9/12/2000You are here: Home > Travelogues > India 2000 > 9/12/2000
Camels, Tigers, Elephants and Octopussies
Hello again to all and sundry!
Once again I have left it a while to write, so there are quite a few adventures to report. Thanks to everyone for writing, it's nice to hear a little news of home and to stay in touch.
But yeah, this is gonna be a bit over-long. So grab a cup of your favourite steaming beverage!
From a toilet bowl: Vitreous HINDware
From a menu: FISH FOOD (they meant "fish")
From the streets of Delhi: Say NO to plastic bags. Heed it kids.
So let's see. If memory serves me correctly (for once) I wrote the last update in Jaipur. We'd just been to see various palaces and observatories.
The next day was similar. We visited a place just out of town, called Ambur, which had a very impressive fort on the top of a hill. Quite a big place too - you could get slightly lost in there without too much trouble. Lots of different levels, twisty passages, balconies, ornate doorways etc. It reminded me a little of a Quake level, although it must be said that the association should probably be the other way round, what with the fort being in the real world, and of course it is much more satisfying to walk around something for real than on a computer screen. And you can actually touch things.
We caught an auto-rickshaw on the way out there; the driver was the same one we'd had the day before and he insisted on taking us for free as we paid him way too much previously. It was nice to meet someone voluntarily honest. :) Although his friend may have pressured him into it, we found out later.
Stopped off along the way as well, and saw a few things - a palace in the middle of a lake (which looked quite nice), and a snake charmer. He offered to let us touch the cobras but we elected not to at the time. We were both pretty sure they would have had their fangs removed (especially given how he would bat the snake gently on the head to make it flatten it's neck out), but we weren't sure at the time. Found out later that they do indeed de-fang them. Snake charmers are not stupid. At least, the ones who are still alive aren't.
We also bought one of his snake charming instruments. It makes a horrible noise to the untrained. I'm sure you'll all enjoy it when I get back. Jana is.
That was pretty much it for Jaipur. There was plenty to do there, but we're having to cut our stays short now, to only three days or so, in order to fit everything in. Getting sick in Varansi ate up a week all up, so we have to hot foot it a bit now.
Next on the agenda was Jaisalmer, in far western India, on the border of the desert between India and Pakistan. The bus ride was a long one, and I think, to date the worst.
It wasn't the 14 odd hours.
It wasn't so much the seats that didn't recline (but were somehow randomly set in a reclining position - well, some were more than others, for example the seats in FRONT of us were WAY back, whereas ours were pretty much upright).
It wasn't even the crying baby, which was thankfully not a screamer.
It wasn't the suicidal driver either, once we got used to him.
It was more the fact that once the bus got up to speed, the windows *rattled*. I'm not talking sydney-government-schoolbus-rattles. I'm talking machine guns and jackhammers in your ears. It was fun.
In fact, the only thing louder than the bus's windows, was the incredibly piercing wailing hindi pop music being played at maximum volume for half the night (the LATER half mostly). To give you an idea of the volume of said music, I could only drown it out completely if I had the discman playing Metallica's 'Blackened' at a volume too painful for even me.
So needless to say, we arrived fresh, well rested, happy and rearing to go.
Heh. Actually, arriving is generally quite pleasant after these bus trips. Can't think why.
But anyway, we got to Jaisalmer. I think Jaisalmer is now up there in the favourites for India, along with Varanasi and Dharamsala. Definitely go there if you go to India (it is well worth the bus ride).
It's a lovely place, all brown and orange desert colours, with a great big fort on the hill (they like their forts over here), which for once actually houses people, and is more than just a withering monument. Jaisalmer isn't a very big city actually, a fair proportion would live inside the fort, along with various temples and the obligatory palace or two. It's a nice friendly place, and fairly clean as well.
Apart from the fort, many people come to Jaisalmer to go on a Camel Safari, out in the desert. We felt this had to be done. Eventually decided to do three days and two nights.
We started out at the hotel, and met the other people we'd be safariing with. Apart from us there were three girls from England whose names escape me, and a Scottish guy called Robbie. We all wedged into a jeep and got taken about 30kms out of town, and met up with the camels and our guides. So we hopped up onto our camels, they stood up, we nearly fell off, and away we went, at a nice slow walk.
Camels are funny creatures. I have decided that I quite like them. Apart from the fact that they look pretty odd, they make all sorts of amusing nosies. Most of said noises are cranky ones. I think next time I watch any of the Star Wars moviews, I'll be hearing camels whenever a fearsome beastie growls and gargles!
For all their complaining though, they were quite a peaceful bunch of animals. Probably quite used to having idiot westerners with no idea on their backs. I'd heard about camels spitting and biting, but none of these were the type. Which is good really; someone there was of the opinion that you could get syphillis from a camel bite. Have to check up on that one.
Camel riding is quite pleasent and peaceful, once you and your arse get used to it. As one of the English girls said, you could write a book about our safari: "Three Days on a Camel by Major Bumsore."
Camels have, say, four speeds.
1. Walking. This is pretty easy on the bum once you get used to the motion of the camel.
2. Trotting (I'll call it that for argument's sake) slowly. This is pretty bumpy. You can get used to it after a while, and keeping from bouncing off at times distracts you from the repeated impacts into your already complaining bum. Camel saddles don't have stirrups.
3. Trotting quickly. This speed I only experienced a couple of times, and that was enough. Incredibly bouncy, and it suddenly feels like your arse is being bashed against anvils. You actually get significant air in between bounces. This provides a great opportunity for the camel to suddenly change direction slightly, making you almost fall off.
4. Galloping. Didn't do this myself, but saw it. Camels actually do change to a gallop after a certain speed. Apparently it's smoother than the fast trot, but I didn't find out. :)
We spent the first half of the way going pretty leisurely. It was still enough to make me pretty stiff the first time we got off the camels (to look at a small village). Saw a few of these villages actually, amazing that people live out there in the desert like that, with it only raining a few times a year.
The scenery wasn't just 'sand, and lots of it' either - we weren't on dunes as such mostly. Just very sandy, rocky ground, with various desert plants around the place (most of which had lovely thorns, one of which my camel considerately dragged my leg through - when I was wearing shorts).
Stopped for lunch under a nice tree, to everyone's relief. Had great food too - our guides were pretty good cooks.
The afternoon was probably the worst for me. I was incredibly sore and could hardly move my legs when we had stopped for lunch. And the afternoon saw a lot of walking and a fair bit of trotting. I know I'm just sounding like a big wuss, but at the time it was pretty painful. I kept bashing my ging gang goolie goolies whenever we started trotting. One of the Indian guys asked me how my banana was at the end of the day. I don't think he was talking about fruit. Anyway, I got to find out what "bow-legged" means, first hand. :)
We got to where we were going in the end, and it was well worth it. Spent the first night on some sand dunes, not huge ones, but pretty big, and after they stuffed us full of food again we climbed into our sleeping bags and watched the shooting stars. Nice stars in the desert. Will have to go out into the Australian outback sometime and see the stars, as from there they're supposed to be pretty damn good (and better than India).
Got up at the crack o dawn, and saw a lovely sunrise to match the sunset we'd watched from the dune the night before. Had a good feed and off we went again.
Not so painful this time. You'd get used to it pretty quickly I think, a week or so and it wouldn't hurt at all. The guides who were with us obviously weren't at all worried.
Stopped off for lunch again after a few more little villages, and then after lunch the 3 girls left, as they were only doing one night. Quitters. Some lame excuse about a train to catch. :)
That left Jana and I, and Robbie the Scot. He was pretty good value actually, and had just spent a year in Australia (which meant we could understand what he was saying), and was going back home to the Isle of Skye after India - just about the most cold and miserable place on earth from the way he described it. Needless to say he was very pleased about this. About the trucks and busses driving down the road he once said "these guys manage to make driving on a straight road look dangerous!". It's very true. It'll be odd to get back to order and rules and people afraid of getting sued.
Anyway we rode on to another campsite and spent the second night there. It was near a little village, and within a short time half a dozen locals had showed up to sit around the fire and share a little Indian mirth and chatter. Robbie got hassled a bit for lacking facial hair. I got a bit too, as I have grown the beard, but not the mo'. Indian males almost ALL have moustaches. It's seen as a little babyish to not have one I think. But Robbie gave as good as he got in true Scot style.
There were some funny characters in that group. All very happy people though. One guy kept asking questions, and when we replied would say "oh my god!". I've been trying to work out how to write it the same way he said it, as it was very funny, but I can't seem to get it in text. The nearest I could come I guess would be way somebody Jewish rolls their eyes and says "oi vey!" (or an Aussie might say "bloody hell!"). Anyway. Guess you had to be there.
Not much to report, a lazy campfire breakfast after watching the dawn again (it's kind of hard to sleep in when you're outdoors), then a camel ride back to the road where we met the jeep to take us back. I ended up with a passenger, a kid of about 8 or 10, on the back of my camel. He wanted to go very fast all the time. My arse didn't agree. In the end we got there and I survived.
The safari is definitely something you want to do if you come here, it was worth all the pain, which I am probably exaggerating a little.
So that was it for the desert and Jaisalmer. Next stop after yet another interminable bus journey was a place called Udaipur. It's a nice city, with a big lake, and a famous island hotel out on the lake. The James bond film "Octopussy" was filmed (or part thereof) in this town, and needless to say the locals are incredibly proud of it. Just about every hotel shows the movie every night; bugger the fact that it was shot 20 years ago! :)
I sat through it for the hell if it. Get it out on video by all means and watch it, but I warn you, it ain't so good. Roger Moore isn't a patch on good 'ol Sean.
But it is interesting to see some of the India bits - the movie is 20 years old or something like that, and the auto-rickshaws haven't changed a bit. :)
Not much else to report from Udaipur. Visited the obligatory palace, and saw many fine artworks - the miniature paintings they do here are quite amazing. Took a boat ride on the lake; twas nice, peaceful. A little polluted on the shore, but you get that in India.
Next stop for us was a place called Bundi. Smallish town, but very nice it turned out. We were basically just killing a day there on our way to Bhopal. We'd also just about run out of cash at this point, and getting more isn't that easy in India. You need to be in a big town before you see an ATM, and even then a lot of the time they don't work with my card. So we had basically a very limited budget here - just enough for accomodation and bus tickets, plus maybe a small amount of food.
There's a big palace on the hill in Bundi, and we thought we may as well visit it given we had most of the day to kill. As soon as we were through the door the usual guide-out-of-nowhere approached us, and offered to show us around. The palace in Bundi has some lovely big murals.
We explained that we had no money, but this guy turned out to be really nice. Billu (that was his name) simply said "money is not God!" and insisted we see the place anyway, and send him money later when we had some. In the end he gave us an excellent tour, and took us back to his house for an enormous lunch. Then he took us to see two big Bawrees, or step-wells, that are famous in the town. These are quite large impressive stone buildings in the ground, and are quite deep (your homework is to look them up as I can't really describe them well). After that his wife made us some wonderful food for our bus trip.
It's lovely to meet someone like that over here, where so many people are trying to rip you off. As one guy said to me on a train, 60% of people are good, and 40% bad. The hard part is knowing who is which of course.
Next stop was Bhopal, which has the dubious honour of having been the site of the world's worst industrial disaster. Tis also the capital of the state we were in. Not much to report from there at all - got some cash, and hopped on a train to Jabalpur. Not much there either - supposed to be a nice place near town called Marble Rocks but we didn't make it there.
From here we hopped on a bus to Khana National Park, which among other things is a famous Tiger sanctuary, with more than 130 Tigers in the park.
We spent the next morning going round the part on the back of a Jeep (which they called a "Gypsy" for some reason - all the hotels advertised "Gypsy Rides", which I'm not even going to make a joke about - I leave that as an excercise to the reader).
It was lovely in the park. It was also about -1 degrees when we left the hotel, and we kinda froze. But it was all worth it. Saw various types of Deer, various birds, including Peacocks of course, and a pack of wild dogs (they weren't too wild at the time, what with it being bloody freezing and all).
We did get to see Tigers too, but sort of cheated to do it. The people in the park use Elephants to find then, and then hem them in on both sides, and you can pay to go on another Elephant to see the Tigers (briefly). This sounded a bit nasty to the Tigers to us, but the reality of it was that they were resting and not at all particularly 'trapped'. They didn't seem to fussed at all.
So we saw two males, young ones I believe. I was very impressed - they are absolutely beautiful animals, and despite the fact that they were resting their eyes were sharp and missed nothing. They were almost hypnotising. I can't remember if I've seen Tigers at the zoo, but nothing on TV compared to seeing them in their natural environment. They had a real presence and majesty all of their own, which I would imagine a zoo tiger would lack. Their colour was gorgeous. As we left them I remember feeling quite profoundly sad that they'll probably not be around for very much longer, in spite of the good work being done at the park, and other places like it.
We also drove around a fair bit on the back of the Jeep, and saw lots of other Tiger *tracks*, but no Tigers. Damn things were probably all watching us from 10 metres in the bush, but that's all you need there to be invisible, even if you are quite strikingly coloured.
But all up it was well worth the long dusty travel to get there - I'll always remember those two Tigers.
One other amusing story from that trip - on the way there and back the bus stopped for half and hour at a little town (Manda or Mandla I think is was). There was this old Indian chap there, who was very friendly and quite amusing. He bought us tea, and insisted we didn't pay. He also insisted we try Paan, which is an Indian preparation that revolves around a Betel Nut. It is actually addictive in the long term, and makes your teeth and mouth turn red (also in the long term!). If you go to India and someone talking to you looks like they've just had lunch with Monsieur Dracula, it's because of Paan.
But one is fine, and it was interesting to try. They put all sorts of things on an edible leaf, lime paste and other tasty things, along with the Betel, and tie it up with a clove. You pop the whole thing in your mouth and chew it a while, and then eventually spit it it out and add another red splotch to the pavement. It's supposed to be mildly intoxicating ("good for ENERGY!" as the old guy said). Didn't seem to be for us.
The old guy (I can't remember his name but have it written down somewhere) had obviously been into his Paan for a while judging by the state of his teeth. Turns out he was a retired schoolteacher. We thought he might have travelled as he spoke English quite differently to most people here, but he said he hadn't. He used some very quaint phrases - for example when asking if you liked something (like the Paan) he would ask "So do you relish it?!". Anyway, I've rambled enough about the old fellow, but he really was quite nice and friendly.
So. From Khana we've basically travelled uneventfully. Only memorable thing from the train trip was a kid who bubbled at me "which country?" (as they all do over here), and when I said "Australia" he immediately replied with a very ocker "Oh, G'Day mate!!". It threw me big time, and was quite funny.
We're in Bombay/Mumbai now, and tomorrow we'll head off for our last round of sightseeing, some impressive and very old caves at Ajanta and Elora, and a nice old meteorite crater near Lonar. Should be good.
So chances are the next email I'll send will be from home, as I'm heading back to the land of Oz on the 15th. If not it'll be just before I leave.
Insane people may want to know when the plane arrives - I think it is 8:30pm, next friday. ;)
Anyway, that's it! Only a week to go, and then back to the 'real' world. Yay.
All images in this gallery: