Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

A Few More Random Images

Mumbai, a tale of two cities

Today we were up early again so we could meet up near to Regal Cinema, and Adamis leather store, with our tour guide from Reality Tours. We had booked a long walking tour of the Dharavi slums. Our 5 hour tour started in the usual manic drive across town, in an air conditioned people carrier, first to Dhobi Ghat, which is an open air hand laundry. Then it was on to the commercial side of the slum, where anything and everything can be manufactured or re-cycled without a hint of our Western health and safety legislation. Then it was on to the area of the slums where more than a million people live, with minimal facilities. For example, there are only 70 odd public toilets for them, and one is likely to have upwards of 2000 uses per day, with frequent blockages. There are open sewers, and only the odd drinking water tap, that frequently dispense black water. We made our way through passage ways no wider than 2 foot 6, and 6 foot high, with all of the aromas you would expect. Our young guide was extremely knowledgeable, and spoke very good English. The tour company provides community initiatives and education to the tune of 80% after taxes, from their profits. All in all, well worth doing, and it makes you realize just how lucky we are with our lot, as in the image above, sat around the hotel pool for lunch. Time for another nap for me now while Margaret and Jill make their way back into town for further exploration, hands held high as you walk into the busy traffic to cross the roads. The P and O cruise ship Aurora docks here tomorrow - that should be fun!

Last day in Jaipur

We have now arrived in Mumbai. The agent in Delhi had informed us that our 3pm SpiceJet flight had been cancelled, so had re-booked us on to a slightly later flight by www.goair.in This was fine, and turned out to be a new Airbus A320. It also didn't matter that it was 2hrs later, as the driver just included some extra points of interest around Jaipur, including the Amber Fort and Palace, which was built in 1599 on a much older site. It was then abandoned in the 1700's when Jaipur was established. The images are from there. Our stay at the Rambagh Palace hotel was out of this world even though we stayed in the 'cheap seats' so to speak. Our two rooms were in the 'Sawai Man Singh' annex within the main hotel grounds. Two benefits of that were they cost us absolutely nothing, as they were paid in full using points from Jill's Taj Inner Circle Gold Card, and we had full use of all the main hotel's facilities as well. We are now in Mumbai for 3 nights, flying to Cochin on Monday morning. Our new driver was waiting for us at the airport exit door as we landed, and will collect us for the airport on Monday. In between we have our own itinerary here, as between us we know this city well.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Jaipur

We arrived at our Jaipur hotel at 11.30am. After a quick freshen up, our new guide collected us at 12.30, for visits to the palace of the Maharaja Sawii Man Singh, and the observatory. In his time His Highness had an interest in polo, our hotel is housed in his polo pavillion, as the last two images of the hotel on my previous post show, the lawned area was the polo field. Our rooms are housed in what were the pony stables, now guest rooms and a convention centre. The guide will be with us again tomorrow until our flight to Mumbai.

On To Jaipur

The Regency Hotel, Ranthambhore

The fabulous Taj Rambagh Palace Hotel

The lawn on the left was once the Maharaja's polo field.

We checked out of the Regency after a 7am breakfast. Our driver was waiting for us in the lobby as arranged after his day off yesterday. Today's trip is another 180km to Jaipur, called the pink city due to the general colour of the buildings. On arrival we will collect a new guide to show us around for the rest of the day and tomorrow, before our flight to Mumbai and 3 nights stay at the Taj President, where there are jeweller's shops in the lobby that sell the most amazing Indian gold and emerald rings ;-) We have been here before. Tonight we stay in another Taj hotel in Jaipur. Pic 1, leaving Regency, pic 2 and 3 arrving Taj Jaipur.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Regency Hotel

We have two nights here. It is a lovely hotel, chosen by Jill from experience. It's offering is similar to our first hotel in Delhi, but with more facilities such as the pool and spa, where the Gateway was on another level again. As with all hotels in India, the food offering is curry buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, although the Gateway also had a European a-la-carte menu as well. Now I love my Indian restaurants at home, but I also have a very limited list of ingredients that I will eat. For example, I would never choose salad, vegetables, or lamb dishes. Unfortunately, so far, that has been all that has been on offer here so far. Margaret and Jill are both loving their huge plates of salad and various veg based curries, whereas for me - it was a bag of crisps again for lunch. I will survive, tomorrow we leave for Jaipur, and a run of hotels from the Taj group again.

Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve




Today's activities are two open jeep safaris through the tiger reserve. We were collected for the first one at 6.30am, to be back for breakfast at 10. The second is after lunch at 2.30pm. The reserve is sectioned into zones, and this morning's visit was to zone 7. There are no guarantees, and of course the only sighting was in zone 6. The trail was very rough and hard on my ageing bum! Today is also Holi day here, a public holiday which is celebrated by smothering each other in brightly coloured powder and dye. Although the jeep driver tried his best to exempt us from this ritual, by the time we drove back through the crowded village, spirits were so high that we also got covered. I hope the second visit results in a tiger sighting for Jill and Margaret, but the 3 images represent my day. Sore bum looking at barren terrain, fake tiger image taken from a picture in the hotel lobby, and then a beer by the pool this afternoon. I'm getting too old for all this excitement!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Road To Ranthambhore

Today's road trip was about 270km across rural India. We are now in the State of Rajahstan. The journey has been incident free, but with many interesting features. Road surfaces have been good bitumen through to dirt track. Potholes varied from negligible to full car sized. We have made our way through busy towns and bustling village markets. Motorcycles, tuk tuks and cars have been encountered, often heading our way on the wrong side of the road - even a truck at full tilt in the fast lane of a dual carriageway, but on our side, and towards us. I suppose it was OK though, he did have his headlights on! Bullock cart encounters are often interesting as the driver is usually asleep and the bullock is in charge. Overloaded tractors, buses and jeeps with passengers hanging out of every window as well as on the roof are everywhere. You haven't seen anything until you have seen a family of four happily travelling on a Honda 125! Roadside animals are abundant, from cattle, goats, boar, water buffalow, and even camels all roaming loose, adding to the hazards. But, the most amusing incident was when we were gridlocked at a junction and going nowhere. Everybody just kept inching forward with nowhere to go, horns blaring. There happened to be a police officer in charge but powerless to sort things out. In the end he walked over to a tuk tuk, with around ten aboard, (2 passenger seats), and demanded the driver remain stationary in an attempt to get things moving, clouting the vehicle with his stick. The driver moved forward again, and found himself on the receiving end of a couple of face slaps from the officer. Slowly traffic started to move again!

More images from today

Back to earth again

We have now arrived at the Regency after another road journey full of interest, travelling through rural India, including meeting an HGV at 70mph in the fast lane of a highway - travelling in the wrong direction, a common occurance apparently. Although Jill has stayed here before and it is a beautiful hotel, it isn't from the Taj group, so no special treatment, even though she insists there was none at the Gateway. Tomorrow it is up at dawn again to have a full day open jeep safari to the tiger reserve.

Agra via Fatehpur Sikri to Ranthambhore

Our driver and guide collected us after breakfast at 9am for the start of today's itinerary. Check-out was as easy as arrival, with the manager and his key staff, taking us to our car with two porters in tow. The first part of the day was a visit to the 16th century palace of Emperor Akbar, one of the Mughal rulers. We then dropped our guide off to continue on the remainder of today's journey to our next hotel, Ranthambhore Regency, another 5hrs. The journey again had much interest, but I rationed my Facebook actity to conserve the phone battery. Everything that goes on the internet goes through the phone. More later.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Agra

The plan gets better! We arrived at our first Taj Group hotel at lunchtime. Jill lived in the Mumbai Taj President for the whole of 2011, and used their other hotels throughout India for her private excursions, including this one. As we approached today, our driver had rung them to expect us. As we arrived at the gate, the two uniformed and armed guards stood to attention and saluted as we passed. We were then greeted on the steps by the local manager, who was accompanied by a hotel receptionist, who took all the registration formalities off us, as the manager sat us down to greet us. He remembered Jill! As he showed us around and into the restaurant for lunch, our luggage was taken from the car to our rooms. After lunch we went to freshen up to find we had been allocated adjoining suites, overlooking the Taj Mahal! We came down at 2pm, and met our new local guide for today and tomorrow. We then all departed in our car to visit the two attractions, the other being Agra Fort. Unfortunately I had flattened my phone battery during the trip here, so images will have to wait until we get home. I did manage a distance shot from our room at dusk for now. An amazing place.

Agra and the Taj Mahal.

We were collected at 7.30am this morning for our road trip to Agra, a new hotel, Taj Gateway Agra, and the Taj Mahal. Yesterday, Sunday, we collected an official tour guide for a full day visiting antiquites. The day also included a rickshaw ride around Old Delhi. Our car is what we would call a Toyota Verso. It has full leather aircraft stye seats and air conditioning. This driver is at our diposal until we fly to Mumbai on Friday. Before that we have two nights in Ranthambhore Regency hotel, and one night in the Taj owned SMS Hotel in Jaipur. Today's journey is 5hrs with two sight seeing stops, and a sunset visit to the Taj Mahal. More later.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

A spectacular evening out


Tonight we were collected for dinner by Anubhav, a work colleague of Jill's, and his wife Sukriti. They took us, by invitation of her parents to the Delhi Gymkhana Club, (visit their website), which was tonight celebrating its' 100th anniversary. Built in 1913 by the British, it is now within the grounds of the current prime minister's residence. We waited in an oppulent lounge for the parents to arrive then had dinner together in the main dining room, before joining the bash outdoors with India's finest. That included an exclusive fashion show then live music. Security was tight around the grounds, but what a great night, and an experience itself.

New Delhi

The plan comes together! Leaving snow behind in Manchester both our flights were on time. At Abu Dhabi we left our arrivals gate, walked across the terminal to our departure gate to find Jill sat there having arrived just before us from Heathrow. Our driver was waiting for us in New Delhi at 3.30am local time. Woke at 10am this morning, and after a breakfast in the hotel's roof top restaurant, in warm sunshine, our driver collected us again for a shopping tour - chance to park me to write this! Tonight one of Jill,s India work colleagues is taking us to dinner with his family. Tomorrow is a full city tour with our driver, and on Monday he takes us on to Agra, the Taj Mahal, and a new hotel.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Bye Bye Snow!


Airbus A330 at Manchester International Airport

We were collected from home by taxi at 5.00 am this morning to allow us to arrive at Manchester International Airport in good time for our 6.00 am check-in. The flight left at 8.55 am and is scheduled to arrive at Abu Dhabi around 8.00 pm local time, where we have a two hour wait in order to meet our daughter's flight from Heathrow, when we will all fly on to New Delhi, arriving there in the early hours to be met by our driver.

Both legs of our outward-bound journey will be on an Airbus A330-200, landing in New Delhi at 3.10am local time. However, by the time we return again we will be in Thiruvananthapur, (known as Trivandrum until 1991), Southern India, and the aircraft will be an Airbus A320 for the first leg, and then an A330 for the journey to Manchester after a 5 day stop-over in Abu Dhabi.


The above image is courtesy of www.etihad.com



Our International carrier is Etihad Airways, who are of course, main sponsors of Manchester City FC. We have used them previously, and to date they have offered an exceptional service.

Once in India, we have two internal flights, the first one being from New Delhi International Airport.

SpiceJet Boeing Boeing 737-800 at New Delhi, courtesy of V. Malik

These will be courtesy of the appropriately named SpiceJet Airlines, again, used before. The rest of our travel within India will be by private chauffeurs, who have been arranged to collect us and deliver us to and from the various airports, as well as transport us by road to our various destinations that are within reasonable driving distances. All transport to pre-arranged visits and tours, will also be undertaken by these hard working drivers, in their air conditioned cars, essential, as current temperature expectations are around 40 degrees.

For anyone who may be interested in following in our footsteps, this is a bespoke touring holiday, put together with the much appreciated assistance of http://www.elandholidays.com/ based in India, but who also have offices in London. They have been used by us several times in the past. International flights and most hotels have been booked separately by ourselves to utilize loyalty points and air-miles gathered from previous trips.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

One For the Doubters

Here we are at the start of the week that we will visit India once again. Many of our friends and family can't understand what we see in a holiday there, with their pre-formed mind images of squalor and poverty. Yes - the country does have issues that don't sit well with our Western upbringing, but it is also beautiful in its own right, and it's people so welcoming that once visited, we can't wait to get back there. I have now visited twice before - Mumbai, formerly Bombay, and Kochi, formerly Cochin, in the South. Margaret has one more visit than me, when she did a tour with our daughter in 2011. This visit will again be done with our daughter, and again will be a tour, all booked independently by her, as she lived here for 12 months in 2011 and knows her way around. I have included links to the image galleries of our hotel websites, some of which we have been before.

We fly on Friday, from Manchester - Abu Dhabi, where we meet our daughter who flies from Heathrow. We all then fly on to Delhi, where we will be picked up by our driver and taken to our first hotel, Star Rocks

Hotel lobby, Star Rocks

We stay here until 27th March when we move on to Rathambhore. On the 29th March we move on, again by road, to Jaipur for an overnight stay before boarding an internal flight to Mumbai. A highlight of our visit to Mumbai will be this: Slum Tour.

Gateway to India, Mumbai

Then, on the 1st April, we again board another internal flight, this time to Kochi (Cochin) where we stay until the 3rd.

The infinity pool at the Malabar Hotel
And on to Munnar, by road, the only hilly destination in Kerala. On the way we visit Kodanad to take part in the elephant bathing in the river.

The hills of Munnar
On the 5th April, it is on to Alleppey, a village in the backwaters, or canal region, where we will take a day trip on a kettuvallam, a traditional type of boat that historically was used for transportation of rice, but are now converted to houseboats used for tourism.

On the 7th April, we move on to the final destination of our India tour this time, which is Kovalam, a beach resort for some R and R before flying out to Abu Dhabi in the early hours of the 9th. where we leave our daughter who flies back to London.

Sunset at Kovalam Beach
We are then lucky enough to be able to spend a further 5 days with relatives in the amazing Emirate of Abu Dhabi, before flying back to Manchester.

The Corniche, Abu Dhabi
Hopefully, from there, Kelly Louise will have been all serviced up in our absence, and ready to take on the new boating season, perhaps with some decent weather of our own this year - don't hold your breath!