Some Indian peculiarities

By 5pm we reached Orchha, a small village in the state of Madhya Pradesh and approximately 400km south of Delhi. The village has quite a lot of monuments such as palaces, temples, tombs and gardens but except for a hotel in the Sheesh Mahal palace, all of them have lain deserted since the 17th century. There is one other peculiarity in this village which struck us when we entered through one of the many gates: the main street is an accumulation of half broken down houses. First we thought there must have been an earthquake because there were so many but we were told when the government built the new road they broke down the illegal parts of the houses. It seems to be very common that people just add new parts to their houses with the growth of their families and they mostly don’t have a license for it (which is a global phenomenon). You have to know that if a son gets married his wife moves into his parent’s house and usually at least three generations live under one roof. In Orchha, people just continue living in the untouched parts of the houses and some even rebuilt their shops around the ruins.

P1050452

P1050453

P1050447

P1070236

You should never look forward to something before you are there. Johan told me before, I should have know from previous experiences. But I couldn’t help. I was exhausted and I was looking forward to a nice guesthouse, with good WiFi connection, warm water, a nice restaurant serving porridge and banana/honey or Nutella pancakes and a garden to chill-out (we are still in love with our 5.70EUR guesthouse in Jaisalmer or the even cheaper place in Udaipur). What a deception.

At the reception of the Ganpati guesthouse in Orchha, the rough guide’s recommendation, we met some Dutch backpackers who told us that the hotel is very nice. From the outside it looked quite shabby, but that’s nothing unusual in India and it didn’t concern us too much. The travel guide described it as a family run and impeccably clean guesthouse. Almost all we wanted! The whole area smelled like a sewer which also didn’t really bother us, we are finally getting used to strange reeks. Johan saw a few rooms and got a huge discount for a big room. At this point we should have gotten slightly concerned, but as we got good discounts before, we thought the manager was just a nice guy trying to please us. When we wanted to take a shower we discovered that there was no hot water, the water boiler was broken. We were offered another bathroom in another room and took a warm shower there (at least I did, when it was Johan’s turn, there was no more hot water left). They are also advertising their beautiful fort/palace views from their ‘hotel garden’, which is unfortunately just their personal garbage dump and used dishes storage, a disgusting place with great views. The whole place is completely neglected and run down and while the bed sheet and towels were relatively clean, we couldn’t disagree more with the rough guide’s judgement on the cleanliness. We decided to look for another guesthouse the next day and actually also found a few even cheaper places, but in the end decided to stay at the Ganpati as we could wash and dry our clothes there, which wasn’t possible at the other places. And as I caught another cold again, I admittedly wasn’t really in for the hassle of packing and unpacking everything again. The Dutch girls moved to another guesthouse in the meantime – we are really upset about them recommending the place – and we overheard a few more complaints from other guests. Ganpati has a serious problem! But what bothers us the most is that the staff and the manager are sitting the whole day long at the reception, drinking chai, praying or taking a bath in one of the available rooms, we hardly see them working. It really doesn’t cost much money to clean up this place and to just try to make it a bit nicer. This by the way is true for many other places we stayed at and we started telling the owners what they really need to change if they want to be successful in the long-term.

The view....

The view….

...and the mess (these are the staff's dishes as there is no restaurant!).

…and the mess (these are the staff’s dishes as there is no restaurant!).

What we are surprised about as well is the fact that everywhere everything is the same. Either we are in a village or town where all guesthouses or hotels have restaurants and WiFi, or we are at places where there is none of it, as it is the case in Orchha. If you run a hotel, wouldn’t you want to make a difference and not just do what everybody does? I guess the word differentiation doesn’t exist yet in India. Other crazy examples are the restaurants. We are sitting at the ‘Blue Sky’ restaurant with free WiFi while I am looking at the sign of the restaurant next door, offering the same menu with ‘treditional food from Orchha, Indian, Italian, Chines, Continental, Cappuchines & Big Pizza Home made’ – spelling mistakes are NOT my own). Or the shops in the half broken down houses: if one shop doesn’t have what you need, don’t worry about asking at the others, they won’t have it either.

This is called diversification: save your money at the hairdresser :-)

This is called diversification: save your money at the hairdresser 🙂

Another nice spot to sleep

Another nice spot to sleep

But now enough complaints. We extended our stay in Orchha by one day as my cold got worse. I think our pancake/Nutella/banana diet combined with overcooked Indian food doesn’t feed me well enough, I am clearly missing some essential minerals and vitamins as I’ve never been sick so often. We really try hard to eat healthy, but the choice is very limited. Another reason why we look forward to moving on, as we hope that there is more food choice for us in Thailand. We will hopefully leave tomorrow – another long trip of 120km to Gwalior, our last stop before we will reach Agra and the famous Taj Mahal.

 

Advertisements

The great depression or just the winter blues?

We could have skipped Chittorgarh and would have avoided a depression we both went into. It is one thing to stay at cheap places that are maybe a bit shabby, maybe a bit dirty but benefit from nice owners who at least try to make the place nice by using colorful bed sheets, by painting the walls in cheerful colors or by cooking nice food. It is another thing if everything is bad, the hotel management, the city, the food, the service, the dirty bathroom with a hole in the ground (I just can’t get used to squat toilets) and a dripping tap, the room with depressing grey walls and windows consisting of a frame and a mosquito net in a desolate state, lacking glass and facing a dark atrium to just name a few things. It was also very noisy – as we couldn’t close the window and the hotel staff performed works in the atrium starting at 8pm. To kill time (we couldn’t even think about sleeping) Johan developed a great business idea for new and comfortable ear plugs which still need some further investigation (so far it is just a plexiglass bubble covering the ear, which might be challenging for ‘side-sleepers’). We got warned ahead by our travel guide but the city was just at good distance for us and the fort worth visiting as well. But it took us a few days to get out of our depression. In the evening we both sat bad-tempered in the freezing cold restaurant (there was just no alternative to go to) when two Indians next to us ordered a bottle of Whiskey of which the first sip had to be poured over the wall. We looked with open mouths and big eyes at this procedure and the one Whiskey guy just said: “This is our culture.” Oh wonderful India!

P1070063

The next day we visited the fort by bike as it is 5km long and 1km wide and were quite surprised by its nice temples, palaces, lovely nature with a lot of parks and lakes and for once not many people there (just a few posh tourists with their drivers in big white SUVs). We could have easily wild camped there and got even more depressed knowing we had to go back to the dirty fridge. We went to bed very early, eager to leave before 8am the next day as we had another long distance to cycle and this time the motorway would only take us halfway to where we wanted to get.

P1050289

P1050308

This is how some Indian tourists like to get photographed!

This is how some Indian tourists like to get photographed!

P1070054

In the meantime it has clearly become winter in Rajasthan and it hasn’t been as cold in years we were told. The reason is the cold Himalayan wind that is blowing very hard. This is causing a few problems for us as we are getting cold as soon as we step off the bike. As there is no heating in the houses we have to put on all our clothes in the evenings to be still cold. The only warm place right now is our sleeping bag so all day long we look forward to go to bed again (the last time I felt like that was when I was still working, sleeping time was the nicest part of the day :-)). The Indian government hence decided to give children another seven days of school holidays due to the cold and some people have already died in Delhi.

This is Johan sleeping with all his clothes and even gloves on!

This is Johan sleeping with all his clothes and even gloves on!

We were very much looking forward to our next destination, a for us unpronounceable place – Bhainsrodgarh fort – and a very expensive heritage hotel where we pitched our tent in the garden with the most stunning view over a huge lake (I think with a lot of crocodiles in it), mountains and some farmland, where we had dinner in one of the lovely rooms from porcelain plates, where we had breakfast with real coffee on the roof top and where we enjoyed the luxury of a beautiful and clean bathroom. The only downside was that poor Johan had a very upset stomach from some street food and the previous hotel and couldn’t eat much and spent most of the evening and night on the toilet.

Rajasthan's most fertile region?

Leaving Chittorgarh

Our tent is under the tree

Our tent is under the tree

Breakfast time

Breakfast time

We paid a total of 14 EUR whereas a room starts from 115 EUR including dinner and breakfast. The fort itself is 200 years old and has been family property since then. We were shown around and the rooms are just beautiful and very tastefully decorated and we were tempted to rent a room for 30 EUR (the highly discounted rate) but chose our tent instead because we didn’t want to spend so much money for just a bed. You might think we’ve become real Dutch or Scottish, but as we don’t earn any money and only spend and as we have some business ideas for later for which we need every penny, we have to economize. By the way the owner of the fort is a cousin of another hotel owner who recommended this place and also made sure we could pitch our tent here. We are most grateful to him as it was a beautiful and peaceful spot surrounded by nature we love, all we needed to get rid of our depression.

P1050330

And before I forget: the area we cycled through is the most fertile area in Rajasthan as there is a lot of water. It is also the area where they grow opium and each field we passed I asked myself “Is this Opium?” as I don’t know much of the crops other than mustard, but I of course know poppy. It is being harvested in February/March, and we unfortunately haven’t seen any poppy fields at all. One out of five men is addicted to opium, which honestly doesn’t surprise me having seen so many weirdos here. I really can’t describe that well, you have to see them yourselves to believe me: the guys that are hanging out of their trucks to yell something at us, or the tractor and truck drivers with their blaring, deafening and music sounding tinny, grown-up men calling me all kinds of names with high-pitched voices as if they were babies or looks from men you wish you would have never seen.

Rajasthan's most fertile region?

Rajasthan’s most fertile region?

We left Bhainsrodgarh late in the morning to give Johan some rest from his diarrhea, to dry the tent and to enjoy the stunning views. If we had know what’s up next, we would have left earlier. But that’s another story.

P1050336

 

Hit the road, Jack!

We’re leaving Delhi tomorrow. FINALLY! The doctors were very pleased with Johan’s progress and gave him the green light to continue our journey and the second part of Adventure India is about to begin. Johan has been busy preparing the bikes, I did the laundry and the cooking (as you can see we split up work the traditional way) and the whole world around us has taken our photos. We are sooooooooo excited!

We’ll start cycling west to explore Rajasthan and for those who want to know exactly where we will be the coming two months, this is the approximate route: Gurgaon (the city we are currently staying) – Bhiwani – Sirsa – Ganganagar – BikanerJaisalmerMount AbuUdaipurJodhpurAjmerJaipurAgra, which brings us back to Delhi. If time allows we’ll continue with an eastern loop to Varanasi and then back to Delhi to catch our flight to Bangkok.

Goodbye guesthouse Pratham

 

 

Countdown

This is the week we’ve been waiting for too long and we hope to be able to resume cycling shortly again, we will keep you posted.

We took the metro one last time into Delhi to meet a global nonprofit organization since we would like to use our trip to raise money for a good cause. More on this subject to come shortly as well. Since we met in the center of the city we decided to go to Old Delhi to visit the Chawri Bazaar and the close-by Jama Masjid Mosque, which is the biggest mosque in India. We both bought ourselves huge and loud tooters to make ourselves heard once on the road again.

As pictures can tell more than words, below a few impressions of our stroll through the Bazaar:

 

 

 

 

The Red Fort

 

Jama Masjid Mosque