Nov 2 – 27, 1997
As usual, you can follow along the towns on the web at http://www.expediamaps.com
We drove from Ghorka and crossed the border into India at Sunauli and made it Gorakhpur just after nightfall. Feeling froggy, we decided to try and get on the first train to Delhi and started the process of getting a ticket, thus began another frustrating night. We fought our way to the ticket window and got our tickets and arranged to have the bike shipped as freight. So far, so good. There was a train departing at 10 pm and we were on it. Looking forward to a nights sleep on the train we went to the cargo area and started arranging transport for the bike.
The cargo guy said we could not get our bike on that train. Figuring this meant that a little persuasion would help, I started to work on them and they packed the bike for the trip. The train arrived and Mel got to our cabin and I made sure our bike would get on the same train. Just because train will transport the bike doesn’t necessarily mean this one, or any train in the near future will. You HAVE to make sure it gets on. Once on, it is there to stay. The train is at the station and I go with the cargo guys after pleading for hours to make sure the bike went on THIS train.
Oops, there is a problem. The cargo hold is locked and sealed, until the train reaches Delhi. This means that there will be NO cargo loaded onto this train!! Unfortunately, the locals with customary signs that I was too anxious to read had been relaying this to me all night and were going along with me. It wasn’t until the train started pulling out that I realized the bike was not going. Melissa was already on the train (at the other end) and I ran down the station yelling for her to get off. She heard me and was throwing our luggage off the moving train and jumping off at the last minute. Welcome back to Mother India!!
We found a hotel and went to sleep at about 1 am hoping to get an early start to Lucknow, a rail terminus where the chances of getting our bike loaded were better. The ride there was good, and we saw an amazing site, a herd of deer crossing the road. Amazing because with all the people, deer were still running free. The road offered more of the usual towns and farms, with every inch developed. We started to see wagons being pulled by camels along the road. After a long day of riding and getting lost around Faizabad, we made it to Lucknow after dark. We broke the rule about riding after dark, but I used trucks for cover and rode behind one the whole way to make sure we didn’t hit or get hit by anything.
We found the huge train station at Lucknow and managed to get the bike on the first train to Delhi the next day. We got in too late to get a room at the station and ended up sleeping in the Second Class Sleeper waiting room. This wasn’t too bad and we laid our heads down to rest, but just briefly. Some movement caught my eye, and I noticed there was a bunch of rats scurrying about the room along the walls. Sleeping people and their baggage served as cover as they explored each new bag for food.
Mel fell asleep, but I just couldn’t. I lay there and watched as the rats made their way around the room and sat at the edge of a cleared area wondering if they could make a break for our stuff. When I saw that a rat had mustered sufficient courage to head our way I moved, sending it scurrying for cover. This is how I spent the night.
The next morning we made sure the bike got on before boarding the train. The trick to loading a bike is to get on trains that originate at the Station you are at. Doing this will almost guarantee the bike will load, but as this was India, we made sure. By the time we were half way to Delhi we were riding on the luggage rack above the benches, as the train was full to at least twice capacity. At least we made it.
We met up with Fred and spent a day or two hanging out in the backpacker area of Delhi called Paharganj. We took the bike over to Nanna, who according to Fred is a master mechanic of Enfields. Nanna has quite a business catering to foreigners. People leave their bikes here while they go off to Europe to make money for yet another year in India. He will hold them for as long as you like. He also will rent bikes, run motorcycle tours, and sell them used. He will also do all the little things that make an Enfield run better.
Paharganj is the area of Delhi catering to Backpackers and travelers of all sorts. As we were heading towards Christmas, the Goa crowd was gathering for the big push south. India attracts all sorts and in Paharganj you will find them. If there is a part of the body that can be tattooed, pierced, dyed, or dread locked, this is the place to find it. Freak central. Still, it is a lot of fun hanging out at the cafes watching humanity pour by. Fred introduced us to a bunch of the regulars and we even found a jewelry broker with some beautiful stuff. After a few days resting in Delhi, Fred was off to France and we were heading for Rajastan.
Our plan was to head south to the Sariska wildlife preserve, then through Jaipur, Pushkar, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and returning through Bikaner. Pretty ambitious, but with the bike we were off.
The drive to Sariska was good and we took a back road for some adventure. After almost getting lost (“almost” depends on who you ask) we made it there by nightfall. The Sariska Reserve was pretty upscale, though we stayed in the dormitory. The lodge was built by the British and still looked good though the maintenance had dropped off since ’49. We booked ourselves on the Jeep safari in the morning and had a great dinner in the dining hall.
The Sariska preserve, like most of the others, serve as game parks for the Maharajas. They have a few tigers and lots of other game. We went out after dawn and drove the dirt roads all around the park. We didn’t see any tigers, but we did see some tiger tracks and a bunch of different species of deer, antelope, and the feared and dreaded monkey. All in all, an excellent 4 hrs spent. Once we got back we were off for Jaisalmer and the annual camel fair. We made it to Jaipur by nightfall. The next day we were off to Pushkar.
We had heard that Pushkar was a bit of a zoo, so we got a room at a government hotel in the nearby village of Ajmer. We went to Pushkar for dinner. The Pushkar camel fair is set on a date on the lunar calendar. This year the fair started Nov 11. The fair is amazing. Tribesmen come from all over the Thar Desert to trade camels, and whatever they have. It is a true spectacle. We thought it would be overrun with tourists, but really there weren’t too many. I guess the place is no longer fashionable. Unfortunately the Indian Government is not aware of this, as they had built an entire tent village to house the expected hoards.
Anyway, the town of Pushkar isn’t much, though the lake is a sacred place. The tribesman and camels camp out on the outskirts in the nearby plain. Standing on a hill, they stretch out to the horizon. There are camel rides, saddles, bridles, and other sundry items for the Camel trade, but most of all it is the sight of camels and turbaned tribesman stretching to the horizon that you come here to see. We spent a few days observing it all before pushing on to Jaisalmer.
The road to Jaisalmer went through Jodhpur were we stopped to tour the Fort Meherangarh. The fort is an impressive sight built on a hill overlooking the city. When you think of Arabian nights, this is the sort of place you see. The walls rise up out of the rock forming an imposing exterior. It would be hard to take this place, though the cannon holes in the side testify to attempts. One of the more interesting monuments is the memorial of the Sati marks left by the wives of Maharaja Man Singh’s 15 widows.
Sati is an act of suicide where the widows of a man are burned on his funeral pyre. The British outlawed this and to this day women are technically not allowed to attend funerals of their husbands. In fact, there were a few women (not his wives, but sympathizers) who tried to commit Sati on Gandhi’s funeral pyre. Old habits are hard to leave.
Rajastan is home to the Rajputs, a proud people who are fierce warriors, living under a code of chivalry. They have always been known as such and were asked by Akbar to lead his armies. Rajputs would fight against insurmountable odds and if all hope was lost, Jauhar would be declared. Jauhar called for the suicide of all the towns’ women and children. The men would then go into battle to the death with nothing to lose!! One city, Chittorgarh, declared Jauhar three times in its long history.
After a day in Jodhpur we were off for Jaisalmer and camel safaris. We decided to take the “short way” through Osian. The road was pretty good and we were making time but wanted to make Jaisalmer by nightfall so we weren’t stopping. Big mistake. We drove within a stones throw of the temples at Osian but didn’t stop. In return for not paying our respects, we ended up with a flat tire. Next stop the “puncture wallah”. We ended up repairing the puncture about three times on the way to Jaisalmer. Once we got back to Costa Mesa we attended a lecture from a tour company talking about India. The tour director told a similar tale of trying to make time and not stopping at Osian. He too got a flat tire for his disrespect!
Fortunately we made it to Jaisalmer as night fell. You know it is amazing how much longer travel takes when you are in a hurry. Not to mention all the great things you miss along the way. My best advice is to find a place to go and stay there. There will be plenty to see if you start looking.
Jaisalmer is a beautiful city with a spectacular fort in the center. The fort is big enough to house a small city and you can get hotel rooms in there at one of the many hotels. We stayed outside as we figured there might be limited parking. We were wrong of course but that was easily remedied. Inside the fort the city twists and turns around narrow passages, just big enough for a motorcycle. We had most of our meals outside the fort, but there was one special restaurant that was inside where we got a table on a window that hung over the walls of the fort and provided a birds eye view of the town. We pined away a few afternoons seated on the cushions of that window.
The scenery is grand, but the reason people come to Jaisalmer is to go on camel safaris into the desert. We were no exception. Lo and behold one day riding down the road I saw once again our friend Tamara. Travelers all seem to hit the same points in the road and ours crossed no less than 4 times so far. We first met Tamara at Angkor in Cambodia. The next time was in Xian, China, again in Pushkar, and now here. She told us of a safari she was going on and how there were a few extra places. The next day we joined their group and got a room in the fort. The bike was kept in the courtyard of the hotel while we were out.
Our Safari had about 10 travelers and we formed a good group to travel with. One of our number was actually from Oak Ridge, TN. We had a great time and the ride was pretty good. We were sitting on all our gear, so there were no saddle sores. The camels are a sight to see up close. They are very expressive and come with all sorts of faces. Some have big bushy eyebrows, and others are sleek. They all look rather mournful and aren’t exceedingly friendly. I rode mine and kept my distance from teeth and sputum.
The ride is supposed to last 2 nights and you go “out” into the desert. Most likely we were 2 mi from town, but it doesn’t really matter, as we couldn’t tell the difference. We stopped at an old abandoned village one day and spent a while exploring. All that was left of the homes were neatly stacked stones that the mud had long ago worn away from. It was rather eerie, as it looked either very old, or partially constructed. The only structure that remained was a small temple.
That night we camped on some sand dunes. About the time we got off our camels, along comes a guy from nowhere with a cooler of sodas for sale. A Pepsi or Limca cost 10 Rs. I had some rum so we were buying. It is so much like the Indians to have something like this in the middle of nowhere. If you want something, just wait and someone will be by to sell it to you.
After the Safari we had to get back to Delhi to fly out of India. It took us two days of hard riding, but we made it back. In Delhi we arranged to sell our motorcycle and our plane tickets home. We got $1000 USD for the bike, and spent a bit more than that on the ticket home. After some last minute shopping for gifts, we were off. Our last memory was of a man at the bus station for the airport bus. He appeared penniless and was hanging around. We talked to him for a few minutes, but communicated little more than hello. As we left we gave him the rest of a bunch of bananas. His face just lit up as he bade us farewell. We miss him too.
Well the saying goes that if you got to India for less than a month you will hate it, and more than a month you will fall in love. We had two doses of 1 month each and have started to fall in love with the place. On the surface it is a crazy place. Poverty, filth, bureaucracy, beggars, etc, abound. Once you get past this you come face to face with the spirit of the people. Many people believed that India was the spiritual center of the world. Stay here long enough and you will know why. The people are the most maddening and amazing we have met along the way. No matter how bad their condition, there was always a smile on their face. We have a lot to learn from such people.
Will we ever return? I sure hope so. There is so much that we haven’t seen, so many people we haven’t met. We would love to go back and get a jeep or another motorcycle and ride south to Goa and beyond. We would also like to travel up north to Leh and Manali. So many places, and time just keeps rolling on. What to do?