Part 2 Rajasthan
10th December 2010
We leave Agra early to start our journey to Pushkar. The road is quiet and feels more like a country road in England, flanked by green fields and small villages. The road seems to be smaller than the national highway we were expecting but we are not too fussed even if we are on the wrong road as it’s a pleasant drive and we are at least heading in the right direction.
We pass through small villages with children playing outside in the dusty streets and women in colourful saris working in the fields, carrying baskets of wood etc on their heads. The local women here, no matter what they are doing, are dressed immaculately.
In one town, there is even a large troop of monkeys sitting and playing on the roof tops.
Later on we join up with the main highway (N8) which will take us 100 miles towards Jaipur. As we reach Jaipur the traffic starts to build up. We stop at traffic lights where two small girls are dancing and doing cartwheels in the road for money. It is such a sad sight; both look like they have not bathed for days, with straggly unwashed hair, and dirty faces and hands.
We join a fast three lane motor way and build up speed. Suddenly there is a huge truck hurtling towards us on our side of the road from the opposite direction, with no lights on and lots of dust surrounding it. We see it quite late and Martin has to pull into the left lane between two more huge trucks-that was too close for comfort!
When we arrive in Pushkar, the centre of town is mainly small alleyways which we have trouble getting the car down. The hotel which said they had a car park and easy access turned out to be not so, and we can’t get the car anywhere near it.
We spend some time searching for an alternative. As we do, we are hassled by people, to either buy flowers for the lake or buy gifts etc. We finally find Green Park resort, a 5 minute walk out of town.
Pushkar is one of the main Hindu Pilgrimages and one of the five sacred sites. It is often called the “Tirth Raj” – the king of pilgrimage sites. Legend tells how Bramha created the lake when the demon Vajra Nabha killed Brahma’s children; he in turn struck him with his weapon, a lotus flower. Vajra Nabha died with the impact, and the petals of the lotus fell at three places. One of them was Pushkar, where a lake was created.
Today, many still come to the lake to bathe in the lakes waters for salvation, and visit the many temples surrounding the lake. However, the area seems to be taken over by wannabe hippies. With dreadlocks and flower skirts all round, this surely must be one of the main hippie focal points in India.
We take a walk clockwise around the lake; coming to a bridge, we are told in order to cross it we must remove our shoes. This time, my camera is playing up and not focusing correctly; as we attempt to fix the camera, a long-haired bearded man runs towards us frantically shouting….. Apparently no photos are to be taken of the lake.
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The lake itself is not very note worthy; surrounded by Ghants, where people bathe, and concrete steps, the water of the lake actually seems quite dirty and we wonder how people could bare bathing in the waters.
As we walk around, we visit a couple of temples; we find the streets around the lake to be very dirty, dust blowing up, rubbish and animal faeces in the streets. It’s not the laid back pleasant place we were expecting.
We walk through the streets; the shopping area is mainly small open stalls selling flowery tops and Harem/Aladdin style trousers. We soon have various children latched on to us begging for money by playing flutes.
Most of the shops here are stocked for tourists and most notably the hippy type. Having given up trying to be a hippie a long while ago, we give the herbal medicines, josh sticks, and tie dies a miss and head for lunch. There is little alcohol or meat available in this area.
There is an abundance of old religious men here, very skinny with white beards and wearing just a sarong wrapped around them.
12th December Udaipur
In the morning we head to Udaipur a 300km drive. The roads are quiet and pleasant to drive, although on route we see no less than 5 over-turned trucks, which reminds us just how dangerous driving on these roads is.
The scenery changes to a rocky hilly landscape, with no sign of the pollution and rubbish we have been used to since entering India, which makes a nice change. The scenery further changes; with green paddy fields, and tropical forests either side of us, this seems to be the India we had dreamt off!!
We arrive in Udaipur and attempt to find a hotel; the narrow streets are congested with rickshaws and motorbikes, which make navigating the roads quite difficult and stressful after such a long drive. Most of the hotels in town do not have any parking, but an opportunist rickshaw driver suggests he could show us some on the other side of the lake which would. The places he takes us to are actually reasonably nice but way out of budget. After seeing maybe five or six with him we decide to give him a few rupees and tell him we will continue to look ourselves. We decide to head back in to town and quite luckily stumble upon a hotel with adequate parking, nice rooms and Wi-Fi, in addition to a friendly guard who looks like he would be more suited acting in a colonial war time movie, with matching colonial moustache, uniform and hat.
We go to one of the many roof top restaurants with views over the lake and get a drink. Then head to Jagas Nivas for some delicious tandoori chicken and mutton curry, again with roof top views over the lake. The alcoholic drinks seem to be a luxury here, being anywhere up to three times the normal price of anywhere else in the country i.e. 300rp for a bottle of Kingfisher.
A ten minute rickshaw ride later gets us back to our hotel and we agree a tour with the rickshaw driver tomorrow.
As planned our driver is waiting for us; he firstly takes us around the northern lake where we visit a co-operative fabric and clothing shop. We are given a demonstration of the traditional block printing that they still carry out today. Nicole has a go and gets a good result!
The shop has many desirable items, made with silk and pashmina. We consider buying Nicole’s parents a beautiful raw silk bed cover for Christmas, but unfortunately the postage would be just as much as the goods themselves, so have to give them a miss.
We then visit another community project- a small miniature art school, although this one certainly seems more commercial than the co-operative we had just visited. We are shown their technique of painting and how they engrave miniature works of art. The most outstanding were the limestone engravings. Again we would have liked to buy something if we were in the position to take it home with us.
We take the cable car up Machla Magra (Fish Hill), which overlooks Lake Pichola. The view from the top is breath taking. We are able to see across the whole city, lake, the City Palace, Sajjangarh Fort and the Aravali mountains in the distance on the other side of the lake.
At the top there is also a small fort; we attempt to gain access to it but it appears to be closed. An old man creeps up on us, and through sign language, informs us that we are not allowed to wear shoes in the place where we were standing.
After visiting the hill we move on to the princess gardens, a peaceful place with marble elephants and fountains, then onto the city palace.
Having missed lunch we decide to walk over to the other side of the lake to find a restaurant for a late lunch early dinner. The backstreets on the other side are quite dirty, with lots of pigeons around. Old wives tales say that if you have bird droppings land on your head it is good luck. …. today is a lucky day for Nicole, it happened to her not once but twice!
The first restaurant we find is shockingly over priced, probably partly due to the view over the lake, so decide to find something a little cheaper. We manage to find a quiet restaurant next to the lake as the sun goes down. The food is good and we have a pleasant evening under the stars.
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We have a lazy day around the hotel and go out for lunch and dinner.
Wake up early to enjoy a beautiful misty sunrise.
As we head south the scenery is much greener, the roads are clear and good. We drive along the main toll road. However at two toll booths they decide not to charge us and simply wave us through.
We pass through the city of Ahmemabad where there is very bad traffic. As we drive down the high way, a bus suddenly decides to pull out right across the road. Travelling at 60mph, Martin has to slam on the breaks and swerve to miss it.
Arrive in Daman 9 hours later and find the Emerald hotel. Temperature is up 10c to 32c. We go to Nanas for dinner and have a nice spicy lamb curry followed by ice cream.
16th December Murud
Leaving Daman we drive the 400km to Murud. The LP suggests it is a good place to visit, and it takes a massive 10 hours to get there, stuck in traffic jams all the way and driving alongside extremely slow moving trucks.
It is dark by 6:30, and we get a little lost down some of the country lanes; we arrive at a small village where the road suddenly stops. A few locals come out of their houses to greet us, however none of them speak any English so we simply point to the name in the book and the place on the map. They gesture with their hands to go back the way we have just come. We track back to the centre of the village where we are told to take the next left.
The GPS says the town is less than 10km away but we seem to be weaving up and down hills and through forests. There are no street lights just pitch blackness, an occasional motor bike coming the other way. We see people walking down the roads with nothing to light their way in the darkness. We ask some people for directions, and are finally back on route (8pm). We finally make it to town and find that most of the guest houses and hotels do not meet our budget or are full for the weekend. Eventually we find a nice little guest house for a couple of nights.
In the evening there are a handful of restaurants to choose from so we end up in a garden restaurant. Nicole is shocked to see a rat the size of a cart appearing out of the grass behind us, it’s truly huge!
We take a stroll along the local beach, where fishermen are bringing their catches to shore with the help of local women. The catch seems to be a mixture of small fish, prawns and crabs etc.
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We get a rickshaw to Rajpuri pier to visit Janjira Fort (sea fort); it is an impressive sight from the land. As we zoom past, it is like nothing we have seen before, a massive and magnificent looking fort rising up from the sea. The fort is the only one of its kind, built in the 17th century and remained unconquered throughout its history. It was built by the Siddis, descendants of sailor traders who allegedly made a living through piracy.
We wait for the boat, a small sail boat with no motor. We climb aboard and as we do a group of 30 or 40 people arrive on the pontoon and we wonder how they will all get on. With everyone crammed on, the boat is full to bursting with people hanging onto the sides. 15 minutes later we arrive and explore the fort. Inside are the ruins of a mosque, palace and baths with water channelled from streams for royal ladies who lived within the forts quarters. Huge cannons protrude from lookout holes at the top to withstand enemies from neighbouring territories. There are intricate designs on the stone work on its 3 floors- these pirates must have been very rich!
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Once back on land we grab a quick coconut juice drink and head to Kashid beach to check out the stretch of sands which would put the Maldives to shame, according to the LP book. We don’t agree with the comment!
Later we head to the golden swan beach restaurant to have a delicious rice and curry and with rotis.
The mist hovering above the tree lines and crawling over the mountains looks truly fantastic. As we drive into the valley, the mist becomes much denser to the point where we can barely see a few metres in front of us, but stumble upon a police booth, who kindly point us in the right direction.
We drive through dense jungle and fog to reach the main highway to Goa. From there it’s a single high way all the way passing through lush sub tropical forests. 10 hours later we arrive in the state of Goa where we are stopped at the state’s checkpoint and asked for our insurance. As we have none, we are asked to wait. Luckily a local guy translates for us and tells us we don’t need insurance for 6 months.
After travelling more than 30,000km and for over six months, we are both relived to have reached this point. We plan to spend a month in Goa relaxing on the beaches, visiting relatives and becoming everyday tourists for a while before we hit the road again, and the next leg of our overland adventure through the jungles and backwaters of the Western Ghants and Kerala.
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Martin & Nicole