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Rajasthan Part One

12th Mar 2010

Wed 17 Feb/Thu 18 Feb

Back in delhi, minus the fog! Discover the wonders of the Delhi Metro system which seems so out of place. Check out Jama Masjid, one of the biggest mosques in India, get to climb on of the minarets for a great view over Delhi. The Red Fort is hot, full of a few nice marble palaces but we've begun to tire of these attractions.

We have to return to the scene of our train nightmare at New Delhi Station to get a night train to Jaisalmer in the desert. Unfortunately, I don't realise the tickets are from Old Delhi Station so we have a mad rush across town to make the train.

We get the train in sleeper class and spend the first 2 hours with about 300 Delhi commuters hanging from every available bit of metal and wood. We lose our top bunk to a sleeping man but hold on to oiur seats. After 9pm most of the comuters depart so we can claim back all our seats/beds. The side beds are way too small and i cannot sleep straight meaning either my head or feet stick out getting knocked by passers by. A cold icy draft comes through a gap in the window just to keep things interesting.

Fri 19 Feb - Jaisalmer

I awake somehow getting some sleep, at some point somebody was sleeping across my ankles i was too tired to kick them off. The view outside is of stunning desert, camels graze on sporadic trees. We arrive in Jaisalmer around lunchtime, where we check into Hotel Renuka. Jaislamer is an engaging location, we explore the small winding streets frequented with cows, pushy but friendly vendors and bikes.

Above us the impresive fort towers, we get a brief look of the labyrinth streets but decide to go back another day as we are both knackered. We got to bed at 5pm, although i awake briefly at 10pm we sleep till the next day

Sat 20 Feb - Jaisalmer

Awake with a dodgy stomach possibly Delhi food, we visit a few stunning Havelis, Patwan Ki Haveli, in particular is beautiful with ornately decorated windows, mirrored walls and stunning views from the roof.

We rest for the remainder of the day as my stomach is still bad but improve enough to climb the viewpoint to watch the sunset over Jaisalmer Fort, it is a mesmerising spectacle, like something out of Star Wars (Tatooine) or some fantasy film. The only downside is a group of aggressive/annoying child beggars who somewhat spoil the moment.

Sun 21st Feb - Jaisalmer

We explore the fort, the main Jain Temple is stunning, with beautiful, intricate stone carving it would be nice to have this place to yourself and not with 100 other tourists. We get lost in the labyrinth streets, dodging cows, cow shit and chatting to locals.

We go back to the sunset viewpoint again and this time a large tour group seems to occupy all the child beggars so we are left in relative peace.

Mon 22nd Feb - Thar Desert

An early start by jeep to take us to the Thar Desert. We stop at a local village where children pester us for school pens and sweets, soon we are led away to meet our camels and their handlers. My camel is called Bobu, while Odies is Lolu, our handlers name is Sauresh and Bobu will lead Lolu meaning its up to me to control Bobu.
Its quite clear soon that Bobu has a mind of his own, luckily its follow the camel in front, she is however a bit on the lethargic side and we soon slip behind.

The desert here is still quite vegetated with goats and wild camels grazing. We stop for a basic lunch under the shelter of some trees while our camels refresh.

The afternoon ride is blighted witha strong wind that blows sand into everything, the sun is now clouded over and Sauresh warns us that we might need to consider sleeping in a shelter that night.

As we arrive at our night camp with sore groins, Bobu does his customary detour and ends up making me look like an inept rider. We take a stroll over some large sand dunes while sand stings our faces, we decide to head for shelter back at the camp. As the guides may dinner the clouds clear and we are treated to a sunset, a guy appears from nowhere and sells us cold Kingfisher beer, he soon disappears back from wherever he appeared.

We sleep out in the open on rugs covered with thick blankets glancing up at the nightsky lit by a half moon. We spend about 45 minutes trying to persuade two amarous male dogs off our bed first but we soon slip into a deep sleep. I awake once to a stunning night sky, the moon has dipped revealing a mass expanse of stars.

Tues 23rd Feb - Thar Desert

Catch a great sunrise over the dunes before heading back, its a tough 3 hour ride, we're all feeling sore after yesterdays riding and glad to only be doing a 1.5 day trek and not longer. On the way back we visit two ghost villages abandoned back in 1825 suddenly one night before returning to Jaisalmer.

We catch the sleeper bus to Jodhpur, its only 5 hours and we have normal seats but above us are single and double booths for sleeping. They seem to cram in about 5 people into each of these so god know how many people are actually on the bus i dont know. On the way we pass a car crushed by a bus, no doubt there were no survivors, the bus is in a ditch but all the passengers are ok, we pick some of them up.

In Jodhpur we get a room at the Yogi Guesthouse just below the fort and endure painfully slow service while listening to the sound of drums.

Wed 24th Feb - Jodhpur

We decide to stay another night in  Jodhpur and splash out for a taxi to Udaipur the next day. The owner of Yogis is a strange character, he claims to be a personal friend of Michael Franti from Spearhead, claims that Madonna once stayed at Yogis and he is meeting Obama next month. I'm not sure whether to believe him but apparenty Madonna was in Jodhpur once and Michael Franti aswell so i suppose those two are possible.

An irritating American lady from South Carolina latches on to us as we head up to the fort, she wrecks my bargaining attempt for an auto rickshaw and we end up paying twice as much as i was going to offer!

We pack her off with an audio guide so we can lose her, the fort is engaging but very toursistic we spend an hour walking around and admiring the view from the ramparts before heading down

That afternoon we explore the streets of Jodhpur, full of ladies in colourful dresses, children with water pistols, donkeys carrying rocks...we pass workshops, a small flour mill and come across a local market where a guy befriends us, he tips us off about a wholesale shop selling fabric. Cautious of a scam we go with him but he turns out to be genuine and leaves us near the shop so we can decide whether we want to look inside.

The shop is 8 levels high and full of beautiful fabrics, bed spreads, clothes, cushion covers, they boast previous customers as Richard Gere, Madonna, Liz Hurley and also major fashion houses from London, Paris and Milan buying their stock. Here a silk bedspread costs 4000R (about 60-70 pounds), in London it would fetch about 2-3K!

We spend the evening relaxing on the roof terrace until annoying american woman returns and shatters the serenity, we drink a few Kingfishers to soften the blow

Thu 25th Feb - Jodhpur to Udaipur

Our driver Sammy drives us to Udaipur via Ranakpur, we stop for cardamon tea served in small ceramic pots and feast on some Kachutis, deep fried spicy potato cakes. The journey to Ranakpur takes about 3 hours sharing the roads with massive juggernaught lorries, luckily Sammy is a good driver.

The Jain temple at Ranakpur is impressive with giant roof domes, ornately carved pillars and large elephant sculptures guarding from different sides. The drive to Udaipur from here takes 2 hours through steep, curvaceous mountain roads that cut through an arid landscape.

We arrive in Udaipur and check into the Dream Heaven Guest House which has nice views of the half full lake and spend the rest of the evening relaxing on their nice rooftop terraced.

Fri 26th Feb - Udaipur

After negotiating the tight narrow streets nearly getting squashed by rickshaws and cars we arrive at the City Palace with about a 1000 other tourists.

I find the palace quite disappointing after the forts of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, although the labyrinth of passages within the palace offer some amusement amidst scores of tour groups and dull royal portraits.

We also visit the Jain Temple and Bagore Ki Haveli, a recently restored lakeside villa from 1751. We take a late lunch at small cafe by the dried up section of the lake, a cow feasts on plastic as we sip banana lassis. Sunset is spent on the terrace watching hundreds of birds migrate from tree to tree, call to prayer resonating as the sun sets over the palace. We enjoy a meal at Ambrai overlooking the Palace Hotel.

Sat 27th Feb - Udaipur

After a cheap, efficient hair cut we take lunch in a great local cafe called Queen Cafe. They cook their own recipe banana and pumpkin curry which is very tasty, we also buy some spices from the owners daughter.

We spend the afternoon relaxing on a rooftop cafe before getting a sunset boat trip around the lake with a group of french women who seem to be dying of bad coughs. Its a photogenic one hour trip with great views of the palace, Palace Hotel and the surrounding hills.

We catch the world's slowest rickshaw to the station to catch our night train to Jaipur, the driver is either tired, drunk or the rickshaw needs a good service. We arrive in one piece and in plenty of time and wait on the platform for our train.

Our travel companions are friendly and I get chatting to a bank manager from Udaipur for a an hour or so before bed.

Sun 28th Feb - Jaipur

We arrive Jaipur around 5.30AM, I've probably only had about an hours sleep. We decide to walk the 20 minute into town to kill time before we check into our guesthouse. Fortunately, our guesthouse (Atithi) has a room free almost straight away and we try to get some rest.

Unable to sleep we head out into Jaipur, after Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, it is dirty, busy, smoggy city and also burning hot even at 10 in the morning. After 20 minutes we reach the Old City (The Pink City) its not what I expect, more busy traffic and little of the way of charm, agressive rickshaw drivers stop at every turn. Stalls sell colourful dye and various water pistols of different sizes in anticipation of the Holi Festival.

We take a brief look at the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) whose facade is slightly reminscent of Gaudi's work in Barcelona. With the heat descending we elect to head back to the hotel for some rest.

That afternoon we head to the Elephant Festival held in the local Sports Stadium. On our way in a procession of beautifully painted elephants passes by with equally well dressed Mahouts.  We are led into the tourist area, basically a VIP area with comfy white seats and a ringside view.

What follows is a bizarre experience fronted by a vocal woman on a microphone introducing the event. We are treated to a marching band before the elephants parade around covered in beautiful costumes of paint and robes, camels and horses also join in the fun. As the show progresses more and more people stand up to take pictures causing others to get annoyed, soon some people start going onto the parade area and soon everything is a bizarre mix of surreal proportions.

The MC is having trouble telling people to get off the pitch, while we are treated to a tug of war between indians and tourists, its a draw as the rope snaps. As the elephants gather for the beauty contest, so many people are on the pitch that its hard to see what is going on. In the end we leave the whole fiasco to enjoy the evening on a lovely rooftop restaurant


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