Saturday, April 5, 2014

WEALTH, WADIS AND WARM WELCOMES-One week in Dubai



One of the few positive things to have come out of our over-extended stay in Delhi last month (see here) was the time to have a good search for economic ways to get to Iran. It’s very difficult (and really impossible in our situation) these days to cross overland from India to Iran through Pakistan, as the visa for Pakistan is needed from one’s home country. So fly it was, and although we were expecting to fly with one of the budget Middle Eastern or Indian airlines, we were lucky enough to find a cheap flight to Dubai with Emirates, and fly in style!


We left the “security” of India, where we know a lot about how things work, to the unknown destination of Dubai- a city we’d basically only heard about in terms of how modern and expensive it was!


Not ones to rush through a new and potentially interesting destination, we looked into accommodation in the area, and quickly got deterred by the hundred dollar prices! Since we’d always wanted to try Couchsurfing, we thought Dubai might be a good place to start. Couchsurfing is basically a network of travellers or people interested in meeting travellers, offering couches or beds and hopefully a bit of cultural exchange in their homes around the world. Even though we don’t currently have a place of our own, we were generously allowed to join the club! Most people know about Couchsurfing now, but for those who don’t here is a link to the website:


 
The unusual thing about Couchsurfing in Dubai is that most of the hosts are foreign workers, with them making up 80% of the population. We were lucky enough to be hosted by the lovely Marjo from Holland, who immediately made us feel at home in her beautiful apartment on our arrival, and quickly introduced us to her fellow Couchsurfer friends. 


Breakfast in our Couchsurfing hosts apartment, Dubai


They all kindly invited us along on a wadi (dry creek bed) walk on the morning after we arrived, which turned out to be a great adventure, not only the walk itself in a picturesque barren landscape, but the getting lost on the way there, and the discovery of yet another wadi on the way back. This was by far our favourite day in and around Dubai



The un-named wadi with new friends

Beautiful desert scenery


The city itself was interesting enough to see with its spotless metro system, shopping malls galore- some with ski slopes, ice rinks and giant aquariums inside, iconic modern buildings, lovely beaches (a big surprise for us!) and pleasant waterfront areas full of cafes and restaurants, but for us, as visitors, the soul seemed missing, even though there was the biggest mix of ethnicities and peoples we had ever seen anywhere.


Very organized fish market, Dubai
Beautiful display in the supermarket, Dubai

Surprisingly pleasant beach, Dubai
Giant aquarium, Dubai mall

Naughty student at heritage building, Dubai
Dubai by night


There is ALOT of wealth around this city, and we felt very out of place amongst the immaculately dressed and manicured population! Although we stuck to the travelling by metro and bus, and bought food from the supermarket, we were surprised at the high prices. It’s very common to see fancy cars such as Rolls Royce and various expensive sports cars, as well as enormous yachts down in the marina area, and the famous Gold Souk in the “old” part of Dubai was quite an eye-opener with its opulent displays. The shops in the malls are a luxurious mixture of Jimmy Choo, Armani, Ferrari etc, and many Emirati people shop there in their abayas and dishdash (women and men’s robes).


Plenty of bling, Gold Souk, Dubai

Dubai Marina


Other things we learnt about Dubai:

·         Carrying alcohol on the metro is punishable by lashing (luckily we had already put our Duty Free away in our backpacks when we first arrived!)
·         Foreigners officially need a permit to buy alcohol, and it is totally illegal for locals
·         Public phones are rare, and no-one uses them. EVERYONE has a mobile (except us!)
·         Dubai residents may be busy, but they are very helpful and friendly
·         Emeriti women used to wear golden masks on their faces- we were lucky enough to see an old woman with a leather one- apparently people don’t wear them much anymore
·         No-one in Dubai knows where the ferry to Iran leaves from, or indeed that it even exists!
·         Although there is at least one whole carriage on the metro dedicated to women only, men in Dubai are VERY polite in standing up to let women sit down on the train
·         The different styles and colours of Emeriti men’s headdress and dishdash once indicated place of residence, but now is just fashion


Model in old style mask, Dubai museum



We were glad we decided on a stop in Dubai to explore a bit, and the Couchsurfing experience was really positive, but we were very excited to leave for Iran.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

LAST STOP RAJASTHAN- Udaipur and Pushkar (again!)


After the stress of Delhi, all we wanted was a clean place to stay with hot water, friendly people and less traffic. After another freezing train trip, we found most of what we were after in Udaipur, a pretty town on a huge lake, with many lovely havelis (old ornate houses originally built by rich merchants), and a somewhat more upmarket feel than when we last visited. This was the town for a slight splurge- we thought we deserved it! There were so many beautiful rooms in Udaipur, and with the town being famous for artists, the paint jobs were carefully executed, unlike the usual slipshod jobs we were used to! We found a spotless yet character-filled room, complete with coloured glass in the windows, Rajasthan style murals on the walls and a steaming hot solar shower for $9!

We were slightly disappointed when, on our second day, the heavens opened and the rained poured down all day and night- the staff at the hotel said they’d never seen anything like it! But luckily, the weather soon turned, and the days became sunny and warm, and although the nights were cool, it was a big improvement on the last couple of months.
Apparently, the current royal family has put quite a push on tourism, and we saw more foreign tourists here than anywhere else on our trip in India. There is a lot to see, however, and we were kept busy sightseeing during the day and snuggling down in our lovely soft, warm bed at night!


Richard sipping a kulhad coffee (just a cappuccino really!)

Shop selling used dentures


A lot of the sights in Udaipur involve climbing hills surrounded by flowering gardens, and admiring the glorious views of the two large lakes, Pichola and Fateh. The sparkling waters, with white palaces on the water’s edge with lush islands floating in the middle and hills in the background are spectacular, and the walks were well worth the effort.


Lake Pichola, Udaipur

More lovely lake views, Udaipur

Bells on a hilltop temple, Udaipur

Early evening on our hotel rooftop, Udaipur

Lake Pichola, Udaipur


The main tourist area is around Gangaur Ghat on the edge of Lake Pichola, and the Jagdish Vishnu Temple is the centrepiece among the traffic filled narrow streets. We admired the detailed carvings here, despite the loud music coming from the temple that woke us up before six every morning.


Outside Jagdish Tmeple, Udaipur

Detailed carvings, Jagdish Temple, Udaipur

Google-eyed deity, Jagdish Temple, Udaipur

Washing at the ghats in Udaipur

Our gloomy first day in Udaipur

....and when the sun came out
Pink washing, Udaipur ghats


A bull posing, Gangaur Ghat, Udaipur


Also around the ghat was the gorgeous Bagore-ki- haveli , and despite the restoration work going on here, we marvelled at the “Rajasthan”-style designs we love, with mirrors galore, colour, paintings, courtyards, lake views and carved stone. Two rooms had unusual displays. One had a huge number of turbans (which, apparently show social and economic standing- we never knew that) of various castes, some of which seemed very specific ie. “This is worn by accountants from the Shekawati region” or “Only the producers and exporters of oil from Jaipur would wear this style”. The other display was a room full of polystyrene carvings of as random things as the Eiffel Tower!


A gorgeous room decorated in mirrored mosaic, haveli, Udaipur

Getting creative in the haveli!


Udaipur is also famous as the place where the 1982 film Octopussy, with Roger Moore was filmed (and less so for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, with Judy Dench), and we remembered on our last visit not being able to eat dinner in any restaurant without the movie blaring out. This time, however, we had to search it out, and joined our new Danish friend, Sarah, for a Bond evening. A few days later, Richard and I visited the Vintage Car Museum and saw the Rolls Royce Phantom from the film in person, along with many other evocative cars with colourful royal histories (one of the Maharajas is a car fanatic).

It was in Udaipur where we began to feel run down. We’d gotten to the sad stage where we were tired, and ready for a change. It’s a shame, because we may not have fully appreciated all the sights we were seeing. But it happens in this huge, crazy country- so many things that are charming to begin with often turn annoying after 6 months. No doubt, though, as soon as we leave we will be dying to get back; it’s always the way it works!

A mix up with our train from Udaipur saw us ending up back in Pushkar, instead of Bundi, as we had planned (another long story!). Although we would have liked to return to Bundi after visiting it so many years ago, we decided it was fate to end our trip to India in our favourite place of our six months here.


Little cutie on the train to Ajmer

Typical signs at an Indian train station

Fellow passenger, train to Ajmer

Glamour on the tracks, train to Ajmer


In our two month absence from Pushkar the weather had fined up, and we scored a great little basic room away from the bustle of the main town, near the lake, with a view of flower gardens, and the morning and afternoon sunshine, which we took full advantage of.

Mostly our days were spent doing the rounds of our favourite cafes and restaurants (so much good eating in this town!), meeting and chatting with new people, starting some belated research for Iran, watching cheeky monkeys entertain, stocking up on clothes and other things for our upcoming travels (prices are ridiculously cheap here, and we love the “Pushkar style”!), enjoying sunsets (not so many sunrises this time!) and observing yet more weddings (this really is the town to for nuptials- we even saw one with five couples).


Combining research and food!


We were dreading leaving this oasis, and returning to Delhi, but the knowledge that it would only be for one night before our big adventure travelling to Iran and beyond, kept us enthusiastic!

BEAUTIFUL INDIAN DOORWAYS


If we had added all these glorious doorways to our Rajasthan blog posts, there would have been no room for anything else, so here they are in their own right!