Rajasthan Part 2 – Jodphur to Bikener (AKA The one about the camel safari)

The next leg of our Rajasthani tour took us from Udaipur to Jodphur. The winding mountain roads led us first to the oldest Jain temple in India at Ranakpur.

The buildings were beautiful and it was a good opportunity for the boys to run around looking for wildlife including a sunbathing lizard and the resident monkeys. Unfortunately our timing was poor and our visit coincided with prayer time so we were unable to see inside the temples.

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Later in the day we got caught up in a diversion as the main road to Jodphur was closed for a festival. A comedy of errors ensued that saw a tractor crash into a Rickshaw, and the car in front get stuck in the sand until the driver turfed all his passengers out to lighten the load.

Jodphur’s Mehrangarh fort was the definite highlight of our time in the blue city. The boys were tired and cranky but they soon got into the swing of things climbing over cannons and checking out the impressive weaponry on display. The fort also afforded us with stunning views over the city’s skyline.

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On the road to Jaisalmer we passed through sparse scrubland along the edge of the desert. As we sped through the rural landscape the boys pointed out the occasional herd of sheep or cattle and working camels pulling carts. Whilst N and I marvelled at women in beautiful coloured sarees and tractors all bearing improbably heavy loads.

Jaisalmer was welcomingly quiet after the noise and bustle of Jodphur. We visited the impressive sandstone fort and several beautiful Havelis but really we were just going through the motions to pass the time to our much anticipated camel safari.

As we headed to the meeting point we met charismatic Rhoza Khan, owner of our camel trek company. With his pukka Ray Bans and perfect teeth it was like he’d ridden his Royal Enfield motorbike off a movie set. Having admired his bike Rhoza invited N for a spin and they sped off down the road. We caught them up in the car and the boys took it in turns to go for a ride (whilst I had my heart in my mouth!).

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We eventually pulled up to the meeting point and were met by Amil, our camel man. After ensuring we had sufficient water we got onto our camels (named by the boys as Andy and Twinkle) and headed off towards the dunes.

As we made our way into the dunes we paused at a small village to procure a chicken for dinner. Much amusement ensued as several men and children chased the chicken around before it’s capture.

We plodded along taking in the scenery and as the movement of the camel took its toll on my undercarriage I hoped we weren’t going far.

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Happily we soon stopped to set up camp. And as the sun set the boys played together, sliding down sand dunes, finding sand beetles, and writing in the sand. Nick and I relaxed and enjoyed the happiness of our offspring.

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The moon rose and we sat around the campfire, drinking chai. Amil made a delicious dinner from said chicken which the boys witnessed being dispatched to the giant coop in the sky.

Rhoza brought his children out to the desert to meet us in his large swanky 4×4. Bearing biscuits and juice for the boys to fuel their sand dune adventures. With happy hearts we eventually drifted off to sleep under the stars.

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We woke early and watched sunrise over the Thar Desert. G made us all laugh by saying “We’re real explorers now, aren’t we Dad?!”. Amil made more chai and we packed up camp before Andy and Twinkle took us back to the roadside meeting point.

We spent the next day chilling at the hotel pool getting some much needed downtime. Then it was back on the road for quick overnight stop in Bikener and after yet another Rajasthani fort we hit the road for the long drive to Amritsar.

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Rajasthan Part 1 – Delhi to Udaipur

Our second week saw us swap the capital of India for the chaotic capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur. With its colourful bazaars, Pink City and the marvellous Amber Fort, Jaipiur was certainly a feast for the eyes.

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Rajasthan, more generally, is regarded as the Land of the Kings as the much fabled realms of the Maharaja with their majestic forts and lavish palaces certainly left their mark on the State.

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The Children’s senses, on the other hand, we’re more enlightened by the sight of many rats scurrying around the place and the taste sensation of Bounce biscuits! Akin to chocolate custard creams, they’re the new must-have in their worldly adventures.

Afterwards, we set off to Ranthambhore National Park in search of Tigers. Alas, after a few hours of bouncing along on the back of a safari jeep, which were not doing any of our stomachs any good at all, we called it an afternoon and returned to our hostel without a single sighting.

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Later I learned that there are only around 38 tigers roaming a reserve of some 1334 sq km. The odds were firmly stacked against us. Over dinner we met a couple amateur wildlife photographers from Mumbai who had enjoyed a couple of close encounters with the elusive tigers. They said their first couple of trips were unsuccessful, leaving us with the feeling that it was indeed a numbers game depending on the number of rupees!

Next we headed to the pastel hued pilgrimage (hippy) town of Pushkar.
Our arrival, happily, coincided with the month of Karkita, which, to the uninitiated, is the eighth lunar month in the Hindu calendar (and one of the holiest) and is marked faithfully by the arrival of around 200,000 people from across India (and East Sussex) for the Pushkar Fair. A week long Indian style county fair. But instead of cows and sheep on show, camels and horses were this fair’s fodder. It was , to put it mildly, quite an experience.

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Pushkar lake is surrounded by temples and ghats where the pilgrims bathe. Add to the mix, many cafés that wouldn’t be out of place in Amsterdam and a wonderful street bazaar, this was a real highlight and a must-see for anyone thinking of travelling this state.

Last up, after a day on the road we arrived in what is purportedly the most romantic city in Rajasthan, Udaipur (or ‘You-da-poor’, as Tomas would say it innocently!). Famed for its lake vistas and labyrinthine palace and bazaars, Udaipur was indeed stunning.

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The flip side though was that any romance that one might have indulged in was rudely interrupted by near-death experiences of being ran over many times by the many hundreds of horn blowing (no romantic pun intended) motor cyclists zipping through the lanes in all directions.

Highlights & lowlights this week:

G: Bounce biscuits the TV commercial; bounce biscuits the real thing. He has at last cottoned on to charging people IR10.00 to have their photo with him. This translates to more bounce biscuits! On a less positive note, however, he’s realised that tracking and seeing tigers in the wild is actually quite difficult, time consuming and often uncomfortable and unrewarding. Hats off to the BBC Natural History department; and he learned that trapping his fingers in the door of a cable car is a most unpleasant experience.

T: riding an elephant and getting a new purple dress with elephants printed on it; followed closely by bounce biscuits! Lowlight, laundry days since both his purple skirt and new dress went off to be cleaned and he was left with shorts and t-shirt. What mean parents that boy has!

Mrs J: loving the sights and sounds of Rajasthan. Especially enjoyed the laid back vibe of Pushkar. The pace of travel isn’t working for me as think whole family (boys in particular) are struggling with lack of downtime.

Me: Dad dancing with the boys to MTV India at every opportunity; I’m loving the spicy food and the occasional cold Kingfisher! ok, the bounce biscuits are nice too; and discovering peaceful parks and play areas for the children to run around in. Lowlights, rescuing said children from said play area as there’s typically a gaping hole on the side and one of the boys has fallen through it it got stuck !

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