July 2 - Bikaner --> Jaisalmer

After breakfast, outside our hotel, a tuc-tuc is waiting for us. Shankar booked it for us, Havelibecause it wouldn't be wise trying to enter Bikaner old town centre with our car, a tuc-tuc is much better. The driver will bring us for an old city tour, visiting some havelis and temples. Wise idea. The tuc-tuc swiftly find its way through the busy lanes, avoiding cows and carts. It's early morning, the town is still sleepy and the streets are not crazily crowded, we enjoy our trip while little shops areopening.

While passing by, we admire some beautiful haveli, without entering it. Eventually we come to the Rampuja (a very wealthy family) mansion, and we are allowed in for a visit. It is still furnished with original stuff, and it has been transformed in a luxury hotel (our guide tells us you would pay more than 6000 rupees for a night! (that's less than 100 euros, anyway...)) At the entrance there's a polished wwonderful old white BuickBuick car, with a snake-shaped horn! I can't stand having a picture at its wheel! out of the Rampuja mansion, we have a little stroll through the busy lanes, while our tuc-tuc driver shows us other beautyful haveli façades.

After that, we reach another destination included in our tour, a couple of adjoining Temples, one of them is a Jain Temple, the other is Hindu. First one is the Bhanda Shaha Temple, a rare example of Jain Temple decorated with paintings insteda of sculptures. A sort of guardian opr priest or both welcomes us and offers to lead us through the temple. He is quite funny, and tells us a lot of things about the Temple and his history, explaining architecture and paintings. He also tells us about Jain belief. Jain believers will pardon me if I try to explain in two words what I understood about it all. Jains have no Gods, but 24 sort of prophets (see also the amazing Jain religion excel™ worksheet smile, found outside a Jain Temple Tempioin Jaisalmer). The prophets are characterized in various ways, and, as most of Hindu deities, each one of them has a main symbol associated with him. Knowing which symbol is associated with which prophet is a basic knowledge for being able toworship them. In fact their statues are all alike, and all of them look more or less like this. Being able to tell them from each other you have to find which symbol is carved at the under the sitting figure, and you know which prophet it is. In the case of this one, for example, you may see a halfmoon in the center of the pillow, so you know he is the eigth prophet of the table. (starting from above). From the Temple's terrace we stop one moment to have a look of Bikaner centre from above. It's a nice picture, with all the tiny houses some of them white, some yellow and some painted in a light blue (like in Jodhpur). On many of the houses' terraces large coloured clothes are drying in the sun, it's a beautiful view. Just outside the Jain Temple we go and visit the Hindu one, called Laxminath Ji. The nearness of the two temples is almost a symbol of the pacific coexistence of different religious beliefs, nice thing to learn, by the way... Outside the Temple, a row of women sitting on the ground, with their amazingly bright coloured sarees are selling flowers and sweets to the faithfuls' offers for a few rupees. To enter this one taking off shoes is not sufficient, and we got to take off belts too (!). Furthermore, taking pictures in the inside is forbidden, never mind, there's nothing really worth to remember on the artisctic side.

When we get outside the second temple, our tuc tuc driver is there to wait for us, and we notice he is fresh and perfectly shaved. In fact he has been at the barbershop while waiting for us to get out. I notice also that Franco badly needs a shaving, also, as he didn't shave since the beginning of our trip. We learn that a professional shave only costs 7 rupees (about 10 eurocents) barbiereand Franco decides it's worth a try. Well, we are ready now for the barbershop adventure! What happened makes me laugh and Franco angry everytime we speak about it (Franco: Yes, it's true, I got quite nervous with that). The barber (a very handsome guy indeed, not typical for an indian, he looked more like an actor than a barber...) tried to take his chance, a western tourist coming to be shaved is not everyday's event, for him... So, after accurately shaving Franco, he began to rub his face (Yes, all around, including nose and forehead) with some kind of white perfumed cream. After that he cleansed his face, and began again with another cream, and this happened several times, with several different creams. I was laughing madly, but I knew Franco was getting nervous about that (Franco: Yes, since I only asked for a shave, and I was determined to pay only for that!) Well, eventually Franco had to tell him to stop, because the thing was starting to be embarassing... (Franco: Yes, at that point in time I was really upset, I don't like to be cheated...) So, Franco asked for the price of the treatment, and was ready to fight... but the guy just catched him on the hop, and told "well, it's up to you, gimme whatever you wish" (Franco: the guy played his magic card, and I believe he was thinking to cash about a couple of hundreds rupees). Franco decides anyway not to play the game, and just gives him the maximum fee shown on the barber's pricelist, (he could not have asked more than that, anyway), and it was just 20 rupees. (Franco: I hope next time he will think twice wasting that cream for just 30 eurocents) So, eventually we could go, while everyone in the shop (yes, by that time the audience had grown large for that unusual show...) was madly laughing.

After having been enriched with this further indian experience, we can get back to our hotel, where Shankar is waiting for us because we're leaving for Jaisalmer in a while. On the route we stop to visit Ramdeora Temple. It is a renown Hindu Temple (Ramdev Mandir) where a holy person, Ramdev, is worshipped, together with his horse. Ramdev lived in the middle ages, and fought against the subdivision of indian society in castes. The building is quite recent, dating back to 1931, and the Temple is attended by both Muslims and Hindus. People comes here from throughout Rajasthan. They often walk their way to the temple, bringing a small flag tied to a walking stick, and they offer the flag to the Temple when they arrive. The Temple itself is interesting, but not very worth under the artistic point of view, so we have no pics of that.

Rang MahalAfter the Temple we proceed to Jaisalmer and upon arrival we have a short rest for checking in, but just a glance is sufficient to see that the Hotel is really beautiful! The Rang Mahal Hotel is a building just outside town, very recent, in traditional rajput style, complete with external ramparts like Jaisalmer Fort. All the rooms have nice fresco decorations on the ceilings, and naturalmente we got a wonderful swimming pool just under our room, we could even plunge directly from the window of our luxurious room! So, we get ready for a flash refreshing bath, and after half an hour we're ready to go again...

And in fact we go and have a first look of Jaisalmer, lead by our local guide Mahendra. Mahendra is a really nice young man, he speaks good Italian, and insists to exercise his skill because he studied Italian for some years aand has a strong will to became very clever on this. Mahendra will guide us for our stay in JaisalmerJaisalmer. We first go to see the Gadi Sagar Lake, outside town. The Lake is very nice, even if the water is quite shallow, and the way to a small temple in the lake, which should rise upon the waters, is walkable. We are the only tourists, but there is an Indian family which came here to worship the (naturally) holy catfish swimming in the lake. They're throwing bread pieces into the lake. When the bread touches the surface, Portathe water begins to boil with slimy creatures coming up and fighting for food. They're huge disgusting catfishes, leapfrogging in the shallow muddy waters of the lake, it's indeed an unusual show...Mahendra explains that the catfish is considered a holy beast (and therefore it's never eaten!) because it's the very first Vishnu reincarnation. In fact we will even see pictures of the holy catfish in a Jaisalmer Jain Temple... We leave the lake crossing the majestic arched gateway leading to the ghats. This portal is called the prostitute doorway. The legend tells a beautiful rich prostitute did his job here in the luxurious rooms overlooking the lake, entertaining the rich caravan merchants going from the Thar desert towards Delhi. The beautiful portal is built in yellow sandstone, as the walls of the city. While walking to reach Shankar Festaand our car we notice a group of dancing and singing people surrounding a small, composedmiddle-aged man dressed in white wearing coloured flower necklaces. While the man walks, groups of women come to add necklaces to his neck, and everyone claps his hands. Mahendra explains it's likely to be a retirement celebration.The man in white is being celebrated by family and friends for having finished his working life (happy day indeed!).

Our tourist day is not finished yet. We now go to visit an outside town temple which has been recently totally restored (I would say more rebuilt than restored): The Amar Sagar Temple. It is really beautiful and impressive for the amazing carved sandstone and marble decorations. It is made of the yellow sandstone which is Jaisalmer trademark, with a central part in white marble. It's really nice, but to our eyes it looks like a fake, because the restoration has been too heavy, leaving probably nothing of the old building. Inside the Amar SagarTemple there's again the 24 Jain prophets statue set, all of them identical to any other (apart for the almost invisible tiny symbol under them, naturally)! The Temple's location is amazing, amid the desert, Overlooking a flat territory where several cenotaphs of rajput rulers lie. The place is called Bada Bagh (Great Garden). Now it's time to go back to Jaisalmer for dinner, but on our way back we stop on a hill outside town to have a look to the Fort. We enjoy the wonderful panorama the fortress stands just in front of us in the dimming sunset light, it looks really like a huge sandcastle built by giants hands on a hill amidst the desert. It's one of those magical moments worth the trip by itself. Back in town, we have a no-reason-to-get-excited dinner at the Golden Fort restaurant.

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