Last stop, Delhi

Date: 5th November 2017

Location: Delhi

Hotel: Godwin

One more day in Delhi before we fly home.  We are in a pretty nice hotel right on the street where I originally suggested.  It is 10 minutes walk to New Delhi railway station in the middle of the hotel district and not far from a big market area.  The hotel we were at first night was a long way from anywhere, so this one is much better.  The Godwin hotel has a cool spiral central staircase.

Hotels are not for much more than sleeping in, apart from a refreshing beer on the rooftop – even though it was a Kingfisher – watching India Vs NZ on the big screen on the roof of the sister hotel over the laneway.  So we could pretend to be Kiwis and see if we could stir them up a bit, we had really wanted to find a bar full of Indians watching the cricket,  but there doesn’t seem to be such a thing, no matter which city we were in.  The closest we came were little knots of men standing outside hotels watching the cricket on a screen in the hotel foyer, we couldn’t manage to get a rise out of them, they seemed puzzled, maybe that anyone would publicly admit to supporting New Zealand.

Connaught Circle is supposedly the place to go in Delhi, but on a Sunday morning there isn’t a lot happening at all.  For some odd reason, the only street workers were people doing shoe polishing.  There were loads of them and eventually Tiff gave into the constant exhortations to have his sandals cleaned.

In the middle of it a cop wandered over and started speaking quite sternly to the boy.  It seemed that he wasn’t supposed to be working the area (the boy, not the cop).  We tried to explain that Tiff’s sandal had broken (it hadn’t really) and the boy was doing us a favour by fixing it.  He had actually sewn up something Tiff wasn’t even aware of, so it was a half truthful defence of the kid.  Someone explained that the cop was bored and throwing his weight around.  Have a close look at the home-made box, it was meticulous, even the way he stored his tools of trade.

Lonely Planet recommended a government run craft emporium, described as a rabbit warren of delights.  I have never been a fan of these places, but this one was different. a) it was a rabbit warren of delights and b) the staff were on a no commission salary so they didn’t hassle you to buy at all. at.all!  This is unheard of and a most pleasant way to shop.  The staff were bored and happy to engage.  While trying to find out where we could see a Bollywood movie we ended up in the store cash office (which had an open door) chatting and laughing with staff who had piles of money on desks.

Unfortunately my small backpack was full or I would have bought a complete household ensemble that would have certainly had heads turning at our next party.  As you arrive for the event you would find The Sheila and me sitting on our comfortable swing.

Inside, your eyes will immediately be drawn to the inviting lounge suite that will put you completely at ease.

Apart from Dawne and Tiff, the table looks a little bare at the moment, but as you can imagine, with the right decorations it will be transformed into a conversation piece.

This time of the year, it is so easy to over do it at a party and we like to be responsible hosts, so feel free to spend the night in the guest’s room, you may not get a lot of sleep as the bed set is sure to get your senses racing – and look at all those anchor points on the bed head.

This stuff was way over the top, but the shop was huge and actually had some interesting stuff, though it was mostly very overpriced.  How about this:

a 4′ x 6′ carpet was 101,229R, a steal at a little over $AUD2,000, last year I bought 6 carpets including one 10′ x 15′ for not much more.

Then it was off for lunch at Saravana Bhavan which is quite bizarre in a good way.  Imagine the McDonalds retail model applied to an Indian restaurant in India.  Brightish lights, clean tables, lots of them, loads and loads of uniformed staff who take your order on a touch pad.  The place is crowded and there is lots of activity.  The food is mainly dhosa and was wonderful.

The triangle shape is just because mine had been folded to keep the contents encased, it was as big as Tiff’s.  But the dosa pastry is itself is like a crepe and not very substantial.  It is the filling and sauces that makes it.  As if to prove that they are just like a western formulaic restaurant, I wanted to try to make one and it was the first kitchen to not let us come in and play.

A final meal, I really wanted it to be in a typical Indian restaurant and there it was, right opposite the hotel.  The food was great and forgetting our formula of number of dishes = (number of people – 1) meant we had a bigger variety and too much of it.

There is always time for a couple more Kingfisher beers (or were they G&Ts?) in the hotel rooftop restaurant before heading to the airport.  Had they been Hayward 5000 beers we might have had a more altitude adjusted outcome, but it was a nice way to end the day and our trip to India.

Thanks Godwin Hotel for letting us leave our bags for the day and then giving us a room to shower in before we went to the airport on the shiny metro for only 60R each to catch our 2200hrs flight.

There was one last delightful surprise.  Airports are pretty bleak places as a rule.  Yes, the architecture has improved, but they have hard seats and too much duty free stinky perfumes.  We were sitting in one of the too hard seats when Dawne came quickly towards us, “You’ve got to come and see this” and took us to an upmarket shop.

Forgive that the video starts with my camera sideways, it is a bit of a weird angle that I correct.  I was going to edit it to trim the sideways section, but I think it is worth keeping all the content, besides it is kind of an interesting angle.

I don’t recall the name of the instrument, it started with M, it is has 22 strings and is obviously related to the sitar.  The top 4 strings are plucked, the rest vibrate as a drone.   I could have sat and watched these guys for hours…but our flight called :o(

One more day left, in Kuala Lumpur…

Oh crap, I left out the movie…I knew we did something that afternoon.  Will tell about that experience in the next post.

 

Rejected in Jodhpur

Dates: 26 – 30 October 2017

Location: Jodhpur

Hotel: Discovery Guest House

If you have gotten used to and come to expect the content of a post to be in chronological order, you will be disappointed with this one.  4 days in one post in order of story telling and photo inserting ease.

Disappointment is actually a nice segue into the yarn about my Jodhpur movie career that never was.

Over a two of days we heard a couple of times about a movie being shot and that they were looking for western male actors.  The story even went that there was 1000 Rupees pay.  For sure it was another scam of some sort.

Mr fixer with his cast

Then over dinner, the owner of the restaurant confirmed it was true and we later met Michael who was pretty bloody excited because he had a speaking role in the film.  He showed us a photo of himself in a British soldier uniform and told us he had a speaking part.  It wasn’t much, only a couple of lines that he tried out on us, but it was a speaking part and he reminded us that it was his.

This now sounded like fun and the fixer told us meet at the restaurant at 0500hrs the next day.  We were there on time as was Michael, he mentioned his speaking part and that he was excited.  About 10 people gathered and eventually a car showed up to take us to the movie set.

Costume rack

It was being shot in the grounds of a huge luxurious hotel that someone mentioned was the most expensive in India.  I am pretty sure Michael didn’t tell us that, he was very busy rehearsing his speaking part.

Anyone who has been involved in movie making knows that the greatest skill you can have is to be able to hurry up and wait.  If you add this to being in India…well, you get the idea.

Here’s a surprise, the movie really exists!  Well, in production anyway.  Starring Rupert Everett who someone assured me was famous and I would recognise, it is called Swords and Sceptres and is listed in IMDb.  Doesn’t look like Michael is listed in the credits yet.

We were given breakfast and led around to the costume area.  A small group at a time we were assigned a role and a costume.  Michael wasn’t, he already had his role, in fact he told us he had been given another line.  Excitement.

Tiff looked pretty sharp as a private in the army.

Photographs weren’t allowed, but This Is India so photographs were taken.  Tiff fitted in well with the troops

See if you can spot Captain Michael.

No doubt you are keen to see me dressed up…

Shattered, along with some other short arses, we were told we weren’t needed.  When I asked the bloke to clarify if he meant just for this scene or at all he said (add strong Indian accent) “I think what I am saying is perfectly clear”.

After getting escorted a couple of times from the area where all the cast was waiting, I gave up and had fun catching a local bus back to the hotel area.  No choice, Mr Fixer was nowhere to be found.

The irony is that the scene involved all the soldiers in hospital lying on beds.  It wouldn’t have mattered if you were a dwarf or a giant.  Tiff had fun, earned 1000R ($10) and reckons he will be a featured dying soldier.  I was going to boycott the movie, but then I wouldn’t get to see Michael.

There is a crazy busy market around the clock tower.  Many of the stalls sell cheap utensils or bangles or textiles, but there are some gems to be found.  M.V. Spices is quite famous.  The business (like many) goes back generations and has good quality spices.  So great is their reputation that very nearby is M.G. spices, M.R. spices and others all trying to cash in on M.V.

The other thing about M.V. is that M. died a few years ago and had 7 daughters, no sons.  It is pretty unheard of for women to run a business, and already you know that another strong, independent, persistent woman story is coming.

Despite being shunned by other businesses and male relatives, these women are going from strength to strength.  They have 4 shops, a good listing in Lonely Planet and unlike M.R. and M.G. etc, M.V. don’t stand out the front hassling (bullying?) tourists to come into the shop.  They will even send product internationally and you pay later.  Unheard of! We sat for ages chatting and drinking chai and buying spices.

In the market, wandering a back lane I said hello to a merchant, he responded and it turned into a long chat about all sorts of things.  His son showed up and told me about his recent trip to Thailand where he did all the tourist stuff like tandem skydive diving and of course getting a tattoo.

Not just any tattoo, his mother had died a couple of years ago, so based on a photo on his phone, well, you can see the result plus his dad in real life.  Given how bad some similar tatts are that I have seen, this one was pretty good.

One of the cleanest best preserved and prettiest Stepwells is in Jodhpur.  It is also only a couple of minutes walk from Discovery Guest House. The area around it is becoming quite gentrified with really expensive hotels and designer shops.  On one hand this is a bit of a worry, as if it spreads, the character of the area is going to be destroyed.  On the other hand, anything that lifts the status of Stepwells is a good thing.

The stepwell cafe overlooks the stepwell but it is overpriced and you can’t even see in the well from the rooftop reclining area.  Forgive the stains on my shirt, I’d had a pretty good 50R head massage a little earlier and he dripped oil…

On my next wander through the market (it is close to the hotel so can be part of any walk) a guy offered to polish my sandals.  I laughed because as as I pointed out, sandals are mostly feet rather than sandal.

But like the 50R head massage and 50R shave, there are other 50R experiences to be had.  He did a really thorough job and now, compared to the sandals in the cafe photo, they now look pretty schmick.

Jodhpur is famous Mehrangah Fort.  A huge structure that sits above the city.  We went on a Sunday and while the fort is magnificent, it was way too crowded, so we didn’t last long.

 

Jodhpur is known as the blue city, it is mostly old Jodhpur below the fort.  The name is justified.

On a previous trip I passed an open field where there were textiles drying in the sun.  Back then I wasn’t smart enough or quick enough to tell the tuk tuk driver to stop.  This time, spotting the same field, I was.

 

Also very near Discovery Guest House is a small temple which I often stick my head in to see if something interesting is happenings.  This time I was rewarded with an invitation to a celebration that evening.

Lots of singing and rituals, it was quite fascinating.

I don’t do floor sitting very well and there seemed to be a no standing rule, even the restless kids were being sat down.  I eventually found a spot on some stairs that have the great view above.

One thing that constantly puzzles me is some tourists.  Here is this interesting looking event going on.  People are looking more joyous that serious.  Tourists attracted by the singing come up to the door and are invited in and all but one shied away.  What on earth are they doing in India if they refuse an invitation to a colourful, musical ceremony?

Especially when there is a table of food that looks like this!

I think I may have done Jodhpur now.  Unless someone wants to specifically come here on a future Kaka Tour I doubt I will be back, even if I get my own shop.

 

Next stop, Pushkar and the camel fair.  Plus an added bonus of Jasmine (my daughter) and Cam (her partner) arriving for a few days.

Choking in Udaipur

Dates: 23 – 25 October 2017

Location: Udaipur

Hotel: Dream Heaven

Arriving in Udaipur for a few days means the pace has slowed considerably and it also gives me a chance to almost catch up with posts.

The tuk tuk drivers and shop keepers are much more pushy here.  It is quite a tourist town, including (especially?) for Indians from interstate here for Diwali.

Before I get into the details, my future self is sitting in the roof top restaurant in Jodhpur.  It is 6PM and 4 or 5 mosques are broadcasting the call to prayer, the Hindu temple has some bells ringing and with the general background noise it is quite a cacophony right now.

Back in Udaipur, speaking of roof top restaurants, the view from the roof of Dream Heaven Hotel is spectacular.

This image is for illustration purposes only and may have been taken in 2016

One of my favourite quirky shops is in Udaipur, the University of Arts, which is full of hundreds and hundreds of marionettes.  The owner is always delighted to show them off and do a performance.

Here he is in action with his puppet The Magician

On a previous visit, Dawne and Jane had done a cooking course with a woman named Meenu.  They wanted to catch up with her so we went to Meenu’s restaurant which is a single table in the home of her parents.  They sleep on a mezzanine floor above, and beside the table is a sink that has as decoration, the family toothbrushes.

You don’t believe me do you.  Take a peek at the eating area, the computer room and also meet the family.

The food was pretty good and Meenu is yet another strong, intelligent, determined Indian woman, doing her thing independently.

Jump to next morning and we went  for a walk to find Meenu’s house.  A social visit with chai and snacks turned into a yummy meal when we were joined by some other Meenu fans.  Meenu loves cooking.

Wandering off we passed a spice merchant.  Best I could tell was he ground his own spices and when we inquired about a large sack of dried chillies he was very willing to dump them on the floor.

Generally something like this doesn’t bother me.  I have been in a factory grinding chillies to powder without a worry.  But this batch set me off.  My eyes were watering, I was coughing and sneezing, breathing was getting harder and I was dry retching.  I recovered pretty quickly when I went outside and thinking I was now immune, I went back in.  Nope, it all started again.  That was enough for me which was too bad because I would have loved to watch him work.

I do that a lot, stop and watch people work.  Bangle makers, clothes dyers, scissor sharpeners, food preparers, builders, whatever I happen to spot.  The simple way that jobs get done is endlessly fascinating and I am sure they are wondering why I am watching.  Imagine if you were working your mundane job and a tourist spent 10 minutes watching you.

We walked past a school and were spotted by these girls who started chanting one photo, one photo, one photo… Since I am travelling with 3 teachers, it wasn’t long before we were inside the school and mobbed by the kids.

It was recess or lunch break and pretty soon the bell rang and the kids went to class.  I had been hanging with some older boys and went to their room, standing in front like I was the teacher, trying to get them to sit.  They were too excited.  Pretty soon the real teacher came in and she wasn’t happy, threatening the kids with a ruler while behind her back I was imitating her, stopping when she turned around.

Of course something like this never turns out well and then the principal came in and I ended up in his office in a chair facing him.  First time visit to Principal’s office in a long time. He didn’t speak English so there was an awkward silence and I would hold eye contact with him.  Eventually I asked/signed whether my friends had left and he indicated they had.

I should know better about asking for information or directions in India. They had actually been in another class, I thought they were gone, they though I was still with the boys.   We didn’t find each other again until dinner time.

Tonight dinner was going to be a little different.   A cooking class with Shashi, we were instructed to come hungry, which was actually bad advice.  Better would have been come ravenous because there will be way too much food.

Where Meenu’s setup was pretty organic and in the kitchen of her house, Shashi, her son and daughter-in-law had a slick setup designed for western tourists.  We were in a big clean kitchen that had been purpose built and was fitted with loads of chairs, utensils etc. including aprons.

She started by telling the story of being in the Brahmin caste and when her husband died a fair while ago, she had to sit alone, in a corner, for 45 days.  My understanding is that the life of an Indian widow is not too good.  I think they are prevented from remarrying so they often end up very poor.

But this trip has been about strong women persevering and succeeding, Shashi is one of those women and I suspect is now doing very well.

Tiff and Dawne with Shashi

Shashi ran most of the class with her son helping occasionally.  Without checking the complete menu from the error filled handout (that we corrected for them) we cooked chai, paneer butter masala – including the ‘magic sauce’ which is the basis of Indian cooking and transformed mine after my  last trip.  We also made pakoras, malai kofta and 4 different breads: rotis, naan, paratha and stuffed paratha.

There were other people in the group and I sort of pity them.  A French Canadian couple and a French man who seemed to speak no English plus his son.  The 4 of us are loud and playful and get over involved in everything, we may have dominated the class.  We laughed a lot and Shashi was quite playful back.  But poor French man looked like he wasn’t having fun and the others, while getting involved if prompted, didn’t throw themselves into it like we did.

Daughter-in-law was friendly and engaging and gorgeous but didn’t do any cooking.  Married women traditionally live with the son’s family, so you can guess their status. In this photo, she was doing some food prep sitting cross legged on top of the bench.  I can imagine this going down well in Australian restaurants.

We rolled out of there stuffed to the gills and looking forward to our next Indian party.

Next post will be from Jodhpur, half way through our trip.  It feels like months be has been less than 2 weeks.

Part 2 of whatever the last post was called

Date: I forget

Location: Bundi and surrounds

Hotel: Shivam

A reminder that this is written a few days in the future of when it is dated, unless of course I have completely lost track of time.  And had a couple of Hayward 5000 beers – why do they even serve this Kingfisher shit?

Bundi, a couple of hours from Jaipur, may be my new favourite place in India.  The old town, with its beautiful fort perched above, is the quintessential “photo opportunity around every corner” place.

We started with chai (this is compulsory) and the best samosa I have ever eaten.  I can’t tell you what was so good about it and the seller likely won’t either.

The photo is a pretty typical street food setup, whether selling samosa or chai or whatever.  If you are freaked out by the thought of eating street food, I suggest you holiday at home, as sampling this stuff is one of the delights of travel.

It is coming up to wedding season in India, apparently it all starts on October 31st.  Weddings include a procession to the bride’s house with the groom sitting on a horse dressed like a Maharaja but looking like a terrified little boy.

You can see what a wonderful event an Indian wedding is. This is a photo of a pair of overjoyed newlyweds from 2016

When my posts eventually catch up to Udaipur and the cooking class, remind me to point out gorgeous daughter in law who met her husband only 30 minutes before they were married.  This is the norm with arranged marriages.

The good news is we have met a number of smart, powerful women who have rejected this and other traditional cultural “rules” e.g. that women shouldn’t run a business.  They all have a hard time with family and are working hard to succeed despite the disapproval. But the traditional wedding still rules.

You need a band to celebrate a wedding and in every city there are many to choose from.  They have little shops that I guess demonstrate whatever they are capable of.  From memory, this was the Azam band’s instrument selection.

Notice the hats in the cabinet on the back wall.  These bands are competitive and serious.  They aren’t that good though 😟

As we walked the back lanes people were friendly and invited us into their homes and businesses.  Bundi still has a lovely innocence about it, the shopkeepers don’t hassle you, it is very untouristy, hopefully it can stay that way.  Jasmine and Cam, you should visit Bundi.  You too Jodie.

Come walk with me…

Arms decorated with henna

 

They had just made a purchase from the motorcycle riding milk Walla. Buying like this, milk is unpasteurised, not homogenised.

 

Inside one house was this amazing well

 

View from access to the well

 

Too cute

There were bangle makers, people who hired BIG cooking utensils for parties, beautiful old houses, a hotel that had an old tunnel that connected from the fort and people who loved to meet us.

There was also a bit of effort put into having a more presentable tour group.

No, that is not hair on the cover sheet. Nor is it part of the pattern…well, it might be now 😛

On to Bhimlat Mahadev Falls. But not straight away.

We stopped in a couple of villages along the way, including one with the bhang shop.  Should I be a little embarrassed that bhang guy remembered me from last year?

This would just about kill you 😛 A typical lassi or whatever would be made with a piece the size of a marble and is a very adequate altitude adjustment.

 

A typical street side scene almost anywhere in India

 

Chaff storage

 

Proof that your donations do some good work

Last year the falls were peaceful and beautiful and calm and swimmable.  This year it was huge and raging and anything but inviting.  And still beautiful.

Even getting there was tricky.

These guys really wanted a photo with me, they took heaps of selfies.

It should be noted that men holding hands or with arms draped like this are simply good friends. It is not uncommon, and last night while walking us to a restaurant, the hotel owner’s son casually had his arm around my shoulder.  I think it is because he regards me as a friend.

The rest of the afternoon can best be summed up by What happens on tour stays on tour. I am more than happy to tell the story privately, but in fairness to a friend I won’t publish it.

Now that’s got you wondering, hasn’t it 😎

It was a slow drive back to Bundi and we made it safely.  Tomorrow, onward to Udaipur.

There is always one more stepwell

Post Diwali Day

Date: 20 October 2017

Location: Jaipur

Hotel: Hathroi Palace

I need help desperately.  This post covers the 20th October and I am writing it on the 24th.  Doesn’t sound like a problem, but we cram so much into a day that we all agree it feels like we have been here a month.  I am already so far behind I feel like declaring blog bankruptcy and doing a post of only photos.  But I know how this would break the heart of both the readers.

Perhaps I can employ someone to write my posts for me.  It would be cheap enough in India.  Though the truth is that I think wifi will be more accessible from here on which will make life easier.

Please suspend belief and assume that this was written and posted on the day I am talking about.  Ooh, there’s a novel idea, how about the date at the top of the post.

Last night was Diwali.  It was incredible.  There is a joyous atmosphere that is filled with the smoke and sound of uncountable fireworks.  In my last post I didn’t have time to include one of the great moments, when Puja was conducted at Hathroi Palace Hotel.  You are going to have to refer back to Diwali in Udaipur last year for more details on what this is.

There was quite a crowd of hotel guests at the ceremony.   Afterwards Ajeet said it wasn’t done particularly well by the priest.  I think I can say that without fearing priest will read this.

Back to today.  We decided on a half day tour of Jaipur with Ajeet.  This is a warm up to a 2 day tour starting tomorrow.

First stop was sunrise at the old fort and a new, unusual and beautiful stepwell.  Haven’t seen one that looks terraced before.

I may or may not have mentioned that a sunrise/set is sort of delayed by 15 minutes or so because of the haze.  You will never see the sun cross the horizon in India.

Then chai and a breakfast of paratha at the base of Amber Fort, where the elephants gather for tourists who have no conscience to ride them.  Did I really say that?  But it is how I feel.

I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.  Although this photo is at a distance, it is only to fit them all in.  It was OK to be right there touching them and letting them smell my hand.  But there is no way I would ride one.

It is impossible for me to describe how awesome the experience was.  I keep wanting to add more here to try to share it, but I need to move on, I am on a deadline for dinner.

Chai and Parathas for breakfast is always a treat and still buzzing from the elephants we were in great spirits.

Next to another part of the fort where there were some very wild and very laid back monkeys.  The photo may make it look like they are tame, but they are quite nervous…unless you have food of course.

I am moving quickly here.  Knowing that Jane, Dawne and Tiff will read this I don’t mind saying that I don’t care if they don’t appreciate Stepwells as much as me.  They were about to visit another and you better get used to the idea that there are more coming…I have seen the future.

I am not 100% certain where we went next.  It is some sort of mausoleum and is beautiful for its symmetry.

There were so many ways…

…to photograph this place

Crap!  I just realised how much more happened that day and I am out of real world time.  Being the night after Diwali the streets were packed.  We walked and walked and had all sorts of encounters, including with the seller of fake moustaches.

And the sweets maker

Getting a tuk tuk back to the hotel was like new years eve, impossible, until we walked out of the party zone.  It was a remarkable night that I highly recommend to anyone.  Add your name in the comments to be considered for the 2018 Kaka Tour.

On and on I could go, but it is dinner time in the real world.

India’s remarkable railways

Location: Delhi, trying to leave

Hotel: Hathroi Palace, Jaipur…eventually

Before I start, despite my posts seemingly appearing by magic, I want it known that it takes at least 2 hours to make this happen.  If I was doing it on my home computer I think I could do it in 30 minutes.

The biggest hassle is uploading photos.  The bloody multiple photo chooser thingy doesn’t work.  So if I select a bunch of shots, only 1 is uploaded.  This means each image has to be uploaded individually, then maybe rotated or cropped.  All on a tablet.  It’s tough work.

But before I really get started, I remind you that when travelling, flexibility is possibly the most important skill.  It is right behind patience, which is possibly the most important skill.  Which is right behind keeping a sense of humour which is possibly the most important skill.  Have I preempted this post?

Straightforward plan – book train Delhi to Jaipur, 1145hrs departure, 1700hrs or so arrival.  Nice timing all around.

A walk in the morning for some paratha rather than the hotel food and we are on our way to Old Delhi railway station.  As it happens, mistakenly thinking the train was leaving from New Delhi station would have made no difference, but going to the right place is a good idea.

Except that the tuk tuk driver did the classic “seed of doubt” routine and thought we should check at a tourist office that we were going to the right place.  It was a set up to sell us something and I was out of there in less than 60 seconds.

Maybe it was because he wasn’t going to get a commission that had tuk tuk driver decide to drive through an insanely crowded market the day before Diwali.  It was insanely crowded.  There were people and carts and trucks and nowhere to turn.  Fortunately we had heaps of time, ironically we weren’t going to need it.

Finally at old Delhi station and the initial news is that the Be Bujh express (which wasn’t) is running 10 hours late.  Crap!  This is the first travel day and there is a massive fail.  Understanding how India works, the fact that the train is late is confirmed several times and it is turns out to be true.

We went into a huddle on what to do.  We already had our shadow who was trying to help.  He had some suggestions that all seemed to revolve around a different tourist office…his own, of course.

Our options came down to

  • Waiting 10 hours.  Had I been alone I might have gone for this
  • Not waiting 10 hours, but working out what to do.

As Dear Leader of our group I went off to do some research on buses to Jaipur and found out the following from different travel stands:

  • There are none today
  • They leave every 15 minutes
  • There is one at 1800hrs
  • They leave every 30 minutes

The other option was a car and driver, I had a quote of 6,000R, about $120, which between 4 people isn’t too bad.  The absolute lack of any solid bus info  made us decide to go for it.

Enter Mr Singh, the hovering helper’s boss.  He quotes us 10,000R for the same trip and I immediately walk off to book 6,000R car.  I don’t look back but I know he is coming after me.  After a couple of hundred metres he catches up and of course he can do a better price.

With lots of group discussion, mock upset, disappointment, heart failure and outrage we settle on 7,000R for the trip plus a 200R tip for the driver.

I am at a point in the tale where a decision must be made on how to explain how it plays out.  For brevity of reading, but more importantly, for brevity of screen typing, I will keep it brief.

The promises, and below each one, the outcome.

  • A large car, not a small one
    • We were then shown a medium car just like we would be in.  We ended up in a small Suzuki Swift
  • A proper licensed taxi
    • It wasn’t
  • An English speaking driver
    • He didn’t
  • Original helper would be the driver
    • He wasn’t
  • We will leave from Mr Singh’s office
    • We left from a petrol station beside a main road where, despite all the lies, we weren’t in a position to do anything but keep going.
  • Air conditioning
    • It actually was air conditioned.

Pretty soon we were on our way.

When we stopped for lunch and I wandered into the kitchen (as I always do) and ended up helping out, to the amusement of the staff.  The one thing I wasn’t game to do was put a naan bread onto the wall of the tandoori oven.

 

The drive through Jaipur and the pre Diwali market was a great scene setter.  Driver got a 500R trip for great skill at picking the gaps in traffic for 5 hours.  It is not a trip for someone who is nervous in a car.

Arriving to a warm welcome from the Hathroi Palace guys, and at a decent time made it all OK.

Brain dead after a long day, but we made it to the Chillout space where we did exactly that with beer.

Next, Diwali.

 

A day in pre Diwali Delhi

Location: Delhi

Hotel: Suncourt Yatri, not to be confused with nearby hotels Sunstar Heights, Sunstar Heritage, Sunstar Grand, Sunstar Karol Marg and other similarly “Sun” named but in no way related hotels.

India time is 4.5 hrs behind Australia which makes for interesting initial adjustment and coordination communicating with home.  Especially when on arrival there are a couple of minor home dramas to attempt to sort from not-home.

Wide awake at 5AM (9:30 by my body) so we’re Tiff and Dawne so we headed out for a walk and explore.  Within minutes we heard music and chanting in the distance and a small crown parading behind a mobile temple appeared.

Out of consideration for our early/late morning they stopped outside a house, we didn’t have to chase them.  Some chanting over a quite loud PA, some Puja, and it turned out they were here to bless the house.  It was OK to go inside with the crowd, but there were too many people to see what was going on in the room where it was all happening.  Friendly people explained what it was all about and we walked away with bananas and sweets plus a great start to India.

An ATM mission and now I am cashed up and ready to charge my SIM card, but it wasn’t as easy as I expected.  The guy didn’t seem to know what he was doing so I’ll find another shop today.

The attention from tuk tuk drivers is constant.  One bloke came up to us, all smiles and friendly and good English, he said his name is Lala.  Seemed like a smiling friendly guy so we arranged to meet him at 1000hrs so he could drive us to Old Delhi.

Of course he arrived at 0900hrs, all smiles and very friendly.  He didn’t want to name a price, just “whatever you put in my pocket” which should have been (it actually was) a warning that this was a little weird.  But we decided to do it anyway knowing the price was about 150R ($3).

Lala wanted to stop in an emporium on the way, this is where he makes his real Rupees, even if we don’t buy anything.  Actually he wanted to stop at 2 or 3 emporiums on the way.

The first one was a rabbit warren of small stalls in a single building.  Some of their stuff wasn’t bad, but what a tourist trap ripoff.  Given we had previous India travellers before we had a sense of prices and they were about 5 times more expensive on average.  A smallish carpet that I would expect to pay maybe 2,500R was 30,000R. Maybe I was missing a subtlety that it was 100% genuine silk or whatever, but everything was way overpriced.

We were ready to get going and smiling, friendly Lala said “two more emporiums” and we said “no”.  Suddenly Lala turned…he wasn’t smiling or friendly any more.  It was a remarkable transformation where we seemed to suddenly become a huge disappointment :o) We got to Old Delhi for a reasonable price and a lesson was learned, hopefully by Lala as well.

The girls and boys headed in different directions with plans to meet at the Gurudwara Sis Ganj temple.  We headed to the Red fort for some culture and a failed attempt to get onto the set of a movie being shot out the front.  Even pointing out that we are handsome Australian actors didn’t help.

One frustrating problem solved.  In future, before I leave, when I take my camera charger out to recharge the spare battery I will put a note on my bag so I don’t leave it at home, charging.  Every time I thought about it I  would mentally kick myself up the arse. Managed to buy another charger that will never be used again once I get home…sigh…

 

The Gurudwara Sis Ganj temple is one of the holiest Sikh sites, built on the location where the 9th guru of Sikhs, Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji was martyred…or as we would say, murdered.

I posted about it last time and was looking forward to sharing the experience.  I wasn’t disappointed.

We started in the temple proper, sitting, wandering and watching.  It is a fascinating place.  As an atheist, I find the depth of people’s devotion quite intriguing.  They prostrate themselves, kiss walls and doors of the altars and simply touch an icon.  It is also a little bewildering, but such experiences is why India.

We spent a lot of time upstairs where you can overlook the temple proper.  The gallery is surrounded by small reading room where people study the holy texts.  I was surprised to see a woman in one of the rooms.  It is incredibly visually rich and awesome photo opportunities, but at the same time is quite intimidating. Not understanding the culture, taking photos seems intrusive and inappropriate.

The attendants are friendly and helpful, unlike Lala, they are genuinely friendly and helpful.  They explained what was going on and that it was fine to take photos.  It still felt weird and intrusive, but hey, that is my stuff.

All of the workers are volunteers or have devoted their life to the temple.  The production of thousands of meals a day is well organised with many hands involved.  Including us.

Tiff threw rotis onto the hot plate, quickly mastering the art of tossing them like a frisbee and not having them land on top of each other.  Dawne didn’t quite get her rotis rolled as round as the experts, but gave it a good shot.  I dished out dhal from a bucket to rows of appreciative if slightly bemused people.

Arm dishing out food may not be me and is for demonstration purposes only.

And the food was great!

Into the old market.  I recognised the stall where I took one of my favourite photos of Sheila in 2015.

2015

It isn’t quite as romantic in the recreation

2017

The trip back to our hotel involved walking through a market to get to a road and grab a til tuk.  Tomorrow is Diwali, so it was crowded.  very crowded.  We walked and walked and walked and the market went on and on.  Craziness indeed.

Four of us for dinner, 5 yummo dishes, 5 naan breads, 3 bottles of water came to 800R, around $4 each.  Then back to the hotel roof which saw Tiff almost decapitated as a rocket shot past his head as we were looking over the edge at the kids setting them off.  A flash of green passed less than 300mm from him and then exploded just above us.  The next one exploded as it was falling back towards me.  It was too funny and the only remedy was beer.

And next time you grumble about your tedious job, re!ember you could be employed as an official nut separator.

Today, train to Jaipur.

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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!!!

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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