Posted by: glenswatman | May 1, 2011

20110421-30 INDIA Rajasthan

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THURSDAY 21 APRIL –We begin our walk at the famous Jagdish Temple but this far into the trip it becomes “just another temple”.   The boat trip, (Rs300, £4.50) necessitates an extra payment of Rs25 (37p) to walk through the Palace grounds to get to the boat ramp.  At 10am the boat heads towards the bridges then back around Jagniwas Island with the posh hotel then on to Jagmandir Island where we have ½ hour to wander round – little to see.  Stop for pizza and chips on the way back, planning to stick to plain food but foiled again when the pizza arrives heavily spiced.  In the evening we eat at the Café Edelweiss and get it right by ordering sandwiches which are come without spice.

UDAIPUR 4, ANJANA HOTEL

FRIDAY 22 APRIL – We’ve bought tickets for the bus from Udaipur to Jodhpur leaving at 8am and arriving at 1pm, Rs170 (£2.50).  Like good little Westerners we do as we are told and arrive at the travel agency at 7.30am along with 3 others.  No one arrives at the agency until 8am and then just tear our ticket stub.  Just before 9am we are led up the road to our waiting “sleeper” coach.  It is a conventional bus with a row of double seats up one side then double width bunk cubicles above it and on the opposite side of the aisle two layers of single cubicles.  We have opted for seats whilst the Indians prefer the cubicles.  Sat behind the glass sliding windows tucking into food they looks like animals in a pet shop!  Our seats are behind the rear wheel and with almost no suspension we are bounced around like weebles.  There is no air con and the fierce desert wind blasts thorough the windows and fells like it is burning your face.  Luckily we few people want seats so we have 2 each and can sit in the aisle seat away from the window.  This is obviously not the direct route we were sold but the country version stopping whenever business is possible.  There is a single track road where the smallest vehicle has to give way.  Buses are out ranked by the many trucks coming towards us and frequently have to bounce down and travel on the dusty shoulder then back onto the road.  In fact the road surface is so bad you can barely tell the difference.  This becomes the journey from hell, a real bone, booby and brain shaker.  You can’t read or sleep so time passes slowly.  At one stage every town we drive through has its streets lined with marble slabs up for sale.  Our 5-hour journey takes 8 and we arrive in Jodhpur just before 5pm.The rickshaw driver takes us to our chosen guest house Heaven but their prices have gone up by 50% from the Internet and tonight Risha only has a basic room, square room, 2 beds and bathroom, not for us.  Risha walks us to her brothers Manish’s Blue House Guesthouse where he has a nicer double A/C TV room.  It’s a family operation and we are stalled checking in as they bring us snacks, drinks and want to chat.  New Zealander Rory and his South African girlfriend Storm (the only other guests) pop in on their way to the railway station to book tickets so we agree to join them.  It is school holidays and trains are full but we manage to get the 48-hour tourist allocation to Jaiselmer which is good but means we must leave a day earlier than planned and pay an extra Rs200 (£30) per person.  Manish also owns a restaurant so we take a ride to Restaurant Jankar which is a little gem.  Nice food, friendly staff, great location and reasonable prices – no wonder it is full.  We sit in the candle lit garden getting to know our new friends.  Next they walk us through the small streets to the famous clock tower, flood lit at night in ever changing colours.  At a nearby Shri Mishrital Hotel (here many hotels are only restaurants) we get the best lassi in India, Rs20 (30p).  It is “makhania” flavoured with saffron and tastes of tangy lemon and is so thick you have to eat it with a spoon.  We are very glad to have Rory and Storm lead us back to our hotel as we are totally disorientated and all the congested narrow streets look the same.  Our guesthouse is in the spice market area which as wonderful smells but it is dangerous to sniff up as you can just as quickly encounter a pisserie or open drain.  Back at the room the A/C isn’t working, about 5 different lads go through the same routing of turning the main power off and on, pulling the bare wires out of the socket and reinserting them and meddling with the remote but to no avail.  They offer us another room which is OK but when we move our luggage there they say more expensive.  The next room they offer is not nice so we are stuck.  Eventually Manisha returns and gets the A/C working in our original room.

JODHPUR, BLUE GUEST HOUSE, Rs600 (£9) A/C TV double

SATURDAY 23 APRIL – We are up at Mehrangarth Fort ready for the 9am opening.  It is a stunning fort structure and we can see the blue city down below, houses were painted blue for coolness and it also repels bugs.  The tourist ticket (Rs300, 4.50) includes camera fee and an audio guide.  The fort is magnificent and the audio guide brings it all to life including interviews with the present Maharaja whose efforts have preserved the fort and developed it as tourist attraction.  There’s a plaque in the wall showing where a man agreed to be buried alive within the wall to relive a curse.  Another area shows handprints of the Maharajas wives, they made the mark when leaving the palace for the last time to sacrifice themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre.  We thoroughly enjoy our 2-hour visit and learn a lot.  Just down the hill we reach Jaswant Thada the mausoleum to MaharaJa Jaswant Singh 11, Rs30 (45p).  Story has it that a peacock flew into his funeral pyre and now has its own tomb in the garden.  We return to Restaurant Jankar for a late breakfast followed by another irresistible lassi.  With Internet I spend the afternoon trying to forward plan.  In the evening I order cheese vegetable bake at Jankar and it is delicious.  We sit and chat to Kiwi family Sissons from Devonport having first met some of them in Udaipur.  This is one of those trips where many people are doing the same circuit and second meetings are common.  .

JODHPUR 2, BLUE GUEST HOUSE

SUNDAY 24 APRIL – We catch the 6.10am train (on time) to Jaisalmer.  The train started in Delhi so many people have been on overnight and are still sleeping.  We have middle and bottom bunk in 3 A/C class.  Settle down to try and sleep but the lad next to me must be the most popular person in India as his phone rings constantly.   The scenery soon turns to scrubby desert much like the Australian outback.  The train stops at Pokoran, the place where they did nuclear testing back in the 90’s.  Is this why there is only one lone vendor on the platform to serve drinks and snacks to the whole train?   Touts board the train here and begin trying to sell their hotel and telling you how bad yours is if you have booked ahead.  Arriving in Jaisalmer we are hit by the dry desert heat and more touts.  It is impossible to leave the station without crossing the blockade line of people holding up hotel signs.  Having booked Golden City Hotel with a free pick up we just have to find out sign.  It’s a short ride to the hotel where we see a huge “Dragoman” overland truck.  Consequently the hotel is busy and the A/C room we booked is not available until tomorrow.  The fan room is poor so I walk out to check out other hotels nearby.  As soon as the manager realises what I am doing he says wait ½ hour A/C room will be ready.  He then appears to take people out of the A/C room and put them in the fan room before settling us into the VIP room.  It is no great shakes but meets our needs with A/C and TV.  The pool is a godsend in the heat of the afternoon.  Around 4pm we brave the sun and walk up to the fort which contains a living city.  It is quite a spectacle with the golden sandstone walls perched precariously on top of what looks like a pile of rubble.  The fort is in fact sinking and a couple of the bastions have already collapsed due to drainage from inside the city eroding beneath the walls.  The narrow streets have balconies that almost touch and many of the buildings are very fancy.  It is interesting to explore and you cannot help but get lost but easily get back to somewhere you recognise.  Although there are few tourists now in the off season they are have many at other times and call out “please stop and give me a chance to rip you off”.  Bedspreads, clothing and shoes are the main things on offer.  On the way back we cannot resist a snack at “The Royale” bakery where we get carried away by the garlic and cheese croissants, puff pastry pies and desserts.  Watch the final sunset from our hotel roof top but the sun is on the far side of the fort so nothing spectacular.

JAISALMER, GOLDEN CITY HOTEL. Rs650 (£9.75) A/C double with TV. Swimming pool.

MONDAY 25 APRIL – We head off on an early walk and begin down at the local lake “Gadi Sagar”.  You enter underneath a very fancy arch which has a strange story.  A famous prostitute wanted to pay for the gateway’s construction but the Maharaja refused as he did not want to pass under it to get to the lake.  She built it when he was away and topped it with a Krishna temple so the king could not tear it down.   The lake has boats for hire and kids selling loaves of bread so you can feed the catfish.  There are hundreds and they are huge.  Most attractions are close together so we wander into the old city to check out the haveli’s.  At Salim Singh Ki Haveli we take the tour, (Rs20, 30p) and learn that haveli means wind and sun and the buildings were designed to maintain a regular temperature by attracting the breezes and sun at the right times of day.  We also learn the hierarch of water.  Once a month the female residents covered themselves in mud to cling to the body oils then took a shower.  The shower water was saved in a bucket until the mud dropped to the bottom then the clear water used for laundry.  Laundry water is used for washing floors and that dirty water for flushing toilets.  Sounds pretty much like the way we do things in the motorhome!  Patwa Ki Haveli is massive and we can see the mirrored rooms inside the part that connects over the street like a bridge.  Nathmal Ki Haveli was built by 2 brothers who created a side each but produced a harmonized result.  You still have to watch where you are walking, minding dead rats, cow poo etc, and hold your nose from time to time but on the whole wandering the streets is a pleasure as they are not crowded.  Our walk takes us round the bottom of the whole fort and we see many areas where they are working to prop it up.  We want to buy onward bus tickets and have been quoted various times and prices by the different travel agents.  At the private bus stand we see locals crowding round a man who is selling tickets.  He tells us there is a 6am daily bus to Bikaner that arrives at noon.  He asks Rs150 and shows us the bus, the same as the sleeper bus we travelled on before.  Whilst other agents have promised us better buses or a shorter journey they ask from Rs200 to Rs300.  We feel we can’t trust exactly what we would get for our extra money, if anything, so opt for the cheap fare and knowledge of the bus.  He tells us it is a direct bus with no stops.  When I ask if there will be any toilet stops he reels of the name of 5 places!  At the tourist office the guide talks about the rickshaw driver problem in Jaisalmer and says as a local he knows the fare to the train station is Rs10 but they even ask him for Rs25.  Return to our hotel for breakfast then to sit by the pool.  Englishman Peter and his travelling friend Dutch Stephanie are paying to use the pool whilst in transit and tell us about their desert trip.  Sounds great but too rustic for us.  At the bakery we pick up mushroom pasty, paneer tika pasty and cheese garlic croissants fresh out of the oven, yum.

JAISALMER 2, GOLDEN CITY HOTEL

TUESDAY 26 APRIL – Internet is down all over Jaisalmer but owner Gazi gets round this by bringing me his Internet USB stick to use, what service.  We enjoy hanging out by the pool and onward planning.

JAISALMER 3, GOLDEN CITY HOTEL

WEDNESDAY 27 APRIL – The hotel have offered to take us to the private bus stand and good thing they d0 as when we get there our driver finds out the bus is leaving from a different location.  The bus arrives at 6am and is seating only, 3 on one side and 2 on the other so quite cramped.  As usual this direct bus makes more than just toilet stops; in fact initially we seem to stop every few hundred yards to load more people onboard.  Most of the journey is through the hot dusty scrubby desert.  It’s hard to tell if the round structures are homes or haystacks and we see camels and water buffaloes roaming the “fields”.  The road is quite new and smooth so we could be making good time if we were not stopping so often, even after the bus appears full with standing passengers.  It gets pretty rancid with body odour; farts, farm smells and food accompanied by the noise of people rawking up, shouting on the phones and a girl throwing up on the floor instead of sticking her head out of the window (have to admit she would probably get it chopped off by a passing vehicle if she had).  Approaching Bikaner we are amazed at the number of working camels.  They seem very friendly and placid unlike the ones we have seen in Africa and Australia.  We are just an hour late arriving in Bikaner at 1pm.  Fellow passenger James shares our rickshaw to check out Padmini Niwas Hotel.  We’ve chosen it because it has gardens and a small pool.  The rooms are a little shabby but overall it seems good value for money when we negotiate down to Rs600 (£9).  Head to the restaurant for a late lunch followed by a dip in the pool.  It feels even hotter here than Jaisalmer and there it was mid 40’s.  Late afternoon we walk up towards the fort just over 1km away.  It is right in the centre of the city and looks quite impressive form outside.  Taking a drink in the top floor restaurant of Metro Palace we have superb views to the fort.  Bhairon Villas is run by the former Bikaner prime minister’s great grandson Harsh Singh and this was the family residence.   Rooms are individual and filled with antiques.  We eat at the restaurant which is quite posh but the food is normal prices.  They have a small bar here and it is like a hunting lodge crammed full with souvenirs.  We meet Harsh and he is really nice to talk to.  It’s dark so we take a rickshaw back.  Our driver makes a wrong turn and we try to tell him.  He stops and asks numerous people directions but no one seems to know our hotel, they cannot understand our map nor read the address in the guide book.  In fact we seem to have a deaf mute for a driver and he is probably blind as well.  End up going on a huge circular tour through the old city which is quite interesting but the 1km trip ends up taking 40 minutes.  Driver asks for extra money for petrol but we feel like asking for compensation for such a long rough journey.

BIKANER 1, HOTEL PADMINI NIWAS.  Rs600 (£9) A/C room with TV and fridge, swimming pool.

THURSDAY 28 APRIL – Couchsurfer Manvedra picks us up in his car.  He’s a local lawyer and part time artist and our age.   He drives us south to visit the Karni Mata (rat) Temple at Deshnok.  Here they call them “kabas” but to us they look like small rats with strange protrusions under their tales.  People believe they are reincarnated relatives and it is lucky if they run over your feet.  We are lucky – in arriving early morning when they have just eaten and most are too sleepy to scurry around.  They are still everywhere, in the banisters, on the altars, holes in the wall, roofing rafters etc; needless to say the place stinks.   Manvedra takes us to the railway station.  Our next destination is Chandigarh but on line the earliest wait list ticket we could get is for 4th May.  At the station we apply for 30trh April and get put on a wait list but the clerk tells us we must go the station master on that morning and 99% certain will get the VIP allowance and the seats we want.  He tells us there are absolutely no tourist seats allocated on this train so we have little choice.  Manvedra needs to go to work so drops us at Lallgarh Palace.  The Sri Sadul Museum (Rs50, 75p) is surprisingly interesting with a big focus on the hobbies of the current royal family.  The Palace itself is part royal residence and part hotel so we have a snoop around.  There is a separate building outside where the Maharaja has his annual weigh inn.  People love big fat heave maharajas because on this day he sits on one side of the scales whilst coins from the royal purse go on the other side to balance him.  This money is then used within the community for hospitals etc.    We stop for lunch in the nearby Hotel Sagar then head back.  2 Scandinavian lads are staying at our hotel and ready to leave on the train, they went to the station yesterday and managed to buy the tourist allocation tickets we were told were not available!  In the evening we visit the nearby shop with Internet and an ice cream fridge.  He has 750ml blocks of ice cream at Rs140 (£2) and buy one get one free and for the first time we have a fridge with freezer compartment in our room.  We can’t resist butterscotch and a tutti frutti and return to the room to scoff the butterscotch washed down with a litre of pop for tea.

BIKANER 2, HOTEL PADMINI NIWAS

FRIDAY 29 APRIL – We wake early as the room is very hot because the power has gone off.  By the time we get up we find the ice cream is melting fast so we have to eat it for breakfast.  I love ice cream but after last night’s pig out this is pushing things.  Return to the station where I apply for tickets as if for the first time whilst Steve goes to another counter to ask about changing ours to the tourist allocation.  I am immediately offered tourist allocation berths on the train we want whilst Steve is again told there is no tourist allocation.  More frustratingly the man who serves me is the one I saw yesterday, all he had to do was tell us to come back the next day!  We end up cancelling our wait list ticket and the 4th May and for each forfeit the Rs50 booking fee and pay Rs40 cancellation fee. We are all forted and palaced out but this is the last one on the trip so we face up.  A combo ticket for Junagarh Fort (Rs250, £3.75), covers admission, camera and audio guide.  This Palace within the fort has some terrific rooms with great decorations and there are a few quirky stories to be heard.  We’ve time to get back and have a swim in the pool before the royal wedding comes on TV (we are 4 ½ hours ahead of England).  Princess Diana is still the most popular person for Indians so given the link they are quite interested in William and Kate’s wedding so screen it on many channels.  Unfortunately only one has English commentary but as in most of India it is “call centre” Indian English and very hard to understand.  Along with the current live events they keep showing half screen of the same part of Diana and Charles’s wedding.  They also feature heavily on Posh and Becks and show more of them than any other guests.  Kate looks lovely and everyone seems very relaxed and friendly.  We watch it until after the balcony appearance.

BIKANER 3, HOTEL PADMININ NIWAS

SATURDAY 30 APRIL – We take a walk hoping to get breakfast but the 2 hotels we find don’t serve it until 11am.  Luckily Shri Ram Heritage nearby not only does breakfast but it is excellent value for money.  We order the American breakfast to share (Rs110, £1.65) and we get enough cornflakes and milk for 2 huge bowls, 4 slices of jam butter toast, 1 omelette, 4 bananas and coffee.  Our train leaves at 4.45pm and on board we find our bunks are the ones in the aisle rather than a compartment.  The downside of this is that you get lots of people pushing past, the bed is shorter and the bottom bunk has a join.  Steve finds the ticket inspector who persuades 2 short Indian people opposite to swap.  We are given clean sheets, pillow in unwashed case, blanket.  For the first few hours we sit and read and make lots of stops.  Around 8.30pm we bed down for the night, accompanied by a young woman travelling alone.   Steve on the bottom bunk because it has a foot board to stop him poking his feet in the aisle, me on mid bunk.  We’ve barely started to nap when we stop and 3 youths join us.  They make a lot of noise chatting, eating crisps and using mobiles but there is so much other noise it is almost not worth mentioning.  We are in the last carriage by the door, not good.  At each station people gather in the aisle with their bags, leave the door open creating a draft and wafting toilet smells at us and talking loudly.  It seems like a really long journey; so long we set off in April and arrive in May!

OVERNIGHT TRAIN FROM BIKANER TO CHANDIGARH

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