Alarm Cocks!

Paul knew Andrew had always enjoyed cock in the early morning, but the noisy dawn chorus which now woke them for the fourth day in a row at 4.28 am was insufferable to them both.

Andrew had often crowed irritatingly about being a ‘morning person’ but even these avian alarm cocks where too much for him!

Some of the cocky birds began their wooing at just before midnight up on the Mekong, making it clear to Paul that their body clocks were completely out of cock.

This rabble of roosters, at times what sounded like thousands of them, had ironically made it impossible to lay. Paul knew he had over egged the location of their little shack, on the tiny island in the river. He had, what it seemed, booked them into a gigantic organic poultry farm!

The boys were more than ready to move on or a real cock fight was on the cards. And not one of the feathered variety! It would give a whole new meaning to the term ‘battery farm’!

Paul found it quite ironic to discover such a hatred of these fowl creatures. Especially as he was more than proud that his husband had achieved great theatrical success in the past when playing the part of ‘Rooster’ in the hit musical ‘Annie’.  Andrew had been nominated for a prestigious ‘Olivier Award’ that year for his free-ranging, cocky performance, and was amazingly still able to amuse Paul with his uncanny ‘Cockle-Doodle -Doo’!

Alarmingly, it was now a case of ‘Cockle-Doodle-Don’t’!  Or more than a few feathers were sure to fly!

The time was now 5.20am, way before the sun was even considering making her entrance, and Paul sat on the makeshift terrace of the guest house, in the deafening dark.

He attempted to concentrate, tablet in hand, and began to write a blog. The competition betwixt the horny birds was too much, the only tablet Paul realised he could handle was a strong paracetamol. He reverted to reading a Julia Child recipe he’d just found for ‘Coq Au Vin’ , in an attempt to bring some cruel solace. Luckily the ‘sol’ did just that. And as she climbed swiftly into the purple sky, silence reigned.

Finally dethroning the cock of the walk!

It was blissful.

Later that morning, just after the cocks had crowed their last, the boys climbed aboard a local banger and made for civilisation.

The ‘little green bus’ was just as charming and cheap as they had remembered. Paul was a firm believer that if one wanted to truly know a place then public transport was by far the best introduction.

Nong Khai, the Thai city for which they were heading, was a veritable metropolis compared to where they had recently been travelling. He hoped that some relative comfort would provide some much needed ‘shuteye’.

Andrew began to sketch a pencil drawing of the sleep deprived Paul along the way.

The artist chewing incessantly on nicotine gum, until he found a short stop along the way to partake of the real thing!

Paul nodded sleepily, much like a chicken liver on a stick, until the creaky bus pulled into the bus station at Nong Khai.

As he and Andrew donned their rucksacks and started the trek towards their new boarding house, he thought at least now we shall get some sleep – minus the flocking roosters!

After all, he was nothing, if not a cock-eyed optimist!

Masticating In The Shower!

After having spent seven hours in a dust storm known as third class on Thai Railways we arrived in the northern city of Phitsanalouk. My body felt as if I’d done ‘Cats’ without a warm up. The show, not the animal, and believe me I know what it’s like to do that show without a warm up.

Andrew was also struggling – which is a euphemism for he could hardly put one foot in front of the other.  But it had been an incredibly amiable journey. I often find one meets a better class of person on lower class travel.

I had several conversations with the tiny man sat across from me, although neither of us could understand what the other was saying. But there is a universal language one can adopt when amongst foreigners, and there was lots of it spoken in carriage ten. A little openness can go a long way. If only President Trump would learn the technique the world might be a friendlier place. But let’s take a lesson out of his book and not get too political.

We fell out of the train with our rucksacks, (which have doubled in weight since we stupidly filled them with fake Ralph Lauren in Bangkok), into a coal-black night. As scorching as that fossil fuel too.

On first impressions the place seemed fairly uninspiring.

On second – quite the same.

Although the inhabitants are friendly enough and apparently there’s an important Buddha somewhere. We nearly made it to the temple today to visit the old boy, however, after having imbibed a tad too much Thai ‘rum’ in coach ten to ameliorate the journey, these old boys didn’t quite reach the Buddhahood! Plus I was on a slight come down having chewed remorselessly on one of Andrew’s powerful nicotine chewing gums for an hour, thinking it was a stale breath freshener. I did wonder when I got into the shower why I felt so energetic and ready to party. I’m not usually a morning person so I should have been suspicious of my new found vitality, instead I masticated even harder to try and get some flavour. It was only when my throat felt like old sandpaper and I was doing ‘The Hustle’ that I twigged.

I only have myself to blame, after all, I do realise one should never masticate in the shower.

Quite unsavoury.

I don’t know how Andrew manages to do it, no wonder he’s always searched at airport security. He always looks like an edgy coke dealer. Now I know why.

Along with the heady dose of nicotine I was also recovering from our supper of chicken feet the previous evening. Clucking ‘orrible! And there was a rather mean orange dog blocking our path so it was an easy decision. We knew The Buddha would understand – and there is always tomorrow, when I should feel a little karma.

Instead we opted for another dodgy bowl of something to do with pig and a soda water, then retired to our room for some more mastication, only minus the gum!

We are currently staying on the ninth floor of a hotel which is straight out of ‘The Shining’.

To make things even spookier we are in room 911.

As my husband said, Thank God we’re not flying tomorrow! And I shan’t go into detail about the carpet, oh, and the ceiling! But at under a tenner a night one really can’t complain.

And we do have a refrigerator in which to store our Chang lager. Highly useful, as I’m still struggling with the residual taste of the poultry’s ‘plates of meat’ plus the fag replacement is also lingering stubbornly on the palate.

When night-time arrived all at once, as it often does here in the tropics, we headed to the other side of the tracks. Literally.

Crossing a precarious railway bridge, ducking to avoid power lines, we came to the somewhat less salubrious part of town. A Street that wouldn’t even feature on the Monopoly board, even though some optimistic entrepreneur had stuck a couple of hotels on it.

We ate a mediocre, yet this time, recognisable meal and then made our way to a bar I’d read of in ‘The Lonely Planet’. A publication I am slowly losing faith in. Too often we have headed for somewhere the travel tome described as  gay only to find a Klu Klux Klan rally in progress. I do exaggerate – but really! Tonight  we ended up in a place that was meant to be full of ‘hipsters’  but was actually an alcoholic kindergarten. A bevy of underage smokers with their bevvies making us feel quite superannuated.

Not good for the confidence.

Luckily as we made our way back to room 911 a plump prostitute on the street corner beckoned me to join her.

‘Here, here’ she called out.

‘Here,here’ I thought.

Ego restored I smiled and politely declined. She wasn’t my type.

I’d rather have another bowl of chicken ankles.

Or masticate in the shower!

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!

 

Why Can’t We All Just Roger More?

There is something so comfortable about India, a country where the rules can still be bent, even if the people can’t!

What a beautiful spot we’ve happened upon. I sound like an Alan Bennet play! But Udaipur, the ‘Lake City’ of ravishing Rajasthan, has not let us down. What a wonderful place to roll up to with a picnic basket, a couple of blankets, and a bottle of ‘Royal Stag’. An Indian ‘Scotch’, neither regal nor Scottish. The only stag around when this is going down, is a ‘stag night’!

The following morning, after a particularly energetic ‘stag’ hunt,  Andrew was certainly not in a right royal mood. Although I was tempted to crown him!

We knew very little of this city before arriving, other than it featuring in ‘Octopussy’, an Eighties, James Bond’ vehicle. Not quite the usual ride, but still entertaining.

The palace of the eponymous heroine just happens to be a bloody expensive palatial hotel – right in the middle of the lake. It looks most alluring. Marooned majestically midwater. But we shan’t be visiting on this occasion. Having neither the funds nor the wardrobe !

The mysterious palace in the middle of Lake Pichola, will remain just that. Until I talk Andrew into coming back for my ‘special’birthday’ next year.
That, we shan’t speak of!

Our digs here are courtesy of Mr Kennedy. A fiver a night. One can’t complain. Even if one wants to!

Our host is a gem. And covered in them too. Diamonds galore. – as opposed to ‘Pussy’. In fact, I ‘m in no doubt our genial landlord would be quite opposed to pussy galore. We spoke shortly after checking in about being gay in India. I can’t think why he wanted to open up to us. I mean, I know Andrew likes a bit of Barry Manilow, but I’m like Steve Mcqueen to them here – they haven’t a clue! Well I say that, but we have been described as ‘special brothers’ on more than one occasion, and are always given a double bed without so much of a shake of the head. Which is very unusual here.

‘Mahatma’, I shall call him randomly, has told us he cannot ever come out in India. He could never tell his family, they would be bereft. He wants to go to Europe. As he explains with his crocodile smile and intelligent, yearning eyes, he lost a fortune when ‘Germany’ refused to let him in. He can not be himself here, he says. He has been blackmailed by a man he met online, and has had no choice but to cough up or face the consequential destruction of his family. So sad!

We tell him to apply to come to England. Surely, The British would allow him entry – this poor boy who hardly goes out now, in case he is beaten unconscious. It wouldn’t be a first, he explains. Without question, surely Her Majesty’s Government would allow such a persecuted fellow across our borders. Surely, an emigrant equally as deserving as a plumber from Gdansk?

But how would I prove it? Interrupts ‘Mahatma’, as Andrew and I loudly discuss diplomatic loopholes that could be exploited.
Suddenly we ‘re stumped.

How does one prove ones sexuality? It couldn’t be in a practical test, as many a desperate refugee would go down on President Trump in a trice at even the sniff of a Green Card.

And there would have to be!!!

The only real way to prove one’s lifestyle is to show how you’ve lived. Your past, your friends and family. Photos, video, Facebook etc. If you have lived your whole life in secret – who’s gonna believe you?

Why should anyone ever suspect you’re a ‘friend of Dorothy’ if you’ve never introduced her to anyone?

I saw his problem. In order to prove one is gay, one must live a gay life. In India, especially as being a homosexual has now been made illegal, this is impossible.

I must say, that within twenty- two seconds of meeting ‘Mahatma’, Andrew and I were both well aware on which side he preferred his chapati buttered! But, apparently here in Rajasthan, no-one has a clue.

‘Gaydar’ has obviously not arrived in South Asia. Not yet!

Charm, though, most definitely has. The geography, if not all the ideology, is perfect here. So romantic, I keep telling Andrew, as I try to drag him from his electronic reverie. He looks at me blankly. Although I don’t think it’s entirely his lack of romance causing this latest malaise. I imagine the ‘Royal Stag’ last night may have given him a proper rutting.

I, of course, was far more restrained. Much more to Ian Flemming’s taste.

I was making a vain stab at a little sophistication, being in such a glamorous location.

Andrew, sadly, is behaving more like a Bond villain. With a beer shop round the corner and a wifi connection to live and let  die for, I’m not surprised.

However, I am attempting to be a little more demure – trying to channel my inner ‘Octopussy’, even though I’ve been  ‘Rogered Moore’ than most!

I think the place deserves it.

She is so alluring a city, one cannot help but fall under her exotic spell. We are quite caught up in her feline tentacles.

We leave unshaken – but definitely stirred.

Little Vikram And The Missing Tiger.

Our hotel in Jaipur has not quite lived up to the picture created in the hit film ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. It’s been more like ‘The Quite Nice Carnation Guest House’ – but we’ve loved it.

The staff at the establishment, just outside of the Pink City’s walls, have been charming, if not a little perplexed. For instance it has been practically impossible to order food, as the English menu seems to be beyond the poor chaps, even when one is using the Hindi words. Of course, it could be our pronunciation, though when one is furnished with a cup of tea so sweet it could strip five layers of varnish from an Indian teak floor, when the instruction ‘without sugar’ has been repeated fifteen times, one does begin to wonder. But the poor boys look practically suicidal if you complain, so I imagine I shall be returning to Europe sans teeth and in need of some major dental work.

It is not just Andrew and I who have had communication issues. I overheard one conversation at breakfast that could have come straight out of ‘Fawlty Towers’!

‘Does your muesli contain nuts?’ Asks one British lady. A septuagenarian I imagine.
‘No’, the chef responds.
‘There are no nuts?’ she continues.
‘Yes’ he says.
‘What do you mean yes? Are there nuts or aren’t there nuts?’
‘Yes’
‘Yes there are nuts, or yes there aren’t nuts?’
‘Yes’ he repeats.
‘Don’t keep saying yes. Are there nuts?’
‘Yes’ he says again.
‘Show me’,
‘What madam?’
‘Show me the muesli!’ She screeches.
The waiter then removes the lid from the plastic container and presents it to the lady wanting breakfast.
‘There are no nuts in there!’ She says.
‘No’, he responds, ‘You want nuts?’
‘Yes’ she affirms, in an exasperated fashion, ‘you have nuts?’
‘No’ says the waiter.

And this is a short conversation.

Usually one is practically ready for lunch by the time breakfast has arrived!

At night a young puppeteer has sat banging on a drum to get us diners attention. He has then attempted to entertain us with a show consisting of various mannequins, each representing unpronounceable Maharajas past, waving their arms about unconvincingly and wobbling their brightly painted heads. Apparently all of these have been handmade by his blind, great grandmother of one hundred and eleven. Because I was one of the few to take notice, this budding showman has taken a shine to me. Unfortunately, with strings attached! I’ve had to tell him in no uncertain terms, that I have absolutely no interest in working his limbs. He eventually took the hint and asked me instead for a big tip in order to buy some new rubbers. I presume he meant the kind used in the classroom, although I can’t be sure!

This city has shown us the best and the worst of this diverse country in such a short space of time, but it has certainly won us over. It has been a feast for all of the senses, and so of course, as with any overindulgence, indigestion is inevitable. But we leave with our appetite more than sated.

In the morning we are introduced to our driver- Ramrash. I am only hoping, in one of his more reckless moments, Andrew doesn’t take this as an instruction. In the fantasies we’d constructed, Ramrash looked very like this.

Sadly he doesn’t!

But he is tremendously affable, with a kind face and absolutely no English. This tour is gonna be interesting to say the least.

On leaving Jaipur, Ramrash drives us south towards the national park of Ranbamthore, one of the few places left in India where one has a semi decent chance of spotting that most enchanting of beasts – the tiger. We make a brief pit stop to stock up on travel sickness pills and some illicit Valium – both essential if one is to commit to any long road journeys here. Then we hit the almost open road.

As we career down the carriageway, missing trucks and pedestrians by mere millimetres, Andrew and I discuss with amazement how few incidents we have witnessed here. We decide there must be an innate Highway Code, which is invisible to us foreigners, keeping everything on two or more wheels in order. A few miles up the highway, we realise we’ve spoken too soon. A small crowd has gathered by the side of the road, and as the traffic is forced to slow, our vehicle comes to a standstill next to a body in the road. It is a man with half a head, his brains frying on the burning tarmac for all to see. Indeed some of the spectators are filming the scene on their mobile phones. It comes as quite a shock as two policeman both grab a limb and begin to drag the corpse towards a waiting van. At this point, I’m feeling more than grateful that we both took a ‘Vomitstop’ pill earlier to help with the journey, or we could have been chucking our own cerebral fluid all over the back seat.

Our conversation was somewhat muted for a few minutes, before the inevitable black humour took over. A defence, no doubt, to cover the horror of of what we had just witnessed. But even during the joking, I couldn’t help but ponder this fleeting dance that is life. At one moment this poor guy was happily motoring along through the warm sunshine, on his hard-earned scooter, and the next ,bang. Brain dead! It was sobering. So much so that we decided to crack open a beer to take the edge off. We’ll, it was after noon – for us lucky ones!

When we arrived in Sawai Madhopur, a distinctly unattractive town close to the jungle where the big cats roam, we began our search for somewhere to lay our heads, still feeling grateful we had them! The first guest house we tried had the charm of a Victorian asylum, only with less character. And it wasn’t cheap! After an almost biblical experience searching, we eventually found room at the inn. Not a particularly salubrious establishment, but with very accommodating staff which improved the accommodation. After another brilliant vegetarian meal, at less than a tenth of the price one pays in Europe, we lay down our weary bones and dreamt of tigers and leapards and bears. And brains!!! It was not the most restful of nights.

In the morning we woke to a chilly start. Apparently it never rains here in March, but today, the day we’d chosen for our safari, it appeared the heavens were about to open. We took a stroll, searching the one mall that exists for something waterproof.

However, there was not even a bin liner in sight. So instead we opted for a bottle of Indian Scotch, (a misnomer if their ever was one!), and Andrew, a packet of Marlboro Lights,(yet another!!).

In fact, Andrew has supposedly given up smoking since finishing his last packet three days ago. He is now using his terribly expensive vaporizer, which he purchased in England before we left, including a multitude of expensive refills. However, that idea seems to have gone up in smoke, and he is now puffing in conjunction with this new-fangled machine – sometimes simultaneously ! Except for situations when it is forbidden to smoke, that is when the ‘vape’ takes over, to ease his brain. As on the occasion when we came across the poor gentleman without one.

Even I had a puff then!

As if to balance that fatal moment we’d witnessed the day before, something much happier occurred on the piece of scrubland that constitutes the view from our room. A shepherd took his crook and tapped the back of a large nanny goat in his care. He then lay her on her side and held her down for a moment, seemingly against her will. I, with the same car crash mentality as that of the previous day, could not take my eyes away. I asked Ramrash what was occurring and he replied ‘baby coming, baby’. Andrew and I were then privileged to spectate as a new life came into this world, in fact two. It was equally as visceral as the moment yesterday, but with a much happier conclusion.

Life’s scales always seem to balance in some way or another in this crazy country. If at times they can swing rather precariously from one extreme to the other !

So, uncomfortably ensconced in our new digs, without a cloud in the sky, we set off on safari. Tucked into a jeep, known as a gypsy, with our new friend Chris, a freelance editor from our neck of the woods, we headed into some.

Naively, we thought we may have the vehicle to ourselves, but we were soon joined by a very smart Indian family who were also on the lookout for some big game. A young man, his very pretty wife, and their nearly little boy, with a grin as wide as his midriff. They took their seats behind us in the jeep and we pulled off, in an unrecognisable gear, towards the forest.

We bumped around for about an hour, cheerfully chatting, and sharing the odd swig from our bottle of Coke! (Nudge nudge etc…). We saw nothing. Unless three deer, two peacocks, and a partridge in a bare tree count as a significant sighting.

The sky, by this time, was looking as grey as a Some of the tap water here, and we all knew we should have looked harder for something waterproof. And then, as we came out from the bush and hit the open plains, the skies did the same, and opened! There was a small kerfuffle in the back of the vehicle and we came to a juddering halt under the pouring rain. Our guide stepped out to help one of our Asian friends into the front seat undercover. I assumed it was to be the young lady, dressed in a very fine jade-green saree – but no, to my amazement, it was little smiling Vikram who was helped into the front seat. Vishnu forbid the child get slightly damp.

As we carried on driving through the driving rain, the mini god in the front seat demanded we stop now and then, in order to see a squirrel, or another deer. We waited, patiently dripping, as little Vikram took photo after photo on his mobile phone of the ordinary fauna which surrounded us. At one point he also decided to play with the handle of his seat, so not only was I getting soaked to the skin, but I was also beginning to develop serious bruising of the patella. Added to this, it was now looking increasingly unlikely that we were going to spot a tiger. I mean surely they wouldn’t be daft enough to come out in this weather!

It was during this slight malaise, and as the weather began to worsen, that our driver decided to take cover under a Banyan tree. We pulled up alongside an identical vehicle to ours, only I noticed with envy that this vehicle had only one passenger. We sat in silence for a moment before the elderly occupant shifted in his spacious seat and turned towards us. I smiled, there was no response. Chris, our new companion then piped up,

‘Have you had any luck today? Spotted any tigers?’

‘Oh yeah’ the dour faced pensioner responded, ‘Sure!’

We knew at this point our friend sharing shelter under the canopy was one of our American cousins.

‘We’ve seen nothing’ I offered, ‘well, a few cows’.

There was silence. The man looked at me with a troubled expression. No doubt he was a Trump supporter.

Chris tried again,

‘Today, you mean today you’ve seen a tiger?’

‘Oh yeah. Lots.’ The guy boasted. ‘This morning I saw two of them mating!’

No doubt ya did I thought. But kept quiet.

‘It was quite something’.

The animal envy was palpable. Everybody tried to be polite, but the ignorant git’s arrogance was too much for Andrew, who decided to do his best Floridian accent with a very loud,

‘Oh yeah. Gee – I saw two of them fucking this morning!’

This wasn’t lost on the old man, who gave another hard stare.

‘You’re stage whisper could do with a little practice’ whispered Chris, giggling with amusement, the editor in him coming to the fore. Andrew laughed. Our friend from across the pond did not. He just continued with his cold hard stare.
I stared back in silence. I had no charm left for the old fool. I’d obviously displeased him by even having the nerve to exist. I was relieved as we eventually parted and went on our separate safaris.

The rain continued unabated, and soon we came to a clearing where several other jeeps and cantors were grouped. We soon knew why. At the top of a hillock there stood a brick shelter where the rest of the humans were taking shelter.

We did the same for a while. It seemed ironic that we were spending the majority of our time on our exotic safari huddled in a man-made shelter.

After a while it was all too mundane for me, and I left to take my chances under the trees, joining a few deer who had the same idea.

It reminded me very much of an expensive version of Richmond Park in London, only the deer were much further away, and not as impressive.

Soon we clambered back onto our wheels and began the trek again. It was at this point that the little Indian god, still shielded from the precipation in the front seat, decided to turn to me and say, with a self-satisfied smile,

‘We shall see no tigers today.’

‘Oh’, I replied, in that condescending manner in which an adult talks to a strange child, ‘ and why is that?’

‘The rain’, he said, laughing as though I should be aware of this fact too.

I growled. It was the only one anyone had heard so far.

It was at this point that Andrew turned to me and said, in his opinion, we would all have a better chance of spotting one of the great beasts if we had some bait, and perhaps it would be a good idea to tie something to the back of the jeep to flush the animals from their hiding. A small Indian child perhaps. We laughed far too loudly at this, I don’t think his parents, who were in possession of a little English, were that amused. But neither did they look too bothered, they, after all, had also paid big money to spot one of these big cats.

As the time wore on it became increasingly unlikely we would be lucky. We came across another charabanc full of excited folk, most of them with a look of Princess Anne, who couldn’t wait to tell us that they too had seen the two tigers having it off that morning. Several times.

We, on the other hand, were more likely to see one of these fussy felines on the front of a Kellogg’s Frosties Box. They were beginning to irritate.

They weren’t grrrreat – just grating. These wonderful elusive animals were proving to be just that – Kipling’s ‘Sheer Khan’ was proving to be more, ‘Sheer Can’t be bothered.

Another hour later, wet and cold now, loathing children and tigers, our driver stopped our vehicle when a burning smell was detected. Little Vikram had been playing uncontrollably with the controls and it seems something or other had burnt out. We sat for at least fifteen minutes whilst our guide fiddled worriedly with parts of the jeep.

It would be just our luck, I thought, if a veritable ambush of tigers, hungry and bored of deer, appeared suddenly out of the scrub. I knew if that happened, we’d have absolutely no choice but to sacrifice little Vikram. His parents were young, they could try for another. After realising that the ‘wiper-machine’ was causing the problem, our driver got the vehicle to start, and little Vikram was ordered not to touch anything else. He’d had a lucky escape.

And so, we exited the park without so much as a glimpse of anything orange, bar some dodgy headgear a Scandinavian lesbian was seen sporting.

We bade goodbye to our Indian friends and were dropped back at our guesthouse, which was now,of course, bathed in full sunlight.

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I sit on the roof, watching the local nature pass by, both human and otherwise, and can’t help but laugh. Who cares whether we’d managed to catch a glimpse of that Blakean myth, that maharajah of cats. This country has a roar all of it’s own. It certainly doesn’t require a giant striped feline to make one feel it’s awesome energy.

Sitting with a Kingfisher beer, drying off, I recite William Blake’s famous ditty to myself,

Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright,
Did We See one?
Did We Shite!

But we still felt the roar.

The Lola Boys And The Mystery Of The Fake Fakir!

We set off far too early into the pink morning of Jaipur, with Aslan, our trusty tuk-tuk driver, who Andrew had prematurely hired the previous evening, after meeting him at a local beer shop. It transpired Aslan was not as trusty as we’d hoped, when our first stop turned out to be his textile shop on the edge of town.

After many attempts to stitch us up with overpriced garments, we eventually set out for our ‘city-tour’!

Within five minutes we made our first stop, picking up an impossibly chirpy chap from a scruffy street corner. We assumed he was cadging a lift, but as we screeched to a bumpy halt, Aslan informed us that unfortunately, he was compelled to work in his shop for the day, and instead, his young nephew, Hussein, would be our tour guide. He gave his ward a list of instructions in rapid ‘Hindish’, and bid us farewell, making it it clear we were to pay him later, and not our young chauffeur. Then, with several indecipherable nods of the head, he took his leave.

Hussein though, was wonderful. Cheeky, energetic and most importantly, with two hands almost firmly on the handlebars! He told us he was Muslim, but not to worry, he was not a terrorist. As he hurtled down the centre of the road at a suicidal pace, we were glad to hear this. Cows, pigs, goats, dogs, cats, peacocks and humans made their escape as we continued at ‘break-someone’s-neck’ speed on our city slalom.

It was definitely what one would call, a brown-knuckle ride!

After we’d eaten lunch, at a slightly frightening ‘restaurant’ Hussein had recommended, or rather, insisted we break paratha at, our enthusiastic driver informed us he had managed to contact the guru, and that he had agreed to see us.

I should add that earlier, the boy’s uncle, had suggested it may be possible for Andrew and I to visit a famous soothsayer, who resided behind a jewellery shop in a suburb of Jaipur. He assured us we were not obliged to buy anything if we so wished, as this sage was a ‘very good man’, who only shared his gift for the love of giving, not to promote his other, more earthly gifts.

‘Oh, he’s not the man who was on the television recently?’ I squawked excitedly, in my best tourist fashion, ‘with Jan Leeming – you know, the old newsreader?’

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‘Yes, that is him. On the British BBC. The Marigold Hotel man,’ Aslan crowed.

‘We saw him’, Andrew piped in, almost as uncool as me, (but not quite), ‘he was great’.

We had both watched the BBC series ‘The Real Marigold Hotel’ a few months ago, kindly recorded by our good friend Stella, and one of our favourite moments had been the former BBC newsreader in tears whilst visiting a psychic in Jaipur. Unkind I know, but terribly camp!

The Real Marigold Hotel

‘Well if he is not busy he can see you, but he rarely see’s tourists, but I will phone him and let you know’.

So, after lunch, happy Hussein took us on a manic ‘Pacman’ style tour, eating up the back alleys of north Jaipur, searching for the famous fortune-teller’s premises.

After twenty minutes of getting no-where, I suggested perhaps we needed a psychic to find the place. Hussein didn’t get it, or if he did, he didn’t find it funny. Neither did my husband, who was now sweating like a glass blower’s arse and more than ready for his usual siesta.

Finally we came upon the place. A very ordinary shop, on an average road, but one that Andrew and I both recognised from the television as the establishment that Jan Leeming, the broadcaster, had gone to meet her forecaster.

We removed our shoes and entered the jewellery shop. We knew from the telly that the guru was to be found at the back of the store, behind some smoked glass. But he was nowhere to be seen. Instead, we were forced to listen to a sales pitch on Blue Topaz for quarter of an hour, as a smiling salesman emptied bag after bag of earrings onto the counter.

‘This Topaz, favourite of the girls. Believe me.’

After many polite refusals, we eventually pierced the guy’s sales technique, when we told him we absolutely knew of no women with any holes we would be eager to fill. So he was wasting his precious time. We then got up to leave, believing the whole affair a scam, and feeling slightly stupid that,as seasoned travellers, we were fooled by this gem of a ploy.

As we re-shod, and headed past the cattle towards our transport, the shopkeeper suddenly called after us.

‘Why did you come here? It was not to buy jewellery?’

‘No it most certainly was not’, I answered in my best Maggie Smith, ‘it was to visit the guru- that’s what we were promised!’

‘Then go and see him’ the vendor said simply, ‘he is in the back. He will see you now.’

Slightly puzzled I turned to Andrew. I’d assumed that as we hadn’t even sampled any of his wares, the espy man wouldn’t want to see us, but I was obviously wrong.

‘Go on babe’, Andrew said kindly, ‘you go in first.’

I thought this was my partner being considerate, as he knew I was slightly worried about the whole experience and so smiled at him with nervous love. Then I saw he had a fag on the go and obviously wanted to finish it!

I went into the back room I had seen on the TV, and there, behind his desk, was the famous guru of Jaipur.

‘Sit down’, he intoned softly, ‘I knew you were not here to buy jewellery, but when I saw you in the shop I asked my man to come and bring you back. Do you know you are very special?’

I blushed. Before I had a chance to answer the silkily spoken, moustachioed fakir asked me my mother’s age.

‘Sixty-Eight’ I answered.

Suddenly his dark brown hands thrust a calculator toward me with the figure 68 already input and displayed on the screen.
I was slightly taken aback, as I had had to think about the answer and this stranger seemed to have the knowledge literally at his fingertips.
‘And is your father alive?’
‘No’, I replied, cynically trying to give nothing away.
‘If he were alive, how old would he be now?’
I had to concentrate once more. Mathematics  has never been my strong point,
‘Seventy’ I answered, slightly unsure.
Again the magic calculator was turned towards me and my response verified, as a big 70 digitally sprung from the machine.
‘What do you want to ask me?’ The mystic went on.
I was blank, I was so shocked by the seemingly intimate knowledge this man already possessed. I daren’t ask a thing unless I got the answer I wasn’t looking for.
We continued in conversation as the guru asked me a few questions.
‘You are in a relationship?’
‘Yes’ I answered.
‘And she is a water sign.’
I paused.
‘Yes’, I lied, knowing ‘She!’ was an Arian and most definitely of the fiery variety. Some doubt began to creep in, but then,
‘How long have you been with him?’
Now I was confused. This guy was slightly weirding me out.
‘Twenty-five years’ I responded.
‘And he is how old?’
‘Forty-six’ I said.
Surprise, surprise! The magic calculator was spun on me again and there it was, in plain black and grey, four and six. The number 46. Bingo!
Before I had a chance to go on the mystic began his rant.

He told me I lived in Spain. I had a complicated childhood, but I should forgive my mother. She had much guilt. My sister was similar to me but very different. She was creative like me. He told me I was not happy and should change my career. Go into nature and carry on writing! You cannot be loved by everyone, he said, so stop trying. And forgive your mother. By this point my head was spinning. There was a brief silence. Then suddenly, he continued,

‘You do know you were abused as a child?’ It was half question, half statement.

‘No!’ I said firmly, ‘I don’t believe I was.’

‘Emotionally – yes you were.’

Before I had a chance to respond he went on,

‘And I don’t mean to upset you, but your father killed himself.’

‘No’ I interjected again, ‘he died of cancer.’

‘But he gave up on life’ he said quickly, ‘he wanted this.’

‘Who had dementia in the family?’ he demanded.

‘My grandmother’ I offered up.

‘You must watch for this – and lung cancer. You must stop the smoking!’

This confounded me. As I rarely smoke – and then only in a secondary fashion!

The spiritual meeting had gone on longer than I’d anticipated, and the confusing information I was being given made me unsteady.

The session was completed with me being asked to hold a green stone in the palm of my hand and keep my eyes closed. After some time I timidly opened my eyes to see a larger version of the gemstone I was holding laying on the desk in front of me.

‘This is an emerald. It will unblock your heart chakra and help you achieve all you desire’ the guru, who I now knew to be called Ajay explained.
‘I can sell you this stone for 320,000 rupees.’

‘Oh’, I said, slightly aghast, ‘and what is that in English money?’

‘340 quid’ said Ajay, quick as a cobra.

‘We’ll, I don’t think I can spend that kind of money, I’ll need to speak to Andrew and if he ….’

‘This is a smaller stone, with the same power’ said Ajay, pouncing like a mongoose, ‘you can have this for a hundred and forty quid.’

I stared at the green stone in front of me, wondering what Jan Leeming would do.  As if he read my mind, Ajay suddenly explained,

‘You can get these stones cheaper, but I charge this for my institution. To help poor children. All the profits go there. You know Jan Leeming from the BBC, she works for my charity now.’

‘Jan’s a very kind woman’, I said, as if I knew her personally, ‘I’m sure she’s wonderful with the children’, but I’ll still need to talk to Andrew.’

‘OK’ said the guru, ‘then send him in.’

He smiled, told me I was very special again and to stop hurting myself, not only with drink and drugs, but mentally. We shook hands and I left, slightly shaken. And in need of a drink!

I found Andrew outside, not sharing his final cigarette with one of the shop assistants.

‘You can go in’ I announced, emotion making my voice quiver, and tears welling in my eyes.

‘Jesus!’ He exclaimed, ‘what’s up with you?’

‘Oh my God’, I told him, ‘he was so good’.

‘How?’ Andrew asked.

‘Just go in’, I said, ‘you’ll see.’

I waited outside with a charming Croatian jewellery designer as Andrew went in to see the sage.

After a much briefer period than I had spent inside, Andrew and Ajay came out of the shop, just as the charming Croatian was telling me far too loudly the name of the Indian whisky I’d asked her about.

‘It’s Royal Stag’ she announced firmly, ‘it’s great. And no hangover!’

I don’t think Ajay was impressed.

Andrew was fingering a stone whilst the guru told him to hold it in the sun. They then returned to the back of the shop, and I thanked the Croatian for the alcoholic tip.

Two minutes later Andrew made his exit. He looked distinctly unemotional and completely dry-eyed.

‘I’ll think about it mate’ he shouted behind to the guru as we climbed back into our rickshaw.

‘Well’ I asked, ‘what happened?’

‘Nothing much’, my partner said blankly, ‘he told me someone in my family was diabetic, I had possible bowel cancer and you were special but annoying.’
I wasn’t quite sure whether he’d added the last bit, but didn’t pursue it.

We shuddered along the slightly squalid streets discussing the details of our respective encounters. Andrew knocking away any thoughts that he might be suffering from bowel cancer, and me wondering what to forgive my mother for, as she’s always been quite exemplary as a parent. Perhaps her choice in men has on occasion been troublesome, but I could hardly blame her for that. I have the same problem.

I also went into deep contemplation – wondering just why I was so special, and how had he known of my aching ambition to write some day. My ego ballooned becoming as large as an Indian elephant – that is until we got back to our hotel.

Then Andrew decided to look up the guru’s credentials on the internet, and promptly shot my elephant stone dead!

Post after post online, revealed the man with the magic calculator to be a charlatan. There were a few egotistical idiots, like myself, who had believed some of the fakir’s fakery, must most had seen through it straight away – just like Andrew!

‘But what about the calculator’ I asked desperately, ‘how did he do that?’

‘For fuck’s sake darl, even Ian Mckellen can do that!’

He’d lost me for a moment.

‘What? As Gandalf?’

Andrew looked blank.

‘No. Not him. I mean Paul McKenna.’

We laughed.

And then I remembered another television special when Mr McKenna, the famous mentalist, proved exactly how easy it was to be a guru, without using any special powers at all. Less hocus-pocus, more hokum poor us!!!

Andrew then began to read me the comments from a blogging site he’d found. It was uncomfortably uncanny to learn how many of the poor creatures were told they were special, had been abused, someone or other in their clan had been suicidal and nearly always an older member of the family had dementia. Most of them were also assured of their creativity and told to stop self-harming. All of them were advised that the way to deal with these issues was to buy an overpriced emerald to unblock their heart chakra.

Some even did!

When sanity was restored and my ego had partially shrunk back to it’s usual inflated size, I wondered how the faker had known about Spain. I then remembered I’d spoken in Spanish to happy Hussein, our charming chauffeur, after he told me he had an Argentinian girlfriend. I even told him Andrew and I were performers –  and that we were together!

So it turns out Ajay was a psychic with a sidekick. More fucker than fakir!

‘At least he told me to pursue my writing’ I said desperately to Andrew, who was still busy on the iPad.

There was a loud chuckle.

‘What’s so funny’ I asked.

More laughing.

‘What?’ I insisted.

Andrew continued to read out some of the blogs in a highly amused fashion. They all finished with the same kind of sentence, which read along the lines of,

‘I’m just so grateful that at least he told me to continue with my writing’.

What an idiot.

I’ve never liked Jan Leeming!

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Silly cow!