I arrived into Delhi after a relaxing business class flight from Hong Kong, Quite long enough all the same to be breathing recirculated air at low pressure – and the wine offering was two red wines – one a Shiraz, the other a Syrah – oops….they are the same grape …. that I don’t drink. For a change I drank white…..However the view, coming into Delhi, was wonderful with Divali fireworks lighting up the sky like a vast technicolor milky way.
Entry into India was straightforward, having already in New Zealand received an entry visa – with its tortuous and rather invasive questions about where my parents were born….and the like. The Indian customs agent in Delhi barely glanced in my direction.
I exited into the terminal to find……. quiet. I looked along the signs of the taxis waiting to pick people up. Two Mr Davids……I checked them both, but they were not for my hotel. So to fill in the time – we had arrived a little early – I went over to see if I could get an Indian sim card. Yes, it was possible – “passport and visa please” – which I showed them and then proceeded to give them my already prepared copies, plus a letter from the hotel where I was staying. After taking yet another photo of me, I had an Indian sim card – Speeds are variable – from lightning quick to turtle slow – even when it shows as 4G, however as usual the turtle generally prevails…
Another look along the taxi drivers and I had the great idea of going outside to check the ones waiting outside the terminal. Still quiet outside but no sign of the taxi promised by the hotel. “No sir, you cannot re-enter the terminal”………..even after I took a photo of the Indian policeman. I was stranded now outside. It was relatively quiet here as it was the actual evening of Divali celebrations, so I walked over to a taxi place, expecting the worst, only to receive a quick smile and before I knew it, I was on the 10 minute drive to my overnight hotel.
They were very apologetic about the non-appearance of their driver. However the porter also lost his way when showing me to my room. I figured that gave me an excuse to get lost as well! I spent about half an hour trying to work out how to activate my sim card and finding out what I had to go through to activate internet – passport numbers and dates of birth etc, which did not match the database at the mobile centre at first, as the people at the airport took rather longer to send in the information than promised…..(overnight rather than 15 minutes). Nor could I ring the people in the booth as I did not have mobile access at all….catch 22! The hotel was adequate for a night’s stay, but not very exciting. I didn’t get a chance to try the gym, nor the swimming pool, as I was up early the next morning for my worrying day with a flight to Jaipur and then a (hopefully) connecting car drive to bring me to Ajmer.
The one-hour flight to Jaipur was uneventful. I carried my under-7kg bag on the plane, with my shoulder bag inside it, as you are only allowed to carry one bag. I located the lounges in Delhi, which I will need on my return trip. I even talked to my neighbouring passengers! After locating my luggage in Jaipur, my car was waiting for me!
The trip to Ajmer was quiet for India, after the previous night’s Divali celebrations I presume. A little hair-raising at times, but nothing for India. I was interested in the many hotels that sat beside the expressway – generally surrounded by ….nothing. Flat uninteresting landscapes with very few people or settlements around them. They stick out on the landscape like massive warts – in reality, they look more like truck stops than a real hotel, though I imagine that they provide accommodation. Some are quite large and well decorated.
Ajmer is nestled into the hills, with a lake in the middle of the city. – rather like a huge volcanic cone with a lake. It is quite green and the traffic behaves itself a lot better than in the larger cities. Still a few hair-raising sights though. There are lots of cows on and around the road and large numbers of wild dogs – that worried me much more than the traffic of the cows.
On my first full day here, I was free, so the local rep took me over to Pushkar – a town bordering the Thar Desert. Pushkar has a lake and apparently there are 52 staircases going down to the lake. It is a pilgrim site, where people descend the steps to bathe in the sacred waters. There is literally only the hills between Jaipur and Pushkar, so it changes from green to desert in the space of about 15 kilometres – not sandy straight away, but there is almost a line where the trees change size and type and you can see the sand more clearly.
They are preparing for a large cattle and camel market there this month, so there were literally thousands of stalls being put up – or already in place. They expect millions of people there for the market and you can see below their preparations for the cattle market place itself – a vast sandy desert-like site which will be covered in tents etc later in the month.
Ajmer itself is a quieter Indian city – still noisy all the same. Car horns dominate the environment, with the Indian notion of tooting ones horn to let somebody know that you are passing them – and of course tooting at any car, animal or pedestrian that might be nearby. The pavement is more a dust bowl alongside the bitumen road, where people park, dogs roam and cattle…do their business. There are numerous stalls along the road and small shops, which often look dilapidated on the outside, but some have aircon and are much more luxurious inside – especially those selling international lines.
There are many women in traditional garb, though the men, almost to a man, wear jeans and shirt. No shorts here. Mine have been frowned on by several. Once I even dared to go down to the front desk in my bare feet and it was noticed immediately.
I was shown round Mayo College (for boys of course…), which was established about 140 years ago. It is set in the palace of one of the former princes of Rajasthan. Grounds there are manicured and it looks almost like a school set in England – which it probably set out to imitate. The boys there don’t sit Rock and Pop examinations. They sit Classical and Jazz instead.
I have however been examining at the Mayo Girl’s College here – across the road from the Boy’s College. It was established about 35 – 40 years ago, and has lovely grounds – not as large as the boys grounds, but I suspect the students at one or other of these establishments are very fortunate students. The girls are expected to have a balanced life, with music and sport as well as their academic studies. Given the bias in India towards the men, the girls here are very fortunate.
On Saturday, I was also taken to a club – men only – which had its roots in British Colonial times. The building was beautiful and it was almost like going back in time to former days, drinking on the balcony overlooking the lawns.
On Sunday morning early, I went for a long walk – before the “Only fools and Englishmen” time of day. It was about 12kms to the top of the lake and back. It was great to see families feeding the fish in the lake and also to talk to others , also trying to get some exercise in the cooler morning temperature. It has regularly started off about 15 degrees in the morning but rises quickly to about 30. I also saw quite lot of the local wildlife – no dogs…I am too scared of the packs of wild dogs to try to photograph them.
The hotel, where I am staying is quite old, but reasonably comfortable. A few funny little things about it, that would resonate with people who remember Fawlty Towers. The front house manager is almost as brusque as Sir John Cleese was and even looks like him, though not quite as tall. The waiters and staff are a delightful mix of obsequious and demanding. They know me as Mr David.
The shower has two taps, but if you turn on the hot tap more than about half a centimetre, you would be boiled alive. However it does not really matter as the cold water is tepid in any case, so you don’t really need it.
The hotel has wifi, but it is flakey at best, does not reach my room 95 percent of the time and Sunday, when I wanted it to talk to people back in NZ, it was not working. Watching them try to repair it almost wanted to make one ask, “How many Indians does it take to repair a router…?” However I shan’t attempt an answer to that, other than, there were six at some stage all round the computer server and lots of talk and shoulder shrugging and nodding of heads…
After two days, the wifi finally returned Monday night – not in time for me to put this up. However it gave me the opportunity to add photos of the wedding parade or “Baraat” which went past the hotel entrance that evening. This is the parade, where the Groom is going to the Bride’s house. It was accompanied by two elephants and two VERY loud cacophonous noise sources – one of which was a portable brass band wagon. I don’t think it is socially responsible to put the video up of this, as the noise was incredibly loud. However the photos were colourful and it is interesting to see the build up of already busy traffic after the parade….
So it has been quite okay at the hotel with good food and comfortable bed. Nobody serviced my room in two days over the weekend. I was glad I did not run out of water. Maybe they don’t do weekends…
All in all, it is quite nice here – not quite the Exotic Marigold Hotel however…….