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

Final post of the tour, but not of the tour

Date: it might have been October 25th

Location: Bundi to Udaipur

Hotel: Dream Heaven

This is a warning to my future self.  On the 27th, in Jodhpur, you will grab your towel and flick your phone on to the floor cracking the screen.  The only good news is that it will match the screen on your tablet that you cracked in India in 2015.

I also implore you, dear reader, to ignore the date and time stamps.  They will be removed for the photo book.

Bundi had been so wonderful we were glad there had been a change of plans so we had Ajeet take us back for a second night there so we could continue to explore the town.

We had been coaching Ajeet about having a luxury tour as well as the backpacker tour.  They would both have the same daytime content, but different levels of meals and accommodation, so we went looking for luxury hotels.  We stumbled into the beautiful old Dev Niwas (god residences) which was not so much more expensive but certainly very exotic.

It even had a tunnel that connected to the fort so that the Maharaja and hopefully also the Maharani could make a quick and discreet escape.  Always handy if the tour group members are revolting.

Let’s pick up our walking tour, but in a different direction and including some photos that really should have been included yesterday, but you won’t notice unless I mention it… Oh, wait.

Some of the cooking implements you can hire when you are catering your own wedding.

Sometimes a simple attempt to hire some gear from a place playing dance music goes very right…

 

The Bundi backdrops are awesome

 

Great characters are everywhere.

 

When the weight of being a tour guide gets overwhelming, a 10 minute 50R head massage is just the thing

And what would a walk in Rajasthan be without discovering a new stepwell.  This one was behind a locked gate, fortunately the house where we asked who was the keeper of the key was the keeper of the key.

The water was quite grotty, but the entrance, with the gorgeous arch was one of the most beautiful I have seen.

We had heard about a peaceful lunch spot at a wildlife reserve outside town.  It was owned by the family of a bloke who had a run down backpacker hostel that had huge potential and a closed intimidating gate.

Not particularly expensive, this was the luxury lunch venue for sure.

As well as a lake full of lotus plants (not in flower unfortunately) it is also a working rice farm and harvest was under way.

I had a go at cutting the rice and threshing it.  You will have to take my word for it that this is bloody hard, hot, endless work for not a lot of money.  I am glad I only get to do it for fun, but feel a bit guilty that for these people it is their lives.

Then on to Udaipur passing way too many overloaded tractors.

but some of them are lovingly pimped, including a loud sound system.

As you will read, people in Udaipur won’t be as friendly as Bundi.  We all hope it doesn’t get spoilt by them hassling tourists and losing the welcoming spirit that is there now.

 

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.

 

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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