15.12.2009 - 18.12.2009
We arrived in Bikaner after our first overnight sleeper bus which was incredibly uncomfortable as we bounced into the air each time we hit a bump (so every minute or so) and thudded back on to the rock hard "bed." Bikaner is in the middle of the Thar desert - miles and miles of sand and scrubby trees.
We went for a guided walk with Gouri, our guesthouse owner which was really good - and a change from forts and palaces. He showed us the women panning the filthy drain water for tiny pieces of precious metals from the local jewellery shops, we would have had no idea what they were doing and big tables where literate people used to read the papers to illiterate people in the mornings and play cards in the evenings:
We also saw this mural of gypsy women who were driven out from Bikaner after independence because they used to drink, kiss and marry each other and play with yo-yos - hard to know which is worse!
Next stop the main merchants street full of guys buying and selling spices etc and drinking chai - all done by mobile phone these days.
Rajasthani men are famous for their moustaches and this guy insisted on having his photo taken and seemed delighted with the result:
We also vsited the spice market and took another photo of chillies:
Next stop was the camel research centre where we had our "life threatening" experience. The top of the building was being painted and as we were buying our tickets a huge lump of masonry came crashing to the ground just behind us showering us with little bits of plaster. Consternation all round as people rushed over but no damage to us. The painter wasn't so lucky as it seemed it hit his leg on the way down. If you look carefully you will be able see the gap at the top:
Lots and lots of camels at the centre - feeding, drinking, being milked:
We ate at our small guesthouse cum homestay - sitting on the floor of the tiny kitchen which was a strange experience.
The main reason to go to Bikaner was for a camel safari - we opted for a two day/one night tour. We were with a guide and Nathalie from Holland who was carrying on for five more days on her own with just the camel driver and cook who spoke very little English and no Dutch - quite mad!
On the way to the start we stopped at Karni Mata Temple or Rat Temple - home to thousands of rats. They are considered holy and are fed. The rats weren't too bad but the floor in barefeet was unpleasant to say the least - we definitely needed our antibacterial wet wipes.
We had three camels in total - one a male which pulled the supply cart, one for Nathalie and one for us to share (the other person riding the cart or walking). Apparently baby camels have names but once they start working their names are not used although as the guide, Harpul, said tourists always name them. We christened our small camel who kept stealing food from the cart, "Muncha" and Nathalie's bigger beast was "Big Beauty" because of her attactive eyelashes and face. Muncha was 18 years old (and quite stiff first thing in the morning), Harpul told us that she will work for another couple of years and then be released into the desert where due to lack of good food and water, she will "slowly, slowly die." But apart from this, the camels seemed to be well cared for and more friendly than we expected - there was no spiitting at all (if only that could be said about Indian people).
Harpul, who has six daughters, hennaed Sue's hands at lunchtime:
We decided against using tents and slept beneath the stars, which wss lovely although at midnight we were hunting for scarves in our bags (also used as pillows) to wrap round our heads as it was really cold despite two fleeces. We were brought chai in bed as we watched the sunrise.
We stopped at a village house where nothing seemed to have changed for centuries although the kids were all clean and well dressed.
After lunch on the second day we left Nathalie and the cart and headed back to town - two days was just right as camels are not the most comfortable things to ride - although easy to get on and off. Colin claimed to be getting more used to it - Sue more stiff.
We stopped at the camel driver's house for chai - his two sons were playing the most complicated marble games:
Back to Bikaner to showers and civilisation.