Saturday, January 30, 2010


We arrived in Ajmer, India around noon on the 7th. We did our usual tuk-tuk song and dance and ended up at the hotel without much problem. The hotel ended up being a bit problematic because they booked us into the 2100-rupee-per-night room which was much more than we wanted to pay. They reluctantly switched us into the 1200 rupee room when we said something though. The bed in the room was incredibly hard. It was basically a wooden platform with a thin straw mattress on top, all covered by bed sheets. I actually developed a bruise on my hip from sleeping on my side the first night, because it was so hard. The food was just mediocre and it turned out they had no internet, contrary to their claims online. We were told we could go to the internet cafe next door though, so that's what we did. The owner - or whoever he was - seemed to think we were hardly worth spitting on and just said "No" without a glance in our direction when we asked if we could use our own laptop. We tried to offer more money if he would just let us use our own laptops, but all he said was "No" as he read the paper. I certainly wasn't willing to use his computers to check my email and other personal sites since our experience had shown that pretty much all internet shops use key loggers and steal your passwords and info. So we frustratedly went back to the hotel to ask if there were any other internet shops in town. We were directed down the street to a place about a kilometer away. After the 10 minute walk we discovered that they were completely busy and there was no room for us. So we left in annoyance at not getting our internet fix for the day!

We woke early to the sounds of the lovely "hotel alarm clock" on the 8th. There was an insistent hammering going on, accompanied by an occasional slamming door and a phone that rang constantly down the hall. We tried to just sleep through it but eventually we gave in and just got up. I suppose it was a good thing because it enabled us to get out and do our sightseeing while the day was still young. The plan for the day was to go to the nearby town of Pushkar. It's a town of many temples and many backpackers. We decided to go the cheap route and try to take the bus there instead of hiring a taxi. We certainly didn't see any bus stops where we were told they were supposed to be - I suspect you just wave your arm and hope the bus sees you. But we didn't even know what bus number we would need to look for and were too nervous to just wave down every bus that came by. So we kept walking, and by luck happened up a bus station of sorts. It looked more like a dirt lot where buses went to die, but a local guy grudgingly told us that one of the buses did indeed go to Pushkar. He threw a rock at the bus to show us which one. We stood around next to bus for a bit feeling extremely nervous about getting on a bus where we would be the only white people in a crowd of people who just might never have seen a white person in their life. Or maybe we were nervous about not being able to know when we were in Pushkar. Or maybe we were afraid of making some inexcusable faux pas. Looking back I'm not exactly sure why we were so afraid to get on the bus, but we were! Finally, we took a deep breath and climbed on. We were stared at, of course, but once we were seated everyone went back about their business. Taking that first step of just getting on and sitting down alleviated quite a bit of our nerves. There was still the matter of getting off at the right stop though. We'd handle that one later. Once the bus pulled out of the lot 20 minutes later we paid our 10 rupees per ticket to the ticket collector and tried to keep our shocked delight contained. We would have paid over 600 rupees if we had hired a car to take us! We were getting there for 10 rupees! Amazing. We drove by a group of languar monkeys who were lounging on the road-side in the mountains which I thought was fantastic. Before we knew it they were calling out "Pushkar" and we found ourselves standing in the middle of a dirt road wondering where the best temples were. Actually, the first thought was about where to get some food. That was pretty easy though, seeing as there were a bunch of fruit vendors right across the road. We got a couple of bananas and I gave Chuck a withering look when he threw his peel on the ground. A cow wandered over and sucked it right up though, so I decided it would be better for the cows if I littered my banana peel as well. Those poor things will eat anything. We did end up in a dark, empty restaurant-shack 10 minutes later though. It was an interesting experience because when we walked up to the place and asked the guy sitting out front if it was open he told us "Yeah, ok." Then he went to one of the back tables and woke up the cook! I felt a badly that we had ruined the guys sleep, but he was cheery as anything. He happily read us the small menu since it was only written in Hindi, and got to work warming up the stove and prepping vegetables. When we were finished he told us how to get to the popular Brahma Temple and off we went. It wasn't long before an old, disheveled man caught pace with us. He slurred out something along the lines of "Do you want to smoke with me?" to Chuck. He was rather creepy so Chuck declined, not to mention that it might not be a good idea to accept smokes from random people who are obviously quite out of it. This did nothing to dissuade the old man though and he continued to shuffle along just behind us mumbling and slurring about smoking and god knows what else. Chuck told him "No thanks" a few more times but he just wouldn't get a clue. It wasn't until I turned to him and said loudly "No thank you" that he shambled off in another direction. Then we got to fight off the camel-ride sellers, but they weren't nearly as much of a pain as the old man. I suppose I can't blame them though - that's how they make their money. It's a tough life out there in India so being pushy is sometimes a necessity. When we finally made it to the Brahma Temple the town had changed from shacks to tourist shops, complete with the stereotypical swarm of "backpackers." For some reason we find this phenomenon mildly annoying. While we were walking around the other, more dilapidated parts of town we were the only white people around. As soon as we hit the tourist oasis we're suddenly surrounded by those hippie-bohemian backpackers who seem have an air of superiority because of their low-maintenance, adventure-seeking style of travel, when in reality they all go to the same places and do the same things and stick to the safety and comfort of the well-known "backpacker" locations. However, I know this probably isn't the case at all and that just because we suddenly saw 10 times more of this style of traveler in Pushkar than we did in all of India combined it doesn't mean they are really all just cookie-cutters. Maybe I'm just jealous of their flowing, comfortable-looking bohemian designer clothes. Okay, okay - I'm just being a butt-head. Just like with any other "group," I know there are kind and genuine travelers who fall into that style as well as some not-so-genuine people. It's just that I somehow managed to develop a pet peeve for the hippie backpacker. But let's move on with our day in Pushkar! So! After a delicious fresh pineapple juice and a few snacks at a nearby restaurant, we ventured over to the entrance to the Brahma Temple. We're told "No cameras" and "No bags." There are a few stands around offering oh-so-graciously to watch our belongings while we go inside though. We didn't like that idea though, so Chuck volunteered to stay outside while I scoped it out. If it was worth it then we would trade so he could see inside. Unfortunately, it was so not worth it. It wasn't even worth the short climb up the stairs to get in. The famous blue colors were faded and chipped and there were peddlers of all kinds scattered about. I wasn't up there more than five minutes before I decided I was done. Chuck decided that he didn't need to see it for himself and we moved on. We walked through the tourist areas and past all the shops which gave me lots of chances to buy new bangles! I ended up getting a couple from three different shops and was quite happy with my little collection. We also stopped into a couple of other, smaller temples that were covered in mirrors. I thought they were much nicer than the Brahma Temple, not to mention that the peaceful atmosphere of the mirrored temples was much more enjoyable. We walked past a lot of temple actually. Pushkar is, after all, one of the most sacred towns in India. We made kissy noises at one of the stray dogs and he got very excited, so this time we actually bought the animal some food. Chuck got a pakora or something and gave it to the him. He sniffed it for a moment, decided he didn't know what to do with it, and looked back up at us with a curious stare. We thought that perhaps he didn't realize it was tasty food, so Chuck picked it up and broke a piece off. Once again the dog sniffed and turned his nose up at it. Ungrateful beast! We paid a good $0.30 for him to have a snack and he wouldn't have anything to do with it! We were patient though and with a bit of cajoling and convincing we managed to get him to down a couple pieces of it. After that we just tossed the rest on the ground and let him figure out what he wanted to do with it. Silly dogs. It was at about this time that we decided we'd better find out where the bus back to Ajmer was since the sun was getting ready to go into it's final death throes. How convenient that the bus stand happened to be just down the road from us! And when we found the bus waiting there we asked a respectable looking man if it was indeed the bus to Ajmer. Why yes, it certainly was. His English was very good and he seemed to be an educated man. When he asked where we were from we told him "Canada" just for fun. For some reason we had decided that morning that we would tell everyone we met that we were from Canada - don't ask why cause I don't really know. So, from Canada we were. We rode next to him on the bus and chatted for the length of the ride. We even chatted through the traffic jam that was caused by a large group of languar monkeys who didn't want to move out of the way (oh those crazy monkeys). He was in the textile industry and frequently traveled to north-western Africa which I found interesting. And the best part was that he never tried to sell us anything - he was just a genuinely nice guy who was interested in us. Back in Ajmer we tried to find internet again, but the place we went to would not allow us to use our own laptops. It was very frustrating! We went to bed internet-less, but at least we had a good day in Pushkar behind us.

On the 9th we were again woken by the ridiculous ringing of the phone, slamming of doors, and some sort of hammering. We went out for lunch to a place a ways down the road and it turned out to be quite delicious. We were mainly bored all day and just wanted to go back to Delhi. Later in the afternoon we got to listen to loud gun-shot-like noises and dracula music that was emanating from somewhere in our hotel. One can only imagine what that was all about...

On the 10th we were excited to pack everything up and check out. We got some snacks and walked to the same restaurant from the day before for lunch, backpacks strapped to our backs. I always feel so conspicuous walking around with my big backpack on, let alone plopping it down on the seat next to me like an extra little person in a restaurant. However, reality is never as bad as you make it in your head and no one gawked more than usual. After lunch we were off to the train station to wait for our train back to New Delhi. I practiced my drawing skills by sketching out the waiting room we were sitting in in my journal. It was more decent than I expected! The train ride itself was also quite an eventful one. Besides being stuffed to the brim with snacks, tea, soup, dinner, and ice cream (all included in the price of the ticket), there was a life and death scare. At about the time the soup was being served we suddenly heard a woman a few rows ahead of us saying her husbands name in an insistent manner. After a short moment her tone turned from insistent to panicked as she stood up and shook him. He wasn't waking up and it was, understandably, freaking her the hell out. It's heartbreaking and scary to hear that sense of panic in someone's voice - you can't help but imagine having to shout the name of someone you love in the same tone. The couple was traveling with a large group of their family and everyone immediately became concerned and rose to help her. Water was brought and the shaking continued and after a few moments he woke up in a sort of daze. I have no idea what was wrong with him, but everyone was immensely relieved. He was well taken care of by the family as they brought cold compresses and food. In fact, I couldn't help but notice that he was only taken care of by his family and friends. The train staff completely ignored the situation and went about doing their business of serving soups. They would squeeze themselves past the family members who were crowding the aisle trying to help the man, without stopping to offer help or do anything. I mean, they didn't need to really. He had more than enough people to care for him as it was, and I imagine that stopping the train and taking him to a hospital just wasn't an option. It was such a different reaction than you would see on a train in Europe or America though! There was a good end to the train ride though because we got to talk to the woman sitting next to us about her children in New Delhi and we got to play tic tac toe (or "zero koss" as he called it) with the incredibly intelligent eight year old boy who was sitting in front of us. He knew who the president and prime minister of India were, who the president of the US was, and could write our names in English, Hindi, and Chinese. We were flabbergasted! He shyly talked with us all the way to New Delhi.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


We arrived at the Jodhpur train station to the typical clamour of tuk-tuks and hotel hawkers. As usual, we tried to avoid the drivers who were shouting "Where you go??" at us and opted for someone who wasn't so abrasive. The first guy we spoke to tried to convince us to go to a different hotel, but our second try was met with a quiet nod of aquiescence. The drive was very short so we were at our hotel within a matter of moments. At the reception desk we ran into a snag when they couldn't find our reservation. They searched and searched to no avail. Meawhile we filled out all the necessary paperwork and commenced to signing our souls away. They collect so much information from you whenever you check into a hotel: passport number, visa number, home address, previous hotel, next city, etc. It's a pain to fill it all out every time you switch hotels, but what can ya do? They managed to find us a decent little room and we left them to figure out the rest of the reservation confusion. Trying to find somewhere to eat dinner was frustrating because there seemed to be almost no restaurants nearby. There were plenty of small shops, but no food stalls. We ended up at a little place close to the train station where you didn't actually choose what you ordered. There was only one meal on the menu and if you sat at one of the six, dirty, small seats then that's what they brought you. It was a pretty good thali though, and the short scruffy owner had a friendly and pleased smile on his face as we enjoyed our food. On the walk back I got a small hint of what it might be like to travel alone in India as a female. Chuck managed to dash across the road before I realized there was an opening, so we were stuck on opposite sides of the street waiting for another lull in traffic. In the minute or so that I was standing there alone watching the traffic, two seperate men passed me and then stopped, turning to look at me with contemplative expressions. They didn't seem sinister - more like they were considering coming to my resuce or something. But if within thirty seconds on my own two men took that much interest in me, I was glad I had Chuck to travel with me.

On the 5th we headed out to the local fort: Mehrangarh Fort. We checked out the garden first. It was nice to see so much greenery for once! Rajasthan being the desert state and all, stretches of trees and plants weren't common. We were also stopped for photos with a few Indian guys. They were quite nice about it and I suppose we were getting a bit used to being asked to pose for photos, so we didn't mind much. After our glamour shots we opted to walk to the top of the fort where all the good stuff was rather than pay for the elevator ride that was available. There was a lot of Haveli-like architecture that was gorgeous, and a few decadent rooms containing thrones of different sorts. One room was filled with old ornate cradles and cribs that were quite interesting. After the fort we headed just down the road to the Jaswant Thada. While walking we passed by a couple of stray dogs and made our customary kissy noises at them - we love to do this and see their dirty little ears perk up at us. One dog however, got so excited that he hopped up and followed us almost the whole way, a distinct doggie-grin on his face the entire time! I felt so guilty at having led the poor bugger on and then not putting out... If only I'd had a sausage in my pocket. The Jaswant Thada consisted of a number of tombs, burials and a beautiful white temple. Inside the temple we discovered that we could see the sun shining through some of the white marble "bricks" that made up the walls. Chuck went outside and put his hand in front of one of the blocks of stone and I could see his shadow move across it from inside! They were thick chunks of stone too so it was kind of cool. Outside the temple was a young, smooth skinned boy playing a drum and singing in a high, clear voice. In fact, I thought he had such a nice voice and look that I decided to tip him and get a photo. He just smiled quickly and went on with his singing and drumming. The tuk-tuk ride back was a tad frustrating because the driver kept insisting he would take us to his friends textile shop. He only gave up when Chuck practically yelled at him that if he didn't take us to the central market then he would not be getting paid. That seemed to finally get the point across and he gave up on the textiles. From the market we got some food, looked for a bangle shop with no sucess, and finally went back to the hotel.

We were woken up by the sounds of young girls running up and down the halls on the 6th which greatly annoyed me. Turned out the hotel had apparently been taken over by a bunch of young highschool-aged girls, and young high-school aged girls are basically the same everywhere. They like to talk and giggle and gossip and make noise. We ended up talking a bit to some of the girls later in the day though - just the basics like "Where are you from?" and things like that. They were somewhat shy so the conversation was led by one bold girl who seemed to be having a silent power struggle with another nearby girl. She gave the girl some serious evil eye at one point. But it really seemed that they had the same inclinations as teenagers in the west: trying to look nice, gossiping, chatting, giggling, wrestling for power in the group, etc. It's more interesting to me when I notice the similarities between different cultures rather than the differences. It seems at times that there are more similarities between people across the world than differences. I haven't been to a lot of places so I obviously don't have an incredibly wide pool of observation to draw from, but I think I've seen a decent enough amount of the world to be able to start developing my little theories. Food though, can be very different and I am truely grateful for that! We had a fabulous set of three curries at the hotel restaurant for lunch that reminded me how tasty Indian food can be. My favorite was a sweet curry whose name I didn't remember unfortunately. Other than that, we hung around the hotel preparing blogs and being lazy. We hadn't been too impressed with Jodhpur so we weren't too motivated to go out and see the city. Besides, we have a soft spot for being lazy.

We woke bright and early on the 7th (why do Indian trains all have to leave so early in the morning??), packed up and checked out. We made our way to the station and found the train with no problems. I ended up sleeping for most of the train ride, so it was pretty uneventful by my recollections... Next stop: Ajmer.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


We woke up in the dark to the sound of our alarm at 4:30 AM. Our train was still chugging along and we were due to arrive in Bikaner at around 5:00 AM. It ended up being more like 5:30 when we got there, but at least we didn't miss our stop. We found a cheap tuk-tuk to our hotel, which ended up being further than we thought it was. When we presented ourselves in the reception area and announced that we had reservations they seemed to think we were a bit crazy. Apparently they didn't have any record of anyone arriving that day. We told them which website we had booked through and hoped that we wouldn't end up stuck without a place to stay. The hotel was full but for one lone room, which was supposed to have booked out the previous night, but the guests had never showed. I felt bad having arrived so early and taking someone else's room, but the manager very graciously fixed us up in there. First thing we did was sleep some more. Despite having a good sleep on the train we were still tired. Feeling a bit more refreshed, we went back downstairs to get ourselves sorted out a bit better. After talking with the owner a bit and checking my e-mail to find our confirmation number and all that, I finally realized what had happened. The guests who had been a no-show from the night before were us! I had accidentally booked us to arrive the night before, and of course - we were on a train. So the room we were in was the one that was meant for us anyways! It all worked out just as it was supposed to have. Once we figured that out, we were given the grand breakdown of the city and the hotel. The owner of the hotel is a retired Brigadier, and one of the family members won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics for "shooting" as they put it. He showed us old black and white photos of camel-jumping that was done many, many years ago, and photos of the local gorgeous palaces. He was keen on completely filling us in about the town of Bikaner. We decided to visit the local fort known as Junagarh Fort. The tuk-tuks here were cheaper than New Delhi or Jaipur, and they apparently are happy to pick up multiple passengers at a time. The tuk-tuk we got in already had three people in it! Chuck sat in the small front seat, squished against the driver, and I sat on the metal bar that separates the front sea from the back. I was facing the three other passengers sitting this way - two young ladies and a larger gentleman. I nearly fell over as we pulled out into traffic and the girl right across from me grabbed on and helped me steady myself with a smile. She then asked where I was from. "America," I told her. "Can you take me America?" she asked, in all seriousness I think. Of course, I can't just bring people to America because I'm American, so I decided to tell her "If you come to America I will show you places." She put her hand on my knee and looked up at me with curiosity "Can I get a job there?" I told her that it can be hard to gets a job in America because there can be a lot of paperwork and waiting for foreigners, but that yes, she could get a job. When I later told Chuck about my conversation he pointed out that I might have just ruined all her dreams by making it sound difficult. I'd hate to make someone think it's impossible, but I also don't want to lead people to think that it's easy to find work in the States. I don't think it is easy for foreigners. She asked a few more questions about America, and I had to ask her to repeat just about every one because her accent was so thick and her English not quite spot on. But she was very sweet and I enjoyed talking with her. Our conversation ended rather abruptly when the tuk-tuk driver pulled up to their destination. The girls said goodbye quickly, paid the driver much less money than we've ever paid for a ride, and I never saw them again. I wonder if she'll ever make it to America! The driver continued on to the fort where we got off. Our fort tickets included a mandatory guided tour, which we were a little annoyed about at first. It's no fun if you get a bad tour, or aren't given time to explore the different areas, but our experience ended up being a good one. The tour group was about 20 people big, with four members who spoke no Hindi at all. The guide was very good though, and after delivering the information in Hindi he would take us four (me, Chuck, and two Italians) aside and repeat it in English. That's pretty good service if you ask me! Junagarh Fort was one of the nicest and most beautiful forts we saw. It had delicately carved, sandstone windows and balconies, lavishly decorated bedrooms and audience chambers, and some lovely painted ceilings. One room was covered in intricate gold-painted embellishments and had a large velvet sultan's throne on the floor, while the queens room had a window filled with thick red and blue stained glass. It was actually pretty, rather than being just a fort. We also got a kick out of our tour guide's awesome moustache, so Chuck got a picture with him just so we could admire it later if we so desired. After the fort we went to see the Lalgarh and Laxmi Palaces. They are now expensive hotels, but back in the early 1900's the Maharaja of Bikaner would have lived there. The palaces are more beautiful than the fort in the terms of architecture. The detailed carving of the windows and archways is so amazing and impossible to describe in words. And we were there close to sunset which made for deeper and more vibrant colors. We saw peacocks while there too! If you ever wondered, yes they can fly. One flew from the front lawn to the top of the palace rather easily. We didn't get to see any strutting their tail-feathers though. In fact, I think they had been clipped. I only noticed on one peacock, but it looked as though the "eye" at the end of all his feathers had been cut off. As we walked around the buildings we came across a big open door that led to an inner courtyard. We must have looked rather curious because a friendly, older gentleman came up to us and told us we were free to have a look around. He said they were setting up for a wedding that night. It must have been a family with a decent amount of money, because there were maybe three long food tables, a puppet tent, a stage, etc. I can only imagine what the wedding must have been like. And I think they had the actual ceremony was in the yard in front of the Laxmi Palace because when we went over that way we saw tons of chairs set up amongst pretty little pavilions. Must have been quite an affair! Since all we did was wander around the outside of the buildings it wasn't long before we were trying to find a tuk-tuk. Before going back to the hotel for the evening though, we asked if he knew where we could find a bhang shop (if you've been keeping up with my blogs you should know what this is). He says "Yes, yes, ok," and ushers us into his tuk-tuk. Of course, a few minutes down the road and he asks us where we want to go again. No one knows what bhang is, but no one is willing to turn down a ride. We try to explain it to him with hand signals and simple words, but the language barrier was just too much. He finally pulled out a phone and dialed a friend. After a few words he hands the phone to Chuck. "Uh, hello?" He speaks decent English and seems to know what we are looking for! Chuck explains everything to him and then hands the phone back. The driver's face lights with recognition as everything is translated to him. He hangs up and says to us with bright eyes "Bhang, bhang!" I finally see what the problem had been. We'd been asking for "bang" this whole time, when they pronounce it like "bong." He didn't know what "bang" was, but he seemed to know where to get some "bong." We might finally be onto something here! He drives us over to a nearby tobacco stand (these are all over the place in India - people love their red chewing tobacco stuff) and quickly tells the vendor what we're looking for. He pulls out a little brown ball wrapped in clear cellophane with yellow writing on it. Chuck gets four of them at one rupee a piece. On rupee! If this was truly a marijuana product, it was incredibly cheap! So, all of our hard work and persistence in trying to get our hands on this bhang stuff had finally paid off. But we were patient, and still needed to eat dinner. The tuk-tuk driver (the same guy who brought us to the bhang) dropped us off at the restaurant area of town and we chose a place to eat at random. It ended up being pretty good, and there was free entertainment as I watched a cute rat climb all over the empty soda bottles at the back of the restaurant. Ah, India. We grabbed some candies and deodorant quickly - we hadn't had any deodorant for a few weeks actually, and it was getting plain annoying. It was nice to find some. And finally back to the hotel. We cautiously unwrapped one of the little brown balls and inspected it closely. It really looked like a little ball of dung rolled in some sugar crystals. It smelled like it too. I broke it open to take a peek inside, but it was the same. Brown and dung-like through and through. We decided that I would go ahead and try one first. Chuck would wait a while to make sure that it didn't do anything terrible. It would be pretty bad if it ended up being some nasty poison and we were both laid out on the floor unable to call for help. So I worked up my courage and popped my broken bhang ball in my mouth. Bleh, it was not tasty. It not only looked and smelled like crap, but tasted like it too. It crumbled into bits as my mouth dried up with my sudden lack of appetite. I only managed to chew a few times before I decided to just wash it all down with a big swig of water. I tried to get rid of the flavor with a few gummy candies, and then I waited. After half an hour I noticed nothing going on. After a bit, Chuck decided to have one himself. We waited some more. We checked our email, id some facebooking, etc. A few hours later I maybe felt a bit more tired than usual, but I'm really not sure. We both ate a second one since nothing seemed to be happening. By bed time though, I still hadn't noticed any changes. Either it's really subtle stuff, or not strong enough, or not actually marijuana. Who knows! But we had finally managed to try it and we could knock bhang off our list.

On the 2nd, first thing we did was head out to the market for lunch. We asked that they make it spicy, and it ended up being really spicy. I could hardly eat it. Our request made the waiter happy though. After lunch we walked through the streets checking out what was going on and what was for sale. I knelt to look at some plastic bangles that were amongst the random goods that a dark-skinned woman was selling. She was on me like a shark on a juicy tuna steak! She pushed the bangles into my hands with an air of "you know you want them." The were much too small though. I couldn't possibly get them on my wrist, so I handed them back. This didn't stop her. She grabbed my hand and began forcing the bangles on, three at a time. I was in such shocked amazement that she was actually managing to get them on me that I didn't stop to think about what this would mean when I wanted to take them off. By the time she was done I realized that I was buying the bangles whether I wanted them or not. At least I managed to get them for 50 rupees instead of 100, although I think that was still an awesome deal for her. Oh well - I was in a good enough mood that I was able to laugh it off. She was very good after all! Once I had paid she said something in Hindi and motioned to a baby sleeping in a basket behind her. I had no idea what she wanted - more money maybe? I smiled with embarrassment as I tried to understand her. This went on for a few moments until she finally just laughed and kind of shooed me off. It was certainly an interesting encounter. We found an internet shop and while Chuck printed out some train tickets, I worked at trying to get at least one of the 12 bangles off my wrist. The edges were sharp and scraped against my skin as I tried my best to wiggle it over the bones in my hand. By the time I got just one off, my hand was swollen and red. It looked like I was stuck with the bangles until they broke off... We also met a young guy who lived in Bikaner at the internet shop. He started chatting with us and told us how best to get to the Bhandasar Jain Temple and said we should be sure to see the Havelis. We're so used to suspecting anyone who speaks to us of being a scammer that we weren't sure what his game was. But he never asked us for anything or tried to get us to go to his uncle's textiles shop or anything like that. I think he might have just been a nice guy interested in talking to us. We grabbed a tuk-tuk, asked him to take us to the temple, and agreed on 20 rupees for the ride. We would pass through the Havelis this way, so we would get the chance to see the beautiful architecture. Instead of driving us through the Havelis, our tuk-tuk stopped and had us get out. He made some hand motions at us and tried to tell us something but we didn't understand. He finally had his buddy take off down the road in the tuk-tuk and he walked us through the Havelis, pointing at the lovely buildings. It was very strange really. I don't know why he felt the need to have us walk through there rather than drive. I mean, sure, it would be nice to walk around the area - but not when we're on the way to the temple and not with our random tuk-tuk driver. I suppose he was giving us a little tour? It was a short walk - maybe 30 yards -and at the end was the tuk-tuk, waiting for us. We jumped back in, the driver took over again, and off we went to the temple. We passed through some incredibly narrow alleys that were full of locals and non-touristy shops. We even got in a traffic jam with a slow-moving camel that was hauling a wooden cart. Bikaner had a lot of camels being driven around the whole city, some carrying huge loads on their carts. Loads that would have been too big to fit through the narrow roads we were driving through at the moment. I got the impression that it was a part of town that was actually lived in. It was pretty cool. We did get a lot of stares though, which is always unnerving. Once we reached the temple and started fumbling for our money, the driver said "50 rupees," with a smile on his face. I wasn't really surprised at this, given that he walked us through the Havelis. I've found that people will practically force you into doing something that you figure they are doing out of the goodness of their heart, only to find out that they're coercing you into a state of obligation in order to squeeze more money out of you. We weren't having any of that though. Chuck told him "It's 20 or nothing," and started to walk away. He decided to take the 20. It's all the principle of the matter and not the money itself. I don't like being tricked out of my money. If I agree to a price, then that's what the price needs to be. If I choose to give more because I thought the guy was fabulous or maybe even felt sorry for him, then I'm happy to give extra! But doing extra work and then demanding more money is not okay in my book. I was half inclined to give the guy a bit more until he demanded 50 rupees. As you can tell, I was rather annoyed at the situation. So! We headed towards the gate surrounding the temple only to be told by a group of young guys in marching band outfits that the temple was in the other direction. I clearly saw the sign in front that said "Bhandasar Jain Temple," but I thought that perhaps there was a back entrance, so we followed their direction. This led us directly into a playground of some sort where we were immediately set upon by about 10 kids. As soon as they saw us come around the corner they dropped what they were doing and came running towards us as they yelled happily. They all wanted to shake our hands and ask us our names and how we are doing. I could see their minds working to pick out the correct English phrase they were wanting to use, and they would pause to process our answers. But man, they were excited. A few of them didn't take long before asking for money, which we refused with smiles of course. At about this point a man on a bike came around the corner to our rescue. The way he interacted with the kids was interesting. He basically swatted at them and told them in a nasty tone not to touch him. "Don't mind the stupid kids," he told us. Okay... It was very different from how I was used to interacting with children, that's for sure. But he seemed to know where the Bhandasar Jain Temple was, and was more than happy to lead the way. Of course, he led us right back the way we had come, up to the gate that I had been about to walk through earlier. So I guess I had been right to begin with. Marching band members must be trouble all over the world, with their bad directions and crazy hats. We took off our shoes before stepping into the inner courtyard and were greeted by a white haired and moustached man who seemed to be the overseer of the temple. He kindly and calmly walked us around the building pointing out the numerous paintings of heaven and hell, and telling us about how butter was used to mix the cement rather than water. Supposedly the temple sweats greasy butter on a hot day because of this. It seems a farfetched, yet wonderful story to me. He motions us upstairs to look around on our own and shuffles back to the garland-weaving. We emerged from the stairwell to a bird-poo slathered second story, open to the elements. The carved, white "spire" of the temple rose up from the middle of the platform and we were free to walk around it and take in the views of the city. We snapped a few pictures from each vantage point and then headed back downstairs. The temple priest was contentedly working on his garland and seemed quite happy to let us leave without paying the camera fee, but we like to try to be good people and paid him the 30 rupees plus an extra 20 as a tip. It was a nice change to not feel like we were being hounded for our money for once. The next stop was at Savibari Temple, which was closed to my dismay. I couldn't read the sign on the front gate since it was in Hindi, but I deduced from the layout of the numbers that it was open only in the morning and evenings. Just our luck, we were there in the middle of the afternoon. Our tuk-tuk driver was pretty awesome though and ran across the street to a tobacco shop - the only other structure to be found in that barren part of town - and asked them if there was some way we could get in. They must have told him that we could go around the side of the temple and through a construction area, because that's just what he did. He exchanged some words with the workers who, after a few moments, let us through with a shrug. We weren't able to go in the temple itself, but we at least got to walk around the courtyard area and see it from the outside. We could see a bit of the ceiling from the back side of the building and it looked like it was probably quite pretty inside. Oh well! Back to the hotel after that. We ordered in dinner and talked with the manager for a bit - otherwise it was a nice and boring evening.

We got ourselves a private taxi to take us to Deshnok and the local camel research farm on the 3rd. The driver spoke zero English, but he had been briefed by our hotel guy so the only problem was an inability to make conversation. The drive to Deshnok - where the Karni Mata Rat Temple is located - was a 30 minute long stretch of highway bordered by dusty, tan desert sand. It was also quite frightening. I think our driver got a thrill out of seeing us flinch. He swerved quickly around a cow in the middle of the highway at one point, causing Chuck to exclaim out loud. I swear I saw a little smirk cross his face at that moment. He would pass long stretches of cars in one go, and would pull back into the correct lane when the oncoming cars were too close for my comfort. We saw a few camel-drawn carts along the way, trudging slowly along the shoulder of the road. I remember one cart in particular because it was piled, literally, 20 feet high and 10 feet wide with a giant mass of burlap covered goods. It was all tied down with ropes crisscrossing over and under and around the giant package, tying it to the much-too-small cart. It was a comical sight - something you would see in a cartoon rather than real life. But there it was, complete with a smiling camel slowly dragging the massive contraption down the road. Within half an hour we had arrived in the fairly tiny town of Deshnok and were dropped off just outside the Disney-esque plaza that is home to the Karni Mata Rat Temple. I can't pinpoint exactly why we were reminded of Disney, but something about the various tourist-focused vendors positioned on the edges of the plaza, the fence surrounding the temple, complete with metal detector, and the loads of white people were reminiscent of a theme park. I think we may be the only ones that would make that association though. So! We took off our shoes and delivered them to the shoe-cubby stand, then made our way through the metal detector (I really think most of the ones in India are non-operational) and to the entrance of the temple. The marble facade that surrounded the front gate was absolutely beautiful! The flowers, leaves, and birds were deeply carved into the white stone, creating a very different atmosphere from the one that we would encounter once inside. Oh, while I was standing in front of the temple having Chuck take my photo a group of three young Indian guys dressed in trendy clothing decided they wanted to be in our photos. They didn't have a camera of their own - they just wanted to be in our pictures. So I got a picture with each of them and then they went on their way, laughing and smiling. Such a strange request to my mind, but cool to have pictures with these random guys! Inside it is immediately apparent why the place is called the Rat Temple. They critters are crawling on and around the door as you come in, scampering about on the tile floor, and lined up around the bowls of thick milk that are set out for them. There were even some resting in the loops of iron that made up the fence that led to the shrine at the back of the temple. The floor was littered with these yellow crumbs of some sort - it must have been some sort of rat food because the rats would occasionally munch a piece. They were definitely well-fed with their big bowls of milk and yellow crumbs. The only real danger for them was each other. We saw a few rat fights as we were walking around, and one apparently dead rat. Ick. I was lucky enough to have a rat scamper across my bare foot as he raced across the room! I heard that it's good luck if that happens. So lucky me, yay. It wasn't so lucky when we went towards the back room where the shrine was though. We followed the crowded line towards the dark doorway at the back of the temple and with everyone laughing or flinching at all of the rats there was a fairly light atmosphere. I stepped over the doorway and wondered what the fellows on the floor were doing with the flowers and bowls and maybe some incense. Suddenly they were shouting and Chuck and me! It took me just a second to realize they were telling us to get out. "Indian only! Indian only!" He stood up and physically shooed us out, forcing us through the crowd behind us. I was so shocked and bewildered by the situation that my mind wasn't able to process anything for a few moments. I just wanted to get out of the crowd and away from the people and figure out what had happened. Indians only. My conclusion, once I was able to think about it all, was that the shrine area at the Rat Temple was sacred enough that you must be Indian to see it. What if you're an albino Indian? Or a white person adopted by an Indian family and raised with all the Indian customs and ways? (I know that situation is probably far-fetched, but you never know). Or what if you're an extremely devout white or black or east asian Hindu? I felt so embarrassed and ashamed, and I hadn't even done anything that was actually wrong! I was "wrong" for reasons I had zero control over. I was respectful - I was wearing an Indian-like top and had my scarf covering my head. But I was still wrong. I have to say, it's one thing to imagine and know that racism or "exclusion based on race" is painful an unpleasant, but it's another to experience it and be shooed out of a place for no reason other than the color of your skin. I can not imagine how it must have felt to be a black person in the American south back in the 1930's, or a Jewish person in England in the 1400's, or a South Asian living in Bahrain or UAE in the 21st century. It was quite an upsetting experience to have, but I'm glad I encountered it in the end. It's always good to get a little taste of the unpleasant things in life. I am quite aware that I did not experience anywhere near the degree of prejudice that some people in the world have to live with on a daily basis, but it was a new and powerful experience for me personally. After that, of course, I wasn't too keen on sticking around at the temple. I put on a brave, unaffected face and we wandered around the last few bits of the temple courtyard and then left. On the way to the car we were accosted by an old-woman beggar who followed us. She was still talking to us as after we had climbed in the vehicle and whatever she was saying made our driver laugh out loud. She was probably calling us dirty names or something! I wish we could have asked him what she said, but the lack of any English on his part and any Hindi on ours made that impossible. Oh well. We took another frightening drive to our next stop: the Camel Research Farm. There was a small charge for the entry and camera, but I thought it was well worth it. The farm is set up like a zoo and research facility combined. I suppose this makes perfect sense since that's exactly what it is. We wandered towards the back of the complex where an employee approached us to let us know that the camels would be trekking back in from the desert at any moment now. He told us where the best views were and offered a camel ride. We weren't interested in camel rides though - we'd already done that in Egypt. What I really wanted was to see the camels charging in from the desert! While we waited we wandered around the various enclosures at the facility. I love the sounds that the camels make - like an enormous belch from a clogged sink. It's quite a noise and can't really be explained in words. There was a pen where the babies and their mothers were being kept. They were so cute with their messy, fuzzy coats and their awkwardly long legs. We walked by the "stud" pen which must home the most studly of the camels. So attractive that they have to keep them separated from the rest of the crowd for fear they'll be molested by raunchy lady-camels, or attacked by jealous gentleman-camels? Hmmm. Soon enough though, we noticed the first of the camels trotting back from the dusty desert. By the time we positioned ourselves in a good spot they were flooding through the gates and making their way into their pens. Ia was amazed that there was no human herder guiding them and that they just knew exactly where to go. I'm sure the fact that their pens contained trough fulls of food helped though. A few hundred camels came through by my estimation, and we were told that there would be two more herds before the day wads through. They certainly have a lot of camels at that facility. On the way out I had to bravely try a camel-milk ice cream! Let me tell you, it was quite tasty. It had a thick, rich flavor and a very creamy texture. Kind of like the "fudge" of ice cream - so rich you can't eat too much at once. Very good in my opinion. That was it for the Camel Research Farm! We went to the market for dinner after that. We met a nice man while we were out, who showed me a good shop to buy bangles at. He was a well-educated guy who never offered us any textiles or mentioned his brothers shop or anything. That's a rare find in India - someone who's not trying to sell you something. At the shop I picked out a few bangles I liked and attempted to barter. I'm not very good at bartering, so the man we met suggested a starting price to me in Spanish. The shop owner refused to budge on his price at all though, so I ended up leaving bangle-less. I thanked the man who had tried to help and he shrugged, almost apologetically at the stubbornness of the shop keeper. We parted ways and grabbed a tuk-tuk back to the hotel. On the tuk-tuk we were joined by a random young man who seemed quite interested in foreign English-speakers. His English was very good and he seemed to just want to talk with us out of curiosity, or maybe just to practice his English. Bikaner is an interesting place.

On the 4th we packed up and checked out. The hotel manager was nice enough to give us a ride to the train station where we were able to immediately board our train. The train took off in a timely manner and we were on our way to Jodhpur. There were a few families on the train, which included a couple little kids. Once little boy in particular was incredibly adorable. Every time he walked by our bunks he would look over at us with a bit of curiosity. Maybe it's creepy, but we just had to get a picture of his cuteness, so Chuck got out the camera. The kid seemed really interested in the camera and came over to investigate. He ended up taking all sorts of random pictures with our camera, pressing the button and flipping it around in his hands as Chuck kept his hand firmly wrapped around the neck strap. He was pretty interested to see himself show up on the little digital display screen on the back. He was really cute. There was another little girl who liked to pay a game where she would stare at us and then dart back behind the seats when we spotted her. After about five minutes, I have to admit, it got old... But she was having fun I guess. And then there was the father of one of the families. He took an interest in us and sat down to chat. He told us about how he and his 16 family members have lived in Mumbai for 25 years now, and they all work in the same family business. He was from Bikaner originally and they had all recently visited his family that was still living there. He raved about a sweets shop in Bikaner and then promptly disappeared for a few moments. When he came back he was carrying a paper box filled with a mess of orange strings of fried dough. He insisted we try some, so we nervously each took a chunk of the funnel-cake-like, sticky sweet. It was still warm. I took a bite and found that it was pretty tasty! I gobbled down all the rest of it, even though there was the slight possibility that it was poisoned, designed to knock us out so we could be robbed. Ah, how fear-filled the world has become. It turned out to be just regular sweets being shared by a regular, friendly guy. Good train trip.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


We arrived at Jaipur's train station in the afternoon. Our tuk-tuk driver seemed very nice and gave us his phone number in case we wanted to set up an all-day tour with him. He even had a little "recommendation" book that a few other tourists had written in, stating that he is, indeed, an awesome all-day tour guide. We never did get in touch with him again though. When we pulled up to the hotel I was surprised at how nice-looking a place it was. It was clean and well kept with a solid, un-chipped paint job and a green, grassy front lawn. I hadn't seen grass for nearly a month. Although the air in Jaipur wasn't smog free, it was much cleaner than in New Delhi. I could actually feel the warm sunshine on my back as I walked up to the building and it made me melt a little. Sunshine is one of those things that is thoroughly under-appreciated when you have a steady supply. And when it's gone you may not realize you even missed it until it's beating its warmth down on you again. Very nice. When they showed us to our room I was surprised once again. It was a nice big room with a big, comfy bed and a window offering a view of some green shrubbery. There was supposedly even hot water. The hotel-guy showed me how to get hot water. It was a very complicated process. I had to turn on the hot water knob to get hot water. Very tricky stuff. But once I had it figured out (I'm a quick learner), he gave me a very enthusiastic hi-five. He even shouted "Hi-five!" I was greatly amused. We took it easy for the rest of the day and and ate lunch on the sunny lawn that was conveniently set up with tables and chairs. Closer to evening we discovered the one downside to the place - the toilet. As you might have heard, they don't use toilet paper here in India. At least, it's not at all common. However, all the toilets we'd encountered up to that point had a nifty little attachment on the back of the bowl that sprayed water to clean you off instead. It works surprisingly well and we both agree that we haven't felt so clean after a trip to the bathroom than here in India. But this hotel was missing that little butt-sprayer, so we were forced to resort to... other, more direct measures. You catch my meaning? Ugh. This is why there is a little spigot and bucket next to every toilet. After all, you can't clean properly without a supply of fresh water. This is also why they really do use their right hand for just about everything in India. Shaking hands, eating, giving or taking money, giving or taking anything really. All done with the right hand. I think you can understand why, yes?

The 26th was Thanksgiving. We had no turkey, stuffing, or mashed potatoes and I was a little put out about this. But I suppose being in India on an extended "vacation" kinda makes up for it. We did call our parents on Skype to celebrate though. It wasn't actually Thanksgiving day in the States yet when we called, since we're off by about 11 hours. But it was nice to catch up with everyone quickly. We left the hotel around noon and took a tuk-tuk to the City Palace. The tuk-tuk driver was, once again, very nice and gave us his phone number with offers of all-day tours. Perhaps this is a recurring theme in Jaipur? The City Palace cost us a whopping 300 rupees, or $6.00 USD each to get in. It's funny how quickly your mind adjusts to the pricing range of whatever country your in. If I had paid $6 for an equivalent site in Europe I would have been praising its incredible value. But $6 in India feels somewhat closer to a rip-off. The City Palace was the old home of the Maharaja of Jaipur and is now contains a few small museums and is primarily a tourist hot spot. We first went into the textiles museum which had some really gorgeous examples of clothing that the nobles and royalty wore back in the day. You could see a strong East Asian influence in some of the pieces, and many were woven through with elaborate gold embroidery. They were really beautiful and I wish they had allowed photos inside. The weapons museum was kind of neat too. Some weapons had jade, or jeweled handles while others looked to be made purely for practical purposes. I loved the katars. Such a unique weapon. The Palace is also home to the world's largest silver vessels, Guinness Book approved and all. The two huge urns are about five feet tall and can hold 4000 liters each, apparently. But the most impressive aspects of the City Palace were the buildings themselves. Everything was painted a deep, burnt salmon color and had white trim. Lovely domes-capped corners and archways; delicate latticed windows; inlaid marble accents. It was pretty. The people who worked there were dressed in British inspired brass-buttoned tops and wore red turbans. While inside the textiles museum one of them came to offer us a tour (for a price of course). He started the conversation by commenting on how I looked like an Indian lady - I was wearing a short, turquoise dress over a pair of jeans with my Turkish scarf flipped over my shoulders. It was my attempt at a salwar kameez using my Western clothing. Then he smoothly segued into the tour offer, which we politely declined. After finishing with the museum we stepped outside, where we saw him one again. He offered to take a photo with us, which I thought was very nice of him. Here we had built up a little report with the guy and he liked us so much he wanted to be in one of our pictures! So Chuck stepped up next to him where they were immediately joined by another Palace employee. Yay, pictures for everyone! I snapped the photo. The man looked at Chuck and asked "You have something for me?" Ah, nothing in life is free, huh? Yay, tips for everyone! So we learned not to take photos with the guys who work there unless we were ready to pay up. After our little experience we saw a white family happily taking turns snapping a bunch of pictures with one of the workers and we laughed secretly to ourselves. Once finished with the City Palace we made our way towards the Hawa Mahal. We saw the tuktuk driver who had dropped us off just outside the Palace - turns out he had been waiting for us so he could take us to wherever we wanted to go next. Gah, I hate it when they do that! We certainly didn't ask him to wait, but I felt a twinge of guilt none-the-less. We told him we just wanted to walk around the Old City and he seemed mostly happy enough to let us go our own way. There was a snake charmer along the way and I had to get a photo. I had always imagined snake charmers as guys who sit around playing for their snake all day long, just because they liked playing tunes for snakes. But it's a job, and the charmers are working for money, just like everyone else. When they see a tourist approaching they whip open their reed-woven snake basket and start playing. The guy we saw was not hesitant with his snake at all. He lifted the top off as if it were something as innocuous as a bucket of ice cream (although I might have to contest just how innocuous ice cream really is) and the snake sort popped right up, staring at the guy as he immediately began playing his instrument. There was no sinuous scariness involved. Just a snake and a guy playing his flute-gourd. As soon as I took my picture and handed him a tip the snake was back in his little basket and the show was over. Looking back now, it was all so fast I can hardly picture it! The Hawa Mahal was an interesting building. It's where the noble ladies used to sit and watch the goings-on in the streets below without being seen themselves. While there we noticed a trio of white Europeans, one of whom was wearing a thin pair of strawberry-patterned pajama pants. I've found that in India I feel uncomfortable wearing very tight shirts that hug my figure, or form-fitting workout pants, and I am very aware of how publicly affectionate Chuck and I are. Hand-holding and kissing in public, even between married couples is uncommon in India, so I avoid doing it myself. Even though we draw a lot of attention just because we're white and different, I like to try and avoid drawing even more. So when other people - especially white people - are dressed in attention-drawing clothing I notice it a lot. I can't imagine how she felt comfortable dressing that way, and it was a very strange feeling to have because if I had been in Europe or the USA I think I would have just thought that she had cute strawberry-patterned PJ's on. And the way we notice foreigners is strange too. I almost feel racist, but whenever we see other white people we get all "Oh my gosh, white people!" We very rarely interact with or acknowledge each other, but we definitely notice them. It's so strange! I got some bangles from a shop just outside the Hawa Mahal. Silly me though - I didn't bother trying them on and it wasn't until that evening that I realized half of them were too small to fit. Having already noticed how much smaller Indian women are than me, you'd think I might have thought of this. Nope. We headed off to find food after that, and nearly walked into the courtyard of a grade school. Some motorcyclists were lounging around nearby and tried to tell us we were going the wrong way. We're so leery of trusting anyone in India that it wasn't until we actually saw the children running around that we realized they were telling us the truth. We had to walk past the group of motorcycle men as we headed back, but they laughed good naturedly and pointed us through a shortcut that led to the street. This brought us smack dab into the hustle and bustle of Jaipur's raging bazaar area. Everywhere we walked we were shouted at: "Only 100 rupees!" "We have many shoes!" "Look here in my shop!" "You would like puppets?!" "Where are you from?!" Along with the shouting the vendors would step into our path and shove their goods at us, hoping to entice us through brute force. Thankfully, I was in a good mood that day and was having a blast just experiencing the crazy atmosphere. There was clothing, quilts, shoes, jewelry, food, pots and pans, knick-knacks, puppets, gems and stones, keys, etc. I only stopped into one of these shops, and that was after I had walked down the road twice already. I didn't pick the place for any reason other than it was one of the last clothing shops and if I wanted a tunic-top it was now or never. Once we stepped inside the 8x10 foot space they drew a curtain between us and the busy street and started in. He began pulling top after top out of their clear plastic wrapping and unfolding them for me to see. I specified that I wanted long sleeves, so he narrowed his selection to just long sleeved tops. I finally asked how much a black one with a sequined neck-line was. My jaw just about dropped when he told me it was 800 rupees. That's like $16 USD!! Which is so funny because it's really not that much. But when in India... I told them I'd take it for 200. They pressured me and pressured me, trying to convince me that it was just such a good quality tunic and there were so many yards of fabric used, etc. When that didn't work they tried to get me to buy a cheaper top. Chuck, being the stronger of the two of us in this type of situation, saw that I wasn't into any of it but was unable to just get up and walk. So he took my hand and pushed his way through the dividing curtain (which somehow really does make you feel like you're not allowed to leave) and began walking. Seeing his chance at a sale of any kind disappearing, the shop-keeper quickly began dropping his price as he followed us out of the shop. He finally offered 250 rupees as we were about to cross the street. What the hey - 250 it is. So I got me a brand-spanking new tunic-like top for $5 USD! I like to think we did a good job on getting ourselves a good price, but who knows. At one point I stopped to take a photo of a great view of the Hawa Mahal and another a vendor commented on how I looked Indian. I wondered vaguely if they might consider this a bad thing, or just very uncommon as it was something that had been pointed out twice that day now. But I decided to take it as a compliment. Another person asked me if I was Australian. I figured that "Yes" was a good enough answer, given that my Mother is full-on Australian and asked how he guessed. He motioned at my arm and told me that it was "the dots." It took me a split second to figure out that he was referring to my freckles, which I found to be hilarious. I can't recall anyone ever having called them dots! I love it. I have lots of dots. Our next shopping experience was was in the much more relaxed food section of the city. I wanted to get some nice loose-leaf tea and finally chose a shop after walking up and down the street twice. He quoted his prices in kilos, and since I have no idea how much a kilo of loose tea ends up being, I didn't know how much to get. He showed us the kilo bag and I quickly realized that it was a ridiculous amount, so I went for a quarter kilo or so. He told us it would be 100 rupees and measured it all out using an old-fashioned balance scale. Then he charged us 150 rupees... What the hell?? Fine, we paid 150 but were not happy customers. Then he had the audacity to try and sell us a packet of chai masala for another 100 rupees. No way dude. Instead, we found the same amount of masala for 50 rupees at another shop down the road. Hah! We sure showed him. And in case you're wondering, chai masala is the spice mix that is infused in the typical Indian tea recipe. Usually it's a blend of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, peppercorn, and cloves. Boil this, milk, and you tea together to make some delicious masala chai. Starbuck's chai has nothing on the real thing. I love the tea in India! We were tuckered out from expending so much of our energy defending ourselves against aggressive vendors, so we made our way to the tuktuk area and found a driver. Chuck asked him to if he knew where to find something called bhang lassi. What is a bhang lassi? This is where I may get us into trouble, but here goes. Bhang is, according to Wikipedia, a "preparation from the leaves and flowers (buds) of the female cannabis plant." This preparation can then be used, among other things, to make little balls called golees or put into the yogurt-based drink known as lassi. Although marijuana is illegal in most of India, the state of Rajasthan said "No way man" to the Indian "man" and has continued to keep it legal. It's not only used spiritually, but also medicinally and as a sleep aid. I don't get the impression that it's often used to just "Get high," though. In fact, I don't get the impression that many people even know what it is. So we asked this tuktuk driver if he could take us to get a bhang lassi, and he obviously did not know what we were talking about but was unwilling to admit that to us. We tried another tactic and asked about getting a special lassi instead, as we read they are sometimes referred to as such. Recognition lit his face and he eagerly had us hop in his tuktuk and carted us off. He dropped us at an open front shop littered with broken, red, cone-shaped clay cups stained white with the dried residue of the thick lassi drink. We nervously order up two special lassis, not sure what to expect. They hand us each one of those clay cones, filled with the thick, white, sweet lassi. It's actually surprisingly good stuff! Very rich, not too sweet, and almost a little meal all by itself. However, we are 99% sure there is no bhang in our drinks. I still felt shady standing there on the road drinking what was supposed to be a cannabis-laced drink. It didn't help that a dirty woman and her pant-less child came begging money from us toward the end. We chose to ignore them, tossed our apparently disposable clay cups in the garbage oil barrel, and flagged down a rickshaw to take us back to the hotel for the night. I hate having to take bicycle rickshaws, but how can you tell the poor guy "No" and then take the tuktuk behind him? I'm sure he needs the money just as much as the next guy. He didn't know where our hotel was though, and stopped to ask an old man walking down the road. Chuck, being the polite fellow he is, thanked the old man for his help and shook his hand. This got the guy so excited and happy that he just started chattering at us, not even waiting to see if we understood, which we did not. I managed to pick out the word "jersey" which he repeated a few times through his beard. Our smiles and nods seemed to be good enough for him though, so he enthusiastically shook Chuck's hand again and we headed off. The rickshaw ride was just as guilt-inducing as expected. Our driver strained against the pedals, standing upright just to get more leverage. Traffic passed us by as we slowly made our way across town. He even had to get off and walk the rickshaw up a slight incline at one point. I felt awful. I probably shouldn't though, if only for the fact that as a lot of people don't really like pity. I can't help how my US culture colors my thoughts and feelings I suppose. But we made it back eventually! We stayed in for the rest of the evening. We discovered that one of the guys who works at the hotel speaks a fair bit of Japanese when he brought us the food we ordered in. He seemed to like to just start speaking to people in Japanese without any indication that they might understand him. All I know of Japanese is "wakarimasen," or "I don't understand" which I used a lot with him. He was fun! He tried to teach us some Japanese and we would promptly forget it. Very nice guy.

I tried to wake up super-early in the morning on the 27th so that I could call my Mom's and wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. At 5:00 AM India time, it's 6:30 PM EST, which is right when everyone would be enjoying the Turkey-Day festivities. But when the alarm went off there was no way I was going to be able to wake up - not even enough to just call them on Skype. I felt guilty about that when I woke up later in the morning... I couldn't even just call and say happy Thanksgiving?? Terrible family-member I am, huh? I think maybe they're all nice enough to forgive me for that though. I wore my new, 250 rupee top that day, hoping it was more Indian than my turquoise dress from the day before. The plan for the day was to go see the Amber Fort just outside the city. We had to search around and do some bargaining but we finally agreed on a price for the ride with a tuktuk driver hanging out near our hotel. 300 Rupees round trip. The ride out there was amazing! Not in an "Oh, it's so beautiful" way, but in an "Oh my gosh, I've never seen anything quite like this" kind of way. The road was incredibly bumpy and pot-holed, and lined with excessive piles of garbage. There were more stray dogs, cows, and pigs than I could count rooting through the garbage to find something tasty. Or edible. I've seen cows just eat pieces of paper in their hunger. Small herds of goats being moved down the street by their owners, a few roaming chickens, and some donkeys hauling bricks added to the already impressive range of animals that we saw. Then there were the typical sights: street carts with veggies or yummy cooked foods, people squatting or sitting in front of their home or a shop, just relaxing, other people working to sort out piles of rubble, one kid running around buck nekid. To be honest, I thought the ride was great! It summed up all things that I find so far out and strange about India quite nicely without that slum-y feeling. And at the end of the ride, once we were on the smooth stretch of road leading to the Amber Fort we saw elephants. Not wild elephants mind you, but ones with colorful painting on their faces and down their trunks, with a rider on top in a precarious looking basket. They lumbered slowly down the road, some lucky enough to have a branch in their trunk to play with. They were huge! Bigger than I was expecting. Sometimes we'd have to slow down in order to pass one and we'd get an up-close view of the way their loose skin pulled back and forth over the muscles underneath, looking almost as though it was draped around their body, unattached. And when they peed - as we were privileged enough to witness just once - it's as though someone turned over a bucket of water. It's doesn't stream out, it all comes crashing out at once in a big splash. Just thought I'd share that... At the Amber Fort I knocked my head on the short doorway leading through the front gate and got a bit of a chuckle from the onlooking hawkers. I admit, I was embarrassed, but I think I laughed it off adequately. I was also immediately distracted by the large languar monkey that was chilling on top of the garbage can just inside, not 15 feet away from us. He was picking through the garbage languidly as I got a few photos. Then he slinked (slunk?) down and sauntered out the front gate. Like the elephants, he was bigger than I was expecting - maybe the size of an 8 year old kid with extra-long limbs. He looked like he would probably win if you picked a fight with him. Very cool! The main part of the Amber Fort is at the top of a hill, which is great if you're a fort, but sucks when you're a tourist. Once inside we caught our breath and purchased tickets. The fort really wasn't very beautiful in my opinion. It seemed to be more a practical fort than a decadent one. Which, once again, is good if you're a fort, but not so exciting when you're a tourist. The prettiest section was the Shesh Mahal, or the Mirror Temple. Every inch of it was covered in thousands of small, round mirrors and tiles. I suspect that it makes lovely plays of light as the sun spills into the temple. Outside the temple I managed to knock down a young toddler on accident. I say it was all her fault though! She ran right into my leg, knocking herself over in the process. Then she had the gall to run crying to her Dad! But really. I felt so bad that I had knocked her over, and I didn't know what to do. I apologized profusely and I tried to help her back up as she started to cry, but luckily her Dad quickly took over. He picked her up and tried to console her, finally resorting to making exaggerated accusatory glances in our direction. He was sure to give us a smile when she wasn't looking though, as if to let us know he wasn't serious. At least I hope he wasn't... Other than the temple, it was mainly a labyrinth of narrow passageways and small rooms that we were allowed to explore freely. We didn't go very far through those, not wanting to get lost. Before we left we checked out the tunnel that led to another fort - Jaigarh Fort - to see the bats. It's dark so you can only see them if you have a flashlight or take a flash picture. There was a group of 4 or 5 Indian guys in the tunnel with us that were funny. One of them in particular seemed to be rather nervous about the bats. He would sort of run across each length of tunnel, ducking his head and laughing. I couldn't tell if they were just being goofy or if they were seriously scared that the creatures would come swooping down on them. Either way, it gave me a chuckle. Back at the tuktuk congregation point we stopped for a bite to eat. One shop had some awesome looking pakoras. Chuck got a chile pakora and I had an aloo (potato) filled one. He smashed it into the plate with his palm and covered it in a red and green sauce for me. In the US that would be a big no-no, but here it works somehow. I had no problem with his hands being all up in my food. So strange. And delicious - that was a good pakora. We stopped for a quick photo opportunity at the Water Palace and went back to the hotel. After a couple hours respite we decided to try the bhang lassi thing again. We had done some reading online after our last experience and had gotten some tips on what to ask for. We wanted to go to the government bhang shop. To our surprise, the guy who had dropped us off at the City Palace the day before was waiting for someone in need of a ride just down the road from our hotel. Well, I suppose it wasn't that surprising seeing as that's where we had found him the first time. We all remembered each other and greeted each other with happy recognition. We asked him about the government bhang shop and he knew exactly what we were talking about. All right! Our research had helped! When we tried to negotiate a price for the ride to the shop - because you always negotiate price before hand - he told us it would be a "friendly price." Hmmm, we were not sure how exactly we felt about this. Chuck tried to insist upon a price, but tuktuk-man insisted right back that it would be a "friendly price" or "whatever you'd like to pay" as he elaborated. Chuck definitely did not like this, but I was both loathe to be rude and interested in seeing what happened so we got in. There was a faint awkwardness in his movement as he pushed himself away from his position leaning against the tuktuk, and a faint odor of alcohol wafted past us as he scooted into his seat up front. Uh-oh. Then he handed back his Bacardi Breezer and asked if one of us could hold it. Hilarious! I know there are probably many people that would sit there and say "You should have said no and gotten right out," but we're in India! And it's a tuktuk and no one goes over 30 miles an hour and my calculations of the possibility that the worst scenarios would happen came out to be pretty low, so I took his bottle and held in my hysterics. After driving us to just a few streets away he stopped. "Maybe you can wait here with my friend and I will go get you the bhang lassi," he told us. When we told him we'd rather he just take us to the shop directly he said that they may not serve foreigners and that he should go ahead and get it for us. This was quickly becoming suspicious, but we said okay. I figured that talking to locals was what you're supposed to do while traveling, right? Here was a chance. We got out of the tuktuk and headed to a shop at the top of the steps we were parked in front of. As soon as we saw that it was a jewelry shop our suspicion deepened considerably. There is a well-known scam in India - and especially Jaipur - called the "gem scam." Jewelry shops and strange behavior seem like perfect companions for such a scam, so we were on red alert now. We took a seat in the small, sparsely filled shop and were introduced to two other friendly men. We were offered tea which we declined as politely as we could. We all tried to make small talk, although the Indian men ended up doing most of the talking - I often find that I have nothing I feel is worth contributing in some situations. When I did speak, I tried to use my hands a lot to emphasize my words. I read that Indian people, like Italians, are very expressive with their hands. I don't think I did a particularly good job. People came and went and we met maybe four or five men that night. One asked me why I was dressed like an Indian woman, and after I stumbled over my answer and giggled like an idiot he seemed to sort of dismiss me as not worth talking to and turned his attention to Chuck for the rest of his visit. We were offered tea once again and I decided to be polite and accept, although Chuck still declined. I drank slowly, and only after I saw that one of the other men was drinking his tea as well. Even then, I only pretended to actually take sips for a while. I'm so sneaky! After a while I got bored with this and just drank it. One man left and another took his place. We asked the newcomer about getting bhang in Jaipur. He told us there is a government shop and that it's really easy to just go up and order a lassi or a brownie. We specifically asked him if foreigners were allowed to go there and he said "Yeah, sure, it's no problem." Chuck and I glanced at each other knowingly upon hearing this bit of information. What was our tuktuk driver up to anyways? We hadn't seen him in 30 minutes, yet his tuktuk was still sitting where he had left it. We got into a conversation with that same fellow about how Indians think with their hearts and Americans think with their head. He seemed to think that the Indian heart-thinking was not that great a thing because it can easily land you in a bad or unprofitable situation. I pointed out that Americans thinking too much with the head is not very good either though. He eventually got bored with us and was replaced by yet another guy. He invited us to a party that night which we were in no way interested in going to. We told him that Chuck had to attend to some business online at 8:00, so we wouldn't be able to come. After a few minutes silence he asked "So, were you discussing business with Ali?" Ah-hah! I knew it! The trap is finally sprung! Business my foot. "We have an export business here," he started. He explained all about how there's a "loop hole" in the Indian tax laws that they can use to export gems out of the country. The idea is that the foreigner mails a few thousand dollars worth of gems back home as "gifts," thereby avoiding the hefty export taxes an Indian business man would have to pay. Then they fly you home to pick them up and deliver them to their contact that just happens to live nearby your home city - whether it be Alaska of Israel. The helpful foreigner is promised $10,000 in appreciation for his help. They can afford to give this much because they'll be saving so much money by avoiding those nasty export taxes. From what we read, as soon as the gems are in the mail they suddenly want collateral. One man's account claimed that when he refused to give them his bank account numbers they locked him in a hotel room for 3 days without food and water until he finally agreed. Of course, the gems aren't actually real and no one ever gets their $10,000 for being such great help. Instead, people end up being robbed of thousands of dollars and no course of retribution. But we were not going to be falling for that. We told him we weren't interested in business, that we had to go, and got up and walked out. We hailed another tuktuk but before we managed to talk to the driver, the half-drunk driver who had dropped us into this whole situation showed up wondering where we were going. He had been gone an hour "trying to get us bhang lassi," and suddenly pops up as we want to leave. Of course, he claimed he had just gotten our lassis and they were waiting for us. I don't think so. Chuck asked him to just take us back to the hotel. When he turned in the opposite direction we jumped out of the tuktuk in exasperation. Does he really think he still has a chance at tricking us into giving them a bunch of money?? For some reason we got in his tuktuk yet again when he promised he would just take us back. Luckily, he did. Outside the hotel he apologized profusely and claimed he had nothing to do with, and didn't even know about any "business." I'm 95% sure he was in on the scamming, but I honestly am not sure whether his apologies were a complete farce or not. He was very convincing. Either way, we were planning on avoiding him for the rest of our stay.

On the morning of the 28th we found ourselves peeking around the fence of our hotel to scope out the tuk-tuk situation. We saw one waiting for weak-willed tourists about a block away and hesitated momentarily. Dashing down the street in the opposite direction we managed to avoid any awkward confrontation, thankfully. We caught a moving tuk-tuk on the big road at the end of the street instead. Moving tuk-tuks are the best because the drivers aren't willing to stand around waiting for naive people to pay them triple to price for a ride. They're doing honest work for honest pay. A tuk-tuk pulled up and asked where we wanted to go. When we told him "MI Road" he just shook his head no in a zombie-like manner and drove off. What the heck?? I have to admit, I was a bit offended by this. I kept wondering if it was a personal slight - such as being white maybe? Funny to feel that way, but you can't help it sometimes when you're so obviously the minority and everyone stares at you. I chalked it up to being an issue with the direction. Maybe he was headed in the opposite direction of MI Road... But the next tuk-tuk was happy to take us. We had ourselves a delicious meal at a dirty, small restaurant. I got some mutton curry which was excellent. That mutton stuff is good. We saw a couple little roaches hanging out on the wall, but didn't find it nearly as revolting as we would have had we been in another country. The waiter was amusing, too. He seemed happy that we wanted our food spicy and was very grateful to us as we paid and left. We headed toward the Old City area to get a picture of its surrounding pink wall. Jaipur is called the Pink City because when the Prince of Wales came to visit in 1853 they painted the whole town a burnt-salmon pink color in welcome. No idea why they chose this color, but it gives them a nice story to tell. The wall that surrounds the pink Old City has seven huge entrance gates, each further painted in swirling pastel designs. So I wanted a picture, naturally. On the way we met some young Indian guys who chatted us up. After about five minutes of broken conversation they asked if we wanted to come to their house. Eeeps! I know in Indian culture friends tend to make it to the come-to-my-house stage much much quicker than in the western world, but that's a behavior I didn't feel comfortable breaking. We smiled and told them "Not today, we have to go see the Monkey Temple," and continued on our way. I felt a little bad at the slight look of disappointment that crossed one guy's face. Maybe they meant well, but I was too nervous at the idea to want to find out. I got my photo at the gate and then we grabbed a tuk-tuk to the famed Monkey Temple in Galta. We were dropped off at the foot of a hill, amongst a dirty settlement of concrete buildings. There were quite a few goats and cows hanging around, and a few people were selling bananas and nuts for the monkeys that would be waiting up ahead. Unfortunately, I talked Chuck out of buying any right then, assuming that there would be more sellers at the temple itself. It turned out I was wrong. But we made our way up the stone path that zig-zagged up the hill, keeping our eyes open for the monkeys. We were very aware of how alone we seemed to be. There were only 5 or 6 people in sight of us, which is very strange for India. Usually your pretty much surrounded by people. We saw a few monkeys dashing across the rocks just off the foot-path, but I was disappointed that they weren't hanging out en-mass. There was one that I deemed Old-Man Monkey. He was very pitiful looking, really. Just sitting there with his legs pulled up to his chest, his head buried in his knees, seemingly tuning out the rest of the world. Quite frankly, I think he was depressed! Poor guy. As we crested the hill, my monkey-wishes were fulfilled. There were about 20-30 of them hanging out in the path, or on the concrete wall that edged the path. Some had just been given bananas and were busily chomping away. There were a few young monkeys that were so cute! One was clinging to its mother's belly while he watched all his friends jumping and running around the rocks. We discovered they can be territorial when I suggested Chuck walk close to one. He flinched at first, unsure of what was going on. Then he lunged and swiped at Chuck's feet, making him jump back and sending a clear message. Good to know. After the novelty of the monkeys wore off we continued on over the hill and back down into the little valley that the temple is nestled into. It's a mystical looking place with a bathing area (the water is dirty) and a courtyard with a temple on either side. I had seen a sign before entering the temple complex stating that there was a camera fee that we would need to pay at the office, so I kept my eyes peeled for an office. I never saw one, but we were approached by an overly-charming young guy claiming to be the camera official. He whipped out a pad of authentic looking, carbon copy papers printed with proper-looking Hindi writing. He filled in some info and I paid him 50 rupees and hoped that I wasn't just scammed. We checked out one temple (forgetting to take off our shoes, whoops) and then the other across the way where a few "very helpful" people were congregated. One of the men began giving us a tour without our asking him to, and when we tried to stop him by saying "No tour no tour," we were assured it was fine because he was the temple priest or something. So we followed him and let him talk, wondering when he would be asking us for money. He took us back to a locked door and opened opened it to reveal a small shrine. He chatted on as he rubbed our wrists with a dab of sweet-smelling oil and marked our foreheads with a thin orange line of paint. This was apparently the appropriate time to ask for money. He pointed to a little dish at the feet of the of statue whichever God or Goddess the shrine was devoted to. Chuck dropped in a 50 rupee note, which I thought was rather generous of him, but the temple priest guy tried to insist that we should pay 50 rupees each. I told him that was all we had and apologized, although I was in no way sorry. He only objected once more before seeming to find contentment and led us back to the temple entrance. He gave us a chunk of...something as we left. I have no idea what it was and his hand signals weren't helping. We ended up feeding to the monkeys, which might have bee completely sacreligious of us, but had no other monkey food. The monkeys were everywhere just past the exit gate to the temple complex. They could be found on the sidewalk, barren lots, and the concrete walls and structures that surrounded the area. The ones that we fed were all very gentle and polite when taking food from us. Their little human hands with finger nails just blew our minds away. They're so human-like when you look for the similarities. We saw a couple of scuffles - mainly chasing accompanied by loud monkey-screams. I saw one mother monkey with a very deep gash in her thigh. It looked to be about an inch deep and you could see her muscle was split open too. She didn't seem to take any particular notice of it and just went about life as usual. I suspect it will probably kill her pretty quickly though. We had to fight off a tuk-tuk driver while feeding the monkeys - you're always having to politely say "No thanks" to some one when in India. When we headed back up the hill to leave, two 6 or 7 year old boys decided to latch themselves to us. When we stop for a break - which was really an attempt to see if they were actually following us - they sat down next to us on the railing, talking with each other as kids do. I tried to talk to them a bit but they spoke little English. When I found an unopened chewing tobacco packet on the ground and picked it up to show Chuck, I was sure they were going to use it once I threw it back. I suppose I could have pocketed it to keep it out of their hands, but I didn't. Sure enough they picked it up and tried to show us what it was. I kept making faces and saying "Yuck" in an attempt to show them my feelings on the matter. They ripped it open and poured the red tobacco in their mouths. Gross. Six year olds chewing tobacco. Whether I had dropped that packet or not though, I'm sure they would be chewing tobacco as soon as they could. These kids didn't appear to have enough of an education to learn even English, and God knows where their parents were. I doubt they'd be teaching them that "chewing tobacco is bad for you and can give you cancer" anyways. The kids never really bugged us, or begged though. They just followed us as they chatted with each other. We were also asked by three boys in their late teens if they could get a photo with us. That cultural difference between the sexes made itself apparent, as the boy sitting next to Chuck put his hand on Chuck's leg, while the boy sitting next to me made sure to not touch me at all. Chuck was a very good sport about it though, and didn't make any ballistic American-esque homophobic scene. I wish I had gotten a picture on my camera with them! I'm always so wierded out at being asked for a picture that I forget to ask the favor in return, though. We made it back down the deserted hill without any real problems and waited forever to catch a tuk-tuk on the side of the busy road. We decided to order in Domino's pizza that night for dinner, since our Japanese-speaking hotel friend also worked there. We were astounded at how expensive it is! It's pretty much the same price you'd expect to pay in the US. How does that work?

We went to MI Road again on the 29th. We liked the place we had eaten at the day before so much that we went back for more. They made it not-spicy this time, though! It wasn't nearly as good which was a bummer. Oh well, we still had one more day to try again. We got lost trying to make our way to a site called Jantar Mantar. It's an astrological park and is full of strange contraptions that track the time and planet positions and stars, etc. We ended up in a less-than-residential area of the Old City. By less-than-residential I mean that it looked as though people were trying to live where there aren't any actual homes. There were some chickens, garbage, clothes on lines, no apparent exit except the long road we had just wandered down, and more than a few curious people starting to look our way. I tend to like to think the best of people I guess, so when a little kid came running up to us and pointed down a long alley as the way back to the main road, I was ready to follow him. Chuck, however, was not and we decided to just turn around. I have no idea if the alley led to an exit - it probably did. But there's always that possibility that someone was laying in wait for people like us to come wandering through. I have to admit that the likely-hood of that being the case seems so small to me, but better safe than sorry. With a bit of help from shopkeepers we finally found the Jantar Mantar, thankfully. I was so on edge and annoyed by the time we got there that the first five minutes looking around the place were enough to make Chuck stop and set me straight with a hug. He's so awesome. When I was feeling better we took a look at all the strange creations. They were very large structures built into the ground and immobile. I had hardly a clue what each one did, and no idea how one would read them. But they were certainly interesting looking. The biggest one looked about half the size of a football field and supposedly could tell time to within two seconds. After 15 minutes there we tried to find a nearby temple but gave up after finding ourselves in a cow-patty strewn area that smelled of urine. So instead of temples, I try to find bangles. None of those either - everything was closing for the evening. Looks like the day is done for us, so we wave down a tuk-tuk and agree on a reasonable price with the elderly driver. As we near the hotel Chuck decides to offer him more money if he can take us to get a bhang lassi. We're still trying to get that stupid bhang. The guy - like so many before - acts as though he knows what we're talking about about, but it soon becomes apparent he doesn't. He tries to convince us to stay in the tuk-tuk when we arrive at the hotel, hoping he'll find someone to ask about the bhang lassi. There was no one to ask though, and feeling badly, we got out after a few moments. I could see panic and desperation in his eyes as he took the money we owed him for the ride, his mind working to figure out how to take us to the "bhang lassi" so he could make that much again. It was like we had dangled a carrot in front of him on accident and then snatched it back. I could see his regretful resignation settle in as he realized we had decided not to search for the lassi. I felt so badly after I saw that look.

We checked out on the 30th and left our luggage at the hotel while we went back to MI Road and the restaurant we liked so much. We made sure to ask for "spicy" this time and the waiter guy got that surprised look on his face that they tend to get when we ask for spicy. I suppose they expect white people to ask for non-spicy. It always makes me feel a little good inside to see that look. Almost like admiration. The electricity went out for 15 minutes while we were eating, but since the restaurant has no front wall there was plenty of light to see by. After lunch I took us to a bangle shop I had seen a few times as we passed by in tuk-tuks. I got 40 simple metal bangles, in six different colors, for 80 rupees. I thought that was pretty decent! Oh, and I made sure they fit this time. We had to bargain hard to get a tuk-tuk to take us back to the hotel. He only gave in to our price when we turned and walked away. He took us in an unusual direction through the Old City. When he stopped on the side of the busy road we were a little annoyed and wondering what was going on. After about three minutes of waiting we started to get out. He hurriedly told us "No, no no! I am waiting for a friend. Very quick." So we settled back in again, only to find we really didn't trust this guy and his friend, whoever he might be. So we did get out, against his protests. He didn't take us anywhere near where we had asked him to, so there was no need to pay him anything. We found a very reasonable older tuk-tuk driver that got us back to the hotel with no problems. We ended up giving him more than the agreed price because we were grateful to have found a fair and honest driver. Having to constantly struggle with drivers who want to take you to their shop, or want to charge you out the wazoo, or even make you sit around while they wait for their friend is annoying. We relaxed on the front lawn of the hotel until our train to Bikaner was due. We goofed off with the Japanese speaking guy who worked there for a bit. We would type things into Google's translator and see if he could read the Hindi or Japanese translation. I wrote a few Christmas letters. Chuck found some train and hotel information about one of our next towns. Finally, at 7:30 or so we grabbed a tuk-tuk to the train station. Since there was apparently no departure board we had to ask around to figure out where which platform our train was at, but people were helpful enough with that. Our train was pretty cool! I mean, it was still an old beast, but I think that's probably why I liked it. It felt like something that the English gentry would have traveled around in back in the day. It was an overnight train so we had booked ourselves in a sleeper car. Our two seats that faced each other folded down to meet in the middle and make a bed. Above that was the second bed where I slept. There were thick curtains that could be pulled across the whole sleeping space and they handed out sheets, blankets and pillows. We got to watch all the families around us getting ready for bed. I remember being amused by one woman who was brushing her daughters waist-length hair while she winced silently in pain in front of her. It was the most comfortable overnight train I've ever been on. I managed to sleep soundly just about the whole trip.