|After Jaipur, we were pumped and really excited to begin our camel safari through the desert. Our base point to begin the expedition was to be the small town of Bikaner - NW of Jaipur. We chose to stay in a guest house that was part of a familys home - so they basically just rented out the room. Unlike what we had done in teh past, we decided to spring for a guide from te guest house to take us aroud. He acutally turned out to be a really nice, knowledgable guy who spilled all teh secrets about marriage traditions, jewelry shops, how to bargin for vegetabes etc. In terms of sights - we went to quickly visit a jain temple (which is actually a tourist min stop on their way from Jaipur to Jaisalmer) so that was a little touristy and not much to tell. we walked past lots of local homes that dye fabrics and specialize in tye-dye - so you could see all the buckets of dye and endless drapes of diff colors hanging out to dry. At 11am he took us to a smal hindu temple tucked in the back of some buildings. twice a day (once morning, once evening), for 20 mins, people gather in the temple and sing a repetative chant to the god shiva. we have heard their singing from outside in the past but actually got to go in and observe this ritual and increasingly loud singing first hand, which was really cool.
After we exited the temple, we were encouraged to make a donation - not to the temple, not to the poor, not the schools or the crippled, but to the cow charity. right below the temple is a huge area where sick cows are taken and since no one owns the millions of cows that wander the streets, when one gets ill or too weak they are taken here for rehab!
As i previously mentioned, we did some shopping at the fruit and vege market. this was kinda fun because all the vendors are lined up in a row and you basically go up to one and ask how much per kilo of whatever fruit you want. of course theyll give you a rediculously high price. you say thank you, walk to the guy right next to him and ask how much, and having over heard, he'll go lower. you continue this down the line (as all the others offer you a better price if you return) until you settle on something reasonalbe. quite fun actually!
I had experssed to our guide that i wanted to buy some simple silver jewelry and he suggested some of the local shops that sell the realy authentic stuff. apparently he doesnt usuallly take tourists around but since no other guide was available (not the season yet) he would do it. He also said that on the rare occasion he has taken someone around, he had never taken them to a local jewelry store. as everyone in the town knew, there was one house that sold the best silver. it was not even a store, but a home. as we neared the entrance, it was packed with local women buying jewelry for diwali festival and since wedding season was coming up. we cowered near the door and as our guide tried to get the attention of the seller, he simply looked up, saw tourists and said he would not sell to us! that was a first! it was actually kinda cool that he wanted to keep his goods for the local (and repeat!) customers!
We also wandered through some residentail areas and looked at the havelis - intricately carved stone homes. some even had old fresco paintings still on their back walls. later we witnessed a marriage procession - groom on horse with garlends of flowers hiding his face as he is accompanied by an entarouge of family, musicians all on their way to the brides house. turns out that in this area, in arranged marriages (all of them) hindus are allowed to meet their partner before the actual ceremony to get to know each other, but muslims are not.
All in all Bikaner was a really cool stop along the way! Now time to prep for our camel adventures!