I’m writing this blog on a train from Margao to Trivandrum, which if all goes to plan should take us 19 hours. Its been quite a while since my last post, all I can say is I have a sick note from the doctor to excuse me… more on this later. Anyway, we wondered if a hippopotamus might have boarded the train? But no its just someone taking an afternoon nap and snoring with the force of a large mud dwelling hippo! Its only 3:50pm, who knows what this trains going to sound like by night time… Noah’s ark perhaps?
So, after Jaipur we caught a train down to Udaipur, the Venice of the East. It is stunningly beautiful and so calm in comparison to the big cities. We really enjoyed the pace of life in Udaipur. As so often happens in beautiful places, it was full of artists and creativity. There are colourful cartoon like paintings on the walls of the streets, houses and restaurants.
The city is built around a lake which has a floating palace in the centre as well as an impressive city palace on the banks. At night the lake is lit up with lights which twinkle on the water and the sound of drums beat on throughout the evening. We kept seeing signs for Octopussy advertised and wondered what it was all about. Turns out James Bond, Octopussy was filmed in Udaipur in the 1980’s. Since then many restaurants play the film every night… They absolutely love it!
One evening we heard fireworks and music and thought there must be some kind of festival. We hurried across the lake’s footbridge, leading to the town and saw a wedding procession. The groom was looking very grand seated on top of an impressive white stead. Surrounding him were about another 4 horses and some very well dressed men in white and gold outfits. Ahead of the horses was a carnival cart with huge speakers blasting out the sound of beating drums. Every now and again there was a HUGE bang and fireworks along with multi-coloured pieces of paper shooting up into the sky and then falling down on the crowd below. Indians really do know how to celebrate!
Apparently, this was the part of the wedding (they can go on for weeks) when the grooms party ride horses to the brides family home where she says her farewells to her family and leaves with the groom to join him and his family. I can only imagine how exciting and intimidating all of this must feel to a young bride. Hopefully she will be happy in her new home.
After Udaipur we headed north through Rajasthan to Pushkar. We were so excited to visit this holy place but it wasn’t quite what we were expecting. As we walked towards the holy lake, people put flowers into our hands and told us to throw them into the lake as a blessing. When we arrived at the lake there were groups of people waiting to encourage us further into taking part. We decided to decline as everything felt too pressurised and we had a sneaky feeling something was about to get very expensive. Its lucky that we realised, as we met an Austrian couple who had unknowingly taken part in the ritual only to be asked to pay 10 Euros per family member to the priests. Between them they were asked to pay 120 Euros. With the size of my family I would’ve had to take out a small mortgage!!
A genuine priest had been watching these proceedings and explained to them that the men who do this are in a caste that traditionally is made up of priests who have turned a beautiful blessing into a money maker. He kindly then performed the blessing for the Austrian couple and asked them for no money in return.
I can’t say I blame these men for doing what they do. There are so many people in India that everything has such fierce competition, it must be incredibly hard to make a living here. I have really felt the urgency of all of these people to gain our custom, especially as we are nearing the end of the season before temperatures rise and all the tourists go back home.
People go to such great lengths to please us. When we’ve run out of clean clothes and used a laundry service, the clothes come back clean, pressed, folded with sheets of paper to keep them in shape and all expertly bundled up. I have never seen washing so professionally done (sorry mum!). Then the bill comes and it costs maybe £2 to get all your clothes as good as new. I felt guilty paying such a small amount of money thinking someone will have worked so hard to give us such good quality service. But I have to remember everything is relative in terms of cost, and we are from a very different economy.
To a traveller you are constantly surrounded by restaurants, hotels, taxis and shops all competing for your custom and we know that all of the people who work in each establishment will be lovely and each in need of our custom. For me, I’ve had a really hard time detaching myself from this. For example, an ice-cream vendor on the beach in Goa, who didn’t have the specific pistachio ice-ream I craved. We were surrounded by other ice-cream men who probably had the tasty pistachio, but I couldn’t walk away from this sweet old man who was dialing the number of his wife to bring us his ice cold treats. I opted for chocolate instead and he thanked us for our custom. This is part of the reason we have actively sought out quieter, more chilled out places.
Rob and I both had quite an awkward feeling as we walked around the Ghats of Pushkar. We were expecting something very pure but were confronted with yet more scams and crowds of western travellers all buying from market stalls and fueling a capitalist frame of mind. I’m sure had we stayed longer we would have been able to see through the haze of hippies and joints and maybe have found something that was ‘real’ but unfortunately our trip was about to take a turn for the worse or should I say… the bathroom.
We found a café in Pushkar that had been recommended in the Lonely Planet, which was supposed to serve amazingly healthy food. After having gone to a few yoga classes in Udaipur and been told by our fantastic yogi that “chapatti makes you fatty”, we thought some vegetables would be a good idea. Big mistake! 8 days later, after both of us had been suffering with food poisoning, the illness only came to a head when I was treated for dehydration in Goa. Needless to say, this experience really did slow us down, so this is why my post has taken so long. But happily we are both now fully recovered.
Coming from a country where everything is so standardised, the lack of consistency in India keeps things really interesting. I cant work out if our experiences, good and bad, have been due to luck or planning. As I sit and write on this overnight train, I’ve just been handed my second cup of tomato massala soup (delicious) and we are beginning the 3rd meal of the journey. But on the last overnight train we caught, no food was provided. It’s a mystery to me but in India you never know what your going to get.
Again, my reflection on India up until this point in our trip, was that it is full of contradictions, and so may highs and then lows. We saw a beautiful old snakes and ladders board in Udaipur, which kind of stuck with me for a while. You find a ladder, you’re having a great time, then suddenly, you land on a snake and wonder what the heck is going on?! But, that’s all the fun of it!
We had booked a taxi to take us to the train station today, but a couple of hours before it was due we found out all of the taxi drivers were on strike. So the only option was a lift to the nearest bus stop on the back of 2 scooters (while holding onto all our luggage.) Turns out we had a blast. Wind blowing through my hair and weaving between cows on the winding roads we made it onto the bus, which can only be described as a party bus! Blasting out of the speakers was dub-step, complimented with flashing lights inside the bus. India, what have you got in store for us next???
Sending you love and sunshine from India xxx