We get some early shopping done at the Ghats!
We arrived in Mumbai after a day of pure and simple luxury in a 5 star hotel in Hong Kong, roof top pool and all. This obviously didn't really help in aclimatising us to the 'colourfulness' of India. Three words describe our first impression: smelly, noisy, mental! The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel was a death defying experience in itself and not to be undertaken by the weak of heart. There is no lane control, no indicators, no lights (it was dark) in fact no regard for other road users whatsoever. It seems the key to survival is to honk your horn - A LOT!!!!
Mumbai was our intro to India and meeting point for the Dragoman Overland Tour who are taking us all the way, hopefully, to Kathmandu. There are 20 of us on the trip, plus 2 drivers, all from different countries and backgrounds, ranging from 19 to 75 (no names) and so far we are getting along nicely. After spending a day in Mumbai watching an awful lot of people playing cricket in every green area or on street corners we happily left the safety of the city the next day, and headed for the wide open plains. Walking about, as a white female, I get a lot of attention, but our eormous orange truck gets even more! The key to making all the Indians happy is to smile and wave out of the window, they just cannot resist waving and smiling back (with the obligatory head wobble at the same time) - brilliant!
The first few days we did a lot of driving whilst visiting a few caves and temples along the way. This was my intro to bush camping where we basically camped for 3 nights in a row, in fields. There were no toilets or showers - nice! Now we know why India smells so much. The highlight of all this was being invited to our then guide, Rafeke's family home for dinner x 20. I think this was also a highlight for the village as everyone came out of their homes to see the Western Attraction. They were so friendly and welcoming and the kids we so cute, trying to speak English and generally smiling a lot. Rafeke's sister also did some amazing henna tattoos on my arms, hands and feet. After lots of photos and singing along with Ricky we headed back to bush camp for more singing around the camp fire - great night!
On the fourth day we hit Udaipur and stayed in a hotel with ensuite. Never have 22 people been so excited to have a shower. Simple things in India please. This brings us onto the Big 5 of India. Having only experienced 4 out of 5 in Africa, we are pleased to announce after lots of hunting and daily vigiles we have attained the Holy Grail of all of the Indian Big 5! This consists of the following: 1) a Western toilet (not a hole-in-the-floor, thigh-toning, squat-thrusting experience where the chances of soiling one's own garments are high to nigh-on impossible to avoid), 2) toilet paper (not a bucket of water to wash your behind with - BYO is essential - and explains why it is considered extremely rude to eat with your left hand - this screws Pam up every time being goofy-foot), 3) hot running water in which to wash aforementioned hands, 4) soap, otherwise known as the amber nectar, and finally 5) a towel or hand dryer, thus avoiding the flap-dry technique, which is akin to signalling a Boeing 747 into its landing bay. The bonus ball is out-and-out cleanliness, i.e. no need to hold your breath and gulp like goldfish, whilst simultaneously keeping the hordes of mozzies at bay from biting your behind. Its worth noting that in 2 weeks we have only found one public toilet that had the Big 5 - nice! The party that ensued will go down in the annuls of history...!
Back to Udaipur. It was stunning, with the infamous Lake Palace Hotel dominating the skyline. For Bond fans, it was the lair of Octopussy! The city was beautiful, exactly how you imagine India to be. Unfortunately I got Delhi belly and spent most of our time there in the hotel room, but it was an ensuite with all of the Big 5 so not too bad! On our final evening we sat on the roof terace of our hotel, overlooking the Lake Palace Hotel and the waiter came over to us and just had to tell James, and I quote " you are so charming and sauve you look like Indian Movie Star ". This was very funny and James is now known to everyone on the bus (sorry, truck) as 'Bollywood'.
Following Udaipur we hit our next destination, yet another hippy gathering, Pushkar. The highlight here, prompted by the lack of alcohol in the whole city (something to do with the city being very holy, or something like that - we try not to get too involved in the culture of our trip... :) ), we tried our first Bhang (Special) Lassi. This is basically a yoghurt drink with cannabis. I, being the more adventurous (or is that jut stupid) of the 2 (that's me, James, in case you were unsure), drank most of this concoction, but having never been stoned before (!) was not at liberty to declare or otherwise as to whether I was or wasn't. However, on good authority (thanks Pam), the fact that a) I saw a floating car, b) could not speak properly, c) actually thought my voice was coming from outside of my being, and d) endured a 3/4 hour telephone conversation between Pam and said parents without feeling the need to give one time check (P - I'm going to get him stoned more often!), I was, on the balance of it all, mildly stoned!
Following this enlightening experience, we left Pushkar (nerves slig和tly frayed due to the incomprehensibly slow and poor service at breakfast - by English standards I give you; we have yet to receive one bill that bares any resemblance to what we actually ordered) and hit Jaipur. We had an amazing guide who showed us around the various sights and then allowed us all to camp on his farm with his family. It was a great evening, we learnt a lot about Indian Culture and his wife prepared the best tomato soup we have ever tasted!
We are now in Dehli and being the culture vultures that we are we have eaten in McDonalds and found an internet cafe. But we are hitting the town tonight - let's see what happens on a Friday night in Delhi........