Beneath the dirt, noise, flies, relatively dodgy tummy, hassle, pigs/goats/cows/dogs/donkeys etc in the roads I am enjoying this Rajasthan rampage - really!
Since leaving you at Varanasi for a 12 (in reality 13 1/2) hour train journey, we haven't stopped. Thankfully that train ride was better than the last one - despite our extra travelling companions ie cockroaches - because there were no rows of staring Indians but some friendly Ruskis instead (hey in an emergency I can miraculously muster up faded Russian).
Before reaching Rajasthan Agra was next on the hitlist and we kept on bumping into our new-found ex Soviet friends. A bit of a cliche but the Taj Mahal surpasses its reputation as a 'dream in marble' rather than wax lyrical about its breathtaking mastery - go see it yourself and marvel at one of the 7 Wonders of the World! The city itself is no great shakes and we didn't make it to the Fort (too many to take in) but stopped by Fatephur Sikiri which has a ghostly quality to it and has endless tales to tell.
Having been warned off about Jaipur, (called 'the city of pink' after having decked itself in this welcoming colour for a one-off visit by Prince Albert), it was a pleasant surprise to like it so much. You know you have arrived once you go through the pink gates and see one of its hallmarks, Hawa Mahal - palace of windows for royal ladies. A 5 storeyed, semi octagonal monument made of pink sandstone. The city is surrounded by rugged hills on 3 sides each crowned with a fort, each studded with grand palaces, mansions and landscaped gardens. Amber Fort is the biggie and its palace accommodates the now 15 year old king (bet he is playing DS behind those shutters!). The fort and palace comprise an endless stream of beautifully preserved buildings the most memorable being the hall for the then raj's women. It has head to toe encrusted mirrors that apparently twinkle like stars by candlelight.
Indian history seems to comprise of a line of vanglorious rajes who spend between 12 to 22 years building huge cities (such as Fatephur Sikiri and Amber Fort) only to leave them a few years later to build even bigger ones locally such as Agra and Jaipur. More for the tourist to see though.... as they commissioned the best architects in the world, had glass chandeliers imported from Bohemia, furniture from China, glass from Belgium and gems from... well everywhere everywhere. As well as wreaking havoc with war, these rajes had it all mapped out with favourite wives, not so favourite ones, harems and secret passageways to bedrooms. They played the equivalent of ludo with real women as pawns, held court within yards of their boudoirs and had endless slaves and eunuchs attending to their every whims. Sounds familiar or what!
So now we are in Pushkar, more to follow once we are fed and watered though.