We were picked up by the same driver who had dropped us off at the station when we took the train to Agra. A very nice man who didn’t speak much English but smiled widely when he saw us (we have such an impact!) and was grateful when I offloaded all the excess bottles of hand sanitiser. We drove quickly and I just wanted to drink in all my final sights and sounds of India.
We boarded the Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi and disappointed to be served curry for breakfast at 9.30 in the morning. Man alive, I am all curried out and can’t eat it any more. We have also been totally vegetarian the whole trip and I silently craved for some chicken (I don’t eat other meat). I didn’t think it appropriate either to drink wine at such an early hour so sat and drank water and ate a stale roll.
A quick arrival in Abu Dhabi and we made our way to the duty free to freshen up. After trying on some designer Dior sunglasses we made our way to the cosmetic counters. I applied a full face of Lancôme, smothered myself in Jo Malone and gave any exposed skin a nice little body massage with Clarins . We had a wonderful cup of earl grey tea and shared a chocolate twist which, after curry, tasted like heaven on earth. The new “carefree SA”‘ then attacked the lipstick counters and arrived at check in for our flight to London looking like a cross between Danny La Rue and Miss Piggy. The security lady took my mobile out of my bag and commented on the screensaver shot of my handsome Archibald. Hannah quickly saved the lady from being shown my full saved album of my beloved Archibald – I have saved pictures from 9 weeks to his current age of 12 so it could have taken some time.
The flight, again, was not full and we quickly managed to change seats after discovering we were sitting near a family of six small children and a father who snorted and was ready to spit the contents of his mouth out at any moment. We sat behind each other with 3 seats to ourselves and next to the window – bingo!
Once the flight took off we quickly and eagerly ordered G&Ts and I think the air hostess noted the pleading in my eyes and gave me a double. Lunch was served and no curry! I chose the chicken option and waited desperately only to pull back the packaging and discover to my utter horror there was mash potato!!! For those of you who know me well (especially the Pie and Bubbles Gang) know that I detest mash potato (so dramatic!!) ; it is, in my mind just wrong, wrong, wrong!! I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and wondered what those lucky folk on the upper deck were eating – I bet their potatoes were either roasted or sautéed and I could guarantee they weren’t mashed! I felt my third meltdown of the trip erupting but pulled myself together, in the new SA style, closed my eyes and ate it all; albeit each mouthful with a sip of gin. First example of India having a good effect on me – I can take on the world including mash potato! I finished the gin, thanked and smiled sweetly at the air hostess and complimented her on the wonderful food. Note to self; On arrival in U.K. write politely to Etihad and suggest mashed potato is so last year darling and might they serve sautéed potato instead!?
We circled London and, due to the busy air traffic, we were treated to a 40 minute exciting view of the entire city. It was magical to point out all the landmarks of our treasured and wonderful capital. The view of the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park was an amazing sight (Francesca was there and I tried so hard to spot her and her friends but gave up!!). the difference to the world we have left behind in India really hit me.
Arrival at Heathrow was like something out of Love Story and I ran like mad with tears rolling down my face towards John and Mum leaving all my dignity and decorum on the flight! Gosh it felt so good to be home with my fabulous John and my adored Mum. John kept saying how proud he was of me and I held him so tightly.
The main difficulty I have after 8 years at boarding school is the overpowering sadness I feel when saying goodbye. This can even be when, ridiculously, someone has been to stay for the weekend or when something in my life comes to an end. I struggle to gather together all the positive feelings but that moment of goodbye hits me so hard like a ton of bricks and it is something I work hard at. Well saying goodbye to my darling, fun- loving, gorgeously beautiful (I tried her “no make up” policy but failed miserably – I realised I needed at least a splash of tinted moisturiser and mascara to resemble something at least half decent), reliable and adored travel companion was heart breaking. I just couldn’t let her go and we clung to each other until her 24 year old self pulled herself together and tried to look cool whilst my 52 years and 10 months (dear lord!) self couldn’t stop the tears flowing. We have laughed and cried so much these past two weeks; it has been incredibly special. Off she went, backpack on her back, chirpy as ever to catch the underground back home – thank you my darling from the depths of my heart. I’ll see her in two week’s time for Christmas but it didn’t stop me trying to gain an Oscar nomination with my farewell scene.
I chatted all the way home, catching up on all the news at home and telling tales of my adventure. My darling Dad had been unwell whilst I was away and I was anxious to get home to see him and hug him like no other! Quick chat and catch up and Mum and Dad left for home whilst Archie and I caught up with love and cuddles! I long to see Francesca who returns home on Sunday; I ache to hold her. So good to be home.
And now here I am at 5 am unable to sleep (my body obviously thinks that 5 hours sleep a night is good enough – tell that to the huge bags under my eyes!!). Images and thoughts running through my head. Images of scenes I don’t ever want to forget – a man riding his motorbike with his wife sat side-saddle on the back in her highly colourful sari (I haven’t seen black clothing for two weeks) on her mobile whilst the man holds on to this small baby who is asleep at the front; the lady at the side of the road in Delhi with her three small children none of whom were wearing shoes and didn’t look as though they had ever washed and one of the children (who was wearing no pants) was playing (I kid you not) with the electricity box!; the sight of the highly colourful ladies in their saris working hard in the fields with their homemade pick axes while the men laze on their Indian day beds (I really, badly want one for the garden – I am on a mission to find one); the peace and the prayers in the many temples we have visited; the mixture of smells in the air; the constant ringing of bells and horns, be it from the vehicles or the bells round the necks of the cows: the eclectic range of animals we have seen, from peacocks and chipmunks to camels and elephants (and the blasted monkeys!); the list goes on and on.
For two weeks we have been treated with smiles and happiness and it has been so infectious I want to cling to it forever. I don’t want to be sad, don’t want to be stressed, don’t want to fret about the small and silly stuff, don’t want to worry. I want to deal with everything head on and never forget that away from this charmed and comfortable life I lead there is a world of struggle and strife and yet smiles and happiness carry them through. Sounds simple? Well why does everything have to be so complicated, why do we always have to think what if? – let’s just embrace what we have and just bloody strive to help others! That’s it isn’t it – don’t let us allow struggle lets just live and help each other. Too much power and politics in the world – sickening.
Would you consider it corny for me to end my blog with two quotes from Mahatma Gandhi?
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”
Over and out you special and fantastically wonderful people – it’s been a blast. Champagne? Chapatis? – I’ll drink and eat them both together thank you!
Today’s worry or fear? Currently at 5 am on the 9th December 2018 I worry and fear I will never again achieve more than a 5 hour sleep!
Love and peace, and happiness, and family, and friendship and sheer darned smiles!
We had a very long drive back to Delhi and spent much of the journey in silence as my emotions and thoughts took over. We stopped at a roadside “shopping mall” where we sat in the sunshine and, much to Hannah’s delight, had small tubs of Baskin Robbins ice cream. Not quite the same as the U.K. but, boy it tasted good and, for once, my mouth was not on fire!
Approaching Delhi from another side was very interesting. Huge skyscrapers everywhere. Sukhvinder explained that this was the call centre area of Delhi and I didn’t like to tell him of my frustration and, on occasion, anger at all the pestering calls I get at the most inconvenient times from these buildings!
Sadly on arrival at our hotel in Delhi we had to say goodbye to Sukhvinder as he was collecting a couple of business people from the airport the following morning for a day trip to Agra. So strange to part with who we now fondly regard as our Bodyguard and Mr Wonderful. He has made this adventure so much more enjoyable and safer by being with us. The three of us have shared stories of our families and cultures and laughed until tears have rolled down our faces at moments we shall always cherish. He starts to laugh and looks in his mirror when he spots monkeys at the side of the road, waiting for my reaction (blasted things!) and at the childlike look of joy and excitement when we come across the camels and elephants. He has taught me to calm down my road rage and I will never be more pleased to see the M25 and M3! The Indians don’t regard road markings and I don’t even know why they bother with traffic lights and think they regard them in reverse; red is obviously the warning to put your foot down and keep going at high speed! He has laughed as I sit, rather regally, in the back shaking my head and tutting at everyone who has cut us up! I have even been known to shout at the cows as they stand arrogantly in the middle of road waiting for us to swerve (on two wheels on some occasions!) around them. We have survived without a bump or graze to the paintwork and how this has happened is only down to Sukhvinder’s expert driving. We gave him gifts we had brought from home and, rather unashamedly, we gave him a hug and watched him drive off home to his family. He later sent us a WhatsApp message checking we were both ok and sharing a photo of him and his children enjoying the sweets we had given.
Having checked into the hotel we were starving so left in search of a restaurant. The traffic in Delhi was obviously rush hour and everything was coming at us; cars, lorries, tuk tuks, bicycles, cows and dogs!! We needed to get across the road and I truly wish I had a video to share with you to explain what happened next (I silently pray this is the one blog post my darling Dad is not reading!). We stood for ages waiting for a quiet moment in the traffic and it just wasn’t happening. I don’t know whether it was the hunger in my tummy or the sheer “to hell with it” attitude I have adopted but I made my way into the road with my arms up screaming at the traffic to please (always remember your manners and use please!!) slow down and just let us cross!! And we did it – we crossed the road – AND WE SURVIVED!!! And the herd of people waiting to cross also crossed with us; some laughing and some obviously looking incredulously at the mad 52 and 10 months old woman (oh yes it is now creeping up on me) with unwashed hair (but clean underwear always clean underwear!). Hannah was laughing “Mum, I can’t believe you just did that; I am so proud of you”. At that moment I did, however, wonder whether I was quite the role mother I aspired to be? Years ago whilst on holiday in Cyprus with my girls I longed to learn to water ski. I put life jackets on the girls (aged 4 and 6 at the time) and George the waterski instructor took us out on his boat. As I entered the water I told him I was nervous and he turned to me and said “Sally; there are two people who can walk on water – Jesus and today you too will walk on the water”!! We have always laughed at this. Well today, not only can I walk on water I can also stop traffic in a Delhi street at the height of rush hour!!
Hannah excelled herself by reading about and taking us to a restaurant called “The Kitchen with a Cause”. It is an organisation which offers internships to young Indians rescued from circumstances in the villages and giving them hope and the ability and skills to achieve their dreams in the world. How fitting to spend our final night in such a place having witnessed the situation in the villages. The food was fabulous as was the atmosphere and we could have stayed longer with these lovely and kind people had we not needed to return to our hotel to catch some sleep before an early departure to the hotel.
It is now 6.30 am on the 8th December and I sit here in the departure lounge of Delhi airport sipping an earl grey tea and ending our adventure in this fabulously wonderful country. I didn’t know what to expect but India has given us an adventure far beyond any expectations we may have had. Tears slowly and privately flow (don’t want to embarrass Hannah after I have done so well so far!!) as I await the call to embark the flight to Abu Dhabi. I shall sit on the flight and wave goodbye like mad to India!! I can’t wait to see John, Francesca and Archie and can’t wait to hold my Mum and especially my Dad tightly. I also can’t wait to see you all and forgive me if I give you a huge hug when I see you!! This adventure has been FANBLOODYTASTIC.
One more blog post remains tomorrow night when I am safely home (do I hear groans ?!?) but until then ……
Today’s worry? We will be served Indian food for breakfast on the flight!
Love and anticipation
We started our long 8! hour drive to Pushkar and, again, the scenery steadily changed. We past so many peacocks and wild camels and I asked Sukhvinder to stop (on many occasions!) for a photograph. I have realised, however, that some photos will never show the true picture of what we have seen.
We are now down to one M&S mint which I am saving to give to Sukhvinder when we say goodbye at the airport. We munched instead on a fabulous box of biscuits we bought in Jaisalmer and the mood in the car became quite reflective as our journey together comes to an end.
Sukhvinder has really become a very dear friend and I shall miss him terribly. He has made this adventure such a delight for us both and has protected and guided us for the entire time. As soon as the car stops he literally jumps out to open the door and is always waiting in the right spot when we have finished visiting somewhere. He advises us on the (most frustrating) tip situation and what to avoid. The three of us have laughed together so much! He has shared photos and stories of his wife and two small children and is a great family man. His father died sadly in 1997 and he lives in a house with his mother living on the bottom floor. Sukhvinder and his wife and children live on the left hand side of the top floor and his brother and his family live on the right. He is a great family man and very caring. He has explained many things to us, pointed out all the interesting things to look at along the way and handled the checkpoint guards with patience and respect. I think he finds it amusing that I sit in the back and wave like Lady Di at everyone I see. He laughs at my road rage and my desire to ensure the whole world just smiles! We have stopped at many roadside places and it is endearing and telling that he won’t sit at the same table as us and eat. We talk across the tables and quite often Hannah and I sit outside to give him privacy (and probably some peace and quite from my constant chatter!). One of the important things in life is the people you meet along the way!
I didn’t really know what to expect two weeks ago when John and Mum dropped us off at Heathrow but I know it seems a long time away and that is because in these past (almost) two weeks I have learnt a lot about myself through different experiences and they way I have handled things. I know I can be precious and I think it will be a long time before I turn up to work with unwashed hair, chipped nails and smelling as though I have slept with a camel, but I have learnt not to care or mind as much. It is what I am inside that matters. I do, and always have, loved people – just adore them! I like happiness and love and want everyone to feel the same. It doesn’t matter what we have or don’t have; it doesn’t matter if we don’t agree with the same thing; it doesn’t matter how we look – if we all just smiled and were graceful to each other this world would be a happier one. Just talk nicely to each other; don’t criticise give praise where and when praise is due. Show interest in each other. My promise to myself is that I am only going to surround myself with positive people and if they can’t be positive then try and help them. Step aside Mother Teresa – Mother SA is returning to the U.K. Bottom line; I am going to try and achieve to be more chilled (oh I can hear the shouts of joy and bewilderment from you all – yeah, yeah we will believe it when we see it!).
Confidence and self belief also and caring too much about what people think. I have always wanted to write a blog (during different occasions of my life) and always thought “what if no one reads it”, “what if people laugh at me”, “what if I make a fool of myself”. So what ?!? Who cares?’ DO IT FOR YOU!! The encouragement I had to write it from my family and friends made me decide to bite the bullet and start this blog and I have enjoyed it so much and will miss talking to you all; you have all been fabulous and wonderful and I truly love you and am grateful for your comments.
We arrived in Pushkar at night and checked in to a countryside resort. Sounds nice, I can hear you say! It has a pool! It is GRIM! There were four guys sat at a table in the garden having their own little rock session smoking something dodgy. Sukhvinder left us and went to check into his small hotel down the road. We had a quick shower (the water stinks!) and noticed no hairdryer!! Do I care (my inner self wanted to sob but the new SA couldn’t care less – impressed ? Gosh I hope this lasts).
I put together a fantastic playlist on my phone with the help of John and Mr Music himself, Dave and Hannah has been impressed with my varied collection! We have danced to Dancing Queen and Whitney Houston and sat in our thoughts and sang along to The Cranberries singing “linger”. Keith Urban “the fighter” is one of my favourites but our best, best song which sums up our adventure is “crazy world” by Aslan – fabulous and we sing at the top of our voices; Hannah even admits how impressed she is with my moves – shake it baby!!!!!
We are stuck in the middle of nowhere and started to make our way down the unmade track to the town. I realised we needed Grandad’s torch so headed back to the hotel to find Sukhvinder walking towards us! He said he was concerned about us heading to the town in the dark so waited to drop us off – what a kind man! Hannah and I walked through the town and it quickly became apparent we had hit Backpackers Paradise! Pushkar is absolutely alcohol feee (you can do this, SA, keep focused you can do this) and they don’t (according to Sukhvinder) allow eggs nor meat into the town. I think many people make up for the lack of alcohol in other ways. I remarked to Hannah how everyone looked so happy and she just raised her eyebrows at me; innocence is a great thing sometimes methinks! The local people were a lot more gentle and there was no aggression when looking at the small stalls. I was waiting for Hannah at one point whilst she looked at something and something came up behind me and pushed me out the way – I turned round face to face with a cow and screamed! A group of backpackers roared with laughter whilst I smiled and gently tried to push the cow with my foot out of the way without anyone noticing. We ate in a super restaurant which also had rooms and wish we had stayed there. I drank mint and lemon tea which was the most disgusting looking colour but, as always during this trip, I smiled and just closed my eyes and slurped!
The John Lewis silver espadrilles took a turn for the worse when I stood in a fresh cow pat – I have survived monkey temples, mountain terrain, camels and dogs and manage, on almost the last day, to stand in a fresh cow pat! Whether I was high on the various smells accumulating in the air or whether it was the cow pat gently oozing onto my foot; Hannah suffered my second meltdown of the trip (she has been impressed there has only been two). We quickly found a tuk tuk (where was Sukhvinder when we needed him?!) and showed him the card of where we were staying. We took off in the slowest tuk tuk ever and couldn’t even put our heads out of the window to escape the stench of my foot. WE GOT LOST!!!! I am going to give my Papa the hugest hug in return for his torch as I lent it to the tuk tuk driver to find the way home. We went over rubble, dodged the cows and all in the dark. We eventually arrived with tears rolling down our cheeks; not sure whether from laughter or the pure stench of the cow pat which was now forming a crust on my foot. I did not cry but my word it was hard not to.
A dash to the shower where I scrubbed and scrubbed both my foot and espadrille in my lavender body wash (the Liz Earle had to stay at home as too bulky!) and then to bed where I sprayed the lavender pillow spray which I sleep with under my pillow each night. I did admit to being precious earlier in this blog.
Many thoughts running through my head and we are both now homesick. We are exhausted but so wonderfully happy. Another long drive tomorrow to Delhi but Sukhvinder assures us the roads are better and the journey should be a good one. Attached are some photos I have taken of the roadsides as we pass.
Today’s worry? I will somehow forget some of the images I have seen – I want to cling to them forever!
Love and reflection
We enjoyed a small lie in for the first time of the trip and had a small breakfast on the rooftop overlooking the fort. The sun was extremely hot and bright.
Sukhvinder left us at the foot of the entrance and we slowly made the small climb. The chaos once we stepped inside honestly made us just stop and stare! The fort is a living fort and a quarter of the people of Jaisalmer live within the walls . It was just full of tiny houses with people selling all kinds of things. The noise, smell and the sight of what we saw is something I shall remember forever and something I don’t ever think I will see again! I felt as though I was being twirled around and around and felt so dizzy. I am so done with the people offering goods; haggling etc and will return with nothing but 15 ceramic doorknobs!
We went to the entry of the palace with one the fort which was tiny. We paid our entrance fee (you pay extra fee each time to be allowed to take photographs which is strange?) and went to get our audio guide. Unfortunately they wouldn’t give us the audio as I was not prepared to leave our passports with them. They insisted on us leaving our passports and they would give them back at the exit! For the very first time I just didn’t feel safe and said I would rather not; the man became quite aggressive, snatched the audio back and told us to go! We carried on, like two naughty school girls, around the vast palace with lots of nooks and crannies and made up our own history story as we went around. The views weren’t particularly spectacular and we were still reeling from the man’s behaviour that we decided to leave. Wouldn’t recommend Jaisalmer Fort in my travel guide.
Sukhvinder drove us to the Gadsisar Sagar Lake to gather our senses again and to relax after the chaos and upset of the fort. There was a small boating lake and I bought tickets for Hannah and I to row a small boat around the lake. We took our ticket to the small jetty to be shown a pedalo?!!!! No, I said, pointing to the small row boat, we want to row! “Two peoples – pedalo” he shouted. But I want to row I cried! “Two peoples- pedalo”. He then pointed to a blue swan shaped pedalo and at this point I became quite indignant and said “sir, I am a 52 and 9 month old English lady I will have you know – no swans!!” We ended up with a pedalo with more water inside that in the lake itself! Laugh? Again a surreal moment on a lake in India, surrounded by small temples and pedalling like mad in a pedalo. Street cred at an all time low.
A short drive out to the sand dunes and we arrived at a tiny camp with makeshift Indian day beds around a camp fire. Slowly more people arrived and a lovely atmosphere started to form. Hannah and I sat next to a French/Canadian mother and daughter similar ages to ourselves. We shared tales of our adventure in India and they explained that they had been travelling in India for two months. The daughter brings groups of people over from Canada to show them around. She asked whether we had seen the elephants in Jaipur as it was a highlight of her trip, so much so she told us she spent three (!!) hours with her elephant just talking and singing to it. She quickly went down in my notebook as loopy loop as she then explained that she was having difficulty sharing a room with her mother who snored like a pig! Quelle horreur ma petite!!
The time arrived for us to embark on our camel trek in the sand dunes. I circled the camels ensuring Hannah and I got the smartest looking ones and chose the two I liked – mistake number one; looks are deceiving! Mine had the worse case of halitosis (M&S mints at an all time low or else I would have thrown one in its mouth) and extremely incontinent as spent the entire time peeing (I know an extremely good Urogynaecologist who would sort it out!). I thought Sukhvinder was going to explode with laughter as he watched Hannah and I get on the camels. To hell with it, I thought, I lost all dignity on the pedalo – who cares whether I fall off the other side of a camel?
We headed off towards the huge dunes and discovered Loopy Loop and her mother were behind us. Losing myself in the moment (and a little tear escaped my eye because truly, honestly, this was beyond beautiful), I was surprised and horrified to hear Loopy Loop calling out to us asking whether we would mind if she sang to her camel ?!? Are you joking ma petite? Here in the midst of the mind blowing sand dunes of the Thar desert surrounded by the most beautiful scenery – you want to sing to the camel ?!? Please believe me when the two of them began to sing Frere Jacques – I kid you not; as honest as a 52 and 9 month old true Brit can be – THEY SANG TO THE CAMEL!! Sacre Coeur and eat me alive they did. Thankfully our leader took a different path and after a little while, and a few more French songs, we went separate ways. Later when we stopped for a break, we spotted Loopy Loop and her mother smoking something rather dodgy with their leader.
We met other camel riders and locals with their camels and walked and sat in the dunes for about an hour and a half and watched the sunset. I am almost in tears as I write and share this with you all (and thank you from the bottom of my heart for being with me) as this will go down in my book as one of the most beautiful and special moments in my life. I so wish John and Francesca were with us! Simply spectacular.
A beautiful ride back to camp and I quickly found two daybeds on the opposite side to Loopy Loop and her mother for fear they would start singing to the campfire. A scrumptious buffet was served and Hannah and I enjoyed a couple of glasses of shandy (didn’t feel it was the time nor place to ask for the wine list). A beautiful dancer and a band arrived and danced around the campfire which was super. Another “female” dancer arrived with surprisingly large hands and, you guessed it, was a man all dressed up as a belly dancer with the most impressive hip movements; take note Mr Laing! Hannah was rather taken with one of the men in the camp who, she said, resembled Johnny Depp (not sure whether she had had too much shandy or whether the Indian sun was having an effect!!). It was all very strange but the evening was fabulous. We were then all asked (about 40 of us) whether we would like to sleep in the large tents in the camp or a tent in the sand dune. Sukhvinder encouraged us to choose the sand dune which we did. We should have realised at that moment that our decision was a mistake as only four of us (two French guys and us) decided to head to the dunes. I should also have realised it was a mistake as Sukhvinder couldn’t stop laughing as we quickly scrambled some overnight things and were taken by jeep deep into the dunes. Relieved to hear that Loopy Loop and her mother decided to remain at camp as couldn’t bear the mother’s snoring or Loopy Loop singing to the stars.
Attached is a photo of our tent! Trust me when I say that, during the day, the temperature is about 27 degrees and I swear at night it drops to the minus figure! The two guys were shown their tent and the guide pointed to a large sand dune at the bottom of which was our tent. No, no I cried, without even thinking, we want to sleep together!! Well the horror on the faces of the two French guys and the look of sheer disappointment on Hannah’s was a picture! I quickly saved the moment by saying I would rather both tents were together but was told we had to go to the lower dune. Have you tried walking lady like down a steep dune with your John Lewis silver espadrilles on in the dark?! I tried, oh man I tried, but sunk deep into the dune and slid the whole way down on my bottom and landed in a heap at the entrance of our tent. Our guide left us and that was it – alone and abandoned in the desert. Congratulating myself again, I showed Hannah how I had brought my full washbag laden with products for a full facial, Grandad’s torch (one out of his vast collection), and a sheet from Grandma which was a last minute decision. We snuggled down but couldn’t sleep for giggling so much. I was absolutely frozen despite the 5 (!) quilts we had been given. The stars were amazing and resembled a huge firework – just stunning.
I woke to the sound of a growling wild dog and hypothermia. Hannah excitedly opened the tent and ran out to catch the sunrise – AND LEFT ME ALONE!! She told me to just run but I refused and stayed in the tent clutching my quilt and silently praying for this adventure to end. I eventually ventured out, not even bothering to look in my mirror (what dignity do I have left?), and caught the tail end of the sunrise which was beautiful.
After breakfast of rice, a piece of toast, black tea and a banana we made our farewells (Loopy Loop and her mother failed to make an appearance at breakfast – probably singing and bonding with the wild dogs) and left. A fabulous experience but I shan’t be camping again any time soon.
We are now starting the 7 hour drive to Pushkar and I am told no forts await! I feel so relaxed (I do I promise!) and am loving every single, entire part of this adventure. Completely and utterly out of my comfort zone and it has been good for me. It has taught me not to fret about the small stuff. I write this with unwashed hair, no make up (I tried to put mascara on without a mirror but I exited the tent looking like something out of the Rocky Horror Show and Hannah quickly removed its whilst laughing and tutting!) and smelling like a camel. My toenails are chipped and the soles of my feet are so rough and course I fear no amount of pedicures will get them back to normal- do I care? – trying not to!
Today’s worry – there won’t be a hairdryer or hot water at our next destination.
Love and dignity
I never thought I would admit to loving early mornings but I do! After another buffet Indian breakfast (I am only managing a piece of toast and one vegetable pakora now!), we checked out and met Sukhvinder at the entrance.
Having got over my little tantrum of not being invited to Jodphur’s wedding of the year, we drove to the spectacular Umaid Bhawan Palace high on the hill overlooking Jodhpur. It is one of the world’s largest private residences and is now a hotel managed by Taj Hotels. It was extremely manicured; not a piece of litter nor flower out of place. There was a super museum explaining all about the architecture and I was delighted to hear that the British architect, Henry Vaughan Lanchester, was in fact a friend of Sir Edwin Lutyens. Now in the great year of 2005 I myself (oh yeah) got married in New Place in Shirrell Heath which was designed by Edwin Lutyens – we didn’t need 347 rooms nor elephants for our grand entrance; John and I settled for a fabulous piper with men in kilts and surrounded by loved ones (I wasn’t able to negotiate a deal with Hello magazine so the world missed out on our celebrations!).
Not being a huge car fan I was, nonetheless, very impressed with the vintage car exhibition and my Dad would have been in his element with the vast display of clocks also. Bit miffed to have paid the entrance fee and not to be allowed to walk around at least part of the 26 acres of gardens.
Jodhpur is the second largest city on the edge of the Thar desert and is also famous for being known as the Blue City due to the sea of small buildings all painted blue. Sukhvinder told us Jodhpur means Sun City due to the many sunny days and the light from the sun which reflects on the sand coloured buildings.
We climbed (by car, friends, by car!) the 410 feet above the city to the Mehrangarh Fort (also known as Mehran Fort). Another fort with several palaces within and we loved the exhibition of elephant’s howdahs which are the travelling compartments fastened to the top of the elephant’s back; some very ornate and stunning ones. We also enjoyed the display of palanquins which carried the noble ladies around.
Spectacular view of the Blue City which we really enjoyed and the sun was very hot! There was a wonderful courtyard at the top of the fort with a man decked out in the most handsome attire quietly playing music (photo attached). We had to remove our shoes to enter the courtyard we tried to lose ourselves in the peace of the moment and tried to avert our eyes from the left of the gentleman to the two ladies openly breastfeeding their children of about 3 years old!! Again all a tiny bit spoilt by the incessant request for photos and selfies; it started as a rather flattering and endearing request at the beginning of the trip but is now becoming rather upsetting and irritating!
We couldn’t believe our luck when we were invited into a private room for a meditation session. I perched myself on the cushion and closed my eyes longing to be sent to a place of relax. Hannah fell straight into the music and was away in her mind. Me? when am I going to find time to put the Christmas decorations up on return – the thought of John and Dave cooking Christmas lunch for the 9 of us (note to self; lock the wine cupboard!) – I hope Francesca got to her business meeting in Kent safely – how my darling Dad was feeling after his poorly spell and, quite honestly, anything else I could find to worry about! The session was over far too quickly and Hannah bought a CD of the fabulous music whilst I felt more stressed than when I entered the room!
A quick drink in the grounds of the fort and I bought some homemade biscuits to share with Sukhvinder on the long drive to Jaisalmer. The M&S mint selection is dwindling and I am now saving for emergency use.
We had a super walk in the Mandore gardens and loved the various temples and peacefulness (no selfie requests) and Hannah delighted to find oodles of monkeys running around (but this time none landing on my head).
And so began the long drive to Jaisalmer which was fanbloodytastic I can tell you! The difference again in the landscape was superb and, entering the Thar desert, I almost screamed (note to self SA; you are 52 and British – decorum girl, decorum!) when Sukhvinder pointed out the wild camels! Happy? The smile on my face was huge and I quickly asked Sukhvinder if I could use his WiFi for one minute to send a message to John to share what I had just seen. Another point to note – how come Sukhvinder’s WiFi signal in the middle of the Thar desert in Rajasthan is amazingly quick and efficient when I can’t get a WiFi signal in the middle of John Lewis in Southampton?!
We past through yet another election checkpoint (really? necessary? who are being bribed this time? the camels?) and this time we had our car checked. I put my innocent look on and acted demurely (I can do it!) and we were waved on.
Another roadside stop and this time Hannah and I ordered a black tea with a packet of crisps whilst Sukhvinder munched on a sandwich. Very amusing to watch two busloads of Indian tourists use the toilet in the cafe and fill up their water from the urn but didn’t purchase anything or left no tip – imagine doing that on the M3, Waitrose would charge you for theft! When we walked back to the car everyone was hanging out the windows looking and waving happily at us! At that moment I thought I was going to cry with sheer love and happiness; I wanted to run onto the buses and hug each and every one of them – so welcoming and so darn happy – I waved like mad as we drove away! I then got my indignant hat on and raged for half at hour, with Sukhvinder nodding in agreement, about how, if we just all loved each other in the world, respected one another and didn’t interfere in others lives, what a wonderful world this would be (I feel a song coming on!). Hannah was embarrassed by my passionate outburst and fell asleep. I meanwhile sat in the back of the car and waved for miles at the schoolgirls perched on the back of the trucks on the way back from school and the small children with no pants or shoes but all with happy faces. Smile world and the whole bloody world will smile with you – how much do love and smiles cost ?! I’ll stop now.
Suddenly Sukhvinder pointed out the large army camps in training. He also explained that this is a nuclear training ground – I didn’t want to hear it! We continued the drive and stopped at the Jaisalmer War Museum which was very moving and inspiring – my Dad would have loved it and I would have loved to have shared it with him – I have taken lots of photos to show him on my return; I adore my Papa x
Arriving to a very dusty Jaisalmer with lots of stalls selling combat gear (bizarre?), and a big military presence, Sukhvinder explained that we are only 60 kms from the Pakistan border and “relations are not good”! Well I didn’t realise that when booking for this adventure and another dress code error; I don’t do combat wear!!! We checked into a wonderful Haveli and had a shower.
Sukhvinder recommended a super restaurant at the gateway of the Rajwada Fort and ashamed to say Hannah and I enjoyed the most wonderful pizza with two glasses of Merlot – heaven on earth! The rooftop was fabulous and the views of the fort very impressive.
We managed to get lost on the way back to the Haveli and Hannah managed to step in some kind of sewer which made us run back to the hotel, through the backstreets in Jaisalmer , dodging the cows unseen in the pitch black whilst Hannah tried to use google maps (really?!?). Two English females walking out at night is not for the faint hearted and Hannah told me tonight how proud she was of me for how I have handled situations – oh yeah one cool Mama am I!
Today’s worry; a night in the sand dunes tomorrow night in a tent – what is there not to worry about?!
Love and world peace