Friday, April 27, 2007

Patient readers...
apologies about the lack of posts, as well as the shortness of this one. We have been in very rural Nepal, in Thakurdwara village, near Bardia National Park in the Terai region. It is the far south of Nepal, right near the Indian border, and thus not at all mountainous or cool. It in fact almost oppressively hot here during the day, but for the last 10 days we have been staying in such an amazing place that it fortunately doesn't matter. For the last week we have been volunteer teaching at a local school, the private BBAS Memorial School. Ignore the Western perception of a private school, however, the uniforms are the main similarity...
We are teaching Class IV, V, & VI, most subjects including English, Math, Science, Social Studies, Geography, and whatever else comes up. It is definitely the most challenging job we have had yet. The students do have books, but there are essentially no teaching supplies, except a few marker boards. Pencils are in short supply, and often quite short, and although it is an English-medium school, there are at times a definite language barrier, partciularly with the lower classes. Our first day we tried some lower classes, too, like I & III, but they were pretty challenging. Class I was overwhelming at 30 students, and Class III has a few troublemakers who bring the pace of class down to very slow. But the older kids, which also are in smaller sized classes (16, 8, & 6), understand much more of what we teach. So much to say, so little time to write... internet is only available at one lodge in town here, and only during certain hours, and even then some days it simply doesn't work at all.
We are staying at a lodge called Jungle Base Camp, run by a nice local man named Hukum and his family. This area of Nepal is inhabitated by the traditional Tharu people, animist farmers with their own language and culture. Most of our students are Tharu, and that is the language that they speak at home, although they also speak Nepali (it is the one class at school we can't teach :-). We are right on the border with the national park, many Tharu people even live in the border zone, still a protected area, around the outside of the park. We have gone rafting in the park one day, and on a jungle trek another, though we plan on doing work trekking while we are still here. We plan on at least another week, maybe 2, maybe more...? Who knows, certainly not us - we just have a 60 day visa and want to see some other parts of Nepal, too :-)
We have not yet seen a tiger, though odds are actually good that we will if we go trekking a few more times and have patience to wait by the river for many hours, but we have seen one-horned rhinoceros', wild elephants, boars, 3 types of deer (hog, spotted, & swamp), a crocodile while rafting, plus all sorts of birds, and even a furry mongoose.
The park also has an elephant breeding center, with all sorts of domesticated adult elephants, plus babies of all ages, from 1 month old. The young ones you can play with, they are rather like pet dogs, though much bigger and cuter. They let you rub them all over, and play with their trunks. They will roll around on the ground, and some play rough and try to headbutt us!
Food is relatively unvaried, but all top-notch; Santosh, the cook, is amazing, and makes great dal bhat, chutney, vegetable soups, veg fried rice, and momos. Our favorite is Dhikri, the traditional Tharu food, which is rice-flour rolled us somewhat like breadsticks, but very chewy, served with a spicy chutney sauce and a vegetable curry. We had it tonight in fact, for like the 4th time or so...
Tomorrow is our only day off for our week, so maybe we can write more then, but things are going well, save the internet availability.
We did see the Taj Mahal while in India, overrated and overpriced but amazing, and then headed to Nepal pretty much directly from Agra, though we had some hilarious travel misadventures in and around the city of Lucknow - more later.
No photos until we make it to Pokhara, which is our next planned destination after Thakurdwara/Bardia. We will definitely be staying and teaching for one more week, after that we have not decided. Wait and see!
Many of the schools teachers, and the vice-principal as well, are new like us, so there is not really a schedule or anything, and up until today every class was going teacherless at some point during the day. Definitely an eye-opener in many ways. No electricity to speak of, no fans to keep people cool, no running water in the bathroom (just a pump outside), etc. - although the rampant hunger amongst the children is definitely the biggest problem. Many kids stop listening after a while, or put their heads down, and between the heat and the fact they haven't eaten all day, it's rather hard to blame them, though a bit frustrating to teach them :-)
There are also two government schools, which are Nepali-medium, but they do have English classes, however they have been on summer holiday thus far. We are hoping that they will reopen while we are here, so we can try and help those students (who are much more numerous, and primarily poorer, since they cannot afford the US$5/year private school tuition (plus another US$10/year on uniforms and books), and also in much, much larger classes of 100+ students...
We are trying to help the school out for the longer term as well, though it is a struggle to get the facts on what improvements need to be made, costs related, and practicalities of doing so. Getting "real" is challenging inter-culturally at times :-)
We know money cannot solve the world's problems, but it can possibly make a difference in education, if used properly... for example, a government-school teacher here, for the lower grades, makes 4000 Nepali rupees/year, which is, at 70Rs/$1, around $60 or so. Student lunch sounds to us the best idea right now, since it could have such an impact on the children's ability to learn, but coordinating that, even in the very early stages, is definitely a slow, uphill battle.
So it is hard, but good, work, and is very fun, though challenging and tiring at the same time. School is only 5.5 hours/day, but that long teaching in the heat leaves us pretty exhausted!

Well, much more later, whenever "later" may end up being!
Anderson & Liz

Monday, April 09, 2007

We returned to Pushkar from the surrounding wilds a few hours ago, and after a much-needed shower and some falafel, we are now doing our best to relax and soak up some air conditioning! Our three days of camel riding were pretty amazing, for a variety of reasons. First off, camels (or at least Krishna & Ramajees, those that we rode) are far from the cantankerous, spitting beasts that they are often made out to be. For sure, they took their time occasionally getting down to let us riders off, and sometimes stopped our procession to much on some overhanging leaves, but then, we wouldn't be happy carrying two riders through the desert, either! Our guide, Dharmu, and cook, Bagraj, were both wonderful people, answering all of our inane tourist questions, making us some fabulous food (the ball chapati, round bread cooked in camel-dung coals, were amazing), and all of the villagers that we met (and whose houses we camped at for lunch) treated us with such kindness. The only downside is that we are definitely a bit sore - and Anderson has a severely chapped behind from bouncing on the camels!
Our first day, Saturday, we left at around 10:30 am, the two of us, our two guides, and the two camels, one of which was pulling a cart with all of the necessary equipment (cooking supplies, blankets, etc.). For the first bit Anderson rode on the camel pulling the cart, while Liz rode the second camel, and our guides, as they did for the entire journey, lounged in the cart. It became readily apparent, however, that riding double worked out much better, as we could chat while bouncing along, share water, and yell "hello" and such in unison to the seemingly endless stream of approaching village children. Some (of course) wanted chocolate, rupees, or school pens, but most just wanted to say hi (or "tata" in Rajasthani), ask us our names, or chase our slow-moving procession.
Anyways, after riding for a few hours, we stopped for lunch, which served double duty since we were also escaping the hottest part of the day. Our simple mixed veg and rice lunch hit the spot (which is called starvation), and it was very nice to relax on a blanket, in the shade, in a rural Indian rose garden. Because Pushkar is a holy city (it is home to a sacred lake, as well as one of the world's few Brahma temples, and has banned meat, alcohol, and public displays of affection in order to maintain its sanctimoniousness), a lot of flowers are needed for the devotions to the gods - at the bathing ghats on the lake flowers are placed by pilgrims and worshipers for spiritual renewal. What this means is that the whole town is surrounded by countless rural farms, each growing small amounts of beautiful pink roses, that look fantastic from a camel's back, and the small dirt paths, complete with cart tracks, are often noticeably aromatic. Each farm typically has an assortment of animals as well, usually some combination of goats, water buffaloes, cows, camels, and dogs. For example, this first family farm had 3 goats (one still a baby), an enormous water buffalo, and a dog, though just how much of a "pet" it may have been is certainly up for debate!
After lunch it was back onto the camels, though we from now on both rode one camel behind the cart. We mostly rode Krishna, who is 6 years old, and has (in addition to the standard nose-plug piercing through which the reins are tied) a pierced nose and ears, as well as a nice collection of necklaces, and anklet-bells. So every step he takes is accompanied by bells chiming, which sounds nice in the mostly silent desert (until some children spy us!). Ramajees, by comparison, was practically unadorned, with only a solitary bell around his neck, which he was quite skilled at keeping quiet. Camels walk with a unique swagger, very different from horses, that is more side-to-side as their weight shifts. Once you are comfortably aboard, the shifting quickly becomes soothing and natural, and despite our stiffness now, the rides themselves were comfortable. For our first night we camped in a small clearing near three 200-year-old banyan trees, which were very large, as well as very monkey-filled. We caught the spectacular sunset from a nearby field, and then returned for our delicious dinner, with the aforementioned chapatti balls. Chapatti is usually flat, an Indian tortilla if you will, but the slow-cooking in the camel-dung would burn such a thin piece of dough, so the balls are made instead, and they had a very nice smokey flavor, as close to charbroiled as anything you're going to find in India!
One of Bagraj's friends, and his son, joined us for dinner, and then soon afterwards beds were made, blankets right under the stars... and there were a lot of stars, so far from civilization. The few constellations we know (as in Orion and the Dippers) were easily locatable, and the entire sky, free from light pollution, was filled with the ancient, distant light of the stars. After a day spent riding on a camel, sleep comes much earlier than usual, since we were undoubtedly asleep before 9 pm.
The next morning our guides awoke with the sunrise, and Liz almost did, though Anderson fought valiantly to eke out another hour or so of sleep until it was time for our fruit and chai breakfast. After eating, camp was quickly returned to the camel cart, and our second day of camel-riding began. Numerous groups of excited school-bound children crossed our path, and we quickly learned that empty water bottles are quiet the hot commodity in truly rural India, as numerous times (in addition to chants of "photo") we heard them repeating "bottle." At least that means our used plastic gets some more use, which is one thing that India has mastered, the reusing of items until the fall apart!
After riding through the morning, we stopped for lunch at another friend's house, which this time was filled with children and even a baby camel, so in addition to eating a remarkably similar lunch, we also entertained an enthusiastic audience. Liz brushed hair, Anderson wrestled, and we were treated to some traditional Rajasthani dance by one young hostess. After the heat had (mostly) passed, we rode briefly beyond the village, before stopping at an under-construction temple, that is also home to a very aged (110-120, depending on whom you asked) sadhu, or Hindu holy man, named Muni Baba, though since he doesn't speak English, and we don't speak either Hindi or Rajasthani, the conversation with him personally was a bit limited. Still, though, it was a powerful experience to meet someone so old (in the Hindu tradition it is called "darshan," the physical viewing of a very holy person), and clearly so wise, and the other men sitting around were happy to chat with us, and to explain a bit about the sadhu, the temple, etc. We then rode for a while longer, before settling for the night at another temple, this one dedicated to the god Krishna. While relaxing before dinner, we played with an elderly woman and her grandchild, checked out the temple, and watched a wild male peacock chase a peafowl through the surrounding trees, unsuccessfully by our estimations!
Dinner, though tasty, was overshadowed by the dramatic lightning that we started seeing over the nearby hilltops, and as we settled down to sleep, the wind picked up, and we started to feel the occasional drop of rain. Twice now, then, we have camped in a desert (previously in Egypt), and had it rain during the night! The drops were infrequent, so it was the dust and leaves being blown in our faces that was more problematic, but nonetheless it was pretty crazy to see rain in Rajasthan in April, since the monsoon season is still months away. It did take us a while to fall asleep, as our blankets kept blowing around, and leaves kept appearing beneath us, but by the time we awoke hours later, the storm has subsided, though the "camel men" had, in true manly fashion, retreated to the temple for shelter!
Our final day was a little shorter on actual riding, but since Anderson's butt was more than rubbed raw (as in practically bloody), he in particular did not mind too much at all! We had lunch at Dharmu's family's house, which is also home to his cousin, Kalu, who owns the camels and runs the safari company, so we chatted with him a bit, but mostly chilled out in the shade, watching their farm animals and petting their friendly dog, before enjoying Dharmu's aunt's cooking for lunch, which was simple (chapatti balls and dal - lentils) but delicious and filling. We then embarked for Pushkar, after listening to some Neil Young, and around an hour later were dropped off at our hotel by camel. Our safari definitely exceeded our expectations, as we enjoyed the slow pace through the beautiful countryside, and the honest kindness of India's villages is very refreshing to the hustle of the tourist areas we are all too often in. The difference from Pushkar itself, and life a mere one km away, is very great indeed, and thus this Gandhi quote seems quite appropriate: "India is not to be found in its few cities but in the 700,000 villages."
Now we are uploading the many photos taken during our safari, though soon enough we will be delighting in the simple pleasure of a comfortable bed!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Rajasthan Pt. III:
Picking up where we left you hanging, which means us awaking in Udaipur and catching a bus to Mt. Abu, which took around 5-6 hours, meaning we arrived in the mountains just before dark. After signing up for a next-day tour of the town (through the state government), we then wandered through the streets for a bit until we found our hotel, one guide-listed but that offered daily nature hikes through the surrounding wilderness. We had a tasty Gujarati thali for dinner, with heaps of vegetables that were nicely spiced (getting genuinely "spicy" food can sometimes be difficult, since Indians don't seem to believe that we want things hot), and then crash-landed back at our hotel, since our tour was all-day and started around 9 am (which is early for us). As it happened there was only one other foreign tourist couple (on a bus packed with Indian tourists), who were also from America, so that made all the endless (and unnecessary in our minds) Hindu temple visits, plus a few stops at gardens and such run by an international new-age sect (cult) based in Mt. Abu, a bit more enjoyable, though fortunately there were a couple genuine highlights as well.
The four of us got dressed up in traditional Rajasthani outfits for an impromptu photo shoot at the top of Rajasthan's highest peak (of course they had costumes ready for all the Indian tourists that come through - which was great, because we got to pay their price of 10 Rs. instead of the Western tourist price of 100 Rs.), which was all-the-more hilarious because of the Indians all wanting to pose with us (in their street clothes) for the typical camera-phone photos and such. We also saw the amazing Jain temple complex, just as spectacular as the one at Ranakpur, though here a pair of temples dripped with intricate carvings, and the entryway to one was filled with a procession of elephant statues. No cameras were allowed in, so the few shots we snuck hardly do it justice, but the Jains definitely employed the finest artisans possibly available, since the attention to detail (ceilings, columns, archways, etc.) is omnipresent and overwhelming. Fortunately that was the last real stop, so were able to bail out of the bus in the main marketplace, skipping (another) lookout point. The next morning we took a 4-hour nature hike, that obviously stretched into the afternoon, and although we really didn't see any animals, we did spot some bear poo, climb up some steep hills for some spectacular views of the town, and at one point Anderson climbed through a 60-foot cave, avoiding a bat halfway through, to come out on the other side of a ridge. It was a bit claustrophobic at times, but the hardest part was just the slow task of inching one's body through the rather small exit way at the end of the cave!
We spent most of the rest of the day hanging out with our cohorts from America (we met another guy coincidentally from Oregon on the nature hike), and then that night watched a bit of "Dhoom 2" on VCD, before the constant skipping prematurely ended our viewing. How Indian!
From Mt. Abu then we journeyed to Jaisalmer, which meant we had to arise in the dark in order to catch the once-daily bus, which left Abu road at 7:30 am. However, that meant we had to take the 6 am bus down the mountain, which was a great stomach-churning way to start the day! Eleven hot, brutal, and stop-filled hours later, we finally arrived in Jaisalmer, more worn out than we could have possibly anticipated. Riding a bus all day through Rajasthan, even in March (before summer truly arrives), was oppressive at best, with things being quite cramped at times, and of course with all the usual staring we were definitely the featured "program on TV" (what we say when all the too-bored Indians simply stare at us, in silence, for hours). That's pretty normal by now, since cultural and social norms here are so drastically different than our own...
Jaisalmer is a fort-town, on the far western-edge of Rajasthan, closer to the Pakistani border than to any other city within India. It is desolate in a relaxing sort of way, once you ignore the heat and smelly streets, but much of India is blessed with things like that this time of year! The fort was quite impressive, towering over the town like a golden beacon, due to the yellow-gold sandstone used in its construction. The fort walls themselves are unfortunately literally falling apart, due to pressure on the ancient sanitation system, which is so severe now that Jaisalmer is one of the 100-most-endangered ancient cultural sites in the world. The big shame is that most of the inhabitants don't seem to be aware, or even to care, since the inner-fort area is still certainly lived-in, and filled with the usual variety of restaurants, hotels, lodges, handicraft shops, etc. We did what we could, staying outside the fort, and not buying anything while we were site seeing within it, but it's rather depressing that things are only going to continue to get worse, despite the conservation efforts, both local and international.
The highlight of the fort, however, was the audio-tour-enabled palace, which featured a variety of impressive mahals, as well as many still-intact impenetrable defences. Equally impressive, if not more so, was the complex of 8 Jain temples near the palace (and therefore within the fort walls). Many of the temples were actually interconnected, so there were numerous stairways and pathways connecting them together, and since they were also built out of the same golden sandstone, they also had an amazing glow to them, made even more impressive by the fine carvings and designs. These were also the only Jain temples (vs. Ranakpur & Mt. Abu) that allowed photography, so were able to make up for those previous photographic injustices just fine! These temples were also active, which was pretty interesting, so there were Jain priests (complete with face masks to avoid inhaling any bugs) engaged in their daily prayers and rituals while we were wandering about. One temple in particular was filled with bats, at least 100 or so were living in the back sections, taking their mid-day snooze hanging from the ornate ceilings! Jaisalmer also had some nice shopping, particularly for traditional Rajasthani goods, such as mirror-worked blankets and wall-hangings, so we did spend much of one afternoon engaged in some enjoyable (and beneficial to our wallet) haggling. The price of virtually everything in India is up for discussion, even where it says "fixed price," which does take a while to get used to, but particularly when you are buying any type of quantity, it is very foolish to not negotiate the price, since for Western tourists the true retail price (Indian price) is often doubled or tripled.
After just a few days in Jaisalmer we departed to Jodhpur, postponing our planned camel safari because the heat was simply too intense, not just for we humans but also for the camels, so that from Jaisalmer 1-day tours were pretty much all that were available.
Jodhpur is also known for its fort, called Mehrangarh, which like Jaisalmer's overlooks the rest of the town and surrounding hills. However, we postponed that until our final day, first spending some much-needed time at the internet, uploading around 1000 photos, thankfully on the fastest internet connection we have found yet, a true DSL connection, so that our uploading time was cut down to only 1/3 of what it usually takes. We also wandered through the local zoo and gardens, and ran unexpectedly right into a crazy street festival and parade. The roads were blocked off for it, and tractors pulled "floats" full of people and blasting music from speakers, plus there were Indian marching bands (Indian because they lacked organization and were rather chaotic...), food vendors, camels and horses with riders, and of course spectators lined the packed streets, making the parade's speed not much more than a crawl. We also managed to lose (or have stolen, we'll never really know) our wallet, after purchasing some ice cream bars it was not to be seen again, but worse things have happened than losing 1500 Rs. ($35) - we were rather ecstatic that it was just the wallet and not our camera or our bag!
The Jodhpur fort was definitely overly-tourist-friendly, in addition to the audio-tour (which was very informative and enjoyable - it made the fort come alive as opposed to just being a mostly abandoned complex) there was also the most Westernized gift shop we have seen since Europe, with ridiculous prices to match (and there they were definitely NOT negotiable). The fort also provided excellent views over the city, much of which is painted, as is traditional by now, a light-blue color, chosen mostly to minimize heat from the sun, but also to repel mosquitoes. The magnitude of the blue isn't apparent at all from just walking the streets, some buildings are painted, but many are not, but once you are high up within the fort, the surrounding hills seem to scream out with the color.
From Jodhpur it was a 4.5 hour bus ride to Ajmer, the nearest major town to Pushkar, but we stayed there for one night in order to see the town's sites, which were pretty impressive. The solitary 12th-century Jain Red Temple was impressive, not-so-much for its carvings, which were only outside and pretty standard, but rather for the elaborate miniature recreation inside of the ancient Jain vision of the world. Basically a giant toy model, with mountains, people, plenty of animals, plus large flying elephants, peacocks, and swans, the fact that they are all made out of solid gold is pretty mind-boggling. The whole display is maybe 30 meters long, and 10 meters across (or so), which is pretty ridiculously large, and it is also 2-stories high, so that all the flying animals hang well above the golden cities beneath them. Ajmer is also home to one of India's holiest Muslim sites, the Dargah, the tomb of one of the most revered Sufi saints. To enter our heads had to covered, but although it is a holy place it also borders on a carnival, with so many people there to pray, celebrate, cry, relax, listen to music, etc. that it definitely has a spiritual-party atmosphere, as contradictory as such a statement might sound, after all, India thrives on its constant diversity. So we got touched by a holy cloth, got hassled by numerous "priests" for money, baksheesh, alms, etc., got an English explanation of the Holy Koran, and also sat and listened to some live music for a while, which consisted of a drummer and a singing harmonium player (instrument somewhat like a keyboard/accordion hybrid). There was also an ancient mosque, of which the outer walls were crumbling away, but the interior was still surprisingly intact, with majestic high walls completely covered in carvings from the Koran. There an all-too-common occurrence happened, where an Indian attempts to befriend us so that they can converse in English with us, which is fine and all, but can be frustrating when we are trying to stick to a time schedule, and frankly after 5 months (almost) in India, we've long ago realized we cannot chat with everyone, take tea with everyone, entertain everyone, etc., but it is still a fine line since we are international ambassadors for our country (and the West in general), so we have to avoid coming off as rude or impolite, no matter how ridiculous the situation may be. Plus, the unfortunate bottom line is that at least 90% of the people that approach us, due so solely out of the hopes of getting our rupees, whether through begging, their "uncle's shop," or whatever scam/ploy they may be trying to run on unsuspecting tourists. The truly tiring part is that every last Indian assumes we are ignorant and have no clue about these goings-on, or what the real prices are, so with every rickshaw (just as an example), we have to first hear their ridiculously inflated "tourist price," before we can get them down to something reasonable. With rickshaws, it SHOULD cost 3.5 - 5 Rs./km... so that most rides within any city should be 20 Rs. But they will sometimes start as high as 100 Rs., and act like that is not insulting to our intelligence. So often we have to chat with 3 or more drivers just to find one who is grounded in reality, before we even start the real haggling (to get their starting offer of 30 Rs. down to the 10-15 Rs. it ought to be). Sometimes such haggling is fun and enjoyable, but other times it is pointlessly redundant, but that's just all part of "the game" here. And the price we as Westerners pay to travel India, live for $10/day/person, etc. So it all evens out, just India taxes you in ways we would have never expected.
Even religion is not exempted, and is actually one of the main forms of tourist tip-offs, as even just yesterday near the Gandhi Ghat (here in Pushkar), where Gandhi's ashes were placed in the holy water here, a "helpful" man who wouldn't stop following us around, trying to show us what to do (as though walking down to a bathing ghat is somehow difficult of beyond our comprehension), tried to get baksheesh "for Krishna" out of us, to the tune of $10 U.S. Or "as you like," but when we liked nothing (since he hadn't done anything, really, and certainly nothing we had asked for!), he told us to "get of here," as though it were his ghat or something! Pretty ridiculous really, but every day in India (honestly, and at least once a day, if not numerous times), something that we would describe as "ridiculous" like that occurs. At least the flowers that we were placing in the lake, from the Brahma Temple, were genuinely on donation only!
Back to Ajmer, after our site seeing we then caught a bus to Pushkar, which was only about a 20 minute ride, just 11 km around/through a mountain, and after a bit of wandering the dark streets of Pushkar, and looking at a few hotels, we settled at Hotel Narayan, which was recommended to us by our Israeli friends Mohran & Liat. Because there are so many Israeli travelers in India, there is an extensive word-of-mouth network of chill lodges/hotels etc., and because Israeli's are notoriously good bargainers (matching, or at least almost matching, the Indians at their game), prices are usually cheaper, so whenever we see signs in Hebrew we know that is usually a good thing! It is really quite impressive just how many Israeli's there are traveling, most around our age, or younger, having recently served their mandatory military service and looking for a relaxing escape afterwards. We've heard estimates that as much as 20% of Israel's population is currently traveling the world (at all times), something the United States is embarrassingly far behind in. Maybe you, dear reader, should do your part do rectify the situation!
Anyways, to wrap this up before your eyes fall out, we are now obviously in Pushkar, which is a great place to relax, as well as shop. A holy city, with a holy lake at the city center, Pushkar is also very tourist friendly, with a large bazaar, and many affordable and tasty places to eat. We have two meals so far at a buffet in town that is quite good, and we also had our best pizza yet in India here (so often a pizza would be good, but they only use plain tomato sauce, so it tastes painfully bland). Anderson finally took some sitar lessons, and although he enjoyed them now is not the time, it has been decided, to buy an instrument, since hauling it around Nepal would prove to be a tortuous task. So perhaps in Varanasi, where we have gotten some recommendations on good teachers...
Our current itinerary, has, of course changed, but for the next 3 days we are going to go on a camel safari in the surrounding desert, starting tomorrow morning at 10 am, returning on the evening of the 3rd day. Every place in Pushkar offers camel safaris, but we got a great recommendation from the Americans we met in Mt. Abu (thanks Joshua & Lark!), whom by sheer coincidence we ran into again here in Pushkar, on their last night (and our first night) here. After that we will probably swing through Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and then quickly head to Nepal, for around a month, to take advantage of the too-short prime season there. Once May hits the monsoon season will be starting, which limits visibility and can block roads and mountain passes, though it is not until June when the worst weather hits. So we'll have at least half of April's pristine weather, and then a few weeks in May when things will still be nice, before we then return to India (renewing our multiple-entry visas at the border). We are not sure how long we'll remain the second time around, the absolute latest is Aug. 27, when our visa expires, but odds are we will not stay quite that long, since the desire to get to Thailand can be quite strong at times!
Hope all is well, and we'll deeply inhale some camel farts for the rest of you!