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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
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Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Bombay Tigers and Bombay Ducks

Written by Richard Pitwood. Uploaded 16 March 2006.

India, Country 15, Diary entry 5th-14th Jan 2006, Total distance in India: 7133km

This continues Richard's (Martin's brother) account of his three weeks travelling with the team in India.

Royal Cenotaph at JodhpurThe road to Jodhpur is pretty much desert. Still fairly well populated, and those areas that are irrigated seem to produce crops.

Jodhpur really only offers its fort as a tourist attraction. We walked up soon after we got there only to find it was about to close, so we wandered back down via the Royal Cenotaph. In the evening we went to the Royal Palace, now mostly a hotel and restaurant, but with a service charge of 2100 rs per head we decided it'd be better to look elsewhere. We had very nice tandoori chicken at an odd restaurant called On the Rocks. Rather like a man-made landscape you get at French campsite swimming pools we had to mount a bamboo staircase to the restauranty bit, and the bar was in what looked like a cave underneath, with large open area in front with tables, with the bowls of fire that seem very common here, to allow you to eat outside as it is very cold at night in Rajasthan.

A lassi salesmanThe next morning we walked up to the fort again and got audio guides as part of our 250rs entry fee. This was a lot easier to understand and more informative than paying for a guide. They had a large collection of elephant howdahs and palanquins for the ladies in purdah. I am determined next time I'm asked in a survey how I arrived somewhere I shall reply by palanquin. They also had a wonderful selection of knives that you plunge into people then release handle, a scissor action causing two blades to separate, causing even better injuries. The conference room was interesting. Bestrewn with cushions for important meetings, the walls had ingenious listening holes that looked like simple niches in the wall but in fact had no tops to them, and the queens could listen in without being seen, for purdah and spying. At least this showed their opinions were valued.

The blue city of JodhpurWe seem to making a habit of only staying in a town for the evening and the following morning, as they are all pretty much as scruffy as each other, and have approximately 4 hours of tourist attraction each. So to Udaipur.

Jodhpur fortWe stupidly believed that a national highway marked as a dual carriageway in the atlas would be so. In fact we had to drive that 60 mile stretch on single-carriageway, not wide enough for two cars to pass without going onto the hard shoulder. Fascinating for me though, as it went through a hilly and more lush green area, I saw my first banana trees and coconut palms.

Palanquin at Jodhpur fortUdaipur is set on a lake in an arid area. It sprawls hugely, like most Indian towns, around a fairly small city centre, the touristiest bit being on the lake.

Like Pushkar the lake is surrounded by hotels with rooftop restaurants, all claiming lake views. Most do. Best bit about Udaipur (for one night only) is that all the restaurants have a nightly screening of Octopussy, part of which was filmed in Udaipur, mostly at the fantastically expensive hotel in what used to be the summer palace in the middle of the lake.

Lake Palace at UdaipurWe couldn't visit that without agreeing to eat an expensive dinner, so we made do with a trip around the lake, stopping off at Jagmandir Island (the other one). We had half an hour to kill there, and with a bottle of pop being 70 rupees we returned to the mainland quite thirsty. The evenings are noticeably warmer here, but still chilly enough to need a jumper after dark. Having had to pay not only for the trip on the lake but also to get into the grounds of the mainland palace to reach the jetty, we made full use of our entry ticket later on that afternoon to visit the Sun Set Caf?(sic) on a terrace overlooking the island palace, with the sun setting behind it. It was most pleasant, and the Indian sitar music did not detract from our enjoyment of the view.

Jagmandir IslandLike most Indian towns it seems it is possible to see the whole town in rather less time than you imagine you need, so we decided to only spend the 2 nights in Udaipur. This means we were quite a long way ahead of schedule. The road south from Udaipur was rather better than from Jodhpur, including a stretch between Ahmedabad and Baroda which was as good as any English motorway but with rather less traffic. The main road from Delhi to Bombay, in fact the whole 'Golden Quadrilateral', which is the catchy name given to the roads linking Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and back to Delhi, is a toll road. We have noticed that the toll you pay for a certain stretch seems to correspond to the road quality. So if you pay 61/- rs, as we did leaving Ahmedabad we were expecting it to be good. Likewise the stretch from Surat to Daman was only 13/- and it showed, with ruts where lorries had been, narrow lanes and poor driving.

Because of the generally good speed we kept we got to Baroda (our original destination) by 1pm, so we cracked on to Daman, where we arrived shortly after dark. 600km in one day, which is a lot on these roads. The countryside had changed considerably through Gujarat. The north was semi-arid, and now the south is tropical. We have also crossed the Tropic of Cancer, though sadly there was no sign to inform us of this, so we only realised after the event. There are fields of bananas now.

Daman is a seasidy kind of place, and appeals to Gujaratis in search of alcohol. We found a hotel on the stretch of road along the Indian Ocean, and went off elsewhere as we seem to do a lot. Every hotel we have stayed at has a restaurant, so we usually have breakfast there, but we always end up in someone else's restaurant or hotel for dinner. So we ended up at the Hotel Miramar, which is quite smart and outside our budget for accommodation, but it lived up to our expectations from its cheesy Spanish-package-sounding name in that it had Bollywood karaoke in front of a massive dining area, with the sea lapping up at the side. The food was fantastic: this is the seaside so we had fish masala, prawn biryani, Singapore noodles.

The following day we caught a rickshaw into the centre of Daman and crossed the river to visit the old Portuguese fort. The ferries plying across the mouth of the river were the kind of thing you see on documentaries about Africa - painted wooden efforts which only just looked seaworthy. Well it was only 2 rs. each way so we couldn't complain about luxury. There used to be a bridge, but the central section between the main pillars had been washed away after it rained once about three years ago and hadn't been fixed yet, which seems par for the course here. The water was probably the dirtiest I've seen. A sort of oily browny colour. When I was flying home we flew over Daman and I could see the big dark brown stain oozing out into the Indian Ocean. It looked even worse being able to see the contrast.

The fort itself was slightly disappointing in that there was nothing to see there except for a mediocre Catholic church and some fairly pretty houses with Portuguese architecture. Its appeal lasted the time it took to walk to the gate on the opposite side and look at the stagnant moat, then walk back.

It was certainly hotter in Daman. Martin wanted to work on the car so I decided to go to the beach. I should have known better. Even walking along the beach was fairly unpleasant, without even thinking about going for a paddle. There were old mattresses, plastic bags full of rubbish, broken glass, etc, so I walked along to a beach bar, where I met two British Gujaratis who were in India on holiday. Like naughty schoolboys they had escaped to Daman to drink beer, because despite having British passports, so being allowed to buy alcohol in Gujarat, they did not want to bring shame upon their Indian families so had come to Daman to sup the illicit Kingfisher nectar.

Tiger!The next day we drove off to Bombay, stopping at the Sanjay Ghandi National Park, as it promised the lure of tigers. We arrived at lunchtime so had to wait for the first bus trip of the afternoon, but after finishing off Martin's supply of English cheese we got into a caged bus and drove off to the tiger compound. Sure enough we saw tigers, this was after all a safari park rather than a nature reserve, and then we went to the lion compound. Our considered conclusion was that tigers are cooler than lions. Bombay started about 40 miles north of the tip of the Colaba peninsula, with mile upon mile of slum.

Our hotel near the Gateway to India was an airless, windowless dive, though not as bad as some we had stayed in. It had the advantage, being windowless, that we did not hear any muezzins at any unearthly hour. It was sweltering though, both inside and out, and we had the fan on constantly when we were in the room.

Bombay DuckWe had four nights in Bombay, having got well ahead of schedule, so the following morning we decided on a late start in order to drag out the Bombay experience. Previous cities had taught us to savour the good bits as there are so few of them.

Shelling prawns at Bombay's Sassoon DockLate morning we went to the fish market to see the Bombay Duck. It was foul. Rotting fish was piled all round, and the fresh stuff, especially prawns, was piled straight on the dirty oily quayside. Puts you off seafood in Indian restaurants.

At around lunchtime we caught the ferry to Elephanta Island. This gave us the opportunity to see the harbour, as it is otherwise closed to visitors. It is pretty big, as is the naval base. The trip took us an hour and was pleasant. When we arrived we were supposed to have a tour included, but this was not forthcoming, and we managed to shake off a rather tenacious local guide who we offered the opportunity of showing us round on the condition that he does not expect a single penny in payment. He did not take us up on our offer and left us alone. At the land end of the jetty was a selection of caf閟 and gift shops, so after paying our tax to get onto the island we had lunch. As is often the way a photo-opportunity was missed when a goat walked in and started eating stuff off the floor. By the time either of us got our camera out and switched on it had wandered off. We kept them ready for any subsequent visit, but it didn't come back. This is the main snag with digital photography: it takes a while to be ready to take a photo.

Shiva sculpture at Elephanta IslandWe decided we did not need to have a ride in a palanquin up the hill to where the caves were, and browsed the tat stalls as we went up. They were actually quite good and not too expensive. I'd recommend here for soapstone camels, wooden Ganeshes, necklaces etc.

We looked around the caves which have Shivas hewn from the rock. These were impressive, though there was a lack of documentation, so for non-Hindus like us it was pretty but didn't mean a lot. Shiva's the dancing one with several arms.

Elephanta IslandAs we were wandering round we met Veronica, a Mexican, who was travelling by herself. We met her later on for dinner and spent the rest of the time we were in Bombay together with her. I imagine she found dealing with the lecherous attention of two Englishmen preferable to that of half a billion Indians. She did say that it was pretty tiresome having to constantly turn down propositions; Indian men did not speak a word to her once she was with us.

The Gateway of IndiaThat evening we went to Chowpatty beach, which is a bit like a fairground without the rides: food, sweet and ice cream stalls on the hard sandy beach.

The following day we arranged with Veronica to go shopping. I had presents to buy, and she wanted to buy some clothes, and Martin wanted to see the markets too, so off we trawled to Crawford Market. This was for me surprisingly familiar as it looked exactly like Leeds or any other northern indoor market, with the same unknown brand toiletries and packaged goods, exotic vegetables and Asian market traders. I felt right at home. It was more exotic for the other two, and the meat market behind the Crawford market was entirely different to what we have in England. There were rats, mice, cats everywhere and the place was black with filth. Going round the proper shops afterwards it was quite nice trawling round the sari shops as I wouldn't have seen them had it just been Martin and me.

Late afternoon we went to a Bollywood movie. This was Veronica's idea, as I have watched them on Yorkshire TV before and never reached the end, but we were glad we went. The plot was easy enough to follow with the occasional English expression thrown in and fairly obvious from the action anyway. There was one section we didn't understand, where the hero and his mate pretended to be Pakistani-looking gangsters, but I dare say I'll find the DVD in Leeds or Bradford soon. The cinema was a typical 1930's British cinema, seen better days of course but it must have been stunning when it was built. We could actually afford to buy a bag of popcorn each as well.

Dhobe Ghat (Laundry) at BombayAfter the pictures we went to the pub. The pubs here are weird. There are very few of them so you see the same people every evening, but in different pubs. They are almost all westerners, too, for cultural and financial reasons I guess, which is how we met Andrew, an American travelling by himself. It turned out he was going to be travelling down to Goa on the same day as Martin, so it was decided that he would take my place as shotgun.

Friday was the last full day I was in India. Veronica travelled to Goa by train, to be met later on by Martin and Andrew, and we used the day to get the oil changed and generally wander round not doing very much.

By bargaining skills had been honed by this stage, and I managed to haggle a market trader down from 250 rs. per t-shirt to 190 for two. He was begging me to go from 180 to 190 so perhaps I am not entirely heartless.

The next day Andrew took over the GPS from me, I headed to the airport on the local train whilst the others headed for Goa.

India was certainly an experience. I have never seen such poverty, but I got immune to it, and I almost liked Bombay by the time I left. I urge people to contribute to CARE International, who will in a small way improve the lives of the people there.

Oh and Martin and I didn't kill each other. I think we got on rather well actually.

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Comment from Ant
do I detect a gradul change of tone from your previous blog? from disparaging to more appreciative, I guess India's charm slowly worked on you...

and was the final comment for the benefit of The Mother and Father? (or just anyone who knows you two Pitwood boys?!)

nice entries, thanks.
17 Mar 2006 @ 14:15:22

Comment from The Mother
I did smile at that comment about not killing each other. Very reassuring after all these years. It did occur to me that it's probably twenty years since they had "quality" time alone together, when they might have done.

We enjoyed the experience second hand - it all looks wonderful.

Oh and I loved Maz's brother's diary entry too.

18 Mar 2006 @ 09:42:26