Published: May 27th 2006May 27th 2006
"Err, I'd like a shave please."
It's one of those things I felt I had to risk trying while in India, and for any man tempted, some, few or all of the following steps may occur:
1) Conversation - when there's a man holding a blade next to your neck, it's very important to attempt to become friendly with this person, by talking about his livelihood and cricket.
2) Warn him off the goatee!
3) Continue cricket conversation while spending 10 long minutes having 'John's' cream applied; difficult when my cricket knowledge is the same as my knowledge of fishing (despite being Will's friend for so many years - what went wrong Will?)
4) 1st blade applied - silence ebbs through the room as I realise it's best for my health not to move a muscle. Result: slight pain (my fault for lazily not shaving in 3 days) and 3 small cuts (his fault, but they're minor so I've decided to let him keep his life).
5) More cream dabbed on for a second, closer shave
6) Random pink, minty (Vick's Vapour Rub?) stuff then put on face and a face, head and
balancing act part 2
neck massage one did have with hands and some strange contraption straight out of a sci-fi movie - particularly interesting was the massaging of my eyeballs.
7) Final trimming: no one likes to admit it, but the nosehairs were trimmed and the ears cleaned, and sideburns cut too for good measure.
8) No shave would be complete without the final, stinging, slap-in-the-face of aftershave, waking me up to the reality of my poor, sensitive skin.
9) Came out feeling like a new man with a fragrant glow about myself, the wind blowing against my fresh, airy face, and only $1 lighter in the pocket.
Down to the Gadi Sagar Lake I then went for a wee paddle on a paddle boat, before taking in a sunset over the sandstone fort. Hungry, I walked to a bustling local joint full of Indians (always a good sign with usually better food than the restaurants), and ordered my favourite meal that I've had nearly every day so far. Thali, a topped-up, all-u-can-eat silver platter has a mixture of dishes, but usually rice, dhal, potatoes, some curried vegetables, chutney and chilli-soothing curd. Spoon in left hand to scoop into chapati
Ahh another sunset
From the monsoon palace yet again - i really should be more varied with these photos shouldn't I?
in right, eating with one's fingers is quite a skill, but it tastes great and you are full on less than a $1. So I ate, watched 100s of bats swoop by the fort lights, and completed the evening with a swim in my hotel pool (ooOOoo), cheekily positioning my room's TV so I could watch a film while doing the doggy paddle.
That was a typical evening in Jaisalmer a few nights ago, but besides the last couple of days, which I'll come to, slightly more mundanely, my life has just involved moving from one historical busy city to the next, with unfortunately limited stories to tell (but no less interesting for me). I would see the historical sights by day, and wander the streets in the evening. The search for the unknown, which is what keeps the traveller spark alive in me, had briefly diminished.
Jaisalmer is the 3rd of 3 cities I've been to since the last blog, as I gradually migrate NW to hotter, harsher climates than usual: Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. The Lake City, The Blue City, and The Golden City, as one has many man-mades lakes, another's buildings are all painted blue,
in all its glory
copying the Brahmin (and makes an effective insect repellent), and the latter is completely made of sandstone. To skim over a week, if I may:
The Lake City:
Explored Rajasthan's largest palace, and when you consider Rajasthan to be the King of Palaces, that's quite an achievement, and it's still growing today. I hired a bike, pigged out on a litre of milk while rickshawing it to the Monsoon Palace for a sunset with a view, watched a groovy little mini-circus show of fire-dancing, head-balancing and the art of playing with freeky, decapitated puppets, and of course, made the most of my plush room and balcony. I also tried to find a cinema playing something in English or with subtitles, but the only film on offer was something called 'Too Sexy', so I gave it a miss.
Udaipur is actually quite a wealthy city, and with its plentiful lakes, surrounding hills, temples and cenotaphs dotted all over, I felt good spending 3 days here before heading north via Ranakpur for one night. Built in the 1400s, and resembling a dream-like celestial plane, the temple has 29 halls and an incredible 1444 pillars, as you can see from one
of the photos.
The Blue City:
More historical sightseeing, as I visited yet another fort, although by far the most empoweringly impressive, the Meherangarh, this time with a superb tour, allowing me to wander aimlessly around listening to snippets of history of battles, kings and opium, with big headphones shading my ears. The city itself, however, was just the same as the last couple have been, so after a day exploring the bazaars of silverware, spices and cloth, drinking saffron-flavoured lassis (a local delicacy), watching passing tea and toast salesmen, dodging the open sewers and declining the endless requests to buy something or sit in a comfy rickshaw (yes, after a wonderful week in Madhya Pradesh, I'm back on the tourist trail), I moved on again, travelling ever further west deeper into the Thar Desert.
The Golden City:
A yellow, typically hectic India town, encircling a central hilltop fort and backed on all sides by barren dusty desert, is how I would describe this place. Being quiet, low-price season works wonders yet again with a pool-side room for $5 where I have spent many a hot afternoon. Otherwise, you would find me wearily exploring the relatively peaceful Old
City within the fort, full of Havelis (traditional ornate residences), deserted guesthouse signs, women collecting cowpats with their hands for fuel, and more views from many of the 99 bastions.
As you might have guessed by reading this - I've had enough of small city exploration and visiting forts that all locals claim are the best in Rajasthan. I felt I needed to break from the 'norm' and if that means having a sore bum and going madly through the open desert in 45oC heat for two days to claim such an adventure, then so be it. So, from the snowy, cold mountainous terrains of Everest one month ago, I finally reach the dusty, hot, flat Western Thar Desert of India not 50miles from the Pakistan border. I don't think my body is really sure what's going on.
This is not my 1st desert experience, being fortunate enough to hitch to the Sahara in 2005, but the harsh reality of life here still hits you like an Ethiopian documentary. The journey out to Khuri Village felt like I was going to the end of the world. Carcasses aligned the roadside, plucked at by gasping vultures, dust devils disturbed
the monotonous views of sand, rock and bush, all while travelling on an endless straight road covered in mirages from the heat that could fry an egg. But as Paul Therous once said, "if the destination were familiar and friendly, what would be the point in going there?"
My camel's name was Bablou, so naturally I had to call him Bob for short. He was a moody, temperamental, very large beast with bad breath, but he was also my means into, and thus out of the desert. First, however, I stayed with the company of a local man named Badel for one night. A camel herder himself for 15 years, and the desert life not doing his 45 year appearance any favours, we sat in afternoon shade while he told me stories of his life, before I went for a walk around the village and nearby dunes at sundown and he unneccessarily but kindly fretted over dinner for me while his wife was away. That night I slept on the roof of his house, with nothing in the way of me and the wonderful stary sky.
Many spend longer on a camel trek, but they do so in
January, not when it's over 110o, so 2 days was plentiful and good enough for me. I'm not sure if many of you have ever ridden on a camel, but I can tell you it's like sitting on the last few jerks of a dying washing machine, groin squashed against a stair railing, and it's impossible to look cool, no matter how much you think of Lawrence of Arabia. Travel was limited to the early morning and later evening, which suited me fine, spending 6 hours in the shade of a friendly bush, while Amasar, my guide, translator, camel driver and chef, cooked us a meal and fell asleep.
Our night's camp was on an open sanddune with a 360o view of the desert all around. No tents, just sand and a blanket, and a nearby village of 8 mud huts in the valley below, which we briefly visited earlier for chai and a chat. It's a wonderfully simple lifestyle - women cooking or collecting water, camels drinking, men off trading or sitting idly chatting, boys milking goats, although the monsoon has brought no rain these past 2 years and life is hard.
We slept on the summit
I may be gone some time
of a dune, where less sand collects though you could've fooled me, as it was an incredibly windy night and all I seemed to do was stop sand (or attempt to - I failed miserably), blowing into every orifice and covering my makeshift bed. Nevertheless, with a clear sky once more, and the Milky Way I've never seen glow so bright, the wind blowing all around, you can't help but feel charmed by desert life. Sand, of course, gets everwhere - if it's in my eye, I get it out with my finger, but that's no use as my finger has sand on it, so I wipe it on my clothes, but that's no use as...and so on. It's easier just to give up and wait for that tempting shower.
You would've thought the desert is a dead, desolate place, but I realise it's actually teeming with life. Besides cattle, 100s of deer are scattered across the plains, lizards with green tails drop into holes, and I was even lucky enough to see a desert fox. Birds are numerous, including what I think was a kingfisher (well, it has shiny green plummage at the very least), and waking up
the following morning, the entire dune was a sea of blackness; 1000s of thumb-sized dung beetles scurrying everywhere. I was fascinated and watched them go about their lives for what must have been over an hour - moving their little balls of dung, fiercely fighting off their rivals, the survival of the fittest, and making little holey homes. Maybe the heat was getting to me, but I was mesmerised.
After an enchanting sunrise, it didn't take long for the day to heat up, and with breakfast of sweet chapatis, and a short stop at the village for yet more chai, we set off once more across the Thar, back to Khuri, my skin now nearly as dark as the locals, and bottled water as hot as can be. We stopped for lunch at a desert mud shack, but lingered only a few hours, eager to get back to fans and cold water. Even the horny donkeys were trying to squeeze into small circles of shade under wilting trees.
Our arrival back in the village and civilisation was made all the more apparant by the booming sound of a man shouting through a megaphone in his van, driving along
the road. Sounding like the harsh rhetoric of some government party, but was in fact, I was told, a man selling pickle from Jaisalmer. After catching a delayed local bus, I was back in Jaisalmer by nightfall, suitably refreshed from thali, lassi and a swim, and tempted by another wet shave...
Enjoy the photos - I've sort of over-done it as usual. Best wishes.
Take care of yourself aaaaaaand each other. -x-
There are more photos below