The Pink City and the Gayest Structures of Jaipur

While waiting for the pre-ordered complimentary breakfast at the hotel’s garden, an Indian guy wearing a turban showed up. My observant eye focused on him because he didn’t look like one of the staffs. He was heading to the portable music bass amplifier positioned in the middle of the garden. He slowly switched it on and sat beside the bushes. He took out his musical instrument, a flute and started playing. I was expecting of a frightening snake show. His music seems taming a wild beast from the forest but my perception was wrong! He was serenading all guests which was normally an ordinary morning show in the hotel.

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The Pink City

Location: Jaipur City, Rajasthan, India

Where I Stayed: Anuraag Villa

Buddies: Group (3+)

Our tour in Jaipur started at 9:30am exploring first the city center. A joyride to the old walled town of Jaipur which was called the Pink City. “It’s an Indian pink”, as explained by our new local guide. The vibrant color has different shade when comparing it with the bright pigment of commercially bought pink crayon. The stores, offices, flats, temples, and all the buildings inside the city were painted with the same color.

We passed by at Hawa Mahal, a distinctive landmark inside the Pink City. It’s a five-storied high wall with windows designed for conservative women of the royal family. It looks weird especially if obsessed to things which has so many holes. Parking was not allowed so we didn’t have time to drop by.

We entered the City Palace which was the residence of the emperors in the 17th century. For a fee of INR500 each, we explored the domain of the complex. The complex is home for old palaces with halls and alleys. Some was converted into museums and I personally saw galleries of old and antique personal belongings owned by previous leaders of Jaipur. Some old collections of textiles, armories and jars were also on displays. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed so the great collections were up to memory keeping only.

Beside the City Palace, we visited the Jantar Mantar. It is like a village with invisible houses and the stairs are remnants for the naked eye. It is actually an observatory and an open physics laboratory which has huge instrument for studying stars and constellations. There is also an instrument which provide accurate timing using the sun shadow. An entrance fee of INR200 per head gave us access to the old but proven technology of the 18th century.

After the city, our guide brought us to the Shopping Paradise to see locally made handicrafts. One guy met us at the entrance and voluntarily demonstrated on how they put dyes and design their own made textiles. We didn’t stay long time in the store for our stomachs were shouting because of hunger.

At 2pm, we moved out from Jaipur City and visited the Amber Palace and Fort with a fee of INR500 per person. The palace is magnificent as it was situated on the hilltop with a lake that nourishes its beauty. A rain poured heavily when we reached the rear entrance gate. The rain paused all the movements of tourists and stacked us at the gate. But when the nimbus cloud cleared out the sky, everyone advanced to explore the grandeur palace. The site has with magnificent view of the Amer town and spectacular surrounding walls on the mountain which securing the entire palace. It is haven for a dreamed like royalty living. The most impressive building for me was the Mirror Palace where walls and ceiling is ornamented with mirrors.

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We wanted to see and ride an elephant so we headed to EleJungle for the elephant activity.  We availed a 30 minutes elephant ride within the village which costs INR1,100 for two persons. The elephants were scary big and domesticated animals but its slow swaying movement massaged my son to sleep while I felt boredom. The simple living of the villagers was seen as the route of the elephant ride covered it.

Before going back to our hotel at 4:30pm, we stopped by at the lake side park sighting Jal Mahal. A small palace in the middle of Man Sagar Lake. The shining palace was under renovation and by looking at it from the distance left my thought uncovered. I didn’t have personal evidence if the palace is really floating or just surrounded by water. Our local guide said that there is no natural bodies of water in Jaipur and lakes were man-made.

At 7:30pm, we were invited by our buddy for a dinner at Raddisson Hotel. A sumptuous Indian cuisines were attempted to love and enjoy. We felt special as the head chef visited our table to check the served menu. The foods offered on our table were prepared distinctively as they adjusted spices to suit our sensitive tongues. Though majority of the menus were served spicy, our rendezvous on the restaurant with unusual food on my plate was remarkably astounding!

We’re back to the hotel at 10pm and prepared for moving to Delhi in the morning.

We checked out from Anuraag Villa at 9:30am. Our two buddies were already left the hotel earlier and on their way to Agra for a day tour.

I took a last glance at the Pink City and visited Madhavendra Bhawan Central Museum or famously known as Albert Hall.  Unfortunately, it was closed for maintenance which was scheduled on every Monday. The architectural beauty of the building was furnished with noticeable numbers of pigeons which dominating the picturesque hall. Such assemblage of feathered friends was visually romantic to the camera but undeniably unhygienic to the actual scene.

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Pigeons Hall or Albert Hall

Before leaving the city, we dropped by at Blue Pottery and discovered the displays of handmade porcelains on sale. The travel to Delhi took us five hours because the road was consistently lane for slower big trucks. Industrial site is along Jaipur-Delhi route. We arrived in Delhi at 4:30pm and we checked-in at Hotel Clarks Inn.

( Day 3 and 4 of my customized tour to the Golden Triangle of India last August 25 to 30, 2017. )

Conquered Agra and its Fort

We woke up early and received messages that the morning flight of our trip buddies from Dubai to Delhi was cancelled. Added to the tension was a problem with the tourist visa which can be solved for a couple of days.

We followed the original plan as suggested by the travel agent. All hotels and travel guides were booked already as plan. We should continue the confirmed group tour without them.

Location: Agra, India

Where I Stayed: Hotel The Taj Vilas

Buddies: Family

At 10am, we left Taurus Hotel and traveled down to Agra. The heavy traffic in Delhi confronted us. The wide road occupied by different types of land transportation, from a simple pushed cart to heavy loaded trucks, competing to each other. Blowing of horns was just normal. The driver said, “on this road, some cars are following no rules.”

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The road to Agra was wide and spacious. The vast agricultural plain decorating the province was the source of livelihood of locals. The fields are planted with rice, sugar canes, corns, and millet. Animal raising was also abundant like buffalo, cows, sheep, and goats. The bright and colorful cloth seen at the distance was an Indian woman taking care of all the animals on her traditional dress called sari.

At 12pm, we stopped in a restaurant. The smell of spices evaporated in everywhere. The aroma of curries were so tempting but the surprising spicy taste which we couldn’t handle refrained us on ordering.

At 2pm, we reached the territory of Agra. It just like a village with so many strayed cows resting on the road. There were buffaloes too even within the city. We directed to our hotel and checked in at the Hotel The Taj Vilas. Our driver contacted our local travel guide who will lead us in visiting Agra Fort at 3:30pm.

DSC_0263DSC00734After an hour of freshen up, we headed to the fort. We were paying the individual entrance fee of 500 rupees when the rain started to fall. An umbrella was a helpful tool to keep us dry.

The local travel guides are necessary to point the exact location and explain the brief history of a certain place. They knew well the site so learning unfamiliar stories were so interesting with them. The Agra Fort was constructed primarily by Emperor Akbar in 15th century. Additions on the fort were made until the time of his grandson Shah Jahan, the successor leader behind building Taj Mahal.

DSC00693DSC_0058The fort was new to my eyes. The thick red colored walls had shown me how the civilization look like at the old ages. It was like dreaming a fairy tale where I was the bravest warrior entering the fort aggressively. We entered the great gate which hid the beauty of the capital in the 16th century. The original gate padlock was still hanging at the door. There were three gates towards the inner part, so the conquerors at that time succeeded three levels of defense to penetrate. Currently, all gates are still functional for security inspection. I imagined how many warriors died on the location. Besides, the fort was believably surrounded by water with crocodiles in it. However, gun powder was already invented during the war so crocodiles failed to safeguard the fort’s exterior.

A hidden paradise was seen personally. We were introduced to the different buildings inside the fort. Each palaces and building mark their history as well. The curved and the designs were detailed and really astonished us. We saw the gathering halls, the royal family rooms, the old walls, wells, the terrace facing the majestic Taj Mahal, the communication wall, the mosque, gardens, and the most was the small and cute squirrels who were still occupying the place.

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Jahangiri Palace

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The rain was heavily dropping but the bulk of tourists visiting the site was unstoppable. I didn’t absorb all of the details that our travel guide was explaining but he left me something to search on.

We left the site joyfully with our eyes full of beautiful scenes of Agra Fort. Before dropping us back to our hotel, our guide led us to a gem and textile shop. He also led us to a shop which shows how they manually crafted gems on marbles. The shop owner explained their crafts were similar on how Taj Mahal was created. Each shop has items to offer with corresponding price. Souvenir items are quite expensive but the thought of their authenticity was respected.

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Gem cutting to perfection
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Lights off! Gem on marble

At 7pm, across the road of Hotel Taj Vilas was a shopping mall which has McDonald outlet. Hoping to find a tasty beef burger I visited it. I stayed for few minutes watching the meal offered on the screen. I left disappointed that there was no beef burger but there were burgers with purely vegetables, chicken masala and chicken tandoori patties. India was indeed so interesting!

( Day 1 of my customized tour to the Golden Triangle of India last August 25 – 30, 2017. )

Coral Island Tour and Pattaya

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We met our English speaking Thai travel guide in front of Royal Hotel. Our meeting place for our day tour in Pattaya and Koh Larn (also called as Coral Beach) at 7am. We skipped our complimentary breakfast in the hotel for these early activity. She immediately recognized us as the only Asian couple in the group tour. At 7:30am, the group headed to Pattaya which was two hours away from Bangkok by a van. The group were composed of 11 people; three Swiss, two American couples, a Brazilian couple, and us.
Before reaching Pattaya, the van stopped in a gasoline station to abide the calls of nature. A Swiss lady came out and was complaining for using the traditional old style toilet bowl. Ladies knew what she meant for.

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The group continued to the beach side in Pattaya. Wow! A beach within the city. There were so many tall buildings and the parasailing activities made the sea so busy. The tourist guide asked us, if we like to do parasailing which costs 500 baht per person. For me, parasailing in Pattaya was half-price cheaper than Boracay in the Philippines. For nobody raised hands in the group for parasailing aside from us, we decided not to do it. We didn’t want them to wait for us.

A speed boat transported us from Pattaya beach to Coral beach for 20 minutes. The white beach was crowded with tourists. The group headed to a local restaurant which explained by our guide to be our meeting place. Our lunch will be served here. She also explained everything about activities like banana boat riding (4oo baht per 30 minutes), trekking, and many water activities. Benches are for rent which costs 100 baht each.  Towels are also available for a 100 baht.

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Coral Island Beach

We looked for our benches to relax. We’re confident of leaving our belongings on the bench while we enjoyed the clear and warm water of Coral Island.

At 12nn, the group met at the local restaurant for lunch. A seafood soup, fish fillet, fried local fish, and a vegetable menu were served on the table. We’ll be eating together so a little bit uncomfortable for me. I didn’t know the reasons. Adding to that feelings was that we all just met in the morning. We were still not such close. It was not a buffet nor plated style. It was a local style lunch which taking and sharing of foods required senses. Whatever available or served on the table, we must share and enjoy it equally. No complaints, no adds on.
Some ants spotted on the dishes and the Brazilian lady removed and chased them away. An American woman told her softly, “It’s ok, they will not eat much”. We’re burst to laughter.

After lunch, we didn’t go back to the water because the temperature hit painfully. For Westerners, they were still enjoying tanning their body from that hot sun exposure. Instead, we took a 40 baht dark shower room (no lights installed) and relaxed on the benches sipping fresh coconut juice.

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We left the island at 2:30pm and arrived in Pattaya for a short sight seeing tour in Gem Factory. A 20-minute introductory was given while riding in a mining rail car. No camera and video was allowed! We’re just like inside a miner’s cave and was introduced how they mined stones and produced precious gems. After an informative cave rides, we headed to the real factory and sale room. All those gems from the cheapest to the expensive was there with a price of course!
There was a free coffee and tea in the factory’s bar. This was included in Coral Island Pattaya Tour Package booked in www.thailandhighlight.com by Lotus Country Travel for 1,900 baht per person.

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We left Pattaya and arrived in Bangkok at 5:30pm. Instead of bringing us back to the hotel, we requested to drop us at famous Khaosan Road for shopping. The bazaar was lively at night and the numbers of traveling backpackers and tourists overcrowding the street. Also, a dragon parade was held for a Chinese New Year celebration.

We left Khaosan Road at 8:30pm and arrived in the hotel around 9pm. Unfortunately, the hotel restaurant was already closed, so we decided to go out for dinner. Few meters away from the hotel was the Tesco Lotus Mall. We went in and entered a Japanese/Thai Restaurant. The waiter asked our orders in Thai language. He just laughed when we told him that we were foreigner. The menu set here was cheap and for less than 200 baht, we have a complete set of delicious and yummy dinner.

Cebu in Typhoon

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The typhoon is coming to Cebu so water dripping was expected. This was our group tour in Central Visayas combining the neighboring islands of Bohol and Cebu.

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Comfortable Bed of Diplomat Hotel

Location: Cebu, Philippines

Where I Stayed: Diplomat hotel

Buddies: Group (11)

DAY ONE

4:30pm, arrived in Cebu City from Tagbilaran, Bohol by a boat. Checked-in at Diplomat Hotel at P1,800 per night.
7pm, hunger satisfaction guaranteed for a buffet dinner in Crown Regency Hotel and Towers for a price of P1,000 with one free ride. Enjoyed Japanese cuisine sushi and Filipino foods while a live band was playing. Experienced the thrills of Edge Coaster and Skywalk after huge meals.
11:30pm, short disco bar hopping and back to the hotel.

DAY TWO

Everyone was waiting for the weather forecast update. A typhoon signal 1 was declared on the entire Cebu island.

9am, we left the hotel for the Island Banca Cruising but reservation was cancelled due to typhoon. Frustrated!
11am, our frustration led to Portofino Beach Resort in Mactan for lunch. Enjoyed with the strong waves in the beach even the typhoon was smilingly passing through. Back to the hotel after two hours.
3pm, wet toured on the sacred Cebu Taoist Temple, the famous Sto. Nino and Magellan’s Shrine and lighted candles at Cebu Cathedral.
After a few solemn minutes, we headed to SM-Cebu for island delicacies.
Dinner at local’s suggested resto, STK ta Bay Restaurant before going back to the hotel.

DAY THREE

Everyone prepared their baggage for check out except me. My flight going to Davao City was on the next day. The rest of my companion will be at 6pm to Manila. The weather was a sunny today unlike a rainy yesterday.

7am, my companion checked out from Diplomat Hotel while I transferred to another room of the hotel. We’re early for our day tour in Shangri La Resort and Spa in Mactan.  8am, we arrived at the resort and the day tour costs P2,000 per person. Amenities and lunch was complimentary.

12nn, buffet lunch was ready and the whole afternoon was spent enjoying the white beach and huge pools of the resort.
5pm, I left from the resort and back to the hotel in downtown Cebu. The rest were going to the airport.
7pm, solo dinner and watched movies at a shopping mall, Ayala Center.
11pm, back to the hotel and checked out at 3am for my morning flight.