Desert India: 01.09.2013

We arrived early morning and before we could even step off the train, the man in the bunk underneath me woke up and said “you want rickshaw?”Yep – still on the stationary train at 6am, I was barely awake – hair sticking out like a cactus from my head – and we were already being touted…
We stepped off the train onto a platform that was more like an ocean of rickshaw touters and taxi drivers. They just didn’t seem to understand “no.” Luckily, we are couch surfing here in Jaisalmer, and a young boy holding a sign with our names on it was our saving grace.

Sitting in the back of an open jeep in the cool morning air, outside was still too dark for us to see much. Our host here owns a beautiful hotel with an amazing rooftop view of the Jaisalmer Fort, which looks more like an enormous sandcastle. Spectactular.
We sat on the rooftop sipping chai as the sun came up and the fort and streets below us came into view.
The streets are dusty here and cows and goats wander casually, people are busy already in the early hours of the morning – pulling chai, boiling oil for samosas and other deep fried street snacks, driving rickshaws, pulling carts, opening stores and setting up for a new day. I love this time of the day in India – I’ve decided I’m not awake often enough at this time of the day to enjoy it (sleep becomes the priority most of the time) – early train arrivals usually are the reason for me not being asleep, and it’s usually so worth it.
India is always so alive and buzzing, it’s rarely quiet – often even late into the nights – so the quieter times of early mornings are peaceful and beautiful.

We spent our day exploring the town; Jaisalmer has the only still inhabited fort in Rajisthan, so I’ve read, and walking through the winding lane way up into the main area was full of people selling and buying, touting and driving about on motorbikes and in rickshaws. Textiles and patchworks, camel leather, tourist pants and ‘fake’ (photocopied) books seem to be the items of choice for sale, and many touristy restaurants, but there are also houses and people living our their daily lives and some less intrusive businesses. The buildings, architecture and structures  inside the fort are magnificent, and we spent our time marvelling at them whilst managing to avoid the many offers from  touters, which went something like this…
“Hello madame, you want to come my shop? Looking only free.”  – No thanks.
“Are you sure I can not help to you to spend your money?”  –
Very sure.
“Please, give to me just one chance to rip you off.”  –
Goodbye.
…and strolling about drinking bottle after bottle of water in what was a feeble attempt to stay even slightly hydrated in the heat.

We ended up booking ourselves a Camel Safari, starting the following day at 8am, with an overnight stay in the Thar Desert and arrival back the following evening around 6pm. Yep, that’s about 12 hours on a camel’s back in total. Excellent. With a safari booked, we headed to a little tourist shop where a man had earlier made a lengthy attempt to lure us in for free looking. He was so persistent, we decided he deserved our hundred rupees. The scarf was quite nice.

Our evening was spent with our generous host and two other couch surfers, where together we shared good food, good conversation, Indian beer and good company. We had a delicious home cooked mutton curry with chapatti, prepared on the ground and cooked on an open fire in the back yard. Amazing, and a lot of fun… a great way to end our first evening in Jaisalmer.

Tomorrow it’s off to the Thar Desert – Desert Girl and Camel Man are ready… or are we?

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Recovery India: 28 – 31.08.2013

We were woken abruptly at around 7:30am on our first morning in Jodhpur by a group of men in the guest house talking/yelling/arguing in a loud and aggressive tone. This lasted for two whole hours, and as soon as I felt it was “safe” to leave, we checked-out and headed for Baba Haveli – the guest house we’d planned to stay in whilst here (but had unfortunately forgotten the name of last night when we arrived late the previous night).

In the heat of the morning, packs strapped to our backs, we walked through the streets and narrow lanes of Jodhpur – Rajisthan’s blue city – past old buildings with peeling paint, hues of blues and whites, decorated with beautiful architecture and shrines to various gods.
We passed cows and rickshaws, stopping for chai before finally entering the Sadar Market area and the stunning clock tower; the centre point of the old city. We passed market bazaars and people selling fruits and bangles, men polishing shoes and women in colourful saris. It was busy, but there were very few tourists and little touting compared to Pushkar, and we felt instantly more relaxed, even with our packs on our backs drawing attention.

Arriving at Baba Haveli, we were greeted by a young guy, Imran, and taken to the roof top, which over looked the blue city towards the mighty Mehrangarh Fort. It was so incredibly beautiful and impressive; we were captivated immediately by Jodhpur.

We were just as captivated by the food served; we ordered vegetarian dishes with paneer and watched as the chef, Tek, cooked up beautiful, fresh food with the softest paneer.
Food here at Baba Haveli is incredible, and we were welcome to watch it being prepared. Once we had ordered, the ingredients for our meals were then bought from the market – fresh – to be prepared with fine attention to detail. Watching as Tek made naan in a pot covering an open flame was amazing.

Baba Haveli very soon became “our Jodhpur home” – we were exhausted by Pushkar and hadn’t really taken a “break” to do not much all day since we’d arrived in India. Even though I feel guilty wasting a precious day of travel by not “traveling,” we really needed the break to recover and eat something not oily.

We spent our first day in Jodhpur in the guest house relaxing, chatting with Imran, playing the ukulele and sitting on the roof top in the shade of Jodhpur’s heat.
We were invited Imran’s family to watch them making Indian sweets, in which the whole family was involved. We got to try them and were instantly welcomed to the home as if we were old friends or family; it was wonderful.

We ventured out briefly to the clock tower area, taking in the sights and sounds of the Sadar Market area, but mostly just hung about enjoying ourselves and being full from all this good, fresh, not-so-oily food. This pretty much set the pace for our four days here, and we loved ever minute of it.

We slept late and chatted with the locals and tourists, Jake got a cut-throat shave at the local barbers, Imran’s sister painted my hands and feet with beautiful henna designs, we ate good food, ventured out and about around the clock tower area and main bazaar area, drank incredibly sweet-but-delicious lassi from a famous ‘hotel’ here, visited the famous ‘Omelette Man’ for very unique omelets, bought a couple of scarves and some new clothes (for Jake) and a traditional Jodhpur textile piece.

We wandered about the town area and enjoyed just being in and feeling the place, rather than sight seeing. Evenings were spent watching the sun set over the beautiful fort, listening to prayers pulsating through the city and enjoying the kite flying activities which every local seemed to be taking part in on their roof tops; all the while devouring incredible food and pots of chai. I spent one evening doing yoga with Imran’s brother on the roof top with a couple of other guests, and swapped travel stories over naan and curry.

One afternoon, along with two other travelers, Jake and I went with Imran and his cousin to see a Bollywood movie being released that day.

Jake spent an afternoon with Tek drinking beer and buying himself a new, non-Macpac brand travel wardrobe at a local handicraft fixed-price joint where the salesmen continued to tell him nothing would fit. Lots fitted, apparently, because he now prides himself on his “local look.”

We finally, after days of lazing about, make a visit to the fort, but didn’t even go right in! We simply ran out of time, and the entrance fee was too high to pay for just a few minutes inside. That, and there was a lot of “photo photo” going on, and lots of men staring. We promised we’d go back with more time on our final day here, satisfied by the magnificent view from our roof top.

Our last day in Jodhpur was wonderful; we found an art shop “Umaid Heritage Art School”, where I took a painting class – for free!In India!? – for hours on end with a wonderful, very chatty artist, Vijay. Jake Vijay shared supposedly “Rajisthan’s best samosa”  and we drank chai whilst I covered my paper in silver paint. I love Rajisthani paintings; no amount of decoration is “too much” – especially when shiny paint colours like gold and silver are involved. I got so caught up in painting, and Jake was so happy to just wander about and chit chat with locals, that by the time we left it was almost 5pm and the fort was closed.

Back “home” for our final evening, we sat on the roof top looking out at the lit up fort, chatting with travelers and wishing we had more time here to simply be. Unfortunately, we had to leave – our midnight train for Jaisalmer was waiting for us. We left, eventually, feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, well-fed, with new friends an invitation to Imran’s wedding.

Jodhpur is a place we’ll come back to, for sure…

Arriving at the train station, after fighting a tuk tuk driver to drop his ridiculous price to something semi-reasonable, I was shocked: sleeping bodies lined every bit of spare ground space in the car park, both outside and inside the train station, as well as on the stairs, along the walk ways and on the platforms. Those that were awake stared unnervingly at us, and those sleeping looked like thin, gaunt dead bodies piled head to foot with each other.
India seems to be always such a contrasting and confronting country.

Our next destination is Jaisalmer – the desert city – where we plan to get our bottoms onto a camel’s back and trot out into the desert for a while.
I seriously can not wait – just call me Desert Girl...