Mandawa to Binaker

Continuing the Rajasthan epic, we rose after a decent kip and enjoyed an OK breakfast before loading the car up. This time, we went for the less labour intensive option of chucking Hans’ stuff on the front seat and just squishing mine into the boot. And off we set.

We drove for about four hours, stopping to fuel up outside Bikaner. On the way, the scenery changed from green(ish) to more desert-like and arid. More and more camels became obvious as the water became sparce. We drove for countless kilometres in places without seeing another vehicle, and then suddenly we’d enter a small township with its own hustle and bustle.

On arrival in Bikaner, we had to drive through a metal “archway” similar to those you have outside garages to make sure your car roof won’t damage the delicate 1970’s breezeblocks. This seems strange as Bikaner doesn’t have a roof as far as I can tell.

Circling a roundabout we drove past the fort and on to the Hotel Harasar Haveli which our driver had chosen for lunch. Lonely Planet lists this place as bringing in most of its trade by commission and this often means that the place is pretty crappy – certainly that’s the case with Vietnam. However, lunch was delicious and quite cheap at 100Rp including tax for two courses and a glass of (hot – gah) milk.

We convinced the staff that we wanted to check out some other accommodation before we made our mind up, and our driver took us sightseeing. First up was Bikaner’s fort, Junagarh. This impressively huge building was erected between 1588 and 1593. The outer wall is 986m long, featuring 36 bastions.

Entry is 100Rp for a foreigner (significantly less for Indians), plus 30Rp to take pictures. The fee includes a mandatory guide. We were part of a larger group, all of whom spoke Hindi. Our guide rattled things off to them and then came up to Hans and I and repeated everything in good English.

The building is simply stunning and the age of some of the things within it beggar belief. The oldest is a throne brought in around 1312. Understandably, touching it is not allowed! In the armoury are some unusual weapons including camel and elephant guns. These aren’t used to shoot the creatures, but are mounted on them. One of the guns we saw had a 12-foot barrel. Aiming something like that must have been rather tricky, especially on something that rolls as it moves like a camel.

From the fort, we drove to the local YHA which apparently has rooms for 100Rp. They showed us two at 200Rp and they were… erm… pretty minging. If I was passing by and just wanted to crash for a night, then fine. At 15p for a dorm, I’d have dumped my stuff, slept and left. Not on this trip, though.

We moved on to the Vino Paying Guest House. Lonely Planet quite correctly says to expect a warm welcome and the people there were indeed friendly. The rooms are in chalets in the garden area and nicely decorated for the 200Rp asked, but it’s well out of the way. At this point, we bowed to the knowledge of our driver and agreed that we would head back to the Harasar Haveli where we’d had lunch.

As we were in the area, though, our driver (I will get his name – I promise) took us to the Bhandasr Temple which is nearby. Built before the city that now surrounds it over 500 years ago, and allegedly using 40,000kg of ghee (butter oil) to make the foundations due to the scarcity of water, this is a phenomenal building. There are several temples like it in India, but this is the only one to be fully decoratively painted on the inside.

There were very few tourists and our guide seemed to get on well with the gent in charge, so we were even allowed to enter the “no entry” areas to take pictures. As sunset approached, we headed for the summit, crunching pigeon poo under our bare feet (which reminds me – I should wash those later) to look at the city as darkness descended.

We spent maybe 45 minutes up there, just soaking up the city. Kids playing cricket, others with kites, seven tiny puppies rollicking around our parked car, camels blocking traffic… All very serene. I did get a couple of decent sunset snaps later on and we plodged down the steps. I only banged my head on the low doorways once.

Before we left, the priest (I’m not sure of the correct term) daubed a small amount of yellow paint on our foreheads “for luck” and accepted a small donation to the temple. We gave him 20Rp which seems to please him and he chatted to me for ten minutes about travelling. Nice guy.

The traffic here is thankfully nowhere near as bad as Delhi, so we made it back to the hotel fairly quickly and got checked in. Hans managed to stop two lads lugging our bags up to our rooms, thus saving us tipping more people. Us backpackers are such a stingy bunch. Especially the Canadians πŸ˜‰

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