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An eventful week in Rajasthan...

sunny 33 °C

Hola bonitas y guapos!

I've been very naughty and it's been over a week since I've written, but there's much to update on. It's currently Tuesday morning and I’m just at breakfast before school. Only four more days!

Last Sunday, where I last left you, was the night we arrived in Jaisalmer. I must say I think it was one of my favourite places so far. After the long drive from Pushkar (I think like 9 hours!) we finally arrived at the hotel, which was awesome! As we were divying out the room keys we were given the only room outside by the pool, which I was pretty excited about. I can only really compare the room we were given to stepping into a mystical Mexican brothel; as you walk through the cloud of incense smoke that guards the door you notice that every wall is painted a different (blindingly bright) colour, encrusted with small square mirrors and hand-painted images of ganesh or elephants etc. The walls looked like they were made from dung or clay bricks, and any surface that wasn't painted was draped in bright and shiny fabrics. I actually felt kind of displaced being there without being high as a kite on mushrooms or something. Elena thought it was a bit much but I must admit that I loved it, and have gain some inspiration for the next time I have my own room.

After we got settled we met Annabel, Ian and Tineke up on the rooftop restaurant, where we discovered why Jaisalmer is often referred to as the 'Golden city' - it has an amber tinge, as the buildings are all made from some material that looks kind of like sandstone. Very pretty. We had some beers and dinner and rambled on for many hours before eventually going back downstairs and hitting the bed for our early morning the next day.

On Monday morning we were due to leave at 6am to watch the sunrise at Gadisar Lake, a popular thing to see in Jaisalmer. However, I forgot to set an alarm and Annabel scared the crap out of me coming to get us so early. We rushed out but it turns out we had to wait 20 minutes for Mr Singh (the van driver) who had been a hilariously useless driver the whole trip. Soon we got to the lake and I must say the early rise was beyond worth it. It had some little temples around it and in the water and there were some amazing photo opportunities. After gazing for a while we walked a bit around the lake and came across two Indian men feeding hundreds of eels. They're kind of disgusting but it was cool to see. The younger of the men then asked me to take photos of the older one (I was sceptical and thought he'd charge me for a photo) but he actually wanted me to print them and send them to him. I have his address but I doubt I'll send them. He also made me follow them up some stairs and watch him feed birds which was sweet, but after a while we left and got back in the van to go to the hotel for breakfast. Breakfast wasn't bad (especially in comparison to the food at our hotel in Pushkar), but I was very tired and decided to have a bit of a nap while Elena went for a walk. I also attempted to shower but, like in Pushkar, the shower wasn't quite right, so I bathed under the tap.

Elena returned from her walk and told me she'd gone up for a walk around the fort which sounded really cool, so we went up again. It's much more alive than other forts that I've been to and seems like a local little village kind of thing (though it is definitely designed for tourists). When we got there Elena took me up through a few little archways to a balcony with really beautiful views of the whole city. We then walked around for a while; the fort is like a small city with lots of sandstone (or whatever the material is) buildings and small narrow alleyways. It's very alive with the walls lined with different fabrics and tables of cute handmade notebooks and things. People and children are everywhere, as are cows of courses, but the alleys are very small so it feels like you're in an isolated town with some electric vibe. I think it was my favourite fort.

I think there are also some temples and buildings you can enter in the fort but we didn't do that and instead just enjoyed the atmosphere. We had to go back to meet the group and on our exit we bumped into Mr Singh (the useless driver) who seemed to try to be convincing Elena and I to join he and his friend for breakfast. It was kind of awkward and just confirms our perception of how weird he is.

We all got into the cars (this time I was with Zakir in the small car - the cutest driver in the world and much more comfy than the van) and headed on our way to Patwa Haweli, which was similar to the fort. We waited forever for the other group (Mr Singh being useless again) but eventually they came and we looked inside the main building. It was like a house-cum-museum which showed the ancient bedrooms, clothes, kitchens etc. It was kind of boring because I'm not really into that but the views on the roof were nice. I then went on my own and wandered around the narrows streets of the area which had many houses and a few little shops, watching kids walking home from school and old women washing their verandahs. It was very nice to wander around (though a little smelly) but soon we were back in the car to head back to the fort we'd been to in the morning, this time with the rest of the group. Annabel, Elena and I found a restaurant just outside the fort to get some lunch, though the competition for tourist business at restaurants is pretty entertaining, some even claiming to be 'Recommended by every foreign country guide book'. (We looked in Lonely Planet and what a surprise they weren't featured). I felt like Western food again and ordered 'Macaroni with Italian Sauce' but it was like pasta with ketchup and the sauce you have for sweet-and-sour pork.

Anyway, after lunch we went back into the fort because Annabel hadn't been and walked around a bit. There was one jewellery stall I'd really liked but I'm trying not to buy anything. Anyway, not much more eventful that I can remember - at about 2 we got back in the car ready for our drive out to the Thar Desert. Funnily enough, the excessive use of the horn does not subside even when in the completely isolated desert where not a single other person is in site. Zakir beeped at pretty much every speed hump in case there was a small goat or something lurking behind it.

When we arrived at the Mud Resort, which was our base camp, we had some tea and got ready for a camel ride. I was set up with a camel named Bubaloo (pretty cute) and my sort of 'guide'/camel controller was a super cute 11-year-old boy named Mehinda, who was very sweet and tried very hard. I'd been warned that it can be kind of frightening when the camel stands up, but I hadn't really paid attention to this warning and still squealed like a little bitch (both times the camel stood and both times it sat down). I'd never really looked properly at a camel before but their anatomical design is very interesting and kind of weird; their legs have two knees each, so the leg kind of folds backwards and it doesn't look very comfortable. We also noticed this flat stump under their chest that kind of looked like a tree trunk, which they use to rest on while sitting. They also look hilarious when they chew (June Dally Watkins certainly never taught them dinner etiquette).

We walked up into the dunes and sat for a while as the sun began to set. The warm sand was so delightful and it was just really peaceful. I'd always underestimated deserts but it really is beautiful (and I'm now quite fond of camels). I'm now even more inspired to do a northern/central Australia trip when I return.

As the sun was setting and it began to get dark we headed back to the base camp and I parted ways with Bubaloo and Mehinda to get ready for dinner. At the base they offered a folk dancing performance which was very cool, with a beautiful young dancing female and three musical men - one of whom clearly had a crush on Helma and wouldn't stop staring and smiling at her. One of the musicians got up and did a performance with fire, and afterwards the woman got us all to get up and dance with her. It was very embarassing but hilarious. Afterwards we were served dinner, featuring 'desert chapati' (aka cardboard) and a 'desert' afterward which I'm 80% sure contained camel milk, camel dung and sugar.

We then got ready for a night under the stars in the desert! We piled onto carts pulled by camels to take us out, and while waiting to go I saw a young girl outside the house next door, and started making random animal/ambulance/weird noises which she then imitated and we turned into a bit of a game. Then off we went to the desert, set up some beds and blankets and chatted and slept.

In the morning we woke to a funny Indian man (one of the camel attendants) who ordered us to start waking up and packing up. I went for a short walk (and weed in the Indian desert!) and enjoyed the beautiful sunset, and then we were back on our way to the base camp. We had a very sub-par breakfast and then piled into the respective van/cars and set on our way to Jodhpur.

At one point maybe 40 minutes out of the desert we all stopped on the road as a train was crossing the tracks. It was the first I'd seen and was very Darjeeling Limited-esque, making me very excited for our train mini-adventure next week. Finally we were back on our way...but not for long... as the car began to make some unsavoury noises. Soon enough, it stopped altogether.

As the van with the majority of our group had sped ahead we were stuck alone broken down in the desert. Zakir was desperately trying to call Mr Singh (who was once again useless and didn't answer) but eventually a ute with a few men stopped for us. They stared and prodded at the car for a while (as well as the three helpless white girls in the car) and after a while one of the men went over to a telegraph pole, clipped off some overhanging electrical wire, and tied it to the car, with the other end tied to the back of their ute. I was highly sceptical and incredibly surprised when it actually worked, and soon we were on our way. About five or ten minutes down the road we saw the van coming towards as as Mr Singh had finally been informed, which was lucky as at just that time our car detached from the ute. We then connected the car to the van instead, and we all piled into the van while Zakir sat in the small car steering. Two or three times it detached from the van and they had to re-tie the wire, but eventually we made it to a mechanic - in the end it turns out the wrong fuel had been put in the car.

After the eventful morning we finally continued on our way to Jodhpur, though the van seemed a bit tense. I had been a little worried about 12 girls (plus Ian) on a trip together, and I have sensed a little bit of bitchiness - with one particularly odd conversation about tipping, but it hasn't been too bad. I just have a unique stance on tipping as it is not very common and certainly not expected in Australia, whereas of course the American's here have different general standards on the issue. I have been tipping at times while travelling where I feel appropriate, however it is difficult with cultural differences even within the group, as one girl questioned the fact that I 'see all this poverty around me and earn like $40 an hour yet won't spare $4 for a driver'. I felt that a) this was really out of line, b) it is not another persons business how you choose to spend your money, and c)tipping a relatively well-paid driver (by Indian standards) will in no way help solve the issue of poverty in India. I didn't dwell on the comment for too long as I don't think it was well-justified, and I feel that the way I have chosen to spend my money on this trip will end up being more beneficial than over-spending on tips - I want to save my money to allow me to do other volunteer trips and study international relations courses, which will hopefully enlighten me to ways to help people in the bigger picture. That being said, I still tipped Zakir because as I said he is adorable! The issue was more about someone trying to dictate and judging my views, as well as some general bitchiness from other people in the car (though this may have been perceived bitchiness that was imagined in my head).

Anyway, I wrote far too long on that (and certainly hope that anyone who reads this is not offended by my views, but my purpose for this blog is a personal account of my memories). Regardless, we EVENTUALLY arrived in Jodhpur at around 4pm at the most wonderful hotel I've stayed at on this whole trip! It had lush gardens, a pool, giant bedrooms with four-poster beds, Western toilets, WiFi etc. I have never really felt an issue with slumming it a bit (and have developed a surprising resistence to regularly bathing), but being offered slightly luxurious Western comforts is really nice at times - I'm pretty excited to see my parents in Abu Dhabi and possibly even begin bathing daily/wearing clean clothes and underwear again. I'm also excited to not be pink - parts of my body are still pink from Holi and because my bra and some clothes have been dyed by it I think this may remain the case until I have access to a proper bath/body scrub and a good washing machine.

After relaxing a while (and checking my Facebook for the first time in a little while - sometimes it's nice to have an existence that doesn't revolve entirely around FB like it did in Sydney) we then went to check out Jodhpur city and the main markets. Basically, the city is kind of a shithole. We didn't have all that long at the market, but I did buy some really delicious tea at a spice shop. Nothing else really happened, except Elena stepped in wet cement which upset the owner, we saw two Indian albinos (which I haven't seen at all in my travels), and Elena's credit card wasn't working so we went on a bit of an ATM hunt.

After an hour or two we headed back to the van and there was Zakir waiting for us! Highly pleased, we made our way back to the hotel for a buffet dinner with the Dutch girls and a hilarious night of sharing terrible dance moves (I brought the Christmas tree and the 2-minute-noodle-dance to the table (....don't ask)).

On Wednesday morning Elena and I woke up early and had a romantic breakfast together on the restaurant balcony. It really is nice to have good service sometimes; I think I underestimated the occasional advice I received to book yourself into a nice hotel every once in a while. In saying that, when booking myself I’ve only been staying in very cheap places and have never been in a place where I’ve felt I need to leave, so I don’t feel luxury accommodation is valued by me as much as other people, but sometimes it is nice. In that sense, it was cool that Sankalp organised the trips for us, as I would never have considered staying at these hotels otherwise.

After breakfast I finally decided to have a much-needed shower, which was really nice as the water actually came out of the shower head and it was even almost lukewarm. Elena and I then decided to go for a walk, in hopes of seeing the city a bit more and finding last night’s spice shop to possibly buy some more stuff. However, our walk just made us realise even more than the city was dirty and smelly. I really hadn’t noticed these things very much but Elena does a lot which made me notice the difference in cities we visit. No part of India that I’ve visited has been ‘clean’ by any stretch of the imagination, but Jodhpur really was something else. Eventually we decided not to bother going all the way to the market and we headed on our way back to the hotel; though we got significantly lost and eventually gave in to getting a rickshaw back.

We apprehensively checked out of the beautiful hotel and got back into the car to visit the Jodhpur Fort, one of the main attractions in town. At this fort there was an audio-tour available which some of us took. We were in a bit of a rush because we’d chosen to hang out at the hotel so long, so we weren’t able to complete the tour, but I listened to a few things here and there which put it into context; it was a palace and had good defences against intruders. Some of the rooms were set up how they would have existed, which was nice, but I found that the most endearing quality of the fort were the views. If you had somehow managed to escape the city without noticing the pollution, you could now see it in full swing. There is a thick film of smog engulfing the city, and underneath the buildings have a very pretty essence as many of them are blue in colour; they were often washed in indigo to insulate from the hot temperatures.

We got some lunch at the café in the fort and then got ready for the drive home. It was pretty uneventful otherwise and soon we were home telling stories about our trips to all the people at home.

On Thursday we were back to life as normal and went to school, however this time Chloe and Daphnee (who taught the smaller class) had left and we had two new volunteers; Chinese Ian (who came on the trip) and French Coreo (not Croan…oops). Coreo had been teaching the older class with Sarah while we were all away, so I joined Ian on the younger class to help him settle in. Class went well, though the kids were insane, and at the end of the day Coreo came into our classroom because…. He’s a magician! He did a few little magic tricks which the kids loved (as did I) and yeah it was pretty cool to try something new.

Friday we were at school again, however sadly today was Sarah’s last day. Sasha and I organised her a card and got all the children to write their names on it, as well as a message from Asha and Zakir, and she weeped like a baby but I think she appreciated it. It was really sad but she’s been here for 2-3 months so I guess it’s time to go.

That night Elena, Sasha and I decided to go watch a Bollywood movie at the local cinema, Raj Mandir. That was quite an experience in itself… The cinemas are very big and have two levels with many seats, and I guess because it’s a Friday night it was packed out. The cinema experience is vastly different to that in Australia (or Spain and Holland apparently) – people talk loudly, answer their phones, and when the movie starts, something exciting happen, or a pretty lady walks into the scene, everybody cheers and whistles. Apparently sometimes people dance. The movies themselves are also obviously different; the one we watched was called ‘Agent Vinod’, about some spy and a bomb in Russia and something in Morocco and a pretty girl from Pakistan and blah blah. I actually think the casting director took some inspiration from Harry Potter, as there was a Russian mafia dude identical to Hagrid, a bad dude from Morocco who looked like Dumbledore, and some rich buyer who looked like Mad-Eye Moody. However I’m able to relate most things in life to Harry Potter. The movie was in Hindi but you could catch on pretty easily – and what we’ve noticed is that often when we hear things in Hindi (movies, TV, news etc) there are often many English words entwined in it. Possibly 50% Hindi-50% English. Very odd. I think it may be that words for more recent things have just adopted the English version, like we heard Zakir speaking Hindi but say ‘number plate’ in between. The movies are also incredibly long, and we decided after two hours during the intermission (yes they have intermissions) that we’d had enough for one night and went searching for some food. We stumble upon KFC – it was so nice to have some chicken.

When we got home some of the girls got back with a cake, ice cream, and some other weird dessert for Sarah’s going away. There was also a new couple that arrived, Jeff and Gui; an engaged couple from Taiwan/Boston. We ate and chatted for a while and eventually went upstairs to watch Purni’s favourite Bollywood movie – ‘Dirty Picture’. This I found much more interesting than ‘Agent Vinod’, but COMPLETELY over the top. It was also amazingly risqué for an Indian film and got kind of annoying at the end, but hey it was fun.

On Saturday we departed for our last weekend trip, this time to Ranthambore, which was… quite eventful. We only had a group of eight this time, and once again Elena, Sasha and I went in the car with Zakir. The drive wasn’t too long; about 3 or 4 hours, however as we were about 30 minutes away from our destination, we ran into a bit of trouble. And by trouble, I mean a pig. As we were driving through a small village relatively fast a medium size pig began to ran across the road, and as Zakir tried to beep at it it just ran faster. We heard and felt a bit of a thud, and something black flew across the road in a cloud of dust. We stopped at a car station 2 minutes up the road to check the car (I was interested in blood splatters…mm, haven’t had pork in a while…(kidding)). However, it was actually the pig who had damaged the car – the number plate and front bumper had been ripped off. We drove back to look for it but the pig wasn’t in site so it must have made a safe escape, and after some boys helped Zakir the number plate was retrieved too.

We were then on our way to Ranthambore Fort, but when we arrived they weren’t allowing any more entrants so we went to the hotel, Ranthambore Forest Lodge. It was a nice hotel, set in large lush green gardens with lodges spaced out and about four hotel rooms in each lodge building. We had some afternoon tea and then met with the others who had been at the fort before us. We had a buffet dinner (which ended up painfully expensive) but it was nice, and then I took my first shower in far too long (…Jodhpur) and we settled in to bed. However, the was not the end of this night…
At about 3am we had a visitor. By some chance Elena randomly opened her eyes, and there was a man standing over our bed. He just stood there, and after a few seconds she sat up a little and said ‘quien eres?’ – meaning ‘who are you?’, and he slowly and calmly walked out of the room. I woke up just as he was leaving, very confused about what had happened. We concluded that he was someone who had walked to the wrong room as the lodges all look identical, and stayed calm hoping that this was the most logical conclusion as our iPhones were still there and everything. Elena even speculated that it may have been a disabled man that we’d seen in the hotel the day before who was a bit ‘out of it’. The girls were pretty freaked out but I tried to keep my cool – though I must admit that I checked behind the shower curtain when I went to the bathroom. That’s the last time I forget to lock my door.

In the morning we had to get up at 6am to get ready for our safari in Ranthambore National Park. As we were getting ready we learnt that the our late night intruder was not just some ‘confused, lost, man’ – all of Elena’s money and her credit card, which had been in her bum-bag by the door, was gone. Suddenly that changed our understanding of everything and we were really freaked out, though it was so lucky that it was only money that he had taken – I assume he was on his way to our bed to take our iPhones which were charging on the bedside table. It really freaked me out, and makes me wonder how many times when my door has been locked someone might have come to my door to check, as no other rooms had been robbed but I’m sure he must have checked other locks. We spoke to management, who was a bit of an idiot and it appeared as though he didn’t believe us, but later in the day the head manager came in and sorted everything out in a much more professional manner – even repaying Elena the money which had been stolen, as it was part of their policy.
One slightly funny thing happened in that as we were talking to the manager in the lobby the mentally handicapped man that had been mentioned the night before was sitting at the lounge – it’s funny and embarrassing how naïve we were, thinking it was some random accident and even pitying the ‘poor guy who must have been so confused walking into our room’.

We then went to the restaurant to have tea before our safari, but wondered where the other girls were – to add insult to injury Elena’s clock was actually an hour wrong and we woke up at 5am instead of 6, and had to wait another hour before we left for our safari.

It turned out that the safari wasn’t really anything worth waiting around for. It was actually kind of painful, as the bumpy jeep hurt a lot. Apparently there are thirty tigers in the park, and we actually saw some foot prints which was cool, and saw a black sloth bear waaaay in the distance. I love them so I wish I’d seen it better but hey, it was something. Other than that we saw many deer and antelope which are pretty, some peacocks, monkeys, two bunnies and a jackal. The park itself wasn’t that beautiful either as it is very dry and baron at the moment – I think it would be nicer after the monsoon season, but I still liked it. We left a little early because we were a bit bored and wanted breakfast, within about two minutes back on the main road I saw ten times the amount of animals I’d seen in the park – camels, pigs, cows, water buffalo, monkeys and goats (which I have concluded are the most hilarious animals ever).

We went back for breakfast which was really nice, and then Sasha, Elena and I went off to Ranthambore fort as we hadn’t been able to the day before. They’d said it was their favourite fort, and I must say I think we would have liked it much more if it hadn’t been midday and we weren’t so tired. The fort was very different as it was set atop a mountain and was like a series of buildings within gardens, rather than just one big building. There were many locals there – I think the only other tourists we saw were when we bumped into Annabel and Tineke on the way out (who had gone to Ranthambore separate from the tour trip). However, the locals were tourists themselves but were more interested in taking photos of us rather than the fort itself – it gets really creepy and annoying. The most prominent feature of the fort though is its mass amounts of monkeys – probably even more than the Monkey Temple. I still have a bit of a fear of monkeys, but these were the black-faced species and were clearly very used to people, so they weren’t aggressive really. There were also heaps and heaps of fresh bubba monkeys clinging to their mums which was very cute.

We then got back in the car which was an air conditioned haven and a swift three-four hours later we were back at home, telling our various pig and robbery tales to all the others. At dinner we also met two new English girls who are doing the orphanage program, and then I had Spanish lessons with Elena! I’m considering now doing Spanish school in Barcelona rather than Gran Canaria as Elena’s convinced me it’s such a beautiful city.

Yesterday was a bit bittersweet because Sasha was leaving our room for Goa. I’m a teeny bit jealous of her sitting on the beach getting a tan right now, but I can’t wait to see her and the other Dutch girls in Holland in June.

Class went as normal, this time with Gui and Jeff joining us (but helping with the other classes) so ours went as usual. The kids really have been learning a lot – their maths improvement is really impressive, and phonetics too.

After class I came back for lunch and when the heat subsided a little Elena and I went to MI road to get my laptop screen fixed (which I am now typing on!) – it only cost $70 and took two hours. While we were waiting we went to Anokhi, a café lots of the girls talk about which has Western food and a cute little clothing store and things. I found some bracelets I really liked and asked about posting things to Australia, but it seems pretty pricey so I want to suss out some other options first. Elena also found a dress she loves so we’re going back for lunch this afternoon which is pretty exciting. In the building there’s also a nice bookshop, and I called Grandad for his birthday – I miss him and Grandma lot’s and it was so nice to speak to them!

We then went for a walk back to MI Road which wasn’t too far, picked up my laptop (yay) and then went back home for dinner.

And here we are! Only four more days of class left and soon enough I’ll be travelling again. Anyway, hopefully I will write in the next few days so it’s not such a pain to write nine days worth of events again.

Hope all is well – adios amigos!

Posted by georgiaellen 03:32 Archived in India

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