Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Myanmar Trip - Lessons Learnt

Days before the trip my whassap and email chats were filled with travel chatter. There were four of us and all were different in style and nature. Frankly saying, this would be my first time traveling with a group of women who aren't backpackers. I won't say any names but try guessing themselves with the description below.

Girl no. 1 - Constantly asking for our feedback on transport, maps and hotels.
Girl no. 2 - Already planning on what to wear and at which site (mentally as she claims). Must look good at all times.
Girl no. 3 - Just days before taking-off was more concerned in securing her visa on time.  And when her visa application failed the first time, she even said, "Maybe it's a sign that I shouldn't go?"

In the end we all went and had a wonderful time! (Picture taken at some temple in Bagan)
Me? I was quietly amused, answered questions when needed, some-times not bothered at all and keeping an open mind. Little do they know that in my head was, "OMG! What have I got myself into?"

I was used to doing last minute itineraries. In my simple itinerary I'd jot down ~ OK, by this day I should be here and there. Transport between cities were figured once I get there. My backpack will be sorted the night before departure. But in Myanmar's case, everything was pre-planned to the littlest details. I had to give them credit for being such exquisite travel planners. And for that I give a standing ovation! *clap! *clap!

And thus these were the valuable lessons I learnt from these very seasoned travelers. (I've been to maybe only 10% of the countries they've been!)

  • Who says you can't enjoy a budget trip with a trolley bag? I was with my backpack and them with their cute trolley bags have spent 18 hours on a train and were seated like sardines on a local transport. Now the term "backpacker" doesn't sound so hot now. (Well, maybe it was my fault as I strictly stated I wouldn't take domestic planes between cities nor stay at fancy hotels due to budget constraint.)
  • With four people in this trip, I can now rationalize how important it was to contribute individually to the group to maintain happiness. One would think of the food, another on the itinerary, another on payments, etc.  
  • I never did bring any meds during my solo travels. Big NO-NO. Now with Lily's help, I pretty much know which meds are important during travels which consists of insect repellent, meds for diarrhea and dizziness, leg cramps and other common sickness. I'm guilty of only buying the meds after I got sick. =P
  • When in big groups, no-one dares to mess with us. 
  • Everything was on a sharing basis - the boat at Inle lake, car rental in Bagan, taxi fares, hotel rooms. It was comforting not to worry about budget when in a group. We actually saved a lot and covered more area!
  • Overall, it was an amazing experience! 

If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.

And now the big question I'd ask myself, would I travel with them again or any girl groups in the future?

Well, as long that it means I'd be traveling (regardless with whom), I'm always GAME. =)

Last but not least, here's a picture of the toilet we used in Inle Lake.
Lily  looking happy after coming out from the toilet somewhere at Inle Lake.
Pssstt...... we actually could see people's feces coming out from below when the toilet was in use! Hahahahahaha! *mihir!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Places to visit in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India - Part 2

I'm continuing part 2 on places I've visited in Jaipur. Part 1 can be read here. =)

I didn't actually visit all sites in one day. I did it in a span of three days. Hussey, my host was very kind to bring me to these places via motorbike but he didn't actually accompany me to enter. Hehe. It was more of a pick and drop off kind which I happily obliged since it avoids the hassle of finding other means of transport.

Moving to the next place on the list would be Amber Palace which is the closest site to Hussey's house. Seen every time we come back from town.

5. Amber Palace/Fort

Do note that you don't need to pay another Rp 200 to enter here when you already bought the Composite Entry Ticket mentioned here.

The view of Amber Fort from the road heading to Hussey's house.
Amber is located at a distance of 11 kilometers from Jaipur and was the old fort of the Kachhwaha clan of Amer, which used to be the capital. The capital was then moved to Jaipur. It is built on the hilltop and is a famous tourist attraction in Jaipur. Tourists often ride on the elephant back to the Singh pole and Jaleb Chowk. I found out that most of the elephants lives in Hussey's neighborhood. During the mornings you could see elephants walking in a single line through the narrow dirt paths with paint on their faces and their owners riding on top. To them, it was just another working day. To me, it was an awe-strikingly sight to behold. =)

Various pictures taken within Amber Fort.
The construction of the Amber Fort began in the year 1592 A.D. and was started by Raja Man Singh I. It was later completed by Sawai Jai Singh in the 18th century. The exterior of the fort is not in the least similar to its interiors. I've noticed that the outside was very imposing and rugged looking whereas the inside felt comforting and warm. The interior design was influenced by both the Hindu and Muslim style of ornamentation.

The huge entrance archway overlooking the main steps.
I liked it how on the walls there were paintings depicting various hunting scenes. There was also a lot of work on walls, displaying intricate carving, mosaic and minute mirror work that makes the halls look very majestic and imperial. I could easily get lost in its wonder. The fort is built with white marble and red sandstone and looks even more attractive because of the Maota lake in the foreground.

6. Albert Hall or also known as Jaipur Museum

Somebody asked me if this place had any relations to the famous Albert Hall in London. It was named after King Edward VII (Albert Edward), during his visit to the city as the Prince of Wales. Its foundation stone was laid on 6 February 1876. (source)

Albert Hall in its splendor.
In 1868 A.D. Sawai Ram Singh II built Ram Niwas Bagh, a lush spacious garden, Albert Hall stands on a plinth in the middle of that garden. The area surrounding this building is actually a wide area of greenery with neatly cropped grass.

Just love the interior design of this building!
The Albert Hall Museum is a fine example of Indo Sarcenic style of architecture designed by Sir Swinton Jacob. It was opened later with an exquisite collection of sculptures, paintings, decorative wares, natural history specimen and the Persian carpet.

7. Nagargarh Fort

It was the remaining place stated on my composite entry ticket that I have yet to visit. I didn't realize how far up this fort was until Hussey brought me there. The road heading to this fort was a winding one. We had to honk at each overtook corner to warn vehicles coming from the opposite direction.

Failure to do so could be fatal. =P

When we finally reached there, I was flabbergasted. The view was AMAZING!

We could see the whole town of Jaipur from here!
Nahargarh was initially built by Sawai Jai Singh and further strengthened by Sawai Ram Singh. It has nine apartments of the queens which are similar in design. It is a favorable picnic spot and is flocked by tourists and locals during rainy season. The panoramic view of the sprawling city below from here is worthy of praise!

During our way down, I kinda begged Hussey to stop for awhile so that I can sink in the view of Maota lake from above. Oh boy! The lake is certainly HUGE!
I can see Jal Mahal from here!
These site visits were only made possible by none other than Hussey, my couchsurfing host and his dependable black motorbike. Thanks a million!
Hussey and his award winning grin. Haha! 
8. Raj Mandir Cinema

The next stop in my unplanned itinerary was watching a Hindi Movie at the grand Raj Mandir theater. Haha! Hussey made arrangements so that his sister, niece and cousin would be accompanying me to watch a movie there.

We chose to watch Khiladi 786 starred by Akshay Kumar. The problem; there were no subtitles. But I managed to enjoy it thoroughly due to the straightforward and hilarious story-line. ^_^

Raj Mandir, 
Situated on the Bhagwan Das Road, near M.I. Road, the meringue-shaped auditorium opened in 1976, and over the years has seen many movie premieres of Hindi films It has become a popular symbol of Jaipur and was often referred as the Pride of Asia. (source) Despite its huge size, this theater is always packed with movie-goers and from my experience, most of them were men. I'm glad I've been able to experience a Bollywood film  here. Hehe. *barulah feel ye dak?

So that ends places I've visited during my stay at Jaipur. I know that there are many, MANY more places to go but I chose to spend the time at Hussey's house and absorbing their way of living. Aisehh.. hehe.

Maybe next time I'll cover other places. Insya'Allah. =)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Places to visit in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India - Part 1

Last December 2012, I was in beautiful Jaipur of Rajasthan, staying for free at my host's house, Hussey at the outskirts of Jaipur called Amer. (read : couchsurfing) And having the fun of my life!

Most of my hard-earned money was pretty much spared since food and accommodation were wholly provided for. Not to mention free transport to the places I wanted to visit in and about Jaipur. Well, I did pay for the bike's gasoline. But that costs only 100 rupees only. No hal lah! .

So what is it about Jaipur that made me stay longer than intended? I couldn't get enough of the fairy-tale likeness of the palaces found here. I felt as if I was Jasmine from the movie Aladdin. Hehe.  I've listed all the places I've been to below.

1. The City Palace

It is located at the heart of Jaipur's bustling pink city and only a walk away from Hawa Mahal. The entrance ticket costs Rs 300.00.  It is a unique and arresting complex of several palaces, pavilions, gardens and temples. The most prominent and most visited structures in the complex are the Chandra Mahal, Mubarak Mahal, Mukut Mahal, Maharani's Palace, Shri Govind Dev Temple and the City Palace Museum. (source)

Oh.. the word "mahal" means palace. =)

An archway heading towards the City Palace.
Clockwise from upper left : Diwan-I-Khas which was a private audience hall of the Maharajas (a marble floored chamber), a canon within the complex, entering the City Palace, and arch entrance of the palace.
The building in white is the Chandra Mahal or Chandra Niwas, the most commanding building in the City Palace complex
Former rulers still live in this palace and only the ground floor is open to the public. There's a museum called Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum there which houses some ancient carpets, manuscripts and other items that belonged to the royal family. I spent around an hour here. =)

2. Hawa Mahal 

Before entering Hawa Mahal, you could first get yourself the ticket as seen below. You have to ask for it at the counter or else they'll charge you Rs 200 per entry. The difference with the ticket below is that it is Rs 300 for FIVE entries to FIVE different places. It's a bargain!

Composite Entry Ticket that costs 300 rupees. With it you can enter FIVE main attractions in Jaipur. 
So what is it with Hawa Mahal? Nothing coz I didn't go in! Hahaha! I did this (read link) instead. 

Hawa Mahal taken via Instagram. 
The Hawa Mahal which adjoins the famous City Palace wall, was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh and has now become one of the landmarks of Jaipur. The palace is shaped like a pyramid and is a five-storied building, with number of small windows and screens, with arched roofs. There is intricate carving in the front and much attention has been paid to the even minute details. Its purpose was simply to allow the royal women a view of ceremonial processions while seated behind the small windows, allowing them to look out with being seen. Sneaky, huh?

3. Jantar Mahal

To the east of the City Palace is the Jantar Mahal. It is an open air observatory which was designed by Maharaja Jai Singh in 1728. Before commencing the observatory, he sent scholars abroad to study other foreign observatories so that he would have one that would satisfy his passion for astronomy.

The instruments of astronomy.  Not my thing. 
In order to achieve accuracy, the instruments were made from stone and marble. Each of these curious sculptures has a specific purpose such as measuring the posistions of stars, altitudes, and azimuths and calculating the times of eclipses.

I personally didn't dig this place. T__T

4. Jal Mahal

I passed this place every time I came back from Jaipur to Hussey's house in Amer. It was intriguing to see a palace in the middle of a lake. At first, I thought it was flooded. Hahaha. Sadly, no-one is allowed to enter this palace. We could only view from afar.

A wonderful place to go on a date with this view, right? hehe.
Jal Mahal was built by Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799 A.D. in the midst of the Man Sagar lake as a pleasure spot. It is noted for its intricate architecture. The first four floors of this building is under water (WOW!) and only the top floor remains outside. One can have a wonderful view of the lake and the palace from Nahargarh Fort. This palace is now abandoned but reasonably well preserved.

Thus I end part 1 of places to visit in Jaipur. Will commence on part 2 soonest.

Happy traveling guys! ^^

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The handsome brothers of Hawa Mahal at Jaipur, Rajasthan India

When I think of Hawa Mahal.. I'd remember.. oh my god, I never entered it! All I remembered fondly was the jewelry shop right across it, owned by a clan of 7 brothers (and I met four of them. hehe)

Hussey (my couchsurfing host) was on his way to work in Jaipur and offered to drop me off at Hawa Mahal. There were various sight seeing attractions from that point on-wards but I was fixated on something. I was looking to top-up credit for my Indian number. Haha!

So after Hussey dropped me off, I went searching. Several shop keepers tried to lure me into their shops but I paid no heed. Suddenly a guy appeared and asked what I was searching for. I told him I wanted to top up my handphone. He gallantly showed me the way by saying, "Come, follow. I'll show you." He didn't just show me the shop, but he talked to the shopkeeper on my behalf and made sure the deal went through. I didn't remember my number and so he had me calling his number so that we know my number. LOL.

In a way... I have his number without asking for it. =P

It takes some time before the money is credited into my hand-phone so he invited me into his shop to wait together. (aw! aw!)

Sipping hot "chai" across Hawa Mahal. 
I was hesitant at first when I entered his shop. It was a small jewelry shop with only one door. Windows were covered and if anything happened, nobody would know of it. I got scared and so the first question that popped out of my mouth as he served me tea was...

"Did you put drug in this tea?" 

The guy was shocked with my question and rolled his eyes. He replied coolly, "I'm not that kind of guy" hahahahaha! *aku terasa bengong!

And so we sipped some tea and talked pleasantly. The stupid question was soon forgotten. hehe. =P

Javed Khan (left) with his younger brother Tanveer Khan.
I ended up going to that shop twice that day. The first one as narrated above and the second time was after I ventured to Jantar Mantar and the City Palace alone to wait for Hussey to pick me up.

On my second time around, they gave me Beriyani Rice with chicken. Hehe. It was nice to have a place to wait in before heading back to my host's house. 
I was shocked to see that the rice was directly wrapped with a newspaper page!
Sadly, I didn't finish my meal. Heee. *malu

Javed and Tanveer were friendly, talkative guys and have never promoted any of their stones to me. We shared a lot on our differences in culture and aspirations. It was an evening well spent in their cozy shop. Thank you guys for your kindness. I'll forever remember it. =)

Minutes before Hussey showed up, we took this picture. haha! 
So peeps, if you are in Jaipur and around the Hawa Mahal, do drop by their shop and say HELLO!!!