Lordy, so much has happened since I last wrote to you that I haven't been near a computer for long enough to write it all down. I'll try to keep it concise...
The days and weeks are starting to blur together in one big ball of fun, dirt, food and trains. We're having such a lovely time. We spent five-ish days in Rajasthan's only hill station, Mount Abu. This was our bid to enter a world of romantic cups of tea, tucked up in rugs on a lush green hilltop. But actually, what we found was a little village for mainly local tourists, complete with a ghost train, candy floss and a boating lake. We took a guide to lead the pair of us on a day-long hike round the surrounding wildlife sanctuary, along a rather perilous cliffside route. It was apparently a known trail but our guide had to be accompanied by two assistants whose main job was to hack through the aggressive plants that invade the routes every year (planted by the British, because they liked the colour - huzzah!). In another escapade, we visited some ancient Jain temples in the area made of incredibly deeply, intricately carved marble that were absolutely breathtaking and among the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen - perhaps second only to Greyfriar's bus station in Northampton. For me, being in Mount Abu was a real turning point in the trip: The first two weeks in the Golden Triangle - big cities, aggressive tourism, being confronted with pornographic levels of poverty, and of course because we'd only just arrived - were overwhelming.
Having thoroughly exhausted Rajasthan, by visiting as many as two separate towns, we headed down to Gujarat and a region whose name would be a surefire Scrabble-winner if only proper nouns were allowed: Kachchh. The region is known for its beautiful fabrics and we spent a few days based in a small-ish town called Bhuj, visiting miniscule villages where we could spy on weavers at work, see block printing in action, and learn about the ins and outs of tie dye. It was incredibly moving to see the time and hard work invested in making these fabrics, and we were very happy to splash out on a gorgeous piece of cloth even though it meant momentarily distracting the block-printing man (whose family have been block printing for 10 generations) from watching Dumb and Dumber dubbed into Gujarati on TV. Bhuj was an incredibly friendly town, where everyone wanted to say hello and to know our names, and a local barber accosted us for an hour-long chat despite the lack of any common language. (I'm still not sure whether we talked about Buckingham Palace, David Beckham or Birmingham.) Also in Bhuj, we wandered into a building decorated with colourful billowy material and music and only realised too late that we'd walked into a wedding. The guests made us stay and sit down at the front, although we politely declined when they asked if we wanted to meet the bride and groom. Ridiculously kind and lovely people.
One 15-hour train journey later, and we're in Mumbai and loving it much more than expected. It's very cosmopolitan, we get stared at a lot less, people (mostly men) love drinking, and cool kids say things like "rick" instead of rickshaw and "bucks" instead of rupees. Designer shops, amazing cafes, and one of the biggest slums in Asia (which we haven't seen, by they way). Partly because people come from all over the country and have different native tongues, a lot of people speak English to each other. There's a big arts festival on here at the moment, so we've seen some classical Indian dancing, and a group of b-boys and b-girls called Slum Gods. A coupla days ago we took a day trip to a nearby hill town called Matharan, arriving after a two-hour journey on a cute and impossibly slow toy train winding its way up the hillside. And yesterday, we were taken under the wing of a family (an Indian colleague of Shahar's mum, Hagit), visiting them at their home and being force-fed delicious home-cooked paratha and being treated with huge generosity.
Tonight, we're getting a night train to the state of Karnataka, heading for a little town called Gokarna. This, geography lovers, means we've decided to give Goa a miss entirely. A controversial decision, but we're eager to get down to Kerala.