More Delhi and Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Trip Start Feb 02, 2008
Trip End Feb 29, 2008

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Well, here goes...  another entry - this time from 50 miles off the Pakistan border in Jaisalmer Rajasthan.  Please pardon my spelling and grammar, the keyboard is in rough shape and we're paying by the minute.  On the good-side though, I've got a faster connection here than I do at home.

We've covered a lot of ground since the last entry.  We spent 2.5 more days in Delhi with our friends then boarded the train for a 20 hour ride into the Thar Desert.  Here are some highlights. 

Delhi:  we hung around at our friends house trying to shake off the jet lag.  The good thing about flying this direction is that you're up early and rearing to go.  Harris and Slater were doing their math homework and drinking chai (tea with milk, sugar and a few yummy spices) by 6:30am - a new world record!!

Our hosts (the folks that we and our Minneapois neighbors are staying with) have a cook, a porter (to take care of things around the house), a nanny, and a few different types of house cleaners.  Seemed quite opulent at first, until we heard more about their stories.  The porter worked for our host's dad for many years and needed a place to go after not being able to work any more - our host welcomed him into the family, employs him and has put him up in a small flat nearby.  The nanny has become part of the family since being a nurse for our host's grandmother while she was dying.  It turns out that this treatment of family friends and helpers is very common in Indian households.  People in need often live with the families they work for, are fed and paid a stipend. 

We hired a car for a few days to take us around.  Thank goodness the car came with a driver because no amount of training could prepare me for the streets of Delhi.  Occasionally, when at a stoplight in the car - or crossing the street on foot, children, some of them 4 and 5 years old, come up to you looking for food or money.  The way they look - what you assume their lives are like - it is simply gut-wrenching to see.  Whenever we do give it turns out for the worse.  More and more come and you always end up having to say "no" and quietly praying for the light to turn green.  This is clearly going to be a trip of reconciling for all of us.  The boys are helping Robin and I with this as much as we're helping them.  Fortunately, both boys put a fair bit of effort into raising money and other donations for the organizations we'll be visiting on our trip.  More about that in future entries.

While waiting for for a ride one day a boy brought over two small monkeys who performed various tricks and dances for us.  A small crowd from the street gathered nearby and the kids were quite entertained.  Then, everyone's attention quickly turned to another small crowd gathering behind us - a crowd of wild monkeys.  I could tell that people were getting nervous so we quickly grabbed the kids and went inside.  Divya explained that if the tame monkeys had stayed a monkey-rumble would have ensued.  Glad I didn't see that!

We also stayed at the YWCA in Delhi for two days.  The "Y" is next door to a Sikh Gurudwara ("god home" or Temple).  We learned a lot about Sikhism.  The first thing we learned is that they sing their prayers over a loud speaker for the entire neighborhood to hear - and they do it, off and on, until 3am.  Hello!  Thank you 3M ear plugs!  Something else we learned is that Sikhism is a very compassionate and welcoming religion.  Murgadener, a very nice man invited us in and gave us a tour. 

First we took off our shoes and socks and he put a head scarf on each of us.  Then we walked through a foot-bath to clean our feet before going into the temple.  I'm not sure, but we may have asked more than one billion questions before we left. 

The temple is a beautiful gold onion-domed building, just like in all the pictures you see.  The music and singing is constantly going in the background and, surprising to me, pretty soon i was humming it.  We went in and sat down in a quiet spot and watched three men playing music and singing.  On the way out i saw a computer near the priest's area so I stopped for a second to look.  I was quickly summoned by the assistant priest to approach.  To my relief he started by asking where I"m from.  I told him I'm an American and we chatted for a few minutes about how much he likes Chicago.  whew!

This particular Gurudawara serves around 12,000 meals a day to Sikh and non-Sikh, rich and poor.  The poor can come work in the kitchen and have their meals and a place to sleep.  The boys and I were squatting down in the corner watching and, again, we were beckoned in.  There were dozens of older women on the floor making dough-balls, flattening them and cooking them on a huge iron stove.  They had pots as big as a Volkswagen for making other food.  We exchanged a few smiles and "namaste"s with the ladies and it wasn't long before we were squatting right with them making the pita-sized bread.  I even got to flip them on the stove.  We were having a blast and could have stayed for hours.  Unfortunately we had to check out of the hotel to head for the Red Fort in Old Delhi and then to the train for Jaisalmer.

The Red Fort (Lai Qila) was built in the early 1600's and is a huge red sandstone castle.  It has beautiful marble buildings inlaid with intricate designs - so small that it must have taken lifetimes to finish.  La Qila operated as the seat of government for the Mughal empire.  It has been attacked and plundered many times.

From there it was off to the train for Jaisalmer.  As the train slowly rumbled out of Delhi, we again found ourselves looking from behind the safety of a glass window at the desperately poor.  Children and dogs sitting in and drinking from the same puddles.  Images we'll hopefully never forget.

The train ride was long and sleeping was uncomfortable but the Thar desert is as beautiful as any I've ever seen.  Red sand dunes and strangely shaped ruins sprinkled here and there.  Cows, goats and the occasional camel meandering about.  I spoke at length with a very nice rail worker on the train.  In typical dad style, we each committed our kids to become pen-pals (without consulting them).  I'm sure they'll be great friends and meet up some day. He told me that the trains will hit a cow or camel approximately every other day.  Wow, would that be a sight!

Jaisalmer - The Fort:   I'm writing this from the hotel's "office computer for hire".  I'm on the top floor patio of our small hotel (4 rooms) which overlook what is called the "Golden City" - a beautiful sandstone fort built in 1150.  The sandstone buddings are intricately carved such that you'd think they were made of wood instead of stone. 

Slater and Robin took a walk through the fort which is a bustling village, full of local shops, houses, cows and people.  Slater came back with a beautiful hand-made, leather-bound diary that he bought with his own money.  Harris isn't feeling good so he and I stayed back to play chess and rest.  Fortunately he got sick - so I won.  Later, Slater and I had dinner on the patio, watched the thinnest sliver of a moon and counted the satellites (UFOs) and shooting stars.  I ate some very questionable local dish that looked, in the dim light, frighteningly like the legs off of the cockroaches from the train the night before.  It tasted good though.  Turns out that the dish is made from the local desert trees.

We've all been eating ourselves silly.  Almost every meal is the best Indian food we've ever had.  How long can this go on?  everyone said i'd lose weight on this trip but i keep having to loosen the backpack waist-belt.

I better start attaching pictures now or I'll be here all night!

Our best regards to everyone!!

--  Greg, Robin, Harris and Slater  (it just doesn't sound right without Hannah's name in there)
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doug_b on

Choo Choo
Great blog entry! Lots of detail. Thank you for enduring the keyboard. When the notices come, I drop everything to see what is going on in India. When are you going to fess up... that you are touring India in search of a job? ;-)

Have a blast. Love to you and the rest of the Chakrabernsteinpaschimakabata family. We miss you.

srini on

what was the name of the hotel you stayed in jaisalmer if you can remember... coz i plan to make a trip to jaisalmer and the hotel looks interesting

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