Thursday, April 24, 2014

What it's like to stay in a Maharaja's palace in India

While on my small group adventure tour in Northern India in January of 2007 we ventured into "non tourist" territory and visited the small city of Karauli.  This was definitely the highlight of my time in India.  I will talk about our short time in the city touring the city palace, meeting the children and taking a camel cart ride in an upcoming post but this one is all about my accommodation.  We stayed at the Bhanwar Vilas Palace which is owned by the Maharaja and his wife.  Sadly they were not in residence while we were there.  They rent out rooms in their palace to help pay for restoration of the City palace in the centre of town as well as to help run a local school.  Built in 1938, the palace is a bit rough around the edges and probably needs a bit of  a reno but that just adds to its rakish charm.  I would rather help to support educating children than stay in fancier rooms.  It was clean and that's all that matters.

The palace viewed from the garden - we enjoyed a wonderful meal here with beautiful fresh veggies (red carrots!) from this garden.

All very retro - not sure why there was a mattress at the foot of the bed though.  I was lucky and was given one of the nicer bigger rooms.

Do you think this bathroom is big enough?  I remember tripping on the elevated platform on one of my nocturnal bathroom visits! 

The lovely courtyard area -it was great to spend time here before and after dinner.  

One of many sculptures along the walls.

Another view of the courtyard - there is so much detail it took us a while to check it out.

Upon our arrival we were given garlands - and told there were puppies!  Puppies we could actually hold and cuddle (sadly you cannot approach the stray dogs in India for fear of rabies - I did feed everyone I met though...)  - the three dog lovers in our crew which included me went CRAZY!!!! Even though I did not approve of these dogs being bred how could you resist these little squirming bundles.

Here is Simone, the pup's mom along with one of the Maharaja's staff. 
And here's a picture of the front of the palace with Simon, the dad of the puppies snoozing.  Judging from the look of those you think there is something Simone isn't telling Simon?

I hope you enjoyed our quick trip to the palace...we only stayed one night but it was something I will always cherish...a chance to see a glimpse of colonial India.  And stay in a normal "untouristy" town.  Only one little scallywag asked for money and we know that's because some stupid tourist gave it to him.  The other children just wanted our smiles.  Stay tuned for a photo essay on our walk around Karauli.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

This and that

Well things on my blog have been a little quiet lately due to the fact I am at home and not on the road.  Since coming back from my winter holiday in Mississippi, New Orleans and New York I have been at home - not even a day trip out of the city to tell you about.  While life hasn't been's just full of home type stuff such as movie and wine evenings with friends, meals out, live theatre, reading,  walking around the lake near me (not worth sharing photos believe me...melting snow and ice....riveting stuff!)  and working two days a week. (to help fund my travel addiction)  And wondering....will Spring ever come to southern Saskatchewan?  And spending hours googling places and looking up airfares for trips I will probably never take...

In mid May I start traveling again for a couple of long weekends and then in early July I am "out there" for a few days as well.  No overseas trips this year however....too much going on next year.  All will be revealed in a few months when my plans have been finalized. 

However in the meantime there hasn't been much to blog about - I have pretty well covered most of my last trip so that leaves going back through the mists of time back to travels I took over the past three or four decades.  I have decided to post several of my more interesting trips on "Throwback Thursday". 

So check back on Thursday to see where "we" will go!!  Then next month I will once again have some fresh content to share with you. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The "Cities of the Dead" in New Orleans

You can't visit New Orleans without visiting one of her many cemeteries.  These are unique due to the fact that the dead are buried in vaults.  This is because on average, New Orleans is between one to two feet below sea level.  Early settlers tried burying the dead and placing stones in and on top of the casket however when it rained it was not unusual for the rocks to come loose and the casket to literally pop up to the surface. Not nice! Following the Spanish custom, vaults were constructed and this method has been used ever since. These are family owned vaults that go back generations.  How do they fit all the bodies in you might ask?  Okay you asked for it...this is a bit gruesome.  Bodies are laid out in the vault in a wooden  box.  New Orleans summers are stifling with heat and humidity and inside the vault it can reach 300 degrees fahrenheit.  Bodies disintegrate quickly in that kind of heat and all that is left are bones, ashes and rotting wood.  Remains may lay there undisturbed for years however if the space is needed the body remains are swept to the back of the vault where they fall to the side and back.  It is the law a body must be undisturbed for one year and a day.  What happens if space is needed before that time?  There is a temporary "holding area" in most cemeteries for this situation. 

There are many cemeteries in the city to visit:  St. Louis I, St. Louis II, St. Louis III (notice a theme here?)and Layfayette which is in the Garden District,...these are the most popular ones for tourists.    We had tried to visit Lafayette in the Garden District however it had closed at 3 p.m. (3 p.m.???  Crazy!)  Instead we took a guided walking tour of St. Louis cemetery near the French Quarter.  It was constructed in 1789 and most of the vaults were constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries.  As in all the cemeteries there are "streets" on a grid which lgives them the name "Cities of the dead". 


The tomb of the infamous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau...the xxx's have been put there as wishes..if your wish comes true you go back and circle them.  As the guide says...none have circles.... 
Our tour guide
Close up of Marie Latreau's tomb
This pyramid monstrosity is the future "home" of Nicholas Cage.  Yep, he had this built for his remains...really fits in doesn't it?  Money talks I guess. 

One thing that tourists are constantly reminded of is NOT to visit these cemeteries alone - especially the St Louis cemetery we have just visited.  Muggers can easily hide behind the tombs.  I don't think it is as bad as it was however due to the destruction of the notorious Iberville housing project nearby.  Still I personally would never walk through this cemetery on my own - I would only go in a group. 

On this last trip we walked by the St Louis 3 cemetery near the end of the New Orleans half marathon which terminated in City Park.  This cemetery was built in 1854 on the site of an old Leper colony.  After the yellow fever outbreak in 1853 the city was in need of another cemetery.  It was originally known as the Bayou Cemetery as it is near Bayou St. John.   Even though I was flagging I did summon the strength to take two quick pictures as I staggered by.

I changed this way to black and white for a more dramatic effect

If you ever go to New Orleans (and you KNOW you should..) taking a tour of a local cemetery is a must. 

A picnic in Peter Rabbit country

When I was visiting England two and a half years ago I stayed with friends Janette and Martyn who I got to know through my German friend Cl...