Notes from Bikaner and Jaisalmer, India

Nobuko shares her current travel notes with us.

7 July 2012  in Bikaner

Arrived in the morning by bus from Pushkar. The night ride was not so hot, but dusty!  I had to cover my face with a scarf to get some sleep. This sleeper did not have a sliding door like the others, only curtains that flapped around with the wind – not great for keeping privacy.

I managed to doze off here and there, but when I woke up, I found men staring at me. Although I have normal oral motor control, I often drool when I sleep. It might be an amusing, but not a pretty thing to watch.

The first guest house near the bus station did not answer the door, so I ended up going to Camel Man, which is about 4 km from the town center. The rickshaw driver agreed on 50 rupees when I got on, but argued that I should pay 100 when we arrived at Camel Man.  Mr. Vijay, the owner of Camel Man, was very kind and paid the driver 100 rupees out of his pocket. It must not be easy to be a rickshaw driver, but I really, REALLY dread dealing with them. But without them, I cannot get around.

Bikaner had been HOT, even hotter than Pushkar with 43 or 44°C ( = about 107 F). I did not do much of anything besides washing clothes and sleeping. I met a couple from Denmark and we agreed to do a camel safari the next day. I was not doing so great with my stomach function.

I wanted to be ready for the safari ride, but inside my medicine pouch, all I had was medicine that had expired in 2010. Come to think of it, I have not replaced any meds in the pouch for four or five years. Stupid! I took it anyway, and am happy to tell you that it worked. Pharmaceutical companies should put more accurate expiration date on their products.

8 July 2012 on a Camel Safari

Off to the safari. We started at 10am and rode for two hours. At noon, we rested under a tree shade while guides whipped out a very good lunch (veggie curry, rice, chapati). We thought we start riding again after lunch, but the guys appeared to be getting ready to take a nap – rolling out carpets and lying down on them.

The three of us killed time by chatting and camel watching. Camels seem to munch on something constantly, always masticating. And they can look like a giant, featherless chicken when seen from behind because of the way they fold their hind legs when they sit down.

At 4:30pm, we started again, but this time through a large farming area where people were setting up sprinklers. We arrived at the camp 6ish after being blessed many times by camels’ farts. The dinner was awesome – rice, chapati, dal, curry (different from one we had for lunch!), etc. The beds were placed outside, and I was so impressed that it was covered by a clean white sheet and even came with a pillow!

I love sleeping outside. Although that night the sky was overcast for the most of the time and we could not see the stars too well, it was still heavenly.

9 July 2012 on a Camel Safari

Woke up 7:30 – by this time it was already getting very warm. After breakfast we headed back. The Danish couple left that afternoon. My bus to Jaisalmer was again the night bus at 10pm. The family at the guest house was friendly and chatty, but all I wanted to do was to laze around and cool off which means, I stayed in my room, being kind of anti-social.

10pm was the bus departure time, but it did not roll into the station until 11:15pm. The sleeper I got this time had sliding doors AND curtains. This made me very happy!

10 July in Jaisalmer

Arrived in Jaisalmer by sleeper at 6:45am (scheduled arrival 5:30am). I was the last one on the bus. It must have arrived on time, but no one woke me up to kick me off the bus and they just let me sleep. A taut from a hotel fished me with “a fan room with a private bathroom for 200 rupees”. I took it, but this place was relentless with its sales pitch, always one of eight men asking me every 30 minutes to join one of their overpriced tours. They even came knocking on my door after I finally retreated to my room!  It is called Shiva Palace. Don’t go there.

Jaisalmer is a small city with a magical fort that made me feel like I was in one of those places talked about in 1001 Arabian nights. People still live inside the fort and that makes this fort a place that is very much alive. I met many many local guys (aka business men), but did not find Aladdin…

Here they sell this legal concoction Baad Lassi, made of curd and pot. Perhaps the tales of riding on a magic carpet and travelling the night sky in the desert were born from people drinking this.

The first evening, I saw one of the most beautiful things. Wind picked up its gusto and blew sand all over the city. I was on a roof top, and saw the whole sight become like a picture seen through a sheer cloth. Breathless moment.

Notes from Bikaner and Pushkar, India

My friend Nobuko, sharing her travel experience through India.

7 July 2012 in Bikaner

The temp is around 44°C  during the day. At night, it is still a sweltering 37°C! But so far I have been managing with just a ceiling fan in my room. An A/C would be comfortable, but I know my body does not take extreme temperature differences well, so I would get sick if I had an air-conditioned room.

I’ve met a nice Danish couple today, and we plan to go on an overnight camel safari into the Thar Desert tomorrow. Wish us luck!  I am going to wrap my face and head like an Arab woman to stay cool and not to lose too much moisture from the heat and dry air.

4 -6 July 2012 in Pushkar – A Mixed Bag of Holy Glory and Sleaze

I have changed hostels, going from the Shree Palace to the Aroma Hotel and it was the right decision. The energy shifted right away and I met some very good people, other tourists and locals alike. By July 4, a nice breeze came into town, which made it much more tolerable to be there.

I had initially gone to the Aroma Hotel to take a yoga class – as advertized throughout the town with flyers. But the teacher, a guy in his early 30s, said it is too hot to do a yoga class. Instead he offered,  “What about a whole body massage instead? Very cheap, I make special offer for you. 200R for one hour, whole body massage!”  The fact that he kept emphasizing “whole body” (perhaps another way of saying “No body parts left behind” = “I will touch you everywhere”?) and not agreeing to do yoga at a cooler time made me say NO. Apparently this is the low season for him,

not only in terms of business, but also in terms of getting carnal pleasure. He should wait until October, then he might get lucky.

I finally made it to the Holy Lake which is surrounded by ghats/temples. It’s not a very welcoming place, but I guess it should be so since this place is a pilgrimage site, not a tourist attraction. Along my around-the-lake walk, I was approached by men who gave me flower petals to the lake to pay my respect. This was actually the notoriously reported Pushkar Passport scheme, where they insist on you to give a hefty donation. I said, “No, thank you.” and walked away. But I’ve heard other people’s stories, who felt threatened enough to pay something.

After a full stroll, I asked a friendly looking young couple from Belgium to take my picture with the lake in the background. We had drinks (non-alcoholic, of course) and talked for a bit which was such a nice respite from dealing with people, who either want to sell you something or act sleazy.

I have also been getting up early – not because I am disciplined, but because of the heat.

On the next day, the same couple and I took an early morning walk to a Hindu temple on a hill. It was a mere 800 meters, but the climb was challenging and squeezed every bit of sweat out of my body. We were greeted by a group of monkeys along the way. The young ones approached us without hesitation. They are small, but I am scared of monkeys… One was cradling an incredibly cute newborn who kept looking at us. I admired them from a distance. Once we got to the top, there was another group of monkeys and they were aggressive! Then I was too scared to go into the temple.

I have frequented the Aroma Restaurant for the last few days. It does not have a lake view, but so what; the friendly staff, great (and cheap) food, and the garden setting with ample shade made me go back there time after time. They serve great Thali, and also two dishes called Bati and Dosa (Rajsasthan dishes) which are very tasty!  And one more reason for my patronizing this place is because I developed a crush on this one waiter, for his voice… Now I feel like a dirty old woman!

Quite honestly, I have had enough with bazaars. I am not a shopper, so it lost its initial charm after seeing so many of them in every place I have visited. But Pushkar has so much one can do. I guess that is why this town is so popular with long-term visitors. I went to take a dance class at the Saraswati Music and Dance School. I wanted to try classical dance, but the teacher told me that he cannot teach me anything in one class. So he taught me Bollywood dance instead!  In a tiny room, without windows, the air heavy as in a sauna,  but two huge mirrors, I jumped around mimicking the teacher. Afterward he complimented me so much that I misinterpreted it as an official invitation to join his dance company and go onto Bollywood as an extra dancer. After my expressing the excitement, he politely clarified that this was not the case.

I also had a massage from the teacher’s sister, Deepa. This is the first and only Indian massage I have had so far, so it’s premature for me to form an opinion, but it is almost too gentle. It reminds me of a Swedish massage, but without localized kneading.

Dhanna Das is an artist, who had shows in Delhi and Paris in the last few years. He works at the Aroma Hotel and right now he is also painting the walls of the Aroma Restaurant. He did a sketch of me, and gave it to me. In return, I let him have my sketch of him. That was a fun project for me.

Pushkar initially appeared boring, but it grew on me. Maybe I will go back there once more for a longer term and train to be a Bollywood dancer since I have a self-acclaimed rare talent!

Notes from Mt. Abu, Udaipur, Jaipur, and Pushkar in India

My globetrotting friend, Nobuko, is posting again from her current visit to India.

I have been only a tourist for the past several days, which has kept me away from cyber cafes, and once I was ready to write some updates, there was no cyber cafe or just unreliable electricity supplies. Today is 4 July, Independence day, in the U.S.A.

26 June 26  at Mt Abu

My experience sucked. The only good thing is the cool temperature we are having. Merchants are liars, and the manager of the hostel (Shri Ganesh Hotel – don’t stay there if you go) was very unwelcoming – in general just bad energy – and also lied to me and other guests about bus time – my guess is that he hoped that I would miss the bus so I would have to end up using their transport service.

He knew I had already gone to the bus station and inquired about the schedule. Yet he had a nerve to tell me that the schedule had changed, and I was informed of the old schedule. I ignored him and was able to get a bus to Udaipur as I planned. Anyway, six college students from Pune I met in Bhuj were there too, so I had  great company to dine and walk around the town with.

27 June 2012 from Mt Abu to Udaipur

The students and I shared our itinerary to Udaipur, so we spent some time together there. They found a great hostel called Hanuman Ghat, which is in a quiet area, but has a nice roof top terrace and an awesome view of the famed lake and palace!  The owner Baba is smiley and has a striking resemblance to the God Hanuman himself (I say this in a friendly way)!

28 June 2012  in Udaipur

The students and I visited the palace and hired a guide, which was a great decision, because he was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Some parts of the palace are still used as the residence of former royal family, so it was off-limit. One section of the palace is converted into a luxury hotel which costs a crazy amount of money to stay, of course. The Queen’s gGrden can also be rented for a wedding or other events, but it costs $40,000 per night to do so. I am waiting for one of those six students I met to get married there and be invited to the wedding!

The students were due to return home that night. Before we parted, they gave me a farewell gift – they called it a momento (leather bound notebook as a diary)!!  It was a very nice gesture and made me feel so special. Realistically speaking, I should be the one to give them gifts for taking good care of me. I was very moved by it. Thank you, to the students.

I met another wonderful Indian person at the hostel and he was going to Jaipur the same evening. So I decided to hitch along. At 9:30pm, the bus left Udaipur and we arrived i Jaipur at 6 a.m. the next morning. We had sleepers which are like capsules, but you have  privacy, because you can shut a sliding door to sleep while keeping windows open for much needed air.

But the ride was really, REALLY bumpy. The bounces were so big that my body lifted off of the sleeping surface countless time – I prefer going through a turbulence in an airplane.

29 June 2012 in Jaipur

It is called the Pink city. And it is really pink. My companion and I stayed inside the old city wall, which made it easy for us to go out into the heat for a few hours and retreat back to the hostel to rest, and repeat this multiple times throughout the day. We found a lassi stand that serves the best lassi I have ever known, and a stand that serves a food called Poha. This I want to make myself – it’s a mix of rise, tomatoes, onions, cirantro, masala powder, and finished off with lime juice. 10 rupees for this tasty snack.

The merchants and rickshaw drivers were lots more aggressive and persistent in Jaipur, and I was the magnet for them. So I purchased a tie dyed scarf. A nice woman showed me how to wrap it and conceal my face. After that, obscured also by my sunglasses, the approach decreased by 90%. Amazing!  And it kept me from getting sunburned and my nostrils clean at the end of the day.

We visited Hawa Mahal (the Wind Palace) where court women used to live (or were locked up, depends on your view). It was a small place, but it was beautiful and offered many spots that just make you want to snap a photo and stroke your ego by making you feel like you have the best eyes for selecting great views.

At night we ate at the Ganesh Restaurant. It is so hard to find as their sign is very tiny and hangs over the entrance to a very small stairway. We looped around and finally found it on the second try. Once we walked up the stairs, there was yet another sign saying Ganesh Restaurant with an arrow pointing to the left, directing us to a dark path on a rooftop.

At the end of the path, we finally  saw lights and there it was! We had a server who looked stern. But he smiled once we ordered Ganesh Special, the spicy Indian way. He smiled once again when he saw us cleaning up all plates. This made us feel like winners.

30 June 2012 in Jaipur

We visited Nahargar Fort at 10am. The rikshaw driver dropped us off 1/3 way up the zigzag path, so we walked up the remaining 1.5 km at a snail speed. Once we got there, we found out that a Bollywood film called Shera (due to be released in November) was being filmed!  There were lots of stuntmen and extras in period costumes, many of whom wanted to take pictures with me for some reason. I think they just were bored of waiting for their turns and also wanted to have an excuse to touch a woman. Now that I think about it, I should have charged them 100 rupees for each photo opportunity. There was a famous movie star name Sanjay Dutt also. It was so much fun hanging out with the crew members and the security guys that we stayed there for several hours.

About the stares – In Jaipur, a touristy city like Jaipur where I would assume they have seen enough Asian faces, men would come directly in front of me, face to face, to stare at me up and down (including my boobs), when I did not cover my face. No discretion here. Open and somewhat gross curiosity, their expressions annoyed me somewhat, so I stared back at them. Sort of a game to see which one would give up staring first. But they continued to stare for a long while.

1 July 2012 from Jaipur to Pushkar

We visited the observatory – Indians have been very keen on learning about  space since a long time ago. My companion Mansoor had to go home on this day, but he accompanied me to the bus station and made sure that I got on the right bus. He was such a gentleman. Thank you, Mansoor.

The ride to Pushkar was supposed to be only 2.5 hours. But it lasted four hours. The heat was almost unbearable – reminded me of the very dry and high heat of the Mojave Desert, it was almost suffocating. When I arrived in Pushkar, I was exhausted. Settled in a hostel with a swimming pool and plunged right in when I finished a registration. No wonder, the temperature here is 43 C = 107 F. If you have been to a Bikram Yoga (AKA Hot yoga), you know how hot it is.

2 and 3 July 2012 in Pushkar (only in my hostel room)

Not much to report on these days. I don’t know if it is the food I ate in Jaipur, or the first dinner I had in Pushkar at the hostel, I suffered from a (nicely put) stomach problem. I only left to get food at expensive, but reputable places, to buy water and toilet papers, and to briefly check email. The air is so hot that all a ceiling fan can do is to spread and push down the risen heat onto my bed. But turning it off was equally unbearable. I kept on drinking ginger/lemon tea which helped.

4 July 2012  in Pushkar (not in the bathroom anymore)

I changed the hostel since the first one was kind of unfriendly. I am now at Aroma Hotel which is close to the lake and bazaar, as well as to the desert stretch at the outskirt of this small town. I have not seen anything here yet. So to be continued!