The almost last post

Location: KL international airport

Hotel: Container Capsule where I managed to get about 5 hours sleep after only a couple on the flight

This is almost it.  I’m tired and taking regular paracetamol to keep whatever is going on at bay.

Waiting for my flight from KL to the Gold Coast not wanting suit because I have been sitting to much and not wanting to stand because feet are in bad shape.  At least I have found a comfy chair, most airport seating is hard plastic.


So I have this crazy idea.  Why I am even floating this is beyond me, but I know that in a few days it will seem like a good idea again.

Who’d like to come to India with me for 2 or 3 weeks around October 2017?  Me plus 3 people, I’ll be your “guide” in the loosest sense of the term, having done this twice now I know the ropes.

Diwali is October 19.  The Pushkar Fair is from 22 October to 31 October.  Two awesome events.  Plus the Taj Mahal, maybe Varanasi, Jaipur, not sure.  We can make it up.

I’m simply floating a random thought to find out if anyone is vaguely interested.

How come extra large vegetables but not extra large fucuks?

How come extra large vegetables but not extra large fucuks?

I now have a bunch of friends in various places that will help make the trip more interesting by hanging out with locals.  There’s a few cool places to visit off the tourist path.  It will be fun, I can assure you.

I’ll leave the idea here, you know how to contact me.


Out of India – fortunately not by train

Location: Indira Ghandi International Airport gate 17

You know that feeling when you aren’t feeling well and you are cranky and everything is annoying?  Now imagine that happening and you are in India where everything is over the top.  Now imagine you are in India but you are in New Delhi where it is even more over the top.

So I wasn’t in a good mood today.  I had many hours to kill so I thought a movie would be fun.  But getting there…normally the noise and traffic and smell of stale urine and everything else doesn’t bother me.  Today it was all super annoying and I couldn’t wait to get to the airport.

But I did go to a movie.  I thought I was seeing Tum Bin II, the fact that it averages 1.5/5 stars reviews added to the allure.  However all that was on was Force² an action movie dedicated to Indian spies languishing in foreign jails.

Despite it being 99℅ Hindi, even I could work out that the dedication was nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy.

But I did get to see a movie audience get excited every time the hero flexed his considerable muscles, but I was disappointed there was no singing and dancing.  I’ll make up for it with the really bad R40 DVD I bought in Pushkar.

It’s always comforting to have astute wait staff that anticipate your every need.  Despite not feeling well, last night I felt like something to eat but didn’t want to put much effort into it.  The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant so I went to one over the road. Just me.  Alone.  By myself.  Without anyone else.

I order a Paneer Butter Masala and 2 chapatti.  The waiter writes it down and stands there looking at me.  Eventually he says “just one?”. Reminder: I wasn’t feeling well.  I look around me, under the table and then say “yes,just me, one meal” and he looks disappointed before heading to the kitchen.

I had left my bag at the hotel for the day and while heading back to get it I had to cross the railway station over bridge.  I noticed a really crowded platform and quietly wished the train would arrive right then.

Bag retrieved I headed back and my wish had come true.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I never travel cattle class (general seating) on a train.

Note the fight toward the middle.  I have watched a couple of times and can’t pick why they all got stuck into one guy.

And in case the whole situation might have gotten out of hand, the police stepped in and in an even handed way restored order.  This is really worth watching a couple of times for him hitting people trying to get off and on, tossing luggage both on and off the train and why you should avoid a cop swinging a lathi.

There are no cops with lathis, just soldiers with submachine guns so I’m going to sit back, enjoy the ambiance of the airport before I arrive in KL at 0700 for a 16 hour layover before flying home.

I have pre-ordered pizza for Tuesday dinner

A day in Delhi

Location: Delhi

Hotel: Surya

In my post yesterday I said I was tired.  Turns out I am sick.  Not Delhi Belly type of sick from food, more some sort of bug that has given me a headache and a temperature (I think).  Fortunately a paracetamol relieves the symptoms.

At a guess I walked 15 – 20km today.  From the hotel to Old Delhi and around the markets and then most of the way back before I realised it was another 5km so caught a rickshaw.

In the morning I stopped for a while to watch some sort of display/ceremony/meeting that was related to Indira Gandhi.  The reason the description is so vague is because I have no idea what was happening.  There was a stage and some seating and well dressed men.  Ironic that given it was something to do with a woman there wasn’t a woman in sight. The stage had a backdrop with a big photo of Ghandi and they placed a garland below it and it was all in Hindi.

The only reason I am telling about this is that after watching in puzzlement for a while I wandered off, heading down alleys and anywhere that looked interesting.  I’m not sure if anyone saw me laugh out loud when an hour later I ended up back at Indira Gandhi.  I would have sworn I was heading in one general direction.

I think it is an old tea urn.

I think it is an old tea urn.

The traffic in Old Delhi is a mess.  A mix of tuk tuks, cars, rickshaws, ox drawn carts, human pushed carts, pedestrians and more.  It is much faster to walk than use any sort of vehicle.  The situation was made worse by long lines outside every bank and ATM forcing the few pedestrians who chose not to walk in the street, to walk in the street.  There was a plan to make money changing today restricted to seniors, it didn’t look like it was working.


Last year I heard about an important Sikh temple here in Delhi, it turns out there is another in Old Delhi, Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib.  The steady flow of people coming and going to this magnificent temple was amazing as was the devotional happenings inside.

And from the upstairs gallery where there were private prayer rooms with outstanding looking Sikh men reading religious texts  – I wasn’t game ask to take a photo.

They feed a lot of people, continuously.  There were three rows like this.


To produce that much food you need a production line.  This was great to watch.


I couldn’t get these guys to move so that the light wasn’t behind them.


There’s lots to see in the markets, areas have their own speciality.  There was the wedding card market and the spice market and the long lines outside banks market.

One thing I have noticed here in Delhi, a city with a population of 18 million! is that people aren’t nearly as friendly and approachable.  A smile elicits a blank look, it’s as though they have seen it all before, and they probably have.



This is an interesting campaign.


When I arrived at this hotel I asked if there was hot water.  Yes, I am assured, ask for it and it will be provided to your room.  I didn’t quite understand, maybe they have water heaters on each floor or something.

Back from my walk, exhausted and not feeling great, I asked for hot water to my room.  Ten minutes, I am assured.  I figure it takes that long for the heater to kick in.  A while later there is a knock on the door, my hot water is ready.


Only In India.

On my last legs

Location: Delhi

Hotel: Surya, one of hundreds along a road near the railway station

It’s taken a few days to write this, so some things are a bit out of sequence and tense.

Tomorrow (Friday) I head to Delhi for my flight home on Sunday.  I was looking for a photo in an early post and it is hard to believe that stuff happened only 5 weeks ago.  Feels like last year.  Places and events have melted together and it can be hard to remember what happened where and when.  This blog may help me piece it all together in the winter of !y life – next week.

I am not the first person who enjoys wandering aimlessly npt worried about getting lost.  I have some of the best experiences during my many trips by heading down lanes and towards something interesting.

I stumbled upon this group of kids crowded on a rickshaw about to be delivered home after school.  It is my new favourite photo this trip I think.


I was glad I also managed to get some video.

It is the start of wedding season in India so there is lots of dancing and really loud music into the night.

I’m tired.  My feet hurt from walking and each foot has a couple of cracks in the skin which are tender.  There’s no electricity in the area at the moment.  Last night I didn’t sleep well, too hot with a blanket, too cold without.  Someone is smoking in the hallway outside my room and it stinks. My flight is in 36 hours or so and I think my brain is in going home mode.

Walking from the metro station to the hotel involves walking over a footbridge that crosses the main, huge, New Delhi railway station platforms.  There is a steady stream of people crossing and as I approach the stairs a security guy – can’t call them a guard – shouts and points at a sign no entry.  I paused for a moment, remembered T.I.I. – This Is India – and followed all the other people who he hasn’t yelled at. He didn’t give a shit, which I imagine is part of the job description.

Can't you just picture the joy on the faces of kindergarten kiddies when they these colourful characters every morning?

Can’t you just picture the joy on the faces of kindergarten kiddies when they these colourful characters every morning?

Back in Jaipur I had a day to fill before heading to Delhi.  I had heard about Chand Baori earlier in the year and it was on my list of places visit.  I was planning to go last time in Jaipur but Ajeet took us on that amazing adventure.  So I decided to head there this time using local buses, it’s about 90km from the city.

First a bus 90 minutes down the highway to Sikandara. From Sikandara you catch either a jeep or tuk tuk 20 minutes to the village of Abhaneri.  I negotiated a price of R200 for the tuk tuk ride there, he would wait and then bring me back.  I don’t begrudge $4 for the service, but when I realise other people – he picks up as many as will fit in – are only paying R10 or R15 each way it irks somewhat.

Chand Baori is one of the biggest and oldest baoli and was truly spectacular.




I think the shipping might be quite expensive, but I really want doors like these from the back streets of Jaipur.


That’s it, it’s all you get this time.  Maybe one more post from Delhi and then home.



Fairwell Pushkar

Location: Jaipur again.  Heading to Delhi for flight home

Hotel: Hathroi Palace again

Apparently the Pushkar Fair wasn’t nearly as big this year and it was blamed on the money ‘crisis’.  Because of a shortage of cash many people were unable to travel.

But there was still a lot of people in town.  The first few days is more about the livestock, the last few, more religious.

According to Wikipedia

It is celebrated for five days from the Kartik ekadashi to Kartik Poornima, the full moon day (the 15th) of Kartik (October–November) in Hindu calendar. The full moon day is the main day and the day, according to legend, when the Hindu god Brahma sprung up the Pushkar Lake, thus numerous people swim in its sacred waters.

Numerous people is an understatement.  Thousands of people bathe in the lake and I found it endlessly fascinating – I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.  It was a combination of sheer numbers, the ‘novelty’ factor compared to my cultural experience, the colours, the rituals, the location, and more.

Photography isn’t allowed so I didn’t take this shot before a whistle wasn’t blown me.


I am not sure why, but part of the rituals is offering what looks like puffed rice to the gods, there is also lots of wheat scattered around.  This attracts and maintains huge flocks of pigeons that are regularly spooked and fly off adding another spectacular dimension to the spectacle.  You can see them in the photo above and in another doesn’t do it justice shot, they were all around this pool.


The lake is the spiritual focus but the streets have a quality of their own.  I regularly have to remind myself that this is The Real Thing™ and not some sort of recreation by actors for the benefit of tourists.  Because sometimes it is so surreal it seems like that.  I especially have that fleeting thought when I see the Rajasthani men in their big turbans.


They are so ridiculously fantastic I love them.  The turbans, though the men likely too if I got to know them.  I would expect that in the desert heat the last thing that makes sense is wearing 10 beanies, but somehow they must keep people cooler than not wearing them. One of my few purchases, I have bought a length of turban material, that I managed to tie badly once :o)

There are a lot of desperately poor people here as pilgrims.  Someone explained that people will save for years and sell gold and other precious possessions to make the pilgrimage.  As I mentioned in a previous post there are organisations and temples giving them food.

This was a roti production line.


and there was no shortage of willing recipients


I love this photo for the memories it invokes, as well as the story I think it tells – though it’s hard to be objective about that.

In the streets I was talking to one of the vendors I know and as I left there was some commotion down the street heading our way.  No idea, but knew it would be something interesting.

Aside: I am still kicking myself for accidentally deleting a video of a group of men walking, playing instruments and singing.  One guy came and joyfully put his face right in the camera was so great…and irreplaceable 🙁

Anyway, something was coming so I climbed up to a vantage point and…

By now you know I am a cynic so keep that in mind as I say that this all felt contrived.

A couple of days earlier I had seen a naked-ish sadhu.  He was wearing no clothes but had some material over his shoulder hiding front and back and he was quietly heading down to a ghat, no big deal, but kind of startling to see.  In contrast these guys were parading and making a big deal of their presence.

My understanding is that the nakedness is about renunciation of all possessions including clothes so that they can focus on meditation, so in my mind, as a fairly astute observer of people, the video is a little weird.  I would have thought there would be humility and devotion – but who knows, maybe that is what it looks like. And I know this is my take on it based on my assumptions and I may be really, really wrong, so please correct me if you know more.

Numerous people? Oh yeah!  The streets were crowded but not unbearable, mostly.  At one point where the main tourist street met a street leading to a popular ghat at certain times it fell into the unbearable category.

After taking the video – from the safety of a restaurant – there was what I though was a break in the madness.  I needed to get through this intersection so seizing the moment I went for it.  Bad judgement = big mistake.

It was a crush that was insane.  People were pushing and shoving (is that the same thing?) and at one point I was actually carried backwards.  Now that I was in the middle, the only way to get through was to also push and shove.  Almost everyone came out the other side sort of laughing, I think it was out of relief at having survived. After this I needed a break at the hotel didn’t go back that way for many hours.

At another spot people were giving away what at first I thought were potatoes.  Good for poor people but not me.  Until I saw a guy bite into one and it wasn’t a potato at all.  So back I went and was given what is called a tsikooor or chiku .  Yummm!!! So good I went back for another, it was incredibly sweet and tasty.  Glad I have tried chiku, singura and ber, some really unusual and tasty fruits.


OK that’s it on the Pushkar Fair.  Time to head out and hit the ATMs again.  Also since I am back in Jaipur I may go check on the progress of my carpets.

Less than one week to go…

Meanwhile, of you want to review my back catalogue, all my YouTube videos are here

Pushkar Fair – Day 2 – an ATM win!

Location: Pushkar Fair

Hotel: Paramount Palace

When I was in Jaipur a year ago I asked about seeing some live music and ended up at the Sufi Music Festival – read about it.  Keep in mind that I had no idea where I was going or what I would see.

Last night there was a concert at the mela ground (the stadium) that was bill as The music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan which was enough to get me along.  If you have no idea of who he is, here is a sample on YouTube.

After an hour of traditional dancing – not me, on stage – the main show starts and bugger me, it is Harshdeep Kaur, the same act I saw by chance a year ago.  I see two concerts in India, a year apart, in separate cities, not knowing what I was going to see either time and it is the same act!

Click for her YouTube channel

Click for her YouTube channel

This is not a complaint, she is a great performer and the audience clearly idolised her.  I can save a lot of time typing about the repressed emotions of most Indians by referring you back to last year’s post.  The description of an audience bursting with energy but keeping a lid on it, holds.

I had a pretty good spot, standing against a barrier between the VIP section and we mere mortals.  In front of me were two young women cops who were stopping people sneaking into the VIP area and also making sure that the seated area at the side stayed seated.  When there was no policing to do they would sit on a couple of chairs, talk and check their phones.

Suddenly they were on their feet, putting their berets on and looking about as busy as an Indian police officer can (not very).  I spotted the trigger, a cop with three silver pips on his shoulder (plus his aide) who was doing a walk around.  When they turned around I saluted indicating I figured what happened which got a laugh.  They would sit down again, he would reappear they would jump up and put berets on again. This happened a few times to the amusement of people standing nearby.

Eventually they got bored or something and wandered off.  With no one there keeping the riff raff out, decided I was worthy of an upgrade to VIP status and through the bamboo fence I went.  VIPs had mats to sit on, some bolsters to lean on, were directly in front of the stage and could feel comfortably smug about being the I in VIP.  I was clear that being in the VIP section made me neither V or I.

After a while some people left and there was an empty chair, which is much more comfortable than sitting on a mat.  Guess who was my neighbour?  He thanked me for taking a photo :o)


While discussing scams, it was another ATM day.  Same machine, a few more people in front of me, but since it opened just as I arrived I knew there would be plenty of money, plus it is a bit social.

Unlike most queues in India, people would not tolerate someone pushing in and the police would be roused from slumber to push someone to the back of the line.  It got a little heated at times, but the people in line with the help of the cops prevailed.

For me it is a fine line between banter to get on someone’s good side and banter which draws attention to me when I try something like getting into a VIP section.  I have almost gotten away with little things in the past only to draw attention and get caught out.  Not bad stuff, sneaking into an airline lounge at Singapore airport after a false fire alarm comes to mind.  All I did was comment to one of the staff and she realised I shouldn’t have been there.  Lesson learned.. but maybe the wrong one.

While we are waiting and the cops wander back and forth as slowly as they can, I greet them and then this guy is stopped by a woman for a photo.


I jump in and get one too, he is happy seeing the result.  How lucky am I when half an hour or so later and I get into the ATM room and he is the one on duty.  He is wanting to withdraw Rupees and I, without a (cough) single ulterior motive (cough) in mind graciously insist he goes before me.

My turn and I get my R2,000 in about 1 minute.  When it works, it works really well.  I ask ‘again?’ and he gives me a head waggle which means whatever you want it to.  So I go again and w00t!, R4,000 takes the money pressure right off.  In case you are thinking wow, 4,000, this is $AUD80.

On the way out I tell the woman who took his photo – Polaroid of all things! – that she should try it too.  And you know what? I hardly feel sorry for the poor bugger who is next in line when the machine runs out of money later today.

Please don’t think I am implying that the police are lazy, but it is definitely a cruisey job that comes with some power that makes them feel quite I.


Haha, originally I said there were 3 ferris wheels, then a different angle showed me there were 4.  Today I discovered there are 5 ferris wheels, each has different music that is blaring out at a Spinal Tap level of 11.  Add other rides similarly loud and it is not a pleasant place to be, fortunately there are plenty of other areas to hang.

And I found out the name of that game.  It is called Kabaddi (kuh-buh-dee) and I am not sure the rules will make much sense if you haven’t seen it played,  but here they are.  Today was the final of the competition and in Indian style, there was no emotion displayed by the winners at all.  They’re a funny lot, but that’s why I am here.


These guys had an important air about them as they watched the judging of a horse competition, I suspect they are owners.

This is one of the horses, the curled ears is obviously a desirable trait, as they all have them. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but are they Arabian stock?


Rather than in any sort of order, I am grabbing images and telling the story.  I want to get this post up and get back on the streets.

When I was here a couple of weeks ago, when I saw them lighting crackers, I befriended some boys who live next door to the hotel.  I had some in a bag which I gave to them.  When I returned a couple of days ago they spotted me and came running babbling away at top speed in broken English.

The gist of it was they wanted to buy me a kite (R5) and fly it with me.  I was happy to buy them each a kite but they insisted.  So they get the kites and the manager says it is OK to fly from the roof, but another employee says no, so we don’t get far…or high.


Kite flying, while fun is a very serious past time and on the average afternoon there will be dozens of kites in the air.  There is an object to the exercise, and that is to down someone else’s kite.

The top 10 metres or so of the string is abrasive. I don’t know if this is how they do it, but years ago I heard that powdered glass is mixed with glue and the string is coated with this mix.  Your kite crosses lines with another you give a quick tug and one of the strings will be cut and come floating down, hopefully not yours.


As often happens when kids (me included) are having fun, some of the well intentioned staff who claim to be kite experts come along ‘to help’ and spoil it. :o)

Would it be inappropriate or offensive to mention that I saw the biggest and best camel toe ever?


I was already a jaded greenie.  I won’t go into why here.  But being in India reinforces how futile changing a light bulb or using public transport V driving is for us in the western world.

The amount of rubbish in the streets and everywhere, the awful quality of the air – look again at the ferris wheel photo, the putrid state of most waterways, cow, dog and human shit everywhere.  And all of it in volumes so unimaginable you can’t imagine it. (Why didn’t the grammar checker pick that up?)

Mumbai and Delhi combined have nearly as many people as the whole of Australia.  In the rest of India is a staggering 1,310,000,000 people.  That is over 1.3 billion people more than Australia.  There is no hope.

This was an environmental rally of sorts. Some people are trying and I wish them luck, but I am not optimistic.


I had a wonderful Malai Kofta tonight and can only hope that having done the cooking class I can produce something as good.  There was a great view of a busy intersection from the rooftop restaurant and I noticed some guys building a barricade.

I may have touched on the fact that as well as the livestock trading – which has wound down now – there is a religious festival going on.  It ends tomorrow on the day of the full moon and apparently it gets crazy crowded in the streets.  So crazy that the streets are being converted to a big one way loop and the lane to the hotel is off one of the one way streets.

So tomorrow, to get to my hotel, I may have to walk all the way around the loop.  The manager suggested I tell the police I am coming to the hotel and they will let me walk the wrong way, against the tide of 1.33 billion people.  I don’t like my chances.

Tonight many people will walk all night and the markets near the important Bramah Temple won’t close.


A tray of beads for sale in the market


I am reminded of all the Frankenstein's monster images of people with pitchforks

I am reminded of the images of people with pitchforks coming after Frankenstein’s monster


After bathing in the holy lake, saris must be dried.

After bathing in the holy lake, saris are air dried.  It only takes a few minutes.

These people make a really yummy sweet lassi.  I asked what the little bits of peel-like things were that are in it.  Marigold petals!   See them in the lower left corner? Maybe that is their secret.


This was at about 11pm last night, they were doing brisk business when just about everything else was closed.  The Indian version of the late night kebab stand?

Many people won’t drink lassis, could this be why?  It is also used for chai and cooking so is hard to avoid, but I’m not trying to.


Raw milk – wish I could get it for my cheese making

I have been here for exactly a month and have a week to go.  Keeping an eye on being in Delhi in 5 days I still have no idea where to go from Pushkar.

But I am fed, I am flush for funds, I am I’m India.  Life is good.

For my lesbian friends :o)

For my lesbian friends :o)


Camels, Water Buffaloes and Siberian Hamsters*

Location: Pushkar Fair, commonly known as the Pushkar Camel Fair

Hotel: Back at the Hotel Paramount where prices have doubled for the fair

*Obligatory Fawlty Towers reference – you’ll see.

Bikaner isn’t a bad place.  I liked the old city, walked a long way there, around it and back.  During the walk I learned a few more Hindi words and letters and made a Facebook friend who only posts in Hindi.  I won’t rest until I can reply in Hindi.

I kind of missed getting off the bus where I wanted to so picked a spot at an intersection with a main road, it is easier to get to somewhere else.  Using google maps I found the nearby Chandra Niwas Guesthouse had decent reviews, so walked the 10 minutes there.  Quite a nice place, very homey with family photos and memorabilia everywhere.

Then a guy says “good to see you again” and it turns out that a friend of the owner runs the hotel I stayed at in Jaisalmer 3 days earlier and is visiting.  An absolute coincidence, what are the odds?

I still enjoy sugar cane juice and there was a street vendor more or less opposite the hotel.  I loved the ingenuity of his cart.  Likely it is a standard build, but I haven’t seen it before.

I know I mention the cows and their “couldn’t give a shit” attitude often, but they are everywhere, all the time.  Actually, they do give a shit, a lot of it, to the point where you need to watch where you walk.  I was watching this big guy for a while before I thought to pull out my camera, and then of course as soon as I did, he moved…reluctantly.

One of the main attractions of Bikaner is about 30km away in a town called Deshnok, the Kani Mata Temple.  If you are mysophobia (from Greek), murophobic (from the taxonomic name) or suriphobic (from French) you might want to look away now because you are not going to be able to unsee the videos I post.

I’ll be more specific: if you don’t like rodents jump over this section because Karni Mata is the rat temple.  I had heard about it (thanks Beccy), but even though rodents don’t bother me, nothing quite prepares you for the  reported 20,000 black rats that live there.

The first video will give many people the willies, it is what you see on first entering the temple complex.

They are as everywhere as they look.  Climbing up, down, through, over, under and around everything.  Have I left out a description?  If so, you can be sure they were doing that too.  If you stand still they will either run over your bare feet (no shoes in temples) or come close to investigate.

There are constant shrieks from people and some kids are being carried.  I am certain some adults would be too if they could.  They have no choice but to be there as they have possibly come a very long way on a pilgrimage.  There’s been a lot of pilgrimage talk recently in posts and there will be more, but for now, I’ll stick with rats.

If you are lucky, you will spot one of a handful of white rats. They are believed to be the manifestations of Karni Mata herself and her four sons. Sighting them is a special blessing and visitors are craning their necks, peering into nooks and crannies hoping to see one – there was a bit of excitement after I took the video, but no confirmed white rat sighting.

Inside the temple proper are more rats.  I walked around the back, more rats.  I found women cooking, more rats.  There’s a lot of rats.  Hindus often walk three times around the central place where the god is situated.  I walked around with video going, unfortunately aside from the shrieks, you really don’t get the full effect until I walk back into the main chamber.  You may not be able to forgive me for traumatising you, but please forgive me for not being able to edit the dodgy bits.

My challenge for the day was to find and catch a local bus to Deshnok and then to find the bus to Ajmer from where I would take another bus the last 45 minutes or so to Pushkar – at least I knew how and where to catch this one.

This was a good plan until the Indian Prime Minister intervened by giving about 5 hours notice that R500 ($10) and R1,000 notes would no longer be legal tender from midnight on Tuesday the 8th.  In Australia it would be the equivalent of the government saying ” from midnight tonight $50 and $100 notes can’t be spent”.  Banks were to be closed on Wednesday and ATMs closed until Friday so that new notes can be issued. This certainly became a distraction from the outcome in America.

Ostensibly the idea is to kill the black economy (it won’t, the GST didn’t in Australia), to starve terrorists of their smuggled funding and to get rid of an apparent flood of counterfeits.

Thursday morning 30 minutes before opening time. I managed to get to the front of the queue and was in and out by 10:30

Thursday morning 30 minutes before opening time. I managed to get to the front of the queue and was in and out by 10:30

I actually didn’t hear about this until Wednesday afternoon and had R2,000 in 500s plus R280 in smaller notes.  SHIT!!!  I wanted to leave the next morning but wouldn’t be able to pay for my room.  Fortunately Mr Singh was willing to take R500 notes as payment but he wouldn’t change any more for me.  I wasn’t going to press the point as I was grateful, he likely figured it was the only way he could get paid.  True at that point.

I had it figured that not including bus fares, I could eat OK as long as I stuck to R10 street food – which can be delicious.  I was getting a little stressed then I remembered – as someone put it during a conversation in Udaipur – T.I.I.  This Is India.  They liked my version O.I.I.  Only In India.  Once I reminded myself of T.I.I. an O.I.I., I knew it would be a hassle but would work out.

I spotted the bank while working out where to catch the Deshnok bus and wandered over.  There had to be a way to beat the queue so I pulled out my passport and went to the front telling a cop I wanted to check that an Australian passport was sufficient ID.  I should add that to either deposit or exchange notes you need ID, fill out a form , provide a copy of your ID and there is an exchange limit of R4,000 at a time or maybe per day.

Indian ATM queue

The scene at an ATM mid afternoon on Friday, it was petty much the same Friday night.

Cop called someone from inside and he confirmed passport was fine.  Now I was at the front of the line, though off to the side and I wasn’t budging, unless ordered to.  Twenty minutes to opening time.  Forms are being handed out to many reaching hands, people are trying to wrangle their way inside with the select fee who likely know someone, the crowd is growing.

10AM and they start letting people in.  The orderly line dissolves into a mass of people and I squirm around the cop and I am inside!!!! No one told me that I needed a copy of my passport through.  After standing in line for 10 minutes to get ID verified,  guy initially knocked me back for not having a copy, I pleaded that I only had 3 notes to change, please help me.  (Are you paying attention to what happened there?) He did and made a copy.  YES!!

Move to the cash window and join another 15 minute line and I finally get my R1,500 in R100 notes. (how is your attention to detail?)  It is chaos in the bank and a battle to get out the door.

Finally I am on the bus to Deshnok, I pull out my wad of notes to pay the odd R237 fare and those who have been following closely know what I found, one last R500 note…sigh…not the end of the world, but damned annoying.

To jump ahead, it is now Friday night and my plan is when I wake up at 0400 like usual :o( , to go to an ATM and hope it has some money in it.

The 250km bus trip took 6 long hours – remind me to not take a government bus for a long trip – and the one good thing?  I looked at the map on my phone and realised the bus was going through Pushkar on its way to Ajmer.  It was already dark, I was thankful it was one bus trip and an hour saved.

Saturday morning:  I went ATM visiting at 0630 and they are all closed having apparently run out of money.  This is starting to get interesting 😛

Snacks are an essential part of a long bus trip and there is rarely a shortage offerings.  When a bus pulls up there are always vendors the windows and coming on board. This is a R10 serving of delicious pakora.


and pappad (I didn’t buy any) are 2 for R10 as well as a visual treat.


The Pushkar Fair is worthy of a post of its own, but if I fall behind I’ll never catch up.  Besides, this is only my first day, so I am sure there will be lots more to add.

Here is my introduction to the fair, first thing I see when I hit the main road to the fair ground.

The name is now the Pushkar Fair though it started out as and is commonly known the Pushkar Camel Fair.  There are lots of camels, horses and cattle for sale in a huge dusty and sandy area on the edge of town.


This article at Wikipedia is very incomplete, but it gives you an idea, I’ll try to fill in the gaps.

There’s a lot of people in town and the place feels very different to my previous two visits.  Much of the activity is at the ghats around the lake where people come to bathe and pray.  There’s no livestock here despite the Wikipedia article making it sound like there is.

Hah! I just made a Freudian typo adding the word pay instead of pray so this is a good point to tell my Pushkar puja story.  The activity at the ghats is fascinating.  I can stand for ages watching an endless stream of people coming to bathe and pray – no photos allowed.  The Ajmer Civil Defence force is on hand with members holding bamboo poles positioned every 10m or so to ‘rescue’ pilgrims who struggle to get out, the steps are really slippery under water.  How do I know?  Sigh…

I have gotten to know a few people in Pushkar and one man sees me as I am walking along the ghats and wants to tell me the spiritual significance of the lake.  Next thing I know I am in the lake, shirtless, bathing with everyone else.  If there really is a god I’m sure she would have spoken to me and said Steve, before entering my holy water, remember to remove your hearing aids.  She had the chance to win me over and blew it.  I’ll come back to this.


I bathe in water that is in desperate need of filtration and use one of the many ropes to get out without slipping over or requiring a bamboo pole.  There is considerable interest in a westerner participating in the puja ceremony, I am not sure whether they disapprove or are curious, I think more the latter.  Then, with thoughts of wet hearing aids dominating my head. I repeat a lot of words in both Hindi and English about good karma for me and my family and other things I couldn’t understand.

Of course there is the obligatory deal closer asking for money based on the number of members of my family that have died. Fortunately he had only gone back 7 generations at $2 (not Rupees) a head or it might have gotten stupidly expensive instead of ridiculously expensive.

On every toll road there are big signs explain who is exempt. Why don't they just give the toll collectors a list?

On every toll road there are big signs explaining who is exempt. Why don’t they just give the toll collectors a list?

The thing that pisses me of about this stuff is the sneakiness before the request for money.  People offer to help, shake my hand, ask where I am from, explain puja, all sorts of things and they mostly end up in a request for money.  I want to make it clear that this isn’t always true.  I have had so much fun talking to people who approach me or have just sold me a drink or food.  But not being up front about expecting payment makes me dig my heels in.

On the other hand, there are many beggars in the streets including lots of really interesting looking holy men – at least they look like holy men – who walk around openly asking for money.  I hate seeing tourists take their photo and then not give them any.  I find it incredibly rude and last night was tempted to say something to one woman, but held my tongue.

Puja complete and I have clearly told the guy that because of the money thing I don’t have much cash and he won’t be getting any today, though I will bring him some tomorrow – though likely not as much as he is expecting.  He insists on walking me to an ATM – are you getting how these scenes play out? – and fortunately I don’t have my card with me, besides ATMs have long lines out the front.

So I leave him empty handed for now, throwing my fate to the mercy of one of the millions of Hindu gods.  My other immediate concern is that one hearing aid isn’t working, maybe this is instant karma!  Heading back to my hotel I ask for some uncooked rice which I recall will absorb moisture in situations like this.  It takes a while to explain that I want neither fried or steamed rice and I am relieved to report that after leaving hearing aids buried for a couple of hours they are both now working.  Whew!


Misspelled or badly worded signs are everywhere, but this one in a restaurant was especially great

The Mela ground is a big stadium where all the official and unofficial activities take place – apart from the rides it is all free.  This is an incomplete list of the things I saw there over a few hours.

  • Camel rides
  • Magicians
  • Tightrope walking
  • Horse rides
  • Musical chairs
  • Kids dancing
  • Hot air balloon rides
  • A rock concert
  • A sporting event I couldn’t get the name of – see video
  • Water Buffaloes being paraded – see different video
  • A drone – technically a hexacopter

It was non stop and fantastic.  As a former street performer I loved watching the magicians.  To me their sleight of hand tricks were easily spotted, but mixed with obvious comedy (it was all in Hindi) they had the crowds going.  I watched one guy for ages, his volunteers were clearly accomplices and I noticed something weird.  They never asked for money.

I started to wonder why and then shoved my hands in my pockets as I suspected they also had pickpockets working the crowd.  It was the only reason I could think of they didn’t pass a hat.  Though I imagine that unless they picked their mark (like me) it would be slim pickings from most pockets.

Hot air balloons light up the night

Hot air balloons light up the night

The other fascinating thing was this game.  I had a guy explaining it to me and it seems like an elaborate game of tag or touch football without the ball.  Players are are eliminated when touched by the single intruder and the defenders have to try to catch him but he can do something which will bring his eliminated team mates back into the game, but he has to stay inside some lines and it is a bit confusing to the casual observer.  So team numbers grow and shrink as the game progresses.  It was quite intense for the players and very enjoyable for the spectators.

The blog title and activity list hint at water buffaloes.  But these aren’t your ordinary water buffalo.  I suspect some generic engineering or mating with hippopotami as these shaved and oiled animals are monsters.

Once again, this is all in one day!!!

Here’s some more fun of the fair, there are 4 ferris wheels!!!



I saw these guys walking in a parade in the late morning, there was a lot more in the group than you can see.


In the evening they set up a food stall handing out food to the poor – and anyone else who wants, I was welcome.  In this case I offered a donation, they wouldn’t take it.  This is India.

Preparing food to give away

Preparing food to give away

Once I took the photo in the kitchen, everyone wanted their photo taken






I am ready to hit the streets and have breakfast then head to an ATM or the fair wearing my combination sun protecting and cool night warming Indian shawl.

All I need now to look the part is a turban…and a tan.

An unexpected desert bus safari

Location: unexpectedly back in Jodhpur after Jaisalmer and Rajmathi
Hotel: Jodhpur – Discovery, Jaisalmer – Dhora Rani Guesthouse, Rajmathai – read on

My goodness,  has it been 4 5 days since I posted something? Well, it sure has been interesting since then, as I hope you have come to expect.

Last year Jodhpur was maybe my favourite place. The fort is incredible, imposing over the blue city. Despite making a few friends here among the vendors, I was feeling dissatisfied. For a start, the air quality here is decidedly dodgy. The market, though fascinating is noisy and crazy busy and in the narrow streets with speedy motorcycles and tuk tuks the air is even worse. Although I wanted to be here for 5 days or so, after 3 days I was restless and ready to move on. In fact I was thinking I had had enough of India and was regretting that my return flight is 2 weeks away.

Jaisalmer bhang shop - unvisited

Jaisalmer bhang shop – unvisited

Fortunately I have travelled enough to have suddenly realised that I had hit the 3 week hump. It happens to me every time, a mixture of homesick, missing family and friends and regular routines and being tired. I was already on my way to Jaisalmer so not sure if figuring it out sooner would have made a difference to my travel ‘plans’, who cares anyway.

I am fortunate and grateful that Raju from the Discovery Hotel booked me on a very special bus from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, a 275km trip that the bus did at an average speed of 35km per hour – you can do the math, it should come out to about 8 hours. Slow buses aren’t special though, buses that apparently have no suspension are. Or maybe they aren’t, knowing India, but it is the first I have been on.

Of course no suspension isn’t a major issue itself, however when you are on a road that has work being done every few kilometers, around which there is a diversion along a rutted section of dirt road, no suspension becomes a matter of consuming interest to everyone on board.


Something else that becomes interesting for everyone is when the truck blows a tyre. Can I blame the combination of rugged roads and no suspension?

It give me an opportunity to have a look at the early warning system that is installed on most buses and trucks.

But it doesn't play La Cucaracha :(

But it doesn’t play La Cucaracha 🙁

The variety and cacophony of melodies is an aural delight…of sorts.  There are also a variety of horn systems on different trucks and buses, they mostly all sound different to each other. The driver has a set of 5 or so buttons, each of which plays a different tune or the same tune at a different rate or all horns blasting at once or something.  Sometimes even that won’t move a cow or herd of goats off the road.

Last trip I had an idea for a project using the sounds.  This time I am working on collecting the bits and pieces to make it happen.

Jaisalmer is famous for its fort and for being in the middle of the Rajasthani desert.  I didn’t realise there is also a huge military base there – I think it might be far enough away from, yet still handily convenient to Pakistan.  I find the hostility to Pakistan to be widespread and vehement.  People really hate the bastards for stealing part of India, at least I think that is how they see it.  Personally I don’t give a rat’s and am bemused by people who bring it up in conversation out of the blue.


One of the main activities apart from visiting the lovely but way too crowded fort, is taking a camel safari out into the desert and camping under the stars.  The number of camel safari operators is only rivalled by the number of tuk tuk drivers offering to take you to the best non-touristic (sic) camel safari operator.

Jamin, the manager of the Doha Rani Guesthouse explains how his safari is non-touristic because he comes from a desert village.  You start on a camel, then are taken deeper into the desert to his village in a jeep – I suspect you leave the camels behind.  Then by camel even deeper into the desert (his words) to a big sand dune where you camp over night under the stars, then jeep it back to Jaisalmer the following day. Of course the price for his safari is a very touristic double the price of the others.  Even so, R2,750 ($55) doesn’t seem unreasonable.  I tell him I’ll let him know later in the day.

A little later I am talking to a fellow hotel guest, an Israeli guy who doesn’t seem to have adjusted to India despite being here for a month.  I tell him about the camel safari and he says “I won’t do that, I don’t like riding animals”.  Oh No!  The ethical question I hadn’t even considered was just planted in my brain!!!  If I was unwilling to ride elephants in Jaipur, why would I ride camels in Jaisalmer?

Now what?  I am trying to justify doing the safari but I am not sure I can.  I still have to give the owner my answer…


Via the wonders of social media I find out that Hindu speaking Jack is working at a local hotel and we agreed to meet for a beer and a chat.  Jack is a smart guy, he has found a good ice cream parlour, but assumed that because I told him I don’t have much of a sweet tooth I am not interested.  I soon set him straight and even sooner we are tucking into delicious cashew and fig ice cream.  Anyone who enjoys a late night gelato or gourmet ice cream in Australia knows it will set you back at least $5, this was R40 (80c) and really good.

As often happens, while we are sitting talking, we attract a group of onlookers and a couple of young guys in cricket uniforms come and sit with us, ostensibly to speak a little English.  You should have seen Manak and Mahendra’s faces when Jack started talking to them in fluent Hindi, they couldn’t believe it.

Manak, Jack, me (obviously) & Mahendra

Manak, Jack, me (obviously) & Mahendra

It turns out they are in Jaisalmer for a cricket match or tournament and are heading back to their village, Rajmathai 100km away, the next day.  Would we like to come with them?  Fortunately Jack, like me, only needs be asked once and without any real idea of where we are going or what is there, we agreed to meet the following day at 2PM. So much for a camel safari, this is already exciting.

I do the fort and some wandering in the morning and feeling a little disloyal, I have another ice cream by myself on my way to meet everyone.  It was just as good the second time.


Being India, I never really know whether an arranged anything will happen, but these guys are good.  They are right on time and they are as excited about this as we are.  The bus doesn’t leave for an hour so we wander to the lake (flamingoes!!!) and slowly make our way to the ‘bus station’.  The quotes is because like most bus stations it is nothing more than an open space where buses feel safer in a crowd.

One would expect that 18 year old guys, 100km from home would know exactly which bus, but it took a little asking and eventually off we go with a few more members of the Rajmathai International Cricket Team heading home.


Jack is king of the kids – a nice change for me that someone else has centre stage – and they talk non stop for the 3 hour trip as we head south east deep into the desert.  And I am not using a ‘take my camel safari’ marketing phrase.  We are really heading deeper into the desert.

From Jaisalmer, on the horizon, there are lots of wind generators, the bus heads right into the wind farm, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.  Hundreds and hundreds of wind generators as far as I can see in every direction.  All I can say, several times, is WOW!  I think it translates OK into Hindi.

Aside: thanks to Jack I have learned quite a few new Hindi words and an also learning to read.  If you are at all like me when you first look at this sign you will think it is impossible to learn. In fact it is relatively easy and as i look at signs I see, I have been really excited when I have managed to figure out a word.

Road signs are good to learn Hindi as it has both languages to compare

Road signs are good to learn Hindi as it has both languages to compare – the letters are obvious when you look at them side by side, right?

Through the wind farm we go and at some point we turn off the highway onto a single lane road.  We really in the deep desert now, the land is pretty marginal looking, there are some big dunes, there are some small villages.

I can’t quite find a context for this video, but it is worth sharing.  This is one of the diversions around road works, not the suspension-less bus.  Note the path taken by the second oncoming truck.  This is absolutely normal and not the slightest bit alarming especially since Krishna is riding shotgun.  I have in my head a post explaining Indian road rules.

All along the way people are getting off the bus in what looks like the middle of nowhere.  Sometimes there is a track off into the hills or a house in the distance, but often it is a mystery where they are going.

Then, almost unbelievably, we turn off the single lane sealed road onto what can best be described as a track.  There is no way you would call it a dirt road.  The driver is taking a break and based on his demonstrated skills, or lack thereof, I doubt his replacement a) had driven a bus before and b) has a license.

You don’t believe me do you?

The original driver is sitting up front pointing out which track to take, because at many spots it splits into multiple identical looking deep desert dirt tracks.  All along the way we are stopping in villages that have 10 or 20 or so dwellings, including the most amazing earth walled structures.  This is the best photo I could get, we never stopped near a house.


Eventually we get back onto a single landed bitumen road, apparently we had taken a short cut.  But if it is a short cut, what happened to the people waiting for the bus along the proper route? Another of India’s mysteries.

I am in heaven watching these villages we pass and soon enough the boys say we are getting off in. the. middle. of. fucking. nowhere.   Just like all those other people I had wondered about, right on dusk, we are standing in the middle of the deep desert.  Well maybe not the middle, but it sounds good for the story.



We walk off the road, deeper into the desert (I’m hoping for a job selling camel safaris, so am practicing the hype) and come to a compound with 4 buildings including a storage shed (above) and the toilet. By now it is almost dark so it is hard to tell exactly what is around, but obviously there isn’t much.  Manak introduces us to his grandfather who seems to live in a single roomed stone outbuilding.  We are then shown a quite impressive array of farm equipment for ploughing, harvesting, weeding.  The family grows corn, millet, potatoes, wheat and maybe some other crops that they both sell in the city and also eat.

We are taken into the main house (in the background above) which is where all the women and children are  and are given the grand tour.  By now it is dark and one woman is cooking rotis over an open fire in a dark room.  Everyone else – 4 adult women and 3 kids at least – is in a single room that also has a couple of beds and hardly enough space for everyone, in my mind a bit of rearranging would make it much more comfortable, but it isn’t my home.

As we go to leave the house we head back to roti room and the woman starts yelling something that sounded angry or at least alarmed.  It turned out that the women were scared of us.  Jack and I figure they haven’t seen many westerners in real life and up close before.  Have they even been beyond the village?  We don’t know.

There is a sombre note to all this.  Manak’s father was killed in a motor bike accident at the beginning of this year and there is obviously still a lot of pain around this.  I am surprised that Manak is able to continue his studies and isn’t working the farm, but perhaps his uncles can cover it all.

We sit down outside on what will become our beds and eventually four uncles return from the fields and wherever they have been.  The dust on the camera lens adds an interesting effect don’t you think? But before they arrive Manak, who is 19, tells us he is to be married next year and after I tell them my daughter is a doctor he expresses his dream to become a doctor and wonders if it is possible in Australia.  I love helping people dream big so we tell Manak about being a student in Australia and how expensive it is, but with his circumstances – poor, father died, first in family to get an education –  perhaps he can apply for a scholarship.  There may be a condition that he brings hiss skills back to rural India, he would have to really improve his English.  I explain the easy and hard bits.  I even offer that if it happens and he gets into a Gold Coast medical school he can board at our house for free.  I am serious.  The truth is, I am not sure he would qualify on many fronts, but as I said, if he doesn’t apply, they aren’t going to call him.

As uncles showed up we changed the subject, perhaps dreaming big isn’t for a poor rural family who have arranged his marriage already – he hasn’t met the girl. With Jack interpreting we talk about all sorts of stuff and eventually out comes a meal.


It was quite sweet and we think it was essentially millet flour mixed with sugar and a few spices plus a millet flour roti broken up and mixed through.  When we were nearly finished some fresh cow’s milk was produced and mixed with the remainder.  There was also a side dish of some sort of spicy potato.  It was satisfying, but very basic and likely millet is the staple as they grow loads of it, they even have a mill to make the flour.

The next morning Manak had to catch a bus to Jodhpur to return to school and we were going with him.  I was heading to Bikaner, but it was too hard from the deep desert so decided to head their via Jodphur.  Then I had a crazy idea.  The uncles are doing some irrigating and I thought it would cool to stay another day and work on the farm.  Jack is a self-confessed non-hard worker and didn’t want to stay.  I considered staying anyway, but the language barrier and then the bus trip seemed a bit tricky.

And so to bed.


This photo is from the next morning.  We have slept outside, under the stars seeing a couple of meteorites and a satellite.  Unfortunately even though we were in the desert, there is still enough haze to spoil a view of the night sky, it doesn’t get really black.  When we decided to come, I knew sleeping was going to be a bit rough and my back is glad we aren’t sleeping on the ground.  I said to Jack “This is either going to be the best or the worst night’s sleep of my life” and I am delighted to say I slept really well.  It was quite chilly, but with two blankets I was almost too warm, having to stick my feet out a few times.


Behind uncle and our beds is the building grandfather seems to live in, on the left behind the goats is the toilet – the first squat toilet I have seen.  The compound was simple in every respect.


The kids were really frisky in the morning, running, jumping, climbing on everything.

The previous night Manak had told us that the bus came at 7 and we would need to walk 2km into Rajmathai.  I have no idea how stories are created and can be different to reality.  It ended up that at 7:25 we walked back out to the road, paying respects to father on the way, and as we stepped out of the deepest desert, there in the near distance was the bus.

I didn’t want to ride a camel anyway.


One last thing.  I saw a meme Things that look like Hitler and the very next day…


Diwali – festival of light and dressing up

Location: Right now, Jodhpur, but this post is about Udaipur

Hotel: Discovery Hotel

You need to understand that everything you are about to read is not only true, but happened in a single day on Diwali, Sunday October 30 2016.

My time in Udaipur had been fun – hmmm should I write this in the past tense or pretend and write in the present tense?

Speaking of which, the past, the present and the future walked into a bar.  Things got a little tense.

So…my time in Udaipur had been fun.  Five days in one place is a good amount of time to get to know it and some people a bit.

This is Kailash and his son outside their shop.


I can’t quite remember how we met – though I am sure it was something like ‘come into my shop, buy something for your wife’ – but we had become good ‘friends’ over a few days.  We would sit and talk and drink chai with no pressure to buy – am I repeating myself from the last post? No matter.  Keep that thought in mind, it leads to something awesome, but I will tell the day as it more or less happened.

Lots of places have Cooking Class signs and after trying to do one that didn’t happen, I found another.  I can’t speak for you, but when we cook Indian food, while it is good, the regular lament is why can’t we make it as good as (whatever) restaurant? This is something up with which I need no longer put.

Three hours, cooking 10 dishes, for R1,000 ($20) was a good deal from Vijay Singh.  The plan was to meet at his spice shop at 1000hrs on Sunday and he would take me to his home where his wife would whip me into culinary shape. Ominously, he urged me to come hungry.

That night Francois and 12 friends from the hostel where he was staying came to my hotel for dinner at the rooftop restaurant.  I told him about the class and he instantly said yes.  My kind of guy!

Three of us on a motor bike headed to Vijay’s house stopping along the way for extra supplies (Francois was a surprise addition) and a box of sweets as a gift for the family.


Chappati pan – I want one!

Tina was delightful.  She and Vijay have two daughters and along with brothers, parents etc there are 13 people living in the house. We get started and the door is closed ostensibly to keep the other kids out (hold this thought too), her kids are in the room with us kind of helping, in a kid way.


Tina spoke just enough English to know how to joke and take a joke that the 3 hours were so much fun and laughter they whipped by.  She told us the ‘secret’ of Indian cooking and I am going to share it with you.  It isn’t hard: 7 spices.

The seven essential spices - plus some

Note the spice tin with the 7 spices?  Every kitchen has this.  Starting from the middle, then clockwise from top left: cumin seeds, salt, garam masala, turmeric, coriander powder, chilli powder, anise seeds.  Then outside the spice tin: ginger paste, garlic paste, onion paste, dessicated coconut, kasturi methi, something else 🙁 , lemon salt and in the big container, chick pea flour.


Bindi masala

Basically almost all Indian food is a combination of the 7 essentials, easy huh?  The ’10 dishes’ was a bit of an oversell, one of them being chai, but since I am a convert I don’t really mind.  There was also veg pakora, bindi (okra) masala, palak paneer (spinach and cheese), khichdi (veg rice),  stuffed paratha, plain paratha, chappati, malai kofta and rice pudding.


Malai kofta with chapatis and plain paratha

Wasn’t it a good thing we came hungry?  Because by the end I could hardly move I was so full.  Lots of notes were taken and hopefully I can recreate this at home.

Remember that thought I told you to hold, no not the one about the shop, the one about Tina cooking and how playful she was?  Vijay came back to pick us up, the 3 hours had stretched to 3 1/2 or so.  As soon as he walked in the door Tina was a changed woman.  The spark had gone, she hardly said another word to us. Vijay took over and showed us rice pudding.

Francois and I both commented on it (to each other) and think the real reason the door was closed was so she could be herself without prying family eyes.  It was remarkable.


Francois getting even more full

It’s now about 2PM and the final stages of the India wide Diwali cleaning frenzy are in full swing.  We are both so stuffed we head back to our hotels to sleep it off.

Another Dream Heaven Hotel balcony sunset and I head out into the street for Diwali excitement and to be honest, it is a bit underwhelming.  There is only a few fireworks, not a lot of people around.  Kailash explains that people are at home doing puja and it will be big later.  I take his word for it.


I drop around to the hole in the wall that is the bhang shop and spend R50 on a ball the size of a macadamia nut.  It is mixed with lemon juice and flavouring and due to the peer pressure of others wanting the single cup, I throw it down.  Another thought for you to hold as you meet the bhang wallah with his product.


This is 100% legal in India

Remember the thought I first asked you to hold (all these thoughts could get confusing, no matter), I wander back to Kailash’s shop and he explains they are waiting for a holy man to do puja and invites me to join them if I would like.  Are you kidding?  This is a rare opportunity and a real honour (as far as I am concerned) and we convene at the back of his shop when holy man arrives.

Some mansplaining: like I said, I regarded this as a privilege and an honour to attend.  It is a rare treat for a tourist I am sure.  So when you read my humorous/cynical observations, please keep them in a context of respect for the ceremony. Please.

I was invited to sit on the floor with Kailash and his wife, but I don’t do floor sitting well and sitting on a bench was fine.  Unfortunately it meant I was a little out of the inner circle, but given my assumption that this wasn’t going to be very long, no big deal. Hah!  India!

I don’t speak Hindi and it seems a lot of negotiating between the holy man and the family was taking place.  I would have thought that the protocol was laid down and quite fixed given the ceremony is very old. But I just made all that up and will never know for sure.

Aside: on the bus to Jodhpur I met a young American bloke named Jack who has been here a couple of months and can speak conversational Hindi…I was most impressed.  He has given me the key to learning how to read Hindi.  Of course I won’t know what it means.

Back to Puja. Please join me for a few minutes of what took place and be thankful I thought to rotate my camera so quickly or your neck would be worse than mine.

Hindu gods must be particularly hard to please, as this ceremony went on for a bum numbing length of time, about an hour.  There were numerous rituals involving water, rice, statues, coconuts and other things.  A lot of time would be spent constructing a balanced pile of items, a bit of water would be dribbled over it and it would be deconstructed.  I do hope one of the millions of gods was pleased.

The bhang had snuck up on me so I was torn between how amazing the ceremony was and how long it kept going.  I was deeply aware of how spiritually deep and significantly important it all was.  It was good bhang.


And then Kailash’s mobile phone rang in his pocket.  Since he was sitting cross legged on the floor it wasn’t easy to get at and the fact that he, his wife and his son were all trying might have made it more difficult.  The holy man didn’t miss a beat.

Then a customer came into the shop that son had to deal with.  Other interactions kept happening,  photos were OK, distractions didn’t matter, people got up and sat down. I realised that while the ceremony was important for business, it wasn’t all that intense at all.  While not convinced that appealing to any god helps, I do hope it brings Kailash and his family good fortune in their business.  It was an amazing experience and an opportunity that only came out of my “meet the locals” mission during the trip.

By now the streets of Udaipur, in fact the whole of India, is going off in both the “having a good time” sense and the fireworks. In various dispatches I have mentioned the incredible crackers that are known, quite justifiably, as bombs.

Please allow me to introduce you to Rusty Bomb.  As you will see, they are a little cube of death, wound with string and glue.  They cost R5 each and millions (not kidding) are set off over a few days.

I am not exaggerating when I say that they would blow your hand off, I am not sure the video really conveys how powerful they are.  Maybe my reaction gives a hint.

Notice the guy trying to grab it from me? The young guys are really wound up, they are setting them off one after another and you truly need to have your wits about you walking around.  More than once I warned a passerby who wasn’t aware of how close they were to one about to explode.  Fortunately the bombs give off a bright flare for a few seconds before they go off, I like to imagine this is a warning, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that isn’t the intention at all.

It was some time around when the video was taken that I was truly scared for a moment.  It is not unusual for a guy to be lighting a bomb and someone will toss another right behind him – hilarious!  I was videoing one being lit and found myself standing with 2 or 3 going off around me – maybe I was the target of a joke – and I shat myself, really!, quickly withdrawing to safety from then on.

By now I was truly getting my R50 worth of altitude adjustment.  In retrospect the macadamia nut sized ball might have been substituted with a marble sized ball.


While I have focussed on the fireworks, there is a more gentle side to Diwali and there are undeclared bomb free zones. It is the Festival of Light, one of the biggest festivals and the closest equivalent would be Christmas.  In windows and on doorsteps all over are ghee candles twinkling in the night.  People are dressed up and parading, handing out sweets and wishing each other Happy Diwali.


Not withstanding the imagined safe zones, the streets were feeling a little dangerous and I was also aware I wasn’t seeing the full effect of the rockets so I retreated to the O’Zen restaurant tower for a meal and the view.  I might have been having trouble walking steadily too.

And what a view!  I was looking over Udaipur as a non stop volley of crackers and rockets erupted and seemingly kept going.  Another couple was on the tower with me and at one point the guy commanded MORE! to the world and the world responded.  Bigger rockets, more of them, everywhere.

Imagine every fireworks display you have ever seen, add them together, multiply it by 1,000 and you get the idea.  Remember that this isn’t Udaipur City Council (if there is such a thing) putting on a display.  We are talking about crowd sourced amazingness from people who have visited the fireworks market.  I tried to video the night and it was so pathetic I am not even going to show you.

Instead, because putting on your Diwali finest is part of the featival, here is a fashion sampler from Sunday night and Monday.

These guys told me they are with the chamber of commerce.

These guys told me they are with the chamber of commerce.







The cows are dressed up as well

The cows are dressed up as well

I hope you get a bit of an idea of Diwali.  I have now ticked off 2 of the 3 major Indian festivals (Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi), maybe next year Navratri. 😛


This was a single day in my travelling life.  No wonder as I pass the half way mark it feels like I have been here for months.

Enjoy a few more photos from Udaipur before we move on to Jodhpur. Today I am going back to the local baoli, 10 minutes walk from the hotel.









Not a great photos, but these girls playing a card game in the middle of the crazy market (above) was captivating.

Not a great photo, but these girls playing a card game in the middle of the crazy market (above) was captivating.


I needed a notebook for the cooking class, spoiled for choice in this shop

I needed a notebook for the cooking class, spoiled for choice in this shop




Udaipur, like Europe in India

Location: Udaipur

Hotel: Dream Heaven

As well as sharing my trip, I hope that anyone planning to visit India is learning some things.  Perhaps the most valuable trait you can have is agility.  Not in the physical sense, I would fail miserably.  I am talking about being agile and resilient around your expectations and actual experiences.

If you come to India and get flustered when something doesn’t go according to plan you are doomed to a tortuous trip that will be anything but a holiday.

The hotel manager in Pushkar assured me that a bus directly to Udaipur leaves from the bus station at 0900.  Great news, I plan to be on it and in Udaipur in about 5 hours.  Luckily later in the afternoon I double checked it is the bus stop (not really a bus station) where I arrived.  Of course it isn’t – thanks for telling me up front – and I am shown a map of where to go.

You have already figured that there is no direct bus from Pushkar haven’t you?  But no drama, I know that there will be one from the bus station in Ajmer where the local bus arrives.  It was easy to find the right ticket seller in Ajmer and I am heartened by the fact that my R280 or so ticket clearly states Express.  It will be a direct run 260km down the highway, none of this dipping into every town along the way.

I’m telegraphing the story aren’t I because you have also figured that there may be a different definition of Express in India. This bus stopped at just about every town and took 8 bloody hours to travel that 260km.  Sigh.

The scene at one town’s bus station. Can a Hindi speaker explain what this was about?

But, an adventure is what you make it.  It was hot and dusty and noisy with a window open and horns blaring.  Sometime the bus was packed then for a while it would be relatively empty.  Then it would fill up again for another stretch.  My offers of Singara to my neighbours weren’t being accepted so not much talking happening, but plenty of munching by me.

I was thoroughly enjoying watching the world go past and started to wonder why.  So I started playing a game of rather than just taking it in, of naming what was interesting that I saw.  It ranged from the banal I wonder where that road leads to the visually captivating look at the size of the bundles of dried grass (or whatever it was) those people are carrying on their heads  to the astonishing how on earth does a stone vendor compete?

Turn the sound down, it is just wind noise.

This is an area about 50km north of Udaipur. Kilometre after kilometre of the highway between Rajsamand and Nathdwara are lined on both sides with stone vendors selling the same product: marble and granite. How they survive with all the competition, like many things in India, is a mystery.

Along the way we stopped for food, how can you not love this piece of unintended art towering over our bus?


By the time we reached Udaipur at about 5PM I was knackered. A bit of research showed the managers recommendation of the Dream Heaven hotel was one thing he had gotten right.

In all the hotels I have been to, this is the first where reception is on the roof, 5 or 6 flights of stairs up (I can count if any pedants are interested) from street level.

The rooftop restaurant with some cost hangouts and reception in the gloomy distance

The rooftop restaurant with some cosy hangouts and reception in the gloomy distance

I wonder if it is some clever ploy to suck people in because walking out on the roof through the restaurant gives me my first view of Udaipur and it is breathtaking.


It gets better/different as the sun sets




I’m sitting in the corner of the rooftop and have been here about an hour, I’ll fill you in on what has been going on.

A monkey climbed a tree just below eye level, about 10m away, ate some leaves or whatever it eats and seems to have camped there for the night.  It is too dark to tell.  Fireworks are going off all over and are getting bigger and more frequent.  Over the water at a temple a drumming machine (see video from last year) is going off, people are floating candles on the lake.  A building in the distance has a couple of search lights swinging around the sky – the haze makes them clearly visible in the night sky.  Call to prayer has just started in a couple mosques.

In case I had forgotten (I haven’t) I am reminded of why I came back to India.

I am starting to think about eating, but not here, much more fun to go for a walk.

And walk I did today, here’s some shots from around town.

These are for the top of temples and are only about R5000. My home is a temple and this would look awesome, but too big to carry.

These are for the top of temples and are only about R5000. My home is a temple and this would look awesome, but too big to carry.


Diwali preparations

Diwali preparations





What a great face.  He proudly showed me photos someone else had taken and given him.  I couldn’t manage to get one printed today, will try again tomorrow.


I do love how three versions of the same image can feel so different.



Image manipulation is so hard on a tablet 🙁  The bottom one is a cropped screenshot, hence the date.  It isn’t in the image.


Although we don’t do much, I will never grumble about ironing as a chore again.

Outside many shops and no doubt in most homes are these terracotta water holders.  On a hot day the evaporation cools the water remarkably.  They are for sale everywhere for about R60 apparently.




Loved this tall long alleyway

Loved this tall long alleyway

Puppeteer friends, you would have had an orgasm in this shop.  It was so colourful with hundreds and hundreds of different sizes characters hanging one on top of the other in various rooms.



And before monkey arrived there were birds.  The parrot looks a bit like a Port Lincoln Parrot.  The other?  Without some research, which I will leave to you, no idea.

I have also found great samosas, a shop keeper to chat with, the local bhang shop (if I dare, again) and also the local bang shop.

The lethal crackers, less than 2cm long and 1cm in diameter are called bullet bombs.  I had seen and heard someone letting them off and asked for a personal demo.  HOLY SHIT! is all I can say.

This is day one of five in Udaipur.  I hope I haven’t peaked too early.