Staying in Bikaner and Camel Safari

Bikaner:

There’s not too much to the town, it is small and dry place sat in the middle of the desert but I found that it was a quiet (by Indian standards) and friendly place. The hotel we stayed in instantly reminded me of the Marigold Hotel film, and was relatively cheap if you’re on a budget. I know this was included within my tour, but if I were to visit again then it would be one of the first places I’d consider.

The Hotel:

Family run it has been in the family for a few generations so they know what they’re doing. Surrounded by a high wall and castle like towers, you enter through an arch and into a quiet courtyard. In the reception, the walls and surfaces are covered with Indian patterns and figures. Every room is a different size and shape with what looked like antique décor. I did find that the rooms were a bit dark at times, especially as the sun set relatively early, and some of the fittings and utilises were a bit worn. However, if you’re looking for a budget hotel it is definitely more quirky and friendly then your standard place.

Other benefits were the quaint little garden, roof top balcony and pool. So if you don’t fancy venturing out for the day, you can relax within the peaceful walls of the hotel.
Personally I didn’t venture too far round the town, but one of our outings was to the local market. Here our tour guide set a challenge to see who could barter and get the most vegetables for 100Rs. And it was a surprisingly a lot! This isn’t much money (£ wise), and bartering at the local market is a great way to delve into the local culture without standing out as a tourist. Had a lot of fun doing this! Even if you don’t need veg, visiting a local market, more suited for the locals rather than tourists is great fun!

Camel Safari:

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So why did we need so much veg? Well the next part of my trip was a camel safari; the main reason we stayed in Bikaner. If you don’t like camels or heights, this is probably not going to be your idea of fun as you spend several hours on them. It is normal to have to travel by car/jeep slightly into the desert where you will find your guides and ride awaiting. It’s all very authentic and slightly touristy, but you get to ride into the desert where there’s no cars, roads or thousands of people. If you’re lucky you might spot some wildlife (snakes, rabbits/hares, rats etc.). The most I saw was some eagles and a farmer with his goats, so nothing too exciting.
I would warn as well that health and safety is a little more slack in India, so be careful; the camels are high and unpredictable. Unfortunately one of my friends on the tour fell off the camel as it stood up too soon. She wasn’t seriously damaged but rode in the cart instead and I rode terrified for the next few hours.

Once we reached our destination though it was great. We met some local farmers who took all our vegetables and made a local curry and some fried veg for our meal. And it tasted DELICIOUS! Plus some local alcohol (very strong). Here we spent the night around a bonfire in some tents. It is basic so don’t expect 5* accommodation, but it’s definitely and experience you won’t get in the UK!

Things to bear in mind:

  • There won’t be toilets, going au natural
  • Wear long sorts or trousers as your legs with rub against the camel/saddle
  • Take a hat, water and sun cream even if you ‘never burn’ as it is a long time in strong sun/heat with no shade
  • Although it may be hot in the day, the temp drops quickly and a lot in the night so take layers

Liv x

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The Temple of Rats

Sorry it’s been over a week since my last post, but here’s another clip from my India trip. And another one of my favourites…

The Temple of Rats…

IMG_0400.JPGWarning: don’t like rats? Don’t go!!

No this was a weird place. Having seen it on National Geographic as a kid I needed to go. It’s not really something you forget! This temple is pretty much what it says on the tin. FULL of rats. Dead and alive. This sounds pretty disgusting but the rats are seen as holy animals/spirits so may are dead from natural causes. People aren’t going in and purposely killing of the rats like in most places around the world. To date there is something around 25,000 rats residing here. Yes 25,000, that isn’t a typo.

 

Where?

Found in Deshnoke 30km outside Bikaner, it’s in the middle of the desert and not really much around. So unless you’re staying in the town it is a bit of a trek. Even if you’re staying in Bikaner then it is still about a 30-50min drive depending on how fast your driver is. As it is a local attraction and attracting locals and tourist from all over the country there are plenty of methods to get there. Worth it though if youre looking for something different, into your temples and to get a look at the weirder side of Indian culture.

The Legend:

Legend has it that Laxman, Karni Mata’s stepson (or the son of one of her storytellers), drowned in a pond in Kapil Sarovar in Kolayat Tehsil while he was attempting to drink from it. Karni Mata implored Yama, the god of death, to revive him. First refusing, Yama eventually relented, permitting Laxman and all of Karni Mata’s male children to be reincarnated as rat.

Now these aren’t my own words and in local culture this may vary. Another version describes how an army of 20,000 deserted a nearby battle and came running to Deshnoke. Here Karni Mata spared their lives despite their sin of desertion. She did turn them into rats though and offered the temple as a place to stay…hence the thousands of rats present to this day. grateful they then said they’d forever serve her.

There are also a few superstitions that are interesting to know before you enter. I remember walking out the temple to have a rat run across my foot, only to be launched into the air as I tripped over it. What surprised me more though was the reaction of those around me. I expected to be scolded for accidentally kicking one of the sacred animals; however it is supposed to be good luck if a rat passes over your feet or body. Can’t say I’ll be doing that again! Another superstition is the white rats. The legend behind the white rats is that these are the manifestations of Karni Mata or her sons. Now if you see one of these, this is a true blessing! Out of the thousands of rats there aren’t many. We were lucky enough to see one…so overall I had a pretty blessed trip to the temple! If you’d prefer to keep a wide distance between you at the rats though you can buy food to offer to the rats, and leave this in the temple (don’t need to put it in their mouths).

Things to remember:

Remember to take hand gel as obviously there are tonnes of rats! Also you have to be barefoot like most temples but I would recommend taking a pair of socks you don’t mind throwing away…you will be stepping in a lot of rat pee etc. There are places to wash your feet outside but again this water may not be that clean.

So this was a site I wanted to tick of my bucket list and can say I won’t forget or regret seeing. It is weird but at the same time wonderful. Heed my word when I say if you don’t like rats at all, don’t go. There are thousands! Have fun!

IMG_0388Liv x

Gandhi’s House (Delhi)

A trip to Gandhi’s…

This is a must see for the history tourist, but also culturally important. Most people have at least heard of Gandhi, so why not visit the place where he spent his last days. It’s nothing fancy but a simple and humbling memorial to one of the most inspiring people to walk this earth. After all Gandhi wasn’t into all the riches and luxuries that money brought so it makes sense!

Based in New Delhi, this again is a very peaceful spot and I found that it was quiet despite being in a city. Just sitting down in the gardens was so peaceful, (just what i needed after a very long flight) and great for the mind!

Inside the museum:

  • Gandhi’s preserved room and basic belongings (i.e.. glasses, sandals)
  • Gardens where he took his daily public walks
  • Museum dedicated to the life and works of Gandhi
  • Martyr’s Coloumn- the spot were Gandhi was shot
It’s an easy to get to place. Would recommend a tuk-tuk if on a budget as plenty around and cheap (most short journeys approx 100-300RS). Just ask for Gandhi Smriti Museum
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Useful links:
Enjoy!
Liv x

The Gurudwara Bangla Sahib

 

IMG_0309I am not that religious but this is one of my favourite places to visit in Delhi. It is a busy and crazy place but it also brings everyone together from all walks of life : tourists, business men, politicians, working people, the homeless…you name it! When I happened to be there the German football team even turned up! I only know this as we had a german guy on the tour who soundly been came very surprised and excited!
This place is a definite sight to see whilst visiting Delhi and that isn’t just my opinion; it has been voted among the top tourist and pilgrimage spots in Delhi.

Facts about the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib:

  • One of the most prominent Sikh houses of worship in Delhi
  • Situated near Connaught Place, New Delhi on Baba Kharak Singh Marg
  • It is instantly recognisable by its golden dome and tall flagpole
  • Thousands visit everyday
  • A public Gurdwaras kitchen that anyone can serve/eat in
It is definitely a very impressive site from the moment you arrive. It towers above the noisy streets and markets of Delhi, yet is tranquil as you enter. You would hardly notice that you were in the city! As mentioned above it has distinct golden domes, a large flagpole holding the sikh symbol but also a mesmerizing pool of water sits nestled in the grounds.
All visitors must be barefoot and heads covered. Entering, we passed through a cleansing pool underfoot and through into the temple. There you can visit the temple or just delve in the hum of religious chants, visitors and the distant life of the city. After visiting the temple itself I would definitely visit the kitchens before exiting…
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Making chapatis 

The Gurdwara Kitchen. Sceptical at first but after listening to our tour guide about the Sikh faith and how those of all faiths, races, walks of life are welcomed into the kitchen to partake, I started to see the kindness of this faith. Now this is a top experience but it is not for the faint hearted. I don’t mean that in a negative manner, just be aware that if you want to join for the meal you will have to race locals for a seat/entry to the hall. Theres not much order, apart from a blessing before entering; worth watching even if you don’t speak the language. Also you will be requested to take your shoes off and wear a head covering.

Inside there are rows of carpet on the floor to sit on and don’t be alarmed if it gets a bit cosy. Here you’ll be given a tray and that’s most likely to be it. As we were part of a tour we were given some cutlery too, but if you’re alone don’t expect this as it is normal to eat with your hands. You will be served promptly with food from the kitchen. Nothing too fancy but authentic and tasty local food i.e.. dal, chapatis, rice, vegetable curries (all vegetarian). You are welcome to as much as you want and they will keep serving you until you are full. Just bear in mind that it is seen as an insult to leave food.
One of the best aspects however is the preparation of the food. Visiting the kitchens is a must for this tour. It appears slightly like a basic factory when you enter; hot steamy and noisy. Yet it is run all with the help from volunteers. This means that anyone can help. Even you. Yes I would highly recommend getting hands on. Personally a few of us got the opportunity to help make the chapatis and although we didn’t speak the same language as the ladies helping (and my chapatis were questionable), everyone was so welcoming and positive, you’ll leave on cloud nine!

Things to remember:

You will be requested to wear a head covering and remove your shoes. If you go with a tour guide, they will provide you with a head band/clothe and safe place to store your shoes. If you venture alone, I would recommend finding somewhere to store your shoes (there is a free shoe storing room) or wear something you wouldn’t miss if it went missing.
With this in mind the tours are a good way to also learn about the basics of the religion and site/temple. Prior to entering we were given a talk and able to ask questions with local members of the faith.
Women in particular try to be respectful and not wear anything too revealing. I would recommend taking a scarf to cover head/shoulders at least or wrap around your waist if wearing shorts. Men may also be asked to cover up too i.e.. wearing vest tops, shorts.
Finally remember to enjoy yourself! You don’t have to be religious, I found this experience more to do with the culture and character of local people from every walk of life. It is inspiring to see how people can leave their differences at the door/gates and join together whilst here. You’ll definitely leave with a smile.
Enjoy!
Liv x

Delhi

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New Delhi, Delhi. Pretty much what it says on the label. Busy, chaotic, full of life are just a few words that I would use to describe it. And from personal experience I would try to hit the ground running. This isn’t a city for the faint heart or those looking for a quiet and lazy time. However the city offers more then enough to satisfy every type of traveller.

The airport:

It is a pretty straight forward airport to negotiate, but I would definitely add in time to get through immigration. Coming from the UK it still took a good hour to clear all the checks even though I arrived on a quiet flight. So make sure that everything has been filled out, checked and in order so that you can easily hand over the needed forms to prevent complications. Once through, majority of signs are written in english and although it seemed that half of the airport was still being built it is a pleasant entry to the country.
Transport is also something to consider prior to your trip. With Gadventures they have a scheme in place that recruits female drivers that supports the Planterra Foundation. The price was approx £25 from the airport to centre which is a reasonable price. If you search online as well there are plenty of other companies, but search around first as some will charge far too much.
Don’t worry if you haven’t arranged any transport. At the airport there are plenty of taxis with eager drivers. Again be careful of the price and agree on a set payment beforehand to avoid being ripped off. Don’t forget to tip!
On my arrival first of all tipped way too much, as I was tired, hungover and hadn’t quite got the hang of the money conversion but then had a very bag handler! (You will find that on exiting the airport there are plenty of people there offering to help carry your bags). Secondly I got into the taxi and sat for about 5 minutes with who I thought was the driver, yet slightly concerned that he looked about 10 years old! Thankfully his mum turned up.

Culture and Environment:

Delhi is often known for its air pollution. I found that the environment was smoggy, getting worse as the day progressed. With this in mind I personally would try to visit outside attractions such as the India Gate earlier so that you get better visibility around it. As I travelled around it was sunny and warm, but felt like I was looking through dusty glasses when looking into the distance. At some points it is suggested to take a scarf or mask as coming from a country of lower pollution, it can be a bit intense and make you feel a bit ill/give you a sore throat.

Points of Interest:

  • The Red Fort
  • Qutb Minar
  • India Gate
  • Humayun’s Tomb
  • Lodi Gardens Old Dehl
  • Parliament House
  • The Gandhi Museum/house

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Religious Sights:

  • Akshardham
  • Laxminaryan Temple
  • Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
  • Lotus Temple
  • Jama Masjid
  • ISKCON Temple

Shopping Places:

  • Connaught Place
  • Shannon Chowk
  • Khan Market
  • Dilli Haat
  • Metro Wlak Ansal Plaz

Handy Tips:

Arriving in Delhi from a different time zone can be difficult, so I would suggest to plan extra time to rest. I always  add an extra day onto the beginning of my tours and I did here. However, I met a girl from my tour earlier then planned and we went out exploring on day one. She was from Australia and it doesn’t take a genius to know that they are ahead in time, so whilst she was all bushy tailed and bright eye, I was more like something out of the walking dead! Another mistake I made was booking to fly out on the 1st January…yes I made my flight but I spent the next 11-12 hours nursing a hangover with free drinks on the plane (I am not an alcoholic, it was NYE and I can’t pass on free drinks!). So I’m not saying don’t be friendly but try to put yourself first and get rested or you could be starting your travels on the wrong foot.
If you are going to venture out alone, whether to an attraction or just down the street, I would advise carrying money or important belongings sepertaly on your body. This may sound silly and I’m not saying this to sound patronising, yet is a very useful and simple thing to remember. Within my first day I broke off from the group for 2 seconds to get some cash and immediately noticed that I was being followed. When I noticed this, I stopped and stayed stationary long enough for the guy to move on and realise that I had noticed. Just be aware that this is a place of great poverty so many will be looking for any opportunity to make money. Therefore by separating it around your body, if you do loose something you won’t loose it all. Where possible do not carry important documents such as your passport.
So this is just a brief overview to the city itself. It’s a bit difficult to decide where to start as it is such a huge city! But hopefully that is why it is perfect for everyone whether you’re after history, culture, food, volunteering or shopping. Delhi after all is one of the most denlsy populated places on the planet and 28th top visited place by tourists.
Start of my India joinery, Dehli
Liv x

India on a Shoestring (Part 1)

This is by far my favourite trip so far and I would definitely head back to this amazing country. There’s so much to say! So why is that? Let me start at the beginning…

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The face of adventure!

Who to go with?

Now there are many ways and companies to go with, but I chose to travel with Gadventures. Why? Well I have travelled with this company before and so have several of my friends. They are great for a range of tours from comfort to yolo tours. Yolo tours are for the solo travels such as myself…and it was perfect! Looking for a budget trip with all hotels, transport and a group of like minded people this was a great place to start. If like myself you haven’t quite got the time or confidence to become a fully fledged traveller with no set plan, then I would always suggest these tours.

The tour that I specifically chose was called India on a ShoestringIt covers a lot of the North and looks like a lot of travelling, but that is part of the adventure. For example, where else are you going to experience a sleeper train where you have chai tea, local cuisine, bands and singing 24/7? Passing through local villages, towns, forests, mountains and farmland it is by far one of the best ways to see India. It definitely isn’t your typical 2hr commute to London!

Is this tour for you?

My time in India only covered the North. This is still a great amount though. Initially I looked into different tours that started in the North and ventured South or vice versa, however I would suggest looking into what you want out of the tour. For example the north and south are very different culturally and geographically. To spend more time taking in what India has to offer, separating India into North and South tours seems more fun to me. That is my opinion though!

So the tour style of this specific one is Yolo. What does this mean? This means that the tour has been designed for  budget travellers, made for younger crowds packed full of adventures from the word go.  Gadventures believe single travellers should not have to pay more to travel so their group trips are designed for shared accommodation and do not involve a single supplement.

Don’t worry though this trip wasn’t too demanding physically, graded at a basic level there are times when you will need to carry you bag for a while, and certain activities will require periods of walking i.e.. around the forts and up to temples. At the same time its not always compulsory so don’t freak out! I would recommend a set of walking shoes that are comfortable to walk in any weather (trainers, walking sandals, etc.)

Accommodation for this tour was also included. Don’t go expecting 5* hotels with pools and chefs on hand, but there was only once when the accommodation was questionable. I would describe the level as basic and it standard to share a room someone on the trip (unless you pay more for private, all on the website, approx £420), with the basic essentials i.e., bathroom and towels. Saying that,  remember to take a travel towel anyway just incase. Transport is provided for you including private buses, cars, local buses, trains, sleeper trains etc.

So if you’re a solo traveller, I would definitely suggest looking at this tour or similar ones as you make great friends and experiences together without worrying where you’re going to stay or get there. This company gives you the chance to think all about what your going to eat, drinks, see and do!

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India on a Shoestring

When to go:

Personally I went in Janurary and I had no problems with the weather. It was slightly cooler and at nights the temperature could drop considerably, but it was still warm enough to wear shorts and t-shirt majority of the day time. There is more risk of rain and clouds but again we only had 3 days of rain over the 3 weeks I visited. Being in the north it has probably the biggest variation in temperature as you will passing through desserts, mountains, forests.

Seasons:

  • Summer May-June
  • Rainy July-August
  • Cool September-October
  • Autumn November-December 
  • Winter January-February 
  • Spring April-March 

So is India for you?

I would definitely suggest that you have experienced some solo traveling before heading to India alone. This isn’t meant in a negative way, I say this because India is a country that is very different to anything you will have experienced before. It can be a bit of a culture shock when you first visit, full of poverty, pollution and organised chaos, but that is what makes in so unique to me.  In India there are very different attitudes to time keeping, public cleanliness, privacy and service. Trains will sometimes be late, plumbing can sometimes be temperamental and power will often just vanish. Also long as you bare this all in mind though you will not be disappointed! Personally I can look back at a specific point when I was in hospital (will explain later) where the electrics went on and off due to the rain. Imagine that in the UK, the News would have a field day!

What will Gavdentures show you…

From the monuments of Delhi to the colourful cities of Rajasthan, experience three weeks of northern India’s best. Marvel at Jaisalmer’s mud fortress and Bikaner’s unique temple before journeying into the desert for an overnight camel safari. Follow in the footsteps of pilgrims and make your way to the Ganges River at Varanasi. Your expert CEO will take care of the hassles so you’re free to see the sights or just soak up the vibe – India is home to great food, fascinating culture, alluring sights, and friendly and inviting people. Discover the charms and mystery that make up this incredible country.

Sounds good? Hell yes!

What was included in the tour?

  • G Adventures-supported New Delhi Streetkids Project walk.
  • Guided tour of the Taj Mahal (Agra)
  • Guided tour of the Amber Fort (Jaipur)
  • Orientation walks in Old Delhi, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Pushkar, and Jaipur.
  • Overnight camel safari.
  • Ganges River boat trip at sunrise and sunset (including candle flower ceremony).
  • All transport between destinations and to/from included activities.

 

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Group shot (I know I look like a thumb..)

So whether you choose to travel with Gadventures or not, I will be sharing over the next few weeks some of my favourite times, experiences and memories of the 3 weeks I spent immersed in this beautiful yet chaotic culture.

Liv x