30 November 2014

The Palace On Wheels

My coach The Alwar and our steward Ummed who looked after us brilliantly
This afternoon we boarded the Palace on Wheels. Each coach is named after a state in Rajasthan. It provides an experience of travel in the bygone era of Maharajas and royalty. They were a favourite mode of transportation then. The Indian Railways decided to discontinue the service, only to return in 1981-82 when various new heritage trains were launched to visit the regal palaces of Rajasthan. All coaches are fully air conditioned, with twin beds and a shower room. The train has 2 lounges and 2 restaurants serving Indian and International cuisines, and a 24 hour bar. Magazines, DVD’s and internet connection are all readily available. Each coach has 2 Khidmatgars, ours, Ummed & Uttam looked after us very well. They prepared our breakfasts (tea in bed if we wanted it), did the cleaning and laundry. Each morning they escorted us from the train to the coach, and were waiting for us when we returned each evening, to escort us back onto the train. Anything we needed they would get for us – batteries, memory cards, repair broken spectacles, even have a dress or suit made.

Our welcome onboard was lovely, the men were given a turban, we ladies a long scarf,
we also had a bindi put on our foreheads.
Our carriages were very well equipped with two single beds, a wardrobe and writing desk/sideboard
 And a shower room

We settled in, had dinner and departed for Rajasthan.

28 November 2014

Leaving Shimla

It was with much sadness that we had to leave this beautiful hill station. I can see why the colonial British loved it so much. What's not to love - the heavenly climate, scented pines, rhododendron forests, green pastures and snow-capped peaks. They dotted it with grand buildings and beautiful mansions. Come summer and the entire government officers, staff, files and cabinets would troop there. It became the summer Hill Station capital of British India. 
We thought this elderly gentleman looked so good, there was a sort of pride about him, he looked as if he had seen better days, and now he probably had all his worldly goods in that bag. We felt a bit guilty about sneaking the photo from the carriage.

The return journey was much better, we didn’t have to leave so early and it didn’t seem to take so long. I also covered my mouth and nose when going through the tunnels.

Back in Delhi

Bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi

A few yards from Claridges is the house where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. Despite the horror of that it is now a lovely tranquil place. It has an excellent state of the art museum which details and propagates the life, work and philosophy of Gandhi, through photographs, artworks, memorabilia, film screenings and seminars. The library contains thousands of books and letters. There are also hundreds of wall and ceiling images depicting Gandhi’s life.

25 November 2014


The beautiful Oberon Cecil hotel is reminiscent of a bygone era,
a celebration of colonial elegance and grace. 

Restored to its original grandeur with wooden floors and period furniture it boasts fabulous views of the majestic Himalayan ranges. Built around a beautiful atrium the rooms offer splendid 
views of the mountains and valleys. 
View from my room 
The only disappointment was no outdoor areas due to the presence of monkeys, lots of them.
I don't like monkeys.

Viceregal Lodge, a majestic sprawling grey stone building ringed by tall pines. It was designed by Henry Irvine, architect to the Public Works Dept of the colonial government and built in 1888 as the residence of Viceroy Lord Dufferin, and was the venue for many important decisions which changed the fate of the India sub-continent. It had electric light when nobody else in Shimla did, and an indoor tennis court! The Viceroy hosted lavish parties and entertained the royal princes and nawabs (governors in the Mughal Empire) in style. It was the venue of the Shimla Conference in 1945. In 1947 the decision to partition India and create the states of Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was also taken here. 
Now called Rashtrapati Niwas, the Lodge houses the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. 

Hindu Temple

The Mall isn't a shopping mall as we know them, but a wide pedestrian street where the colonial British and locals would stroll to see and be seen! A few locals were wearing jackets and cardigans and the schoolchildren were wearing their blazers and long socks! Although cooler than Delhi I thought it was gloriously warm.

The library and a policeman at Scandal Point, so named because it is said that the king of Patiala had a crush on the daughter of the Viceroy of India and one day while she was taking a stroll in this place the king kidnapped her and eloped with her!
Shimla has some of the world’s finest examples of British colonial architecture, inspired by the Renaissance in England, the neo Gothic structures of the gaiety theatre, Tudor framed buildings, almost Dickensian. 
The next day I had a much needed lie in, then took a taxi to the Mall lift (in 2 parts from the road up to the Mall), traffic isn’t allowed in the Mall. Did a bit of shopping, took a leisurely stroll back then had a fantastic full body massage at the hotel spa in a room overlooking the beautiful majestic Himalyan range. The best and most tranquil massage I have ever had.
Many of the locals wanted to have their photo taken, this little boy was so excited to see his picture on my camera. The owner of the machine was making drinks. He put what looked like bundles of corn into the machine to make delicious looking smoothie type drinks. He offered me a free one but I didn’t know if any water went into them, I’m sure they were ok, and I felt very bad refusing, he really wanted me to have one, but I had just recovered and didn't want to risk being poorly again.

24 November 2014

The Trains to Shimla


Very early start (about 5.30!) for our journey to Shimla. We took the Shatabdi Express from Delhi to Kalka, approx 4 hours. It was a very nice journey with spacious reclining seats, air con and meals served throughout the duration.

Kalka station - cows wander around everywhere!

From Kalka we took the toy train for our 5 hour journey to Shimla. 

This rail link was built by the British in 1899 and has a total of 102 tunnels!
It was a beautiful scenic journey climbing up through very pretty locations and stations.

There were plenty of stops at stations for food or toilets

During the journey from Delhi some of our party became very ill. One was sick before we left Delhi and another looked alarmingly pale and very poorly on the toy train. Both left the train at one of the stops and continued the journey by car, which was much quicker. They were treated by a doctor on arrival in Shimla. The rest of us arrived about 5.30 and almost immediately I had diarrhoea and felt very tired. I took an immodium and slept for a couple of hours, after which I felt much better but ravenous. One of my party suggested some plain rice, yoghurt and bread which were brought to my room. It was the most delicious yoghurt and bread I have ever tasted, it was all excellent and did the job of gently filling my by now empty stomach. A good night's sleep meant that by the next morning I felt weak but fine and no more diarrhoea. Seven of us had been ill. I think mine had been a combination of exhaustion and heat from the previous day (40 deg and non stop sightseeing), and the diesel fumes from the toy train wafting in every time we went through a tunnel

23 November 2014

New Delhi

New Delhi was built to the south of the old city during the 1920's after the British East India Company gained control of much of India. Much of it was planned by Edwin Lutyens. When India gained independence in 1947 New Delhi was declared its capital and seat of government. As such it houses important offices of the federal government, including the Parliament of India, and is known for its impressive wide, tree-lined boulevards, numerous national institutions and landmarks.
India Gate (above) is one of the largest war memorials in India. Situated in the heart of New Delhi it is a prominent landmark and commemorates the members of the former British Indian Army who lost their lives fighting for the Indian Empire in WW1 and the Afghan wars. Originally a statue of King George V had stood under the now vacant canopy but was removed to Coronation Park with other statues. Following India's independence India Gate became the site of the Indian Army's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, known as the Amar Jawan Jyoti.

Driving in India is not for the faint hearted, more a case of "Who Dares Wins". Traffic navigates around cows, goats, dogs and the occasional elephant. Tuk-Tuks and rickshaws compete with much larger vehicles for a space on the road. Cyclists and motor bikes squeeze into the tiniest spaces. Everyone wants to inch forward just a little more. Motor bikes and scooters are very popular. It's commonplace to see a family of 5 or 6 on a scooter. I saw a man taking his little girl to school, she was standing on the footplate between him and the handle bars!
On one of our journeys we saw two cows in the middle of the road, our driver slowed down as he approached them, but the oncoming bus driver didn't, he almost deliberately drove into them, one moved away but the other one wasn't quick enough, the corner of the bus caught it, thankfully it wasn't injured and strolled away, but it had broken one of the bus's headlights - we all cheered.
Many vehicles had notices on the back saying "Please use horn" which everyone does, with great enthusiasm!

22 November 2014

Humayun's Tomb Delhi

Considered to be one of the most important examples of Mughal architecture in India, Humayun's Tomb dates back to the 16th century. Humayun'e Persian wife, Hamida Begum supervised the construction of the tomb from 1562 to 1572.

It is set in a geometrically arranged garden crisscrossed by numerous water channels and probably representing, symbolically a paradise setting. Such typical Persian gardens had been introduced into India by Babur. Later they would be found in the Red Fort and at the Taj Mahal in Agra.
The walkway leading up to the temple is magnificent. It was the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent.

The Red Fort was built out of red sandstone by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan between 1638 and 1648. It housed halls of public and private audiences, domed and arched marble palaces, plush private apartments, a mosque and elaborately designed gardens. The Emeror would sit in a marbled panelled alcove, studded with gems, to hear complaints from the common people. At one point more than 3,000 people lived within the fort complex. It was attacked by the Persian Emeror Nadir Shah in 1730 and by the British during the war of independence in 1857. The residential palaces were destroyed and it was made the headquarters of the British Indian Army. After India gained independence in 1947 the Indian army took control of the fort. In December 2003 it was handed over to the Indian tourist authorities. There was still an army presence with strict control at the point of entry at the time of my visit.

20 November 2014

India Old & New Delhi

In April 2009 I fulfilled one of my ambitions and visited India. It was a train journey visiting Delhi, Shimla and Rajasthan. There aren't enough superlatives to describe how excellent it was.


Claridges was stunning, advertised as graciously Indian, and it was. We were treated like VIP’s, which of course we were! After the welcome and introductions we were free to do as we pleased. I spent the afternoon by the pool.

Located in the heart of the city, Claridges has been a landmark in Lutyen’s Delhi since the 1950’s. Set in 3 acres of land, the hotel is a low rise building within close proximity to the business district, ministries, diplomatic missions, shopping, cultural centres and historic landmarks. The excellent Ghandi museum is just around the corner.

Busy day sightseeing. Started in Old Delhi. What an amazing place, a world away from the tranquility of Claridges. The Walled city was founded by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1639. It remained the capital of the Mughals until the end of their dynasty. It was once filled with the mansions of nobles and members of the royal court, along with elegant mosques and gardens. Despite having become extremely crowded and dilapidated it's still seen as the symbolic heart of Delhi. Narrow, crowded streets, chaotic and messy. Food stalls and hotels vie with a plethora of vendors selling everything from spare car parts to knitting needles. Then in the midst of all this we arrived at a haven of tranquility, the Jama Masjib mosque.

It was built by the Emperor Shah Jahan between 1650 and 1656 at a cost of one million rupees,
and was inaugurated by Imam Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari from Bukhara

We women had to wear one of these sarongs to go into the mosque.
If the men were wearing shorts they had to wear a sarong too

Street Scene

When you look up you see a network of tangled twisted cabling. I think it's a mixture of electricity and phone lines, and tucked away in the midst of all this chaos we saw a small shop selling fireworks!! Chaotic and messy it may be but it's home to thousands, it's vibrant and alive with people making a living and going about their daily lives.

19 November 2014


Oh dear I have been procrastinating. 

Procrastination is the thief of time - Edward Young (1683 - 1765) English poet.

How true this is. I used to be a serial procrastinator, always thinking "I need more time to think about it" or "I'm too busy to do that right now, I can do it tomorrow" and then tomorrow becomes today and the same phrases roll around in my head until eventually some things never get done. Whatever the reason for procrastinating, whether it be genuinely busy, laziness, lack of confidence, fear of failure or ridicule, or just honestly thinking we have plenty of time there is no denying procrastinating is a complete waste of time, so I will stop wasting it and get on with blogging!

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