May 2014.

I've bought a campervan as a 60th birthday present to myself, made some curtains and a patchwork quilt, waved goodbye to my family, and set off. My aim is to explore the coastline of Britain, anti clockwise, starting in Kent. I have no idea what will happen.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Taj Mahal

Having said how efficient the trains are in India, the next one I got on – Varanasi to Agra – was six hours late. I had planned this last section of my travels carefully and booked myself on a train to arrive at 5.45am. I would put my case in left luggage at Agra station and go straight to the Taj Mahal and see it bathed in early morning light. Then I would see the Fort, wander about a bit, and get a bus to Delhi. Simples.
Instead I arrived at 11.30 when the sun was high (except it was overcast) and I felt horribly crumpled, tired  and dirty. I paid a taxi for 4 hours to take me on a tour, locked my case in the boot, and Rashid was my excellent guide.  
“Madam,” he said to me (better than Aunty) “when you walk through that arch and see the Taj Mahal, for a moment your heart will stop.”  And he was right. It is just the most breathtaking thing you can imagine – milky white marble raised up so the backdrop is just sky. Even on a slightly dull day it takes your breath away. If you have seen it you will know what I mean and if you haven’t, put it on your list.
Then I had lunch and a minor detour to a workshop where they make inlaid marble in just the same way as the marble at the Taj was inlaid 350 years ago... and then to the bus stop. Five hours later, with a/c set to superfrost, I arrived back in Delhi and met Hari my Sikh taxi-driver friend who had put me on the train at Delhi Cantt 10 weeks ago. He wasn’t in the best mood, not just because my bus was an hour late, but because “Madam, my brother is in trouble..” His brother had been stopped by the police for having no license.. which might have been sorted with a bribe, but his insurance was out of date too...   So we stopped under a flyover and Hari went with his license to try to sort it out. I stayed in the car.
Hari insisted that, for the inconvenience, he would buy me a beer. No really, Hari, I don’t need a beer (it was getting on for 10pm) “I have turned off the road for the beer shop now,” he snapped, “do you want two beers?” No, really, please just one, a small one. It was a Kingfisher beer with a red label marked strong.. and it was. So Olly greeted me back at the flat – very tired and grubby, dragging my suitcase and clutching a can of strong lager...  Home in 3 days.

Mother Ganga

Varanasi is the spiritual centre of Hinduism and I was there at the beginning of a big Shiva festival. The place was awash with bare-footed pilgrims, walking from the station, bathing in the river, laughing and praying.  It ‘s mainly the young men who are dressed in orange - many wet from the river - jogging, eyes front, holding bamboo canes at shoulder height hung with  offerings of flowers and beads and incense burning, and heading for the Golden Temple.
I couldn’t exaggerate the importance of the River Ganges - Mother Ganga – she is a goddess to Hindu people. For the living the waters of the river will wash away sins, and for the dead to have their ashes cast upon her water is the most direct route to heaven. There is the irony. It is hard to equate the Ganga’s cleansing powers with water that runs completely off the pollution clock..  it teems with sewerage, dead bodies and waterborne diseases. Efforts are being made to clean the river, but like everything in India, it is the scale of the problem that is so daunting.
You see all manner of life here – people bathing, praying, doing their yoga, washing their clothes, gossiping, – it happen all along the ghats. (Ghats are the areas wide stretches of steps down to the waters edge which, in Varanasi, are all along the west side of the Ganga).
The first evening I was taken, along with Tony and Tina from Taiwan (Taipei!) to walk to the burning ghat.  Three or four fires were burning out, and a new one, unlit, had a body on it and was about to be ignited. Wood is stacked all around – burning goes on 24/7, about 70 bodies a day. Three tall, old buildings around the ghat, blackened by soot, are hospices where sick people who have no family and nowhere to go are fed and looked after...while they wait.
The bodies, wrapped in cloths and bound, are carried down on bamboo stretchers, through the warren of backstreets behind the ghat. They are immersed in the river before being laid on a fire. There is constant activity going on all around – relatives praying, ashes being raked and tipped into the river, new fires set up, people milling about, cows wandering down the steps, dogs chewing bones... There is no smell - just a lot of choking smoke - Tina kept her surgical mask on throughout. It was an extraordinary experience, but I found it strangely reassuring - that to a Hindu death is so much part of life, an exciting next step for them.

Haridwar to Varanasi

The journey to Varanasi was pretty seamless..  a taxi from Rishikesh (first a motorbike ride across the rattly bridge, my suitcase on a separate bike this time) to Haridwar, and a two hour wait on the platform. The train was waiting, but locked. Indian trains are quite spooky, especially in the dark, great big rusty hulks with faceless square engines. They may look a bit clapped out and are dirty inside but, so far, they have been amazingly efficient. An hour before departure a passenger list appears by the carriage door.. and there, by the light of the full moon, was my name.  Good. And when I got on board I realised what all those plastic cans had been for... there were as many litre cans of Mother Ganga as there were home-bound pilgrims on the train.
I had been fretting mildly in the taxi about this journey.. the loos mainly, and the fact that I could only get a top berth, and my legs were so stiff. When I got off the motorbike in Rishikesh I had discovered a hole in the back of my (luckily quite voluminous) trousers and couldn’t tell how big it was, and the thought of clambering up that ladder to the top bunk...I am enough of an oddity already without such an added worry.  It isn’t just the gymnastics involved in climbing the ladder, but there is virtually no headroom when you do get up there. I decided to try to forget about the whole in my trousers, and it worked.
My companions (6 berths) were a couple who had been visiting their son in his ashram in Rishikesh. Professor Mukherjee is a retired head of philosophy and maths from St Xavier’s College in Kolkata and his wife had a terrible cough, and wept to leave her son – they only see him every 2 -3 years. He came on board to say goodbye, and had a magnificent beard, a vivid orange turban and shiva beads around his neck. There was also a sourfaced woman in a glittering sari whose family were in the next door compartment and she had obviously had a row with her husband. All offerings they brought to her of meals and snacks were refused and she didn’t speak.  The other two berths were men who slept most of the way and worked on their computers. One helped me my choose lunch - veg curry with rice and dal (again) - 40rps.
The arrival time into Varanasi (or Banares) wasn’t clear. I thought  it would arrive at 1.45pm, the ticket inspector said 4pm, someone else said 3pm. So when I scrambled up the ladder again at 11.30 (we had an early lunch) to read my book, I asked the Professor to alert me if he heard any talk of arriving in Varanasi.. (Approaching stations are not announced and the name on the platform is always written large in Hindi and small in English – but by then it would be too late anyway, they don’t stop long.) “Quickly Madam, come down now, Banares is coming,” the Professor was jumping up and down and tugging at my blanket, and I was sound asleep.  I gathered myself together and waved goodbye to the Professor, hauled my case along the train and made it - to a celebrity welcome from all the porters on the platform.
The hawkers and hasslers are really bad at Varanasi. Taxi drivers will try to stop you going to where you want to go and tell you of a better place. But I said no, firmly, I wanted Hotel Alka. They said the trouble is Hotel Alka is in the old part of the city and there is a long walk at the end because the roads are too narrow for cars. They were right - it was a long walk - but luckily the taxi men came with me and carried my case, still trying to persuade me to stay somewhere else. But Hotel Alka is good – it’s at Meer Ghat, near to the main burning ghat – and it is right on the river with a lovely terrace. My room is large with a little balcony. Magic.
(written Sunday 17 July)

Monday, 18 July 2011


The rain started as I was stepping off the bus in Haridwar (from Sahrampur) and I went to look for a taxi to Rishikesh. (I was booked into a Yoga Centre.) “You want taxi?” asked an old man repairing a rickshaw. “Yes, to Rishikesh.” He nodded.  I sheltered under a verandah with a man selling bananas. I bought a banana and his friend came to join us. We had the usual Where you come from ? Nodding.  Smiling. You alone Aunty?  (I do wish they wouldn’t call me Aunty). Eventually a rattly old Ambassador arrived. “Rishikesh? 750rps.”  “Is that your best price?” I asked feebly. “Long way, fixed price.” Ok. Then banana man’s friend said “Why you no bargain?” Because I couldn’t be bothered. The taxi took an hour.
Rishikesh has been famous for yoga and its many ashrams since the Beatles stayed there in the Sixties with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. There is a huge Hindu festival happening at the moment and hundreds of pilgrims clad in orange are arriving every day to worship Shiva and bathe in the great Ganga river. 
The town is on both sides of the river with two pedestrian suspension bridges (jhula) crossing it. The taxi dropped me on the west and I needed to be on the east. He carried my heavy case down very steep wet stairs, (“Be careful  Aunty!” Thanks.)  and I walked across. The bridges are about 4’ wide and you walk on wide slats of concrete which rumble . It was quite exciting with the rain pouring down and the river racingfg beneath. Pulling my case wasn’t so easy, with motorbikes and cows and hand-carts to negotiate and pilgrims stopping to take group photographs. 
I rang the ashram from a shop and they sent a motorbike to pick me up - him, my vast case, and me. (‘Please God don’t let me tip this thing up, or go shooting off the back...’)  And so, safe and sound, I arrived at Rishikesh Yog Peeth. It was Sunday, so no classes. My room was in another hotel, round the corner. Not The Ritz, but it was fine, with a fan and private bathroom.  Several students were staying in this annexe and the only drawback was the narrow path which lead there from the centre, and negotiating the cowpats in the dark after supper.
Classes are at 6.30am and 6.30pm. Most students were on a 6-week teaching course and I joined a 3-week course, but only for 5 days. It was great, but hard as I haven’t done any yoga for 10 years and was by far the oldest person there...  Not my finest hour, but I want to carry on with it. I had two ayurvedic massages – excellent , particularly the second because I was quite seized up after a couple of days. .. It was SO hot and the classes called for maximum exertion... most days I had 4 or 5 showers  - cold, no hot water.
Electricity is unreliable in Rishikesh – as in lots of places – and one night when the power failed and the generator also went off I woke boiling at 4am and wandered outside. Just as hot. A foam rubber mattress can feel like a griddle pan. It was quite a job keeping pace with the hand washing. Apart from over-heating, I loved it – for those who want to take their yoga up a notch, visit .
Annette, a pianist from Austria and my neighbour, and I explored the town and paddled in the ghats where others bathed. The whole place was buzzing with activity and people selling spices and souvenirs and ayurvedic remedies... and hundreds of plastic containers . Why?
 I visited an ayurvedic doctor– lovely Dr Arora – and, without boring you with the details of my bodily functions, think I really made life-changing discoveries... (!) The other thing that kept me busy was organising my onward trains.. not wanting to be caught out as I had been getting from Jammu to Rishikesh.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Srinagar - Jammu - Haridwar

I decided to go by road from Srinagar to Jammu (no train at Srinagar) because the road through the mountains is beautiful. There are buses but the guidebooks advised share jeeps which leave early in the morning from outside the Tourist Centre.

I had had dinner with Hamid and Zahid (who had taken me to see all the weavers) and their family  on Friday night which was such a lovely evening – they are the most hospitable and gorgeous people. They had told me I should not go for a Somu (Tata), but try try to get a Tavera (Chevrolet ) – I went in a Toyota. It was fine. There was much discussion (in Kashmiri) and the upshot of it was that I should not eat anything except black tea and perhaps a biscuit. "Oh, it's that winding..?" "It's 300km, half very winding, half not quite so winding." Ok.

I got in to my Toyota Qualis just before 6am and eventually we had a carful (8 passengers) and the luggage strapped on the roof and left at 6.35 in torrential rain.  I had been advised to sit in the front – certainly not in the side-facing seats in the back – but it felt very snug while we were waiting, with nice Sikh telecoms engineer who was in front too, so I decided to move behind. That turned out to be a good decision as the 2nd passenger seat in the front was the hardest to sell and the telecoms engineer was very tired and noddy and fell asleep on the man who took the place. I had two slim men in the middle row and there were three more in the sideways seats in the back, one of whom had a terrible cold, or nasal troubles, and made a hideous noise all the time he was awake but was quiet when he slept. Out of 8 passengers, three were Sikh, one was foreign and one was a woman...

I am glad I wasn't in the front. The driver was brilliant (he got us to Jammu unscathed) but there is SO much traffic on the route – convoys of army trucks, jeeps, lorries – you just have to pass where you can. We stopped for breakfast after an hour (none for me thanks) and I looked at the shops – selling mainly nuts, dried fruit, shawls (mainly acrylic as far as I could see) and cricket bats. Kashmir is famous for its willow, and cricket bats.

The army convoy we had passed on the way up from Srinagar didn't stop for breakfast and, as we were getting back into the car they drove by...  So we had to pick them off again, one or two at a time. It's disconcerting when your driver rocks backwards and forwards as he passes a lorry going up hill, blind corner approaching - plainly wishing he had another gear. After 4 hours we stopped for lunch (no, still not hungry) and the loo and eventually got to Jammu after 8.5 hours.

I thought Jammu was a hellhole – but that is probably because I decided first to go and get my train ticket for Haridwar (I was told it left at 10pm so I had 8 hours to spare) and then go and find an internet cafe and something to eat...  Why did I not book the ticket in Srinagar? I don't know, but suffice to say I spent two hours  going from one ticket counter to another – Haridwar train completely full – and pleading with the Station Master and nearly coming over funny in his office (still nothing to eat). I ended up getting a ticket on the Delhi train to go to Saharampur (arr 6.30am) and from there I could get a bus to Haridwar and a taxi to Rishikesh. Lesson learned..

I had spring rolls – so oily I have probably blocked half my arteries, but rather delicious - and 2 lime sodas in a beastly hotel near the station. I got a rickshaw from the hotel and found a porter. The head porter said 300rps – I said WHAT? I have never paid more than 120rps before and though it isn't a lot of money, sometimes you just get fed up with always having to pay 3x what everyone else pays because you are foreign. .. (You can tell I wasn't in the best mood..) He said the chap would take my case for 100rps but wouldn't wait and put it on the train. OK, deal.

I was early anyway and the train wasn't due for 25 minutes.. so this adorable boy coiled his cloth on his head and put my case on top and I followed him up three flights of stairs, a ramp, and down stairs to platform 3 to where my carriage would stop. I thanked him and gave him 20rps extra...  Quite a miserable wait... dark, tired, rats everywhere, stink of pee, such poor people waiting. They seemed happy enough..

Eventually the train drew in and we made for the doors (those with reservations in sleeper class),  but the doors didn't open. Suddenly from nowhere my porter reappeared - to help me get my case on the train. How lovely of him. He couldn't open the door either, so he removed part of the window and climbed in and unlocked the door from the inside. It was pitch dark, no lights. So he got his mobile out and shone the torch bit until we found my berth.  I could've kissed him.

Once under way the journey was uneventful . The train was filthy and had no a/c, but fans and it wasn't too hot. I got eaten by midgies, but slept a bit and because I had had are much too little to drink, I didn't want the loo. Good, because it was another hellhole.
Arrived Sahrampur  6.30am, right on time. Took 2hr bus to Haridwar and then a taxi to Rishikesh..



Go to Kashmir..

What can I say about the Kashmir Valley? Other than you must go. It is a beautiful place, the Lakes are fascinating and the people are delightful. The crafts they produce are breathtaking – shawls, carpets, embroidery, papier mache, carving.. Most importantly it is only 1.25 hr from Delhi by plane – easy. It is completely different to anywhere I have been before  - it is mountainous, Muslim, cool, the food is different too – lots of meat, quite spicy. Very little alcohol, so get your own.

The war between India and Pakistan, which have had such a catastrophic effect on this lovely region, is quiet now and, Inshalla, peace will reign. But of course militant attacks can happen at any time – around political anniversaries or if a politician makes a provoking speech...  there are websites to look at, is one, or the BBC. Then, if all looks calm and you happen to be in Delhi, or Rajasthan, pop up there for a few days.. They so badly depend on tourism.

After Rajasthan I found Kashmir wonderfully cool. July is high summer, a lovely time to go there, and their high season (April  - August). The autumn is lovely (ask a Kashmiri and they will tell you all the time it is beautiful!) – particularly November when the chinnar leaves are red. Chinnars, plane trees but huge, are magnificent and protected – and there are lots of other beautiful trees. It snows late in December until the end of February – and it can be very cold and the snow deep – but the shikaras continue paddling about on the Lake until it freezes over. (Gulmarg, 1.5 hours from Srinagar has very good skiing, go to Nedous Hotel.) Spring, March until April is - of course - beautiful.

There are lots of houses being built – I am talking mainly about Srinagar, but other places too – so hopefully people are confidant about the future. All houses old and new have corrugated iron roofs – I presume so the snow shoots off easily – and they don't have guttering.. because the gutters would get pulled off by the snow.  It is hard for me to picture anything but the Lake glistening with summer sun..




I am in Gulmarg, up in the hills an hour and a half from Srinagar, staying at lovely Nedous Hotel. Gulmarg is really a winter resort with, I am told, some of the best off-piste skiing you could wish for. The highest cable car in the world goes from here (9000'), to 11,000' and then on to 14000'.

But now it's summertime and the focus is on the meadow (Gulmarg literally means 'Meadow of Flowers') – a huge green expanse which blooms with daffodils in March, followed by lupins and now daisies. The great-grandfather of the present owner built Nedous Hotel in 1888. He brought lupins from England and over the years the seeds have blown all over the meadow.

Lots of local holidaymakers are here enjoying the cool air and the scenery. There is a golf course and a children's park which is popular but most Indians seem to like to wander about or sit on a grassy bank and natter. They also love riding the ponies which are everywhere.. everyone rides – huge men whose feet almost touch the ground, and ladies in saris - bouncing around on these very sure-footed but not very big ponies. It is possible to hire larger ponies and trek in the hills which sounds lovely but I haven't done it.. I have stuck to walking . You really feel the altitude when you go up hill. Back to Srinagar today and heading for Haridwar tomorrow.
(written 7/7/11)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


When I was in Delhi, when I first arrived in May, I went to see a shop called the Kashmir Loom Company. I met one of the partners, Samina, who showed me their pashminas and I said that I would like to buy a couple before I returned to England, and if I went to Kashmir could I see where they are made? She said of course I could and I emailed her before I left Jaipur.
So, yesterday, Hamid, one of three brothers who run the Kashmir Loom Company with Samina, picked me up at the houseboats and we had the most amazing day. We went to see the weavers,  (left top) and the ones who weave with lots of coloured wools in different needles so it looks the same front and back (bottom). The finished article is shown too!
We went to his house where his mother (seen with Hamid)  showed me how to comb and spin the pashmina wool. We also went to see his uncle who makes papier mache - exquisite fine work, and more crewelwork embroidery.
Hamid and his brothers employ many outworkers to work to their designs and it seems that these incredibly talented and creative workers, after many years in the doldrums with the militancy troubles and lack of both exports and tourism, have a really thriving business again. They looms are set up in their homes... everything is done by hand. "They work how they like, not in a factory," Hamid said. "You need a good environment, some cool breezes coming in, good natural light."
"We don't stop buyers coming to see the work, people can go direct to them if they like. The weabers are committed to us for the work they agree to do, but they are free."

So if you wonder why a real pashmina costs a lot of money, I can tell you why. The raw wool has to be bought in bales then it is combed, and combed again, and washed, washed again, and spun. Then the weaving can take 2 or 3 weeks. If it is embroidered, this is done entirely by hand. Everything is done entirely by hand. Some big shawls, which are entirely covered in embroidery, take 3 years to make. Then they are checked, checked again, washed, washed again. Then checked... then sold.
"Of course we could make shawls for a fraction of the price if we used machines," said Hamid, "but then what would these people do?"

Mr Abdul Gani

Today started with a head, neck and shoulders massage from Mr Abdul Gani, arranged last night. I wasn't sure how this would work because he is of course Moslem and women/flesh... but  he looked a trustworthy sort, and comes regularly to the houseboats. I asked Ramzan if perhaps I could have hot water after my massage... oils, etc? I might need to wash my hair? No, Ramzan said, no oil in your hair.

So I had had tea and was ready for Mr Gani when he arrived at 8am. He sat me in a dining chair and draped a sheet over my shoulders (I was wearing a sleeveless top) and began the most vigorous rubbing.. like the most enthusiastic washer at the hairdressers, but it went on for a long time. "Good?" he said? "Very good," I said, hanging on to both sides of the chair. After more than 10 minutes he bent me forward and did my spine. He wasn't bad, but it was odd - massage through clothes with no oil. Luckily in the forward position I could brace myself and not get thrust off the chair. Then my arms were squeezed and pushed.  I felt truly alive at the end of it, thankful that Ramzan had stoked the boiler for hot water, and that I had some conditioner to de-tangle my hair...

Kashmir Day 2

I didn’t have the best night.. largely due to the  mountainous supper of Kashmiri chicken with rice and vegetables, followed by banana fritters. ..  on top of those doughnuts. I didn’t shut my curtains, so that I would open my eyes in the morning to the view across the lake. But I was woken at 3am by dogs barking a mile away across the lake, which was followed by the amplified call to prayer from several different directions that bounced round the lake at 4am. No matter, I had enough sleep.
I asked for poached eggs and a mango for breakfast and they arrived - with a plate of pancakes, honey, and a basket of special Kashmiri breads... This has got to stop! Laughing, Mr Butt says he likes all his guests to put on weight while they are here.  Here is one obliging guest..
Then Lassa arrived. He is the most enchanting man... owner of ‘Stranger in Paradise’ – the shikara you see in the last blog. He took me out for an hour on the lake. He speaks brilliant English – also quite a lot of French and Italian I think - in a strangely lilting voice and has the most amazing smile.. He is a fund of knowledge about the lake and the people who live there and the birds.. “Lassa, is that a pied kingfisher?” “Yes please, Madam.” “Lassa is that a grebe?” “No please Madam... a young moorhen.” Silly me.  “Madam you see the ladies there? They are gathering the leaves of the Marsh Marigolds to feed the cows. Very good for milky cows.”
 I have also been out today with Mr Butt’s son, Niwas, to see incredible embroidery being made –shawls which take 3 years to make - and crewelweavers.  Designers from all over the world have their designs made here... someone from New York has a line in crewel (chain stitch) fish which are being created in a garret in the old part of Srinagar. Incredible fine craftsmanship... they have also created a Noah’s Ark rug which would look amazing in a modern seaside house – on the wall I think. It’s 10’ square.
Back at the houseboat Ramzan had timed the boiler perfectly for a hot bath before supper.

Kashmir Day 1

Here I am in Srinagar staying on a houseboat looking out across Dal Lake – something I have long dreamt of doing. I can’t tell you how beautiful it is. The shining, mirror-flat lake, the mountains beyond, the birds, the people... and the houseboat. A few fishermen, two to a boat, are quietly paddling their elegant kishtee, fishing for carp, their voices crystal clear across the water.  Huge kites circle overhead, hunting for supper, and there are egrets and kingfishers, herons and terns flying about.
When I told the  taxi-driver at the airport where I wanted to go, he chuckled and did a little head-wag. “The best house-boats.” he said, and we were off. It was sightly overcast, with a gentle cool breeze blowing. Not cold, but not hot either. Bliss.  
I got such a greeting when I arrived from Gumal Butt, owner of Butt Clermont Houseboats, that I felt truly special.  He rang me in Delhi, then we spoke at the airport, and he was waiting for me when I arrived with a huge bear hug.  We walked through his gallery of photographs and press cuttings. So many people have stayed here.. diplomats and film stars, Lord Mountbatten, Ravi Shankar, George Harrison,  Michael Palin... and me. But I am sure that, proud as Mr Butt is of his celebrity guests and the praises they have heaped on him – everyone probably receives much the same welcome. He just loves people and is smiling, welcoming, warm – nothing seems too much trouble. We walked through his garden - of which he is very proud, it dates back to Mughal times - to the line-up of houseboats, each with a boiler outside and an overhead pipe to the bathroom. I meet Ramzan who will look after me, who explained the plumbing.
My houseboat has one double bedroom – some sleep four, one sleeps 10. They are spacious and comfortable, decorated with intricately carved cedar wood, antique furniture, crewel weave curtains and chaircovers and silk rugs. My table was laid for supper and a vase of dahlias and gladioli from the garden. Gumal Butt and I drank cinnamon tea from bone china teacups and I polished off most of a plate of the most exquisite little doughnuts.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A trip to the cinema

Everyone who visits Jaipur and reads their guidebook will probably know about the Raj Mandir cinema. It is famous, has film premiers etc. It was built in the 1970s on art deco lines, it's all lilac and pink meringue inside, and plush seats. Krishnangi Smriti's foster daughter, 12, and I went to see Ready, a new Bollywood film with Salman Kahn, a big star. It was lucky we arrived in good time because we queued for half an hour for tickets... the place wasn't packed, but there were still hundreds of people there - it was a Monday matinee.
You don't really need to speak Hindi to enjoy an indian film..   there is a fairly basic formula I think (though this is the only film I have seen all through and on the big screen) - There's a beautiful girl, a handsome man who she doesn't fancy at first but then she does, a huge baddie (perhaps several), mafia-type baddies who frown a lot and drive about in big cars with tinted windows, a goofy fall-guy who is the butt of a lot of jokes, lots of misunderstandings and lots of laughs - custartd-pie humour, and dancing. The men have to be put straight on matters of the heart by their long-suffering wives who sit together and gossip and look lovely.
I thought it was great - film-goers here like to be 'transported' by cinema. There is lots of audience participation, hollering and laughing at the good bits, a 10-minute 'Pee break' - comes up on the screen - where everyone does if they have to, and can get refreshments etc. The film finishes with a good dance routine - if I could criticise I would say there wasn't enough dancing, but maybe that was just me.


This is Sonu my taxi friend in Jaipur. He is a very smiley fellow and talks good english - non-stop. He likes driving english people best "I like the french/germans/italians etc. But not so much. They don't speak so good english." No Sonu, but... "You. You make me very happy." I am sure I do - I pay him over the odds, and he has taken me to all the places where he gets a rake-off. "No worries, you don't have to buy. I just take you there and they give me little something for my children." Once I thought we were visiting a home for deaf and dumb children which he kept talking about, but it turned out to be another jewellery shop. Grrr (Not so good english after all!)
It irks me most that I should be irritated. After all, a couple of hours in Sonu's taxi only costs 350rps (five pounds). So we carry on and we have a laugh.
On a couple of occasions I have been driven by his cousin - both of them squeezed on to the driver's seat (below)- and I couldn't understand why, except Sonu said his cousin likes to practice his english. But I think it was because Sonu couldn't get his rickshaw that day. Most drivers (70%) he tells me own their rickshaws and the rest rent them. Sonu pays 175 rps (2.50) for a ten-hour shift and then hands it on to someone else, and he pays 300rps a day for diesel. On a good day he would hope to make 1000rps+ - a not so good day 600. So it seems churlish to quibble over the odd 50rps..
Yesterday I said goodbye to the children and came by train to Delhi. I knew it would be awful saying goodbye, they are such a great lot of children. It was worse than awful. When I left I was in tears and so was Smriti. Sonu put my case in his auto and took a couple of photographs of me with the children and then we set off for the station. There was none of his chirpy chatter, he didn't talk at all. He just said when we got to the station that he thought I ought to come and live in India, and I could go back and visit my family once a year..!