I'm now in Agra, but I've a little bit of catching up to do on my blog before I update all about my visit to India's most famous monument, the Taj Mahal. Last I updated I was in Jaipur readying myself for a night out at an Indian cinema! Unfortunately the film we wanted to see was not showing that night at the one screen cinema, so instead we were forced to watch a Warner Brothers comedy movie about an unwanted guest whose hosts could not get rid of him. Being unable to understand the dialogue we pretty much missed the entire comedy element of the film, and for long periods I felt like I was just staring at a brick wall. It didn't appear to be a particularly funny movie anyway - most of the comedy was slapstick and it seemed to have a lot in common with the type of Hollywood trashy family comedy we get in the UK. The Indians found it funny though and weren't afraid to voice their opinions as the film went on. For that reason all sound was blasted out at max volume through the large speakers. It was nothing less than I expected at an Indian cinema!
The film had little in common with a Bollywood production, but we were able to see one of those at least a few nights ago in the hotel at Pushkar. I have to admit to being a bit surprised by what I saw that night, with the modern Bollywood production bearing little relation to the all singing all dancing stereotype I would have previously associated it with. The film was about two young Indian guys from Miami who for various reasons had to pretend they were gay. They both wanted to get with the same gorgeous woman, and the film was a comedy about their attempts to do so. In the end both of them failed as she married her widowed boss instead, but they all became friends and lived happily ever after. There were some dance and song scenes within the film but not many, and when they did come around they were very sexual, like you would expect a western music video to be. Shipla Shetty performed in the opening music number, though our guide said that in Bollywood terms she is a small scale actress and not the superstar we were led to believe. In general I thought the film had more in common with Hollywood than Bollywood, but it just goes to show how wrong our perceptions can be.
One thing all Indian films have in common is there tendency to depict middle class India. For that reason they are almost always set in Mumbai (India's wealthiest metropolis) or a western world location such as London or New York. They show wealthy Indians living western lives - it's all so far removed from the traditional Indian life I have seen on my travels here, but it's what Indians want to see. The globally acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire flopped in India because Indians do not want to see poverty and negative portrayals of their country. The Indian government has even gone so far as banning other Channel 4 Indian based productions, simply because their realism is too harsh for Indian eyes.
Anyway, the remainder of this blog will focus on my time in Bharatpur - perhaps the strangest and most random stop of our tour in India. The town itself is small by Indian standards and has no historical sights of interest, unlike other Rajasthani cities. The reason tourists visit (or used to) is down to the town's close proximity to the Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, which is considered one of the world's premier bird watching grounds. However, North India has been plagued by drought in the last couple of years, with the summer monsoons not bringing anywhere near enough rainful to sustain the landscape. Keoladeo has been badly affected by this, and the numbers of birds within the sanctuary's boundaries has plummeted. Many tourists have thus chose to stay away, or at least only visit from December to February, when the numbers of migratory birds are at their peak. We are however in the hot season, meaning many birds have already passed by here and many of the other animals stay out of sight in the shade. I can only think our reasons for coming were related to supporting the floundering local tourism industry.
We arrived at the city bus station and from there caught rickshaws to our hotel, which was situated at the side of the motorway. The final stages of our rickshaw journey saw us go the wrong way up the motorway, head on in the direction of some overloaded lorries, but we made it unscathed! After a relaxing afternoon enjoying Star Sports (the first time we've had it in a hotel since Delhi) we caught cycle rickshaws from our hotel to explore the bird park. Our experienced driver also acted as guide, and he certainly had a pair of eagle eyes trained at spotting even the tiniest creature in the bushes. We saw a few parrots and starling type birds, but nothing overly interesting. The most interesting animals were all of the mammal variety, with their being plenty of antelope, deer and jackals wandering about. We also caught site of an interesting reptile, a recently fed python, hidden deep inside the bushes. We cycled around for almost 3 hours in the evening sun, and even though we didn't see much in the way of birdlife it was just nice to be somewhere peaceful, away from people and away from hasslers!
The next morning it was time to depart Bharatpur, and indeed time to depart India's largest state, Rajasthan, where the majority of our North India tour was set. We have now crossed the border into India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, which translates as the Northern State, and we will be spending the next few days here. The 2 hour bus journey from Bharatpur to Agra was a momentous one for me, with it marking the final bus journey of my entire world trip! My three remaining overland journeys will all be done by means of overnight train, before I hopefully fly back to Heathrow next Sunday (BA permitting). I feel like I could have circumnavigated the world on a bus given the amount of mileage I've covered on them in the last 7 months. Bus travel has been by far my most common means of getting from place to place, and it'll seem strange not boarding one again in a few days time.