Tuesday, 17 April 2012

VARANASI, City of Light


"Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together" Mark Twain

Known to the devout as Kashi, the Luminious, the City of Light, Varanasi was founded by Shiva and is the oldest living city in the world. Varanasi has maintained its religious life since the sixth century BC in one unbroken and continuous tradition, and stands at the centre of the Hindu universe. Situated along the shores of the holy river Ganga, the water front is dominated by ghats where thousands of pilgrims and residents come for their daly ablutions.

Whether you take a walk along the banks of the river or a boat ride, the ghats thrive with life, there are barbers waiting to shave the recently deceased, sadhu's or holy men practising meditation or yoga, children playing cricket and bodies being reduced to ashes.

The holy river Ganges is regarded as amrtia, the elixir of life which brings purity to the living and salvation to the dead, her riverbanks are marked by pavilions, palaces, temples and terraces and her shores are marked by a chain of stone steps . The ghats are washed by the seasonal and monsoonal flush of Ganga Ma with dramatic seasonal fluctuations of the river level.

Varanasi is also known as the City of Learning and Burning. To die or to be cremated here on these holy shores is said to bring the soul to liberation or moksha.
 
Dashaswamedh Ghat,

Manikarnika Ghat

The pre-eminent cremation ground of Varanasi never sleeps. The ghat is perpetually crowded with funeral parties and Doms (the untouchables whose job it is to attend to the cremation fires).
the busiest ghat in the city, Dashaswamedh Ghat is the site of a ten horse sacrifice performed by Lord Brahma, and has become Varanasi's most popular bathing ghat as it is believed that bathers can reap the benefits of this ancient sacrifice even today.

KHAJURAHO



One of the most essential stops in a tour of Northern India, the temples of Khajuraho are regarded as the greatest architectural achievement of the Chandella Dynasty. Famed for the exquisite and delicate sensuality of its carvings, they were built during the tenth and twelfth centuries AD before being abandoned and almost forgotten in subsequent dynasties.
The intricacy of Khajuraho's erotic carvings were due in part to the soft buff coloured sandstone but he skill of the artisans is evident in the smallest detail, with friezes crammed with detail, right down to the manicured nails and ear rings of the figures depicted in minute detail.

Overtly erotic, the carvings that adorn the temples include a huge congregation of gods and goddesses and depict an amazing array of sexual activities and proclivities.
Immaculately restored, the temples of Kandariya Mahadeva, Vishvanatha and Lakshmana are concentrated in an area known as the Western Group. Adding to the beauty of the entire complex, the temples subtly change hue as the day progresses while floodlights dramatically highlight the temples at night. If you are lucky enough to visit during the time of the full moon, you will see yet another aspect of Khajuraho that will live in your memory for a lifetime.

TASTING INDIA _ FOOD



India is a nation of passionate foodies, every state and region will have it's own speciality dishes and then there is a vast amount of street food to try and taste. If you are vegetarian then India is the right place for you, some of the very best food on offer is vegetarian and even confirmed meat eaters will enjoy the vast array of food on offer.
If you are looking for curry on an Indian menu, you won't find it there. Curry does not exist in India, instead each dish is spiced according to the principles of Ayurveda. Instead of curry powder, Garam Masala ('hot mix') is used as well as the ubiquituous chilli.
You will find that most restaurants will ask you the level of spice you require in your meal, ask for mild if you are unable to cope with a lot of spice or "Indian Spicy" if you want the authentic Indian taste.
Thali A thali is both a plate and a meal, The thali dish can look like this


or this

Regional variations exist in a never ending array of combinations and flavours but basically a thali meal will come with a big mound of rice, a dish of vegetables, a dal and some raita or maybe a bit of salad.
TipThali restaurants will have set price for a meal but don't be surprised if the waiters keep filling up your dish until you feel you may burst. Thali joints are the original Eat All You Can Restaurants.
Best place in Delhi for Thali
Ask your Real_India driver to take you to our favourite restaurant to get a bit of authentic flavour.The amount of locals here is the best testament for the restaurant. You buy a ticket at the counter (specify Veg or Non Veg),you will be seated when a table becomes available and may be seated with others.


Mughal Cuisine
Regional varieties in food is as vast as the country itself, in the north of India the influence of the Mughul cooks is evident in the rich dishes combining cream, almonds, saffron and sultanas.

They also invented the Tandoor, a deep clay oven that came into use first as an underground oven. Meat is marinated in yoghurt mixed with herbs and spices before being cooked in the tandoor and served as tikka, a dry dish.

If you prefer a dish with a bit of gravy to sop up with your tandoor naan then order Tikka Masala, a dish thickened with almonds or ask for a butter sauce.


Best Place in Delhi to try Mughal Food
Travelers in Delhi Have a lot on their plate. Mughal monuments like the hulking Red Fort and the elegant Jama Masjid, India's largest Mosque loom above the city's myriad bazaars and the dusty homes of forgotten poets. But no matter how much there is to explore, locals and visitors alike always return to Delhi's most beloved haunt: Karim's.
A cycle rickshaw ride from the Chandni Chowk metro stop, Karim's is neither soaring fortress nor ancient temple, yet it is an unmissable landmark nonetheless often filled to capacity with the faithful. This humble roadside dhaba (for eatery)serves up the most authentic Mughlai fare in the city

Thursday, 12 April 2012

HAGGLING IN INDIA



Sometimes your driver may stop at shops unasked, they get a small commission for bringing customers to certain places. If you buy something at one of the shops you will inevitably end up paying around fifty percent extra. With Real_India and Delhi Car Rental, you will never experience this situation as the foundation of our company is to avoid all commission rackets.
When shopping in India there are a few things to be aware of.


MRP (Maximum Retail Price)
Most small goods (cigarettes, water, pre packaged grocery items and snack foods) will have a price stamped somewhere on the packet. Look for the MRP stamp on the bottom or side. In some out of the way places, people may try to charge you an extra rupee to cover the cost of transport. Most people don't mind to pay this, but you are well within your rights to insist on the MRP.

BARGAINING

Be aware that most things can be bargained for in India. Bargaining is almost like entering into a relationship with the seller. If you pay the first price then they will not respect you in the morning. If you bargain for something that you have no intention of buying this is considered very impolite.
When you ask "How much?" the bargaining is said to have begun.
The shopkeeper will mention an outrageous price to which you respond in a shocked and sorry manner. Shake your head and say "Arrree Baba! I am not the Goddess of Wealth!"
The shopkeeper may then ask what price you would offer for his goods.
You would then offer about ten percent less than what the goods are worth to you and allow him to bargain you up in increments to your final price.

Photo credit: http://vasa-project.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Haggling.jpg

SHOPPING IN INDIA, WHAT TO BUY WHERE


There is so much to buy in India that you will soon be wishing you had organised extra luggage allowance! From exotic silk sari to exotic handcrafted souvenirs, bustling bazaars and modern malls, you will find that most goods are very reasonably priced and if you find that you have bought too much, the postal service in India is very reliable allowing you to arrange for bulkier items to be sent home by mail or courier.
Here is a small list of places of interest for the shopper in you.
DELHI
Crafts Museum

The Crafts Museum complex is a charming oasis in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Delhi. Mud huts with painted walls and thatched roofs, courtyards, terracotta horses recreating village shrines, craftsmen at work are some of the elements that add to the rural ambience of the place.
Within the museum itself are examples of traditional Indian crafts, wooden carvings and images, metalware, especially ewe Perdue objects from Bastar, West Bengal and Bihar, clay and terracotta pots, toys and images, folk and tribal paintings, jewellery and textiles.
Dilli Haat


The different kinds of items that are sold in the Dilli Haat in Delhi include footwear made from camel skin, brassware, sandalwood and rosewood carvings, handloom items, woolen and silk items, draperies, articles made from stone, ornaments and others. Every product is unique and is a fine example of the skills of the Indian craftsmen.

Emporiums

The Central Cottage Emporium in Jawahar Bhavan at Janpath is undoubtedly worth a visit for anything ethnic anc chic. It has almost anything that you might desire to buy. From furniture to clothes, to shoes that are typically Indian, to small gift items that could work as souvenirs, the Cottage Emporium has it all. The quality is absolutely the best and the prices are reasonable enough. In the rustic background of the Crafts Museum at Mathura road, one can pick up great bargains on items like shawls, pottery and paintings.

Old Delhi


For those who are interested in antiques, Sundar Nagar is just the place to be in. Of course for cheaper antiques, it is Chandni Chowk. While in that area, Dariba Kalan, a narrow street, may be visited for gold and Silver. Chandni Chowk is famous for jewelry and saris, so for those who wish to get a feel of the tradition of India, Chandni Chowk is the place to visit. Chandni Chowk is also the place to buy silverware and jewellery. 

Malls


There are an amazing variety of shopping malls in Delhi, with more in nearby Gurgaon and Noida. Saket Mall
Export Clothing

Sarojini Nagar Market is for those who want fashionable clothes at reasonable prices. Even before the latest couture designs hit the boutiques, their cheaper version appears here. One of the major attractions of the Sarojni Nagar Market of Delhi, India is that it provides even branded goods at cheap prices. This is so because export surplus garments as well as rejected export clothing comes to this market at throw away prices. Right from Levis to Van Huesen to GAP, you will almost every Indian as well as International brand here.
One thing to remember in the Sarojini Nagar Market is to bargain and haggle a lot with the shopkeepers to get a reasonable price.

JAIPUR

Jaipur is a treasure trove for shoppers, shopping is irresistible, a wide range of handicrafts are available in the market, most of items are produced in the centers in and around the city.
Johari Bazar:
This is where you can buy jewellery and tie and dye sarees, two lanes joining the main road - Gopalji ka Rasta and Haldion ka Rasta house numerous establishments selling jewellery. On the main road itself you find many silversmiths. Traditional tie and dye fabrics and textiles are also available here.

Tripolia Bazar and Chaura Rasta: You can shop here for textiles, utensils, ironware and trinkets. If you want to see the artisans at work, step into the side lanes and see for yourself.

Bapu Bazaar and Nehru Bazaar: Here you can purchase textiles, local perfumes and shoes made of camel skin.

Mirza Ismial Road (MI. Road): The broad thoroughfare houses a large number of emporia selling a variety of goods ranging from jewellery and brass work to textiles, to blue pottery, to woodwork, etc. These shops stock a large variety of goods to satisfy the tourists’ needs.


VARANASI


If you ever dreamed of owning and wearing a sari, the Vanarasi Saree is an Indian woman's coveted possession. The Banarasi sari speaks volumes of the genius of the traditional weaver. The Banarasi saris became more popular during the Mughal era and the sari weaving art reached its zenith. It was during this period when Sari weaving saw the amalgamation of Indian designs and Persian motifs.

The Banarasi sari comes mainly in four different varieties. They are pure silk (katan); organza (kora) with zari and silk; georgette, and shattir. Sari weaving is kind of a cottage industry for millions of people around Varanasi. Most of the silk for the Banarasi saris comes from south India, mainly Bangalore. The Sari weavers weave the basic texture of the sari on the power loom. In weaving the warp, the weavers create the base, which runs into 24 to 26 meters. In an ideal Banarasi Sari there are around 5600 thread wires with 45-inch width.

HIGHLIGHTS OF RAJASTHAN



Rajasthan, the land of Kings, with extravagant forts and palaces, temples and festivals is one of India's most visited states, it is certainly one of the most memorable! Real_India has planned a range of Rajasthan itineraries that encapsulates an India of flamboyant mustaches, neon coloured turbans, camels loping along city streets, mirrored tapestries and sari's glinting in the sunlight, it is the state of festivals that are guaranteed to dazzle your senses!

 
Ranthambore National Park
One of the last sizeable swathes of verdant bush in Rajasthan, Ranthambore is fed by several rivers that have been dammed to form lakes, dotted with delicate pavilions and decaying creeper covered Rajput Palaces. Apart from tigers, Ranthambore is home to chital deer, leopards, jackal and a rich variety of wildlife. Ranthambore provides you with a decent chance of spotting the elusive tiger, some of the best viewing spots are from the crumbling tenth century fort that looks like something straight out of Jungle Book!
 

Shekhawati

The Shekhawati region of Rajasthan is a delight! Tucked away in rural Rajasthan, Shekhawati was once a major player in a trade route that moved from Pakistan to Delhi. The local Marwari merchants grew rich on taxes and trade through the area and began to sink their wealth into competing with each other to build grand haveli that were intricately painted and decorated with murals.
The painted houses of Shekhawati reflect a period of time in India's history, it is one of the richest artistic and architectural legacies in all of India.


Udaipur

Described as the Venice of the East, Udaipur is Rajasthan's most romantic city. Settled around the walls of the impressive City Palace and the shores of Lake Pinchola, the old city is revealed through it's tightly winding streets, lined with antique and art shops, Udaipur is home to the Mewar school of miniature painting. Two ivory domed palaces float serenely in Lake Pinchola, one has been converted to a hotel where you can visit for high tea and return to the city just in time for the unforgettable sight of sunset over the skyline of whitewashed haveli, tapering temple towers surmounted by the domes and ornately carved balconies of the City Palace.
 

Jodhpur

On the edges of the Thar Desert, Jodhpur is overlooked by the impressive Meherangarh Fort whose ramparts rise from a sheer sided sandstone outcrop. Jodhpur is also known as the Blue City for the blue painted houses of the Brahmin village at the foot of Meherangarh Fort. Described as the work of "angels and giants' by the writer Kipling, Meherangarh Fort is one of the best maintained forts in Rajasthan. The city is also famous for the Jodhpur riding pant and it's first rate antique reproduction business.

Jaisalmer

In the remote westernmost corner of Rajasthan, the golden sand-yellow ramparts of Jaisalmer Fort rises out of the Thar desert like a vision from Arabian Nights. Dominating both the desert surrounds and the town at its feet, Jaisalmer Fort is a city within a city, the narrow winding streets are flanked with carved sandy facades and some bastions still holding cannons. Every part of Jaisalmer Fort is made from soft yellow Jurassic sandstone, giving it a golden glow and the title of The Golden City.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

CULTURAL HINTS AND ETIQUETTE




It's always nice to have a little understanding of the cultural and social etiquette of the country you are visiting. The basic rule of watching what the locals do when you are unsure is best applied in India. Don't worry, allowances are made for tourists but it just may help you feel a bit more comfortable with the following tips.
NAMASTE
Is the greeting used in India, with the hands folded together in prayer. Namaste literally means " The god in me bows to and acknowledges the god in you."


THE RIGHT HAND RULE
In India, as in all across Asia, people eat with their RIGHT HAND. This is because the left hand is used for unclean tasks.
To eat with your right hand, only take as much as you can easily fit into your mouth in one bite.
To eat from or to pass food with your left hand is considered unclean.
If you want to share food with others, there are strict rules. Indians will not accept food that has been touched by others lips. So if you want to share your food, offer it before you begin to eat or take small portions from a larger dish.
If you share water or drinks from a common container then your lips should also not touch the container.

TEMPLES
Shoes should be removed before entering temples or mosques. There are usually places available to leave your shoes for a small fee, some temples offer foot wear to protect your feet from the heat of the stones.
Mosques are open to visit except at prayer times.
it is not considered polite to take photographs inside temples.
Sikh temples require visitors heads to be covered and will supply cloths for this purpose.
Some Hindu temples will not allow Non Hindus into the inner sanctums.DRESS
Indian people are quite conservative about dress and most Indians dress quite formally even on holiday.
Women do not wear clothes that reveal the body shape (for example, jeans with a long top are acceptable but cut off jeans with skimpy top are not).
Men are advised to wear a shirt at all times.



BEHAVIOUR

Kissing and embracing in public is not acceptable behaviour in public places in India, even holding hands in some less toursity places is considered scandalous.
When entering someone's home, remove your shoes.
When sitting, pointing the soles of your feet towards anyone is considered rude. Sitting cross legged avoids this potential social gaffe.
Do not point or touch anyone with your feet, if you do so by accident then this is always followed by an apology.

WOMEN TRAVELERS

India has a few challenges for a woman traveler. While Indian women face the daily problem of sexual harassment (known as Eve Teasing), Western women are not excluded from this problem. Staring, brushing into your body bits and or grabbing them are all feats of the North Indian Eve Teaser.
Walk with your body bits protected or covered at all times and do not be afraid to return any unwelcome touch with a punch or a slap.


Photo credit: http://www.theasyindian.com/, wikipedia commons, http://www.123rf.com/photo

Baksheesh,Beggars and Tipping in India



Baksheesh is literally a sweetener, a reward for a small service or an appreciation, for a service performed or alms giving.

TippingIs considered a small reward for someone who helps you transport your bags, or gives service in some way. Ten rupees is generally considered sufficient for small services.
In restaurants you may tip up to ten percent of the price of the meal.
Drivers may be tipped up to 150INR a day.

Beggars
As a tourist you may sometimes be besieged by beggars and it's difficult to know what to do. If you find yourself in such a situation, walk away. These are professional beggars taking advantage of your discomfort and are in no immediate danger of starving to death.
At temples or holy places you may see people sitting at the gates waiting for some small baksheesh, it is appropriate to give a small coin to each.
With children, you may wish to give food rather than money.

BaksheeshWhen you want to bend the rules a little in your favour.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Pushkar Camel Fair



For five days leading up to and including the full moon of Karika,(usually November) the small Rajasthan oasis town of Pushkar plays host to thousands of devotees, traders, tourists and performers. There are actually two events in this annual fair, as the full moon of Kartika is also the most auspicious time for Hindu to bathe in the holy lake of Pushkar while on the outskirts of the town is a camel fair that attracts people and traders from all over Rajasthan.
According to ancient texts, Pushkar came into existence when Lord Brahma the creator dropped a lotus flower to earth in order to kill a demon. At the three places where the lotus petals landed in the middle of the desert, lakes were formed and on the shores on the largest lake, a gathering of 900,000 celestial beings was held.

The anniversary of this gathering is the full moon phase during October/November every year. A bathe in Pushkar Lake at this time is said to cleanse the soul of impurities.
With the harvest season over and a little bit of cash in their pockets the villagers enjoy a well deserved week of fesivities with sideshows and all the fun of the fair.

Camels and cattle are meticulously groomed before being presented for sale and competitions abound for such things a the best decorated beast, a tug of war between villagers and tourists, and even a mustache competition!


Pushkar Camel Fair offers visitors to India a rare opportunity to rub shoulders with Rajasthan people and culture while enjoying all the fun of the fair.


Best time to go:


The best time to visit the Camel Fair grounds is early morning before the dust of the day, the light is good for photography and people are at their most relaxed, you may have to turn down numerous offers of breakfast or chai!

Holy Lake
Out of respect for the prilgrims, please do not take photographs on the ghat. Its easy enough to find a discrete spot from which to take photos from a distance.
Shoes are not to be worn on the ghats withing 15 feet of the holy Lake and women should dress conservatively.
Shoes should be removed when crossing the bridge.

See:

Brahma Temple
The only temple in India dedicated to the creator Brahma.
Rose GardensPushkar is surrounded by rose farms, the flowers are grown for supply to the puja market and are used in rose water, perfumes and a medicinal rose jam.
Pushkar Lake
According to ancient texts, Pushkar came into existence when Lord Brahma the creator dropped a lotus flower to earth in order to kill a demon. At the three places where the lotus petals landed in the middle of the desert, lakes were formed and on the shores on the largest lake, a gathering of 900,000 celestial beings was held.
The anniversary of this gathering is the full moon phase during October/November every year. A bathe in Pushkar Lake at this time is said to cleanse the soul of impurities.

Dates for Pushkar Camel Fair
2012  November 18 - 27th
2013  November 7 - 16th

Tip:
Care should be taken with your belongings. Pickpockets arrive from all points out of Pushkar and even locals have been robbed during this time. If someone helpfully points out that you have dirt on your clothes or shoes, do not stop or put down your belongings to deal with this. This is a common trick designed to distract people while their belongings are ripped off.
While the religious festival peaks at the full moon, the Camel Fair is all but over. Try to get there a few days before the full moon so you can experience both sides of this internationally famed festival.
Tips:

Jaipur Elephant Festival



The Pink City, capital city of the state of Rajasthan, is equidistant between Delhi and Agra, making it the diamond of the Golden Triangle. Though the Pink part of the city is nowadays confined to the old walled quarter of the city, Jaipur offers a flamboyant showcase of Rajasthani architecture. Originally a yellow colour, the city was given a rose coloured paint job to commemorate the visit of Prince Albert from England in 1876.
The site of the modern city of Jaipur was chosen by Jai Singh II when he decided to move his capital from Amber. Working in accordance with the ancient Hindu treatise of Vastu, he designed and built the city of Jaipur so that it was astrologically aligned to the happiness and prosperity of it's people.In keeping withe the observance of the shastras, each quarter of Jaipur is home to a particular centre of activity or commerce.
Jaipur's most famous monuments lie within the City Palace Complex, at the heart of the Pink City. The Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace) where women of the court watched over the city without being seen, the Jantar Mantar observatory are within walking distance of the palace where the Royal Family still lives.

The Elephant Festival
The Elephant Festival begins with a beautiful procession of bedecked elephants, camels, horses and folk dancers. The owners proudly embellish their elephants with vibrant colors, jhools (saddle cloth) and heavy jewellery. It is quite a treat to see female elephants wearing anklets, which tinkle as they walk. One can see people sprinkling 'gulaal' (colored powder) perched on top of the elephant. There are prizes for the most beautifully decorated elephant.

Tips:
During the Hot Season, temperatures in Rajasthan can soar to more than 50C.
The best time to visit Rajasthan is between October and February when daytime temperatures rarely go higher than 30C.
If you are more able to withstand heat and humidity, the monsoon season (July to September) is a good shoulder season, the state is beautifully green and the light for photography is at its best.
Alcohol: One of the delights of visiting Rajasthan is the strong adherence to the traditions of the culture. As such the use of alcohol is not a part of the cultural tapestry of Rajasthan, so expect to pay a premium price for alcohol.