6th Feb 2010 - 8th Feb 2010
India (Part 1): Delhi to Jaipur
Nearly a year after returning home from our round-the-world epic, we set off on a 2-week holiday to India. It was a package tour of sorts: we travelled with the Adventure Company, who we have used a few times before. This takes the hassle out of travelling to interesting places: they sort out travel, accommodation etc leaving us to sit back and enjoy the ride. As we are both busy at work, it’s nice to have the stressful bits taken out of travel. You also travel in a small group, which makes it a bit more fun: our experience on these types of trips is that you almost always meet interesting people, which was certainly the case on this trip. Anyway, here’s what we got up to:
Day 1 – Manchester to Delhi (via Helsinki)
Er, not much to say here …. we basically spent the day sat on a plane, or in an airport. Not the best part of the holiday, but until I can afford a personal jet, sadly necessary. And it’ll be a while before I can pay for that jet if I have to spend much more time in Helsinki airport. Jeez, it’s expensive. I think we spent as much on a pizza there as we did in about 3 days of food in India. Maybe they need the extra money to pay for snowploughs …. there was about a foot of snow, and it was -5C, but the runways were clear and everything worked on time. This certainly compares favourably to British airports, which seem to close if a single snowflake is sighted within 10km.
Day 2 - Delhi
We landed at 6am in conditions somewhat warmer than those we left in Finland. However, first stop was bed .... with a five and a half hour time difference, we basically missed out on night-time and so were both knackered when we arrived. A few hours rest later and we met up with the rest of our group to embark on a tour of New Delhi, and our first experience of Indian roads (of which more, later).
On the bus from our hotel, our guide warned us of the chaos to come. Unfortunately I couldn’t take it too seriously: his accent made his warning to be careful of the “hawkers and vendors” sound like we were going to have to dodge “hookers and benders”. After a moment of concern as to exactly where we were being taken, I spent the rest of the journey trying to stifle childish chuckling.
Anyway, first stop was Gandhi Smriti, which is a memorial garden situated at the place where some looney shot the old fella. There are some well manicured lawns and an eternal flame, as well as a long line of Indians paying tribute. Oh, and lots of “hookers and benders” trying to flog all sorts of crap. I managed to ignore them all by utilising my 1000-yard stare and pretending to be deaf. Or from Liechtenstein, which usually confuses the persistent chatty ones who ask “sir, sir, where you from?” and don’t leave you alone until you answer. If you make the schoolboy error of saying “England”, then no matter where you are in the world, you will be assailed with a Del-boy impression or quoted “Asda price”. I am yet to meet any tat-wielding urchin who can quote me an “amusing” line from Liechtenstein popular culture. And even if they could, I wouldn’t have a clue what they were on about.
So, having safely negotiated the hookers and benders, we travelled to India Gate. This is a 42m high memorial to India’s war dead, and it was here that we had our first experience of being collared for photos. Usually when travelling, I am the one looking to photograph the locals. In India however, it works both ways. There were as many Indian tourists as foreign ones at India Gate, and several times we were told (not asked, told) to pose for photos with various adults/children/students. It got to the point where I thought about charging for image rights, but we soon got used to it. It happened many more times through the fortnight …!
India Gate is at one end of Rajpath, which is the main colonnade into New Delhi. At the other end is the President’s House, and the architecture is such that you get a view all the way down from one end of Rajpath to the other (about half a mile). That was the theory 80 years ago anyway; unfortunately modern Delhi is the most polluted city on earth so you can barely see anything through the smog. Nice.
Day 3 – Train to Jaipur
In order to help us overcome jetlag, our guide kindly arranged a 4-30am wake up call. Which was just what I needed, having only just nodded off at 3-30am. I managed what can only be described as a nap from about 8-30 to 10-30 in the evening and then spent the next 5 hours wide awake. Becca of course, was sparko. She can sleep anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
The reason for getting up at this ridiculous hour was to catch the 6am train to Jaipur. The train was surprisingly comfortable. Although built in about 1940, it was very spacious and civilised. We got a free paper and were then served a very fine breakfast. Not much of a view unfortunately – this part of India is flat and boring, but we arrived on time after a 4½ hour journey. Virgin trains could learn a lot from the standard of service (and prices!).
We arrived in Jaipur in time for lunch, which was, wait for it … a curry! I love curry, and after 3 days was in my element having curry twice a day. There were a wide variety of dishes that were new to me (mainly vegetablist food, but you can’t have everything), so at this stage I was tucking in greedily. I’d spent the previous month doing a lot of exercise as I am training for a half marathon, and so my appetite had increased. At this stage of the holiday my appetite had not diminished, even if the level of exercise had. Later in the trip, I found myself actively eating a bit less (partly Delhi Belly related) and, in a feeling that is completely unique to me, craving something that wasn’t a curry! A weird feeling indeed. Anyway, back to Jaipur ….
After lunch we visited the Jantar Mantar, which is an amazing 18th century outdoor observatory that includes the world’s biggest sundial. It’s big enough that it looks almost like a fairground ride, and, amazingly, is accurate to within 2 seconds! There were also all sorts of devices that used the sun to show what star sign Pluto was in, or some other such hocus pocus, but it was impressive nevertheless.
From there we blazed along the tourist trail to the City Palace. This is an impressive, though not hugely memorable building (2 weeks on, I can’t remember that much about it) that housed some museums and stuff. The one thing I do remember is the shirt worn by a king from the past. This thing was huge … to quote Lonely Planet, he was “a cuddly 2m tall, 1.2m wide and 250kg” (that’s around 40 stones to the old fashioned types amongst you). He also had 108 rather unfortunate wives.
Outside the palace we saw the dark side of India ... with no welfare state, begging here is a profession and parents/gangs often maim children in an effort to make them more “marketable”. We saw several disfigured beggars, some with legs twisted at unnatural angles meaning that they could only get around by sitting on a skateboard and propelling themselves with their hands. It’s a horrible sight and one can only hope that as India becomes increasingly wealthy as a country, one that will disappear as it really is a blight on this otherwise wonderful country.
Our hotel in Jaipur was an old mansion, dating back to the time of the British Raj, and therefore wonderfully ornate. There were pictures of Charles and Diana on the walls, as they stayed here in the early 80’s, and old hunting trophies from the 1930’s such as a stuffed tiger’s head and some buffalo horns.
At night, Jaipur really comes alive. Travelling to dinner we passed just about everything you can imagine, including chickens being killed and cooked to order on street stalls, and a huge wedding procession, with the groom travelling by elephant. (You can imagine him arriving at the ceremony: “You look lovely, darling”. “Thanks, but you smell like an elephant”!)
Dinner involved yet more new curry experiences, as well as fire dancers, a puppet show and some rain. So, quite entertaining, all in all. Nearly as much fun as the drive to get there ….