Saturday, December 23, 2006

Reflections on Rajastan...

I've not seen too much of India and it's not a fact I'm proud of. May, and the summer vacations brought the predictable and eagerly anticipated 15-odd hour Patel Travels bus journey to Goa. Along with random trips to Maharashtrian hillstations and one weekend in Daman, that's about all the travel I'd ever done. Oh, and once we went to the Infant Jesus shrine in Nasik, yes. Actually until just about 2 or 3 years ago, I had never taken a long distance train ride! *pokes every eye-of-shame trained on me*

But I do love travelling.. so I put together this plan to see more of the country. And I'm pleased to report, this plan's not doing as badly as some of my other, less-achievable ones.

As part of this plan we (my buddies - Savio, Dheeraj and I) found this friend's friend who was a travel agent and picked her brains for 3 of the most harrowing days of her life. And then decided not to go through her agency. *Beams*. Which means we land at Jaipur airport with neither hotel reservations nor a plan. This is when we learnt the first and most important Rajasthani lesson: Take any offered price; laugh at it; start walking away; eventually settle for approximately half of initial offer. This applies to rickshaw fares, hotel rooms, booze in a bar!!! I ain't shitting you, either - this state makes Fashion Street look like a churchyard bake sale. It actually got a bit tiresome after a while; I mean how long can you stick to your "..please, chacha, hum students hain.." line???

Jaipur turned out to be a little big-cityish.. if only just by Rajasthan standards. We found ourselves a pretty decent hotel room in an area that was famous for mujras. "Lekin, yeh aap jaise shareef bachchon ke liye nahin hain" chastised our rickshaw driver! So, we went to the Hawa Mahal, City Palace, Amber Fort instead. Damned 'students' charade! The highpoint of our stay here, though, was the visit to Chokhi Dani.. which is an artificial village where you pay an entry fee and there's dinner, music, folk dancing, etc. to be had. We got a massage, watched a folk dance (very creepily suggestive), took a camel ride, watched a puppet show, tried our hand at archery.. a good time all in all.. and yes, the smuggled rum and vodka quarters helped up the tempo a little!

Chokhi Dani....

After a tiring second day we got us berths in this sleeper bus that would transport us magically to Jodhpur overnight. The magic made possible by the substantial amount of whiskey consumed before we hopped (almost literally.. teehee) on the bus! Two hours on the road and all the drink caught up with us.. so we went up and told the driver we had to make a pitstop. After trying to tell us first that it was impossible to stop, he finally agreed.. sorta.. "Ok. Just wait for ten more minutes", he reasoned. We obediently climbed (stumbled?) back into our cabins. Fifteen minutes later, with every pothole on the road reminding us that we still hadn't stopped, we went up and started fighting again. They tried to bargain for time again, which forced us to play our trump card: "STOP NOW or we pee in your bus!!!". Brakes were slammed on faster than you could say "burning rubber".. We had won and we celebrated right there on the side of the highway!

Meherangadh Fort, Jodhpur...

Because we didn't have no agenda whatsover, we had the luxury of making spot decisions. Like the one to drive off to Jaisalmer. We hired a car.. an Indica that came with its very own sleazeball driver. Rajpal. He first pissed us off by showing up 30 minutes late in the morning with three different and equally non-sensical excuses. Then he refused to heed our very polite request and stop at a proper dhaba to eat.. taking us instead to this dumb restaurant where he would get his cut. Savio and Dheeraj napped blissfully in the back, but I couldn't catch a wink of sleep because the man at the wheel was a friggin' maniac. For some reason he insisted on driving on the RIGHT side of the road, pulling over into the correct lane only when he saw a vehicle approaching in the opposite direction. What's more - he stuck to this strategy even while going over inclines, where he was blind to oncoming traffic. I was reading "Many Lives Many Masters", a book about re-incarnation and all that kinda assures the reader that there's good things after death.. so I guess that helped soothe me a little. At one point when I did drop off to sleep for about half an hour or so.. he woke me up with an almighty thwack on my thigh telling me that I shouldn't sleep too much cause I was still young! That's our Rajpal. In Jaisalmer we waged tremendous battles, with him trying to take us again to resorts, lunch homes and souvenir places that were "first class". By the time we drove back, the situation had reached a flashpoint.. we'd turn the car deck down cause we wanted to sleep and he'd turn it right up. Then there was this rail crossing, where we had to stop for a passing train. He got out, slammed the door and went over to have a word with the guard. What evil plan could he be hatching now? Three pairs of nervous eyes watched as he picked up an empty beer bottle from the guard's shack and strode purposefully back towards us. But he only filled it with water and went behind a big boulder. Having done his thing, he returned, 'washed' his hands with sand and nonchallantly took up the wheel again! We'd never have believed it possible then, but he (obviously in a foul mood now) started driving worse than ever.. IN THE DARK. With no small amount of fortune and A few heartstopping swerves , we made it back to Jaipur and parted ways with Rajpal, giving him our best wishes and no tip.

Jaisalmer was really beautiful, btw, with it's typical yellow stone that gave the whole place a golden sheen. But we'd really only come to Jaisalmer to do the desert safari. We prevailed over our enterprising driver (he wanted to take us to some other safari place) and made our way to Summ, a little village right in the middle of the Rajasthan dessert. The tent we got was reasonably comfortable and had its own bathroom, toilet in the back. It even had an electrical point to charge cellphones and cameras. Hurrah! The sand dunes made for a gorgeous setting particularly when the shadows set in at sunset. There was some really good folk entertainment around a bonfire. Unlike Chokhi Dani, the dancers here were the real thing.. at least the one in red was. The other one was more of an apprentice. We broke this one fat uncle's monopoly over some pretty guests that were dancing when we were pulled up by the dancing girls. After a fun dancing session we then played antakshiri with random people over the dying fire. I was bored. I don't mind listening - and occassionally chipping in with a carefully saved song - but they'd get their panties in a bunch over "Ge" and "GHE" or "Ke" and "KHE". We looked back blankly at first and our dismissive "Arre.. wohich hua na" did not improve the situation. We sat around for a little while after the generators (and hence all lights) were turned off. The sky was unlike anything I've ever seen before.. the stars were briliant against the jet black backdrop. Good times.

Summ, Jaisalmer...

Udaipur wins my vote for the nicest city on our trip. It was a little easier to find non-vegetarian restaurants, for instance and the haggling was slightly controlled too. Sure some of the touted points of interest, were.. well.. really not that interesting, but there still was plenty to see. One of the best drinks of my life was had sitting at the Taj's terrace rooftop at the City Palace, looking across at the heart-wrenchingly beautiful Lake Palace at dusk. We just sat there and talked for about an hour or two.. each of us thinking "This is the life".


We got back from Udaipur to Jaipur, from where we flew back home. Did I get that much-needed R&R? No! Did I have a blast spending quality time with two of my closest friends at some of the most beautiful places I'll ever visit? Hell, yeah!

I guess, this indeed is 'the life'.

(More Rajasthan pictures uploaded on FlickR)

1 comment:

GreyArea said...

Wow, sounds like a lot of fun... :) Now I need to plan some trips too. As soon as I can find a travel agent friend to get tips from and then ignore! ;)