From Bikaner to Nawalgahr 7/31-8/2

Rajasthan Travel Blog

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Tuesday 7/31/07


I woke up early this morning, just before we arrived in Bikaner. It seemed like no one knew English in Bikaner. Captain told me I would take a bus from bikaner to Nawalgarh, but no on could tell me about it. I was able to find an 8:30am train to Churu, which got me closer to Nawalgarh, & I could take a bus from there. It was 6am & I had 2 hours to kill. So I negotiated a ride to Karni Mata Temple – the "Rat Temple".  The luggage storage didn't open till 8, so I brought my stuff with me. It was a 30 min rickshaw ride out to the Temple and the driver watched my bag while waiting for me. I had stowed an extra pair of socks in my purse in case I was able to make it here, and in case I was allowed to wear socks (I wasn't sure). I showed a man my socks and mimed putting them on and he gave me the affirmative nod and smiled. So, off went my shoes and on went the socks, and into the Rat Temple I went! There were quite a lot of rats, but I really thought there'd be more. They were running past me and hanging off of the railings and crawling over one guy who was sitting on the ground, feeding them – but I thought the place would be SWARMING with rats. Maybe it was too hot, even for rats! I walked around, very careful not to step on a rat, and I took a few pictures of the rats and the temple architecture (Rs30 camera ticket, so I didn't feel bad about using it in the temple). There really wasn't that much to see, so I went to the little shops where I found a bracelet next to some pictures of Hindi gods; it was only 10 rupees.  I bought it and then headed back towards the train station in the rickshaw. I forgot to mention my ride there! It was early morning, and there was a gorgeous sunrise over some fields. It was a harsh contrast to the trash-strewn road we were traveling. I didn't see very much of Bikaner, but it struck me as a very dirty city. I saw dogs tearing into a dead cow on the side of the road, and a little later, a junk heap full of animal skeletons and hides, not a very pretty site! The trees were pretty, and the landscape (minus the dead animals) was great, with trees and fields on one side and the desert on the other. But the sunrise really was amazing! It looked like a cartoonist with a dark sense of humor had drawn heavenly rays down upon a dirty, death-filled land. I made it back to the train station 20 minutes before my train left bought my ticket, upgraded to AC sleeper on the train and slept for a bit. In Churu, people spoke less English than Bikaner. I was supposed to find my bus, and the bus station was somewhere to the left of the train station. With my bags, I head out to the left. Across the street I see a dry dirt area with several buses that I assume is the train station. It is, but no one speaks English and eith I'm mispronouncing "Nawalgahr" or they've never heard of it. I show them on a map, and they know what I mean. The bus I'm at will take me to another stop where I can switch buses and go to Nawalgarh. Someone from the train gets on at the next top and does some translations for me, and tells me how the bus will take me to Nawalgarh, which is: Churu-Fatehpur-Mandawa-Nawalgarh. I am the only non-Indian on the buses. Perhaps the only one EVER, from the way people are acting. The 2nd bus is fairly full, and I leave my backpack at the front of the bus and take a seat in the middle area. I'm a bit nervous that I can't see my bag, but it's important contents are in a locked pocket and it's a very heay bag – too heavy to run off with quickly. But I keep an eye on the bus door when we make stops anyways. I meet a lot of young Indian girls, probably 18-25. They're all very interested to talk to me. One girl asked me to sing! Of course, I dodged that one. Then she wanted me to read a poem (in Hindi!), I dodged that one, too. I asked her if she could sing me a song, and she laughed and said no. I think it was all a bit of a joke, but I felt like I may as well have been singing or performing, the way everyone was watching me! A girl from Mandawa sat next to me and pointed out the schools, temples, hospitals, and good hotels. At one stop, she called out the bus window to a street vendor and bought a handful of friend potato chips with hot spices, which she shared with me; they were VERY tasty! It had started raining, and life in Rajasthan in the rain was very interesting. The water didn't soak into the ground the way I thought it would. In some areas, the water was nearly a foot deep! I started to think about an article I'd read about villagers in Rajasthan being airlifted out when their area received too much rain (if that's possible!), too quickly. Hopefully that won't happen here! There's a man mucking out the dirt and junk off of his steps to his home. I imagine it has been accumulating since lat year's rains. Water is used sparingly here, and wouldn't have been wasted on cleaning his front steps. So while it rains, he scrapes off the mud. There are young boys and not-so-young men enjoying the rain.  The boys have stripped down to shorts or pants and are running around in the high water. The men are more subdued, but are out in the rain instead of under the cover of a roof. Some people are watching all this from the shelter of a porch. We pass through another area where water is at least 1 ½ feet deep in one spot, where a little boy is floating on his back in the muddy water. There is a hole in the roof and water is dripping onto my leg. I'm wearing thin Indian pants and a t-shirt. I'm very worried about the pants becoming transparent when they get wet. It would be embarrassing in the US, but I think it would be very bad here. I can tell by the water that's dripped onto my leg that this will be a problem. The girl from Mandawa gets off at her stop. I can't change clothing on the bus. I don't even have an umbrella. And I will already be attracting attention. I'll have to open my bag in the rain and quickly find at least a scarf to wrap around my waist. Thank God I put everything in plastic baggies! Speaking of God, I begin to pray that the rain will stop before Nawalgarh. Unfortunately, I'm up against thousands of prayers asking FOR rain in the area! Well, I got lucky – when I arried in Nawalgarh, the rain had stopped. I had phoned the lodge from Mandawa to onfirm vacancy, he recommended a Rs30-40 rickshaw to the lodge. That was done easily enough. Apani Dhani Eco-Lodge is adorable! There are 7 round guest-house huts with straw roofing, a central pavilion that the huts encircle, attached baths w/western toilettes, and Indian –style bucket baths. Fans instead of AC, solar panels for energy, purified water for refilling water bottles (these create an amazing amount of trash) a vegetable garden, and flowers decorating the outside areas. It's just charming. Ramesh's son greets me and has me read an info booklet about the eco-lodge. They ask that you conserve water by taking Indian baths, turn off lights when not in use, refill water bottles instead of buying new ones, dress appropriately (no shorts, tank tops, bare shoulders, or cleavage), women's shirts should cover their butts. No alcohol on the property, and meals are organic and pure veg. No picture-taking of his family or staff, no giving money or gifts to village children –this encourages parents to pull them out of school. No shaking hands with opposite sex – boys shouldn't touh a woman before marriage. Be conscious of camera use, don't be invasive, try to fit in with his family's culture, since they live here at Apani Dhani Lodge. It's a very unique plae, and I can tell I'm going to love it! It's been a long day and I decie against going back into town. There are several guests here at the lodge – a French woman – Kristian and her sons Alan and Quentin (18 &13), Peter and Debra from England, John and Kristen from England, and Derek and Monica from France. Everyone is very nice. After a quick shower, we all sit under the main pavilion and socialize before dinner. Dinner is served at 7:30 and is delicious! Soup, spicy garden veggies, spicy potatoes, rice, thin bread, tea, water, and rice pudding. After dinner, we sat around and talked until around 9:30, when everyone went to bed. As I entered my hut, I saw a lizard vanish into the straw roof. I like lizards, but I decide it's best if I wear my head netting  while I'm here. The door will keep out larger animals, but there's a large gap at the floor. I hope no snakes have been flooded out of their homes, I really don't care to test the snake bite kit I brought with me. Off to bed now, and a bit of journal time before I pass out.

Wednesday 8/01/07

I woke up fairly early and took a nice Indian shower-rinse. Had a nice breakfast, and went into town w/John and Kristen. We walked in, saw the museum, visited a haveli, found the ATM, bought a grilled corn and went back to the hotel for lunch. Lunch was similar to last night's dinner with the fresh veggies. After lunch I decided to lay down and relaxfor a bit, since it was brutally hot today. I wrote in my journal a bit. Jess arrived, and we planned to walk into town after she got situated. I fell asleep and Kristian was knocking on my door to tell me there wasn't enough room in their jeep for their village tour, but I was sleeping like the dead. Jess fell asleep as well, and I finally woke up around 4:30. She was too tired to go into town and I'd hoped to do some horse-riding, but it was too late in the day, so I set off for town around 5pm instead. There was a grouop of boys playing cricket in a field alongside the road. They waved me over and wanted me to take photos of them hitting the ball. I stayed there for a while, talking to them and their aunt who spoke a little English, before moving on towards town. I stopped in at a jewelry shop. I don't know that it was real silver, but there was a very pretty bracelet, he was selling it as a pair, but I only bought one. Then I walked on until coming to a bangle shop. My hands are too big for them, but they were able to stretch them out and re-mold them to fit me. I bought 5  - 2 light blue, 2 dark green, and 1 think red bangle. On the rickshaw ride home, I broke a green bangle as I took it off. I'll have to be more careful next tie. I made it back just in time for dinner, which was similar to the previous meals, but we had ery good desert – it was chickpea flour and nuts sweetened and rolled into a ball. After dinner we sat around drinking tea and talking. I took a very relaxing shower after such a hot day and headed for bed. The bugs were out in full force tonight, in my sheets and on my pillow. I lit the mosquito coil (which, I believe, its effects are purely psychological!), donned my silly green head net and tied it on with a scarf and listened to a relaxation meditation to take my mind off the feeling that something was crawling across my little toe (Oh! I'd also found my sewing kit, and I stitched up 2 pairs of pants – yippee! I have variety again!)

Thursday 8/02/07

I woke up early this morning and did a quick rinse and wet my hair so it was easier to braid. I've taken to wearing 2 braids – especially on super-hot days and travel days. It doesn't stick to my sweat-covered neck, it' much cooler, and it stays somewhat reasonably presentable. Had another breakfast of cornflakes with yoghurt, Indian bread w/honey, black tea and water and bananas. After breakfast it was tie-dye time! A local artisan came to our lodge to show us how it was done. It was me and jess and Kristian, Alan, and Quentin. It went from 9am-2:30, with a break for lunch. We tied all the knots ourselves along the lines he'd made on our cloth. It was very time-intensive work and it really made you appreciate the work that went into the fabrics in the bazaars. I had spoken with Harsh this morning about a plane ticket from Jaipur to Bangalore for tomorrow and he wanted me to call back around noon to talk about flights he found. There was a 10:40am Kingfisher flight and a 2:15 Air Deccan, so I went with the latter. Back to tie-dye. I chose green and yellow for my fabric and it came out beautifully. The artisan boiled water over a fire and used natural dye which was in a powder form. Afterwards, Jess and I walked into town with Peter to order custom clothing, but we had to be back by 4pm for a tour. There was a line at the clothing shop and we ended up taking a rickshaw back to the lodge without ordering clothing. We decided to cancel our tour because there was a musician coming to the lodge tonight to perform traditional Rajasthani-style, around 5pm. Then I went to my room to lay under the fan and finally catch up in my journal. Oh! This morning, I gave Peter a list of some bluegrass/folk music he might like, and he wrote a note for me to take to Leh and give to his trek guide that he always uses. He takes treks there quite often, and highly recommends this company and was certain I wouldn't have any difficulty joining a trekking group when I got there. He'll be arriving in Leh around the 18th, certainly after I've already left. Now that I'm finally aught up, I think I'll do a bit of meditation before the musician arrives! Well, the musician is here, he plays something that reminds me a bit of an accordion, it has keys like a piano, and he pumps the side of the box with his fingers. He plays classical Rajasthani music. He seems so comfortable performing for a group of 11 westerners who presumably have little to no knowledge of his musical tradition and the history behind the songs' lyrics. His gaze moves around the circle, calmly but actively engaging each of us in turn, trusting the haunting beauty of his instrument to communicate for him. A lizard is slowly crawling the underside of the thatch-roof to a spot above the musician. It's no stretch of the imagination to see the lizard gently swaying his tail with the rhythm. He's clearly chosen a spot where the notes are floating up and past him on their way towards the setting sun. The lizard scrambles directly above the musician, like a moth towards the light above my bed, here at the lodge. The musician finishes his song and the lizard hides in the shadows. The birds take this opportunity to call out greetings to each other, and Krishnan explains the story behind that folk song. As he begins to play again, the background noise dims, the sky beyond the hut glows with the early stages of the setting sun, and a trance descends upon his audience as we all submit to his magic.

After the music, we have a nice dinner. Jess and I decide to rent a car to Jaipur and to go horse-back riding at 8am. The car will pick us up at 9:30. I go back to my hut to shower and pack.

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