30 October 2009

Mustaches and turbans

Yesterday we headed out to see the turban tying and mustache growing competitions at the Pushkar Camel Fair. It was one of the more unusual days out that we've had.

First up was the turban tying, where hapless westerners attempted to don the traditional Rajasthani head gear.

The competition was eventually won by Harold Bishop.

Then came the main event, even the security were getting in on the act!

With the crowd at fever pitch the mustachioed masters of Rajasthan entered the judging tent, making some last minute adjustments to their facial follicle furniture.

Each contender then took to the floor to display his wears (unfortunately there were no ladies entering this year).

Some how this guy won third place . . .

. . . more of a beard if you ask me. If it had been an Osama Bin Laden look-alike competition I could understand the high placing. The eventual winner was a Mr J.S. Chounan, whose mustache was unbelievably long.

He was a bit of a dark horse as he entered the arena with his prize winning growth tightly furled to the sides of his face.

However, when it was uncoiled it stretched about 10ft across the tent.

Oh yeah . . . we saw some more camels too.

29 October 2009

Pushkar camel fair

We've come to Pushkar to visit the camel fair, an 8 day extravaganza of everything dromedary. The fair features some 50,000 camels and cattle and draws a crowd of about 200,000 people during the festivities.

As well as a heck of a lot of camel trading going on there's also camel racing, camel decoration and camel dancing, which was a bit rubbish (it even made Quentin Wilson's efforts on Strictly look like Fred Astaire).

Ever wondered what a camel would look like in eyeliner? Well wonder no more.

The town of Pushkar is located on the edge of the Great Thar Desert in the middle of the north east Indian state of Rajasthan. The town is centered on the Pushkar lake and is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus. Unfortunately, this year, there's no water in the holy lake as they have drained it to do some work.

Because of the holiness of the town there are a lot of rules and restrictions including; no meat, eggs, alcohol or public displays of affection (kissing is a big no no). Although we are having to endure enforced vegetarianism for the duration of our stay (the cheese tika curries are very good) we have managed to track down a couple of places where you can get a clandestine beer served from under the counter.

It's not all about camel based action in Pushkar, today we made the hike up the 750ft hill that overlooks the town to see the Savitri temple and to check out the views.

Not exactly sure what this penguin was doing up there drinking coke.

Tomorrow we have the excitement of a turban tying competition followed by the mustache competition . . . bring it on!

24 October 2009

New Delhi

Although our hotel is in Old Delhi the centre of New Delhi is only a few minutes away on the tube. New Delhi is a little less cramped and and chaotic than where we are staying. We've even managed to find some nice (but very expensive) bars and restaurants in the area around Connaught Place where we managed to win some napkin holders in a jigsaw competition!!!

New Delhi also has a few sites worth a visit. Our particular favorite was a Mughal funery complex known as Humayun's Tomb. It was a little bit like the Taj Mahal but in red.

We also visited the Gandhi Smriti which is the former home of the Mahatma Gandhi and also where he was assassinated on the 30th January 1948.

It's quite a poignant spot with Gandhi's last footsteps marked on the path ending at the Martyr's column, the spot where he died.

We also paid a visit to India Gate which commemorates the 90,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives during the 1st World War.

Old Delhi

On Tuesday we made our way back down from the Himalaya by taxi and we now have conclusive evidence that not all Indian taxi drivers are dangerous psychopathic head cases with a death wish. On the two and a half hour drive down from McLeod Ganj back to Pathankot we never once feared for our lives, which is a first on the roads of India. This enabled us to get a good nights sleep on the overnight train to Delhi.

The best way to describe Delhi would be dirty and chaotic, particularly Old Delhi where our hotel is. We're staying at a place called Tara Palace which is one of the nicer hotels we've stayed in since we arrived in India. The rooms are really nice and clean but ours has no windows on the outside world. This would normally be a problem but being as it saves us a having to look at the mess and chaos outside it isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The area where our hotel is, Chandi Chowk, is incredibly chaotic and crammed full of lots of
bazaars and markets. On our first day here had a very strange encounter with a gang of rather unconvincing sari clad transvestites demanding menaces from the local chemists!

The biggest tourist attraction in Delhi is probably the Red Fort, which is only a stones throw away from our hotel.

The fort was completed in 1648 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and was also used as the headquarters of the British army during the days of the empire.

We were joined on our trip around the fort by Chip and Dale.

The other big attraction of Old Delhi is the Jama Masjid mosque which was built in 1658.

Although the mosque was fairly interesting in itself, the best thing about the visit was the ridiculous outfit they made Liz ware . . .

20 October 2009

McLeod Ganj

When we were in Nepal we were really keen to head over the boarder into Tibet. However, due to the Chinese occupation, entry and travel with Tibet are tightly controlled and can only be done if you join an organised tour. This made it a little too expensive for our backpacker budget. McLeod Ganj in the Himchal Pradesh district of northern India is probably as Tibetan as you can get without actually going there.

Following the 1959 Chinese invasion a quarter of a million Tibetan refuges headed over the boarder and settled in India. McLeod Ganj is the centre of Tibetan culture in India as it was here that the Dalai Lama was granted asylum and is also where the Tibetan government now reside in exile.

It took us two days to get here from Amritsar and the journey here was a bit trying to say the least. The first leg on Friday, a train journey from Amritsar to Pathankot, wasn't too bad. The following day we took the narrow guage Kangra "toy train" which took us back up into the Himalaya and was supposed to take two and a half hours. It ended up taking over six. To make matters worse it was unreserved seating, which in India, means they can squash as many people into the carriages as possible. It was so busy that people were bursting out of the doors, hanging on the outside of the train and standing on the buffers wedged between the carriages.

It wasn't the most comfortable 6 hours we've spent.

When we eventually got off the train at Kangra it was dark and there was no transport around as it was Diwali. We eventually found a tuk-tuk which we used to drive us around to find a taxi. As per normal, the taxi driver turned out to be a bit of a lunatic and had us fearing for our lives for the 45 minute journey on the mountain roads. When we finally arrived in McLeod Ganj the Dewali celebriations were in full swing and we were greeted with the unusual sight of saffron clad monks throwing fireworks about!

Because of the spiritual link of the Dalai Lama McLeod Ganj attracts a lot of grubby looking hippies. This in turn attacts a lot of new age nonsense such as reiki, tarot card reading, palmistry, regression and resonance therapy (whatever the hell that is). In spite of all this daftness it's still a really nice place to spend a few days. The town has a certain wonky charm about it with lots of guesthouses, hotels and restaurants clinging to the sides of the mountains.

There's also some fantastic mountain scenery around the valley

The main sight at McLeod Ganj is the Tsuglagkhang temple complex where the Dalai Lama resides.

We didn't get to see the Dalai Lama as he was said to be a bit busy fighting for the freedom of Tibet from 50 years of enforced Chinese occupation. Some people seem to have an excuse for everything!