Salir a navegar por la Costa Blanca tiene sus ventajas. La mayor de ellas: el tiempo, generalmente (toco madera), es bueno en casi cualquier época del año, y la fecha elegida para la primera salida de la temporada, el segundo fin de semana de abril, no decepcionó. El mar como un plato, sol, buena temperatura, y hasta un poco de viento para poder disfrutar de la navegación a vela.
La tripulación en esta ocasión estaba formada por unos cuantos compañeros de trabajo y el gran Jaime que vino desde Sevilla para la ocasión. Como viene siendo habitual, salimos del puerto de Alicante, y el viernes por la noche nos adentramos en las deliciosas tapas de la gastronomía alicantina.
El sábado por la mañana, tras un desayuno bajo las faldas del monte Benacantil, zarpamos en dirección a Tabarca. Sin prácticamente viento, llegamos al fondeadero Sur de Tabarca, enfrente de la playa, que se encontraba más vacío de lo que yo esperaba teniendo en cuenta el tiempo que hacía, y que era el sábado anterior a Semana Santa… Allí fondeamos sin problemas, y algún valiente pudo darse un baño, antes de que nos recogieran para llevarnos a tierra a comer un arroz “del senyoret” y explorar un poco la isla, llegando a la zona de la antigua cárcel.
Por la tarde, emprendimos el camino de La Vila, que era el puerto donde pretendíamos pasar la noche. Aunque hacía viento, no daba suficientes garantías de que nos permitiera llegar con luz a puerto, y optamos por la combinación de velas desplegadas y motor. En esta travesía, que fue aprovechada por buena parte de la tripulación para descansar de la dura semana, lo único destacable fue encontrarnos de frente con una patrullera de Aduanas que no debió ver nada sospechoso a bordo.
El domingo zarpamos del puerto de La Vila nuevamente con el mar como un plato, y poco viento y decidimos rodear la isla de Benidorm antes de volver tranquilamente costeando hacia el puerto de Alicante. Tanto el viento como el mar nos entraba por la la aleta de babor, por lo que la navegación fue placentera y a buen ritmo, dejando de utilizar el motor totalmente a media mañana. Comimos en travesía, saludamos a la familia en la distancia a la altura de Campello, y una vez librado el Cabo Huertas, como todavía teníamos tiempo, nos dedicamos a hacer unos cuantos virajes para desentumecer los músculos y que la tripulación no experimentada tomara conciencia de lo divertido que puede ser la navegación a vela. Tras esto, llegada a puerto, repostaje y atraque (en segundo intento).
En resumen, la primera salida náutica de la temporada fue un éxito, y ahora toca preparar las siguientes, que tienen un poco más de enjundia.
We could not stop looking to the elderly couple sitting in front of us in our hotel in Udaipur during our first breakfast there. We do not consider India as an easy destination for grown-up but young people as us, and were surprised of their presence there. Of course, we started talking to them, and they told us they were staying in Udaipur for a few weeks in their several months long trip in India. We did not know what was more surprising: them staying for a few months in India, or more than 3 days in a small city as is.
The reason to stay long in Udaipur became clear to us after we explored it. It is a nice and modern town, which gives more space to the tourist to decide (space in the most physical and straightforward meaning of the word), and with beautiful surroundings, while having a stress-free time. A good holiday destination, and perfect rest place for this couple who live in Canada, but were originally French and German, and who have been all around the Globe.
Leaving the hotel, we went down through the street which was a ghat, a street leading to the water of the lake. Surprisingly enough, we found a group of around 200 people, dressed up with their colourful dresses in what seemed to be a religious celebration. People were happy, and the children asked us to take pictures of them (and also with them).
All this happened near the Pichola lake next to which lies Udaipur, and which has several palaces around and in the middle of it. One of them is one of the most expensive hotels in the world, and it is literally in the middle of the lake: the only way to access it is by boat. A boat similar to the one we took to see Udaipur from the water, and see what else had the lake to offer (not much after all).
The evening was the most entertaining one in the whole trip. Thanks to our friends from Canada, we booked a traditional dance spectacle and it did exceed our expectations. The dancers danced with huge pots on their heads, with rhythmic and precise movements while juggling with their hands. Apart from the dance, we also enjoyed a small theater play, and a puppet show. The theater plot was about one of the Hinduism Gods, Shiva, and is one of the ways, Hinduism traditions were made popular to everyone. After the spectacle, we spoilt ourselves with a nice dinner in an amazing rooftop restaurant at the lakeside.
There are many ways to visit and live India, and there are many Indias. Delhi is not Varanasi, Varanasi is not Agra, and Agra is by no means Udaipur. It is now up to you to decide what to see. At least, you can decide.
Jaipur is the market of India. The main streets in the city form a huge bazaar: shops after shops, making your life easy to buy anything you think of. As a tourist it has a couple of spots within the city border, but the main reason to come here is the Fort Amber (what else) a few kilometres away.
I have observed a phenomenon in many parts of the world, and Jaipur was not an exception: similar businesses tend to concentrate in closer areas. You can find a street where you can only buy fabrics, another one full of shoes, some others full of kitchen accessories… There must be a good reason for all this, but theoretically, as my friend Luis says when promoting his website: you do not want to have your direct competitor so easily reachable by your customer, do you?
While wandering around the streets behind the bazaars we stumbled with the Maharaja’s Palace, which had a big poster announcing the 18th birthday of the Maharaja. Some research on the topic showed us that although the Maharajas in India have no more political power, they still have influence, respect, and especially wealth. Near this palace, we found the Hawa Mahal, a beautiful building with significantly colourful windows, facing a main street in Jaipur. The purpose of this building was no other than allowing the women from the Court enjoy the life and processions in the city without being seen. Things change for good.
The actual main attraction in Jaipur is the Fort Amber, probably the most remarkable fort in India, not only for its location, but also for the decorations inside. You can reach the fort entrance either by walking, or riding an elephant (although there are a lot of voices against the treat that have these animals), or even by some jeeps… We went for a walk and was not that tough.
Jaipur is not a must in India, but a needed and welcome stop in such a long trip. This happened in several places (we had plenty of time to rest), and hotels with nice rooftops are always a safe bet to recover energy before our next and last destination in India…
After the oasis in Khajuraho and Orchha’a, Agra meant going back to the India we had known a few days before: big city, traffic, and noise. Agra was the capital of the Mogul empire for a century, and the heritage of that time makes them be a popular destination for travellers all around the world: the Taj Mahal. One of the non-argued Wonders in the world, and which can be a reason on itself to put India as your next destination.
The Taj Mahal is considered one of the most expensive and beautiful (from a material perspective) proofs of love in the history of Humankind. It was ordered to be built by the Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his wife. A colossal white marble building that can be seen from several spots in Agra, and which looks fascinating from all of them. If you see the video, you can see one of the most hair-raising moments of the trip, when you cross a gate and the Taj Mahal appears in front of you… It is hard not to immerse into the picture-taking hysteria around you. When getting closer to the building itself, you are jealous of not being able to take the same famous picture as Lady Di with an empty complex, although we did a homage to it.
As this was one of the main drivers to come to India, we carefully planned our stay in Agra around Taj Mahal. We stayed just 1 km away from the least crowded gate in a hotel with a swimming pool with views to the Wonder, we made sure not to be the day it closes, and we were before the daybreak to make sure we could avoid the hordes of visitors, and if possible, we could see the magic building change its look minute by minute, as the sun lights it from different angle. Some piece of advice for you regarding this: if the day is foggy (quite frequent), there will be no such thing as those changes, and it may not be worth to get up that early. Moreover, instead of queuing to be the first ones, you can easily be there 30 minutes after they open the complex, and you will avoid queues… If you are not a morning person, don’t thank me for this advice.
The century of ruling the Empire from Agra left the city a few more stimulating spots apart from the Taj Mahal. Its fort is one of the most refined ones in our stay, as it incorporated styles and tastes from different dynasties, which combined the red and the white stones with a noteworthy result. Also, if it was not for the proximity of the Taj Mahal, the known as Baby Taj would be a major highlight in Agra.
Before leaving to Jaipur, also by car, we asked the driver to stop in the Fatehpur Sikri complex, which is in the outskirts of Agra. This complex lies in a high hill, and it is formed by a fort (yet another one!), and a mosque. The fort is a concatenation of buildings and vast halls, with very few people inside. If I were more into art or architecture, I may have discovered the subtle differences with the other forts in India… but it is not the case. On the other hand, the mosque was a terrific choice. Its entrance, facing a vast valley, and steep steps gives you the feeling of entering a rural major mosque, full of tourists, and probably because of that, full of activity.
A pleasant way to finish our visit to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, which we will for sure remember regardless of how many years go by. A more than justified Wonder of the World.
Khajuraho is a small town at a night-train distance from Varanasi, and it is the perfect stop after the intense and touching Varanasi: no traffic, less people, and a relaxing atmosphere… but that is not why we go there. We go there because of the 22 temples older than 1000 years, and which were built by the Chandela Dynasty. The legend of the birth of this dynasty is closely linked to the temples: the most beautiful lady in town (legendary stories do not happen with regular people, remember) is taking a bath in one of the nearby lake, when Chandra, the Moon God, sees her, and decides to come down to Earth in the form of an attractive gentleman (again, only attractive men have such an effectiveness) and she falls in love. After that night, the Moon God disappear, and she later gives birth to a child, who later became the founder of this Dynasty.
With such background, it is not surprising that the temples walls are covered by fine figures picturing the main activities at that time and the most important values for the dynasty: war and erotism. War figures are quite basic, but the latter covers all possible spectrum in the most specific way. Some guidebooks say this is the origin of the famous Kamasutra book, but it is actually not linked to it.
These figures represent the union of the masculine and feminine energies, which signify the magical protection needed to guarantee the successful life of the temple. Apart from these details, the temples are kept very nicely, and their perfect alignment to East, put into the perspective of the time of building, is breathtaking.
There is enough time to explore the surrounding areas, and we followed the advice of the people in our hotel (by the way, quite more easy-going than the ones in other places), and we let our tuk-tuk driver bring us to the Panna Tiger Reserve. The 45 minutes ride was the most rural part of the whole trip, and was worth it to see closer the massive nature, and the rural life… The real differences with our home countries became clear, as women had to walk long distances for water, food and life seemed to be slower for those sitting on the curb looking at any vehicle that crossed the road. The destination offered us some fanciful formations that water and limestone has created, with impressive waterfalls up to 30 meters.
From Khajuraho, we took a car (with driver) to go to Orcha’a, another small town with even less activity than Khajuraho, but blessed with a river. There we visited their two forts, Raj Mahal and Jehangir Mahal, massive buildings, empty of any furniture, with many rooms and a big open-air halls, as many others we had seen. The feeling here was a bit different as these complexes were on a hill in a big green valley governing a vast territory. Apart from the forts, Orchha’a also hosts a complex of chaatris, at the riverside, which are memorial buildings, acting as tombs of former kings.
After Orchha’a, we went to Jhanshi, which is a bigger city nearby, with a bigger train station, and where we took our train to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.