We booked a tour with Shanti Travels. I'm not sure how much of a tour it will actually be. It seems like we're booking a driver and hotels. But, here we go. So, our drive from Delhi to our first stop, Mandawa was supposed to take between five to six hours. Due to an insane amount of traffic due to incessant swerving and large puddles in the road, a portion that usually takes about 2 hours ended up being a good full 5 hours. So, it ended up taking us twelve hours to reach our destination. So, we spent our first day of our tour in the car. And we thought we would be seeing countryside once we left Delhi. We were wrong. We didn't reach anything country until the last 45 minutes. There are an impressive amount of people in India.
Mandawa was a small town. It is known for it's Havelis. A haveli is basically a mansion built for the maharajas and wealthy people about 200-250 years ago. They are decorated with intricate paintings, designs, and carvings. They are quite crumbly and unkept, but you could imagine they were quite magical in their time.
We were staying at a haveli. It was an interesting chambered room. We had a sleeping room which fit the bed (I use the word bed lightly), a sitting room, a terrace, and a bathroom. Definitely charming, but definitely not to our level of cleanliness or comfort. The 'bed' was a wicker frame with a super thin mattress. It was a painful night of 'sleep'.
We left the next morning for Bikaner. On the way we stopped at a really magnificent and well restored haveli (restored by the french artist who now owns it). It was really beautiful.
We then made our way to a temple of Seth's choosing. I was quite surprised to hear Seth's request to visit this temple, because it is a temple that is dedicated to its holy rats. So, Seth, the man who loathes rodents, requested to enter a place where you have to take off your shoes to walk around a temple infested with rats. Curious. The smell was abhorrent. I think Dr. Rock (our travel doctor) would be horrified and was waving her finger back and forth tutting inside my head. I definitely didn't touch anything. But, yes, there were rats everywhere. They had buckets of food for the rats placed everywhere, and even pans of milk for them to enjoy. Some of them must have indulged too much, because there were many dead rats decaying as well. It's interesting that even an animal who carries deadly diseases can be considered holy, while the dogs are blatantly abused.
Which brings me to something I realize I haven't mentioned. We've all heard the stereotype that there are cows on the streets in India. Well, it's not a stereotype. They are everywhere, and they rule. If there's a cow in the street the cars will stop or go around it. They will walk into homes, food stalls, etc. And the cows are not your garden variety dairy type cow you find all over the US. These are what we call Brahma Bulls. Probably because the Brahamans worship them? Though they are a bit prettier, they are no more intelligent.
There are, also, a surprising amount of camels. I didn't expect to see camels in India, but they're everywhere. They are used like donkeys, but for heavier loads, I guess. So there are cows, camels, donkeys, and then there are the street dogs. I feel so bad for these dogs. Many of them run on three legs, because one of them is too hurt to run on. Our first night we were walking and one of the street dogs decided to follow us. We weren't doing anything special other than not being mean to it. It wandered around a parked car near a security guard and apparently the guy kicked the dog hard because he ran away limping and squealing/crying. It hurt my heart. The books, and many people, will tell you that you have to be accepting of other cultures and that it's just different, but there are some things I refuse to accept. Cruelty of canines is one of them.
We arrived in Bikaner and visited the Junagarh Fort. It was pretty, but stark. It was really big, though. Most of the fort was stripped of it's contents, leaving most to the imagination. Once again, it must have been magical in its time.
For dinner we found a place in our Lonely Planet guidebook, named Gallops. Their logo was horses running through a horseshoe, and they served really cold beer. Perfect. Dinner was very good. We started off with paneer pakora, which is basically spiced battered and fried cheese. We dipped them in ketchup and a chili sauce. That was quite good. For dinner we ordered paneer butter masala, which is similar to tikka masala in the US, but with spicier black roasted chills. We, also, ordered shubnam curry which had mushrooms, fresh green peas and a cream gravy. To round it out an order of plain naan was our choice. It was a very good meal.