What lovely memories of India! I have made just one trip and that was back in late 1989, ideal for weather and a lot less pollution. Hard to believe that Agra then seemed almost pollution free! My trip was all very last minute. So I booked one of what Cathay Pacific then called their Discovery Tours, all-inclusive packages that are supposed to make travel easy. In my case, too much went wrong and I ended up aborting the last few days. But there was still much of interest.
I started with a late flight from Hong Kong via Bangkok to what was then named Bombay. Arriving around 9:30 pm in the rather squalid airport, I was driven to the Intercontinental Hotel - then a large multi storey block not the old hotel where Pakistani terrorists later murdered many of the guests. En route we passed many cloth-covered bodies just lying on the pavements. I assumed there would be body collectors coming along during the night, rather as there had been body snatchers in the Edinburgh of old – only the latter robbed recent graves.
Shown up to my room, it was in a dreadful state not having been cleaned. Instead of finding me a different room, I had to wait another tiring 30 minutes whilst cleaners were found and put to work. Bad start!
The next two days I was on my own and enjoyed exploring parts of the city. Even the poorer parts were fascinating, but it was its imposing colonial architecture that I specially enjoyed if only because it seemed so out of place - the grandeur of the Gateway to India Arch, the Crawford Market and the extreme Victorian Gothic of the main railway station.
My real interests were the next two stops also mentioned by PeterUK - Jaipur and Agra. For the flight to the former, I had to get up at 4:00 for a 6:00 am flight stopping at Aurangabad and Udaipur before reaching Jaipur. The first stop was extended by an hour whilst 6 seats were taken out so a stretcher and ill passenger could be accommodated. Then at Udaipur there was yet another hour's delay, the reason given that there was bad weather at Jaipur. On arrival, it was brilliantly sunny. I asked an airport worker about the bad weather. "What bad weather?" came the reply. The extended stop was just to let the pilots take time over their lunch, a meal denied to the passengers! On my return to Hong Kong I complained to Cathay that it was ridiculous to book passengers on this very long early flight when there was a daily non-stop every day departing at 6:00 pm. That was not the only complaint, though.
The tour claimed that accommodation would be at the Rambagh Palace, the former Maharajah's main residence and converted into an hotel. But no! Although it was on my itinerary, the hotel was full up and I was put into what can only have been a 3- star hotel. Pleasant, but soulless. Still, what could I do? So I decided to make the best of it. The hotel had a nice rooftop lounge where I ordered a beer and asked what snacks they had. The waiter recommended "Fried Kot Tarjeez". Never having heard of this before, I asked him to repeat it more than once. Always the same. So being adventurous, I decided to try it. I suppose I should have realized that he was talking about a common or garden cottage cheese!
I loved Jaipur - the Palace with its tall handsome red capped guards, the Hawa Mahal already described by Peter UK and the elephant ride up to the glorious Amer Fort just outside the city. I could have spent days wandering around fascinated by the sights as well as the poverty. Young men openly defecating by the side of the streets was somewhat off-putting as were the omnipresent cows. But after two days it was time for the short 6:00pm flight to Agra. Only on arrival at the airport we were to discover that this flight had been cancelled with no reason given. So we were bundled 4 to a taxi for the 5 hour drive on rickety roads, dodging camels and cows and goodness knows what else. The one wonder of that trip was a pit stop for pee and coffee slap bang in the middle of nowhere. Being blindingly dark, I happened to look up to the sky. Never had I ever seen so many stars - billions of them with shooting stars clearly visible every two or three minutes. Magical!
The Taj was everything PeterUK has described. No words can do it justice. At midday the brilliant white marble set against the green grass, the small ponds, the flowers and bushes was breath-taking, the sight only slightly marred by a couple of large dark bees nests high up in two of the arches. The return to see dawn break over the Mausoleum was even more stunning. The visit was capped by a tour around the Agra Fort where Shah Jahan, imprisoned by his son for 8 years before his death, could daily see the memorial to his beloved wife.
In the intervening afternoon, I was taken 40 kms away to the ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri, for a few years the capital of the Mughal Empire. It was then quickly abandoned in favour of Lahore. It has been abandoned every since. Truly an amazing ghost town.
Then it was the three-hour drive to Delhi. The hotel was a sprawling 3-star shabbily decorated establishment to the west of the city that had zero charm. Perhaps because I had already seen the other three cities, I did not enjoy the visit. Yes Delhi has lots of attractions, but they are in a way almost too similar to what I had already seen. I got bored. I also found myself getting bored by India; yet I still had three days left on a houseboat on the Dal Lake near Srinagar with views of the Himalayas in the background. I should just have continued with the tour, I suppose but I was more than slightly concerned that two aircraft on the Delhi/Srinagar route had crashed within a few weeks of each other. I have always enjoyed flying and one crash on an airline you are flying on is part and parcel of travel. But the domestic Indian Airlines had a dreadful track record, and I was as worried about delays for no reason as I was about a dodgy landing. So I decided just to end the trip there and then. I went to the Air France office and purchased a one-way ticket to Bangkok where I could completely relax for those few days in Soi Twilight in a way that would have been impossible in India. I then picked up the last sector on Cathay back to Hong Kong.
So I have mixed memories. Being on my own, there were no romantic intentions and certainly no romantic interludes. I am, however, glad that I went and wish I could have spent more time in Rajasthan. If I were to go back, I would return to Jaipur and then add in Udaipur, Jodhpur and perhaps one other city.
When I returned home, I wrote to Cathay Pacific with my views on the various issues which had gone wrong. They wrote a very pleasant letter of thanks, refunded my Air France ticket cost and provided some vouchers for future in-flight purchases. In the circumstances I thought that was fair.
For those with a fondness for or even an interest in India, I hope you will read the magnificently written, poignant and vivid “Raj Quartet” (often called “The Jewel in the Crown”) by Paul Scott. This focuses on the end of the Raj and all the personal conflicts that it created amongst rulers and ruled. It was made into an eight episode TV series at the end of the 1970s by Granada TV. I found it on DVD many years ago and love re-watching it. The writing, the plots, the casting (Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Eric Porter, Fabia Drake, Rachel Kempson et al), the inclusion of a sadistic homosexual policeman played by Tim Piggott-Smith, all make for stunning television. Scott later wrote the even more depressing but utterly engrossing “Staying On”, with two former colonial types beautifully played by Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, who decide to remain in India after Independence and hope to maintain their old lifestyle whilst renting a house from an Indian landlady who hates them. Role reversal! They fail, of course.
Anything and everything about gay life anywhere in the world, especially Asia, other than Thailand.
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PeterUK wrote:For myself, I don't find the Indian 'look' very exciting sexually.
I quite agree. Some can look immensely handsome - those guards at the Jaipur Royal Palace for example. But as a turn on? Not for me.
There was a lengthy discussion on one of the Boards not so long ago about sexual preferences. If I recall correctly an argument was put forward that this is a form of racism - real or implied. I think that's nonsense. Thankfully we all have our own preferences and I don't believe it has anything to do with what we know of as racism. I had hardly looked at any Chinese guys other than those who worked at the Chinese restaurant near my home before I moved to Hong Kong. Even then, my first relationship there was with a Canadian. Within 18 months, I had totally flipped and from then on could only consider being with Asians! Even then, my early liking for Filipinos eventually waned to the point where I could not be with one now.
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