Monthly Archives: January 2008

the legacy of occupation?

I visited the Tibetan Museum in McLeod Ganj early this afternoon and it is a really wonderfully constructed place over two large rooms but really quite emotional to absorb. It tells the story of the Tibetan people from when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) marched into the country under the justification that it was part of China and that they were liberating the down trodden masses. China herself lost so much of her history, art, religion and culture during the cultural revolution, and it seems even more tragic that the previously cut-off land of Tibet should have suffered even more so under this regime. Over 6000 monasteries were destroyed, their libraries burned and idols broken, the ones left standing were turned into store rooms and the monks and nuns expelled. Dalai LamaThe country’s natural resources were plundered, forests stripped bare and areas turned into nuclear waste dumps. Over a million tibetans died in the following decades, forbidden to practice their religions, demonstrate against the chinese government or practice their traditional ways of life. As a result many fled to India, Burma and Nepal as refugees rather than remain in Tibet. The 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government fled over the Himalayas in 1959 and were granted refuge in Dharmasala and McLeod Ganj.

The following passage summarises things maybe a little more clearly than I can.

“If the matter of Tibet’s sovereignty is murky, the question about the People Republic of China’s treatment of Tibetans is all too clear. After invading Tibet in 1950, the Chinese communists killed over one million Tibetans, destroyed over 6,000 monasteries, and turned Tibet’s northeastern province, Amdo, into a gulag housing, by one estimate, up to ten million people. A quarter of a million Chinese troops remain stationed in Tibet. In addition, some 7.5 million Chinese have responded to Beijing’s incentives to relocate to Tibet; they now outnumber the 6 million Tibetans. Through what has been termed Chinese apartheid, ethnic Tibetans now have a lower life expectancy, literacy rate, and per capita income than Chinese inhabitants of Tibet.”
Lasater, Martin L. & Conboy, Kenneth J. “Why the World Is Watching Beijing’s Treatment of Tibet”, Heritage Foundation, October 9, 1987.

Maybe with the world’s eyes turned onto China for the Beijing Olympics this year and China’s growing place as a global power in the world’s economy will encourage pressure on them to improve thier Human Rights record and reach a compromise to ensure the future of the Tibetan people and culture.

the monks and the cold

McLeod Ganj view from our balconyI am currently huddled in a warm internet cafe in McLeod Ganj, a small hill top town next to Dharamsala and home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. On the bus up from Amritsar I ran into two American girls, Emily and Melissa, that I’d met at the border ceremony in Attari and the three of us managed to find a guest house in the dark, after several false starts, and accidentally running into a pack of about fifteen fighting dogs!

View from BhagsuIt is cold here, really cold and especially as none of the buildings have heating. I can see my breath in the air in the daytime! I am currently wearing three layers of t-shirts, a vest, jumper, a rather stylish Tibetan-style fleece I brought on the first day, scarf, bandanna and woollen shawl. Despite the temperature, I really like this place, it’s the kind of place you can easily just wander around all day and contentedly do absolutely nothing. The town is perched on a ridge in between the hills with snow covered peaks in the distance and coloured balconied buildings spilling down the slopes. It doesn’t feel like India, most of the people are Tibetan refugees and there are maroon robed monks walking around the streets, buddist temples, prayer flags and it just feels like I’m in a totally different country.

Girls at the waterfallOur first morning we visited the Tsglagkhang complex, which is the main buddist centre, and houses some very ornate gold statues which all have, bizarrely, offerings of Hobnobs, Oreo cookies and Tropicana orange juice placed at their feet. Prayer wheels surround the man chapels offering up hundreds of silent mantras with every turn. A couple of tourists were walking around and a few Tibetan women were doing the yoga-like bowing prayers on a mat in the courtyard. An American looking guy in a cowboy hat was sprawled out asleep on one of the benches, it is a supremely relaxing place! The monks also run a cafe at the bottom which does amazingly good pizza and vegetarian food.

Yesterday we went for a walk to the next village, Bhagsu, and up alongside a huge boulder strewn dry river bed to a small waterfall tucked into the hill side. We all lay back on a smooth rock in the sunshine and watched Indian guys taking macho photographs of themselves in front of the rocks! I also did a Tibetan cookery course last night as I decided I needed another stab at the Momo making. The guy Lhamo running the lesson was lovely and got really excited when we managed to master the various pinching patterns of the different momo shapes; we did vege ones, spinach and cheese and sweet momos and they were delicious. I am going to live off these things when I finally get back home.

LhamoLhamo himself came to India in 1991 because he wanted to see the Dalai Lama and apparently, at that point, you weren’t allowed to learn or speak Tibetan in Tibet, only Chinese, and he wanted to learn the language of his country, he had to exile himself to India to do that. He can’t return to Tibet now, despite the fact that most of his family is there and he can’t email or phone them but manages to pass verbal messages through visitors who can travel between Lhasa and India. In his kitchen there was a huge panoramic photo of Lhasa which shows just how much building, roads and modernisation has been done in the fifty years since the Chinese invaded, they are doing a horrible job of destroying the culture and traditions physically as well as spiritually. This town is full of DVDs of documentaries on Tibet, posters showing the faces of buddist monks who have ‘disappeared’ or been ‘detained’ and signs calling for China to be held accountable for its Human Rights infringements. So, as a small gesture of support, I am now wearing a red SAVE TIBET T-shirt underneath my many layers!

Carlsberg don’t do border cermonies…

…but if they did they’d be hard pressed to beat the pomp and circumstance at the Attari closing of the Pakistan-India Border. I’m in Amritsar at the moment and in the past 36 hours have seen probably the most beautiful, and serene, religious temple in India, the most curious museum yet in India and of course the most comedy official ceremony that exists anywhere in the country.

Golden temple, Amritsar

The Golden temple is a beautiful Sikh temple that appears to float in the centre of a clear blue pool called Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar)surrounded by marble walkways and white domes above the gates. A causeway, Gurus’ Bridge, extends from the gold gilded central temple out across the lake to the far side. The setting is fantastically serene, and everything about the experience of visiting this place only serves to enhance the appeal. Temple GuardNobody asks you for money inside the temple, after numerous Jain, Christian and Hindu experiences in India this is surprise enough. here is a special place to leave your shoes in exchange for a token (again at no cost), the water with which you have to wash your feet before entering is warm (it’s even colder here than Delhi), there are red material walkways to save your feet the coldness of he marble and they offer free food to all the pilgrims who visit the temple regardless of religion. There are even huge, attractive looking olive and red goldfish that swim near the edges of the water as you walk by. In the temple itself four priests keep up a continuous Punjabi chant from the Sikh holy book which is broadcast around the temple.

Today, resisting the temptation to watch more Australian Open action, (my hotel room has a TV!) I went in search of Sikhism in the town. The first stop was the gardens of Jallaianwala Bagh, a memorial to the 2000 Indians, Sikh, Muslim and Hindu who were massacred without warning by the British in 1819 whilst staging a non violent protest. Sobering and yet I couldn’t help remembering Indira Gandhi who was murdered by her Sikh body guards 1984 is response to the military invading the Golden Temple where Punjab extremists were hiding. No country, religion or cause it seems, ever manages to exist without blood on its hands. Old men

Then I went to Ram Bagh to see the curious and rather interesting museum of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the one-eyed battle hero of the Punjab era from 1780-1839. The main focal point of the museum is a huge panorama of paintings with life size models extending he paintings into 3D showing he great battle scenes from his reign against the hoards of Afghanistan and Kashmir. It was horribly kitsch and wonderful at the same time, especially with the sounds of battle, death and war cries playing in the background!

Border guard looking stern!Next stop was a shared jeep down to the border with Pakistan at Attari, about an hour way. The students from Utaranchal in the jeep decided that we needed a sing a long o pass the time and insisted that myself and the two American girls there join in. It turns out that all the Englishsongs they knew were Backstreet boys, Bryan Adams and Boyzone. So there we were speeding towards Pakistan merrily crooning out Summer of 69, this country simply cannot get any weirder! At the border there is an ornate set of gates dividing the two countries and leading up to each is a walkways surrounded by large grandstand seating which soon began to fill up (less on the Pakistan side, I guess because the country is still in mourning for Bhutto). Each side is blaring out pop music at full volume and on our side we even have an MC to keep the crowd excited. He instigates much chanting and hen a few select members of the crowd are allowed to run down two huge India flags to the gate amid much cheering to wave and jib at the opposing side. There was also dancing, the men and women separated by the border guards to get the party started. The guards themselves were tall serious faced men wearing short olive green trousers displaying six inches of immaculate white spars over black army boots. They had red and black cravats and red and black headgear that would have made the peacocks jealous. Once the official ceremony began they speed marched up to the gates in pairs and proceeded to do some impressively high leg kicks that turned the effort into a funny walk of which John Cleese would be proud. We meanwhile are sporadically cheering and clapping and making a considerable noise as there were several hundred people there. When the gates finally opened the noise swelled and we had our first glimpse of the black uniformed, high plumed Pakistani guards performing the mirror high leg kicking moves of the Indian guards. The border guard and I There was much chest slapping, leg kicking, bellowing and stomping before the flags were finally lowered and we cheered our side back to their posts as the gates were closed. Afterwards I ran to grab one of the guards for a photo, cheesy but so necessary. All in all, the best time I have ever had a border, they should build a gate between England and Scotland and give it a go, it would do wonders for the national pride!

the unexpected charms of Delhi

Hinglish in its absurdityI strongly suspect that my reasons for rather liking Delhi are probably due to the fact that four months in the country has made me immune to a certain amount of tourist hassle and the somewhat darker side of India. My stomach has become hardened to pretty much anything that I stick inside it including slum water, street food and dodgy lassis (touch wood) and my lovely friend Shuchika has been taking me sightseeing for the past few days with her driver. So, rather than hating this place as everybody else I’ve met in India and Nepal did, I’ve found the city is definitely not without its charms. It is however freezing. 18 degrees maximum (now either I have totally adjusted my heat tolerance to local standards or they are measuring this temp next to a Tandoori oven) and a minimum of 3 degrees which I can more than believe. On the way to the rickshaw stand on Sunday I had to stop in the market to buy a highly attractive pair of toe socks to wear with my flip flops. My feet may not be sexy but at least they are warm!

Lotus templeOn the weekend I began my Delhi adventure by attending a religious singing lunch at Shuchika’s house with her Mum’s friends, musicians, song books and a huge lunch afterwards. Then Shuchika and I went to visit the fantastic Bahai temple built in the shape of a lotus flower by the people of the Baha’i faith. Honestly I’d never even heard of the faith before, they have temples in such different locations as Western Samoa, Israel, Uganda and Germany and of course this one in Delhi. It’s made of white marble and surrounded by clear pale blue pools of water, very relaxing and picturesque. Pigeons in Connaught PlaceOn Sunday after porridge and coffee in, what else, but a German bakery next to my hotel room in the slightly seedy tourist town of the Paharganj, I caught a cycle rickshaw to Connaught Place and sat taking photos of pigeons in the fountain gardens in the centre in the peace of Sunday morning. Later we went to visit Qutb Minar, sight of the first cities built in Delhi in 1193, a huge tower, the first mosque in India and an Iron pillar that continues to baffle scientists with its inability to rust in 1000 years. Qutb Minar and meMost amusingly a mother had decided that, despite the ruins being a World Heritage Site, she was going to ignore the toilet facilities and get her two young daughters to piss against the side of the ancient walls in full view of where we were siting. The youngest girl proceeded to wee all over her knickers and jeans much to the dismay of her mother. Now that is rapid karma in action!

I’ve been shopping around markets, government emporiums, had gelato ice cream in Delhi’s newest mall, visited the shops of India’s best known designers and drooled over some of the most beautiful clothes. I saw India Gate and Parliament, evidence that the English did leave some good legacies behind them. Everything is unfortunately cornered off for the upcoming Republic Day and the Red Fort was closed as the entire city is on red alert due to the terrorist risks. Probably just as well I’m leaving tomorrow morning.

Not exactly slumming it!My final day I took a ride on Delhi’s brand spanking new metro (perfect in every way except the crush when everyone battled to get into the carriage, makes the northern line in commuter hours look positively tame!) and went to see the Jama Masjid mosque and then go happily lost around the bazaars in Old Delhi which are a world away from the modern shopping malls. Tiny streets with networks of maze like electricity wires criss-crossing overhead, goldsmiths, fabric shops, ribbon shops, rickshaws, mopeds and people bustling around everywhere. And, as the markets are wholesale, they are not really for tourists, so you can walk around to your heart’s content and everybody ignores you. After a while I stopped for curry and stuffed parathas in a tiny street stall before heading south for a change of scene to Khan market. Khan market is a diplomats haven in the south of Delhi. You can buy magazines, books and food from all over the western world. They even had hobnobs for sale. I didn’t buy them, I went for the chocolate covered digestives instead! I brought Ganesh headed stationary, cheap DVDs and magazines before Shuchika and I went to a Chocolate cafe for Earl Grey tea, cake and waffles. I was then invited back to hers for dinner with her family which was lovely but I am now completely stuffed to bursting!

Old Delhi bazaarsSo Delhi has felt like a mini holiday from my backpacking lifestyle which has been really nice and I’m glad I got to see more of the city with a friend than I would have done otherwise. It seems such a shame that so many tourists complain what a terrible and horrible city this is. True if you arrive in the Paharganj as your first taste of India it would be slightly overwhelming. The truth is Delhi has fantastic shopping, a huge array of temples and tombs, interesting architecture, contrasts from the crazy old world feel of Chandi Chowk to gleaming new malls and hotels. There are tourist markets, food markets, diplomat markets, craft markets and a surprising amount of green space for a large city. The rickshaw drivers, although prone to thinking you have ATM on your forehead, can be persuaded to take you on the meter and, compared to Pune and Ahmedabad, make barely any effort to provide near death experiences on the roads. So, in summary, a really interesting city to visit, and as for everyone else’s opinion…well they’re just wrong.

Claire v Delhi: 15-0

Arrive at Old Delhi station at 7am, not at New Delhi which was where I thought I was arriving, so I had to get an autorickshaw across town. Taxi driver no. 1 offers to drive me to Paharganj (tourist central) for, get this, 400 rupees. I laughed so hard I started choking and the driver maintained a look of complete innocence.

“How much you want?”
“50 rupees”
“No possible madam, very long way.”
“Bollox, it’s 15 minutes, 50 rupees.”
“400 rupees Madam.”
“Where’s the prepaid stand?”
“No prepaid stand here Madam.”
“What’s that booth saying Autorickshaw prepaid stand over there?”

Silence. I walk off. Another man approaches.

“Rickshaw Madam?”
“How much to Paharganj?”
“150 rupees Madam.”
“50 rupees.”
“No Madam. 150 rupees.”

Madam goes to the booth and gets a prepaid rickshaw to Paharganj, guess how much it was. 50 rupees. Thank you very much, 15-love to Claire.

too much tourist touting

Rickshaw mayhem in JodhpurI’ve got to be honest, not loving Jodhpur. It’s loud, noisy, rude, bustling, dusty and totally lacks the charm, for me, of all the other places I’ve visited in Rajasthan. The rickshaws are quite entertaining though, they all look like they’ve been contestants on “Pimp my Rickshaw”,lots of silver, bling and tassels but they go about half the speed as the normal ones. I think the combination of my cold preventing me from being to breathe through my nostrils and the persistent aggressiveness of all the touts gave me a spot of sense-of-humour-failure yesterday and by 4pm I was thoroughly sick of the whole place and came back to my guest house for a nap!

Mighty fort in JodhpurMeherangarh Fort
On the positive side though Jodhpur’s fort is really impressive and enhanced by the one thing this country does supremely well, an audio tour. As for the last one I used, it was included in the foreign entry price, and it was brilliant. The English narrator had a wonderfully resonant voice in which he departed information on the museum exhibits, stories from the era of the Rathore Kingdom, tales of closeted women, powerful chiefs and bloody sieges. To give the fort some context imagine you are a weary moghul warrior riding your camel across the inhospitable Thar desert, around 1520. The hilt of your curved sword digging uncomfortably into your waist, your nuts getting squashed into the saddle and sand settling on your not-so-immaculately groomed beard. SunsetsAhead of you in the distance you finally see Meherangarh. Dark sandstone rock rises up 400 metres giving way to sheer walls of red with rounded turrets gazing out across the landscape. Huge wooden doors bar the entrance, studded with deadly metal spikes to prevent the charging of elephants. Hidden inside there is a world of opulent luxury, interconnecting courtyards with scalloped archways and elaborate lattice windows hiding the watchful eyes of hundreds of beautiful, jewelled Maharanis.

BirdshotDriving up in the rickshaw the first thing I thought about, strangely, was ‘Mysteries of Udolpho’, although clearly Rajasthan is a million miles away from the gothic intrigues of 16th century Tuscany I though Ann Radcliffe would have been suitably inspired by the impenetrable stone walls and lofty setting.

Blue brahmin houses in jodhpurI spent the rest of the day eating some really good street food from the vendors around the clock tower and tried a makhania lassi, made with saffron, which looks like custard but tastes delicious. Then I ignored the tourist spice and souvenir shops and got lost in the old part of the town between the Brahmin blue painted houses passing the goldsmiths, silversmiths, spice sellers and bangle shops. Back near the clock-tower I got a pimped but slow ride back to my guest house and the sanctuary of my room.

The smell of garlic battled through my blocked nostrils and woke me up a few hours later and I wandered down to the kitchen only to be roped into pea shelling and aubergine chopping for dinner. They cook one mean thali at this place and the owner and his cousins are very amusing. They are all camp as chips, and there is a picture of Elton John in the reception saying “Out and Proud.” And yet they are all married. Very bizarre.

British Exports
Now I know the British have certainly left their mark on India; bureaucracy, imposing architecture, driving on the left, a fondness to create clubs for anything imaginable and ongoing religious and international relations issues with Pakistan due to partition, but given that we all left over 50 years ago explain to me how David Jason and Only Fools and Horses have become inter-twinned in the Indian tourist banter? From the cockney talking shawl selling ladies on Goan beaches, to rickshaws with Lovely Jubbly inscribed on their fronts, to this gem on the road in Jaisalmer. It’s only a matter of time before they start painting the rickshaws yellow and calling each other Rodney!

Only Fools and Horses lives in India

Mr India’s balls and other camel stories

The biggest reason for many people to come to Jaisalmer other than the beautiful Jain temples, Havelis, and sandstone town surrounding a fort cut into the rock rising above the rooftops glowing in the setting sun, is to go on a camel safari and I was no exception.

Me and SheruI went on the safari for three days, beginning with a jeep trip 30km out from the town. The desert is not all sand dunes, it’s a mixture of rocky and sandy scrub land full of sprawling multi-fronged cacti, low bushes, short prickly trees, herds of goats and cows from tiny mud-wall villages dotted around, wild camels, and areas of isolated sand dunes rising up out of the vegetation. I had a lovely and (apart from a few bottom biting incidents) relatively well behaved camel called Sheru. It’s mating season at the moment, and our camels, being boys, kept making these bizarre rumbling throaty sounds (like a Desert kidshelicopter whirring under water) and then they’d pucker their lips blowing their tongues, pink and gooey, out of the sides of their mouths in a sort of gobby fart. This apparently is the camel mating call. How the females find that attractive is beyond me, but each species to their own!

We got to drive our own camels, which consisted of basically holding the reigns while they did and went exactly as they pleased at pretty much whatever speed they chose but giving you the wonderful illusion of control. Ocaisionally I started feeling smug that my prodding and clicking noises had finally got Sheru to manage a slow run or to hurry up, when I would see Dhurgan, my 12 year old camel wallah, running along side nudging him with a stick!

We visited the villages, spent the heat of the day resting under trees eating lunch and lounging around on mats chatting, and in the evening made a camp on the dunes, had dinner around a glowing fire with the camel wallahs singing traditional songs and beating out rhythms on the empty water bottles. We slept on thin mattresses under blankets with the unadulterated nights sky above us showing a brilliant array of stars, the odd shooting one briefly flashing by. Canadians in the sand dunesIt was cold, but very cool. The first night we were a big group of Canadians, French, Americans, Spanish, Turkish, Colombians and Brazilian backpackers, giving me a chance to practice my ailing languages a little although Fatim, the Turkish girl was horrified at all the Turkish swear words I knew!

Dhurgan and the camelsThe others were all heading back for the second day leaving Eric (Denver) , Pierre (California) and myself riding Simon the camel, Sheru and Mr India. Mr India, the biggest camel, had the largest balls of all the camels, so large that they swang out from under his tail from side to side as he walked. Following behind him for a few hours I became quite hypnotised by those swinging balls! We had a really peaceful day, swaying along on the top of our steeds, taking in the scenery, low hills, scrub-land and streaks of white cloud radiating out across the horizon. We came back to the dunes that night and were joined by two Taiwanese guys and a couple from Korea. That night we had desert folk songs, Korean children’s songs and Taiwanese music whilst Eric, Pierre and I contributed ‘American Pie’ and ‘She’ll be coming round the Mountain!’The boys, the camel and I

img_8135.JPG By the time we got back to the jeep on the final afternoon it had been great but my bottom and inner thighs had begun to protest, although according to the boys it was far worse for them having had their nuts squashed for the past three days. We got back to Jaisalmer to hot showers and soft beds and I went out for dinner with the boys to have pizza and wine to celebrate being back in civilisation.

Desert skyToday after visiting the network of Jain temples in the fort, Pierre and I set out on a very innocent trip to buy train tickets from the station outside town. Somehow we ended up meeting a group of very entertaining guys staying in the station’s retiring rooms. They invited us in for food and shots of Old Monk, my favourite Indian whisky. After helping them to drink the best part of a bottle Pierre and I decided it was definitely time to leave, getting pissed in the early afternoon is definitely not a good habit. I do have a pretty bad cold at the moment though, so for me the rum is purely medicinal! This is the bizarre and best thing about India, it is so wonderfully unpredictable. One minute you are being poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes in a huge city, the next learning to fly kites on Rajasthani rooftops or sleeping under the stars in the sand dunes; being surrounded by business-hungry touts one second who view you as a walking cash machine and then being welcomed into the poorest family’s home to share their dinner.

where everybody knows your name

My Room at Desert BoysI loved Jaisalmer. From the moment I arrived and fought my way past the rickshaw wallahs that swarmed onto our tourist bus like bees around sugar, and found a gorgeous room with a big wooden bed, window seat and satin cushions, I knew this town and I were going to get along well. Sadly I discovered I had obtained this beautiful room for a ridiculously cheap price as the guy who worked bringing tourists to the guest house was hoping to sleep with me. Something I discovered when I stupidly said he could come to dinner with me on my first night. Thank heaven for the fictional fiancee! I was extremely amused that one, he thought that telling me how easy tourists were and how many women from different countries he’d had sex with would be a turn on, and secondly, the assumption that the only reason I wasn’t inviting him back to my room was because I was engaged. I mean there’s self confidence and then there’s delusion. Boys!

Patwa-Ki-Haveli, JaisalmerMy second day in Jaisalmer was very different, I spent most of it wandering around the streets outside the fort, visiting Havelis (beautiful old 17th and 18th century split level buildings with amazing carvings) and drinking chai with newspaper wallahs, book shop owners, carpet shop owners and playing carambo with the cafe guys in the fort. In fact I literally tea drank my way around the town having some really nice chats along the way. After only two days here I felt that I had met half the people that work in and around the fort!

JaisalmerIn the late afternoon I went up to a viewpoint to watch the sunset and ran into a woman, with her baby, who I’d brought an anklet off a few hours before. I usually ignore all the women selling jewellery as they are pretty aggressive but this girl had seemed really relaxed and friendly without being pushy so we’d got chatting. So running into her again, once the sun had gone down and I’d been pulling faces with her eight month old son Roshan and the local street kids she invited me to have chai and dinner with her family. Usually I’d have been very wary but somehow I got a gut feeling thiswas one time to let down my guard so off I went. Anka (23) lives ina small, immaculately clean mut house just below the viewpoint where all the town musicians live. I spent an hour playing with Roshan, Puja (2) and Prakash (5) whilst AnkaMy new Jaisalmer friends made chai until her husband Surja (25) came home. I had one of the nicest evenings I’ve had in India, looking at their photographs of other tourists they’d invited to their homes, Surja plays all kinds of instruments and had photos opf him touring around the North of India. We had chai, chapati, vegetables and potatoes, drank a tiny snip of whisky and smoked beedis! Then one of Surja’s friends came over and when the children were curled up under a blanket in the corner played sitar music with the lights of the fort twinkling behind them in the open doorway. Really lovely people and just a really relaxing night. At 10.30pm I wandered back towards the fort feeling full of the warmth of human kindness!

brahma blessings from the shiva man

Morning GranolaBreakfast is by far the most important meal of the day. With a good breakfast inside you can go on into the day to achieve anything; scale unreachable heights, conquer unconquerable deeds, well, you get the picture. My friends in Bundi had told me that a morning meal of home-made muesli was a must in the Rainbow Restaurant on the lake in Pushkar. So yesterday, at the rather slovenly hour of 11am, I went in search of the granola holy grail. I was not disappointed, all other muesli pales into paltry comparison to this. Home-made, sun-baked, wonderfully raisin-light, and mixed in with fresh banana, pineapple, papaya, apple and covered in pomegranate seeds, thick curd and a dash of coconut sprinklings. Mmmmmmmmmmmm!

SHiva ManAs I have said many times before, it is often easier to go with the flow in this country rather than try and fight against the current. Thus it was that I got nabbed on my way up to the Brahma temple (one of the few that exist, the godly Brahma apparently angered his first wife who decreed that he would not have any temples built in his name, even in the realms of the omniverse it pays to keep your spouse happy!) This was a supposed “Brahmin priest” although I’m not sure how spiritual the aviator sunglasses were. Anyway I suffered to be lead around the temple, collect lotus flowers and sweets for the offering and then up to the balcony where there was a lot of chanting involved and various blessings. They we went down to sit on a long mat in front of the ghats and washed our hands in the river, threw in the petals and sweets, more chanting and the tieing of red and yellow thread around my wrist (I was trying very hard not to laugh at this point especially as my guide, Shiva, was taking things very seriously!) Then we Morning at the ghatsnegotiated a donation to the temple of 100 rupees for the safe guarding of my immediate family members, this I gave to the man at a desk and was dutifully written a  receipt. Shiva seemed a little disappointed that the well being of my nearest and dearest wasn’t worth a little more money, but I explained in great length the necessities of budgeting for a long trip and he seemed satisfied. I did feel slightly guilty when an hour later I spent four times the amount on an Indian painting. My karma is in for some serious buffeting!

In the afternoon I got deliberatly lost around the charming, and tourist free backstreets of the town, dodging the cows and getting plagued by small boys after the five brightly coloured brand spanking new kites I was carrying. Sadly, it turns out I do not have a  natural apptitude for kite flying. Enlisting the help of the guys in the guest house to get my kites airbourne, I managed to break one kite, lose one over the roof, another to a rival kite and one in the spiky tree. It is so much fun to try though and incredibly skilful. You need to tug the line at the point the nose is facing the way you want to travel, fast tugs gain you altitude inbetween feeding out more line and fast sideways moves allow you to go in for the kill on somebody elses kite! At 3 rupees each I can afford a little more practising!

Bundi, bhang lassis and those dangerous bananas

Waterfall buddiesTravelling in India is like having a schizophrenic lover; at times they are rude, dirty, noisy, confusing, difficult to understand and won’t let you alone for 5 minutes, and just when you think you’d be better off without them, suddenly they become beautiful, enchanting, friendly, welcoming, peaceful and fascinating, and you remember why you loved them in the first place. Currently India is working overtime to get on my good side and it’s definitely working and I’m falling under the spell of Rajasthan.

I finally said farewell to the enchantments of Udaipur and left on an ovRooftops in Bundier-night bus to a smaller town called Bundi. The bus was surprisingly comfortable, a fact marred considerably by the fact that it spent eight hours travelling over the bumpiest roads. Every jolt jarred me awake and by the time I arrived in Bundi at 5am it took me fifteen minutes to get a rickshaw, find a guest house and fall straight back asleep in bed! Bundi palace pantingsWhen I finally awoke about five hours later I went up to a rooftop cafe for a late breakfast and looked up to the imposing facade of the city palace and then down to the small coloured kites and pigeons flying over the dusky blue rooftops of Bundi. It’s a wonderfully quiet and quite untouristic town. I wandered through the markets getting tempted towards the bangle stalls, buying fruit and visiting some of the town’s huge ancient Baoris, ornate water tanks for storing the monsoon rains. I stopped for chai in a little place near the palace called the Elephant Stables and spend an hour learning how to fly the tissue paper kites that are appearing everywhere in the state in preparation for the festival in a weeks time. It’s harder than it looks and before long a rogue kite from the boys next door had hovered into view and snap! They cut through my line and the kite was gone! All the electricity wries and large trees look like Kite graveyards, their victims suspended from the branches. Later on I wandered around the deserted ramshackle city palace with no noise except the gentle cooing of pigeons as I walked around the turrets and explored the pillared rooms. A very sweet old man showed me around the beautiful murals and paintings of the Maharajah and his consorts in rooms behind the palace.

Armed with a stick to ward off the hoards of roaming monkeys I then walked up to the overgrown fort on the hilltop and watched the sunset with a group of four Israelis and an Aussie guy Jason. We got down in the semi dark unmolested, thankfully, by the monkeys. We all had dinner in a cute little cushioned restaurant called Ringos with probably the slowest service in the entire town. As I was within a stone’s throw of my guest house I thought this would be an excellent time to ignore the warnings in the guidebook and try a Bhang lassi. This is a curd based drink and instead of the usual banana addition they make it with marijuana. It looks kind of mottled green and tastes quite nice. I didn’t actually think they were that strong but then again, Ossi and I were in tears laughing about how the waiter was off hunting dangerous bananas for his pancake…you definitely had to be there!

Waterfall near bundi The next day the others had hired a taxi and I followed on a rented scooter with our local 17 year old entrepreneur, Romeo, an hour out of town to reach a waterfall. The roads were almost smooth and virtually traffic free so we sped through green and yellow fields and tiny rural villages, avoiding the odd cow and over the windy hills. The waterfall itself was in a peaceful wooded cleft falling dramatically into a green pool with monkeys scampering over the top and parrots flying between the trees.

Pushkar streetsI left Bundi this morning, driving out past the local chai stalls packed with turbaned guys reading the local papers and occasionally a row of mirrors and chairs in front on a roadside wall with four or five customers having an early morning shave. Five hours later I arrive in the small lakeside town of Pushkar. It’s a peaceful, scenic town slightly marred by the sheer number of guest houses and market stalls, internet cafes and travel shops for the tourists. This is definitely a place people come to grow dreadlocks, wear ridiculous baggy stripy pants, develop facial hair and horror of all horrors, find themselves and get in touch with the grass roots of India. Of course that is made hugely more convenient when you are within stones throw of a Skype headset and a good cappuccino! My guest house, the Hotel Paramount Palace, is lovely though and there is a great rooftop from which I intend to spend tomorrow afternoon honing my kite flying skills!