Steve Watson


      Information: Travels: India: Diary







So here I am in DELHI. It's been a long dull day of travelling.


Taxi at 6 to Helensvale station, train to BNE, plane to CAN ( Guangzhou ), stopover, then plane on to DEL. We finally arrived about 40 minutes after he scheduled time, so I was quite pleased to see the requested pickup driver still there waiting. Taxi to Stops Hostel arriving about midnight. I certainly didn't get into my room and organized with papers etc. until well into the next day. All up, about 18 hours travelling. 


The room's ok, but nothing special. I don't know why it is so well reviewed, I've seen much better.


 Delhi map






Made the most of a comfortable bed and slept well. 


To the train station to buy onward tickets. I had, of course, a little difficulty keeping on the right path: I soon (but too late) realised that I'd gone onto the Fasil road running north beside the train lines, so I continued on regarding the sights and eventually crossed over far north of the station and went back. The street was very obviously a workers street, full of busy little kiosks, overloaded handcarts, trucks, and people and dogs and horses everywhere. It was also stinking hot - I think it must be about 35-40 out.


Tickets were easy. I remember this being a nightmare last time, but there's an International Tourist desk on the first floor over platform 1 where you can do things in a more civilised fashion. The staff aren't industrious or friendly, but they get it done.


By the time I got back (by the direct route) it was about 5pm, and I'd had a decent meal at a local vegetarian restaurant (450r,) so I decided to stay in and relax more. I was absorbed, in fact, by Wouk's 'Winds of War' that I'd downloaded to the iPad kindle. (The login page of the hostel's wifi didn't work on the kindle device, and the kindle won't connect to the hotspot for some reason. Did some research on that, but it looked insoluble.)







Left the room just before noon for a breakfast/lunch at a very flash hotel down the road. It wound up costing 880r (18$) but I regard it as money well spent; I am almost reorganized. After that I headed up the main road to the Red Fort. This is obviously a tourist area since I was followed relentlessly by rickshaw wallahs and other touts. Actually I didn't find the Fort all that interesting, but it did strike me that if they filled up the fountains and pools with the water that they were obviously designed for things would've been much more pleasant. 


The main tower of the Red Fort. Built by Shah Jehan of Taj Mahal fame in 1639 beside the earlier fortress of Salimgarh. The Mughals were expelled after the Mutiny and the British made it a military base for their own troops.
The plan  of the Red Fort, also called the Lal Qilah.
As it appeared in the last days of the Mughal Raj.

I walked out through the bazaar (Chandni Chowk) and up to the Jama Masjid. This wasn't as flash as I'd been promised either. It started with a dust storm inside the courtyard that had everyone scuttling for shelter. I was then able to find a nice cool-ish and carpeted spot in the mosque proper to sit and write these notes - but I then became a tourist attraction! I think it was the fact that I was sitting cross-legged that fascinated them; as well as the iPad, which indicated possible money. Well, it was amusing.


 The plan of the Delhi Jama Masjid. This was built by Shah Jehan in about 1644 as a counterpart to his Red Fort. After the Mutiny the British made it too into a military barracks.

 In the Jama Masjid. The mihrab is to the right of the picture.






Easy exit from the Stops hostel. tuktuk to Old Delhi station for 100r. I got there early enough to have a leisurely breakfast at MacDonalds on the station. There was a bit of a panic at the last minute since the sign on the platform was announcing quite a different train number from the central sign. I went back to check it hadn't changed, but it was announcing no such number any more. I couldn't make out the tannoy but it seemed to be saying my train was on the platform, so I went back and read the seating sheets fixed to one of the carriages. It was my train. So I ran half the station length to get to my carriage and got on. 


The trip to JAIPUR was uneventful.


The hotel here is a beautiful converted fine house and the room was quite large enough for anyone. Much better than Stops - which I can already hardly remember. It's also in a nice clean area (relatively speaking) so it isn't a misery to leave the building. It has a truly delightful garden area where I had dinner. This turned out to be a bit hot, but not too bad: and the fellow came out with a mozzy coil to put under the table. One odd thing I've noticed: coffee so far has just been assumed to be hot milk sweetened instant. And they have those nasty milk skins that form on the top of your drink.


Sleeping at night was a bit difficult because it wasn't air conditioned and the fan had to blast to make any difference.


Map of Jaipur (obviously.) 
In the 'Pink City'  the buildings were originaly painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales on a visit in 1876. The inhabitants liked it that way, and so the tradition of pinkwashing has  continued. It's not quite as emphatic as the map would have you believe.
The delightful garden at the hostel. Note the fellow in the corner playing a flute for our general pleasure, and peacocks would occasionally wander the roofline of neighbouring buildings.






After a leisurely breakfast I headed off into town. The tuk-tuk dropped me off at the Chandpol gate ('Moon Gate' gate) and I walked along that street towards the Hawa Mahal. On the way I was convinced to have a look inside the Sri Krisna temple. There was a pleasant fellow looking after the place who showed me around (but he wasn't a guide, he said: no fee was requested.) It's a pity that the service wasn't ongoing; I'd just missed the offering of food to the God and he was now in seclusion while he digested his meal. Well, odd, but reasonable, I suppose. If he has to eat then he has the other bodily requirements. The mass of the Christian church does not, however, recognise any such necessity.


The Hawa Mahal itself was a bit disappointing - it's basically a viewing stage for the women of the court and therefore not much more than a facade with whatever structure was required to allow access to the screen windows. Much more interesting - when I finally managed to find it - was the Jantar Mantar. This is the famous astronomical observatory built by Jai Singh and which I remember from my Time-Life volume on 'The Universe.' It was fascinating, but a bit mysterious. I didn't get an audio guide to resolve the mysteries because I seriously doubt that it would take the time to explain the basics of astronomy in order to make sense of the instruments for the general tourist.


Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal again.
In the shade at the Jantar Mantar.

I had intended to go on in the afternoon to the fort Amber (pronounced "ammer"), but the heat was too oppressive and the day now too late, so I walked down out of the Pink City and into the hospital (by accident). Trying again, I got to the Ram Niwas Bagh, a sort of garden area. It was not that green, cool, or relaxing. They really need some open water features here. Anyway, the garden was around the splendid city museum, so I visited that and looked at the vases, coins, illustrations of the Mahabharata, and - most interestingly - a range of Indian mediaeval statuary with some useful commentary.


Home again in time for dinner. Inside this time, and chatting to an English fellow, Russ, who is just finishing up after 4 months here. Spent the evening making onward arrangements from the return to Delhi on. I've decided to give Ladakh a miss altogether. To difficult to get there for too little time spent there. Oh well, I'm not that disappointed. Srinagar should be very nice still.







The morning was a leisurely affair, and a very nice way to finish up. 


The train trip was unconfusing, but very uncomfortable for the first few hours. I was on a non a/c bench seat crammed with others. And then when the seats cleared out a bit the chap sitting next to me continued to push against me as if he wanted all the bench. I eventually had to directly tell him to move over - which he took with the good grace that peasants are well known for. Then the peasant ladies ahead of me decided to wash their hands out the window, covering me with the water that blew straight back in. They did that twice. They too were clearly peasant types.


Finally got in to UDAIPUR about 10:30, only an hour late.


When I arrived at the hotel I actually had trouble finding anyone to check me in. I was just about to phone them when someone came in from a wedding next door. I immediately upgraded to an a/c room. Very nice. Again, a bizarre lock and chain door locking system.


I was desperately hungry so at about 11 I went out trying to find somewhere that gave food. I found just one place, but it looked too expensive, and I wasn't game to walk too far in the dark and risk getting hopelessly lost, so I made do with an ice cream and a soft drink.  


My hotel was just off the left hand side of this map.
The map does not capture the maze-like nature of the narrow streets, which are all up and down the sides of steep hills.
The hostel room, when I eventually was admitted.






The day began badly. I came down at 9 to drop off laundry, arrange a bus to Jodhpur  tomorrow, and have breakfast. There was no-one at the desk, so I eventually had to wake up the guy in the store room by kicking (gently) - he didn't actually get up but spoke to me supine. Leave laundry, I'll do it later. No restaurant, all on holiday. Lots of restaurants around outside. Will I get a discount for that failure to deliver as advertised. You must speak to manager he is here at 11.  Ok. Tickets on? Speak to manager,


So I went out looking for a restaurant and they're almost all closed around here. I went to one rooftop where a lady said she'd call the cook and he'd be here in 15. So I waited for 30 and left. As I went down she said sorry but the cook couldn't come today. I asked if she was going to tell me that, and she said yes, I tell you. Weird. Anyway, that turned out well, since I went back to the Ambrai that I saw last night and had a real proper breakfast with coffee, orange juice, toast, omelet, muesli with yoghurt, a sprite, and a beautiful view over the lake. 500r. 


When I got back there was still no sign of a manager. I called on the phone, which disconnected. I woke up the sleeper again and demanded service. Get the manager. Get my ticket. And why is my laundry still sitting here? Thank heavens I have determined not to lose my temper! This is almost as challenging as 5 minutes with my father. Eventually I got to speak to the manager by phone and he assured me he'd get the ticket by this afternoon. When he did arrive at about 12 things moved smoothly, and I quickly had an a/c ticket to Jodhpur leaving 2:30 tomorrow. I'm told the trip is ~5 hours rather than the guidebooks warning of 6-8, so I expect to get in about 7:30. 


Stopped in at the Edelweiss on the way to the City Palace . Not great. Cinnamon bun inedible; hard as a rock. Continuing on, I was stopped for a chat by a couple of guys not even trying to sell stuff. Then to the palace. At first I thought that I wouldn't need the 250r camera ticket, but I'd only stepped into the grounds when I changed my mind about that and got a new ticket. The building itself is quite impressive - but like many of these things, more impressive from a distance than from close up. The exhibits in the museum were not much chop really; lots of photos and paintings of uninteresting scenes, some costumes and silverware and bric-a-brac. The statuary was of poor quality too. Most of it was too badly eroded to get much sense of the scene or god involved. In any case, Indian sculpture isn't really that interesting in itself. The best stuff was a room full of old drawings obviously taken from ancient English or French descriptions of the area. This took a fair while to go around and at the finish I was pleased to stop for a salted lime soda at the a/c shop in the grounds.


The Palace Fort 
The Lake Palace.
I'm pretty sure this was the setting for the Nawab's palace in Mirat in the TV adaptation of Paul Scott's
The Jewel in the Crown.
It looked a good deal better in that setting, and it's difficult to imagine such a different world only a few decades in the past.

On the way back I popped in to get some money out. No dramas there thankfully. Then to the Jagdish temple which had some more interesting carving on the outside. I wasn't allowed to photograph in the actual sanctuary, but there was nothing special in there. An old woman was playing a small box of strings and singing, and an old man was motionlessly praying for the 10 minutes I was watching. He was probably there all day. 


Carvings from the Jagdish Temple
More carvings from the exterior

Another brief stop at Ginger cafe for an Americano, and I amused myself reading 'The Beiderbecke Affair' from their small library.


For dinner I went back to the Ambrai and had a very pleasant meal: French onion soup and a chicken and mushroom bake. The latter came without vegetables, so I had a fruit and ice cream dessert. The fruit were almost completely tasteless.







Breakfast at Ambrai. Same as the last one. I think I may have to change my standard breakfast at home and make it muesli with sour yoghurt with croissant and coffee. I wanted to lunch here as well but they were shut, so I walked around a bit to another reasonable but less flash one by the lake and had a fish and chips and a beer. Most delicious.  

Breakfast at the Ambrai Hotel 

No great dramas, just a bit of uncertainty getting the bus. The tuktuk from the agent to the bus was interesting: 8 people aboard with their luggage. Not pleasant - and I was worried about the danger of a overturning. The trip itself was not as pleasant as I'd hoped it would be. The a/c was barely effective and the seats just weren't comfortable. Still, miles better than the train. We probably arrived about 9:10 pm, so the trip was at least 6 hours - right at the top of their range estimates. 


Never mind; I'm in JODHPUR.

Map of Jodhpur

I have to say I'm not that impressed with the room, but I've been spoiled by the last few places obviously. It's a bit cramped and old, and with no a/c the fan struggles to do any cooling. My sheets began to get damp from my perspiration. Surprisingly enough, however, I managed to get a pretty complete sleep. 


The family that runs the place are friendly and helpful but a little hard to track down. I was pleased that one of them offered part of the family's dinner to this late arrival. The restaurant was closed by this time, of course. 







There's a marvellous view over the rooftops from the hostel's rooftop restaurant; and it's sitting just under the Mehrangarh fort/acropolis. After a very refreshing cool shower I had a decent plain breakfast with good filter coffee (my guess) and a pancake with honey. I still haven't had the opportunity to check in, but I suppose if they don't care I shouldn't either.


Unusually for an Indian family they have a large pet black lab (or something very like it.) it's very friendly and wanted to play a tug of war with one of the tablecloths that it had grabbed and taken to make a nest in the corner. Good fun, but it's got rather dirty feet.


Mehrangarh Fort
The 'Blue City' being blue. 
No one really knows why the city began the tradition of blue coloration: some say the colour marks those houses as Brahmin dwellings, others that it has to do with a supposed treatment for termites, and others have other stories. I'm just happy that there is such a tradition.

Walked up the hill and through the narrow streets to the fort. A most impressive structure, and it is brought to life by a Chinese film crew making some epic movie there. The colorful fabrics hung about the place, and the furniture, and the crowds of richly costumed players, make you see it as it must have been when it was in real use as a palace. The city looks magnificent also in its best blue dress far below the fort. 


In the Fort
From the Fort

Since I'm not really feeling the heat (39C today) too badly during the day, I walked from there to the White Temple via the Jhoda Rao desert rocks walk (which I didn't do, although I had a nice chat with the custodians and bought a bottle of water.) when I got to the Temple the old man on the gate didn't make me feel at all welcome, so I decided that even after the walk here I didn't really feel like insisting on paying for the privilege of a visit. Indian temples aren't very interesting anyway.


Walked around through the town to the old Haveli guest house, but its restaurant is being repaired, so the concierge sent me up the road a bit to the Stillwell, where I had a very nice lunch - and a gin and tonic. I watched the boys below leaping into the Mahila Bag ka Jalra. 


The Mahila Bag ka Jalra, a well that connects to the Gulab Sagar lake some way off.

Had a nice afternoon on the rooftop in the wind with a beer. In the evening I went round to the Hare Krishna restaurant which is nearby. The meal was not great: it's a matter again of people not being around in the off-season. The dessert was going to be ice cream, but they didn't have any; they can only do kheer. Ok. A little later they said they could do ice cream after all. Ok. They then brought out two tubs of ice cream obviously just bought from a kiosk. I also spent the first 15 minutes closing the door after them and mentioning that the door had to be closed for the a/c to work before they finally got the hint. So, not a great experience.







Breakfast on the rooftop and sorted out the bill. No problem, except that having to pay in cash meant I had to stop at an ATM on the way to the train station. Once there, things were quite simple and with a striking lack of bustle. The train was almost deserted - relatively speaking - for the last few hours, which meant I could come down from my upper berth and stretch out on a long seat and look out the windows. What a hideous countryside. So parched and apparently impoverished. I've identified something else about India that's been bothering me: it seems that the place is full of oddly unfinished structures. Buildings just seem to peter out where you'd expect to see a roof or a wall, walls are lacking tops and the reinforcing iron rods project from them, and so on. 


Arrived at BIKANER


Map of Bikaner. 
My hostel was in the middle of the old walled city whose eastern edge appears  at left.

Its station was also pleasantly unhurried, and I found my way to the Tanisha easily. It's a beautiful setup, though the rooms are a bit small. I noticed that there was an unplugged a/c in the room and enquired about paying for it to be plugged in. Done, and it's now much more likely that I'll get a decent sleep tonight.


The staff here are different. The woman who runs the place is friendly, but seems a little overworked. It took an hour for her offer of a black tea on my arrival to be delivered on. And I eventually had to go out and get the Sprite that I'd asked for from a kiosk. On the other hand, she cooked a delightful meal and had me and a French couple downstairs in the family area to eat it. I wasn't looking forward to this forced socialisation, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable. I indicated to the couple that I knew enough French to get along with, but they politely continued in English. 


Looking down from the mezzanine onto the open dining and seating area






Fine sleep last night in the a/c room, though Indian a/c does tend to be a bit on the hurricane side with lots of noise and wind. I woke up just about in time for the 9am breakfast I'd requested. Omelette, toast, muesli w/ yoghurt, and coffee. The muesli thing looked like a bit of a home-made creation, and it was covered in sugar and fruit seeds (pomegranates, I think.) Being a philistine, I prefer the stuff out of a box.


Walked out to the Junagarh Fort, and had no difficulty, despite the fact that the map was resistant to updating my position, so I had to rely upon looking where I was going. Before I went in I stopped at Gallops cafe - recommended by the book - for possibly the least interesting cheese and tomato sandwich ever eaten. The fort itself was large and had some interesting rooms, but it was pretty ordinary overall. Certainly nothing like as impressive as the Jodhpur fort in all its finery. One oddity was a 'restored' DeHavilland monoplane. The notice made proud mention of the fact that the work had been done by local craftsmen, but the wings had apparently just been wrapped with duct tape, and there were bits missing all over it. This all goes to confirm my verdict of India as the land of the almost-done. On the other hand, there were some interesting memoirs of hunting trips during the Raj. One of these mentioned the shooting of over 10,000 sand grouse in one spot. That doesn't impress me; and nor do the pictures of proud hunters of tiny antelope standing over the carcasses of their harmless prey.


I got a little bit lost on the way back. I blame the overcast sky which gave me no sense of where the sun was. Also, the GPS wasn't updating very regularly with the iPad, so I never got to check my position. Also, the streets are all so narrow that one can't see any landmarks. Nevertheless, I did manage to get back to the fort, and took the opportunity for a quick beer at the Metro Palace Bar just across the road in a basement. I may have to lay off the beer a bit, this is the 4th in 3 days. I'm just not used to this decadent lifestyle.


I also took the hostess' advice and visited the Lakshmi temple and the Bhandeshwar temple, but neither of these were at all interesting. Much more interesting is the view from the rooftop in the evening, because the sky is absolutely full of kites, there must be hundreds of them flying. It's a shame that a photo can't really capture the flavour of that.


In the evening I got talking to the Indian party who are also staying here. It turns out they are a bunch of architects working for the government on a heritage plan for Bikaner . One of the older ladies in the group started the conversation, possibly just out of politeness, but when I showed myself interested in their problems one of the other guys took over the chat in an excess of enthusiasm. It's nice to hear people who are enthused about their work and think it's important. We talked about balancing the need for modernisation and usefulness against the desirability of preservation of old structures - and how that becomes a struggle between outsiders' abstract desires and insiders' practical requirements. He noted that as a Bengali from Calcutta , he is very much a foreigner here. We also talked about how the old structures were designed to function in a certain social milieu - in particular, with an extended family - and how that design did not work for the changing demographic and modernising middle classes. I suggested that something had to be done about the traffic in old towns where the roads are narrow, and I gave my idea that only larger roads should be two way but they should have a system of one-way streets from these. The trick then would be to get Indian drivers to cooperate. We all laughed about the dreadful drivers and their incessant honking here. (I thought it was the same everywhere, but apparently not!) Anyway, that was a fun long chat.


Architectural features of Bikaner Palace (Junagarh)
Mighty fancy for a doorway






Had a big breakfast and paid the bill. In fact, she gave me 200r off because I only had just enough to pay cash and she wanted to leave me enough to pay for transport to and from the train. I did tell her last night that I only had 4000r (really, 4165) and asked whether that would be enough. She said yes at that time, so perhaps she felt a bit like it was her mistake when it totalled 4015. Still, I could have just gone to an ATM: I had plenty of time. She also gave me a little bottle of coke to drink on the way. Very nice lady, I must mention her many kindnesses when I do my reviews.


The train trip was quite good, since it really was an a/c coach. In fact, I even felt a bit cold! Pillows and sheets were distributed and were welcome. Again, it was pretty uncrowded: most of the way there were only two of us in my 4-berth section. 


Arrived back in DELHI


Since I hadn't been too impressed with previous hostel, I went to the Ajanta hotel where I'd been quite content 10 years ago. I remembered it as being well (enough) run, having most conveniences, a decent restaurant, and it is handy to everything. It is a bit odd though. The reception and restaurant downstairs are well-presented, but the corridors are musty and messy with old furniture and junk piled about the place. The rooftop restaurant is not in use and looks more like a building site. My room, on the other hand, is just beautiful. It's got a minibar and a kettle and snacks and a safe and is really very nicely put together. I had to get them to fix the a/c which leaked a pile of water over the TV when I started it, and I had to get them to show me how the TV works. Also, the wifi was a problem: it keeps freezing and I have to drop out and restart to move on - and that doesn't always work either. Also the access is one device per password, and it's only valid for 1 day at a time. Weird.


Good dinner downstairs, but no western meals. I hope that's not true for the breakfasts.







Bought a ticket for Amritsar-Delhi at the train station and then continued to walk down to Connaught Place . It's a good deal less hectic than Pahar Ganj and obviously a lot more upmarket. Wandered through some bookshops and had a small but pleasant lunch at Zen - which cost R1000! 


Looked at the Jantar Mantar just south of here, which is really not a patch on Jai Singh's other J M in Jaipur. 


Walked back via a Starbucks.


At the Jantar Mantar in Delhi






Checked out the Metro system, which is amazingly well organized. There is a branch dedicated to the airport which I had a look at, but I forgot to find out which terminal it goes to. I suspect 3, since that's the brand new one used by international and domestic, but I can find out tomorrow I suppose.


Click to enlarge

Rode the yellow line down to Qutb Minar and walked to the scenic spot. Feeling the heat a bit and picked up a rather inconvenient hanger-on who wanted to walk around with me and lead me to various places. I wasn't being led anywhere thanks, but I did wish he would go away. And in fact, I now realise that he so distracted me that I didn't see the iron pillar - which was the very thing that I had most wanted to see here! That is most annoying.


Plan of the architectural complex of the Qutb Minar, one of the earliest mosque complexes in India. It was built in about 1192.
The actual Qutb Minar
Carving at the Qutb complex 
Fancy brickwork in the Quwwat ul-Islam mosque
A 'gypsy' encampment near the Qutb park site. Nobody was around. I guess they were all busy stealing.

I thought I'd look at the archaeological park afterwards, but it turned out to be much more like a tip than a park, so I gave that up and walked back to the metro station. On the way back there was an unpleasant episode with a young guy who first talked to me normally, discussed his job in IT, and then asked a propos of nothing whether I liked boys. No. Why not? Hmm. You want I should blow you? F**k off, c**t. Ok, mister.









Took the day off and stayed at the hotel all day. This is partly just because a rest is good, and partly because there's not much else I need to see in Delhi , but mostly because I wasn't feeling 100% yesterday and a recovery was in order. I'd had sneezes, a lot of nose dribble, and a sore throat from clearing it. I took an antihistamine and a throat lozenge and left the a/c off overnight. I'm feeling a bit better now, but the throat will doubtless take a while to get better. 


Yesterday I'd mentioned to the girl occasionally on the desk that I preferred muesli and yoghurt for breakfast and she'd said they could do that if I wanted, but I said I didn't need to cause a fuss. This morning the waiter (one of the competent ones) offered it to me for b/f, so she must have told him about my preference in particular. I find that quite impressive.


The Internet was more regularly usable than usual, so I got a few things done. For example, I got some email, and I bought Charles Allen's 'Plain Tales from the Raj' for kindle for $11. I've been reading that a bit, and I was struck by a passage in Philip Mason's "Introduction." To whit:


Aldous Huxley, on a tourist’s visit, noticed that many of the inhabitants of India might have sat as models for the old man of Thermopylae who never did anything properly. And in a sense it was by doing things properly –more often at least than most Indians –that the British had established themselves in India and that so few ruled so many with so slight a use of overt force.

This observation concerning Indian levels of performance is strikingly similar to something I just wrote in a letter to Deb: "The disorganization and half-assedness of this country really gets me down. Finish a building for God's sake; use a rubbish bin; drive as if there are some rules; do your damn job." (And see also comments I made on 4/5 and 5/5.)







Very impressed by the metro out to the airport: clean, unhurried, civilised, and only took about 25 minutes. If I'd been on Air India I could have done my check-in at the deserted check-in counter of the NDTS Metro station. For future reference, approach the metro from the South side or you risk getting caught up in the queue for the Yellow line. Go straight to the elevator to the level C (concourse.) Plenty of signs in the airport, so no confusion there; and it wasn't even a very long walk to the gate. Plenty of shops too, though the  Costa Coffee place charged me R250 for a caramel flat white! That's three times what a good restaurant cafe charges. Airport gouging.


I noticed also looking out the train windows that the neighbourhoods out here looked a lot better than any of the ones that I'd seen so far. It might be worth having a look around out here on my last days. Certainly it might be better to get a hotel closer to the airport: I can't think of any good reason to go into the main city again.


In any case, the flight to SRINAGAR was good. And now here I am in the Vale of Kashmir. Such romance!

It's a shame that the beauty and charm of the area is not mirrored in the politics. There has been a recent flare up of sectarian tensions, which the NZ and Oz government travel sites rewarded with a red flag, but I hope they're being excessively cautious.  There was certainly abundant security at and around the airport (I was going to say excessive, but I don't know that at all.) I had to fill in a foreign visitor registration form and the streets were really swarming with armed soldiers. I noticed that the road to the airport had 2 checkpoints on it. 


The general layout of the area. 
My houseoat was moored on the Nagin lake - a fair way out of town, which was a blessing

Once out of the airport building, I found my driver and went off to the houseboat Lily of Nageen. It's a large boat with a dining room, sitting room, outside lounging area, and 2 large bedrooms. Very comfortable; and there's a chap, Shamir, who is constantly on call for the convenience of the guests. You can ask him to bring water or tea and biscuits (all free) at any time. The owner, Nabi, is also usually here, and is if anything a bit too helpful. He's going to try to get me on tours and things.


Bedroom (note the ensuite)
Dining room
Sitting room and outside seats

There's an older couple in the other room whom I met when I had my tea on the cushions. Ayub and Mike. Ayub is an Indian by ancestry from Zimbabwe , UK , and now NZ. He's been teaching English in various cities in China for the last couple of years. Mike is a retired dentist from Christchurch . They were a pleasant pair, and I enjoyed chatting to them over dinner. Dinner itself was pretty good too: fish curry, vegetables, a salad thing that they do, and plenty of rice. Bananas for dessert.







Saw off my two brief companions this morning. They're away to Jaipur, I think - and I've given them fair warning about the heat. I'll miss the conversation, but it's nice to have the whole boat to myself.

In the morning I went for a 1 hour shikara ride, which was pretty good, but the lake is rather weed clogged, and there's a lot of rubbish floating around. I would have thought they'd take more care of this as a major tourist attraction, but I guess not. The boatman was a bit annoying: he was still taking me away after 3/4 of an hour and I'd had to remind him a couple of times that I was only paying for 1 hour. He also proposed I should pay 800 for the trip, whereas I had understood it was to be 500. When we got back I gave him 600, and I still felt a bit annoyed. Honestly, it seems like nothing can be done without an argument or a fight or a dispute of some kind.


In a shikara on the lake passing the Lily

In the afternoon I took Nabi's advice and walked around the lake to Shalimar Bagh. That took 2 hours. I'm a bit puzzled why he thought it was worth doing. When I got there it was a very unimpressive place. Just a garden, not much different from the one just beside the houseboat. And full of people. The foreshore road was hot and swarming with sand flies, so that was a bit unpleasant; and the road to the garden was a ruin with a stinking canal thing in the middle of it. It was difficult to breathe along it. On the way back I took a tuktuk and that was much better.


A view of far pavilions






Went with a driver and a guide to Naranag and then walked for about 4 hours (11:30-15:30) along a pretty good path most of the way. Some of it pretty slippery though. This was not at all what I was expecting, since I'd told Nabi over and over that I didn't want to do anything strenuous; I was just here to rest and relax. He said ok, ok, and suggested this to have a look at old temples and some walking in forest. Well, the guide arrived with a day pack, boots, and walking poles. What's in the pack? I asked. Raincoat, because it may rain. Of course, I had nothing but basically street clothes and my shoulder carry bag. I was quite unprepared for the actual walk.


And, of course, it did start raining. We were about an hour into the walk when it really started coming down quite heavily. after sheltering for a while under some trees, the guide decided that we had to go and try to get some shelter from a tent that we'd seen on the way. I thought that was pretty cheeky, but it seemed to be acceptable to the tent folk. Inside we found two English girls (Edinburgh Uni: one Anthropology, one Art History) and I had quite a nice little chat with them. 


We didn't move too far beyond that even when we left the tent. Another 30 mins or so walking, but it was all much the same sort of thing. Impressive, but just natural scenery. So, we walked back. 


On the way back we made two more detours. One was to look inside a gypsy hut where the lady was doing some cooking. These huts are basically squares cut into the earth of a slope, built up with fitted but not mortared rocks, and roofed with turves which merge into the slope on the upper side, so that horses and goats and sheep naturally graze on them. They actually look pretty cosy, but I bet they're not. And I learn from my guidebook that they aren't really gypsies but a people called Gajur. The guide explained the way they moved from summer to winter pastures with their flocks, which is transhumance, and not semi-nomadism as the guidebook calls it.


The other stop was to inspect a sort of mass of snow/ice covered with dirt that extended down a slope to the river, which rushed under it. The dirt apparently keeps the snow from melting in the sun. I thought that was quite interesting. 


I was pleased not to slip over during all this walk, though there were a couple of slides. I was also pleased that I could estimate the actual age of the temple ruins that we saw at the very start of the walk. The guide said 'some people say is 3000 years old, from time of Mahabharata!' And I said, 'Hmm. I don't think so.' He asked me how old I thought it was and I said no more than about 1500. Yes, he said, that's about right. It's an early Shiva temple with an obvious Śivalingam - which we looked at. In fact, my guidebook says its 8th century, so yes, my maximum estimated age was just 2 centuries more than it was.


Ruins at the head of the Naranag track

The river in spate
Gajur cottages

I've been moved into a different boat for a couple of days to make room for a family booking - I'd agreed to this out of an excess of amiability. I hope I won't regret it because I've already had to go back to the Lily to insist that he bring over a dongle to make the wifi accessible. Still, it's pretty nice, and I'm here again by myself, which I like.







Well, the dongle must have arrived last night. It worked for about an hour and then continually returned the 'server failed to respond' message. I've become very familiar with this message over the last few weeks. The old man of Thermopylae strikes again.

After 1 I walked into the new town and Dalgate. That was pretty straightforward, but not a very attractive or scenic walk. As I was walking today it occurred to me that Kashmir and Srinagar in particular are potentially very rich and beautiful areas that have been devastated by the uselessness of the populations that have landed here. I think that if it had been empty and discovered by the British in the XIXth C it could have turned into another New Zealand . But these are useless fantasies that barely make any counterfactual sense.

The Boulevard and the rows of houseboats that face it were impressive in one way, but unimpressive in another. There was a degree of beauty, but by comparison with some place like Venice it was definitely spoiled by the slum-like setting and the behaviour of the boat touts, which frankly was tedious to a degree that remind me of the painfulness of walking along the corniche at Luxor or Cairo.

A view of the lake
The Boulevard. 
(You know, it's not really a boulevard.)

When I got to the end of the famous Boulevard I crossed over to a rather nice bookshop/restaurant/cafe. The crossing was tedious both ways as the boatman took the opportunity of the 1 minute and R20 ride to pester me about a R500 tour and other things. However, never mind that, because In that bookshop cafe I found these two long sought after books for sale

  • Hujwiri (tr. RA Nicholson) 'Revelation of the Mystery' (Kashf al-Mahjub) R2195
  • Arabi (tr. Chittick/Morris) 'the Meccan Revelations' (Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyah) R1795

I'll need to look for Gulshan Books (2015) editions of these online when I get home, since I can't transport them with me while travelling. Still, it's good to know they're out there. I also took the business cards of the place so I can get in touch with them if there's no other way to get these books.


For some reason Gulam Nabi took me out to dinner. It was just to a little restaurant across the road, but I suppose it was nice. I just wish he'd leave me alone actually. 

While I was back at the Lily after dinner, and chatting to one of the group who were staying there, GN came back with the dongle and said it was now working. He seemed upset when I plugged it in in the lounge and tested it. Apparently he thought I should just believe him and ignore the long series of balls-ups preceding. Anyway, it does work for the moment.


Also in the houseboat tonight is a young Indian guy (an undergraduate) who has just been attending a conference of the Indian Astronomical Society at Kashmir University . We had a good old natter when I learned that. Apparently the big theme was the fact of the discovery of gravitational waves, but I wanted more to talk about the explosion of exoplanet discoveries and what that meant for the prospects of life and intelligence in the universe. It was fun to talk to someone who had informed opinions about this stuff!







I moved back to the Lily today after breakfast. Today I had designated as a day of rest, and I did nothing except read Leon Uris's 'Haj' which seems to deal with much the same events as his 'Exodus' except from an Arab perspective.

In the afternoon I learned that Shamir, who had been acting as the factotum here, had been let go. Apparently he had been spinning fallacious hard luck stories to some of the other guests who had been giving him money. He came unstuck when they wrote complaining to GN about the harsh treatment he'd been receiving. So that's the end of Shamir.

It's been raining hard this evening too. Apparently it came down in absolute buckets the day I went for the hike. 







The rain last night left a pleasant clear air in the morning. I breakfasted, read for a bit, and then went out to get money from the ATM to pay the bill. That was more of a chore than it should have been since the first two machines were low on cash and then I had to get 10000 at a time from the next three machines. It turns out I could have just reinserted the card twice in the same machine, but the machines were all pretty close together - near the entrance to Kashmir University - so it didn't make much difference. 


GN came and we worked out the bill, 20520 + 5x350 (dinners) + 6x200 (breakfasts) + 3000 (driver, guide, car). He pretended to be worse at maths than he was - funny how the errors always go in the one direction - and began by asking for 33000. I just laughed and got out my calculator. I think he's going to try to get money for the airport pickup, but there was no mention of a charge for that before I arrived - in fact, I just looked up the emails, and it is described as a complimentary service.

In the afternoon I walked to the floating gardens, or close enough. It's an interesting arrangement of half paths and bridges through the islands and marshes of the edge of the Dal lake. People have made their houses in there in a manner reminiscent of the ancient Venetians. It's quite a maze, with many paths that eventually peter out in a bog, or someone's yard, or a bridge that hasn't quite the energy to get across the lake, and so on. I could have walked around in there all afternoon, but if you've seen a bit of this you've seen enough, I think. 

A boatman considers the way forward






Well, today was supposed to be a relatively easy day of travelling by air to Amritsar, but it turned out to be extremely tedious. It began ok with breakfast and the taxi turning up on time, slightly marred by GN's insistence that I wanted to give a tip or something to the cook. Since I only had R500 notes, that's what I gave her, but frankly, why I'm supposed to pay for a meal and then tip the cook is beyond me.


The taxi driver was surprised when I paid him, because GN hadn't told him I would; he thought I'd paid already. Also, GN apparently thought I was leaving at 10:20, despite my having said repeatedly - at least half a dozen times - that the plane was to leave at 12:20. Thus we arrived with about 4 hours to wait: there was no difficulty with traffic at all. 


I will remember Srinagar airport as one of the most ridiculous places since Athens . First, we had to wait outside in queues for different airlines until the check-in counters were open for the flights. Then we went through at least 6 security checks. I was told that I couldn't take carry-on luggage, so the bag had to be checked in; then I had to identify it after another security check. In one of these, the bags went through the the scanner, and then we had to walk miles around the other queues to pick them up from the pile into which they been dumped. I call *that* insecure. There was no indication of which gate I was supposed to be waiting by, so eventually I asked someone. Luckily, they pointed at the escalator while suggesting the likely gate, because there was no sign to say where the gates were. So, I sat up there looking at the one, unobvious, screen, waiting for something to be said about my flight. First it was delayed 1 hour. Then it was delayed two hours. They offered us refreshments, and insisted that I stand in the line to get these. Then they ran out of refreshments and we'd all have to wait for more. I went back to watch the screen. Then my flight disappeared off the screen altogether, so I went back to a gate where they were boarding some flight and insisted that they tell me where my flight was boarding. Apparently it was downstairs. There had been no announcement, just a word of mouth - but, naturally, not in English. The plane eventually took off 2:30 late. I began to worry about my connection and what would happen to my checked-through bag.


When we got to Delhi , I was put in the care of some guy to rush me through the transfer process. This was also ridiculous, because we had to walk so far that if I'd done it in the normal way, I'm pretty sure it would have taken the full two hours between the originally scheduled flights. As it was, cutting through lines and actually running from the departures lobby to Gate 8A, it took about 30 minutes, at the end of which I was sweating and uncomfortable. That plane then took off about 30 minutes late.


And so I got to AMRITSAR


I braced myself for the loss of my luggage, which I was sure would happen; but no, it had arrived, covered with all sorts of security and directional stickers. I went outside to see if the airport pickup had eventuated. Of course, it hadn't. I tried to ring the hotel, but there was no connection. I learned at the hotel that they had no note of a pickup request, and that the phone number was not known to them. So, I took a pre-paid taxi ride into town, which turned out to be R200 cheaper than the hotel offer anyway. On the other hand the driver was the worst, stupidest, rudest moron I had yet come across. He had his hand pointlessly on the horn almost continuously. He ran into a motorcyclist's leg, and he almost ran over his friend at the garage (where he stopped to put air in his tyres - they were at 11-15kPa! and he filled them to 35. My tyres are 28 and 32, so I suspect his were seriously under- and then over-inflated.) He was in fact a bloody menace on the road, and I was actually worried a lot of the time that he was going to hurt someone. When he got to the hotel he tried to charge me extra for a parking tax, but I pretended I couldn't understand him and asked the very large doorman at the hotel if he could help to interpret for me: well, the doorman just basically told the driver to push off. What a jerk.

Pleased to be in the hotel, and it's a nice one. Dinner was good, and so was the hot shower.


My hotel was almost exactly in the centre of this map






Unfortunately, this is the worst city yet for disordered infrastructure. Perhaps it's just the areas around the main tourist spots that are affected, but it seems that there is roadwork going on everywhere. To go from my hotel to the Golden Temple I have to walk out onto an unsealed road and through an actual building site where we pedestrians had to shuffle across a pile of gravel in single file; as I walked up the road I found that they were also being resurfaced, and I was nearly run into by some large yellow road building machine. I did get knocked into by a motorcyclist, which makes me think that the drivers here are a lot worse even than the Delhi drivers.


My first visit was to Gurudwara Shri Santokhshara Sahib: rather a large pool filled with carp, where Sikhs gather to sleep, bathe, and pray in the upstairs temple. I had a look in but I wasn't too keen on going inside, not knowing the protocols that apply here. I'd already had my shoes taken and been supplied with a beautiful lady's headscarf. This was quite interesting, but the marble was scorchingly hot and produced a blinding glare. In fact the sun all over was very harsh and I actually wore my sunnies, which I'd been avoiding since it doesn't seem to be a very common accessory in India .


I'd gone through the little Tahali Sahib bazaar to visit this basically because I mistook it for the Golden Temple on my guidebook map. A silly error, but with a good result. Anyway, it was an easy walk (by distance and direction, I have commented on the traffic already) back in the right direction to Jallianwala Bagh and the GT. 


The JB was rather a well constructed and organised garden to memorialise the massacre there in 1919 of ~400 unarmed protestors by General Dyer. The Indians make a big deal of this because they don't really have much to complain of concerning the British manner of rule, and it certainly provided a rallying cry for their nascent nationalist movements. They like to tell how it was an unprovoked attack on a peacefully protesting crowd, but as I recollect it the story is a little more nuanced than that. The situation at the time was extremely tense, and protests and communal violence were being encouraged by local leaders in order to make the area ungovernable for some political purpose. These 'peaceful' protests invariably became riots and a curfew had been declared. When Dyer found another gathering occurring in defiance of the curfew he considered that it was a direct challenge to imperial rule and reacted accordingly. There was no warning given, but that's the nature of a curfew. It is typical of the Indian leaders that they gave so little thought to the consequences of their calls to action on the part of the youth and masses.


On a related note, Tagore's open letter to the viceroy renouncing his knighthood in response to the massacre is displayed in the memorial room. I have to say that it is not a very impressive piece of writing: far too flowery and roundabout to make the real impact that something more direct could have done. Still, it was nice of an elite Bengali to put himself in solidarity with the suffering masses of the Punjab ; it's not a common condition.


Shrubbery of menace and doom at the Jallianwalla Bagh

To the GT, and what a mass of people. There are 9-10 shoe storage windows where you can exchange your shoes for a token; and really this is the biggest mass of religiously unshod people I have ever been a part of. When I got to the actual entrance over more blinding and scorching marble I found that God also wanted me to have a hanky on my head. Luckily, the picturesque purple-coated, spear-bearing guard was able to oblige me with an attractive yellow thing. (I recollect that at the Western Wall of Jerusalem God directed me to wear a paper plate on my head. Out of respect you understand.) I walked around the pool (the 'pool of nectar' = 'amrit sarovar',) where people were bathing to get the healing benefits from this spiritual water, but it wasn't that interesting. Eventually I found myself in a pushing mob heading into the GT itself. This took at least an hour, but thankfully the lines were under cover and fans were blowing on us. At the very end the temple itself was rather odd. There was no apparent service or room for such, it was just a set of small rooms in which a few people were able to pray and there were a couple of really big books that a cleric was guarding. Presumably, the one on the second floor was the famous Guru Granth Sahib, but it wasn't specially marked.


The Golden Temple

In the heat outside the temple I spied a Macca's, which promised air conditioned coolness, edible food, and drinkable coffee. I spent a pleasant hour in there recovering and then went back to my hotel - also quite an oasis in this desert heat.







A long day in the train - 8 hours - but no great difficulties. The only remarkable thing is that I left my glasses on the train and I'll probably try to find a new pair tomorrow. Luckily, I only need magnifying glasses (x2.5) so they're pretty cheap. In fact, I find that I'm able to get along ok without them, as long as I'm able to give myself time for the eyes to focus on things that are near. It's a pain, but not much of one.


Anyway, I'm back in DELHI


I went back to the Ajanta - it's my favourite hotel now. The room they've given me is even better than the last one; it has a balcony with a large egg-lounger. I think it may be a little warm for lying around outside though - I think the temperature when I got here was about 44C.


Best hotel yet






Took the rare opportunity of wifi availability in the early morning to read and reply to some emails, and to check the online ticket for the flight home for times and termini. All good. If I walk out of here at 8:30 tomorrow morning I should get to the airport at about 9:45 for my 11:50 flight.


Another appallingly hot day today. Somewhere near 48C I think. Being outside is like standing in front of the oven with the door open. I went down to Connaught place again, since I know I can find decent shops and also decent refreshments there. Hunted around for a bit looking for a scarf for Deb, as requested. Eventually found a good one for just R480. Going into that shop was just about the only way I could shake off some kid who'd attached himself to me and wanted to walk and talk, but mostly to get me to go into the underground market. Eventually I did go in just to see what was there. There was nothing; just junk shops. After I bought the scarf I went next door to Dunkin' Donuts for a snack and a drink, which was good, but the kid reacquired me almost as soon as I was back on the street. This time I told him I'd had enough and he could go away now. 


Back to the hotel and spent time in the room. I lost count of the number of power interruptions. I don't know how an economy can survive under these conditions.







Easy stages. Had a pleasant first stage since I was placed in the first row past the wall. I had miles of leg room and could really stretch out. There was a bit of a hold up in Guangzhou as the flight was delayed for 1:45 until 23:00 because of weather. Had a coffee and failed to understand how to make the free wifi work. At least the service is better this time than it was in all previous visits, when I wrote this place off as a disaster.


Otherwise, no drama; and I easily got back to the Gold Coast