Friday, January 15, 2010

McLeod Ganj, Udaipur and Jaisalmer - Peaks and Valleys

So, maybe love wasn't quite the right word to describe how I feel about India. It's more of a roller coaster ride that goes from excited, curious and amazed at the peaks and disgusted, deeply disturbed and shocked in the valleys. Basically, travelling in India is not for the faint of heart.

It's no doubt that I did love our time in McLeod Ganj. We were there for a few days and in that time enjoyed a cooking class with Lhamo, a Tibetan refugee. We learned how to make some yummy Tibetan soup and talked about his two month trek across the Himalayas to get to India and live freely. His young niece and nephew also lived with him and they made the trek without any other family at six and nine years of age. It really puts your life into perspective to hear about other people's journeys to have the same kind of freedom we enjoy every day at home. Needless to say the mothup soup will keep you warm and is very tasty and if you ask nicely, I'm sure Chris and I would love to make some for you when we get back.

We also enjoyed a great hike around the area, but were surprised when we got to Dall Lake, that at least three locals had told us about. The sign talked about how it was a great religious area, but it was totally dried up and had a bunch of plows digging up the mud! I swear the locals just stood there all day to watch tourists come up, look around totally confused and they just laughed at how naive we all are. Even though the lake was dry, the mountain views and wildlife on the way back were worth the trip.

If McLeod Ganj was a peak, yes literally and figuratively, our trek away from there to Udaipur was some sort of hellish valley. We were scheduled for a 7:00 pm overnight train from a small town south of McLeod. To even get to this town, we had to take a three hour cab ride where I seriously thought I was going to die. Our driver had some sort of crazy mission to scare us. At one point he nearly drove off a cliff! Luckily his brakes were in good enough condition that we only skidded towards the edge and didn't plummet to our death. Sitting on the left side of the car, I came face to face with the back of way too many large truck's bumpers as our taxi aggressively sped past them, blowing his horn all the way. The one nice thing that I noticed about these trucks is that they are brightly painted with intricate flowers and designs. At least if I was going to crash into one I would have something festive to look at before my demise.

Once we got to the train station we found a waiting room and took refuge from the cold. There was a cold spell that had been in northern India with record lows and dense fog. Apparently, when these foggy conditions occur many modes of transportation are impacted, including trains. Our train was no exception - it was five hours late! We didn't leave the train station until past midnight!!! This meant that we spent a lot of time in the waiting room where I overcame two of my greatest fears. One - public restrooms, particularly in India, and two - mice. I won't say much about the public restrooms other than that I have had to use worse since that train station and desperate times call for desperate measures.

On to the mouse. There were about 20 people in the waiting room at any given time with their bags piled up in the corners. After sitting there for about an hour, I noticed a little shadow that went quickly from the bags to the center of the room and back to the bags. I can handle a lot, hello, public restrooms in India for one, but I can not handle mice. I don't know what it is, but they REALLY creep me out. I'll take snakes over mice. When I saw the mouse, I didn't freak out too much, just lifted my feet a bit. It was enough for an older couple across the way to notice. For the next four hours we all got a kick out of seeing where the mice went and it actually helped to pass the time. I won't say that I'm over my mouse paranoia, but at least I saw the value in watching the thing to pass time. I think it would have become my own personal Wilson, a la Castaway, if we had stayed there any longer.

When the train finally came, we schlepped our stuff on as best we could and tried to find our sleepers in the dark with everyone else from our station. It took us about five minutes to realize that there were people sleeping in our beds! The insanity! After waiting for five hours, we just wanted to pass out and try to get some rest. We basically had to kick a man and his son out of the bottom bunks while his two daughters stayed in the upper bunks and his wife was across the way. Another valley of India. The amazing thing is what happened in the morning. When we woke up the entire family was there and they offered us breakfast food and cookies, chatted with us and in the end invited us to their home outside of Agra. I think this is an experience unique to India where you can kick people out of their beds and then they offer you food a few hours later.

Luckily, once we got to Delhi we had a flight to Udaipur, no more trains or buses for the moment. The city is beautiful, despite the lack of water in the lake from the weak monsoons. We had a great guest house to stay in and thoroughly enjoyed their rooftop restaurant with great food and nightly showings of Octopussy (see Chris' blog). The best part was a romantical (romantic and magical) dinner overlooking the lake and a trip out to one of the islands.

Unfortunately, to go from Udaipur to our next stop, Jaisalmer, we had to take public transportation again. Instead of a train, we decided to opt for a bus. What we didn't know was that at 3 am they would move us from one at least relatively clean sleeper bus to the most disgusting and freezing non-deluxe bus you can imagine. What we learned from that experience is that you have to ask for a direct bus so that you don't get a downgrade midstream. Live and learn. We made it to Jaisalmer and were immediately accosted by autorickshaw drivers "offering" to take us to the best spot in town. We looked at three subpar spots and ended up at a clean place in the fort that was recommended by a nice Croatian couple that were on the nightmare bus with us. The deal with Jaisalmer is that it is more PC to stay outside the fort because all of the water they are bringing into the fort is destroying it a little every year. I can honestly say that we looked outside and couldn't find anything and that if we had we would have stayed there. In order to do my part, I've been taking Indian style showers to conserve water. Basically using a bucket to wash. I've also been doing this because the water is cold even though we were promised hot water. That mystery was just resolved last night when we found out that there is only hot water after 9:30 pm. Why don't they tell you these types of things in the guide books?!?

After our luke warm shower we went to dinner with Tony and Morana, the nice Croatian couple and today we are saw some beautiful Jain temples here. In a few hours we will brave another bus ride to Pushkar. We asked for a direct, deluxe, sleeper bus this time. I'll let you know how it goes and post some pics from Jaisalmer next time. My computer doesn't like the voltage and won't charge in this city!



  © Free Blogger Templates Blogger Theme II by 2008

Back to TOP