Bikaner

Today we aren’t leaving until 9:30 – such luxury. As I was up bright and early, courtesy of the parrots – more there later – and had a work out and ate breakfast and read the paper and still have plenty of time, this will be the perfect opportunity to catch up. I am sitting on the veranda of room – more of a suite actually, surrounded by this perfect oasis in the desert. There is a lovely little lake, lush gardens, hordes of these bright green parrots – who seem to enjoy very early starts – pre-sunrise and buzzing my head which I am attempting to ignore. There are a couple of peacocks setting up to perform right in front of me – I think the idea is to make themselves look as large and formidable as possible. Now the morning (or is it mourning) doves have joined in – a veritable cacaphoney!
This place is a palace belonging to the Maharaja of Bikaner and while they maintained the palace as private, in the mid 1800’s the family converted a large part of the grounds to a mustering point and R&R stop for British officers during the days of  “The Great Game” – the battles both overt and covert for control of Afganistan with the Russians. Plus ca change…….!
As a result all the public areas are “terribly British raj”. My room is more like a bungalow spread out on level with the gardens  and I can just see some sunburnt, exhausted officer settling in for a much needed but unwanted rest, probably unpacking a stored trunk with the help of his trusty sepoy or something. Add in a young Florence Nightengale type of impeccable breeding and you have the makings of a good romance……hmmmm! Probably already written I suspect
 The drive from Samode to Bikaner was interesting, albeit long. The landscape changed gradually from open farm land with lots of buffalo and cows to scrub land desert with ALOT of camels and goats. Apparently Bikaner owes a great deal of it’s prosperity to the camels and they are famous all over this part of the world. To my Canadian eyes they seem impossibly exotic creatures doing the most mundane things – pulling carts, carrying huge loads and looking distainfully at the world. These ones do have a powerful aroma but the most gorgeous eyes – as I discovered as we were stopped right beside several in a traffic jam. I must say it does add a little something extra to the concept of a traffic jam when most of the traffic are camels, donkeys and goats – and really big bulls! 
More on the subject of the cows in India – they really are everywere, people milk them apparently but otherwise they do just wander all over the place. The cows generally are “polite” but I have seen the bulls just standing in the middle of the busiest intersection you can imagine – calmly chewing their cud – and all the traffic has to figure out a way around. What that does to the already insane traffic flow has to be seen to be believed! 
Anil our driver, has to be the most patient man in the world, and the kindest. We saw a young dog get hit by a truck just in front of us (why this doesn’t happen more often given the confluence of dogs and vehicles…) and Anil stopped the bus, got out and when it became apparent the dog had died, he very gently picked it up and moved it to the side of the road so no one would continue running it over.
I think I’m getting over some of my culture shock and I’m really enjoying the Indian people I have met so far – they are unfailingly courteous and personable in a way which is lacking in some other cultures. I think the trick is not to overlay our Canadian mores. We just see incredible poverty, dirt and chaos but they see life and family and connection. NOT to say of course that they wouldn’t all benefit from a better life style but who is to say what that should be? Not I!
Not with standing that – the contrast between the wealthy and the poor is a vast and mind boggling gulf – just like the rest of the world – if you are rich, life is pretty damned good. It is just the degree is so huge here. Being a marahaja would have been a pretty good gig!

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