A Travellerspoint blog

Manvar

think Lawrence of Arabia

You would not believe the glorious sight that awaited us. Up a hill, in the distance we could see a circle of white tents.

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That is where we would spend the rest of the day and one night.

As we drove closer it was quite obvious that we were truly in the middle of nowhere. The tents, a tented dining room and that was it. We were assigned our tents, our luggage was delivered and we were free to enjoy the day.

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Although they were compact inside, they were still luxurious: Beautiful carpets, mahogany furniture, working electricity, a slate-floored bathroom with a slate vanity and a gorgeous natural stone shower. I didn’t want to leave. Honestly I could have stayed at least a week.

I unpacked my computer and went to sit on my veranda – as did everyone else. We ordered some cocktails and just sat there and chilled. Never have I been in such a peaceful place.

This is where you come to think … to reflect … to do the soul-searching we all need to do from time to time.

We sat there until dusk – and let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a sunset in the desert – the sky goes a
deep red!!

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Anyway … we made our way to the centre of the camp – where in a series of circles they had organized ‘a theatre’ – mattresses right on the sand, covered in white linen, with white silk bolster pillows to lean against. And in front of each mattress, a small mahogany table with a candle. Every here and there were braziers – with young men around to keep stoking the fire – a sight so beautiful it took your breath away.

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And right in the middle were the entertainers – musicians, singers and dancers – all in native garb – all so talented you didn’t want them to stop.

Laying back against the pillows on those mattresses with a campari and soda in one hand and some snacks in the other, and staring up into a sky so clear the stars looked like diamonds will be a memory that will stay etched in my mind forever.

It gets really cold in the desert and so eventually we made our way into the dining tent where we enjoyed yet another excellent meal. Hot water bottles were nestled in our bedding to keep us nice and toasty in the cold desert night. In addition to wearing the warm pajamas I got from our Jet Air flight to Delhi I also wore a fleece jacket and a fleece poncho to bed.

Showering in the morning was bracing – to say the least – but well worth it. And I was up early enough to catch the sunrise.

Life doesn’t get much better than this …

Posted by a_broad 03:49 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel Comments (7)

take a leak ...

and take a hike

What a treat! Rashmi let us sleep in. Because Manvar (our next stop) is so close to Jaisalmer we didn’t leave until 11 a.m.

Time for a nice, hot shower and some much-needed re-packing (when you are literally living out of a suitcase you have no idea how many times you must re-pack) … a leisurely breakfast … a little last minute shopping at the hotel … and we were off.

Slightly more than an hour into our road trip Paul (Paul and Melanie are from Australia and they joined up with us on our second day in Delhi) needed a bathroom break so the driver pulled off to the side of the road.

As luck would have it they couldn’t re-start the bus. Try as they might, the engine would not turn over. The God of bad car karma seemed to be following us. I told Rashmi we should get a Shaman.

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Instead they called our resort – it turned out we were just 15 minutes away – and they came to get us with jeeps – although a local (we attracted quite a crowd) offered to go home and get his tractor – which he insisted was big enough for all of us and our luggage.

Trust me, he hadn’t seen our luggage yet.

But before he could he could do it the jeeps arrived and we were all unloaded and then re-loaded. We were becoming old hands at this and now found it amusing. These are the experiences that are never planned … are never on the itinerary … but always turn out to be fun and make the most interesting stories.

When we got to the resort we had lunch right away but we weren’t staying at the actual resort – we were staying at their tented camps about a 15 or 20 minute drive away.

The ride was quite something. Through the desert, in a jeep, up some pretty high dunes (at a very high speed) and then promptly straight – and I do mean straight as in a vertical drop – down again – also at a high speed.

Like a natural roller coaster in the desert. It seems that I will be leaving my phobias behind ...

Posted by a_broad 03:47 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel Comments (3)

jaisalmer

the real life version of the sandcastles you built as a child

sunny 22 °C

Jaisalmer is a beautiful medieval city, famous for its golden sandstone buildings and its opium trade (from the 12th to the 18th century) – and no, I haven’t been near a hookah!!

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Checking into the hotel was a cinch because we had no luggage, so we were able to take off right away. We had no bus so we took taxis – little tuk-tuks – and how we all got crammed into just two of them I’ll never know, but we did.

We hit the temple first, saw a spectacular sunset and then we had a long walk through town. Fabulous! I love strolling through the towns and villages. It is so interesting to see the locals and how they live – we get such an insulated view at the hotels – especially the hotels we’re staying in. And the people are so marvelous. If you want to understand ‘kindness’ all you have to do is look at the faces of the people who live here. Seriously.

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There is a lack of stress … no tension … just contentment … and compassion written all over their faces. When they smile, which they do so spontaneously, it just makes you feel warm and happy; and their eyes – tolerance, patience, wisdom, generosity, honesty, love. It is a remarkable.

And they’re the same wherever you go in this country. We’re well into our trip now – just about at the half way point. We’ve been in big cities and small towns. And no matter where we have been one thing remains constant: The people.

Rashmi didn’t join us on our walk – my last vision of her was seeing her sitting on the back of a motorcycle with a big grin on her face. Our guide told us she’d meet us at the restaurant. Our excursion through town probably took an hour and a half or so. Between dodging the cars and motorcyclists and trying to avoid stepping in cow dung you MUST concentrate when walking in India. You really do need eyes in the back of your head.

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We’ve had a lot of meals in the hotels because we’ve usually arrived late and by the time we’ve checked in and gone on a tour it’s too late and we’re too tired to figure out where to eat. The food has been spectacular but tonight Rashmi put her foot down: “Enough hotel food”, she said and took us to one of her favourite restaurants – Trio.

Perched on a rooftop, we were greeted by some local musicians, who entertained us throughout our fantastic multi-course dinner. I am now totally spoiled and may never be able to eat Indian food at home again. It is much lighter here – you’re never stuffed and uncomfortable after a meal – even if you’ve had beer – and the seasoning is so subtle – there is definitely ‘heat’ but it comes on gradually so you can actually taste the food. And I am completely addicted to masala tea – made with milk, ginger, cardamom and, depending on where you are, a selection of other spices.

Trio has a lovely view of Jaisalmer’s ‘living fort’ which was all lit up and looked like it was carved out of gold. It just glowed in the distance – and it was so nice to sit and relax and enjoy a magnificent view and talk and laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

Our taxi’s were waiting for us and we went back to the hotel – expecting to find our luggage – but no such luck. Poor Rashmi – she got no sleep at all. She was worried about our bags because she hadn’t heard from the drivers – and then got called at 3:30 when the luggage finally arrived.

When we awoke in the morning our bags were outside our rooms, but there was no time to unpack or change our clothes. We were off to ‘the living fort’ and the market.

What makes this fort so unique is the fact that about 5,000 people live there. Inside the structure you find both Jain and Hindu Temples, palaces and charming havelis. It’s like a small, buttressed community. Just before the palace entrance is The Satiyon ka Pagthiya (steps of the Satis) – it’s where the royal ladies committed ‘sati’ when their husbands were slain – they sat on top of the funeral pyres and burned along with their husband’s corpses. Thank God this practice is now against the law.

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The market was truly outstanding!! Here you can buy anything and everything from carpets to bed coverings to table linens to leather goods to shoes to handbags to books to CDs to jewelry to clothing of every description – pants, tops, skirts, sweaters, caps, shawls, scarves, saris, salwar kameez, trousers, jackets, coats – you name it, they’ve got it!

Bargaining is the name of the game and if you leave a ‘store’ empty-handed the merchant will follow you throughout the market with a bag full of the merchandise you were looking at until you agree to buy it.

We had a blast!! And one merchant – a charming, charming young man named Sahid made out like a bandit. I cannot tell you how many shawls we all bought – I think close to a dozen each – for about $1 a piece. You cannot imagine what fun we had. He made us all come to the back of the store where we sat wherever we could – perched on stools, on the floor, wherever.

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He sent out for tea – you will never know how hospitable these people are. And then it just became a free-for-all! Shawls and scarves thrown everywhere!! An explosion of colour and patterns piled and piled and piled – one on top of another!! I pity them trying to get them all re-folded and put back neatly on the shelves they’d come from.

But he was the one doing all the tossing – and it’s a toss-up as to who was having the most fun – him or us.

And, when we were finally done – exhausted but happy – he gave each of us a beautiful carrying sack made of silk to store our purchases in. Fab-u-lous!!!

Quickly back to the hotel to get ready for our camel ride. I wasn’t too sure about this, to be honest, but I came here for an adventure and an adventure I was getting:

Climbing up on the camel wasn’t so bad, although they are much taller than you might think. And that was what I was afraid of – I inherited my mother’s fear of heights. But once I was up on it I was committed.

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I was terrified when the camel got up – it happens in two stages and you feel like you’re going to fly right over their head. But you have a camel driver behind you and he talked me off the ledge in the same soft voice he used with the camel.

But I was still scared. Suddenly we took off with a gallop and I shrieked – so he slowed down to a more sedate pace. I was barely breathing, cursing myself for agreeing to it.

About ten or fifteen minutes into the ride, though, I suddenly relaxed. My body was no longer tense and I found myself moving in tune with the camel – Lalou – who was eight years old (camels live until about 25). More confident by then I told my driver Vihjeh, that he could go faster.

He was thrilled to say the least and it was just as well – because at the pace we’d been doing our one-hour safari would have turned into an overnight excursion.

Galloping through the desert on the back of this noble beast with absolutely nothing around except sand dunes and brush was simply outstanding – I was sorry when it was over. Everything is left behind – no worries, no tension, no problems, no hassles. You are just ‘in the moment’.

Now that’s freedom.

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We disembarked a short walk to the camp where were were having dinner. As we approached we could see a brazier – and the light from the flames revealed some local entertainers in the centre of an open courtyard. That is where we had drinks and starters – under the stars – listening to the talented musicians and watching two beautiful young girls dance. When it got too chilly we went indoors for a delicious buffet.

Tired but happy we made our way back to the hotel where we are went promptly to sleep. Another journey tomorrow …

Posted by a_broad 03:43 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel Comments (2)

go with the flow ...

even when you hit a bump in the road

sunny 23 °C

We had a long drive from Bikaner to Jaisalmer, so we left very early in the morning. It started off well enough. As we headed further into the desert the landscape continued to change – less and less green – and more and more sand.

We have a great driver – very focused on the road – which is a good thing because you take your life in your hands on these roads:

They are narrow, not in the best condition, everybody speeds, cows, camels, goats and dogs roam freely wherever, whenever and however slowly they feel like it, pedestrians cross from one side to the other at random, and vehicles pass each other constantly; they also ride the wrong side of the street at great speed and move back into the correct lane only when the nose of their vehicle is literally within touching distance of oncoming traffic.

Somewhere around midday everyone needed a bathroom. Ha!!!

Suddenly Rashmi spotted a dhaba (roadside stand). She told the driver to stop and said, “This is where we will go to the bathroom.” I didn’t see anything that even remotely resembled a bathroom – and to be honest even if I had I think I would have swallowed my own urine before I would have used it.

My bladder was at the bursting point so with some trepidation I followed my fellow travelers into the bush. Actually they found some shelter behind the dhaba, but never mind.

Melanie tutored me: “Pull your pants way in front of you … lean back against the wall … bend forward … squat … stick your butt out”. Oy vay, all these instructions!! I had so much to think about I was sure I’d make a mess. I cursed myself because I had bought a contraption – I called it my penis. It’s this contrivance that I found at a travel store. Never mind how it works – suffice to say it’s supposed to be a Godsend for women who find themselves in the exact position I found myself in.

Where was it, you’re asking? In my suitcase. Fat lot of good it was doing me now!

For the most part, I was a star. The only mistake I’d made was to stand on a bit of an incline – it flowed right onto my sandals – but luckily I noticed it before I felt it.

So I’m not a virgin any more. I have now peed in the bush. I can go anywhere.

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When we came back from our little excursion Rashmi had ordered some pakoras. I’m ashamed to admit I was afraid to try them. I promised myself before leaving on this trip that I would be careful where I ate and this was just a bit too risky for me. In fact, none of us tried them – and I’m not very sorry. They looked amazing, Rashmi had the whole lot of them and she was fine.

We missed out. Next time I’ll know better. She wouldn’t have eaten them if she’d thought it wasn’t a good idea.

Our little pit stop lasted about fifteen or twenty minutes and we all climbed back on the bus for the remainder of the trip – about another two and a half, three hours.

I don’t know how long into it we were when we had to stop for a security check. That is very common in these parts because we’re quite close to Pakistan. As soon as the driver stopped we could all smell gas.

Namaste, namaste oy vay (which has now become our group refrain).

I guess one of the bumps we hit did in the gas line (by the time this trip is over I will have left my bladder in India – as opposed to having left my heart in San Francisco). Luckily we were very close to a gas station and a tourist stop – bathrooms, food, and shopping. What more could a girl ask for?

While we did all of the above the drivers disappeared with the bus. Weren’t we surprised to come out of the bathroom and see that we had been abandoned??

Rashmi decided we should have tea. And wait. So we had tea. And waited. And waited.

I’m sure thirty minutes went by when the “co-pilot” arrived. A pretty major repaired was required. We were to follow him to the gas station. Our hotel had been contacted and jeeps were on the way to get us. Sure enough, in about ten or fifteen minutes a couple of jeeps arrived – alas no room for our luggage.

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Our drivers assured us that the repairs wouldn’t take that long and they’d bring our luggage along later.

The itinerary had us taking a camel ride that night. Clearly that was no longer happening, but the poor guys who had set it up were waiting for us in the hotel – and had been waiting for us for several hours.

Quickly plans were altered. Tonight we’d go to Deshnok Temple and then we’d have a nice walk through the village and meet Rashmi at a restaurant she loves where the locals eat. Tomorrow we’d have the camel ride.

It was 3:30 the following morning when our luggage finally arrived.

A little adventure along the way. Isn’t that what I came for?

Posted by a_broad 03:38 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel Comments (2)

Bikaner

beauty in the desert

sunny 22 °C

Another bus safari – where a 30-minute stop so our drivers could eat turned into a shopping spree – took us even further into the desert. It was so interesting to see how the landscape changed along the way – to the point where there was no more grass at all.

If you want to get a perspective on just how long this country has been around, Bikaner was founded in 1483 – and it’s in the Northwest part of the state – very close to Pakistan.

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This is one of quicker stops – we arrived about 3 – checked into our Palace – went immediately on a tour – came back for dinner, early to bed and even earlier to hit the road again.

We began with a tour of Junagarh Fort which was built in 1593 and is chock-a-block full of beautiful palaces, temples and pavilions. We were especially lucky because our guide was able to get us into the meditation room which is usually off limits.

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By now we’ve had a little over a week in India and the one thing I find the most remarkable is the sheer number of palaces there are here – and the over-the-top opulence you find in them.

We’re all used to royalty, that’s not the issue. But there’s a palace around just about every corner here – and inside you find walls and ceilings in pure gold, walls and columns inlaid with precious gems, marble floors and walls. You truly cannot imagine – or believe – what you are seeing. And to see it over and over and over again in every city and town and state just leaves you shaking your head in wonder!

Nothing does it justice – not the most eloquent words, not the best photographs. You have to see it with your own eyes.

We then went to a camel breeding farm – we did get to see a couple of babies – they’re much bigger than you’d think – and apparently start to walk after only a couple of days. One poor wee one was hungry and kept bugging its mother – who kept ignoring him. Finally he must have gotten on her nerves because she just laid down – and that was the end of that! “Go away! Don’t bother me! I have a headache! Go find your father!” is what she must have said.

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We also saw the crematorium which has been used by one of the royal families for hundreds and hundreds of years – and is still used to this day. And then a quick stop to see a local artist who paints the tiny miniatures that Rajasthan is famous for. This guy is in the Guiness Book of Records – he has a painting of a banyon tree that has over 17,000 leaves on it – and they are teensy! You need a very strong magnifying glass to see them.

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He told us that he does 5 minutes of yoga eye exercises every day – he showed us – without moving his eyebrows he can do circles with his eyeballs – I couldn’t watch it was making my eyes ache.

Anyway he paints these pictures without glasses. I have no idea how. I bought a tiny painting of a banyon tree which is done on a piece of sandalwood. Dinner at the hotel – in an open air dining room so we could see the stars – (fabulous tandoori chicken with scrumptious chickpeas, dahl, cauliflower and spicy mixed pickles) also came with entertainment – local musicians and folk dancers. Spectacular!!

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And then, bed. Tomorrow’s another day – and another early start.

Posted by a_broad 10:03 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel Comments (4)

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