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Goan Nuts Again
Mumbai Airport 0540 hrs 24th February - back in the madness
Here I am again in illogical India. The flight with Kuwait Airways was an improvement on Air India's long delays, but without any sort of in-flight entertainment it was so boring from Amsterdam. At Kuwait City they wouldn't change my currency - Guilders are unknown here. Brilliant. I'm saved from imminent starvation by the Bombay flight, on which I saw the movie 'Ants' - it was excellent.
From the airport I share a cab with a Frenchman on his way to Vagator, luckily. It's so hot I can scarcely breathe. I reach the Daynite, drop my luggage to go in search of a bed. No room at two inns before I went back to the Tellen, my previous hostelry. They too were full, but instead gave me a little back room off their sleeping room, for two days until 'my' room is free.
Within an hour I am riding a brand new moped rented from their friend in the trade, and am off in search of friendly faces.
Andy surveyed the crested waves from his chair at Shiva's chai shop, nursing a bad ear infection, poor boy. A few faces are gone from the populace but more arrive to replace them, and so the machine turns. Welcome back to fantasyland....
Thursday 25th February - meet the people time
Too tired to attend the party last night (if there was indeed a party last night) The flights took their toll and I crashed before midnight. Lunched today in the Daynite, it was just too humid to move. Wind has dropped, turning up the heat a bit. At the Nine Bar I met up with the familiar party faces, kissed lots of cheeks and was hugged by lots of people. Met Jane, who I first saw at the German Bakery Party in January, she's a lovely girl. She'd lost her money and passport recently and was waiting for the bureaucracy to clear with a smile and a positive stance. I looked on in admiration, thanking my guardian angel it wasn't me. You have to be so careful here with everyone, some Indians are so poor they will take anything not nailed down but there are some foreigners doing the same, (a pox on them an all their issue from henceforth). Ended the day in the Primrose but the stay was short. Forgot to call Dodo, a smart smack on the legs for me!
Friday 26th February - Destruction Day
Called Dodo this morning, he left today for Calcutta touring with a whiskey promo team. I must not forget to phone again Sunday - strong reminder in the appointment diary. Thanks to a good sleep I am early at Shiva's beach shack this morning, greeting Sebastien, Layla, Karmilla, and a few others gathered around the breakfast table. Michael has left for northern climes, others are leaving in the next few days. The sun is noticeably hotter, by two or three degrees. At 11.00 am it appears that we won't be sitting here much longer, Amir, Jo, Andy and myself wait for the police to arrive to demolish all the so-called illegal beach shacks along the bay, an annual event, by all accounts. Its done to show the legal shacks up on the rocks that their backsheesh is being earned and the tourist office that the police are useful.
I watch the destruction in horror, taking photographs of a corrupt police force in action. When Jo tried to snap a few shots a burly policeman demanded her camera. She refused to give it, stowing it away in her bag, and the man hurled abuse at her, threatening arrest. The Goa police don't like advertising. I am sitting in one of the legal café/restaurants, Om Café, quietly sipping coffee while the 21 police officers (two women) stand nearby laughing in vicious glee as their lackeys pull Shiva's apart. When they move along to the next, Sharmilla's, I zoom in and snap quite safely. Here is the evidence:
Shiva's is no more Sharmilla's before and after.....
The sand based beach shacks pay no backsheesh and so must go. The fact that they are used by almost everyone is irrelevant, the police just don't want them there. The staff says not to worry - that tomorrow they will be up and running again, this happens every year. Wearily, we decide to move on to the Daynite, where the atmosphere is much calmer. The afternoon passes like the chillum round the table.
In the evening, I had my old leather jacket stolen from the back of my moped at the Primrose, sending my mood into black before the party at Paraiso even began. XP, the Russian DJ, cooked up a storm and I was up conducting again. I got quite faceless and danced for most of the night, pausing for breath and a change of clothes at around 8 a.m. I stayed upright for most of the day,
Saturday 27th February - Lost and Found
The family gave me a temporary space in one of the bigger rooms, obviously fed up with my nocturnal comings and goings through their bedroom. Tomorrow I move back into the familiar sloping room I occupied previously. The party went on until 1500 but I was too tired to go through lunch, went to bed instead.Later in the afternoon I ran Andy to the Primrose for a strawberry ice cream shake, and my jacket was mysteriously returned to me having been found screwed up in a corner of the bar. Miracles do happen in Goa.
Tonight Sebastien played a set in the Primrose, I loved it, and I like his music. It was a fine prelude to the next Paraiso party. It seems they are the only game in town now, police for one reason or another have closed other sites. Rumour says they found two dead bodies hanging in the trees at Bamboo Forrest but you can't believe anything you hear. At the Nine Bar and Primrose I met some UK people, Kev and Gav, two mad Geordies, Harriet and Sive, a great pair of nutters, and Dennis, a young Dutch boy living for years in England. We partied through the night, had a great time. It was also Ellie's birthday so the UK lads were out in force, making everyone howl with laughter. Superb night I had the whistle out, winding folks up with it, hehe.
Sunday 28th February - dunking for shades is not easy
Called Dodo, he arrives tomorrow, can't wait! The weather has turned decidedly hotter by 3 or 4 degrees in a fortnight. The wind dropped to nothing and all day the air is like soup. I will move north soon, to Pushkar, where is the holy lake of creation and the Brahmin temple. The air should be cooler at any rate. I plan to move on to Jaipur and Agra, then end up in Delhi from where I fly at the end of March.
Daft job of the day: using the wonderfully designed Indian bend over toilet (or the hover model as I've heard it named) I looked down while wearing my sunglasses, silly move as they fell off my face into the toilet. I grab at the two inches visible in the hole but they sink into the cesspool, lost forever. Drat! I go to the nearest roadside stall and pick a pair or Raybans (well that's what the label read), speeding off on the moped. I got about half a kilometre when the little plastic nose rest thingy came off, so I turned round and returned to a startled salesman demanding another pair with no extra expense. Armed once more with shaded anonymity I raced off into the brilliant sunshine.
Monday 1st March - prepare to be splattered with paint!
Today marks the start of the festival of Holi, when the Indians throw brightly coloured powder paint at each other, and anyone else who hasn't got the stuff all over them. It's Hindu New Year, and goes on for a month. The locals say its not done in Vagator or Anjuna much, more in Mapusa. So I'll keep away from Mapusa for a while. Today I am getting a haircut from Phil, the local hairdresser. I'm toying with the idea of shaving half my head in keeping with the styles I see all around me but wonder how it will go down at home, me in a bright turquoise Mohican. I plump for an all over trim and a reweaving of my pigtail postponed until I can find something really nice to twist into the skein. I fancy some beads or ribbon - something other than the fluorescent wool on offer at the market.
I was dancing in the Nine Bar when Dodo arrived with Phil and Laura, two English friends. We retired to Daynite to eat. Andy joined the table and Dodo had everyone laughing in minutes. He's shaved his head, leaving a long newly bleached blonde plait. Well now. We couldn't wait to party, he went off to sleep, promising to be a t the Paraiso by 2 am. He turned up at 6, too late to see the stars.
Tuesday 2nd March - still partying
A crowd of Holi celebrating Indians splattered me with paint. Red paint. I asked for yellow for my hair but got red on my dress instead. They must be colour blind! I was on a roll (again) but took a shower break at 8.30, returning an hour later to dance until 4 which is when I discovered my keys were missing. The panic I felt was palatable. On the ring were the moped key, my padlock key and the keys to the flat in Amsterdam, including the security lock key that costs a fortune to replace. Oh my. A taxi bike took me home where the moped guy came to take me back with another key to see if it worked in my moped. It did. Sighs of relief all round. Fortunately I had just that morning stashed the spare padlock key in the garden, in case I went out forgetting it, so I had access to my room. All that remained were the flat keys and there were spares at home for them. Problem solved but I didn't feel like dancing any more, I went back to tell Dodo I was crashing out for the night (and this only early evening). I am becoming a party pooper.
Wednesday 3rd March - off to the barber's
Woke at 6, did the washing before leaving for the market where I am due to get my hair braided. I was more than a little hung over when I arrived but a milky coffee and an egg sandwich put paid to that. There's precious little available to put in my hair so I defer for another day, wandering the stalls in the hope of seeing Dodo. Against my better judgement I bought clothes and a string of sandalwood beads. I left about 2.30 PM to lie down for a while, the heat was just too much. Shared a table with Andy at Daynite for a while before returning to Anjuna market and the Shore Bar for the regular Wednesday evening party on the beach. Dodo was there, seems he was missing me all over the place throughout the day. We decided to go to Orgasmic to eat in a tree house. The food was wonderful but expensive. Salad bar second to none.
At Primrose we learn the party is at the bungy jump grounds next to the Paraiso in Anjuna, the Gravity Zone. I was beginning to suffer the effects of a head cold so went to sleep for a few hours, intending to go at around 4; when I eventually got there at 6.45 the music stopped at 7 so I had a great time for 15 minutes. The news was really funny - this Bombay DJ and his crew had been talking on the mike, occasionally singing and generally acting the club DJ. Now, this kind of behaviour doesn't go down well with the seasoned party crowd of Goa. Most people had hung around as there was little else to entertain through the night and all of the crowd asked me to blow the whistle at the DJ to get him off the pitch. Fluoro Baba (Jose) arrived at 7.30 ready for a day's fun, only to discover the party was over. What a waste of time he said, (having just eaten something illegal).
Thursday 4th March - departure of the Dodo
Dodo leaves today so I must find him, I'm off to check his hotel in Anjuna. I haven't seen him since early morning when he went off to pack, having stayed all night at the Gravity Zone.
There's no sign at his hotel but his bags are packed ready in his room. I search the beaches, North Middle and South Anjuna, finding no trace of him. My aching head forces me to hit the chemist for flu remedies. At 1400 there's no trace of Dodo, but his flight laves at 1500 so I give up the search and eat lunch at Daynite, scoffing various pills and cough medicines to ease my aching throat and thickening sinuses.
I make it to the Nine Bar where I find Kev, Harriet and the posse. We all eat together at the Green Shadow in Chapora, it was quite an evening. There was no party, and after making a short appearance at the Primrose I went to bed to nurse my cold.
Friday 5th March - Saturday 6th March - possibly the best party in Goa
Today I plan to swim in the clear, much cleaner waters of Anjuna. Vagator is too choppy, full of seaweed and not too clean. I know it's the same all along the coast but the water off Coconut Grove in South Anjuna is clear and sparkling thanks to a small reef which protects part of the bay.
I have to get out to avoid the neighbour's radio, the walls here are so thin you can hear breathing, but he likes loud music - Indian radio. I can't begin to describe the awful choice of tracks they play. Can't wait to travel to somewhere a bit quieter!
The planned party at Paraiso began at 1800 - a thirty-hour marathon, ending tomorrow night midnight with various DJ's appearing. I went early to look, left to sleep until 02.30 when I went to party in earnest. Found our regular chai lady, Assumpta, in her familiar position high above the rest of the chai mats, facing the sea, overlooking everything. We've made hers our base of operations at this sloping, red sand venue. She takes care of bags and coats, mothers us, and as long as you buy a drink, she allows you to lie on your back with your eyes closed, but not for hours on end, she has a business to run and needs the space. In the morning she gives you slices of melon and coffee. I took some cold cures and went for it, slipping home at 9 am to change before the next session. The UK posse and the Loud People as Kev described our little gang, took over the top level for the rest of the day, and lunacy presided. Jackie had made me a red card to go with the whistle so the place was in hysterics as I proceeded to send off anyone not dancing right, kissing or standing still. We had such a laugh, some French bloke got me on his shoulders, dancing around with glee, then Eddie threw me over his shoulders, running all over the place with me dancing down his back, legs flaying the air in time to the beat. What a scream. At 1730 I decided my cold was no better and I went to the doctor in Anjuna for help. She gave me more cold remedies, charged me 210R (and I went back to the party to do the evening shift until Andy and I left for Daynite to get some energy food. I declined to return, choosing instead to go to bed at 11 p.m. I am becoming old hat with all this early to bed stuff!
Sunday 7th March - time to make plans
Ate breakfast in Chapora with Kev and Gav, then checked prices of trains to Mumbai. 740Rupees was the quote - sounds good to me. Went to Little Vag with Rocky, the dog from Daynite who was delighted to be taken out for a change. Stupid hound is scared of everything, the sea, the cows, other dogs - he cried when I tied him up to get a drink. I took him back to the restaurant, returning to join the Loud Posse for a few hours sunbathing.
some of the Loud Posse
Kev, Gav and I climbed up to the Nine Bar for a drink, then moved on to Monty's in Anjuna where there was a birthday party in progress. The dance floor was just too small and very hot so most folks stood around the entrance muttering about another party in the Sea Breeze restaurant on the beach. Keef went off on his big Enfield to investigate, I followed. They were setting up to start at 10 p.m. I collected Aaron and Paz (two more party nutters) and we sped off to the new venue. Great space, lots of dance room but no chai mats. Ah well, you can't have everything. I partied on with the red card until the music suddenly stopped at 00.30 when the police came to put the mockers on the scene. The DJ promised to resume at 4 a.m. and everyone left for the last hour in Primrose.
Monday 8th March - beach celebrations, brilliant!
Went to bed at 0200, rose at 0600 to begin the day's madness. My cold is receding now thanks to the drugs from the doctor. At Sea Breeze the party was well under way, the daytime crew were clocking on, the dancing really started to get going. The Portuguese nutter (as we have named him) was causing all sorts of trouble, painting a picture in the middle of the dance floor, lying on his back looking up skirts, generally making himself unwelcome amongst the growing crowd of dancers. As the sun rose over the restaurant, the pace seemed to change as the day switched on its heat ray. I bought bottles of water for everyone, distributing them throughout the crowd, but when the Portuguese nutter spat it back at me I saw red and when he told me to #%#* off, I went for him, chasing him out of the place to a round of applause.
Took a break in the middle of the day to book my ticket to Mumbai, (1250Rupees for 2AC - second class air conditioned) leaving next Sunday. Went back to the Sea Breeze for the rest of the party, larging it all over the shop. The music stopped at 8 p.m., I joined Ben, Paul, Beenie and Mike for a drink in the bar in Chapora before joining Andy for dinner at Daynite. Bed beckoned early, probably due to the large vodka and juice I'd consumed before dinner! I know, I know, don't nag me!
Tuesday 9th March - more Holiness
Another day, another party. Had a really good chat last night with Ben, who advised me on buying saleable souvenirs from his friend Jai's shop in Jaipur, he kindly offers to call to tell them I'm coming. Nice man, my friend Mr Ben. I woke at 3 p.m. to find Kev in the Sunset Café in Chapora, a bit down. Rode down to Calangute for a chat with my friend on the beach road then returned, getting 'Holied' while trying to leave for Vagator. Damn, another decent outfit ruined. I was so angry, I returned home, catching up with Kev walking along the road by the Tellen. I was sounding off about the stupid Indian custom of chucking paint on everybody and its pointless childishness while scrubbing like mad at the paint in my hair and on my best tie-dye tee shirt.
Made the 9 Bar by sunset, had a shot of Fenny, which cheered my mood considerably, and went to The Green Shadow to eat, feeling less than perfect. Had a lie down until 2330 when I moved to Primrose for the last couple of hours. Sat with the UK posse until 3 a.m. but no party was happening and all had to be content with a good night's sleep for a change. Eddie hasn't been seen since the weekend session so anything might be wrong.
Wednesday 10th March - market day again
Early start to the day, looking for socks in Mapusa. Ate free lunch courtesy of a nice Australian lady who couldn't finish her thali in Ashok's. I must admit I couldn't finish it either, more for the spiciness than amount. I find all Goan specialities a bit on the hot side myself. Traffic en route to Anjuna flea market was backed up for 3 km where the road was being dug up - progress was slow if not impossible. They really need to sort out another roadway, the present situation is totally inadequate. There's no room for two vehicles to pass each other on the road through the paddy fields and as taxis and rickshaws drop off tourists and leave for more, both directions are a nightmare to a moped. I see Ben and Paul coming through the standing line of cars on bikes, just across from Cliff Monty's driveway; their advice is come back later when its cooler, tempers are fraying today and the market's jam packed. I take heed and turn my moped for the other end of mid Anjuna, parking by the Shore Bar and walking to the market along the beach, cooling my feet in the surf. I greet Fluro Baba coming out of the waves like some Andalucian Bo Derek with his long, bright orange, green and yellow fluro plaits down his back. Jose's outfits are always planned to show up well in black light, even his swimming trunks are fluro patterned.
The fluro bug hits me and I get a couple of nice fluro bangles and an earring from Lisa, a pretty girl with a regular stall at Anjuna. Met up with some friendly faces including that of Ryan, a mad Mancunian who just returned from Arambol, a quiet place to the north of Vagator. He has a video camera with him, and we had such a giggle filming a man not quite picking his nose. I obliged theatrically for the cameraman, to his delight. Took my last photos of Anjuna market, including the fancy cow standing on his owner, peeing a bucketful while the man played the pipes under his massive hooves. Check out the photo: Man with cow
Also took a last pic of Jovis playing didge in the expresso bar, it was so lovely to listen in. Man with Didgeridoo
At dusk I moved to the Shore Bar to await the arrival of young Sam. Sat on a chai mat with Ryan and Keeley, having a good laugh. Ryan looks like he's in love for the first time. Down Boy! I gave Keeley a ride back to Daynite to eat with me, after giving up on Sam. Andy gave us the latest party rumours, four were perhaps happening. Oh, Goa is such a laugh sometimes. In fact we are actually blessed with 2 parties - one in Paraiso (what's new?) and one next door in Gravity Zone, where Domino is rumoured to be playing (one of the few female DJ's in the business and very good). I decide to go for an hour, arriving at Gravity Zone at midnight with Aaron and Paz following behind me. Not many people there but there never is before two-thirty, we decide to go next door to compare the DJ in Paraiso. It's great to sit on Assumpta's chai mats and stare at the sea and the stars while listening to the music from both venues. Suddenly the volume drops, the police have come along to close the neighbouring party, how surprising. This place is owned by the Goa Tourist Board, controlled by a man with connections going up to the very top - parties will continue here even though the police are determined not to allow any outside events during the school exam period. Sad as there are much better places to have a party than this jaded old site. I spend the night on the chai mat with Aaron, Paz, and sundry other visitors, feeling jaded. I nip out to check if the rumoured Woodlands party is happening, losing my other tie-dye tee shirt in the process. This serves to sour my mood further and I soon left for a few hours much-needed rest.
Thursday 11th March - retail therapy works every time
Returned to the Paraiso at 10 to begin again in better form. I ordered 2 pairs of shorts to be made by the Nepalese tailors in Anjuna. Clothes buying always cheers up a girl, well it does this girl. After a quick chat with Shi, my Israeli pal, and Ben, I brighten up considerably. The wind had returned with a vengeance as a cyclone moved along the coast, blowing off the canvas roof to the crowd's delight. Lack of shade did nothing to dampen the spirits as the day wore into evening and the party continued. I liken it to what may have been the last dance on the Titanic, everyone just refused to admit there was a problem and partied on regardless. Stuart, the posse's action man did his best to save the tarpaulin roof, muscles bulging as he posed over the crowd. Ryan took his last shots with the video camera and I just blew the whistle and brandished the red card, ordering the roof off to hoots of laughter. I did a quick rekkie to the 9 Bar then returned to hear XP, my favourite DJ doing his bit from 1900. Unfortunately, at 2030 it was too dark to see anything so the management closed the place, cutting short a great set. Andy and I went to eat, me nursing blisters on my right foot and cramp in the left foot. What a poor sight I was, grateful to crawl into bed at 2230.
Friday 12th March - still no party
Had breakfast for the last time in the German Bakery, Anjuna, while awaiting the completion of my shorts and a bag I ordered from the Nepalese guy. Dennis was at the next table with a pretty young girl, impressing her with flair. It took most of the day waiting to get the new shorts, and now there's no party to show them off at. Hope there's something before I leave on Sunday! Hung around Chapora for most of the day, it was too hot to move again. Lunched with Paul and Beenie, Paul has an ulcer and must go home. I sympathise, India is no place to be when you've a problem like that to deal with. Ate dinner at Welcome after discovering they do a great andoori Tuna, had to try it - delicious!
Saturday 13th March - saying goodbyes
Ryan's bag was still in Arambol and he hadn't been there for days so I volunteered to take him to collect it. We sped off, enjoying a nice day, and a cool beer on the beach, chatting. Back in Anjuna I tried to check my email but am annoyed to find I can't connect to Geocities; have to set things up better next time with a Hotmail account. Collected a pile of email addresses. Joined Harriet, Carol, Ryan and Jason for dinner at Welcome Restaurant where this time I tried Tandoori Prawns - equally delicious. Shared a table for the last time with Andy at Daynite, Rocky didn't want me to leave, he kept climbing onto my moped, stopping me from driving off.
The Paraiso party began at midnight and the whole gang had turned up for my last rave-up. Sam, Lilly and Jane had brought their blow-up alien friend with them - Kevin, larger brother of Ken who was out with them last week. Kevin is life-sized, plastic and a right old party animal when he's had a few drinks (I think somebody gave him something more stimulating judging by the way he was throwing himself about on the dance floor). The DJ turned out to be crap, a mate of Goa Gil's who just kept playing his tracks, pretending to mix. He left spaces between tracks, and even repeated some - I ask you, what is the Goa trance scene coming to when your mates can turn up and stand in for you? We spent a hilarious time on the chai mats before descending to the top level again with its newly replaced tarpaulin roof. You could see where they'd stitched it back together again, haha.
I was flying about again but left for an hour or two's rest before going to the beach.
Sunday 14th March - departing day
At Shiva's I find Paul, Ben and Steve the whistle hater. Spent time gleaning valuable information on Pushkar and Jaipur from all of them, they know well the places I am going to see. I left at 1730 after saying my goodbyes at Daynite and the Tellen. My last view of Vagator was from the cab moving towards Trivum railway station to catch the 6.30 train to Mumbai.
The train was only 2½ hours late, not bad for India. I sample the dinner on offer on the platform, vegetarian thali. I have fruit and bread for the journey, and lots of water kept cool in my Heineken cool bag. On the train, I have the top bunk in a packed compartment, and quickly settle down to reading my book. Various fares are available on the train, cold drinks, potato chips, the inevitable chai to name a few. I sleep the sleep of the exhausted with no disturbances.
Monday 15th March - Mumbai in the morning
The sight of the slums passing the window did nothing to cheer me at 0645 when I woke but it did assure me we had arrived at our destination. The train stops at lots of smaller stations en route before Victoria Terminal, five minutes from Dodo's flat. After calling and being told the fare was 15-20 rupees, I refused the taxi fare of 80 rupees from one man, taking instead a 50-rupee offer. At the flat, I paid the real rate - 20 rupees, asking the man to call the police if he had complaints. Bombay taxi drivers are worse than Goa's for jacking up the price for tourists, if you ask them to put the meter on they just drive you all over the place to make up the fare they wanted in the first place.
Dodo's mother is an absolute angel, welcoming me as if I was her long lost daughter, making chai and toast. Dodo has a rehearsal today at a TV ad studios; I tag along to watch the fun. We take the most circuitous route to the place - Dodo is good at this - and reach what he terms as the bowels of Bombay only half an hour late. I watch with interest as he choreographs two dancers in the 'cockroach dance' advertising insect spray.
Next stop is Samrat's office to pick him up for lunch at Mali, a swish place nearby. We wear marigold garlands now and proceed to entertain the waiters by asking for photos.
Dropping Sam back at work, Dodo and I went home to change from our sweaty clothes (the local temperature's strangely higher than Goa) and get the camera out, doing the sightseeing shots at the Gate of India and the Taj Hotel. On the way to the ladies room in the Taj, we meet three media people who knew Dodo. I felt I was in his local pub instead of the best hotel in town.
On the way home we are refused entry to our access road by the police, directing traffic around the stadium where Sri Sathya Sai Baba is due to appear. Sai Baba is a big name in spiritual leaders but that doesn't impress Dodo. "Well tell him to pay my petrol bill then!" snaps our driver, swerving away haughtily. I am cringed into the passenger seat by now, fearing arrest.
We go to eat at Gaylord's, a famed restaurant in the city.
Later, as the boys ferry me around Bombay's tawdry red light district, I am struck by the numbers of women of all ages in the 'cages', as the houses are known. Little more than a room behind a barred door, there might be hundreds of them along the side alleys off the main road. The pavements are choked with the flow of humanity, and boy is it busy! I sink into the back of the car, hair covered, not knowing what reaction my presence would trigger; I've been pelted with water and cursed by window hookers in Hamburg, they sometimes don't take kindly to another woman seeing their workplaces. I was amazed at the range of their ages, there were grandmothers along with the young and beautiful girls on display. With a twenty-three-point turn in the middle of the street, Dodo turns for home, contemplating midnight ice-cream. I just want bed after the last 24 hours' travel, and I'm not long in sinking into the couch, oblivious.
Tuesday 16th March - Mumbai in the evening
Oh the traffic racket! I could never live in this city - it makes Amsterdam seem quiet. The use of horn must have been born here. I make an early journey into the realms of Indian Railways, armed with money but no other papers. At the ticket window reserved for ladies, I am told to fill out another form and go to another window reserved for foreigners. I wait half an hour more to be told they need to see my passport. I return to the flat to get it. Dodo has left for his shooting of the cockroach dance ad, I am left to my own devices. I endure another hours and a half of Indian bureaucracy before leaving with a first class ticket to Ajmer, the nearest stop to Pushkar, departing tomorrow evening at 2050 hrs, 2A/C being booked up for 2 days. I've always wanted to go on a first class rail journey in India, this was the chance.
With a day to spend alone, I walk out on Mumbai. Friends Phil and Laura are in town at the Bentley, I walk over to see if they are in but they are out. I'm pretty close to the Gate of India here so I head for the ferries to Elephanta, an offshore island in the Arabian Sea off Mumbai which contains unique rock temples carved in the 6th century B.C. containing famous carvings. The boat trip takes over an hour; it's a long walk and climb up the hill, flanked by souvenir shops from the bottom to the top. Nice carvings but why not light them for people to see better?
On the return journey I chatter with a Dutch couple, hearing their views on the quirkiness of Indian thinking. At the Gateway of India I turn left to walk back to the Bentley, where Phil and Laura have returned. We spend a pleasant few hours together until Dodo eventually arrives from work to whisk me off to dinner at Rajstani's, the thali restaurant I love near Crawford Market.
Wednesday 17th March - Mumbai at suppertime...
Happy Birthday Billy Cairns and St Patrick. The day began with a call from Craig the firestick and Dan the drum, my dear friends from Goa they are at the station, could they call by? Great! In ten minutes they came in with two girls, all bent on travelling to Pushkar on the same train as me. This was excellent news, fellow travellers are always welcome and I could get the low-down on Pushkar. We break fast together and catch up on news. In search of fruit and stuff for the journey, I run off to Crawford market. On the way back I stroll past bookstalls searching for a slim volume on Hinduism and a copy of a book belonging to Alec that I lost in January. I'll return with a new copy, good. All too soon its time for us to go; amid much goodbye and smiles we pile into 2 cabs and join the almost standstill traffic on the airport road. It takes 140 minutes to reach the remote train station. Despite protests from the cab drivers we make the train in time, just. I scramble on board with 3 minutes to spare. The others are way down the front in 2nd class, I am at the back, some twenty carriages away. In between, the kitchen and a packed train. I protest at my berth, in a compartment with two Indian men, insisting on a move to the next compartment. Here a family is ensconced who are willing to share, thank goodness. The children are delightfully behaved and speak impeccable English. Obviously this is somebody connected, with his wife and kids. I stroll for ten minutes down to the front end to visit the others. A bit grim in comparison to the world of first but that's what you pay for, I guess. I loved it as dinner was served in a cute tiffin tin, housed in a thermos flask, the basic South Indian meal as Maharastra rolled on by. I wandered off to give the family time to settle in bed before crawling into my own to read myself to sleep.
Thursday 18th March - Train to Ajmer, breakfast on the move...
Sunshine streaks through dirty train windows. Even first class doesn't get their windows cleaned in India. Gujarat is outside, a greener place than I've seen in a while, Goa is so desert-like. The architecture has changed, definite differences in the state. Field upon field of green or golden wheat, well fed cows and tractors pulling trailers, this is definitely a different type of India. My chai comes at 7 am, I get two jugs to myself as the family decline. Fruit and chai for breakfast, just perfect. I take a morning walk up to see the youngsters and offer breakfast but few takers. Walk back, stopping for conversation with three lovely Indian ladies I met when boarding the train, we spend a pleasant couple of hours discussing life in our respective communities, parting for lunch at 12.30. The family alight at the next stop and I'm alone for the rest of the day - smashing. I scoot up to invite Dan for lunch and together we eat in my compartment in relative luxury, great fun.
I meet a very interesting man out at the door, a Mancunian Indian here to visit with his family. We enjoy a good debate, he speaking loudly in broad Manchester accent, so strange to hear. I sit in the doorway, watching Rajasthan move past, hot air sharply stinging exposed skin. Domed temples dot the countryside, there's not a palm tree in sight. Occasional corrugated iron roofing stands on sturdily built houses unlike the Portuguese style I have been used to. They're painted with white, pink or blue, very clean lines of architecture. Distant hills rise, clothed in scrubland and low trees. At the next station, a tribesman strolls by, in white linen garb, Sindbad slippers, red turban and tasselled shawl. I see a camel pulling a cart, proudly swaying above the heads of men and beast alike. I love camels, they're so majestic to me, I can't wait to ride one myself.
At the station I manage to lose the others, taking the following bus and gaining a young Irish companion, Richard, also seeking the road to Pushkar. We travel the bumpy road in now near darkness, arriving at after 20.00 in the small, quiet town. We walk the streets in search of the others, also asking along the way for rooms. My fellow traveller wants to stay in the Krishna Guest House, on the main street, a steal at 50rupees but we are told to say 80 if asked. I reluctantly take the corner room next door with its hurricane speed fan and grilled window opening onto a side street, perhaps I'll look elsewhere tomorrow. The food in the restaurant proves greasy and badly cooked, sorry but it was awful. My first night in Pushkar was not the best I can remember.
Friday 19th March - Pushkar (no eggs with breakfast or wine with dinner)
Walking out to see the world I find a narrow main street with no motor vehicles in sight. Handcarts or pedestrian transport reign here, with occasional bullock carts. Holy cows are everywhere, fitting perhaps for the holiest stretch of water in India - the lake which Lord Brahma brought to life The legend says: once Brahma was worried over the matter of having a place in his name on the earth as the other gods have so he also had a desire to have a place in his name in the mortal world (earth). Having such thought in mind and saying Mangal Ho !......... He threw a lotus flower upon the earth. The flower fell at three places and the holy water sprang out from all these three places. Then Brahma said that these three places would be known as Pushkar. The place where the flower first fell is called Jestha Pushkar(Senior Pushkar), the second place is called Madhya Pushkar (Middle Pushkar) and the third place is called Kanistha Pushkar(junior Pushkar). And further he added that these three Kunds(Lakes)would be famous for removing the sins of the sinners. As Brahmaji threw the Pushpa (flower) with his Kar (Hand) so he gave the name of Pushkar to this place.
I wander along to look at the lake, beautifully set in the surrounding countryside. The sounds of Pushkar are something else, I wish I could record them to play here. I can only reproduce the pictures.
As I approach the ghats (bathing places) I am accosted by a Brahmin, (priest) although he didn't look very priestly to me. I was warned about this puja (prayer) scam, where anyone will take you to the water's edge and make a puja with you for 'a contribution'. At 7 a.m. before my morning cuppa, I am not in the mood but the guy is so persistent I allow him to lead me to the lake and begin to say prayers. I feel very uncomfortable doing this, I am not a Hindu but respect their beliefs and feel this is not right for me to pray to their gods. Having just my camera with me I am unable to pay the requested backsheesh but my Brahmin as he names himself, will wait for a later time. I am glad to be on my way along the street again, free to make my own decisions. I look at the shops lining the street - mostly tourist trade, jewellery, clothes, cafes catering to the visitor and occasional temples. Eggs are banned here as is alcohol, makes for interesting omelettes and sober nights.
Pushkar has its own homepage, at http://www.pushkarraj.com/history.htm - higinif you want more information. There's too much to relate here.
I wander the streets, marvelling at the pastel painted, Islamic style carved buildings and magnificent temples of which there are over 100 of them in the town.
Breakfast calls as I search for another hotel, I decide to eat in the Raj roof restaurant while looking down into a large temple dedicated to I think Shiva, just across the road. The noise of drums, pipes and bells is deafening, its New Year's Eve and there is to be a procession through town tonight with much dancing and drumming. I watch with interest as they practise their rituals inside the temple walls.
Inside the temple
Somebody calls my name. I turn to see Tina, a familiar face from Goa with her friend Anthony. They have seen Craig and Dan and promise to reunite us over breakfast elsewhere. More faces arrive, Brent and John, two lovely Australian lads who walk with me to another hotel overlooking the lake at the other end of the northern ghats. A fabulous room available for 200 rupees - three sides open onto the lake view, utterly fabulous. There are no fans in the rooms, something I insist on during these hot nights, I decline the small room they offer me. We all move on to the Om Shiva buffet, in the middle of town. Here you can eat your fill for 40 rupees, overlooking the main street with its noise and bustle. I eat another breakfast, this time more substantial. Soon I am escorted to Sai Baba's chai shop, along a twisting narrow lane, where Craig is holding court. At last we are reunited. I chat with another guy who recommends the Laxshmi Guest House, across the road (road?) I take a look. Its quieter I think than the Krishna, I take room 5 on the first floor, opening onto a spacious roof garden. Not bad for 50 rupees a night (£0.80p approximately).
I take a long needed hot shower, marvelling at the heating system - a huge black water tank on the roof, warming in the sun. Feeling much more like it I venture out, rummaging through two sale boxes of clothes at a small boutique - 45rupees anything. I buy silk blouse and thin cotton pants - much cooler in the oppressive heat.
Nearby, a small crowd watches the fun at a blue pastel house across the street where a big bull has himself stuck on the narrow front balcony, horns too wide to let him escape. Everyone watches the vain efforts of the householder and others to lure the beast down the stairs again. I take photos:
Cow on a balcony
Further along, at the Techno chai shop I try a bhang lassi, a speciality of the area, they add powdered marihuana to the lassi, making a potent, green concoction that tastes lovely and guarantees to put you to sleep with no effort at all. Smoking is frowned upon in Pushkar, not to be done in public, and chillums are definitely a no-no, so there is this alternative to which the police turn a blind eye. Curiously, a cop in a landrover sits in the square, keeping an eye on the hippies in the café, with an expression of bored annoyance.
The Ozzies arrive at the chai shop and the girl with them remembers me from Goa (sorry forgot her name, dumbass that I am) she offers me a beaded plait, I accept with joy, having wanted something spectacular in my hair for a fortnight.
We stroll together to the Sunset café, named for obvious reasons, on the Western Ghats. I take my Pushkar sunset shot. PUSH2.jpg Drums sound the passing of the sun, mosquitoes announce their presence with its dying rays. I am not happy, using my new chiffon scarf to cover myself against the clouds coming out of the lake. Thankfully we retire to my room to do the plaiting thing, joining the others at the Om Shiva for evening buffet.
The evening procession crowds past beneath me, I take photos of the stick dancing men and the deities being paraded around. Two children representing Shiva and Parvati are carried past, then another playing Kali with her black skin and skull necklace. The noise is deafening for a while until the procession moves along the street.
Stuffed from the buffet, I drink another special lassi and retire to my room to try to sleep through the neighbour running a movie at a volume so loud I can tell the film - Face Off with John Travolta and Nick Cage. Not wanting to disturb, I tolerate the intrusion until 2 a.m. when the show ends and I can sleep. Must have a word tomorrow.
Saturday 20th March -
Hard to believe I must be in Delhi in a week, time is rushing past at an alarming rate. This morning I was woken by the racket of Pushkar getting up - temples begin early, as do the local women, screaming in high-pitched voices at 6 am. At the Om Shiva breakfast buffet I watch monkeys clambering on the rooftops, stealing right off your plate if you leave it unattended like the neighbouring table - there go her bananas, haha. I eat to the accompaniment of an ancient musician scraping a tune out of his one string violin: Musician
I spent a lovely day wandering along the lake perimeter, stopping here and there to admire the view. I am persuaded to join a camel trek tomorrow, paying 100rupee deposit. It's 250 with food, all day until dusk, I'm looking forward to a day away from the constant drums and bells of the New Year celebrations. There seems little to do but eat, sleep and pray around here.
Sunday 21st March - who's the camel round here?
I was early at the SS Caffe, where I was served bad lemon tea. It appears I am the only customer on this camel trek, a moth eaten animal is brought along by a boy of about 12 years. He, it seems is to be my only companion, we share a camel unless I want to pay double for two animals. I don't like the way he touches me, seemingly to steady me on the saddle, I can do that perfectly well myself thank you. We set off into the mid-morning sun. The camel has a mind of his own, occasionally stopping to nibble tree branches. The silence is wonderful, nothing but the sound of the camel bells and the call of the birds. We pass women working in the fields, children waving from farmyards, oxen carts piled with vegetables.
I am hungry, it's almost noon and I have yet to break my fast. The boy takes me to his house, a hovel in the middle of nowhere, to be stared at by his entire family and the neighbours, fetched for the occasion. These people speak not a word of English, and it's almost impossible to communicate. I am given a bowl of incredibly spicy marsala vegetable, a bowl of curd and two chapattis. I can't eat the food, it's just too spicy for me; I try to be polite as they stare at me like shop dummies but the flies are just too much, I feel like a miserable cowpat. The boy suggests we go somewhere else, I am quite happy until shown to the shade of a tree in the middle of a field of cabbages where I am expected to take a siesta. I'm now suffering heat exhaustion and feeling faint. At 4.30 he wakes and we continue back to Pushkar, me feeling decidedly ill by 6 p.m. when we return. I fall asleep, fully clothed, on top of the bed. I didn't even get a photo of me on the camel!
Monday 22nd March - enough staring now, please!
I decided to leave today after three Indian girls stared into my room at me getting ready to take a shower. I can't deal with these nosy people any more, I feel like I'm an exhibit and I don't like it. Sorry if that upsets people's sensibilities but I can't deal with any more of this staring! And when the ever-open hand stretches toward you it just puts everything into perspective. I know they are poor but I can't help, if I gave everything away to them tomorrow, the next day there would just be one more beggar - me. I will help by continuing to support Novib, a charity at home that sends Indian children to school and by bringing much needed currency to the economy. The poor masses I can do nothing for, as they grow in numbers hourly; it is frustrating and often brings me to tears but that's the way it is.
The old proprietor sees me packing and sits on guard outside, quite obviously waiting for his 50 rupees and unwilling to trust me not to do a moonlight flit. I pay him ceremoniously before striding off to buy a ticket on the 1530 bus to Jaipur. With ticket in hand, I join Craig and Dan in Sai Baba's, later retiring to Craig's room for a smoke and a chat. I am sorry to be leaving these two new brothers, they are such warm and gentle souls.
At the bus stand, two others also travelling on the same bus are growing restless. There appears to be no bus at 1530, it will be here soon, later, its on the way - the story changes like the wind. The truth is a very changeable commodity in Pushkar. The bus is really leaving at 1830 so I spend 4 hours waiting for nothing. Thanks guys. I take pictures of the camel train I wish I'd been on - lots of them gather outside the trekking office.
The bus finally arrives; I am crammed into a seat for the 5-hour journey west. As we climb above the carved spires of Pushkar, peacocks waddle across the road, waking for the nightly food forage. The bus trundles on.
Tuesday March 23rd - Evergreen Hotel, Jaipur
I sit at the breakfast table in a delightful enclosed garden in the big hotel off M.I. Road. People sit on the grass, seeing in garden chairs or relax on balconies overlooking the banana trees, to the accompaniment of birdsong. I arrived at 11 last night, exhausted. Monkeys woke me at 6, scrabbling amongst the garbage cans left outside the rooms on my floor. My pleasant but sparse room is clean and quiet for 200 rupees but lacks hot water. I move to another, room 305, which has hot shower, on the opposite side of the big complex. Today I intend to shop till I drop - retail therapy is needed to raise my dulled spirits - look out Jaipur, Patsi's in town!
Ok, I found Jai, Ben's jeweller friend at his new shop where he sells gold jewellery. I finger the chain I bought in Bombay, wondering if it would have been cheaper. Jai says it would. I fume silently. The City Palace or Palace of the Winds is nearby, inside the rosy walls of the Pink City. I walk to it but balk at 110 rupees entrance fee, choosing instead to walk around the back to see a temple full of brilliantly coloured saris on the women's side, drab shirt and pants on the men's, and look at the gardens. It's incredibly hot, shade is vital in midday Jaipur, yet a woman passes me wearing a woollen cardigan. She thinks it's cold! Returned by cycle rickshaw, coughing from the pollution clouding the air. I chat with Tony, a young man working in a jewellery store near the Evergreen; he's off to the cricket match tomorrow between India and Pakistan. Looks like we might have some fireworks in town if the local side lose, they rioted at the last test in January. I take my photos in to be developed, eat lightly in the pricey Niro's, a restaurant, designed for the tourist trade.
Wednesday 24th March - cricket for breakfast, lunch and....
I scoff boiled eggs for breakfast before leaving for Jai's shop at 11 a.m. The cricket match is on at the shop, I watch Anwar notch up 95 before being ousted. I buy some silver trinkets and sup beer, watching the match with a posse of young Indian men, delighted to find a female who likes cricket. The Pakistani's have the day but not by much of a margin. I buy fruit in the nearby market, taking a little from here, a little from there, knowing they are over charging the tourist yet powerless to resist. Bought a new wallet, the old one's shot, and returned to the Evergreen. With little to do I relax with my book on a swing seat in the Evergreen's lovely garden until venturing out to the pollution of M.I, Road to call the guy from Delhi who I rescued in Old Goa, Joy-David. Not surprisingly, he doesn't exist at the number he gave me; I tear up the address, once again conned by a cleverer scammer than most. I have to learn to spot these people more quickly.
Returning to the hotel, I hear my name called; Karmalla stands in the street, smiling at me. She is with Gary, the crystal trader who I recall from the hippie market in Goa. They invite me to eat with them at the Copper Kettle, just a few yards away. It's such a relief to find a familiar face to chat with. The others in the party are all gem buyers, stocking up at the various emporiums they frequent. After dinner we retire to Gary's room for a smoke and chat, changing rooms at 00.30 to accommodate new tenants. Weird, changing rooms in the middle of the night! I fade away at 0200, stoned and happy. Coincidence has placed Karmalla and I in adjoining rooms.
Thursday 25th March - souvenir buying
I hung around with the company while they bought crystals and suchlike, taking breaks occasionally to arrange the ticket for tomorrow to Agra, returning to find them in another trinket shop, purchasing some lovely things. I bought a pollution mask, the fumes are just too much for me but I'll need it more in Delhi. Bought a few souvenirs for friends, and pyjama suits for me.
The trinket sellers have invited the company out to a Rajasthani tourist attraction park tonight, I am fascinated to see this collection of local dance, puppetry, magic, food, village crafts, massage, all in a kind of theme park atmosphere. I was suffering with Delhi Belly, begun in Pushkar, I felt queasy for a while but it passed again, and we all sang on the way home. I went to bed early, in preparation for the morning when I catch the 0830 bus to Agra.
Friday 26th March - at last, the Taj
Said goodbye to Karmilla at 0700, grabbing a pot of tea to get me on the road. The bus was fairly comfortable, I settle back to watch the world skim by. At the halfway mark we stop, and I am appalled at well-dressed schoolchildren asking for backsheesh. I thought it was only beggars....
Agra looms, an unattractive place, nothing going for it except the Taj. A rickshaw man soon has me halfway to his commission travel agency for my train ticket. Experience has taught me to book myself at the station, (saves a packet), and I insist on being taken there. He isn't happy to be told what to do but reluctantly obeys. Leaving my baggage in the railway station for safekeeping I buy a ticket on the Agra Express to Delhi for 80 rupees, departing 1830 hrs.
Now for the Taj Mahal, a sight I have waited some 45 years to set eyes upon, having seen it as a child of four years, in a book. The rickshaw man takes me past the national police headquarters and numerous army training camps lining the route - great sightseeing! Eventually he pulls into a parking spot some two streets away from the grounds of the Taj, sending me walking down a road to the gate.
I marvel at the way the actual tomb has been hidden from view until you enter the gate to the grounds. I am made to offload my fruit, depositing it in the bin for later collection and walk into the grounds, free of charge, pleased to hear it's free on Friday. As soon as I round the entrance buildings and catch sight of the lovely structure for myself, I am dismayed to see the number of people wandering around the grounds, picnicking on the grass and generally chattering non-stop. Inside, the crush at the door almost deters me from viewing the tombs, placed side by side behind carved grilles. The marble crypt that holds the Maharani's body is closed off. Circling the dome, ears blocked to reduce the cacophony of noise resounding around the marble walls, I look up into beautiful symmetry. I shudder as a rude woman pushes me into the wall, bustling past oblivious to all but her companion. Tour guides ferry their own miniature crowds around the edifice, trying to shepherd them into line. It resembles Fred Carno's Circus more than a quiet place of contemplation. I am accosted by begging children, walking past with their parents. Not a word is said to stop them, the parents just let them bother you. I am sad to say that today the Taj looks better on a postcard. When I exit, I go to pick up the fruit from the bin but of course, it's been stolen - some things you can rely upon in India.
The rickshaw man tries to herd me to another tourist attraction in order to benefit him, I flatly refuse, insisting I am taken to the station immediately. When he drops me off muttering expletives, I eat a plate of chips, paying through the nose for bread and butter. I find my seat on the train, jammed up against the window in a packed compartment. The trip is over 3 hours. As Delhi looms, I get a view of the railway track communities, not the slums of Mumbai but an over crowded warren of small swellings, tight up against the tracks. Men use the rails as their toilet, squatting here and there with a can of water at their side. The Indian way.... The station is not the centralised place I expected, I am in another part of the city to that which I need. I must get to Paharganj where the Royal Guest House might be expecting me, if Ben called them that is. Its after 11 when I stagger up the steep stairs in search of a room. No room at the Inn, not until tomorrow anyway. The kind boy runs off to find me rooms in another hotel nearby - I am escorted to the fleapit Yatra, up a tiny alleyway. I take the third floor room with its cupboard bathroom, glad to be at last lying down under a fan. They give me a bucket of hot water, I can wash in relative comfort. Plugging in the Walkman and speaker, I listen to Underworld while washing my parts, staring out over the roofs of the market area. Paharganj is one big, mad shopping precinct, with many of the salespersons sleeping on the doorsteps or on the handcarts they own. All has closed now, at 0030, I am too tired to care as I slip into dreamland.
Saturday 27th March - the world's No 2 polluted city
I slept fitfully with the sound of a cricket, possibly behind the dresser, chirping all night. You'd be amazed how loud those things can be! This morning I search for breakfast and look at the railway station in search of a train to the airport. Not possible by train, I must make other arrangements. I am accosted by a young man who takes me to Connaught Place, a central shopping area not far away, from where the airport bus departs every hour until 2330. Great. My flight goes at 0600 and the first bus is at 0400 - I have to book in at 0300. Sod's Law wins again. I must confirm the flight, so this Kashmiri man takes me to a carpet shop (oh why is it always the carpet shop?) to make the call. I'm given tea and worked on to buy something, anything. I get out with just the skin of my teeth. Outside, another man convinces me he has a hotel room for 250 rather than 550 - big discount with this guy - at a swimming pool, air-con palace just nearby. The only snag is the room's not ready yet, I should get my bags and return by which time it will be free. I part with 50 rupees to show my sincerity (should have known when he asked for 250 and bargained down) and leave to collect my bags, feeling manoeuvred again. I give my apologies at the Royal, collect the bags from the Yatri and return to the carpet shop where the man has disappeared. The guys in the shop make feeble excuses about his son being collected from school and I sit, convinced I am being manipulated again. By the time he returns I am quite worried, almost in tears. Not to worry, the room would be ready soon, the occupants had gone out with their key in their pocket, they would be back before 2 p.m. then everything would be fine. I decide to go to find food, my day in Delhi is turning into another disaster. At Macdonald's I order a vegeburger and chips, taking a seat at a table with a black lady who strikes up a conversation. She's Shri Lankan, lives in Montreal and is due at the airport at the same time as me on Monday! We agree to share a cab, lifting a big weight from my mind. She is staying at the YWCA not far away. I return to the carpet place where the hustler (for surely that is his trade) is on the street, doing what comes naturally. He sends me to check at two fleapits nearby, one full, one disgusting. I decide to take the YWCA who have rooms available. No more waiting to be screwed around, I ask for the 50 rupees but am not surprised when he tries to wriggle out of it. Stuff it, I'm in a rickshaw to safety. At the Blue Triangle family hostel I am given a clean, comfortable room with spacious bathroom, hot water boiler en-suite. I sink gratefully onto a firm, comfy bed. Meals are available at the dining room and the TV room is right next door. I watch a bit of cricket then rest under the fan for an hour, while the heat of the day recedes.
I venture back to Paharganj at 2030, to buy incense, bindis and eat at Suma, a local thali restaurant, very cheap. A bag of fruit completed the day's shopping, better make the funds stretch as far as we can now we're getting close to the end. I repack the bags ready for the long flight home, reading myself to sleep before midnight.
Sunday 28th March
The Sikh temple just next door to the back of the hostel has been singing to me all night, its golden spires gleaming in the sunlight of another day. Sunday is quiet, the markets are closed, offices closed, everyone off work for a day. I take a bus to the Red Fort, the old seat of the Moghul Emperors of old. I am shown a magnificent fortress with ornate carvings and beautifully laid gardens with pools and fountains. The marble was once inlaid with precious stones and gems of all types, now sadly looted to nothing. Where once stood the solid gold, jewel encrusted peacock throne, now a marble plinth, naked of adornment. All is crumbling away, more from lack of respect than lack of funds. The plastic bag choked fountains and half finished work all around the place bear testimony to the Indian work ethic - "do as little as you can at the slowest pace possible."
Using a new form of public transport - the electric shuttle van to Connaught place - I walk into the hostel at just 12.30 p.m. to relax and read some more of Najpaul. It has been helpful to learn something of the complicated philosophy of Hinduism, endemic in the society. On Sundays people go out to the temple, it's a form of entertainment here. That and picnicking out of the house, lots of families were doing just that at the Red Fort. The sound of screaming children in the hallway prompts me to call Nagula to check on the taxi. How surprised I was to discover she wasn't leaving until Tuesday morning - I would have to get to the airport by myself. Nagula visits me in my room, we chat awhile and part, promising to stay in touch then she leaves to keep an appointment. I decide to walk for a while, turning right along Ashok Road, passing the Sikh library and temple grounds; at the top of the road I see a dome rising above the buildings which upon investigation reveals a New England style church, a cathedral of the Catholic faith. This is certainly a diverse religious culture.
I eat in the dining room, unaware that the bill is more than I have in my pocket. How embarrassing to have to ask for credit. The man kindly changes the charges to match exactly the money I have left over. Phew! I slink back to my room, forcing myself to go to sleep for 5 hours.
Monday 29th April - home coming
It's 0345, I can't understand why we have to be here so early but that's the way they work here. I count the number of security people - 12 men checked my ticket, from the door of the airport to the tarmac. Indians like to check documents. I guess it makes work for the unqualified and stupid, give him a job as a security officer, he can't fail. In a peculiar system of security, we are asked to identify our luggage before it goes down the baggage chute, why is another of those mysteries. I try to relax for an hour, plagued by mosquitoes and security people urging me to go through the gate. Last time I did that at Bombay there was a 2-hour delay and no working toilet, not to mention the absence of a café. When I eventually move on, I see a couple with obvious didgeridoos slung on their backs. I ask if they know Jovis - of course they do. Conversation stops as we are pushed onto the plane into our seats. I have a working TV screen in the back of the chair in front - eagerly I switch channels to see what's on, the Avengers - great. I've seen the other films. I click onto the Indian movie and blow me down if it won't move off the station, oh no! Four hours of Bollywood - please, no! I have sound in the headphones so I watch 'The Mask of Zorro' for the second time on the screen of the girl across the aisle, with sound from my own headphones. Its better than nothing I guess. After an hour the person in front moves seats, and miracles, the TV screen goes back to normal, I have control. Too late for the movies I want to see, Star Trek has finished, Avengers too. As the 'Mask of Zorro' begins for the second time, I sigh heavily and stare at it for the third time. Nothing else to do really.
Kuwait City 0815
Once again I am in the pristine sanitation of the state airport, a state America went to war for. This time I view in the daylight a scrubland of pale beige, flat as a pancake as far as the eye can see. Looks a lot like Holland with the airport paraphernalia scattered about. The paper rack holds the Sunday Express, Sunday Mirror and Herald Tribune, not that I can buy one even after offering the bank £20 to change - they haven't anything small enough they say. What is it with the Kuwaitis? Don't they like foreign currency? A passing lady traveller informs me I am entitled to a snack voucher - I scuttle off to get one and am given a plastic cheese sandwich and tiny carton of juice to consume while waiting at the gate. Oh well, it keeps up those blood sugar levels which by now are pretty low. I am naturally stared at but differently from India - more surreptitiously by the Arabs. The man next to me turns his back so he doesn't have to look at my uncovered head, women steal looks at me, pretending to look elsewhere. As staring goes, India is more blatant. On the 6 hour flight to Amsterdam, no entertainment at all (again) think it's the same plane that brought me here. No way will I come again by this route. As we land, brilliant sunshine greets me; and am I glad to be home!!