A Travellerspoint blog

Jaisalmer & the Thar

Rajasthan Roadtrip continues...

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About four days ago we were in the strange arid waste of the Thar desert....

Endlessly patchy shrub land broken by stretches of wavelike dunes... We had arrived in the Thar Desert by way of the mud-and-straw village of Khouri. Our guides? One: older man with creases on his face that intensified his smiling demeanor clothes in a white robe and a magnificently brilliant turban. Two: A shining if slightly bored, teenage boy named Bikram who jostled between camel ropes and his shiny phone/mp3 player. Both were not only guides but camel jockeys, cooks, and companions for a short two and a half day safari.

The trip itself had no great events of notes. That is, it was largely growling camels and long walks through dusty dunes. But, magic is in the details! Excitement was woven in the dusty but delicious homemade meals of honey-chapati and fresh yogurt... Wildlife astounded us: hawks, gazelle, and strange colorful birds.... A horizon unspoiled by any man, building, or polluted haze.... and a night sky fantastic and sprinkled with sleepy stars.

The days were spent reading Rushdie and doodling elaborate mandalas in the sand. At night, we wrestled with jokes and stories between sips of the (extremely foul) "desert moonshine" of the locals. All in all, the desert provided that powerful relief from chauffeur and car, crowd and city. Re energized, we headed to the golden city of Jaisalmer - an ancient hub of the East-West caravan routes - reduced to a sandy military-tourist outpost tickling the Pakistani border.

We went to the city not expecting much of anything really. But we quickly revised our mood, reveling in the astounding beauty of the place. Maharajas and wealthy merchants tinkered away sculpting a fantastic city of honeycombed palaces, and windy golden alleyways. We honestly did not much of anything there except backing in the loving artistic soul of the place. Chatting with local store oweners and gazing up at the sunny havelis (historic palaces), we instead chose to fill ourselves with the ancient echoes of cosmopolitan caravans.

By dusk and dawn, we were serenaded at the aptly named "Artist hostel" by brightly turbaned Sufi musicians. It was Eid-ul-Azha - a Muslim the world over - and we happened to be in a spiraling soulful Sufi city! Our small gem of a hostel was set on the very edge of town, was German managed but musician operated. Every night (and really any moment we wished) was a Rajastani cultural performance complete with outstanding homemade meals and picturesque views of Jaisalmer fort.

We probably stayed too short in the honeycombed wonder of Jaisalmer but its impression lingered with us perhaps longer than anywhere in India.

Posted by achamy 04:27 Archived in India Tagged desert india trek city music safari camel rajasthan caravan jaiselmer driver sufi eid-ul-azha thar khouri chauffer Comments (1)

Rajastan Roadtrip: Pushkar!

Pushkar and Camels camels camels!

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We left the "Golden Triangle" - the nexus of weeklong India-trippers, for the pilgrimage town of Pushkar - best known for its massive camel fair. Pushkar is a tiy hamlet set in the dry grassland of Rajastan. Narrow streets and colorful houses open to a small three or four acrew lake in the center of the town. To simplify things... It is believed by some Hinduis that the waters of the lake have a the ability to absolve dalits (the lowest untouchable classes) of their sins helping to speed them to the Hindu version of heaven. The town, therefore, is littered with pilgrim seekers and orange turbaned saduus (spiritual men) and truly carries within it the insight and presence of sanctity.

For lent there is mardi gras, for the spiritual site of Pushkar there is a camel fair. Once a year, thousands of pilgrims descend upon the town to absolve themselves of their sins... Coincidently this spectacular and solemn event is held at the same time as a colossal camel fair. Resembling in many ways the small town county fairs of the United States, the celebration is a funfilled carnival complete with largest moustache contests, joke telling, sword eaters, and (of course) most-beautiful-camel prizes. At its height the event has close to 50,000 camels in attendence and perhaps as many people.

As our time table (and energy) allowed we arrived in Pushkar at the very start of the festivities. At first disappointed, we concluded the timing was perhaps the most ideal. We experienced Pushkar relatively crowdless of tourists but still chock full of probably close to 10,000 camels. We had avoided the hordes of tourist (and sky rocketing prices of hotels) and were given a chance to see glimpse Pushkar for what it really is: a beautiful tiny town with a lot of spirit to live up to.

We ate luxuriously, shopped magnificantly, and sat unperturbed by the gloriously peaceful lake. We took a walk through the camel fair, splurged on delicious oven baked pizza and set sails for Jaiselmer and the two and half days of camel trekking in the Thar desert!

Posted by achamy 06:30 Archived in India Tagged india fair camel pizza pushkar Comments (0)

Rajastan Roadtrip: Pt.

Jaipur & Agra, One half of the Golden Triangle

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We left the wonderful care of the Kumars for a whirlwind tour of Rajasthan. At our guesthouse in Delhi, per recommendation of a couple of friends who had traveled in these parts, we employed a driver to take us around this huge provience. With a cheap price and a lovely ease of time, we shed our independent travelrs wariness of anything that smelt of guided tours and set course for the former land of the maharajas....

Our first stop on the Rajastan roadtrip was actually in nearby Uttar pradesh - the ancient capital of the Mughals: Agra. Whiel Agra boasts a litany of mosques, ruined cities, and fabulous palaces it is best known for the iconic ode to love: the Taj Mahal. The Taj was built by a Mughal emporer as a tomb to immortalize his most beloved wife Mumtaz. The Taj was much as I had expected - crowds, tourists, aggressive street salesmen, and absolutely astounding beauty.

There is definately a reason why some things are world landmarks.

Beyond the tomb we saw the amazing Jama'a Mosque in the old abandoned capital of Fatepur Sikri and snapped photos of the old palace of Agra Fort. All in all Agra was one of those "you gotta see because you're in India" but for me felt more of an annoying detour on a much more interesting journey into the old cities of Rajasthan.

All in all the trip was a grand but our driver needed a bit of hard talking to. Thinking us his typical "luxury" traveler he did not hesitate to recommend us midrange or luxury hotels and tourist trap shops. Typical of India is the "commission seeking guide" who only takes you to places that are his families or who will pay him a sum to guide you there. They delight in scaring travelers and misleading tour groups. Our seemed much of the same breed. However, he improved slightly after a few days when he questioned our professions. Exasperated by his (possibly?) well intentioned follies we both announced our current unemployment (much to his wide-eyed dismay)! From there things returned, with a few frustrating hiccups, to the much more rough and tumble routines of budget guesthouses and street side paranthas.

Budget roadtrip Rajasthan now duly established we headed to Jaipur, the Pink City..............

~~~~~

Jaipur has the unfortunate curse of georgraphic proximity to Agra combined with the extreme poverty of Rajasthan (one of the poorest states in India). The result is a clausterphobic blend of tourism and too many people wanting to "help" tourists. What I mean is... Jaipur, in many respects, represents the India people find difficult to travel in. We definitely saw (and thoroughly enjoyed) the must see of monuments - the mazelike Amber Fort. One of the most amazing sights we had seen all of our months, the palace/fort was a massive strucutre with tall sweeping walls, fantastic gardens, and interlocking labyrinthine coordinators. While not as stunning as the Taj, the place rivaled it in all manners of fun. Taking narrow stairs to who-knows-where, loosing the crowds in the shadowy hammams (baths).... The place certainly had a powerful appeal that made the hassle of the Golden Triangle worthwhile.

Our next stop in the Wind Palace had us thrown into the nexus of unhelpful street hawkers in a tourist market to rival any we've seen... However, jump of the well trodden main avenue... Slip into a chai-wallahs cafe and you get a bit of relief from the awesome toil of the city. Our long aimless walk thoroughly revived us and gave us a new found respect for the city. Pair our strolls through side-street Jaipur with the mazelike palace and suddenly the trip to this tourist maze started to seem worthwhile.....

Posted by achamy 06:09 Archived in India Tagged fort city pink mahal jaipur taj agra uttar pradesh rajastan driver amber Comments (0)

Fantastic Faridabad

A lovely Diwali with the Kumar Family

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We left Shimla and the hurried streets of Delhi for the very un-touristy capital of Harayana province: Faridabad. We were invited by an old college pal of mine, Manali, to stay with her family for the festival of Diwali. Manali, along with Salman Rushdie, Ms. O'Connell of 5th grade, and a three Indo-Pak friends from high school are the roots of my desire to visit the subcontinent. Indeed some of my most memorable college moments were spent sipping homemade masala chai in Manali's apartment musing about Texas & India, politics & art, or the usual day-to-day absurdity that litters college gossip.

Regrettably Manali was in London for graduate school at the time of our visit, however her presance was completely felt. Chai-spiced conversations bubbled to life under the warm hospitality of her parents. Suddenly, her nostalgia for antique clocks and fine Indian cuisine (and it was VERY fine) materialized in the chime at noon and her mother's homemade delicacies. Truly, we were really spoiled there. At no point in the trip had we had a homestay. And if ever there was a place to call home it in the comfy sheets and glorious laziness of our time at their luxurious home.

Somewhere between chapatis and dal, Mrs. Kumar explained the intricacies of Hindu religion and the meaning of the lights of Diwali. Mr. Kumar peppered in with saucy tales of India's business worls and the cultural flavor of Hindu village life. We shot of fireworks & witnessed the beautiful color and form of Hindu puja (worship). We bought new clothes (a Diwali tradition) and spent a glorious day in Delhi. But most of all we got to see the heartbeat of India from the vantage of an actual home instead of guesthouse or hotel.

Its true that India has millions of Gods - and likely ten million different lifestyles. We saw one family in the spectrum of this place but it colored our thoughts about the whole of the subcontinent. When we left their lovely villa we saw India (and Hinduism) in a new, more refined light. Diwali at the Kumars had colored many of the confusing scenes we were daily witnessing. India was given a freshing coat of meaning which we took with us as we headed off to Jaipur and Agra, Rajasthan and Goa... Our final legs of out long three month journey.

Posted by achamy 03:37 Archived in India Tagged india family fireworks hinduism manali diwali kumar faridabad Comments (2)

Photo Post: India

From the start till just today...

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I've been busy! And my camera hasn't always cooperated with Indian computers... but I'm doing a much needed photo post:

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Hiking around Shimla, India. Himilayas

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Shimla at night

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Doorway, Delhi, India

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Moto, Delhi, India

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Lotus Temple, Delhi, India

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Jantar Mantar, Delhi, India

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Diwali at the Kumars, Faridabad, India

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Tower, Agra, India

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The must-do Taj Mahal picture. Agra, India

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Tomb of a Maharaja, Jaipur, India

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Woman at the market, Jaipur, India

Posted by achamy 05:45 Archived in India Tagged india photo shimla delhi jaipur agra scenes post jantar maharaja mantar tatapani genre Comments (0)

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