A Travellerspoint blog

Across the desert!

Jaisalmer and the thar desert, India


Well, I can check camel riding off of my list of things to try! My last night in Johdpur (or so I thought) I met a really awesome group of travelers - an English guy, a Danish girl, and an Ozzie girl, and we went for dinner the next night, the night I was supposed to catch a train to Jaisalmer. They convinced me to come with them the next day in their car, with a driver, and of course I said yes! After an early start we had a beautiful drive to Jaisalmer through the Thar Desert. We arrived, checked out a few hotels, and booked our two day camel safari.

We left for the safari the next day. We drove by jeep to the edge of the desert, where, after a village tour by some village children who ran out to meet us, we met our camels and our guides. We set off on the camels into the desert – very exciting for awhile, and then very uncomfortable!! LaShanté, my camel, liked to go behind all the other camels and walk into the fumes created by them (camels are very gassy animals!) It was a fun day though, and we arrived at some beautiful sand dunes for the night. After playing and rolling around in the sand dunes (and getting sand pretty much everywhere possible) we had a dinner of veg and chapatti and were then told by our head guide that it was time for sing song! The guides sang a Rajasthani song for us, and then told us they’d sing us an English song – the burst into a slightly mangled rendition of Old McDonald, which went straight into Frere Jacque, and then into Country Roads!

We were all pretty tired so we went to bed early. We slept out in the open on some blankets, and it was a very cold night, but it was a full moon and the stars were beautiful. We woke bright and early (and freezing!) in the morning to toast and eggs and then set off for another day on the camels! It was a long, hot one, but we got to see more amazing desert scenery. We were picked up at the end of the day by a jeep and came back into town, showered off the camel smell and sand, and went to dinner.

Yesterday we wandered around the fort – it’s built above the new part of the town and looks like a giant sand castle. Inside there are still shops and people living there. I said goodbye to my new friends and waited around for the long trip to Jaipur by overnight train, and then the longer trip (20 hours!) to Mumbai. The trip was relatively uneventful...although a man pretending to help me with my bags actually used the opportunity to grab my chest. I yelled at him but was too startled to hit him...wish I had! Oh India..

Made it to Bombay this morning. I'm staying in the Salvation Army guesthouse, the cheapest place in Bombay, which is ironically right across the street from the Taj hotel, the most expensive place in Bombay!

Pictures to come...internet connection is too slow here...


Posted by meggiep 03:02 Comments (0)

A fort and an adoptive Indian family

Jodhpur, India


I've spent a brief, but very memorable couple of days in Jodhpur, famous for it's massive medieval fort, Meherangarh, which towers over the city on sandstone cliffs.

The bus here from Udaipur was, well, an Indian bus trip - crammed in with as many other people as will fit on the bus, with the horn blaring for the full six hour journey (and this is on a 'deluxe' bus!), my bag strapped to the roof of the bus...I have to say I definitely prefer the trains! It was a beautiful trip though, through western Rajasthan to the Jodhpur, which is on the edge of the Thar desert.

I stayed in a Haveli, an old, rambling Indian house owned by a delightful, loud Jain family. The patriarch of the family told me to make myself at home, and promptly stuck me onto the back of his nephew's motorcycle to a restaurant for dinner!

Yesterday morning I met a French woman while eating breakfast at the rooftop restaurant, and we set off to the fort together. This being India, though, things did not go according to plan - in the best possible way! While walking to the fort (and getting lost in the tangle of narrow alleys and streets that make up Jodhpur) we passed a house with the front door wide open and wreaths of flowers around the door and windows. We stopped to take a look at what was happening inside, and the delightful family pulled us into the house! Inside, smack in the middle of the floor, was a massive bonfire being fed with ghee (clarified butter). The house was hot and filled with smoke and family members dressed in their finest. The family told us that it was a house 'inauguration' ceremony - the grandparents had just finished renovating the old building and were moving in, and for 2 days a fire was lit in the house to cleanse it! Then we were led upstairs, to a slightly less smoke-filled room, and sat and chatted with the family for a few hours, all the while being photographed and offered food! The family told us that we had to come back today for the rest of the ceremony and a dinner, which I'll be going to tonight. So I now have an Indian family here in Jodhpur! Only in India can you be walking somewhere and then suddenly end up with an adopted family!

After our little detour, Celine and I headed to the fort. It's absolutely massive and has been on the cliffside since the 15th century, and has never been taken by enemies (Rajputs, the main caste in Rajasthan, are warriors and it seems they were a little obsessed with war, bravery and honor!) We took several hours to wander around the fort, stopping for a bit to watch a Bollywood movie being filmed (camels and extras were everywhere!) Afterward, we made our way back to our hotel, the most exhausting part of the day (finding your way around the city is nearly impossible, with every street looking the same and absolutely no organization to the streets and alleyways).

After a yummy dinner here at the hotel I met some British travelers who may be in Jaisalmer when I'm there, so I might be able to meet up with them during the desert festival! After bragging to them that I haven't gotten the infamous 'Delhi belly' yet since arriving in India, I was of course sick last night..so today I'm taking it easy, eating mild things like roti and oatmeal, and hanging around until my late night train to Jaisalmer.

Of course, I've added more pictures, including ones of my new Indian family!

Can't believe Jaisalmer is my last stop in Rajasthan, before I head south to Mumbai and then Goa...time is really flying by!


Posted by meggiep 21:11 Comments (0)

City by the Lake

Udaipur, India


The past few days I've been in beautiful Udaipur, a small city in southern Rajasthan that surrounds a lovely little lake.

It's absolutely gorgeous here - in the middle of the lake there is a fabulous palace that's now been turned into a hotel, where the cheapest rooms are around $700 a night! The lake is surrounded by stone steps and temples and there are two little bridges across - one for rickshaws and one for pedestrians.

My first day here after checking into my fabulous hotel (the bed is actually soft! A first for India!) I wandered around, trying to find a decent, well-priced cooking class. I found one that had excellent reviews, and spent the rest of the day checking out the amazing city palace (definitely somewhere I can see myself living) and people watching in a cute little cafe with excellent cake.

My cooking class last night was amazing. It's run by a lovely woman named Shashi in her tiny two room house, and between teaching the four of us how to make chai, curries, paneer, chapati, naan, pakoras, paranthas, and a ton of other fabulous dishes, she told us her life story. She grew up in a tiny village in rural Rajasthan, speaking only Rajasthani, and was married to a man from Udaipur (traditional arranged marriage, meaning the first time they met or even spoke to each other was the wedding day) who spoke Hindi. She moved to the city, learned Hindi, and luckily loved the man she married.

Nine years ago her husband was killed by a friend over a money issue, and because she's Brahman (highest caste) the rules for widowhood are very strict -for 45 days she had to spend all day sitting in silence in a corner of her house, while neighbour women came by to mourn. After that she wasn't allowed to leave the house for an entire year. Her husband's family didn't support her financially, so she had to get her sons to collect laundry from nearby hotels for her to wash so she could make some money. This had to be kept a secret - Brahmans are not supposed to do any manual labour. Once her year of seclusion was over, she became a house cleaner - and again, she had to keep this secret because of her caste. About 3 years ago some tourists who tried her cooking convinced her to start a cooking class. Her first class she says she was so nervous because she spoke almost no English that her hands were shaking! She's so lovely that tourists have helped her along the way - creating a website for her and recipe books for her classes, while she's taught herself English (along with useful words in half a dozen other languages!)

She's such a strong, lovely woman, it was so wonderful to learn from her. The class started at 5:30 and lasted until after 11 because we were talking so much! When we had finished cooking and eating the lovely food, she gave us all gifts (bracelets and bindis for the girls, good luck elephant keychains for all of us) and made us promise to come by again before we left Udaipur!

Walking home from the class I had my scariest experience in India, possibly in this whole trip - one of the guys from the class walked with me most of the way to my hotel, and I only had half a block left to walk, when suddenly I was surrounded by barking, scary stray dogs - two were fighting with each other and several more kept running towards me and barking - it was absolutely terrifying! I was too afraid to walk much further and the street was deserted except for the mean dogs..after about 5 minutes I heard the beautiful sound of a motorcycle, and some nice boys got off and chased the dogs away from me. YIKES!

Today, as promised, I stopped by Shashi's for a nice cup of chai and to buy some spices from her, and have already promised to come by for another cup of chai before I leave tomorrow. She's so genuinely friendly, it was such a lovely experience! She seemed very concerned about my cough (a leftover from smoggy Delhi) and put lots of extra ginger in my tea to make me feel better.

Udaipur has been lovely and relaxing. I've hurt my foot (of course) from walking around in my horrible cheap flip flops (they only cost $1 and have amazingly lasted 7 months!) so it's been nice to take it easy, get a few massages, and people watch in the cute cafes here. Tomorrow I'm headed to Jodhpur, the 'blue city' for a few days, before I go to the desert fortress of Jaisalmer for a camel safari and the desert festival!

Lovely pictures of Udaipur...definitely my favourite place so far in India:


Posted by meggiep 07:05 Comments (0)

Life in a Holy Town

Pushkar, India


Just spent a lovely few days in Puskar, a little town about 3 hours from Jaipur. Pushkar's centre is a small lake surrounded by temples and ghats, and is a holy town - which means lots of cows and priests, and no 'smooching' (a sign actually says this!) meat, eggs, or alcohol. There are also no rickshaws, which made walking down the street a slightly less dangerous (and more pleasant!) experience!

I stayed at a cute little guesthouse run by an English woman and her Indian husband. They have an adorable son Finn, who is 1 1/2 years old, and her hippie father and hippie friends were also staying there. On the bus to Pushkar a really nice, young Indian couple from the north came up to talk to me, and the woman, Delbiz, invited me to lunch with them! After a delicious lunch Delbiz took me shopping, and because she speaks Hindi and could get the real prices for things and not inflated tourist prices, I was able to by TONS of beautiful bangles (I know, I HAVE to stop shopping), as well as some beautiful hand-made journals and cards. Pushkar is fabulous for shopping -the store owners are a bit nicer, there's less pressure than in Jaipur, and the things are prettier! Delbiz was lovely - she wanted me to only buy the best quality for the cheapest price she could get. When we said goodbye she asked if I wanted to come with her the next day to her home in the mountains!

I spent most of my time in Pushkar just wandering around the market streets that surround the lake and checking out the temples. The town has one of the only Brahma temples, and it's said that Brahma (the creator God) came to Pushkar to perform a self-mortification at the lake, and when his wife Savitri didn't attend, he married another woman. Savitri was annoyed so she vowed that Brahma would not be worshiped anywhere else! There's also a very lovely Savitri temple, as well as several Shiva temples.

Pushkar has such a different vibe to the other places I've been to in India...much more laid back and relaxed. It was a nice change of pace. It's also full of hippies trying to 'find themselves' spritually, so full of fake priests who try to say a puja (prayer) for each member of your family if you pay them 1000s of rupees, but it's easy to avoid. I spent a lot of time just sitting in cafes watching people walk by.

I'm back in Jaipur for the night, after the 'private deluxe' bus back...it's crammed with as many seats as possible, and then they pick up everyone they can along the way, so it ends up carrying 40 or 50 people when it's only supposed to carry 20...and they dropped all the tourists off in a dark alleyway filled with rickshaw drivers trying to get us to hire them...luckily I had Waseem's number so I didn't get ripped off. Really annoying though! I'm glad I only have to take a few buses in India...the trains are definitely better! Tomorrow night I'm on an overnight train to Udaipur, which I've heard is absolutely beautiful.

Added pictures from Pushkar:


Posted by meggiep 06:09 Comments (0)

Tickled Pink by the Pink City

Agra and Jaipur, India

Namaste everyone!!

It's been a great last few days in the lovely 'pink' city of Jaipur, the capital of the desert province Rajasthan.

Of course, this being India, getting here was an adventure! The original plan was to take a very early morning, 2 hour train from Delhi to Agra, spend the day seeing the Taj Mahal, and then taking a night train to Jaipur. When we left the hostel in the morning, it was very foggy..not a good sign, since apparently Indian trains can't run in the fog! After moving incredibly slowly and stopping for long periods of time, my 2 hour train ride became 7 1/2 hours!! By the time I got to Agra there was no point in going into town to see the Taj...plus it was too foggy to see much anyway!

It all happened for a reason though! I went into a restaurant in the train station to wait a few hours for my Jaipur train, and started chatting with another traveler, a woman named Mei from San Francisco. We talked for several hours and really clicked - and it turned out that we were booked on the same train, in seats next to each other! We got into Jaipur late and went to our separate hotels with plans to meet up the next morning.

The next morning though, Mei's cell phone stopped working, so we thought we wouldn't be able to meet up. I took a rickshaw to the City Palace, and who do I find in line? Mei!! Of course, we spent yesterday and today together and had an absolute blast!!

Jaipur is called the Pink City because the old part of the city and the palace are all pink. Apparently several hundred years ago, the maharaja (prince) decided to paint the city pink because it's a colour of welcome and he was hosting another maharaja. It's a very pretty old city and the palace looks like a Disney palace! After wandering around the palace, we visited the Jantar Mantar, an observatory built by another maharaja, who was fascinated by astronomy and a genius. He built around 20 massive instruments that accurately measure celestial bodies, as well as sundials that tell time accurate to 20 seconds! I think it sounds like he definitely had Asperger's!! It was really amazing to wander around the observatory and see what he created more than 300 years ago!

After the old city, Waseem, our lovely rickshaw driver for the past two days, took us to the water palace, beautiful palace sitting in the middle of a lake. After a fabulously spicy lunch, we headed to a textile factory, where we were shown how stamp painted and embroidered textiles are made (Jaipur is famous for these!) The embroidery work is incredibly detailed and labour intensive - it takes 4 men a full week to make 1 piece of cloth. We were then taken to the showroom and introduced to Nick, who was an excellent salesman (and annoyingly kept hinting, first subtly and then not so much, that I should marry him. He even listed his credentials -good education, good job, family owns land...it was hilarious, until it got a bit old!) We weren't planning on buying anything, but after seeing their beautiful products we each bought (the same) duvet cover made with silk. We also got to try on sarees - I can see why Indian women wear them! They instantly make you feel glamorous and elegant...we spent about half an hour looking at ourselves in the mirror and marveling at how fabulous we looked!

This morning Arvind, my guesthouse owner, and I got up very early to go to a free 6:30 am yoga class. The walk there was lovely - the morning was still dark and a bit foggy and it was prayer time so the Muslim calls to prayer were echoing over the city...so peaceful compared to how the city is during the day! The yoga class was very nice, and on the way back we stopped at a street vendor for a hot cup of chai. It was lovely seeing all the rickshaw drivers and vendors getting their morning cups of tea before their days start.

Today Mei and I had Waseem take us to Temple of the Sun God just outside the city. It's also known as the monkey temple since there are 100s of monkeys that live there! The walk up was quite nice, with monkeys (as well as cows, pigs, and goats...this is India!) keeping us company. The temple itself is nothing too special but the views are incredible. The temple-keeper gave us both bindis (red marks on our foreheads) and string bracelets for good luck, and then demanded a donation...and said our 10 rupees wasn't enough! Kind of annoying...

We had a delicious lunch and spent a few hours lingering over cups of chai, and then headed to an aruveydic spa for facials and a massage! We felt we needed the pampering! Afterward we headed back into the Old City for some shopping at the crazy bazaars. Shopkeepers are extremely aggressive there...we even felt a bit threatened by one, but we both got things we wanted to get.

Tomorrow I'm headed to Pushkar, a small town about 2 hours from Jaipur, for a couple of days.

Managed to upload pictures as well!!


Posted by meggiep 08:19 Comments (2)

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