Well, our 17 day tour of Rajastan/ Aga & Delhi was interesting to say the least! After Mandawa we headed for Bikaner. Bikaner is a neat little town of around 200,000 with a great old fort/palace and some good sights. Our room was nice but , again no heat. At least this one had hot water! By this time Jim was getting a full on head cold and we really wanted to go to Karni Mata temple to see the rats so we altered our itinerary a bit to stay 2 nights in Bikaner.
The fort was interersting but Karni Mata was quite a trip. We’d seen it on the travel channel before…the temple devoted to rats. You must enter barefoot and if a rat runs over your feet it’s good luck and if you see a white rat it’s REALLY good luck. Some other woman saw a white one while we were there and were moaning and crying and carrying on, quite a sight.
Rajastan is very arid and monochromatic but the women in their incredibly vibrant colored sari’s are a feast for the eyes. It was amazing to be driving along and seemingly out of nowhere in the desert you would suddenly see bright colored sari’d women carrying sticks or water containers on their heads. You truly know you’re in another world!
After Bikaner it was a 6hr drive to Jaisalmer, about 45miles from the Pakistani border. There have been no issues there for some time but military in evidence everywhere. The town also has a very impressive fort (which included a beautifully carved Jain temple)which Jim, unfortunately, didn’t enjoy too much. At our hotel (nope, again no heat or hot water) he had a “fried” egg for breakfast that was mostly raw. About halfway through our walking tour he was feeling sick. oh oh.
We stopped briefly so I could go to the ATM for cash. I was a bit intimidated because in this part of India women have it worse than anywhere else. They’re not just 2nd class citizens they’re more like 4th class after cows, men & camels. It was all men in line and , unlike the US where you give the person ahead of you space, everyone sort of pushes and leans in. I had 4 military guys ahead of me and when the one right in front of me was up he turned and asked me to go ahead so he and his buddies could sort of shield me from the staring crowd. I was shocked to be sure but really glad there was some man in India that wasn’t just out to leer!
Yunis, our driver, headed out of town 1hr to the Khuri camel camp for what was meant to be one of our highlights. Too bad Jim was really sick by this point and we had to pull over once or him to throw up. By the time we got to camp he was really not well. We got one of the little rooms with an attached bathroom for him, a good thing because the poor guy spent the next 12hrs projecting from both ends. After Wendy and I had just had food poisoning in Thailand I was really understanding how miserable he was!
I, on the other hand, decided that since all the men of the village kept coming by to check on him I may as well do the camel ride. I was thinking all of us at the camp would go together but alas, was not to be. They assume most people want to get that “alone in the desert” experience so each couple or group headed out in different directions. So, not only was I riding the absolutely most uncomfortable animal on earth, but was alone in the desert with the camel handler attempting to make conversation even though he spoke almost no english. And, everytime we stopped to rest all the village boys would circle around and just stare while making slurpy noises. Not fun. I was worried about Jim and sore by now so cut my camel journey short to head back to the camp. Jim was still being checked on regularly by pretty much everyone in town so I headed to the kitchen.
Now, in this part of India women do not work outside the home. In 2 weeks we only saw TWO women with jobs other than housework or building fences or whater. So, the men do all the cooking and one of Yunis’ s friends that was driving another couple around asked if I wanted to watch him cook mutton (lamb) curry. I had a great couple of hours hanging out in this tiny kitchen with about 8 guys all chopping and stirring, etc. Learned a couple of new tricks and enjoyed having men actually speak to me instead of just staring.
Then, to indicate that nothing is normal in India, I walked back outside the kitchen to go to check on Jim and found a cow wearing , perhaps, more jewelry than I own! She had earrings, a necklace, and 4 ankle bracelets of silver with bells on them. Plus, streamers on her horns. She was a black cow with very sweet eyes and she had just been watching the activity in the kitchen. Craziness!
Jim had a rough night but finally around 2pm not much else was coming up and we finally got some anti-nausea pills to stay down and he continued to improve from there. We left the camel camp and drove around 5hrs to Jodphur, our next stop.
By now, I am getting a head cold. Geez, what was going on with us! We had a very nice room for 1 nt in Jodphur at a heritage haveli (basically just means old palace converted to a hotel) and even got a hot shower for the first time in a few days! We went to the spice market that night and bought some spices and had a great evening having dinner on the rooftop restaurant watching the sun cast shadows over the fort and monkeys play everywhere.
The Jodphur fort was my favorite, I think… very impressive and well kept. It had an excellent audio taped tour which made everything more interesting. Then, on to Ranekpur. We really wanted 2 nights in one spot to just relax and for me to recover. We stayed in a tiny little hotel set in the countryside and I spent most of the time napping or reading with Jim in the sun on our deck. Then, only about a 3hr drive on to Udaipur.
Udaipur is the city of the floating Lake Palace. Our hotel was just ok but, for the first time on this trip actually had GLASS windows, not just shutters and so was quite a lot warmer than any of our past rooms. We had 2 nights there and spent our full day doing a tour of the fort and palace and taking a lake cruise to see the Lake Palace and the current home o the Maharaja (from a distance, of course!). I was still not up to par so Jim and Yunis went to an art school where Jim bought a great miniature painting. It’s an Indian speciality, where they paint minute details on paintings…quite amazing. So far, we had also purchased a small patchwork wall hanging in Mandawa and a handmade rug at Ranakpur and that was about it. I think Yunis was quite dismayed at how little we were interested in shopping ….it sounds like most people go nuts here and buy out every town.
The next day, another 6hr trip to Pushkar. This small town of 14,000 was one of my favorites…maybe just because I was finally feeling better! We had a room with a view of the “holy” lake and all of the bathing ghats, where the locals and pilgrams come to bathe in the holy water. First thing we noticed some men carrying a dead body by so we followed to witness our first funeral pyre. It was very interesting watching them build up the wood pile, carefully place the body, say some words, paint the face white, and then start the fire. Really, just like our cremation at home but much more hands on. Perhaps if we did something more similiar at home so many people wouldn’t have denial issues about a loved one being gone.
Then, we wandered the town. It was a fascinating group of vendors, shops, women shopping for dinner, camels, cows, goats, and monkeys. Jim got peed on by a monkey…we’re not sure if that is considered good luck like when a bird poops on you, but we’re going with that idea! We had a few traffic jams caused by those “holy cows” that are simply everywhere and ate dinner at a little hole in the wall called Sun n Moon that we’d read about. A young couple owned it and she was delightful and the one waiting tables while he cooked. Dinner took over 2hrs because we’d gone for the house specialty… homemade gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce and apple pie for desert. Was great! We spent quite a lot of time chatting with her and she gave me my 3rd bracelet gift of the trip, a silver charm bracelet. I am constantly humbled by such behavior and can not imagine how these women who have nothing are willing to give me a free piece of jewelry. It was very sweet.
After Pushkar on to Jaipur…sort of THE town in Rajastan for groups and such. On the way we literally drove 2 or 3 hrs past marble and granite shops on each side of the road. For as far as we could see tons and tons of gorgeous marble and granite in every color you could imagine. Boy, if you were remodeling your home this would be the place to be!
In Jaipur a miracle happened. We got a room with glass windows AND a space heater. That is right a heater! We were overjoyed. Finally, a room we wouldn’t be freezing in. Our first afternoon Yunis took us to the theater to see a Bollywood movie. The theater itself is magnificent….something we’d use at home for theater or dance productions, and the movie was so much fun! It was in Hindu so we really didn’t understand it all but it was easy to follow and full of song and dance features. Had a great time.
The 2nd day up to the fort. We rode brightly painted elephants up and explored at will, then did the city palace and Jim bought some handstichted leather shoes that are typical of the region to wear at home as slippers..they seem very comfortable.
That night we just could not take any more Indian food (although it had all been good) and ordered Dominos’ pizza delivery. Laugh if you will, but after eating every manner of rice dish for the last 3 months in SE Asia and India we just wanted pizza! And, it was about 1/4 of the price of it at home!
Then, on to Agra. Our hotel there was nasty…by far the worst of the bunch, and we’d been warned since it’s a tough town to get a room in. But hey, one night we can handle. We got up early to see the sun rise over the Taj Mahal. It was truly magical. We’ve seen a lot of impressive sites and some are as good as their reputation and many are not. But, this certainly was. Absolutely gorgeous, amazing, out of this world. The color of the marble changed as the sun moved up it and with the image in the reflecting pools it was certainly something we’ll always treasure. Next we saw the fort in Agra, also impressive and with some great views of the Taj. We bought another wall hanging unlike any we’d seen before with semi-precious gems sewn on and headed to Delhi.
Our hotel room in Delhi was huge…they’d given us the Maharaja suite, alas not in a gorgeous hotel, but the room was very nice. And, a HOT shower…oh joy of joys. Delhi, unfortunately, is a pit hole from hell. Filthy, polluted, with the most aggressive, nasty rickshaw drivers in the world. We ordered room service the first night and the next day Yunis took us to see some sites. That night we ordered pizza hut delivery as we were just not up to braving the streets, weren’t in a great location, and were both already feeling congested after just 1 full day back in the craphole that is Delhi. We couldn’t wait to leave!
We got a transfer to the airport on 15Feb, 17 days after we arrived, to fly south to Kochi. We left Delhi on time and then circled Bombay airport for over an hour, being # 21 in line to land! We then had only 20minutes to catch our flight to Kochi but, never fear, we sat on the ground on that flight or over and hour being # 24 in line to take off! Crowded airport to say the least and very badly organized.
We arrived in Kochi to the blessed tropical breezes at 5:30pm and were in our hotel by 7pm. I’ll update you on our week down south so far in the next blog.
We’re loving it much more here on the beach in the warmth. Can’t let India get to you!
As always, Living the Dream! Cheers, J&R