Two and half weeks in India where it was over 40 degrees every day!
05.08.2009 -40 °C
5 minutes before boarding closed Aoife arrived (cool as a cucumber...ha!) for the 8 hr flight to New Delhi where we would be meeting Kirsten (fresh from Ireland, our newest member). Our 2 week trips back to European luxury had softened us up so arrival in New Delhi (aka black hole of India) was a minor shock. Our hotel was situated down a dark alley with countless homeless men sleeping on rickshaws and dogs riddled with mange...no seri bob we weren’t in europe anymore!! Then there was the 46 degree oven-like heat that had us hiding in A/C estblishments at every possible opportunity..I think our longest walk was 10 mins!
Typhoid Anna and Cyclospora Kate were due in 2 days later so left to our own devices (and jet lag) the 3 muskateers bagged an absolute bargain (once in a lifetime offer, never to be repeated...you get the idea) 2 week (luxury) tour....or so we thought until we had a proper nights sleep and realised we’d been done!! The first of our many India “rip off the tourist” moments...ahhh. To fit in with the discreet female culture we each bought ridiculous, shapeless, cover-all tops in multiple colours...not our proudest fashion moment!
We discovered India’s secret..fantastic cinemas...for 2 euro a go! We visited twice, the second time in an attempt to see a Bollywood..but we managed to choose the only serious Bollywood ever created about terrorist cells...the only words we understood in the entire film.
Day 1 our driver (yes, driver, no his name wasn’t Jeeves..it was Jai..which might be Indian for Jeeves) collected us and we headed across the country to Pushkar (9 hrs covered about 2 inches on the map..big country apparently). Our hotel had a swimming pool..but it was ½ empty/full and had critters floating in it so no swims. The holy lake (the famous attraction on Pushkar) was a completely empty, mud hole with stray dog packs and naked children roaming it. Nice. While we were having a sit down beside the lake, absorbing some holy energy, a holy man came over to sell us some holiness in the form of holy flowers. When we declined we were “moved on” as we weren’t contributing to the holy aura. Time for some food so.
Next stop was Jaipur where our “centrally located hotel” was a 20min drive from town (Our tour got nicknamed the Ryanair tour which was quite accurate). Our driver brought us to an overpriced tourist trap for food (he was on commission). We told him we didn’t like it. Despite this he brought us back there...I’m not sure if we were quite vocal enough or he was just stupid...the latter is more likely, we were pretty vocal. Aoife did entertain us with a stunning solo Hindi dance rendition so the night wasn’t a total flop. The next meal time we chose our own place, a revolving restaurant..where the floor rotated but the walls didn’t so we were all sea sick before starters arrived!! We also declined the option of visiting his friends textile factory but ended up in a textile factory. Hmm. India. So we upped the vocal’ness a bit. We tried the sightseer thing and visited a building that was in the guide book. We closely viewed every architectural wonder, taking much interest in the historical signifigance of the building. There was no room for fun and games in our path to cultural enlightenment. ...hmm.
Onto Agra, city of the Taj Mahal and...well...not much else. Our “brochure” included a sunset view of the Taj. We were left at the margin of a deserted dump and told to walk in for the view. When men started appearing from behind bushes we ran back. We never saw the sunset. At 6am (yes AM) we headed for the Taj. It was spectacular, and we had a good look at it. Then we got hungry. We are not sightseers.
Our wonderful travel agents had forgotten to send our train tickets but they arrived 5 hrs before our train left. Only problem was that there were 4 seats and 5 of us..on an overnight 18hr train...then we were told WE would have to sort that ‘minor’ problem out. There was also the issue of our next train being 3rd class even though we’d paid extra for 2nd class...but at least there was 5 seats!! Numerous calls (and being hung up on) got us nowhere. Luckily Kate charmed the pants off the train man and got a 5th bed...not that we told the travel agent during the compensation arguments. With few hrs to kill we went to the cinema,Terminator 3, but had to rush out 15mins from the end to catch the train!
Suprisingly our pick up in Varanassi was at the station. They pounced on us in our post-night train stupor and sold us another wonderful (etc...) tour which we fell for again. Bloody Indians. Kate got malaria/typhoid and Dengue fever (actually just a fever but we all had disease paranoia) which was due to the stress of not having a train seat (or so we told the travel agent). We loved Varanassi, we were free of our crazy driver and finally started enjoying India. The girls were all very upset to not see any dead bodies burning on the ghats but the sunrise ‘ryanair’ boat trip was nice.Ryanair as our boat only went ½ way to where we wanted (and where all the other tour boats went). We spent 2 hrs trying to find the elusive Golden Temple and when we found it we weren’t allowed in as apparently we’re not Hindi (what gave it away)?? Only drawback to the place was lack of cinema...
Our final destination was Calcutta. Our 3rd class train there was complete with mini cockroaches so we all plugged our ears with tissue paper..classy...but cockroach free come morning! Aoife led us on a tour to visit the Royal Art Academy..after 2 hrs in the heat and 100%humidity we landed in a sweaty heap outside a governers house where entrance to tourists was denied...apparently no. 29 on page 564 did not corralate with the no. 29 on page 568...different map entirely. Hot, sweaty, disgruntled we decided to get some hair therapy...5euro wash and cut, how could you go wrong. Anna’s blowdry was a 40minute assault where her hair was brushed dry and her scalp scalded by 2 trainees..Kate, Kirsten and myself got the “funky” cut..aka the mullet. A bit of repair work with 1st Aid scissors was required. Never again.
So then we cheered ourselves up with some cinema therapy where we finally saw the end of Terminator (but only coz Kirsten insisted). Monsoon also arrived and we got trapped into our hotel by floods and had to get rickshawed out so we could reach “Kookie Jar”...a vital trip...it just so happened they sold chocolate mousse, praline cake, jam rings and brownies!!
Finally the time came to leave our beloved India, but it had the last laugh. We had cleverly saved some rupees to buy gin before we reached Malaysia (a dry muslim country) (and yes this is forward planning and we were incredibly proud of ourselves!). Only problem was the Duty Free man wouldn’t accept payment of rupees for alcohol. We could buy $30 of chocolate yes, but no alcolhol..customs rules....aaaaaaaaaaaaaagggggggggggghhhhhhhh...goodbye and goodriddance!Happier times ahead...
Love Ruth, Anna, Aoife, Kate and Kirsten! xx