No rats just punctures!

Trip Start Mar 06, 2005
Trip End ??? ??, 2006

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

25th May Bikaner
After a great night in Mandawa we pile everything back into the car and set of for Bikaner. The countryside we're driving through is very desert like with goats and camels wandering in sandy 'fields'seperated by thornbush 'fences'with grass and mud huts dotted here and there. It is the hottest day so far, 48 degrees and the air con in the car can only just manage to keep the temperature to a 'comfortable' level. We've been rumbling along a dirt road out of Mandawa towards the main desert road for about an hour when we get another puncture! 'Happy' then tells us he didnt get chance to repair the previous puncture and so he'll have to jack up the car and thumb a lift back into Mandawa with the wheel to get it fixed, while we wait at the side of the road. The first half an hour passed quite quickly as we surveyed our surroundings then the heat started to get to us and by the time 'Happy' arrived (1hour later) we were frazzled.

Off we set again for Bikaner in Western Rajisthan on the edge of the great Thar Desert. It was once an important staging post on the ancient caravan trade routes. The main reason we want to visit Bikaner is for the Junagarh fort which reputedly has some of the finest interiors in the whole of India.

The remainder of the journey is thankfully uneventful and passed surprisingly quickly. Probably due to the fact that we are facinated by our strange new surroundings there seems to be so much to look at as we drive along the main desert road occasionally passing through small hamlets where the heavy goods drivers stop either to eat , sleep, or effect running repairs on their vehicles. It's not unusual to see massive lorries propped up with wood or stone, and a group of men laying underneath covered in oil patching the thing back together. Often the lorries appear to be made of nothing but 'spare' parts having no original bits left. These hives of activity are seperated by long stretches of 'nothing' ie just desert road for as far as the eye can see.(see photo).

We arrive in Bikaner mid afternoon despite our puncture and settle in to our hotel, again quite a good one (by Indian standards). It has a high roof terrace with great views of the city which is bigger than we expected, and the fort in the distance.

The Junagarh fort was constructed between 1588 and 1593 by a general of the Mughal emperor and is a massive builiding, one of its outer walls is 986 metres long! There are several palaces inside and a guide is compulsory if you want to explore them.

We are surprised by how few visitors there are, we are the only westerners and join a small party of Indians for our tour (in English). The guide takes his time and we get to see everything we want and he is very knowledgable.
The palace lives up to its reputation the interiors of some of the rooms are stunning (all original) The guide tells us the carpets are of such high quality that they have never been replaced since being layed! Crushed Mother of pearl has been applied to some walls to make them shimmer 'silver' when struck by any light. Finely carved / peirced stone screens allow dappled light into the rooms along with 'windows' partially filled with coloured glass which direct beams of intense green,red,orange light onto the floor and opposing walls, many of which have hundreds of tiny mirrors set to sparkle when illuminated. Carved marble, painted frescoes,fine silks and brochade furnishings complete the effect. The decoration ranges from the hot and gaudy to the cool and refined, but combined they are very evocative of the era in which they were used.

Its not until you climb to the highest point in the palace that you realise just how massive the whole complex is. The power and wealth needed to create it must have been emense.
Part of the fort displays collections of contemporary clothing and weaponry even a Bi-plane received as a gift from the British following the first world war.
After about 3 hours we are soaked in sweat, ready for a rest and so retreat to our hotel. The fort and palace were certainly worth a visit and if they are a taste of what we have to come then Rajisthan is going to be fantastic.

We plan to get up early the next morning before leaving for Jaisalmer and visit the old walled city which has some Jain temples we want to see. It is at this point that we decide not to visit the nearby Karni Mata temple (we had debated this since arriving in India) where HOLY RATS are worshipped the main deciding point is when we discover that to enter the temple you have to be barefoot and there are literally thousands of rats, it's considered 'lucky' if they run over your feet. For the devout worshippers 'Prasad' is eaten, this is food which has been salivated over by the Holy Rats! Yummy! The very thought makes Jane queezy so we agree to give it a miss.

Later in the evening we wander through the unlit streets near our hotel to find an internet point, watched by groups of men sat outside shops drinking Chai (indian tea). We end up in a grimey shop where the letters have been worn off the keyboard, the screen is tiny,grey and covered in a sticky brown substance. All of the above is sqeezed into a box resembling a toilet cubicle...we manage eventually to check our email, with an interested crowd of onlookers watching our every move so we leave for an evening meal back at the hotel and an early night.

Around 2am I awoke to the sound of Jane vommiting in the bathroom, she looked dreadful and was complaining of really bad stomach cramps with Diarrhoea. We were due to meet Happy about 6am for our tour of the city but I had to call it off. We decided to wait until later in the day before attempting to leave for Jaisalmer but if Jane was no better we'd stay put. Around 10:30am Jane (white as a sheet) decided she was just well enough to travel(she's braver than me)and so we headed for Jaisalmer.

India has a reputation for making it's visitors ill. This usually means a bit of diarrhoea but things can be far more serious, so we had come prepared with suitable medication and some basic knowledge of how to use it / spot the signs of something more serious. So with me watching Jane 'like a Hawk' Happy packed the car and we moved on.

We had enjoyed our brief visit to Bikaner and were dissapointed not to be able to see more than just the fort, but we had planned a two day stay in Jaisalmer so Jane would have time to recover there and hopefull be able to visit one of the most if not the most spectacular fort in India.

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