Diary of Lisa Taylor, reluctantly 42 (and a half)

Or.. 'f.ck me I'm forty.. two.. and a half', though can look 38 on a - not so deluded - good day. Or 'How to reconcile a well experienced mind trapped in a still - but for how long? – youthful body.' Don't have the 30somethings angst/problems, neither have the resigned (?) ageing baby-boomers in safe family territory outlook yet. Here's how I cope, one day all sexy women will get old... but never invisible. © Lisa Taylor 2005/6/7/8/9. Jeez.. so much for the 42 and-a-half delusion

Friday, December 16, 2011

17 December - Sleepless in Raja

apologies for length...

“You’re here to see forts and palaces and have a holiday later”. So says Mohan, the nice man who organized our driver Ranjit for us. The boyf had expressed some doubt as ‘do we really want to cover all those distances in 12 days? ‘ – he was after all jet-lagged - and I’d shut him up saying yes you just have to as you absolutely have to see these places as they’re like nowhere else, they rise out of the morning mist like mirages. But for places that clearly had so impressed me 12ya – I was here almost to the day - I don’t remember them much…
So I started by musing on how memory doesn’t work… I realized in my head I couldn’t tell which city was which between the other ones on the tourist trail. with the exception of Jaisalmer which I could picture, just, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Pushkar, Ajmer, Bikaner etc. and yet they all are qualified by a colour: the pink one, the blue one, the sandy one etc.

I only ‘remembered’ the Amber fort in Jaipur when I approached it – this time it had ten times the amount of elephant ferrying tourists up the slope to its entrance and the bedroom of mirrors is viewable only from behind barriers, I was lucky enough then to go inside and lie on the floor staring up at the dazzling mosaic, and I only remember having been inside the palace in Udaipur when I visited it again, but what I remembered of it are a courtyard with mirrored balconies and shop where I bought a silver ring I still wear. . And I kept saying things like ‘Oh, now I remember, there’s a picture of me and /or Anita (my friend on that trip) by this window’. So without having looked at that photo a few times over the years all of this would be gone. And since we had no digital camera then, we didn’t take masses of pictures either. At the time it was so awe inspiring and wonderful but in the intervening years it’s not like I ever bothered to google these places I just wanted to see them again for real. I did know I wanted the boyf see the open air observatory though as that had been a surprise find back then. I didn’t know such a thing could exist on the other side of the world. I tend to travel reading travel books after I’ve been somewhere, stupid you may say, but I prefer to rely on encounters and what people recommend but since Anita has a lifelong passion for the stars, the open air observatory had been her suggestion. And now I recommend it to all. But Jaipur has grown sprawling into a major city and you get stuck in its traffic a lot since there’s no ring road and going through the centre is like Piccadilly down on one lane of traffic. Start early, finish early is my advice and be prepared to miss great stuff whilst your eyes get drawn to endless monkey action around you. As in , monkeys being the clowns of india.

I’d picked a fantastic heritage hotel, the Narain Niwas, with the largest garden ever where they also have a plant nursery full of stupendous plants and a proper size pool. I thought boyf deserved some style and once he got over my ill advised henna tattoo on my palm (spelling welcome chris” but since it’s done in brown colour and smudged a bit it looked more like I ahem had squeezed a turd in my hand , sigh and it took ten days for it to fade despite scrubbing it with a kitchen brillopad) we were on!. However, this being India, when we were shown the fab room and heard a noise and asked ‘is this your generator, because if it is, we want to be as far away on the other side as possible” and the manager said ‘oh no this is construction work outside the hotel’ we looked alarmed, then I volunteered, “but it’s 3pm and they’ll have to finish at sunset non? And he said yes of course, we said ok we love this room with all its past grandeur and unique furniture.

Of course the demolition work next to the hotel was to demolish with pneumatic drills the size of dinosaurs the basement of a building that had gone up without permission, soon it will be a children’s park….aaaargghhh but not soon enough. This demolition work started at 2am on the first night of my boyf jet-lag and ended at 5am. It was like having something dug below your room never mind 200 yards away.. The disheveled look of the hotel manager next morning stopped me in my tracks when I was planning to complain.. he lived through it too so I let it pass.
Never mind, there’s beautiful Jaipur to see, and going for lunch in modern café Anhoki (part of the shop of the same name which sells fab fabrics, block printed, very subtle, google them) with Italian friend of friend who has a factory supplying fabrics to world famous designers, sadly there is no time to go visit such factory but I thank Barbara for taking me to a place where I can order a thai salad of soft little green leaves which have not seen in six weeks of mountain travel. Shame another friend of a friend, an Indian lady who does quality control on accessory goods a’ la Accessories my friend manufactures here, is out of town as would have liked her perspective on a number of things but as a middle class/entrepreneurial Indian she most likely can’t answer some of my basic /rural style questions, much as I wouldn’t be able to tell a foreign tourist why they do things like this or that in the Dorset countryside.

Up not so early on day 3 and basically , every town worth seeing is at least 250km from another so call that a six or seven hour drive with hardly anything to distract you along the way. The rajasthan fiefdoms were well set apart by their warring kings who just seemed to spend their time competing for who had the most lavish court. . I also wanted to go see some towns I had not time for on previous trip and so it is that the first trip out of Jaipur is towards Bundi, a less visited town but not off the beaten track by any means, with a deserted, semi crumbling palace. The shock here was the beyond bad road from Jaipur to bundi which traumatized us, chris because he had never been on such a featureless and bad road and me because I had the shits. Yep, the fancy heritage hotel in Jaipur gave them to me. Aaargh. Six weeks of street food and all good and the frikking top hotel floors me. Toph was fine as he’s still on the luxury probiotics VS2, can’t recommend them enough but you have to keep them in the fridge so no use bringing them when on the move. The thing to know is that in what passes for villages lining roads, the locals don’t believe you may be able to use a toilet the way they do, as in some cases it does not exist so the answer is always that they don’t have one. They just mean we don’t have one for the white lady… sigh.

I think 12ya I must have travelled between these towns on buses at night as have a memory of being tossed like a salad on a seat next to some bloke or my friend Anita, but not of seeing too much road. You can also do train of course or fly but not too all these destinations. However a bus would come off sort of ok perhaps in a collision with a cow or camel on the road but a car wouldn’t so we can’t travel in the dark. I also think that the owner of the car values it far too much to risk denting it because we want to use the night time to travel so it can’t be done, and as Jaipur friend confirmed a narrow escape when her car hit a camel once, I accept the local wisdom. Thanks for the warning. Cows and camels on the road is also a daytime occurrence though, and that’s why even with a good stretch of road in front of you, the driver won’t pick up speed. The animals appear totally out of the blue from some side of the road shrubbery and you would not be able to avoid them, so, 40km per hour it is or max 60km but only briefly. The joys of speed are not to be found in India unless on motorways but the cows are there too, seen them. Picture this, an almost deserted motorway, dozens of Indian men and women are busy repainting the yellow and black or yellow and white chevrons that mark the central reservation. On it we see a man pulling a water tank watering the tender new shrubs that one day may look very pleasant when in flower. A few steps behind the water cart are various cows chomping on the leaves and trunks of the new shrubs. The man either doesn’t notice or thinks it would be futile to chase one cow off when there are dozens awaiting …
Anyway, when we get there, the old town of Bundi is super cute with a perfect ‘lake/reservation ‘ in the middle, and you can sit in beautiful gardens and watch the endless stream of lorries on the other side winding up a hill. As in Europe, goods hardly travel by train anymore, everything is moved by truck and this region is highly populated so… my driver does not believe that in italy at least, delivery trucks can only travel at certain times of the day and never at the weekend…

Bundi is quiet if you discount the usual bikes’ fest and cars that should be blocked from entering narrow old streets designed to both keep out invaders and for horse or camel drawn carts only. Maybe in years to come an Indian tourist minister will visit the centre of Florence or Rome and marvel at the pedestrianised areas, which of course met with plenty of opposition when introduced , but I don’t think anyone regrets them now.

The heritage haveli here we pick as accommodation , Braj Bushanjee, is run by some old Brahmin prince and full of his stuff and delightful until 10 pm that night when a wedding procession jolts us out of initial slumber. It is atrocious and goes on for an hour only to move on to another part of town and then return to base all organs blazing of course around midnight. It’s not music only, it’s probably the same declaration over and over and over that Rama is a good guy and how lucky Pryanka is to get him as a husband. . Sigh…

But the Ghar palace the next day is for sure unique. Despite crumbling as not used since the early 70’s , there is a room in the women’s quarters that has miraculously been spared any weathering or defacing and is full of perfectly preserved murals , they’re exquisite and worth googling.
Did I also mention that in every fort/palace etc there are guides who are not guides but merely caretakers who take you aside (for a price/tip) and show you the painting/drawing where the naughty maharajah is spying on the bath time/dress time of the maharani and her female attendants? It’s hilarious, they pull boyf aside and whisper in his ear like it’ s something my ears are too delicate for. The same happens every time there’s a Shiva lingam to see in a temple. The lingam is the penis of Shiva and in some very very ancient temples it’s a huge block of marble or granite and sometimes it’s buried deep down some steps/cave and surrounded by water.. Funnily enough it’s me who touches every single one for luck rather than the boyf. I think it’s supposed to bring luck with fertility which I certainly don’t need but I just like to possibly shock the guides, “them western brazen women…”

There is no health and safety here, all monuments, forts etc have very low parapets that reach by your knees mostly , and you have to be careful how you lean out to look bu it’s also exhilarating not to have all the ‘don’t go here, don’t go there’ that we have in our monuments. And if you want to go up some steps you shouldn’t and take life in your hands, there’s a handy guide who’ll unlock the chain for you. For a tip or a price.
In Bundi we meet an Italian, chef during the season at the President hotel in Forte dei marmi and then uses his 16 or 20 weeks holidays to travel.. the kind of person who informs you he’s been to Thailand 18 times and Vietnam 22 times.. needless to say he’s long divorced, but he’s useful as he collects precious stones and antique perfume bottles and tells me stuff about jewellery like a lot of the gold sold is silver with a dip of gold. And you’d never know.. so that confirms I should not be spellbound by trinkets no more. I simply wouldn’t know what am buying so best to leave them. According to him in Nepal it takes 21 grams of gold to marry a girl, which is not a lot, in India it must be more, the 20,000 dollars worth, a jeweler guy told me in Delhi. In days where there was/ is no divorce but women can get kicked out of a home, or your hubby dies and his bro doesn’t want you, all you had is your gold to see you through the rest of your life and your kids. So there must be a code of honour in place as my immediate thought is ‘the guy can divorce you /kick you out AND keep your jewellery also no?’

Thankfully the road out of Bundi to Udaipur is great, nobody on it and leaving early means you arrive at mid afternoon and not at sundown when you’d feel ‘spent’. Udaipur is a dream and there’s nobody here. I’ll find out later that the peak tourist season is not before and during xmas as I thought but jan to march. Our first choice hotel, Amet Haveli, has a small window on the lake and when I say ho hum this is a partial view and hum and er about it and then ask if maybe they can discount us the 10 per cent of tax and he says no, it’s out of there and we end up next door which is much nicer and half the rate, check this out Lake Pichola palace with pool and restaurant on the roof, too cold for it though and Ibiza style tented beds on it and bar. Bingo. The rooms have a bit of a seventies feel about them but I guess they’ve started with the top pool floor and will renovate as they go along. Can’t beat it for the view thought. The lake is full of water, some years it runs dry and if you come to only one place in Rajasthan, this is the one I guess. Now, where exactly did liz hurley get married, on the hotel in the middle of the lake? Must be something to arrive by water in a cortege of vessels, but I come from near Venice so beat that… from the top floor at dusk you can also see hundreds of bats heading out for a night’s feed of a huge tree next to the hotel. I felt I was in a scene of Twilight there for half an hour.. but they just went into the branches and within minutes the tree was still and you’d never had guessed it was bat hotel.
The light switch lottery in every hotel is very entertaining, btw, as there are about 20 switches in each room usually set in a panel so you have to try each one to find out which lamp it corresponds too and even then there is never a decent light to read a book after dark by. Handily there is usually a switch outside your front door that will switch everything on or off.
Am super glad to see that the or one of the mosques in town is above the super expensive Leela palace hotel, much advertised, hurrah, you pay top dollar and you can’t shut up or out the hour of allah akbar at 5am. Presumably when the mosque was built it was a bit out of the way.. but maybe the Leela Palace has great double glazing.
Udaipur has a variety of places with terraces or bay windows facing the lake so you can watch the sun rise or go down whilst in the process of eating and drinking very nice food.
As mentioned tourists are either coming next month or are in Goa we’re told so it is that I can’t stop feeling sorry for the shops and restaurants which are empty and touting for their ‘pashminas’ (naaah mate, please call them just shawls, there aren’t enough goats in the Himalayas to produce all this quite obviously synthetic stuff), and all other wares. Of course the region is well known for exquisite jewellery and amazing textiles and you can go look for those in exclusive shops but am just talking about what lines the streets, not the Bond street equivalent. Incidentally here’s a good one. Everyone constantly asks you where you’re from which of course is a way of identifying what they can sell you as a French and Italian looks for different things and different quality than a tourist from Ohio, sorry ohians. This constant asking is immensely tedious as you answer and then get pushed for more /come this way and that. So I took to saying we were polish and that shuts everyone up as they repeat ah, polish and then waste a precious – to you as you’re escaping – few seconds whilst they think of what they know about polish people which is zero as not many of those around. Am rather proud of this one. If pressed for a word of polish you say dzjinkuja barzo (not actual spelling) and that’s that, they’re stunned for a reply. The polish tourist is a mystery to them still.
My acknowledged first faux pas of the trip happens in Udaipur and it’s a huge one. I saw a very well dressed man walking up the ramp to the palace on the lake, on his hands .. he had ‘shoes /sandals’ fashioned for his hands and well, I thought, he’s made an effort to dress decently – for a beggar - and approached him to give him some notes. To my absolute mortification he gestured and mouthed “no no, no” , he’s not a beggar, aaaargghhhhh , I want to die. Chris says he’s probably a relative of the last Maharana since that one had a disability also! Jeesus wept, I am a fool.
The Palace is pretty wonderful but I can’t help thinking, there are always galleries full of elaborate daggers, guns with intricately chiseled barrels and novelty features, but where are all the others gone? The armies of these maharanas had thousands of men and they were constantly fighting this prince or that one. Where did all the other knives go? Smelted to make ashtrays? Bought by all the british raj and currently in some cabinet in rainy England? I think this stupid stuff whilst I wait for boyf to take a zillion photos. He always tells me I’ll be glad he’s taken all these photos and ‘we can always delete’…. Mmhh. My tourist habits are simple by comparison, a few photos and a few postcards and am done.
When we reach Jodhpur our chosen heritage hotel, the Pal Haveli gives us a bedroom, which is larger than my flat in London and if you factor in the ceiling height than my flat fits into this room twice. Sigh. They knew how to live the reach merchants. The terrace has a fantastic view of the fort and the water tanks below. The fort here, Mehrangahr, is mega fantastic to visit – the work of angels, fairies and giants as ruyard kipling said, and the old town, the so called ‘blue city’
is only really visible if you go into the fort, so don’t skip it if you come- by. The rest of the town though has nothing much to offer so a night and a day is enough.

We sit for tea in a corner of the vast Jodhpur market, at a busy stall and the owner chats to us and even offers us tea. The chai walla (boss) reveals he makes 20k a day. 5k of it is profit, selling tea only, nothing else. That’s in Indian rupies so divide by 75. it’s a massive amount for here. His bro sat next to him owns a textile company and does pretty well too. But owner doesn’t think his son will want to run the tea stall, too many hours a day. We watch for a while, it’s all cash, who’s his spies in the team I wonder, it would be easy to siphon some money here and there but can people be bothered? And how much does he have to give to the local police….am not going to go into Indian corruption and mafia, there are fiction and non fiction books galore on the subject and the paper talks about it every day. Boring.
On the longest stretch, the road between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer where the cows on the road gradually give way to herds of camels and we go slightly car stir crazy – not used to a driver who drops me off and picks up at every gate, I miss walking around - we meet the longest ever army convoy. Hundreds of trucks carrying or dragging rocket launchers , latrines, tanks and what not, endless soldiers’ faces peering down at us every time our car is sandwiched behind one of their trucks. See, the road is not bad as our driver told us, but try overtaking this lot.. Jaisalmer is a mere 30km from the boundary with Pakistan and here they’re very scared of Pakistan, constantly in the newspapers., small but deadly next door. I bet they rue the day they said in ’47, ‘all you lot, go over there and be happy’. Hasn’t quite turned out that way. But I also suspect the Indian government uses the Pakistan threat to make themselves look better or at least to justify the military which is so huge here that it’s the biggest employer after the railways. Around jaisalmer there are army barracks that stretch for miles and we will meet another convoy when leaving town. So that’s def not my favourite 8 hours in a car… I will also see 2 very fit Sikh turbaned soldiers in fatigues, they’re stunning. The best looking guys in india are in the north and in rajsasthan, I remember that from 12ya. They’re taller, leaner, their moustaches don’t seem so comical and they have a look that says ‘I am the lord around here, don’t ya mess with me’ which ahem is sexy , compared for example with the Goans or Keralans who sort of look meeker and, well, shorter in comparison.

I remember jaisalmer for the beautiful Patwon ki haveli outside the city walls, owned by a merchant who must have been the Medicis of this town and since he had five sons to house in the compound, there’s endless beautiful rooms to peer into, full of heritage fabrics and cabinets with all sort of intriguing collections . But wish as with all the palaces visited that you could be inside them at night and with the original lighting which would have been flickering candles reflected back by the myriad glass and mirror work of the alcoves in which they’d have stood. Instead you visit everything in museum times/daylight when that treat is not available. I bet they let Charles and Camilla come at night, lucky sods.
Our desert hotel, Jaisalgahr, has a slightly faulty towers feel about it or if you want to update that, you could be in a Kaufman movie, (the guy who did ‘Being john malkovich’ and scripted “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” when we get to the breakfast room it’s in darkness and the poor waiter is asleep on a chair. But he scrambles up to turn on the lights in the ceiling that mirrors the sky, sweet. Eventually we’re joined by an Indian businessman who spends the entire time snorting back his own snot. Nice. I wish we’d followed my disregarded advice and stayed in accommodation inside the Golden Fort, (jaisalmer being the only town where the fort is actually inhabited, by 1000 people and probably a hundred cows who will bar your passage in the narrow alleys) but that would have meant dragging our luggage up a long ramp as 3 wheelers not allowed in anymore and I agree with that decision. Did I mention some of us have a suitcase in tow instead of the very handy backpack ? some of us don’t want to look like backpackers and you’d think that’s the girl right? Wrong.

Jaisalmer is also suffering from world recession tourist drought. We dine alone in the Tibetan restaurant we stop at because I miss eating veggie momos (Tibetan dumplings) but since they’re not that good, a simple question reveals that the last Tibetan left the kitchen here 7 years ago and his recipe has lost definition. So we chat to an extremely smart 15 year old with perfect English who is trapped here and can’t wait to get out, but he goes to a private school, maybe he will escape. We enter into a conversation about popstars and since I know the ones he mentions bar a few, we pass some sort of test. ‘What do you do when it’s hot here in the summer’ we ask, he answers go out early to play cricket and go out when sun is going down to play cricket. He adds this is pretty much all there is to do at any other time also. Since there’s nothing for the tourists to do, (how many play cricket? Thought not) I say some of us would like/could learn to dance hindi movie style moves if anyone started a course. “What ? he says, like ‘Tourists got talent?’ see I told you he was smart.

The pastimes are simple indeed. We’re on the terrace of a hotel which offers a grand view of the fort at sunset. You could spend hours here pretending to be an attacker who came all the way to take the fort and spends day and night wondering how to get in, so unassailable it seems. The terrace is a couple of storeys above a rabbit wren of terraces of regular housing. It’s near sunset and the terraces are little market place microcosms of the town. This is where all the women and the children are. The women who presumably only leave the houses to go buy food at the market and for the rest of the time are here cooking it, and washing and doing what women do. They’ re all talking across rooftops and the kids are flying kites. The kites are super simple, just small squares of paper or fabric with no tails or elaborate designs. Ranjit told us the kite festival is in mid January and we’ve seen older kids and young men flying kites from the ramparts of other forts we’ve visited. On some ad in a magazine I saw giant and elaborate kites but here it’s all basic stuff, for some reason I find it moving that they only have the wind to play with. I have not asked Ranjit what one wins for flying a kite the highest or the best and now it’s too late, maybe I’ll find info on the net, but it seems this is what kids to here more than kicking a ball around. The sun goes down and all the women and kids go inside. An hour later and the squares are thronging with …their men, drinking tea, eating a street samosa, chewing the fat. Jaisalmer is where chris follows his instincts and joins a queue for a busy street stalls and returns proclaiming he’s had the best masala dosa ever. Bear in mind that masala dosas are a southern snack not a desert one. I , in the meantime have something I could become addicted to if it wasn’t a glass of fat, ie full fat milk with saffron strands infused in it. Delicious. It’s kind of bizarre to see small crowds of men drinking flavoured milk but not many Indians go out on the razzle with alcohol.

I think I have trained myself to ignore the fact that there are never any women ever serving you (apart on market stalls selling fruit and veg or cloth items), it’s men, men and more men around so you feel odd because you know they think you’re odd sitting amongst them and drinking your tea. Am less of an oddity now that boyf is with me but they probably think they would never be like him and take their woman out for all to see. But am grateful that they don’t impose any funny tent for their woman to wear before she goes out. When you travel in rural places though all the women who are walking along the road going to fields etc, have their sari scarf well draped to cover their faces but it’s just gauze and see through
Incidentally the rajasthani dress is not a sari but the same choli/short sleeved shirt as a sari wearer but the skirt is a full skirt which of course is wonderful when they dance and it swirls around. The hem of the skirt is what tells you the status of the wearer, married women have a band of red or other colour at the bottom of the skirt. . which reminds me that in Tibetan/nepali dress, the dress is the same for both , but you add an apron to it if you’re married and the apron can be in a fabric that’s very expensive but it’s design/patterns aer always the same. Another thought on women’s clothing, when you see the brightness of the pinks and yellows and greens and reds etc, against the drab sandy landscape, you understand why they went for such extreme bursts of colours, to be seen if they’re lost in the landscape or just a way to scream ‘I exist in this harsh environment’ . and so my quest continues for some sari lengths in understated light grey which I need to turn into curtains for my flat. Grey silk plainly does not exist. Nor sand or cappuccino colour either ahem.

Unexpectedly in Pushkar despite its streets being lined with the usual shops selling shawls and hippy crap, nobody hassles you to come see my shop please. Mystery. As chris changes money in a money changer the guy explains that if they make 4 quid a day they’re fine and don’t need more. This is echoing my Hindi teacher rita in mcleod ganji who told me Indians only work to make enough to get by and are not greedy for more. Clearly this doesn’t tally with the government race to beat the Chinese at the new top of the world economy game. But it makes sense of all the people one sees doing nothing, they’re not deliberately doing nothing but there is not much to do at least in the service industry. No tourists, the recession in Europe and USA has put paid to many holidays abroad.. We’re the exception and that’s the reason some of the hotels feel so sad as empty. None more than in Jaisalmer which is so far to get to that many people won’t make it this far and all the camels will go hungry as we’re not paying for safaris. Went on one 12ya and got so bored I couldn’t wait for the 3 days 2 nights to be over, despite a canopy of stars you wouldn’t believe it, the kind to send professor Brian Cox gaga.
However Pushkar is where we get constantly approached and asked if we want drugs. Or rather, chris is, I’m a girl so presumably I’d never buy drugs and would just watch my male companion take them. I’d be curious to know the prices though… as the town is a mecca for a certain type of smoker and judging by the signs at most café’s, he’s Israeli.
But we still feel pretty safe and looked after, “This is Rajasthan, not crazy India” , says Ranjit every time boyf asks things like ‘are our bags safe in the car? ‘ (when we leave one overnight type thing). And also everyone is unfailingly courteous but things take time, there’s no such thing as American style service, my boyf gets annoyed every time as food takes a while to get to you as it’s made from scratch and they don’t keep an army of cooks in the kitchen and he refuses to accept my simple suggestion which is ‘Go for food before you’re hungry and desperate for it, so waiting half an hour won’t be filled with ‘but how long can a bowl of porridge take to make??’. Men!
Some of the streets laden with the same-same wares make me feel like I’m trapped inside Cha cha dum dum, a cavernous warehouse inside the old Kensington Market selling ‘oriental goods’ , where my best Italian mate M. had found a job as a book-keeper back in 1980. I remember that was hippy shit even then and we were punks innit? so I don’t remember ever asking her to get me a bracelet or other of their wares, it was even then really cheaply produced , I asked her recently, and sold in major volumes so feel free to disregard me anytime I call these trinkets crap as many people like it and surely anyone on their first gap year buys them, and I’m just an old snob.

So it’s snob’s punishment that I lost my very real , very beloved purple cashmere scarf whilst roaming round the lake, had to be the best /warmest scarf I brought with me I thought, not the cheap stuff I plan to abandon on some corner, but my karma must be good as a not so hopeful retrace of my steps and voila’ find it 3 hours later still on the steps of the ghats surrounding Pushkar lake. Hallelujah. Maybe I should have paid the wanna-be Brahmin priests for their puja (purification ceremony) after all, I had refused. . You get a string tied to your wrist to show you have paid your dues and thrown some marigolds in the lake. Flowers not the washing gloves though for sure there’s plastic in the lake too. And the women sweeping dust off the steps to the lake, sweep it, into the lake of course. Am sure it’s a form of devotion on their part. Btw, the brooms they use here are not brooms with a handle but a bundle of sticks that can only be used if you bend down or squat. Not ideal for these womens’ backs and rest assured that no man is ever seen sweeping anything round these parts.

So it is that the dancer ladies from Jaisalmer are surrounding chris when I get to back to him and he has agreed to buy them tea in exchange for taking photos, but once we’re stat down, it starts, we’re both hemmed in by one on each side and more. They tell us tales of woe and demand six quid, just like that. That’s a lot of chapattis and teas, so I offer two and leave them. I think chris is disappointed, he had not ‘got it’ instantly that we were the usual sugar lump in the anthill, and had been captivated by their colourful costumes. Later we saw two rajasthani ladies strutting back and forth in the same central street and approaching male tourists and well, life is hard but had not seen this display anywhere else yet.
The largest second mosque outside of Mecca is in Ajimer a mere half hour from pushkar, hurrah, and they let anyone in the walking areas though you can’t access the shrine where a finger of the this particular prophet is kept. So you go and the courtyards are full of muslim and hindus just chilling there, or washing before going into the shrine though the women have separate areas of course and they’re much smaller, maybe they’re supposed to just worship at home…. This giant mosque complex is smack bank in the middle of hindu town so if there was some religious tension you’d better leg it, but otherwise there’s no sense the two religions can’t live side by side and the streets leading up to it sell the usual tat only here it’s all green and gold coloured. in mecca colours.
The road back to Jaipur is fab motorway style so we’ll be there in a flash for one last night before the flight to Goa. The weirdest sight on it for a change is not cows but a posse of stark naked men in a slow jogging convoy. They are Jains religion followers on a pilgrimage says Ranjit’s to our stupefied faces. Our driver Ranjit’s wife has never been anywhere, lives in a village 100km from Jaipur . He returns there when not driving, as he’s a farmer for half the year, and they farm mustard plants and other vegetables. This earns him/them 2 quid a day for a few months of the year till monsoon and waiting for harvests to ripen pass. That would buy food for them for sure but to put into some perspective, a bowl of porridge with fruit and a coffee that is not made with nescafe’ would cost me more than that at any moderate establishment. No doubt all who come into contact with as tourist must think us loaded if we choose to travel to the other side of the world from our homes to blow a quid on a bowl of porridge instead of the 15p chapatti they eat for their breakfast.
I don’t know how much he earns for driving but he’s clearly happy to be in charge of a nice big car with white seat covers, air-con and a stereo. I just think it’s ironic that he’s been all over this fabled region with dozens of us tourists and his wife has never seen any of the fab views we’ve enjoyed. He’s very subtle and careful as a driver and must have been told we hate hearing the horn used constantly so he doesn’t. proof that you can drive in india w/o it. And he must also have been told that there is only so much Indian music tourists want to listen to and he keeps it low and turns it off when we ask him too, but he listens to the same 2 CDs everyday, so at a service station I buy him some more but the songs are virtually the same. Sigh. I had thought about bringing some of my own but didn’t, I regret it now. I think Ranjit needs to listen to some William Orbit or Bach for a few hours to realize why we don’t appreciate Rajasthani dance music that much, which incidentally is super similar to Moroccan music, I guess the instruments are the same….ahem. For good measure I also gift him a phone microphone thingy so he can take his various calls without taking his hands off the wheel!

Rajasthan is ‘done’ and the morning we leave for the airport, Ranjeet brings his nearly 2 year old daughter with him. To our horror she’s sat on front seat , no seatbelt, no child seat and she’s the size of 1 year old. We can barely see her head as he approaches the hotel gate, but we see clearly that she falls clean down in the well when he brakes to reverses into a parking space. Oh dear god. So on the way to the airport, I take her and am holding her on my lap in the back seat to possibly save her life in an accident, and the little mite shifts a little and pukes on me, profusely, (the purple cashmere scarf is not having a good Indian sortie) and I stink till I get some men’s strong cologne later in the airport. Poor doll, she didn’t cry at all and under her bottoms which I take off to wipe, she’s naked , so small , so cute but what can I do. She now wants to be with daddy, not with me and after he comforts her, he plonks her again on the front seat half naked, this time belts her up and gives her his phone to play with and all drama is forgotten. Reminds me of 12ya on plenty trains I used that the Indian toddlers were the quietest I’ve ever met. They had no toys to entertain themselves with and were always quiet. Anita and I were always trying to work out how the mothers knew exactly when to spirit them away to the toilet as they wore no nappies …. It’s still a mystery.

Various other temples and forts were visited in between major towns, some of them we had to ourselves entirely, don’t miss the Kumbhalghar fort with ramparts that go for miles, wall of china style, and Shekhawati and Bikaner and the temple of rats which we didn’t go to on this trip, but I remember vividly from 12ya. You would too if you had hundreds of mice running over your bare feet. For good luck obviously. But if this goes over the equivalentof ten pages you’d want to kill me



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