India > Aravalli Hills

> Ready for India

21-12-2013 We're ready! We finally managed to include all the Shakti luggage as well, due to the extra ten kilograms we're allowed to take in Veras name. How useful… to travel with a little one. Changing trains in Utrecht is a bit of an inconvenience, carrying so many kilos and a stroller, but once we reach Schiphol we first find ourselves one of those civil trolleys, a fine way to transport your luggage. After check-in we're temporarily freed from most of our stuff. Next is the priority line for the bodyscan, where we find the gate wide open as soon as we get there... How useful… to travel with a little one.
Vera checks out our airplaneIn the waiting room we immediately encounter our Indian fellow travelers: “Can I take picture of baby?” The baby decides differently. She doesn't even glance at the paparazzi and goes her own way. As soon as the boarding starts a huge line is being formed. We don't have to wait for a second though. You can come over here: priority boarding. Did we already mention “How useful… to travel with a little one"?
During take-off Vera falls asleep. However, this doesn't last long, since she wants to see and experience everything and we do many tours through the plane. Both the landing and claiming of our luggage go well, although we first leave one of the bags of our carry-on luggage behind in the airplane. The one with the passports, visa, bank cards and for thousands of Euros worth of cameras and equipment in it. Oops. Fortunately the bag is still waiting for us in the overhead, about ten minutes later, when the plane is finally empty.

Soon we find ourselves in a prepaid taxi to our guesthouse in Gurgaon. The scent of wood fire and burnt plastic is everywhere, like always. We're staying in a lovely, quiet place, near the hectic bustle of Delhi, but it's hard to find the place at first, since there are no signposts and the house is situated in a fance residential area. After we've called someone out of bed we get a surprised look. Whether we have a reservation. Uhm… yes, that one that we confirmed in an email a few weeks back. The boss is being called from his bed, but he also doesn't seem to know about our reservation. Fortunately there's still a room available of the requested kind, but sleeping is not an option for the moment. Vera doesn't feel like calming down and screams for an hour or so. Our Deryan Travel Cot is not at all an option now, she prefers to stay between the both of us, where she finally falls asleep.

Waiting for the Train in Gurgaon22-12-2013 After a very short night we're in a taxi to Gurgaon railway station around noon. Plenty of time to catch the one thirty train, according to us. Even in this traffic chaos. Vera obviously enjoys herself with the cows, dogs and birds, buses, autorikshaws and trucks she sees. She already seems to like India at least as much as we do. We get to the railway station as early as twelve fortyfive.
After we've been waiting for about thirty minutes, with an ever larger audience, the train already arrives (this early?). Only by the evening, when we check our tickets once again, to see what our arrival time will be, we find out that our train actually had to depart at twelve thirty, would he have been on time. Apparently the Gods are with us.
It strikes us how much India has changed since our first visit five years ago. Fancy billboards pop up everywhere, the metro has been expanded, the number of shopping malls is growing considerably and the sari is disappearing more and more from the streets. Especially in the larger cities traditional clothes are only worn by the lower castes and jeans are everywhere, in large numbers and on both men and women. Later on during this trip we see some villages where this still is completely different, but it's probably only a matter of time before the jeans will take over.
Trains are obviously not thé place for Vera to sleep either and pretty exhausted we do the final stretch. Untill she gets an apple from a fellow passenger. Can she eat this then, still covered in peel? Apparently she can. In no time the apple is gone, even though she only has two and a half teeth. Probably it was filled with nex energy. Or perhaps it was an apple from Goa?
After the final stage of this huge trip, a short taxi ride to Pushkar, we're back home, in our familiar room with, tomorrow, a wonderful view over the surrounding hills. We quickly have some food, before we turn out the lights.

> Back in Pushkar

23-12-2013 In our memory Pushkar was such a quiet place with smooth roads everywhere. So we're ready to go out with our stroller. However, within five minutes we're back to swap the thing for our baby carrier. Sometimes memories can be so selective.
After fifteen minutes of slalom between cows, their pies, honking motorbikes and salesmen we reach the other side of the village, where we run into Ramsingh immediately. He takes us to Shaktis new residence: the Indian version of "Villa Villekulla". Immediately the kids seem to pop up from every corner of the neighbourhood and they all are very enthusiastic to meet Vera. Vera is a little less enthusiastic and tries to hide INSIDE mama. This doesn't change for the next fortyfive minutes, so we decide that a short visite is enough for today.

24-12-2013 It's time to take the things we brought from The Netherlands to Shakti and to meet the new kids, who turned four or five in the meantime. Among the “little ones” on the upper floor Vera dares to let go of mama from time to time and she plays with the other kids. Currently an Indian teacher comes every day to teach the older kids downstairs.
In the evening we visit the Luhar family, existing of Ganga, Asha and their parents and brothers and sisters. The most delicious food and of course chai, Indian tea, are being served to us. Unfortunately we get a negative reply to our question whether the girls are allowed to attend secondary school after they finished primary. Seven years will be all the education they get. Such a shame, they are both such bright students with many opportunities. We can read their disappointment from their faces, but their father has made up his mind. This is India.

Art Class Shakti25-12-2013 Today it's time for the art classes that Yvonne prepared. Making an imaginary animal turns out to be very hard for these kids. They look around with big question marks in their eyes and… ask to take a look in a few books to find some animals to copy. After a while ever more beautiful and remarkably detailed animals appear on their papers. A completely different approach from the kids in class 3/4 in The Netherlands, who all got started right away and who all seemed to have an idea of which they wanted to draw, or who just started to see what they would make. When they're done they watch the photos and imaginary animals that are made in The Netherlands full of interest.
After the meal Ramsingh prepared for them, we hand out the clothes that Yvonne got from the students in her class to the younger kids and we say goodbye to everyone for now.

> Aravalli Hills

26-12-2013 With driver Anil we're heading to Ranakpur. After three hours of “highway” we take an exit to a winding road full of potholes, but the views of the hills and forests are beautiful, just like the small villages that we're passing. The people here get their water from a well and the handmade waterwheel, operated by two oxen, is still in everyday use to irrigate the fields. Although the petrol engines are trying to displace the oxen.
Ranakpur Jain TempleThe Ranakpur Jain temple is nice, but lesxs impressive than we'd expected. Have we been spoilt by all the temples we've seen in our lives already? Or do we miss the lively athmosphere we ususally find in other tenples? There's not much happening here. Still Vera is a big fan of the giant stone elephant in the middle and we wander around between the many marble columns for quite some time. The shados are changing every few minutes, so every time all the places look different.
Another fifteen minutes of bouncing through the hills takes us to Aranyawas hotel, where we have an amazing house, between ancient trees, with a view of the hills and the river below. While Vera enjoys a late afternoon nap we enjoy the nature from our balcony: birds and monkeys jump from one branch to another.

27-12-2013 The road to Khumbalgarh fort is so worth to explore and perhaps even more interesting than the fort itself. Small farmers are working in the fields, in the village of Saira there is a bustling market going on and kids are yelling and waving at us. The hilly landscapes are fabulous and look nearly Birmese, like this area hasn't changed for ages. It's a lovely day, with only few tourist highlights, but so much the more great, simple things along the way. One of the men who is working by the roadside walks us to his village. We meet his family and take a look into their simple house, where corn is grinded with a real millstone. Vera especially likes their goats and buffalo.

> In and around Udaipur

28-12-2013 We leave the Aravalli hills behind and make a wonderful tour through the rural area around Udaipur. Farmers are ploughing their land, women collect water at the wells and here we see many waterwheels too, most of them operated by oxen.
Sas Bahu Temple NagdaWe take a look at the lively Eklingji temple and the beautiful lake right behind and afterwards at the much more quiet Sas Bahu temple, which is no longer in use, but at least as wonderfully located by the water. In Udaipur we move into one of the many-storey hotels with a rooftop terrace. The view over the ghats is super and we spend the rest of our afternoon here, enjoying some lovely Indian food.

29-12-2014 After a relaxing morning on the rooftop terrace of our hotel we get into our car for a visit to Shilpgram, where there's a festival with lots of folklore from all over India this week. Apparently it's a favourite outing for local Indians too, since it's super crowded. And all of them want to pinch Vera's cheeks. Shilpgram UdaipurWhen we, subsequently, pinch them back, they don't like it at all and they can understand just a little bit how small kids don't like it too. Only a tiny little bit that is. Unfortunately there are hundreds of new Indians behind every corner, who don't know this yet. So after an hour or so we call it a day. Vera seems to bother less and less however, about all the physical and verbal attention of India and seems to enjoy herself perfectly in this rather overwhelming country.

30-12-2013 During the night Yvonne falls seriously ill. We cancel our planned daytrip to Dungarpur and just relax a bit. Let the antibiotics do their job. We do visit the cultural show in Bagore ki Haveli at night, where we've had another great night about five years ago. Vera dances nicely on the rhythm of the music and checks out all the dancers, going completely crazy at the puppet show.

31-12-2013 We're glad to feel much better today and we're back on the road. First we head to the cemetery of the “Royal family”, Ahar. For more than threehundred years the maharadjas en maharanis were buried here. It's a womderful collection of old cenotaphs.
Next we head out of the city, for a visit to our driver Anil's beloved Rajasthani countryside. The road we take is a complete surprise, even for him (all thanks to the almighty internet), and we're all happy with what we find here. Wonderfully undulating landscapes dotted with some small, authentic villages. From time to time we stop to chat with the people along the road, or take a look in their homes. Anil turns out to be both a great driver and guide / translator. In the village of Alsigarh he walks along with us, in a large circle around the village, from one farmhouse to the next. A very special glimpse into a world so different from that of the Indian cities, let alone the Western world.
In our memories it was completely quiet during Sylvester night, five years ago in Jodhpur, but today everyone keeps asking us what we're doing tonight and we're a bit nervouws about all the rooftop restaurants, who are decorating the place with balloons and garlands. By the end of the afternoon loud music blares from several rooftops and at ten o'clock the noise is deafening. We're not even able to hear each other talk in our own room! Surprisingly enough Vera sleeps through it all, even the huge firework bombs going off from time to time.

Anjana Fort Deogarh01-01-2014 Somewhat worn we make our return to Pushkar, with a stop halfway, at Fort Anjana, in one of those lovely little villages, just outside Deogarh. The fort is situated on a barren rock above the village and exists of a wonderful facade, and behind it the ruins of the old castle rooms and a temple. In silence and on the edge of the temple, we enjoy the lunch we bought at the market, overlooking the surrounding countryside. Then we move along to Pushkar, where this roundtrip ends, to spend a few more days at Shakti. Here we get the news that Ganga and Ashas dad changed his mind. They are allowed to make at least a start at secondary school when they're ready. What a great news for the girls.
Ride on the camel cartWe also spend a night at Fiona and Praveens farm, some kilometers outside Pushkar. The next morning we're taken back to Pushkar by camel cart, where we first stop for a visit at Fionas workshop, before we head to Shakti to say goodbye.
On the fourth of January we head directly home, a twentyfour hour trip. An exciting event from the first to the last moment, with highlights like the hundreds of rats on the track under the waiting train in Ajmer station, partying cockroaches in the kitchen of that same train, Veras diaper explosion at arrival in Delhi, which we tried to redress as well as possible in a dark taxi and the cold arrival in the Netherlands. When we walk into our neighbourhood in the early morning our ears are still whistling with the sounds of India and once we're home all three of us get straight into our beds. Our India adventure is over.

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