For photo gallery India
24 Dec: Silence, sand, and... sandstone.
Silence. Complete silence. Not like at home where you can't hear cars, but the trees still rustle and a cow moos occasionally. I mean, no noise, whatsoever.
As the moon glided across a purple dawn-lit sky, Michael and I lay there, watching the stars fade, listening to the booming silence of the desert. An orange sunrise brought a family of little brown birds to life, and soon, that former silence was unimaginable as baby birds squealed and our guide led the camels over with a huff and a snort. My nose was frozen.
We had masala tea in bed (heaven), and wheat porridge for breakfast, before getting up and heading off over the dunes. Over the course of the morning, we saw a fair bit of sand, some rocks, some watermelon relatives, a lot of goats and sheep, a straw hut, and some more rocks. I am forever amazed by the universality of the human desire to pile rocks into towers.
After a couple of hours, a jeep rolled into view and took us back to Jaisalmer. Just like that. Goodbye camels. Getting anywhere by camel takes days; cars are really cheating, aren't they? Back in town, we walked to our hotel through the main bazaar, where men worked their magic at getting us into their shops of bags, tablecloths, dresses and pants. Michael was less than keen to buy the pink hippy pants.
That afternoon, sore behind and empty in the middle, we found some yummy samosas, had lunch at a rooftop restaurant as autorickshaws, tourists, cows, dogs, motorbikes and locals all weaved through the narrow golden streets below. We then decided to just have a wander down back streets, to see how the locals lived (well, we were actually looking for a haveli, but got lost). The area we walked through was one of the most wealthy communities I have seen in all of India. While they lived in a very confined space (houses came up to the street; no front or backyard, and narrow but vertical) the facades of most of them were spectacular. They were all the same sandstone colour with intricate, unique carvings into the stone, with matching golden wooden shutters on their windows. Some had fancy metal handrails, or huge doors fit for a king.
Christmas Eve. Christianity isn't huge in Rajasthan, but they do know what Christmas is. Most of these backstreets, where children played hopskotch and ballgames, had huge nets of tinsel hanging like a silver ceiling from the second storeys of houses. But then some bloke asked us what day Christmas was. He thought it was today.
We finally found the haveli (a sort of inner-city mansion/small palace) by some odd stroke of luck. I don't know how many floors it had, but it was quite a climb to the rooftop. All the rooms of the home were left intact, with musical instruments, cooking pots, carpets, beds and wardrobes left the way they were. It really was like a step back in time.
25 Dec: Christmas Day in Jaisalmer
Christmas morning. Where the hell am I? No jumping into mum and dad's bed, no singing Christmas carols at church, no family roast with all the cousins and puppy dogs... But hey, we did have a whole album of Peter Combe's Christmas songs. And we had decked out our room in tinsel the night before, and bought a tiny tiny tree. Listening to Christmas songs, I opened Michael's present for me, an absolutely beautiful peachy silk scarf, while he opened presents from his mum- Christmas lights with spare batteries, a flashing Santa badge, and lollies. Oh, win.
We met up with Sammy and Dreamer for lunch, swapping stories of camel and beer genies with those of sneaking into an opulent wedding in Udaipur. Ask Sammy about that one (only those two would do it!). That afternoon, feeling quite full, we headed up to the fort as a four, wearing matching Santa hats. The locals bloody loved it. We looked like such tosspots. But in an awesome way.
The fort is described in Lonely Planet as a 'living museum', which is true. It is the only fort around that is still in use (Carcassonne being the only other one I've seen), which is also causing problems. While in earlier times, the only water used in the fort had to be carried in buckets; the introduction of taps is causing it the whole thing to sink. Being made of sand, water is literally washing away its foundations; an issue that will be quite difficult to tackle I suspect.
Inside, beyond all the stalls of beautiful fabrics, was the royal palace, where we did an audio tour. Headphones over the Santa hats. The palace is huge, mainly in vertical direction. It took us two or more hours to get around, the view from the top being spectacular. At the very top, I had a rather sudden kick of food poisoning, which sent me bolting down steep staircases and along passages to nowhere in search of a toilet. I ran straight past it, not realising that by 'He' and 'She', they actually meant 'Male' and 'Female'. I assumed it was another language.
After Michael got his shoe fixed (involuntarily), we caught an autorickshaw to a flash hotel out of town for a Christmas dinner. Sadly, I couldn't eat a heap. The others made up for me, well and truly. All three of them. Outside, there was a gorgeous traditional dance and music performance going on, with a woman in red dancing solo, a gorgeous male singer, and a variety of bizarre puppets which leaped around to music. Sammy got up and danced with the dancer. Tom and Mick continued eating at the buffet inside.
Autorickshawing home again, the only thing stopping me from freezing to death in the cold desert air was laughing hysterically. Yep, Jaisalmer is definitely cold at night.
26 Dec: On the road again...
The next morning, Mick and I packed up, and went for a walk to the lake southeast of town, where there is a rather impressive gateway. The story goes that it was built by a famous prostitute, positioned as it was so that the king had to pass under it. The king, of course, would never approve of going under anything related to the prostitute, so she had a little temple built on the top of it, rendering her monument invincible. And so it still stands.
We hired a paddle boat on the lake for 'half and hour' (I wanted to argue that this is in fact ninety minutes, but we would have been pretty bored after ninety minutes of paddling around). The bloke gave us the swan boat, which Mick reeeeally didn't want. Puke.
After that, we went to a place that I thought was the famous one about 15 km out of town. This one was 15 km out of town, but it wasn't the one I was thinking of. It was a temple more or less exclusively visited only by Indians. Awkies. It was nice to say hello to the desert cacti again.
Exhausted from food poisoning, much walking and general Indian mayhem, we spent our last afternoon in Jaisalmer in a restaurant that looked up at the fort. We drank chai, ordered coffee ice cream that was definitely strawberry ice cream, and chatted to two blokes who didn't know where Australia was but did know that they played cricket. Our train was at midnight, so we then migrated to another restaurant, where we sat for 3 hours, passing the time by eating, people watching and being fairly stupid.
We shared our 3-tiered train compartment with 2 Australians who didn't talk to anyone but themselves, and a couple from Delhi, who were lovely.
5 hours later (5:30am), we arrived in Jodhpur, and fell into bed.
27 Dec: 5:30am, Jodhpur: The Blue City
This was our one real day in Jodhpur. I was excited to see the word 'garden' on the Lonely Planet map, and thus dragged Mick over hoards of homeless people, across fuming roads and through wee patches to this much-awaited garden. Anticlimax. It had some trees. And some grass. And a few boys who watched us. A police car rolled through at one stage, and a group of boys who had been doing handstands on the grass all bolted out, scrambling up 4 metre gates and walls to get out. What on earth was that about?
From there, we caught an autorickshaw up to the fort, the main attraction in Jodhpur. From there, you can see why it's called the 'blue city'; every second building in the old town is painted the same warm, soft blue colour, which creates a gorgeous feel of unity over the sea of houses.
The fort was pretty cool, with a puke-ishly complete armoury, the compulsory 'pearl room' and lovely views, but we have seen quite a few forts. The architecture was really quite gorgeous.
Walking back into town, we got attacked by a bloke who welcomed us into his house, and a few minutes later, my left hand was being dotted with floral henna designs while he told me how fortunate I was going to be now. I felt like such a tourist. The design was quite beautiful though. He did seem pretty intent that Michael and I were going to have lots of healthy children together, which was a bit weird. I was more keen on the bit about being academically successful. Anyway.
We met Sammy and Tom for a rooftop dinner, which was lovely, but my mango milkshake tasted garlicky, which isn't what you want in a milkshake, generally speaking. Michael liked it. Weirdo. It started raining for the first time since I'd arrived, and Sammy and Tom danced on the rooftop to the beat of the little traditional music bunch playing in front of us. Naww.
How many different kinds of ice-cream can be made with mixed fruit and ice cream? 4.
28 – 29 Dec: Illness strikes
Another beautiful day in paradise? Not really. Michael didn't get out of bed. I did, but then got back in. We were going to get sick somewhere along the line; it was inevitable.
For two full days and nights we lay there, groaning, and doing nothing but sleep and stumble to the toilet. Oh joy.
By the end of the second day, I was desperate to get out of the bloody stupid city that made us sick.
30 Dec: Udaipur: Indian Venice
Seven am. Bus to Udaipur. Something like 8 hours, in the end. The bus driver drove so badly that speed bumps made all the Japanese tourists in the back row hit the ceiling, squealing.
We passed through good old dusty farmland, and then into a beautiful mountainous forest. From there, we rolled into terraced patches of crops with villages, and then more barren hillsides. The last 2 hours were spent passing huge yards filled with marble tables. Thousands upon thousands of marble tables. Michael thought there was maybe a quarry somewhere nearby.
Picking our hotel minutes before arrival, we put-putted in an autorickshaw across town, up a steep little hill (broke the autorickshaw), and reached our hotel, and... wow. Udaipur is like Venice. In India. But lakey. With no canals. Ok so it's not really, but the buildings do come right down to the water and it is really pretty.
By the time we had washed all the illness and bus grot off, tried out the wifi-stealing options, and summoned up some energy from our low-battery bodies, it was heading to dusk. We hadn't eaten in over two days. After a quick walk through backstreets, where locals smiled with beautiful, earnest smiles, wanting nothing from you, we reached a bridge that crossed the river, and watched night fall down on the world. And I appreciated the perks of having a really tall, male travel companion in India. Like in Granada, hanging out with the tough-as-nails Polish and Moroccan travellers, I felt invincible. Muahaha.
With slight hesitation from my bodyguard, we agreed to an aruvedic massage each, which Lonely Planet recommended, and I thought might help kickstart feeling healthy again. It was actually really nice, very refreshing, but I think Mike was a little concerned about where his masseuse' hands were going...
Tried to eat some dinner. Sort of sucked at it.
31 Dec: City Palace Udaipur
Mike was feeling okay the next morning, but I wasn't so sure. We really, really struggled to get up. We got to the City Palace, the main attraction of Udaipur, after lunchtime, and I sort of spent the whole time collapsing on whatever seating options were available in each room. The Palace really is quite spectacular, again, being left largely intact, with more rooms and courtyards than you can poke a stick at. Most of the rooms had a gorgeous view over the glittering lake below. Quite magical. It would be an appropriate place to wear a flowing dress and spin around while singing 'A Whole New World'.
I felt miraculously better at about 5:30pm, so we had a drink each at the Palace Bar, and did a bit of good old people watching. The Indians also did a bit of people watching. Everyone had a great time. A bunch of schoolboys walked past at one stage, and all crowded around two white girls sitting at a table, both laughing hysterically with embarrassment. Michael (the legend) ran up to the front of the crowd and frantically started taking photos of all the boys. I don't think they got it.
New Year's Eve. Wrapped in my sleeping bag, we sat on our rooftop, one of the highest roofs around, pretty much alone, and watched, and listened to, the celebrations beginning. At about 8pm, the first fireworks went off, glistening reflections in the lake below, and it all escalated from there. Fireworks going off all around us, people singing and laughing, pumping out the dance music, and on the other side of the lake, people were letting of lanterns into the sky, which floated towards us, before fading out into darkness.
The midnight celebrations were the best I have ever seen. Every man and his dog had fireworks in store; the whole city was an explosion of light. Some of the explosions didn't come with light- sounded like something went wrong in a tin shed behind us. Maybe they were just really terrible fireworks.
Noses frozen, unable to wipe the smile off my face, we headed down to bed. It was 2011.
1 Jan 2011: Cooking, wild goose chases and 15-hour bus rides...
We had arranged the previous day to have some cooking classes - an exciting change from sightseeing. We were welcomed into our teacher's house, where her nephew was cheekily answering her back all the time, which was quite a cute touch. First off, she showed us how to make masala tea, and then pakoras, which we ate. She massaged me (on her married son's bed, awkward), then she showed me how to massage on Michael. Her daughter-in-law is 8 months pregnant, her daughter is 2 months pregnant, and I'm pretty sure there was a third baby in there somewhere. I asked her how old she was when she got married - she said 15. Fifteen. She said that every time her husband came near her for the first two weeks she would squeal and run away. She cracked me up. And didn't understand why we weren't married already. And did we have babies. No...
All covered in oil, and getting hungry, we were shown how to make pappadum curry, mixed vegetable curry, rice with peas, chapati bread (awesome!) and a dessert she called 'halva', but is a lot softer, darker and oilier than the white stuff my dad eats. After sitting on her marble stairs to soak up some sun with her, we went off on our ways, rice packed for the bus that night. Thanks, Indian mummy.
Both having studied In the (novel) Lake of the Woods in year 12, and with a lake looking very LOTWish, we really wanted to hire some sort of boat and go explore the far side. 'Maybe he killed her, maybe he didn't'. No one killed anyone in our case, because we couldn't find the boat take-off point. As with the restaurant in Jaipur that we really wanted to go to, and the street that totally didn't exist in Jodhpur, Lonely Planet had yet again been making stuff up. We had a lovely wander around town nonetheless. I tried to weasel our way past the Palace security guards but they didn't really buy it. We got some delicious sugarcane juice off the street, like the good old days in Mumbai, and watched the lady pushing a wooden wheelbarrow full of sewage slush past us, most of which was falling into the road, and her shoes. Why...
Illness struck me again, so we took refuge in a cafe. I had a slushy (yes, made from most-likely contaminated ice and water) because eating safe food wasn't working anyway.
And then onto another bus. With no toilet. How did I survive?