Published: February 9th 2006February 9th 2006
Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur
One of the finest dinners we had on the trip!
We're back in Delhi after a whirlwind two week trip around Rajasthan. Okay, now everyone get out your Rajasthan maps - NOT the topographic ones....you know, it's right there on the shelf next to the worn out Uzbekistan map. We travelled from Jaipur to Pushkar, as you know from the last entry. From Pushkar, we travelled south to Udaipur, then northwest to Jodhpur, west to Jaisalmer, north east to Bikaner, east to the Shekhawati region and back to Delhi...basically a clockwise tour of Rajasthan.
Rajasthan is all about moustaches, colour and city palaces/forts. Happily for Nick (who is fond of experimenting with body hair) and sadly for Sarah (who despises most hair in general), the moustache is the height of fashion in this region (mostly for men). For hundreds of years, if old paintings can be believed, Rajasthani men have sported some large and fancy "flavour savers" on their upper lips. We're talking Pancho Villa specials, not those namby-pamby Belgian Hercule Poirot deals. The best example of this was when we bumped into a flamboyantly dressed fellow sitting by himself in Jaisalmer. We learned from our guide that his claim to fame was that his grandfather had been
Blue City, Jodhpur
View from Mehrangar Fort, overlooking the old city. I spy with my little eye, something that is...
in the Guinness Book of World Records for having a 7.5-foot moustache. He himself had a 5-foot mustache that he was willing (for only 10 Rupees) to unravel for us to photograph.
Apart from the moustache, you really can't help but notice that you find yourself in places called "Amber Fort", "Blue City", "Pink City", and "Golden City". Not to mention the fact that as you drive down the road you might see the most neon of saris (we call them "vizzy-veils" or "safety saris"). And there doesn't seem to be just one shade or colour that is discriminated for either -- greens, pinks, blues, you name it. And boy do they stand out in a bland, desert-brown setting!
Most of the major Rajasthani cities have forts that double as city palaces, remnants of a time centuries ago when the Mughal army ("the Muggles") sought to control all of northern India from Agra and Delhi, threatening the autonomy of the surrounding city states. These forts are all now tourist attractions and museums...sometimes worth the visit, sometimes not, but always something to do!
Overview finished. Let's get back to the trip details, shall we? So after a particularly
Dinner on the ramparts
Nothing finer than a quiet candlelight dinner with a bustling city below.
hair-raising drive from Pushkar to Udaipur, we found ourselves in a city bigger than Pushkar but smaller than Jaipur. Not quite as relaxing as Pushkar, yet we felt we could walk around a little more here. While touring the city palace (of course), we happened to walk into the middle of a Bollywood scene being filmed. The male star was superbly coloured and dressed in some baggy, neon-green pants complete with pointy shoes. He had the finest Raj moustache Nick had ever seen, but all this paled in comparison to the finely-coiffed, slightly curly mullet. It will forever haunt Nick that we never dared to take a picture for fear of spoiling the filming. Oh well.
During our tour of the city palace we noticed a particularly nice cafe set in front of the lake - Nick has an eye for sunset spots and decided to book a dinner....and it was one of the best things we ever did! Dinner didn't officially start until 7:30 pm but knowing that the sun set earlier, we arrived early for drinks and watched a perfect sunset over the Lake Palace Hotel (the most expensive hotel in Udaipur and the place where part
Meeting of the Minds
A battle of wills between Nick's camel and Nick's wife...who would be victorious?
of James Bond's "Octopussy" was filmed). This was easily the highlight of Udaipur (in addition to the city palace of course).
On to Jodhpur. The fort here (Mehrangar Fort) was the finest in all of Rajasthan, in our opinion. And considering the opulence and elaborate architecture inherent in all of the forts, that says a lot. But mostly, we enjoyed the fact that there were no "guides" ready to pounce on you as you walked in -- the tour was aided by personal headsets issued as part of your admission fee. It was a blessing! We took our time, and enjoyed the fort and the sights all the more! While on the tour, we noticed a poster advertising dinner on top of the ramparts....we thought it would be too expensive for our budget right off the bat, but decided to investigate. Much to our surprise, the dinner was only around 300 Rupees (about 7 dollars Canadian) and so we thought we might as well try it. Well, it was probably THE finest setting for a dinner in all of India! There were only about 15 tables set up, and we ascended to the rampart via an old British-style elevator
("lift" to the Brits). As we arrived and picked a table, an oil lamp was immediately lit for us. Looking around the dark and silent rampart, we saw the shadows of the cannon that were lit from behind and heard only some bats flying around above us and the loud but distant buzz of Jodhpur city below. It was really magical! And the food, as always in India, was magnificent.
From Jodhpur we headed towards Jaisalmer, and our driver Jitender (we called him J.T. for short) anticipated that we would want to go to the desert to do a camel safari....and so within sight of Jaisalmer fort rising out of the desert, we made a sharp left and drove for about 50 km to a small village in the desert from where we could base a camel safari. At this point we were only 100 km from the Pakistan border, and this village, we were told, was the second-last village before the border. That afternoon we took a three-hour camel trek into the desert in time for sunset. We enjoyed our camel riding thoroughly, considering neither of us ride horses! (We think it must be because the camels were
slower than horses) Nevertheless, Nick's camel was named "Aliyah" meaning "love", and his rear was "feeling the love" for days afterwards. Sunset on the dunes was wonderful, and we returned to the camp in time for dinner and a music and traditional dancing show. We kept telling ourselves the musicians would be a phenomenal act at the Vancouver Folk Fest, but alas they had no CD for us to market back home. The dancing was entrancing. (After a rhyme like that, it's all you need to be told). They offered us a night sleeping in the desert under the stars, and this we couldn't pass up, so we found ourselves piled on a bunch of blankets on a camel cart driving a few kilometres through the desert by moonlight. Once we'd picked our spot, our blankets were layed out, our camel freed of its cart and feeding on the nearest bush, and our guides sleeping on the other side of the same bush (to give us some privacy we assume). It was an amazing experience under the stars, but there was not much sleep to be had. The desert was absolutely silent....so silent in fact that occasionally we were obliged
Shekhawati Haveli paintings
Just look at the detail in this fine painting of a peaceful woodland setting.
to make some noise just to be sure we hadn't gone totally deaf. Nick was adept at this -- snoring nearly continuously through the night -- but the camel helped too! Once in a while during the night you could hear this odd munching sound (man, camels must be able to eat forever!) and then GLUMP! as from within the camel came the same sound made when an air bubble rises in a water cooler. We have NO idea what that could be.
In the morning we awoke in time for sunrise and this is probably the only type of sunrise that's worth getting up for....brilliant!
After that night, we decided to head to Jaisalmer city to take a look before heading for Bikaner the following day. Jaisalmer fort is still inhabited and the tiny alleyways made for a wonderful experience....we wish we could have spent another day there.
In Bikaner there wasn't much to be had, but we did see Karni Mata, the temple that is dedicated completely to rats! There is a net over the whole open courtyard of the temple, put there in order to foil cats. And so the rats reign supreme and
Things that make you go "hmm"
There's no such thing as a full bus in India. Apparently the conductor has to climb around and get the fares while the bus is moving.
are everywhere....not even scared of all the humans walking about! It seems creepy but it's not really...the rat is an incarnation of Ganesh, the otherwise elephant-headed good-luck god. (By the way, Suman, we've decided on a pet as Kieran's first birthday gift). Our experience in Bikaner we felt symbolized our travels in Rajasthan --- we had a great experience at Karni Mata, and this was followed by an awful city palace tour. The mandatory, government-provided guide at the palace conducted a rush group tour of around 30 people, most of which were Marwati/Hindi speakers...only five of us spoke english. And so the tour went like this: the guide would spend five minutes explaining a (particularly ugly) room to the Indian tourists and then turn to the eldest english speaker and offer a 30-second run-down....and then he would shout "Come!" and rush off to the next spot. At the end of the tour, having only addressed us once the entire time, he then walked up to Nick, smiled and said "The tour is over now, sir". Nick said thanks and made to walk away, and the man tried again: "The tour is over now, sir." The guide wanted a tip.
This is the frustrating part of travelling in Rajasthan....everyone does something for you (or not, as in the case of the government guide) whether you like it or not, and expects a tip. You, being a "rich westerner" feel like you should give something, and in this manner you are constantly distributing Rupees for no reason whatsoever. Another example of this is the carrying of bags to your room. Once in a while, realizing we have no small bills on us to tip the bag men, we have had literally to wrestle our bags from them.
And then, in the Shekhawati semi-desert region, we were ambushed by a puppet show. No kidding, we were staying at a nice little heritage "Haveli" (mansion) and had emerged from the room for dinner. We noticed they were setting up some sort of puppet show, but paid it no mind until the puppet master began to hound Sarah about looking at and perhaps buying one of the puppets. This was annoying, especially since we were trying to eat dinner.....and then they started the puppet show. The puppet master banged a drum a few times, then shouted "Excuse me everyone!" at all the tables. Since everyone was eating, he occasionally got up and ran over to a woman who wasn't paying 150% attention and shouted "Excuse me!" at her face. At this point we felt that we should flee, melt into our room and so avoid the obviously impending demand for money for a puppet show that we didn't want to see anyways. This is the type of constant harrying that has made our experiences somewhat draining, despite all the amazing things we've done here.
Now we're back in Delhi...it's not as overwhelming as it once was, but it's still CRAZY. We've booked ourselves a flight to South Africa and are really looking forward to seeing a familiar face (namely, Sarah's step-sis Allison). Are you ready for us Big Al?