Nawalgarh, Shekhawati – Camel Humps, Henna And A Hindu Festival

Leaving Jaipur by bus, we travelled north-west to a region within Rajasthan called Shekhawati, and more specifically to a town called Nawalgarh.

The bus took three and a hailf hours, stopping in a few places to let people on and off. At a big place, we checked to make sure the bus was turning off to Nawalgarh, and a lovely lady helped us and told us it was. For the next hour she chatted to us about how she has been working in Mumbai, but is travelling back to her hometown to get married. I didn’t feel it was any of my business to ask whether or not she knew her husband-to-be, though mostly here they have met only three or four times before the big day itself. Interestingly, arranged marriages are much more successful in the long term than love matches seem to be.

On arrival in Nawalgarh we struggled to find a tuktuk. A few drove past us without anyone in them – a complete change from Delhi and Jaipur where you have to fight off tuktuk drivers looking for jobs! Eventually we found one and headed up to out accommodation.

Apani Dhani (means my home in the local dialect) Eco lodge is really lovely, peaceful and a great respite from the past week of cities. You enter through an arch into a courtyard with a circular thatched hut in the middle with chairs for relaxing. Around the courtyard are little huts, made from brick and earth and painted a terracotta type colour with mandalas in the wall. The roofs are thatched with pampas grass, apparently widely used in India for thatching, furniture making and many other things. The huts and central living area are surrounded by bright pink flowering trees (bougainvilleas) which are filled with little birds which are sweet in the day and hellishly noisy at night!!


We only had one complete day there which was one of the best days of this trip yet.

Rising out of our beds early in morning, just after sunrise, we had a light breakfast and waiting for the word. When we were told, we went to the gate for our ride. Our ride on a CAMEL CART!!

My Dad gave my foot a push up on to the cart, which had some cushions on it to make it a bit more comfy, then hopped up himself. There were two men with the camel, one was the camel man and the other a guide and the son of our host at the lodge. He told us that the camel was an eight year old girl and works pulling carts more than working in the fields as tractors are become more common in these rural parts.


We were taken through some villages, across common grazing grounds for caravans of camels travelling down from Afghanistan and on the Silk Road, and down small country lanes. We saw and learnt about the crops growing in the fields, local wildlife, and birds in India. I’m not usually a bird fan, but the birds here are really pretty and colourful so I took some photos of them. We also saw nilgai, the largest type of Asian antelope. We saw the male and female ones separately because the herds don’t mix.


We visited a brick works at the side of a farm and learnt about how the farmer makes bricks and sells them at the market. First, he puts the clay into a mould, the. Leaves them to dry in the sun for a month. Once the bricks are dry he makes a pyramid with four bricks and puts cold and wood underneath. He then makes a very thin layer of coal and sticks on top and puts more bricks, and so on until he has a dome about four metres high, leaving some small holes to light the fire in. The fire burns between each layer of bricks and gets very hot, creating a kiln like effect. The fire burns for 15 days to which the bricks are then cold, hard and strong. He sells them for 4 rupees each at the market – about 4p.

We also visited a farm for tea. We sat in the shade of a tree on a charpoy (string bed) drinking chai while the camel was tied up to the same tree and chewed the cud. The farm was owned by the camel guy’s uncle. After our chai we had a tour of the farm, seeing the food which they grow for the animals and the fuel which they make with cow dung and food waste and dry in the sun before storing it for burning suing the monsoon. There was a cow in the middle of the yard which was heavily pregnant and seemed to be in the early stages of labour by the heavy breathing sounds it was doing.


And so we made our way back through the lanes of the Nawalgarh countryside towards our lodge. On the way we passed motorbikes, tuktuks, cars and people walking. We passed two ladies in a narrow country lane who were carrying some green plants on their head. As they passed us the camel leant over and took a mouthful out of the ladies green stuff! Cheeky!


After a shower (or more like a jug and bucket) to rid myself of all the camel hair which had stuck itself to my suncream, and a light lunch I got both the palm of both hands hennaed by a lovely lady called Guyatri, the daughter in law of the lender of the lodge. The henna is homemade using the leaves of a henna hedge they have there. First the leaves are picked, then dried in the sun, then ground up and crushed into a paste with water.I had to wait for an hour for it to dry before I could scrape it off with a knife.


In the afternoon we were met by a hugely enthusiastic young guy called Dinesh who boasted the he was from one of the highest castes in India and that he was very clever and educated. Actually he was pretty funny and charming, just a bit over confident. He took us on a tour of the havelis in Nawalgarh town.

A haveli is a painted building, and there are many in Shekhawati region. The houses are usually owned, or had been owned by rich businessman working in textiles and other areas. The paintings depict vehicles, Hindu gods and people and are around two hundred years old. One building had 555 frescoes. The paintings are done using natural colours as paint: indigo for blue, turmeric for yellow and others. These materials aren’t as readily available as they used to be, meaning that the havelis can’t be restored to their former beauty.


The lady who did my henna had been late back from town because she’d been at a festival. It turned out the festival was Gungour, a festival celebrated in Rajasthan. It’s one of the most important festivals of people in Rajasthan. It celebrates the union between Lord Shiva and the goddess Parvati, which gives young girls and boys the chance to interact with each other. Newly married woman fast for the whole eighteen days of the festival and even unmarried women will only eat one meal a day in the hope of finding a good husband. We came across the final day of the festival in the middle of town during our Haveli walk. Dad and I climbed up some stairs onto a rooftop of a shop which looked right out across the whole thing. There was noon else up there but occasionally someone would look up and wave and smile. Everyone was very happy. Lots of music came from a man with a dinky little keyboard attached and another with some drums hooked up to a speaker system. Ladies and young girls were flooding toward one point in this square where there were two large dolls, one of Shiva and one of Parvati. There were so many beautiful colours and patterns of saris. I could’ve stayed there all day watching but eventually after quite a long time, the music got repetitive, and we couldn’t really see what was going on around the dolls, except that ladies and young girls were going up in turn to them. I think they were giving necklaces of flowers as an offering.


Elsewhere on our tour of the havelis we saw some huge water wells which were over 100 meters deep but completely dried up now. Water wells in Rajasthan (and maybe elsewhere in India, I don’t know) have four minarets around them so that they are obvious for people looking for water. We saw a Krishna temple and some more painted houses, a MASSIVE red and yellow wasp which will give you a fever if it stings you, and some cows fighting in the yard of the temple – a street dog got quite excited and bounced over but realised it was way out of its depth so bounced off again in the opposite direction.

Shekhawati region has so far been the most relaxing place we’ve visited, and better yet? We saw no other tourists!


Connection issues

Dear family, friends and other readers of Adventures of Ruth,

I’m struggling to find good enough wifi signal to post detailed accounts of my travels. 

I AM writing them offline so will share (with photos of Internet allows) as and when I have a long lasting connection.

India is incredible, I struggle to find words to describe how wrong I was with all my preceptions, such a fantastic country.

I’m safe, well, struggling with the heat slightly, but otherwise having a fantastic time. 

Here is the view from my room to keep you going for now.



The Buildings, Patterns, People and Animals of Jaipur

After my first Indian train journey (will write a whole separate post about train journeys), we arrived in Jaipur an hour later than scheduled, but our hotel man was still waiting for us, under the Ghandi statue as promised. He took us to our hotel, which in first impressions didn’t look so nice, but once upstairs and on our floor it looked really pretty, slightly Arabic (?) styled arches along a corridor, open on one side, with chairs for relaxing/eating in, and our room at the end. We didn’t do anything after we arrived, just relaxed and read on the seats outside our room.

20150321-161117-58277739.jpg The following morning after my first decent shower since arriving in India, we headed into the Old City. Jaipur’s nickname is The Pink City because in 1876 Maharaja Ram Singh ordered the whole city to be painted pink (traditionally the colour of hospitality) to welcome the Prince of Wales. Now, it is the law that all residents of the old city paint their property pink (personally I would call it coral)!

20150321-161337-58417957.jpg Our guide book showed a walking tour, so we decided that it would be a good way to get to know the city. We walked through a huge gate into the city and followed a road up, which was said to be a bazaar. Unfortunately none of the shops were open, except for some stunning shoes, which didn’t fit my wide feet, and some fabrics. I find it hard to choose when it comes to fabric things, and hate being pressurised by shop keepers, as is the way here. But he laid out a range of wall hangings and there were two which I loved- and went well together to hang on a wall (one day, when I have a wall to call mine!). They gave us a cup of yummy masala chai, which I could get used to. I left the shop feeling very happy with my purchase, two hand made and embroidered wall hangings more than a metre long and about 30cm wide, together cost just over ten pounds. Happy!

20150321-161537-58537428.jpg We followed the tour in the book, occasionally going off track down alleyways to look into real life India, not just what is laid on for tourists.

20150321-163908-59948173.jpg The first place where we stopped was a very interesting building called Hawa Mahal. Hawa means ‘wind’ and mahal means ‘palace’ – it’s called this because the building has no foundations (if I understood our guide correctly). Hawa Mahal was a built in 1799 by a maharaja so that ladies of the royal household could watch the goings on outside the palace and processions in the city, without people seeing them watching. There are many beautiful windows and screens in this building. The top floor was for queens, then the floors go down according to how important the ladies were to the maharaja, making the first floor for concubines.

20150321-164637-60397930.jpg From Hawa Mahal we walked toward Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar (see post Delhi- My First Taste of India for description and explanation). On the way we found a stall making samosas and lentil pakora so we grabbed some of those for lunch on the road. This Jantar Mantar is much better preserved that Delhi’s and restoration has been done well and often. The buildings still work as an observatory to this day. Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar is home to the world’s largest sundial. We took the audio tour this time instead of paying for another guide who didn’t know anything (like in Delhi). The audio tour was actually very informative and showed just how complicated and how much detail and attention actually goes into these incredible devices. Well past my level of intelligence! I pretty much cooked while walking round here – out in the sun in the middle of the day, the temperature was high twenties, pretty hot since I haven’t acclimatised yet!

20150321-164835-60515016.jpg From Jantar Mantar we headed to a minaret which is called Isarlat Minar – the heaven piercing minaret, which is 35 metres high. We struggled to find it between car parks, walls and piles of sheet glass, but the climb to the top of the 260 something steps (which weren’t so much steps and more like dips) was well worth the view.

20150321-165035-60635779.jpg After a long and hot walk though bazaars we eventually found the Indian Coffee a house which marked the end of our walk. We had planned to have lunch there, thinking the walk would only take us a couple of hours, or three at most. However, it was lucky we grabbed those samosas on the road as we didn’t make it to the coffee place until five o’clock by which point I was hot, tired and grumpy.image

We had made an arrangement with the driver who had met us from the train station, so the following morning we met him for a tour of a few places. We headed out to the Amber Fort, which is over 400 years old. It housed the maharaja and his wife until the area got too crowded and they moved out. It is something else. Driving along the road, you go round a bend and there it is, on the cliff top in front of you on the other side of a lake, bright yellow and glowing in the sun. People think it’s called Amber fort because of its colour, but actually it’s pronounced Amer, which means heaven. Our driver, Ash, waited at the bottom while we walked up the steps, admiring the views, goats, and monkeys on the way up. We decided against an audio tour or a guide and just looked around without the overload of information. The heat was incredible here, especially for my pasty white skin, I’m going to struggle when we get to Kolkata and it’s 38 degrees!!




20150321-181143-65503133.jpg We’d originally planned to head from the Amber Fort to Nahargarh, another fort on the mountains over looking Jaipur. After a couple of hours walking round Amber Fort though we were too hot and tired to do anything, so headed back to our hotel via a view point of a beautiful palace in a lake.

20150321-181625-65785832.jpg After a couple hours of rest from the heat we headed up to Nahargarh for the sunset and a drink. It was actually a lot further than I realised. Up, up and up we went. We saw wild peacocks in the dry scrub at the side of the road and a mongoose ran in front of the car too at one point. I hope it was off to fight with a snake! Ash wanted to show us his favourite place and so we stopped at a view point right across the city. It’s a huge city with a population of six million!

20150321-182043-66043163.jpg Once at Nahargarh Ash quickly found us a spot on the top of a wall to watch the sunset over the city, and went off to get us some chairs and some chai. We waited until it was dark then headed back down the road to find a restaurant that he likes to go to.

20150321-182500-66300466.jpg Jaipur was more beautiful than I ever expected. I’ve seen so many beautiful buildings, noticed some amazing patterns and met some really lovely and hospitable people, and animals. It’s the driest place I’ve ever been I think! I’m actually a little sad to be moving on.


Delhi – My First Taste of India

After a slightly delayed take off from London Heathrow (part of the undercarriage of the plane was missing!) the flight wasn’t too bad.
We had some amazing views of the Himalayas from the flight while crossing over Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India, where I managed to snap some photos out of the window but struggling with the transfer of them from my phone to iPad without internet on my phone.

After a short rest on arrival my dad and I went for a walk into the centre of Delhi, a circle from which all roads radiate, called Connaught Place. We wanted a cup of tea and to look around but the heavens opened and so we hid in the entrance of a cinema with about 50 other people, mostly stall tenders. We found tea at a super posh hotel where my dad has gone for tea on previous trips called The Imperial. Apparently it has solid marble baths in the bedrooms – bit out of our budget unfortunately, we’re staying in the YMCA.




On the first full day here we visit Qutb Manar, an extraordinary thin tower made of red sandstone with beautiful details carved into it. It dates back about 900 years. During the British era a solider ordered the Indians TI place a cupola on top in a completely different style, but the Viceroy had it removed. Quite right too, it sits in the corner of the grounds to this day and would look ridiculous on top! Also in the same complex are some tombs and ruins of mosques, all made from red sandstone and marble, and beautifully carved with lotus flowers, lines from the Quran in Arabic and also some Hindi writing. In the square of one of the mosques in the complex there is an iron pillar. It doesn’t look like anything special except for some details at the top, but it is over 2000 years old, long before anything like that had been made.



Once we had found each other, and had a lunch of veggie samosa and sprite, we took a tuk tuk to India gate. India is proving to be very different from South East Asia, in many small, indescribable ways. In the tuktuk, a small girl (maybe six or seven years old) came up to us trying to sell us flowers. I didn’t buy any, but for some reason she licked two fingers and touched my foot, I’m assuming this was a respectful thing, though I found it kind of strange. Nothing like that’s happened to me before.

India Gate is a huge red sandstone arch build as a memorial for people who died during the First World War. It’s on a road called Rajpath, which simply means King’s Road. It was built in a huge park with many lovely flowers and fountains at one end of Rajpath, and at the other end there are some incredible red sandstone government buildings, all built during the British era. These beautiful buildings were finished in 1941, just six years before the British rule ended. There was a lovely atmosphere there, lots of families taking a walk in the afternoon sun, guys climbing on the fountain, kids running around playing and people selling things. As with any developing country we got pestered something rotten to buy things from sunglasses to roasted chickpeas and personalised bracelets to having our photo taken. It happens quite a lot here, but no more than in Vietnam. I think the people here are slightly more respectful here in that way. No, they have no idea about personal space, but they won’t stick a camera in your face while eating your lunch, they will always ask for a photo, which can still be annoying but is much nicer than looking up with food in your face to find a camera pointing in your direction!!


On the way back to the YMCA (still can’t say it without singing it) the tuktuk driver said he couldn’t go any further because there were protests happening on the road we needed to go up. He dropped us there so we tried to walk up it but it seemed quite an angry protest (something to do with farmers… Not sure what exactly) with lots of police and TV vans, so we went back to the roundabout where we were dropped to walk up a parallel road, which also had police blocks and riot vans, PLUS a loony man who was dancing around and started shouting at us when he saw us. About turn and up the next road we arrived at the YMCA.

In the evening we headed out for dinner and a walk round the centre circle of Connaught Place. We found a place from the guide book to eat called Kwality – an Indian restaurant that’s been open since 1940. My Dad has been to a similar one in Kolkata, which we assumed was another branch, but it’s actually a close relation, not the same company – whatever that means! I ate a really hot mutton curry, which was described as mild and yogurty in the menu, but was anything but that. It was just a little bit too hot to enjoy it so I didn’t really eat much. For dessert I had something which had the word ‘mango’ in it, so I automatically assumed it would be delicious. Kolfi mango Parsi it was called! Well, I couldn’t really taste the mango. It tasted like some weird Scandinavian cheese I once tried/ evaporated milk, and was brown and came in a slice looking a bit like an old bit of pineapple. We had a short walk after dinner, but I was pretty tired, so we headed back shortly after for another early night.

On our final day in Delhi we went to the Red Fort. We couldn’t have gone the day before, because it’s closed on a Monday. We took a tuktuk up to the northern part of Delhi where the Red Fort is. It’s huge. The Red Fort is an 18m high wall containing around 110 acres of land. It was built by Sha Jahan in the 1600s, and has housed his son, emperors and armies since then. The barracks inside the fort where inhabited by the Indian army until 2003. The is a market inside the main gate (Lahori Gate, because it faces Lahore) called Chatta Chowk where people sold food and things that the palaces and other inhabitants would need if the fort was under attack. They also grew some crops inside the walls. The emperor had his own entrance to the fort from the river, by boat. the river is now diverted to a few kilometres away, presumably because Delhi takes up so much room, that a river is just something that gets in the way! The river was just one side of the octagon that is the Red Fort, the other 7 sides were made out of red sandstone and stood behind a moat filled with crocodiles and alligators!!


Inside the walls are some beautiful gardens, with monsoon houses, for the emperor and family to enjoy the gardens even during the rainy seasons. One monsoon house for July, and one for August, because the rain comes in different directions each month. The rain collected in the roofs of these houses and poured down into a gulley in the middle, which then ran over the edge filled with plants, into a long pool running between the two houses, creating a waterfall effect.

Other buildings included a harem, barracks, a courthouse, meeting houses and a bathhouse which had furnaces rooms underneath to heat the copper pipes. The copper pipes went directly underneath the marble baths in these solid marble buildings heating the water. There were also piping hot baths, saunas, cold baths and fragranced baths. I’d like something like this in my garden too!

We walked down the main street called Chandni Chowk leading directly down from the fort to find lunch. There were several places recommended in the guide book but we don’t know if the one we found was one of them or not. We found it by spotting lots of frying pans being used to cook poori and different breads in at the entrance to a small street cafe. We had a delicious but spicy thali, THREE chapattis and a dessert called gulab jamun, which is like a maple syrup sponge pudding, but made from semolina – very nice!! I’ll be looking out for it in the future.

In the afternoon we walked from the YMCA along to this curious place called Jantar Mantar which is this strange, strange selection of bizarrely shaped buildings, built around 300 years ago by Jai Singh II to observe and calculate astronomical events. We paid a guide to show us round, though he couldn’t really answer our questions. He could tell us what the buildings were FOR (such as a giant international sundial) but he couldn’t tell us how they were used (such as the main building which was supposedly used to calculate eclipses). The guide seemed in a hurry to tell us everything and then leave, pretty keen to get the next customer I guess. We wondered around taking in the relaxed atmosphere (in the grounds- the park next door was a camp for people protesting!) taking photos before heading further into town for a coffee.


On the way into the centre we were told by two separate, very chatty men about a place where we should shop, a government shopping mall where we can get handicrafts cheaply and duty free – no hassling and they could get us a tuktuk straight away if we wanted. This happened at least twice more during our time in town that afternoon! They must have all been on a scavenger hunt for tourists. We also had two or three people telling us about the government tourist office that we should de finally go to and not to be scammed by other people – like them then?!

We walked full circle of Connaught place, buying a few tiny little bits and bobs, like some local soaps then went to look for dinner.


Dosas were our food of choice. For those of you who haven’t had the delight of eating them they are thin savoury crepes from southern India and soooo good. We found a place with the name Hotel Saravana Bhavan, so assumed it was a hotel. It wasn’t. It was a little downstairs canteeny type place. I had a masala dosa, so a dosa stuffed with potato and spices, with different sauces to dip it into. Really, REALLY good! I had gulab jamun for pudding again, but they had out some sort of herb or spice in it and put me off. That was a short lived addiction!


Only a few days in Delhi, and my first few in India! I’ve been massively surprised at how welcoming and kind the Indians are. I don’t feel in danger though still keeping my things safe and next to me at all times. So many people told me stories about how dangerous it would be that I had got to the point of not really being excited. They were all wrong!!

Enough Home For Now

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my visit home was a flying visit to see family and friends around the UK. Some I’ve managed to have a good catch up with, though some not as much as I’d have liked. 

Since moving to Vietnam in August, my Dad has moved away from Edinburgh and into the hills a couple of hours north. It’s beautiful up here it really is, though not so easy to walk up the road to meet a friend for coffee or get things in town. Everything needs to be pre- planned and I have to get a bus into the city this time, rather than the old ten minute walk up the hill!

I’m currently sitting in my plane on Edinburgh’s runway! I’m flying to Heathrow and then Delhi overnight. 

Updates to follow x

A Nightmarish Journey

After my final night in my surprisingly comfy bed, I woke up with only a slight hangover!!

My colleague and friend had decided to buy my bike from me for her son, so I cycled it over to the other side of town fairly early in the morning and had a breakfast of eel noodle soup with them before taking the bike to their house.

I’d never been to her house before, it was small and humble but well presented and clean. Her son was excited to show me the collection of English books I had passed to his mum to give to him. He had made me a thank-you card and apparently had been telling all of his friends at school that he has 7 english books. How sweet.

His mum took me back to school and we said our goodbyes.

When I got back to my room I checked my phone. Whilst on the back of the bike heading back to school my phone I’d missed a couple of calls. Neither of the numbers I recognised so didn’t call them back. I also had a couple of texts, one from Vietnam Airlines, but the whole thing was in Vietnamese so I had no idea, though it had some times in the message, so I put it into Google Translate to see what was what.

Google Translate is inaccurate at the best of times. This text wasn’t even in proper Vietnamese, more like text language, so Google couldn’t help really, except translated one word: apologise. Continue reading

My Last Week in Vietnam

So much has happened since the last time I wrote anything… let me tell you about the end of my time in Vinh.

During the week before I’d had a lovely evening at the cinema with the boarding students, where I was treated to a ticket and my popcorn by the secondary teachers.IMG_5816

My final week in Vietnam flew by so fast I barely had time to notice or enjoy it. I had lots to do, seeing people before I left, marking, a few reports, sorting things out I wanted to take/ leave there and pack.

I went for coffee on the monday with my friend Phoebe. We decided to go to Ho Chi Minh Square to people watch and get some coffee, though it was drizzling. The bike-parking attendant reminded us that there was some kind of fair on in the park, so we headed along there to have a look.

It was the spring fair, and was busy, brash and noisy – like many things in Vietnam. There seemed to be a select number of different types of stalls, with numerous stalls of each type. At the back of the fair they had some game stalls where you had to throw darts at balloons and pop them. I’m not sure how many you had to pop, but we had a quick look and moved on. Some stalls were selling these odd shower heads which had beads inside them, neither of us could figure out what they did, maybe filtered the water, who knows. Most stalls were selling cheap kitchen wear or clothes. Neither of which I wanted! I bought some big swirly lollipops for the boarding students, and we got a rice pancake stuffed with sugar cane, sesame seeds and coconut on the way out (bo bia) – that was really good! We found somewhere for coffee away from the noisy fair and sat and chatted for a while before she took me back to school.

My evening class that night was taken by another teacher as it was a test and that’s another new thing, that test lessons are taken by a different teacher. I didn’t know that the Friday lesson was cancelled due to the Nghe An Province’s meeting for the Lunar New Year (or something along those lines), so my last class with those MENTAL children had been and gone and I hadn’t even realised.

The first Monday of each month the school hold a birthday party for everyone whose birthday was that month. There were some games and cake and general embarrassment at having to stand at the front of the hall while being sung to in Vietnamese.

The remainder of the week was rounding off things with classes and taking photos. Oh, and the packing. Even a seasoned traveller like me STILL HATES PACKING!

One of the boarding students had their birthday on the Wednesday and I went along to their party in O’Nest (the school’s after school cafe). It was good fun and they were playing different games (all in Vietnamese) until a couple of us English speakers chimed in and changed the games to English. There was also a cake fight!!!

The English Maths teacher was there, who I had originally found pretty annoying but, as time went on he seemed more relaxed and easier to talk to. He found out the school weren’t giving him a contract so that ended up being his second last night in the school. He wasn’t there for our leaving lunch on the Friday, he’d already flown out to Laos to come back in on a tourist visa. Continue reading