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Welcome to 2012

1 February 2012

Amber Palace, Jaipur

Neive, Piemonte

It’s been a week of contrasts as we returned from Delhi after 16 straight days of curry and Kingfisher beer to decent wine and plainer food. The weather is slightly different as we have had our 1st snowfall overnight and it’s still snowing!
Although the holiday was fantastic, the flight back from Delhi was a welcome return to the world of wine and thank you BA for  several glasses of Chablis 1er Cru Vau de Vey 2009 (Dom. J-M Brocard) and Les Fiefs de Lagrange 2007. I apologise in advance for the following diversion but I wrote a blog of the trip:

 

Day 1

The first thing that strikes you about Delhi is the traffic, an extraordinary collection of cars, buses, rickshaws, tuktuks and the occasional cow, all competing for the same space with horns blaring. It makes Milan seem like a Sunday walk in the park. Quite scary in the back of the car that picked us up from the airport but nothing compared to being on a rickshaw going the wrong way on a busy one- way street looking for a bar/restaurant that had caught our eye in the guidebooks. We had hired the young rickshaw pedaller outside the station and he took us to the Red Fort where we spent an hour or so wandering around while he waited. The Fort like the the railway stations is still well defended with lots of armed security guards.  The scale is huge

Our hotel is out to the west of the City and 30 minutes by busy Metro from the centre and it’s by far the best way to travel around. It’s safe once you get within it but getting there is another matter as we had to cross a major intersection. We remembered a lesson learnt in Hanoi: avoid eye contact and move steadily and purposefully. The hotel had sent someone with us but he moved too quickly for our taste. On the way back we came out of the station at a different gate. Disoriented we were considering a rickshaw if we could find an English speaking one when a couple of charming young guys offered assistance, called the hotel, who sent someone to rescue us. The people are charming, friendly and helpful.

Dinner in the hotel was excellent with impeccable service. There is a small rooftop restaurant that is open all day serving excellent Tandoori dishes. We had perfectly cooked Tandoori fish followed by a Thali of lamb, chicken, peas and mushrooms, paneer and vegetables, dall and lots of fresh roti bread washed down with Kingfisher beer. A food combination that is likely to be repeated many times I suspect.

Attentive service and the waiter had a nice turn of phrase, “shall I make your plate disappear sir?”

Day 2

Got off to a really bad start, 5.15 pick-up for the 6.15 Express to Agra, raining and foggy, and after negotiating the chaos that is New Delhi station a 2 hour delay. Everything on the departure board was cancelled, delayed or “put back” due to fog, although our train was delayed because it arrived late the night before. Breakfast was served on the train: tea and biscuits, brown bread and jam, cornflakes with hot milk, a spicy vegetable cutlet and juice; an eclectic mix. The emphasis was on hygiene with the waiter wearing plastic gloves, that is until he started picking his nose.

Highlight of the day was our guide Ifty a Muslim who displays a passion and pride for his home city. He also has an impressive pedigree having accompanied James Sassoon and Terry Venables who described his occupation as “man management”. Having been stopped for photos and autographs many times Ifty asked for a bit more detail and then googled him to find out the truth.

The Amar Villas hotel is the only one overlooking the Taj Mahal and we got our first glimpse of it through the mist from our balcony. Our first close-up  came from the gardens across the Yamuna River. Hard to explain the emotions: it is incomparable and the anticipation of seeing it at dawn was rising. A tour of the Red Fort upped the monument game compared to the one in Delhi: 1-0 Agra. Unfortunately on the way back we stopped at a factory which specialises in marble inlay and has a salesman who speaks fluent Italian. His name was Lucky and he was good and lived up to his name as we bought a small octagonal table inlaid primarily with lapis lazuli. Our objection to carting it around Rajastahn was countered effectively by promised delivery in Delhi before we return. It will wait for us with part of HO’s luggage left in the wardrobe in Delhi. Only 2.5kg but our ability to travel with hand luggage only is looking decidedly dodgy. Goodness knows where we are going to put it but it should stand up to Amo. The classy hotel has fabulous service and we gained our first forehead red spot: I washed it off later but didn’t win anything. We decided to shun the 5 star splendour and ate at a local restaurant for a quarter of the price. Good tandoori, Rogan Josh, chicken, dall, breads but not so different from downtown Eastbourne. No Nebbiolo but Kingfisher beer is very popular here as well.

Day 3

Taj Mahal on a misty dawn

Another early but excited start. The advantage of the hotel is its proximity to the Taj and we  had a turban clad driver who took us to the entrance in a stretch golf cart. Usual queue for the security frisk but not too long as the misty weather had probably put some people off an early start. We can’t imagine why we had never considered it a priority. We adored the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Forbidden City in Beijing but we had a new no.1. 2-0 Agra. It is a fabulous building with perfect symmetry and although it was misty and we thus missed the changing colours of the white marble as the sun was presumably rising, the mist added atmosphere.

A good cooked breakfast and we were off by car to Fatephur Sikri the abandoned capital (after just 14 years) of Emperor Akbar. Another astonishing place on a grand scale if a little run down but it enabled HO to haggle and buy a couple of pairs of baggy trousers at one of the “craft” shops. The girl done  good buying 2 for the price of the opening gambit for 1.

Back to the car for a short drive to Baratpur for the Jan Shatabadi Express (not). Delayed for 2 hours due to fog somewhere else. We sat in the car and read as the place was a total dump with cows wandering around and crowded with some very dubious characters. The thought of 2 days roughing it on a reserve with only vegetables to eat weighing heavily. It finally arrived and to our surprise our 2 reserved seats were the only ones empty. Now dark, tinted windows, no announcements on board and our final destination not the final station we were a little nervous after an hour and a half. Every time we stood up an almost annoyingly helpful Indian kept telling us to sit down as the train would reach our destination at 8pm which of course it did.

After a 30 minute transfer, we were greeted with hot towels at Khem Villas. Everything was perfect. Our cottage was warm, but I couldn’t see a bath in the bathroom much to HO’s disappointment. I laughed too soon as there was a giant candle-lit one in an adjacent courtyard. There were bonfires blazing in pits around the lakeside bar, small charcoal braziers next to each table in the restaurant and a more than decent Indian vegetarian buffet. I have to admit the cabbage kofta, yoghurt curry, bean dall etc were all delicious as were the fresh breads, kingfisher beer and brandy by the bonfire. The final surprise was getting into bed and finding a hot water bottle, a reminder of Mocha.

Day 4

Early alarm call with a cup of tea and off on safari in an open jeep. We laughed as they handed us rugs and hot water bottles but thank goodness, it was pigging cold. There were 6 of us in the jeep, charming Mr & Mrs “Gene Pool” from Cincinatti whose 8 grandchildren included blondes, redheads and Eurasians: he was Indian and she was white and had 3 daughters. The other couple, recently married, J & J, were Australian and holidaying after his 3 year posting to Mumbai with McQuarrie Bank. She was a farmer’s daughter turned speech therapist and told me to expect emails from her wine producer friends: yes the Piemontemio cards were flowing! We chased around the Reserve for 3 hours snapping everything except tigers. Still it was a good workout with the odd bit of excitement when our guide spotted fresh paw tracks on top of our tyre ones created 15 minutes before. The 400 sq km are divided up into about 8 trails and on each several jeeps and open top “ducks” carrying perhaps a couple of dozen people charge around trying to avoid each other. Unfortunately the afternoon was no different, except for a change of company. Lunch was “international”, pasta with tomato sauce, grilled aubergine, spicy potato cake with coriander sauce and cabbage salad followed by “karim”caramel. Jeremy journalist, Esmay his daughter and Deidre friend and photographer had had a tiger encounter that morning that had lasted 15 minutes and we were instantly revitalised as we were on the same trail. I was out of cards so I hope they remember the website and send some pictures. They were going to come over to our hotel for dinner but didn’t appear presumably Jeremy’s wife was still unwell.

Before dinner we attended a slide show about the origins of the hotel and Reserve given by the daughter-in-law of the founder who had worked tirelessly to protect the tiger and change the attitudes and lifestyle of the local villagers. His work carries on and it was both inspiring and humbling. They have created several life changing projects:

A tree preservation project where they charge villagers p25 for each tree planted and pay them R1(4x as much) if they maintain 60% instead of just cutting down existing stock.

A move away from burning dry cow manure to producing bio gas from it and using the slurry for manure.

Stall feeding cattle instead of grazing them which increases milk production 6/7 fold and the creation of a milk cooperative.

A new school with free education for all girls and 30% of the boys on scholarships.

A new hospital and clinic which treats 300 outpatients daily and is capable of “state of the heart surgery”.

 

The grounds have been beautifully re-landscaped with hundreds of new trees planted and new ponds dug and varied accommodation including luxury tents and cottages with verandahs and rocking chairs

 

A candle-lit bath under the stars is a nice way to end the day although another couple of people would have have stopped us sliding around so much.

More vegetables and kingfisher for dinner and a bonfire chat with a couple of Australians, a venture capitalist and his wife who was on the takeover panel.

Day 5

A cold and foggy day and last chance for a tiger with our new companions from Long Island: Rich, a university lecturer in comparative literature and his wife Eileen in real estate from Long Island. He spoke Swahili, Russian, a bit of this and that and American and his wife had a musical Irish Noo Joysey accent. Delightful company. So cold I had to give in and buy a hat at the gates to the Reserve, R220 down from R700. They wanted to hire me for the rest of the tour as Rich reckoned they would have paid R650. It was the only luck we had as there were still no tigers to be seen. Our final tally included a Sloth bear (rarer than a tiger but who cares), wild boar, a couple of types of antelopes, crocs, a mongoose, wonderful kingfishers (birds),storks, egrets, eagles, owls and more spotted deer than you could shake a stick at. Definitely a place we would recommend and consider returning to.

After breakfast it was off to Jaipur by car, a 4 hour journey according to our driver Ashok and unlike the trains he kept his word. Indian roads, particularly the non toll road variety, are “interesting”. They drive mainly on the right but not exclusively and sometimes it seems the animals have more road sense. At least the cows, dogs and pigs move relatively slowly. It’s also very noisy as all trucks have signs on their back that ask you to use your horn, which everyone does. Added to that most tractors have large speakers with Indian music blaring out: hard not to move to the beat. The roads have tarmac except in the towns and villages.

Downtown Jaipur

As we reached Jaipur all hell broke loose as the traffic intensified but we felt safe as Ashok proved to be an exceptional driver and we reached our hotel after being hit by only one motorcycle. Remarkable!

We were signed in by the flirtatious Banhu (soon to be a Facebook friend) over a cold kingfisher and an upgrade to a huge suite followed. It made Raffles seem small by comparison. It overlooked the pool on one side and the gardens on the other where you could look down on the poor people.

Meat for dinner and the tandoori roasted quail were fantastic. Also great entertainment as at the next table were a couple of frogs, the large bottomed woman in gold jeans, gold jacket, peroxide directionless hair; the ultimate “mutton dressed as wolf”. Her companion who sported a grey cardigan and lectured her throughout, ordered fish and chips for both, coke and a large bowl of spaghetti on the side. They scoffed the lot. There was also lots of conversation to earwig with the usual herd of Americans without volume controls.

The complimentary wi-fi Internet non c’è!

Day 6

We love Jaipur, the Pink City, which is cleaner than most places we have so far encountered and the names of the inhabitants are easy to remember, they are all called Mr Singh! Our guide, Mr Singh, was tall, spiritual and aristocratic with a wonderful curled moustache. Before meeting him HO was approached by a female guide who asked if we were from Eastbourne. Yes she replied without thinking. Incredible, as it turned out she was looking for another couple. As we later found out when we bumped into them at the Amber Palace they were from Sydney and travelling with Eastbound! Not such a small world after all.

Jaipur is a fabulous place. The scale and beauty of the Amber Palace, 8km from the city, built on a hill below the Fort and overlooking a man made lake is magical. As is the Royal Palace in the centre, were we had a snack and bought the odd scarf at the craft centre. More pressure on our hand luggage policy. But the star of the show in our opinion is the Observatory nearby. It has, among many large scale 18th c astronomical and astrological installations, a giant sundial that is accurate to within 2 seconds. When the various parts were explained to us we felt quite ignorant and insignificant.

We quickly decided that leaving early the following morning for Vijaynagar was too soon as we wanted to see more of Jaipur. As Ashok was driving us for several days and Mr Singh was free we arranged to leave later the next day.

For dinner we decided to eat out at a popular restaurant across the City called Niro’s that boasted “multi-cuisine”. A buzzy, mirrored dining room also serving Chinese which is the no.2 favourite in India. We ordered as we would in the UK: dumplings, spring rolls, rice, noodles, a “chilly chicken” when the waiter stopped us and said that was more than enough. We had seen the portions of Indian food being served and were surprised until the dishes arrived. There were maybe 10 egg-sized dumplings, 2 super-sized spring rolls cut into 10, and rice and noodles for a small sized family. Sadly impossible to finish. Next time that happens we will follow Mr Singh’s later altruistic suggestion to ask for doggy bags and find someone hungry on the street to give them to.

Still no Internet.

Day 7

HO is into the Immodium and feeling a little weak: nothing too violent but persistent and energy sapping. Not enough to stop us from a tour of the Prince Albert Museum, another beautiful structure, and a tour of the Old City on foot. A shopping opportunity, particularly spices (black cardamom, saffron and 1st flush Darjeeling tea). Lunch in the Peacock restaurant which for me was a selection of kebabs and tandoori and for HO yoghurt mixed with turmeric on Mr Singh’s advice. Cushion covers and pashmina followed while I sat in the shop and stole an Internet opportunity.

It was by now mid afternoon and back to the car for the 3 hour drive to the Bijay Niwas Palace. Rather more hair raising than before as it started to get dark. Indians don’t like using lights, if they have them, on the toll motorway that links Delhi with Mumbai. The trucks pick a lane and stick to it so that overtaking becomes a slalom, paying particularly attention to pedestrians, dogs and the motorcycles, ox carts and tractors coming the opposite way on the dust shoulder, with or without lights. The last leg when we turned off the motorway was  particularly daunting as the tarmac once we cleared the village only extends to single track. Headlights coming at you with horns blaring and lots of unlit vehicles either side fortunately only lasted for  a couple of km.

Our sitting room

The manager Abel reminds me of a well tanned Primo without the moustache and he and 5 staff were there to greet us and show us to the Maharaja’s suite at the top of the Palace accessed by challenging stone steps that were twice the normal height. It must have been magnificent once but was showing signs of age. The electrics also wouldn’t pass any modern tests but the noisy fan heater worked after a fashion and the extension lead worked wth a little jiggling so we could charge all the gadgets. The wifi functions with occasional links to the server depending on how many people are logged on in India. We were the only guests so the service was totally OTT if a touch misdirected but what delightful people. 6 staff to tend the pre-dinner bonfire and drinks. They were disappointed when we chose Kingfisher as Abel had wine available, Indian and French, and wanted our opinion. I gave him a few tips and I am now “Doctor Wine”.

Dinner was interestingly delicious with tomato soup, mutton and chicken curries, rice, dall, breads and cauliflower cheese and penne with tomato sauce which we declined. HO was still feeling a little queasy so I took one for the team. Touch wood, the only medicine I’ve needed so far is Kingfisher. Long may it continue. Tomorrow’s a rest day in the country.

Day 8

A day to relax that started with breakfast by the pool alone, except for the staff hovering and a promise to visit the local village. Once the early morning chill dissipated the temperature quickly rose into the low 20s and out came the sun beds: glorious. No car journey no fear. The morning disappeared and before we knew it it was lunchtime. No menu just a promise of something light which turned out to be chicken with a spicy coriander gravy, mash, cauliflower and carrots and chips on the side, followed by an Indian pud. The visit to the village turned out to be on the back of an ox-drawn trailer driven by a turban clad driver with just 2 staff walking alongside urging us to be careful. Fortunately not far as I’m not built to sit upright on a sloping flat bed truck but it kept the natives amused. We were swamped by kids (60% of the population) wanting to have their pictures taken: we will have some printed and sent to them when we get back. Despite the relative poverty they seemed so happy and at peace living with their animals. Good karma. It obviously works as we met 2 elderly women, one was 100 and the other 95! We visited the local school where the teacher was in control and didn’t seem stressed. It was nearly home time but the kids couldn’t leave until they had each correctly done their times tables. At another home they were preparing food for a forthcoming marriage and all the women were involved making bread and sweets that HO sampled. It seems to be the women that do all the work while the men sit around. It’s the women you see working in the fields.

 

“The world is too apt to think of India as covered by a blanket of poverty, without any variation except for the very rich. Contrary to this picture I found that most villages, despite the simplicity of their lives and the cruel experiences of famine and crop failure, possess a dignity and self respect that are striking and have a deep security in an inclusive philosophy of life that made me feel both admiration and, in a way, almost envy.” – Gayatri Devi in A Princess Remembers. We share her view.

 

Back for a bonfire and occasional power cut, and we took the plunge and had a bottle of Indian Nine Hills, Nashick Valley, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon to make Abel happy. He had been told that wine always improves with age. He has a very long wait for the wine we tried and I was looking forward to my next Kingfisher. We had an interesting conversation about literature and it seems that Shakespeare is a regular subject in college. It must be difficult when English is not your first language and even if it is. Abel’s favourite is the Merchant of Venice and he remembered another tale where someone stole money from an oil trader and to prove his guilt the King placed the coins in water overnight and some oil floated to the surface. We don’t think it’s WS but answers on a postcard please. Best dinner so far with Keema, Butter Chicken and ochra but we refused the spaghetti!

 

Day 9

Back on the road to Jodphur and past some roadworks with a couple of dozen or so women in saris wielding pick axes and shovelling rock when they should have been preparing lunch. It was a day of firsts with our 1st car smash between a coach and a small car that was in the ditch. We stopped to see if we could help but within seconds the coach had emptied, others had stopped and about 100 wobbly-necking people were gathered as police arrived. We also saw our first rats at the roadside shack where we stopped for Ashok’s cup of chai. Fanta from the fridge for me. On the other side of the road was a crumpled jeep apparently still being used.

Jodphur has a large military base and is only 300km from Pakistan. Where bases in the UK might have a tank or Spitfire on display here, on a roundabout, was the rear end of a Pakistani fighter that had been shot down. The outskirts were far less congested than Jaipur but as we reached the central market and the famous Clock tower it was chaos. Narrowing streets, tuktuks, bikes, cows and pedestrians  and Ashok muttering “oh my God” one of his more coherent English phrases. The Raas Haveli has a fantastic position, in the bustling Old City, but is an oasis of tranquility, with stunning views of the magnificent Meherangarh Fort towering above. Reluctantly we accepted another upgrade to a split-level suite. Again only a shower in the downstairs bathroom but a bath was upstairs in the lounge where HO could soak with a view of the Fort. The best hotel so far.

View from the balcony

It was a do-it-yourself dinner, as were having a cooking lesson at a home-stay in the suburbs and then sharing the result with the family. It was a tough place to locate as dusk sttled but they had sent out a boy on a bicycle to look for us and he guided us in. It turned out that the family were medium Royals and that Grandad used to play with the Maharaja as a lad. Pavna the lady of the house gave the demonstration although in true regal fashion she had a lad doing the preparation, another helping with the clearing up, another to serve and a woman who came in just to make and cook the chapatis. We got through a mountain of garlic and ginger and a gallon of soya oil but the results were fantastic. Pakoras (made from ground lentils!), dall, potato & cauliflower and butter chicken that uses ground cashew nuts. Drinks in the courtyard around the compulsory bonfire where we were joined by sister Joy and her pre-arranged husband and diminutive, aged Mum (who ultimately didn’t get fed).  They were all great company and mainly diabetic which is a huge problem in India apparently. I’m not surprised with the amount of oil they use and their passion for sweets . We felt at home particularly as the lad serving wore his black shiny puffa jacket throughout.

Day 10

Our new spiritual guide and minor Royal, Mr Singh met at us the hotel and we set off to the Royal Crematorium and Monument halfway up the hill leading to the fort. Locally, like many buildings in India it is described as their “baby Taj: they obviously haven’t been to Agra. It was a very tranquil and serene place and attractive from a distance. He was a mine of information on death and funeral arrangements which are somewhat more complicated in India particularly as it is usual to ritually dispose of the ashes in the holy Ganges which is not necessarily your local river and can necessitate a journey of many hundreds of miles. I wonder what Hindus do in the UK? The Trent or Mersey probably don’t do it.

We continued the ascent and to the fort. I know why they build them on the tops of hills but the logistics of dragging all that stone and marble up there! Cheap labour has been around for a very long time. As most people know I am not fond of heights, and I can report that I made it almost everywhere except a couple of bits where I thought it looked like just another view.

We returned to the old City for a walkabout with our Royal in some of the back alleys where tourists tend not to go but he wasn’t recognised at all. Like Mr Jaipur Singh he believed in good deeds to start the day. In every City they sell bundles of green stuff for a few Rupees and this is one of the ways the holy cows get fed. He also told us that Indian households when making chapatis save the first one for the cows and the second one for the dogs that roam the streets. Top ideas and food for thought.

That evening on a combination of Tripadvisor and Mr Singh we decided to venture out for dinner on foot to a rooftop restaurant called Indique which despite its French sounding name was very friendly and welcoming. Decent food, lovely setting, fabulous view and close. At least it was close on the way there. HO took over on the way back: say no more.

Day 11

The day started with a bang, literally, at 3 am. This foghorn type noise followed by what seemed like gunfire woke me up and after 20 minutes of wondering what on earth it could be I rang reception. As I mentioned earlier we were quite close to the Pakistani border and relations were far from perfect. I thought it was an invasion but it turned out to be a wedding party?!!! At least it kept the Indians amused at breakfast when I responded to their “did you sleep well sir?”.

The next leg of our journey was by car to Udaipur via somewhere called Narlai on mainly unmade roads to experience rural India. We’d already done that so to make the journey more even we went via a Jain Temple complex that was scheduled for the next day.

Jain Temple

Awesome, and on a par with some of our experiences further East. What these guys were doing by hand hundreds of years ago is truly amazing and we were reminded of the Indian influences in Seam Reap. Machines have robbed us of true craftsmanship and the ability to find employment that actually means something. I don’t think globalisation is the answer but neither is lazy, non tax-paying, benefit-seeking bastards blaming someone else. Is that conservative with a Capital or without? We arrived at our next fort and quickly realised that we should have kept going. Nothing wrong but nothing to do. Nice place but nothing else. They offered an expensive “stepwell dinner” via oxcart (done it) for R4,000 (£50), 2 set menus on the rooftop, continental and Indian and what we now considered expensive drinks. Had a Thali with a lamb bone curry that they corrected 2-fold, challenged the bill and reconciled 2 separate price lists and went to bed.

Day 12

Rain? Mist? India? A Piemonte dream this winter but useless for a trip to a fort 1 km high, even if I don’t like heights, so straight to Udaipur. Sounds simple but thank goodness for Ashok no.1 driver in all of India. We witnessed 2 crashes: one had just happened with a lorry in the ditch upside-down with wheels still spinning and another, same way, with wheels stopped. It’s definitely time that an Indian driver should compete in the F1 championship: no contest!

HO having depleted the Immodium early on, was suffering somewhat from that strangest of ailments, constip…: never had to spell it nor see the need for the word myself and in India of all places!

A couple more humorous moments on the way that I am happy to confess to. Another roadside stop for a cup of chai had me trying to light a cigarette without a cigarette. Match lit but cigarette still on the table. Ashok nearly wet himself. Shortly after I was explaining to Ashok how expensive the “stepwell dinner” had been and he had started responding/wobbling in a way I couldn’t translate. I nodded, as usual, but bemused, until HO pointed out that he was talking to the Indian behind me! Cunning chaps Indians.

Hotel arrival

And so to Udaipur in one piece and a boat transfer across lake Pichola to pure luxury, the Leela Kempinski Palace. Fabulous, extreme service, wipe your bum sir! We managed to walk to the City exit without the aid of a golf cart and soaked up the feel of the City. Fantastic place and on the way back we stopped at a “hippy bar/restaurant”.  When I was assured that they served Kingfisher I ordered a large one with 2 glasses. Not possible, I was confused, but a few minutes later 2 tea mugs appeared, full of Kingfisher. No licence, apparently; I am still one of life’s innocents. Service at dinner in the Palace was no different,with a bit of culture, (hand washing ceremony etc), superb food, and stuff the price: my idea of heaven. Day14

Super eggs Benedict for breakfast and back on the boat to meet Mr Singh our guide (and Ashok of course)! Where does he go when we have finished with him?

The Royal Palace in Udaipur was not a patch on what we had already seen even if it is the biggest. A moral there somewhere. Now we needed a bag. Thoughts of carry-on long gone we needed something functional but cheap and let our thoughts be known to a young tuktuk driver who had learnt his English from tourists. There followed a wild couple of hours as he paraded us to his mates. When I told him we were in no hurry he said ” I love my life don’t worry” as we sped through the traffic, breathing in.

Indian wedding

We also spotted an Indian wedding procession with the groom on horseback, accompanied by a band and loads of firecrackers. Celebrations can last several days. He found us a cracking bag for R1,000 (£12.50). We also tried a couple of other places as we were considering wall hangings for the bedrooms and got assaulted. At one place a pushy salesman insisted on explaining the various grades of pashmina. As part of the demo he felt my silk blended scarf and said it was fake and simply treated cotton. As it had only cost me about £7 and others had felt it and said I had got a good price I didn’t believe him. He then produced his own “fake” and said you could buy them anywhere for less than a fiver. I liked it and said I would buy a few from him but he said it was his only example! End of conversation! Another couple of shopkeepers were much nicer, one of whom, asked us if we would “take a shifty”? We thought we had shaken him off but on our way back to the old City for dinner he appeared again and we did eventually buy some stuff from him. It’s all about haggling and if you can’t you’re stuffed. Most deals can be settled at no more that than 50% of the opening price but you have to stand firm at a third and reluctantly move higher to feed a family. Shifty wasn’t the only one and suddenly the bag was an investment.  Dinner at the top of a small hotel with a fantastic view of the lake was also top notch if lacking in the opulence of the Leela palace but only a quarter of the price.

Day 13

8.05am flight to Delhi so boat at 5.45 to meet Ashok at 6. Like clockwork, airport at 6.30pm, delay! Delay and more delay. Fog in Delhi meant that the incoming flight, small prop job, hadn’t taken off. Restaurant manager had a brother in Italy and the agent from Audley turned up so at least it was a Piemontemio opportunity. Eventually we took off and it was budget with everything on sale and no apology. Audley had told us they use Jet Ways as they are more reliable than Kingfisher (the airline) but 5 hours? I have never been 5 hours late for anything except when I have totally forgotten something. Denny Crane! We have been watching Boston Legal during the trip and if you don’t understand the reference let me know and I will stick some episodes in the Dropbox.

Wiped out the afternoon but dinner on the rooftop at Shanti Home is up there (sic) with the best. Afghani chicken, Keema with mutton etc and our latest favourite drink: lime soda…….with a large vodka. The food here is as good as anywhere. An evening planning tomorrow but you sense that tomorrow will be different.

Day 14

Delhi is dirty, busy, frantic, commercial but with history and a certain charm. We discovered when we first arrived that the best possible means of transport is the Metro from where we were staying in the suburbs. Cheap, efficient and no haggling: about £1 a day Boris! The only negative is the ever present security: you are screened and frisked at every station but a small price to pay if it saves lives. We had a plan: fried eggs, toast, tea coffee etc but HO knows what a soft fried egg should be like. 3 attempts and I was squirming; I settled for a hard fried egg sandwich. We’ll perhaps try again tomorrow, if I’m feeling strong. The strange thing was that in the midst of the to-ing and fro-ing a plate of Nutella craps arrived: at least that’s how the pancakes were announced.

Qtab Mina

Metro to Qtab Mina and the first haggle of the day. We ended up at R300 for a taxi to take us to 4 sites in a specific order. I don’t think it was a translation issue but we ended where I wanted to start and missed one in the middle. The driver obviously didn’t want to wait for us at Qtab Mina as he knew it would take the longest and we had also stopped to pick up his brother. He then asked for a tip. HAB (How about b*****ks!). Interesting places and where the World Heritage Organisation is involved they are well maintained and being renovated. Where a Maharaja or similar is involved, all the entrance money tends to be ploughed back into the site. Where the Indian Government is involved, it’s usually run down with a haggling watchman. The huge tower and mosque complex at Qtab Mina is a fantastic place, as is the nearby stepwell that needs some (government) work doing. Another tuktuk to Humayun’s tomb which is in the midst of renovation work and has a certain amount of green tarpaulin draped on the outside. Impressive from the outside but not much on the inside. Back to the tuktuk and twice round India Gate before we could get a photo. No stopping, serious barriers and a heavy police presence. Onwards to Connaught Place where we were set down. We walked almost halfway round, found it a all a bit incongruous, and dived back down the Metro to Chandni Chowk and bustling, crowded Old Delhi. We walked around for an hour or so without seeing a paleface or particularly paying attention as to where we were going. Bought some spices and suddenly it was dark and we were lost. As it was getting close to dinner time we decided to try and find a restaurant we had picked out on the Internet and in a guidebook. Rather than end up with a driver that didn’t know, couldn’t read or ripped us off we asked a policeman. A very nice policeman who grabbed us a cycle rickshaw, made sure he knew where we were going and fixed a price of R60 (75p). Poor sod trying to pedal in stop-start heavy traffic and he didn’t seem well. He must have struggled for at least 3km so despite the lecture from the policeman not to pay more we gave him double and were rewarded with a huge smile.

Chor Bizarre, a play on Bazaar (thieves market) is a great place with some strange items scattered around, including an old car in the middle of the room. Good food as well, particularly the lamb ribs and huge scampi/prawns. As usual we over-ordered and left feeling like beached whales. Miles away, probably an hour in traffic, we checked out the price of a taxi to our hotel: R600, done! It took an hour but at times when the traffic allowed he performed like an F1 driver.

Day 15

A brief unsuccessful attempt to get soft eggs at breakfast and uninvited “craps” and it was over. The delay at Delhi airport was less than 2 hours and turned into only an hour late at LHR which would probably have been enough to have missed the flight to Milan. Highlight of the flight was several glasses of Chablis 1er Cru Vau de Vey 2009 (Dom. J-M Brocard) and Les Fiefs de Lagrange 2007: thank you BA. We had booked into the Sofitel at Terminal 5 and quickly decided that a meal there or a trip into town was too much money, time and effort. Sandwiches and an average Kiwi Pinot Noir from M&S in the room was just fine. Our first day without curry for over a fortnight and Scarzello Langhe Nebbiolo 2007 for tea tomorrow!

 

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