Jodhpur and Pushkar

Jodhpur and Pushkar

November 28, 2010

I didn’t like Jodhpur too much. I’m glad I was there only for one day. I don’t know if it’s because I was very tired because I didn’t sleep much on the train and I might have had some fever, but people were particularly annoying. A man kept looking at me while walking in front of me, with a not-so-nice look, and I had to tell him to fuck off to make him stop. Kids kept coming to me asking for money and pulling my shirt. A kind man invited me to his blue house and at one point he asked to exchange one euro in rupee to pay for his wife medicines, a wife that was on the terrace sunbathing. Another guy started laughing while looking at me. The special saffron lassi is not that good at all. Restaurants are more expensive. So, nothing good.

The fort is nice, built by one of the many mahrajas. Jodphur is also called “the blue city”, because many buildings are painted in blue. A nice shiny blue. Inside and outside. In the past it was only brahmin houses that were painted in blue, one of the highest chastes; today anyone can paint his house in blue.

Now I am in Pushkar, on the shores of a sacred lake. People come here from far away to bath in the lake. I haven’t seen much yet, but the little I’ve seen relieved me. It seems a nice holiday resort. People is relaxed and happy. My room is beautiful, painted in lilac, with green, white and blue strikes. And a warm shower (at least the first two minutes). I haven’t had a warm shower in two weeks.

Pushkar is in Rajasthan, a region in the North-West of India, near the border with Pakistan. In Rajasthan you can also find Jaipur, Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, where I was in these last weeks. On the bus coming here we passed villages where the elder men were wearing turbans in the most bright colors. White, red, red with white dots, yellow, orange; fluorescent greens and fuchsia. Some women wore their sari (the long shawl that they wear on their head and that they knot around the waist) of a super bright yellow. At first I thought it was muslim women who wore the sari on their face, but it’s actually quite common, so to avoid men’s looks. But why do men have to look at women lasciviously in the first place? Why don’t they look at their dirty nails?

There were a couple of trucks on the road that had had an accident. It didn’t surprise me. Here the only rule is that of the strongest. The largest vehicle has all the rights. So when our bus was overtaking another vehicle, if from the other side a motorbike was coming, this last one had two options: either stopping or going out of the road. Pedestrians are treated even worst. Pedestrian crossings or not, it doesn’t matter. The problem comes when you have to cross a large road. To cross a road with many lanes you have to do like in that frog game on the Commodore 64, when you cross the first lane, than the second, you wait among the running cars that the third is free and so on (the same is in China actually). Roundabouts have no rules. You don’t actually do the whole tour if you just have to go left or right, bike or car or pedestrian. And you don’t need to stop to see if a car is approaching when you enter a new road; it will be their duty to see you and anticipate your moves and let you in. But the most dangerous remain overtakings. If there’s a bump or a bend, it doesn’t matter. If another truck comes from the other side you just slow down and go back to your lane. If it’s only a car or a motorbike approaching, it will be their duty to stop or go out of the road.

I was walking on the street and from an open gate I saw a group of people dancing at drums rythm. A bit further there was a procession, with drums and trumpets and people dancing. Men in the front, women following. At the very back, a guy on a horse, dressed like a Mahraja; he was probably someone important. On the side walked some poor guys carrying lamps that seemed very heavy. And behind them a chart with a generator, for the lamps. The noise of the generators fought with the drums, to see who could be heard more. At one point they stopped, while music and dances continued, and from a gate people brought yogurts, that here they call curd and that they eat at any time (it’s the main ingredient for lassi), to refresh the partygoers. I would have liked one too, but strange enough I wasn’t offered one. When the procession started again the street was full of the empy packages. I don’t know if it was a wedding or a religious celebration.

I went out for dinner, but I had to come back to wear some shoes, it’s too cold! Why? We are not that heigh.

Yoga in the desert

Yoga in the desert

Adventures in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan

November 26, 2010

I survived two days in the Thar Desert, near Bikaner. On a camel. My butt and thigh are aching. No more camel rides for me, thank you. They asked me to go back. Ok, I might, one day, if you give me a bike instead of a camel.

I was on a tour with two French guys and a Dutch-Portuguese couple. These last two were interesting. She’s a bag designer, that uses recycling materials. He’s an artist, that to pay the bills owns a coffee shop in the Netherlands, somewhere near the border with Germany, and earns quite some money from the business. Six camel men, a guide and his son. The youngest of the camel men, Umad, 12 years old, is basically everyone servant. He’s called around everywhere, to wash dishes, peel potatoes, wait. And he runs forth and back always smiling. These desert guys are beautiful. Except maybe for the red-brown teeth colored by tobacco. That are not as bad as those of their camels, anyway. The oldest camel man, Kesudan, is 53 years old. He looks 20 years older. I guess life in the desert is not that easy.

The tour started with a visit to the Karni Mata Temple, a temple dedicated to mice. It was quite impressive. And a bit disgusting, if I can say. At the entrance you have to take off your shoes, like in all temples, and than you walk amid mouse shit and food. It’s good omen if a mouse runs between your legs, and even more if you can spot the white mouse. I waited for 10 minutes at the entrance of the white mouse house, but nothing. No luck for me. I’ve never seen so many mice in my life.

Karni Mata Temple

These two days in the desert were a completely different experience from what I had in Wadi Rum. There I was traveling on a 4×4, amid mountains and red sand. The Great Indian Desert is a great extension of dry spiny bushes and sparse trees. Camels walk very slowly, so you don’t go very far. And I think that is the point, to spend two days with a different space-time perspective. That is actually unnerving, when you are used to rush and do everything quickly. But I guess it has its advantages.

The plan was to sleep on the dunes under the stars. But the weather wasn’t too good, so the guide took us to an abandoned building, to sleep under a roof. This was built as a school, but was never used because the Indian government never sent teachers to the place. So is the Indian bureaucracy, explained the guide. Money is spent on infrastructures, then teachers are left without jobs and children without school because there is no communication between the various offices. He doesn’t vote, because everyone is corrupted, so there is no point in voting. He’s the first person I’ve met that doesn’t like Sonia Gandhi. When I mention that I’m Italian, everyone smiles and says “like Sonia Gandhi!”. Edvige Antonia Albina Maino was born 30 km from Vicenza and married a descendant of Mahatma Gandhi (the Gandhi family has had important roles in the government for decades; Sonia Gandhi in 2010 was president of the Indian Natioanl Party and could have become Prime Minister if the opposition didn’t complain that she’s not fully Indian).

So we slept under the porch of this building. Getting up was awesome, surrounded by fog, with the noise in the background of camels chewing nearby and the desert men preparing chai on the other side of the portico.

thar desert

Lionel, one of the French guys, coouldn’t find one of his shoes. It was 10 meters from the porch, a bit nibbled at. Some animal must have taken it during the night, probably a goat.

I went a bit away from the group and tried to do the 5 yoga exercises I learnt the previous day. But this thing of being calm is not for me. I should have done every exercise for 5 minutes 3 times, instead I did it one minute once. I kept thinking at the others that were cooking breakfast and I couldn’t wait. I have to try again. Only when I play solitary games at the pc I can spend hours without doing anything (this was in 2010, now I spend hours playing candy crush). Which annoys me, because I waste time that I could spend reading or doing something else. But playing on the pc helps me to think. I get some good ideas sometimes (like going to Africa).

Another day on a camel, but after half an hour I couldn’t take it any longer. I don’t know how people can enjoy this. I spent the rest of the time on a chart, pulled by a camel. I was laying on the hay that they use to feed the camels when we stop, letting the sun warm me up, cradled by the chart and the camel men dirge. Much better.

Kesudan was on the chart with me. At one point he stripped a piece of string from the towel he was wearing around his waist, and weaved a bracelet for me. Now we are brother and sister, explained another guy. Next time I come to Bikaner he hopes I’ll call him, he gave me his address. He has a handsome son, so I might really go back. But it’s better if I wait until the son grows older…

thar desert family
Walks in Bikaner

Walks in Bikaner

November 23, 2010

Today I allowed myself a treat. I had a no-alcool cocktail for 3€ (with alcool it was too expensive). With this money I normally eat 4 times or sleep 2 nights. But I needed some peace and relax in the chaos that is Bikaner. I’m at the café of a hotel that is part of a Maharaja palace, an Indian prince. It must be nice to spend a night at a maharaja home. My table is in a courtyard surrounded by porticoes and the rooms of the hotel are on the upper floors. All walls are finely decorated and carved. It’s not even that expensive sleeping here, 80 euro per night.

Bikaner is a small town at the border with the desert, with a lot of traffic, camels in the streets, an old town with a labyrinth of small alleys and houses with pastel colors, and a lot of people. Stressful people. I can’t walk two meters without someone reaching out saying hello and asking where I come from and if they speak a bit Italian it’s even worse. It’s a 40 min walk from the town center to my hotel. Last night while I was walking back I had at least three bodyguards escorting me the whole time. One kept asking if I wanted to marry him. I had to shout at him to convince him to go.

The trip on the bus was a nightmare. The road wasn’t paved for most of its length, I couldn’t sleep for the continuous jumps on the holes. Luckily for the next two destinations I have already booked a train ticket.

Tomorrow I will probably go to the desert. When I first went to the desert, one year and ten days ago, in Wadi Rum (Jordan), I fell in love. I hope I will enjoy this one too.

In one month I will be at Dubai airport, on my way back. A few days ago I thought that I should go to Africa in January. Just for a couple of months. In Mali, Senegal or wherever. I must before I find a job (it will be more difficult to travel for three weeks once you have job). I got this idea because of you. I loved all the positive feedback I received from this blog, it made me realise I should visit some other place and tell my experiences to you. I want to see Africa and bring it to you.

They showed me the bill. Does it mean it’s time for me to leave?

Do you mind if I ask you something?

Do you mind if I ask you something?

November 19, 2010
“Do you mind if I ask you something?” This seems to be the approaching sentence of men in Jaipur. Yes, I do mind. Why? Because in 24 hours 10 people have already asked me the same question. “Why do Westerners come to India to get to know our culture and they don’t speak to locals?”. Maybe because locals are too annoying and people get tired?
Well, they don’t get it. And most times they are boring questions, where do you come from, what do you do, what did you like about India, and so on.

Tonight another guy approached me in this same way. At my reaction, the same as usual, rude, he said that this wasn’t what he wanted to ask me. It was “Can I offer you a chai so that we can chat a bit?”. Ok, not much difference, but because he had the guts to reply to me (usually after my rude reply they run away) I got curious. And I got this free chai (well, half to be honest, they brought us a glass of tea and one emply, where my half was poured.

Well, he wasn’t too bad. He told me some interesting stories. Like, why are Indians not good at playing football (soccer)? Because at every corner they would open a shop. And this is so true! All ground floors of the buildings are shops or restaurants, not one single flat or house. Flats are from the first floor up. No garage, there’s no need for them. 

He likes cricket, anyway. I don’t know anything about cricket, and he says that he’s not even trying to teach me something because it’s very complicated and after 2 minutes I’d be tired. I only know that matches can last for days. And people don’t get bored because they put money on them, so they are always interested in how the match goes.


He then told me that they their arranged weddings do work because the mentality is different, people are ready to compromise to stay together, while in the Western World this is getting more and more difficult. Which is true. 

A bit earlier I had another interesting meeting. I was at a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and was looking at pooja (or puja), one of their celebrations-prayers, and I guy talked to me. He works for a travel agency, that provides buses and guides to groups of foreign tourists. He doesn’t understand why so many elderly from Europe come to India and spend all the time inside their buses, like in a cage. They go out of their hotels, get on the bus and get off just to visit palaces and museums. No walking in the streets. No talking to locals. They can’t even go to the shops they choose, they go where they are taken. Well, I guess some people are scared of somthing so different from their own country and growing old it gets more difficult. But he is right, that’s not traveling. It is true that here in India at some point you get tired and you don’t want to talk to anyone. But sometimes interesting exchanges can happen.

Jaipur is very pretty. “The Pink city”, it’s called. They use a lot of “sand stone” to build, which I am not sure what it is. I visited the palace of the town today. €4.5. A lot! But it was worth it. Inside was a museum with traditional clothes and accessories worn by Mahrajas. And it’s a nice building. When I went outside a guy on a rickshaw offered to take me on a ride. At 30 cents, for one hour. This included a visit to a couple of shops, that weren’t mentioned in the offer, but it was nice nevertheless. I bought some earrings at less than one euro. But I left the carpets where they were. In the factory where they pring saris, I was covered in golden powder. I’m still sparkling.

Bye from Jaipur, Rajasthan. A region famous for the colours of its fabrics.