Last stop, Delhi

Date: 5th November 2017

Location: Delhi

Hotel: Godwin

One more day in Delhi before we fly home.  We are in a pretty nice hotel right on the street where I originally suggested.  It is 10 minutes walk to New Delhi railway station in the middle of the hotel district and not far from a big market area.  The hotel we were at first night was a long way from anywhere, so this one is much better.  The Godwin hotel has a cool spiral central staircase.

Hotels are not for much more than sleeping in, apart from a refreshing beer on the rooftop – even though it was a Kingfisher – watching India Vs NZ on the big screen on the roof of the sister hotel over the laneway.  So we could pretend to be Kiwis and see if we could stir them up a bit, we had really wanted to find a bar full of Indians watching the cricket,  but there doesn’t seem to be such a thing, no matter which city we were in.  The closest we came were little knots of men standing outside hotels watching the cricket on a screen in the hotel foyer, we couldn’t manage to get a rise out of them, they seemed puzzled, maybe that anyone would publicly admit to supporting New Zealand.

Connaught Circle is supposedly the place to go in Delhi, but on a Sunday morning there isn’t a lot happening at all.  For some odd reason, the only street workers were people doing shoe polishing.  There were loads of them and eventually Tiff gave into the constant exhortations to have his sandals cleaned.

In the middle of it a cop wandered over and started speaking quite sternly to the boy.  It seemed that he wasn’t supposed to be working the area (the boy, not the cop).  We tried to explain that Tiff’s sandal had broken (it hadn’t really) and the boy was doing us a favour by fixing it.  He had actually sewn up something Tiff wasn’t even aware of, so it was a half truthful defence of the kid.  Someone explained that the cop was bored and throwing his weight around.  Have a close look at the home-made box, it was meticulous, even the way he stored his tools of trade.

Lonely Planet recommended a government run craft emporium, described as a rabbit warren of delights.  I have never been a fan of these places, but this one was different. a) it was a rabbit warren of delights and b) the staff were on a no commission salary so they didn’t hassle you to buy at all. at.all!  This is unheard of and a most pleasant way to shop.  The staff were bored and happy to engage.  While trying to find out where we could see a Bollywood movie we ended up in the store cash office (which had an open door) chatting and laughing with staff who had piles of money on desks.

Unfortunately my small backpack was full or I would have bought a complete household ensemble that would have certainly had heads turning at our next party.  As you arrive for the event you would find The Sheila and me sitting on our comfortable swing.

Inside, your eyes will immediately be drawn to the inviting lounge suite that will put you completely at ease.

Apart from Dawne and Tiff, the table looks a little bare at the moment, but as you can imagine, with the right decorations it will be transformed into a conversation piece.

This time of the year, it is so easy to over do it at a party and we like to be responsible hosts, so feel free to spend the night in the guest’s room, you may not get a lot of sleep as the bed set is sure to get your senses racing – and look at all those anchor points on the bed head.

This stuff was way over the top, but the shop was huge and actually had some interesting stuff, though it was mostly very overpriced.  How about this:

a 4′ x 6′ carpet was 101,229R, a steal at a little over $AUD2,000, last year I bought 6 carpets including one 10′ x 15′ for not much more.

Then it was off for lunch at Saravana Bhavan which is quite bizarre in a good way.  Imagine the McDonalds retail model applied to an Indian restaurant in India.  Brightish lights, clean tables, lots of them, loads and loads of uniformed staff who take your order on a touch pad.  The place is crowded and there is lots of activity.  The food is mainly dhosa and was wonderful.

The triangle shape is just because mine had been folded to keep the contents encased, it was as big as Tiff’s.  But the dosa pastry is itself is like a crepe and not very substantial.  It is the filling and sauces that makes it.  As if to prove that they are just like a western formulaic restaurant, I wanted to try to make one and it was the first kitchen to not let us come in and play.

A final meal, I really wanted it to be in a typical Indian restaurant and there it was, right opposite the hotel.  The food was great and forgetting our formula of number of dishes = (number of people – 1) meant we had a bigger variety and too much of it.

There is always time for a couple more Kingfisher beers (or were they G&Ts?) in the hotel rooftop restaurant before heading to the airport.  Had they been Hayward 5000 beers we might have had a more altitude adjusted outcome, but it was a nice way to end the day and our trip to India.

Thanks Godwin Hotel for letting us leave our bags for the day and then giving us a room to shower in before we went to the airport on the shiny metro for only 60R each to catch our 2200hrs flight.

There was one last delightful surprise.  Airports are pretty bleak places as a rule.  Yes, the architecture has improved, but they have hard seats and too much duty free stinky perfumes.  We were sitting in one of the too hard seats when Dawne came quickly towards us, “You’ve got to come and see this” and took us to an upmarket shop.

Forgive that the video starts with my camera sideways, it is a bit of a weird angle that I correct.  I was going to edit it to trim the sideways section, but I think it is worth keeping all the content, besides it is kind of an interesting angle.

I don’t recall the name of the instrument, it started with M, it is has 22 strings and is obviously related to the sitar.  The top 4 strings are plucked, the rest vibrate as a drone.   I could have sat and watched these guys for hours…but our flight called :o(

One more day left, in Kuala Lumpur…

Oh crap, I left out the movie…I knew we did something that afternoon.  Will tell about that experience in the next post.

 

Taj Mahal, so many rights, so many wrongs

Date: 4th November 2017

Location: Agra

Hotel: Sai Palace

The Taj Mahal is located in Agra which is mostly a bit of a shithole and if not for a couple of things, wouldn’t be worth visiting…well, that might not be entirely true, but I haven’t found anything else yet *.  For that reason after planning to go to the Taj Mahal, then deciding not to go because it is a bit out of the way, then changing our minds because an alternative was even harder, we went to Agra.  The idea was always to take a train from Ajmer (Pushkar) to Agra, arrive in the evening, do the Taj in the morning, head to Sheroes for a while and then leave for Delhi that day.

In fact, that is how it turned out, but as you are about to discover, there is so much fun to be had within the plan.

Once again we had booked general seating on the train.  This means you have a reserved seat, but it is a step above cattle class which doesn’t have reservations.  We were the only westerners in our carriage of about 100 people and apart from a Japanese guy we pointed to his carriage, might have been the only westerners on the train.

As usual, it wasn’t long before we made friends with people around us and decided they needed a taste of western music.  It wasn’t the first time we had done this, so we had a bit of a routine where the bluetooth speaker was fired up, a phone connected, a song played and a sing along commenced.  Generally we started with Country Road by John Denver because we all knew the words, it is middle of the road and it is John Denver.

Indians have never heard this song, or most popular western songs.  The do know Justin Beiber very well and a bunch of doof doof dance music, but the classic pop songs seem to have never hit the subcontinent.  They have now…

This is a bad and great photo at the same time.  Everything is wrong with it, but I think it gives the feeling of everyone wanting to be in the photo and the crowded conditions and the fun being had.  People crowded the carriage as we sang a bunch of songs and then had a guy hook his phone up to play some popular Indian music to see if we could get them to sing along.  Another complete failure.

A few people were quietly mouthing the words but there was no rousing chorus from the punters despite us trying to make it happen.  This is not at all unusual, there appears to be a cultural taboo about publicly expressing emotion whether it be fun, love, excitement or whatever.  I’ve mentioned the built up energy at music concerts where everyone is sitting on their bums, dying to dance, but just can’t do it.  Same sort of thing, they kind of wanted to, but just couldn’t take the leap.

We danced, I did stupid (and real) magic, we sang, they loved watching and laughing and being part of what is likely an unforgettable train journey. It was so much fun that we didn’t even think to take photos.  But many, many people were videoing the whole thing so we may end up on YouTube some day.

Agra was awful.  The pollution was horrific.  Have a read of this article about the pollution in Delhi at the same time, in fact, Delhi didn’t seem as bad as Agra, though it may have been.

This is actually how it looked on the day as the sun rose.  So much for the beautiful Taj Mahal glowing in the sunshine.

Compare it to 2015 and 2016

2015

 

2016

It was disappointing, but at least I had seen it previously, for Dawne and Tiff it was their first visit.  But it is best we go back an hour or so.

As you can see there are big crowds at the Taj Mahal, the photo would have been taken at about 0800hrs at the latest and there were already heaps of people.  We had decided, on the advice of our hotel manager, to leave at 0545hrs, we had already planned to be there for sunrise.  This wasn’t a bad plan, not withstanding that we hadn’t arrived at the hotel until 2330hrs the previous night.

It was dark lining up for tickets, there was no lighting in the area despite a couple of hundred people standing in line.  I tried to jump the line by getting to the front of an Indian only line and pleading ignorance, that didn’t work.  Dawne was in the women’s line.  Tiff was in the men’s line.  I was the runner deciding which line was moving faster and it was the women by a long shot, so Dawne bought 3 tickets – Jane didn’t join us.  Step one complete.

It is hard to take photos that are a bit different from the standard Taj Mahal money shot.

The next stage is to stand in line outside the gate.  It is starting to get light and on the left side of the entrance there are many hundreds of people waiting.  We take a guess at an hour to get in…not good enough.  On the right side of the entrance is a woman sitting in a wheel chair…and no one else.

Do we want to get in quickly?” I asked and after quick agreement developed a pretty awful limp as we made our way to the right.  We are ushered to a spot with wheelchair woman and pretty quickly another wheelchair appears and I am pushed into it.  What we didn’t realise at the time was that the wheelchair was privately owned by Viru, this had implications we weren’t aware of.  Sitting glumly (on the outside) I would adjust my position and whince in a way that I hoped was convincing.  Someone tried to get Tiff and Dawne to leave me and join the line up and of course they objected saying I obviously needed care.  I had a minor panic attack telling the cop that I obviously needed care.  He let my obvious carers stay.

There were others on the right hand side. The poor woman in the wheelchair was on an expensive tour and had fallen over the previous day.  The tour guide had pushed her to this spot and then gone off to deal with tickets without telling her anything.  She was quite stressed having been there about half an hour and had no idea what was going on.  Although we were scamming, we did do some good by reassuring her that it was all OK and calming her a bit ^.

There was also a blind woman who was told that she didn’t need a ticket (that they had already bought) and they were tossing up how to go and get a refund but not succumb to the chaos that is India.  Not sure how that turned out, but later we did see the blind woman taking a photo…could she have…was she really…it shall remain a mystery.

The gates open and we are in…first!

While Tiff and Dawne went to the toilet, I tried to explain to Viru that we would pay him his 500R and he could wait in this corner and have a sleep, we would be back later.  My leg was much better already.  He wouldn’t hear of it.  This job was given to him by god and he was going to do it.  So I resigned myself to a seated tour of the Taj Mahal, getting up now and then because “my leg improves as the day goes on”.

Truth be told, I got an appreciation for how shitty it is for someone in a wheelchair if the pusher is not attentive to context.  I was left facing the wrong way and felt excluded many times.  I missed out on quite a few things that happened behind me or that others talked about that I couldn’t see.  Though an hilarious adventure, it definitely changed my attitude to how wheelchairs should be handled.  Towards the end Viru insisted on a photo of Tiff and Dawne in some position that was behind me.  I was  left stranded.  A kind German woman asked me if I would like a push and I stood up and told her the story.  She laughed and wished she had thought of it.

Of course, the agreed fee wasn’t enough for Viru, he wanted a tip on top of his already expensive fee.  I kind of ran away…which might have had him wondering.

Disability is put into perspective when you visit Sheroes Hangout Cafe in Agra.  This is a project to create a safe space and a business for women who are the victims of acid attacks.

It is a lovely place that has expanded in Agra and also opened in Lucknow.  It made an impression on me the last times I was here and I think that Jane, Dawne and Tiff had the same experience.  Unfortunately they didn’t have any calendars left this year.

The artwork is quite haunting, not sure I would want one on my wall.

One more day before we fly home.  Off to Delhi by bus.

* This disclaimer included to appease anyone who objected to my not be worth visiting statement.

^ You can justify anything

Published in Pushkar…you won’t believe what happens next

Date: 30th October – 4th November 2017

Locatuon: Pushkar

Hotel: Paramount Palace

Lordy lordy, where do I start and end with Pushkar and the 2017 fair?

Getting there by train was part of the fun.  We shared seats with a Sikh family on their way to a wedding in Ajmer, the jump off point for Pushkar.  They have a hotel and shop and bloke didn’t mind flaunting their wealth with a Bvlgari watch that would drag you to the bottom of a stepwell.  Bloke was only 22 but looked mid 30s and spoke enough English that we learned a lot about Sikhs, weddings and other things.

A walk the length of the train was an adventure within an adventure.

Most people were friendly and likely wondering why western tourists would be walking up and down the train.

This woman seemed to be the class clown. She insisted on doing some henna on my hand and could hardly see, so the result was as you might expect.

She was hamming it up in photos, that’s her on the right, I think the other women were strangers.  Not sure about the placement of her right hand :o)

The arrival at Ajmer Junction was an insanely crush.  People coming down the overbridge stairs and people coming up the stairs.  It likely wouldn’t have been a problem but for the people sitting on the stairs.  We all became quite separated.  We all got off the train at the same time, yet somehow I was already at the top and could see Tiff and Dawne struggling to get started at the bottom.

Then there is a lineup of tuk tuk drivers waiting at the other end of the overbridge.  We were about to settle on a 500R tuk tuk for the trip to Pushkar when Tony stepped in with 400R in a taxi, sharing with another couple.  Of course this caused a bit of a Hindi shouting match, but we let the drivers all sort it out.

Ahhh…Pushkar Fair!  It is a mix of gaudy lights, deeply spiritual pilgrimage, rides with really loud music, loads of temples, crazy competitions, people bathing and doing Puja in the lake, religious music and chanting through the night, hawkers and beggars…and of course, camels.  Lots of camels.

 

 

There are two part to the Pushkar Fair.  The first half is the livestock trading where camels, horses and water buffalo change hands.  There seems to be much at stake with animals groomed and prettied up in an attempt to get a good price.

There is also a holy festival happening as part of the Hindu holy month of Kartik.  Thousands and thousands of people make a pilgrimage to bathe in the lake.  The crowds build then drop for a couple of days then build to a peak for the last couple of days.

While walking to the Mela field (the fair stadium) our way was blocked by a bit of a crush.  Rather than fight it we went into a hotel an up to the restaurant to watch.  There was already heavy traffic in both directions and a bunch of people were trying to get into a temple causing a blockage.  30 minutes of entertainment for watchers from rooftops and of discomfort for those caught in the crush.

Crowd watching is awesome.  If eating or drinking we would always park ourselves with a good street view to watch the seemingly endless crowd pass.  Immediately obvious to even a casual observer is the number of women in the streets, most often in groups ranging from 4 or 5 to 20+.  I never managed to work out where they were coming from or going to, but the stream goes on and on.

Many people seem to be from rural India and quite poor.  We westerners are a constant source of fascination for them.  The reactions include delight, curiosity, fear, uncertainty and more.  It is so easy to engage by smiling, waving and saying hello.  Inevitably they would smile back, want to be in a selfie, want to talk…or try to.

This is a very typical scene that happens over and over throughout the day.  It is so much fun.

These women came up to Jasmine and, while it is hard to know exactly what they were feeling, they seemed amazed by her.  They were touching her hair and fawning over her while saying Ram Ram Sa over and over.  In Rajasthan Ram Ram Sa is an alternative to Namaste to say to someone as a hello or goodbye.

A walk around the lake on the ghats is everything you come to India for.  I am running out of time, here are some shots that don’t even nearly tell the story.

Drying his dhoti

 

Sadhu smoking a chillum. There was a lot of that.

 

One of the naked Sadhus was interested in my magnetic glasses :o)

 

I think this is my favourite photo. So many stories in one image.

The girl on the left had the unusual green eyes.  Gorgeous.

 

 

The photo Jasmine took of Baba holding marigolds is great. May add that later when I get a copy.

I am running out of time…again…and to do the next part of Pushkar justice I need time.  But here is a teaser…

Hilarious turban tying competition, Jasmine and Cameron in a bride and groom competition.

Rejected in Jodhpur

Dates: 26 – 30 October 2017

Location: Jodhpur

Hotel: Discovery Guest House

If you have gotten used to and come to expect the content of a post to be in chronological order, you will be disappointed with this one.  4 days in one post in order of story telling and photo inserting ease.

Disappointment is actually a nice segue into the yarn about my Jodhpur movie career that never was.

Over a two of days we heard a couple of times about a movie being shot and that they were looking for western male actors.  The story even went that there was 1000 Rupees pay.  For sure it was another scam of some sort.

Mr fixer with his cast

Then over dinner, the owner of the restaurant confirmed it was true and we later met Michael who was pretty bloody excited because he had a speaking role in the film.  He showed us a photo of himself in a British soldier uniform and told us he had a speaking part.  It wasn’t much, only a couple of lines that he tried out on us, but it was a speaking part and he reminded us that it was his.

This now sounded like fun and the fixer told us meet at the restaurant at 0500hrs the next day.  We were there on time as was Michael, he mentioned his speaking part and that he was excited.  About 10 people gathered and eventually a car showed up to take us to the movie set.

Costume rack

It was being shot in the grounds of a huge luxurious hotel that someone mentioned was the most expensive in India.  I am pretty sure Michael didn’t tell us that, he was very busy rehearsing his speaking part.

Anyone who has been involved in movie making knows that the greatest skill you can have is to be able to hurry up and wait.  If you add this to being in India…well, you get the idea.

Here’s a surprise, the movie really exists!  Well, in production anyway.  Starring Rupert Everett who someone assured me was famous and I would recognise, it is called Swords and Sceptres and is listed in IMDb.  Doesn’t look like Michael is listed in the credits yet.

We were given breakfast and led around to the costume area.  A small group at a time we were assigned a role and a costume.  Michael wasn’t, he already had his role, in fact he told us he had been given another line.  Excitement.

Tiff looked pretty sharp as a private in the army.

Photographs weren’t allowed, but This Is India so photographs were taken.  Tiff fitted in well with the troops

See if you can spot Captain Michael.

No doubt you are keen to see me dressed up…

Shattered, along with some other short arses, we were told we weren’t needed.  When I asked the bloke to clarify if he meant just for this scene or at all he said (add strong Indian accent) “I think what I am saying is perfectly clear”.

After getting escorted a couple of times from the area where all the cast was waiting, I gave up and had fun catching a local bus back to the hotel area.  No choice, Mr Fixer was nowhere to be found.

The irony is that the scene involved all the soldiers in hospital lying on beds.  It wouldn’t have mattered if you were a dwarf or a giant.  Tiff had fun, earned 1000R ($10) and reckons he will be a featured dying soldier.  I was going to boycott the movie, but then I wouldn’t get to see Michael.

There is a crazy busy market around the clock tower.  Many of the stalls sell cheap utensils or bangles or textiles, but there are some gems to be found.  M.V. Spices is quite famous.  The business (like many) goes back generations and has good quality spices.  So great is their reputation that very nearby is M.G. spices, M.R. spices and others all trying to cash in on M.V.

The other thing about M.V. is that M. died a few years ago and had 7 daughters, no sons.  It is pretty unheard of for women to run a business, and already you know that another strong, independent, persistent woman story is coming.

Despite being shunned by other businesses and male relatives, these women are going from strength to strength.  They have 4 shops, a good listing in Lonely Planet and unlike M.R. and M.G. etc, M.V. don’t stand out the front hassling (bullying?) tourists to come into the shop.  They will even send product internationally and you pay later.  Unheard of! We sat for ages chatting and drinking chai and buying spices.

In the market, wandering a back lane I said hello to a merchant, he responded and it turned into a long chat about all sorts of things.  His son showed up and told me about his recent trip to Thailand where he did all the tourist stuff like tandem skydive diving and of course getting a tattoo.

Not just any tattoo, his mother had died a couple of years ago, so based on a photo on his phone, well, you can see the result plus his dad in real life.  Given how bad some similar tatts are that I have seen, this one was pretty good.

One of the cleanest best preserved and prettiest Stepwells is in Jodhpur.  It is also only a couple of minutes walk from Discovery Guest House. The area around it is becoming quite gentrified with really expensive hotels and designer shops.  On one hand this is a bit of a worry, as if it spreads, the character of the area is going to be destroyed.  On the other hand, anything that lifts the status of Stepwells is a good thing.

The stepwell cafe overlooks the stepwell but it is overpriced and you can’t even see in the well from the rooftop reclining area.  Forgive the stains on my shirt, I’d had a pretty good 50R head massage a little earlier and he dripped oil…

On my next wander through the market (it is close to the hotel so can be part of any walk) a guy offered to polish my sandals.  I laughed because as as I pointed out, sandals are mostly feet rather than sandal.

But like the 50R head massage and 50R shave, there are other 50R experiences to be had.  He did a really thorough job and now, compared to the sandals in the cafe photo, they now look pretty schmick.

Jodhpur is famous Mehrangah Fort.  A huge structure that sits above the city.  We went on a Sunday and while the fort is magnificent, it was way too crowded, so we didn’t last long.

 

Jodhpur is known as the blue city, it is mostly old Jodhpur below the fort.  The name is justified.

On a previous trip I passed an open field where there were textiles drying in the sun.  Back then I wasn’t smart enough or quick enough to tell the tuk tuk driver to stop.  This time, spotting the same field, I was.

 

Also very near Discovery Guest House is a small temple which I often stick my head in to see if something interesting is happenings.  This time I was rewarded with an invitation to a celebration that evening.

Lots of singing and rituals, it was quite fascinating.

I don’t do floor sitting very well and there seemed to be a no standing rule, even the restless kids were being sat down.  I eventually found a spot on some stairs that have the great view above.

One thing that constantly puzzles me is some tourists.  Here is this interesting looking event going on.  People are looking more joyous that serious.  Tourists attracted by the singing come up to the door and are invited in and all but one shied away.  What on earth are they doing in India if they refuse an invitation to a colourful, musical ceremony?

Especially when there is a table of food that looks like this!

I think I may have done Jodhpur now.  Unless someone wants to specifically come here on a future Kaka Tour I doubt I will be back, even if I get my own shop.

 

Next stop, Pushkar and the camel fair.  Plus an added bonus of Jasmine (my daughter) and Cam (her partner) arriving for a few days.

Choking in Udaipur

Dates: 23 – 25 October 2017

Location: Udaipur

Hotel: Dream Heaven

Arriving in Udaipur for a few days means the pace has slowed considerably and it also gives me a chance to almost catch up with posts.

The tuk tuk drivers and shop keepers are much more pushy here.  It is quite a tourist town, including (especially?) for Indians from interstate here for Diwali.

Before I get into the details, my future self is sitting in the roof top restaurant in Jodhpur.  It is 6PM and 4 or 5 mosques are broadcasting the call to prayer, the Hindu temple has some bells ringing and with the general background noise it is quite a cacophony right now.

Back in Udaipur, speaking of roof top restaurants, the view from the roof of Dream Heaven Hotel is spectacular.

This image is for illustration purposes only and may have been taken in 2016

One of my favourite quirky shops is in Udaipur, the University of Arts, which is full of hundreds and hundreds of marionettes.  The owner is always delighted to show them off and do a performance.

Here he is in action with his puppet The Magician

On a previous visit, Dawne and Jane had done a cooking course with a woman named Meenu.  They wanted to catch up with her so we went to Meenu’s restaurant which is a single table in the home of her parents.  They sleep on a mezzanine floor above, and beside the table is a sink that has as decoration, the family toothbrushes.

You don’t believe me do you.  Take a peek at the eating area, the computer room and also meet the family.

The food was pretty good and Meenu is yet another strong, intelligent, determined Indian woman, doing her thing independently.

Jump to next morning and we went  for a walk to find Meenu’s house.  A social visit with chai and snacks turned into a yummy meal when we were joined by some other Meenu fans.  Meenu loves cooking.

Wandering off we passed a spice merchant.  Best I could tell was he ground his own spices and when we inquired about a large sack of dried chillies he was very willing to dump them on the floor.

Generally something like this doesn’t bother me.  I have been in a factory grinding chillies to powder without a worry.  But this batch set me off.  My eyes were watering, I was coughing and sneezing, breathing was getting harder and I was dry retching.  I recovered pretty quickly when I went outside and thinking I was now immune, I went back in.  Nope, it all started again.  That was enough for me which was too bad because I would have loved to watch him work.

I do that a lot, stop and watch people work.  Bangle makers, clothes dyers, scissor sharpeners, food preparers, builders, whatever I happen to spot.  The simple way that jobs get done is endlessly fascinating and I am sure they are wondering why I am watching.  Imagine if you were working your mundane job and a tourist spent 10 minutes watching you.

We walked past a school and were spotted by these girls who started chanting one photo, one photo, one photo… Since I am travelling with 3 teachers, it wasn’t long before we were inside the school and mobbed by the kids.

It was recess or lunch break and pretty soon the bell rang and the kids went to class.  I had been hanging with some older boys and went to their room, standing in front like I was the teacher, trying to get them to sit.  They were too excited.  Pretty soon the real teacher came in and she wasn’t happy, threatening the kids with a ruler while behind her back I was imitating her, stopping when she turned around.

Of course something like this never turns out well and then the principal came in and I ended up in his office in a chair facing him.  First time visit to Principal’s office in a long time. He didn’t speak English so there was an awkward silence and I would hold eye contact with him.  Eventually I asked/signed whether my friends had left and he indicated they had.

I should know better about asking for information or directions in India. They had actually been in another class, I thought they were gone, they though I was still with the boys.   We didn’t find each other again until dinner time.

Tonight dinner was going to be a little different.   A cooking class with Shashi, we were instructed to come hungry, which was actually bad advice.  Better would have been come ravenous because there will be way too much food.

Where Meenu’s setup was pretty organic and in the kitchen of her house, Shashi, her son and daughter-in-law had a slick setup designed for western tourists.  We were in a big clean kitchen that had been purpose built and was fitted with loads of chairs, utensils etc. including aprons.

She started by telling the story of being in the Brahmin caste and when her husband died a fair while ago, she had to sit alone, in a corner, for 45 days.  My understanding is that the life of an Indian widow is not too good.  I think they are prevented from remarrying so they often end up very poor.

But this trip has been about strong women persevering and succeeding, Shashi is one of those women and I suspect is now doing very well.

Tiff and Dawne with Shashi

Shashi ran most of the class with her son helping occasionally.  Without checking the complete menu from the error filled handout (that we corrected for them) we cooked chai, paneer butter masala – including the ‘magic sauce’ which is the basis of Indian cooking and transformed mine after my  last trip.  We also made pakoras, malai kofta and 4 different breads: rotis, naan, paratha and stuffed paratha.

There were other people in the group and I sort of pity them.  A French Canadian couple and a French man who seemed to speak no English plus his son.  The 4 of us are loud and playful and get over involved in everything, we may have dominated the class.  We laughed a lot and Shashi was quite playful back.  But poor French man looked like he wasn’t having fun and the others, while getting involved if prompted, didn’t throw themselves into it like we did.

Daughter-in-law was friendly and engaging and gorgeous but didn’t do any cooking.  Married women traditionally live with the son’s family, so you can guess their status. In this photo, she was doing some food prep sitting cross legged on top of the bench.  I can imagine this going down well in Australian restaurants.

We rolled out of there stuffed to the gills and looking forward to our next Indian party.

Next post will be from Jodhpur, half way through our trip.  It feels like months be has been less than 2 weeks.

Final post of the tour, but not of the tour

Date: it might have been October 25th

Location: Bundi to Udaipur

Hotel: Dream Heaven

This is a warning to my future self.  On the 27th, in Jodhpur, you will grab your towel and flick your phone on to the floor cracking the screen.  The only good news is that it will match the screen on your tablet that you cracked in India in 2015.

I also implore you, dear reader, to ignore the date and time stamps.  They will be removed for the photo book.

Bundi had been so wonderful we were glad there had been a change of plans so we had Ajeet take us back for a second night there so we could continue to explore the town.

We had been coaching Ajeet about having a luxury tour as well as the backpacker tour.  They would both have the same daytime content, but different levels of meals and accommodation, so we went looking for luxury hotels.  We stumbled into the beautiful old Dev Niwas (god residences) which was not so much more expensive but certainly very exotic.

It even had a tunnel that connected to the fort so that the Maharaja and hopefully also the Maharani could make a quick and discreet escape.  Always handy if the tour group members are revolting.

Let’s pick up our walking tour, but in a different direction and including some photos that really should have been included yesterday, but you won’t notice unless I mention it… Oh, wait.

Some of the cooking implements you can hire when you are catering your own wedding.

Sometimes a simple attempt to hire some gear from a place playing dance music goes very right…

 

The Bundi backdrops are awesome

 

Great characters are everywhere.

 

When the weight of being a tour guide gets overwhelming, a 10 minute 50R head massage is just the thing

And what would a walk in Rajasthan be without discovering a new stepwell.  This one was behind a locked gate, fortunately the house where we asked who was the keeper of the key was the keeper of the key.

The water was quite grotty, but the entrance, with the gorgeous arch was one of the most beautiful I have seen.

We had heard about a peaceful lunch spot at a wildlife reserve outside town.  It was owned by the family of a bloke who had a run down backpacker hostel that had huge potential and a closed intimidating gate.

Not particularly expensive, this was the luxury lunch venue for sure.

As well as a lake full of lotus plants (not in flower unfortunately) it is also a working rice farm and harvest was under way.

I had a go at cutting the rice and threshing it.  You will have to take my word for it that this is bloody hard, hot, endless work for not a lot of money.  I am glad I only get to do it for fun, but feel a bit guilty that for these people it is their lives.

Then on to Udaipur passing way too many overloaded tractors.

but some of them are lovingly pimped, including a loud sound system.

As you will read, people in Udaipur won’t be as friendly as Bundi.  We all hope it doesn’t get spoilt by them hassling tourists and losing the welcoming spirit that is there now.

 

Part 2 of whatever the last post was called

Date: I forget

Location: Bundi and surrounds

Hotel: Shivam

A reminder that this is written a few days in the future of when it is dated, unless of course I have completely lost track of time.  And had a couple of Hayward 5000 beers – why do they even serve this Kingfisher shit?

Bundi, a couple of hours from Jaipur, may be my new favourite place in India.  The old town, with its beautiful fort perched above, is the quintessential “photo opportunity around every corner” place.

We started with chai (this is compulsory) and the best samosa I have ever eaten.  I can’t tell you what was so good about it and the seller likely won’t either.

The photo is a pretty typical street food setup, whether selling samosa or chai or whatever.  If you are freaked out by the thought of eating street food, I suggest you holiday at home, as sampling this stuff is one of the delights of travel.

It is coming up to wedding season in India, apparently it all starts on October 31st.  Weddings include a procession to the bride’s house with the groom sitting on a horse dressed like a Maharaja but looking like a terrified little boy.

You can see what a wonderful event an Indian wedding is. This is a photo of a pair of overjoyed newlyweds from 2016

When my posts eventually catch up to Udaipur and the cooking class, remind me to point out gorgeous daughter in law who met her husband only 30 minutes before they were married.  This is the norm with arranged marriages.

The good news is we have met a number of smart, powerful women who have rejected this and other traditional cultural “rules” e.g. that women shouldn’t run a business.  They all have a hard time with family and are working hard to succeed despite the disapproval. But the traditional wedding still rules.

You need a band to celebrate a wedding and in every city there are many to choose from.  They have little shops that I guess demonstrate whatever they are capable of.  From memory, this was the Azam band’s instrument selection.

Notice the hats in the cabinet on the back wall.  These bands are competitive and serious.  They aren’t that good though 😟

As we walked the back lanes people were friendly and invited us into their homes and businesses.  Bundi still has a lovely innocence about it, the shopkeepers don’t hassle you, it is very untouristy, hopefully it can stay that way.  Jasmine and Cam, you should visit Bundi.  You too Jodie.

Come walk with me…

Arms decorated with henna

 

They had just made a purchase from the motorcycle riding milk Walla. Buying like this, milk is unpasteurised, not homogenised.

 

Inside one house was this amazing well

 

View from access to the well

 

Too cute

There were bangle makers, people who hired BIG cooking utensils for parties, beautiful old houses, a hotel that had an old tunnel that connected from the fort and people who loved to meet us.

There was also a bit of effort put into having a more presentable tour group.

No, that is not hair on the cover sheet. Nor is it part of the pattern…well, it might be now 😛

On to Bhimlat Mahadev Falls. But not straight away.

We stopped in a couple of villages along the way, including one with the bhang shop.  Should I be a little embarrassed that bhang guy remembered me from last year?

This would just about kill you 😛 A typical lassi or whatever would be made with a piece the size of a marble and is a very adequate altitude adjustment.

 

A typical street side scene almost anywhere in India

 

Chaff storage

 

Proof that your donations do some good work

Last year the falls were peaceful and beautiful and calm and swimmable.  This year it was huge and raging and anything but inviting.  And still beautiful.

Even getting there was tricky.

These guys really wanted a photo with me, they took heaps of selfies.

It should be noted that men holding hands or with arms draped like this are simply good friends. It is not uncommon, and last night while walking us to a restaurant, the hotel owner’s son casually had his arm around my shoulder.  I think it is because he regards me as a friend.

The rest of the afternoon can best be summed up by What happens on tour stays on tour. I am more than happy to tell the story privately, but in fairness to a friend I won’t publish it.

Now that’s got you wondering, hasn’t it 😎

It was a slow drive back to Bundi and we made it safely.  Tomorrow, onward to Udaipur.

There is always one more stepwell

Untouring India Part 1

Date: 21 October 2017

Location: en route to Bundi

Hotel: Shivam

The idea of an organised tour gives me the willies.  I understand that it is exactly what some people want but being locked into strict schedules isn’t for me.  You are welcome to make me wrong and use the comments to go into bat for organised tours.

Having said that, and having done one during my last visit, we were off on a 3 day/2 night trip to Udaipur with Ajeet from Hathroi Palace Hotel.  Last time was awesome and I was fairly sure we wouldn’t be disappointed.

Before we headed out I managed to catch up with Anant and Swati who I met last year.  Swati is an artist and we went out for breakfast and then paid homage to her in front of her mural in the Chillout restaurant.

Our first stop was at a small factory (shop?) where they carve wooden blocks for textile printing.  The final result is quite intricate, but the process is actually fairly simple.  Take a block of wood and chip away all the “not design” to leave a raised pattern.

Finally out of Jaipur, India is getting more rural.  We are driving through small villages full of visual treats.

Much of India still doesn’t have running water.  There are well all over and seeing women (only) carrying water is quite common.

One of the great things about these tours with Ajeet is that everything is included.  We don’t have to put our hands in our pocket for anything except…well, that is for the next post.

We gave Ajeet some advice that it shouldn’t include beer.  Well, after this tour anyway ;o) Lucky for him we are light drinkers, but if he paid for it and people had a big session it would make a dent in his profit.  Having some older guests, especially a couple of accounting and management academics had us throwing ideas to help him improve his business.  He seemed keen to take much of it on board and it was lovely to be able to contribute to a young bloke in the early days of an exciting project.

“What is that crowd under the tree?” someone asked as we passed a big field where there was…you guessed it…quite a crowd under a tree.  Ajeet said ”Cricket.  You want to play?”.  But of course! We do a u-turn and drive across a big field covered in wheat stubble.  Much of the subtlety of this yarn will be lost on the UnAustralian readers.

Under the lone tree are about 20 young men standing in the shade.  The car stops, I jump out and scream AUSTRALIA!!!!  They look bewildered.

Before long we have challenged them to an India V Australia game (plus the UK represented by Jane) and it is match on.  We all stride out into the middle of the field where the stumps are set up.  There is lots of laughter and they are all taking photos and videos.

Dawne is first to bat.  The Indian bowler comes in and delivers what can best be described as a throw, it goes wide and a long way.  He is ribbed mercilessly by everyone and is immediately relieved as bowler.   The next ball sees Dawne connect, hit it over everyone’s head, and get a run.

Tiff is now batting and he belts the tennis ball a really long way causing some poor kid to be bullied into running after it.  We declared victory for the visitors and a tour photo was organised.  The whole thing was an absolute hoot and no doubt will be talked about for ages.

Back on the road and Ajeet points out some people digging a well.  It turns out they are actually deepening a well because the water table has dropped.  There were 4 or 5 men working at ground level.  About 20 metres down the well, standing in water, were 4 men loading rocks into the bucket of a crane.  This was connected to a standing engine blowing huge amounts of diesel fumes that hauled the bucket up where the arm was swung around and manually emptied.

At one point the cable came off the pulley

Watching all this hard work made us realise it had passed beer o’clock so we asked around and eventually found the beer walla down a back road.

I wanted to walk back while the group stocked up, there were some mud houses to photograph.  The rest of the group joined me and as usual it turned into a meet and greet with the locals.

Why on earth had we been drinking Kingfisher beer when Haywards 5000 was so much better… and stronger?

Onwards to the village of Toda Rai Singh, known for its stepwells.  While my tour group may be starting to appreciate them, I am not sure I have converted them into enthusiasts.  I think it will take repeated exposure.  There will be plenty :o)

In the back of another stepwell in the village (the 3rd we had looked at) was a bunch of houses and loads of photo opportunities, accompanied by a growing crowd of locals…as usual.

Not sure how the older bloke managed to photo bomb this one. The people were lovely and friendly and delighted to be in photos.

Sound like a full and action packed day?  It is not finished yet.

With all these stops, it was approaching sunset so rather than climb to a temple overlooking the lake, we headed to a different temple on the edge of the lake.

It was calm and peaceful as the sun sank slowly into the haze.

Not only does Ajeet know the best spots, he is also expert at finding the worst roads which are a special kind of fun at night.

We make it to Bundi fairly late and a black of planning plus some over confidence saw only 2 rooms available at Shivam.  Being tour leader I am also a special kind of special so I had a room and there was 3 in the other.  Ajeet sleeps on the roof.

I managed to get this post done because I got separated the others this afternoon in real time.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the tour. I am only 4 days behind now.

Aaaaaarrrrrrgggghhhhh!!!!! I accidentally switched on time and date stamp. I can edit it out…at home, but too hard on a phone.

Post Diwali Day

Date: 20 October 2017

Location: Jaipur

Hotel: Hathroi Palace

I need help desperately.  This post covers the 20th October and I am writing it on the 24th.  Doesn’t sound like a problem, but we cram so much into a day that we all agree it feels like we have been here a month.  I am already so far behind I feel like declaring blog bankruptcy and doing a post of only photos.  But I know how this would break the heart of both the readers.

Perhaps I can employ someone to write my posts for me.  It would be cheap enough in India.  Though the truth is that I think wifi will be more accessible from here on which will make life easier.

Please suspend belief and assume that this was written and posted on the day I am talking about.  Ooh, there’s a novel idea, how about the date at the top of the post.

Last night was Diwali.  It was incredible.  There is a joyous atmosphere that is filled with the smoke and sound of uncountable fireworks.  In my last post I didn’t have time to include one of the great moments, when Puja was conducted at Hathroi Palace Hotel.  You are going to have to refer back to Diwali in Udaipur last year for more details on what this is.

There was quite a crowd of hotel guests at the ceremony.   Afterwards Ajeet said it wasn’t done particularly well by the priest.  I think I can say that without fearing priest will read this.

Back to today.  We decided on a half day tour of Jaipur with Ajeet.  This is a warm up to a 2 day tour starting tomorrow.

First stop was sunrise at the old fort and a new, unusual and beautiful stepwell.  Haven’t seen one that looks terraced before.

I may or may not have mentioned that a sunrise/set is sort of delayed by 15 minutes or so because of the haze.  You will never see the sun cross the horizon in India.

Then chai and a breakfast of paratha at the base of Amber Fort, where the elephants gather for tourists who have no conscience to ride them.  Did I really say that?  But it is how I feel.

I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.  Although this photo is at a distance, it is only to fit them all in.  It was OK to be right there touching them and letting them smell my hand.  But there is no way I would ride one.

It is impossible for me to describe how awesome the experience was.  I keep wanting to add more here to try to share it, but I need to move on, I am on a deadline for dinner.

Chai and Parathas for breakfast is always a treat and still buzzing from the elephants we were in great spirits.

Next to another part of the fort where there were some very wild and very laid back monkeys.  The photo may make it look like they are tame, but they are quite nervous…unless you have food of course.

I am moving quickly here.  Knowing that Jane, Dawne and Tiff will read this I don’t mind saying that I don’t care if they don’t appreciate Stepwells as much as me.  They were about to visit another and you better get used to the idea that there are more coming…I have seen the future.

I am not 100% certain where we went next.  It is some sort of mausoleum and is beautiful for its symmetry.

There were so many ways…

…to photograph this place

Crap!  I just realised how much more happened that day and I am out of real world time.  Being the night after Diwali the streets were packed.  We walked and walked and had all sorts of encounters, including with the seller of fake moustaches.

And the sweets maker

Getting a tuk tuk back to the hotel was like new years eve, impossible, until we walked out of the party zone.  It was a remarkable night that I highly recommend to anyone.  Add your name in the comments to be considered for the 2018 Kaka Tour.

On and on I could go, but it is dinner time in the real world.

A day in pre Diwali Delhi

Location: Delhi

Hotel: Suncourt Yatri, not to be confused with nearby hotels Sunstar Heights, Sunstar Heritage, Sunstar Grand, Sunstar Karol Marg and other similarly “Sun” named but in no way related hotels.

India time is 4.5 hrs behind Australia which makes for interesting initial adjustment and coordination communicating with home.  Especially when on arrival there are a couple of minor home dramas to attempt to sort from not-home.

Wide awake at 5AM (9:30 by my body) so we’re Tiff and Dawne so we headed out for a walk and explore.  Within minutes we heard music and chanting in the distance and a small crown parading behind a mobile temple appeared.

Out of consideration for our early/late morning they stopped outside a house, we didn’t have to chase them.  Some chanting over a quite loud PA, some Puja, and it turned out they were here to bless the house.  It was OK to go inside with the crowd, but there were too many people to see what was going on in the room where it was all happening.  Friendly people explained what it was all about and we walked away with bananas and sweets plus a great start to India.

An ATM mission and now I am cashed up and ready to charge my SIM card, but it wasn’t as easy as I expected.  The guy didn’t seem to know what he was doing so I’ll find another shop today.

The attention from tuk tuk drivers is constant.  One bloke came up to us, all smiles and friendly and good English, he said his name is Lala.  Seemed like a smiling friendly guy so we arranged to meet him at 1000hrs so he could drive us to Old Delhi.

Of course he arrived at 0900hrs, all smiles and very friendly.  He didn’t want to name a price, just “whatever you put in my pocket” which should have been (it actually was) a warning that this was a little weird.  But we decided to do it anyway knowing the price was about 150R ($3).

Lala wanted to stop in an emporium on the way, this is where he makes his real Rupees, even if we don’t buy anything.  Actually he wanted to stop at 2 or 3 emporiums on the way.

The first one was a rabbit warren of small stalls in a single building.  Some of their stuff wasn’t bad, but what a tourist trap ripoff.  Given we had previous India travellers before we had a sense of prices and they were about 5 times more expensive on average.  A smallish carpet that I would expect to pay maybe 2,500R was 30,000R. Maybe I was missing a subtlety that it was 100% genuine silk or whatever, but everything was way overpriced.

We were ready to get going and smiling, friendly Lala said “two more emporiums” and we said “no”.  Suddenly Lala turned…he wasn’t smiling or friendly any more.  It was a remarkable transformation where we seemed to suddenly become a huge disappointment :o) We got to Old Delhi for a reasonable price and a lesson was learned, hopefully by Lala as well.

The girls and boys headed in different directions with plans to meet at the Gurudwara Sis Ganj temple.  We headed to the Red fort for some culture and a failed attempt to get onto the set of a movie being shot out the front.  Even pointing out that we are handsome Australian actors didn’t help.

One frustrating problem solved.  In future, before I leave, when I take my camera charger out to recharge the spare battery I will put a note on my bag so I don’t leave it at home, charging.  Every time I thought about it I  would mentally kick myself up the arse. Managed to buy another charger that will never be used again once I get home…sigh…

 

The Gurudwara Sis Ganj temple is one of the holiest Sikh sites, built on the location where the 9th guru of Sikhs, Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji was martyred…or as we would say, murdered.

I posted about it last time and was looking forward to sharing the experience.  I wasn’t disappointed.

We started in the temple proper, sitting, wandering and watching.  It is a fascinating place.  As an atheist, I find the depth of people’s devotion quite intriguing.  They prostrate themselves, kiss walls and doors of the altars and simply touch an icon.  It is also a little bewildering, but such experiences is why India.

We spent a lot of time upstairs where you can overlook the temple proper.  The gallery is surrounded by small reading room where people study the holy texts.  I was surprised to see a woman in one of the rooms.  It is incredibly visually rich and awesome photo opportunities, but at the same time is quite intimidating. Not understanding the culture, taking photos seems intrusive and inappropriate.

The attendants are friendly and helpful, unlike Lala, they are genuinely friendly and helpful.  They explained what was going on and that it was fine to take photos.  It still felt weird and intrusive, but hey, that is my stuff.

All of the workers are volunteers or have devoted their life to the temple.  The production of thousands of meals a day is well organised with many hands involved.  Including us.

Tiff threw rotis onto the hot plate, quickly mastering the art of tossing them like a frisbee and not having them land on top of each other.  Dawne didn’t quite get her rotis rolled as round as the experts, but gave it a good shot.  I dished out dhal from a bucket to rows of appreciative if slightly bemused people.

Arm dishing out food may not be me and is for demonstration purposes only.

And the food was great!

Into the old market.  I recognised the stall where I took one of my favourite photos of Sheila in 2015.

2015

It isn’t quite as romantic in the recreation

2017

The trip back to our hotel involved walking through a market to get to a road and grab a til tuk.  Tomorrow is Diwali, so it was crowded.  very crowded.  We walked and walked and walked and the market went on and on.  Craziness indeed.

Four of us for dinner, 5 yummo dishes, 5 naan breads, 3 bottles of water came to 800R, around $4 each.  Then back to the hotel roof which saw Tiff almost decapitated as a rocket shot past his head as we were looking over the edge at the kids setting them off.  A flash of green passed less than 300mm from him and then exploded just above us.  The next one exploded as it was falling back towards me.  It was too funny and the only remedy was beer.

And next time you grumble about your tedious job, re!ember you could be employed as an official nut separator.

Today, train to Jaipur.