Another advantage of Bhairon Villas was that it was located just outside the walls of the Junagarh Fort and we were able to walk to the gates in less than 10 minutes. Junagarh Fort was pretty amazing. Big enough to house an old WWI warplane in the basement and filled with enough weaponry to keep even my boys entertained. My favorite room was the Badal Mahal that had upper walls painted with clouds and lightning bolts and the lower wall painted with falling rain. There was a water-holding device set into one wall that could be filled and overflowed in such a way that the flowing water sounded like rainfall. This was the room that the holy men came to call in the monsoons with instrument and voice. Very, very cool.
The Old City in Bikaner is famous for its havellis, so we went on a cruise through town in some autos (tho they call them tuk-tuk in this part of India). There's a nice market in town and it turns out that Haldiram's (Kalani's favorite Delhi eatery, see Delhi blog) started as a sweets shop here in Bikaner so we made a pilgrimage and bought some snacks.
Now, ever since we'd seen the guy giving camel rides at the White Desert in Gujarat, the kids had been begging to ride a camel. What better opportunity than with their grandparents in the desert? So we called up Vijay the Camel Man and arranged for a sunset ride with dinner in the desert (actually, at the time, on the phone, I wasn't sure exactly what I'd arranged, fairly typical of many of my phone calls here in India). The ride was OK but I'd've rather had more control of my camel (each camel had a guy leading it on a rope; kinda like a 2-hour pony ride through the desert). Camels are pretty cool tho. It's a strange feeling when they stand or sit, and their gait is nothing like that of a horse -- no wonder they call them "ship of the desert." There was a young Canadian woman and her father who were also on the trip with us and they were fun to talk to.
Like any part of India, I suppose, the desert wasn't nearly as deserted as the deserts are in my mind. For most of the ride we were following roads that went along agricultural fields (tho very few houses) and several of these fields were very well irrigated -- shocking green patches in a sea of browns. There were lots of birds out there but not a lot of mammal (at least not a lot that were showing themselves to us).
The only really miserable thing about the camel safari was the sub-zero temperatures part. Nights are usually cold in the desert in January, but not this cold. The Canadians were supposed to spend the night in a tent at the picnic spot (we met up with a French - Turkish couple who were on a multi-day safari and had a tent already up) but it didn't take long in those temps for them to opt for a return to a warm bed. However, it took a really long time after we arrived for the guys there to first serve tea and biscuits (that cup of hot tea felt so good in my hand!) and then, a long time later, dinner so we had a long time to appreciate how cold the desert really is in the winter. The dineer was delicious and though it took awhile to prepare, there was only one guy and a small fire to cook it so it was actually pretty impressive how efficient he was in preparing it. If it had been summer it would have seemed all too quick. After dinner, they built a fire, and then after awhile a jeep arrived to take us back to town.
On the drive back through the desert in the dark we caught a glimpse of glowing red eyes, and then, quickly caught in the headlights, a desert fox! all-in-all, a good day.
From Bikaner we drove to Jodhpur, our last Rajasthani stop. No trip between Bikaner and Jodhpur can be considered complete without a stop at the Karni Mata temple. Karni is an incantation of Durga and I pretty much think that all Devi/Durgha temples are interesting, just on principal, but this one is even more special. I heard a couple different stories on how it came about, but, essentially, the souls of the devotees of Karniji were transferred to rats and the rats are now sacred. It's highly auspicious to see the white rat (we didn't) or to have them run across your feet (we did) and although Immo declined to join us in visiting the temple, it was quite an experience for the rest of us.
The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful but the desert is interesting to drive through