skull Holi Elephants skull
skull Delhi and Jaipur, India skull

Delhi, street up to the mosque

March 3

Our flight wasn’t until 1 pm so the plan was to have a late breakfast and watch tv in our air conditioned room. Just after breakfast the power went out (nothing new in India) so instead of sitting in our hot room we left for the airport early. We had re-confirmed our flights and everything looked okay. Once at the airport we found that our flights were not only delayed but one stop had been added, we were doing a Blainer. We settled in for the long wait. I have to add that this is when the Ipod full of tv comes in handy, you can only read for so long.

Our first flight was Port Blair to Chennai, then Chennai to Pune, then hopefully Pune to Delhi. We had the boarding passes for all flights but we were so late leaving Chennai it looked like we’d never make any other connection. A King Fisher staff assured us that if all our flights were with them we’d get there – but when? The day was a cluster fuck, sorry but it was. Every time we landed we had no idea if we were to get off the plane of stay on and the crew had no idea either. They’d say we’ll know soon – as we sat in our seats and watched people file off. Once we got told to stay then a few minutes later to get off. The last flight we were told to stay…and everyone but us got off the plane, crew included. A few minutes later someone came back and yelled for us to get off; our plane was sitting next to us and waiting. I felt sorry for the crew, not only was their company in trouble (did they even have a job tomorrow) but the customers were nervous and cranky and it really wasn’t their fault.

We made it to Delhi in time for the last subway train to town, which is cheaper than a cab and takes half the time. We went to pick up our luggage and waited…and waited…and waited. This was a little like deja vu – I’d just assured James’ cousin that losing your luggage is a very rare thing. We went to find the King Fisher desk and joined three other men looking for their bags. It turned out a few bags got left behind. We were both starving and the vending machines in the Delhi airport were filled with Western treats. I went crazy. James did too; on a vending machine that kept his money and gave him no treats. As he beat the machine up the other guys waiting to get information on their missing luggage cracked up laughing. I did too; I guess the day had taken its toll. He won the fight and ended up with two extra bags of chips. By the time we were done filling in forms we’d missed the last train and had to catch a cab.

We bartered and got one for an okay price. We loaded our stuff up and started to leave…then stopped. The driver got out and ran away. Huh? He came back with another man who got in the front with him. Excuse me? We said no right away. We were not in the mood for a detour AND had paid for a private ride. The taxi guy assured us it was on our way. I swear if he takes a detour in any way I will beat him. We said fine, but then was the new guy was sharing our price? Again the taxi driver assured us he was just dropping him off so not charging. Away we went. We really had no idea where we were going or how to spot a detour. When the guy pulled over our freebie handed the cabbie some money. They spoke for a minute then the cabbie said he’d be right back – he needed change. James nearly reached over the back seat and throttled the guy. He handed the cash back and the guy did in fact get a free ride.

While James was filling out forms at the airport I had called our hotel and they promised to save our room. When we pulled up and it was in fact waiting empty for us I was relieved. Nothing had gone horribly wrong today (well we didn’t have our luggage, they were sending it tomorrow morning to our hotel) but it had been a very long day. I wasn’t feeling very well but James talked me into eating across the road. I just wanted to crawl into bed.

March 4

I woke up with a horrible cold. The kind that sneaks up on you and knocks you flat on your ass. I popped some pills and stayed in bed. James’ went for something to eat and brought me back apple juice. The hotel had been full (it is full almost every day) and they’d put us in a bigger room than we’d paid for so we had to switch to the smaller one today. Luckily we had no luggage and the walk down one floor was relatively painless. I crawled into my new bed and went right back to sleep.

Our bags finally arrived and James went to the front desk to sign for them. When he came up I sat up and noticed holes. It looked like rats had eaten their way through in a few places. YUK! It looked like our bags had been left somewhere and rats had eaten straight through to our little bag of goodies (instant noodles, drink crystals, tea/coffee). I started to clean up as James emptied the bag – of course I wouldn’t go near it until he made sure it was rat free. We talked about what to do and I told James that seeing as though I might be dying from my cold (I might be a little dramatic at times) I would prefer to do whatever we had to do tomorrow. James, thankfully, offered to take it back to the airport while I went back to bed. Isn’t he a dreamy guy?

One reason for Delhi's traffic problems

My day was a blur, I slept and drank apple juice and then slept again.

James’ day was hell. He went to the King Fisher office near us and they (of course) said he had to go back to the airport. So he jumped on the subway. At the airport the young girl at the desk pretty much told him he was lying and did the damage himself. (James’ Note: I wasn’t really sure how to respond when I was accused of gnawing through my own backpack) She then dismissed him, or tried. He stayed in the line and finally after getting ignored threw a fit. He wouldn’t let anyone else around him until she dealt with him. It was frustrating that she wouldn’t even call the lost/damaged bag people for him. She finally gave in, likely just to get rid of him. He was taken to the lost/damaged people and given the proper forms. We need the forms to put it through our insurance. The King Fisher staff told him they could do almost nothing for him, no way would he be getting any cash, but they offered to repair it. He agreed and they said someone would pick it up this evening and return it tomorrow.

Ox-cart in action
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 8MB)

So back on the subway…Getting to from the subway and our hotel you have to go through New Delhi train station. For anyone who hasn’t been – it awful. Everyone is trying to sell you something, there are hundreds of people standing and sleeping in the station and the smell and noise almost knocks you over. I am soooo happy not to have done it sick. One guy even stopped and asked him for his ticket. (This guy we will find out later is a big scammer.) When he stopped James he pretty much got a Fu*k Off, James was worried he needed a ticket to go through and had no plans of walking all the way around.

When James got home I was still in bed and had no plans of leaving. The backpack mending man was supposed to come pick our bag up in the afternoon so James hung around. When he never came (we were not surprised) we both agreed to fix it ourselves instead of talking a chance on them. We could likely push the issue and get someone to fix our bag but what if they were late returning it? We had a train booked and didn’t want to miss it.

James eventually went for dinner alone and brought me back more apple juice. He ate at the same place as last night because it was cheap and close. When he finally crawled into bed I thanked him for taking care of everything and told him I was sorry he’d had such a bad day. Not much of a Welcome to India.

March 5

In the wee hours of the morning James was up puking. We knew that most people (so far everyone we’d talk to) gets sick at some point while in India but on the first day? That’s almost impressive – if it wasn’t so sad. I was feeling better but not great, the cold still hung on tight. James convinced me to get out of bed; we desperately needed to get our Russian VISA. We found a tuk-tuk, bartered hard for him to take us to the VISA processing office and then took off. Yeah, he had no idea where he was going. How do they barter for an unknown destination? The guide book got us close and we got out to walk the rest of the way. We asked a few men along the way and finally found the building. In the office we were asked to fill out an application and wait. We had printed off the Delhi applications from their web site and told them so. They said it was the wrong one and gave us another. We started to fill it in until someone stopped us, that was the wrong one. They gave us a copy of the one we already had. The girl told us ours wouldn’t work. You see their copy was on a single double sided sheet of paper, ours was on two separate sheets – they needed one sheet, not two. Huh? A little surprising since you have to attach a bunch of things (copy of passport, copy of plane ticket, etc.) to the application, so they aren’t real concerned for minimizing paper. This is officially our fourth Russian VISA application and the second of the same one. Grrrrrr. We finally got the forms completed and handed everything in. The girl gave us back a few sheets and we questioned her. Nope, here they didn’t care about those sheets that the other embassy insisted we needed. Yikes. They also kept our passports which made me nervous. We were traveling through India for the next week or so and I worried someone would want/need it. The girl assured me that as long as I had a copy I’d be good. I have no idea why I took her advice.

The Red Fort

Forms and passports handed in we headed back out into the crazy streets of Delhi. After all the traveling we’ve done, especially the non-stop, I didn’t expect the slap in the face that India is. (Yes the Andaman Islands are India but not really.) Think of the country you’ve been to with the most people (say China or downtown Hong Kong) and then times it by 10. Think of the dirtiest country you’ve been to (say Egypt or Indonesian Borneo) and times it by 100. Take the nosiest, smelliest country you’ve been to (say Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam or Manila, Philippines) and times it by 1000. Add cows (full herds) in the streets (don’t forget the cow poo) – to all the main streets in a city of 15 million!! It is total chaos.

We started our tour at an old crumbling fort, Kotla Firoz Shah. It wasn’t’ a big ticket item but easy to walk to and quiet. It was built in 1354 and is basically in ruins. We then walked to Raj Ghat. On the banks of the Yamuna River a simple square platform of black marble marks the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated following his assassination in 1948. The surrounding area is a beautiful (and clean) park. I wished we’d packed a picnic.

We then headed north to the Red Fort and were bombarded by tuk-tuk drivers telling us it was closed but they could take us someplace else. We thought it was a scam and snuck to a corner to check our guide book. Nope, closed. We then walked to the impressive Jama Masjid. On the way I bought a bag of tangerines for 20 cents then tried to eat them without my hands touching the inside. They were just what a sick person needed. The roads leading up to the mosque were crammed with sellers, goats, cows, people and scooters. I was absolutely mesmerized and couldn’t exactly figure out where to walk or look.

Jama Masjid

We climbed the steps of Jama Masjid as the call to prayer echoed across the square. One man made a bee line for us yelling that they were praying inside and we couldn’t enter. He said we’d have to wait 15 minutes. Okay. I then headed to the side to get in the shade and he followed, screeching at me. I assured him I wasn’t going in; I just desperately wanted to be out of the blistering sun. He didn’t like the idea but really there was no reason for me to leave my protected spot. A family approached me while James had wandered off to get pictures; they wanted a family picture with me. Okay? Weird, but okay.

We waited about 20 minutes then asked another group of tourists what they had been told, 20 minutes – 5 minutes ago. UGH! We decided it was too hot even in the strip of shade I had been fighting to keep so left. We walked down another market street and again I was captivated. We passed a clean looking restaurant so stopped for lunch. The air conditioning was a welcome relief. India is freaking hot!

Call to prayer
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 4MB)

All the tuk-tuk drivers kept trying to convince us to go to the spice market so we decided to go see what it was all about. The walk there took us past even more markets; street after street of people selling everything. In the streets, in stores, up steps…it was nuts. The sound of it all actually hurt my ears. The smell must have been strong to make it through my stuffy nose. We did find the spice market and after a bit of hesitation entered. It was tiny alleys filled again with people, goats, dogs, cows and the odd scooter. Men with truck loads of goods on their heads were running in and out and up and down the small passages. We were completely in the way. We got a bit turned around and I started to feel a bit claustrophobic. We passed the chilli section and we both started to sneeze and our eyes were watering. We finally found our way out and stood just off to the side trying to take it all in.

The spice market

We walked further into the market then out the other side. By the time we were out I was more than ready to go home. I had been bumped, shoved, my boobs had been rubbed, my ass grabbed and my head was killing me. The culture was even more aggressive than I had imagined. James gave in and we grabbed a tuk-tuk home. We picked up some juice and I was in bed and sound asleep 5 seconds out of the shower. It had been a long hard day for a sick person.

The spice market
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 7MB)

Not so pretty Delhi, view from the train

March 6

Today was a travel day. We were up early, both of us were feeling under the weather and dreaded the day ahead. Our hotel offered us a cab at a decent price so we took it. Sometime the extra $1 is worth spending. We got dropped at the train station; a filthy, dirty, garbage filled pit. We hadn’t hit much traffic so had way too long of a wait – 30 minutes I think. Our train pulled up and we found our 3AC (third class air conditioning) seats. They were really just the sleeper benches in the seating positions. The train wasn’t’ nearly as bad as I had thought. The general seating – non reserved – looks like hell. It’s a free for all with 8 per bench (at least), people sitting in the isles, around the toilets and hanging out the door ways. Thank you for my 3AC seat! The train ride was only about 5 hours and I passed the time trying to hide my knees and watching tv on the IPod. I’m tempted to buy a few pair of pants; my knees get too much attention for my liking.

We arrived in Jaipur pretty much on time. Getting off the train we were (again) attacked by tuk-tuk drivers. They start yelling in the windows before the train even stops, trying to get you to promise to only speak with them. We pushed and shoved our way off the train and made it out into the parking lot. This station had pre-paid tuk-tuks and we headed to the little building to get one. One tuk-tuk guy harassed us all the way there. We kept telling him to leave us alone but he just wouldn’t. James told the guy in the booth where we were going and we were charged the correct amount. When the guy tried to hand our receipt to James the bothersome tuk-tuk driver grabbed it first. James, haha, was quicker and grabbed it back. The guy started to yell at the guy in the booth. Change the number, change the number. The guy looked at us. No, we are not with him! The guy shrugged. We went to the line of patiently waiting tuk-tuk drivers and found our guy. If looks could kill that tuk-tuk driver would have done us in. We like the idea of the pre-paid. The prices are listed and anyone (even a tourist) is charged the correct/same price. If you want you can try to barter yourself one cheaper, but as foreigners that hardly ever happens. We would rather pay a set amount or even a running meter price.

Jaipur is Rajasthan’s capital. The city is named after its founder, the great warrior-astronomer Jai Singh II who came into power at the age of 11. In the short drive from the train station to our hotel you could already feel the difference between Jaipur and Delhi. It was India but a little less in your face. I let a breath out I hadn’t realized I had been holding – since first getting to Delhi.

From the beginning of our trip we had planned to up the accommodation budget in India. Something about rat/cockroach infested dirty hotel rooms we’d heard so much about didn’t seem appealing. Our hotel for the next few nights was described as an oasis in Jaipur. I hadn’t seen anything even remotely like an oasis yet so was skeptical. While checking in we got asked for our passports and I handed them the copy. A very confusing conversation followed. I was passed to another employee and we had a similar confusing conversation. Then another staff and we repeated it again. The gist was – we need your original passport to check you in, without it you can’t stay here. When the owner finally came in to the office and asked to see my passport I came close to screaming. If one more person asks for my passport that I clearly do not have I will explode. The owner explained that by law they needed it. I explained that we were told we only needed a copy. She asked if we had a copy of our Indian VISA. Nope. She asked where our passports were. I explained. It was at the Russian VISA processing office. She then hinted I was lying, to get a VISA you have to go to the Embassy. No. In fact our first Indian VISA was from a processing centre. Her husband came in and asked for proof. I gave him the receipt and he went to call them . A few minutes into the conversation he turned and said “It’s true, they have their passports.” UGH! Can I please punch him? (James’ Note: I can figure out what convoluted scam they thought we were pulling that involved two foreigners with only copies of their passport)

In the end they turned out to be very friendly and helpful. They had the processing center fax a copy of our Indian VISA and took a copy of our copied passports. Once I was calm I explained that our first few days in India hadn’t been the nicest. They assured us that we’d feel different in Jaipur and started to ask us about our plans. I felt like a douche bag for taking out my crankiness from still being sick and all the frustration I’d felt in the past week out on them. I apologized repeatedly. The hotel wasn’t in the backpacker’s budget area or in the middle of town. It was off to the side down a side street. There always seemed to be a cool breeze coming from I have no idea where. There was a small court yard with dining tables and a small pool. It really was an oasis.

By the time we checked into our room (wonderfully clean room) it was late afternoon. I was still tired from my cold so we decided to take it easy. In Delhi we took a long hard look at our India plans. Even for seasoned travellers it was a hard country and on top of that we were tired. We decided to cut a few smaller areas/towns and move slower. This way we might leave India without hating it or each other. Today was our first day of the moving slow and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

We also had some trains to book. Every one talked about how easy it was to book on-line and that for northern India you need about 1-1.5 weeks notice, for the south a few days. So far (in the north) we hadn’t had that luck. We also didn’t have a cell phone so we hadn’t been able to register and book ourselves. Today that was James’ goal. About an hour into the process James was not a happy camper. Indian bureaucracy is nuts. To even be allowed to book on the sites you needed register with both Indian rail and the online booking company so the company can send you a password to your email and cell phone. By the end of it we had 6 passwords. The hotel reception were kind enough to let us use their cell number but after all the forms and codes the “you can use foreign credit cards” was apparently there to just taunt James. He had to go to another on line booking site and start all over again. We found out later that to do something as simple as use a computer in an internet café or mail a parcel you need your passport. A few hours later (I wish I was exaggerating) we were on-line and booking. Well sort of. All the trains we needed were booked and we were wait listed. We had been told that first, second or third in line means you pretty much have a seat/bed but we weren’t all that happy without an actual booking. We discussed getting a bus ticket as back up…in a few days maybe.

We thought about taking a swim before heading to bed. On the way a staff member smiled and said – cold. Yeah but we are Canadians, how cold can it be. Really, really, really cold. Only my toe made it in. We ended up having an early night. Some tv and a blanket was what I really wanted.

Random elephant on the road, no one else seems to notice

March 7

Today was the elephant festival! I love elephants. They are the one animal that I am slightly afraid of, always have been, but don’t actually run screaming from them when I get close. I do give them a wide berth. It was later in the day so we decided explore what else Jaipur had to offer.

We walked to the Old City (also called Pink city). The streets were crazy busy, dirty and filled with cows and goats but not to the same degree as Delhi. The calm I started to feel at the hotel was settling in. We entered the Old City through a big Pink gate and were greeted by a market, restaurants and more cows and goats. The buildings were beautiful. Most of them were crumbling and decrepit but you could easily see they were once grand. We did a loop past shop after shop after shop of everything Indian. I was in heaven. James was in hell. It’s known as the Pink city because some guy way back in 1876 decided to paint the whole place pink to welcome the Prince of Wales. Was the Prince of Wales gay?

The pink city

We visited the City Palace. It was a striking display of stone, inlaid tile work and antiques. We wandered the courtyards and I was awed at the fanciness of it all. Everything was so shiny and ornate.

Next we peeked into the Hawa Mahal. It was down a side street and not really on our to do list but we were thirsty and the entrance was beside a drink stand. It turned out to be a favorite site in Jaipur. It’s described as an “extraordinary, fairy-tale, pink-sandstone, delicately honeycombed hive that raises a dizzying five stories”. And it was – especially the fairy-tale part. It was built in 1799 to enable the ladies of the royal household to watch the life and processions of the city. Oh, so we know it’s mean to keep girls locked up but we’ll build a pretty pink castle for them to watch the world from. Meh! It was still amazing.

On our way to the Elephant Festival (after yet again getting in a tuk-tuk who said he knew where we wanted to go but had no idea) we stopped for dinner. We decided on McDonalds and I can honestly say it was disgusting. The big mac special sauce was a cheap funny tasting curry mayonnaise and the chicken patty was orange – I can’t imagine why. The flurries were the same so I ordered a large to go. Guess we’ll be skipping McD’s for a few weeks.

Pretty Elephants

My new best friend

We decided to walk the few kilometers to the festival. I was feeling a lot better and enjoyed it. I am liking Jaipur a lot. We arrived at the Elephant Festival along with every other tourist in India – or so it seemed. At first we joined the crowd and a friendly man offered me a chair to stand on. The crowd was 5-10 people deep and without it I couldn’t see a thing. James took off for a few minutes and came back suggesting we go to the inside grassy area. There weren’t nearly as many people and he too had found me a chair; I could just sit down for the festival there. Chair in tow we found a grassy spot where the parade was passing by. The only problem with this section was the lack of ropes to keep people in place so the line moved forward and back with the elephants. (James’ Note: It was just people continuously butting in front of one another, moving the whole crowd forward until a wayward elephant would push them back a few yards. Susan was remarkably calm until two foreign girls, probably in their late twenties, pushed their way to the front to stand right in front of girl about 6 years old. I was still in stunned amazement of their douche-iness when Susan loudly and forcibly shamed them into letting the little girl watch the elephants) At one point people were completely in front of me and I couldn’t see so I moved. The next minute I was grabbing my chair and running; I was in the path of an elephant. Which by the way are huge. There were about 60 elephants in the parade and they were joined by bands and dancers, camels and horses. Everyone, animals and humans, were dressed and painted in bright colors. It was clearly a foreigner attraction but still fun. After the parade you could take an elephant ride or get up close for pictures.

A girl and her chair

We headed out the back gate where the elephants were leaving from. On the road the mahouts were trying to get people to take their pictures with the elephants – for a small fee. Some people stopped, snapped a picture and paid. We laughed – why didn’t they just go back a block and get one for free at the free festival. Weird.

Not sure what these guys were doing, but I'm pretty sure that if Chris was Indian this would be his job. (Click on picture for link to video, appx. 2.5MB)

We decided to walk home and hoped to come across a mall or proper grocery store. They have the tiny hole in the walls that sell a small selection of crap but anything other than crackers and pop is crazy expensive. The heat and never ending dust has turned my skin into something resembling a crocodile. I was desperate for bucket loads of moisturizer. We unfortunately never found one. When we were back at our hotel we took cover from the sun and ate in our room. We had plenty more to see in Jaipur but no rush….ahhhhh.

Playing Holi

March 8

Today was Holi. One of North Indian’s most ecstatic festivals where Hindus celebrate the beginning of spring by throwing colored water and gulal (powder) at anyone and everyone.

We have been told (and read) that it goes from about sun up to the evening. In the early hours it’s families and kids and as the day goes on (and men consume more and more alcohol) it becomes a free for all – at which point the women and children go home. I didn’t want to spoil it for James so agreed to go out for a bit then, at the first sign of craziness, I would get in a tuk-tuk and go home. Part of the free for all is women foreigners get mauled, something I didn’t enjoy when I was young and went clubbing and wouldn’t stand for here. We walked to the main road and bought some paint (I got pink!). Then started walking down the road. How bizarre. Everyone was out to celebrate. Some were walking by, some were in their yards and called us in, some were on scooters and would stop, some just on roof tops yelling “Happy Holi” and throwing water balloons. We got smeared, patted and painted by everyone. A few guys got a bit too friendly, letting their face painting hands wander down my front but I had soon developed a few moves of my own to discourage it. It was also hard to be upset – I had been warned. For the first hour it was fun! The little kids were the cutest and I bent low so they could get my face and hair. We met a few guys from Scotland who said it got a bit intense further up the street but we decided to stay out a little longer. They looked hilarious. Eventually it did start to get a bit rough. A pack of young boys tried to steal my sunglasses and James’ watch but a cop appeared out of nowhere and shooed them off. They did manage to steal my pink paint. We only lasted a few more minutes. The fun atmosphere had turned on a dime. James no longer got any attention, or paint, it was all directed at me – and all men. Even James felt and saw the change and said it wasn’t fun for him anymore either so we jumped in a tuk-tuk and went home.

More Holi

We didn’t quite make it home. Our tiny alley was having its own party (very common to have little parties throughout the city more geared for families). There was a small band and everyone was singing and dancing and throwing paint. The two Scottish guys were there and we joined the fun. It was must more relaxed and no one tried to grab my boobs.

Finally, covered from head to toe in paint, we went to our hotel. Our new friends joined us. We sat in the courtyard of the hotel and begged the festive staff to open the beer fridge. They served us some beer and said the kitchen wouldn’t be open for a few hours - no problem, we had beer.

Other than losing a pair of underwear, a bra, a t-shirt (to paint, not actually losing them) and my hair being stained pink it was a great day. The courtyard filled up (most of which ended up being Canadians) will Holi celebrators; all of who were covered in paint. James and I remarked that it was the first time since arriving in India we felt some real culture. No one, not one person, has tried to speak to us who aren’t selling something. We understand we are visiting the top tourist attractions but we usually meet friendly locals or young kids who are just curious about where we are from. It’s like everyone took off their serious faces for one day. I loved it!

James and I took turns showering and when I returned I barely recognized Colin & Graham (the two Scottish guys). They looked much different cleaned up. We spent the night drinking beer and eating cheese toasties (the Indian equivalent of grilled cheese – that I had about 6 of). We had done some research and picked Japipur for Holi because it was a bit smaller and safer, and had the elephant festival. For once we were spot on. What an amazing day.

Before and after

March 9

We had a relaxing day off. No busy tourist spots, no walking in the heat for 8 hours, no cowering from the sun. Nope, nothing. We slept in. Did a bunch of on-line bookings. Watched some tv. Had a nap. Went for a meal at a recommended roof top restaurant. It’s just what we both needed. After dinner I found Colin & Graham in the courtyard just finishing and we sat for a few hours and chatted. It was a nice normal day, or as normal as traveling can get.

March 10

Happy Birthday to ME!

We are still waitlisted so decided to get a bus ticket just in case (even though the hotel owners assured us we’ll get on, we are third on the wait list). We also thought the bus station was beside a mall that had a Subway. Maybe the mall will have a big bottle of lotion as well – I still haven’t found any non-whitening.

We walked to the bus station and were told we had to go to the main bus station to get our tickets. But before we left enjoyed a Sub. Since arriving in India I have avoided all fresh fruits and vegetables unless I bought them and have cleaned them myself; I’m determined not to get sick. For some reason I felt safe at Subway and went nuts. I had them pile on the veggies and my body almost rejected them. I hope this doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass…..literally.

The main bus station was too far to walk so we grabbed a tuk-tuk. We got dropped off at the station and wandered aimlessly for a while. We found the government office but they only had seats, no sleepers. We thought 18 hours was a bit much for seats only on an overnight journey, not that we haven’t done it before. We tried asking for directions and got sent in circles. It’s down the road that way. No it’s back down the road that way. It’s on the left side, the right side. OMG! Finally someone told us it was a few blocks away. We weren’t optimistic but gave it a go. It was further than we’d thought but finally found it. We bought our tickets and I silently hoped it was going to be a waste of six bucks. If we got on the train it was first class; nothing like the sleeper bus I imagined.

We had left one big sight for this afternoon. The bus didn’t leave until 8 pm and the train 11 pm and we had no hotel room which left us a lot of time to kill. We arranged with a tuk-tuk to take us to and from the Amber Fort; a good half hours ride. We then hopped in and I sat back and enjoyed the ride. I’m not sure if there was a more direct route or main road but we zigged zagged down small side streets for the first half of the trip. I still can’t figure out how there aren’t more accidents. For one there are cows everywhere. On the sidewalks, if there are any, on the roads, walking, sitting, sleeping, eating…everywhere – and they are big. Then add the goats (omg they are so cute) and dogs and kids and scooters and cars and people – selling, eating, sitting, sleeping, buying…everywhere. All crammed and moving in what we’d call a single lane (should be one way only) pot holed street. We joined in the confusion as we rattled along in our tuk-tuk.

The fort

We eventually popped out onto a main road and picked up speed. We passed a lake with a gorgeous white mosque in the middle that the driver said we could see on the way back. Cool! As we got closer to the Amber Fort I was in awe. It was built way up on a hill with steps leading up and walls, very much like the great wall in China, leading away on both sides. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It rises from a rocky mountainside and towers above everything else looking mean and powerful. The tuk-tuk guy dropped us off at the gate and told us where he’d be.

We entered through a crowd of people yelling for us to buy post cards, bags, wooden elephants, snow globes and pigeon food. We passed on it all. It was a good hike up to the main section and it was packed with people. We wandered through the magnificent Fort. It looks more like a palace and is built from yellow and pink sandstone and white marble. It’s a maze of hallways and courtyards and there was even a hidden underground tunnel. The views out over the old city took me back to the 16th century. I swear nothing has changed (well maybe a few tuk-tuks and cars and busses, but not much else).

Even though I would have liked to linger (and get lost a few more times down dead end hallways) we hadn’t left ourselves much time; getting the bus ticket had taken more time than we thought. We wanted to take a quick peek at the armory above the fort. Yes, above. UGH! It is way too hot to be walking up to anything. But we did. We didn’t see the whole thing which was fine by me; it was crawling with monkeys. The guards had wooden sticks and banged them on the stone if the monkeys got to close. One guard must have understood have read my mind or my body language. James wanted to go into one courtyard but it was full of monkeys. The guard, who spoke no English, appeared beside me – stick in hand – and walked with me as I took a look at the displays. James was more than a little embarrassed.

More fort, I love old and crumblimg

We finally headed back down to our tuk-tuk and were off. I strained my neck to get a last look at the stunning and imposing Amber Fort. Our driver stopped at the mosque in the middle of the lake just long enough for us to take a picture and be offered more postcards, bags, wooden elephants, snow globes – no pigeon food this time though. The ride was as interesting and fun as the first go.

At the hotel we checked our train reservations and I was relieved that we had gotten seats! We were also in first class; not by choice but because that class had the shortest waitlist. We had met a couple that did first class and raved about it. It was a day train and they had been watered and fed the entire 12 hours. Yeah! But it meant we had more time to kill than if we had to take the bus. We decided to try the mall. I was expecting a real honest to goodness mall - I mean you find them in other cities/counties. It was a complete let down. It was half empty and really only had one floor of market type stuff (being sold for more than in an actual market). It did have a fancy Pizza Hut on the ground floor so we treated ourselves. As we were leaving we could see another mall type place across the road so decided to try it; it’s not like we didn’t have time. It was pretty much the same except with a Body Shop. Everything was 4 times what I’d pay back home and I just couldn’t pay $15 for a small bottle of lotion. For one I was too cheap and for another it would last a day and a half and I’d be back looking again. I decided I’d lost the fight and we got a tuk-tuk to go home. Three seconds into our ride I spotted a real grocery store. I started to yell stop to the confusion of James and the driver. We paid him and jumped out. I was so excited, it is sad really how excited I was. We walked back the half a block and I happily bought a big bottle of Vaseline Aloe Vera lotion. It’s the little things in life isn’t it? We decided to stock up in a few things and then went to find another tuk-tuk. Easy a kilometer back where the fake mall was – on a dark patch of road with almost nothing around – not so easy. James grumbled a lot until one came along. I was just happy that my skin might stop itching.

We did find a tuk-tuk eventually and made it back to the hotel with about an hour left. We settled into a couch in the courtyard and were treated to a puppet show. How great was that? I’m not usually a big fan but the puppets were beautiful and the puppeteer was very talented. They also had a belly dancing lady with pots on her head…interesting.

When we walked to the road to get a tuk-tuk to the street was dark. Quiet and dark. Hmmmmm. A couple of guys walked by (out of our happy alley) and offered to help. They saw a tuk-tuk delivering propane to a hotel and asked him to take us to the train station when he was done. Jaipur has been a nice break from the madness of India. On the way to the train station the poverty problems of India hit me like a slap in the face. During the day you see homeless people, kids begging and we’d passed countless tented cities (tents being used loosely) and slum areas. We hadn’t spent much time out late at night. Every street had people lined up under dirty blankets sleeping. A few were single mounds and others were lined up; 6, 10, 12 in a row. People slept in tuk-tuks and the back of bike rickshaws. A few people were sitting up cooking over small fires and talking; almost like you do in your living room with company. We saw a program on tv talking about the homeless problem in India. On top of the poor who just can’t afford anything else there is a shortage of 27 million homes. If you sent India all of the homes in all Canada that would only cover about 1/3 of the shortage. How do you even begin to solve a problem of that size?

Our travel companions

Speaking of sleeping…the train station was lined with people sleeping on the floor. I assume it was people on long layovers. I couldn’t even fathom the idea of sleeping on the platforms. They were filthy, smelled like baked urine and a few short feet away on the tracks – rats (lots and lots and lots) scurried around. EEK! I get the shivers just typing it. James had me wait with the bags while he went to see if our train was on time and I stood frozen in fear (I wish I was exaggerating). He returned with bad news; the train was late. A family decided to pass the time by watching us. And by watch us I mean they spread their blanket on the floor a few feet to our right and lined up facing us. The mom (I think it was) dug treats out of her bag and they ate and stared at us. I can’t wait to get home and be anonymous again. I got bored of being watched so went and started to talk with the other foreigners until our train showed.

Our luxury beds

When I said we had seats we really only had a confirmation; we had no idea where our seats were, just that they were first class AC. When the train pulled up we got on to a first class car but couldn’t find a train guy so got off. He was standing on the platform surrounded by people. I pushed and shoved my way into the crowd and shoved my confirmed ticket in his face. Sorry. He looked us up and wrote our bed numbers on my sheet. Then off we went again. We found our car and bunks quickly, locked our bags to the bottom of mine and settled in for the long ride. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. Other than having only 4 bunks in our cubbie and a locking door on the end it was pretty much the same as 2 and 3 AC. It was nice to lock the door and not worry, but at double the cost I’d suggest staying in 2 or 3. James called me a princess. I wondered when my meals were coming. They never did, maybe that’s only on day trains. I am lucky to be short when it comes to overnight anything – I curled up in what was left of my bunk (our backpack only takes up about a fifth) and fell asleep. I’d like to say the rattling of the train and the jerking motion was prime sleeping conditions but then I’d be lying.

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