The Taj

Up early again since the Taj Mahal opens at sunrise and the plan is to beat the crowd (and the heat). I experience the first sign of stomach problems and find it best to go for the antibiotics right away. Thorstein, Lars and Börje shared a room last night and they are still more or less drunk as we get on the bus, rumor has it that they were so drunk last night that Lars slept alone in the large double bed while Börje and Thorstein shared the small extra bed. But that is only hearsay, I haven’t gotten any confirmation =P

The Taj Mahal is very close to central Agra and as we walk up to the gate we’re mobbed by trinket-salesmen. A kid holds up a snow globe with a miniature Taj Mahal inside to Fredrik and asks if he wants it. “Yes, thank you” he says and grabs it. “Now you give me money” the kid says and Fredrik replies “No, you gave it to me, I don’t have to pay”. “800 rupees” the kid says, “10 rupees” Fredrik says and after weirdly small amount of haggling Fredrik gets the snow globe for 10 rupees (1.60 sek) …only to have it taken away at the security check five minutes later. This is the first real security check we’ve been through and they only allow wallet, cell phone, camera and water bottle inside. Lars vainly (and drunkenly) tries to save his snus from being taken but the guards are steadfast. The snow globe is taken care of by the brother of the guide and kept safe.

Coming through the portal you see the first glimpse of the Taj Mahal and it’s nothing short of magnificent! There are already a lot of people here but we manage to get a few nice shots of it. On each side of the Taj Mahal is a mosque, but only one of them is a real mosque, the other one is there for symmetry’s sake. When going up to the Taj Mahal you have to don shoe protectors or remove the shoes in order to protect the marble. We have an hour here and I more or less just mill around and enjoy the silence and absolute beauty of the thing.

As time comes to reassemble we discover that Thorstein is missing, but soon enough the guide gets a phone call telling us that Thorstein is outside buying t-shirts! Damned if I know how they knew that but it’s fascinating to see how well they did. Turns out while buying no less than six t-shirts Thorstein was pick pocketed of some money.

Next stop is a workshop where they make marble crafts such as tables and other trinkets. First we’re shown how the grinding process works and it’s nothing surprising there. We’re also shown the magic of the white marble that is translucent in nature and actually spreads the light. This is what happens with the Taj Mahal also and is part of the wonder. The owner makes a point of the fact that if we buy any large pieces they will be delivered to our door free of charge and we get a new one if it’s broken in any way. It’s nice to look around but I don’t buy anything, Börje however, buys a plaque for something like $5000.

Done with the store we go to Agra fort, in the center of town. I decide not to tag along this time and instead try to find some mosquito cream. I guess I should’ve asked first though, because there are no medecine shops within walking distance from the fort. There are plenty of really awful salesmen there though, quoting incredibly dishonest prices like 1500 rupees (250 sek) for a 2 GB SD card when they are less than 80 sek back in Sweden… And they hardly ever give up either, I have to escape into a cafe for a mango juice in order to get rid of them, only to be pestered by the owner repeatedly asking if I want anything more than the juice.

I find Maria after a while though and she says I should try the pakora??? if I wanted something spicy. So I sit down at one of those holes in the wall and ask for some really spicy pakora. The food I receive isn’t all that spicy though and I ask if I can get something more spicy. The chef throws up his hands a says “Too spicy!” and I reply “Yes, I want too spicy!” He goes back into his hole and cooks me up some too spicy food and this time it actually manages to make me sweat. I still feel that I’ve gotten far spicier food in Sweden.

The group that’ve been in the fort is back soon after I’ve finished my food and we are once again back on the road. The roads are yet again really bad and it’s an estimated 7-8 hours before we reach Orchha. On the way we are forced to make a stop in a village since a couple of cows thought it a good idea to lie down in front of the bus and not move. This is of course a photo opportunity for us and as we’re done photographing we turn around to find a crowd of 30 or so Indians staring at us, at this point we are the attraction!

We finally arrive in Orchha in the early evening to find out that we’re staying at a really fancy hotel where we get some sort of tent-bungalows in the garden with old hindu temples looming in the background. It’s absolutely fabulous and we just gawk at the scenery. Most of the others decide to eat in the hotel restaurant, but Ricard and I go downtown in hope of finding some street food. We end up at a restaurant we saw from the bus when pulling in, but decide that we don’t really like the menu. The owner just says “That’s okay” and leaves us be. Unsure if this is still India we move on down the road and come across a cheerful guy called Sunil. He asks us where we’re from and when we say Sweden he lights up and tells us that he has a friend there with the Pink Caravan: Maria. We tell him that she’s here now and he is really pleased and says he’ll go find her in the morning.

We eventually find a restaurant and order some cauliflower tikka, something we’ve never seen before. A few minutes later we see a man going by with, presumably, our cauliflower. This is the first time it’s taken more than 20 minutes to get our food in India, but once we get it, it’s really good. As company while we wait we have a couple of cows and a stray dog which turns into nine cows and five dogs before we pay and leave.

Coming back to the hotel we find some turkish pepper candy outside our tent, and having an idea of who put it there we bring the turkish pepper shot and some whiskey over to Piff and Puffs tent for a nightcap.

Close Shave

Ricard and I hurry through breakfast so that we have time to and get a shave at the barber shop before the bus leaves. The shop is actually full when we get there (at 8 o’clock) but they are eager to let us cut in line and Ricard gets to go first while I have to wait for the other barber to finish up his current customer. They start out by washing his face putting a tissue over it and then rubbing off the tissue (no, I don’t have any idea why either), then the rub in some primer oil. And by rub I mean thoroughly massage, this is looking to be more of a facial treatment than a simple shave! Then comes the lathing up with a shaving brush. This takes more or less forever, the guy actually spends more than a minute brushing the same exact spot! Oh well, he then demonstrates that he’s putting in a fresh blade and also sprays the knife with iodine, now that’s customer care!

The actual shaving doesn’t take long and by now I’m in the chair as well. After shaving is done, moisturizer is applied (two different kinds) followed by some more massage. And just when you think it’s over the guy pulls out what looks like a power drill! “Massage” he says and turns the hellish device to work, vibrating Ricards face to mush. The massage bit of the machine is too large to fit inside the ear but that is no problem, he just jams a finger in there and then puts the machine against the finger to transfer the vibration inside the ear! Odd to say the least, but veeery nice.

Ricard pays while they’re finishing up with me and it’s 300 rupees (50 sek) for the both of us, I fail to see a reason to shave on my own when it’s this cheap to get pampered for half an hour! In the end we’re fifteen minutes late for the bus, but since we’d let Maria know where we were it wasn’t that big a deal.

The roads leading to Agra are awesomely crappy and I’m almost thrown out of my seat several times. I sit next to Håkan today and it turns out we have a shared interest in all the Indian ingenuity when it comes to abusing technology. We’re constantly photographing trucks carrying three times the load they were designed for, repair shops, those awesome cars that are basically a bottenplatta with an engine block and a steering column. Håkan puts it best when saying “It’s like if you took all the technologies invented since ancient times and put them to work alongside each other”. As an example of this we pass a construction site where they’re building a temple and they are using a sort of pulley mechanism to get stuff up to the second floor, more or less just the way the Egyptians would’ve done it…

Since Håkan seems to know a thing or two about cars I ask him why the bus is so darn slow. He says that the engine is simply underpowered, which is why it’s so hard to get it started rolling in first gear and why it takes almost a kilometer of straight road before you’re up to 100 km/h (which hardly exists in India).

After a while large brick towers start popping up in the distance. Håkan asks me if I know what they are and goes on to explain that they are the chimneys of brick factories. The very large chimneys are needed to create the high temperatures required for making bricks. Another example of the technological melting pot of India since they look exactly as they would’ve in medieval times in Europe.

We pull into Agra in the late afternoon to Grand Hotel Agra, a somewhat fancy hotel actually. Me and Ricard tag along as the girls go to the market. We were prepared for the worst when it came to Agra because everyone says that Agra is among the worst places in all of India salesman-wise. But we were pleasantly surprised as the market wasn’t bad at all, I even bought some cloth. Later at dinner the fancy hotel doesn’t look all that fancy anymore as the power goes out about 10 times in short intervals. Indian tech at work! Sara also shows her morbid side by laughing hard at my story about when my cousin had to clean up after a woman placed herself in front of a train…

Tyger! Tyger!

We’re once again up for an early morning since tigers find it too hot for comfort during the day. So if we’re to see any we need to leave at sunrise. Börje and I start the day with a swim in the pool under the stars.

The safari vehicle is a small bus with no roof that seats exactly 20 people, that is, exactly all of us minus our tour leaders Maria and Fredrik who get to take another bus. We have a very likable guide with understandable English and some of the girls confess to looking at him when not looking at the scenery =P The scenery which is magnificent by the way! This is the actual place that served as inspiration for Kipling when he wrote that book with Baloo in it and it shows! The nature is more of what I would call forest than jungle though but immensely beautiful all the same.

We enter area 3 (there are 5 safari areas in the park) and race around while the guide points out spotted deer, wild boars, herons and other rare birds that I’ve forgotten the names of. We soon learn that both spotted deer and the boars are a dime a dozen as are the black-faced long-tail monkeys.

But tiger is obviously the main attraction and excitement rises when the guide spots some female tiger tracks on the road. He says they are fresh from this morning at least and that they’ve heard warning calls from other animals in this section. We turn off on a small road where normally only small jeeps drive, but as our driver is a competent one we do okay even there. Still no tiger in sight though and we start to resign our hopes.

Down by one of the three lakes in the area we’re lucky enough to spot a kingfisher. We’re also told that there are lots of sweet water crocs in the lakes but that they don’t come out this time of year. Not long after that though we happen upon a young crocodile basking in the sun on the beach. Suddenly a warning call is heard from a spotted deer and both guide and driver get really excited! Apparently it’s close and we go down the road to a patch of tiger grass. And there it is! Running along a dried out river bed and disappearing into the grass to fell what probably is a deer!

The guide is very excited, fist pumping and going on about how rare it actually is to see a tiger this time of year. If I were to be cynical I would think he’s more excited about the sizable tip he’ll be getting now that we’ve seen the king of the forest. He tells us that the name of the tiger is “Lady of the Lake” and we go back and forth a few times in case she comes back. She doesn’t however and the guide says she’s probably eating now and is unlikely to leave for a good while.

Our time is more or less up now but on the way back we also get to see a couple of spotted owls and a large lizard being picked on by a couple of birds from which it probably just had stolen eggs. Back at the hotel both guide and driver get obscene amounts of tips, but I guess they earned it, and besides they actually were really nice!

Back at the hotel it’s just a quick stop before going off to see Ranthambhore fort as well. This was also a large inspiration for Kipling and you can see why when you get there. It’s as if taken right out of the Disney version in the scene where King Louie sings with all his monkeys. First it’s a long zig-zag staircase going up the mountain side through several gates with various defensive features, the fort must’ve been virtually impenetrable in its time! Up top is a very impressive view of the reservation and you can see most of the places we were in the morning. The beauty of the scenery is somewhat ruined by the abundant trash however. The guide explains that each month throngs of pilgrims travel here since it’s a very holy place and that they are the ones littering. We ask why there aren’t any trash bins anywhere and he just says they get kicked over, apparently Indians don’t like to be told what to do… The guide says the solution would be armed guards, but that it’s too expensive. India is a weird country.

Our guide is curious about the tiger we saw this morning and wants to know which area we went to. We tell him that the name of the tiger was “Lady of the Lake” and he replies that it’s impossible since the one called “Lady of the Lake” is a very old tiger that has moved to another territory. The one we saw likely was T17 (not as poetic maybe, but a bit cool if you consider 17 terminator tigers roaming around) which is the daughter of the “Lady of the Lake”.

We walk past something that looks like gooseberries (krusbär) and we ask the guide about them. He cautions us that many of the plants here are poisonous and that we shouldn’t touch them but that the one we pointed at is delicious. So I take one of the gooseberry things and eat it. The taste is awfully bitter and I’m forced to spit it out, it probably wasn’t ripe yet.

Moving on we come to a courtyard overlooking a gorge where lots of monkeys live. A couple of cows also come walking and I photograph one of them who decides he doesn’t like me and charges! A quick sidestep is all it takes though and moments later he seems to have forgotten that he’s angry. The monkeys are also aggressive and hiss towards us if we get too close. When we reach the end of the turnaround point we see why the monkeys are so aggressive, the pilgrims feed the monkeys who I suppose are holy as well. So the monkeys are after the flower necklaces and sugar which you can buy in the many shops surrounding the temple. Håkan buys a necklace, only to have it instantly ripped off and eaten by one of the monkeys. I buy a headband adorned with the words “Ya Ganesh” and a couple of swastikas for good measure before we head back down for lunch.

At lunch we meet this nice brit who has been backpacking around India with his girlfriend, he not to keen on the Indian salesmen who he claims to be the worst con-men he’s ever encountered. He works for SAAB and has spent a lot of time in Jönköping so he knows a fair bit about Sweden. They’re also off on the safari this afternoon and they’re excited to hear that we’ve seen a tiger today. Let’s hope we have more of that kind of luck!

Our second safari doesn’t have as nice a guide as the first one, but we have our hopes up to see some sloth bears or maybe a leopard this time! This time we go into area 5 where Maria and Fredrik were this morning and also got to see a tiger. The scenery here is somewhat less inspiring and more or less looks like regular European leaf forest, that and the fact that we just had lunch makes me nod off a bit. Elin finds it great fun to take pictures of me sleeping so I eventually get my act together. We don’t see many animals this time and I spend some time contemplating the fact that driving on a crappy forest road is actually faster than highway driving in India – the mind boggles…

We hear some warning calls but no tiger, the guide thinks it has already made it’s kill and isn’t likely to move much, just like this morning. So we move on in hopes of seeing the other tiger that’s in this area. We don’t have much luck though and don’t see much animals at all actually. The scenery improves though though and we get some more breathtaking views instead of tigers.

On the way back I keep an eye out for the barber shop we saw earlier, only to see that it’s closed. Ricard and I resolve to get up early next morning in order to squeeze in a shave before we leave for Agra, gotta keep my increasingly ursine appearance in check!

Ricard, Sara and me go out for an evening stroll later to see what Ranthambhore has to offer, it isn’t much though but I manage to find a great cola knockoff called “Thums Up Cola” which actually is really good! I need to bring some back with me. Oddly enough the bottle says it’s brewed under license from Coca-Cola Company, I’m not sure how that works really (it turns out that it’s originally an Indian cola acquired by Coca-Cola in 1993, which explains the hilarious spelling)…

Later that evening a guy sits down at our table, opening with the line “Gäss which kanntri ajj äm from!”. Not too hard for us swedes to figure out that he’s Norwegian and we end up chatting about Opera (the browser) of course.

P.S. The title references a somewhat famous poem, look it up! D.S.


As usual we’re up pretty early to see the sights in Jaipur before moving on to Ranthambhore National Park to see some tigers. But first I need to get a money top up from the ATM. Problem is that the machine says “Account Restricted” and spits my card back out. The (heavily armed) guard tells me to try next door and there I am finally able to make a withdrawal. So if you have a MasterCard then AXIS ATMs are the ones to be on the lookout for.

First stop is Hava Mahal – The Palace of the Wind which is a weird building with lots of balconies where the wives of the Maharaja could stand and look at the regular people without being seen. This stop is just a quick photo stop since that’s really all you can do there, there’s nothing to enter or anything like that. So on to the city palace where we are given a rather uninspiring guide with so-so English. The palace is a bit interesting though but mostly for its exhibits, there’s one where we get to see traditional painting from a local artist. It’s more or less mineral-based water colors and he uses a squirrel hair brush to make the extremely fine lines. I talk a bit with him after the others have left and he tells me he’s starting a travel tour company by himself and wonders what we’ve paid for this trip. I show him my cross stitches and we have a bonding moment there. I ask if I can buy the demonstration drawing he made for us and he gives it to me, talk about a fun souvenir!

We also go to a weapon’s exhibit where a lazy-eyed man in a turban shows us various nasty-looking Sikh stabbing daggers, complete with separating blades and small pistols on the handle. Out on the courtyard we’re apparently honked on by the king of India (at least according to the guide), it’s really busy there since a wedding is being prepared with lots and lots of tagetes flowers which they use to make those flower braids. We’ve surmised that orange is the color of Ganesh, which seems to be the dominant god, at least around Rajahstan. He really is everywhere you look.

After the palace we swing by a textile shop where they use block printing on the fabrics, making beautiful table cloths and bed sheets. It’s really fun seeing it in action and it looks really easy when they do it, but the really hard part is lining up the different layers of the print. The shopkeeper is wonderfully non-pushy and speaks excellent English – the perfect recipe for getting swedes to shop from you! I end up buying a bunch of ties, can’t keep coming to suit-up Friday with the same old ties!

We stop for lunch before leaving Jaipur and I ask for something really spicy. Yet again am I disappointed however. The waiter assures me that it’s really spicy but my nose isn’t even running! I do learn however that Håkan’s wife has lived in Kolbäck where I went to jr high and that they have a daughter two years younger than me which probably went in my brother’s parallel class. Small world!

Our 4-5 hour trip to Ranthambore is cut short though when the bus breaks down in the middle of an intersection. The local seems to think that’s more or less normal though, which it probably is! And while the crew scratch their heads over the motor we hop off the bus and wait over on the sidewalk. You really get the feeling that the crew have no idea what they’re doing when they check the fuses for the third time when the starter engine is clearly running. Eventually someone calls a mechanic who arrives on a scooter 20 minutes later, he does some sort of witchcraft to the motor and suddenly it runs again. The theory is that it was simply overheated.

We don’t arrive in Ranthambhore until well after dark but since food soon is on the table and Ricard, Börje and me warm up with a whiskey before dinner we don’t mind, that’s what happens in India – the country where everything is ad-hoc! Dinner is followed by lots of beer, singing and talking and Petra gets renamed Sister Karlsson.

The Pink City

Up early as we’re leaving for Jaipur at 8:30. Jaipur is about 250 km away but the ride supposedly takes six to seven hours, WTF?! As the bus pulls up on the highway we quickly figure out why; the thing hardly goes any faster than 80 km/h but more importantly, the traffic doesn’t allow you to go any faster than 40 km/h most of the time. It’s not like in North Korea where the roads were the problem, these roads are quite nice actually, it’s the general crappiness of the vehicle fleet of India!

It’s just a matter of accepting the state of things and enjoy the ride, luckily I’ve scored a seat next to Sara so that isn’t much of a problem. Sara is a surgical nurse from Växjö, so I guess we’re pretty safe if someone were to get injured! But foremost she’s a seasoned traveler of Africa and has even worked at a clinic for three months in deepest Africa! We chat about this and that and after about few hours of painfully slow driving we stop for a toilet break at some restaurant. Our tour leader Maria orders some Masala Chai and a few of us follow her example. Masala Chai is a special kind of tea that you make by cooking milk for a really long time with various spices, foremost cardamon, and then sift before drinking. Now I’m not normally a tea drinker since I think it tastes too much of water but Masala Chai doesn’t taste that much of water so it’s actually really good!

Also on the stop are the ever present throngs of beggars and con-men. One of them is a transvestite and for 100 rupees (16 sek) you could get a peek “under the hood”… All over the road are these cool, also painfully slow, Tata trucks which are covered with different hand painted logos but also purely decorative art pieces. They’re all packed to the brim of course and they probably outnumber ordinary cars by two to one.

The landscape is uninspiring and I pick up my cross stitches which draws the attention of Monica and Nina (or Piff and Puff as we’ve come to call them). They’re both into handicrafts but I get blank stares when I tell them about what it’ll eventually be.

Turns out that Maria’s estimate was more or less accurate and we pull into Jaipur in the early afternoon. After a so-so lunch we head out to Amber fort for some sight seeing. Amber fort is a large fort with a wall almost like the Chinese one snaking across the nearby hills. The fort is cool and rather beautiful but I think we spent a little too much time there and the guide was rather long-winded.

It’s dark when we get back to the hotel and due to a mixup with the rooms I come too late to join the group I’d planned to go to town with. I talk to one of the Indians that are with the crew driving and taking care of our tour bus and ask if he has any suggestions about where to go. Turns out that there is a festival in town today and everything is more or less closed. He says that we can go to where the festivities are though and that sounds cool enough so I agree. We get an auto rickshaw that takes us to a little square where there is a large effigy of Ravan in the middle. Apparently this festival is about when he is defeated and the effigy is burned to celebrate that. It’s a full hour until that starts though so I ask if there’s anything else to do in town. Monte (as in Monte Carlo, which is what he asked me to call him (what, the guy is 17, you have a right to be weird at that age)) says no but then gets the driver to take me to some sort of official building. I snap a few photos to be nice and then he asks me if I want a beer. Sure, why not? So he takes me to some street where a third guy goes to a store and buys me a beer which I’m then supposed to drink sitting in the rickshaw. I ask him if he doesn’t want any but he explains that he doesn’t drink. Maybe it’s a religious thing or they’re really hard on underage drinking here, I don’t know. He gets really nervous though when a police man goes by and asks me to hide the bottle.

As I finish the bottle I ask to get back to the hotel, this is starting to weird me out. Back at the hotel I find a few of the others who’ve also realized that there’s nothing to do out on the town tonight. So I order some food (Paneer Kofta – Cottage Cheese balls in sweet gravy, a bit too sweet for my taste). I try another Indian specialty on the suggestion of Monica: a glass of sweet lime soda. Which is exactly what it sounds like, a glass with half a deciliter of fresh lime juice, a bottle of soda water and a glass of sugar water that you pour on as you like. It’s really good and an excellent thirst quencher.

Hit the Ground Running

Breakfast is at 9 am up on the roof and we’re treated to some delicious Parati, which is fried bread with onion and green chili. There’s also egg and Butter Roti which are equally nice, coffee is the instant variety however and not so nice. We get a few tips on what to do and Maria has arranged a tour of the the most watch-worthy spots in town. Everyone but me, Petra and Ricard seems to be interested in this trip so I guess we’re on our own!

We start off walking in a random direction and soon run into some cows. Not the kind I’m used to though, but the Indian kind that’s just shy of 2 m at the withers! Carefully sidestepping them (they’re holy after all), we press on in the morning heat. After a while we feel it’s time to turn so we walk on into a side street that looks promising. It’s much cooler there in the shade and there’s also lots to look at in the form of tiny shops, shrines and the (not so) occasional weirdass electrical installation.

I get crowded by a bunch of friendly kids who want me to take their picture so I take the opportunity to ask directions to the bazaar (Petra didn’t bring any small size bag and wants to get one). Turns out we’re more or less in the middle of it, so we scamper on, fascinated by our little adventure and having no idea of where we are. Going down yet another alley we’re told by a man that we shouldn’t go any further in that direction because there because there’s slum there.

When we finally find ourselves in a somewhat larger street we decide to fetch an auto rickshaw to get us to a metro station. We haggle for a fair price, which seems to be about 50 rupees (8 sek) and off we go! …or not really, since Delhi is stuck in perpetual gridlock. Eventually we get there, even though we could probably had walked there faster (if we’d only known which way to go).

Across the road we spot a sign for Kamala Market, so we decide to give that a try before going to Old Delhi. Froggering across the road the police men chuckle at my FiveFingers. Key to staying alive in India is to remember to look right instead of left when crossing the road! Kamala Market doesn’t really seem to be for us though since all they’re selling is water heaters, spare parts and sheet rock. Oh well, we frogger back and descend into the metro.

The metro is very nice with marble everywhere and lots of armed guards. You buy a token and proceed through a metal detector which noone is paying any attention to and the get your bag x-rayed, all this is probably because of the Commonwealth Games which just ended and was hosted by New Delhi. The token is then registered as you walk through the gate and you return it at the end of the journey. You pay according to how far you want to go and if the distance is farther than you paid for you get a 50 rupee fine, a rather smart system that doesn’t require that much manpower. Most rides are around 15 rupees (2.5 sek) so getting around is dirt cheap!

Turns out we’re only one stop from Jama Mashid, one of the sights on our list. Jama Mashid is the largest mosque in Delhi and you can go up into one of the minarets if you want for a nice view of the city. But before going to the mosque we find another alley to walk down and just look at people. It’s not long before we’re lost again but eventually we arrive at a larger street and get another rickshaw to get to our destination..

At the mosque there are seven police officers “guarding” the entrance (i.e. idly sitting in chairs on the side while the metal detector screams bloody murder for each passing person). To get in to the actual mosque you need to remove your shoes and have legs and shoulders covered. So Ricard and I each get a cloth wrapped around our waists while Petra gets something that looks like a nun uniform. Apparently having a guide is mandatory and we get one with lousy English who takes us on a grand six minute tour of the place and then expects payment. More or less a sham but what are you supposed to do?

Being rid of the guide we get tickets to the minaret and head up on the roof to enter it. Going up the minaret is as cramped as you’d expect and it’s not pleasant when you need to pass people going down (unless you’re into rubbing up against strangers that is). But once you get up it’s all worth it, the view is fabulous!

I was looking forward to eating at the Karim Hotel restaurant that is near Jama Mashid, that came highly recommended in the guide book. But none of us where hungry yet so we decided to go see the Red Fort first, one of the fifteen world heritage sites in India. Here Petra finally finds a rather pretty bag for a measly 200 rupees (32 sek). That turns out to be the high point of the Red Fort though, the whole thing is rather boring with uninspiring little museums. One of the best things are a little kid (~4 years old) wearing a t-shirt with the print “I hate Sundays”. =D

Looking a the throne that was used when greeting foreign emissaries Petra shows me a photo of two guys intimately holding hands. She’s been insisting on seeing guys holding hands all day even though me nor Ricard have seen any. Considering it’s supposed to be against the law to be a homosexual in India this seems rather surprising. But now that my gaydar has been properly calibrated I start seeing them as well, they’re all over the place!

Ditching the Red Fort we get a bike rickshaw to take us to the nearest metro so that we can go to the Lotus Temple. The Lotus Temple is a rather spectacular piece of architecture reminiscent of the Sydney opera house, but in the shape of a lotus flower. The place is built by the Bahá’í Faith, a religion that strictly prohibits any lectures or rituals within the temple. Sound like a step in the right direction to me!

The poor bike rickshaw guy is having a hard time with all three of us in the back and Ricard is on the receiving end of a lot of laughter from people as he’s sitting in the back, where you normally place the children… At the metro we find a nice guy helping us on the right train and giving us general directions. So far our interaction with the Indians have been extremely pleasant, if you discount the most aggressive sales people, everyone has been super helpful and nice!

We get off at the Lotus Temple and walk the 500 m or so to the park. We get accompanied by a curious bunch of kids that are very happy when we take their pictures. It’s kindof fun to be at a place where white people are still considered somewhat of a curiosity. Coming up on the entrance to the park we see a long line of people. This is a bit strange since Indians aren’t normally the most disciplined when it comes to queuing up. We get in line though and the progress is rapid, after yet another mock security check we’re inside and head towards the temple.

All around us are tiny supercute asian girls in uniform and all of them are wielding some manner of camera taking pictures all over the place. All white people seem to be prime targets and it’s not long before we’re shyly asked if they can take a picture with us. They giggle a lot and even more so when I hand them my camera so that I too can get a picture. We ask them where they’re from and get only a cryptic “Nadalan” as answer (a bit of searching reveals this as the city they were from).

Closing in on the temple is another queue, brusquely enforce by a portly Indian guard. Remarkably everyone complies, at least until he’s out of sight. Before walking up the stairs leading to the temple you have to remove your shoes and once we’ve done that we can bask in the glory of the Lotus Temple. And it truly is magnificent! Surrounding it is a number of pools that serve as a cooling system for the temple. We walk down to one of the pools as we see a couple of kids bathing their feet in there. We follow suite as it has been a lot of walking already and our feet are really sore.

This seems to trigger a trend and soon the edges of the pool are filled with people getting their feet wet! It isn’t long before there’s a guard gesticulating wildly and chasing people away though and we take the hint and gigglingly depart. Now it’s time to enter the actual temple where there isn’t much going on, just an array of benches where you can sit and quietly contemplate your religion of choice. I send a thought to the Old Ones and Cthulhu in particular before exiting.

Leaving the park we are once more mobbed by the uniformed girls and several pictures later we’re back on the metro again. Now it’s time to finish Petra’s quest for the place where Ghandi was shot. We ask a girl on the subway who seems to know what she’s talking about and get the name of a place written down. As we get to the station said to be nearest the spot we ask around once more, but no one seems to know of the place. Finally we find someone who points us in the right direction, we just need to walk a block to the next roundabout.

After a lot of walking we find a taxi driver who knows about the place but says it’s behind closed gates since it’s after 6 pm. All this for nothing..! We get a fairly good deal on a ride home (we’re almost on the other side of Delhi at this point) and also cram in a couple of sights on the way. All in all it’s not a total waste.

Ricard and Petra are tired and decide to eat dinner at the hotel, I want something more of a restaurant though and decide to try my luck on my own. I get a rickshaw to take me to Connaught Circle which is the heart of New Delhi where there’s supposed to be a good number of nice restaurants to choose from. I ask a few people and finally find myself at the Marshid restaurant in K-sector. The place is nice and the service excellent, not very pricy either (my entire meal runs me about 500 rupees (~85 sek). I get some mutton Rogan Josh and it’s served with the meat still on the bone. After a while the place is invaded by a throng of aussies and one of them, unaccustomed to wearing a backpack, tips over my Lassi into my lap! He’s of course dreadfully sorry and proceeds to buy me a beer and asking me to join them.

It turns out that they’re the technical crew for some Australian broadcasting company wrapping up the final bits of covering the Commonwealth Games here in Delhi . So I spend the rest of the evening discussing cricket, the commonwealth, North Korea and what have you and having an excellent time! One of them has a funny story about when he went to Agra earlier that week and encountered policemen using a radar gun to check for speeding. Pretty useless when there are rickshaws, donkey carts and generally cars that don’t go faster than 60 km/h!

Wrapping up the evening, Mickey, the bloke who spilled my Lassi, insists that I tag along for some “Pan” to “clean my palate”. Of course I agree and off we go! On the way I ask him if they have had any trouble with malaria (they’d been there for a month) and he says that no he hasn’t since he’s been taking homeopathic malaria meds… Anyhow, we eventually arrive at what more or less looks like a fancy candy shop, but with spices instead of candy. They ask if we want regular or sweet Pan and I’m advised to take the sweet version. We’re served a little parcel wrapped with some sort of leaf and very thin tin foil. Supposedly you should eat all of it and down the hatch it goes! It’s actually very good and leave a nice freshness in the mouth afterward. A great way to end my first day in India!

Meeting the Gang

This time I’m off to India and Nepal for a month as my second trip with the Pink Caravan. Comments are as always most welcome in any language you please!

Meeting the group for the first time is good fun. I arrive at the meeting point at the ungodly hour of 5 am as specified in the papers. Even though I’m almost 20 minutes early most of them are already there. Something tells me that we won’t have a problem with stragglers on this trip. I recognize the people that I’ve seen in the Pink Caravan Facebook group. There’s Petra (who’s the spitting image of my sister Frida btw), looking relaxed in traveling sweats, nervous-seeming Helena and veteran traveler Ulrika. After a while Elin arrives as well and sets the bar by going around shaking hands with everyone. She looked like some snotty in-crowd girl from her Facebook picture but in person she’s really perky and likable so I decide I like her right off the bat.

The group seem to have an average age of about 40 with a fair share of older people. Looks like a good crowd though and I’m sure we’ll have fun! Since our tour leader Maria is already in New Delhi we’re sent off by Stefan, another tour leader at Pink Caravan. Me and Helena are each given an envelope with $5000 to bring along and give to Maria, kind of nerve wrecking really!

The flight is via London and with British Airways, as it turns out a really nice airline with good food and a great selection of in-flight entertainment! I end up next to Petra for the long haul from Heathrow to Delhi and I learn that she’s an ER-nurse with Israeli blood from Örebro. It’s shaping up to be a rather nice trip!