India trip – part 3


The road to Jaipur, a four hour journey, consisted of UK quality motorway and third world village roads with small herds of cows stumbling across the road from adjacent fields.

We were back in Rajasthan, motoring through a fertile plain where fruit and wheat was the main crop. I asked Gilly what percentage of Indian people speak English as very few had been able to converse with me in the town yesterday.

“I would say 5 per cent” he said “but it probably seems like more than that to you because those you meet largely work in tourism… and remember that’s five per cent of 1.2 billion people so it’s still a lot!”

I watched England capitulating in the third test match before Gilly told us we would be taken that afternoon to the city’s main shopping bazaar where we could perhaps buy some of our Christmas presents. Wrong! It was a hell-hole with the traders constantly leaping out of their stalls to confront you with what you MUST buy. Poor Abby was relentlessly pursued by a guy who was determined to sell her a bloody drum. We got out of there as fast as we could but just crossing the road was life-threatening until Gilly and Ahmed appeared from nowhere and parted the traffic so we could make our way back to the coach.

We crossed Jaipur to the gem market but it was another quite depressing experience. As with the carpet and rug factory and the marble works, we were initially treated like royalty, offered drinks/ snacks and then given a well-rehearsed presentation on the techniques employed before wham-bam, give us your money, mam. To call the salesmen forceful is to understate their modus operandi. They simply would not take no for an answer… but that’s the one they got from us.

Abby was interested in a handcrafted chess set which was priced at £200. We felt that was way over the top so they asked us to name our price. We offered £50 and they countered with £165, which they described as their best offer. We declined but later paid near the full asking price at the airport!

When we returned to the hotel a large French party had arrived and so that was goodbye to manners and old-fashioned courtesy. I went up to my room to take a shower but found the drain blocked so I had to phone reception for a man with a plunger as, by then, my room was ankle deep in water.

Up at 6.15 for a quick brekkie and a trip to the Amber Fort. We were to take an elephant ride up to the fort, something Abby with her strong feelings about animal welfare was reluctant to do. It was incredible how many ‘snappers’ pictured people on elephants as they ascended to the fort and were sufficiently organised to be on hand an hour later when we came back to the coach. So keen for our money were they that they had developed the pictures and were able to match them with the riders!

We were mobile ATM’s to those who tried to sell their wares: books, shawls, pens, postcards, hats, bags. It was wearing and unpleasant so we were happy to travel back into the pink city even though it was midday with searing heat.

Mantur Jantur is an astronomical observatory and UNESCO world heritage site, built in the 1700’s that was probably Jaipur’s finest feature.

It was right next to the Royal Palace were dwelt the King of Jaipur who, apparently is a mere teenager. Imagine that. It would be like having a King of York. Apart from the royal finery and the palace though, it’s not a title that earns money.

Mantar Jantar was much more than a giant sundial. It linked time to social class and astrological signs. Couples would visit it before getting engaged to see whether they were a match for one another. I would have liked more time there but it was midday and unbearably hot.

Abby made friends with some Anglo-Indian ladies from Leicester in our party and she went along with them to model saris, which became a conversation topic on the coach out to the Indiana restaurant for our farewell meal. It would involve singers, dancers and local musicians and would be our goodbye to Gilly session as he would not be coming back to Delhi with us for the last day. He had been given three days leave before the next extended tour.

To be honest, the evening was a disappointment. The food was mediocre and the service was not much better. Despite advance warning that Abby was a vegan by us and Gilly, there was no real attempt to cater for her. The music was so loud that all conversation was drowned. Not only that, but a few people woke with upset tummies the next day so we all agreed that 3/10 was a fair mark on our feedback form.

On the journey back to Delhi we first encountered the novelty of some trucks and scooters coming at us on our side of the carriageway because they couldn’t be bothered to cross the road. I hope this is never tried out on British motorways.

The run in to Delhi took forever but I suppose a city with 17 million occupants and 7 million cars dwarfs even London and was smothered in smog even ten miles from the middle. There was a chorus of throat-clearing from inside the coach. It was the first warning to us that our flight might be affected next day. (We were in fact four hours late taking off due to a build-up of flights waiting for clearance).

At the airport the remainder of our rupees had to be surrendered so we splashed out on duty-free goods although I did manage to smuggle out a 10 rupee note (about 8 pence!) as a souvenir. Our party split into several groups as some of them went off to Kerala in the south of India which Gilly had spoken about enthusiastically.

The delayed flight proved expensive back in England as we had to buy new train tickets and we could only get as far as Doncaster. Abby said that as the in-flight screen showed that we were passing over Syria at a height of seven miles she could clearly see the explosions from the civil war that was engulfing Aleppo in Syria

PICTURES : The elephants climb to the amber fort; entrance to the Royal Palace; Mantar Jantar – the time observatory



© Alan Combes, 2019. All Rights Reserved

Alan Combes