Hello and welcome to my last blog entry before I come home.
Last time I wrote I was on the mend from a lurgy, and I am proud to announce that I managed to drag myself out of the hotel to do a bit of much needed shopping. My bargaining skills were greatly hones by my illness, and I managed to pick up a few bargains! I was knackered afterwards though!
On Friday morning we got up reasonably early to get into people carriers for a journey to the RanthambhoreNational Park. An argument arose in the other car because the 2 middle aged couples wanted the air conditioning on and the other two girls didn't. As the extra cost was only 80p each I struggled to see the problem, but equally the 4 people could have stumped up the extra 40p each and had the air con on anyway. But because they were all so stubborn and couldn't agree they sweltered in the 40 degree heat with no air con! Hilarious! I don't hang round too much with that part of the group. Our car had delicious icy air conditioning and the journey was satisfyingly luxurious, especially as it somewhat soothed the 19 mosquito bites I had acquired in the night.
The journey was mostly through what I would describe as a flat desert scrubland. We spent quite a lot of time in a traffic queue as there were many trucks (not buses) bringing people to a fair outside Jaipur. The people were crammed into the truck and hanging out the sides much like livestock. As this traffic queue was barely moving, lines of cars kept overtaking other lines of cars on a reasonably narrow piece of road. The result was a makeshift six or seven lane highway heading south, and the cars coming north had to drive down the edge of the fields.
In the afternoon we climbed into some massive open top safari vehicles for a trip into the National Park. We managed to see one tiger asleep in a bush, which was far from the BBC-style action adventure high speed antelope chasing I was hoping for, but certainly better than seeing nothing. I have taken a picture as I could definitely make it out with my eyes, but my camera is not up to wildlife-photographer standard and the tiger just looks like a darker bit of bush.
On the rest of the trip we didn't see quite so much but there were some antelope and deer hanging around, and a very dusty looking crocodile which could have been dead or plastic. We even passed a man, lying face down on the road praying (why and to what I still don't know), who seemingly didn't care at all about the ten ton vehicle behind him and remained where he was, meaning we had to go offroad to get past him. For the most part though I lay back with my eyes closed as the heat and lack of food, and the many bacteria still swimming in my gut had made me feel very weak and faint, but I suppose that's what happens when your entire digestive system is evacuated in such a speedy fashion. The end bit with the journey through a local village was great, and the open top vehicle gave me a great opportunity to video the chaos of Indian roads.
Marine and I didn't sleep so well on Friday night, mainly because of an air conditioning unit right next to my bed which couldn't decide if it wanted to heat or freeze the room, and made blanket manouvres quite tricky. Also, the air conditioning unit was fitted somewhat haphazardly into the wall and hung out the other side. A pigeon scuttling round on this outside part scared us nearly to death. Then at ten to eight the laundry man marched into our room, switched on the light and started rifling through Marine's knickers so that he could add up her bill. We almost had to carry him out of the room as he saw nothing strange about his behaviour at all and refused to leave! Luckily my sense of humour has returned along with my appetite and we found the whole situation hysterical.
On Saturday morning we jumped into some more air conditioned vehicles for the trip to the remote town of Bundi. The road looked like it had been made by a lorry that happened to be leaking tarmac - it was scattered all over the place and occasionally there were stretches of rubble where there was no tarmac at all. Our driver decided to take the approach of putting his foot to the floor, closing his eyes and hoping. It's a miracle we arrived, especially as we almost hit several cows. I'm just very glad I wore an underwired bra that day. We also had the opportunity to listen to the driver's dazzling array of screeching Hindi CDs, although mostly we could only hear the base line as the rest was too high pitched for even dogs to hear. We stopped en route at a toilet block by a lake and look out point. There were quite a lot of young men hanging around here (I have no idea why). I have discovered that I get stared at a lot more in Rajasthan than in the south, which is strange as the north is much more touristy. Lisa and I had a magazine and were reading it on the bonnet of the car. On the other side of the car, about two feet away was a line of about eight young men unashamedly staring at us. I really hope Ben has got a photo of it because it was hilarious! Luckily I have got used to it now and it has become a lot easier to ignore.Saturday afternoon was spent exploring Bundi which was a lot of fun as it's a beautiful town. We had a look at the palace on the hill which belonged to the maharajah and had stunning views over the village. The village looked quite Greek as a lot of the houses were painted blue and white; watching the sunset over it was beautiful. We were all pleased to get back to the hotel for dinner though as the temperature was so high that some of us were feeling quite faint.Sunday morning meant a train journey to the tiny village of Bijaipur. Because this is not a traditional tourist route we sat with the locals on the packed train. This was probably the place I had been stared at most. People (mostly young men) would walk down the carriages and cluster round us to stare, sometimes for a good hour. I feel that I've done my bit for India by providing entertainment to the masses. One woman called Amy sat in a compartment with a family who decorated her in all sorts of bindis and red powder. The grandmother of the family (using her granddaughter as interpreter) told Amy that "you are too white, it is not natural!" Ha ha ha, hilarious! We had 3 generations of the same family crammed onto a bench opposite us: the grandparents, their son (who obviously modeled his style on George Michael), his wife and two sons. They were very sweet, virtually ramming food into our mouths and trying to speak to us despite the fact that they spoke virtually no English. He amused me greatly by telling me that I must surely think Rajasthan very peaceful! Peaceful is certainly not the word I would use! He became fascinated by my ipod and I have a great photo of him listening to the Kooks, which he very much enjoyed (thank god I had my over-ear headphones that day).
After a car ride down many a dirt track from the train station, we arrived at Castle Bijaipur, which is owned by the local Maharajah - he still lives there with all his family, he is a very friendly man and has an outstanding moustache. The castle was amazing, extremely ornate and well preserved, and the huge swimming pool was a definite bonus. We spent the afternoon lazing by the pool until we all felt rejuvenated. That evening we were due to have dinner at the poolside. The staff set up a table and the buffet by the pool, despite the very loud approaching thunderstorm, and then seemed surprised when it started to pour with rain. We moved inside, much to my relief as I didn't fancy eating amidst an electrical storm whilst sat on a metal chair.
Monday was spent doing much the same - a few drinks by the pool, a few card games, and then a trip out to a remote village in the evening. We had been planning to camp that night in a luxury camp site, but it had been decided that the weather was so hot we would be forced out of our tents at about 5am, so it was another night in the castle. When I saw the tents I was a bit gutted because they were beautiful, but we had the chance to sit by the lake and drink chai, and then sail on it in a makeshift boat (2 small fishing canoes tied together with an upside down bed frame for us to sit on). The lotus leaves are all starting to grow now and it was gorgeous to swish through them while the sun set behind the hill. Then it was back to the castle via the village, where we stopped in to someone's home to see them preparing the meal. This type of insight has been my favourite part of my trip in India - it's so amazing to come here and see what a different way of life these people lead, sometimes it doesn't even feel real.
Remember I told you about the tractors that played loud music? Well on the way back to the castle we got the chance to experience one of these tractors after dark. And I am pleased to announce that they also sport flashing disco lights and come towing a tractor full of freshly cut crops and drunk men. God forbid that the harvest could ever be boring.
On Tuesday we headed out to our final destination on this trip - Pushkar. This has to be without a doubt one of my favourite places in on my whole trip. It's quite a good way to ease back into western life as it is full of westerners. There are restaurants everywhere selling food that my stomach recognises, and although I would have despised this kind of place earlier on, I think I am ready for a little bit of normality. Don't worry, it still comes with the same leering men,rabid packs of animals, traffic jams behind cows, diarrhoea risks, wide-boy shop owners and cheeky beggars, but here and there one can happen upon a pizza parlour or a clean toilet. Our hotel is the epitome of luxury - I have never ever stayed somewhere so nice, and there is a giant blue pool. The markets are everywhere and sell so many beautiful and cheap things that I have had to buy another bag to transport my souvenirs home in. Since I've been here I've done little else other than shop.
Yesterday evening though we had the chance to go on a camel ride out into the desert. This was amazing and far less uncomfortable than people have led me to believe. It involves a lot of extreme forward and backward leaning when the camel gets up and sits down, and also a lot of power line dodging as you walk through the town (god forbid that the Indians would actually anticipate this problem and make the route safer). Because of the way the camels walk it also involves a lot of hip wiggling, meaning that I disembarked feeling like a cross between John Travolta and John Wayne. We didn't get to see the sunset as another storm was brewing, and I rode back in a camel cart (didn't fancy being a lightning conductor on a camel's back in the middle of a barren desert, even if everybody else didn't seem to think this was a problem).
So that's about it for the first three months of my travels. Tonight we board the night train back to Delhi and tomorrow we do a bit of sightseeing round old Delhi. Then it's to the airport and a flight home. I have loved India so much and I will be sad to leave, but perhaps it's best for my sanity that I do - I don't know how much more of this place I could take! When I am home I will put all my pictures up - can't wait to see you all.