Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bikaner and Pushkar... 5 days to go...

Bikaner is a weird city, i'll give you that.
A dusty industrial city, with beautiful Jain temples, fantastic forts and a really out of place water fountain.

Where we were staying was really cosy - in a guesthouse that was run by a guy called Jitu, and his wife, dad and mum.
We ate breakfast and lunch in his living room (it looked like your grandmother's living room). The hot water for the shower came in bucket form. That is, when you wanted a shower you asked for a hot bucket. Then you scoop out the water using a jug and wash that way. The Boi said it's pretty standard for India but its the first time on our travels we've come across it.

The fort looks looming and a bit boring, not giving you an idea of the beautiful interiors. Many of the rooms were painted so intricately, and one vaulted hall was carved entirely of sandstone. No photos we could take can ever do it justice.
The tour guide for the group in front of us (about 40 indians) told everyone to sit on the floor, then took our camera and made us sit in amongst them. He took our photos to show the tourists what they looked like (digital display). Many of these people had never seen a digital camera so it was pretty special for them (and bizarre for us!). ;D

The next day we did a camel safari! We got to go to the Karni Mata temple (Rat Temple) in Deshnok (the sign out the front says "the 8th Wonder of the World?"). We've seen photos of rats swarming everywhere (dont forget, you have to take shoes and socks off when you go in, its a temple) but maybe most of them were asleep. We only saw 50-60 or so... It was still pretty cool though. The temple is beautiful, with real silver doors and marble carvings everywhere.

Then on to the Camel Man's house. We hung out with his family while he rustled up some camels, and they invited us to take photos of their mud buildings.
Fin and I got onto the camels, and I imagine we looked ridiculous. Big hats, big asses, swaying away on a camels back. Fun though (for the first 45 mins) and then you start to get sore in places you didnt think was possible...
The desert in Rajasthan isnt the Sahara type desert, its more like Australian desert, scrubby, sand and gravel, the odd tree. Alot of people live out there, everytime you think that there's no one for miles around, a turbaned head pops over the next rise.

We didnt ride on the camels all day (sore bums) but to visit the villages we had a jeep (complete with loud Bollywood music and fast driving). A lot of driving. The best bit of the day was being invited into someone's home (just a random family) and eating desert grown water melons. The son cracked them in half with his hands, and we sat on the ground in a group eating them with our hands. Bliss!

Later on we went to a Bishnoi village of 'untouchables' (low caste). The people there are so friendly, so proud of themselves and their houses, it was amazing. We kept getting invited into peoples lovely mud hut houses, asked to take photos, offered chai and biscuits - wow. Fin and I felt really embarrassed - I mean you dont do this in OZ! You dont walk into someones lounge room or bedroom and take photos of them doing stuff.
(Jitu said that because of their caste they love the fuss tourists make over them, it makes them feel special. Caste Schmaste.)
I happened to spy a spinning wheel (of course) in the corner and one of the girls got it out and showed us how she spins wool into yarn. I had a go and failed miserably. The guide (who had been giving me advice) had a go and did worse hehe.

One woman was hilarious. She showed me how to grind millet in a stone grinder - then poured out a container and told me I couldnt leave til I had finished it all. Man it's hard work! Fin had a go and finished it up - so she said she was going to lock us in there until we finished the whole 10 kg bag! No english, but the gist was enough hehe...
Then she was going to teach me to make chapatis (and then make ALL the chapatis) but I said that I have already ruined one meal for her hehe. (And our body jewellery caused quite a stir. Fin has just been accepted as a guy in most parts of India, and guys dont have their noses pierced! And labret (lip) piercings? Women kept coming up and touching mine, thinking it was a jewel stuck on my lip... Very funny).
Really a great day.

We're in Pushkar now, the hippie town of the desert. There is a small lake, surrounded by ghats (steps into the water) and all the buildings around the lake are painted white or pale blue. Western (mainly Israeli) food abounds. We've been feasting on good pizzas, pesto pasta (yum) and great granola for breakfast. Waking up to the sounds of bells and chanting in the morning, its all been very relaxed and Shanti Shanti. I call it a hippie town, cos the bhang (hash) flows freely around here, and you can tell thats the only reason some people are here.

So basically just resting from all the travel! Off to Delhi in a couple of days, and I'll be home on 4th December.

Catch ya!
Bex

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer

Udaipur was sadly disappointing. Its long been a tourist centre since Octopussy was filmed in parts of the city (James Bond Movie), so although most of the buildings are beautifully cared for, prices reflect the tourist magnet aspect.

We wanted to go on a boat ride on the lake, but it was going to be 300 rps ($10) each, plus 25 rps to get into the area where the boats leave from, plus there would be about 20 other tourists on the boat too. This might sound ungrateful until you realise that 600 rps is how much you pay for a hotel room, and we paid 100 rps for a guy to row us up and down the Ganges in Varanasi.
The tourist area is pretty confined to one small part of the city (along with the palace etc) and there isnt much to see after that. We decided to leave a day earlier than planned and go straight to Jodhpur via a chicken bus.

Chicken bus? You know when you see the stereotype Indian buses on TV, with 5 people crammed on a seat and chickens and goats in the aisle....
Thats pretty much it. As we took the 'deluxe' bus livestock was not allowed but there were up to 6 people crammed into one space. I've never seen so many people on a bus.
We went through a police check point, and they came on board to make sure the bus wasnt over crowded (information courtesy of a little 'auntie' beind us who spoke perfect English); as soon as it was passed the bus stopped to cram even more people on!
2 hours later when another checkpoint loomed, the driver decided to bus-bash (i.e. leave the main road) and look for a way around! He drove down these tiny tracks, and finally met up with the main road, replete with extra passengers.

When we got to Jodhpur the auto (tuk-tuk) guys jump on the bus and herd you off before you know whats happening. What they didnt count on was Auntie-Ji! The little auntie from behind us organised an auto for us ("40 rps?!?! They are paying 30 rps and not a rupee more!'') and made sure we knew what was going on. She was awesome. I wish I could have at least got her name....

The hotel we had booked was next to a park, which the day before had been sprayed with 'plant medicine' (hotel guy) or pesticides (the smell). Our room reeked of it. We managed to get another a room on the next floor up, but wanted to change it the next day. Glad we did cos we got a room in a haveli! The building was lovely (right at the base of the fort) and the staff super helpful. They also had traditional dancing and singing everynight. One down side was the cochroach Fin found in his vegetarian pizza - we sent it back asking for no animals next time please hehehe....ewww...
Jodhpur is really polluted and hazy, but i kinda liked it all the same. Then we caught the overnight train to Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer is really picturesque - everything looks to be made of sandstone and the fort is smack bang in the middle of the city. The air is a lot clearer out here and its easy to see the stars at night. Inside the fort is a warren of twisty-turny lanes, and delicately carved temples. I wish i could upload some pictures! There is so much to see here, and Fin says he likes here most of all. We have a really cute place to stay with a great manager (if we ever came back I would stay there again). There's only one problem.

Farts. Jaisalmer smells like horribled eggy-cabbage farts. Every now and then a slight breeze blows and you get overwhelmed by the smell of fart. I think it might be because of the cabbage they put in everything: Sweet corn soup, ingedients: corn, lentils, cabbage. Vegies au Gratin, ingredients: cabbage, cauliflower, pineapple (WTF i know). Ministrone, ingredients:cabbage, noodles and some kind of tomato soup base.
My theory is that everything has cabbage = the farty smell here. hehehehe....

Well, better hop off the net. Off to Bikaner tomorrow, home in 10 days.... cya!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Namaste!

** Sorry guys, cant load any pics here for some reason, but click here to see latest photos i uploaded on dialup speed... running out of room on Flickr!**

Well the Taj is totally, 100 % worth visiting. Its beyond beautiful.
We lined up with about 200 other tourists for the dawn veiwing, sat on a step and waiting for the sun to come up. Spectacular.

We spent about 2 hours there, and the mosque and other monuments were awesome as well. We wished we could have spent another day in Agra, there's so much to see. A lot of people (online) say Agra is polluted, crowded and full of touts but we didnt find that at all.
The only problem we had was leaving - all the nice, aircon, deluxe buses were pre-booked so we had to catch the cramped ordinary bumpy bus to Jaipur (6 hours). Fin spent half the time holding a lady's baby!
And the bus dropped us off in Jaipur in the middle of no-where, miles from the hotel. And then the auto-richshaw guy (tuk-tuk driver) dropped us off 1km away from where we asked to be taken cos he was a bastard (he kept slowing down in front of hotels, "nice hotel madam, you go there" - keep driving mate!).
Finally got a 15 yr old kid to cycle-rickshaw us to the hotel, and its a lovely place. So clean, so clean. Cleaner than Indian clean (indian travellers know what I mean by Indian standards clean). They change your sheets daily! And do a rockin' pizza.

Hopped into a cycle-rick today, and panicked that I had lost my wallet! Couldnt find it anywhere! Oh shite! But of course, it was in the back pocket all along (i had my money belt around my waist and smaller change in the wallet. I'm such a duffer.
We went to the Hawa Mahal (palace of the winds) which looks lovely from the street, but is sadly neglected inside. The walls are scrawled with graffiti and windows are hanging off their hinges. I got really upset by seeing it, wondering if this is how India treats all of its heritage monuments, until we went to the Amber Fort.

Awesome. Great. Fantastic. We caught the ordinary bus there (8 rps each hehe) and then rode an elephant up the hill to the fort itself. So much fun, we were cacking ourselves the whole way. The elephants dont look sad, they arnt chained and there is a society for the care of elephants next door. The looked happy, if not a bit bored.

The fort it self looks cared for, and we took the audio tour which was a great idea. We heard about the Ranis (the harem) and the Raja, the courtiers etc etc and kept wondering what the place would have looked like when it was first built.
Fin and I kept getting asked by strangers to have our photos taken with their children - there were plenty of other NGs there (foriegners) but it was just us. Maybe we look approachable (i think we do hehe).

Well, its getting late. Time to go to bed. Big day of shopping 2moro, then the night train to Udaipur.

Namaste! xx Bex

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hello from the most romantic place in India.

I'm in a net-cafe, about 40m away from the east gate of the Taj Mahal.

Our hotel is across the road and is a welcome oasis from the hustle and bustle of Agra. Diwali in Varanasi should be re-named the festival of firecrackers, every kid on every corner had some kind of explosive device! Talk about loud!

The 3 of us (Shera, the Boi and me) managed to score a seat on top of a houseboat to watch the nightly Aarti (offering to the river) and it was pretty neat. A night and early in the morning, the colour of the river is disguised enough that you forget whats in it, and it looks lovely.

A few days before we took a 6am boatride along the ghats, watching everyone go about their business. When the sun comes up, its a fiery red ball - truly beautiful.

Yesterday, just before leaving, we got to experience Indian Beaucracy in action. We decided to post some stuff home. Easy right?
First you need to go to a tailors. He then sews your parcel up in white fabric and seals it with red sealing wax. Then you can go to the post office.
The post office worker lead us through a rabbit warren of sorting and filing rooms to get the parcels weighed. Then there's the forms you need to fill out. Then sign this. The write your passport number on this. All in all, it took most of a day and ended up costing 1,500 rupees for me to post 2.7kg home (about $50). A bit of a shock!

All in all, its good to get out of Varanasi. When we left (about 8pm at night) and had to walk through tight alleys.... well, there's some unsavoury characters around offering drugs.

An 11 hour overnight train trip and here we are!
Fin is still feeling a bit tender in the tummy (poor thing) but hopefully will be better soon. Off tomorrow morning to go inside the Taj Mahal at dawn, then catching the bus to Jaipur for 2 days of shopping (dont tell Fin I said that hehehe).

Love Bex!
xxxx

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Fin asked me what was I doing, looking at the new IK mag online....

Silly Boi - being in India doesnt stop me wanting to know what the next issue looks like!!!
hehe....

Namaste from Varanasi, the holy city of the Ganges!
Still no USB ports on my computer so no pics yet...
The 18 hour train journey from Haridwar to Varanasi was hell. We had to catch a train in cattle-class for 4 hours, then change, and catch a semi-aircon sleeper train overnight the rest of the way.
All well and good? Dont forget my perpensity for picking up food-bourne bacteria! About an hour before we had to change trains I didnt feel so good.... In fact right before our train stop I needed to be sick, now! The train was jammed with people waiting for it to stop so they could get off as well and the temperature was sweltering. Both Fin and I were fully loaded with packs, and I couldnt push my way through the crowd....
The next thing I remember is coming to on a pile of little didis (aunties), and then vomiting up all over myself. All down the front of my shirt. Lots.

The crushed women helped me stand up, and by this stage people cleared around the door so I could stick my head out and continue vomiting. I had about 5 people (not including Fin) holding onto me so I wouldnt fall out, people patting my back. A couple of men moved right back so I could sit down. You forget that in the hustle-bustle, crowding and pushing, the Indian people are really an emotional and caring one.

We managed to get off and find ourselves in the arse-end of India. I dont think any westerners have been to this station before, its certainly not mentioned in the Lonely Planet. I'm trying to cover my vomit-stained clothing with my scarf and remain inconspicious - very hard with a crowd of about 10 people staring.
Fin became my super-hero - he carried both our giant packs and one of the day packs so I wouldnt have to. We couldnt find any toilets (that I could use) until we found the "Upper Class Ladies Waiting Room". Wait, I have an upper class ticket and I'm a lady!
It was airconditioned and thats all that was going for it. The toilets didnt flush, the showers didnt work but I managed to get myself reasonably clean, change and escape with a little old lady harrangueing me in Hindi the whole time.

We then went and found our platform and waited for the train. I spent most of this time kneeling on the platform, head over the edge heaving my guts up. I've never been so sick. I am also not scared of the dirt here anymore hehehe.

It was a relief to get on our train, we could lie down and try to get some sleep (with many toilet breaks) before we got to Varanasi.

And its not as bad here as people say, I expected more vicious touts and hard sell. Its taken me 2 days to feel semi-ok (with Fin force feeding me Gastrolyte) and i've since caught a cold. But at least i'm not throwing up!

Yesterday we went to Sarnath (a special Buddhist place) and saw the Boddhi tree that Buddha originally sat under and taught from. Well, its a tree from part of the originial.
We also saw some excavated ruins (umm, its ok to walk all over them here, not like stay-behind-the-ropes at home) and a Thai buddhist temple. We've hooked up with an American woman called Shera (i keep thinking princess of power and singing the He-Man song). She's just finished a 10 day trek in the Himalayas, and then told us she is 60 years old!!!! WTF, I would have said late 40s!
Anyway, we have breakfast together and went to Sarnath together as well.

Today is Diwali - the festival of lights. The Boi and I are gonna try and find a post office, and maybe do a little more shopping before the festivities begin.

Catch you all later, xxx Bex

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The other night, an elephant walked past my balcony...

Welcome to Haridwar!
It was a shame I didnt have my camera nearby to take a photo.... the elephant was followed by glittering carriages in which people dressed as gods were being paraded. Interspersed between the gods were raucous marching bands, with crazy sequined outfits.

Haridwar is one of India's holiest cities, sitting on the Ganga (ganges). Its packed full of pilgrims from all over India - it meant that we (as westerners) were hassled less as there was plenty of other mugs to sell their wares too. I bought these interesting carved wooden stamps, I hope Customs will let them back in the country!

(BTW - I've put some India photos into my Flickr if you want to have a look)

The next day we went on a 'safari' (ummm, not enough animals for it be a real safari) in Rajaji National Park. The tour guide, Sanjeev, has his own baby elephant he adopted called Yogi, and we got to get up real close with him! He trunk-drooled on Fin which was too too funny! (think of a runny nose mixed with dirt, coming out of a trunk).


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Then we went into the park proper. Sanjeev knew his stuff and pointed out all different kinds of birds and monkeys to us. We even saw woodpeckers (bizarre). We walked down a path that had thick forest on either side (like Jungle Book) when he stopped and told us to be very quiet.

He asked if we could hear that 'noise' - turns out it was deer speaking to each other, saying there was a leopard or tiger in the area...
Another 50m down the track, and there were leopard footprints in the dirt!
We came out of the track onto the banks of the Ganga, and had a bit of a rest. On the way back to the car, Sanjeev pointed out some tiger's footprints - they were bigger than my hand! I was kinda glad we didnt see any big cats!

Later on that day we decided to head to Rishikesh for a break.

Rishikesh rocks! The town proper is nothing special, but as you get further north its really gentle. We have a super cheap and basic hotel room (300 rps per night = $9) that over looks the Ganga and the temples. I love it.



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You can get almost any food at the restaurants here (I had a decent pizza the other night) as well as wonderful Indian food. The ambience is really quiet for India and there is enough westerners around that we dont get stared at heaps.
We went white water rafting on the Ganga yesterday - and it was fun! I REALLY didnt want to go but Fin talked me into it. We got to jump into the water and swim next to the raft, and I nearly got thrown out on the bigger rapids (dont worry mum - i was wearing a helmet and life jacket, promise). Heaps o' fun!

Today we are resting and recuperating, and catching up on emails... I'm feeling the best I have been for a long time, and didnt need to take my meds this morning which was super.

Thanks again to Joy, Lena and Nyondo for putting us up and taking care of me!
Rewalser Lake is awesome and I can see why those 3 girls love living there. The community is really friendly and its so peaceful compared to other parts of India.



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Walking around the lake and seeing the 'sacred' fish (in a scared lake, of course!), getting chased by the not-so-sacred monkeys, it was a really nice place to stay. The wild mountain nuns are hilarious too - so not like nuns over in Australia - they are pranksters and jokesters and love having their photos taken (cos they are pretty hehe).

Side note: Things I have lost in India
1 x pair of sunglasses I lost down the train toilet as I was throwing up
1 x pair of sunglasses between Mandi and Rewalser
1 x blue sports bra, as above
1 x my stomach lining!
(I only have one other bra with me - Fin jokes I can probably lose it while wearing it)