It was good to get out of Delhi!! The South African girls I had met up with at the end of their 3 week trip through Rajastan were ready to head back to sanity, and were really just biding time. We did the National Museum bit and Connaught Place (or CP, for people in the know) the one day and then shopped up a storm at Khan's Market the next day. That's when I realized that I am just a Sandton Kugel at heart! I do love a bargain, but I like quality and I was very happy to pay the price.
So, I wave the girls goodbye, and realize I am on my own!! I had booked into the Shelton Hotel in the Pahar Ganj, mainly because it was in walking distance to the Main Station, because the plan was to now head for Bikaner which according to the Lonely Planet is a vibrant dust-swirling desert town with a fabulous fort and an energizing outpost feel. It was also on the list of destinations suggested by my intrepid personal tour advisor Sarita.
Turns out that the trains to Bikaner leave from Delhi Rohilla Station, no where close to where I was staying. Will probably be one of many mistakes I make on my travels. But I am learning fast: Sarita had responded to an e-mail asking her for train availability, so I could be quite firm with the resident travel agent in the hotel foyer, who tried to convince me to rather take private transport to Bikaner, who then passed me on to his superior, and after still not having any luck with his sales pitch then eventually got his boss to finalize the transaction, which took the better part of the afternoon
I am also learning that as a solo traveller one is much more receptive to chat with total strangers: the young Russian girl, Nastya, who asks to join me at my table at the Exotic Rooftop Restaurant, Dinesh, the manager to takes a wager with me for a beer that India will win the 20/20 semis against South Africa, the delightful parents accompanying their teenage daughter back to boarding school and sharing their food with me on the train.
And then I arrive in Bikaner. This must be what it's like to live in Hotazel in the northern Cape. Sarita was right; she had warned me that I had left it a tad late for Rajasthan. I am the only guest at the very pleasant Hotel Jaswant bhawan. I think all other travelers have headed for cooler climes in the hills. Thank goodness for the ever present tuk-tuks, any extensive walking is a definite recipe for heat stroke.
Bikaner has a beautiful old fort which has been lovingly restored, but sadly the rest of the town has certainly seen better days. It has some wonderful havelies which unfortunately have been left to go to rack and ruin. So sad!!
I had already decided that I was going to head out to my next destination tomorrow, but the getting there is proving to be a bit of a challenge. Jaisalmer is another desert town on the border of Pakistan, best known for its camel safaris into the Great Thar Desert, and I have a choice of a night train leaving at midnight, a non-air conditioned day train or a non air-conditioned bus, leaving at 3 in the afternoon, arriving at 8.30. Non of these options is ideal, so in the end I have opted for the bus.
Let the adventure continue!!