Saturday, 18 February 2012

Jaiselmer

I had a ticket to Jodhpur, and for a few days that I've been to Pushkar, I didn't feel like going there anymore, so before leaving, I went and bought a ticket to Jaiselmer with a connection in Jodhpur.
When we arrived at the train station, our train was 2 hours delayed. I was actually quite happy about it, because I had a 4.5 hour connection to the next train, and I didn't want to wait for it alone at night. So now 4.5 hours were cut to 2.5. I was with a Portuguese couple and while eating at the train station restaurant we met 2 more girls from Spain. The restaurant was amazing. It was only filled with locals, and I've never seen prices that low before. For ex. pita bread was 2 cents, rice was 10 cents. So you could have a whole meal, and have leftovers shared with a dog/cow (your choice) for 50 cents. All locals tried talking to us. Sitting at our table, having for once a normal conversation and not something like: buy this shirt it would look beautiful on you. We went to walk around for a bit with the Portuguese couple, had some beer and peanuts. The locals could not understand how it is that a woman drinks a beer, and what am I doing with the couple? Also a girl chose a bracelet, and her bf paid for her. Again a misunderstanding, if he pays, he should choose a bracelet for her! The peanuts were roasted on a dried cow shit and served/weighed by the hand (very normal occurrence), I chose shelled peanuts for this reason :)
I sat beside a young couple. He was from Mumbai and she was Russian. The whole trip he was putting her down all the time, how she doesn't know how to take pictures, all the pictures she took are crap, and look at how cool his turned out to be. She has no idea what she's talking about; he got the food so fast because he's so smart. Btw, on his cell phone, the background picture was an image of a superman. I had goose bumps listening to him, and barely held my tongue not to call him an idiot. I know it's not really my business, also I can't really blame him for acting this way ... after all, she lets him to. He wouldn't have had survived 10 minutes with me before I would've told him to shut up.
The train got delayed by another hour due to construction, and then for 2 more hours for unknown reasons. Nobody knew what's going on, but nobody minded. Kids were running around the train, adults got carried in deep conversations, and we weren't worried too much anymore because we knew that we missed the next train. It's always a good idea, and I guess the only idea, to get acquainted with all the locals around you because they would know where to get off, and just in case would wake you up. There are no station announcements, and a small sign at a random location on the station itself which is invisible in the dark anyway, and if you somehow saw it when the train would reach the station, it would already be too late, cause at times it would only stop for a few seconds on a platform. So pretty much you have to be ready with all the luggage and stand near the open doors for a few minutes before it reaches the station.
The Portuguese couple stayed in Jodhpur, while the Spanish girls and myself tried to figure out what to do with the train. It was 12:30am, and the station was dead except the waiting hall that was filled with people to its maximum capacity waiting for the morning train. It was a scene out of some natural disaster movie when people 1000s of people are crumbled into a small space waiting to be rescued. We were sent from window to window, to station master to some other window to refund the tickets. We were told that we can only be granted 50% of the ticket price because our tickets from Ajmer to Jodhpur and Jodhpur to Jaiselmer are separate, and they can't prove that we weren't just lazy, stayed in our hotel for too long and missed the train. We tried arguing, but achieved no result. I got a surprise though. My ticket was a waiting list one, I checked the confirmation list, and it wasn't confirmed (read: invalid ticket). And I was given back 90% of the cost ( I didn't ask why :) ), meanwhile the girls had legit tickets, and only got 50% of the price ... they weren't too happy with that :) Everybody, and I mean everybody was staring at us ... as usual. But this time it was heavy staring. We decided to play a game and stare back at them with the same intensity, with our eyes popped out (just like theirs). We would count 1, 2, 3 and 3 of us would just turn and stare back. It worked every time, and was super fun :) At least we had to something to entertain ourselves until the morning :) In the morning we got a general sitting ticket (the cheapest class there is), because it's the only class of ticket sold right before the scheduled train time. If you don't want to sit in general class, you can walk around the whole train, find any seat available, and when the ticket checker would come by, you would just pay him the difference. We found 3 sleeper beds, and completely crashed. Nobody woke us up until our destination, so we didn't have to pay anything extra :) When we woke up, we started talking to a few modern Indian guys who were coming to Jaiselmer from Delhi to see the Mr. Desert festival. I found out that locals are actually very nice, helpful, accommodating unless you want to do any kind of business with them :) There was one guy sitting to our right and was constantly looking at us, seemingly checking every spot of our bodies from toes to head. I asked him if he knows English, he said yes with a very happy tone because I spoke with him. I was not in a very happy mood or delighted to talk to him due to his behavior and asked him "why are you looking at us? Do we have 3 eyes, two noses, what's going on?" He started making excuses that there is nowhere else to look, and he's just sitting this way, but after some noisy expressions from the 4 Indian guys accompanied by hand gestured, he completely turned 180 degrees from us :) They said that everywhere in the world is rude to stare except in India.
At the train station we felt like celebrities, everybody with hotel signs trying to get us to their hotel. There are camel safaris that are very popular in this place, so everybody is fighting to get the tourists to go from their agency. We already had the hotel booked, and there was another friend of the Spanish girls who was already waiting for us there. One guy approached us and said, you're going to my hotel, you are 3 girls and you called me yesterday. I had no idea where we were going, and it sounded suspicious to me, I mean, he can see that we are 3 girls, doesn't take a rocket scientist to count until 3 :) When we approached the car, surprise, surprise, it was from a different hotel! Very very sneaky :)) Finally our driver arrived, and after a cold shower and lunch we met a guy on the street who does couch surfing (a world wide network of free home accommodations), although in his case it wasn't at his home, but rather in his hotel. He took us there and showed us around, gave us chai, then showed us to a beautiful restaurant for dinner overlooking the whole city right on the edge of the fort. Oh, btw, this city - Jaiselmer, had the largest fort in all India, and it's a live in fort, with apartments/restaurants/hotels all inside, with a living population of 5000 people. It's incredibly beautiful inside as well as outside. It seems very surreal how it rises up in the middle of the desert, with 100s of kilometers of emptiness all around. This city is 100 kms from Pakistan, earlier it was used as a silk route, but due to it being in the middle of the desert, and having problems with water shortage, it lost its significance. Later it was used as a strategic base for US army, and there were nuclear bomb tests around. Some names of places still remind of the military presence, such as "air force circuit".
The whole day I was speaking Spanish with the girls, and was pleasantly surprised that I haven't forgotten it. After very interesting conversations about religion, history and culture, we all decided to come to his place the next day. Although his focus completely changed towards me and his motives to provide free accommodations in order to learn other cultures, seemed very shady. His name is Lucky, he's 27 years old, he was born in a village and was a sheppard all his life, then he decided to go into tourism. His first job paid him $12/month, but from it he learned almost perfect English/Spanish/Italian/French and German. He told me a trick that sellers use to generate a starting price for a product by asking "innocent" questions such as: Which country are you from, which hotel are you staying at, how long is your trip = price! The shorter the trip, the higher the price. I asked him for ex, if somebody tells me 200, should I bring it down 100 right away? He's like "No, you should say 20"!! OMG!!!
 He said he was tired of lies that his boss used to make him say, and especially after an occurrence with 2 girls who booked a safari trip for $800 instead of normal $30, and left back to their home 5 months earlier in tears, he decided to open his own hotel with rooms for couch surfing to help tourists out. It sounded nice and rosy ... but Lucky is a pathological liar who lies after every 2nd word, while believing and acting like it's nothing but 100% truth.
In the morning we went to a Mr.Desert festival which was actually quite boring. There were competitions who's gonna tie a turban the fastest played between locals and foreigners, miss beauty, mr. desert. But nobody was clapping and we had no idea who won!?! This festival is not a real one, it's made up only for the reason to bring tourists into the town. I was very excited to be a part of the festival, but after 1 hour, I didn't come back, not this day, not the next. The woman who was translating to English was very funny, every sentence was some form of philosophical advice like "true happiness lies in participation, not in winning" or "only courage provides success" etc, etc ... or was saying funny things like "see these exotic tourists as they clumsily wrap the turban"; "clap your big hands...".
Miss beauty and Mr. Desert costumes are quite extravagant, but these are not just costumes for a festival, people actually still dress up like that for important events such as weddings.
Lucky took me to a beautiful cemetery where the royal family is buried. They had very cruel tradition that once a king died, all his wives had to die as well by jumping into the fire to be burnt alive. All baby girls were suffocated, and the male babies were to become next kings. There is a carving of the kings and all wives beside each grave. Note that on one of the graves, 2 kings shared 1 wife!
Next Lucky took me to his village, and introduced me to all his family. Nobody spoke any English, but they were very hospitable, asking me to take their pictures, teaching me different recipes, & wanted to find out everything about me through his translations. Everybody was offering me drinks, more and more drinks, and made the cocktails pretty strong, about half rum half coke, and then waiting for me to finish all the glass so they could pour more. After one glass I already started walking sideways and politely declined :) Then they made yummy lamb stew, which was served with chapatti (kind of a pita). Chapattis are usually made on fire, and they put dry cow shit to make the fire. I didn't mind it so much when the dough was places on an iron skillet, but then it was taken out, and put directly into ashes. I wish somebody would've taken a picture of my face when it was served to me! I took a deep breath and tried it. It was actually really really good !! I can't describe the flavour, but it was very unique, and had an excellent taste. I wasn't too surprised about their cooking methods in here, because I saw it in Africa, there they take the actual thing and add it to their stews, not only use it as a heating source. They made the lamb mildly spicy especially for me, but when I started to sniff and cough and heavily breath, they all were running around and bringing me water, pepsi, sweet stuff to delude the spiciness :)
At that point he started to get closer and closer, saying that he never brings anybody to his village, and that he loves me and wants to marry me! Um ... thanks but no thanks! I'm very suspicious towards guys in the beginning and notice every move and memorize every word that they say. And if there is one conflict with their stories, or I sense that they bullshit or don't keep their word, that's it, game over! He said that he wants to help me with my spirituality, and clean my chakras. I agreed. After transferring energy through my palms, elbows, shoulders, it started going down and down. What’s more, the throat chakra can't be touched with hands but the energy has to be transferred with a breath. I got up, and told him to drive me back. He told me that I don't understand spirituality, and that body means nothing, it's all in the mind, and that I'm over exaggerating. It might be true because a lot of the gods and holy figures are naked, but I don't care, unless I have a female guru, my pants stay on!!
I'm not sure if there is actually a big difference between Indians/Africans/South Americans and Europeans/American guys. I think the American guys just take their time and make their motives less obvious, but at the end, it all leads to the same thing. Indians just need a few hours to tell someone that they love them or try and do something :)
Next day I was writing my blog, and as always it takes some time. He was all around me walking back and forth waiting until I'll be done. I said that I'm sorry, but it takes quite a lot of time, and he told me not to worry, he could wait for me all his life! 4 hours of waiting later he took me around the city tour and showed me the lake. There is an interesting story about the lake. There was a famous prostitute who wanted to build a gate, the king refused permission on the grounds that he would have to pass under it to go down to the lake, which would be beneath his dignity. She got smart and overnight built a small temple on the top of the gate, and according to Hindi tradition, you're not allowed to destroy temples, and so the gate survived. Although he built two smaller gates on the sides, so he could walk through them instead.
After the "tour", Lucky was telling me that he never does it to anybody, usually he charges money to be a guide, but it's only me, and of course he can't blame me for not feeling anything, but he'll try his hardest to win my heart, and was going on and on how lucky I am to be given this free tour. I told him to go take a hike, all the places he showed me are in the guidebook with a detailed map and all the history behind it as well, so I could've done this "tour" easily by myself and told him not to sweat it.
Meanwhile in the hotel all the stuff began to love me, because I said please and thank you every time, and when at a snap of a finger they had to give up the computer, or go to make chai/dinner for everybody, I told them to take a break and finish what they're doing first. So they all started calling me boss, and wished that I was one :) They all yell at each other. I stared asking why do they yell, and they said, he doesn't do anything, he's so lazy, I tell him to clean the bathroom and he tells me to do it. So they work and almost live together, and once something goes not the way they want it to go, they start yelling. I don't get it ... can't they think of any other way to make people comply?
Lucky was gathering people in the hotel to go to the desert to do camel safari, then see the festival, and then sleep in the dunes. I was very excited about that. It was the main reason why I came to Jaiselmer was to do overnight camel safari. In total, there were 10 people which he somehow stuck in 1 jeep. I was on the back of his bike. He asked me not to tell anybody that the money they paid is only for the transportation and doesn't include anything else. I got suspicious by that point! On the way we stopped by an abandoned village. The legend has it that there was a young girl living there, and some important middle age man wanted to marry her. All the village was against it, and all of 8000 people abandoned their homes over night and moved to an unknown location.
When we arrived at the festival, everybody got out of the jeep and spread out. I was thinking how are they gonna get back together again?? And to my surprise ... well, not really a surprise, nobody else is staying overnight just me and Lucky, and he organized a camel tour and then the two of us will spend the night in the dunes. HA! What an excellent idea! Didn't he get the point yet that I'm not interested and never was?? I just said no, that I want to go back to the city with everybody else. He said that it's my decision and he's not forcing anything. Then he said that I'll take a 2 hour camel ride (another lie, because it was already too late, and I'll return in the dark, and it's not how it works). So, 2 hour camel ride ended up with an overinflated 5 minute ride to the festival itself, which I was not paying for !! Festival as usual wasn't interesting, pretty much the same performances as in the city, except that it was very cold and everybody wanted to get back. How do you get everybody back when you don't know where the jeep is, and where all 10 people are located? That Lucky dealt with for an hour while he dropped me off some resort that had another performance and apparently a dinner. It was some gipsy/Indian music with 2 girls dancing around the fire. I really didn't want to be there, and wanted to go back. I was hungry and I was freezing, and I didn't want to be near Lucky in a kilometer radius. There I met a woman who was sitting with 3 blankets, quickly quickly made friends with her, and cuddled up to her. I asked her how they're going back, and they have a car! I asked if I could take a ride in their car, and she said of course no problem. Meanwhile her guy (also Indian) and Lucky (somehow they knew each other) were giving us rum and coke to warm up. All the guests then danced around the fire, then they went inside for the dinner and I was ready to go, when Lucky informed me that he now paid for the hut that costs $120/night (super crazy price for India!). Geeeeeez ... not again ! I said that I think I made it clear that I want to go back. Then he started to act up, and drink rum shots saying that I could go with the couple, and he doesn't care for his life, if he's gonna die then it's what god planned for him. I had to grab the drink from his and spill it out, cause I don't want any of that being my responsibility, and what a good choice was that, because when we got up and the couple couldn't walk straight and couldn't find their driver (maybe a made up driver), I had no choice but to go back with Lucky on his bike, because it was already late and there were no other cars in the middle of this desert. We argued about half an hour who's gonna drive back. There was a little problem though that I don't know how to drive a manual bike, so the only way it would work was for me to drive and for him to change the gears. We agreed that he'll drive for a minute, I'll see his condition and if anything we'll switch. Obviously he didn't stop after a minute, and we drove 40kms back to the city. It was sooooo cold !!! When we got back we continued arguing. He wanted to talk to me, and I didn't understand what was there to talk about. I told him that he’s a liar and a bullshitter, about the spirituality, then everybody staying at the desert, then a long camel ride, then sleeping in the dunes, suddenly sleeping in the hut. He was barely crying, or at least pretending to. I said that we have nothing to talk about, I am not interested in him, I'm leaving to Udaipur and will never see him again, I'm going to sleep, and this conversation is over! He tried to stop me and talk more. I don't get it. What goes on his mind???? I was a little bit uncomfortable because I was staying at his place free with all the amenities, and meanwhile not talking to him, but oh well. I couldn't warm up for the whole night, I was lying there completely frozen under a pile of blankets, and all of my skin was ice cold. I only warmed up next day around 12pm when it was finally hot outside.
I was leaving the next day and still had a chance to do a proper camel safari, but after that incident, I didn't have any more energy or interest in these camels, dunes, sleeping under the stars idea.
While I was walking in the city, I bumped into him and he wanted to accompany me in my tour, I said no, I'm walking on my own, and see you later! Then I met 3 Israeli girls from the hotel, we started talking, and ended up in a restaurant. They started talking Hebrew and then one of them said "What is she doing with us?". I didn't know whether to tell them anything or not, but decided to ignore the comment, finished looking at the menu as though there's nothing wrong, then said that sorry, I forgot something back in the hotel, and left the restaurant.
In the city they have funny ways of trying to bring customers to the stores, they say things like "Can I help you spend your money in my store", or "shopping is good for health".
In the evening 2 girls and myself were invited to go to a wedding. Of course we agreed, how can we miss a traditional wedding? The wedding usually lasts for 4 days in India, but optionally can last much much longer. This was an arranged marriage. In this case the groom didn't even see the bride yet. This day involved him getting on a while horse with all the guests parading around the streets of the city. What was interesting about this event is that first of all everybody was on opium. It's an Indian tradition that you should have respect for elders (including the parents), and you can't drink in front of them. Well, how can you not drink and stay happy in the wedding? Take opium! There is a generator in the back and usually small boys carry lamps that are connected to this generator on both sides, and people are walking in between these lights with dance music blasting at the front. All men are walking in the front and dancing, all women are walking in the back and not dancing. The horse with the groom is at the back and nobody is paying attention to him! The guys would at times stop, dance and start waving money in the air, and then throwing it up. This money is supposed to go for the wedding, but there were about 10 pretty aggressive kids monitoring this activity and once the money was thrown, they would fight on the ground to collect it. I don't think they're part of the guests and quite regularly they were kicked and beaten by the family members, of course they didn't leave. It's the easiest way to make tons of money in a short period of time, of course you would end up with a few bruises, but I think it's worth it. So when there is a wedding, pretty much the whole town doesn't sleep with this parade of hundreds of people through the tiny streets. We were warned a few times not to accept any invitations for dances, because if we dance with the guys, it means we're interested, and they have the right to follow us all night long and expect something at the end. So we were dancing on our own, and just saying no no no no to every attempt. One guy while dancing grabbed my hand so hard that for sure I though it's gonna bruise, I pulled it out of his grip, but seriously, where is the respect? You don't ask, you just grab? And with such a force?? Another guy was talking to one of the girls while I was walking behind her, she kept shaking her head in a "no" action, but he didn't give up, continued talking and talking, and then put his hand around her. I knocked on his shoulder and told him to leave her alone, he ignored my comment and continued talking with her, at which point I shoved him to the side. He started arguing with me that he's the brother of the groom and that I'm at his wedding and how can I act this way, and people in India do not push (yeah right!), and that I caused him embarrassment. I said that I'm sorry if I caused him embarrassment in front of his family, but when a girl is saying no for the longest time, leave her alone! Some other guys were like our shadow, always walking near us. We'd walk, they'd walk, we'd stop, they'd stop. Then they figured out that touching our shoulders with both hands is not considered to be a sexual sign, so they would oops and bump into us and hold our shoulders. They did it so many times that it was way too obvious, but we had other, worse maniacs to worry about. Like when it would be too crowded, they would use the situation and touch our butts. Grrrr !!! Thank god this expedition was over in about 2 hours, and we all ended up in a huge hall full of food. Food was very good, but it was so dirty, there were no chairs, and we had to sit on the floor with all this garbage around. Not very pleasant.
Next day I took a 15 hour overnight bus to Udaipur. Couldn't sleep for a moment. It was up/down/left/right. I had a sleeper thank god, so at least I could lie down, but I was thrown to the ceiling, smashed against a window, banged with my head on the back wall. You never know when it would stop, for how long, when/where to go to the washroom, no stop announcements, nothing! Fun, fun, fun!

pix are here: https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Jaiselmer

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