In Rajasthan Ann and I agreed we would do just five things.
December 2006: My first visit to India in over thirty years ...
Never believe what you read on the internet! Can you believe something that advertises itself as a three star hotel in the middle of the largest shopping mall in Asia turning out to be a back street one-starrer with an old market round the corner? An adequate haven for my first night however with wondrously friendly staff and a bed big enough to share with my bag, which was lucky considering there wasn't room for it on the floor.
Reinspection of the website, Sun City Hotel
, shows I was wrong about the number of stars claimed (only two) but quite correct about the false descriptions: Hotel Sun City is located in New Delhi, the national capital of India. This property stands in the midst of the largest shopping arcade in Asia, the Karol Bagh. The hotel's main on-site restaurant, Alpha Spice, serves continental favorites and Indian delicacies, while the adjacent bar caters to an eclectic host of international clientele.
There was no arcade, no restaurant, no bar! Nevertheless it was a good place to experience real middleclass India.
And I did meet Mr Lalal the next morning
I'll introduce those five things in the photos; there are more impressions in the video. (Link at bottom of text.)
when I was out greeting some sacred cows (and goats, pigs, chickens as well as local residents). He undertook to drive me around in a tuk-tuk for about fifty US cents for 4 hours - and was as good as his word, finding all the bookshops I requested, plus several that only he knew about. To repay him for the cheap ride I visited three "galleries" where he earned more than I paid him for delivering a potential customer into their hands.
Many things had changed about India since my last visit (1974). Hygiene is up, smells are down, toilet paper has been introduced. New Delhi has a metro and there are some freeways. The touts have stopped hassling; so far people are relaxed, friendly and very, very honest. In other words: it was fantastic.
I met up with Ann on schedule at the YWCA and we made for the night train to Udaipur. We spent a night in ordinary sleeper class along with several old gentlemen in turbans who treated us with great respect. The NGO worker who was shepherding them explained that he had taken them to Delhi to make representations about forest degradation. I experienced
Udaipur is arguably India's most beatiful city. It has ancient palaces.
a cold night lying on overly firm shelf.
In Udaipur we studied the old Palaces from various angles. We spent one night in a "heritage
Hotel," The Shiv Niwas Palace
. We felt like students in the museum and like tourists on the sunset lake cruise. I sat and sketched a lot. And even better: I took a lesson in Moghul miniature painting -- and came out
of it with a particularly satisfactory miniature camel, and feeling very excited and proud of myself.
From the city of Rajput Palaces and miniature painting to rural Rajasthan ..... "Kekri; you are not Kekri going to Kekri; you want togo to Jaipur," was what the tour operators, even the bus ticket vendors said. And, "You can't leave at 4.30am; there is no bus. How will you eat your breakfast?" was said in our hotel. (Code for "we don't want to get up and unlock the door for you.") But we took hard boiled eggs, dry chapatis and cold coffee, caught the 5.00am bus ... and arrived in Kekri at 3pm, just as our host had asked us to do.
Ram Niwas Khati has become a Couch Surfing
icon. He writes of his home that it is
It even has the lake palace.
off the tourist track - and thus attracts more visitors than his family feel able to host. His father was one of the first boys in his village to receive an elementary education, and his elder sister the very first girl. He himself had to walk 17 miles on foot at the beginning and end of each weekend to achieve his middle school education. After that he had a government scholarship to go to a city for high school and subsequent engineering training. His (still illiterate) wife cooked traditional Rajasthani fare for us, which we ate sitting on sacks on the kitchen floor in the traditional manner, glancing at the unused dining room table through the door.
Lots of neighbours came to look at us, and were suitably amazed by Ann's command of Hindi. We were escorted to the market when we needed bottled water and wanted to buy fruit to take out to Ram’s mother in the village. In the village we were even more of a wonder, taken to different houses for cups of tea, and really welcomed by Ram's old mother. It was great to find how much cleaner such a village has become. The smell
Udaipur is a centre for the visual arts.
of sewage had gone. Electricity was supplied between sunset and 11pm. Water ran along the pipes for 30 minutes morning and evening. No more tiring walks to the well or the pump for those women. Ram's role in taking water to so many desert villages - he is a water engineer - including his own, is impressive. Kechri and Ram's village
We moved on to Pushkar, one of those attractive ethnic tourist places that pop up all over Asia, like Hoi An in Vietnam and Vang Vien in Laos. I couldn’t wait to move on again, although I drew some nice pictures and bought lots of souvenirs. It is a sacred city, and so the use of drugs and alcohol is forbidden, as is the eating of meat and eggs.
The highlight of our holiday was a four day camel trek. Travellers in the Rajasthan desert often speak of the magical moment when musicians appear over the sand dunes and play and dance especially for them. We got our music for free: a wandering shepherd with the hugest ghettoblaster and yards and yards of tangled radio aerial coiled around his shoulders came to watch our camp on the first evening.
I painted that camel during my first lesson.
So you get what you pay for. We slept in a holey tent, on wet quilts and shared a plate at meal times. These came along with two camels, a camel man, a cook, and a guide. All this for US$25 (A$37.00) a day from Vino’s Desert Safari
Ann and I took it in turns to sit in the cart with our support team and ride the second camel. We meandered along sandy lanes hedged with dead thorn bush and across sandy flats. We passed sprawling dusty villages and isolated farm houses. Lunch and tea stops were generally at a farm so that we could look around, buy milk, and share our meal with the children. But mainly, it seemed, so that we could provide interest and entertainment to the youngsters. Ann tried drawing a line in the sand and telling the crowd of children to stay behind it, but they thought this was an invitation to a new and exciting game. Have you ever wondered how it feels being on reality TV? I don't recommend it.
Other highlights were the arrival of a baby goat and the mating a camel pair! Oh yes, and every dinnertime. There is nothing
My teacher was a very gifted man.
to beat the taste of dhal and chapatis cooked on an open fire.
A second overnight train journey had us back in Delhi. We celebrated New Year 2007 in a posh nightclub, where fellow revellers taught us Bollywood dancing. Video: Rajasthan 2006
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