River Wissey Lovell Fuller

My Indian Adventure

January 2009

Ann describes her recent visit to India.

I put my watch on 5 1/2 hours as I touched down in India.

After changing £s for rupees I was met by a guide with sign saying "Adventure Company" and holiday had started. 10 miles of chaotic traffic to hotel (not the one I was expecting to go to) but found the rest of the group already there, so must be O.K. I noted, in Delhi, all taxis, tuk tuks and buses ran on LPG gas, and lorries were barred from city during the day, which did improve the air quality enormously. There was lots of building work in centre of the roads, new under/over ground trains to be up and running for the Commonwealth games in 2010.

Time to meet my room mate. I knew we would get on, as we both wanted to see India and to save the considerable single room supplement. Then the rest of the group and guide, a young Indian man who said call me Janet!

A tour of New Delhi, with wide streets and imposing buildings, dating from the heyday of the British Empire. India gate has the names of all those killed in the war engraved in stone, stops for photos and the loo (unfortunately I was the only one with local money!!) I was paid back later. Saw black faced monkeys. Then to Raj Ghat, cremation site of Mahatma Ghandi (a large black marble plinth and surrounding gardens) Meal at hotel of buttered naan, rice, yoghurt with cold cooked potato and goat stew (hot!!!) sauce was great, but the three pieces of meat were just bone and gristle.

Breakfast of cheese omelette, angelica and cherry cake, a bowl of curry, lemonish bun and savoury doughnut. Picked up card from the hotel and out into town, seeing lots of holy cows, and ladies, in sari's, carrying bricks on their heads, up steps on a building site. Came back by rickshaw. Felt sorry for the man pedalling but paid the agreed amount.

Plane to Udaipur. As it was Dwali there were coloured rice decorations in airport. A good meal on the plane, chicken in curry sauce with rice and pickle which was too hot to eat, a cocoanut mould with cold custard and two chocolates in a' Happy Dwali' box, one mint and one aniseed.

Road to next hotel was just a steep sand track. We looked out on the lakes, shame about the algae, and bigger shame that the monsoon had only partially filled them as they provided the water for the rest of the year. The hotel was unfinished!!! It will probably take several more years. But the staff were great.

This is a beautiful lakeside town. Streets nearly wide enough for one vehicle, lots of tourist shops and millions of people, saying 'Happy Dwali.'

Evening meal in rooftop restaurant. (must get used to waiting an hour for food to arrive). Chicken, garlic naan and pineapple fritters with chocolate sauce. As it was Dwali there were fireworks everywhere. All Hotels did their bit. No milk bottles to launch rockets so bare hands were used. Then I went for a walk into town, the noise was very loud, I was told where it was safe to stand to see a firecracker let off. Must have been a thousand bangers sewn in a strip and rolled out over a long portion of street. Cost 5000rupees.! The local shopkeeper who donated it obviously overcharges. A banger was made with a tin 7in diameter tin filled with bangers and was heard all over town. The town dogs that slept all day slept through all this, also the cows took no notice. I saw no one drinking so no beer cans or bottles and felt very safe. Good to be part of it all. Bangs continued all night, I was told.

Up at 6.30 and surprised the restaurant who expected us at 8 am. Cups of tea comprised milk, tea, sugar and water brought to the boil together, probably in a curry saucepan accompanied hardboiled eggs and banana sandwiches. We all went up the many steps of the ornately carved 'Jagdish Mandir' hindu temple and to the City Palace. Still used, but some is a museum.

Lunch in a marquee, of buttered naan, paneer pansander (fried cottage cheese in a white fruit sauce with peanuts) followed by deep fried corn balls with syrup.

Afternoon to boat on the lake (those who did met all the local mosquitoes) I walked round town with room mate taking photos and discovered, in a local cafe, that a torn bank note is worthless. But very nice young man at hotel, who sold me stamps for cards, taped it together, and said I was a very special lady and could he call me mother!

Lots of insect repellent needed for lakeside evening meal (still fireworks over the lake) I had fish curry, fruity yoghurt and fried rice for main course and a typical sweet of white syrupy balls of something like cocoanut.(I shared lots of things with those who did not order, as they were not sure what they were)

Basic breakfast. Porridge, really good, toast, eggs, bananas and coffee. Some were disappointed with this, but it was plenty for me. Bus ride to see more temples, going past marble mines, with many marble slabs for sale at roadside. Big painted lorries used the small roads to transport these as the new toll road was too expensive.

The cows roaming freely have always been sacred as their butter was essential to keep fires burning. Small farms privately owned and bigger ones pay workers a percentage of crops produced.

Ornate temples, now tourist attractions for locals as well as us. Temples were interesting, but so were the elephants and bric brac for tourists to buy.

Bought a hot, deep fried, flaky pastry patty (curry vegetables inside.) delicious. Ate it while walking round cows, holes in the road etc. This holiday is all food !!! lunch cheesy naan, containing onions and chilli, 2 fish fingers (4in triangles of river fish fried in thin spicy batter).

Walked round the real old town and saw decorated tractors, decorated cows (Dwali) a machine to squeeze sugar out of canes, had a long conversation, over a cup of tea, with shopkeeper on pitfalls of owning a shop, I bought two postcards. Went into a temple, remembering to remove shoes, and saw women using branches to sweep up leaves, and three coffins. A young man said yes it was sad, a 3,000 year old re-enactment of a famous persons funeral. Was offered lift back to hotel on a motorbike for only 10r. I took a tuk tuk to near hotel and did roommates shopping, a loo roll, almost unheard of in local shops, thought I was going to have to mime! Was looking in an open door so invited into the courtyard of a home. I met several relatives and cow and calf. They owned the cow, which gave comparatively little milk, being dry for 6 months, no problem food wise as cows live on the streets, and help themselves to litter and vegetables from stalls, which did not make them popular. I spent a very interesting 4 hours out in 35 degrees while the rest rested.

Ready for another rooftop meal, stuffed dumplings in sauce, egg naan and rice. No puddings as electricity supply not good enough to run a freezer.

Overnight train to Jaipur. No one travelled on the roof, those who had not booked a seat jumped on before it stopped. Must have been 30 carriages long. Seats folded down and we all had two sheets (no means of tucking them in) and a horse hair blanket. ..as someone said "just like being in prison" how did they know? No food or drink, I did not sleep much but checked we were going NE by the stars. It was exciting!

Porridge and a pastry croissant for breakfast before visiting Jantar Mantar an18th century observatory, with a sun dial accurate to 2 seconds (I had seen it on a TV program) and the world's tallest sun dial, I found it amazing. Then into town, passing numerous camel and bullock carts, also holy cows and monkeys, to the City Palace, where I looked through intricate lattice windows of marble, from where females, who were not allowed to be seen, could look out.

Ready for a bowl of thick minestrone soup (curried) and naan bread. Time for our rest so had a swim in the pool but got fed up with driving away the pigeons, who drunk etc. in the water so took a tuk tuk to into town to buy antihistamine cream (30p) and some sweets, spending 12 1/2p on 3 rolls of fruit sweets, chocolate flavoured chewing gum and some purple (blackcurrant) wrapped sweets!!! They were strong curry flavour, only one other person in the group was brave enough to try one, and he also had to spit it out. Took a rickshaw back (having seen men sleeping on these vehicles as perhaps they have no where else), and my few pence fare could mean a decent meal.

Supper on lawn, Naan stuffed with potatoes, kair sangri (local vegetables and beans) followed by fruit cream...needed lots of people with forks to help me eat it all (fresh fruit cubes covered with whipped cream) Local music and dancers entertained us. They find it easy dancing with 7 saucepans balanced on their heads.

Next morning took pictures of Palace of the Winds, spectacular frontage but nothing else, and on to Amber Fort, where an elephant took the braver of the party to the top. I was lucky, having a young Sterling Moss as driver (who signalled hold on very tightly, as we overtook most of the rest.) More steps to look round an ancient capital. Here wives had to wear very heavy dresses to prevent illegal relationships while their husbands were at war, and if a husband was killed up to 10 wives would throw themselves on funeral pyre.(Should a wife die husband just took another one!) Walls similar to Great Wall of China, enclosed a large area. Building work was in progress and ladies in saris passed by with baskets of brick rubble on their heads. I drank 'miranda' limeade with sugar and salt...good when 35 degrees. We stopped to look at temples in a lake and cormorants with yellow faces, and were taken to a jewellery shop...interesting.. and all but 4 of us went on to lunch(rest stayed to buy) ..Learned how to fold napkins to represent peacocks ..rice with caraway seeds, cheese lumps in a spinach and mint sauce(very nice) 3 cups of coffee and water to take away cost about £4.. normal price of a meal.

Noticed the stripy squirrels made the sound of sparrows and rice paper was made from very thinly beaten rice bran, Back to chalet in the grounds of hotel, really smart but the back was unfinished, I expect the heat takes the plaster off. We had runner bean and lime trees to look at and mothballs in all the drains to keep insects out.

Free afternoon, so went to Birka temple (I thought it was a planetarium till I got there). A policeman whistled me...I was going 'in' the 'out' path...Noticed the men on the high roof, wiring lights, with absolutely no safety equipment! Took my shoes off and threw onto the pile, when I came out was able to point to them so was not bare foot for the rest of holiday. Then a Hindustan charity shop, key rings 10r and a black diamond necklace for nearly £2.00. Found a bicycle rickshaw for return journey and picked the one person who did not know the way!! I only knew the general direction, so we had to keep stopping to ask his mates, he must have pedalled an extra mile!

Platter for tea (looked like a prison tray! but I did not hit any one the head with it) potatoes, tomato, chicken, lamb, all curried and pottery tub of pistachio ice cream. I brought the pot home as a souvenir.

Next day a long, long journey along roads which weren't there. Flat countryside with a few hills in the distance. As I suffered with 'mal de mer' I lived on biscuits and sweet black coffee .Saw women carrying every thing on their heads and wearing such colourful saris. School children were immaculately turned out, which can't be easy when you live in one room. We arrived at Ranthambore National Park and took to jeeps to see the wildlife, lots of deer and wild boar and birds but no tigers (I expect they saw us first) Back to our lodges and a barbeque while watching local dancers and a spectacular fire eater (real petrol)

Up at 5am for drink before another game drive, exciting following tracks at what seemed like breakneck speed, but again saw no tigers. The park was really great (so peaceful, trees and long grass with lakes and water birds) and historic ruins on the hill tops. I took lots of photos and could have stayed for hours, but visitors had a 3 hour time slot. Back for breakfast and clutching a picnic lunch (ripe green oranges, bananas, cheese sandwiches and a small bar of chocolate) were off in our cars again. 5 travel pills worked !

Another long ride. I saw - many people! brick kilns, camel, donkey and ox carts, only men's bikes (impossible to ride a bike wearing a sari, same went for motorbikes but not scooters) wells, small trailers full of cows and men, sheep, goats and pigs on the roads. A better three lane road with gaps in the central reservation so that if you only needed to go a short distance the wrong way you could (we did) As it got dark the cows lay down and some people used lights, no street lights, few road signs and many near misses, chaos. We had reached Agra. Our hotel was sumptuous, downstairs, upstairs our rooms very basic, Stayed in to eat toasted beef roll with onions and chips and rice pudding with saffron strands, nuts and sultanas.

Up at 5 am to see the sun turn Taj Mahal from white to pink...how wrong could I be .. as King of Belgium visited the day before and had the place to himself, we had to wait in long queues to be searched before entering, , and found the air pollution made everything grey. So it was a little disappointing. Separate queues for the sexes as ladies were searched behind screens. It was huge and surrounded with gardens, once again many people, and intricate marble work inlaid with semi precious stones.

After curried fish cakes for breakfast we visited the Amber Fort, just the other side of the river from the Taj, but too much pollution so see across. My memories of the Fort, apart from the architecture, were school parties dressed as St Trinian's girls. (who could not have seen the film) Outside I stroked a snake charmers cobra and had to pay for the privilege

We were taken to an inlaid marble shop, (out of my price bracket.) before Peacock Restaurant, (national bird of India) yoghurt, rice, mixed veg. lentils and chicken and sponge cakes in saffron milk.

For my afternoon rest I took a hotel taxi to a supermarket (but had to stop off at lots of upmarket shops first to keep the drivers boss happy) this is where locals shop, really good selection of everything and no hassle. My few purchases were sealed in a bag and their screen prompt asked if I would like to give 1r to street children! I gave all my change. My receipt was punched before I could leave. Bags had to be left in lockers at doors of shops and armed policed prevented theft. I had to cross a very chaotic road in the dark to my taxi! A very kind tuk tuk driver saw me across!!!

Highlight of tonight's meal was the news that two of our group had become engaged at the Taj. Naan bread with potato, garlic and cheese sauce in the middle with omelette and potato cakes.

It was another long drive back to Delhi - I counted 12 in a tuk tuk +3 on top - where we ate in a delicatessen, pastries containing curried veg. and cheese, and walnut and syrup tart (could have picked sandwiches). Into Old Delhi and drove past the Red Fort and visited the largest mosque in Delhi (many more steps) from there most of us went by rickshaw round the back streets...wires in their millions were woven above our heads and wholesale shops, average frontage 6ft, lined all the narrow streets. We had money left in the 'tips' kitty so had drinks and then our last supper together, shame two were ill, Tomato soup followed by assortment of very hot curries, yoghurt, rice pudding and coffee.

Next morning said goodbye to rest of group...on my own now ...great.

I had the morning to myself and decided on the Railway Museum...took a hotel taxi at 550 r there and back, which left me with about 1000r would this be enough to get in ? Still I also had sterling. So was agreeably surprised to be charged 10r.!! Some really large engines and many very small school children (all of whom asked "what is you name? etc. ") so I had enjoyable morning. A quick lunch at the hotel, then to Adventure Company's offices. Asked out to lunch but said I really wanted to go to the zoo. One of the junior girls was assigned to me and we took a tuk tuk. All I wanted was a photo of a tiger, and success!!! I just have to blank out the railings. We then managed to get into sheds at the back (she was a very pretty girl) to be about one yard from a snarling male tiger. As we left I gave the young man a tip for letting us in and he handed it back!

Varanasi here I come, I was assigned a guide and went to station. I bought biscuits and water for journey as tea time had evaporated. Train identical to last time. Abdul the guide was 16 coaches further down the train so gave me one of his mobiles to ring if any problems. A good idea, except I was not sure how it worked and texts came through all night long. The man in the opposite bunk was about 90 and skin and bone. He covered himself with a sheet and I was so relieved to hear him snoring as he did not look fit to make the journey.

This train had a softer blanket and a hand towel! Armed police patrolled the carriages - some guns - some metal ended sticks. In the morning I asked one if he had been awake all night, and he admitted he had dozed.

As soon as the train left the station some one was walking up and down selling tea and coffee. 5r a cup. I did not order a meal but snacked on a bar of Cadbury's chocolate (purchased on train) and lashed out 10r on two rounds of bread, a sachet of tomato sauce and two sorts of fish cakes, without the fish but veg and seeds instead. Delicious.

Slept for an hour or so (between texts) and was ready for the morning drink sellers. Coffee so much better than water. Journey took 14 hours. I did as told and stayed on train till escorted off by Abdul. Taxi to a hotel for breakfast, and then on to a rather nice one where I stayed, I was told to freshen up and have a little rest. Before I could get into shower I was summoned to reception by my guide, except he wasn't Abdul! I was asked why I hadn't seen him at the station, a mix up meant he was waiting for me, not knowing I was being escorted, and he was understandably worried by losing 100% of his group.. A few phone calls later and I did not have to go with two men to different places at the same time.

A race against the clock with Abdul, to get to first temple before it closed. Not sure what it was called, but it was surrounded by universities. My biggest worry was my camera's lens appeared cloudy. Tried cleaning it, then wiped my glasses then discovered there was so much humidity the view-finder was steamed up all the time I was there.

Next the monkey temple (monkeys were not there) but I walked round and took my sip of holy water and was "given" a black string necklace. (had to put money in pot)

Next Bharat Mata temple, the centre of which houses the biggest marble relief map of India. This I found fascinating. I was then left to rest at the hotel, so I took a tuk tuk to town to buy a local snack and a present for Abdul's wife. Surprise, surprise we went via a silk factory. Then to bead warehouse which was really colourful.

Then went to small shops for batteries (6 x Duracell for 100r), sweet, nuts and a box of sweets, Tuk tuk driver helped me make decision and the flies etc did not bother me as they were for a present. I again noticed locals using branches to sweep their homes and pavements clean.

While this was happening Janet rang to check I had arrived safely, to be told "she is resting" I expect he thought I was ill!

Rickshaw to river, Abdul shared but was not allowed to sit down as would not be right.

Then to the Ganges (you thought Delhi was chaotic!) I saw a sweet little black and white puppy, only one of the journey. Had a rowing boat to myself, except for a rower and guide. Really, really interesting, balsam wood was used for cremations, Ladies were kept at a distance so they could not throw themselves on their husbands body, so many people and so colourful, I had to buy floating candles. They wanted lots of money for lots (one for each member of family) I said I had very small family and just had 3. The religious ceremony was equal to stage show.

On to Abdul's home for a meal. Bananas and grapes grew in tubs in the garden, also shrubs I had not seen before. It would have been impolite to take a photo. The cloth was laid in centre of king sized bed, they sat cross legged round it, but I had a chair. I remembered to use my right hand, and sat on my left till I had finished. Was offered a spoon but when in Rome do as the Romans... Curry, rice and salad with chapatti and 3 sorts of puddings. His youngest was not eating, I asked if he was on a diet and he laughed and said he did not like curry and preferred chips. I then talked with his 3 children. The elder boy could only talk motor bikes, his daughter was designing saris, but luckily the younger one wanted to know about U.K. I had to be dragged away as needed to be up at 5am to see sun rise over The Ganges.

5.30am. Still boats everywhere. People were sifting through last night's ashes for gold and jewellery. Actually saw sun rise. My guide was eating some thing from a packet, he said chemical...I asked drugs? and he said "no, if he were to take drugs when looking after white lady he would be shot".

Taken from boat though back streets, one was 5ft wide with a real bull in the middle, took a deep breath and pushed past. Saw the golden Temple but was not allowed inside, actually only saw part of the roof. Sort of forced into a spice shop by my guide who would sell me something to rid me of wrinkles!!!!

After breakfast I saw Buddha's tomb and museum. I had a long wait at the airport then back to Delhi Hotel where I had a suite. After breakfast I started my trek home.

India I will miss you.

Ann Brown

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