It was like being back in the outback – alarms ringing at 6:30 in the morning and realising that the world was already awake. Except for Hans who rolled back over again. Delhi’s not as bustly as Hanoi in the mornings – the city doesn’t really start to work itself into a horn-beeping frenzy until 9am but there are people on the streets very early on.
Breakfast was very quick. Mainly as nowhere was open so we skipped it and therefore could have had an extra half hour in bed. Instead, we were on time to meet our driver and threw our bags into the boot. Then took them back out, rearranged them and put them in again. Then removed one of the rucksacks and put it on the back seat, squished the two large bags around, removed the boot shelf, squeezed the bags some more, put the shelf back on and slammed the boot three times until it shut. This took longer than breakfast would have.
And off we sped through the rapidly thickening morning traffic. Our driver made one “touristy” stop at a huge (30m at a guess) statue of Shiva. We took a couple of photos while he muttered a few prayers, then jumped back into the mini-mobile and crept away.
Both of us nodded off for a while – that’s Hans and I. Thankfully, our driver stayed well awake. After some time our stomachs started telling us we hadn’t had breakfast so we stopped at the first restaurant. No, not KFC again. That would be silly. McDonalds. Hey, give me a chance, here. You tell me another country where you can get a Chicken Maharaja Mac. I guess this franchise was Hindu, as there was no beef on the menu at all – just chicken, fish and veggie. Still, 99Rp for breakfast wasn’t bad and the burger was OK. I still prefer Singapore’s McSpicy though.
The roads varied greatly as we travelled. Huge, empty motorways. Teeny, single-track roads. Gravel. Tarmac. Constant, though, was the fact that 4×4 drivers assumed that they owned the road and, despite them having the ability to drive on muck, we always ended up being the ones leaving the tarmac to let them past.
Cows gave way to camels. Camels pulling carts with people on. Camels lying in the road asleep. Camels grazing from trees.
Just to break the monotony, we hit a toll road. Actually, there were several – some of them looked more like they were collecting money to do the work needed rather than recouping expenditure.
Our drive suggested lunch around 2pm and we pulled into what he promised us was a good restaurant. He wasn’t kidding. For 200Rp we went for a set menu which included chicken, rice, potato, popadums, bananas, yoghurt, and tea. Nice and filling.
We still had a bit to go, though. Another hour or so later and we finally arrived in Mandawa. We’d settled on a hotel which Hans located in the Lonely Planet – Hotel Shekhawati. The driver pulled us up in front of a beautiful building which he recommended. Amazing, bright collages of paintwork covered the entire place. But not our hotel. Lonely Planet listed this one as rather expensive and with staff who were “uninterested” so we stuck with our original choice. Two teenagers kept pace with the car yelling things through the windows (we think directions to another hotel) until we shook them loose at a junction.
A short distance away and we got to our hotel. Half the price, really nice guy on reception and amazing, bright paintwork collages all over the front, currently being worked on by two very talented individuals. Basically, the paintwork is what Mandawa is famous for. Rightly so, as well.
We dumped our bags and had a wander around the hotel, onto the roof. It’s obvious the Taliban don’t have a hold on Mandawa (or anywhere in India, if you’re going to get all finicky about it) as there must have been 50 airborne kites within sight. Kids everywhere were pulling on kite strings or watching other children playing with them.
The hotel manager asked us when we wanted to eat and then suggested if we wanted a walk around there was a young kid who’d do a small tour. Obviously, it was going to cost and we got the manager to tell us most people gave the lad 100Rp. That seemed fair, so we took him up on it.
The young lad was pretty good. He told us he was 15 and still in school, but was only taught Hindi. He’d picked up English, German, Spanish, French and Italian from tourists so that he could do tours to help his family out. He did well, in both our opinions.
We saw a few buildings in which people now lived, having shifted in when the owners departed for the big cities. All of these buildings had paintwork, but it was in various states of fading. Some had been touched up, but on the whole there are a lot more buildings with crumbling stonework and decaying paint than there are with fresh coats of Dulux.
He also took us to a local well, which is now disused. It’s 60m deep and dry as a bone. Scarily, the top is open and a ladder descends down to a rickety wooden platform. I didn’t volunteer to clamber down.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped by his father’s shop. “A-ha, here we go”,we thought. We were offeredm and accepted, a glass of hot, sweet chai and his father showed us some of the goods they had. It was obvious they expected us to buy.
He must have shown us 30 rugs – all beautifully made in various ways, but no way could we carry any. I think he eventually got the hint and pointed out his paintwork, all done on silk. This time he mentioned a price – 250Rp. After checking the exchange rate last night I know the Pound isn’t as strong against the Rupee as I thought so this is about three quid. Still, for the quality of the work and a souvenir which takes up next to no space whatsoever, this seemed fine to me. I bought a rather nice one with elephants on which I’ll post home sometime soon.
Our guide waved us goodbye near the hotel as his friends tried to convince us that people normally give him 500Rp tips. Nice try… he got 100 and was probably the first person we’ve met who didn’t question the amount. He did ask us to tell the hotel we’d only given him 50, though.
We crashed for a while as I updated this blog, and Hans resorted to his primitive rock carvings. OK, pen and paper. But that’s only because he ran out of granite to carve.
Dinner was a very nice vegetarian set meal similar to lunch (plus a shredded carrot and milk dessert), and including beer was probably a little bit more expensive than the afternoon meal. We got talking to a nice Kiwi family after dinner. They’re travelling India for 7 weeks with their young daughter and she seemed to be having a whale of a time. I think I’ve convinced them about the Tiger Temple and Vietnam. In exchange, they informed us that the National Park we are due to visit in about 7 days is closed until mid-January. Argh.
Tomorrow’s start is a slighty more realistic 9am, so we should both be up to date on sleep by then!