Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jaisalmer: Forts and camel rides

Question #1: Where do you find 212 people crazy enough to sign up for a competition which asks them to drive the most unstable - and least road worthy vehicles - over 3,000 miles? From what we have seen so far...crazy is alive and well literally everywhere. The competitors span the globe (coming from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, Singapore, California... you name it). They are young backpackers and elderly retirees and I'm sure they all feel the same sense of anticipation, excitement and downright fear as I do (except none of them probably also dragged along 5 more people that they are also responsible for). It is thus with some trepidation that I'm setting out on this trek.

(a) Everything here is new and VERY different to our group. Only a few of us have ever been to India before. As we passed a kid pooping right on the sidewalk yesterday, Bop's eyes were wide with amazement.
(b) The poverty here is best understood at night as you watch thousands of families (with little kids and grannies in tow) settling down for the night on a cracked piece of pavement, sleeping on only a thin colored piece of clothe.The sights make you eternally grateful that you are not the Indian prime minister with responsibility for figuring out a solution to the crippling poverty.
(c) And the colors - wow - the colors. Indians live with passion in every part of their lives. Even the poorest woman wears a sari of vibrant pinks and blues while carrying half a ton of vegetables on her head and the most beat up truck is painted and decorated with swirls of color.

(d) The cows are literally everywhere. Everywhere. On the side of the road, in the road, in the markets and roundabouts. As Gods, they are safe and protected and you often see people approaching a cow to
share their lunch or hand over some treat.
(e) Everything is flavored with curry - and that includes spaghetti bolognaise and pizza and even their ketchup. They can't help themselves. They assume that no dish will be quite as delicious without some curry spice added.
(f) India is a shining example of the theory that you can teach a nation to love the worst, most tinny, totally out-of-tune music (that sounds remarkably similar to cats wailing in a back alley) if you play it loud enough, all the time and put a beating drum as background. Indians love their music. The music  plays constantly and at top volume. It may well wear on me by the end of the trip but for now it still sounds awful. This man in the market was the worst sound... played on a homemade harp-like instrument.

Now onto our stay in Jaisalmer.  Yesterday we took the Tuk Tuks on an extended road test drive. Actually to be honest we just "kidnapped" our vehicles and used them to sightsee for a few hours so we did not have to hire taxis. We started on a very dodgy street of "car part stores" where we stocked up on some of the extra car repair supplies we needed (spark plugs, gear wires etc.). Then we drove up to the walled fort city - having a few learning-to-drive our Tuk Tuk adventures along the way including driving the wrong way down a section of the highway with cars coming straight at us on every lane, stalling on roundabouts and hitting a stone pillar on a sharp turn. But other than those few mishaps our Tuk Tuks performed beautifully and we got a good list of things for the mechanics to fix overnight (Chris and Chloe's Tuk Tuk is revving too high; ours is revving too low and stalls out; Bop and Savannah's horn does not work reliably and since all traffic rules here are based upon who is blowing their horn the loudest, that is a critical piece of equipment).
Anyway - back to the walled city. It's a WOW. Set on a steep hill, every building inside is made of sandstone that has been carved within an inch of its life. Ornate, intricate details carved from the stone
by hand.

 We toured two Jain temples and then wandered the back alleys which are lined with shops and homes. 4,000 people still live within the city - all divided according to their caste - and even within the
caste divided according to whether that group is vegetarian or non-vegetarian. For example, one section is vegetarian Brahmins (who are the trader caste) but they refuse to live next to carnivorous Brahmins who are segregated to another section because they claim the meat eaters "smell bad." (Who knew?).

We then had lunch at a rooftop restaurant that looked out at the fort before returning our Tuk Tuks from their lengthy "test drive." And it was on to the next adventure... riding camels in the sand dunes at sunset. A hired car took us out there (a skip and a jump from the Pakistan border and in the middle of nowhere) where we found thousands of other Indians from all over the country. Jaisalmer is so far north and west in India that it is almost on the border of Pakistan. In fact, it's so close to Pakistan the government shut down the airport here because of terrorist activity. That's why we had to fly into Jodhpur - a city 300 KM to the east - and drive over here. This is a long holiday weekend for Indians because of New Year's day and a fair number
of them decided to experience camel riding this evening. We were the only foreigners in sight and the Indians were having the time of their lives on the dunes.
First we had to load onto the camels... a terrifying experience as you get on while they are seated with their legs all crumbled up underneath them and they then have to uncurl their feet and rise.... a motion which pitches you forward and backwards at alarming angles and makes you feel sure you are going to fall head first into the sand. Camels have a looping - and incredibly uncomfortable - gait but the ride was worth a sore bum. Beautiful in the sunset.
After our ride we had chai (hot tea made with condensed milk) while sitting around a roaring fire with 900 of our closest Indian friends. (Quick note: it is very hard to mess anything up that is made with gops of condensed milk). There was bollywood dancing (lots of shaking hips and swirly hands and ... have I mentioned already... wailing cat music with a beating drum) and a fire eater. The mood was very festive
although the night was downright freezing. We were all wearing just about every layer of clothes we brought and we were still cold.

My sister Heidi got sick today. No explanation for it...she ate the same as everyone else, has been extremely careful about everything that went into her mouth... but the vomiting and diarrhea happened anyway. She was a real trooper about it all and fingers crossed she'll be better tomorrow. She left many a pile of sand in the sand dunes as she vomited her way through this part of the trip.
Tonight  is New Year's Eve.... we did a final test drive today, a cricket match with all of the other competitors (or at least the ones from British colonies) and went to a party with lots of Indian music, magicians and belldancers.
Tomorrow we start the race at 11 AM.  There will be a marching band and we're escorted out of the city by a police escort.  We have our costumes all ready.... stay tuned....

Here are all three our Tuk Tuks lined up... Irie racers on the left (in traditional rasta, green and yellow), Karma Chameleon in the middle (in tie dye with pretty goddess eyes), Bajan Invasion on the right (done in the colors of the Barbados flag).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

India Rickshaw Run Starts

We are off on a new adventure - and this one may well be the most crazy of them all.  We are spending the next 2 1/2 weeks driving Tuk Tuk rickshaws from Jaisalmer (a beautiful city on the border of Pakistan in the North of India) all the way down the west coast of India to Kochi in the very South.  Here is what has happened so far:
We spent the week before Christmas in Barbados with my family and all of the kids (what a gift to have all six of our kids with us for the holidays). It was great. This is a photo of me, my mom and sister on Christmas day.
Then - on December 26 - we headed off.  We are three different teams in three separate rickshaws:  Rainey, Zoe and Heidi (my sister) are the Karma Charmaleons, my niece Chloe and her boyfriend Chris are the Irie races and my niece Savannah and her boyfriend Bop are the Bajan Invasion.  Christmas presents were easy this year as I gave everyone matching suitcases and backpacks for the trip.  We can only take a small carry-on bag each as space on the rickshaws are very limited and had so many lay-overs we were afraid of bags getting lost in transit.  The travel to India was awful. From Barbados to Jaisalmer took us 3 1/2 days.We first went to Miami and had10 hour lay-over. We used the time to rent a car, run over to Target buy last minute things for the trip and eat at PF Changs (YUM). Then on to London for another 11 hour layover. We got hotel rooms at the airport hotel and got showers and a muli-hour nap.  Then on to Delhi with a 5 hour layover to Jodhpur. We were at our limit by then and ended up sleeping on the airport floor for much of that time.
Finally we arrived at our home stay for our first night in India.  We slept at a woman's home where she rents out rooms. It was not very luxurious but she cooked us a great dinner.
Today we rented a car to take us to Jaisalmer to meet our Tuk-Tuks. We arrived at the hotel with great pomp and circumstance and much bowing and greetings.
Our hotel is really quite nice (at least by India standards) and we'll be here for the next 3 nights (YEAH).
Then we walked about a mile to test drive our Tuk-Tuk (everything was working good so far). Fingers crossed it stays that way.
To read more about this adventure, get onto Chloe and Heidi's blog... they have been doing a much better job than me at keeping up and including lots of details:


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