Mum in India; Rajasthan, a waterfall and a lot of hand sanitiser
on Roundabouts in Delhi (India), 17/Oct/2011 16:43, 34 days ago
“Goand have a look at your sink!”Mumhas been in Delhi less than 12 hours and she emerges from the kitchenbrandishing a wire brillo pad and triumphantly declaring that she has cleanedthe“uncleanable,” I had told her, sink. (I’m very grateful by the way mum andstill marvelling at its metallic shine!)Feelingguilty and slightly peeved after my previous day’s cleaning spree that mum hadstill managed to identify the grimiest item in my flat, at least I’d planned usout a travelling schedule for the next couple of weeks to ensure she’d beseeing more of India than just the inside of my kitchen sink. Our plan was tospend the first week travelling round part of Rajasthan stopping in Agra,Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur and finishing up in Udaipur. The second week we’dplanned to go up to Shimla for a few days to do some mountain view gazing andwalking.BeforeI go any further family as I know a few of you had your concerns about what condition I would return mum in, don’t be alarmed as you read this as, apart from a fewhairy moments with aggressive monkeys, a power cut whilst walking down a busyhighway and a brief night’s stay at the world’s worst hotel, the story endswell. I’ve checked and mum has since reached home safely (she arrived in Indiawith a large supply of mint imperials, enough hand sanitiser to sanitise anarmy and her own supply of plastic straws so we were always safe in theknowledge that we’d never have bad breath or dirty hands throughout the twoweeks).Everyonehas their own opinion of the Taj, my Keralan friend resolutely declares thatshe’s seen “much more beautiful buildings in Kerala” (not that she’s bias), butthis was my second visit and I still found it just as beautiful. Even if giantmarble mausoleums encrusted with millions of jewels and carvings aren’t reallyyour thing, it’s difficult not to be impressed by this huge white beacon of abuilding and admire the craftsmanship that went into its making. That said,when mum and I visited the Fatehpur Sikri palace complex the following day Ithink we were actually more taken by it in comparison. The palaces are perched highup on a hill so that as you walk through, thecourtyards and windows face outonto the Agra countryside. The architecture is also a curious but beautiful, Ithought, mish-mash of Hindu, Muslim and Christian designs and strange Labyrinthstyle buildings with staircases leading into nowhere. I’m not sure what broughton our morbid fascination but,instructed by the guidebooks that oneof the palaces looks onto a public courtyard where they carried out publicelephant tramplings (the way to dispense with your thieves and murderers inIndia before the days of prisons), we spent the end of our visit fixated onfinding this courtyard and triumphantly announcing, “there it is!” when we foundthe ring where they tied up the elephants. It’s the small things.InJaipur we visited a lot of palaces. The City Palace– several palaces that hadbeen merged into one big palace, Palace of the Winds and The Amber Fort – severalpalaces contained within a giant fort. The Amber Fort was my favourite. Partsof it were still being used as a home until the 70’s and still contained the samefurnishings, including one dubious room which had mirrored walls, floors and ceilings – Jen& Em, imagine Infernos nightclub minus thesticky floors, rugby teams and terrible music. Overcome by so much sightseeing itwasn’t long before we reverted to stereotype and sought out the nearest place toour hotel serving alcohol, not as easy as we’d hoped and involved crossing manydimly lit traffic intersections, being directed into a hotel that despite beingtold it was ‘open’ was still under construction, until wefinally found a rooftop bar drenched in slightly seedy red lighting but with an amazing view of the city lights.Udaipur.I loved everything about this city; waking up in the morning to the sound ofwet clothes being slapped and pounded on the ghat, watching the old man goingfor his daily morning bath and lying on his back in the water in the lotus position,walking through the windy streets next to our hotel past houses with cows satin the front room, watching the sun rise and set over the lake, and the Udaipursense of humour. I’m not used to sarcasm out here in the same way that it’s aneveryday occurrence at home so I was taken aback when I told the hotel managerthe electricity in our room wasn’t working and he responded in a deadpan voice,“Yes, you did not pay me yesterday!” waiting just long enough for me to lookpanic stricken before chuckling to himself and I realised he was joking and weboth laughed. That same day we went into a small shop selling silver pendantsand necklaces. The woman running the store obligingly got out various differentpendants from the glass case for us to look at including some that had movingparts, an owl that flapped its wings, a walking dinosaur and so on. She thenpassed me one which I couldn’t at first identify and then shrieked withlaughter when she saw my face as I realised what it was, a kama sutra pendant completewith moving parts!Sadabout leaving Udaipur behind but excited about the prospect of heading up tothe mountains, the start to the next chapter of our trip was like being proddedwith a sharp Indian stick and told,“You didn’t really think you could have itthat good for two whole weeks did you?” Arriving in Shimla in the darknessbecause our taxi driver got repeatedly lost on the way (I knew it was bad newswhen we’d stop for directions and he'd drive off before the person givinginstructions had finishedwhat they were saying), we finally pulled up at ourhotel, the ironically named, ‘Hotel Dreamland.’ The less said about this placethe better as I’ve wreaked my revenge on tripadvisor.in but unless your idea ofa Dreamland is pillows coated in someone else’s human hair, a hotel managerthat looks at you as though he’d like to murder you in your sleep when you askfor toilet roll and a drunk porter, then stay away. Still, no trip would becomplete without such small blips and thankfully that’s all it was. The nextday we arose at 6am, paid, sprinted out of the door and trekked the other side oftown to a new hotel and awoke to a bright new day.Shimlatown, as people had warned me, isn’t much to speak of but it’s in a beautifullocation which looks out over the Himalayan mountain ranges and pine forests.On our last day we decided to do the 5km walk to Chadwick Falls. I have astrong suspicion that we are the first two people to have actually visited thefalls since they were first discovered in the early 1900’s and whoever wrotethe ‘5km’ sign at the start of the walk has a cruel sense of humour. One hourof walking later we had walked at least 5km but didn’t seem to be nearing a waterfall. Two hours of walking later down steep mountain roads, still nowaterfall. Eachtime we stopped to ask someone if we were going in the rightdirection for the falls they would nod and point downwards, so we went, downand down until three hours later nearly at the valley floor we finally came across a sign post pointinginto the forest. We walked for another hour through the pineforest, two lonetrekkers, mum screaming every time she walked into a cobweb, me tripping overpine cones and still no sign of a waterfall. We kept coming across spots wherethere looked as though there should have been a waterfall but was just dryrocks. The only thing that had driven us forward for four hours was the thoughtof this tumbling 67m high, so says the Lonely Planet, waterfall and meexclaiming with utter conviction, “Let’s keep going, I can definitely hearwater now!,” but never a drop of water was to be found. Crestfallen and thinkingabout the four hour walk back up the mountainside we decided to turn back whenan amazing thing happened, nearly as amazing as finding the waterfall that we’dtrekked all that way to see except better. We emerged from the forest onto themain road and heard the rumble of an engine around the corner. During theentirety of our four hour (did I mention yet it was four hours?) walk down themountainside only a couple of motorbikes and cars had passed us the whole way.To keep each other’s spirits up we had taken it in turns to say “Perhaps therewill be a bus that passes us on the way back?” but we knew our chances were slimto none. So when, at the same split second that we emerged onto the road, thisbus suddenly emerged through the dust, we both started laughing hysterically, crazyfrom exhaustion and heat. I waved and flapped my arms frantically to get the bus to stop and was too tired to consider how ridiculous I must have looked.The people on thebus observed us with looks of amazement, I don’t suppose they get manytourists on that part of the mountain trekking to the invisible waterfall,and amusement at these two westerners covered from head to toe in dust andgrinning maniacally.