Before I set off on my little adventure family and friends kept telling me I was going to be pushed out of my comfort zone in ways I will never know. Yeah, yeah I can do this I thought !
After a hasty slurp of my favourite masala and ginger tea at 6.30 in the morning we were met at the entrance by our jeep and safari guide. Another day of getting the dress code wrong (how come Kate Middleton nails it every time?). There was a family of 4 Indians wrapped in multiple layers of clothes with bobble hats, gloves, scarves completely covering their faces and sunglasses. Me? Dressed in a borrowed pair of Hannah’s Urban Outfitters trousers which I had managed to break the zip 5 minutes before and were held together by a safety pin, my rather lovely Zara top and a bright pink pashmina (would look good in the photos I thought?). Our wonderful hotel manager quickly rustled up 2 heavy Rajasthan blankets for Hannah and I and we sped off. We picked up a young Indian boy aged about 16 who sat next to me and who stared at Hannah and I for the entire trip – in between spitting over the side of the jeep – really?!
As we sped (and I thought I was a fast driver) past oodles of camels and other wild life I began to wonder what I was doing. It was 6.30 I am wrapped in a Rajasthan blanket on the back of a jeep with strangers and we could be heading anywhere!
Thoughts running through my head? I am a responsible and loving mother and my beloved daughter and I are going to be kidnapped in what can only be described as a scene from Homeland. Passports? should I have left the passports in the room or brought them with me – what would Carrie have done in Homeland? Will John pay the ransom? Are we going to die? Will Dad just say, I told you so? Is there a gun in the glove compartment? Relax Sal, you can do this – wrap your pink pashmina round your face and act cool. Hannah was constantly asking, with excitement all over her face, are you alright Mum?! Yes, darling, couldn’t be better – now wrap the blanket around you so you don’t get a cold! I am a responsible mother after all!
There are 10 zones in the Ranthambore National Park and we were heading to zone 10. I started to relax and concentrate on keeping my bottom on the seat. We saw water buffalo, antelope, tons of monkeys, spotted deer and Indian deer. It was so peaceful in the park and with the sunrise appearing over the mountains, I was slowly beginning to relax and admit my passport was not needed!
The jeep stopped suddenly (keep bottom on seat SA – you can do this!) and we inspected the numerous tiger paw prints. There were about 5 other jeeps heading in all different directions and it became almost competitive to find a tiger! After 4 hours of searching we saw the backside of a tiger and decided to return to hotel for a break before returning for the afternoon safari ?!? The other people on the jeep seemed to take more selfies with Hannah and I than the landscape – so bizarre!
After breakfast we returned, rather dishevelled, to our room and had a little nap before being called at 2 pm by the wonderful Devendra letting us know that our afternoon jeep was waiting. I don’t want to go I wanted to cry but, promising to be a cool Mum, I clambered into the back of jeep number 2 and covered myself with my blanket again. This time we had a nice family from Chicago; a mother and three grown up children. They were on a 2 week holiday which comprised of a day in Copenhagen, Paris, Amsterdam, Bavaria (!!!) and a week in India via Shanghai – madness but I looked impressed.
Another 4 hours of searching for, what I now regarded as, the bloody tiger we found nothing. Even the antelope and water buffalo were no longer interesting me. I couldn’t even care if we were kidnapped – I just needed warmth and a cup of tea! Our guide was so lovely and friendly and we drove at angles I thought would literally tip us out of the truck. It was like being on a Land Rover discovery course.
We came across a jeep with an English couple and their daughter who were obviously staying 5 star (who needs 5 star?!) and were kitted out in the most up to date, straight out of Vogue magazine, attire. Just keep your head down SA and don’t make eye contact – they don’t know you are British – DO NOT CRY!! Note to self; next time you do a safari at least wear a pair of chinos!
Driving back through the chaotic villages I was quietly congratulating myself on a) not being car sick and b) not crying when, all of a sudden, 5 dogs races down the road and literally jumped on and killed another dog – all too much for me and I just bit my bottom lip all the way back to the hotel.
We returned to the hotel with a flat tyre looking like we had spent the night on the razzle dazzle (I wish – if not just for the champagne). A quick cup of my favourite tea and then a shower and hair wash.
Lovely Devendra lit the fire pit for us and we were called for our supper. Devendra is mesmerised by Hannah and they have become good friends. She politely commented on his somewhat new hair colour from the previous night and he explained how he had used a henna treatment and was pleased with the result. Not the shade I would have recommended but I didn’t want to be a kill joy and remarked how gorgeous he looked. We were rewarded with a small tub of ice cream which was very welcome and calmed my mouth and throat after dinner.
I have texted Sukhvinder who will come one hour earlier in the morning to collect us (he is staying at a guest house down the road) at 9 am for our trip to Jaipur. Hannah has googled and found a lovely Italian restaurant in Jaipur – surely curry and pasta won’t be on the menu?
Hannah is just the most wonderful and patient travel companion and I truly believe she doesn’t, for one second, regret agreeing for me to join her on this trip! We laugh until we cry.
Today’s worry! Am I ever going to manage more than a three hour sleep during this trip? Photos to follow shortly ….
I miss you my wonderful friends and family but having the most wonderful magical time xx
Love and tiger backsides
Today at the age of 52 and 9 months, Sally-Anne Laing stood in front of the Taj Mahal !!! Yes me !
Woke at 5.15 am to be collected by Sukhvinder and Raj at 6 am for the short drive to the Taj Mahal. Long queues to pay for tickets and shoe covers and then taken by a tuk tuk type taxi to the entrance. Like most places in India there are two queues; one for the men and one for the women. Managing to avoid the rather vicious looking monkeys who were keen to steal anything on sight we made the short walk to the Taj Mahal passing through the Palace entry gate first.
Our first sight of the Taj literally stopped us in our tracks – it honestly took my breath away and even now, describing to you my wonderful friends and family, I have tears in my eyes! It is quite simply stunning, beautiful and peaceful and something I will carry with me for ever. Raj our guide was very good and gave us some incredible facts and to know this building was made out of pure love by Shah Jahan for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Raj gave us some facts Hannah and I found really incredulous and slightly amusing; the Shah we are told had 8,000 (you had better belief anything Raj has to say ) concubines! How he managed the energy neither of us feared to ask Raj so we just shook our heads in awe!
Now for some 15 years I have been asking my gorgeous husband, John, if he would build me a pergola at the bottom of our garden where I can read whilst enjoying the odd (!) glass of wine – 15 years!!! When I return I shall offer him as many concubines as it takes to build me my long awaited pergola ! Time for action methinks – what is good enough for Mumtaz is good enough for Sal.
The mausoleum was interesting and the architecture inspiring (slight hint again for my pergola). Sad to see someone had attempted to remove the jewels from one the marbles. A peaceful walk around followed by the inevitable photo on the seat of Princess Di and we made for the exit – one final glimpse of a sight I won’t see again but will treasure forever.
Sukhvinder was waiting for us at the exit (all very slick) and we said our thanks and goodbyes to Raj and headed to the hotel for breakfast and our bags before the start of the journey to Ranthambore. Quite relieved to be leaving Agra.
We completed the most fantastic journey to Ranthambore after 5 hours. We drove though small towns dodging camels (!!), wild boar, cows, dogs and monkeys. I think Sukhvinder is amused by me but seems to be enjoying being with us !! We share our M&S mint assortment and he shares stories of his life being brought up in the Sikh tradition.
Passing through the towns is like passing through several film sets. Buildings made of corrugated iron with only space for a barber chair and client to sit as a cow walks past whilst the monkeys jump from one building to another. So so many motorbikes. So so much dirt and poverty but, again, only happiness on the faces of the people we pass. They have nothing but smiles, happiness and friendships to keep them going. To be honest what more do any of us need?
We arrived at the Vatika resort on the edge of the Ranthambore National Park and Sukhvinder left us and will collect us in two days time. We sat on our small balcony drinking masala and ginger tea and watched monkeys play in the trees! At one point we thought they were eyeing us up for an attack and ran into our room only to return to the balcony hearing giggles of laughter from the people below !! The fire pits were lit and we sat around talking to an elderly Indian couple before being called in for a lovely supper!
I have to pinch myself – cannot still believe we are here!
Early night and being collected in the morning at 6.40 for the morning safari to try and see the Bengal tigers. There is another safari booked in the afternoon.
My struggle today – no hairdryer !! Disaster – what am I to do! May have a word with one of the monkeys and get them to climb into one of the rooms at the nearby Oberoi hotel and pinch one for me.
Today’s fear? Apart from what on earth I am going to do with my hair tomorrow – I may be savaged by a Bengal tiger.
Love and dreams coming true
We finished our day yesterday with visiting The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial with some very inspirational verses leaving me feeling very uplifted and positive. I struggled to remember the verses today !
We took the train from Delhi station to Agra and in some ways it would give South West Rail a run for their money ! Very comfortable seats – bottles of water served and then a tray with breakfast AND we left on time ! Ok ok so at Winchester station you don’t sit and watch the monkeys running all over nor the man who insisted standing by my window and decided to empty his mouth of any drops of saliva he might have left !! Horror!! I contemplated offering a tissue but Hannah warned me not to!
The train journey took us past the most deprived areas and the scenes I have witnessed have shocked me to the core – I just can’t understand or believe how these people survive; they have nothing. Children and adults were walking on the train track collecting rubbish – I just wanted to stop the train and give my food tray to them – I didn’t touch anything on my tray as it just felt wrong.
Arrived to total chaos at Agra and we hunted for Sukhvinder – he found us and again I could have jumped on him with relief – note to self; you are not a member of Sukhvinder’s family and hugging him is not ok !
We visited the Agra Fort which was beautiful and super views of the Taj Mahal, albeit it very foggy so a blur in the distance. We had a very good guide who explained all about the Mughal Emperor who built the fort in approx 1565. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site and also houses part of the Indian army.
We were taken to a nice restaurant for another buffet lunch. For someone who doesn’t like curry or spicy food (I can honestly hear you laughing!) this is a struggle. I am determined to try as much as I can but my word my limits are being pushed!
Agra is a huge shock and terribly upsetting – nothing has prepared me and I have returned to the hotel upset and with a headache. Our hotel overlooks a muddy patch of land which houses 3 separate families and they just sit and squat. Children holding babies run to the car trying to dodge the tuk tuks, cows, monkeys, dogs and traffic and I have felt just so awful and sad.
Quiet night in tonight as pick up at 6 am to see the Taj Mahal.
Today’s worry? I am worried the digestive drink I was encouraged to end my lunch with is not going to agree with me! It was green!!
I decided not to bring my iPad and struggling to upload photos for which I apologise as I have some really good ones o want to share. As soon as we are in a hotel with internet I will share my photos with you x
Love and struggles
Without sounding precious – tonight we ventured out onto the streets of Delhi on our own ! Bit of a silly mistake as I have never felt so scared in my entire life – the chaos, noise and sheer wildness of the atmosphere is unbelievable.
Hannah came up trumps with a lovely vegetarian restaurant but I am craving Earl Grey! I feel I have just taken part in a bush tucker trial – I just ate and didn’t look down! We ended the meal with a small handful of tiny sugar blocks, aniseed and coriander seeds to help the digestive system! Rather nervous about the train journey to Agra now!! The hospitality is wonderful but I feel constantly on alert !
Love and anticipation
Etihad airways is highly recommended ! Superb flight and made a couple of new friends . Flight to Abu Dhabi was eventful as we weren’t allowed to disembark because the police were coming on board !! Slight panic as I ran through in my head what I had brought with me that could be slightly illegal – I looked as guilty as sin and was relieved when the police (most elegant policemen I have ever seen 😎) arrested a passenger for inappropriate behaviour ! Nice bit of gossip !
Delhi airport was an experience – word of advice – avoid the crazy e-visa as the queues were horrendous and we were stuck for an hour ! Should have had the visa stamped on passport ! Not being a curry eater, I opted for the vegetarian choice thinking it would be mild – I provided the inflight entertainment for the Indian guy beside me as my mouth was set on fire ! And it was only chickpeas and couscous !
Our driver is called Sukhvinder and I nearly jumped on him with excitement when I saw my name! To be honest I think it was relief – I have told him the next two weeks are going to be a blast and I swear he started shaking ! He has driven us around New Delhi today and I don’t think there is a landmark we haven’t seen ! Wewere amazed at how green and clean it was! We are treated like celebrities as people want photos with us (stand back and form an orderly queue !!) and Hannah especially is followed everywhere by couples wanting photos with their children! All the Indian guys insist on taking selfies with her and if it continues I reckon I could find her a husband by the end of the trip.
We stopped at a Sikh temple so Sukhvinder could show us where he prays with his family . A very moving experience that made the menopausal woman in my cry; the people are just so warm, smiley, happy and welcoming. The buzz of this country is mind blowing . The driving is unbelievably scarey and I just make sure my seatbelt is fastened and try not to shock Sukhvinder too much with my road rage (and I am not even driving). He looked at me in the mirror at one point with shock and amusement as I shook my head and shouted as a tuktuk cut us up !!! Outrageous – where are the indicators!!!
Wasn’t intending to blog so soon so bear with until the next one. I just wanted to let you all know just how excited I am we are finally here.
Today’s fear – four bottles of water and no sign of illness !! Hoping it doesn’t make an appearance !
Off to Agra in the morning … as luck would have it can’t upload photos so will keep trying .
Love and sheer happiness
Can’t sleep and can’t eat. Huge excitement mixed with gigantic nerves! I have packed and unpacked and, sadly, the Clarins body cream is not accompanying me on my trip – compromise is needed!! I decided an extra bottle of hand sanitizer was necessary.
I am not classing this as a holiday – this is, for me, an adventure and I just cannot wait for the aeroplane to land, the doors to open and to get my first glimpse of India. Many people have told me to travel without any expectation but I find that hard. What am I expecting (oh boy I can’t wait to share with you what I actually got!!)? I am expecting an abundance of colour, hoards of people, lots of noise and just happy, smiley people. I just want to open my arms wide and just smile until I board the plane home.
I have gifts too! I have sports tops for our driver and fragrance for his wife/girlfriend (I hope he has one!) and I have 48 packets, yes 48!, of Haribo sweets to give to children I see. Yes, I have a romantic expectation and I flip between seeing myself as Bridget Jones smothering the children with love and Julie Andrews running through the crowds singing “The Hills are Alive”. I know the sceptics amongst you (gosh I can picture my fabulous husband, John, sighing with this in desperation) are laughing but I am clinging to my romantic expectation until realism sets in. I fear I may be more “The Idiot Abroad” clinging to my rucksack with eyes closed.
So off to Heathrow tomorrow to meet Hannah and ready to board flight to Abu Dhabi where we stop over for 2 hours before the flight to Delhi.
I’m going to India and I just can’t believe it!!
Today’s fear? I won’t have enough Haribo ……………………………. !
Love and expectation
The picture is of a beautiful mirror with an inscription on the reverse from some very special friends who I adore xxx