Monday, 13 October 2014

Celebrations for Old White Ted

9th October always brings back special memories for me. Thirty-two years ago, I thought I was about to give birth in Peterborough's shopping centre. The only 'person' to arrive that day was Old White Ted. He became a much loved member of our family. I will tell his story one day. 

But, I digress. That was then and time has moved on. Today we were out suit shopping. A lady cannot have too many suits. We found a shop which fitted more comfortably with our purses. Even I couldn't resist a couple more. After all, they are comfy to wear and will be great in summer. 

Bearing several bags we hot-footed them to the dress-makers. Oh, didn't I say?  They come to fit all and you have them adjusted.  One by one we were measured. I'm sure she used the wrong end of the tape. My bosom has grown another two inches. That's six since I left home!  If I had a wig and a decent voice I could enter a Dolly Parton show. 

I don't think the dress-maker was mocking me but I definitely heard the word 'slender'. Somehow I don't think she was listening when her English teacher was covering adjectives. 

Measuring over, we called to see our host's best friends. Their daughter was not well and hid under the bedcover in the lounge. That's correct. They have their bed in the lounge so you can play 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks' if you wish. I think it's a great idea and will suggest it to Hubby when I get home. One way for guests to relax. It's quite common over here. It is a custom I would like to adopt

The UK contingency decided to go for a wander on our own. It was fun walking through the narrow streets, being able to go at our own pace, stopping at any shop that took our fancy. A and I almost became part of a local eatery. A young man was carrying two ten foot metal poles on his bike. We just managed to avoid him, otherwise we would have been like pieces of lamb on a kebab skewer (that's pronounced skua Mrs S)

We returned home unscathed from our outing. After a short rest, our host drove us to a local farm. Here we were greeted by the elderly owner. She hugged me to her ample bosom in a most friendly manner. She brought over a traditional woven bed from the outdoor store. We climbed aboard before receiving drinks (ice removed please - I am being extra careful since my tummy upset)

And then she set me to work - milking a cow.  You would think I might have inherited some of my dear Mum's dairy maid skills. Not a hope. Squatting on the tiniest stool, a poor cow had to suffer while I pushed, pulled and tweaked her teats. Not a dribble. I need to practice on something when I get home. A pair of Marigolds perchance. A and S had a little more success. I heard a swish and swoosh as some milk hit the pan. Still don't think any of us would get a job though. 

We had more fun at the farm, climbing on an old tractor and relaxing on a swing before thanking the farm family and moving on. It was like being on 'Countryfile'.  Next stop was the potato store. Here several ladies were sitting on the floor, under a shade, sorting seed potatoes. We acknowledged the owner, who politely asked if we would like to view his potatoes (Stop it. I can see your shoulders shaking. That was not a euphemism. He meant what he said). 

The owner took us inside his potato store. Oh it was lovely. So cool. As we climbed four flights of stairs, it became colder and colder. The others were not enjoying the temperature but I felt quite at home. Sheer bliss. On the top floor, a worker demonstrated how a fan circulated the cool around the store. The blades looked pretty sharp, so I kept my fingers well away. 

As a special treat, A and I were taken on a tractor ride around the yard then onto the main road. Eat your heart out Disney. This was just as much fun. 

With fingers smelling of cow and potato, we needed to wash our hands as they were in for a treat. A quick visit home before we hit the town running. We were about to have mendhi applied to our hands. This was a first time for me. As with all first times, I was rather apprehensive. My mendhi manicurist applied some lemon oil to my hand. Nice smell. He set about the art of applying henna, creating intricate, ancient designs.   He carefully squeezed the henna out of a tiny plastic icing bag. 

With A translating, he agreed to put Hubby's name amongst the patterns. That made me feel he was with me. My second hand was completed. The henna started to dry, just like a cold face-pack. Everyone warned me to keep my hands still, so that the henna would not dislodge. Of course, that was the moment my nose started to itch. I was so grateful for having a long thumbnail to scratch the offending itch - and my henna stayed in place. 

While N had her henna applied, a local reporter arrived to take our photograph. It appeared we would be in the local paper tomorrow. Fame at last!

Holding our henna'd hands high, we returned to the car, which was being guarded by an Alsatian, or was it a German Shepherd ?  Slight problem in how to open the door. D, our host's daughter, solved that by opening and closing the doors for everyone. She is the only dentist who could make me smile. 

I knew a judge had been invited for an evening meal. I had decided to wear something smart in his honour. Now, I would have to stay in my day clothes. Getting changed with these hands was impossible. Going to the toilet had been tricky enough. I lost a couple of spots!

The judge arrived and was taken to the parlour. We were invited to join him for nibbles. We held our hands up in greeting, being especially careful not to close them. He appreciated the effort. Cocktail sticks were provided so that we could pick 'n eat. Drinking was a predicament. A daughter,C, held a glass of water to my lips and carefully tipped it. What thoughtfulness. 

We retreated to the lounge. I had thought that was the main meal. Oops. Mistake. That was yet to come. The table was set with best plates and plastic cutlery. I managed to consume a little more. 

The judge finished his meal, made a quick tour of the lower floor before departing. We must have made a good impression as he invited us round for a meal. Unfortunately, our social calendar was full this week. 

Time for bed. My hands felt most peculiar. I wasn't quite sure where to put them. I couldn't wait to see what they looked like tomorrow. Lights out folks!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Bring a Friend to Work Day

One of the things I like about India, is how proud they are to show you their work places. Mr R in Delhi invited us round for coffee.  He had a magnificent office with plush leather and wooden furniture. Being a top official, the other workers would jump to attention as soon as he appeared. His male PA thought nothing of it when he was sent shoe shopping with us. Must happen regularly. 

So, I was very interested to see what Mr R's factory in K had to offer. It was a bit of a trek and I was a bit concerned at the slow speed we crossed the railway track but I needn't have worried. Nothing was coming. 

My vision of an Indian factory, before today, would have been a dirty sweatshop. Today opened my eyes as to  how things are moving and what an excellent employer our host is. 

On arrival, we were taken into a large office with high quality furniture and a large screen with CCTV showing the areas in the factory. On the wall were large photographs of his garlanded parents and smaller ones of official visitors. I expect to see mine in place shortly. 

A customer arrived and we found ourselves in the rather bizarre situation of being in the middle of an office meeting without being involved.  It was fascinating to see the plans of the customer's new home while R explained the energy-saving lighting his company would provide. Wish he had a shop in the UK. I rather liked the look of the lights and they were very powerful. I have his card if anyone is interested. 

Meeting over, we looked at some of the communication gadgets he supplies. The young man who brought them in looked familiar. He was the brother of C, the family's servant. The family employ three of the brothers at the factory. They have their own apartment along the top floor, with modern bathroom, kitchen, lounge and bedrooms. He does look after his employees. 

Drinks and delicious 'Delishus' biscuits were brought in. Our host's friend joined us. This was a bit of a set up. I had been asked to perform my 'party piece' (I shall have to start charging at this rate). The poor fellow nearly jumped out of his skin, while the rest of us rolled about laughing. 

Job done, we felt somewhat deprived of our new hobby -shopping. So we hot-footed into town for a few minor items. It was thirsty work so N introduced me to a local drink. On the side of the road, a man operated a sugar-cane mangle. He fed the cane through the mangle several times producing three glasses of a green liquid. In for a penny, in for a pound. Down it went. Hmmm not bad but it wouldn't make my top ten

I took a couple of photos with the IPod. This intrigued a passer-by. They mimed for me to take their picture. Ever obliging, I did. I waved them on their way. Thirty seconds later they were back with their own camera wanting more photos. My fame was spreading. 

I confess to becoming very weary so I had a 'blog' afternoon while my bedroom  buddies headed off on another shopping trip. On their return, we sat on the bed having a fun game of Corram. Mr R joined us and asked if we would like some food. Good question. He ordered a chicken takeaway with chips. 

I expected to go downstairs to eat it but Mr R had a better plan. A circular tablecloth covered in plastic was placed on the bed. We sat cross-legged and ate our indoor picnic.  We chatted about life in general and C in particular. He has been with the family for many years. They hope to make a flat for him on the top floor for his wife and baby son. At the moment she lives in Calcutta, looking after C's father. It takes C over a day to travel and see her. Just made me realise how lucky I was. 

A short while after, we were summoned downstairs for the evening meal. My tummy groaned in rebellion. Two meals in one night was just a step too far. I did go down and make token spoonfuls. I was tired and full and needed my bed. 

Night folks. Do not disturb!!

PS Can anyone explain the above sign?

Monday, 6 October 2014

Too much, too many, too late

We had a busy day ahead so an early start would have been useful. However, today was N's birthday and we hadn't reckoned on the kindness of the friends visited earlier in the week. They arrived bearing not only my suit, freshly sewn by the tailor, but also two beautiful birthday cakes. 

I rushed upstairs to put the suit on. I needed a narla. No June, that's not your cat, it's the stringy thingy you thread through the trousers to hold them up. So wearing the top and a pair of thick tights I joined the crowd for the traditional birthday singing. 

Later A helped me with my Narla so I could wear my pretty, new outfit to the Golden Temple. It fitted so well. The suit I mean, not the Temple. 

There were only seven of us in the car today. We almost had a seat each. Our host S was the driver. He proved to be just as adept as his son at avoiding vehicles. We even avoided a four vehicle smash by a calm, right turn onto the wrong side of the road. We returned to our side as soon as there was a gap. No one seemed to mind. 

Before the Temple, there was the slight visit to a wedding to attend to. It was obviously not a small affair by the size of the venue. The outside was decorated as lavishly as the interior. As well as the fake grass, there was an elevated stage with white comfy seating. Elsewhere there were sofas for guests to lounge on. The whole of one side was taken up by tall hatted chefs preparing a range of snacks and more elaborate food. 

Following the carpet, we made our grand  entrance. Oh oh. Something or someone in our group caused a stir. I hoped my narla wasn't hanging down (that's for you Kiran!). No, it was safely tucked away. All heads were on swivel mode. Yes, it was 'Spot the Odd One Out' again. But they were all smiling.

We found a free table. I was facing a sofa bearing  a couple of elderly ladies. One must have been up all night. Her head lolled backwards and she was obviously snoring.  She would waken with a start then two seconds later her head would start to droop and off she went again.  I found this highly amusing as did others on our table. We had to restrain ourselves so as not to cause offence.  That was so difficult. 

The room was so colourful. The ladies wore bright sarees and suits. Many husbands had matching turbans. Little children in their best party outfits raced around playing 'Robin Hood'. (They were all given bows and arrows from the wedding group. Beats a party bag any day!)

A constant stream of waiters brought silver platters bearing tasty morsels. I had   Chaat (Mr S's favourite according to his lovely daughter). Good choice. The chicken looked good but we were going to the Temple later so I followed by example, sticking to a veggie diet today. 

Suddenly everyone started moving furniture. Large sofas were placed in front of the stage. One fell to pieces so it was hurriedly carted away. I thought this might herald the arrival of the bride and groom. No such luck. This was the start of the entertainment. Vividly coloured dancers whirled and twirled while the singers 'out of lip synced'. A range of props/instruments were used. Hubby's trellis was stretched and closed to make a clacking sound. Then they brought on my brother's walking stick with a red ribbon tied to the end. Eat your heart out Morris Dancers!!

A new set of entertainers came on. They started their routine. They were very good until their tape broke!!  Looking bemused and forlorn, they retired backstage to try unsuccessfully to fix it.  

We wandered outside, had a relax on the sofa, nibbled some nibbles then visited the Queen. I jest not!  The ladies' toilets were called the Queen. Now I know the Queen is small but the toilet here was much smaller. Oh I got myself in a pickle trying to keep the flaps of my top and my floaty scarf out of the wet floor. Then I had to contend with unfastening my narla with my spare hand, remembering to keep a knot in it otherwise I could have been in quite a predicament!  Hot and bothered I emerged from the Queen wondering if my little 'contribution' had been worth the effort. 

Our host said it was time to go. What!!  I hadn't seen the happy couple yet. Never mind, that was how it worked. Pop in, show respect and pop out again. 

It was only a short drive to Amritsar. Satnav played up a little but a friendly policeman pointed us in the right direction. We zoomed up a multi-storey like a car chase in a movie. We were lucky to find a spot. As we started to walk down the first floor exit ramp, our host spotted a tuk-tuk and five of us squeezed in. Going backwards down the multi-storey then whizzing through the crowded, busy streets of Amritsar ranked alongside Space Mountain in Disney. 

At the Golden Temple, after a couple of false starts, we found whoever we were looking for.  We entered the main arena, after leaving our shoes in a potato sack with the cloakroom attendant. Heads covered we paddled through the foot bath. I had a problem Houston. The bottoms of my bottoms were too loose and slipped over my feet. Longer and longer they stretched until they looked like Mr Tickle's arms. It was so busy. I had to keep up with the rest. Hopping on one leg I would try to push the trouser leg in place. Then hop on the other leg to do the same. Three steps further and my soggy bottoms were flopping about again. This was not the elegant entrance I had hoped for. 

The Golden Temple was impressive. Loads of people had told me. They must have told loads of people in India too  it was heaving. The queue to enter the prayer chamber was far longer than Alton Towers' rides on a Bank Holiday. We had a secret weapon. We were taken to a side barrier and secret words were spoken. Scrunched together we were squeezed through a narrow gap. We gained another member to the group here.  She pushed through with us. Ah well, I didn't mind. 

Warned to stay close, I did my best. As we entered the prayer room, the volume of people pushed us along. I kept close to the left hand barrier as instructed and followed A's instructions. I tried my best to get my head to the floor but as my bottom stuck out just as the crowd surged forward. I just managed to give my 'collection' before being popped out of the room like a cork out of a champagne bottle. 

Keeping in a fairly orderly but fast moving queue, we received our 'prasad' (?). Today it was a sweet tasting treat not a banana. We regrouped. Arrgghh. One missing - the daughter of our host. Had she been kidnapped?  No, she was so busy nibbling, she lost sight of us. Thank goodness for mobiles. Not that I had mine with me though. Better stay close. 

After a dip in the Holy Water, we posed for the photos before being hurried back to collect our potato sack. The ride back to the car park was just as exciting as the one there. Spotted a few good shops along the way but there was no time to visit. 

Next stop the India-Pakistan border to take up our reserved front row seats for the stand-off performance by the opposing troops. That was the plan but things don't always go to plan here. We arrived too late!  The army refused to let us through and the performance had ended. We were gutted. 

To cheer us up, our kind host took us to the Mall. Meadowhall India-style. Pretty much the same except our boot was checked for bombs, bodies searched and bags checked. Oh I was praying she wouldn't pull out my spare pants or pile bullets!!

After a little shopping and a meal, the others went inside the 5D cinema to experience a film. I am not too good on those sort of things. I waited the ten minutes outside, trying to look nonchalant yet all the time alert. I had read the pickpocket notice in the Queens. Three guys sidled up and were giving me a bit of a once over, leering and laughing. Not my most comfortable moment. I only understood the word 'American'. I was just about to retreat to the Queens when my family appeared. Relief or what!

Having not eaten for fifteen minutes, they needed their evening meal. Back to the food mall. N suddenly realised that she didn't have her shopping. She remembered placing it on the table when we ate our snacks. Panic!!!! The waiters were asked, the cleaners were asked, the security staff were asked. No one had it. Downhearted we went to buy more of the same ( not telling what as it was a gift). I sent a prayer to St Ant and A sent one to her God. Between us a miracle happened. The man who found the bag had returned to the shop, leaving his telephone number. N phoned him and he came to the shop, bearing the lost bag. My faith in human nature was returned and I silently asked forgiveness for blaming the suspicious looking waiter. 

Time for home and Face Time birthday greetings for N. it had been a funny old day. Ups and downs but fun. 

Relaxation to Trepidation

What an incredibly lazy morning I had. I pulled myself out of bed around 9.30 and wandered downstairs in my new cotton nightie/kaftan affair.  Collapsed on the sofa and was waited on hand and foot by the caring family and the ever-smiling Choto. 
I really enjoyed today's cauliflower roti and Choto made my coffee just how I like it.  Wish I could persuade him to come home with us but he has a wife and baby to support. They live with his father a long way from here, so he only sees them every six months. But he is well cared for here and they gave him a mobile so he can keep in touch with them. 

To help us alleviate the aches and pains of the long journey, a lady from the village was coming to give us a full body massage. I let A go first, just to ensure she was OK. Brave, aren't I ?!  Then it was my turn.  So, there I am, face down on my hostess' bed having some sort of oil being rubbed in places that even my Hubby didn't know existed. You have heard of the G spot, well I think she found my Z spot.  

I must admit to feeling a tad embarrassed when one of my toes became entwined somewhere in her groin area.  She was massaging my arm at the time and became quite ecstatic as she moaned 'Beautiful.  Beautiful.' She should have gone to Specsavers. 

Little by little she pushed, pulled and pummelled my body until I felt totally chilled, which was quite an achievement considering the temperature. She spoke little English and I spoke less Hindu. I believe she told me that her work was to help put her children through school and her husband was a bathroom tiler. Must get his number. She possibly went away thinking my daughter was a typist and Hubby a grave-digger following my efforts at Charades!!

Another feast had been prepared for my delectation before we set out for a trip to see one of the highlights of the festival here. We crowded into the cars. Well, not as crowded as others we saw but definitely crowded by UK standards. I have long since abandoned any attempts at finding seatbelts because you don't know whose body parts you will grasp. 

After parking in a minuscule spot, I was warned to stay close. I didn't need telling twice and stuck to them like glue. After being introduced to a couple of dignitaries we were taken to front row seats.  Some poor souls were ejected again. The stands were heaving with people.  I stared and stared but I was the only white face there. No wonder people stared at me. 

Across the field were three enormous effigies of gods.  They were filled with firecrackers. After an eternity of speeches and photographs (some of us) the 'fun' began.  The play depicting the fighting between Lord Ram and his enemies took place on stage. As they were finally defeated a flaming arrow was fired at the effigies. 

Never, in all my life, have I heard or seen anything like it. Frightened me to death. What a racket!  Firecrackers sounded like bombs going off. Then the moment when I realised Health and Safety had not reached this area. The crowd surged forward as one towards these burning Wickermen. The local custom is to try and grab a piece of the wood to bring good luck to your house for the coming year. Ignoring the fact that a gigantic burning head was about to topple on them, people leaped in and out of the area. 

This was our time to make a quick exit. One or two firecrackers missed my legs. That reminded me of Jane Barratt's Bonfire Party when a Jumping Jack left my first pair of stockings in tatters. I skipped and dodged the burny bits and followed our Host's son -lovely lad- back to the car. 

We had to hang around for a while as the crowd came out like after-the-match fans   The car was jostled a little but there was soon a gap for us to do a very neat little three point turn before going home. 

The game of Carrom has become quite a favourite during this trip. I am not an Cupertino but I like it. Unusually the board is placed on your bed and you sit on the bed trying to flick the counters into the corner hole. My expertise is potting the large white one. Any counter I may have acquired has to be returned   I am an expert in acquiring a minus score. Please Father Christmas will you put this on my list??

Having been fed a few snacks, I thought that our food intake had finished. After all, it was almost 10pm. Ha ha the evening had just begun. Back to the car for a game of 'Who sits Where?'  And a trip to the local restaurant to meet up with friends. 

The older men had their own table. The rest of us were divided into veggie and non-veggie. I was in the minority former category. I was craving gnawing on a bone. I would like to tell you what I ordered but all I can say is it involved chicken. 

We meat eaters were served first with a chicken leg. That was all. Just a chicken leg. The veggies waited and waited. They were vegetating  -  GROAN!!  Mrs S was not amused that they had to wait. She went into magistrate mode and headed off to see someone. Well, that caused a bit of a furore. The women don't normally complain. They leave it to their husbands.

It did the trick.  Well, half the trick. Their soup arrived in a large bowl but no little bowls to put it in.  So they waited some more. Meanwhile we received more chicken with other bits and bobs. Now some of the chicken looked too pink for my taste so I nibbled the edge and put the napkin over the remainder. 

The service was so slow.  I felt like the dormouse at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party (I'm sure Jane Barratt played that part in Junior School. Gosh, that's twice I've mentioned my old school pal. If this blog goes viral, she will too!)

Thank goodness no one ordered puddings. Farewells were given and I made my way wearily to the car. Ah I love India x
 PS. As it was N's birthday at midnight, we played Carrom on the bed with our hosts' older children until the appointed hour. As the clock struck twelve we burst into song and presented her with the cards and gift I had concealed in my case. Happy Birthday N

Sunday, 5 October 2014

At My Back

It is taking me a little time to adjust to the concept of Indian time. I suppose I am used to setting a plan and sticking to it. Things don't quite happen that way in India. Even the trains have a unique booking system. We were supposed to travel to the Punjab by train. We had our tickets but, unknown to me, they hadn't been confirmed. Unfortunately, a public holiday meant that our tickets were not confirmed so we had to make alternative arrangements. 

Don't panic Mr Mannering. Our host had everything in hand. He 'phoned a friend' who sent his car and armed bodyguard to collect us!!  I was a little worried about the length of the journey and what state the roads would be in. Only time would tell. 

Getting out of Delhi was not as easy as we expected. The roads were very busy ( when are they not?!). We had the added problem that our driver and guard rarely came to the city. We were lost. Fear not. They stopped at several random places eg middle of the dual carriageway, on a bend and on a slip entry. On the last one, the tuk tuk driver told us to reverse and turn. Hmmmm that sounded familiar. 

During this frantic part of the journey, I saw something unusual right on the side of the motorway - two elephants!! Just like the bus. You wait for one for ages for one and two come along at once. A wondered how they got there. Quick as a flash I replied, 'On the trunk road.'  Oh come on, my joke's not that bad!

Once out of Delhi, we sped along on perfectly fine dual-carriageway. The scenery was flat all the way but it was fascinating to watch the workers threshing corn by hand or the water buffaloes wallowing in the water. 

The peculiar method of overtaking became a familiar pattern. Honk your horn, choose which side and go for it. Ignore rules regarding hard shoulders, lanes, traffic lights or any other you know in the Highway Code. Traffic police don't seem to exist here and anything goes. 

After several hours travelling, we pulled into a service station for lunch.  Accompanied by our driver and armed guard, we entered and made our choice. On the next table were a group of nuns. Nuns and guns. What a combination ?!

We waited patiently for our food. None was forthcoming. The waiter came over and asked us to follow him. I wondered if we had lowered the tone and were being ejected. Just the opposite. The owner had recognised that we were VIPs. He wanted to express his thanks by giving us our own room to rest in. Not just any old room. One with an enormous bed, ensuite, tv, table and chairs. Fresh water and our food was brought along. We ate and relaxed for the next two hours.  That time really did fly. 

We were off again. A fell asleep. I was relieved she did because during a traffic snarl, we realised there had been an accident. A young man on a motorbike had tried unsuccessfully to traffic-dodge at a crossroads. Someone had covered his body with a blanket but they had not covered all the gruesome remains. I have been cured of rubber-necking forever. 

We stopped at a town to pick up our host's son from his college. We still had a further hour and half to his home. I was a little concerned that he had that journey every day. I learned later that he stays as a paying guest with a family during the week, coming home at weekends. 

As we drove through one town, our escort - the one with the big gun- asked if we would like to call at his house for a drink of tea. N very bravely declined. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to refuse a man toting a rifle 

After nine hours travel, excluding the break, we arrived at our Host's home.   We said farewell to our driver and guard. They asked if they had served us well. They requested that we gave a good report to their superior. As a practised mystery shopper, they would have received almost top marks. A deduction for the loud music on the car stereo though. 

I expected we would just rest all evening but this was not to be. Our host wanted to show us the celebration at the Temple. We were, once again, treated as honoured guests with red stoles draped around our necks. Special places were made for us on the front row carpet. Others were relegated to the second division. 

We sat cross-legged, listened to the choir chanting loudly and watched the ants scurrying around. My rear padding was aching. I did a little shuffle. My movements had been noted and a place was made on the front step/stage. Now I was in full view of everyone. Ever felt 'odd one out'!

The chanting over, we formed an orderly queue to pay homage to the God. We received a blessing. Everyone else was given water. I was special. I got a banana!!  Where's Hubby when you need him?

Service over we returned home for a tasty but exceedingly spicy meal. Choto, the family servant, seemed fascinated with me. He could not stop staring and smiling.  

That must be it for the night, but no. The family had other ideas. All aboard one car and a scooter for a special treat - ice cream from the equivalent of Laddies. Being a little uncertain about the local variety, I played safe with a Cornetto. I didn't hang around eating it though. The heat soon had the scoop dribbling down my fingers. Oh for a wet wipe. 

Treat complete I expected to return home. No, one more treat was arranged. We visited a large park where a stage had been erected. Our host is a famous tv reporter, so he had no trouble taking us backstage to meet the cast. They were equally pleased to see us. Indeed, everyone was pleased to see us and quite a crowd gathered with cameras and mobile phones to take our pictures. 

Once again the front row was cleared so that we had a clear view of the onstage action. The costumes and makeup were so vivid. The acting was so exaggerated. It was fun. I really should read the story of Lord Ram. 

We didn't stay for the whole play. Our host recognised that we were drooping. It was such a pleasure to fall into bed after such a long yet pleasurable day.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Sorrowing Sighs

For a hopeless romantic - that's me folks- today promised to be the pinnacle of my trip to Delhi.  At last the morning of our trip to the Taj Mahal had arrived.  I was so excited and expected an early start.  I had forgotten that we were working on Indian time where 'ready' means you still have time for a couple of drinks, a few snacks and a rest before you leave.

The departure was gladdened by the arrival of today's bodyguard - Captain Nemo.  Hurrah.  My favourite.  He exudes an air of regal security wherever he goes.

Our delayed departure meant we encountered an increased volume of traffic.  I am becoming accustomed to the 'Whacky Races' scenario of dodging between cars, tuk-tuks and cows but today's journey had an extra element.  The development of the Delhi Metro has had a negative impact on traffic flow.  Imagine the M62 on a busy day.  Add several hundred bikes, motor-bikes, tuk-tuks, goats, cows and pedestrians.  Now funnel five lanes into one and you have a picture of the first part of our journey. 

Once we hit the new toll super highway, it was a different story. There was less traffic than the A9 on a sleepy, Scottish Sunday.  Their fields were as flat as Lincolnshire and there was little to see apart from the odd patch of sweetcorn or small, thatched hut. My companions were all asleep. 

To amuse myself, I took an interest in the quaint, polite roadside notices.  My favourite  had to be :- A tree only hits in self-defence.  Don't drink and drive.'
This was closely followed by:- Over-speeding will invite prosecution.'

After two hours of travel, we arrived on the edge of Agra. A man on the pavement flagged us down, muttered something to Captain Nemo and hopped in.  I assumed he was a random hitchhiker until he started giving us instructions on our conduct at the Taj Mahal.  Then I realised he was our guide. 

The streets of Agra narrowed.  The air was hot and dusty.  Main and side streets bustled with activity.  There was even a mobile disco with large HMV speakers.  At least I think that's what it was.  Answers on a postcard please. 

  I started a new game - Spot the Camel. I had not expected seeing an even-toed ungulate plodding along.  (If you are impressed by my vocabulary there, let me tell you a story.  I Googled the word camel.  However, I had forgotten to save my blog!  I lost my story, so the version you are reading is Round Two.  And the word 'ungulate' will be forever etched on my brain. 

But, back to the trip. Our guide explained that we could travel no further in our car. He supplied a large tuk-tuk - for a small fee.  He reinforced that we were not allowed to take batteries, chargers or food with us.  I hoped that an old Jaffa sweet was not lurking at the bottom oft bag.  Would they punish me severely for one chocolate sweet from New Zealand?  

He asked once more if we had any contraband.  We shook our heads, which almost shook off as we rattled and rolled the short distance to the entry and the security centre.  My bag passed with flying colours.  Phew!  A was not so lucky.  The strict security lady took an instant dislike to her tiny camera stand which belonged to her even tinier camera.  No amount of begging or persuasion would let this innocent item through.  The stand was confiscated and left all alone in a little room until our return.  All together now - Awwwwww

The mid-day sun beat down mercilessly on us (What's that saying about mad dogs??). We took shelter under the shade of a tree while our guide told us the story of the Taj Mahal. For those who don't know, it was built as a memorial to the 3rd wife of the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan.  She died giving birth to their 14th  child.  Before she died, she made him promise never to marry again and to look after their children.  In her honour he found the finest architect and workmen to build this tomb in her honour.

Finally, we moved through the sandstone arch and everyone gasped at the sight of the magnificent white, marble construction which twinkled in the sunlight. 

The moment I had practised for weeks was upon us.  OK it wasn't on THE bench.  That had such a long queue, so we selected one close by.  I sat down. Argh!! Blister plasters for my bottom please.  Trying not to look pained, I moved my legs to the left, tilted my head and smiled shyly.  

For one brief moment in time, I was a princess, captured forever through the eye of the camera.  I thought of my handsome Hubby and wished that he would see my eternal love reaching out to his open arms - sick bags required.  This is too much for the readers.  

We posed singly, in groups, with cameras, iPods and phones clicking away.  One passing stranger must have thought we were celebrities as he stopped and added our smiling faces to his collection. 

To rest our face muscles, we strolled along the walkway to the centre section containing the tombs. Our guide issued us with standard dusters to cover our shoes. The cleaner was obviously on holiday and we had been designated to polish the floors. 

Inside we marvelled at the inlaid gemstones and jasper script. Every pattern and word had a purpose. What an amazing piece of design and architecture. Even the four external pillars were built at a slight angle so that they could never fall on the central part. Well remembered A.  Two gold stars for that. 

Our main tour over A had to pay homage  and show some observance to her own religion. Donning her Sunderland top, she posed once more while I hovered in the shade. (That did read hovered not hoovered as our cleaning duties ended five minutes earlier when we popped our dusters in the bin.)

In our final photo shoot we positioned our fingers to make it appear we were picking the Taj up. Even Captain Nemo joined in the fun. What a star. 

Some of us took the four-legged transport back to the car park. It was a bit of a struggle but with a little help I managed to clamber into my seat.  Clinging on with one hand like grim death, I waved regally with the other - for the benefit of the cameras of course. 

I thought our day was over but our guide decided to take us on two Tenerife type blanket tours. This involved watching craftsmen at work then being blinded by the art of salesmanship. I almost fell for the patter until A saved me from bankruptcy.  The beautiful marble topped coffee table was not £15 but £150. A swift exit there then.

The bags in the next shop were pretty but we didn't linger long.  Mrs S was on a mission.  She would not be swayed. Our final walk of the day took us down narrow, darkening passageways. I stayed close to Captain Nemo for fear of kidnap. We arrived at our destination - a small shop containing a treasure trove of goodies. Mrs S carefully picked her way through the items, eliminating them until she had her perfect selection. I thought the owner would not move on his prices. He was not capitulating. Then his knees started to buckle under the pressure. I knew the game as over. He could not resist. Her tactics had brought success and victory!  With a smile on her face, we headed homewards, saying 'Goodnight' to the lumbering oxen who strayed close by. 

What a wonderful day!!

Quote of the Day

A:  What sort of dog was John Major?

N:  An Alsatian 

A:  Oh! I thought he was a German Shepherd 

Don't you just love her x x