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...

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Disappointing India: 26 – 27.08.13

Early to rise at around 4:15am, I was ready to curl back into bed and sleep all day and ignore the 6am train to Ajmer… but we didn’t, and instead, we packed our packs onto our backs, walked down the 70 stairs of our guest house and walked out into the cool darkness of a still quiet, sleeping Udaipur.

We got a tuk tuk to the station, bought a ticket from the counter (after being pushed in front of by countless people – yep; still trying to work out how queues in India actually work) and then took one look at the general 2nd class carriages, already brimming with people. How were we and our packs meant to even get on, let alone sit for five or so hours, was beyond me.
Thankfully, some reserved 2nd class seats were empty and we paid a few rupee extra for a seat of our own each. Anything is possible in India, as we keep finding out.

We spent an uncomfortable 5 hours being stared at by hundreds of pairs of unrelenting eyes, packed in to our seats along with 4 other boys who spent a decent portion of their time staring at my chest, pretending to look elsewhere when I caught them and gave them the eye.

We arrived in Ajmer and sunk a couple of chai whilst people photographed us, pretending to take photos of the train station – subtlety isn’t so well performed here, it seems. The stares kept coming, as well as a few smiles and laughs every now and again, as we made our way out of the station and were immediately pounced on by drivers. We decided to go straight to Pushkar, not too far from Ajmer.

Arriving into Pushkar, our driver was stopped by authorities and we were made to pay a “tourist toll” before we could enter the town. Fantastic, being extorted already. hmmm….what’s that sudden bitter taste in my mouth?

We found a cool guest house packed with travelers and bartered a room down from 600 to 400. Nice.
We soon discovered the travelers were a large group of Israelis who were intent on talking to only each other and no one else. Not so nice.
Regardless, we were here, and – albeit exhausted – we were ready to explore a new place.
Pushkar is a holy city, the central lake it’s beating heart. One of the few Brama temples in the world is located in Pushkar, and pilgrims come here from all over India and the world to bathe in the holy lake and visit the temple. Whilst heavily steeped in ancient tradition, rich in culture and religion, this place is also a buzzing tourist destination. We’d read, and been warned, about the touters in Pushkar, and we were well prepared… or were we?

Walking into town, we dodged cows and piglets (and Jake stepped in a massive cow shit) as we passed beautiful architecture with peeling paint and fine detailing. This beauty was set against touristic shops and touters begging for us to “yes come look here now come, you buy, what you want, come look, I have, good price, come look, what you want?” At one point a man shoved his hand into our face with some wilted tiny flowers and tried, aggressively, to get us to come to the lake to receive a blessing (which refused; we were well aware that would then be followed with a forced 1000 rupee “donation”). Women selling jewellery crowded me and cut me off, grabbing my arms from all angles and demanding me to buy. The main bazaar road was packed to the brim with pilgrims who stared at us hard, almost causing accidents when they continued to stare at us when they should’ve been concentrating on what was ahead of them, not behind. Children with babies on their hips asked us for money and put their fingers to their mouths, motioning for food. People dressed in orange cloaks and turbans demanded ten rupees from us, promising to not ask again if we gave them money. As we walked past, almost every shop keeper would attempt to lure us in; some simply demanded “you come here now.”
Aaah, no thanks.
Amongst all this craziness was an ocean of pilgrims and cows who filled the road, walking slowly towards the lake ghats and the temple.
Pushkar at a first glance seems beautiful, but it was exhausting within a few minutes.

For lunch, we’d heard great things about a health food place that served wholesome organix meals, and we ordered amazing sounding vegetable and tofu dishes that, when they came out more than an hour later, and more than half an hour apart, were very unappetizing. Disappointing.

The sun is hot here, and as we took our shoes off to walk down to the lake, the soles of our feet were burning within seconds. Hobbling towards the lake and ghats where people were bathing, the scene was spectacular but short lived; our feet were burned.

Exhausted and not at all in the mood to be stared at any longer, we’ve retreated to our guest house, away from the sellers and the shops and tourist tricksters. We ventured out later this evening to see if things are a bit calmer, which they were not.
We ate “falafels” with strange ingredients that were oddly delicious and watched pilgrims dressed in gold and glitter walk bare footed along the streets. We drank lots of chai and averted eye contact with the hundreds of people staring at us.

At the end of our first evening I was a little put off but keen to give Pushkar more of a chance; I was hoping my first impression of Pushkar won’t be my last..

Day two in Pushkar and I’ve gone from the whole “I love India and all it’s hecticness” to “I hate India; can someone direct me to the nearest International Airport – Departure lounge please.” That may be a slight over exaggeration, but it didn’t feel too drastic today when I was almost in tears.

We were keen to give Pushkar a second chance; it’s been said this place is a fantastic town to get some relaxation hours and some “shanti shanti” as they call it, but  it ended up that I felt nothing but stressed and uncomfortable in this town.

Planning to stay another night here, we ventured out and made a chai stop, where a greasy top-balding man with curly hair past his buttocks and a very tight tank top was pulling chai. Two chai thanks.
Sitting down, a lovely local began spontaneously performing a musical concert for us, whilst Jake sat smiling and I sat wondering how many rupees he was going to demand once he was finished playing.
He finished, demanded money, and I was forced to leave my chai and pay to escape – Jake still sitting there smiling and me hissing for him to move away before we get robbed. I wasn’t so much pissed off at the fact he’d demanded money as I was that someone had come between me and my chai!

Good morning Pushkar…

We headed to a roof top restaurant, the Laughing Buddha, where we met a fellow traveler and were harassed by a staff member who sure as shit did not seem like a laughing Buddha. He demanded we decide what we wanted to eat as soon as we sat down and hovered over us until we ordered, bot not before scowling at us to remove our shoes. He then served us horrible food and then charged us 100 rupees extra with no real reason and exclaimed he’d explained the extra cost at the start of our meal – which he had not. Furious, we were forced to pay and left – not laughing. Someone’s getting a very bad Trip Advisor review, that’s for sure.

Back in the street, dodging cow shit, beggars dressed as monkeys and people rattling cans in our faces and demanding money, Jake and I watched through our sun glasses lenses as every man stopped to stare at me in a very uncomfortable way. Suddenly, I felt very unsafe and insecure in this town, and the crowds who turned their heads to pierce me with their glare made me want to escape.

It was around the same time that the hundredth person demanded cash from us and shook metal canisters in our faces, and when Jake watched men openly staring at my breasts, that we decided it was time to leave Pushkar. We’d had enough of this place.

We booked through a travel agent and paid for a deluxe air conditioned bus – leaving at 5pm this evening from Ajmer – and had a quick meal at a falafel street eatery that ended up being the best meal we had in this town. We also booked a taxi to take us there, so we would be spared the hassle of trying to negotiate another bus with no luggage space and 300 people crammed in. That was the last thing we wanted to do… Oh, if only we’d known what was about to come…

Back at our guest house, they charged us the full room rate for tonight because we checked-out a couple of hours late, and we were sent off to Ajmer with not even a goodbye. They were lovely when we arrived, but very rude when we decided to leave earlier. Nice.

As we left Pushkar, with piglets playing in mounds of cow shit and the wafting smell of urine filling our nostrils, I realised this is a place I am never going to visit ever again… and I was completely fine with it. I felt sad that our experience here had not been positive, but I guess that goes with traveling.

At Ajmer bus station, we were more than an hour early for our 5pm bus. We checked with enquirys about which platform we needed to go to, and spent a happy hour and a half trying to avoid hundreds of beggars who constantly asked us for money, and the thousands of men staring at me; two things that have started to become a daily struggle. We sat in the filthy station at platform one while cows trotted about freely and eight million flies swarmed a half-dead stray dog who was sprawled below my feet; all the while feeling guilty about the poor beggars and saddened by our bad experience in Pushkar.

Our bus pulled up, the driver and then the conductor checked our tickets, we were waved onto the bus, our luggage was shoved into the luggage compartment, and then 10 rupees was demanded for a luggage fee that oddly, no local seemed to be handing over. So I stood there like a spoiled tourist, demanding to know why we deserve to be treated differently and shouting that this is extortion!

On the bus, our seats 12 and 13 were taken by locals who had tickets to prove it, and we were forced to sit at the front of the bus with a rising suspicion that something bad was about to happen.
The conductor checked our tickets again, and then again, and then again, and then again. He then spent a good hour discussing something about us in Hindi with the driver, before checking our tickets again, then again, and then acquiring the help of a local who spoke English and soon became our translator whilst I yelled and the local passengers stared.

English translator man ended up calling our travel agent, who gave him a bull shit story that he didn’t know who we were and that he lived in Jaipur. Lying travel agent man later called back and tried to accuse us of lying and taking a deluxe bus when we should’ve taken a government bus – even though we had a ticket saying we’d booked the deluxe.
Turns out our travel agent had cheated to us, given us a fake ticket, charged us a ridiculous price, and sent us on our way to deal with the fall out of getting on a deluxe air conditioned bus without actually having a valid ticket. Translator man spent his time translating my anger and yelling, which was mainly because the driver and conductor had both checked our tickets prior to boarding and told us to board, and were now trying to kick us off on a main stretch of highway somewhere in India at dusk. When I said it’s not our fault we got on and that we were told to by the conductor this was our bus, the response was “they are only human and they make mistake.”

Translator man laughed; I’m not sure what was so funny but I was on the brink of tears. I was mentally viewing a map of Asia and planning where we were going to escape to instead of staying in this country. Translator man told us we’d have to get off at the next station, and would have a 99% chance of getting another bus the rest of the way to Jodhpur. Awesome. Thoughts of having to sleep head to dirty foot with locals in an isolated bus station were starting to scare me, and I was not keen to get off.
This then lead to me yelling that how dare they think its okay to kick two foreigners off a bus in a country where we don’t speak the language, know no one, have no phone, and furthermore have no idea where we are.
I don’t think they actually gave a shit, as we were kicked off at some random station and shoved onto a Government bus; translator man gave us his business card and wished us well. Thanks…I guess?

The government bus was something out of my night mare, I was begging the translator man to let us pay to get back on the deluxe air conditioned bus. Surely this was a joke, right? Whilst trying not to get trampled by a cow or hit by one of the thirty buses that were reversing, we were grabbed and pulled onto a bus that was already moving and full to the brim and overflowing with people. People were yelling at us to sit, and I was yelling back “Where!?” Every possible seat was taken – some two seat sections had three people sitting – and the isles were so full of people every part of me was touching someone else. And this, I did not like. My backpack was smashing people in the face, and my front pack rubbing against others. Jake was weighed down with both big packs, so 40-odd kgs was resting on his shoulders and no doubt smashing a few more people about as we were pushed, shoved, pulled, squeezed and forced into two seats that were cleared for us two whities. Oh, the stares we got.

Finally in our seats, we were forced to spend the next four hours watching the clock, our packs, and the terrifying traffic whilst we sat, numb-bummed and cramped with 20kgs of bags across our laps and a man sleeping soundly on my shoulder. Oh, the stares we continued to get.

Hours passed and slowly the bus thinned out a little – enough to remove Jake’s pack and store it at the front of the bus. We passed strange sights and music blaring, the occasional urine smell, countless road-dwelling cows, sleeping bodies sprawled over news paper and thousands of people walking along the roadside wearing white and carrying massive flags.

Arriving into Jodhpur – still alive – was a feat on its own, and as we clambered off the bus in the dark with our packs heavy on our backs, we were in no mood for bull shit and scams. Especially me.
Foolish would be anyone who thought they could trick me right now.

But foolish was the tuk tuk driver who thought he could get 80 rupees out of me for a 35 rupee trip, by telling me it was “local India price.” He seemed a little shocked when the white girl calmly told him straight to stop lying – I’m not stupid and I’m not paying any more than 40 rupees, and if you even try to charge more you’ll lose your sale completely. Done. Yesssss. India may have been well in the lead, but I was now on the score board with a whopping one point. Things were looking up already in Jodhpur.

Alhough I asked for us to be taken to the clock tower in the central area of Jodhpur, foolish tuk tuk man made a phone call to someone which involved the words “Australian” and “Clock tower.” I immediately demanded, over and over, for him to stop driving right now, to which he responded “you married?”  over and over. Eventually, my screams for him to STOP THE TUK TUK RIGHT NOW! were taken into consideration, but not before he spat out of his tuk tuk and it landed on my arm, for which he then received another telling off from me.
We were taken to his brothers guest house (everyone with a guest house or a tuk tuk seems to be someone’s brother, or cousin, or uncle, or brother’s uncle, or brother’s uncle’s cousin here).
Shockingly, the room was nice and we were able to get a good price.
Of course, we had to argue with the driver to then give us change, and then, finally, before I could stop arguing with every Indian in my sight, I had to demand – at 11pm at night – for someone to please clean our toilet that was wee sodden and lined with a very large poo.

Oh India…

As I lay back on the rock that was our bed, I smiled to myself. The loathing India feelings were fleeting and I was starting to feel happy again.
Goodnight Jodhpur, here’s hoping tomorrow is going to be better.