21st July – After the wonderful town of Mandawa we drove west all day to the city of Bikaner about ½ way across northern Rajastan. We visited a couple of sites along the way & Ramesh entertained us with stories of his life & a CD of hits from 50s & 60s Hindi blockbusters (can't recommend that one actually). The hotel wasn't up to scratch, despite looking at 3 rooms we just didn't feel at home there after the wonderful Mandawa Heritage. We flexed our A$130/day muscles & Feroz transferred us from Sub-par Towers to the businessy but lavish Raj Villas. Room was huge with double daybed under the window, sofa, chairs & coffee table. Noice.
We visited couple of spots downtown with Ramesh in the afternoon & enjoyed the lunch & sweets he arranged for us. I rapidly became addicted to ladoo the yellow balls of coconut, sugar, butter & sometimes raisins that are available all over the country along with several other treats made of coconut, sugar, butter & pistachios or cashews & even silver leaf. We did notice however that the streets seemed a little, well, full. There was little tarmac to be seen outside the restaurant between the sea of bicycles & beggars, motorbikes & pedestrians, tuk-tuks & traffic cops, hawkers & hustlers, it was packed.
It was also bloody noisy, even for India, perhaps because the streets were so crowded or maybe just 'cos it's fun Bikaner drivers don't just honk their horns, they LEAN on them. It seemed common for a Hero Honda or a Maruti Suzuki to keep a blast on the obligatory airhorns going from one end of main street to the other. We were worn out & clinically deaf within minutes (although doubled up laughing at the same time) when one of coined the phrase "Bikaner, it's Bonkers!" which has become a catchcry for the rest of the trip.
The evening trip out was on our own, Ramesh dropped us near main street with the usual incomprehensible instructions on how to find our way home. Had a fab meal at one of the streetside cheapies & then got hopelessly lost in the market wonderful. The people of Bikaner talk as loud as they drive…
On the way back we stopped at a level crossing when the boom gates came down for an approaching train. Much hilarity from the locals who all just kept on keeping on, vaulting the barrier, limboing under or squeezing through the gap at each end. The train didn't come for a good 10 minutes & the last few daredevils were floodlit in the engines single lamp but no one was seriously hurt. The vision of motorbikes being leant over at 45 degrees to get under the boom as a train approaches will stay with me a long time.
There are some shots of all this below, & a few of Bikaner fort which was majestic. Also a couple more of the Rat Temple (which we visited that day) just for those of you who can't wait to see it again J
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