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Clare’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 16 Feb 2008

Location: Pushkar, Rajasthan, India

MapWell since I last wrote quite alot has happened. I've gained a new travelling companion, had a beach holiday and travelled half the length of India to get to the next stage of the journey.

I took the train and flew back to Bombay from Bhopal after my time at Kipling Camp finished and met Lizzie the next day. Lizzie is a good friend from London who has also quit her job to take some time (approx. 5 months) to travel/live in India away from the distractions of everday life while she concentrates on her playwriting. We'll be travelling together probably until I go to Nepal in early April.

With Lizzie fresh off the plane we headed directly to Goa again on the night train and set up home in a litle beach hut in Arambol. This is the third time I've been there now and its just idyllic. I realise now how easy it is to be in the parts of India where they are used to Westerners and there is an infra-structure set up to serve our needs. We had a great week there just relaxing, chatting to other travellers and exploring the miles of beaches and jungle paths. We formed a little group of mates to hang out with by picking up waifs and strays in our regular restaurant haunt and meeting up with a girl we had met in the hostel in Bombay so it was nice to not have an agenda, unpack my bag and see Lizzie settling in to life in India.

There is still a strong hippy element in Arambol and its best epitomised by our trip to the Banyan tree behind the freshwater lake in the next bay. Our little group made an expedition over there through the Jungle paths after a swim in the lake. Banyan trees are holy in Hinduism and this one appeared to be the permanent home of a bunch of random Indian and Western hippies who had compacted all the earth around the trunks and roots to make clean flat floors, levels and little rooms and shrines etc. There was a permanent firepit and seating area and people playing drums and flutes in a cloud of marijuana smoke. People like us were just coming and going after sitting for a while and chatting or just relaxing. After we'd sat for a while we all hiked up over the hill and headland to come back down to Arambol through the pathways. My third visit there and there were still loads of things I hadn't done.

After a week of relaxing we again donned our packs and leapt semi-eagerly onto the train ready for our 30 hour extravaganza taking us from tropical Goa to arid Rajasthan. It actually wasn't anywhere near as bad as we might have expected. We got chatting to some people in our carriage and the time went quite quickly really. The landscape really changed and we'd been warned about how cold Rajasthan was, (India as a whole is having a cold snap apparently) once we woke in the morning we were definitely in a different climate and environment. By afternoon we'd reached Jaipur - the capital of Rajasthan and Lizzie had her baptism of fire into the 'Indian city experience'. On the whole she's not that complimentary about it! Like most cities Jaipur is noisy, rude, dirty and smelly, but it also has a proud history and vestiges of that can be seen in the 'old city', the palace and the forts on the hilltops surrounding the place.

We had a great sunset from the 'Tiger fort' over looking Jaipur and had a brief skirmish into the old city, but we'd set our sights on getting to Pushkar quite quickly so we shipped out after a day on the bus. Compared to the India I've seen so far which has been lush, green, humid and fertile; Rajasthan is the total opposite. Its not quite desert, but the landscape is arid flat scrubland, dotted with steep high hills, usually topped with a ruined fort or temple - evidence of the Rajput kingdoms which used to rule the area. Pushkar is surrounded by these hills and set around a little lake (considered holy) so the town has grown around the bathing ghats which step down to the lake edge allowing the pilgrims to bathe. I have to give the lake credit for being almost the only water source I've seen so far in India which appears to be rubbish and odour free! The town is also full of holy cows which wander free around the streets, atmospheric certainly, but the intrepid traveller must be constantly alert as to what bovine residues might be underfoot...

We're going to stay here for a few more days before pressing further into the desert to Jaisalmer - Lizzie's having some stomach trouble so we'll stay put at our lovely little family run guest house till she's better... we're contemplating a camel safari and its better to be ill here than while riding a grumpy camel into the desert dunes for the night!