BootsnAll Travel Network

Far West India

After typing the blog and wandering in circles around the lawn at my hotel for a few hours, I headed to the train station at around 22:00 to catch my supposed 00:15 train. I normally don’t come this early, but I didn’t want to walk the 15 minute walk too late. As soon as I arrived, I was kindly informed by the train status board that my train was going to be two hours late (though I did find out that I now had a berth). I now had to figure out what to do for four hours. I decided against getting a retiring room (beds at the train station where one can sleep while waiting for trains). I noticed for the first time that there were different lobbies for classes of tickets. Despite having a cheap (sleeper class) ticket, I decided to see if I would be allowed in the upper class lounge. Probably because it was so late, no one appeared to be checking tickets so I went in. To my surprise upper class lounge in India, at least at this train station, means the same hard wooden seats as are around the rest of the station. I believe the luxury comes into play in the fact that it isn’t absolutely packed with people. The rest of the station was rapidly becoming a minefield of sleeping people and dogs that one had to step over and around to get anywhere. Most of the trains looked to be an hour late. I read until it got closer to my time and then I went and sat in the main lobby in front of the board. I watched with increasing aggravation as everytime my train time approached it would slip by another 20 minutes. This went on for another 1.5 hours unitl I finally got into the train at 3:30 am. I was then pleasantly surprised to find that no one else, but me, was in my six berth compartment or across the aisle. This meant that I could run the fan to try to drown out some of the snoring. Indian people appear to get cold with the slightest wind so fans are usually out of the question. Randomly though people kept stopping in my compartment to tie a shoe or adjust a sarri. They would then turn off my fan as they left and I would have to turn it back on. I arrived in Jodhpur three hours late as expected.

As soon as I left the station, I walked around until I found the train ticketing office which was inconveniently far from the station. I bought my ticket for Jaisalmer leaving at night the next day. It’s usually a good idea to buy a train ticket as soon as you arrive at your new destination as they sell out fast. After buying the ticket, I made my way to my hotel by rickshaw. I was dropped off by the clocktower in the center of a big market. I immediately went to my hotel and went to sleep. I woke up about midday to start sightseeing. My first task was to eat something on the roof top restaurant. From here I got my first good view of Jodhpur. The surrounding landscape had gotten a lot more arid. I could see the imposing fort of Meherangarh sitting on top of a 400 foot rock outcropping right in the middle of the city. It was the most impressive fort that I have seen in Rajasthan. Forts in the other towns tended to be further away lessening the visual impact. True to its name, the old city of Jodhpur surrounded the fort in a blaze of indigo colored buildings. The streets of the city were narrow and winding and full of square mud brick homes. They were punctuated by havelis (old aristocratic homes) with elaborately carved balconies. On the other side of the hotel, far off in the distance, stood the current palace of the Maharaja (now just a very wealthy ordinary citizen) built in the 1920’s. He only lives in a part and the rest is now a very expensive hotel. For the first time in India, I felt myself truly intrigued by a town.

I spent my first afternoon wandering around the markets in the old city. Unlike the Jaipur old city, this one still felt authentic. In Jaipur the pink buildings are now all craft stores full of people trying to get tourist to come in their stores. The Jodhpur markets still mostly catered to Indians as the tourist numbers are much lower than Jaipur. The Muslim influence is also quite strong here probably because I was getting close to Pakistan. The markets were full of fruit stands and spice shops selling spices out of huge burlap bags. The merchants manning the stalls would call out prices for all the goods at the top of their lungs. All the wares were being inspected by women in bright sarris and Muslim women in somber burkas. While I saw no puffy pants I did notice that huge mustaches and turbans are defintiely the rage amongst the male residents. Here in the market I also discovered the saffron (makhania) lassi and rose milkshakes. One could get the saffron lassis for only 15 rupees at the Shri Mishrilal Hotel near the clock tower. They were so thick that they had to be eaten with a spoon and they were huge. Despite this I had three in one day as they were excellent. I discovered the rose flavored ice cream milkshakes at a juice shop. They were also big and delicious. I had several of those as well over my two days in Jodhpur. The hassle factor in the market was quite low and I was able to look around without too much aggravation. During the evening, I was eating dinner as the air was suddenly full of the sounds of mullahs singing to call the Muslims to evening prayer.

My next day in Jodhpur was spent touring the big sights. I first went to the fort. From inside to out this was the best fort and palace I had seen in India. I still had to pay the super high tourist price, but at least this time I got a good audio guide to go with it. They also appeared to be using some of the money to keep the fort clean as there was much less rubbish here than in the other forts that I had been to. The fort walls had cannonball marks in them from a seige from the Maharaja of Jaipur. The inside of the fort still had several rooms that maintained all of the art and marblework as well as the floor rugs. There were various exhibits showing palaquins and royal cribs. From the walls one could see the blue city stretch off in the distance. The blue color originally signified the homes of bramins which had settled around the fort. After the fort, I took a rickshaw to the new palace. This would again be an attraction I would suggest skipping. For fifty rupees, one only gets to see a small, not very impressive, museum and none of the hotel. As the palace is far from the old town, it is expensive to get to. I spent the evening having more lassis and then hanging around my hotel waiting for my 10:30 pm train. While I waited I got to know the hotel owner. His family has been living in the house for 250 years. His family was originally scribes at a nearby temple. He gave me a recommendation of a place to stay in Jaisalmer. Before I left, he wanted me to have a drink with them. It was quite funny as he snuck out the whisky bottle trying to hide it from the eyes of the other guests and poured us each a drink. I am not sure if the town is dry or not. For those who come to Jodhpur, I stayed at the Shivam Paying Guesthouse. It was very well run and clean. The family also runs another more upscale hotel nearby.

My train trip to Jaisalmer was much like the other with much snoring. There was one big difference in the fact that it was actually on time. We arrived in Jaisalmer about 6:00 am but it was still dark. India is also on one time zone, so sunset and sunrise times get a bit funky near its borders. Upon exiting the train station, I was met by a mass of people offering me hotels. It felt great to be back on the tourist trail again. Fortunately, I had already selected a place and they picked me up. Jaisalmer is different from the other fortified towns. Where in the other towns the city was around the fort, the old city of Jaisalmer occupies the fort. I think this is a more recent phenomenon. Also this city is built out of yellow sandstone instead of the usual red giving it a peanut brittle appearance. The jeep I was in drove into the fort through massive gates and up a steep cobblestone ramp. We then parked and walked into the maze of narrow streets finally ending up at the guesthouse. The guesthouse is near the Jain Temples in the fort. From the guesthouse roof, I could see the peaked sandstone roofs of the five temples covered with carvings.

Following my usual pattern of sleeping the morning away due to the snoring trains, I rose about midday to go eat. I found a restaurant that sat on the fort walls. There I met a Brazillian lady about my age and we decided to go sightseeing together before she left that afternoon. We decided to go see some of the havelis in town. One had free entry and we went there first. The inside had balconies and carved stone screenwork from which one could look out onto the courtyard, but people couldn’t see in. These screens were used all over Rajasthan before glass. We only looked at the others from the outside as we were both getting palace and fort overload by this point and didn’t feel like paying to get in. They are all interesting but like anything else (cathedrals, temples). They all have similar design features and begin to look the same after a while. We seperated after she showed me the way to the lake. The lake was man-made and is full of temples. It was orginally the water source (maybe still is?) for the town. I also stumbled upon the Desert Cultural Center which was near the tourist office. The center is a museum founded by a retired teacher who decided to try to preserve the heritage of Jaisalmer after he saw the dramatic changes due to tourism. As I was the only one in the museum he showed me around and opened a few cases and showed me some artifacts. I learned that in the evenings his museum put on a forty minute long puppet show featuring music and handmade puppets which are a traditional Rajasthan art form. I said I would come back the next day to watch.

My second day in Jaisalmer was spent wandering the streets. I first started out at the Jain Temples which were full of elaborate stonework on the inside. I then did some shopping for Christmas for my family. I can’t say what I bought as people haven’t gotten the items yet. I have to mail a package home soon as my bag is getting full from the silk paintings and other items that I have bought. While walking around I noticed a group of the cross dressing men that I have described earlier. They appeared to take great delight in running at groups of teenage boys causing them to scatter. They were accompanied by a man with a drum so I am guessing they were looking for a party to crash. I went back to the Cultural Center that evening for the puppet show. I thought it might embarassingly be me and lots of small children but I was curious to see what they actually do with the puppets. They are on sale everywhere here. I was surprised as the audience was mostly a mixture of Indian and tourist adults. The show featured the puppets doing different dances while a group of musicians sang and played instruments. I was impressed of how complicated of movements one can get a puppet to do. If I had tried that, I would have ended up with one big knot. I would recommend the museum as it is a good alternative thing to do in Jaisalmer. It is also a good place to escape from all the people trying to sell you camel safaris.

I had to rise early the next morning to catch my predawn bus to Bikaner where I had decided to do my camel safari. There was a company called Vino’s in my guidebook that seemed trustworthy and I had decided to go with them. They also conveniently had a guesthouse. The bus was very nice as it was a private bus and we spent six hours driving through a sandy landscape punctuated by short trees. I shared a rickshaw with an older Frenchman who decided to come with me to my guesthouse as he hadn’t picked a place to stay yet. At the guesthouse, I found that there was an overnight camel safari leaving the next day. There was a Dutch couple already going on it. I had originally wanted to do a two night safari, but decided in the end that two days would probably be long enough on a camel. I spent the evening just reading at the guesthouse. I did make a foray to a grocery store called Mega Mart to buy some nuts and fruit for the safari. While in the checkout “line”, I had to remind two men that yes there is a line and no you are not in front of me.

As the camel safari wouldn’t leave until 2:00 pm, I spent the morning wandering around the old city with the Dutch couple. We ate at a roadside restaurant. While eating, we noticed a family of mice playing on and amongst the pots and pans. You could tell we had all been hardened to such sights by now as our only response was “oh look mice” and we kept eating. At 2:00 p.m, we all got in the family car and were driven to the camels. (Many of the places I stay in India are actually family homes with hotels built in it. It is not uncommon to come out of the bathroom to see grandma waiting in line to go in as you are right in there with the family.) We had two camels for riding (a huge male and a smaller old female). There was also a camel pulling the cart. We had one guide and three camel drivers with us. We took turns riding the camels which required me to be a gymnist to get my legs across. I normally don’t stretch that wide. We set up camp that night near some sand dunes. It was windy and silent except for the wind which is a real treat in India. The area was full of antelopes. A man and his granddaughter joined us around our fire and he told the drivers that he had been looking for a boy that had wandered off into the desert from his village. They had found him and were going back home. The meal that night was cooked over the fire. It consisted of fried bread and a curry. While the food was good, I was a little concerned to not see much hand washing going on while the food was made, especially since they had started the fire with camel dung. We were soon joined by another safari consisting of a Sri Lankan and a Norwegian who were traveling together. They were both students in Singapore. The guide entertained us by singing some folksongs while banging on the cooking pot. I slept outside that night.

During the night, a cold front came through and it got very cold. Some stray dogs also appeared. One decided to try to cuddle with the Sri Lankan man all night who had to keep shooing him away. The next morning was very foggy and cold. We ate breakfast and then the groups split. We rode around the desert all day stopping for lunch in a village. The safari ended at the Rat Temple outside of Bikaner. The rats are supposed to be reincarnated storytellers. The rats are sacred and have the run of the place. One goes into the temple sans shoes. It is considered good luck to have the rats run across your feet. The inside of the temple was as promised, full of rats. They are fed by the devotees and can be seen drinking from large tubs full of milk. One rat got close to my feet, but I felt my luck was presently good enough, and shooed it away before it got on my feet. We caught a local bus back to the guesthouse.

That night I took a new form of transportation to Pushkar where I am now. It was an Indian sleeper bus. It turned out to be much nicer than the Chinese version which looks like an Indian sleeper class car on wheels. This bus had two layers. The bottom layer was all seats. Above the seats were a single layer of beds. One side of the aisle had single bunks and the other had double sized bunks. Unlike the Chinese version, these bunks had privacy curtains. I found I was in a single bunk. In the seats near me were the Sri Lankan and Norwegian men. They were also going to Pushkar. All of the double bunks were occupied by a single person as well. They would be quite “cozy” if two people were in one. The Sri Lankan man told me that he and the other guy had both been assigned to the same double bunk on another sleeper bus causing them some discomfort with the male “closeness”. To make it worse, the beds in that bus had been covered in a grey fur and had red curtains making it seem all the more inappropriate. I did manage to sleep better than I did on the sleeper trains though not much. We arrived in Pushkar at five am and decided to all go to the same hotel. This is one of the rare times that I went with a tout. He said the hotel was his and the prices were in the range we were looking for. The hotel was quite nice. I am staying in Pushkar today and tomorrow and will then go to Bundi. I have had the chance to organize the pictures. I will upload more in a week or so.

If you couldn’t tell already by my writing, I was really impressed with Jodhpur. Many people go to Jaipur instead and I believe this is a mistake. The city and monuments are much more impressive in Jodhpur and the hassle factor is quite low.

Side note:

Here is some advice that I have been meaning to type up for some time.

Asia Travel Rules:
1. Never pay for anything until the service is performed unless you have a good reason to trust the person.
2. Its usually safe to assume that the more foreign you look the higher your quoted price will be. A good rule of thumb is the real price is 1/3 to 1/2 of what they intially tell you. This is especially true in the case of transportation (non metered taxis, rickshaws)
3. Try to do business with people who aren’t looking for you. Go away from the train or bus station before getting a taxi or rickshaw.

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3 Responses to “Far West India”

  1. Gashwin Says:

    Man, you’re really tramping around Rajasthan! Puskhar! Bundi! I’m jealous.

  2. Posted from United States United States
  3. Preeti Says:

    I’ve heard about the rat temple but never seen it. And lassi…I’m definitely jealous. Sounds like I’ll be making time for Jodhpur on my next trip to India.

  4. Posted from United States United States
  5. vinod bhojak Says:

    I am vino from Bikaner .you did safari with us. I saw today your blogs about bikaner and rajasthan its very interesting, thanks

  6. Posted from India India

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