full day.

By the way, for some unknown reasons the mobile phone with the Indian card cannot make outgoing calls, despite having a positive balance of 315 Rs (but can receive incoming calls). We'll check that tomorrow. Possibly this card only works in the Delhi area and needs some sort of activation to work in other Indian states.

13.12: Agra -> Jaipur
Hotel Madhuban, D237 Behari Marg, Bani Park, Jaipur. Tel. 200033. 1200 Rs for a double, 1100 Rs for a single, not including the breakfast. The room is reasonably clean, has decent but a bit old furniture. The bathroom is ok - not new, but hot water flowing after one minute or two from a centralised tank (not a water boiler as was the case with other Indian hotels we saw).
Weather: sunny and dry the whole day, not a single cloud in the sky. Poor visibility. Fresh in morning and evening, quite warm at noon (can walk around in T-shirt; in the car we use the A/C, because the sun heats the interior).

We get up in the morning at 7am, 15 minutes ahead of the alarm clock wake up time. Taking a shower is not possible, because there is no hot water. Even later, when they finally get the hot water flowing, the hot water is too cold to take a shower.

Anyway, at 8am we start walking to the Taj Mahal (the hotel is only 600 metres away from the Taj). The visibility is very, very poor. In addition to the dust in the air, the sun isn't yet particularly high in the sky and there is a layer of fog which sharply reduces the visibility. Impossible to take decent photos under these conditions.

At the ticket counter there is the first surprise. The ticket price is not US $5 (= 225 Rs), as we had assumed, but it's 250 + 500 Rs. The 500 is a so-called road tax, which you pay only once for the Taj, Agra fort, Fatehpur Sikri and other monuments. The total of 750 Rs is much more than the 20 Rs Indians pay. Even if we assume for a moment that a western tourist has a 10 times higher average salary than an Indian tourist, that still doesn't explain why western tourists have to pay 37 times what an Indian tourist has to pay.

The next surprise is that I'm not allowed to go in with my Palm organiser. Also mobile phones are not allowed, as are all electronic devices. Tripods are not allowed either, but this is not a problem, because it is bright enough for handheld photography.

The Taj is quite nice and we stay there until 10:20am (two hours in total). Then we walk back to the hotel, where we have a late breakfast/lunch. At 12:15pm we finally leave the hotel after checking out. We first drive to the Agra fort, where we spend an hour walking around. The entry ticket is 250 Rs and the fort is moderately interesting. A very large section of the fort is closed to the public.

At 1:20pm we drive towards Jaipur. It is actually quite late already and we only stop briefly a few times. We spend 40 minutes at the Ancient town of Fatehpur Sikri (250 Rs entry fee, not too interesting). At 3:40pm we continue the drive to Jaipur, which we reach at 7:30pm.

14.12: Jaipur
Hotel Madhuban: the shower works fine in the morning
Weather: after so many days of misty skies with poor visibility today finally the sky is blue and very clean and the visibility is very good (compared to the past weeks - did it perhaps rain at night ?). Sunny the whole day, no clouds in the sky. A bit fresh in teh morning, but warm the whole day - I wear shorts for the first time.

We get up at 8:30am and have breakfast at 9am, then leave the hotel at 10am. The first stop is at the Amber fort, 11 km out of Jaipur. This fort looks a bit run down from far away, but inside it simply looks great. The architecture is interesting and the wall are covered with ornamental patterns. There are even rooms covered with mosaics of reflecting stones.

We spend over an hour at the fort, between 10:30am and 11:45am. Then we drive back into town and make a brief photo stop at the Palace of the Winds at 12:15pm. Immediately after that we enter the adiacent City Palace. A quite nice and interesting place - including the adiacent Observatory we are there until 2:15pm. Then we drive to the Pizza Hut restaurant, where we have a late lunch, until 4pm.

After this we don't do much. We have basically finished visiting the highlights of Jaipur - all in all it took us three and a half hours - I was thinking it would take us more than this time to see everything, so for the rest of the day we don't have much to do. So we just do some shopping around and then are back in the hotel around 6pm. Tomorrow we'll drive to Jodhpur, stopping in Ajmer and Pushkar along the way. We'll leave at 8:30am and should be in Jodhpur before sunset.

15.12: Jaipur -> Pushkar -> Jodhpur
Ratan Vilas Hotel, Loco Shed Road, Jodhpur, Tel. +91-291-2614418, www.ratanvilas.com. 1500 Rs for a big double room, nicely furnished, clean, good quality. Toilet is very good (best toilet in an Indian hotel so far) - good hot water, good shower. The only drawback is that the room has no TV and no telephone and actually I would have preferred spending less, but we arrived at 6pm and were tired and didn't want to start a big search for a place. This hotel also has a restaurant, but in the evening they only have a buffet for 225 Rs.
Weather: dry and sunny the whole day, fresh in the morning and evening, warm during the day. It gets hot in the car while driving to Jodhpur, so that we have to use the A/C (to avoid having to open the windows). Visibility a bit less good than yesterday.

We get up at 7am and manage to leave the hotel and start driving at 8:40am, 10 minutes later than planned. The drive to Pushkar takes exactly three hours (we arrive there at 11:40am). We skipped Ajmer, because the driver told us that time is short and there is not so much to see in Ajmer (better focus on Pushkar). Pushkar is very nice, with temples and white houses reflecting in a lake. Very colourful and pictoresque, in a nice setting surrounded by hills. There is no traffic in the old town. We have a walk around the town and are told that to walk down the stairs, we have to take off the shoes. After we have a lunch in a restaurant on the roof of a building, with a nice view of the lake.

We leave Pushkar at 1:30pm and drive to Jodhpur. The 280 km trip takes four hours - the road is actually quite good most of the time. In the last part of today's drive the driver reaches a top speed of 110 km/h, but on average the driving speed is lower, because there is something or somebody every now and then which/who will force you to break or drive slower.

At 5:30pm we enter Jodhpur. I suggest to go to a hotel listed in the Footprint guide, but the driver insists that we first go to the Ratan Vilas hotel. Since the place is not too bad we stay there. In the evening we have a dinner in the Chimney restaurant (part of a chain of restaurants in India), surprisingly cheap at 280 Rs for the three of us (and the best curry we've had so far in India).

16.12: Jodhpur -> Jaisalmer
Mahadev Palace Hotel, Jaisalmer. 1200/900 Rs for a double/single room, with good furniture, TV, telephone, A/C, fan, comfortable bed, bath/shower. Everything ok, the hotel is even quiet with an own garden and swimming pool. Only problem is that the hot water comes through a small water boiler (2KW with 15 litres, not enough for a shower especially if you wash your hair), so that if you take a shower after 10 minutes the hot water is finished and then it's 10 minutes until it is hot again. The restaurant only serves vegetarian food and the hotel offers no Internet access.
Weather: sunny and dry the whole day, no clouds in the sky. Relatively clean sky with good visibility, warmer than yesterday. When travelling in the car we need to use the A/C. Fresh in the morning, but in the evening in Jaisalmer we can eat outside on a roof restaurant and it's not cold.

We wake up early and are ready at 9am for the sightseeing of Jodhpur. The first place we see is the Meherangarh fort - (250 Rs entry, five times the 50 Rs quoted in the Footprint guide) quite nice and good views of Jodhpur, the blue city. We are there until 10:30am, then drive to the nearby Jaswant Thada memorial, a very artistic marble structure (20 Rs + 25 Rs camera permit). The last place we see, at 11:25am, is the Umaid Bhavan palace - a relatively new building (construction started in 1929), but quite nice. After that we drive back to the hotel, where I briefly check the emails, after which we check out at 12:30pm.

After lunch in a restaurant in Jodhpur, we start driving to Jaisalmer at 1:30pm - 320 Km away from Jodhpur. The road is in good conditions and almost empty, except for an occasional bus or truck every now and then. The top speed we reach with the Toyota Qualis is 110 Km.

At 5pm the front left tire of the car is punctured and has to be replaced. That takes some time since the Qualis is a heavy car. We are ready to leave at 5:30pm, reaching Jaisalmer at 6:10pm. Without the broken tire the drive from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer wouldhave taken a bit over four hours - a pretty good average.

In Jaisalmer we check in at the Mahadev Hotel, then have a dinner in the Trio restaurant, on the top of a building. After that I check again my emails in a nearby Internet cafe (1 Rs/min.) and around 9:30pm we drive back to the hotel.

Copyright 2005 Alfred Molon