Rajasthan Roadtrip: Mandawa to Bikaner

6 May

As I mentioned yesterday, you will have to bear with me for a while. I do have plans to rewrite this, but for now, *typey* *typey*.

Day 2: Mandawa to Bikaner

A cow is blocking our exit from the Mandawa Heritage Hotel. Balu shakes his head.

“Rajasthan, cow, all people love the cow. Every day they feed the cow. It´s like mother and god. So holy cow.”

“Holy moly”, I hear from the Brit to my right.

The four-hour journey to the desert town of Bikaner starts off well.

Rough Guide India gives the city a mere sentence in its Rajasthan chapter. That, however, mentions a rat temple just out of town. A place where they worship rats? Now, this we have to see.

Balu, however, is sceptical. He´s taken naive tourists there before.

“They all go I like the rat temple, I like the rat temple. But then don´t go inside. Too smelly, I don´t like, lots of rats inside“, he remembers. He´s making voices. His two customers are cracking up.

“So, why come 30 km? Go there and back, 60!”. More head shaking before he turns around in his seat to give us a stern look. “You go inside, I take you. Ok?”

I ask what the tourists who go inside say.

“Inside there have a lot of rats,” he replies matter of factly.

He pauses to let this sink in.

We laugh, and now Balu probably wants to inspire us a bit because he adds, “You see the white rat, you are lucky”.

Maybe, I think to myself, though I confirm to Balu that we would like to go. At this point, my boyfriend points out that I absolutely detest rats.

“You really want to go? You do realise that you are terrified of these things?”

And I remember the rats by the canal in Chiang Mai and two nights ago at the ATM in Delhi. Ugh..

But. It´s a RAT TEMPLE. People actually worship rats. I have to go and see that. I might put on my shoes first though.

“Ok, tomorrow”. Balu does the Indian headwobble.

We have by now passed the cow, a few camels, and we´re on a road partly covered by sand. Again, the same featureless landscape around. There are a few potholes, but we have two lanes. I smear sunblock over my face. “You know, you put so much sun cream on. It looks like someone threw an ice cream in your face”, my boyfriend points out, helpfully. But the last thing I want is a rash, courtesy of the airless desert heat.

The dust whirls up around us. Except the occasional pink or orange sari, everything appears beige and faded.

“This place is Fathepur”, Balu tells us as we drive through a second city with Havelis. The buildings are more run down than the ones in Mandawa, and Balu knows his customers. “Same as in Mandawa”, he says, with no intention of stopping for us to have a look. As they say in South East Asia, same same.

The dust whirls up again. The road is gone. Bikaner 157 km. We pass a small town, or at least there are a few houses nodding to the road for 100 metres. Grey cement walls, except for the owners of the two houses that have lent out their now brightly painted red front as an ad to Vodafone. I count 27 cows. There are nine people in the rickshaw in front of us

Again, the red “Vodafone” walls, the rest unpainted. A bus with ten people on the top passes by, it looks like it might tip over any minute. Two trucks hurl towards us, and Balu gives in to the mightier vechicles.

A car honks at us. “Meee meee”, Balu imitates.

“I´m in no hurry, no chicken curry! See the sand dune?” He tells us he´s keeping 80 km/h, not 100 like the crazy people.

Soon we are all speeding along on the gravel. And then the road turns to mere sand. Every now and then we spot a truck carrying a water tank, whose purpose is to keep the road a road. White sand bags mark the edges of the road. This is the Wild Wild West in India.

When the tarmac finally reappears, we all cheerfully dash for the middle. Bikaner 142 km. Except the black road, the landscape is beige and lightly green. Every now and then we see a new group of road workers. Apparently the road works have been portioned out to multiple construction companies.

At every half hour, the road cuts through a cluster of houses. A few men sit in the shade. There are cows, and then just sand again.

This is getting a bit monotonous, I think to myself. My boyfriend fell asleep a few villages back. But as soon as I have had the thought, I see that I need to wake him up, “Oh, I think you may want to see this”.

Because Balu has just overtaken a white jeep, and there, on top of the truck in front is an ELEPHANT.

A massive elephant, swinging his trunk from side to side. Its face painted with pink and blue triangles.

“It´s decorated for a wedding”, Baul says.

“For an elephant wedding?” my boyfriend asks.

“NOOO.” Silly tourists. “Rich people”.

Within the next few minutes, we overtake yet another truck carrying an elephant.

image

“Camel, left, left” my boyfriend says. There is less stuff to look at on this road, so anything we spot in between the sand and the wispy trees are worthwhile to mention. “You´d think we´d be in some kind of Arab country”, my boyfriend comments.

New cluster of houses. Two women clad in pink saris are negotiating with a rickshaw driver. “This is the half sari”, Balu says, “only three metres”. There´s a petrol station, two painted houses with advertisements against a mass of grey buildings. After hundred metres, the town is over.

There are six cars now on the road. We´re all going in the same direction so we are using both lanes. There are now less trees and more sand. “See small huts here in village side? The round straw ones? Woman just inside, making embroidery. Then go to town and sell to tourists”, Balu says.

My arm that is in the sun is now burning hot. Balu agrees that it´s warm. “I´m from the Himalayas. It´s too hot here. In daytime, 45 degrees. People not coming the outside. Jaisalmer the last city, then the Pakistan. You have one night there”.

I ask him if the nature changes in Rajasthan. But no. “Everywhere in Rajasthan is like here”.

Bikaner

But Bikaner is different. At the town entrance, there´s a large statue of the monkey god and then, the most wonderful temple imaginable. “A Disneyland temple!”, my boyfriend exclaims in awe. Because there, arising out of the desert is a man-made half mountain, scaffolding showing on the back side. But on top of the mountain on the front side, facing the sand and the few cows, sits the blue god Shiva. The sun is burning, but we insist on having a look. We enter the amusement park temple through a lion´s head, whose wide open mouth, teeth and all, makes for a two metre tall entrance. Straight in front, below Shiva, is Lord Ganesh, the elephant god. A few other gods, I can only make out the monkey god, stands several metres tall on each side. A few people swipe the pavement for sand. No one pays much attention to the two giggling tourists.

Back in the car, Balu tells us “lots of people come here”.

“Tourists or Hindus?”

“No. No tourists”, he chuckles.

Bikaner takes a small dip after that, when an unfriendly hotel manager turns us away because all rooms are taken. We´re sent off to Hotel Harasar Haveli, where a very friendly welcome makes our feelings about Bikaner rebound again. The hotel manager gives us a room overlooking a pink courtyard. A small fan sends warm wind our way.

Before we enter the old town, Bikaner is yet another dusty town – though larger. Balu has organised a rickshaw to pick us up at five thirty. As we are about to leave, Balu measures the driver up and down, takes his number and gives his own in return. I feel like a child being sent off by a parent, with strict instructions to the new caretaker about where to take us and when to bring us back.

We trail through narrow lanes until we reach the old city.

Entering the old city, we realise how large this town is. We end up stuck in a long queue of rickshaws, waiting for a train to pass through the city. As we enter the old town, the streets are too narrow for the rickshaw to pass, and we are told to walk around on our own for a while. I partly miss out on the wonderful havelis lining these narrow streets, the small shops selling vegetables, glittering bangles and kites. Because I mostly notice the stares of the locals.

Eventually we emerge in front of a large white temple.

Vuye stands there waiting. “You like the walk?”. “Wonderful”, I say and his smile goes even wider.

Walking up the stairs of the Jain temple, a bare-chested man with a round stomach greets us. “I am the temple priest”, he says and maneuvers for us to enter. He has the kind of wonderful bright orange hair that men in this country opt for when they go grey. He is wearing a matching orange skirt.

“Please leave the bottle of water”, he says, though this is the only thing he tells us not to do. “Walk around, take photos, take photos. Go on top, get view of city from three sides”. And as we walk up the stairs, we hear him shouting from below that we should watch our heads.

On the top we are greeted by a scene from the Kite Runner. Hundreds of Legoland blocks, each with a flat roof top filled with children flying kites. We´re standing in pigeon poo, but the sun is setting and we hear the shouts of excited children. The man missing most of his teeth which has shown us to the top laughs as we marvel at the scenery. On our way down we meet the two Frenchies from Mandawa, the first two tourists we have seen in Bikaner.

And, as the rickshaw comes to a halt outside our hotel, Balu gets up from a small chair next to the hotel car park.

He nods to the driver before he turns to us.

“Everything ok? You like it?”.

I am getting fond of him already.

You might also like:

No comments yet

Leave a Reply