Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Road to Mandawa.....Bikaner and the Rat Temple

No extra charge for sitting on the roof

The long drive from Delhi comes to an end and we check in to the Mandawa Heritage Hotel. 

Mandawa Heritage Hotel. 

Mandawa's claim to fame these days is a few remaining old mansions, or known locally as Haveli's.  

Typical Mandawa street scenes.

Today it looks a scruffy little village, but look past the dust and grime and goats and donkeys and camels and rubbish and poop and decay and public urination, and it's obvious this was once a highly prosperous town on the historic silk route. 

One of many Haveli under restoration.

With their multiple wives and scores of children the successful merchants and entrepreneurs of this golden era built grand Haveli's to display their status and accommodate their continually growing families.  The elaborate interior and exterior artworks and fresco's on these impressive buildings are still clearly evident .

Frescoes adorn every surface.

After a tour of the Havelis and a comfortable night in our old mansion we hit the road for Bikaner.

Onward to Bikaner

Spending time with our private driver gives us the opportunity to discuss a wide and varied range of subjects.  Along the drive today Rakesh explains that "the Indian womans are very expensive and have too much dresses".  I suggest to him that we also have this big problem in Australia.  Rakesh gives the appropriate little Indian head wobble as if to acknowledge that the whole "womans and dresses" thing may be an international phenomena.  Glancing at Robyn, the body language suggests to me that this subject will be discussed further in the privacy of our hotel room later.

Laxmi Palace not far from our humble hotel.

Sagar Hotel in Bikaner is our home for the next 2 nights.  Large comfortable rooms with views to the stunning red sandstone Laxmi Palace. 

Robyn enjoying Bikaner streetlife.

Bikaner is the major Asian centre for camel research and development and camels are almost as common in the streets as buses.  Robyn is now a big fan of these proud looking beasts, impressed by their quiet dignity (until they open their mouths and bellow and growl).

Silly old codger reminiscing of bygone days, wind through the hair.....

I decide to treat Robyn to a trip to the nearby Rat Temple.

Robyns lack of visible enthusiasm is disappointing but we push on regardless.  Through the beautifully carved white marble entrance and heavy silver doors we are confronted by thousands of rats scurrying around living the good life.  Drinking from large bowls of milk and devouring offerings provided by the excited pilgrims.  

Now that's a wok. Preparing rat lunch

Rakesh explains the mob of people cramming into a small hot alcove are hopeful of sighting the lucky white rat that usually lives there.  Alas, we are not so lucky today.  

Eventually Robyns apprehension eases and confides she had visions of dog size rats bulldozing through the excited crowd but in reality the temple rats are quite small.

Our regular travel companions, Paul and Robyn Barrett will appreciate the significance of us visiting this holy rat place as we have shared some close encounters of the rodent kind during previous travels together.

The Rat Temple may not have lived up to Robyns high expectations but I'm sure this will be another valued experience she can tick off her bucket list.

 Janagarh Fort

From grand forts and palaces to camels and Rat Temples, Bikaner has it all for the discerning traveller.

Bikaner sunset

Saturday, 27 October 2012

On the rough road again

"Poor Robyn...which 3rd world cesspit is she being dragged off to this time....and when will her lousy mongrel husband take her on a real holiday?"    Questions that many of our doubting friends will be pondering as I continue to bare the unfair reputation of subjecting my lovely, long suffering wife to yet another less than salubrious holiday destination.

Our latest "exotic" adventure sees us travelling to Rajasthan in India's north west .  This 3 week circuit through "The Land of the Kings" will have us travelling from New Delhi, then west in the direction of the Pakistan border, before turning south and returning to the Indian capital via the Taj Mahal, all the while taking in the sights, smells, camels, deserts, forts, colours, elephants, foods and much more along the way.

With my highly developed Luddite computer ability, a little perseverance and patience we will be attempting to maintain our first on line travel blog, so hopefully you will be able to follow and enjoy our latest cesspit/exotic adventure.

But first....back to Banga's

With no direct flight from Brisbane to New Delhi we're more than happy to take the opportunity for a 30 hour stopover and return to Bangkok, our favourite Asian city,   We've been fortunate to visit this lively city on numerous occasions and we never tire of the buzz, energy, food and smiles of this amazing place.

mmm what'll it be, roasted grasshoppers or chillied frogs gonads?

With only a relatively short stopover, we bypass our usual little guesthouse in the old district of Banglamphu and decide to stay out of town and closer to the airport.  The Cottage Hotel turns out to be a great choice for us with refreshing pool, quiet location, near to markets, restaurants, street foods and Chang beer (can't think of anything else we would need).

Flight to Delhi

After departing Bangkok we enjoy a comfortable 4 hour Jet Airways flight until we descend in to Delhi and are subjected to flight attendants spraying the cabin with bug spray.  Haven't been through this type of procedure for over 20 years.  I guess we wouldn't want to bring undesirable contaminants into the pristine Indian environment.

Queue at immigration and watch and wait as the universally humourless airport officials look blankly at their unresponsive computer terminals.  Just our luck, the airport is experiencing a computer outage and we all know what happens when "computer says no".  Finally, endless queues start moving and Mr Happy processes us and we are cleared into India.

Departing the arrivals hall we are greeted by a sea of pleading beaming faces as we search for our prearranged driver hopefully carrying a placard bearing our name.  Despite the said placard being rolled up in his hand, we eventually recognised his smiling face from a photo and he recognised my bald head from a previous description.  After a brief greeting Rakesh Yadav whisks us away in his comfortable Toyota Innova and within 30 minutes we have checked into our New Delhi lodging the Aashiyan B&B.

Robyn with Rakesh outside Aashiyan B&B, Delhi

With Mrs Kiran Singh at the Aashiyan we complete more  government required paperwork including photocopy's of passports, visas, another separate passport photo, fathers particulars etc etc.

Later that evening after walking the streets of our south Delhi suburb in search of suitable spicy cuisine, we return home to relax and get to know our hostess- Kiran.  A lovely Indian lady with a large brick, marble and teak family home, now with children moved away she has a few spare rooms available and as Tripadvisor will attest, makes a great place to base yourself whilst in the India capital.

Robyn a with fellow guest Sylvia, being welcomed by Kiran at Aashiyan B&B.

We were pleasantly surprised with the greenery and atmosphere of Delhi and easily filled a couple of days sightseeing here.

Following another superb breakfast at Kirans we depart Delhi for Mandawa in the north west.   After negotiating a couple of hours of chaotic Delhi traffic we ease into the slightly less chaotic traffic of the countryside.  Rakesh's home village is along the way and he generously offers a lunch break to meet his wife and 3 water buffalo.  

His comfortable rural home adjoins his 3 uncles and 2 brothers abodes.  With his status as a buffalo owner, he and his extended family are doing nicely in this poor community.

Madhu's photo removed at Rakeshs request

Rakesh's wife Madhu in her humble kitchen.

Rakesh reveals that for today's lunch Madhu has collected the sticks for the fire, ground and prepared the wheat floor for chapati, cooked a magnificent vegetable curry and dahl, milked the buffalo and brewed a delicious chai masala.  I really should review Robyn's duty statement!
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