Heey! Where ya from? I think after almost three months in India it is only fitting that I should start addressing my readers in the same manner we always get approached in the street. It’s quite funny really, everywhere we have been so far, by the time we come to leave there are a bunch of people who seem to know our names so we walk around feeling like film stars most of the time. In Jaisalmer we decided to create pseudonames because we were sick of either a) ignoring people or b) divulging too much personal information (Brits don’t even like giving their name away!) so in the end we had to stifle laughter when someone shouted out Fifi, Nushka or Louloubelle in the street. Jenna even started saying we were moonish so they soon realised it was a joke…
Anyway lots has happened since the last time I posted. Most importantly, I feel a million times better than last week. On Friday afternoon as planned we had an Ayuvedic massage which was the perfect antidote to bruises suffered on the back of a camel! It really was so relaxing the half hour just flew by… I subsequently bought some almond massage oil in Agra from a little old man that carries his shop in a suitcase so now I just need a willing victim!
We spent our last nights in Jaisalmer in an old haveli (which used to be the residences of the well off). It turned out to be quite a nice place to stay for free and was run by an enthusiastic muslim guy who tried (and failed) to ply me with ‘special’ lassi and persuade me to run off into the sunset with him. On Saturday after almost a week in Jaisalmer we left for Jaipur on a night bus and I said goodbye to one of my punjabi suits (R.I.P.)
I think it is the first and last time any of us will ever take a night bus in India because we didn’t get more than about 4 minutes uninterrupted sleep combined! We arrived early morning in Jaipur, found a hotel and then took advantage of cable tv and room service. In the afternoon we ventured out and decided to splash out at one of Lonely Planet’s recommended ‘mid range’ hotels – we daren’t normally look beyond the budget section. Lonely planet has been our trusty fourth companion all this time. Sometimes places suffer from lonelyplanetitis which is a condition that results from hotels thinking they’re amazing because they feature in a guidebook and then becoming lax but this time we were pleasantly surprised and spent the aftenoon swimming and generally relaxing.
The next day we went to a palace called the Hawa Mahal and a really cool observatory called Jantar Mantar. We would have probably needed an astrophyicist (or just Rhea!) to explain what all the instruments were designed for because all I recognised was the sundial which stood at 30m tall! It looked like modern art and it was unbelievable to think the contraptions were built 200 years ago. In the afternoon we went to the Amber Fort. We met a small boy on the way who showed us some magic tricks for a few rupees and I was pretty impressed at his skills… he was so grown up for a six year old…
In the evening we went to the Raj Mandir cinema to see Mangal Pandey which was a cool film about the Indian Uprising against the British in 1857 although I suspect most of the men there were more concerned about catching a glimpse of Rani Mukherjee in her sexy sari!
We completed our last night train with the mega backpacks a few nights back after which we all breathed a mahusive sigh of relief. As a true finale ought to be, it involved running down the platform with four pieces of luggage attached to various parts of me minutes before the train departed. That the carriage you are due to be situated in is at least 500m from where you are standing prior to it’s arrival is just a given that we have accepted with time! The train from Jaipur to Agra departed at 2am so I just slumped onto the bed and was asleep within seconds and then felt like it was only minutes before we arrived in Agra at about 6am. I had booked the wrong train (a day early) but it worked out perfectly because we needed time to convalesce after several nights of little or no sleep.
That afternoon we headed over to the Taj Mahal. Then somebody told us that the next day it was going to be free as if it were a top secret so we decided to chance it and instead spent the rest of the day wandering around government emporiums muttering things like “yah just put it on plastic” after inadvertently walking into a section where marble pieces were evidently upwards of 10,000 rupees! In the evening we went to a plush restaurant and started backing out of the door when we realised it was beyond our price bracket, and then decided to bargain with the waiter who eventually decided to give us a thali (selection of dishes) for only 60r (less than a quid) each cos we were the first customers of the night. Not bad!
The next day we went to Agra Fort. It is exactly what you would expect of a fort. It is an imposing mass of red sandstone big and scary enough to get lost in. In the afternoon we headed down to the Taj and (hallelujah) the rumour it was free was true. I can’t believe our luck that we should accidently arrive in Agra on Shah Jahan’s birthday but it saved our having to fork out 750r (!!) which we were inordinately happy about! The Taj Mahal is as breathtaking and beautiful as I remember it and this time it was full of people jumping for joy like us. We spent four hours just wandering round the perimeter and taking everything in. It was also one of only three days in the year that they open up the real tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz so that was super cool to see. We were approached by countless people for photos but politely declined (mostly) because I feel we are already in enough pohoto albums. I still don’t quite understand the fascination of having a photo taken with a foreigner. I’m being mistaken for Indian now as opposed to ‘mixed veg’ (= half caste!) so it is all the more odd but there you go.
Now we are in Delhi in a district called Paharganj which the lonely planet describes as ‘downright seedy’ but its not really that bad and was miles cheaper than central Delhi. We left Louise this morning and it felt like the end of an era. We have had a lot of fun these past three weeks (# Celebrate good times, c’mon! #) and now she is on a mammoth train journey back to Pune. As for us we might go up to the Himalaya for a bit to make the most of our last week in India. I’m sad about leaving but this is overcompensated by the excitement and anticipation of going back home to see the family. I think I’ll sign off as I need to recharge my batteries for a day of bargaining in the bazaar tomorrow. See you in 9 days (and counting!)…