New Year Revelry?

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

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Flag of India  ,
Friday, December 31, 2004

Abstract:From our Christmas retreat we went off to Bikaner and visited the city palace, a camel farm and a bizaar temple where rats run everywhere... Then off to Jaipur which was busy, noisy and hassly, the palace and city where a bit disappointing, but an astronomical observetary was fun. We celebrated new year on a sleeper train...hmm...

Nitty Gritty:
In good old Christmas fashion we watched Indiana Jones and the last crusade in the evening and read excerpts from a book G had bought R entitled 'How to
be the goddess of your home', a Bengali historical text about being a wife in the 1900s and is hilarious- G better not get any fancy ideas!

We awoke to the breaking news of the dreadful Tsunami and found it hard to tear ourselves away from the news as we thought of all the travelers we had met heading for the affected areas and all the poor souls who have not only lost loved ones, but their homes and
livelihoods too. We counted our blessings that we were in the desert and not by the sea......

Our guesthouse in Jodhpur had been a relaxing place to spend the festive period, but Bikaner called and we were soon back on another train, which moved so quickly compared with the other trains we'd been on, that it made going to the squat toilet pretty tricky!

Jodhpur seemed to be the centre of the shoe cleaning business and it was pretty tiring telling the kids that we didn't want our shoes cleaned and to tell them to go to school. This is one of the most draining things about travel in India, that beggars & shoe cleaners etc. target tourists and can be very persistent, the women often giving you a painful pinch and we have taken to referring them to Indian people.

Our hotel in Bikaner was owned by the local dentist - could have been handy as G still crunches his sweets, even after he's broken two teeth so far.....They had just returned from the UK where their son has just started a course at Cardiff University.

Bikaner was great as there were few tourists and we could walk down the road without getting hassled. There were some great places to eat and one place in particular, stuffed full of Indians, and doing a mean tomato fry, became our favourite. Being on the edge of
the desert, the streets were alive with carts pulled by camels and turban clad men. The textile market was crammed full of shops selling the brightly coloured Rajasthan saris the women wear.

Bikaner has an unusual temple where rats are worshipped and being a rat lover, R was keen to go,although we'd been told by Lucy that it was pretty awful. The journey there and back on the local bus were definitely the highlight....The temple was swarming with rodents and you had to watch where you walked, although it is lucky to have one run over your feet.

This was definitely a shoes off, but socks on temple, and was really squalid with dirt in all the corners and poor rats in pretty bad state - by far the filthiest temple we've been to, and no excuse, they just needed to clean it!

Hopped straight back on the bus, R sitting next to a beautiful Rajasthan girl in traditional dress of nose ring connected to earring by an ornate pearl and jewel
encrusted chain, brightly coloured saris with gold thread and other jewellery - simply stunning...

Back in Bikaner there were more temples to be seen,but they were a disappointment, what was much more interesting was the town cow hospital where the government have rounded up holy cows from the streets where they get sick eating plastic bags etc and in need of vets and housed them in a city farm where they sell the milk to support the project....there was a distinct lack of boy bovines though!

The old town had some wonderful pink stone havelis or merchants houses that looked very much like parts of the east end of London and sadly all were boarded up as the owners have moved to modern accommodation on the city outskirts. As we wandered through the old
quarter we came across a dog asleep on top of a sleeping cow - very surreal.

Yet another palace awaited our visit the following day and as palaces go, it was pretty good. It was compulsorily to have a guide who moved the huge group of perhaps 40 Indians and a few westerners, at such a high speed that it was impossible to take in the beauty of the decoration and fine mirror work, so we spent our time there joining the group behind us and went through about 4 groups before we reached the end.

Attached to the palace was a small museum of objects left from the colonial era including tea sets and dinner menus which were written in French and were sumptuous and the traditional dress of the queen which included embroidered full skirts and bodices with a
saris like piece of fabric tucked into the skirt and draped over the head. They were really impressive.

Next stop was the camel breeding centre just outside Bikaner which is really a research centre for the 3 breed of Indian camel - sadly there were no really baby camels to keep G happy.

We awoke the following morning in Jaipur having taken the overnight train from Bikaner. Awoke is a bit of an exaggeration as neither of us slept a wink and were definitely not prepared for the onslaught of rickshaw drivers that awaited us and plagued us like locusts
for the next two days. Jaipur is very much the destination of hoards of package tourists as it is one of the most accessible of the Rajasthani cities and subsequently the number of rickshaw drivers has grown out of all proportion - however there is simply not
enough trade.

Searched for a street vendor where we could have breakfast - our favourite were the omlette vendors where we would feast on omlette sandwiches cooked
fresh in front of you, perched on the street corner, but failing this we settled for yummy aloo tikka (potato patty with sweet and chilly sauces). Had a cup of chai in front of the palace of the winds and ambled around the city palace which was a waste of money
except for the textile house with a display of a previous maharaja's billiard outfit which was embroidered black velvet britches, waistcoat and jacket and cool booties.

India doesn't seem to have as many equivalents of chinglish as so many people speak English, but G spotted a classic today, a shop selling Ice Crime!

After a quick kerbside samosa chat, we climbed a minaret for a foggy view of the city and checked out the maharajas observatory which looked a bit like a collection of modern sculptures at first, but each had a specific purpose eg calculating an eclipse and a 27m
high sundial. The complex was commenced in 1728.

The best thing about Jaipur was food and having been deprived of meet for much of our Indian travels so far, we pigged out on mutton shish kebabs in thick gravy and mutton curry and handkerchief breads -yummy!!!!

We'd really had enough of Jaipur after a day, but set off on the local bus to Amber Fort just outside town - but not until after an omlette sandwich - yes we'd tracked down a vendor - On the bus we were befriended by a Sheikh couple on holiday there. The fort / palace was impressive from the outside but not worth going in side as the place was empty - there were thousand of Indian's enjoying the holiday over the festive period
and it was fun to be there with them and we lost count of how many times our photos were taken. The world's largest canon was entertaining as it was surrounded by a group of langurs, one of which stole an icecream from an Indian child, scoffed it, licked the stick, then it's hands and then wandered around with icecream around it's chops.

After more kebabs - apologies to the vegetarians reading this - we boarded the night train to Udaipur on which we celebrated New Year by going to bed at 9.30pm. It was an interesting trip initially as we shared our compartment with two Indian men on their
way home from work, one of which was deaf and they tought us sign language, which was great - we now know the alphabet, days of the week, numbers etc.
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