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.

 

Taj Mahal, so many rights, so many wrongs

Date: 4th November 2017

Location: Agra

Hotel: Sai Palace

The Taj Mahal is located in Agra which is mostly a bit of a shithole and if not for a couple of things, wouldn’t be worth visiting…well, that might not be entirely true, but I haven’t found anything else yet *.  For that reason after planning to go to the Taj Mahal, then deciding not to go because it is a bit out of the way, then changing our minds because an alternative was even harder, we went to Agra.  The idea was always to take a train from Ajmer (Pushkar) to Agra, arrive in the evening, do the Taj in the morning, head to Sheroes for a while and then leave for Delhi that day.

In fact, that is how it turned out, but as you are about to discover, there is so much fun to be had within the plan.

Once again we had booked general seating on the train.  This means you have a reserved seat, but it is a step above cattle class which doesn’t have reservations.  We were the only westerners in our carriage of about 100 people and apart from a Japanese guy we pointed to his carriage, might have been the only westerners on the train.

As usual, it wasn’t long before we made friends with people around us and decided they needed a taste of western music.  It wasn’t the first time we had done this, so we had a bit of a routine where the bluetooth speaker was fired up, a phone connected, a song played and a sing along commenced.  Generally we started with Country Road by John Denver because we all knew the words, it is middle of the road and it is John Denver.

Indians have never heard this song, or most popular western songs.  The do know Justin Beiber very well and a bunch of doof doof dance music, but the classic pop songs seem to have never hit the subcontinent.  They have now…

This is a bad and great photo at the same time.  Everything is wrong with it, but I think it gives the feeling of everyone wanting to be in the photo and the crowded conditions and the fun being had.  People crowded the carriage as we sang a bunch of songs and then had a guy hook his phone up to play some popular Indian music to see if we could get them to sing along.  Another complete failure.

A few people were quietly mouthing the words but there was no rousing chorus from the punters despite us trying to make it happen.  This is not at all unusual, there appears to be a cultural taboo about publicly expressing emotion whether it be fun, love, excitement or whatever.  I’ve mentioned the built up energy at music concerts where everyone is sitting on their bums, dying to dance, but just can’t do it.  Same sort of thing, they kind of wanted to, but just couldn’t take the leap.

We danced, I did stupid (and real) magic, we sang, they loved watching and laughing and being part of what is likely an unforgettable train journey. It was so much fun that we didn’t even think to take photos.  But many, many people were videoing the whole thing so we may end up on YouTube some day.

Agra was awful.  The pollution was horrific.  Have a read of this article about the pollution in Delhi at the same time, in fact, Delhi didn’t seem as bad as Agra, though it may have been.

This is actually how it looked on the day as the sun rose.  So much for the beautiful Taj Mahal glowing in the sunshine.

Compare it to 2015 and 2016

2015

 

2016

It was disappointing, but at least I had seen it previously, for Dawne and Tiff it was their first visit.  But it is best we go back an hour or so.

As you can see there are big crowds at the Taj Mahal, the photo would have been taken at about 0800hrs at the latest and there were already heaps of people.  We had decided, on the advice of our hotel manager, to leave at 0545hrs, we had already planned to be there for sunrise.  This wasn’t a bad plan, not withstanding that we hadn’t arrived at the hotel until 2330hrs the previous night.

It was dark lining up for tickets, there was no lighting in the area despite a couple of hundred people standing in line.  I tried to jump the line by getting to the front of an Indian only line and pleading ignorance, that didn’t work.  Dawne was in the women’s line.  Tiff was in the men’s line.  I was the runner deciding which line was moving faster and it was the women by a long shot, so Dawne bought 3 tickets – Jane didn’t join us.  Step one complete.

It is hard to take photos that are a bit different from the standard Taj Mahal money shot.

The next stage is to stand in line outside the gate.  It is starting to get light and on the left side of the entrance there are many hundreds of people waiting.  We take a guess at an hour to get in…not good enough.  On the right side of the entrance is a woman sitting in a wheel chair…and no one else.

Do we want to get in quickly?” I asked and after quick agreement developed a pretty awful limp as we made our way to the right.  We are ushered to a spot with wheelchair woman and pretty quickly another wheelchair appears and I am pushed into it.  What we didn’t realise at the time was that the wheelchair was privately owned by Viru, this had implications we weren’t aware of.  Sitting glumly (on the outside) I would adjust my position and whince in a way that I hoped was convincing.  Someone tried to get Tiff and Dawne to leave me and join the line up and of course they objected saying I obviously needed care.  I had a minor panic attack telling the cop that I obviously needed care.  He let my obvious carers stay.

There were others on the right hand side. The poor woman in the wheelchair was on an expensive tour and had fallen over the previous day.  The tour guide had pushed her to this spot and then gone off to deal with tickets without telling her anything.  She was quite stressed having been there about half an hour and had no idea what was going on.  Although we were scamming, we did do some good by reassuring her that it was all OK and calming her a bit ^.

There was also a blind woman who was told that she didn’t need a ticket (that they had already bought) and they were tossing up how to go and get a refund but not succumb to the chaos that is India.  Not sure how that turned out, but later we did see the blind woman taking a photo…could she have…was she really…it shall remain a mystery.

The gates open and we are in…first!

While Tiff and Dawne went to the toilet, I tried to explain to Viru that we would pay him his 500R and he could wait in this corner and have a sleep, we would be back later.  My leg was much better already.  He wouldn’t hear of it.  This job was given to him by god and he was going to do it.  So I resigned myself to a seated tour of the Taj Mahal, getting up now and then because “my leg improves as the day goes on”.

Truth be told, I got an appreciation for how shitty it is for someone in a wheelchair if the pusher is not attentive to context.  I was left facing the wrong way and felt excluded many times.  I missed out on quite a few things that happened behind me or that others talked about that I couldn’t see.  Though an hilarious adventure, it definitely changed my attitude to how wheelchairs should be handled.  Towards the end Viru insisted on a photo of Tiff and Dawne in some position that was behind me.  I was  left stranded.  A kind German woman asked me if I would like a push and I stood up and told her the story.  She laughed and wished she had thought of it.

Of course, the agreed fee wasn’t enough for Viru, he wanted a tip on top of his already expensive fee.  I kind of ran away…which might have had him wondering.

Disability is put into perspective when you visit Sheroes Hangout Cafe in Agra.  This is a project to create a safe space and a business for women who are the victims of acid attacks.

It is a lovely place that has expanded in Agra and also opened in Lucknow.  It made an impression on me the last times I was here and I think that Jane, Dawne and Tiff had the same experience.  Unfortunately they didn’t have any calendars left this year.

The artwork is quite haunting, not sure I would want one on my wall.

One more day before we fly home.  Off to Delhi by bus.

* This disclaimer included to appease anyone who objected to my not be worth visiting statement.

^ You can justify anything

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.

 

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

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.

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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.

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

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

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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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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?

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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.

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It gets better/different as the sun sets

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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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Finally, the plan kicks in

Location: Pushkar

Hotel: Paramount Palace – not a palace at all, but has some of the best views over Pushkar, is on a quiet lane 3 minutes walk from the market and is R400 per night

Reminder: $AUD1 = R50

Like last trip, my plan was to not really have much of a plan.  The loose idea was Rajasthan for most of the time and a handful of places, each for a while.  It might be a bit naive, but I was hoping to embed myself in a community, even if briefly, and get to know some people and be known.

A not too bad bus trip from Jaipur to Ajmer made more enjoyable by being seated next to Francois, a guy from Quebec.  Hmmm, as I type this I realise how easy it is to shove the less pleasant parts of an event into the didn’t actually happen corner of my memory.

For a start although the directions to the bus stop were good, on arrival Jai Ambay Travelling Agent wasn’t to be found and nearby businesses seemed to have no idea.  Eventually one guy I asked pointed vaguely down to where I had been and said “bus”.  Stupid me, how could I have missed that this was the Jai Ambay bus.

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There was no one near the bus, which was supposed to leave at 11:30 and at about 11:20 I asked a guy if he was going to Ajmer.  This got the attention of a bloke sitting a ways off, he just happened to be the driver 😛 and this wasn’t the Ajmer bus anyway.  Oh, Great!

It turns out that Jai Ambay’s office was right there, hiding in plain sight – assuming you regard a hole in the wall set well back from the street as plain sight.

So the bus does leave in 5 minutes, only not from here.  I am hastily led about 500m through traffic, over a busy road, and past other buses to the Ajmer bus which is about to leave.  This is where I meet Francois.

Nobody mentioned to either of us that the bus didn’t actually go in to Ajmer, it went past.  Luckily the conductor was on the ball and let us know to get off. Since I had done the Ajmer to Pushkar bus last time and knew it was only about R20, the R1,000 asked by an auto driver was not even considered.  R200 to the bus station between me and Francois seemed over priced but was about our only option.  In fact it was a pretty long way and the 200 ended up seeming quite reasonable, though likely still double what a local would pay.

The Pushkar bus, which only cost R15 turned out to be a hoot.  It is only about 45 minutes or so over a hill on a very winding road.  We were right down the back amongst a group of about 20 young guys who spoke enough English that we could communicate.  I pulled out balloon animals and had them laughing at the guy who couldn’t blow one up, then impressed them when I did.

What does one make for a bunch of 20 something blokes having fun?  A dick hat of course.  The people down the front must have been wondering what the hell was going on down the back.

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Jumping back to Jaipur, my main mission on this trip apart from having fun was to buy some carpets.  I had looked at quite a few and wanted to be able to say mission accomplished and get it out of the way.

Sam from Afghanistan took me to a factory where he was honest about receiving 2% commission.  I don’t begrudge that for anyone earning about R600 a day.

I spent about 2 hours looking, choosing, haggling, working out details and settled on 6 rugs I likely paid way too much for, but they are going to look great in the house.

Thanks for the collage Google photos

Thanks for the collage Google photos

Needless to say, the photos don’t do the colours justice at all.  the one on the right in the middle is actually a lovely green that changes depending on which end you look at it. The biggest carpet (top right) wasn’t quite the right size so they are going to make one specially.  It will take 3 months so if you were planning to visit especially to run your toes through them, hold off.

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Someone introduced me to these things, the best I can find out is they are called water plants – I just was told the Hindu name, but couldn’t get it spelled, sounded like tingara.. They grow under water and are in season right now, R10 for a bag.  To eat them you peel the thin skin and inside is a nut sort of thing that is not unlike a water chestnut.  Hmmm…maybe that’s what they are, not convinced though.

They are really good and I buy a bag every day eating them as I wander around.  Yesterday I threw the skin of one in a gutter in the market thinking a cow would eat it and someone shouted at me to not throw it in the street.

This deserves some background: there is no such thing as a public rubbish bin in India.  Closest is that there will always be a bin at a food stall.  Add to that, people openly and freely toss their rubbish from cars and buses or where they are standing, no matter what they are getting rid of.  While I would never throw plastic on the ground, I don’t have a major problem with organic matter like fruit skin.

But I had been rebuked and I was interested.  The guy, who is the owner of a shop, explained that some merchants are trying to keep the market clean and he is working hard to do that around his shop.  I apologised, promised to not do it again and we had a long chat about rubbish and all sorts of things.

Now we are friends.  I walked past a few times later in the day and always said hello and had a brief chat.  This morning he spotted me before I realised I was at his shop – they all look very similar – and called out to me.  We sat for an hour talking, drinking chai and just hanging out.  This is exactly what I was hoping for.

It isn’t really that hard to create these relationships.  As I walk with my water plants I freely offer one to someone who engages in some way.  I had met eyes with a holy man seated by the road as I walked past him.  I turned back and offered the bag of fruit? nuts? and there he was eating his own.  We both laughed and I am sure next time I see him we will say namaste again.

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There are a couple of falafel stalls next to each other (they are both really good) and I was talking to the guy behind the cooker in one.  He pointed to my water plants and said one for me? but of course.  Quick as a flash and without really even thinking about it I pointed to a falafel ball and said one for me? he looked surprised but could hardly say no and his friends roared with laughter, I think at him not expecting it.

They have a sign Oh my god. WOW! about the falafels so we shouted that a few times as I ate it, me maybe going a bit over the top :o), but it must have been OK because they offered me another falafel later in the day.  Another group of “friends”.

For Bunty

For Bunty

In some ways I am a typical bloke…not many I don’t think…but I am not big on shopping, especially for clothes.  So I was quite intrigued by the fact that I was interested in some shoes that are on sale in a number of stalls.

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These are no ordinary shoes, check out the ones on the bottom row to the left of the…umm…delightful orange sandals.  Ajeet was wearing something like these and I thought at the time they are quirky enough that I wanted a pair.

I did a lot of research on this.  Went to pretty much every shoe stall in the market, trying to keep track of which was my favourite shoes and how much they were.  Sometimes the stars align and it happened that my favourite pair also turned out to be the cheapest and about the best made. It is possible they are camel leather.

I could describe them, but I think it best I let my specially selected male super model show them off – he looks after the roof top restaurant at the hotel – I couldn’t do any better.

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He's not wearing them in this shot

He’s not wearing them in this shot

The focus of Pushkar – beyond the markets – is an important temple and the lake surrounded by ghats. Read about it last year.  Every evening there are ceremonies in several spots on the ghats.  Prior to that last night was a rooftop drumming session.  I was invited to join in and would have loved to, but I am uncomfortable sitting on the ground.

Hinduism is quite fascinating.  While we Westerners regard it as a religion, it is clearly more than that.  I’ve had a few conversations with people and to them Hinduism isn’t something they believe in, it just is.  It is completely pervasive of Indian culture and society in a way that is hard to understand.  I have mentioned the number of shrines, on every corner, in fields, by the road, in shops, on mountains, everywhere.  It is not unusual to see people make some sort of devotional hand motion as they drive past a specific temple.

And then there is the cows.  There’s a lot of them in Pushkar. To the Hindu, the cow represents all other creatures. Hindus believe that all living creatures are sacred—mammals, fishes, birds. The cow is more, a symbol of the Earth. 

I was sitting on a Ghat after the drumming, watching the evening ceremony when I get a sloppy nudge from behind.  This beautiful thing was standing over me and unlike most cows (Gai, in Hindi) it seemed to like having is ears scratched. Yes I know it is a bull, but it is still a cow to me.

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But it is a sacred/hate relationship between humans and bovines.  Cows somehow know they are special and don’t mind taking advantage of it.  They stop traffic, lay where they want, shit everywhere, try to get away with eating from vendors if no one is paying attention.  So they are slapped, yelled at, hit with sticks, have their tails twisted, all to move them away or along.  I should add that the hitting etc isn’t hard, just to get them going.  I’ve done it a few times myself.

Tonight as I was eating another great meal, quite late, a man came and moved about half a dozen cows (does that count as a herd?) that were lying in a corner.  They looked out of the way to me, but he got them up and moved them down the street.

Five minutes later the same cows were being driven back the way they had come by another man.  I am not sure if this goes on all night, back and forth, or the cows get the idea and go up a side street.

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It isn’t a fuzzy photo, that’s exactly how the mirror looks.

I can get a bit lazy shaving and after a week it starts to get annoying.  Barber must have read my mind – or seen my face – and for R100 I was shaved three times and had my eyebrows massaged.

I look so good, I might put on my new shoes.