Jewel In The Desert

Author: Jarik

As our train traversed through kilometre after kilometre of dry scrubland, moving deeper into the north-western corner of India, I started to have second thoughts about our visit to the far-flung city of Jaisalmer. The landscape did not seem to be able to sustain any more than a meagre nomadic existence. Can anything here be worth the twelve and a half hour excursion into the Thar dessert?

Jaisalmer, however, turned out to be a splendid destination, steeped in a thousand years of colourful history, with remnants of wealth and splendour from its time as a prominent hub in the Silk Road. Surprises await the curious everywhere. The bright yellow sandstone fortress towers above the scorched plain with tiers of high, curved buttresses, sentinels and beautifully decorated entry gates. Inside, small winding alleys lead to exquisite structures adorned with the most intricate sandstone sculpting. Historic multi-level private homes or “havellis”, with elaborate balconies and terraces display the past fortunes from the opium trade. Masters of their medium, the skill and patience of stone artists, captured in the detailed symmetrical designs that give shape to the numerous temples in the city, bears testimony to their devotion.



Unlike the fortified cities in Europe, the stone paved roads are not shiny from the footfall of millions of tourists in designer footwear. They are worn smooth by generations of barefoot children and the hooves of cattle and goats that are still lead out of the city every morning.

After the heat of the day, the city explodes into even more life. The streets burst with activity – little general stores, tailors, electrical goods, shoe stands, barbers, blacksmiths, food stalls, furniture – all vying for business. The walls of the city, now gold in the glow of dusk, reflect the activity that it presides over. Jaisalmer was much more than we expected.


Our hotel was located five minutes’ walk outside one of the gates in a newer section of the city. It was a delightful place, just off the main road and surrounded by homes of families where the children enjoyed playing street cricket. Even in this location, and all throughout the newer parts of the city, the buildings boast fantastic sandstone facades following the historical designs. This coherently ties the new to the old. We were also drawn into the excitement of the young entrepreneur who runs the hotel and who is in the process of opening a second. The new hotel will be more elaborate, with a rooftop restaurant and amazing sunset views over the city.

The fact that the only way to reach Jaisalmer is by arduous bus or train journey, makes it delightfully less frequented by foreign tourists. (An airport was scheduled to open in 2011, but has still not been commissioned). We, however, went past a brand new Marriott hotel set within a sprawling green lawn about two kilometres outside the city. Hurry, the designer footwear is fast approaching!

– Jarik –


Indian Street Cricket

Author: Kali

A single cricket ball can draw a crowd in India. All it takes is for us four children to start throwing the ball. At first it will be only the little children who come to join in, then the older ones. Sometimes, even older men will play with us. The parents will then come to speak to Mum and Dad. It doesn’t feel like we are just tourists, but friends.

One of our fondest cricket adventures, was playing with the tuk-tuk drivers in Jaipur. The game started simply with us four tossing the ball in the street in front of our hotel. Ten metres from where we were playing about 15 tuk-tuk drivers were resting under a tree, waiting for business and watching us with longing smiles.

It took only one man, who could not resist the urge to come towards us and cup his hands for the ball, to encourage the rest to forget about their afternoon nap. Initially, we only played catch, showing off all sorts of tricks. Later a rough wooden plank became our bat, we formed teams and really got playing.

It was heaps of fun and we played for the entire day in the middle of the road, between the cows, dogs, tuk-tuks, people, cars, busses and scooters. Play is constantly interrupted by passing people or vehicles. The result is that it is a very fast game, with everyone making the most of every opportunity. Players come and go. Some even come very suddenly! A number of times, some of the scooter drivers, waiting in the traffic at the intersection, would reach out to “field” and toss the ball back before speeding off.

We were referred to as ‘The Aussies’. I chuckled as the one man asked me why the people always shout ‘Aussie! Aussie!’ at cricket matches. How do you answer that? No matter what I told him, and even though he nodded as if he understood, I could see very clearly, as he walked away, that he was still puzzled.

The “international” game became so important, that a few cars would patiently wait for the over to be completed before honking and slowly moving though the game. I’m sure the Jaipur tuk-tuk drivers will never forget how they played street cricket against the Aussies. We definitely won’t forget.

Until next time,


Royal Gaitor

Author: Ruzow

Out in the Indian heat, we stood in the city centre of Jaipur, bargaining for a tuk-tuk to take us to the Royal Gaitor. Ten minutes later we had persuaded one of the drivers to take us for our price. He bounced us along, but according to the GPS on Mum’s phone, we were going in the wrong direction. We were beginning to become very suspicious. Fifteen minutes later the driver stopped in front of the wrong place, according to us. It seemed like he had even called ahead to arrange for one of his friends to tell us it was the right place. After about ten minutes of arguing, he finally conceded and said he would take us to where we wanted to go in the first place. However, to our great annoyance, when we arrived he told us we had to pay extra even though he was the one who tried to con us! Anyway, we were finally at our planned destination.

The Royal Gaitor is an old cemetery and as the name suggests, all the mausoleums of Jaipur’s royal and noble citizens were built here. Its architecture and craftsmanship is magnificent, full of detail and intricate designs. We explored all the balconies and terraces. I couldn’t even begin to imagine all the time, money and effort it must have taken to build such awe-inspiring structures.

– Ruzow –

The Pink City – Jaipur

Author: Jarik

The first impressions of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is very good: a modern airport; an orderly taxi rank; a broad, tree lined main avenue; hanging flower baskets on the street lights; vehicles all moving in the right direction; white marble temples; glass clad business towers. That is where it ends. The rest of the Pink City is a great chaotic mosaic of grand palaces, colourful temples, recklessly driven vehicles, shops with wares spilling over into the streets, food carts, rubbish heaps, putrid sewers, monkeys, lazy cows, fresh cow patties, flower decorated shrines, ancient trees and people. This is India as one imagines it.

We were fortunate to arrive in the city on a hot Friday afternoon, just as the city started to come to life for the evening. After checking in at our very basic hotel, we venture to one of the large and lively market streets. Our senses overload. We stare into every little incense filled shop, stocked with everything imaginable. We eat deep fried potato pastries from one of the food carts, much to the amusement of some of the locals. At the flower market, we are decorated with colourful bloom necklaces. The family is a selfie magnet and we stop every few meters for “one photo”. Shop owners start to pull down their shutters by the time we finally meander our way back through the dark alleys. A wondrous evening.

The next morning we learn that we cannot enter the historical Pink City. Jaipur has been placed under army curfew over night. There was a clash between the police and the residents of the neighbourhood we explored the previous evening. A couple of vehicles and the police station were set on fire, gunshots fired and numerous people injured. There are roadblocks everywhere, hampering our plans to visit the historical royal palaces. After spending the morning admiring the architecture of the large Amer (amber) Fort complex that is situated on a hill a few kilometres outside the main city, the boys and I go for a haircut. The cheapest one yet at INR 150 each (A$3) – unfortunately it shows.DSC00802

That evening we discover that the roof-top restaurant above our hotel has the best vegetarian Indian cuisine we have ever had. Truly exceptional. The owner (also head chef) guides us through the menu and we eat there twice more, expanding our palate with new and delicious flavours and textures.

Three days after our arrival, we leave Jaipur at 00:05 by train following another white knuckle tuk-tuk ride to get to the station. Our world has expanded yet again.

– Jarik –


Three Poems from India

Author: Eulain

Henna hands

DSC00615 (2)Sit down in a chair,
make your price fair.
As the brown paste touch,
it doesn’t feel like much.
A beautiful curl,
followed by a whirl.
It fills my heart,
such beautiful art.
A design so very grand,
this is my henna hand.


Tuk tuk riding

Find a tuk-tuk and negotiate,
Indian roads are something I hate.
Bam, boom, ouch! I have bruises!
This is not a car that cruises.
Surely it’s not worth the rate.

My Andean Cross

My beautiful necklace pretty and blue,
it all started in Cusco, Peru.
Such a treasure was my Andean cross,
this is why it is a terrible loss.
If you only knew how much I miss you.

Andean Cross

(Written after I lost my favourite necklace)

– Eulain –


The Scootering Six

Author: Ruzow

It was eight o’clock in the morning and there were two grey scooters parked on our doorstep. Eagerly we all went out.

Before we could get going on today’s adventure, Mum and Dad, who have never before driven scooters, had to learn how. Dad did a lot better than Mum. Us children were laughing at and mocking her about not going on her scooter. Forty minutes later we were all set to go.

So with three per scooter, we started down the coastal road to Colva, the first village we were going to visit. The road was uneven and full of potholes, if we were not able to swerve around them, we were forced to bounce through. Despite that, we arrived safe and sound in Colva. It is one of the busiest villages along the coast of southern Goa. In Colva we parked our scooters and strolled onto the beach. The bright patterns and designs in a nearby clothes stall caught our attention, so we went inside for a closer look. We were all feeling a little bit hungry and decided it was time for a late morning snack. A few vegetable patties and samousas later, we were on the road again and found ourselves going around the crazy Colva roundabout. (I honestly thought we would not make it alive to the other side!!) There were cars trucks and motorcycles along with all the animals.

We arrived in Benaulim (the village we stayed in two days before) to visit Auntie Peggy on her sixty-sixth birthday. Auntie Peggy invited us inside and we had a drink and a quick chat. We were planning to come back when the kids came home after school, but now it was time to set off again.We bounced through the coastal lanes and streets, driving through Varca, Carmona and Cavelossim. About four kilometres south of Cavelossim, at the end of the road, we sat down on a bench near the mouth of the river Sal. We watched all the fishermen on the opposite bank and all the boats lying at anchor. It was great to rest my backside from the bumping.

It was about 2:30pm when we drove a kilometre north to the Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant. There we had a lovely lunch overlooking the river.


Just south of Cavelossim we bought two one litre water bottles of fuel from an old lady at a stand by the roadside.  We continued on our northward and homeward journey.

Later we were back in Benaulim to celebrate with Auntie Peggy, while all the children were there too. This time we had cake, soft drinks and chips. All of the neighbouring children came to play football with us and we were sad to say goodbye to our friends. Jemene (the mother) sent us home with bags full of delicious homemade curries.


A few bumpy kilometres later, we were back at our villa just outside Betalbatim. We had all survived a fabulous day.

– Ruzow –


Finding Community In Goa, India

Author: Mariza

8 September 2017

Seeing that this is my first word on India, afford me the opportunity to express my excitement, shock and amazement at this crazy, colourful place. It is a place like no other. Its people are many and its infrastructure is insufficient. Most roads are small and cars, trucks, scooters, tuk-tuks, all kinds of animals, pedestrians and buses weave their way from point A to point B with no set order or rules as to how this needs to happen. Honking is non-stop from every moving thing and absolutely essential for survival. Somehow everyone and everything get to where they want to be. The mind boggles. Chaos is a huge understatement.

India contains a vast array of people. Beautiful, interesting people.

The highlight of Goa was the incredible community we found and established while there. Deep, meaningful connections with people who were strangers just a week before. This was exactly what we were hoping for. The very reason we embarked on this adventure with our family.

The apartment we booked was in a total non-touristic area. A street full of families who have lived there for generations and who grew up right there where their grandchildren were now playing. What a privilege to be absorbed into this community. Our kids had a blast playing soccer and all sorts of games in the street. We took all the local kids with us to the beach and talked and talked and talked. Discovering, learning, drinking it in. And back in our street we got to know all the locals who live there. What a joy and a privilege.

Celebrating Aunty Peggy’s 66th birthday was very special. We were treated to cake and home made curries. These people CAN cook!! Yummo!! Every event is celebrated in this bright red family home at the end of Calvaddo Street.

We were very sad to say goodbye to our new friends. They have made their way deep into our hearts. We have, however, exchanged details and promised to keep in touch. How rich are we to have met them?!!

We went for walks and our daily morning runs on the long, sandy beaches. Shells, bright blue starfish and crabs of all colours and sizes are abundant. We swam, even though the beaches are “closed” for Monsoon season. All the beach shacks are closed too. Next month will be a very different story. Tourist season starts in October. I am so glad we’re missing that. We haven’t encountered a single tourist. Local is “lekker” (means nice in Afrikaans).

Fishing nets and boats make a pretty picture on the beaches. Every morning and late afternoon, these boats are manoeuvred into the surf by a sizeable team of men who take in and draw out the big nets. A fascinating process to watch. Hard manual labour, but they always seem happy enough with their catch.

The food has been great. Seeing that Grandpa Gordon’s favourite dish is Goan fish curry, we had it on a few occasions for him. My brand new favourite is a dry vegetable curry with butter roti. Delicious!!! I wake up in the morning craving this.

To say everything has been easy or clean or as expected would be dishonest. We’ve had to make some hard, deliberate choices. And we’ve had to carefully choose our attitudes at times. But it is so, so worth it. Uncomfortable, stretching, exhilarating and totally life changing.

I have a henna hand and a lovely ankle bracelet that jingles when I walk. I LOVE it! And a stunning orange sari. I feel beautifully Indian.


– Mariza –

Our 40 Hour Indian Train Ride

Author: Kali

We observed the hustle and bustle of the station for nearly two hours, waiting to board the train from Agra to Goa. Like everyone around us, we all sat on the dirty, hard, cement platform floor beside our pile of luggage.

We boarded the 37 hour, two-night train, hungry. Although we had scouted out every little stall and vendor in the station for a meal or snack, we could not find anything except Petah.  These sugared pumpkin chunks, a traditional dessert from Agra, would not do for dinner, but we bought some anyway.

The train was packed, and the six of us were split between two compartments, located in two adjacent carriages. We shared a six berth compartment in 3AC (3rd class with air con) with a young couple from Delhi, and the other in 2AC with an older Indian couple. Although we intended to switch places with the young couple so we could all be together, the conductor refused our request firmly because we would have to swap seat class, which was not allowed. So, we spent the entire journey moving between the two carriages. This was a big disappointment.

Although the meals were far from the greatest, we eagerly devoured the chicken and vegetable thalis (curry set) as soon as the train attendant brought them. My chicken thali was very spicy and purged me from my sins right down into my tummy. The last curry we had was quite bland, so I hoped for something that would at least leave a tingle on my tongue. But this was ridiculous! I drained the tiny cup of water in record time. It felt as if there was a fire raging in my throat and mouth.

Even though the beds in 2AC were more comfortable and you could create some privacy by drawing a thick curtain, I still liked 3AC more (there are no curtains in 3AC). I liked to be part of the chaos, the noise and the activity. Someone walking towards the bathroom would say hallo, come sit down, and end up having about a thirty-minute conversation. Children would inquisitively come over to our seats to play or just stare. Although we were the only non-Indians on the train, we felt just like any other local family, traveling.

At one stage, four men from the Indian Army came over to talk. They were on their way home and in good spirit. At first, we were quite nervous, but in the end, it was great fun. We exchanged stories about our travels and about their duties that took them to South Sudan and other places. We also took endless amounts of selfies and group photos! One of the men was wearing a red turban and had a long black beard, or “god’s gift” as he referred to it. He jovially quizzed us about our blonde hair. “God’s gift!” Mom replied pointing to our light hair, drawing laughter from the men and people around us that were listening in on the conversation. During a time when the train slowed down somewhat, two of the men jumped out, rushed into a sugarcane plantation, cut off a few juicy stalks and dashed back, barely in time to grab the moving hand rail of our carriage. We had a sweet time together!

Ever so often, the steady chant of a carriage attendant selling food or drinks would ring through the carriage: ‘Tomato soup! Dip chai!” or “Garam Pani, Chai, Kopi!’. Often, they would ‘rest’ on one of the benches in our compartment. They would sit for about a minute, watching us or say hello.

The activity on the train never stops, even at night. The 3AC carriage echoed with crying, yelling, talking, and so many other noises that it was a nightmare trying to sleep.

At one of the stations, I greeted a group of girls around my age that boarded the train. After they had organised their things, they started scouting around and came to speak to me. They asked me all sorts of questions and told me they want to teach me Hindi. This was obviously just to speak to me and pummel me with another truck load of questions. I tried to use “getting to bed” as an excuse to escape the questions, but even as I was laying on my uncomfortable middle bunk, they passed through our open compartment about 10 times. Each time they would look around, smile shyly and disappear into the next compartment to visit their “friends”. I was very amused by this.

The train arrived 3 hours late in Madgaon station in Goa where our next adventure began. I was exhausted, but looking forward to connecting with some of the local people in Benaulim, our home for the next few days.

Until next time,


Agra’s Youngest Tuk-Tuk Driver

Author: Esto

We strolled out of the hotel to go to the train station. A man walked towards us and asked “Are you ready to go with the tuk-tuk? The price is 120 rupees.” “No, no! That’s too much,” said Mum. Then she said: “The most we are going to pay is 60”. We decided to walk further. Then another tuk-tuk driver came. His price was the same as the first driver.

And then another tuk-tuk stopped next to us. We asked if we can go with him for 60. He said no, but he would take us for 70. Then we put the large bags in the back of the tuk-tuk. It was very hard to fit everything. We had to keep some of the bags on our laps.

Ruzow and I got into the front, Ruzow on the right and me on the left side of the driver. And then, the friendly driver told me to drive the tuk-tuk. He held on to the one side of the handlebar and I took hold of the other side. And then he let go of his side! He told me to take the other side too. I was driving the tuk-tuk!

There were lots of cars, tuk-tuks, horses and people in the road. There were also cows in the road, sometimes standing right in front of us. Then the driver (me) pressed the horn! I drove us all the way to the train station. The man then said “You are a very good driver. Tomorrow morning at six o’clock your new job as a tuk-tuk driver with me begins!”.

I really enjoyed being the driver. I was a little scared, but it was a lot of fun.

– Esto –

Agra and The Taj Mahal

Author: Ruzow

After a few hours on the train from Delhi, we finally arrived in Agra where we were to spend our first night in India. We went out of the station with the rest of the sea of people. Then we made a huge mistake…

Outside the station, we were met by a friendly man offering to take us to our hotel in his taxi. We walked with him to his car and he drove us to our hotel through the crazy streets with every square inch covered with tuk–tuks, cars, motor cycles, bikes, pedestrians, dogs, donkeys and cows. This was an experience in itself. When we arrived at the hotel, our driver (his tourist name is Lucky) offered to take us on a tour of the Taj Mahal and all the other sights of the city. He also explained that it was very dangerous to walk around in the area where our hotel was and that his price was the best we would be able to find. Of course we didn’t know that he was lying to us and that we could get to all the sights by tuk-tuk for next to nothing.

The next morning, we were up early and in the car with Lucky. He drove us around for twenty minutes before we finally arrived at the Taj Mahal. It could however have been only a five minute walk from our hotel as we were later to discover.


The Taj Mahal was amazing!!!!! It is absolutely stunning! The architecture of this beautiful white marble masterpiece is magnificent. It blew my mind to think that it was built in the 1600s. It is completely symmetrical and its beautiful decorations intrigued me. All the semi-precious stones ranging from Jasper to Lapis Lazuli are inlaid in the marble in beautiful patterns and designs. The picturesque lawns and gardens around it are very impressive and the great thing about it, is that it isn’t packed with people. Yes there are tourists, but at least all your photos aren’t full of other people taking photos. I loved it.

After that we went to the Agra Fort, a fortress full of red palaces, gardens, courtyards and beautiful views of the Taj Mahal just a little down the brown river Yamuna. We walked around with Lucky for a few hours exploring the fort and taking photos with just about every Indian that saw us.

Then we went to an amazing lunch at a great Indian restaurant. I couldn’t help wishing that Grandpa Gordon was there too.

After the fort, went on to the Baby Taj Mahal, a building similar to the Taj Mahal  little way up the river. As the name suggests, it is a lot smaller than the magnificent Taj Mahal. But all the same, it is incredibly fascinating. There were almost no tourists here and we strolled in and around the Baby Taj Mahal. It is older and has a different charm to the famous and touristy Taj Mahal.

We were also taken to a few stores where the girls tried on sarees. Of course we were taken to all the tourist traps where the prices were extremely high.

Later, we were back in our hotel getting ready for a good night’s sleep. Jet lag had hit us.

The next morning, we explored the streets where the locals live and we had breakfast from a local food stall on the side of the road. We were stared at by everyone and it was interesting to see the local way of life.



We stopped for lunch at a less touristy restaurant close to our hotel. After a delicious lunch we went back to the hotel to pick up our bags and left for the train station. But this is another story to be told by Esto.

– Ruzow –

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