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Tears of fears, Bhuj first impressions and craftworks

It can feel lonely at times when you’re traveling, particularly if you’re a shy introvert who is uncomfortable talking to others (probably neither qualities that make for a ‘good’ traveller). Making small talk with randoms has never been my skill, so I tend to just escape from it all with a book, or books plural, if it’s a long journey.

The last few hours on the train were not helped by h’anger and being stuck at Ghandiham station.

No Gandhi, no ham, no fun…

When I did decide to get off to buy snackage, we promptly set off. Should have tried that trick a bit earlier, obviously….meanwhile in terms of announcements, there’s no tannoy to explain what the delay might be (the regular everyday delay, which could be solved by changing the timetable to reflect the reality, a delay because we are sooooooo slow, they want to let an on time train through, or just the really no rhyme or reason delay that is the train equivalent of an Indian head wobble) and the guard doesn’t meander through to explain either, so it’s all guesswork, speculation, or, in my case, blind ignorance . It took a call from my host at Bhuj station to advise me when the train would be arriving.

At least 2 hours out from the actual time of arrival, a total of 6hrs delay.

Two very nice ladies, seeing me hot and bothered with the delay (basically a face that was set to ‘for fuck’s sake’, whilst I breathed slow and steady, knowing getting reet royally hacked off was not going to solve the issue), offered me a seasonal sweet, a chocolatey solid, ghee filled chili and cardamom flavored thing, that made my arteries groan (particularly at the second one) and then some crisps. It took the edge off, and was a reminder, yet again, of the generosity of others. A smile goes a long way, and food…..even further….

Lovely snackage providers

We all disembarked slowly, sweaty, uncomfortable and stiff from sitting, and penguin like, walked to the screaming hoards offering taxis, rickshaws and the like. A rickshaw then took me out into the rubbish strewn, cow riddled streets to Rotary Colony and to the home of Kutch Adventure Travels, where I was staying for the next 5 nights. The roads were eerily quiet, and the number of cows was ever increasing, as was the flyblown rubbish. I hadn’t seen so much of either in such a concentrated and persistent way for ages. I had started to wonder what I’d wandered into, for a moment, it was so deserted. Finally, turning into Rotary Colony we were in a quieter, cleaner, wide road suburb and at the end of which Kuldip, my host and guide was waiting.

Forget leaves on the line, it’s bullocks on the road you’ve got to worry about.

Outside as well was a mum and her pups, taking over the whole road, as if it was theirs, using it as the widest couch possible. In the morning, before we set off you’d check under the car in case any had set up home. Unfortunately since leaving I’ve learnt the Mum was killed so Kuldip has been feeding the pups. Then there were the cows that came a-calling, looking for food, begging, basically, and across the road was a small farmstead with cows, buffaloes and horses. It as quiet, and strangely discombobulating to be somewhere so quiet and lacking in hornings.

Kuldip’s family home was homestay and living quarters for him, his wife and son, and his mother and father. The family had been rehoused here 3.5yrs after the earthquake of 2001, a massive quake of 7.7 magnitude, which killed up to 20,000 people and destroyed nearly 400,000 homes. Even in Ahmedabad, over 300kms away several hundred were killed. It defies all comprehension. Kuldip was 18 at the time, he, his brother and mum and dad escaped their flat by climbing down after it collapsed, killing 18 others in the block. They lost practically everything, and it completely transformed both their lives, (perversely because of the opportunities it subsequently presented) and the city itself, irrevocably transformed. It is hard to imagine how it had been after such a devastating incident, and how rebuilding had reburied  again the memories of what was there before.

The tour, which sadly turned into a 4 and not 5 day trip, consisted of visiting villages around the area to see the textiles / rugs / handicrafts being made by the various communities. What quickly became apparent is that so much of what you see across the various parts of India, particularly mirrorwork, embroidery, bandhani (tie dye) actually originates from Kutchh itself, and within that work, particularly the former two, the variants by community are really diverse. It was therefore a great start to the tour to visit the nearby LLDC (Learning Living Design Centre) set up by the Shrujan Trust, who have been working with Kutchh communities since 1969 to revive crafts and create entrepreneurial opportunities for, mainly, women.

Outside the LLDC, what you don’t get is the smell from the nearby factory….

Unfortunately you couldn’t take photos of the amazing pieces, or the exhibition information itself, including all the details of the 12 individual communities and their own traditional styles of embroidery. There was no way you could remember the 50 different styles of work and there was also no information at the gift shop about any of it, however you could spend an obscene, and I do mean obscene, amount on the textile items in the gift shop. It was certainly designed with the wealthy Indian woman in mind. I did leave with a new found appreciation for the variety of work and the skill involved and how much tat tourists were being offered up, in lieu of quality products.

Flirty cows
Flirty cow 2
Close up detail – stitchwork at its finest.

We had an opportunity to explore the old Bhuj centre, the Ashcroft market is housed in a converted Victorian garrison, dating back to 1883. The turnstiles in and out seem the be designed to only let the skinny in, and you risk getting wedged if you’re a fatty. I just realized that they were probably put in to stop the local cows from wandering in and harassing smallholders and customers alike. Out in the surrounding streets it was busy, pre-lunchtime, full of people, animals, bikes, mopeds and dogs. Siestas are a way of life here, so it was allegedly winding down, so I’d have hated to see it when it was operating at maximum pace. As we meandered around invariably Kuldip would stop and talk to people, as one of life’s naturally gregarious bods, and the polar opposite of the introverted shy nerd. Half the time he didn’t even know them but was happy to reach a hand out (to shake, not to say ‘halt!’, as that’d be odd), then stop, chit-chat, swap names, stories etc. At the back of Bhuj, where the metal recycling took place, a guy running a stall wanted to know what we were doing and insisted on a photo with his newly found friend. I suddenly started to feel like a guide groupie, bringing up the rear to the main attraction, taking photos as required….very odd! And amusing.

The foreigner is still that in Kutchh, foreign, particularly to kids and subject to shy looks from some, with a wee wave and a lot more tears and upset from others (something I’m very much used to, it has to be said). However there’s a bit more to the screaming child syndrome than just my visage. We passed a grandmother, mum and small baby in a rickshaw and the granny was, I thought, attempting to pass the baby to me. Kuldip asked me what I thought was going on, and when I explained, he said ‘oh no, that’s not it at all. The granny is telling the kid that if they’re naughty then the white persona will come and take them away and eat them’. All said tres nonchalant like….So, that explains the little boy in the village who had an absolute shit fit of tears, screams and hiding behind him mum (admittedly not helped by me copying him, and wailing at him at the same time, I have offered to pay for any therapy required).

About ready to scream the place down

Interestingly, in my non-validated research, girls, whilst also shy, are also a bit bolder, and will respond to a big smile, and when away from the group, if asked politely about a photo will nod and then just light up when they see what you’ve taken. I’m always mindful, with children especially, if asking permission, and giving them the choice to be photographed or not.

Not so scaredy-cat like her brother
Another proud little girl.
Kuldip modelling the latest piece.

Hopefully Kuldip will be able to share the photos I took with the village and make them smile a bit more again, as they reminisce about the big whitey who traumatised one of their own by looking at him that time.

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Taking your life in your hands…cycling Jaipur….

An early morning start, and thank heavens to India Uber for being able to crack on and arrange transportation at any time of the day. I arrived at the Karnot Mahal hotel super early, watching the city slowly waking up in the dark. Chai sellers setting up stalls, dogs and cows on the browse for any leftovers from the night before, clusters of young men waking up, wrapped in blankets, with hats, coats keeping warm against the chill. I was here for the insane reason of doing a cycle tour with Cyclin’Jaipur set up by two French girls in 2015. Cycling  in Jaipur traffic doesn’t make sense but if you’re doing it at 6.30 in the morning you’ve a fighting chance of survival. I was with a French couple, all toned limbs and golden tans, replete with sports jackets, and wickaway clothing. I was pretty sure we weren’t going to be doing any sort of Rajasthani Tour de Jaipur but with them clothed as they were maybe I’d missed the instructions.

We were with two guides, Praveen, at the back, and Nitin at the front, who set off at a fair lick with the French clearly putting that gym work to use with ol’ lardy and me at the back…ok, lardy and Praveen at the rear. It was getting lighter as we left, so no lights were required, although let’s be honest, they tend to be an optional extra here in India anyway, particularly brake lights, on buses, or trucks – always fun to see what your average rickshaw driver’s reaction times are like. 

First up Hawa Mahal, Palace of the Winds. Our first challenge was to climb all the steps leading upstairs to the Tattoo cafe opposite in order to get an uninterrupted view of the facade. Praveen lead the way with a big stick, obviously monkeys were a menace of a morning. Luckily, this day was simian free, and we had a traffic free view of the palace and the hills, and over into some of the nearby buildings. It all looked a lot less pinker then I recall in 1993, which seemed to be daubed with a pink the colour kids use when they’re drawing white folks, and is now more terracotta, with defined white outlining. Tres chic. 

Looking every more magnificent -Palace of the Winds

From the Palace we cycled round to explore the city palace area. We stopped at a nearby gate where there were a few early morning bird seed sellers up and ready for people to buy from.

Responsible for birdshit everywhere…

The feeding of birds is good karma, apparently. From what I could see it meant that more dirt bird pigeons got a good square meal and that meant your chances of getting shat on remained exponentially high, not karma from where I’m sitting. What was interesting here, apart from the beautiful gate, was the sign for the Sulabh Toilet Complex. Turns out Sulabh is an NGO created over 40yrs a go by a Dr Bindeshwar Pathan, a high caste Brahmin who saw first hand the affect of caste on the scavenger class, those who clean toilets. The NGO has built and maintained over 8000 public toilets in India and works in other countries such as Afghanistan too. Once you spotted one toilet complex, you couldn’t help but spot others dotted around the place, with some including public baths as well. It’s a pay per use model aimed at ensuring people have access to safe lavatory spaces to avoid open defecation, which is still a huge issue in India. 

Through the gate and past what had been the Palace guard marching grounds but which is now a dusty flyblown rubbish strewn car park, we headed out to the nearby fruit and veg market which was in full swing. It’s a wholesale market attended by farmers bringing produce from outside Jaipur, monkeys looking for a free snack, vendors and restauranters, as well as families purchasing large scale for weddings etc. Industry was everywhere with women carrying 30kg sack loads of carrots, and other veg on their heads, sari material was wrapped around veg and hauled onto rickshaws, 4by4s or motorbikes, everywhere buying and selling was taking place. 

Beats a supermarket run….

Meanwhile a short way away was the flower market, a bit more tranquil, where you could find a seat (upturned oil can) for a chai, and a puff pastry snack embedded with cumin seeds, in order to watch the world of colour and fragrance go by.

There were sackloads of roses, marigolds, jasmine laid out on the ground to be sold by weight. People would buy the flower heads and pass them to garland makers to be strung up. All the flowers are for temple offerings, nothing is for the home.

Out into the streets, traffic was starting to appear, carts with staples of potato, onion, garlic, or tomato, chilies and onions being rolled down the streets, and the occasional moped went by. We cycled to the nearby artificial City Palace Lake, called Tal Katora, a dead pool of oily water with apartments and houses backing onto it.

Some say Tal Katora Lake, others say rubbish pit.

It was a rubbish dump, full of plastic and, no doubt, a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Opposite was a small park with incongruous children’s playground equipment- a Tyrannosaurus Rex, alongside a surprisingly happy elephant. Everywhere men were walking at pace, either competitively in groups or alone with a dog, or were doing yoga, legs bent thrusting knees to the ground vigorously or doing the kind of sit ups that seem to do more harm than good. Little groups of ladies in salwar kameez were chatting while swinging side to side, arms flailing, whilst warming up or cooling down, and boys played cricket amongst the slightly worn fountains. 

We were soon headed off again, this time for a small breakfast at Nitin’s family home in the Old City. Squeezing past the small herd of cows in the dark entrance hall we wound our way up step steps to the first floor and into the courtyard where dung was drying for fuel. Inside we sat in the family room – living room / bedroom combined and ate dhal and small wheat dumplings whilst Praveen told us about he cows being banned from the Old City. If they were seen the police would impound them. Owners would have to come and pay a fine to have them released. ‘So, how do you know the owner is really the owner?’, expecting a response like the cow has an owners mark or something. But no, the cow will identify the owner. From a line-up? That bit wasn’t apparent.

Back on the roads and things were hotting up, traffic-wise. We too headed to the stone carver part of town, a different workshop, a potentially different street, it all looked so different in daylight. We saw a beautiful old family haweli, and the attached temple, lots of gorgeous doors, everywhere there is beauty in this garbage strewn land.

Keeping the evil eye away
Gods wrapped up warm next to their shiva lingam
Can’t get enough door action…

We popped out onto the main road, past a massive BJP election rally, kids and adults alike dressed head to toe in the symbols and colors of the party, boys waving banners. All too noisy and agitated. At the roundabout we had started out from it was 50% traffic so a fairly safe entry and exit to be deposited back at the hotel and tour over. 

Cooking with Payal

Whilst in Jaipur it would have been rude not to have indulged in the opportunity to take a cooking class, surely…..so, I signed up for Payal’s cookery clas, held at her home in the quiet district of Shyam Nagar, all broad roads, residential and a wee stroll to the metro. The metro is six miles of that seems to go in the wrong direction and does not a lot to aid congestion.

Payal, as well as the cooking, which takes place upstairs in her cookery class kitchen, set with six stations also runs a homestay, and one to note for future reference, even if it’s just to have a go on the metro! She was a lovely, calm, chatty instructor, not like the scary lady bosses I’ve had in other classes. Her love of food shines through, and the fact that it’s good, earthy homemade food makes it even easier to contemplate cooking at home.

But before the cooking we had a quick whizz out in a rickshaw to pick up fresh spices, turmeric, chili, coriander, cumin, mustard seeds and fennel, the mainstays of most northern Indian dishes, and after a brief tutorial on grains, lentils, rice and spice we went on to source some of our ingredients.

Chilies at the local spice grinders

The market was closed, it being the last day of the month so a small greengrocers sufficed, for peas, fenugreek, carrots, and beetroot.

Dinner for one, the ingredients
The essentials of Indian cooking

Back home we cracked on with making four dishes, potatoes and peas (Aloo Mattar), beetroot and peas, dhal (my nemesis…I’m rubbish at it), halwa, and then fenugreek (methi) parathas and finally pilau rice.

It was all a bit of a whirl, cutting onions one way then another, soaking lentils, boiling potatoes, frying onions and garlic with Indian basil, podding peas, grating carrots (avoiding the core).

Soaking your lentils….the right way to produce a dhal
Never too much onion…

Carrots went on the stove with milk to slowly evaporate.

Grated carrot, for the halwa

The spices were added to the fried onions, turmeric, chili and coriander, in proportions of 1/4, 1/2 and 1 teaspoons accordingly, then tomato added.

Just don’t burn the onions…..

Lentils soaked they were put into a pressure cooker, the steam building up and releasing, in a comforting hiss. After 10 or so minutes, the lentils were done, not split, and paste like when pressed, ready for their final stage…

Ahhhh dhaaal….that’s what it’s supposed to look like…

Beetroot was grated, , cooked simply with the peas.

Grated beetroot slowly cooking
Beetroot and peas

It was orchestral, how we moved from chopping board to stove, grater to pot, pot to bowl. I’d forgotten how simple parathas are to make – flour, water, mixed. We added in some torn up fenugreek, and I kneaded the sticky ball with more flour until it resembled a dough of sorts. Tearing off a chunk, I rolled it on a board, then folded it, rolled and folded again. Simples.

The start of the methi parathas
Folding the parathas, to get the fenugreek folded in.
Nearly finished…no need to be completely circular either…win!

Job done they went onto the karai to be cooked. The rice was finishing up. The halwa had cooked down to a sugar infused reddy-orange dessert.

The halwa is nearly ready, not bad for milk, carrots, and a shit ton of sugar

Everything was plated up onto a thali tray and carried through to be eaten.

Dishing up Aloo Mattar
Final thali, ready to be tucked into…

By this time, luckily, I’d worked up an appetite, however even though there was still more than enough for one person. Payal doesn’t feel hungry after cooking, and I can kind of understand why. Still, it was great fun and learnt lots and definitely not afraid to tackle dhal now!

Three guides, two tours, one bicycle, zero incidents

Jaipur was a great excuse to have a couple of guided tours, it makes it easier to explore, takes you off the beaten track and you get to learn things that just mooching around will never give you.

First up was a walking tour with Vineet a well mannered man, originally a finance man for big corporates he scaled back to start guiding, working part time for a small mortgage broker. Vineet showed me his well worn book of tours, with the routes laid out in it. As it was just me on the tour we had a mix-up of both the food and the exploration of the old city. From Ajmeri gate we walked down past the wholesale kite sellers, gearing up for the big kite festival that happens in January. Here you find spools piled high (as the kites themselves),as well as kites with the latest must have characters on them. Looking up at the buildings, you could see the layers of architectural history, with the ground floor being built at the inception of the city in the late 1700s, then the first floors going in in the 1800s, with a clear colonial influence. No planning permission needed here for extensions as long as it was within a 50m2 space. A bit further up was the newly opened Museum of Legacies, in a restored haweli that showcased art, photography and the metalwork of the city. The building had been many things, originally the residence of Pandit Shivdeen, minister of the erstwhile Jaipur State during the reign of Sawai Raja Ram Singh II, from 1825 to 1830, and most recently, until it moved, the Rajasthan School of Arts, which was set up in the building in 1988. The restoration work has been done using only traditional materials, such as lime plaster, kharanjha (a layer of wedge-shaped stone pieces put over stone slabs to ease load distribution and aid in insulation), lime-dhar (lime-mortar reinforced with jute fibres), khameera (a mixture of yellow sand called ramrajj and yellow stone gum called pevar with kesula flowers), etc.

After a serene although fast paced viewing (‘you can always come back’) we headed out and down a lane to a small on the ground setup of mother and daughters.

For a few rupees you got a freshly made chapati, ghee and a roasted chili served up in a swatch of newspaper. Mainly for the workers in the lanes, they churned out the chapatis from early morning, past the lunchtime rush and into the evening – truly fast food. We set off down the lane, with Vineet explaining about the decline of hawelis in the city, down from over 2000 to about 800 now. In theory they are protected but unless the owners are actively maintaining them there’s not a lot that can done if they are left to rot.

The lanes are particularly narrow, designed for the 18th century, not the 21st of moped, and motorbikes, so there was a constant sidestepping the traffic down the narrow lanes, ind you, you weren’t just avoiding the traffic, you had to deftly avoid potholes, cow dung and small piles of rubbish, all whilst listening as Vineet kept up a pretty steady stream of narrative. We didn’t have too far to go, our next stop being at a T-Junction to a traditional sweet shop, selling the milk based sweet goodness that ruins your teeth and guarantees diabetes.

Yum….we had a taster of the coconut triangles, served on recycled paper dishes – the paper was a print run related to electricity conduction – totally random. There was even bins next to the shop, a most unusual sight in India, however I think Jaipur seems to be keeping clean for tourism, and it’s working- the lanes weren’t as bad as they could have been, for sure.

 

We walked the streets looking at the hawelis, past a popcorn seller, heading toward the metalworkers area. All around were political stickers, flags and the talk was all about the upcoming election on 7th. The buildings were in varying stages of disrepair, some with metal lampposts outside that were erected to commemorate the visit of the Prince of Wales, in 1876. An incongruous sight to see.

As we walked we passed food sellers with mobile carts selling popcorn, fresh veg, and peeked inside various hawelis, making our way to the metalworkers’ part of the Old City.

It’s always a good reminder that what you see as the shop front is hiding a multitude of activity behind it.

At the brassmaker’s store we saw the crafts – lamps, bowls etc, and around the back were those crafting the items by hand, cutting the metal, mounding it into bowls etc, then hammering the decoration. The sound was deafening, a constant loud drumming of metal on metal, no one was wearing ear defenders, and it must have been ultimately damaging to your hearing.

As my ears adjusted back we visited a couple of food places, first up a shop selling a variety of fried snacks of lentil flour, lentils etc. Bombay mix by the kilo.

Basically you created your own pick and mix from a wide array, and paid by the weight. The sellers deftly selected across the range using a ladle, then placing it on the scales to be weighed and paid. At the back was piles of greens-white sugar coated jellies – these turned out to be candied pumpkin.

Then next up ‘Vijay Lal Achar Wallah’, purveyor of an array of pickles all piled high in giant jars. The mango pickle was nothing like the super sweet restaurant stuff you get, it was something you actually wanted to eat, by the spoonful. I cursed myself again for bringing such a small bag.

Even more so when directly opposite was a small store selling fresh roasted nuts, and Chikki (brittle), using various nuts. I can honestly say I’ve had the best nuts in Jaipur….

We then hurried down the street selling saris, dupatta, salwar kameez, etc. I say ‘hurried’, we moved as fast as possible amongst people, bikes, carts etc. Everyone intent on some wedding shopping, or so it seemed. Clearly not a place of interest to our Vineet. Then we turned a corner and came to our next stop, a chaat seller, making fresh potato chaat, served up with a rich spicy gravy, in a little recyclable leaf container.

The guy running it had been a yoga instructor in Gia, then jacked it all in to come back to Jaipur to churn out chaat on a street corner. And, boy, was it a good decision, judging not only from the queues coming for evening snacks but from the taste of the little fried loveliness. I certainly wouldn’t be needing dinner after this.

We wandered past a sweet maker, where huge metal platters contained a lentil dough which was pushed through a sieve into a massive wok of boiling hot fat. In moments they were cooked, lifted and deposited onto another tray. Next to it was other platters of milk based sweets, cooked, cooled and cut ready to be sold.

Turning a corner we are back onto a main road, although what one I couldn’t say.

We had weaved our way through the backstreets, and my acute lack of direction was en pointe. We walked past an Ayurvedic pharmacy, a seller of colour and lacquer for bangles, decoration stores full of tinsel and various flammable stuff, and into a tea shop selling it loose, by the gram.

From 200r a kilo for the cheapest (just over £2), it went up to 800r (under a tender) for the Assam. The smells of the different varieties was enticing, I really could have done with a brew. Instead, we ploughed on, back past the metro roadworks toward a temple set on the roof of a haweli, up past snack sellers. A moment of calm, above the city.

However not for long as we plunged back in for a final dessert at a Jain shop, started by the owner’s father, a wrestler who wanted veg sweets.  Across the road, a lurid curry was cooking in a big pot, its iridescent red not becoming apparent until the camera flash went off.

We still weren’t done, as we headed off toward the stone carver area, where all the marble statutes of gods, goddesses and the famously dead are hewn from single pieces of stone. Some tools are used but it’s still exceptionally manual, particularly the polishing.Everywhere were stores full of completed polished statues, glowing in the shop lights, white or occasionally black marble, most left natural although some were painted in garish hues.

We briefly dipped into one workshop where larger than life images stood, towering over everyone and Vineet explained that it was Brahmins (priest caste of old) who did the carving. Why is not fully explained but it’s believed that due to their high status the carvings carry the full weight of deification. We carried on, finding the only lane traffic free, due to roadworks at a junction and popped back out onto the main thoroughfare back opposite the museum.

Nicely full, with absolutely not a Scooby-Doo of any which way I’d been, I took my leave of Vineet, knowing my early morning bike ride tour the next day should help burn off the excess calories.

A moment in time

Bank of Baroda has probably now got cctv of a harassaed chubby white woman in various shades of brown kicking their Bhuj atm and calling it a cunt, before stalking off in tears. This was ATM no 5 in a day that was rapidly going to shit.

First up, couldn’t sleep, and with a cold that bungs my nose up tighter than a camel’s arse in a sand storm, particularly at night, I’m mouthbreathing so much my tongue becomes a dryer than Gandhi’s flip flop. I am staying at NVilla, my treat of a final night in Bhuj, the treat being a decent mattress, hot shower, a/c, if I want it and a room as big as my flat.

Of course looks are deceptive. The mattress is definitely comfortable, just about 20cms short of the frame, the shower has hot water, but it requires you to turn the handle to the right toward ‘cold’ to get it, and a fair proportion of the water then sprays up the wall or out the attachment, and not the head, thus hitting the loo. The toilet seat is set in such a way there’s a gap of about 5cms between it and the bowl, and the sink tap is set up perfectly to hit the rim of the plug hole guaranteeing you a soaking wet surprise every time!

Apparently it’s also a Homestay and not a hotel, this seems to suggest that they decide when you’ll eat your meals, as evidenced by me being served dinner at 9:45, and not quite the 8:30 agreed upon. In the meantime I’d filled up with food from the random 14th wedding anniversary party occurring in the grounds, as had thought I was getting sharesys with them, but no, I had a thali, plus a veg biryani and curd, and salad, plus threat of a third course. I declined and had to throw some of it down the loo.

What do I do with this….?
Hopefully the evidence is never found.

The party was a low key affair, with a lot of speeches, a lot of drawn out Mr & Mrs games and a firework set off for every year of marriage ‘year 1’, lights giant sparkler, everyone watches. It goes out! ‘Year 2’, lights giant sparkler. Everyone watches. It goes out. ‘Year 3’….and on. Thank heavens it was only the 14years of wedded bliss or it could have been an even longer night.

Checkout the next day being at 10, I wandered down for breakfast at 9, and it arrived about 9:55, in random waves, first kedgeree and jellabas, roasted chilies, then after some time, rotis. I’m convinced some of it was left over buffet food from the night before, surely no one has sweets for breakfast, not even the country where a tea without at least 6 sugars is not considered tea (turns out they do! Was served up a breakfast thali here in Ahmedabad complete with them!!!). Then out came bread and butter, the crusts cut off, and all neatly triangulated. Staff were a bit surprised I wasn’t having any, and surreptitiously tried to sneak 3 in with my chai that they brought to my room (chai which went down the sink and then once I put the tap on, it went over me, up the mirror and everywhere else). Wandering back down paratha had also appeared, which I fed to a very skinny female dog who come in and made herself at home till chased off, poor thing was desperate

First up, power cut so the delayed gratification at finding out my train is delayed by not just the more than 3hrs as stated on one site but more accurately by over 10hours is nothing short of seriously taking the piss and requires a readjustment to travel plans.

Southern Rail, you are not alone….

A plane is out of the question, over £230 and minimum of 6hrs or up to 14hrs, I may as well be walking or taking the alternative- the bus. It purports to take about the same amount of time as the train, is a bit cheaper and is, at least, guaranteed to bloody well run. Thank heavens for online booking.

Why they want my age is beyond me, as is most of what happens here, daily.

The owners of the place kindly allow me to stay in the room till I leave for the 3pm bus. When asking about settling up, of course they want paying in cash even though there’s nothing on the website to say as much. And of course I’m down to my last cash, so giving them cash payment leaves me 600r, which will cover my auto and a bit of food somewhere. I agree to give them half cash now, half to the driver. I’ll just use an ATM….and this is where the fun commences.

ATM 1 First one – try 2 cards. Nup, transaction not available at this time. Man next to me says ‘ATM not working’, and points to his one. Try that, get a bit excited as it asks about currency conversion then says ‘not today, Satan’. ATM 3, State Bank of India, absolutely no effort made – card goes in, card comes out ‘this atm is temporarily unavailable.’, ATM 4, it’s entrance is locked ‘they’re fixing something’, fiddling behind it , that’s when I lose it at ATM 5.

‘Don’t cry madam’, says my driver, ‘well excuse me if I have un pity party pour 1’, but right now handing over all my cash doesn’t feel like an option I’m wanting to indulge in. But it’s one I’m forced to do, as at ATM 6, same happens as at ATM 2, so close but no, you can see what you could have won, but turns out RBS won’t let me have it, as I find out by text later at the bus station. Happy to note I’m in Bhuj booking bus tickets on the internet but try and use the same card to withdraw cash….no chance.

So here I am down to 580r, 20r went on a bottle of water. Let’s hope I can sort something out in Ahmedabad or else, as we say, I’m reet fooked.

Pam, I’m havin’ Anokhi…

Shopping in Jaipur does entail some planning, otherwise you risk ending up in a driver’s choice of shop, which means overpriced shoddy tat that they get an 80% cut of the final price. I had a list of stores I wanted to visit, ahhh interweb, you are not all evil and trolling, you do serve up some naughty but nice options.

Day 1 proper here was picking up where it left off last time re sightseeing, first up to the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, set near Amber Fort, showcasing the history, tools and techniques if block printing. The pieces in the restored haweli are stunning, and the setting of the renovated building is perfect.

Amber Fort was heaving with tourists, guides, touts etc. I’d been before but had only a vague recollection of it and that we had had a guide….left a lasting impression clearly. Nahagarh Fort, aka Tiger Fort has had a bit of a makeover, which was good to see, as the rushed last minute viewing as it was closing (back in 2013) involved being shown all the hideous graffiti left by tourists. The guide was palpably upset, and at the end of our whistlestop viewing refused any money for having taken his time up.

I had kept the day to a 4pm stop, so a quick Sweet Lassi at Lassiwallah with Imran, my impeccable driver and I was home in time for a quick explore to Anokhi. By explore, I mean a mad purchasing moment.

Anokhi has been around for about 40yrs, creating high quality block print products across a wide range of homeware and clothing. The men’s shirts are a win for me,  as I can actually fit into them. The homeware is a joy as I don’t need to fit into any of it, however that makes you (me) become slightly irrational in the purchasing dept. Therefore one quilt, bed sheet, 4 curtains, 2 shirts later I staggered out into the night, after an early supper in the cafe, planning the posting home of my recent acquisitions and promising myself no more shopping…in Jaipur…Still, no harm in looking…right?

So I made a plan for day 3, post office, and a ‘stroll’ a long MI Road, visiting a number of particular stores, oh, and maybe a lassi at Lassiwallah too. When I say stroll, I really mean a forced march, avoiding the traffic that sweeps up behind you, horns a-blazing, and the taxi drivers, rickshaw wallah’s, and cycle rickshaw wallahs asking where you are going.

I was doing pretty well, I was on MI Road for a start, so that was a win, I’d divested myself of my parcel, win 2, sun was shining and I was pretty oblivious to the traffic when I heard a well mannered voice say ‘Madam, hello, what are you doing today?’, and I turned round to be greeted by an immaculately dressed cycle rickshaw driver with a shock of orange hennaed hair. Normally I’d brush off anyone who approaches me but he had a calmness and gentleness,  can’t really explain it. ‘We are going for lassi’, I said. ‘Would you like one, I’m buying?’

Jaipur memories

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Hathroi Fort, tucked behind the trees and pylons

Jaipur, the Pink City, I first visited in 1992, I don’t remember too much other than spending a lot of time near or on the toilet after a dodgy masala dosa in Jodhpur. The unhappy stomach was a trend that reoccurred in 1997 too, where the world fell out of my arse after I was given well water to drink by well-meaning hosts. A hospital trip with suspected typhoid and then a night spent wrung out and ill at the family home, I was dispatched back to my hotel to the news that Princess Diana had died.TBH I was past caring, I just wanted to be reassured that I’d be returning to normal bowel movements, as opposed to ones that were like a tap exploding water everywhere when a hose pipe comes detached due to too much pressure.

2013 was the last visit, cold weather and a ‘guard’ (aka driver) we acquired at the station who seemed to want us not to wander off anywhere on our own, in case he dipped out of any potential commission. Also, me and my travelling companion nearly came to blows about my lack of negotiating powers when in the clutches of shop owners (it’s something I’m crap at, and hate with a passion).

We had shivered in our hotel room, I slept in my sleeping bag in bed, our shower head pointed straight into an unfinished electrical socket, which someone had stuffed with a bit of plastic in an attempt to waterproof it, and the hotel manager told us that, in time, they’d be able to install a lift where the big hole running through the center of the hotel was. A window in our room adjoined the kitchen, so we could hear them cooking. I’m still not sure why we stayed there, it was, with hindsight, very odd.

This time I stayed in Hathroi Fort area, at Kalpana’s Homestay & Yoga, a lovely home off the main road, beautifully looked after by the owners. It’s pretty quiet, if you discount the call to prayers, the revved up motorbikes, random screechings, late night wedding fire crackers -normal, you know? Yoga took place in the room next to mine, so I could fall out of bed and fall onto my rug (makes for some interesting moves as it’s on a marble floor…). The practice is Hatha, so lots of breath work (always fun with a cold, and a very blocked nose) which turns out to be hard going for the fatty foreigner, whilst the salwar kameez’d ladies next to me seem to just take it in their stride, only occasionally stopping for a lil’ rest if there’s something they can’t / don’t want to do. Afterwards is a hearty breakfast and amazing chai, sugarless, I’ve rediscovered a love for a cuppa.

Kite practice at dusk
Zara, the (used) toilet paper eater, bed jumper, general naughty girl

I’d like to say there’s been a pattern to the days but there hasn’t really, except that each day has had something that’s really made it special, and Jaipur a pleasure to visit (and not just because I’ve avoided the screaming abdabs).

Just the usual traffic….

I’ve also now officially become ‘madam’, aka ‘old lady’, I can’t now say ‘I’m not a bloody madam, I’m a miss’, because I know anyone would just shake their heads sadly at my misapprehension. Plus, I have been known to have an afternoon nap, at least once so far, because it’s all been a bit tiring. It’s fun being back though.

Hi honey, I’m hooooooome…….

Indi-aaaaaaahhhhhhhh! Jaipur to be precise. Hathroi Fort area, just off the main road so there’s minimal hornings, barkings, and general shenanigans. There is a mosque nearby, and it’s comforting to hear call to prayer, even if it’s first thing in the morning of your first full day back in this car congested, smog filled, fort filled pink city. My feet were black with dirt but my cheeks were hurting (the face ones) from smiling at being here, despite the stinking cold and blocked ear.

They were feet at some point, honest…

Apart from the 48hrs of sneezing, my snoring at Mumbai domestic airport, and general deafness all the way here, it was ANOTHER uneventful process from start to finish. Although I did leave a fiver in the blooming shoe scanner box at Heathrow, the plane was unaccountably an hour late departing, but arrived practically on time, and the same thing happened out of Mumbai domestic (is this a ‘thing’ now? You lie about your real departure time, leave late, then arrive on time so people are even more impressed than if it’d just been business as usual…?)My bag was only 14.5kilos – that’s 3 x the cat….he’s a portion, but not a rucksack sized one, my plane neighbours were really friendly and chatty, but not intrusively so, and I was door to door Woking 925 to T5 duty free in 45mins.

What was then even weirder was, having been geared up for a 3hour marathon wait at immigration at Mumbai International and arranging 6 hrs between arriving and departing to final destination to avoid the mad dehydrated scramble to find my bag that was removed from the luggage carousel 2.5hrs before, then hightail it to domestic, all whilst desperately needing a pee, there was NO-ONE, NO-ONE (okay 6) at passport control. And when I say NO-ONE, I’m referring to foreign arrivals and not the customs officers, who usually are nowhere to be found. It was bizarre, eerily so. 30plus counters, nearly all manned and by awake and engaged officials….what was going on? Turns out a daytime arrival is where it’s at, as it’s at 2am that all the flights come in from left and right and fill the hall to the brim. Even the e-Visa process only required the one finger….my right index, as it turns out. I was done in 5mins and for the first time in living history was actually at a Mumbai International carousel before my luggage. Through and out in 20mins. It had taken longer to walk from the plane to the hall, than it did to get through and to my bag. I was stunned. And mildly put out that I now had a 5hr wait to get my connection.

Still, it meant that I could leisurely wander my way out and actually see what the arrivals part of the airport is like, as normally it’s a blur. Taxi drive was a blur, as I avoided looking out the window too much as it was total chaos, as per.  The ceiling was a good distraction.

Yeah, I’d dance on this with Lionel, although it’s a tight squeeze in here…

Luckily check-in at domestic is a handy 4hrs in advance, although that didn’t deter too many turning up last minute, or else sitting  around at the airport, chitchatting with each other and taking random photos with the foreigner with the red nose and unbrushed hair because she is ‘so pretty’ (couldn’t offer any free eye tests, sadly) before realising the  calls for their flights were coming through the tannoy and them and their luggage needed to be at a check in desk sharpish.

One airport masala dosa later and I was ready for my Jaipur flight. Once the airline put the actual seats on my seat and 2 others we were strapped in and ready to go nowhere, in order to leave late and arrive on time. Again. And so at 19:15 I touched down into Jaipur international airport, out into a cool night and into my car to head to my home for 5nights. Good to be back.

Abandoned garlands at Jaipur arrivals

 

 

 

No place like (my new) home

Starigrad is a UNESCO world heritage site, and more of a tourist stop off point for those coming from Split or other parts of Hvar or Croatia, which is a shame really as it risks becoming a town in aspic, there for the convenience of the tourist dollar dollar. It is improbably beautiful, dating back to Greek times, c385BC, with historical buildings every which way you turn down narrow pathways of stone worn smooth by tens of thousands of shoes.
I don’t think that cat is going to be making friends with that pigeon…
I can imagine the little streets can get very congested extremely quickly, full of tourists in quick dry wick-away shorts, socks, and walking sandals, with mahoosively lensed cameras, bumbags and hats. Yes, I have been there done that, without wickaway or a sock/sandal combo but not, to the best of my knowledge, into a living, breathing town. You’re always mindful of whose home it is you’re noseying at, who’s door that is, and what is going on behind it. Often you can tell, as music, voices and general living can be heard. So, not everything is in Disneyland picturesque unreality .
It’s easy to fall into a routine of whiling away time. Breakfast at home, then out to the town for coffee, watching the world go by, along with the locals, particularly the men, who gather together to drink, smoke and gossip. Then it’s a meander off in one direction or another along the shoreline, through forests of pine that smell fresh and somehow comforting, to find small pebbly beaches where a few folk are laid out, catching the rays, and a few more hardy souls who have braved the chill of the adriatic and are swimming in the brilliant blue waters.
The colour of the water is something I haven’t seen in a long, long time. It’s dazzling in its intensity and the way it changes colour as it reaches depths further out. The other thing that hits you is the quiet. Even on a Friday or a Saturday, there is nothing to be heard except for the slap of the water on the shore, the wind in the trees, and the occasional bird. I wonder how it compares to the height of season. Although as it appears to be more of a day visit kind of a place, maybe not so much.
In the distance, the cross on Glavica Hill overlooking Starigrad.
The Alternative Tourist Board publication
At Alternative Tourist Board I talked to one on of the owners, Kresimir, who told me that a lot of the property here is bought by Norwegians as second homes, consequently house prices are rocketing. Still, it doesn’t stop me having a nosey online at prices and momentarily dreaming of buying a house with a plot of land attached to turn into a retreat / B&B / home yoga spot.
Could I live here?
New back garden?
If I were here longer, or if I were not having to juggle a project that’s midway through right now, I would have explored further afield. Got a bus to Hvar town for the day, gone to lay on the beach till I got stiff and uncomfortable on the pebbles or burnt. As it is, the ability to create routine of doing nothing, except decide on the ice cream flavour for the day or where to eat of an evening is quickly established and maintained. Starigrad is a saviour for the frazzled of mind in need of beauty and not much thinking or doing. I think I may have found my home.

Stari-Stari-Grad…

First night in the town of Starigrad, Hvar.  The fat boy is at home with a TrustedHousesitter and her son.  He soon made friends as he saw they had food.  Unfortunately for him it was vegetarian. He is a persistent little bugger though and tried again, but not sure dhal is where it’s at for cats….

I had done the classic of booking an early morning flight to make the most of the first day in a new land.  Forgot that bit that meant you were waking up in the middle of the night practically jet lagged before you started.  Faffage also meant it was gone 11 before I crawled into bed, still half dressed to take the pain out of dressing at dark o’clock.  It didn’t matter how tired I actually was, my inveterate fear of not being late meant I never really slept and was up, albeit not really awake, at 2.20am.

The journey turned into one of the smoothest I’ve ever encountered,  what was actually going on???  No panics about forgotten bags, no creating near carnage on the roads, no losing and refinding and relosing items….heck, was I actually finally getting better at being organised at travelling?  Jury’s out, let’s stick with fluke for the moment, or maybe the universe is saying to skip that long haul malarkey…

So Luton, so easy peasy. Car parked, bus to LLA – Welsh for Airport perhaps, or the new funky logo for (not)-London Luton Airport.  Bit of a queue at security, but, they proactively opened up another lane.  Breakfast was bob on, then time to go to the gate.  No EasyJet hassle about having a big bag, too many bags, not enough bags, nothing.  By this time I was thinking that maybe I could have taken some time to a) brush me huur that morning and not tie it back in two bunches, b) put some make up on so I didn’t look as if I’d packed my luggage under my eyes, c) dressed for the occasion, as opposed to like a bag lady smuggling her extra clothes on her body than risk a bag in hold incident by the airline.  Consequently, I looked on in amazement at the big traveller family who were travelling on our flight.  The girls (and they looked like girls, you couldn’t tell who were the mums of the smaller ones, and who were the smaller ones) were impeccably made up in that fresh orange fake tan way, tan so orangely toxic it’s not actually stored in plastic, in case it melts, false eyelashes (that once batted can cause a hurricane to happen on the other side of the Atlantic), newly dyed hair so jet black that you knew even Jon Travolta was going to struggle to get a dye job this month, and so much makeup so you didn’t know if there was a 60 or a 16yr old under it.  Actually you could tell who were the older crew, proper battle axes, with dyed blonde hair tied back with scrunchies or with those hideous 80s clips with fake pearls on, with walking sticks that’d take your legs out at 20 paces and a voice that could cause a crack in Etna. They took over the plane with their bags, babies, and fast paced babbling, it was non-stop, and very entertaining.  Even better was the EasyJet stewardess who kept them all under control in a schoolmarm-ish firm but funny way.  Thankfully I was so tired, I actually slept through some of it but did hear one of the guys asking a woman where she was from and I heard a vay nice Home Counties voice say ‘I’m from a small place in Hampshire, and what about you?’, he replied at a million miles an hour ‘We’refromIrelandbutwetravelaroundEnglandwe’retravellers,goalloverwhereaboutsinHampshireareyou?’ Then I fell asleep.

I woke, surrounded by fellow mouth breathers, nice to know I had been in good company with others looking like they were audition for best Alyssa Edwards impersonation and then just passed out whilst parodying her tongue click. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DghOSByt6gg

Off the plane, out into SUNSHINE, yes people, it’s still out there, just waiting to be found.  The airport was one of those where you walk off the plane and next thing you’ve literally hit the customs cubicle and then a spit away is baggage reclaim and a set of doors brings you out into h’actual Croatia itself.  And right into a full on meltdown / screaming session being had by some worked up British gal doing us proud as a nation, as she screams, cusses and generally works herself up into a fit of Olympic proportions.  Her and her patently bored partner built up quite the following as she verbally assaulted him from one end of the airport car park to the other – admittedly, not that long but long enough for us to watch and try and figure out what she might have been on and what had actually happened – had they missed a bus to a resort, or missed a flight, or did she lose a shoe, and not just her mind.  Couldn’t figure it out, and didn’t really care.

Meanwhile, Croatia has it’s public transport schizzle down to pat…there’s a bus waiting for the flights (amizzin’), and it then takes you all for £4 all 25kms to Split town, right by the ferry terminal, where…dun, dun, daaaaah – your ferry is also waiting so you can hop right on.  None of that ‘I’ll best allow a good 4hrs for connections’ that comes with arriving into India….

So, there I was, an hour after I had got out of the airport on my ferry to Hvar, on a comfy sofa, listening to a man talking on his phone, which was on speakerphone so we could all hear.  I thought he was ‘doing business’ but he was actually drinking beer from a plastic 1ltr bottle and was probably deaf.  This whole having no consideration of others in a public space appears to be the ‘thang’ right now, have your phone on speaker SO LOUD we can all hear about the AMAZING TIME YOU’RE HAVING IN CROATIA RIGHT NOW.  Plus we also get the lowdown on what the person on the other end of the phone is also doing, ‘OH SO YOU’RE NOT GOING TO THE CINEMA NOW?  YOU’RE JUST WALKING DOWN THE STREET, LIKE I AM EXCEPT I’M IN CROATIA – LOOOOK….’, as they swing their phone around, because, yep, gotta FaceTime too, so you can see their ugly mug as well as hear it all.  Seriously, what happened to awareness of others….???

Coming into Starigrad was magical, with the bluest of blue seas sparkling in the sun, and the sky so clear.  In the distance was pine forests.  It looked stunning, and as we decamped into the port I wasn’t disappointed.  Even walking along the main road to town was a joy, albeit one that kept you on your toes so you didn’t lose your wheelie to an oncoming car.

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My Airbnb is perfection.  A balcony that overlooks the little harbour , where all the yachts moor up.  The host was Jesus in socks and sandals, coming up with grilled mackerel doused in olive oil and salt, fresh red wine, and a cheesecake.  I sat and ate it overlooking the harbour soaking up the sounds around me.  I think I might like me this Starigrad.

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