Lil gets head butted by a cow, Jim does a double poo stomp, and finding out where leftover curry goes.

Day 135: Jaisalmer, India. We woke to another scorching hot morning and a small unexpected flood. The air conditioning unit had started dripping overnight, and by this morning it looked like the monsoon had swept its way through our room.

The hotel maintenance team arrived – a bunch of young guys wielding towels and hammers and other random flood-fixing paraphernalia, and managed to stem the flow of water.

After breakfast on the rooftop (chapatis, pickle and curd for Jim, boiled eggs and toast for Lil – some things never change) we headed out into the blazing sun to walk to Gadisar Lake.

Gadisar Lake was built by Raja Rawal Jaisal, the first ruler of Jaisalmer, and later revamped by Maharaja Garisisar Singh. It was the only source of water for Jaisalmer in the olden days. The entrance to the lake is through a magnificent carved yellow sandstone archway, called Tilon-Ki-Pol, which is also the boat hire jetty. A guy at the gate hassled us mercilessly to get us to hire a rowing boat, but we declined. We had a good giggle at the ‘no wine allowed’ sign by the boat jetty – guessing some tourists must go out on the lake for a bit of a drunken sesh with their warm Indian wine.

We went for a long walk around the barren sandy land around the lake, to take a look at the many temples, shrines and ghats dotted around the shore – and to dodge some seriously grumpy cows and bullocks who weren’t happy at us disturbing their Sunday afternoon peace. We also popped our heads into a little shrine where we had to take our shoes off and continually flick two centimetre long ants off our feet.

We got back to the main entrance and boat jetty, which was busy with visitors, though no tourists in sight other than us. A large group of boys had just made their way down to the water to buy bags of fish food and feed the resident catfish. They had a couple of adults supervising them, who kept warning them not to push or go too close to the edge (warnings which went largely unheeded).

At the same time, a husband and wife were standing next to us on the next level up, with their son down below at the feeding frenzy. Their approach to danger management was a little different – the wife simply shouted down to the kid “Don’t go close to the water, there are crocodiles in the lake and they can smell humans. And you are stinkier than most humans, so better look out!”. Interesting parenting skills. (PS there are no crocodiles).

On the way back to town, Jim slipped on the edge of a pavement and he sunk knee deep into a roadside drain filled with putrid water, leaves, rubbish and no doubt centuries worth of cow poo. On a positive note, it happened right outside a local Indian sweet shop, so Lil suggested it was a good opportunity to acquire some more creamy coconut fudge.

We headed back to our hotel so Jim could get cleaned up, fearful that a flesh eating infection might set in otherwise. With the assaulted shoe cleaned up and drying on the balcony and the coconut fudge half scoffed, we headed back out again to continue our exploring.

We walked along some very hot and very dusty roads to take a look at some cenotaphs, a couple of kilometres outside the main town. Sadly the gate was closed, and despite a couple of locals encouraging us to ignore the padlocked gate and scale the wall, we didn’t feel inclined to do so, particularly as a policeman was hanging out nearby. So we took a couple of pics over the wall, and retraced our steps to town.

On the day we arrived in Jaisalmer, we explored the old city within the walls of the fort. Today we took a wander through the many tiny alleys of houses and shops that lie outside the fort. There are endless narrow streets with spectacular old buildings including some very impressive havelis that we need to go back and visit.

A sizeable cow was just making its way into a house as we passed by. A little girl standing in the open doorway looked like she was weighing up her options, though pushing the cow back down the steps can’t have been one of them, given her miniscule size.

A couple of streets away, we stopped and sat on a wall to get our water bottles out. Lil pointed to a cow that she thought looked ‘cute’. She changed her mind when the cow turned on her and started head butting her (its horns weren’t huge but they were still capable of some serious damage). She ran shrieking down the street, with little kids – and doubtless the cow – laughing their heads off.

And then just around the corner, Jim stepped back to take a pic of an old haveli – and stepped into a huge freshly prepared cow pat. With no water taps in sight, he scrubbed his shoe on sand and rubble at the side of the road to try and remove the offending matter, with limited success. We groaned, and continued on.

We were in desperate need of some afternoon caffeine, and stopped at one of the coffee stalls in a small town square. Our quiet coffee was disrupted two minutes later when three guys plonked themselves on the bench opposite us. They weren’t interested in a caffeine fix – they were solely interested in chatting Lil and Jim up to try and sell them a tour. It was excruciating. The usual endless questions about where we’re from, where we’ve been and where we’re going followed by a list of every place we should visit, ranging from the local lake to New Delhi.

Jim managed to break the conversation nicely by saying ‘Smile please for a photo!” and straight away they all sat bolt upright, sucked their tummies in and put their best smile on.

A guy wandering past spotted that Jim still had a lump of cow pat hanging off his shoe – he offered to clean it for him with his ‘magic cream’. An interesting line of business. Perhaps he also makes the ‘magic bed sheets’ we saw on the market yesterday.

We also took a pic of the ‘coffee man’ – a lovely smiley guy who makes the best masala coffee. We had two each – and we’ll be back for more.

We headed back to the hotel for a rest before another amazing dinner of Rajasthani food. We chatted about whether we could recreate some of the dishes back in Sydney, depending of course on whether the various spices and berries are available locally, either to grow or buy.

Dinner was huge and for once, we couldn’t finish everything. The waiter said not to worry, the hotels keep leftover food which gets fed to the local cows late at night. So perhaps Jim will see the remains of tonight’s curry when he steps into another cow pat tomorrow.

More then.

Mind boggling magic bed sheets, a ramble round a fairytale fort, and best keep your phone in your pocket.

Day 134: Jaisalmer, India. We started the day with a lazy breakfast on the rooftop, with sensational views across Jaisalmer fort and the surrounding city. The heat was already rising rapidly, with temperatures set to reach an intense 37C during the day.

After breakfast, we threw on our day packs and headed out for a walk around the old city and fort. The population of Jaisalmer is small – the last census (from 2011) showed a district population of around 700,000, with only around 65,000 living in the city itself. The city relies heavily on tourism, with the opportunity to spend some quiet (if dusty and hot) time in the Thar desert astride a camel a top attraction for people around the world – though some reports say tourist numbers have been falling.

The tourist season seems to be slow kicking off this year though – good for us, not so good for local businesses. As we walked down through the old city, tourists were few and far between, and shop owners and stallholders were calling out, desperate to sell us something. Including a man who sells a range of ‘magic bed sheets’. The mind boggles.

We reached the fort and started with a stroll around the perimeter. There’s a narrow path that runs the whole way around the battlements, though it occasionally requires a little scrambling in parts to navigate piles of bricks and rubbish. Plus the odd dog.

We stopped for a few minutes at ‘sunset point’ – an elevated platform with an old cannon and spectacular views across the city.

And of course there’s always one goofball who has to stand too close the edge.

The fort is a fabulous old sandstone construction, built in 1156 by the Bhati Rajput ruler, Rawal Jaisal (from whom Jaisalmer gets its name). It’s one of the few ‘living forts’ in the world (another example being Carcassonne, France), with over 4,000 people living within its walls. For the better part of its history, the fort contained the entire city of Jaisalmer – it was only in the 17th century that the first settlements were built outside the fort walls, to accommodate the growing city population.

It’s fascinating wandering up and down the tiny alleyways within the fort boundaries, and amazing to think that so many people still live there operating tiny handicraft shops, restaurants and cafes. There are lots of great havelis, most doubling up as hotels these days. At times it felt like we were living out a fairytale.

Jim was a little challenged by the tiny door sizes – they make you wonder just how small the original residents were.

We stopped for coffee at one of the many cafes inside the fort. We were the only people there, apart from a family who came in to take some photos, and left without buying anything.

A slightly irritating guy blocked our route as we walked through the fort square and waved us into the Fort Palace Museum, which has a ridiculously overpriced entrance fee. An inscription in the visitor book written in monster capital letters (‘SERIOUSLY OVERPRICED ENTRANCE FEE AND SOME EXHIBITS CLOSED, NOT A GOOD EXPERIENCE!’) indicates we aren’t the only ones who think they’re overdoing it. It was also more than twice the entrance fee advertised online, so we’re wondering if it may be a sneaky way of making up for the tourist shortfall.

It’s typical that historical sights charge a ‘camera fee’, however this one wanted money for taking snaps on mobile phones too. Exasperated, we said no. As we walked around, security guards were prowling everywhere, desperate to catch out anyone who dared to sneak a pic without paying the fee. And even more infuriatingly, one of the security guards wanted us to give him some money as a tip for telling us the name of a character in a painting.

Lil got our her phone to look at her compass app while we were on the rooftop, which has an amazing 360 degree view, and the nearby security guard looked like was getting ready to wrestle her to the ground. She was so incensed by the whole thing, he would probably have come out worse off if he’d tried.

The good news is that if you do manage to take some pics, a local business will burn them onto a CD for you.

Perhaps the worst thing about the Palace was the horrific smell of bat poo – it was so bad that one little kid was crying with a tissue clamped over his nose. And there were hundreds of bats hanging from the ceilings around the building, continually adding to the piles of bat poo and smell. Even some lit joss sticks couldn’t mask the odour.

On the way back to the hotel, we poked our head into one of the local wine and beer shops (five alcohol shops seem a little excessive for a town of this size, but perhaps it’s an indication of how little there is to do). Their limited choice of red wine came in two temperatures – bubbling hot from being on the shelf in the sun, or freezing cold from the ice cabinet where the beers are kept (we decided to give it a skip). And of course, they tried to rip us off quoting a price 30% higher than the government web site, which controls liquor prices. The price rapidly decreased as we walked away, with the shopkeeper shouting after us as we walked down the street.

We sat and read for a while on the rooftop, then scrambled up to the top deck above the restaurant to watch the sunset – an incredible fiery orange ball sitting right above the desert. Sadly our phone pics don’t do it justice (but on the plus side, the hotel doesn’t charge a camera fee).

We had dinner on the rooftop again – while we were ordering a live Indian folk band was setting up behind us. They came and asked Lil her name and dedicated one of their local Rajasthani songs to her. There’s no way Shazam could hope to recognise that one.

The music was interrupted at one point by a loud shriek from Lil as a large black bug landed on her. The sort of bug that no amount of insect repellent is ever going to discourage.

And so to bed for another good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we’re planning to walk to one of the nearby lakes with the hope of spotting some local birdlife. And hopefully there won’t be security guards enforcing crazy camera fees.

More then.

Rally driving through the city in a tuk tuk, a lively scrap on an overpacked bus, and our first fiery sunset over the dunes.

Day 133: Jodhpur & Jaisalmer, India. We woke to another warm overcast morning. Another good opportunity to chill for a bit on the terrace before packing our bags for today’s trip to Jaisalmer.

Our guesthouse room and terrace are on the second floor of the haveli – just high enough to see across the rooftops of the nearby buildings and watch the locals make a start on their days. The lovely family next door appear on their rooftop every morning one by one, to brush their teeth and wash their faces with beaten metal jugs and bowls, then the lady spends ages brushing the tiled floor and surrounds. A daily routine that’s simple but heartwarming to watch.

Late morning we packed our bags and wandered up to the rooftop for a last coffee before heading off to catch the bus. We said our goodbyes to the guys and the dogs, then jumped into a tuk tuk with a driver who clearly aspires to be an Indian Lewis Hamilton. We clung on tightly as we swerved non-stop in and out of traffic, animals and people, with so many narrow misses we ended up closing our eyes for part of the journey.

We arrived, thankfully unscathed, at the bus departure point – a small office on a very busy main road. We sat outside on metal seats for a while, watching the world go by and cows digging their way through rubbish. A lady came begging and tried to give Lil her ‘third eye’ bindi decoration in exchange for some money, but we declined the offer.

At last our bus pulled up and we clambered aboard. As buses go, it wasn’t too bad, though it’s worth bearing in mind we’re starting from a pretty low base point here. Most of the essential pieces seemed to be attached, our seats were reasonably comfy, and it looked like someone might have swept the bus in the last week or two.

Lil spotted a sign on the wall saying ‘M.9521312929’ and joked to Jim that maybe that was the bus capacity. If she’d known what lay ahead, she may have bitten her lip.

The bus was full by the time we left Jodphur, and a bunch of people were standing in the aisle and leaning against the front door, which we thought a little odd given we were heading off on a four and a half hour journey.

We stopped at several points as we headed out of the city and beyond, and by the time we were 30 minutes into the journey, there were 41 people seated on the bus – and another 31 standing in the aisle.

Every time we stopped, a gaggle of people was standing waiting hopefully on the pavement, with bags and kids and babies.

At one pick up point, a group of local ladies were fed up to find there were no seats available and tried to get back off the bus again. The driver blocked their way and insisted they stay on the bus. Voices got louder and louder and long story short – a mighty scrap broke out which was pretty amusing to watch, though we could only imagine what they were shouting at each other. At last the driver agreed to let a few of them off, and the screaming continued on the pavement outside.

One of the online reviews of the bus company said “too many people make journey not comfortable”. They weren’t joking. Jim spent half the journey with a large guy in a brown kurta leaning heavily against him, with his arm lying across both of the seat tops in front of us. The two guys behind us were forced to move over by the driver to let a lady and her baby sit on the edge of their seats. They weren’t impressed at having to share their seats, but the driver wasn’t taking no for an answer.

Packed bus aside, the journey was a pretty good one. We drove through a couple of towns and lots of little villages, with locals gathered outside open fronted shops and stalls, drinking coffee and selling freshly cooked food wrapped in sheets of newspaper.

As we got closer to Jaisalmer, we spotted the first sand dunes of the Thar desert, and enjoyed a glorious sunset behind some spectacular thunder clouds.

We arrived in Jaisalmer just before 8pm. Our guesthouse was a quick two minute walk (which still didn’t deter a bunch of tuk tuk drivers from offering to drive us there, who knew quite well how far we were going).

We’d booked a standard room and were very happy to hear we’d been upgraded to a suite free of charge – we feel like the maharaja and maharani in their little palace.

We got settled in then had dinner on the rooftop – some of the best food we’ve had so far – paneer mutta masala (cheese and peas) and ker sangri (ker berries and sangri beans both from the desert, very, very different from anything we’ve tried so far). Perhaps we’ll set up a Rajasthani restaurant when we get back to Sydney.

And while we had dinner, we enjoyed spectacular night time views across Jaisalmer Fort, the second largest fort in India. Chittorgarh, which we visited a few weeks ago, is the largest.

And then to bed, for a long night’s sleep. Tomorrow we’ll go and take a look around the fort and old town. And thankfully no more packed buses for a while.

More then.

A money changing facility in the mausoleum, bubbling dahl in monster cooking pots, and a growing addiction to masala coffee. 

Day 132: Jodhpur, India. Today was our last day in Jodhpur, before we pack up our bags and head to Jaisalmer – also known as the ‘Golden City’.

It was an overcast morning, which gave us a very welcome chance to sit on the tiled terrace and read our books, without totally frying in the sun. Once the sun broke through, we scarpered inside to sort out accommodation and travel arrangements for tomorrow’s trip to Jaisalmer.

Train times to Jaisalmer turned out to be pretty rubbish – our choices were either 5.40am (meaning we’d have to get up about 4am), or late evening or overnight services. So we chose to go by bus instead, an afternoon service that gets to Jaisalmer early evening, which is perfect. We also booked a guesthouse which looks lovely, and is close to the fort and the old town.

Just after midday, we headed out to walk to Jaswant Thada, an impressive marble mausoleum close to Mehrangarh Fort. The intricately carved mausoleum was built in 1899 by Marharaja Sardar Singh, in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. Four adjoining cenotaphs in the grounds commemorate successive rulers. Jaswant Thada stands alongside Dev Pond, which is part of the Jao Rodha Desert Park, and has magnificent views across the lake, the hills and Mehrangarh Fort.

The surrounding manicured gardens are impressive too, with towering gazebos, grassy lawns and flowering shrubs and a big chequered walkway overlooking the city.

We wandered inside the mausoleum (shoes off of course). A lovely old Indian man, part guide, part security, part we’re not sure, was sitting on the central marble platform and beckoned to us to sit with him for photographs. He twirled his moustache into shape as he asked, and we suspected this might be a money making venture, and indeed it was. As soon as our pics were out of the way, his hand was outstretched looking for money. He even tried to get us to change an Australian two dollar coin he’d conjured up into rupees.

From the gardens of the mausoleum, we spotted another fort like structure in the distance and decided to walk through the town to see if we could climb it. We later found out it wasn’t accessible, but regardless we had a fabulous walk through lots of hectic little streets.

On one tiny street, a bunch of guys were stirring a monster cooking pot, with an orange-brown dahl dish bubbling away. We stopped to chat to them, and sadly couldn’t quite catch the name of the dish, but they said they were preparing it for a Hindu celebration. They said the food would be ready at 7.30pm and we should join them, which was a really lovely gesture.

Further along we spotted another pile of large newly-washed cooking pots resting alongside the wall of a house. We assumed they must be for the same celebration, however the man who was standing in the doorway explained his wife cooks food for wedding celebrations. He called her out and without asking, they hugged and posed for a photo. As did two other larrikins who were standing close by.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the market for a masala coffee, which is quickly turning into an addiction. A supreme blend of cardamom, pepper, cloves and coffee with hot milk – it’s pretty difficult to stop at one.

We finished our day with a last dinner on the hotel rooftop – cashew nut curry and paneer butter masala – a perfect end to our stay. We’ll really miss Jodhpur – it’s a fabulous walkable city, with lots happening and lovely warm hearted people.

Tomorrow we pack up again to head to the bus station, for the journey to Jaisalmer. And doubtless we’ll stop for another masala coffee or two along the way.

More then.

DIY instructions for removing goat horns, hiding beer bottles under the table, and two cows speak out on the ban on plastic.

Day 131: Jodhpur, India. We packed our bags again today for a quick walk up two flights of stairs to the next level of the hotel. A bunch of new guests were arriving and had asked to stay together on the same floor, so we were asked to move upstairs.

This morning we were planning to walk to Umaid Bhawan Palace, the King’s official residence in Jodhpur, but gave up on the idea half way there. We needed to cross the railway line and the main road to take us across had been dug up and there was no way through. So our choice was to walk a decent way further up a very busy main road to find the next crossing point, or walk across the railway tracks at any point, which is what locals tend to do, regardless of whether roads are being dug up or not. Neither option appealed, so we went and had some coffee in a small cafe while we plotted our next moves.

An advertising poster on the building opposite from The Wedding Specialist Rajasthan showed a wedding party all dressed up and ready to go. All very elaborate and lovely, and good to know that traditional dress is still worn, albeit you’d need to get up early on your wedding day to get dressed up in that lot.

After coffee, we did what we always do when we’ve no set agenda – we walk. We weaved our way around dozens of streets in the old town, some already visited, some new, though it’s such a maze we’re not entirely sure which was which.

Along the way we found another stepwell which for some reason isn’t mentioned in any of the tourist or city information we’ve read online. It’s called Mahira Bag Ka Zalra and it’s another great example of an old stepwell. With no signposts or any online promotion, it’s pretty amazing that we’d walked past it a few days ago, just five metres away, without even noticing it.

While we were standing at the edge of the stepwell, an elderly man walked up and down the steps repeatedly, collecting jugs of water – good to see that the place is still in use. A young kid came over to talk to us, asking the usual questions – our names, where we’re from etc. He said (we think) that swimming isn’t allowed in the stepwell, and either his father used to swim in the water or he has gone to heaven, we’re not sure exactly which. He was making spirally signs with his hands and pointing upwards. It was a very confusing conversation, which ended with him putting his hand out for money.

The cows that freely roam the streets of cities we’ve visited are here too, but not in such huge numbers. However goats are in abundance and pop up everywhere, sifting through piles of rubbish, peeking out wooden shutters of houses and lolling about on walls and steps. Most of them have had their horns removed, which makes them look a little odd and from a quick glance a bit more sheep-like.

An article on (which is really a thing) explains that while horns provide useful functions (helping to cool goats in heat, aiding them to defend themselves, and allowing them to reach the ‘itch in their sides’) the horns can also be a menace when goats attack each other – or humans – or get their horns stuck in things like fences or barbed wire. The article also provides a guide to easy DIY removal of your goat’s horns (we stopped reading at that point).

One of the cutest goats we saw today had henna applied to its coat – it was looking pretty proud of itself as it lay sunbathing (and probably sitting in a pile of its own poo) on the step of a house.

A local school was finishing for the day as we walked past, with lots of over-excited kids shouting hello and waving. This gang of kids posed for us and afterwards we were treated to one of the boy’s best John Travolta impersonations, much to the amusement of his friends (and us).

On the way back through town, we stopped at the fruit market to buy some bananas. A guy who manages the clothing and textile stall next door (and speaks excellent English) jumped in to help the fruit seller (who didn’t speak any English) with the banana transaction. He managed to upsell us with a large bag of chikoo fruit which we’ve never tried before, and which we’ll now be eating for days. It’s an interesting fruit, which tastes like a cross between a pear and a kiwi and a papaya. Sort of.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at the Indian cafe we visited a couple of days ago, for a couple of hot strong coffees and a read of the India Times. One of the newspaper articles describes the impact the ban on single use plastic will have on India’s cow population, through the voice of two cows called Rani and Laxmi, who clearly speak very good English. It’s an a-moo-sing read.

We walked some more and then decided to seek out a late afternoon beer. There’s a guesthouse and rooftop restaurant on the cobbled hill leading up to the fort, which we know exists because every time we pass the owner tries to drag us inside for his home cooked pakoras and beer. We arrived at the door and were quickly dragged up endless steps to the rooftop by the owner (with a quick tour of the kitchen on the way, so we could see where his wife cooks the pakoras).

The rooftop had great views and a pack of lively kids that turned water taps on and off for amusement and cycled their little bikes in circles on the rooftop. We gather the restaurant may not be licensed to sell beer, as we were asked to put our half full bottles on the floor under the table (or perhaps it’s just to stop them falling off when the kids knock their bikes into the table legs). We chatted to a lovely couple called John and Jenni, a father and daughter from Northern Ireland who are travelling around India together for a few weeks, and having a lot of fun along the way. We shared experiences and learnings (and a few beers), then said our goodbyes, promising to hook up on Facebook.

This evening we had dinner on the hotel rooftop again. With no sign of the bunch of guests that were supposed to be arriving today, it was another quiet dinner with dahl and chickpea dumplings and the two cute labradors (the dogs were running around, not in the curry).

Tomorrow we’re planning to visit Jaswant Thada, a marble mausoleum up on the hill near the fort. And perhaps we’ll be brave enough to read the rest of the article on DIY goat horn removal.

More then.

Spotting the local king and queen, a protracted photo session at the fort, and Jim sports a spiffy new hair do.

Day 130: Jodhpur, India. We had another lazy start to the day, with coffee and breakfast on the terrace in the fiery morning sun, then headed out to visit Mehrangarh Fort. The town had a bit of a snoozy feel today, perhaps due to the rapidly rising heat.

As we walked up the steep cobbled hill to the fort, two fighter jets shot past overhead. A man explained it’s a common occurrence, and that Jodhpur has the largest air base in South East Asia. Another random trivia fact to add to the pile.

We reached the fort, paid our entrance fee and walked towards the inner gates. A security guard waved us to the side and said “you will wait 5 minutes before entering”. So we stood with a bunch of people under the shade of a tree and waited, assuming they were undertaking some sort of crowd control exercise. Then after a few minutes, a few cars drove down the ramp of the fort, and people next to us put their hands together saying namaste (Añjali Mudrā) and bowed.

We asked a guy standing next to us who they were bowing to – he said it was the King and Queen of Jodhpur. It’s their son’s birthday today, so they were visiting the temple at the fort. Our first encounter with Indian royalty. Jim reckons the king waved at him personally. Lil says unlikely.

We spent a couple of hours wandering around Mehrangarh fort. We’ve been to a bunch of forts now and this one rates highly – it’s a fascinating old building, and very well preserved too.

Mehrangarh was built in the mid fifteenth century by Rao Jodha, the ruler of what was then known as Mandore. He also founded the city of Jodhpur in 1459. Mehrangarh is one of the largest forts in India (Rudyard Kipling called it ‘the work of giants’) and sits on a hill 125m above the city.

The fort is enclosed by thick sandstone walls, with several palaces within its boundaries, and seven gates leading into the fort. The second gate has holes where cannon balls struck, fired by the attacking armies of Jaipur. It looks like they must have been using peashooters, given how thick the walls are.

There’s also an excellent museum within the fort, with weapons, silverware, and pictures and other historic artifacts on display. Our favourites were the old royal palanquins, used for carrying royal womenfolk, and howdahs, which are elephant saddles and seats.

As we were walking around the museum, a little kid with his mother got transfixed by Jim – he couldn’t stop staring at him, with eyes following his every move. We asked his mother if we could take a pic of the adorable little kid, who was sporting black eye liner – a fairly common thing here to accentuate kids’ eyes and make them look bigger). She said yes. And then, of course, the sister and grandmother had to jump into a picture too.

Next we walked to Maa Chamunda Temple, a 15th century temple which is just inside the far southern tip of the fort. We took off our shoes at the steps and walked through the little temple, which is very pretty and has amazing views across the town. It is worshipped during Navatri, a Hindu pilgrimage that happens in late September. Sadly in 2008, 224 people were trampled and killed from a stampede during a visit to the tiny temple for celebrations.

While we were putting our shoes back on, a guy called Denish struck up conversation to practice his English and get answers to his ‘Top 101 questions to ask tourists’, including where we’re from, how long we’ve been in India, what our names are, what our favourite city is etc. Then it got interesting.

Denish asked “are you husband and wife?” We said yes. He seemed happy. Then “How many children do you have?” We said none. A very puzzled expression from Denish, then he asked again “How many children do you have?” Again, we said none. He said “None? No children?”. He looked sad and a little startled, but decided to move on with his questioning. The next one was “How old are you both?”. We told him, and he repeated the ages and said “But that means woman older than man!”. We said yes, that’s right. His expression quickly moved from puzzled to horrified to downright mortified as he squeaked “Not possible in India!”. We shrugged our shoulders, and said it wasn’t a problem in Australia. He thanked us for talking to him, and wandered off, still shaking his head. I guess we may not be his perfect picture of a married couple.

We stopped at one of the fort cafes for an afternoon coffee. We were only sitting down for two minutes when a gang of seven guys came over and asked for selfies. We said sure, thinking they meant one group pic, but then they swung into photography overdrive. They took a whole series of pics – every time someone took a photo, they’d jump into the group to be photographed and someone else would jump up to take the picture. Then they went through every combination imaginable – “now two, now three, now four people”. We finished by getting one of them to take a picture of the gang with us, minus the guy who was snapping the shot.

Two minutes later, a husband and wife waved and asked if they could have a selfie with us. Sure. So the wife sat beside Lil and asked “Can I wear your goggles?” and before Lil could answer she was already wearing her sunglasses and posing for a shot. Next her husband had to come and sit beside Lil, while the girl took a photo of the three of us. And so we took one too. It can all get a little exhausting.

We walked back through another section of the old town, checking out some more of the fascinating busy streets. Jim badly needed a haircut and quite opportunely, we passed a barbers that looked fairly decent. Jim stopped and indicated to the barber he wanted his hair chopped. Lil whipped out a photo from May to show how short he wanted his hair cut (for fear the barber specialised in bald heads) and the barber swung into action with scissors and clippers and – eek – a cut-throat razor blade (thankfully the barber unwrapped a brand new blade). Ten minutes later Jim handed over the fee of one dollar and wandered off down the street sporting his new do. Pretty good job too.

We walked back to the hotel, a bit fatigued after the heat (a high of 35C today and very little shade) and rested for a bit before heading up to the roof for dinner and beers. We briefly chatted about going to another restaurant in the area, but the food and views are just so good on the roof here, and it’s hellishly handy.

Tomorrow we’re planning to walk to Umaid Bhawan Palace, which is the official residence of the King. Jim’s hoping the king might give him another personal wave. Lil says unlikely.

More then.

Wandering around a big blue city, a hot and arid taste of the desert, and missing a two metre long cobra.

Day 129: Jodhpur, India. We had a nice lazy start to the day, catching up on sleep, and sitting on our hotel terrace in the sun, reading and drinking coffee.

Late morning we headed out to visit Rao Jodha Desert Park, a 72 hectare park which contains ecologically restored desert and arid land vegetation. We spent a while wandering through the old town on the way, checking out incredible old buildings and tiny open fronted shops selling everything from saris to screwdrivers, and cute dogs resting in the sun.

Lil spotted an Indian sweet shop and stopped to buy what looked like iced fudge, which we ate later – and which was addictively delicious. There was a huge choice of sweets in glass fronted display cases, plus some golden pastries and syrup sitting in a large metal pot – all way too tempting.

We also stopped to take a look at Toorji’s Step Well, which was built in 1740 by the consort (queen) of Maharaja Abhay Singh. Stepwells are wells or ponds where the water is reached by descending sets of steps to the water level. Apparently Jodphur has over 100 stepwells, some tucked away in the narrow streets, though this is the only one we’ve stumbled on so far.

Jodhpur is known as the Blue City, as many of the houses in the old city are painted light blue – though there seems to be no consensus on why blue was chosen. Some say the colour is associated with the Brahmins, India’s priestly caste and the blue houses belong to families of that caste. Others say it’s to keep the buildings cool in the sun. And yet others say it’s because termites caused significant structural damage to buildings and that chemicals, including copper sulphate, were added to the whitewash to fend them off.

Whatever the underlying reason for the blue – it’s gorgeous. Wandering about the streets and laneways is a treat, and brings back memories of small laid back villages on Greek islands.

We stopped for brunch at a rooftop cafe above a guesthouse in another old haveli, with glorious old stone walls and intricately carved wooden doors and panels. It was a steep climb to the rooftop, where the views across the blue painted buildings were also sensational. While we were sipping our coffees, we could hear singing and chanting coming from the local temple across the rooftops.

The waiter at the cafe is called Dilip, and he’s from Nepal. He must be pretty fit as he has to constantly run up and down the stairs from the ground level of the cafe to the rooftop, to take orders and deliver food. He now lives and works in Jodhpur, which he loves, but says he misses his family dreadfully at times. He was pretty keen to hear that we liked his cooking (stuffed paratha and a simple toasted sandwich), which we did. A lovely guy, very welcoming and rightly proud of his achievement to move from Nepal and find work in Jodhpur.

On the last stretch of the road to Rao Jodha Desert Park, a motorbike pulled over and a guy took off his helmet, got off his bike and started chatting to us. He’s a student in the city, and whenever he spots tourists (which can’t be very often at this time of year), he takes the opportunity to stop and say hello and practice his English. A lovely guy – and of course we had to pose for a selfie.

We entered the grounds to the Desert Park, paid the entrance fee, and got a map and briefing from Hersh, the guy at the reception desk. Hersh pointed out a monitor lizard hiding in the hedge. Jim was disappointed to hear that he’d missed seeing a 2 metre cobra (one of the top three deadly Indian snakes) which had slithered into the entrance way only 30 minutes prior to our arrival. Lil wasn’t quite so disappointed.

We set off for our walk around the park, which is fabulous and fascinating. It was opened in 2006, created by removing the non-native plants that had taken over the land and replacing them with native ones. It also gives a good impression of what hiking in the desert must be like – arid and hot and rather uncomfortable.

The desert park has more spectacular views of Mehrangarh fort, from the opposite side of the city.

When we got back to the reception area, we had a great chat with Hersh about the recent treks he has done, and the wildlife sanctuaries he’s visited. He’s a keen photographer with a nice looking camera, and showed us lots of photos of panthers and other wildlife he’s encountered along the way. Jim spent some time going through an Indian birds book with him to identify a small falcon we’d spotted on our walk.

Hersh also showed us a photo of the cobra we’d missed earlier in the day, and a video of a different (even bigger) cobra that head-butted his shoe under his desk last August, before making its way into his office. All in a day’s work, as they say.

We said our goodbyes, and wandered back through the old town, stopping to buy some fruit at the market. We had a late afternoon coffee at an old coffee room tucked above a strip of shops. We were the only people there, but the coffee was great and Lil got to read the India Times and catch up on local news.

After a rest and some more reading and research at our hotel, we headed back up to the rooftop for dinner again. The restaurant gets great reviews for its authentic Rajasthani food, and it really is sensational. This evening we had a super-hot chili paneer and a spicy local sesame dumpling dish.

Tomorrow we’re planning another lazy start to the day, then a visit to Mehrangarh Fort which should be interesting and fun. And Jim’s day will be made even more special if we manage to spot a two metre cobra along the way. Lil says hopefully not.

More then.

Saying goodbye to a kooky cow, eating dubious food in the station cafe, and jaw dropping views of an old fort.

Day 128: Mount Abu & Jodhpur, India. Another day, another bus, another train. After packing up this morning, we wandered up the street for breakfast at a local cafe in Mount Abu. The guys in the cafe have been hassling us to eat there since we arrived, so they were happy to get our custom at last, albeit just over an hour before we left the town, to catch a bus to Jodhpur.

30 minutes before our bus was due to depart, we finished our second coffees and walked around the corner to the bus station. The guy behind the counter said only government buses go from the station – private buses go from a bus stand a few minutes walk away.

We walked down the street, passing a cow that we’ve spotted a few times in Mount Abu, and which we labelled The Kooky Cow. Its horns are both fascinating and terrifying, and needless to say we gave it a very wide berth every time we spotted it. We were happy to say goodbye to it.

We found the right bus yard (even bus stand is a little too grand a term). There was no counter, and no indication of which of the eight or so buses that were parked haphazardly around the yard might be going to Abu Road. Plus most of the drivers seemed to have gone missing.

Another bus pulled in and we asked the driver if he could help – he said “No buses to Abu Road, you must get taxi”. We showed him our online tickets for the journey from Mount Abu to Abu Road, pointed out they were from the same bus company as the bus he was driving, and he nodded as if the conversation 10 seconds ago had never taken place, and pointed us to a beaten up bus in the corner.

The beaten up bus in the corner had a driver but he wouldn’t let us on – we gathered from a lot of pointing and grunting that he wanted us to wait on one of the bunch of dirty plastic stools by the fence. Ten minutes before the bus was due to depart, he let us on. It was one of those weird buses that’s half seats and half beds, so we sat squished in the front two seats with a tiny strip of a window and a bed above our heads.

We were a bit late leaving, mainly due to the bus driver having to search for his lighter so he could light some incense sticks for the shrine on the bus dashboard. After he’d lit the incense and wafted it around for a bit, he seemed happy with his efforts and got behind the wheel.

The advertised drop off point was Sai Mandir temple, about 1.7km from Abu Road train station. Except the bus stopped a few kilometres before the temple and waved for us to get off. Lil pointed to the drop off point on our e-tickets. The driver shook his head. Lil pointed to the ticket again, and refused to move. Eventually the driver called his assistant (whose primary job seemed to be to hang out the open door of the moving bus to make sure we didn’t fall off the cliff face as we drove down the mountainside), gave him 10 rupees and told him to find us a tuk tuk to the temple.

We ended up getting the tuk tuk driver to drive us all the way to the train station – and it was along some of the roughest road surfaces we’ve been on. We were bounced and thrown around with force, eventually landing outside the train station, feeling like we’d been through a blender.

We had hours to wait at Abu Road station for the Jodhpur train, so we had coffees and read our books, and watched the world go by. We also had some lunch in the station cafe, though even Jim was a little dubious about the provenance of the food they served. We ordered stuffed paratha. The guy behind the counter dug around and found a foil container, peeled back the lid, stared at the contents for a bit and then passed it over. Lil had a piece of cold chewy paratha and decided she wasn’t hungry after all. Jim persevered with his cold chewy paratha with pickles and a tub of warm curd, with Lil pointing out that curd is probably supposed to be refrigerated. A sign on the wall stated ‘With us you will get safe food’. Let’s hope so.

The train pulled in right on time, and we located our carriage and seats. A portly man sitting opposite us was just starting to tuck into his curry and rice lunch, and very nicely asked if we would like some. We declined, thanking him profusely. Lil recalled a sign at Delhi train station which said not to accept any food or drink from fellow passengers, as they may be trying to poison you so they can steal your luggage and belongings. Our portly smiley travel companion didn’t look like he was out to poison anyone, and certainly wouldn’t have been able to run very fast if he’d nicked our bags and belongings.

The four and a half hour train journey went quickly. Lots of glorious green and hilly scenery sped past while we read our books, did some online research and napped. It was an uneventful journey, apart from a mouse that kept running around the floor in front of us, perhaps hoping some passengers might drop bits of curry and rice.

We arrived at Jodhpur right on time, and made our way through the crowds to the station forecourt. We tried to order an Uber but two drivers cancelled, so we had to negotiate with a tuk tuk driver, with about 15 young guys standing around watching the negotiations taking place (clearly with nothing better to do).

We agreed a fare and the tuk tuk took off through the early evening traffic, weaving around busy streets, through the gates of the old town and across lots of bone shaking cobblestones. Once in the old town he expertly navigated his way through tiny narrow little laneways, and dropped us alongside the laneway to our hotel.

Our hotel is fabulous – a 500 year old haveli with old stone walls, shutters, little balconies and lots of interesting art and knick knacks. We dumped our backpacks in our room and headed straight up to the rooftop for beers and dinner. The hotel is located right beneath Mehrangarh Fort and there are jaw-dropping views of the fort from the rooftop.

We had cold beers followed by a fabulous dinner of super-spicy paneer bhurji (Jim’s latest favourite and our third different take on this recipe) and Gatta Curry (chickpea flour dumplings with cashew nut, tomato and garlic sauce), with the owner’s two adorable labrador puppies running around the rooftop causing mischief.

Tomorrow we’re planning to have a lazy start to the day, then we’ll head out to explore some of the town. And hopefully we won’t find any kooky cows along the way.

More then.

Ready to clout a bear on the snout, our best hike ever through the hills, and sozzled folk in the hedgerow.

Day 127: Mount Abu, India. We were up at crazy o’clock this morning to go hiking in the Aravalli Hills with Charles, a guide who knows the local area intimately.

A driver came to pick us up at our guesthouse, then we collected Charles from his house before driving up a winding road to the highest point in Rajasthan, Guru Shikhar, at 1722m.

We came to an abrupt halt at one point, and Charles pointed out a red spurfowl running into the bushes – a pretty secretive bird that’s usually difficult to spot. He said some bird-loving folk from Australia had visited Mount Abu specifically so they could catch a glimpse of one. A fairly elaborate way to collect frequent flyer points.

Lil of course had to have the ‘bear chat’ along the way – asking Charles what were the chances of seeing a bear, or coming in close contact with a bear, or even being mauled by a bear. Charles was reassuring, pointing out that bears, like most animals, will only attack if provoked or feeling threatened. They’re also nocturnal, so generally not roaming around the hills during the day.

Lil also wanted to know if Charles had come in close contact with a bear. He said he’s only had one encounter, which was some time ago when he was out hiking with a couple of French tourists. As they were crawling through an overgrown trail, they came face to face with a bear and its cubs. Long story short – the bear ripped a hole in the girl’s hand, but thankfully Charles managed to hit the bear over the snout a few times with his walking stick (he said he has a good aim), and thankfully the bear slunk off before any more damage was done. Holy moley.

We slung our daypacks on and started our hike, with Lil clinging tightly onto her walking stick in case she needed to clout any bears across the snout. It was a perfectly sunny but cool morning, with mist rolling across the valleys and some ridiculously good views across the hills.

Charles is an excellent guide – very knowledgeable about the local area and a walking encyclopedia of all things flora and fauna. He’s a passionate environmentalist, determined that the hills and wildlife of the mother country must be protected. He’s also a volunteer wildlife rescuer, so regularly gets calls to go an rescue injured wildlife, including lots of venomous snakes. He seemed to know pretty much everyone we spotted or passed, as we wound our way along the trail. He has a blog, which you can find here.

At one point Charles stopped to pluck a silver fern frond, and showed us how pressing down heavily on the frond leaves a silver ‘tattoo-like’ impression on skin – very cool. He explained the plant is currently being used in research for cancer treatment.

We wound our way down to a elevated plateau, with Charles pointing out heaps of birds, trees and plants along the way, including chandelier cactus, fig, mango, orchid, agave, fern, wild marigold, mexican sunflower, coral tree and shrikes and crested bunting birds. It makes a massive difference to have someone who can identify and provide background to all the flora and fauna, and provide so much background on the local area.

We walked through a small village on the plateau, home to 150 families and surrounded by hills and with no road access. It was fascinating to walk around the stone buildings with tin roofs, and wonder what life must be like in the village. There’s a small primary school close by – for post-primary education, kids need to walk to the town and back every day.

A little further on, we passed a shrine where locals go to worship family gods. It was the first of a few we saw dotted around the hills. Charles rang the brass bell hanging outside the shrine, which is said to clear the mind and alerts the gods to your presence. The bell was so loud it probably alerted half of Mount Abu to our presence.

We started to climb up the other side of the valley, and near the top stopped at the home of a family who live part of the year in a cave on the mountainside.

They brewed some coffee for us while we clambered up onto a huge rock with fabulous views. We watched the kids running around below, the family cows wandering on the rocks (including a very cute newly born calf), and a gorgeous white common langur scampering on the cliff face opposite. It definitely rates as the best coffee location ever.

We felt humbled to be sitting amongst such serene surroundings, and with such a gorgeous welcoming family, living a simple and happy life in the hills.

Charles told us that the family lost one of their calves to a panther about 10 days ago, which must be a heavy blow, given their daily diet revolves largely around milk products.

We said our goodbyes and thanks to the family then started our walk uphill again. We visited another rock cave further further up the slope, however the family wasn’t home. Charles said it was still fine to take a look around. It was another very humble home with a central fire pit, and some room at the back to tuck the calves away at night to keep them safe from wildlife. Lil reckons if she had to live there, she’d be tucked up with the calves to stay safe.

We finished the trek around lunchtime, which was excellent timing, as rain clouds were just starting to gather in the valley. The driver was waiting for us at the top of the hill, with cold bottles of water and a cheery smile. It was an incredibly special hike, and we feel very lucky to have got so close to nature and life in the hills.

Charles invited us to join him for coffee early evening at the Lake Palace hotel. We had another great chat, exchanged blog links, and promised to send lots of pics and keep in touch. We also watched another great sunset across the lake from the balcony of the hotel.

This evening we wandered out the far side of the town to an open-air restaurant for dinner. Along with some more fabulous food, we were also treated to three guys playing some local live music.

Then back to the guesthouse to start packing up again. Mount Abu is a popular weekend destination for people from Gujarat, the neighbouring alcohol-free state. There’s certainly no shortage of alcohol in Mount Abu, and as we walked down the street, there were lots of people in various states from a little merry to pretty plastered. Including the guy who flung his arms around Jim for a selfie, and the couple who were having a nap in the hedge.

Tomorrow we’re catching a bus to Abu Road, then a train to Jodhpur, which is also known as the Blue City. Doubtless there will be lots of cows roaming the streets, but hopefully we won’t need to clout any bears on the snout.

More then.

Curry breakfast on our bus seats, better beware of the big black bears, and back to being celebrities again.

Day 126: Udaipur & Mount Abu, India. We were up early to finish packing and head to Udaipole Bus Stand, which turned out to be not a stand at all, just a selection of buses stopped at random places along a busy main road.

We eventually located the bus that was going to Mount Abu (one of those occasions where it’s a good thing Lil leaves so much extra time in case things get tricky, or we may not have been going to Mount Abu at all). The driver unlocked the back boot and we slung our backpacks in, on top of a thick layer of concrete rubble.

We had pre-assigned seats on the bus but discovered there was a lady sitting in the ones we’d booked, eating a full Indian meal of curry, rice and nan bread, which she had spread out across the two seats. So we sat further back and waited while she scoffed her curry breakfast.

The bus was pretty old and looked like it had been in a few fights – large chunks of the front were dented or missing, and the inside was pretty manky too. We left the ‘bus stand’ right on time at 8.30am, creaked a hundred metres up the road, and stopped again to pick up more passengers. There were several other random stops to pick up people carrying light bulbs, cement bags and other miscellaneous items as we made our way out of the city. 40 minutes after we’d set off, we’d only gone about 2km.

Another 40 minutes later, we stopped for a 10 minute break, which turned into 25 minutes. Eventually the driver got back on board, hooted the horn, waited one minute, then the bus shot out of the car park. Tough if you weren’t on board at that point, as he wasn’t waiting for anyone.

Not surprisingly, we arrived in Mount Abu a bit late. The scenery as we drove into the town was out of this world – huge green mountains with craggy boulders dotted with palm trees and a smattering of grey langurs. We were keen to explore, so after checking into the guesthouse, we headed straight out again.

We walked around the lake, which is fabulous and very scenic. Part of the way around, we spotted a pathway up some rocks on the hillside, which looked like it might have a good viewpoint. We’d only gone a short way up the rocks when a guy on a motorbike yelled out “don’t go up there, there are bears”. So we stopped and turned around, keen to avoid any bear encounters.

Bears are an increasing issue in Mount Abu – they’ve always been in the surrounding hills, but in recent years they’ve been wandering closer to town in search of food. In November last year there were several attacks on humans, and earlier this year one was spotted in the town, and a few others were caught on the CCTV of a local hotel.

Hiking in the hills is prohibited without a guide, due to bears and panthers, and also because a tourist was murdered some years back.

We’d read about an Indian guide called Charles who comes highly recommended – he has been trekking in the local area for over 15 years, and regularly takes people out on hikes. Lil emailed him before we left Udaipur to say we were interested in doing a trek, and we went and met him at one of the hotels on the lake, to agree details.

While walking to the hotel, a gaggle of young guys and girls were out for their Friday evening round-the-lake stroll to watch the sun setting, and we got held up for a bit while people lined up for photos with us. We’re back to being celebrities again. Eventually we had to say “enough now, thank you, bye!” and walk off, otherwise we’d likely still be there.

We agreed a 5-6 hour trek with Charles tomorrow – starting at the highest point in Rajasthan, hiking down to a village and then back up again. It should be fun, and hopefully we won’t encounter any bears or panthers along the way.

More then.