|Final Statistics: Alex & Maz||Total distance: 93,550km|
|Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ||Now settled in Sydney, Australia|
|Final Statistics: Martin||Total distance: 79,698km|
|Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia||Now settled in Bristol, UK|
Where do I collect my Equity Card?
India, Country 15, Diary entry 5-15th Jan 2006, Total distance in India: 7064 KM
The next instalment from Damien’s adventures in India with the team
On the way to the desert we came across a section of road which could only be described as motorway. Compared to the usual pot-holed, single track road we were used to it was a veritable feast of driving. Decent speed, multi lanes and no ox carts to crash into! It was however, too good to be true and only lasted about 100km before changing back into smaller roads. The drive was relatively uneventful, that is until Maz decided to run over a sheep. I guess she didn’t actually decide to run it over, but it happened all the same and I’m fairly sure that the sheep didn’t care about intent. She seemed quite shocked and unsure what to do, until Alex said, “Carry on driving. I don’t think they like people running over their sheep”. We drove through and marked it on the GPS so we could avoid the village on the way back. Maz was a bit shaken up so Alex took over driving for a while. Within minutes of him taking over, there was a loud thud as a sparrow hit the windscreen and tumbled over the car. Not quite as impressive as a sheep, but with 2 animals within 30 minutes the road-kill total was starting to mount up.
We arrived in the desert city of Jaisalmer about 4pm. It was described in the guide books as “a vision from Arabian nights” with its golden yellow sandstone ramparts rising out of the desert. We were not disappointed. It looked truly beautiful as we drove towards it across the desert. We entered the fort area of the town and decided to go for a drink and watch the sun go down over the city. I think it was at this point that I decided a 3 night induction to bush camping was enough, and that I’d quite fancy a hotel (and a shower!). We found a couple of hotel choices in the lonely plant guide and went for a look. The first was nothing special and the staff seemed particularly unfriendly so we moved on.
The second place we looked at was far better. It was an old haveli style residence which had just been renovated. The owners’ son showed us around and then the bartering started. Maz did the majority of the bargaining, and managed to get the price down to the prices in the guidebook which was at least 3 years old! I was impressed with her style. He was obviously well practised in this art, but Maz still managed to give him a run for his money. Then for a very nice hot shower (well, at least for Alex and I. Maz may have had to have had a cold one as we seemed to have used up all the hot water! Sorry). Then time for dinner. A taster of things to come for Maz & Alex; we tucked into Thukpa & momo’s.
The following day we explored the city. It was a real breath of fresh air, the streets weren’t lined with beggars and there seemed to be less people about to stare and gawp at us. The people were much friendlier than we had found in previous towns. The city was tidy, and there wasn’t an open sewer to be seen. We wandered around the city for a while and then returned to the car, when we were asked to move the car as a V.I.P was coming to the city. After much debate with the local police/army, we had to admit that we were probably not the VIPs they were waiting for (although we thought we should be) and moved the car. The cities guest turned out to be the ex-prime minister of India, with heavily armed guards. We continued our tour of the city and visited some Jain temples. The Jains are a very small branch of the Hindu religion and have 7 temples in close proximity within the Jaisalmer fort walls, all of which are very ornate and immaculately carved. We paid some of the draconian camera taxes (which seemed to be a feature of anywhere you visited) and went for a look round. They were quite amazing structures, although I’m sure I missed the significance of most of the carved icons due to a lack of deeper understanding of the Hindu religion.
The following day was an early start for our camel trek. We had to be at the city gates for 7.30am to meet our guide. Apparently it must have been 7.30am Indian time, so when it got to 8.30am, Maz and I went to the office to see what was happening. As we got there, the other people on the trek were just finishing their breakfast and getting ready to head off. There had obviously been some confusion when we had booked the trip as the organisers tried to give us a guide to put in the car. As there was hardly space for me in the car, there was absolutely no way we were going to be able to fit in another person as well! After about half an hour of slightly heated discussions, they agreed we could follow the other jeep into the desert and would proceed from there.
After about an hours drive into the desert we stopped by some camels. As we were not supposed to be following this jeep originally, they weren’t our camels, but there was someone there to take us to wait for our ride. He took us to the house of the owner of the company. The owners family was there sitting round a fire. Only one of them spoke English, but they all made us feel very welcome. We sat round the fire and waited for the camels to arrive as they made us a cup of chai. Alex was amazing the children by taking digital photos and showing them pictures of themselves, while the man who spoke English, (he was to be our guide for the day), explained that women the world over are the same - two of his female relatives were loudly chatting in the corner. The camels arrived after about 45mins.
We set off into the desert on our new rides. Slightly less comfortable than the car, but a hell of a lot more spacious (at least for me). There were three extra people accompanying us. The boy who had brought the camels, the English speaker from the family and an old man from the family who was constantly smoking something from a pipe (we didn’t ask what) while carrying an old flint riffle. It took a little while to get used to riding the camels, but got easier with time. We trekked across the desert for about 3 hours until we reached some sand dunes. The camels were tethered as the male that Alex was riding was on heat and kept running after the females, we then settled down for lunch and to explore the sand dunes whilst the old man went off to hunt some deer with his antiquated riffle. He wasn’t successful.
After lunch we had a little afternoon nap in the sun, which was extremely pleasant, except for the sand beetles which suddenly appeared and started crawling up our trouser legs. We started heading back – slightly slower than anticipated as my camel stopped to eat anything it possibly could on the way. The sun was starting to set giving a beautiful orange glow across the sky and the desert suddenly became very chilly. By the time we got back to base the sun was almost down and we were all walking as if we were John Wayne. God knows how people manage 5 days/nights on a camel.
We set off to find camping in the desert. Alex had marked a spot on the GPS when we were in the desert that looked suitable for camping, so we followed the satellite over the sands. In the middle of nowhere we spotted some wood so stopped and started sawing it up. As if by magic some locals appeared, they didn’t speak any English but their body language and facial expressions were easily readable. I believe a rough translation would be “What the hell are you doing with a car in the middle of the desert, miles away from any roads, nicking my wood!??”. We smiled sweetly, finished sawing our chunk of wood and drove off in search of our camp. We spent the next few days in our idyllic desert retreat until heading off to Jodhpur.
During our time in the desert, we did manage another camel ride when 2 men passed our camp. Very friendly with one having some English, we gave them some chai while each of us entertained them by getting on the camel. It was only been a couple of days since our trek and it was like reopening old wounds as we took our seats! I also had the treat of experiencing the true OLUW bush camp and after 2 days away from the comfort of the hotel, I had a bush shower. Nervous at first as I wasn’t too sure what to expect, I’d had my instructions on how to use it and in I went! Or rather, round the other side of the car to where Maz & Alex were. Much better than I had imagined, with the water being warm, more than a dribble which I had experienced in one of hotels along the trip and the added bonus of having a great view of the desert while taking it!
Entering Jodhpur was like a smack in the face. After spending a very peaceful few days in the desert we were suddenly thrown back into open sewers, copious amounts of beggars, dirt and lots of noise. We found a place to camp for the evening before going out for dinner. I wasn’t particularly happy with our camping spot as it looked very military. Not sure what gave me that impression - maybe the barbed wire surrounding the land, maybe the big radar dishes on the top of the hill surrounded by lots of buildings, who knows. Maz and Alex assured me we’d have no problems, and we didn’t.
The next day we went to explore the city and look round the Meherangarh fort. The fort is an amazing building high on the mountainside, giving a spectacular view of the blue city below. Included in the entrance fee was an audio tour to explain the fort as you wandered round. This was much better than getting a guide as you could do the tour at your own pace and didn’t have to question the quality of the information provided, as often occurred with the local guides. After we left the fort we went on a mission to find some food. We couldn’t find anything suitable so decided to leave the city before dark and get on the road. As we were heading off we saw a pizza hut on the side of the road, screeched to a halt and decided to grab some food there. A poor show I realise, but we had eaten nothing but curry for well over 2 weeks now and all fancied something different. Full of pizza and very satisfied, we set off on the road to Udaipur, and for another night of camping.
The next day we arrived in Udaipur fairly late so found a hotel and went to watch the sunset over the mountains. We found a little place called sunset terrace, situated on the side of a hill overlooking Lake Pichola. In the middle of the lake was a floating palace. Not actually floating obviously, but looked that way. Apparently it was the palace used in the James bond film Octopussy. This was obviously the city’s main claim to fame as many of the budget hotels (not ours I hasten to add, we’ve got much more class than that!) had nightly showings of the film. The hotel we found was pleasant enough and even had a swimming pool. We could only get 2 rooms rather then our usual one with three beds, although I’m sure this was a relief for Alex after spending over 2 weeks in very close proximity to me and my feet (Maz could deal with it, family and all).
The next day we went for a trip round the city palace followed by a boat tour around the lake, incorporating one of the lake palaces. Unfortunately it wasn’t the bond palace, which was reserved for people paying ludicrous amounts of money (at least £25, which is expensive for India) for a meal there. Whilst travelling on the boat we noticed some locals washing their clothes by putting them in the river and beating them with sticks. We were in the middle of wondering how they managed to get their clothes clean in this semi green water when we suddenly realised that before leaving we had put our clothes into the hotel for washing, and that there was a reasonably high possibility that they were currently being washed by the people we were watching.
However, the clothes were returned as clean as I get them at home. The evening was spent at a restaurant by the side of the lake watching my final picturesque sunset whilst eating the nicest food we had found so far in India, before going to a traditional Indian dance show. The show was, well, interesting. Acts included a man with a puppet, from which the head was detachable and danced independently of the body, and possibly the least attractive woman I’ve ever seen balancing as many pots on her head as possible. All the acts tried very hard though, and it was at least an entertaining evening
The drive to Mumbai took about two days. After camping one night, we retraced our tracks to the road only to get a thorn in the tyre. When Alex tried to pull it out a hiss of air followed so he quickly put it back in the hole – there were a few expletives as you can imagine before we carried on our way. When we arrived in the city it was as crazy as all the cities I had seen. We searched round for a hotel for several hours until we returned to the first hovel we had found. Unfortunately, the owner didn’t seem to appreciate the fact that we had gone to look at other hotels so now refused to let us have the room, so off again we went to search. On our way round the hotels, we were approached by two guys; Price and Jackie. They said they worked for a film company and were looking for western people to be extras in their movie the following day. After a quick discussion we decided that we had done enough sightseeing recently and a quick stint as a film star would be a welcome break. We were slightly dubious, as all the guidebooks said that there were lots of con-artists about, but we provisionally agreed to meet them in the morning. We found a hotel for the night and got some sleep (we had to look our best for the big screen!).
In the morning we went to meet them at the agreed location and headed off for the set. We obviously had no idea how to get there so had to try and squeeze 4 people into the land-cruiser. This was not the easiest of tasks and ended up with Maz and I both in the front seat on top of each other. After about an hour and two dead legs later we arrived at the hotel where the filming was taking place. It was on a very nice beach and seemed quite a relaxed environment.
We were ushered into wardrobe and handed some very nice suits to wear. I don’t know if the directors think this is how we usually dress, or whether they just like the ritual humiliation, but the clothes were awful! Alex and I had some lovely 1980’s nylon suits (which didn’t fit) with just as hideous shirts, and Maz had a very fetching skirt suit (which is actually the smartest I have ever seen her dress!). They didn’t seem to care about footwear however, so we were all dressed up yet still wearing our sandals.
Lots of the day was spent sitting around waiting for people to call you, but this had been anticipated so we had taken some cards with us. The scenes we were involved in were action packed, including a bit of chanting “shame” at some actors and an occasional bit of authentic dancing. After the day had finished, we headed back to the centre of town (which included crashing into a rickshaw and a low bridge, 3-1 to Alex) and went to spend our hard earned wages from the day on a good meal.
The next day we had to get up early in order to get to the airport on time. It was lucky that we gave ourselves plenty of time, as when we tried to exit the city centre every road was blocked. Apparently it was the Mumbai marathon this morning and roads were going to be closed for several hours. We drove to several blockage points and eventually found a friendly policeman who agreed that we could pass through and helped us move the barricades. We reached the airport in plenty of time so went for some breakfast before checking in. I was a bit worried about my weight limit as I was taking home what seemed to be most of the contents from their car.
A plan was devised for me to palm my hand luggage to either Maz or Alex whilst I argued about the rest of the weight, then pick up the bag and carry it through without the airway realising. However, these things never go as panned and as we were walking into the terminal Alex was stopped as he didn’t have a ticket for a flight. We tried to explain that they were just helping me carry my bags but the armed guards were having none of it. As Alex was causing a distraction arguing his case, Maz managed to slip around them without them noticing. We checked in my bags, they didn’t even batter an eyelid at the 26kgs I’d packed, and returned to the door where Alex was surrounded by 3 guards, guns half raised being told that they didn’t want to have to remove him by force! He saw us exit so did the same with 10kgs of hand luggage waiting for me to take on board.
We said our goodbyes and then I was on my way back to England. I was very sad to be leaving, but was definitely looking forward to a couple of things: a hot, powerful shower; a big steak dinner; a comfortable bed and a bit of rest to recover before I had to return to work. An amazing holiday in the constant adventure that is currently the life of Maz and Alex. Cheers guys!
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|Comment from Jim & Barbara|
|It was great to see the 'amateur' movie stars in action - particularly liked the footwear! The photo of the three of you in 80's suits will haunt you in the future!|
|13 Mar 2006 @ 16:33:59|