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Jodhpur & Jaisalmer

Rajastan Desert Towns

sunny 42 °C

Hi All

Since the last blog I have been doing a lot of traveling. I bought took a sleeper berth on a bus travelling from Amritsar to Bikaner. Sleeper berth is really a misnomer, because how can anyone sleep on a bus that is dogging pot holes and crazy on coming traffic and it is so hot that when you put your hand out the window of the train or bus its like putting it into a warm oven, such is the heat of Rajastan. I always end up knackered after these journeys.

I hopped off the bus in Bikaner and straight on to a train bound for Jodhpur. After 20 hrs of travel, the "Cosy Guest House" situated in the old city of Jodhpur looked very inviting and so it proved. Most of the houses in this part of town are painted blue and the hotel was even bluer than most. It had a great roof top view of Meherangarh Fort, which towers over the whole city. I had something to eat and crashed out. I awoke early next morning so I could walk around the Fort and get some great views of the city. Then it was onto another train early in the afternoon bound for the desert town of Jaisalmer, which sits very close to the Indian / Pakistani border. On arrival in town I had a lovely, ice cold beer and some food and crashed out once again.

Like in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer has a fort that overlooks the whole city but it differs from the one in Jodhpur, in that, it still houses a portion of the city’s inhabitants. Most towns in Rajasthan usually have a fort of some description, which is a remnant of a bygone age, when raping and pillaging were a way of life. The history of the Jaisalmer Fort is no exception, it endured a seven year siege back in 1298, which only ended when the men of the beseiged town rode out of the fort to their certain deaths and most of the women committing “johar”, the practice of wives throwing themselves on the burning pyre of their recently deceased husbands.

In the afternoon of the next day I joined a camel trek, for an overnight stay in the desert.I went out there with 2 women from Shanghai, Ashley a 26 year old financial analyst and her mother. They were good fun and even when it got cold and wet at night, from the desert’s heavy dew, they still managed to have a good giggle about it. I really enjoyed jogging around on my camel and by the end of the trek, we were quite relaxed in each others company. The only really off putting thing out there, was the odd sonic boom, indicating another Indian jet racing overhead, protecting the border.

We all ended up with sore backsides, but overall enjoyed the experience of roughing it in the desert. Then it was back in town and on a bus, bound for Udaipur.

Regards

Chris Sig
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Posted by Chris Sig 08:58 Archived in India

Udaipur & Mt Abu

Morning Rituals

sunny 35 °C

Hi Guys

It’s just before daybreak and the city is quiet, I can see a herd of cows huddled together under the local street lamp. A pack of stray dogs mooch past, keeping up their nightly pastime of meandering the streets looking for food and fighting with other packs.

As the day begins to break, the women start coming out of the houses with buckets and jerry cans, to fill them with water from the local hand pump. The first few women often pump an extra bucket of water, to help fill the adjacent trough, for the cows that are looking on and the other animals that will pass through the street during the day. With this activity the cows start getting restless and begin to wander back to their daytime street positions throughout the neighbourhood, where they will feed on scraps of food the households throw out for them.

Women also start appearing on roof tops to hang out the daily washing. You can also hear the beginning of men coughing and spitting, as they clear their throats and teeth. If you are in the countryside you would also observe people squatting, side by side, in the fields performing their morning ablutions, oblivious of the others nearby.

People sit in out of the way places, saying to themselves their daily prayers. Up until this point hardly a word is spoken. Then there is the wail of the local mullah reciting the morning prayers, which resonate over the whole neighbourhood.

More people start appearing on the street and the sound of chatter can start to be heard. Shops start to unlock and lift their roller doors getting ready for another day of business. Char sellers; start firing up their burners to get the first brew of tea on the go. With the sun up the shops start doing their first trades and the traffic in the street intensifies. Children in their school uniforms start appearing in doorways, giggling and engaging in playful banter, while waiting for the rickshaw or tuktuk that will take them to school.

From this time till sunset the sound of talking, horns, and music are continuous accompanied by the sights of all kinds of traffic, from bicycles right through to small trucks and even the odd camel or elephant. This morning ritual occurs in most towns in India.

Udaipur is no exception, it is a very peaceful city set amongst low lying hills and 3 or 4 lakes. It often has a breeze blowing through it, keeping the temperature down.

Mt Abu on the other hand, can not decide whether it wants to be a mountain resort or Disneyland

Regards

Chris Sig

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Posted by Chris Sig 07:12 Archived in India

Final Blog of Up the Ganges

Highlights, Lowlights and Panoramas

sunny 20 °C

Highlights:

Mahabodhi Temple and the Bodhi Tree

An unexpected highlight of my Indian travels was a trip to Bodh Gaya to see the Mahabodhi Temple, the place where Buddha gained enlightenment while he sat under the Bodhi tree. In essence, it is the place where the Buddhist philosophy began.

On entering the Heritage Park, the noises & bustle of India were replaced by the peace & serenity of the park and its followers. A very mild mannered guide offered to show me around, but I refused, as I wanted to check it out , on my own, in my own time.

I loved The place I had to see first was the “Tree”, so I walked around the back of the temple to see it. It is not the original tree but a descendant of it and while sitting quietly in front of it, I imagined a meditating Buddha sitting there. Why here?

As I walked around the grounds, but I kept on being drawn back to the tree and it occurred to me, that if ever there was a place for a novice to learn how to meditate, this must be it. So I meditated for what seemed like 5 minutes but when I checked my watch, it had been over half an hour.

After such a successful meditating session it also seemed that this was also the place to pray for people. So I started "remembering or praying" for my family, departed parents and then this broadened this out to cover my extended family and friends. I repeated my family again just in case, the wording I had used in my early “Pray Fors”, was not up to scratch. I finished at the end with anyone else I thought was worth a mentioning or could remember, such as Cliff Wooley, an early mentor, horse trader and riding instructor and then recalled the time at the Nelson Agriculture Show, when his daughter’s gig was kicked apart by a big white, high stepping horse. The usually well-mannered trap horse just arched its back & quickly reduced the gig to kindling and Melva pretty much gave up showing & driving horses after that.

I finished with a another quick prayer for the departed and noted that the odd tear was starting to run down my cheeks. So I just sat there staring at the tree waiting for the emotional regret to pass, it eventually did, but surfaced again when I started to walk around the temple a couple of times to finish my visit. I must have looked a bit of a cot case, walking around the temple with tears running down my face.

I also spent a bit more time visiting couple of other temples nearby that also celebrate Buddha’s enlightenment and found myself at dusk looking for an auto-rickshaw to take me the 20 kilometres back to the station, to catch the evening train back to Varanasi.

So I approach one of the few rickshaw drivers left there and asked for a price to get to take me to the station. He realises I am trapped quarry and asks for 200 Rupees, 10 times what I paid to get there. I told him "he would have to be fucking joking" but he wasn’t. Eventually I managed to get a ride in a horse drawn cart, to take me the couple of kms back to the main road where hopefully where there are more rickshaws so I could barter a better price.

After about half a kilometre the young guy driving the horse decides to whip it into action, I tell him to slow down as I don’t want to be responsible for flogging the poor horse to death, but he doesn’t listen and so I end up grabbing the reins and pulling the horse to a halt and at the same time I manage to flag down a passing auto rickshaw, carrying 7 adults and 3 children, who quickly offers me the good price for a ride back into town.

So I go pay the young horse wrangler, the money that we agreed on, but he wants more, I reply with a “ for fucks sake” and “he would have to be fucking joking” and thrust the money in his hand while at the same time jumping off the back of the his cart, and then, just as quickly squeezing myself into the waiting auto-rickshaw.

This coincides with the “200 Rupee!” rickshaw driver passing me and I can't help giving him the bird, which unsurprisingly returns. As we drive off, I turn to look at the horse driver who is still yelling at me.

Well so much for my newly found peace and tranquillity. Sorry Buddha!

Lowlights

Poverty & Illiteracy

Illiteracy is one of the biggest diseases India has, it leads to whole families living in abject poverty with little chance of advancement.

Being a foreign traveller in this country of “haves and the have nothings”, your path will be crossed by touts, leading or misleading you to sometimes good but often dodgy accommodation and sight seeing trips and the taxis drivers who push up their prices, when carrying tourists, while often promoting “better hotels” that give them some sort of kick back, if you stay in them.

Then there are the over zealous salesmen, who are usually selling some questionable gismo or merchandise, who won’t take “no thanks” as an answer. They will follow you down the road keeping the conversation alive with the usual questions, (What is your name? Where are you from?, Are you travelling alone? Is this your first visit to India?), that help them work out who they are selling to and also buy time to keep their sales pitch going. The end result is often just a bit of time wasted .

Con men, now these are the guys that can really piss you off. I mentioned an “ear one” in my blog “Getting my Sea Legs” but the one that really got my attention occurred in the streets of New Delhi when a shoeshine guy offers to clean my sandals. I look down to see a small pile of shit on my left foot, that I didn’t feel being applied. My initial reaction was one of disgust at seeing it there and then having to wash it off with bottled water, but disgust turned to rage when I became aware of the shoeshine guy still offering his help. I just knew he is the person responsible for putting it there, in the first place. I started to walk towards him calling him a scumbag and other bloody toe rag phrases and I am sure he sensed that I had vengeance on my mind as he vanished into the street just as quickly as he had appeared. They can almost ruin your day.

And lastly the beggars who if they are genuinely handicapped it doesn’t hurt to give them a few rupees but make sure it is not just an act. The ones that can be a bit annoying are those ones that grab you and I also am not to keen on the mothers who send their kids out to do the begging, why would you encourage these practices by giving them money. Donate to a local charity?

Comparisons

Trains Vs. Buses: Trains every time, 2nd class sleeper works for me. With buses, you obviously have more routes and destinations available to you but there were a couple times I said to myself that I have never had such a bone jarring experience. I was travelling in a bus sleeper, an antonym, I now realise, I enjoy the fact that they allow you to stretch out but on a rough road they can be as jarring as sailing in a yacht heading into a windy and choppy sea.

Delhi Vs. Mumbai: Mumbai in a Kiwi minute, its hot but it is by the sea, not like their inland, capital city counterparts in Delhi, where it is often very hot and is situated miles inland. I think, like the climate, that Mumbayans seem more chilled than their Delhi brothers & sisters. Wish I had travelled to where ever Bollywood is.

Rough Guide Vs. Lonely Planet: If Rough guide gave expected price and price range on all accommodation that it mentions in its travel book, then it would be Rough Guide as their local histories and backgrounds are more in depth than their rival Lonely Planet, the market leader of travel guides. So it’s a toss up, as I like the pricing predictions in Lonely Planet.

Statistics (Usually travelled 2nd class on trains)
Journey ----- Type of Transport ----- Distance ----- Price (Rupees) ----- Duration
Mumbai - Varanasi Train – Sleeper 1533 kms ----- 1593Rs ----- 28.0 hrs
Varanasi - Bodh Gaya Train - Seat ------ 258 kms ------ 147Rs ----- 5.5 hrs
Bodh Gaya – Varanasi Train - Seat ----- 258 kms ----- 147Rs ----- 5.5 hrs
Varanasi - Agra ----- Train - Sleeper ----- 607 kms ----- 249Rs ----- 13.0 hrs
Agra - Delhi ----- Train - Sleeper ----- 350 kms ----- 237Rs ----- 4.5 hrs
Delhi - Kalka ----- Train - Seat ------ 303 kms ----- 190Rs ----- 5.0 hrs
Kalka - Shimla ----- Toy Train - Seat ----- 97 kms ------ 182Rs ----- 5.5 hrs
Shimla - Manali ----- Bus - Seat ----- 420 kms ----- 257Rs ----- 10.0 hrs
Manali - Dharamsala ----- Bus - Seat ----- 369 kms ----- 600Rs ------ 7.0 hrs
Dharamsala - Amristar ----- Bus - Seat ----- 335 kms ----- 128Rs ----- 8.0 hrs
Amristar - Bikaner ----- Bus - Sleeper ----- 603 kms ----- 350Rs ----- 15.0 hrs
Bikaner - Jodhpur ------ Train - Seat ----- 278 kms ----- 148Rs ----- 5.5 hrs
Jodhpur - Jaisalmer ----- Train - Seat ----- 290 kms ----- 152Rs ----- 4.0 hrs
Jaisalmer - Udaipur ----- Bus - Sleeper ----- 603 kms ----- 450Rs ----- 13.5 hrs
Udaipur - Mt Abu ----- Bus - Seat ----- 197 kms ----- 120Rs ----- 5.0 hrs
Mt Abu - Ahmedadad ----- Train - Seat ----- 180 kms ----- 110Rs ----- 4.5 hrs
Ahmedadad - Bhagnagar ----- Bus - Seat ----- 191 kms ------ 140 Rs ----- 4.0 hrs
Bhagnagar – Ahmedadad ----- Bus - Seat ----- 191 kms ----- 140Rs ----- 4.0 hrs
Ahmedabad - Mumbai ----- Train - Sleeper ----- 481 kms ----- 460Rs ----- 9.0 hrs
Total Statistics ------Type of Transport ----- 6663kms ----- 5563Rs ----- 154.5 hrs

NBs:
Usually travelled 2nd class
Sept 09 Conversion rates Indian Rupees per $US = 46, per $NZ = 31, per $Aus = 37

Taj_Mahal.jpgMumbai Slums

Mumbai Slums

Mumbai Parade

Mumbai Parade

Golden Temple Followers

Golden Temple Followers

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Posted by Chris Sig 01:45 Archived in India Tagged backpacking

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