27.12.2012 - 27.12.2012
We met at 10am to journey to the hillside village of Ranakpur, home to a famous Jain temple, and 75k way from Udaipur. I'd started taking my malaria pills in preparation for Goa and the rest of the trip, advised by the nurse not to lie down after taking them and to take them with food. I gulped one down with a cup of coffee and about 20 minutes later began to feel very sick. Initially I attributed it to drinking the night before (although if two rum & coke were now going to make me sick the next day I was in trouble!). Then I panicked that got food poisoning and began to dread the drive ahead. After being sick however, I felt much much better and attributed it to doxycycline on an empty stomach. It did however have the advantage of earning me the front seat in one of the jeeps for the drive to Ranakpur.
We were all pleased to be taking jeeps instead of the bus - that the local bus takes 3 hours to drive 75 kilometres should give some indication the the quality of roads we were about to endure. Winding through the city traffic, we were soon on quieter and less polluted roads, the breeze through the open windows and back making it almost chilly inside. Although we weren't travelling anything like quickly, we still had to slow down for the occasional reversed speed bump (hole across the road) and the cows. I'd initially been intrigued to see the first cow in Delhi but once leaving the big city, cows roamed freely everywhere. In Jaipur there was a cattle grid at the entrance to our hotel to stop them coming into the garden. We'd asked Zahid previously about the cows wandering the streets and he'd explained that whilst many Indian families would own a younger cow for milk, once the cow got old and was no longer useful to them, being a holy animal, they'd 'set it free' (to risk death by traffic and eat garbage at the roadside!). Apparently there are even some 'old-cows homes' but unfortunately there are too many cows for the homes to cope with so the remaining holy animals are free to do as they please in Indians towns and cities.
Several times a cow meandered slowly across the road in front of us and at one point we were caught up in a veritable heard being shooed along by a farmer - these must have been young useful cows! As we left the city there were also several cows that had been decorated, some with their horns painted multicolours.
It was a beautiful drive into the countryside and I had a great view from my seat. We drove through some tiny 'villages' where housing consisted of tarpaulin arranged over sticks and women sold fresh vegetables at the side of the road. We passed one woman multitasking carrying a baby whilst hearing goats and, when we came onto a better road, the pot holes disappeared and were able to pick up the speed slightly (75kmph down hill), there were women in saris making repairs to the fencing at the side of the road. We passed a small lorry driving the wrong way down the dual carriage way and I was pleased to have a seatbelt on.
Our driver seemed to know a lot of people and frequently waved at both drivers and pedestrians as we passed by. When we stopped at a toll booth, he waved at a guy who came over and hopped into the front of the seat. The driver schooched over towards me so that the gear stick was now between his knees and the new arrival took over the driving for a while before getting out again at a village about 40k further on.
Along the way, back on the minor roads again, all three jeeps stopped at the side of a road in the middle of nowhere and Zahid indicated for unto get out and look. There in the tree tops, in broad daylight (and 30+ degree heat) hung hundreds and hundreds of bats. There were three trees full of them and the other trees were all bat-free. There was no obvious reason for their tree selection as the trees around were all the same type. Driving through the villages several round-shaped 'dung circles' were drying in the sun to be used later as fuel. We stopped again a little further along at a well where two bulls were being used to turn a mechanism designed to get water from the well out into the surrounding fields. The bulls walked tight circles turning a horizontal wheel which in turn turned a vertical wheel of scoops which then deposited the water into a channel from where it would run towards the surrounding farmland. There were also several cows drinking from the channel and the water in the well was a beautiful clear blue colour with some tiny fish swimming in it.
Shortly afterwards, as the scenery became more beautiful still we arrived at our hotel Aranyawas - it was a beautiful series of spacious rooms arranged as cottages on a small hillside with great views and a lovely, if freezing, swimming pool. The presence of both duvets and blankets on the beds indicated that it would get pretty chilly later on. After a decent thali lunch, half of the group got back in the jeeps to drive to a fort 50k away. The rest of us decided to enjoy the resort itself and the scenery. Having visited three forts already in the last week or so, I decided to head to the pool for a spot of very peaceful sunbathing interrupted only by occasional bird squawking. At a good 28 degrees, it was beautiful temperature and I broke out the suncream for the first time.
The temperature dropped dramatically as soon as the sunset and so for the first time on the trip so far I wore thick socks, trainers and proper trousers in the evening. The hotel was completely isolated and had no tv or wifi so after an overpriced buffet meal in the hotel's restaurant we sat around a bonfire whilst Zahid played at being DJ.
In the morning the owner of the hotel had offered to lead a walk out into the jungle at 8am so I set my alarm for 7.30 and was therefore surprised to wake up at 8.03. I threw on clothes and ran to the meeting point, there by 8.06 but unfortunately they had already left so instead I took my skipping rope to the poolside. There was also a conveniently located pyramid of stairs by the pool which made for some interesting training too. There was a great view and no one around except monkeys. I was sad to miss the walk and even sadder when I returned sweaty to the room to find there was no hot water as Jessica had just showered. Sitting outside and feeling slightly annoyed, I accidentally dropped my iPad which cracked the screen. All in all I wasn't having a very good morning. After breakfast we lay by the pool, entertained by the monkeys swinging through the trees and the little ones playing games (running up to the top branch, swinging down and then free-falling into a pile of leaves below. In the afternoon we headed to the famous 15th century marble temple nearby, the Chaumukha Mandir. A Jain temple, it consisted of 1444 individually engraved pillars and 80 domes. Having seen quite a few temples already, this was the most impressive yet with views of the surrounding countryside.