Rubber Bands, Odds, Evens and Legacy’s.

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Connaught Place New Delhi.  Photo Tom Corban.

There is a a special time for reflection on any trip. For me it comes when the 12 envelopes containing documents that say things like Heathrow to Delhi, Delhi to Varanasi, Camels in the Thar Desert, Mountain Biking in the Himalayas and so on go leaving just to two envelopes; Shimla to Delhi and Delhi to Heathrow Airport.
The rubber band connecting me to home has stretched as far as it can on this occasion and it is now pulling me back home. Its a sweet sort of sadness.

We spent 2 days driving back from the Kee Monastery to Shimla, a day there, then the overnight bus to Delhi. The bus was more comfortable than it sounded, the seats reclined and we slept most of the way arriving at the hotel in Delhi at about 6:00 am where we were reunited with our warm weather clothes.

Shimla had been a surprise. Although we had only been away 10 days the cool days and cold nights had given way to hot bright sunny days and warm nights. The change in Delhi was even more noticeable as the daytime temperature was into the high 40c. From 12:00 to 16:00 it felt like an oven and scorched your throat. Even though there were 2 days and one night before the flight home, for me it was the period of reflection I mentioned.

Glastonbury Festival, 28th June, 2014:

Cooking in the market with temperatures of 45c.  Photo Tom Corban.

In the heat, and with having been in a very remote area the city traffic was something to behold. In order to try to reduce the pollution the authorities have introduced an Odd/Even car system. This allows vehicles with a registration number the ends with an odd number (1,3,5,7 and 9) to drive on odd days of the week (1st, 3rd,5th etc) and cars with registration numbers that end with an even number (2,4,etc) to drive on even days ( 2nd, 4th, 6th etc) This only applies to Private cars.

Personally I can’t see a difference as there were so many cars ignoring the policy but the media say that over 1000 people were prosecuted in the first day. its a novel approach and shows what a problem the pollution level is. I have seen some reports that say Delhi is the most polluted city on earth. If so it would not surprise me.
Delhi is so busy, although now it is so hot it does seem to slow down around mid day There don’t seem to be many tourists around although its sometimes hard to tell. There are quite a few people who have adopted Indian clothes and mannerisms and its hard to tell if they are just enjoying the experience or wether the piece of elastic connecting them with home has has snapped leaving them establishing new roots in Delhi. This “home” business is not as simple as it sounds.

 

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Connaught Place.  Photo Tom Corban.

New Delhi was built after the destruction of much of the city during what my old history books called “The Indian Mutiny” caused by making the sepoys use gun cartridges sales with animal fat including pig fat. the seal had to be bitten off the cartridge in order to pour the gunpowder into the rifles, which, understandably Muslims were not willing to do.  More recently the event is seen as a stage in the Indian fight for Independence. From what I have discovered since the bigger issue than the cartrdges  was the fear that there would be some process which would eventually coerce people into becoming christians. The cartridges were quickly changed but the fears over religion increased and there is evidence that there were some fairly right wing fundamentalist christian preachers causing problems. When the East India Company first started operating many of its employees (and high ranking officers) had a flexible approach to culture and religion. Some became Hindus and some Muslims others mixed religions to come up with something that made sense to them. Often they had many wives and lived the lifestyle of Mughal Emperors. Somehow this seemed to change into an inflexible approach where the Brits, their beliefs and their systems were “right” and needed to be imposed onto the rest of the population. Its worth remembering that the East India Company were just that- a company. Although they had their own army they were subjects of the ruling Moghul and got their authority from the fact that they were his official tax collector. Some historians these days see it not as a mutiny but as the early stages of a fight for independence.

Anyway the rising was put down with a horrendous ferocity destroying many parts of Delhi in the process. If I remember troops were called in from Afghanistan as reinforcements. The backlash from the British seemed to be more focused on Muslims possibly because the rebels had got the backing of the Mughal and had “united” behind his authority.
From what I have read this caused a split in the Muslim community between those who took the view that the western way of life had arrived and they must find a way of adapting and those who thought that this was some sort of punishment and they needed to go back to a simpler time, revisit the scriptures and ensure that the proper faith was being followed. According to the historian William Dalrymple these fundamentalists moved north into Pakistan and Afghanistan and eventually provided the seeds for Al-Qaeda. When the British in Afghanistan were sent to India as reinforcements there was an uprising in Afghanistan which was “punished “ again with ferocious brutality by the British when they returned. The East India Company (who had also smuggled Opium into China on an industrial scale) were disbanded and the British Government took over the role of governing India. As Mrs Duffey (my history teacher in 1963) would have said “An example of a massive cock up by private industry that has to be picked up by the state? Discuss”

In any case the destruction of Delhi gave the British a chance to create a more modern city centre from where they could administer “Empire”. The glory of English Empire is still there in the architecture but it is all rather tawdry now except for the shops which come as a shock after spending most of our time in the Main Bazaar in Old Delhi.

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All that awaits us now is a final walk to India Gate for the sunset and a long flight home.Then in the semi sleep in a metal tube at some unimaginable height, if I am lucky, I will come up with a plan to make the rubber band stretch a little further next time.

High Peaks, Dark Rooms and Secrets.

Spiti Valley

 

I have always felt that’s a privilege to travel and felt that one should not do it carelessly. Travel touches so many other people who, on the whole, treat you with kindness and generosity. Sometimes however things go wrong and all you can do in those circumstances is to keep your nerve and get through it. Even in the bad times though there can be some unexpected kindness that helps compensate. Sometimes, when you are lucky, you get one of those days that is so wonderful that it stands on its own as a perfect frozen moment.

This was one of those days.

I won’t attempt to describe it except to say that we stayed in the Tabo Monastery guesthouse. The Monastery is the oldest functioning Buddhist monument in India and the Himalayas. We were taken into its dark inner temple by the Lama, and in torch light, shown secrets that were created in 996 AD. We were given white scarves and blessings by the Lama of the Dhankar Monastery then cycled through the dry dusty landscape towards the Kee Monastery. There we met the Lama who showed us around, unlocking rooms and ushering us in as he went. In one room there was a metal encased Stupa about 10 ft heigh and decorated with emeralds and other precious stones containing ashes of the 6th to the 13th Dali Lamas. In another dark room he drew back the veils showing us more ancient secrets. Afterwards he took us into his private room and gave us tea and cake before giving us his blessing and waving us off.

There is magic in the Spiti Valley, you should go and find it.

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Monk in the Tabo Monastery.  Photo Tom Corban

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Dhakar Monastery.  Photo Tom Corban

 

 

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Prayer flags over the Spiti Valley.  Photo Tom Corban.

 

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Jo finishing a 16 Mile ride at an altitude of just below 4000m.  Photo Tom Corban.

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Kee Monastrey.  Photo Tom Corban.

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Tea with the Lama of Kee Monastrey.  Photo Sanjay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Road to Tabo

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The Road to Tabo

We found ourselves became in Kalpa. We had been due to get our Inner Line Permits the next morning before setting off for Tabo via the restricted zone. The police control the area very tightly and list the details of all foreigners both into the area and out of it. The sensitivity is caused by the closeness of the border with the Chinese occupied Tibet. There were border skirmishes towards the end of the 20th Century and the Army are here in force. Should there be any difficulties the police will withdraw and the army move up. Anyway it was Saturday and we found that we could not get the permits authorised till Monday morning so we spent the time walking up to the snow line on the mountain behind the hotel, cycling along the old Hindustan to Tibet Highway (which was a bit tricky in places as it a route for mules and packhorses) and looking around the village.

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Two women from Kalpa. Photo Tom Corban

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Woman from Kalpa in her home. Photo Tom Corban

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Our Hotel in Kasper. Photo Tom Corban

 

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The Hindustan to Tibet silk route. Look closely and you will see Jo on the edge of the track. Photo Tom Corban

On Monday having being photographed and issued with our permits we set off forTabo.

We passed through the first police check point a few hours later where we were invited into a blue and yellow corrugated tin shack and invited to sit. The police officer scrutinised our permits paying particular attention to the rubber stamp that’d been put on them. He then Inspected out Passports and Visas with the same contentious maker. Having assured himself that they were OK he then entered all the details in two separate ledgers and waved us away. The string that raises the barrier was pulled, the barrier went up and we entered the restricted zone where we were greeted by a road sign that said “You are traveling on the worlds most treacherous road”

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Jo making sure we all understand that this is the worlds most treacherous road. Photo Tom Corban

I know that I have spent some time previously describing the roads in a previous blog, but you must indulge me.
I have seen pictures of landscapes like this in books documenting extreme places. In my childhood it was the stuff of adventure stories and unlikely tales. I never expected to experience anything like this in real life. The edge of the track had few barriers and there were signs of the track crumbling at the edge.Potholes and boulders Lorries passed us with wheels less than 18 inches from the edge. The drop was never less than 100 meters and in many places was 2 kilometres ( thats not a typo, it really was a 2 kilometre drop in places).

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Me by the edge of the track. Photo Jo Corban

At one point we turned off the main route to take a higher route where the track inevitably deteriorated further as the number of rockfalls, boulders and potholes increased. It was a real and other alarming off road experience.

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The track as it switchbacks up the mountain. Photo Tom Corban.

Thankfully there was less traffic.
Extraordinary driving from Jagdish; confident and skilful but I still find it hard to believe that he managed to get the car up that track to the top of that mountain at 3650 meters.
I find it even more unbelievable that we cycled down the other side back to the Tibetan highway.

 

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From left to right, Me, Sanjay, and Jo as we set off. Photo Jujdish

Pushing a Bike up the Himalayas

For reasons that will become clear there only a few photos of this experience.

As we set off on our bikes from Shali Heights we were told that the view would have included snow capped mountains if it had not been raining. I am sure that proficient cyclists will tell you that rain does not really matter as you are using enough energy to keep warm. Unfortunately I am not a proficient cyclist therefore rain matters. Thankfully it did not last too long although showers stopped us drying out properly. The hills here are steep, really steep, far to steep for me to be able to cycle all the way up them. Well it is the Himalayas. Sanjay gave me some basic advice, which amounted to “Slow down, don’t hurry, take the speed from your breathing”. This advice was surprisingly helpful and I coped better once I gave up trying to keep up with Sanjay and Jo.
We cycled down 5k and up 26k. The last 7k was very difficult and I was mostly pushing the bike up the Himalayas with occasional bits of cycling when it was not too steep.
The next day was better. It was sunny and we cold see mountains ( anything under 3000 meters is considered a hill), and it was all downhill.

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The view halfway down our cycle. We ended up in the valley floorstyle.  Photo Tom Corban.

When I say downhill I mean downhill Himalaya style. We cycled 37k during which we defended 1750 meters. I made up for pushing the bike up the Himalayas yesterday by chasing it down today. The difference between being in control and not is very small. Dusty roads, boulders, pot holes, cows and the occasional bus or lorry kept the concentration going.

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A bit of England.  Photo Tom Corban.

On the way down we passed a christian church. Inseams that an Englishman settled in the village and brought some apples with him. The introduction of apples transformed the local economy and the villagers let him build a church. Most surprising was the stained glass window. It was like stepping into a19th century England.

After the cycle we had the most extraordinary drive of 7 hours along the Tibetan Highway.

Glastonbury Festival, 28th June, 2014:

Local bus service at Narkanda.  Photo Tom Corban

It was the main trade route with Tibet until the Chinese invaded and the trade stopped. The road is still busy with lorries taking provisions to the villages near the Tibetan border and busses taking children to school and people to work.

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Drive from Bithal to Kalpa along the good section of the route. Photo Tom Corban.

The road started well but by the time we had got halfway it could only be described as an off road experience. At one stage we passed a bulldozer which was trying to stem flood water that was coming down the cliff face and washing the track away. The bulldozer took up half the track so we passed on the other half. as we crossed the stream of flood water I looked out of the car window I could see the mud on the edge of the track crumbling and being washed down the cliff on the other side of the track. We had about a meter of clearance from the crumbling edge and the huge drop.
It was dark long before we arrived in Kalpa and we went to bed exhausted with no idea of what we would see when daylight came.

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Morning in Kalpa.  Photo Tom Corban

 

Echoes of Empire

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The Mall, Shimla. Photo Tom Corban.

Just as the French withdrew to the northern hill Town of Sapa during the heat of the Indochina summer the British went to Shimla. They took with them the apparatus of Empire and the architecture of Victorian England. It would appear that Shimla was something of a den of inequity. Often the wives would stay in Shimla for some considerable time, sometimes most of the year. The Viceroy and his staff would decamp to Shimla for the hot season and India and Burma would be ruled from there for the duration. Serving officers would have a 10 week leave in Shimla. Soldiers clearly did not feel the heat and therefore had little need for Shimla staying instead in the heat of the Indian summer. Bored wives and an endless supply of officers led to intrigue, flirting and more. 10 weeks seemed to be ideal. Enough time to get entangled and then unentangled without too many long lasting traumas. The start of what is now known as the bitter sweet holiday romance?

 

Shimla is stunning. At the height of Empire surveyors were sent out to find a place with a temperate climate where a town could be built away from the heat. They chose Shimla and a new town spread over 7 hilltops in the Himalayan foothills was built. Unlike most places where towns tend to begin in the valley and then move up the hillside until it is too steep for building Shimla starts on the hill tops, spreads along the steep ridges that connect each summit and then descended a third way down towards the valley floor. It looks extraordinary.

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Shimla.  Photo Tom Corban.

The victorians and Edwardians imported almost every style of building as the town was being built. Scottish Baronial, Mock Gothic, Tudor along with a Scottish Church and a classic English church.

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The former Viceroy’s Residence, now a University. Photo Tom Corban.

The combination of the Mountain Railway, the Viceroy’s residence, the Gaiety Theatre, the classic red or green roofed Shimla buildings, the ridgeway roads, steep paths and alleyways makes the town is both confusing and breathtaking.

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Christian Church, Shimla.  Photo Tom Corban

Sanjay, who is out guide when we head up into the Himalayas tomorrow, showed us around. He seems to be known and liked by everybody, subsequently we experienced no queues or delays and got a lot of interesting history about the place.

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The famous Gaiety Theatre, Shimla.  Photo Tom Corban.

Later we drove to Shali Heights for a homestay before starting our journey into the Himalayas. As we drove the light feel and the scenery just got better and better. We arrived to a most impressive thunderstorm ad were greeted by what turned out to be Sanjay’s mother and father. It was in all, a rather glorious day.

Himalayan Queen

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The Himalayan Queen. Photo Tom Corban

We traveled north out of Delhi towards Shimla on the early morning Shatabdi Express. As we were served breakfast the dust and dirt of the city turned surprisingly quickly to farmland. As the women took in the crops and stacked dung to dry ready for the rainy season I could see high rise blocks in the distance. Every so often there was huge modern construction. I had no idea what these new buildings would become but by their size alone you could see that they would be significant. It reminded me of driving along a huge dual carriageway in the UK. It was In the early 1970’s The road was brand new and every 100 meters or so there was the start of an exit road off to the left. These exit roads ended within 25 meters. The landscape was all clay and mud interspersed with huge piles of clay. There were no road signs and no road markings, no buildings, no grass or trees and no sign of any other cars or people. It was most eerie, and to make it even more surreal “Welcome to the Machine” was playing on the stereo. We came on a set of temporary traffic lights, the sort powered by a small generator. The lights were red. It felt ludicrous to stop, but they were red and I was brought up in the UK. Surrounded by all this nothingness I stopped. As David Gilmore sang the line “So welcome to the machine” and the big heavy bass kicked in, a massive earth mover came into sight on the top of the mud hill on my left, continued down the hill, across the road and up the mud hill on the right, disappearing as suddenly as it had appeared. It was huge with wheels taller than two people. The lights turned green and I moved off again feeling small, insignificant and part of something that I did not understand. The song continued, “What did you dream, it’s alright we told you what to dream”. Later I found out that it was the beginning of the road system that would become the new city of Milton Keynes.
This bit of India seems just like that, something huge is happening but you can’t see the shape of it yet. The landscape looks like it is growing factories,high rise blocks, huge distribution depots and what looks like new towns. A new India is being built on top of the old one. I don’t know where the poor spreading from the Delhi slums along the roads, onto the roundabouts, the parks and into any available open space will fit in. Like England the gap between the wealthy and the poor is getting greater and around all this new build there seems little hope for the poor.  As I write this we have just had a second meal served to us within the space of an hour and a half. I feel slightly embarrassed as we eat our way towards Shimla.

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The Cab of the Himalayan Queen. Photo Tom Corban.

By the time we transferred to the narrow gauge railway at Kalka there was a tangible excitement in the air as tourists and Indian families scrambled aboard. The driver let me into the cab to see the controls as they do for small boys everywhere. I asked if I could drive but, as he looked a little alarmed, I did not push the point. The organised European trips went in their own carriage but as this was a free range trip for us we found ourselves the only non Indians in our carriage. It was noisy, crowded and greate fun as we set out and began to gain height. In days of Empire officers and wives went up by horse and carriage. The train was for the baggage. perhaps it still is. Within an hour we had climbed more than the height of Ben Nevis ( the highest mountain in the UK). The journey lasted over 5 hours and the scenery was stunning all the way.

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The landscape as we approached Shimla. Photo Tom Corban.

Snake in the Bedding

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Jo and our four sand dune chums on the first night. Photo Tom Corban.

I have never seen people run so fast from such a small snake. They genuinely looked frightened. One man would pull at the camel blankets then run away whilst 4 others stood a distance away with clubs and axes ready to pounce if the snake showed itself. We had just spent our first night in the Thar Desert, close to the border with Pakistan. As we traveled west the temperature had been increasing and during the 4 hottest hours we got what shelter we could from one of the occasional trees or bush and the Camels were allowed to go free range in search of food. Just to make sure they did not go too far their movement was restricted by a short piece of rope tied between their legs. Even so on one occasion it took Mulla (our guide and camel expert) over half an hour to retrieve one of them.

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Jaisalmer Fort’s crumbling walls. Below within the Fort textile traders, and an example of the Forts architecture.  Photos Tom Corban.

We had arrived in Jaisalmer a couple of days earlier. Its a small place with an ancient fort that is falling down. There was consternation a few years ago when some of the turrets collapsed and killed a number of tourists. The fort is one of the largest fortifications in the world (in terms of the area it covers) and despite being built in 1156 it still housed a thriving town inside. It has been built on weak sedimentary rock and is unstable though and there has been a lot of water seepage damage over the years as the population and number of tourists have grown and water has been plumbed in. The main reason for being here though was to go an a Safari into the Thar Desert.

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Intrepid Travellers. Photo Mulla.

There are many things one can do on a camel. Being comfortable is not one of them, well not at first anyway. The first day was not particularly good as we were making our way through scrubland that looked like it had been a store area for building materials, however there was an abundance of wind turbines which have bought electricity to most villages for the first time, and a pipeline bring potable water to a central point in most villages. By evening the scenery had changed and we had been joined by 4 other people. Eventually we settled at some large sand dunes for the night. The company was grand and the conversation was both interesting and funny. To my immense relief two of the group (a married couple who were first generation British with Indian parents) had also been hospitalised during their travels. They had overdone it with the street food and had some stomach problems. Tablets and rehydration sorted it.Bizarrely, at exactly the point when Jo was talking about our home and mentioned our dog, a dog appeared from nowhere and sitting between the pair of us; slightly freaky.

A jeep had turned up with some metal framed beds which were arranged in a row and, after we had finished our evening meal we all settled down for the night. We were given the camel blankets that are placed between the camel and the metal frame that forms a sort of saddle and were told that we would need them in the early hours as it got quite cold. We were all in bed by 8:30. It was odd lying there in a row of 6 all looking up at the fabulous night sky. A truly wonderful experience. It was Jo’s birthday the next morning so it was a rather special experience. After breakfast and Happy Birthday singing we packed our stuff up as the guides took the camel blankets back putting them in a pile in readiness for the camels. Suddenly there was great consternation.

Jaisalmer, India

Lundi Snake. Photo Jo Corban

Shouts, people running away. Some with big stick thumping the ground and someone with a big axe, swing it into the sand. Of course we went over to see what was happening. Snake, snake, they yelled. We could see a small snake moving with speed away from the sticks and into the blankets. Everyone backed off. One man went forward and very nervously lifted the corner of the top blanket. No snake. He lifted it higher then pulled it off the pile whilst at the same time running away. The others with the sticks and axe moved a little closer. No snake.They backed off again. The process was repeated four times before the snake was found. Wild clubbing. As each man swung his stick or axe at the ground they would run away then look back to see if the snake was following them. The snake had not been hit and buried itself in the sand. The sticks were used to dig the sand up and flush the snake out. I thought they were just going to chase it away but this process of trying to hit it whilst also running away continued until the snake received a blow from a stick, then the axe man moved in to finish it off. “Dangerous snake?” we asked. “Very Dangerous, very poisonous” we were told. “Its a Lundi snake” We looked it up when we got back. Lundi is the Urdu name. The snake was a sub species of a Saw Scaled Viper. It is described as a very fast moving snake who strikes quickly and repeatedly. Wildlife of Pakistan describes it thus….”This snake is primarily nocturnal in hot weather (may be active at dusk) and is sometimes diurnal in cool weather………This snake can bury itself in sand with only the head exposed. It is fairly active and can move rapidly in a side winding motion. In dry weather it hunts prey almost entirely at night, but may hunt by day in cool weather. Always alert this snake can become easily excited. It can be really aggressive and is likely to flee when encountered, but has been reported to chase victims aggressively……. This snake is considered to be the world’s most dangerous snake because of its highly toxic venom, its abundance near cultivated areas, and its aggressive, easily excitable temperament.” The bold typeface is my addition, and in my view perfectly reasonable in the circumstances. Most people bitten by this snake are bitten on the lower legs as they walk by but many of the local population are bitten when they sleep on the ground. It appears that the snake discovers them by accident and its aggressive nature and excitable temperament causes it to bite.

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Drivers view. Photo Tom Corban

Anyway, the snake having been dealt with, our 4 chums started on their way back to Jaisalmer and we set off into the desert again. I found it a bit like an English Canal Boat journey. Its very slow, which forces you to slow down as well. At first its quite difficult but it soon becomes slightly mesmerising. A slow, slow pace but before you know it you have covered a big distance and things that were on the horizon are now beside you. As  I say like an English Canal Boat trip but with less greenery and rain and more sun and sand. This second day was much more interesting than the first with the desert really looking like a desert. It was scorching by the time we stopped for lunch and our 4 hour shelter. At 5:00pm, when we had a short stop to water the camels it was still 42.9 C degrees in the shade.During the day there was a “camel incident” So as far as animal humiliation stories go its now a score draw.

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Camels settled for the night. Photo Tom Corban.

We finally stopped for the night on a smaller group of sand dunes. As Mulla made us tea we watched 8 Desert Eagles circle in the thermals above us. Eventually they lost height and settled in a tree less than 50 meters from us, where they kept us company till the morning. No beds this time so we slept on the camel blankets on the sand. It wasn’t so comfortable but the tranquility of the dunes and the exclusivity made it something special. We woke many times during the night and each time the night sky was stunning. The half moon came up sometime after 3:00am so we could vaguely see our way around on the sand dunes when we had to answer a call of nature.

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Three of the eight Eagles roosting for the night. Photo Jo Corban.

The next morning Mulla said that there had been a lot of Lundi activity during the night and there were snake tracks around by the camels. He said that he was relieved that they had not got bitten as it would have killed them. We showed him some tracks where something had come up the dune to where we had been sleeping and passed less than 2 metres from my head. “That Lundi snake” he said. “Big one”. But we were sleeping there.“ we exclaimed. “You very lucky” he said: Quite!

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Lundy Snake track just over a meter from us while we slept. Photo Jo Corban

Room 101

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Having by now managed to travel for 3 days without any help from antibiotics my body was getting bored and clearly needed some excitement. My body therefore conspired to take the common cold that Jo has stoically dealt with before selflessly passing it on to me, mix it with some local pollution and manage to come up with a little breathing difficulty in order to make life more interesting. Now I like breathing, I like it a lot. I confess to having taken it for granted, but over the years, I have become particularly fond of it. In fact I might go so far as to say life without breathing is no life at all. Clearly a doctor was needed. The hotel owners wife said that the doctors here may come or they may not come, best go to the hospital as its easier and they will have everything there. I felt a bit of a charlatan because at home I would have gone down to boots and bought some cough medicine and perhaps talked to the pharmacist. Tuk Tuk, and driver sorted we set off. “Very congested, we need to admit him ”they said, “ not sure what it is so we need to do some tests”. Apart from having difficulty breathing I was fine, so no surprises that pulse, blood pressure and temperature were all OK. Xrays were OK but had to wait for blood tests. Meanwhile I was admitted for 24 hours and, with no sense of irony, put in room 101 given a mask oxygen and a Nebuliser, which was wonderful. My lungs started to work properly and the congestion quickly reduced To cut a long story short they wanted to know where I had been and wanted to make sure it was not swine flue. The tests were eventually completed and the all clear given. I was told that I had a common cold and an infection in my throat that was producing nasty stuff that was making breathing difficult. So more antibiotics, an inhaler so that I can self administer if needed. I do believe I have accidentally started researching a book on the Medical Practices in North West India.

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The medical care is first class but Number 7 is the interesting one as meanwhile the charges continue and someone has to provide you with food.

Having by now managed to travel for 3 days without any help from antibiotics my body was getting bored and clearly needed some excitement. My body therefore conspired to take the common cold that Jo has stoically dealt with before selflessly passing it on to me, mix it with some local pollution and manage to come up with a little breathing difficulty in order to make life more interesting. Now I like breathing, I like it a lot. I confess to having taken it for granted, but over the years, I have become particularly fond of it. In fact I might go so far as to say life without breathing is no life at all. Clearly a doctor was needed. The hotel owners wife said that the doctors here may come or they may not come, best go to the hospital as its easier and they will have everything there. I felt a bit of a charlatan because at home I would have gone down to boots and bought some cough medicine and perhaps talked to the pharmacist. Tuk Tuk, and driver sorted we set off. “Very congested, we need to admit him ”they said, “ not sure what it is so we need to do some tests”. Apart from having difficulty breathing I was fine, so no surprises that pulse, blood pressure and temperature were all OK. Xrays were OK but had to wait for blood tests. Meanwhile I was admitted for 24 hours and, with no sense of irony, put in room 101 given a mask oxygen and a Nebuliser, which was wonderful. My lungs started to work properly and the congestion quickly reduced To cut a long story short they wanted to know where I had been and wanted to make sure it was not swine flue. The tests were eventually completed and the all clear given. I was told that I had a common cold and an infection in my throat that was producing nasty stuff that was making breathing difficult. So more antibiotics, an inhaler so that I can self administer if needed. I do believe I have accidentally started researching a book on the Medical Practices in North West India.

Jodhpur

Jodhpur, India.

Floodlit Mehangarth Fort,Jodhpur, India. Photo Tom Corban.

After another night train we pulled in to Jodhpur Junction and despite some rudeness from another traveller and some petulance from me there were no incidents. Nothing stolen, no illness; a success. The town was awake and busy despite the early hour. We had wanted a room with a view of the fort which we got, which was nice. My goodness though, what a fort. It is absolutely magnificent. Those Moguls knew a thing or two about architecture, especially defensive architecture.

Jodhpur, India.

Mehangarth Fort, Jodhpur, India.. Photo Tom Corban

“The fort has never been taken” we were told, not surprising when you look at the height of the rock its built on and then add the height of the fort itself on top of that. It is immense. The wide path that leads up to the main fort gate has a steep slope. Steep enough to tire out charging war elephants that have been stampeded towards the fort gate. There is then a sneaky 90 degree right turn just before the gate. I don’t think tired charging war elephants do right turns very well. Despite all the defensive stuff the fort itself is simply stunning and we wandered around it for hours.

Jodhpuri, India.

Mehangarth Fort interior,Jodhpuri, India.Photo Tom Corban.

The other interesting feature of the town is the town well.Its immediately outside our hotel and straight in front of the tourists saying “ I don’t believe that”. It is a most extraordinary thing. Imagine if you can a giant square jelly mold turned upside down so that the narrow point of what is effectively a four sided pyramid, is at the bottom and the big open square is at the top. this top part is about 50 meters square and the pointed bottom bit is about 6 meters square. The sides are like a series of steps so you can walk down as far as the water and then walk back up. Well you would be able to if the steps were not about 2 meters high. To make it possible to walk down to the water level and fill a container there are flights of stone steps that join each level together. Its like walking around a giant Escher 3d model. on steroids. As all the steps slope down to make the water run off it also feels very unsafe.Three natural springs fill the structure. During the monsoon season it is filled to the top. At present it has 15 meters of water at the bottom of it. When full the surface area would be large, but when relatively empty the surface area would be quite small reducing evaporation, (Did I say it hot here? actually its hot here: god its hot here). Young people take a delight in using it for swimming and tomb-stoning. It looks dangerous but good fun.

Jodhpur, India.

Jo Sitting on the steps in the Town Well, Jodhpur, India. Photo Tom Corban.

In al its been wonderfully relaxing and its been good to get out around the town without having to use any transport.

Jodhpur, India.

Passing time of day, Jodhpur, India.Photo Tom Corban.

Later that night we walked around the old town, past the market clock tower ending up in went one of the many rooftop restaurants to eat slowly, watch the castle light up, the sky darken and the stars came out. Even the cold that Jo had endured so stoically, before passing it so thoughtfully, on to me seemed to have peaked and I was beginning to breath through my nose. It was a lovely day and a wonderful evening. Little did I know that the next day I would take the common cold into room 101. “That” as Kipling used to say, “is another story”.

Holi

Jaipuri, India.  Glastonbury Festival, 28th June, 2014:

Holy Festival Jaipur. Photo Tom Corban.

Through the camera viewfinder it looked like a scene from an inner city riot. Fires were burning at every road intersection. Occasionally people would approach the fires and throw something on motorbikes and scooters continued to wiz past blaring their horns and treating the fires like roundabouts and this being India they would go around which ever way they wanted. The sound of drums, horns and paper trumpets filled the air. It was the evening before Holi. The fires were offering thanks to the gods and as we went further and further into the inner maze of backstreets that made the Pink City people became friendlier and friendlier, encouraging us to join them and giving us corn seed so that we could throw it on their fire and make our own offering, We were told the gods will be pleased with us and we would be blessed.

Jaipuri, India.  Glastonbury Festival, 28th June, 2014:

The Night before Holi. Photo Tom Corban

 

The next day the colourful part of the ceremony began. We had seen the bags of vegetable dye being marked up for transport the previous week at the Delhi Spice market. Now each of those sacks had been split and split again and those vivid colours were on sale on the street corners. What vivid colours they were, unbelievably rich and saturated. The stuff of children’s colouring book dreams.

Jaipuri, India.  Glastonbury Festival, 28th June, 2014:

Holy Festival colours on sale in the Pink City. Photo Tom Corban.

Traditionally Holi is something that families celebrate together in a structure that seems a bit like the English Christmas. Its essentially a family thing but with a lot of recognition within the wider community. So, just as the English would go for a walk, wishing any passers by “Happy Christmas”, having a few impromptu celebrations before gathering together as a family for the main Christmas celebration so people were acting here, Wandering around, wishing people “Happi Holi” and then going home for the main celebration.

Jaipuri, India.  Glastonbury Festival, 28th June, 2014:

Tourists enjoying the Holi Festival in the pink city. Photo Tom Corban.

The town had identified an area for a public celebration, likewise some hotels had arranged their own celebrations on the rooftops. These arrangements seem to have been made for two reasons. Firstly, many Indian families were staying at our hotel specifically for the Holi celebrations therefor a hotel celebration worked well for both them and the tourists. The second reason is that Holi can, and does, gey out of hand. What starts out as a traditional spreading of colours on peoples faces degenerates during the day goes on. Some of this is fueled by alcohol and some by plain bullying and inappropriate touching. We started Holi early at the hotel, went into town and wandered around for a bit and then went to the extended family of our Tuk Tuk driver. It was all great fun.

Jaipuri, India.  Glastonbury Festival, 28th June, 2014:

Traditional Family Holi, Jaipur. Photo Tom Corban

We decided to go back to the hotel in the afternoon as the town was getting a bit iffy. One view is that it was just hi jinks and people getting carried away another is that some people try to hijack the festival and use it for other, other more selfish purposes. An Australian group returned to the hotel the same time as us. One of the young men said “ we decided to come back because some of them were getting a bit handy with the girls”. Ah I thought, it is just like Christmas in the UK. At one stage I did get a rather fierce facefull of green thrown in my face in a way thet made me wonder if tourists were getting special attention, but as Rudyard Kipling would say, “that is another story”.

Jaipuri, India.  Glastonbury Festival, 28th June, 2014:

Jo on arrival back at the hotel during Holi Festival. Photo Tom Corban

For the rest of that day, and the next, everything was covered with fine saturated particles of colour from the festival. Beds, clothes, food, floors, shelves and us.. it took three days to wash of our skin. It was all splendid, splendid stuff.