Archive | July 2013

Haboob

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Village barber shop.

From Osian we continued northwesterly on our way to Jaisalmer. Occasionally we would stop for something to drink or a bathroom break. Whenever we did, I’d look around to see if there was anything interesting to take a picture of from my seat in the car. It was too hot to keep jumping out for photos.

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A camera-shy Pushker getting exfoliated from the grit blowing by during the haboob.

After a long stretch without seeing any town, village or anyplace serving food, we finally found a place describing itself as a “resort,” which had a restaurant. It had been recommended to Rafiq as being the place where all the tourist buses stopped. They may have stopped there only because there was no other choice. The food wasn’t good at all. As we were about to leave, a strong wind kicked up and suddenly the temperature dropped about ten degrees, from baking to almost comfortable. A haboob (Arabic word for huge dust storm) was blowing through, turning the sky beige.

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The haboob shrouded everything in a ghostly, gritty haze.

We took off and motored through the ghostly, gritty haze. The atmosphere in the car had quieted down. We had been laughing and singing the whole way, but now we were getting tired. We were still five or six hours away from Jaisalmer, where we would spend the night.

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We rolled through another nameless, trash strewn village, just a line of shops where people congregated out of boredom.

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A villager gazes at us with listless curiosity.

Madu pulled over suddenly and got out. We had a flat tire. Across the road there was a tire repair shop with a cluster of bored Muslim men sitting around. We pulled in over there.

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In soul crushing places like these where life is hard and there’s nothing to do, anything attracts attention. I was quietly observing the group of men who were gathered there. There were plenty of interesting faces, and I wanted to start taking pictures. I usually like to break the ice by talking to people first, but it’s not recommended that a strange woman strike up a conversation with village men. They take anything as a sexual overture. Even though I was much less at risk because I was with a group, and my three male friends were only steps away, it didn’t seem like a good idea to start chatting up these guys. Plus we were in a remote place, and I guessed there probably wasn’t a lot of English spoken here. I go with my gut. The only thing to do was to try to surreptitiously snap a few shots and hope like hell I didn’t offend anyone.

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This guy caught my interest, but he was looking away.

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This was exactly the shot I was hoping to get!

As soon as I snapped these shots, the men nearby hollered out to the man on the motorcycle in Arabic. Or it could have been Mewari, Punjabi or any of a dozen non-English languages spoken around here. I only knew it wasn’t Hindi. I also knew they were telling him I had taken his picture because they were pointing to me and my camera. A half second of suspense… but wait, they were smiling! I showed them the photo on my camera screen and instantly made 20 new friends!

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Now they were asking me to take their pictures.

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Always fun to take pictures of them taking a picture of me.

It didn’t occur to me until much later to wonder why they were so excited to get their pictures taken, like it was some novelty, when there were guys who lived there who had cameras on their phones. Maybe they thought they had a better chance of getting a copy from a “rich” foreigner. They’re probably right.

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Me and my village homies.

Twenty minutes later, with the tire repaired, I waved goodbye to my new home boys, and we continued on to Jaisalmer.

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Road Trip Day 2

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Bharti slices the miserable bag of apples for our miserable breakfast in this miserable town.

The next morning it was raining hard, which delayed our departure and meant there would be no time for Shahi and Bharti to visit Meherangarh Fort. Once it let up, Rafiq and Madu took off to see if they could find a restaurant open for break fast. Everything was closed:  restaurants, markets, everything! It wasn’t a holiday, it was just Jodhpur. I started really not liking this place. You can find a restaurant open in Udaipur any time of day, in season or off season. All the guys could find to bring back for us was a bag of apples.

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Our day didn’t get any better once we got on the road. Our destination was Osian, only a couple of hours away. But the rains turned a dry creek bed into a river gushing over the road. We saw a man up to his waist in water gingerly crossing the stream. Only big trucks like this one were high enough to cross the rushing water without the engine stalling and heavy enough to cross without being carried away. Everyone else was turning back. We were willing to skip Osian and head straight to Jaisalmer, but Madu was now determined to get there. He wanted to try crossing the water, but we all said it wasn’t worth the risk and convinced him to turn around. It was another day like the day before:  asking directions of everyone we met, getting different and confusing answers, and going down lots of rutted roads. But this time, the roads had water features.

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When we reached Osian, it was blazing hot. We had come to this little known town to see the Sachiya Mata Sun Temple, which none of us had been to before. It had a series of archways preceding the temple entrance which are now covered to protect visitors from the oppressive sun. That made it much more pleasant, since you would otherwise have had to go barefoot up hot marble stairs. Visitors to temples must always remove their shoes before entering.

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Even this short uncovered spot gave you the hot foot. Yeow!

At the top of the stairs, the temple was small and unassuming from the outside. Inside was a small, disappointing room with way too many electrical wires snaking around and rusted fixtures. This was not a marble beauty like Ranakpur. The walls and columns were covered with cheap ceramic tiles, many of which were broken or missing. It was also smoky from years of burning incense.

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What was interesting was the mosaic mirror work on a few of the columns. It looks much better in the photo than it did in person.

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Temple visits always include a prasad: an offering of an overly sweet, mushy cookie.

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A prasad is little more than a small sugar bomb. I had one on my first visit to India, and I wouldn’t say it was one of my favorite tasty treats. I now manage to be somewhere else when they pass those around.

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A shop selling religious accessories near the temple.

On the way back to the car, a woman was following close behind me, yammering all the way. At first I thought she was talking on her phone, but every time I stopped to take a picture, she stopped. And every time I continued, she continued, yapping nonstop. Then she started making the eating gesture, and I knew she was a beggar. Pushker and Rafiq told her several times to leave us alone, but like the sun, she was relentless. If you’re in India any length of time, you’ll soon reach a point where the constant assault of ceaseless hordes of beggars will render you pitiless. Foreigners attract them like flies. It was brutally hot, I was cranky, and I wasn’t inclined to give her anything. No one else did, either, so it wasn’t as if I were the sole heartless one.

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Ready-to-wear turbans for sale in Osian.

As soon as we got into the car and pulled away, we began laughing about it. Silly me. I had been taking pictures of everything else. I should have taken a picture of her.

Mother Truckers

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We stopped at a garden hotel restaurant for lunch. It wasn’t air conditioned, but with all the doors and windows open and all the fans going, it was tolerable. A 20 minute power cut five minutes after we got there made it less so.

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Mohit was a good traveler. He was pretty happy and didn’t cry too much. After lunch, we headed for Jodhpur, where we were spending the night.

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A couple of hours down the road, we encountered trucks parked on the highway.  Lots and lots and lots of them.

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They were blocking one lane of traffic, making it nearly impossible for other motorists to get by. The empty lane pictured here was  under construction, and no one was supposed to use it.

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Madu, Rafiq and Pushker got out to find out what was going on. Apparently it was some kind of a truckers strike or demonstration. I never could find any reference to it in the news later on. Madu was trying to find out if there was another road we could take.

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Traffic had come to a complete stop for miles. If you were waiting for a bus, it sucked to be you.

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We were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, I thought. Yet there were pedestrians strolling by.

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Madu pulled off the highway, determined to get around this mess. Indian roads are mainly unmarked, so we asked for directions practically every time we saw anyone. And we got a different answer from everyone.

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This way or that way?

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We went down some pretty rough dirt roads. At one point we had to go through a filthy village that was literally a shit hole. It had rained hard that morning, and the cow shit filled road through the village had turned into a cow shit lake. I was praying the car didn’t break down. That shit really stunk!

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Finally! A paved road again!!

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I did not want to see another truck ever again. But we did an hour or so later, when we finally reached the highway again.

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It should only have taken us three hours to get from Ranakpur to Jodhpur. Thanks to this exercise, it took more like five and a half. When we finally reached our hotel, we were told that because it was off season, their restaurant was closed. The guys ordered some food from a takeout place and had it delivered. The hotel “let” us use their rooftop restaurant to eat.

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Crazy monkeys and truckers..what a day!

Thank goodness the guys had thought ahead and brought beer!

Road Trip!

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We took a whirlwind four-day road trip from Udaipur to Jaisalmer. Rafiq and Nirmal’s friend Madu drove us in his enormous SUV. We got a late start but finally loaded it up with wives and children…

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of all sizes. About an hour down the road, Rafiq asked Madu to stop. He wanted to show me something.

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Right by the side of the road, there were several trees loaded with bats. Guess there was no better place for them to roost. We continued to the Ranakpur temple. Bharti and Shahi had not seen it before.

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As we approached the temple entrance, some angry langurs came running up. They jumped on Pushker’s leg and started biting him! He hadn’t gone near them or antagonized them in any way. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fortunately, he was able to slap them off before they hurt him.

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Hindu and Jain temples strike me as happy looking, as compared with the austerity of the more Gothic style of a lot of European Catholic churches.

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Nirmal exploring the exquisite columned hall.

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The ladies take a break from exploring Ranakpur temple. I’m just getting warmed up!

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I could stay at Ranakpur for hours, but we don’t have that kind of time. We prepare to leave and go look for a place to have lunch.