Bundi & Jaipur

(James) With the morning heat already making its presence felt we quickly loaded up the bikes, trying to keep in the shade, then said our goodbyes to Estobel. We made our way across the chaos of the city of Udaipur and quickly found our intended road, one that would take us the 280km eastwards to the small town of Bundi. Once out of the city, we again found ourselves on fairly empty Rajasthani roads (we’re going to miss them soon!) which allowed for excellent, if fairly uneventful, progress other than the fact that 50% of vehicles we saw were coming the wrong way down the highway (this, by now has become the norm!) At around the half way mark, Em signalled that she needed me to look at the right side of her bike and having had a look, I could see the plastic fairing on the right side (the one we adapted after Em’s accident in Istanbul after the original was destroyed) flapping wildly in the wind. Having pulled over to the side of the road, a quick inspection revealed that the special plastic bolts that attach the front of the fairing to the radiator had sheered. We quickly fixed the problem with some trusty zip ties (is there no end to their uses?!) and were soon on our way again. When we were 50km short of our destination, we reached a side ‘track’ that, certainly as the crow flies, would act as a short cut. We had no doubt that it would be slower than the main road but it would also be more fun so we took it and soon found ourselves riding on dirt roads through small and completely untouched villages (and getting those familiar old looks that one might give if aliens were to land in your local high street) and edging past water buffaloes moving from one muddy pool to another. It should be said that we are particularly wary of water buffalo – they, like cows, won’t move an inch for you but whereas cows won’t move because they’re holy (and God how they know it!) and so can do as they please, water buffalo  don’t move for the simple reason that they’re bloody huge! Were we to hit a cow, we may or may not get away with it but know we’d try to get away as soon as possible to escape the inevitable lynch mob that would result, and then deal with our injuries/damage at a safe distance down the road. Were we to hit a water buffalo on the other hand – we’d likely have to be scraped or peeled of the side of it in a manner normally associated with Wyle E Coyote or Tom & Jerry!

By mid-afternoon we arrived on the outskirts of Bundi. It should be said that we had fairly high hopes for the place; after all it wasn’t some big marketed city but a small rural town, one that Lonely Planet raves about describing it as, and I quote, “the kind of effortlessly charming Indian town you wished you dreamed of”.  Well, first impressions weren’t exactly positive as passed  through grotty streets and old factories, but we were continued on towards the historic centre and rounding a bed were rewarded with a fantastic view of the old town, filled with Brahmin blue houses nestled around several large baories (large intricately decorated ancient water tanks), all of which were overshadowed by the spectacular Bundi Palace sitting on top of a steep hill above the town. We stopped to take photos and watch some of the thousands of monkeys charging around on the roofs of the town before heading down to find somewhere to stay for the night. We quickly settled on a place (purely because of all the ones in the street it was the only one that was clean) and, having secured the bikes and showered, went out to  get a closer look at the town. Sadly, it was another case of ‘nice from afar, yet far from nice’ and so we retreated back to our guesthouse to escape the filth and constant sound of drivers’/riders’ horns being pressed, something we found even more unnecessary as there was often nothing else in the empty streets (rubbish and baked turds aside!)  I guess for most tourists and backpackers, regardless of budget, it’s difficult to see small town India or any other country for that matter, as your plane, train or bus takes you from one tourist destination city and deposits you at the next, whereas we enjoy the luxury of seeing everything in between so whilst seeing small town India is something different for them, we found it to be (large palace aside) just another Indian town like the twenty others we pass through every day. Still, in Bundi’s defence, Rudyard Kipling did stay here and was inspired enough to write some of this most famous works – that said, I’m reading ‘Kim’ at the moment and thus far think it’s crap so maybe he wrote that in Bundi! That night we had an unexpected visit from the owner of another bike we’d seen in town (and had also come across back in Udaipur); Giacomo, from San Marino, was friend of Matteo, the Italian we’d met a few days earlier. We ended up having dinner together and, as is the custom, swapped information on roads, places to stay and the usual issues regarding visas, border crossings, shipping and anything else we could think of and generally had a very pleasant time swapping war stories.

Having ‘done’ Bundi we decided to hit the road the following morning and head for the small town of Pushkar, a place famous for its annual camel fair which takes place every November. We wouldn’t be there for the fair (not such a bad thing – we wouldn’t want to pay the extortionate accommodation prices that increase by a factor of fifteen in time for the fair) but had heard that it was worth visiting. Within minutes of leaving Bundi, we had several particularly dangerous run-ins with other vehicles and having stopped for petrol (and to have good moan), the pump attendant spilt half our petrol over the bikes (petrol drip over a hot engine in 40 degree heat isn’t exactly ideal!), our luggage and the seat, and then, not apologising or giving us anything to clean it up, tried to charge us for the spilt petrol! His timing was perfect and a little confrontation was just what we needed to vent. I offered him what I thought was the right amount (minus the litre split) but he wasn’t having it and called the manager. The conversation ended with us saying they weren’t getting a penny more and them trying to haggle over what they thought they were still owed whilst we pointed at the floor and said we wouldn’t pay for that. Needless to say they didn’t get a dime and we rode off feeling more than a little wound up. Em quickly rode up alongside me and, not for the first time, said something that echoed my thoughts precisely; namely that she was fed up with India, and that given that the fork in the road for Pushkar was coming up, why don’t we just give it a miss and ride directly to Jaipur, see it and then we would just have Agra and Varanasi left as places to visit on the road to Nepal. I was already happy to agree but Em said something that really summed it up when she added, “I just don’t like the person that India’s turning me in to”. It was particularly poignant coming from Em as anyone who knows her will acknowledge, she hasn’t got a malicious bone in her body and with that we arrived at the fork in the road and headed right, towards Jaipur.

The road to Jaipur was busier than we’d been used  to in recent weeks and reminded us somewhat of the nightmare that was the road to Pathankot. On any normal day in India it would be no exaggeration to say we pass at least 6 or 7 utterly overloaded and unroadworthy lorries that have recently, in the last couple of hours or so, crashed and are either upside-down at the side of the road or in the middle of the road with their cargo strewn across the lanes, forcing us to pick our way through the resulting debris field. Many of the trucks and buses here have clearly been welded back together following huge accidents and so bent are the chassis that when one is passing you in the oncoming lane, it is actually pointing directly at you even though you are some 30 degrees  off its line of travel. This can be deceptive and of course it means that when one is actually coming directly at you – something that happens often – it ‘looks’ like it’s actually going to pass you! Today though, in the short space of the 150km from the fork in the road to Jaipur, we passed at least a dozen big wrecks. As usual, everyone was sitting around looking surprised – no police of course, they’re more likely to be sleeping under a tree somewhere, nor the driver or anyone in the cab as they, more often than not, are dead, their cab being utterly crushed. We’re certainly not surprised anymore, and the look on our faces probably doesn’t hide our somewhat unsympathetic thoughts along the lines of, ‘What exactly do you expect when you drive like this?!’  What is India doing to us??!!

By  mid afternoon  we arrived in Jaipur and quickly realised that it was bigger than any city we’d been to India so far. As usual, at least one or two of the fifty or sixty bikes that surrounded us at every set of lights had someone who could speak English or at least understand our attempts to pronounce (in Hindi) the part of town we were heading for and point us in the right direction. For the first time on our trip, we started finding guesthouses that had no vacancies (a sure sign that for the time being, at least, we were back on the beaten path) but eventually had success at a quite flash looking place. Em went in to inspect whilst I stayed with the bikes and dealt with the half dozen rickshaw drivers that effectively try to mug you to get you to stay somewhere where they’ll get a commission. They’re an absolute pain, will not take no for an answer (unless you rephrase using a few expletives) and are the absolute  scourge for anyone unfortunate to arrive in a town by bus or train. Em came out a few minutes later to say it was lovely, very clean and, rather surprisingly was in our price range. There was, she added, a reason – the room available was a tad small. ‘Not a problem,’ I replied, ‘we don’t care about small, we’ve had small plenty of times before.’ ‘No,’ she laughed, ‘this is really small. It’s got a mini double bed, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to fit our roll bags in!’ Regardless, it was cheap, clean and quiet so having parked on the path leading to reception, we checked in and went to our room. Em really wasn’t joking, and having unlocked the door, which could only open a third of the way before hitting the bed, she edged in and climbed onto the bed and closed the door whilst she got to the other side. I then passed the bags through which we piled up and finally I followed them through. The room was very ‘snug’ and our toilet/shower was on the next floor up but it was surprisingly airy and spotless, bar some strange horizontal lines around the walls at shoulder height where, I can only presume, a previous guest  had tried, and failed, to swing a cat.

The hotel had a really nice restaurant up on the roof so we spent our first evening up there, not even venturing out of the building, catching up with the blog and chatting with a really nice Taiwanese girl called Ja who was travelling alone (it always amazes us when we meet lone female travellers as everything’s just a little harder for them in this part of the world). We’d met her whilst we were unloading the bikes; it turns out that last year she had ridden a scooter from Taiwan to Tibet – pretty impressive!! We also bumped into a lovely Catalan couple we’d met in Bundi who were off to catch the night bus to Agra. Later on, a German called Uli asked if he could join us. He was, it turned out, another biker and having flown to India was riding round for a month on an Enfield Bullet before heading back home. We all chatted about India and, as usual, everybody seemed to have the same opinion. It’s really bizarre  – who are the people who love it ‘cos we can’t find them!  

The next morning we went to visit Jaipur’s Amber Fort with Uli , Ja and Estobel (who’d arrived late the previous evening) and having found a six seater rickshaw, spent 10 hilarious minutes trying to actually fit all six of us onboard! Six Indians and six westerners are not the same thing! On the way, we ticked of another ‘must see’ animal from our list when we passed an elephant walking down the road being ridden by some sort of sadhu. The scale of the fort was really impressive, as were the fortifying walls that spidered off in all directions to dominate the surrounding hills. The engineering feat was all the more incredible as it was built atop a series of large and very steep hills up which every rock must have been carried. Sadly the rest of Jaipur’s sights were a bit of a letdown and if there’s a pink area to justify its moniker as the ‘pink city’, we didn’t see it. We found the ‘dirty beige city’ but it seems the ‘Incredible India’ marketing people for India tourism have chosen to overlook that!  That evening we all met up again on the roof, joined by a German couple, Joe and Isabel, and helped Uli empty the bottle of scotch he’d been carrying that, his holiday now over, he now had to finish.

We decided to wait on in Jaipur for an extra few days as Fabian, having finally fixed his bike and made it to India, was going to be passing the same way. Fabian had had a small accident and, whilst the bike was ok, his knee  was not and so was causing him pain. As a result he’d decided to take a few days off from it and had got the train down south to Goa and Hampi. His bike was being stored in Jaipur and, given that like us he’d had enough of India but was determined to see Agra and Varanasi on the way to Nepal, we’d agreed to do it together. When he eventually arrived late at night  it was clear that 30 hours on public transport combined with a dodgy lassi (yoghurt drink) had made its mark on him so although he managed to spend a bit of time on the roof with us, he soon had to go to bed leaving us to chat the night away with Ja and a lone Irish traveller called Brian. (Em: Brian had a rather original method of deterring the endless stream of touts that home in on their backpacker prey – sing and dance around like a mad man until they back off! Effective, fun and a somehow typically Irish solution to the problem!) The next morning, Fabian reported that he was still ill and advised us to go ahead to Agra where we would meet up once again. Ordinarily we’d have waited for him in Jaipur but Fabian had already been to Agra and there’s not really a whole lot else to do there apart from see the Taj Mahal. Furthermore, we’d arranged to meet up with Donato, from our China/KKH group, who having been stuck in Delhi awaiting spares for the last week was desperate to get on the road again. We decided to go straight to Agra, meet Donato there and get all the sightseeing out of the way before the Fabster arrived. We’d ended up spending five days in Jaipur, probably about 3 days longer than needed and were getting itchy feet. Agra, and India’s greatest attraction, awaited.

2 Responses to “Bundi & Jaipur”

  1. Mama/kate says:

    Well, India, eh? As you say, tourists always seem to rapsodise about it. I find it interesting that Pakistan has such a bad press in comparison, yet you guys obviously felt more at home there, despite all the problems and natural disasters. I’ll be glad when you’re tucked up on Jumelle in Thailand. See you then. x

  2. Jackson says:

    Rapsodise!???

Leave a Reply