Friday, January 18, 2013

Ahhhhh-stralia!! Part One

Here they come... like always: The Holidays. Where to go for 2012? We always go somewhere for the holidays in's not that we don't like's just that the holidays are the one time in the year that we really miss being at home in the U.S.  Your mileage may vary, but... we have found that it's not easy being away from family and friends at Christmas-time. When we're at home, we have a great system where we trade-off years with Amy's sisters and their families up in Northern year they come down to Pasadena...the other years we go up to see them.  Our last Christmas together was up in San Francisco in December of 2009, when we had first brought up the idea to the family about moving to India. Since we've been in Hyderabad, we like to pick a place to go and spend Christmas and New Years in a special place. Last year we did our African Safari. This year:  Australia!

We flew through Kuala Lumpur on Malaysian Airlines...and on to Melbourne the week before Christmas.  Once again, all of our arrangements were made through Fugazi Travel in San Francisco... we scheduled 14-days to see just a small part of a huge's hard to narrow down an entire continent to a two-week vacation...what will we see? What will we leave out? Once again, our travel expert Eve Wertsch got us all squared-away with a tight but wonderful itinerary ...

The trip did not actually start well when we landed in Melbourne.  For some reason we missed our connection with our driver at the airport...(we ended up taking a taxi) ... and when we got to the hotel, there was no record of us having a reservation... As it turned out...there were two slightly different itineraries and we only had one of them! Things got straightened out and that was really the last of our problems! We ended up at a great hotel...the Crown Promenade - which was actually connected to the Casino and the hotel where we had our original reservations!!

Melbourne is a cool city.  Not temperature got pretty warm...but it seems like it might be a pretty neat place to live... artsy, sports-crazed, lots of nice restaurants. Our tour-guide took us all over on day-one... shopping, the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (a cathedral of sorts for the cricket-fans of the world!)... and we got our steak on at the local Meat and Wine Company - - we had a lot of good meat in Australia - but that first steak in Melbourne ended up being the best one of the entire vacation!!

The only bummer about our Melbourne stay was that we missed connecting with our friends Hasan and Sudha... a couple from Melbourne who we actually met during our Africa tour the year before.  Just bad timing... We hope that we get to see them here in India this year!

We were only in Melbourne for two days....we left for Adelaide and on to Kangaroo Island too soon to see all of the city... but what time we did spend there was memorable...

Here are our photos from our all-too-brief stay in Melbourne:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

On to Udaipur (November 2012)

On the 24th of November, the Saturday of the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, we traveled.  Due to us not wanting a huge layover at the New Delhi airport, we flew from Varanasi to Mumbai (seemingly out of the way, but the time saved was definitely worth it!) and then caught another flight to Udaipur.  Udaipur was never on my list of "must-see" places in India.  The "City of Lakes" came recommended to us by other Deloitte people who had traveled there recently and simply said "You've got to go!" 

Udaipur is the historic capital of the kingdom of Mewar in Rajasthan.  We had been to Jaipur twice now, so - we were a little concerned that it might not be much different from that part of the country. How wrong we were! Apart from its history, culture, and scenic locations, it is also known for its Rajput-era palaces. The Lake Palace, for instance, covers an entire island in the Pichola Lake. Many of the palaces have been converted into luxury hotels. It is often called the "Venice of the East", and is also nicknamed the "Lake City". Lake PicholaFateh Sagar Lake, Udai Sagar and Swaroop Sagar in this city are considered some of the most beautiful lakes in the state.

Due to a recommendation from a friend, we stayed at the Lake Palace Hotel by Taj.  It is indeed the same Lake Palace that was once the summer palace of a king! It was built in 1743-1746 under the direction of the Maharana Jagat Singh II (who, it was believed by those people back in the day, was descendant directly from the sun...he was the 62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar) of Udaipur, Rajasthan as a royal summer palace and was initially called Jagniwas or Jan Niwas after its founder. See photo, above, with Amy and the king's depiction of the sun. Very cool!

Now...a bit of editorializing.  We have been so blessed during our time in India...we have traveled to places we would have never seen if we had remained in Los Angeles. Our trips have taken us all over India, to Egypt and Jordan, to a safari in Africa, to Southeast Asia, to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur... to the Maldive Islands...and now, Australia (stay tuned for soon-to-be-published blog on that incredible trip.) We've gotten to stay at some wonderful and historic hotels...and of every-possible "star rating" you can imagine. I've actually been to some places that were a little scary!

Amy might disagree, giving the "nod" to the Four Seasons Resort in the Maldives... but for me... i have never been more impressed with a hotel both in luxury and service than I was at the Taj Lake Palace Hotel. Words fail me to describe just how incredible this place is! It's a beautiful white palace. On an island. In the middle of a beautiful lake. And you get to and from the hotel on a boat! What's not to love!!

Our time in Udaipur was spent sightseeing. Lots and lots of sightseeing....and stair climbing!! Our first tour was of the City Palace, on the bank of the same Lake Pichola. The palace is humongous !! Not only is it filled with treasures, but they have a museum of incredible crystal from the collection of the kings. We took a sunset cruise on the lake to yet another palace (the so-called "party-palace" where a wedding had been scheduled the first night we arrived - I can't imagine what that cost!)

The next day was more sightseeing - made ever-so-much-more interesting by our guide who we affectionately called "Dr. Talks-a-Lot"....this day it was two beautiful perfectly preserved temple at Nagda (Dedicated to Lord Vishnu...but had carved idols of the Hindu Trinity). We also visited a very active (and jam-packed!) temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. We got lots of stares.  We had an incredible lunch at the Devigarth Palace .... where the food was grand, the beer was perfect...and I think we were the only luncheon guests!!

At night we did something special...we met with the family of a local teacher and housewife for some local-market vegetable shopping...and then off to her home for a spectacular meal that was really a cooking-lesson, a'la Master Chef! It was really special to break out of the "restaurant" mode and eat with a real Indian family. Kid of scary at first...but our hosts could not have been more gracious!

The final day, Amy laid-low at the Lake Palace because there was one more temple I needed to see...and - as it sometimes happens...she was just plain "templed out"!  It was a beautiful whitish temple tower in the northern Indian style...and it seems that you could see this temple from just about anywhere in the city. From the City Palace (see photos) - from our hotel room, just all over! I had our guide take me over to see it. It was dedicated to the Lord of All - Sri Jagdish - also called "Jaganatha" - another incarnation of Vishnu/Lord Krishna.  We got to the foot of the temple and...low and behold...even more steps! I should have brought mountain-climbing gear! But it was stunning, very active with chanting and bhajan singing to Sri Krishna... I wish I could have just plopped-down and stayed there all day. It was mesmerizing... 

But alas, out trip was nearing the end...that very afternoon we caught a flight back to Delhi and then on back "At Home in Hyderabad" from there.

There are lots and lots of photos from our time in Udaipur....there were just so many beautiful things to take pictures of!! Here - below - are our many photo-albums from this part of our journey on Facebook:

Arrival in Udaipur

Udaipur - Day One

Udaipur - The City Palace

More of the City Palace in Udaipur...

Last of the City Palace - Udaipur

Local Public Park in Udaipur

Back to the Taj Lake Palace Hotel

Lake Pichola Cruise in Udaipur...

The King's Party Island....

Old Vishnu Temple

Lunch on the road...and back to the hotel...

Amy Feeds the Monkeys

Vegetable shopping with Menakshi Singh

Home Cooking with the Singh Family

Sri Jagdish Temple

Last Hours in Udaipur