Summary of India diary entries by Rob Shackleford
Diary Entry 5 – Into the Desert – Jaipur to Jodhpur
Read the other India Diary entries:
Start in Mumbai
Up & Down
Into the Desert
North to Rishikesh
Kathmandu and Home
We are up early and, for fun, are photographed in the beautifully decorated reception lounge of the Umaid Haveli Hotel in Jaipur. Most places we have stayed to date don’t even have a reception lounge, and sometimes barely a reception.
As we cut across the south of the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, it is a long, dry run. The highways is very good and there are a lot of trucks. Mid-way, we stop to make a small video for my friend, Steve’s, birthday. I had expected to do much more, but time just got away from us.
It becomes very hot, even in the winds of travel. Kyle takes off his jacket. In the dry heat, we have to beware of being sunburned. Finally, we get to amazing old city of Jodhpur, but have a difficult time finding the Cosy Guest House as it is nestled in tiny alleyways in. The alleys are ancient and designed for pedestrian use, being so narrow they can barely even allow us access on our bikes. Raw sewage flows in a channel while mongrel dogs lounge in the garbage. It is both amazingly exotic and confronting. After we eventually park, we struggle up steep flights of stairs with our bags and saddle bags before we get to our accommodation.
Alas, the room I booked with two beds is not available. This happens too often in India when I book through Booking.com. I am compelled to purchase another room for Kyle; a tiny, airless room so high up a skinny flight of stairs it almost gives nose bleed. But we are so tired, we don’t care. Riding for so long can be exhausting, especially in India where the traffic impediments and constant risk of accident make the kilometres past so slowly.
Once settled, we walk to the Ghanta Gar – or Clock Tower, a landmark in the heart of the market district of Old Jaipur, to find an agent who can organise train tickets. No success. Maybe it is because we are to ship the bikes. We are scammed by the bigger of the spice shops, where we buy teas and spices, then are accosted by a cunning scammer by the name of Asil. He claims to have studied Law in Australia and has a baby there. As he proudly shows off images of his baby daughter on his phone, he promises to have our problems solved and will take us to the train station tomorrow.
Our tiny, non-air-conditioned rooms are not worth hanging in. Kyle’s room is like an eyrie. We have dinner after a few beers. The view is fabulous as the old Mehrangarh or Mehran Fort in shines in the moonlight.
Jodhpur day 2
Asil is a shady little fellow. He organises his associate tuk-tuk driver to take us to the White Temple – a tourist spot that is really not that interesting. On the way back we pick him up to find he is still in the same clothes as yesterday, only now his ankle is injured from a bike accident he experienced after a drinking bout. He reeks of alcohol, but we are still convinced need his help with the train tickets.
At the Jodhpur Train Station he immediately falls foul of the lady at the tiny ticket window for tourists. Maybe he is trying to impress us, but he is loud and demanding. Having trusted him to manage the process for us, we soon discover him to be an impediment. I have to take over, but as I approach the counter, other passengers simply push in. This is a process perfected in India. People never wait their turn. In the end, I have to lean forward with my elbows fanned to prevent disturbance, only to have a hand with cash thrust between my ear and shoulder as a voice yells out a request. To my surprise, the strategy works as they are served even as I am speaking.
The ticket seller is plainly irritated at Asil and implies that our friends are not of the highest quality. In the end, we purchase tickets from Bikaner to Rishikesh, then to Delhi, Delhi to Varanasi and Varanasi to Mumbai. All sleepers. We know we’ll still have a lot of weary kilometres of riding ahead of us, but hope to reduce the empty distances without compromising seeing places we want to see. On top of this we can sleep on the train, so reduce the number of hotels we stay in. With the low costs, the highly organised Indian train travel seems to make sense.
As per our promise, we head to the shop Asil claims is his, to find he is barely welcome. I buy Deb a desired elephant hanging for the yoga room. It is a design she has wanted for years. I immediately organise a courier, somehow avoid Asil and head off. We have to pay off the tuktuk driver. He was stung by police for driving the wrong way on the road. If the police were sincere about that offence, they would be kept busy on that one infraction for months. He seemed enormously relieved that we paid him at all, for Asil seems to scam all around him. An excellent samosa shop then beckons. It is very popular and sells not only samosas, but also the coated and deep fried chillies. The guy preparing the food seems thrilled and flattered that we want to take his picture.
To the Mehrangarh Fort, where the impressive old fort that looms over Jodhpur, which was once the centre of the Marwar kingdom. There are the usual weapons rooms with giant guns and intricate weapons that bludgeon, slice and chop, an obsession we still glorify. Traditional musicians play their drums and dance with view of Jodhpur, the blue city as a background.
Rob Shackleford is author of Traveller Inceptio, published by British publisher, Austin Macauley.
Kyle Shackleford is musician Milo Hunter Band and a Chef.