Thursday, 28 October 2010
Sunday, 24 October 2010
Now, I must admit I kind of forced us to go there because I wanted to see the Karni Mata temple in Deshnok. Stu was not so keen. In short, the Karni Mata temple is full of rats, which are believed to be the reincarnated relatives of the goddess Karni Mata (an incarnation of Durga). So the rats run free around the temple, worshipped by pilgrims, and fed sweets by visitors. The temple has lots of holes in the bottoms of walls to allow the little guys free access to the whole place, and there is netting across the open ceiling to prevent birds of prey from swooping down on the blessed ones.
Here are some of the little fellas, drinking from one of the big bowls of milk left out for them.
We dutifully bought some ladoos to crumble on the floor for the rats, and we spent a while looking out for a white rat (if you spot one it is meant to be very good luck). We didn't see one, unfortunately. Actually, the rats weren't too bad at all, and we coolly maintained our composure; neither of us got an attack of the screaming heebie jeebies, which I'm pretty sure would be frowned upon in a place of worship! I have a video but it won't upload at the moment - I'll try again later.
That afternoon we stopped at a roaside 'daba' for lunch - it looked very low-key, and was one of the best meals we've had! Then we went to check out the Camel Research Centre, which was well worth a visit. There was a good museum with info about the four different kinds of camels, and a pen with young and baby camels (really sweet). Finally, we had a kulfi (ice cream) made with camel milk! It definitely tasted different from ice cream made with cow's milk - creamier, and a slightly odd consistency, but delicious!
Here's Stu enjoying helping the young camels reach some flowers they wanted to munch:
Eating camel kulfi!:
A burst of enthusiasm:
We had a quick look around Bikaner old city too, but didn't bother with the fort and palace museum, etc, as we've seen an awful lot of those already! Unfortunately, the guest house we were staying in had a really weird, unfriendly vibe, so we decided to move on quickly to Pushkar. More on Pushkar later! x
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Since Ania wrote to you all in Jodhpur we’ve travelled to another desert town, Jaisalmer. Like lots of the places we’ve visited, Jaisalmer has a fort. But this one is different in that it’s a lived-in fort, and it’s not some fancy politician or Maharaja that calls it home, but the ordinary people of Jaisalmer. Inside the walls there are dozens of cafes, shops and other businesses; and we’ve made the ‘Pink Floyd’ restaurant our second home. It was here that we met Deepak, whose family runs the place. Deepak is my age and has been our unofficial guide to the place. We’ve had dinner with him a couple of times and he also helped us post a package back home. This is not as easy as it sounds! In India your parcel is boxed up in cardboard, then you have to find a shop that will sell you some cloth. Oh – and you’ll need a tailor too. He sews it up and wax is then used to seal it, all to discourage people from opening it as it makes its way to its destination! God knows what happens if customs want to open it and then reseal it! Then there’s the small matter of negotiating the Indian postal system. As you can appreciate, doing all of that without Deepak’s help would have been a massive arse, so we are very grateful to him! It was hilarious watching him go behind the counter in the post office (bringing me with him at one point!) because his friend works there. You could see the people on the other side of the glass thinking ‘Why is that white guy behind the counter?!’. Deepak helped us buy the things we sent home (I’m not telling – there are presents in there for my family, so you guys will have to wait until September 2011!) and got us a good deal too. We did all these errands on his motorbike (no helmets of course!). Here’s a short clip to give you a taste, taken by Ania from the Pink Floyd rooftop:
Jaisalmer is really beautiful. The fort really does look like a giant sandcastle!
Here’s a 3D map of the fort inside the museum. This is what it would look like if Jaisalmer was attacked by Aniazilla!
We’ve also spent some time with Deepak’s sister, Bobby here in Jaisalmer. She runs a shop called Belissima, selling textiles made by local women. Profits go towards helping widows and other women in the desert who get a bit of a raw deal, to understate things somewhat. Bobby told us that widowed women are often not allowed to leave their own homes for a year or two after their husbands die. They can only eat simple food like rice and dhal during this time, not to mention that they are then forbidden from wearing nose piercings or happy colours like saffron and red for the rest of their lives! We happily spent some money in her shop, including getting some henna done.
I also feel compelled to mention an excellent meal we had last night in Jaisalmer at a place called Kabab Corner (or something like that). Meat dishes in India are often found under the sub-heading of ‘Non-Veg’, which is completely at odds with how things are at home! It’s because meat is often not on the menu and a huge number of people are vegetarian or vegan. So last night I had the Non-Veg Thali (a selection of dishes served with rice and bread), which included Butter Chicken and Mutton curry. Mutton here is goat, not sheep! It was delicious!
This is also a good time to mention some hilarious Indian signs we’ve seen – no photos, sorry! Last night we saw one inviting us to ‘Rant A Motorbike’, before we found another place that offered a duvet cover: ‘No Viagra Needed: Magic Bedspread!’ and the brilliant ‘Make Your Boyfriend Less Ugly!’. What a lukewarm boast! Several of our favourites have come from food menus, including ‘All Sandwiches Served With Chops’ (man, I wish that were true!) and our personal favourite, ‘Ice Crime’, which I think sounds like a street term for diamond smuggling. We also found a dessert called ‘Hello To The Queen’, although this may actually be a move from the Kama Sutra.
Finally, here’s a picture of me trying on some clothes in Jaisalmer:
Sunday, 17 October 2010
Stu and Arjun pretending to be camels pulling the cart:
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Hello everyone! We’re in Jodhpur now, having had yet another interesting bus journey from Mount Abu. When you’re doing a trip like this, it’s really hard to know what to make of a city, town or village before you arrive. If you haven’t been somewhere, the two ways you have of judging a place – pre-judging a place (!) - are guidebooks and the advice and experience of other travellers. The advice from other travellers on Jodhpur was pretty much 50/50 that it was either boring and scuzzy; or beautiful and brilliant! Well I’m happy to report that we think it’s the latter and we’re having a great time!
We arrived yesterday at our hotel, set in a beautiful haveli in a quiet part of the city near the fort (there’s always a frakking fort!), at about 3:30pm and stayed there for the rest of the day. The building is incredible. There are murals and paintings everywhere, on the actual walls rather than just hung up. They show local scenes, traditions and history. Like the haveli we stayed at in Bundi, there are nooks and crannies everywhere. Jodhpur is known for being blue, a colour chosen to reflect the caste (kind of like our class system, but much stricter and still very relevant and often, unfair) of the people that lived here; but it’s also believed to keep bugs at bay! There were fewer bugs last night, so maybe it works! We have several rooftops at different levels where you can enjoy a beer and watch the sun set over the blue houses and you can see the fort. There are lots of other tourists staying in the hotel too (surprise, surprise), mainly German and Swiss, including our friends Cat and Marius who we met in Mount Abu.
Today we went on a tour organised by our hotel to go and see some traditional Bishnoi villages in the countryside surrounding Jodhpur. We watched a man make pots out of clay and even had a go ourselves!
Monday, 11 October 2010
Stu and Charles:
Looking out at the view (Ania in the foreground, Charles silhouetted on the left):
The trip lasted about three hours, and then on the drive back into town Charles took us by his favourite 'chaat' (snacks) stall, where we all ate fresh samosas, bhel puri (puffed rice, salad and spicy sauce) and pani puri (small puffs of thin pastry with a watery bean sauce) - totally delicious! The whole afternoon was really enjoyable and the trekking was the main reason we came to Mount Abu so I'm very pleased to say it has made the visit here worthwhile.
On our final day in Udaipur, we took a boat ride around the lake, which was very picturesque and a lovely way to spend an afternoon. On the way back we saw the Maharani's palace guard doing some exercises, all in a very impressive uniform (with the senior guard sporting a really incredible moustache). In the evening we wacthed fireworks from the rooftop of our hotel as it is the beginning of a 10-day Durga festival. We both really enjoyed Udaipur - it was much friendlier and cleaner (relatively speaking) than other places we've been. There's a really green movement to keep the city clean and a lot of the guesthouses have solar panels on the rooftops. We also had one of the best meals we've eaten here - an amazing cheap thali in a place across town where all the locals go and eat - not touristy at all, and people keep coming round to heap more rice, curries and chapatis on your place until you can't eat any more. And all for R70 (about 99p)!
View from the boat across the lake in Udaipur. In the distance is the monsoon palace on the hilltop, and in the foreground is a posh hotel on an island in the middle of the lake (both locations feature in Octopussy, of course):
The palace guard in Udaipur:
We've now moved on to Mount Abu, which sounded really nice but has left us both quite disappointed. It's Rajasthan's only hill station, and a lot of Indian holidaymakers come up here to escape the heat. The views from the bus as it slowly wound its way up into the hills were incredible, and the town itself is on the shore of a pretty lake surrounded by lovely hills. However, the atmosphere isn't great. It's like a crap British seaside town, with loads of tacky shops selling tat and bb guns (for some reason). We've had more hassle here than anywhere else - we get stared at 24/7 and people keep taking photos of us on their camera phones which is getting really infuriating (sometimes people ask first, sometimes they don't - we've taken to saying no when given the option, otherwise it would take forever to get anywhere).
On the plus side, we've met some really nice backpackers, and Charles, the son of the owner of our guesthouse, is really nice. He took a group of us out to see the Durga festival in action a couple of nights ago - we watched live music as one by one the children and a few of the women started dancing in a big circle until they were all in unison, clapping and twirling and doing a dance that involved tapping two sticks together. Yesterday we went to visit the Dilwara temples, which is a Jain temple a short walk outside town. The temples were really crowded with tourists, but they were really beautiful - the most intricate marble carvings I've ever seen. Photography isn't allowed inside the temples so I can't show you what I mean, but they really were exquisite. Apparently the marble-carvers were paid according to the amount of dust they collected from the carvings, in order to encourage them to carve ever more intricate designs.
Today we may do a trek with Charles in the hills around Mount Abu, which I hope will leave us both feeling better about the place! Tomorrow we're moving on from here, which we're both glad about. The weekend holidaymakers have gone back to the cities today so it's not quite as mental here as when we arrived.
The Durga festival celebrations in Mount Abu:
Sunset at Nakki Lake in Mount Abu. The lake is full of people on pedalos:
Thursday, 7 October 2010
As I mentioned briefly in my last post, we’re in
We checked out of the
So anyway we caught our ‘luxury’ sleeper bus just after 10:30pm. These private sleeper buses rule! You get a berth (double in our case) with a sliding glass door and curtain for privacy, then you crawl in with your luggage and go to sleep! I woke up once or twice during the bumpy, eight-hour journey, but I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly it went and how comfortable it was.
As I write this, it’s the afternoon of our second day in
Before that we spent the afternoon in
Today we visited
Tonight we’re going back to the Bagore Ki Haveli to watch those Rajasthani puppets in action. There’s a live show which also features traditional dancing. Tomorrow is our last full day here as we’ve booked our bus on to
All in all, we’re having masses of fun.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Monday, 4 October 2010
Bundi is overlooked by an old ruined palace and a fort on a steep hillside. We went to visit the palace yesterday and you can explore a long way inside it, up through lots of little alleyways and stone staircases that open on to big open rooms decorated with murals and mirrorwork dating back to the 1600s. The whole place is full of bats and you can look out of the palace up to the fort battlements which are covered in monkeys.
Views from the ruined palace:
A parakeet in the palace (we see these parakeets everywhere; they're very pretty):
Yesterday we took a long ride in an autorickshaw to a huge waterfall in the countryside near Bundi. We drove through lots of villages (with children waving to us as we went by) and also through great expanses of empty land. At one point we drove around a big snake in the road, and later a huge sambar deer leapt across the road in front of our rickshaw and bounded off into the scrubland. The waterfall was beautiful and we climbed down to the bottom, past a busy Shiva temple, to have a swim in the pool at the bottom - so nice to have a cool swim after all the heat and the dust!
View from the top of the waterfall:
Swimming in the pool:
We're going to relax for a couple more days here in our gorgeous haveli room before heading on to Udaipur. Our room looks out over a small lake, and it's a lovely place to just sit and read.
And one more thing. This is what Boris Johnson would look like if he was reincarnated as a buffalo (Stu - this is possibly my favourite picture ever, well it's certainly up there with the best):