First stop in Rajasthan was the magical city of Udaipur, a lovely wee town of windy streets and beautiful old havelis all centred around the magical Lake Palace, so called for its setting in the middle of lake around which Udaipur curls. Much of the Bond movie Octapussy was filmed here, and the movie is replayed at every restaurant in town at 7pm each night. We decided at least one viewing was probably a mandatory part of our stay…
Udaipur is good exercise for the thighs. It’s famous for its rooftop views of the lake, so every restaurant (and the reception of almost every hotel) was invariably at the top of four or five flights of stairs. This meant that choosing a room was a lengthy, energy-saping process, and if we wanted to peruse the menus of one or two restaurants before making a final decision, we well and truly deserved our dinner by the time we got it! We spent a quiet couple of days in Udaipur, checked out the palace (not the lake one sadly, that’s now a hotel and the $US500+ tariff per night was slightly beyond our budget), wandered the narrow, stall-lined streets and successfully avoided being hit by the rickshaws careening around every blind corner.
After a 10 hour, bone-jolting, “sleeper” bus, we made in to Jaisalmer, the golden city of Rajasthan. There are two things to do in Jaisalmer. One is to visit the magnificent fort – but as we declined to pay the ludicrous foreigner entry fee for me to get in to the small palace there, it took only a half day to wander through the narrow, windy, old streets of the fort with their crumbling pavestones, open gutters, cow blockades and unmistakable charm. This left us three days free to get on with the real reason we came all the way to the outskirts of Rajasthan.
Camel safari!! Three days alone in the wilds of the desert with just our camels for company. Oh okay, so there were a few camel drivers along to make sure we didn’t stray to near the Pakistani border… In all seriousness, we and our camel safari companions (six other tourists on day one, dwindling to just one other on the last day) were well looked after. Within minutes of stopping for lunch or dinner, our camel drivers would have a fire lit and the delicious smell of masala chai would come wafting across the campsite. A few short minutes later, and preparations for the meal would be underway. From under the saddles of our trusty steeds would be pulled bags of vegetables, lentils, rice and flour as well as pots and pans, and in an amazing short space of time there would be a pot or two bubbling over the fire. Meanwhile, one of the camel drivers was engrossed in making chapatis – without board or rolling-pin, simply shaping them by hand into perfectly circular rounds and cooking them over the flame. Andrew and I both tried our hand, much to the mingled admiration and amusement of camel drivers and fellow travelers alike – ours weren’t quite so circular, being more reminiscent, as one camel driver laughingly pointed out, of a map of India. Ah well, they all tasted good in the end.
At night, we threw blankets down onto the dunes, crawled into our sleeping bags and lay back under the starry sky. We were blessed with a new moon, and with the nearest city miles away and no pollution to speak of, we could actually see the stars of India for the first time since we arrived. Ahhh, bliss. After three days we returned regretfully to Jaisalmer, a little sore in places (a running camel is not always the most comfortable steed), but much refreshed in spirit and ready to face the big smoke of Delhi.
It’s three days before Christmas, and so far we haven’t heard a single Christmas carol. Doesn’t quite feel like Christmas somehow…