A nice breakfast on the rooftop of the Shahi Palace, and then a complimentary lift to the station from the hotel manager. Such a great hotel! Onto the train to Lalgarh, the nearest station to Bikaner, and was looking forward to reading and listening to my MP3 and of course gazing out of the window at India, by far the best thing to do on an Indian train. None of this eventuated because of a) incredible amount of dust coming in through the windows and b) a man named Aatish Ashishkant. Of course meeting new people is one of the great pluses of travel, but generally most people know where to draw the line, and how to balance up your personal space. Aatish didn’t. He started to talk to us from his berth almost as soon as boarding, and moved in closer and closer until he spent the rest of the journey practically sitting on Merrill’s lap! Aidan and tara were forced to sit elsewhere in the carriage. We heard about his family, army life, his thinning hair, his marriage, his thinning hair all the way to Bikaner, so neither of us got to read a word and i didn’t see very much out the shuttered windows either. It was such a relief toarrive that we may even have hopped off a station earlier, but an A/R into Bikaner didn’t take long. Our hotel was a bit out of town but eccentric and homely, and run by a very laid back manager. This was the Hotel Padmini Niwas. It almost seemed like the manager was actually a guest who woke up one day to find everyone had gone, and so has looked after it awaiting the return of the real owners.
Anyway, it was a quiet, peaceful part of town. Went to the station first on foot to buy our tickets to Jaipur, then into town for dinner at the Amber restaurant on Station Road, which was OK. Warched a family who the waiter told us had just confirmed a wedding match, so it was sweets and photos all round. Then got the best ras malai ever in the world at the Sree sweet stall, as well as a box of delicious barfi and other assorted sweets.
Next morning it was an early start to get out to the rat temple (Karni Mata) at Deshnok. Merrill of course opted out, not being a big fun of rodents (she’s never got over the giant rats of Colaba). So Aidan, Tara and I walked through some streets of beautiful big houses to the roundabout (Ambedkar gate) where the buses go from. Had a lovely breakfast of delicious kachoris at the bus stop. Caught the very fast bus to Deshnok, whizzing past camel carts on the way. From the bus stop it was an A/R to the temple. The temple building itself was nothing special, but of course the attraction is the numerous rats sacred to the goddess Karni Mata. They were everywhere, and its considered lucky if one of them runs over your foot, but sadly none did. What surprised me is that given they are fed milk and other offerings all day, they were very unhealthy looking rats. The ones we’d seen scurrying about the railway tracks at Jodhpur were much healthier. Maybe milk is really bad for them.
From the temple we returned to Bikaner and met up with Mez, then walked to the Junagarh fort, which is perhaps one of the nicest I’ve been to in India. Some interesting artwork and beautiful rooms. Some great views over the town from the roof too. Lunch at Heeralal’s “fast food” on Station Road which was fun and tasty. Then walked through old town to look at some old havelis that weren’t in a great state. On the way were pestered by some of Aaatish’s relations who wanted to “practice their English” which meant stalking us and steering us to their spice shops. You couldn’t even ask them to leave because their response was a guilt inducing “don’t you like us? Don’t you like Indian people?” said as melodramatically as possible. Certainly never experienced this sook approach before anywhere in India. Back to the hotel for a rest and then had dinner in the tiny hotel restaurant, which was also cooked by the manager or his mate.
Had a nice sleep in and after switching to some equally lovely rooms finally headed out at 2pm to visit the famous Jaislamer fort. Started at the palace, which was a mix of the austere and the highly decorated. Used their excellent A/V guided tour. Palace had lots of great views of the town and the surrounding dusty brown landscape. On the way out stopped at Dr Bhang’s lassi shop. I had a nice banana bhang lassi and Aidan had a plain lassi, well it wasn’t that plain.. Shop filled up quickly, perhaps because of our presence, with groups of scarved European backpackers, who studied the menu intensely and complained that the prices were 10 rupees more than in Pushkar! This was a good time to leave. Had afternoon tea on the lovely rooftop of our hotel with a beautiful full moon above us, which was great as by this time the bhang had really kicked in. Floated off to dinner at the Saffron restaurant, and on the way I was sure I was communicating with the locals telepathically in Marwari. Restaurant was pretty ordinary, and all agreed, even the bhangless. Went to bed feeling very happy, if only they had bhang lassis for sale in Sydney..
Breakfast next morning at the July 8th restaurant inside the city walls. Good spot to watch the tour groups and locals in the square outside the palace. Met the owners, who once lived in an assortment of western Sydney suburbs, which explained the vegemite on the menu.
Went to visit the Jain temples that are only open at specific hours in the morning. These were quite beautifully carved but a little claustrophobic. One held some of the oldest books in India. Wandered through the cute alley ways past little shops and large decorated havelis, though they weren’t as impressive as Shekhawati. Walked along city walls for a while which gave us a glimpse into courtyards and gardens, and had some lovely kachoris for a snack. Headed back for hotel to do our camel safari. After some negotiation with the driver started at the Bara Bagh, the tombs of the Jaisalmer rulers, which were interesting but a bit of an obstacle course to access and for some reason a bit creepy.
Next we went to the mysterious abandoned village that looked like an abandoned village. Supposedly deserted after a dispute some 400 years ago. Then off to the sand dunes somewhere for our camel ride. Arrived a a well set out “camp” where we mounted our camels and after waddling through some scrub started to climb up some high sand dunes in time for sunset. Sunset and moonrise were of course beautiful. Back to camp where we were entertained by Rajasthani folk singers in a freezing cold windy courtyard while we waited for dinner. And waited. And waited. After 2 hours of this the poor singers had run out of folk songs and started on a few Bollywood hits but most of the performers, like us, had lost interest. Finally food arrived as the temperature hit the zero mark, so ate very quickly so we could get back to the hotel. Scary ride back with another near miss, glad to get back to the warmth of our beds!
HIlarious old Bollywood movie starring Amitabh Bachchan. If only Australia could have Mr Natwarlal as Prime Minister! he gets everything done, he can sing, wrestle tigers, jump 10m up into a tree, there’s nothing he can’t do. He’d sort this country out straight away, and even throw in a song too. Mr Natwarlal swears vengeance on arch villain Vikram (I’ll never be able to hear that name without laughing) for framing his uncle. Many years later he tracks Vikram to a remote region where he has enslaved the local villagers. Violent hilarity ensues. Also a classic childrens song, the bizarre landmined cave scene and some rather disgraceful treatment of horses. But no movie I’ve seen will ever top this for out and out melodramatic silliness – even sillier than Mr India (though Vikram would be no match for Mugambo). 85/100
The next morning its a quick jeep drive down the mountain to Abu Road station, possibly the filthiest train station in India, well since the infamous Lalkuan station anyway, though that was more pollution than just mountains of rubbish like at Abu.
Train was pretty much on time, had a nice 3 tier sleeper that we shared with a lovely family from Palampur, who shared their delicious lunch with us too. Mum and daughter were very friendly, and we were surprised the girl was 22 as she only looked Aidan’s age. Lunch was bakris (a bread), potato curry, fried chilis and pickles. Arrived pretty much on time in Jodhpur, and with 5 hours to kill before our next train we left our bags at the station. Town was a total shock, it was no longer the quiet little town we visited in 1987 but a smelly, traffic choked mess. Wandered through the bazaar to the clock tower, then caught auto back down to the Kalinga restaurant, where we ate before a train trip in 1987 and it was just as delicious tandoori food, with a nice tandoor mixed plate and an excellent eggplant dish. Lots of old fashioned furniture with waiters to match. Spent a bit of time at a tiny internet cafe before waiting for our late train. Crappy carriage this time, but got our bedding quickly so off to sleep. Well not much sleep, but woke to find we were in Jaisalmer already and it was very early in the morning. Waited for our pickup at the station, fending off the rather more annoying than usual hotel and auto touts. Our guys didn’t turn up but a nice man rang and they got someone else to take us to our hotel, the Shahi Palace. They gave us a room to sleep in until we got up, which was very nice of them.
Terrific novel again from Adiga. At first this seems like a Mumbai version of the film, The Castle, but as you read on it looses its quaintness and becomes more and more threatening. The ending comes as a total surprise. Adiga comments on Mumbai, and perhaps India as a whole, through a group of residents whose lives are changed by a massive offer to buy their block for development. All quickly agree to take the money, except Masterji, a retired teacher. Will he change his mind, or will the mafia style builder use nasty means to help him change his mind? You’ll just have to read it. As well as a great story, Adiga paints Mumbai beautifully and made me homesick! 83/100
Based on the murder of model Jessica Lall, this is a well acted and sometimes gripping drama. Jessica was murdered by a spoilt rich dickhead son of a politician who was found not guilty following all the witnesses being threatened and other goings on. Read about the trial on Wikipedia, its even more unbelievable what happens after the movie finishes! Anyway, great performances by my favourite actress Rani Mukherjee and especially Vidya Balan, and some great songs. Funny too seeing Rani saying 4 letter words! Montage towards the end was a bit over the top though. 75/100