Everyone loves a long weekend, right? Last week, eight of us Tare took a vacation from our "vacation" (working in India) and capitalized on Shiva's birthday, heading further north to explore the wonders of India. We touched down the first night in the super fancy New Delhi airport, however didn't stay long as our mini bus was waiting for us just outside. Hiring a car and driver is a fairly common way to travel here and surprisingly cost efficient. It also makes for an entertaining ride -- the Bollywood tunes were pumping into the night as we made the four hour journey to Agra. Even in the dark, the sights along the way were amazing. Sleepy little villages right next to massive, lit up temples and industrial parks or colleges. At about one o'clock in the morning we pulled over at a random little stand, that was not much more than a tin shed on the side of the road, and had freshly made chai while someone slept bundled up on a cot in another tin shed. Despite arriving at our hotel in the wee hours of the morning, we still managed to get up early enough to enjoy breakfast in the roof top restaurant and have a full day exploring the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. It's hard to put into words what the Taj is like, so I'll show you a photo instead:
It's a pretty amazing building from far away and the closer you get the more you are able to appreciate the details and craftsmanship that went into this marble monument to love. The story goes that after the Taj Mahal was completed, Shah Jahan had the hands of all the workers cut off so that they could never build anything as spectacular again. I don't know, maybe that's just an urban legend... Either way, it's size and solidity are indeed remarkable.
Our drive back to Delhi was more eventful than expected -- about an hour into the drive something blew in the engine preventing us from going any faster than 40km/hr. Now, many people might be frustrated at the slow pace (the rickshaws and horse-driven carts behind us for example) but I found it to be a great blessing. Instead of whirring past things at crazy Indian speed, we were able to have a leisurely, scenic tour of the villages and countryside we'd passed only two nights before. Rural India is something to treasure and I wish we'd had the opportunity to spend more time exploring this laid back part of the country. The tranquility was gone as we approached Delhi late in the afternoon...
Exploring the Main Bazaar in the Paharganj area of the city on a Friday night was an adrenaline rush and gave me many opportunities to fine tune my bartering skills. :) Another early morning departure for the first of three long train journeys and my introduction to the Indian Railway system. We're on our way to the deserts of Rajasthan! I love riding trains and wish I had the opportunity to ride them more often; it was one of my favourite things about living in England and travelling through Europe. Indian trains are quite different, especially if you go the way of the regulars and experience Sleeper Class. Despite the steady flow of people getting on and off, and lack of closed compartments, I had a decent amount of sleep on the overnight journey from Jaipur to Jaisalmer.
I attribute this mainly to the lovely pashmina blanket I bought at a shop in Jaipur which shielded me from the wind. I am also thankful for Bec and her jasmine oil which, when dabbed on a scarf, helps to diffuse the horrid smells at the stations. Sadly, I can never use this scent again...
The excitement was building as we arrived in Jaisalmer, ready to begin our desert safari and camel trek. At this point, I'd like to give a shout out to Trotters Independent Travels, the best place in Rajasthan for authentic non-touristy camel trekking ("Unique Safaris from Half Day to 21 Days). The only other people we saw on our whole trek were across the sand dunes at least 5km away.
By far, the camel trek was the best part of this trip. I have done a lot of camping in my life but nothing compares to waking up in the desert to fresh chai after being tucked into bed the night before by your desert guides, with a vast sky of stars to put you to sleep.
Two hours of riding on a camel is more than enough at a time. I think I may still have some bruising. But, my camel Lilyia and my young guide Rohit were pleasant company. If it weren't for the occasional ring of a mobile phone, it was like I'd travelled back in time 2,000 years.
Our three Rajasthani desert men were fantastic guides. Their campfire chapatis and dal were the best I've had to date and we were all mesmerized by their traditional stories and songs.
But alas, all great holidays must come to an end. After 6 crazy days it was time to come home to Sangam.