Up in time for 7:00 breakfast, our last as a group of fifteen. Once we are packed we take group photos and say our farewells. Eight are off to Delhi to finish their tour, while we seven are off to Bikaner. They get to continue in the bigger bus and we take a smaller minibus. Shailendra will continue with us. By 8:40 we are on the road. We retrace our way to Shahpur for morning tea before continuing on. Today we have the long drive. The landscape changes to flatter ground with only scrubby bushes and the occasional acacia. The road has constant diversions. Lots is happening to improve the highway but the journey is slow. Early on Shailendra puts on a Bollywood Indian history drama which goes for three hours at the start of our trip. The ladies enjoy it and Shailendra translates for them when necessary. We stop for lunch and continue on. Just before 5:00 we reach the outskirts of Bikaner. Our driver weaves his way towards the old centre. Our hotel, Bhairon Vilas is the former governor’s home renovated into a unique hotel with lots of quirky furniture and artefacts in the bedrooms and the bar and lobby areas. We put in our orders for dinner, hand over some dirty laundry and are shown to our rooms. We are in 105. The decor has an orange theme. As sunset is going to be good we take the stairs to the very upper level and take photos of the sunset and fort which is just opposite. We shower and then head to the quirky bar for pre dinner drinks.
Excellent little snacks and hors d’oeuvres are served which is just as well as dinner time ends up being quite late. We are served in the garden outside the restaurant as it is avert warm night still. The serves are big. Karen has veggie paneer and I have butter chicken. The meal comes with roti and rice. I have a vanilla ice cream for dessert. After chatting for a while Shailendra briefs us about tomorrow and we head to our amazing room.
Sunday October 20th
Up for 8:00 breakfast. We eat outside and just manage to beat the flies to our juice, corn flakes, toast and delicious omelette. Then we have the rest of the morning until 11:30 to ourselves. Karen and I take it in turns to do a bit of typing and blogging. Then about 10:20 head down the street with Graeme and Tina to look for a pharmacy. The cough and cold I am developing needs some attention. Find a helpful pharmacist and get some cold and flu tablets. Sit in our room for a chat. It seems it is going to be baggage room for our main bags when we go off to the desert. At 11:30 we head off. We drive back to the east to Raisar and then divert down a country road. We go past some houses then it becomes paddocks in the desert. With the help of irrigation the locals are growing two crops ahead instead of one. At present it is peanuts. After about 45 minutes we reach a point where we get out and are lead up a dune. At the crest there is our home for night. Neatly pitched and laid out are seven tents right next to a large building, which turns out to be a kitchen and dining area. In our tents there is a separate bathroom with plumbed basins and western toilet. This is ‘glamping’, not camping. We take lunch upstairs of rice, a veggie curry, a potato curry and chappati. Next we go back to our tents to take a nap. It is really hot, high 30s- low 40s, but we manage to doze off. At 4:30 we are lead to where our camels and drivers are waiting. Quickly we mount our camels and soon they are up. Whoah! Next they form a line and off we go. It takes a bit of getting used to but soon we have the motion right. There is a rope across the saddle to hang on to. As my camel takes up second position I can’t see Karen but apparently she is two spots behind me. We pass through gates at different points but in reality the desert is arid farming land. We see farmers working and a few kids wave to us. Time goes by and things are going pretty good. I even manage to take a few photos while riding. However at about the one hour mark Karen has numb feet and I have as stiff right knee. As our feet are in stirrups it is hard to alter position. More time passes and then all of a sudden my camel knows we are nearly home and decides to speed up. This is a bum breaking challenge! On our return we manoeuvre our camels into better positions for a few photos and then tighten our grip and lean back while the camels take a sitting position in two steps. On dismounting we stretch out and walk around but overall it has been a memorable and fun experience. We head up to the outdoor eating area and more beer is consumed in an area where we get to see the glowing red ball of a beautiful sunset and then order drinks, masala tea and beer. Nibbles arrive but by now we know they are usually drink inducing. Time passes by Rex and I drink another beer. Finally some entrees come. On the stage a band has set up and music and dancing begin. The two women are quite beautiful and entrance us with their amazing dancing.
The singer also plays accordion and there is a drummer and second singer. Another tour group arrives in the dark. They are here for dinner only. The moon rises as the band continues to entertain us. Then comes the time to join in and Karen does. The buffet dinner is finally ready and we queue up quickly. There are a number of veggie curries and a goat one too, which is really tender. There is rice and breads too. After that we have an orange coloured noodle pudding. The music continues all night, even after the French group goes home to their hotel and we go to our tents. It is finally quiet and sleep comes.
Monday October 21st
Voices nearby. Time to rise and shine. Karen and I clamber out of bed. After stretching and dressing we go up to the outdoor eating area again for breakfast – toast, omelette, tea and bananas. Quite yummy. Time for a quick look around. I manage to take a few close up photos of the amazing plants that manage to survive here. We gather our small daypacks and go down the track to the minibus. We drive back past the farms in this desert area, through the town of Raisir and within 50 minutes are back at our hotel in Bikaner. We freshen up and by 11:30 are on our way to the nearby fort. It is massive. There are a series of gates to go through then the minibus is parked and we meet our local guide, another Shailendra! This seems by far the biggest fort/palace complex we have been to. It seems to be even bigger than the Amber fort near Jaipur. We work our way through the various courtyards. Our guide knows his stuff. Some of the better items here are behind glass or roped off. The decorative artwork is great. There’s an extensive museum of weapons, costumes, letters, elephant howdahs and even an old de Havilland plane downstairs in one of the courtyards. On exiting the fort we make a thirty second drive to Gallops restaurant for lunch. It is well recommended and even won a Trip Advisor award last year. We have a snacky lunch but the others order more substantial meals. We make a ride return to our hotel to freshen up for ten minutes then off to the National Camel research centre we go. At this time of the day the camels are returning from a day of grazing. Even though it is 4:00 there is plenty of sting in the sun. It is at least 38 degrees. The camels are of four different breeds and are separated into groups by sex and age. We see males, females, pregnant females, young camels and even sick camels, sadly. On our way out we check out the camel product souvenirs and I purchase a camel milk ice cream. We are back at the hotel at about 5:30 so we put in our dinner orders. Our new room is 101, the big corner room with a very high ceiling. We take showers, do some washing and check the Internet, download photos and I even update my journal. About 7:30 Karen and I go to the quirky bar for a drink and check out the amazing decor. After a while dinner is ready. Again we are eating in the garden. It is a perfect evening. Karen has veggie soup and paratha with local yoghurt. I have veggie fried rice followed by ice cream. Some of the others try to order some too but there isn’t any left. We chat for a while. Suddenly we hear fireworks. We all quickly head up to the rooftop area and in the distance see them. They are much further away than they had sounded downstairs. We have an excellent view of this city of 700 000, and closer to us a great view over the hotel complex.
After carefully descending we retire to our humungous room. Karen goes to bed and I catch up typing up our journal until about 11:40 then go to bed too.