Archive for December, 2012

the one where we nearly lost our tour leader…twice

Posted in professional tourist in the making, Rajasthan, train stories on December 31, 2012 by twotwoeight

train

Train rides have become quite the norm for us in Rajasthan as we moved westwards towards the desert from Delhi.  Some short ones in the daytime, some long overnight ones, that although may seem quite daunting at first, but turned out to be quite memorable — but that is not the highlight of this story.

We very nearly missed our train from Ajmer to Jodhpur, if not for our “Train Guru”, who saved our butts just in the nick of time.  We had all arrived early and were waiting at the designated platform and waiting for our train, which was due to arrive on the right side.  So it was only natural that while waiting, everyone busied themselves, capturing the silent moments amidst the chaos in the train station.

The traveling chai vendor with his paper cups and pot of hot milk.  The young mother cradling her infant, gazing soulfully out the coach window.  The weary old man, filling his water bottle at the public water tap.  The group of young adolescent boys, intrigued with us tourists as we were intrigued with them.  The happy peddler with his pushcart of snacks, happy because with so many crowding him, wanting to buy a snack or two for the train ride, there will definitely be food on the table tonight.  The saree-clad women, jostling past in a flurry of bright pink, yellow and red.

train ladies

It was all so captivating but we were still consciously looking out for the arrival of our train on the platform on the right, which hadn’t yet arrive although it was minutes to the scheduled departure time.  We all did not think much of it, and just ascribed the lateness to part of India’s incredibility.  Luckily, one of our tour mates, who thereafter earned the title of “Train Guru”, had an intuition that something was not quite right and hence he found someone to inquire about our train. Lo and behold, the train on the left platform which we had been happily photographing was actually the train we were supposed to board!  So with no time to waste, we literally ran onto the train and just as the last of our group hopped on, the train pulled away from the station!!

Did we almost lose our tour leader then, you may ask? No, not just yet. 😉

After settling down in our respective cabins, we started playing card games to pass the time and it was then that we discovered there was no food for sale in our coach as it was the air-conditioned one and access by vendors was limited.   So you can imagine that during the intermittent stops, whenever nearby passengers whipped out some food, we were fairly attentive.  There happened to be a family of 3 sitting across us — parents and a young infant.  At one of the train stops sometime about an hour into the journey, we saw the father get down and buy some snacks for his wife and kid.  We were contemplating alighting the train to do the same but we were worried as we didn’t know how long the train was scheduled to stop for.  However, minutes later we saw the father standing outside the train enjoying a hot cup of masala chai and we were quite confident that surely we would have time to just run down to buy some biscuits?  Well, we got more than just biscuits…one of our friend even managed to buy omelette sandwiches!!! (You must understand our excitement as we had been egg-deprived for the past few days!)

the omelette

So we were happily enjoying our omelettes when our tour leader came to check on us from another cabin…and her eyes lit up when she saw the steaming hot omelette!! She quickly went back to tell her cabin mates and of course the others upon knowing that there was hot food for sale on the platform quickly rushed down to buy it.  You must realize by now that the train had already stopped for quite some time since we first noticed the father buying snacks for his family, and suddenly to our horror, we felt the train starting to move!! The “Train Guru” quickly went to alert our tour mates who had gone down just minutes before.  For the next few minutes, we waited anxiously and were relieved to see our tour mates walking past us back to their cabins…all except one — our tour leader!!!  Luckily, someone had seen her jumping into one of the coaches but was not sure which coach.  With that knowledge, we couldn’t do anything but wait patiently for the next stop, which came not long after the fiasco.  It was however, a very brief stop —  barely a couple of minutes and the train started moving again.  We were all hesitant and wondered what had happened to our poor tour leader when to our greatest relief, she appeared in front of us!! A little flustered, but in the flesh!!!  Phew…

After she caught her breath, she then told us of how she instinctively jumped onto the coach directly in front of her when she realized the train was moving thinking she could find her way back to our coach.  But to her horror, the coach she hopped on to was a third class coach and was separated from the air-conditioned coach, so she couldn’t walk back over to meet us.  She was trapped in that separate coach all alone, with no seat and not knowing when the next stop was.  Luckily, it was not too long before the train stopped again so she quickly got off and tried to find our coach.  Unfortunately, Indian railway was not big on labeling their coaches plus it was actually a very brief stop, so before she could find her bearings, the train started to move again!!  She started running after the train (for the second time today), and shouted to an Indian man resting at the door to one of the coaches asking if it was “B1?  B1???” (which was our coach number).  And in true Indian fashion, that man answered very nonchalantly, in a slow accented drawl, “Come…come”.  With not much choice left, she hopped onto that very coach and thank goodness, it was the right coach and we were reunited once again!!!

We all had a good laugh over it, repeatedly…and it became the topic of our dinner conversation that night.  We had conjured up many dramatic train chasing scenes made popular by the movies, some of heroes professing their love at the very last minute just as the train pulled away from the tracks, some of the heroine running to catch her lover’s outstretched hands from a moving train, and of course in true Hollywood style, there is always a happy ending and the movie ends with the hero and heroine in a passionate embrace as the train pulls away into the sunset.

the kiss

Ermm…well, no passionate embrace here, and none of that graceful chasing.  But definitely a happy ending.  And that’s all that matters, right? 😉

Eggs, of course, remained a sensitive issue for a while after that…hehe.

And that, is the story of how one person can chase the same moving train, twice…and also how we nearly lost our tour leader, twice.

😉

the Ship of the Desert

Posted in camels and humps, penny for my thoughts, professional tourist in the making, Rajasthan on December 29, 2012 by twotwoeight

One of my ‘life’s greatest mysteries’ has always been trying to figure out where to sit on a one-hump camel.  We even debated about it on the flight to India! I always imagine that on a two-hump camel, the answer would be obvious — between the two humps.  But what about a one hump camel?  Do you sit perched atop the hump, or do you sit at the crook of the neck in front of the hump? And wouldn’t the latter sort of break the poor dromedary’s neck?  Well, lo-and-behold, that mystery is solved now!!!  Incidentally, did you know that a one-hump camel is a Dromedary and a 2-hump camel is known as a Bactrian? 😉

camels galore

Camels are indeed incredible creatures.  With their gentle glassy eyes and long wavy eyelashes, their stare has this silent ability to pierce through your heart.  However, these creatures also have a comical side  to them — watch them face-on carefully for a few moments, and without realizing it, you may just burst out laughing at the way their mouths move when they chew their food, it seems like they are gesticulating.  Our esteemed tour leader (who is not a big fan of these dromedaries mainly for the lack of their speed) does an unbeatable imitation of this beloved creature’s gesticulations, which sent us all into fits of laughter aboard the train!  Priceless!

Ali and Rajah

Meet my Ship of the Desert, Rajah, and his rider, Ali.  Rajah is 5 years old, barring miscommunication with Ali.  On average, an Indian camel can live up to 40-50 years, so you might think that Rajah is just a young chap, but apparently, they reach adulthood after the age of two years and can reproduce at the age of 4 or 5 years old.

camel wanted adds

One thing he and I have in common it seems is we both tend to sneeze alot!!! I wonder if he has allergic rhinitis too…and how much antihistamine it would take to alleviate his symptoms? 😉  Rajah is also easily distracted by food.  He likes to stray off track and graze whenever he sees plants of his liking.  Many a times, Ali had to direct him back on course with some gentle verbal cues and some occasional tugs on the reins.  Well I guess that’s his nature and instinct for survival under the harsh conditions of the desert — eat and drink opportunisticly, since you never know when your next meal is going to be.  They can go for up to a month without any drink or food if necessary, how awesome is that!

me on my ship of the desert

So back to the question of where do you sit on a dromedary? Well, the camel riders put a double-seat saddle on top of the camel’s hump, with lots of padding in front and behind the hump so that it will be steady.  So the front rider sits in front of the hump in the crook of the saddle, and the second rider behind it.  Genius! You learn something new everyday! 😉

Surviving the roads in India

Posted in Indian traffic madness, penny for my thoughts, professional tourist in the making, Rajasthan on December 29, 2012 by twotwoeight

Random observations about the maddening traffic that is India…

maddening traffic in india

1.  There appears to be no traffic rules, so don’t bother worrying about abiding or breaking them.  It’s a do-as-you-like world out there on the streets!

2.  If you ever plan to export vehicles for sale in India, the one part that must be durable is the horn.  You have to make sure the horn can withstand excessive usage day in, day out.

3. You must learn to be oblivious to the world around you and have skin as thick as leather.  Maybe thicker.  So that when you decided at last minute to make a u-turn and hold up the entire traffic, or you decided to go head-on against ongoing traffic and other road users are honking and cursing you, you will not be affected (although your passengers are most likely to be silently screaming in the back).

4.  You must have the heart of a lion.  Well you must possess some amount of bravery in order to do the above mentioned crazy stunts and lots more!

5.  You must have the patience of a camel (will elaborate on this gentle creature another time), when traffic gets held up unexpectedly by a rickshaw, or tuk-tuk, or a vehicle stopped in the middle of the road for no apparent reason or random crossing pedestrians or even a cow sauntering across the road…for you can never quite anticipate the kinds of road users there are.

Jodhpur

6.  You must be an expert at emergency braking, for you can never predict what the vehicle in front of you is going to do or when an animal is going to dart in your path.

7.  You must also be an expert in estimation of distance and be able to get within centimetres of the adjacent vehicle without scratching each other, especially when most of the roads are exceptionally narrow, and what width seems to you like impossible for 2 adjacent vehicles; fear not, they locals will tell you with much conviction ‘It’s possible’!

this close!

8.  If you can’t do 7, then you will be better off driving an old beat-up vehicle.

9. You must adopt the selamba attitude possessed by the locals and just have faith that today, when you walk out on the streets, you are going to return in one piece, unharmed.

For all the craziness and haphazardness and lack of predictability there is on the streets, I must say that I have not witnessed a single accident whether between vehicle-and-vehicle or vehicle-and-living creature(s).  Sometimes, watching the going-ons of the traffic just leaves me in awe of the undisturbed balance they have got going on there, everyone carrying on with their activities unfazed by their chaotic surroundings.  Other times, I flinch and my heart plummets to my guts during these close encounters when they seem a little too close for comfort!  I guess 2 weeks is still not enough time for me to acclimatize yet…unlike one of my tour friends who has total faith in our van driver on our last day in India!  Salute!!!

Incredible India Indeed!

Posted in penny for my thoughts, professional tourist in the making, Rajasthan on December 28, 2012 by twotwoeight

It all started when a sort-of plan was hatched in Krabi for a trip to South Africa at the end of the year.  Well, I gues the sort-of plan remained just that — sort-of — and never became more than a dream, as we were all masters of procrastination.  Instead, at a spur of the moment (well, many moments actually) it was decided that Incredible India it would be…and indeed, it was.

Rajasthan map

So what comes to your mind when you think of India?  I was met with many “Don’t you have any other places to go?” when my travel destination was known.  Perhaps images from Slumdog Millionaire come to mind for many, and I won’t be surprised that many don’t even know the whereabouts of Rajasthan! I know I was guilty too, before I embarked on this trip and now having returned, I revel in the discovery that India has much more to offer, if you look in the right places.

Collage of Rajasthan splendour

And now after 2 weeks of adrenaline rush and euphoria, it is time to come back to the real world, one where routine and responsibilities predominate.  It is also a time to sit down and reflect and reminisce (after washing oneself thoroughly off the grime and dirt of India that has seeped into every pore of your body!) and consolidation of memories begin.  Even though I love scrapbooking (I still break into laughter looking at the one PW made of our trip to Bangkok many years ago), I gave up ambitions of scrapbooking after I realized my obsession with details makes even a 2 day trip project never-ending…what more a 2 weeks trip to Rajasthan.  However, with my incredible memory (or lack of), I know that in time, I will unknowingly discard some precious memories of this journey and it will be lost forever.  So I decided to pen down random thoughts and stories from this trip (crossing my fingers this will not be the first and last post on Rajasthan!) — random, because I don’t have the patience or diligence to do a daily travelogue.  Random — because this is how the stories come to mind.

Jaisalmer1

This trip was supposed to be a soul-searching, anwer-seeking trip, with visions of finding the wise old yogi on top of the mountain who has answers to all my questions!  Perhaps it was the lack of oxygen in the thin mountain air that temporarily led to flights of insanity, but at one point, I even resorted to letting the appearance of birds decide my future!  Of course none of that worked, and I returned none the wiser…but richer in experience and perhaps, wiser, in another sense.  So if you asked me, was India incredible?  I would tell you without a doubt, yes.  But don’t take my word for it, go experience it yourself ;).