Sand Castle....

Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Flag of India  ,
Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Abstract : Arrived late in Delhi, found our way to Parganj where our pal Lucy was waiting for us, wandered round Connault Place, ate cake, went to a bollywood film, then the following day went shopping to Khan market, DHL to pick up our package, and rushed like madmen to catch our overnight train (which of course was 5 hours late) to Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer is way out west in the desert close to Pakistan, Viewed fantastic 'sand' Castle and Havelis over next couple of days and then caught a delayed overnight train to Jodhpur.

Nitty gritty : The train from Agra to Delhi was 3 hours late but as it was filled with orthopeadic surgeons returning from a conferance in Agra, it proved to be most interesting with a wide ranging discussion on health systems and technology, and also some fairly right wing solutions to Indias population problems. Arriving at our hotel in the backpackers part of Delhi (we had to walk in the end as the traffic was dreadful) we were delighted to meet up once again with Lucy, our friend from Tibet / Nepal. We were all pretty weary, Lucy had just finished a wirlwind trip with her friend from England, and ravenous and stumbled on a little Indian place stuffed full of locals where we gobbled down aloo gobi, chapatis, channa masala and naan breads. Next we feasted on chocolate cake - the bakery was hilarious as you selected your cake at one counter, payed for it at another, received a receipt at another and collected it at yet another counter - the British may have introduced burocracy, but the Indians have taken it to another level ! Tried to get tickets for our second Shar Rukh Khan (swoon swoon) Bollywood film but it was full so got tickets for a dissapointing alternative which we left at the interval - teenage film with no saris and girls in miniskirts - what is the world of Bollywood coming too !
The following morning after a breakfast of delicious spinach pakoras with spicy sauce, it was to the train station to book / change some of our tickets and R came in use as she was able to avoid the massive queues by joining the ladies only queue which had a huge sign saying 'strictly no gents will be served at this counter'. R had drawn up a list of shopping places, so we all set off in a rickshaw to Khan market, close to the diplomatic quarter and full of small shops catering for the well healed. Spent a few hours trying on new glasses and looking in bookshops and discovering a fantastic kebab stall where one wasn't enough and G & R scoffed 2 each ! Thought we'd escaped the mad western christmas, only to hear carols and piped christmas music at the market and it was more than we could stand...... !
Had to collect a package from DHL and after 45 minutes of waiting, they informed us that it had gone to head office so with an hour before our train left we set off in pursuit - mission accomplished we ran back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and struggled down the congested lanes until we reached a Seikh rickshaw driver who agreed to speed us to the station - we only had 30 minutes to catch the train and it was rush our. He shoved us in the back, cranked the ignition and shot off at top speed, as people dived out of the way and he drove the wrong way up main roads and pulled some moves James Bond would have been proud of, muttering in Punjabi as he went. We were all thrilled when he got safely to our destination with 15 minutes to spare.......only to find our overnight train was to be 2.5 hours late !
Awaking from a reasonable night's train sleep, Indian elastic time dictated that the train was now 4 hours late, so we settled in to the realisation that we wouldn't reach Jaisalmer until dark. For this journey we shared with a tubby Indian family with an amazing capacity to eat.....all the wrong things...cake, biscuits, puri, bananas, more cake, sweets, crisps were all shoveled in.....
By the time we'd reached Jaisalmer, the train was 5.5hours late and the greeting party of hotel touts was very well organised by the local police. The touts were lined up behind a white line holding boards advertising their hotel, with a policeman there to make sure no one broke rank. We had already booked a hotel and were relieved to reach it, although annoyed that the rooms were a lot more expensive than we had been led to believe. R was boiling, but reduced to a simmer after a wonderfully hot, corpse reviving shower. As it was so late, the hotel's rooftop restaurant seemed like a sensible choice until the food arrived - R's egg curry was inedible and tasted as if icontaminated so was sent back and as the only alternative was Italian, which neither of us wanted, we had to settle for pizzas which were edible. It was a shame as the hotel was in the fort ramparts and had great views from the rooftop.
Jaisalmer fort looks like a giant sandcastle from a distance and has only one enterence leading to narrow alleyways of houses and small guesthouses. We awoke to a wonderful place and although at every turn people were encouraging you to buy things, it was wonderfully medieval and we instantly loved the place. After breakfasting at a rooftop restaurant, admiring the views from floor cushions, we set off for the fort palace from where we surveyed the rooftops for the best place to watch sunrise the following morning. The former Maharaja's seven story palace was fabulous, with intricately carved balconies, rooms reflecting what life must have been like in his time, and 360 degree views of the surrounding desert.
Outside of the fort walls was the rest of the town which included three havelis open to the public - finely sculptured sandstone buildings built by wealthy merchants of Jaisalmer - the stonework was like lace and they were very elegant structures.
Nosher Stretch discovered a great place for lunch where we scoffed all you can eat Rajastani thalis - trays containing small dishes of about 7 different tasty foods e.g. papad, dhal, rice, aloo gobi, paneer butter masala and a strange local vegetable which looked like twigs....Sunset over the big sandcastle was viewed from a small hill where we didn't have a moments peace as all the local kids wanted to talk to us or convince us to take a camel safari with them - no need to do a desert safari when you've driven accross the Simpson !
Sunrise was enjoyed overlooking the main gate to the fort, followed by a drink from a rooftop overlooking some finely carved Jain temples within the fort - carving not a patch on Khajaraho though....En route to Noshers favourite restaurant, we chuckled as a vendor shooed a holy cow away after it tried to eat his postcards and watched a man pounding sweet dough with a huge woodern pestle.
Incidently, holy cows are everywhere and no one seems to know who owns them, although one that tried to eat G's camera we were told wasn't local, he was Punjabi ! We watched several pestering the vegetable stall owners who are armed with big sticks as they cannot touch them - every so ofetn a cow manages to swipe a cauliflower or a carrot. We also saw a goat help himself to some peanuts whilst the stall owner wasn't looking.
The locals sported amazing Turbans in the brightest of colours with pointed toed slippers and the women wore fluorescent coloured saris with huge nose studs.
Our train to Jodhpur was due to leave at 4.30pm but still hadn't arrived at 6.30pm, so we found a lovely old couple to feed us before setting off for the station. In 20 minutes they had rustled up a feast and we had to collect the trays from her as she couldn't climb the stairs to where we were !
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