Nicknames etc.

I have inevitably accrued a few nicknames in the past few weeks. ‘Baldy’ is quite popular, but rather unimaginative. Still every single person who uses it laughs as though they were he first one to come up with it, haha. Others include:

* Baldilocks
* Scalp (thanks to Rhea my dear sister for this)
* Microphone (also Rhea)
* Slaphead
* Tuppenny all-off (when haircuts like mine used to cost 2p?)

Comments:
“What have you done with my sister?” Aaron my 14yr old brother
“We have this really old man who’s living in our house!” also Aaron
“I would look like a moon and Loretta would look like an egg” Natalie
“Can I stroke it?”
 *stroking my head* (without permission)
“Have you got lots of hats lined up?”
“You’re crazy!”

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Girls with boycuts

Girls with boycuts
I keep getting “You look like Sinead O’Connor” (I really don’t) but I guess there aren’t that many girls with crew cuts. If you do, email me! Here are some more famous bald girls:

Natalie Portman:

natalie-portman.jpg

Demi Moore:

demi-moore.jpg

Sigourney Weaver:

sigourney-weaver.jpg

Noemie Lenoir:

noemie-lenoir.jpg

Neve Campbell:

neve-campbell.jpg

and… Sinead O’ Connor:

sinead-oconnor.jpg

Gimme Dollar

Add to my fundraising total by sponsoring me safely and securely online

click on the link below:

Donate online

Any donations big or small are greatly appreciated! If you are a UK taxpayer, you can tick ‘gift aid’ and tax reclaim will increase pledges by a further 30%.

Hope you can give a little. I am well on my way to building a house with the money my headshave has raised so far. Many thanks to everyone who has sponsored me so far, peace and happy Christmas, Anila x

Hairdevil! Pictures A-plenty

Lots of people have been asking me to put some pictures up, and I promised to do it before I got my curly mane back. Here are some photos that were taken the day before:

The night before

Jen and me prettifying ourselves. Oh, that would be the last time I’d have to spend hours diffusing my curly ‘fro!:

In the mirror

The number of days left ’til my hair execution…

2 days to go

The gals and me at La Tasca in honour of little Kavita’s twenty third year

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My quiff threatens to take over Suzy’s face

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Our waiter Miguelito and I compare afro

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Miguelito learns the fate soon to befall my hair…

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Fundraising beforehand in the shopping centre

Some pictures of me and my collecting team before the event:

Jen                    Rhea               Helen                me & Helz        Kiran

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Who could resist Kiran? (my lil bro’ who is apparently 14yrs old!)

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Collecting – action shots! Check out the Ilford rudeboys…

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Here’s a very nice man, and me beforehand getting nervous:

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Click the thumbnails for a larger version of the photographs below:

During pictures:

Me and my loyal helpers in the grand coin collection:

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Morgan looks none too pleased about my hair loss:

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I was making a scissors sign, honest!:

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Esther and crew tie my hair into lots of fountains…a look last sported when I was about 7:

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They chop them off and hand them to me one by one:

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Some Christmas shoppers stopped by to see what was going on:

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Morgan and Efe had their heads in their hands for about 90% of the time:

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And the clippers are out… The hair on my lap starts to resemble a furry rodent like creature

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Ester takes my hair down to a fuzzy no. 2…Do you think I would have got more money if I left the right-hand tuft of hair there?

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Clowns to the left of me…jokers to the right:

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You’d be forgiven for thinking I was actually enjoying myself! Ester checks for final lumps and bumps, and adds the finishing touches to my new ‘hairstyle’:

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My right hand did something funny when I clocked my reflection:

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After Pictures (The Fallout!)

Lil Miss Hairy Face:

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I felt famous for about five minutes! There was a lovely lady who came up and said some kind words. The looks on their faces are priceless:

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At first I couldn’t stop touching my spiky hair. Please stop me making this into a habit! My old hair made a fetching toupee…

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Friends a.k.a helpers take a well-earned rest:

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My mum has trouble letting go of my hair…literally:

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Chillin’ wit da homies!

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Like sister, like brother? YOU decide!

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Morgan still has that lost puppy look on his face:

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One week on…Aisha and me at Frankie and Benny’s with me looking dreamily at her (unintentional) and later, laughing demonically:

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Morgan’s face has returned to normal:

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Five minutes of fame

Kind of like IMDB, a list of movies I have starred in!

BBC
I did a short interview (about 5 minutes) with a lovely lady from BBC Local LONDON, and she ran a little feature on my charity headshave. It was a little after the event so you can see my new look. You can see it here (the link is on the right column):

BBC London interview

You will need RealPlayer plug-in to view it. You can download it here:

Download RealPlayer plugin

YouTube
If you weren’t able to come down to see my headshave, do not fear, I had dear ole Suzy video the whole thing, and thanks to the power of YouTube you can see it here (or if you were there, relive the moment once again). It’s in five parts because it was taken on a digital camera that doesn’t let you film for longer than about a minute continuously!

Part 1
Listen for the end of the countdown. I was nervous in those last few seconds but then as they got going I got quite into it. You can hear a few people asking how I’m feeling and see me when they cut off and hand me my first ponytail. That was the point of no return, haha. There are quite a lot of flashes going off, mostly by my ‘little’ baby bro Ashlee who’s the one with the camera – all I needed was a red carpet, and I’d have felt like a movie star! Then Esther handed me a mirror so I could assess the damage thus far, although I can’t even really remember it

Part 2
It was kinda weird to look at my hair on my lap. Then they whipped out the clippers and got to work on the shaving. You can hear a few exclamations of “Oh my God” and I point to Morgan who was too scared to watch (only jokin’ hun!)

Part 3
Having my hair clipped was actually quite a nice sensation… Cue Suzy: “Uhh you don’t look that bad, no you don’t look that bad” It feel nice. I’m looking quite pleased with the extreme crop but the gal to my right isn’t so sure! Ashlee tried to coax a few more onlookers into donating a penny or two…

Part 4
I assess people’s reactions in this video. Before I had a good look at my reflection, these guys were my ‘mirror’

Part 5
Check out the assortment of cheesy grins as Esther styles my hair. I had a no1 on the edges, no2 on the sides and no3 on top, just in case you were thinking about going for the same look. Someone mentioned the advantage of a low/no maintenance hairstyle for getting ready in next to no time in the morning!

Thankyous!

A big thank-you to all the people who have helped me organise my headshave and kindly donated time, materials, and money to the cause. You rock!

I have lots of people to thank, so in no particular order, thanks to:

  • All the people that have donated through my Hopebuilder’s page and left kind messages, and thanks to the anonymous donations too. I don’t know who you are but I am very grateful for your contribution.

  • Everyone who has made offline donations or signed sponsor forms.

  • Alison Hardwick, marketing manager at The Exchange Mall Ilford who helped me organise my event. Thanks also to security and everyone else who helped whose names I don’t know

  • Esther and crew at Headjogs hairdressers who cut and then later washed and ‘styled’ my hair for FREE and collected at their salon. Thanks for your help and bubbliness and promise to charge me gents prices at least for the foreseeable future!

  • Astrid, Emma, Helen et al at Habitat for Humanity for all their support and publicity materials (leaflets, posters, tshirts) and additional freebies!

  • All my helpers collecting on the day – Joanne, Jenna, Helen, Suzy, Ashlee, Rhea, Efe and Danial for their resilience, endurance and genius in conjuring funny slogans to encourage donations

  • Ashlee for taking lots of beautiful pictures

  • Suzy for more pictures and for filming the whole thing… and then having to send me them in time for my interview with BBC Local London

  • Ramaa (local reporter) and Mark (microphone man) at BBC London for their feature and video interview (see videos)

  • People at work (Y Care International) and church (All Saints Goodmayes) for their support especially Lily who started her own collection and raised over £100. What a star!

  • University friends and departments for telling people about my impending haircut

  • Lauren and Jenna – trust me the conversation I had with you planted the seed in my head to go through with my extreme haircut!

  • The generosity of random strangers, in particular the lovely woman at the Exchange who said some really kind words, and the lady in the bank who added tenner to the fund when my brother was transferring the collection money

  • People who helped me stack money up Stromboli style (Katy and Morgan along with the coin collecting crew)– would have taken forever without you!

  • My ‘anonymous benefactor’ who provided the collecting tins for free

  • Reeta who expertly sculpted my eyebrows (when you have no hair it’s all about the eyebrows!)

  • ……..and finally, my parents who blessed me with my crowning glory!

The Buzz

On Saturday 16th December I got up early and diffused my curly mane for what would be the last time in a long time. The idea was to leave early and pounce on Christmas shoppers in my local shopping centre. By the time the whole crew left it was almost midday. We are not morning people! We were all sporting our sexy Habitat for Humanity tshirts and made sure the last of the stuff was in the car. Posters..check. Leaflets…check. Collecting tins…check. My mind felt like a sieve as tends to happen when you’re trying to focus and end up concentrating on…concentrating, and forget what you are meant to be doing.

After collecting our permit we set up the scene with a chair and posters and then took up position in designated locations, coin collecting tins in hand. If it sounds like a military operation thats because it was. Alison at The Exchange had let us know the best places to collect such as right near the car park pay machines. I kept on thinking that I’d forgotten something cos normally I’m so last minute but for once I had everything sorted.

We tried to strike a balance between too timid and too intimidating, gently asking people if they could spare some change. We had competition in the form of the Salvation Army and the local fire service. We collected up until about quarter to three also giving out leaflets on the charity’s work and about the event itself (that the nice ladies at the Exchange had printed for me). Just before 3 I went up to prepare for my headshave. At this point I really felt nervous, partly because of the thought of being on show, partly cos of the impending hair loss. We heard that the tannoy had stopped working and that made me feel more nervous because I wanted people to know about what was going on. Then the tannoy began to work at the last minute (we only knew of this when I could hear a booming sound overhead that sounded strangely like my mum).

The hairdressers came down and set to work. They put my hair into little ponytails and snipped them off while everyone around was counting down to zero. Then the clippers came out. By that stage I was rather relaxed what with lots of people to chat to. It was quite a nice sensation which would explain the look of bliss that I have in some of the photos. Morgan and Efe’s faces were priceless, I’d estimate they watched about 5% and spent the rest of the time with their eyes closed, haha.

At the end there was a round of applause and I got up and did a mock bow. It was good that I had a captive audience, but I was overwhelmed by the people who came up afterward who were so encouraging.

We collected for a couple of hours after as well. I kept my tshirt on which still had my hair all over it. You get to meet all sorts collecting and for every rude person there is an extremely lovely person too. At this stage we had all sorts of catchphrases my favourite being “Don’t be greedy give to the needy”…

Our feets aching and coin tins brimming, we headed home. We spent the evening counting out the change and were amazed that we raised over £600 in a matter of hours.

Everyone kept on doing a doubletake when I came in the room, and I did the same to myself in the mirror. It’s still a bit weird to look at myself, and not go to grab the hairbrush/dryer/mousse!

But who wouldn’t love a no maintenance hairdo and half an hour longer in bed?

“If there is Paradise on Earth…

…it is this, it is this, it is this.”

A persian poet used these words to describe Kashmir, and then Mughal emperor Jehangir nicked the phrase and had it inscribed on the Red Fort in Delhi, so it is a pretty unoriginal way of describing a place but I think I can live with that. Until I see Kashmir to assess it personally I think I am allowed to plagiarise if I feel I have good reason!

For now I think I do have good reason: Jenna and I have just returned from a blissful few days in Shimla in the foothills of the Himalaya. We had spent about 4 days in Delhi and decided to get away from the heat and general hustle bustle of the capital. Initially we had planned also to go to Amritsar until we realised the exorbitant ‘English’ style price tag – it costs about 695r one way which is about a tenner which seems a little steep to me.

Our stay in Pahaganj has been quite nice. It is a place called Hotel Star Palace. It’s not palatial and generally I like to steer clear of places that call themselves Paradise Guesthouse or whatever but we were so dead by the end of the train journey we sort of settled for the first place we could find. You might remember the place was described as seedy but I reckon its just hippy. There are a lot of dreadlocks and clothes in red green and yellow but apart from being asked whether we were from the ashram in Pune (see the entry on Osho) and being offered beer with breakfast it’s been cool. After two roasting days in a room that seemed to have ceiling fan solely as an adornment we transferred to an A/C room which has been like a piece of heaven compared to the sahara style conditions we have endured up until now. We had taken to having cold showers in our pyjamas just to stay cool throughout the night! 🙂

The guy at the hotel reception swears that he has met me before. I thought this was a really cheesy, really bad chat up line but the fact that he carries on as if he has known me forever is a bit creepy. He keeps on saying, “No, reeeally…Are you sure you haven’t stayed here before?” as if on the third interrogation I might suddenly say “Oh yes, I remember…way back when in ‘ 97, silly me!” or something.

Delhi has been quite nice. It isn’t quite as big and scary as remember it but I was considerably smaller and marginally more prone to intimidation back then. It is quite developed and feels very cosmopolitan. We were reticent to do the whole tourist thing because to be frank it is getting a little bit monotonous, but we couldn’t go to Delhi and not see the Red Fort etc etc. In the morning we went to the Jama Masjid, which is the biggest mosque in India and was built by Shah Jahan, he of Taj Mahal fame. Our poor English feet were not accustomed to the searing sandstone underfoot so we left with our feet feeling ever so slightly tender. We met a sweet little old man there who drew a few stares when he sparked up a conversation with a pair of girls. He told us something about the Moghul empire and how much he loves Kashmir but his accent was pretty thick and so I just tried to smile and nod in the right places. We left for the Red Fort and ended up strolling through Delhi’s muslim quarter which felt a bit like Pakistaniville.

The Red Fort was pretty cool. It was the fifth (maybe sixth?) fort we have seen in the space of a few weeks so apart from being generally fortlike I can’t really remember much that marked it out! A lot of the decoration was looted during the various sackings Delhi has been subject to over the centuries so it was probably only a shadow of its former glory but there was some nice pietra dura (the same inlay as is found at the Taj Mahal) and it was so serene in contrast to the frenetic chaos that characterises Delhi. On the way back after failing to find a rickshaw wallah who wasn’t on a mission to rip off tourists a policeman who was eavesdropping suggested we took the metro. The Delhi Metro is still under construction and we hadn’t realised that it was partly operational.

Wow, it was totally amazing. It was like the London underground (replete with ripped off Tube style signs) but without the noise and with air conditioning. It was more proof that India has the ability to constantly surprise. It gets some things so right, and some things so wrong. It was clean, smooth and there wasn’t a chewing tobacco stain to be found anywhere in sight. I took a photo to prove that it wasn’t just a figment of my imagination!

The next day we went to Shimla which is a hill station in the Himalaya at about 2200m. When the British ruled India (and about 1/5 of the whole planet I think) they would come up here in summer when the Delhi heat got too much to handle. It took about 12 hours to get there in total. When the guy joked about the narrow gauge train being like a toy train he wasn’t far off from the truth. The train goes so slowly you feel as though you could walk quicker but it means you have all the more time to take in and digest the sumptuous views. The vistas across the valleys are absolutely spectacular. We spent a good part of the journey hanging out of the door… literally, until my feet scraped along the side of a rather narrow tunnel and I realised how much I valued them and kept them within the carriage. We also shared the carriage with a lovely Goan family who recommended that we visit Panaji, and someday I would love to do the south of India. They had two children and their two cousins. The four year old boy, Anthony was possibly one of the cutest kids I have ever seen and he and his six year old cousin entertained us with their impressions of the chai’allahs (garam tea, coffee!) and other foodsellers. When his mum suggested I took him back home with me, I thought Okay, lemme have him!

We got into Shimla at about 5.30pm that evening and we were instantly pursued by a Kashmiri guy who implored us to stay at his hotel. After visiting the hotel and several others I suppose owned by his relatives/friends we were still unable to find anything suitable. Jenna and I are really rubbish at turning people down. No, I haven’t suddenly gone all soft – rather we both find it hard (read impossible) to disguise the look of horror on our faces and simulataneously think of a tactful way of turning down a room. Let’s face it, you can hardly say, ‘Well sir it looks like damp and smells of urine’ can you?

Anyway eventually a guy on the street saw two forlorn looking tourists and led us to a nice hotel called Le Royale. As we walked through the door it as evident it was way beyond our stingy student price bracket but after bargaining, and later pleading we managed to negotiate a price that was more than 50% less than the room tariff displayed. Even so, by our usual standards it broke the bank at a whopping four pounds and fifty pence pppn! It is situtions like this that make you realise the virtues of being a girl – a similar entreaty from a man would probably be regarded as feeble and unmasculine.

After assessing the luxuries that a fiver buys you (cable tv, HOT running water, small sachets of moisturiser) we went out to explore Shimla. The architecture is heavily influenced by the British. In fact it sort of feels like a seaside town at the top of a mountain for want of a better description. There is a promenade with lookout points across the valleys, Christ Church and something reminiscent of Cambridge high street. Even the place names are distinctly British: The Mall, Cart Road, Scandal Point etc. This together with the heightened friendliness of Shimla inhabitants made me feel really at home.

We were only there for two full days, and for both days there was a low lying mist that gave the place an eerie yet magical feel. On Tuesday after a late start due to sleep deprivation we consulted Lonely Planet and then went in pursuit of a place called the Viceregal Lodge. Well either we are exquisitely bad map readers or Lonely Planet is officially rubbish, because it took us much longer than planned to get there. And of course when you accidently walk down a steep hill you have to scale up it again when you realise you are utterly lost! In the end we found it but after several hours I think we had built it up in our mind’s eye to be a place of exceptional wonder and beauty and were a bit dismayed… but it was nice enough. The lodge looked spookily like Reed Hall on Streatham Campus so suddenly I felt like I was in Exeter on the top of a mountain!

We woke up the next day and walked another crazy distance to the highest point which can be found at Jakhu temple. It is dedicted to Hanuman, so inevitably there is a bunch of ‘sacred’ monkeys who like to force people to surrender their crisps and such like. Well I have already been the victim of a monkey attack on Elephanta island (it was the crisps again!!) so together we made a 2-man army complete with pebble artillery. They must have been driven away by the sheer menace in our stares because apart from an attempted robbery by one opportunist chimp we escaped unscathed!

The last time we were in Shimla there were beautiful views of the snowcapped Himalayas in the distance but visibility was limited on account of all the mist so we missed the opportunity unfortunately. We went back down the hill and sought refuge in Baristas (Indian style Starbucks) where we rested our weary legs. To all intents and purposes we ought to have thighs of steel by now but alas, signs of such a transformation are minimal. Over coffee we read about riots in Amritsar (so it was probably a good job we didn’t go) and of Tony Blair’s visit to Shimla. That would be cool if we had bumped into Tony on the top of a mountain but in the end he couldn’t get there because the fog and I seriously doubt he would be found in the budget basement style places we frequent anyway! We didn’t do that much for the rest of the day apart from see how long you could draw out one cup of coffee (answer: about an hour) and browse Indian fiction in the bookshops. In true English style it poured with rain so most of the time we were quite cold but it was welcome relief from the sweltering temperature of Delhi. Then we went in search of a beauty parlour so we could get henna done. I had my eyebrows done whilst the women were preparing to apply mehndi to Jen. Anyway, it turned out that it was the woman’s first attempt at henna (my own reckoning!) and then another woman started on me but it looked reaally bad (she was worse than the other woman!) so I politely asked her to stop. It was so funny because we ought to have seen sense when we initially walked in. The conversation that took place was something like this: me: do you do henna? woman: nooaayyeaah no problem! She either didn’t want to disappoint or saw it as a way to earn a quick buck but either way it was a little bit disastrous. We had our second attempt at Mehndi today and although the guys were infinitely more skilled the colour bled quite a lot . Jen and I laughed when we looked in the mirror because we look like a pair of gangstas/convicts complete with intimidating tattoos. Nice!

Anyway it was a bit of a shame to leave Shimla. It really has such a magical quality about it, and its got a multicultural feel on account of all the Kashmiris and Tibetans in amongst the Indians. The return journey was possibly the slowest 12 hours of our lives to date. The carriage was comprised of an inordinate number of pervy guys one of whom took the opportunity to stroke my legs when I walked by despite the fact I only had about 3 inches of leg on display. At the stations Jen and I felt a bit like exhibits and we were regarded with the same curiousity small child regards a new toy. Strange!

Now we are back in Delhi and the Indian Sweat Syndome has returned. ISS is characterised by profuse perspiration, clothes moulding to the countours of your body and a lovely aroma not unlike spicy chicken korma. Mum, you might like to bring some deodourisor to the airport and/or wear one of those astronaut style fumigation suits.

Today, we went to the National Museum of Modern Art which was quite nice, and then when we had finished our tour we discovered that meanwhile the heavens had opened.  A huge storm was just what we needed so it was really refreshing although I’m not sure Jenna agreed because she was wearing light colours haha. It was near India gate which is also really cool. We also ran into Tim and Sara again today which is just another event in a long line of coindences! They have just come back from Manali, but the bridge to Leh was down so they had to come across by basket! Tim pretended to be married to Sara so he could get in the female queue but even so the female officials decided to have a laugh at his expense and demanded he wear a veil and disguise himself as a woman. Poor guy!

Well I have talked for long enough as per usual. I have lots to do – in no particular order: sleep, arrange and rearrange luggage, prepare for reverse culture shock. I think the last point will be the hardest. I have got so used to being able to eat, watch a movie, have my eyebrows done and my shoes shined ALL for less than one pound that I dunno how I am gonna cope. Any suggestions, please send in on a postcard! See you in London baby!

…it is this, it is this, it is this.”

A persian poet used these words to describe Kashmir, and then Mughal emperor Jehangir nicked the phrase and had it inscribed on the Red Fort in Delhi, so it is a pretty unoriginal way of describing a place but I think I can live with that. Until I see Kashmir to assess it personally I think I am allowed to plagiarise if I feel I have good reason!

For now I think I do have good reason: Jenna and I have just returned from a blissful few days in Shimla in the foothills of the Himalaya. We had spent about 4 days in Delhi and decided to get away from the heat and general hustle bustle of the capital. Initially we had planned also to go to Amritsar until we realised the exorbitant ‘English’ style price tag – it costs about 695r one way which is about a tenner which seems a little steep to me.

Our stay in Pahaganj has been quite nice. It is a place called Hotel Star Palace. It’s not palatial and generally I like to steer clear of places that call themselves Paradise Guesthouse or whatever but we were so dead by the end of the train journey we sort of settled for the first place we could find. You might remember the place was described as seedy but I reckon its just hippy. There are a lot of dreadlocks and clothes in red green and yellow but apart from being asked whether we were from the ashram in Pune (see the entry on Osho) and being offered beer with breakfast it’s been cool. After two roasting days in a room that seemed to have ceiling fan solely as an adornment we transferred to an A/C room which has been like a piece of heaven compared to the sahara style conditions we have endured up until now. We had taken to having cold showers in our pyjamas just to stay cool throughout the night! 🙂

The guy at the hotel reception swears that he has met me before. I thought this was a really cheesy, really bad chat up line but the fact that he carries on as if he has known me forever is a bit creepy. He keeps on saying, “No, reeeally…Are you sure you haven’t stayed here before?” as if on the third interrogation I might suddenly say “Oh yes, I remember…way back when in ‘ 97, silly me!” or something.

Delhi has been quite nice. It isn’t quite as big and scary as remember it but I was considerably smaller and marginally more prone to intimidation back then. It is quite developed and feels very cosmopolitan. We were reticent to do the whole tourist thing because to be frank it is getting a little bit monotonous, but we couldn’t go to Delhi and not see the Red Fort etc etc. In the morning we went to the Jama Masjid, which is the biggest mosque in India and was built by Shah Jahan, he of Taj Mahal fame. Our poor English feet were not accustomed to the searing sandstone underfoot so we left with our feet feeling ever so slightly tender. We met a sweet little old man there who drew a few stares when he sparked up a conversation with a pair of girls. He told us something about the Moghul empire and how much he loves Kashmir but his accent was pretty thick and so I just tried to smile and nod in the right places. We left for the Red Fort and ended up strolling through Delhi’s muslim quarter which felt a bit like Pakistaniville.

The Red Fort was pretty cool. It was the fifth (maybe sixth?) fort we have seen in the space of a few weeks so apart from being generally fortlike I can’t really remember much that marked it out! A lot of the decoration was looted during the various sackings Delhi has been subject to over the centuries so it was probably only a shadow of its former glory but there was some nice pietra dura (the same inlay as is found at the Taj Mahal) and it was so serene in contrast to the frenetic chaos that characterises Delhi. On the way back after failing to find a rickshaw wallah who wasn’t on a mission to rip off tourists a policeman who was eavesdropping suggested we took the metro. The Delhi Metro is still under construction and we hadn’t realised that it was partly operational.

Wow, it was totally amazing. It was like the London underground (replete with ripped off Tube style signs) but without the noise and with air conditioning. It was more proof that India has the ability to constantly surprise. It gets some things so right, and some things so wrong. It was clean, smooth and there wasn’t a chewing tobacco stain to be found anywhere in sight. I took a photo to prove that it wasn’t just a figment of my imagination!

The next day we went to Shimla which is a hill station in the Himalaya at about 2200m. When the British ruled India (and about 1/5 of the whole planet I think) they would come up here in summer when the Delhi heat got too much to handle. It took about 12 hours to get there in total. When the guy joked about the narrow gauge train being like a toy train he wasn’t far off from the truth. The train goes so slowly you feel as though you could walk quicker but it means you have all the more time to take in and digest the sumptuous views. The vistas across the valleys are absolutely spectacular. We spent a good part of the journey hanging out of the door… literally, until my feet scraped along the side of a rather narrow tunnel and I realised how much I valued them and kept them within the carriage. We also shared the carriage with a lovely Goan family who recommended that we visit Panaji, and someday I would love to do the south of India. They had two children and their two cousins. The four year old boy, Anthony was possibly one of the cutest kids I have ever seen and he and his six year old cousin entertained us with their impressions of the chai’allahs (garam tea, coffee!) and other foodsellers. When his mum suggested I took him back home with me, I thought Okay, lemme have him!

We got into Shimla at about 5.30pm that evening and we were instantly pursued by a Kashmiri guy who implored us to stay at his hotel. After visiting the hotel and several others I suppose owned by his relatives/friends we were still unable to find anything suitable. Jenna and I are really rubbish at turning people down. No, I haven’t suddenly gone all soft – rather we both find it hard (read impossible) to disguise the look of horror on our faces and simulataneously think of a tactful way of turning down a room. Let’s face it, you can hardly say, ‘Well sir it looks like damp and smells of urine’ can you?

Anyway eventually a guy on the street saw two forlorn looking tourists and led us to a nice hotel called Le Royale. As we walked through the door it as evident it was way beyond our stingy student price bracket but after bargaining, and later pleading we managed to negotiate a price that was more than 50% less than the room tariff displayed. Even so, by our usual standards it broke the bank at a whopping four pounds and fifty pence pppn! It is situtions like this that make you realise the virtues of being a girl – a similar entreaty from a man would probably be regarded as feeble and unmasculine.

After assessing the luxuries that a fiver buys you (cable tv, HOT running water, small sachets of moisturiser) we went out to explore Shimla. The architecture is heavily influenced by the British. In fact it sort of feels like a seaside town at the top of a mountain for want of a better description. There is a promenade with lookout points across the valleys, Christ Church and something reminiscent of Cambridge high street. Even the place names are distinctly British: The Mall, Cart Road, Scandal Point etc. This together with the heightened friendliness of Shimla inhabitants made me feel really at home.

We were only there for two full days, and for both days there was a low lying mist that gave the place an eerie yet magical feel. On Tuesday after a late start due to sleep deprivation we consulted Lonely Planet and then went in pursuit of a place called the Viceregal Lodge. Well either we are exquisitely bad map readers or Lonely Planet is officially rubbish, because it took us much longer than planned to get there. And of course when you accidently walk down a steep hill you have to scale up it again when you realise you are utterly lost! In the end we found it but after several hours I think we had built it up in our mind’s eye to be a place of exceptional wonder and beauty and were a bit dismayed… but it was nice enough. The lodge looked spookily like Reed Hall on Streatham Campus so suddenly I felt like I was in Exeter on the top of a mountain!

We woke up the next day and walked another crazy distance to the highest point which can be found at Jakhu temple. It is dedicted to Hanuman, so inevitably there is a bunch of ‘sacred’ monkeys who like to force people to surrender their crisps and such like. Well I have already been the victim of a monkey attack on Elephanta island (it was the crisps again!!) so together we made a 2-man army complete with pebble artillery. They must have been driven away by the sheer menace in our stares because apart from an attempted robbery by one opportunist chimp we escaped unscathed!

The last time we were in Shimla there were beautiful views of the snowcapped Himalayas in the distance but visibility was limited on account of all the mist so we missed the opportunity unfortunately. We went back down the hill and sought refuge in Baristas (Indian style Starbucks) where we rested our weary legs. To all intents and purposes we ought to have thighs of steel by now but alas, signs of such a transformation are minimal. Over coffee we read about riots in Amritsar (so it was probably a good job we didn’t go) and of Tony Blair’s visit to Shimla. That would be cool if we had bumped into Tony on the top of a mountain but in the end he couldn’t get there because the fog and I seriously doubt he would be found in the budget basement style places we frequent anyway! We didn’t do that much for the rest of the day apart from see how long you could draw out one cup of coffee (answer: about an hour) and browse Indian fiction in the bookshops. In true English style it poured with rain so most of the time we were quite cold but it was welcome relief from the sweltering temperature of Delhi. Then we went in search of a beauty parlour so we could get henna done. I had my eyebrows done whilst the women were preparing to apply mehndi to Jen. Anyway, it turned out that it was the woman’s first attempt at henna (my own reckoning!) and then another woman started on me but it looked reaally bad (she was worse than the other woman!) so I politely asked her to stop. It was so funny because we ought to have seen sense when we initially walked in. The conversation that took place was something like this: me: do you do henna? woman: nooaayyeaah no problem! She either didn’t want to disappoint or saw it as a way to earn a quick buck but either way it was a little bit disastrous. We had our second attempt at Mehndi today and although the guys were infinitely more skilled the colour bled quite a lot . Jen and I laughed when we looked in the mirror because we look like a pair of gangstas/convicts complete with intimidating tattoos. Nice!

Anyway it was a bit of a shame to leave Shimla. It really has such a magical quality about it, and its got a multicultural feel on account of all the Kashmiris and Tibetans in amongst the Indians. The return journey was possibly the slowest 12 hours of our lives to date. The carriage was comprised of an inordinate number of pervy guys one of whom took the opportunity to stroke my legs when I walked by despite the fact I only had about 3 inches of leg on display. At the stations Jen and I felt a bit like exhibits and we were regarded with the same curiousity small child regards a new toy. Strange!

Now we are back in Delhi and the Indian Sweat Syndome has returned. ISS is characterised by profuse perspiration, clothes moulding to the countours of your body and a lovely aroma not unlike spicy chicken korma. Mum, you might like to bring some deodourisor to the airport and/or wear one of those astronaut style fumigation suits.

Today, we went to the National Museum of Modern Art which was quite nice, and then when we had finished our tour we discovered that meanwhile the heavens had opened.  A huge storm was just what we needed so it was really refreshing although I’m not sure Jenna agreed because she was wearing light colours haha. It was near India gate which is also really cool. We also ran into Tim and Sara again today which is just another event in a long line of coindences! They have just come back from Manali, but the bridge to Leh was down so they had to come across by basket! Tim pretended to be married to Sara so he could get in the female queue but even so the female officials decided to have a laugh at his expense and demanded he wear a veil and disguise himself as a woman. Poor guy!

Well I have talked for long enough as per usual. I have lots to do – in no particular order: sleep, arrange and rearrange luggage, prepare for reverse culture shock. I think the last point will be the hardest. I have got so used to being able to eat, watch a movie, have my eyebrows done and my shoes shined ALL for less than one pound that I dunno how I am gonna cope. Any suggestions, please send in on a postcard! See you in London baby!

Is it cos I is white?

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!)…