Incredible India - January 2016

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Incredible India

We love adventures, exploring India gave us an incredibly interesting adventure. Such an amazing place, friendly people, impressive architecture and ancient history. Our 2 week tour started with the famous Golden Triangle (Delhi, Jaipur & Agra), then head south to southern tropical state of Kerala. We check out the historic Fort Kochi and the picturesque hill station of Munnar with its verdant tea plantations, relax in sleepy Kumarakom, took a boat trip exploring the backwaters of Alleppey, and finished in the beautiful palm fringed Mararikulam beach.

Golden Triangle (week 1)

Delhi

The nation’s capital and India’s third largest city. There are 2 main parts Old and New:

Old Delhi is the 17th century walled city of Shahjahanabad (capital of Muslim India between the 17th and 19th centuries) with city gates, narrow alleyways, bazaars, many mosques, monuments, forts and other buildings relating to India’s Muslim history. The main street in Old Delhi is Chandni Chowk – a colourful congested shopping bazaar.

The main sightseeing of Old Delhi are:

  • Red Fort - The red stone walls of the fort extend for 2kms and vary in height from 8m on the riverside to 33m on the city side. Built by Shah Jahan, who started construction of the massive fort in 1638 and it was completed in 1648.
  • Jama Masjid- The largest mosque in India and the final architectural extravagance of Shah Jahan.
  • Raj Ghat - on the banks of the Yamuna River lies a marble memorial marking the spot where the great leader - Mahatma Gandhi was cremated after his assassination.

New Delhi, in contrast to Old Delhi is a city of wide tree-lined streets, parks, fountains and roundabouts – designed by Edward Lutyens and built as the imperial capital of India by the British. Connaught Place (Rajiv Chowk) with its outer circle Connaught Circus (Indira Chowk) forms the business and tourist centre. New Delhi also houses many government buildings including Rashtrapati Bhavan – the official residence of the President of India which stands at the opposite end of the Rajpath from India Gate.

The main sightseeing of New Delhi are:

  • Rajpath – an immensely broad boulevard flanked on either side by ornamental ponds. The Republic Day parade is held here every 26 January, drawing millions of people to this spectacle. It is at the eastern end of Rajpath we’ll see India Gate.
  • India Gate - The 42m high stone “Arch of Triumph”, erected in memory of Indian soldiers who died in the First World War.

Jaipur

It takes about 5 hours to drive Delhi to Jaipur (4 hours on the train).

The Pink City of Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan.

Our sightseeing tour centred around the Old City and City Palace.

In 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh had the entire old city swathed in pink paint. Pink is the colour associated with hospitality in India. The new paint job was completed in time for a royal visit by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

Hawa Mahal is known as the Palace of the Winds. Although little more than an impressive façade it is one of the city’s landmarks. This 5-storey building which overlooks the main street of the bustling old city is a stunning example of Rajput architecture with it’s pink, delicately honeycombed sandstone windows.

We visit the City Palace, a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. If the flag is flying, the Maharaja is in residence. A part of palace has been converted into a museum, which has an impressive collection of arts, carpets, enamel ware and weaponry.

Just over the road from the City Palace (with snake charmers and fortune tellers lining the route) is Jantar Mantar, an observatory of astronomy built by Jai Singh in 1728. Of the five observatories he built, this is the largest and best preserved. At first glance, Jantar Mantar resembles a sculpture park, though in fact, each construction has a specific scientific purpose. Some measure the positions of stars, whilst others calculate eclipses, the lunar calendar and simply the time of day. Even today, most of the constructions remain accurate.

The following day we took an early morning hot air balloon ride over Jaipur and sailed over hilltop forts, regal palaces, sleepy villages, and stone carved temples.

 Then we travel beyond Jaipur to the stunning 16th century Amber Fort - a sprawling Rajput construction, perched on a hillside overlooks the dusty plains below. Indian elephants take tourists up the hill . Arriving at the top you can tour the fort’s well preserved interior and grounds.

Later in the evening we explored Johari Bazaar in the Old Pink City which is also great for shopping. Top choices include jootis (traditional Rajasthani curled shoes), Jaipur’s famous blue pottery, textiles and handicrafts around the City Palace or Hawa Mahal.

Jaipur - Abhaneri - Bharatpur

Departing Jaipur we stop in the village of Abhaneri to see Chand Baori, which is the largest and deepest step well in the world. This incredible well has a staggering 3500 steps and is 13 stories deep.

After hotel check in at our Bharatpur hotel we visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Keoladeo Ghana National Park where we enjoyed a leisurely rickshaw ride through the park. Keoladeo’s 29 sq.km of swamps and lakes constitute one of the most important breeding and migratory areas in the world, where from October - March the some 200 plus local species are joined by a further 130 species from as far afield as the Russian Steppes and Central Asia.

Bharatpur - Agra

En route to Agra we visit Fatehpur Sikri, which was once a magnificent fortified city and the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 until 1585, until it was abandoned due to a lack of water. Fatehpur Sikri is well preserved and divided into four main parts: the women’s quarters; the emperor’s quarters; a quarter for princes and noblemen; and weapons housing. We see various temples, pavilions and public areas, gaining a fascinating insight into how life must have been for the inhabitants of this old city. Continuing on to Agra, we embark on a short tour of the Agra Fort. Behind its colossal walls are some of the finest Mughal buildings in India. Construction of the fort was commenced during the reign of Emperor Akbar and additions were made until the rule of his grandson Shah Jahan. During Akbar’s time, it was primarily a military fort though later the focus shifted and it partially became a palace. From the Agra Fort we make the short journey to visit the legendary Taj Mahal for sunset. Described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love, this fine example of Mughal architecture was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved second wife-Mumtaz Mahal, who died tragically during childbirth. Built entirely of white marble, construction began in 1631, the year in which Mumtaz died, and was not completed until 1653. A staggering total of 20,000 workers contributed their skills, in the construction of this unique mausoleum.

Agra - Delhi

After checking out the Taj Mahal again at sunrise we had breakfast and returned to Delhi via train that takes about 3 hours. An overnight in Delhi allowed us to jumped aboard an early morning 3 hour SpiceJet flight to Kochi. The start of our 2nd week and adventure around the southern state of Kerala.

 

Kerala (week 2)

With the Arabian Sea in the west, the Western Ghats (mountains) towering high in the east and networked by 44 rivers, Kerala enjoys unique geographical features that have made it a popular tourist destinations in Asia. An equable climate. A long shoreline with serene beaches. Tranquil stretches of emerald backwaters. Lush hill stations and exotic wildlife. Waterfalls. Sprawling plantations and paddy fields. Historic and cultural monuments. An exotic cuisine ranging from the traditional sadya to seafood... All offer you a unique experience.

Kochi

Kochi (formerly known as Cochin) offered refuge to Jews more than 2,500 years ago. The Portuguese founded the first European colony in Kochi in the 16th century, then the Dutch quickly followed and eventually, the British. The cosmopolitan mix of cultures makes the city truly fascinating.
The historic Fort Kochi is the most popular of sightseeing. Then the elegant Chinese fishing nets and explore the winding streets of the old town, visiting St Francis’ Church, Parsi Synagogue and a Dutch palace. Kathakali is the fascinating traditional dance form of Kerala.

Munnar

A 4 hour drive east of Kochi via water walls and spectacular vistas we arrive in Munnar.  A picturesque hill station nestled on the verdant slopes of tea plantations. Located at a lofty height of 1600m, Munnar offers breathtaking views of the surrounding hills carpeted with tea plantations. It also gives you a spectacular view of Anamudi (2700m), South India’s highest peak.
A stroll through one of the many tea plantations with a guide, will give you a brief explanation about the different varieties of tea and how they are processed. Then buy the final product at the local market.  

Alleppey (Alappuzha)

Located on the coast, 5 hours from Munnar, it is famous for its rice boats. They have been converted into simply furnished private houseboats for tourists. Journey through the lush, enchanting, palm fringed, Keralan Backwaters, glide past local villages and fascinating scenes of everyday rural life. Watch a beautiful sunset over the backwaters and enjoy tasty meals (starting with lunch) prepared by the on board chef using fresh local produce.

Kumarakom

After breakfast on day 12 we disembark the houseboat at Kumarakom. Perched sleepily amongst a tangle of lush tropical waterways known as the Keralan backwaters, Kumarakom is technically a cluster of islands on Lake Vembanad - one of Asia’s largest freshwater lakes. This is an ideal place to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery. There is also a wonderful bird sanctuary spread across 14 acres, which is a favoured haunt of migratory birds and certainly worthy of a visit.

Mararikulam

Mararikulam is a beach village just north of Alleppey. It's beach was rated as a top 25 in asia, with beautiful white sand, palm trees, amazing sunsets and very few people, its a quite peace of heaven amongst India's mad hectic culture. 

 

Indian Wrestling

The Oldest Wrestling School of India is Guru Hanuman Akhara

Guru Hanuman Akhara that comes under Wrestling Federation of India was established in 1925 and is the epicenter of the ancient wrestling tradition in India. It is the oldest akhara (wrestling boarding school) existing in India till now located at Shakti Nagar in New Delhi that has produced National and International wrestlers for India.

Guru Hanuman Akhara has produced many great wrestlers (Dara Singh, Guru Satpal, Sushil Kumar, Yogendra Kumar, Anuj Chowdhary, Rajiv Tomer, Anil Mann, Sujit Mann, Naveen, Rakesh Goonga).

The club was named after the legendary Indian wrestler, Guru Hanuman, who was born in Chidwa village in 1901 in Western Rajasthan. Hanuman was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian honours and he was the recipient of the Shree Dronacharya Award, a prize named after the mythical sage warrior which is reserved for sports coaches. Hanuman died in a car accident at Partapur, Meerut in 1999.

More than 100 boys are enrolled and some are outstation students coming from different states of India that live in the akhara.The boys have been divided into teams and each team is given the responsibility of cleaning, cooking, washing, and other jobs. Once the boys get over with their wrestling exercises, they have to do rest of the household chores.

We contacted Maha Singh Rao (the international head coach), he invited us to visit the Akhara to film and join in with some wrestling practice. The boys are well taught and train hard. There are two types of wrestling:

1) Wrestling on matts, wearing lycra suites.

2) Wrestling on mud, wearing loin cloths (called langot in hindi).

We also visited the Kochin Grapplers in Fort Kochi, Kerala. The wrestling school was much smaller but they were very keen to show us there skills and very welcoming thanks to the coach and professional ex-wrestler T. J. George.


ChrisGeary.com