Return to Rajasthan…

At the ‘Tokyo Palace Hotel’ in Jaisalmer, we received a warm welcome back from the lovely staff. It was a great little hotel, one of our favourite halts on the trip to date. They served succulent food that set the gastric juices flowing long before it arrived at the table. Aloo paratha with fried eggs for breakfast and creamy cashew nut curries in the evenings, all cooked by the talented Ranjit Singh, a fantastic Nepali chef, then served alfresco on the rooftop with a backdrop of stunning views of the walls of the mighty Jaisalmer fortress. A steady supply of cool Kingfisher beer just about staved off the desert induced thirst.

They gave us a ground floor room at the rear of the hotel with a door opening onto the street, handy for working on Mag’s bike. The actual waterpump repair itself was straightforward enough even with a constant audience of kids and young men. When they finally tired of the show, their place was taken by a smatter of scavenging pigs, chickens and cows that roam the streets of Jaisalmer. The fun came when we tried to replace the engine cover, which had been removed to access the pump. It had three alignment points; the waterpump drive, the gearshift shaft and the clutch release mechanism and each time I tried to fit the cover, the clutch release mechanism moved. Trying to force it only displaced the clutch release bearing, forcing me to take everything off and have to disassemble the clutch itself to re-seat the bearing. I spent a frustrating afternoon playing with this, each trial ending in abject failure. In the end I gave up and decided to sleep on it.

The following morning brought more of the same, with repeat failures to get the cover alignment correct. Gagan Khan was a young man who worked at the hotel. “Call me Daniel,” he said one night after dinner as he told us how he had been born in a desert village not far from Jaisalmer and worked camel safaris for tourists as a kid. With no formal education, he taught himself English, Japanese and Korean, the principle tourist languages and had grown through this into a bright and very caring young man. Daniel appeared as I was rebuilding the clutch yet again, having knocked the bearing out. I explained the problem of trying to align all these parts with each effort ending in failure. “Then I will pray to my god for you and ask him to guide you to success.” And so, with the aid of Allah now assured, I introduced a small offset on the alignment of the clutch release and gently slid the cover into place. The waterpump engaged, the gearshift engaged and there was a satisfying movement of the clutch release mechanism as it finally slid into place. We were back on the road!

From Jaisalmer, desert roads took us north and east to a one-night stop at Bikaner. We arrived in the early afternoon in time to take a lightning tuk-tuk tour of the city to see yet another impressive red fort. Bikaner was most memorable for getting caught in a cattle stampede when our driver took us on a tour of the narrow market streets. A traffic jam dissolved into a melee of tuk-tuks, mopeds and bicycles through which a huge bull and several cows had gone on the rampage creating all kinds of mayhem in an Indian version of the Pamplona Bull-Run.

From Bikaner we moved south to Pushkar, a preeminent pilgrimage town that, I’m told, all devout Hindus should visit at least once in their life. The small town is located in some beautiful hill country and is centred on a holy lake, said to have appeared when Brahma dropped a lotus flower on this very spot.   The serene holiness of the place is evident in that the lake has over fifty bathing ghats and is surrounded by over four hundred little temples. However any feeling of spiritual uplift is mired by the fact that everything is surrounded by a profusion of market stalls and shops trying to skim money off you before you get anywhere near the holy H2O. The place is full of monks but again there’s that rub, as it’s also full of annoying hustlers trying to ply you with flowers and temple offerings and again you get that feeling in India that you have a large ATM sign tattooed on your forehead.

Having made our way through the commercial morass, we finally made it to the lake itself and it really is a beautiful place (and another Fall location – see blog Into Rajasthan). On the way in large signs dictate the rules: Remove shoes within 50-feet of the lake and strictly no photography at the Ghats. But this is India, the land where rules are writ large so that they can be completely ignored thereafter. We wandered down to the Ghats in barefoot compliance and took a perch by one of the temples to watch a family of pilgrims as they waded in to bathe in the sacred waters, fulfilling this most sacred Hindu spiritual obligation. Our ‘Ah’ turned to ‘Oh!’ as they quickly produced mobiles for a Selfie session to capture the moment. Moments later we were approached by a young man sporting a battered Nikon SLR and a plastic portfolio of snapshots of folk at the holy lake. “Souvenir photo?” he enquired. “What about the no photograph rule?” we replied. “What about it?” he smiled, looking down at his shoes.

Travelling in India we have encountered a lot of religious locations; lakes, temples and other sites where famous holy happenings took place. The Hindus in particular have an extensive pantheon of 33 supreme gods and multiple manifestations of each, so you can mix and match your deities to suit your own karmic needs. It all adds up to a massive amount of idolatry, which doesn’t always sit well with their Muslim / Christian brethren who prefer worship to be a more monogamous affair. It was in Pushkar that we were perhaps visited by one of these deities who goes by the name of Staedtler, the pencil god. Apparently his jurisdiction is not confined to pencils but he is also the god of little rubbery things. He (or more likely some of his young agents) came and prised out the little rubbery trip reset buttons off the instrument cluster on each of our bikes parked outside the hotel. This is the first time that our bikes have ever been vandalised in 14-years and nearly 80,000 miles on the road. All joking aside, it was very upsetting as we are now without trip meters on the bikes (we use these for estimating range / fuel left) and on checking with BMW, the parts are not sold as separate items; you have to buy a whole instrument cluster costing an exorbitant amount of money.

With fetid curses against Staedtler and his minions on our lips, we left Pushkar and rode on on to Jaipur and some compensation in the form of another beautiful hotel; the Anuraang Villa; an oasis in a quiet backstreet in the city, complete with peacocks in the garden at dinner. Ringing ahead to book the hotel, we were delighted to find that the manager, Om, was a fellow motorcyclist and only too keen to have us stay there. It was one of those places where the sum of the resulting transaction was much more than just food and board for the stay. On learning that we had ordered some tyres from Delhi, Om advised that he had a taxi driver going to the city next day and could easily divert him to collect our tyres if they were ready. By these little actions are the stresses of travel obliterated and our tyres turned up next day, delivered to the door.

These would be the tyres to take us through to SE Asia. Our Metzler Karoos, fitted in Dubai had been probably the best tyres we ever fitted on the bikes. They were so sure footed on all kinds of road conditions and gave oodles of confidence such that you could just point the bike over any substrate in the full knowledge that the tyres would pull you through. The downside was that the back tyre had worn out in just 4000-miles. The only replacements we could get in India were unheard of Vee-Rubber tyres from Thailand. They were cheap (@£45) and have proven to be a most excellent little tyre, yet on the day we fitted them I nearly came to a sticky end…

The rear wheels were removed and we traveled by Tuk-Tuk to a tyre shop to have the new rubbers fitted. Back at the hotel I replaced the rear wheels and then took each bike out for a short ride to check out our new treads. Maggie’s bike first and a short spin around the block confirmed the tyre seemed to hold the road well and was happily partnered with the Karoo up front, which still has a lot of life left in it. Then my own bike; same spin round the block and everything was fine. I turned into the quiet backstreets near the hotel and was looking forward to a beer in the garden to celebrate a job well done. Annoyingly I found my way blocked by a big white SUV who had just braked to a stop in front of me. I nipped around him only to find two oncoming 125’s riding side by side, blocking the road ahead. I almost ran head-on into the outer bike as I tried to get round him. We collided, left side to left, snapping off my front indicator and catching my shin on his crash bars on the way by. I stayed upright and pulled over to find I had knocked him flat.

I jumped off the bike to see if he was OK. He picked his bike up and was panicking, apologizing profusely explaining that he had been chatting with his buddy and not looking where he was going. By now my left boot was filling up with blood. We shook hands (there’s no exchange of insurance details here) and I rode round the corner to the hotel, pulling in, ashen-faced to the dismay of poor Mags and Om. I wound up with a bad gash on the leg, which later bruised from knee to ankle but the incident shook the pair of us up as it demonstrated what can happen with the slightest moment of inattention riding in India, where you must always expect the unexpected like nowhere else on this planet.

In spite of the accident, Jaipur was a marvelous stop on our Indian tour. Where Udaipur was white, Jodhpur blue and Jaisalmer amber, Jaipur is known as the pink city (although it’s really more of a terracotta). The star attraction was the Amber Fort just in the hills outside town. We contemplated passing on this as we’d by now seen quite a few red forts, monster citadels and expansive palaces on our tour of Rajasthan but the Amber Fort really was a case of keeping the best ‘til last and I’ll let the photographs do the rest of the talking on that one…

We were just about finished in Rajasthan and the road beckoned to the East. Next stop, Agra and one of the top attractions in all of India: the Taj Mahal. Then long roads across the heavily populated states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to deliver us to the northeast and the winding road on to Burma where a whole new leg of the trip beckoned.

To access the photogallery for this blog, please click on the following link: Return to Rajasthan

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