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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Jodhpur to Bikaner

INDIA | Thursday, 7 October 2010 | Views [3325]

Friday 1st October - Today we had booked a village safari to visit the Bishnoi villages. Early star to make the most of the cooler morning, and collected from the Haveli by Jeep. 500 rupees each plus 50 each for lunch.
The whole tour took about 5 hours and went around many small villages. The Bishnoi people have many castes, distinguishable from each other either by turban colour and jewellery or the men, or the style of dress and jewellery of the women. Many of the sights have become typical now...lady shepherdesses marching their flocks of goats, cows or sheep through the scrub. Ornate carts being lead by camel. Children playing in the dusty streets. The weather is so dry now that everything disappears into a cloud of dust when anything moves past. The roads are rough and our jeep continually crunched into holes and along gullies. Our hosts Pukhraj and his father Chotaram Prajapat were Bishnoi and ran a weaving business (Pukhraj Durry Udhyog) near to Gosali and spoke reasonable English, as they ran these tours almost every day. As with most things here, It comes down to trying to sell something, but that is expected as it is about survival. We stopped at a potter where I had a go on a traditional potter’s wheel. Just a large stone set spinning with a stick until it reached molding velocity. I made a dish which wasn't that bad although I think he was being generous with his praise.
Another stop to see an opium ceremony. A small block of raw opium which has to be imported from a neighbouring state is liquefied in fresh mineral water to make a drink. They don't smoke it here, only drink. Apparently, the old guys claim it to be good for their joints. I reckon that they are trying to find an excuse!
A large area of scrubland was dotted with watering holes which attracted much wildlife. We saw a couple of species of Deer in a large herd. One was like a Springbok with twisted antlers and bounced along. The other a more gentle fawn colour with white markings.
Lunch was interesting. One of the daughters and Pukhraj's wife were in the traditional cookhouse preparing when we arrived. Hand made Chapatis made from Millet flour. Flavoured potatoes with sesame seed. Chili sauce, and some spiced beans collected from the common scrub bushes. Sugar candy for desert.
I really liked their Chapatis. Different to the conventional ones served in restaurants due to the use of millet flour instead of a more conventional gram flour. A more wholesome flavour. Whilst we were in the jeep we seemed to pass endless crops of Millet and sesame plants which are used for both the seeds and for crushing to make cooking oil. Not much rice here as the climate isn't suitable.
The family business is weaving, and they showed us their technique on a traditional loom. Many options including Jute and wool plus others like camel that we didn't see.
Arrived back in Jodhpur around 1pm and the Sadar market was in full flow. Some sari material sellers caught our attention and we managed to by some for 100 rupees each. Amazing when you think of the manufacturing and still making profit along the way. We had also managed to pick up some Peacock feathers during the day for 1 rupee each. Much cheaper than in the cities. The children collect them in the villages to make some money.

We move on to Jaisalmer tomorrow, and will stay at the Raika Palace Hotel which is run by the same owner as the one we have been staying at here. Today is its launch day, so we hope it should be nice and clean and organized.

Saturday 2nd October - The bus to Jaisalmer departs at 11am from the Bombay Motors Circle. A small rough and dirty compound. We were glad that we had pre-booked the tickets as I wouldn't want to be stuck there for long. Many locals arrive late and ended up standing or sitting in the aisle. Not comfortable for a long journey. The bus was a typical sleeper style with upper level beds and lower seats. A hot and dry beginning until we got out of Jodhpur and on to the open road heading west, which was fairly smooth for most of the time. Relatively flat and featureless with a sprinkling of millet crops and occasional groups of camels. The air was warm, the breeze through the window was gentle and pleasant.
As the journey progressed through the town of Pokaran with its fort visible from the road, the air began to get hotter. The desert more barren and the group of camels more frequent. This part of the Thar desert is more like scrub land, although we did pass some sand dunes on the way.
Patience gets tested on this kind of journey, when the heat can be a little wearing. One annoying guy was persistent in trying to have me exchange my guitar for his necklace...get real man...we had to have him moved. Some kids kept spitting out of the window, blowing back into others faces. We had to get so annoyed with them as their mother had no control over them.
At one stop a flock of sellers were trying to trade my sunglasses for food. Some wanting to shake hands, and others getting very physical in their approaches. Almost disrespectful. Bus travel is always an experience, and you have to take it lightly.
Thoughts of Lawrence of Arabia and which coloured turban to wear come to mind. Shiera recently watched the Sex in the City movie, with Carrie Bradshaw dressed for the desert. I think she wants to emulate her role in the Shiera Bradshaw reprise.
Do they have steps to get on to the camel? Where's the nearest mall? You can take the girl out of the country...but you cannot take the country out of the girl!
We arrived in Jaisalmer at about 5pm. Luckily the hotel had arranged a pick-up and I heard my name from a guy as we pulled into the bus stop. Within 5 minutes we were at the Hotel Raika Palace.
The new owners had taken it over and as mentioned. Yesterday was their first day of opening. I reckon we are their first guests. A choice of rooms all with aircon, TV and hot shower, but no internet yet. We chose a room with a view of the amazing golden coloured Jaisalmer fort, one of the main reasons for coming here. Udaipur is known as the white city, Jodhpur as the blue city, Jaisalmer as the yellow or golden city, and Jaipur as the pink city. All very obvious as you arrive. Jaisalmer blends into the desert surrounds well.

The hotel's chef seemed to have disappeared. Considering it's status as 'just opened', it didn't seem like a good start. We had to head into town to find somewhere to eat. Settled on the Mid-Town restaurant, boasting a great fort view. Another interesting sight, was the 'Bhang shop'. Bhang is the marijuana drug made into a drink. Illegal in most countries, but made Semi-legal here in 'Government Authorised' shops. Apparently it is available in different strengths, and they have to bie controlled in not taking advantage of foreigners. You read stories about tourists being over-drugged and passing out, or having bad hallucinations and subsequent accidents when they lose control. Important when you consider the near death experiences when you are sober! Cows, motorbikes, Rickshaws and cars battle for the tiniest of spaces and you have to dodge the cow dung that litters everywhere. If you are stoned out of your brain, who knows what could happen. It is advised that you eat before trying Bhang and it takes about half an hour to take effect, and you want to fall asleep afterwards.

Sunday 3rd Oct - Reasonable night sleep apart from the ridiculous amount of bugs around. Any light attracts hoards of mini crickets and beetles.
It was roasting when we got out. Must have been in the 40's. The publicity photos for the Raika hotel are a lie. The roof design isn't what they show, and they do not have a restaurant yet. The statement that the chef had to go and tend to his wife, is more like there isn't a kitchen to cook in, and nowhere for customers to even sit out. The roof top is still a building site. We checked some places inside the fort last night, and for 500 rupees or a little over, we could get a reasonable room with a view and some atmosphere. The hotel also wanted to charge 1,500 rupees per person per day for a camel safari. Elsewhere in town they charge 700 for the same thing. The only difference is group size. Some have upto 12 per group, others only 4 or 5. Apart from that, they are probably very similar, and provide the same level of food and drink, and sightseeing. The ones to Sam's dunes all sleep out on mats under the stars, so there is zero accommodation costs. It pays to look around and be careful of what you get for your money.

Jaisalmer Fort is a warren of narrow alleys, a fair proportion of which have been taken over by guest houses, shops and restaurants. The golden yellow stone is intricately carved in many of the Havelis and many have nice views of the city below. The only entry fees are into some of the Havelis and the fort museum.
Outside of the fort we passed through the Ghandi Chowk area, which seems to have a market feel to it. Plenty of vendors of traditional items, including pre-formed Turbans for the lazy tourist who wants to give it a try. I always feel when I try a turban that it looks like something had landed on my head, and doesn't look right. I think the paler skin doesn't fit in with it, or maybe I am so used to seeing it worn by dark skinned natives that I don't think I do it justice?
It is always amusing to look at what we wear when we travel. Most end up in Alibaba pants, or some form of local design of clothing that you never see a local wearing. It is different for women as the Punjabi suit or Sari looks good even on a western woman. I was tempted recently to repeat a past mistake of buying some Alibaba shoes. The ones with the pointed and turned up toes. They look ok on a local. I ended up with really sore feet. I guess cos the leather hadn't softened off enough. I had to take them off before they got soft enough or I wouldn't be able to walk. The blisters were too painful.

Monday 4th October - Early start at 6:30am today as we were to head off on a 'Non-touristic' safari into the Thar desert on a mixture of Jeep and Camel. We probably paid a little more than some other options at 800 rupees per person per day. Some others were down to 650, and they all sound about the same for content and what is included. We have become so sceptical about everyone in Rajasthan. The tendency to lie is very high, and you have no idea who to trust. We shall see as the safari progresses.

Riding a camel for long periods is a test of endurance. You find parts of your anatomy going to sleep. Testicles get relocated and reshaped. Hope to find the again tomorrow. During the day we stopped at some local villages, one of which we privileges to meet 'The  King'. The title of the village elder. The village as such only seemed to be one compound, so it seems that just anyone could become king of their own home if they wanted to. Other stops to water the camels or stop for lunch under the shade of a tree in an oasis. At that point the saddles are removed from the camels as they sweat with the saddle and rider on. Simple food of chapati and curried vegetables plus fruit for dessert. Chai in good supply and plenty of mineral water, albeit warmed by the heat.
We noticed that the cook was lying under a blanket and shivering badly, so we took a look. He had no fever, but stomach pains and shakes. Not the first time apparently. We had some Ibuprofen to try him on, and the guide later brought him some Chloroquine. Generally used for Malaria in northern India. We had to insist that he went no further with the group. Whether he had anything contagious or not,  it was important that he was taken for proper medical help, so they arranged for him to be picked up. The guide and his young brother then took on the role of cooks for the rest of the trip. Not a great start when the cook is ill and has already been in contact with us and the food we have eaten.
The Thar desert has two main features, endless scrub land and a sea of wind turbines. Not sure how many there are, and will research it ore later, but there must be hundreds. The sign on them says that they are owned by the 'Rajasthan Mines & Minerals company'. A strange connection that sounds privatized rather than government owned.
The main destination of the day was the 'Sam's dunes, where we set up camp for the night. We arrived just after 6pm. The final stretch was bum numbing, and some of the group couldn't ride anymore and had to walk.
We had a nice golden sunset and the sky then descended into darkness. Stars coming out in steady numbers as the darkness got deeper and our eyes acclimatized. The temperature fell, but not too cold. They had provided thick mats and blankets if required. One of the guys had brought a guitar, so we shared and did some songs. Another one of those experiences to play in an awesome location. They had also brought some 'Bhang Cookies'. Supposedly narcotic, but to be honest, no reaction whatsoever. We did have kingfisher beer though. It was amusing that although the guide had brought beer which had got warm during the day, a guy appeared late evening with a cooler box and offering cold been at 150 rupees each. What a great businessman he is.
Initially there was a faint cover of mist making the stars a little weak, but as the temperature fell, the sky got really clear and, what a treat. I love the desert, having experienced the night sky before. Jet black and covered in an amazing carpet of stars, and very defined constellations. Taking a few long exposure photographs shows some of them in different colours....blue, red, purple, as well as white and yellow. We were also lucky to see many shooting stars and satellites. Normally only possible with really clear skies.

Tuesday 5th October - woke around 6am to a pristine blue sky and the sun rising in the east. We were on top of the dune and could see both directions. A beautiful start to the day as we went to take some dune photos. A few dung beetles around...rolling along their stash of camel dung pellets to their nests. Sidewinder snakes had left their tracks, but were not visible. We saw an amazing grasshopper. Dazzling rainbow colours, head yellow and blue, and about 4 inches long.
Breakfast was boiled eggs and toast with some jam and papaya and bananas, washed down with chai. All simple, but there is a limit to what can be carried and prepared.
Time to get back on the camels. Some got a little fractious at the beginning as I think they dislike having riders. One guy almost got thrown off, and Shiera's camel was always misbehaving. After a while some got off and walked as it was getting uncomfortable. I joined them after a while. We all had pains in our legs with riding long distances and walking was easy and more comfortable.
Another stop to water the camels and then a little further on before we stopped for lunch. By this stage, the thought of getting back on a camel was starting to terrify most, and we were all thinking of finishing early. The original plan was to go through until 6pm, but another 6 hours on a camel was going to be tough. I am sure they are used to this with almost every group that comes through, and so they can make arrangements for the jeep to collect at almost any point.
Lunch was some fried pasta shapes and chai followed by Chapatis again. They learn from an early age how to mix the flour for Chapatis and to grill them.
After lunch we headed back to a meeting point where a jeep was waiting for us. The safari finished around 5pm. Tired and sore legs through the riding and tired due to the short sleep last night. It was a great safari though and plenty of nice experiences.

A welcome nice meal and a cold beer at the Om restaurant facing the fort, good food and a great view. We are moving on to Bikaner tomorrow on our way to Amritsar in the north. My body is telling me to rest a while, but need to get somewhere functional and cooler, so will try to get somewhere nice up north for a while. Shiera’s body is telling here she’s got arms and legs and everything aches. The signs are there so we both need a break soon.

Wednesday 6th October - Woke up this morning totally blocked up ears and nose, and with a throat sounding like a buffalo.  Either it was coming on before we went on the safari, or the dry desert air coupled with a cold night and condensation caused it. The cool aircon in the room probably didn't it me any good either.
We planned to move on to Bikaner today. No good western breakfast options local to our hotel, so had to grab the best we could get locally and then head for the railway station. No English anywhere, and the ticket office gave me a general class ticket (Rs76 each), which I didn't realize at the time. The train was waiting on platform 2. A choice of sleeper and general coaches. We aimed for the Sleeper coach as it was more comfortable. The ticket inspector came along and said we had to change carriage. I paid the extra to stay in the sleeper, working out Rs161 each. You cannot argue with the prices anyway, as they are so good.

The 4703 Jaisalmer Lalgarh Express supposedly departing 10:40am, left at 11:08, which is nearer to the published time of 11:20 than the time they state it leaves. Once out of the station and heading north, the landscape opened out to flat barren scrub as far as the horizon. Hot and dry and not much life out there. It didn't change much for the whole journey. We wiped our seats down and within an hour a layer of sand had built up again. We arrived at Lal Garh station at 16:15 as planned, which is about 3km on the northern side of Bikaner.
We had chosen the Hotel Padmini Niwas from the book as it seemed one of few options which had a swimming pool. Something we much needed after a long time in hotel and dry weather. My sinuses were blocked up and seemed like the onset of a bad cold. I think it was more like the incessant hot, dry and dusty atmosphere.
The pool was a welcome relief to just soak for a while. They had only refilled it yesterday, so it was nice and clean.
The dinner was nice. The first time we had meat in ages. No matter how nice the vegetarian food has been, there are times when we get desperate for meat. Topped with a nice cold beer. Just what we needed after a long day.
I wanted to have a quick look around the immediate area after dinner. Some enormous houses close to the hotel. Seemed to be an affluent part of town. Some new ones being built too, with superb styling. We also struck lucky as I heard some music in the distant so went to investigate. Turned out to be a wedding procession on their way from the wedding venue to the celebration venue. We were dragged in to follow them and invited in to eat with them. The groom was on a horse, but the bride went separately and we didn't see her. Around 2000 guests were due to be there according to one guy. The food was superb, with every special dish that I had seen in the recipe books. Some of our favourites including some I had never tried. Even the samosas they made were special ones with pomegranate and fruit. Too many people and it got a bit overpowering at times, as it seemed the whole crowd wanted to talk to us, shake hands or ask questions. A video crew filmed us for a bit. I guess it isn't every day they have two foreigners arrive at a Hindu wedding. Everyone was so lovely towards us. The most interesting part was that the men and women were separated into different areas. I was not allowed to cross into the women's area although they were happy for me to stand by the dividing area. They were so beautiful, all in their best wedding saris. Still no sign of the bride. We were told that she wouldn't appear until late, and the celebrations would go for another 3 hours. We were too tired to stay that long, so made our escape. A really nice and lucky event for us to stumble upon.

Thursday 7th October - The room rate at Padmini Niwas includes a simple breakfast of toast/jam and tea or coffee. It made a change to be able to have a swim after breakfast, especially with the weather being so hot and dry now.
First task of the day was to head to the railway booking office to book our tickets out of Bikaner. They have two stations and you have to go to the correct one to book tickets. Next stop will be Amritsar. We cannot go direct, but have to get to Firozpur first, so we had to go to Lal Garh station. Managed to get two sleeper berths for day after tomorrow from Lal Garh station. That done, the only attraction we wanted to see here was the 16th century Junagarh Fort. There are some options for the tickets. 250Rs includes an audio guide and camera fee. Bearing in mind that two tickets would cost 500Rs anyway, the cheaper option was to pay the 150Rs ticket plus one camera fee of 30Rs. So 330Rs instead of 500Rs. The walking tour was in English and detailed enough for our needs. In fact the guide kept stopping to tell us the English detail personally. Bikaner fort is a really wonderful example of Rajasthan architecture. Beautifully decorated inside with numerous room elaborately painted. The Haveli style latticework on the outside is nice. They are renovating some sections at present, and the fresh paintwork brings the building back to its former pristine glory. The museum section is interesting, with a couple of airplanes and the usual swords and other displays of barbarism. I have said this so any times before. If mankind diverted all that energy spent designing weapons to kill one another into something more constructive, what a better world this might have become. Admittedly, a fort without weapons of defense wouldn't be the same would it! I thought the old photographs were superb. An era when the ostentation of the processions and the rulers costumes had no limits. Even the elephant's decorations were amazing. There is a nice café inside the fort grounds which served up a great lunch for a very reasonable price.
My cold wasn't clearing and decided to find a pharmacy and stock up on medicines then retire back to the hotel to rest for the next day or so before we move on. There is more to see in Bikaner, but didn't think it worth pushing it too much.

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