Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Delhi, Agra, Rajahstan
Part 3

11.12: Hong Kong -> Delhi
12.12: Delhi -> Agra
13.12: Agra -> Jaipur
14.12: Jaipur
15.12: Jaipur -> Pushkar -> Jodhpur
16.12: Jodhpur -> Jaisalmer

17.12: Jaisalmer
18.12: Jaisalmer -> Bikaner
19.12: Bikaner -> Shekawati -> Sariska National Park
20.12: Sariska NP -> Delhi
21.12: Delhi -> Bangkok

Continued from Part 2

17.12: Jaisalmer
Mahadev Palace Hotel, Jaisalmer
Weather: sunny, no clouds. Fresh in the morning, warm/hot in the afternoon. Clean air.

We get up late and are ready for the sightseeing only at 11am. Yesterday we agreed with the driver to leave at 2pm for Khuri - that means that by 2pm we must finish the sightseeing and the lunch. Since it's already 11am, time is a bit short.

After breakfast we take a riksha to the town (30 Rs), then start exploring Jaisalmer. We first head towards the fort, then spend almost 45 minutes in the Maharaja Mahal palace. At 12:30pm we hire a riksha for one hour to see the lake and the Salam Singh and the Patwonki havelis.

We first drop by the lake, which right now looks like a waste dump with green water full of algae. The next stop is the Salam Singh haveli, which we only see briefly from the outside. Lastly we visit the Patwonki haveli - a very impressive piece of architecture. Time is actually too short and at 1:40pm we start our lunch. We are back at the hotel at 2:20pm, where we agree with the driver to leave for Khuri at 3:15pm.

In Khuri there should be an interesting village and 80 metres high sand dunes according to the Footprint guide. The 45 km drive takes 50 minutes. In Khuri there are several guesthouses which also organise dromedar safaris. The driver initially brings us to a camel owner, who asks 750 Rs for a two hours camel ride followed by a dinner and a Rajahstani dance performance. So we ask how much only the dromedar ride is - 300 Rs. But the Footprint guide says that camel rides cost 50 Rs/hour, and since we are only two hours away, 300 Rs seem overpriced. We ask if he can reduce the price, but the lowest he is willing to go is Rs 800 for three dromedars (= 267 Rs/person). He even insists that this is the union price (are all camel riders unionised now?) which applies to all camel owners.

After some discussion we simply walk away to the next camel owner, who now offers the two hours ride for 150 Rs/person. So we take this offer. The camel ride turns out to be a pretty short one, and only lasts for about 30 minutes to the top of the dunes near the Khuri village. These dunes are only 10 metres high (just guessing here), so we wonder where the high ones are. They tell us that the big ones quite far away (several days to get there). Maybe...

At 6:40pm we drive back to Jaisalmer, after having heard the offer of the camel owner (dinner + Rajahstani dance performance for 300 Rs, later reduced to 200 Rs).  We could have had dinner in Khuri, but we prefer eating something in a restaurant la carte. In Jaisalmer we have dinner at the Trio restaurant (we had dinner there already yesterday - nice view of the fort from the restaurant on thr rooftop at night).

18.12: Jaisalmer -> Bikaner
Sagar Hotel, Bikaner. 1200 Rs for a double, 900 for a single. Dark rooms with old-style furniture, TV, fridge, telephone, A/C, fan, bath with shower, hot water 24h/day from a centralised system. The hotel has a decent restaurant and offers Internet access. Everything is ok, although the Footprint guide wrote that this is a modern building, but judging from the poor state of everything, this can't be the case. Helpful staff and in the evening Rajahstan music and dance performance in the inner court (noisy, but only until 10pm).
Weather: sunny and dry the whole day; no cloud in the sky. Fresh in the early morning and evening/night, but it gets really hot in the car during the day and we have to use the A/C - I didn't book a car with A/C, because I thought it would not be necessary in December in Rajahstan.

Today we get up at 7:30am and are ready to leave the hotel at 9:15am after the breakfast. I ask the driver if he can bring us to 'sunset point', from where you have a nice view of the town - but only at sunset unfortunately. So after a while I suggest to go to another point, more to the east, from which there should be a good view of the town. I don't know what the driver does - he keeps asking several people on the street for directions, then in the end brings us to a spot on the road to Bikaner, probably 10km or more away from Jaisalmer - not the place I was talking about.

So we continue driving and now it's suddently 11am. At 11:20am we reach Pokaran, where we have a look at the Pokaran fort (50 Rs/person, 50 Rs camera permit). Not impressive at all, and in fact a disappointment. At 11:45am we leave the fort and continue the journey to Bikaner. We reach Bikaner (332 km from Jaisalmer) at 2:50pm - a good time. The road conditions renge from good to very good and there is little traffic, so that the ride proceeds smoothly without accidents.

In Bikaner we have some food at the restaurant of the Bhairon Vilas hotel, which should be a good place according to the Footprint guide. Service is so-so - we have to wait forever for the food (people are unbelievably slow there). The hotel itself is not very good (a pretty weird place actually).

Bikaner is not much of a town (in terms of sights). The only interesting thing is the fort, which however closes at 4:30pm. We try to get to the Kote gate, from where you can take a walk around Bikaner. We cancel that idea pretty soon, because the entire old town is in a huge mess. Dirt and dirt everywhere, tons of traffic everywhere. We simply walk back to the car and then drive to the hotel (see above).

19.12: Bikaner -> Shekhawati -> Sariska National Park
Hotel Tiger Den, Sariska. 990/890 Rs for a double/single room, dirty, with basic furniture, but with TV, telephone and (powerful) electrical heater. The room is big enough, bright enough. The toilet comes with a water boiler (25 litres, 2KW, enough for a shower). But overall the room is overpriced at 990 Rs (also the nearby Sariska Palace is overpriced at US $ 110 per night). By the way, it appears that after 10:30pm they cut off the electricity for the water boiler.
Weather: sunny, dry, no clouds the whole day. Fresh in the morning in Bikaner, warm the whole day, hot in the car (A/C stopped working yesterday a few hours after we paid the driver 960 Rs for the privilege to use the A/C...). Quite cool in the evening in the Sariska NP.

We are ready at 9:15am after a not so special breakfast at the Sagar hotel, then check out and drive to the Junagarh fort. This however only opens at 10am (?!?), so we simply take some photos from outside. Then I get some cash from an ATM.

At 10am we finally leave Bikaner and drive towards the Shekawati region. While driving I check the guidebook and decide to spend the night not in Mandawa, but in the Sariska Tiger Reserve, because I'm tired of so many towns. After some discussion with the driver he agrees with me about the new plan and even says it's a good idea, because Sariska is a very nice place.

The drive starts, but around 1pm we are only in Fatehpur. We reach the planned lunch break point (Nawalgarh, a town along the way) at 2pm, after passing by Sikar. Then, somehow the driver loses the enthusiasm for driving until Sariska and suggests that we spend the night in Nawalgarh. After a talk with the locals about the way, he even says that there is no road connecting Nawalgarh with Shahpura (a town on the way to Sariska), even if the Footprint guide shows one on the map.

In Nawalgarh we make a stop at the Roop Niwas Palace hotel, where we have a very basic lunch with snacks, since the main restaurant is already closed. Then more discussion follows and the driver says now that to get to Sariska we need to drive for five hours. He also says that Nawalgarh has many interesting havelis to visit. I don't really believe too much in these five hours, as it could be that the hotel reception of the Roop Niwas hotel (who passed this information) passed inaccurate information, hoping that we stay in their hotel. In any case it's quite obvious that the driver heavily prefers that we stay in Nawalgarh and doesn't want to drive to Sariska. But having to choose between the Sariska National Park and Nawalgarh with its havelis, I definitely prefer Sariska, as we've already seen too much architecture in these 10 days.

After the lunch I tell the driver that we will drive to Sariska NP (never mind if we arrive at 8pm, since now it's already 3pm). Then the driver drives back across Nawalgarh (20 minutes to get out of town across the maze of narrow roads - the havelis indeed look interesting, because they are painted). Then we drive for a while along the wrong direction and finally the driver starts driving in the right direction. All in all we've probably lost one hour or more by driving in a not optimised manner and on the wrong way.

The drive to the Sariska NP crosses the entire Shekawati region, a rural region with more water than the Thar desert and therefore more densely cultivated. We finally reach Sariska after dark at 6:40pm and check in at the hotel (see above). The road is mostly in good conditions, although for long parts it consists of just one lane.

20.12: Sariska NP -> Delhi
Hotel Fifty Five (H-55), Connaught Circus, New Delhi. 1463 Rs for a small single room with no windows. Attached bath with electric water boiler (big), small TV, telephone, furniture. Fan, no A/C. The room is not bad, except that it's only good for the winter, because in summer it will be too hot here without A/C. It's overpriced at 1462 Rs because it is so small and has no A/C and no window, but it might be difficult finding better priced accomodation in central Delhi. The room is clean.
Weather: foggy in the morning and afternoon, and for the first time since I'm in India the sky is overcast with a thin layer of clouds which grows thicker in the afternoon (and the sun shines through as a pale white disk). Cold in the morning and not much warmer during the day - winter is approaching.

At 7am we wake up and are ready at 7:20am for the safari trip. It takes some walking around to find the park headquarter which actually is very close to the Tiger Den hotel. There there are lots of off-road vehicles (uncovered - a tiger could in theory jump inside) and we take one. We pay 700 Rs for a petrol vehicle + driver (would be 600 for a diesel vehicle), 125 Rs entry fee for the vehicle and 200 Rs each to enter the park (Indians pay only 20 Rs each). At 7:40am the trip begins.

For the next two and a half hours, until 11:15am, the driver slowly drives in the park, first on the paved road, then on the track in the forest and jungle. It appears that we get one of the better drivers, because we hear later that other people got drivers which drove very fast across the park or which didn't leave the paved road. We see different species of deer (spotted, normal (?) and Sambal deer), antelopes, different species of monkeys (macaques and langurs), wild boars, many peacocks and other birds - no tigers or leopards, as these are very difficult to spot, because there are only 25 tigers and 60 leopards in the park according to the driver. Overall most animals are not afraid of the off-road vehicles, and simply don't care. Only the spotted deers are a bit more reserved and keep a larger distance. Overall the two and a half hours trip is quite interesting and certainly worth the trip to the Sariska NP. At one station inside the park there is a (malnourished) baby deer/antelope who is being raised by the rangers, because its mother was killed by a tiger (as we hear).

At 11:15am we are back in the hotel where we take a shower and have breakfast. At 12:30pm we check out and drive back to Delhi. On the way, at 3:40pm we make a stop in a highway McDonald restaurant, where I have a Maharaja McChicken sandwich - tastes very bad, and one hour later I still feel the bad taste in my mouth. The chicken meat is kind of a weird round disk of pinkish-orange colour - something artificial, definitely not chicken fillet.

At 4:45pm Shirley and Sarah want to do some shopping, so we stop at a modern shopping complex a bit out of Delhi. This is not too big, if compared with shopping complexes elsewhere in Asia, but is clean, elegant and quite high-level. They have international brands and high quality products.

At 5:05pm I spot a waffle stall and ask for an apple waffle. They tell me to have a seat and wait. At 5:10pm they still haven't started baking the waffle, but an Indian family shows up and orders stuff - probably also a waffle. It seems that the woman is quite pushy and is trying to get her waffle done soon (even before mine). I get the feeling that I should intervene and protect my place in the queue (I'm first), but I'm not going to start a dispute over a waffle. Besides I'm not 100% sure that she is really trying to push her way through the queue. In any case my time is running out, as I have to meet Shirley on the ground floor at 5:15pm and I wonder if I should cancel the waffle. Finally at 5:12pm they start baking the waffle and at 5:15pm it's ready and I'm stand up to get it. Well no, it turns out these people baked the waffle for the Indian lady - not for me. They say, "Sir, please, just a minute, your waffle is ready soon bla bla bla...". But the fact is that I have been waiting for 10 minutes and have to leave. So I cancel the waffle.

Needless to say I'm pretty fed up. I get the impression that Indians have no manners, because they are unable to queue up. I had a similar situation in Bangkok airport at the Air India counter, where I was queueing up. Several Indians were just not willing to queue up and were trying to push their way through (had to remind twice the people that there was a queue). In the plane an Indian guy was sitting on my seat. The impression you get from all this is that Indians don't like to queue up and follow rules.

After the shopping complex we drive to the Radisson hotel, where we have dinner. At 7:30pm we drive to the airport where I leave Shirley and Sarah who have their flight back to Kuala Lumpur at 9:40pm.

After this the driver tells me that he and this car are booked tomorrow for another trip. Great - I had booked it until tomorrow, December 21st. Some talking on the phone with Sanjay - he insists that I only booked a car until December 20th, which is not true and I can easil prove with the email exchange we had. Anyway, he has a smaller car and a different driver ready for me for tomorrow. Not clear if we had a misunderstanding or if Sanjay simply decided to put me on a different car (actually there is no need for a huge car like a Qualis for one person only).

After that I check my emails in an Internet cafe and then check in at the Hotel 55 (the Yatri house is fully booked).

21.12: Delhi -> Bangkok
Rama Gardens hotel, 9/9 Vibhhavadi Rangsit Road Laksi, Bangkok 10210, www.ramagardenshotel.com. 1883 THB for the room + 324 THB for the breakfast. Room is nice, good furniture, TV, fridge, phone, A/C, very comfortable bed, bath with shower (good shower with plenty of hot water). Everything ok, the only thing to note is that the infrastructure is a bit old - you can see it in the bathroom for instance - but the room is nevertheless very comfortable. A bit overpriced, but it is close to the airport (15 minutes by taxi, about 100 Baht).
Weather: cold in the morning in Delhi and still fresh in the afternoon. Fog in Delhi in the morning and still overcast in the afternoon when I leave; the sun shines through in the afternoon as a pale white disk. According to the driver the weather in Delhi is always like this between November and February. Tropical weather in Bangkok.

I get up at 7am and am ready at 8:40am for the tour of Delhi. Sanjay called at 8am and asked me to give the remaining balance of 2500 Rs to him personally (not to the driver), because the driver doesn't work for him. Our first stop is at Connaught place, which is very close to the hotel. Weather conditions this morning are very bad for photography, as the sky is overcast and there is fog in the city.

We then drive to the Jama masjid mosque, which is kind of interesting, but the poor weather spoils all photos. There is a 150 Rs charge for the camera, otherwise the entry is free. It is not possible to enter into the mosque.

At 9:50 am the driver organises a riksha for me to drive me around the Chandni Chowk road for about 20 minutes. Asking price is 100 Rs for one hour, driver waits for me at the Red Fort, but I decide to skip the red fort, because with such impossible weather conditions all photos would turn out bad anyway. We settle on 50 Rs for 20 minutes and I then give the driver 70 Rs, because the bicycle ride takes half an hour. The ride is interesting, but the town is very dirty. After that, at 10:20am we drive to the Rajghat, the Mahatma Gandhi memorial. There is not much to see there, and the place is mostly of symbolical value for the Indians.

At 11:00am the driver drives to the Yatrihouse guesthouse, where I meet Sanjay for the payment. We have a brief chat and I suggest to put a road map of India into all his cars (Sanjay has five), because the problem with Mukesh, our driver, was that he always had to ask the way to people (Mukesh is 22 and quite new to the job; I guess that even a more experienced driver doesn't know all roads in India, and the roads are poorly marked anyway).

At 11:45am we drive to an Internet cafe on Connaught place (20 Rs for 30 minutes, 30 Rs for an hour; reasonably fast connection), where I check the emails for about 45 minutes. After a lunch at a nearby cafe we drive to the National Museum, which we reach at 1:55pm. Entry is 150 Rs + 300 Rs camera fee (almost nothing instead  if you are an Indian national).

The National Museum is very interesting, but it is much smaller than the Egyptian National Museum in Cairo. Interesting, although there is a limited display of Indus valley civilisation in Harappa and Mohenjo Daro artifacts. My visit of the museum finishes at 3:10pm.

After that it's too late to drive to the Qutb Al Minar complex. Drive time would be about 30-40 minutes and from there another 30-40 minutes to the airport according to the driver, so there would be no time left to do the sightseeing (takes one hour, given the size of the complex). Besides, weather conditions are too bad for photography. So we simply drive to the India gate, which however is unimpressive and only of significance to Indian nationals.

At 3:40pm we drive to the airport and manage to be there around 4:10pm. The checkin proceeds smoothly, but the Air India flight only takes off at 7:07pm, approx. 20 minutes later than the scheduled departure (actually the departure time is 6:30pm, but the effective take-off time is always a bit later than that).

We land in Bangkok airport about 20 minutes late, at midnight local time. After that my idea would be to spend the night in a hotel of the transfer area of the airport, and so save time and the airport tax. But when I reach the transfer counter of Singapore airlines, nobody is there and I don't feel comfortable leaving my backpack unattended the whole night with possibly nobody taking care of it (even though the other lady says ground staff will automatically take care of it).

So I go through immigration, get my bag (this time there is almost no waiting time) and start looking for a hotel. Not so good news - at the hotel reservation counters in the arrivals they tell me the cheapest I can find is in the 2000 Baht range, and I was hoping to find something for less than 1000 Baht. Even the (neutral) information counter says that all hotels near the airport are expensive. Strange, I remember having read somewhere of below-1000-THB hotels near the airport, but never mind I'll stay in a better place.

Copyright 2005 Alfred Molon