Octopussy and Camel Toes

Posted: September 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

So the Taj was pretty much what I expected, and seeing it marked about two weeks in big, noisy, crowded, India, so after Agra I opted for a change of pace. Justin and I skipped over Jaipur and took an overnight train right to Udaipur, a quiet lake city in western Rajistan. The night train proved interesting, as we opted for the third class sleeper…. our bunk mate was a fat, stinky old drunk (who wouldn’t share his booze) and who insisted on trying to steal our hats and shirts for the duration of the journey. I guess it was payback in a way for all those Free and Easy nights of debauchery on the Thai night trains.

Udiapur was exactly what was needed: tranquil and relaxing. We played about 100 games of crib, drank 100 pots of Chai, and did….. NOTHING. It was everything I hoped for. We did go to see the beautiful Lake Palace which was featured in the James Bond movie Octopussy. After Udiapur it was time for more adventures so we hopped a night bus bound for Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert. The night bus (or buses by the time it was all said and done) was not the worst night bus I have taken by any stretch (that honour still belongs to the trip to Cebu, Philippines on the local bus) although I never could quite get the loud Indian music totally tuned out.

Jaisalmer was quickly becoming my least favourite stop on the trip with agressive touts and yet another big, dirty, city. Tired and grumpy, Justin and I (who were eager to do a camel safari and get out of Jai “Hell” Mer) found ourselves quicky roped in to a 3 day, 2 night journey which we soon realized we had overpaid for significantly. Upset, I went to take a shower to chill out…. Justin… visibly more upset, proceeded to chastise the proprietor of the hotel, telling him that we worked for Lonely Planet and that with the new guidebook coming out soon things were not looking good for his shop.

…….About 10 minutes later we had a much cheaper safari, and we were on our way.

A few years ago the Thar Desert must have been quite desolate. These days, however, it is hard to lose yourself in the vast seas of wind turbines that dominate the landscape (not that I’m against wind power). Nonetheless, the safari was more or less what I expected: the camels smell bad (but not as bad as I imagined), and are much friendlier than I thought they would be. Our camel driver Bilal was a good man, though he spent much of his time loading his camel with spools of barbed wire he kept stealing from wind turbine construction sites (“government build on desert people land, so desert people take fence”, makes sense to me). We camped in the dunes about 40 km from the Pakistan border, which is lit up for surveillance and is easy to see at night, even from space (I saw this in a newspaper in Udiapur). Officially there are no buildings allowed within 5 km of either side of the border, but I couldn’t see anything but sand between us and them so I guessed that the villagers liked to give the army a wide berth.

Bilal’s stock went up a few points when he trekked into a nearby village to buy us beers and whiskey, and a few more points when he started telling us funny tales from other treks, like the Korean tourist who wandered away from camp at night and stumbled into a remote desert village, only to be attacked by an elderly woman (who had obviously never seen a Korean before) with a broom because she thought he was a ghost. While sleeping on rocks and smelling like camels is not an ideal job for this cat, it was definitely a good experience, and a great last port of call before a few R & R days in Delhi and the Everest Base Camp in Nepal.

All said, I think India is one of the most beautifully frustrating places I have ever visited. I can’t wait till I have more time to come back and really get under the skin of this crazy, wonderful country.

Namaskar

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