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Published: February 6th 2013
Blog 26-31 January: Rajasthan II - Jaisalmer and Udaipur
"Talking talking, sitting sitting, eating eating"
We arrived in the early morning dark in Jaisalmer, after the night train, to a mob of touts absolutely desperate to stick placards in our faces and convince us to go to their hotels. It's probably the closest we'll ever get to feeling like celebs with out of control paparazzi. We escaped back into the station to await the arrival of our hotelier who was due to pick us up but had been asleep.
We woke up at lunchtime to the view from the rooftop restaurant of a sandstone fort looming out of the rock and turrets reaching for the sky like pert meerkats watching out for intruders. This is the first fort we had seen that is packed with inhabitants. We spent the afternoon marvelling at some havelis (old intricately carved mansions) from the outside (we are on a budget after all) and wandering through the narrow winding lanes of the fort. We had got to the stage where we also felt it was ok to skip the tour of the palace and spend our time getting lost and getting a feel
for the place rather than continuing to religiously tick off the cultural highlights in our guidebook.
The compressed streets were a welcome solace from the manic tuk tuks but it didn't stop the motorbikes blaring their way through, barging passed the wedding horses and drum processions. However, I think it's worth mentioning that the thing that has caused the most concern throughout our trip on the streets has been the aimless wandering cattle. For a farmer's son Charlie has surprised me with his inability to casually walk past cows in the street. His fear for his life has reached such heights that we had to develop the 'cow alert' protocol so he can prepare himself in advance (apparently it's the horns that are the worry). Despite this the cows seem to love him as he's even been followed down the road by an over enthusiastic inquisitive calf. It turns out that my ignorance of bovine behaviour has served me well as I squeeze past the holy animals!
Jaisalmer is in the middle of the Thar desert and the last town before reaching Pakistan. Our journey that far West was in search of an Arabian Nights experience... We set
off towards our camel safari with great expectations of rolling dunes and perhaps a tranquil oasis and palm trees along the way. In reality we rocked up to a testosterone filled camel named Daniel, a landscape of shrubby earth (not sand) and a cloudy sky.
As we prepared to mount our beasts, with our keen photographer Taiwanese companions, a guttural gurgle came from Charlie's camel Daniel. I saw something fleshy, bulbous and and highly disturbing emerge from Daniel's fury lips. Full of shock and grimaces our guides tried to reassure us by explaining that it was mating season as the aubergine shaped sack "popped" back into his mouth. Without time to think about my luck having not been allocated Daniel, my camel stood up. It turns out this is not a simple feat. Its stilt like legs have to unfold from under it to raise itself from the ground and this required me to hold on for dear life gripping my legs unnaturally wide apart around its back as wide as an armchair and as comfy as a bucking bronco. Charlie had expected reins and stirrups but instead we were led along by 2 young guides who didn't speak
much English. An hour or so later we arrived at what can only be described as a giant sandpit dumped in the middle of the barren terrain. This was our desert and I wasn't going to complain. We walked over one sandy hillock and realised that if we positioned our camera just right no one would be any the wiser.
After some snacks and chai from the camp fire our Taiwanese friends stood up out of the blue and announced they were leaving. An English speaking guide had arrived in his jeep to take them back. This had not been expected by us and we began to feel a little abandoned in the middle of nowhere. Always keen to embrace the experience we joined our young guides around the fire to their bewilderment (I think tourists are supposed to be separate) and tried to initiate some awkward conversation. As the evening drew in the guys relaxed and were enthusiastic that we would be "talking talking, sitting sitting, eating eating". Charlie taught them noughts and crosses and days of the week and they taught us how to sing along to their favourite songs on their phone. My personal favourite was
the old school 1990s classic "Shaggy - Girl I want to Make You Sweat" , not exactly what we had expected from our night in the desert.
We slept out in blankets on the sand, with the two stars we could see through the clouds, under the brilliantly bright full moon. As surreal as it had been it was a fun experience and blissfully peaceful (apart from Daniel's regular gurgles). We woke up to watch the sun rise over the dune (singular) and then having earned the trust of our guides were allowed to spend some of our journey back with the camels "running running, good good" at a lolloping trot. In high sprits we felt we had mastered the art of our guides' English phrases "good good, 24 hour full power, 100 per cent" we shouted as we sang to try and get the camels to go faster.
Our next journey was to Udaipur and we squirmed our way into our double bed upper bunk on the overnight bus full of excitement. The bunk turned out to be searing hot in the afternoon heat but the view was great as we hurtled along the road. The whirlwind
of the day and the sauna of a bunk had lulled us into a false sense of comfort which we realised as the temperature began to plummet drastically after sunset. With 12 more hours to go we hunkered down and tried to sleep through the bumping vibrations and chilly breeze thinking of our bags stowed under the bus with all our warm clothes in. Unable to sleep at 1am we whipped out the ipad and distracted ourselves with the film Mrs Brown. There's nothing like a bit of Judy Dench and Billy Connolly's hollering to distract us in our time of need!
Udaipur was a welcome rest for us as we knew we were staying 3 nights so could relax a bit and take our activities down a notch. We stayed in a lovely old haveli right on the edge of the lake. Udaipur is such beautiful city and we felt at home. There is a real Venetian element to the buildings right on the water and it was all quite calm. The lake is the focal point of the city with a palace built in the middle (which has since been turned into an exclusive hotel) and surrounded
by hills. This is also the setting for the James Bond Octopussy film which is screened at different hotels around the lake as the city's claim to fame. As we were there they were filming a Bollywood film at one part of the shoreline and we could hear the director's enthusiastic "action!" followed by blood curdling screams at regular intervals throughout one afternoon. It seems that stardom isn't all it's cracked up to be as a traveller we met had been roped into being an extra and was being paid the grand sum of £1 per hour.
We went to the old palace as we got some free tickets from some rich French tourists when we were having a beer in a posh hotel on the lake. It was impressively big and recently we have been getting more of a visual representation of what the fort or palace rooms would have looked like in the more recent places we have visited. This palace however, was on the more tacky and gaudy side leaving us wondering how you could have so many intricately mirrored and tiled rooms without getting a headache.
Unfortunately as much as we loved Udaipur we
didn't get the chance to enjoy it as much as we had planned to. The Thursday morning was not a great day for me as hard core food poisoning reared its ugly head. Fortunately we had a tiled bathroom, and were actually staying somewhere nice as I spent the whole day in bed. It wasn't a pretty sight. Charlie had to nurse me and we have certainly taken the next step in our relationship having to contend with the first real obstacle of our journey. I certainly wouldn't have been able to face the prospect of travelling to Mumbai the next day if he hadn't provided me with as much medication as I could take!
Tot: 1.921s; Tpl: 0.108s; cc: 11; qc: 49; dbt: 0.0376s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
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