Friday, 14 October 2011

Agra: having fun with the Taj

Look at the chap beneath the pillar as well.

For me, this is the first and best view of the Taj.

The butchers of Agra

Ramthambore: Tiger Chocolate

Massive Banyan Tree.

Digs spotted this python behind a tree digesting a deer or wild boar.

Our first safari, in a jeep, left at 6am. After a pleasant first hour spotting blue jays, gazelle, antelopes (bigger than you’d think), an engorged python that had a baby deer inside it’s stomach - it turned into a focussed hunt for Tiger. We saw fresh tiger footprints in the sandy track that a guide has drawn circles around. They went back the way we had come from.

Ranthambore was the Maharaja of Jaipur’s hunting ground until the mid-70s when the tigers became protected. Unfortuntely this came too late for many of them and specifically for the one shot by Queen Liz in the 60s. A huge dose of bad kara. We didn’t see Shear Khan or even Baloo: there are also black slooth bears here. We saw tiny spotted deer which our guide referred to it as "Tiger Chocolate".

Kids invented pool game called crocs and buffaloes!

After our safari we met 40 school children on a trip from Johpur. Magi made frineds with 3 girls, Nandini, Metalli and a name I just could not get to grips with or remember. Their fathers were all business men: one ran a photocopy business, one worked for a Jodphur newpaper and the other had some kind of business from home. Their mums all stayed at home. In my weeks here, I haven’t seen many women, apart from Ushi in Delhi, to chat to. Woman are visible doing the hard labour on the roads and in the fields, but they don't work in the hospitality industry like in the UK.

A night in Bundi

At the roof top terrace in our Bundi hotel there was building work in progress and monkeys appearing over the wall while we had our porridge and pancakes. On the road to Ranthambore (Jungle Book) were the usual dead dogs and even a dead cow today and bunches of bananas ripening on the grills of TATA trucks. Raju told us yesterday that the cows get cast out onto the street after their milking days are gone. People then take pity on them and feed them on the streets – not so holy as we thought then.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Bundi: a box of Bindis

A Box of Bindis

We did a big group hug and said goodbye to Raju and Kala from the guesthouse in Udaipur. Unexpectedly they sent someone downstairs,to Raju's mother's shop - to buy Magi a little leaving pressie. Kala presented Magi with 2 armfulls worth of bangles and a small plastic box of bindis. “Take the blue” said Kala, so it will coordinate with your blue top. Everyone loves Magi here. They want to kiss her and pinch her chubby cheeks. They can also say her name perfectly, thanks to televison adverts for "Maggi noddles" all the time. I'm merely, Miranda, similar to the fizzy Fanta rip-off drink "Mirinda".

At Chittorgarth Fort we saw an interesting photo opportunaity. A couple of large horses had been teethered to a wooden post by a pop up cafe, so that Indian tourists could place their kids on them for a photo, with an essential accessory - a real rifle. The horses reered onto their back legs on command for the perfect lone ranger photo. Kalu, our driver, said the Indians really go for that kind of thing. Raz, Bear and Magi were pretty keen too.

After the kids had got off the dads jumped on.

Udaipur: an email from Dara O'Briain

Woke up find I had an email from Dara O’Briain nestling in my inbox. Last night I tweeted something to him, along the lines of the fact that I had stolen a book by him, Tickling the English, from a hotel in Jaisalmer, and it had gone on a little adventure with me – camel riding, a night in the Thar Desert and it had even seen 11 shooting stars etc. He emailed back fairly promptly, given that it was a Saturday night in the UK, and surely he must be doing a gig at the Apollo, saying that he had also stolen many books over the years from hotels, and how pleased he was to have been around India by proxy. What a lovely chap. I’ll stop stalking him now! 

Over a cookery lesson with Kala and her husband Raju I managed to ask if there were any interesting/amusing stories associated with the making of Octopussey in the town in 1982. Raju said he accidently got caught up with a throng of people and ended up being beaten by a local police man. Not the Roger Moore losing his toupee story I was expecting.  Raju still sees the, ex-police man around town sometimes these days, looking old and worn. Over conversation we made fragrant Chai from scratch, chappati and my favourite aubergine and fruit curry.

Kala in her kitchen.

The tub of chilli lasts them just a few months!

The chappati mixing bowl was her parents' wedding present.

Magi rolling out a chappati.

Jaisalmer to Udaipur

We said goodbye to Yogi, Saj and the Raijput boys. They gave the children an appropriate leaving present: a mozzie racket zapper. “You can charge it anywhere!”

Got into a backseat discussion with the kids about the most dangerous places in the world. After listing the usual suspects, Columbia, Afghanistan, Iran, Algeria etc I mentioned Sentinel Island in the Andaman Islands, which just happens to be between where we are now, India and where we are heading: Thailand. Magi and Bear had sweets, chocolate eclairs and mango bites. Instead of toys, which we don't have, they scrunched up the wrappers and made characters out of them and played in the car.

South from Jodhpur, there is a village that clearly specialises in making straps; the kind you use for lashing surfboards onto cars. They hang like octupuses drying in a Greek seaside village - a tutti frutti platte in nylon.

Arrived in Udaipur in the dark at 10.30pm and woke in the morning to find all of this...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Jaisalmer: sorry if I smell of camel

Jaisalmer surprising rhymes with "Hasslemere".

We left the golden Rajput fort of Jaisalmer; a kind of golden Gondor, or Maricarol from the children's Tamarind books. Yogi took us down into the market, past the young girl on the tight rope, where he picked up pineapple, papaya (it always taste of sick, but I know it's good for me) and bananas. We lept into a new silver Mahindra jeep and played at being Indiana Jones in our 100R safari hats.

The driver had a photo of his dead brother on the dash - later found out that he had been shot in road rage incident 10 years ago by best friend - and drove us 50km out of the city in south west direction. He turned up the Indy pop and Bear said "this is what we have come travelling for".

After a brief meet and greet with the camels, they tell you to "lean back" as the camel goes up. Our camel drivers Dain Kuan Mahax and Sabl Subgh Batna could barely get to the end of the word "lean", before the camel had galumphed to its feet. Raz said I mouthed the F-word as I went up. Phew. Only that one then.

Magi was a bit miffed as she was on the smallest, but it was still taller than a 4WD. The desert was green from the heavy monsoon and Raz thought it looked like Cockleridge at Bigbury. By 11am, after an hour and a half on the camels, we stopped under a huge tree. We lounged under it until 3pm. Dain and Sabl made fresh potato curry and chappatis. They persuaded a local sheep to give us some milk for our chai.

Raz, Magi and me picked our way through the bush – mindful of cobras and scorpions – to locate the camels, who had been allowed to roam freely during lunch. We couldn’t see them from the third dune, so we split and went back to the tree. Sabl turned up a while later with a train of camels lashed together.

We were in sniffing distance of Pakistan later in the afternoon, before we got to the dunes.
Then it was…dune jumping, sunset, more food, Orion’s belt, like dusty highway through the night sky and 11 shooting stars.

The next morning we woke to find the blankets were heavy with dew and intensely camelly.

Jaisalmer: scrapbook

Roof-top sofa on top of Jaisalmer fort.

The stone sofa seen from our bedroom below.

Jain Temple, Jaisalmer.

6.30am - everyday