A Travellerspoint blog

February 2011

Indian Twitters

sunny 28 °C

Perhaps one of our disappointments in India has been the dearth of exotic wild flowers. The countryside has sometimes been splashed with golden fields of cultivated marigolds and mustard, but otherwise there has been little to see but greens and browns and an occasional flame tree with its brilliant red blooms cupped upwards to catch the rain. We may simply have been here in the wrong season, although Southeast Asia at this time of the year is a riot of colour. However, in recompense, the birds of India have put on a wondrous show , although we’ve not always appreciated their shrill alarm calls announcing dawn. This handsome guy, (or is it a gal?) was particularly vocal…
While we are not twitchers, we identified some of the wild birds: flocks of peacocks in the Rajasthani desert; the iridescent blue kingfishers darting over the rivers and plunging headlong for minnows in the backwaters of Kerala; ruddy red kites gliding gracefully on the breeze; raucous hooded crows scrapping with dogs as they scavenged in the garbage; statuesque herons and egrets endlessly scouring the rice paddies; cormorants spreading their wings in the hot sun; and, being the tropics, flocks of parrots flying in formation like squadrons of miniature green fighter jets.
Here’s a selection …
In Champakulam we were lucky enough to be staying close, (thankfully not too close), to a copse where thousands of birds would roost each night, and each evening at sunset the sky would fill with birds of many species as they squabbled over their chosen lodgings...
There are more than a thousand species of birds in India, of which we may only have seen a few dozen. But, wherever we have been, we have been serenaded by birdsong and have been awed by their balletic aerial displays. India must surely be an ornithologist’s dream.

Posted by Hawkson 21:39 Archived in India Comments (2)

Hobknobbing with Aristocracy

sunny 28 °C

It may be the twenty-first century, but camels are still prime movers in the Rajasthani desert. For a change of pace we visited a camel research and breeding farm near Bikaner where we learned that these stately ‘ships’ have as much clout as a small tractor and need only a handful of dry grass and a few gallons of water to keep going for a week.
These majestic animals, from two days to twenty- two-years old, were just our latest brush with aristocracy on our trip. So far: we’ve dined with an English Lord in his manor house, had tea with a Tiller Girl, slept in a Maharajah’s palace, stayed in a Maharana’s mansion and loafed about in a Maharani’s home. And in Bikaner we dwelled in state at the former Prime Minister’s residence...
The enormous house is a musty old museum stuffed with the deceased politician’s memorabilia, including his 1939 Chevrolet, and our palatial suite was full of dusty antiques…
Tourists are thin on the ground at the moment, so this room, including breakfast and all taxes, cost just forty dollars a night. We were not alone at the mansion but, as with many of our chosen hotels, there were few other guests. However, we have now moved on to a town called Mandawa and our present abode takes the biscuit. We are the only guests at this luxurious, new, seventy-four room, resort in the desert on the outskirts of town…
Here we are – enjoying a romantic dinner for two in our cozy dining room built for a hundred….
We also have the sole use of a 200 seat convention hall, a massive lobby and a swimming pool. It’s a sunny 28 degrees here, so, if you’re at a loose end this weekend why not pop over and visit. We have rooms for 146 of our closest friends and we will pick up the tab for everything except the airfare.

With so many big stories hitting the headlines - riots in Egypt, cyclones in Australia and a massive winter storm in the US and Canada - we suspect that you may have missed a few gems from the Indian papers this week. Here’s a roundup: The Calcutta stadium for this month’s cricket world cup is so behind schedule that games have been moved to Bangalore. The head of India’s Commonwealth Games Committee has been arrested over the misappropriation of $1.8 Billion dollars – no wonder the games were a disaster. The previous communication minister has been arrested over his ‘gift’ of Billions of dollars worth of spectrum to his mates in the cellphone companies. Finally, fourteen men were electrified while riding atop an electric train. The explosion caused by their electrocution set fire to the train and to numerous trackside shops...Only in India!

Posted by Hawkson 20:03 Archived in India Comments (1)

Another Day, Another Fort and Another Competition

sunny 25 °C

Most of Rajasthan is an arid land fit only for camels and nomadic herdsmen. Yet liberally scattered across this desert are great fortresses, and opulent palaces, attesting to the enormous wealth of the petty potentates who amassed their fortunes in much the same way as the megalomaniacal robber barons who terrorised England during the 12th century. This is the 15th century Junagarh fort in Bikaner...

Camel, bullock and donkey carts are still used today as they were when this fort was new...

Unlike most of the other Rajput forts we've visited, this one doesn't sit atop a hill. But in most respects it is similar...after all, a fort is a fort etc.
However, this 16th century bastion is in far better shape than many others, and the interior rooms are stunning...

Now, we guess that you, like us, might have had enough forts for awhile, so here's a few artifacts for you to puzzle over while we visit a camel farm. If you can tell us what these objects are you can win a free ride on a camel in Rajasthan, (airfare and accommodation not included).



These are the fort gates, but why are they covered in menacing spikes?

Posted by Hawkson 04:45 Archived in India Comments (3)

Jaisalmer Fort - Not Recommended by Lonely Planet

sunny 24 °C

Standing sentinel over the desert, Jaisalmer Fort with its ninety-nine bastions is a giant sandcastle rising out of the surrounding sandstone sea like an Atlantis rising from the ocean…
This massive fort was built in the 1500s on the backs of the camel trains that paid protection money to gain safe passage across this stretch of barren Thar desert en-route to Afghanistan. This part of India was then, and in many ways still is, the Wild West where, in addition to running protection rackets, the Rajput rulers filled their coffers by rustling cattle. It’s a pity someone doesn’t rustle these strays off the city’s streets today…Jaisalmer_street.jpg

As with all ancient Indian cities, there is a legend for the founding of Jaisalmer. In 1156 AD Maharawal Jaisal Dev, (who, somewhat bizarrely, claimed direct descendancy from Lord Krishna… a purely mythological figure!), is said to have thrown a discus which happened to land on top of the only hill for miles. Therefore, it was god who chose the location for his fortified capital from where he could harass the passing traders and could retreat to when his quarrelsome Mughal neighbours came knocking. Imagine trying to scale these walls while boiling oil and these rounded rocks were being rained from above…

However, all forts suffer the same weakness - they are susceptible to siege - and Jaisalmer fort was particularly vulnerable because of the arid conditions. It may only rain here once in seven years so, without access to an aquifer outside the city, the defenders could quickly become parched. The fort was taken three times, once after a nine-year siege. But, rather than surrendering, on each occasion all of the Rajput women committed ritual suicide by fire while the men charged out to take as many of the enemy as possible before they were slaughtered. This was the Maharawal’s great palace…

Today, a more insidious enemy is attacking this massive fortress. There is no sewerage system here, so water and effluent from the dozens of hotels, cafes and restaurants, in addition to that of the four thousand residents, has been seeping into the sandy foundations for centuries and the whole city is sinking. For this reason, and despite numerous advertising signs to the contrary, the Lonely Planet does not recommend that any visitors should stay at the fort.

Posted by Hawkson 02:11 Archived in India Comments (2)

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