Hindustan Zindabad

We had two other visits on our stay in Amritsar. First of all Jaswinder took us to the ‘Massacre Gardens’ which is very near to the Golden Temple. This is a small public park down a narrow alley. This is one of the other sights that pilgrims to Amritsar visit and it is the scene of a horrible and unnecessary massacre in 1919 where the British Army under a man called Dyer opened fire on peaceful protest of something like 20,000 Indian pilgrims. It all seemed a very unsatisfactory business and it felt very odd being apparently the only English people there. As usual people were very interested in us and I felt like apologising for what had happened all those years ago. Very sad.
After this we did a little shopping in the bazaar and had a cappuccino stop at our new favourite Cafe Coffee Day where Jaswinder also ran off to get some lovely sticky Jalabi. Yum. We then went back to the hotel for a v quick rest and were then picked up in the van ready for our final pilgrimage to the Wagah Border with Pakistan. The ceremony here begins each day at 5pm and we drove quite fast to get there. This was the part of the whole trip that Enid was most looking forward to as she’d seen it on the telly.
As we had foreign passports we were allowed to go in via a different entrance to all the thousands of Indian visitors and sneaked in around the back. When you get in it’s like being in a sports stadium with high stepped seating terraces. We couldn’t actually fit into the foreigners gallery so we went in with the local crowd and went up to near the top as Jaswinder had told us to. Here we had a good view of the crowd which was already in quite an excitable state. You could see the border gate from here and also see through to the Pakistan side where there were also crowds on the terraces although smaller in number.
There was a guy whose job it was to get the crowd going and he did a very good job of getting different sections of the crowd to chant in turn. There were kids dancing on the little street that runs from the barrack room to the border gate and there was music to encourage them including Jai Ho from the film Slumdog Millionaire! This was going to be fun…..
Then all of a sudden, presumably at 5pm on the dot, two girl soldiers suddenly marched out from the barracks down the lane to the gate. They moved so fast it was hard to keep up with them. When they got to the gate they do a big demonstrative high kick lifting their foot up to or above their head and then smack their foot down as hard as they can on the ground. This is then repeated by a pair of male soldiers and finally by a group of six who all then march up individually and with great bravado try, to outdo their Pakistani counterparts who you can just about see matching every move! The gate is opened at this stage so the soldiers are really close to each other. The Indian soldiers looked very smart in red and gold and in particular their headgear is very impressive. They even make a song and dance out of straightening their hats at the gate! The Pakistani guards are dressed in blue or black and look like ninjas.
All the while the crowd is going crazy – cheering, chanting and trying to outdo the Pakistani crowd for noise. The guy sitting next to me was the particularly enthusiastic and at one point the official crowd rouser pointed to him and told him that this was his job! It was easy to feel involved and it felt like being at a football match. I found myself shouting ‘Go on fella’ at one point when one of the Indian soldiers set off on his march, which the noisy guy next to me thought was hilarious and told all his mates what I’d said!! In truth the atmosphere is better compared to a cricket match between India and Pakistan and one of the favourite chants is in the title of this post ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ which essentially means ‘India is Great’ or perhaps the equivalent of U.S.A, U.S.A or closer to home ‘Ingerland’.
So after the marching and leg slapping they lower the flags and march the Indian one back to the barracks and that’s it. Shows over folks! It was all really good fun and although you’re in the middle of a foreign crowd shouting their heads off it doesn’t feel at all threatening. It’s once again incredibly friendly.
We made our way back to our van and headed back into town 25km away with the rest of the crowd. This happens every day and is another essential part of a pilgrims visit to Amritsar- the chance to shout at the folk across the border!
Tonight we had a really great curry with our guide at the Crystal Restaurant in Amritsar- you see we really are feeling better.

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Pilgrims at Amritsar- a photo gallery

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No-one goes hungry in Amritsar

We also visited, both at night and the following day, the area of the temple called Guru Ka Langar which is basically a voluntary kitchen where they feed all the pilgrims and other people that come to visit the temple for free. Jane had heard about this place from Trip Advisor before we came and thought it might be a good place to eat whereas I had my reservations.
It’s an incredible place and the scale of the operation is enormous. We again felt privileged to be able to visit behind the scenes here both in the kitchens and then in the food hall where the folk get to eat. I asked our guide if it was only because we were with him that we got to wander about but he matter of factly said ‘No, anyone can come here -there are no restrictions.’
We started off in the area where they serve thousands of bowls of chai (tea) and thought this was very busy but then we went into the actual food hall and there were hundreds of people sitting on the floor waiting to be served their lunch on a silver plate. The estimates for how many people they can feed here on any one day vary between 10,000 and 100,000 but whatever it was – it was definitely a lot of people! We could have eaten here but to be honest it felt awkward as there were some incredibly poor people eating here and it didn’t feel right. However, then our guide told us that the idea here was of equality and that by all eating on the floor together it showed that there was no difference between the rich and poor. So that felt awkward too but no-one else seemed to mind.
After this we also had a little tour behind the scenes both at night and in the day of the kitchens. We saw where the large group of volunteers were preparing the huge piles of garlic and we saw the giggling man who tended the fires underneath the vast bowls of boiling broth. We also saw the groups of ladies hand rolling the chapatis and Joyce and Enid felt compelled to volunteer here which they did enthusiastically. Then we saw the huge German chapati making machine which could churn them out much faster but they probably don’t taste as good.
Finally we saw the area where they do the washing up. Again this is manned by volunteers who could be a local teacher who had popped in during a free period to give some time or a guy from Canada who has come all this way to do his service for a week. The atmosphere here was extremely organised but with a sense of sociable fun. I think we have found a place for Enid now that she is due to go part time and is looking to do some voluntary work.
In the end I was left asking the question here of ‘ Why couldn’t this model of voluntary giving on such a grand scale work elsewhere?

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Lost for words at the Golden Temple

Randeep took us through the streets of Amritsar to the Golden Temple and by now it was dark and the streets a slightly calmer version of what we’d seen elsewhere. We had to be dropped off about a 10 min walk from the temple as the streets become too narrow here for a car or van to pass through. It was very busy with people coming and going but definitely all moving with a purpose.
At the entrance to the Golden Temple we had to take our shoes off and wash our hands. We also needed to cover our heads with the scarves we’d brought with us. As you walk towards the temple gate you have to walk through a small channel of very clean water. You then enter via one of the 4 gates (N,S,E & W) which represent the fact that people from all over are welcome and people of the 4 main religions of India (Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian).
The sight that beholds you as you enter is truly awesome and I’m afraid that I was lost for words. Not something that happens very often and only the other day, whilst reflecting on how this blog was going, I said to Jane “Who knew I had so many words in my head?” to which she replied “I did, bab.” in her lovely Brummie way. I think she meant it kindly.
Anyway, I definitely think that night time is the best time to see the Golden Temple for the first time if you have a choice. There she sits shinning in the ‘pool of nectar’ which is the literal meaning of the word Amritsar. The reflections in the water look like liquid gold. It is really beautiful. A lot of people back home had told us that this was their favourite place in the world or their spiritual home and it was easy to see why the place means so much to them. It felt like an incredible privilege to be at the heart of somewhere of such religious importance and yet so inclusive and friendly. It was both lively and peaceful at the same time and we walked around the pool with everyone else being stopped again regularly by people who wanted their photo taken with us. People prostrate themselves as they enter and they like to take a ‘holy dip’ to purify themselves and to wash away previous sins. There is a kind of hypnotic music playing all the time which is actually being broadcast from live singing within the temple itself. This is people singing sections from the holy book which is what the people in the Sikh religion hold sacred. They treat the book as the ‘living master’ and so the book is kept covered when it is not being read from and put to bed each night to rest. There are copies of the book all around the temple which priests are constantly reading from.
The next day we returned to the temple with our new guide Jaswinder who was a lovely Sikh lad of 26 who I think rather enjoyed having a very attentive group of English ladies to entertain for the day! He was another great guide and took us inside the Golden Temple itself. There is a huge queue along the length of bridge to get in but it moves fast and once in the temple its a heady mix of fragrance from incense and marigolds. The music is playing and being sung hypnotically and the book is on the cushion. Some people just come to look, like us, whilst others just find a place to sit and read their little prayer books. I was amazed that we got to go in here and I even got to touch the golden roof itself as we went right up to the top. The temple is in fact gold plate over a layer of copper over the base of the building which is white marble.
Jaswinder also taught us a lot about the Sikh religion for example we learned about the 5 Ks which are important to those Sikhs who have chosen to be baptised.
Kesh is long hair kept in a turban
Kachha is a special kind of underwear
Kirpan is the small sword which must be kept on the person at ALL times
Kangha is the comb used for the hair
Kara is an iron and steel bracelet
We generally agreed that the principles that Sikhs hold to are pretty good ones:
> The book is the master
> Work hard and look after your family
> Give 10% of your earnings each year to charity either in money or time equivalent.
I’m going to leave it for a couple of separate posts to tell you about the kitchen situation and also to share with you the faces of some of the people we met. Suffice to say that this was definitely one of the absolute highlights of the trip so far.

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Train or plane? Train or plane?

Can you believe that we’ve arrived now at our last hotel and for the first time on our trip we’ve had problems accessing the Internet? Everywhere we have been they have had Wifi and everywhere else except Delhi this has been free. That’s New India for you. However, when we got here the Wifi was down so it prevented me updating until now. Not because it was down for all that time but because we have been incredibly busy having the most fantastic time!
Anyway, before all of that we have been reflecting on our modes of transport and the question in the title was one I posed yesterday at Jaipur Airport whilst we were waiting for our flight to Amritsar. Needless to say the answer was a resounding PLANE. I then went on to do a small survey of my fellow travellers to ask whether looking back on it would they have missed the overnight train experience out? You see, I wouldn’t have missed it now for the world but I am afraid my fellows all gave another rather definite YES (they would have missed it out thank you).
So how come the girls are so strongly in favour of the plane mode of transport? Well our trip from Jaipur to here is a perhaps a good example of why. We left the hotel at 5.30pm and checked in about an hour and a half before our flight was due to leave firstly to Delhi. The journey was extremely civilised and we arrived in Delhi bang on time. Then we had a 4 hour wait for the flight to Amritsar. Lets compare this with the wait in the 1st class train waiting room shall we? Well here we really did do some shopping. Firstly for some nice gift items in the craft shop and then most importantly for some drugs in the pharmacy. Joyce and Enid had finally given in and decided they needed to get something other than Imodium to treat their stomachs. So without hassle here they could pick up lots of mystery pills purporting to be anti-biotics and pro-biotics. They cost about £2 so I decided that although I’d been feeling a lot better I might as well get the same as my mates. No problem.
Then we went up to the food hall and guess what was waiting there for me? Yes indeed a newly opened Costa Coffee. Naturally I had my usual croissant and a cappuccino and Jane had a doughnut from another outlet. Joyce and Enid needed to eat some food with their new drugs and so they gave up all that good work on the vegetarian diet and went and got a Sausage and Bacon McMuffin and a cup of tea from McDonalds! How low can you stoop!!
Then we went off to a bar so that Jane could watch the cricket on the big screen TV. You see the trains have a long way to go if they are going to compete. Virgin opportunity perhaps?
We arrived early at Amritsar airport and met our new guide Randeep. He is a Sikh guy as are a lot of the people here obviously as the Golden Temple is their sacred place. He took us to our latest hotel the Ranjit Svaasa. It’s an old heritage home and a beautiful rambling old building with some really lovely parts like the lounge I’m in now which is full of antique furnishings and plush upholstery but also some funny bits where they’re doing building work or just where the chic has worn off and it just looks shabby. Sorry. Our rooms were up on the top floor and Joyce and Enid had a lovely huge room more like a suite whereas ours was rather more like a broom cupboard with no bath, fridge and most importantly for the cricket fan- no TV. We were quickly swapped….
Anyway we now had a free afternoon so we decided to make the most of the spa facilities again. This time Jane joined in as well. Joyce and Enid had Indian head and face massages which they thought v good whereas Jane and I decided to try the Karl Pilkington Spa Treatment. This involves having to wear nought but a pair of skimpy paper pants, lying on an old door and in Jane’s case being pummelled with something in an old sock (snooker ball?) and in my own case being rubbed down from head to toe in oil of cloves. At one point I rubbed my nose and thought it was going to fall off the oil burned so much. Jane also had a couple of mosquito bites thrown in for good measure.
Anyway there wasn’t really time after this to have a proper shower as it was time to get off to the Golden Temple. I’m afraid therefore that the oil didn’t really come off and I stank to high heaven still of clove oil. Still seemed to keep the Mosquitos away from me!
Now then we were going for our nighttime visit to the Golden Temple and it totally and utterly deserves a post all of its own-tomorrow……

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East meets West whilst we have a rest

We experienced night time Diwali celebrations from the safety of our hotel’s rooftop restaurant yesterday. We’d decided that, although Jane wanted to, it was best not to have the ‘Karl Pilkington fireworks in the streets of Mexico experience’ as that looked really scary.
The restaurant was very busy and we had to wait about an hour to get a table but we didn’t need to worry that the fireworks would run out as they went on for hours. In fact they’re still going off again tonight!!
So by the time we got in the fireworks seemed to be getting louder and louder. As we walked in a guy coming out said ‘it’s like all out warfare out there’ and he wasn’t too wrong. The view was great and you could see all the big buildings lit up with streams of electric lights, massive fireworks going off all over the city skyline, fireworks going off in the street below and firecrackers making huge repetitive gunshots going off everywhere. Opposite us a man was trying to have a more sedate little celebration on his rooftop by lighting hundreds of the little oil clay lamps with his young son.
The firecrackers in particular really make me jump, in fact fireworks in general make me nervy at the best of times. Tonight, however, I had quite a long list of health and safety concerns. Not only were people holding fireworks, they were throwing them. I’m sure there weren’t many lighter tapers being used and rather more firework to firework lighting going on. I did not seen any buckets of sand and nor did I see a single person wearing a luminescent jacket acting in a supervisory capacity. However, one of my biggest concerns was that we were sitting in a rooftop restaurant where our protection from the rockets appeared to be a fabric awning. Hmm.
So under this racket we enjoyed our meal. Enid was on tomato and basil soup tonight and I had Chinese sweet and sour veg. Joyce and Jane stuck with Indian and ordered Indian veg which when it arrived was a dark green slime. To go with this they also had some fried spinach leaves which they seemed to think were rather nice. I’m sorry- I know I should go local but I just can’t anymore! I want a marmite sandwich, Enid wants beans on toast, Joyce wants a juicy big steak and Jane says she could murder a curry!!
Food is not the only thing we’ve noticed is a bit more Westernised in Jaipur. We’ve also noticed that there are more shiny, modern buildings -often shopping malls. There are more cars and less bikes and the cows have gone from the streets. We’ve noticed signs everywhere in India celebrating the god Vodaphone and in fact we have an ongoing competition to see who can find the most unlikely person on a mobile phone. So far it’s a toss up between the ancient cowherd in the middle of Ranthambore Tiger reserve dressed in his traditional white outfit sitting at the water pump on his mobile and the elephant driver who, after his shift, was having a sneaky ciggy and making a call on his mobile.
TV channels are another thing. Tonight Joyce and Enid were watching ‘Come Dine with Me’ from Doncaster and Jane and I were glued to ‘Extreme Makeover- home edition’ from Michigan.They even have MTV India which we watched yesterday in the coffee shop.
Today we’ve had a lovey relaxing day walking around the bazaars of the old Pink City although its more a shade of terracotta these days as apparently that colour paint is cheaper (job lot?). It turns out the cows here are just hidden down these backstreets which were far quieter than anywhere we’ve been so far. It was really pleasant walking around with everyone wishing us a Happy Diwali. You don’t half have to mind where you put your feet though.
This afternoon we’ve spent by the pool and then at 4 pm Enid and I went to the spa for our massages. I had a lovely Indian head and foot massage and it was the 2nd best massage I’ve ever had. Best? Hacienda Xcantun, Merida, Mexico. Worst? Tortuous agony in Koh Samui, Thailand. Never ask for pressure anything other than ‘gentle’ in Thailand.
I am now feeling completely relaxed, re-energised and ready for Golden Temple in Amritsar tomorrow.

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Happy Diwali!

Yes- Happy Diwali everyone! We’re here in Jaipur where they really like to go to town in celebrating. Diwali is also known as the Festival of Lights and is one of the most important Hindu festivals. It is celebrated by families who perform traditional activities together at home including lighting clay oil lamps and cleaning the house. Both of these are done to welcome the Goddess Lakshmi into the home. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity ( both material and spiritual). In addition the festival is celebrated by setting off firecrackers and fireworks, by everyone putting on their new clothes and by sharing sweets with friends and family. In addition, here in Jaipur they all seem to collect a stem of sugar cane to take home.
So we’ve been out all day today in Jaipur having a mad rush with our guide around its various monuments and you might have thought that, like on Christmas Day back home, there’d be no-one around (the M6 is always wonderfully clear up to Mum and Dad’s etc). Oh no that’s not the case here -it’s still very busy and really the daytime seems to be like Christmas Eve with all the men doing their last minute shopping and then the real celebrating begins in the evening. So I will capture more about how that goes tomorrow.
Today we met our new guide Jaysingh who again was very lovely. First we visited the Palace of Winds which is really just a facade which the old queen used to have to hide behind to look at all the goings on in the street as she wasn’t allowed to be seen. The facade was actually named after all the windows it has -365 in the main part and about 900 along its entire length. So nothing to do with wind then which really takes away the romantic image a bit don’t you think?
Then we went out to the old City of Amber to visit the Amber Fort. Now, this is really impressive and my mouth did literally drop open when I saw it perched up on the hill and with its own version of the Great Wall of China.
We climbed upto the top of the fort by elephant-hurrah!! We had to queue for about an hour in the sun and got seriously hassled by the tut sellers here. However, Joyce and Jane did some splendid haggling over decorative umbrellas. Joyce in particular hanging on until the last minute to get a few more pence off her chap who by this stage was dangling off her elephant still trying to hike his price!! Give in mate – it’s Joyce we’re talking about here – ‘Queen of the Haggle’.
The elephant ride was good fun although we had elephant number 105 which seemed particularly slow and wonky. It was really quite uncomfortable and I began to wonder whether we were on the punishment elephant for tourists who don’t listen to their guides. Loads of other elephants overtook us and it was impossible to take photos. The views, however, of the other elephants and surrounding scenery were fab.
I am afraid to report that I cannot remember very much about which Maharajah built the Amber Fort. I do know that there are 22 Maharajahs in Rajastan still today and that the current one in Jaipur is just 14 years old. We also learned a little about the caste system today which is a funny old business. We were also particularly impressed with the hall of mirrors which is made from glass all the way from Belgium. It was very light and shiny.
After this we went onto visit the observatory and also the City Palace but by this time we’d told Jay that we weren’t interested in going to see how the jewellery was made or the fabrics ( no more emporium visits for us thanks) so I think he was a bit fed up and just wanted to go home to his family. So he whizzed us around running past things with a quick sentence or two which none of us listened to because we were all a bit hot and bothered anyway. So I think his approach worked well for all of us.
On our way back we wanted to go to another cafe that Jane had found on Trip Advisor as we had been fantasising now about their lemon cheesecake for quite a while. I always thought that Indian food would be fine up until the point when I got sick and this is SO true. Last night when we arrived here at Shahpura House (great old hotel by the way) we ate in the roof top restaurant and 3 of us ordered pizza and Jane had the Chefs Special Curry. She is a Trojan!
Anyway the cafe was closed because of Diwali so the guide and driver dropped us at another place called Coffee Today. There was only one other customer and the guy serving seemed completely bemused by us. I guess it’s the equivalent of spending Christmas Day in a Costa Coffee. Now there’s an idea Mum to save on the cooking!
So we had our refreshments and then came out to catch a tuk tuk back. There was a mad rush as we bartered with the boys for their best price. In the end we paid a little bit more than we’d been told it would be but what a result when it turned out we’d picked the Disco Tuk Tuk driver who drove us home to our hotel as the music blared out and we all sang along to ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ Brilliant!

PS we have a winner of the bird competition. It is indeed The Game Ranger herself -Laura – who correctly identified that the outsider in the group was the Damson Headed Parrot. There are apparently no parrots in India and what we saw were PLUM headed parakeets! We did actually see quite a few Great Tits.

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Waving our way around India

Hello Jane here again. Oh yes I was so bitterly disappointed by the no tiger scenario but then it made me realise that the one thing that has never failed to make me smile and cheer me up throughout the whole trip is the children and particularly the way they wave and smile so enthusiastically at you. As an example we’ve driven the 4 hour trip from Ranthambore to Jaipur today and literally waved to everyone on the way. They all wave back- it’s fabulous! Here is a small selection of my favourite and most beautiful kids on our trip so far.

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Focus on the small stuff

Yes we’re staying in a tent but not one of those pop up jobbies that they use at festivals. No this is a luxury tent with a wooden floor, hers and hers sinks and a lovely shower. It has a nice verandah where we have our pre-safari morning tea brought to us by a nice man as our wake up call. Khem Villas is a lovely property just outside the Ranthambore National Park- famous for its tigers. So it does feel like we’re getting a little bit of luxury. To be fair though we have just complained to our guide that it isn’t really quite up to what we’d expected. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s wrong the nearest we could get to it was to say that they didn’t serve muesli at breakfast when their booklet says they will and we had to ask twice to get them to fix the hot water!! Oh and they serve juice at breakfast which isn’t fresh and is served out of the carton. It’s just not quite the luxury we’ve been spoiled with at similar places we’ve stayed at in the past.
Or maybe this slight disappointment in Khem Villas has more to do with two other things. Firstly, I’ve still been rather unwell since we got here – now developing a nice cold to go along with the dodgy tummy. Perhaps even more – it’s because I am afraid to report that after our 4 safari drives we have failed to see a single tiger. The whole reason for being here. It’s terribly disappointing especially for Jane.
We’ve been out on the jeep 4 times in the last two days with our guide Nafis -twice with Joyce and Enid and twice with a Canadian couple staying at Sher Bagh next door. The way the system seems to work is that the guides get allocated specific sections of the park that they are to go to at each session and they have no choice in the matter. There are 9 sections all together and we visited section 3 twice yesterday and then sections 8 and 4 today.
Section 3 yesterday morning was very enjoyable and we saw quite a few animals and birds and the scenery is really lovely with a great big lake and hunting lodges etc. Doing it a 2nd time with the new people was a bit boring- oh yes there’s the same baby crocodile that we saw this morning in exactly the same position…and no tigers….
Then this morning we were due to go to section 9 but as this is an hour an a half drive away before you even start and there were two sickies on the jeep our guide managed to swap us to section 8 which is nearer. Good news – except that this looked mysteriously like farmland as there were men on bicycles riding around and cattle with cows bells trundling about. Not quite the ‘prime tiger territory ‘ that Nafis was trying to convince us it was! It was also sadly rather empty of wild animals and definitely no tigers. We did have an interesting incident when we arrived here though as part of the deal of the swap of the section was that we had to give a senior ranger a lift. At one point we were driving through a small village and he and Nafis suddenly jumped off the jeep and went up to this poor man carrying a big bundle of sticks and pushed him over. The senior ranger grabbed an axe off him and went for the man with it as if he was going to strike him. They then untied his bundle if twigs and told him to move along. Apparently this was all because the man had chopped down the tree wood within the national park and it was tiger habitat which is protected. Blimey.
This afternoon was our last chance to see the tiger and so when Nafis told us we were going back to Section 3 Jane got a bit stroppy with him and said we wanted to go somewhere different. The good man made this happen and off we went to Section 4 where ‘only the best drivers can go’. What this actually means is that you’ve been sent to the punishment section for tourists who get stroppy as it was the rockiest, steepest, bumpiest bit of track in the whole park. That and an upset stomach are not a great mix. And still no tigers.
So the good news is that my previous training with Laura as a Game Ranger has taught me not to just look for the big stuff. Safaris are generally much more enjoyable if you focus on the small stuff. So we had a lovely time on the first morning watching a sambar deer take a spa bath in some mud, we watched a family of monkeys leaping in turn from one tree to another and the highlight was watching the battle between a cormorant and a big frog. The cormorant won! You can see Jane’s pics of these events below.
However, to finish I have a quiz question for you. Which of the following is NOT a bird that we saw on our 4 safari drives:
1) Black Drongo
2) Jungle Babbler
3) Great Tit
4) Damson Headed Parrot
5) Yellow Footed Green Pigeon
6) Crested Serpent Eagle

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Journey to another world

So I left us all wondering what on earth were we contemplating catching another train for? Well it said it on our itinerary and so that’s what we had to do. Needless to say some fairly firm conversations were had with the guides in Agra about checking whether the train existed and would be on time.
But before we depart here’s a few words about our stay at Mr Singh’s homestay. It was a lovely old villa which used to belong to an English Army Office and Mr Singh’s father had bought it in 1954 and the family had lived there ever since. It was a big spacious house and Mr Singh and his various Sikh family members were really lovely. We ate at the family dining table and Mr Singh liked to tell us about all the good things the British had left behind….like the railways…….the road system…..and the hospitals (which we still hope not to have to experience based on the other two).
Unfortunately my real memories of the stay will be lying in the bedroom feeling rather sorry for myself.
As a result of this I didn’t get to see the Red Fort at Agra and so I am going to let Jane loose on the Blog just for a bit…
At the gates of the Red Fort imagine my surprise when we instantly recognised the American couple we met in Varanasi at our hotel. Having reacquainted ourselves with them Lisa asked if we minded them both joining our group for the tour which of course we didn’t,
It was lucky for me that Lisa’s husband was a tour swot and paid constant attention to all that was being said and kept Mujeep busy by asking lots of questions (usually Julie’s role) while I wandered off taking photos. Mujeep did say however that he missed Julie. I thought the fort was very impressive and on the occasions that I was listening I can tell you that it was the home of Shah Jahan and the Mumtaz (for whom he built the Taj after she died) and their 7 children. She had 14 children but only 7 survived (2 girls & 5 boys). Each little girl got their own palace which was built either side of mommy & daddy’s palace. I also remember the lines of defence for the fort which were as follows:-
1) A moat filled with snakes and crocodiles
2) A wall full of soldiers
3) A forest area filled with three different types of wild animals all kept in separate sections so they didn’t kill each other (lions, tigers & wolves).
Apparently many tried to attack but no one succeeded, I’m not surprised!
It was very impressive with lots of separate garden areas one used to be a vine yard and another area that was a fish pond. Overall it was a really good visit and I can see why it has been given a world heritage status.
Right so there you go- that’s Jane’s little memory test over with for today!
After their visit they came back to the house and picked me up. I was literally dreading this journey. In theory one and a half hours by road to Bhartpur Station and then train to Sawai Madhopur. However, the road journey was quite rural and scenic we even stopped to buy some oranges from a very smiley man with no teeth. And then the station…….it could not have been more different. Our train was due at 3.50pm and the nice guide who met us there just to put us in the train said the train would arrive at 3.48pm. Early? Can you believe it?! We went onto the platform and here there were lots of Indian people having a really good stare as us. down at the end of the platform it was basically occupied by the Brits. Two great big tour groups and a couple of v posh Americans. Then the train arrived and on we got. It was a crazy mad scramble to get everyone on as the train didn’t actually seem to stop. We were luckily in our seats but the other Brits were screaming as they weren’t all on and they couldn’t see their bags. It was a bit dangerous as some of them were quite elderly and it was quite a climb up into the cab. However, once in, it was unbelievably different to our previous experience. Think a 1950s version of Virgin. We had seats, we had air conditioning and we even had a table. Yessssssss!
Of course in the end the train did run a little bit late but we arrived at the station at about 6.30pm. The Carriage guard organised us all, to get off safely including our luggage, with military precision. Something else the Brits obviously left behind.
And here we are now in Khem Villas. We’ve left Joyce and Enid at their hotel Ranthambore Forest Resort for a couple of days whilst we retire to our Rajastani tent.

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