If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Bikaner
Saturday, 25 March 2023
Since my last post, we have driven 1,125 kilometers across Rajasthan. We’ve stayed in Bikaner, Jaisalmer (two nights) and Jodhpur, and now we’ve arrived in Udaipur, where we will be staying for two nights before leaving for Jaipur.
It’s all been a bit of a blur, really. Lots of checking in and out of hotels, lots of driving through the countryside, and lots of temples, cenotaphs and forts. Here is a random selection of salient observations. (I’m allowing myself one post in this format for each leg of the trip.)
After a couple of days’ grace, the Terran Ague has returned with a far more brutal and upsetting assault than before. Indescribable. I suspect that it was a mistake to have a few vegetarian meals at local eateries over the last two days, but Calvin doesn’t want to feel like a tourist, and he is thrilled by the prospect of paying only one or two hundred rupees for a meal. In any case, I’ll be living on electrolytes, muesli bars and prayer for the next few days.
Jaisalmer is a very beautiful place. It’s in the middle of the desert, not too far from the border with Pakistan, and it’s full of yellow sandstone buildings, including a massive old fort on the top of the nearest hill housing about 3,000 regular residents.
- Just before our arrival in Bikaner, we visited the Karni Mata Temple, a Hindu temple that is home to tens of thousands of rats. Walking through the temple barefoot was certainly a thing that I remember doing. Our driver told us that the Italian tourists he had taken there didn’t really appreciate it. “Tanti topi,” they would cry, apparently.
- Calvin has been assiduous (some people might say annoying) in his effort to capture every moment of the trip with his little point-and-shoot camera. I can’t possibly post all his photos here, but you can find them on Facebook, and I’ll be downloading them to my photo library when I get home.
- More than one of the hotels we’ve stayed in was actually part of a palace complex owned and inhabited by members of one of the royal families. In Bikaner, this was the Hotel Lallgarh Palace, which actually seemed a little bit run down and sad, in part because its corridors were adorned with what its website chooses to call “charming sepia photographs and cherished hunting trophies”. In Jaesalmer, it was the Hotel Mandir Palace, which is ornately carved from the town’s yellow sandstone and whose tower is the highest building in Jaisalmer apart from the fort.
Whenever I walk past a dog asleep in the middle of the road, I am compelled to stop for a second to make sure it’s still breathing.
I didn’t know what a haveli was when I wrote my last post from a haveli in Mandawa that had been converted into a hotel. The next morning, our guide (who was a handsome young local who spoke four or five european languages) showed us a dozen of them in Mandawa, and we’ve seen dozens and dozens more of them since. In Mandawa, a local family of artists have been painting frescoes on the havelis for decades; elsewhere, they are decorated with intricate stone carvings.
For the nerds: I was able to correct an error in my previous post from the back seat of the car using my phone’s GitHub app. Editing the file and committing my changes automatically triggered a full site rebuild incorporating my changes. (Those are all meaningful English words.) I am unreasonably excited by this.
As you can see, I have now ridden a camel. I was expecting to be mounted behind an experienced cameleer, but instead I was sat on the camel by myself as it was led along by a small, quiet teenager. Getting on and off is the most unsettling part: camels stand with their back legs first and sit down with their front legs first, so you have to hold on tight to the saddle and lean backwards to avoid faceplanting into the camel’s neck or (more likely) just completely falling off the bloody thing. Camels are grumpy and obnoxious, but really, who can blame them?
We’re in Udaipur now. Taking it easy, thank God. And tomorrow is all sightseeing and very little driving, which will be nice. I’ll catch you all again in a few days.