India 1998. Hot!

We completed our visit to Jaipur with a look at its Red Fort, perched high above a lake in a picturesque setting and more impressive for it than Delhi’s Red Fort. Since access to the fort was by an ascent of a steep hill-and in searing heat, we were treated to elephant transport, climbing up to a scaffold and waiting to be loaded on to the howdah [a seat strapped to the elephant’s back which accommodates several passengers]. Once we were installed on the howdah our elephant commenced its stately, swaying saunter up the hill, accompanied by numerous peddlers of gifts and goods, who called up and gestured to us en route.

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Husband’s attention was captured by one of the traders, who was keeping up with us whilst carrying a large selection of hats. Husband is prone to buying wide-brimmed summer headwear and continues to expand his hat wardrobe to this day, littering the house with them, bought from varied sources and countries, so as we continued swaying up the path to the fort he negotiated for a hat he fancied, finally reaching a satisfactory price and having the hat tossed up to him where he sat.

We disembarked on to an identical platform at the top, the fort entrance and went to the interior, which was ornate and beautiful, with mirror-inlaid frescoes and intricately patterned ceilings.

Afterwards, waiting  for our coach we were entertained by watching the off-duty elephants bathing in the lake with their mahouts. And as we stood, the mahout, astride his elephant, approached us and gestured for us to place a rupee note on to the end of the elephant’s trunk, which we did, delighted as the elephant passed the money back to the handler. A cunning trick, and the kind of activity that Paratha frowned upon, but by now we’d had enough of her control freakery and were opting out of some of her rules, at one point asking the bus driver to let us off on the way to yet another of her factory outlets.

Next day we were off on the coach again, this time to a bird sanctuary where we were to take a tour of the reserve by rickshaw before spending the night in the custom-built hotel.

The temperature at the bird reserve was uncomfortably hot-and exacerbated by its humidity. This was a damp, marshy piece of land, a haven for birds but an endurance trial for tourists. Enthusiastic as we are about wildlife we wilted in the sticky, cloying heat. We took our bicycle rickshaw tour, accompanied by another rickshaw carrying Steve and Jane.

The reserve was home to, among others, weaver birds, who’d woven their tiny basket nests and suspended them from the pendulous branches of palm trees.

The hotel was a modern, concrete, two-story block. We were allocated a first floor room flanked by a wide balcony that ran the length of the floor. As dusk fell this balcony gathered a covering of beetle-type insects so thick we couldn’t walk anywhere except on the top of them. It was a thick, crunchy, beetle carpet and the air and every surface crackled with them. Walking into our room was like entering a steam oven. We would never be able to sleep inside it. We contemplated hauling the mattress on to the balcony and quickly pushed the thought aside when we looked at the beetle layer.

But we were lucky. Our friends’ room was directly below and many degrees cooler. Would we like to sleep on their floor? We didn’t hesitate and hefted our mattress over the rail.

Next morning we were to travel to the last point of the Triangle. Agra!

India 1998. Part 1.

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Following a successful and eventful trip to New York in 1997, Husband [though not Husband at that time] and I must have decided we could endure one another’s company for long enough to make a substantial visit to India. Pre he-who-was-to-become Husband’s entry into my life I’d been planning to visit a friend who had taken a teaching job in Indonesia, but it wasn’t going to work out for dates over the summer, so we plunged into booking two, back-to-back tours in India with the travel company, ‘Explore’.

We chose a ‘golden triangle’ tour [Delhi/Jaipur/Agra] followed by a trekking exploration of Ladakh, in the north.

On this occasion I did not keep a travel journal, so my memories must rely on photographic prompts, but at the time I was in the habit of collecting all manner of holiday-related items such as tickets, labels, maps and menus and constructing elaborate albums on my return that included all this collected junk. Nowadays of course photo albums have become virtual and keepsakes have shrunk to one sought after artefact per trip for our naff shelf [of which I have written].

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I can see that we flew out from Heathrow to Bahrain, initially and then on to Delhi. I also have the itinerary for the first tour, called ‘Moghul Highlights’. This time, rather than blundering along following our own, hopelessly inadequate plans, we’d have the benefits of a tour guide and all planned ahead. This is a regime that many people enjoy, but experience has demonstrated [as it did on this occasion] that tour guides can be double-edged swords. We were to discover the drawbacks quite early in the adventure.

We arrived into Delhi early on a Saturday morning, feeling the effects of time differences compounded by long flights, together with that shock of heat and fumes that you get when stepping out of a plane into a hot climate. Then we were gathered up as a group and ushered on to a tour bus to our hotel. By the time we arrived we were in need of first, rehydration and second, sleep, neither of which was forthcoming! We had a few minutes to deposit bags and must assemble for a lecture, followed by a day’s sightseeing.

Too feeble to protest we duly gathered for the talk, delivered by our guide, a proud Indian lady who was champing at the bit, wanting to get started on showing us her city. So, no water, no sleep, no time to waste-and no currency either, as I’d hoped; we could have sneaked a purchase of a bottle or two en route.

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In retrospect it was madness to comply. We should have collectively protested. We’d all had long, dehydrating flights and were now embarking on a day’s sightseeing in unaccustomed, searing heat. The guide was lucky that none of us needed to be hospitalised!

Despite the deprivations of that first day I was able to follow, listen, look and photograph as we took in the major sights of Delhi, the huge Jami Mosque, the Red Fort, the Ghandi Memorial and cremation site. At this early point in the tour we did not yet realise that our guide’s insistence on strict adherence to discipline was to become a problem but it was not too long before a minor rebellion in the ranks began to germinate…