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Just a few years ago we gave up our jobs, seized the kids out of school, and exited left around the world for a year.
We hired the same driver to get us from Jaipur to Pushkar – I know it sounds very opulent hiring a driver, but it worked out little more than if you are playing for four people to travel on public transport. This was another instalment on the ‘Wacky Races’ of the Indian Highway. For example, at one point, on what Indians would call a motorway, or you and I would call, ‘Oh my God, what the f**k is happening now. We’re all going to die, oh my God!’ A barrier appears in the fast lane without absolutely no warning, just popped up like a grave stone, and a non-ironic signage that states ‘caution’ in English, and something in Hindi, which I assume is ‘only joking Jhonny-foreigner, caution is useless.’ The motorway on the other side is closed and a convoy of heavy-laden multi-coloured lorries are approaching us, our driver, Sunny, his name matches his disposition just moves out of their way onto the hard shoulder without an expletive leaving his lips. I have read an article in The Times of India a few days previous about the problem of long distance lorry drivers using amphetamines to stay awake for days, and not being averse to drinking significant quantities of alcohol – Sunny is testament to this as he has a hip flask of whiskey in his pocket, and when we stop for lunch he has a swig from it, after offering it me first. I decline as I need to have a clear head to face death. The Wife has adopted the only strategy available, not looking out of the front where I’m sat in the passenger’s seat.
Pushkar is a dry city in both senses, but we feel as though we have earned a beer just for staying alive and with an Indian driver it is not long before we have one, so much for prohibition. Pushkar is a magical dessert city with the holy waters of the lake at its centre, huddled around are Ghats which are swamped with Hindu pilgrims at certain times of the year, and the world famous camel fair–what do you mean you’ve never heard of it. It’s world famous!, this was a lull. So nice to have some calm, especially compared to Jaipur.
You are always hassled to give money to one of the temples by the water; to allegedly feed the poor and pilgrims, there is always that nagging doubt when you are giving money that it might not be transformed into actual food, but we check it out with the Guesthouse owner and he says it is above board.
The next day we leave the The Boy behind as his hormones have returned to torment and chastise him and he is exhibiting displacement behaviour to his sister. I have my first cutthroat shave; which causes a comedic argument between the two barbers as I sit down. Which is a little disconcerting, as slightly irate barber is about to glide a piece of very sharp stainless steel across my soft milky skin, they know there is likely to be a tip and this is the root of the conflict. It is a conflict I could do without as one of them is about to come close to my external carotid artery. I leave them still bickering as I depart to find the females that are looking for shinny things and trinkets. The Girl is very perturbed by two beggars with no legs on skateboards, this adds to seeing children her own age begging in Delhi. She still has not come to terms with this, but our government back home is helping us all with cuts in social policy, leading to an ever increasing number of homeless – how long before people deliberatively mutilate themselves to earn more? (A friend that works with the homeless in England tells me they don’t like to accept designer ‘charity’ clothes as they earn less money begging! The way it is going, it won’t be long before poverty is privatised. Foodbanks4U: ‘More to less: less is more’. I have digressed!) When we return back to the guesthouse a three-hour power cut has not helped the boys chakras align. I scoop a few dead insects out of the unhygienic looking pool (we have had enough inoculations to work in the sewage system in a shanty town–but not with swine in the paddy fields of South East Asia!) The Boys chakras are re-aligned in the baptism of the pool.
“At the age of thirty-seven I realised I would never ride through Paris with the warm wind in my hair.” But after a fantastic dessert safari as the bejewelled sky started to twinkle, we did: “gallop through Pushkar with the hot wind in our turbans with the lights of restaurants and Ghats reflecting on the lake (nearly being decapitated by telephone wires across the streets).” The other thing that sticks in my mind from there is walking down a quiet back street, spotting a local woman in the near distance as she squatted down, hoiked her saree up and urinated on the concrete as we casually walked past her, we were more embarrassed than her. How desperate must you be to piss in front of a family of foreign visitors? I suspect she didn’t work for the tourist board. A few moments earlier we had watched large giant terrapins from a deserted bridge–I know what will stick in my memory longest. i.e. forever.
The next day we headed off to Jodhpur via Ajmer, a poorer north African feel of predominantly Muslim city, but the second holiest for Sufis. They were having a mini Mecca around the holy shrine so we were encouraged to join in that and in the religious fervour of the believers it is not hard to see why so many get crushed during haj in the place with the holy of asteroids. We chatted with the Imam, which we needn’t have travelled four thousand miles to do as he lived fifteen miles away from us in England. After the chat comes the inevitable plea for arms for the poor, which you feel pressured to do.
Ajmer had a small museum at the Chrithri Mosque, not sure the believers call it a museum. Within is model which is supposed to depict the (special) creation of the universe that contains 1,000kg of gold, and 132 emeralds and rubies. It would be a little churlish to point out that the heavy elements came later and very likely did not have solid silver railings to keep visitors away from the omnipotent ones silver balls.
Jodhpur is only a short distance from Ajmer. The girl is finding the travelling a little relentless and missing home for the first time for weeks, the journey yesterday in ‘the old car of India: The Ambassador’, had no AC, the driver refused to stop to take a break, so we were cramped up for four hours. What does not help is my guitar in a hard case, which often sits on my knee in a small/medium sized car. The wife feels like it is an adopted child of a couple that she dislike. I have a mantra with the guitar, ‘I don’t have time usually back home to practice and learn new songs, (this is a slight exaggeration,). If she is about to start shaking her head in the horizontal plane I quickly add something else, such as, ‘It might encourage The Boy to learn.’ I don’t mention the fact we paid for lessons the year before at school which he dropped out of to enrol in a degree in World of Warcraft. During our trip he has shown absolutely no interest, but when he gets back a couple of years later he has become quite accomplished and is far better than me in less than a year–but, I just don’t have the time!
Jodhpur has the most magnificent fort which has impressive vistas over much of the surrounding land. I have sold it to the kids even before we enter through the main gate; I tell them the ninety-degree turn was built there to stop elephants knocking the solid looking door down. They don’t believe me, but the auditory tour we hire confirms I have bothered to read the guidebook, I don’t tell them this obviously.
The Kids like it in Jodhpur, it has modern bits, i.e. a McDonalds. A similar rule to everyone stating one thing they wish to do if we stop in a place long enough applies with food. The Girl always chooses McDonalds, Burger King, or Pizza Hut. Normally we would never eat in McDonalds but with a relentless continuum of spicy food it is nice to have something bland for a change and the AC is like being immersed in a waterfall and massaged by eunuchs. Pizza Hut are opening a new restaurant; the first in Jodhpur and this is the girl’s choice of eatery, but the opening night which I have wangled us into with an inflated lie of travelling a large distance for the event has been put back another day. It would be monumentally sad to wait another day for the opening of a Pizza Hut, well it would be for us, not for the girl. So I have to sell the dream of Jaisalmer over Pizza Hut!
“Jaisalmer rises from the floor of The Thar dessert like a golden twinkling lustrous jewel. At its centre is the spectacular Sonar Qila, or Golden Fort, unlike no other in India, it is a living fort and the inhabitants and their antecedents go back millennia. It offers the best camel safari’s in the entire world, to see this shimmering mirage for the first time as it reaches towards the cerulean sky, a sky so clear at night you can see into the viscera of the Milky Way. This magical citadel will literally take your breath away; it is an unforgettable experience that will stay with you forever. “
I sold a remarkable desert city above and beyond a global pizza chain of restaurants to an eight year old girl, sometimes it pays to read ahead in the guidebook and have a little artistic licence.
Next week. I buy a sixth of a camel, as you do (but not an ugly one.)