Saturday, December 04, 2004

Camels and Cuisine

Onwards to Bikaner. I arrived late at night by train. The train was strangly empty in my posh "chair class". There was about sixty seats between four people. This class is air conditioned. i.e there are lots of big fans on the ceiling making the carriage cold. I was assigned a seat almost directly below a fan, but moved back a bit. Just before the train left I spotted a book seller, so I grabbed The Brethren by John Grisham. The choice was pretty much between Grisham or Clancy!Still it made the journey go quicker.
I was reading through my Lonely Planet trying to decide where to stay and thinking the train should of arrived by now when a man ushered me off. Because of the lights inside, tinted windows and darkness outside I didn't realise I had arrived. Also I was looking out the wrong side of the train!
As I exited the train station, the usual descdending of touts began, as the autorickshaws drivers get commision from the hotels, they are keen for your business. The first guy had a card from a hotel I had read about and so I was whisked off. I even managed to bargain down the room from five hundred to four hundred. Not bad when I just wanted to sleep. (I was later to learn of people staying for three fifty, so I've still to improve!)
The next day, I just had a lazy day and wandered around town and then ate in the hotel restaurant. I came across a disgusting pond which you could hardly see the water fir the plastic bags, the smell was horrible, it was stinking of sulphur.
The hotel has a good resturant, so I've tried a few bits and bobs.Aloo matter seems to be pea curry as far as I can work out.Missi roti seems to be like a flat dry bread. I thought is would be a dough ball like in my guide book, but I don't know what the missi bit means and roti is just bread. (Turns out I had roti mixed up with bati)
Also I had stuffed paratha, which I'd had before at a roadside place. Not quite as nice here, or perhaps I wasn't as hungry!Finally I had potato raita which is like yoghurt, good with pulou (flavoured rice), but not much use on its own. Its a bit like just the sauce from a meal.As you can see I'm slowly learning a bit more about the cuisine. Still haven't found where I can get a beefburger though :)
I was chatting with a couple of English guys (Richard and Mike) who are travelling through India, one has motorbiked from England and he's the sensible one!The other just jumped on the back of his bike!
Like a lot of people they are heading down to Goa from Christmas, definitely seems to be THE place to be at Chrimbo, so I think I'll head down that way myself. Another possible option is Diu (another former Portugese colony) but it is in a bit of a dead end.

Anyway, I'm just back from the desert!
I spent three days doing a desert safari on a camel. It was good fun, but probably a one off, as being bounced up and down on a camel is pretty painful, especially on day three.
I had looked up a safari agent and found the shop which was a good walk out of town, but when I told him, what hotel I was staying at he was relucant to do a safari. It seems to be the way of things in India. So I had to go through the hotel (although I suppose I could of change accomodation)
Still day one, we headed off early and got a jeep into a village on the edge of the desert. On the way we stopped at the Karni Mata temple, otherwise known as the Rat Temple!
As it is a religous temple, its off with the shoes and in with the rats. There is acutally not too many running about, although in the corner there is plenty of them hiding under a piece of wood. Also in another corner is a small bowl of milk where there are having a quick drink. So I joined them for a photo. Its good luck to spot a rare white rat, but alas not my day.Although I did nearly stand on one, but luckily for both of us, it escaped my crushing foot just in time.
Outside the temple there was statues of Maharaja, but as you can see I was still keeping an eye on the rats.

So back to the safari, we pulled up and there are two camels tethered to the trees,
For the first two days I had an English speaking guide, Wasim (perhaps more of an interpreter!) and two camelmen who's names I had difficulty getting my tongue round.
The senior camelman was wearing earings that would put the Beckhams to shame. Seems to be the style in Rajastan and particularly Bikaner. The muslim guide told me it was a Hindu thing.
After a bit of hanging about while the camels snacked, it was up onto the camel. The camelman made some tut tut noises at the camels and it jerkily dropped to its knees. I then jumped aboard by throwing one leg over the side and then hoisting myself level. Then I had to hold tight on the harness and the camelman tut tutted at the camel and it rose in two stage, back legs where you are leaning forward about forty five degrees and then back legs when its fully upright.
My first though was it's a long way down! Then it started moving and my next though was arrgh! It certainly takes a bit of getting used to but after a while you learn to relax which seems to help a great deal. So off into the sandy desert
Once you relax you can get into the swing of things. After a whle though I was quite happy to jump in the cart being pulled by the other camel.
By the end of the first day I was happy enough that I didn't have to cling on with white knuckles. I even managed a drink of water aboard a moving camel!
The first night we stopped at a dune and some tarpaulin was thrown over the cart for a makeshift tent. The night was a bit foggy but with a near full moon.
The desert wasn't quite like the pictures you see of the sahara with nothing but dunes, I had been warned not to expect this.They land was perhaps more like arid scrub with bushes dotted about and much of the land, although looking like sand, had been ploughed. At first I though my camel was hungry as he kepy veering off to nearby branches only to be pulled back in line.
Later on I found out that he was tring to lose files that gather around their face (must be very irrating)When we stopped for a break and the harnesses were freed, the first thing the camels would do is roll around like crazy in the sand to rid themselves off the flies, effectively washing themselves in the sand. Then they looked very contented (or dead)! As the sun began to set, the cook made dinner, and quiet fell throughout the camp.
Next day the camels rose somewhat reluctantly.

The camels would drink from a trough, where I half expected to see a slowly appearing figure approach and shoot the camelman from afar ("He drank from my well!"). We stopped at a concrete building for some lunch and some shade. After lunch we chose a path through the desert.
I had 24 bottles of mineral water for three days. I probably drank about 10 over three days, so no worries there. The second night we stopped and as arranged the guide left (I could of paid extra for another day, but I was nice and quiet without him)That night it was clear and I fell asleep under thousands of twinkling stars, simple yet memorable.
Next morning it was back on the camel for the twenty five km back to the village, however I was feeling somewhat tender so I spent most of the day lounging in the cart as a camel towed it across the sands, which was strangely relaxing just watching the world pass by. Still I was glad to be back on firm earth, and thankful that I hadn't done anymore days. (Some people do a fifeteen day safari to Jaisalmer) Three days in the desert was enough for me, I've even got souvieneers, three spider bites.

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