We went on a day trip to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is ^^) on Thursday. Still proud of our idea to go there from Jaipur rather than Delhi- I still haven't heard of a single person who said that they liked the latter... it just sounds like too much chaos and hassle. But coming back to Agra- we set off at 5.30 from our hotel to go to catch our train. About Agra there's not really much more to say- we spent a day as typical tourists walking around the fort and the Taj Mahal. As expected, both are extremely beautiful and worth seeing...The only excitements of the day were firstly our attempt to walk from the fort to the Taj Mahal which are about 2km apart. Initially all went well (and after getting rid of a very persistent rickshaw driver who insisted on wanting to take us in his 'helicopter'), we found the park which connects the two without travel. It was the first really nice quiet walk which wasn't steeply uphill since we got to India. Only when we reached the area surrounding the Taj Mahal we got rather lost and ended up walking through the entire bazaar as well as residential areas... Although it wasn't really planned it was still a really interesting experience! But after about half an hour we have up trying to find our own way and got a rickshaw to drop us off at an entrance to the Taj. Of course by that point it turned out to be almost around the corner and practically where we had set out from after leaving the park... But well...
I don't know whether it's because we were expecting so much worse after everyone's warnings- but until now our journey has been relatively peaceful. Travelling by train turns out to be a really pleasant (if slightly slow) way of getting around. Unless you buy a general ticket (without seat reservation- we have seen people just climbing onto the rooftops...), travelling by train is pretty comfortable and a nice way of seeing a bit of the countryside. We were told beforehand that most trains are so slow that it's possible to jump off, take pictures, and get on again. So far we haven't actually tried that- but it would definitely seem possible. And almost everyone we've talked to up to now, be it on trains or otherwise, has been really friendly and helpful. (luckily- as at most stations you can't read the station name from the window- so it's almost essential having someone around who's able to tell you when to get off...).
We finally left Jaipur for Pushkar yesterday. As beautiful as everything we visited there was- it is so nice to be in a smaller place again which is possible to navigate on foot. Also not wiping a black film off your face every evening from all the pollution in the air (don't want to know the state of my lungs) is a nice change. Pushkar is a very pretty- extremely colourful little town surrounding a holy lake. Seemingly endless numbers of pilgrims come here to bathe in the lake... The whole town counts as holy, so alcohol and smoking are forbidden. Also, there is only vegetarian food (incl. no eggs). As we've gone vegetarian for our time here anyway that's actually really nice as it means a much wider selection of veggie food... Also, the countryside surrounding the town is beautiful. It is hilly- with many temples perched on the tops of little mountains surrounding the town. And there are tortoises wandering around in gardens and we saw peacocks on the bus ride here! (We've almost gotten used to monkeys and camels everywhere). Unfortunately, we are here only until tomorrow- or we would have gone for some longer walks in the area. The monsoon is starting here at the moment- but as we are practically in the desert that's not a bad thing at all. And it's nowhere near as strong as it was back up in Dharamsala. It still is quite hot- but no worse than it would be in southern Europe in the summer either.
Oh, and I ended up having chai with some nomads here today. A fifteen year old girls started talking to us while we were wondering around the lake. She showed us pictures of her family and home (tent in the desert) and told us that many of them are musicians and singers. I went for chai with them in the market place and she and and her aunt and uncle who joined us gave me a little concert! It was really beautiful music- of course she (successfully) tried to sell me a CD... We'll see what it actually has on it... (but either way it was pretty cheap and either way I know they are far worse off than me...)
Our stay here was cut a little short by us getting stuck in Jaipur for another half day because I woke up with conjunctivitis on the day we meant to leave... After pretty scary stories from two friends with similar problems last year I definitely wanted to see a doctor as soon as possible... Overall it definitely was a good idea (and I think my eyes are slowly getting a bit better)- but I had my doubts for a moment when the anti-inflammatory he gave me turned out to be paracetamol. Minutes after I'd told him I was allergic....! Luckily, it turns out I'm not after all... (it was always just a likelihood. The only test is to take it again under controlled conditions and see what happens...). The main annoyance is having the two options of either constantly wearing sunglasses (which looks a little stupid to say the least, especially at night or inside relatively dark rooms). Alternatively, I get pretty scared looks from anyone who sees me... I've definitely felt more attractive! (not that that's such a bad thing here...)
Off to Jodhpur tomorrow! Kind of wish we had a bit more time here in Pushkar- but the train is booked. And although it's a big city again, two English people I met in Dharamsala told me they really liked it and gave us the (approximate) name of a cosy, family run hostel. The wife even lets you cook with her in the evening- it sounds pretty good! (if we can find it...) Also looking forward to the train ride there. The only bit we're slightly concerned about is getting the bus into the next town from where our train leaves. We came on it on our way here and it was no problem. Until we arrived and wanted to get off that is... I've never seen that many people try to squeeze into a bus that desperately before! There were actually fights in the doorway between people trying to get off and those squashing in... We'll see how that goes with a massive backpack...
Looking forward to hearing from you as always!