Friday, 7 January 2011

Mandu to Rishikesh

Mandu to the Mountains

From Mandu we headed north towards Bundi, our next touristic destination. We stopped in Ujjain to visit some pilgrimage temples, they were colourful and all but I realized I had reached temple overload and was loosing interest in pink elephant-man sculptures. The town too was overbusy and full of giant 3-wheeled taxi's, clattering and puffing out black smoke from their exhausts by the front wheel. A system which poisoned not only passers by but passengers aswell. These must be one of the worst vehicles ever designed.
A few days on pleasant roads took us out of Madhya Pradesh and into Rajasthan. We were seeing more and more camels now and the first town we entered, Jhalrapatan, was an eye-opener. I have been to a few medieval fairs in Europe, the best was in the walled town of Visby on Götland, an island in the Baltic where the whole town stepped back into medieval life for a week. Jhalrapatan was the real thing. The circus was in town and had set up outside the walls and the accompanying temporary township was a sight to see; a Gypsy camp gone crazy. I was reminded a little of a Glastonbury type festival because of the buzz but the vehicles were camel or buffalo drawn, the tents were made from leaves and plastic and each family had brought all its livestock. Safety and sanitation came to my mind, I had no desire to take a ride on an unoiled merry-go-round let alone one on a fifth hand big-wheel which probably began life in Volgograd in the eighties. Call me chicken if you like but we don't cycle an hour here without seeing a truck with a wheel fallen off and some guys replacing shattered bearings. 'Don't fix what ain't broke' must written somewhere in ancient Hindu texts. We were funneled with the crowd through elephant gates in the city walls to a blue painted narrow maze of streets so busy with people that cars were excluded. For the first time in many weeks we now saw shops with all kinds of stuff for sale, not just the usual fried food, truck and motorbike parts. Some colour had returned to our world. We were in the land of the Kings.
Bundi was also a blue painted town. A beautiful one with a 14 story palace built against the mountainside and surrounded by miles of ridge running castellated walls. With a Tank or reservoir in the center of town this was a great place to spend a few days. Infact it was hard to leave but we wanted to see Pushkar, another pilgrimage town on the edge of the desert a few days north.
Pushkar was fun and we met some nice people there, Kate, a nurse from Cheddar and Gray, an Astrologist who had lived for years in Rishikesh, our next stop on the tourist trail and home of the Sadhu-Guru yoga spiritual healing hindu meditating fraternity. Apparently also a beautiful town on the banks of the Ganges, nestled into the foothills of the Himalayas. We wanted to be here for Christmas but it proved to be a couple of days too far for that. The ride though was one of the best we had in all of India. Out of the semi-desert through green fields and sparsely forrested and quiet Shekhawati region. We stayed in small towns along the backroads, Charawa being one of the best architecturally. We rode unknowingly out of Rajasthan and into Haryan where we saw our last camel. In Gohana, a friendly town we visited a family of teachers with prize-winning children and were taken home by a hotelier to eat with his family.
Christmas was spent in a small town called Shamli in a hotel where ten drunks were warming up the dance-floor for a wedding the following day. The decebael level in our room was well over the danger level but we sang 'Silent Night' at the top of our voices an headed out to eat alone in a large cold dining hall up the road. The food was good.
We finally rolled into Rishikesh where we spent the new year, met Volker our German friend and went walking in the mountains bordering the icy-blue Ganges which poured down from its Himalayan spring not far away.
Next stop Nepal.

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