Mussoorie Jaipur

An Indian Journal | Mussoorie to Jaipur

A view into the Himalayas | Mussoorie | November 2010


Uttarakhand State

Mussoorie | Nov. 16 to 18

The hill station of Mussoorie offered itself as a stopover on the way from Shimla in the mountains to Haridwar in the Ganges valley. We had to spend a night in a tacky business hotel in Uttarakhands capital Dheradun down below Mussoorie since we arrived there after a nine hour bus ride in the evening when communications uphill were already closed down. The upsides of the fact were a hot water shower and a cold beer in the hotel bar.

No Seat Available

After getting up early next morning we reached the bus terminal only to learn that there were no seats left in the morning bus. Jeep shuttle services were of course available but at about twenty times the price of two bus tickets. Since the ratio of supply to demand was significantly in our favor and Indians are capitalist by heart we were, however, able to negotiate a seriously lowered fare for the transfer. Our driver hurled his vehicle up the steep serpentine road to stop about halfway where without any further commentary he took in another man and surrendered the drivers seat to let him drive the remaining way. My companion was slightly distressed and taken aback by that while I had already surrendered myself to the utter unpredictability of India and barely noticed the fact since I knew of neither of them if any drivers licence was ever acquired.

The Hill Station

Mussoorie is significantly smaller than Shimla and cannot compete in terms of visual appeal. It is however a charming hill station and there are some magnificent views into the foothills of the Himalayas–and in favorable weather on the big mountains behind–to be obtained. We stayed in an odd and rather damp old hotel where we slept in a kind of little hut built into a huge room. At a chai establishment we had a lovely and remarkable chat with an Indian executive and his wife who stayed also for a holiday in Mussoorie. They had traveled Europe the year before and the wive told us how nice it was to see the Pope in Paris, only to be gruffily corrected by her CEO-husband. That little lapse was perfectly excusable since their journey was of the breakneck seven countries in nine days variety and for Indian eyes tiny Europe has to be same same all over.

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Haridwar | Nov. 18 to 21

Asthi Parvah Ghat at the Ganges canal | Haridwar | November 2010

Haridwar on the right bank of the river Ganges is considered a holy place and one of seven holy pilgrimage sites in Hinduism. It lies at the foothills of the Shivalik ranges that constitue the southern outliers of the Himalayas range not far downstream from where the headwaters of Ganges come out of the mountains and join to form mother Ganga. Here the river is crystal clear and ice cold compared to farther downstream. Our stay in Haridwar coincided with the Kartik Poornima festival. It is held in remembrance of Shiva killing the demon Tripurasura that so overjoyed the gods that they declared the day as a festival of illuminations. It is celebrated fifteen days after Diwali and hundreds of thousands of Hindus decent on Haridwar to pray and bathe and offer Poojahs – candle lit banana leaves that are sent downstream on the river – to the gods.

Haridwar Lodging

On the more profane side we encountered a tiffin stall offering delicious aloo parathas – a potato-filled flatbread dish served for breakfast – that became my Haridwar item of food-obsession and I bought a custom tailored Indian shirt made out of super thin cotton I still own today. Moreover was Haridwar the high water mark of a sport to lodge just like the most average Indians would, i.e. on a shoestring to the max. That led us to an establishment deceivingly named Executive Lodge where we were offered a room for two for 250 Rupees (€4 at the time) that was small, damp, extremely run down, and sported several Frisbee-sized funguses on the bathroom door. When we saw the room we did not really want to stay there and thought the manager would surely not accept if we offer him 200 Rupees for the room. When he did we were in kind of a fix. But since we were out and about all day every day there and hence slept a 7pm because of exhaustion, we only had to be careful to stay within the premises of our sleeping bags at night and everything went well.

Railway Station Rumble

When we left on the night train to Delhi the festival was over and the platform at Haridwar Junction railway station was packed to the last inch with humanity wanting to leave as we did. When the train entered the station, that mass of people started to maneuver to get in a good position to enter and I realized that the only thing we could do was to go with the flow and take care not to fall down and likely be trampled. It proved to be a remarkable experience in between amazement and disquiet and played out all right – as me writing this lines testifys.

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Union Territory

Old Delhi | Nov. 22 to 25

Chandni Chowk market district | November 2010

The National Capital Territory of Delhi is a monster. Counting nearly 17 million souls overall and 11 million still in its metropolitan core, its almost beyond comprehension for a yokel from good ole Austria even when he’s living its metropolis Vienna.

Chandni Chowk

Except for a lovely afternoon visit we payed to an Austro-Indian expat from Upper Austria down south and some hours at Connaught Place in New Delhi, we have spent our stay around Chandni Chowk, a market district in between Delhi Junction railway station, the Red Fort, and the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India and one of the largest in all of the Islamic world in the midst of Old Delhi.

The most stylish goat in all of Northern India | Chandni Chowk | November 2010

Here India is as gritty and crowded and raw – and as fascinating to me – as it gets. Around its landmarks one can sense the power and might the Mughal Empire once wielded in this lands. During all of our stay the smog over the city never once lifted and bathed it in a kind of surreal hazy light I like very much for photography. Because we were exhausted from our extended walks in Haridwar and the basic premises of the Executive Lodge there, we decided to go the full monty here and rented a room in the Tara Palace Hotel, a four star oasis in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Chandni Chowk for more than ten times the price of our Haridwar lodging. That was a deviation from our plan to do it like the Indians albeit one that made sense since we got clean and rested again and were able to dive head on into the chaotic jumble of Old Delhi.

The Others

Around the landmarks – and in our Hotel of course – a fair amount of tourists was to be seen. But they proofed to be not much of a disturbance since they usually were ferried from their hotels to the sights, entrance to entrance, by airconditioned taxis or buses, mostly looking slightly frightened to get dirty or diarrhea. We were already gone native at the time and indulged in (most of) everything India choose to throw at us.

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Rajasthan State Reprise

Jodhpur | Nov. 26 to 28

Mehrangarh fortress towering over Jodhpurs old town | November 2010

When we came to Delhi we had already made up our minds that we wanted see some more of Rajasthan. The Land of the Kings was a difficult customer for us. On the one hand it is, together with Goa, the most obvious destination to travel in India and we wanted to see not only the obvious places. On the other hand there are things one has to cast an eye at when in the region. One of these is Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.

Mehrangarh Fort

Jodhpur was the seat of a princely state of the same name until it merged with the Indian Republic in 1947. It then became the second largest city in Rajasthan. Today it is a popular tourist destination. Also known by the name Blue City, every second building in the old town is a guest house and features a rooftop restaurant advertising a magnificent view on the mighty fortress of Mehrangarh. The great fort towering over the old town of Jodhpur is a truly impressive piece of defensive architecture. Started in the 15th century and built on for over five hundred years, the fort and its palaces feature a variety of different architectural styles. Deceivingly called a fort, Mehrangarh with its expanse of 81.000 square meters counts as the second largest castle in the world. Its walls are 36 meters high and up to 21 meters wide. It is a true stunner and well justified our two night stay there.

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Jaipur | Nov. 28 to 30

Street food in Jaipur India
Some unassuming yet delicious street food.

Jaipur is the capital and the largest city of Rajasthan. We wanted to travel to Varanasi and the east and decided to make two quick stops at Jaipur and Agra to take a look at two romantic classics, Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds, and the Taj Mahal. So we arrived from Jodhpur by bus in the evening and spent a partly rainy evening on the rooftop of our hotel where we lodged in a room at the ground floor that sported a windowless bathroom at semi-cellar-level some steps down.

Hawa Mahal

On the following day we payed visit to the Palace of the Winds with its famed street side façade built for the noble women to sneak peeks at the plebs outside. The matter was decidedly underwhelming after the massive experience of Mehrangarh. Afterwards we strolled back through the bazar and went though some lengths to acquire two night bus tickets to Agra for the next evening. Our last day in Jaipur we spent doing laundry, planning the next steps of the journey, and taking it easy.

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