New Delhi and Bikaner

If the first time you go to India you land in Delhi, don’t panic! My first piece of advice. Delhi isn’t India. It’s a huge, quite frankly scary big city with the entire population of Australia in one area and what appears like utter chaos. Actually as you soon start to realise in India the roads aren’t chaos they are Organised Anarchy. If you are going to cross the road; hold you head high, walk with confidence, listen out for the beeping and you will make it across safely. Mostly they go around you or stop for you but I imagine for your first time in India it’s a shock to the system.

The best way I ever heard India explained was that it is ‘an assault on your senses’. This is so accurate, especially in Rajasthan. Bright colours that your eyes try to take in, dogs barking, people shouting, beeping horns assaulting your ear drums and smells that you aren’t used, cows everywhere… so much to take in but wonderful if you can relax into it and enjoy every moment. Especially the people who can be so special.

I haven’t been back to India in 13 years. I first came here aged 17 and totally fell in love with the country. I’ve wanted to come back for such a long time but I think I was worried that it would be nothing compared to my experience last time and that I couldn’t bare ruining it but as soon as I stepped off the plane (having been a little anxious on the flight) it felt like home. A huge smile spread across my face as I made my way across Delhi airport. I arrived late at night so it wasn’t as chaotic as I was expecting.

We were picked up by a great initiative – woman on wheels, a taxi company especially for women, all driven by women. It’s great to be able to support companies like this, so if you are heading to India please try to use them. They are now in a few cities.

I’ve done a lot of solo travel but I wasn’t sure I could travel Rajasthan on my own so to partly please my mother and for my own piece of mind I booked a G adventures shoestring tour. To be honest I’m always skeptical about tours, and I’ve never really done one but it’s the way forward. It was so nice not to feel completely responsible for myself in 5 months and I immediately felt so relaxed, which is something I’ve realised I’m not very good at. It helps when you have a fab group leader and great group. I was nervous about 3 weeks with the same 16 people but it’s good to be in it together and everyone brings their dynamic to the group. I’d highly recommend it!

I had one day in Delhi before my trip started and I didn’t venture far, partly because I was exhausted, partly because I knew the first day of our trip was exploring Delhi and partly because I didn’t know where to start! So I just explored the local area. Wondered around the market area, found a cute little cafe and caught up on my journal.

My tour started the following night at 6, and a couple of hours before that my roommate for the next 3 weeks arrived. We luckily got on straight away, and actually she ended up coming to Goa with me afterwards ( I’ll tell you about that bit later)!

So we met the group, 14 of us! Well turns out 16 of us but two of our group hadn’t turned up yet. They’d been waylaid and arrived the day. The group was aged between 20 and 31, from Australia, U.K.,South Africa, Denmark, Sweden and Norway we all got on surprisingly well. I think it helped that we all tried to have the same mindset which was to be as open minded as possible. Our guide Giri introduced himself, explained about the tour and the next days plans and kicked the tour off.

That night we went for dinner just around the corner from the hotel. I had a Thali. It was yummy and if you are in Northern India I suggest trying one. You get a bit of everything.

The next morning we were up bright and early to go on a walking tour of Delhi, this tour is unique and run by a company called Salaam Baalak trust. A company that helps street kids, takes them off the street tries to find their homes if possible and rehabilitate them and if this isn’t possible or the child doesn’t want to go back to their families they give them an education, a place to live and when they come of age they help them with internships and places to live. They don’t just let them turn 18 and that’s it, good luck, see ya. Instead they train some of kids to take people on walking tours and to tell people their stories. It’s a fantastic initiative and something I will continue to try and support when I’m home.

After our walking tour we headed further into New Delhi to the Jama Masjid mosque. The Mosque is huge, it can hold up to 25,000 people in just the courtyard. You have to be really covered up to go in and even though I would have considered myself pretty covered I was given a robe to put around me. So we all entered in an array of brightly coloured robes!

After de-robing we wandered around the corner to the ancient Sikh temple, established in 1783. It felt like this morning we were being shown the diversity of Delhi and the different religions and cultures that lived and functioned together.

In the Sikh temple, after covering our heads as a sign of respect ( always good in India by the way to carry a scarf around with you. Comes in handy a lot), and washing our feet we sat cross legged at the back and watched as the people went about their daily prayers and rituals. Did you know that almost anyone can come in off the street and be fed here. They feed thousands of people, have huge caldrons of curry on the go and chapti’s baking. We helped to make Chapati’s – I’m not too sure the woman were that impressed by our attempts, especially as I just couldn’t get mine to be properly circular but I felt like the help was appreciated.

Next stop lunch! Well after finding one of our group who we managed to lose. Great first day haha. It’s ok though we found him and set about eating. I was so excited to be back eating proper Indian food and with my hands. If you come to India you have to eat with your hands. I can’t explain it but it’s a different connection to food and eating.

Pretty much all of us ended up having Masala dosa, which is actually a Southern Indian dish. I remember them from last time and they are so good. So much so that our Facebook group, used to share photos and whereabouts over the next three weeks, was called ‘Masala Dosa’ !

That afternoon we were free to do and see what we wanted to. So we went our separate ways in Tuk Tuks and tried to find our way around the metropolis of Delhi. We were meant to stop at India Gate first but our driver just whizzed past it, pointing and shouting ‘India Gate’ so we didn’t get to see it for too long πŸ˜‚. Second stop, which we did get to see was Humayun’s tomb. This is the only other double domed structure in India, other than the Taj Mahal. I hadn’t expected much but actually it was really pretty. Also the sun was just beginning to go down, which I’ve decided since is most definitely my favourite time in India (about 4.30-5.30), and the light was so lovely on the buildings.

Today was our first insight into Northern temples and architecture, and if today was anything to go by, I was really going to enjoy the next 3 weeks.

That night was our first train experience in India and I loved it. I do love a good sleeper train and I’d always wanted to go on an Indian train. I’ve watched many a Michael Palin show over the years and had visions of us sitting hanging out the windows. Obviously that wasn’t going to happen but that’s pretty much where my imagination was at. However, the train station was much quieter than I expected but then again we didn’t get there until 11 at night, but I’d expected a really bustling, crazy busy station but it wasn’t so bad.

When the train arrived I was also pleasantly surprised and of course I was on the top bunk of three!! But I managed to get up there with a little bit of elegance and grace – who am I kidding I literally had to launch myself up haha.

With new sheets, a big blanket and a pillow – it was actually pretty comfy. I slept for about 6 hours which is so unlike me, and pretty much any other sleeper I’ve ever been on I’ve never slept.

I think quite a few people were impartial or hated Delhi but actually I didn’t. I found it fascinating that it can work. Such a huge city, that appears in utter chaos but is actually fully functioning! It intrigued me, even if it is a little overwhelming. Goodbye Delhi hello Bikaner.

We woke up bright and early in Bikaner! In the semi-arid Thar desert and our first stop of Rajasthan.

The hotel we stayed at in Bikaner was beautiful and nobody could say it was basic. It was a heritage palace that was previously built with three wings, one for each of the princes wife’s. The rooms were beautiful and the grounds even more so. From the roof top you could see Bikaner fort in the background which would be our first experience of a fort.

That night we weren’t staying, we were sleeping in the desert after a camel trek. So after freshening up, wandering around the turrets and finding all the interesting nooks and crannies the property had we set off in cars into the desert.

So my first attempt at getting onto a camel was not lady like as you can imagine. I ended up smacking myself in the chest with my big camera, dropping my water bottle and just about being upright. To my defence, I didn’t have any warning like the others did, my camel just stood up of its own accord. I had quite a young guy leading my camel and he seemed to be waiting for some of the older guys say so but just out of nowhere my camel decided to join the others standing. So I was up hurrah! Thankfully only Becky noticed and was laughing that I’d hit myself in the chest with my camera ha.

The first stint of camel riding lasted about 40 mins. My camel was quite small and actually quite comfy. I must say though I’ll never get used to going downhill.

We stopped for lunch in the desert and getting off was a much easier affair. It went without issue this time and I was back on land. After a yummy lunch and a lay down in the sun, we got back on the camels for our next stint to our sleeping place for the night. We were told this would take 3 hours and we are all apprehensive, especially me as I thought my hip couldn’t cope with it. This time I had a huge male camel called V2 who was really uncomfortable. Also my stirrups were too short so my knees were too high. He had a mind of his own, and he wanted to be at the front. At one point his leader handed over the rope to me and I was in charge which did slightly put me on edge. Especially when he ran off to pee in the bushes and V2 stopped, looked around and refused to move forward until he was back holding up the other 14 camels behind.

It only turned out to be 2 hours to the tents which I’m very thankful for, getting off this time was really hard as my hip had got so stuck I could barely swing my leg over the camel to get off πŸ˜‚plus you should have seen us all walking. Hilarious sight! It was most definitely an experience and an adventure but if I did it again I’d do it for a max of half hour ha.

They had however brought us to our desert oasis camp site for the night. When I think of desert I think of nothing for miles to see, huge sand dunes and massive sand storms. The desert of Rajasthan is different. It’s pretty flat, only a few small dunes, quite a lot of trees and a lot of electricity pylons which I wasn’t expecting. Apparently the region has changed a lot in recent years. However, sleeping in a tent in the sand is still pretty special, especially with beautifully cooked food, a few rums and a lovely sunset. It was going to be a good trip!!!!

Sunrise however was pretty uninspiring but we got up, that’s the main thing! Well some of us did and immediately went back to bed.

Getting back to Raisar where we’d got on the camels yesterday only took us 20 mins the next morning by 4×4 and we were soon on our way back to Bikaner and our palace, sorry I mean hotel but it really did feel like a palace.

After getting our rooms and freshening, a guide took us to Junagarh fort and I think maybe because it was the first one we saw, or maybe because it was the most preserved but it was beautiful and has very much stuck in my memory the clearest. The mosaics, archways and use of the lotus flower shape are almost mesmerising and you can imagine yourself there years ago. Although in a time when it was not a good time to be a woman!

It’s funny, in India they say you never walk alone and it’s so true but especially at tourist attractions when a lot of the Indians there aren’t locals and aren’t used to seeing westerners where they are from.

Something that seems strange to us is that we’re just as interesting to them as the fort, if not more so. That day we had groups of young Indians approach us and take photos. The photos don’t bother me at all, especially if they are asked for because I ask for photos back a lot of the time and because I’m just as fascinated in them as they are in me. However sometimes you have to put your foot down otherwise you are there for days.

After the fort came lunch, at a really cute cafe. The cafe has quotes all over the walls and placards with famous sayings so I was in my element, much to people’s amusement I think. I love quotes and sayings, even if when I try to use them I usually get them wrong.

After lunch most people went back to the hotel but a few of us braved the infamous Deshnoke rat temple. I was so intrigued, I just had to go. I’m so glad I did as it’s something I will never forget. You walk around the temple and everywhere you go are rats – about 20,000 in total I think. You don’t tread on them but they run across your feet and are not remotely scared of humans because they are reveredand they are sacred. It’s so interesting watching people come in, do their daily prayers, and then give offerings to the rat. They have huge bowls of milk, sugar, all sorts of rat offerings. It may not be in many people’s comfort zones but I’d definitely say it’s worth going – as ‘they’ say, life begins at the end of your comfort zone!

That night the hotel put on a delicious buffet and live music. The little boy dancing around was so cute but by the end I think he’d had enough. He was just dancing around in circles looking very bored haha. We also frequented the hotel bar which was so cool. Photos sadly don’t do it justice but it was full of antiques and trinkets from the British empire. A tiny narrow room full to the brim with history.

Next stop Jaiselmer, one of my favourite stops along the way! One thing is for sure, I love this country!

P.S annoyingly most of my beautiful photos are on my DLR which isn’t wifi enabled as it’s old and I haven’t found a computer in a while so these are just from my phone.

P.P.S apologies for some of the English. It appears the longer I don’t use my brain for the more dyslexic I become again!

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