Tuesday 7 July 2020

1986 India III: Jaipur, Udaipur

5.11.86 Delhi

Guy Fawkes' day, and here I am about to leave Kashmir.  As ever, I got to the Tourist Office early for the bus.  But it was no penance to sit out in the early sun, looking at the mountains swathed in haze, or the huge autumnal trees.  The ride out to the airport was uneventful, but did at least bring us close to one of the other girdling walls of the Kashmir vale.  Craggy snow-capped mountains broke through the mist.  Srinagar airport is unspectacular.  The security precautions were.  And with reason: we were to stop off in Amritsar.  I suspect the arrival of the Indian Prime Minister in Srinagar tomorrow may also have added to the situation.

First, we had to show our tickets to get in.  Then we checked in.  Then we were searched in various ways.  The standard X-ray machines and detector, emptying of pockets, explosive detector, and then full rummaging of hand luggage.  To get outside we showed our boundary pass.  Then we had to leave our hand luggage, identify our checked-in luggage.  We were frisked again, and finally allowed on the plane.  Armed men were visible everywhere.  Very impressive.

So was the flight.  As we reared up above the haze level, the Himalayas to the east bared their fangs at us.  Hundreds of miles of glinting, jagged stone, powdered with snow.  They looked like freshly-chipped flints.  It was a huge frozen sea of sharp rocks.  Behind us, the imperious peak of Nanga Parbat – 26,660 feet high – stood out in splendid isolation.  Nun Kun – a mere 23,410 feet – was visible to the left.  

Apart from the rugged beauty of them, it was the scale – the sheer extent of them.  Not just one or two, but hundreds of peaks.  Below us, the valley was mapped out in rivers and fields.  It all looked so peaceful.  Again, the Vale of Kashmir seemed a ridiculous miracle.  I felt that I had been right to go in by land: it felt as if I had achieved Kashmir.  Similarly, it was right to fly out: there was no unwinding of the magic.  Just an enchanted carpet flight away, with the memory untouched.

The contrast of the plain with the hills was startling.  Hundreds of miles of utter flatness.  The relentlessness was made worse by the regular division of the land up into neat squares: the whole thing looked like a crazed Mondrian, or Klee – but in drab, washed-out colours.  Only the huge snaking rivers cut across everything.  Together with the crumbled aggregations of houses that were towns.

After we flew out of Amritsar – after yet more rigours of emptying all the overhead compartments – we flew over that troubled city.  I could clearly make out the Golden Temple in its lake.  Pity I couldn't visit it.  Arriving back at New Delhi, into the liquid heat, was like coming home.  First the Ex-servicemen's bus, then the journey back along Janpath.  I am staying at the Imperial.  Its room are 18 feet high, and huge.  I am sitting at an escritoire, with a fridge, and three-piece suite.  Everything is very comme il faut.  Up betimes tomorrow: 4am.  Aaargh.

6.11.86 Jaipur

Yep, sure was.  I like large echoing hotels early morning.  They are mine.  As are the streets of Delhi.  To Old Delhi station.  As we approach it, passing through the older parts of the town, the streets begin to bustle.  The station itself is quite grand; inside it has 19 tracks, of varying gauges.  The Pink Express to Jaipur is a one-metre gauge: slow and wobbly.

There is something rather sybaritic in flying from Kashmir yesterday, bogging into a five-star hotel, then legging it off on the train into Rajasthan to another five-star hotel. Apart from the appalling hour, I do not feel tired – not in the saggy, weary, drenched way I used to get.  The secret is certainly money (and I have just finished Amis' Money – for me he is now the Amis – and a force to be reckoned with): don't compromise, travel first class, call room service, get your laundry done.

The train journey is about the right length: long enough to give a sense of distance, not too long that it becomes a huge bore.  One problem is the smuts.  I presume we have a real, live steam engine up front. As a result, gouts of smoke and dirt come through the unshuttable windows.  At the end of the journey, I am covered in it.  The land from Delhi to Jaipur is, as ever, totally flat.  Except for a few rocky hills, looking like bleached, prehistoric whales.  The sun is surprisingly slow in climbing above the mists; when it does come, the light hardens and the shadows deepen.

Eventually, we achieve Jaipur, or rather its outskirts, which linger on and on.  Jaipur Junction: so very Raj.  A big crush of people: I am almost tempted to hire a porter, but resist.  A rickshaw tout gets me: his fee sounds reasonable, we walk to his motorcycle.  A curious thing happens along the way: as great lump of a lout comes up and wallops this kid – late teens, say – about the head a couple of times.  He scoots off without protest.  I ask him what is up: he admits that rickshaw touts are not allowed in the station, accepts his cuffing as meet punishment, the quid pro quo.

To the Welcom Maringh, a pink edifice in this pink city.  I swan in and book without even asking the price. The room is acceptable, one plus, one minus.  The plus is the piped Indian music -  I am writing this to a sequence of shortish ragas – on the sarangi or sarod, I think.  The downside is that the luggage rack has a cunningly-placed shelf above it: I have now whacked myself twice, painfully.  These Indians are small, obviously – as testified by the low ceilings and doorways of the palaces.  I also whacked my head in one of those today as well.

This was the Hawa Mahal – the Palace of the Winds.  To get there, we passed through the massive pink walls, passed along the seemingly interminable Tiralia Bazaar.  A new element I'd noticed from the train: camels.  I don't think I've been this near to camels before; they look simultaneously pitiable and ridiculous.  Their feet in particular: great shaggy carpet slippers flopping along the road.  Their great stupid eyes with Cindy doll eyelashes; their risible knees, all knobbles, and even worse when sitting down.  They add a new factor to the traffic of bikes, rickshaws et al.: they slow it down even more than bullock carts. Jaipur is also unusual in having newer, bigger motorised rickshaws, as well as bigger motorbike buses.  These are typically Indian: an Enfield with half a bus tacked on the back, holding ten people.  

The Hawa Mahal is a front, designed for ladies of the harem to have a butchers at the bustle below.  Externally it looks like a wall covering from the Royal Festival Hall, or Barbican.  Inside, there is very little – a courtyard, some steps, a few small chambers – hence the bumped head.  Everything is pink.  The view is quite interesting.  Along Johri bazaar, a huge glitter of bikes.  There must be 100 million in India.  I hadn't quite grasped the central importance of bikes.  The bazaars themselves are wide - 18th-century town planning for you – with a unity of design that is quite unusual.   Otherwise the same unbelievable micro economy: I saw two stalls which were selling nothing except battered old battery torches.  People stood on the street with a handful of blotchy apples.  There are more beggars here than I've seen elsewhere, including some lepers with nasty looking injuries.

I walked down Johri bazaar, out through Sanganeri gate towards the zoo.  Then to the museum.  Wonderfully fossilised from Raj times: collections of Mughal paintings mixed with early East India Company stamps, line point drawings of Italian masters, collections of rocks presented by German institutes, national costume, patterns, model animals.  It was the first museum I'd been in with pigeons flying around.  Lots of Indians there, sort of mooning around.  I'm not sure what they made of the faded inscriptions in copper plate.

Foolishly – will I never learn? - I decide to walk back along Mirza Ismail Marg.  Although this is supposedly the main new town street it is indistinguishable from any other.  Like them, it is very long – a good mile and a half.  It is this scale – not the country, but the towns – which gets me.  They just go on for every, and there's nothing there.  I suppose you've got to put 750 million people somewhere.

7.11.86  Jaipur

An unsatisfactory day.  After a rip-off breakfast – 9 Rs. for two pieces of toast – I went in to look at the Palace.  This was a bit tame – nothing spectacular at all.  The first courtyard was large with a number of quite gracious trees.  In the middle was a building housing fabrics and such-like.  Off to one side there was the armoury – very impressive if you're into that sort of thing, I'm sure; certainly a testament to the warlike Rajasthan.  But I dislike guns – the "great equalisers".  Through an archway flanked by two splendid stone elephants.  The courtyard inside was sparer.  In the middle was the public Diwan, chiefly notable for two huge water urns.  Being a devout Hindu, the Maharajah was unable to drink the water when he came to England – the irony – so he brought his own.  So far as I could tell, both he and the Maharani still live in the palace, abutting on to the so-called peacock court.  This had splendid tiled doorways.

Then back to the hotel where I had to clear my room by noon.  I could have stayed until 6pm – for an extra £15; but my feelings toward the hotel were such that I was unwilling to put any more money their way.  So I sat around in the courtyard – the only place that got the sun – reading Mailer's Ancient Evenings.  

I got to the station early to try to fix up my berth.  As ever, the scene was noisy, dirty and bustling.  More troops around – Nepalese judging by their oriental looks.  My train was 40 minutes late, so it was soon time to go to sleep.  I was sharing a compartment with a family of five daughters – all young.  By night this was OK; but the next morning…

8.11.86 Udaipur

I woke up several times during the night.  I was cold and the berth was hard and uncomfortable.  Indians when they travel come well-prepared with sleeping bags and pillows.  But my biggest mistake was underestimating how cold it would get.  By morning I was aching everywhere.  Things were not helped by the little girls.  They had woken up, and proceeded to squeal and cry for the next four hours.  My head was splitting; by the end, I think I would gladly have split theirs.

I knew this was going to be a bad day.  I got to the Laxmi Vila Palace Hotel – full up; then Anand Hotel – also full, though I got the distinct impression he was lying.  The Hill Top also didn't want to know, so I ended up at Lakend Hotel (sic).  Afterwards, I wondered whether my bedraggled appearance may have counted against me: my trousers were stained and dirty, my jacket grubby.  Still, I was feeling in no fit state to argue or look further.  Lakend Hotel it was.

This is very nicely situated looking out at the wrong lake – that is, not the main one.  This is fine, except that inevitably there are lots of mosquitoes.  Worse, my room was on the first floor – too low – and as I subsequently found out, not only did not have air-con, but had gaping hole where the air-con had been.  I could close some windows in front of this, but there were more gaps you could have driven a bug through.

All in all, things were pretty bloody.  I felt awful, the room was 'orrible, and I stood a fair chance of getting eaten to death by mosquitoes.  I noticed in fact that I had been bitten twice anyway, one on each wrist: was I suffering from malaria already?

Trusting to my body, I decided to go to bed for an hour or two.  When I awoke, I tried to get some food, and pretty much failed.  I then went back to sleep for a couple more hours.  In the meantime, I had devised a strategy for dealing with the mosquitoes.  I would jam one of the blankets in the gap between the windows – I had already used a bit of cardboard to wedge them shut.  Then I would stay up fairly late and wait for such mosquitoes as were already in the room to be attracted to the light.  Then I would squidge them.  Another problem I had was lack of fly spray – I had wasted all on the houseboat in Srinagar.  So I had to use manual techniques of towel flicking.

It seemed to work.  A couple came out and were duly dispatched.  As I read on, no more emerged.  Parenthetically, Norman Mailer is proving a godsend.  It is real, unputdownable stuff – I was most surprised.  OK, so it's a rude version of Mary Renault, but it has vision, it has sweep – and it's 700 pages long – just what I need.

9.11.86  Udaipur

Another crazy day.  Most of the time I feel bloody awful.  But it has its compensations.  It puts the rest of the time into relief, and it's good to be reminded what minor misery is.  It also has a certain romantic charm.  As I look out of my window I see triangular hills recede into the distance with nicely stepped haze.  The ground is scrubby, like something out of Piero della Francesca.  With the water in front, I feel like a feverish captive in the Holy Land – or Lebanon, perhaps.  Flecker springs to mind.  The sunrises are beautiful here.  First there is lightening of the sky.  Then gradually the first pinkening of the distant hilltops.  This gradually creeps down on to the lake, a picture of tranquillity.

This morning I staggered down to the City Palace.  Sunday, so it was fully of natives and – kids.  I have decided I hate kids.  It was worth it, though.  This is easily the most impressive pile I've seen.  It is huge and rambling, and the architectural style is more jagged and textured.  There seems to be a very noticeable difference between here and further north.  There are various sections to the museum, the largest being devoted to relics of Rajasthan, and a lot of coloured glass for which the region is evidently famous. Looked pretty tacky to me.  Even the peacock court was rather ho-hum.  As for the weapons…

The best thing about this part of the town was the views out over the lake.  At last I saw the fabulous Lake Palace Hotel: it looked rather dull to me.  A three-storey building covering a small island, with one or two trees sticking out.  It gleamed nicely, though.  The other palace looked far more romantic.  The setting of all this is superb, with hills all around, some with walls along their crests.

There was a small museum of sculpture and inscriptions, which was quaint if only for its air of gentle decay.  It also had superb views over the lake.  The final part of the palace was the best.  It was a huge courtyard with a covered dais placed at one end in the middle.  Again, the architecture was much more interesting than Jaipur, say.  

I sat in the sun for a while.  It was amazing what difference a few hundred miles south meant.  The sun's heat felt heavy, a tangible pressure.  I then shuddered my way back through the heat.  But first I went to the Lake Palace Hotel, or at least the land-bound bit.  A boy at the gate assured me it had rooms; the smoothy on the desk assured me otherwise.  Again, I got the distinct impression somebody was telling me porky pies.  What is it? B.O.?

I spent most of the afternoon in bed, and went to bed early, wrapped in a t-shirt, shirt and pullover.  And sweat I certainly did.

10.11.86 and 11.11.86 Delhi

I wake at about 5am, then 6am.  As ever, I try to convince myself I feel much better.  Trying some of my stretching exercises convinces me otherwise.  After breakfast I sit out on the terrace by the lakeside.  It is beautiful – I must be feeling better.  

As well as what look like cormorants or shags or something, there are the most wonderfully-coloured kingfishers I have ever seen.  Their blues flash like lightning – and they're big too.  Just to complete the idyll, the local fishermen are out on the lake.  They ply huge long oars – quite why, I couldn't see at first.  Their nets are pyramidal: what they seem to do is hunt in packs.  They drive the fish into a huddle, using their long oars to beat the water.  Then they drop the nets down vertically, standing on them agilely to push them down.  There follows a lot of obscure poking around, after which they bring back their nets.  I saw a few fairly juicy fish caught in the net; presumably they share them.

Into town to the railway station.  I wanted to confirm my berth for the night, which had been telexed through from Delhi.  As I waited for ages amidst the hordes of Beelzebub's favourites, I could feel in my bones that something was going to be wrong.  And sure enough, come my turn, they couldn't find my name.  After much scrabbling around they did find it – for the 11th – that is, tomorrow.  Great: I had allowed one day's slippage, but I still have to confirm my air ticket.  I don't know whose fault it was – the Indrail ticket clearly says the 10th.  Anyway, I got heavy, saying how I had a flight to catch etc. etc. They said there were no berths, full up.  I hung around.  Eventually, I was asked round the back – usually a good sign.  And after ages sifting and sorting, they eventually came up with something.  I must say that I have never seen an Indian lose his or her temper, or act hot-headedly, apart from the policeman cuffing the boy.  Equally, it is clear that you must never lose your temper either.  

A glutton for punishment, I then went back to the Lake Palace Hotel to go across and have some coffee.  Except that they now had a sign up restricting visits to certain hours – and not now. It's a conspiracy.  Stuff them: who wants to visit a mere Lake Palace when you've stayed in a houseboat in Kashmir?  

To the train without more ado.  As usual, the delays and waiting around.  However, as usual, everything was neatly organised and posted up: names, ages, sex, and berth.  I have been most impressed throughout with this organisational ability.  Their trains my be slow – the so-called Cheetah Express I was about to board took a cool 21 hours to traverse 500 miles – but everything seems under control; even when things go wrong, they are confident of an answer.  Perhaps this is born of 3000 years of civilisation.

I am still feeling yurghish when I board the train.  However, tonight I will be wrapped up: two t-shirts, shirt, jumper and jacket.  My main concern is keeping everyone else awake.  To try to avoid this, I take an unwarranted step – and a paracetamol.  Nobody told me it would taste horrible.

I wake at 5.30am after a couple of coughing crises.  I have been sweating – like a pig – and the mozzies are squealing with blood lust.  I have also anointed myself with anti-mozzie salve – god knows if it does any good: not really testable, is it?  Unfortunately, on waking up, and daring to put my contact lens in – a major worry on dark, dirty, moving trains – breakfasting and generally settling down, there is still a good seven hours of journey left.  Outside the scenery is splendid, if rather monotonous – not entirely flat this time, though.

I finish Ancient Evenings: rather a disappointment.  Perhaps I prefer battles to bonking; in any case, it seemed to fall off, so to speak, after the first half.  An amazing achievement though.  And quite pointless.  The poor man must have utterly immersed himself in the culture.  I was pained to see at the end of the book the telling figures: 1972-1982.  Poor sod.

After that, the rest is silence.  Or rather diddly-dee-dum etc.  Very boring.  But I am feeling better.  Body has finally pulled through – about bloody time.  Just as well, since another family with young kids has joined us.  To being with they are quiet – cunning little bastards.  Later, they turn into clenched balls of screaming will.  My urge to kick the little buggers in the head was only just held in check.  This trip to India has put my family plans back by about four years.  

Back in Delhi.  It's good to be back in this hell-hole of dirt, heat and noise.  To celebrate, I have a really good ding-dong with a rickshaw driver.  30 Rs. he wanted; 15 Rs. I said. 25 Rs. - 15 Rs; 20 Rs. - 15 Rs.  He wouldn't budge, neither would I.  And he kept on queering the pitch with the other drivers.  I told him to go away.  Eventually another driver said 18 Rs., so I thought: sod the other bloke, that's near enough.  

To the Kuwait Airlines office.  On 29th October I had phoned them to confirm my flight.  The bugger than had the audacity to tell me I needed to bowl up in person.  What a cheek.  I told them that I couldn't do this until two days before I left, and got them – vaguely – to promise to keep my seat.  So now I went there to confirm the confirmation.  The offices were located in Barakhamba Road, just off the south-east corner of Connaught Place.  As I tried to enter, a carbine-wielding soldier persuaded me to leave my baggage outside.  I went in.  The first gent I spoke to waved me to another.  He looked supercilious, arrogant.  He kept me waiting some time as he dealt rather curtly with someone. Then when my turn came, he was equally curt, informing me that the check-in time was 3am.  Wot? For a 6am flight?  Presumably they are going to strip search us.

Finally, to the Imperial.  What a haven of civilisation – and the best room service coffee in India.  Toddled off to Connaught Place to buy some tapes and books.  A tape store was most helpful, playing me bits to judge.  The bookshop was very well stocked, including some old UK titles I hadn't seen for years.  Also bought a little study of the divergences of Indian English from British English: very interesting.

12.11.86 Delhi

One day to go.  A morning spent by the pool.  Today is going to be lazy – after all, I've to be up by 1.30am, which will convert to 9pm for the start of my UK day...

1986 India I: Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri
1986 India II: Kashmir

A Partial India

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