What A Pallava!

Your name sir?’

‘Paul’

‘I am Kumar. Your hair very good – very nice.’

‘Thank you Kumar’.

‘Very handsome man’.

‘How kind’.

‘I am stone carver. I carve stone for famous Buddha temple in Exeter.’

‘I had no idea there was a Buddhist temple in Exeter.’

‘It new one! You want see my stones? First we go temple – you don’t pay – I don’t do for money, but I see you are nice guy. I know special way. Come. Come….’

And so it began.

My ego up, my guard down, and I’d enlisted Andrew and I on another south Asian magical mystery tour. This time, chasing the young stonemason, at rocking speed, around the seventh century rock temples of Mamallupuram.

We staggered precariously along ancient steps, ingeniously cut from a titanic piece of granite, recklessly attempting to keep up with the young Kumar, who was practically Simian. We learnt later that this acrobatic detour was in order to circumvent the normal gated entrance, thus avoiding the need to purchase a ticket.

An artful piece of dodgery from our new found mate – though we both suspected the relationship may get rockier as the daytime heat began to rocket.

‘How the fuck do we get rid of him now?’ Andrew asked me far too loudly.

‘Oh just chill out a bit – we’re getting a free tour, and free entry’ I countered.  Knowing deep down that we’d be paying for both of those benefits at some point.

I knew Andrew thought the same. But Kumar was roguishly charming, if alarmingly pungent, and he certainly knew his way around the ancient temples of the ‘Pallava’ kingdom.

It was easy to see why UNESCO had labelled the place a ‘World Heritage Site’. The stone carvings absolutely rocked.

Along with the mad dogs it was, of course, just The Englishmen that struggled unnecessarily through the blistering midday heat. Our whistle stop tour may have been unplanned, but the location was so atmospheric, a veritable concert of rock, that we both continued on, allowing Kumar to lead the way.

The mischievous Gods and Goddesses danced out of the rock face, revealing the face of a society which had partied hard for over six hundred years.
And neither of us had ever heard of them.

The Pallavas!?!

Of course, the real Pallava occurred when we finished with the final meditation temple, and were lead conveniently through a gate directly into a small shack, in order to meditate on Kumar’s wares. His stonewares to be precise!

Suddenly the tour guide became the salesman, and we were both made to sit through an uneasy psychic energy session, as Kumar theatrically discovered our healing stones.

And then introduced them to us!

Each at a starting price more worthy of ‘The Star Of India’!

Immediately, we were transported back to the dodgy jewellery dealer we’d met in the suburbs of Jaipur, where we’d come across another absolute gem of a scam! These invariably Kashmiri Shopkeepers are sly, smart and deftly apt at the art of deceit. But they always possess a ‘tell’ – a giveaway – and Kumar’s came with his dreadful impression of an Indian mystic. He threw himself onto his own bed of nails as he launched into a dreadful mix of Derren Brown and Noel Coward’s ‘Madame Arcati’!

Hanging himself  with his own ropey trick!

The drama in his performance was nearly as exaggerated as his prices. Perhaps these blyth spirits think all Westerners completely off their rockers. We may give that impression!

But Kumar soon realised Andrew and I were not quite stoned enough to invest in his.

Then, as Andrew, playing bad cop, audibly hissed that we couldn’t afford the stoneware, and that I wouldn’t be able to eat for the remainder of our stay if we purchased the five items that had inexplicably found their way into our basket, Kumar tried to carve out one last deal.

‘This Ganesh. Good for good friend who is now without husband’.

We knew the trick. Kumar had obviously picked up on something we’d said earlier. The ploy was cheap but still impressive. Unlike the Ganesh we were practically sledgehammered into buying.

As Kumar realised ‘The Lola Boys’ were not the diamond mine he’d hoped for, his mood darkened. The glittering smile became a leering snarl and he barked in throaty Tamil to a colleague who was bashing away in the workshop next door. The workman, who looked straight out of the Stone Age, burst through the shop doorway, with a Neanderthal grunt and a wave of his heavy tool.

The one that cut the rock!

‘He not happy’ Kumar said firmly. The treacle having now dripped away from his voice.

‘Why he not happy?’ Asked Andrew, equally as authoritative, yet in an Indian accent.

‘Because he make this. Not happy with price’.

There was something mildly threatening in Kumar’s tone. Not least because we were surrounded by a weighty array of potential stone weaponry. Fred and Barney had disappeared and the whole drama had grown much darker – more ‘Game Of Stones’!

We’d definitely left ‘Bedrock’!

We stood in the dark for what seemed an age!

I was having visions of the billiard room in Cluedo. Professor Kumar had clubbed Andrew to death with the lead carving. It was time to stop this little game!

I stood. Sighed dramatically, and piped up that I was in need of air and beer. Not necessarily in that order!  That I had grown weary of the unexpected auction this jaunt had now become. And perhaps we would be forced to leave the rockery empty handed after all.

Kumar wasn’t the only actor in the room!

I then tried to appear as nonchalant as possible as I trembled past the giant with the ferocious chisel.

‘Ok’ said Kumar. ‘Ok’. He then instructed Boris Karloff to pack the elephant we’d agreed on earlier.

‘Thank you’, I said, as icily as a good pint of lager, ‘we’d love to buy more. But as you heard Andrew say, we shan’t be able to eat if we do’!

Kumar stared at me stonily.

I was caught for an agonising moment between a rock and a hard face.

Andrew grabbed the packet from Boris and we legged it.

Before we knew it he had led us into an entirely unfamiliar part of town and we stood sweating, legs leaden, attempting to get our bearings.

‘I knew this wasn’t the bloody way’ I gasped.

‘I just wanted to get away from him. That selling! Jesus!’, Andrew complained. ‘I was losing it!’

I had to agree. The hard sell was akin to being whacked across the head several times with a large lump of marble. These salesmen sculpt such a convoluted life story, that before one realises, one is lost in their retail maze, as they attempt to chisel away at one’s sanity. Mining skilfully  until they strike a precious seam in one’s wallet!

It was both wondrous and enlightening to clamber amongst the boulders into an entirely different strata of history – one we were both entirely igneous of !!!

But sadly our relationship with the pushy Kashmiri Kumar ended somewhat, on the rocks.

Sting! Stoned! Stung!

What a pallava!

*********************************************************************

That evening we were both laid out motionless on our beds, after too many hours spent negotiating the debilitating heat.

It was our last night in India, and we had mixed emotions.

Feeling burnt in every way possible, her beauty and her beasts managing  to sear themselves onto our collective consciousness.

The sweet stuff here clings to the imagination like the gooey Indian confectionary, found on every street corner, sticks to the teeth. One cannot simply brush it away. India’s beauty is both ephemeral and eternal.

And the indisputable ugliness? Well that just seems to disappear after a while. Down the pan quicker than a dodgy biryani!

I’m almost certain we shall be back to sample her wares once again. She is too much of a good saleswoman to give up on us completely, and her shelves too well stacked to resist.

Her people are infuriatingly charming. The geography sometimes unfortunately alarming, and the holy spirit, which undoubtedly resides here, utterly disarming.

Love ‘Mother India’ or loathe her, she won’t be ignored.

She certainly won’t go quietly!

As we pack our rucksacks ready for the long hike back to reality, I can hear her already whispering to me on the tropical breeze. Her hot breath invading my senses.

‘Namaste’ she purrs into the black panther night.

‘Namaste’ x

Escape From Horrorville!

As I attempted to clamber into the tiny rickshaw I winced in agony. My spine complained painfully at what I was asking of it, each vertebrae sulking from carrying the burden of two weighty rucksacks down an uneven colonial staircase. As I struggled into the diminutive cab, Andrew looked on unsympathetically. A damn cheek I thought, seeing as it was him that had dragged me into the massage parlour that had caused the said lumbar damage.

The previous day, on one of our sweaty promenades through Pondicherry, the fierce temperature had proved to much to bare for my husband, who, like the sun, was also fighting with a hot temper. The remainder of his nicotine habit leaching from his body in poisonous rivulets. We dived into the welcome air conditioning of a very ‘local’ establishment in order to partake of a foot massage. However, once Andrew’s balls were being tickled, I was informed that there was no-one available to play with mine, and therefore would I like to plump for an Indian Head Massage instead? I agreed, and joined Mr Kennedy in a small room, where I was prepared for my therapy, as he groaned in satisfaction whilst already undergoing his.

A friendly young Tamil chap proceeded to rub thick scented oil into my scalp, whilst pulling roughly at my curls. When he came to a knot, he yanked a little harder until the hair came apart, and then parted company with my scalp. After ten minutes he’d pulled at least three handfuls out, and deposited each clump on the small plastic table beside me.

Alarmed, I gave a slight yelp. Andrew chuckled beside me.

I’ve never enjoyed the hairdressers, but this was akin to a cat fight in Holloway Prison, and certainly not the calming experience for which I’d been hoping.

After relieving me of at least a third of my follicular activity, the little git punched me all over the head, taking in my temples, ears, and jawline. I thought I might cry.

He then slapped me repeatedly, a la ‘The Benny Hill Show’, so hard upon my crown that I felt my spine contract under the pressure.

It was one of the most hair-raising experiences of my life.

To cap it all, little Vidal then shampooed  me five times with an acidic herbal concoction, and applied intense heat whilst he dragged a plastic comb through my unconditioned barnet.

When we hit the pavement again I looked like Phylis Diller!


‘Never again’ I said ashen faced to Andrew.
‘Mine was great’ he said, with smug satisfaction.

.
Oh just have a cigarette I thought, but didn’t say it.

He is,after all, doing so well.

And so, with my aching back, and Andrew squashed beneath a pile of already far too heavy hand-luggage, we rattled away from the sophistication of ‘Pondy’ towards the hippy utopia known as ‘Auroville’.

We bumped painfully over speed humps and swerved to miss the wildlife, as we left the town and skidded across red dirt roads into the forest of the 1960s township.

‘Auroville’!

An ideal pioneered by a Frenchwoman known as ‘The Mother’ during the age of flower power.

A city where all citizens of the world, despite their creed or nationality could come and live and work together, searching for the universal truth. No religion, no politics and no cash.

‘Eight hundred rupees’ our driver informed us, when we eventually found our guest house.

‘We were told three to four hundred’ I objected.

‘It’s far in Auroville’ he countered, ‘very far!’

‘We’re not paying you that’, Andrew said, his patience light without a Marlboro Light, and knowing the journey was well overpriced. ‘I’ll give you five hundred.’

The driver accepted the amount readily, and drove off rapidly, leaving us to squeeze around the locked gates of the ‘Joy Community Guest House’, throwing our luggage before us onto the rusty dusty ground.

There was not a soul to meet us.

As we headed further into the steamy compound, several scruffy dogs suddenly came at us howling in a most unfriendly fashion. Andrew and I, having a moody mutt of of own, and being quite aware of these canine tricks took no notice. The hounds realised they were barking up the wrong rucksacks and backed off.  We eventually came to a seating area and dropped our heavy baggage on the floor both perspiring heavily, with my spine still complaining. A glum faced Indian asked us if we had a booking and I answered in the affirmative.

‘Someone comes soon’ he snarled.

‘Thanks’ I smiled. He glared back.

So far this place had a distinct lack of joy, and there was certainly no community. At least, not one in which I wanted to commune!

After a sweaty quarter of an hour, a young, attractive Tamil woman arrived and asked us to follow her. We struggled across the gravel behind her, laden with bags, and came to a small shack like affair, which she then informed us was named ‘Progress’! Perhaps this was because it didn’t look as though it had finished being built, but I said nothing, and asked Andrew to do the same. When the lady eventually found the correct key she let us in to our home for the next few nights, and then immediately asked one of us to accompany her to the office with our passports.

‘Oh. You go babe’, whined Mr Kennedy, ‘I’m not having a good day!’

I followed our hostess into a small room which contained nothing more than a desk, two seats on either side, and some books stacked in an untidy pile near an archaic looking router.

‘Passport’, she said, without a smile.

I gave the passports and then had to complete the most inordinate amount of paperwork. When I’d finished, she asked me to fetch Andrew to come and do the same. I duly did this, he was not best pleased.

After the formalities were over I asked if we could meet ‘Sara’ the girl with whom I had made the booking.

‘No. Sara only here in morning’ she replied. ‘But you pay me now. In full.’

I did as I’d been told and then asked if there happened to be a shop nearby at which to grab some essentials. Our landlady replied in the affirmative and gave Andrew and I directions to the ‘Ganesh Bakery’,  a ‘ten minute walk’ away.

After three quarters of an hour trudging through scorching red earth, in and out of the sticky forest canopy, there was still no sign of any retail business. Only thick woods, unpleasant geriatric hippies on motorbikes and signs directing us to places called, ‘Certitude’, ‘Aspiration’, ‘Sincerity’ and ”Fulfilment’. Overheating and beginning to dehydrate, I was sincerely losing all aspiration and sure that if we didn’t get any liquid fulfilment soon, one of us would certainly be certified!

Finally we arrived at the the ‘Plaza’, a scruffy corner consisting of a bakery and a grocers. After imbibing two flat lime sodas and a couple of vegan samosas at the former, we made our way into the ‘minimart’ to get supplies.

No-one was very friendly. The other ‘Aurovillians’ went about their business in the most uptight of manners. Disconnected and disgusted that any visitor should have the affront to be sharing their sacred space. I threw some manky organic veg into the basket , a bag of rice, and a little sack of spice, Andrew added a packet of Nescafé and a lump of cheese. The most bad tempered Indian we’d yet come across, weighed every pepper, potato and pea-pod individually and then gave us a bill that would have raised eyebrows in the food hall at ‘Harrods’. We were both shocked. So far the only thing spiritual about this place was the fact we were both getting crucified!

That night I made us a strange curry in the communal kitchen which we shared with a charming set of Brazilian twins, definitely the friendliest guys we had come across yet in this most closed of ungated communities. They possessed much more of the spirit of peace, love, harmony and understanding we were expecting of the place.

‘Auroville’, was to have been an inspirational city where those who wanted to live outside the bounds of ego, status and greed could come and join together in an egalitarian unity.

A large piece of barren earth was purchased on the scorched south-east Indian plain and idealistic volunteers from across the world proceeded to create a green and pleasant land on what was once an eroded and infertile desert. Millions of trees were planted, innovative architecture built and the people began to come. There was to be free schooling and free healthcare for all. But not quite as many residents as expected made the move to ‘Auroville’. In a city that was designed for a population of fifty thousand people, only two and a half thousand residents now reside in the town.

The next morning, Andrew and I rose early. Mainly due to the fact that we had spent the night in a tandoori oven. Our tiny room, for which we were paying three times as much as anywhere else in India,( a significant contribution going to the ‘Auroville’ community), had been built out of brick,  in a manner of which ‘The Three Little Pigs’ would have highly approved. The temperature must have hit ‘cremate’ at one point and I awoke to find Andrew almost ‘Tikka’d’!

We fled into the cooler forty odd degrees of the wooded grounds outside in an attempt to look for the elusive ‘Sara’. She was still non-existent. A Holy Ghost, as it were! I managed to get what information I could muster from the Indian help, and was advised that we should head to The Visitors’Centre if we wanted to explore the new age town. This we did, as we were keen to get into the vibe of the place.

Feel the energy man. We were both especially excited about visiting ‘The Matrimandir’, a gigantic golden globe at the centre of the sprawling community, which purported to be the spiritual heart of the conurbation.

On reaching The Visitors’ Centre we were both dripping, the forest was more than hot, and the lack of air conditioning and cold water in our shack of a room had taken it’s toll.

I approached a terribly genteel sareed westerner to purchase tickets to enter the spiritual dome.

‘I can give you a pass to the viewing site’ she intoned softly, ‘but if you want to go inside ‘The Matrimandir’ you will need to go upstairs and speak to someone else’.
I thanked her, pocketed our entry passes for the viewing site, and made my way up to another incredibly modern building in order to gain entry to the giant meditation capsule, which was now becoming more intriguing than ever.

I was beckoned forward and asked to complete a yellow card in order that I may enter the special sphere. I was told that if Andrew wanted to do the same he would have to come and apply in person himself, it was the same rule for everyone. A kind of vetting process. I suppose, if they didn’t like the look of you, they could bar you from the ball. Luckily we fooled them, and were both granted entry. Just like the ugly sisters!

However, we were told we could only view ‘The Matrimandir’ first and then return the following day at 8.45am so that we may be escorted into it’s inner chamber.

That afternoon we made our way through the immaculately manicured grounds towards ‘The Matrimandir’.  A place where all people can go to raise their consciousness and get in touch with their higher selves – apparently. This used to be a club in South London, but since ‘The Mother’ had her vision, the place for such communion was now here in southern India.

We learnt that, late in her life, she had dreamt of a round building which contained a twelve sided meditation chamber. She had described it as having a white interior and being surrounded by twelve rooms, each a different colour pertaining to a unique quality on which to meditate. ‘Creativity’, ‘Peace’ etc.

As ‘The Mother’ wished, so the meditation centre was built, with the help of thousands of people and millions of pounds. Began in the early seventies the building was only completed in 2008.

And there is still more to do.

On first sighting the glowing orb, I was reminded of a huge metal ball that had fallen from the sky after a galactic round of golf. It looked unnatural, unappealing and most unwanted.

Groups of Indian day trippers were having their pictures taken in front of the spherical monstrosity as if it were ‘Stonehenge’ or ‘The Pyramids Of Giza’. I felt perplexed. Confused. It appeared nothing more to me than something one might find at ‘Disney World’ or ‘The Epcot Centre’. But I reserved judgment – I hadn’t been inside yet!

That was to come!

After ‘viewing’ ‘The Matrimandir’, Andrew and I managed to fumble our way through steaming fields and land at an organic farm, where we were served a wonderfully fresh vegan thali, consisting of mysteriously coloured vegetables.

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Vive La Difference!

Andrew and I have now traversed The Subcontinent, and made our way from the torrid heat of the south east, to the baking oven that is the south west.  We have now hit the steam-room of that ex French colonial town known as Pondicherry.  Or ‘Pondy’ to those in the know.

Oooooh La La!

Or Fuck Me!!!

This has to be the steamiest place I ‘ve ever been – other than an infamous sauna I twice visited in Munich, but that’s by the by!

The temperature here steadily remains above forty degrees et plus during the day, and creeps down only marginally when the sun bids adieu.

Even the locals find it tiresome!

My hair has gone crazy!

I have a look of Queen’s Brian May after a blow!

A ‘Blow-dry’ that is.

(God forbid the lovely Anita Dobson would do anything like that!)

 

We have appropriately arrived on the eve of the first round of the French general election, and are staying in the inappropriately named, ‘Whitetown’!

Madame Le Pen would be thrilled!

However, thankfully the place is nothing like it’s nomenclature. There are a few colonial hangovers, but most of the town seems to be run very successfully by Indians. Or should I say Tamils! One is never sure how to be politically correct here.

Here Here! As I’ve never been one for ‘Le politiquement correct’!

Our guest house has just four rooms, and is definitely one of the most charming locations in which we have lodged during our Indian odyssey.

It would cost at least ten times as much were it located somewhere in La France. Therefore I shan’t be revealing the name of the place.  Sorry!

It has air-conditioning to die for, which is preferable to the current heatwave here – which, tragically, is also to die for!

It’s a welcome treat for Mr Kennedy and I, as we’ve been quite adventurous when it comes to boarding houses this trip, up until now.

However, the cuisine so far has not yet come up to that of the unfashionable state of Karnataka, from where we’ve just arrived. There, the Tikka, Tandoori and hospitality were phenomenal. Not least, because we were taken into the home of a new found Indian friend and made as welcome as could be at his baby daughter’s naming ceremony. An evening we shall never forget.

But, let’s put things in perspective, here in Pondicherry they have cheese!

Proper cheese!

I had know idea that ‘fromage’ produced here in Tamil Nadu could be so good! I should have realised that since The French didn’t leave here until 1954, their Gallic pong is still incredibly fragrant. Not just evident in the dairy produce, but also in the architecture which has a charm that exudes that certain, ‘Je ne sais quoi’!

Today, Monsieur Macron would have been proud, as we elected to make a ‘Frexit’,  and crossed the stinking canal, making our way into the ‘Tamil Quarter’.

Or ‘Browntown’ as ‘La Front Nationale’ would no doubt have it.

Equally as chaotic as any other Indian city we have visited, it had a vivacity and ‘Joie De Vivre’, that is somehow lacking in our upmarket French Quarter.

Amid the humidity which was as heavy as the traffic, we stumbled for hours along uneven pavements, negotiating open sewers and bumping  into the most friendly of folk. Most of them more than happy to to say Bonjour with a toothy grin. Yet, also content to run you down at the drop of a ‘chapeau’!

Our temples sweated in sweaty temples and we managed until midday before we had to surrender to the blistering heat and return to the safe cool of our colonial splendour.

Sadly, this heated excursion has taken it’s toll. We have both lost about three pints of liquid, not to mention a touch of dignity,  as we’ve manoeuvred over cracked concrete and played numerous games of ‘Poulet’ with the ubiquitous rickety rickshaws. But it’s been more than magnifique to visit the other side of the canal.  The less fashionable part of town.

Still with colourful shutters, yet with less of the colour shut out!

Perhaps if Madame Le Pen were brave enough to do the same she may change her petite mind. I do not mean to be either political or judgemental. But ‘Browntown’ is so much more colourful than ‘Whitetown’!

Un peu more unusual perhaps. A tad more unnerving.   But no less chic!

Come on Marine. Don’t snort.  Why not leave le pen and cross the tracks?

And in the words of that marvellous Francophile Ms Petula Clarke.

‘Don’t hang around and let your problems surround you, there are moving shows – Browntown’.

Or ‘quelque chose’ like that!

‘Get Us Outta Here!’

As Paul ambled purposefully beneath a torrid ‘Noel Coward Sun’, he wondered how it always transpired, that at the hottest time of day, in the hottest of climates, he was always the Englishman! He’d left the ‘Mad Dog’ behind, at the cool guest house. Andrew was terribly busy ordering new flavours for his Vapouriser! So Paul set off through the smouldering back streets of Panjim.

As he made his way down narrow lanes, simmering with colourful heat, he dabbed at his brow with an old hankie he’d kept for that very purpose. The vivid pigments which reflected from the Portuguese houses both blinded and enthralled. It was difficult to avoid the open drains and meandering traffic as Paul made his way to the railway agent to collect the tickets for the next leg of his and Andrew’s Indian adventure.

They were soon to be on their way to Karnataka, in the deepest south west of India.  Their new pal Santosh had become a father to a beautiful daughter and it was time to hold the ancient baby naming ceremony. Andrew and Paul had been thrilled to be invited along.

Before that, somebody needed to pay for the journey. Having experienced one too many railway booking counters belonging to ‘The Indian State Railways’, the boys thought it wise to avoid the bureaucratic  hideousness that is inevitably involved, and let an agent take the strain.

Which one did, for a cool fiver! Quite a lot considering the price of the journey was only a tenner. Still….

Sweating alone in the tiny booking office, Paul felt a thump on his left shoulder, and turned immediately, half-suspecting to see Andrew grinning, having caught up, post Vape order. Instead, he was greeted with a gappy smile and a thick set bloke in a sari.  Admittedly, a very pretty piece of clothing, but it was doubtless, a fella.

Jewellery laden, make-up free and a jaw like a like Joe Bugner!

Paul learnt later, that this lady was a member of an Indian caste of transvestites. Some of them gay, some hermaphrodite and some, poor sods who’ve been kidnapped and castrated!

Known as the Hijras, they often performed, uninvited, at functions and sometimes worked as prostitutes!

Paul couldn’t help but see the similarity to his own line of work. The Lola Boys’ were little more. Only better paid!

At times!

‘Oh, hello’, he said.

Open as ever, yet a little perturbed. This was no ‘Ladyboy’!

He smiled as the guy done up like a gal clapped his hands fiercely and then made a furious begging action. It was quite obvious what she wanted.

And it weren’t make-up tips!

Paul shrugged and showed his empty trouser pockets, attempting to appear as nonchalant as possible, yet failing dreadfully. The fact that it was an honest action, that he’d parted with all his cash moments previously, the ticket agent having no change, made no difference. This was a frighteningly heavy-set woman, with the charisma of Vin Diesel, and she made Paul very nervous.

‘I’ve no money’, he mouthed largely, in the way an ignoramus talks to foreigners.

Ma Diesel  gave several nods of the head, and thrust her hand forward in the manner of a Right Jab! Paul ducked, but she was too quick and her palm slapped on to the top of his scalp. She muttered a few words and then again made the same begging gesture.

Paul knew at once, that he’d just been blessed. And Ma wanted something for the collection box!

‘I still have nothing. No Rupee!’ he said.  Too slowly, and far too loudly.

Ma stared for an endless moment, and then made a furious action with the saintly hand she’d just used to bestow her blessings. She whirled it around and made a couple of tapping motions as if trying to reverse the spell.

‘No good now love,’ Paul said calmly, ‘you’ve given it so you can’t take it back!’

He laughed to himself, in a slightly condescending way, and would have felt guilty, were it not for the fact Ms Diesel had followed him into the travel agents and had then been terribly bullish. And bullying was something Paul always stood up to, after having had a very good training at naval school in Waterloo.

This bully was gonna meet Waterloo if she didn’t bugger off.

Feeling the resistance and perhaps, believing the lack of cash line, the Hijra took her leave, without so much as a smirk.

Paul put his head though the small brick doorway and lent into the brilliant sunshine. He watched as the brash and bejewelled beggar-women made their way down the narrow lane. Criss crossing the street and putting their hands together with a violent clap, to let people know they were around. Some gave willingly, and some were more than cajoled.

The ‘girls’ hit the butcher, the baker, and the joss-stick maker before they finally turned the corner and their riotous energy dissipated. Paul felt a collective sigh, much as if a hardened girl-gang had just left one’s subway carriage.

‘They may have swiped some jewellery – but we’re all breathing’ he thought.

He was sure he wasn’t the only one.

He then made his way back to the very pleasant guest house he and Andrew were sharing. He looked at the third class railway ticket for which he’d just overpaid enormously, and wondered if he would still be breathing when Andrew found out.

The following day, following far too many hours on a hot train, Andrew followed Paul into an equally hot hotel and they both wondered what the hell they were doing there. Mangalore, a coastal city in south west India, at first sight seemed ordinary, shabby and most unchic.  After venturing out, and having time to explore, it seemed ordinary, shabby and even more unchic.

After stumbling through the early morning  fumes, along a crumbling dual carriageway, and finding nowhere for miles which served anything resembling coffee, Andrew said, with some tongue in cheek,

‘Get us outta here!’

*******************************************************************

An hour later we were in a taxi heading deeper into Karnataka. A state which has yet to convince us of her charms, of which there are doubtless many. But perhaps, more hidden.

Much like those of the bolshy Hijras I had met in Panjim.

But as I’ve learnt, it is not always the most obvious that has the greatest appeal.

And so we wait, with baited breath, for this part of ancient India to reveal herself to us.

She’s already been quite a tease.

But if she slips her sari off her shoulder and gives us a wink, we shall no doubt fall for her dubious charms.

Just as we’ve done with the rest of this intriguing country.

Hopefully!

Beached Wails!

For too many nights and days , Andrew and I have been practically marooned on a first-rate beach, in a second-rate guest house, with third-rate plumbing, fourth-rate bedding and fifth-rate company!  We’ve loved it.

After the rigours of Rajasthan it has been just what we needed. An almost antidote to India, but it has taken it’s toll…

I have developed a near psychosis attempting to tan in what is constant sunlight – and yet, failing miserably. T’is true I’m wearing factor 30, but without, I would resemble a Heinz Ketchup bottle within minutes. Minus the superior branding!

It just ain’t worth it, I tell my wan, washed out self in the filthy mirror, as a geriatric Oliver Twist stares back.  Why do I always become so ‘Dickensian’ during our travels?  It’s as if I grow paler by the day. Unburnished! Despite my earnest attempts at Bronze Ageing! Still, I gain assurance from a quote from the aforementioned author, that such things take time.

‘The Sun himself is weak when he first rises, and gathers strength and courage as the day gets on.’

And so, just like that great star, I shall live to tan another day.

It’s good to read – especially when beached!

And beached we have been. Outcasts ashore. Unwilling to crawl from our hermit like shells, much like some of the other more diminutive residents down by the shoreline. Their crabbiness has rubbed off on us, especially Andrew, who is now celebrating almost a month free from the claws of Mr Marboro.

Unsmoked, he has drifted slowly into quicksand and fast booze! This is not entirely his fault, and with my own vintage and effervescent history, I am certainly not one to judge. My husband has been helped ‘roll out the barrel’ by the carbonated charm of the bar-staff, and the convenient fact that the normal beer runs out terribly early and so the ultra strong – ‘husband-beater’ – is the only pint available!

This has invariably ended with Mr Kennedy either panicking in the sea, burning his feet on the sand, or losing his footing entirely. Today, after a particularly heated conversation, which ended with me telling him to ‘travel to somewhere fiery’, (or words to that effect), my hot lover jammed his foot heavily against an obvious brick and fell head first towards the just lit tandoori oven.

It was almost ‘Andrew Tikka’ on the menu!

I hadn’t actually meant ‘Go To Hell’!

‘Sit down’ I say. He seems flushed with embarrassment, or severely burnt – I can’t tell which.
‘Oww’, he wails, sort of manfully, ‘look’.
He gestures towards his left ankle, which is horribly grazed with skin hanging and plasma oozing down to his in-step.
‘Look. I’ll never dance again’ he says. Laughing.

Pissed.

‘I’ll get you the Savlon shall I?’  I spit.  Cold, hard and impenetrable after days of sharing a hut with a less well-heeled Jack Nicholson.

The beach was bringing out the bitch.

‘Nurse Ratched’ was beginning to kick in.

‘Itsh fine’ he manages.

After the entire establishment is greeted to a loquacious treatise on the rights and wrongs of ‘Brexit’, the plusses and minuses of arranged marriage, and the growth and implementation of radical Islam, Andrew then retires for a siesta. Leaving his entire audience wanting to do the same.

Exhausted, if not amused, by his malty rhetoric.

It’s quite clear it’s time we left this paradisiacal malaise and made our way on to harsher climes. Other Kulcha and culture beckon. Colour and squalor are calling us on.

Plus the fact we have to get to a ‘Vape Shop’ fast before Andrew runs out of juice – literally.

He’s down to his last phial of coffee flavoured liquid nicotine. If the pot boils dry I dread to think what could happen. I could be the fag he lights first.

He has a quick fuse when unlit!

There’s enough to last the night, and then we’re off, to inhale the fumes of another Indian city in search of the vapours.

I do hope they stock the stuff…..

All play and no vape make Jack a very dull boy!

I’ve hidden the axe!

It’s A Real Goa!

Somewhat jaded after our month-long jaunt around majestic Rajasthan and four more ragged days spent in the arhythmic heart of New Dehli, we finally arrived in the tropical south of this giant country.

Palm trees waved a breezy emerald welcome and the Arabian Sea lapped us up like an ocean of warm salty Chai. Not a Mediterranean Blue it’s true, more like the shade one’s jeans come back after they’ve been to the ubiquitous ‘Loundry’ here. An Indian Denim. Faded, yet oh so comfortable.

The long journey here was less so, but we’re both used to that by now, and the destination is always much more pleasurable when there have been a couple of life threatening moments on route.

Our eventual taxi, to the very south of Goa, went at a pace that would have put Michael Schumacher to shame. We nearly ended up in the same condition as the unfortunate sportsman on more than one occasion. Things only improved when Andrew convinced our wacky racer to come to a halt outside a ‘Wine Shop.’ We both sank two large bottles of beer faster than our driver had completed the last ten ‘K’ – and that’s saying something! Now, as pissed as Mr Magoo in the driving seat, we were able to enjoy the blind corners and oncoming juggernauts with the same hilarity.

After our hastened arrival we settled into our modest hut, content amid the candied bougainvillea and fluorescent hibiscus, we didn’t care that we had no running water as of yet. We knew that it would probably arrive sooner or later, and anyway there was always nature’s bath in which to cleanse our weary limbs, just yards away across the almost golden sand.

I was the first to succumb to her watery charms. Hobbling clumsily over the red-hot sand,like a lobster missing a claw, I practically fell into the warm embrace of the mighty Indian Ocean. My limbs melted into the tea-like waters and the ache from weeks of wearing a rucksack dissolved within her saline cloak. As I floated easily on my back, appreciating the dusky sky, I began to daydream. Of fairytale forts, and lakeside palaces, and huge castles in the desert. Of mighty mausoleums. Of all the wonders we had been fortunate, and intrepid enough to visit. This was my first moment of real stillness in weeks, and as I sank into it, my mind melted into a kaleidoscope of colours and scents and sounds, of all that had gone before. The beauty, the poverty, the kindness, the stupidity of this great nation.

Our entire Indian adventure washed over me as if I were a giant floating canvass and this miraculous country, the most vibrant of palettes.

I felt grounded, yet aloft, as I became my own watercolour awash with a sea of memories. It was almost spiritual. I breathed in ……

‘Ooommmmm’,   I exhaled pretentiously, open-mouthed….

Then, without warning, the biggest wave imaginable crashed heavily over me, filling every orifice with a gallon of seawater and sending me crashing onto the seabed. Tumbling amongst sand, and God knows what else, I held my breath and attempted to resurface. As I did so, another massive breaker hit me and took me back to the ocean floor. I spun violently, in the uneven style of a cheap Indian washing machine. Eventually, I staggered, in the most ungracious of manners, back onto the shore. My ears, nose and mouth grit-ridden and full of seawater.

My exotic reverie had been cut short.

My fantasies were instantly drowned in that stagnant pool known as ‘reality’. Really! In an instant!

I had to smile – perhaps through gritted teeth. Yet even this experience was so terribly Indian. The sublime becomes the submerged so readily here!

If there is one thing I have learnt about this incredible nation it is to expect the unexpected – at every turn – with every smile – and with every wave!

What I’d not yet come to expect was some of the sheer ignorance some tourists readily unpack as they arrive to avail themselves of some of the more obvious pleasures India has to offer.

There is a distinct difference, in my opinion, between the holidaymaker and the traveller. I, rather snobbily, put Andrew and myself into the latter category, even if my husband can sometimes veer towards the former, the nightmare train journeys and rattling local buses surely put us firmly into traveller class. Not to mention the dodgy choice of lodgings we invariably make.

Our current abode, for example, has no air con, just a giant ceiling fan that resembles a defunct chopper. It spins so angrily sleep is made quite impossible. The only setting is ‘Chinook’! So one is either forced to swelter in silence, or nap fitfully, as dreams of ‘The Deer Hunter’ surface horrifically between fantasies of ‘Miss Saigon’! I woke several times last night whilst pressing an imaginary gun to my head and screaming ‘Do it then you bastard’  to a confused Andrew, who I was convinced was a crazed Christopher Walken…

It is not a restful room!

However, with an asking price of eight quid a night and a sea-view to die for, we ain’t complaining. Well not to the management at least! They are far too accommodating.

Others, sadly, do. I overheard a very fat British woman impolitely send back three salads yesterday because they weren’t to her liking. Not calorific enough I should imagine. All of it done in the most graceless fashion. Shortly afterwards an elderly gentleman from ‘The West Country’ assured Sandhu, our charming waiter, that the Kashmiri was quite wrong when the poor chap brought out a fruit salad with curd, as ordered.

‘What’s this white stuff ? I never asked for that!’ The old fella huffed and gruffed.

‘Yes, it is mentioned on the menu’ Sandhu smiled.

‘Get me the menu then. The MENU!’

No ‘please’ in sight, not even in the near distance.
Reading the menu properly the old fart had to concede.

‘Oh yeah. Right. With curd – You’re right’.  Still charmless and unapologetic.

Rude git!

Sometimes when encountering this, almost colonial behaviour, it can make one quite unproud to be British, especially when remembering our history here. I’m surprised these idiots don’t receive a swift fuck off please from their graceful hosts. I know what I would do were the salad bowl in the other hand!

But then I’m not Indian. It is not in the Indian nature to be rude. Certainly not in my experience. It may be very easy to mock their choice of the vernacular when speaking English, as I have heard many idiots do, but I am yet to hear an Englishman who speaks Hindi as well as they do. Or Urdu. Or many of the other 1652 local languages spoken in this land. Some of the very ordinary people we have met have been in possession of quite extraordinary linguistic skills.

A young waiter called Abdul, whom we met in the desert city of Jaisalmer, spoke five languages. Get your tongue round that Joe Bloggs!

I must emphasize it is, of course, not everyone who visits this land for just a short time, that comes with an inferior mind and a superior attitude. We’ve met some great lads, builders from South East London, (who,coincidently, happen to be old friends of our good mate Dave in Spain! What’s the chances eh?) They adore it here and couldn’t be nicer to our Asian friends, even finding time to teach them the art of cockney rhyming slang. The look on their hosts ‘boat-races’ when they get it right is a picture.

A harmonious one!

A shame all The Brits don’t behave with such class – some of them should be taking a sharp ‘Brexit’ off of the subcontinent. Just as they did once before.

Other than the odd visitor, Goa makes a great visit! Marvellous beaches, stunning scenery and replete with friendly locals and some great tandoori fish. It’s going to be hard to leave and return to the other India, but easy at the same time. One can have too much of a good thing.

India teaches you that too.

Although when we’re sweating and swearing in Madras come the blistering May heat – that may be a lesson both of us have forgotten.

This unique country wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Delhi Belly!!!

New Delhi! India’s frenetic capital, can sometimes be hard to stomach. Especially when the jaded visitor is suffering from that most infamous of south asian complaints – ‘Delhi Belly’!

If the forty degree smog and exhaust fumes fail to exhaust, the constant concern that a lavatory may be needed at the drop of, shall we say, a hat, certainly takes it’s toll.

Despite sensibly taking plenty of liquid and dosing up with Imodium, I still have no respite. I long for my faeces to be in pieces! A little too much information I realise, but the usual niceties one applies to such ablutions don’t seem relevant here, especially as it is quite usual to see a good number of folk squatting by the side of the road, and not to take the weight off their feet! Still, there is an urban, if not urbane, charm to the place which is undeniable. One cannot help but get swept up in the street-life which hits the traveller like a chapati in the face on every corner.

As well as visiting the less salubrious side of the city, Delhi’s underbelly, Andrew and I also managed to make our way to Connaught Place. A Victorian parade encircling a vivid green park, peopled with many pairs of young lovers. Most doing something shady in the welcome shade. The wide avenues, complete with colonnades, reminded me of a tropical Regent’s Street.

A faded colonial hangover, with old fashioned shops stocked with archaic items such as ‘Fountain Pens’ and bottles of ink. Juxtaposed with such quaintness, there also exists, of course, the very modern. A branch of ‘Burger Singh’ amused us as it sang out garishly next to a religious ‘Jain Bookshop’. Fasting and fast-food co-existing beneath the ‘Lutyens’ designed canopy. Such opposition can’t help but attract. One is constantly knocked off balance by the exotic eclecticism here, as well as the careering tuk-tuks and rickshaws. It is always necessary to look in every direction at least sixteen times before attempting to walk anywhere, unless of course, you are a cow. Bovine crossings exist everywhere and on many an occasion we have used a weighty heifer to negotiate the heavy traffic.

The other negotiating which can become quite wearisome, is the one that concerns pricing. Having travelled extensively in Asia, Andrew and I have become fairly adept at bartering. However, here in Delhi, this practice is taken to a whole new level. There seems to be a myriad of price tags depending on how you look, act and from where you might hail. Andrew seems to do a little better than me, with his smoky looks and the slightly angry demeanour of a man who has just given up the fags!

Myself, being untanned, uncool and understanding, am presented with the same deal one would get if shopping on Bond Street!

I have been marched into numerous pharmacies in order to purchase powdered milk for insistent ‘glummy-mummies’ more times than they’ve had hot dinners! Andrew has been deserted on the roadside on several occasions, as I’ve queued at a variety of chemists for ‘Complan’, which he then assures me the woman is gonna swap for smack the minute my back is turned. On occasion I’ve wanted to smack him – but in truth, he has a point. Too much charity can become egocentric when faced with so much poverty. I’ve had to learn that my small contribution is a drop of milk in a vast churn of need. My guilt is alleviated far more than their pangs of hunger. Who am I really helping? It’s not just the oppressive heat that makes it hard to sleep here. The oppression brings insomnia too.

Sleep, however, has come very readily over the last few days, as Mr Kennedy and I, forgetting we are no longer twenty-one, have completely knackered ourselves out. The sleeper-class trains (a dreadfully dishonest description if there ever was one!) The two days on camelback and the month long traipse around Rajasthan, rucksacked and backsides unpacked, has taken it’s toll. We nearly finished ourselves off completely yesterday by making a manic whistle-stop  visit to that most famous of monuments to love, the exquisite Taj Mahal.

‘It better be worth it”, Andrew intoned, after nearly four hours spent wedged inside the tiniest car imaginable. As we sat entangled together in the back, like a game of tropical ‘Twister’, our driver went like a highwayman along a highway that had yet to be surfaced. Lacking suspension of any kind, and with an A.C. unit that insistently blew hot air into our parched eeks, we rattled and sweated our way to Agra. Mercifully, on sighting the marble masterpiece, Andrew’s fears were abated.

It was most definitely worth it.

The initial glimpse of the mighty mausoleum, framed through the dramatic arch gateway through which one enters, was certainly enough to bring a tear to the eye. I was unsure if it was the sheer beauty of the wonder before me, or the grit that had constantly blown out of the old jalopy’s air conditioning unit that caused this lachrymose  state of affairs.

Whatever, any love that can inspire such a magnificent erection has to be respected.

Unlike our guide, Lucky, for whom there was no love lost! As he whisked us around the grounds at such speed, I half expected Mo Farrer to overtake us as we came to the finish line!

When it came to the obligatory tipping point, suffice to say, he was not so lucky.

Nor did we play ball when the pace eventually slowed as he took us to his uncle’s gem shop.

‘What would you like? To see some Onyx, some Jasper, some Amber?’

‘Some Amber Nectar’ I replied.

‘What?’ He looked blank.

‘Some Beer!’ I snapped.

One’s patience can crack after weeks of hard sell!

We returned to the capital in the squeaking heap of junk that passed as a car. As we were dropped half a mile down the dusty road from our hotel, we were once again, harassed for a tip, this time from our driver, Ahmed. I sighed and gave him much more than was necessary.

‘Why so little? Are you not pleased with me today?’

‘Yes’, you were alright’ I said. Leaving out the fact that I could now barely walk or breath after the car ride from hell.

He looked at me with pleading eyes until I took another note from my pocket and thrust it into his hand.

Overpaying yet again.

I think I need to toughen up.

I am not sure I have enough fire in my belly to exist in Dehli.
I’d be begging for milk powder before you know it!

Even though this great city can leave one with a little indigestion, Andrew and I both left with a great appetite for the place.

We’d certainly book a table again.

And no doubt we’d pay the service charge!

 

Having A Camel Ball!

We set off into The Great Thar desert to escape what is probably the most beautiful shopping mall in the world. Jaisalmer fort, founded in the twelve century, yet another genuine spectacle in this ancient land, is astonishing. A gigantic yellow sandcastle that has stood up against countless marauders, and the test of time, yet has now become more of a ‘Jaisalmart.’

Once through the formidable sandstone outer walls, the visitor is bombarded with seller after seller plying their wares. Shops, cafes, even hotels combine with the temples and palaces within the crumbling antique stonework, creating a medieval Portobello Road Market.

A Jaisalmall !

It’s impossible to avoid bartering amongst this bombastic brickwork. Andrew and I were cornered by the most charming, middle-aged Hindu lady improbably called ‘Bobby’, whose sales-pitch was all around helping the women of Rajasthan. The divorced and the widowed.  Ladies who had sadly only managed to produce female  children in this still patriarchal society. Bobby helped these unfortunates, by selling their handicraft in a small establishment within the fort. She was incredibly tenacious.

IMG_0276

We swallowed it, hook, line and sinker! Due mainly to the colourful snaps she showed us of the girls at their spinning wheels, plus the fact that she could talk the hind legs off a camel and it was forty two degrees! We sunk far deeper into our wallet than we usually would, to purchase two quite ordinary trinkets that would surely have cost less in ‘Harrods’ – but hey, it was for charity. Hopefully! And I’m not completely sure that the aforementioned Knightsbridge retailer would stock such exotica as a decorated massage ball made from a Dromedary’s kneecap!

I’m sure it’ll come in handy at some stage.

So it was, after spending several baking days in this fascinating city, that we decided to make our way into the desert proper.

I’ve always had a ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’ fantasy, considering myself a slightly plainer Peter O’Toole, and Andrew has always had a whiff of Omar Sharif, especially after a chicken Jalfrezi. Therefore turbaned up, we set out for a two day desert safari, with David Lean’s masterpiece being our only real experience of the wilderness, and Andrew never having seen that all the way through!

Leaving the golden city, we sped west towards Pakistan, in a four by four driven by the handsome Nanu. A Rajasthani with an impressive handlebar moustache, yet slightly less impressive skills on the handlebars, or rather, steering wheel. We sped further and further into the treeless landscape, dodging goats and the odd nomad by a whisker!

Eventually we came to a piece of sand he, inexplicably recognised, and we drew to a halt. We bade goodbye to Nanu, and were introduced to our guides and our camelid friends, the latter laying impassive on the hot sand, not at all impressed with our arrival. We were soon taken to meet our camel in person, so to speak, mine was named ‘Robert’ apparently.

With hardly a cough and a spit, we were up and in the saddle. Well – sort of!

Nine feet up and rocking like a dodgy Brittany ferry. I now see why these creatures are known as the ships of the desert, however, I had no  idea one would feel so seasick.

After a while, I began to get my ‘camel-legs’ and the rocking became almost soothing. The chafing, on the other hand, did not. My buttocks have not seen such action in a long while, if ever!  Even Andrew looked like he could do with some extra padding.

As we rode further away from civilisation, our chief guide, Tripolis, would shout back occasionally from the front, making sure our small group was ok. After an hour and a half of trekking through blazing sunlight we were all sporting blazing saddles, and were more than ready to dismount on reaching camp.

The dismounting of this animal is even more precarious than the going up in the first place. The rider is flung violently forward and backwards as the creature makes it’s way into a laying position. Then, one must attempt to climb off of the beast without kicking it in the gob therefore giving it the right hump. It’s not at all easy. I fell from mine in as dignified a fashion as I could manage.

Andrew just slumped into the sand.

Our lodgings for the night were truly extraordinary.
Dunes of such a pristine nature, it looked as if we’d come upon them for the first time.

Our small group sat, recovering from the desert crossing, as our transport lay nearby, eyeing us all with a haughty disinterest. It felt comforting to have them with us though, like we were in it together. This desert lark. One seems to make friends terribly quickly.

As night came, quick as a light-switch, our guides set a small fire, and we sat around chatting and sharing beer, as they prepared dinner. A simple feast of vegetables, rice, chapatis and dal, cooked on iron skillets over the flames. It was delicious, if not a touch mysterious, as in the dim light we had to hazard a guess as to what we were swallowing. Mind you, that’s not a first for either of us and so we managed manfully.

Later, we sang and danced around the campfire. I say we, but it was mostly Andrew and I that provided the physical entertainment. The Lola Boys, live from the sands, as it were. I nearly set fire to myself at least twice, much to Andrew’s chagrin, but it was great fun. Our guides clapped out of time and sang so disharmoniously that it must have been correct, tribal perhaps! Although to us it sounded like a camels’chorus!

When it was time for bed we were each given a mattress, spotless I might add, and were able to position ourselves wherever we liked amid the dunes.

Andrew and I chose a spot not to far from the campfire, and not too far from a thorn-bush, should we need to decamp in the night.

We held hands briefly, gazing at the celestial ceiling which was ours for the night. It was a rare moment of romance after twenty-five years together – and it didn’t last long. But I shall remember it forever.

In the morning we were woken by the yellow noise of the sun. We’d both slept well. Andrew coming off slightly better than me, by missing out on the Bactrian nightmares I’d so enjoyed. On seeing how near the fresh camel dung was on waking, I did wonder if absolutely all of it had been a dream. But I thought it best not to dwell on such things, especially as they were our only way home.

After a breakfast fit for a camel herder, we set off back through the ‘Marwar’, or Land Of Death, in search of the living. It had been an exhilarating experience and we were both full of life, if not a touch saddle sore.

Desert mice and antelope peered from behind the scrub to check out the strange caravan as we passed. We felt like a band of brothers, completely at ease with each other, in sync. Perhaps friends are easier to make in the desert.

It’s very bareness lays people bare.

The landscape engulfed us, but we didn’t feel small. We felt at one with each other. Perhaps more so, as the struggle to exist here is so precarious and implausible, that breath seems even more precious. Life itself, miraculous. We adored the entire journey – both the physical and the spiritual.

Sadly, our ride tonight is less poetic. The beast we are riding is The Delhi Express. We are second class, not a first, and are packed into carriage S2, like curried sardines!

The elderly couple in the berths beneath ours could be Indian cousins of ‘The Adams Family’. He bears a striking resemblance to a very tanned ‘Lurch’, and his wife has two and a half teeth. All of them orange!

They have taken to their beds terribly early. It is just six-thirty and the ‘Mrs’ is making more bestial noises than our entire troupe of camels put together. The husband, who has knocked back more pills than Amy Winehouse on a night out, is silent as the grave. I only hope they shan’t need to dig him one when he doesn’t alight at Delhi Central.

Andrew and I are suffering a little from our ‘camelcade’ as we rattle along precariously on the tiny top bunks. But our butts will just have to take it.

It’s only eighteen hours after all !

And as we are lulled to sleep by the heavy growling of Morticia Patel beneath, I shall be reminded of our night in the dreamy dunes, drifting off under The Milky Way. I shall imagine it is those majestic ships of the desert making themselves known through the blackness. Groaning, snorting and winnowing loudly as they keep watch over us.

And if it get’s too much, and that fantasy begins to fail, I shall just have to take Bobby’s camel bone ball from it’s wrapping, and massage the poor, snoring, woman’s larynx. Firmly, as recommended.  Perhaps then, she’ll become as peaceful as her husband!

I’m sure Bobby would approve. After all, it’s quite obvious the wretched woman needs putting out of her misery!

It would be a charitable act, and using a charitable gift!

I just knew it would come in handy sometime!

 

Jodhpur-Some Like It Not!

The Lola Boys Abroad

Jodhpur has exceeded expectations, in almost every way. It’s been one hell of a ride!

This has to be the ‘Badmington Horse Trials’ of India. One has to fly over such hurdles and negotiate the most frightening water jumps just to make it down the street.

But it is so worth it. There is an authenticity here that is wondrous, even if one does pick up a couple of faults over the course. I’ve nearly broken my ankle four times which has not amused Mr Kennedy, who’s accused me a being a silly filly more than once.

‘Bugger you’ I’ve said in my best Camilla Parker Bowles accent. ‘At least I got us to the farking place!’

Living beneath the majestic Mehrangargh Fort, has been magnificent.

Gazing up at this historic beauty from our room has been a real treat. Quite magical. Andrew has actually taken the side of the…

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Jodhpur-Some Like It Not!

Jodhpur has exceeded expectations, in almost every way. It’s been one hell of a ride!

This has to be the ‘Badmington Horse Trials’ of India. One has to fly over such hurdles and negotiate the most frightening water jumps just to make it down the street.

But it is so worth it. There is an authenticity here that is wondrous, even if one does pick up a couple of faults over the course. I’ve nearly broken my ankle four times which has not amused Mr Kennedy, who’s accused me a being a silly filly more than once.

‘Bugger you’ I’ve said in my best Camilla Parker Bowles accent. ‘At least I got us to the farking place!’

Living beneath the majestic Mehrangargh Fort, has been magnificent.

Gazing up at this historic beauty from our room has been a real treat. Quite magical. Andrew has actually taken the side of the bed that provides the best view of this majestical sight. So last night, I requested he give me the mighty erection to which to awaken, for a change. He kindly agreed.

I drifted to sleep imagining Maharajas and princesses doing their thing. As I veered in and out of sweaty reverie, I could have sworn I was an extra in ‘Game Of Thrones.’

Then, in the middle of a particularly scorching night, I woke with a jolt. Confused,at first, as to the violence of my rude awakening. I soon realised what was happening, when my stomach contracted painfully, in a way any mother of quadruplets would recognise. I was no longer a bit part in the fantasy series of which I’d just been dreaming. I was the star! As I lurched towards the toilet as fast as I could, the vomit shot up into my mouth. At the same time as the remainder went south!

Sitting, painfully on the pan, my own version of ‘Game Of Thrones’ had just begun. I spent most of the wee small hours perched on my own throne, with my head slung over a bucket in a most unsophisticated manner.

Even by dawn, there wasn’t the hint of an abdication. I couldn’t move!

As morning merged messily into afternoon, I lay in our room, which now smelt like an Indian latrine. I was running a fever as well as just, well, running!

My limbs felt like hot metal. As if some evil sculptor had filled me with bronze when I’d been sleeping. They were so heavy I could hardly move.

I felt like Shirley Eaton.

As I lay in a deep malaise, I could only watch as Andrew cheerfully downed the odd ‘Kingfisher’ lager, and munched on greasy samosas, containing a filling which reminded me of something unspeakable that I’d earlier filled into another container!

The time limped on, as did I, and I had nothing else to do but think about the overnight train we were to take later that evening.

We thought we’d be brave and take cattle class. Actually, we had no choice, as all of the carriages on the ‘Jaisalmer Express’ were of that variety. The toilets were notoriously uncompromising, and bedding unheard of.

At least there would be fresh air, as the bars at the open windows allowed for this.

We thought it would be a great adventure to travel in such a manner. That was, until my insides decided to have an adventure all of their own. Now the whole idea was seeming as unsavoury as Andrew’s lunch.

And the ‘Starshite Express’ was beckoning!

We’d booked the rail tickets the previous day. As, unsurprisingly, none of the Indian online booking facilities were working, each one stalling you at the last hurdle. So we were forced to go in person to the railway station.

We stood in front of a sign which read ‘foreigners only’, whilst several Indians muddled around us. We attempted to form a queue, but in this country that seems pointless. I’m not sure they exist here!

The universally accepted, and generally effective manner in which to garner the ticketmaster’s attention, is to gather around his or her booth, and shove one’s hand through a small aperture in the glass, attempting to steal a pen. Or a rubber. Or even a stapler! This usually involves a slap on the wrist, but allows the perpetrator to say his piece. Which then culminates in him getting his problem sorted. Try that at a local London Post Office and you’d have your arm ripped from it’s socket by the old girl behind!

The other tried and tested method, is to shove your booking form so hard into the face of the railway employee, and scream like a banshee! This also appears to achieve the desired result.

All of this behaviour is most ‘unbritish’! After all, we would queue for our death certificate if we were told we had to !

After an hour of this jostling and ballpoint jousting, it was my turn. Well, it wasn’t, but I took it. It was the only way!

‘ME NEXT’, I said, in the most uncharming  tone, sounding very like Patsy from ‘Ab Fab’. I forcefully thrust the booking form at the morose, heavy woman behind the glass. She thrust it straight back, and used her big, podgy fingers to point out that I had left the postcode off of my address.

‘Surely that doesn’t matter’ I retorted, still a little ‘Lumleyesque’!

‘Yes’, she said sternly.

‘Do you have a pen?’ I asked, less Patsy now, and spying the array of coloured biros she kept behind her printer, out of the greedy reach of her usual customers.

‘No’ she replied firmly. She then pointed out, using the writing tool in her hand, a shop where I could find one!

By this point, I’d had enough. My politeness had got me no where, except to the back of the queue, I decided to use a dose of lethal charm.

‘Oh, please don’t do that to me.’ I crooned cheesily. ‘I can see you’re so busy, being the only one here, and you’re doing such a wonderful job. But I’ve been here for over an hour now.’

She stared at me. (I nearly had her).

Smile. Giggle. Flutter eyelashes etc.

There was a pause. For a moment I thought I might get a swift ‘Piss Off’ in Hindi, but then, the miserable, officious woman shot me a wide smile. Fast, yet as glamorous as Rita Hayworth. She looked into my eyes and handed me HER pen. Unheard of, apparently.
I scribbled in the six letters and digits and a second later handed her back her coveted writing instrument. This seemed to surprise her, and she briefly smiled again.

‘Thank you so much’ I said as she eventually handed me the tickets, via a printer William Caxton would have given up on!

I smiled broadly and said goodbye.

She scowled back.

We got out as quick as we could.

We were to join the train at Jodhpur Junction at half-past eleven in the evening. Then seemingly, all going to plan, we were to wake in the desert city of Jaisalmer, near the border with Pakistan. I should have been excited but my stomach was in knots at the thought. I just hoped this choo choo had a useable loo loo!

When arriving at the station in the middle of the night, we were surrounded at once by a sea of sleeping families. Small children lay outside on the forecourt, some with their parents, some without. Scattered among the soporific cows and languid dogs, these night-time inhabitants, in their colourful coverings, reminded me of pictures I’d seen of London’s Blitz. Entire families sleeping rough on underground platforms. They looked content as they slept, even though there is no world war here to make this necessary. It was a touching moment as we staggered across them carefully, with our heavy rucksacks and my mood to match.

We found the train. Again it looked terribly warlike. Barred windows and no hint of a dining car! But we had no choice.

After mercilessly kicking two ‘gappers'(I’m beginning to loathe them!) out of our reserved gaps, we settled in for a bumpy night.

I, still cramping, cramped myself into the lower bunk, and Andrew made his way up top. It’s not usual for him to take that position, but knowing I was sick, he made an exception. I miserably made myself uncomfortable and tried to fall unconscious.

Andrew then began a party. A big one! With a young group of travellers who happened to be on his upper level – in every way!

It was minutes before he began passing round a bottle of Indian whisky and getting into lots of trouble with the more mature Indian ladies in the carriage, who were attempting to sleep. He was not very popular in carriage S2 on the ‘Jaisalmer Express’. He was told to shut it on more than one occasion.

I had neither the energy nor the inclination to be embarrassed.

I woke many times during this journey, sometimes I gazed out of the window into the black starry night, and sometimes I had no idea where I was.

During one of these vague awakenings, I was sure I could see the shadow of Andrew wandering up and down the inky carriage, ‘Royal Stag’ in hand, attempting to get the party to continue. I was certain I could hear his ‘West End’ voice, loudly encouraging our fellow passengers to party on, and not be so dull ! Or words to that extent!

It was less ‘Some Like It Hot’, more, some like it not!

I crushed on a very strong ‘Piriton’ tablet one of the more lovely gap girls had given me earlier. She was a veritable pharmacist, I was quite unsurprised when she told me she’d be studying chemistry at Bristol from September.

I think it worked, as the next thing I was aware of, was chugging unevenly into a brown and dusty railway station, and then the usual mayhem, when a train stops in this country.

A stampede.

Rucksacks and knees bashed me in the face until I managed to move out of harms way. I heard Andrew from the top bunk.

‘We’re here babe’.

I’m sure he was slurring.

But I didn’t care. I’d survived. I no longer felt like Mia Farrow in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’!
And better still – I no longer looked like her!

Andrew on the other hand ……