We Went to India, Part 3: Pushkar

So after we went to Jaipur we got a guy to drive us to Pushkar. Initially we had been planning on taking trains all over Rajasthan but poor preparation meant that we ended up taking only one train. But: because we didn’t take any trains we got to go to Pushkar, which you can’t really get to by train. It is, however, between Jaipur and Jodhpur and it seemed like it would break up that drive nicely. So we went.

Pushkar is a town of 15,000 people, except for the first week of November when there’s the Pushkar Camel Fair and 100,000 people and their camels descend on the town to buy and sell camels. We missed that, which was convenient, though we did see a bunch of tents they were setting up to house the camel fair visitors. Pushkar is near Ajmer, which is a much bigger city. Visiting Ajmer evidently counts as 1/7th of the way to visiting Mecca; I don’t know if it counts if you drive through, but we did spend a lot of time driving around Ajmer while our driver tried to find the way to Pushkar, the normal road having been closed down by the police for reasons that never became clear. I am sure there are nice things about Ajmer, but we mostly saw goats.

Pushkar is a Hindu pilgrimage site; it is most notable because of its temple to Brahma. Brahma had some trouble with his wife in Pushkar and because of this he doesn’t get a lot of temples in India; he does, however, get a large number of shrines in Thailand (notably the Erawan Shrine). But Pushkar is full of temples; it also gets a lot of foreign tourists, some of whom seem to be there for a while. It’s a small town encircled by hills:


In the center of town is a lake:


There are a lot of cows wandering around Pushkar, of course. But there are also a lot of feral looking pigs who fight the cows for the most delicious trash:


Maybe there are so many pigs because Vishnu appeared here in the shape of a wild boar? I don’t know. We had a man take us around and tell us about the town though I missed a lot of what he was saying. Later he took us to his house and his wife and daughter-in-law gave Harriet some very complicated mendhi:


Pushkar is on the western edge of the Thar Desert, which stretches east into Pakistan. This was not immediately obvious when we were there, as we arrived just after the rainy season had ended and everything was pretty lush and green. But you can’t throw a stick in Pushkar without hitting a camel, and the hotel we were staying at offered overnight camel safaris, so we decided to to take an overnight camel safari. We were sent to the camel parking lot across the street and got two camels, who were named Jimmy and Krishna, as well as two camel-minders. They took us out of town; along the way, we got into this ridiculous traffic jam:


It is really hard to take phone pictures from the top of a camel, so these pictures are not so good. If you were taking an advanced sort of camel safari, you could have a little cart. We did not have any carts, we just had camels.

After a lot of honking, we made it out of town. The landscape quickly becomes beautiful:


Here are Krishna and Jimmy taking a break in a sandy patch:


Krishna was the more spirited camel; Jimmy was more relaxed. Getting on camels can be a community affair:


Maybe two miles out of town we came to a sandy area and our camel drivers explained that we would camp for the night there. They started making an extremely elaborate dinner that was only finished well after it was dark and Harriet had fallen asleep. In the interim, Harriet did some digging:


Krishna was not impressed:


Later we went to sleep:


Then in the morning we woke up and went back to our hotel where we had breakfast and also showers to get rid of all the sand. Eventually we drove off to Jodhpur, but that’s for next time.

We Went to India, Part 2: Jaipur

From Delhi we took a train to Jaipur. Originally we were going to take trains all over the place, and end up sleeping on them I think three nights, but we were too slow about this and didn’t have a fixer to procure the right tickets for us, so this was actually the only train we took. This was kind of a disappointment but probably actually a good thing because sleeping in trains for three nights would probably have made everyone but Harriet crazy and also we would not have been able to visit Pushkar. The train from Delhi to Jaipur is six hours and we were traveling first class AC starting at six in the morning, so it was not a very exciting journey, but it did get us there and also no one went crazy.

The first thing we did in Jaipur was to leave it – we went out to the Amber Fort, which is in a town now called Amer. There’s a museum devoted to the block printing tradition there and we went to look at that. There are a lot of enormous old houses in Rajasthan called havelis; some of them have been turned into hotels, some people still live in, and some, like this one, have been turned into museums:


The courtyards can be very pretty. Also it turns out that not a lot of people turn up at museums devoted to block printing. But upstairs they were happy to show Harriet how to do it:


She is enthusiastic but probably not the most helpful worker. After we did that, we went to go look at the Amber Fort, on a nearby hill:


The fort is pretty enormous:


And it has nice views; many of the nearby hills have smaller forts on the top of them.


Inside there are courtyards and a huge number of rooms. A lot of people wanted to take pictures so we took pictures with them:


The next day we went to see the palace in town, where the Maharaja lived. (Maybe still lives? I don’t remember.) This palace is grand, though it seems like I mostly took pictures of the chandeliers, under Harriet’s direction. They were pretty grand:


Here is another chandelier and a decoration made out of guns and spears:


And here is a picture that does not have a chandelier though it does have an ornate doorway:


The whole thing was pretty grand and I probably should have taken pictures of things that were not chandeliers but I did not. There were a couple of enormous silver urns used to transport water from the Ganges to London at some point. You can imagine what those looked like.

After that, we went to see the Jaipur Jantar Mantar, which is even grander than the Delhi Jantar Mantar:






It might have been nice to visit at a time that wasn’t high noon? But that’s what happened. I don’t know if you can go at night.

After that we wandered around and did some shopping. This seemed to upset our driver because he was very excited to go to Pushkar – he seemed to think Pushkar was much nicer than anything we would find in Jaipur – but we told him to hold on, we needed to go look at things. Here is the Palace of the Winds:


I would have had better pictures of this but I was accosted by a young man who wanted to talk about wrestling, so there you go. After that, Harriet met some goats:


Also we had some extremely good lassis:


And we bought some shoes and bangles, and then went back to find our driver and told him that we could finally go to Pushkar. But that’s for next time.

We Went to India, Part 1

So we went back to India again. Thus time we flew to Delhi – not Calcutta as we’ve been doing – and then wandered around Rajasthan for a week before coming back to Delhi and flying back to Bangkok where everyone is wearing black and being mournful.

We went to Delhi eight years ago but that was an odd trip and for one reason and another we didn’t actually see much of the city, mostly because I was having a fine time being mildly sick in a house with a lot of servants. Also I got a haircut. Delhi is kind of like D.C. if D.C. were ten times as large which means that you are constantly taking cars down long avenues to get anywhere. I am not sure we managed to see much more of Delhi this time (we have still failed to go to the Red Fort and the Gandhi museums, and I did not get a haircut) though certain things looked familiar and we felt like we could pick and choose what we wanted to do. I think I would say that Delhi seems pleasant enough but Bombay is more exciting and Calcutta is more interesting? Though maybe Delhi is less complicated to get around than either of those places.

But let me see what we did before I forget entirely. We got into Delhi very late Friday night and left extremely early Sunday morning, so we had one day there. In the evening was the Canadian Ball, which I don’t know anything about. In the morning, we went to see the Delhi Jantar Mantar. The Jantar Mantars are observatories built in the eighteenth century by Jai Singh to calculate important dates; there’s one in Delhi, a bigger one in Jaipur, and a couple others elsewhere in India that we didn’t see. They are full of immense curved structures with steps. A guide could probably explain what exactly each thing did, but they’re nice to ignorantly wander around:




There’s a very nice book about these (and also the lifecycle of eels) by Julio Cortázar if you are interested. After that, we went to the Agrasen ki Baoli, an old step well that is now inhabited by bats:


This is looking up from inside:


There are a lot of bats:

We had lunch, which was delicious, and I don’t remember what else we did. There was the Canadian ball. Then we went off to Jaipur the next morning, but I am going to post this now because otherwise it will take me eight years to post everything.

We Are in India

So Elvis finally left the building, and we are in India. These two things are not actually connected. We won’t say a lot about the former here because who knows what might happen; and the internet here is pretty slow, so we might have to wait until we get back to Bangkok (should Bangkok still exist) to fill you in on that. Right now we are in Pushkar, which has a lake, a lot of camels, and an extraordinary number of wild pigs. We are having a fine time.  


We Went Back to Cambodia

We have been in Bangkok for a fairly long stretch this rainy season, but we broke it up by flying to Siem Reap last weekend. It is easy and cheap to fly to Cambodia and I don’t know why we don’t do it more often (except that on the Bangkok end one often spends more time getting from the airplane to home than one does on the airplane itself). This time we mostly hung out in Siem Reap, which is a pleasant town to do nothing in, not least riding remorks:


Many things were closed because it was Pchum Ben, the two weeks when Cambodian ghosts return from hell to be fed rice-balls. But we managed to feed ourselves.

The first thing we did was something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, going to the newly built Angkor Panorama Museum. What is notable about this museum is that it was made (and appears to be run) by the North Koreans, who have a friendly relationship with Cambodia on account of Norodom Sihanouk, the Cambodian king, living in exile in Pyongyang in the 1970s. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh both have North Korean restaurants (as does Bangkok now!), which I have also been curious about, though they are meant to be extremely expensive and a little ethically dubious. But with the Angkor Panorama Museum, the North Koreans are trying to become a force in the painting business. So we went to see them.

Although it is difficult to tell from its website, which suggests the prices are $2.50 for Cambodian adults, $1.50 for Cambodian children, and/or 30% off (for everyone?), the Angkor Panorama Museum is extremely expensive: if you are not Cambodian, you’re paying $20 for an adult. Children under six are free; Cambodians are more than $2.50/$1.50; as far as we could tell (which was not very much), no one is getting 30% off anything. $20 actually gets you two tickets: one is for the panorama ($15) and the other is for the movie ($5) though the tickets cannot actually be bought separately. I did not want to go to the movie, having watched the preview online, but that turned out to be wrong thinking. The museum unfortunately allows no photography of any of the interesting things, but I did get a picture of the prices:


Luckily they have put together a video that gives you a feeling of how it were be if you were a robot who had consumed too many sedatives and were trying to make your way through the museum:

The panorama is well-painted, particularly the bloody scenes where the Khmers are the Chams but $15 seems like a stretch. Various young people ask to take your picture, but we did not take them up on this, mostly because who knows how much a picture of your at the panorama would cost, but also because it seems a little foolhardy to give them a photographic record of your being there.

While the brochure announces that “The movie theater shows 3D movie reproduced high architectural technics and the building process of the mysterious Angkor Wat with fictions and historical data” this is not entirely true: the movie is 3D in so far as the screen is curved a little. It is worth noting that the seats in the theater are as hard as you might hope which makes it easier to stay awake for the movie. There is a preview for the movie online:

The whole thing is maybe fifteen minutes long and it describes the creation of Angkor Wat. The narration is confusing. Visually it seems to have been done as some kind of computer game; one might not expect quite so much focus on the manly thighs and buttocks of the ancient Khmer workers (this comes across a little in the preview) but I am not very familiar with North Korean film. The elephants particularly seemed mechanical. One was left with the impression that there weren’t any women at Angkor Wat. It was quite a film, and probably the best value of anything that is in the Angkor Panorama Museum.

After you leave the film you can go through the painting gallery where there are scenes of Cambodian scenes and dogs, presumably painted by North Korean artists, that you can buy. We did not buy any. Then we left. I am not sure that I would recommend the Angkor Panorama Museum to anyone. One is left with the impression that the primary purpose of the museum is to help the North Korean government assemble a collection of $20 bills.

* * * * *

The next day we went to Preah Vihear, which is something that I would recommend. Preah Vihear is an Angkor-era temple on the border between Cambodia and Thailand in the Dangrek mountains. There is a long history of the Cambodians and Thais fighting over it, and as recently as 2011 the Thais and Cambodians were shooting each other over it. (You can read a short account of the conflict here; for a fuller account, John Burgess’s 2014 book Temple in the Clouds: Faith and Conflict at Preah Vihear goes over it in exhaustive detail.) Basically, the Siamese and the French (who were running Cambodia) agreed to demarcate the border in 1903; the French made a map showing the temple on the Cambodian side, and the Siamese seem not to have bothered to look at the map (a Thai trait familiar to any tourist who has attempted to show a map to a Bangkok taxi driver). The Thais are unhappy that they don’t have Preah Vihear; the Cambodians are extremely pleased that they have it. The Thai army, for reasons that are best known to itself, continues to make, guard, and possibly destroy scale models of Preah Vihear.

While it was until a few years ago easier to visit Preah Vihear from the Thai side, the border is now closed and you have to go through Cambodia. It’s a three-hour drive from Siem Reap; but the roads are good & it’s not a very complicated trip. When you get to the base of the mountain, you’re transferred to a pickup truck for the ride around the mountain, which is somewhat harrowing; the pickup truck takes you to a plaza at the north side of the complex, and from there it’s a short walk to the start of the temple.

Preah Vihear is set up differently from other Angkor temples: it’s essentially a straight line, going north to south. You climb the hill until you reach the southern-most part of the temple, which is on the edge of a cliff which looks out over Cambodia. UNESCO’s putting money into conservation, but not a huge amount has been done yet; while there were a lot of mostly Cambodian visitors while we were there, you’re still allowed to scramble over the fallen bricks. Here’s the entrance, which is being propped up:


There’s a long processional path that goes uphill:


You go through a series of doorways into courtyards:


It is a fairly large complex:


And some of it is still in pretty good shape:


though not all of it:


There was a central tower next to the central shrine, but that fell down a long time ago (you can see the remains on the left):


And finally, when you exit the last courtyard, you come to the cliff’s edge.


This is looking south, so what we’re seeing is Cambodia. I don’t think that rectangular pond is Angkorian, though there are others like it outside Siem Reap:


More of Cambodia – this picture makes it clear that we were there during the rainy season, and the visibility probably wasn’t as good as it would be other times of year. Those hills are others of the Dangrek mountains.


Also there was a little pond at the top that was full of tadpoles:


It’s worth going to see! If possible, go when people aren’t shooting at each other.

Various Disasters

First, it turns out the Cara Meow Cat Café, the closest cat café to us – and as far as I know the only Italian-themed one in the greater Bangkok area – has closed. Who knows why! The space is empty. Presumably the cats were released to the wilds of Chan Road, which at least has a lot of fish soup restaurants. They’ll probably be okay?

Second, things in the aquarium are in a fairly savage state. Two of the three remaining fish have disappeared, and I have not seen Button in a while. Rosella is larger than ever; Serena looks to be about the same size. I went to the fish store and bought ten baht worth of glass shrimp; now there are probably about three baht worth of glass shrimp, which is still a fairly large number of glass shrimp.

We went back to Cambodia over the weekend, but things are too busy to write about that right now.

Boom Time in the Local Cat Café Scene

I don’t know what happened, but we went away for the summer and came back to discover that our neighborhood has become a paradise of cat cafés. Shortly before we left, a new place opened a few streets over with the overly generic name of The Animal Cafe; because of one thing or another, we didn’t end up visiting it until last weekend. It’s not very far! Probably twice the distance as current standby Cara Meow Cat Café, but that works out to be basically ten minutes in a tuk-tuk, and much closer than any other cat café we’d known about. Also! As the name suggests, this place is in the mold of Little Zoo (which, you may recall, is way off in Pak Kret, technically a different province of Thailand) and does not content itself with cats alone, declaring itself to be an “animal café”. It might be more accurate to call The Animal Cafe a slavish recreation of Little Zoo: it has the main attraction of that place, fennel foxes and two different kinds of owl. It does not have a meerkat, but when we were there the meerkat was asleep the whole time so it doesn’t really count.

However, The Animal Cafe manages to outdo Little Zoo by also having two caracals, a serval, and, finally, a racoon. Caracals and servals are African cats, about twice as big as a housecat; the serval looks like a mangy cheetah and caracals look like pumas with ear tufts. They are kept in a special enclosure; they are reasonably tame, but I would not be particularly surprised if visitors were bitten or clawed. The staff is very attentive (to the animals, at least) and is visibly attempting to domesticate them, but I have my doubts.

There are also a handful of regular cats (undistinguished) who live with a fennec fox, who seemed most interested in sleeping; some gerbils; some chinchillas; a fish tank full of tiny ruby shrimp (not for petting); a second fish tank with some axolotls; and also some hermit crabs. There’s a lot going on. Most of the clientele was there to see the non-housecats and the raccoon. The raccoon did not seem particularly pleased to be there, though everyone gave him a lot of snacks; periodically he escaped from his cage and the staff attempted to capture him while trying to dissuade visitors from helping, presumably for fear that somebody would get bit.

The Animal Cafe is fairly expensive: 200 baht for adults and 100 baht for children just to get through the door, though that money can be applied to food and drink. Our food arrived; our drinks never did, though that was understandable as the staff was busy chasing the raccoon.

Here Harriet attempts to interest a run-of-the-mill cat:


Here Harriet continues to try to interest a run-of-the-mill cat; above her to the left a fennec fox sleeps, while above her to the left (and behind a wall) a caracal considers attacking the clientele:


Here is the sleeping fennec fox:


And here Harriet attempts to feed a runaway raccoon:


Walking back with the idea of going to Cara Meow Cat Café, the old standby, we made it a two cat-café day in an unexpected way by discovering the just opened Cat’s Melodic Hotel & Café, which is along Sathu Pradit road, probably about halfway between the Animal Café and Cara Meow. I will quote the English portion of their promotional material:

—Night!! Beer Thai, Lao, lots of import beer

***Third floor is a Cat hotel & first floor is Café and Bar (so don’t worry about sound disturb your cat ^^

This basically gets across everything you need to know about Cat’s Melodic Hotel & Café: the ground floor is a cat café with the notable idea of serving alcohol, and the third floor is a cat hotel where, I believe, cats can be boarded. Also they evidently have live music on the weekends which is why it is a melodic hotel & café? But this place is even newer than the Animal Café and we were the only visitors when we were there; there were no musicians, but there was rather more reggae than is usually the case at a cat café.

How are the cats? There are not that many of them, maybe six or seven of them? They are not particularly exotic-looking cats, and most of them seem to be related, though they are not as jaded as most cats who live in cat cafés are. You sit on the floor on pillows that are in the shape of cats’ faces (a nice touch) and the wooden tables are also shaped like cats. There is no doubt that you are in a cat café. They do serve beer, which is a nice touch; the proprietor explained to me that they were also a bar, though she said that their opening hours were from 7 to 7 so maybe they are more of an afternoon sort of bar with cats. No one had yet brought any cats to stay in the cat hotel upstairs, but she had high hopes. Here is a general photograph:


Maybe the best thing about this cat café are the descriptions of the cats. Many of the cat cafés have descriptions of the cats; often these are worry-inducing because the pictures of the cats on the wall don’t seem to match the cats in the café and what might have happened? Who knows. That is not a problem with the Cat’s Melodic Hotel & Café; they have six cats and six pictures of cats, and the pictures all match up with the cats. This is probably a function of 1) their having so few cats; and 2) their being new. Who knows what might happen in the future with all the cats coming in and out of the cat hotel. But for now you can enjoy their description of the complicated lives of their cats and the intimations of complicated neighborhood relations:


Who Is Living in the Aquarium Today

When last we posted, we noted the depravity that the aquarium sunk into over the summer. Well. Things have gotten even more complicated. Because the old aquarium is leaking (this is maybe what happens when you buy an aquarium for $3), we bought a new one; here is a terrible shot from above:


The sharp-eyed will note Rosella, the turtle, over on the right, trying to hide under some rocks. (The turtle in the top center is made of plastic and is not dead.) The long orange smear on the left is Button, the new suckerfish, who is no longer afraid of anyone. And just to the right of her is Serena, the blue thing that looks like a lobster. As far as I can tell, she is actually a blue crayfish. But Rosella is deeply afraid of her, hence her attempts to hide under the rocks. This is pretty clearly a baseless fear, as Rosella could almost certainly eat Serena, though that is how things are now. They have divided up the tank between them.

The fish struggle on: on last cleaning, there are four of them, and I don’t know what their names are. The one who survived the summer appears to have been eaten, though whether that was by Rosella or Serena I do not know. Here is a closer view of Serena and Button:


You might note, over on the left, a black dot with a tail: this is one of a number of tadpoles we borrowed from the local wat in the hopes that we can bring back frogs to feed to the local catfish and thereby make merit. This plan may not work: there appear to be less tadpoles than there were this morning. I don’t know who’s responsible. Nature is ever red in tooth and claw, even among the toothless.

We Are Back in Bangkok

So we went to Mexico City for a good chunk of the summer but I don’t know if there’s very much to say about that. But after several twists and turns we are back in Bangkok for another year! Here are the important things that have happened, in bullet-point so that you can read them faster:

  • First, I am sure you all want to know about what happened with the aquarium. You may recall that when we left it consisted of Rosella the turtle (previously), a suckerfish named Mrs. Primrose, three long-suffering guppies, and several shrimp. We returned to find a scene of carnage: nothing was left of Mrs. Primrose but some bones, and even less was left of the shrimp and two of the guppies. The one remaining guppy was missing most of his tail. Rosella was larger than ever. I don’t know whether Oi fed the turtle over the summer (she appears to think that the idea of feeding fish is the height of farang lunacy); perhaps Rosella just developed more of an appetite. We went to the aquarium store and bought another suckerfish (named “Button”) and some more guppies. Who knows how long they will last!
  • Second, the cemetery down the street is flooded again, as it usually is during the rainy season. Something curious though: Mr. Henry Alabaster Who Died (previously) seems to have acquired, after 132 years, a new grave:
    I have no idea who might be responsible for this marble and astroturf – the British government? some minor Thai functionary somewhere in the government bureaucracy responsible for keeping up the graves of people who once helped the old kings? It is a great mystery. But it’s nice that Henry Alabaster Who Died has not been forgotten.

And that basically is all there is to report here.