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India is unique in so many levels. One of them is the liveliness and constant vibrance that grabs attention wherever one is. Colors, people, foods, smells, sounds, animals, buildings, all lure one’s gaze and awareness in all directions, that by the end of each day, I was dead tired. For good and bad. Not all images are jolly, not all scents are roses. Yet, all those make India a photographer’s heaven, as wherever the eye blinks, it blinks a postcard.

It was nice to take our time and walk around, sometimes sit and watch, and imagine, while listening to the audio tour in Jodhpur’s Maharaja’s palace.

Jodhpur, the blue city

Entering Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

You can see how grand life was, back in the days, if you were the Maharaja, of course.

Maharaja's palace, Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Inside the walls of the Maharaja’s palace, Jodhpur

They don’t call Jodhpur “The Blue City” for nothin’. Indeed, it’s a spectacular view from Mehrangarh Fort, high above the city’s slopes.

seen from the Maharaja's palace

The Blue City, Jodhpur

And, like any other city that prides itself, Jodhpur, too, can boast a busy, find-it-all market, with anything from saris, to spices and tea, with cows roaming between stalls, and sweet chai being offered for a few cents.

Sardar Market, around the clocktower, Jodhpur

Sardar Market, around the clocktower, Jodhpur

Of course we had to buy tea, lots of it. And saffron, not so much…

By the end of that long day, we could peacefully go on and drive to our lodging for the night, in Chandelao. When I reserved the spot online, some months before, I wasn’t aware of two things:
One- it was damn far from Jodhpur, in the middle of nowhere. We arrived so late at night after a few wrong turns and endless driving. What was I thinking?
Two- what a quiet, tranquil place, located in a tiny cheerful village, where my kids interacted with the local kids, who hardly knew any English. The haveli where we slept was old and charming. I guess I knew exactly what I wanted when ordering online.

detail of Chandelao Garh, our Haveli in Chandelao village

detail of Chandelao Garh, our Haveli in Chandelao village

grand entrance to Chandelao Garh

grand entrance to Chandelao Garh

The best part: mingling with the locals, especially the kids, giggles and all.

bike riding with the local kids

bike riding with the local kids

Watching daily life

Beautiful girl drawing water

Beautiful girl drawing water

One of my favorites: Lior teaching the kids how to whistle with their hands

One of my favorites: Lior teaching the kids how to whistle with their hands

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After many hours of driving through mustard colored, flat scenery of sands and villages, with the occasional Khejri tree and many more camels than cars, we arrived at the fort city of Jaisalmer. The city rises proud and high, elevated on top of a yellow sandstone hill, enclosed by old walls.

Lior: Jaisalmer reminds me a lot of Jerusalem- an ancient stone city, with markets, and warm weather. I really just loved walking through the old city, since it’s so easy to get lost.

Looking at beautiful Jaisalmer from outside the city walls

Looking at beautiful Jaisalmer from outside the city walls

A stroll in the complex, winding, narrow streets within the old city, that contains many Jain temples and others, tiny stores, restaurants that lead to rooftops, people wearing colorful outfits, cows and camels, and most of all, beautiful stone carvings embedded in the buildings, made me feel like it’s all part of an Aladdin movie set. We took a local guide to show us around, which was OK, but I wish I had more time to just sit and view street scenes. Next time, perhaps.

The view towards the main gate of the Golden City

The view towards the main gate of the Golden City

Hats vendor, adding splash of colors

Hats vendor, adding splash of colors

collage of texture, color, and shape

collage of texture, color, and shape

Lady in window

Lady in window

One of the best views we had, was from our hotel’s room window. We woke up early, just to watch and be in the moment of the sunrise at the desert horizon.

The Helsinki House sits on the very edge of Jaisalmer; beyond that is strictly desert for as far as the eye can see. It was amazing to wake up, watch the sunrise, then walk into the desert, not knowing what we would see or find. (We did end up seeing many stray dogs, an ox, and some sort of shrine). 

window to desert

a window to the desert

And after spending some “urban” time in Jaisalmer, we wanted to taste some solitude and desert life.

Not much solitude. People and camels as far as the eye can see

Not much solitude. People and camels as far as the eye can see

So it wasn’t as empty as we wished for, but hey, we got a taste of the desert. We slept in a tent, had a big party with food and dances, and sand.

Our night in the desert tent camp was also fun. Although we came for solitude, of which there was none, we did enjoy a great feast and party in the camp. This ‘desert resort’ is apparently a popular venue for many Indian tourists! 

a desert friend

a desert friend

you can see more photos in instagram, or FB

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I am so grateful to be able to travel with my family, collect memories, experience moments with them, share laughter, overcome hardships. It fills  and lifts me up. I am so happy that Lior, is sharing her thoughts in this blog. May we have many more travels and stories to share.

smiles and love

smiles and love

The town of Pushkar, is situated around Lake Pushkar, one of the holiest pilgrim sites for Hindus. The lake is surrounded by 52 ghats, and around it are many temples (some say over 400 temples, divided among different sects: Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, etc’). Pushkar is also a mecca to the many tourists who wanna feel spiritual, rest (and eat) at one of the many roof-top guest houses, play or listen to music, and shop shop shop.

After leaving Shekhawati, it was a bit hard for me to get used to the pushy, noisy, nosy, people, who want to always sell or market something, be it food, tours, or even a spiritual puja (which we finally did, read on).

What I did like about Pushkar:

*Getting up at 5:30 am to climb up the steep hill to Savitri Temple, to see the beautiful sunrise over the city of Pushkar. Indeed, the steps were decent at first, but then they started to be rocky, twisted and steep. Nevertheless, an hour later our award was well worth it. We got amazing views of the sunrise, had warm, sweet chai at the top, saw our first monkeys in India, and had a nice workout. Oh, and just so you know, Savitri was the first wife of Lord Brahma.

early in the morning, still semi dark, but beautiful

View from Savitri Temple early morning,  semi dark, but beautiful

morning has broken

morning has broken

*Walking barefoot around the lake, climbing down and up the ghats, sitting from afar and watching groups of pilgrims bathing in the holy water.

Walking barefoot around the lake

Walking barefoot around the lake

Ghats, stone steps descending to the lake edge, used for sacred bathing and ceremonies

Ghats, stone steps descending to the lake edge, used for sacred bathing and ceremonies

*Sitting in Sunset Cafe, sipping chai, watching the sunset, and watching and listening to the music players of the drums at Jaipur Ghat, on the eastern side of Lake Pushkar. Click photo to hear some of it.

View from Sunset Cafe. Drums and jugglers  start their act

View from Sunset Cafe. Drums and jugglers start their act. click photo for added sounds.

Feeling the groove, enjoying the sunset, talking to people. Ahhh

Feeling the groove, enjoying the sunset, talking to people. Ahhh

*Sitting at the Tibetan rooftop, eating momos and yak cheese.

We always have time for momo, chai, and relaxing Tibetean music

We always have time for momo, chai, and relaxing Tibetean music

  • Lior: If you find this place, make sure to taste their chocolate momos!

*Riding a took-took with my son, and seeing happiness and excitement on his face.

The simple things in life are so much fun. Tuk-tuks

The simple things in life are so much fun. Tuk-tuks

*Performing a family Puja ceremony, hearing the Brahmin priest bless us in hindi, and feeling blessed either way.

Puja is a multi-sensory experience. Chanting sacred words that we didnt understand, tasted blessed food, offered rose petals to the gods, got our bindi and red string

Puja is a multi-sensory experience. Chanting sacred words that we didnt understand, tasted blessed food, offered rose petals to the gods, got our bindi and red string.

*Staying at the Orchard, our lush, green sanctuary, with peacocks dotting the gardens, and our, ahem, maharaja tents, where we slept.

Lior: It’s a little weird that such a small place like Pushkar can feel so big once you are on the inside. If you take the main road, which is actually a bazaar, you will have to walk among cows, their poop, market vendors, carts, and potholes.If you go down to the ghats, you have the option of walking barefoot around the lake, and seeing several bathing ceremonies. Our first night there was Christmas, and we ate at a restaurant right on the lake, opposite the sunset. Music from street performers played in the background, and we were seated in a row to face the sun. It really seems perfect, but the only issue (or maybe not in your case) was that they catered to tourists, so that the menu was mostly comprised of Italian food. If you want better food, go into the bazaar, in one of the cheap rooftop restaurants. 

If you want to shop, do so here! Because there are a good amount of travelers in the area, and a big bazaar, there is competition between the shops, and it is easy to bargain with them. During your stay here, make sure to go to the ghat for a religious ceremony. Our family ceremony, led by a Brahman was very beautiful, we scattered rose petals in the water, and got a red dot on our foreheads. Many people may tell you to go the Brahma Temple, but there are several other beautiful temples. Try going to the quiet Jain temple, or the big Sikh temple~ both less touristic than the Brahman one.

One of the temples, also a place for yoga

One of the temples, also a place for yoga

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Nawalgarh is one of small villages located in the heart of Shekhawati, off the beaten path for most travelers to Rajasthan. Visiting Nawalgarh gave us the chance to share some of the narrow lanes of the village with the rest of its inhabitants, aka, cows, sheep, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and people, and feel the real, vibrant life of a village, right before tourism will change it forever.

However, the bigger attraction of visiting this village, is the amazingly colorful old mansions, Havelis, usually built between 18th and 20th centuries, decorated with wondergul intricate, detailed frescos. The more decorated, colorful the Haveli was, the more wealthy, and important the landlord was. The murals depict anything from the Hindu mythical stories, to animals, scenes from the British colonization, to the (then) new inventions, like cars or trains. Most of the Havelis are empty nowadays or are maintained by a watchman (typically an old man), while some turned into museums. Some, sadly, are slowly deteriorating.

I want a window like that

I want a window like that

Even the ceiling is beautifully decorated

Even the ceiling is beautifully decorated

Lior: Nawalgarh was my first glimpse of the India my parents had told me about, from twenty years ago. Everywhere we went, eyes followed; occasionally, a whistle followed too. I learned the most about Indian history and culture here, thanks to Krishna, our guide for the day. We learned how merchants used to live, and how to identify a water well from afar. Usually learning about those kinds of things can be a little boring (mainly for kids), but I really enjoyed this because it was a ‘real life’ setting, as oppose to behind a piece of glass in a museum. 

Gate keeper to one of the Havelis in Nawalgarh

Gate keeper to one of the Havelis in Nawalgarh

Hello there!

Hello there!

one of the old, unmaintained Havelis, still holds its beauty

one of the old, unmaintained Havelis, still holds its beauty

Back to street life:

Personal tailor, at your service

Personal tailor, at your service

Tuk-tuks add colors of their own to the bustling collage

Tuk-tuks add colors of their own to the bustling collage

Best samosa we had, was in this tiny corner of Nawalgarh baazar, Hot, spicy, and fresh

Best samosa we had, was in this tiny corner of Nawalgarh bazaar, Hot, spicy, and fresh

I would just like to point out that those samosas were hands down the best meal I had in India; they didn’t cater to our ‘American taste’, and gave it to us just like they would eat it. 

one is constantly surrounded by endless hues and colors

one is constantly surrounded by endless hues and colors

Our guesthouse in Nawalgarh was a little oasis after a long drive from Delhi. It also reminded us of our beloved Sinai.
Apani Dahni provided a comfortable, homey sensation of relaxation. Our youngest immediately found a friend in this family farm, and they spent time flying kites, the all time popular activity in India. We also learned how to tie-dye scarves in a traditional way, as well as try and cook a traditional Rajasthani dinner, which we later shared with this nice french couple that blog. We want to go back there. We will. Oh, and thank you Krishna, for your superb explanations and answers to our endless questions.

Charming little wall at Apani Dhani

Charming little wall at Apani Dhani

making Bandhani

Tie-dye scarves. First one has to tie everything. click photo for more

The painting part of the scarf. Click for more

The painting part of the scarf. Click photo for more

And here are the final scarves. Aren't they pretty?

And here are the final scarves. Aren’t they pretty?

After years of doing tie-dye experiments both at home and at camp over the summer, I finally learned the secret. The traditional Indian tie-and-dye method works so so well, and our scarves look like they were made by a professional! I also joined the cooking class, and the food was delicious! Our main course was Masala stuffed Aubergine Eggplants, and we also received a cookbook to take home. Apani Dhani is like a small slice of heaven, I would strongly recommend it to anyone. 

Meanwhile.. the boys are preparing dinner by first gathering the fresh ingredients from the organic garden

Meanwhile.. the boys are preparing dinner by first gathering the fresh ingredients from the organic garden

 Apani Dhani, Nawalgarh, India

Bye Bye Apani Dhani, we already miss you

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For us, going to India was like moving a thick velvet curtain, and climbing into a magical wardrobe that revealed a whole new planet. Though I visited India 20 years ago, visiting again with my children, exposed yet another dimension of this dusty, colorful, noisy, yet wonderful chaotic country. No wonder the Beatles were inspired by the psychedelic life in India. Here’s what my daughter has to say.

Lior: After being on the road in India, I know I can survive anything here in America. Our driver joked to us on the first day: “There are four things you need in order to get from place to place in India- a good driver, good horns, good brakes, and good luck.” Indeed, luck is what you need when there are cows and people crossing the road, driving in the opposite lane (to bypass) is a common occurrence, and when the fog settles, you can only see a few meters ahead. Once you leave the ingested city streets, though, you can relax and enjoy the sights, colors, and clear skies.  

Beautiful faces

Beautiful faces

There’s a lot happening on the roads, sometimes just as much as in the different cities, marked as our destinations. Spending hours in the car, stopping for masala chai in small “hole in the wall” tea stalls, produced memorable moments. Here are some:

Shop on motorcycle

Tin man carrying his whole shop, selling utensils door to door

cow checking us out

Holy cows are the norm moooo

morning. Vendors open up their fruit stalls. Some catch a quick  rest before the hassle starts

Morning. Vendors open up their fruit stalls. Some catch a quick rest before the hassle starts

I'm missing those chai stops, in the middle of nowhere

I’m missing those chai stops, in the middle of nowhere

being photographed

Phenomenon to Western travelers. We’re being spotted. Then being approached. Finally: “Which country?”, “What’s your name?”, “Can I take a picture with you?”

crossing the road were donkeys, and sheep. Not in the photo were peacocks, dogs, camels, rickshaws, and what nots?

Crossing the road were donkeys, and sheep. Not pictures: peacocks, dogs, camels, rickshaws, and what nots?

Always a reason to stop for some more food. Top: puri, Bottom: sweets

Always a reason to stop for some more food. Top: puri, Bottom: sweets

Beautiful people everywhere

Beautiful people and beautiful colors everywhere

I wish I could transfer all the street noises for your hear. You'll just have to take my word for it. Lots of noise.

I wish you could hear all the street noises. Lots of it. 

Once again- folks looking back at us. We are strange...

Once again- folks looking back at us. We are strange…

Ending with today's fashion

Ending with today’s fashion

Ok, one last one- notice the woman to the left waiting for the milkman, to fill her bucket with milk

Ok, one last one- notice the woman to the left waiting for the milkman, to fill her bucket with milk

 

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Peru – part IV

Part V- Machu Picchu

Day 7

We woke up real early in the morning, in hope to see the sun rise from the top of Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas”, one of the new 7 wonders of the world. We made sure our backpacks for the day were ready (aka: water bottle, rain poncho, sun screen, snacks, hat, chocolate, tickets, and… passport!).

Some of us took the zigzaging bus up to the top (including yours truly), while others, braver, and better knee equipped, hiked up the steep steps.

Needless to say, at the top we discovered the many clouds that blocked the sunrise.

Good morning clouds of Machu Picchu

Good morning clouds of Machu Picchu

So, traveling with my son, until the rest of the family comes, we made our way on the trail that led up to the Sungate, on the western side.

Hello Alpaca

Hello Alpaca

With the thin air, and the narrow road at times, it took us a while to get to the Sungate, but the view was incredible.

The sun rising behind the clouds at the Sungate

The sun rising behind the clouds at the Sungate

MP5
At the Sungate one always meets people that have just hiked up the Inca Trail for 4-5 days to get to Machu Picchu. This is where we sat and rested, waited for the clouds to disperse and reveal MP with all its splendor, and waited for our food 🙂

meeting a group that just hiked for 5 days us the Inca Trail

meeting a group that just hiked for 5 days up the Inca Trail

After a little food (and energy). Lior and I started to climb down.

gotta be careful on the narrow road

gotta be careful on the narrow road

Can you spot the ruins of Machu Picchu ?

Can you spot the ruins of Machu Picchu ?

Short clip HERE

Glory Glory Hallelujah!

Glory Glory Hallelujah!

new friends

new friends

a must photo- unavoidable. Wayna Picchu in the background

a must photo- unavoidable. Wayna Picchu in the background

After we have hiked the trail to/from the Sun Gate, we joined an English speaking tour guide. Recommended!
From here on, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. There are many (but many more were left behind)…

overall look of the village

Overall look. Close by is the religious center, behind are the residential and industrial sectors

the agricultural terraces

the agricultural terraces

MP20

Quechua Peruvians tour their ancestor's landmark

Quechua Peruvians tour their ancestors’ landmark

an ancient view

an ancient view

terraces

terraces

who spots

who spots Alpacas?

heading back to the bus, down to Aguas Calientes

heading back to the bus, down to Aguas Calientes

After we made sure that our passports were stamped with the Machu Picchu mark, we took the bus back down. We were so tired after a long and interesting day, and went straight to the local market, where the cheapest and best homemade food is found (not to mix with the touristic craft market).

The local food market for great cheap meals and fruit juice

The local food market for great cheap meals and fruit juice

We filled our bellies, and now we had to kill time until our train ride, back to Ollantaytambo, and from there, a bus ride to Cusco. The boys went their way (to the hot springs), and us girls spend the best time ever, at the Vida Spa on Yahuar Huaca street, with an hour long hot stone massage. What a great way to end this day. A word from my daughter:

Lior: If you decide to hike up Machu Picchu, like I did, make sure you are physically capable! I thought it would be no big deal because it is ‘just’ one hour, all stairs hike. On the contrary, it was one of the hardest hikes of my life because it was one hour, all stairs! The steps are made of huge slabs of rock, so are not all even, and are mostly very big. So if you still want to hike up, make sure to time your wake up accordingly to how long it takes you to hike!

Since we woke up at 5 am, we did not get the chance to see the sunrise. Still, the view is beautiful, and it is more appreciable on foot. When the clouds are blocking the sun, it is a bit chilly (think sweater weather), but when the sun comes out, it is in FULL FORCE! The Incas built Machu Picchu in accordance with the sun, so it gets the maximum amount of light possible, so it gets hot quickly; make sure to bring sunscreen and a hat! After finally reaching the historic site, we hiked about another hour up to the sun gate (easy compared to the initial hike), to see the famous views, and the sun. Just our luck, as we got there, the clouds came in and blocked the view. We ate lunch there, and after walking a bit down the path back to the main site, the sun came back out…

After the tour, which is really good because I learned some history (!), take some time to just explore on your own. Machu Picchu is huge, and it is fun to explore all the nooks and crannies of the place, and get to know the alpacas! By the end of the day, you will have been able to say: “I’ve been to Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world!” , and realize the enormity of the statement.

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Peru- Part III

Part IV- Aguas Calientes

*in this post, all photos can be clicked for a bigger photo

Day 6

Wow, we were so excited to finally head on to Machu Picchu, the crowning glory of our journey. We didn’t even care that we had to wake up very early in the morning, to start our walk towards the mini van at 5:00am. You can say that we got used to this kind of travel, we were trained by now.

We sat ourselves with 4 more passengers, and left Cusco towards the city of Ollantaytambo, a 2 hour drive. We were thrilled to enjoy, once again, the beautiful scenery. Of course, some of us preferred to just sleep.

Once in Ollantaytambo (seemed like a nice town worth visiting next time), we boarded the train, Peru Rail, to Aguas Calientes, for a two hour ride. And what a ride that was. Big windows on the sides and above our heads allowed a direct view to the amazing scenery during the ride, as well as a glance into passing by houses and farms of the locals. A nice stewardess was passing with some snacks and hot drinks. Coca tea was our choice. It was a fun ride.

Train to Aguas Calientes. Smile

Train to Aguas Calientes. Smile

towering cloud mountains and forests

towering cloud mountains and forests

raging river through the window

raging river through the window

spotting Aguas Calientes

spotting Aguas Calientes

Arriving at Aguas Calientes (meaning “hot waters”). The small town can only be approached by train or foot, and is the access point to the yearned Machu Picchu (unless one takes the Inca trail that lasts a few days). As this town serves tourists who come to Machu Picchu, there are lots of restaurants, touristic markets and stores, guest houses to cater different budgets, and… hot springs. Since we arrived early, and planned on hiking up to Machu Picchu the next morning (yap- early, to see the sun rise), we had a whole day to spend in town.

Aguas Calientes, to Machu Picchu, Peru

near the hot springs,where locals and tourists alike enjoy to bath, Lior seems to be the local attraction

Aguas Calientes, to Machu Picchu, Peru

tired from the long day, we found a place to sit and relax

Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind

Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind

more Aguas

more Aguas

local market

local market- the juicer. we came back for more

walking along the river, more Aguas Calientes views

walking along the river, more Aguas Calientes views

flowers of Aguas Calientes

flowers of Aguas Calientes

even a soccer field in this small town

even a soccer field in this small town

It was fun just walking around town. We found a french (!!) cafe’, a cute little bakery near our guest house for fresh tasty alfajores (on calle Chaska Tika), and stumbled upon a local school band that was practicing (short clip).

Lior: Getting up at 4am, I was expecting a bus to take us to the train station. Well, this bus turned out to be an old minivan, and we were squished in there for around two hours. It was all worth it for the long, scenic, and relaxing train ride, in which we got hot tea (or coffee) and snacks! Interestingly enough, there are two different trains that reach Aguas Calientes, but you are only allowed to ride one. That’s right, us tourists are not allowed to go on the cheaper train, reserved for Peruvians only.

Aguas Calientes is a really nice town, split in half by a river. On one side of the river, it is strictly tourist attractions, restaurants, shops, the market. The other side is where the people live, go to school, play soccer. The tourist half is expensive (more than Cusco), but they have nice things, good food. The less touristy half has less “nice” restaurants, and can be cheaper. Indeed, we found a bakery across from our hostel (we stayed in the non tourist half) that served absolutely delicious mini-alfajores! Be careful, we bought and ate way too many alfajores, and ended up with extra cookies, and no room in our stomachs (but lets face it, is there such a thing as too many alfajores?).

Peru, Part V- Machu Picchu

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