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. )

Steamy Moments at Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri

We woke up early at 5am to visit Taj Mahal, the India’s most famous site which is listed in the Seven Wonders of the World. Sunrise is said to be the best time to visit for less crowd and colder temperature. We left the hotel at 5:30am and arrived at the Nature Park in less than 10 minutes. We walked on the park’s walkway leading to the entrance ticket booths. An entrance fee was paid for 1,000 rupees per adult. Included in the fee was a bottle of water and a plastic foot cover which has to be used once inside the Taj Mahal.

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Snapshot of Taj Mahal from the Great Gate

TAJ MAHAL

The entrance gate was still closed. We blended ourselves in a long queue of tourists whose also availing the sunrise scene of the famous site. The gate opened at almost 6am and everyone passed through security scanners and strict individual inspection. The inspection took time especially in women’s lane because majority of them were carrying bags. Foods are totally not allowed. Even us didn’t escape because my wife brought cookies and bread for my son who we pulled out from bed few minutes before leaving. Our tour guide rescued us by giving my son chances to eat or else those hunger reliever food will destine into trash. We’re not alone on such scenario. Small children were busy chewing food beside the inspecting guards while parents took most of the portion.

The sun was already up but we’re still at the entrance gate. After we cleared from inspection, we followed the flow of the crowd up to the Great Gate. We belonged to the first wave of visitors, so the place was so crowded and humid. Sharing and having long patience must be considered by everyone to have a personal space of a dreamed backdrop of the majestic marble monument and its symmetrical garden.

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After the Entrance Gate of Taj Mahal Complex
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Tourists on Early Morning Scene
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The Majestic Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum built by Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife who died on giving birth to their 14th child in the 16th century. The architectural design was the living monument of his love and grief which inspired everyone. Agra claimed as the City of Love because of it.

We wore the foot cover and stepped on the marble flooring of the mausoleum. I was amazed on the artistic carvings before my eyes. In the center of the mausoleum lies the replica of where the original tomb was situated. Photography was not allowed in that particular area. The entire marble mausoleum was uniquely carved and decorated with gems and precious stones. According to our guide, it is best to see during full moon as the gems shine on moonlight beam.

We left the site at 7:30am with a sweaty experience and took our buffet breakfast in the hotel.

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The monkey family greeted us in the park.

At 9:30am, we left the hotel going to Jaipur. We did a side trip at Fatehpur Sikri which has the biggest gate in the history. It was a former palace of Mughal Emperor Akbar before moving to Lahore and Agra Fort because of unavailability of water supply in the 15th century. The history of this landmark was important in the construction of Agra Fort and Taj Mahal. The father of Shah Jahan, named Jahangir, was predicted and born in Fatehpur Sikri. The connections of Agra’s architectural sites were rooted to the civilization which started from this great site.

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The Entrance Gate – Fatehpur Sikri

FATEHPUR SIKRI

We arrived in Fatehpur Sikri at 10:30am and met our site tour guide. The architectural form of the fort brought our curiosities. Both human and goats carefully climbed up on the inclined stairs to reach the huge gate. Yes, number of goats were present at the entrance gate.

We removed our shoes as it was required and left them at the gate for a fee. The guide explained to us the site, some part of its history, mosque, tombs, palace ruins, and the escape underground tunnel which led to fort in Agra. Aside from a mosque, the place as a whole is now a wide mausoleum.

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Watching the Modern Town Fatehpur Sikri from the Gate

DSC_0220Visiting the fort at Fatehpur Sikri has no entrance fee but it was consider unstable because of those annoying guys who sell items inside the tourist site. They were still following though I declined their offered products so many times. Every time that the site guards came, those guys pulled out and ran nowhere playing hide and seek. We didn’t know if we fell on the scam trap because the needed materials for the ritual at the Tomb of Salim Chishti was bought at the back side and hidden from authorities. The area was clear with vendor when the guards routinely rove but again they occupied it back. The ritual had done by buying first the required materials; a cloth, yarn, and red flower petals for 1,200 rupees. We went inside the white marbled mausoleum by placing the cloth on top of the tomb, scattering the petals, and tying the yarn at the wall with our individual wishes.

We left the site at 1pm for it was too hot to walk on the fort barefooted. Our guide led us to a local store where they crafted materials and exhibited their local products. The store owner convinced us to buy stuffs which we are not interested. We were irritated especially when forcing a belief and insisting that we should have it. The stuffs were overpriced! He offered an item worth 1,500 rupees and dropped to only 300 rupees when we walked away from the store. At such descended price, I will never accept it even he will give it free. A souvenir from a cheating attempt is not worth to bring. I was so upset realizing that the historical tour ended with a hot confrontation. I rather advise not to visit Fatehpur Sikri unless you’re a believer of Salim Chishti.

We left Sikri finally at 1:30pm going to Jaipur. The beautiful scenery and heavy rainfall cooled off my mind from before steamy conversation. Jaipur City is hiding from the mountain as we entered a tunnel passing through it. We arrived in the hotel, the Anuraag Villas at 4:30pm.

Meanwhile, our trip buddies in Dubai successfully complied the travel requirements and waiting for their flight to Delhi. They will directly go to Jaipur to meet and join us on the remaining tours.

( Day 2 of my customized tour to the Golden Triangle of India last August 25 to 30, 2017. )

Al Gara Cave Visit

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As what the local Saudi explained, Al-Ahsa is a province and the city within is Hofuf City. So this explanation cleared out my confusion to the place we’re heading to.

Al-Gara cave or widely known to expatriates as Judas Cave is situated in the mountain of Qara, a prominent village of less than 30 minutes away from Hofuf.

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Our journey started from Jubail on which the GPS map calculated to be 3 hours drive passing Dammam. The wide desert and mountains knocked our fingers to click our cameras. Along the way, there are few tents built and camels were wandering around seeking for green desert vegetation.

As we were entering Al-Ahsa, I noticed that the place was a green vast land planted with date palms. No wonder, this place is the producer of the well known fruit “date”. Oases is abundant in this place so they have plenty of plants. Besides one company, NADA Food Company, was also built here.

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We directly headed to Qara village to see the cave. The village is on the foot of the mountain. Al-Gara cave is the famous landmark of the province and said to be cool in the summer and warm during winter. It also aspired to be one of the seven wonders of nature. The place was magnificent and anyone can enter for free.

After caving, we decided to climb up hills to see what the view on the top can offer. Mohammed, a local villager, guided me in hopping those dangerous cliffs until we reached a place where I can see the date plantation as a whole. I wished to see the whole province by climbing up more but stepping on slopes was more dangerous.

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Anyway, Mohammed and his group came here for breakfast. They brought a picnic mat. We disturbed them for he volunteered himself to guide us.

Al-Gara Cave and mountain is a worth place to visit especially when living in the Eastern region.

Spying Underground River and Caving in Ugong Rock

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Our tourist guide named Ernie picked us in the hotel at 7pm. On the way, we picked us a couple, and a family with four members. All of us have the same status as explained by Ernie. Booking for Underground River tour should be done a month before of planned vacation. Our group just have booked yesterday so this local guide gave us chances to visit underground river. Anyone can justify that it is illegal but I proudly say, he gave justice to our vacation itineraries. We occupied those names who has booking but confirmed that they wouldn’t come. We’re just like an undercover agents having different identities. Me and my wife having the names of Mr. and Mrs. Narciso Lopez with matching identification card. Very clever!

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The underground river is in Sabang, two hours away from Puerto Princesa. As we traveled, we passed those roads categorized on how its name implied. The zig zag road, roller coaster road, massage road, and the rocky road. Ernie also surprised us as he is also a puppeteer. He managed to entertain us using his monkey puppet.

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UNDERGROUND RIVER. We arrived in Sabang and we enjoyed ourselves taking beautiful shots while Ernie registered us to Sabang Park, the entrance of the river. After 30 minutes, we boarded a boat going to Sabang Park where wild alligators were freely roaming. They said that there are monkeys too, but we saw nothing during that time.

We headed to the river entrance where we put on our life vests and helmets. A paddled boatman whom our underground tour guide arrived to pick us and started the tour inside the longest underground river which was now included in the Seven Wonders of Nature. I’m seated in the front seat so I’m maneuvering the spot light of the boat. I clearly saw stalagmites and stalactites in vegetation, animals, and biblical forms. Also, the entire cave is with foul smell because of bats and cave birds. The paddling tour took for 45 minutes.

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We were back to Sabang beach with the same boat which waited for us in the park. In the beach, our buffet lunch was served as part of Underground River package tour which costs P1,500 per head. The lunch was so delicious because of pork liempo and chicken adobo. Tamilok, edible sea worm, in vinegar was also served for P100.

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UGONG ROCK ADVENTURE. “The villagers here are nature destroyer…before”, nicely explained by Ernie. The money earned from every tourist visiting Ugong Rock contributes and helps the villager to do other livelihood instead of damaging the nature.
At the tourist receiving hall, they asked us if we like to do caving, spelunking, and zip line. Caving costs P200 while zip line is for P250 per head. “What is spelunking?”. It is a climbing technique during caving by pulling the body with rope. Everyone in the group agreed to do caving but nobody assured to do zip line. We put on helmet and gloves as required to avoid contact with the growing stalagmites and stalactites. The group started caving Ugong Rock which its name derived from the humming sound when knocking rocks and walls seen in this cave. Ugong Rock Adventure is merely a mountain climbing activity which the final destination is on the top of the mountain.

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At first, the caving was funny for it was just an ordinary cave. But when we went higher, the steeps, channels, and slopes were getting more exciting. We needed to enter in side ways, climb stairs, and spelunking until we reached the summit for more than 30 minutes.

After the sweaty caving, we took a rest at the shade on the top of the summit. How can we go back? The staffs gave us two options, by going back through the same channels we had passed through or by 11 seconds zip line. Even the eldest in our group preferred the zip line for he felt his knee trembling and tired. Besides, going down is more difficult than climbing up.

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I went ahead for it was my first time to do zip line. I felt nervous. My entire body was almost numb and I closed my eyes when the frictionless motion of the harness begun to slide. In the mid air, I adjusted, relaxed and enjoyed the ride.

We left the Ugong Rock with a smile for most of us were first timers. We arrived in Puerto Princesa at 4:30pm.

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Dinner at Ka Lui is the most suggested food tripping venue by locals. The restaurant don’t accept walk in costumers, so we were advised to book it early. We asked the hotel receptionist to reserve us a table in Ka Lui and we were scheduled for 6:30pm dinner. The place was with native decorations and we entered  the restaurant leaving our shoes on the rack outside.
The foods were excellent especially the Trubattaha salad. They served the food orderly from soup to desserts so our table was never full of serving plates. The best thing here was the food price was cheap though it was a well known restaurant.

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Temples, Palace, Cruise, and a Lotus

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At first look – a typical water lily

We woke up early for our Thai breakfast at 7am. The dish was like a porridge with so many spices. The taste was very flavorful.

We then prepared to Taling Chan Floating Market which was just 20 minutes from the hotel according to the google map. Unfortunately, the taxi only brought us at Taling Chan town and not in the floating market. They advised us for a motorcycle ride for 60 baht to reach the floating market in time.

SONY DSCSONY DSCThe floating market was not so big but we saw bulk of tourist visitors. Like us, we’re here with a common reason. To experience the market venue in a floating platform. The good thing was its free and has no entrance fee.

We saw those women paddling the boat and selling their products. The water was not clear, chocolate in color but those big fishes (catfish?) were smartly living there. One Thai student fed the fishes with bread and offered some bait with us. We enjoyed the life in the floating market and the restaurants as well. The first menu was the delicious and fresh vegetable salad. We also tried  the tasty bowl of noodle soup while seated in a shortened chair with matching table. Our stomach were full when we left the market. There were so many Thai foods and agricultural products on sale.

DSC01647.JPGWe decided to walk up to the temples that we had seen along the way. We didn’t usually know the names of them. After the temples, we hired a taxi going back to the hotel to prepare for our next tourist site. I checked through internet that entering the Grand Palace requires descent clothing. Wearing short skirts and pants were discouraged.

SONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSCWe arrived at the Grand Palace at 3pm. We were late but we still secured an entrance gate pass for 400 baht each. We were amazed on the preservation of the place and the temples of Emerald Buddha. The stones and the architecture were very impressive and unique. We even entered the temples removing our shoes. Touring and visiting Grand Palace needed more time to explore. And we failed! We didn’t gave such ample time. We lastly visited the Emerald Buddha museum before it closes at 4:30pm.

We followed the flow of visitors exiting the palace. It was directed to the nearest market along Chao Praya river. A cold refreshing smoothies after a tiring walk inside the palace was the best reward.  The foods in Thailand were very cheap and healthy.
We didn’t eat much for we’re preparing for our cruise dinner. For it still early, we walked from the market up to the pier allocated for boats going to Temples of the Dawn. We just glimpsed the temples because we didn’t have time to transfer on the other side of the river.

DSC01742.JPGThe Wan Fah Dinner Cruise was booked through site Bangkok Cruise for 1,300 baht. The starting point was at the River City. Thinking that we’re just along the river, I’m expecting that we’re near the River City pier. I asked a “tuk-tuk” but the driver charged us 300 baht. We didn’t agreed because for me it was overpriced. We dealt with 200 baht. But on the way, I realized that it was really far and the traffic jammed us. The cleverness of the driver escaped us from the crowded traffic. When we arrived at River City Mall after Sheraton Hotel, we handed him 300 baht as silent apology.

At the pier, back of the River City Mall, we couldn’t see the staffs of Wan Fah Cruise. We went inside the mall and saw their booth. We approached the staffs and confirmed our arrival. They pinned us corsages with a number and led us to the waiting old wooden boat at the pier.

SONY DSCSONY DSCOur dinner cruise along Chao Praya River started at 7pm. Prior for our boarding, a lady wearing a thai traditional costume held us for a picture taking. She then led us to our table number corresponding the number on our corsages. The boat started to move and the dinner was prepared starting with a spicy soup and vegetable spring rolls. After a few minutes, the Thai and Seafood set baskets were served. While the people were busy popping their heavy meals, the tour guide was explaining the tourist sites we had passed like the Temples of the Dawn, Grand Palace, famous hospital, and the beautiful Rama VIII bridge of Bangkok. When the guide is off air, thai traditional music was on the playlist.

On the way back, Thai traditional dances were performed. They also asked some tourist to dance together with them. Unfortunately, my camera was down because the battery degraded. I have no souvenir from those cute dancers. Three different dances were performed but with same dance steps. For me, only costumes and the music were changed but the steps were not. The bill was then given to each table. The drinks were not free except for water. Each delicious drink costs 150 baht. Then the photo shopped picture which was taken before boarding was in frame and costs 200 baht.
The river cruising took two hours and the experience was great. Touring Bangkok will never complete without experiencing river dinner cruise.

DSC01750.JPGFor the River City is very far, we chartered a taxi in going back to our hotel. Our hotel was not that famous because the first driver didn’t know it. So, we rode a taxi to the famous Phayathai train station and from there another taxi to Resort Bangphlat.

Bohol Country

48Two days tour in the magnificent island of Bohol. We visited historical landmarks, marvelous chocolate hills, dolphin watching, island hopping, lunch in a floating restaurant and snorkeling in a marine sanctuary.

Location: Bohol, Philippines

Where I Stayed: Alona Tropical Beach and Resort

Buddies: Group (11)

65.JPGDAY ONE

The group assembled at the airport in Manila. We availed the low fare promotion of Cebu Pacific in its early morning scheduled flight. We arrived in Cebu at almost 6am and directly headed to Cebu Port prior for our first activity; which is the Bohol Tour.

10am, arrived in Tagbilaran port, Bohol via Supercat Ferry boat from Cebu.
Joined the stoned heroes at Blood Compact Site and prayed at the island’s oldest coral stone church, the Baclayon Church.
12n, buffet lunch at the River Watch Floating Resto while cruising the Loboc river and witnessed the singing and dancing Boholanos at the river side.

Encountered the island’s oldest captured anaconda and been in the biggest non-edible Heshey’s kisses like chocolate, the famous Chocolate Hills.
Stopped-over at great man-made forest, sought butterfly at the sanctuary, tickled the cutest and smallest mammals, the tarsiers, and sip a fresh coconut after the bamboo hanging bridge.
6pm, we arrived at Bee Farm. Unfortunately, all bees was already resting at their beehives!

Checked-in at Alona Tropical Beach and Resort and dinner along seaside restaurant.

38DAY TWO

5:30am, woke up earlier for the dolphin watching in Panglao Bay.
7am, met the schools of fishes while snorkeling at the Marine Sanctuary and took our locally prepared breakfast in Balicasag Island.
9am, island hopping, docked at the Virgin Island, and back to the hotel to enjoy the warm water of Panglao beach.

1pm, checked out from Alona and visited the miraculous Dauis Church before going back to Tagbilaran Port.