Jodhpur to Bikaner; In which the universe is kind to us; Camels!

Sheryl has gotten quite sick, and I’m worried about her. Her headaches and nausea have gotten worse, and the other stomach issues keep coming and going. The day after seeing Meherengarh Fort and Jaswant Thada, she had to spend the whole day in bed with a migraine and nausea. She’s finished the course of antibiotics she started a few days ago, and while it seemed to help at the time, it must not have been enough. She’s hardly eating at all. We have a good travel insurance policy, an expense which I resented at the time but which I’m coming to see as a positive quite quickly. I made a few expensive calls back home to open a case and see if they had any recommendations where to take her. They didn’t, so we’re on our own.

Our guidebook recommends a good clinic with a doctor who apparently has experience with western patients, so I made an ultimatum to Sheryl that if she didn’t feel better by the next morning, we’re going there. This has been going on for more than a week now, and that’s too long. She claimed she did feel a little better, so we didn’t. That’s the problem with this illness, though (if illness it is) - it comes and goes. Each time she thinks she’s getting better, it comes back. I don’t have any choice except to grudgingly accept that she’s not feeling poorly right at the moment - I can’t drag her to a doctor if she’s not actually feeling bad, after all.

We’d planned to go to Udaipur after Jodhpur. Jodhpur doesn’t really have any useful rail connections to anywhere but Jaipur and Jaisalmer, so we had to take the bus. When we arrived at the bus station in the late morning there were no buses to Udaipur for three hours, though. That wasn’t really very helpful - we’d have gotten to Udaipur close to 9 in the evening and with no place to stay. With Sheryl not feeling well enough to carry her pack, this wasn’t really an option. Sheryl, remembering that I’d wanted to go to Bikaner before, asked about buses there and was told there was a bus leaving in fifteen minutes. Serendipity! We decided the universe was trying to tell us something. The ticket guy told us the bus number and we realized that the bus number was the same number as on the bus’ license plate. I wonder if this has been true all along and we just never noticed it, or if this is new in Rajasthan.

I admit I was afraid of taking another bus after the hellish experience of getting to Jodhpur. But the universe seemed to be taking pity on us today, and the bus was just fine. It was crowded, but we got a seat in front for us and the bags, and people weren’t pushy or obnoxious. The ride wasn’t bumpy and the driver wasn’t insane. We weren’t even charged extra for the third seat the bags took up. Everyone on the bus was friendly and helped us get out at the right place in Bikaner to avoid riding kilometres out of our way to the bus stand. They even gave us directions to the hotel I’d booked on the way. The hotel was lovely. It was an old heritage building on two floors of red sandstone around an inner courtyard with a little garden out front. The nice staff even honoured my reservation (which nearly moved me to tears after the Jodhpur experience, I can tell you). The room was cool and clean, with a toilet, fresh linen, towels and even soap. It was so nice that I had to double-check that the price was only 400 rupees.

It was so strange and so welcome to have had no trouble at all today. Everything was very smooth, from the bus ride to the hotel - like clockwork. It was such a contrast to the hellish time we’d had getting to Jodhpur. I don’t know about Sheryl, but I badly needed a day where nothing went wrong. I’ve been having wild swings in my feelings toward India lately - bad days make me hate the entire country and everyone in it, and good days make me love it. India is a place it’s impossible to feel ambivalent towards.

I liked Bikaner instantly. It’s got a frontier-town feel to it - dusty, friendly, and filled with camels. They’re everywhere, pulling carts with immense loads. They seem to be the draft animal of choice here. I love seeing them, with their giant-rabbit faces looming high above the traffic. They’re so cool. Their hair is shaved close to the skin and they have patterns shaved into them - flowers and geometric shapes like triangles in a line along their side. It’s fascinating, the idea of ornamenting a camel. Often their noses are adorned with a red or orange pom-pom that makes them look like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Camel. Despite this, they still somehow manage to look dignified.

Bikaner’s two main streets are GS Road and Station Road. The train station sits at the intersection of the two. Bikaner is only on a narrow-gauge spur line, and there are only a couple of trains a day, but the station is huge and modern. The old city lies to the west of GS Road, a kilometre wide with its scalloped pink wall mostly intact. Station Road is dusty, smelly in spots and very heavily trafficked, but cheerful.

As an aside, I’ve begun to think of street life in different places in terms of the intersection of two axes - a “hot-cold” axis and a “private-social” axis. At home, and in a lot of Europe, the streets are firmly in the cold and private direction, in that the weather is cold and interactions in the street are limited - there’s a strong division between home and street. That’s not true of everywhere in Europe - Spain, for example, is hot and social. Other places can be hot and private, where people retreat from the heat inside buildings with big blank walls shutting out the street. India, however, is about as far along the hot and social axes as it’s possible to be. The line between inside and outside is so blurry that often it’s difficult to tell what’s the street and what’s someone’s home. Bikaner’s Station Road is like that.

It’s such a relaxed town here, it’s surprising to me after the taut chaos of Jaipur and Jodhpur. Even the fixers and hustlers (they all call themselves “tour guides” here) are chilled-out, genuine and friendly. They hardly even approach you with sales pitches. They’ll come up to you to chat, but they’re mostly happy with that. That said, we ate at a tourist restaurant recommended by the guidebook as having bland food (the only kind Sheryl can eat right now) and there were two tables with western tourists and their guides, so the guides must be doing something right.

Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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