Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Sunday 3rd - Two lunches and afternoon tea

We have time for a quick breakfast before the taxi arrives and takes us to the airport. On the way we spot an elephant being ridden down the road - not a sight that we have seen before in Delhi. The airport isn't too busy and we make steady progress through the various stages of security. A quick browse in WH Smith's and it is time to move on to the gate.

The first flight is to Dubai and takes just over 3 hours, most of which is taken up by the serving of lunch. This consists of a very nice Mutton Biryani with Raita and is served with a rather splendid Crozes Hermitage. In no time flat we are in Dubai where we get a bonus train trip - from Terminal A to terminal B. As we board the Glasgow flight a Kiwi stewardess admires D's t-shirt. It reads "New Zealand - Like Scotland but Further Away".  She hadn't spotted the punch line.

A seven hour daylight flight gives the opportunity for some serious viewing. D manages 2 Bollywoods (English Vinglish and Namaste London) as well as the Maltese Falcon and four episodes of "The Big Bang Theory". And a second lunch of Chicken Curry with more Crozes Hermitage and afternoon tea with scone and clotted cream. We must have eaten more today than we have on any other two days of our trip added together.

 As we are at the very back of the plane we have to queue for a while to be readmitted to our homeland but not so long that our luggage has arrived on the carousel. By the time it appears and we clear customs Helen and Alex have arrived to collect us. We have been away for 2 hours short of six weeks, had a great time but it is nice to be home.

You may have spotted that today's photos bear no relevance at all to the text. We have stuck in a few shots that made us smile but didn't fit anywhere else.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Saturday 2nd - Art for R's sake

Our last full day in India. The sun is shining yet again.  Today we have an art tour booked, commencing at 10 a.m, so a leisurely  breakfast is the order of the day. Our car, complete with driver and guide arrive promptly and after introductions we are on our way through New Delhi's leafy streets to the National Museum. The guide, Adithiya, is both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his subject and we get a crash course in Indian Art from the Mughal era through to the mid 19th century.  We also learn quite a lot about mango-fed cows' urine.

We move on to the Gallery of Modern Art where there is a lot of interest to see before you get to the really wacky abstract stuff. We learn how Indian Art became very much concentrated in Bengal during the years leading up to Independence. It is interesting to see how a conscious effort was made to develop a style with clear Japanese influences as a rejection of Colonial or Imperial norms.

Our final visit of the tour is to a gallery in Hauz Khas village, a short ride to the south. We thought that we had been there on Thursday and that it was a bit dull, but it turns out that we had not strayed far enough from the main road and the  metro. There is a cluster of galleries and places to eat and drink. The area has become quite a smart place to live and some of the natives don't seem too friendly.

We visit an exhibition focusing on the "Nude in Indian Art", apparently very controversial when it opened in January but now in its last few days.  There are one or two really bizarre pieces on display but it is a bit difficult to see why they create any more of a fuss than some of the ancient temple carvings that are to be found in India.

The afternoon is divided between packing and drinking tea while watching the birds in the garden. One of the hornbills puts in an appearance. Just after 5 we set off for our dinner date with one of D's fellow moderators from India Mike. This involves a metro ride into the city centre then a second, longer ride out to Noida, a satellite city on the eastern fringe of Delhi. Polite young men vacate the Aged and Infirm seats for us. Cheeky sods!  We arrive in good time to be able to do a little shopping in a 7-11 type store near the station. We want some lemon tea bags to take home but the selection was feeble. We will be bringing home Tetley tea bags as a souvenir.

Our friend takes us to a South Indian, vegetarian place at the back of a market.  There is no way of knowing that it is there unless you have a guide with you. It isn't too busy when we arrive but fills quite quickly with locals. We are guided through the menu and have some interesting food as well as probably the best cup of coffee that we have had yet in India. During dinner R mentions that she has failed to find one of the ingredients that she had been hoping to buy. We are then taken round the market area until a shop is found that stocks mango powder.

The metro back into the city is standing room only at 9.30 p.m. but the A/c makes the trip quite bearable. This has been a late night by our recent standards and after seeing off the dregs of our bottle of Honey Bee we sleep soundly.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Friday 1st March - Gurgaon

We wake to a beautiful sunny morning with a little bit of a nip in the air and dew on the lawn. Like it used to be in the UK sometimes. Breakfast is leisurely and then D takes an auto to the National Rail Museum. This has not changed greatly in two years although the steam monorail has been restored and according to staff runs every Sunday. It looks as if a concerted effort to restore the Darjeeling B Class and the Matheran coaches is under way but there is still a general air of decay about the place. It is to be hoped that the rust is removed from 777 before they attempt to repaint. The indoor hall is
being redecorated so there is only limited access and a prohibition on photography. If that was in effect 2 years ago none of us noticed it.

Back at the ranch R is sitting in the garden watching the birds but no hornbills this morning. As it is Friday afternoon we have scheduled our usual visit to the pub although this time it will be a little earlier and involve a 40 minute metro ride each way. At IFFCO Chowk in Gurgaon we are met by our IM pal and we go to try out one of the trendy micro-brewery bars in this rapidly growing satellite city. The beer is very good, as is the food, and once we have persuaded them to reduce the decibel level a convivial afternoon ensues. The only let down is Gurgaon, which we were assured, was full of gun-toting gangsters. We don't even see a traffic violation.

There are empty seats for our ride back to our stop, marked as reserved for the elderly and differently abled. There is nobody older than us in sight so we take them. In fact there is hardly anybody over the age of 30 on the train.

The sun is just starting to set as we get back to Lutyens Bungalow and the garden is full of parakeets when we see, on a distant tree, the pair of hornbills with a juvenile. Two of them stay still long enough for a photo. Wonderful! We dine in as the odd ones out on a table of Aussies but they are good company.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Thursday 28th - Indian GDP receives boost

The area of South New Delhi around Lutyens Bungalow is like nowhere else that we have been in India. The neighbouring properties are all large and gated with impressive plates on the gateposts announcing senior military men, politicians or embassies. The gardens are well tended, the pavements immaculately surfaced and the cars large and shiny. Come to think of it we don't know too many places in Scotland that are as ritzy as this.

After a leisurely breakfast we stroll along to the metro station to take a ride south to see Qutub Minar, site of the capital of the of the Delhi Sultans in the middle ages and the tallest minaret in India. We took the audio guide , which was very interesting but sometimes hard to follow on the ground. The tower itself is the main attraction, standing 238 feet high. but there are many other interesting buildings in the immediate area as well as an iron pillar dating back to the 4th century AD.

The tower used to be a bit taller for a few years as the Brits added a cupola to the top which was later removed and now stands in a corner of the site. It was erected by a Major Smith, not as far as we know, a relative of R. The structure is now known as Smith's Folly.

A couple of hours was all we could really spare here as we have serious shopping to do. The metro takes us back into town where our first requirement is a bookshop. The one that we want has moved but we soon find another where Salim Ali's "Book of Indian Birds" is in stock. this is the book that we decided in Kolkata woulde be too heavy to carry all round India. The assistant spots that R is in retail mode and quickly recommends a cookbook "Complete Indian Cooking". This weighs even more. Our next planned stop is the State Emporiums but as we skirt the edge of Connaugt Place (CP), trying to avoid the touts, a youth tries to sell us a trolley bag. We need something for the loot but his is too big. The price descends from 1100 to 300 in no time flat as we say no thanks, a great lesson in negotiating.

We take a turn around the Palika Bazaar, a sort of converted underground car park that makes In-Shops look like Harrods. The traders here are desperate to sell, although not at the prices that D is prepared to pay. The banter and disinterested haggling is good fun although R finds it all a bit overwhelming and we soon move on to the soporific atmosphere of the State run shops, staffed by public sector employees who get paid regardless so most make little effort to sell. This makes for a much more relaxing experience.

The Spice Market is a must visit for us when we go to Delhi even if it is a bit of a scrum, with laden porters seeking a way through with their huge loads. R's tactic is to walk the length of the bazaar then pick a stall that she likes the look of. Usually you are invited in for a seat away from the traffic and can buy at leisure. Every time that R gets to the end of her list the man suggests something else essential and the list grows. This is where the extra 10 Kg baggage allowance with Emirates will come in handy.

A cycle rickshaw ride along Chandi Chowk takes us to Haldiram's for a cold drink and a spell in an A/C environment. They also sell the most wonderful looking cakes but we don't weaken. We are saving ourselves for a meal at Karim's. D manages to find his regular shoe shine man for a quick buff up then it is time to hit Kinari Bazaar .

This narrow alley full of haberdashers and wedding accessory shops is R's favourite, even if you have to fend off passing motorbikes and cycle rickshaws. The temptation to buy everything on display is enormous and it is a good job that R has only brought a small bag with her. By now hunger is calling and we head for Karim's, a legendary restaurant in Old Delhi. The food is good although the service could have been a little better. This is our third visit and we finally get to sample their kebabs but we do have to remind our waiter that we ordered them. D is still a little peckish so we stop off at a food stall for gulab jamuns. Don't worry  -  we ate there last year on our food tour of Old Delhi and lived to tell the tale.

Our final task for the day is to find a mehendi artist. D eventually finds the right street and we locate a row of three or four shops all offering hand painting, R picks one and negotiates a price - £2. The man with the henna tube is very skillful and produces a very intricate design. It is still wet so all we have to do now is get it home safely on the metro. To this end R is banished to the somewhat less crowded Ladies Only coach. She does manage to get off at the right stop, so mission accomplished.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Wednesday 27th - Back to Delhi

The latter part of our final proper train trip for this visit is rather tame. We all have a good night's sleep and wake to the cry of the chai seller. D now considers himself to have moved up a level when it comes to Indian Railways expertise as he manages to unfasten one of their deadly fiendish compartment door locks with one hand. He also gets in a spot of door riding and a row with a Dutch couple who want to smoke in the lobby. He sort of wins as they move off down the train in the hope of finding somewhere without objectors.    

Progress is very stop start but we are only 20 minutes late when we pull into Delhi Cantt. station where a car is waiting to take us to Lutyens Bungalow.  We are welcomed with hugs and a cup of tea and while away half an hour watching the birds in the garden until our room is ready. There are still plenty of parakeets around and they rather bully the pigeons and the squirrels.

After a shower and a change of clothes we head out to the metro for a two leg trip to the Lajpat Nagar market, on the south east side of the city. This market is traffic free and there is very little hustling by the stallholders. There is one very persistent young man selling alleged Rayban sun glasses. Even when D's total apathy has brought the price down to 200 rupees (about £2.50) he insists that they are the genuine article. There is a truly excellent nuts and sweets stand and it is D's turn to expand his wardrobe.

We get back to base in time for afternoon tea on the terrace and we get a couple of clear sightings of a pair of Indian Grey Hornbills who have become regular visitors. As usual D is too slow with the camera. We sit out in front of our room with a cold beer in the hope that they will return but no luck. Dinner turns into a party as we are all together on one table - two French ladies, an Englishwoman and her Dutch husband who live in the south of France and their fellow travellers, a Belgian couple. There is a very lively conversation that switches from English to French and back again with a little Flemish thrown in for good luck. The four of them are taking a 2.30 a.m. flight to Brussels and have a good go at drowning the misery.

Tuesday 26th - D's Halo Slips.

On our way home from the desert we were offered a very generous late check out by Anil and Arvind  who run the Desert Boy's. As long as we leave our bags packed so that they can show the room to prospective punters we can use it until we leave at 4 p.m. D is definitely recovered and enjoys a hearty breakfast (tea, omelette and toast if you must know). He is so recovered that he suggests touristic activity in the form of a visit to the Jaisalmer Fort Palace. We get lost yet again but in due course find our way to  the main square. We climb the steps, pay our admission fee and don the audio guide equipment. It seems like an interesting place.

Then the coach parties arrive. Quite the rudest and most inconsiderate people we have encountered anywhere in India outside A/C Chair class. They appear to have no interest in the museum or its exhibits and are intent on getting round it as quickly as possible using tactics such as jostling, pushing, shouting, stamping and gouging. They should have been at a football match or some kind of political rally.

The final straw is that the Stamp Collection is closed for viewing. D has been looking forward to seeing some of the Princely States collections that are held here. The big attraction appears to be the splendid all round views of the city available from the roof of the Palace.

 We abandon the culture and go for a long, lingering lunch at a rooftop restaurant, opting for the shade of the tented section. D takes no risks with his digestion and orders kathi roll and chips, while R goes for Veg Jalfrezi. We have a last stroll through the bazaar and up the hill into the fort. At last we manage to find the DB's without touring the entire neighbourhood. Our room has not been let yet so we can freshen up and at last get the wifi to work.

What a disaster! D checks the PNR for our train and we have not got the coupe. R threatens legal action. Before we leave we are asked to take chai with Arvind and the team. It is very good and a nice way to part. They arrange an auto down to the station. The train is in but locked and there are no vendors, only a meagrely provisioned chai stall. Supper will be crisps and water. Another blot on D's battered escutchion.

When the man with the glue and the other man with the charts arrive it becomes apparent that R will have to have an upper bunk. The last time this happened she swore that it would be the last time. We are sharing the cabin with Mr & Mrs Gupta who clearly have clout as their entries on the chart are marked HO. (Head Office, High Official - something like that.) The coupe has gone to a couple in their 70's so perhaps age is the clincher. The Guptas are good company and we talk about a range of subjects. He is a retired Civil servant from the Finance Ministry and she a teacher on a part time basis. Today the new railway budget was announced so we spend time discussing the financial mess that the system is in.

We turn in early and R manages her upper berth without any real fuss. Mr G has ordered the attendant to turn down the A/C so we are not blast chilled and we have a pretty comfortable night.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Monday 25th - The Desert Song

It's a fresh sunny morning when we go for breakfast just along the balcony from our Arabian Nights room. Today's plan is to wander the city a little, find an ATM and also a cyber cafe as the Desert Boys wifi only seems to have any bandwidth in the middle of the night. We can see an ATM from our room and a walk around the foot of the city walls does not take too long.

Jaisalmer is very tourist driven and everybody tries to sell something but a good natured "Not today" or "No thanks. We've already eaten" seems to keep the touts at bay. There is one guy that we keep seeing who says "Hello. When you see me in Jodhpur you buy me a beer". In Jodhpur there was a similar looking chap who tried to claim that we had promised him a beer when we were in Jaisalmer. Full marks for trying.

D has been having a minor attack of tummy trouble and is feeling below par, so after the chores are done and we have had a cup of tea we return to the room for him to lie down. At least we try to but get thoroughly lost yet again and find the Desert Boys by accident. D is awarded the "Weedy Wet of the Week" award for this.

Today is the third and final day of the Jaisalmer Desert Festival and we have signed up for a trip out into the desert to see the spectacle. There is some confusion about departure time but eventually we are under way in a full jeep. It looks like we are subsidising the Desert Boys staff outing. When we get to Sam there is a milling mass of people, cars, jeeps and camels. Forget the solitude of the desert  - everywhere you look there are compounds of canvas cabins and even roadside off licences. There are some fine examples of opportunity marketing.

First up is a camel racing event, with commentary by an Indian man who sounds as if he has been taught English by Michael O'Hare. It is chaos. The result is announced and then the judges are asked to make clear where the finishing line is. The crowd seem very happy though. We notice that people are drifting away to the west so we follow to see what is happening..

In a hollow there is some kind of jam session going on with an ever expanding group of musicians giving it their all on some energetic percussion numbers. A bit like Santana without the bass. Most entertaining and over all too soon. Some soldiers are laying out green mats on a patch of desert and eventually it becomes clear that this is the seating area in front of the main stage - a flat piece of desert. There are markers for different categories of audience including an area for foreign tourists. We decide to look for somewhere more comfortable to sit and find a sandy slope with a view of sorts.

Behind us all the fun of the fair is going on with various vendors selling ice cream, chai,noisy toys, balloons, water at 3 times par and roasted peanuts. D's tummy has settled a little so we have 30 rupees worth of the latter, a huge bag. We shall probably be bringing some home. The sun is setting and the moon rising over this desert melee.

The event is due to commence at 6.30 p.m.  At 7.15 the lights go on and they do a perfunctory sound check. Then nothing.  Eventually the first act is introduced (at great length in two languages). By now we have to stand to see the stage which is frequently obscured by photographers. The lady entertainers have colourful and sparkling costumes. One of the acts is a Sufi band. Sufis are the original whirling dervishes and the climax to their performance is some dextrous twirling by a spectacularly clad lady dancer.

We are just starting to tire a little when our hosts phone to ask when we might want to leave. Now seems like a good idea so we make our way back to the road, warding off the chaps who want to sell us a camel ride. There is chaos on the road but amazingly R spots our hosts and their jeep in the darkness and we are soon on board for the ride home. We stop to pick up two German girls who have got stuck without a lift somehow and it is a very cosy trip back to Jaisalmer. We need no rocking to sleep tonight.