Day 15

Last day of holiday.  Check email – just 230 messages.  Sitting in sun reading, writing diary.  Pleasant breeze – it is hot now.  Can’t face packing so getting drunk instead

MG is totting up our expenditure.  His face is grim, possibly because girls ripped up his napkin ledger for important game.  It is reassembled “puzzle like” on table.  No one allowed near!

A la carte menu is “off” at weekends.  Dear dear, what shall we feed the girls?  Very hot today but lovely breeze

Time to go home………..

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Day 14

Sightseeing day trip to Delhi.

Pleasant driver wearing woolly hat – 4 wheel drive vehicle, closest to being a pleasant journey so far.  Roads from hotel are single file to junction, then dual carriageway to 1st toll, then 4 lane motorway into city.  Every road treated same by population.  Pedestrians take life into hands & race across highway.  Trucks travel at night with no lights, cars stop in any lane if they feel like it, traffic behind careers around it to avoid collision.  Vehicles travel wrong way up the carriageway.  After 2 weeks am almost immune to these incredible sights, feel almost blasé

1st stop – Dilly Haat.  Artisans markets with ticket only admission so no beggars or hassle.  Girls & MG go crazy souvenir shopping.  Seek breakfast in local food outlets.  No one does boiled eggs, E’s staple, 35 so far!!!  Settle for box of peanut brittle instead.  MG sends me back to car with E on pretext of dashing back with C to buy coveted article.  We both know he will buy naff picture which he likes & I don’t.  Bingo – here he is.  Can’t bear to look at it

Next stop – the inside lane of a 3 lane ring road while MG exits vehicle to photograph some government building.  Traffic rushes up behind us & swerves to avoid.  I am in the back with girls & no seat belts.  Driver looks nervous – will be heavily fined if police see this.  MG gone at least 5 minutes.  Oh well, when he’s attending our funerals he can console himself that he got a nice picture!  We have words on his return!

On to Ghandi’s house  – fabulous museum – very emotional, reverent, moving.  Fantastic interactive displays upstairs including children’s room.  Downside is you point & the museum officials do the interactive stuff.  A case of touch, but don’t touch.  Girls find this frustrating.  Hard to look at the spot where Ghandi was shot.  Spent half an hour here, could have done with the whole day

On to favourite bar Q’Ba for lunch on rooftop terrace.  Too hot, we go inside – MG disgusted

Trudge to Air India offices to reconfirm our return flight – we are told this is not necessary

On to cottage industries emporium.  A department store mecca of souvenirs.  Girls & MG go mad again.  Major theme is elephants & horses, god knows how many we are taking home.  MG buys 100% wool dressing gown & 100% silk scarf – I’d like to say he looks fetching in them – but won’t.  His expanding waistline is constant source of amusement to girls

Back to Q’Ba for evening beer on terrace.  Fantastic views over Connaught Place especially as daylight fades.  Colder now so coats on.  Short term panic as can’t find driver.  He is 20 minutes late.  MG decides he needs takeaway – disappears for “2 minutes” and returns in 40.  We are not amused!

Narrowly avoid cyclist coming towards us in the dark in the outside lane of motorway – aaahhh!!!  Roadside toilet stop on highway on way home.  Into bedclothes and full souvenir examination session.  I have bought nothing.  Bed at 10 – shattered!

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Day 13

Valentines Day!  The only one to get a card is E.  She brought it all the way with her from Matt in UK

Day of rest.  We have raided the buffet breakfast to provide lunch.  Chapattis, cakes, fruit.  MG has taken tuk tuk to village for extra rations – nuts, crisps, beer

The girls are writing their diaries, postcards & colouring in the sun.  They have been great – no complaining about anything.  I am proud of them both

Hindustani Times reports no birds at Bird Sanctuary – water levels at record low.  Glad we didn’t make the trip!

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Day 12

Got stung by bee yesterday.  Arm swelled up like Popeye.  Swelling reducing but arm quite sore.

Went back to rooftop restaurant for breakfast.  Too windy & cold.  E has tantrum over wind in hair & refuses to be photographed with “Perky” from school.  I lose temper & nearly kick her down stairwell.  Take girls back to hotel for breakfast in sheltered garden

C starts with diarrhoea.  Inconvenient as have checked out of hotel & have no facilities + no spare knickers.  Manage to find unused room to clean her up.  Have to put her into E’s used knickers from previous day.  Oops, another bout, now we have to pack knickers with loo roll

Event coincides with Vladimir Putin who puts in a visit to Taj Mahal.  That’s where we are going today…or not.  Putin wins.  Streets are closed off & we are locked into hotel compound for security (ours presumably) until his visit is over.  Spend 2 hours teaching girls card tricks & keeping a wary eye on C

1pm – we are released!  Rush to Taj Mahal.  MG is refused entry due to penknife.  Rushes back to hotel to deposit.  Returns hurriedly, gets thorough frisking from guards.  Nothing compares with that first view, framed by the archway as you approach.  My heart stops, I feel quite emotional.  It is a labour of love.  I see the bench where Diana was photographed and feel the irony of that picture.  It is truly the most beautiful building I have ever seen.

Due to Putin’s visit the monument is not crowded so we get inside mausoleum easily.  Have to wear covers on our shoes.  Get great photos, also of river beside the Taj.  Fantastic views along the valley.  The drought is evident, water levels very low & the bathing ghats fully exposed.  You can probably walk across the riverbed.  E regards the bees nests nervously

Great view of the Red Fort further along, saves us a tuk tuk trip – we can photograph it from here! We are cultural philistines!

Back to hotel for lunch.  In view of C’s condition we stick around taking it easy.  I teach the girls knock-out whist (trumps).  This is highly amusing & keeps them diverted for 2 hours – toilet humour never fails.  MG gets haircut & changes money.  Sun is hot

Last dinner on rooftop restaurant – tuk tuk ride to station.  Train leaves on time.  C has another accident.  Toilet facilities disgusting (as ever).  E’s best pink knickers go down the loo & onto the track.  We are “knicker free”  I cross fingers – 3 hours to go!

C sleeps.  Me & E discuss pollution in India, how to save the planet, greenhouses, growing our own veg & the new toilet rules at school.  Thoroughly enjoyable.  Takes my mind off man in seat in front.  His seat is broken so his head is practically in my lap – don’t mind too much – is quite good looking!

Make E take off her knickers so I have “options” in the event of further accidents.  Luckily C keeps it in all the way home & promptly vomits on hotel floor on arrival.  Nothing to do with d&v, just bad driving by taxi driver!

Everyone keeps asking us where we’re from.  They seem not to recognise accents.  Get to bed at 1am.  I have 6 blankets – I am freezing

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Days 9 – 11 – falling behind!

Lie in.  Send filthy clothes to laundry.  Breakfast in restaurant.  Half hour on internet – zap 160 spam emails.  First really warm, sunny day.  Relax by room, writing diaries, playing with toys, examining purchases.  Cool.  Girls off to play badminton with MG.  Me now in shorts & burning nicely in sun with beer.  Divine.  Watching ladies cut grass with scissors – yes really!

Next day rise at 5am to get taxi to Delhi.  Train to catch to Agra.  E felt sick in night but wasn’t – do we travel or not?  She says yes but we nearly don’t as taxi fails to arrive.  Finally replacement arrives 20 minutes late so mad dash to catch train.  Driver much better than our regular guy & car more comfortable.  Streets of Delhi deserted at 7am – not like London!  As ever our seats are not together on train.  They are always consecutive numbers on the ticket but the correlating seats are never together.  There is logic to the numbering system on the train but no effort made by booking agents to apply that knowledge to seat allocation.  Luckily everyone else (mostly American tourists) are in the same boat so negotiations on board to swap seats so we can sit with friends/family usually produces satisfactory result.  Chaos in the aisles while everyone re-distributes items on luggage racks.  Expect at least 1 seat to be broken on journey.

Arrive Agra 10:30am.  First time get hassle outside station.  MG arranges taxi for same price as tuk-tuk then expresses surprise when we get dropped off miles short of hotel.  Long walk ensues with pull along suitcases, tired children and angry wife!  We are constantly exhorted to take cycle rickshaw – no dice – we’re walking!

We are staying in best budget hotel ‘Sheela’ right next to Taj Mahal.  Downside – you can’t see it from any angle.  MG negotiates new bedroom with window but no shower – get buckets of hot water & jug.

Decide no more long journeys & give bird sanctuary a miss.  Instead we head for nearby rooftop restaurant on another hotel for first views of Taj Mahal – it doesn’t disappoint.  Fantastic concierge who smiles broadly – is dressed like 1950’s bus conductor including peaked cap who salutes like Benny Hill.  No-one on the roof so me & MG enjoy beers while girls run around like loonies.  We are in the pollution free exclusion zone which means no motorised vehicles.  Very pleasant walking along without the constant honking noise & choking fumes.  Still tricky though because you can’t hear the bicycles, cycle rikshaws, horse and carts etc as they come up silently behind you & walking in the road is generally preferable to the pavement – dogs, potholes, litter, jagged ironworks etc.

Find another rooftop bar for further free viewing opportunities of Taj Mahal.  We are closer but view impaired by makeshift TV aerial.  Beer served in metal teapot & cups.  Taj is actually shrouded in pollutive haze.  See flocks of pidgeons (spelling?) at dusk – the locals fly them here in flocks as a sport – reminds me of Jack Duckworth!  

We are in walking distance of best hotel in Agra so I treat family to meal in their ‘cheaper’ restaurant.  Meal costs £60.  Absolutely fabulous hotel, richly appointed, great views of Taj and sumptuous loo – me & girls use it 5 times in 2 hours – what privations we have suffered.  We are waited on by waiters in traditional rajastani dress & turbans, delightful experience if somewhat contrived.  Feel the filthy rich miss out a bit on the real india

Teach the girls how to play Black Jack & play it in bedroom before retiring early.  Freezing cold all night & agonising back ache.  Interesting array of noises considering how quiet our hotel location is.  Commiserated with american couple about the all night drumming next morning.  We asked the proprietor what it was.  He said ‘what drumming?’  Interesting array of nationalities staying here – heard most of them at 6am when they all got up early to visit the Taj shrouded in mist – have they no consideration?

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Day 8

Lie in watching english speaking film about man who turns into dog – yes, we were all enthralled – right up to the power cut.  Fortunately we saw the end of the same film previous evening so know what happens.  Leisurely breakfast on roof top.  C then sick in room & off colour all day.

Tuk tuk to royal palace – fabulous!  They are preparing for wedding that evening – 1000 guests!!  Fabulous flower arrangements & opulent decorations – stunning.  Super art gallery – old photos from the Raj.  Crystal chandliers, amazing elephant sedan.  See photo of Charles & Diana’s visit to Jaipur.  She looks troubled. 

Sit & sip water with poorly C.  Head to Pearl Palace rooftop for food & peace.  Noodles too spicy for E so back to our hotel rooftop for macaroni cheese.

5:45pm train back to Delhi.  See Mary & friend on platform.  Train late.  Man sitting in my seat.  Moves quickly when asked especially as he sees C vomiting in bag.  C sleeps most of journey.  Man who moved offers water, yoghurt, cake, biscuits, juice – stares at her in amazement.  Very smiley, very kind.

Service on train amazing.  5 hour journey – get big bottle water each, then carton of juice each, then tray with snacks each, sweets on tray. MG asks for more sweets, man brings big bag!  Then full dinner each, then cake each, then ice cream each.  Got to keep those guys employed – so kind, so smiley – then, demanded tip!!

Arrived Delhi Cantte at 10:15 pm – met by our taxi driver from resort.  Usual death run on road including high speed through fog.  Home by 11:15pm – C rallying.  Into familiar bed.  7 blankets – still cold – back ache improving.

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Day 7

Caught 5:55am train to Jaipur.  Indian bureaucracy give us 4 seats all over carriage.  Manage to get me & girls together.  MG swaps with man later.  Sit opposite Mary and friend – american NGO volunteers returning from desert assignment.  Delightful girls from Michigan studying environmental studies, working with NGO on womens issues in India.  Spent time in Thar desert now heading to border with Nepal.  She is moving to Washington DC in summer to work for congress person devoted to environmental issues.  Likes Hillary Clinton (well someone has to).  Very kind to girls

Arrive Jaipur 11am.  Big city. Tuk tuk to hotel.  Nice room, very friendly, breakfast on rooftop.  Fantastic view of rubbish tip below – hogs enjoying their breakfast.  Tuk tuk to Amber palace.  Driver very nice – has 3 children.  Tells us there are ‘no rules’ on India’s roads – no kidding!  Says ‘ooh la la’ every time we nearly crash into nearest car, truck, motorbike, taxi, bus, rickshaw, pedestrian, dog, elephant, camel…

Arrive Amber Palace – WOW!  Elephant rides to entrance are “off”.  Walk up instead.  Photograph holy man on way up – he’s eating crisps on the way down – a con we think.  Very colourful and great photo with girls.

Highlight – tuk tuk driver takes us into rural village – find 8 elephants having their tea!  Their toenails are painted pink and beautiful patterns painted all over their heads & trunk.  Photo opportunity & saddle up “Champa” (Rupert) specially for girls to ride.  Spend idyllic 15 minutes on board avoiding overhead cables & rabid dogs.  Girls are thrilled!!!

Return to city & official emporium.  Girls buy more souvenirs & MG buys more beer.  Off to authentic Italian for tea.  Not licensed so beer comes discreetly in china teapot with mugs.  Fine pizza & fabulous clean toilet with loo roll.  Ten out of ten!

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Day 6

Find hotel opposite station.  Breakfast on roof terrace – great view of hill fort.  Rooms clean, basic, staff friendly.  Walked to clock tower, mobbed by children, smiling, friendly.  Tuk tuk to hillside fort – impressive.  Views over city fabulous – homes painted blue therefore known as the blue city – clever.

Lunch is hotel rooftop restaurant.  Delicous, good pasta for girls.  Fabulous views.  Tuk tuk to official emporiums.  Marathon haggling for world’s biggest antique padlock and keys.  Sweets for girls from owner.  Gordon Ramsay regular here.  Girls buy more souvenirs.  E buys present for Matt.  Stop at beer shop.

Tuk tuk back to same restaurant for dinner.  Clock tower now turning amazing array of colours.  Early night for early start.  Beautiful fountains.

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Days 4 and 5

Woke to thick fog – very cold – burned off to warmish sunny day.  Struggling for clothes – only brought for heat.  1 cardigan each + thin coats.  Terrible back ache – mattresses leave something to be desired!

Start trip.  Have to ‘travel light’ with suitcase, rucksack too small.  Spend day in Delhi.  Store luggage Old Delhi railway station then walk through old town.  Buy peanuts.  MG leaves lonely planet guide book in shop – man follows us to return.  Everyone stares children, surprisingly little hassle.  Fast food restaurant lunch, MG – marsala dosa, girls pizza – spicy!!  Walk to Red Fort – impressive – eagles swooping overhead.  Photos.  Man tries to sell me false beard & moustache – think Monty Python!

Cycle rickshaw to mosque.  Me & C facing backwards, see traffic charging behind us – we are on the equivalent of a busy ring road – interesting!  Driver is from Jodphur.  Shoes off to enter mosque, socks end up in bin.  Climb tower – fabulous views of Delhi, small space, about 12 of us packed in.  Feel queasy from the height and the smell of sweaty feet!!  Sit on steps of mosque & watch eagles swooping overhead – this is surreal.

Tuk tuk ride from hell to Delhi Zoo.  Even going wrong way round the roundabout.  Close eyes and pray.  Smog and fumes atrocious, clothing going black before my eyes.  Zoo is barren, lack of lush verdant greenery.  Pennies for the locals to get in, tourist prices 4 times higher and still cheap.  The only place in Delhi with litter bins and they are actually used!  Excellent exhibits, clear indication of interest in animal welfare.  Big fines for disturbing animals.  Saw tigers, lions, giraffes, zebra, jaguar, elephants et al.  Pleasant interlude from the city.  Back ache worse – feet hot and tired.

Mini taxi back into city.  Buy Adidas branded fleece for £7.00.  Find pleasant western style upmarket bar with views over Connaught Circus.  Bar Q’BA.  Big plush sofas, relaxing music & fabulous food.  I go italian, MG has giant prawns & chilli dipping.  Girls get seriously excited over real fish fingers and tartar sauce.  Drinks are 2 for 1.  Expensive in indian terms but a welcome treat from the hussle & bussle and spices.

Metro to Old Delhi station.  Overnight train to Jodphur – exciting.  Share carriage with 1 indian family and 16 american students & one stressed teacher!  Students leave train at wrong stop – MG ushers them back onto train as it starts moving.  Teacher grateful – gives us bags of crisps.  Hard beds on train help my back.  Arrive Jodphur 9:30am

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Day Three

Day trip Delhi by taxi.  Drive is hair raising.  Go to New Delhi train station – book our tickets for adventure.  Delhi – Jodphur-Jaipoor-Delhi.  Took ages.  On to McDonalds – who says it’s the same the world over?  Chicken burger – spicey!!  Money changer – furtive.  Visit emporium – 80 shops.  Girls and MG in souvenir heaven.  Indian fast food shop on corner, taxi driver on tap all day, (when we can rouse him from kipping in back seat).  6pm return resort via driver’s boss, petrol station, driver’s home!  Saw man with slug in ear

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