Just wrote a whole long intro to this blog and then the computer stuck and I lost the lot. :-((
Firstly, I am really grateful to Mike, my travelling companion over the last week (more later), for this blog entry still having photos, as my camera was lost/stolen in Jaisalmer (more later). He has kindly copied all the photos he took during the time we travelled together. So as Mike was behind the camera, this means I'm in more of the pictures, which is a good or bad thing depending on which way you look at it...
I'm just coming to the end of my time in Rajasthan, I've been here almost 3 weeks, and about to make my way up to the Punjab, to Amritsar.
So, rewinding a couple of weeks, if I can recall (travelling seems to be great for everything except preservation of short term memory), I was still in Jaipur. I took the best part of the next day trying to find the bank who were apparently going to give me back my swallowed bank card, only to find out (which I had suspected all along) that this wasn't possible. Amazingly, Indian ATMs are
very advanced and can detect immediately whether or not the card it has just eaten due to machine error, is a card issued by its own bank, or not, and if not, it destroys the card. ???
I headed back to the guest house just in time to catch the thunderstorm from the rooftop (more too on this later, freaky desert weather), where we had a great panoramic view of the lightning around the Tiger Fort, which overlooks Jaipur, and accompanied by the Muslim call to prayer which echoed around the sky - it was really quite magical, and I have to also say that the call to prayer in Jaipur is quite atmospheric and melodic, another reason, I think, to visit this city.
However this also meant that I had to cancel my trip to the Tiger Fort with Marko, my Croatian hippie guest house neighbour, where we had planned to go and watch the sunset.
I decided to use my last day in Jaipur to go and visit the Amber Fort, which is a few miles outside the city. This didn't quite work out as planned. I stupidly preceded the visit by deciding to munch on some
hashish, offered to me by Marko, not thinking this would have any effect, having no disturbing memories of hashcake parties years ago. I went and had some lunch, then got ready to go out and the first idea I had that something was up was when I came to lock my door, and couldn't work out how to shut the padlock. Still, this was a mild symptom. I went downstairs and hailed a rickshaw to take me to the fort, and over the course of the next half hour I went from being someone who felt slightly stoned to someone whose whole reality turned upside down; where I was convinced that the rickshaw driver who'd been stopped by the police for not displaying a licence, was embroiled in some dark criminal activity in which I would be implicated and thrown into an Indian jail forever more, for crimes including taking the ride for 200 rupees there and back instead of having the energy to bargain him down more.... The driver dropped me at the fort at the point at which I was certain I had lost my mind, that this was a permanent state of being, and terrified that if
anyone tried to engage me in conversation longer than a few seconds, I would grab them, tell them I'd gone crazy and they would have to take me to the nearest psychiatric hospital. I couldn't think, could hardly walk for not knowing whether the ground was about to collapse under me, everyone who was walking towards me became an enemy who might attack me at any time; and I couldn't work out by that time if I was actually at the fort, and what it should look like....
Very difficult to describe the full horrors of those few hours -to skip over the worst bits of the bad trip, I managed somehow to find my way down the fort, back to the rickshaw driver who by that time I didn't recognise, and got back to the guest house fortunately just in time to catch my Italian friend Mario who I'd got to know there, who I have to say was completely fantastic with me. He sat me down and said all the right things, reassuring me I hadn't gone mad, that nothing was going to be permanent, and that it would all wear off in a few hours. He cancelled
his appointments (he works out in India for 6 months of the year) and stayed with me for hours, keeping me calm and continuing to reassure me, until eventually I began to feel a bit better, and slowly got back to normal. I am so grateful to this guy and a couple of friends at home had a lucky escape from a crisis phonecall from me telling them they would have to come to India to fetch me.
I did actually take a few pictures from the Amber fort, trying desperately to hang on to some normality, but it's not such a bad thing these were some of the pictures that were lost on my memory card when my camera got taken, as I couldn't actually tell what I was taking pictures of...
Having recovered from my bad trip, I had another bad trip the following day (this time of the bus variety, which as you know I'm sort of used to by now, therefore am not so liable to go into a psychotic state over it). I boarded a bus to Pushkar and seemed (SEEMED) to be sitting next to a reasonable looking man. Lulled into a false sense
of security for at least the first 10 minutes by him taking this long to start staring at my breasts. The conversation with him went something like this:
He:Coming from, Madam? (nothing too abnormal about this well used phrase)
He: England! Long way. I am a doctor.
He: Look, here is my ID card. I am a doctor.
Me: Ok (actually I do try and be more conversational as long as I'm not feeling threatened but I can't actually remember what I said to him so am just making my bit up).
Pause for a few minutes. I continue to read my 'India today' magazine, and I am reading an article about Muslims waging a Jihad on Aids in India.
He (addressing my left breast): Tell me
Me (noticing, and moving slightly away from him): yes?
He: What is the meaning of Jihad?
Me: Sorry? (here, my part of the script is now more authentic as I have detected the breast looking and am now trying to extract myself from having any further conversation with him)
He: What is the meaning of Jihad?
Me: Well, I know it has been adopted as meaning a holy war
but this isn't what it means (also a clever avoidance of having to state what it does actually mean, which I couldn't quite remember)
He: It means a war against evil. This is what it means (my left breast was really getting lots of education on the meaning of Jihad)
Me: Oh, I see (turning much more towards the window and holding my 'India today' higher over my face
He: You know. Sometimes tourists are worried about men.
He: Women. Tourists. They think the Indian men will try something with them
Me: (no comment - by now trying to go through the window)
He: Last time I was on the bus, a tourist thought I was being bad, meaning bad against her
Me: (no comment)
He: You don't need to worry. I am a doctor.
Me: Yes. You told me
He: Look. Here is my ID card. I am a doctor.
Me: (oh god, can't remember anymore, did I speak, did I not...)
Thankfully, pause for about 10 minutes and he gave his eyes a well earned rest from my breast (and rhymes too!) and appeared to fall asleep. Then:
He: Do you know what women's worst fear
Me: Sorry? (I must learn not to say this as it precipitates repetition of the comment you didn't want to hear the first time)
He: Do you know what women's worst fear is?
He: It's being attacked by man
He: Did you know this? Being attacked by man, this is women's worst fear. But you don't need to worry. I am a doctor.
At this point, clearly exhausted from all the hole digging, he did actually fall asleep.
Anyway, on to Pushkar. Have to say, bit of a disappointment, despite the fact that Holi, the Indian festival celebrating the end of winter, happened while I was there. (More a little further on). Pushkar is actually a lovely and quite scenic town with a beautiful lake and an equally beautiful sunset over the lake; but it's also become quite touristy, which seems to have spoiled it a bit. I don't think there's anything wrong at all with places being full of tourists and travellers (after all, I contribute to this phenomenon) but some cities and towns seem to be able to absorb tourists without losing their own spirit, and some don't, and I think
Pushkar is one of those. The main bazaar has become just a network of internet cafes, rooftop restaurants (nice as they are), clothes shops and jewellery shops.
I did meet a nice American girl though in the Sunset Cafe, where I was staying. She is a film maker and was over in India as a sort of preliminary visit to find travellers (like me!) who have given everything up and gone travelling. We hung out together for a couple of days, then she left, and then it was Holi. This is a mad festival, where people go round with bags of powder colour and chuck it on you, and everyone ends up looking like that shade of pink/purple you get on tie dye clothes. All of these pics again, unfortunately, were lost with my camera. A guy I met on the bus leaving Pushkar showed me a video he'd made of the bazaar on the morning of Holi, with crowds of pink and purple people jumping around, and everyone shouting Happy Holi. Having had so many warnings that Holi can become quite aggressive, it actually turned out to be really a good natured vibe, and for days afterwards (if not
weeks actually) the streets around India were still pink, as were the dogs, cows, and people's skin. It was really nice to wander around everywhere and see the remnants of Holi.
Still, I was pleased to leave Pushkar and caught a bus to my next stop in Rajasthan, Udaipur, for once having a reasonably normal bus trip, for about 8 hours.
I arrived at the Lal Ghat guest house in Udaipur in the evening and immediately met Mike, who I later ended up travelling with until today. He is German but lives in Switzerland, is one of these really well travelled people who has been just about everywhere, both in long term travelling situations, and for work. He has been a really great travelling companion, always helping me with my rucksack, making sure I had the safest (if there is a safest) seat in the rickshaw, being really supportive over my lost camera; anyway more on him later...
The guest house was a very social place again, like the place in Varanasi, with a central courtyard that everyone sits around so you get to know people easily. I was in a dorm again, and sharing my cubicle with another
German guy called Reiner, who's lovely, and who I was also hoping to travel with a bit, but we had a problem contacting each other so continue to stay one town apart all the time. Never mind.
I spent the first evening chatting mainly with Mike, and also a guy called Paul, from England. Or at least I tried to chat, but had started to lose my voice on the bus, and it was just getting worse and worse by this time. Which meant I had to listen more than talk, which also meant that Paul and Mike then had the opportunity to go on at me about the dangers of both malaria tablets, and Kingfisher beer, both of which enter my digestive system on pretty much a daily basis. (Slightly worryingly, perhaps, I seem to be more vigilant about not forgetting to take my beer than not forgetting to take my anti-malarials...)
Udaipur is a beautiful city which I didn't see much of at all, mainly due to my increasingly bad throat problem the next day. However, I still had a really nice day as Celine, a lovely French girl who I had met and spent time with
and had really nice chats with at the ashram all those months ago, turned up at the guest house in Udaipur. It was really lovely to see her, so we spent most of the day together, though also getting diverted from seeing much of Udaipur as we ended up meeting two Indian sisters on the street and going back with them to their house, which was about all I was good for anyway. More of their sisters joined us at their house, as they showed us round their room, and insisted on cooking us some savoury snacks, which were really good. Again, all my photos of them have been lost though Celine will at least be pleased to know when she reads this, that the ones I took of her eating her dinner that evening, which she hated, have also been lost, so all things have a plus side to them...
I had booked on a bus to Jodhpur the following morning, deciding on a whim on the first night to take the same bus as Mike, being a nicer journey to be with someone, and also because I have ended up stuck some places longer than I wanted, through
not making my mind up about when to leave. So it was a bit of a shame I never got to see much of Udaipur, but I still had a good time there for that one day and a bit so never mind.
We had to be up at about 6 to catch our bus at 8am to Jodhpur. Because I seem to have hopped around a lot the last week, all the journeys are getting jumbled together and I don't remember that much about the journey; I think it took about 6 hours. Mike and I went to the Govind hotel, which was in Lonely Planet, which was ok except on a really noisy road. It was just 70 rupees a night (with a free mouse in the dorm, so quite good value), but we ended up changing our accommodation the next day. We spent the rest of the first day wandering around Jodhpur and then walking up to the fort in the evening to look at the view (see pics of Jodhpur - the Blue City) and watch the sunset. Which I actually missed as Mike had gone off to watch it, and then I couldn't find him
till it was too late. He tells me it was a bit of a crap sunset anyway... We got stopped on the way up to the fort and then on the way down by a restaurant owner who really wanted us to go into his restaurant and have thali (later becoming known by us as the Thali man as this was the main topic of conversation initiated by him). Not to make this blog overly script - like, but we had, over the time we were in Jodhpur, probably about 5 conversations with him that went as follows (pretty much):
Thali man: Coming from sir? (as I said in a previous blog, one of the beauties of travelling with a guy is that I don't have to answer questions. However it also means that anytime I do say anything, like no, we don't want a rickshaw, the answer has to be verified by the male)
Mike: She is from England and I am from Switzerland (after a couple of days of travelling together, we stopped saying both nationalities and would just pick one to cover both of us)
Thali man: England! Switzerland! Visiting fort?
Thali man: Fort closed
now. You eat thali instead.
Mike: We know, we're just going to watch the sunset (on subsequent occasions, the last bit became "Fort closed for big wedding. Hollywood star. British. Liz Hurley. Come and eat Thali instead.")
Thali man: You come look at my Thali. It's very good Thali. Best in Jodhpur. Best in India."
Mike: Maybe later. Thank you (this answer, though it never has the desired effect, is something that all tourists seem to end up saying)
Thali man: You come on way down. Yes. Eat Thali.
Mike: Yes. Later. Maybe (variation, still no more effective)
Thali man: Promise?
Mike: No. I don't promise. I said maybe
Thali man: But promise
Mike NO. I don't promise.
Thali man: Ok but promise later?
Basically that bit went on a repeat loop for 5 minutes.
Eventually on each occasion, we managed to get away and never did taste his thali. We ate thali (the one in the pic - Mike takes pictures of all his meals) in another place close to the hotel.
The next day we decided to move guest houses and had seen a nice place the day before in the fort area, which was quieter. We weren't
in a very good position in that I had no recollection of where we'd seen it, and Mike was sure he did, but didn't. This is because Indian streets and alleys change position every night just incase you haven't experienced enough chaos and confusion the day before.
Eventually, having wandered around with our rucksacks for about an hour, we did find it, dumped our bags, and headed straight up to the fort, which was the reason we'd come to Jodhpur.
After passing the Thali man, and having the conversation about thali and then Liz Hurley, we still thought the fort would somehow be open, or at least part of it would be, and it wasn't till we'd climbed all the way up there, that we were stopped by the police and were told that the fort was closed for Liz Hurley's wedding and would be closed all day.
Mike was completely furious about this, and after having a frustrated conversation with the policeman, with Mike being unable to speak Hindi, and the policeman unable to speak English, we sat on the wall looking over the Blue City, where Mike had about a twenty minute rant about the Indian tourist board,
and how he was going to get a plane to Thailand and never come to India again (this was also a bit of a repeat loop monologue, punctuated by occasional murmurs by me like 'mm, I know',); finally he decided that he would just go to the tourist board to complain, and then we'd go and do something else for the day, and visit the fort the next morning before leaving for Jaisalmer.
We climbed back down, past the Thali man and had the repeat conversation, (eat thali/maybe later etc) and went and wandered round the market for a while, then went and had a kind of lassi that is unique to Rajasthan, called a Makhiana lassi, and is flavoured with saffron. It's really nice. There's a lassi shop in Jodhpur that serves only this.
We went to the tourist board and complained, in between the phone calls from other tourists complaining about the fort (and palace - the other main attraction) being closed; and then we spent the rest of the day wandering around the city and seeing the view from just about every different angle.
We ate at the guest house that evening and being on the rooftop
which overlooks the fort, got to see the fireworks from the wedding (actually a bit of a disappointing display, considering that they weren't skimping on expense).
Anyway, the fort was worth the visit the next morning, and we managed to have a good look round, accompanied by an audio guide narrated by an English 1940s railway station announcer. We'd actually tried to get in without paying, as Mike was determined to try and recoup, legally or illegally, some compensation from the day before, and it's possible to walk right by the ticket office at the first gate. However, 3 or 4 gates up (and a few really steep hills) we were then asked to show our tickets before entering the main palace bit of the fort. Mike made a good show of looking like a stupid tourist and saying 'tickets? do we need tickets?' and in the end he waited while I went back down and got our tickets and picked up the audio guides. Forgetting about Mike's nationality, I got him his guide in English, but fortunately when I realised my mistake, I (unusually for me) said the right thing at the right time, which was to say that
the reason I forgot to get him the German audio guide was because his English was so good, and he was so pleased by this he forgot to be annoyed with me (which I think was a lucky escape for me, having experienced the fort closed/liz hurley/Indian tourist board/plane out of India fallout the day before).
We managed to grab a quick thali (not from the Thali man) by the bus stand just before catching the bus to Jaisalmer that afternoon. We arrived in Jaisalmer in the evening and went to a guest house that had been recommended to us by some people in Jodhpur called the Peacock hotel.
Jaisalmer was where I was planning to do my camel trek; most of the guest houses and hotels run camel safaris and the town makes most of its money this way, hence the accommodation itself is actually quite cheap in comparison with other places (I mean most places in India are cheap by our western standards but Jaisalmer is really cheap).
The guest house owner launched straight into the hard sell on the camel trek, but I didn't commit myself to anything, including having dinner with him that evening.
("Mike - not husband? you single?).
Jaisalmer is a smallish town, a little touristy as we'd been warned but I think it holds on to its pleasantness anyway. We found a nice place to eat that night, and I was starting to think I may do the camel trek a couple of days later and still thinking to hook up with Reiner if he made it to Jaisalmer.
However, that night there was a thunderstorm and heavy rain all night, and although the weather in the morning started out fine, this didn't last long. It wasn't the best of days; I had woken up in a bit of a bad mood, I'd actually slept better than I had done the last few nights which should have put me in a good mood, but in a way I felt more tired and everything was getting to me more than usual - stares from men, the monks at the Jain temple we visited asking for money every time you stopped to look at the shrine, the guy at the jewellery shop where I took my ring to be fixed damaging my ring even more... after we had wandered around the Jain
temple in the morning, we stopped for lunch at a rooftop cafe, during which time a storm whipped up again.
Ironically, we spent much of this lunchtime with Mike explaining to me the functions of my camera, as although I'd been using it pretty much ok the last few months, there was still a lot of stuff I didn't understand about it and didn't have the manual with me. So I was really pleased to finally be able to understand more of what I could do with it. Unfortunately short lived.
When the rain started, we thought we'd better find something to do indoors, and were looking around for a hot chocolate or coffee shop when we walked past the fort palace and thought maybe we'll go in there where most of it at least is indoors. The man at the ticket office gave us some coffee while we sat and warmed up for a bit, then we took our audio guides (Mike's in German this time) and went around the palace. It was quite good and I also took lots of pictures that I was really pleased with. On the way out, I stopped to take a picture of
the outside of the fort, and at this point realised I couldn't find my camera. I had no recollection of having put it down anywhere, but we retraced all our steps right through the palace, but it was nowhere, and though I went back the next morning just to see if anyone had found it and handed it in later, it was gone. I don't know if it was lost or stolen and there's a point I remember where I think it could have been taken, though Mike's reasoning is that it's more likely I lost it, as he had noticed 'that you are always leaving your water bottle behind, and people have to run after you to take it again.' ???????? which to me is absolutely no indication of anything...
Anyway, after I'd sat on the step and cried for a few minutes over my camera, I decided to let the thing go - basically I don't really care about the camera, it was more the pictures I hadn't yet downloaded, and of those, mainly the ones I had taken of people, fellow travellers, which is lost now. Mike, as I said, was really sweet about the whole thing,
copying all his photos for me, and also helping me search for a new camera.
With the weather as it was, I didn't really know what to do about the camel trek thing, and was considering staying one more day to see if the weather would change, but Mike suggested I go on to Bikaner with him (which would be my next stop anyway) and maybe do a camel trek from there; we were thinking the weather also might be better there anyhow........
So we left the next afternoon for Bikaner on a long bus ride through the now waterlogged desert, and arrived in Bikaner around 9pm, which looked like a river, with several roads unpassable because of flooding. We turned up at a great hotel though that had been recommended by a couple we met in Jaisalmer; Bikaner again is somwhere where you get much more for your money, so we had quite a luxury room and Mike, who has said to me several times about how he never cares about having cold showers, took one long at the modern bathroom and immediately got really happy about the prospect of a hot shower.
I was really indecisive still
about the whole camel trek thing as it was difficult to know what the weather was going to do; we spent the next day at the fort (this becomes a bit of a habitual activity in Rajasthan), and then a bit at the old city, and looked for a new camera for me for a while.
There was a big sign at Bikaner fort advising tourists not to pay for a tour guide as they provide free guides at the fort. We joined a group of Indian tourists who I think we annoyed a bit by lagging behind at each point. Being the last to leave at the end, the guide finished what he was saying to us, then said to me, 'The end. finished.' ' Thank you , it was very good, etc etc,' I said. 'The end. Finished,' he said again, then went over to Mike and said, 'The end. Finished.' After about the 5th time of his saying this the penny dropped that this was continuing because it was his way of saying, 'This was a free guided tour as promised but now I am waiting for my tip.'
I gave him 20 rupees and did
the same with the tour guide in the next door museum, who also said 'The end. Finished,' or maybe 'Finished. The end.' Mike looked disapprovingly at me both times and said afterwards that I was the type of person who would end up tipping an air stewardess for showing where the emergency exits are...
Had a really good, fun day and evening in Bikaner, and then something seemed to nearly happen in the evening, but then didn't, and then the next day it all seemed to go a bit weird, and I was so distracted by the whole thing that I was able to visit this rat temple just outside Bikaner, in a place called Deshnok, and walk amongst hundreds of rats which run over your bare feet from time to time, without freaking out even a bit. There is a legend that goes along with this temple, that I can't quite recall now and don't have my Lonely Planet with me, but is something about the rats being there because of Yama, the god of Death, refusing to reincarnate the son of a goddess as a human as he had already been reborn as a
rat, but promised that after all her male descendants had been reborn as rats, (ha ha!!!) they would be given a human birth again. Hindus go to the rat temple to worship the rats, as they believe they are reincarnates of the goddess's sons. One tradition is to eat something called 'prasad', which means blessed food, that has been covered in 'holy' rat saliva, and is meant to be a doubly auspicious thing to do. I drew the line at the auspiciousness of their little feet scampering over mine.... have to say a few of them were quite sweet and it made me feel guilty all over again for my merciless killing by poison (via Merton pest control dept) of the rat family living under my decking in London. Probably wouldn't have been allowed in the rat temple had they known about this. Hopefully they were just reincarnates of cockroaches or something...
Bikaner was our last stop together, as Mike was going on to Pushkar, and me, Amritsar, so we said goodbye yesterday, and I don't know how much I imagined the sort of lingering looks but neither of us saying anything thing.
Even without the romantic side
of it, there is really quite a painful side to the whole travelling thing, in terms of meeting and parting with people in such quick succession. I think, for me anyway, it's a combination of being away from all the people you are close to, so it's easy to end up getting attached to people really quickly,and you are also in intense situations with people, having to sort stuff out travel, accommodation, problems that arise etc. Being in situations where you end up spending 24/7 with people you hardly know adds to the whole intensity thing; and aside from feeling upset about what did/didn't happen with Mike, I also just miss him a bit now, as we were together almost constantly for a week and he really is a lovely guy and good company, and he really looked out for me. So far I am not finding it easier with time, to say goodbye to people all the time. In some ways it seems to get worse.....
Till then, I'm on the train tonight up to the Punjab. (sleeper class this time, so no blankets and no toilets you would want to aim your bum even close to - if I'm lucky actually as my ticket is not even confirmed yet, so it could even be corridor class, or roof class) With just about two weeks left now in India, I am feeling very mixed about the prospect of leaving. I really have had amazing times here and as time has gone on I love it here more and more, though find it difficult to say exactly what it is about the place that makes me feel like this. Maybe I have become quite addicted to the sensory overload, and the fact that life here only operates on extremes, which means it may be intensely frustrating at times, but also intensely fantastic at other times, and never boring. I am thinking seriously of returning here after my time in Australasia, so we'll see what happens. On the other hand, after 5 months here I am also feeling tired, as it is definitely a challenging place to be; and I'm hugely excited to be meeting my good friend Tracey in Singapore on April 1, can't wait to see her. We will be travelling together to Hong Kong and Tokyo.
So I will do one more blog from India after this. From Amritsar in the Punjab, my plan is to go to Dharamsala, (home of the Dalai Lama) a hill station in the Himalayas, and then down to Delhi for my last few days.
Oh and as you've probably gathered, I didn't do the camel trek in the end. I blame the rain...
Sorry for the ramble. xxx :-)
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