Posted in Ajanta Ellora, Aurangabad, Backpacking, Diversity, Inclusive, Places, Solo Travel, Travel Stories

My Tryst with Ni Hao – Unexpected Trust

When I started my journey, one of my biggest challenges was to overcome my difficulty trusting strangers. “Don’t talk to strangers” has its own local and regional flavours in our families, and like most of us, I have grown accustomed to it. In new places, I have been warned of people who will put me in harm’s way and therefore to not drink water or eat anything a stranger would offer. The warnings are endless, and the outcome is a castle of fear, which you spend more time trying to climb over.

The first destination on my solo trip was Aurangabad. As I climbed into the train and found my seat, I made acquaintance with a young researcher, who has a Master’s in law and is currently working for the Justice Department. He was on an assignment to collect data on check bounce cases across India. We connected, talked, and discussed quite a bit. Eventually, they decide to accompany each other and explore Ajanta Caves together.

We took a Shivshakti bus (government bus service) to Aurangabad. The ongoing infrastructure construction made the journey very difficult, both as an experience and for the time taken to reach the destination. As we set out to explore the caves, we noticed that the bus staff was trying to communicate with an elderly East Asian man about the time of our return. Both of them were trying their best to communicate and comprehend, but the attempts were futile. Obviously, I volunteered to help.

Magic of Ni Hao

Having visited China for work many years ago, I had picked up a few words and greetings. “Ni Hao” is the Chinese greeting for “hello”. I had taken a note of his passport before greeting him. “NiHao!” I said. Surprised, he looked at me. His face lit up like a neon bulb. Very greedily, he tried responding to me, and obviously, I had to disappoint him. All my knowledge of the Chinese language ended at “Ni Hao.” I could not converse with him beyond the greeting.

Thanks to my amazing dumb charades skills, with a careful choice of animated actions, I was able to get the message across to him. He knew not a word of English, and we didn’t know any Chinese. Even then, he decided to tag along with Hussain and me for the rest of the journey.

If you visualised the conversation between me and this man, all via actions, it would surely be a cartoon movie.

After a lot of effort, we managed to exchange our basic vitals of name and age. He went by the name of Cheng and was 55. To my surprise, when he shared his travel dates using his phone calendar, I realised he had been in India for a month already.

From that point on, we spent a lot of time in each other’s company, which was an experiment in itself. We explored Ajanta Caves, had dinner together, and also shared all the expenses. On learning the cost of my stay, he very emphatically responded that he was coming with me.

Unexpected Trust

We stayed the night at my hostel and continued to explore Ellora and Daulatabad Fort the following day. He was set to leave for Bombay (Mumbai) that night, and his wallet was empty. He had exhausted all his Indian currency and handed me a hundred dollar bill to exchange. His faith in me, a complete stranger, was an honour in itself. I will cherish that feeling all my life. I negotiated a good deal for him. He left for Bombay after saying a warm goodbye to us.

The learnings learnt from the traveler’s university course on “Transforming from Tourist to Traveler” were immensely helpful.

Here is this alien man who knew no word of English, travelling in India with just a translator app, trying everything non-native to him and placing trust in someone non-native. This was my moment of understanding that the Universe takes care of everyone and everything in it. We just have to trust the Universe and have faith that it is all going to be okay. The roads might not be as smooth as we want, but eventually each curve, each stone, each ditch, and each high will be an experience adding to this journey.

Summary

I had many takeaways from the interactions and experiences with Cheng and Hussain. Here is the summary of my learning for anyone who intends to start travelling solo.

  1. Start with the belief that you can survive.
  2. Acknowledge other travelers; they are in the same boat as you are, with the same anxieties and excitement.
  3. Learn the art of small talk with any stranger: Name-Place-Eat-Weather-Clothing-Music-Age. Use your identity card and Google translator wherever necessary.
  4. Learn the greetings of the land. Google helps here too.
  5. Smile more often.
  6. Share and give more to your fellow travelers.
  7. Be in the interest of others.

Go Solo!

Posted in Backpacking, Jodhpur, North India, Places, QuillSe, Rajasthan, Solo Travel, Travel Stories

Exploring Jodhpur

Where to Stay

Stay and accommodation in Rajasthan is generally on the higher side, especially in season. The season in Rajasthan is from October to February. There are several hostels in Jodhpur, most of which are located close to the Ghantaghar (Clock Tower) Area. These are all the good names, like Zostel, Hostelavie, etc. Some very up-market hotel names like 360° Panorma at Pal Haveli are also there. Upmarket hotel accommodation is available inside the Mehrangarh Fort.

I stayed at a budget hotel very close to the Jodhpur railway station called Hotel Shiva. There were families as well as groups staying in the hotel. Room charges were Rs. 800 per night. No hot water was available, and the quality of the beds and facilities was just about average. We would have paid the same amount had we stayed at the hostel. I strongly recommend staying at a hostel. They are close to the tourist places and most of them offer a great view as well.

What to See

The top most touristy places to see are Umed Bhavan, Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Mandor Fort, Ghantaghar, and Osiyan Temple (about 60 km away from Jodhpur).

For Slow and Budget Travellers

My focus was primarily on the areas around Mehrangarh Fort. It took me a good 4 hours to explore this fort and its nooks and corners. The fort houses a museum of exhibits from the historical era as well. I walked down from the Mehrangarh fort to the Ghantaghar area. This walking trail is one of the best kept secrets in Jodhpur.

The next day, I walked from Ghantaghar to Nav Chokia. The way leads to the back entrance of the fort, which houses two beautiful and not-to-be-missed water bodies. Nav Chokia is the place to be if you want to experience the Blue Cityfor what it is. It is ancient. Some of the structures are a few hundred years old and seem to have stood the test of time. It is a must-do if you are a traveller by foot, bike, or any other budget format.

Local villagers recommended that I take the walking path to visit Jaswant Thada. This was another worthwhile trail. Jaswant Thada is a nice marble structure near a water body. From this place, you can get a mesmerising view of Jodhpur City and also of the fort.

The entrance fee at the fort was about Rs. 300 (entry and audio guide).

The entrance fee at Jaswant Thada was Rs. 30.

Since I didn’t visit the Umed Palace, I don’t know the entry fee, but I managed to see photographs of the clock collections and the car collections at the palace. As I understand it, the royal family stays at the palace, so a very small part of it was converted into a museum of sorts.

Mandor Fort is about 9 kms from the city. This can be accessed by train and then an autorikshaw or by taking a rickshaw.

Transport

I took the train to Jodhpur from Jaisalmer. The sleeper class ticket fare was about Rs.575. On a budget trip and in the right weather, the AC train can be totally given a miss. People on the train were kind and accommodating. There were no incidents of thieving either.

Taxis, auto-rickshaws, and other local transport are easily available.

I moved around using the hitch hike, shared auto model, and foot.A lot of this can be covered on foot. You don’t have to pay more than Rs. 10 or Rs. 20 when you use a shared auto.

The Uber service is poor. Taking a regular autorickshaw or TukTuk would be better. Negotiate shamelessly. No one feels bad.

A Special Musical Performance 

After enjoying Mehrangarh fort on foot for over 4 hours, the mood of the day was to devour some laal mans and garlic naan. The winding stone-paved road and my search for Rajasthan’s more revered dish led me to a corner building which hoarded a sign saying “Live Classical Music Performance.” There were some foreigners trying to make their way into the building.

I paused my search for laal mas and stepped into this little performance space. The tourists were beginning to lose patience waiting for the performers, and they were as brattish as 5-year-olds, trying their hand at the tabla, and, of course, endless side-eyed selfies with a pout. After a brief wait, two young men stepped in with instruments. They laid out the Santoor and the Saarangi. The men explained the instruments.

The Santoor is an instrument with 100 strings and lets out sounds that are meditative, pleasant, and set the mood of happiness for the listeners. With Arbaaz on the santoor, he managed to take us through an elating and enthralling experience. Soon, his multi-talented brother, who accompanied Arbaaz on the Tabla, unpacked a vintage Saarangi. The sarangi is a desert violin, which has 36 strings and is connected to four main strings bunched with horse hair. It lets out music, which is very much akin to intense vocal expressions.

I asked if he could play something in Raag Yaman (Kalyani in Classical), and he generously played an outstanding composition to mark the end of the evening. I set out to find my gastronomic muse, the legendary Laal Mans of Rajasthani Cuisine, after making my Rs. 300 contribution and thanking them.

Eats in the Blue City

For breakfast, we ate a place called Janata, which is brand with over 400 shops. Kachori chaat was very nice. Price Rs.35

On the road towards Ghantaghar (Clock Tower) There is a Shahi Kachori, a corner shop just before the clock tower. Price is Rs.20 from what I remember for both Pyaz (Onion) Kachori and Samosa. While the place is usually over crowded, I felt the items were salty. The stock is always fresh though.

Bombay Tea shop on the same road has some amazing bun maska. Price Rs.15. They serve chai, but I didn’t enjoy what they served. Price of Chai is 10 for what they call as single chai and it is quite a size.

Past the Clock tower, as you enter the road towards Pal Haveli, there are crowded tea shops who serve Kulad Chai at Rs.30. I found the coffee to be better Justified. Price Rs.15

Just opposite to these tea shops there is a much talked about Omelette shop. You wont miss it. They open after 11.00 am and stay open until night. They have an excellent menu of omlettes. I tried the “Cheese Masala Omlette”. very good and filling indeed. It cost me Rs.60. It is well reviewed in tripadvisor and tripto, but it also seemed like a local favourite. It is usually crowded, you are unlikely to miss it.

Managed to find a place called “Curry’s”. This is the roof top cafe above Zostel, Jodhpur. The order was served without much too much wait. I judge the dish 2.5 on 5.0. It missed the dominance of garlic, which needed to cut through the red chilly powder and the fat in the dish. Nevertheless, the succulence of the meat (chevon) and their Rajasthani hospitality was worthy of mention. The bill was about Rs.400. With slight disappointment I set out to explore some dessert. Mishrilal’s Doodh Bhandar is a vintage milk and sweet shop near the Clock Tower and is known for a few dishes. The Makahni Lassi and Doodh Jilebi. I pursued the Makhani Lassi which is glass of sweet yogurt with a dollop of home made white butter in it. While I couldn’t finish it, I must mention is a wonderful treat that you shouldn’t miss. Price is Rs.40.

Ended both days in gratitude to the numerous people who made my exploration of Mehrangarh Fort, Rajathani music, It’s food and finally in being able to scout and spot the “Blue in the Blue City” and further “Immersing in the Blue” a very memorable travel.

If there are any other questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section. I will happy to answer and connect with you.