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India

Day Twenty Three - Groovy Kind of Love

At 7:45 Puri, Raj, Devendrah and Kate collected us from our hotel and we went for a morning chai.

There would be time for two more chai stops before our final farewell and as we boomed out along the highway the sun began its daily climb and the walls of Jodhpur stone glowed colours of leather through tangerine and peach as we sailed on by. After a quick chai stop at Devendrah's, the bank manager, house we were put on an auto-rickshaw, fare paid by our hosts, and sent on our way to the airport. It was surprisingly emotional and Laura had a tear in her eye as we said goodbye.

This may very well be our final tuk-tuk ride of the holiday. The airport in Jodhpur was small but pleasant and had a no-rushing air about it. As we boarded our plane, twenty minutes late, I wasn't sure whether we should have read up on India's Air safety record prior to boarding. I couldn't help but notice that our plane had been painted more than once.

An hour after schedule and on an empty runway with only one other plane having been spotted during the entire time, which coincidentally hadn't moved an inch, we took off. India-time, baby. We joked that we were geniuses for booking what had seemed a leisurely three and a quarter hour stopover in Mumbai rather than the speedy one and a half hour quick step.

Very glad in fact. We touch down one hour and ten minutes late. It is 2:30. Our Mumbai to Cochin flight departs at 4:35; check-in closes at 3:35. Time to go. But we're still taxi'ing. 2:40. Some German ladies are starting to panic that they'll miss their connection as we pull to a stand still, they rush past everyone, apologising profusely, I'm not sure if it was for the pushing or for the war. Bit like Jihadhist's who've found Jesus they're desperate to get off the plane. 2:45. Surely the gate will still be open forty five minutes before take-off? We do have bags to check though. Which reminds me we still need to collect them. We get to the baggage carousel which, when we do, is startlingly sparse. Not a bag to be seen. 2:55. Hurrah, the first bag comes out. 3:05. Where are we? Mumbai Airport Terminal 2. I've read that Mumbai has more than one terminal. We'll be flying with Spice Jet next, the Virgin Airways of India. All the sexy ladies in red promising you nothing for one and a half hours of budget air-time. They fly out of Terminal 1b. One fucking B?! 3:10. The one bag we've already seen was an escapee. How in Vishnu, Jesus and the Lord Buddha's name did he get there before all of the other bags? But don't worry he now has friends. 3:16. Just a few little bag friends and none of them are ours but hey we're calm. Really calm. Really fucking calm. 3.18. And at the eleventh hour the Good Lord said 'There will be bags for all. Bags for everyone living on the Indian peninsula. About one billion bags. Or just a few more OK please.' They're all spewing out now. Like a massive daddy seahorse, 1.3 billion bags are now spewing from the carousel's shiny little belly. We're loaded and Somers has already scoped the exit and planned our strategy to get out of the airport, around the airport (and the slums), and back into the airport where we can check in. It's 3:20 and we're dancing like we needed to piss half an hour ago and we're about to go grandma and just do it in situ. We're second in line for the pre-paid taxi. Now I'm throwing rupees across the counter. I need two hundred and sixty and I'm fumbling with tens. 3:21. We're running down the corridor with precisely 37.45kg of checkable luggage on a trolley with average brakes and a carry on bag that is definitely over-weight. We're cornering like a cruise liner as my legs flail sideways; too many curries and too little exercise. The sweating has begun. Down the hall and down the ramps. The long and winding ramps. 3:23. Out the door and into the humidity of a Mumbai afternoon. We find the first taxi driver. "Not me. You need car that registration end 4606." My head says 'fuck me', my mouth says 'Shukriya' and now we're running along the taxi rank looking for a car with a registration ending 4606! 3:24. There he is. A little beat up taxi. Our chariot of fire! Our ticket to sanctuary! But something is missing. That's it, there's no driver. 3:25.

We're loading the car, still no driver but at this rate I'll start driving and beeping myself in the next thirty seconds. 3:27. The man with all the time in the world saunters over to his car and looks miffed that the foreign types are pretty much in it already. "Err Terminal 1b, Spice Jet please." Flashbacks to the nineties for me. No verbal answer from him but a slow raise of the head that suggests he understands. Suggests.

We're mobile! 3:28. We have a chance and I'm on Google Maps working out how long this will take as a military man stamps the taxi out of the airport. 1.4 miles. 11 minutes. We have a chance. Of course we'll make it. But I'm Googling flights from Mumbai to Cochin just in case we don't and as I'm discovering that there is only one, and it will only get us in at midnight, if it's on time, and it's four hundred quid, our driver pulls over, gets out and walks off. At a slow andante he disappears off behind some sort of ticket booth with some other taxi types. 3:29. Getting a little too fine now.

I'm out of the car and round the corner. There's a queue of taxi drivers all waiting to cash in their day's tickets from the Pre-Paid chest of gold. But the man with the money has a system. Check tickets one by one and record in ledger. Re-check tickets against ledger. Count up dosh on a calculator, twice. Count out dosh, twice and hand over to taxi man. Taxi man counts out to check all is well. Sometimes it is correct, sometimes we need to start again. "Next please!" I look at money man and make a praying gesture with a little head shake and eyes like Bambi just as the gun went off. I do the same to slovenly taxi man but with eyes that I hope suggest I will resort to violence if he goes any slower or hand over a lot of money if he plays his A-game. This always seems easier in the movies. Give money, go fast. Bond would have burst through the barriers, physically and metaphorically, though our man does look like he could be a mid range bond villain so I better calm those eyes.

My look my look has done something. Everyone starts speeding up, money man sees my pain, taxi man doesn't know what my contorted expression means. But we're back and moving. 3:34. That desk better still be open. We're praying for more India-time.

Out on the road and we're in Mumbai, and the traffic is as you'd expect at half three on a Thursday afternoon in one of the worlds biggest cities. Mental. Laura asks what the word is for 'quickly' in Hindi and suddenly I'm "Jaldi'ing" the driver and he's speeding up. He's starting to become the man we know he can be. He bullies a tuk-tuk into taking the inside line on a coach at the traffic lights and he performs the impossible squeezing in behind. 3:36. The lights are red and our driver suggests we are five minutes away. The lights turn green and instead of going forward like a fighter jet off a freighter, we've stopped. Ignition off, the drivers door is open and the lights are still green and he's still stopped and he is leaning out of the door as he summons a beast from the depths and the darkest recesses of his throat and the major and minor tributaries of his upper airway. What sounds like a torrent of mucoid green phlegm is heard to begin to move. We hear every millimetre of travel that phlegm made all the way to the tip of his tongue and beyond. It hadn't fully left his mouth and it was already touching the floor. It's 3:38 and I'm wretching whilst Somers is doubled up pissing herself with laughter in the back.

The tall sculpture that is a must-have for every airport comes into view and two minutes later we're pulling up. 3:42. More rupees fly in thanks and a great hope that taxi man can buy some expectorant and rid himself of his innards more quietly.

Surely we'll make it. 3:44. But there is a queue just to get in to the airport, terrorists in 2008 made that measure nevessary; we must show our tickets to another military man to get in. 3:47. Military man likes our passports and is having a good flick through. He's also triple checking our tickets, maybe he's thinking on taking a selfie but we're pleading and Somers is already walking off. 3:50. She's a bolshy one with authority when the situation necessitates. Ninety desks in the terminal, we're outside Desk 18. We need Desks 65-90. And they're off, we jink right and left as Somers creates a passage in the lead and Beamish lags behind steering the liner. Another long queue for the check-in desk and Somers is trying to explain we need some sort of fast track but the guy doesn't understand and there are twenty or thirty people ahead of us. 3:55. Somers is asking her third guy and the penny is dropping, has dropped. Barriers fall and other fliers are brushed aside as we get to check our luggage. Our bags will make it. Now we just need to get through security.

A feeling of relief had begun to seep through our veins; that same relief was dripping from my forehead, my back and chest too. As we got through security (one litre bottles of water are A-OK) we marched to gate A-4 and joined the queue that walked us straight onto our waiting plane. 4.10. Safe.

In all the rush our overweight bags had slipped through the net of scrutiny. That was good. Another bonus was that they'd run out of cheap seats and put us in business, very good; but best of all, as we sank into our leather seats, Phil Collins was singing Groovy Kind Of Love on the speaker system. I almost cried.

We checked into a nice hotel. We swam and ate and slept for three hours. It was home time and we'd be leaving on a jet plane at 4:30am. It had been emotional.

Posted by ibeamish 12:55 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day Seventeen - Udaipur and Miss Pussy Galore

Udaipur was famous and fabulous long before but it was captured forever on film when Roger Moore's Bond swam across the lake in his taxonomical crocodile suit and invaded the floating palace lair of Honour Blackman's Pussy Galore and waking in our room didn't feel that far removed from such opulence.

We were slow to rose and had green tea and read making the most of our silent surrounds. Al and Emma went to organise train tickets from Jaisalmer through to Jaipur and then the Taj Mahal in Agra.

That allowed us time to nip out and try and change some cash. We started with nearby forex's and rather bizarrely in one a chap suggested I might like a bespoke suit made whilst in India. He pulled out his phone to show me his wares and the first picture was of our neighbour's father being fitted! Burrough Green seemed far away but what a small world it is.

Where India's Transport Minister was to be congratulated the Finance Minister is to be castigated. Attempting to fast-track a cash based society into one reliant on plastic is not best achieved by restricting available currency. It was bound to have begative consequences and aside from the pains of our continued pursuit of cash we were repeatedly hearing stories of a huge down turn in tourist spending. If we can't get the cash out we can't leave it behind. It had become a recurrent theme but at least the cash points were now letting us draw £50 a time without crippling interest rates.

With the monetary policy of the worlds most populated country corrected and fifty quid each in our pockets we set about spending it. We found a cafe serving italian coffee on the edge of the lake just to the side of the main palace. Honeyed toast and cappuccinos as the boats passed by and their wakes splashed our feet.

Al and Emma had been enjoying a similar experience on the opposite side of the water. We met up with them to explore the palace. We knew we were in India when above the horse mounting block stood the elephant mounting block. A few more steps required for that one. Inside there were suits of armour for horses that had helmets with metal trunks! War-time technology in an age where the cavalry's adversaries were elephants trained to pick horses up and kill them. Apparently the elephants mistook the armoured horses for little elephants and the war became slightly more even. Elephants were quite the weapon, and when you consider that a fort's weakest point is its door you could understand why the door looked like an upright bed of nails, nails replaced with spear heads so that an elephant wasn't able to force them open. Outside Laura bought a pair of silk pyjamas as we bade farewell to our guide and went for lunch.

Lunch was a very tasty aloo paratha and sauce provided by a father and son combo from a wheeled cart on the road.

After lunch we saw the Maharajah's private car collection the highlight being a 1920 Model 20 Rolls Royce in blue that had won at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concour's D'Elegance in California. This was a fact lost on me until Al explained that there is no higher award in the world of classic cars. It was a beauty even to the untrained eye and when we offered to take it for a spin and get rid of the cobwebs our offer was politely declined.

We had an ice cold beer as we reflected on the cars we'd just seen and it was around then that Emma had an epiphany. After two careful hours of meticulous train time-table planning and ticket purchasing she and Al would be overnighting into Agra and leaving later that same day. Admirable efficiency until she read aloud from her guide book, "The Taj Mahal is open everyday to the public, except Fridays." "What day are you going Em?" Oops.

Dinner was one of the best yet if a little awkward to start. It was flipping cold so we suggested to the waiter that we would stay if we could light one of his fire baskets; he obliged, after a fair pause, and sat it at the end of our table, about two feet up wind of us. Coughing and suffering from smoke inhalation we found a more suitable location for our blazing basket whereby our dinner would be visible and our eyebrows would remain intact. We set about tucking into a feast.

Tomorrow we would be back to reality. But not before Laura had bought that tiger.

Posted by ibeamish 12:52 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day Sixteen - Exhausting

sunny

Our desire for some luxury and more accurately, respite, had become increasingly focused on Udaipur. In fact Udaipur had become the line on the horizon.

To that end Emma had scouted a proper Conde Nast abode and had managed to get a whopping discount with some coy negotiating. That all changed though when we found that it was located twenty minutes away from the town; that had been a crucial game changer.

Laura and Emma combined to sift through the guide books and websites and came up with a new favourite. The Amet Haveli; an old haveli (romantic balconied building) sat at the edge of Lake Pichola. We could get lakeside views in the lap of luxury. We'd be in the town within walking distance to all we could desire. We were sold. We'd be there by lunch.

If only for Tony. Our tigers growl had been getting louder and we had already sheared one of the flange bolts meaning his exhaust wasn't as securely attached as it could be. Further more the main support bolt had taken some time out when it fell off further south. With the fear that we may shear the second bolt I'd been reluctant to over-tighten it. As we crossed into Rajasthan and left Gujarat behind Tony began to roar. Two minutes later Al and I were under the back end tightening the one remaining bolt, creating a gaffer tape sling to support the exhaust and taping over a crack that had formed in what looked like an exhaust recirculation/turno (surely not?) pipe. Al also had some magic putty that 'fixes almost anything' that was out to good use locking our nuts in place and trying to replace a support bolt. Half an hour later, we were off. Now this seems like it was easy, but in fact most of our time had been spent deflecting the attention of a rambunctious lorry driver who spoke not a word of english, didn't seem to know what was going on and was more than happy to chew tobacco whilst smoking it, stood over Al and I and shouting words in the heat of the late morning sun. I could feel my patience wearing.

Repairs in place we set off up the hill. Five hundred metres later Tony roared as his exhaust fell off and began to drag behind him. We pulled over like elderly day trippers picnicking on the A1 and had another look. For all its wonderful properties duct tape does not resist heat very well and my nervous nut tightening hadn't done the job either. We were short on cable ties too and what we wanted was wire. That was when Emma suggested we re-appropriate our spare gear cables into the wire we so needed. An hour later we had tightened our one nut and double nutted it after finding Al and Emma had two double nuts on their exhaust. (If we ever did this again it would be a lot easier knowing the pitfalls of the auto-rickshaw!) we slung the exhaust at four different spots and Al made a new gasket of sorts out of the magic putty to provide a throat lozenge to Tony's ragged roar. We had a lunch of melon, mango and Tiger biscuits before setting off for the third time. One hundred and fifty kilometres to the romance of Udaipur. Pasha was flying, Tony needed TLC.

We wormed our way around the tight streets of Udaipur single track alleyways between old buildings lined with street sellers either side. Google maps once more our magical path finder. Eventually we pulled into Amet Havelli, it was stunning. We had booked a 'luxury' room but were told on arrival that we would be in one room the first night and another the second which seemed like quite an inconvenience given the circumstances. Somers got stuck in and negotiated a discount just before we stepped into our suite. The long and short of it was that we had been upgraded to the master suite as there were no lake view rooms left. It was magnificent. Stained glass and stone carvings, marble throughout and fine furniture; a living room too. The veranda looked out across the lake to the floating palace and we had the roof top terrace to ourselves. Life was sweet again.

We nipped down to the terrace and ate and drank as the waters lapped so close to our feet. The view was sublime; lake, floating palace, current grand palace of the Maharajah as a main feature in golden stone with a back drop of mountains and a sun beginning to sink. As we finished our very late lunch we took pitchers of ice and sugar syrup and went up to the roof. We moved some chairs upstairs and we drank makeshift Old Fashioned's as the sun set through our bottle of bourbon. As far as sundowners go, I've had few better. As the sun disappeared in front of us the moon rose behind. I felt lucky to be this alive.

We went for an evening stroll and Al fancied a massage and within minutes he had tee'd up four simultaneous massages booked in for 9:30 that evening!

It was a little before eight which allowed us time to explore. Laura spotted a painting of a tiger in the window of a gallery. He was a stunner and obviously pulled on strings given Laura's design work for Tony. Tentative enquiries were made, but in fear of the bourbon making decisions she decided to sleep on it.

9:30 arrived. We split into respective couples and were sent to different massage parlours. We were about to discover what happens when you offer exorbitant amounts of money for services at silly times of day. Based on post-massage accounts we estimate that out of the four people massaging there was one trained masseuse, one trainee masseuse and two people too intelligent to turn down the money by suggesting they couldn't fill the role of masseuse for half an hour. And it was only legs and feet anyway. Laura got the main man, and said it was a grand job. I had a toe puller which meant I felt hard done by until Emma told me about her grunting hulk of a woman who poked her like a child with a jelly fish and made moose sounds whilst doing it. Al had the trainee and seemed borderline content; he'd probably been distracted by Emma's oomph's and argh's instead of ooh's and ah's.

Fully, partially or wrongly manipulated, we retired, not out.

Posted by ibeamish 12:48 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day Fifteen - The Forgotten City of Champaner

Nr. Blackpool-on-the-Hill

We'd covered an incredible amount of ground the day before. 416km to be precise and all in an auto-rickshaw with three wheels each similar in size to that of a wheelbarrow. The miles felt like they'd flown by. We had made some time and, truth be told, it was starting to feel like we were within striking distance of our goal: The finish line in Jaisalmer.

We had come to rest just 50km from yet another UNESCO world heritage site. The ancient city of Champaner dates back to sometime before the eleventh century. In 1297 it became the stronghold for the Chaian Rajputs and so was the capital of Gujurat, the province we were currently in. In 1536 the capital relocated and Champaner fell into decline until it was 're-discovered' in 1803 by the British. Picture the scene, you’re out mowing your lawn one fine day, it’s the late 19th century so it might not be petrol powered and you’re probably wearing a top-hat. You’re exclaiming “Crikey!” as you hear ructions down the road. A bearded foreigner struts into town and exclaims to all nearby "Look what I've discovered!" There really is nothing quite like a bit of imperial ‘discovery.’

Champaner is now a meld of UNESCO buildings inlaid with a complex system of ramshackle constructs serving as homes and businesses in varying states of repair. We visited two mosques as well as seeing some amorous donkeys going at it amongst the ruins of what was the Champaner city exchange. The mosques, though no longer active were still complete and were immensely enjoyable to be in. We slowed within their grounds and came to a pleasant halt even sleeping in their grounds for a while. The grandest of those we saw was the Jama Masjid which still had two huge minarets flanking the entrance. Within the mosque the cool stone floor had hundreds of individually carved pillars rising to the ceiling. And that led the eyes to the beautifully intricate roof plates carved in striking detail and carefully set in place. Amongst the green and manicured gardens we saw a young Indian Romeo and his Juliet flirting and giggling. Her beautiful blue and gold sari, his shock of dark hair, together they looked like the couple Walt Disney would imagine if he was animating young love in Bengal. They were comedy to watch as they set about videoing themselves. Juliet took the role of videographer as Romeo strutted in front of the minarets. No. No good. Try again. Off came the jacket as he slung it over his shoulder for the more relaxed 80's pop video look as he smouldered into the camera for her. He had her wooed. We tried to mimic the moves but sadly we failed miserably. Cliff Richard power fists are all good but Romeo’s strut could not be matched.

From the blissful solitude of the forgotten city we looked at the lone mountain stood quietly watching over us. We were going to summit that mountain, that big hill was known as Pavagadh.

We did have time constraints however and this wasn’t to be a Sherpa assisted assault. First of all we found a car park with an attendant that would look after our bags, a procedure we were now nicely familiar with. Secondly we found a taxi, he’d be driving us half way up. Pavagadh is a spiritual place and for many it represents the end of a journey. It's a popular pilgrimage route for many Indians who will trek for hundreds of miles before climbing every step to the top. We had a different agenda and, like I said, already had a taxi taking us half way up. Up there for thinking. Once we got half way up we arrived at the holy cable car, not its real name nor a physical description, which would take us another two fifths further up so that we could begin to bask in the unparalleled solitude and spirituality of such a blessed location.

We stepped off the cable car; the views had been most pleasing and were spoiled only by strewn plastic. Solitude is a word that does not represent anything associated with the summit of Pavagadh. Within forty five seconds of leaving the cable car building we were being 'selfied.' And what proceded was roughly one straight kilometre of a bilateral tat assault from stalls that seeed to endlessly repeat the sale of sweets, snacks, trinkets, keyrings, shoes, photos and various other unnecessary bumf. Lines of donkeys carrying massive bags of coconuts plodded their way to the top only to be given a thwack when they stopped one foot in front or one foot behind their masters chosen unloading point. It was sad that this was one of the first times we had experienced animal cruelty in an otherwise animal friendly and respectful India.

We climbed yet further and eventually broke free of the tat merchants. Our final ascent took us past the billowing red sheets and ribbons set from a mast like the whole mountain was ready to sail out across the land. At the summit we de-shoed and queued to pay reverence to Ganesh and, as religion invariably requests, paid our financial dues as an offering to a God that needs not for material possessions. Everyone else got a coconut for their offering; we were rushed out the second the cash left our hands. Ganesh was not a happy elephant.

We had been blessed though as it turned out Em and Al didn't even get to the money stage. They were kicked out before any blessings could be bestowed.

We moved back down the hill and found that the number of beggars had exploded. The cool calm and collected far side of the temple clearly proved a better setting for generosity than the sweaty final steps into the near side. There were many men and women all requesting a hand out and we gave to quite a few. The real highlight was a massive woman, sprawled out on her side recreating a familiar scene from Star Wars, and miming that she needed money for food. That was the last thing she needed. Twenty donkeys couldn't have shifted her coconuts. We gave her a necessarily wide berth only to fall, blind-sided, into the trap of an enforced bindi as a crazy old lady smeared Laura's forehead with red powder. Al had been stung too. Red marks on western foreheads seemed to lack sincerity, they were erased swiftly.

We meandered back through the glitter and gleam of gold plated plastic to find that the cable car was closed for lunch. There was no overlap shift system; all workers take one hour between one and two o'clock. We sat and ate ice cream whilst listening to some miffed Indian chaps telling those same workers to get back to work before holy hell was unleashed on the mountain. They started up again at twenty to. What splendid chaps.

At the foot of the cable car we waited for a taxi. Foreigners are generally expected to book a fifteen birth jeep (9 at a push by our standards) in its entirety rather than mingle with the locals. That had sounded like an experience not to be missed in the way up and we were keen to mimic it in the way back down. We were sat with a couple of nice guys and their wives waiting for our jeep to fill up when suddenly everyone started jumping out of the car and running away. "Quick", shouted one man. "The bus is here, much cheaper." Every taxi lost their business for the next run as economty of scale reduced the fare from twenty rupees to eight. We were on our way down in no time.

I can imagine that Pavagadh was once a beautiful place that is now blighted by tourism. Champaner was as magical when we returned as when we had left. Time never tires of running away and we had done quite enough sight-seeing. The sun would set as per usual regardless of where we were. We thanked our car park man and got on the road; bound north once more.

The highway had been lined with hotels every ten kilometres or so and safe in that knowledge we were pressing on through dusk. A few more minutes into the edge of darkness would make the next day a little easier. We crept on until the light reached a critical low and, conceding, we pulled in and asked for a room. "There is no room," said our host with the most. "We're a restaurant." We looked up at the five foot high block-lit lettering attached to the side of the building he seemed to be representing. H-O-T-E-L. When is a hotel not a hotel? When it’s in India. None of the hotels were hotels. They were all restaurants. Trucker stops to be precise answering an earlier question of 'Why are there so many truckers at these hotels when they have beds in their cabs? Hindsight creates fools. The stars were coming out as we got back onto the motorway and it was dark as we put-putted into Motara. The lights were on, the horns were out, the adrenaline was up. We still had nowhere to stay.

The wheels kept rolling as four pairs of eyes peeled wide for anything in english writing suggesting a hotel. Nothing. And then, as desperation loomed, Al and Em pulled up alongside. A taxi driver had started chatting with them, a benefit of having no windows on a tuk-tuk, and on discovering our plight began a tour of the towns two hotels. It was a hectic night. Each day that passed fatigue had been strengthening its grip. We were all tired, the cauldron of light and sound was disorienting, I managed to grind wheel arches with another taxi driver who wonderfully thought it was funny rather than a cause for concern. After a brief escapade we parked up and checked into a guest room. The taxi man wished us well, turned down a finders fee and made his merry way. What a legend.

Dinner was at a little street restaurant across the road. Vegetable thali for four followed by an evening stroll to find for the Liverpool Fashion Store that Al had spotted on the way in. It was closed. I'll never know what was behind those shutters.

Posted by ibeamish 13:57 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day Fourteen - The Magic Of the Night Market

Having conquered the mountain pass the previous evening we had found ourselves in the fairly deprived town of Chalisgoan. We'd chosen the Bridge Corner Hotel because a.) there were only two hotels that existed and this was the one in front of us and b.) it offered parking, hot water and a bed. As long as the latter wasn't inspected too closely, the Bridge Corner was everything we needed.

We still had kilometres to eat-up and our over-ambitious destination was Vadodara in the province of Gujarat. Our top speed was about fifty kph with a prayer and a tail wind. Factoring in petrol stops every two hours; where we tried to eat, drink and pee in an efficient manner, as well as occasional stops to satiate moments of curiosity, our real average was around 30kph. My physics knowledge is still tip-top, Distance = Speed x Time and since our speed has limited flexibility we have to increase our hours slogging it out on the open road to make the numbers add up. So we set off at 5:30am.

Our chai stop three hours later was a peach. Bread rolls stuffed with potato curry, battered and deep-fried before us. A handful of little vegetable pakoras and some deep-fried chillies to smooth the whole process over. That and a couple of lovely cups of primo chai. We're going to miss this.

Now at this stage a special mention has to go to whoever is the minister for India's roads. Their road safety signs are keeping us entertained and we haven't yet seen the same one twice. "Our desire is your content", "Impatient on road. Patient in hospital" but our favourite so far "Safety on road is Safe 'tea' at home". Kenny and James; I've found your calling.

Back on the road and the streets had become mean. There were a lot of angry drivers out there and the atmosphere had changed. We were less entertainment and more hindrance as other drivers started recklessly trying to undertake/overtake and fit through impossible gaps hoping their horns' sonic boom would part the waters. We were entering business territory on the road Surat we were turning away and north at Kadodara. Means streets equals hard attentive driving which is as draining as it is secretly fun. It's real life computer games again. And as we threaded through another tricky cross roads at an underpass we saw the mighty Arches ahead and left. Their golden glow, their familiarity on another continent. Whether globalisation appeals to you or not sometimes enjoying a wee bit of capitalist oinkery is a pleasure. I looked back to suggest a pit stop only to find Emma was already indicating. We were going for a McDonalds.

Chicken burgers and fries, chocolate milkshakes and ice creams. We were fattening the goose and greasing the wheels. The Big Mac was now a Maharaja Burger but it wasn't to anyones taste. We ate, we grinned and we wiped the grease from our lips. It was heaven; even the manager came over to get a picture of us all.

Bridges had been our conundrum. We had needed to negotiate several level crossings and, as I've stated before, trains are the universal halter of Indian vehicles. No one and no thing can stand in the way of thirty or forty carriages loaded with cargo and people. We slowed to a halt behind an exceptionally long string of lorries as we waited for the railed juggernaut to sail through. We queued because that's what we english do; but Doctor Alasdair Cameron is an outside-the-box thinker. Everyone else's loss was our gain as he put foot and ragged it straight to the front of the queue, ducking back in front of the first lorry tight up against the barrier, just in time to see hundreds of tonnes of train thunder past about 20 inches in front of Pasha. The Cameron technique was applied several more times through the day and our suddenly 'nippy' motors gained a few easy yards each time. God help the truckers though; there were tail backs for kilometres after the crossings.

The highlight of our day of bridges however was on the way into Vadodara. There were three bridges to be precise but someone had invented a filter system to make sure that only lorries used the big bridge or rather, only cars used the rickety old bridge. A bridge so rickety that it's concrete and iron sections moved up and down several inches as we drove across. The third bridge seemed to be for oncoming traffic only and so was definite no go. The only issue was in getting the cars from the section of north bound highway they currently occupied, across three lanes of oncoming southbound traffic to the afore-mentioned rickety bridge. The obvious solution I hear you cry is manpower. You are right! It seems so simple now. A team of about a dozen traffic officers stood in the centre of the motorway and, using only themselves and their pea-whistles, hand picked whichever vehicles they thought best to be placed under friendly fire and run the rickety gauntlet. We survived, by luck, very little judgement and the cry of "Fortune favours the brave" as we closed our eyes and trusted in Tony.

Vadodara itself was a bustling university city and under the cover of darkness our fatigue was re-energised by the vibrant night markets we drove past. With Tony and Pasha tuk'd up (apologies) together in the car park of the Ambassador Hotel we went exploring.

The markets were enchanting, lines of 'stalls' with their beautifully fresh produce laid out before them with only sheets of pretty cloth between them and the earth. Cross legged vendors beneath electric bulbs, each with their own brass scales. Cows wandered the streets chancing their arm at whatever they could pinch, even in the face of a thwack with the shillelagh. Kites had become a theme too. A spectra of colours with patterns galore and huge reels of multicoloured line. These weren't kites, they were pathways to the heavens, offering their handlers the vicarious living of the eagles above. Sound and scent replaced noise and stench. India had become electrified and we were experiencing it in HD.

Posted by ibeamish 08:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

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