Summary of India diary entries by Rob Shackleford
Diary Entry 4 – Heading North
Read the other India Diary entries:
Start in Mumbai
Up & Down
Into the Desert
North to Rishikesh
Kathmandu and Home
Day 4 on the road
This morning, at our emergency stop at Jalrapatan, Kyle’s bike magically works. It might have stopped because of something as simple as overheating, so we begin our ride to Kota. It soon sputters and breaks down . We decide to head in the direction of the mechanic when, after a couple of hundred metres, Kyle’s bike dies completely.
True to form, locals swarm to help. We are given the nicest plastic chairs and chai as the local lads gather and chat. One rings the mechanic and we settle to wait. Pictures are taken with my book and I give a wee lad one of Deb’s koalas that she likes to divvy out when we travel. Eventually, a mechanic arrives. The battery smokes and spits, having grown so hot, the cover burns Kyle’s leg. Interim battery replaced, we follow the mechanic and one of his mates to the machine shop. We expected to push the bike there, so are grateful to be helped to a full blown Royal Enfield workshop. They check and fix both bikes while we are treated like celebrities. The whole thing comes to about $60. We were terrified it would be hundreds. They even run the bikes up the steep, gravel slope down which their isolated workshop lays.
While we wait, I strip back my packing. The centre of gravity is too high, making the bike unstable. I decide to leave yoga mats and my pillow. We barely depart for Kota when one of the mechanic team stops us in panic. Sure enough, despite having told them I am leaving the gear, another rides up with the pillow and yoga mats. Kyle has given me such a hard time about carrying so much shit, I have him carry them.
Finally. We ride. The roads are damaged only in limited places so the ride, except for traffic, cows and a big herd of camels, is pretty clear. Our ambitions are minor, for we head to Kota and get to our hotel by about 4pm – a luxury. The reception was an officious little fellow who insisted the paperwork be completed in triplicate, just as we have completed nowhere else. We decide to chill, head to a mall by tuk-tuk, eat a Subway, then buy books by the kilo! One point worth mentioning is that we now cross the insane streets like locals . Nothing seems to worry us. When you have faced down a rampaging red bus and murderous little white cars, a road crowded with bikes seems inconsequential.
I end up buying a delicious street-food sweet dessert that is all noodles, custard and ice-cream. To feed an intermittent habit, Kyle buys a clove cigarette by mistake and nearly dies.
Kota to Jaipur
We pack and leave our Kota hotel before it’s light, to avoid traffic. One of the hazards of riding for so long is that your bum gets so sore. It’s not uncommon to stand while riding, not only to skim over speed bumps and potholes, but to give your butt some relief.
Unlike any other day in India, this day is almost normal. Is it because we’re getting used to the insanity, or is the road settling? At Jaipur we head further north to get to our hotel – Umaid Haveli. Unlike every place we’ve stayed, this has a touch of elegance for the two nights we stay in the ancient city of Jaipur. At under $90 Australian per night for the two of us, we deserve the luxury. The Umaid Haveli is an old Raja summer palace Deb and I visited on a tour last year. I wanted Kyle to have the experience. Okay, it is out of town a bit, and the overfed women guests and the reception looked at our dusty clothes with askance, but the bikes are safe.
What a relief to do some tourist things. We head to the centre of Jaipur, known as the Pink City, and see the impressive old palace of the Hawa Mahal, one of India’s tourist icons.
Wikipedia describes the Hawa Mahal as
“The Palace of Winds” or “The Palace of Breeze”. Made with the red and pink sandstone, the palace sits on the edge of the City Palace, Jaipur, and extends to the Zenana, or women’s chambers. The structure was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the grandson of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur. He was so inspired by the unique structure of Khetri Mahal that he built this grand and historical palace. Its unique five floors exterior is akin to the honeycomb of a beehive with its 953 small windows called Jharokhas decorated with intricate latticework and commonly seen in Rajasthan. The original intent of the lattice design was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life and festivals celebrated in the street below without being seen, since they had to obey the strict rules of “purdah”, which forbade them from appearing in public without face coverings. This architectural feature also allowed cool air from the Venturi effect to pass through, thus making the whole area more pleasant during the high temperatures in summer. Many people see the Hawa Mahal from the street view and think it is the front of the palace, but in reality it is the back of that structure.
After exploring the Hawa Mahal, we stop for the excellent local street food. So far street food has been good to us. We try a few vendors and end up dining at three vendors for a total of for less than $5. Jaipur is a tourist hot spot. The next day, we enlist the services of an electric tuktuk driver. The Amber Fort – or Amer as it is really known – is crowded with tourists, many riding elephants up the road to the front gate. Amer Fort – aften called Amber Fort, is a major attraction for the city and is described by Wikipedia as:
A fort located in Amer. Amer is a town 11 kilometres from Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Located high on a hill, it is the principal tourist attraction in Jaipur. The town of Amer was originally built by Meenas, and later it was ruled by Raja Man Singh I. Amer Fort is known for its artistic style elements. With its large ramparts and series of gates and cobbled paths, the fort overlooks Maota Lake, which is the main source of water for the Amer Palace.
Mughal architecture greatly influenced the architectural style of several buildings of the fort. Constructed of red sandstone and marble, the attractive, opulent palace is laid out on four levels, each with a courtyard. It consists of the Diwan-e-Aam, or “Hall of Public Audience”, the Diwan-e-Khas, or “Hall of Private Audience”, the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over a water cascade within the palace. Hence, the Amer Fort is also popularly known as the Amer Palace. The palace was the residence of the Rajput Maharajas and their families. At the entrance to the palace near the fort’s Ganesh Gate, there is a temple dedicated to Shila Devi, a goddess of the Chaitanya cult, which was given to Raja Man Singh when he defeated the Raja of Jessore, Bengal in 1604. (Jessore is now in Bangladesh).
This palace, along with Jaigarh Fort, is located immediately above on the Cheel ka Teela (Hill of Eagles) of the same Aravalli range of hills. The palace and Jaigarh Fort are considered one complex, as the two are connected by a subterranean passage. This passage was meant as an escape route in times of war to enable the royal family members and others in the Amer Fort to shift to the more redoubtable Jaigarh Fort. Annual tourist visitation to the Amer Palace was reported by the Superintendent of the Department of Archaeology and Museums as 5000 visitors a day, with 1.4 million visitors during 2007. In 2013, Amer Fort, along with five other forts of Rajasthan, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We soon become weary of the crush and head to the battlements across the road. It was a hell of a climb and a great view.
Next is the Monkey Temple. I have visited before and this time the monkey numbers were down. We were told it was because of lack of food. We feed them roasted mung beans and bananas, then receive a blessing from a priest by the main pool.
Rajasthan is unique in India. Not only do the men generally wear turbans and grand mustaches, but the women are more petite and very pretty. Some appear even super-model pretty, with their dark skin and fine features no doubt often due to insufficient food. It highlights how India is a cluster of old kingdoms and peoples, many of whom used to war with each other.
We search for bike gloves, then discuss the many empty miles this trip was going to entail. Without a backup crew and sufficient time, we have to make the best of the limited resources that we have. We decide to take the chance and ship the bikes between Bikaner and Delhi. This afternoon, Kyle cleans the bike chains as I struggle with the on-line train ticket purchase option, but after a few hours it becomes too frustrating.
Tonight we decide to take advantage of some of the luxuries the hotel offers; play some pool and dine on pizza and Indian snacks.
Tomorrow, we head further into Rajasthan to Jodhpur.
Rob Shackleford is author of Traveller Inceptio, published by British publisher, Austin Macauley.
Kyle Shackleford is musician Milo Hunter Band and a Chef.