Varanasi Dance Club

Since the hotel lacks a restaurant we get toast and egg served at the room. The language is yet again a problem when an order of two black coffees and a tea turn into one coffee with milk and two tea. The others share similar stories as we load up on the bus to go to Varanasi.

This road is by far the crappiest one we’ve encountered. In 2 h we only get 60 km and at times it’s like being at sea as the bus is swerving so much. We also get a tire puncture, which is really interesting as we then get to see how you fix a tire, Indian style.

We stop at one of the many small shacks that has a pile of tires outside and a guy quickly removes the tire, dismantles it and finds the hole. It looks a lot like fixing a bike tire actually and pretty soon he has also located the nail stuck in the tire and removed it. He seems to be looking for additional holes for quite a while though and we’re sort of wondering why he doesn’t use regular soap water. His method of just listening and inspecting seems a lot more inefficient…

Among the onlookers there is an engineering student that I talk to, he can explain about the motor the tire guy is using to feed the compressor and also shows me his student literature. Turns out he’s studying to be a building engineer and his books are filled with different engineering drawings. All literature is in English as well, interesting.

The road to Varanasi is uneventful and we get there in the afternoon. We’re staying at the nice hotel Surya that has a really nice restaurant. Service is slow as we’re now used to getting the food in 20 minutes but tastes great! We move on to the bar for some drinks and I see that I can finally get a proper umbrella drink! After a really long wait the drinks arrive but even though we saw the guy putting liquor in them, they don’t taste like it. They’re so weak that we might as well be drinking juice.

We don’t let that stop us though and we get the waiter to bring us an entire bottle of rum and a bunch of cokes. That, some beer and maybe some tried and true “fjortisfylla” gets us going and we end the evening on the dance floor up on the roof where the DJ is playing some weird Dubstep/House music, Tommie would not approve. Elin is mesmerized by her shadow on the wall as there is a light down on the floor, I sprain my wrist and Thorstein gets upset with Lars for not dancing well enough. Good times! =D

Yoga Nutter

Once again I’m up early, this time it’s because of a yoga session that starts at 7 am. In spite of lots of enthusiastic reactions from the others when I’ve talked about it, I’m the only one there. After a while the Yogi shows up and we start by saluting pictures of Shiva and Ganesh while saying the “Oum” sound. Then it’s time for some breathing exercises and already my attention is fading. The guy keeps talking about all the mumbo jumbo aspects of yoga such as rubbing pressure points to remove belly ache, back pain, heart disorders and what have you. There’s one point that I shall rub and in 6 months I will no longer need glasses, another one and I will have long black hair in notime (I resist the urge of asking why he has almost exactly the same baldness pattern as I do and even some grey hair).

After a lot of useless yoga we finally get to some real exercising when we do a tree pose. We do a few more like that, and I realize that I have an audience in Piff, Puff and Petra who have awaken and are watching from the balcony. Many of the exercises we do he doesn’t even show properly, but as I have done a little bit of Ashtanga Yoga back home I know how the positions are supposed to look and do them right instead. The Yogi compliments me on my flexibility (which isn’t all that good, but his is much worse) and we move on to sleep yoga.

Sleep yoga is exactly what it sounds like, it’s positions good for sleeping in. Apparently you should lie flat on your back with your hand along the sides, or on the side with the hand under the head or if you are on your stomach you should keep your hands flat under your chest. Especially the last one is really uncomfortable and noone in their right mind would sleep like that.

The guy finishes up with something even weirder though: laugh yoga! This is how you should laugh: “Ha -ha ha ha ha!”, “Hi hi hi hi hi hi!”, “Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!” The guy is obviously nuts and I can’t help laughing at his antics. The lesson finishes up with me writing in his guest book and promising to send him a picture of us two.

After the lesson I go meet my guides for the day and get some breakfast samosas. Then we’re off to the first stop which is one of the guys uncles wood carving shop. Now to be fair I actually said I wanted some wood stamps so I actually wanted to see this. Too bad they’re almost all ugly! The material is nice and all, the guy collects wood that has been lying under water for long time and looks very nice. But most of the carvings themselves looks like something even I could do with some practice. I pick out a tiger stamp though that is among the least ugly pieces and buy it so that we can move on. I see it as a tour fee more or less…

Now it’s time for the village and we start off in the Brahmin caste, which is the priest caste and also the highest one. Caste does not equal financial status though and it’s apparent that this entire village is poor. At the side of the door, dates are painted, these are the dates when polio vaccination shots were given, interesting! We move on into another caste and it is separated by a well for the Brahmin area. The guys talk about the how you can clearly see the difference between the castes but to be honest I don’t see much difference. He also points out lots of those wardrobe sized temples which are placed here and there, talking about how beautiful they are. I can’t really see it though, since they’re all so shoddily made with paint all over the place and no attention to detail.

We move on to see a couple of the east temples also. These are more of the sandstone temples we saw yesterday and these are beautiful. What happened to Indian engineering a craftsmanship in the last 1000 years? Damned if I know, but they’ve lost it… If you’ve seen the western temples you don’t need to see these ones though, as they are basically the same, only smaller.

We move on to see more houses, I’m forced to look in another shop, but manages to avoid buying anything this time. After a while we come to the school and I get showed around by the headmaster. The kids don’t have class today but I get to see the rooms and some pictures. Finally I get to write in the guest book (and see that some of the others were just here) and make a donation. This is something I can fully support though so no problem!

Before dropping me off back at the hotel we make a final stop at the sandstone factory where they make sandstone sculptures of the same kind that are on the temples. Looks more like a workshop to me, but it’s interesting to see the process. This also means a shop of course, but I manage to dodge buying anything there as well. Upon parting I offer them some turkish pepper candy to which they react as violently as you’d expect =D

I find the others and we go to the Italian restaurant across the street which Maria recommended, Mediterrano. I order a pasta arrabiata, a favorite from when I was in Italy with garlic, tomato sauce and chili. Too bad it’s awful! Ricard is satisfied with his pizza though, even if it wasn’t top notch.

Time to board the bus again and go to Rewa. On the way out of town we stop and take pictures at the tree that they didn’t bother cutting down and just drew the lines around. The Indians must think we’re crazy! =P

Monto sits back with Monica learning Swedish phrases today. He’s actually really good and is learning really fast, soon he is using the phrases he’s learned with all of us. The roads are good and the 170 km only take 5 h this time. We pull into Rewa just after dark and go down a rather modern-looking main street. We go collectively and eat at another hotel since ours doesn’t have a restaurant. The place is nice but the staff speaks almost no English at all and get our orders wrong. They also forget to bring many of the things we’ve ordered. The prices make up for it though and the food we get is good so in the end we’re a happy bunch leaving.

Me, Ricard, Lars, Piff and Puff decide to explore some more of the town before going to bed and head for the main street. Not only are we mostly left alone when wandering around, the few times we are bothered it’s by people wanting to take a photo with the white people! We don’t mind that kind of attention and happily agree. One of the guys claim to be from the local paper, so I guess we should be on the lookout for those pictures! The main street mostly has clothing stores and I go into one of them in search for a uniquely Indian t-shirt. The language is a definite barrier but in the end I manage to convey what I want. Too bad Indians are really small, even the largest t-shirts are tight-fitting but I can’t resist buying two cricket t-shirts: one with the Mumbai Indians and another with Kings Punjab. Awesome souvenir!

Hindu Temples at Last

Monto is up with the rooster at 6 am and bounces over to Nina and Monicas tent to return the blankets we borrowed last night. They aren’t too pleased about having to answer the door at 6 am but what are you going to do?

I eat hurried breakfast in order to make it to the yoga class at 8, only to find out that there isn’t any… Noone is able to explain why, but there you go, this is probably not the last chance for yoga on this trip. So I sit in the lobby and surf until the bus is leaving at 9.

Khujaraho is 170 km away and is said to take 5-6 hours. Monto sits next to me, eager to see pictures from Sweden. So I show him some on my laptop and also plays him some Swedish music on my mp3-player. We also set a new record for spotting a rickshaw with the most amount of people in it, the new record being 11 where 7 are inside and 4 on the outside…

At a rest stop I try the local orange soda Mirindi which is chock full of coloring making my tongue just as orange as the soda. The roads are actually better than expected for once and we make good time to Khajuraho. As we close in on the place the we come upon a road only days old to which they are still adding lines. This is because the Prime Minister is in town discussing domestic policy future and such. Hilariously enough they have a tree standing 1 m into the road and instead of cutting it down they’ve decided to paint the lines around it. India in a nutshell…

We decide it best to see the famous hindu temples with the erotic carvings before sundown and head over there right away. We find a guide with decent English at the gate and pay him to come along. I’m required to put my little gorillapod in a locker at the door though, or I’m able to take too good pictures I guess. The guide seems to be a good decision as he tells us a lot about the symbolism in the carvings. Not all of them are erotic in nature, it’s actually a minority, most of them tells us about how to achieve moksha by proper training and state of mind. As an aside the whole western temple area used to be flooded back in the day so access was by boat only.

There are also little stories like the husband with the long beard that the wife pulled off if he was unfaithful, and therefore only faithful husbands dare have long beards! He tells us about the scorpion on the leg and in the stomach??? About the symbolism with the monkey, where a man teases a monkey with a stick so that the monkey will jump on the woman he’s holding and than she in turn will jump into his lap. The monkey symbolizes mischief. As we exit the park the sun is on it’s last legs and we get some absolutely gorgeous views of the temples against the setting sun.

We find Elin and Sara at café nearby and after eating a bite we try to walk back to the hotel. We then find out why Khajuraho is infamous for their annoying shopkeepers. More or less everyone is trying to guilt trip you into their shop filled with worthless trinkets. We finally escape though, even if it takes an hour or so and end up at one of the nicer shops in town. The owner calls himself “Super Mario” and simply that is reason enough to visit him. He has great selection of not only pashmina and silk, but also bags, rugs and pillow covers. He turns out to be a really good guy and almost the entire group end up shopping from him.

Leaving Mario’s I make a pit stop back at the hotel to drop off my shopping. I’m all tapped out now and need to refuel on cash. The ATM is a good walk a ways though and I’m dreading the gauntlet I’m sure will come. For some reason it doesn’t come though, maybe it’s my determined gait that’s doing the trick, I don’t know. I don’t get all the way there though, I’m offered a ride by two guys on a motorcycle, they’re students and seem alright so I go with them. Luckily this brand of ATM also works with my card, but I forget which kind it is.

The guys gives me a ride back and wants to chat over a cup of tea. I go along with it and it turns out that they are curious of what I make of India so far. I tell them about all the annoying scams and crazy littering and they seem apologetic but acknowledges the problem. We also talk about the caste system, the Bofors scandal (of which they haven’t heard), Sweden and Ravan (which was the topic of the festival in Jaipur). They also talk me into letting them show me around the next morning, showing the village with the houses separated according to caste, the school, some more of the temples and so on. As we don’t leave until lunch the next day I agree and also ask them if they know someone reliable selling bronze statuettes. Of course they do and I get a Hanuman figurine, but also find a nice handmade silver chain.

I get back to the hotel at around 10 pm and find the others in the restaurant, drunk as skunks (especially Helena)! Turns out they were shopping some more at Super Mario’s and they got their hands on some Old Monk rum which they were merrily consuming right there in the store. Now they’re just back at the hotel for a final nightcap where they also picked up this nice German girl, Sabrina, touring India with her mom. She’s a seasoned backpacker and has lots of great stories, we end up getting each others Facebook profiles in case we can hook up later in Varanasi, to which she’s also going.

The Place to Be

As always we’re up as early as possible and after breakfast Elin, Sara, Ulrika, Ricard and me walk downtown to see the palace. We pass by the beautiful Betwa river where the locals are bathing and doing their laundry. Soon there are a few kids running along with us and Elin is soon holding hands with three of them. They absolutely melt her heart and she stops to buy them chips which she carefully explains that they have to share.

The palace is the only thing in town that costs money to see but we decline the offer of a guide. The palace is really nice and you have a great view of Orchha from up there. The doorways are really low though and I bang my head so hard in one of them that I see stars. Ricard is having problems with his camera screen and tries to show Sara who just doesn’t get it. When Ricard is turning the camera sideways the screen goes dark he insists… I recognize the problem and as soon as I start laughing Ricard also realizes the problem, the screen is polarized and so are his sunglasses. And when he turns the screen they cancel out all light instead of only half of it! =D

We come across a couple of mangy puppies playing in the yard as well, it’s sad to see really, but what can you do? They sure are cute though. A police car pulls up on the courtyard and I seize the opportunity to ask what the little antenna in the middle of the hood is for. Apparently they put the flag there when on escort service. Moving on to the other palace we get an impromptu guide as the ticket man starts telling us about the different rooms in there. The thing about this palace are the bedrooms of the Maharani (Queens) which are covered with wall paintings and such. Except for one, which is where they ugly Maharani lived the guy explains, which has no decorations at all.

The gals are off to surf the Internets and Ricard and I end up at another barber. This time it’s not quite as good but definitely not bad, and when the shave is done they wonder if we want back massage as well! Of course we do and are given a very thorough head, back and arm massage right there in the barber chair. 250 rupees each we pay (~40 sek) and one of the guys is asking if we’ll come to his shop now. Now, if this weren’t Orchha we probably wouldn’t have come with him, but this town is different than the others and after a bit of walking we suddenly find ourselves in another barber shop! He asks us to sit and explains that now I am to be given another massage from a very famous man. Okay, I’m not one to say no to a massage and the guy starts kneading while Ricard takes the opportunity to write some diary notes. 40 minutes later the guy is finally done with more or less the same thing that I just got, and we get ready to leave. Asking what it costs lends the answer that since the shop isn’t open yet and because we are the very first customers we can pay whatever we like. So I pay the guy 100 rupees and we’re on our way again.

I want to squeeze in a dip in the river as well before going back to the hotel so we clamber out among the rocks in the middle of the river and I hop in after finding a relatively safe spot where the current isn’t so bad and where there are plenty of things to hold on to. The water is fabulous and probably somewhere around 25 degrees. I just lie there floating and when a dragonfly lands on the tip of my nose the bliss is complete.

We walk along the riverside to get to the hotel and come across a couple of fishermen, they haven’t gotten anything though and we continue on until we happen upon the temples that are right next to our hotel. There’s also a Sadhu there (holy man) and we go say hello to him, he’s not very talkative though so we head back to the hotel.

The others are found at the pool and I join them briefly after booking an hour of Ayurvedic massage. It starts almost right away so I lend my laptop to Ricard while I go indulge myself for the third time today. The massage is more or less just like Swedish massage as far as I can tell, the oils are probably different though. The guy does a decent job even though he clearly only has a very rudimentary understanding of where the different muscles are. He also pushes straight down at my spine rather hard at one point which is a definite no-no when massaging. We trade a few tricks though and in the end it’s a rather good massage.

Back out at the pool I take the opportunity to write some postcards. Lars has found a yoga class that takes place at 8 in the morning and me and Sister Karlsson decide to join. Done with the postcards I get the laptop back from Ricard and I push up some blogs before we gather to go downtown again for dinner.

A rumor has been going around that Sunil is fixing a dinner at a restaurant to which almost everyone else are going. So we find Sunil and end up at a rooftop where a couple of tables have been placed. The guy taking our orders is making a big deal of that they have chicken on the menu tonight and it’s not until next morning we realize why this is so as Maria tells us that the entire village is vegetarian and that a chicken being smuggled in is a rare event.

We all order vegetarian meals however and get a round of beers and chips while waiting for the others to join as we’ve come a bit early. The others show up and soon the dinner is in full swing. After a while Sunil comes up to me and wonders if I want some chillies with my food since I said I wanted it spicy. I agree and get five green chillies on a plate. That’s a challenge if I ever saw one and I actually manage to eat them all (well, actually Ricard eats one of them, but they’re all gone in the end).

Loose in mind and body we stumble back to the hotel for an afterparty out on the patio with turkish pepper shot and Swedish Djungelvrål for Monto to try (his name actually is Monto, Monty was just something he said so that we would remember it more easily). As the afterparty is winding down, Monto is nervous to go back to the bus as his father is probably already sleeping. So he gets to sleep on the floor of our tent.

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!